Dr. Mike Weinstein is a one-man institute — quite literally. A coastal ecologist by training, Dr. Weinstein landed at Montclair State after a successful career in academia, government and the private sector to become the Director of the PSE&G Institute for Sustainability Studies that was launched in April of this year. A $400,000 grant from the utility giant helped to found the Institute.
But don’t let the long and formidable name of the new endeavor fool you. As it stands today, Dr. Weinstein is the sole man working to get this budding project off the ground. The resources at his current disposal may be modest, but his plans for the institute are ambitious.
“We believe that the institute can play a role as a regional, ultimately national and to a degree international player, in urban landscape ecology for sustainable practices,” he said.
Tall and amiable, he speaks prodigiously and with conviction about the importance of striking a balance between ecology and economics — a theme at the center of the emerging discipline which he calls sustainability science.
“It’s the study of the interactions of humans and their environment, and the ability of humans to keep those interactions going along sustainable trajectories,” he said of the discipline.
In short, the aim of the institute is to expand and shape the discourse surrounding the many conflicts that arise between perpetual human expansion and finite natural resources.
Dr. Weinstein believes that taking a trans-disciplinary approach, drawing from both the physical and social sciences, is central to the success of his efforts. He cited research of the science-policy interface, new interdisciplinary curriculum and outreach as the principle components that the institute would like to put in place to forward its goals. Additional faculty that would work closely with the institute and new degree opportunities for students are other priorities. Also, Dr. Weinstein has been working hard to attract some of the foremost minds in the field to lecture at the institute’s “kick-off” symposium which will take place in late October.
While Dr. Weinstein’s optimism and enthusiasm are never far from the surface, he concedes that the challenges of effective sustainability science are daunting and that the need for it is pressing, especially in New Jersey. A dense population, proximity to the coast (in light of sea-level rise and other factors associated with climate change) and a legacy of pollution are just some of the reasons to take a closer look at the natural resources of the state and our relationship to them.
If Dr. Weinstein’s energy is any indication, and if his insight is correct, the Institute for Sustainability Studies is unlikely to remain a one-man operation for long.
“[We are] in the right place at the right time. The field is emerging, it’s growing rapidly, new programs are popping up everywhere. We’re in an urban center and an urban center is a natural place to practice sustainability science.”