Environmental Studies and Sciences News & Events
Friday, Jun. 13, 2014
Graduating seniors Jack Bird and Nick Leasure will be recognized at Santa Clara University's 2014 Commencement.
The Nobili medal is presented to the male graduate who is judged to be outstanding in academic performance, personal character, school activities, and constructive contribution to the university. This year's winner is Environmental Science and Political Science major, Jack Bird.
The Peter-Hans Kolvenbach S.J. award is given to graduating seniors who exemplify the ideals of Jesuit education, especially being a whole person of solidarity in the real world and having the courage and faith to build a more just and humane world. This year's winner in Environmental Studies and Economics major, Nicholas Leasure.
Thank you, Jack and Nick, for your contributions to the community, the Department of Environmental Studies & Sciences, and the University, Congratulations to you both!
Tuesday, May. 20, 2014
Established to honor the memory of Lucky Hinkle, longtime University staff member who worked diligently to promote recycling on campus, this award is given to the graduating senior with a declared major in Environmental Science or Environmental Studies who, in the judgment of the ESS faculty, has made the most significant contribution to promoting a culture of sustainability at Santa Clara University and beyond.
Kelsey Baker is this year's Lucky Hinkle Sustainability Award recipient.
Kelsey was instrumental in bringing the Think Outside the Bottle campaign to SCU. She worked with Associated Student Government (ASG) to get over 40 donated bottles to product test with ASG student senators.
Kelsey crafted a pledge so students could voice their passion for SCU to become bottled water free. More than 1,000 students have taken this pledge.
In recognition of her efforts on our campus, Kelsey attended a conference at the national Think Outside the Bottle headquarters this year.
Kelsey has been a huge part of OCEANS club and an active member of GREEN club and SCOOPS. She also has volunteered at the Marine Mammal Center.
According to a classmate who nominated Kelsey for this recognition, Kelsey “embraces and propagates a culture of sustainability and encourages others with a positive attitude and passionate explanations for all of her sustainable behaviors.”
Perhaps Kelsey’s most lasting effect on the culture of sustainability at SCU and beyond will stem from her efforts to get single-use bottled water eliminated from commencement.
Thanks to Kelsey, 2014 will be the first SCU commencement without disposable bottled water!
Kelsey spearheaded this effort which will eliminate the use of over 3,000 bottles over the Undergraduate & Graduate Commencement Weekend in June and Law School Commencement in May.
Kelsey convinced SCU’s Director of Sustainability, Lindsey Kalkbrenner, that this was an effort worth pursuing. Kelsey even threatened not to "walk" at commencement if plastic single-use bottles were used.
Kelsey was instrumental in bringing together event planning, dining services, auxiliary services, alumni office, risk management, environmental health and safety, and facilities as stakeholders in this monumental process change for the University's largest event.
And Kelsey’s efforts will have a huge and lasting effect on SCU’s culture. Every senior will receive a keepsake bottle that has the mission sustainable logo on it!
As Kelsey leaves SCU and our department, she takes our hearts and our warmest congratulations with her.
Sunday, Mar. 30, 2014
Most of the world's food insecure people live in marginal rural environments. A recent study with coffee producers in northern Nicaragua’s highlands helps explain this "hungry farmer paradox." These small-scale farmers experienced an average of three months of seasonal hunger over the year studied. Although cash income helped alleviate food scarcity, households that produced more subsistence crops, especially corn and tree fruits, reported still shorter periods of food scarcity. Meanwhile, farmers that used several commonly promoted environmentally friendly farming practices reported no discernible impacts on seasonal hunger.
Researchers, including Chris Bacon (ESS), Bill Sundstrom (Economics), and two recently graduated ESS students Ian Daugherty (now with the United Farmworkers) and Rica Santos (now with the National Council for Science and the Environment), concur with previous studies finding that several factors influence farmer food insecurity, including: (1) annual cycles of precipitation and rising maize prices during the lean months; (2) inter annual droughts and periodic storms; and (3) the long-term inability of coffee harvests and prices to provide sufficient income.
This work identifies the need for balancing coffee production with food production and improving exchange systems to protect farmers from adverse seasonal price fluctuations. It also considers a participatory initiative that uses fair trade cooperatives to increase rural food access through the re-localization of food distribution networks, sustainable agriculture training, and improved food storage. Although crop loss from coffee leaf rust contributes an additional challenge, these and other integrated strategies hold the potential to reduce threats to food security, livelihoods, and biodiversity.
Bacon, C. M., Sundstrom, W. A., Flores Gómez, M. E., Ernesto Méndez, V., Santos, R., Goldoftas, B., & Dougherty, I. (2014). Explaining the ‘hungry farmer paradox’: Smallholders and fair trade cooperatives navigate seasonality and change in Nicaragua's corn and coffee markets. Global Environmental Change. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2014.02.005
Thursday, Feb. 20, 2014
ESS's John Farnsworth, Michelle Bezanson, Chair of SCU's Department of Anthropology, and Professor Lyn Baldwin of Thompson Rivers University in Canada recently co-authored a paper just published in the Journal of Natural History Education and Experience. The paper, a study of best practices for assigning and assessing field journals in collegiate natural history courses, can be found here.
Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014
Hunger in Silicon Valley: Bringing healthy food to poor communities is a challenge
Posted: 01/02/2014 10:00:00 AM PST
Updated: 01/22/2014 01:18:46 PM PST
Santa Clara County, once known as Valley of Heart's delight due to its abundant fruit and vegetable production, has lost almost half of its farmland, much of it to sprawling urban development with little access to healthy foods
This pattern of urbanization has disproportionately affected low-income communities where convenience stores and fast-food restaurants, rather than supermarkets, dominate the food landscape.
Large health disparities by income and race mean that low-income communities of color bear the brunt of our unhealthy food system; 14 percent of our county's population was "food insecure" in 2010, unable to reliably meet their daily food needs with their own or public resources.
Moreover, issues of access to healthy food resources affect many residents of Santa Clara County who consume fewer fruits and vegetables than recommended, with diet-related diseases such as obesity and diabetes reaching epidemic levels.
The Santa Clara County Food System Alliance believes that solving these problems turns on a robust, sustainable local food system that provides all of our residents with access to culturally appropriate, healthy food at affordable prices. In our recently released Food Systems Assessment, we put forward several solutions.
First, we need to bring healthy foods into low-income communities. One way would be to increase the percentage of existing retail food outlets that offer healthy, affordable food. Another lies in innovative programs. The new Green Cart program brings mobile produce vendors into low-income communities, providing both healthy food and jobs.
Community farms such as Veggielution provide low-income residents with affordable weekly boxes of fresh vegetables. More than half of our county's farmers markets now accept electronic benefit cards from CalFresh (formerly the Food Stamp program), leading a trend that we hope will involve all farmers' markets. Efforts to increase CalFresh enrollment would go a long way to help; only 52 percent of eligible individuals participate in the program.
We encourage city and county governments to adopt policies to increase urban agriculture within city limits. It can increase consumption of fresh produce, free some household food dollars for other expenses, provide exercise and mental relaxation and create safe, healthy, green environments in urban areas.
There is much unmet demand for places to grow food; while Santa Clara County has 28 community gardens, long wait lists persist. Underutilized land could provide new spaces for urban gardens and farms.
Finally, we believe that linking rural producers to urban consumers can increase access to healthy foods. Programs like the Community Alliance with Family Farmers connect Santa Clara Valley family farmers with local businesses.
Yet farmland is at risk; between 1984 and 2010, the county lost 45 percent of its farmland, and 55 percent of what remains is at risk of being developed over the next 30 years. We support policies that limit growth to urban boundaries.
We also need to increase public awareness of the challenges of farming at the urban edge, where friction can pose a threat to agricultural viability.
On Friday, Second Harvest Food Bank and Santa Clara University will host a forum spotlighting the levels of hunger and the cost of a healthy meal in Silicon Valley. Likewise, our food systems assessment highlights some of the solutions, linking rural producers to urban consumers, increasing food access among the most vulnerable populations and creating growth opportunities for our economy. We call on the people and governments of Santa Clara County to join us in this effort.
Friday, Jan. 24, 2014
On January 14, 2014, the San Jose Chapter of the American Society of Safety Engineers presented the Fall 2013 Scholarship Award to Kelsey Baker. The award included a $1500 check and one year paid membership. Kelsey is a senior at Santa Clara University, majoring in Environmental Science. Her main area of concentration is in Sustainability, and has led many related projects and organizations including "Think Outside the Bottle" and the OCEANS Club. Presenting the award to Kelsey is Steven Hochstadt, ASSE-SJ Scholarship Chair.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
A new study finds that even with very modest precipitation changes, water supplies in the upper Colorado River basin could significantly decline by 2100, with severe consequences for agriculture, urban supplies, and ecosystem health.
The Colorado River is widely considered the most important source of water in the western United States, providing water to 30 million people and large agricultural regions and generating 8 billion kilowatt hours of hydroelectric power annually.
Many previous studies have debated whether climate change will bring a wetter or drier future to the Colorado. In this paper, Researchers Darren Ficklin (now Indiana University), Iris Stewart (ESS) and Ed Maurer (CE) used the projections from established global climate models as input to a hydrologic model to forecast what is likely to happen to water flow and other hydrologic measures, such as evaporation and transpiration on a fine scale. Their findings show that the effects of highly likely warmer temperatures will be more important than either modest precipitation increases or decreases. Thus, even if the Colorado Basin will receive some more rain and snow in the future, warmer temperatures are forecast to lead to overall less water availability due to higher evaporation rates and a lot less snow that is melting earlier in the year. In addition, the higher evaporation could mean that soils in the basin will be dryer on average, such that the lower regions of the basin turn from semi-arid to arid conditions by the end of the century.
The full paper can be found at: Ficklin DL, Stewart IT, Maurer EP (2013) Climate Change Impacts on Streamflow and Subbasin-Scale Hydrology in the Upper Colorado River Basin. PLoS ONE 8(8): e71297. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0071297
Funding for this work was provided by the US EPA under a STAR (Science to Achieve Results) Grant.
Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014
ESS faculty member Leslie Gray's (with co-author Brian Dowd) newly published paper examines how liberalization reforms in Burkina Faso’s cotton sector have led to socio-economic differentiation. This research helps us understand the differences among Africa farmers, particularly with respect to their access to land, inputs and broader social institutions and networks. In particular, new grower cooperatives have become a site for wealthier farmers to exert influence on how debts are repaid and inputs distributed, largely to the detriment of poorer producers.
The full article reference is:
Gray, Leslie and Brian Dowd-Uribe, 2013. A political ecology of socio-economic differentiation: debt, inputs and liberalization reforms in southwestern Burkina Faso. Journal of Peasant Studies, Vol. 40:3-8, pp. 683-702.
Friday, Jan. 17, 2014
Land managers have long fought plant invasions in wildlands because invaders can harm native biodiversity, choking out native species and reducing habitat quality for animal species. But a recent paper in Bioscience, co-authored by ESS assistant professor Virginia Matzek, argues that land managers should be focusing more on invaders that have impacts on ecosystem services, the natural benefits that intact, functioning ecosystems provide to humans. For instance, some plant invaders are water hogs, depleting water that could otherwise go to irrigation; others impede navigation in streams or decrease salmon runs.
The Bioscience paper proposes that broadening the focus of management efforts to include impacts on ecosystem services may also improve the funding situation for invasive plan management, which has suffered under the recent economic decline. Currently, innovative payment for ecosystem services schemes are being developed to link natural resource management with benefits to stakeholders and users, and weed management, if linked to ecosystem service provision, could fit well into these new approaches.
The full article reference is Funk, JL; Matzek, V; Bernhardt, M; and Johnson, D. 2014. Broadening the case for invasive species management to include impacts on ecosystem services. Bioscience 64(1): 58-63. A draft version is available here.
Tuesday, Nov. 26, 2013
A new article in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment reviews the threats that climate change poses to ecosystem services and human well-being in the United States.
Ecosystem services are the processes, materials, and commodities delivered by intact ecosystems that have value to human beings. These include crop pollination by native insects, flood protection on undeveloped floodplains, and recreation opportunities in natural areas.
Climate change is projected to hamper the availability of these services. For instance, increasingly stormy weather and rising sea levels may threaten losses to coastal property that exceed the value of development; increased drought will impact the supply and quality of drinking water sources; and lower snowfall will shorten ski seasons and decrease tourism revenues in mountain states.
SCU researcher Peter Kareiva, who is also chief scientist of The Nature Conservancy, contributed to the review, as did Virginia Matzek, assistant professor of Environmental Studies and Sciences at the university.
The article is part of a special issue of the journal reviewing the impacts of climate change in the U.S., which grew out of the U.S. National Climate Assessment, a periodic effort by the federal government to study climate change and inform appropriate government responses. All of the articles in the special issue can be accessed here: http://www.esajournals.org/toc/fron/11/9