Mobilizing the university to create an ecologically resilient and climatically stable future
Humanity has become a geological force, catalyzing climate and ecological crises that threaten Earth’s ability to support human well-being. While many of the last century’s environmental challenges were primarily local, today the local and global are intimately intertwined, with profound effects not just for health and ecology, but also for economy and security. These challenges demand the development of integrated scientific, technological, and social systems for environmental monitoring and management.
Earth 2100 will use the Raritan watershed, the state of New Jersey, and the broader Northeast megapolis as living laboratories to pilot the observing and modeling networks needed to track and manage environmental changes affecting diverse megapolitan regions. Going beyond “smart city” concepts, Earth 2100 aims to make the Northeast megapolis a model “smart bioregion.”
Leveraging advances in transdisciplinary science and big data, Earth 2100 will focus on challenges associated with assessing and managing (1) climate risk, (2) competing uses of coastal and marine resources, such as wind power and fisheries, (3) biodiversity impacts of land use, and (4) air and water pollution, while pursuing an ecologically stable, net zero-carbon future.
Rising seas and a more humid atmosphere are making floods more frequent and intense. Already, sea-level rise since 1980 has led to a five-fold increase in the frequency of flooding along the Jersey Shore, threatening homes, infrastructure, and coastal economies. Studies led by Robert Kopp, director of Rutgers’ Institute of Earth, Ocean, and Atmospheric Sciences and co-director of the Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience Initiative, show that twice as much sea-level rise is likely over the next 30 years as during the last 30, and much more is in store in the second half of this century.
“But it is not too late,” Kopp says. “Through urgent, swift, effective, and sustained action, we can limit human-caused climate and ecological change and manage those impacts we don’t avoid. We can create a healthier, more sustainable future for our children and grandchildren.”
Achieving that future requires that universities step up and work together with communities, policymakers, and businesses in a new way to develop and use science and technology in support of planetary stewardship. That’s the fundamental focus of Earth 2100.
This ambitious initiative aims to build a model for a public land-grant university that puts planetary stewardship at the center of its mission. It will link all aspects of the university’s research and teaching missions—from Earth system science and environmental social sciences to engineering, policy, planning, law, business, communications, public health, and social work—in the service of transformative change.
Together, initiatives like these provide the seeds of Earth 2100. These seeds provide powerful models within their own domains, but they are also small and scrappy.
To fulfill Earth 2100’s ambitious vision will require support for the students, postdoctoral fellows, faculty, and staff who are breaking out of disciplinary silos and funding lines to make discipline-crossing, community-engaged planetary stewardship and planetary crisis management a core part of their studies and work.
“We want to make sure all of our undergraduate and graduate students leave Rutgers able to look at the planetary crisis with the global, long-term perspective that society needs in order to navigate through it,” Kopp says. “And we want to support our faculty and staff who are solving environmental challenges through work that doesn’t fit neatly in traditional departmental or school boundaries.”
We need to make these investments: if we don’t solve the planetary crisis, we will undermine all the other well-intentioned investments we make to advance human health, prosperity, and security.
With support for Earth 2100, Rutgers will grow the seeds of planetary stewardship that already exist here into a model and a hub for metropolitan universities channeling their research and teaching missions to address the greatest challenge of the century and lead the way to a more environmentally sustainable and resilient, ecologically stable, net-zero-carbon future.
Big Ideas are driven by faculty, staff, and researchers across disciplines, divisions, and locations. Project champions represent the robust, expansive, and highly collaborative project teams whose work will bring these ideas to life.
Director, Rutgers Institute of Earth, Ocean & Atmospheric Sciences
Robert Kopp is also a climate scientist and a professor in Rutgers’ Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences. He co-directs Rutgers’ transdisciplinary Coastal Climate Risk and Resilience Initiative, a program that brings graduate students in the natural sciences, social sciences, engineering, and urban planning together with coastal stakeholders to tackle the challenges that climate change poses to the world’s coastlines. He is a director of the Climate Impact Lab, a multi-institutional collaboration of economists, data scientists, climate scientists, and policy experts working to bring big data approaches to the assessment of the economic risks of climate change. Kopp’s research focuses on understanding uncertainty in past and future climate change, with major emphases on sea-level change and the interactions between physical climate change and the economy. He has authored more than 100 scientific papers. He is co-chair of the President’s Task Force on Carbon Neutrality and Climate Resilience at Rutgers, which is developing a comprehensive Climate Action Plan that will identify pathways to achieving carbon neutrality, ways to reduce the university’s vulnerability to climate impacts, and approaches to leveraging the university to catalyze climate action throughout the Garden State. He is a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, a past Leopold Leadership Fellow, and a recipient of the American Geophysical Union’s James B. Macelwane Medal.
Chair, Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources
Dr. Julie Lockwood is an ecologist that serves is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Ecology, Evolution and Natural Resources. Her research focuses on the impact of global change on biodiversity, including species extinctions and the impacts of invasive species. She has published over 100 peer reviewed scientific articles, and four books including a foundational text on the biology of invasive species. Professor Lockwood is an elected Fellow of the Ecological Society of America, and is a lead author and review editor for the United Nations Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) report on invasive species due for publication in 2022. She is also a Senior Editor for Conservation Letters, the leading journal for biodiversity conservation, and a regular contributor to international efforts to combat the ill-effects of the global wildlife trade. Professor Lockwood earned her PhD in Zoology from the University of Tennessee, and her Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Biology from Georgia Southern University.