2022 Rachel Carson Campus Fellows and Stanback Interns Articles
It is What it is: An Activist’s Rebuttal
As our media descends into a whirlpool of polarizing bad news, it is no shock that the average person has adopted the nihilistic mantra, “it is what it is.” The systems that have put us in this climate predicament are powerful, intertwined, and very skilled at discouraging the average citizen who is just trying to carry on. It seems the best an ordinary American can do is shrug, and full of good intentions, keep climate change, along with other world problems, on the back burner.
I have been at UC -San Diego (UCSD), where the undergraduate population is around 34,000 students, for three years now. Creating effective student-led change when there are that many students seems utterly unattainable. Read more
RCC Fellow Speaks Out – The Investment Logic Killing Our Planet
Climate change is often treated as something that we must work to prevent collectively — cutting fossil fuel emissions and moving towards renewable energy to prevent a 1.5 degrees Celsius warming. Such warming would surely have a devastating impact on society, with effects ranging from constant extreme weather events to rising sea levels that destroy entire communities. Without a doubt, it is important that we avoid the worst possible impacts of the climate crisis. But too often when using this framework of focusing on the future, we ignore the catastrophes already occurring given rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.
Treating climate change as a phenomenon that will take hold in some distant future allows for downplaying measures to curb emissions now. Financial institutions with the power to accelerate a global shift towards renewable energy and away from fossil fuels often use this logic to justify their continued support for fuel operations. As a divestment organizer at Pomona College in Claremont, California, I have heard such logic espoused by administrative figures first-hand. Read more
Poison in Your Park?
It’s a nice, warm, sunny day at the park. True to the weather, you meet up with your friends to have a picnic. Your friend brings a blanket, everyone has food, you lay your head back on the soft, evenly-cut grass, and… what’s that?
You may have just exposed yourself to a carcinogen.
Synthetic herbicides, or weed-killers, have a long history of controversy in the climate justice and public health sphere, with cancer liability lawsuits, the argument for and against usage in agriculture, damage to wildlife, and invasive plant control all being points of contention. The ethics of herbicide usage are complicated, to say the least, but one place synthetic herbicides may not be necessary is on parks and campus green spaces for aesthetic purposes. While there is no question that large exposures, such as in the case of accidental downings, proximity to agricultural applications, and counternarcotic aerial sprayings can cause severe health conditions and detrimental effects on wildlife, do lower exposure levels actually matter? Read more
Charlotte’s Checkered Environmental Justice History
Home to over 800,000 people, Charlotte is the largest city in North Carolina and the 14th largest city in the United States. Yet it ranks in last place out of the 50 largest U.S. cities in economic mobility for its residents. Charlotte is a vibrant and diverse “New South” city, but contains underlying, obscured histories of economic and racial inequality forged at the intersections of segregation and policing, extractive industry, and environmental precarity.
Sewage spills in Sugar Creek lower the quality of life for residents of the neighborhood and for the creatures that use the creek to sustain life. Air pollution among neighborhoods divided by redlining, freeway construction, and “urban redevelopment,” along with coal ash and oil spills in suburbs of Charlotte such as Lake Norman, Huntersville, and Mooresville, have caused cancer clusters and health issues for their residents. Read more
A House on Fire but Nowhere to Go: Time to Update the 1967 Refugee Protocol
As climate change progresses, more people around the world are being forced from their homes by intensifying natural disasters, increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, and rising tides which threaten to wash away entire countries. Unfortunately, due to antiquated global refugee protocols, these people suffer as their homes are wrenched from them and continue to suffer as they struggle to find domestic or international replacement. The UNHCR estimated that over 89 million people were displaced in 2021. While it is nearly impossible to understand the reasons for each displacement, climate change’s intractability means it exacerbates even seemingly disconnected impetuses for displacement: a sentiment echoed by the UN High Commissioner. Read more
Community Gardens: What We Know and Where We Go from Here
Across the United States, community gardens have gained attention as sites for local food production and as avenues to connect with nature. These benefits are even more evident due to the COVID-19 pandemic, as many turned to green spaces, including public parks and agricultural areas, during this time of pronounced social isolation.
In a cross-sectional study of participants from the United Kingdom, Hannah Burnett and her colleagues found that green space visits increased from 49% to 68% between April 2020 and April 2021. The presence of green space and the built environment are key social determinants of health, but community gardens are a unique form of this because of the ways they integrate social connectedness with nature. As community gardens continue to gain traction in both academic and popular discourse, understanding their role in shaping our social and natural environments is critical to wielding them as tools for positive, long-lasting change. Read more
Campus carbon neutrality?
Pomona College committed to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. This declaration was made alongside many other peer institutions, with some college’s goals set further than 2050, while a few have already reached carbon neutrality.
So, what does carbon neutrality mean, exactly? What steps do colleges take in order to reach net-zero emissions? Why do colleges choose to make a commitment to carbon neutrality? And what role can students play?
Carbon neutrality is a state of net-zero emissions, in which an entity seeks to balance its emissions through various methods of carbon offsetting (in addition to general carbon reductions). When a campus seeks to reach carbon neutrality, it takes a series of steps that may include: a full audit of its emission sources directly owned or used by the college like boilers and vehicles (called scope 1 and 2 emissions); an audit of some if not all of those whose emissions are generated off campus like purchased electricity (called scope 3 emissions); and an assessment of possible avenues for emissions reduction. Read more
Tennessee Environmental Justice History? Unexpected activism in the South
When we first moved to Nashville, Tennessee, to attend Vanderbilt University, it became apparent that environmental activism in what is popularly known as the “Deep South” wouldn’t be quite the same as we had seen it around the rest of the country. What we did not expect to find, however, was an area with a rich history of environmental activism, rooted in multiple cases of environmental racism that have been ingrained in the state. From lawsuits over safe drinking water to redlining and battling inequitable waste disposal, Tennessee’s history is key to a more just future.
Safe drinking water is a fundamental human right, yet communities in Tennessee have historically struggled with health issues from unsafe drinking water. Water pollution, originating from agricultural to industrial sources, can infiltrate public and private water systems and lead to negative health outcomes if left untreated. Out of the Tennessee population most affected by environmental toxins and drinking water contamination, minority and low-income communities suffer disproportionately from water pollution. Read more
Do Hurricanes Discriminate?
Growing up by the beach near Wilmington, North Carolina and running through wetlands as a child was a privilege. Looking at the world around you, seeing the water glisten in the early morning, watching the herons fly overhead, and in the distance, being able to hear the slow, steady roll of the waves crashing on the shore of a not-so-distant barrier island. Once you realize this gem is your home, you develop a love for it like no other. You also learn how dynamic nature can be as you watch the ocean change its mood from a raging sea to a glass-covered pond in a matter of days. Like many beach towns on the East Coast, you grow up understanding that living in this treasured environment also comes with a cost. Every few months out of the year, you keep your eye on the weather report just a little more than usual and keep a stack of plywood on hand in the backyard with a few gallons of gas and water. Read more
Is There Space for Joyful Environmental Justice Work?
Environmental justice is necessary for the full flourishing of human and non-human nature. The urgency is real and needed. Structural inequalities lead to environmental disruptions affecting our food, soil, water, climate, work, and production and consumption systems that harm the most vulnerable. At the same time, those with class, ethnic, racial, gender, and other privileges have greater access to environmental goods, such as pollution-free neighborhoods, healthy food, safe workplaces, and green spaces. This is the essence of injustice. Read more
Is Climate Change Changing the Birds We See?
Breaking news! A bird you have never seen or heard before is going extinct in a remote part of the world! While I am sure we can all agree that it is terrible for these birds, we can still enjoy the beauty of our most beloved backyard and local birds without experiencing the loss of those more exotic ones. Nevertheless, I hate to be the bearer of bad news. Climate change is a threat to all species, whether or not we can directly see its impacts. Read more
Book Review: Charles Fishman, The Secret Life and Turbulent Future of Water (Simon and Schuster)
“Water, Water Every Where and Nor a Drop to Drink” — Samuel Taylor Coleridge
by Charles Fishman, a three-time winner of the Gerald Loeb Award, the most prestigious prize in business journalism, plumbs the inconsistencies in our perspective on water. Fishman re-emphasizes the physical necessity of water and reveals the invisible cultural significance it has for our society. This book, much like Silent Spring and pesticides, is a call on society to drastically change the way we think about water before it’s too late.
For example, Fishman discusses (almost humorously) America’s absurd use of toilet water which demonstrates our lack of concern and care for something of which we seemingly have an endless supply. He explains that Americans use more water flushing toilets than doing anything else (including washing our hands). On average, a single person flushes a toilet 5 times a day, which is equivalent to 18.5 gallons. This means that every day, Americans use 5 billion 700 million gallons of clean drinking water at home for their toilets. Read more
Book Review – Ferocious Love: Women, Courage, and the Climate Crisis
All We Can Save: Truth, Courage, and Solutions for the Climate Crisis, Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Katherine K. Wilkinson, eds.
Edited by marine biologist Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Project Drawdown editor-in-chief Katharine K. Wilkinson—two women who embody what it means to be climate trailblazers—All We Can Save is a captivating eco-anthology of work from 60 of the world’s most inspiring women leaders and is part of a larger project of education, engagement, and empowerment.
While no single book can capture the magnitude and breadth of the climate crisis, All We Can Save spins the looming crisis before us into a courageous narrative of hope and possibility. Read more
Rachel Carson’s Island of Wonder
Christina is a senior at Duke University majoring in Environmental Science with a minor in Psychology.
“To stand at the edge of the sea, to sense the ebb and flow of the tides, to feel the breath of a mist moving over a great salt marsh, to watch the flight of shore birds that have swept up and down the surf lines of the continents for untold thousands of years, to see the running of the old eels and the young shad to the sea, is to have knowledge of things that are as nearly eternal as any earthly life can be.”- Rachel Carson, Under the Sea Wind
As the tide comes in one cloudy morning, I steer a borrowed kayak across Taylor’s Creek and drift towards Carrot Island. I’m a student at Duke’s Marine Lab, living, learning, and exploring on that same little island where Rachel Carson once worked for the Bureau of Fisheries – and where the natural beauty of the coastal ecosystem moved her to write her first book, Under the Sea Wind. In the 1980s, a nearby string of barrier islands – Bird Shoal, Town Marsh, Horse, and Carrot Island – were protected and named in her honor. This is my first trip to the Reserve, and as I beach my kayak on the oyster-studded sand, I imagine I’m seeing it as Rachel Carson first did 80 years ago. On a tiny island, a thousand wonders. Read more
The Wood Pellet Industry: The Wrong Road to Progress
C.S. Lewis famously remarked, “We all want progress, but if you’re on the wrong road […] the man who turns back soonest is the most progressive.”
Right now, the United States is walking down a road of false progress.
It is a road lined with pine plantations, scrappy pellets of wood, and the sweet-smelling promise of a new “carbon neutral” energy strategy: burning forests for energy.
The southeastern United States is facing a deforestation crisis under our noses. The roots of this crisis come from the harvest of biomass, or wood pellets, across the states of North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
If you’ve never heard of “biomass” or “wood pellets,” you’re not alone. These terms don’t usually ring a bell to even the most ardent environmentalists. Read more
Any Good News Since Rachel Carson?
The environmental movement gained momentum following Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962. That was sixty years ago. I am twenty. Since I can remember, my perception of the world has been clouded by the looming threat of man-made pollution and climate change. I was in kindergarten when I was introduced to deforestation. Ever since, I have only seen the world around me sick from carbon emissions and littered with plastics. While living in China, I remember checking the air quality with my fourth-grade teacher and hoping, with the rest of my classmates, that the air quality index, usually between 700-800, would be below 500 so we could go outside for recess. The index measures PM2.5 particles, about the size of red blood cells, that can enter directly into the blood stream and lead to cardiovascular disease and heart attacks. I had been living in and breathing air pollution nearly twenty times the U.S. EPA daily standard of 35 micrograms per cubic meter. Read more
Reserve, Louisiana Rises Up
Down in Louisiana, along the Mississippi River, you will find a labyrinth. A maze of bayous, lakes and swamps filled with an abundance of life around every turn. However, if you look a little deeper between the crevices, you will find brown pools of water, large clouds of black smoke, hazardous waste, dangerous chemicals, and most importantly, high cancer rates due to toxic air. But one small, poor Black community sitting amidst this stew and stench has had enough. Residents of Reserve, Louisiana, many of whose families have lived there for generations, are fighting back. Read more
College Divestment Movement Builds After Harvard Victory
Driven by ambitious student bodies across the country, the fossil fuel divestment movement has gained tremendous momentum in recent years. In the last school year, Boston University, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Maine, University of Minnesota, and Vassar College are just a few of the colleges and universities that have joined the growing coalition of climate-minded institutions that have pulled investments out of coal, oil, and gas. With the largest one hundred university endowments each worth over a billion dollars, colleges have made significant contributions to the 40 trillion dollars that have been divested from fossil fuels. Read more
Can Rachel Carson and Citizen Science Still Inspire?
“This notion that ‘science’ is something that belongs in a separate compartment of its own, apart from everyday life, is one that I should like to challenge.” — Rachel Carson accepting the 1952 National Book Award for The Sea Around Us.
Click. A hiker captures a photo of a budding Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) in the Appalachian Mountains. Up the coast, someone on an early morning walk catches glimpse of a horseshoe crab and takes a quick pic.
Bing. Their photos are uploaded, but not for likes on social media. They just contributed to a public database for scientific research and monitoring.
In a world that is increasingly connected via technology, public participation in the scientific process is easier than ever. Citizen science, also known as community science or volunteer monitoring, refers to research conducted by amateur scientists. Us. Read more
Childhood Wonder: In the Footsteps of Rachel Carson
I was 6 years old when I begged my mom to bid on glass bottom boat tickets at a school fair. To my delight, no one else was interested; the tickets were ours. A few weeks later, my dad woke me up early and we drove down to John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park. We boarded the boat and I settled into my spot, short legs hanging under the silver railings. The engines roared and we were off. Soon, colors began filling the glass panes and I was emerged in the coral city whirring beneath me.
A kaleidoscope of new shapes, alien creatures, and hues beyond my childhood watercolor palette was revealed to me. Read more
For the Birds
Raised in the piedmont region of North Carolina, I always noticed the usual suspects in our backyard — cardinals, blue jays, goldfinches — and the blue herons and ospreys of Lake Norman. But no one would confuse me for a “birder.” So, when asked to work with the Bird Watch and Wonder program at the Rachel Carson Council (RCC), I was confused. I had been aware of the beauty and sometimes the majesty of certain birds, but so very unaware of their importance to ecosystems and nature. Read more
Swim with the Sharks?
3,100 miles away from the Caribbean, I sat in a rickety room just off campus prodding the interviewer with questions. She had asked me if I had any concerns about living on the small island of South Caicos. “What kind of sharks are there?” I felt childish to ask, and anxious that I’d paint myself unfit for a three-month marine research residency. But my fear of the unknown seascape won out, so I pressed on. “Are student divers safe from these sharks?” Read more
What Does “Justice” Mean in “Climate Justice?”—A Lesson from Comic Books
Whenever I hear the word “justice,” my mind journeys to the exciting and unlikely refuge of my childhood: comic books. Pow! Swish! Boom! Zap! My young self spent hours devouring stories, meeting unforgettable characters, and learning the ins and outs of storytelling by drawing comics myself. What enraptured me most about comics was their hybridity—I had never encountered such a powerful blend of visuals and written language. Panel after panel, I learned that heroes are those who act when innocent people bear unequal burdens in society; this laid the foundation of climate justice in my mind. Read more
What Would Rachel Carson Say About “Regenerative Agriculture?”
Rachel Carson’s ability to invite curiosity and compassion from others through her writing makes her ideas more compelling, her arguments more convincing. In writing Silent Spring, Carson knew that if she were to make a real difference, she needed to ignite debate that included people not previously interested or concerned. She understood the public’s indifference and unwillingness to look at unpleasant realities. To address this, she was always strategic in presenting her arguments, ensuring that there was no way for industry, or their allies, to attack her facts. But her passion for protecting the environment and human health seeps through her pages and into her reader’s hearts, past their biases, reservations, and political alliances. Read more
A First Look at Washington, DC
As a first-timer in D.C., I feel like a tiny ant, my antennae navigating a new environment. But I am surrounded by a Capitol and cathedral domes, neo-classical government buildings, a Beaux Arts train station, and lines of Victorian rowhouses, rather than blades of grass, dirt tunnels, and nests that store bunches of ghost-white larvae. It is easy to get lost in the bustle and grandiosity of a city. I grew up in one, so this feeling is not entirely new. Yet, I am already realizing how quickly I can get sucked into the frantic morning rush, sending a text, or checking who is emerging from the White House. No time, no need, to look up at blooming trees or down at budding flowers, to pause, breathe, and see the sky. Instead of listening to what Rachel Carson called the morning chorus of bird song, I plug in my earphones and listen to Bad Bunny’s newest album. Read more
RCC Fellow Warns: Society Has Failed Us
Society has failed us. We are living through an epoch of collapse and loss. War, pandemic, and global climate change are compounded and quickly making our planet more and more hostile to all forms of life. As hard as it is to hear these words – to truly internalize their meaning – it is even more dangerous to ignore them. We all know how serious these problems are, but often struggle to understand our place in addressing them. Mainstream environmentalist movements have thus far failed to create large scale structural change. The way we understand these issues defines the types of solutions we consider viable. Addressing these problems requires us to think in entirely new ways about how we relate to each other and the world. Read more
Women’s History Month 2022: Let Women Lead
Mrs. Goldman dashed a dark Expo marker across the whiteboard in my seventh-grade Life Science class. The big letters drawn underneath our to-do list said “Rachel Carson” and “Read Silent Spring.” Sitting in a classroom filled with beakers, science fair projects, and restless middle schoolers was when Rachel Carson entered my life. We heard about this famous woman who stood up for the planet, as well as its people, plants, and animals. As a 12-year-old, I enjoyed the story, but was spared the details of the hardships that Rachel Carson faced as a woman who went against men in positions of power. A few years later, in my senior-year environmental science class, I re-learned the story of Rachel Carson — details included. My class looked on in shock as my teacher projected on the board the vicious personal attacks on Carson, not just critiques of her argument. Quotes from angry men that asked why “a spinster was so worried about genetics” or that claimed her advocacy was “hysterically over-empathetic” and the result of “mystical attachment to the balance of nature.” Read more
Where Does the Power of Fossil Fuels Come From?
Although the United Nations Climate Change Conference of 2021 (COP 26) ended in November 2021, it is still critical to address the troubling demonstration of power that the fossil fuel industry has in dictating the future of our species on this planet both at international negotiations and at home.
At COP 26, there were 503 lobbyists representing around 100 oil, gas, and coal companies, including Shell and BP – a delegation even larger than any country. Even more disturbing is that fossil fuel delegates outnumbered the combined representatives of the eight countries and territories most affected by the climate crisis (Myanmar, Haiti, the Philippines, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Puerto Rico, and Pakistan). Read more
Living Without Nature: Interviews from Chicago’s South and West Sides
(First in a series)
It wasn’t until college that I learned about Nature Deficit Disorder. It’s not a medical condition, but more a syndrome from the withdrawal of nature. It suggests that there is a correlation between a lack of greenery and obesity, attention difficulties, and emotional and physical illnesses. This is especially prevalent in lower-income communities, which typically do not have access to the same forms of natural resources like parks or woods as wealthier ones. Take where I grew up. Read more
Climate Change is Not a Problem
My family cares about the climate problem. We buy local vegetables and try to keep lights off whenever they are not needed. Recently, I was speaking with someone about climate change and expressing my frustrations over inaction, and this was their first response. I was left a bit unsettled to learn that they believed by doing small actions like these, our environmental issues would be solved. If only more people recycled. If only more people had solar.
Climate change is not a climate problem. To be more accurate, one could say climate change is not “the problem”, but rather “a symptom” of a much larger issue that must be addressed if we are to change the ultimate course of the disease. Read more
What is Community Solar?
Solar energy is the cheapest it’s ever been, 20-40% lower than anyone initially thought it would be. That’s great for solar developers and big companies that are looking to become more sustainable, but what could this mean for everyone else? What if your roof is not a viable option for solar panels? And solar panels can still be a costly choice for the average homeowner, even if the payback period is shorter than it has ever been. What if you can’t afford it? Enter community solar. Here’s what you need to know.
In general, its goal is twofold: equalize the opportunity for people to have access to solar power, and boost the usage of solar energy across the country. Community solar differs across the country. There is no one set model of what it is, and therefore it can be modified to satisfy the needs of different communities. Read more
What’s pristine? Nature’s most unspoiled landscapes were crafted by people.
The morning air is poignant, warm with the scent of dry leaves. I meander down a path in the Fred Stanback Jr. Ecological Preserve in Salisbury, North Carolina, rolling hickory nuts underfoot. Each time one pops with my weight a sweet smell wafts up on my face. When I bend to collect a particularly clean nut, a light pulls my attention to a small gully drowned in leaf litter. A Bud Light can, nearly stripped of its blue. As I turn to collect the can, it pops up and swims through the leaf litter sea. Eventually, a striped brown head surfaces and a chipmunk scrambles across the leaves to gather one of the hickory nuts from the path, with such fervor it tosses pit gravel at my legs. The chipmunk does not stash the large nut in its cheeks — rather, it methodically attempts to wedge it into the gnawed opening of the can. I can now see that the beer can’s sides are bulging with other goods this creature has collected. Read more
What Does Environmental Racism Look Like?
Outside the office doors of Governor John Bel Edwards, most members of the Coalition Against Death Alley (CADA) were sitting down in chairs and on the cold marble floor. But Pat Bryant was pacing back and forth singing the same songs that he did as a child during the Civil Rights movement. The swell of voices grew, and echoed through the cavernous chamber, bouncing from wall to wall— the notes like falling dominoes, gathering momentum. As he paced back and forth across the lobby, he made eye contact with the members of CADA, bystanders, and Edwards’ secretary. Security seemed at a loss for what to do, and some of the members took out their phones to record the singing—this didn’t make it any less profound, their voices needed to be heard. Read more