Five Ideas for Creating a Sustainable Future

Much news about the environment in 2017 focused on controversies over Trump administration actions, such as proposals to promote more use of coal and budget cuts at relevant federal agencies. At the same time, however, many scholars across the United States are pursuing innovations that could help create a more sustainable world. Here we spotlight five examples from our 2017 archives.

1. Restoring the Rio Grande

Although many Americans may not realize it, the United States and Mexico work together on many environmental issues along their joint border, including drinking water, sanitation and flood control. Gabriel Diaz Montemayor, assistant professor of landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Austin, proposes a bolder vision: greening the entire Rio Grande Valley, which forms more than half of the border.

Restoring vegetation along the river and creating more green space along both sides would help improve river flow and water quality, Montemayor writes. And it could make the border region an attraction that brings Mexicans and Americans together:

“As the Rio Grande advances to the Gulf of Mexico, it cuts through incredibly valuable, beautiful and remote landscapes, including Big Bend National Park in Texas and the Cañon de Santa Elena, Ocampo, and Maderas del Carmen reserves in Mexico. Traveling its length could become a trip comparable to hiking the Appalachian Trail, with opportunities to see recovering natural areas and wildlife and learn from two of the world’s richest cultures.”

2. Making Jet Fuel From Sugarcane

Jet airplane travel is one of the world’s fastest-growing greenhouse gas emissions sources. For this and other reasons, including concerns about oil price spikes, there is growing interest in producing jet fuel from nonpetroleum sources.

Researchers at the University of Illinois are working on making jet fuel from sugarcane, an abundant and low-cost source. But they are doing it with a twist. Instead of fermenting cane juice into an…

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