UA Establishes Institute for the Environment and Society
The institute will enhance visibility, research competiveness and effectiveness of environmental scientists.

By Lori Stiles, University Communications
Oct. 6, 2008

The University of Arizona is establishing a new institute that will enhance the visibility, research competitiveness and effectiveness of scholars who embody one of the university's premier strengths – environmental science.

The Institute for the Environment and Society will support and integrate work by nearly 150 faculty from more than nine colleges and 45 academic units in disciplines ranging from the natural and physical sciences to the social and behavioral sciences, and from engineering to business, health and law.

Diana Liverman of Oxford University has been recruited to co-direct the institute with Jonathan Overpeck, UA professor of geosciences and atmospheric sciences. Overpeck has been director of UA's Institute for the Study of Planet Earth, which will be replaced by the new institute.

"The UA has always served the people of Arizona by addressing the most critical issues facing our society," UA President Robert N. Shelton said. "This institute and, most importantly, the leadership team that will guide it are yet another example of the UA's commitment to excellence in service to the state."

"The UA is delighted that Diana Liverman will join Jonathan Overpeck in directing the new institute," said Leslie Tolbert, UA vice president for research, graduate studies and economic development. "Under their leadership, we expect the institute to flourish, enhancing and expanding the University's strengths in environmental science and policy and putting us front and center in informing current debate. The institute will be a model in bringing together an interdisciplinary group that spans almost the full range of the campus to tackle critically important societal issues."

"I can't be more excited about co-directing the institute with Diana," Overpeck said. "She is arguably one of the very best social scientists in the world working on global environmental change. Not only is she an exceptional scientist, she has a very interdisciplinary approach to problem solving, she is committed to social entrepreneurship, and she has very strong fundraising experience. We have worked together before and we have complementary visions. It's a perfect match."

Liverman will rejoin the UA in January 2009. She was a professor of geography, director of the Center for Latin American Studies and interim dean of social and behavioral sciences while at the UA from 1996-2003. While at the UA, Liverman worked on Latin American environmental issues, especially land use and climate change in Mexico and the U.S.-Mexico border environment. She was known for her commitment to collaboration with a wide range of colleges, departments and programs across the UA. She helped develop UA's CLIMAS program, a regional climate assessment center for the U.S. Southwest.

For the past five years, Liverman has been director of Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute, focusing her research on such international climate policy issues as carbon trading, adaptation and food security.

"I am excited about returning to the UA, which has hired some fantastic new environmental faculty in the last five years," Liverman said. "The next few years will be critical if we are to reduce the risks of climate change, identify sustainable pathways for the use of energy, land and water, and forge new partnerships between the public, the private sector and government, and between the developed and the developing world. I believe the UA can have a significant role in creating these partnerships and solving environmental problems."

Overpeck is an environmental scientist of international renown. His research focuses on global change dynamics, particularly on how and why key climate systems vary on timescales longer than seasons and years. Overpeck was a coordinating lead author of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change assessment report released last year. The panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with Al Gore.

The new institute's primary goal is to facilitate partnerships among university scientists and society in developing environmentally sustainable technologies, strategies and policies that will strengthen the economy and improve the quality of life in Arizona and beyond, organizers say. It is central to the UA's land-grant university mission.

"Collectively, UA environmental scientists are uniquely poised to tackle the most pressing environmental concerns of the 21st century, namely, how to support growing human populations in arid and semi-arid regions that are increasingly stressed by the warming, drying climate," Overpeck said. Environmental problems have become so acute that funding opportunities for environmental research have been growing, despite tough economic times, he added.

Environmental scientists currently win a major part of the University's non-state research funding. For example, scientists who are part of the Sustainability of semi-Arid Hydrology and Riparian Areas (SAHRA), the Climate Assessment for the Southwest (CLIMAS), Superfund Basic Research Programs at UA, the NSF-Arizona Acclerator Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, the National Science Foundation Water Quality Center, the National Ecological Observatory Network and the National Phenology Network have projects funded at tens of millions of dollars. Other initiatives, such as Biosphere 2 and the Engineering Research Center for Environmentally Benign Semiconductor Manufacturing, are funded in the $50 million to $300 million range.

The Institute for Environment and Society will be located in a new environment and natural resources building that is being constructed on the east side of the Dennis DeConcini Environment and Natural Resources Building, 520 N. Park Ave.

The Arizona Board of Regents approved construction of the $90 million, 150,000-gross-square-foot building as part of the Stimulus Plan for Economic and Educational Development at its meeting last July. Construction is planned from September 2009 to February 2012. The building will be designed so that it is eligible for platinum certification in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, known as the LEED system, which sets standards for "green" buildings.

Until then, the new institute will be housed at offices at 715 North Park Ave., at Rogers Rountree Hall, 1145 N. Mountain Ave, and elsewhere.

Extra info

Diana Liverman is in Tucson Monday and Tuesday, Oct. 6 and 7. Media interviews can be arranged by contacting Jonathan Overpeck.


Resources for the media

Jonathan T. Overpeck


Diana Liverman