One of the most pressing issues of our time is climate change. The tremendous changes impact our societies, both on local and global levels. From the Rutgers Climate and Environmental Change Initiative to the Rutgers Center for Green Building, Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, has become a critical site that collects, provides, and analyzes information; it is a place where explanations are searched for and solutions are offered through many diverse programs, research initiatives, and activities. In fact, seven current members of Rutgers faculty, Anthony Broccoli, Paul Falkowski, Jennifer Francis, Monica Mazurek, David A. Robinson, Alan Robock, and Georgiy Stenchikov participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in December of 2007.
The Rutgers Climate and Environmental Change Initiative (CECI), brings together faculty from different departments, such as the Department of Environmental Sciences, the Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, and schools like the Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy (BSPPP) to investigate and model significant climate and environmental changes at global and regional levels. Through research, teaching, providing support for graduate students, and numerous outreach activities, CECI members engage diverse communities at Rutgers and across New Jersey in learning and understanding climate change and exploring the impact of these changes. Six working groups explore diverse aspects of climate and environmental change. These are: Climate: Past, Present and Future; Coastal Environment, Infrastructure, and Communities; Education and Outreach; Freshwater Resources, Ecosystems, and Agriculture; Human Health; and Human Dimensions.
The Rutgers Initiative on Climate and Society (RICS), led by Robin Leichenko, is an interdisciplinary initiative in the areas of social sciences and humanities that focuses on the social, economic, and political dimensions of climate change. RICS’s primary concerns include the social and economic forces causing climate change, the impacts of climate change on cities, communities, and individuals, and behavioral and policy responses to climate change. Faculty research looks at how extreme climate and longer term climactic shifts affect different social groups, particularly the underprivileged, and lead to increases in inequalities, vulnerabilities, and undermine development and growth. RICS also explores the social and equity implications of policy responses to climate change.
The Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources (DEENR) specializes in conservation as well as ecology and evolution. Faculty study the evolutionary sources and continuation of biodiversity, preserving and restoring ecosystems, and matters of global change. The DEENR offers undergraduate and graduate programs and has partnerships with the Center for Urban Restoration Ecology, the Chrysler Herbarium and Rutgers Mycological Herbarium, and the Gentian Network, among others.
The Office of the New Jersey State Climatologist (ONJSC), led by director and state climatologist, David A. Robinson, is located at Rutgers. The ONJSC serves as the focal point for activities pertaining to the past, current, and future climate of New Jersey. The office collects and archives climate data that helps researchers understand change year-to-year and over time. The ONJSC promotes awareness by providing information and analysis and educating the citizens of New Jersey as well as informing state officials. Robinson is a leading expert on snow cover and runs the Global Snow Lab (GSL), which is sponsored by NASA and NOAA.
Looking toward the future, the Rutgers Center for Green Building, located at the BSPPP, promotes green building through investigation, education, and training. The center researches existing and planned projects, such as green affordable housing for New Jersey’s workforce, and promotes these developments with industry, governmental, and not-for-profit agencies. Additionally, the center creates undergraduate, graduate, and professional education programs.
The Rutgers Energy Institute (REI) is dedicated to reducing the use of fossil fuels over time and finding solutions such as efficient energy use and biofuels in order to protect our environment. Experts from different fields around the university join together at REI in order to educate, advise, and conduct research on existing and potential energy sources.
Another research organization focused on climate and environmental change is the Institute for Marine and Coastal Sciences (IMCS), an institute that discovers and reports on critical changes that affect our oceans. The IMCS communicates on how climate change has affected coastal zones, the rise of sea levels, and the consequences for animal species.
For those who wish to study the physical science basis of climate and climate change, the Department of Environmental Sciences at the School of Environmental and Biological Sciences is taking impressive educational strides. Prospective students can enroll in the Undergraduate Program in Environmental Sciences, Undergraduate Program of Bioenvironmental Engineering, or the Undergraduate Program in Meteorology. Graduate students can receive their M.S. or Ph.D. in Environmental Science or Atmospheric Science (The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked the Rutgers graduate program in atmospheric science as 5th in the nation in scholarly productivity). Rutgers Camden offers a graduate course in their Biology Department called “Global Climate Change.” Topics covered in the class include whether climate change is fact or fiction and the prediction of consequences due to climate change.
For students interested in interactions between climate and society, the Department of Human Ecology and the Department of Geography offer a wide array of undergraduate and graduate courses. Prospective students can enroll in the Undergraduate Program in Human Ecology or Undergraduate Program in Geography. The Geography Program also offers M.A., M.S., and Ph.D. degrees where prospective students may tailor their course of study to focus on a wide range of issues connected to climate change and its implications for society.
The Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences on the Rutgers Newark campus works closely with programs throughout the New Brunswick campus. The Department pays special attention to studies in atmospheric chemistry, ocean biogeochemistry, structural geology, and near surface geophysics. Students can major in those topics or receive a teacher certification through the program. There is also a successful Ph.D. program available for those who wish to further their education. The Department has close ties with the York Center for Environmental Engineering and Science, the Meadowlands Environmental Research Institute, the New Jersey Institute of Technology, and the Highlands Environmental Research Institute.
The Ecology and Evolution Graduate Program offers graduate students education and instruction in microbial, animal, plant, and human ecology at the New Brunswick, Camden, and Newark campuses as well as at two marine stations, a field station, and the Cary Institute for Ecosystem Studies in New York. Faculty passionately research conservation, evolutionary, and marine biology as well as ecosystem, microbial, population and community, and restoration ecology.
Faculty at the Department of Human Ecology use their knowledge to study how humans affect the environment and how in turn the environment affects humans. Examples of research include: homeowner pesticide use; environmental science and policy in China; social and economic effects of regulatory changes on fishermen; and research in countries such as South Africa, Indonesia, Ecuador, and South Korea. Students can major or minor in Environmental Policy, Institutions, and Behavior, or they can choose to get a certificate in Social Strategies for Environmental Protection regardless of their major.
By combining the strengths of many individuals and departments across the university, Rutgers is taking strides in understanding and educating on climate and environmental change as well as addressing prevention. The Rutgers community looks forward to seeing those efforts continue to make a difference.