Four decades on the front lines of environmental activism


“MIT helped me in many ways,” says Yaffee, who taught MIT’s first undergraduate course on environmental issues as a doctoral student. “I learned how to better reach my audience in the classroom,” he says. “DUSP also taught me dynamics and decision-making processes. And last but not least, it was at MIT where I met the love of my life and my closest colleague, Julia Wondolleck. ”Yaffee and Wondolleck, MCP ’80, PhD ’83, went overlapping at DUSP for two years and they were married in the MIT Chapel in 1983. He recently retired after 38 years of teaching at the University of Michigan.

Yaffee, who has written or co-authored six books, has seen countless evolutions and changes during his four decades at the forefront of environmental activism and education. “In the 1970s, the issues were much more local and activism was more grassroots,” he notes. “It was much easier to reach a consensus on action. Today, with environmental issues expanding from local to global, it’s much harder to get traction, especially when working across national borders. The debate is also much more politicized than in the past. “Social media has helped to generate widespread skepticism about science and experience.”

Despite these challenges, and the real threat posed by climate change, Yaffee has lost neither his enthusiasm nor his just outrage. He says he still finds reason to hope every day in the classroom, and every time he, his colleagues and students play together at the Ecotones, a jazz band he conducts at the School of the Environment. and Michigan Sustainability.

“In many ways, making music is very similar to the negotiation techniques I teach in class,” says Yaffee, who plays keyboards. “You have a lot of discordant parts and you have to find a process to put them together so that what comes out is music and not just noise.”



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