Society Is Ready for a New Kind of Science—Is Academia?

Never before have we had such a clear understanding of environmental crises and “yet been so far from delivering investment in actionable research,” write 22 academics, including the Nicholas Institute’s Tim Profeta and Lydia Olander, in a viewpoint for BioScience. They suggest that researchers are ready to engage but ask whether universities—both leaders and the faculty who govern—will provide the infrastructure and foster the culture needed to turn ideas into action. If science is to serve society and the planet, they argue, universities will need to (1) produce not only professors but also future environmental leaders, (2) cultivate a culture that values use-inspired research, (3) accelerate the translation of ideas into action, (4) put people at the center of environmental science, and (5) reimagine academic structures.

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Water-Financing Innovation Is Increasingly Local

Conservation Finance Network interviewed the Nicholas Institute’s Martin Doyle about the realities of funding water infrastructure in the current political and economic environment. Doyle talked about two transactions in water markets that show promise of encouraging future private investment—one involving an attempt to obtain private capital for construction of a pump station at a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation reservoir in Yakima, Washington, to increase delivery of irrigation water for high-value crops in eastern Washington. “The thing that’s really interesting about it is the people who are structuring the deal are trying to tie environmental performance to the operation of the pumping plant,” said Doyle. “There’s a way that you can use the water for salmon-spawning-stream benefits. By tying environmental performance to it, they are hoping to attract environmentally interested capital. Basically, these would be impact investors who might be willing to do an environmental impact bond, do a performance-based contract, or provide concessionary capital because of the environmental benefits.”

Duke Research May Help Guide Paraguay’s Energy Future

In 2023, portions of the treaty that governs Itaipú Binational Dam, the world’s largest hydroelectric dam, will be renegotiated, with energy pricing and distribution agreements up for debate. In anticipation of the talks, the Duke University Energy Initiative (DUEI)—an interdisciplinary hub for energy education, research and engagement across Duke’s schools—is helping advance a two-pronged policy proposal to Paraguay, including recommendations for hydroelectric sector-based sustainable development. “This is a remarkable opportunity to leverage the best of Duke to advance development of a natural resource governance approach that is based on consensus and can have long-term benefits for the people of Paraguay,” said Brian Murray, DUEI interim director and Environmental Economics Program director at the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. “The project offers Duke students and researchers the opportunity to work on a large-scale, real-world problem that touches energy, environment and public policy issues.”

Duke Honors Its Green Champions

At Duke University’s Sustainable Duke awards presentation, Tim Profeta, director of Duke’s Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions, said the winners’ work took on increased meaning as political winds could lead to a shift in environmental policies. “The world is in a place where the sustainability of our planet is a ripe topic, a topic that people are very concerned about,” Profeta said. “I think the university has a distinctive role in being a beacon of light and encouragement.”

Can Coal Come Back?

President Donald Trump said he was helping the coal industry with an executive order instructing regulators to rewrite key rules reducing U.S. carbon emissions and other environmental regulations from the Obama administration. Brian Murray, director of the Environmental Economics Program at Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, tells the Longview News Journal that utilities "are not going to flip on a dime and say now it's time to start building a whole bunch of coal plants because there's a Trump administration."

Is There an Inherent Trade Off Between Protecting the Environment and Promoting Economic Growth?

The Nicholas Institute’s Billy Pizer told WalletHub that he does believe there’s almost always some significant trade-off to deal with significant environmental challenges. “That said, I think environmental amenities—clean air, clean water, a stable atmosphere and climate—can be enormously valuable and worth paying for,” he continued. “Moreover, I don’t think the costs need to be that large if policies are designed well.”

Building a Blue Economy in North Carolina

The ocean economy contributed $2.1 billion and 43,385 jobs to North Carolina’s economy in 2013, according to a new report by North Carolina Sea Grant and Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions. Ocean and coastal resources played an even larger role in the state’s coastal counties, providing 6.5 percent of gross domestic product, or GDP, and supporting 13 percent of employment. And according to “North Carolina’s Ocean Economy: A First Assessment and Transitioning to a Blue Economy” report co-author Tibor Vegh, these figures are most likely low. “Our estimates represent a snapshot in time only for the sectors where we could find economic data,” Vegh, a policy analyst with the Nicholas Institute, tells CoastWatch.

Duke Delays Asking Trustees for Vote on Power Plant

Plans for a gas-turbine power plant at Duke University ran into another delay Tuesday, with administrators saying they’ll hold off on asking campus trustees to green-light the $55 million project, reports the Herald Sun. The decision, announced by Executive Vice President Tallman Trask, means soon-to-depart Duke President Richard Brodhead’s staff “will not be bringing a proposal forward for approval by the [trustees] in May.” That likely means future deliberations on the project will unfold after incoming President Vince Price takes over for Brodhead on July 1. Tuesday’s announcement coincided with the release of a campus study group’s report, led by Nicholas Institute director Tim Profeta, advising Duke officials to assess whether there are “sufficient volumes of biogas”—captured waste gas from hog farms, as opposed to natural gas extracted from wells—to fuel the turbine and make it carbon-netural in its first year in service.

Duke University Puts off Proposed Duke Energy Power Plant

Duke University has delayed a vote by its trustees on a $55 million combined heat-and-power plant that Duke Energy has proposed building on the campus. “Given the complexity of these issues, we will not be bringing a proposal forward for approval by the Board of Trustees in May,” Tallman Trask, executive vice president of the university, said in a prepared release. The Campus Sustainability Committee proposed a special subcommittee of Duke faculty, staff and students to investigate the issues regarding the plant. The study, led by Tim Profeta of Duke's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, was published Tuesday. 

University Tables Proposal for Power Plant after Campus Committee Releases Evaluation Report

Duke University has delayed a decision on whether to build a power plant on campus after heavy criticism of the proposal and a recent report issued by a subcommittee of the Campus Sustainability Committee led by Tim Profeta, director of the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions, provided in-depth evaluation of the construction of the proposed plant. After receiving it, Duke indicated it would not bring the proposal to the Board of Trustees in May, and that deliberations will continue into later semesters.