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Earth Week: The Planet and the People On It: Opening up Conversation on Campus

7 May

Like every Earth Week, we didn’t have the biggest turn out. Rain and wind forced the array of student justice and environmental organizations inside the campus center; many passersby avoided catching our eye so they could hurry on without being stopped for a signature, promise, or pamphlet.

Those who did stop, though, gave an incredible energy to the week. People proudly penned promises on up-cycled cloths, accepted challenges and asked for more information on everything from intersectionality to permeable pavements.

The week was dotted with workshops, panels, and gatherings geared towards opening up the Smith community on a variety of topics. Environmentally friendly menstrual products, labor conditions of undocumented farmworkers, indigenous land rights, and the Gaza water crisis: the College was flooded with waves of discussion on a myriad of global environmental justice issues.

Lily-earthweek

It can be hard not to feel a bit jaded when it comes to doing outreach on a campus so full of soapboxes: occasionally, it seems to me that Smithies have an attitude of “I don’t have time to listen to you talk, I’m busy saving the world”. However, unlike previous Earth Weeks, the focus this year on intersectionality really brought more of the campus together than ever before. Instead of a lecture on why we’re not doing enough to celebrate and take good care of the Planet and the People on It, it felt more like a conversation on how together, we can do more than enough.

We can’t talk about land subsidence in marginalized neighborhoods without talking about race; we can’t talk about waste crises without talking about class, and we certainly can’t talk about climate change without talking about global political power asymmetries.

I think that this past week was an important step in creating a more equitable space for discussion on campus. If we all took one step off our own soapboxes, it would lead us onto someone else’s; out of a lecture, and into a conversation.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

Jeffrey Sachs: an Economist himself

18 Apr

I’d heard it all before; sustainable development is the only future for an increasingly global society, steeping in a burning cocktail of social injustices, stark economic inequalities and environmental degradation. I have been privileged to hear countless environmentalists, scholars, and activists preach the importance as well as the challenges of sustainable development over the past few years.

The big difference between that and Jeffrey Sachs’ April 8th evening lecture on Sustainable Development at Smith College was that I was hearing about it from an economist. And not just any economist. Sachs is a world-renowned economist who serves as a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals. He is Director of the Earth Institute, and Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Sachs

Sachs led a full auditorium of captivated students, community members, and professors through the ins and outs of sustainable development, the rise of capitalism, and poverty. He finished the lecture with harrowing statistics and evidence describing the environmental crises we are faced with as a result of capitalism’s insatiable, unsustainable appetite.

What intrigued me the most about the lecture were his concluding slides detailing the responsibilities of the “moral” university. The role of the university in sustainable development is special, critical, and enormous in helping to create a future for the billions of people on the planet. Education in sustainable development, research and design of sustainable development systems, organizing social outreach to all stakeholders, and fostering and protecting a moral outlook are some of the responsibilities outlined by Sachs at the tail end of his lecture.

Craning my neck, I tried to gauge the President’s reaction to this slide. After all, administrative offices, classes, and student groups like Divest Smith College have been preaching these same principles for years now. Their biggest hurdle in seeing any action from the College has been economic; any mention of the changes needed to become a more sustainable institution generally leads to hysteria about the billion dollar endowment, so critical to Smith College. And standing on the stage in Weinstein Auditorium was someone ready and willing to make the jump over the hurdle and onto the right side of history; an economist himself.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

Green Team’s Third Annual Climate Justice Open Mic

27 Feb

The stark white bar was laden heavily with cheese, cookies, crackers and tea cups. Heavy ochre curtains were tugged across the entrance way to the dim room, crowded with plastic chairs circled around a small, brightly lit stage.

Last night, I attended Green Team’s annual Climate Justice open mic. The atmosphere was warm despite the excited jitters that pulsed through the crowd like electricity. Green Team’s president, Siiri Bigalke, opened up the night with a moving story about coming to understand environmental injustices during her time abroad.

Another student read a chilling anecdote about her first time visiting receding glaciers. One sophomore, who had dropped by spur of the moment, recalled the various forms of pollution she saw affecting the environment and local residents during her 6 month stay in China. I read a poem about the constricting, overwhelming nature of the climate injustice conversation, or lack thereof.

As attendees became more comfortable, the pieces and stories being shared began to foster stimulating conversations. Students were discovering injustices within the injustices being spoken about; they were learning, listening, and opening their minds as peers braved the bright stage lights.

Perhaps we can look to this event and others like it in searching for ways to open up conversations about environmental (in)justices.

Calling

Footsteps reverberating, exponentially.

Around this hallowed space

curving walls

and dripping ceilings, concrete

pressing and stretching

and acres of black and white tiles.

Drowning in uniformity

echoes of disparate voices

I, too, call out.

 

Deeper down, down we slide

grit, grime wearing as we accelerate; a

perverse progression

and yet there’s a way to

devour, hopelessly

and it cranes our necks to look back at all.

Scraping at the only dust that remains

that would give our floundering feet traction

the void calls out.

 

Along the way, bulbs in dusty prisms

gleam dull and cruel; like

hoarded luxury

and insatiably hungry eyes, all framing an

unfathomable maw

and blinding us against the unknown.

The glow is warming inside these walls

the night never comes, but however stifled

we call out.

 

Billions of eyes focusing

forward through the chaos, reflecting

speckled trees

and cacophonous Springs

righteous respiration

and rusting, silent chains.

Voices presently choked, almost muted

a technological compromise and no one need leave

but they call out.

 

Beaten bodies building

soils sown with poisons

seas roiling; a pot over flame

and yet we march

walls contracting

and we grow restless.

These tunnels were not built to burst

but the breath of the Earth beyond is rallying

the climate is calling.

DSCF5035

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

An Impressive Affair: CEEDS’ 4th Annual Cider Festival

4 Nov

The Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability [CEEDS] celebrated Family Weekend with a cider pressing event* on October 25th to great success.

This being my first experience with this event I did not know what to expect.  That morning, I staggered over to Chapin annex road with a milk crate filled with 6 varieties of heirloom apples. As I rounded the corner of Chapin I was amazed to see a white pick-up truck filled to the brim with an impressive load of apples -of all different colors, shapes, and sizes.

Lily1The truckload of apples: a mix of Macoun, Gala, Empire, and Honeycrisp.

As the morning preparations continued in a flurry of table cloths and apple slicing, crowds of parents, clearly in awe with the idyllic setting of Smith College on a breezy fall morning, began gathering around the apple tasting and cider press.

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As the numbers grew I was soon unable to see anything past the heirloom tasting table where I was stationed. Parents and students crowded around the white-clothed, apple laden table, clutching compostable cups of fresh-pressed cider and samples of aged local cheeses or a Hadley-made cider donut.  I could hear the director’s voice facilitating the operation of the pressing as people called out their preferred varieties for tasting to me.

Over and over, I was asked where the apples had come from (Scott farm in Dummerston, Vermont) and where one could get some of the heirloom varieties. “Our supermarket would never have these!” was a constant refrain. ‘”I never knew there were so many kinds of apples!” was another common exclamation. It was wonderful to see so many people marveling in the possibilities of such local, diverse fruit.

Lily3
The heirloom apple tasting table.

The grandmother of a friend of mine delighted immensely in the Cox’s Orange Pippen, her favorite variety of apple, which has been unavailable to her since she moved to the States from Great Britain. She reported that she had tried to smuggle a pound of this variety through airport security a few years prior, but had had them confiscated.

I slipped her a whole apple.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread.

*The event, this year in collaboration with Dining Services, included cider pressing with apples generously donated by Clark Brothers Orchard in Ashfield, MA (and gathered by CEEDS students and staff), fresh-made cider donuts from Atkins Farms in South Amherst, MA, an heirloom apple tasting with apples from Scott Farm in Dummerston, VT, and 1yr and 5yr cheddar cheese from Grafton Village in Grafton, VT.