Although Joshua Long’s title is environmental studies assistant professor, the interdisciplinary human geographer actually has three different degrees in geography.
Long said growing up on a ranch helped shape his interest in being environmentally conscious.
When Long started college at Texas State University, he said he realized the larger connection his individual impact had on the world. Long received a bachelor’s degree in resource and environmental geography from Texas State, a master’s degree in rural geography from Northern Arizona University, and holds a doctorate from the University of Kansas in human geography focusing on urban studies. After college, Long taught at several schools, including one in Switzerland, before coming to Southwestern University in 2011.
Along with teaching, Long said he spends much of his time on research, and is currently focusing on the city of Austin and its issues with growth and development.
Long is going into his sixth year at Southwestern and is up for tenure.
What got you interested in environmental studies?
I grew up on a ranch in Bastrop, [in] a very conservative, political family[that was] very property rights- oriented, so environmentalism wasn’t always something that was heavily espoused by my family. Yet one of the things I think that they didn’t realize was that they were environmentalists: They had a very strong tie to the land and had a strong concept of stewardship.
As I got older and went to college and ended up taking classes in environmental geography, I noticed how much I didn’t know and how I needed to tie these things into much broader issues that were going on globally and at the state and local level. [What] fascinated me was how things that were going on in my own backyard connected to global issues.
Southwestern University is 100 percent renewable in terms of energy. What are some ways your students contribute to this?
[Upon my arrival], one of the first things I did was [suggest] a change to the capstone class. I went and asked the students, ‘What if we went and did something more meaningful—what if we actually published a paper together or created a policy brief or actually changed something on campus?’
[They] would get much more experience in the application of it and in the scholarship of it. We have made sustainability at Southwestern our chief focus.
[One thing we did was look] at infrastructure changes that we [could] make to the gym, but we also started looking at social justice issues and creating a better sense of community.
[For example], how can we create a more inclusive environment for students on campus? How do we increase the health and well-being of the campus? How can we improve our economic and financial sustainability? How can we be a better community member to the city of Georgetown?
So a long list of things has come from making that a priority focus, and we are going to continue it.
With Georgetown being the fastest- growing city of its size in the U.S., what do you see as the challenges and opportunities?
People come from all over Texas to visit Georgetown. It is a charming Texas city with numerous draws for tourists. Its newly gained recognition as the only 100 percent renewable town in Texas may add opportunities for green tourism. But will Georgetown be able to handle a large increase in visitors? I’m not sure.
We are already working on infrastructure upgrades, but I wonder if these will be able to accommodate both an increase in tourism and the influx of new residents that are currently making Georgetown the fastest- growing city in the U.S. The only way that Georgetown will be able to keep up is if city leaders move quickly to plan for the needed increased infrastructure and responsible construction. This means additional roads, parking and public transit options, but it also means that we have to build in a way that accommodates increased demand for water, wastewater treatment, energy and waste management/resource recovery while simultaneously maintaining the environmental quality of the city’s ecosystems.
It is a daunting task. Georgetown policymakers and practitioners have quite a challenge ahead of them.
How can people get involved?
I think everybody has to find the way that is most convenient for them. For most people it’s going to be changing the way they commute to work, and that is an easy shift for them. One of your other biggest eco-footprints is the food you eat. Take two weeks and chronicle what you eat and then start to look at where all that food is produced and the ecological footprint that it has.
With just a few adjustments you can have a major change. You can start to think about your water consumption if that’s easier for you. Or maybe you are moving into a new house and actually retrofitting that house to be more energy-efficient. I think it really depends on the individual.
On the other hand, when we are talking about an issue as large as climate change, those individual decisions are sort of a drop in the bucket to, say, changing our national energy policy.
What do you enjoy most about being a professor?
I love getting together with students and talking through the complexity of these issues. When I have students in classes, we are going to talk about how sustainability, food and politics are all connected together and the complexity of the issue.
Once you get semi-familiar with the complexity of the issue then maybe you can move forward with an efficient policy approach. You don’t do that by just reading a book and taking a test.
These issues require you to sit down in a room, look each other in the eyes and talk these things through. That’s what learning is.
I love interacting with people and coming up with new ideas and trying to come up with solutions, and I think that is a big part of what teaching is.
What are you hoping to teach your students?
Everybody has something that they are passionate about.
If you can find that one thing that you are passionate about that will make you happy, you can incorporate it into your work life, into your personal interests and hobbies, and you can actually find something where you can make a change in the world.