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Tufts Environmental Alumni (TEA)

7th Edition: Spring/Summer 2011

In this issue:
Environmental Studies Program Update
Alumni Op Ed: The Nature of Environmental Stewardship in the US
An Evening with P.J. Simmons
One Health University Seminar
Faculty Profile: Elena Naumova
Student Profile: Sasha Keyel
Book Review: The Moral Lives of Animals
Past On-campus Events

Greetings!

    

TIE Program Director Antje Danielson

Welcome!

Much of our thinking these days is devoted to how we can prepare our students to deal with increasingly complex environmental problems. Effectively tackling environmental issues requires broad interdisciplinary understanding in addition to deep disciplinary knowledge.  Tufts has addressed this problem by offering programs that add an interdisciplinary angle to the traditional disciplinary course of study. Offerings such as the Water: Systems, Science, and Society research and education program (WSSS) for graduate students and the Environmental Studies program for undergraduates allow our students to communicate and learn with students from different disciplines, applying novel frameworks to their own research projects. When our students graduate they know how to work across disciplines. This year, the Environmental Studies program graduated twenty-four majors and WSSS awarded ten graduate certificates. Congratulations to these newly-minted Jumbos and welcome to the Tufts Environmental Alumni chapter (TEA)!


With strong support from the Deans in Arts and Sciences, the new Environmental Studies leadership team is continuing to develop learning opportunities in this major. The recently re-vamped website provides users with access to resources, curricula, internships, events, and news. In this newsletter's piece by Prof. Colin Orians, you can read about this year's Lunch & Learn seminar, which featured a number of alumni working locally on a wide array of environmental problems.  

 

2010-2011 was an exciting and productive year for TIE, as well. In the fall, we established a monthly faculty roundtable to discuss what sustainability means in academic research at Tufts. Faculty from across the university took part in the roundtable. As a result of their participation, many presented their research at the Research Day on Sustainability sponsored by the Office of the Provost on May 8.   

 

Another outcome of the sustainability roundtable this year was the genesis of the One Health Initiative at Tufts. One Health is an approach to pressing health issues (such as emerging infectious diseases) that takes into account the contributions of and effects on human health, animal health, and the health of the environment. Below, in a piece by Heather Angstrom, you can read about the recent University Seminar on One Health that was co-taught by TIE-affiliated faculty. Moving forward, the One Health initiative will be lead by Dr. Joann Lindenmayer from the Vet School.  I expect you will hear more about this work in future newsletters.  

 

This year's Tufts Environmental Literacy Institute, held in the week following Commencement, was organized by Prof. Colin Orians (Biology) and Dr. Julie Dobrow (Media Studies) with the theme "Environmental Literacy In The 21st Century:  Reality, Perceptions & Education."  We had nineteen participants, including one alumna, who represented five schools and divisions at Tufts. The five-day workshop included guest lectures, field trips, assigned readings and facilitated discussions with the goal of enhancing participants' understanding of environmental problems and the way that they are communicated to various audiences.

NSF logo

 

This summer, TIE is entering the first phase of a major renovation project to accommodate the IGERT-funded Water Diplomacy graduate program and other interdisciplinaryenvironmental initiatives in our space in Miller Hall.  Phase One will entail the expansion of our space to the west, adding two new offices and a large open space for six doctoral students. Phase Two will commence in the summer of 2013 and will add office and classroom space to the east of the current TIE space.  

 

Before I sign off, I'd like to congratulate all of our students who received research funding or other honors this year. Adrian Dahlin, a Political Science/ENVS double major who graduated in May, won the Compton Mentor Fellowship for an independent year-long project focused on environmental justice study abroad programs; Edward Spang, Konstantinos Tsioris, Jonathan Torn, and Ahmed Malik received DOW Sustainability Innovation Challenge awards of $10,000 each. Sarah Kasten, Erin Kempster, Jennifer Mortensen, Jessica Perkins, Mary Schmid, and Brian Thomas were named TIE fellows, and Rose Wang, Sarah Coleman, Claudio Deola, and Jeffrey Bate received fellowships from WSSS. Finally, Negin Ashoori, Andrea Brown, Ana Rosner and Jennifer Shen were awarded fellowships from both TIE and WSSS!  

 

It was nice seeing so many of you at the PJ Simmons TEA event in May. I hope you will enjoy this issue of the TEA Newsletter and that I'll see you at an upcoming alumni event.
Have a happy summer!

 


 Antje Danielson 

Administrative Director

Tufts Institute of the Environment 

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Exciting Developments in Environmental Studies Program 

by Colin Orians  

Colin Orians

Colin Orians

 

Dear Environmental Alumni,

 

It is an exciting time for the Environmental Studies (ENVS) program.  Below I highlight three new developments that have occurred over the last semester.

 

First, with support from TIE, ENVS coordinator Ann Greaney-Williams and I instituted a new Lunch & Learn speaker series that meets every Thursday at noon. This program has featured speakers from a variety of backgrounds, such as Tufts alumni (Tom Gloria, A94, A00, and Eric Friedman, A94), faculty (Jack Ridge, Geology), graduate students (Jeff Hake, N11 and Marisol Pierce-Quinonez, N11, G11), and local professionals (architect Mike Davis and engineer Tim McGivern). We are already lining up an exciting slate of speakers for next year.  In addition, the Lunch & Learn series was recently given academic recognition, which means that beginning next fall students will be able to earn course credit for attending the series under the code ENV 95 (Special Topics in Environmental Studies). We hope that you will join us for future talks! Check our event page [http://environment.tufts.edu/?pid=81] for updates throughout the academic year.

 

Second, ENVS is teaming up with the Julie Dobrow, Director of the Communications and Media Studies Program, to initiate a new ENVS track in Environmental Communications. The response of alumni has been outstanding, with many offering to assist us. For example, Sheril Kirshenbaum, A02, teamed up with Colin Durrant, A98, to lead a roundtable discussion on environmental communication this semester. Their presentation highlighted the opportunities and challenges of new media. 

 

Finally, the Tufts administration stepped up to support the ENVS program in a powerful way. At the beginning of March, the deans of Arts & Sciences brought forward a proposal to support cluster hires in interdisciplinary fields, with Environmental Studies piloting the initiative.  Next year, three new faculty members will be hired in three different departments (one in the arts and humanities, one in the social sciences, and one in the natural sciences). These faculty members will contribute to the teaching and the research mission of Environmental Studies by engaging students in their research and in the classroom. I believe this will be viewed as an historic event for ENVS; I look forward to welcoming them to Tufts.  

 

Sincerely,

Colin M. Orians, Director 

 

Colin Orians is Director of Environmental Studies & Professor of Biology, School of Arts & Sciences, specializing in Ecology and plant-herbivore-environment interactions. He can be reached at Colin.Orians@tufts.edu    

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The Nature of Environmental Stewardship in the US: Its Empirical Structure Based on Environmental Law and Order

by Robert DeSanto  

 

"The Gulf Oil Spill," [John Rumpler (A '88) TEA, September 2010], has broad implications for US environmental protection far beyond the blowout per se that he described and, should sound an alarm to assess federal law and regulation that is intended to enable environmental stewardship.  The catastrophic British Petroleum deep water oil drilling blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico last year resulted in US Government estimates of 800,000 gallons and other estimates of 2,100,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the Gulf each day.  A total of about five million barrels (i.e. 210,000,000 US gallons) of oil were released during 106 days before the well was plugged.  Safety, control, cleanup, and mitigation all failed, were inadequate, or were absent.  It took months to create and implement oversight that ultimately rested with a retired US Coast Guard admiral to figure out, organize, and apply.  The blowout disrupted and destroyed untold environmental productivity, livelihoods dependant on that productivity, and the ecological health and stability of significant pieces of our "space ship earthfootnote1 " in the Gulf of Mexico.   

 

Yet, among world powers, the US is an acknowledged leader in environmental protection.  So, how can such a world leader suffer its biggest man made ecological disaster in spite of its dedication to environmental stewardship?  The structure of environmental law and order in the US is so convoluted that no cadre of existing agencies is able to integrate and direct our ponderous body of federal environmental law.  When emergency environmental stewardship is called upon, as was the call to Admiral Allen, it was forced out of impromptu and unplanned contingencies.  After all, BP certified that such a disaster could never occur -- a claim that was reviewed, endorsed and approved by all US regulatory authorities.

 

Figure 1

40 CFR contains 23,305 pages in 32 volumes that stack up to a height of 39 1/8 inches

The National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) , signed into law by President Nixon in 1969, is the basis of federal environmental stewardship.  It is our national charter intended to insure that environmental information for projects that receive any federal funding or permits must be available to public officials and citizens before decisions are made and before actions are taken.  Planning, science, and government regulation are the three mainstays of environmental law.  So, why are there failures in spite of these regulation?  It is because the present structure of law and government in the US can not deal efficiently with environmental disasters.  Existing law does not create a unity of effort to manage and solve such disasters.

 

NEPA is defined on 30 pages of Parts 1500 through 1508 of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR), Title 40 (Protection of Environment) -- referred to as 40 CFR.  Those 30 pages influence all local, country, and state environmental laws in the country. 

 

Starting in 1972 with 450 pages of text, 40 CFR has grown to 23,305 pages in its July 1, 2009 edition.  The average annual expansion of 40 CFR between 1972 and 2009 is nearly 630 pages a year.  The resulting 2009 edition is nearly 53 fold larger than was 40 CFR when it first appeared.  Most jurisdictions with environmental statutes in the US are directly or indirectly related to the national government and its regulations in 40 CFR.  The growth of 40 CFR is depicted on the accompanying graph that shows the US has an implicit concern for environmental protection shared by its people and their government regardless of party affiliation.   Forty CFR now reflects the input of 37 years of different congresses under the administration of 5 Republican and 2 Democratic Presidents.  The sheer volume of these environmental laws reflects its importance to the country.  Its complexity and lack of unity results in ineffectual use in critical circumstances.

 Figure 2

 

Environmental stewardship requires unity of effort - coordination and understanding to integrate the objectives and specifics of a massive and growing body of environmental law.  A solution calls for creation of an office of "Czar of Environmental Stewardship."  Reaction to disaster is a last resort needed when proactive control of a country's environmental protection has failed, and where interagency planning is uncoordinated or absent.  A Czar would function to protect the integrity of the environment itself, not only to dictate actions during a disaster, but year round.  A helter-skelter structure of the law can not be expected to overcome failure of a patch work of laws and disparate departments of government that we expect to save us from environmental disasters.  The forces mustered to solve the Gulf Coast environmental disaster required integration orchestrated by a single overarching authority.  Environmental stewardship must be based on a unity of effort as its foremost goal.  The bigger the disaster, the less likely the present US structure is to provide the unity of effort needed as seen with Katrina in St. Louis, the BP debacle, and as will be needed in the future with earthquakes, tsunamis, and nuclear power failures, and others.

 


[1] Space ship earth, a concept first expressed in 1879 by Henry George, the American writer and political economist, and adapted by Adali E. Stevenson, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, in his last major speech, to the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, July 9, 1965.





Bob DeSanto pic


 

 

Robert S. De Santo, BS. (A'62) Ph.D. (Columbia University '68), Past Chief

Environmental Scientist at three international consulting engineering firms.  Present Founding Director/Principal Scientist at the Institute ofEnvironmental

Stewardship, LLC, and President of the EastLyme Public Trust Foundation, Inc. in Connecticut (www.publictrustfoundation.Org).  Founding Editor in Chief, ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT, and recipient of the Global 500 award for "outstanding environmental achievement" by the United Nations Environment Program.

 

 

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An Evening with P.J. Simmons, A89, of the Corporate Eco Forum

by Ann Gisinger

Simmons Cover

On a rainy evening in early May, about thirty members of TEA gathered to hear a great talk by P.J. Simmons in the Aidekman Arts building at Tufts University.  A founder and chairman of the Corporate Eco Forum, P.J. recently published a book with co-author Dan Esty titled "The Green to Gold Business Playbook: How to Implement Sustainable Practices for Bottom-Line Results in Every Business Function."  P.J.'s talk was enjoyable and filled with useful, concrete examples of how businesses can use the principles of sustainability to increase their profit margins.  He discussed everything from reducing paper use at the copy machine to using specialized carpet squares in high traffic areas.  At the end of his talk there was a lively question-and-answer session.  P.J. also graciously stayed late to sign his book for attendees.

Check our  events page for more great speaker events like this one as a part of TEA's ongoing programming schedule. 


Sponsored by the Tufts University Alumni Association and Tufts Institute of the Environment

 

Would you like to host a TEA Event?
Round-table discussion? Film Screening? Speaker series? Alumni panel? And more!

We want your ideas!


Selected TEA events from the past year:
  • Tufts Alumni Bruce Klafter, E'76, hosted a lively round table discussion at Tufts on sustainability in the corporate world attended by alumni, faculty, and current undergraduate and graduate students with refreshments.
  • Tufts Alumni PJ Simmons, A'89, spoke at Tufts about his new book, The Green to Gold Business Playbook. The event was followed by a networking reception.
  • TEA took an after hours tour of the LEED Platinum Genzyme Building and then met up at a local bar. 

 

If you're interested in hosting events like these or have an idea for a TEA activity, please contact the TEA steering committee at tuftsenvironmentalalumni@gmail.com 
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University Seminar logo

One HealthOneHealth1

by Heather Angstrom

 

H.L. Menken once famously quipped, "For every complex problem there is a simple solution - and it is wrong." Environmental degradation and emerging diseases are interrelated, and focusing simply on the symptoms of human health is insufficient for resolving health issues.  Similarly, health of humans - particularly disease outbreaks - and wildlife health are inextricably linked within the context of environmental health.  Consequently, an integrated understanding from multiple perspectives is required to make resilient, long-term solutions to the myriad human, animal, and environmental health problems we see today.  This is what is referred to as the One Health perspective.

 

Michael Reed, professor of Biology 

 

This spring, Professor Reed teamed with Joann Lindenmayer of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and TIE faculty directors Gretchen Kaufman (Cummings) and Elena Naumova (Engineering and Public Health) to teach the university seminar, "One Health: Interdisciplinary Approaches to People, Animals and the Environment." The four-person teaching team offers both depth and breadth of knowledge in human, animal and environmental health. Drawing on their backgrounds in biology, public health, and wildlife medicine, the faculty members provided a variety of interdisciplinary perspectives to help students better understand the complex nature of One Health issues and to synthesize innovative solutions.

 

The course, like all university seminars, pushed students to work across disciplinary boundaries. The problem with traditional single-discipline courses, according to Dr. Lindenmayer, is that "in our universities, we have trained disciplinary experts without giving them the means to share their wisdom and perspectives with other disciplinary experts." Furthermore, she argues, "we can no longer trust to fate or circumstance that these many disciplinary voices will come together to produce a balanced, fair and ethical approach to health for all." Evidence of the course's cross-disciplinary appeal is apparent in the profile of enrolled students. Of the twenty-two students who took the class, there was an even mix of undergraduate and graduate representation coming from a variety of programs across all three Tufts campuses. From International Relations to Mathematics; Agriculture, Food, & Environment to Epidemiology and Biostatistics; Veterinary Medicine to Psychology, students brought to the classroom a diversity of perspectives and learning processes from their "home" disciplines.

 

"We can and should continue to train experts, but we must give them the opportunities, methods and tools to seek, establish and maintain connections among disciplines that will guide them to seek to balance the health of people, animals and the environment," Dr. Lindenmayer concludes. "The University Seminars program provides me and my colleagues with the opportunity to do this."

 

For more on the University Seminar series, please click here

Faculty Profile: Elena Naumova, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering

by Libby Mahaffy, G'11

Elena Naumova

 

 

TIE faculty director Elena Naumova, who directs the Tufts Initiative for the Forecasting and Modeling of Infectious Diseases (InForMID) at the Friedman School of Nutrition, recently moved from the medical campus to Medford to begin an appointment with the School of Engineering. A mathematician and statistician by training, Dr. Naumova talked with TIE intern Libby Mahaffy (G'11) in spring 2011 about her new position and current research.

 

Libby Mahaffy:Tell me about your recent move to the School of Engineering.

Elena Naumova:

It's very exciting to work with students who have quantitative support and are interested in large-scale computations--studies of climate change and environmental indicators with a massive volume of data. The Engineering School is preparing a generation of students quite savvy about computers who can think creatively about how to extract useful information from already-collected data.

 

Data is very rarely collected to evaluate public health, so we need to learn how to improve primary data collection and how to analyze this data properly. Finding the complex, intrinsic relationships between health and the environment will require a more sophisticated analytical methodology. I am hoping to achieve that at the Engineering School.

 

LM: What projects are you currently working on?

EN: I have two ongoing projects right now: One is in India, the second in Siberia. One is too hot for me and one is too cold for others! [laughs] I am looking for seasonality of infectious diseases in both places; we see a lot of similarity in the seasonal pattern of rotavirus infections [a common cause of severe diarrhea among infants and young children]. It's definitely not transmitte

d from location to location -- there are strong, niche environmental factors. So these two projects are intrinsically related.

 

In Siberia, we're trying to establish a large database to collect [longitudinal] data on environmental contributors (e.g., water quality, water availability) associated with drinking water in the larger cities. Collecting data is very challenging, not only because of geographical distances, but political implications and [the difficulty in] assembling the data in a manageable format suitable for further analysis and evaluation. The Siberia project is funded by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The results of the Siberian project were recently presented at the WHO European Commission in Bonn, Germany.

 

The project in India is very detailed and specific: we're going from household to household in a number of villages in the Vellore district as well as in urban slums. We're trying to understand [a number of factors] related to waterborne diseases: personal hygiene, water usage, water quality, water availability and water scarcity. This project is a collaboration with the Christian Medical College of Vellore, probably one of the finest medical organizations in India. The project has dual funding through the United States (CDC) and India (the Indian Medical Consulate, the equivalent of the Indian NIH).

Elena in India

Elena and her research team in India

LM: It seems that your work has a lot of implications only for health but also for data collection procedures.

EN: Absolutely. Good quality of data is very important. The more thoughtfully [the planning and data collection is] done, the better. It's the same in every single formula: garbage in, garbage out.

We have to take a holistic approach - [looking at] human health, animal health, and environmental health - [to understand] the whole system. From this point of view, primary data collection is important, as well as using data effectively by combining data from multiple sources with a cost-effective strategy. We can answer questions related to which effective intervention strategies can be implemented on a large scale by watching how the projections or trajectories of diseases change over time, before and after interventions.

 

Probably one of the most important directions in epidemiology currently is to learn how to use new analytical techniques. [The new approach] is no longer [reliant upon] randomized clinical trials - it's about how to make observational studies more savvy, more appropriate; how to collect information from different angles and be careful with data results in terms of interpretation and implications.

 

When you build a research project, you think about how you can utilize the energy and enthusiasm of students [to address the] important questions about our responsibility in building new infrastructure and considering sustainability so that everyone will benefit: faculty, students, and most importantly, the public.

 

LM: What kinds of challenges do these projects face?

EN: It's quite challenging to work abroad. You not only need to respect all the different elements related to culture - local beliefs and local acceptance of different ideas -- you also need to see how much you can trust the data you collect, and make the data trustworthy.

 

From the point of view of a mathematician and statistician, it is important for our students to gain first-hand experience; to learn how to observe with trained eyes; make notes with trained eyes; and most importantly, think about what can be done to change [the status quo].  The changes [they implement] can live long lives and be effective and productive.

 

LM: It seems these projects need two kinds of "cultural competency." The first is learning to work with other intellectual disciplines and the second is doing work in an international context.    

EN: I've actually become a very strong believer that communication is one of the most important pieces. I have had to develop communication skills. When I was at the university level myself, [studying] mathematics, communication was the least of my worries. It's tough -- there's no question about it! [Learning how to communicate] will not come easy but you need to be patient, you need to keep hope that it's possible under different circumstances, and don't be discouraged -- but put more effort into making things happen. 

 

 


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Student Profile:  Understanding Grassland Birds with Sasha Keyel (B'12)

by Libby Mahaffy, G'11

Sasha in the field

Sasha Keyel in the field

 

 

Avid birder, conservationist and biology student Sasha Keyel (B'12) was awarded a TIE fellowship in 2009 to support his field research on grassland birds. In his fourth year of a five-year PhD program inConservation Biology and Avian Conservation under Professor Michael Reed, Sasha studies Bobolinks in Eastern and Central Massachusetts. He spoke with TIE intern Libby Mahaffy in February 2011 about his research and the importance of avian conservation.

 

Libby Mahaffy: What do you hope to understand with your research?

Sasha Keyel: My research focuses on understanding grassland birds. Two questions frame my research. One is more conservation-oriented: Why are grassland bird species declining and what can we do to reverse those declines? The other question looks at "area sensitivity." Broadly, it's the phenomenon where birds are absent from, or at lower densities in, small habitat patches relative to larger patches - with area sensitivity there are fewer birds per unit area. This is a conservation problem because larger patches tend to get fragmented into smaller patches [for example, through development], whereas the reverse is generally not true -people don't bulldoze houses to put in new fields. I'm trying to understand, given that we have these small habitat patches, if we can manage them better for declining species.

 

LM: Where did you conduct your field research?

SK: In eastern and central Massachusetts, on a mix of state, federal and private lands. The private lands were mostly owned by conservation organizations: Mass Audubon, Trustees of Reservations. I also used town conservation lands and state parks. One of my field sites was Walden Pond State Park - they have a small field there. And Moore State Park (close to Worcester) is really beautiful; I highly recommend checking it out.

 

LM: How did the TIE fellowship help you conduct this research?

SK: Field research is very expensive. I drove around 10,000 miles [during] the summer of 2009. The TIE fellowship helped with covering the overall expenses, which included a field assistant, a little bit of equipment and a lot of travel. In case people are worried [about] the Tufts Institute of the Environment funding somebody who is contributing to climate change by driving all over the place - a valid concern - I offset all the carbon emissions generated through NativeEnergy. While you can't avoid making emissions, you can help to solve the problem in other places.

 

LM: How did you get interested in this work?

I've always had an interest in birds and conservation. Part of the reason for choosing grassland birds is that they're still common; with a PhD project, you're not as worried that if you mess up on one of your sampling protocols you are going to make the whole species go extinct! At the same time, conservation of a common species is important because the passenger pigeon, once our most abundant species, is gone. A species being common isn't proof against extinction. Human impacts are so widespread and pervasive that even common species can rapidly decline.  

 

Bobolink

Bobolink

It's more economical to conserve species while they are still abundant and it's also easier. I can study Bobolinks with good sample sizes to understand their biology, which can inform [policy] decisions. Once a species is down to five or six individuals, intensive study measures become infeasible, even if the measure isn't going to directly hurt the bird - the concern is if you disturb it and then it doesn't breed, the species may go extinct. It's far easier to take proactive measures with conservation than reactive ones - we need to start before the "critically endangered" stage. Most of the grassland bird species have not reached that stage yet, but as an entire group they are declining, both nationally and worldwide.

 

LM: What are some personal goals for your research?

My goal is to be able to communicate to a broader audience because it's not enough to just do the science - it's a commitment to getting the information out there. Nobody can use a new measure if they've never heard of it.

One of my goals is to try to incorporate "citizen science" by engaging average citizens in doing real research that can be written up and published.

Last summer I was out with a school group - one of my field sites, Woodsom Farms in Amesbury, is right next to an elementary school. I talked to the second grade class and then we went out to do field research. It's about trying to do outreach to get people involved in science and science education, even at an early age. It was a lot of fun.

 

LM: What's your favorite species of bird?

That's always a tough question. It's hard not to say bobolink because that's my study organism. They're cool because they've got a call that sounds like R2-D2 gone haywire - a mechanical, bubbly, happy song.

 

 

southern cassowary

Southern cassowary

One of my long-term favorites is the southern cassowary. Native to Australia, they're a keystonespecies, which means that they have a disproportional impact on the ecosystem. They are the only large frugivore (fruit eater) capable of dispersing some of the plant seeds there, so if they went extinct, a number of the large fruited plants would be in danger. They live in the tropical rain forests and they are critically endangered. Picture an ostrich, shrink it down to two thirds the size, change the neck from pink to bright blue, give it the red wattles of a turkey, and then put a bony cask (structure) on the top of its head, and you've got a southern cassowar

 

 

Book Review: Civic Action in the 21st Century

Regina Raboin

 

by Regina Raboin     

Moral Lives of Animals cover

 

 

The Moral Lives of Animals 

by Dale Peterson, Lecturer in English, Tufts University

http://www.dalepetersonauthor.com/  

Bloomsbury Press, New York 2011

My father was in the military and our small family of three traveled extensively up and down the East Coast of the United States. At the time I was an only child and lonely, so I asked my parents for a dog. And not just any dog - but an "Asta" - a Wire Haired Fox Terrier just like the dog in "The Thin Man" films and television show. We named him MacDuff (my parents were great readers) and we were inseparable. He understood me; he laughed, played and pouted with me. If insulted, which often happened when not offered a plate of spaghetti, he would turn his back to you and then turn his head over his shoulder to look at you with hurt eyes. My parents said he was just a dog, but I knew better. MacDuff was more than a dog -- he was a reincarnated person.

Dale Peterson's latest book, The Moral Lives of Animals, asks the reader to look beyond the most commonly held belief that only humans 

are moral or have the intelligence to reason and analyze behavior and emotions. Using Moby-Dick and the characters of Ahab and Starbuck as representatives of two standard theories of animal behavior and intelligence, Peterson suggests that there is another way to comprehend animal morality. This third way promotes the existence of many animal minds (not an animal mind), which are alien to human minds, yet similar; both animals and humans have undergone the process of evolutionary adaptation according to social and ecological needs, thus sharing some common behaviors and senses. 

Dale and his dogs

Dale at home with his dog

Peterson reviews Judeo-Christian (e.g., the Ten Commandments) and philosophical tenets; he defines "morality" and challenges the reader to accept morality as being as much an animal attribute as human. The concept "Darwinian narcissism" -- the "ordinary condition of a species" -- is used to show that evolutionary continuity allows for habituation, the every-day routine of an animal's life, including in humans. While animals and humans readily orient themselves to their own kind's behavior, we share many behaviors that allow for meaningful understanding and awareness among species.

Morality isn't an easy subject to define or discuss, but Peterson methodically -- yet beautifully -- presents the topic through personal and animal stories, literary examples and scientific studies. His use of rules, attachments and assessments makes it easy to follow his argument to its conclusion: that all animals (including humans) share similar thoughts, that is, "subjective mental experiences," allowing for mutual understanding and peaceful coexistence. 

There is much in Dale Peterson's new book The Moral Lives of Animals to absorb, contemplate, understand, and fear. Yes, I fear that human beings might not have the courage to do what Peterson asks of us in his final chapter - to come to peace with the knowledge that we aren't the only moral beings on this Earth, and to choose "not to destroy what we [do] not entirely understand." 

 

 To purchase this book online, click here.   

 

Reviewed by Regina Raboin, Science and Urban and Environmental Policy & Planning Research Librarian, Research & Instruction, Tisch Library, Tufts University.

Dale Peterson
teaches freshman English at Tufts. He is the author of sixteen books, translated into nine languages, many distinguished as Best Book of the Year by the Boston Globe, Denver Post, Discover, The Economist, and other publications. Two volumes,
Visions of Caliban: On Chimpanzees and People, coauthored with Jane Goodall, and Jane Goodall: The Woman Who Redefined Man, were listed as Notable Books of the Year by the New York Times.

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Past Environmental Events On Campus


Sixth Tufts Energy Conference draws high−power speakers

Tufts Energy Conference


 

Exploring Energy's Great Debates: Moving Past Posturing to Arrive at Achievable Energy Solutions  

 

Students, faculty and international experts in the field of energy this weekend gathered on April 15 -16, 2011 at Tufts University for the sixth annual Tufts Energy Conference. This year's event featured prominent speakers and the first Tufts Energy Challenge, a competition between student projects dedicated to finding sustainable energy solutions. The conference, this year themed "Energy's Great Debates: Moving Past Posturing to Arrive at Achievable Energy Solution," featured keynote speakers including Former Commissioner of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Suedeen Kelly and American Council on Renewable Energy President Michael Eckhart. Keynote speaker Michael Sachse, vice president of regulatory affairs and general counselor for software company Opower, on Friday addressed the issue of public apathy toward energy efficiency. Friday's talks were followed on the conference's second day by a series of panels exploring topics such as deep−sea drilling, the future of mass transit and the relationship between energy use and poverty. Grameen Bank co−founder and chairman of the Bright Green Energy Foundation Dipal Chandra Barua described the company's work improving access to renewable energy in Bangladesh. Two student finalist projects were selected to receive a $1000 award in the inaugural energy challenge competition - the Tufts Hybrid Racing team for a High Voltage Lithium Ion Battery Management System and  Wind Turbines and Solar Cookers in Zimbabwe, a project dedicated to increasing access to clean energy in Zimbabwe. The conference also featured an Energy Showcase and clean energy auto show in which approximately 15 students and private sector companies showcased their proposals for clean−energy solutions.

 

Second Annual WSSS Symposium Ignites Discussion, Informs

 

2011 symposium logo 

Water in 2050: The Infrastructure to Get There

Building on last year's success, the second annual WSSS Symposium, 150 students, faculty and water professionals from 10 (Tufts, Cornell, George Washington University, MIT, UMASS Amherst and Boston, NYU, Clark University, Siena and University of Maine) and various public and private to discuss "Water in 2050: The Infrastructure to Get There."

The Symposium opened with a keynote address questioning the relative importance of climate change in relation to other water-related challenges in the near future.  Rich Vogel, one the lead faculty in Tufts interdisciplinary Water: Systems, Science Society (WSSS) program commented, "for me, the WSSS symposium was resounding success because it stimulated and even initiated an important debate, which I hope we will continue."

 

The conference addressed many impending challenges including the scale of water and sanitation infrastructure, water flooding, ageing infrastructure and securing safe and water in the US and in developing countries.  "I was surprised to find out that the panel topics were broad to apply to many disciplines, even outside of water," said an attendee.  "Water was, of course, the theme that tied together, but I really appreciated that many of the larger could be related to other areas, and fit into a big picture."


WSSS logo 600px


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