Pomona College environmental analysis professor Char Miller received the Pinchot Medallion for his “Distinguished Leadership in Forestry Conservation” in September.
“I was shocked to hear that I was to be a recipient of this wonderful honor,” Miller wrote in an e-mail to TSL. “I could name a lot of colleagues and activists who I think are more deserving.”
“Not that I am about to give the medallion—or its cool sash—back!” Miller wrote. “But I have benefited from my many students and colleagues over the years whose questions and criticisms have forced me to think much more carefully about the complicated interplay between people and place, about the dynamic relationship between human and natural systems that lies at the core of my classes and research.”
Students who have worked with Miller praised his teaching and involvement on campus.
“He’s one of the best professors I’ve had at Pomona,” said Chelsea Fried PO ’14, an EA liaison. “He’s a really, really fantastic discussion leader.”
“He’s a really important part of our environmental culture on campus,” she added. She said students frequently seek his opinion when discussing sustainability initiatives.
“Char is one of the most inspirational professors I’ve ever worked with—he has this incredible ability to make you feel like what you’re interested in is worthwhile and important,” wrote Jennifer Schmidt PO ’14, an EA liaison, in a message to TSL. “He radiates this optimism that we CAN make a difference, which is particularly important in the environmental field, with its tendency toward doom and gloom.”
Miller, who is on sabbatical, wrote that he is collaborating with photographer Tim Palmer to create an illustrated history of the American wild. He described the project as “a weave of image and word probing our romantic, beguiling, and troubled concept of wilderness.”
As Director of the 5C Environmental Analysis Program, Miller also has been involved in a variety of sustainability initiatives at the 5Cs. Last year, he joined student activists urging Pomona to divest its endowment from fossil fuel investments. The Pomona Board of Trustees voted last month against divestment, and the 5C Divestment Campaign will present to Pitzer College’s Board of Trustees Saturday at 1p.m.
“If the boards of trustees at the colleges do not divest our investments in fossilized energy then it seems incumbent on them—and the rest of us—to pour larger amounts of money into rapidly shrinking our carbon footprints by other means,” Miller wrote.
Miller wrote that the 5Cs should work on “ratcheting down our water consumption, use of electricity and paper, and heavy reliance on a fossil-fuel economy that has so badly disrupted our climate and made all species more vulnerable.”
The Environmental Analysis Program has been very involved in the 5C sustainability movement, according to Miller.
“At Pomona, students and faculty mounted projects to decrease our consumption of resources, expanded composting and recycling, and through collective and ongoing efforts at the organic farm have advanced our understanding of the vital importance of small urban farms and the challenges—scientific and social—they face in this era of changing climates,” he wrote.
Miller received the award from the Pinchot Institute, a conservation organization named after Gifford Pinchot, who founded the U.S. Forest Service.
Miller has written extensively about the environmental movement in the United States and his work includes two books about Pinchot. A Pitzer College alumnus, Miller has taught courses on American environmentalism for 30 years.