The current geologic period is often referred to as the Anthropocene, indicating that, for the first time in history, human activities are the largest influence on climate and the environment. A world population of some 7.5 billion is putting tremendous pressure on the vast web of natural systems that sustain diverse life on Earth. We derive most of our energy from fossil fuels, with negative environmental consequences.
In light of such trends, it is not surprising that “sustainability” has become a watchword of our time. And while its meaning can vary, we think of it as referring, generally, to whether human activities can be maintained at current levels without negative long-term impacts that affect life and prosperity. We have a ways to go.
Many researchers in the sciences at UC Santa Barbara approach sustainability from an ecological perspective, seeking to reduce pollutants, restore fisheries, and mitigate deforestation, habitat loss, and climate change. At the College of Engineering, and in the Departments of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, energy is a main focus of sustainability research: how to make more of it for less cost and with a smaller environmental footprint, how to use and store it more efficiently, how to conserve it in manufacturing processes, and how to develop alternatives to fossil fuels.
In this “FOCUS ON: Sustainability” section, we share some of the important sustainability-related work being pursued by researchers in engineering and the sciences at UCSB.