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Annual conference of environmental journalists opens at MIT

About 500 reporters will gather at MIT tomorrow (Thursday, Oct. 26) for the Fifth National Conference of the Society of Environmental Journalists, which runs through Sunday, Oct. 29.

The official opening and first plenary session will be Friday morning at Kresge Auditorium, where welcoming remarks will be given by MIT President Charles M. Vest and Professor Mario J. Molina. Dr. Molina is one of three environmental scientists awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in chemistry for showing that human activities can imperil the fragile ozone layer that protects the world from the dangerous ultraviolet radiation of the sun.

The keynote addresses will be given on Friday by Elizabeth Dowdeswell, Under Secretary-General for the UN Environment Program and the UN Center for Human Settlements (Habitat), and on Saturday by Harvard University Professor Edward O. Wilson, the Pellegrino Professor and the curator in entomology at Harvard's Museum of Comparative Zoology.

David Ropeik of WCVB-TV, Boston, the 1995 conference chair, and Emilia Askari of the Detroit Free Press, SEJ board president, will welcome the participants. Former Massachusetts Governor and Democratic presidential candidate Michael J. Dukakis will moderate a roundtable discussion which includes MIT Professor and Nobel laureate Henry Kendall, the head of the Union of Concerned Scientists, on what's happening with environmental issues based on a 1995 national poll that asked Americans for their opinions on environmental matters and on how they think Congress, the Clinton administration and the media are handling these issues.

On Saturday morning, Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt will host a small group session, and Vice President Albert Gore, who has taken a keen interest in environmental issues, is scheduled to speak late Saturday afternoon or Saturday evening in Kresge Auditorium, followed by a question-and-answer session.

The journalists attending the conference will include the International Federation of Environmental Journalists, who are meeting at Tufts University today.

Thursday has been designated "Tour Day." It will include trips to the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, the Northern Forest stretching across the northern reaches of New England and New York, and Boston Harbor, once one of the filthiest harbors in America but now clean enough for swimming on most days, thanks to a new sewage treatment system for Greater Boston. There will also be programs on electric cars and urban environmental issues.

Friday activities will include a computer workshop on analyzing environmental data, a limited-registration "News of the Future Tour" of MIT's Media Lab, and lunch in Rockwell Cage with Ms. Dowdeswell, who became the highest-ranking woman in the United Nations with her appointment in 1993.

Friday panels will include International Sea Wars: Fighting for the Last Fish; Biodiversity as a Local Story; The Environment in International Trade and Politics; Human/Nature: An Ecosystem Approach to Body, Mind and Spirit; Environment on the World Wide Web, and Using E-Mail for Information Gathering.

At an afternoon plenary session, a panel of leading reporters based in Washington will provide an update on pending legislation and an assessment of the mood of Congress. The day will end with an MIT Research Reception, at which conference participants will meet and mingle with MIT researchers who will informally discuss their work on the environment.

Saturday activities will include a morning plenary session on the topic, "Environmental Journalism Ethics: Are We Scaring the World to Death?" and lunch in Rockwell Cage with keynote speaker Edward O. Wilson of Harvard University.

Panels will include Land Use and Property Rights; Endocrine Disrupters: Human and Animal Health; Global Climate Change; Building a Sustainable Society; MIT Tour: Plasma Technology for Waste Treatment; The New England Fisheries Crisis: A Case Study; Journalists and Scientists: Why Does it Often Seem We're at War?; Particulate Air Pollution: An Emerging Public Health Concern, and Environment on the World Wide Web.

There will be an evening cocktail and dessert reception and an auction at the Boston Museum of Science.

The conference concludes on Sunday with field expeditions that include a whale watch tour and a visit to Walden Pond that includes panels at the Thoreau Institute, among them: Writers on Writing; Environmental History: Past, Present and Future, and Writing for TV.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on October 25, 1995.

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