The University Record, October 22, 2001

Environmental problems vary by a matter of degrees

By Noel Rozny

Bierbaum and former Interim SNRE Dean Barry Rabe met with the news media. (Photo by Bill Wood, U-M Photo Services)
Rosina Bierbaum, dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment (SNRE), presented the inaugural “Peter M. Wege Lecture: Charting Courses in Sustainability” Oct. 17.

Bierbaum’s talk “Environmental Challenges for the 21st Century: A Matter of Degrees,” examined ecological problems facing the world today. Bierbaum spoke of three different “degrees” of environmental problems: degree of temperature—or rise in temperature due to climate change; degree or extent of environmental insult or damage; and degree of latitude and longitude—how different regions will be affected by environmental change.

Emphasizing the effect different ecological systems have on each other, Bierbaum quoted John Muir: “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, you may find it attached to everything else in the world.”

Bierbaum made use of charts and tables to show how one factor, such as climate change, influences air quality, ozone depletion, biodiversity loss and desertification. Bierbaum noted “climate change is the most dangerous problem facing us” but it is not the only problem.

After Bierbaum’s talk, Stephen W. Director, dean of the College of Engineering, said, “U-M, with its very broad excellence in a wide variety of relevant fields, is a good place to start working on some of these [problems].” He explained the important role of technology in understanding causes and finding solutions to environmental problems.

Douglas S. Kelbaugh, dean of the A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, explained how changes in urban populations can impact the environment. Migration from cities to suburbs increases the amount people drive, Kelbaugh said, which increases the number of cars on the road and the amount of pollution that goes into the air. He suggested, as possible solutions, improvements in the transit system, increased use of bicycles, development of existing cities and beautification of these cities. “Things that are beautiful are things we take care of,” Kelbaugh said.

Carl Simon, professor in the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, noted “a true affinity with SNRE” and Public Policy. Both schools, Simon said, “are making a difference in the world, inside and outside academia.”

The Peter M. Wege Lecture will annually bring leaders in the field to speak on issues of sustainability.

Wege, retired vice-chairman of Steelcase Inc. and chair emeritus of the National Pollution Prevention Center (NPPC), has been a long time advocate of environmental issues. He served as the first chair of the external advisory board of NPPC and coined the term “economicology,” a field that combines theories of ecology and economics. Wege continues to be active with ecological societies and organizations worldwide.

The lecture also recognized the 10-year anniversary of SNRE’s Center for Sustainable Systems and the appointment Bierbaum as dean.