Cambrian: Opinion

College opens intern’s eyes to environmental challenges

Krista de la Torre is a junior at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont. She is an international relations major, focusing on environmental issues, and is serving as an intern with Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust.
Krista de la Torre is a junior at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont. She is an international relations major, focusing on environmental issues, and is serving as an intern with Greenspace — The Cambria Land Trust.

Young adults’ engagement in environmental protection is the force that can redirect policy, economic priorities and our cultural values to bring about meaningful reductions in global environmental pollution. These current college students are shouldering with us our common responsibility to halt the rise of atmospheric greenhouse gases, help regenerate our lands and forests, and protect our rivers, lakes, groundwater and oceans.

With this generation in mind, I would like to introduce Greenspace’s summer intern, Krista de la Torre, a junior at Claremont McKenna College in Claremont. Krista is an international relations major, focusing on environmental issues. Hailing from Fresno, she is active in her college’s student government and in the campus group, Environmentalists of Color — Organize! She will spend the fall semester studying environmental issues in Ecuador.

Krista is one of a growing number of young adults around the world who are making climate change and other environmental issues their career focus. Following are her thoughts about her concerns for the natural environment.

— Connie Gannon, executive director, Greenspace

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.

Margaret Mead

“What did you learn at school today, anything interesting?”

As a child, my response to this question would have been an uninspired “Yeah pretty interesting,” followed by a brief synopsis of the elementary lesson taught in class that day.

Ask me today, and I will kindly ask you to take a seat for the foreseeable half hour.

The past two years I have spent at Claremont McKenna College have been the most intellectually challenging and thought-provoking I have ever experienced. The college comprises eager, socially aware and politically engaged students and professors, from whom I am fortunate to be able to learn. No matter where you go, the buzz of chattering students engrossed in discussions is notable. Ranging from classical philosophy to ecofeminism, ideas and information are constantly being exchanged, challenged and examined.

The school includes many platforms of discussion in which to engage. Such events can be found by the dozens, with attendance ranging from 10 to 200 students, held in a quaint dorm lounge or large auditorium, and led by a scientist, poet, well-known political philosopher, or a cohort of students.

During my first year, I attended several discussion-based events. These formative events piqued my interest in the environmental sciences and instilled in me a desire to further my knowledge — to explore intellectual avenues I hadn’t yet dared to travel.

The first discussion I attended during my initial weeks on campus was about community engagement in environmental problems. Beyond my brief exposure to current issues discussed in my high school environmental dcience course, I had no real knowledge of what environmental activism was. Our speaker, an environmental and indigenous peoples advocate, spoke to us about thoughtful activism — how to engage in your community and environment without harming others in the process.

It was here I first encountered the concept of environmental racism — the environmental mistreatment of people of color. The speaker noted that pollution is often concentrated, sometimes intentionally, in low-income communities of color. At first I was hesitant to accept this thought. It challenged how I thought about pollution, which I understood as a problem impacting every sector of society equally.

Admitting that my preconceived notions were incorrect was difficult, but I gradually embraced the idea after multiple conversations with different friends. This presentation revealed to me the importance of challenging your own beliefs, and accepting contestations to them from others. It also excited my interest in environmental studies and desire to combat environmental racism.

In the semester that followed that discussion, I attended many more intellectually stimulating events and utilized opportunities on campus to learn about environmental science and policy. I was exposed to a great wealth of information regarding such issues as global climate change and water loss in California and met many other environmentally engaged students. We expressed similar concerns over our rapidly changing Earth and the unprecedented environmental catastrophes that are resulting from it.

Among the concerns raised was water. We were baffled by the extent to which human-induced climate change has altered our water resources, and by the lack of effort by community and government actors to abate and prevent future water issues through conservation and other practical steps. Such inaction results in community complacency about environmental processes and complicity in further degradation.

Given the duration of the California drought, I am sometimes surprised by the responses of my peers when asked about water issues. Unfortunately, there are more apathetic attitudes than not, resulting from the “back seat” environmental issues take to economics, education, politics, and media trivia.

In the face of dried lakes, dead trees and barren land, we must treat water issues seriously, with real respect for whole watershed ecosystems. On a larger scale, we must recognize global climate change for the immense threat it is. An overwhelming majority cannot afford skyrocketing water bills and green lawns in August. These are the people who will suffer first as a result of drought and other environmental degradation.

Environmental protection must take precedence in all sectors of our society, but most notably in our education systems. I am fortunate enough to attend college. It has allowed me the opportunity to converse with knowledgeable environmental advocates and take environmental studies courses, which have all forged my passion for the environment. Without this formal and informal education, I would be uninformed about the troubling environmental processes occurring around the world.

My time at Claremont McKenna attests to the magnitude of influence an environmental education can have, how it can challenge our internalized notions and the way we interact with the world.

On a larger scale, environmental education can involve strengthened environmental science curricula from kindergarten through college. On an individual scale, it can manifest in transformative discussions among friends. Whether personal or community-wide, an environmental education can make a world of difference; it has for me.

The Greenspace column, coordinated by Connie Gannon, appears quarterly and is special to The Cambrian.