By: REYNA IWAMOTO / MANAGING EDITOR
Each morning before heading out the door, Alexander More asks Siri what the weather is going to be like that day. The weather has what More described as a “butterfly effect” on his life, as it determines many little factors, such as his clothing choice or his mode of transportation to get to work.
“And this, in my small little life, may be insignificant, but in the lives of many people, the environment will determine food security, water stress, [available] resources, emerging infectious diseases, supply chains — so that's [why I do what I do],” More said.
At LIU, as well as being the Director of the Honors College, More is also an Associate Professor of Environmental Health. But More’s dedication to research and the environment stretches far beyond LIU, and into the larger realm of public and environmental health.
“A lot of people don't know what they want, where they want to work, or what they want to work on and [for me,] it couldn't be clearer in my mind,” More said.
For More, with such a position in the world of climate and health, recognition of his research and work is not hard to come by. Most recently, More was honored as a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the U.K.’s learned society and professional body for geographers.
And while this prestigious honor is just one of many in a long list for More, his influence on the students at LIU as well as the fields of public health and climate science is what has truly set him apart as a leader.
Chasing A Question
More, who grew up in Italy and Greece, immigrated to the U.S. by himself at just 17 years old in pursuit of higher education.
Securing his future in the U.S., More created a path for himself, attending college in Chicago and then Washington University in St. Louis, for his undergraduate studies.
As a sophomore in college, More began to work toward answering the question of why the U.S. lacked a universal health care system and determining “when and why a government decided that it was a good idea to take care of people and make sure they are healthy.”
More told Seawanhaka that his pursuit of this question was largely induced by his experience as an immigrant.
“As an immigrant, I was puzzled by the lack of healthcare and public health assistance in the U.S. compared to countries in Europe or most of the rest of the developed world,” More said.
More began conducting research on the public health system during the early modern period of history and completed a thesis with original research of civil archives in Europe that found the origin of healthcare, which happened during a pandemic and climate crisis.
And it was this thesis, along with his diligence, that earned him a fully funded opportunity to attend Harvard University for graduate school, where More completed his M.A. and an interdisciplinary Ph.D. in the fields of climate and public health.
“[During my Ph.D. and toward the end], I really started realizing that the context in which these policies of public health and welfare emerged was the most important factor because the environment is the greatest context in which we all live in and whether or not we believe it, the environment determines many choices we make every day,” More said.
Realizing the butterfly effect in which seemingly insignificant choices have on the environment and therefore the population, More has since worked at the intersection of climate change, climate science, and public health.
“And since then I have worked on that — using the highest resolution data, the biggest data sets, the most detailed data that I can get without any limits on discipline in order to chase this question: how does the environment affect health, how do people affect the environment, and therefore how do people affect their own health?” More said.
Using this interdisciplinary approach, More stayed committed to this field of planetary health, contributing research and findings, one of the most cited being a research article, “The Impact of a Six-Year Climate Anomaly on the “Spanish Flu” Pandemic and WWI.”
In this study, More and a team of scientists were able to find how the environmental conditions at the time affected the Spanish Influenza of 1918, research that presents clear relevance to today’s ongoing pandemic.
While COVID-19 has already taken more than five million lives globally and the world faces an impending rise in temperature by about 2.7 degrees Celsius, More’s research on the “two major crises of our time” has never been more imperative.
From a modest beginning as an immigrant to the U.S. in college, chasing one question, More has carved a place for himself in the scientific community.
Making An Impact
Utilizing his experience and knowledge as a scientist, at LIU, More has shown dedication in leading and educating students, teaching and inspiring the younger generation.
Aside from the courses he has taught thus far, including Honors Communications and a few honors electives, More has shaped the Honors College into what is “quintessentially an interdisciplinary college.”
“Every course in this college has to be an interdisciplinary, high impact practice, and research-based course, and that's all I do — that's what I have always done as a researcher,” More said.
In leading and educating honors students, More has drawn directly from his experience in multidisciplinary research to better prepare these students for the future.
“If I can have my students remember anything from their experience as honors students and their experience in my courses, it is that reality is interdisciplinary,” More said. “If you want to really excel and stand out in whatever you do, being able to cross disciplines, do research that brings together discoveries from multiple places, and see the interaction of everything to answer a question is really where you will excel.”
More holds strong to the belief that everyone, once they leave university, will have a job that will need them to apply their research skills and education to solving problems that require interdisciplinary thinking.
“The honors college is the perfect place to foster this cutting-edge approach to education, research, and professional development,” More said.
Michael Pollack, a junior majoring in biology, has had More as his professor for two courses, one of which is an honors elective for this fall semester, “Climate Change and Pandemics.”
“[This class] focuses on extremely important topics, climate change and pandemics; both of which our world is experiencing right now,” Pollack said. “Learning about the correlation between the two topics allows students to make sense of why certain actions are being taken and what we as a society can do to slow down the situation before it gets out of control.”
As a hopeful doctor, Pollack feels this course, in its multidisciplinary approach, teaches him to understand why things happen and will be beneficial to his future.
“Understanding why pandemics occur as a result of climate change or how climate change can be impacted by pandemics gives me a further understanding of our society, which will help me in the future when it comes to interacting with patients as I will be able to understand their perspective better,” Pollack said.
Julia Zebak, another junior who is majoring in biochemistry, expressed how having More as a professor has motivated her to learn more about the public health sector and to dedicate future research to incorporate environmental factors.
Like Pollack, Zebak also took an honors elective with More called “Climate, Health, and Economic Crises.”
“It taught me a lot on how I look at the interconnection of the world,” Zebak said.
With such an extensive position in the larger field of health and the environment, Zebak and Pollack said that More was able to relate course material to the world through his own research, in a way that students could easily understand and find engaging.
“When I am in Dr. More’s classroom, it is a completely unique experience from almost all the classrooms I have ever been in, which is a result of his passion,” Pollack said.
More, described as a “passionate professor,” has taught Pollack the importance of choosing a career that you truly love.
“I have truly been inspired by him to chase my dreams regardless of what people around me believe in so that I can enjoy what I wake up to do every morning,” Pollack said.
Drawing upon his work outside of the university, Dr. More’s impact on students at LIU has been incalculable, with guidance and opportunities to help further young people’s futures.
“He has a lot of life and educational experience and is always available to provide advice to students and to help students find opportunities to succeed and progress in whatever they pursue,” Zebak said.
Right Where He Needs To Be
Throughout his work as an educator and in the field of public and environmental health, More’s primary goal is to “communicate to the largest number of people that our choices make our world.”
“Our impact on the environment is determined by our choices every day: what we buy at the grocery store, how we choose to commute to work, who we vote for, how many children we decide to have — and if we scale our small changes in behavior, we can actually make a good impact on the environment and therefore a good impact on our health,” More said.
“So that would be my number one goal in public and environmental health and climate science: communicate about climate change with people without making them feel stupid,” More said. “To talk and speak as simply as possible so that I can be understood, and as humbly as possible so I can be trusted.”
And More has been and is continuing to do precisely that.
With a humble beginning, an impressive educational background, extensive work at the intersection of climate change, climate science, and public health, and the many accolades he has been awarded, More has remained modest, humbly leaving a positive impact on the world.
Looking to the future, More wants to continue efforts in climate and health communications, hoping to eventually foster a research effort for graduate and undergraduate students doing experimental research in the field.
More said this research can involve anything, ranging from something as simple as sampling water in the parks of NYC or as involved as a one month expedition to the Arctic.
“This is something I think [is] incredibly important for students to do, not just to have a different experience abroad, but to actually do something purposeful that provides tangible results,” More said.
With goals on the horizon, More reflected back on his journey to where he is today, recalling a time during which he had no idea what he ultimately wanted to do in his life.
“I remember when I was in grad school I didn’t really know what field I was going to go into because as an interdisciplinary researcher, you often don't know where you belong — and as an immigrant, you really don't know where you belong,” More said.
Despite More’s initial hesitancy, seeing his research successfully disseminated into the world has been all the positive feedback he needed to know that he was on the right path.
“I guess it gives you clarity where you know that whatever may be going on in the world, whatever your challenge is on a day-to-day, you know that your work is worth doing, that there is a purpose to it, it will improve people's lives, and that you're on the right path — and that type of clarity is really quite a remarkable motivator for an academic or for anybody really,” More said.