Why We Need Earth Healers to Solve Our Plastic Problem

UN alarmed by plastic waste crisis, calls for action. UNAM's Earth Sciences School trains "Earth Healers" to tackle sustainability challenges and protect our planet from plastic pollution.

Why We Need Earth Healers to Solve Our Plastic Problem
Microplastics, tiny fragments of plastic breaking down in the environment, a growing threat to human and animal health.

We live on a planet drowning in its own cast-offs. A staggering seven billion tons of plastic waste – enough to fill a conga line of garbage trucks stretching from here to Pluto – have been produced, and less than 10% of it sees the light of a recycling bin. This sobering reality was the centerpiece of a recent address by UNAM rector Leonardo Lomelí Vanegas, who inaugurated the National School of Earth Sciences' (ENCiT) aptly themed "For a Planet Without Plastics" festival.

Rector Lomelí Vanegas painted a picture of a future choked by plastic. With an annual production of 400 million tons, and a potential tripling by 2050 according to the UN Environment Program, our throwaway culture threatens to turn the Earth into a giant landfill. The consequences are dire: over a million birds and 100,000 marine mammals fall victim to plastic pollution every year.

But the plastic peril extends beyond wildlife. Microplastics – insidious fragments smaller than five millimeters – are infiltrating our air, water, and even food. The long-term health effects of this silent invasion remain a chilling unknown.

The rector's message was clear: a collective about-face is imperative. He emphasized the need to move away from our 20th-century model of endless growth, a model that comes at the devastating expense of our planet. A single plastic bottle, a symbol of our convenience-obsessed culture, can linger in the environment for a mind-boggling 500 years. Plastic bags? A leisurely 50-year vacation before decomposition beckons.

This is where the ENCiT steps in, offering a beacon of hope in a sea of plastic. Director Beatriz Ortega Guerrero sees the school as a wellspring of "Earth Healers," graduates armed with the knowledge and skills to tackle the environmental challenges we face. These specialists will be the architects of sustainable resource management, environmental protection, and responsible land use planning.

Guerrero emphasizes the crucial role ENCiT plays within UNAM, Mexico's leading institution for training specialists in sustainable development. The school's mission: to empower a generation capable of not only mitigating disaster risk but also crafting a path towards a healthier planet, aligning with the UN's Sustainable Development Goals.

The stakes are high. The first graduating class of ENCiT will soon emerge, ready to unleash their skills on the world's environmental woes. Director Guerrero extends an invitation to high school students yearning to become environmental warriors – the ENCiT beckons!

Dr. Elena Centeno García, a UNAM Governing Board member, laments the lack of visibility geosciences often face, despite their critical role in societal development. "We forget," she reminds us, "that the Earth sustains us, feeds us, and provides us with materials and energy."

But Dr. Centeno García also offers a glimmer of optimism. Labor statistics in the US predict a 5% job growth rate in Earth Sciences over the next decade, compared to the average 3% across all professions. This translates to a whopping 2,200 additional job opportunities per year! The message is clear: the demand for Earth Healers is on the rise.

The commitment to environmental well-being runs deep within UNAM. Vania de Jesús Galindo, a student nearing graduation, echoes the responsibility her generation feels towards the planet. Her training equips her with the tools to not just understand environmental challenges but to dream up innovative solutions. "Each of us," she declares, "has the responsibility to cherish, conserve, and manage the resources our planet offers."

The future may be shrouded in plastic, but the ENCiT festival serves as a powerful reminder that a new generation of Earth Healers stands ready. With a shift in mindset and a commitment to sustainability, we can turn the tide on plastic pollution and forge a healthier path for our planet.