Penn's 2017 Sustainability Report claimed to show real progress on some of the official goals the University set in the 2014 Climate Action Plan 2.0 — namely, the goal to “support faculty interest in researching and teaching sustainability” was marked as achieved in the report, which was released earlier this year.
The University has created sustainability programs, but the Department of Earth and Environmental Science remains almost entirely devoid of faculty specializing in climate change or sustainability, and professors say Penn is not investing in further research on climate and sustainability.
Environmental Science assistant professor Irina Marinov, who was first hired as a lecturer in 2009, is the only standing faculty member at Penn studying climate science. In fact, Penn does not have any standing sustainability professors — only lecturers, adjunct, and visiting professors.
The Earth and Environmental Science Department lists on its website only nine standing faculty members, none of whom study climate aside from Marinov. Other science departments boast much higher faculty numbers, with the Physics and Chemistry departments boasting 52 and 38 standing faculty, respectively.
“The problem here is that the University is not truly investing in the expansion of this department of Earth and Environmental Science,” Marinov said. “That is a little bit — or a lot — worrisome.”
Students in the field are very interested in studying climate, Marinov said, adding that a number of Ph.D. students have been discouraged from performing research at Penn because of the program's limitations.
Penn’s graduate programs in the Department of Earth and Environmental Science ranked No. 68 on US News & World Report's list of best Earth Science Graduate Schools in the country, the lowest among all Ivy League schools.
“I find a huge interest from the undergrads,” Marinov said. “But it hasn’t translated into — at least on the climate science part — into any efforts by the University to enlarge or pay attention to this field.”
Associate Dean for the Natural Sciences and Physics professor Larry Gladney wrote in an email to The Daily Pennsylvanian that the sizing of departments is complex because it is the product of decisions made over decades. He added that the University has been hiring faculty for the Earth and Environmental Science Department, noting that eight of the nine standing faculty were hired after 2007.
Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences Steven J. Fluharty wrote in an email to the DP that the school has moved to hire new professors in the field in two different groupings: one involving energy research professors and the other involving environmental humanities faculty. He noted that two of the current professors in the department were a part of the new hires.
“Penn is a powerhouse life-sciences institution,” said Dan Garofalo, who was hired as the University's first environmental sustainability director in 2008. “And look at other departments in the natural sciences — it’s just not the same.”
Simultaneously, however, opportunities for undergraduate research in sustainability and climate change have expanded, with Climate Action Grant research programs available through the Center for Undergraduate Research and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities Undergraduate Research Fellowships.
Garofalo partly attributed this recent expansion to the work of his office.
“What we are trying to do is create the culture among the student body for the most part,” Garofalo said.
Fluharty also wrote that while the department of Earth and Environmental Science is a "key player" in climate research, he said it is just one of a number of departments researching the field.
"Like all complex global challenges, addressing climate change requires the expertise of a wide range of fields, and here Penn is doing what it does so well by deploying a multidisciplinary approach," he wrote.
Mark Alan Hughes, the founding faculty director of Penn's Kleinman Center for Energy Policy, said that some of Penn's recent hirings and goals seem to prioritize energy research — a closely connected discipline to climate science.
The University's current capital campaign, "The Power of Penn," lists "Drive Energy Solutions" as one of its top six goals and is set to fund the construction of a new energy science research near 32nd and Walnut streets.
Fluharty wrote that SAS views sustainable energy research as an "important dimension of addressing climate change."
While Penn has a number of independent centers performing research relating to climate change, members of the environmental science community at Penn say the University needs an interdisciplinary center for climate change and sustainability research like those found at peer institutions.
“We need to create these umbrella networks that bring together the environmental scientists and climate scientists included with engineering, with physics and chemistry, with the policy people, with the Econ people, with the architects,” Marinov said.
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