Commentary: We cannot fight the environmental crisis unless we hire more environmental scientists.



Despite the worsening climate crisis, relatively few environmental degrees are awarded in the United States. Photo by Getty Images.

Written by Jay A. Parman and Michelle Masucci

The authors are each presidents of the University System of Maryland; Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development of the University System of Maryland.

Last summer was the hottest on record, 0.41 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than any other summer. This record heat was accompanied by environmental disasters such as wildfires in forests and grasslands, hazardous air quality, dangerously high ocean temperatures, and dangerous chain reactions common to disrupted ecosystems. For example, there was widespread drought and saltwater intrusion that contaminated drinking water.

These events increase our urgency to advance education in environmental science and related fields. However, the number of environmental degrees awarded in the United States is relatively small: in 2021, U.S. universities awarded 7,400 bachelor’s degrees in environmental science. Counting agriculture (with a focus on resource conservation) and environment, the total number of bachelor’s degrees reached 59,000. Compare this to 391,000 degrees in the School of Business Administration. Meanwhile, the job market for environmental scientists is expected to grow by 6% over the next 10 years, twice the growth for all occupations.

Two-thirds of Americans think the government should do more to address the climate crisis. Solutions cited by respondents include carbon sequestration, business tax credits for carbon storage, emissions limits for power plants, emissions-based taxes on businesses, and higher fuel efficiency standards. All of these solutions require an understanding of the complex dynamics between the climate system, industrial production, consumption, and the economy.

There is a disconnect there. On the one hand, Americans are concerned about climate change and want to see measures taken to address it. And on the other hand, we are not producing enough graduates in the very fields that will guide this implementation.

The University System of Maryland (USM) is uniquely positioned to produce these graduates. We are the only public higher education system in the nation with a graduate institution dedicated to applied environmental science. The University of Maryland Environmental Science Center (UMCES) conserves and protects Maryland’s ecosystems by training the next generation of environmental professionals and conducting and explaining research that shapes policies that manage the state’s natural resources. I am responsible for doing so.

UMCES is not alone in this effort. USM as a whole has been committed to developing and modeling innovation-driven sustainability. Improving environmental science communication, policy development, and education. and expand student opportunities in field and laboratory research, internships, and community involvement.

But to address the long-term effects of the climate crisis, we must do more than improve the opportunities we offer students.must be provided far more Attracts students, early age learners, and learners from our community.

Maryland Sea Grant College, a partnership with NOAA operated by UMCES and located at the University of Maryland, College Park, sponsors research, education, and advocacy efforts across the state. For nearly 30 years, the company’s Aquaculture in Action program has trained Maryland’s K-12 teachers to develop classroom aquaculture projects as a foundation for learning environmental science and stewardship. I’ve been doing it.

UMBC’s Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education supports Baltimore Ecosystem Research, which investigates urban environmental systems and human perceptions and behaviors related to those systems. This research collaborated with her 150 educators who have reached thousands of K-12 students and college students to teach them about biodiversity, ecosystems, and environmental citizenship.

The University of Maryland Eastern Shore manages the Paul S. Sarbanes Center for Coastal Ecology. The center is a research and education facility that also serves as a public outreach center and features K-12 programs focused on coastal bay ecosystem restoration and conservation.

UMCES’ Frostburg-based Appalachian Institute helps K-12 teachers incorporate real-world science into their classrooms. Students study stormwater runoff in schoolyards and investigate local soils. They build on research conducted by the institute’s scientists and team up with citizens of all ages to study native species such as the American chestnut tree in western Maryland.

Such programs help young students identify and assess environmental threats, explore ways to neutralize them, and measure the results of these efforts. But more broadly, we educate and engage the next generation of scientists, policy makers and activists who are paving the way to a more sustainable future.

The sooner we reach students to develop their interest and skills in environmental science, the better. And the wider we cast our net and include students from all backgrounds and experiences, the more likely we are to build environmental systems and practices that work for and benefit everyone.

Universities are essential to creating a green workforce. However, if you start once students enter university, it is already too late. We must meet young learners wherever they are and where they are. The pace of climate change is too fast, the impacts too deep, and the consequences too dire for us to wait.

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