on their minds
a scholar, but I'm also a citizen. I separate the two somewhat,
but I think the purpose of acquiring knowledge is to improve
Howard Frumkin, School of Public Health
advocacy comes in demonstrating that environmentally sound decisions
can be really good for business. They don't have to decide to
spend money for what feels like no return except to get Greenpeace
off their backs."
Steven Walton, School of Business
of Pediatrics Gerald Teague began looking into the rate of emergency
room visits for asthma in children in Atlanta during the 1996
Olympic games, his research drew him into unknown territory--his
"People stayed home or used MARTA like never before during
the Olympics, so it was a perturbation that we thought might
change the air quality," says Teague, an Atlanta native.
"The ground ozone level did fall, and so did asthma activity,
by 30 to 40 percent, compared to the weeks before and after."
Teague's study, to be published soon in the Journal of the
American Medical Association, has pushed him toward incorporating
environmental science into his work as a pulmonologist. "The
current paradigm is that you're born with a genetic susceptibility
to asthma, but that's not enough," he says. "If we're
ever going to understand asthma, we have to look at the environmental
impact on the human immune system. Environmental genomics is
going to be the new science."
Teague is part of a recent wave of scholarship at Emory that
scrutinizes environmental issues in Atlanta. Faculty from areas
as diverse as business, public health, anthropology, law, medicine,
and environmental science are exploring the ecology of the city
in the contexts of their own fields. As this community of researchers
grows, they are also learning how their novel approaches both
complement and collide as the boundaries shift between scholarship
"This may sound a little strange," says Karen Mumford,
a visiting assistant professor in environmental studies from
the University of Michigan, "but Atlanta's a really exciting
place to be right now. People's backs are against the wall--they're
frustrated with traffic congestion and air quality. There are
all these health and quality of life implications, and they're
talking about significant change."
Mumford has received partial support from the Georgia Department
of Natural Resources (DNR) to document the effectiveness of its
Greenspace Protection Program, which uses funding incentives
to urge Georgia counties to set aside 20 percent of their geographical
areas as permanently protected land. She is observing the development
of Greenspace programs in metropolitan area counties during this
first year of the program.
"I want to compare the different strategies counties employ
to protect green space and document the successes and barriers,"
Mumford says. "For example, some counties are including
the public in their planning stages, but others are being a bit
closed-door about it. It will be interesting to study whether
including citizens and non-governmental organizations at the
front end hinders or helps the process
as lands become targeted and set aside."
Blending her research interests with a government program has
raised some delicate issues, however. "I've had to walk
a careful line with dnr, because it's not just about me sitting
in the back seat, criticizing this program, which has historically
been the role we've taken as academics. It's really about working
with county and municipal officials to find out what's working
and what isn't. The findings will be used to help strengthen
and improve the program."
Mumford's project has also received funding from Emory's new
Office of University-Community Partnerships, created to support
teaching and research with an emphasis on serving greater Atlanta.
"People are now using terms like 'community-based research'
and 'action research' to talk about collaborative endeavors in
which the community is actually a partner in defining the problem,"
says Associate Professor of Political Science Michael Rich, the
office's director. "These partnerships really raise the
capacity of organizations to understand problems and find solutions
to them. It's advocacy in the sense of trying to push the knowledge
we've been able to create more toward utilization."
Howard Frumkin, associate
professor and chair of environmental and occupational health
in the School of Public Health, is also among those whose work
addresses local environmental problems. He is writing a book
on the public health effects of urban sprawl, which he defines
as low-density, land-extensive development, segregated land uses,
unchecked road-building, a lack of regional planning, and heavy
traffic. He studies sprawl as a health problem due to air pollution,
the expanding urban heat island effect, lack of exercise and
obesity, automobile and pedestrian accidents, mental health consequences,
and eroding civic engagement and relationships.
"For every episode of road rage, there are inevitably more
people who are hostile or unhappy, whose interpersonal behavior
becomes much less civil than it would be in a face-to-face, calmer
environment," he says. "And you have to figure that
translates into home and civic life, as well."
Frumkin feels his work also carries a mandate to help solve the
city's problems. He is a board member of the Clean Air Campaign,
a metro-Atlanta public effort to promote alternatives to single-occupancy
vehicle travel. And he works with the Georgia Regional Trans-portation
Authority to develop indicators of the region's air quality,
health, and livability. "I'm a scholar, but I'm also a citizen,"
he says. "I separate the two somewhat, but I think the purpose
of acquiring knowledge is to improve the world. I also think
the university has a social obligation to the city and the region
and to civic life."
Professor of Anthropology Peggy Barlett takes this principle
a step further. "Living in Atlanta and seeing the dimension
of crisis we face directly here, together with a sense of growing
global awareness of this notion of environmental sustainability,
really brought home the big research question for me: How can
we create a transformation of American culture and lifestyles
toward sustainability, so that we meet the needs of the current
generation without compromising the ability of future generations
to meet their needs?"
Barlett's response was to become a local activist. She formed
Emory's Ad Hoc Committee on Environmental Stewardship, which
has urged the university to adopt an environmental policy statement,
build its new buildings with environmental sensitivity, and restore
and maintain the campus's undeveloped spaces.
"I haven't been doing a classic anthropological study,"
says Barlett, whose past research has examined rural agricultural
development in Latin America and the U.S. farm crisis in the
1980s. "I've been waiting to see how I can bring the anthropological
methods I've used before to bear on this new subject. It's service,
but it is also the most scholarly demanding thing I've ever engaged
"I feel a moral imperative to use what anthropology and
other academic fields have taught us in order to act in the face
of global climate change and the water and air crises we face
in this city. For me personally, to only observe and analyze
would feel unethical."
Environment and the Bottom Line
Steve Walton, an assistant
professor of decision and information analysis in the business
school, brings a perspective to urban environmental concerns
that he says does not always sit well with his colleagues who
espouse more grassroots approaches. "There's only one type
of organization that's big enough, strong enough, and rich enough
to accomplish the kinds of changes necessary for the environmental
gains we need, and that's the multinational corporation,"
Walton argues. "The businesses are going to lead the changes,
and the last thing they need is someone else beating them up
for how they should behave environmentally."
Walton studies how major corporations manage their suppliers
and distribution systems to minimize the waste generated, citing
as an example Delta Airlines' decision to change the way they
bought hazardous chemicals, which both reduced their usage by
80 percent and saved the company $500,000. "I realized very
quickly that companies can save a lot of money by doing things
that turn out to be environmentally good. They don't have to
do them because of public pressure; it can actually be a smart
business decision. And I patently disagree with groups that say
if businesses make money on an environmental improvement, it
Nonetheless, most of these scholars find themselves wrestling
with a pull toward public pressure and advocacy. "As a scholar,
I try to base policy recommendations on data," says Frumkin.
"As a citizen and public health advocate, I may go beyond
the data, to advocate a position based on normative beliefs.
I'm comfortable with both approaches, but I think it's essential
to know which is which and be explicit about the basis of any
policy options I advocate." A.O.A.