On May 5th, eight months after Duke University launched its Climate Commitment, the school announced that Dr. Toddi Steelman, former Stanback Dean of the Nicholas School of the Environment, was appointed as vice president and vice provost for climate and sustainability. She will lead the new Office of Climate and Sustainability starting in July. Steelman spoke to the importance of creating more space for the Climate Commitment, a university-wide initiative to find solutions that support climate change mitigation, sustainability, and resilience. Read more
Holding a $2 hotdog and wearing a wool scarf and fedora bought from a street vendor, my 11-year-old self was perfectly equipped for April in New York City. My mom’s friend was taking me on a tour of the city, and we had just spent several hours gaping our way through the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH) where I was fascinated by the Leonard C. Sanford Hall of North American Birds. I was surrounded by realistic dioramas with birds in their natural habitat, including one by noted ornithologist Frank Chapman depicting large wading species threatened with extinction by hunters in Florida. Read more
“There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.” – Washington Irving
“Do the students roll out nap mats and curl up in the fetal position with their blankies and pacifiers while listening to her lectures?”
This was just one media reaction to Professor Jennifer Atkinson at the University of Washington on the topic of climate grief: dealing with the anxiety and psychological effects that arise as we come face to face with climate change. Her students, meanwhile, filled every single seat in the class during registration.
Clearly, the concept of a class taught on coping with climate grief is too much for some to handle. But what’s braver than confronting grief and loss head-on, rather than burying it, next to your own head in the sand. Read more
This spring, the Tulane University’s Undergraduate Assembly’s Sustainability and Divestment Committee (SDC) hosted the first ever Tulane Environmental Summit. The SDC sought strong collaboration between the wide range of campus environmental organizations pushing Tulane to become a more sustainable and environmentally just institution.
Some 30 representatives from organizations including the SDC, along with Sunrise Tulane, Green Club, Trash to Treasure, Earth Science Club, Wave Center for Policy and Enterprise, Food Recovery Network, Students Against Food Insecurity, Office of Sustainability, and Crawfest joined an open forum discussion for students to discuss how their organizations could work more closely to achieve their respective goals. Read more
The sun peeks over the horizon, just enough to toss lemon-colored rays blindingly in my face and illuminate exhales like puffs of smoke. After a moment of holding my breath, I catch the sound again. A twip twip and taw-wee, followed by tussling dry leaves. The bird I was hunting, the Eastern Towhee, emerges from the cane break, scratching sand on his peachy belly and dusting black feathers gray. Others join the sand bath, picking mites off one another and playfully nipping beaks. I mark the checklist on my phone — five more towhees for the day.
Like thousands of others across the US, I participate in a community science monitoring program called Audubon Climate Watch. Climate Watch is a program that enlists citizens to help monitor bird species sensitive to changes in climate across North America. Read more
I arrived on campus a few days late, halfway through my pack of antibiotics, and jetlagged the morning after my flight to Quito, Ecuador. Universidad de San Francisco de Quito welcomed me nonetheless with open arms.
As I navigated the well-manicured gardens and river that runs through the Cumbaya campus, I pulled off my mask to soak up the smells of a country foreign to me. I was there to study Environmental Anthropology – a subfield of anthropology that focuses on the relationship between humans and their environment. The class was entirely in Spanish, and heavily focused on the indigenous peoples of Ecuador and the oil exploitation of the Amazon rainforest, which we would be fortunate enough to visit later in the summer. I was looking forward to learning from an indigenous person, and better understanding her take on the colonial epidemic of oil harvesting in Amazonia. Read more
In the face of a conflict of interest complaint, student pressure, and a legal complaint filed with the Tennessee Attorney General, Chancellor Daniel Diermeier of Vanderbilt University has resolutely maintained his stance of “principled neutrality” on divestment. According to his estimation, and many other university administrators across the country, divestment represents an activist position. It is perceived as a positive action a university takes, making a stand for a particular political position which may violate the ethical requirements of an ostensibly nonpartisan school. This charge of neutrality is used to justify inaction because, according to the logic of the argument, to choose divestment represents a deviation from what is acceptable from university administrations. Read more
The ocean is a place of paradoxes. It is the home of the hundred-foot blue whale, the largest animal that ever lived. It is also the home of living things so small that your two hands might scoop up as many of them as there are stars in the Milky Way. — Rachel Carson, “Undersea.”
For as long as my family has lived in Virginia, I have, as often as I can, committed to the windows-down, progressively flatter drive from Richmond to the sloping coasts of “Rachel Carson country.”
Sandbridge is the secret seed stuck between two well-known beach vacation front teeth. It is aptly named, a shifting connection sitting just south of the Norfolk naval bases and just north of the Outer Banks (OBX) of North Carolina, the sandbar beach strip that inspired a popular Netflix series mostly filmed in Charleston, SC. Depending on the season, observant beachgoers can spot hundreds of species of seabirds, sea turtles, ducks, dolphins, and, if you’re really lucky, whales. Read more
As much as I love climate advocacy, there have been several moments throughout my young adulthood when I have genuinely asked myself, did I pick the wrong career?
The question would pop up in unexpected places, such as protests, when I realized the only thing I dread more than climate change is being handed a megaphone to talk about climate change in front of a large crowd. It haunted me at conferences, when I hovered nervously by the food table or slipped off to an unoccupied hallway, desperate to recharge. Every frenzied happy hour I attended, every cameraless microphone-muted Zoom call, and every activist I guiltily dodged past on the sidewalk taught me a stark lesson: climate advocacy isn’t the most welcoming place for introverts. Read more
Student activists at universities have led the charge in the fossil fuel divestment movement. Divestment from high-profile institutions like Harvard and Columbia has grabbed headlines, and such divestment decisions are considered sign-posts of progress in the fight against fossil fuels as a means to combat the climate crisis. While divestment has received much attention, it is only part of the whole picture for climate justice movements as they relate to universities. It is important to consider universities’ relationships to their host cities and spaces, which extend far beyond one financial decision.
In his book In The Shadow of The Ivory Tower: How Universities Are Plundering Our Cities, author Davarian L. Baldwin writes, “There is no question that higher education institutions can deliver positive community outcomes for their cities. But a central question remains: what are the costs when colleges and universities exercise significant power over a city’s financial resources, policing priorities, labor relations, and land values?” Read more
Divestment is a hot topic in today’s social, political, and economic climate. Among RCC Fellows, and many environmental activists across college campuses, divestment is best known as a strategy to denounce and delegitimize the fossil fuel industry (among others) through dissolution of fossil fuel assets in an institution’s endowment. But an important component of divestment — and less frequently mentioned — is the process of reinvestment.
When advocating for divestment campaigns, it is essential to consider how an institution reinvests its funds: a plan for reinvestment should be developed as a core part of future investment policy and fiduciary responsibility. Frequently, this is considered the next step to be implemented after a divestment campaign; I consider reinvestment and sustainable investment to be essential, ongoing parts of any divestment campaign as they hold an institution accountable to divestment goals in the long-term. Read more
A Speech to the Tulane Undergraduate Assembly by Sahil Inaganti
Louisiana and Tulane are on the frontlines of climate change and environmental injustice.
Scientists agree that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of severe weather and our lived experience validates that. Since I have been at Tulane, there have been eight hurricanes that have either canceled or affected classes. Notably, Hurricane Ida which canceled in -person classes for an entire month.
In addition to severe weather, we have to deal with sea level rise that threatens to inundate coastal communities, oil spills from the offshore rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, and the pollution from the facilities that process oil and gas just upriver from here in Cancer Alley. Read more
On September 29th of last year, Duke University announced its Climate Commitment. In a 90-minute announcement, administrators, alumni, faculty, and graduate students discussed the importance of Duke to be truly committed to the future of the climate and Earth. Sitting in the audience in our large auditorium, surrounded by those I had previously worked with on environmental and sustainability projects, I grew excited to learn that Duke, the institution that had been my home for the previous three years, would be making a difference for the planet. Leading up to the announcement, there were weeks of advertising about an announcement that would shed light on what Duke was doing next. However, by the end of the 90-minutes, I still felt confused about what exactly my university’s commitments were. Read more
Earlier this winter, California bore the brunt of a devastating flood, taking the lives of over a dozen residents and costing the state upwards of a billion dollars. With the risk of a warming climate and its catastrophic impacts increasingly taking hold, experts predict that severe weather events like this one will only become more common. Yet, curiously, this storm was not caused by climate change. When we delve into the true nature of how rising global temperatures played a role in the natural disaster, we see the complexity of the impacts of the climate crisis. Read more
Environmental health clinics are organizations that research, treat, and prevent local environmental health exposures. They address toxic environmental exposures to agents such as pesticides, lead, and carbon monoxide, which are all especially dangerous to children. Such exposures can lead to severe health conditions, including cancer, asthma, developmental problems, and other disorders. Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Units (PEHSUs), an EPA-funded network of environmental health centers across the United States, feature healthcare workers with specialized knowledge of the risks, prevention, and treatment of exposures, as well as state resources.
PEHSUs serve ten regions throughout all 50 states, providing medical care, consults, and education on environmental health issues. PEHSUs work with all levels of education, including healthcare professionals, schools, and families. Read more
Now, it may not seem obvious right away how an obscure financial law could help us avert the climate crisis, but bear with me. When I got to Vanderbilt, I knew immediately that I wanted to be involved with sustainability advocacy on campus— especially a campaign to demand that the university move away from investing in fossil fuels that are causing climate change. Months after I joined the campaign, one thing led to another, and we had taken on a new task— writing a legal complaint against our university with the help of some of the best environmental lawyers.
After months of research and writing, we had followed in the footsteps of activists at Harvard to write our very own legal complaint. Our legal argument centered on an obscure financial law that applies to non-profits, such as universities. The law— the Uniform Prudent Management of Funds Act, or UPMIFA for short— holds non-profits to a higher degree of responsibility as they invest some of their funds. Read more
Lessons from Rachel Carson on reconnecting with the wonders around us.
At 8:00 a.m. rush hour, the bustle of cramped sidewalks mirrors my internal environment. Coupled with navigating new illness and the general feeling of decomposing, a hectic start to the semester has left me frayed. But today I head for a winding trail. The image of an abandoned grassy swath at the end is seductive and propels me through the smog.
I trek a hill of white-capped grass that glistens in sunlight. The ground sings with the crush of frost. At the summit, clear air fills me and the fragmented feeling drips away with the liquid streaming from my nose. Words from Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring come to mind:
“Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. There is something infinitely healing in the repeated refrains of nature — the assurance that dawn comes after night, and spring after winter.” Read more
Is it heroic to challenge the power and influence of corporate giants like Enviva and Drax? Or simply naïve?
Seeing the catchy phrase “Drax the Destroyer” printed on biomass protest signs across the world, I instantly envisioned the famous fictional character by the same name, a six-foot-four colossus from Marvel whose powers include enhanced strength, energy blasts, and a proclivity for battle.
But the protests really refer to the UK company Drax. Under the guise of “carbon neutrality,” it produces biomass, or wood pellets, to burn for energy. Woody biomass is often harvested from forests in the Southeastern United States, then shipped overseas to the UK, Europe and Asia to be burned, emitting more carbon dioxide than coal. Read more
When first studying the scientific method, we learn about conducting an experiment to help support or eliminate a hypothesis. The experiment itself is said to provide supporting evidence that helps scientists, policymakers, entrepreneurs, and others make decisions. However, what qualifies as evidence can be arbitrary. When some look to science, they expect to see numbers and figures. But in other circumstances, according to Cornel West, stories and personal accounts can be just as valuable.
While researching how flooding from Hurricane Florence may have affected gentrification in New Hanover County, North Carolina, I have found that neither numerical evidence nor personal accounts alone can help explain the phenomenon. Both forms of evidence play different roles and offer a different perspective on the story. Studies have shown that in some circumstances, quantitative evidence may not be able to paint the full picture when studying a process (social, environmental, economic, etc.) that changes over time. In such a case, qualitative evidence or personal accounts and perspectives can provide the crucial details needed to find answers. Read more
Geographic information systems (GIS) are used for viewing, analyzing, and displaying geographical data in visual form. GIS uses data that is attached to a particular location and has the advantage of improving decision making since details are mapped out and easier to understand. Other advantages include reduced project costs and increased efficiency, improved communication between involved organizations, and easy recordkeeping where the maps can also be edited.
In short, GIS allows people to view their surroundings in new ways and see the bigger picture of the geographical world. Thousands of organizations around the world use GIS to make maps that communicate their analysis and share their solutions. We humans can have difficulty understanding data spatially; GIS software seeks to bridge that gap. GIS can help group statistics together that we wouldn’t be able to understand without a larger perspective. Some of the questions that GIS can help solve through pictures could be: Where are low-income families moving to from Raleigh, North Carolina? How are wastewater treatment plants affecting water quality in Eastern North Carolina? Read more
Caricatures of a farmer usually conjure up images of a white, strong, rural man. While almost 60% of farm owners in Maryland are male, and about 70% are white, these statistics paint an incomplete image of what a farmer in rural Maryland actually looks like. Unfortunately, we lack the idea of female, non-white, farmers partly because these groups did not have the resources to pass down their stories. John Mack Faragher writes in “History from the Inside-Out: Writing the History of Women in Rural America” that “Some rural women- Native Americans, Afro-Americans, Chicanas, Mexicans, Hispanics- have suffered a historical silence in direct relation to the social conditions that kept them nearly totally illiterate. Even among Euro-Americans, only a few country women left written records, for even white female illiteracy was commonplace until at least the second half of the nineteenth century.” Not only were women without the means to record their experiences, but many had to “Combine illiteracy with farm workloads that kept even ‘scribbling women’ too busy to write much, and cultural attitudes that consistently devalued women and their documents, and it is a wonder that we have any historical materials at all.” Read more