Category: Tufts Environmental Studies Department
Climate change cannot be separated from social justice, panel says
| March 4, 2017 | 5:18 pm | Colloquium, M.P.P., Tufts, Tufts Environmental Studies Department, UEP | Comments closed

A panel of Boston-area practitioners speaks to Tufts University students about climate justice issues during a February 2017 UEP colloquium.

The following piece was submitted by Tufts undergraduate student Sika Gadzanku.

At its core, Climate Justice is a social justice and human rights issue.

Climate Justice is working to rectify economic, racial and social inequities that exist when discussing the benefits and burdens of climate change and environmental degradation. It is the conscious effort to be intersectional in any measure aimed at mitigating climate change and acknowledging that marginalized communities suffer the most from the effects of climate change.

Master’s in Public Policy students at Tufts University’s Environmental and Urban Planning (UEP) program organized a panel that discussed the importance and place of climate justice within the larger umbrella of combating climate change. The panelists were:

The discussion centered on how the communities of Chelsea, Roxbury, Worcester and, to an extent, the greater Boston area are making their communities more resilient in the face of social, economic, racial and health challenges.

A panel, assembled by graduate students of the Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning program, takes questions from the audience.

The key takeaways were:

  • Climate justice for low-income communities must be prioritized

“Chelsea has 24 percent of its residents below the poverty line. The state average is 10 percent,” said Maria Belen Power, and added that low-income communities in Massachusetts, largely made up of people of color, will be the worst hit by climate change. It’s already happening and is projected to get worse. Thus, a big part of the work of organizations like GreenRoots, Inc. and ACE are partnering with the state government to outline resilience efforts and educate residents in these areas on the dangers of climate change and the benefits of green living.

  • Combating climate change must include obvious co-benefits  

Panelists stressed the need to be truly intersectional when dealing with climate justice since residents of low-income communities face additional economic, social and racial inequities. Kalila Barnett spoke on the importance of working better to connect environmental and economic issues such that addressing a problem provided a co-benefit. That is, solving an environmental issue also provides an economic benefit. In her view connecting these issues only serves to increase community engagement. Additionally, David McMahon of Dismas House highlighted how a homeless shelter invested in solar power – reducing its electric bill from $20,000 to $0 while enjoying a $2000 rebate incentive from MassCEC.

  • Community engagement and cross-party collaboration is critical

ACE is led by and composed of Roxbury residents which makes their mission and goals more personal. This community-based model has proved effective in building neighborhood support for their activities. ACE, in collaboration with GreenRoots, also community-based, successfully blocked the construction of a diesel-fired power plant planned to occupy the space opposite an elementary school complex in Chelsea.

  • Take advantage of Massachusetts’ leadership in green living

As mentioned, investing in green energy presents opportunities for individuals and organizations to reduce their carbon footprint and save money through reduced utility costs. David McMahon highlighted Massachusetts’ place as a leader in green living – it has the best energy efficiency program and fourth largest solar energy generation in the country. Yet, a third of homes are still heated using oil furnaces, which are only 50 percent efficient. With reduced funding sources available to low-income communities to switch out these furnaces drying up, organizations like the Worcester Green Low Income Housing Coalition are spearheading initiatives to reduce carbon footprint and reduce energy costs for their members.

  • Marginalized communities deserve a seat at the table

Low-income communities must be given decision making power and some form of equity during the development of resilience projects. Dr. Atyia Martin remarked that giving residents a seat at the table ensures that proposed resilience solutions are actually socially, economically and racially equitable. It ensures the struggles of low-income communities are heard.  

Overall, this panel created an avenue to learn more about the need for climate justice and the ongoing work of some climate justice organizations in Massachusetts.

Looking to get involved?

  1. Identify your skills to know where you will be most useful. Skilled in social media? Volunteer as a publicity intern. Knowledgeable about environmental engineering solutions? Volunteer your services to research and analyzing appropriate technologies for a community-specific issue. Here is a list of some climate justice organizations.
  2. Bear in mind that any meaningful engagement with residents of low-income communities is based on trust and trust only develops over time.
Flint crisis a tale of democracy hijacked
| January 10, 2017 | 5:38 pm | student papers, Tufts, Tufts Environmental Studies Department, UEP | Comments closed

This post was adapted from an assignment UEP student Elijah Romulus wrote for the Cities in Space, Place, and Time class. The assignment was an analysis of a policy created after 1950.

Flint Water Advisory Task Force Final Report

Credit: Jake May/AP Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards shows the difference in quality between Detroit and Flint water after testing.

Credit: Jake May/AP
Virginia Tech professor Marc Edwards shows the difference in quality between Detroit and Flint water after testing.


Close to a century after the first city plan of Flint, Michigan was released, the city went from a growing metropolis to a declining city facing disaster. On December 14, 2015, Mayor Karen Weaver declared the city of Flint in a State of Emergency. An environmental and public health disaster that was traced to the city switching its water source to the Flint River in 2014, a manmade disaster. Flint, once a bustling satellite of the Motor City, Detroit, was now in the headlines for municipal water contamination and lead poisoning in its community. To this date there is still lead in the Flint water despite efforts to fix the problem. The governor of Michigan, Rick Snyder appointed a Flint Water Advisory Task Force to report on the situation. This paper will analyze the Task Force’s 116-page report, which proposed reforms and policies through 44 recommendations that stretch across 10 different local, state, and federal institutions and agencies. The paper focuses on five recommendations in particular.


1) Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHS): Ensure that MDHHS is transparent and timely in reporting and analysis of aggregate data regarding children’s blood lead levels. MDHHS data regarding lead levels shall be provided to individuals and organizations, based on their expertise, upon request and in cases when the interpretation of data by MDHHS is questioned.

The MDHHS recommendation stated above follows one finding by the taskforce that the department was slow to analyze the data it had on children’s blood lead levels. Furthermore, there was reluctance to share the data it had with Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, a pediatrician who was investigating lead poisoning among her patients. Likewise, MDHHS did not cooperate with Professor Marc Edwards, who was helping residents test the city’s water. Based on the Task Force’s introduction as well as the remainder of the executive summary, they found failure of state government at all departments and this recommendation reflects that. The MDHHS was found to be non-transparent and even defensive in its handling of the water crisis.

2) State-Appointed Emergency Managers: Review Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law (PA 436) and its implementation, and identify measures to compensate for the loss of the checks and balances that are provided by representative government.

On December 26th 2012 Michigan Governor Rick Snyder approved senate Bill No. 865,  introduced by state senator Phil Pavlov. This bill was later named the Local Financial Stability and Choice Act, Act 436 of 2012. This bill in essence installs emergency managers, EMs, in cities, municipalities, and school districts deemed in a financial crises by the state, in lieu of the elected governance, granting the EM full executive power. The topic of emergency management was one of great tension before and after the Flint Water Crisis. Act 436, though passed in 2012, comes from a long line of similar acts dating back to 1990. The Task Force found in that the state’s EM law could improve to ensure protection of public health and safety not be lost in the name of financial urgency.

3) United States Environmental Protection Agency: Exercise more vigor, and act more promptly, in addressing compliance violations that endanger public health.

In another case of an agency waiting too long to take action, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was also responsible in the Flint Water Crisis. As early as June 2015, EPA officials were relaying concerns for the drinking water in Flint but upper management was hesitant to take action.

4) Environmental Injustice: Issue an Executive Order mandating guidance and training on Environmental Justice across all state agencies in Michigan, highlighting the Flint water crisis as an example of environmental injustice. The state should reinvigorate and update implementation of an Environmental Justice Plan for the State of Michigan.

Since the environmental disaster occurred, many journalists, academics, and citizens alike have equated this to an issue of environmental racism. The city of Flint is a majority-minority city with 57% of the population reported to be African American according to the 2010 census. While there is nothing that points directly to environmental racism, there is a lack of environmental justice laws to protect citizens as noted by the Task Force. It urged the governor to pass an executive order to be proactive in the face of environmental injustices and not be reactive in the event of another crisis.

Credit: Jake May/AP Gov. Snyder apologized, promising to fix the problem, but critics call the effort "too little, too late."

Credit: Jake May/AP
Gov. Snyder apologized, promising to fix the problem, but critics call the effort “too little, too late.”

5) State-wide: Use the occasion of the Flint water crisis to prompt local and state re-investment in critical water infrastructure, while providing mechanisms to advance affordability and universal access to water services.

According to the Detroit news: Elevated blood-lead levels are seen in a higher percentage of children in parts of Grand Rapids, Jackson, Detroit, Saginaw, Muskegon, Holland and several other cities, this plays right into the Task Force’s recommendation to update all of Michigan’s water infrastructure. It was not only that the city of Flint switched to a corrosive water source, but the pipes were filled with lead and city employees were not properly equipped or trained to deal with the conversion of water sources. All these factor into the inadequate water infrastructure that the Task Force described in its report.  

The five recommendations above best speak to how the state and federal governments failed the city of Flint according the Task Force’s report. The Task Force did a good job of putting the state and federal governments’ front and center of who is to blame for this environmental disaster. The authors interviewed 63 people from the governor, to doctors, to the ACLU, to citizens of Flint. Notably, they concluded in one finding that ultimate accountability for Michigan executive branch decisions rests with the Governor.  

In context

The events that followed the report’s early-2016 release suggest it was indeed influential. In the months following the release of the report, six state employees were charged with criminal offenses from the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services and Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. The employees were originally suspended without pay during the process but a few months later the state reversed its decision and resumed their pay, costing taxpayers up to $500,000 in addition to granting them legal defense by the state’s attorney general. While the report holds the state responsible for the crisis, and likely catalyzed legal action against the state employees, it appears to the writer that government officials and state employees are above the law and rarely if ever face prison sentences.  

One issue that seems to be lacking in the conversation of the Flint Water Crisis, however, is the Flint river itself. While there are many calls for environmental justice, it is the writer’s opinion that there should be space for environmentalism as well. The Flint River became so corrosive that it was able to eat through pipes. But without the Flint River, the city would not have experienced its boom in the early 20th century, much like Los Angeles’ dependence on the LA River for its success that Jenny Price described in her essay. Currently, the Flint River is in bad shape and needs attention. Some argue environmentalism is a “white cause” while environmental justice is a so-called “minority cause.” This may factor into the lack of environmentalism work  in the majority-minority city of Flint.

While the story of Flint is one of tragedy, there is a positive aspect and it is the citizens of Flint. The citizens took matters into their own hands when the government failed them. While children and adults alike were falling victim to lead poisoning at the hands of state sponsored austerity measures, citizens fought for justice. This was with the help of organizations like the ACLU, doctors and professors, and select state and federal employees with righteous indignation to speak up against injustice. Most recently the fight for justice continued as the groups such as Concerned Pastors for Social Change, Flint Activist Melissa Mays, the ACLU, and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a lawsuit against the state of Michigan to deliver clean water to households in the city of Flint that don’t have access. Even after the state was found responsible for the crisis, it is still fighting against the suit.

Lessons Learned

Flint, Michigan is a wakeup call for various reasons whether it be environmental justice issues, environmentalism, human rights issues, the harmful effects of austerity, and more. There are citizens in the city of Flint still without reliable drinking water. People will be dealing with the lead poisoning for the rest of their lives and there are more public health issues that have arisen in the midst of the crisis. Flint is an example of what happens when democracy is snatched and technocrats and bureaucrats take control. Flint is an example of big business and profits over people. Flint is an example of what happens to cities that are either poor or poor and majority-minority. As planners, policy makers, and change agents it is important to see what went wrong and what went right with Flint. The question that must be asked is: How can one use his or her position to make positive change even if a particular department or agency moves in a negative direction? Flint cannot be forgotten and the citizens of Flint deserve justice because water is life.  

Read the full paper here: Elijah Romulus – Analysis of Flint Water Advisory Task Force Final Report


Works Cited

“Flint Doctor Mona Hanna-Attisha on How She Fought Gov’t Denials to Expose Poisoning of City’s Kids.” Democracy Now! January 15, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016.

“What Did GM & the Governor Know? GM Stopped Using Flint Water Over a Year Before Emergency Declared.” Democracy Now! February 17, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016.

Aldridge, Chris. “Pavlov Named Most Conservative, Nominated Michigan Senator of the Year.” Huron Daily Tribune. April 20, 2016. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Allen, Robert. “6 state employees criminally charged in Flint water crisis” Detroit Free Press. July 30, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Bosman, Julie. “E.P.A. Waited Too Long to Warn of Flint Water Danger, Report Says.” The New York Times. October 20, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Carmody, Steve. “State of Michigan Fighting Federal Court Order to Deliver Water to Flint Homes.” Michigan Radio. November 17, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Davis, Matthew, Chris Kolb, Lawrence Reynolds, Eric Rothstein, and Ken Sikkema. Flint Water Advisory Task Force – Final Report. Report. Office of Governor Rick Snyder, State of Michigan. 2016.

Egan, Paul. “Federal Judge Orders Delivery of Bottled Water in Flint.” Detroit Free Press. November 10, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Eligon, John. “A Question of Environmental Racism in Flint.” The New York Times. January 21, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Emery, Amanda. “Police confirm body inside vehicle submerged in Flint River.” April 1, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.   

Fonger, Ron. “Flint water crisis prosecutors tell Appeals Court more criminal charges expected.” September 6, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Fonger, Ron. “State reinstates pay for employees charged with crimes in Flint water crisis.” August 18, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Graham, David. “Who is to Blame for Flint’s Lead Crisis?” The Atlantic. March 24, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016.

Helms, Matt. “Canadians Deliver Water to Protest Detroit Shutoffs.” USA Today. July 24, 2014. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Hohn, Donovan. “Flint’s Water Crisis and the ‘Troublemaker’ Scientist.” The New York Times. August 21, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016.

Johnson, Jiquanda. “State Oversight Board Restores Power to Flint City Council despite Concerns.” May 26, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Lewis, Chris. “Does Michigan’s Emergency-Manager Law Disenfranchise Black Citizens?” The Atlantic. May 09, 2013. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Mock, Brentin. “Are There Two Different Versions of Environmentalism, One ‘white,’ One ‘black’?” Mother Jones. July 31, 2014. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Mostafavi, Beata. “What Happened Last Time? A Look Back at Flint’s 2002 State Takeover.” November 10, 2011. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Oosting, Jonathan. “Michigan Proposal 1: Voters Reject Measure, Repeal Controversial Emergency Manager Law.” November 07, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Oosting, Jonathan. “Snyder Signs Replacement Emergency Manager Law: We ‘heard, Recognized and Respected’ Will of Voters.” December 27, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Patrick, Deval. 2014. Executive Order 552. Massachusetts: Office of the Governor.

Price, Jenny. “Remaking American Environmentalism: On the Banks of the L.A. River.” Environmental History, November 12, 2007, 536-55.

Savage, Chris. “The Scandal of Michigan’s Emergency Managers.” The Nation. February 15, 2012. Accessed November 19, 2016.

Senate Bill No. 865, Sess. of 2012 (Mic. 2012),

U.S. Census Bureau, “Quick Facts. Flint city, Michigan” People. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Vasilogambros, Matt. “Upholding Michigan’s Emergency Manager Law.” The Atlantic. September 12, 2016. Accessed November 27, 2016.  

Woods, Ashley. “Michigan Proposal 1 Results: State Emergency Manager Law Fails.” The Huffington Post. November 07, 2012. Accessed November 28, 2016.

Wilkinson, Mike, Bridge Magazine. “Kids’ lead levels high in many Michigan cities.” The Detroit News. January 28, 2016. Accessed November 28, 2016.


Sacred Rice: Environmental Change and Structural Uncertainty in West Africa
| May 1, 2016 | 2:03 pm | Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

This week’s Tufts Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn was a presentation by Boston University anthropologist Joanna Davidson on her work in rice farming communities in Guinea Bissau. Her book, Sacred Rice, looks at the intricacies of economic and environmental conditions affecting the Jola people. Davidson spent over ten years studying rice cultivation in rural Guinea Bissau and the way rice has shaped the worldview and way of life of the people there.

Joanna Davidson: Sacred Rice

Joanna Davidson: Sacred Rice

Guinea Bissau is a nation of 1.5 million people and 23-27 different ethnic groups. The geography of the country is mostly flat mangrove swampland. There isn’t even a word for mountain in the Jola language. This terrain has made it ideal for palm oil forests and rice paddies. Cultivation of the Oryza glaberrima species began in West Africa, distinct from the rice species grown in Asia, with a higher protein content. Rice gave rise to many of the precolonial African kingdoms, and it is thought that American rice cultivation began only after the slave trade brought rice farmers to the Americas. Since the earliest times, Jola life has depended on rice. The people believe that they were created to farm rice, and their hard work in the rice paddies is part of a covenant with their supreme deity for which they are rewarded with rain. Since the mid 90s, however, the long June to October rainy season that they depend on has shortened to one or two months. As a result, many Jola families don’t have enough rice to last them through the year.

The blame can be laid partially on climate change, but is also the result of centuries of shifting lifeways. During the colonial era, Europeans forced farmers to switch to cash crops like sugar and tobacco for international trade rather than domestic subsistence. More recently, shifts toward urbanization mean that there are fewer people farming rice. Jola farmers have largely responded by simply working harder and longer. According to Davidson, much of this burden falls on Jola women. Seeing rice farming as a dead end long-term, families now send their children to be schooled in the capital city rather than train them in cultivation.



The Gates Foundation is funding a program called AGRA: the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa. The hope is that this African-led movement can improve agricultural and market infrastructure. According to Davidson, this program is “not particularly hopeful.”

In a society which defines itself through rice, it is important to consider the effects of climate change beyond the environment or the economy. It becomes an existential issue for the Jola people, who eat rice at every meal. In an anecdote from Davidson’s research, she cooked a spaghetti dinner for the family she was staying with. After the meal, the family asked “So now, where is the food?”

Two Presentations on Sustainable Forestry

This past week, Tufts was host to two guest speakers talking about sustainable forest management. The first, last Monday, was a representative of Mexican reforestation initiative Ejido Verde. At the Environmental Studies department’s weekly Lunch & Learn, Tufts lecturer in environmental anthropology and MIT doctoral candidate Tod Özden-Schilling spoke about the use of computer models in forestry research.

CEO of Ejido Verde, Shaun Paul, stopped by GDAE at Tufts to present on their sustainable and equitable model for pine resin production in the Mexican state of Michoacán. “Ejido Verde” means green “ejido,” which is the term used in Mexico for communally owned land used for agriculture, or in this case, agroforestry.

This video was produced as part of a crowdfunding campaign, which raised their initial goal of $200,000 in only two weeks. As explained in the video, the Purépecha people now have income from over 2400 hectares of pine resin production. Pine resin is used in products including chewing gum, adhesives, food preservatives and more. Mexico is the fifth largest producer of pine resin, with 95% of that coming from the state of Michacán. Mexico has a huge variety of pines, many of which produce large quantities of valuable resin. China, Indonesia and Brazil are by far the largest producers.

Agroforestry in Michoacán

Agroforestry in Michoacán. Source:

Here’s how the model works: Working with the communal owners of ejidos, mostly in Michoacán, Ejido Verde brings funding and sustainable forest management education to provide an initial investment of ~$2000 per hectare of ejido. These are long-term loans, a result of the fact that it takes at least 8-10 years for a pine forest to become ready for tapping. Ten years later, a hectare of pine forest can be expected to generate $3,400 in revenue per year, for eighty years. Cultivation and maintenance are paid through debt financing in the short-term, providing much needed job opportunities to the region. Longer-term, the ejido benefits from a stable revenue source for years to come. Ejido Verde takes 10% of the value of resin sold by the ejido to the pine resin industry. On top of this revenue, the Mexican government pays the ejidos for the benefits of reforestation.

Ejido Verde struggles with reconciling the need for biodiversity in long-term sustainability with the need for short- and long-term revenue to sustain the indigenous people of Michoacán. Pine beetles are an issue affecting many ejidos, but because the system is scattered and not confined to one large area, spread of pests is somewhat controlled.

The Mountain Pine Beetle. Source:

The Mountain Pine Beetle. Source: Mountain_pine_beetle#/media/File:Dendroctonus_ponderosae.jpg

Tom Özden-Schilling spoke to the Environmental Studies Department about the contention between field-based vs computer model based forestry research. With ever increasing technological tools at the fingertips of forestry scientists, the world of “experimental forests” is diminishing. Computer models are thought by many to be capable of turning what used to be a scientific problem into an engineering problem: What features can be put into place in order to grow the most trees at the fastest rate. Unlike experimental forests, these computer models were unable to account for the presence of the mountain pine beetle, which swept through British Columbia’s forests between 2001-2009. More about Özden-Schilling’s is outlined in this blog post of his from 2014.


Sustainable Aquaculture: The Seaweed Industry in New England
| April 1, 2016 | 2:36 pm | Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed


On Thursday, the Tufts Environmental Studies department was visited by Lindsay Green, a PhD and researcher focused on seaweed physiology, aquaculture and ecology. Aquaculture refers to the farming of aquatic organisms including fish, shellfish, and seaweed. World aquaculture has been expanding by about 10% per year for decades, with most of that consisting of fish. Approximately 1/4 of current aquaculture production consists of plants and seaweed. Despite this growth, the U.S. accounts for only 1% of aquaculture production, which contributes to its over $10billion trade deficit for seafood. China, on the other hand, produced 23.8 million tons of seaweed alone in 2012. China and Indonesia together make up 81.4% of global seaweed aquaculture production.

In New England, the majority of the aquaculture industry is in shellfish.  However, there are a few companies in Maine growing both kelp and dulse on a commercial scale. Much of this is intended for direct consumption, but seaweed is also valuable for its use in biomedical applications, textiles, animal feeds, and agricultural crop enhancement.

Porphyra umbilicalis, the nori seaweed from your sushi

Porphyra umbilicalis, the nori seaweed from your sushi*













Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture

IMTA is a system in which the potentially environmentally harmful effects of fish aquaculture are used to enhance production of shellfish and seaweed aquaculture. Waste materials from one species serve as food or fertilizer for the next, creating a loop of healthy and sustainable aquaculture.

IMTA: Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture

IMTA: Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture****

Green’s research has focused on optimizing seaweed production for conditions found off the New England coast. She found that local seaweed and kelp species tend to grow more rapidly under long exposure to sunlight, by phycobilins (good pigments) and protein tend to develop more with less sunlight. These are all important components of a quality seaweed product, so Green suggested a short, heavily lit production cycle followed by a “finishing off” period of relative darkness. This would allow optimal growth with an opportunity to produce pigments and proteins.

Keep your eyes open for locally grown seaweed! It can be grown sustainably in our delicate ocean ecosystems and there is already a huge market for it in other parts of the world. Could kelp be the next kale?





Tufts ENVS: Communicating Science
| March 11, 2016 | 3:31 pm | Tufts, Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

This week’s Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn dealt with a topic important to environmental policymaking: Communicating Science. How can a policymaker or news outlet take important yet complex information and make it accessible to an audience that hasn’t had years of relevant education in the field? Erin Allweiss, who majored in environmental studies and international relations at Tufts, has had a long career in communications. She has worked as a campaign coordinator for Oxfam America, press secretary for the Natural Resources Defense Council, communications manager for the U.S. House of Representatives, and is currently the founder and owner of No.29 Communications.

Erin Allweiss: Founder of No.29 Communications and Tufts alum

Erin Allweiss: Founder of No.29 Communications and          Tufts alum

Allweiss stresses the importance of storytelling. She cites Rachel Carson (author of “Silent Spring), Upton Sinclair (“The Jungle”) and Al Gore (“An Inconvenient Truth”) as thinkers and communicators who were able to take intricate problems at the intersection of business, public health, food and the environment and make them easily digestible to a mass audience. Recently, in an effort to show the effects of global warming, President Obama joined famous TV explorer Bear Grylls on an expedition to the Alaskan Arctic. In order to actually reach the intended audience, the hook of a story needs to draw a reader or viewer in. If Obama were to give another speech about global warming it would likely reach the same audience that always listens to his views on the environment. Joining an episode of Bear Grylls’ show on NBC gave him the expanded reach that is necessary in furthering environmental progress.

Allweiss used her involvement in news of Obama’s push to reinstate the Superfund Tax as an example of the next step in effectively communicating complex issues. The tax, which is levied on oil producers, refineries, chemical manufacturers and others, was instated by Jimmy Carter in the 70s to clean up superfund sites that have been heavily contaminated and demand long-term remediation. Allweiss worked closely with the New York Times editorial board to ensure that “legislative speak” was adequately translated into layperson’s terms.

It’s easy to become complacent or assume a higher degree of understanding among the general population once you become educated on an issue. Allweiss reminds us of the importance to constantly consider how difficult it can be to convey complex information and how important it is to work toward more effective communication in science..

Mapping Stories of the City: Teaching Environmental Justice
| February 26, 2016 | 3:17 pm | Events, Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

This week’s Lunch & Learn, hosted by the Tufts Environmental Studies department, featured the research of three Tufts students using maps and storytelling to create a broader understanding of environmental justice. The presentation, which can be found here, featured the work of English Department PhD student Lai Ying Yu, and undergraduates Morgan Griffiths and Savannah Christiansen. The project was sponsored by the Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service and came out of a class called “Mapping Stories of the City,” taught by Lai Ying.

Screen Shot 2016-02-26 at 2.13.06 PM

The class produced a blog called Changing Somerville, intended to help Somerville residents understand the complex issues affecting them and better work toward community-led solutions. The project was largely inspired by the work of UEP professor Julian Agyeman and his concept of Just Sustainabilities, which focuses on community social and economic sustainability in addition to environmental sustainability.

As Lai Ying says early on in the presentation, storytelling has a long history in community organizing, which she knows well from her background as an organizer in Boston Chinatown. Mapping Stories of the City encourages community residents to ask themselves “Where do I enjoy going? Do my neighbors have the same access as I do? What accounts for that difference, and what could be improved?” The mapping component allows for a “neutral” medium for sharing experiences.

Screen Grab of a Somerville Interactive Mapping Activity

Screen Grab of a Somerville Interactive Mapping Activity in Union Square.

Undergraduate Morgan Griffiths’ research focused on the Somerville Community Path, and resulted in a short film on the topic. An interesting finding of his interviews is that the art and gardens found on the path were placed spontaneously by residents, with no regulation by the city. The fact that they remain in good condition and not vandalized is a testament to the importance the community path has for local people.

Savannah Christiansen produced a video on the disconnect between green space and the environmental justice community of Somerville’s Ward 7. An important question that came out of her work has been how to improve green space access without displacing low-income residents, a concept known as “just green enough.”

To experience more of the stories of Somerville, continue on to their blog with all of its interactive mapping!

China in Latin America: Seeking a Path Toward Sustainable Development
| January 28, 2016 | 3:49 pm | Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

Rebecca Ray, a fellow at the Global Economic Governance Initiative at Boston University, spoke to the weekly Tufts environmental science Lunch and Learn about her research on the social impacts of Chinese investment in Latin American development. The two main questions in Ray’s research are:

  1. Has China been an independent driver of environmental and social change in the region?
  2. Do Chinese investors have different behavior from their international peers?

These questions were answered through a series of eight case studies of Chinese investment in different countries and industries from oil extraction in Colombia and mining in Bolivia to soybean agriculture in Brazil.

Findings show that China has been an independent driver of environmental and social change by quickly meeting most local standards with the right oversight. There has also been an effect of developers pushing governments to lower their environmental and social standards for resource extraction, so there are crucial roles for Latin American government officials and civil society to protect the environment and the people who reside in and alongside it. Luckily, in most cases the “pollution haven” model does not apply as Latin American countries tend to have higher standards than China.

Figure 1 below, from Ray and the Global Economic Governance Institute’s paper “China and Latin America: Lessons for a South-South Cooperation and Sustainable Development,” shows China’s share of Latin American exports over time, illustrating China’s increasing power in the region.

Figure 6 from the same publication shows the average environmental impacts of exports to China as compared with all exports, showing a much higher ecological footprint for Chinese exports. This doesn’t even cover the effect of the roads created for development projects. Every dam, mine and railway project must first build roads to deliver supplies. Once roads are built, according to Ray, new towns are developed along them that further deplete natural resources, totally separate from the extractive industry for which the roads were initially built.

Jobs generated due to exports to China are illustrated in Figure 5 below, which has been decreasing over time.

The map below demonstrates the fine line these developments must (but often don’t, especially without proper oversight) straddle between areas of immense and protected biodiversity, lands occupied by indigenous peoples, and a state’s desire for outside investment into its eonomy.

Luckily, according to Ray, Chinese investors in development are often better behaved than their peers when high environmental standards are enforced. Latin American governments have a responsibility for holding extractive industries accountable, as showcased by a lawsuit against Sinopec (a Chinese petroleum and chemical corporation) in Colombia in which the judge placed much of the blame on regulators for ineffective oversight. In cases of strong and effective oversight, regulations were followed successfully with minimal protest from surrounding communities. Pushback from civil society, as seen below, is a logical outcome when government can’t always be held accountable. This in particular when, in times of economic slowdown, governments will tend to loosen environmental regulations to spur increased investment.

Ray’s talk closed out with recommendations to Latin American governments, the Chinese government, and Chinese development banks: Don’t erode environmental safeguards, prioritize dialogue with civil society, train investors in development behavior that complies with international standards, and learn from previous experience.


Philip Warburg: Solar Power Comes of Age
| November 13, 2015 | 4:16 pm | Events, Tufts Environmental Studies Department | Comments closed

At this weeks Environmental Studies Department Lunch & Learn, Tufts was visited by environmental advocate and author Philip Warburg, whose new book “Harness The Sun” traces the history and current status of solar energy in the United States.

As an example of how far solar has come, Warburg referred to former Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s initiative to prevent utility companies from suppressing support for solar power. The “Tell Utilities Solar won’t be Killed” (TUSK) invokes concepts of class warfare in order to build a movement against fossil fuels’ monopoly on American energy choice. Since 2012, the cost per watt of solar has gone from $5.86 to $3.46 for residential systems, $4.64 to $2.19 for nonresidential systems, and $2.90 to $1.56 for utility scale solar systems.

Related to this drop in prices, 39% of all newly installed electric generators are solar, with wind making up 36%. That’s 75% of new generators powered by renewable energy! The NFL is increasingly partaking in the solar movement: half a dozen stadiums (including Gillette) are equipped with solar arrays. Washington’s FedEx Field covered portions of their parking lot with a solar roof, careful to build it high enough that tailgaiters could still toss footballs. These parking spots are now in the highest demand. The EPA has a program for Re-Powering America’s Land by placing solar systems on brownfields.

Outside of the built environment, many regions are experimenting with new approaches and strategies at capturing solar power. The Carrizo Plain, a flat, sunny, natural monument has been equipped with a massive solar field. The solar plan included reserving 12,000 acres of conservation easement, paths for migrating elk and antelope, and temporary homes for fauna during the construction period. The southeast Nevada Paiute tribe, after fighting for the closure of an environmentally damaging coal fired power plant, replaced it with a solar field.

Solar developers are increasingly relying on community solar, where the developer sells shares to community members who may not have the capacity to build their own solar systems. This is an issue relevant to Boston, where 60% of households are rental. Since tenants can’t put installations on their roofs, they have the option of buying into a community solar program.

Community Solar (

Community Solar (

Warburg also touched on concentrated solar power, in which a central pillar is encircled by mirrors, each focusing sunlight onto molten salt that can hold heat and generate power through turbines day and night.

Concentrated Solar Power (

Concentrated Solar Power (

This approach tends to be more expensive than others, and also requires huge tracts of flat, unused land. It also creates a deadly heat zone for passing birds. The ecological impacts of concentrated solar, as well as traditional photo-voltaic solar arrays, should be compared with the impact of fossil fuel energy, according to Warburg. Renewable energy is not environmentally neutral, but it tends to be better than the status quo. One issue of particular concern is in dealing with solar panel waste. Most of Europe already has regulations demanding solar panel recycling.