Doctor of Philosophy in Resources, Environment and Sustainability (PhD)
Analyzing uncertainty in the application of computational in silico methods for chemical risk assessment
The Egesta Lab seeks outstanding graduate student applicants to obtain doctoral or masters degrees under the Resources, Environment and Sustainability (RES) graduate program. Indigenous students are particularly welcome as part of our growing program "Weaving Indigenous world views into existing chemicals management practices" which is conducted in collaboration with Indigenous scholars with expertise in Indigenous Studies, Indigenous Data Justice and Indigenous knowledge systems.
Successful candidates will study the production and use of science for policy addressing questions such as What kind of knowledge is needed, used and trusted? Why are some types of knowledge privileged and others silenced? How does privileged knowledge impact perceived solutions? In what ways do existing systems perpetuate harm to Indigenous peoples? How might we facilitate decision-makers and the public to ‘unpack’ assumptions, values and preferences embedded in dominant knowledge? What is the role of values in science-for-policy?
My research program is presently focusing on science for policy related to chemicals management, particularly endocrine disruptors in collaboration with staff in Health Canada and Environment and Climate Change Canada.
I also conduct research in higher education, with the questions above in the center but then asking how to teach about science for policy (knowledge about knowledge).
Applicants should have a background in a relevant field in the social sciences (e.g. law, Indigenous studies, data justice, political science, planning, risk perception), the humanities (science studies) or the natural sciences (e.g. toxicology, endocrinology, epidemiology, risk assessment, environmental chemistry). Double expertise is an advantage
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Dissertations completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest dissertations.
In the face of climate change and environmental concerns, sport event organizers have incorporated measures to improve environmental sustainability into their event planning. In 1994, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) added the environment as the third pillar of the Olympic Movement, alongside sport and culture, to signal its importance. However, event organizers don’t have a clear picture of the impacts of their events and are only beginning to use quantitative data as part of their planning process. The scientific literature and the event industry have recognized the need for theoretical and methodological work to better assess and understand the pattern of environmental impacts of events. The need is greatest for small to medium sized events. The goal of this research was to analyze the explanatory power and use-value of Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) to examine the environmental impacts and inform planning of small to medium events. Two case studies were conducted: the UBC Athletics & Recreation varsity 2011–2012 athletic season (UBC Athletics) held at the University of British Columbia over a one-year period, and the Special Olympics Canada 2014 Summer Games (SOC 2014) held over five days in Vancouver, British Columbia. LCA methodology was used to quantify and compare the environmental impacts in key organizational areas. The findings show that LCA has the potential to identify environmental impacts within small to medium sport events. They also show that impacts related to venues dominated across all environmental impact categories for UBC Athletics due to energy consumption and construction materials. Travel was the dominant contributor for SOC 2014 and was a major contributor for UBC Athletics – largely due to people travelling from out of town. The activities related to accommodation, materials, waste, communication and food were significantly smaller contributors to the overall environmental footprint. Sport organizers would benefit from applying LCA as a quantitative tool to rigorously identify areas of significant impact and target planning efforts accordingly, particularly for long distance travel and activities with significant energy use. Finally, I conclude that organizers need to be more aspirational in how they design events and leverage societal change to become environmentally sustainable.
Theses completed in 2010 or later are listed below. Please note that there is a 6-12 month delay to add the latest theses.
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Structured Decision Making (SDM) and Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis (MCDA) are increasingly used to facilitate municipal and environmental decision-making. Even though it is well documented that visualization techniques can facilitate analytical activities, few studies have probed into the use of information visualization (infovis) in SDM and MCDA processes. The aim of the present study is to analyze how infovis can support participants in a real-world MCDA/SDM process surrounding an urban infrastructure-planning problem with focus on meetings held to evaluate multiple alternatives over a set of criteria.I attended as a participant in a series of SDM workshops related to the renewal of a municipal sewage treatment facility. Participatory observation was conducted of visualizations used to evaluate multiple alternatives over a number of criteria. Two interactive infovis features were identified to be particularly be beneficial for SDM-based processes: information on demand and exploration of preferences. We demonstrated an interactive computer-based tool developed by our research team, ValueCharts, in a number of meetings with potential users to get their feedback. Drawing on these results and the literature, ValueCharts was extended by our research team to a new version, Group ValueCharts, to support group deliberations during MCDA and SDM processes. An experiment was then conducted with seven participants on a stormwater management decision problem at UBC. Our results show that interactive visualization features in ValueCharts and Group ValueCharts have the potential for increasing the effectiveness of MCDA decision processes. They can facilitate comparing multiple alternatives and also probing into participants’ preferences. Interactive visualization was acknowledged by participants for improving group interaction, exchange of information, identification of sticking points, and focusing discussions on what matter for the final decision. Feedback from the participants and our observations support our conclusion that the identified infovis features hold the potential of facilitating the decision process in SDM. Understanding MCDA concepts, however, seems to be essential to get the most out of such visualization tools. If participants do not grasp MCDA concepts, some of them may become suspicious of the final ranking or not be able to identify some of sticking points that really matter.
New regulations from the Canadian Council of Ministers of Environment, released in 2009, require all wastewater treatment plants in Canada to produce effluent of secondary treatment levels. To comply with the new law, many Canadian municipalities using primary treatment plants must retrofit or renew their old systems. There is an increasing pressure from stakeholder groups and policy makers to select new infrastructure using triple-bottom-line (economic, environmental and social) analyses. The present study aims to illuminate how differing preferences among experts from different stakeholder groups influence what is considered to be the ‘most sustainable' wastewater treatment system. Through the use of policy documents, academic literature, and the use of AHP (a decision support tool: Analytic Hierarchy Process) an objectives hierarchy was constructed. The objectives hierarchy was made up of four criteria and 13 indicators. Five wastewater experts were asked to use pair-wise comparisons to score the indicators and criteria of the constructed objectives hierarchy and provide their opinions on the same. In addition, four low foot-print wastewater treatment alternatives were selected for review. One of the participants was asked to rank the four alternatives with regards to their performance on the selected indicators. This ranking, in combination with the rankings of the indicators and criteria, previously made by the five experts, were used to indicate the preferred alternatives for each of the separate participants. Then, the overall prioritization of the alternatives was used to carry out a sensitivity analysis. In terms of results, this study of sustainability indicators for wastewater treatment selection showed that the most contentious indicators among those studied were Initial Costs and Long Term Costs, Effluent Quality and Aesthetics. Additionally, the study showed that the Sequencing Batch Reactor was identified as the ‘most sustainable’ alternative by the average scores of all five participants and separately by four of the five participants.
Owing to the undifferentiated nature of the atmosphere, the theory of collective action predicts that governments at all levels are unlikely to adopt climate policy that reduces emissions before the adoption of a globally accepted and enforced climate agreement. Yet contrary to this prediction, many subnational governments (local, municipal and regional) throughout North America have implemented climate policies that are reducing GHG emissions. Reviewing the literature assessing the implementation of climate policy at a subnational level, this thesis synthesizes a characterization of the factors understood to motivate the development and adoption of climate policy. These factors include (1) economic costs and benefits resulting from climate policy, (2) the existence of political will or an issue champion to further the policy, (3) the support and pressure from public and interest groups, (4) tangible climate impacts that require action, and (5) an institutional structure and capacity that allows for the implementation of mitigation policy. The thesis then analyzes the case of the development and implementation of mitigation policy in British Columbia (BC), Canada, against this characterization. The findings of this analysis suggest that within the BC context, climate policy decision outcomes can be understood to have been influenced by each of the decision factors identified. The study further finds that as contextual factors changed within the province, the prospects for policy longevity were diminished, which suggests that the contextual factors were necessary in achieving climate policy outcomes. The thesis argues that the characterization of motivation factors can be usefully applied to case examples, and that when each of the motivating factors established within the characterization are present, it is possible to implement politically challenging mitigation policy.
Motivated by a decade-long drought and a strategic shift towards Ecologically Sustainable Development to ensure global competitiveness, Australia’s federal government has invested billions of dollars in the water sector, spurring innovation in data gathering, modeling, water management practice and policy reform. The aim of this exploratory research project was to illuminate the context in which Australian water reforms and innovations have taken place, and to compare that to the Canadian water context through the eyes of participating Canadian water experts to identify insights, opportunities and barriers to the transfer of lessons on sustainable water management from Australia to Canada, particularly to the Okanagan region of British Columbia. I organized a two week water management tour in May 2010 and took two water experts from British Columbia to Australia to meet with water policymakers, water managers, stakeholder organization representatives, water service providers and users to discuss their drought adaptation and water reform experiences. Data was collected via participant observation during the tour and semi-structured interviews with the Canadian water experts prior to and following the tour. Field data was complemented by a comparative review of Australian and Canadian water policy literature, key water legislation and policies, and technical reports. The resulting comparative policy analysis highlights socio-cultural dimensions of the lessons transfer process and the importance of considering cultural lenses, as I argue that approaches to water management are value-laden and specific because they work in socially dynamic systems in particular environments. First, I provide a comparison of the Canadian and Australian water contexts, exploring similarities and differences in geography, water infrastructure, water resources, water uses, federalism and water policy. Second, I analyze the recent phase of structural reforms surrounding the Australian Water Act of 2007 and the proposed Murray-Darling Basin Plan, and suggest that this constitutes one of the first large-scale attempts at water reform in line with principles of ecological governance. Third, I describe lessons learned by the Canadian water experts on social change, water governance, water reforms and the research process – including discussions of the social value of water, economic approaches to water reform, water markets and stakeholder engagement.
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