New School of Science and Engineering department must be wary of environmental partners

by Isabella Scott

by Isabella Scott

Coastal regions are some of the areas most affected by climate change. As it stands, more than 636 million residents of these areas are at risk due to rising sea levels. As the world responds to this situation, organizations all over the world are making changes to support a more sustainable environment. Tulane is the most recent institution attempting to solve this highly pressing issue.

The new Department of River-Coastal Science and Engineering, led by Mead Allison, a Tulane University professor of environmental sciences, was founded in response to the massive coastal erosion in Louisiana. The official goals of this new department will be to focus on community education, study the effects of dams and other artificial structures on coastal health and restore damaged areas. Out of place, though, is the goal of trying to “promote economic development.”

Economic development is not a bad thing. In fact, it is often extremely helpful to communities in that it inspires new technology and brings about social changes. The linking of economic development to environmental activism, however, is not necessarily warranted.

The official Tulane statement says that “[f]aculty and staff will help partners advance best practices by facilitating development, testing, and commercialization of technologies or processes intended to restore, protect, and manage coastal resources.” Though there is evidence that economic development can be good for the environment, there is room to be skeptical.

Put bluntly, corporations that say they have the best intentions for the environment often do not, and the New Orleans gulf coast, in particular, does not have the best history with energy giants. The fact Tulane has made it a particular goal “to incubate innovation within the emerging environmental and energy sectors” could be slightly worrying, especially when considering that nine of the 15 worst companies for the environment are energy corporations, it may be hard for Tulane to partner with a company that truly has the best intentions and is not just trying to find a tax write-off, a quick fix or a PR boost.

This endeavor should not be written off. Corporations still have the potential to effect positive change. That being said, Tulane needs to be extremely cautious in this project. All companies that are considered for participation in the program should to be vetted thoroughly, and all technology that is developed needs to have the absolute minimum environmental impact possible in both the short- and long-term to limit environmental damage. If that is not a realistic possibility, the new department has an obligation to stick to only those programs they know will be good for the environment and the local community. 

Tulane’s ability to make decisions and choose the right course of action should be trusted. In the coming years, however, the school must be careful of its partners in order to achieve long-lasting progress and a positive impact on the coast.