Today, science plays an important role in building a better world. The exploding population, climate change, and environmental & energy problems can all be solved with science. In developed countries, science is already relatively interconnected with the market, government, and research institutions. In these countries, governments have sufficient funding and political power to promote research concerning national goals and problems, such as conservation and “clean” energy. In developing countries, however, most research is market-driven. While market-driven research sometimes provides for societal needs, such as increasing industrial production and agricultural yields, developing country governments tend to be more concerned with promoting and maintaining economic growth than with long-term necessities, such as conservation. Beyond that, lack of available funding results in governments that are unable to direct research towards environmental goals, such as “clean” energy and biodiversity conservation.
In Denmark, since the 1980s, taking advantage of its long coastline, collaboration between research institutions, industries and government has led to a vast and growing wind industry which provides jobs and exportable energy. In 2007, wind power accounted for 19.7% of Danish’s electricity production, a significantly higher proportion than in other countries (Danish Energy Agency, 2008). Despite the fact that Denmark is a developed country, it shows that a good connection between research institutions, industry, and government, in combination with local “circumstances,” can foster innovation. However, the majority of the world’s population, and, therefore, the world’s problems, lies in developing countries. As such, in developing countries, research and technology should address their problems with an eye towards their local “raw materials” and circumstances. Therefore, ultimately, solutions lie in the connection between local research institutions, their respective governments, and their country’s’ industry.
According to the United Nations Population division, today’s world population is 6.8 billion, will reach 7 billion by 2012, and is projected to surpass 9 billion by 2050 (United Nation, Departement of Economic and Social Affairs, 2009). As previously stated, most of the world’s population lives in developing countries with rapidly growing populations. With the exploding populations, demand for basic needs –food, water, clean water, energy, healthcare– is overwhelming and puts pressure on land and ecosystems.
Climate change, fed by CO2 emissions, leads to droughts, floods, new strains of viruses, and many other catastrophes. Most CO2 emissions come from burning fossil fuels and deforestation, which are the result of the great global demand for energy and resources (A. Mitchell, 2008). How can we provide for basic needs while preserving biodiversity and focusing on sustainable energy? Science, focused on local problems and local answers, is the solution
Increased research into clean energy, food technology, water treatment, and energy efficiency will eventually make the world a better place. Therefore, all research institutions, as well as all governments, industries, and societies, have to get involved. I believe collaboration between these different bodies can be fostered as follows:
- For high-impact research (clean energy, medical research) that requires advanced technology and significant funding, researchers from all countries should collaborate. While researchers from developing country often suffer from a lack of appropriate technology and funding, they have the advantage of being able to use previously unexplored indigenous materials.
- Technology and knowledge transfer from developed countries to developing countries should be maintained, and possibly increased, by providing scholarships, training, funding research, and investing in the basic infrastructure of developing countries.
- To balance market-driven research, governments should provide incentives to increase research that addresses global problems through a local approach, such as renewable energy, biodiversity conservation, and medical research.
- Governments need to consider sustainability and environmental impact when making policies and decisions. That is, decisions need to be driven by more than economics and political considerations.
- Industries should be encouraged to become actively involved in environmental protection. For example, governments can use information-based environmental policies such as eco-labeling and environmental rankings to get companies involved. Such policies would affect global marketing strategies and supply chain management of companies. With such measures, consumers would be able to choose environmentally-friendly products and systems.
In conclusion, with increasing populations, the coinciding demands on natural resources and energy, and the resulting environmental problems, science could be the answer. However, science in developing and developed nations needs to be connected with both local and foreign governments, research institutions, and industries. Developed countries have the knowledge, technology, and funding while developing countries have unexplored indigenous resources. If we can strengthen these connections, we will be able to make progress towards a more-equitable, prosperous, sustainable world.