by Becca Nelson, '20
This summer, my parents woke up to find a news crew standing in our driveway. We live in a quiet little suburb of Chicago, where this kind of thing never happens. The scene was eerie. The night before, torrential rains had flooded our neighborhood, turning our street into a channel of murky brown water, filled with litter and broken branches. The lights from the cameras flashed off the water, creating jagged shadows. The Des Plaines River, which runs through our neighborhood reached a record high. A couple streets down from where I live, my neighbors were forced to evacuate their homes. Kids floated down the streets in inflatable rafts, laughing and playing, despite the health warnings about entering the water. My neighborhood sits on a floodplain, but this was the second one hundred year flood we had in the last few years. Normally, hundred year floods have a 1 in 100 chance of happening, but their frequency is increasing with climate change.
In the weeks following the flood, I realized how lucky I was. I watched news footage of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria pounding the Caribbean and Southeastern United States. The hurricanes disrupted the lives of millions of people, including some of my friends and family. Warmer waters in the Gulf of Mexico due to rising global temperature exacerbates the frequency of hurricanes. These natural disasters with their profound social and ecological consequences create an opening for starting a dialogue on climate change. Yet having a thoughtful discussion that catalyzes collaboration and action can be difficult in America’s polarized climate. This summer, I conducted a literature review on how to most effectively communicate and teach about climate change as a part of environmental education research I was doing in Dr. Nicole Ardoin’s Social Ecology Lab. After reading through pages of peer-reviewed journal articles, I learned the following tips about how to more effectively discuss climate change.
Foremost, optimism is far more effective than alarmism in inspiring people to take action. When the effects of climate change are portrayed as inevitable and apocalyptic, people tend to either lose their sense of efficacy in addressing the issue or roll their eyes at what they see as over exaggerated paranoia. I often get overwhelmed watching documentaries that provoke alarm without discussing solutions, thinking about how large my own carbon footprint is and how limited my agency is in tackling climate change. In contrast, messages that focus on how communities have the ability to adapt by adopting concrete actions can instill a sense of hope and urgency.
Besides the tone of the discussion, whether climate change is discussed as a social or scientific problem can also greatly influence people’s response to it. Environmental education researcher K. C. Busch researched how social and scientific portrayals of climate change were presented in the classroom. The scientific discussion of climate change appears to be much more common in schools and emphasizes empirical evidence for climate change and how it will impact the environment globally. Social discussions, however, that portray its negative effects on our society at the local scale are underemphasized in the classroom even though people tend to be more influenced by climate change’s social consequences.
Psychological distance of climate change can also affect people’s level of concern. In other words, people who believe that climate change will threaten their community or similar communities in the near future are more likely to see climate change as an important issue than people who believe that climate change will happen far in the future and far away from where they live. Discussing how climate change will affect people and places at local level can raise more concern than using vague and global terms. For example, the research I did this summer looked at how redwoods can educate visitors at California State Parks about the local impacts of climate change. The devastation from the recent hurricanes hits much closer to home for some Americans than images of polar bears stranded on melting ice floes.
Public perceptions and barriers to feeling concerned about climate change vary demographically throughout the United States. It’s important to understand what perspectives your audience comes from. For example, people in some cases distrust experts who come from outside their community. So imposing a message about climate change on a community rather than fostering an open dialogue can be ineffective. Collective action toward climate change can arise organically from within communities through networks of concerned individuals that spread in a decentralized manner. Stanford biology professor Dr. Deborah Gordon started an online initiative called Land Talk that seeks to empower people all over the world to document changes in weather and land within their own community. The website features stories in which a younger community member interviews an older member about changes within an area based on their personal observations. If you are interested in hearing their stories or sharing your own, you can learn more here.
Ultimately, how we talk about climate change influences the actions we take from lifestyle changes to environmental policy. Watching news footage of my flooded neighborhood was a wake up call for me.
References and Further Reading
Jones, C., Hine, D. W., & Marks, A. D. (2017). The future is now: reducing psychological distance to increase public engagement with climate change. Risk Analysis, 37(2), 331-341.
Scannell, L., & Gifford, R. (2013). Personally relevant climate change: The role of place attachment and local versus global message framing in engagement. Environment and Behavior,45(1), 60–85.
Busch, K. C. (2016). Polar Bears or People? Exploring Ways in Which Teachers Frame Climate Change in the Classroom. International Journal of Science Education, Part B, 6(2), 137-165.
Maibach, E. W., Leiserowitz, A., Roser-Renouf, C., & Mertz, C. K. (2011). Identifying like-minded audiences for global warming public engagement campaigns: An audience segmentation analysis.
Leiserowitz, A. A. (2005). American risk perceptions: Is climate change dangerous?. Risk analysis, 25(6), 1433-1442.
Koepfler, J. A., Heimlich, J. E., & Yocco, V. S. (2010). Communicating climate change to visitors of informal science environments. Applied Environmental Education and Communication, 9(4), 233-242. and tool development. PloS one, 6(3), e17571.
Experiential knowledge paired with trustworthy information necessary for local legitimacy of wind power
by Kira Smiley
The local implications of wind energy are a hotly debated topic worldwide. It seems to be easy to promote wind energy on a grand scale, envisioning the potential it has to generate emission-free energy and mitigate climate change. Unfortunately, all too often arguments sour when talk of wind turbine construction hits close to home. Doubts about how appropriate the construction sites are, along with fears of both personal impacts mixed with those concerning the environment and local wildlife, particularly birds.
These concerns motivated my study of local permanent and seasonal inhabitants in the Finnish archipelago. Funded by the Volpert Scholars grant, I worked as a visiting researcher at the Finnish Environment Institute based in Helsinki, Finland, acting much more responsible and put-together than I felt. After doing a broad ecological survey of the white-tailed eagle nearby wind turbines, I conducted a series of semi-structured interviews on one island with wind turbines and on two without them. The interviews focused on the participants’ perceptions about the impacts of wind turbines on the white-tailed eagle in the Turku archipelago. Not only is the white-tailed eagle a locally important species recognized to interact with wind turbines, but these large and charismatic birds are a point of interest for wind power development throughout Europe.
My findings indicated that experience, or lack of it, strongly affected how participants formed perceptions of wind turbines and their impacts. Additionally, when searching for new information, local residents found it challenging to distinguish trustworthy sources. For instance, if a company or entity publishing or funding an informational article stood to gain from the results, readers were less likely to trust it, regardless of whether they agreed with the message. However, they did tend to show confirmation bias and evaluate sources they did agree with as more trustworthy.
Although often the impact of turbines on birds have been politicized as a key argument against wind turbines, my interviews indicated that perceived bird impacts had no real effect on participants’ views. Instead, concerns centered almost exclusively on personally experienced impacts. Many residents on the island without wind turbines voiced concerns that property values would drop due to view and sound disturbance. However, residents on the island with wind turbines directly contradicted this and said that property values had risen and the sound was noticeable only on very windy days. It was also interesting that despite engagement with the wind-power companies and local authorities taking place, several participants felt their views were not ultimately accounted for in the wind turbine decision-making process.
The results illustrated that misconceptions can often occur due to lack of experience or information, strengthening the need for increased knowledge exchange. We clearly have much to gain from sharing experiences and distributing research-based reliable information. For example, a concise packet of studies on wind turbines including personal experiences might be an effective way to communicate wind turbine impacts to communities that are considering or facing wind turbine construction. Moreover, platforms where locals could share views and communicate with scientists and authorities would reduce biases and support informed development of perceptions from reliable sources. This way, citizens can inform their views with reliable and diverse knowledge bases.
In terms of the experience itself, it was an engaging and amazing opportunity to be able to design, shape, and execute my own research and consult top wind power and eagle experts in both Finland and Denmark. I was able to improve my Finnish environmental and research jargon, and even pick up some Swedish (“I. understand. Little. But. No. speak. Swedish…and I like ping pong and dogs”). Overall, this work was very relevant to the changing wind power situation in Northern Europe, and addressed many of the current concerns people had about fake news. I am excited to continue to foster the relationships that formed this summer and continue to develop my research!
by Jazzy Kerber, '20
“I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Donald Trump declared in his speech, announcing that the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate agreement. In reality, Pittsburgh went blue in the presidential election and quickly responded that their city government does, in fact, support the Paris agreement. Aside from these facts, however, the above statement ignores the 195 countries that adopted the accord. In December 2015, representatives of 196 nations met in Paris to negotiate and adopt the agreement by consensus. Before President Trump’s recent announcement, Syria and Nicaragua were the only two countries in the world that did not sign on.
Both Trump’s decision and his announcement of it are more story than substance. “Donald Trump versus almost all other world leaders” is a difficult position to support, but “Pittsburg versus Paris” is an easier pill to swallow (it’s even an alliteration!). President Trump uses narratives like this one to justify choices that make little logical or economic sense. By withdrawing from the global climate agreement, Trump proposes that the United States is immune to the consequences of climate change. Unfortunately, “America first” doesn’t make sense in relation to atmospheric science. We cannot force droughts and storms to the other side of the globe, after all. Nevertheless, President Trump attempts to show that he values America’s economy above all else.
But does withdrawing actually make economic sense? The key goal outlined in the Paris Agreement is “Holding the increase in the global average temperature to well below 2 °C above pre-industrial levels,” but participating nations determine their own mechanisms for decreasing emissions. The agreement was designed to be flexible in order to accommodate individual countries’ needs. (In fact, a relatively common criticism says the agreement is too flexible.)
What about jobs? To echo a position many economists have already taken, coal is a declining industry, while clean energy production is on the rise. Natural gas has displaced a fair amount of coal demand in recent years. (To clarify, natural gas is not clean energy, but I mention it because Trump often focuses specifically on coal jobs.) Moreover, recent publications show that solar and wind energies are now less expensive than coal power. I would argue that the best way to both preserve jobs and lower emissions might be a plan, similar to the one Germany successfully implemented starting about a decade ago, that retrains large numbers of coal miners for jobs in growing industries. Of course, Donald Trump would probably disapprove of this strategy since it would require a government program.
It is difficult to predict what changes we’ll actually see as a result of President Trump’s decision. Withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is a three-year process, plus we face one year of delays, so the United States won’t officially be out until the end of this presidential term. If at that point Donald Trump is not re-elected, his successor could reverse course and immediately add the U.S. back to the agreement. Additionally, Trump so far has not withdrawn from UN climate agreements like the UNFCCC, and individual states and corporations can choose to continue abiding by emissions standards that align with the Paris Agreement. So far, eleven states as well as Washington, DC and Puerto Rico have declared they will uphold commitments to the Paris Agreement.
Perhaps Trump’s recent action is most harmful to environmental initiatives in a symbolic sense. His executive orders and changes to the EPA have already dialed back the United States’ work against climate change, and by pulling out of the Paris Agreement, he clarifies this intent to the world.
 Hal Harvey, “Economics are Transitioning America From Coal To Clean,” Forbes, March 2, 2017.
 Joshua Zaffos, “Can we learn from Europe’s approach to laid-off coal miners?” High Country News, April 27, 2016.
 Leanna Garfield and Skye Gould, “This map shows which states are vowing to defy Trump and uphold the US’ Paris Agreement goals,” Business Insider, June 9, 2017.
by Miranda Vogt '19
There are two types of people in this world, those that make conscious decisions to alter their diets for the benefit of the environment, and those that say “Screw it, I just want my God-damn burger”. This is the way it has been for a long time, and the way it still is now, but some people argue that by the year 2050, these two groups will not be mutually exclusive. I am extremely interested in researching this intersection of the carnivore and the environmentalist as it occurs in lab grown meat, a promising but somewhat problematic new technology.
But why do we have to change the way we eat? A 2006 report from the UN Food and Agricultural Organization estimated that 18 percent of Greenhouse Gas Emissions comes from the meat and dairy industry, compared to the 13 percent emitted by the entire transportation sector. Recent reports, however, show that the true percentage could be higher still. Through a scientific lens, we’re taking a really inefficient route to get the energy and nutrients we need to live. We’re putting vegetable protein into a biochemical reactor called a cow (or chicken, duck, whatever) and then it puts off a lot of heat and methane and finally the reaction is done and we eat our hamburger. Added on to the greenhouse gas emissions and wastefulness of meat is the space that it takes to grow it. 30% of non-ice covered land is dedicated to raising livestock and the food that we feed it. Every day huge portions of land get cleared to make room for our gigantic appetite for meat. And every day, our population grows and our situation becomes more and more dire.
Even with all the facts, I have struggled with how to eat ethically. I’ve looked in to various ways to reduce my carbon footprint at the dinner table, including veganism and entomophogy (eating insects), but always end up coming back to omnivory. It’s just easier to get protein, and easier overall. You don’t have to ask for substitutions at restaurants or be difficult at family dinners. And unless you’re cooking for yourself, it is usually a lot more expensive to only get the healthy, veggie things (places catering to vegans are often organic and pricey). Plus, I like meat.
But now there’s an intriguing new voice in this conversation—the cultured meat side, promising to end all our problems with animal stem cells and a petri dish. Ideally, the process goes as follows: animal stem cells are taken from a living organism (without killing it) and allowed to divide for months in a bioreactor with plant-based growth culture. Then the cells are made to differentiate into muscle cells and begin the process of “bulking up”, through electronic stimulation.
In studies about the environmental impact of cultured meat (also referred to as “lab-grown meat” and “clean meat”), it was estimated that it would involve approximately 35 to 60 percent lower energy use, 80 to 95 percent lower greenhouse gas emissions and 98 percent lower land use compared to conventionally produced meat products in Europe. Not only that, but ideally, meat produced in a lab setting could be enjoyed guilt-free, as the animal who so willingly donated the cells could still be alive and kicking.
Where’s the catch, then? If lab-grown meat is environmentally in the green and guilt-free, why is it we don’t see these products in our stores already? One reason is the astronomical price-tag on cultured meat. A lab in the Netherlands was able to produce the first completely lab-grown burger, but it cost approximately $330,000—a little out of budget for our average supermarket shopper. Not only that, but when served without condiments to a board of taste-testers that were chosen for their willingness to embrace the technology, the lab-grown burger fetched such rave reviews as “edible, but not delectable”.
Here’s the crux of the issue. Yes, prices are dropping. Cultured meat producers like Memphis Meats here in the Bay Area say that it will be on our shelves and price competitive with conventionally produced meat in as few as 5-10 years. But will we ever be able to accept cultured meat into our lives and refrigerators when we raise such a big stink over harmless GMOs? Is lab-grown meat our silver bullet or our Frankenstein’s monster?
“Are Livestock Responsible for 51% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions?” TerraPass. N.p., 10 Nov. 2009. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
Bartholet, Jeffrey. “Inside the Meat Lab.” Scientific American 304.6 (2011): 64–69. www.nature.com. Web.
“FAO - News Article: Key Facts and Findings.” N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
“Food: A Taste of Things to Come? : Nature News.” N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
“Livestock a Major Threat to Environment.” N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
“Long Awaited Lab-Grown Burger Is Unveiled In London.” NPR.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
McLaren, Mallory E., "Cultured Meat: A Beneficial, Crucial, and Inevitable Nutrition Technology" (2014). Law School Student Scholarship. Paper 527.
“The High Price Of What We Eat.” NPR.org. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2017.
Thornton, Philip K. “Livestock Production: Recent Trends, Future Prospects.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 365.1554 (2010): 2853–2867. PubMed Central. Web.
by Spencer Robinson '20
Think fast. Think new. Think smart. Think powerful. Think technology. Here at Stanford, a leading research university in the Digital Age, a large majority of the students are focused on development, design and implementation of new tools to solve real world problems. Being a part of the development of ‘the next’ phone application or ‘the next’ computing software is, likely, the dream of many students. At least in my experience, students genuinely have faith in the power of technology to solve the world’s issues— including environmental problems. Indeed, there is merit in this view—the whole science of predicting the effects of climate change, for example, depends heavily upon the use of computer models. However, more education and deeper conversations about the relationship of the tech-industry’s relationship to the environment is well warranted.
Before we admire technology for its ability to solve problems of energy and resource use, we should first consider the tech-industry’s own significant energy and resource demand. A 2013 report released by Northwestern University Faculty Fellow Mark Mills, The Cloud Begins With Coal, states that Information Communications Technology uses approximately 10% of global electricity. A large portion of this is used by data centers which allows for storage and instant access to information. Of course, the Internet is a key part of the global economy today, but the infrastructure of the internet has an impact on the environment that isn’t negligible nor beneficial. It may be convenient to think of “The Cloud” as some abstract, nebulous entity. In reality, however, “The Cloud” is a network of data centers (massive rooms full of energy hungry computers) that take electricity to run, need water for cooling, and require a whole industry of resource-intensive electronics manufacturing to develop. Similarly, although the annual release of new smart phones seems to be a hallmark of technological development and progress, the smart phone industry involves a great network of exploitative and environmentally taxing operations. For example, Apple has over 200 suppliers worldwide that produce the components of its products—the touch ID sensors are from Taiwan, the batteries from South Korea and China, the accelerometer made in Germany, and the gyroscope produced in Italy and France. Despite the carbon intensive process of manufacturing, transporting and assembling devices such as smart phones they are readily thrown away and new ones produced. In 2014, the world generated 42 million tons of these toxic materials with over 80% not properly recycled. Perhaps it’s not a software designer’s responsibility to know about the manufacturing system for the product they are working with, but I still feel like there needs to be more discussion about the technological tools we develop, and their resource and energy costs.
Perhaps more directly relevant to students who seek to design and produce software is the environmental impact that online on-demand services create themselves. Today’s online platforms now have begun to determine how people use transportation and how they buy goods. This has led them to significantly alter consumer behavior and the collective environmental impact of people in our society. The arrival of these online platforms has provided people with the privileges of having consumer goods delivered to their doorstep and taking chauffeured car rides with the click of a button. These developments have made it is easy to say that technology has allowed for greater efficiency— for example, the reduced carbon impact of one van delivering several goods instead of many people driving to shops in their own cars. However, such a priori assumptions cannot always be made about technology. What about how people are buying goods impulsively on amazon? What about people who order products everyday delivered separately? What about the impact of packaging? One research paper entitled Environmental Analysis of US Online Shopping by Dmitri Weidli at the MIT Center for Transportation and Logistics concludes that that though online shopping on the whole has reduced the carbon footprint of most shopping behaviors, not all consumer behaviors that utilize online shopping reduce carbon footprint. There are lots of factors to be considered. For example, shoppers that use public transportation to shop may have lower carbon footprints. Additionally, online shoppers have higher product return rates.
In a world of finite resources where human collective behavior determines the health of our world as a whole, software engineers need to recognize their agency in shaping how resources are used. What are your priorities? Is it to allow your company to satisfy demand in a profitable way? Or could your program influence consumer dynamics and lower the resources use and energy consumption? Do these technological solutions take environmental impacts into account, and couldn’t minor changes in these priorities lead to a large reduction in environmental impact given millions of people are now dependent on these tools?
Rather than framing the development of technology as a consumerist evil, I would prefer for people to look at it as a powerful tool with the potential to help people find amazing solutions to problems of combating human development and poverty as well as issues of environmental importance. I think that the focus on technology as the silver bullet, however, should be taken with caution. Regardless of the power of the tool as a software engineer designs it, billions of other people who use the tool may not use it in the way the designer intended.
With technology at the center of much education here at Stanford, we should consider that although technological tools can be used to help people find efficient and sustainable solutions, they equally have the potential to change human behavior for the worse and intensify our resource and energy use. The tech-industry isn’t the most significant contributor to ocean pollution, global warming, habitat destruction, and other environmental issues. But these issues are the result of the actions of billions of individuals. Technology products now currently connect, influence and empower billions of people worldwide, so those in the tech industry now have the best opportunity to influence the behavior of individuals on a global scale. They are best poised to solve the world’s toughest problems—helping billions of world citizens act in their best collective interest to ration our precious environmental resources in an efficient, equitable and innovative way.
by Jourdann Fraser '20
If I asked you to define sustainability, it would probably take you a couple of Google searches to get at the meaning in the context of environmentalism. However, if I mentioned the word climate change or greenhouse gases, you’d probably know what I was talking about. This is one of the main problems with environmentalism. The important issues we need to discuss take too much technical knowledge to understand, and as a result, people aren’t concerned with those issues. The communication problem is a part of a bigger problem in environmentalism: branding.
For the past eight weeks, I’ve been taking a class called the Language of Advertising. Last week we had a guest speaker, David Placek, the founder of Lexicon Branding Inc., talk to us about the importance of branding. Branding is important in the commercial sense because it creates a predisposition to buy a product in the consumer. However, for the purpose of this argument, we’ll modify this definition to be creating the predisposition to participate in environmentalism. One of the reasons for a problem in branding is a lack of communication between the general public and environmental scientists. When there are clear word associations between complex processes and simple phrases like global warming, it makes it easier for the general public to figure out what the problem is and what needs to be solved. Unfortunately, a lot of complex processes cannot be succinctly explained to people, and therefore, there needs to be more innovation in the words we use to communicate to the general public. One great example of this is the innovation of the black hole. It was not until scientists named their discovery a black hole that the news picked up the discovery and spread it like wildfire.
However, these words need to be clearly defined to the general public. A huge problem with the use of words like climate change and global warming is that a lot of people take these words to mean that if the entire world is warming up, then their specific location must be heating up as well. Using analogies further clarifies what these words actually mean in environmental science. Analogies make a clear picture of complex processes, improving the discussion on what the problems are and how we can fix them.
Another thing that needs rebranding in environmentalism is the feelings towards environmentalism. When people hear the phrases “reduce, reuse, recycle” or “beach clean up,” there is usually a negative connotation that comes with it in the sense that these are chores that need to be done. The feelings about the subject, environmentalism, are not much better. Many people associate environmentalism, with alarming, and pessimistic views about the future. Ultimately, we need to change the ways stories are told about environmentalism. Films like Tomorrow and How to Let Go of the World and Love All the Things Climate Can't Change really inspire people to not look at environmentalism in such a bad light. Rather than warning people of the doom and gloom of the world, we need to tell them what they can do to make a small difference in their community, so that they associate environmentalism with a positive emotion.
Another way to change people’s feelings towards environmentalism would be to change the symbols associated with it. Humans tend to process information based on color, shape, and symbol first. The last thing that we process is text because it is the hardest to process. Therefore, symbolism plays an important role when it comes to what people associate with a product, idea, or campaign. One way to reignite the environmentalism brand and make it more of a brand that people are willing to comply with would be to make it more whimsical and joyful. A great example for change would be to create a symbol for composting in order to make it a more recognizable thing that people could easily do in order to help the environment. Think about how the “reduce, reuse, recycle” symbol has become a symbol for sorting waste. Stanford has a great version of this, in which the different types of waste are sorted by color association (brown for compost, blue for paper, and green for plastic and metals).
Finally, I think that environmentalism has to become more personalized and interactive. A huge problem with sustainability is getting people to care about the issues we face. A large percentage of the population may know about climate change and global warming, however, the way information is presented makes it seem as if the problem is not going to happen anytime soon. The problems the Earth will face is not a tangible part of their daily lives, making it more difficult for people to adopt sustainable practices. If we were to find ways to make information about environmentalism more personal to people’s lives, then people would be more likely to change their daily habits.
Environmentalism needs a new brand that is whimsical, hopeful, interactive, personalized, and easy to understand. Through this rebranding, we can not only reach new people with environmentalism, but we can also hopefully change everyone’s habits for the better.
by Becca Nelson '20
When I was a kid, I used to watch the scraggly trees along the highway rush by through the car window. I would try to imagine what was there hundreds of years ago. I dreamed that a vast forest blanketed where the subdivisions and strip malls now sprawled. A wilderness of thick, gnarled trees, seemingly devoid of people. Growing up, I used to think wilderness and people were separate. Wilderness was the moon-swept forests in Ansel Adams’s photographs, not the Chicago suburbs I called home. This conception of wilderness is perpetuated by the Wilderness Act of 1964, which played a crucial role in protecting areas of biodiversity throughout the United States. The act defined wilderness as a place “untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”. This definition overlooks the fact that diverse Native American cultures historically lived in these wilderness areas for hundreds of years before being driven off their land by American settlers.
I first realized the extent to which Native Americans historically shaped the landscape, the summer I interned in the Morton Arboretum's Forest Ecology Lab. I was investigating whether thinning the canopy by selectively removing trees was an effective way to regenerate oak seedlings. Oaks play a crucial role in maintaining forest biodiversity. They provide food and shelter for deer, migratory bird species, squirrels, and other animals. Oaks also provide important ecosystem services to people by sequestering carbon. Native Americans maintained the historical dominance of oak species by regularly burning large patches of forests. The oak seedlings are better able to resprout after fire than other tree species. Fire suppression post-European settlement contributed to the decline of oaks.
The goal of oak regeneration research was to restore the forest to a healthier, more natural state, yet these oak forests were originally maintained by people. The relationship between Native Americans and oak forests suggests that people and nature are intertwined with humans playing an integral role in the health of the ecosystems, we call wilderness. In Savage Dreams, writer and activist Rebecca Solnit describes a similar relationship in Yosemite National Park. The Miwok and Awahneechee peoples regularly burned portions of Yosemite and used horticultural practices to maintain a biodiverse mix of meadows, oak forests, and conifers in Yosemite valley. They relied on a variety of plants for food, shelter, and cultural reasons.
The vast expanses of incense cedars that currently fill Yosemite Valley resulted from European fire suppression practices. Hiking through Yosemite, the towering incense cedars gave me the deceptive impression of having stood for thousands of years without human influence. I walked past the sheer cliffs and roaring waterfalls. Ravens soared overhead, and the air tasted sweet with pine. As the steep granite switchbacks obscured other hikers from view, I couldn’t help but imagine Yosemite as remote and beyond human influence. This was an illusion, a mirage as shimmery as the foam from the waterfalls I passed by. Campgrounds, roads, trails, educational signs, streams full of nonnative trout, exoitc grasses, prescribed burns to regenerate oaks and sequoias, and efforts to reintroduce Bighorn sheep to Yosemite tell of an evolving relationship between people and land.
Asserting that wilderness is distant and separate from our daily lives comes at cost. We forget the importance of taking care of the land we live on. We forget how we are a part of the ecosystem, intertwined to the physical landscape and other organisms through complex relationships. Randolph Haluza-Delay, an environmental education researcher, conducted a study in which he took teenagers on a wilderness trip to investigate how the trip influenced their willingness to care for nature in their urban home. The teenagers enjoyed camping in the mountains of Banff National Park. They woke each morning to fresh cedar air and birdsong. At night, they watched the sky fill with stars instead of city lights. The experience gave them a sense of freedom and relaxation. The twelve day backpacking experience, however, did not inspire the teenagers to take environmental action at home, largely because they viewed the nature they experienced on the trip as being entirely separate from their home environment.
Conceptualizing wilderness as somewhere remote from our society disconnects people from engaging in conservation action. The Trump administration’s policy platform threatens the continued existence of diverse National Monuments that support a rich variety of ecosystems. Connecting people to wilderness is crucial to establishing continued support for these monuments and other wild places. Wilderness is not a place “untrammeled” by people. Wilderness is a home, a refuge, a place where land and people intersect. A place of exploration and inspiration.
Haluza-Delay, Randolph. "Nothing here to care about: Participant constructions of nature following a 12-day wilderness program." The Journal of Environmental Education 32.4 (2001): 43-48.
Solnit, Rebecca. Savage dreams: A journey into the hidden wars of the American West. Univ of California Press, 2014.
by Deirdre Francks '20
By this point in my Stanford career, I have learned a fair bit about the history of Silicon Valley. I know the basic history behind the founding of Stanford, have heard the spiel about Hewlett and Packard, and have a general understanding of the rise of technology in the area. I have also learned about the gentrification which has accompanied the rise of tech, an issue which deserves its own extensive post by someone more qualified than me. But recently, I realized that I know very little about the history and climate of this region before it became “Silicon Valley.” What was this region like before the tech boom? Before Stanford was founded?
According the the National Park Service, the Santa Clara Valley formed “quite recently in geological history” as a result of intense mountain formation in the Cenozoic era. For this reason, the valley is sheltered by mountains from the coastal climate, thus giving us mild winters, glorious spring days of warmth, and hot summers. Skipping ahead at least one million years, the NPS reports the first documented humans in the valley to be the Ohlone Indians around 8000 BCE who, along with other tribes in the region, represent some of the earliest inhabitants of the Santa Clara Valley. These tribes were split into small, self-sufficient communities which moved between permanent and temporary villages, fishing, hunting, and gathering throughout the year. Though I can’t possibly speak to the entire history of these native cultures, it is important to note the rich communities from which the Santa Clara population began. Life for the Ohlone Indians changed drastically in the 1700s with the arrival and settlement of Spanish explorers and missionaries. This historical time period includes complex relations between Native Americans and European settlers, subsequent Mexican rule over the region, and eventually the Mexican-American war, but again, I’ll fast forward to after the United States’ acquisition of California when the Santa Clara Valley emerged as an agricultural paradise.
The Santa Clara Valley has another nickname besides the commonly-used and surely more famous, “Silicon Valley.” Fascinatingly enough, the valley used to be called “The Valley of Heart’s Delight” due to its flourishing agricultural production. From around the 1850s until the mid 20th century Santa Clara was one of the world’s greatest fruit-producing regions, making agriculture, along with some lumber and oil production, one of the primary industries in the area. It’s hard for me to imagine that when Leland and Jane Stanford laid the plans for a university they were working with an area recognized around the globe not for its scientific and technological innovation, but for its fertile land and ample agricultural exports. Among its most plenteous crops were prunes, cherries, pears, almonds, carrots, and more. Only around the 1950s did the agricultural presence in the Santa Clara Valley truly begin to diminish. In unison with the rise of the tech industry and the formation of “Silicon Valley,” the dramatic increase in population and urbanization saw the end of “The Valley of the Heart’s Delight.”
From here, the story becomes one of technological growth, population increase, urbanization and numerous other changes to the land and community of the Santa Clara Valley region. Of course, Stanford has played a sizable role in the rise of tech in the Bay Area, making it important to me as a Stanford student to know the history of the region before this institution was founded. From the geological formation of the valley itself to the native inhabitants who came long before the recorded census, the history of the Santa Clara Valley is far from simple. While my research on the Santa Clara Valley is far from complete, I now have a better understanding of the complex history of the land and inhabitants of the region, and an intense appreciation for all that came before Silicon Valley.
"History of Stanford." Stanford University. https://www.stanford.edu/about/history/
“Ohlones and Coast Miwoks” National Parks Service. https://www.nps.gov/goga/learn/historyculture/ohlones-and-coast-miwoks.htm
"Santa Clara "The Mission City"." City of Santa Clara. http://santaclaraca.gov/about/city-history/the-mission-city
"Santa Clara County: California’s Historic Silicon Valley" National Parks Service. https://www.nps.gov/nr/travel/santaclara/history.htm
By Deirdre Francks '20 and Becca Nelson '20
On Friday, April 28th, Students for a Sustainable Stanford hosted Earthfest, an annual celebration of campus sustainability. The festivities were held on the Columbae lawn during a particularly sunny afternoon over Admit Weekend, where current students and ProFros alike could drop in for a snack, live music, and a bit of environmental education. To help with the latter, a number of organizations set up booths to inform students—both current and prospective—about sustainability initiatives on campus. These organizations included Stanford Coalition for Planning an Equitable 2035, Fossil Free Stanford, People for Animal Welfare (PAW), Stanford Gleaning Society, Students for a Sustainable Stanford (SSS), and the Office of Sustainability.
In addition to environmentally-themed booths, the event featured live music from Real People Music, Zach Ostroff, and Camp Youth. Attendees relaxed on couches close to the stage during some musical numbers and took to the open grass for mini dance parties during others. And what’s a celebration without food? Throughout the event attendees enjoyed vegan Cones from Raw Daddy’s stuffed with Thai salad or mango filling, strawberry and banana crepes from J-Shack, and other treats including trail mix and lemonade. No matter the ebb and flow of overall attendance at Earthfest, the crowd around the food table remained constant throughout. Attendees also enjoyed looking at environmentally-themed art created by students, including a giant wave made out of plastic from the ocean by Meghan Shea.
Above all, the mood at the Earthfest was that of relaxation and celebration. While some students chose to explore the many booths, striking up conversations with representatives from various organizations, others chose to simply sit in the grass and enjoy the tasty food, lively music, and beautiful day. It was another successful Earthfest celebration for Students for a Sustainable Stanford.
By Jasmine Kerber '20
Transportation accounts for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., but only 14% of worldwide emissions (IPCC 2014). Of course, a higher percentage of people can afford cars in the United States than in many other countries. Much of our nation is also organized in a way that makes driving convenient—some of us couldn’t reach school, work, or the grocery store without owning a car. As a result, we’ll need to form new habits, improve infrastructure, and encourage social change to make our transportation greener. Still, I hope a culture that encourages more sustainable transport will grow in the coming decades.
Public and Electric Transportation
Which emits more greenhouse gases, a city bus or a single car? That’s sort of a trick question—the bus emits more pollution per mile it drives, but if 20 people ride the bus, each of their carbon footprints are far lower than if they’d all driven their own cars. In other words, all forms of public transportation are more environmentally friendly than taking the same trip alone in your vehicle. Even carpooling with a few friends is a better (and usually cheaper) option than riding alone. Still, some forms of transit have lower emissions than others.
Many cities are working on low-emission public transit. Several nations in Europe and Asia have been building high-speed electric train lines since the 1980s. These trains can significantly reduce oil consumption, especially because they’re an alternative to both cars and planes. Electric cars also promise zero emissions on the road—a truly revolutionary concept. They could become a particularly important green transport option in rural areas, where public transportation and bike riding are not often practical. Unfortunately, the $100,000+ price tag on a Tesla isn’t affordable for the average American. The $30,000 Nissan LEAF is more affordable, however, so we definitely may see more electric car options coming to the market soon.
One other factor to keep in mind regarding electric vehicles is their energy source. In other words, a car that emits no greenhouse gases on the road might still create some negative environmental impact if charged with non-renewable energy. The more renewable our energy mix becomes, the greener electric vehicle use gets.
Cities can encourage greener transportation by making it more convenient. Copenhagen provides one fascinating success story in this category. Copenhagen’s bike culture began evolving in response to the 1970s oil crisis. Without a steady supply of Middle Eastern gas, residents needed other transportation options. By the 1980s, the city began separating bicycle and car lanes, and has continued to expand and refine the system ever since. Today, over 200 miles of bike paths around Copenhagen allow people to cycle most places, plus trains include special carriages for bike storage, and taxis are required to have bike racks. The result? More than 30% of trips made around Copenhagen now occur by bicycle.
Bogota, Colombia also focused on convenience to encourage public transit. Their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system separates public bus lanes from the rest of the street so that buses wouldn’t get stuck in traffic. The speed factor has made the program very popular—BRT transports tens of thousands of people every hour.
In general, when nice public spaces become available, people use them. Safe sidewalks promote walking, bike trails encourage biking, and reliable, convenient public transit grows busy. Infrastructure is certainly an investment that cities can’t all afford right away, but history goes to show that it’s a good investment when it makes healthy and environmentally friendly habits easy.
So you rode your bike to the grocery store. But did your groceries take a long drive to reach you? Whenever possible, buy local! Every day, freight travels thousands of miles in trucks, trains, and planes that each produce pollution. Local shopping decreases your carbon footprint. It also stimulates the local economy and supports jobs in your area, so it’s a win-win! Of course, you probably don’t have all the ingredients you need for dinner growing in your 21st century backyard, but the idea is to buy local when you can. Also remember that doing so increases demand for the things your community produces. Finally, it’s a good idea to check if anything you purchase is sustainably sourced, but that’s a topic for another blog…
In summary: Walk or bike if you can, and if not, try to use public transportation. Make more of your purchases local. Show demand for those affordable, fully emissions-free electric vehicles! And ask your local government to add sustainable transport options.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.