Environmental Studies

Faculty Research

The Environmental Studies faculty are both scholars and teachers who are engaged in research, writing, and teaching that range from climate change, systems ecology, and natural resources and conflict, to indigenous environmental issues, environmental justice, and urban sustainability.

Student researchers
Major Joe Womack of the Mobile Environmental Justice Action Coalition leads Oberlin students on a tour of Africatown.
Photo credit: Chie Sakakibara
Paul Brehm

Brehm’s research focuses on energy and environmental economics, with a splash of industrial organization. In recent work, he studies secondary market efficiency in the context of an oil lease lottery in Wyoming and the effect of hydraulic fracturing technology on greenhouse gas emissions in the electricity sector. In a current project, Brehm is examining the effects of resource booms on Indonesia's manufacturing sector. His current work involves several Oberlin undergraduates as research assistants.

Janet Fiskio

Environmental humanist Janet Fiskio’s courses and research focus on collaborative, community-based topics including climate change, direct action, environmental justice, and food justice with a particular focus on the Rust Belt. Since 2014, Janet Fiskio has been collaborating with the community of Africatown, on the Gulf Coast of Alabama, which was founded by the last group of enslaved Africans brought to the United States on the ship Clotilda in 1859. Like many free Black towns in the South, over the years Africatown has been surrounded by polluting facilities, often located on former plantation grounds. The unique history of Africatown has been preserved since the 19th century by an oral history practice that includes knowledge of survival and resilience through forced relocation, enslavement, and segregation. In October 2017, Fiskio and Assistant Professor Chie Sakakibara were awarded an NSF conference grant from the Arctic Social Sciences Program to hold a community history workshop in Africatown. The workshop was attended by Africatown elders, youth, nonprofit leaders, pastors, and members of the Oberlin College community. This workshop marked the beginning of an innovative research project to bring two culturally and historically distinct, geographically distant communities--Africatown and Utqiaġvik, Alaska--together to articulate narratives of environmental justice, climate change, and cultural identity among African American and Indigenous stakeholders. The environmental justice challenges that each of these communities face are rooted in long histories of settler colonialism, diaspora, and environmental racism. Fiskio and Sakakibara are currently applying for an NSF EAGER grant to continue their collaboration with these communities. Since this workshop, student researchers and Fiskio have been constructing the Africatown Digital Archive to help preserve and share Africatown’s oral history tradition.

Karl Offen

Karl Offen’s research includes methodological approaches from historical geography, the history of cartography, political ecology, and environmental history to explore themes in Afro-Amerindian, colonial, and Atlantic world studies. He is currently working on two book projects. The first is an online project tentatively titled ‘‘Mapping Mosquitia: The Miskitu Kingdom and the Geographic Imagination of Colonial Cartographers’’ that will be built around the collection and interpretation of some 50 colonial maps of eastern Central America. The second book project investigates the transimperial and Atlantic world activities of three-generations of Hodgsons, a family of British colonials who played important roles in shaping the social, political, and environmental histories of the far western Caribbean basin and Central America in the second half of the18th century and beyond.

Swapna Pathak

Swapna Pathak’s teaching and research interests focus on global politics of the environment and natural resources, and environmental policy. Her current research projects focus on different aspects of the international negotiations on climate change, from the discourse of negotiations, role of NGOs in the climate change negotiations, to strategic analysis of the text of the Paris Agreement on climate change. Swapna is also interested in analyzing environmental policies in developing countries and two of her projects focus on how smaller or developing countries navigate the international diplomatic arena of climate change negotiations. Swapna has recently concluded the process of getting Oberlin College accredited with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change which will enable a limited number of Oberlin students and faculty to attend the UN meetings on climate change following the Paris Agreement. 

John Petersen

A systems ecologist by training, Dr. Petersen works at the intersection of ecological and human systems.  With a background in forestry and aquatic ecosystems his current research is focused on better understanding how feedback control can be used to optimize environmental and social systems. He has been instrumental in developing real-time feedback display technologies for buildings, organizations and whole cities with the goal of engaging, educating, motivating and empowering resources conservation and pro-environmental and pro-community thought. A co-founder of the company Lucid, he and his colleagues have developed technology that is now installed in thousands of buildings and communities across the U.S. and Canada. For a decade his work has focused on developing “Environmental Dashboard” as a technology and approach for promoting systems thinking, full-spectrum sustainability and resilience.  He and his colleagues and students work closely with k-college educators, businesses leaders, governments and non-profit organizations to develop, implement and assess the efficacy of the technology. The City of Oberlin has been a key collaborator and serve as a pilot. He also oversees research projects focused on carbon sequestration, agroforestry and watershed dynamics in the Oberlin environs.

Chie Sakakibara

Cultural geographer Chie Sakakibara’s teaching and research interests lie in the field of the human dimensions of global environmental change among indigenous peoples, specifically on their cultural resilience and social and environmental justice. Sakakibara started working closely with the Iñupiaq whaling community of Arctic Alaska as a graduate student, and now as a faculty member at Oberlin, strives to develop a collaborative network between Oberlin College and the indigenous community with student involvement. With her interdisciplinary academic backgrounds in geography, art history, and indigenous studies, Sakakibara also leads an international, intercultural, and intergenerational project in northern Japan titled "Community-Partnered Exploration of Ainu Environmental Justice and Heritage Resources" in collaboration with the Ainu community of Biratori, Foundation for Research & Promotion of Ainu Culture, and Allen Memorial Art Museum.

Rumi Shammin

Associate Professor Rumi Shammin has continued research projects on socio-technical feedback using the Environmental Dashboard and measuring and mapping urban food access in Cleveland. In 2018, Professor Shammin and his research collaborators in Bangladesh has received a grant from Transparency International to investigate the synergies between climate funds and development assistance in Bangladesh towards the realization of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. Shammin is also developing a new project as part of his long-term research interest on energy and climate change issues and initiatives in developing countries, with a particular focus on Bangladesh. The emergency preparedness programs in climate vulnerable coastal areas of Bangladesh have been in place for over two decades and are often cited as successful examples of early warning and emergency preparedness systems that have been able to greatly minimize the impact on marginalized populations in coastal areas. These systems are now integral parts of climate change adaptation programs in Bangladesh. Shammin is investigating whether we learn from the Bangladesh model of early warning and emergency preparedness programs to inform the disaster preparedness programs in coastal U.S. communities that are vulnerable to natural hazards exacerbated by climate change. In 2017-18, he made multiple trips to Bangladesh to meet with people in relevant agencies including the International Red Cross, The World Bank, non-governmental research teams, and several local academic institutes. Shammin is currently working with research assistants at Oberlin to synthesize and analyze the data and information collected thus far, conduct literature review, and design detailed research plans for the coming years.