By: Danielle Ulman
Did you know there are 14 challenges the world must address to ensure the planet’s survival?
That’s according to an e-mail I got from the University of Texas at El Paso. Now, I’m all for a catchy headline or e-mail subject line to draw readers in, but this one felt a little extreme.
It seems UTEP is holding an international engineering conference to talk about the issues ailing the planet and they’re looking to drum up interest. (University of Maryland and Applied Research Associates, which has offices in Maryland, are participating, which is probably why I was sent the e-mail).
From what I gather, they believe the world has 14 “grand challenges” and by identifying and solving them, our quality of life and health will improve, we’ll create a sustainable future and increase use of renewable energy.
It’s just slightly different from the planetary implosion I imagined before the text of the message filled my screen. So, what does UTEP think are our biggest challenges?
Most are pretty broad:
Providing access to clean water, preventing nuclear terror, engineering better medicines, developing better health information systems, making solar energy economical, capturing and storing excess carbon dioxide to prevent climate change, securing cyberspace, restoring and improving urban infrastructure, engineering the tools of scientific discovery and advanced personal learning.
Then there are the zanier items:
· Reverse-engineering the brain – Engineers are trying to create computers capable of emulating human intelligence.
· Managing the nitrogen cycle – Engineers can help restore balance to the nitrogen cycle with better fertilization technologies and by capturing and recycling waste. Controlling the impact of agriculture on the global cycle of nitrogen is a growing challenge for sustainable development.
· Providing energy from fusion – Fusion is the energy source for the sun. Human-engineered fusion has been demonstrated on a small scale. The challenge is to scale up the process to commercial proportions, in an efficient, economical, and environmentally benign way.
· Enhancing virtual reality – Virtual reality is an illusory environment, engineered to give users the impression of being somewhere they are not. It can be used for training, treatment, and communication.
Are these 14 items challenges? Yes. Do they all need fixing for our planet to survive? Probably not.