My Path Forward for a Sustainable Future

Image © Klein Lewis Productions

Image © Klein Lewis Productions

Since leaving St. Edward’s University to continue my MSEM degree (Master’s in Environmental Management and Sustainable Development) I’ve had a wealth of incredible opportunities. The second half of my degree was finished at L’Université Catholique de l’Ouest (UCO) in Angers, France. Some of the classes I enjoyed most were Urban Ecology/Sustainable Cities and an Environmental Ethics class. In our Environmental Ethics class my eyes were opened to the growing environmental injustices present today within a gender related context.  In many countries women are vulnerable to environmental injustices and inequalities simply because of their roles at home or because they make lower wages than men. In this class we spoke about Naomi Klein's book This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. Climate. After this class, my colleagues and I were inspired to form an eco-book club to read the book together and discuss topics throughout the book.

In our urban ecology class we learned about the various environmental initiatives cities around Europe are implementing. We took a trip to Freiburg, Germany in this class with the French students at UCO in our same master’s program. In Freiburg, we learned about this amazing grassroots movement and energy revolution that started with the people of Freiburg. Local farmers and students fought back the government’s plans of building a nuclear reactor in Freiburg.  The Germans protested for nearly ten years forcing the government to give up on their plans. The people not only won that battle, but the city of Freiburg became an exemplary Solar City. Its Solar Settlement designed by local architect Rolf Disch, which we visited with our class, includes 50 houses that all produce four times the energy than they consume! We had the opportunity to go into a local resident’s home in the Solar Settlement as she described to us their clean energy lifestyle. The people of Freiburg fought so hard against nuclear energy and for alternative clean energies that now the power has shifted into the hands of the people and local cooperatives. With over 400,000 jobs created from clean energy, Germany is a leading example, a pioneer of this energy transformation they call energiewende.

Being a student in Angers only an hour and half away from Paris during the COP21 events in December, gave my colleague, Pamela Millan, and I the opportunity to attend with the Sylvia Earle Alliance. We worked with Charlotte Vick and underwater filmmaker Jon Slayer to maintain crucial conversations on the importance of our ocean through interviews for Oceans Inc., social media, and attending talks and events. One such event we particularly enjoyed was We Are the Frontline: for the Coalition of Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC). Where President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, explained the reality his nation and other low lying islands are facing today with rising sea levels consuming their very homes.

The Sylvia Earle Alliance and Alasdair Harris from Blue Ventures

After finishing classes at UCO, we had to complete an internship and present our thesis to finish our master’s. I found my internship with Italian marine biologist Mariasole Bianco, who I met at COP21. Mariasole founded an organization in Italy called Worldrise focusing on educational projects for ocean conservation. I had a few months in Angers before my internship started so I decided to teach English as a substitute teacher at College Jean Mermoz (middle school) and Lycée Jean Renoir (high school) in Angers. For me, this was an amazing experience as I had never been a substitute English teacher before. Both schools told me the professors would be out for the next month and to feel free to make up my own lessons and activities. Thrilled with the flexibility, I taught the students about climate change and global warming and made up conversational activities involving our current climate crisis and what we can do to find solutions. It’s always empowering to work with students, their fearless drive and motivation is contagious.

I then headed to Italy to start my internship with Worldrise. Mariasole Bianco is an Italian Environmental Scientist and expert in Marine Conservation and management of Marine Protected Areas (MPA). She founded Worldrise in 2013 to promote grassroots marine conservation projects in Italy providing a platform for local communities and university students to develop environmental educational programs and sustainable development projects. For my thesis, I decided I would study education and communication investments in marine conservation to improve community knowledge and behavior. I carried out surveys within each community I worked in to estimate the community’s knowledge and behavior after tourists, scuba divers, and schools participated in each project.

Worldrise is made up of three different projects: #Batti5, Full Immersion Cinque Terre, and Il Golfo dei Delfini. #Batti5 was held in Viareggio, a seaside city along the Tuscan coast. This project was developed to stimulate children’s creativity and encourage them to reconnect with nature. The first phase is an educational lesson at various elementary schools teaching the kids about the dangers of marine plastic pollution. The second phase is a beach clean-up with the kids where they have to collect as much as plastic as they can along their local beaches. The third phase is an art lesson where kids fill out a poster board of a marine mammal with the collected pieces of plastic found along the coast. The poster board is then hung up in front of their beaches as a lesson to the community.

I then moved to the crystal blue waters of Golfo Aranci, Sardegna to work on the Golfo dei Delfini project. This project focuses on educating tourists and tour operators on the importance of eco­‐tourism using dolphin-watching excursions in Golfo Aranci as a prime example. The project intends to promote and value the natural resources within the area, which can provide substantial benefits to the local community. As an intern I helped give the tours in various languages, worked at the dive shop, and gained dive certificates to advance my diving skills.

For the final project I moved to Levanto, a beautiful coastal town along the Ligurian Sea just north of the famous Cinque Terre villages. The Full Immersion Project promotes the value and importance of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). Here I helped educate divers with a short briefing before their dive on the importance of diving with caution in an MPA and the importance of the biological diversity they may find along their dive.

After finishing with my master’s and returning back to the states, I continued my freelance work as a Communications Consultant for the Rachel Carson Council (RCC), an organization out of Maryland focused on promoting Rachel Carson’s ecological ethic that combines scientific concern and value for all forms of life. I met Dr. Robert Musil, President of the Rachel Carson Council, when he came to speak at St. Edward’s in 2014 on Rachel Carson: Environment Science and Faith. I introduced myself and since then I began freelancing for the RCC from France and then Atlanta. I managed the RCC communication strategy and wrote environmental documentary reviews for the monthly campus dispatch.

While in Atlanta I also found a temporary internship working remotely with the Global Gender Office of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN GGO) supporting several different projects related to climate change and gender issues. One of the main projects I had the opportunity to work on was the background research and analysis for a national Climate Change Gender Action Plan (ccGAP) for the Dominican Republic. This project, led by Lorena Aguilar, Global Senior Gender Adviser and head of the IUCN GGO, gave me the chance to learn how to help prepare such a cross-sectoral planning document that would turn into a national policy. Here again, I was exposed to the many gender related issues women endure especially in third world countries. This document helps developing countries identify priority gender considerations across sectors, which will be or are being affected by climate change. A ccGAP also positions women and women’s organizations as agents of change and vital partners toward sustainability and resilience at all levels.

Earth Charter logo

Earth Charter logo

I have now recently been hired as the Youth Projects Coordinator for the Earth Charter International at the University for Peace in Ciudad Colón, Costa Rica. UPEACE is a United Nations mandated university established in 1980 for higher education in Peace and Conflict master’s and doctoral degrees. The UN General Assembly in collaboration with the Government of Costa Rica established an international commission to build the university here in a country that abolished its army in 1948, whose former President Oscar Arias Sánchez was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, and one that continues to exemplify strong efforts for environmental conservation.

The Earth Charter is an ethical framework created over a decade long process and was launched in the year 2000 in a ceremony at the Peace Palace in the Hague. The mission of the Earth Charter Initiative is to create a just, sustainable, and peaceful global society inspiring people from all backgrounds a new sense of global interdependence and shared responsibility for the well-being of humanity, all forms of life on earth, and future generations. It is a shared vision of hope and a call to action.

 My main goal with the Earth Charter is to motivate, guide, and engage young people to create a more just, sustainable and peaceful world. I will coordinate the Earth Charter Young Leaders programme, facilitate online training programs, develop workshops and webinars related to youth leadership, sustainable development, and global ethics, maintain communication between affiliates and partners, and produce digital media to promote and develop the Earth Charter principles.

I’ve just started my job last week and I’m excited to start my new adventure in the country I grew up visiting as my second home while promoting a more peaceful and sustainable world using the skills and knowledge I’ve gained from studying at SEU and UCO!