Herwig Leirs / Full professor, Chairman of the Board of Governors

Un / Biology

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As a biologist with strong interest in population dynamics and the ecology of infections, I am studying how environmental conditions such as weather and biodiversity affect population growth, outbreaks and the transmission of diseases. Our work has a strong focus on different systems in eastern and central Africa, but also in Europe and Central Asia.
Changes in climate and biodiversity are associated with changes in the distribution and abundance of species, othen with undesirable effects in agriculture or health. I am concerned about changes that will pose unpredicted challenges and that will be difficult to stop.
My personal lifestyle is not very special nor has it changed dramatically in recent years. My daily commuting to work or to meetings in other cities in Belgium is exclusively by a combination of public transport and bicycle. When we were looking for a house, a criterium was to have a train station within cycling distance. We avoid a throw-away consumerist mentality. We prefer buying locally produced food and avoid packing material as much as possible. Our family holidays are in Europe. We try to be conscious about energy consumption: the mean heating source in our house is an efficient wood stove (CO2 neutral but aware of the fine dust it produces).
In the organisations where I am part of the management, I support and where necessary stimulate attention for environmental awareness and try to affect other peoples’ attitude.
The main difficulty in reducing my ecological footprint is the travelling linked to my work as a scientist. I try to be consistent and use the train also for international mid-range distances, but for conferences and meetings at larger distance or our field work in Africa I have to travel by airplane (at least we participate in a CO2 compensation scheme).
Even though personal motivation and action is important, urgent measures must be taken to ensure a reduction of the ecological footprint at society level. This ranges from drastic changes in energy production and consumption, to a complete stop for further reduction of the open space, and to modal shifts in mobility. This inevitably will affect individual freedom to some extent and make some activities more expensive but price calculations must include the external and future costs linked to the use of depletable resources and pollution. This will require considerable political courage.

Originally posted 2018-04-29 01:24:42.