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2014 Senior Essay Abstracts

Victoria Balta, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Nicholas Robinson): Introduction of Wolbachia into Aedes Aegypti Mosquitoes as a Biological Control Strategy for Combating Dengue

The objective of this paper is to discuss the potential efficacy and feasibility of the introduction of the Wolbachia bacterium into Aedes aegypti mosquitos as a biological control strategy for combating dengue.  It will discuss the biology of the dengue virus as well as how the introduction of Wolbachia functions on a biological level to slow the spread of the virus in mosquitoes.  The success of limited field trials will be taken into account to help inform the hypothesis that the introduction of Wolbachia is paramount to slowing the rapid spread of dengue.  Additionally, this paper will address the issues in moving from field trials to national plans for implementation of this bacterium to control dengue transmission as well as the potential global effect of implementation.

Anne Barry, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Marian Chertow): The Style of Sustainability: Private Business Appropriation of an Environmental Movement

As the term sustainability has greatly increased in popularity and become a part of common dialogues throughout the last decade,  the word reflects a shifting movement. The new sustainability is forced to encompass meanings of economic viability and social responsibility in addition to the environmental connotation. This thesis examines the means by which American businesses have appropriated the term sustainability to justify economic decisions. Through the lens of United States apparel manufacturing, companies with and without explicit environmental agendas use sustainability as a marketing tool. In attempts to validate sustainable apparel claims, the lack of industry standardization is uncovered. Little regulation exists;  prompting companies to turn to both non-transparent and non-quantified coalitions of sustainability indexing. This clear gap in industry standardization demands a regulatory overhaul for defining sustainability.


Abigail Bok, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Helen Siu): Organically Urban: Cultivating alternative landscapes of living in Guangzhou, China

This paper investigates increasing involvement by members of Guangzhou’s urban middle classes in alternative agriculture activities, specifically in the context of recent decades of economic and social change and rising food safety concerns. Using ethnographic field research methods and a conceptual framework drawn from social theory and relevant anthropological literature, I specifically explore urban middle class engagement with the TianDiRenHe organic rice social enterprise, the urban farm Paradise Eco-Farm, and the nongjiale agro-tourism farm Green Island Farm. I conclude that these sites of alternative agriculture activities have become new urban “landscapes of living”, places where urban middle class people have actively exercised their agency over social structures in order to form distinctive consumption spaces and have then engaged as intentional participants in those spaces in order to cultivate self-identity, social connection, and peace of mind. These acts of cultivation reflect the dynamic tension for the Chinese middle classes between contestation against and complicity with the social and political status quo.

Liana Epstein, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Pincelli Hull): Saving the Ocean, Saving Ourselves: What Previous Mass Extinctions Can Reveal About the Next One

Awareness of environmental issues is greater than ever, yet meaningful solutions often seem elusive. Topics such as climate change, ozone depletion, and loss of biodiversity, once reserved for academics and experts, now make headlines and spark much public debate. Policymakers and the private sector are under increasing pressure to make environmental issues a high priority. With so many changes occurring rapidly, humans face the challenge of prioritizing our responses. A study of the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) mass extinction, almost 66 million years ago, may help us make decisions today to prepare for and remediate the effects of ecosystem disturbance. By informing us on ecosystem response, it can also enable us to separate novel or comparative drivers in current conditions from those of the past. This study investigates the effect of one mass extinction on the sequestration of carbon in the ocean, in order to test how critical ecosystem functions change in response to massive perturbations to Earth and life. The broader goal helps us consider how to integrate and apply data and knowledge across temporal and spatial scales to create policy.

Rachel Ett, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Karen Seto): Why Do People Eat the Superfood Quinoa?

This senior thesis seeks to understand who eats the superfood quinoa and what the motivations are for doing so. Five research questions are examined through a survey taken by approximately 170 Yale undergraduates, and analysis is conducted through Microsoft Excel and Stata. The questions examine gender, health associations, politics, city size, and geographic regions as possible variables that influence quinoa consumption. The hypothesis is that people choose to eat quinoa because of its superior health qualities; however, the major conclusions are that people eat quinoa because of its taste and the decision to eat this food is a political act.

Cole Florey, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Mary Evelyn Tucker): A Fluid Ecology: The Environmental Implications of Modern Japanese Religion

While using scientific methods to alleviate the symptoms of environmental degradation is a necessary step toward achieving an environmentally sustainable future, this approach does not sufficiently address the root of environmental issues. The relationship between humans and nature must be reevaluated in order to understand why people so often conceptualize nature as exclusively instrumental.

The burgeoning field of religion and ecology works to address environmental issues through a better understanding of how religion can be in dialogue with environmental ethics. In my project, I specifically focus on the country of Japan and ask how its three main religions— Shinto, Buddhism, and Confucianism—are capable of informing a Japanese environmental ethic.  I display how each religion brings a unique concept of nature to the Japanese people and discuss how the combination of these three religions produces a unique Japanese environmental consciousness. With a fluid ecological model that addresses environmental issues from a natural, contemplative, and social standpoint, I argue that Japan has the potential to revitalize its environmental policy and education in order to construct an ecological culture that works to prevent future environmental issues through an ecological mindset, rather than simply address them as they develop.

Natalia Garza, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Adrienne Ettinger): The Untold Side of Uranium: Using a Statistical Analysis of the Continuous NHANES to Explore the Decline in Reproductive Health of the Navjao Population

Currently, there are over 1,000 abandoned uranium mines speckling all 27,400 square miles of the Navajo Reservation, as well as abandoned mills. Neither of these structures, used as a means to secure a vast nuclear supply of uranium during the Cold War, were properly shut down when the uranium market began to decline in the 1980s. As a result, uranium and uranium tailings were free to roam the land as water and air carried them across the Reservation. Now the Navajo population, previously thought immune to cancer, is experiencing reproductive cancers and birth defects at an alarming rate. Although there are many in the community that believe the leetso, translated as the yellow monster in Navajo, is to blame for this trend, many others blame obesity and other lifestyle factors in the population. The lack of consensus fragments the power to bring environmental justice to the Navajo; thus, through the analysis of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), the association between uranium and reproductive health was investigated in the national population to help add to growing body of knowledge. The target population for this analysis is women between the ages of 20 and 54. In the logistic regression, it was found that period irregularity and endometriosis had a statistically significant association with uranium in certain models. Moreover, success of births and age of endometriosis diagnosis decreased with increasing exposure to uranium and were also statistically significant associations in certain models. Despite the many limitations, it is clear that relationship between uranium and reproductive health cannot be easily dismissed and its continued investigation will be incredibly valuable for the Navajo nation.

Emily Hong, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Laura Barraclough): Race and Environment in the 21st Century: Digital Inequality in San Francisco's Chinatown

The Internet is an ascendant part of modern American life, prompting many scholars toinvestigate the social and material aspects of the digital divide, defined as the difference between those who do and those who do not have access to the Internet and related technologies. However, less attention has been directed to the physical factors that contribute to persistent digital inequalities, and in particular the significance of the built environment in ethnic and racially defined communities. In this paper, I use San Francisco’s Chinatown as a case study to examine the relationship between digital and physical patterns of urban inequality. Drawing parallels with previous work done by Di Chrio, Pulido, Park, and Pellow on the environmental justice movement, and building upon the theory of Environmental Inequality Formation (EIF), I find that the digital divide is the most recent manifestation of historical, place-based processes that define racial identities and subsequently govern access to resources. Additionally, I show that the digital divide is exacerbated by inadequate access to housing, and that disparities in Internet use may worsen socio-economic inequality by restricting access to information and skills increasingly necessary for economic survival.

Angela Hui, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Mark Ashton): The Green in Trees: The Return on Investment of New Haven Street Trees, A Study on Species Differentiation

Street trees benefit society by providing much-needed ecosystem services such as stormwater reduction, energy savings, carbon sequestration, air quality improvements, and aesthetic benefits.  The magnitude of these benefits varies with species.  To maximize the ecosystem services obtained and increase the return on investment of planting trees in New Haven, CT, Urban Resources Initiative (URI), the city's main tree-planting body, should begin to take ecosystem service potential into consideration during the species selection process.  This paper sought to determine the most valuable tree species in terms of each ecosystem service respectively.  i-Tree Streets, a benefits assessment tool, was used to determine the annual return on investment of ten tree species planted in New Haven.  Results showed that generally large-stature shade trees performed better than small ornamental trees.   All else equal, Gleditsia triacanthos was the top performer overall and Syringa reticulata was the worst.  Further research is warranted on these species’ biological processes to determine what factors other than size impact the magnitude of benefits provided.  GIS was also employed to identify areas of New Haven in critical need of specific ecosystem services to further aid in decision-making and management of New Haven’s urban forest.

Jeremiah Kreisberg, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Harvey Weiss): The Effect of Climate Change on Agriculture in Syria and Iraq: Regional Productivity, Resiliency and Adaptation

This paper will use an interdisciplinary analysis to answer the following two questions: What will the effect of climate change be on agriculture in Syria and Iraq? And what are the implications? Without adaptation, results show that agricultural production will suffer significantly. Rain-fed agricultural land and production will likely decrease significantly because of shorter growing seasons and less precipitation. As a result there will be an increased demand on irrigation agriculture, in turn increasing regional demand for the already scarce water resources. Irrigation agriculture will also suffer from higher evapotranspiration rates resulting in more water intensive harvests. Implications for Iraq and Syria include major losses of agricultural revenue, increased tension over shared water resources with Iran and Turkey, regional abandonment by farmers subsisting in rain-fed regions, and a significant increase in regional conflict. Adaptation measures such as crop-switching, crop development, forecasting, market access, and water policy will be necessary in order to lessen the impact on Iraqi and Syrian societies. Given the political environment in both countries it seems unlikely that significant publicly-driven adaptation will take place. Correspondingly, the region will rely on global private-sector innovations. In the event sufficient adaptation does not take place, the implication is an increase in regional violence and conflict.

Timothy Le, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Amity Doolittle): Exploration of Food Security Issues in New Haven CT with a Case Study of the West River Community

This project examines the state of food security in New Haven, Connecticut and presents a case study of the West River community.  West River is an apt representation of what food insecurity looks like in New Haven: a surplus of convenience/corner stores that carry little or no fresh and healthy food (lack of availability of fresh foods), a demographic of low income households (lack of economic access), and a deficiency of supermarkets in the neighborhood (lack of physical access).  In my case study, I am interested in learning about households’ participation in private or public food assistance programs and exploring the question: What kind of project(s) would most likely improve the food security of residents of West River?

Angela Lee, Environmental Studies (Advisor: John Wargo): Dietary Transition of Korean-Americans

The purpose of this thesis is to research the catalysts that play a role in the Korean American’s transition from their traditional Korean diet to a more Westernized one, even though the Korean diet is generally much healthier than the typical American diet. To address this inquiry, I apply scholastic articles on acculturation, books on the Westernization of immigrants, and my own data I had collected from interviews with recent Korean American immigrants in Irvine, California and New Haven, Connecticut. I also integrate the role of Korean restaurant managers in maintaining Korean foods and culture. My analysis proposes that the driving factors of Korean Americans’ dietary transition and choices are personal taste, texture and appearance, food availability, accessibility and cost, social and cultural coercion from neighbors and family members, and acculturation. In conclusion, to address the health and cultural issues that have developed from the dietary transition, policy-makers, nutrition specialists and communities should create initiatives that increase food availability and accessibility to ethnic food markets, educate immigrants about the nutritional value of ethnic foods, and teach them modern approaches to preparing ethnic foods.

Breanna Lujan, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Amity Doolittle): The Brazilian Forest Code: Evaluating the Vanguard of Forest Conservation

A country of extraordinary biological diversity and natural wealth, Brazil is plagued by a recurring dilemma: striking a balance between economic development and environmental conservation. This conflict is no better encapsulated than in the Atlantic Forest. Spanning 17 Brazilian states, the Atlantic Forest harbors immense biodiversity and endemism. Its bounty of natural resources, however, has attracted extensive agricultural and ranching interests that have continuously decimated the landscape. Today, the remaining fragments of forest are dominated by private rural properties that pose a threat the natural integrity of the ecosystem. As the Brazilian Forest Code, first enacted in 1934, is the only legislation governing forest conservation on private rural landholdings, it is imperative for safeguarding the Atlantic Forest. This law, however, has undergone a series of debilitating changes that have raised speculation about its ability to conserve Brazil’s forests. In order to assess the efficacy of the Brazilian Forest Code and its potential to protect the Atlantic Forest, it is therefore critical to ask: how have successive changes to the Brazilian Forest Code impacted forest conservation in the Atlantic Forest? Answering this question could provide insight on how to improve the Brazilian Forest Code and bolster forest conservation in the Atlantic Forest and throughout the country, both of which are necessary to protect Brazil’s natural patrimony.

Thomas Rokholt, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Elihu Rubin): Urban Energy Management: Strategies and Results in a Complex Environment

This is an attempt to examine the wide array of energy policy options available to cities in the United States, looking at the local, regional, and national arenas in which cities operate. The paper begins with an overview of the importance of cities to global energy issues and a history of the environment that city officials now operate in. It then examines electricity generation and distribution as exceptions to many of the rules set by other forms of infrastructure, as well as current initiatives by cities to work from these constraints towards the goals set by their leaders. After an overview of the current incentive and policy environment for energy use reduction and renewable energy technologies, this paper examines twenty years of U.S. utility data to determine the efficacy of existing programs.

Benedict Scheuer, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Amity Doolittle): Discovering Nature: An Understanding of Today's Nature-Connection Through Artistic Expression, Urban Youth, and Environmental Education

Trending to the future, there currently exists a large dialogue in regards to reduced development of nature-connections within future generations. These connections, often defined as an individual’s personal oneness with what they consider nature, have been measured in past studies of which high degrees of connectedness were linked to environmental behavior. Thus, with research suggesting declines in connectedness, health of natural environments could be threatened. This research aimed to analyze this issue through the lens of urban youth in attendance of an environmentally focused high school. In providing students artistic venues through which to express their beliefs and own personal experiences in developing nature-connections, new insight into this complicated topic was unearthed. Among key points include an understanding that nature-connections are highly fluid, perception of nature as being largely based on familiarity, and the emergence of new venues through which to engage with nature—namely internet blogging. Furthermore, the environmental education as conducted at this high school was deemed effective due to its truly immersive philosophy and largely due to its non-urban, forested location.

James Shirvell, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Gisella Caccone): Evaluating the Genetic Structure of the Leptospirosis Transmitting Rat Population of Salvador, Brazil

I evaluated the genetic structure of the leptospirosis transmitting rat population of Salvador, Brazil, in order to determine more effective eradication unit sizes. The genetic makeup of the rat population is linked to eradication efforts because knowing the makeup will define strategies that are empirically based. I describe the background of leptospirosis, from its disease agent, settings and modes of infection, and then lay out my research. I determined that there are distinct populations of rats in the Pau da Lima favela, different from the results of the Kajdacsi et al (2013), but that more sampling locations are needed to determine how rat migration works in Salvador. I conclude that the advanced eradication unit sizes are a start to limiting the spread of leptospirosis, but must be coupled with changes in the sanitation infrastructure of Salvador to provide long-term success.

Kerr Taubler, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Garry Brewer): Powering the Future: The Market Competitiveness of Residential Solar Energy in California

The purpose of this research is to gain insight into the many facets of the solar energy market and to determine if solar energy is market competitive with conventional energy sources. Solar energy, although not a new technology, has struggled in the energy market due to its high costs even with legislative and economical help. California is a good case study due to its history of leadership in environmental policy and its favorable climate for solar energy production. The first part of this thesis analyzes California’s solar energy policies and investments to see what it is currently doing to advance solar energy in the energy market. The second part compares California to countries that have better market competitive solar energy and an economic analysis of what can be done to make solar energy market competitive in California. By analyzing this we can determine the steps that need to be taken to make the residential solar energy market competitive with the conventional energy market in California.

Shiloh Tillemann-Dick, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Chad Oliver): The Riddle of the Sphinx: On the Problems, Possibilities, and Opportunities for Development Along the Banks of the World's Longest River

The conviction that geography plays a significant role in directing the development of nations, a theory known as environmental determinism, has been a staple of ethnographic research since antiquity when scholars like Hippocrates and Strabo mused about how humans were shaped by their surroundings. More recently determinism has returned to the public forum in popular books like Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse by Jared Diamond and in academic articles by writers like David Livingstone and Clint Ballinger. While it is true that geography cannot be ignored – it’s remarkably difficult to domesticate draft animals or develop sophisticated metallurgy when neither animals nor ore are present – its role as a determining factor is open to question. This paper observes some modern correlates for developmental success across several different regions and populations as sorted by major river basins. The central focus is on the Nile because of its position as one of the oldest permanently settled major basins in World history. The findings of this study are that geography and climate appear to have relatively little correlation with improved performance by the commonly accepted development indicators of GDP per capita, infant mortality rate, and life expectancy. Rather, factors surrounding good governance and administration, such as low corruption, secure political and property rights, reliable contract enforcement, and firmly entrenched civil liberties are closer correlates with robust development indicators. The existence of these correlations suggests that there might be cause for further research into the usefulness of developing robust institutional competencies to encourage responsible development rather continuing to support the current dominant paradigm of development which focuses on raising living standards in the short term and hoping that governance and institutions follow.

James Underwood, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Maria Diuk-Wasser): Microclimate Determinants of Host Seeking Behavior in Nymphal Ixodes Scapularis Ticks and Borrelia Burgdorferi Infection Prevalence in New England, 2013

Tick-borne pathogens are the most significant source of vector-borne disease in the United States, accounting for over 300,000 cases of human illness annually. Due to its particular relevance to the Northeast United States, this paper focuses on the disease system associated with Borrelia burgdorferi, the causative agent of Lyme disease. In particular, this paper focuses on the ecology surrounding the nymphal Ixodes scapularis tick, a vector that is critical to the pathogen’s lifecycle . Based on data collected in the summer of 2013, my thesis investigates the role of microclimate factors in mediating nymphal tick activity. Although the data are inconclusive, I identify potential trends and areas for further study. Additionally, I present preliminary infection prevalence data for sites in New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut from the 2013 field season. Informed by this analysis, this paper concludes by addressing the interplay between disease risk management and traditional environmental goals, such as climate change mitigation, increased biodiversity and reforestation.

Sadie Weinberger, Environmental Studies (Advisor: Michael Dove): The Priceless Commodity: Long-Distance Trail Hiking in the American Wilderness

Wilderness, in the American imagination, has become a space of refuge from the crowdedness and alienation of human civilization. The designation of pieces of land as “Wilderness” is an act of decommodification, removing that land from the formal market. But, as Wilderness spaces emerged as protected land in America, there grew an idea of wilderness that has become increasingly commodified. Every year, thousands of people attempt to continuously hike, or “thru-hike,” the Pacific Crest Trail and the Appalachian Trail, two of the longest hiking trails in the world. The experience of thru-hiking is characterized by contradictions and embodies the tension between the decommodification and commodification of American wilderness. The trails themselves act as a mechanism for “othering” the wilderness while at the same time providing what hikers tend to imagine as an unmediated experience of the wild. They both perpetuate the commodification of wilderness and resist it. In the end, these processes of commodification and decommodification exist in tandem, and, in the case of thru-hiking, require hikers to enact the fiction of noncommodified wilderness.


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