Environmental Justice Alternative Spring Break: West Virginia

 

People may wonder what we can possibly do over a one week service trip to rural Appalachia during our spring break. In designing the Environmental Justice ASB to West Virginia, we focused explicitly on learning about these issues, giving students the knowledge to help implement solutions to solve these problems. Sure, we got our hands dirty and helped out with some projects at the Morris Creek Watershed Associates, our hosts for the week. But more importantly, we got to engage with community members whose lives are impacted by environmental justice issues every day. One day we spoke to mechanics who produce machine parts for the coal industry...the next we spoke to a stream ecologist who works to assess the impacts of mining on stream ecosystems. We even had the chance to hear the perspective of a manager of a mountaintop removal mining venture near the community where we were staying. That's what's valuable about this trip in my mind- putting a human face and a story to the issues that we can only read about in classrooms. Often the complexity of all of these perspectives becomes overwhelming to the trip's participants, but in my mind that's an excellent outcome. If we reach the point where we become stumped by complexity, we can start to brainstorm solutions for our national energy infrastructure that better engage a variety of stakeholders (many of whom we can better relate to after attending the trip!). This is also why we travel to Washington, D.C. during the trip--to empower the trip's participants to become involved with sustainability solutions for the issues that we've encountered on the trip. We get to meet with Dartmouth alums--from congresswomen to entrepreneurs--and hear about how they work towards creative sustainability solutions. Ideally, the "service" part of our trip comes along when we begin to incorporate the social and environmental injustices we have witnessed in West Virginia into our career paths and major life choices. I personally feel enormously grateful for the opportunity to be introduced to the social and environmental impacts of our energy use--and plan to take this experience with me far beyond graduation.

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