Skip to main content

Speaking out about climate change is urgent in our ‘crucial century’

The approach of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in early December has global leaders from every sector thinking about technology opportunities to help meet greenhouse-gas-emissions reduction goals in an effort to mitigate climate change.

Photonics at work: A schematic illustration of
electromagnetic characterization and detection of
pollutants on a sea surface, in an SPIE Newsroom
article by researchers at Lab-STICC, CNRS, ENSTA Bretagne.
Photonics technologies play an important part in enabling and driving applications that support sustainable development and the green economy. Researchers, engineers, and developers in the optics and photonic community are continually finding new ways to enhance our lives with these technologies.

But there is another sort of opportunity for the photonics community to take up: speaking out about the urgency to take action, particularly in the face of climate-change skepticism or denial.

UK Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees is among scientists who are doing so. Framing the issue in a recent commentary in the Financial Times, he characterized this century as the first in the Earth’s 45-million-year history when “one species -- ours -- can determine the fate of the entire biosphere.”

While there may be some uncertainties in climate science, Rees said, it is certain that future generations will be affected by existing public policies and others implemented in our lifetimes.

Anyone who cares about those generations -- the grandchildren of today’s young children and others living in the next century and beyond -- “will deem it worth making an investment now to protect them from worst-case scenarios,” Rees said.

Given that, he said, the conversation needs to be based on “the best knowledge that the 21st century has to offer.”

Today’s knowledge includes work toward photonics-driven prospects such as:


Policy makers and non-scientists are supporting efforts to grow our knowledge even further, and working to strengthen the investment for future generations.

Governmental agencies and university departments collaborate in competitions such as the U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon. Teams design, build, and operate houses powered by solar energy, and that are affordable, energy efficient, attractive, and easy to live in. Congratulations to this year’s winner, Stevens Institute of Technology!

Citizen scientists get involved through activities such as the recent iSPEX-EU project. Using an add-on optical sensor with their smartphones, people across Europe measured and reported on aerosols during a 45-day period. The crowd-sourced approach provided information at times and locations not covered by current air pollution monitoring efforts.

As the world gears up for the climate conference in Paris next month, it will be wise to consider, as Rees has said, that “Whatever happens in this uniquely crucial century will resonate into the remote future and perhaps far beyond the Earth.”

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

#FacesofPhotonics: Rising Researcher Alina Zare

SPIE's #FacesofPhotonics is sharing the story of Alina Zare, Associate Professor at the The Machine Learning and Sensing Lab at the University of Florida. Dr. Zare was recognized as a 2018 Rising Researcher for her work in Electronic Imaging & Signal Processing, at the SPIE Defense + Commercial Sensing conference.

This program recognizes early career professionals who conduct outstanding research in the defense, commercial, and scientific sensing, imaging, optics, or related fields. If you want to learn more about the program, the details are here.

Enjoy the interview with Alina!

1. Tell us about when you first became interested in optics and photonics. In my senior year of  undergraduate studies in computer science, I was taking an Image Processing elective.  I really enjoyed the course, and the professor for the class, Dr. Gerhard Ritter, encouraged me to do some undergraduate research.  
So I joined Dr. Paul Gader's research lab as a undergraduate researcher where I he…

#FacesofPhotonics: Photovoltaics PhD Student Arfa Karani

Meet this week's SPIE Faces of Photonics feature, Arfa Karani. Arfa is a physics PhD student at the University of Cambridge, studying the physics of solar cells. She is originally from India, but has lived outside her home country for many years while pursuing her education. 

Arfa was also President of the SPIE Student Chapter at the University of Cambridge in 2017-18, and continues to remain involved with the chapter when she's not hard at work in the university's Cavendish Lab.


Enjoy her interview!




1. How did you become interested in the optics and photonics field? Was there a person who inspired you?

My physics teacher at school inspired me. I got interested in studying optics because my curiosity was satisfied by this teacher, who was extremely enthusiastic about what they did. When you ask too many questions as a child, people try to divert your attention once they are tired of answering. Not this teacher.

I know it’s a bit cliché, but I was amazed by how one could cre…

#FacesofPhotonics: Optimax Director of Technology and Strategy, Jessica DeGroote Nelson

SPIE Senior Member Jessica DeGroote Nelson works as the director of technology and strategy at Optimax Systems in Ontario, New York. She also teaches as an adjunct assistant professor at The Institute of Optics at the University of Rochester (UR), and is a Conference Chair for SPIE Optifab 2019. 
This year at SPIE Optics + Photonics in San Diego, Nelson will be teaching Optical Materials, Fabrication, and Testing for the Optical Engineer. This course is geared toward optical engineers who are hoping to learn the basics about how optics are made, and ways in which to help reduce the cost of the optics they are designing. 
"Optical tolerancing and the cost to fabricate an optic can be a point of tension or confusion between optical designers and optical fabricators," Nelson says. "I teach this course to help give optical designers who are new to the field a few tools in their toolbelt as they navigate tolerancing and purchasing some of their first designs. One of the thi…