By Angela Herring | Northeastern News | February 5, 2013
The majority of the world’s cities lie on a shoreline, and by 2020, two-thirds of all Americans are expected to reside in coastal cities. From San Francisco to Boston to Hong Kong, humans are living in ever-closer quarters with the marine species that set up shop here eons ago.
“We need to understand the interface between the human and natural environment and determine ways to solve problems for both,” said Brian Helmuth, a Northeastern professor of public policy and environmental science.
To address those issues, Helmuth and Geoff Trussell, chair of the Department of Marine and Environmental Sciences and director of the Marine Science Center, are organizing the Sustaining Coastal Cities Conference. The conference will be hosted by the College of Science this spring and is the first of its kind, focusing on key issues in urban coastal sustainability.
The event will bring together four of the country’s top research scientists to address the critical role and fragile state of marine ecosystems. Ove Hoegh-Guldberg, a world-renowned expert on coral reefs from the University of Queensland in Australia, will speak on predicting and preventing reef decline. Jeremy Jackson of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, Calif., will examine worldwide trends and bring with him more than four decades of expertise in science-based policy recommendations. Larry Crowder, a biology professor at Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, and Steve Gaines, a rocky shore ecologist and dean of the University of California Santa Barbara’s Bren School of Environmental Science and Management, will also make presentations.
Following the lectures, Helmuth and Trussell will join the guests for a panel discussion on the impact of climate change on urban coastal environments. Richard Harris, a science correspondent at National Public Radio, will moderate the discussion.
The conference will also serve to announce the university’s Urban Coastal Sustainability Initiative, which will be directed by Trussell. While the initiative began at the Marine Science Center in the College of Science, it has is expanded to include new faculty in the College of Engineering and College of Social Science and Humanities, with more expected in future.
“This conference is yet another demonstration of Northeastern University’s commitment to critically important sustainability issues,” Trussel said. “We are honored to have these global leaders joining us for this event and excited about the major contributions our initiative will make to science, policy, and society.”
The event will take place on May 23 from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. in the Curry Student Center Ballroom. Participants can register on the College of Science’s website.
By Matt Collette | Northeastern News | December 11, 2012
Matthias Ruth, a professor with joint appointments in the College of Engineering and the College of Social Sciences and Humanities, is the co-editor in chief of a new academic journal that takes an interdisciplinary look at the relationship between urban dynamics and climate change.
“We have long thought about changing the global climate problem through global accords—which have had limited success, at best—and with this journal we want to look back at what cities can do to change climate on their own,” said Ruth, who is editing the journal with Alexander Baklanov of the Danish Meteorological Institute in Copenhagen, Denmark. “Within our own environment, there is so much we can do to impact climate, which is increasingly becoming a focus for climate researchers.”
The first issue of the journal, Urban Climate, was released last month, and another issue is due before the end of the year. It will be available for free online for at least the first two years of its publication. The journal has already received more than 100 submissions that focus on a range of topics, including urban environmental health, energy use, and public transportation in cities around the globe.
“More people live in cities than anywhere else now, so there is a recognition that we need to look at climate change at an urban level,” Ruth said. “We see this as a journal that equally addresses social and environmental issues, bringing them together at the local, urban scale.”
Ruth, who joined the Northeastern faculty this fall, takes an interdisciplinary approach toward the study of climate change and sustainability. He works at the forefront of ecological economics, which focuses on developing methods that integrate insights from economics, engineering, and the life sciences.
In a letter to colleagues published in the journal’s first issue, Ruth and Baklanov described their goals, saying that the publication’s research would closely examine the relationship between climate and urban areas, aiming to shape decision-making and policy moving forward.
“Climate conditions play a particular role in this context not just because climate change poses new challenges for any large agglomeration of people, infrastructures, institutions, and ecosystems, but also because urban areas can play a lead role in humanity’s quest for a relationship with the natural environment that allows societies to prosper and flourish for a long time to come,” the two editors wrote. “Urban climate, as a topic of research and focus for decision making, subsumes many of these challenges. … Being able to assist in that knowledge sharing and knowledge generation will, no doubt, be a great opportunity to which we look forward.”
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.”