Students, faculty at IBES take on sustainability topics with radio segments, podcast

In “Possibly,” available online and airing on the Public’s Radio every Tuesday, Brown undergraduates track down answers to Rhode Islanders’ questions about sustainability.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Wondering how to minimize your carbon footprint with your next car purchase? Curious about the environmental impact of the nation’s almond milk obsession?

Now, there’s a radio show for that: “Possibly.”

The audio segment, airing Tuesdays during “Morning Edition” on the Public’s Radio in Rhode Island and available to stream online, brings together a team of Brown students and news veterans to tackle listeners’ burning questions about sustainability. The series is a joint effort between the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society (IBES) and the Public’s Radio, the Ocean State’s National Public Radio affiliate.

The weekly series of two- and four-minute “Possibly” segments kicked off in mid-July, with recent Brown graduates Molly Magid and Lauren Black addressing one listener’s query on the most energy-efficient way to boil water. In the coming weeks, undergraduate students at Brown will work with journalists and Brown faculty to take on questions about best practices for recycling, the state’s impending plastic bag ban and the recent focus on eradicating single-use straws.

“The goal of ‘Possibly’ is to explain the complex issues around sustainability,” said Stephen Porder, assistant provost for sustainability at Brown and a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology. “We want to help people cut through the noise and discern the real differences they can make from the flashes in the pan.”

Porder said “Possibly” began in 2018 as a long-form podcast, addressing issues such as the future of food production and the environmental costs of heating our houses in winter. The idea was born after IBES received a grant to increase students’ engagement with the general public around environmental issues, which in turn formed the Program in Environmental Civic Engagement, for which Porder serves as director. Porder said he will continue working with the Public’s Radio to produce those long-form segments sporadically while also supervising students who help create the shorter weekly segments.

Porder said he believes the short, easy-to-digest segments will offer students a valuable lesson in communicating about science to a lay audience — something that will come in handy whether they pursue careers in research, teaching, communications or another field entirely.

“This is an incredible educational opportunity for the students, because they get to learn about the science behind sustainability while also learning how to articulate it clearly and concisely,” Porder said. “They’re working with real science professionals and real radio professionals simultaneously, and they’re learning how to navigate the boundary between science and communication.”

“Possibly” airs twice each Tuesday on the Public’s Radio, first during the 6 a.m. hour and again during the 8 a.m. hour. Segments are available to stream at, on iTunes and on the Stitcher app.