NOTE: I just posted a few few of the essays that are in the Oct 20, 2006 issue of the Chronicle of Higher Ed. I am assuming that some of us on this listserv do not subscribe to the Chronicle. Hence, if you want all the articles in the curent issue, feel free to email me directly.
====================================

From the issue dated October 20, 2006
THE SUSTAINABLE UNIVERSITY

What Is a Sustainable University?

One that promotes the concept of meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

That's the definition of sustainability derived from a United Nations report that helped make the term part of the parlance of politicians, academics, and rock stars. While it sounds simple, the idea is remarkably complex when put into practice because it seeks to unite actions that in the past have often competed with each other. For a process to be sustainable, it must preserve the environment, stimulate economic growth, and improve society by helping people. This week, as the population of the United States tops 300 million, the quest for sustainability takes on added importance.

What does that mean for a university?

Across the world, forward-thinking researchers and administrators are setting off into uncharted territory as they try to answer that question for their institutions. Since 1990 more than 300 college leaders have signed onto the Talloires Declaration, which commits them to the pursuit of a sustainable future. In the past year alone, the pace of change toward that direction has accelerated markedly in the United States, with dozens of institutions jumping on the hybrid-electric bandwagon of sustainability. In a blizzard of news releases, they have vowed to curb carbon emissions, buy clean energy, reduce waste, serve organic food, purchase hybrid cars, appoint sustainability directors, build green dormitories, plant native shrubs, or divest from socially irresponsible companies.

There is little agreement, though, about the kinds of actions that higher-education institutions must take to become sustainable. And amid all the pledges that colleges are making, skeptics wonder how far those efforts are really going and whether they will produce lasting changes. Relatively few institutions have made major commitments to actually alter their campuses, and even fewer have incorporated sustainability into their teaching and research.

The following stories look at sustainability in higher education from a number of vantage points. Some colleges and universities are helping to steer the sustainability movement; some are being swept along by the momentum of other forces, like student activism. In either case, campuses across the United States are proudly displaying their new favorite color: green.
=======================================

http://chronicle.com/weekly/v53/i09/09a02001.htm
From the issue dated October 20, 2006

THE SUSTAINABLE UNIVERSITY
A New Science Breaks Down Boundaries

Mixing social and environmental research, sustainability studies gain academic respectability
By RICHARD MONASTERSKY

How does one give birth to an academic discipline? The parents of a subject called "sustainability science" are wrestling with that question as they try to nurture their fledgling field through its infancy. Like any new mothers and fathers, these leaders have struggled to choose a name, to provide a home in a sometimes hostile academic world, and to scrape up enough money to support their offspring.

It's not yet clear whether sustainability science will ever thrive on its own, but advocates point to some promising signs. Next February the American Association for the Advancement of Science will make sustainability science and technology the central theme of its annual meeting. This year the National Academy of Sciences recognized the field as a separate discipline, worthy of its own section in the well-regarded journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And practitioners of sustainability science are starting to find a home in centers and institutes that are popping up at Arizona State University, Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

"Right now the forefront of action is in the universities," says William C. Clark, a professor of international science, public policy, and human development at Harvard, who is one of the leaders in the new field. "We see program after program building up on sustainability studies or science."

In many ways, it's easier to chart the growth of the subject than to define it. Mr. Clark and his colleagues struggled to come up with a description for the national academy and settled on calling it "an emerging field of research dealing with the interactions between natural and social systems, and with how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability: meeting the needs of present and future generations while substantially reducing poverty and conserving the planet's life-support systems."

Translating that mouthful into a compact equation, one could say the subject equals environmental science plus social science in the broadest possible terms. It deals with agriculture, biodiversity, economics, energy, health, natural resources, and urbanization, among other topics. Across that sweep, it seeks to harness the power of basic research to solve particular problems, not just at the global level but also at the scale of a water-stressed city or a struggling rural community.

Unlike a human child, sustainability science has had several births and many parents, scattered around the world. European investigators have pursued this kind of research for more than a decade, and scientists have made similar efforts in India, Africa, and South America, often as part of development or agricultural initiatives.

In the United States, the field gained a name in 1999, when the National Academy of Sciences published a report called "Our Common Journey," written by a committee led by Mr. Clark.

"We had long discussions about what to call this new area of research," says Pamela A. Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford. The naming struggle mirrors the complexity of the interdisciplinary field and the kinds of multipronged problems that researchers are focusing on. The projects that fit into this arena tend to produce papers with long lists of scientists and social scientists, spread out around the world.

Trouble on the Farm

If there were textbooks in sustainability science, they might choose as their first case study the kind of research that Ms. Matson and her colleagues have conducted in Mexico since the mid-1990s. Working with some 50 collaborators at other U.S. and Mexican institutions, the Stanford team has studied the complex relationships among environment, agriculture, and policy decisions in the Yaqui Valley, an agricultural breadbasket along the Gulf of California.

The valley was one of the original sites of the "green revolution," which rapidly increased crop yields during the middle part of the 20th century. In the 1940s, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaug helped start a wheat-research program in the valley that evolved into the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, which is better known by its Spanish acronym, Cimmyt.

Although the region is semiarid, the green revolution coincided with several relatively wet decades, which helped Yaqui Valley farmers greatly increase the acreage they planted. They developed irrigation systems and reservoirs and improved their production with intensive use of fertilizers. Farmers there produce some of the highest wheat yields in the world, note Ms. Matson and her colleagues.

But the past decade has brought a prolonged drought, and Yaqui Valley farmers have struggled with economic changes, like a jump in the price of the fertilizer that they rely on so heavily.

Fertilizers are what brought Ms. Matson to the valley in the first place. As a biogeochemist specializing in soils, she was interested in what happens to the fertilizer nitrogen that escapes from the fields, particularly the portion that ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

In the early 1990s, she started working in the valley along with Rosamond L. Naylor, a Stanford agricultural economist, and Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio, an agronomist at Cimmyt. They set out to study fertilizer use from multiple perspectives: how to improve its application, how to lower the cost to farmers, and how to reduce nitrogen pollution.

Some two-thirds of the nitrogen used in the Yaqui Valley either leaks into the atmosphere or drains into canals and then into the Gulf of California. The pollution not only adds to global warming but also triggers algal blooms in the gulf and potentially causes respiratory problems for people in the region.

The researchers discovered a way that farmers could keep their yields high and reduce their costs, by applying smaller quantities of fertilizer at specific times in the crop cycle. They estimated that it would save farmers 12 percent to 18 percent in after-tax profits and cut the loss of nitrogen by 90 percent.

"It's a classic win-win situation," says Ms. Matson.

Mr. Ortiz-Monasterio described those findings to the farmers, but they didn't change their practices. "Most of them were putting a lot of fertilizer on," says Ms. Matson, "probably even more than when we started."

So the researchers widened their investigation to look at the social and economic forces that were influencing the actions of the farmers. It turned out that growers were adding as much fertilizer as they could because of the advice they had received from their local credit unions, which functioned as farm associations. The scientists decided to bring the credit unions into the research program.

Mr. Ortiz-Monasterio and his colleagues developed a technique, using a hand-held radiometer, to measure the chlorophyll in the crops. The meter could give farmers instant feedback on the health of the plants and whether more fertilizer was called for. The credit unions have purchased some of the devices for the farmers, and the researchers now are trying to determine whether the meters will help lower the use of fertilizer in the valley.

The project has the potential not only to solve a practical farming problem, it also has yielded a bumper crop in the academic world. The research team has so far published more than two dozen papers, including several in top-tier journals including PNAS, Science, and Nature. The work has provided a model that Stanford used in creating its new Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources, which offers master's and doctoral training in sustainability.

"The experience of so many of us working together on this project has illustrated what we can do if we bring many disciplines together," says Ms. Matson.

Looking for Leadership

The Yaqui Valley work also reveals gaps in U.S. federal scientific leadership, which has not yet developed a comprehensive way to support such broad research projects. "Those sorts of programs are invariably multidisciplinary and involve lots of people," says Harvard's Mr. Clark. At the federal level, he says, "nobody's wanted to touch them."

Ms. Matson and her colleagues cobbled together support from a "genius" award she had received from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as funds from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and an alphabet stew of federal agencies that financed small parts of the work.

James P. Collins, who heads the biology directorate at the National Science Foundation, says his agency is working to finance sustainability science and has for several years provided funds for interdisciplinary projects that combine elements of environmental, social, behavioral, and economic science. One example is the Long-term Ecological Research Network, which has large, multidisciplinary teams of scientists studying 26 sites around the globe. Many are in remote settings, but two are located in Phoenix and Baltimore, where teams of scientists are trying to understand the interactions of the human and natural aspects of the cities.

Still, practitioners of the new science of sustainability say they would love to see some leadership at the federal level. "Academics are pretty clever about how to pitch their wares to the various funders," says Jonathan A. Foley, head of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "We're doing the best we can, but it would be wonderful to see a real top-down push for this in the federal agencies. I don't see that right now."

Several other countries have moved far ahead of the United States in supporting the new field. In Germany the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has for more than a decade brought together the fields of science, social science, and sustainable development. Britain established the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in 2000, as a consortium of researchers from around the country. They focus on "solutions oriented" studies that involve society and governments. Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland have also developed programs.

Despite the movement forward, supporters of sustainability science say its future remains unclear.

"The real question is whether this is something that's truly going to emerge into a brand-new field of research and education," says Vaughan C. Turekian, chief international officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The next few years will be crucial in terms of the nascent field's growth. New journals devoted to sustainability science have appeared, and universities are developing academic departments to train the first generation of specialists in this remarkably unspecialized field. As those students graduate, look for jobs, and start their research careers, they will soon find out if their new discipline is truly sustainable.

----------------------------
http://chronicle.com
Section: Special Report
Volume 53, Issue 9, Page A20
Copyright 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
=================================

From the issue dated October 20, 2006

THE SUSTAINABLE UNIVERSITY
Students Call for Action on Campuses

Activists push better practices in energy use, food purchasing, waste disposal, and investments

By SARA LIPKA

One Tuesday last month, Zach Mermel and Krystal Rogers stayed up until the wee hours crafting a sales pitch. For three years, they and other students at Humboldt State University had fought for the hiring of a sustainability coordinator, but the president had not approved the plan. Mr. Mermel and Ms. Rogers hoped to seal the deal in a meeting the next morning.

The two convened again at 8 a.m. in the library to re-examine their proposal. They inspected a draft of the job description and reviewed a plan to finance it with university funds they had solicited from various departments. Ms. Rogers's travel mug of herbal tea got cold as they ran through their strategy one last time.

In the president's office, the students made their case. They outlined the accomplishments of peer institutions' sustainability coordinators and presented possible projects for one at Humboldt. Their persistence impressed the president, Rollin C. Richmond, who approved the position that morning.

On many campuses, students have become watchdogs for sustainability. Armed with Internet research, they are investigating institutional operations like energy use, food purchasing, investments, transportation, and waste disposal. They are pushing administrators to approve new projects and set higher goals for sustainability. National networks are helping students share strategies with one another and organize sophisticated, often successful proposals for campus innovations and reforms.

Students at Bowdoin and Evergreen State Colleges recently won campaigns to have their institutions purchase 100 percent of their energy from renewable sources or pay local solar or wind producers to offset their use of nonrenewable energy. At Evergreen, Central Oregon Community College, and the University of Kentucky, students have voted by wide margins to pay additional fees to cover their institutions' clean-energy purchases. At Dickinson College, students run an organic garden where they grow some of the produce for their dining hall. And at Northwestern University, engineering students have submitted a proposal for a wind turbine on the campus.

"We're a generation that grew up with global warming in our textbooks," says Maura Cowley, a recent graduate of Pennsylvania State University's main campus who now works for the Sierra Student Coalition, traveling around the Northeast to help college students organize campaigns for sustainability.

"On their own, campuses will do something maybe exchange light bulbs or buy a little bit of wind," she says. "But that's not enough. If the steps aren't being taken, we're going to have to push for them."

Taking Action

Student activists run on the renewable energy of big ideas and adrenaline. Where sustainable practices are already in place, they find new programs their colleges could be starting. Where environmentalism is not ingrained, they are making some of the first moves.

Celeste Howe returned from a semester in New Zealand, where she studied resource management and environmental policy, to discover that Point Loma Nazarene University did not recycle.

"I got back to Point Loma," she says, "and I was like, What the heck? We aren't doing anything."

Ms. Howe persuaded the Christian university's custodial manager to let her organize a recycling program. Before it caught on, she says, some students used the little blue bins to wash their cars.

"It took me going out there, spreading the word, talking to people, getting in the newspaper, making crazy posters," she says. Within a year, Point Loma, in San Diego, had diverted 50 percent of its waste to recycling.

Ms. Howe also lobbied the president, Bob Brower, to adopt more sustainable practices at the university. Mr. Brower appointed a resource-stewardship committee, which last year supervised the retrofitting of campus buildings with updated lighting and ventilation systems. The changes reduced Point Loma's electric-energy consumption by nearly a quarter. More broadly, the group promotes "creation care," a concept that combines Christian principles with environmentalism and social awareness.

"Some key students early on became advocates for it and helped to engage us," says Mr. Brower. "There is a growing conviction that we do need to take responsibility in these areas."

A few weeks ago, during Creation Care Week at Point Loma, students, as well as faculty and staff members, recycled electronics, sampled organic food and fair-trade coffee, and toured a wastewater-treatment facility. Creation care is gaining popularity at other Christian colleges, about 30 of which have started campus chapters of Restoring Eden, an evangelical environmental group.

Peter Illyn, founder of the group, says that Christian colleges may not be on the front lines of the sustainability movement, but they are taking up the cause.

"There are growing vocal minorities on campus," he says, "and they're enough to begin shifting the debate and making the administration really sit up and take notice."

Support Networks

When students mobilize on campuses, they often plug into regional or national networks of activists. Representatives from more than 330 colleges across the country have joined the Campus Climate Challenge, a project of the youth coalition Energy Action, and pledged to pursue clean-energy policies at their institutions. The project publicizes "campus energy victories" and runs a lively blog, It's Getting Hot in Here.

Billy Parish, who in 2004 began coordinating the coalition instead of finishing his bachelor's degree at Yale University, sees the sustainability movement as the heir to student efforts to end apartheid and close sweatshops. The current campaign may be even more impressive, he thinks.

"In terms of concrete victories and colleges actually making commitments," he says, "I don't think anything like this has ever happened before."

For students who need extra incentives, MTV is sponsoring a Break the Addiction Challenge the addiction being to oil and offering grants, parties, and other prizes for the "hottest victories" for campus sustainability.

The Internet has also changed the face of student movements, says Mark E. Boren, an assistant professor of English at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington, and author of Student Resistance: A History of the Unruly Subject (Routledge, 2001).

"Historically, students always had to reinvent the wheel, and now they don't have to," he says.

Instead they can download activist manuals online and check in with their counterparts on other campuses via instant messages. That leaves more time to develop strategies, Mr. Boren says. "Students are getting much better at presenting their ideas to the university."

Some student activists have prepared PowerPoint presentations and cost-benefit analyses for administrators and trustees. Their lobbying groups often include a freshman, so that officials will be less inclined to simply wait for the agitators to graduate. When a proposal hangs in the balance, students point out that its adoption will make the college look good and help with student recruitment.

Despite such efforts, administrators often push back. When they do, sustainability activists can turn to networks like Energy Action for support. This past spring Middle Tennessee State and Tennessee Technological Universities passed student-fee increases for clean-energy purchases. Their state system, however, blocked them, citing the chancellor's reluctance to raise student fees.

In response, Liz Veazey, a founding member of Energy Action who coordinates campus chapters in the Southeast, organized a call-in day in June.

"We put enough pressure on the chancellor of the system that he decided to change his mind," she says. "It was basically within four or five hours that he said OK." According to a spokeswoman from the chancellor's office, the students' calls "probably did make some difference."

When colleges do adopt more-sustainable practices, they often turn them into selling points. Several admissions directors report that prospective students often ask about campus sustainability and are impressed to hear a tour guide mention, for instance, that the college's bus fleet runs on cooking oil recycled from its dining halls.

Many colleges have set up sleek Web sites to promote their green practices and have incorporated sustainability into their marketing pitches to applicants. "They've identified this as an important attribute in their college search," says Seth Allen, dean of admissions at Dickinson. "There are some really dynamite students out there ... who are going to push on these issues to see where institutions stand."

More Investment Openness

Colleges may be eager to embrace a green image, but they are not always ready to change their ways. When sustainability campaigns turn to endowment investments, administrators are more reluctant to talk to students.

Many institutions "just don't want to have the discussion relating to the endowment," says Mark Orlowski, who graduated from Williams College in 2004 and started the Sustainable Endowments Institute to lobby for openness and socially responsible investing. Mr. Orlowski suspects he knows why officials clam up.

"Schools are doing much better on campus sustainability than endowment sustainability," he says. His group plans to release a "report card" in November with grades in both categories for the colleges with the 100 largest endowments.

Meanwhile, Mr. Orlowski has helped students on various campuses set up advisory committees to study endowment holdings and vote on or introduce shareholder resolutions for companies to adopt clean-energy policies, for example. Only 5 percent of more than 200 colleges the group surveyed in the spring involve students in that process. Most institutions, he says, leave the voting to external money managers, who typically side with corporations on resolutions.

In terms of sustainability efforts, "schools are doing things on campus that they're voting against as shareholders," Mr. Orlowski says. "We're really hoping to highlight that disconnect, that dissonance, and eliminate it."

At Middlebury College, students say their interest in endowment investments was initially rebuffed by administrators.

"They were like, 'It's complicated don't worry about it. You might as well just go protest at a company's door,'" says Phil Aroneanu, a senior environmental-studies and anthropology major. "They didn't want to open themselves up to that kind of criticism."

But a small band of students kept pushing, and this past spring Middlebury approved the Advisory Committee on Socially Responsible Investment. Last month the five-member committee reviewed a partial list of the college's holdings and met with Middlebury's investment manager to discuss their concerns. At this point, those concerns lie primarily in companies' energy efficiency and environmental reporting, says Mr. Aroneanu.

Like many campus activists, the Middlebury students will try to be patient and strategic. Eventually, they will push for a full list of holdings and the chance to exert pressure on big corporations, says Mr. Aroneanu. This year the students will focus on building a sustainable relationship with trustees to prepare for future requests.

"Next year," he says, "I think we can be a lot more bold with our moves."

------------------------------
http://chronicle.com
Section: Special Report
Volume 53, Issue 9, Page A18
Copyright 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education
=================================


http://chronicle.com/free/v53/i09/09a02001.htm

From the issue dated October 20, 2006
THE SUSTAINABLE UNIVERSITY
A New Science Breaks Down Boundaries

Mixing social and environmental research, sustainability studies gain academic respectability

By RICHARD MONASTERSKY

How does one give birth to an academic discipline? The parents of a subject called "sustainability science" are wrestling with that question as they try to nurture their fledgling field through its infancy. Like any new mothers and fathers, these leaders have struggled to choose a name, to provide a home in a sometimes hostile academic world, and to scrape up enough money to support their offspring.

It's not yet clear whether sustainability science will ever thrive on its own, but advocates point to some promising signs. Next February the American Association for the Advancement of Science will make sustainability science and technology the central theme of its annual meeting. This year the National Academy of Sciences recognized the field as a separate discipline, worthy of its own section in the well-regarded journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. And practitioners of sustainability science are starting to find a home in centers and institutes that are popping up at Arizona State University, Harvard University, Stanford University, the University of Wisconsin, and elsewhere.

"Right now the forefront of action is in the universities," says William C. Clark, a professor of international science, public policy, and human development at Harvard, who is one of the leaders in the new field. "We see program after program building up on sustainability studies or science."

In many ways, it's easier to chart the growth of the subject than to define it. Mr. Clark and his colleagues struggled to come up with a description for the national academy and settled on calling it "an emerging field of research dealing with the interactions between natural and social systems, and with how those interactions affect the challenge of sustainability: meeting the needs of present and future generations while substantially reducing poverty and conserving the planet's life-support systems."

Translating that mouthful into a compact equation, one could say the subject equals environmental science plus social science in the broadest possible terms. It deals with agriculture, biodiversity, economics, energy, health, natural resources, and urbanization, among other topics. Across that sweep, it seeks to harness the power of basic research to solve particular problems, not just at the global level but also at the scale of a water-stressed city or a struggling rural community.

Unlike a human child, sustainability science has had several births and many parents, scattered around the world. European investigators have pursued this kind of research for more than a decade, and scientists have made similar efforts in India, Africa, and South America, often as part of development or agricultural initiatives.

In the United States, the field gained a name in 1999, when the National Academy of Sciences published a report called "Our Common Journey," written by a committee led by Mr. Clark.

"We had long discussions about what to call this new area of research," says Pamela A. Matson, dean of the School of Earth Sciences at Stanford. The naming struggle mirrors the complexity of the interdisciplinary field and the kinds of multipronged problems that researchers are focusing on. The projects that fit into this arena tend to produce papers with long lists of scientists and social scientists, spread out around the world.

Trouble on the Farm

If there were textbooks in sustainability science, they might choose as their first case study the kind of research that Ms. Matson and her colleagues have conducted in Mexico since the mid-1990s. Working with some 50 collaborators at other U.S. and Mexican institutions, the Stanford team has studied the complex relationships among environment, agriculture, and policy decisions in the Yaqui Valley, an agricultural breadbasket along the Gulf of California.

The valley was one of the original sites of the "green revolution," which rapidly increased crop yields during the middle part of the 20th century. In the 1940s, the future Nobel Peace Prize winner Norman E. Borlaug helped start a wheat-research program in the valley that evolved into the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, which is better known by its Spanish acronym, Cimmyt.

Although the region is semiarid, the green revolution coincided with several relatively wet decades, which helped Yaqui Valley farmers greatly increase the acreage they planted. They developed irrigation systems and reservoirs and improved their production with intensive use of fertilizers. Farmers there produce some of the highest wheat yields in the world, note Ms. Matson and her colleagues.

But the past decade has brought a prolonged drought, and Yaqui Valley farmers have struggled with economic changes, like a jump in the price of the fertilizer that they rely on so heavily.

Fertilizers are what brought Ms. Matson to the valley in the first place. As a biogeochemist specializing in soils, she was interested in what happens to the fertilizer nitrogen that escapes from the fields, particularly the portion that ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas.

In the early 1990s, she started working in the valley along with Rosamond L. Naylor, a Stanford agricultural economist, and Ivan Ortiz-Monasterio, an agronomist at Cimmyt. They set out to study fertilizer use from multiple perspectives: how to improve its application, how to lower the cost to farmers, and how to reduce nitrogen pollution.

Some two-thirds of the nitrogen used in the Yaqui Valley either leaks into the atmosphere or drains into canals and then into the Gulf of California. The pollution not only adds to global warming but also triggers algal blooms in the gulf and potentially causes respiratory problems for people in the region.

The researchers discovered a way that farmers could keep their yields high and reduce their costs, by applying smaller quantities of fertilizer at specific times in the crop cycle. They estimated that it would save farmers 12 percent to 18 percent in after-tax profits and cut the loss of nitrogen by 90 percent.

"It's a classic win-win situation," says Ms. Matson.

Mr. Ortiz-Monasterio described those findings to the farmers, but they didn't change their practices. "Most of them were putting a lot of fertilizer on," says Ms. Matson, "probably even more than when we started."

So the researchers widened their investigation to look at the social and economic forces that were influencing the actions of the farmers. It turned out that growers were adding as much fertilizer as they could because of the advice they had received from their local credit unions, which functioned as farm associations. The scientists decided to bring the credit unions into the research program.

Mr. Ortiz-Monasterio and his colleagues developed a technique, using a hand-held radiometer, to measure the chlorophyll in the crops. The meter could give farmers instant feedback on the health of the plants and whether more fertilizer was called for. The credit unions have purchased some of the devices for the farmers, and the researchers now are trying to determine whether the meters will help lower the use of fertilizer in the valley.

The project has the potential not only to solve a practical farming problem, it also has yielded a bumper crop in the academic world. The research team has so far published more than two dozen papers, including several in top-tier journals including PNAS, Science, and Nature. The work has provided a model that Stanford used in creating its new Interdisciplinary Graduate Program in Environment and Resources, which offers master's and doctoral training in sustainability.

"The experience of so many of us working together on this project has illustrated what we can do if we bring many disciplines together," says Ms. Matson.

Looking for Leadership

The Yaqui Valley work also reveals gaps in U.S. federal scientific leadership, which has not yet developed a comprehensive way to support such broad research projects. "Those sorts of programs are invariably multidisciplinary and involve lots of people," says Harvard's Mr. Clark. At the federal level, he says, "nobody's wanted to touch them."

Ms. Matson and her colleagues cobbled together support from a "genius" award she had received from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, as well as funds from the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and an alphabet stew of federal agencies that financed small parts of the work.

James P. Collins, who heads the biology directorate at the National Science Foundation, says his agency is working to finance sustainability science and has for several years provided funds for interdisciplinary projects that combine elements of environmental, social, behavioral, and economic science. One example is the Long-term Ecological Research Network, which has large, multidisciplinary teams of scientists studying 26 sites around the globe. Many are in remote settings, but two are located in Phoenix and Baltimore, where teams of scientists are trying to understand the interactions of the human and natural aspects of the cities.

Still, practitioners of the new science of sustainability say they would love to see some leadership at the federal level. "Academics are pretty clever about how to pitch their wares to the various funders," says Jonathan A. Foley, head of the Center for Sustainability and the Global Environment at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. "We're doing the best we can, but it would be wonderful to see a real top-down push for this in the federal agencies. I don't see that right now."

Several other countries have moved far ahead of the United States in supporting the new field. In Germany the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research has for more than a decade brought together the fields of science, social science, and sustainable development. Britain established the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, in 2000, as a consortium of researchers from around the country. They focus on "solutions oriented" studies that involve society and governments. Austria, Sweden, and Switzerland have also developed programs.

Despite the movement forward, supporters of sustainability science say its future remains unclear.

"The real question is whether this is something that's truly going to emerge into a brand-new field of research and education," says Vaughan C. Turekian, chief international officer at the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The next few years will be crucial in terms of the nascent field's growth. New journals devoted to sustainability science have appeared, and universities are developing academic departments to train the first generation of specialists in this remarkably unspecialized field. As those students graduate, look for jobs, and start their research careers, they will soon find out if their new discipline is truly sustainable.

-------------------------------
http://chronicle.com
Section: Special Report
Volume 53, Issue 9, Page A20
Copyright 2006 by The Chronicle of Higher Education











--------------------------------------------------
s. e. anderson (author of "The Black Holocaust for Beginners" - Writers + Readers)+ http://blackeducator.blogspot.com