Why Every Environmentalist Should Study Abroad

This article originally appeared at http://www.blog.greenlinktufts.com.

As you look over GreenLink, this new website with a unique mix of offerings, you may wonder why we have built a site with a major section that focuses on study abroad programs related to the environment. Why study the environment abroad? It’s a good question.

Most students who study abroad find that it enriches their young lives. It introduces them to new sights, sounds, tastes, smells and ideas, which give rise to new interests and ambitions. It teaches them about the diversity of the world, makes them more comfortable around people unlike themselves and gives them a new perspective on their own society. It literally makes the world a bigger place for the student and makes humanity a vast, multifarious community.

Rajasthan, India

For an environmentalist, studying abroad has this impact, but with the added benefit of a more complete sense of environmentalism itself.

Supporting the environment on an international, global scale is completely different from joining the environmental movement in the United States. Here it’s too easy for environmentalism to become centered around symbolic goals like protecting trees and polar bears or fighting big oil or around simple changes like using a Nalgene or switching to fluorescent light bulbs. In contrast, around the world, especially in developing countries, the motives beneath the movement are very different, and they are more urgent. In many places, people feel the effects of their environmental challenges on a daily basis in an unavoidable way. In these localities it’s about health and basic standard of living. On a global scale, it’s about fighting corruption in government, it’s about cooperative resource management, it’s about survival and adaptation and it’s about ethics and social justice.

As international negotiations over climate change – like the COP17 conference beginning in South Africa today – continue to flounder, it becomes increasingly clear that the international initiatives required to protect our shared future cannot succeed without the US adopting domestic policies that will better support efforts at the UN. For the US to pass the legislation that would protect its own population and its neighbors around the globe, it needs citizen demand, and before that political will can be mustered, Americans must better understand their country’s place in the world.

By studying abroad, you become a globally-minded citizen, and you enable yourself to teach those around you how they can contribute to the global environmental movement.

Check back often to the World section of Rising Green and read more stories from students who have studied the environment abroad. If you have learned about the environment while traveling abroad and would like to share your story with us, please submit an article under 500 words to adrian@greenlinktufts.com.

Study Abroad → Serve the Planet

Read more articles like this at http://www.blog.greenlinktufts.com

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Perspicacity: 2011 in Review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2011 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2011. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

GreenLink: The New Environmental Movement

This post originally appeared at blog.greenlinktufts.com. Presented by the GreenLink team.

Welcome to the new environmental movement.

This blog represents the birth of GreenLink, a force that will change the way people get involved in the environmental movement. What is GreenLink? At its heart, GreenLink aims to connect people with enriching opportunities that will change their perspective of the world and help them discover their place in it.

GreenLink was conceived by Adrian Dahlin, a Tufts University student who got to study abroad twice and fulfill two internships at environmental NGOs before graduating from college. These programs left him with a desire to help other people find similar opportunities, so he built a team, and GreenLink was born.

Like you, we care deeply about our natural environment. We also care about the connection between humanity and its environment, and we know that this relationship is struggling. We see an opportunity, however, and this is where GreenLink comes in. GreenLink aims to accelerate change by educating citizens and equipping them with the power to make a difference. We’re the bridge-builder.

We want to help you study abroad, so that you can learn about other cultures and gain a global, holistic understanding of our environmental challenges. We want to connect you with an internship, so that you can develop your talents and find the kind of work that inspires and invigorates you. We want to help you find a job, so that you can use what you’ve learned to build a career within the green sector and improve our world.

We will help you become a globally-conscious green-collar citizen.

Want to change the world? We know where you can have an impact and find the partners and mentors you’ll need. Regardless of your interests, skills, degree or experience, the environmental sector has need of you. Let us help you find your place.

Visit this blog often for updates about the development of GreenLink. In addition to company news, we’ll publish travel stories, career advice, industry news and other articles from guest writers. If you’d like to write for us, email adrian@greenlinktufts.com.

Study Abroad → Intern → Get a Job        →        Serve the Planet

A Movement With Legs

By Amber Dahlin

The movement of many voices, also known as Occupy Wall Street, has just as many commentators—bloggers, bankers and barbers alike. Still, few seem to know what it’s really about. Let’s begin with some recent history in an attempt to understand what gave rise to this movement and what it hopes to accomplish.

Occupy’s inspiration comes largely from the protests in Cairo beginning on January 25, 2011, and the more recent Spanish “Acampada” (camp-in). Egypt’s revolution was excited by the Tunisian uprising that started in December 2010 against the corrupted regime of former president Ben Ali, who had ruled for over two decades. On January 25, Egyptians took to Cairo’s central Tahrir Square to demonstrate against Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for almost thirty years. In Madrid, what began on Sunday, May 15 as a march in protest of Europe’s highest unemployment rate of 21% turned into a camp-in at a square in the middle of the city.

Occupy Wall Street officially began in British Columbia, Canada, with a blog posted on July 13 by Adbusters, a network of self-proclaimed “culture jammers and creatives.” The post begins, “#OCCUPYWALLSTREET: Are you ready for a Tahrir moment? On September 17, flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades, and occupy Wall Street.” And that is just what an estimated 5000 people did, amassed with help from a group called “US Day of Rage” which calls for free and fair elections, as well as the “hacktivist” network known as “Anonymous.”

These original occupiers were soon followed by groups in Chicago and San Francisco, and then Boston, Saint Louis, and Los Angeles. Since then, groups have sprung up in solidarity in hundreds of cities and towns in the US and around the world. Updates from many of these are posted on occupytogether.org. Students show their solidarity at occupycolleges.org.

While many of these groups have withstood arrests and police violence, they’ve largely remained peaceful, and have been democratically organized from day one. Each occupation holds regular “General Assembly” (GA) meetings, in which all decisions are made by consensus, giving everyone present the power to block a decision if they feel it’s discordant with the community’s values or otherwise inappropriate.

A few weeks ago, some friends and I spent a Saturday night in Kiener Plaza with Occupy Saint Louis. I was surprised at how many tents there were—one whole side of the plaza was packed with them—and from the get-go the scene manifested a sense of community. Signs posted around the plaza discouraged drugs and alcohol and a simple breakfast menu was ready for morning in the food tent.

On Sunday we got to participate in one of the twice-daily GA meetings. People presented various proposals—from marking people’s hands when they’ve gotten a plate of food to adopting a statement against the Bush-era tax cuts. Each time, healthy discussion ensued, and each time, either consensus was reached or the presenter agreed to rework or otherwise rescind her or his proposal. Find more about consensus under “Resources” at occupystl.org.

The occupiers didn’t separate between those that were actually living there and those who were just visiting or who only came during the day. In fact, a proposal for more permanent community members to wear identifying pins was diverted. Truly anyone can be part of the occupy community.

Many occupations hold teach-ins, welcoming speakers from every walk of life to share their wisdom and ideas. Occupy Boston recently heard speeches from MIT Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky and attorney, author and activist Van Jones, among others.

A “people’s microphone” is often employed to conduct meetings or spread the messages of those who wish to share. The speaker shares thoughts in small segments, which the immediate audience then echoes, followed, if the crowd is big enough, by those beyond them, and so on. Thus, not only is a sound system unnecessary, but people are invited to really imbibe each other’s messages and help make each other’s voices heard.

Music and other arts play a big role in New York’s Zucotti park and other occupied spaces. Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello recently won a special award from MTV for his performance at Occupy Wall Street.

As temperatures plummet in many occupied cities, people are wondering how long the assemblies will last. But the occupiers seem determined to overwinter, using emergency funds and accepting donations for warm clothing and blankets.

More than a protest—more than a movement, even—“Occupy” is a wake-up call. Citizens are realizing that their government is not delivering and that it represents special interests, not its people. They’re realizing that bigger issues surround and underlie the rising unemployment rate and soaring executive salaries, issues beyond political parties.

The Christian Science Monitor’s October 31 cover story explains that the Spanish Acampada was about more than just jobs. It was about “what it means to be human; what values and truths to accept; how people should be treated; how democracy should work; the role of free markets, money, the social contract, community,” writes Robert Marquand. He goes on to quote the Acampada’s informational flier: “‘We are here to claim dignity … [and] a new society that gives more priority to life than economic interest.’”

Although Occupy’s original target was corporate greed rather than simply high unemployment, the movement has a similar subtext: the 99% wants life to be valued over political and economic interests. People want dignity as participants in a democracy that seems to be getting progressively less democratic, and they want to see more dignity in and among those who are letting that happen.

Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo explains that we need this “groundswell movement” because the people in power who can make the necessary changes don’t want the change.

A New York Times Op-ed column by Ban Ki-Moon points to an important undercurrent: “In these difficult times, the biggest challenge facing governments is not a deficit of resources; it is a deficit of trust. People are losing faith in leaders and public institutions to do the right thing. … The leaders of the world’s largest economies have an historic opportunity—and an historic responsibility—to reduce the trust deficit.”

In this case, reducing that trust deficit means giving the voice that’s been handed over to corporations back to the people.

Thomas Quiggin, a Senior Research Fellow at the Canadian Centre of Intelligence and Security Studies, explained that the central banking system is keeping more open-minded tabs on the movement than the corporate banks whose CEO salaries and million-dollar bailouts are just what the 99% are protesting. It is the central bank’s responsibility to maintain the economy. The middle class drives the economy, and when, in our case, much of the middle class is foreclosed on and jobless, something must be done.

Keep an eye on this movement as time goes on, if not a foot in it. As Quiggin said, “It is a movement with legs.”

Never before have we seen the kinds of protests and revolutions that have evolved around the world in the past year, largely energized by younger generations. Thanks to the organizational potential of various social media networks, the global community is more connected than ever before. Occupy signifies American’s engagement in a worldwide call for justice.

This is a guest post by Amber Dahlin, my sister. She’s a senior at Principia College majoring in Environmental Studies.

My Message for #Occupy

I have a message for those participating in the Occupy movement and those that have invested some hope in it: you cannot do this alone. Whatever it is you want to achieve – and in truth your movement includes many people with many motives and many ideas – you cannot achieve it alone. The difficult, perhaps cynical truth is that the thousands or millions of Occupiers you assemble in city centers around the country will not be the ones who make real change happen. Not alone.

You will never accomplish anything unless you have the ability to work with people unlike yourself. You will need friends and partners. You will need politicians who represent you, writers who will express your message, businesspeople who will respect you and most of all, regular citizens. You may accomplish something noteworthy if you successfully spark a democratic engagement between citizens – but only if this engagement goes beyond the tent communities in America’s financial districts.

At Occupy Boston on Saturday night, October 22, Noam Chomsky whispered out over a reverent crowd. As his audience sat or stood with ears perked and eyes squinting, he instructed them that changemakers go out into the country, interact with people and work to understand them. I hope the Occupiers in Boston and beyond heard his message. If not, they will remain a fringe movement that serves only as an outlet for the frustrations of an imperfect society.

Let’s share a quick reality check: every society in the past, present and future of mankind was, is and will be imperfect. Americans should be grateful that they have the power to improve their society. Furthermore, they should embrace this freedom as a grave mandate to exercise their civic responsibility: the responsibility to understand their own country and then influence it positively.

Occupiers, I hope that instead of self-inflicted marginalization you choose a future of progressive action, by using your energy to understand, educate and thoughtfully reform. Your purpose should be to challenge and improve the status quo, not to destroy it. You cannot destroy the current financial system, nor should you. You cannot destroy the current political system, nor should you. But you may become a force for good if you carefully wield the power of your voice, your vote and your patriotic compassion.

The Value of Imperfect Writing

Everyone says you need to blog regularly to get any kind of following. Business websites with blogs get somewhere between 50 and 90% more traffic when they publish a blog regularly (hosted at their own domain). As an emerging entrepreneur in the web-based business world, I can ignore this data no longer. I need to practice in my own life what I’m telling my marketing team to practice in my business.

I’ve had a hard time letting myself publish anything that hadn’t been written, edited and rewritten several times. I feel as though I can’t let myself put anything out on the web that hasn’t been thought through 100%. I labor on and leave many drafts unpublished for the sake of stringent thoughtfulness. The name of my blog is “Perspicacity”, after all. Webster defines this as “acuteness of mental vision”. If I do ever engage in truly perspicacious thinking or writing, it surely doesn’t occur regularly. Thus, if I begin blogging weekly or even more often, I must abandon the expectation that I might live up to my own name. I think that’s okay, however. Perspicacity – like all other such lofty concepts – is a goal, and writing more will, if anything, help me move closer to that goal. Hopefully the increased readers I’ll apparently get will help with that goal as well, by commenting on my writing.

So what’s the value of imperfect writing? It’s the only kind of writing there is, so I might as well get on with it.

Fear and Compassion: Moving Beyond the 9/11 Era

In March of this year, when Congressman Peter King (R-NY) held hearings about the professed increasing “radicalization of Muslim-Americans”, I was living in the West Bank. I first heard about the hearings through Al Jazeera’s English TV program. An Al Jazeera correspondent interviewed a woman who said that she is afraid of radical Islam, and that King’s exposure of the problem would be better than silence on the issue. Al Jazeera also cited Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim to be elected to the House of Representatives, who said that the hearings would increase fear instead of allaying it.

Rep. King’s hearings sparked a lot of controversy around the world. Al Jazeera host Riz Khan pointed out that countless Americans have made public statements about Islam and Muslims that would have gotten them fired if their subject had belonged to any other minority.

Why is this the case? Why do public figures and private individuals alike get away with using a less respectful tone when discussing the Muslim community? Most American newspeople and politicians do not hold any animosity toward Muslim Americans. However, they do sometimes make the mistake of telling stories about Islamist extremism in a manner that perpetuates fear within the US. This fabricated fear – distinct from the real sense of pain created by tragedies like 9/11 – combines with our inadequate understanding of Muslim societies around the world to create an atmosphere of distrust and misperception.

Ignorance is part of our problem. Al Jazeera reported that 45% of Americans believe they are well-informed about Islam. Muslims will only be fully enfranchised in American society when the public has embraced them and been educated about the cultures from which they come. Ignorance is a shared, societal problem, and tolerance will be a shared achievement. Still, ignorance is not the entire problem. One cannot in good faith claim that Americans collectively are ignorant. Furthermore, it would be unfair – perhaps offensive – to suggest that ignorance must by nature lead to prejudice. Such a claim certainly allows for little faith in the good nature of people. Therefore, to move beyond simple ignorance and fully understand the cause of Islamophobia in America, we must reckon with the fear people feel toward Muslims and the Islamic world. Where does this fear come from?

In some cases, ignorance itself can breed fear. Indeed, we see examples of this all over the world – places where misconceptions of the “Other” lead to tension and conflict. But the Islamophobia problem in the US – this open, pluralist, well-educated melting pot – has other causes.

Some people’s fear comes directly from September 11th, 2001. Those hurt by 9/11 – including the families and friends of victims, other New Yorkers, Pentagon employees, and Americans who watched the tragedy unfold on TV – cope with a tangible, rational fear that comes from a deep sense of pain and loss. Some of them may still feel this pain and this fear every day, even a decade after the largest ever attack on US soil. If some of these people have come to fear Muslims or Islam itself, one cannot, with any compassion, suggest that they need to “stop being so ignorant”. However, our problem with Islamophobia goes beyond those still reeling from 9/11. In fact, fear of Islam is a problem in the US because it occurs in people who have no rational reason to harbor that indiscriminate fear of one of the world’s largest religions.

Much of the fear felt in the US arose from the way that the Bush administration responded to the terror attack. Two elements of that response specifically had this effect.

First, recall when President Bush famously declared on national TV, “if you’re not with us, you’re with the terrorists”. This was an attempt to show strength and to build consensus before the upcoming war, and it was an utterly incorrect and distorted assertion. For someone to oppose the war in Iraq or Afghanistan does not make that person an Al Queda sympathizer.

Bush’s statement created a new “us versus them” global conflict that filled a void left by the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It provided a symbolic enemy, it engendered Islamophobia, and it led to Abu Ghraib and questionable detainments at Guantanamo Bay.

Second, the framing of the War on Terror probably contributed to fear in the US, and it certainly did not help us understand our foreign targets or the places where we were sending our young service members. The use of the term “war” implied that there were forces amassed, ready to attack if we did not repel their advance. There is and was no such army. The terrorist threat remains a covert, complicated array of extreme groups and individuals, and it must be countered by an equally covert and sophisticated cooperation between our intelligence community and special military forces. The use of this terminology fell conveniently within the mold of previous initiatives like the War on Poverty and the War on Crime, but where those “wars” were strategic in nature, arguably designed to counteract the causes of poverty and crime, the War on Terror tragically failed to target the actual causes of terrorism.

In its response to 9/11, the US squandered a unique moment in history when our people had the sympathies of almost the entire world. Muslims around the globe demonstrated and spoke out against Al Queda and the terrorist attack. Instead of embracing this sympathy, we launched a divisive campaign that earned us more enemies and further widened the divide between Islam and the West.

The US government has moved past the Bush era by eliminating the term “War on Terror” from its vernacular. It should continue that progress by using deliberate, focused approaches to national security threats. Meanwhile, the American people should move past the era of misunderstanding into an era of enlightened pluralism.

While traveling in India in 2009, I met a turban-clad Sikh man who quit his job as a taxi driver in New York City after 9/11 because people would mistake him for a Muslim and verbally harass him. One can understand how those angry New Yorkers, trying to cope with the pain, fear and anger that make them human, misplaced their anger. But at the same time we cannot be happy about driving a ten-year legal resident of the United States to leave the country simply because we did not understand him. We also cannot be satisfied with our inability to comprehend the sources of our own fear.

There are signs that fear of Islam is ebbing in the US. After the death of Osama bin Laden, the Monitor’s Peter Grier wrote that “Americans may realize not that they have less to fear, but that their fear of what he represented had begun to subside long ago”. A report last month by the Pew Research Center showed that Muslims in the US are happy with the country, reject extremism (both of which have been true for years), and have not become alienated since the King hearings. David Rothkopt, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, wrote the following in a Foreign Policy blog after bin Laden’s death:

“for this success to be truly worthy of celebration, we must bury with him the confusion and disorienting anger that has distorted our world view for a decade. We must recast the real terrorist threat in proper size — eliminate it wherever we can — and remember that what’s greatest about America can’t be brought down by bombs or hijacked aircraft or by an amoral hate-monger furtively holed up in a walled compound in North Central Pakistan.”

As we reflect on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001, let us embrace with compassion the pain that emanates from our past and also work to close the gaps in our understanding of the world and country we live in.

In the words of Sami Awad, an American-born Palestinian peace activist, “The biggest opportunity now, after the death of Bin Laden, is for Americans to consciously and collectively free themselves fully from the domain of fear and those who manipulate it for their own agendas…You are not free until you eliminate all your fear.”