Reflections on the 2015 UEP Loj Trip: Lylee Rauch-Kacenski
| November 20, 2015 | 5:20 pm | Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Prior to beginning my journey with UEP I had been living in a town of 2,030 in rural central Vermont. It took 10 minutes to walk through town, into the foothills of the Green Mountains, and quickly be engulfed in trees, pine needles underfoot, lost in thought. Since the start of school I have been absorbed in trying to keep on top of reading and research, discovering new passions within the field, and generally acclimating to an academic lifestyle.

On Saturday November 7th, 18 Tufts Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning students set out for a day of hiking and overnight at the Tufts Loj in New Hampshire. The drive to the White Mountains was a relaxing transition out of the city and into the weekend. The car ride provided a space to chat with classmates who are slowly becoming friends and compare notes about classes, assignments, research, and careers. It was at the beginning of our hike, bundled in layers of long underwear, hats and scarves, that I realized just how much I miss being in the woods. I couldn’t have articulated that I needed the space, solitude and silence that the trees and mountains provide: how the vast vistas beyond the peaks helped clear my mind and reset my core. Even while hiking with a group of people, I found the space to reconnect with a non-urban environment.

White Mountains and Lonesome Lake

White Mountains and Lonesome Lake

Between conversation with friends, picking up souvenirs of birch bark and crimson leaves, and traversing up steep passes, we slowly made our way to Lonesome Lake. Navigating our way over planks through bogs and marshes we finally arrived at the docks on the bank of the lake. There is nothing quite as satisfying as lunch after a long hike, and this day was no exception. I made the time to sit and sketch, a passion that I have ignored for the past 8 months. With rusty hand and no expectations- just the joy of being in the moment- I sketched the mountains and enjoyed bouncing in and out of conversation about yoga, food and traveling.

Lonesome Lake

Lonesome Lake



Although the trip was short, it provided enough time to reconnect with art and trees and to make deeper connections with fellow students through hiking, cooking together, setting up an unfamiliar tent in the dark, camping, s’mores, bonfires and silly games. For me the overnight was a perfect balance to the seriousness and intensity of the first semester of school and the relaxed social atmosphere outside of the classroom to get to know my cohorts even better.

GDAE: Climate Economics
| November 15, 2015 | 4:24 pm | Events | 1 Comment

Tufts’ Global Development and Environment Institute (GDAE) hosted a panel of Tufts affiliated professors and researchers to discuss the global economics of climate change. The panel featured:

  • Gilbert Metcalf -Tufts Department of Economics
  • Killy Sims Gallagher – Tufts Fletcher School
  • Sivan Kartha – Stockholm Environment Institute

Metcalf related his discourse to the COP21 Conference in Paris this year. Encouraged by the inclusion of all countries striving to take action on climate change, he remained pessimistic about the inadequacy of the agreements in actually addressing the problem. He does see signs for optimism in many of the subsidies to clean energy, EPA regulations, research and development on carbon capture and sequestration, and carbon pricing pilots. Metcalf has long advocated for institution of carbon pricing, specifically a carbon tax. He defends the regressive nature (the tax falling disproportionately on the poor) by suggesting a flat payback amount, where lower income folks will get back more than they put in. He points out sub-national carbon tax initiatives such as ClimateXChange, whose mission is to implement comprehensive market-based carbon pricing in Massachusetts.

Gallagher covered the innovation process for clean energy technologies:

Growth Model of Innovation

Growth Model of Innovation

She ascribes the success of a new technology based on a combination of Pushes (e.g. investments in new technology) and Pulls (e.g. policies to encourage technology use). As an example, she outlined China’s process for, first, production of PV solar panels (a push), followed by widespread adoption of solar panels among the Chinese population (a pull) several years later.

Gallagher then refuted the notion that increased production of a new technology results in a reduced price. The vast majority of public investment in energy technology over the last 40 years has been in nuclear power, which has gone up in cost over that time. In essence, her point is that we can’t rely on technologies to become cheaper.

Sivan Kartha’s talk also covered this year’s Paris agreements. His discussion mostly focused on finding an equitable fair share in the distribution of burdens for reducing the effects of climate change. He quotes Al Gore, who said in a 2007 New York Times op-ed that “countries will be asked to meet different requirements based on their historical share or contribution to the problem and their relative ability to carry the burden of change. This precedent is well established in international law, and there is no other way to do it.” Showing this chart he illustrates the historical responsibility for emissions, where OECD-1990 Countries (the “developed world,” roughly) feature prominently:

Responsibility for Historical Emissions (

Responsibility for Historical Emissions (

Using per capital annual income as a measure of capability to bear the burden or addressing climate change, countries could calculate their burden based on the proportion of their population making above the “development threshold,” below which they would be excluded from the calculation. Kartha’s proposed development threshold of $7,500 PPP would exclude most of India’s population, much of China’s population, and only a small portion of the U.S. population. By this method, countries would be required to pay an amount that is commensurate with their population’s ability to pay. In summary: we are not on track to address climate change. Increased international cooperation is the only way to achieve the changes we seek.

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.

UEP Colloquium: Climate Change and Community Vulnerability
| November 6, 2015 | 3:39 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

Samuel Bell: Hazard Mitigation Through Planning

UEP alum, former FEMA hazard mitigation specialist and current planner at GZA Geoenvironmental spoke at this weeks UEP Colloquium about mitigation and resiliency planning in New England cities and towns. In New England, a heavily coastal region, Bell’s work has focused on coastal resilience and preparing for storm surges and flooding. Bell differentiated mitigation planning from resiliency planning: mitigation is more regulatory based while resiliency is community based, mitigation looks at all hazards while resiliency has looked at coastal hazards, mitigation focuses on current risks while resiliency works on future risks, not necessarily any one time.

Unfortunately for many towns and cities, funding for mitigation planning doesn’t tend to materialize until after disaster strikes. However, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association offers coastal ecosystem and coastal resiliency grants. FEMA offers the Flood Mitigation Assistance Grant, Hazard Mitigation Grant, and the Pre-Disaster Mitigation Grant. State grants cover green infrastructure, coastal community resilience, wetlands restoration, and dam, levee and foreshore protection and removal. There are municipalities all over New England applying to these grants. Bell listed off a hazard mitigation plan in Somerset, MA, powering the water pumping station in the Cotuit, MA Fire District, restoring tidal flow and restoring shellfish habitat in Gloucester, MA, and restoring salt marshes in Hyannis, MA.

Bell has worked extensively on coastal resilience in Stratford, CT. There, he tells people to think of a 100 year weather event over the life of a mortgage. A 100 year weather event, such as a flood, is one that is expected to have a 1% chance of happening in a given year. However, at year ten that chance rises to 10%, 14% after fifteen years, 18% after twenty years and 26% after thirty years. I’m not sure why this isn’t more well known, as people need to ensure homes for long periods and the strength of 100 year weather events become increasingly damaging. Their work has used Hazus software to model physical damage, economic loss, and social and environmental impacts of such an event.

The next UEP Colloquium will be on December 4 in the Crane Room at Paige Hall, 12-1pm and will feature visiting scholar on shrinking cities Maxwell Hart. See you then!

Friedman School’s Tim Griffin on Sustainable Diets
| November 5, 2015 | 3:56 pm | Events | Comments closed

In another installment of the Tufts Environmental Studies Lunch & Learn Lecture Series, Tim Griffin of the Friedman School spoke to students and faculty last week on the topic of sustainable diets. More specifically, the focus was on how to bring sustainable agriculture and sustainable consumption in line with healthy dietary guidelines.

Griffin is the director of Friedman’s Agriculture, Food and Environment program and a former scientist at the USDA.

The talk began with a summary of sustainable agriculture, consumption and diets in the United States. A movement for sustainable agriculture began during the early 1980s farm crisis, as smaller scale farmers began trying to join profitability with socially acceptable practices and products and mitigate the negative effects of agriculture. Over time, most mid-size farms have disappeared resulting in a “bimodal” distribution in which most farms are industrial in scale or very small family farms.

Agriculture is responsible for 80% of world deforestation, 70% of freshwater usage, 30% of greenhouse gases, and is the largest cause of biodiversity loss (mostly a result of the previous statistics). Population growth and the ensuing increase in demand for food will surely increase agriculture’s already enormous footprint. Griffin’s question for the audience was what roles the private and public sector have in advancing sustainable consumption.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services(HHS) and the USDA publish dietary guidelines that reflect the latest nutrition science (remember the food pyramid?), so the Dietary Guidlines Advisory Committee would be an obvious place to start incorporating sustainability into the American diet. The current guidelines are referred to as MyPlate and do not cover sustainable agriculture or consumption. The guidelines do have a focus on food security, defined at the 1996 World Food Summit as “when all people at all times have access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy and active life,” and since food production requires non-renewable resources, the sustainability related decisions we make now will affect our ability to meet food security goals in the future. Other countries, such as Brazil and the Netherlands, maintain sustainability as an important feature of their dietary guidelines. Griffin cited 2014 article in Nature by Tilman and Clark outlining the environmental effects of different diets.

Tilman and Clark 2014

Tilman and Clark 2014

Dietary patterns higher in plant-based foods are generally more sustainable than animal or pescetarian diets. However, despite Griffin’s best arguments, the USDA and HHS blog states that sustainability will be excluded from the latest nutrition guidelines as too far out of scope.

There has been some discussion this year about whether we would include the goal of sustainability as a factor in developing dietary guidelines. (Sustainability in this context means evaluating the environmental impact of a food source. Some of the things we eat, for example, require more resources to raise than others.) Issues of the environment and sustainability are critically important and they are addressed in a number of initiatives within the Administration. USDA, for instance, invests billions of dollars each year across all 50 states in sustainable food production, sustainable and renewable energy, sustainable water systems, preserving and protecting our natural resources and lands, and research into sustainable practices. And we are committed to continuing this investment.

In terms of the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans (DGAs), we will remain within the scope of our mandate in the 1990 National Nutrition Monitoring and Related Research Act (NNMRRA), which is to provide “nutritional and dietary information and guidelines”… “based on the preponderance of the scientific and medical knowledge.”  The final 2015 Guidelines are still being drafted, but because this is a matter of scope, we do not believe that the 2015 DGAs are the appropriate vehicle for this important policy conversation about sustainability.

UEP Colloquium: Community Organizing in Practice
| October 29, 2015 | 2:45 pm | Colloquium | Comments closed

UEP Welcomed two local community organizers to discuss their experiences from different perspectives.

Speaking from her experience at the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, May Louie defined community organizing as the process of gathering people together to jointly determine issues and strategies, engage in collective action to address issues, build power, and embed this power in democratic institutions. Her organizing experience began in the Asian American community, fighting the Tufts Medical Center expansion with the Free Chinatown Committee. Louie eventually joined up with the Boston Rainbow Coalition to focus on multi-ethnic, multi-issue electoral issues.

At DSNI, she emphasized, the goal was community planning and organizing, not community development. However, they did end up in the well-known position as the only community organization to win the power of eminent domain. Louie attributes this victory to a Mel King’s well-organized mayoral campaign, in which he took the majority of the vote in most Black, Latino and Asian communities. Ray Flynn, who won the overall election, wanted to be more than the mayor of just white Boston. His intention was to give the Dudley neighborhood the power to improve their own condition.

Bringing in the municipal perspective, Jen Lawrence gave an explanation of her role in community involvement as a sustainability planner for the city of Cambridge. Her previous experience had been in organizing rural communities in upstate New York before she moved to Somerville, then working at GroundWork Somerville. Her position in this initially small gardening program grew over time as GroundWork began planning for the Green Line expansion.

Eventually, Lawrence made the shift to her current position as a Cambridge sustainability planner. Within the purview of her position are long-term planning and zoning for climate change, and getting city residents to focus on this instead of pressing, short-term issues. Cambridge invited 43 organizations to meet with city departments and assess the top priorities for dealing with climate change.

Both Louie and Lawrence gave examples of angry residents coming into their respective offices complaining about new developments in their neighborhoods. The fact that there had been massive outreach campaigns and several public meetings (separately, in both Roxbury and Cambridge) meant that the resident had the opportunity to make their opinion heard ahead of time. In the Roxbury case, the resident was satisfied and realized their mistake. In Cambridge, the resident remained unsatisfied and petitioned their city official who went on to railroad the project. Lawrence’s advice for dealing with a situation like this was to encourage people to tell their city official what they do like about their neighborhood. People tend to only contact their representative when they’re angry, so officials don’t always know how many satisfied people there are out there. Louie emphasized the importance of crowdfunding in the future of community organizing as municipal budgets tend to shrink.

Come out to the Crane Room next week for a talk by Samuel Bell on climate change and community vulnerability.

The Dammed: Getting Fish Back into American Rivers by Chipping Away at Dams
| October 24, 2015 | 6:54 pm | Events | Comments closed

In another installment of the Tufts Environmental Studies Department’s Lunch & Learn Program, editor of Becky Kessler spoke about the history and effects of America’s many dams on fish populations. Kessler is a former senior editor at Natural History Magazine and her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Boston Globe Magazine, Yale Environment 360, ScienceInsider, and many others.

Dam with Fish Ladder- photo from

Dam with Fish Ladder- photo from

Early European and American explorers’ accounts of fish populations on the North American continent describe rivers so full of fish that it wasn’t clear if the river contained more water or more fish. Since then, America’s many species of diadronous migrating fish (atlantic salmon, american shad, alewife, sea lamprey, bass, sturgeon, and american eel) have drastically dropped in population. This is largely, though not entirely, due to the proliferation of dams.

The number of dams in U.S. rivers is unknown. Most counts depend on state inventories, which can have arbitrary height cutoffs and other reasons for leaving many dams out. One estimate, cited by Kessler, says there could be between 100,000 and 1 million. Dams result in a loss of river connectivity as fish are unable to swim upstream past even small sized structures. Some dams are equipped with fish ladders, which can be helpful but often only for particular species. Recent research has resulted in the development of “nature-like fishways”

Nature-Like Fishway-

Nature-Like Fishway

With increasing awareness of the unintended consequences of dams, many are starting to be removed. Around 850 have been removed in the last two decades. There is often opposition to dam removal as homes situated on a lake upstream from a dam would lose significant property value if they lost their waterfront character. The area behind dams tend to accumulate environmental pollutants, which would be stirred up and released all of a sudden if the dam were removed.

Bringing in the human element, Kessler discussed the irreversible effect that dams have had on indigenous peoples dependent on fishing for sustenance, both in the U.S. and abroad. The Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River is likely to displace 20,000 mostly indigenous people. The Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze River in China displaced 1.2 million people.

Next week’s Lunch & Learn will feature the Friedman School’s Timothy Griffin to talk about sustainable diets.

UEP Song and Story Night!
| October 23, 2015 | 2:37 pm | Events, SPA | Comments closed

Last Friday students and professors gathered for the first ever UEP Song and Story Night. Fourteen talented singers, musicians, poets, storytellers, and comedians performed on the theme of Dr. Seuss’s “Oh the Places You’ll Go!” Attendees brought food and drinks, which were eaten over nearly 3 hours of excellent performances. With so many new students early in the school year, Song and Story Night was an opportunity for people to get to know one another and invite friends to learn more about what UEP is all about.

Song and Story Night!

Song and Story Night!

Notable faculty performers included UEP transportation planning professor Mark Chase, who played both guitar and harmonica. Barbara Parmenter, GIS professor and student affairs coordinator, told jokes (within the Places You’ll Go theme) that she learned while living in Egypt.

Song and Story Line Up

Song and Story Line Up

Other performances included Persian singing by UEP first-year Sara Moaveni, Swedish/Norwegian singing by first-year Nick Dahlberg, and a fascinating tale of the debutante experience by second-year Anna Krane. UEP second-year and co-host of the event Danielle Ngo recounted the epic story of her experience learning to swim in high school.

Stay tuned for more upcoming SPA events in the remainder of the fall semester!

Eric Hove: Implementing MetroFuture with the Sustainable Communities Initiative
| October 16, 2015 | 2:49 pm | Events | Comments closed

This week’s installment of the Tufts Environmental Studies Department Lunch & Learn Program brought in Eric Hove, assistant director of regional plan implementation at the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) and former assistant director for land use policy at the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.

Eric Hove-MAPC

Eric Hove-MAPC

Hove began with an outline of planning in general and the MAPC. MAPC covers the Boston metropolitan region, including 3.2 million residents and 1.9 million jobs. Its mission is to promote smart growth and regional collaboration, and it is required by law to produce comprehensive regional plans. The current and continuously updated plan is called MetroFuture. MetroFuture contains 65 goals with 13 implementation strategies, 100s of specific recommendations and 5000 “plan-builders.” It emphasizes sustainable growth patterns, housing choices, healthy communities, regional prosperity, transportation choices and a healthy environment. The Obama administration, in 2010, awarded a $4 million planning grant in order to implement MetroFuture.

MAPC region

MAPC region

Notable from the key program statistics is the number of public meetings, training and education sessions, and participation in the public meetings. This has been an important feature of the project as our region is, according to Hove and MAPC, becoming more diverse but less equal. Hove stressed the importance of planning with instead of for the region’s many vulnerable populations. This included a video game exploration of Quincy as an introduction to urban planning for local residents, and training on how to get involved and influence the conversation. The finer details on who was actually at the table for decision-making processes was unclear, but MAPC certainly makes an outreach effort in this admittedly gigantic-in-scope project.

Key Program Statistics

Key Program Statistics


The full MAPC Sustainable Communities Initiative report can be found here.

UEP Colloquium: Urban Planning and Bicycling in Copenhagen and Amsterdam
| October 15, 2015 | 11:39 am | Colloquium | Comments closed

UEP second-year Nathaniel Fink and Boston Hubway Bikeshare’s Pat Kelsey spent much of this past summer studying bicycle infrastructure in European cities. Cities like Amsterdam and Utrecht (Netherlands), Copenhagen (Denmark) and Malmö (Sweden) are famous for the importance their urban planning systems place on bicycle infrastructure, reflecting the cultural importance of bicycles in their society.

Things weren’t always this way. In the 1970s, like the United States, most European cities focused on car based infrastructure. People’s behavior responded as expected: more cars on the road and a high number of cycling fatalities. Nathaniel, focusing on Amsterdam, cited citizen activism as an important component leading to the transformation we see today. Popular demand for better bike lanes and an end to “kindermoord” -deaths of children in bicycle related accidents.

Pat’s research focused on Copenhagen. His research noted a constant state of construction in the city to improve bike protections. Most of the infrastructure in the city is retrofitted, including blue bike lanes painted over ordinary car infrastructure. More so than in the United States, cyclists in Denmark use cargo bikes for services and deliveries or dropping their kids off at school. Audience members noted a lack of helmets and general mediocre quality of the bikes being ridden in time-lapse video of a busy street in Copenhagen. In an informal study Pat found that women were less likely to wear helmets, but neither men nor women wear helmets more than 10-15% of the time. What the audience perceived as a lack of high quality bicycles, Pat compared to American attitudes about vacuum cleaners. Danish people see their bicycles as a tool that everybody needs to get a job done rather than a status symbol.

Pat stressed the importance in Denmark of “meeting people where they are”: creating regulations and structural changes based on people’s actual behavior rather than their ideal behavior. Copenhagen’s bicycle planning works on the assumption that “no street is ever complete.”

In the United States, Nathaniel pointed out, 40% of car trips are under 3 miles. This is a distance easily traveled by bike, Especially true considering that bikes have a greater ability to navigate and access smaller roads. In a city like Boston, where some roads are many centuries old, cycling can be faster than driving a car. An important distinction to be made between Boston or the United States and the European cycling cities is that it’s more than just infrastructure. Amsterdam and Copenhagen have a cycling culture, rather than a subculture. If American cities can foment this kind of culture, better infrastructure will go much further.

The next UEP colloquium will be next Wednesday, October 21 in the Crane Room at Paige Hall, 12-1pm. Massachusetts Senator Ben Downing will talk about state level urban and environmental policy.