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President McCartney’s Divestment Panel –

14 Apr
The article below was written as an op-ed for the Sophian in response to a February fossil fuel divestment event. That event, hosted by President Kathleen McCartney’s Office, was the third in a series of panels coordinated by CEEDS as a way to raise awareness and educate the Smith community on the topic of fossil fuel divestment. In the interest of full disclosure I want to say up front that though I am a CEEDS intern, I am also a member of the student org Divest Smith College, and one of the co-authors of the article. I hope you find it informative!  -Savannah Holden, ’16

On Monday, February 24th, concerned members of the Smith community literally filled the Carroll Room to discuss the relationship between the college’s endowment and the fossil fuel industry. President McCartney’s office sponsored the panel discussion in response to the growing movement on campus to divest from the fossil fuel industry. Attendees hoped to hear about the social responsibility of Smith, but the conversation focused on the financial structure of endowments. The panelists and administrators who spoke failed to place our endowment in the context of Smith’s institutional power and failed to address the political statement we are making by investing in the fossil fuel industry.

After publicly recognizing the threat of climate change, Smith created the Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan, which details how Smith will reach carbon neutrality by 2030, although it does not mention investments. In the past, Smith recognized the political statements made by our assets and divested from companies operating in Apartheid South Africa during the 1980s, and in Sudan in 2007. By refusing to recognize the implications of investment in the fossil fuel industry, Smith is making a statement that our institution supports the harmful practices of fossil fuel companies that result in community and environmental destruction, while simultaneously perpetuating climate change.

Divest Smith College, a network of concerned students, advocates that Smith cease investing our endowment funds in the fossil fuel industry, because Smith has the responsibility to reflect institutional values in its financial decisions. This divestment campaign is backed by strong support from the student body, a third of whom have signed a petition advocating for divestment from the fossil fuel industry.

Displaying SCD logo.jpg

President McCartney’s panel featured Peggy Eisen, chair of the Investment Committee on Smith’s Board of Trustees, Alice Handy, founder and CEO of Smith’s investment management firm Investure, and Bob Litterman, chairman of the risk committee of Kepos Capital. Smith is Investure’s first and largest client and because of this, enjoys a reduced fee structure, as well as Investure’s impressive returns history. Ms. Handy emphasized that the system Investure and many other management firms use is layered and complex. Funds from Smith College and 11 clients are pooled together before being given to different fund managers. These individual fund managers then invest in a wide variety of companies, but Ms. Handy stated she does not want to restrict their investment practices. Despite the fact that only 6.5% of our $1.71 billion endowment is invested in fossil fuel holdings, Ms. Handy argued that 70% of our endowment would have to be sold in order to ensure complete divestment as she doesn’t know exactly how individual fund managers are choosing to invest.

Bob Litterman rounded out the panel by addressing the issue of coal and oil sands investments within an endowment portfolio from a solely financial perspective. Mr. Litterman discussed a tactic he used a member of the investment committee of the Board of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) that lowers risk and gives an institution a vested stake in ensuring that we all begin to pay the true price of burning fossil fuels. WWF’s endowment has instituted a “total return swap” on particular fossil fuel stocks held within their investment portfolio, which is essentially a bet that current holdings will be unprofitable in comparison to a broad market index such as the S&P 500. The total return swap serves two purposes common with divestment. It lowers the risk of existing fossil fuel holdings, and, as Mr. Litterman put it, “aligns the mission of the institution of the portfolio” by ensuring a greater stake in securing a price of carbon in the near future. This is not a strategy that divests an endowment from fossil fuels, and, as he stated, is “a very simple approach; it is certainly not a comprehensive approach,” which still sends a mixed political message. Ultimately, the panel failed to address one of the most important issues that the Smith community came to hear: why does Smith continue to have an investment policy that does not align with its institutional values?

After the presentations concluded, President McCartney opened the floor to questions. Students and professors responded with concerns about the statement Smith is making by continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry. Michael Klare, a Five Colleges professor, stated that “these [fossil fuel industry investments] are toxic assets that you’re holding on to and should be gotten rid of, not only because they will become worthless in time but because, to protect the college itself from environmental destruction, it’s necessary to send the message that everybody should divest of these companies because these companies are a threat to the survival of the planet.” Immediately, the entire room burst into applause.

It is also important to acknowledge that there is no inaction here; continuing to invest in the fossil fuel industry sends a message that conflicts with Smith’s political goal to seek solutions to climate change. Smith College has the power to draw attention to the destruction caused by the fossil fuel industry and change the way society views these companies. As a prestigious institution, Smith divesting would send a strong message that the fossil fuel industry is an unacceptable investment. When questioned, the panelists offered no plan for how Smith will pressure policymakers to institute incentives that will force fossil fuel companies to act more responsibly, although Mr. Litterman admitted that “we are wasting a scarce resource…the atmosphere’s ability to safely absorb carbon emissions…that is wrong. The way to correct that is to price emissions appropriately.” Unfortunately, those of us who follow international climate negotiations and domestic environmental politics recognize that the fossil fuel industry has powerful influence on policymakers, which impedes the creation of a price on carbon. Divestment effectively revokes the social licence of fossil fuel companies and pushes our government toward more responsible energy policies.

During the question and answer session, Ms. Eisen said that disinvestment from the fossil fuel industry is “definitely a possibility.” Ruth Constantine, our Vice President for Finance, excused Smith’s inaction because “in a way, we are waiting for the investment community to change.” Because of its advantageous position in Investure, Smith College has the unique ability to push for this change to happen now – and we cannot afford to wait. The fossil fuel industry poses an immediate and extreme threat to communities around the world. This danger only increases over time- even as Smith College’s administrators deny our tacit support of this industry and the potential that divestment has to protect our endowment while promoting a shift away from fossil fuel companies. Divest Smith College will continue to push for a socially responsible investment policy and hopes that you, as members of the Smith community, will join in this important dialogue.

Written and edited by Ellen Monroe (’15), Anna George (’17), Savannah Holden (’16), Eleanor Adachi (’17), Jessie Blum (’15), Fiona Druge (’14), Emma Swartz (’16), and Kim Lu (’17)


Lecture Report Back: China’s Environmental Challenges

4 Mar

Darrin Magee, Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, is an incredibly inspiring individual. Extremely well versed in mathematics, environmental science and policy, and the Chinese language (“because the Japanese class was full!”), Darrin brings an extraordinarily realistic, straightforward, yet very inspiring perspective to one of the most important issues of our time.


As the title of the talk suggests, the most important environmental issues in China have to do with water, waste, and energy. Water contamination is an incredibly important subject because it will not only affect future generations but is impacting current generations. There are widespread, high levels of pollution that affect both surface and groundwater sources. These pollutants stem from sources such as inadequate wastewater treatment, chemical induced weathering, salinization (from over extraction and flood irrigation), and industry. Darrin explained that there are five grades on which water cleanliness is assessed in China: grades 1-3 (one being perfectly clean, pure water) are safe for drinking water, grade 4 is not fit for humans and can only be used industrially, and grade 5 is used for agriculture!!! This causes a wide range of awful and often life-threatening health effects for the consumers of food grown using this highly contaminated water. An example of these effects is cadmium poisoning, which blocks the absorption of calcium into the body, resulting in severe, often life threatening health problems.

Darrin pointed out that China is not actually water poor, the country has the resources to provide for the water needs of their country, but strict pollution regulation is necessary if China hopes to be water-secure in the future. As well as regulation of water pollutants, it is imperative that China adjust its coal usage if major cities are to continue to be habitable: acute respiratory distress is already the principal reason for ER visits in China. One way that China plans to transition away from coal is through hydropower, though these dams can create another set of environmental and geopolitical controversies. There is currently “a race” to build powerful, profitable dams before regulations tighten. As if these issues weren’t enough, energy consumption of the average Chinese citizen is climbing rapidly as standards of living get better. More and more energy will be needed in the coming years to fuel this rapidly modernizing country of 1.3 billion people, and where that energy comes from will affect not only Chinese citizens, but the entire world.

While China’s environmental situation is quite serious and may seem very easy to point fingers at (“If China would lower its emissions and reduce its pollution our world would have a much better chance… it’s not our responsibility here in the U.S., it’s theirs!”), the reality is that in relation to their population, China’s carbon footprint is much smaller than the U.S.’s. The average Chinese citizen has a carbon footprint of 6.2, compared to 17.6 in the United States. China’s population is simply much larger than the U.S., so there will naturally be more fossil fuel emissions as the country develops. Another factor to consider in the international blame game is the origin of the waste in China. Waste and trash is often exported from first world countries to countries like China, because they are willing to accept it in return for payment.  Trash is not the only item we export; much of China’s carbon emissions that contribute directly to climate change are released by factories that 1) export goods to developed countries or 2) are owned by international companies there because of low Chinese production costs. China may be the location in which the highest amount of carbon is being emitted, but at least one reason for those emissions is our consumption.

This is not to say that the China should develop exactly as the United States and Europe did, or that they are not accountable for their country’s environmental impact. On the contrary, China must make the policy decisions necessary to reduce its emissions (particularly coal) for the sake of the planet, and clean up its water and resources for the sake of its people. McGee was quick to point out that unlike the United States, China is in a much better position to enact change because the people and its leaders do not have an issue “believing” in environmental challenges. These are challenges that people live and breathe every single day, and the question is not “what are the challenges?” but “how will they be addressed?” China has ambitious renewable energy goals for 2020, in which renewables will account for 15% of total energy consumption (mostly hydro and nuclear). China also plans to cut their carbon emissions by about 17% in the next year. Given China’s large population and its rapid industrialization, these are substantial goals- but if countries in North America, Western Europe, and Australia do not cut back on their own disproportionate consumption, it will still not be enough.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

The Land of Chocolate, Fries, and… Environmentalism? Thoughts on Environmental Differences Between Northern Europe & the US

21 Feb
“Donc les Américains s’occupe de l’environnement maintenant?” (So, Americans care about the  environment now?) my Belgian friend’s father dryly asked me when I told him that I was very involved in environmental issues at my college in the U.S. The embarrassment and inexplicable desire to protest criticisms of the United States when asked a question such as this one is a sentiment that I, and many Americans abroad, are all too familiar with. I tried to explain to him while it’s true that we unfortunately have an infrastructure and lifestyle that does not favor green living, and there are a myriad of issues with our consumption and policy, there is also a magnificently growing environmental movement that more and more people are being inspired by every day. We soon moved on to other topics of conversation that engaged the entire room, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the manner in which he so condescendingly responded to my description of the efforts that Smith and other American institutions have been making. Indeed, there are stark differences in the manner in which Europeans and Americans regard the environment and issues surrounding it, differences that portray the United States in a pretty unfortunate light. But are these portrayals correct? Is Europe really “better” than the U.S.?

The simple answer is yes. A person’s carbon footprint is on average lower in Europe simply by living there. First off, their towns and cities are much closer together than those in the United States, so people do not have to travel the same kinds of distances that we do in the U.S. Gasoline is also much more expensive there, costing the equivalent of about $8 per gallon, and in some places as much as around $10 (4). This cost, in itself, makes people more likely to use public transport. In addition, public transportation -particularly trains- are commonly used because they are relatively inexpensive and widely accessible. In Belgium, for example, a city, town, or even village without a train station is basically unheard of. In many places in Europe, particularly Northern Belgium, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia, biking is the most common mode of  travel for short distances. In these countries, cities and towns are built to accommodate biking. Houses also tend to be much more efficient, many built “up” rather than “out”. The average carbon footprint in the EU is less than half the size of that of a North American. (U.S.: 19.74, Belgium: 10.88, France: 6.5*, The Netherlands: 10.5, Denmark: 9.8, Germany: 10.2) (1) This is not to say that Europe is without faults on the environmental front, however. These countries, often glorified for their environmental stewardship, still have a lot of work to do.

The EU can often “hide” its carbon emissions because they are not being emitted in Europe. The large population and demand for high-energy food (imported goods, animal products), particularly in Northern Europe, makes the carbon footprint of these countries skyrocket. For example, when the amount of international cropland necessary to feed the Belgian population is counted, Belgium becomes one of the ten countries with the largest environmental footprint. (2) Convincing anyone who is a heavy meat eater to switch to a less carbon intensive, plant based diet is difficult. Asking Northern Europeans to give up their charcuterie, cheese, and imported delicacies? It would be easier to get a wild tiger to be vegetarian. As with the U.S., most of the goods used in Europe are produced overseas. The pollution that goes into making goods sent to Europe are not generally calculated into their carbon footprints. Europeans buy just as many clothes, tools, office supplies, electronics, and beauty products as we do.

1623755_10151938730901270_1400589827_n                             An entire store dedicated to (energy intensive) cheese.

Europe is, however, in a better position to adapt to an environmentally friendly infrastructure than the United States. While one reason is that the infrastructure they have in place is already much greener, an even larger one is the mentality of most Northern European countries. My friend, who has family in Denmark and frequently travels there, told me an interesting story about the first time she saw a theater piece in Copenhagen. When the piece ended, everyone began to clap. She clapped along with them, as she normally would, but after a few seconds of clapping she began to notice something. Everyone in the theater had started to clap in unison. Everyone’s hands were coming together at the same time, increasing in speed and intensity together, and eventually fading out in unison as well. She said it was one of the strangest things she had ever experienced. It was not just the theater- it is how people clap in Denmark. Though I never experienced it in Belgium, it is apparently common in other European countries as well. I don’t know if there is any true correlation between this cultural trait and a general group mentality, but it is true that in Europe both individuals and governments are much more focused on the collective than here in the United States. This norm of communal thinking bodes extremely well for tackling challenging environmental issues, where group cooperation is key. Americans are generally much more focused on personal freedoms and the right to give as little as possible to others, all while driving a gigantic truck. Our overarching, culturally perpetuated notion that the solution to any problem is to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and strive for individual success is a backwards and harmful approach to this global crisis. Not everyone is stuck in this mindset, however. As I previously said, the U.S. has been making great strides in many cities: small-scale farming is taking off, there are huge green initiatives gaining strength every day, and people are generally becoming more environmentally conscious. It does, however, make large-scale environmental policy more complicated and arduous. It is simply much easier to make significant policy changes in smaller, more socialist countries.

Another difference that I have noticed in the past few years is that it seems as though Americans like to make a big deal of things: instead of quietly changing infrastructure and policy because we know that it is the best decision for our future, we feel the inexplicable desire to broadcast the “incredible changes” we are making (no matter how small). This is especially apparent in the manner in which universities, organizations, businesses, and even individuals treat the process of “going green”. While many European institutions will simply make changes because they know it’s the right choice, and will only share those changes with the public by minimal advertising or via an information page about environmental efforts, a similar institution in the U.S. will do all of that plus an educational campaign and a party. The United States does not do anything quietly, a quality that makes us appear rather juvenile to our European counterparts. As I attempt to explain to my Belgian friends that there is an incredible fossil fuel divestment campaign that is sweeping the country, that everyday there are grassroots organizations gaining strength, and that the government and universities often financially support efforts for people to study environmental issues, I know that momentarily I will hear the retort that will silence all of these nice efforts: “yet you still can’t seem to sign the Kyoto Protocol”. Sorry, America, no amount of student organizations and creative advertising can get you out of that one.

Of course, both continents have an incredible amount of work to do, as we are responsible for having disproportionately destroyed and consumed the resources of this planet for the past few centuries. I truly believe that what we need is a combination of American spunk and European ethic. Many American citizens have a youthful, excited appetite for change that does not exist in the same way in Europe. In Europe, however, the government has the dedication and realistic outlook to make actual change. For example, Germany, which currently gets 23% of their electricity from renewable sources is moving toward the goal of 80% renewable energy by 2050. The original plan had been fairly reliant on nuclear energy, but after the nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, German Chancellor Angela Merkel immediately made changes in the country’s energy plan. As Peter Almaier, the federal minister for the environment, nature conservation, and nuclear safety said, “We are changing profoundly and completely a structure that has developed over  150 years”. (5) I would say that the United States needs a bit more of this diligent attitude. As is the case with many issues, there are problems to be solved everywhere and there is no single right answer. I personally hope that in the coming years the United States will take a few hints from European environmental policy and make necessary changes. For this to be possible, we will have to move beyond environmental responsibility for show and towards environmental responsibility for survival; we have no choice.

*France has much lower emissions because the majority of their electricity comes from nuclear energy

– Savannah Holden, ’16







Student Spotlight

19 Nov

Name: Fiona Druge

Year: 2014

Major: Government

House: Capen

I met Fiona Druge at my first Divestment meeting last year. I was  a first year, clueless about political issues surrounding the  environment, and her knowledge about college endoF_Dwments,  fracking, fossil fuel companies, and government officials  impressed, scared, and motivated me to learn more. I have now  been working alongside Fiona on the Divest Smith College  campaign for almost a year, and I can say without hesitation that  Fiona is one of the most inspiring individuals I have met at  Smith.

Fiona is from Morgantown, West Virginia, where coal mining and mountain top removal are so commonplace that there is a coal plant downtown. She didn’t even realize that the presence coal companies had in her community wasn’t normal until well into high school, when her friend invited her to a Mountain Justice gathering in southern West Virginia. There, she heard stories of people whose lives were directly affected by mountaintop removal, and began to realize that the pollution and destruction of her own community was neither normal nor just. After high school, she took a gap year and spent that time learning more about fossil fuel companies and extraction communities, as well as working in a clinic writing grants for medical equipment. Many of the patients in the clinic she worked for had been harmed directly or indirectly by coal mining, and she began to realize that the issue was much larger than most people know. The coal industry is hardly ever questioned in extraction communities, and these companies work to enforce the message that the overall goal of “the coal industry is more valuable than you”.  This new knowledge of her own and other extraction communities motivated her to dedicate herself to raising awareness about these issues.

Once at Smith, Fiona was interested both in learning about other communities where extraction wasn’t commonplace as well as teaching others about her home. Wasting no time, she began organizing panels and film screenings to educate fellow students on the important issue. Fall of her junior year she participated in the Picker Semester in Washington program and interned for Minnesota senator Al Franken. She realized that even liberal politicians, who are theoretically in support of environmental efforts, lack the pressure and incentives to act for the environment because “there are no immediate consequences for neglecting the environment” in the political and societal sphere. Fiona quickly observed that “policy change doesn’t happen quickly, if at all, and the pace is infuriatingly slow”.

She spent more time in Washington this past summer, where she worked for an organization creating a national grassroots anti-fracking coalition of people who already live in extraction communities or in speculated extraction communities. She helped organize the first ever national anti-fracking rally and anti-fracking lobby day in Washington, and learned even more about the dangers and difficulties that people from these communities face. She met people who had well pads 100 feet from their homes and whose land was fracked and drilled without their consent because the land’s mineral rights had been bought over 100 years ago. She found that the most difficult stories to hear were those of farmers, whose groundwater had been compromised because of these practices, making it so that they were no longer able to grow food and provide for their families. Fiona is currently extremely active in the fossil fuel divestment campaign at Smith, believing that it “effectively reminds people of their responsibility to think critically about how they and their institutions act in the world”. Divestment is a direct way for a community to speak out against the destruction that is being inflicted upon current and future generations, and she believes that the campaign is both successful in promoting environmental and social awareness as well as campus grassroots organization.

Fiona is thankful for the opportunities in practical working experience that Smith has offered her, from classes to internships to giving her the space to develop leadership skills.  While she isn’t exactly sure what she would like to do in the future, her passions lie in teaching others to communicate effectively about environmental and social issues. I have experienced Fiona’s gift for educating others and sharing her vast knowledge of political environmental issues first hand, and I know that one thing is for sure: everyone had better watch out, because this tiny firecracker is going to light up the whole world.

– Savannah Holden, ’16

Savannah is a sophomore and prospective Government major, economics minor, and sustainable food concentrator. She also works as a student intern at CEEDS.

Fossil Fuel Divestment: Good for Smith, Good for the World?

1 Nov
Last Friday, CEEDS hosted the first in what will be a series of campus community discussions about Fossil Fuel Divestment. The series, inspired by the positive experiences of CEEDS-led faculty learning circles about the Deep Water Horizon disaster and sustainable food, is being planned similarly– with each gathering building on the next, following the threads of shared conversation and questions raised by participants. The goal of this first event was to lay the groundwork for the longer conversation, and since it was students in the Divest Smith College (DSC) org who have proposed that the College divest, it made sense that they should be the ones to help frame the issue. After a welcome by CEEDS Faculty Fellow James Lowenthal, members of DSC gave a 15 minute presentation about some of the the dangers of fossil fuels, the history of divestment and its place at Smith, and why DSC students believe that fossil fuel industry divestment is the right choice for the College. The presentation was followed by 20 minute round table discussions (facilitated by members of DSC) with the approximately 100 attendees.   

IMG_1668Divest Smith College students set the stage…  IMG_1680                          for the community conversation                          

I first heard about divestment from fossil fuels a little under a year ago in my micro economics class, when one of my classmates mentioned the movement in a discussion about economics and the environment. What prompted me to follow up with her afterwards, and eventually become involved in the movement myself, was the incredibly exciting notion that environmental activism is not just about recycling, light bulbs, and sustainable food (though those things are very important!). It is also about the corporate world, it is about assets, and about where we put our money. Fossil fuel companies inflict immeasurable damage on not only the environment, but also on people. This damage is observable in every stage in the life of fossil fuels: through extraction, processing, to the use of coal, oil, and natural gas. These effects are not only felt by the people and the environments of these extraction communities, but by everybody, in every area of the world. It is becoming increasingly difficult to escape the realities of climate change, and it will become more difficult as time goes on.

The Responsible Endowments Coalition defines divestment as “the act of selling all of one’s shares of a given company or type of asset for an explicit political or social reason”. College and university endowments are like savings accounts, and their operating budget is made up in part by the returns on the endowment investments. If Smith College were to divest from fossil fuels, that would mean selling the portion of our endowment that is invested in fossil fuel companies, making a public statement that Smith does not support their activities. Students at Smith began the divestment campaign about a year ago, at the time joining just a handful of schools in the effort. There are currently about 400 campaigns on college campuses around the world (most in the U.S.), and a number of organizations and cities that are also involved. Some of the schools/cities/organizations that have already committed to fossil fuel divestment are:

  • The City of Northampton (MA)
  • Hampshire College
  • The United Church of Christ
  • The City of San Francisco (CA)
  • Green Mountain College
  • The City of Madison (WI)
  • The City of Boulder (CO)
  • Unity College

Some key points about divestment and Smith College:

  • Smith is not new to divestment. The college has previously divested its endowment from Apartheid South Africa, the tobacco industry, and Sudan.
  • In 2010, Smith committed to being carbon neutral by 2030. The plan is called SCAMP (Sustainability and Climate Action Management Plan) and is part of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment. Greening the college’s endowment through fossil fuel divestment would fit perfectly into this already exisiting campus sustainability commitment.
  • The goal of divesting the College from fossil fuels would not be to financially harm the fossil fuel industry- college endowment investments in the industry are not nearly large enough to financially harm them in the slightest. The goal is to revoke their social license and stigmatize their harmful practices through a financially-minded campaign, much like was done to the tobacco industry 20 years ago.


As a member of Divest Smith College, I was incredibly pleased with the results of this event. This is not because I believe that as a result of this single event that our new President and the Board of Trustees will necessarily decide to divest, but because it brought attention to the issue here on campus. I have heard more discussion about divestment from individuals not directly involved with the effort than ever before. Students, their family members, faculty and staff are asking questions. They want to know more. It brought attention to not only the issue of fossil fuel divestment, but to the question of sustainability in general. As more students and faculty pay attention to the ramifications of the College’s decisions and actions, the more they will pay attention to their own. This is incredibly important because we don’t really have a choice anymore. For the sake of human health and well being around the world, big changes need to be made. Whether the college decides to divest from fossil fuels or not, this movement as a whole makes a statement : every day, more and more people around the country and around the world are thinking about the impact of their decisions – food, transportation, housing, purchases, and investments – and how they can use the power of these decisions to positively impact the world. Because these positive decisions, to be perfectly honest, are our only chance.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

To learn more: come to a Divest Smith College weekly meeting (email for more info) and check out the links below!

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The Good Life Lab: A powerful message on life, stuff, and true sustainability

7 Oct

In late September, students at Smith College were blessed with a lesson in the environmental, physical, and emotional impacts of stuff, and our insatiable desire for more of it. Wendy Tremayne, author of The Good Life Lab: Radical Experiments in Hands-On Living, and her partner, Mikey Sklar, gave an hour and a half long talk about their adventure from one extreme lifestyle to another, and the incredible lessons that we can all learn from their change. In 2006, they both left their high profile, high stress, and highly taxing careers in marketing and on Wall Street, sold (almost) everything, and bought a piece of land in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. Their goals were to decommodify (commodify: treat as a commodity, commercialization) their lives, reconnect with nature, use their skills (and acquire more) to make what they need rather than buy it, and live an abundant life.

They succeeded phenomenally. In a couple of years, they had built a sustainable home, were growing about 50% of their food (and were making just about all of it), had learned dozens of new skills, and were living a more relaxed, interesting, secure, exciting, and abundant life then before – on under 30,000 dollars a year. The Good Life Lab includes everything from lessons on how staggeringly unsustainable the current “ideal lifestyle” is to step by step directions on how to make your own biofuel. It serves as both an exciting story to spark interest and inspire a new way of looking at the world, as well as a guidebook on how to embark on a making versus buying lifestyle.


One of the most inspiring things I took away from this talk (and perusal of the book afterwards) is how irrevocably intermingled human sustainability is with the sustainability of the earth. When Wendy and Mikey decided to dive in head first and live a decommodified life, they were not only switching to a much greener way of life with a much smaller carbon footprint, but they were allowing their own lifestyle to be just as sustainable and kind on a personal level. In a developed world that is afflicted with all kinds of chronic illnesses, cancers, anxieties, loneliness, and more, yet full of items to buy to supposedly fill those holes, it is no wonder that many people feel rushed, stressed, and uneasy. As the planet suffers from our continual need of commodified goods and an ever-growing GDP, we are also suffering. As Wendy said in an interview ”We go to work to earn money to buy back the world that we already own”, and this work, which for many people is both stressful and draining, makes it necessary to purchase instead of create our livelihood.

One of the most reassuring stories that Wendy had to tell was that of her experience during the market crash in 2008. She and Mikey moved out of New York City and took their money out of the stock market (which everyone was telling them was a terrible idea) right before the crash. They were fully entrenched in the decommodified life by the time the severe repercussions hit a most of the nation. As it turns out, they were not affected at all by the economic downturn, nor were the rest of their neighbors living a similar lifestyle. Life in Truth or Consequences, with a strong local economy that was largely trade based, continued on normally. When living outside of the “system”, YOU determine your well-being and livelihood,  not the businesses on Wall Street. What is more secure than that?

I recommend Wendy’s book to anyone who feels as if they are craving a change in their day-to-day hum drums of life (or anyone who would like to learn how to fashion a fire breathing  trampoline). This book is a message to remember ourselves, our skills, what is truly important to us, and how we want to experience our short time on this earth. It is a message to take care of the planet while taking care of ourselves. If that is not the definition of true sustainability, I’m not sure what is.

-Savannah Holden, ’16

Savannah Holden is a sophomore and prospective Government major, economics minor, and sustainable food concentrator. She is loving her new job as a CEEDS intern, and tries to spend as much time as possible reading, cooking, being active outside- all while figuring out how to travel more!