Veronic Keenan explains the problem of climate change, permafrost, and erosion of Shishmaref Island in Alaska. As a result, local tribes are in the danger of losing their home and culture.

With big talks of climate change circulating in the news recently, it is clear many are starting to become aware of injustices regarding the environment.

On Monday and Wednesday of this week, students enrolled in an environmental science and restoration management course, ESRM 490: Decolonizing the Environmental Discourse, gave presentations on environmental issues of their choosing.

ESRM 490 is a newly established course designed by Dr. Daniel Vogt and Jessica Hernandez, a master’s candidate from the School of Environmental and Forest Sciences. This was the first quarter in which the class was offered, as it took three quarters for Hernandez and Vogt to have the curriculum approved by the College of the Environment; it will be renamed AIS 475 for spring quarter.

“The main concern [from the College of the Environment] was that it would be too similar to other courses of the same likeness,” Hernandez said. “The College of the Environment focuses on more of the hard sciences rather than the social sciences.”

Hernandez wanted to create a course that would merge both hard and social sciences in order to look at the environment holistically.

“We talked with the students and garnered positive feedback,” Vogt said. “They acknowledged how interactive our classroom is and were appreciative of the space we gave them to speak their minds.”

The students’ final presentations were held open and free to the public. Hernandez intended the students to learn, discuss, then teach others about what they learned as part of her pedagogy and to give more attention to environmental injustices.

Attendee Lynn Roech enjoyed the event and found it important that undergraduate students are stepping up and taking action toward these injustices. She attended the event because she was curious about the colonial roots of rhetoric surrounding the environment, and how to move past it, which is the course’s primary focus.

The presentations were split into two days as the class is held twice a week. With as much concern as there was information, the students presented their chosen issues with calls to actions.

Student Veronica Keenan discussed the thawing permafrost, which is frozen sandy soil, that is negatively affecting the population of Shishmaref, a city on the island of Sarichef in Alaska. The most affected population are the Alaskan-native Iñupiat, who heavily rely on hunting and fishing for resources and comprise the 600 residents.

Thawing permafrost greatly reduces the stability of the shoreline and will damage the residences, especially during storms, even when fortified. Keenan later discussed the cultural and financial obstacles to relocation, which costs upwards of $200 million, as well as the government’s idleness in addressing the problem.

“This is an issue that must be addressed before this community dissolves,” Keenan said. “This is not the only community; there are over 30 native Alaskan communities that are affected.”

While most students focused on issues centric to rural areas, student Yee Zhu presented on the urban Maglev conflict in Shanghai, China.

The Maglev train uses magnetic levitation technology to move without touching the ground, and is the fastest commercial train in the world. 

The proposal to extend the line 31.8 miles has received negative response from the Chinese public because the problems regarding production costs and construction standards appear to outweigh the benefits. The line will also be constructed in densely populated areas, affecting 1.6 million people living within 200 meters along the line. Not only would constructing the Maglev strip the planet of rare elements needed for its technology, but it has the potential to create noise pollution, radiation, and other health risks to the population living along the line.

“A one-way ticket will cost about $6,” Zhu said. “If implemented, the Maglev train will be made to impress the visitors, but not to serve the locals.”

Due to massive complaints and protests, the proposal to extend the line has not been implemented as of now.

Zhu expressed her amazement by the amount of activism surrounding the Maglev after stating earlier that there aren’t many activist movements in China because it’s a Communist country.

“People [usually] just mind their own business,” Zhu said. “We don’t think we can do much about policymaking, but as you can see, these people made a difference in what they fought for.”

According to Hernandez, the course proved successful in its first quarter, and it will increase its student enrollment count to 35 next quarter. While there are a few similar courses that discuss inequities in other departments, this course examines the concept of environmental justice through a decolonizational lens.  


Reach reporter Yemas Ly at news@dailyuw.comTwitter: @Yemas_Ly

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.