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Environmental hot topics PDF Print E-mail
Written by Marjorie Holt   
Thursday, July 9 2009

Environmental hot topics

Herald-Tribune Columnist

Published: Monday, May 18, 2009 at 1:00 a.m.

"We will restore science to its rightful place."

-- President Obama,

2009 inaugural address

In 2007, the National Academy of Sciences identified six critical environmental-science issues that will drive 21st-century America. These topics impact local and national economies, as well as ecology, and their solutions will significantly enhance our quality of life. The six issues are: biodiversity, climate change, biogeochemistry (meaning the biological, geological and chemical cycles regulating our ecosystems, which include water), land use, infectious diseases and invasive species. The last issue alone is estimated to cost America more than $150 billion per year, and most current invasive-species control efforts are akin to the proverbial needle in a haystack.

Florida has the dubious distinction of boasting all six of the National Academy's grand science challenges. In Florida -- with our subtropical climate, location in Hurricane Alley, and high density of coastal populations -- we have created a crossroads for these ecological bottlenecks. North Dakota, for example, does not suffer the immediate threats of land use, invasive species, or biodiversity loss; and subsequently, its regional governments do not have the financial burden of paying for their solutions.

Predictions indicate that issues such as tropical infectious diseases will hit Florida before they threaten North Dakota. So does that mean we should move to North Dakota? With all due respect to North Dakota, the answer is "no." But it certainly means that Floridians need to be vigilant about environmental issues, and to prioritize them for long-range planning and policy solutions.

The importance of investing in research and of integrating ecological science with policymaking cannot be understated for Florida in the next few decades. It is sometimes easy to overlook the direct links between quality of environment and human health. A short list of science "hot topics" for Florida's future includes:

Sea level rise

Carbon storage

Salt water intrusion


Water conservation

Biological field station

Mass transit



Soil nutrition


Agricultural practices

Climate change

Mangrove conservation

Air quality


Noise pollution

Science education

Invasive species


Infectious diseases


Land use



Hurricane-proof construction

Offshore drilling

Hurricane predictions


Weather forecasting

Coral reef decline

Endangered species

Ocean acidification

Home insurance


Fire ecology

Urban sprawl

2050 growth planning

Storm-water runoff

Fertilizer applications

Health and nutrition


Urban heat islands

Ecosystem restoration

Beach renourishment


This list is just a beginning! While these scientific challenges put Florida at risk under ordinary circumstances, they also provide opportunities for research initiatives and solutions in our state: to pilot new clean energy, to find new ways to eradicate invasive species, and other projects leading to an updated economy grounded in sound science and technology. A veritable testing ground lies outside our door, if we have the vision to initiate economic opportunities that seek solutions using science-based technologies. No other state boasts these six hot environmental-science topics operating synergistically in its own backyards. As the adage says, says, if you get lemons, make lemonade!

Margaret Lowman is director of Environmental Initiatives at New College of Florida. Her column appears twice a month. Web:




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