Megan Gleason wasn’t sure what to expect when she showed up at her first meeting with the University of Oregon’s Climate Justice League. She was a freshman new to campus, and attended because an old high school friend took her along; she admits that “I was nervous about going because I didn’t really know anyone there.”
A Junior now, she has been involved with Climate Justice League for three years and credits it with providing not only a means of getting active with environmental issues, but also a community of like-minded peers. Almost immediately, she recalls, “I got to be really good friends with a lot of the more active members of CJL.”
Gleason has since served as Campaign Coordinator for projects with the Climate Justice League, including a project that helped make recycling and composting more accessible on campus. This year, she decided to make a further commitment and take on the role of Co-Director—meaning “instead of organizing campaign events, or what I call ‘on the ground’ work, I do a lot of behind the scenes work, meeting with Coordinators one on one and making sure things go smoothly.” The job has helped her develop practical leadership skills, as she must devote herself to understanding “the nuts and bolts of what it takes to keep a group together, happy, and on the right track.”
As Co-Director of the Climate Justice League, Gleason also found herself as a speaker at the Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference. She sat on a panel of speakers with others from PSU and OSU who were working on a campaign that the Climate Justice League had also taken on, called Take Back the Tap. It was an apt time to be addressing the issue: the Climate Justice League had recently pushed a campaign through TBTT, with the support of 85% of faculty and 72% of the student body, to go bottled water-free. It looked like UO was about to become the first public university to make the switch, but just weeks before the conference, “UO President Michael Gottfredson refused not only to pass the policy, but to meet with us to negotiate policy amendments. This decision prompted our campaign to expose the biggest reason the UO said no to going bottled water-free: big money beverage contracts with Pepsi.”
It was a controversial topic, and Gleason was initially nervous to bring it up in front of a public audience. Ultimately, however, she found the presentation to be quite rewarding: “some members of our audience were surprised at our presentation, but I definitely felt a lot of support as I met with people. OHESC is a great place to network and meet people who really want to see institutions of higher education integrate sustainability.”
Moving forward, Gleason expects to graduate in spring of 2015 with a major in environmental studies and a minor in political science. She doesn’t have definite plans after graduation, but law school and graduate school in public policy are on the short list, and she wants to participate next year in the Environmental Leadership Program’s Canopy Connections to get a feel for environmental education. In the meantime she’s taking advantage of interdisciplinary course offerings within the Environmental Studies department, continuing her activism with the Climate Justice League, singing in one of the UO gospel choirs, and reading whenever she gets a spare moment.
Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.
Brook Muller has been interested in green building for a while now. “I remember back as high schooler I got a Sierra Club book called Better Homes and Garbage, which told you how to calculate heat gain and loss and how to make a solar house. I got really excited.”
Muller went on to major in Environmental Studies at Brown University and earn his Masters of Architecture at the University of Oregon, after which he worked as the director of a program in sustainable environments and as an assistant professor at California Polytechnic State University. He arrived as faculty to the University of Oregon in 2004. Through it all he has maintained a commitment to environmental thinking, and often collaborates in his design projects with both ecologists and professors in the environmental humanities. “I was also just on the Environmental Studies department’s English search committee, which was an extraordinary experience given that I’m interested in the poetics of green building. My summer reading list is now twenty summers long.”
Such interdisciplinary collaboration reflects how his interests have grown since Better Homes and Garbage. Although sustainable architecture typically evokes “performance-based propositions” highlighting issues like energy conservation, Muller pushes the concept further: “I feel like when we start engaging environmental issues more deeply it opens up a new set of possibilities for expression within architecture. Buildings have to perform well, but they are also symbolic; they communicate an ethos. I’m really interested in the poetics of environmental design.”
This interest finds expression in his new book, Ecology and the Architectural Imagination, which considers how “designers might gain some measure of ecological literacy, and the opportunities that that opens up.” Architects have always used metaphors to describe their work, and Ecology and the Architectural Imagination highlights a few like the “organism metaphor,” that buildings are bodies. Muller explains that “we are smitten with that idea today and we like evolutionary biology terms like replication and genetic switches. However, my contention is that while we use these terms to create buildings that have adaptable façades that may perform better, we can also be thinking about biology in ways that affect how species are actually going to be able to occupy human-dominated environments.”
As an example of such thinking, Muller remarks that his colleague in landscape architecture, Bart Johnson, “would say that cities from the standpoint of species are like rock outcrops—great for shelf- and cavity-nesting birds, but not necessarily for a whole lot else.” By re-examining the meaning and purpose of our buildings, we have the opportunity to design spaces that support a greater diversity of species. As such, Muller sees his book as “a rumination on how the design process would be affected in positive and exciting ways, if we started to think more ecologically.”
Muller also sees the University of Oregon as the perfect place to explore such possibilities. The university has a deep history in green design and issues of social equity: “in the ‘80s, which was sort of the ‘Ronald Reagan era’ of architecture, when one of his first acts as president was to remove all the solar panels from the White House, we hung to our green building values.” As a result, the U of O remains a leader in sustainable architecture and continues to attract architecture students who are interested in environmental issues. Many of them end up as Muller’s students, and he loves it. “I have two students who were in my architecture studio in the winter who are Environmental Studies minors, and it’s great to see smart, capable students in the department, putting together these kind of connections. They understand the significance of what we’re doing.”
ENVS core faculty Louise Westling has published a book presenting the philosophy of Maurice Merleau-Ponty as a theoretical grounding for studies in environmental humanities. The Logos of the Living World: Merleau-Ponty, Animals, and Language draws on interdisciplinary research to argue that human and animal semiotic activities—including cultural and linguistic behaviors—are not separate phenomena, but rather exist on a continuum.
“As more people become excited about working in the environmental humanities,” Westling explains, “theory is critical. I focused on animals because they are the environment closest to us, and here Merleau-Ponty gives us exactly what we need. He was interested in the place of humans in connection to animals, and in breaking down ideas of dualism between the two.”
Her analysis, which uses Merleau-Ponty to frame texts as diverse as Euripides and Eudora Welty, also emphasizes his fascination with the sciences and the ways in which evolutionary biology and ethology can assist cultural engagement with animals.
As she continues her work with environmental humanities and the field of biosemiotics, Westling asserts that such wide-raging curiosity is key: “the creative imagination works across all disciplines. Science helps writers think about the world, and the humanities shows scientists the culture they’re working within.”
Collin Eaton has spent a lot of time thinking about houses. Particularly those built with traditional techniques: he has worked to restore historic adobe in San Francisco and to build adobe in Ecuador, and even when he looks back on early experience helping his father, who is also a builder, Collin remembers “it was often my responsibility to pick up trash on the job site, and as a result I also became suspicious from an early age of how much waste is generated by modern building systems.” Could traditional systems, he wondered, be a viable alternative?
In 2009 he moved to Guatemala and spent several years with Habitat for Humanity and FINCA, a microfinance foundation, seeking housing finance solutions for Guatemalans living in poverty. Such organizations typically fund structures built with cement blocks and steel reinforcement, and Collin became increasingly concerned over the fact that since such materials are tied to the global commodities market, prices have risen to the point where “organizations like Habitat are finding that the market they’re serving is not
their target market.” Again, he began to think about traditional systems like adobe, and whether they might offer a desirable alternative: “I was wondering what’s happening to the people who can’t afford those [concrete] systems, and if there’s a way to find a more affordable system for them to access. Since energy and cost are related that would create housing with the added benefit of lower environmental impact.”
In many ways, it was this question that propelled him to Environmental Studies at the University of Oregon. Collin was looking for a program that would provide him the skills to more deliberately address building systems challenges, while also supporting his strong interest in an existing project. “One of the things that appealed to me about this program,” Collin explains, “was the flexible course plan, and that it seemed like there was the ability to focus on project.” As a current second-year student, Collin says that he’s pleased with how this balanced has worked for him.
He has also found that the interdisciplinary nature of the Environmental Studies program has shifted his focus, from “this narrow view of wanting to do embodied energy and the life cycle assessment approach,” to one that incorporates sociological methods to help investigate why certain systems may or may not be utilized. “I’m equally invested in the perception side,” he expands. “In the end, you can show quantitatively that there will be lower environmental impact or lower cost, but the real question is whether people are interested.”
This interest, ultimately, is what Collin is examining with his project. He spent three months this summer in Guatemala conducting interviews, to “feel out how people felt about these traditional systems” Concrete block is certainly viewed as the superior material, so Collin wanted to know “whether if Habitat went for [traditional systems], would people be amenable or would they be insulted?” After 30 focus groups, 200 surveys, and eight interviews with housing organizations, Collin is optimistic. “There is definitely a preference for block, but I did find evidence of people adapting that technology, building concrete columns filled in with adobe because it’s cheaper and more comfortable in hot weather. That’s interesting.”
Moving forward, Collin will adapt his formal project into an executive summary which can be translated into Spanish and presented to housing organizations, as a resource for those interested in making a switch to traditional building systems. He also plans to return to Guatemala after graduation.
Read about other Environmental Studies Program students and faculty members here.
The Ecotone: The Journal of Environmental Studies at University of Oregon is soliciting submissions for our 2014 issue. The Ecotone is the annual interdisciplinary journal produced by the graduate students of Environmental Studies. (To view the 2013 issue, click here!)
Graduate students and faculty in any department are invited to submit work for review. (Undergraduates are encouraged, if they wish, to workshop their submissions through our Undergrad Writing Mentorship Program. To learn more about this, contact Allyson Woodard at email@example.com.)
Submissions may include academic work, creative writing, journalism or visual art.
- academic submissions to 3,000 words
- essays, fiction, and creative nonfiction to 1,500 words
- poems and visual art to 3 pieces
The deadline for all submissions is 5:00 pm on Monday, February 3rd, 2013. Email questions and submissions to Allyson Woodard at firstname.lastname@example.org.
An informal writing group for grad students who are thinking of writing a piece for The Ecotone is also in the works; stay tuned for an announcement about the first meeting. For more information about the grad writing group, contact Allyson Woodard email@example.com.
ENVS Master’s student Brooke Havlik was recently awarded the 2013 Food Studies Graduate Research Grant, funded by the UO’s newly created Food Studies Specialization. The grant aims to “support primary research by graduate students in the interdisciplinary realm of food studies.” Brooke will put the funds towards her thesis research on gentrification and resistance to gentrification through alternative food in Chicago.
To learn more about the new Food Studies Specialization, see this article in the Daily Emerald.
Eugene-based The Resource Innovation Group has released a new report co-written by ENVS Master’s student Liz Veazey and entitled “Willamette Valley Food Systems: Opportunities for Increasing Climate Change Mitigation and Preparedness, Food Security, and Economic Development.” The report examines local food projects and policies in ten Willamette Valley counties (including Lane County), identifies leverage points and gaps among the counties’ initiatives, and provides recommendations for future collaboration on local food issues.
For more information and to read the full report, click here.
In April, Ignacio Krell Rivera, a recent ENVS Master’s Program graduate, and his partner, Alison Guzman, formerly of Beyond Toxics, embarked on a six-month trip to southern Chile to join the indigenous Llaguepulli Mapuche Community’s efforts to create culturally appropriate banking alternatives. As part of MAPLE Microdevelopment‘s South American intercultural team, Ignacio and Alison will be helping to “conduct a six-month iterative field process of community needs assessment, management capacity building and community dialogues to reach consensus on collective and family goals.”
Ignacio writes of this new endeavor, “I am super excited to put into practice the studies on interdisciplinary research I did at U of O with my lifelong grassroots vocation at the service of the communities and places I love.”
To read more about the project, see Ignacio’s blog.
Richard York, along with two other UO faculty members, recently received the Thomas F. Herman award. This honor, also known as the Crystal Apple Award, is given to faculty members who have taught at the UO for at least seven years and have demonstrated excellence in teaching throughout.
To read the AroundtheO article on the Crystal Apple Award winners, click here.
Andrew Dutterer, an ENVS Master’s student, was recently awarded The John and Karen Baldwin Family Scholarship in Environmental Planning by the Planning, Public Policy and Management (PPPM) Department. The scholarship, which was established in 2005 to “support graduate students enrolled in environmental planning in PPPM” who “have demonstrated…a known commitment to learning about and improving the environment” will provide assistance as Andrew begins his concurrent studies in the PPPM program next year. One of the scholarship’s namesakes, John H. Baldwin, served as the founding director of the Environmental Studies Program in addition to being a PPPM professor for 24 years.
More information about the Baldwin Scholarship is available here.
A new food studies graduate specialization was approved recently by the Provost as recommended by the Graduate Council. The specialization, to be hosted by the Environmental Studies Program, will be available for graduate students in any discipline beginning in the fall of 2013. Its creators are hoping to design a similar minor for undergraduate students in the future. ENVS affiliate faculty member Stephen Wooten, ENVS Program Director Alan Dickman, and ENVS Master’s student Brooke Havlik were all instrumental in this groundbreaking initiative.
Read more about food studies at the UO here.
Read more about food studies and other new graduate specializations here.
The Environmental Leadership Program’s 2013 Oregon Oaks Team will be participating in the third annual Ridgeline Celebration Day, which celebrates National Trails Day, on June 1st. The team will be talking about the importance of oak habitats, restoration and monitoring. They will share their project findings and will host hands-on demonstrations of monitoring methods.
For more information, including the schedule of events, view the Ridgeline Celebration Day Poster.
Five of the 2013 Environmental Leadership Program teams (Oregon Oaks, River Stories, Stream Stewardship, Wetlands Wildlife, and the X-Stream Team) presented their work at the 2013 Undergraduate Symposium. The Symposium “celebrates the remarkable contributions [the UO’s] undergraduates make to research and other creative work in a wide range of disciplines.”
Ellen Ingamells, Kelsey Ward, Clare Chisholm, Geoffrey Johnson, all environmental science majors, also presented at this year’s Undergraduate Symposium.
Read more about the 3rd Annual Undergraduate Symposium here.
Kari Norgaard is the recipient of the 2013 Excellence Award for Outstanding Mentorship in Graduate Studies, an award given by the Graduate School in recognition of “the heart, care, and commitment [she has] shown to graduate students in the Environmental Studies program.”
Environmental studies major Aaron Poplack was named one of two winners in the Experiential Category in the UO Study Abroad Program’s 2013 International Projects Fair, which showcases undergraduate students who have completed research or experiential projects, including internships, creative pursuits, and service-learning, while abroad.
Aaron presented on his work with an elementary school in Monteverde, Costa Rica to develop a composting system that supplemented the school’s current garden. Along with two fellow interns, Aaron designed educational signage, a composting manual, and a lesson to integrate the composting system into the school’s curriculum.
A profile of Environmental Studies Major Elise Downing, who plans to graduate in June, is featured on the University of Oregon’s home page.
View Elise’s profile here.
Adam Novick will be giving a presentation at the joint annual conference of the Northwest Scientific Association and the Cascadia Prairie-Oak Partnership on Thursday, March 21, 2013, in Portland, Oregon. Adam’s presentation is titled, “Streaked Horned Lark and a Special Rule under ESA §4(d): A Case Study of Federal Efforts to Address Regulatory Risk to Maintenance-dependent Species on Private Land”.
From his abstract:
“At various times, in various ways, and to various degrees, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has recognized and attempted to address risk to maintenance-dependent species from species-based land-use regulation. Citing currently proposed rulemaking for streaked horned lark as a case study, I argue that the Service might have found an effective and efficient mechanism to address this risk under federal law and might have an opportunity to improve the survival of such species by more fully considering its use.”
The conference schedule and other details are available here.
The Environmental Studies Program cosponsored the Twenty-fifth Biannual Meeting of the Nature Photographers of the Pacific Northwest. Frans Lanting, hailed as one of the great nature photographers of our time, served as the guest speaker. His morning presentation was entitled “Eye to Eye with Life” and his afternoon presentation was “Cheetahs on the Run.”
As in past meetings, there was a digital projected image competition and a print competition. The three categories for the competitions were scenic, wildlife, and plantlife. Advanced Camera was also present to clean digital sensors at a bargain price.
The meeting took place on Saturday, April 6th from 10 am to 5 pm in Columbia Hall on the University of Oregon campus. All nature photographers, amateur and professional, were invited to attend.
Additional information may be found here.
Selections from Frans Lanting’s work are available at his website.
The Environmental Leadership Program’s 2012 Sustainable Farms Team is featured in the winter 2013 issue of CAScade Magazine, a publication of the UO College of Arts and Sciences. The article discusses the team’s study on pollinator conservation for which they monitored bee activity at six area blueberry farms.
Kari Norgaard and Marsha Weisiger each received a 2013 Faculty Research Award to support their research activities next year. Norgaard’s award will go towards her Salmon Feeds Our People Book Project; Weisiger will use her award to support ongoing research for her book, Wild River.
To learn more about the awards and all twenty-two awardees, click here.