IQ reporter Agnė Piepaliūtė recently sat down with Mykolas Romeris University (MRU) Environmental Management Research LAB Head Prof. Paulo Alexandre de Silva Pereira, a climate change researcher to discuss climate change forecasts, what environmental problems Lithuania should solve and why the greenery of Vilnius is not healthy. Here is an adapted version of the IQ magazine interview.
- Stanford University recognizes you as one of the most quoted academics. How does this recognition affect your work?
- If you are in a group of scientists who are widely cited globally, you can give the University a good reputation because it has good academics. For me personally, it gives me better access to projects, expands my social networks and strengthens my influence in the academic world.
- You talk about recognition, and I guess that along with it, your influence in the research field also increases. Perhaps you can share the main results of the research?
There is a lot because I am working in various fields. I began researching forest fires and then moved on to agricultural and after that – to ecosystem services. But if I had to single out several of them? We brought a lot of knowledge to Lithuania. For example, the first ecosystem services project in the country. Another thing - is our work with administrations, state authorities and so on.
The work we do is affected by two aspects. First, we work with institutions, which means they rely on our expertise. Second, is the fact of how often our research is cited in academia. If you are quoted in many other articles, used in the documents of the United Nations and other EU countries, it means that your work reaches a really wide audience. And there is a third important aspect - impact on society, but it is not achievable in one job, rather many, using different types of communication, organizing meetings, communicating with different people. And it's harder to measure than citations.
-Can you enunciate the main ecological challenges which, in your opinion, we are now facing?
The most popular challenges relate to climate change. That is a global problem, which affects everyone, regardless of what country you live in. Such a small country like Lithuania can not solve this problem globally-it can help in reducing carbon emissions, switching to renewable energy can help too, but it’s a global problem. That’s why it’s difficult to solve, even though it affects everyone. There are other important issues, such as the loss of biodiversity. It is also related to climate change, but more to human influence, landscape changes, overcrowding, urbanization, etc.
In Lithuania, as elsewhere in Europe, there are several negative factors affecting ecosystems. The intensification of land use, recorded in many regions of Lithuania, including protected areas, as well as deforestation and the construction of factories, is a major environmental problem.Another problem is that cities are expanding quickly. They use a lot of land. Vilnius, Kaunas and Klaipėda are such examples.
-Everyone says that Vilnius is one of the greenest cities in Europe. Is that really so?
Is Vilnius really the most green? What kind of green do you have here? There is the green that nurtures biodiversity and greens that harm biodiversity and ecosystems. For example, meadows located in many urban areas are fertilized with chemicals, products that can have a negative impact not only on microorganisms living in the soil, but also on human health. If a child plays in a meadow that is sprayed with pesticides, his health may be at risk. Therefore, a green city does not mean that it is healthy from an ecological point of view. The greenery you see outside the window (points to the trees near MRU University -IQ note) is not healthy.
What do people do? They cut everything with tractors, damaging the soil and the ecosystem in it thus increasing soil degradation. This is not healthy for the earth. Vilnius is green, but that greenness is not good. There is a bio-diversity preserved forest that balances the ecosystem. But there is a pine plantation, which is not a healthy ecosystem because it is only used for wood production.
-How do you rate that good green?
In Dzūkija you have large pine forests. But these are plantations, not healthy forests. I can say something that will shock – the attitude that Lithuanians have about their forests, ecologically speaking is not good. In the country there are many commercial plantations including protected areas.
In addition, it is not only a question of deforestation, it is also related to land use, which is encroaching on protected areas.People grow food, but that growth is not healthy for nature.All pesticides used in the river, for example near Neris or Nemunas, harm the water quality and reach the Kuršių lagoon.The Kuršių Lagoon is now a drain piple into which all pollutants wash.This causes fish to die and people will eat those contaminated products.
-Maybe the air in Lithuania is not as clean as we think?
The EU has created requirements that you must fulfill. Although there are problem areas, they are not as sensitive as they used to be because there is more control. All cities in the world have challenges with regard to air quality, but the situation in Lithuania is nothing unique.
-Are business and the environment compatible?
Without a good environment, there will be no business. Without healthy ecosystems, there will be no land, no wood. If you don't pay attention to the environment, it will have a bad effect on any business and people's health. I'm not a businessman, but any person in business has to take care of his money. If the farmer does not dig the ground, he will not have a harvest. Then it will be necessary to increase the amount of chemicals, and there will still be less production. This means that we will harm nature more, but in the long run we will no longer have money to cover production costs.
-One study found that 51% of people feel powerless.Is there anything that one person can do, or does it depend only on political decisions?
The greatest weapon the people have is the right to vote. They choose who to vote for. They have to be interested in the programmes of those who promote deforestation and agricultural business. You are the consumer and have the power to decide what you buy. Each of us has some power to influence.