STEM Skills and Their Role in Solving Global Sustainability Challenges [2024]

The planet faces multiple challenges, and it will take the work of many determined people to fix them. One of the most pressing and immediate problems is climate change. Those with a background in STEM fields can stand on the front lines, devising solutions to live more sustainably. 

STEM refers to science, technology, engineering, and math. They encompass roles varying from solar panel installation to designing full farms, from drawing blueprints for net-zero buildings to connecting the supporting infrastructure.

Such positions offer the reward of knowing you are making a meaningful contribution to the world’s future. Here’s how STEM skills can lead to a flourishing career while playing a role in solving global sustainability challenges. 

The Benefit of Teaching STEM Skills From an Early Age 

Teaching STEM skills harnesses children’s innate curiosity about the world around them. Beginning around ages 3-5, children become eager to explore and experiment, solve problems, and accomplish tasks on their own.

Nurturing caregivers can inspire this love of learning by praising independent efforts — and providing the foundation for STEM education. For example, toys like Lincoln Logs and Legos encourage fine motor coordination while introducing the basics of structural engineering. 

Watch this video by Community Playthings to learn more:


Starting STEM instruction from an early age fosters independence and creativity, letting children 
employ their critical thinking skills to solve problems.

Parents and educators can nurture this development by encouraging experimentation, resisting the urge to jump in and “fix” anything that doesn’t pose an immediate danger, and letting kids work through the problem-solving process independently. They can also provide tools to encourage interest in STEM, such as:

● Magnetic slime

● Building sets and blocks 

● Numbers flashcards and magnets — turn your fridge into an equation

● Junior chemistry sets 

● Magnifying glasses and microscopes 

● Telescopes 

As children develop, parents should continue nurturing an interest in STEM, especially in girls. While they shouldn’t force an artificial interest on their child, the widespread perception that STEM is somehow the sole province of the male gender begins early in life. It sadly discourages many from promising careers in such fields. 

Kids as young as six years old begin to internalize this message unless parents take proactive steps to prevent it. Encourage your daughters’ interests in science and math and reinforce the message that they are just as capable as their male peers. 

4 Ways STEM Skills Help Solve Global Sustainability Challenges 

How do STEM skills play a role in solving global sustainability challenges? Here are some of the difficulties these paths can tackle. 

1. Clean Energy Generation and Grid Restructuring

Fossil fuels are not renewable and they contribute massively to climate change. However, less than 15% of the total U.S. energy production currently comes from solar and wind, with 6% from hydropower and 1% from biofuels and geothermal power. This lack of reliance on renewable energy sources means the current grid remains incredibly vulnerable. An outage can affect millions of people at once. 

Those who enter STEM careers can expand America’s energy independence by diversifying the grid and increasing reliance on affordable, renewable sources. For example, today’s hybrid solar systems allow for grid connectivity while using an inverter to disconnect from it when outages occur.

Man installing solar panels

Consumers rely on a grid connection — their battery stays fully charged, even on cloudy days — with the ability to produce independent power when necessary. 

Builders with STEM knowledge can design entire communities that share solar, either through panels on individual rooftops or a small solar farm located elsewhere in the development — perhaps in a community garden that also fosters food independence.

Their ingenuity can connect such systems to a larger grid, allowing smaller centers to isolate and keep the lights on, even if the power goes down elsewhere. 

2. Decreasing Energy Needs

Another way STEM careers play a role in solving global sustainability changes is by reducing overall energy consumption. One of the primary objections to renewable energy at present is whether these sources can produce enough to meet demands. When it takes less to heat, cool and illuminate your home, the supply stretches farther. 

For example, STEM-trained individuals often work side-by-side with construction crews on features including: 

●    Improving insulation by incorporating sustainable materials that have high R-values and developing new ones. For example, scientists recently developed a plant-based alternative to polystyrene that uses water instead of solvents during manufacturing and relies on wood pulp instead of fossil fuels. 

●    Using passive solar and geothermal energy by laying out buildings to make maximum use of the sun’s rays. Geothermal power draws heat from underground reservoirs that circulate through a closed loop to heat and cool buildings. 

Geothermal power plant

3. Improving Transportation and Infrastructure 

As pandemic lockdowns illustrated, giving up the daily commute can slash greenhouse gas emissions in half. However, society doesn’t function very well if everyone stays in one place, meaning humans need greener ways to power their planes, trains, and automobiles. 

Blue Electric Car charging in solar panel port

Electric vehicles and fleets offer promise but present problems. One reason many people hesitate is how long it takes to charge current e-vehicles. Another issue is how far you can go on a single battery. While it’s possible to take a cross-country road trip in an EV with adequate stops, this power method is ineffective for transporting goods across oceans and continents via train or boat. 

Those with STEM training can begin addressing these issues. Already, developers have started to advance rapid-charging technology to improve charging times and renewable materials like hemp to halt the environmental devastation wreaked by lithium mining. 

4. Carbon Capture and Repairing the Damage 

Even if human beings collectively changed their ways at once and ceased fossil fuel use, the world must still remove an additional ten gigatons of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere each year until 2050 to reverse their impact on the environment. How can they do that? Many banks are on the promise of carbon capture technology. 

Carbon capture refers to removing the carbon produced from energy production, storing it in vast, underground reservoirs, or reusing it for other purposes. However, that’s not the only option. Ending deforestation will also help, as trees represent the ultimate in carbon capture and recycling. 

A reservoir is an enlarged lake behind a dam.

Such technology also makes biofuels more feasible, as they produce emissions when burned. Using these materials as energy sources while sequestering the related emissions underground could remove up to 5.2 gigatons of carbon dioxide per year. However, it will take folks with STEM degrees to make the magic happen. 

6 Careers to Consider in the STEM Field

If you’re considering studying a STEM field, you have a lot of options. Here are six potential careers to keep on your radar as you plan your future. 

1. Climatologist

Climatologists explore long-term weather patterns that explain the impact of carbon on the environment. Those hoping to conduct research require a doctorate, but you can enter the field with a bachelor’s. Your work could inform world leaders of necessary changes to prevent the worst of the devastation and save lives.

2. Chemist

Chemists study how various substances interact with the environment. There are oodles of opportunities to make change with this knowledge. You could aid in the development of new, plant-based building materials that are sturdier, more enduring, and attractive than more environmentally damaging alternatives or design innovative new uses for carbon captured in below-ground facilities.

3. Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the earth and its elements, including how humans can use them for power without causing environmental devastation. You might develop innovative new ways to mine lithium that entail less damage or even discover a new, more plentiful element that works just as well in storing power. Geoscientists may have a bachelor’s or master’s degree. 

4. Environmental Scientist

Environmental scientists may serve in academia or on the front lines. For example, you might travel to an oil spill location to assist with cleanup or provide guidance to businesses and governments on best practices to tread lightly on the planet. Many people break into this field with only a bachelor’s degree, although you may need to pursue a master’s to advance.

5. Statistician

Did you think your passion for math couldn’t translate into saving the planet? Think again. Statisticians collect and analyze data to identify trends and make future predictions. For example, you might work hand-in-hand with climatologists to predict the likelihood of severe weather events spurred by climate change and prepare reports to advise world leaders on policy decisions. 

6. Computer Systems Analyst 

Here’s another field you might not suspect of having much to do with the environment — but reality might surprise you. Computer systems analysts will play a key role in a sustainable future. After all, other researchers need the right tools to conduct their work, and keeping their information secure is a priority.

STEM Skills and Solving Global Sustainability Challenges 

STEM learning fosters independent thinking and creative problem-solving in youth. The world needs these skills to address climate change. 

Consider the above ways that STEM skills solve global sustainability challenges. Your future career could be saving the earth.  

References

Power Home School: The Benefits of Ongoing STEM Education
Modded: How Long Does it Take to Charge an Electric Car?
EIA.gov: U.S. Primary Energy Consumption by Energy Source, 2022
Renewable Energy World: Decoding the Impact of R-Values on Green Building and Insulation

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