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Semester Abroad in New Zealand: An Intern Update

6 Sep

IMG_1583Hi! I’m Anna George and I’m a CEEDS MacLeish Field Station Intern. In the spring semester of 2016, I had the opportunity to study abroad in New Zealand on the Frontiers Abroad Earth Systems program. With twenty-five other students, I traveled to the Cook Islands and to the North and South Islands of New Zealand before I enrolled in a semester at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch. While I was there, I had the opportunity to extensively study New Zealand’s unique focus on conservation and ecology.

In New Zealand, conservation is a necessity. The country is host to a diverse group of endemic species found nowhere else because it has been separated from all other landmasses for the last 65 million years. The unique creatures include frogs that give birth to live young and giant flightless birds. However, there is one group that is mostly absent: mammals. The only living native New Zealand land mammals are two species of bat which were likely blown over from Australia. There are no native mammalian predators, only those introduced by humans: rats, possums, weasels, and stoats. Most native species were not accustomed to persistent predation and have been in slow decline since the mammals’ introduction by Polynesians and Europeans between the 1500s and 1800s.

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However, all is not lost. The New Zealand government has been working to protect their threatened species by setting up pest-free conservation land, doing large-scale poison drops, and educating citizens on how they can get involved. The public has responded enthusiastically. Many individuals have taken it upon themselves to set up traps or hunt on their land for the invasive predators. Others work with nonprofits to protect native habitat. The concerted and united conservation efforts have been more successful for some species than others; however, I think there’s still hope for most New Zealand wildlife, in large part because of its citizens’ dedication.

Exploring New Zealand’s geology and culture was just as exciting as learning about their conservation efforts. When abroad, unlike at college or at home, I felt as if I could actually take advantage of opportunities to see the gorgeous places around me or go to exciting local events. It was my only chance to see a New Zealand rugby game or go to a Chinese lantern festival. With this in mind, I threw aside laziness or even, on occasion, homework, as excuses and enthusiastically explored the country. I visited an active volcano, hot springs, Hooker Glacier, and Mount Sunday (home of Rohan from Lord of the Rings). I stood in a hobbit hole, stayed at a Maori pa (community center), and dipped my feet in a glacial lake.  After five months, I felt as if I had done an excellent job of seeing New Zealand. There are still places I missed—Lake Wanaka, Stewart Island and others—that I would definitely visit if I ever return, but, as my plane took off from Auckland Airport, I felt satisfied with what I had seen. I was ready to go home and perhaps apply the same philosophy of seizing opportunity to more familiar places.

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Summer Student Update: Sarina Vega ’19

15 Jul

sarina farm.JPGEco-Rep Sarina Vega ’19 is having an incredible summer. She writes: I’m currently in Portugal volunteering my time at an organic, sustainable, no-till farm in a tiny village close to Tomar called Vila do Paço. I’ve been using WWOOF (Worldwide Opportunities on Organic Farms) in Vermont for about 6 months now and decided to take the experience abroad. It’s been a humbling experience not knowing Portuguese. I’ve had to find other ways to connect with people, whether through caring for the plants and soil or through shared laughter at the dinner table as we convene over the meal our farm host prepared. Music is everywhere, conversation is abuzz, chicken and goat poop are under my shoes, and I’ve been wearing the same shirt for five days now–but who is counting?! When I left my hometown of San Diego, I left behind an internship at a community garden for the local high school, and when I return home I have another internship at a space called Art Produce, which is a community garden, art gallery, and tostada shop. I’m extremely intrigued with space and how we use it to bridge people, places, and time, and how community comes together. So far, the summer has been the most inspiring and eye-opening yet and I can’t wait to share my experiences with my friends back at Smith!

What are you doing this summer Smithies? We want to hear from you!

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China Climate Change Project

28 Jul

China is a country that is industrializing as it is urbanizing. As a result, rapid development has come at the cost of environmental degradation.  With more emphasis being placed on climate change and with the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris coming up in December, the world’s leaders are closely watching China: the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter. After several weeks of reading and researching, our team has come to the conclusion that China is constantly negotiating between economic development and environmental protection. The country is trying to seek a balance between those two essential perspectives in order to achieve sustainable development. In our project, we assess the current situation of this balance, analyze its future trajectory and give our own policy recommendations. Each of us is focusing on this process from a different perspective. Chang is focusing on urbanization, Zara is interested in energy, and Xinruo is looking at public health.

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From left to right: Zara, Xinruo, and Chang.

I am Xinruo Guo, a rising sophomore. I usually go by Amy. I have not yet declared my major but I am interested in human health. Professor Daniel Gardner is the faculty adviser of this project and he is like a small database on China because he knows a lot of things about the country that I, as a Chinese citizen, do not know. This project has enabled me to learn a lot about the Chinese environment and public health issues that I did not know previously. Therefore, I really appreciate this chance and feel that I gained a lot from this summer research experience.

Hi! I’m Chang Liu (‘18), from Beijing, China. I have no idea what to major in yet (probably philosophy?). In this project, I focus my research on China’s urbanization process and its impacts on the environment, and seek a sustainable way of urbanizing China’s cities. Before this research, I knew nothing about environmental science. But having personally experienced the notorious pollution of my hometown, I wish to know more about China’s environmental issues, what caused them, and how to address them.

I’m Zara Jamshed (‘17) from New York City. I am an engineering major and will hopefully declare a minor in environmental science and policy soon. I’m really interested in energy technology, especially renewable energy sources. I am exploring how China might restructure its energy fleet away from coal-fired power to prioritize the environment without impeding its economic growth. Last fall, I took an anthropology course on China, but I didn’t know much about the country’s renewable energy initiatives or its role in climate change negotiations. I feel like I have learned a lot about China from my research, my co-workers and Professor Gardner.

This summer research project was made possible with the support of Smith College’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability.

Education in and for the World- Students in the Coral Reef EdVentures program are at it again!

6 Jul
Coral Reef Ed-Ventures is an environmental education collaboration between Smith College’s environmental science and policy program and Hol Chan Marine Reserve on Ambergris Caye, Belize. The Coral Ed program uses experiential, place-based education to build a community of youth who are confident stewards of their local environment. Each summer, Smith student teachers head to Belize to lead local children in research, facilitate the creation of art and music, play games, and provide opportunities for the children to interact with and learn from community members engaged in conservation work. This year, six Smith students are in Belize running the program for its 16th summer.
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The 2015 team, from left to right: Elena Karlsen-Ayala, ’16; Shabnam Kapur, ’16; Laura Henry, ’16; Riley Gage, ’15; Emily Volkmann, ’16; Mandy Castro, ’17

We asked biological sciences major (track 5: biology and education) Mandy Castro, ’17 to take a moment out of her busy day to answer a few questions for us:

Q: What inspired you to apply to participate in Coral Ed?
A: This is exactly what I aspire to do as a profession, which is to teach biology to kids. Coral Ed also has given me a wonderful opportunity to do just that and partake in various forms of research from scuba diving and surveying sea fans to taking kayaks to the mangroves and getting my feet wet with drone research.
DSCN0817                           Mandy, left, and team mate surveying sea fans in Belize.

Q: What do you hope to take away from your experience this summer?
A: I hope to acquire better classroom management skills and more practice creating curriculum for varying age groups.

Q: What has been the biggest adjustment for you now that you are in Belize?
A: The biggest adjustment for me would be the heat and the humidity. I am a California girl born and raised where we only experience dry heat. So this totally took me outside my physical comfort zone.

Q: What has been a highlight of the experience thus far?
A: One of my favorite experiences was the crocodile trip through the lagoon during advanced camp. Seeing the crocodile wrangler in action by jumping into the water and capture a crocodile was an exciting experience for the campers and as well as for us, the teachers.

Read more about the Coral Ed program, follow the students’ blog (click on the year on the top menu) and more at http://sophia.smith.edu/blog/coraledventures/coral-ed-2015/

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.

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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

A Message from the SAL

12 Nov

Greetings [CEEDS] readers! I am writing as a guest-blogger from the Spatial Analysis Lab on campus (Sabin-Reed 104). My name is Victoria Beckley, and I am the post-bac fellow for the Spatial Analysis Lab (or SAL), which is a cross-campus academic resource that supports GIS (Geographic Information Systems) mapping projects for students, faculty, and staff across the academic divisions. Our work ranges from mapping Paradise Pond with faculty in the sciences, to mapping decades of India rainfall in Economics, to mapping a narrative around the issue of food access in the Study of Women and Gender. For a complete list of our current projects visit this link.

Mapping Rainfall in India

Mapping Rainfall in India



The SAL has a long-standing history of collaboration with CEEDS, and so we thought we would take a moment to share some of our previous collaborative efforts as well as consider opportunities for the future.

Current Collaborations:

CEEDS has an ongoing relationship with the SAL through which we manage spatial data collected from the MacLeish Field Station as well as a variety of other local areas and projects. The lab helps equip student workers with GPS and GIS skills to better enable them to conduct research. trimblegpsStudents borrow our Trimble GPS units (see image to right) to map data on the American chestnut and fruit tree groves at MacLeish, to map the movement of local invasive plant species, and to continue work on an ongoing project along the Mill River.

More Recent Developments in the SAL:

In early October the Spatial Analysis Lab hosted an Ebola First Responder Mapping workshop. The 38 workshop attendees learned to use OpenStreetMap to draw roads, paths, and buildings -features that are commonly not mapped- on West African maps. The point of this exercise was to provide aid workers on the ground, in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone, the ability to identify features like roads and paths to remote villages, bridges and river crossings, schools that are being used as temporary health clinics, and even open fields for helicopter landings. Groups like Doctors Without Borders and the American Red Cross rely on this crowd-sourced cartography to navigate areas where previously the only available maps were made up of fuzzy aerial images.

Similar OpenStreetMap projects were created for mapping features in Haiti after the 2010 earthquake, as well as for mapping the Gaza Strip, in order to utilize GIS technologies to better understand our geographies and make them accessible for spatial analysis.

A few weeks later we hosted a follow-up social mapping lab session (including pizza of course) that provided a space for collaborative mapping efforts and further conversations around the topic. Experienced and new mappers alike joined in.

Potential Collaborations for the Future:

Along the same lines as the OpenStreetMap projects described above, one could imagine CEEDS students working in collaboration with the SAL to conduct home-grown mapping projects pertaining to issues of sustainability on campus. Last year students put together a story map to highlight campus efforts in sustainability, which can be viewed here.

As long as your data has a spatial component it can be visualized on a map. allowing you to investigate patterns and perform spatial analysis. Furthermore, if you have an idea for a mapping project, but the data does not yet exist, feel free to drop us a line with a project proposal and we can help you determine how to go about creating those 
data. Visit the SAL website to explore all of our workshops and resources. You can also contact me directly with any questions, comments, or ideas: vbeckley at smith.edu.

-Victoria Beckley is the current post-bac fellow in the Spatial Analysis Lab (SAL). Victoria comes to Smith from Southern California, where she completed an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary GIS. She is originally from Dallas, Texas.

It all begins with the community: a site visit to Azilal Province

23 Oct

This post by student in the sustainable food concentration about her experience in Morocco was originally published on the High Atlas Foundation blog on Wednesday, 21 May 2014 11:49

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It was well past nine by the time we rumbled through the city to pick up Abderrahim. The streets of the medina were only just waking up from their Sunday morning snooze, but HAF’s Project Manager had been up since six. He hopped in the front seat of the taxi, passing back loaves of warm barley bread to the four of us scrunched into the back seat. We were happy to accept; it would be a long ride to Azilal province.

It is summer already in Marrakech. The city echoes with the slapping of thousands of sandals on hot pavement. People congregate at night in the cool parks, squares and cafés, sipping juices, feeding pigeons and chatting. But outside of the city the change in season takes on a larger significance. As we drive, we see on either side of the road small groups of men and women harvesting golden fields of wheat, scything the long grass with steady rhythm. The barley harvest has also begun, and the markets are already filled with fresh apricots, peaches, melons and plums. In a country where more than 45% of the labor force works in agriculture; the harvest is a matter of the utmost environmental, cultural and economic importance.

We drive north along a dusty road for a couple of hours before we stop at a roadside café. As we dip our bread in olive oil, honey and amlou – a nut paste mixed with argan oil – we discuss the agricultural system that produced our breakfast. What does it take to grow almonds, walnuts, and olives in the mountains of Azilal province? Why these crops? Encouraging fruit tree cultivation over grain or livestock production can be challenging, but the environmental and economic benefits, can be enormous. Today we’ll be seeing HAF’s methodology in action, visiting a tree nursery and seeing the beginnings of participatory planning in a local community. With the launch of HA3, the High Atlas Agriculture and Artisanal enterprise developed to connect farmers with organic markets domestically and abroad, these nuts and oils will mean increased family incomes and reinvestment in community development. But it all begins with the trees.

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Our breakfast finished with sweet cups of tea, we head on toward the nursery, passing the incredible Bin al Ouidane lake with its myriad shades of blue and green. Dammed in the 1950’s for hydro-electric power and irrigation, the lake reflects all of the faded greens and clay reds of the mountains. The new nursery, built in partnership with a local cooperative, is nestled into the slope of one of these mountains. We half walk, half slide our way down to the terraced beds. The three large plots are all prepared for planting, and several workers have already begun propagating thousands of olives in the lowest bed. The farmers use varieties that are well adapted to this mountainous environment, and the cuttings used for planting come from local olive trees, dried briefly to prevent rot. Abderrahim is hopeful that the success rate could be over 90%, comparable to the nearby nursery at Ait Mohammed.

The two upper terraced beds will soon be filled with more fruit trees: walnuts mixed with the adult almonds already littering the land, providing ample saplings to distribute to local farmers. These varieties, unlike many fruit trees grown in the region, don’t require pesticides or intensive irrigation, and are therefore excellent candidates for organic cultivation. Additionally, on the mountainous soils of Azilal province, they are essential in the battle against ongoing soil erosion.

These nurseries represent a huge commitment from the participating communities – some trees, such as almonds, will mature enough to bear fruit in a couple of years, but others will take as many as seven or eight. The amount of labor required, especially early on in the process, is high, but regular labor is also required after the seedlings sprout. Yet the local cooperative has been more than willing to take on these responsibilities, ensuring regular maintenance by community members and leasing land. Efficient drip irrigation systems are the next step here. The community is making excellent progress considering they only began clearing the land in late February. Insha’allah, these neat rows will soon be spotted with olive seedlings.

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 It’s now past noon and the blazing sun makes the air above us dance. Slowly, we make our goodbyes and work our way back up the hill to the taxi and toward Ourouizarght. It’s a small town, but a hub of the province, and it is here that we meet Amina. As the director of a women’s association in town, she’ll be joining us for a community visit to Ait Shribou, a nearby village. HAF hasn’t yet gotten involved in the community, so we’re here to introduce the organization and to get a feel for the conditions of the village, its environment and its agriculture. On the way there, we pick up women and children who volunteer to show us around. It is strikingly beautiful: walnuts are already coming in on the trees and some spring wildflowers are still in bloom. Si Hassan stops the cab by the edge of the road and we climb down into the valley.

The slopes are fairly steep and we stop in front of a small cave where one of the women invites  us to drink the spring water. Ait Shribou is built around this spring and its sweet water is syphoned off into an aqueduct and transported to surrounding towns. Further down the hill, several women have gathered with their children to wash laundry in the aqueduct, beating their clothes dry in the sun.

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Despite its water resources, life in the village is difficult. We gather in a small shop on the other side of the valley to identify the most pressing community issues. The three men in the shop offer us a table and chairs, and join the women in discussing the state of the village. Soon, poster paper and colored markers are produced, and two of the younger villagers began to map out their community. From this, in Darija (Moroccan Arabic) mixed with Tamazight (the local Berber Amazigh dialect), the development priorities of the village are discussed. Soon the paper is splattered in red, green and blue and the whole table is laughing. Neighbors leading donkeys peek into the shop, buying sugar and candies for the kids, and fresh mint is brought for tea. The discussion continues for several hours, and at the end, a meeting with the women of the community is proposed for the coming weeks. Spirits are high as we thank our hosts and work our way back to the car. As soon as the wheat harvest is finished, these women too will drink cups of steaming tea and discuss strengthening the future of their communities, one tree at a time.

Amelia Burke, HAF intern
Photos: Amelia Burke

Amelia Burke, ’16 is in the process of accelerating by an academic year to compensate for time spent working and learning abroad. She studies Middle Eastern Studies, Environmental Science and Policy and concentrates in Sustainable Food and is interested in HLLM implementation in North Africa. She returned to Smith this fall and is HR of Parsons House.

Keep current on gender and international agriculture

20 Oct

https://www.flickr.com/photos/icrisat/5814411222/in/faves-croptrust/ Sorghum at its peak.

Agriculture is the largest employer of rural women in much of the developing world (FAO 2011). Yet women farmers often face gender-based productive constraints, largely in the form of unequal access to resources. The world’s female farmers own less land, manage less livestock, and use less purchased fertilizer than men; they are less likely to obtain formal education, credit, insurance, membership in groups or collectives, and improved seed and livestock breeds (FAO 2011). In many agricultural communities, female-headed households are less resilient to economic and environmental stressors and more food insecure than their male-headed counterparts (for evidence from Africa, see a recent working paper from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research). As should be the case, multilateral agencies and research institutions are increasingly committed to redressing gender inequality through agricultural and rural development.

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An Ahir tribal woman in Nadapa village, east of Bhuj harvesting wheat.

Through my research on and off campus, I have amassed a collection of favorite agriculture-related blogs. Below are some of the sites that I use to keep current on gender issues on the international ag front. Enjoy.

1. Gender-Nutrition Idea Exchange of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health
2. Year of Gender news page of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics
3. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI): Gender
4. Gender, Agriculture, & Assets Project of IFPRI and the International Livestock Research Institute
5. Gender & Food Policy News from IFPRI
6. Climate Change, Collective Action, & Women’s Assets from IFPRI
7. On Gender and Restoration: A case study series by the International Union for Conservation of Nature
8. Agroforestry World posts on gender from the World Agroforestry Center

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

Agriculture and transboundary infectious diseases – the Ebola crisis

14 Oct

20141010-BABY-slide-MFC3-videoSixteenByNine1050_NYTPhoto: Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times

International Food Policy Research Institute Director General Shenggen Fan has authored an opinion piece on the implications of the Ebola crisis for food systems in West Africa. The article, Preventing an Ebola-Related Food Crisis, was posted to IFPRI’s DG Corner blog on October 9th.

Agricultural production, food importation, labor availability, and local trade have been significantly upset in many regions struck with the virus. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, 40 percent of farmers in Kailahun, Sierra Leone, have abandoned their farms since the outbreak, while cultivation has ceased on 90 percent of agricultural land. Harvests have been disrupted due to labor shortages as people fall ill, are quarantined, or are prevented from traveling freely. Consequences include decreased food availability and rapid increases in food prices: the cost of rice has increased by up to 30% in Ebola-stricken regions (World Bank 2014), while cassava has jumped in price by up to 150% in Liberia (FAO 2014). See the original World Bank and FAO reports for more information.

Fan offers his own recommendations for moderating what could become a large-scale food crisis. I assume this blog’s readership includes those who share my interest in evidence-based agricultural growth that is responsive to the needs of people – perhaps you also have thoughts on the implications of zoonotic epidemics for agricultural livelihoods, and what can and should be done in times of crisis.

I have more questions than answers.

– Jacqueline Maasch ’16J

Jacqueline is an anthropology major, environmental science & policy minor, and sustainable food concentrator. Her interests include agroecology, human health & nutrition, (agro)biodiversity conservation, and climate.

From Apple Orchards to the Big Apple, Smith Students Take to the Streets

23 Sep

Smith students rolled into New York City this weekend for the People’s Climate March, leaving the peaceful country setting of the College to raise our voices and join with communities around the globe demanding climate justice.

The People’s Climate March was slated to turn out just under a quarter of a million marchers in New York; the estimated tally after the fact exceeded 311,000, with hundreds of thousands more marching internationally in solidarity with the local movement. Smith sent a contingent of approximately 60 people–students, faculty, and staff who were ready and willing to take their commitment to sustainability at Smith to a larger stage.

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As we stood, packed shoulder to shoulder in the blocks preceeding the start of the route at Columbus circle, I bore witness to dozens of joyful reunions between friends who came from far and wide to converge at the March. All along the route I marched hand-in-hand with close friends who had traveled with Oberlin, Cornell, University of Chicago, and University of Virginia.

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Although students made up a massive part of the March, there were parents with strollers in tow, front-line community members, laborers, teachers, politicians, and celebrities to be sighted along the 2-mile route. Children wearing superhero costumes with cape lettering such as “Super Villain for Climate Justice” swayed on their parents shoulders; many laborers lifted signs demanding fair wages and food justice; there were politicians and celebrities who marched along the front-line.

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This was a landmark event in the Environmental movement. Over the past few years I’ve heard the opinion voiced that effective, long-lasting policy change in terms of the climate will only come in the aftermath of large-scale destruction on a historic level as a result of the rapidly changing environment. I have shared moments working with environmental organizations and with my classmates here at Smith, in which the overall feeling of the group in terms of the movement has been so discouraged that we have just felt lonely, unimportant.

My feelings after the March were that maybe this was the historic event to change everything. I finally felt that we are not alone.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore student 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.