University of Louvain / Nanotechnology, organic materials
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In my personal life, I have been concerned for a long time by the issues associated to the industrial production of meat; I was thus vegetarian for 20 years; I am no more vegetarian for a series of reasons, but I have decreased strongly my consumption of meat. This is something everyone can do. I have also selected to live close to my work, being able to walk or bike easily to go to work. I understand this is a privilege that not everyone can afford and politicians should thus develop better public transportation means, affordable housing, etc. I also take the train when possible rather than planes for my professional travels – sadly, this is often more expensive than the plane, something which should be changed.
In my field, I see many issues which need to be addressed rapidly, next to other pressing environmental issues such as climate change: the irrational use of sparse resources (raw materials); the high pollution associated to the fabrication of IT components (including solar panels); and the release in the environment of micro- and nano-particles, of which the micro-plastics issue is currently especially heralded although this is only one small part of the problem. There are moderately efficient technical solutions to the irrational use of sparse resources, which is especially occurring in IT technology (smartphones being a major example); they involve a complete life-cycle analysis and recycling streams. However, a real evolution needs changing the way we think and interact with computers, smartphones, the internet, etc. Additionally, one should be aware of the terrible environmental cost of semiconductor technology: to fabricate these devices which are part of our daily life, very polluting processes have been developed, and wars have been waged to get access to critical resources. Additionally, our use of the internet also requires a huge expense of energy and devices that we erroneously take for granted. Finally, the spreading of micro- and nanoparticles in the environment is very concerning, even though all of them are not problematic (and indeed, some of them exist in Nature). We need to rationally assess the problem, see to what extent it is a threat, and act consequently. We now try to have our students aware of these issues, by setting up projects which include life-cycle assessment. On the long term, I hope this will change the way products are designed and developed.