Janet Burke ‘AC: Environmental Student Spotlight

26 Nov

When Janet Burke was twenty years old she got a temp position answering phones at an environmental non-profit that did advocacy and lobbying, and immediately fell in love. Her colleagues were working towards an inspiring cause and they seemed to really love what they were doing. She had always felt strongly about environmental issues, but this was the first time it occurred to her that she could pursue a career in the environmental field. She ended up assisting with a campaign for the passage of a 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, and experienced a great sense of hope and excitement watching that effort come to fruition. She realized, “I could do this for the rest of my life,” and enrolled in community college to study environmental science and policy that spring. Her efforts brought her here to Smith as an Ada Comstock scholar, studying Biology with a minor in ES&P. She also holds office in the SGA and is very visible on campus.

Janet, or Jana as she likes to be called, thinks that human disconnect from the environment allows us to continue being destructive. “We are so far removed from the source of meat, for example, that we often don’t even think about the animal that it came from, how it lived, how it died. This has allowed the system to become twisted and unsustainable right under our noses in just a few generations.”

I wanted to ask her some questions about what we are facing environmentally as a society and what can be done to help the world as it pertains to sustainable practices. Janet answers true to form: with a concise and articulate approach.

1. After exposure from public media, global warming became a worldwide phenomenon, creating a growing interest in turning an environmentalist lifestyle into a “green lifestyle.” In general, do you believe this has had an overall positive effect on environmentalism action?

Absolutely. Environmentalism needs to be a part of everybody’s lifestyle, because it’s everybody’s concern as members of the same ecosystem. The environmentalist lifestyle has been mislabeled as a “fringe” lifestyle for too long. If making the environmental movement “trendy” is what it takes to move it into the mainstream, I can support that.

2. While many people realize we need to do something about environmental problems, they feel helpless when considering the powerful financial and political interests that control how our society works. What is your advice to those who want to help and do something constructive for the environment?

 If you have children, or work with children, instill in them a respect for the environment that they can carry with them for the rest of their lives. A lot of what we know about the environment and our effect on it are fairly recent, and it is my great hope that each generation from now on will be “greener” than the last.

3. What is the most pressing environmental issue currently?

Ooh, that’s a tough one. I guess I’ll go with global climate change. I feel as though every article or report I read about it is direr than the last, and yet climate change denial is still a force in political and social discourse. Perhaps it is denial and apathy; rather, that is really the most pressing environmental issue today. We can’t start to work toward ending environmental destruction until we all agree that it exists and deserves our attention.

As someone who values the environment, Jana Burke has carefully created a way to learn about all of the facets that the environmental disciplines require. Her aim was to learn as many aspects of this holistic practice as possible, starting with its communications side. Jana interned for NOAA this previous summer, where instead of performing tests and collecting data like one might assume, she was involved in the communications aspects of the work. As an intern at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science, Jana was responsible for tracking social media,  assisting with the compilation and release of science blogs, as well as tracking those blog statistics and attending communications planning and strategy meetings. Legislative outreach was another piece that she worked on as well. Jana was helped with an effort to pursue thoughtful outreach and increase visibility. In one summer, Mrs. Burke managed to pack in as much work as humanly possible—and instead of focusing on only one piece of environmental policy, she was able to conquer several at once, a valuable skill she perpetuates to this day at Smith College. On the side, she was involved with testing for harmful algal bloom forecasting, marine debris and biogeographic assessments in the Atlantic Ocean.  In one summer, Mrs. Burke managed to pack in as much work as humanly possible—and instead of focusing on only one piece of environmental policy, she was able to conquer several at once, a valuable skill she perpetuates to this day at Smith College.
-Liz Wright ‘AC, CEEDS Intern

 

 

 

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