Chefs and Fish Distributors Use More ‘Trash Fish’ for Sustainability

Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

The scent of freshly caught fish floods the entrance of Red’s Best, a wholesale seafood distributor on Boston’s fish pier, as owner Jared Auerbach pushes open a metal door leading to the packaging room.

“Slap!” “Slap!” “Slap!”

A man in a waterproof orange slicker suit grabs gleaming freshly processed cod from a white container lined with ice and heaves the fish on and off an industrial scale, weighing them for market.

Workers at Red's Best process fish.
Workers at Red’s Best process fish.

Auerbach, 33, with bright blue eyes and thick brown hair pushed into a Boston Red Sox hat, surveys the room before splashing across the wet concrete floor to an open door that offers a view of the shimmering inky-blue harbor. The water ripples gently in the wind and jostles a few docked fishing boats. Two expectant herring gulls perch on the wooden pier with tilted heads, each balancing on one yellow-webbed foot.

“It’s too warm for this today,” he explains, shutting the door with a clang. “Have to keep it cold in here.”

The men barely glance up as Auerbach inspects the heart of his operation. It’s 11 a.m. and his men are deeply focused on the midday process of packing the seafood to be picked up by trucks later in the afternoon and driven to Logan airport. From there, the produce of New England fishermen who work with Red’s Best will be flown to wholesale markets all over the world.

“Thump.” Thump.” “Thump.”

Methodically, another orange slicker-clad worker bends down, reaches into a white container brimming with ice, picks up a clam and tosses it down a metal chute. The bivalves land in cardboard boxes marked with varying destination points in black sharpie—some are as nearby as restaurants in New England; some say “Hong Kong.”

Red Auerbach holds a live clam.
Red Auerbach holds a live clam.

Hundreds more cardboard boxes sit neatly stacked around the room. Some are filled with historically popular seafood like live scallops, salmon and cod, while others are filled with what some refer to as “trash fish,” but what Auerbach likes to call “underappreciated” suspects—Acadian redfish, hake, monkfish, scup and pollock.

“The culinary world has used the term trash fish and I don’t object to it,” Auerbach said. “I think it’s great if it brings attention to less popular fish.”

The term “trash fish” originated in the mid 19th century and stood for fishermen’s catch that was only partly processed—meaning, organs had been removed but the fish were not yet filleted, according to “A History of Fish and Fishing in the Upper Mississippi River,” by HB Carlander. These fish were heavier than fully processed fish and literally weighed down boats on their way to market, slowing them down and threatening to spoil the whole catch. They had to be discarded, hence the term “trash fish.” This expression evolved into a derogatory phrase for any fish that was considered commercially unpopular and undesirable to eat.

The term “trash fish” has caught on in the Boston culinary world, however. Sustainability efforts have led some chefs to use the “catchy” nickname to draw attention to underutilized fish that they say tastes just like more popular species like cod or tilapia, Auerbach said.

At a Cambridge-based March 16 event called “Trash Fish Boston 2014,” chefs of the nonprofit “Chefs Collaborative,” a group concerned with sustainable food systems, met for dinner celebrating underappreciated seafood caught by local fishermen.

“There’s plenty of fish like Acadian red fish, which in a blind taste test holds up to any other fish,” Auerbach said. “For some reason, there’s just not that consumer demand. If you write it down on a piece of paper next to a better-known fish like cod, people will pick cod.”

America’s obsession with cod dates back to the 17th century. Cod was so abundant in the Atlantic then that it was said that you could “walk across the ocean on their backs,” by fishermen, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s site.

Cod became one of the most lucrative trading products during colonial times in New England and the silvery heavy-bodied fish was ordained as the most succulent white, flakey fish in Georges Bank—the “chosen fish” of Boston, or what Auerbach likes to call “Old school New England crap.”

The species is said to have had its heyday in the 1980s and 1990s, according to NOAA, but in the mid-1990s, overfishing caused U.S. stocks of cod to come close to commercial collapse. Fishing for the species became highly regulated—in Georges Bank and the Gulf of Maine, it was reduced to one-third of its 1994 level by The New England Fishery Management Council.

Despite regulation efforts, NOAA’s 2012 fisheries assessments state that cod is still being overfished despite stocks making some headway. The overfishing of cod not only throws marine ecosystems off-balance, but also hurts New England fishermen who have long made their livelihoods providing cod to restaurants and markets.

This is where Auerbach and “trash fish” come in.

After “cutting his teeth” in the Alaskan commercial fishing industry and taking odd fishing jobs here and there in New England, Auerbach said he founded the seafood distribution company in 2008 as a way to promote environmentally sound fishing.

“A lot of little boats as opposed to one large boat produce the highest quality of wild fish,” the Newton, Mass., native said. “I wanted ways to sustain these small fishing fleets.”

To do so, Auerbach became the go-between for roughly 700 fishermen—“from one guy raking for clams in the mud to huge yacht-type boats trolling for tuna off the continental shelf,” and high-end wholesalers that restaurants buy from. Auerbach created a traceability system that tracks buyers’ seafood from ocean to dinner plate, electronically dog-earing catches from the moment his workers unload fishermen’s vessels, through transportation, processing and distribution.

The Fish Pier where Red's Best is located on Boston Harbor.
The Fish Pier where Red’s Best is located on Boston Harbor.

Every box of seafood distributed by Red’s has a QR code, or barcode, embedded on it. This code can be scanned for access to data about the fisherman who caught your catch, the fish species, the vessel and gear type used to catch it, and the port of origin. The hope, Auerbach said, is that buyers and consumers care about where their seafood comes from.

“We just want to incentivize chefs to support local fishermen instead of importing fish,” Auerbach said.

And a large part of supporting local fishermen involves wholesalers buying what fishermen are able to provide and not putting impossible demands on both fishermen and specific fish stocks like cod. Chefs and consumers alike, therefore, have to be open to trying less popular seafood, Auerbach said.

“You know, we’ve gotten to this place in the seafood world where we are letting the consumer dictate what’s on the menu, but really, we got to let Mother Nature dictate what’s on the menu,” Auerbach said.

Chef Michael Leviton sits on a high-top metal chair at a table in his restaurant, Area Four, in Technology Square in Cambridge while listing off some of the delicious New England “trash fish” he’s cooked with: “Skate. Monkfish. Sea robin. Scup. Spiny Dogfish. Blood clams. Surf clams. Acadian redfish.”

“I understand fishermen’s hesitancy about that name,” Leviton said. “No fish are trash. But it’s catchy and it does advance the agenda.”

Leviton, a short, wiry 48-year-old with intense brown eyes, has been on the board of the Chef’s Collaborative for the past six years and took part in the “Trash Fish Boston 2014” dinner. Area Four, a restaurant that features gourmet pizza and salads, has been open for the past three years.

Leviton said he thinks it is environmentally and economically important to create a market for these types of fish.

“If we don’t support our fishermen, we’re gone,” Leviton said. “Part of sustainability means making sure everyone along the proverbial food chain is able to make a living doing it.”

All too often, Leviton said, getting cheap calories onto the table drives the American food system. Attendant costs, like the depletion of marine biodiversity and the lack of social justice for fishermen, fall by the wayside.

Much of this comes back to the customer, Leviton said.

“Part of problem is we still are obligated to keep our doors open and we can’t make people buy it,” Leviton said of “trash fish.”

Although customers might shy away from lesser-known fish like pollock and hake on the menu, Leviton uses it anyway. He said he often smokes Acadian redfish for recipes he used to use trout for.

The white, flakey fish tastes just as good, he said, but is often more abundant than trout in fishermen’s catch.

“There are ways to slide it in without them realizing,” Leviton said.

So much of Boston’s rich history is embedded in the fishing industry, Leviton said, and keeping that tradition alive is just another reason he feels it is his duty to be a sustainable chef.

“Fishing is a part of so much of our sense of history as Massachusetts or New England natives,” Leviton said.

Thousands Gather to Honor MIT Police Officer Collier

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By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Thousands gathered at MIT’s North Court this morning to attend a ceremony of remembrance for MIT Police Officer Sean Collier, who was shot and killed in his squad car at 10:20 p.m. last April 18 by one of the alleged Boston Marathon bombing suspects.

At the ceremony, MIT architecture professor J. Meejin Yoon revealed the design of The Collier Memorial—an “open hand” structure, to remind visitors to always choose an “open hand over a closed fist,” as Collier would.

Yoon said the granite structure would be comprised of five walls interconnected through a series of reflection gardens to evoke the absence of a central figure, creating a void, but also allowing for a unifying central space of reflection.

Engraved on the memorial, it will state, “In the line of duty, Sean Collier April 18, 2013,” Yoon said.

A second inscription will come from Collier’s brother’s eulogy, saying, “Live long, like he would. Big smiles, big heart, big service, big love.”

Many present did not know Collier personally, but came out of respect for the MIT community, or because they had heard so many stories describing Collier as an exceptionally good, kind person.

Marsha Edmunds, a long time former employee in MIT’s administration, said she came because she is forever bonded to the school community.

“He was such an innocent person to be shot down the way he was,” Edmunds said, pulling her red coat tighter against the cold wind. “I didn’t know Sean personally, but he inspired a community to come together.”

Almost every seat was filled beneath the spacious white tent erected behind the Koch Cancer Research Institute adjacent to the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and Vassar Street where Collier was killed. Quiet music hummed and the audience spoke quietly before the ceremony started. Many donned “MIT Strong” maroon and white pins that were being handed out by event planners at the mouth of the tent.

John Wuestneck, a chaplain at MIT for the past 21 years, said he knew Collier personally.

“He was a really nice guy,” Wuestneck said. He worked directly across from MIT’s police department, so he passed Collier often. “He was really good with students, good with everybody.” Wuestneck shrugged, looking down.

“What can you say?” he said.

Under a gray, overcast sky, the ceremony began at 9:30 a.m. as MIT and Cambridge police forces filed into the front of the tent. The audience stood and clapped for nearly five minutes.

The MIT Police and the Cambridge Police Joint Honor Guard then performed the presentation of the flags and Lieutenant Pauline Carter-Wells of the City of Cambridge Police Department performed the National Anthem, causing the audience to erupt in applause.

MIT’s Executive Vice President and Treasurer, Israel Ruiz, welcomed the guests, most of who were from the MIT community, saying, “It is an honor and a comfort to have you with us today.”

Ruiz described Collier as a constantly smiling presence on campus—someone who talked to everyone and made an effort to get to know students and faculty. He said he met Collier unexpectedly, in a time when he was in great need of a helping hand.

One frigid Friday in February 2013, when winter storm Nemo had shut down MIT’s campus and caused a traffic ban on cars and taxis, Ruiz said he found himself stranded at Boston’s South Station after a business trip to New York.

Ruiz’s colleagues, worried about his safety in the winter storm, sent an MIT cruiser to come pick him up. Shortly after, Collier pulled up and rolled down his window, smiling, Ruiz said.

“He asked me if I was a grad student,” Ruiz said, as the audience laughed heartily. “I said, “Once I was, but I don’t have a uniform.”” He smiled.

During the car ride, Ruiz said Collier mentioned his love for the MIT community. The snowy street was deserted, but Ruiz remembered Collier stopped at an intersection on their way back to campus to help a lost student.

The light was green, Ruiz said, but Collier stopped to help him anyway.

“The light then switched from red to green—a couple of times,” Ruiz said with a laugh.

Ruiz said Collier’s actions that night, just small acts of kindness, perfectly exemplified the MIT community—a community that will “always roll down the window for those who need help.”

United States Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren following Ruiz, said that terror such as last year’s events surrounding the Boston Bombings and its aftermath, can often break people’s spirits.

Boston and Cambridge, however, did not waver, she said.

“We responded with a cry of defiance, not of fear,” Warren said, and reminded the audience to hold Collier in their hearts forever.


John DiFava, MIT Police Chief, had worked closely with Collier during the officer’s 15 months at MIT’s department. Collier had been about to leave the force to join Somerville’s department.

DiFava was one of the last speakers at the ceremony, and described Collier’s immense impact on the way DiFava viewed life.

When he was a child, DiFava said he grew up with heroes like the Lone Ranger, but over time, grew cynical along with life’s many disappointments.

He lost sight of the idea that heroes still exist among men, DiFava said, but Collier taught him many life lessons that slowly changed DiFava’s hardened worldview. One thing Collier taught him was the meaning of bravery, he said.

“He was so young, but wise beyond his years,” DiFava said, looking out to the audience. “He had such insight into people, which illustrates the enormity of our loss.” His voice cracked.

While 2013 has been marked by unimaginable sadness, DiFava said he hopes 2014 will be a year with less frequent tears, a year to “turn to the sun with hope.”

As the MIT Vocal Jazz Ensemble, donned in all black sang “Amazing Grace,” DiFava bowed his head and wiped tears from his face.

“I now know heroes still walk on our earth,” DiFava said.

Bound by Tragedy: A Restaurant and Charity Look to 2014 Boston Marathon for Closure

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

Erinn Fleming, director of events and marketing at Forum, sits at a polished wooden high top in the back of the trendy restaurant located at 755 Boylston St. as she explains why she will be running the 2014 Boston Marathon Monday.

“To finish the marathon— I think it will bring closure to what happened last year,” Fleming said. “It will have made everything I’ve been through and everything my friends at Forum have been through “okay.””

The western Massachusetts native has curly brown hair pulled back into a topknot, lively blue eyes and a lean, athletic build. She smiles frequently, and has a warm, friendly voice, but her tone becomes somber as she describes April 15, 2013, the day the bombs went off—the day that made her want to run.

“I went upstairs to make sure we had all the food for dinner and at 2:50 p.m., everything just kind of stopped,” Fleming said. She pauses. “I heard it first. I probably moved more quickly than I’ve ever moved in my life. I knew something wasn’t right.”

Fleming, 44, has worked at Forum for two and a half years, and was working last year’s Boston Marathon, organizing and overseeing The Joe Andruzzi Foundation’s marathon-watching party. The nonprofit’s ticketed party was held in the front left section of Forum, facing Boylston Street.

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation, started by the former New England Patriot Joe Andruzzi who survived aggressive cancer in the form of non-Hodgkin’s Burkitt’s lymphoma, had team members running for the charity.

The charity raises money to offer medical and emotional support to cancer patients and their families. Friends and families of the runners were enjoying Forum’s prime viewing location just a block west of the finish line. Some sat inside near the windows while others watched on the patio.

It had been a happy day, Fleming said. There were t-shirts, free giveaways, special menus and BBC Radio was onsite.

In the flurry of activity—she was in charge of overseeing the full staff, security, kitchen—Fleming had gone upstairs to plan for the afternoon rush of customers she expected to flood Forum after the race, which was wrapping up. The winner had crossed the finish line two hours before, but there were still 5,700 runners streaming down the course when it happened.

“I had no idea what was going on,” Fleming said of the explosion. “People were coming away from windows and running upstairs to avoid what happened out front, and I moved into hospitality mode. I knew we needed to get our customers out as safely as possible. And that’s what we did.”

Forum was ground zero for the second bombing; the second floor glass windows were shattered, gray dust covered the floor, and a smoky, metallic smell hung in the air, Fleming said.

Fleming and her staff brought all of Forum’s ice and linen out front to the wounded. They helped guide first responders to those who needed critical attention on Forum’s patio. After 15 or 20 minutes, Fleming said police told her and her co-workers to leave while they had the chance—if they didn’t now, they might not be able to later.

This day, which injured some of Fleming’s customers, co-workers and the restaurant, fueled a fire in Fleming—a fire to run for her friends, her city and herself.

“I didn’t think about it the day of,” Fleming said of running the next Boston Marathon. “And April 16 was a strange blur, a day spent in front of the television wondering, “What is going on?””

On the morning of April 17, however, Fleming said she went to the gym and met up with her personal trainer. She needed to let out the pent-up emotion she had been feeling, she said.

After a kickboxing session, Fleming said she turned to her trainer and said she was going to run the next marathon.

“I don’t know where that came from,” Fleming said. “It just came out, but it didn’t give me a choice.” She smiles.

After reaching out to the Joe Andruzzi foundation, the nonprofit gave Fleming one of their bibs—she would be running with the team she had worked so closely with the year before. But this year, there would be 47 runners compared to 21.

“I was so grateful,” Fleming said. “I’m honored.”

This year’s team, “Team JAF,” trained under a charity team umbrella, CharityTeams, which includes groups ranging from Special Olympics Massachusetts to the South Boston Neighborhood House, which organizes community programs in South Boston.

Every Saturday at 8 a.m., Fleming said the charity teams met up at Marriot Copley and ran, usually getting brunch together afterward. They became quite close.

This was Fleming’s therapy, she said.

“It feels really, really, great to be out there with selfless, motivating, supportive people,” Fleming said. “We are all out there because we want to help a foundation or a group that help people that really need it.”

Fleming said finishing the race would bring her some closure to what happened last year. Though Forum has been entirely renovated with new décor and a new layout, the race, Fleming said, will prove, “You can’t do this to me and you can’t do this to our restaurant. I’m going to go run 26 miles to prove it.”

Casey Ford, a 27-year-old from Lynnfield, Mass., handles media relations for the Joe Andruzzi Foundation. Though he was not at the Forum-hosted marathon watching party last year, he said he plans on overseeing the event this year, held in the exact same place, same time.

Ford said it was important for the foundation to hold the party at Forum as a tribute to last year’s runners, the first responders and the city of Boston.

“Last year, we kept telling the team to, “Run to Forum,” Ford said. “This year, we’re saying, “Return to Forum.” It’s a carbon copy of last year. We’re finishing what we started.”

The Joe Andruzzi Foundation has had an outpouring of support from the Boston community, Ford said. Last year, the team raised roughly $170,000. This year, they’ve just reached $400,000.

Ford said the team’s “collective approach” to training is inspirational and represents the mantra of the foundation, which is to always remain upbeat.

“We’re never going to live in fear and we’re going to keep moving forward,” Ford said. “That’s what the foundation tries to instill in patients.”

Gillian Furey, special events manager and volunteer coordinator for The Joe Andruzzi Foundation, joined this year’s marathon team when her uncle was injured in the bombing at Forum and received two bibs, which he offered Furey and her boyfriend, Eddie O’Brien.

“After my uncle got two bibs, I thought I should run in the foundation’s honor,” Furey said.

Though she has never been an avid runner, Furey said the Saturday morning runs with the other charities’ members have made her confident that she can, and will, complete the 2014 Boston Marathon.

Furey also said she now considers Fleming, her running partner, a close friend.

“She is definitely a go getter,” Furey said. “She never gives up. She had a minor injury and some people would have dropped out. She muscled through it—did 21 miles with us a few weeks later.”

When she thinks about completing the Marathon Monday, Furey said she thinks it will feel “bittersweet.”

Like Fleming, Furey said she looks forward to closure; however, she said she would miss seeing the same group of people every Saturday morning.

“We’ll still be in contact but it will be a loss,” Furey said. “But I’m looking forward to ending this past year. I’m looking forward to a new beginning.”

Geologist Looks to Earth’s Past for Hints of Earth’s Future

By Justine Hofherr
BU News Service

In his quest to understand earth’s history, Professor Sam Bowring has traveled to Siberia, Poland, India and China. He has been chased by a black bear for four hours through the Northwest Territories of Canada, eventually ridding himself of the beast by shooting a flare gun into its eye. He has stared into the eyes of a mountain lion all night long in the scrub brush desert of New Mexico, wielding only a small knife and hammer, eventually dozing off as his campfire cooled and awaking to the sound of the lion’s screams in the distance.

Bowring is, first and foremost, a geologist—and he has a mystery to solve.

The adventures the Indiana Jones of geology encounters, whether he’s gathering rocks in South Korea or geomapping in the Cascade Mountains of Washington, are a bonus.

“I’m interested in the origin and evolution of the Earth’s crust,” Bowring said, sitting at his office desk in MIT’s Green Building, the tallest building on the Cambridge, Mass., campus.

Bowring, with bright sapphire eyes and a thick gray beard, has a quiet, serious demeanor as he discusses his work. Behind him, three metal bookshelves span the length of the room. The shelves are full, and every single title is about geology.

“Work is my hobby,” Bowring said, pausing to adjust the collar of his gray button-down shirt. “I like being outdoors and hiking, but I think about science all the time.”

For the past 20 years, Bowring has spent every day of his life trying to understand precisely when–and why 252 million years ago, at the end of the Permian Period, 96 percent of earth’s life disappeared.

Bowring and his colleagues traveled to a set of hills in China where there are rocks from the late Permian, early Triassic period. These rocks contain layers of fossils that show the scientists when certain species went extinct. Not only are there fossils preserved in these rocks, but there is also volcanic ash.

It is a mineral—zircon—in the volcanic ash that proves most useful to Bowring.

Bowring separates zircon, a brownish translucent mineral, from the ash because it has a special property.

When zircon forms in the newly spewed ash, the element uranium fits into the crystal structure quite nicely, he said. But lead does not—it’s radiogenic, meaning, it’s produced by radioactive decay.

“So the day that crystal forms, you have a clock,” Bowring said. “That clock is based on the decay rate of uranium to lead. By measuring that ratio, we can calculate the age of that ash quite precisely.” Bowring smiles as he makes this point.

Bowring thinks that by narrowing the time frame of this mass extinction, he and his colleagues could shed light on what factors might have caused it, possibly exposing parallels between what the environment looked like then, and now.

“Studying this is interesting because this is the largest extinction that animal life has seen on this planet,” Bowring said. “As we push to shorter and shorter time scales, it starts to be relevant to our own existence on this planet and what we’re doing to it.”

Recently, Bowring and his colleagues had a breakthrough thanks to increased precision in measuring rocks—they published a report in January for the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences definitively stating that the mass extinction took less than 60,000 years.

While 60,000 years might seem like an incredibly long time to humans, in geology, this is a blink of an eye and means the extinction took place much more rapidly than previously thought.

Bowring describes this knowledge as “sobering” because the scientists have found a clue—spikes in carbon dioxide—that correlates with this narrowed time frame.

“When you look at the fossil record, you see fossils begin to disappear based on physiology and their ability to deal with high CO2 emissions,” Bowring said.

Animals, the ones who “sat in the mud and filtered water,” were the first to go, he said. They just couldn’t handle the accelerated rate of CO2 emissions. The last animals to disappear from the fossil record were the more active organisms.

Another clue Bowring has noted is that right after the extinction, animals couldn’t precipitate shells made from calcium carbonate very easily.

“There’s a dearth of shells in the fossil record,” Bowring said.

A simple way to inhibit the precipitation of calcium carbonate is to drop the pH, or acidity, of seawater.

“Today, people are very concerned that the pH of sea water has dropped about a tenth because of high carbon emissions,” he said.

Though Bowring and other scientists have thus determined that the mass extinction correlates with high CO2 levels and low pH levels in the ocean, they still struggle to understand precisely what could have caused this.

They do know that mammoth volcanoes in Siberia called the Siberian Traps were burping lava around this time for about a million years, spewing between three and 10 million cubic kilometers of scorching lava over the earth. Between three to five million cubic kilometers is enough to put a kilometer of lava over entire the entire United States—so that’s a lot.

While volcanic eruptions, even minor ones, can be responsible for sharp spikes in CO2 emissions, Bowring is not satisfied placing blame solely on the Siberian Traps.

“Timing is crucial,” he said. “We know that the Siberian Traps overlap with the extinction, but their eruption took place over a million years. Why, then, did the extinction take only tens of thousands of years?”

This question continues to puzzle Bowring and other scientists—perhaps the extinction was the result of a combination of factors, and the eruption of the Siberian Traps pushed the majority of life’s adaptation capabilities over the edge. But the lack of certainty doesn’t mean they won’t stop trying to narrow the time frame for further clues.

After all, there are no “absolutes” in science, Bowring said.

“I suspect that in the next year we will make that time frame much smaller,” he said.

Regardless of finding the exact cause of the extinction, Bowring believes the raised levels of CO2 from the end of the Permian Period reflect Earth’s current state, but the levels have been rising at a much accelerated pace.

The driving force of climate change, the high emission of CO2 through the burning of fossil fuels, has taken a phenomenon that occurred over tens of thousands of years and has put it on a decadal time scale.

By the mid 21st century, the magnitudes of projected changes for global temperature shift will be substantially affected by the choice of emissions scenario, according to the 2013 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel also noted that it is “extremely likely” (greater than 95 percent confidence) that most warming between 1951 and 2010 was human-caused.

This information is depressing, Bowring said, but what’s more depressing is that humans aren’t prepared to change their actions accordingly. Young people are taught that the only successful economies are ones that grow, and they grow at the expense of burning fossil fuels, a quick energy fix that is unsustainable.

This is largely because people only think about climate change on a very small time scale—“How can you expect people to make intelligent decisions about climate change when half the population thinks Earth is less than 10,000 years old?” he said.

In this vein, Bowring thinks a start to solving the problem involves better Earth science education at high schools and universities.

Many Earth science programs have been cut from course curriculum at public schools—even in Massachusetts, a state at the forefront of cutting-edge scientific research, he said.

Furthermore, taxpayers in 14 states will bankroll nearly $1 billion this year in tuition for private schools, many of which are religious and teach that the Earth is less than 10,000 years old, according to Politico.

While public schools cannot teach creationism or intelligent design, private schools receiving public subsidies can and still do. This is fundamentally at odds with students understanding the history of Earth’s environment, and therefore prevents them from understanding the challenges faced in our current environment, Bowring said.

“Anyone who will listen about geologic time and the importance of understanding evolutionary history and applying those lessons to the hard future, that’s really important,” Bowring said. “We don’t do enough of it.”

Bowring said when he thinks about his life’s accomplishments, he’s most proud of the students he has produced who are interested in solving similar problems. He can tick off the names of five students who are now teaching geochronology at various universities around the United States.

“Your scientific achievements—they are just flashes in the pan,” Bowring said. “You’ll get a newspaper article published, but 30 years from now, no one will remember that.”

Julia Baldwin, an assistant professor at the University of Montana, is a former student of Bowring. She took his geochemistry class and he encouraged her to get involved with geochronology research in Saskatchewan, a prairie province in Canada.

When you’re in the field with Bowring, Baldwin said in a phone interview, you collect ten times more rocks than any other day. He encourages students to pull out their giant rock hammers to hack away at rocks, filling their backpacks till they weigh 50 pounds, she said with a laugh.

“He’d say, ‘You might never see this rock again!’” Baldwin said in a phone interview. “He’s just so excited about everything you see.”

Besides his passion for science, she said she was struck by how committed he was to his students.

Completely devoted to undergraduate education, Bowring goes out of his way to lead field trips to Yellowstone National Park before classes start, Baldwin said. That’s how he gets students so excited about geology, she said—he actually gets them outdoors looking at it.

“He puts a lot of responsibility in students’ hands,” Baldwin said. “He first gives you the knowledge then says, ‘Go do great things with this.’ But he doesn’t take credit for it—he just doesn’t have an ego like that.”

Like Bowring, Baldwin also thinks a greater emphasis on earth science education needs to exist, from kindergarten to college.
Students need an understanding of deep time and what it means in order to evaluate the present day climate problems, Baldwin said.

“Students should make decisions with a ‘scientific citizen’ mindset, and be able to evaluate basic science and climate change within the context of geologic time,” she said. “The more they can come into contact with this knowledge, the better.”

Like Baldwin, Professor Ethan Baxter at Boston University said Bowring is a “remarkable” individual, imparting critical earth Science knowledge to his students.

Besides citing him as “the best zircon geochronologist in the world,” Baxter calls Bowring “a good doobie in general.”

Baxter is also a geochronologist, studying the formation of earth’s crust. Instead of zircon, however, Baxter uses garnets to date time.

Fingering a garnet that sits atop his office desk in the Stone science building on BU’s campus, Baxter explains the magic of unlocking the stories that each mineral holds about earth processes—processes related to the past and present.

“Anyone that studies earth history is always thinking about how can we take our information that we have from the past over those tens, to hundreds of thousands, to millions of years time scale, and then apply that to what’s happening today on the decadal time scale,” Baxter said.

Similar to Bowring’s findings in the Siberian Traps, Baxter has found evidence that links spurts of garnet growth around the world with ancient increases in CO2 emissions.

Though he acknowledges that there is still no “smoking gun” in relation to what caused the mass extinction in the Permian Period, Baxter said Bowring’s efforts to narrow the time frame have shown, increasingly, that there are great similarities between the environment then and now.

“Sam’s work with the methods they are using for zircon, he’s reached a resolution in time, which transcends everything we’ve ever dreamed of,” Baxter said.

But despite great leaps in scientific discovery, education lags behind, he said.

When you’re talking about pressing matters like climate change, resource depletion, water quality, sea level rise and the melting of the Arctic ice cap, Baxter said, you notice that comprehension starts with having a basic understanding of earth science.

“A lot of states don’t include it anymore,” Baxter said of earth science education. “It’s a real shame. I don’t think people have a disinterest—they have a lack of awareness.”