The Baja California Peninsula is one of the most naturally stunning parts of our globe, split from the mainland of Mexico by the San Andreas Fault. Yet for decades, outsiders saw the area as an isolated and unproductive land with minimal economic value. Especially following the decline of the local whaling industry in the early 1900s, regional economic opportunities were limited to fishing, irrigated agriculture and ranching outside of the rise of the saltworks industry in 1954 (more on that later). However, the ‘secret’ of Baja California’s natural beauty was destined to get out. In the latter half of the twentieth century, the arid landscape was reimagined by locals and officials as a tourist’s paradise complete with beaches, surfing and—at least for a few months a year—the opportunity to get up close to Pacific gray whales. (read more)
It’s late afternoon and I am sitting on the veranda at my parent’s house in the small mountain town of Montagu in the Western Cape Province of South Africa. In front of me lies a fishpond, inhabited mostly by Koi, and beyond that stretches a green lawn scattered with a variety of fruit trees. Some overripe apples have fallen to the ground, enticing several of the plump hens who have free range in the garden. To my left is a large vegetable patch and the chicken coop where my mother collects fresh eggs every morning. Grapevines creep up and over the latticework above my head, creating a dappled shade, and hummingbirds flit around the birdfeeders that have been hung from the pillars (read more).
In late August of 2021, I called Rebecca Jim holding back tears. I had met Jim around 2013 when I was working with a coalition to raise awareness about tar sands extraction and to oppose the construction of the southern leg of the Keystone XL pipeline. Jim is the director of Local Environmental Action Demanded (LEAD), and she has devoted much of her life to bringing attention to the Tar Creek Superfund Site and other environmental justice issues in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. Jim’s work was inspiring and exciting to me, and from 2013 to the present, we maintained a relationship centered around our shared concern for environmental justice issues in Oklahoma. As I began my PhD program and envisioning my dissertation research project, I contacted Jim and asked her if there was some way my research could be useful to her and LEAD. She was excited about the possibility, and over time, we developed a collaborative research project focused on residents’ stories and experiences of water and work throughout processes of industrial development, environmental remediation, and ongoing environmental concerns around the Tar Creek Superfund Site. (read more)
Groundwater is among the world’s most important natural resources. It provides drinking water to rural and urban communities, supports agriculture and industry, sustains wetland and riparian ecosystems, and maintains the flow of rivers and streams. In many places, groundwater resources are susceptible to risks of overuse and contamination. Its sustainable management is increasingly critical; especially in climate-sensitive geographic areas such as islands and arid lands.
My main interest is in researching karst groundwater sustainability because aquifers storing groundwater in karst systems are commonly found throughout my home country, Jamaica, and other islands in the Caribbean. In Arizona, the major karst aquifer system is found in the north in the Coconino Plateau area; which includes the city of Flagstaff, and the Grand Canyon region. The physical characteristics of karst groundwater systems make them highly susceptible to pollution and climatic influences. Geologic features of karst landscapes, such as sinkholes, act as quick pathways for pollutants to be transported to the aquifer, given that there are little or no soil layers to filter pollutants en route to the aquifer. (read more)
In my year as an Environment & Society Fellow with CLIMAS, I learned just as much about the research process and collaborative research as I did about my actual research topic. I learned that things almost never go as planned or according to schedule, and whatever your original vision for your research was will probably change and evolve into something different – and probably better. (read more)
An abundance of water or the lack of it has always featured heavily in my life. I grew up in the tropical island of Jamaica which is known as the “Land of Wood and Water”. Although surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, as you traverse the island you will be hard pressed to travel 5 miles without encountering a stream or water feature. Water is intertwined into every aspect of social, economic and cultural life. As children, we regularly went to the beach and played in a stream adjacent to our family farm, oblivious of the connections to exposure to agrochemical runoff from the farm that provided my family’s livelihood. Religious groups perform rituals such as baptisms in water bodies across the island. Tourism, the main contributor to the national economy, is built around water resources as a key natural asset. (read more)
“How many liters of water do you use a day?” I asked the dozen students sitting around me. A couple of students threw out some guesses, positing that they used somewhere between 20 to 30 liters per day. That aligned with my own estimations: ten liters for bathing, two to three liters for drinking, ten for dishes and cleaning, maybe five for cooking. We were talking about water conservation in their small rural village in Central Zambia. One student raised his hand. “Madam, how much water do people use every day in America?” I had the number ready because I had looked it up the night before. “A family in the US uses about 300 gallons per day.” Shouts erupted around me. “300 gallons! But what are they using that for?” I remember laughing and thinking to myself, I'm teaching environmental conservation to the wrong people.
At the time, I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After my experience in Zambia, I moved back to the United States with the singular goal of working as an environmental educator. I landed a job with Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans, Louisiana, as their Citizen Science Program Coordinator. I designed and directed their citizen science program from scratch through engaging students and community members in local, regional, and national research projects. I taught them how to use specific protocols to contribute data for national and local research projects focused on biocontrol agents, phenology, invasive species, amphibian monitoring, water quality testing, and bird monitoring. (read more)
As a child, my first pull to northeastern Oklahoma was water – specifically, the promise of clear water and large lakes. In my father’s hometown, I played in creeks and swam in the same farm ponds that provided drinking water to cattle. There were nearby lakes that I found magical, but my father promised me that I just didn’t know good lakes. The ones near us were murky and muddy, he said, nothing like the large and clear lakes in northeastern Oklahoma. One summer, my siblings and I all piled in his truck and drove for what felt like hours and hours. When we finally arrived, my father pulled over on top of a hill overlooking the lake. Something was wrong. As far as we could see, dead fish scarred the water’s surface. My father told us we couldn’t swim. He suspected that chicken waste, dumped in the river that fed the lake, had killed the fish. But it could’ve been anything… We drove away disappointed. This is my first memory of both water in northeastern Oklahoma and consciously seeing the ill-effects of human industrial activity. (read more)
My CLIMAS fellowship project was geared towards building a web platform called “Regenerate Hub” that provides data visualization and collaborative tools to enable diverse stakeholders to take action on interconnected social, environmental, and infrastructural problems. I am a doctoral candidate in anthropology and I met my community partners for this project, Recycle Lebanon, through my preliminary dissertation research. This research was investigating how people were intervening in Lebanon’s greatest challenges through altering and repairing infrastructural systems such as waste management. Recycle Lebanon is a small Lebanese nonprofit organization that emerged in response to the garbage crisis in Lebanon that peaked in 2015. They began by designing campaigns to clean garbage from coastlines, waterways, and forests, a movement which grew to include establishing the first zero waste shop in the Middle East (the EcoSouk) and innovating ways to reuse waste such as cigarettes through creating the first cigarette recycling initiative in the country. (read more)
For the last twelve months, I have been on a rollercoaster of emotions; but, as my friends tell me, I am pretty much always on that rollercoaster of emotions, pandemic or not. So, as we near the one-year marker of social distancing in the U.S., I am reflecting on my turbulent feelings and experiences. I spent the majority of the pandemic 3,000 miles away from my family, oscillating between missing them, being scared for them living so close to New York City, and grateful I wasn’t cooped up alongside everyone in our small New Jersey apartment. In Tucson, I was able to keep working, keep getting paid, keep spending time outside, and keep my basic needs met. This came with a lot of guilt as I heard from friends and acquaintances all the struggles they faced with unemployment, food insecurity, immigration, being an essential worker, getting sick with COVID-19, and more.
I think I am still sitting in that guilt, but I also know I have a responsibility to fighting the systems that cause and exacerbate the hardships we are facing. Capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism undercut almost every choice we make, and we have to be vigilantly anti-racist, anti-capitalist, decolonial, etc. if we ever hope to see a brighter future. This year I learned and engaged with organizing and direct action in a significant way for the first time since undergrad. I was a part of powerful gatherings for Black lives, rallied against police brutality, saw local progressive candidates for office I helped campaign for win their elections, redistributed some of my wealth via mutual aid, and tried to give myself emotional space to process instead of running away from my thoughts. I know it was not enough and that I could always do more, but I think it is important to recognize the small triumphs in the fight for liberation.
In this spirit, food has grounded me. Even though my grand and luscious raised garden bed dreams never came to fruition (not for lack of trying…), I took solace and rejuvenation in the form of cooking, sharing photos of meals in WhatsApp chats, calling distant family members for recipes, and using the kitchen as a space to slow down and intentionally reflect on the world. With all of this in mind, I present a summary of my work with the CLIMAS fellowship program. (read more)