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New center coordinates activities on environment

The Center for Environmental Initiatives (CEI) has been established to facilitate and coordinate Institute-wide activities -- including multidisciplinary research, curriculum development and outreach -- on emerging environmental and sustainability issues that affect worldwide development and welfare.

The director of CEI is David Marks, the James Mason Crafts Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Lawrence Bacow, the Martin Professor of Environmental Studies, is the associate director, and Joanne Kauffman, a research associate in civil and environmental engineering and lecturer in political science, is the assistant director. The Center reports to Vice President for Research David Litster.

The goal is to develop synergy among existing MIT environmental programs and to identify fertile areas for new ones. Programs under the Center's umbrella include the Consortium on Environmental Challenges, the Alliance for Global Sustainability (AGS), the Program on Environmental Education and Research (PEER) and the newly formed MIT Venture Fund for Energy Choices.

"The activities previously coordinated by the virtual center, PEER, became quite large and complex and required the infrastructure of a traditional MIT center," said Joel Moses, provost and chairman of the Council on the Environment. "Environmental research currently is nearly 10 percent of all MIT on-campus research. I look forward to even greater growth of research in this important cross-disciplinary area."

The Consortium on Environmental Challenges, created this year with a long-term, multiyear founding grant from the Ford Motor Co., will assess the state of scientific, technical and socioeconomic knowledge on a variety of environmental challenges with a view to improving the use of that knowledge in policy-making at all levels. This group provides a vehicle for industry, university, government and non-government organizations to join together in a constructive dialogue on some of the most pressing challenges of our time.

Inherently complex and characterized by deep uncertainties, these issues are often driven by emotions and politics rather than unbiased, data-based assessments. The Consortium aims to help enhance communication and build the knowledge that will help decision-makers overcome the limitations of scientific uncertainties.

The AGS, founded by MIT, the University of Tokyo and the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in 1995, provides an international framework for partnerships among universities, industry and government to develop knowledge on complex global environmental issues across disciplinary and geographical boundaries.

The Alliance's annual meeting in Zurich on January 21-24 was attended by about 70 people from MIT, including 35 students, many of whom are members of the Martin Family Society of Graduate Fellows on Sustainability.

The Venture Fund, launched recently with a grant from the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, has already sponsored a workshop for a new Consortium on Energy Choices for a Greenhouse Constrained World.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on February 4, 1998.

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