Environmental Challenge

This is my first time ever using a blog, and I’ve never been tempted to do so before, but after the amazing week with all of you, I suppose this is one way (assuming you check the blog!) to continue sharing our insights, our struggles – our stories. 

When my group agreed to do our project on bottled water, I thought, “Yeah, well, that’s important, but can’t we do something bigger?  Can’t we push ourselves into unknown and uncomfortable territory in the spirit of gaining new insights through collaborative brainstorming?”  

Well, as usual, I do not have everything figured out, and I am continually seeing the benefits of choosing this topic.  The most direct and specific benefit is a synchronistic moment I had this morning with my boss, who asked me, “Joanna, do you know anything about plastic water bottles, the different kinds out there, their toxicity, and the alternatives?” 

“Well, Mr. Davies, as a matter of fact, I do.  I just happened to be part of a presentation on this topic not even a week ago.”  My recent knowledge and experience gave me the confidence to tell him right away that the bottles we were selling in our gift shop are not safe for re-use.  He asked me if I could send him a report on what’s out there and what the safe alternatives are.  Amazing.  I did that, and now we’re in a position to rid PET and BPA bottles completely.  Amazing.  Not only that, but I had zero difficulty in convincing him to use tap water (with a carbon filter if one so desires) at our workshops and other events.  Wow.  I just can’t believe it.  Amazing. 

I know I spent much of the workshop complaining about Arkansas and my job.  I don’t know if this is where I’ll be in the long-term, but I do know that today was a good day – an unexpectedly good day, and this I am so grateful for and humbled by.  I hope others continue sharing their stories.  We have so much to learn from each other.  Thank you.


Making life changes to reflect your commitment to the environment is a process, much like Nalini’s process of scaling the trees.  It takes a moment to get comfortable, figuring out the support system. Can you trust it?  Will the strength of the rope support you?  What exactly is keeping me from falling to my death?  You have guides around you, offering good advice.  Some of the advice sinks in while other content fails to enter your mind.  Your brain can process only so much.  Remember to breathe!  You turn over to the old ways and slide into your comfort zone – doing the things you’ve always done.  Slowly though, enough information sinks in.  You start moving forward.  You gain confidence.  It takes effort, strength and dedication, but you see your progress.  You get some rope burns, but you learn as you go.  The coaching continues from around you and you absorb more and more.  Then you reach a high point, and your perspective begins to change.  You see things differently.  The light on the leaves glows differently.  The way the birds land on a branch, more graceful than you realized when you were below.  The sounds are different too.  There is less distraction and more calmness.  Then you’re ready for the next leg of your journey…

Here’s a photo of our friend Uwe rising into the canopy.  Special thanks to Nalini for making this experience possible.  See you in the treetops…

Uwe going up

Uwe going up

Last night marked the launch of our first annual Education for a Changing Climate workshop.  After a reception sponsored by the Orion Society, workshop faculty member Nalini Nadkarni issued an “environmental challenge” for all participants.  Over the course of the workshop week, we’ll be using the following mode for scientific inquiry to think about environmental issues and how we can bring them to the classroom:

For the sake of this challenge,participants in our workshop have been placed into small groups.  Each group will identify an environmental problem from local litter to melting ice caps.  They’ll then consider solutions; perhaps most importantly, they will also discuss ways to convey that information to a given audience and inspire action.  On Friday night, each group will present their findings.  I can’t wait.

When planning the workshop, program faculty and administrators thought a lot about this system and its applications.  It seems to me the basic format could be applied to any number of situations, from a college classroom to a recycling center board of directors.  As a teacher of writing, I find myself wondering how this framework might be used in a course like college composition.  Certainly, it would make the experience more real and more, well, experiential.  I wonder if you all have ideas about how we might apply the framework to liberal arts classes and projects?