How can academic disciplines work together to solve society’s most pressing environmental problems? A Different Take on Environmentalism, hosted by VSTEP (Vermont Students Toward Environmental Protection) brought together an interdisciplinary panel to discuss how the environment is viewed in a variety of fields. The panelists- Senior Lecturer Cameron Davis, Lecturer Dr. Scott Matter, Professor Britt Holmén, and Professor Dr. Donna Ramirez-Harrington - discussed their research, experiences, and roles in the environmental movement.
Cameron Davis has been teaching courses in the Department of Art & Art History at UVM since 1999. Her courses focus on the relationships between art, perception, community, and the environment. As Davis shared paintings depicting environmental destruction, I was able to understand how she uses art to evoke emotional connections to the environment. While I felt overwhelmed by the enormity of environmental problems, I also felt empowered to take action to cleanup the environment within my own community.
Lecturer Dr. Matter in the Department of Anthropology received his M.A. and Ph.D,. from McGill University, held a Postdoctoral Fellowship, and has been conducting research in Kenya since 2003. His research looks at the political ecology of climate change mitigation projects. Dr. Matter brings together ideas of political and environmental anthropology, cultural politics, and political ecology. I thought it was fascinating to think about environmental problems from a cultural perspective. If conservation projects displace local people are they justified? How can we tackle global environmental issues without disproportionately affecting some people more than others?
Professor Holmén in the School of Engineering , has a background working as a geochemist, environmental consultant, and faculty member in several universities. Her research today focuses on airborne particle emissions and developing alternative fuel sources. Holmén explained that the field of civil and environmental engineering focuses on protecting public health through the creation of new technology and infrastructure. Her work makes me hopeful for the prospects of alternative energy sources that have the potential to wane the world off of its fossil fuel dependence.
Dr. Ramirez-Harrington in the Department of Economics has a background in environmental economics. The role of environmental economics is to internalize external costs that are not factored into conventional market equations. Dr. Ramirez-Harrington’s research focuses on the role of policy in improving the environmental performance of businesses. Specifically, Dr. Ramirez-Harrington looks at market incentives for individuals and companies to protect the environment. If businesses can act as environmental stewards, individuals may also be more willing to change their behaviors.
I was fascinated by the range of disciplines and ways environmental solutions are viewed by the panelists. It was encouraging to recognize the far reaching connections and emotions people have to the environment. To solve broader environmental issues such as climate change, a transdisciplinary approach must be utilized to bring together experts from a variety of disciplines. An important question Davis asked was “how can we use our love of the Earth to catalyze change?” Channeling emotions into tangible action is an important step towards solving environmental problems. I believe it is not only interesting, but necessary to facilitate conversations among people of different areas of study, socio-economic statuses, ethnicities, races, and genders, of what their vision would be for a clean sustainable future.