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Rutgers professors discuss potential, challenges of sustainability

Carl Pray, a professor in the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences, said the real challenge of sustainability research is making it into something usable instead of it being a general issue.

Students, professors and engineers met at the Cook Office Building on Friday to discuss the assumptions and uncertainties of sustainable development.

Pray invited Anthony Artuso to speak because he knew he was still interested in sustainability, Pray said. Artuso used to be a Department of Agricultural, Food and Resource Economics professor at the University.

“Agriculture is one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas and climate change and decreasing biodiversity,” Pray said.

Pray said he has done agricultural technology research that includes investigations on the trade-offs between crop returns and greenhouse gases.

“People should reduce the amount of fertilizer and pesticides used when making food. It has potential and is worthwhile to meet some of the sustainability goals,” he said.

Pray is currently doing research in China, India and Kenya where they are debating whether they should use genetic engineering on food reproduction.

China imports massive amounts of genetically engineered food and their government believes its safe, but they are not allowing their farmers to produce genetically engineered food, he said.

Pray teaches undergraduate level bioscience policy and a course in international agricultural development at the graduate level. He has been a professor at Rutgers University for 28 years.

After one of his graduate students finished her master’s degree, she worked with the organization Appropriate Technology International in Washington, he said. She started a branch of that organization in India.

ATI works with impoverished people and helps them develop new ways to make income, he said.

“This makes teaching fun because you have good students and contribute to their understanding of the world. You can see what fun and interesting things they are doing,” Pray said.

During the event, there were a lot of different opinions and interactions between faculty, students and people, which was fun, he said.

Artuso said he also has a blog centralized on sustainable development.

“Natural biodiversity and genetic material is important in a rapidly changing environment and can become increasingly valuable,” Artuso said.

If you eliminate those species and have a loss of biodiversity, genetic possibilities disappear, he said.

Recently, he has been doing some consulting and advising to teach start-ups and companies coming up with clean energy technologies, Artuso said. He has worked with a company in Boston to use organic photovoltaic technology for high-resolution printing.

“The organic photovoltaic technology is inexpensive and can be used in developing countries, developing worlds, mobile devices and applications. It is very interesting and exciting,” he said.

He is seeing the start of a shift towards green energy technology because it is becoming less expensive than fossil fuels, he said.

It is still an open question whether the shift will be fast enough to deal with some of the climate problems, he said.

He said he was involved in the Boston Harbor clean up and worked with the recent Lake Champlain restoration.

“I have had a life long interest in environmental issues. I have always enjoyed being in nature and have a natural joy for learning,” he said, “I also enjoy collaborating with ecologists and biologists.”

He recalled being at a professional conference with a company from San Diego, Calif. Their approach was to scavenge the globe for exotic microorganisms, he said.

The presenters at the conference went to different parts of the world to see what kind of microorganisms survived in different environments, he said. These venues included Yellowstone hot springs, deep-sea ocean vents, Antarctica and the Andes Mountains.

Two Rutgers graduate research associates funded the project for a couple of years to help work and collaborate on the project, he said.

Jaclyn Liccone, a School of Arts and Sciences first-year student, said she appreciated hearing opinions from different people at the event.

“I learned what sustainable means,” she said.

A previous version of this article stated that Anthony Artuso is currently doing research in China, India and Kenya. 

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