Environmental Science, Policy & Engineering Program


This year's ESPE winter seminar series is devoted to “Feeding the World”.

Providing a sufficient supply of nutritious food to the world’s population is a monumental goal that we have not yet fully achieved. Furthermore, the production of food through agriculture is a dominant driver behind many of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges. With global population expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century and with rising standards of living across many parts of the world, food production will likely need to increase substantially to ensure food security for the global population. However, the need for increased food production in coming decades poses a serious dilemma – namely, how can we increase production sustainably to ensure that we do not damage our environment in ways that threatens food production and the functioning of the Earth’s ecosystems?

This winter, the ESPE Winter Seminar Series explores these issues in a series of three talks, all of which are free and open to the public and will be held at Union College in the Nott Memorial.

Wednesday, February 1st, 2023 6:00PM

John Marston, Boston University

John Marston, Boston University

John Marston, Associate Professor of Archaeology and Anthropology, Boston University

Agricultural origins, development, and sustainability in archaeological perspective

The origins of agriculture have been the subject of intensive archaeological study for over a century. We now know that agriculture was independently developed in different times and ecological contexts in multiple places across the globe, greatly complicating early monocausal explanations for agricultural origins. Contemporary archaeological research has expanded beyond origins to study the intensification of agricultural economies and their role in environmental change. This talk highlights recent research on both the complexity of agricultural origins and the changing roles of agriculture in human societies of Eurasia over the last 10,000 years, centered on the question of how we identify sustainable agricultural systems in the past.

Wednesday, February 15th, 2023 5:00 PM

Sonali Shukla McDermid, New York University

Sonali Shukla McDermid, NYU

Sonali McDermid, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies, NYU

More crops, less drops? Co-benefits and tradeoffs of agricultural mitigation and adaptation

There is an increasing focus on reducing agricultural GHG emissions, while also facilitating cropping systems’ adaptation to climate change. Much of this combined agriculture mitigation and adaptation work centers on managed soils’ carbon and nutrient processes, and interactions with water. I will present two on-going projects evaluating agricultural soil-water-crop interactions and discuss implications for climate mitigation and/or adaptation. I will first describe new, on-going work using an integrated climate-crop modeling framework to evaluate if and how alternative management, particularly of water, can minimize trade-offs between mitigation (e.g. GHG emissions) and adaptation (e.g. yield, water) in rice systems at sites across South and Southeast Asia. Preliminary results suggest that while specific combinations of management options, including conservation water and soil management, can provide mitigation and adaptation benefits, several trade-offs may exist between yield, GHG reductions, water use efficiency and other key biophysical dimensions. Furthermore, some socio-economic dimensions, e.g. on-farm labor availability, are still largely under-explored but may serve as important constraints on the adoption and scaling of alternative management. I will then zoom out to the global scale to briefly overview recent work quantifying how large-scale soil degradation on managed lands may impact climate adaptation in major agricultural areas via changes in soil water holding capacity. In doing so, I will highlight why new approaches to soil and water management are critical to agricultural mitigation and adaptation goals, and consider major research needs, uncertainties, and ways forward to address them from a modeling perspective.

Wednesday, February 22nd, 6:00PM

Aubrey Streit Krug, The Land Institute

Aubrey Streit Krug, The Land Institute

Aubrey Streit Krug, Director of Ecosphere Studies, The Land Institute

Realizing Roots: Toward More Just, Diverse, and Perennial Grain Agroecosystems

Deeply-rooted perennial grain crops, grown in diverse systems, could become staple foods that help nourish people while sustaining the soil, water, air, and biodiversity of the ecosphere. But to make a more just and perennial food future possible in the face of climate change, both scientific knowledge and sociocultural change are needed. Aubrey Streit Krug will present an introduction to the collaborative work of The Land Institute to develop diverse perennial grain agroecosystems. Drawing from her transdisciplinary research and training in the environmental humanities, Streit Krug will explore how we might build more enduring agricultural systems rooted in shared sufficiency.