Each academic year, the COE gathers a small group of Wesleyan faculty members, a scholar of prominence from outside Wesleyan, and undergraduate students into a year-long academic think tank on a critical environmental issue. The aim of the COE Think Tank is not only to generate a deeper understanding of the thematic issue, but also to produce scholarly works that will influence national/international thinking and action on the issue. The Think Tank theme for 2020-21 is Habitability: Cosmological, Planetary & Ethical Perspectives.
On December 8, 2020, the College of the Environment welcomed Lucianne Walkowicz, an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago and co-founder of the JustSpace Alliance, to host their lecture, Cops on Mars: Policing and Weaponization of Space–in the Imagination and Beyond. They were introduced by Professor Mary-Jane Rubenstein and Professor David Grinspoon, both of whom are fellows in this year’s COE Think Tank, which focuses on the theme of “Habitability.”
The law of space has long been governed by international treaties, most dating back to the mid 20th century. But as both private and governmental interest in and access to space expand, both national laws as well as actions (by nations or non-state actors), may outpace the provisions of these treaties. At the same time, many of the most futuristic visions involving space (e.g. large-scale Mars habitation) are currently well beyond the realm of feasibility or practical deployment for all interested parties. Because of this practical gap, space and the landscapes of other worlds serve mostly as a backdrop against which those interested project their ideas about the future. The placement of law enforcement (in various forms) and the military occurs broadly in these futuristic space settings, from imagination-based learning exercises with children to the concrete plans of governments, to design-focused “vision-building” projects that bridge speculation and practice. Given that there is no a priori reason to assume that law enforcement would need to be included in places where the law itself is mostly unestablished, the placement of police or military actions in space is primarily a vector for the perpetuation of these systems into the future–both in space, and on Earth.
Alexander Wragge-Morley, Clinical Assistant Professor of Liberal Studies and History at New York University, visited campus on February 12, 2020, to share his lecture, “Words, Experience & Non-Resemblance: Representing Nature in 17th-Century England.” He discussed the way English naturalists, particularly botanist John Ray (1627-1705), represented their findings about concrete research in the natural world through figures meant to evoke emotional responses from their viewers.
The Careers in Sustainability panel, hosted by the Gordon Career Center, the College of the Environment, and the Sustainability Office on October 4, 2019, included Nora Vogel ’11, director of communications for Coalition for Green Capital. The College of the Environment graduated its first cohort of environmental studies majors in 2010. Below, an interview with Vogel ’11, one of the first students to ever major in environmental studies at Wesleyan.
Did you come to Wesleyan knowing you wanted to study Environmental Studies? What led you to the COE?
Nora Vogel (NV): I knew I was interested in science and the environment, and I was thinking about doing biology. I actually worked in Professor Sonia Sultan’s lab, which was an amazing experience. At the same time, it felt hard to stick to research science as a career path, when I felt that many decision-makers in the world aren’t listening to the perfectly good science that we already have. That’s what got me interested in communications and in the Science in Society Program (SISP). I wondered what makes people make decisions about things, and what makes them trust one source and not another one. I took a Media in Society class that dovetailed really well with that, along with some sociology classes. I took a philosophy class with Professor Joseph Rouse about objectivity that I loved; we went deep down the rabbit hole of whether objective truth really exists. I still think about it all the time. The great thing about SISP was that it gave me a way to fit those things together, and it ended up being directly relevant to the career path I ended up on.
Introduction to Environmental Studies/ENVS197 examines the technical and social causes of environmental degradation at local and global scales, along with the potential for developing policies and philosophies that are the basis of a sustainable society. This semester Dr. Helen Poulos, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies, is teaching the course. Poulos is a plant ecologist who examines the influences of natural and anthropogenic disturbances on local-, landscape-, and regional-scale plant distribution patterns. She recently received a $300K research grant from NASA.
What are the class components of ENVS197 and how do those components tie-in with the COE’s focus on interdisciplinary study?
Helen Poulos (HP): The course is an intro/survey course, so we cover topics spanning the sciences, humanities, and social sciences. The idea is to cover the breadth of the field of study. The final project, however, is designed as a way for students to dive deeper into one environmental issue that really interests them. The final project options this semester include working with Wesleyan Physical Plant and Forklift Danceworks, making an artist book, or writing a Green Fund proposal. All three options are designed to provide students with unique opportunities to engage with environmental issues through a particular lens. For the Physical Plant project, students shadow Physical Pant workers for three hours each week and have biweekly group meetings with my course assistant, Tamara Rivera ‘21 and Gretechen LaMotte ’18 of Forklift Danceworks (via Skype). For the artist book project, students workshop their projects with Suzy Taraba from Special Collections and participate in two bookbinding and printmaking workshops with Alexander Osborne, visiting assistant professor of art. I also lead two workshops on grant writing for students who select the Green Fund proposal option.
A conversation with Professor Michael Singer, Professor of Biology and Environmental Studies, about his Fall 2019 course BIOL 220/ENVS220: Conservation Biology. The course is a broad introduction to the interdisciplinary, science-based field of conservation biology. While the course includes aspects of economics, politics, ethics, and other fields, it focuses on the biological part of conservation. Much of this biology is ecology, which is Singer’s specialty. At left: BIOL220/ENVS220 students and visitor Dr. Paul Spitzer on a field trip earlier this semester.
Charles Siebert, the 2019-20 Menakka and Essel Bailey ’66 Distinguished Visiting Scholar of the College of the Environment, was honored at Born Free USA’s A Night for Wildlife event on September 26th with the Wildlife Ambassador award. Siebert was chosen for the award for “his work exposing the horrors and fallacies behind elephants in captivity.” His recent New York Times magazine cover story examined the importation of 18 African elephants by three U.S. zoos, and was a driving factor behind the passage of a new CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) resolution that prohibits the future importation of wild elephants for zoo exhibits.