Human social development and sophistication of production, search for livelihoods and the exponential population growth have destabilised natural balances with overwhelming and deleterious impacts on the environment (air, water and soil/land
and life). Early awareness concerning environmental conservation is documented in the 800s. However, the impacts of such concerns by prominent scientists and communities only became significant to governments especially in the USA and Europe in the 1960s.
National Environmental Policies and Acts were enacted from the late 1960s and the requirements for Environmental Impact Assessment of large projects began to be enforced as legislation. It became apparent that the traditional sciences though excellent in their own domains, operated individually or sector-wise and therefore did not provide for better understanding of environmental impacts for informed decision-making.
Therefore the need for new science to analyse and plan for this new era and concerns was realised and Environmental Science was born spearheaded by Ecologists working together with other Scientists, Engineers and Social Scientists. Environmental Science therefore emerged during the 20th century as a desirable and deliberate scientific
discipline using a holistic approach to environmental management (Conservation) for maximum social benefits. It has a pivotal role in solving the earth's degradation problems by identifying, analysing, assessing and mitigating environmental problems.
James Okot-Okumu studied Biochemistry and Chemistry at the University of Ghana, Legan, in Accra at undergraduate level. It is during this time that the foundation for understanding and using Science was laid. In his first year as an undergraduate, he studied Chemistry, Botany, Zoology, Physics, Mathematics, Statistics and African
Studies. He holds a MSc. Environmental Science and Technology from IHE-Delft, The Netherlands. He also obtained a PGD in Environmental Science and Technology - Distinction, from the same institution. He attained his PhD in Environmental Science from Makerere University, on the subject of phosphorus dynamics in the lake-wetland system.
He was Head of the Department of Environmental Management in the School of Forestry, Environmental and Geographical Sciences, for 8 years (2011 -2019). His teaching and research interests include Water Resources Management, Cleaner Production, Waste and Pollution analysis, Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and Environmental Audit. The central role of water in 'everything in life and the intriguing properties of water is what attracted him to it as an area of research. For ecotoxicology, his biochemistry and chemistry background led him towards
the mechanisms of behaviour of chemical substances in the environment and what mechanisms they deploy to harm living things in the environment. In the case of wastes, his attraction was because most people detest waste not realising that it is unavoidable in life and humans are the ones generating it, for which we should take responsibility. On top of this poor solid waste management is a clear indication of a community or society overall management failure. 'If you see waste littering a place it is an indication of management weakness in that very place'
The Professorial Lecture will sum up the trajectory of Prof. Okot-Okumu's scholarly efforts in the field of Environment and Natural Resources and its significance for the world today.