The official blog of Evergreen's Master of Environmental Studies degree

The Summer of Knotweed

By Ben Harbaugh, 2nd year student. This Knotweed work was carried out during the summer of 2016. Ben is now completing his Thesis using data from his work with Knotweed.

ben with the knotweedClear skies in August mean brutally hot days. So the slight morning chill only heightens my wariness of the day’s coming heat. I force down a final drink of water before buckling my chest-waders and pulling on the full 15 liter backpack sprayer. My two fellow restoration technicians follow suit and we stride out into the field. Soon we arrive at a steep path descending down to the floodplain of the Satsop River.

Today, like almost every weekday from July to September, we battle an invading plant that is plaguing river systems across Western Washington: ‘The Beast from the East’ – Knotweed.

Knotweed is not hard to find. Its bamboo-like canes lean over the road near my parents’ house in North Seattle; its small cream-colored flowers bloom from across the road next to Capital Lake; its broad green leaves form an impenetrable thicket next to a random parking lot in East Olympia. In an urban setting not much separates knotweed from other common invasive plants like blackberry or English ivy. It’s there, nobody really cares, and perhaps that’s understandable. But if you see knotweed on the bank of a salmon-baring river, that means big trouble.

Knotweed spreads along river systems like wildfire, dominating riverbanks once established. And indeed, my team and I quickly identify several patches where we’re surveying along the Satsop River. We proceed with raining ‘blue death’ upon the knotweed leaves.

Our ‘blue death’ herbicide mixture is surprisingly only 1% herbicide, which stands in stark contrast to most herbicide mixtures that require upwards of 20% herbicide. Such a diluted mixture effectively kills knotweed because we’re using knotweed’s capacity for hoarding nutrients against it. Instead of nutrients, we ensure that these knotweed plants hoard a plant-poison. Sun Tsu would be approve I think – turning an enemy’s strength into a weakness. I like this aspect of knotweed work.more knotweed

Eventually my team and I arrive upon a real knotweed infestation. It’s difficult to fully appreciate how terrible knotweed can be until you’ve witnessed a knotweed forest. Standing 15 feet tall in some places, this particular knotweed forest spans for at least a solid acre.

I see in my coworkers’ facial expressions a new respect for our enemy. I suggest that they venture inside the forest to fully acquaint themselves with the plant. Upon returning, they describe the area below its broad leaves as a ‘dead zone’. I chuckle and agree with this assessment. We’ll probably spend an entire week spraying this knotweed forest.

I love my job controlling knotweed. It’s hard work, ecologically beneficial, and involves visiting in some truly beautiful locations. Furthermore, I relish the challenge of knowing that my job performance carries tangible environmental consequences. If I don’t bring my best effort every day, a hidden knotweed plant will slip past our ‘blue death’ and continue to haunt whatever river system we’re working on.

But the knotweed season doesn’t last forever – only so long as it’s hoarding nutrients during the dog-days of summer. And so it follows that I’m thrilled to return to Evergreen in the fall for my second year of MES. There’s learning to be had, a thesis to be written, and classmates to talk to.

Until next time knotweed. You beast.


Capital Hopping for Student Advocacy

By Rhianna Hruska, 2nd Year MES Student, Secretary/Treasurer of the Clean Energy Committee, and Sustainability Resident Assistant for the Mods.

In front of the Capitol Building.

In front of the Capitol Building.

Having lived in both Washington, D.C. and Olympia, WA, I must admit that I am drawn to capital cities.  This academic year, I have been an active member of the Washington Student Association.  From this experience I also wanted to advocate for students on the federal level.  From March 18-21, 2016, I attended the United States Student Association’s (USSA) National Student Power Summit at Gallaudet University in Washington, D.C.  There were many campuses represented at the conference, including: University of Massachusetts, Amherst; University of California, Santa Cruz; University of Oregon, University of Washington, Tacoma; University of Southern California, George Mason University, just to name a few.  USSA is a non-profit led and run by students, with many of the staff being alum of the student associations.  During the conference, there is a weekend of workshops and lobby trainings before a national student lobby day for higher education on Monday March 21st.  On the lobby day I met with the staff of Washington Senator Patty Murray and Senator Maria Cantwell’s offices.  I also met with Congressman Denny Heck, who is an Evergreen alum, and two of his staff members.  I discussed Truth in Tuition, the Pathways to an Affordable Education Act, and gave Evergreen student stories demonstrating the importance of supporting Pell and Washington State Need grants.  I will continue to collaborate with the Washington Student Association to work on issues affecting students in higher education.

Visiting the National Archives Building.

Visiting the National Archives Building.

One of the workshops that I particularly learned a lot from was the “Building Intersectional Youth Power for Climate Justice and System Transformation” session.  One of the speakers was a National Field Organizer for the U.S. Climate Plan.  I learned more about utilizing the student movement to combat the impending challenges of climate change.  Issues like fossil fuel divestment, clean energy, or water usage are a few examples of topics that students can advocate for in order to advance sustainability or environmental justice on their campuses.

United States Supreme Court Building.

United States Supreme Court Building.

While I was in DC, I also had the opportunity to visit the Smithsonian Institutions, especially the Natural History Museum, where I interned back in Spring 2013.  I went to the National Archives and saw the original copies of the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights.  I walked through the memorials near the National Mall and spent time re-connecting with colleagues from my undergraduate alma mater, the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Many thanks to The Evergreen State College Deans Office, the Master of Environmental Studies Association, Clean Energy Committee, and the Geoduck Student Union for making this trip possible and for funding an MES student to attend the USSA summit and lobby in DC.




Road Trip to Taos

By Scott Morgan, Evergreen’s Director of Sustainability.

What is the value of diverting ‘wastes’ from the landfill to build homes with a minimal amount of ‘new’ resources? What is the value of an inspirational, personalized, unique living space surrounded with green space? What is it like to live in a home that captures and recycles usable heat and water, lives within its energy and resource footprint and supports year-round food production?

The Euro. Image credit: Hildi Flores

The Euro. Image credit: Hildi Flores

Earthships are homes that ride lightly on the earth. Developed by Mike Reynolds over 40 years ago, and now designed and built by Earthship Biotecture, based in Taos, New Mexico. I knew a little bit about Earthships, but just enough to be curious. So, on a whim, I signed up for a trip organized by a friend to visit New Mexico and learn more. I only knew one other person out of the 13 who made the trip, so it was a bit of a leap of faith that a crazy road trip would be a fun experience. But, it worked out beautifully.

Thursday morning, April 7th, I stepped into a car with three people I had never met, and we began our 28 hour road trip (one way) to learn more. It was epic – five days, six states, 3,000 miles, and nearly 60 hours in the car. Sound exhausting? It was amazing.

Part of that was the company. This trip had been advertised through the personal networks of people very interested in either Earthships, sustainability, or both. As a result, we had self-selected for people with an avid interest in collaborative community. Everyone worked together, sharing the challenges (we had a few), costs, and joy without contention or conflict.

Latourett Falls. Image credit: Scott Morgan

Latourett Falls. Image credit: Scott Morgan

The other amazing part was our destination. We took a few, also amazing, side trips to see waterfalls and cliff dwellings, but the two days we stayed in Earthships in Taos were the most inspiring.

The homes were comfortable, unique (the Phoenix is an exceptionally creative space), and off the grid (though most do use propane for cooking and back-up water heating).

Earthship homes are shaped by six design principles:

The Phoenix (looking east). Image credit: Scott Morgan

The Phoenix (looking east). Image credit: Scott Morgan

  • Thermal & Solar Heating and Cooling
  • Solar & Wind Electricity
  • Contained Sewage Treatment
  • Building with Natural & Recycled Materials
  • Water Harvesting
  • Food Production

They also tend to have more organic forms as a result of using building materials and techniques that encourage curves and flowing shapes rather than squares. In addition, the materials selection and construction methods allow for and encourage creative expression as the home is built. In fact, the homes are often so unique that they get names. We stayed in the Phoenix and the Euro. The end result can easily seem like a fantasy home, even though it is very practical.

Drawing on the words of Earthship Biotecture:

Earthships are thermal mass homes first, passive solar homes second.

Humans need comfortable temperatures, light, electricity, hot water, food, sewage treatment, etc. These necessities are all available within the framework of a certain “rhythm” in the Earthship. The more we are able to align our priorities and needs with the prevailing rhythms of the planet, the easier and less expensive (both in terms of economics and ecology) they will be to obtain.

If our lifestyles can conform more to the patterns of the planet than to our socioeconomic system, we can reduce the stress on both ourselves and the planet.

The Phoenix at Night. Image Credit: Hildi Flores

The Phoenix at Night. Image Credit: Hildi Flores

This is easier said than done due to the “reality” and the “gravity” of mortgage payments, utility bills and the generally high cost of eating and living. Most of us have no choice. We have to be places at certain times looking certain ways in order to make the money needed to make those payments. However, many people have built Earthships themselves and ended up with little to no mortgage payment. They also have little or no utility bills and their ability to grow food year-round inside the Earthship has greatly affected what they have to spend on packaged, processed foods. (

I’ve been trying out the tiny house lifestyle for a several months now, and have liked it. But, after seeing the Earthships, I’m ready to take a very serious look at a different kind of low impact living. I encourage anyone who may be intrigued to connect with Earthship Seattle. I’m pretty sure that we’ll do another crazy, inspirational (long) weekend tour next year.



The Phoenix Bathroom (1 of 2). Image credit: Hildi Flores

The Phoenix Bathroom (1 of 2). Image credit: Hildi Flores

Low Profile. Image credit: Scott Morgan

Low Profile. Image credit: Scott Morgan

The Phoenix Fireplace. Image credit: Scott Morgan

The Phoenix Fireplace. Image credit: Scott Morgan

The Phoenix Greenhouse Nook. Image credit: Scott Morgan

The Phoenix Greenhouse Nook. Image credit: Scott Morgan





Director Note: Spring 2016

By Kevin Francis, MES Director.

Evergreen, like many creatures this time of year, is in the midst of metamorphosis. This month George Bridges, who started work in October, was inaugurated as the sixth President of Evergreen. The celebration, of course, had an Evergreen twist. Instead of a formal inaugural ball, we helFrancis,+Kevin+2014-3d a Day of Service involving projects related to Earth Day, including a successful trail construction project at Randall Preserve sponsored by MES and Capitol Land Trust and superbly organized by MES student Daron Williams. Maia Bellon, Director of the Washington State Department, was one of several distinguished alumni who shared their inspiring stories.

In the short time our new President has been at work, I have been impressed with his ability to embrace our quirky institution’s complexities. George did a lot of hard listening and intense reflecting during his first 100 days in office that he shared with the community.

His talk affirmed Evergreen’s core values, recognized recent accomplishments, and articulated key challenges that we face as an institution. He also challenged us—faculty especially—to participate in this reflection and move toward action. Notably, the talk viewed Evergreen through four lenses that sometimes provide conflicting views of the college. After hearing this talk, I was confident he “got” Evergreen.

This month we also learned that faculty Ken Tabbutt will be stepping up (again) to serve as Interim Provost. The current Provost, Michael Zimmerman, has been a strong supporter of our program. An ecologist with diverse interests, he immediately understood MES and the value of a graduate environmental studies degree, both for students and for the college. We collaborated on a plan to hire three permanent faculty dedicated to MES, enabling us to build an excellent cohort of faculty dedicated to interdisciplinary research and problem solving in the environmental field. We are thrilled to have Erin Martin, whose research investigates freshwater ecology and its implications for the global carbon cycle, and John Withey, whose research addresses diverse aspects of biodiversity and landscape ecology. As a team, they provide complementary expertise for core programs, electives, and thesis work. Next year, we plan to hire a social scientist to address student interests in environmental economics and policy.

In more operational terms, Michael has consistently respected the integrity and judgment of MES faculty and staff while providing sound counsel when I sought it out. As a new administrator in charge of revising policies and making judgment calls, Michael helped me think carefully about the meaning of consistency. I wish Michael the best in his next career move and look forward to working with Ken Tabbutt, a geologist and former MES faculty member.MES-Sticker-FINAL

MES is also in transition. Three faculty who have taught full-time in MES are leaving the program—Peter Dorman and Shangrila Wynn will be entering the undergraduate curriculum, and Dina Roberts will be starting her “dream job” at the University of California-Santa Cruz, where she will teach field ecology.

Three faculty will join the program this fall. Ted Whitesell, an MES veteran and former director, will bring expertise in political ecology and sustainability to our ranks. Miranda Mellis, a writer with strong interest in environmental humanities, will help us strengthen our efforts to teach environmental rhetoric and communication, important aspects of advocacy and policy making. With the widespread call for rethinking our narratives on environmental issues, especially around climate change, I think Miranda will provide students—and faculty—with new tools to imagine and persuade others about environmental progress. Finally, I look forward to welcoming John Withey to both Evergreen and MES. He grew up in Washington and has broad knowledge of Pacific Northwest ecosystems. He also has specific interests in ornithology, landscape ecology, and urban ecology that will support the interest of many thesis students.

We also finished reviewing applications for the Fall 2016 cohort. We had more than 100 applications—our largest pool, by far, in recent years—and we anticipate welcoming an impressive group of students to campus this fall. Our Assistant Director, Gail Wootan, is the person who is most responsible for successfully reaching out to potential students around the state and beyond. One of her best ideas was to involve students in each step of the process. Since most of them are graduating and moving on to new endeavors, I want to conclude by congratulating and thanking Anna Rhoads (Recruitment Assistant), Ryan Hobbs (Communications Assistant), and Joshua Christy, Danae Presler, and Yonit Yogev (MES Ambassadors) for all of their hard work—and to remind new students that announcements for these positions are coming soon to an inbox near you!

Interning in Israel: Introducing Sustainability to the Masses

By Yonit Yogev, 2nd Year MES Student & MES Ambassador.

Two days and I’m already hooked.

The energy, excitement and deep commitment to mission and vision of this one-of-a-kind institution are palpable throughout the hallways.

trees Ramat HaNadiv Memorial Gardens and Nature Park is a 1,000+ acre gem of a nature preserve in the hills just south of the Carmel Mountains, close to the coast about mid-way between Haifa and Tel Aviv, Israel. When Israel was first forming as a state, Mayer Amsel Rothschild, a modest German from a highly respected business family in Frankfurt, became enamored with the fledgling state, and so began his lifelong relationship as benefactor of towns, founder of businesses, and well-loved encourager of dreams.

His family continues to carry out his mission, and the current institute called Ramat HaNadiv has become a center of cutting edge science as a station for Long-term Ecological Research (LTER), conservation and children1restoration research; a center for Environmental Education (utilizing Master’s and PhD-level educators); a place of peace and shelter for many groups who benefit from their Horticulture Therapy program and gardens; for the extensive volunteer and outreach program, and as a haven of green and beauty for its visitors in the gardens as well as on the treeswalkwaytrails of the nature park. Feeling they had accomplished much and were ready to work towards future goals, Ramat HaNadiv launched a project more ambitious and far-reaching than any they had yet attempted: The Partnership for Regional Sustainability.

The Partnership launched in 2014, and includes 6 local municipalities and townships, all of which are connected to the Nachal Taninim (Crocodile River) watershed system. An Arab village, which unfortunately is known as the poorest in the entire country, is also one of the partner towns. In mind-boggling juxtaposition, Zichron Yaakov, one of the more well-to-do towns in the area is also a partner. Ramat HaNadiv, for its part, has a goal of getting this treesdirtpartnership up and running so that within three short years they will be able to more or less turn over the reins to the group as a whole.

Because Ramat HaNadiv is run by the well-endowed Rothschild Foundation, they are able to do things most organizations can only dream about. It affords them the luxury to carry out multiple large-scale projects simultaneously, and has engendered a warm, supportive work environment in which a relatively small group of people are able to accomplish huge goals.

This multi-disciplinary group of intrepid trailblazers are forging ahead into brand new territory—both for the organization, and also, treescoastto a certain extent, for the region and country as a whole.

Sustainability is not yet a household word in Israel.

The political situation and culture of militarism in the country keep the citizens preoccupied and in a constant state of alert. While the focus of this blog piece is not political, the results and the reality in terms of the environment are clear. Sustainability is not at the top of the priority list for the majority of Israelis. Over the years of the country’s connection with the US, a culture of consumerism has come up as well. What this means for Ramat HaNadiv is that they are not only learning just how complex and multi-dimensional such a huge undertaking is, but they are also, in essence, attempting to change the very culture—the way people think and act about every aspect of their lives. They hope to push forward the concept and the every-day behaviors of sustainability in a place where most of the population is still far from realizing its critical importance.

So where do I fit in?

I set up an individualized internship with someone I know here, who it turned out, is the director of the Partnership. One of the things I children2was able to do early on was introduce them to Community-based Social Marketing (CBSM). While their philosophy clearly fits in with its foundations, CBSM is in an embryonic stage here. It’s very gratifying to have been able to connect them with the CBSM professionals in Israel. Since what the Partnership represents is a sea-change in culture and every-day actions and behaviors, CBSM will be crucial for the success of the program.  Secondly, I am helping create a model for Citizen ‘Science’ projects, with hopes of getting one ready to launch before I leave. As is often the case with internships, one often feels like one is getting the hang of the place just in time for it to end! With a model in place, they will hopefully be able to utilize it for other similar projects, and we hope to hire someone part time to carry the project through. Citizen science or monitoring programs require that a fair bit of attention be paid to the volunteers, keeping them informed of how their data is being used, making sure they feel helpful and appreciated. In this case, in line with sustainability’s underlying philosophy, we would like the volunteers from the community to have a major say in all aspects of the study, and most especially in the long-term, when the search for solutions at the root level of the problems being mapped begins in

All in all, I have learned a huge amount in my short time here, been inspired by how much a small group of dedicated people can accomplish in a short time, and feel blessed to have had this opportunity.


Science is a Beach: Pursuing Scientific Research at Evergreen

By Natalie Sahli, 2nd year MES student.

The Decision:

I entered the MES program over a year ago with little idea of what I wanted to study. At that time, Vibrio, a bacteria which colonizes shellfish during warm summer months, was an issue rapidly gaining traction throughout the sound. Oysters. Disease. Got it. Maybe I would study that at Evergreen?

Proud to share a seat with my cooler full of seaweed, phytoplankton, and clams.

Proud to share a seat with my cooler full of seaweed, phytoplankton, and clams.

In my first quarter in MES , I was lucky enough to have the chance to research the effects of Ocean Acidification (OA) on the shellfish industry though a biogeochemical perspective. I fell in love with marine chemistry! Not to mention, I was now on a mission to solve this problem through a sustainable solution (someone else will handle vibrio). When I proposed to my potential advisor that I wanted to start a kelp farm near oyster beds so as to reduce dissolved inorganic carbon, I was immediately shut down. Rightfully so. Too large of scale. Too much money. Oh, and it takes five to ten years to get a kelp growing permit in Washington. Okay, I guess I couldn’t stop OA in the Puget Sound, but could I add to a body of research which quantifies the ability of kelp to sequester dissolved inorganic carbon? Well, kind of, if I wanted to work on an eelgrass carbon sequestration project (eelgrass is a plant, so this was out). Okay, what about the aquaculture industry’s needs? Well, the Puget Sound Restoration Fund (PSRF) was interested in supporting a master’s project which investigated how cultivated clams exchange nutrients with seasonal macroalgae blooms. If there is evidence of a symbiotic relationship, these findings could help promote the co-cultivation of seaweeds and shellfish. Great! This was the perfect project for me.

Getting Started:

The beautiful Baywater Inc shellfish farm. Thorndyke Bay, WA

The beautiful Baywater Inc. shellfish farm. Thorndyke Bay, WA

Before arriving at Evergreen, I spent several years working in labs (throughout my undergrad and professionally). Hence, it was clear that my thesis research would include a significant lab component. One of my main questions prior to starting this research was of Evergreen’s capacity to support a lab-oriented thesis. I found that Evergreen is quite well-equipped with lab space, equipment, interments, and technicians. But methods development, I discovered, was one of the most challenging components of my thesis. In order to figure out how to answer my research question, I had to scour the current literature to find how professionals in my new-found field answered similar questions.

The overwhelming majority used stable carbon isotopes to measure the diets of shellfish, and carbon/nitrogen ratios to measure nutrient uptake by seaweeds. Simple enough. However, before I could even get to measuring these components I had to come up with an experimental design on a working aquaculture farm, a weekly sampling schedule, a method for proper sample storage, and request all relevant materials. The materials request was by far the most involved. There were so many components I failed to consider in my initial request: a petri dish in which to desiccate filters, a desiccator to store desiccated filters, combusted foil to store smaller pieces of combusted foil to store desiccated filters inside the desiccator (to name a few)! However, I eventually completed my design, obtained all materials, and started on my fieldwork after approval from my advisor and student instrumentation technician.

The long and rough road down to Thorndyke Bay.

The long and rough road down to Thorndyke Bay.

The Saga Continues:

After an entire summer of collecting data, I was left with a freezer-full of seaweed and manila clam stomach glands (not to mention a desiccator full of filtered phytoplankton)! I was considering using Evergreen’s carbon/nitrogen/hydrogen analyzer for my seaweed carbon/nitrogen ratios, but at about $150 per set of samples, I thought again. I was already planning to ship my samples out to UC Davis Stable Isotope Facility (a mass spectrometer is one of the few instruments not at Evergreen). UC Davis would return my samples with the isotope data as well as the carbon/nitrogen ratios. As I was already set to pay $8.50/sample, relying on UC Davis for my entire analysis was most reasonable. Evergreen offers a few grants for student research, but otherwise, your research is your own financial responsibility or you need to find outside funding. The grants available from Evergreen range from $100 to $4,000 per researcher [Ed. note: check out the Student Foundation Activity Grant or the Evergreen Sustainability Fellowship], but they only have a limited number to give out. Currently, I have been awarded $100 to help fund some of the sample processing costs. I am applying/awaiting responses from other grants. My research costs now total about $450 (not including purchases made from the Science Support Center, materials I purchased for the field over the summer, and the gas I used for the four-hour round trip to my site each weekend). This project will in the end cost me quite a bit of money. Would I do it again? Yes. Doing fieldwork over the summer was one of the most magical and rewarding experiences. I spent the summer collecting data on what became one of my favorite places on Earth. My project allowed me the luxury of camping near my site every weekend, and exploring the rivers, forests, and hidden bays of Washington’s remote peninsula. Additionally, I have learned an invaluable amount of scientific and industry information through this project. I am pursuing something I believe in and am passionate about. To me, this learning experience has been worth the cost.

Unsolicited Advice:

Only a few months from the end of my thesis journey, I would like to offer advice to those of you wanting to embark on the scientific research journey at Evergreen.

  • Start Early: It will always take more time that you think to finalize your research question, acquire the necessary background information to effectively design your experiment, and request all the necessary materials.
  • Check in Often: Keep your advisor(s) informed of your progress and the decisions you will make along the way. Things will probably shift from your initial plan. It is important to ask for the help of your advisors when you have any question of how to proceed.
  • Connect with External Agencies: External agencies will provide anything from relevant research projects in your desired field to lab space to funding. They are a great resource during this process and after graduation. For me, The PSRF provided a question, a site, clams, aquaculture materials, and continuing support for questions.
  • Do a Trial Run: Before you measure anything in the field, set up your experiment, let it run, and collect test data. There may be a variable you did not consider once your experiment is in place. A trial run could help you realize this before starting actual data collection.
  • Be Honest: If you are encountering a problem in the field or lab, let your advisor know. For me, the warm summer killed off much of my seaweed for almost a month! Oh well, this means I will have a lot to explain in my discussion. A thesis isn’t all about a perfect scientific experiment, it is about learning at a high level.
Filtering phytoplankton back at Evergreen's Environmental Analysis lab.

Filtering phytoplankton back at Evergreen’s Environmental Analysis lab.

Overall, I have learned so much through my experience at Evergreen. Evergreen is truly an institution where you get as much out of the experience as you put into it. If you choose to go down the path of scientific research here, get ready to put in immense effort into your project. Though it may be hard to see the light when you are buried under this vast amount of work, try and stay positive. You’ll find that you’ll come away having learned more in the end.

An American (MESer) in Paris – COP21 and Direct Action

By Graham Clumpner, 2nd Year MES Student.

I barely stepped off the plane and the victory celebrations were commencing ’round the planet.


The author, left, in Paris for COP21.

We finally have a global climate deal. We have a chance to actually survive the destruction we have unleashed upon ourselves. If we do this right, we just might come out of this with a better world.

I had been preparing for Paris for over 2 years [Ed. note: The author is referring to COP21, which was a climate conference held in Paris in October 2015 with the intent of achieving a “legally binding and universal agreement on climate” around the world] . When this process began this sort of outcome was unlikely to say the least. The United States was still the largest global emitter (soon to be passed by China) and also the greatest obstructer when it came to climate negotiations. The new IPCC had not yet been released (2014) and we in the political community were still arguing over whether climate change was real, human caused, and a national security threat. Keystone XL was a foregone conclusion. Shell was preparing to reap profits from its arctic drilling. The world was divided on this issue and was still recovering from the 2008 economic meltdown. What a change a social movement can make!

If we do this right, we just might come out of this with a better world.

For the longest time the role of education in the climate movement revolved around convincing people that climate change was real. We have put so many eggs in that basket that we have actually hampered ourselves now that the world is changing. Climate impacts are being seen everywhere from droughts to monster storms. Slower effects of shifting species and migration patterns for humans have destabilized once predictable regions. Every day has brought more visceral evidence that the threat is real, and all that work to convince people of the science is paying off. To be fair, the United States is the last developed country to have a serious contingent of people denying the science of climate change. Corporate influence and religious interference have done more to derail humanities chance of survival than anything else. The real question is, “What has changed over the last 2 years?”

riseupsingingHow a people became a movement

No one can say definitively how things begin. When it comes to the climate movement, there is an immense amount of historical shoulders we stand on, dating back through time including Rachel Carson, Murray Bookchin, Aldo Leopold, Thoreau and many others. Their work and struggle as individuals built much of the collective framework we use to understand and move the world today as organizers and activists. Those organizers needed a symbol to unite around something specific and they found it in the Keystone XL pipeline. Bringing dirty tar sands oil from pristine northern Alberta through a pipeline and exporting it to the rest of the world seemed like a slam-dunk for the oil industry. Until we fought back. Instead of all the other battles where people signed petitions or voted or asked nicely (although this is always a part of the work) people put their bodies in the way. From refusing to leave their land as farmers and ranchers to tree—sitting anarchists who want to smash the state; resistance flourished. A Cowboy and Indian Alliance (C.I.A.) was formed to resist attempts in Nebraska to buy off individuals. According to internal company receipts and equipment orders, millions of dollars of equipment was sabotaged or damaged and had to be replaced all along the proposed route. The attention grabbed more mainstream environmental activists and liberals. This fight entered the mainstream and soon became a yardstick with which to measure President Obama’s climate commitments.

Most importantly, it showed us we could fight back.Group1Eiffel

Soon, proposed export terminals in the Pacific Northwest were being challenged by activists. Arctic drilling was becoming a mainstream opposition and any new fossil fuel proposal was fought from day one. While it took five years to declare victory against the Keystone Pipeline, the real victory happened when people chose direct action to fight back. It focused attention not on the abstract theory of atmospheric carbon concentrations (which people cannot imagine easily) into a specific manifestation of bad. People could sink their teeth into that. They could learn about how it directly affected them. It had good guys and bad guys. It had a story.

Our approach to Paris was to force the politicians to give the world a just global deal. Then the Daesh attacks all over Paris changed everything. Many of the big green groups suggested that we call off actions altogether. This was never an option. Given that much of the crisis in Syria was influenced by climate disruptions in the form of drought and that the US war in Iraq for regional oil stability created the eventual Paris attackers, we knew alternative voices were needed.

Resistance is most necessary when we are most afraid.

We shifted our approach away from the governments themselves and targeted those who directly profit from fossil fuels and climate chaos: corporations. Aside from the first day where we formed a human chain of 10,000 people in a spirit of peace, everything we did sought to disrupt business as usual. We began by targeting the Heartland institute, a climate denial “think-tank.” By infiltrating their sessions, we asked hard questions that were unanswerable such as, “How do you disagree with the US Military? Are you unpatriotic?” Then we went after Engie and Total, two of the largest world suppliers of energy, by shutting down their headquarters. We interrupted a fracking symposium and targeted California governor Jerry Brown for his flip-flopping on REDD (“Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation”). We drew the links of militarism and climate by showing the relationship between the USA and Saudi Arabia to be a global driver of this chaos. By raising the voices of indigenous people, we showed there are alternatives to an extractive approach to the planet. These and many more actions pushed the limit of what is possible to imagine. That is the work of radicals, to expand what is able to be done. The road through Paris is now the work of keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

gocop21For me, the appeal of direct action is its ability to cut through what we consider “conventional wisdom”. Like a hot knife through butter, it takes education directly to the people with the power of example. It forces people to pay attention to something they have long tried to ignore. It challenges people to engage in the world and choose a side. This is much needed in a world that has come to rely almost exclusively on the classroom or the computer as the only means of learning. We are story-based creatures. All of us are participating in a story at any given time whether we know it or not. The role of a good organizer is to provide a story that leads us in a productive way towards our goals. The goals may not seem realistic when we start but the process of doing, direct action, teaches us further, the lessons we need to achieve those goals. Vision is important but there is no substitute for rolling up your sleeves and confronting your fears. flowersThis is the ultimate visceral education to oneself. It also has a profound impact on those around you as you show people “the art of the possible.” Success builds upon itself and as a community of resistance develops, more opportunities for learning emerge. Suddenly we wake up realizing that what we thought was impossible is now expected and new opportunities are now on our radar. We started with Keystone and now are fighting to keep all fossil fuels in the ground. This is a massive transition in five years.

The success of the Paris agreement was not what the negotiators accomplished.

In fact, Paris was less of a negotiation than it was a scoreboard of the work we have done for the last half-decade. Achieving a 1.5 “to stay alive” goal of global warming is a massive step and will influence future negotiations. It, in essence, is saying the fossil fuel age is over. How many people would have predicted this two years ago?

MoredemonstratorsThe Republicans in Congress and the Presidential race have derided the negotiations as farcical. However, theirs is the only party in any developed country to deny the science of climate change. They are losing. As economic institutions like the World Bank, IMF and global insurance companies move towards keeping fossil fuels in the ground, Republicans stand literally opposed to a healthy economy. Something has to break. We are currently in a monumentally important election year. The victories we gained in 2015 still hang in the balance. Those of us working in the climate movement and believing in science must stand up once more. This election can be about climate change. It must be. Our climate is the one thing that binds us all together and could tear us all apart. It exacerbates all the existing divisions in society. It is fueled by capitalism and only a move away from this exploitative economic system will give us an opportunity to build a more peaceful and just world.


Change the system, not the climate!

Paris didn’t give us nearly enough of what we needed.

It only got us halfway towards our goal of a livable planet. Having a ratchet system to increase countries pledges going forward is vital but there are no binding requirements to make sure countries follow through on those pledges. That’s our next work, making it impossible for energy companies to ruin the planet. Looking forward as the oil export ban is lifted by Congress, we have to fight to prevent extraction on public lands. We must shut down every single export terminal and newly proposed pipeline. We have to stop oil and gas trains (bomb trains) from destroying our cities, like Lac Megantic in Canada. Most of all, we have to offer a vision of an alternative world. A story must be created where climate justice includes all people living on the one earth we have. Climate change is our opportunity to address centuries of oppression in one systematic way because this problem affects us all. No one can survive on a dying planet.

In order to reach people on the less believing side of America, people need to hear from their own group or tribe. This means that we must pick up individuals within the power elite to shame their followers into changing. Education has played a major role in moving people towards this conclusion. We are in a race against ourselves and more aggressive forms of education are needed now. We need to educate and lead with action. If you still think that only scientific papers or asking nicely will get us the world we were promised, then I direct your attention to any one of the republican presidential debates. As one sign at the final action in Paris said “The dinosaurs didn’t believe in climate change either.”

MES Invades the Clean Energy Committee

By Rhianna Hruska, 2nd Year MES Student, Secretary/Treasurer of the Clean Energy Committee, and Sustainability Resident Assistant for the Mods.

This academic year, three out of the five student members of the Clean Energy Committee (CEC) are MESers…

And on February 4, 2016, the CEC presented a panel at the Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (OHESC).  The conference was held at Lane Community College in Eugene, Oregon and engaged roughly 300 attendees. OHESC brought together faculty, staff, and students interested in sustainability at campuses in the Pacific Northwest.


The author, Rhianna Hruska, ready to present at OHESC.


Rhianna and the CEC team.

Our panel presentation was on Evergreen’s green fee, the Clean Energy Fee, that was passed by students in 2009. At the time of voting, 28% of the student body voted with 91% of voters being in favor of the green fee. The green fee is used to fully cover the green tags (also known as renewable energy credits) for the college. The rest of the money that does not go toward green tags is managed by the Clean Energy Committee. Many colleges have different ways of managing their green funds, and OHESC was a great opportunity for CEC members to share the unique way that Evergreen manages its green fund. CEC also learned from other colleges and universities and came back from the conference with many great ideas on how to improve our process to further benefit campus.

At the end of the conference, the CEC team went to meet representatives from Arcimoto, an emerging Oregon-based electric car company that currently has models driving around Southern California.  They have many interested potential customers that would like to purchase the final electric vehicle design once they hit the market. CEC got to see Arcimoto’s various prototypes and their shop. It was great for CEC to meet with the Arcimoto team and it was inspiring to see the amazing work that Arcimoto is doing to rethink electric vehicle design.


CEC at their panel on the Clean Energy Fee.

The national version of OHESC is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). Check out 2nd Year MES student, Ryan Hobbs’ account of MES at AASHE.   A CEC student and I have submitted a proposal for the 2016 conference to present a case study on how Evergreen manages its green fee fund, the Clean Energy Fund. We will hear back in Spring about whether the proposal is accepted, but for now, CEC was glad for the opportunity to share the amazing work that we do at OHESC.

The Day I Met a Nobel Laureate: Planning a Climate Symposium at Evergreen

by Terry Carroll, 1st year MES student and Center for Sustainable Infrastructure Graduate Assistant.

“This climate symposium was the first big event that I had been involved in…”

Tasked with helping to coordinate the speaking presentations at the Climate Change Research and Action Symposium: “It’s Happening. Now What?”– I arrived to a mostly empty recital hall about an hour before the event was set to begin. I was really only there to act as an extra link in the chain of communication between the event organizers and the first keynote speaker. I’d been working with Rhys Roth (MES ‘90), Director of Evergreen’s Center of Sustainable Infrastructure (CSI), since the beginning of fall quarter. This job has proven to be challenging and interesting.

President George Bridges introduces John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy delivers the keynote address at It's happening. What now?

President George Bridges introduces keynote speaker Dr. John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy.

As the Center’s graduate assistant, at times I am delving into research projects, working on updating the Center’s website, or enrolling guest writers into producing content for the CSI blog. Or I am sitting in on meetings with a diverse group of people from the fields of energy, waste, transportation, or water infrastructure. This climate symposium was the first big event that I had been involved in, although I previously sat in on smaller speaking engagements throughout the last few months.

After Rhys arrived and set up his presentation, The AV staff made their final adjustments to the lighting and cameras and waited nervously for Dr. John Byrne to arrive. The Director of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy (CEEP) and Professor of Energy and Climate Policy at the University of Delaware, Dr. Byrne contributed to Working Group III of the U.N.-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and shares the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with the Panel’s authors and editors. He has helped pioneer an equity- and sustainability-based strategy for resolving socioeconomic and environmental inequality and serves as chairman of the board of the Foundation for Renewable Energy and Environment (FREE). Evergreen President George Bridges ended up arriving ahead of Dr. Byrne. He shook hands and introduced himself to those of us who had arrived early.

John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy delivers the keynote address at It's happening. What now? Climate Change Research and Action.

Dr. John Byrne of the Center for Energy and Environmental Policy delivers the keynote address at It’s happening. What now? Climate Change Research and Action.

Scott Morgan, Evergreen’s Sustainability Officer did an amazing job of organizing this event and getting the word out in what seemed like a pretty short amount of time. We didn’t know what kind of turnout to expect but the recital hall seemed full– maybe even close to capacity. This was nice considering that the Evergreen video crew would be professionally filming the entire event. Although I had missed the morning’s discussion panels, I had heard from fellow MESers that it was similarly well attended. Not only did a good crowd show up, but they seemed extremely engaged with the subject matter. Both Rhys and Dr. Byrne fielded several questions from some very passionate members of the audience. A few of the questioners even insisted on asking follow-ups. One student pressed Evergreen on its timeline for upgrading facilities to be more efficient and sustainable. Rhys, who this question was directed at, passed off the mic to Scott Morgan, putting him on the spot, which was rather entertaining. Another questioner was skeptical about the amount of optimism both speakers had conveyed. The audience clearly showed a real desire for concrete steps and action that we could take as a community. All in all, the question and answer session generated a lively discussion that really helped bring both the activism and science perspectives to the surface.

“Both speakers gave inspiring speeches and presentations.”

The message of both seemed to be that although we’ve got a lot of work to do, and the ball isn’t rolling as quickly as it should be, it is in fact rolling. Big changes are happening, and we may have the potential to avert the worst impacts of the climate crisis. Clean energy technology has evolved at an unprecedented rate over the past few years. It would be hard to talk about these issues to an engaged crowd and completely avoid the gloom and doom scenarios that we are so used to thinking about, but both speakers managed to paint a fairly

John Byrne and those in attendance.

Dr. John Byrne and those in attendance.

optimistic as well as realistic picture of where we’re currently at with these issues. Dr. Bryne ended his presentation by urging us to make connections with others in the room and to continue this conversation, pointing out that some of the biggest changes that we need to make as a society must arise from a grassroots polycentric movement rather than from the top down.

Speed Dating 101: Selecting a Thesis Reader

By Ryan Hobbs, 2nd Year MES student and MES Communications Assistant.

Year two is all about the thesis. I eagerly enrolled in Case Studies and Thesis Design fall quarter (not that I had a choice) with the excitement of my potential thesis project in the back of my mind. As the course started I knew I’d need to select a thesis reader. My first potential thesis involved a large data set of bird surveys and I had someone in mind, but the project fell through. So for a little while I panicked. Eventually one of my classmates hooked me up with the Port of Seattle and I’ve landed another wildlife based project, and the thesis reader I had in mind was still relevant, but was she the one for me?

Will you be my thesis reader?

Will you be my thesis reader?

Something I appreciate about MES are the diverse backgrounds of our faculty. Since the program is multidisciplinary and the students come from varying fields with a crop of different interests, we’re matched with a thesis reader that best fits our area of study. We learn about the core faculty throughout the first year as we interact with them in our core classes and electives. When it comes time to selecting our readers, we have a fairly clear idea of who will likely best serve our needs, but in case there are still lingering doubts, we are graced with a crash course lecture about their past research.

Birds of a feather work on a thesis together.

Birds of a feather work on a thesis together.

A few of us found these biographical lectures similar to what would likely take place at a speed dating event. The faculty would present research they’ve worked on in the past and some of their strengths, and at our request, their weaknesses. It was a fantastic way to see how we paired up with our faculty.

Once all of our suitors had pitched their profiles, we selected our top three. I was torn between a pair of faculty with previous work in wildlife data analysis but I needed someone with a strong knowledge of birds. I cast my vote and waited with a sense of teenage angst. Would my top choice accept my request? It took a couple weeks but when the reply came back, it was exactly as I had hoped. Success! While I’m not sure if my reader enjoys long walks on the beach, piña coladas, or getting caught in the rain, I do know she is the right fit for me and my project.

« Older posts

© 2018 MESsages
The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

Log inUp ↑