Increasingly the sustainability challenges we face require collaborations and efforts that transcend traditional scholarship. We have a number of projects and collaborations that fit this category, some of which are described below.
Possibly is a short format radioshow/podcast that tackles practical questions about sustainability science. Possibly was conceived by Stephen Porder, Megan Hall (a longtime NPR reporter and freelance journalist) and author/reporter Nancy Pick. Megan serves as the host, Ashley Junger is our managing editor, and Stephen serves as the executive producer along with Torey Malatia (of This American Life fame, now the head of The Public’s Radio). Brown University students make up the reporting team, many of whom have taken Megan’s class “Podcasting for the common good”.
When I started my career, the idea that corporations or governments would have a “chief sustainability officer” was not a thing. But over the past 20 years, that role has grown. At first these were mostly symbolic jobs, a bit of greenwashing perhaps, and an acknowledgment that “we ought to do something”. But in truth not too much, and certainly not if it was too costly.
Today, the world is a different place. Every large organization has someone in this role, and the roles are more and more important. Brown was the first university in the country to create the position of Associate Provost for Sustainability. Harvard, Duke and others have followed suit.
What do these people need to know in order to be effective in their jobs? First, they need a robust understanding of the sustainability challenges we face – Brown has defined five broad categories – Climate Change, Nutrient Pollution, Water, Biodiversity and Human Health. Second, they need to know about potential solutions, how scientifically robust they are, and whether they can scale. Just because changing agricultural practice (might) sequester some carbon in soil does not mean it will be simple to induce hundreds of millions of farmers around the world to adopt those practices. Just because renewable electricity is available from offshore wind does not mean local community opposition and misinformation campaigns can’t cost us crucial time in the transition away from fossil fuels. Finally, they need to know how to work with people. To speak convincingly, to listen, and to work with people who have different viewpoints. This is no small skill set, and until now we haven’t really be training people to fill this critically important role.
Much of my teaching is aimed at future leaders in sustainability, but we also need to train today’s leaders. To that end, I’ve been working with Brown’s School of Professional Studies to give a series of lectures called From Science to Solutions. Follow the links to find talks on The Science of Climate Change, the Path to Zero-Emissions Electricity, and Ending Deforestation. More to come in the coming months.
Publications Beyond the Academy
In addition to writing scientific papers, we often write for a general audience. Here are some examples.
Ocean heat – TIME Magazine
Optimism in climate education – Inside Higher Ed
Plants come to land (adapted from Elemental) – Live Science
EPA mutes science – Providence Journal
World Changers 3.0 – Natural History Magazine
Iowa in the Amazon – NY Times