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Titel:
The global nutrient challenge: From science to public engagement
 
Auteur(s):
Sutton, M.A.; Howard, C.M.; Bleeker, A.; Datta, A.
 
Gepubliceerd door: Publicatie datum:
ECN Environment & Energy Engineering 6-8-2013
 
ECN publicatienummer: Publicatie type:
ECN-W--13-007 Artikel wetenschap tijdschrift
 
Aantal pagina's:
6  

Gepubliceerd in: Environmental Development (Elsevier), , 2013, Vol. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.envdev.2013.03.003, p. -.

Samenvatting:
Among the many environment and development challenges facing humanity, it is fair to say that nutrients do not currently feature so regularly in the newspapers, radio and television. The media tends to prefer easy single issues which affect our daily lives in a clear-cut way. The role of carbon in climate change is a good example. We all depend on climate. Burning fossil fuels makes more carbon dioxide, tending to change temperature and rainfall patterns, to which we can easily relate. The science is complex, but it is a simple message for the public to understand. It does not take long to think of several other easily grasped threats, like urban air pollution, poor drinking water, or even the occurrence of horsemeat in food chains. It is perhaps for these reasons that the role of nutrients in environmental change has received much less public attention. After all, nutrients – including nitrogen, phosphorus and many micronutrients – play multiple roles in our world; they affect many biogeochemical processes and they lead to a plethora of interacting threats. If we are not careful, we can quickly get buried in the complexity of the different ways in which our lives are affected by these elements. The outcome is that it can become hard to convey the science of global nutrient cycles in a way that the public can understand. These are points about which we have given substantial thought as we contributed to a recently launched report Our Nutrient World: The challenge to produce more food and energy with less pollution (Sutton et al., 2013). The report was commissioned by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and conducted by the Global Partnership on Nutrient Management in cooperation with the International Nitrogen Initiative. The commission was not to provide a full scientific assessment, but rather to develop a global overview of the challenges associated with nutrient management. Drawing on existing knowledge, the aim was to distill the nature of the nutrient challenge answering clearly: why should anyone care, how has the problem got worse, what is already being done, and what still needs to be done? In scientific terms we realised that ‘nutrient management’ is a good descriptor. Humans manage nitrogen and phosphorus for the benefit of society, and through better management can find ways to reduce the unintended threats. But we also recognized that ‘nutrient management’ does not reflect the power language that makes for an easy sell to a wider public. In developing the global overview, we therefore needed to think carefully about how to package and communicate our messages. This was particularly important for nutrients because of one of the conclusions of the overview: that a lack of public awareness of the global nutrient challenge represents one of the major barriers to change. In short, if the world is going to learn to manage its nutrients better, then the world's citizens need to be motivated to make it happen.

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