Daniela Morais Leme, Brazil: Public awareness about sustainability is the key
Meet a “Green Talent” from São Paulo and learn about Brazil’s biggest sustainability challenges.
The 30-year old Daniela Morais Leme is a 2010 winner of the International Green Talents Competition, funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) and supported by the United Nations University, Bonn. The award is given to outstanding young scientists from around the world, selected for their achievements in the field of sustainability research. Daniela earned her Bachelor’s, Master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the Universidade Estadual Paulista (UNESP) in the city of Rio Claro, São Paulo, Brazil. Her research focus is in Genetic Toxicology, and she is particularly interested in the environmental impact of biodiesel.
UNU: What motivates you to do your research?
Daniela: The main motivation for my research is its contribution to improving life quality. Monitoring genotoxic risk assessment of pollutants can contribute to ensuring environmental balance and consequently, the health of living organisms, including human beings.
UNU: How does your research contribute to sustainability?
Daniela: There has been significant growth in the biodiesel industry which has resulted in biodiesel being denoted as a green fuel. Regarding the environmental impacts of biodiesel, studies of air pollution have shown that the use of this biofuel, pure or in diesel blends, can contribute to reduction of exhaust emissions. However, there are few studies of its impacts on other systems, such as aquatic and terrestrial environments. Sustainable development requires the preserving of the environment for current and future generations, which means sustainable industries are responsible for ensuring the environmental safety of their products. Thus, generating toxicological evaluations of biodiesel contaminates and their impact on aquatic and terrestrial environments can contribute to the sustainability of this industry in regard to its product safety assessment.
UNU: Where does your interest in sustainable development come from?
Daniela: When I decided to become a researcher, I chose to focus on the environment. The fact that environmental chemicals can cause various types of damage to living organisms’ health led me to my current field which links genetic toxicology and sustainability. I believe that environmental risk assessment of marketed products is as important as other fields of study, such as the development of new technologies and waste disposal. What does it matter if an industry creates and develops a product in a sustainable manner if the final product is not really environmentally safe? Moreover, what does it matter if a product has been guaranteed as not producing air pollution if it can still affect other systems, such as water resources? It is these kinds of paradoxical industrial problems that create a necessity for making accurate risk assessments of environmental contaminants and what encouraged me to work in the field of environmental toxicology as it relates to sustainable development.
Science, Society and Global Challenges
UNU: What do you think should be the role of scientists today?
Daniela: Scientists have a key role in modern society, since their research can improve the life quality of all humanity. However, sometimes this is not visible to the general public; this could be due to the lack of cooperation among universities, companies and governments. Unfortunately, most studies developed in universities are restricted to academia and are therefore not used, for example, by decision makers or companies in developing of new technology. Many interesting studies are not currently being considered by decision makers, due to the failure of cooperation between these sectors – university and government. However, the establishment of cooperative agreements between universities and governments vary among countries, and here I am referring mainly to Brazil.
UNU: What is the biggest sustainability challenge of our time?
Daniela: In my opinion, the biggest sustainability challenge today is the development of an economic model that makes a strict link between economic, sociocultural and environmental matters. In Brazil, despite the fact that there is a growing awareness regarding the need for environmental protection, changes are still necessary to avoid placing prevalence on economic factors in decision making.
UNU: What are the biggest challenges that science can help solve in Brazil?
Daniela: Several challenges are currently outstanding in Brazil, and science may definitely be able to play a positive role in solving them. However, if nothing is done to alleviate poverty and boost the educational system, any scientific efforts in helping those challenges will be missed. For example, the country’s problem with domestic waste disposal. Nowadays, the final destination of domestic waste is a concern of governments. Recycling programs have demonstrated their worth in playing a key role in resolving this problem. Sadly, the majority of the Brazilian population is unaware of the importance of recycling household waste. Moreover, not all the places here have efficient collection systems for recyclable waste.
UNU: Sustainable consumption is increasingly more discussed. How should our consumption patterns change to be sustainable?
Daniela: Firstly, disseminating good information on the subject is the key to reaching sustainability, and education is one of the ways to do this. The public should know “what sustainability is” and “what is its role for the planet”. If awareness regarding sustainability is increased, it can change some individual’s lifestyle concepts, which can lead people to live in a way whereby environmental protection is relevant to their life quality. Furthermore, sustainable programs should be available for the society, because through this people can get the necessary information to help them implement sustainable solutions in their lives. However, until now, most of the discussion about sustainability is restricted to authorities and professionals who are working in this field.
Green Talents Competition and International Cooperation
UNU: What motivated you to participate in the Green Talents competition?
Daniela: The main motivation for me to join the Green Talents team was the possibility to gain contact with specialists from different research areas, which certainly would afford me valuable exchanges with different viewpoints. In my opinion, interdisciplinary cooperation can contribute to the improvement of environmental research. Additionally, another outstanding point for me in this competition was the focus on energy (“Science year 2010 – The future of Energy”). At the time of the application, I was writing my thesis that focuses on the issue of biodiesel and its environmental impacts. Thus, being exposed to an overview of energy problems through the Green Talents could help me to develop new projects in the future and simply to contribute to my doctoral research.
UNU: As a “Green Talent”, you have visited top-notch German institutions. Which one impressed you most?
Daniela: It is difficult for me to choose the best place visited during Green Talents tour, because, in general, I can say that all the issues addressed were interesting to me. Having had the possibility to see the production processes of products, such as biofuel (German Biomass Research Centre and Energy Research Centre Lower Saxonia) and light (OSRAM Optoelectronics Chip Factory), was really fascinating, mainly because visits to production factories are not a common part of biology courses. Furthermore, the opportunity to know more about new biofuels was very interesting for me when it comes to the future development of new projects.
UNU: What do you think is Germany’s strength in research?
Daniela: An interesting aspect of research in Germany is the connection among university, government and companies. These partnerships, in my opinion, are extremely important nowadays to achieve the goal of deploying a sustainable society. Universities have the spirit of innovation as a key feature, which often is lost due to a failure in cooperation, mainly, between companies and universities. Partnerships not only provide grants for research development, but they also help to better direct projects which are aimed at obtaining results in short period of time and thereby can develop the technological potential of the country.
UNU: What do you like best about the Green Talents competition?
Daniela: With regard to professional development, the competition provides a valuable prize in the sustainability field, which definitely boosts one’s career. Furthermore, the ten-day tour provides you with contact to different experts and institutions, making it easier to establish further cooperation. In a personal context, the tour provides cultural exchanges, not only with the German culture, but also with other cultures, since the winners come from different countries.
UNU: What is the role of international cooperation in science and technology?
Daniela: International cooperation provides a boost to a researcher’s career and contributes to a country’s technological development. This is due to the fact that, normally, international cooperation is established with the aim of providing knowledge of new technologies, which are not yet available in the country of the guest professional.
Oksana Buranbaeva (buranbaeva[at]vie.unu.edu)
Jessica Rosenfeld contributed to this article.
Contest winners shine with green talent in Our World 2.0
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