Earth Day and Science

On Saturday, April 22, we celebrated Earth Day. Many people across the globe, including members of the University of Rhode Island community, did so by participating in the March for Science. These events remind us that research and education at the University of Rhode Island fosters a broad and deep understanding of the global environment, our place within it, the magnitude of the challenges and opportunities before us, and the importance of knowledge. Furthermore, the events of Saturday remind us that we exist within a global community and that a shared commitment to cooperation and collaboration is essential to achieving peace and prosperity in the 21st century. I see signs of this across our campus every day — whether it’s engagement with local sustainability efforts, or research and education projects that take our students and faculty around the world. The scientific evidence that climate change is occurring is clear, and the overwhelming majority of climate change experts agree that the utilization of carbon-based fuels is a major cause of current and future changes in the planet’s climate. I am convinced our world will look different in fifty years as a result of climate change, but our students and faculty are working hard today to understand and to mitigate those probable changes.

As a research university we have the unique opportunity to investigate nature – its present, past, and future. We also have the responsibility to identify and test solutions to challenges within it, whether these are associated with infectious disease, aging, pollution, or climate change, to cite just a few examples. Scientific research has served our nation well and has contributed dramatically to economic growth, prosperity, health, and the protection of our environment. Scientific and technical research has driven the engine of innovation for decades.

Currently, there is considerable uncertainty regarding our government’s future investment in scientific research and exploration. The recently proposed cuts in federal research funding will be simply devastating and, if enacted, could damage the health, safety, and quality of life for many generations to come. At the University of Rhode Island we remain committed to preparing our students for a lifetime of inspiration, discovery and innovation. We can collectively use our knowledge and talent to improve our world no matter what government is in place or what the political priorities may be at any given time. Scientific laws and truths are a major part of the reality in which we exist, and as a land-grant and sea-grant university our quest for knowledge must never cease.

When the University was founded 125 years ago, our founders could not have imagined the breadth of educational opportunities our university would provide more than a century later. As I observed Earth Day 2017, and monitored the March for Science events, I have been reassured that our community, and our partners around the world, will continue doing everything we can to prepare for the future, whatever it may entail, and to strive to build a better future for our planet and for future generations.

Research universities exist to determine the facts and then to share those facts, to discover knowledge and then to promote that knowledge, and to discern the truth and to then tell the truth. Occasionally, perhaps frequently, these missions can discomfort or threaten people, religious groups, political parties, or governments. But it is our duty to pursue these missions, nonetheless. And on the whole, over time, the world, humanity, and all other life on our planet, will be better for it.