Sustainability Studies Blog
Join Heidi Hutner in this interview with Antonia Juhasz; leading energy analyst, author, and investigative journalist specializing in oil. An award-winning writer, her articles appear in Newsweek, Rolling Stone, Harper’s Magazine, The Atlantic, CNN.com, The Nation, Ms., The Advocate, and more.
Join Heidi Hutner in this interview with Eban Goodstein; Economist, author, and public educator who directs both the Center for Environmental Policy and the MBA in Sustainability at Bard College. He is known for organizing national educational initiatives on climate change, which have engaged thousands of schools and universities, civic institutions, faith groups, and community organizations in solutions-driven dialogue.
Post Graduation Struggles and Surprises : A short essay on finding a real job and being a woman in the wilderness
Cory Tiger graduated in May 2015 with a degree in environmental humanities and anthropology.
I’ve been out of school for a little over a year now. After graduating I endured a journey of liminality, floating from job to job, refusing to commit to a long-term plan. I didn’t set out hunting for salary jobs or diving straight into graduate school, both of which were much expected of me. Instead, I decided to apply for a summer position at the Adirondack Mountain Club (ADK). Seasonal jobs are not typically what my elders consider a stable career path but it’s one that I came to thoroughly enjoy.
Fresh out of college, I spent the summer as a Summit Steward in the High Peak Region with the ADK. This position involved hiking to the summits of Mt. Marcy, Algonquin, Wright and Cascade to educate hikers about the rare and fragile alpine plants primarily found on these high peaks. I loved this role and will always care deeply for the work of a summit steward, however, I knew if I worked for the ADK the following summer I would try something different. At the end of the season, I returned home enthusiastic and green and began applying to consistent jobs. Too few years of experience and the lack of a master degree left me waitressing and working at a local jewelry store.
It was a long, hopeless winter trying to figure out my next move. I grew restless. What would make my family proud? How will I pay off these loans? What will make me more appealing to employers? How do I put my degrees in anthropology and environmental humanities to use? Most importantly, what will make me happy? With the last question in mind, I applied to work with the Adirondack Mountain Club, only this time I put in to be on the Professional Trail Crew. Once hired and tied into my short term plan, my friends and family asked: “after this, will you finally get a real job?” I simply smiled and shrugged, without a response.
After ten long and challenging weeks, I formulated an answer. This past summer I redefined my role as a woman in the wilderness. I learned to see my body as a tool and not some object only present for unwelcome criticism. I came to terms with rain that drenched me to the bone. I fell in love with the sunlight that gleams through a freshly dampened forest. I accepted that certain rocks cannot be moved by one individual being, or two. I built bridges, felled trees, and set stones that will remain long after I leave this world. I hiked what felt like endless miles, carrying, on my back, everything I needed: food, layers, always a book, and yes, tools, a whole array of tools. And in a trade dominated by men, I felt equal. I felt necessary. Even during the week that an all women crew went out on the Avalanche Pass project and comments from hikers about the absence of men on our crew were ceaseless, I felt empowered. I felt damn proud.
By choosing to work seasonally with the Adirondack Professional Trail Crew, I am not only doing what makes me happy, contributing to the preservation of the wild places I love, but I am also writing myself into a narrative of evolving gender roles. I have joined an unspoken sisterhood of wild women around the world in labor fields, holding axes, shovels, rock bars and knowing damn well how to use them. Our hands callused, faces caked with mud, and dirt visible under our fingernails. The limitations are no longer what society tells us we can and can’t do based on our gender, not only because it’s untrue but also because we’re not listening. We are capable. So here is my response to those curious about when I will get a real job: being a woman on a professional trail crew is the most real thing I have ever done.
Joy Dinkelman is a student in the Sustainability Studies program here at Stony Brook University. This is her second contributed piece to the Sustainability Studies Blog.
The end of the semester is wrapping up, I thankfully just finished up with my last final, but that also unfortunately means that my independent study, EHM 487, on seed saving is done for the semester as well. Although, I won’t be reading books and articles, watching films, and interviewing people about seeds and agricultural issues all the time now, I will definitely continue learning more about the importance of and the political challenges facing seed saving.
I’m really glad that I had taken the chance and decided to look into the issues facing our seeds and agriculture, as well as taking the opportunity to meet with local seed savers and farmers. I had originally set out to start a seed library, a seed lending program in which people ‘borrow’ seeds at the beginning of the season and at the end of the season they return some of their saved seeds in order to create a self-sustaining source of local seeds. Starting a seed library was not as easy as I thought that it would have been, but I have not given up.
I had spoken with some of the SBU library staff and they were interested in the endeavor, but said that they did not have staff to run it. I’m hoping to get an official confirmation from the SBU Greenhouse and Gardening Guild this Fall, as seed saving and gardening go hand-in-hand. If anyone is interested in doing an independent study on helping to create and run the potential seed library on campus, please reach out to me, Joy Dinkelman, and Dr. Heidi Hutner so that we can give you more information and coordinate. I know about what is needed and how to start a seed library, but as I am graduating next Spring 2017, it would need to be run be a club or group of dedicated people.
As of 2014, there were over 340 seed libraries across the United States, helping to provide communities with a local source of seeds. I am happy to see that the seed library movement is finally germinating on Long Island; the first, official seed library on Long Island is currently being created at the Patchogue-Medford Library in collaboration with the Long Island Regional Seed Consortium (LIRSC). If you are interested in learning more about seeds and seed saving, the LIRSC, is an invaluable local resource; they have been one of the driving forces in the seed saving movement on Long Island. This organization of passionate seed savers and educators have also begun the first seed swap (seed exchange) at the Suffolk County Community College in Riverhead; this past February was their second annual seed swap event. I look forward to witnessing, as well as being a part of, the seed saving movement on Long Island.
If you are interested in further information about volunteering with the potential, SBU seed library, please email me at email@example.com. Seeds are the direct and indirect source of our food, materials and habitats- they need to be cared for and grown by as many people as possible! Join the seed saving movement!
Nicole Casamassina is an Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences student minoring in Coastal Environmental Studies and Geospatial Science. As a result of her work in GSS 313/314 with Maria Brown, she presented a conference poster at the Northeastern Storms conference on March 4-6 in Saratoga Springs, NY. Nicole is Vice President of the Stony Brook University Meteorology Club.
This project is an “Evaluation of Hurricane Preparedness in New Jersey” and was done in Maria Brown’s GSS 313/314 class in Fall 2015. I created four maps which outline different aspects of hurricane preparedness that should be considered when making important decisions on whether or not disaster plan should be changed. For my first map, I received minimum barometric pressure, peak wind gust, and total rainfall measurements from the Office of the State Climatologist of New Jersey at Rutgers University and mapped these data in major cities in the state. The second map was a comparison of locations of hospitals to FEMA designated hurricane evacuation routes and population density. My third map showed vulnerability to coastal flooding, and the fourth map compared elevation to major roads, hurricane evacuation routes, and population density. I presented this project as a poster presentation at the Northeastern Storms Conference in Saratoga Springs, NY on March 5, 2016. It was such a great experience and I hope to do an oral presentation at next year’s conference. In the future, I hope to combine my two interests, atmospheric science and geographic information systems, to conduct more research projects in meteorology and climatology using GIS. This is an up and coming trend in the world of meteorology, which I found out at this conference.
In 2011, I came to Stony Brook University totally unaware of the environmental truths of my time. In all my years of learning and growing, I had never been fully informed of the reality in which I existed. I had no idea that the asthma I struggled with for years was likely caused by air pollution in my city. Or that the Arizona summers I grew up with were becoming more intense due to increased atmospheric GHG concentrations. In fact, I cannot recall ever learning anything about environmental issues until I had fully committed myself to the expense of secondary education. However, the consequences of discluding such information from primary teachings in the U.S. is an impending matter of its own and will be left for another page. Rather, this is an article about what I learned in college and what that learning has inspired me to do.
In 2011, global atmospheric CO2 concentrations were at an all-time high of 391ppm. That year, I walked into a class that would forever change my understanding of the world and how we depend on it – an Introduction to Sustainability. In one semester, I went on to learn just how big of an impact we have on the world; how big of an impact we have on each other and what that all means for the future. Suddenly, I was obligated to make a difference. Soon thereafter, I committed myself to earning a degree in Sustainability Studies.
Over the next four years, I would dive deep into the particulars of every major environmental concern of the 21st century. I would learn of global warming, sea level rise, air, soil, and water degradation. I would learn of the challenges posed by industrialization and just how difficult they are to overcome. And I would learn of the potential solutions we have to these immense issues. But what I came away with was much more than a degree. I graduated with life perspective; with determination and will. I graduated with a desire to make change.
And so, change is what I am determined to make.
Currently, the global atmospheric CO2 concentration is above 402ppm. At this level, we can expect extreme implications for the human race. Temperatures will rise, droughts will intensify, and communities will suffer. And, unless we are somehow able to reverse these trends, there is no clear way of avoiding collapse. So, I have made it a personal goal of mine to do exactly that. And through a very long journey, I hope to inspire very large changes.
In May of 2016, I will embark on the biggest adventure of my life. From Stony Brook University to the Oregon coast, I will cycle more than 3,500 miles through the great American landscape. The theme of my trip will be change – climate change, social change, personal change. In cycling across the country, I hope to exemplify the change that we can all make in a combined effort to improve the world.
Along the way, I hope to share my knowledge of environmental issues with those I meet in order to promote change everywhere I can. I will be sharing my adventure through my blog so you can follow me every step of the way.
The lessons that I learned as a Sustainability Studies major have given me insight into some of society’s most complex issues. But if college has taught me anything, it’s that the only way to see change is to make change. And for me, that opportunity lies within this trip. So please feel free to follow me as I journey across the country and be inspired to create change of your own. After all, we are all in this together and only together can we make a difference.
Be kind, live simply, and study often.
B.A. Sustainability Studies (2015)
In the most ancient wastes in their modern facilities, for over sixty years the Leakey’s et al have been the (arguably) lead in human origins research. Richard Leakey, a faculty member of Stony Brook University along with his colleagues established the Turkana Basin Institute and began its Origins Field School for undergraduate students in 2011.
Of course, only a group of wayward undergrads the field school does not make. That’s what I sought–as one of the waywardest of the undergrads at the field school. I sought to know the archeological origins of humans that surrounded that facility.
Eleven of us set out from John F. Kennedy Airport, then we met two more voyagers in Nairobi, Kenya; Linda Martin, director of the field school and geologist; and Abel Ang, Singaporean well-read to-be disillusioned post-undergraduate student. It was late, the air smelt a little less like America and the unfamiliarity of it all brought an anxious edge to the surroundings–though not a dreaded edge, just a sense of caution that was yet subdued by the ambition of visiting this new land. That following morning we flew out to Laikipia, a savannah region. Here was the Mpala research facility led by Dr. Dino Martins–the “Dudu Man of East Africa,” an entomologist of some prestige. After the longest nine days of the trip, during the ecology module–a period deliberately made to allow us mzungus (Swahili for “foreigner” which directly translates to “white person”) adjust to the culture and climate of Kenya. Afterwards, we would fly North to Turkana.
“Turkana is too hot,” Rafael, one of the guards of the Mpala river camp would say on a relatively warm Laikipia day, “the weather here is perfect,” he added. It was a crisp morning, about 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Myself, Rafael and two homeboys sat around a fire in a depressed stone hearth-pit during a “fitness circle”–a healthy way to handle the chill of the crispy Laikipia mornings.
But soon it was too hot for fitness circles. At the Ileret campus on Eastern Lake Turkana, we made our truest home of these eleven weeks. If you’re me, at least, I rise at 6 a.m. and drag my feet downhill to the mess hall. Here it’s still dark, and twilight isn’t coming for another twenty minutes. I pack a torch and a malarone (an antimalarial). With a crispy mouth and frail stomach, I hesitantly prepare tea and take the dawn’s first water.
The morning time is chill and I haven’t showered yet. Water in this hour is perceived as abrasive in a pleasant temperature (whereas the air temperature is actually abrasive–the water, pleasant). Ideally, one washes after peeling off their sticky field-wear that they’ve caked with sweat over a long day. It’s best done in high noon, as you could always walk out from shelter and catch some slow-but-blasting heat to bolster the allure of standing below temperate water showers. After breakfast I poop. That is, without fail.
At least for the first five weeks… you’re dehydrated. In Turkana, it’s high nineties to low hundreds on the regular. And the lack of a GMO diet gets to you in a way. But we humans are hardy and adjust as we have been for 2.8 million years (only referring to the genus Homo as to avoid debate). You adjust and you perceive while you adjust. The field school exposes you to a wide and diverse array of people and I’m not referring to only my peers.
Dr. Jason Lewis, research assistant professor with TBI and SBU as well as one of the directors of the Origins Field School describes to me the origins of the Origins Field School–how TBI came to be a facility for students and researchers to work in this fossil and artifact-rich region.
“The first major expedition in Turkana during the classic era of paleontology was led by Richard Leakey on the east side [of Lake Turkana] in a place called Koobi Fora,” which is about a four hours lorry drive South from the breezy veranda at the Ileret campus where we sat.
Though, not overly familiar with the east side of Turkana as Dr. Lewis primarily works from the West side at Turkana, he has noticed no friction between the outlying community and the facility. He suggests that this could be due to the long-term existence of Koobi Fora.
Whereas the west side had no preexisting history of such an institute, its early conception was met with much probing and resistance from the local Turkana. The Turkana people face many economic and environmental challenges. Passing from the TBI airstrip to the Turkwel campus, there is a tight cluster of settlements and highly consumed vegetation. Pastoralism is key to the local economy, and in this thick population density, overgrazing is a consistent problem. In the past five years, the discovery of petroleum deposits in the area provided short-lived jobs and an ultimate distrust towards any foreign presence. “TBI came wrapped up in what they were perceiving as an influx of foreign operations that were aimed at removing some kind of resource,” Dr. Lewis said of the locals, which was challenging for TBI but it also “indicates awareness of issues of foreigners taking their resources.”
TBI further accommodates the region it is situated in by contributing to infrastructure among other social works. With communities right outside their gates, TBI provides access to clean water, they put hundreds of children through school, and offer stable career opportunities. Dr. Lewis points out that this is very clearly a result of pressure from the community. “Not in a violent way, but in a very strong dialogue.”
Paleoanthropology is attractive to mzungus. It’s a bold field to enter, but Turkana is among the richest land to pursue this sort of work. All you have to do is get there. Undergraduates of the field school who are ambitious enough may enter these ranks.
Pamela Akuku, a Kenyan native and junior researcher of the Archaeology Department at the National Museums of Kenya attends the field school on scholarship and the insistence of her superiors at the museum. Pamela graduated from the University of Nairobi with a BA in paleoanthropology. She was one of a class of twenty-four for anthropology majors, and the only one who studied paleoanthropology. She indicates that economic security is the reason why her graduating class was so small despite Kenya’s rich fossil and artifact sites. Pamela points out on the shortage of Kenyans working in this field that, “it’s harder for Kenyan students to get into this field without help from the museum. It seems most foreigners are the ones doing this work, so Kenyans see it as, you know, ‘crazy mzungos do your thing.’”
Field Manager, Nyete Cyprian, or to those who have the pleasure of knowing him personally; Daktari Nyete, attests to the lack of Kenyans in this field. Nyete, who dropped out of the University of Nairobi after a year while studying for a degree in archaeology, has worked with the Leakey family for about 15 years. Nyete points out that very few are interested in working in the fields of paleoanthropology and archaeology as it isn’t economically stable, “the government doesn’t support researchers to work on these sites.” He also adds that the necessity to work in the harsh climate of the Turkana desert deters Kenyans. “It’s not hard, but challenging,” he describes the work. At the end of our interview, Nyete expresses his interest in returning to school–where pursuing a degree in archaeology may not be so difficult when considering his talent in the field.
The work done at the Turkana Basin Institute isn’t solely that of paleoanthropology. It is that of the wellbeing for many people, it is a daring effort to live off the grid using modest means of energy production. It is a place at risk. Dr. Lewis discusses the issue of the dam being built on the Omo river, which feeds into the basin from Ethiopia. This dam is likely to cause an environmental catastrophe, as the Omo is the primary source of water entering this region. Interesting times are upon the basin–the same interesting times around the world. At the very least, it is an interesting and productive way to spend eleven weeks.
by Taylor Knoedl, Sustainability Studies Alum
When Margaret Conover asked the Sustainability Studies Program if we could quantify use-patterns in the Ashley Schiff Park Preserve, two Environment and Human Impact students enthusiastically said yes!
With the help of Dr. Sharon Pochron, students Alexandra VanLoo and Andrew Fiorenza wrote a proposal to hang camera traps and count the number of heads that had shown up in the photos. They want to collect data for a full year to get an idea of how people use the park during all seasons. With excitement, the Friends of Ashley Schiff Park Preserve approved of their proposal, providing the funds necessary to complete this study .
Alex and Andrew have already purchased the cameras and hung them at the trailheads. Despite abundant amounts of rain, they have managed to get the perfect angles for the cameras to snap photos just as people pass the park entrance. In addition to the technical work, they have read multiple sources of prior studies regarding methods that other parks have used to assess human-use patterns. Working in conjuction with Dr. Pochron, they plan to quantify park use with the addition of displaying how use changes with season. They plan to present their results at next spring’s URECA.
The scholarships for Alexandra VanLoo and Andrew Fiorenza will be awarded at Friends of Ashley Schiff Park Preserve annual Membership Reception from 5:30 to 7:30pm, Thursday, September 24 at the Simons Center. Carl Safina is the invited guest speaker. If you would like to attend this reception, you must join the membership for the Friends of Ashley Schiff Park Preserve. Membership is free and open to all, so don’t hesitate to sign up today! Click here to R.S.V.P. for the reception. See you there!