Skip Navigation

Professional Development and Enrichment Programs

Thursday evenings in October

What’s the Big Idea?
Future Vision: Survival Tactics for Our Changing Environment

Join us as four eminent UNC-Chapel Hill researchers present their findings on urbanization, climate change, water supply, flood protection, and stewardship of the world in which we live. 

Thursdays, October 9, 16, 23, and 30, 7–8:30 pm, at the Friday Center.
Fees: $10 per session or the entire series for $30. 

Future Vision: Survival Tactics for Our Changing Environment

Climate Change Adaptation and Insurance: The Surprising $100-Billion Place Where the Rubber Meets the Road in Climate Change Economics and Politics

Thursday, October 9, 7-8:30 pm, Course #3205

Download Session Slides Here

The insurance industry claims that it stands with us when trouble strikes, but since 1968 it has largely refused to cover homeowner flood losses. In recent years, many insurance companies have also stopped covering homeowner losses due to high winds, especially at the coast. Coverage from extreme-weather events is increasingly covered by public or quasi-public programs such as the National Flood Insurance Program or, for wind-damage in North Carolina, by the NC “Beach Plan.”  Losses from a single storm such as from a Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy can reach $100-billion, so storm coverage is important to real-estate markets, national and state budgets, sound land-use planning, and politics. Professor Donald Hornstein, an award-winning UNC-Chapel Hill law professor and member of the board of directors of the North Carolina “Beach Plan,” will lead you through the maze of issues and surprising politics that arise at the intersection of climate and insurance. 

Donald Hornstein holds the Aubrey L. Brooks Chair at UNC-Chapel Hill’s School of Law and is also a member of the University's Institute for the Environment and UNC-Chapel Hill's Curriculum in Environment and Ecology. In 2013, he was featured as one of 26 of the nation’s best law teachers in a book published by the Harvard University Press, What the Best Law Teachers Do.  At UNC-Chapel Hill, Professor Hornstein has won the School of Law’s McCall Award for Teaching Excellence a record eight times and has won three additional University-wide teaching prizes. In Fall 2013, UNC-Chapel Hill chose Professor Hornstein to teach one of the University's first Massive Open Online Courses, “An Introduction to Environmental Law and Policy,” which opened with over 20,000 students worldwide in September 2013. Recipient of a Fulbright award for research and teaching in East Africa, Professor Hornstein's environmental law scholarship has twice been recognized as among the annual top ten national articles of the year.  Professor Hornstein's articles on risk regulation, in particular, have appeared in some of the nation's top law journals, including the Columbia Law Review, Duke Law Journal, and Yale Journal on Regulation.  An expert on catastrophic risk insurance coverage, Professor Hornstein has been appointed by the North Carolina Commissioner of Insurance to the board of directors of North Carolina's Wind Pool, a $400-million insurance facility insuring properties against catastrophic wind damage at the coast and along the Outer Banks.  

Sustainable Cities of the Future

Thursday, October 16, 7-8:30 pm, Course # 3206

Download Session Slides Here

Poor air quality, obesity, sedentary behaviors, and even a suggested decrease in social capital have been blamed on urban sprawl. Understanding the role that city design plays in influencing population behaviors is important for behavior change. With more than half of the world’s population and 80 percent of the US population living in urban areas, such understanding is also relevant for decision-makers and informed citizens. This presentation examines how the way cities are built can explain some of the environmental, social, and personal health challenges we currently face. It will also review the possibilities and tradeoffs society faces in building more sustainable cities.

Daniel Rodríguez is Distinguished Professor of Sustainable Community Design in the Department of City and Regional Planning. He also directs a center with the same name within the Institute of the Environment ( and holds an adjunct appointment in the Department of Epidemiology, all at UNC- Chapel Hill. He is an expert in transportation planning, public transit, and transportation policy. Most of his research focuses on the reciprocal relationship between the built environment and transportation, and its effects on the environment and health. Rodríguez is the author of more than seventy peer-reviewed publications and a co-author of the book Urban Land Use Planning (University of Illinois Press). He is currently appointed to one standing committee of the National Academies’ Transportation Research Board and serves on the editorial boards of the Journal of the American Planning Association, International Journal of Sustainable Transportation, Journal of Architectural Planning and Research, Journal of Transportation and Health, and the Journal of Transport and Land Use.

Improving Management of Our Most Precious Resource: Water

Thursday, October 23, 7-8:30 pm, Course #3207

Download Session Slides Here

Population growth and economic development continue to increase demands for fresh water, even as rising costs and concerns over environmental quality limit the development of new supplies. Meanwhile, worries over the potential impact of a changing climate on water supplies contribute to a greater sense of urgency regarding how society will meet future demands. Some regions, such as the Western US, have always faced conditions of water scarcity, while for others, such as the southeastern US, water scarcity is a relatively new phenomenon. North Carolina and other southeastern states need fresh approaches for managing water resources in a manner that fits with this new reality. Doing so will require innovative strategies that integrate consideration of technical, economic, and environmental factors—all of which will be important to developing sustainable solutions.

Dr. Gregory Characklis is a professor in the Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering at UNC- Chapel Hill, where he also serves as director of the Center for Watershed Science and Management in the UNC Institute for the Environment. Prior to joining UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Characklis served for approximately two years as director of resource development and management at Azurix Corporation in Houston, Texas, and before that he spent two years in Washington, DC as a fellow with the National Academy of Engineering.  In 2011, Dr. Characklis was named a Leopold Environmental Leadership Fellow by the Woods Institute at Stanford University, and in 2012 he was elected to the board of directors of the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP), where he is currently president-elect. Dr. Characklis holds a PhD and an MS in Environmental Science and Engineering from Rice University and a BS in Materials Science and Engineering from Johns Hopkins University.

Forests, Green Infrastructure, and the Sustainable City

Thursday, October 30, 7-8:30 pm, Course #3208

The management of water is among the most important attributes of urbanization. Provision of sufficient quantities and quality of freshwater, treatment and disposal of wastewater, and flood protection are critical for urban sustainability. Over the last century, two major shifts in urban water management paradigms have occurred, the first to improve public health with the provision of infrastructure for centralized sanitary wastewater collection and treatment, and the rapid drainage and disposal of stormwater. While stormwater is defined as surface water flow resulting from developed areas, an integrated approach to urban water management requires consideration of the full hydrologic cycle. A current shift in paradigm is now occurring in response to the unintended consequences of sanitary and stormwater management, which have degraded downstream water bodies and shifted flood hazard downstream. Current infrastructure is being designed and implemented to retain, rather than rapidly drain, stormwater, with a focus on infiltrating water into soils and groundwater, and evaporating water by redeveloping forest canopy and other vegetation in urban areas. These new methods attempt to shift watershed hydrology closer to predevelopment conditions by recreating the benefits provided by ecosystems in reduced flooding and water purification. The restoration of ecosystem services by the “greening” of the city has a set of additional environmental and human health benefits, including moderation of urban “heat islands,” and absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide.   

In this presentation, we will discuss the needs and new methods for watershed management by ecosystem restoration of existing urban areas, and design of new development.  Examples are drawn from North Carolina, the Chesapeake Bay, and rapidly urbanizing areas in China. The discussion has direct implications for local watershed management in the Jordan and Falls lakes, both major urban water supplies immediately downstream of our rapidly growing NC Triangle cities.

Lawrence Band is the Voit Gilmore Distinguished Professor of Geography and the director of the Institute for the Environment at UNC-Chapel Hill. He has been at Carolina for sixteen years, with previous faculty appointments at the University of Toronto and Hunter College, City University of New York. He teaches courses in watershed hydrology, geomorphology, geographic information systems, and environmental modeling.  Dr. Band’s research is in the ecology and hydrology of watersheds, including the cycling of water, carbon and nutrients, the development and impacts of droughts and floods, and human/environment interactions. His current research focuses on the effects of land use change and climate change in North Carolina, and the urban environment in the NC Triangle and Baltimore. He has previously worked on climate and land use change issues in central Canada, the Pacific Northwest, and northern China.


Past topics for What's the Big Idea?

  • Materials of the Future
  • Energy and the Environment
  • The Human Being in 2050
  • The Science of Evolution
  • Genetics, Ethics, and Human Health
  • We the People: Democracy in America
  • Pandemics, Infectious Diseases, and Public Policy
  • Global Climate Change: Challenges and Options in North Carolina and Beyond
  • Here Today...Here Tomorrow? Sustaining Precious Resources for Our Future
  • Extreme Space Above and Below
  • Nanotechnology: Big Ideas About Tiny Matter
  • Exploring the Human Brain
  • Water In Our World
  • Exploring the Human Brain—More Big Ideas!
  • Medical Mysteries
  • Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Its Role in Twenty-First-Century Health Care