The Wake Forest University Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) is an interdisciplinary center that aims to promote critical thinking and effective action across the fields of Renewable Energy, Social Influence, Environment Policy, Enterprise, Environmental Markets, Biodiversity & Ecosystem Services, and Human Behavior.
Explore the electronic home of the university’s transdisciplinary center for faculty.
Apply to participate or just browse syllabi developed by participants in this collaborative workshop.
Consider enrolling in a course with a sustainability focus. You can view a course inventory here.
Curricular resources for faculty.
On March 6th, assistant professor of mathematics, Dr. Rob Erhardt, addressed a full room of eager listeners on the topic of global climate disruption. His talk, sponsored by the Math Club and titled Measuring Climate Change, drew a crowd from across campus, including Dr. Erhardt’s fellow Mathematics faculty, students, and staff members from the Office of Sustainability and the Wake Forest Humanities Institute.
Dr. Erhardt hoped to achieve two goals through his talk: “I wanted to show the Math Club students one way they could apply their mathematical education and I wanted to give a general talk about the science of climate change [for other members of the audience].”
The talk began with basic definitions of the words climate and climate change. Dr. Erhardt, a statistician himself, proudly pointed out that the American Meteorological Association defines climate change as “any systematic change in the long term statistics of climate events (such as temperature, pressure, or winds) sustained over several decades or longer.”
After defining terms, Dr. Erhardt laid out the talk’s single equation: a calculation of Earth’s temperature based on the interaction of solar energy received by the Earth, reflectivity (the degree to which Earth reflects solar energy), and emissivity (the degree to which of Earth’s atmosphere allows radiated solar energy to escape into space).
Dr. Erhardt explained that, while solar input remains roughly constant, both the reflectivity of Earth’s surface and the emissivity of Earth’s atmosphere can change. As Dr. Erhardt pointed out, these factors have changed since the mid-20th century, resulting in an overall increase in global surface temperatures. Dr. Erhardt cited the conclusions of the most recent report by the Nobel Prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which stated “warming of the climate system is unequivocal” and attributed most of the increase in global average temperature to human beings, who have increased the atmosphere’s concentration of greenhouse gasses, changing the atmosphere’s emissivity.
Dr. Erhardt went on to discuss how global climate models can predict how much temperatures will rise in the future based on different scenarios. He also reviewed current research trends, which involve creating regional climate models and grappling with the difficulty of “single event attribution,” or attempts to take one particular extreme weather event (like a hurricane) and determine if the changed climate has increased the risk of such an event.
“Climate science can be intimidating. I wanted to present the science in an accessible, friendly way”, says Dr. Erhardt. He explains, “People have a general respect for scientists, but I want them to understand a little bit more about what climate scientists are actually doing, like where they are getting their data and how they are using it.”
On March 27th, Dr. Erhardt will deliver Measuring Climate Change at a brown bag lunch for the Biodiversity and Environmental Science group of the WFU Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability.
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow for the Office of Sustainability
Professor of biology Miles Silman and undergraduate student Max Messinger are producing an unmanned submarine, also known as an ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle), for use in the study of aquatic ecology and oceanography. The ROV is a small, low-cost, and easy to operate tool which can be used to study the underwater environment in places where first-person observation is either difficult or dangerous. The ROV can dive to depths in excess of 300 feet, operate in total darkness, function in extremely cold water and can do so for up to 2 hours at a time, all while transmitting live video to the surface.
The design of the ROV is from OpenROV, a free and open-source project founded with the goal of providing researchers and laypeople with a low-cost ROV solution. The plans are openly available online, which allows individuals to modify the plans as necessary to cater the equipment to their needs. In addition to its camera and lights, the ROV can be equipped with a variety of additional equipment capable of taking water samples, testing water quality, collecting wildlife, and collecting sediment samples. These additions make the ROV a robust tool for studying a variety of aquatic habitats.
The ROV’s first deployment will be at Lighthouse Reef, an atoll off the coast of Belize and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, over spring break. This trip will provide an opportunity to study a wide variety of aquatic environments including mangrove forests, the shallow reef lagoon, the reef surrounding the atoll, and the infamous Great Blue Hole. The Great Blue Hole is a 407-foot deep sinkhole in the reef. Jacques Cousteau was the first to reach the bottom of the hole in 1971, diving in dangerous conditions using advanced equipment and techniques. The ROV will explore the depths of the blue hole making visual observations as well as collecting data about the water column and sediments. This information will provide valuable insight into the nature of this unique marine environment.
After exploring Lighthouse Reef, the ROV will continue to be used to further research on the forefront of conservation science. With global climate change threatening to fundamentally change our world’s oceans through coral bleaching, ocean acidification, and sea level rise, the study of coral reefs, near-shore environments, and open-ocean has never been more important. With the ability to observe our oceans in greater detail, we are able to learn more about how our oceans work and make better, more-informed decisions about how to protect our environment.
By Max Messinger, WFU Class of 2013
Q. I heard that the Environmental Program is making modifications to its minor curriculum. What are these changes and which students will it affect?
Thanks to a matching grant from the Provost’s Fund for Academic Excellence, twelve faculty members from across the university came together last May for a sustainability-across-the-curriculum workshop. The aim of the workshop was to build a trans-disciplinary community of scholars committed to addressing issues of sustainability in their courses.
The pioneer cohort was charged with naming the newly minted workshop at the end of their second day together. Though they generated many creative ideas (including the popular Flying Squirrel Project), the workshop will be known simply as the Magnolias Project.
Following the workshop, participating faculty infused what they learned about sustainability into a course they currently teach, regardless of content area or discipline. Some opted to design a new course. The revised syllabi are now posted online and serve as examples for future cohorts.
The second annual workshop is scheduled for May 13-14, 2013 and will be facilitated by cohort 1 alumni Sarah Mason (mathematics) and Luke Johnston (religion). Applications for this year’s workshop will be available in April 2013.
The mission of the center, which was launched in 2010, is to “support the development of prosperous, secure, and resilient human communities that create a sustainable balance between resource use, the maintenance of ecosystems, and the social, cultural and economic vitality of the citizenry. [The center] serves as a catalyst and facilitator, bringing together the expertise of the faculty, the passion of students, and the knowledge and needs of the community to advance the research, teaching, and practice of sustainability across the region and globe.”
More than 30 faculty and several staff members met outside, on what turned out to be a beautiful fall afternoon, to enjoy one another’s company over seasonal refreshments. Attendees’ home affiliations spanned the Law School, the School of Divinity, and departments across the College including biology, chemistry, physics, math, religion, psychology and anthropology. Affiliates from Winston-Salem State and UNC-Greensboro also attended, following a meeting on solar energy generation.
In its research and scholarly activities, CEES seeks to “create a vibrant, multidisciplinary community of scholars at Wake Forest focused on effecting change in energy, environment, and sustainability.” According to professor of religion, Luke Johnston, “The work of the center is important. The structure, operations, and intellectual foundations of the contemporary academe are fundamentally unsustainable. Part of the problem is that disciplines don’t interact with, and learn from each other. Mixers like this are one of the catalysts for such interaction. I appreciate the opportunity to relate to other like-minded faculty and staff in such a causal environment.”
At this gathering, the second such meeting of CEES affiliates, community was, indeed, fostered. Chemistry and math faculty members talked about text books for green technology courses. Divinity and Law professors exchanged ideas about potential speakers to bring to campus. And, invitations to give guest lectures were exchanged.
Center director and professor of Biology, Miles Silman, feels the momentum of the center gathering: “We’ve gone a long way toward building a community of scholars here, and we’re now at a point where things are starting to snowball. Research is taking off, and we’re building connections within the university that allow faculty to realize their passions for teaching and scholarly activities around the environment. It’s exciting to see.”
The center has hosted a number of important events and speakers on campus, including Bill McKibben and Robert Kennedy Jr. This month, in partnership with the North Carolina Sierra Club, CEES will host a symposium on wind energy for North Carolina: First in Flight, First in Wind. Law professor Dick Schneider sees the future strength of the center as bringing together the synergies of CEES with local schools and local environmental organizations to benefit Wake Forest and the community at large.
As for the fall gathering, attendees reported enjoying seeing familiar faces and meeting some new friends. “It was great to see the energy our colleagues have for scholarship and teaching in sustainability in the broad sense, to hear about their plans and successes, and to learn from them. I leave these gatherings energized, full of new ideas and directions for research.”
This year, the Humanities Institute is placing a focus on sustainability in one of its interdisciplinary faculty seminars. The seminar entitled, Mapping the Human Dimensions of Sustainability and Environment, is composed of an eclectic group of thinkers from the departments of Religion, Communications, Environmental Studies, Biology, History, English and Interdisciplinary Humanities. According to the Humanities Institute, members of the seminar will be, “working together to examine critical issues at the intersection of the humanities and environmental studies.”
In the first half of the seminar, the group is taking a closer look at the methodologies through which the humanities have engaged issues like environmental change. In other words, examining how people understand environmental change around them. Human understanding of environmental issues isn’t exclusively formed by measuring ice core samples or ocean temperatures. Conceptions of environmental change are shaped by many factors and through many senses. Science comes to life through literature like Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, through art like that created by Agnes Denes or Chris Jordan, through the writings of environmental historians and philosophers like John Muir and Aldo Leopold, and through the teachings of eco-theologians like Thomas Berry.
Given the infinite means of human interaction with environmental change this is no small task. But, the hope is to discover which methods have been most effective in bridging science and humanity.
The second half of the seminar will then be dedicated to developing specific pedagogical strategies that will help educators effectively communicate environmental change around them. In keeping and in addition to this goal, the group also plans to create a comprehensive environmental history of the Piedmont region that will combine, “geographic information systems (GIS) techniques with community asset mapping and other cultural inputs,” according to Lucas Johnston the group’s convener. The project will take advantage of the interdisciplinary nature of the group by harnessing the capabilities of GIS technology to display the complexities of the short- and long-term changes that have shaped the environment of the Piedmont.
In today’s world, where environmental change must be framed within the context of economic, social and political considerations, the merits of an interdisciplinary understanding of environmental issues seem hard to overemphasize.
For more information about the seminar from the Humanities Institute click here.
By Joey DeRosa Communications and Outreach Intern
This summer thirty-two rising high school juniors and seniors participated in LENS @ Wake Forest, an annual three-week college immersion program. For the three years since its inception, LENS @ Wake Forest has taken sustainability as a guiding theme, examining political, economic, social, and legal issues. Learning took place both inside and outside the classroom, with seminars and presentations given by Wake Forest faculty and excursions to a local farm and to Reynolda House Museum. Students studied rhetoric, honed their writing skills and learned to craft effective presentations. Leigh Stanfield, Director for Global Auxiliary Programs in the Provost’s Office for Global Affairs, organized the program. Dr. Michelle Klosterman of the Education Department and Dr. Ryan Shirey of the Writing Program served as primary faculty. ZSR Librarians Hu Womack and Bobbie Collins partnered with LENS to teach participants research skills.
Connor Covello, a rising high school senior from Long Island, appreciated the wide variety of viewpoints incorporated into the program. He reported “whatever I do, say its business, I will seek to render my business as sustainable as possible; you can incorporate sustainability into anything.”
LENS (which stands for Learn, Experience, Navigate, Solve) culminated with student presentations of their group projects for a Community Partner. Project development took place over three weeks and involved meeting with Community Partners, eliciting advice from experts on campus, and extensive research.
In addition to getting a taste of rigorous academics, 2012 LENS participants also enjoyed the more relaxed aspects of college life, eating dinner downtown and playing ultimate Frisbee on the quad. Participants stayed in South Hall, a LEED-certified first-year residence hall, where they kept track of each room’s energy use on a building dashboard monitor. For Connor, a fun highlight of LENS was a toga party in the South Hall media room, where the group celebrated the opening ceremonies of the Olympics. While learning objectives are central to LENS, friendships between participants and connections built with faculty have enduring value. When asked what he will walk away with from the LENS experience, Connor reported he now has an idea of what college life is like, an awareness of sustainability issues, and a number of good friends he will surely miss.
By Annabel Lang, Wake Forest Fellow
To find out more about this year’s LENS@Wake Forest experience, read this article published by the WFU NewsCenter.
How many stars can you see when you look into the night sky? This was just one of the questions posed by the film A City Dark, shown in the Kulynych Auditorium on March 27. The film explored the effects of light pollution on people, places, and animals as the narrator drove increasing distances from the city in search of visible stars in the sky.
Interviews with experts in various disciplines, including medicine, astronomy and biology were interspersed with stunning views of stars and shocking views of skies that never dim. The movie travelled from New York City to Arizona to Hawaii in search of answers to how our obsession with light might be removing an essential connection to the dark.
After the film, a panel comprised of University Police Chief Regina Lawson, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services, Jim Alty, Dr. Vaughn McCall, a sleep science specialist and Wake Forest Baptist Medical School and Paul Bogard, English professor and author of The Geography of Night responded to campus concerns about light pollution.
Often, people equate increased lighting with a safer campus. Lawson commented that the perception that crime occurs at night in dark areas is counter to the crime data from campus. Alty mentioned that many things go into making a place feel safe, not simply the lighting. In the end, it is not a zero-sum game. “Good lighting doesn’t just mean brighter lights,” Alty said.
Decreasing light pollution does not have to mean walking through a dark campus. Instead, Facilities and Campus Services can and does install light shields that direct light where it is needed instead of into the night sky. They are also working to replace outdated light bulbs with LEDs, which produce light that is easier to direct leading to decreased light pollution. Concerned students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate in a campus safety walking tour each fall that is a partnership between by Facilities and Campus Services and Student Government.
Dr. McCall emphasized the impact of light pollution on sleep health. As mentioned in the film, an increase in light pollution and the accompanying decrease in the quantity of deep sleep leads to a decrease in melatonin, which can have serious impacts for overall health and waking behavior. Some scientists even suggest a correlation between this decrease in melatonin and an increase in cases of breast cancer. “There is a belief that we control our own biology,” Dr. McCall said. “We insist on behaving in ways that are counter to how we are engineered.”
This event was made possible by the Office of Sustainability and the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES).
By Tiffany White and Caitlin Edwards
Pietra Rivoli, a Georgetown business professor, economist and author of “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy,” discussed American perceptions of global trade at an hour-long talk on February 2.
Rivoli spent five years tracing the path of a simple cotton T-shirt from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory to a used clothing market in Africa to investigate the politics, economics, ethics, and history of modern business and globalization.
Her journey, was sparked when she and her students realized that they knew nothing about the origins of the T-shirts hanging in their university store. When they paid $10 for a T-shirt, was the actual cost – from environmental harm and unsafe labor conditions – much higher?
“I found this debate very difficult in the abstract, said Rivoli. “My job is to educate, but it was difficult to have these conversations with my students. We didn’t know the story behind our stuff. But we could know, we could try to know — that was my motivation for the book.”
What she found was a tale of global trade, of tariffs, of politics and of protest. Her conclusions flew in the face of her traditional economic training. “Traditionally, you learn that the losers in global trade are the ones who oppose it. But after beginning research, I learned that many of the winners opposed it too,” she said.
Rivoli proposed three reasons that the so-called “winners” of global trade – those who benefit from a higher GNP and cheaper consumer goods, without the risk of job loss – would oppose globalization. From safe working conditions to environmental concerns, the issues all boil down to an innate human concern for fairness.
According to the 2010 Pew Global Attitudes Project, between 2002 and 2010, the percentage of the American public that believed growing international trade was “very good or somewhat good” for the country dropped from 78 percent to 66 percent.
“Clearly 44 percent of Americans have not lost jobs due to global trade. They are not losers in the traditional sense.”
“Some winners in global trade won’t play the game unless it’s fair,” she said.
In preparation for the lecture, more than 70 Wake Forest students read the book and participated in small-group discussions as part of the Campus Life and Office of Sustainability book club —providing for an engaging post-lecture question-and-answer session.
In response to a student question about effective policies to address fairness concerns in global trade, Rivoli said, “We have to get the special interests out of politics — that’s the only way that free trade is going to start to work for more people. I think it’s a problem of politics, I don’t think it’s a problem of economics.”
The lecture was part of the Social Justice Working Group’s “Focus on Fair Trade” and was sponsored by Campus Life, the Office of Sustainability, and the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES).
By Caitlin (Brooks) Edwards, Wake Forest Fellow
Tuesday January 31, 2012, 4:00-5:15 p.m. Worrell 1312
Join us for this presentation along with a panel discussion on “What is the Social Responsibility of Business?”John Allison, Distinguished Professor of Practice, WFU Schools of Business and Former CEO and Retired Chairman and CEO, BB&T will join Robb for the panel discussion. Aman Sing, Editorial Director of CSRwire will moderate.
Please join us for a reception in Worrell at 5:15 p.m., immediately following the event.