JUNE 2024

Commencement is the time of celebration, champagne, and family photos of smiling graduates proudly displaying their diplomas. No more. As higher education already reels under financial strains, budget, faculty and program cuts, and increasing campus mergers and closings, threats to shared governance, faculty autonomy, diversity, equity and inclusion, and academic freedom are also on the rise.

These direct political attacks from Congress, state legislatures and governors, Boards of Trustees and major donors, though originally claiming to focus on antisemitism, have already undercut teaching about environmental justice, evolution, and the history of inequities in income, health and political power. Finding solutions to the crisis of climate change will become more difficult, if not impossible, if this repressive trend continues. But resistance to turning American colleges and universities back to the McCarthy period, or even the days of gender and racial segregation, is growing among faculty, higher ed associations, unions, and some alumni and donors

Notably, as Andrea Manuel and Kirsten Weld report in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Harvard’s commencement saw over 1,000 faculty, students, and supporters walk out in protest over the Harvard Corporation’s (Board of Trustees) intervention to prevent the graduation of thirteen seniors who had been involved protests over the war in Gaza. Similarly, Keith E. Wittington, professor of politics at Princeton, argues that Harvard Dean of Social Science Laurence D. Bono’s recommendation that faculty speech should be limited is a threat to academic freedom with far wider implications.

The sudden removal from the Columbia Law Review website of an article critical of Israel also drew protests and was ultimately restored, but only, as Andrew Koppelman explains in the Chronicle, after attracting retaliation that has cast a wider shadow of fear over academic freedom.

The attacks on elite institutions like Harvard and Columbia are no accident since the American right-wing has long attempted to discredit such universities which are said to be anticapitalist and create a political class that seeks to regulate business, the environment, and personal behavior. Aside from the inaccuracy of these aspersions, elite universities like the “Ivy Plus” make up only a tiny fraction of American colleges and universities which have gone about the business of education free from controversial protests and the political assaults that have followed as you can read in “Colleges in Republicans’ Crosshairs Enroll Only a Sliver of U.S. College Students.”

Whether at elite institutions, or at those outside the political spotlight, American colleges and universities, including those in the Rachel Carson Council Network, continue to carry out research and education and offer much-needed solutions for environmental problems and sustainability. Take a look, for instance at Binghamton University’s and Appalachian State University’s recent recognition for their leading-edge climate research. And, closing out the “Climate Research” section in this month’s Campus Dispatch, media departments at both universities detail the tireless research, remarkable student involvement, and results of their program’s foray into clean energy technology and the influence of aerosols on climate.

In the “Wildlife Research” section of the Campus Dispatch, note how Michigan State University ecologists’ commitment to modernizing wildlife studies will inspire animal lovers as well. By incorporating human activity, a frequently excluded yet critical factor in species distribution modeling, MSU graduate student Veronica Frans and her noted advisor, Jianguo “Jack” Liu, the Rachel Carson Chair in Sustainability, analyzed over 12,000 studies of nearly 60,000 wildlife species around the world. They found that only a small fraction took human activity into account. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS)’ EurekaAlert! stresses the momentous implications that this finding could have for the future of eco-modeling.

Those less interested in lab work and more interested in the outdoors will applaud the news of the award to Catawba College, a member of the RCC Campus Network, of the Arbor Day Foundation’s 2023 Tree Campus status. The award is given to those colleges around the nation making their campuses “more livable, healthy, and beautiful, benefiting students and the environment as a whole.”

And to give voice to this generation’s often overlooked or misunderstood campus environmental leaders, we offer in “RCC Fellows Speak Out,” the unvarnished views of our current cohort of 2024 Rachel Carson Council Stanback Fellows. When these Fellows aren’t attending national conferences, presenting their academic research, advocating on Capitol Hill and in their state legislatures, and savoring the bounty of opportunities offered by a summer in Washington, DC, they are writing about it all. This month, RCC Stanback Fellows cover the oceans, delve into the issue of coastal erosion, recount one of the most important meetings of ocean leaders at the Capitol Hill Oceans Week (CHOW) conference, and call out the greenwashing sound bites at an offshore energy technology conference. They peer through the lenses of urban planning, international climate accounting, and tribal sovereignty to comment on legislation and change needed to build a more equitable, sustainable future. Look for their views on threats to pollinator health, the environmental justice implications of the wood pellet industry, and the widespread presence of microplastics in fashion and PFAS (“forever chemicals”) in just about everything. They also represent this generation’s unshakable commitment to solve the climate crisis and propel the arc of the moral universe toward justice. Our leaders in Washington would do well to learn from them – not just from their knowledge, but from their commitment.


Claudia Steiner — Director of Communications and Strategic Development
An environmental advocate around the clock, Claudia serves as the Director for Communications and Strategic Development at the Rachel Carson Council. She is a graduate of the American University where she studied International Studies and Environmental Science. As an undergraduate, Claudia organized with the university’s student-led divestment movement, helping to secure full divestment from the fossil fuel industry in 2020.

Bob Musil — RCC President and CEO
Bob Musil is the President & CEO of the Rachel Carson Council and author of Rachel Carson and Her Sisters: Extraordinary Women Who Have Shaped America’s Environment (Rutgers, 2016) and Washington in Spring: A Nature Journal for a Changing Capital (Bartleby, 2016). He is also the editor of the forthcoming annotated edition from Rutgers University Press of Rachel Carson’s Under the Sea-Wind with his Introduction, updated marine science, and historic and contemporary illustrations and photographs.

The Harvard Corporation Tries to Kill Faculty Governance

This is about a lot more than one university’s disciplinary action. Two weeks ago, roughly sixteen hours before commencement exercises at Harvard University were set to begin, the institution’s governing board, known as the Harvard Corporation, rejected the list of undergraduate degree candidates put forward by the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In its place, the corporation adopted a list that omitted thirteen graduating seniors. Each of those students had met all the academic requirements to graduate.


A Harvard Dean’s Assault on Faculty Speech

Laurence D. Bobo’s proposal would turn academic freedom upside down.

It is not surprising for a boss to think that employees should avoid saying things in public that might damage the organization for which they both work. It is not even surprising for the boss to understand “damage” to include making the boss’s own life more difficult. But college faculty members have fought very hard, for a very long time, to be protected from such attitudes.


‘Unprecedented Steps’: Board Pulls Plug on Columbia Law Review Website

After student editors published a submitted article Monday accusing Israel of genocide, the journal’s Board of Directors took the whole site down. One editor describes how it happened.

On Monday morning, the student-edited Columbia Law Review published its latest issue online. Hours later, the website became a blank white space with a one-line note saying, “Website is under maintenance.”


A Climate of Fear Comes for Scholarship

Last week, the Columbia Law Review’s board of directors shut down its website briefly because of concerns about the process by which it had published an article critical of Israel. The decision quickly called forth charges of censorship. Then the board reactivated the website, leading to allegations that it had “buckled.”

Both the editors and the board pushed against the boundaries of normal procedure. But we should focus on the broader context that shaped everyone’s behavior.


Colleges in Republicans’ Crosshairs Enroll Only a Sliver of U.S. College Students

Only about one percent of U.S. undergraduates attend the 12 mostly elite, mostly private institutions under Congressional scrutiny. But conservatives are casting them as emblematic of higher education writ large.

Following an explosive hearing in December about campus antisemitism, House Republicans have been ramping up their investigations of America’s colleges and universities.

The Hidden Language of Ocean Coral

For Logan Brenner, an adjunct associate research scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, joining the International Ocean Drilling Project’s (IODP) Expedition 389: Hawaiian Drowned Reefs was a dream opportunity. The project offered Brenner a chance to work among a group of scientists spanning nations, including Austria, China, France, Germany, Japan, Spain, and the U.K., and disciplines—physicists, geochemists, sedimentologists, paleomagnetists—and to further her own research into the planet’s past.


The Emerging Field of Sustainable Agriculture

I grew up in Brooklyn and have spent most of my life living in Morningside Heights in Manhattan; my only exposure to farming life was during the last of my five years living in Franklin, Indiana, when I delivered the Daily Journal Newspaper to farmers in rural Johnson and Brown counties. Occasionally, when the farmers were a little short of cash, they paid for their newspapers with produce. I know very little about farming, except that farmers seem to be the hardest-working people I’ve ever known.


Powering the Future: Watson College Researchers Develop Clean-energy Technology

The college hopes to hire eight new faculty members specializing in energy research for 2024–25.

As climate change increasingly threatens humanity — with 2023 as the hottest year on record worldwide — many scientists and engineers are seeking better ways to power our high-tech lifestyle without dangerous levels of carbon dioxide going into the atmosphere.


App State Faculty Awarded $531,902 National Science Foundation Grant to Study Aerosols’ Effects on the Climate

This fall, the National Science Foundation has awarded three faculty at Appalachian State University a three-year, $531,902 grant to support aerosol research at App State’s Appalachian Atmospheric Interdisciplinary Research (AppalAIR) facility and Applied Fluids Laboratory.

The interdisciplinary project — which began in September and will continue through August 2026 — is funded by NSF’s Major Research Instrumentation Program.

Humans Are the Elephant in the Room Where Conservation is Debated

Humans are outsized actors in the world’s wild places where there are struggles to preserve and protect vital natural resources and animals, birds and plants. Yet people and their plus-sized footprint are rarely discussed in models seeking to predict and plan for trajectories of endangered species.

Sustainability scholars at Michigan State University reveal the decades-long gaps in research and propose a new way of creating accurate visions for endangered species.

The Impossible College Presidency

Leaders face unreasonable demands and intolerable critics.

I suspect that I am not the only former college president who has experienced a mild bout of PTSD during the past several months, as the frequency, intensity, and visibility of attacks on presidents have increased to a level that would have been difficult to imagine even on my worst days. During my 17-year run as a president, I experienced many moments of joy and satisfaction.

Harvard Science and Engineering Complex (SEC)

Home to the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS), the 544,000-sf building designed by Behnisch Architekten is a living laboratory for interdisciplinary research, learning, and innovation.

The Science and Engineering Complex is big, but it was expressly designed to foster a sense of community—one that feels fluid, open, and accessible.


Circular Construction

A multinational team is upcycling old concrete and brick for new buildings in the Czech Republic. Abutting the Vltava River’s muddy bank on the outskirts of Prague, three new apartment buildings contain a potential breakthrough in sustainable architecture.

With help from the European Union and other partners, the multinational construction and development company Skanska has developed an industrial-quality, hybrid concrete by upcycling concrete and masonry rubble.

The University of Chicago’s New Climate Initiative

Brave research program or potentially dangerous foray into solar geoengineering?

In 2006, a group of preeminent scientists met for a two-day conference at the NASA Ames Research Center in California to discuss cooling the Earth by injecting particles into the stratosphere to reflect sunlight into space.

At some point, one of the conference rooms became overheated.

Catawba College Awarded Tree Campus Higher Education

Catawba College, a member of the Rachel Carson Council campus network, has been honored with a 2023 Tree Campus Higher Education recognition by the Arbor Day Foundation, reaffirming its commitment to creating a healthy environment on campus, according to the NC Forest Service.

“We are excited to obtain the Tree Campus Higher Education designation for 2023,” said Jeff Hartley, Catawba’s Landscape Account Manager.

The Ocean Comes to the Capitol

Every June, just before beach season, advocates for protection of the ocean and marine life flood the nation’s capital and wash across Capitol Hill hoping to get the public and policy makers to realize that the nearly three-quarters of our planet that shimmers in blue from those classic space photos is what life on Earth depends upon. Capitol Hill Ocean Week, or CHOW, is both an extended conference and advocacy days hosted by the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation during Ocean Month.


Climate Change-induced Coastal Erosion Causes NC Houses to Collapse, Poses Additional Threats

A waterfront house in Rodanthe, N.C. — a coastal town located on Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks — collapsed into the Atlantic Ocean the morning of May 28. The five-bedroom house built in 1970 was unoccupied at the time, and local officials closed a one-mile stretch of beach around the property for two days to remove debris. This isn’t the first time this has happened. According to the National Park Service, last month’s collapse is the sixth such event on the barrier island in the past four years


The Offshore Technology Conference: A Platform for Greenwashing?

The Offshore Technology Conference (OTC) held annually in Houston, Texas is one of the biggest energy events in the state. The conference is a hub for energy professionals to meet and exchange ideas to advance scientific and technical knowledge on offshore resources and environmental issues. With over 30,000 attendants last year, this annual event has the potential to produce remarkable offshore innovations. While the OTC claims to advance environmental matters, their efforts suggest otherwise.


From Pavement to Parks: Designing Cities for People and the Planet

When I imagine a carbon-neutral, sustainable, zero-waste future, I picture our cities with sprawling green spaces integrated into the architecture. There, I see some moss planted on the side of a brick building to help filter and cool the air. Anywhere there isn’t a building or a walkway, I see several trees rooted or some native wildflowers blooming. I don’t see any major roads, especially not downtown, which is pedestrian-only. Instead, there’s a high-speed, solar-powered metro that runs throughout the city.


The Sweetness of Honeybees

Growing up, every fall my family and I went to the North Carolina State Fair. Even though rides and tons of food were an exciting part of the experience, I always made sure I went to the agricultural building — a large metal box the size of my elementary school.

Inside, there are cows that you can milk, a pig family, a few horses, gigantic pumpkins, bushels of corn, painted peppers, and honeybees.


Corporate Climate Emissions: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

I first heard the term “climate outsourcing” when I was writing a research paper back in high school. While researching global warming and its impact on international relations, I discovered that developed countries, including the United States and Japan, have outsourced more than half of their greenhouse gas emissions to the developing world. Stunned by this fact, I read more reports and found out that major corporations in the U.S. like Microsoft and Walmart have been cheating on their climate commitments by transferring their supply chains overseas.


Oil or Caribou? Alaskan Tribes Struggle Over Development

There is a long-standing struggle in Alaska. To protect lands from oil and gas development, or not? Many environmentalists and perhaps many other folks would consider this an easy answer: the US should phase out of oil completely, and protecting land with a wealth of biodiversity is an “obvious” yes. Yet not everyone sees protecting the Alaskan environment as an easy decision, especially in light of environmental justice.


Attacked By PFAS?

I was eleven years old when I played with my best friend Camille at her house completely unaware of the contamination in the area. I remember splashing in the small creek at the park, making brownies in her kitchen, and playing soccer on the sports field. She lived 15 minutes from my house, on Seymour Johnson Air Force Base (AFB) in Goldsboro, North Carolina (NC). Maybe at age eleven I didn’t need to know, but I think it is a testimony to how environmental issues garner little attention.


Wardrobe Wasteland: Plastics in Your Clothing

The apparel (fashion) industry, particularly fast fashion, is infamously one of the largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions. But this is just one aspect of its environmental impact. A recent study revealed that plastic pollution is also pervasive throughout the apparel industry – and the statistics are shocking. It’s estimated that in 2019, the apparel industry generated an average of 8.3 million tons (Mt) of plastic pollution, which would be about 14% of all 60 Mt of industrial plastic pollution.


Why Are Drax and Wood Pellet Production in Small-town Mississippi?

Gloster, Mississippi, a small town nestled in the southern part of the state, has become the epicenter of a growing environmental and public health crisis. The culprit? A wood pellet plant that had earned a well-deserved reputation for being a “bad neighbor.” Owned and operated by Drax, a U.K.-based energy corporation, the Gloster facility produces wood pellets that are shipped overseas to energy markets in Europe that are able to falsely claim them as a clean, renewable source.


Pesticides in the Water?

After the Second World War to meet the growing food demands of an increasing population, farmers had to cultivate increasingly high-yield crops. To protect these crops from pests and prevent losses, the use of synthetic pesticides, including herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides was introduced.

Global pesticide production reached significant levels as worldwide pesticide production increased at a rate of about 11% per year.


Environmental Justice and Energy in North Carolina

In my first semester at Duke, I worked on a pro-bono consulting project at the Duke Energy and Climate Club. Our team helped Bex Power, a building decarbonization start-up in the Research Triangle, to research funding opportunities and conduct customer outreach. One of our most important finds was an insufficiently known, but extremely helpful, federal program for them called The North Carolina Energy Burden and Emissions Reduction Program (EBERP).


Fireflies: Can We Save Them?

Growing up, whenever we visited family on the East Coast, it was a guarantee that we would be greeted by fireflies (lightning bugs) at dusk. As the bright afternoon transitioned to a moodier and sometimes rainy evening with the constant din of cicadas and crickets, fields and parks would become a twinkling patchwork. the fireflies, blinking in their own Morse code, were trying to find a mate. As a kid, they were truly a magical sight, a marvel of nature. What better reason to go for night hikes and explore the beauty of nearby parks in the evening than an insect whose glowing mating ritual attracts the awe-filled attention of the human species as well as potential mates.


Can Environmental Justice Exist in Puerto Rico Without Autonomy?

I still remember my family’s first drive across Puerto Rico- a contradiction of sights. On one side, you had the other-worldly landscapes of green pastures, rich-green mountains, and the seaside view of palm trees and dazzling water against blazing heat. Across the island, past the tourist façade of San Juan, I saw another Puerto Rico: a land that has long been reeling from the effects of climate change in the aftermath of the infamous Hurricane Maria.

Our Summer 2024 Food and Farming Book Guide
As summer kicks off, we’ve got more than two dozen books to share with you.

To ring in the first day of summer, we at Civil Eats want to offer you a list of food and farming books we think are worth your time and attention. From memoirs to cultural histories to journalistic inquiries that take on topics ranging from plant intelligence to school food to climate migration, here are 21 titles we hope you’ll enjoy. We even tossed in a few cookbooks to shake up and inspire your summer meal prep. Wishing you time to rest, relax—and read!—in the weeks to come.

Click here to read

RCC prides itself on its National Campus Network of 68 colleges and universities. We are working to engage faculty members, students, and administrators in our efforts for a more just and sustainable world. With our growing fellowship program, our presence on campuses across the country has never been greater. Contact RCC today to bring our staff to your campus for lectures, workshops, or meetings to help find the best ways to engage your faculty and students in the efforts against climate change, environmental justice, and the work of the Rachel Carson Council.

Campus Visits with RCC President, Dr. Robert K. Musil

RCC President & CEO, Dr. Robert K. Musil, a national leader in climate change, environmental justice and health is again available to book for in-person campus speaking events! Musil has been called “informative, challenging and inspirational all at once.” He is “motivational” with “intellectual depth” and “extraordinary impact.”

Dr. Musil is available for campus lectures and visits involving classes, meetings with campus and community groups, consultations with faculty and administrators, or for Earth Day, Commencement, and other special events. Stays range from one to three days. Reduced fees are in place for 2024-2025 and can be designed to meet reduced budgets.

To arrange a campus visit with Dr. Musil, contact the RCC President’s Office at office@rachelcarsoncouncil.org.

The RCC also offers talks, classes, and workshops on student engagement, activism, sustainability, and the RCC Fellowship program with: Director of Communications, Claudia Steiner; Assistant Director of Research and Policy and Programs, Theo Daniels and Assistant Director of Research and Policy Programs, Joy Reeves.

To arrange, contact Director of Campus and Civic Engagement, Claudia Steiner.


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