The university approved this interdisciplinary center in 2010 to promote critical thinking and effective action across the fields of renewable energy, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, environmental policy, human behavior, social influence, enterprise, and environmental markets. The center will also provide a focal point for engaging the public on issues of sustainability.
Both faculty and student scholars are able to collaborate through the center to advance research opportunities, sponsor thought-provoking events, and delve deeper into some of the most crucial issues of the day. Because the more than 60 faculty and staff from 16 departments, academic, and administrative units involved in the center bring their past connections to the table, opportunities for research and collaboration are limitless.
Learn more by visiting the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability’s webpage here.
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
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.”
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.
As a conservation biologist researching biodiversity in the Amazon Rain Forest, Professor of Biology, Miles Silman, has been a de facto part of the sustainability movement since beginning work on his doctorate nearly two decades ago. Yet he admits that he “just didn’t get it” until a confluence of events made him see his research and human impact on the planet in a new light.
“When I came to the university in the fall of 1998, I was working on species distribution and biodiversity in the Amazon, but I never connected it with the wide-scale events that are happening in the world,” he said. “It’s hard for people to connect the things that they work on with these larger processes.”
In 2002, at a 50,000 year-old lake in the Peruvian Amazon, Silman and his colleagues constructed the past climate of the lake through examination of the changing biodiversity as seen in the fossil record. The biodiversity of the lake had changed in synchrony with the climate for millions of years. If species diversity changes were to keep up with projected climate change patterns, species would have to migrate 30 times faster than they had in the past. The results of this research were published in Science and were used to brief Senator John McCain in 2004 for the senate hearings on climate.
Around the same time, Silman and his wife, Alycia, moved to a small farm in Yadkin County, NC where they raised cows, chickens, pigs and goats. Here, they tried to live Silman’s personal take on sustainability: “living in the world, but not using it up.”
It was in the rolling hills of the Piedmont, far from the exotic Amazon rainforest he’d dreamed of exploring as a child, that Silman had the most profound and simple realization, “Animals eat, and that eating has consequences” he said. “And changing anything about an ecosystem – trees, plants, animals, temperature, water – the system changes.”
The realization brought his personal commitment to sustainable farming and his professional career as a leading conservation biologist together in a new way. His research focus shifted to species response to climate change. Together with a group of sustainability-minded faculty, he helped found the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES) last fall. The interdisciplinary center promotes critical thinking and effective action across the fields of renewable energy, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, environmental policy, human behavior, social influence, enterprise, and environmental markets.
His work as the center’s director has furthered his understanding of the systemic nature of the sustainability movement. “I now see the other facets,” he said. “I’m still dense about parts of it, but the CEES faculty members are all exploring different angles on the same problems. Coming from a science background, I have a natural interest in energy and technology, but we can have all the science and technological solutions possible and it doesn’t matter if we don’t understand people. Realizing that has been the most important thing for me.”
When not conducting research and working with CEES, Silman spends much of his time communicating the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to sustainability to his students in the classroom and on field studies to the Andes. Through his courses, he tries to convey a message: “What you do matters. Be engaged; there are many different ways to be engaged. There is not one way to be sustainable,” he said. “But whatever you do, wherever you do it, you have to be mindful.”
By Caitlin Brooks, Wake Forest Fellow
Celebrate the culmination of the 13 Days of Celebrating the Earth by attending the keynote lecture by Bill McKibben.
Bill McKibben – 350: The Most Important Number in the World
Where: Wait Chapel
Bill McKibben is one of America’s best known environmental educators. As a bestselling author, he has written books that have shaped public perception and public action on climate change, alternative energy, and the need for more localized economies.
Action: You can be a part of the solution! Vote with your dollars, actions, and time to make the world around you more sustainable for all.
Students, faculty and community members packed Pugh Auditorium for Dr. Carl Safina’s February 23 lecture on the state of the world’s oceans. Safina is a leader in science and policy regarding oceans and was a central voice in the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. He leads the Blue Ocean Institute, testifies before the U.S. Congress on fisheries issues, and lectures extensively across the country.
His career grew out of a childhood obsession. “I am a guy who likes to go fishing and that’s more or less who I’ve been from a very young age.” During graduate school, the Long Island, NY native pursued studies of terns. “They (terns) gave me a lot….In pursuit of terns and fish, I started realizing that the ocean was changing.”
Audience members left the auditorium ready for action. “One of my colleagues walked out and said ‘we’ve got work to do,’” Miles Silman, co-founder of the Center for Energy Environment and Sustainability (CEES) and associate biology professor, said. “And that’s really the point of the whole series. You have to see that there is an issue before you devote your time to fixing it.”
Safina’s lecture was just one of several introductions to environmental issues that the first-ever CEES Series hopes to provide. Through lectures and other activities such as a Meadow Restoration roundtable, Silman and the more than 60 members of CEES are trying to lay the groundwork for future action.
“Lecturers like Bill McKibben (who will speak in Wait Chapel on April 26) explain it how it is. We have this planet as it exists, not as we want it to exist. We need to work with what we have,” Silman said.
The lessons from the CEES Series are by no means directed solely at the university community. Strategies are in place to promote attendance by as many members of the wider Winston-Salem community as possible, as well as members of other universities.
“In a way we are saying ‘come to the table, here’s the playing field,’” Silman said. “These are the ideas that are shaping the movements in environment, energy and sustainability. We’ve set it up so that you are pretty much guaranteed to disagree with something we present.”
By Caitlin Brooks, Communications and Outreach Intern
Become part of the CEES Series, lookout for these great opportunities:
Meadow Management and Prairie Restoration Working Group, April 1, 9:00 a.m., Reynolda Gardens Green House:
The public is invited to participate in an examination and discussion of issues related to constructing and maintaining a Piedmont prairie, using the conversion of the historic Golf Links at Reynolda to a managed meadow as a case study. Speakers include representatives from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, Piedmont Land Conservancy, NCDENR, Forsyth County Environmental Affairs, and Forsyth County Audubon Society. Free; registration requested, contact (336) 758-5593.
Bill McKibben, April 26, 6:30 p.m., Wait Chapel:
Bill McKibben is one of America’s best known environmentalists. As a bestselling author, he has written books that have shaped public perception and public action on climate change, alternative energy, and the need for more localized economies. He will discuss his latest book, Earth, and the impact of local farmers, gardeners, and food vendors on human health, the economy, society, and the environment.
Christine Todd Whitman, September 19, 7:00 p.m., Welcome Center Auditorium:
Christine Todd Whitman is an author who served as the 50th Governor of New Jersey. Whitman also served as the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) under President George W. Bush in the aftermath of 9/11. Much of Whitman’s work with the EPA was focused on global warming research, drinking water standards, and air quality in New York City in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Robert F. Kennedy Jr., October 6, 7:00 p.m., Wait Chapel:
Mr. Kennedy is the Chief Prosecuting Attorney for the Hudson Riverkeeper and President of Waterkeeper Alliance. He was named one of Time’s “Heroes for the Planet” for his success helping Riverkeeper lead the fight to restore the Hudson River. Mr. Kennedy is a graduate of Harvard University and has a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and a Masters Degree in Environmental Law from Pace University School of Law.