For four decades, since my days as a graduate student at the Energy and Resources Group, I’ve worked with others to puzzle out how we might get to a future that works — a future that is environmentally sustainable, socially just, dynamic and innovative, and just plain beautiful. Given my affinity for undergraduate education, my primary professional locales have been small liberal-arts colleges: Allegheny College and Oberlin College in the United States and, now, Yale-NUS College in Singapore.
Like all walks in the woods it’s been a crooked path. I’ve worked as an energy consultant for Pacific Gas and Electric Company in San Francisco, a research associate with the energy office of the City and County of San Francisco, and a program associate and staff writer with The International Project for Soft Energy Paths, an early Amory Lovins project in association with Friends of the Earth.
Later, my Fulbright-scholar PhD research took me to rural India — and my work, which illuminated the social impacts of village renewable energy systems, won praise by the World Resources Institute. I co-founded two award-winning environmental organizations, served as Academic Dean on a floating university, and have been honored for my teaching and scholarship. I also helped run the world’s largest (by volume) frozen yogurt shop at the time, in Berkeley, California. I can still fill cones and serve up sundaes with the best of them.
Over the years I’ve enjoyed opportunities to experiment with educational designs for environmental sustainability and social change. My first job out of graduate school saw me launching an environmental studies program within the department of Geography at Radford University. The program became a blazing success — too successful, in fact, going from zero to 80+ students in three years with declining resources.
I moved on to Allegheny College, a nationally ranked liberal-arts college, to fill a newly created joint-appointment in political science and environmental science. Twenty years later, after a wonderful run at Allegheny (props to all my colleagues there) and multiple teaching stints with Semester at Sea (still going strong!), I joined Oberlin College’s program in environmental studies for two years to assist with curricular redesign. Yale-NUS College was being birthed around this time, a friend suggested that I apply to lead the new environmental studies program and, lo and behold, here I am, typing these words just north of the equator with kopi in hand.
These days I’m writing up the story behind “the trinity of despair,” working through a book on the attractions and limitations of “green living,” and launching a project on social innovation, higher education, and a post-growth world. These projects, and the undergraduate teaching I do around the same themes, reflect my faith in our collective ability to transition to high-prosperity, low-growth economies that are central to the “future that works” I mention above. Higher education has a special role to play in this transition, the details of which I expect to flesh out over the next few years.
In addition to my work at Yale-NUS College, I am active in the environmental studies section of the International Studies Association and maintain the primary listserv for scholars and teachers of global environmental politics, which I launched in 1994. I also serve as an Associate Editor for the Journal of Environmental Studies and Science, and consult with colleges and universities on the design and function of their environmental science and studies programs.
For my wife, Rebecca (a librarian at Singapore Management University), our son Elliot, and our two cats, Rowan and Stacey, Singapore has become home. It continues to hold culinary and other surprises for us, and offers a splendid vantage point onto a fascinating region of the world.
Last Update: 17 August 2018
Unless otherwise noted, all images are from my personal collection or licensed by Shutterstock or Creative Commons