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

Category: Sustainability

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





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.


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.

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The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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