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Designing a Better Future With Scientific Solutions

In the sprawling metropolis of Mexico City, providing enough water to quench the city’s 23 million residents means understanding nature. In the region’s Bosque de Agua, or Water Forest, scientists are helping government officials and local communities better manage the woodlands and grasslands that store and filter water for the city — a service that would cost $30 billion to replace.

Crafting a specific approach

In the villages of southern Tanzania, ensuring a stable food supply requires keeping ahead of rainfall that has become more unpredictable over time. Over two-thirds of Tanzanians earn their livelihoods from smallholder agriculture. Now researchers are putting data into the hands of local farmers — many of them women — to help them cope with changing conditions and increase crop yields.

In the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, planning for the future of the country requires a detailed prediction of sea level rise. As storm surges become more violent and groundwater and agricultural fields are inundated with salt water, experts are helping communities understand just how long they have before they are effectively swallowed by the sea.

All around the world, science is a vital tool to support human well-being, particularly in the face of an uncertain future fueled by climate change.

Searching for a scientific solution ​​​​​​​

The basic needs of society — roads and bridges; health and emergency services; and the security and well-being of people — hinge on decisions that require science. Scientists are partnering with governments and local communities to provide the research they need to plan for the future, and increased interest in this work points to a strong demand for these scientific solutions.

Communities depend on the research that is made possible by America’s universities, government agencies and scientific institutions. These investments are good for American security and economic growth. They strengthen our allies and trading partners, while stabilizing potentially troubled regions.

Some of the most violent corners of the globe have also been some of the hardest hit by drought, famine and resource scarcity, including Yemen, Somalia and Syria. As climate change scrambles weather patterns, increases the power of storms and threatens critical resources, we will see more of these environmental stressors, not fewer.

Leading the charge

Preparing for this future means answering questions not of politics or ideology but of human life and well-being. How far from the coast should a highway be routed to avoid erosion? What types of storms should buildings be able to withstand? How much should be invested in preparing for natural disasters like floods? Which communities are most vulnerable to drought and famine?

America has always led the world in answering these questions. We ought to double down on that leadership with a renewed commitment to science. Indeed, it is in our economic and national security interest to do so.

Being ready for the future starts with better understanding our world. To chart a prosperous and stable path ahead, we need science.

Peter Seligmann, Chairman and CEO, Conservation International, [email protected]

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