Since early December, a self-selected group of BCL9 students spent time revising and editing a piece of their writing for publication. They were invited to identify an issue or idea that we’ve explored during the semester, and to dig deeper. Each writer took a different approach, and each piece offers a window into their thinking and learning.
The following three pieces are written by Scout, Kai, and Vivian, each of whom explore concepts of place and sustainability.
The city of Burlington’s Parks and Recreations department announced in 2020 that they were replacing the annuals in many of the city’s landscape beds with perennials. The goal was to increase sustainability both environmentally and economically. The change will reduce the significant carbon emissions of starting new plants every year and maintaining them in environments they are not native to. The change to perennials also “creates this oasis both for pollinators but also for the things that feed off the caterpillars […] like our native birds.” Additionally, the city saves five to seven thousand dollars annually by not having to buy new plants every year or spend as much on fuel for transportation and watering. The use of plastics used for planters is also eliminated after the initial planting.
It made me wonder why the city took so long to make this change. It seems like such an obvious choice to make. Digging into it deeper, I found Burlington’s old Urban Forestry Master Plan from 2002. In the summary, it states that the value of urban forests are “increased resale values, […] decreased heating and cooling costs, reduction of air pollution, and control of erosion.” along with other benefits such as “beauty that inspires us, recreation that refreshes us, and contact with nature that lifts our spirits.” Interestingly, there’s no mention of the effect it will have on the wildlife in Burlington. There’s no mention of pollinators, wildlife corridors, insects, birds, or any part of the urban ecosystem. It demonstrates how little we understood urban ecosystems compared to now.
This way of thinking in terms of ecosystems feels normal to me. We kept a journal for class and were occasionally asked to write reflections on your journal entry. Early in the semester, I wrote the following journal reflection:
“On our walk we stopped by a sidewalk that was clearly overgrown; butterflies flitted around the different flowers and grasses leaned into the sidewalk taking up space…I look at this sidewalk with the plants and butterflies and see an ecosystem untouched by humans, thriving.”
In the time since I wrote this reflection, I have gained much more insight into Burlington’s stance on the city’s green spaces.
While I appreciate the progress the city has made, there is still much room for improvement. One of the most obvious steps we can take is to directly include residents and business owners into our sustainability actions. An example of this is Burlington’s tree inventory map. I noticed that the city isn’t counting trees on private property. This means they aren’t accounting for the large number of trees in many areas of Burlington. This is especially important when they talk about the “one goal specifically relating to urban forestry: plant a total of 588 trees every year while maintaining the existing tree canopy.” Incentives could be offered to businesses and homeowners to be part of these efforts. We should be counting the trees on private land. The city should also encourage private landowners to plant trees and convert yards and lawns into sustainable green spaces that benefit the urban ecosystem. Even without incentives I believe many would participate. After all, everyone is responsible for the health of our city.– Scout
Robin Wall Kimmerer is a botanist and writer who has written extensively about the relationship between humans and the natural world. In a radio interview, she explores the idea of “deep truths,” or fundamental principles that are inherent in nature, and how our perception of these truths can affect our actions and interactions with the world around us.
One of the key deep truths that Kimmerer discusses is the interconnectedness of all things. She writes about how everything in the natural world is interconnected and interdependent, from the smallest microbe to the largest mammal. She argues that this interconnectedness is a fundamental principle of the natural world and that it is essential for humans to recognize and respect this truth in order to live in harmony with the earth. Kimmerer believes that nature is not just a collection of objects, but a web of relationships between living beings and their environment. She argues that humans have a tendency to view nature as something separate from ourselves and that this perception is damaging to both the natural world and human well-being.
Kimmerer also emphasizes the importance of indigenous knowledge and ways of knowing. Indigenous peoples have long had a deep understanding of their natural surroundings, and this knowledge can provide valuable insights into how to live in harmony with the natural world. Another deep truth that Kimmerer explores is the idea of reciprocity or the idea that our actions have consequences and that we must be accountable for the impact we have on the world around us. She argues that humans have a responsibility to give back to the earth, not just to take from it and that we must consider the long-term effects of our actions on the natural world.
Kimmerer also discusses the role of human perception in our understanding and relationship with the natural world. She argues that our perception is shaped by our cultural and societal conditioning and that this can sometimes lead us to see the world in ways that are disconnected from the deep truths of nature. For example, she writes about how Western scientific approaches often focus on analyzing and dissecting the natural world, rather than experiencing and connecting with it. She says that one example of this is naming plants and animals rather than describing them and that this can take away from their identity. She says the way we perceive nature has consequences for how we treat it. If we see nature as an inanimate collection of objects, we are more likely to exploit it for our own purposes without considering the long-term effects of our actions. However, if we view nature as a web of relationships, we are more likely to act in ways that support and nourish these relationships, rather than destroy them.
In order to better understand and connect with the natural world, Kimmerer suggests that we need to shift our perception and approach. She advocates for a more holistic, Indigenous way of knowing that incorporates traditional knowledge and practices, as well as a deep respect for the interconnectedness and reciprocity of all things. By embracing these deep truths and shifting our perception, we can better understand and appreciate the natural world, and work to live in harmony with it.– Kai
Colette Pichon-Battle grew up in Southern Louisiana, walking through the bayous and crossing bridges to get to Church every Sunday. She belongs to the Creole people, a group of free Black people dating back centuries, before the United States was even the name of this country. Her people have a special connection with land, and know it better than anyone. This is why her grandfather strategically built their home on high ground but nobody could’ve predicted the devastation that came with Hurricane Katrina. In an On Being interview, she says “my entire community went 12 feet underwater…we lost everything.” Her culture without her land is in danger of fading out of existence. “That land, for people like me, was tied to our freedom.” But Battle refuses to let that happen.
Battle grew up proud of her Creole culture and the history that came with it. Her connection to the land and its people was intense. Since her people had been on the land for centuries, they knew how to handle hurricanes. She would gather with her big Catholic family and eat her aunties soup while knowing that it’s just another storm, a normal occurrence. This changed when Hurricane Katrina hit. While still dealing with the grief that came with the destruction, she came home to help her community get back on their feet. They had funded her education, chipping in for tuition and books, so Battle felt like she needed to give back. “I’m theirs, you know, and so when I came home, it was: someone that we have helped to become educated can help us with what we’re going through right now.” Guided by her faith, she will continue to fight for her people and ensure that they will continue on for generations.
Battle as an Indigenous Black woman knows about the struggles of oppression. While she cares about the planet, her main focus is on environmental justice, and how minority groups are disproportionately affected by climate disasters. “This is not about greenhouse gas reduction. This is about do we value people equally?” She blames American culture for our obsession with consumption, and challenges us to face our privilege to overcome ignorance. She emphasizes to realize that the ones affording ‘comfort consume’ are actually causing the biggest problems for our lowest income people. She also brings up that climate disaster relief is targeted for middle-class taxpayers and believes that “it is the structures that we are living in that is the problem.” We have to deconstruct our government system to achieve true equality. Another way the government has limited the lower class is by allowing the South’s education system to fall to low levels. Many don’t understand the legal contracts they’re signing, and are walking into a well-hidden trap. Battle believes that the justice found in climate action will greatly alter the future.
Battle gets into how the United States is preventing global conversation revolving around climate change, and to acknowledge our blame would have a huge effect on the future of the planet. Right now, all of us as United States citizens have the power to change the world, as our influence can change everything. She also sees power in young people. “I am hopeful that the next generation, that has a lot of challenges, also has enough creativity to get out of it” She also mentions that she will be in on the fight with them, helping with the burden of a bleak future. But where she sees the most power is in love. Everyone loves something and we have to make connections, even if opinions vastly differ. “Let’s take the time to connect through love, and stick with each other as we practice our own liberation.” We’re in this together, and our values will push us towards motivation to make the world better for not just the planet, but for the people as well.
Battle has dealt with the inescapable loss of her home by making a true impact on the world. “We’ve got to change these laws. We’ve got to change the society.” She visited the White House during the Obama administration, and got clarity about how the aid and relief programs for natural disasters are designed for the middle class, and not the most in need. Her goal is to change that. Despite the frustrating paperwork, and systemic oppression, she’s determined to tear down the wall that only benefits a certain demographic, and bring justice for all. She sees this change in our youth, the creative minds ready for the challenge, and intends to uplift them along the way. With love, faith and joy, the world can, and is ready for change.– Vivian
Images: NPR, Vermont Public, and Sea Floor to Forest Floor