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Interview with an NYU Environmental Studies Professor

By: Ava H.

Photo from: 2U

Interested in studying Animal Studies? Scrolling through the so-called “Best” College lists for this major, it may seem like options are limited to typical agricultural schools like Cornell, UC Davis, Ohio State University, and countless other schools that receive endowments from the state to basically help farmers grow more food in their campus located in essentially the middle of nowhere.

But what if you wanted to break boundaries, study such a nuanced topic with a focal point on the impact of animal agriculture and capture fisheries on catastrophic climate issues like deforestation, anthropogenic climate change, and overfishing, all while being immersed in an urban environment?

Well, NYU may be the place for you.

NYU is free from these ideologies being in the heart of lower Manhattan, which allows the NYU program to gain a unique perspective that the other sort of agricultural oriented schools do not have. Not only does NYU have host insightful events at the Environmental Humanities Initiative and their Environmental Studies a robust and interdisciplinary program , but there is also an animal studies initiative offered as on animal studies minor and also now as a master’s degree. What’s interesting about it is that it’s one of the first graduate animal studies program of its kind in the country, and it uniquely integrates environmental and animal issues.

Similar to studying the environment, Animal Studies is not a “one size fits all” approach, it encourages people with a wide range of interests, from biology, nutrition, literature, psychology, and more. Because of this interdisciplinary approach, students are able to see how the food system is interacting with the bio geophysical aspects of the earth, along with the policy and governmental side that focuses on good production.

Interested in cooperation issues at a globalized scale such as fishing, Dr. Jennifer Janquet is an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at NYU. Majoring in Environmental Economics as an undergraduate at Western Washington University, Dr. Janquet was interested in learning about the environment in a social sciences. After all, there was more of a solo emphasis on the physical changes of Earth in the 1900s, and now in the 21st century there is more questioning on if academic institutions that can keep up with the Anthropocene, with the pace of change. Dr. Janquet emphasizes that although she chose an economics environmental degree, it certainly could have been anthropology, political science or sociology, as they all serve an integral role in environmental social science inquiry.

After pursuing her master’s in Environmental Economics at Cornell University, Dr. Janquet completed her PhD at University of British Columbia, in which her dissertation was a series of scientific papers regarding fish as good in an age of globalization. It is quite fitting that she took a global perspective on this topic, because not only was she at a university in a different country, but her PhD supervisor was not American and was French (did schooling in Germany, worked in Africa, Indoneasia and Philliplines, and now lives in Canada). Additionally, Dr. Janquet did lots of work in Africa for PhD, collaborating with people who lived in those areas, and looking at Africa’s fisheries from an outside perspective. Additionally, she was a former Sea Shepherd volunteer at the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador.

Due to her international experience, working at several universities in various countries, Dr. Janquet believes that the world needs to make more effort to acknowledge how various cultures are governing their societies, as there is so much to learn from how other countries operate. After all, younger generations are asking about concepts like Europe having free health care while in the US it is quite inaccessible. This type of comparative analysis is what provokes people to think more politically aspirational, which is why having global experiences is helpful when seeing how one’s own government can improve.

Some of the research Professor Janquet enjoyed conducting includes the research she did against octopus farming. What is so significant about this research was that it occurred when the industry was not quite off the ground yet and still isn’t, but it’s better to do research on this idea now instead of just waiting for this thing to become a reality. It was having this conversation while it was in this experimental phase. Although it’s ongoing work, this original essay about the case against octopus farming was a great way to get in front of this problem. After all, she believes that academics should be trained to be scientists to become more engaged in actually investigating the problem and being in front of this problem.

With this idea, it’s important to be implemented before it’s too late, like how in the Cold War there were physicists that were actively speaking out against nuclear weapons that they themselves designed, but it was already a reality. Thus, this reasoning is why she wouldn’t necessarily say that she is proud of it, but believes it is a necessary strong step.

In 2015, Professor Janquet published the book Is Shame Necessary? which distinguishes shame from guilt, shame being a tactic for influencing corporations, groups, or political groups and guilt being only something that individuals can feel. The book also demonstrates how just how little impact consumer’s choices are in retrospect to climate change. After all, Professor Janquet said in our interview, “The industry loves the idea of individual responsibility because it means they don’t have to act.”

Photo from: Amazon

An effective way to use shame is towards the biggest banks that are most invested in coal, because they can change their money very quickly. Recently there was a big shaming campaign for banks that were investing in Arctic that actually caused the Arctic drilling to no longer happen. To Professor Janquet, “that’s much more exciting than somebody changing their light bulb.”

As major transnational producers of goods, banking firms need to be held accountable, especially since they are not following through on their sustainability commitments. Of course should not abandon a regulatory approach either, but that in this international setting with these transnational actors, regulation, there are lots of cracks for these companies to slip through, which is why these alternate approaches of reputation or financial mechanisms are part of the 21st century toolkit.

There are STEM perspectives in cooperation, especially when looking at climate change, as it is a mathematical “threshold public goods game” that estimates the certain amount of minimum cooperation needed to avert an environmental disaster or confer a certain set of societal benefits. Interested in the levers that encourage cooperation and punishment, reward, but also social approval and disapproval which can be seen as subcategories of punishment and reward are part of. This studies the role of reputation, both in terms of individuals and institutions, and how you can leverage reputation to get institutions to cooperate on climate.

She recommends The Golden Holocaust, a book written by historian of science Robert Proctor dissecting the tactics of the tobacco industry. Although it is a serious book, it walks readers through in depth how the tobacco industry leveraged science in its favor. Science is a great tool for society that has achieved countless amazing breakthroughs, but as any tool it can be weaponized like in this case with tobacco, but can also be a blueprint applied to fossil fuels, chemical manufacturers, meat and dairy companies, and more.

Reflecting on her impact while teaching, two notable students come to mind, one pursuing law school and another working on a PhD. Chris Ewell is now at Yale Law School working on international labor issues that intersect with environmental issues and environmental justice, especially forced labor in the high seas fishing fleets. Gabrielle Carmine transferred from Tisch and was studying acting into the sciences, and found her skill set in GIS and spatial tools. Now, she is in her second year of her PhD at Duke University, working on questions about spatial analysis and marine conservation.

Professor Janquet acknowledges that many young environmentalists may question why pursue an academic route as an environmental career if there is so much time spent in meetings, teaching, and grading. While she is not making the case that an academic career is better than an activist career, Professor Janquet emphasizes that ideas of very powerful, and the many of the most impactful ideas still come out of universities. She states, “So I think you can make powerful changes no matter where you are in society as a politician. As a teacher, as a professor, as an activist, anywhere.”

Whether one pursues the unique Animal Studies minor at NYU or an Environmental Studies major at any university, Dr. Janquet emphasizes that it will be useful no matter what career path one undergoes because environmental issues are increasingly at the heart of countless social change political platforms, decisions, state, local, federal, in this century. Even one of her students double majored in Environmental Studies and Computer Science, now conducting data analysis for the World Wildlife Fund, showcasing how versatile environmental opportunities can be.

Pursuing a career in academia can be very demanding on anyone, being piled with the pressure of obtaining grants, publishing research, attending countless meetings, teaching, and many other tasks. To Professor Janquet,

the most successful academics are fixated on “understand[ing] where the edge of knowledge is and how to push it further.” While there are plenty of good academics, there are also mediocre academics that tend to regurgitate instead of constantly pushing that boundary with everything they do.

However it is important to not take a one dimensional labeling approach. For instance, although Person A is an activist, and Person B is a professor, that does not mean that Person B has not provoked society in almost the same degree that Person A has as an activist running an organization is. All in all, Professor Janquet highlights that “ you can make powerful changes no matter where you are in society as a politician. As a teacher, as a professor, as an activist, anywhere.”

Photo from: NYU


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