Hi all -
Happy Friday before Thanksgiving! At this time of the year, I think many of us are ready for a little break from studying, teaching, writing, advising, and thinking. I hope you all take some time away to recharge for the final push this semester.
One of the biggest differences between Denmark, where we lived for about four years, and the US is that Danes are serious about work-life balance. Most Danes adhere to the 37-hour work week, which means that when 2PM on Friday rolls around, many Danes start their weekends. Many of my Danish colleagues didn't email after hours or on weekends. They paused during the day for coffee breaks and cake breaks (Danes look for reasons to bring in cake). And they were generally happy at work.
But the Danes also embrace vacation time. Of course, it helps if you're guaranteed at least six weeks of paid vacation per year. Many Danes took the entire month of July off and would completely unplug. Some shops would close. Colleagues would turn off their computers and ignore emails. The Danes aren't alone. Workers in other European countries are guaranteed at least 5 weeks of paid vacation.
You might be saying, but surely taking all of that vacation time hurts productivity! Well, I wouldn't be writing about vacation time and productivity if that were the case. Nine of the top 10 most productive countries in the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in 2015, measured by GDP per hour worked, are in Europe. The United States ranked sixth. And of course that time off can also reinvigorate the mind and body and provide inspiration.
All of that is to say that I hope you all get to enjoy some time off over the next week, that you come back ready to finish up the year. And finally, my sincere hope for all of you is that you have many things to be thankful for, and you get to celebrate with good food, good friends, and your loved ones.
All the best -
All - I love the Education Life Section of the NY Times. And, this piece, though from Nov 3, is timely, given that many potential students are thinking about their major were they to come to UVM, and many students at UVM are considering changing majors. That’s it for today!
Along with first-class teachers, we also have world-class scholars in the Environmental Program doing impactful research. The below was an announcement from the Gund Institute about an EPA grant awarded to Rachelle Gould. Because I want all of you to know about this important work, and to celebrate Rachelle’s continued successes, I thought I’d send this along that write one of my usual missives. Brendan Fisher is also involved in the project, as are several other UVM faculty.
Nov. 1, 2017
EPA Awards UVM $598K to Explore Links Among Algal Blooms, Human Health, Community Action
The University of Vermont has received a $598,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to investigate links between harmful algal blooms and human well-being, and to explore how a community along Lake Champlain works to take action based on scientific information about those links. In lakes and ponds worldwide, cyanobacteria blooms, also known as “blue-green algae,” threaten water quality, ecosystem health and human well-being.
“Science has demonstrated multiple links between cyanobacteria blooms and human health and well-being,” said lead principal investigator Rachelle Gould of UVM’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources. “This project explores links of emerging concern and then investigates how the community processes that information.”
The three-year project combines natural and social sciences to study both the blooms’ impacts and the community responses to data about those impacts. A team of interdisciplinary researchers will investigate how algal toxins may travel in fish tissue and as aerosols, and how the blooms affect non-material aspects of well-being such as connection to place. The team will then analyze how communities process scientific information about these links to human well-being and how people feel empowered or disempowered to affect change.
“In many communities, awareness of these concerns has not readily transformed into policy and behavior change that could reduce bloom impacts,” said Gould, who specializes in research investigating relationships between ecosystems and human well-being, and in environmental learning. “There is, of course, a complex suite of reasons why that information and concern don’t translate to action," she said. "To help communities develop preventative or adaptive measures, one important step is to explore how people process complex information and determine how to make change. Our community partners on the project are critical to helping us understand that.”
Gould and collaborator Brendan Fisher, of the Rubenstein School and the Gund Institute for Environment, will engage communities in and around the city and town of St. Albans, Vermont, located along the northern shore of Lake Champlain. St. Albans Bay is a hotspot for cyanobacteria blooms.
Partnership with local nonprofit organizations is a crucial component of the project. Project partners include Franklin Grand Isle Community Action and Lake Champlain International.
“Recognizing that households with limited resources are often impacted disproportionally by adverse environmental conditions, this study will better equip our agency to anticipate the future needs of low-income households in the affected areas and help them strategize about effective remedies,” said Robert Ostermeyer, director of the Franklin Grand Island Community Action program. This program of the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity helps to address issues of economic, social and racial justice for residents of northern Lake Champlain communities.
Low income households can be disproportionately impacted by the transfer of algal toxins to fish tissue used for human consumption. Jason Stockwell, director of the Rubenstein Ecosystem Science Laboratory on Burlington’s lakeshore and co- principal investigator on the grant, will lead efforts to understand the impacts of algal toxins in the tissues of fish.
“We have very little information about how many and how much cyanobacteria toxins can accumulate in fish,” said Stockwell. “We will be evaluating a long list of potential toxins, including neurotoxins, that are typically not assessed in fish tissues.”
“I congratulate Dr. Gould and Dr. Stockwell and their team for taking on such an important, but complicated, set of questions,” said Vermont U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy who strongly supported this grant award from the EPA. “I am proud that the EPA selected this project, based at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School, to help us learn more about how water pollution and algae blooms may affect our health and our communities.”
Other collaborators on the grant include Jana Kraft in the UVM Department of Animal and Veterinary Sciences; Elijah Stommel at the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth; Todd Miller at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Zilber School of Public Health; and James Ehlers of Lake Champlain International. Rubenstein School Ph.D. students Diana Hackenburg and Natalie Flores will conduct their dissertation research on aspects of the project.
The UVM grant was one of four grants funded, and part of more than $2 million awarded, by the EPA in October 2017 in the research area of Integrating Human Health and Well-Being with Ecosystem Services. The grant comes through the EPA’s Science to Achieve Results (STAR) program administered by the EPA Office of Research and Development’s National Center for Environmental Research. The research area supports collaborative, community-based research to improve people’s understanding of how ecosystems support human health and well-being and to better inform community decision-making and management practices.
I’m writing to you from Nashville, Tennessee. This isn’t a work trip though. My parents live in Arkansas, and I flew there on Wednesday afternoon. Now, my mom and I are driving from Arkansas to Vermont. She’s always wanted to drive from Arkansas, over to North Carolina, then up through the Appalachian Mountains to New England during the fall. So, she and I are doing that this weekend. She’s likely missed seeing peak foliage in Vermont, but I bet Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains are going to be lovely.
Despite being on the road, I wanted to share a new term I encountered this week – “a swerve.” Of course, we all know what a swerve is. I’ve had to swerve several times on Interstate 40 between Memphis and Nashville. But the new use of swerve that I came across this week was in an interview with Robert Jay Lifton. Lifton is a psychiatrist and author who has written about some of the most globally traumatic events in the 20th century and how our minds grapple with them, the psychological impacts of the trauma, and how our minds might influence how we perceive such tragedies. Lifton’s book about the people who survived Hiroshima won the National Book Award.
Lifton’s newest book is called The Climate Swerve: Reflections on Mind, Hope, and Survival. In the book (which I really want to read), Lifton posits that climate change, for many people, is becoming an increasing reality, largely due to mounting evidence (mostly from natural disasters), economics, and ethics. And it’s that shift in viewpoint that Lifton calls a swerve. I can tell you that many of my relatives in Arkansas are experiencing a swerve right now. Here’s a fascinating interview with Lifton.
I’m really not trying to sell Lifton’s book for him, but I thought I’d share the blurbs with you just to give you a sense of what it’s about.
“From one of the foremost chroniclers of the twentieth century’s other great dilemma, we now have these powerful reflections on climate change—they set in useful and vivid context this great crisis, and will be of use to all as we try to think our way through it.”
— Bill McKibben
“In the 1980s, Robert Jay Lifton gave us the term ‘psychic numbing,’ to explain how people coped with the threat of nuclear annihilation by denying or at least discounting it. While denial might be beneficial to an individual, it was potentially catastrophic to society if it led us to fail to act to address the threat. In this important new work, Lifton addresses the existential threat of our day: climate change. He offers us the ‘climate swerve,’ not as explanation but as a source of hope. We can swerve: we can become aware, change our ways, and avoid disaster. For one of our great qualities as humans is that we have the capacity to anticipate the future and act accordingly. Most important, the heart of the swerve is the commitment to telling the truth about climate change, which Lifton does unflinchingly in this courageous and crucial book.”
—Naomi Oreskes, author of Merchants of Doubt and The Collapse of Western Civilization
“Robert Lifton’s brave life, and his succession of masterful books on the most urgent questions of our time, have prepared him for this—perhaps the most urgent and timely of all his works. A rare combination of clear-eyed realism and chosen hope, The Climate Swerve comes just in time to move politics and resistance to the next, necessary level. A treasure still, Lifton is a prophet again.”
—James Carroll, author of House of War
“Robert Jay Lifton’s The Climate Swerveoffers original and penetrating insights into the psychological workings of the human mind as it grapples with the largest ethical issue before us—the reality of human-made climate change. Lifton’s lifetime work as a scholar of mass violence and human survival is brought to bear in his brilliant exploration of the problem that challenges every person and nation on the planet. This is a necessary, timely and urgent book.”
—Peter Balakian, Pulitzer Prize–winning author of Ozone Journal and Black Dog of Fate
OK. Onward to Virginia!
If you would like to work with Nate
Please email him a summary of your research experience and research goals, along with a CV.