2021 Rachel Carson Campus Fellows and Stanback Interns Articles
Pushing Plastic: Who is Responsible?
In August of 1955, LIFE magazine featured a short article called “Throwaway Living.” It was accompanied by a large, black and white photograph of an American family joyously hurling a symphony of Styrofoam, paper, and plastic plates, cups, straws, utensils, napkins, and serving trays into the air.
The piece emphasized the luxury of this throwaway life for housewives who could now shortcut their kitchen cleaning routine. Use it, then toss it, and it takes care of itself! I imagine that after this photoshoot, the LIFEmagazine staff threw away the assortment of kitchen disposables without food ever touching them. This happy fifties family captures the reckless abandon with which companies have pushed a pervasive, plastic American culture. As a direct result we’ve plasticized our environment nearly to the point of no return. Click here to read more
Climate Resilience is Not Enough for Florida
On the morning of June 24th, I stood surrounded by my family in an Airbnb in Asheville, North Carolina. They had decided to escape the sweltering South Florida heat by driving up to the mountains. But they did not escape the news. My aunt gasped at her phone and read us the notification she had received while we had been sleeping: a condo building had collapsed in Surfside, Florida; hundreds were unaccounted for. My grandma recounted the number of times she had driven past the high-rise condos of Surfside, and we sat shocked at the tragedy that had occurred so close to home. Click here to read more
The Sounds of Silence: What the Birds Tell Us About Climate and Where We Live
Everybody has heard the old cliché, “It’s the canary in a coal mine.” But how about the new and improved version? Be prepared to start using “Like a Veery in hurricane season.” Ornithologist Christopher Heckscher published a report in Nature after studying Veery (Catharus fuscescens) breeding in Delaware for nearly two decades. He found that Veery breeding seasons ended earlier in years with more severe hurricane seasons. His conclusion? These plain thrushes with a haunting song that Rachel Carson loved may be even better than computers at predicting the severity of a hurricane season. Click here to read more
Forever Chemicals (PFAs) and America’s Polluted Water Sources
Gen X, PFAs (Polyfluoroalkyl Substances), forever chemicals, these pollutants go by many names, but they all describe a chemical group of carcinogens widely abundant in the United States’ surface and now groundwater systems — the sources we rely on for our drinking water. PFAs are found in many consumer products and have been linked to adverse health effects including liver problems, increased risk of asthma, reduced response to vaccines, and kidney and testicular cancers. Click here to read more
‘They Love to Tout They’re Green’: Pushing for University Action on Climate Change
Colleges and universities are massive hubs of education, research, and innovation. As more and more data on climate change is produced by faculty and students at the world’s leading universities, the college campus has been transformed into a sustainability mecca. Facilities upgrades in the form of recycling and composting operations, HVAC-system repairs, and renewable energy projects on college campuses continue to make national news. Click here to read more
Divesting for Change: From Apartheid to the Climate Crisis
As a fossil fuel divestment activist at Vanderbilt University, I come from a long generation of divestment advocates before me. For instance, fossil fuel divestiture has clear parallels to the anti-apartheid divestment movement of the 1980s, which, like fossil fuel divestiture, had “a well-defined, immediate objective” that targeted higher education institutions. Apartheid divestiture was an integral component of toppling the oppressive South African governmental regime and, other than fossil fuels, is the best-known divestment movement. Click here to read more
Creativity Amidst Collapse
I walk in the evening before the Worm Moon, the full spring moon that draws earthworms from the soil to wriggle in the damp forest floor. Spring is here, pale moonbeams whisper to the forest floor dwellers.
The trees, too, have heard the news. Red buds blossom in magenta blushes of petal; wisteria winds itself around branches, sprinkling the forest in green and lavender mist.
It is not the leaf-rain of autumn, nor summer’s blanket humidity, nor winter’s endless, cold fog. It is the world budding — mists and wisps of life emerging. Click here to read more
Night Flights: Light Pollution Threatens Songbird Migration
Darkness creeps across the sky in swaths of indigo. As stars emerge from dark, I spot the blue glow of the constellation Orion and the flicker of Sirius, the brightest star. Wispy clouds float past the half-moon like a steady stream of gauze. The warm light of Mars appears, and the Big Dipper rises above rooftops. I peer up — watching, waiting. I am still, and in stillness I notice the Earth moving.
A thin V-shape traverses the sky, fading quickly into the clouds. Another follows, tracing a subtle path, barely illuminated. I squint my eyes; the shape looks like a large bird. Do birds migrate at night, I wonder. Later, I learn that they do. Birds migrate by the light of stars and the moon. Click here to read more
Bigger Problems, Bigger Fish to Fry: Individual or Corporate Responsibility for Climate Change?
Debates on climate action often center around one question: Whose responsibility is it? More times than not, the burden of responsibility falls to the individual. You and I are expected to engage in sustainable practices such as taking shorter showers, buying local, and using reusable bags and water bottles. In theory, such efforts, as long as they are done by a majority of the population, can add up and make a significant dent in carbon emissions. Sustainable practices are also thought to “catch on” with family and friends, making the task of tackling climate change and its associated emissions within reach. Click here to read more
The Clock That Ticks Down: Climate Change Worry and Mental Health
In September 2020, an art installation dubbed the ‘Climate Clock’ sat atop big-box stores like Nordstrom and Best Buy in New York City’s Union Square, counting down the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds until an unavoidable climate catastrophe. Installed for Climate Week, the Clock showed how much time is left to curb greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep the Earth under a 1.5 degrees Celsius temperature increase. Click here to read more.
Why Care About a Sea Turtle?
The wind whistled in my ears, rippling the sea lapping at the rocks below me. Under the wrinkled surface of the shallows, a green sea turtle swam languidly among the sea grasses. It was a small turtle, no larger than a dinner plate. I leaned against the railing of the sea wall, watching in rapture as the turtle ambled, in movements more peaceful and placid than the ocean, among the underwater meadows. I had walked along the sea wall almost every afternoon during my summer researching at the Duke Marine Lab, fixing my eyes on the water in hopes of spying some sign of a turtle: the flat, glossy back of a shell, a blip in the water’s wavy signature. Click here to read more.
How University Gardens are Fighting Student Food Insecurity and Building more Sustainable Food Systems
I’m watching the sunset as water glistens from the hose onto the freshly sprouted kale, mustard greens, and cabbage heads. I wave to friends who have stopped by to chat and eye the greenhouse plants and see how the crops in the raised beds have grown. People often stop us on their way to class or jogging to ask about the garden and wonderful it is to see people gardening and working together outside. Long leaf pine needles lay scattered in the dirt amongst the crops and between the leaves and I brush them aside to weed. The sunflowers, flashing their yellow petals, dance in the light breeze as if to welcome me back. Click here to read more