Rosa leaves legacy on global warming, nuclear waste issues

Gene RosaPULLMAN, Wash. – Eugene A. Rosa, who brought a sociological perspective to the pressing environmental problems of our day, from nuclear waste to global warming to how different cultures perceive risk, died Feb. 27 at the age of 71.

Rosa, the Edward R. Meyer Distinguished Professor of Natural Resource and Environmental Policy at Washington State University, died of lung cancer at his home in Moscow, Idaho, with his wife Julie, family and friends by his side. A memorial will take place in the spring.
Rosa’s work examined the human causes of greenhouse gases, the ecological footprint and the historical relationships between carbon dioxide loads and societal well-being. His theoretical research and policy work brought him international acclaim in risk factors associated with energy, technology and global environmental change.
He was an artist as well, recycling discarded objects into “ecolages” that melded the unwanted with the aesthetic.
“Gene truly was a Renaissance man,” said WSU professor emeritus James Short, who worked with Rosa on issues surrounding nuclear waste disposal. “Working with him was stimulating and enlightening. He was a giant in his field and recognized as such among a broad spectrum of disciplines and professions.”
Lasting impact of scholarship
In 2010, Rosa and 15 other scientists writing in the journal Science said the White House needed to focus more on the social and political feasibility of its nuclear waste disposal solutions to succeed. Such solutions, he said, “will ultimately require public acceptability.  Current efforts by the administration, such as the composition of its Blue Ribbon Commission, indicate that this important element may be overlooked.”
In 2011, the WSU Thomas S. Foley Institute for Public Policy and Public Service honored Rosa with a symposium. Internationally renowned scholars participated in panels on risk, theoretical and conceptual issues, energy and structural human ecology. A book based on the symposium, “Structural Human Ecology: Risk, Energy and Sustainability,” is in production with the institute and WSU Press.
“Gene was very gratified in seeing so many collaborators and students come together to discuss their work,” said Cornell Clayton, director of the Foley Institute. “It really helped him think more clearly about the interconnections between various strands of his own work (and thought) over the years and the lasting impact his scholarship will have.”
 “Gene was a pioneer of the environmental social sciences,” said Tom Dietz, professor of sociology and environmental science at Michigan State University and a friend and collaborator of Rosa’s for more than 30 years. “His work was germinal in bringing social science to risk analysis and to the study of global environmental change.
Generous colleague, mentor, collaborator
“Like those giants of the Renaissance, he was a master of multiple excellences,” Dietz said. “In every conversation with him, I knew I would learn something.”
“As a mentor, Gene was generous with his time, intellect and material resources,” said former graduate student Richard York, a professor of sociology and environmental studies at the University of Oregon in Eugene. “He taught through collaboration.
“As a collaborator, Gene was brilliantly creative and insightful, diligent in his scholarship,” York said. “He upheld the highest level of integrity in professional ethics. He not only contributed his best to collaborative work, but recognized the important contributions of others.”
Education, awards, service
Rosa earned his Ph.D. in social science from the Maxwell Graduate School of Syracuse University in 1976. He completed postgraduate work in neurosciences and energy studies and was an instructor at Stanford University before joining the WSU faculty in 1978. At WSU, he conducted research in environmental sociology and the history of social thought about climate and was a faculty associate of the Social and Economic Sciences Research Center.
Rosa received many university and college honors. Provost Warwick Bayly was pleased to recently notify Rosa that he would be promoted to the rank of Regents Professor as of July 1, 2013. Rosa was the 2011 Boeing Distinguished Professor of Environmental Sociology and earned the 2010 College of Liberal Arts Excellence in Professional Service Award. He was chosen to give the 2007 WSU Distinguished Faculty Address and received the 2006 Distinguished Achievement Award from the College of Liberal Arts.
He served on the National Academy of Sciences National Research Council Standing Committee on the Human Dimensions of Global Change. In 2003, he was elected a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He received the 1999 Award for Distinguished Contributions to the Sociology of the Environment and Technology from the Environment and Technology Section of the American Sociological Association.
Visiting scholar, widely published
His research is widely published in many leading journals including Science, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and American Sociological Review. His co-edited book, “Human Footprints on the Global Environment: Threats to Sustainability,” won the 2009 Gerald L. Young Distinguished Scholarly Book Award from the Society for Human Ecology. He co-authored the book “Risk, Uncertainty and Rational Action,” which won the 2000-2002 Outstanding Publication Award of the Section on Environment and Technology of the American Sociological Association.
Rosa was a visiting scholar at universities worldwide, where he gave numerous invited lectures and seminars. A visiting scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, he was responsible for designing and conducting the critical feasibility test of a computer assisted methodology for assessing the risks of operator errors in commercial nuclear control rooms. That methodology was adopted for human reliability assessments in some U.S. nuclear power plants and by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration as a basis for investigating human error possibilities during shuttle lift-off, orbiting and manual landing scenarios.
Making and sharing art
Outside of his research, Rosa was passionate about art; he made, collected and supported the arts at WSU, said Chris Bruce, director of the Museum of Art at the university. Rosa established an endowment to honor his parents, Luigi Gastaldo and Flora Brevette Rosa, said Julie Roberts Rosa.
“The endowment helped fund transportation expenses to the museum for K-12 students within a 100-mile radius of Pullman,” Bruce said. “Gene wanted students in rural areas to have the opportunity to see museum-class art and to set foot on a great college campus – many for the first time. He’d often come to the museum during their visits, and their smiling faces and inquisitive minds were mirrored in Gene’s own face.
“He leaves a lot of memories for his friends, but he also leaves a wonderful legacy for thousands of young people who will never know him, but will have their lives expanded through his generosity,” Bruce said.
In memory
Rosa is survived by his wife, Julie; stepchildren, Joe and Anna; sister, Sylvia, and her husband, Brian Shutts; and nieces, Laurie, Krista and Melinda.
Condolences may be sent online to Short’s Funeral Chapel,, or by mail to Julie Roberts Rosa at 510 E. C St., Moscow ID 83843.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to in support of the Luigi Gastaldo and Flora Brevette Rosa Endowment for the “Buy-a-Busload-of-Kids” program at the WSU Museum of Art.
Phyllis Shier, WSU College of Arts and Sciences, 509-335-5671,