Tremaine Phillips: Michigan Public Service Commissioner talks alternative energy, vulnerable communities 

By Rachel Duckett

Tremaine Phillips

In 2019, Michigan State University alum Tremaine Phillips was appointed to the three-member Public Service Commission, making him one of the country’s public service commissioners at 33 years old.

The PSC’s mission is to “serve the public by ensuring safe, reliable and accessible energy and telecommunications services at reasonable rates.”

That includes regulation of landlines, cable television and energy infrastructure. While it’s not an environmental agency, the commission oversees clean energy operations and sometimes assesses the environmental impact of existing infrastructure in its decision-making.

I spoke with him about alternative energy, protecting communities and more. Here’s our conversation, lightly edited:

What have you learned since being appointed to the commission in 2019?

I thought I knew a lot coming into this job, but it’s just made me learn and appreciate the complexity and the amount of devotion and commitment it takes to sustain all this good stuff we have going. So I never take for granted the light switch when I turn it on. Reliable energy is not a guarantee for many people across the world.

I think of the complexity and how many thousands and tens of thousands of people are waking up every day to make sure the system is safe and reliable. Continue reading

Knight Center director reports on trafficking in wildlife skulls

Knight Center director Eric Freedman explores the dark world of illegal trafficking of wildlife skulls in “The Bone Collectors,” the cover story in the winter issue of Earth Island Journal.

It’s a story of greed, intrigue, science, conspiracies, mysticism, collectors, corruption and investigators.

It’s a story of a wide range of animals, many of them endangered or threatened, including helmeted hornbills, Bornean orangutans, tigers, walruses, African antelopes and rhinos.

And it’s a story that stretches from the MSU Museum and the Smithsonian to Southeast Asia to Alaska to the U.S.-Canadian border.

As for long-term implications, Freedman writes, “Experts warn that the illegal trade in skulls and other wildlife parts creates a major obstacle to the preservation of biodiversity.”

Knight Center director in podcast on climate change in Central Asia

A fishing ship abandoned as the Aral Sea shrank near Nukus, Uzbekistan. It’s part of what has been nicknamed a “ghost fleet.” Credit: Eric Freedman

Knight Chair Eric Freedman was a panelist on a podcast about climate change and environmental challenges in the former Soviet republics on Central Asia.

The Majlis podcast from Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty examined the signs of climate change in the region and how the governments there are responding. Those signs include melting glaciers, extreme weather and habitat destruction.

The other panelists were Bakytgul Chynybaeva of RFE/RL’s Kyrgyz bureau, who was reporting on the COP 26 UN Climate Change Conference from Glasgow; independent journalist and environmental researcher Ryskeldi Satke; and Bruce Pannier, the author of the Qishloq Ovozi blog. RFE/RL media-relations manager Muhammad Tahir moderated the discussion.

 

Vivid evidence of desertification of most of the Aral Sea that spans the Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan border. Once a vital fishing resource, the Aral largely disappeared when the rivers that fed it were diverted for irrigation to grow cotton and other crops. Credit: Eric Freedman

Freedman is a former Fulbright Scholar in Uzbekistan who has been a guest speaker and researcher in three other Central Asian countries: Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan. His books include Environmental Crises in Central Asia: From Steppes To Seas, From Deserts To Glaciers (Routledge).

The MSU School of Journalism is now collaborating on a capacity-building project with the Journalism & Mass Communication University in Tashkent, the capital of Uzbekistan. The project includes assistance in developing curricula on environmental, health and risk reporting and training for Uzbek faculty members and professional journalists.

A Kazakh villager carries a bucket of water from a well in a desert that once formed the bed of the Aral Sea. Credit: RFE/RL

Ph.D. funded opportunity in inclusive science communication project

The Knight Center invites applications for a Ph.D. position in the NSF-funded project Intercultural Science Communication Research and Training to Broaden Participation Among Historically Minoritized Science Practitioners. BIPOC are strongly encouraged to apply.

The project, in collaboration with the University of Rhode Island’s Metcalf Institute, will address the lack of BIPOC representation in science communication training spaces and among trainers using an intercultural communication perspective. The project will include the development and testing of a new science communication training, the Science Communication Research Fellowship (SCARF). We are looking to fund a student interested in inclusive science communication beginning August 2022.

The successful applicant would have to apply to the Information & Media doctoral program in the College of Communication Arts and Sciences at Michigan State University. The application deadline is December 1st, 2021.

The position is suited for students from historically minoritized groups, have recently completed or near completing an MA in Journalism/Communication or related fields (media studies, environmental studies, sociology), with experience of working with relevant methods, and with relevant professional and/or personal experience. The ideal candidate would have some professional journalism or communication experience, including basic writing, reporting, multimedia skills, strategic communication, and /or public relations.

Required Qualifications:

  1. Education: M.A. in Journalism/Communication or related fields
  2. Basic knowledge of qualitative and/or quantitative communication research methods, including interviews, surveys and/or content analysis
  3. Excellent written, editing, and verbal communication skills
  4. Relevant experience working with historically marginalized populations

For more information, please contact Dr. Bruno Takahashi at btakahas@msu.edu

Bruno Takahashi, Ph.D.
Associate Professor and Research Director
Knight Center for Environmental Journalism
College of Communication Arts and Sciences
Michigan State University