How will we prepare future leaders to understand and manage complex
social and environmental systems? What innovative approaches to
research will lead to solutions to such pressing matters as climate
change? And, fundamentally, how can the University, by carrying out its
mission, contribute to sustaining life on earth?
A state-of-the-art greenhouse sits atop the Building for Environmental Research and Teaching.
Brown has long been a leader in teaching, research, and service to
promote environmental sustainability. The creation of the Center for
Environmental Studies in 1978 provided a strong foundation for progress
that evolved over subsequent decades: the 1991 formation of the campus
environmental stewardship initiative, “Brown is Green”; the 2003
approval of the Environmental Change Initiative; the 2007 commitment to
reduce greenhouse gas emissions by ten to fifteen percent below 1990
levels by 2020—a goal we are well on track to achieving.
Most recently, we have established a new institute dedicated to
research and education on environmental issues. The Institute for the
Study of Environment and Society (ISES) combines and builds on the
Center for Environmental Studies and the more recent research program,
the Environmental Change Initiative. ISES is emblematic of Brown’s
characteristic approach to scholarship. It draws on faculty expertise
from diverse disciplines to explore environmental processes that will
shape the future of the planet, and it integrates research, education,
and outreach. Through the work of the Institute, we are cultivating
collaboration in areas ranging from ecology and geology to sociology
and public health, with the goal of advancing knowledge, producing
viable and creative solutions to pressing problems, and providing
students with valuable experience working alongside their professors in
the field. Our expectation is that the Institute will drive discovery
by identifying specific ways in which we can respond to and mitigate
negative environmental factors and encourage positive action.
ISES is located in the newly renovated Building for Environmental
Research and Teaching, formerly Hunter Laboratory. In May we christened
both the Institute and the state-of-the-art facility, complete with its
glimmering rooftop greenhouse. ISES Director Amanda Lynch, Deputy
Director for Research Leah VanWey, and Deputy Director for Education
Dov Sax shared their compelling vision for the Institute, centering on
the themes of Natural Systems, Food and Water, Human Health and
Wellbeing, and Equity and Governance. Architect and Brown parent
Toshiko Mori discussed how the building’s design supports the
Already we have witnessed inspiring activity on environmental issues.
Recent research by ISES Fellow James Kellner reveals clearly how
climate change is altering the landscape in the United States. He and
his colleagues showed that mangrove forests are expanding northward
along Florida’s Atlantic Coast as the number of very cold days in the
region decreases. In a recent issue of Nature Climate Change, Ittleson
Professor of Environmental Studies and Sociology and ISES Fellow J.
Timmons Roberts outlined a four-step plan to break the international
impasse on reducing worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.
More locally, a group of undergraduate students worked with Professor
Roberts and state legislators to research and promote the Resilient
Rhode Island Act of 2014. This legislation, which passed both chambers,
provides extensive measures for climate change adaptation and
mitigation in Rhode Island. The work under way at Brown is also
international: Leah VanWey from the Department of Sociology and ISES
fellow Jack Mustard from the Department of Earth, Environmental, and
Planetary Sciences are leading a cross-disciplinary effort that tracks
agricultural intensification in Mato Grosso, Brazil. They’ve shed
important light on how changes in land use are influencing
deforestation in the Amazon biome and in economic wellbeing for
Brown’s newest Institute is an example of the work supported and
advanced through Building on Distinction, the University’s strategic
plan. The integrated approach to education and scholarship is designed
to address complex questions, cultivate future leaders, foster dialogue
and cooperation, and contribute in meaningful ways that help with our
most fundamental goal: sustaining life on earth.