International Science Conference Ushers in Earth Day

The Hyo Jeong International Foundation for the Unity of the Sciences (HJIFUS), the sponsoring organization of The Earth & I, convened the Twenty-Eighth International Conference on the Unity of the Sciences (ICUS XXVIII) in a virtual format on April 12–13 EDT. The conference explored cutting-edge solutions to environmental problems, based on conventional scientific approaches.


Attendees from across the globe, representing different scientific disciplines, were greeted with welcoming remarks by HJIFUS Chairman Dr. Douglas Joo and an address by Dr. Sun Jin Moon, representing her mother and HJIFUS Founder Rev. Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon. Both exhorted attendees to freely share their latest findings with a collective sense of responsibility for the Earth’s well-being.


Said Dr. Moon, “Life as we know it hangs in the balance of our conscious choices and actions. The interdependent fate of humanity and the Earth is a direct result of not knowing who we are and why and how we are living. We need to have the knowing, enlightenment, the knowledge, and sacred wisdom to know the heart of all life on Earth is the heart of the Divine love of the highest power.”


The overall conference theme was, Investigating Pathways to Resolve Environmental Challenges, and the session topics were grouped under three sub-themes: Addressing Climate Change: Strategies to Achieve “Net Zero”; Manufacturing Materials for Eco-Friendly Products; and Engaging the Public in Tackling Environmental Problems. The keynote speaker was Nobel Laureate, Dr. David MacMillan, James S. McDonnell Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Princeton University, who presented novel catalytic methods that can help balance human needs with environmental sustainability.

Professor David MacMillan.   ©Princeton University, Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy
Professor David MacMillan. ©Princeton University, Sameer A. Khan/Fotobuddy

Prof. MacMillan led participants from different fields along his career path in organocatalysis, a journey that eventually led to his receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2021.


“Organocatalysis,” he stated, “has found application in the recyclable plastics economy.” He cited the work of Professor Bob Waymouth of Stanford University and Dr. James Hedrick of IBM, who have developed organocatalytic processes that break down polymers to their “component monomeric building blocks.” These monomers, he explained, “can then be transformed back to polymers,” a process with the “potential to render plastics completely recyclable and sustainable.”


Regarding the future of organocatalysis, he said it is critical that we “keep developing more and more sustainable catalysis. And in this context, this is going to have to be fueled by things such as organocatalysis and biocatalysis, but also photocatalysis, electrocatalysis, and even base metal catalysis, as an area that’s going to be extraordinarily important as we continue to grow as a population.”


“The next big idea (based on catalysis),” he said, “can come from anywhere in the world.”


In Session 1, Addressing Climate Change: Strategies to Achieve “Net Zero,” there was significant debate on the topic, “Negative Emission Technologies to Reduce Atmospheric Carbon,” which was presented by Dr. Eric Larson, Senior Research Engineer at the Andlinger Center for Energy and the Environment at Princeton University. Dr. Larson spoke on the importance of implementing various technologies, with a focus on carbon capture and storage, toward achieving net-zero by 2050 in the United States.

Orca by Climeworks is the world's largest plant that sucks carbon dioxide directly from the air and deposits it underground just outside Reykjavik in Iceland.   ©Climeworks
Orca by Climeworks is the world's largest plant that sucks carbon dioxide directly from the air and deposits it underground just outside Reykjavik in Iceland. ©Climeworks

Follow-up discussion on the topic began with Dr. Thomas Valone, President of the Integrity Research Institute, who stated the importance of removing the “excess 830 gigatons [of CO2] in the atmosphere now, which is contributing the most to global warming.” This was in contrast to a comment by Dr. Takahiro Hiroi, Senior Research Associate at Brown University, who stated how the Earth “temperature-wise, is in a small ice age right now” and that we should “be careful in trying to control CO2 levels artificially” and instead focus on more natural pathways to reduce atmospheric CO2. Prof. Larry Baxter, Professor of Chemical Engineering at Brigham Young University, responded by stating that it is “not the level as much as the pace at which the CO2 level is changing” and cited the necessity to be “aggressive in trying to manage it.”


The focus of the third and final session moved from promising technological innovations to policy making and educational initiatives that can better engage the public. Speaking on the topic, “Promoting Grassroots Action on Environmental Issues,” Dr. Bruce Johnson, Professor of Environmental Learning & Science Education, and Dean, College of Education, University of Arizona, brought attention to the importance of basic attitudes toward nature that environmental education must address.


“Preservation and utilization,” he stressed, “are not necessarily correlated.”


In commenting on Dr. Johnson’s presentation, Dr. Dilafruz Williams added that “self-transcendent values rather than self-enhancing values are more effective for environmental action.” Environmental action, she added, “requires expansion of the notion of education beyond the four walls of formal schooling.”


In closing the conference, conference chairs presented summaries of presentations and commentaries. Participants commented on the unique forum that the conferences provided for discussing interdisciplinary approaches to environmental issues. The convenience of the virtual global platform, provided by iPeaceTV, allowed them to attend from their homes and offices in India, the UK, Japan, Korea, Africa, Europe, and the US.


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