Registered: December 2008
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It is the current generation that has discovered the extent of humankind’s negative environmental impact and identified the resulting onset of climate change. Now it is my generation who is going to be responsible to halt and hopefully begin to reverse climate change. To prevent a future of frequent and violent storms, mass animal extinction, and coastlines being swallowed by the sea, it is vital that we work to reduce pollution and stop climate change now. In keeping with this belief, I have made it my ongoing environmental stewardship project to be environmentally responsible and improve the local environment wherever I go and in whatever I do.
Last year I devoted myself to full time volunteering for ten months through an organization called the AmeriCorps. This experience allowed me to take my environmental commitment to a national scale. I took advantage of opportunities to strengthen communities by spearheading and participating in many environmental projects, gaining valuable service learning experience along the way.
My volunteer journey began in Sacramento, California as a teacher’s aid, tutor and mentor at a local elementary school. I also assisted in the children’s programs at a housing project for families transitioning out of homelessness. One day we took the kids on a field trip to the local salmon hatchery. I was privileged to be an integral part of showing the kids how important and special animals are for us and the environment. It was delightfully fulfilling to help plant the seed of wonder and appreciation for nature and the preservation of animals. This was especially true for the kids who don’t often get to see what is beyond their life in the city.
In addition to working with kids, I also devoted my time to a few environmental side projects in Sacramento. I spent several days with the Sacramento Tree Foundation removing and disposing of arundo; a bamboo-like, invasive species that is clogging many of California’s rivers and streams. While chopping down and hauling loads of the reeds away from the riverbank, I learned about the various harms of invasive species. I was enlightened about the benefits of planting and cultivating native species of vegetation instead of nonnative species in any given environment. Many ecosystems have become very imbalanced due to the introduction of nonnative species that become invasive.
It was pleasant to work outside with clear skies in the California sunshine, which made cleaning up a Sacramento park just as favorable. Armed with rakes and shovels, a team of us cleaned out an extremely polluted pond while pulling out pile after pile of leaves and garbage. At first the task seemed a bit daunting, but the feeling of satisfaction was twice as strong when at the end of two full days, all the waste was removed and our boisterous company of ducks, geese, and swans had a clean place to bathe and swim.
After two months in Sacramento I moved to Pascagoula, Mississippi. It was the first of three places I lived and volunteered in the Gulf Coast rebuilding homes for hurricane victims. After two destructive hurricanes pounded Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama in 2005, much of the coastal cities are still on a long road to recovery. I was there to help build homes for the immediate recovery efforts, but I was very concerned about the long term recovery effort. The climate change that is accelerating on our planet will result in an increase in the frequency and intensity of storms like Hurricane Katrina, so living in the destroyed areas of the Gulf Coast was a constant reminder for me of how important it is to be environmentally responsible. The reality of the situation seems clear: if more environmental action is not taken, climate change will inevitably fuel more monster hurricanes that will strike the vulnerable Gulf Coast again.
An easy and effective way to take responsible environmental action is to recycle. Recycling is an important way to reduce greenhouse gases. My housing in Mississippi lacked a recycling system. I was confident I could set up a recycling program and was excited to do something easy and a positive for the environment and the community.
I started research straightaway, but was quickly discouraged to find that there were no functioning recycling facilities in the entire state of Mississippi! Discouraged, I solicited the other volunteers for ideas. After some brainstorming, I learned that Mobile, Alabama was the biggest city nearby which might recycle. Upon checking I found there was indeed a recycling facility in Mobile a mere half hour drive from our housing. I set up bins for the recyclables and coordinated shuttles to the Mobile facility once a week. Thanks to teamwork and thinking outside the box, we successfully recycled cardboard, plastic and cans from a state where recycling does not exist. This small but important service of recycling is critical for sustainability and halting the harmful effects of climate change.
When my project in Mississippi ended I was relocated to the largest volunteer camp in the United States; Camp Hope in St. Bernard, Louisiana. During orientation I learned that in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, the toxic stew of flood water, sewage, and oil that flooded all of St. Bernard Parish resulted in one of the greatest ecological disasters on earth. In such an environmentally-depressed state, recycling to reduce waste seems especially important. To my dismay, Camp Hope did not recycle either. But luckily I was in the perfect position to make that change. My new project was to help manage the camp’s kitchen. We prepared the meals for the 200-400 volunteers each day. Much of the food came from cardboard boxes and steel cans resulting in a bulk of recyclables I could take charge of.
I immediately set out to design a recycling program for the camp. Unfortunately, like Mississippi, most of Louisiana’s recycling facilities were shut down and have not reopened since Hurricane Katrina. Fortunately, after some digging, I found a nonprofit recycling center not far away that would take the hundreds of recyclables we collected each week in the kitchen. The volunteer team agreed to help shuttle the recyclables to the center each week, and again another recycling operation was a success.
Realizing that there are many ways to live a green lifestyle, my next environmental action was to stop eating meat. Four other volunteers I worked with in the Camp Hope kitchen were already vegetarians, and I was curious to learn their reasons. They opened my eyes to the immense benefits of vegetarianism.
The simple act of choosing a vegetarian diet is terrific for the well-being of all aspects of the environment—individuals, animals, and the earth. The amount of animal products consumed in the standard American diet results in an unhealthy intake of fat and toxins. Today’s animal agriculture practices are extremely inhumane and detrimental to the environment. Animal emissions and waste products are one of the top polluters of greenhouse gasses that cause climate change. Armed with this new found understanding, I stopped eating meat and contributed to providing a vegetarian meal option at every meal in Camp Hope to spread the knowledge and support the cause.
My final AmeriCorps project brought me to the lower ninth ward in New Orleans where I volunteered construction and office work for another nonprofit called Hope Has a Face. Hope Has a Face is committed to rebuilding homes for hurricane victims, but is uniquely devoted to sustainability and green building. I learned how to properly insulate, paint with low VOC paint, and install compact fluorescent lights. These actions, along with other elements of green building, created a more efficient use of gas and electricity. It was wonderful participate in environmentally sustainable recovery efforts to bring hurricane victims home.
Being very interested and excited about my new found knowledge and action of green building, I got involved in a great side project to further spread the knowledge and benefits to others. I discovered the nonprofit organization Green Light New Orleans, whose mission is to spread the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs. I got a group together to volunteer for Green Light on the weekends, and we helped low and middle income families and individuals make the switch from incandescent bulbs to energy efficient compact fluorescent lights (CFL), effectively reducing energy consumption one house at a time. The best part was telling people after we replaced all their bulbs how great of an impact such a little thing can do. It meant a lot for people struggling with paying their electric bills, and it means a lot for the environment, too.
My ongoing environmental stewardship project to improve the environment in various communities has been a great success. I’ve learned a diverse ways of how to take positive and important environmental action. Whether it is was starting a recycling program, removing invasive species, teaching kids about nature or spreading the use of fluorescent light, it is very satisfying to enable others and myself to be green and live more sustainably.
I am more passionate than ever for doing my part for my generation’s environmental burden and battling against climate change. The efforts of environmentally responsible individuals, groups and organizations are causing a ripple effect that is spreading knowledge, action, compassion and care for the environment. I am confident that this effect can grow in strength until climate change is halted and nature’s balance is restored.