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Sustainability Science Requires the Freedom to Observe and Understand the Planet

(Co-authored by Arthur Lerner-Lam, Alison Miller and Sean Solomon). The scientific heart of Columbia University’s Earth Institute is the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, which has been engaged in observing and analyzing earth systems for over 65 years. If we are to develop a sustainable and renewable economy, it is essential that human activities have as little negative impact on the planet as possible.

Without a sophisticated understanding of how earth systems work, it is impossible to manage and minimize the impacts of our activities on our home planet. When our scientists make their observations and collect data, whether on land, at sea, or in the atmosphere, they do it with enormous care, working very hard to ensure that their research does not damage the planet they are working to protect. Unfortunately, some members of the environmental community, along with misinformed state agencies and elected representatives, often make erroneous assumptions about the impact of our observational methods on the living earth. They seek to stop research projects that have passed the most rigorous forms of peer review and have gone through a lengthy and thorough assessment of environmental impact, without stopping to understand how critical observations are actually made. A recent example in New Jersey provides a case in point.