Environmental symposium promotes sustainability

Mark Douglas

Following Earth Day’s March for Science, UT will provide green enthusiasts with another outlet for sustainability: The Future City Symposium.

From 5–7 p.m. this Tuesday in ECJ 1.202, the Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering department will collaborate with other UT faculty members to showcase an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues. The second occasion of a two-part event, next week’s focus will be on the natural environment and feature four speakers: architecture professor Robert Young, history professor Erika Bsumek, geography professor Carlos Ramos and advertising and public relations professor Lucy Atkinson.

“It brings together voices from across campus,” Atkinson said. “My research is interdisciplinary, so the opportunity to chat with faculty and students from other corners of the campus is exciting.”

Maintaining the focus on sustainable construction, Bsumek will present on Glen Canyon Dam, a public project approved by the Navajo tribe’s government in 1956. The government used all the land the Navajo offered but repaid only a fraction of the resources they initially promised. The topic sheds light on the engineer’s role as an indirect policy maker.

“Often, (engineers) don’t give a lot of thought to what’s going to happen to the people in the area, or the sort of larger social, cultural (and) political implications of these projects,” Bsumek said.

Following engineering’s role in politics, Ramos will then discuss his efforts to curb coral reef degradation in the Virgin Islands. These efforts will help locals maintain efficient market productivity while preserving a balanced ecosystem for the Caribbean Islands. To conduct his work with local farmers and businesses, Ramos had to gain historical and cultural knowledge of the region’s human-made and natural environments. 

Ramos said scientists should be taking greater efforts to understand the social implications of applied science. He said marketing and representing science in a more practical sense can help appeal to the general public. His examples included the potential flooding of major cities such as Miami or New Orleans and the effect this would have on economics and everyday life.

“You have to be able to explore other ways of engaging with the subject,” Ramos said. “It’s not just the numbers, not just the results and the papers, but there’s also an interest in the history of the place. That’s a way to connect to the subject on a different level.”

Continuing the theme of the environment’s ties to society, Atkinson’s presentation Consumers and the Marketplace Respond to Issues of Sustainability will touch on subjects such as opting for organic food and fair–trade coffee, as well as deeper findings such as moral licensing, where people justify less than ideal choices because they’ve been “good” consumers.

“Some studies have shown that green consumers are more likely to cheat, steal and lie than non-green consumers.” Atkinson said.

For those with less knowledge in these fields, the symposium will provide a gateway to understanding ecological restoration. Ramos said it’s essential to address topics such as the environment from an interdisciplinary perspective. By doing that, one can integrate and engage a universal audience. 

“Sustainability is such a vital issue,” Atkinson said. “Events like the Future City Symposium help shine a light and bring attention to the ways we can help bring about a more sustainable future.”