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ENVIRONMENTAL STUDIES : The Internationalist

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by Ronald Roach


Title: Assistant professor, environmental studies program and director of the Climate Justice Research Project, Dartmouth College Education: Ph.D., natural resources and environmental policy, University of Michigan School of Natural Resources; M.A., Anthropology, Johns Hopkins University; M.F.S., Yale University; B.S., natural resources and environmental policy, University of Michigan
Age: 38
Career mentor: Bunyan Bryant, University of Michigan
What advice do you have for new or budding faculty? “Stay focused. Use technology to manage information as quickly as you can. Raise outside funds for your research as soon as you can.”

At a time when national governments are as focused on containing the threat from global climate change as they have ever been, the need for experts and advocates to bring attention to vulnerable populations in both developed and developing countries has never been greater. Count Dr. Michael K. Dorsey as a scholar whose experience as an advocate on behalf of poor and marginalized peoples is as formidable as the expertise he demonstrates while teaching and conducting research in his capacity as an assistant professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College.

“The work that I’m trying to do is upholding the civic responsibilities that I think I have and that for me means trying to make space, as much as I can, for justice to prevail for as many people as possible,” Dorsey says.

At Dartmouth, Dorsey manages a range of consulting and advisory posts that enable him to exert leadership on climate change and environmental justice issues on an international basis. He attended the U.N. Climate Change conference in Copenhagen, Denmark, last month where he advised several international organizations and national governments, most notably the Pacific Island countries represented by the Islands First organization, during climate-change policy negotiations.

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Last year, the Ford Foundation announced a $300,000 funding award to enable Dorsey to launch the Climate Justice Research Project at the Hanover, N.H.-based Ivy League college. The project is devoted to studying the racial and social inequities that result in addressing climate change and generating policy information on the effect of climate change on the livelihoods of low-income people in the U.S. and abroad.

“The Environmental Studies Program is delighted that the Ford Foundation has chosen to fund Professor Dorsey’s research. We are glad to see he has received such recognition for his contributions in the field of global environmental justice and climate,” said Dr. Andrew Friedland, professor and chair of Dartmouth’s Environmental Studies Program, in a statement.

Accustomed to handling many tasks at a time, Dorsey has held a number of lecturer positions at foreign universities, including schools in Sweden, the Netherlands and South Africa. He holds the post of visiting scholar at the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies’ Commission to Engage African Americans on Climate Change, one of the most visible campaigns to inform Black Americans about climate change.

Long before joining the Dartmouth College environmental studies department as a tenure-track faculty member in 2005, Dorsey had labored many years as a committed environmentalist. In 1992, while still an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, the Detroit-born scholar served as a member of the U.S. State Department delegation to the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, commonly known as the ‘Earth Summit,’ in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

Over the years, Dorsey has played a critical role in co-founding as well as helping lead a number of environmental advocacy organizations. He is a founding member of the San Francisco-based Center for Environmental Health and the Washington-based Environmental Leadership Program. A member of the Sierra Club since his early teen years during the mid-1980s, Dorsey served six years, from 1997 to 2003, as a director on the club’s national board. While conducting dissertation research as a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, Dorsey lived in Ecuador from 1999 to 2001 and was a co-principal investigator jointly with an ecological institute and an environmental advocacy group.

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“I’ve known Michael to be a provocative, outside-the-box thinker on environmental issues. He challenged his fellow students as well as faculty to consider ideas that were not always the most conventional,” says Dr. Gordon T. Geballe, associate dean for student and alumni affairs at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, where Dorsey earned his master’s of forest science. “He was a memorable student here. And he is someone who is accessible as a valued adviser to our program and is available to our students when he visits.”

— Ronald Roach

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