Lo Schiavo Science center and plaza.
Environmental Science, BS

José de Acosta Lecture Series

The José de Acosta lecture series was initiated through the generous donation of USF Alumna and Board of Trustees member Michelle Skaff and her husband Dan.

José de Acosta was a sixteenth-century Jesuit scientist who, nearly 300 years before Charles Darwin's work on natural selection, studied natural history issues in South America. He based his work on meticulous observation and keen insight and wrote extensively on wildlife, atmospheric science, oceanography, and anthropology.

Past Highlights

From Space to Village: Using Satellites and Mapping Tools to End International Poverty
Carrie Stokes

Carrie Stokes is the first Geographer of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), where she established and directs the USAID GeoCenter. Prior to becoming the Chief Geographer, Carrie led the SERVIR program in a joint venture with USAID and NASA. She has worked for more than 25 years in international development and the environment. She is the recipient of the 2016 Association of American Geographers Gilbert White Public Service Award and was selected as a finalist for the prestigious Service to America Medal (Sammies).

Carrie Stokes highlighted the critical role that mapping, and satellite imagery can play in making decisions for humanitarian assistance across the globe. She discussed the creation of the USAID GeoCenter, and training and support that the GeoCenter has provided in the use of geospatial tools and analysis across the entire agency. In addition, she emphasized the importance of on-the-ground partnerships to empower local communities with information and insight from these power tools to address poverty and improve human well-being.

From Silent Spring to Silent Night: A Tale of Toads and Men
Dr. Tyrone Hayes

Tyrone Hayes is a Professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at UC Berkeley. Dr. Hayes has published widely on the potential of genetic adaptation and the role of hormones in the development of amphibians. He has received multiple research and teaching awards, including the Distinguished Teaching Award from UC Berkeley, and the President's Citation Award from the American Institute of Biological Science.

Dr. Hayes reviewed impacts of the herbicide atrazine as an endocrine disrupter on amphibian populations. Pesticides like atrazine are ubiquitous, persistent contaminants and, though more pronounced in amphibians, their effects occur across all vertebrate classes. Many of these impacts and their mechanisms are being revealed only now in the scientific literature, and agencies are just beginning to deal with this emergent science and translate it efficiently into health-protective policies. Ethnic minorities and lower socio-economic communities are at greater risk to many of these environmental hazards. Given the importance of this science and relevance to public health, there is a strong need to translate this information and provide public access to this knowledge.

Climate change and sustainability: What’s physics, ethics and communication got to do with it?
Dr. Jim White

Jim White is a Professor in the Department of Geological Sciences and the Environmental Studies Program at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He is the Director of the Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research. His two main research areas are paleo- environmental reconstructions from ice cores and past and modern controls on the carbon cycle, and he is an author on over 160 peer-reviewed publications, including thirty in Science and Nature.

Dr. White discussed two of the grand challenges of today and the foreseeable future: crafting sustainable societies and confronting climate change. He explored the basic messages that often get lost in today’s polarized rhetoric around these topics, including the limitations that physics places upon us, the challenges of communicating science to the public, and the ethical issues that will ultimately shape the debate. He also discussed why facing these challenges may be one of the best things humans could ever do to benefit ourselves.

The Hawaiian Islands as a Model for Human–Environment Interactions
Dr. Peter Vitousek

Peter Vitousek is the Clifford G. Morrison Professor of Population and Resource Studies in the Department of Biology at Stanford University. He is a Fellow of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was awarded the 2010 Japan Prize. He is director of the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources and co-director of the First Nations Futures Institute.

Dr. Vitousek presented his work on the Hawaiian Islands as a model for human-environment interactions. His research interests include: evaluating the global cycles of nitrogen and phosphorus, and how they are altered by human activity; supporting agronomists in China in their development of high-yielding but low-impact cropping systems; determining the effects of invasive species on the workings of whole ecosystems; understanding how the interaction of land and culture contributed to the sustainability of Hawaiian society before European contact; and more generally using the extraordinary ecosystems of Hawai`i as models for understanding how the world works.

Harmonizing People and Nature: A New Business Model
Dr. Gretchen Daily

Gretchen Daily is the Bing Professor of Environmental Science in the Department of Biology at Stanford University. She is also a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment, and Director of the Center for Conservation Biology. She is Co-Director of The Natural Capital Project, a partnership among Stanford University, The Nature Conservancy, World Wildlife Fund, and the University of Minnesota, whose goal is to align economic forces with conservation.

Even in the face of intensifying pressures and risks on the global environmental front, there is a growing feeling of Renaissance in the conservation community. This flows from the promise in reaching, together with a much more diverse and powerful set of leaders than in the past, for new approaches that align economic forces with nature conservation, and that explicitly link human and environmental well-being. Around the world, leaders are increasingly recognizing ecosystems as natural capital assets that supply life-support services of tremendous value.

The challenge is to turn this recognition into incentives and institutions that will guide wise investments in natural capital, on a large scale. Gretchen Daily discussed the advances being made on two key fronts. The first is the development of new science and tools for valuing Nature, such as InVEST, a software system developed by the Natural Capital Project for Integrated Valuation of Ecosystem Services and Tradeoffs. The second advance is in new policies and finance mechanisms being implemented worldwide, with examples from China, Latin America, and the United States.

The Biggest Bubble: Avoiding Ecological Collapse
Dr. Denis Hayes

Denis Hayes is president of the Bullitt Foundation and chairman of the board of trustees of the American Solar Energy Society. He was national coordinator of the first Earth Day in 1970, and he served as the director of the federal Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter administration. Photo by Robert Stone.

Hayes argued that the biggest bubble - encompassing the entire global economy - is an ecological bubble. We are liquidating the Earth's natural capital and not reflecting this on our books. Hayes proposed several sensible policies that, if adopted, could deflate this international bubble before it leads to a catastrophic collapse.

Innovations for a Low-Carbon Society
Dr. Daniel Kammen

Daniel Kammen is a professor in both the Goldman School of Public Policy and the Energy and Resources Group at the University of California, Berkeley, where he co-directs the Institute of the Environment and serves as the Founding Director of the Renewable and Appropriate Energy Laboratory.

What will it take to make the transition to a low-carbon society? In the aftermath of the Copenhagen Climate summit, it is imperative that ecologically, economically, and socially effective strategies move into widespread use. This talk examined both scientific/technical and political/economic opportunities to put this low-carbon economy into practice and into the marketplace of not only ideas, but of business. This talk explored what rates of innovation and change can meet ‘Nature’s mandate.’

The Future of Water: Finding a Path to Sustainability
Dr. Peter Gleick

Dr. Gleick is co-founder and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment and Security in Oakland, California. His research and writing address the critical connections between water and human health, the hydrologic impacts of climate change, sustainable water use, privatization and globalization, and international conflicts over water resources.

Can We Define, Let Alone Fix, "Dangerous" Climate Change?
Dr. Stephen Schneider

Dr. Stephen Schneider (now deceased) was the Melvin and Joan Lane Professor for Interdisciplinary Environmental Studies at Stanford University, as well as a Professor of Biological Science and a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute of the Environment. Dr. Schneider received numerous awards for his scientific research and his ability to integrated and explain the results of climate change research to the broader public.

Evaluating the consequences of climate change outcomes to determine those that may be considered "dangerous" is a complex undertaking, involving substantial uncertainties as well as value judgments. For an efficient functioning of a democracy the electorate needs to understand the trade-offs between the use of limited resources for economic development on the one hand and protecting the sustainability of our environmental assets on the other hand. Probabilistic estimation is an important method to treat such uncertainties. This task inevitably involves a mix of objective and subjective probability measures. What integrated assessment modeling can do to help explicate this important interdisciplinary scientific and political question is an issue that was explored in this lecture.