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.
By Jourdann Fraser '20
Approximately 20 billion tampons and pads are dumped into landfills every year. But as it turns out, there is a way to handle that time of the month without creating trash. A menstrual cup is an eco-friendly alternative - a silicone device that collects blood instead of absorbing it like pads and tampons. A menstrual cup can last up to ten years (depending on how you take care of it). You only need to remove a menstrual cup every 12 hours, while with tampons and pads it’s recommended that you change them every 4 to 8 hours. Additionally, they don’t smell like tampons and pads do because they collect blood rather than soak it up.
Menstrual cups are also cost effective. Because they can be reused, they cost less in the long run. If you change your tampon three times a day (every 6 hours) for the average menstruation cycle (5-7 days), you would pay on average $211.20 for tampons for 4 years (since one pack of tampons averages $8). A menstrual cup also lasts for 4 years and costs $20 - $40 (depending on the brand).
One issue that some people face in using menstrual cups is finding the right size. To determine this, you need to consider factors like the length of your cervix during menstruation, your average amount of blood flow, cup firmness, and age. If you have a light flow, a low cervix, and aren’t having sexual intercourse, it may be best to invest in a smaller cup. Look in the links below for a comparison chart of different brands and a quiz to help you determine the size you need.
If you’re looking to invest in a menstrual cup, you’re in luck. Recently, due to efforts of Students for a Sustainable Stanford, menstrual cups will be offered for only $9 at SHPRC starting next week.
For more information about menstrual cups, check out these links:
Why You Should Invest In a Menstrual Cup: http://lunapads.com/learn/why-switch?geoip_country=US
Menstrual Cup Size Quiz: http://putacupinit.com/quiz/
Comparison of Different Brands: http://putacupinit.com/quiz/
By Yannai Plettener, French Instructor at Stanford
Although it is far from the turmoil of current American politics, France is also undergoing an eventful presidential campaign. Marked by scandals, surprise primary outcomes, and changing polls, the result appears more unpredictable than ever, less than two weeks away from Election Day. It’s true that Americans often aren’t as interested in European politics as we are in the great race that takes place every four years in the United States. This is of course due to the lasting and profound influence the US still have on countries in Western Europe, politically, economically and culturally. However, I believe that environmentalists and climate activists should keep an eye on the course of the French election.
While France's importance as a world power has decreased over the last few decades, it remains nonetheless very influential in a variety of domains, both in Europe, where it is one of the major economies of the continent, and outside – especially through diplomatic and economic relations with a network of historic allies (such as the US) and former colonies (mostly in Northern and Western Africa). In regard to environmental and energy-related issues, France plays an important role: it is part of the European Union, which is the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, representing 9.6% of global emissions in 2015. France has also undertaken a leadership in the fight against climate change, as it was the host of the Paris Conference in December 2015 (the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), during which it conducted the negotiation that resulted in the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement.
France's industry is also remarkably important in energy production, as two of the world's largest multinational companies in this sector are French: Areva and Total. Areva, owned in majority by the French State, is a leader in the development of nuclear reactors. It designed third-generation nuclear reactors, four of which are currently in construction in Finland, France, and China. It has activity and presence in the nuclear power industry on all five continents, from uranium mines in Canada, Kazakhstan or various African countries to enrichment facilities in South Korea. Areva is a world power in nuclear energy, and as a way of consequence, so is France. Almost 80% of France's own electricity production is powered by nuclear reactors – and risks of an accident are getting higher as a majority of the reactors approach their 40-year age limit. Total is one of the seven biggest oil and gas companies in the world. While both companies have also invested in renewable energies, they still are major actors in the fossil fuel industry and environmentally risky nuclear energy businesses. I also could have included Engie (formerly GDF Suez) on this list, as it is one of the top non-petroleum energy companies in the world.
Other French industrial strengths include defense, space and aeronautics technologies. Although France is nowhere close to the US in terms of investment in research and development, it is a huge science supporter, endowed with a few top-tier universities and research institutes such as the state-funded CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research). Finally, France has overseas territories spread all around the Earth, the so-called “Outre-mers”, some of which (like French Guyana in South America, or French Polynesia in the Pacific) that have naturally rich and diverse environments. In fact, France possesses the largest EEZ (exclusive economic zone – refers to sea zones over which the state has rights regarding the exploitation of marine resources) in the world, covering 11,691,000 km2 (4,514,000 mi2) in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Antarctic.
The next French “Président.e de la Republique” and his or her administration will therefore be governing a country which, despite its tiny size in comparison to the US, plays a major role in global environmental issues. By leading efforts on fighting climate change, pushing for more renewable energy, and protecting large areas of biodiversity, a progressive president could make a real difference, and act as a model in Europe. However, a more conservative one could also help Trump blow up the efforts that have been made in this domain for the last decades. So, how is it looking so far?
The presidential election is happening during a rise of extreme right-wing nationalism throughout Europe, characterized in France by the popularity of Marine Le Pen, who's been topping the polls for over a year. Le Pen doesn't believe France needs to change its electricity production system for more renewable sources, and would stand by the current domination of nuclear power. She has expressed the idea of “energy nationalism”, which would consist in furthering national sources of energy over imported ones, especially Middle-Eastern oil, and support nuclear energy in the name of energy independence. Such a proposition can appear paradoxical, since French nuclear reactors are fueled by uranium that is found nowhere on French soil. Her challenger on the right, catholic-conservative François Fillon, in the midst of a political scandal (he's being investigated for having employed his wife as a parliamentary assistant for 10 years, during which she is suspected of having earned several hundred thousand euros while doing no actual work at all), would also stand by the nuclear power. Although the French Right is not climate-sceptical like the American Right, they don't seem to offer real proposals on how to fight climate change, limiting themselves to only mentioning renewable energy and environment protection without any details or potential funding.
The current, supposed liberal, administration of François Hollande left a lot of voters disappointed. Environmentalists in particular expressed discontent with how these past five years' government did on environmental issues on the national level, despite the successful Paris conference on the international level. While still considered a step in the right direction, the energy transition bill voted by the Parliament in 2016 was called out by activists as being not ambitious enough. Marine Le Pen's most serious contender and, according to the polls, her probable competition in the run-off, Emmanuel Macron, is the direct heir of François Hollande's policy (he was Hollande's Minister of the Economy for two years), although he broke up with the Socialist Party (PS) and launched his own independent movement with the intention of transcending the right-left divide, not without any ambiguities. He claims that he will stand by the objectives of the bill (bring the share of nuclear-produced electricity down to 50% by 2025), and invest in renewable energy, but has also come out in support of fracking.
On the left, the best hopes are directed towards Jean-Luc Mélenchon, also an ex-PS member who left the party, because of ideological dissent. An outsider still a few months ago, he has surged in the polls in the last two weeks, coming very close to the three above-mentioned candidates, while the other major candidate on the left, PS-primary winner Benoit Hamon stepped back into 5th position, without any hope of winning anymore. Mélenchon hopes to benefit from very favorable opinion and a big social media presence to try and qualify for the run-off as one of the top 2 candidates after the first round. Sometimes compared to Bernie Sanders, he recognizes the urgency of the global environmental situation, and ecology is a major part of his program. His plan includes €100 billion of public investment to fund an “ecological planification”. The goal is to nationalize electricity production and distribution, phase out nuclear power as soon as possible, and raise the share of renewable electricity production up to 100% in 2050. He opposes fracking and environment-threatening trade-agreements such as TTIP, and proposes to amend the Constitution to include a “green rule”, the obligation to not take from nature more than what it can regenerate.
This situation represents huge uncertainty. Depending on the outcome, it could mark either a victory for environmentalists around the globe, or another set-back after Donald Trump's election. On the national level, the next president's policy views and decisions on how to allocate resources will have huge repercussions. Especially if France wishes to avoid the multiplication of dangerous incidents in its aging nuclear plants, it will have to chose between a risky extension of reactors' lifespan combined with the building of new ones, or a phase out of nuclear power. On the European level, with one major candidate openly against the EU (Marine Le Pen), and another one, Mélenchon, willing to step out of European treaties if they resist a change of course towards ambitious social and environmental policies, the French election, a year after Brexit, could be a decisive event and redefine powers in the region, potentially endangering European cooperation on climate change. On the international level, we are yet to see how the leaders of the world will react once Donald Trump decides to come after the Paris Agreement, a few months only after Barack Obama signed it.
As climate change and other environmental issues are becoming increasingly present in our lives, having another conservative leader at the head of a Western nation would be a disastrous signal to the rest of the world. On the other hand, if a nation like France chooses to elect a president with an informed vision, it would provide hope that democratic state-wide institutions can and will help us, citizens and activists, implement the change we need.
By Becca Nelson '20
There’s a tower of redwoods, their trunks stretching into the sky. Their canopies meet at a distant green infinity. Shafts of silver light filter through Muir Woods. There is a silence that is deepened by the smallness of sounds. The slight burble of the creek, the soft trill of a wren, the hush of my footsteps. There is a stillness that holds the weight of history. I walk amongst coast redwoods that are hundreds to thousands of years old. Leaning against an immense trunk, I hear the redwood’s ancientness in its quiet muttering. I struggle to imagine the thousands of sunrises that spilled light onto this tree’s needles, the innumerable birds that sheltered in its branches, the countless ferns it shaded, all the deer that bounded underneath. I brush my hand against bark blackened from ancient fires, jagged lightning scars from storms, thick crusts of blue lichen. I feel small and transient in its shadow.
Redwood history is interwoven with human history. Hundreds of years ago, the Coast Miwok walked through these woods and gathered redwood slabs, called kotcha, for their conical homes. Perhaps they carried them to their settlement at what is now Muir Beach. Perhaps the Miwok’s songs echoed off the redwood trunks. These redwoods survived the axe of the Spanish missionaries, the saws of American pioneers. They survived a growing lumber industry, becoming one of the last pockets of old growth redwoods remaining. Of the original 2 million acres of old growth redwood forest in California, over 97% has been altered. In 1892, the Bohemian Club, a San Francisco social society, erected a 70-foot Buddha statue amongst the redwoods. The statue has long since disintegrated to wind and weather, yet these trees endure. These redwoods shook with tremors from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. An earthquake that toppled buildings and destroyed much of San Francisco. Yet they endure. Politician William Kent donated Muir Woods to the government, and President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1908. In 1945, United Nation delegates walked amongst these trees, holding a ceremony in memory of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They contemplated the history that the redwoods witnessed as they contemplated world peace.
The redwoods continue to grow, as seemingly immutable pillars against a swirling tide of changing ecological and social conditions. The future of the redwood ecosystem, however, is complicated by climate change. Redwoods rely on the upwelling of coastal currents that generates fog for their survival. Climate change will impact these fog patterns and consequently redwood forests. The Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts funding for the National Park Service, which manages Muir Woods National Monument. The administration has taken a stance against climate change mitigation policies, further hindering redwood conservation. As I climb over the gnarled roots of redwoods, I wonder if this ecosystem will adapt to a warming planet. As global warming changes nutrient cycling, will these deep roots still nourish the tree?
Redwoods provide important ecosystems services to people, including through carbon sequestration and recreational value. They are the iconic species of a biodiverse and unique ecosystem with its own intrinsic value. But beyond economics and ecology, redwoods play a role in American culture. They are praised in patriotic songs like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”. Many towns, institutions, and companies are named after redwoods or use its image. In fact, the coast redwood tree appears on the Stanford logo and has become our mascot. Redwoods inspire the over two million people who visit them annually at various state and national parks.
This summer I will be visiting these parks as part of a research grant I received through the Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research Program. I will be interviewing park visitors about redwoods and climate change. My research will apply redwood ecology to the realm of social science. I am investigating whether redwoods can be effectively used as a flagship species to inspire people to adopt climate change mitigation behavior. Such behavior includes making lifestyle choices to reduce one’s carbon footprint as well as supporting global warming mitigation policies. I will search for patterns in how people’s attachment to redwoods and their attitude toward global warming are interconnected. I hope to use the relationship between redwoods and people as lens to study the broader relationship between land and people, between climate change and American culture.
As I finish my hike, I glance up again at the redwoods. I find the leafy point in the sky to which their trunks converge. The shadows of redwood leaves ripple over me. I take a deep breath of cedar-scented air. The sheer vastness of trees, the blanket of prehistoric ferns and horsetails, the stillness, the silver light distinguish redwood forests from other forests. The peace of this forest outlives landscapes and societies. It will outlive you and me. I imagine history from the height of a redwood. Perhaps only a force as immense and ancient as a redwood can witness history with objectivity. Each year becomes a wooden monument, a ring etched into an old tree. Each tree becomes a living history book of concentric rings. Natural history and human history ripple together in the endurance of redwoods.
By Deirdre Francks '20
A few weeks ago I stumbled upon a headline from the New York Times that gave me pause. The headline read, “Why Young Girls Don’t Think They Are Smart Enough.”
Unfortunately, I– like most people who consume any news media– am no stranger to headlines like this one. It can be exhausting to read study after study confirming the many ways that girls are socialized differently than boys; to behave differently, to think differently about the world, and perhaps most importantly, to think differently about themselves. Researchers have long been exploring how socialization contributes to the gender disparity in many fields, notably in STEM and politics, and how girls may be socialized to consider their own intelligence. What separated this article from the rest was a single word: enough.
The NYT article describes a study of 96 children between the ages of five and seven, through which researchers found that by the age of six girls are significantly less likely than boys to associate their own gender with brilliance. When the young participants were shown four pictures of children– two male, two female– and asked to identify the character most likely to do very well in school the six year old girls picked mostly girl characters. However, when the prompt was altered to identifying the character most likely to be “really, really smart” the girls picked mostly boy characters. Similarly, when shown two unfamiliar board games and told that one was for really smart children and the other for children who try really hard, the researchers found young girls to be significantly less willing than boys to play the first game.
This is where the word enough comes into play. The important distinction to draw from this study is that young girls recognize that females can perform well in school and be smart if they work hard, but they are unlikely to associate their own gender with inherent brilliance. To this point, the authors of the paper write, “women are underrepresented in fields thought to require brilliance – fields that include some of the most prestigious careers in our society, such as those in science and engineering. It may be that the roots of this underrepresentation stretch all the way back to childhood” (Cimpian & Leslie).
What really gets me about this study is that if I’d been one of those participants, answering those questions as the age of six, I would likely have answered the same way.
Somewhere in the depths of my childhood closet, tucked in the pocket of a tattered, middle school binder, there is a clip-art style drawing of a white man in a lab coat with frizzy hair, round glasses, and a beaker in hand. The prompt scribbled at the top reads, What does a scientist look like? As Paula Denise Johnson writes in her dissertation on girls and science, “when students are asked to draw a scientist, the vast majority of their drawings are of white men. Lurking behind these drawings is the disturbing myth of the math “gene.” This is the erroneous, but strongly held, perception that there is a genetic or biological basis for gender differences in STEM” (Johnson, 29).
When I drew this interpretation of a scientist I was in seventh grade, taking the highest level of math offered and excelling in science, yet thoroughly convinced that science and math were not for me. I certainly didn’t consider pursuing a career in either discipline. It seemed to me that STEM careers were reserved for those with inherent scientific intelligence, a quality I felt I didn’t possess.
This feeling continued throughout high school. Every time I squeaked out of a math or science test with a good grade I chalked it up to my rigorous study habits, but when I failed to find an answer on a problem set or got a test back with one too many red marks it was further proof that I just didn’t have a “STEM brain.” By the time I made it out of second-year calculus I was ready to bid adieu to high-level math and hopefully transition away from STEM classes in college.
The conviction I held that told me I didn’t belong in STEM, that I wasn’t born with a “STEM brain”, is not a viewpoint unique to me. In their paper “Why Do Women Opt Out? Sense of Belonging and Women’s Representation in Mathematics,” Good et. al. investigate the sex differences that lead women to disproportionately drop out of mathematics. Their conclusion states that “students’ perceptions of 2 factors in their math environment—the message that math ability is a fixed trait and the stereotype that women have less of this ability than men—[work] together to erode women’s, but not men’s, sense of belonging in math” (Good et al, 700). When it comes to math and science, girls underestimate their own abilities and often doubt their belonging in the field as a whole.
What can be done to heighten girls’ sense of belonging in typically male-dominated fields? Promisingly, Good et al. found that when women were given the message that mathematical ability could be acquired and was not an inherent trait, they maintained a higher sense of belonging in the field and were more likely to pursue a career involving math. Furthermore, researchers have found that when girls have access to female mentors and/or role models in female-sparse fields, the girls are more likely to be optimistic about such a career for themselves (Lips).
Fortunately, before I completely swore off math and science I began to see indicators that gave me more confidence in my ability to excel in those fields. Around the time I was finishing high school I started noticing many women in climate science who inspired me, mostly by virtue of being really, really cool and passionate about their work. My concern for the environment, coupled with a newfound sense of inclusion in the field, made me more open to a STEM-focused major than ever before. When I came to Stanford and saw clusters of women at the Stanford Earth meet-and-greet, eager to tell me about the experiences in the field and the research they had pursued, I was ecstatic. I remember thinking, these women are so passionate and capable. Why shouldn’t I do that? This shift in my mindset helped me overcome the notion that I need to be brilliant in order to pursue environmental science, or that I lack some necessary “smart” gene required of all scientists. And to those six year-old girls, I want to say yes, you are capable, passionate, and smart enough.
Cimpian, Andrei, and Sarah-Jane Leslie. "Why Young Girls Don't Think They Are Smart Enough." The New York Times, 26 Jan. 2017.
Good, Catherine, et al. “Why Do Women Opt Out? Sense of Belonging and Women’s Representation in Mathematics” (2012). Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.
Johnson, Paula Denise, "Girls and Science: A Qualitative Study on Factors Related to Success and Failure in Science" (2004). Dissertations. Paper 1114.
Lips, Hilary M. “The Gender Gap in Possible Selves: Divergence of Academic Self-Views Among High School and University Students” (2004). Sex Roles.
By Jazzy Kerber '20
The New York Times recently called a carbon tax proposal “a rare Republican call to climate action.” How does the plan work, and will the U.S. government respond? At Stanford’s February 23 Carbon Tax Panel, Stanford economics professors Frank Wolak, Mark Thurber, James Sweeney, and Hillard Huntington explained the concept of carbon taxes, contrasted this method with cap and trade programs, and discussed whether a small-scale version of a carbon tax could work at our school.
Why implement a carbon tax?
Right now, there are two main techniques to financially incentivize emissions reductions: carbon taxes (which Ireland, Sweden, and British Columbia use), and cap-and-trade programs (seen in the EU, Quebec, California, New York, and Massachusetts). The U.S. federal government has not adopted either program yet. The professors at the panel, however, believe we should. Substances that harm the environment are negative externalities, or “public bads” that affect everyone in one way or another. So, according to professor Frank Wolak, “Let’s tax the things we don’t want people to do.”
In a cap-and-trade system, the government sets a maximum permitted amount of carbon emissions and distributes “emission allowances” to companies and individuals. Those who emit less can sell their extra allowances to others, keeping net emissions at or below the capped amount. The market demand for buying and selling these allowances determines the price of carbon. According to the panelists, the main issue with cap-and-trade is price uncertainty—market fluctuations affect the price of carbon, which is usually tricky for businesses to handle. Professor Thurber explained that if prices became extremely high, politicians might decide to change or eliminate the whole program.
A carbon tax, on the other hand, places a fixed price on carbon that Professor Wolak describes as a sort of sales tax based on the carbon content of what you purchase. Under a carbon tax system, saving money incentivizes environmentally responsible decisions. For example, if we have two identical shirts and shirt 1 is produced in a highly polluting factory, it costs more than shirt 2, which is produced without causing much pollution. Ideally, people also make greener investments when they know that carbon has a stable price attached to it in the future.
How would a Stanford carbon tax work?
A Stanford carbon tax pilot program would likely follow a model similar to one Yale is currently testing. Through the program, participating buildings across campus get a current carbon emissions screening, then receive a performance target aimed at reducing the university’s overall emissions. Buildings pay a penalty if their emissions are too high and receive a monetary reward if they surpass the target. Across the whole university, revenue could end up neutral. (On a national level, another option would be to make money, then put it towards infrastructure or other needs. Stanford would probably just test the system without changing overall university spending.)
Professor Frank Wolak notes that since Stanford is a well-known institution, implementing a program like this one could attract outside attention and perhaps inspire other organizations to follow suit. He acknowledges, however, that reducing Stanford’s carbon footprint can only make a small difference to the environment. The main goal of a carbon tax pilot program would be education and outreach to promote a larger-scale solution.
Could the U.S. really adopt a carbon tax program?
The professors acknowledged that the current administration does not prioritize lowering federal carbon emissions, but Professor Wolak hopes they might see a carbon tax as a way to raise money for the infrastructure improvements President Trump promised. It’s also a good sign that several prominent Republicans, including former Secretaries of State James Baker and George Shultz, endorsed the program, even if they face opposition within their party at the moment. Professor Huntington suggests that right now, the most likely route to a carbon tax is through a larger tax code revision. Still, we should note that a carbon tax cannot adequately reduce U.S. emissions without the help of federal regulations.
The more municipalities and institutions that financially incentivize low emissions, the bigger the difference carbon fee programs make. If one country drives up the prices of polluting goods and services while another does not, people can simply turn to imports to save money. If more institutions, states, and nations implement carbon taxes (or even cap-and-trade systems), we can take huge strides towards making environmentally-smart decisions affordable and desirable.
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