Heal the World
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taking a multidisciplinary approach, researchers in UCLA's Institute
of the Enviornment are tackling the vexing issues of how to clean
up our air, water and land
Dan Gordon '85
he ignore the 800-pound gorilla in the room, Richard Ambrose
Ph.D. '82 acknowledges the complaint he's heard more than once about
university researchers and the way they approach real-world environmental
classic stereotype is that when you get academics involved in trying
to come up with solutions that can be implemented, they'll do a
study and then conclude that there need to be more studies done
before any decisions can be made," says Ambrose, an ecologist
in the School of Public Health.
times we do need more information," he protests, laughing.
"But we can also make recommendations based on what we know
long ago, academics in Ambrose's field looked askance at colleagues
who focused their energies on finding practical solutions to specific
environmental problems. Some of the best evidence that this is no
longer the case has developed over the past few years at UCLA, where
a grass-roots movement by faculty culminated in 1997 with the establishment
of the Institute of the Environment (IoE).
IoE involves approximately 60 faculty in fields whose academic paths
typically have not crossed in environmental studies. Law professors,
political scientists, urban planners, sociologists and economists
mix freely with biologists, chemists, physicists, engineers, statisticians
and experts in business and public health. That unusual transcendence
represents the conviction of IoE members that environmental problems
increasingly demand a team approach by experts from a broad spectrum
of disciplines if they are to be adequately addressed.
like myself have tended to say, 'Here's the answer; if people just
did as we said it would be a perfect world,' " says IoE Director
Michael Stenstrom, a civil and environmental engineering professor.
"Then we get upset when decision-makers don't do as we say."
Stenstrom points out that technical solutions exist to many of our
most vexing environmental problems, but many of these solutions
are not politically or economically feasible: Just ask your local
trying to adopt an approach that is transdisciplinary in the sense
that our work will be based not only on good technology, but also
on an awareness of policy, law and economics," Stenstrom explains.
"That way, our solutions will be more amenable and adoptable."
after the well-received quarterly business forecast published by
the Anderson School at UCLA, the IoE leadership created its own
model, a yearly "report card" on the Southern California
environment. The first Southern California Environmental Report
Card was published late last year; the second (which will visit
a new group of topics) is scheduled to be released in September.
"We hope to be able to produce something each time that will
attract the attention of both government agencies and the public,"