Universities, with their students from all backgrounds and of all opinions, have always had healthy and lively debate. Fortunately researchers at the University of Exeter are putting this to good use in the new ‘Big Dilemmas’ think tank.
I was recently given the opportunity to join the ‘think tank’. I enjoy discussing ideas, so without really knowing what ‘a think tank’ is, I jumped at the chance, and was successful.
The project has taken twenty enthusiastic young students from across disciplines, and challenged them towards solving some of the most pressing issues facing society. A sustainable future is a goal that we all want to work towards (I hope). As a Biologist the solutions can often seem quite intuitive. Stop cutting down the forests, stop polluting the oceans, start using renewable energy. However the economists, mathematicians and geographers among us all have the same goal, but differ markedly on how we should get there.
In this, its inaugural year, the focus is the Severn River Barrage. The Severn estuary acts as an essential food source and habitat for numerous migratory birds and fish. Many conservationists are staunchly opposed to anything that will interfere with this valuable and unique ecosystem. However, one must acknowledge and appreciate the threat that climate changes poses to the global ecosystem, and the essential role that the Severn estuary could play in a sustainable future. Clearly there is not a straightforward answer.
But the great thing about this project, is that the students want to be heard. Talking about it is one thing, but if something is worth doing, then it is worth doing right. Plans are afoot for a symposium in March, with distinguished guests in attendance. Our conclusions will be presented, and hopefully taken on board. To add to the growing social, cultural and scientific drive to push our civilisation towards a sustainable future.