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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Science Sounds Off at Convocation

On Wednesday, September 17, 2003 from 10:30am – noon on the Plaza students, faculty and staff were invited to Chancellor Gora’s Convocation Address and a roundtable discussion on issues pertinent to the educational goals of UMB.

The title of Chancellor Gora’s address, “Retention, Research, and Reputation,” pretty much sums up the entirety of her speech, as she praised all aspects of the growth the university has undergone in the past year. She celebrated a “90% retention rate of the Fall 2002 class and the 97% retention rate of first-year honors students — our best ever.” Particularly noteworthy is the $3 million award from the National Science Foundation “to develop a coordinated, self-sustaining, regional IT system.” She also authorized formation of the Center for Environmental Health, Science, and Technology (CEHST), of which the major goals “will be to understand the impact of economic development and urbanization on the ecosystem, human health disparities, and environmental policy.”

Guest speaker Gregory Wetstone advocacy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, led the roundtable Discussion on Environmental Sciences, Public Policy, and Human Well-Being. William Robinson of ECOS moderated the discussion and panel members included Robert Bowen of ECOS and James Ward of Political Science. Other members of the panel were Pamela DiBona, vice president of the Environmental League of Massachusetts and Regina McCarthy, chief of operations, Governor’s Office for Commonwealth Development.

Wetstone commented on the shortcomings of policy in protecting the environment. He noted the lack of understanding of basic science when interpreting guidelines set forth with the purpose of protecting the environment. In terms of the Clean Water Act, if there is no surface connection then a waterway is considered isolated and is therefore not protected. This undermines the basics concepts of hydrogeology, the underground connectivity of waterways.

Also addressed by the guest speaker were the threats imposed on the Yellowstone National Park (YNP). The EPA did a study that demonstrated that snowmobiles produce 64 times more pollution in the winter months that they are used than produced by all the cars and trucks traveling through the YNP do all year long. According to Wetstone, the Clinton administration proposed a plan that would phase out the use of snowmobiles in order to avoid this additional pollution. A lawsuit from the snowmobile companies put a halt to the plan.

Wetstone finished by addressing how the current administration is going backwards in protecting the environment. The Montreal Protocol for protecting the Ozone layer has been adjusted in the past to allow exceptions to substances that would be used in medical inhalers. According to Wetstone, this administration is proposing exceptions for pesticides that would be used on golf courses. Wetstone concluded by stating that he would rather be fighting for what to do next instead of fighting for issues that have already been addressed.

Professor Bowen complimented Wetstone’s speech by pointing out the importance of linking science and policy and to understand the importance the quality of our environment has on the quality of our health. He pointed out that although humans may respect a state or nation’s boundaries, the environment does not. With our oceans under stress, this affects people from all nations. With 60% of our seafood being imported, and international standard for the health of oceans worldwide, we risk eating from polluted waters. He finished by stating a “global challenge needs a global solution.”

DiBona, a graduate of UMB, noted how the budget cuts are affecting the environmental policies. Before the budget cuts caused a 20% reduction in staffing, the EPA had a hard time making sure that environmental policies were adhered to. Also with the recent budget cuts, the state is cutting programs where there are no federal mandates. This means that if the federal government does not have a mandate on a particular environmental issue, the state of Massachusetts will not support funding to make sure such an issue is addressed.

McCarthy, also a graduate of UMB, was deeply grateful and honored to be back at UMB. She has served in the governor’s office through 5 governors, and was always asked about her background. Here at UMB she received her degree in social anthropology and studied primitive cultures and so, she noted, she is quite familiar with legislatures. She went on to elaborate about her experience as a student at UMB. She valued the richness of the student population and how this taught her to talk about issues in terms of real life. On another note, she noted how in fighting environmental issues we are fighting ourselves. Within a democracy it is not enough to fight for the right issues but it is imperative to sell the right issues.

Professor Ward noted that the policies that came from the 1970’s to protect the environment did not drop from the sky. Overall, the discussion made the spectator aware of the importance of linking science and policy when addressing environmental issues. The health of the environment is related to health of its the inhabitants which leads to the quality human well-being.