Dr. David Ostermeier gave cause both to worry and to hope in his lecture, "Governing the Environment in Complex Times: Facing our Reality," on Friday.
The presentation was part of the UT Science Forum. Ostermeier, professor in the Forestry, Wildlife and Fisheries department, divided his lecture into two parts, the first of which addressed the challenges facing our planet.
Ostermeier began his lecture addressing population growth and stating the need for change and efficiency if the planet is to feed a population of 9 billion people, a number he says will be our reality in the next 30 years.
He also addressed related problems concerning land and water usage.
Ostermeier said that approximately 35 to 40 percent of ice-free land on Earth is "wrapped up" in agriculture and 70 percent of water use on a global level is for irrigation.
"If the recent economic growth in developing countries continues, and that's somewhere around a three percent annual growth," Ostermeier said, "then we're going to need to increase food production by about 70 percent."
With an increasing global population, even more land will be needed to produce food, meaning there will be less forested land, which not only harms the forest itself but has ripple effects though the environment, such as habitat destruction. As for the usage of water, Ostermeier said that seven major rivers, including the Colorado River and the Ganges in India, are already running dry.
Ostermeier also discussed the challenge of ecosystem services, which he defined as "services to mankind and to natural systems" that fall into one of four categories: supporting, provisioning, regulating and cultural.
He spoke of the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, involving several hundred scientists and multiple countries in an effort to ascertain the "condition of the ecosystems and the ecosystem services of the globe."
The assessment sorted things such as carbon sequestration and air quality regulation into three categories depending on the condition of their performance: enhanced, degraded or mixed. The majority of items were considered "degraded." The challenge of environmental stewardship stems from the lack of "market reward," or profitability, to regulate the relationship between ecosystems, the commodities we get from the ecosystems, and mechanisms overseeing them.
Ostermeier's last challenge was human impact on the environment. He cited results of human activity to include loss of biodiversity, changes in the nitrogen cycle and climate change. These impacts have been so pervasive that some have entertained the idea that we have moved into a new geological age: Anthropocene, the Age of Man.
Environmental governance is being attempted closer to home as well. The Cumberland Plateau is rich from a biodiversity standpoint, but many of its species are threatened or endangered. According to their website, The Cumberland Habitat Conservation Plan is a network of many groups working together to "conserve the forests and waters of the Cumberlands of Tennessee and provide for continued economic growth in the region."
Eric McAnly, senior in chemistry, found the lecture engaging. McAnly was especially interested in the policy side.
"I think he brought up good points about deforestation relating to erosion," McAnly said, "specifically in the South American countries with large dams."
The UT Science Forum is held every Friday from noon to one in Thompson-Boling Arena Dining Room C-D. Next week's lecture is "Yellowstone's Hot Bacteria and the Future of Biofuels" presented by Dr. Rich Giannone.