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Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI)

The Nature Conservancy Volunteer Leadership Summit

Category: Regional
June, 2019
Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D., President, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

It is a great honor for me to join The Nature Conservancy this morning—a longtime protector of natural habitats, and the many species, including Homo sapiens, that rely on them, as well as a brilliant catalyst for private investment in conservation.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the nation’s first and oldest technological research university, we naturally see the relationship between humanity and nature through the lens of science and technology.

Rensselaer people have envisioned, discovered, surveyed, and engineered much of the foundational infrastructure of our nation and the world—including the Erie Canal, the transcontinental railroad, bridges, ships, aircraft—and in the digital age, including the invention of the microprocessor, the digital camera, networked email and the @ sign, as well as the first mapping and sequencing of the genetic code of human pathogens. It also has spawned founders or co-founders of great companies, such as Texas Instruments, National Instruments, and NVIDIA.

As Rensselaer people consider the state of the world today—with 2018 a record-high year for carbon emissions globally, despite the pledges made by the 185 nations that have ratified the Paris Agreement, and with the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services recently informing us that the rate of species extinction is accelerating—I would sum up the Rensselaer point of view this way: Technology has uplifted many lives, but its use by humankind has led to anthropogenic impacts on our climate and environment; and more advanced technologies are required to eliminate or mitigate those impacts.

Indeed, the energy scholar Dr. Vaclav Smil of the University of Manitoba, has pointed out that many of the key technologies that form the background of daily life in the 21st century—so common, we barely notice them—actually pre-date World War I.

Among them are the internal combustion engine, automobiles, airplanes, electricity-generating plants, electric motors and trains, the incandescent light bulb, the Hall–Héroult process for producing aluminum, advances that allowed for the inexpensive production of steel, communications advances such as radio broadcasts and film, and the Haber-Bosch synthesis of ammonia from atmospheric nitrogen, which allowed the production of artificial fertilizers that greatly enhanced crop yields.

These products and processes undergird our civilization. They have fed, transported, housed, informed, and even ennobled much of humanity. Their effect on nature represented a reasonable trade-off a century ago, when the world population stood at 1.8 billion—but in a world of 7.7 billion, and counting, we must consider new technologies, and new ways to use existing technologies in ways that reflect the scientific advances of the last hundred years, and our vastly more sophisticated understanding of the systems of, and interactions among, our geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and atmosphere.

Indeed, we must reinvent in order to address the great global challenges of our day—including our need for sufficient food, water, energy, and shelter for a growing global population, as well as the concomitant issues of climate change and environmental degradation; the mitigation of disease and improvement of human health; national and global security; and the intelligent allocation of limited natural resources.

At Rensselaer, we believe that research under two broad umbrellas will be key: The first is “Infrastructural Resilience, Sustainability, and Stewardship,”—which relies on advances in energy, materials, the built environment, and smart systems—in ways that protect our natural environment. The other, we term, “Digital Meets Reality,” which is the application of high-performance computing, data analytics and artificial intelligence, sensor technology, data visualization and immersive technologies of all kinds, to our understanding of the physical world around us.

Please allow me to tell you about some of the research taking place at Rensselaer that develops such advanced tools and technologies, and applies them to the fundamental question of how to meet the needs of civilization, while restoring and protecting the natural world on which we rely.

Let us begin with water, which is essential for life as we know it. According to the United Nations, 49 countries already experience high water stress, which climate change is exacerbating. Here in the United States, even in geographies with abundant water, we have had crises of water contamination, whether from industrial chemicals, corrosive water leaching lead from old pipes, or toxic algae. To protect our fresh water resources, we need, first, to understand them.

Five years ago, Rensselaer joined forces with IBM Research and the nonprofit The Fund for Lake George to create a new scientific model and platform for the conservation of fresh water—that we entitled The Jefferson Project, after Thomas Jefferson, who called Lake George—an hour north of our campus—“the most beautiful water” he ever saw. Lake George is now the smartest body of water anyone has ever seen, since we have put in place 50 smart sensor platforms, with over 500 actual sensors—some of them invented for this project—that generate enormous amounts of streaming data about weather, water runoff, water circulation, and water quality.

This goes well beyond Internet of Things technology, into what we at Rensselaer see as the future—an Intelligent Internet of Intelligent Thing—in that both the system and the devices it connects are intelligent. The sensor platforms can make adjustments for environmental conditions—collecting more data, for example, when a storm is brewing.

The data are transformed into information and insights with sophisticated analytics, high-performance computing, modeling, and data visualization, and are combined with other monitoring and experimental data, including the use of in-lake and land-based mesocosms, to create a thorough and predictive understanding of the factors that drive the food web and overall water quality—including issues such as harmful algal blooms—an environmental problem in all 50 U.S. states; microplastics; invasive species; and the winter salting of roads around the lake.

Indeed, the Jefferson Project, which is directed by environmental biologist Dr. Rick Relyea, our David M. Darrin ’40 Senior Endowed Professor, has found that road salt is disrupting the food web in a variety of ways, provoking sex changes in frogs, and causing zooplankton to evolve increased tolerance to the salt.

The Jefferson Project now has expanded to Skaneateles Lake, which serves as a drinking water supply for over 200,000 New Yorkers, but which is threatened by toxic algae. In Skaneateles Lake, our advanced monitoring systems have identified a large internal wave, below the surface, that is dredging up sediments rich in phosphorous, a nutrient that is encouraging the algae to bloom. This may point the way to controlling the algae, by considering the placement of effluent discharges, and the interaction of effluents with wave motion in the lake.

The Jefferson Project is poised to bring its scientific approach to other lakes around the nation, and the world.

The “polytechnic” in the Rensselaer name comes from the Greek for “skilled in many arts,” and as The New Polytechnic, we believe that to address great challenges, we must bring together a multiplicity of perspectives—across disciplines, sectors, geographies, cultures, and generations.

The Jefferson Project is very much of an expression of that vision for Rensselaer, in that it brings together a fully multi-disciplinary group of biologists, earth and environmental scientists, computer scientists, data scientists, engineers, conservationists, and industry researchers—as well as student and faculty artists, composers and game designers, who have created an educational interactive touch pool installation based on Jefferson Project science—called The World of Plankton—that is now inspiring the next generation of conservationists.

Other Rensselaer researchers are considering the protection of lakes, rivers, and oceans from different angles.

For example, our Priti and Mukesh Chatter ’82 Career Development Professor of Chemical and Biological Engineering, Dr. Miao Yu, creates very precise nanostructures for separations—microporous coatings and membranes that act as sieves to separate mixtures based on molecule size and shape, without requiring a great deal of pressure and energy. His graphene oxide coating for water purification, which allows a large amount of water flux and resists clogging, is being commercialized by a start-up named G2O Water Technologies, for applications ranging from the cleaning up of oil spills, to waste water treatment, to energy-efficient desalination.

Dr. Richard Gross, our Biocatalysis and Metabolic Engineering Constellation Professor, and his students, on the other hand, are vigorously addressing the problem of plastic waste, which is polluting our oceans at such a rate, that the United Nations warns that if current trends continue, by 2050, there could be more plastic than fish in our oceans. Indeed, the plastic is endangering marine wildlife. In March, a beached whale was found in the Philippines with 88 pounds of undigestable plastic inside its body.

Plastic is useful, of course, for its durability—but it is precisely this durability that makes it an enduring problem in the environment. Dr. Gross’s team is attacking the durability problem from a number of angles.

In one approach, Dr. Gross is improving the recycling process for conventional plastics, such as PET, or polyethylene terephthalate. Widely used for clear bottles and jars, PET is recycled at a rate of 30% in the United States, but unfortunately, not back into clear bottles and jars. Instead, PET is down-cycled into carpets and clothing—which then wind up in landfills when their useful life is over.

Dr. Gross’s team is using a low-cost, scalable biocatalytic process—employing enzymes found in nature— to break down PET into monomers that can then be repolymerized, to recapture its originally attractive qualities of clarity, strength, and light weight—allowing for a perpetual process of recycling designed to keep PET out of landfills and waterways forever. This green chemistry can even be used to sequentially recycle mixed materials such as clothing and blankets, so the value of the component parts can be recaptured.

His laboratory also is creating a polyethylene-like plastic from plant oils, with chemical bonds that can be selectively broken after use to, again, recover the monomers for repolymerization into the original plastic. And when it is not recycled, this plastic is compostable—able to be harmlessly disassembled by nature.

However, Dr. Gross would be the first to tell you that while the science can help us to improve our recycling rate and the quality of recycled products, the overarching problem with plastic waste is actually socio/political. Just 9% of plastic is recycled globally—a figure that may decline, now that China, which long handled much of the world’s plastic wastes, has banned the imports of plastic for recycling. To keep plastic out of waterways, we need an international effort focused on helping poorer countries build the essential infrastructure for their waste. The Nature Conservancy, of course, has called for action from the United Nations on plastic pollution

Indeed, wealthier nations have an important incentive to take the global view here, because plastics are likely to prove a case where one cannot separate the health of the planet from human health. As huge volumes of plastic materials are ground into micro- and nanoparticles in our oceans, they are entering the food chain, and humans, with unknown health effects.

At Rensselaer, as we address the great challenge of mitigating diseases and improving human health—including working to understand the risks of environmental exposures—we are creating digital tools that allow researchers to see correlations that might otherwise have been missed.

Rensselaer and our affiliate in medical education and research, the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, are leaders in the data center established by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences—for its Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource, or CHEAR. The CHEAR Data Center is designed to allow health care researchers across the nation to combine data from a wide range of environmental health studies, and to integrate exposomics with genomics and epigenomics, to better understand which children are most vulnerable to environmental toxins. Dr. Deborah McGuinness, our Tetherless World Senior Constellation Professor, and an expert in knowledge representation—or the representation of information in such a way that computers can use disparate kinds of data to answer complex questions—created the standard vocabularies of health outcomes and exposure science for the Data Center that now will allow researchers to consider the correlations between exposures and health effects across many studies and much larger populations—and steer the way toward an understanding of causation, as well.

Another truly thorny challenge at the nexus of humanity and the environment is food. Food crops, livestock, and fisheries are threatened in many places by climate change, particularly in poorer nations closer to the tropics—but not exclusively. Currently, in a season of extreme weather that may be attributable to a warming Arctic, farmers in the American Midwest are experiencing such wet weather that they have been unable to get their seeds in the ground. Conversely, agriculture contributes substantially to climate change: About a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are due to agriculture, forestry, and other land use. At the same time, we must increase agricultural production, because the world is likely to add nearly a billion people in the next 10 years.

Controlled-environment agriculture in vertical farms and greenhouses is one answer to securing a sufficient supply of food, despite the vicissitudes of climate, and without substantially expanding land and water use and deforestation. A key technology here is one that represents a true disruption to my earlier list of venerable pre-World War I technologies: LED lighting that is 10 times as efficient as incandescent lighting—and that is poised to revolutionize farming. Led by Professor Robert Karlicek, an expert in optoelectronics, the Rensselaer Lighting-Enabled Systems and Applications Center (LESA) is collaborating with Cornell University on LED-based smart control systems for a new level of sophistication in vertical farming and greenhouse growing. As a digital technology, LED lighting can be precisely controlled in terms of color and intensity to optimize the growth rates of specific crops, even their nutritional content. It can even generate optical signals from the plant. Collected and processed, that data can help farmers to make adjustments based on the progress of the crop, improving outcomes and saving water, energy, and other resources.

And because the vertical farms enabled by these smart control systems can be sited readily in urban areas, they can reduce the energy costs of farming in terms of transportation—and get crops to table more quickly, with less spoilage, lowering food waste.

Indeed, urbanization is an important factor, as we address the great challenge of sustainable infrastructure to shelter a growing population. Currently, over half of the world’s population lives in cities. By 2050, that is likely to rise to more than two-thirds, and our urban infrastructure will have to expand to accommodate 2.5 billion more people—and by the end of the century, to double—a tremendous challenge in terms of urban and environmental resilience.

At Rensselaer, we have one of the top-ranked schools of architecture in the nation, as well as the Center for Architecture Science and Ecology, or CASE, which is specifically focused on radically changing the way we use energy, water, and other resources in our built environment.

CASE is located in Brooklyn, New York, in Industry City, on the waterfront at a time of rising sea levels, in an area of deteriorating old warehouses and industrial buildings that have to be retrofitted for energy efficiency, and in a gentrifying neighborhood that raises questions of equity. We truly think of it as an ideal probe into the problems and opportunities of urban environments.

You will not be surprised to learn that many of the innovations at CASE take inspiration from nature. Among them is the Active Modular Phytoremediation Wall System, a “green wall” technology that produces fresh air from within buildings by recirculating air across the plants’ rhizosphere, or root zone—most recently installed in the magnificent New York City Public Safety Answering Center II building designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. But the “green wall” is not just green from adding just any plant species, but bioengineered plants specifically designed to remove specific toxins from the air, while not hosting harmful fungus and parasites. The plants were developed in partnership with our Center for Biotechnology and Interdisciplinary Studies.

       Another inspiration at CASE is the frog—which, as a cold-blooded animal, conserves energy by taking heat from its environment, rather than producing it internally—basking in the sunshine on a cool day, plunging into water on a hot one–and becoming dormant in winter, when resources are scare. Associate Director of CASE Professor Alexandros Tsamis is designing structures that also behave differently in different weather and seasons, with cyber-physical systems that automatically optimize a building, radiantly heated and cooled by circulating fluid, for comfort and energy-efficiency. On a hot day, the system sends liquid to the ground for shallow geothermal cooling, or to the windy side of the structure for wind cooling. On a cold day, it sends the fluid deep into the ground for geothermal heating, and to the roof for solar heating.

       In the Building Sciences Program at our School of Architecture, we are exploring new materials as well as new systems. Professor Mae-Ling Lokko is devising novel high-performance materials, from locally sourced agricultural waste, that completely eliminate the toxic chemicals found in conventional building materials, that use less embodied energy in their production, and that are biodegradable when a building is renovated in a few decades. In the tropics, she has used the by-products of coconut food production: coconut fiber and coconut pith, which at low heat and pressure acts like a bio-adhesive, to create a strong fiberboard that also is a natural desiccant that could reduce loads on air conditioning systems. Partnering with Ecovative Design, a company founded by two Rensselaer graduates that employs mycelia, or mushroom filaments, to replace plastic foams with green materials, she is developing a range of mushroom-based bio-board products that are as strong as medium-density fiberboard.

       CASE also is considering intelligent planning for overall urban design in light of new technologies employing Big Data and artificial intelligence, such as shared autonomous vehicles and other autonomous systems, which may open up new greenspaces—and a movement away from a centrally managed energy infrastructure, toward autonomous buildings that use renewable energy to meet their own needs. In this work, CASE will anchor our new Institute for Energy, the Built Environment, and Smart Systems, which will partner with our own School of Engineering and the Brooklyn Law School. The Institute will envision and design the urban environment of the future from the perspectives of true integrated planning and integrated, autonomously intelligent systems—ranging from fixed structures, to transportation and other aspects of mobility, to communication networks, to the impact of all of this on human health and welfare, within the overall socio/political context.

Urban ecologies are a subject of great interest in our marvelous Department of the Arts as well, where Professor Kathy High helped to plan a recent symposium on ruderal ecologies, or the plants, animals, and humans that colonize urban wastelands. Thinkers from the fields of ecology, public health, urban planning, environmental science, environmental justice, permaculture, the arts, and science and technology studies gathered to consider growth and resilience in polluted but biodiverse environments—including the forms of life that thrive amidst ruins, how human communities can be engaged there, and what happens when we include plants and animals in our thinking about human flourishing. Clearly, there is much to be learned from the hardiest and most adaptable of species—and for our students and faculty, a great deal of inspiration to be found there.

The final great human need I will consider today is energy. I am sure that you already have gathered that Rensselaer people are considering energy efficiency and climate change mitigation from many different angles. Please allow me to tell you a bit about some of the work occurring at Rensselaer on one of the great obstacles in the movement toward a zero-carbon economy—which is our need for better energy storage technologies, given the intermittency of renewable energy production.

Clearly, the electrification of transportation is important to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the battery powered electric car market is growing. We even have a research center at Rensselaer named MOVE—The Center for Mobility with Vertical Lift—that is advancing electric helicopters. Nonetheless, battery technologies still need improvement: High-performance lithium ion batteries have just one tenth the energy density of gasoline, which is why the range of battery powered vehicles is limited, and why there are still so many internal combustion engines on the roads.

Dr. Nikhil Koratkar, our Clark and Crossan Professor of Mechanical, Aerospace, and Nuclear Engineering, is devising new classes of nanomaterials to improve batteries in terms of safety, cost, and performance—including solid electrolytes to replace the organic liquid electrolytes used in lithium ion batteries, which are flammable. His laboratory recently devised a way to employ vanadium disulfide as a cathode, rather than the commonly used lithium cobalt oxide, to create a battery that has higher energy density, charges more quickly, is less toxic—and which promises the additional benefit of limiting the world’s dependency on the unstable countries (e.g., Democratic Republic of the Congo), where the majority of the world’s cobalt is mined.

Professor Chulsung Bae of our Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, on the other hand, is considering ways to store energy at scale to address what has been called “the duck curve”—the mismatch, throughout the day, between peak energy production using solar energy at midday, and peak energy demand during the morning and evening hours.

Professor Bae’s laboratory is working on a low-cost ion exchange membrane for energy conversion, that allows a reversible process to occur. First, the excess electricity generated by solar or wind production is used to power electrolysis, or the splitting of water into hydrogen and oxygen, which gives us a chemical means of storing excess energy as hydrogen. The hydrogen can then be used to power fuel cells, which combine hydrogen with atmospheric oxygen to generate electricity, with water as the only byproduct. This process can occur at grid-scale—but also at the scale of individual hydrogen fueling stations, where hydrogen can be produced economically on site by a solar array on a roof, and then pumped into fuel-cell electric vehicles.

But if we are to meet our climate goals quickly, renewable sources such as solar photovoltaics and wind are likely not enough—particularly when the world’s second most important source of low-carbon energy, nuclear power, is in decline in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

As the International Energy Agency has pointed out, despite the growth of solar and wind energy, fossil fuels make up 81% of the global energy mix (which is where they were 30 years ago). Indeed, the emissions avoided by the deployment of solar and wind energy worldwide have largely been cancelled out by the early retirement of nuclear power plants in advanced economies.

While nuclear power allows us to provide low-carbon energy at scale, there are two challenges with it: first, public fear and the need to make nuclear power as safe as possible; and second, economics that are not favorable in advanced economies.

During my tenure as Chairman of the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) from 1995 to 1999, which licenses, regulates, and safeguards the civilian use of nuclear reactors, nuclear materials, spent nuclear fuel, and nuclear wastes, the NRC reaffirmed its health and safety missions in the wake of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I introduced an approach to regulation at the NRC that used probabilistic risk assessment on a consistent basis, which continues today. The NRC also put in place the first license renewal process to extend the operating lives of nuclear reactors. Nuclear power plants can be operated safely—with a strong operational focus on excellence and risk assessment, and with proper regulatory oversight.

At Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, we have an excellent nuclear engineering faculty that is making great strides on both safety and economics, in order to bring the next generation of nuclear power reactors to bear.

For example, Professor Emily Liu is investigating the use of molten salt, both as a means of concentrating solar power, and allowing non-battery storage for it, which could help with the “duck curve”—and in the design of nuclear reactors.

Molten salt reactors, particularly thorium fueled ones, may help us to reach the ultimate goal of inherent safety. If there is a temperature spike, the nuclear chain reaction tends to slow, thereby reducing the power. The molten fluoride coolants are more stable chemically, and are unaffected by radiation. They allow low-pressure operation and have no pressure build-up from fission. It is also relatively easy to move the fuel into redundant cooling systems. Therefore, during a disruptive event, they are essentially incapable of melting down. This allows molten salt nuclear reactors to run at much higher temperatures than conventional reactors, with the benefit of more efficient use of nuclear fuel and less nuclear waste.

A number of countries are working on molten salt nuclear reactor designs, including the U.S., the U.K., Russia, Canada, China, Denmark, France, Germany, India, and Japan. There are nuances in the designs being worked on in different countries—based on the fuel, the coolants, and whether the fuel cycles are once through or closed.

Of course, there are new safety challenges in this digital age, when cyber-physical systems may be vulnerable to malicious digital intrusions. Professor Hyun Kang of our Nuclear Plant Reliability and Information Laboratory is working to devise intrinsically safe nuclear power using dynamic risk assessment, digitalized plant risk quantification, cybersecurity, software reliability estimation, better emergency procedures, and the reduction of human errors.

As far as the economics are concerned, nuclear power plants are capital-intensive—and in the United States, the business model of such plants has been threatened by low-cost (but higher-emission) natural gas.

At Rensselaer, Professor Shanbin Shi is working to improve the economics of nuclear power by working on small modular reactors that are easily replicable—decreasing the tremendous upfront expenditures and time required to design, construct, and license large, unique nuclear plants. The vision at Rensselaer includes designing nuclear reactors the size of a truck that can easily be deployed for disaster relief—and ensuring, for example, that the lingering devastation of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico—amidst a prolonged grid failure— is not repeated.

To spur a reduction in carbon emissions, and to make nuclear power competitive with natural gas, some have called for a rising carbon tax (including more than 3,500 American economists, of which 27 are Nobel laureates). This, of course, falls within the framework of a broader needed discussion of a comprehensive approach to energy security, in the U.S. and globally, that would evaluate both diversity of sources and redundancy of supply, and an approach to environmental stewardship that incorporates “source for sector of use” and “cradle to grave” cost evaluation—financial and environmental.

Fusion energy, which powers the sun, potentially could represent an even safer form of carbon-free power, in that it produces almost no nuclear wastes. In fusion reactors, hydrogen isotopes obtained from water are fused to create helium, releasing tremendous energy. One estimate is that just 11 pounds of hydrogen could yield the energy equivalent of 56,000 barrels of oil or 755 acres of solar panels. The challenge thus far is that tremendous heat and pressure are required to sustain the reaction, which means the energy inputs still generally outweigh the outputs—although advances in superconducting materials could change that.

While Rensselaer is not working directly in this area, other universities and companies are, including MIT in partnership with a new private company, Commonwealth Fusion Systems (CFS), which has attracted $50 million form the Italian Energy Company, ENI. This is an area of research which needs federal government support—to maintain the United States’ leadership in innovation, in this and other arenas.

After telling you about the many ways Rensselaer is working to engineer a more sustainable future, I will finish my review of Rensselaer research today with a wonderful example of curiosity-driven research, the fundamental science being investigated by geochemist and geomicrobiologist Professor Karyn Rogers.

She explores the relationship between the geochemistry of the most extreme environments on Earth, such as deep sea vents and the craters of volcanoes—environments that might include high temperatures, high pressures, a low level of nutrients, and extreme acidity—and the microbial life that manages to thrive in them, the extremophiles. Her work allows us to look backward toward the inhospitable conditions of the early Earth—as well as to consider the possibilities of life on other planets—and she leads the Earth First Origins Project for NASA, which seeks to identify the pathways that gave rise to life.

The extremophiles she studies suggest two lessons for all of us: First, some of them will survive being transported from the habitats in which they evolved to ordinary laboratory conditions—even being moved from extreme high pressures at the bottom of the ocean to normal pressures at sea level. However, Dr. Rogers has found that key to preventing an immediate death is slowing the rate of habitat change.

Clearly, we need to minimize the shocks to nature that would be caused by a rapidly warming Earth—by speeding up our own transition to zero-carbon systems in energy, agriculture, land use, the built environment, and transport. Indeed, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tells us that we quickly are headed from 1 degree Celsius of temperature rise above pre-industrial levels toward 1.5 degrees—possibly within the next 11 years. If we can apply the brakes and hold the line at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the world may lose 70 to 90 percent of its coral reefs. However, if we allow warming to continue to progress to 2 degrees Celsius—they may vanish.

Of course, the other lesson from the extremophiles, is that even in the harshest of environments here on Earth, there is life. So, despite the devastation of the Anthropocene epoch and the many extinctions it is causing, it is likely that some part of the biosphere will survive. The great question for us is, will civilization? Can we find the means to tread more gently on the planet that harbors us, so humanity’s steady march of technological progress—which has uplifted the lives of billions of people—can continue?

I hope that the organization that I lead, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and the organization that you lead, The Nature Conservancy, will join forces to ensure that the answer to these questions is a resounding yes.