By Alice Wang and Chris Tan
SSS participated in the Pescadero Family Science Night on April 4th. The Education team prepared two interactive activities for the event: one centered around waste-sorting and one on endangered species in the local area. For the waste-sorting table, students engaged in a guessing game of the number of years needed for various materials to break down in the landfill, including plastic bags and foam cups. For the biodiversity station, we carved out shapes of various endangered species on boards. The pieces of animals were taken off the boards for students to paint over (we were all surprised by the extent of art creativity expressed by the kids!), and in the meantime, we would be presenting essential facts about the species to the students. While the students took the pieces of animals home, we kept the boards with black voids at the end, which served as a visual imagery of losing endangered species from our ecosystem. We are looking for opportunities to display this art piece on campus to raise further awareness on biodiversity issues.
by Charlie Hoffs, '22
Many people are aware that producing beef uses lots of water. But what does “lots of water” look like? When we eat a burger, we don’t see gallons of freshwater gushing down the drain. Water usage in animal agriculture is an abstract concept. How can we make this issue more tangible?
Those tags in the dorm bathroom showers are great example of successful visualization: “Reduce your shower to 5 minutes or less and save 2,500 gallons of water per year!”
You’re in the shower, you read that statistic, you see the water pouring down, and in that moment you realize that you have the power to make a tangible change.
The truth is that you can save just as much water by eating 6 fewer hamburgers a year.
2,500 gallons of water 1 quarter pound beef460 gallons of water1 hamburger1 quarter pound beef= 5.4 hamburgers per year.
If we put this statistic on shower tags, I believe that we could change minds and change habits.
People of color in America are disproportionately affected by air quality issues. Low income, racially diverse, and minority neighborhoods are more likely to be situated in places with lower air quality standards, like heavily populated urban areas and near polluting industries like power plants, incinerators, and major highways. Studies show that schools with a high population of Black, Hispanic, and low income students were often situated on cheap and highly polluted land. This leads to dangerous health effects and a degradation in quality of life for many people of color. Black people are diagnosed with asthma at three times the rate of white people, and in some inner city areas, one third of black children have been diagnosed with the illness. The issues of air pollution, housing injustice, and healthcare inequality intersect, and environmental justice is crucial in understanding and solving these complex problems.
by Becca Nelson '20
On February 5th, we were honored to have Nainoa Thompson, president of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, deliver the 7th Annual Schneider Memorial Lecture. The lecture series is named in memory of Stanford climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider. As a professor, Dr. Schneider inspired countless students and was a fierce advocate for action on climate change. Many thanks goes out to the other organizations that cosponsored this event: the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, the Haas Center for Public Service, and Hui O Nā Moku.
After the auditorium filled with people, we greeted Nainoa Thompson with a traditional Hawaiian welcoming chant led by members of Hui O Nā Moku:
“Auē ua hiti ē, Ua hiti ē ‘o Hōkūle’a ē
Auē ua hiti ē
Hele’e ka wa’a i ke kai e, Ho’okele wa’a lā ‘ino e ‘A’ohe e pulu wa’a nui ē
Auē ua hiti ē
E lauhoe mai ka wa’a i ke kā
I ka hoe
I ka hoe
I ke kā
E pae atu i ka `āina lā
E pae maila i ka `āina ē, Auē ua hiti ē!”
The words echoed through the auditorium, creating a feeling of solidarity. “I don’t have a lecture. I have a story,” Mr. Thompson began. Indeed, during the next two hours, Thompson shared with us an inspiring narrative that braided together his lived experiences as a Native Hawaiian navigator, Hawaiian history, the words of this teachers, and his intersectional perspectives on sustainability. This summary will do not justice to his rousing and eloquent delivery. I left the auditorium that night feeling moved and thankful to have had the opportunity to listen. I highly encourage you, to view our video recording of his lecture here.
“The investment in the power of the young is the best investment we can make,” Thompson said, reflecting on how the dialogue on social-environmental issues has changed over his lifetime. “Sustainability was not a word when I was in school,” he said. In Hawaii, however, sustainability has very deep cultural roots. Thompson shared with us the history of Hawaii, describing how the Polynesians developed innovations in navigation and went on long ocean voyages. According to Nainoa Thompson, Native Hawaiians created a sustainable society. He described it as “a system of balance and protection”.
Thompson discussed how colonialism led to losses of life and cultural knowledge about navigation. He recalled how his grandmother was discouraged from speaking Hawaiian in school. Thompson became one of the first Native Hawaiians to practice Polynesian navigating since the 14th century. He learned how to navigate the Hōkūle’a, a type of double-hulled canoe, without using any modern technology. He emphasized the importance of the Hōkūle’a in fostering Hawaiian culture. Describing his experiences as a Pwo navigator, he said, “[On the Hōkūle’a], we found a place we could be Hawaiian…To restore identity is to restore self-worth”, and asserted that the Hōkūle’a is the “light of our people”.
“When do we learn everything our instincts believe? When do we learn our values?” Thompson asked us. He was very humble in telling the story of how he became involved with the Hōkūle’a voyages: “This story is about miracles. I happened to be there at the right place and time.” He emphasized the critical role friends, family, and teachers played in shaping his values and commitment to navigation. From his father, he learned about the importance of having courage, helping others, and having a vision for making change. He expressed a deep gratitude toward Pwo navigator Mau Piailug who taught him essential navigation skills and to Eddie Aikau, a surfer and lifeguard, who was lost at sea in his attempt to rescue Thompson and the rest of the Hōkūle’a crew after the vessel capsized. “Navigation knowledge is power, is sacred”, Thompson said, “Hōkūle’a is not a canoe, it’s a school. The crew is not a crew, it’s a family.”
As a navigator, Thompson developed an appreciation of mālama or “care-taking”. A friendship with astronaut Lacy Veach inspired him to him to look at mālama from the perspective of taking care of the earth. Veach and Thompson found kinship in their love of voyaging. Veach saw earth as the goldilocks planet, unique in its capacity to harbor life under the right environmental conditions. When discussing sustainability, Veach told Thompson “You can’t protect what you don’t understand.” Thompson realized that the ocean sustained Hawaiian culture, evoking linkages between cultural and biological diversity. “If humanity is going to be well, then the earth has to be well. For the earth to be well, then the ocean has to be well,” he said. On his worldwide voyages, Thompson began spreading messages about the importance of healthy oceans, highlighting the environmental impact of plastics in the ocean and climate change. He emphasized the importance of making sustainable changes through bringing different communities together and building lasting relationships. “Where are you going and why?” Thompson asked us, “Navigate by you values, by your beliefs, by what you stand for.”
“Quick quick quick -- buy buy buy!”
The clock strikes midnight, and your fingers dash across the keyboard to pre-order the newest iPhone. From camping out at Apple stores to watching unboxing videos on YouTube, consumption has become its own form of entertainment. But in the rush to upgrade, we often forget to ask: What actually happens to old electronics?
The answer is complicated. In 2016, the world generated 44.7 million metric tonnes of e-waste, a number that is only increasing. E-waste generated by wealthy countries like the U.S., Australia, and Europe is almost always outsourced to the Global South for recycling, where discarded machines are dismantled for parts and rare earth metals to be resold. Furthermore, regulators have consistently failed to curb illegal, unsafe operations. For example, European exporters smuggled waste to Nigeria in used car shipments, while Australian computers were dumped in illicit recycling centers in Thailand.
These informal e-waste economies have devastating environmental and health impacts on their communities. Many of the “recyclers” are children who pick apart electronics with their bare hands. Locals end up breathing the toxic fumes from discarded waste set on fire. Lead poisoning is common. And because many recycling operations are located in rural agricultural regions, air and water pollution poison crops, spreading toxins far and wide.
Global flows of e-waste are shaped by a messy web of policies, trade norms, and international watchdogs. Still, the developing world’s illegal waste economy has thrived by exploiting regulatory loopholes and escaping the public eye under the guise of “recycling.” We must call for the Global North to take greater responsibility for their waste -- or else end up scrapping lives along with our electronics.
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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.