Archive for the 'Environmental Studies' Category

The Price of Sugar: How Much is Too Much

The International House hosted a screening of the film “The Price of Sugar” and followed it with a discussion panel. Panelists included faculty and staff from several departments. Leah Green, Professor of Environmental Studies and English and Laura Henry-Stone, Post-Doctoral Fellow of Environmental Studies were among those discussing how the United State’s sugar protectionism factors into the living conditions of the Haitian sugar cane cutters and the idea that the free trade of sugar could be a possible solution. The mission of the International House is to promote international learning by facilitating interaction and communication between students and members of the W&L community.

Students from Campus Sustainability Audit course attend the AASHE conference

On October 10, 2010, Environmental Studies Professor Laura Henry-Stone and five W&L students went to Denver to attend the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Dr. Henry-Stone, W&L’s ACS Postdoctoral Fellow in Environmental Studies and Sustainability, is currently teaching an environmental studies special topics course on campus sustainability. Sixteen students are using a new tool, designed by AASHE, called Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System (STARS) to assess campus sustainability. W&L students Ellie Van Sant, Morten Wendelbo, Courtney Fairbrother, Ned Lundvall, and Lauren Acker attended the AASHE conference with Professor Henry-Stone to learn more about STARS and other campus sustainability initiatives around the country. During the pre-conference session on Sunday afternoon, the students attended a special AASHE student summit and were treated to keynote speaker Gretchen Bleiler, Olympic snowboarder, while Dr. Henry-Stone attended a session on Sustainability in the Curriculum. Upon their return, Ellie, Morten, Courtney, and Ned each visited one of four sections of Introduction to Environmental Studies to present on STARS and the AASHE conference, and Lauren reported on her experience to the education subcommittee of the University Sustainability Committee.

Law Professor’s New Book Explores Climate Change Litigation

Lexington, VA • Friday, January 15, 2010
Media Contact:
Peter Jetton
Director of Communications
The Courts have emerged as a crucial battleground in efforts to regulate climate change. A new book edited by Washington and Lee School of Law professor Hari Osofsky explores some of these cases argued in state and national courts, as well as international tribunals, in order to explain their regulatory significance and examine this emerging area of litigation.

The book, Adjudicating Climate Change: State, National, and International Approaches, was co-edited by William C.G. Burns and is available now from Cambridge University Press.

Over the past several years, tribunals at every level of government around the world have seen claims regarding greenhouse gas emissions and impacts. These cases rely on diverse legal theories, but all focus on government regulation of climate change or the actions of major corporate emitters.

Delving into these cases, the book demonstrates the role that these cases play in broader debates over climate policy and argues that they serve as an important force in pressuring governments and emitters to address this problem. But Osofsky emphasizes that these cases are not only important because they lead to greater or lesser regulation or push major emitters to reduce their emissions.

“These cases become part of a dialog about how we should regulate this problem,” says Osofsky. “What level of government is appropriate for regulating the problem? How should each level of government participate in the regulatory scheme?”

Osofsky herself became interested in climate change litigation while working in the area of international environmental rights and assisting the Center for International Environmental Law and Earthjustice with a petition to the Inter-American Commission claiming that U.S. climate change policy violated the Inuit’s human rights.

“At the time, almost all of the discussion surrounding climate change focused on the outcome of the Kyoto Protocol and post-Kyoto treaty negotiations,” says Osofsky. “But I realized that the Inuit case was just one of many actions already ongoing in national and state courts and international tribunals, and that these cases would have an impact on climate change regulation as these negotiations took place.”

Osofsky’s work continues to focus on, as she says, the “multi-scalar problem” climate policy creates for government.

“Our legal system is tied to specific levels of government and specific kinds of institutions,” notes Osofsky. “But climate change regulation cuts across every level of governance we have, from the most individual to the most international.”

In addition to her new book, Osofsky has a casebook on climate change law and policy forthcoming from Aspen Publishers. Her recent articles on climate change litigation have been awarded the Daniel B. Luten Award for the best paper by a professional geographer by the Energy and Environment Specialty Group of the Association of American Geographers and have twice been runner-up for inclusion in Land Use and Environment Law Review’s annual compilation of the top land use and environmental law articles.

This year Osofsky will serve as co-chair of the American Society of International Law’s 2010 Annual Meeting. She also is a member of the Climate Legacy Initiative’s Consultants Working Group and the International Law Association’s Committee on the Legal Principles of Climate Change, and teaches classes in which students assist the Southern Environmental Law Center with its work on climate change.

Prof. Osofsky received her B.A. and J.D. from Yale University. After clerking for Judge Dorothy Nelson of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, she worked as a Fellow at the Center for the Law in the Public Interest, with a focus on environmental justice advocacy.

Earle Bates Prize in Environmental Studies Awarded to Anna Stuart Burnett, ’10

The Earle Bates Prize in Environmental Studies is awarded to a graduating environmental studies student in honor of Earle Bates, a strong supporter of the Environmental Studies Program and a role model of environmental citizenship. The award recipient is chosen by the Environmental Studies core faculty on the basis of general academic performance, academic performance in the Environmental Studies Program, participation in co-curricular activities and contributions to campus and community sustainability.

Summer 2010 Johnson Opportunity Grant Awards

Two Environmental Studies students receive grants for internships abroad for the summer of 2010.   The students were awarded grants through a competitive process and receive amounts from $1,000 to $4,500 to provide funds to cover travel, living expenses and other costs associated with a project or summer activity. The grants are funded by a gift to W&L, which also created scholarships, a lecture series focusing on leadership and two endowed professorships.

Christine Balistreri, a senior Economic and Environmental Studies double major, from Mequon, Wis., will spend her summer as a medical intern at the Wichanzao Clinic in Peru. Balisteri, an economics and environmental studies major, will assist local doctors and broaden her understanding of healthcare systems in developing nations. A leader of Washington and Lee’s Reformed University Fellowship (RUF), Balisteri has already spent time learning about health care in developing nations during W&L’s Spring Term abroad in Ghana in 2009. There, she learned about the health crises affecting the nation and visited various Ghanaian health centers.
Ellen Yeatman, a junior from Little Rock, Ark., will work with the Center for Sustainable Development Studies in Athenas, Costa Rica, researching better ways to manage the operation of the parks within the conservation areas. Through classroom and lab experiences, as well as field research in the tropical forests of Costa Rica, she will learn about resource management and the socioeconomic challenges affecting Costa Rica and its rainforests. A chemistry major with minors in environmental studies and studio art, Yeatman is a member of the women’s tennis team and a volunteer with the English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) organization.

Farmers Talk Watershed Protection: Answers, Compromises Sought At Latest Local Meeting

Lexington News-Gazette                                                                                                                       Lexington, Virginia

Farmers Talk Watershed Protection: Answers, Compromises Sought At Latest Local Meeting

By Roberta Anderson June 30, 2010

It was just over two years ago that state officials told farmers living in the Hays and Walkers creek valleys of northern Rockbridge that their cows were the cause of the pollution in those creeks.

State biologists had just completed a TMDL – total maximum daily load – study for the Hays Creek watershed, as they are in the process of doing for all impaired waterways within the state. Water samples taken in Hays Creek and its tributaries, including Walkers Creek, Moffats Creek and Otts Creek, showed bacteria levels at an overall 34 percent violation rate for fecal coliform contamination, well above the 10 percent level that is considered safe according to state guidelines

Fecal coliform bacteria is found in the intestines of warmblooded animals.

Even Dr. Robert Brent, a biologist for the Department of Environment Quality dryly observed at the time of the study in 2008: “This isn’t rocket science.”

Statistics had been maintained by DEQ on water quality in the Hays Creek watershed that covers 51,444.7 acres in Rockbridge and Augusta counties since 1990. In order to improve the water quality in Hays Creek and its tributaries sufficiently to remove the creek from the state’s impaired list, an 80 percent reduction in fecal coliform deposits from livestock, pasture runoff and cropland runoff would be required.

Making this happen became the responsibility of the community with the help of the Department of Conservation Resources. A community meeting on an implementation plan was held last week at the Rockbridge Baths firehouse with about 35 landowners, mostly Rockbridge residents in attendance.

Because the Hays Creek watershed is an agricultural area, with the exception of the villages of Brownsburg and Newport, it became quickly obvious that the focus of the implementation plan will involve decisions to fence livestock out of the creeks. There are a number of state and federal cost-sharing programs that landowners can apply for to finance stream bank restoration, to fence off waterways from livestock and to install automatic livestock waterers in fields. Compliance with any implementation plan is voluntary.

The meeting began with presentations from Washington and Lee University professors Robert Humston and Laura Henry-Stone, each of whom have received grants to have their students study the pollution in the creek and the resulting impact on residents. A portion of the students’ work focused on a stream bank restoration project on Indian Bottom Farm, a farm located on Walkers Creek Road and owned by W&L alumnus Russell Fletcher III of Middleburg.

Zack Hileman, farm manager at Indian Bottom Farm, later elaborated on the comments made by Humston. Hileman made his observations as farmers gathered with DCR representative Nesha McRae to discuss best management practices that are practical and that could become part of a cleanup plan for the community.

The fencing and stream bank project completed on the farm had been needed because of over eroded banks, Hileman said. Sediment was being washed downstream, and fencing was in danger of being washed away as well.

In other situations, Hileman said, he might advocate flash grazing along creek banks, a practice that would allow cattle to graze along creek banks for a limited time period. Hileman said an overall change in management practices is needed to protect the watershed.

Rockbridge County agricultural Extension agent Jon Repair, who did not attend the meeting, further explained in an interview the concept of flash grazing. Repair said by allowing cattle to graze down the creek banks during limited periods of two or three time per year, the riparian buffer can still be maintained. At the same time, invasive species such as bull thistle can be prevented from taking over and the pasture can continue to grow.

As the discussion at last week’s meeting progressed, it became evident that overgrazing does not appear to be a problem among farmers in the Hays Creek watershed. Most farmers estimated they have between 2 and 2.5 acres of grazing land per cow. Last year, they said, they were selling off their cattle herds; this year, the price of beef is up slightly and farmers are hanging on to their calves, although one man reported the national cattle herd is at the lowest number in history.

Fighting Pollution at Hays Creek

Lexington, Virginia • December 11, 2009

Rockbridge County’s Hays Creek is polluted with e-coli.

The creek flows from just north of Brownsburg into the Maury River, the James River and eventually the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) has listed the creek as impaired with bacteria and efforts are now underway to remedy the situation, with help from Washington and Lee University.

A modest grant from the DEQ to Robert Humston, assistant professor of biology and environmental studies at W&L, will enable him to buy test kits to monitor the water pollution. Humston’s goal is to enlist the help of landowners along the creek’s 50,000-acre watershed not only to reduce the pollution but also to use the test kits to monitor the results. “If people are more involved in the process, then they will become more invested in the results,” said Humston. “The DEQ does a fantastic job of monitoring our surface waters but they can’t be everywhere all the time.”

The main cause of the bacterial pollution in Hays Creek, according to the DEQ, is the large number of cattle that are allowed access to it. “During the hot months of the year, they like to cool off in the water,” said Humston, “and it provides a source of drinking water for them.” He also explained that when the cattle defecate in the water they release a large quantity of bacteria directly into the creek. Although the bacteria don’t have a long life it does mean that the water is unhealthy. “It is definitely unsafe for humans to be drinking the water or swimming in it during times of high bacteria loads,” he said.

Humston also pointed out that the bacteria are feeding into the Maury River, although it has not been listed as unsafe due to the larger volume of water compared to Hays Creek.

Another more regional issue is the question of unhealthy levels of nutrients. “If you see a problem with bacteria from cow feces then you can assume that there are also high inputs of nutrients since they also come from cow feces,” he said. “While the bacteria will eventually die, the nutrients are going downstream and will eventually end up in the Chesapeake Bay. This includes nitrogen and phosphorous, which may be good for plants and growing crops, but once they get into the slow-moving water they stay in the system for a long time. By fixing the bacteria problem in one small creek we are also contributing to fixing the nutrient problem that is pervasive throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed.”

Fixing Hays Creek will mean keeping cattle out of the water. As part of his efforts to reach out to the local community, Humston is joined by colleagues Laura Henry-Stone, a post-doctoral fellow in environmental studies, and Don Dailey, visiting associate professor with the Shepherd Poverty Program. Along with a group of representatives from several Virginia state and local conservation agencies they have held meetings with landowners to learn about the community’s concerns for water quality and land use.

They have explained why the bacteria problem exists and why fixing it would not only benefit the environment but also result in a higher growth rate and better health for the cattle. Since this is all private land, however, the state is not saying that landowners must take action, although some are already voluntarily putting fences up near the creek.

Humston explained that some people who bought the land for raising cattle, did so specifically because it had the creek running through it. “Telling them what they can and can’t do with their own property becomes a thorny issue,” he said.

“Another problem is that some people have the wherewithal to put up these fences, but for others this is a lot of money to pull together. Then the fences have to be maintained for years down the road, and that can take a lot of work. They may also have to put in wells to provide an alternative source of water.”

This is where W&L comes in. “Our role is to point people to the government and non-profit programs that can help defray the costs of putting in these fences and then to provide any necessary volunteer assistance in maintaining them,” he said.

Humston teaches a class at W&L on freshwater ecology in which he and his students have been measuring the pollution levels at Hays Creek. They have also been comparing their own more complex tests with the new test kits provided by the grant. “They compare very nicely and these test kits are easy to use,” he said.

Humston hopes to recruit 20 landowners to monitor the pollution levels at Hays Creek, giving each person 10 test kits to last 10 months of the year. The kits consist of a small bottle to collect the water and a compound to mix with it. This is then put on a plate and covered in tin foil and stored at room temperature for a couple of days. After that time, Humston said, the number of bacterial colonies is apparent and can be counted. This gives an idea of how many colony-forming bacteria are present in a certain volume of water, and what type of bacteria they are.

The participants would monitor the water once a month and Humston would coordinate their activities with those of his freshwater ecology class. “If people need help reading the plates, or they’re not sure if they are doing it correctly, or just want confirmation that they are doing it right, our students will help them. Having people collect reliable data is going to help tremendously,” he said, “and the efforts of W&L students will help make sure that the data we send to the DEQ is the highest quality possible.”

Although this initial water-monitoring project is only for one year, Humston hopes to apply for grants that will extend it for a full 10 years. “After that time we will start to see improvements in the water system and be able to identify what activities are having the most impact. Certainly fencing off cattle will have the greatest impact, but there are also stream restoration efforts to consider as well,” he said.

One person who has fully bought into stream restoration is W&L alum Russell Fletcher of Indian Bottom Farm. He has given Humston’s students complete access to monitor the water in the part of Hays Creek that runs through his property. Humston holds up this farm up as a great success story. “He’s not only put up fences to keep the cattle from the water, but he’s done a lot of work to stabilize the banks that the cattle destroyed when they walked in the creek. Now he has nice sloping banks with new grasses and sycamores growing where once there were steep cliffs of exposed dirt that were constantly washing soil downstream.” Restoring this streamside vegetation helps reduce inflow of e-coli from cattle manure on pastures during a rain, an additional source of bacterial inputs. Fletcher has also renovated the stream channel itself, establishing a more normal water flow pattern of riffles, pools and runs.” All of these fixes help with the bacteria problem,” Humston said.

Humston said that so far he has been pleasantly surprised at the encouraging responses to his project from local residents. “The idea behind W&L’s involvement is to provide volunteer effort and scientific support that sits at the interface between what the state agencies are attempting to do and what the landowners need to do to fix Hays Creek,” he said. “We want to facilitate the process of restoration, but the beneficiaries will be the landowners, their cattle and the environment.”

W&L Environmental-Economist Jim Casey on Clean Skies News

Washington and Lee environmental-economist Jim Casey is among more than 2,000 economists and scientists who comprise the Union of Concerned Scientists, a lobbying effort to push for Senate climate legislation.

While he was in Washington, D.C., last week, Jim was interviewed for Clean Skies News, an Internet-based news organization staffed by professional journalists committed to accurate and in-depth reporting on energy and the environment.

Casey was interviewed by Washington and Lee alumnus Tyler Suiters, a 1991 W&L graduate. We wrote about Tyler in the summer when his guest on Clean Skies News was another W&L alum, former U.S. Senator John W. Warner (Class of 1949). Tyler’s blog is named Energy on Capitol Hill.

You can watch the Tyler’s interview with Jim by following the link below or on the Clean Skies Network.

2009 Woolley Fellowship

March 23, 2009

The Center for International Education (CIE) at Washington and Lee University has announced the recipients of the 2009 Woolley Fellowships, provided through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Paul Woolley in honor and memory of their son, Erik.

Each fellowship provides up to $3,000 toward travel and living expenses to support an educational internship experience overseas. Proposals must demonstrate how projects will prepare students better for deeper global engagement, foster learning within an international professional practice and deepen students’ understanding of another culture.

Gaby Bucheli of Quito, Ecuador, will be interning in Manaus, Brazil, working on a project that examines the economic valuation of the environmental impact of oil extraction procedures. A member of the W&L class of 2011, Bucheli will be working with a multinational and multidisciplinary group of professionals from the fields of economics and geology, including Professor Jim Kahn, professor of economics and Director of Environmental Studies at Washington and Lee.

Environmental Studies Fellowship Position

Dr. Laura Henry-Stone has been awarded a grant for a two year post doctoral fellowship position in Environmental Studies at Washington and Lee University. Funding for the position is being provided by a grant to the Associated Colleges of the South by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. Dr. Henry-Stone’s role will be to enhance the treatment of sustainability in the Environmental Studies curriculum and to further integrate the environmental studies program with our other interdisciplinary programs, such as the Shepherd Program in Poverty and Human Capability, the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Program, the Women’s Studies Program, and the African-American Studies Program.

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