Understanding Sustainability Through Natural Sciences

November 4, 2022
Sustainability at JCU

“Why does the Earth go in and out of ice ages?” That is a question that has fascinated JCU’s Professor Margaret Kneller from a young age. Now, she instils that same curiosity in students to understand climate change in the 21st century. As Assistant Professor of Natural Sciences at John Cabot University, Professor Kneller teaches awareness of natural resources as a means of navigating the urban and global environment. 

“Huge changes in flora and fauna accompany major climate shifts–and the forcings behind these changes are still not really understood well,” explains Professor Kneller. “But what I learned about the climate system decades ago is relevant to understanding climate changes today–now under the influence of human activity.” 

With Sustainability Month at JCU, Professor Kneller is here to talk about the value of studying Natural Sciences and how it can inform sustainable initiatives today. Keep reading to learn more!

What Expertise Does Professor Kneller Bring to JCU?

Having earned an M.E.S. in Environmental Sciences and a Ph.D. in Earth Sciences, Professor Kneller’s experience lies in ecosystems and paleoecology. But her interest in the field of natural sciences developed well before the concerns around changing climates. At the heart of it all lies her passion for nature and a love of plants. “I think arboreal ecosystems are beautiful,” says Professor Kneller, “and this feeling leads to a research interest in the Human Impacts on plants and agro-ecosystems.”

So how does her interest in natural sciences tie into sustainability? The UN Brundtland report defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” According to that report, sustainability is determined by Technology, Social Organization, and Environmental Resources. “I am interested in the Environmental Resources aspect–which is part of the sustainability model, but not synonymous,” notes Professor Kneller. “My knowledge prioritizes the ecosystems without mandatory human intervention.” Now at JCU, Professor Kneller aims to show how an understanding of our natural world is essential for navigating the global environment and sustainable initiatives today. 



Professor Kneller brings her knowledge of ecosystems and paleoecology to JCU

What Are Some of the Biggest Sustainability Issues Facing Our World?

According to Professor Kneller, the most urgent environmental issue today is the decrease in Earth’s biodiversity. “Species extinction rates are always accelerating under human pressure,” explains Kneller, “[but] the range of organisms being assaulted by human supra-activity is impressive–and not in a manner that is sustainable. This is the most urgent issue that our governing bodies should address.”

What kind of changes are being made to address these challenges? “The importance of Biodiversity has been recognized by the Convention on Biological Diversity, which is dedicated to promoting sustainable development,” explains Professor Kneller. “As a science discipline, the concept and term gained traction in the 1980s, with the research of E.O. Wilson, and then expanded quickly to many disciplines within biology.” 

Now, the importance of biodiversity has even extended into conversations around human culture. “Recently, academic research has also recognized the importance of indigenous groups (also under assault) in sustaining biodiversity,” notes Professor Kneller. Moving forward, the public in developed nations should focus on putting pressure upon institutions to protect or be good stewards of other organisms. 



Natural Sciences can inform our understanding of sustainability challenges

What Makes the Study of Natural Sciences Important Today?

The relevance of natural sciences at JCU extends well beyond science degrees. International students in Italy are encouraged to explore the fundamentals of natural sciences–even as non-science majors. 

“Humans need their ecosystems in order to survive and even thrive,” says Professor Kneller. “We are organisms; we have physical requirements; we are all-around healthier–physically and emotionally–if our physical surroundings (air, water, and other life) are functioning. We also interact with our living environment via nutrient recycling and predator-prey relationships. We are absolutely dependent on it.” 

By teaching an awareness of the importance of natural resources, Professor Kneller hopes that students become better observers of the natural world around them. “The world adjusted by human action–the built environment (whether cement or silicon)–is fascinating,” notes Kneller. “However, our long-term physical and spiritual well-being, as individuals or in groups, depends upon our harmonious interactions with all the living organisms with which we share this planet.”


Are you interested in an education at our American university in Rome?

Contact John Cabot University for more information.

View all posts

Subscribe and stay up to date

Subscribe and stay up to date

Request Info »