Our Climate Crisis: Reflections for Earth Science Week

Earth Science Week will take place October 10–16 this year. This annual event organized by The American Geosciences Institute is intended to raise public awareness of the importance of Earth sciences and encourage stewardship of our planet.

This year’s theme is “Water Today and for the Future” and resources and activities will focus on understanding, conserving and protecting this vital resource.

A Planet in Peril

The need for environmental solutions is greater than ever. Climate change and droughts have resulted in water shortages throughout our world. For example in the U.S., severe droughts throughout the west have brought water levels in reservoirs to historic lows and even forced federal water restrictions on farmers. And, as this Washington Post article outlines, global warming is causing hot summer temperatures to arrive earlier and last longer throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Longer summers can have significant impacts to agricultural growing seasons, affect water quality, expand the reach of mosquito-borne diseases and increase extreme weather events, such as wildfires.

According to research group Headwaters Economics, over 89,000 structures in the U.S. have been destroyed by wildfires since 2005, with 62% of those lost since 2017. Yet people continue to ignore this crisis, as Bloomberg CityLab recently reported the number of households in the U.S. that moved into areas with wildfire history increased by 21% between March 2020 and February 2021. In Australia, bushfires have also reached historic levels, and we see similar catastrophes around our globe.

As the effects of climate change continue to impact our daily lives, we need scientists and engineers who can design solutions to mitigate the damage that has been done to our planet and offer alternatives for a better future.

Preparing the STEM Professionals of Tomorrow

A primary objective of Earth Science Week is to encourage students to discover Earth sciences. Not only is it important to engage these students at an early age, but it is also essential to ensure they will be prepared once they graduate to take on the important challenges related to preserving our planet.

To that end, ABET accredits programs in several Earth science-related disciplines, including environmental engineering and technology, geology, biology, physics, chemistry and data science. Our criteria are developed by technical professionals from our member societies, and focus on what students experience and learn. ABET accreditation ultimately provides assurance that a program meets quality standards in preparing graduates to enter the global workforce.

In addition to accrediting programs, we also support programming and initiatives from our member societies, such as a webinar held this past July by the American Academy of Environmental Engineers and Scientists titled Students Converging COVID-19: Environment, Health, and Equity. Opportunities like these are important in sharing research and facilitating conversations about creating solutions to make the world a better place.

Environmental science, engineering and related disciplines are essential to protecting public health and our planet. The demand for qualified professionals will continue to increase, and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job outlook for environmental scientists and specialists will grow 8% by 2030. Moreover, it’s encouraging to see that today’s Gen Z students are not just concerned with environmental issues, they are focusing their future careers on fighting climate change.

As we approach Earth Science Week this year, it’s a great opportunity to reflect on the climate challenges our planet is facing, as well as the opportunities we have to engage and prepare the next generation of STEM professionals as we work together to build a more sustainable world.

Executive Director & CEO of ABET, the global accreditor of college and university programs in the STEM disciplines.