UT should continue to lead in environmental sustainability

Ratnika Batra

No one wishes ill health on themselves, yet about 40 percent of Americans live in polluted areas where the air is unhealthy to breathe. So, our goals should be clear: We need to keep working to improve our environment and make it sustainable for years to come. This requires a constant effort in research on environmental sciences all around the world. But we can take the first step locally here at the University of Texas, and the world will follow.

As members of a great institution like UT, we are fortunate to be funded by alumni and other supporters, to keep doing research, so that UT can help the world slowly switch over to 100 percent renewable energy, which emits the least amount of greenhouse gasses. UT should keep pushing its research on the environment and sustainability despite the recent policy changes made by the federal government. These changes include the decision to exit the Paris Climate Accord and the opening of drilling for oil and gas off the Atlantic coast, which is expected to heavily pollute the sea and kill several marine animals and reefs.

Whatever happens at the national level, a continuous effort on environmental science at the university level must not stop for any reason because if American universities back off, much of the world will do so too, and we will all face the consequences.

Recently, we saw these efforts in action when UT Austin affiliated engineers joined hands with the Environmental Defense Fund, Google and Aclima to develop the most detailed air pollution map that shows pollution deviation on a street level. According to the researchers, the “pollution hotspots included port, busy intersections, restaurants, warehouses, industrial plants and vehicle dealerships.”

These kinds of detailed maps will help parents choose the best schools and homes for their family’s health. The schools will then try to improve their surrounding environment. This type of competition amongst schools and many other institutions and corporations would create a better future for us and future generations.

We can’t be in accord with the philosophy of the federal government if it means working towards a worse environment. We should emulate the state of California that has passed the strictest laws in the country on carbon emissions and as a result, it had about 74 percent fewer days with unhealthy air pollution in 2011 than in 2000.  We can learn from them to help make Austin a better place to live in, serving as an example for other Texas cities to follow and in turn, this healthy competition will improve our environment.

UT is already recognized as one of the world’s top institutions in Earth and Environmental science research and is considered one of the greenest universities in the world, so changes to the philosophies in environmental science and sustainability on any governmental level should not discourage us from progressing towards a better, healthier future. On the contrary, we should now, more than ever, be working to set an example for other institutions that will improve America as a whole and help us towards a healthier lifestyle.

Batra is computer and science and rhetoric and writing junior from New Delhi, India. She is a Senior Columnist.