New Maryland research center to focus on environmental policymaking, activism

A new University of Maryland research center will focus on the human side of environmental policymaking and activism - one of the first of its kind in the field.

The Center for Society and the Environment will formally launch this summer as a hub for researchers and students of sociology. It also aims to encourage interdisciplinary work among the broad range of environmental experts at Maryland, including faculty in public policy, sociology, government and politics, geography, economics, biology and atmospheric and oceanic sciences.

"Environmental legislation and community activism doesn't just spring up in a vacuum," said Dana R. Fisher, an associate professor of sociology in the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences (BSOS) who directs the new center. "We're looking at how people at the grassroots and national levels network to do their work."

Fisher arrived at Maryland in January after almost a decade of research and teaching at Columbia University.

Among her ongoing research, Fisher is conducting one-on-one interviews with dozens of key environmental policymakers in the United States - from congressional leaders to Department of Energy and other administration officials - to get a better sense of how they make decisions. The research has been funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

"The Center for Society and the Environment will complement the interdisciplinary, holistic approach we take to addressing global and local concerns like climate change, sustainability and the health of Chesapeake Bay," says BSOS Dean John Townshend, whose own research uses NASA satellites to track land-cover changes that affect the Earth's carbon cycle.

Fisher also leads another NSF-funded study that aims to understand the motivations of participants in the MillionTreesNYC project - a coordinated effort among local government agencies, nonprofits and private citizens to plant and maintain one million new trees across New York's five boroughs during the next 10 years.

Fisher plans to release the findings from the research on this regreening effort in late April to coincide with Arbor Day.

The University of Maryland is actively involved in conducting extensive research on climate change and environmental policy in Maryland and globally.

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