EARThS 2015: Environmental problems require interdisciplinary solutions

Debra Davidson
EARThS keynote speaker Debra Davidson

Urban agriculture tends to evoke two different opinions among scholars and practitioners: It’s either a major solution to the world’s food supply problem, or it’s just a fun recreational activity for elites. But Dr. Debra Davidson, the keynote speaker at this year’s graduate student-organized EARThS (Environment, Agriculture, Resources, Technology, Society) conference, is hoping to inform that discussion.

“Given the fact that there’s a potential relationship between urban agriculture, climate change, food security, and urban stewardship and sustainability, it seems like we ought to pay more attention to it,” said Davidson, a professor at the University of Alberta.

Darcy Hauslik, Katie Bittinger, and Raoul Lievanos
Graduate student EARThS organizers Darcy Hauslik and Katie Bittinger and EARThS faculty advisor Raoul Líevanos.

Davidson is seeking to collaborate with a variety of experts and scholars from different disciplines to study urban agriculture.

“We live in socio-ecological systems, so if we want to understand what the relevance of urban agriculture is, then we want to know why people participate, but we also need to understand what the impact of those practices are on soil and water,” Davidson said. “We absolutely have to have that connection.”

Davidson’s keynote address illustrated the larger interdisciplinary theme of the EARThS conference: “The Anthropocene: Confronting Global Environmental Change and Hazardous Worlds.” The conference, organized by WSU sociology graduate students, brought together a program of presenters from a variety of academic fields, such as crop and soil sciences, biology, chemistry, environmental science, and design and construction.

Charles O'Nwamba
Charles O’Nwamba, a graduate student in chemistry at University of Idaho.

Davidson stressed the importance of an interdisciplinary approach to environmental issues.

“These discussions are extremely important because they allow for a growing awareness of the extent to which we are asking very similar research questions and that we do recognize that our research is motivated by similar sets of problems that we are trying to address,” Davidson said.

“A lot of the natural scientists I speak with, they get it. They say over and over again, ‘Help us figure this out. We understand that these environmental problems are social problems that require social solutions.’ [There are] relatively less light bulbs going off in the social sciences, generally speaking. There’s less of an impetus to reach out to cross those disciplinary boundaries. That’s a big gap.”

Travis Seaborn
Travis Seaborn, a WSU graduate student in biological sciences.

The EARThS conference attempted to fill that gap, by featuring presentations on social determinants of environmental risk and biological solutions to environmental problems. The conference featured 12 presentations in four sessions and five poster presentations.

The conference marked the end of another successful year for EARThS, which saw its membership grow by 20 percent in 2014-2015.

Photos by Don Dillman