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The first green revolution began in the 1940s with the transformation of agricultural practices. Widespread use of pesticides, fertilizers, and irrigation techniques, coupled with the development of new, high-yielding crop varieties, dramatically increased food production. The green revolution enabled worldwide food production to keep pace with the rapidly expanding population of the globe. Like most revolutions, however, there were consequences. Energy inputs increased, fertilizer use resulted in eutrophication of bodies of water, and some pesticides affected nontarget organisms and persisted in the environment. Nonetheless, the widespread implementation of modern agricultural practices reduced famine in many countries, such as India and Pakistan. We are currently experiencing the second green revolution and are bombarded with green messages in the media. Green buildings, green dry cleaning, green fuels, and even green weddings: the message that we need to be aware of the impact of our actions on the environment is inescapable. (Recently, one television network even touted “green dramas” and “green comedies”!) Making environmentally responsible choices lets us contribute as individuals to the sustainability of our planet. As chemists, we can also contribute to sustainability. Our discipline’s unique contribution to sustainability is green chemistry. By designing chemical products and processes that are better for both the environment and human health, chemists can provide society with the goods and services on which it depends in a way that uses Earth’s resources more responsibly than before and with an eye toward the needs of future generations. Green chemistry is not a field solely under the purview of green chemists: It is an approach that is applicable to all areas of chemistry, and it is the responsibility of all practicing chemists. Chemistry is essential to sustainability: chemists and engineers have the knowledge and skills necessary to transform the chemical industry into one that is cleaner and greener. Where does chemical education fit into the current green revolution? We must do a better job of educating our students with respect to green chemistry, sustainability, and environmental issues. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) report Green at Fifteen? How 15- Year-Olds Perform in Environmental Science and Geoscience in PISA (the Programme for International Student Assessment) (1) indicates that while a majority of students are aware of environmental issues, their understanding of the underlying causes of these issues lags behind their awareness. U.S. students scored below the average on this OECD assessment. Sustainability education is so important that the United Nations declared the years 2005 through 2014 the “Decade of Education for Sustainable Development”. The goal of this decade is “to integrate the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development into all aspects of education and learning, in order to address the social, economic, cultural, and environmental problems we face in the 21st century” (2). Teaching chemistry in the context of the principles, values, and practices of sustainable development will enable our students to design environmentally beneficial products and processes as professional chemists and make informed choices as consumers and voters. As curricular topics, green chemistry and sustainability tend to be relegated to the margins of textbooks or confined to specialized courses. Perhaps we should inaugurate a third green revolution, one that will focus on education, to ensure that all students are well versed in environmental problems and potential solutions. A commitment to green education would produce an informed global citizenry and create a cadre of environmentally savvy scientists and engineers. Safe drinking water, alternative energy sources, and sustainable agricultural practices will be realized only by building an educated and innovative workforce. The first and second green revolutions are embedded in this year’s Chemists Celebrate Earth Day theme of Plants: The Green Machines. Plants are the ultimate chemical factories, using sunlight to transform carbon dioxide and water into glucose and oxygen. It is hard to find a “greener” reaction than photosynthesis! And the sun is the ultimate energy source for our planet, providing the energy to grow plants that feed both people and animals. Too many people equate chemistry with harming the planet. Earth Day provides us with an occasion to emphasize the positive contributions of chemistry to human health and the environment. As we mark the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, please take this opportunity to highlight both the role of chemistry in securing the future of our planet and the part that chemical educators will play in making this happen. The vision of the American Chemical Society is “improving people’s lives through the transforming power of chemistry”. Lifesaving drugs and revolutionary new materials are but two examples of chemistry’s ability to improve people’s lives. These breakthroughs were made possible through education, the foundation upon which our sustainable future will be built.

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All Project Materials Inc. (2020). EDUCATION FOR A SUSTAINABLE FUTURE. Available at: [Accessed: ].


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