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What does the “green movement” mean for San Diego? Is it a passing fad? Or will enough San Diegans embrace this trend to truly make a difference to our region’s environment and economy?

How do we improve our region’s supply of fresh, drinkable water? Is conservation the answer, as some recent newspaper accounts suggest? Or do we need to construct desalination plants of the sort proposed in Carlsbad to meet the future needs of residents and local agriculture?

Will concern over our deteriorating regional and national economy force us to comprise protecting our environment over stimulating local development and jobs? According to a poll released last week by the Pew Foundation, Americans say they are less worried about protecting the environment and global warming, and more concerned about the economy. Will that affect our local environment?

Are biofuels the answer in California to reducing our dependence on foreign oil for transportation? Corn-based ethanol isn’t regarded as a long-term solution, especially for western states, because of the difficulties of delivering ethanol, which corrode pipes, from manufacturers in farm belt regions. But San Diego could soon become a leader in the development of algal-based biofuels. (See reporter David Washburn‘s story).

And how do we educate more scientists and engineers to meet the demands of the state’s new Green Economy? Right now, only 4 percent of ninth graders in California schools go on to complete a bachelor’s degree in science, math or engineering. California is only producing one-half of the secondary mathematics and science teachers it requires. And over the next five years, San Diego County will need almost 400 more mathematics teachers than it will produce.

These questions and more are being discussed by students and faculty in the University of California, San Diego’s Environmental Systems, or ESYS, program. Designed to train the next generation of leaders in environmental science and policy, the ESYS program requires students to spend their senior year in an internship conducting research with a local environmental organization, a regional environmental agency or an environmental research laboratory. As a result, they have a unique perspective on the problems and solutions to the region’s environmental issues.

I’m Kim McDonald, director of science communications at UCSD and a faculty member in the ESYS program. Please join our ESYS students and faculty as we discuss some of the emerging environmental issues of 2009.

— KIM MCDONALD

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