Sunday, April 3, 2011

The Blue Green Alliance Hosts the Good Jobs, Green Jobs National Conference

In early February, the Blue Green Alliance sponsored the Good Jobs Green Jobs national conference in Washington DC. Through some stroke of luck, the Sierra Club ended up giving me a full scholarship to attend the event. On February 9, I flew to DC along with two other students, Tom Lang and Caitlin Piserchia, to take part in two days of workshops and speakers and a day of lobbying ot our representatives on Capital Hill. After figuring out how to get to our hotel on the Metro, we arrived at the Marriot Wardman, which was probably as big as the entirety of the Lewis and Clark College.

A contradiction immediately came to mind as I spent more time at the hotel, going to workshops and being treated to served dinners and glass elevators. The conference seemed to exemplify consumerism at its best. The Hotel was expensive, the food was meaty, and just about everyone had to fly to reach the conference. Is this modern day environmentalism? Do environmentalists get to discuss options and express grievances while simultaneously participating in the system of consumerism that is the root of so many problems? I couldn’t help but feel hypocritical. I definitely was not in Portland anymore. Where were the composting and local food options? Where was the simplicity of Tryon Life Farm?

I realized that the kind of environmentalism that I was experiencing was born of brutal political engagement. One speaker who was representing the EPA referred to the political battle over coal currently waging in West Virginia as a “war with the enemies.” I realized that in circumstances when people’s livelihoods and values clash with forces like the coal industry, the kind of inclusive environmentalism practiced at Tryon Life Farm or even Portland at large is not possible. The Blue Green Alliance ( is a branch of the Sierra Club that has a partnership with Steel Worker Unions to fight for environmental justice and safe conditions in the workplace. I met a woman from South Carolina who had been diagnosed with brain cancer after being exposed to a chlorine gas repeatedly in the workplace. She was at the conference to fight for her right to work in a healthy and safe environment; she was there because in a way, she had to be, unlike myself.

I used to have the vague opinion that the Sierra Club was just the coffee table book of environmentalism, or that all they did was host their fancy conferences and never address the heart of environmental issues. I have realized that just because they don’t focus as much on the local issues, they are the ones funding and pushing for political policies that will make environmentalism effective on a national and ultimately global scale. However, finding a balance between National Environmental Conferences at the Marriot Wardman Hotel and isolated community action on a local scale is the key to making any lasting environmental impacts.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Stay Involved

Stay involved. If you want to go back to school or find a job in your field of interest you have to stay involved. For me, the greatest contrast between college and the outside world is the level of passion and engagement. At Lewis and Clark I felt almost effortlessly connected to environmental issues; Proctor or Podobnik would raise concerns about the latest environmental legislation and friends in the library would debate land use and conservation strategies. Whether through these avenues or through my own research, this comprehensive knowledge allowed me to speak confidently to colleagues, employers, and friends. Once you graduate, it is well worth the extra effort in order to stay engaged with what you love.

As I unfortunately came to realize, my perfect, ideal job is hard to get. Whether secretary or barista, the opportunity for a lively debate over name-your-environmental-issue-of-choice quickly diminishes once you leave the Lewis and Clark campus. I feel fortunate to have a few friends with whom I can ramble away about the environmental world; we exchange newspaper articles, nonprofit job openings, and graduate school research ideas. But on a day-to-day basis I find it difficult to remain connected to the field I care so much about. Engagement in the environmental community is no longer a given.

Staying involved became my life-link to keeping my mind astute and my future opportunities open. It’s fine if your job isn’t in your desired field, but work to stay engaged with what you are passionate about. Over the course of a year I interned for two environmental nonprofits. In the first, I worked on local land-use policy, and while policy work is not my favorite, I felt joined to something bigger. The second internship, a local collaborative conservation effort, threw me into meetings with key local players. Taking meeting notes was less than glamorous, but I got to listen in on the big ideas. Both of these internships were only a couple days a week, but it was enough to make the difference. I made connections, expanded my network, got my name out there, but most importantly, I kept my mind sharp.

Liberal arts education, and the environmental studies major in particular, teach you the importance of connecting interdisciplinary ideas. The ecological questions you might ask with Dr. B. [Dr. Bierzychudek] are contextualized by the framework built in environmental sociology, economics, or the core ENVS classes. Even once the details are forgotten, what remains is the value of multiple perspectives, that various drivers, pressures, states, impacts, and responses exist and should be examined.

From summer positions, internships, and a graduate class I have gained the confidence and context to discuss current environmental issues with future employers and potential graduate school advisors. Because I understand a diverse array of environmental issues, I am able to apply to more positions at more organizations. During interviews, I stress that I have a skill set that allows me to handle the immediate job opening, but also act as a team player within the organization and with outside agencies. When I spoke to potential forest ecology advisors in the University of Washington’s graduate program I was passionate, up to date on local issues, and able to convey my diverse knowledge base. Lewis and Clark’s excellent biology program provided the concrete skills I needed, the ENVS program built my foundation of broad knowledge, but my outside involvement demonstrated my passion for and commitment to the field. Or so I hope.