Triaging the Train Wreck of Climate Change
Biologist Brian Helmuth has observed firsthand the devastation wrought by climate change, but he’s also seen how ecological forecasting can prepare us.
The coast of Belize is a magical place, and, like the rest of the Caribbean, it experiences its share of problems with tourism and overfishing, but it’s long been a diver’s dream. Diving on a healthy coral reef can truly take your breath away. Fish of every description dart among pillars of corals and waving seafans, and every crevice is filled with life. Seeing a healthy reef is like suddenly being able to experience color after living a lifetime of black and white.
I was fortunate to begin working in Belize as a graduate student at the University of Washington, and in 1991, I made my first trip to the field station managed by the Smithsonian Institution on Carrie Bow Cay. I managed to make a trip almost every year after that, studying the effects of water movement on feeding by corals.
In 1998, something terrible happened.
I returned to one of my favorite sites, in an area known as the Pelican Cays, to find every last bit of coral was dead, and the entire reef, now consisting of ghost skeletons, was a massive farm for oozing algae. Colleagues who had documented the event warned me, but even so I was not prepared for the devastation that I observed. A subtle increase in water temperature caused the corals to “bleach,” a phenomenon in which corals lose the symbiotic microorganisms, known as zooxanthellae, living in their tissues. The life and death of these tiny creatures in turn had a cascading impact on the entire reef ecosystem.
The events of 1998 didn’t raise alarm bells with the general public, but it did stun many of us working in field biology. The death we scientists observed; a change as little as 1 degree Celsius above normal, can cause severe damage to corals and other organisms. In the last decade, coral bleaching events, and other mortality related to climate change, has been documented worldwide.
Climate Change a Fact, Not a Faith
Like many scientists, I didn’t start out studying climate change; it more or less became a fact of life when the organisms I was studying started to die.
Since that day at Pelican Cays, I have been fortunate to travel to many sites around the globe, ranging from the waters of the southern Pacific Ocean to the crashing surf along the Pacific coast of North America, and what I see matches the observations made by what now is an army of scientists: The Earth’s flora and fauna are changing — shifting their geographic locations, altering when they reproduce or dying wholesale — as a result of human-induced global warming.
The question before the scientific community is no longer, “Is climate change due to human activities happening?” Of that we are certain.
Instead, the question is, “Where, when and with what magnitude are effects most (and least) likely to occur?” Most importantly, how can we use science to prepare for, and perhaps minimize, the damage that is on the horizon? While this concept of “adaptation to climate change” in no way negates the challenges before us in terms of mitigating greenhouse gas emissions, it does suggest that there are positive, forward-thinking steps that we can take to prepare for a warmer world.
For many Americans, the idea of global climate change seems like a far-away concept, an idea dreamt up by scientists in their laboratories. That some still talk about “belief” — a matter of faith more so than facts — in findings that have long been accepted by the scientific community speaks volumes about the general public’s understanding and acceptance of global climate change.
While considerable uncertainty exists in predicting just how much climate will change in the future, scientists agree that we are committed to at least some change, likely a minimum of 2 degrees Celsius and perhaps much more, over the next 50 to 100 years. In other words, even if we stopped all carbon emissions now, the Earth has sufficient inertia in its climate system that changes will continue to occur, and no one is holding their breath that emissions will be shut off overnight.
Change is much more drastic at some sites than others, and there remain places of refuge. But, the message is clear: Climate change is already altering the world’s ecosystems, and is therefore a threat to us humans. While it may appear as simply a matter of writing off these impacts as the concerns of environmental left-wingers, even a cursory look shows that climate change affects everyone — and in ways that many of us don’t realize. Global warming strikes at the heart of our food supply, it magnifies the rate at which we contract disease and curtails our ability to obtain fresh water.
While climate change will create winners and losers, the overall prognosis is not encouraging. There is good news, however. We now have methods for predicting where some of these changes are most likely, and in doing so, we may be able to better prepare for a warmer world.
The relatively new science of ecological forecasting could be a key to preparing for a world turned upside down by global warming. Rather than simply documenting a list of dead and dying species, we can identify “trouble spots” that demand our attention and, in turn, know how and when it is best to act.
Importantly, global warming is often the “trigger that fires the bullet,” and changes in temperature often interact with other stressors, such as pollution. Sources of stress that affect the health of the environment are in many ways directly analogous to those that impact human health; when a person has poor nutrition, their body is less able to fend off disease and to recover from injury.
Even in cases where temperature increases do not cause wholesale mortality, they often push organisms to the point where they can no longer tolerate other environmental insults. In this same way, we can minimize the effects of global warming by decreasing other factors such as nutrient runoff, overfishing and heavy metal toxicity — but only if we know how to identify the most critical patients. Thus, while forecasting and other forms of “adaptation to climate change” do not rid us of the need to mitigate the underlying problem of greenhouse gas emissions run amok, the method does provide a means of focusing time, energy and money.
Knowing how to “triage” the natural world first requires that we understand how nonhuman organisms see the world. As it turns out, this may be more difficult than we think.
Small Change, Big Trouble
We are wired differently than most other species on Earth in how we experience heat and temperature.
Unlike virtually all other plants and animals, our metabolism (and that of birds and mammals) gives us tight control over the temperature of our bodies. We, therefore, don’t “sense” changes in the world nearly as much as most other organisms.
For humans, air temperature is one of the most familiar indicators of how “hot” or “cold” the weather is, as the difference between air temperature and the temperature of our bodies determines how rapidly we lose (or gain) heat. When the wind blows, increasing heat loss, we add a wind chill factor to determine an “effective air temperature.”
Here in the South, as I quickly learned upon arrival in South Carolina, we calculate a “heat index” to reflect that high relative humidity reduces the ability to shed heat through perspiration. Except for extreme circumstances of heat stroke and heat exhaustion (which are indeed a worry under climate change in many parts of the globe), our body temperatures remain relatively constant at a core temperature of 37 degrees Celsius.
When our bodies start to warm above normal, we slow down cellular metabolism and open up our pores, increasing cooling through evaporation and convection. When we become too cold, our bodies kick up metabolism or, in the extreme, shiver to produce heat.
The average temperature of the Earth’s surface has increased by 1.2 degrees Fahrenheit (0.7 C) over the last century (and much more in places like the Arctic). Does this matter to us as organisms? After all, if we feel a slight temperature increase, we are likely to simply brush it off by cranking up the air conditioning or delighting that spring has come that much earlier.
Slight increases in temperature affect mammals such as humans by forcing us to stay in cool places more frequently. For many people, this is usually not an issue, although recent projections suggest that even moderate physical activity during the summer may push people living in urban “heat islands” close to heat stroke. This was vividly illustrated in France in 2003, when thousands without access to air conditioning died during a heat wave.
Herein lies one of the largest direct effects of climate change on human physiology. While small changes in average temperature may be relatively easy to contend with, climate change is causing a marked increase in the frequency of extreme events — and these can be deadly.
For most other plants and animals, lacking our metabolism and our air conditioning, a shift in environmental temperature means a change in body temperature. For organisms living close to their thermal limits, this can mean big trouble.
Like humans, these organisms gain and lose heat from their surrounding environment. Unlike us, they generally have a very low level of metabolism, and so their bodies get warmer or colder as the surrounding weather heats or cools.
Think about walking barefoot across a parking lot on a sunny summer day. In the same way that short-wave radiation from the sun is converted into heat energy on the asphalt surface, so is it converted to heat in the bodies of animals, including us.
Animals of course have some behavioral control over the amount of sun that hits their bodies and (except for teenagers trying to tan) humans are among the best examples. Such control is important because even a few degrees above normal body temperatures can be deadly. For birds and mammals, trying to stay cool can come at a significant cost; time spent lying in the shade means time not spent hunting for food.
Some of the most severe impacts, however, are not likely to be felt through impacts on human body temperature but through indirect effects on animals and plants around us that serve as our food as well as our nemeses.
We know from decades of studies that the temperature of a plant’s or animal’s body is one of the most important factors affecting its growth, reproduction and survival. Virtually every physiological process is affected by body temperature, and as we have seen, many organisms live very close to their limits of temperature tolerance.
As a result, even small changes in weather and climate can push these animals and plants over the edge as they hit highs during the day or lows at night. Critically, these effects are not uniform across the globe, and there are winners and losers. An animal or crop that may fail miserably due to climate change at home may do well at a new location. Conversely, pests and diseases that are now held in check by weather may suddenly be able to spread.
We Can Do Triage
We have tools that may help us to predict where and when climate change is most likely (or least likely) to affect plants and animals. Scientists have long understood that weather and climate drive the physiology and ecology of organisms. Now, armed with new remote sensing platforms, high power computing to generate models and microchips to measure temperature in even the most extreme parts of the planet, we are gaining new insights into how climate is driving the world’s flora and fauna.
Like everything else, animals obey the laws of physics. They lose heat via convection to the surrounding air (just as we do on a windy day), and they gain heat from the sun. Importantly, each organism has a different interaction with its environment. So, for example, a dark-colored organism will absorb more heat than will a light-colored creature. Depending on the color of their wings, for example, two species of butterflies sitting side-by-side can experience body temperatures that are 2 C to 3 C different from one another.
Likewise, organisms that are more “streamlined” will lose heat more slowly to surrounding air (when they are hotter than the air) or will gain heat more slowly when the surrounding air is hotter than their bodies. Look at the ears of many mammals, such as elephants, which are used to shed heat when it gets warm. In contrast, animals living in colder climes tend to have compact bodies with smaller appendages.
As a result of these varying and interacting mechanisms of heat exchange, two organisms exposed to precisely the same environmental conditions can have very different body temperatures and will suffer or thrive accordingly. Moreover, the organism’s temperature is often much higher than the temperature of the surrounding air.
The end result is that, if we could view the world in terms of temperature (as we can do using a camera that, like a pit viper, is sensitive only to infrared), we see that the natural world is much more variable in terms of the temperatures of organisms than we often assume.
Not only do plants and animals determine their own temperatures through different colors, shapes and surface wetness, but the amount of sun hitting any portion of the ground can have huge effects on temperature; studies have shown that the difference in the temperature of animals living on a shaded surface can be 15 C colder than that of an animal sitting in the sun only a centimeter away.
Using simple physics, we can calculate all of the sources and losses of heat, and we can estimate the temperatures of a range of plants and animals. The results often show patterns of body temperature hidden to the human eye, and so help us to predict where and when climate change is most likely to alter ecosystem function.
Ecological forecasting explores how organisms interact with their world to predict the temperatures of animals and plants or the cost to them of maintaining a constant temperature. Results also show that we can use these models to reliably predict past (and therefore future) changes in patterns of mortality in the field.
For example, David Wethey and Sally Woodin recently studied the role of winter water temperatures in determining geographic distributions of barnacles in Europe, and their discoveries strongly suggest we can reliably predict past shifts due to climate change, and that we can thus use these methods to predict future shifts.
Specifically, they took data from more than 100 years of scientific papers, they compared existing range boundaries with those in the historical record and found that the southern geographic limit retreated by 300 kilometers (or 186 miles) at a rate of 15-50 kilometers every decade. Previous studies show that this species cannot reproduce when winter temperatures exceed 10 C. They compared long-term records of winter temperature against range shifts. The results were a near perfect match.
Work in my lab has shown that the likely locations of damage due to climate change can often occur in unexpected locations. Using a series of microcomputers that match the thermal characteristics of intertidal bivalves, we have measured patterns in body temperature along the west coast of North America since 1998; in some cases, we now have records from every 10 minutes.
These “robomussels” show an unusual pattern. Instead of a steady increase in mussel temperature moving from north to south, populations experience a thermal “mosaic” of alternating “hot” and “cold” spots, and in several cases, populations in Washington and Oregon are as hot or hotter than those in California. While several factors contribute to this pattern, the largest influence is the timing of low tide. In the north, low tides tend to occur mid-day in summer, when conditions are hottest. At many southern sites, animals are underwater during these hot portions of the day.
We have also developed computer models that predict body temperatures to within several degrees using data from weather stations and satellites, and current efforts under way in David Wethey’s lab will eventually allow us to predict patterns of temperature on a global basis.
Nicola Mitchell and co-workers have used physics-based models to predict patterns of survival and reproduction of Tuatara, a rare and ancient lineage of lizards that have what is called “temperature-dependent sex determination.”
As is the case for organisms such as turtles, the sex of a baby Tuatara is determined by the temperature of its nest. Mitchell’s models suggest that in the near future, all of the hatchlings from nests along the coast of New Zealand will be male — and thus, without intervention, these populations are likely to go extinct. However, by knowing where trouble spots are likely to emerge, it may be possible to either shade nests or move eggs to other sites along the coast, saving this species.
Because we know that there will be winners and losers from climate change, in the same way as the Tuatara example, we may be able to use information about stress in organisms such as crops and shellfish to prepare for a warmer world — in short, siding with the winners and cutting losses from the losers.
Thus, while some crops are predicted to decrease in productivity as a result of increased temperatures and changes in precipitation, others are expected to do well under higher levels of carbon dioxide. By predicting where these shifts are likely to occur, we can help farmers pick the best agricultural strategies. Similarly, we can locate regions for protecting biodiversity that are not only suitable as biological hotspots now but will continue to serve as refugia in the future.
Make no mistake, climate change is real, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions remains the top environmental priority of our time. But we are not helpless in preparing for these changes. Scientists, policymakers and members of the business community must create a new paradigm for how we work collaboratively. Only through these partnerships can we creatively and productively plan for a future that we can all live with.
Climate Change Series: Adapting To A New Reality
Mon, Apr 08, 2013 | Cognoscenti | by Brian Helmuth, Larry Atkinson & Pablo Suarez
Even if we drastically cut carbon emissions, we still have to face the realities of a changing climate. So, while we have to think about reducing greenhouse gasses, now and in the future, we also have to begin implementing strategies to adapt to this new world of increasingly extreme and, to some extent, unknowable weather and climactic conditions. We need to adapt our cities, our farms and our way of life. We also need to understand how climate change will impact the plants and animals our ecosystems depend on.
Brian Helmuth, Larry Atkinson and Pablo Suarez discuss ways human society is already adapting to climate change, and some of the challenges ahead.
Brian Helmuth is a professor in the Department of Marine and Environmental Science and the School of Public Policy and Urban Affairs at Northeastern University, and directs the university’s Sustainability Science and Policy Initiative.
Climate change produces winners and losers, globally and locally, and science can help to predict which is which. Often the winners are invasive species, disease-causing organisms and pests with broad tolerances to environmental changes. To help save the species we care about — whether for sentimental reasons or because we depend on them for food and shelter — we’ll need detailed physiological and ecological knowledge of those species, their habitats and how they react to changing conditions. With that knowledge, we’ll hopefully be able to make better decisions about where and how to allocate scarce resources to preserve and protect some of the many plants and animals threatened with extinction.
Humans sweat or shiver to control our body temperature, and a change of only a few degrees in our body temperatures can be catastrophic. The vast majority of organisms however, are ectothermic — they have no metabolic source of heat — so their body temperature changes with their ambient environment. In some habitats, such as the intertidal region of the worlds’ coastlines, animal temperatures can change as much as 25 degrees C (45 degrees F) in a few hours. If local air or water temperatures rise even slightly, the resulting changes in body temperature can result in mass mortality or significant declines in growth. While temperature change undeniably has direct impacts on human health, it is literally a matter of life or death for species that can’t control their environment or body temperature as easily as we can.
Work in my lab focuses on forecasting the impacts of climate change on nonhuman organisms in coastal environments. Since 1999, I’ve led a team of researchers designing, deploying and monitoring “biomimetic sensors” — tiny robots built to match the size, color and thermal characteristics of live animals — so we can collect real world data on how climate change affects populations of shellfish and other coastal invertebrates. One focus has been on mussels — animals that are commercially important and form the basis of many intertidal ecosystems. Continuously recording temperatures every 10 minutes, we have deployed “robo-mussels” at 40 sites worldwide and they have provided us with a unique view of how environmental change is affecting the world’s coastlines.
What we find is that patterns in nature are often far more complex than what might be anticipated from simple measurements of the environment based, for example, on air temperature. Along the west coast of the U.S. we’ve found that instead of a simple increase in stress as one moves south, we see a complex “thermal mosaic” where some sites in the north are as stressful as southern sites.
What’s true for shellfish that thrive in the intertidal zone is likely true for most other forms of plant and animal life. Climate change is a worldwide phenomenon, but most organisms experience only their hyper-local environment. For many plants and invertebrates, “the world” is no bigger than a few centimeters, and the local characteristics of their environment can play a key role in determining how they will likely respond to climate change. Moreover, the details of their physiology determine whether they can contend with changing conditions.
Scientists can play a key role in helping society prepare for a warmer world, but only if we get away from the “loading dock” phenomenon of collecting a lot of data, putting it on a website or in peer-reviewed journals, and then whining when nobody uses it. We can begin by waking up to the notion of collaborating with the end users of our research (e.g., shellfish growers, policy makers) before starting research projects, developing effective “indicators” of environmental change that are both scientifically accurate and relevant to business and policy. We’ve got to start working with people whose lives and livelihoods are already being affected by climate change, and who face even greater challenges in the years to come.
View slides from Brian Helmuth’s presentation here.
Larry Atkinson is the Samuel L. and Fay M. Slover Professor of oceanography at Old Dominion University and director of ODU’s Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative.
We live on the edge of a restless ocean. With the accelerating effects of global climate change, the ocean is warming up, moving around, and absorbing large quantities of melting ice. Yet, because the amount and pace of sea level rise varies around the globe, it is a local issue.
Three separate studies published in a five month period last year all indicate an acceleration of sea level rise in the mid-Atlantic coast. As the Gulf Stream slows down and moves further offshore, our local coastal sea level rises — as much as 3-4 times faster than global average sea level rise.
As Superstorm Sandy dramatically demonstrated last fall, coastal storms are changing. Because of climate change there’s more heat in the ocean and more moisture in the atmosphere coming from the Gulf of Mexico. The combination may not affect the frequency of major storms, but it does magnify their size and intensity.
Climate scientists use a boxing metaphor to explain the connection between long-term climate change and short-term weather events: “Climate is the coach, but the weather is the punch.” We can expect storms like Sandy to land many more “punches” up and down the east coast in the coming years as the climate continues to “coach” the weather.
In 2003, Virginia was hit by Hurricane Isabel and the dry dock where Northrop Grumman builds aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy flooded. You don’t have to know much about shipbuilding to know that water flowing into a dry dock is a very bad situation. In the aftermath, Northrup Grumman asked their engineers to assess how frequent Isabel-like flooding would be in the future. The engineers concluded that by 2060 flooding that once happened every 80 years would happen every two years.
Adaptation engineering solutions — building floodwalls, tide gates, pump stations, reinforcing or moving roads, buildings and other infrastructure — are relatively straightforward.
The hard part is making the social and political decisions about what to protect and what to move. It’s not as simple as saying people should stop building beachfront vacation homes. (Though they should. As FEMA’s director has said publicly, we’ve got to stop providing subsidies and incentives for people to build and rebuild in areas we know will be inundated regularly.)
It’s one thing to move a house; it’s another to move a shipyard or a college campus. At Old Dominion University where I teach, we’ve made the decision not to move, but the first two floors of all our new and refurbished buildings may now be reserved for parking so that the inevitable floods of the future don’t completely destroy our infrastructure and ability to carry out our mission.
But how long does it take to move an airport? And to where? Except for Dulles and Hartsfield-Jackson, virtually all major East Coast airports are built on the coast.
These are not easy questions, but we cannot escape the reality of climate change. The sooner we start making decisions, the better. If we don’t, eventually the restless, rising sea will make them for us.
View slides from Larry Atkinson’s presentation here.
Pablo Suarez is associate director for Research and Innovation, Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre
Of all the challenges presented to humanity by climate change, one of the greatest is this: the past is no longer a reliable guide to the future. Floods, droughts, tropical cyclones, and other threats to people’s lives and livelihoods are becoming more frequent, severe and even bizarre in terms of their location and timing, often far beyond what vulnerable communities have experienced.
In our humanitarian work around the world, the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centreand partners have already confronted a sharp increase in workload involving weather-related disasters. We collectively need to better manage the rising risks associated with extreme events. The challenge is to link information, decisions, and consequences.
Science-based forecasts at different time scales can help people — especially those already on the edge of survival. But we live in a complex system with feedbacks, delays, thresholds and trade-offs that are hard to convey. How can we communicate this complexity, so that people and organizations can make smarter decisions that move us from early warning to early action?
We’ve learned that PowerPoint doesn’t always work. Presentations can be too unidirectional, putting audiences in a passive mode. When I first started explaining climate science to humanitarian workers and communities at risk, almost a decade ago, I was very successful at putting people to sleep. It wasn’t easy to get people engaged using spoken words and slides; there was no interaction. Now my professional life communicating climate risk management is both more effective and more fun — serious fun. Now I design and play games.
Participatory games are very rich ways to incarnate complex system dynamics through a few simple rules. As in the real world, in a game you have limited information with which to make decisions. The outcomes depend not just on what you do, but also on what other players do, and on things outside your control — like the random rains.
In playful activity, we “inhabit” the complexity of climate risks, and of making decisions based on imperfect information and with limited time, resources and control over our environment. By playing games designed to reflect real-life challenges, we’re able to make decisions that result in better outcomes when real-life disaster strikes.
At the Red Cross/Red Crescent Climate Centre, we and our partners have designed over 25 participatory games to help people deal with specific challenges presented by climate change. In more than 100 game sessions involving over 3,000 participants in 35 countries, we have supported fishing villages planning for coastal storms, helped farmers see how gender inequities impact farming, brought the experience of hurricane preparedness to the White House, and inspired global donors to accelerate disbursement of funds for disaster preparedness measures.
Gameplay beats PowerPoint. It’s active learning with lots of “Aha!” moments and peer-to-peer learning. It’s serious and fun — which means people learn more because their emotions are engaged. Everyone, from subsistence farmers to humanitarian workers, academics, business executives and elected officials, can engage in this innovative approach to learning and dialogue.
Throughout human history, games have helped us understand the world and survive within it. Adapting to a changing climate requires more than charts, graphs, slides and lectures. We are thrilled by the success of our approach: Games for a New Climate. We look forward to working with partners to link knowledge with action.
View slides from Pablo Suarez’s presentation here.
By Emily Mann | Aspire Wire: Ideas, Conversation, Action | December 4, 2012
In the United States, educational accountability has become almost synonymous with the use of standardized metrics to assess student knowledge. Pushed by both state and federal education policies, this testing-based conception of accountability has elevated math and reading within the school day. The assumption of the testing culture is that a foundation of math and reading should propel students successfully into college and beyond. However, these core academic skills are not the only ones that colleges consider when compiling their freshman classes. Most colleges tell prospective students and parents that they want a student body that is “well rounded,” and active socially, politically, physically and academically. Yet, what we see in most primary and secondary schools, as a function of the test culture (and against the better judgment of passionate and dedicated teachers), is a push for perpetually higher test scores on a few major subjects. This is sending a mixed message to students as they transition from high school to college, and it is a disservice to all students.
Adams’ essay on college readiness discusses the need to move away from the test-obsessed track toward a multi-faceted approach to cultivating school success. In so doing, she highlights a more balanced approach that is informed by decades of research, and which has gotten a surge in recent attention due to the publication of popular books, such as Paul Tough’s “How Children Succeed.” The basic contention of the book, which synthesizes research from medicine, education, psychology and economics, highlights the need for students to have an educational foundation that is built on social and emotional readiness (non-cognitive or soft skills, such as “character: or “grit”), not necessarily academic knowledge. Both Adams and Tough highlight the foundation of soft skills as keys that motivate students to success, despite risks, setbacks, and obstacles. Soft skills can include problem solving, perseverance, emotional regulation, and working collaboratively. If these skills sound familiar, it is because these are the traits most valued both in higher education and the workplace.
The teaching of core academic subjects should certainly not be dismantled. But what the research shows is that there also needs to be time within the school day for soft skills development. While there are many ways to develop “character” and “grit”, one of the best mechanisms is through play. Play can be structured, unstructured, inside, outside, in small classrooms or large fields. Play can and should be a greater part of the school day, not only for very young children, but also for children of every age. Organizations in and around the Boston area specialize in the teaching of these kinds of soft skills, including a college student run program called Peace Through Play (http://www.peacethroughplay.org/), Playworks (http://www.playworks.org/), which offers structured recess activities to promote social skills, and the Playmakers (http://www.lifeisgood.com/playmakers/) , which uses play as a tool to foster resilience in children who have been impacted by poverty and trauma.
However, while these programs offer hope for a new and balanced educational agenda, this must not be used to obscure the structural problems that remain. The emphasis on teaching soft skills, while fundamentally necessary, does not address the core epidemic in American schools: inequality. Our focus on developing resilience in individual students, while needed, cannot take the place of an examination of the impact of poverty on the success of individual children as they progress from primary and secondary schools to higher educational settings. Children living in poverty are less likely to graduate high school, attend college, or graduate from college. According to the Boston Indicators Project, African American and Latino youth in Boston have less than a 10% chance of graduating college within seven years of gradating high school. These data suggest that educational inequality is not an individual problem with an individual solution.
What makes children successful is not just core skills in reading and math, nor is it grit (although all those things are relevant). What makes children successful is the opportunity to grow up without violence in their home or neighborhood, without hunger, without instability. What makes children successful is access to high quality and enriching school and community environments and access to opportunities to higher education and meaningful employment. Our single-minded focus on children’s skills (hard and soft) without the inclusion of environmental risk and protective factors will perpetuate our constant questioning: What makes children successful? We know the answer.
Emily Mann is an Associate Academic Specialist in the Human Services Program at Northeastern University. She received a bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the State University of New York at Geneseo, a Master’s of Science in Social Work, and a Ph.D. in Social Welfare from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she studied the effects of early intervention on delinquency prevention. Dr. Mann spent two years as a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Clinical Research Training Program (CRTP) at the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, and was also a National Academy of Education/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellow. Dr. Mann’s teaching and research focuses on educational interventions and academic and social functioning.
By Matt Collette | Northeastern News | September 18, 2012
Matthias Ruth had long been interested in environmental issues but found it hard to use his own discipline—economics —as a tool to unite economic decision making with industrial and urban constraints. “Economists are really good at developing models of things that are traded in markets, but a lot of things we value—like the environment—have no market and no price,” said Ruth, who is joining Northeastern’s faculty this fall as a professor with joint appointments in the College of Social Sciences and Humanities‘ School of Public Policy & Urban Affairs and the College of Engineering.
Ruth quickly found himself at the forefront of a new field, ecological economics, and discovered he would need to move from the development of theoretical models that do justice to core principles in economics, ecology and physics to models useful to decision makers. Much of his work uses real data to help industries reduce their carbon footprints while remaining competitive.
But he also investigates how cities plan for the next century because, he says, even if global carbon emissions were cut overnight, the earth will suffer the consequences of climate change for at least the next two centuries. While much attention is given to emissions from the industrial and transport sector of regional and national economies, comparatively little research is done on the options for cities to reduce the climate impacts and other environmental insults.
“We build infrastructure to last 100 years, but we build it with criteria based on the past,” Ruth said. “Climate is going to change—is already changing—the environment in which we live. We need to plan for the new conditions under which cities must operate.”
Ruth joins Northeastern from the University of Maryland, where he was the Roy F. Weston Chair in Natural Economics, founding director of the Center for Integrative Environmental Research, director of the Environmental Policy Program in the School of Policy and founding co-director of the Engineering and Public Policy Program in the A. James Clark School of Engineering and the School of Public Policy. He holds a Ph.D. in geography from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign and a master’s degree in economics from the Ruprecht-Karls-Universität Heidelberg in Germany.
He hopes to continue his interdisciplinary approach to sustainability at Northeastern, working with a broad constituency to address climate and sustainability issues.
“These are problems that cannot be solved by one person in one discipline,” Ruth said.
Instead, he plans to engage people from across the university community to create new and innovative approaches to environmental challenges facing urban areas.
“I’m a firm believer that you have to live what you preach,” Ruth said. “Our own campus is a microcosm of the city. We must engage students, faculty, staff and the organizations in the community around campus to continue Northeastern’s commitment to sustainability research and practice, both on campus and across the globe.”
John Kwoka, Finnegan Professor of Economics, invites all members of the university community to attend special sessions of his class on “Bubbles, Busts, and Bailouts: Market and Regulatory Failures in the Financial Crisis.”
These sessions feature prominent guest speakers, including Vikram Mansharamani, Andrew Sum, Lawrence White, Robert Kuttner, and F.M. Scherer.
Classes are from 2:50 to 4:30 and will take place in Shillman 335. Read More >>