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Republic of Georgia, (c) S Tsopurashvili 2016

  • 30 Apr 2020 by Julien Joy

    This article first appeared online in the Kennedy School Review, dated April 30, 2020

    Julien Joy (RPCV Ethiopia, 2016-2018) is currently a Master's candidate in Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School. He wrote the article in support of Peace Corps formally adopting "climate adaptation and resiliency programming," identified and adapted at the community level in true Peace Corps style. 


  • 22 Jan 2020 by Ellen Arnstein

    In thinking about climate change and the impact it will have on our lives and environment it can sometimes become overwhelming. We wonder: What can I do to stop or lessen the impact of climate change? What is actually happening to the Earth as a result of climate change? Is this article in the media scientifically accurate? How can I explain the situation to my friends? What resources are out there? As such, once a month, the RPCVS for Environmental Action are pleased to offer you reviews of books that span the implications of climate changes from mosses and corals to global politics and technology to personal action.


    Brilliant Green: The Surprising History and Science of Plant Intelligence by Stefano Mancuso and Alessandra Viola

    This tiny book is jam-packed with perspective-shifting facts about the organisms that cover a third of the Earth -- plants. Can plants think, communicate or navigate? Do they make decisions? These are the kinds of questions that Stefano Mancuso, Italian plant neurobiologist (you heard me), investigates in his academic research and in this book with Alessandra Viola.

    Mancuso and Viola begin Brilliant Green with a curmudgeonly and cherry-picked summary of how plants have been regarded throughout history in (largely Western) religious and philosophical traditions. Among other claims, they write that since plants were not marched onto Noah’s Arc -- even though the patriarch plants olive groves after the flood -- they are not traditionally regarded as alive. Aristotle held that plants straddled the space between inanimate beings and intelligent beings. Even Darwin, who was “pleased to exalt plants” fell short of attributing self-determination (in the form of carnivorous tendencies) to some species.

    After reading The Hidden Life of Trees, reviewed below, I was hoping for a more scientific book full of research results and hard science. Unfortunately for me as a plant nerd, Mancuso and Viola stick closely to the surface, skimming the subject to keep it as pop as possible. I would also like an uncharitable moment to show you Mancuso’s headshot from the International Laboratory of Plant Neurobiology:

    None of this is to say that the book wasn’t worthwhile. Mancuso outlines the five standard sense that plants have -- sight using light-sensitive cells, touch in mimosa trees and carnivorous plants, hearing through ground vibrations, and taste with root hairs that change direction to avoid pollution and seek out nutrients, smell by sensing stress chemicals produced by other plants – as well as positing fifteen additional senses. A full chapter on plant communication has me convinced that it’s more than mere instinct and I was especially intrigued by thinking of which characteristics a plant might regard as a sign of intelligence.

    In short, this book expanded my viewpoint and gave me much to think about. And it was literally short too.


    If you like Brilliant Green, try:

    The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

    Peter Wohlleben draws on years of being a forester to share with the reader his observations and others’ current scientific research on how trees communicate, share nutrients, and create a more resilient ecosystem for themselves. Like Mancuso’s book, I was expecting more technical information but the intended audience is people who have never really thought about trees. And Wohlleben has certainly succeeded in spreading the gospel of recognizing tree ‘families’ and deep intraspecies relationships between individuals. I mean, if one more person calls my office to offer advice based on the information presented in this book, I will not be held responsible for my actions.

    The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History by Thor Hanson

    As if he were the reader’s friend having a conversation over a beer, Hanson tells us all about how seeds support our lives and affect our history. The Triumph of Seeds was a light, engaging, and informative book. He covers seed dispersal and defense mechanism, foods and fabrics, selection and evolution with enthusiasm and joy.


    Ellen Arnstein was an Environmental Education volunteer in Bolivia from 2007-08. She is now a certified arborist managing a small urban land conservancy’s tree pruning, planting, and landscape work. In her spare time, she volunteers at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, plays the ukulele poorly, runs slowly, and reads a ridiculous amount of books (mostly about trees). She is also on the Leadership Team of the RPCVs for Environmental Action. Follow her on twitter @Lenni825 or check out her travel musings at

  • 15 Dec 2019 by Ellen Arnstein

    Climate Change Book Review

    December 2019

    In thinking about climate change and the impact it will have on our lives and environment it can sometimes become overwhelming. We wonder: What can I do to stop or lessen the impact of climate change? What is actually happening to the Earth as a result of climate change? Is this article in the media scientifically accurate? How can I explain the situation to my friends? What resources are out there? As such, once a month, the RPCVS for Environmental Action are pleased to offer you reviews of books that span the implications of climate changes from mosses and corals to global politics and technology to personal action.

    Gathering Mosses: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses by Robin Wall Kimmerer

    Growing up, my secret spot was a hillock of moss under cover of a forsythia bush in my backyard. Within shouting distance of the house, it was sheltered from view and a soft cushion for imagining adventures. When I was doing research on the carbon sequestration of dry forests in Bolivia my botanist colleague was cataloguing mosses – getting tiny green leaves all over our office – and causing me to wonder how could so many different species live in such a tiny sample. But beyond admitting its comfortably squishiness and evident diversity, I did not fully appreciate moss.

    Gathering Mosses was by no means a guide to identifying mosses but rather a love-song to the bryophyte with descriptions of reproductive techniques and growth habits, line drawings, and a hefty portion of memoir. Kimmerer ties her own perspective as an indigenous botanist and her life experiences to the life cycles of mosses. In 20 or so short essays, she covers the interactions between air and earth, the wide differences in appearances of the family of Dicranum, the use of moss in indigenous cultures, the beauty of bogs, and the (largely human) threats that mosses face.

    As someone who has done scientific field research, I especially enjoyed her droll descriptions of settling upon an experimental design. In one memorable passage, she and her field assistant are studying how mosses disperse their clones. They hypothesize that different animals are responsible for carrying the “brood bunches” and then set up experiments to test the idea. Cue the slug derby! The Slugalapolis 500?

    Kimmerer’s book flawlessly transitions from the humorous to the profound. She writes, “There is an ancient conversation going on between mosses and rocks, poetry to be sure. About light and shadow and the drift of continents. This is what has been called the dialect of moss on stone - an interface of immensity and minuteness, of past and present, softness and hardness, stillness and vibrancy, yin and yan.” And I for one am excited to join this conversation with listening ears and observant eyes.


    Also by Robin Wall Kimmerer:

    Braiding Sweetgrass

    The publisher Milkweed Editions (where I worked for a hot second) summarized it best: “As a botanist, Robin Wall Kimmerer has been trained to ask questions of nature with the tools of science. As a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, she embraces the notion that plants and animals are our oldest teachers.” In Braiding Sweetgrass, Kimmerer brings the indigenous and scientific ways of knowing together to acknowledge and celebrate the reciprocal relationship that we have with the living world.


    If you like Gathering Mosses, try:

    Eager: The Surprising, Secret Life of Beavers and Why They Matter by Ben Goldfarb

    In Eager, environmental journalist (and my friend) Ben Goldfarb also concentrates on a single forest dweller – the beaver. Goldfarb writes about how the overhunting of beavers has caused widespread changes in the North American landscape. In fact, what we view today as healthy rivers and wetlands are not the species-rich environments that would be present with a flourishing beaver population. Through writing about “Beaver Believers”, the passionate scientists, ranchers, and citizens who work to restore the beaver population, Goldfarb shows how the beaver (and the people who love them) can fight drought, flooding, wildfire, extinction, and the ravages of climate change.

    The Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich

    Bernd Heinrich expands slightly from Kimmerer’s single non-vascular plant and Goldfarb’s giant rodent to write about the forest as a whole and the relationships of plants, animals, and people. Heinrich uses a lifetime of experience, observation, and teaching, to write lyrical reflections about the forests of the American Northeast. The Trees in My Forest is an exploration of the natural world in scientific and personal terms that highlights the interconnectedness implicit in ecology and our fight against climate change.


    Ellen Arnstein was an Environmental Education volunteer in Bolivia from 2007-08. She is now a certified arborist managing a small urban land conservancy’s tree pruning, planting, and landscape work. In her spare time, she volunteers at the Arnold Arboretum in Boston, plays the ukulele poorly, runs slowly, and reads a ridiculous amount of books (mostly about trees). She is also on the Leadership Team of the RPCVs for Environmental Action.



  • 25 Jul 2019 by Mel Siegel

    Have you noticed the number of Democratic presidential candidates this year? How can you miss it?

    Have you received an inquiry from any of them wanting to know your opinion on climate change? Pete Buttigieg recently sent out a request for your story. Always take an opportunity to tell it!

    Here's what Mel Siegel, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Ghana, sent Buttigieg his story. While it's not specifically environmentally-related, the simple fact that Mel is on our leadership team says a lot about where he is today.

    Between my undergraduate and graduate educations I served two years, 1962-1964, in the then one-year-old Peace Corps, teaching physics and math at high school and freshman college level in Ghana. If your service didn't involve anything like digging wells or planting trees it might be hard to know if you actually did anybody any good; fortunately between then and now the internet became an integral part of our lives, and now every once in a while a former student finds me and thanks me for having made a difference in his or her life.

    As for what my service did for me, that is more concrete: nothing better teaches you how to deal with the unexpected and the seemingly impossible than having spent two years, 24-7, dealing with the unexpected and the seemingly impossible. No doubt the skills and the confidence that I acquired during my Peace Corps service have served me well in my professional life in research and teaching, in the off-the-beaten-path places that I have traveled to worldwide, and in developing my ability to adapt to and appreciate local people's cultures and practices wherever I am in the world.

  • 27 Mar 2019 by Michael Roman

    The date was October 24, 2007.

    It was my second year at the University of Pittsburgh’s Anthropology Ph.D. program when MS hit. Within minutes of arriving at the school’s Halloween festival, I lost my vision, ability to talk and walk. Rushed to the hospital, I was diagnosed with MS and placed on a disease-modifying therapy, Avonex, within hours.

    A few days later, with vision restored, I met my Ph.D. advisor.

    “Well Mike, what are we going to do?”

    I had no idea. The diagnosis annihilated any chance of completing my original long-term research plans in the Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati. I first went to the Pacific Island Nation of Kiribati as a Peace Corps Volunteer. While there, a host relative passed away from mysterious health complications. I eventually learned he passed away from acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS. Two years after completing Peace Corps service, I returned to the country to work with the National HIV/AIDS Taskforce. I applied to the Ph.D. program with intentions of returning to continue my work with the National HIV/AIDS Taskforce and UNAIDS.

    MS changed everything. Avonex required refrigeration, transportation and electricity. None of which were reliably available in Kiribati.

    My advisor continued his questioning.

    “Is there anything else you would want to do?”

    “Maybe,” I thought to myself.

    Throughout my time in Kiribati, I noticed significant environmental changes. The tides were getting higher, the droughts longer and the storms stronger. Several nights I watched the ocean as it rose, level with or on top of the land. Villages once filled with life were now barren. Thanks to these hungry tides, I began to fear the sea. 

    I told my advisor: “There is this thing called global warming. I’ve heard a lot about it, but many people don’t believe it is real. I worry that if it is real, and nothing is done to stop it, Kiribati may be one of the first countries to vanish. I think it needs attention from a humanities perspective. Kiribati’s future may be at risk.”
    Six years after that conversation, with help from my university and a New Zealand Fulbright grant, I finished my degree. My research focused on climate change, human health, climatically induced and transnational migration.
    Eighteen years after first stepping onto Kiribati soil, my commitment to the nation remains. MS may temporarily slow me down—it sometimes does—but it has never stopped me. In a way, I see MS as a gift. If not for the diagnosis, I would not be where I am today. MS has given my life purpose, meaning and opportunity. Living with MS, I continue fighting for those most impacted by climate change. I hope I will never stop.

    From one MS Warrior to another, never give up on your dreams, never give up the fight.

  • 20 Mar 2019 by Brady Fergusson

    The following story was posted on the Climate Changers website on March 20, 2019.


    Imagine standing on the beach of a tropical island. You feel the warm sand between your toes. You smell the salty breeze and hear the swaying leaves of coconut trees. You see the turquoise water of the lagoon in front of you. It is beautiful, isn’t it? You then turn 180 degrees and see the open ocean only a hundred meters away. You look all around and observe that the land is only a few feet higher than the water. It is worrisome, isn’t it? You are on a coral atoll, and in this age of climate change and rising seas, it is a scary place to be.

    From 2006 until 2008, I lived on one of the coral atolls that make up the Republic of Kiribati, located in the Central Pacific Ocean. I was there to do Health and Community Development work with the United States Peace Corps. During my time in Kiribati, I was amazed by the friendliness and hospitality of the people—although most had few possessions and little money, they welcomed me like a member of their own family and gave me as much as they could offer. I lived with a family that “adopted” me, I made many friends, and I met the woman who I would marry. Although I now live on the other side of the world in the U.S., I am still strongly connected to my family and friends in Kiribati.

    Kiribati is a beautiful country, but its future is in jeopardy because of the impacts of climate change. The rising ocean, in particular, is making it difficult for people to get by. Many wells have become brackish, plants people depend on for staple foods—like breadfruit, coconuts and taro root—are producing less, the ocean is eroding the land, and the high tides are getting higher and flooding people’s homes more often. At some point in the future, the people of Kiribati will have to leave their islands and look for homes elsewhere; most of them will have nowhere to go.

    There are many people around the world who are facing uncertain futures as the people of Kiribati are. Rising sea levels and other impacts of climate change are displacing people and will do so at an increasing rate if we do not slow down climate change. I have made it my mission to raise awareness of the people of Kiribati and others who are becoming climate change migrants. By giving presentations at public and private events, contacting elected officials, and using social media—Twitter and Facebook, especially— I am working to get people to know about climate change migrants and support action to mitigate climate change and facilitate the migration of people displaced by climate change. I believe that when more people understand how climate change is hurting other humans, more people will be ready to act.

  • 20 Sep 2018 by Lila Holzman

    [This blog post was originally published on the NorCal blog site on September 20, 2018.]

    On September 8, 2018 a group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers gathered in San Francisco to support the Rise for Climate, Jobs, & Justice event and movement. Those not in Northern California plugged in to local actions across the country. Why did we do this? What did we accomplish?

    Climate Change is an urgent issue that affects everything. When California’s Governor Jerry Brown announced San Francisco would host a Global Climate Action Summit, grassroots groups like and the People’s Climate Movement rose to the occasion. Lest the summit be too focused on high level talk, the people began organizing a mass mobilization to kick off the week by calling attention to vulnerable communities, who will be most hurt by climate change, and to the need to press our global leaders for solutions that are sustainable and just.

    As RPCVs, we are very in tune with the interconnected nature of issues like climate change. Volunteers live in countries that are already dealing with sea level rise. Volunteers farm in terrains where the dry season now lasts far too long, adding to list of hardships felt by subsistence farmers. Volunteers serve in regions where climate-induced migration fuels and intensifies conflict. Volunteers understand that complex problems cannot be solved with simple solutions. Progress must be made conscientiously and sustainably. It must be made both at a systems level and with feet on the ground.

    So leading up to September 8th, RPCVs for Environmental Action along with the Northern California Peace Corps Association took advantage of the opportunity to get the word out about this event and the movement it represents. We even presented on it to a large audience of RPCVs gathered for the National Peace Corps Association’s annual conference as part of a session on ways RPCVs can take action on the environment.

    On the day of the march, we hosted a table at their Resource Fair. As the tens of thousands of marchers arrived to the fair and passed by our RPCV table, we shared our unique perspective with others in the climate movement. Wearing multiple hats, we talked to folks about the work Peace Corps volunteers do, the role the program serves in American international diplomacy, and the experience we gained immersing ourselves in a foreign culture. Some passersby were interested in joining the Peace Corps, whether newly out of college or later on in their careers, wanting to hear about our experience and impact. Others came running up with stories of when they served 30 years ago and said they hadn’t realized there were other RPCVs involved in these types of events. Others excitedly took our photos to show their niece, father, friend who was in the Peace Corps. It was deeply uplifting to connect with others who share our passion for promoting sustainable progress.

    In a truly multicultural moment, one man approached with a thick Spanish accent saying he was a reporter from Spain and wanted to ask a few questions. I replied in Spanish (with my slightly Panamanian accent) saying that I was happy to answer his questions in whatever language. I think I surprised him, but he didn’t skip a beat. He fired off a bunch of thought-provoking questions about who I was, why I thought being there mattered, what I was hoping the Global Climate Action Summit would accomplish, and what could we really do about it all? The conversation got my adrenaline pumping, and I felt proud to articulate my perspective in my second tongue. A day later, I read my quote in El País:

    Lila Holzman, activista de los Cuerpos de Paz de EE UU, profundizaba en esta idea: “Esperamos ver acción. Casi todos sabemos que el cambio climático es importante y ahora es tiempo de hacer cosas. Si a nivel nacional la política no reacciona, hay otros que sí pueden hacerlo, así como las empresas y los inversores”.

    While I’m not sure I would’ve called myself an “activist from the Peace Corps,” the rest of the quote he took from our conversation I absolutely stand by: “We want to see action. We know that climate change is important and now is the time to act. Since national level politics won’t step up, there are others that should like companies and investors.”

    At the end of the day, I felt proud to be a part of the Peace Corps community and all the cross-cultural awareness it represents. We as RPCVs must continue to take advantage of opportunities to add our unique perspective and value to the causes we care about.

    RPCVs #RiseForClimate because we recognize that global problems require global understanding and local action.


    - Lila Holzman

    President, NorCalPCA

    Leadership Team, RPCVs4EA

    RPCV Panama

  • 03 Sep 2018 by Kate Schachter

    (This blog post, written by Kate Schachter, was originally published on the National Peace Corps Association's blog.)

    Since my return from my first Peace Corps service in Ghana in 2007, I’ve been coming to the annual conferences, except for the year I went into PC Response in Georgia. Attendance has always been low, usually around 250-350. And I keep asking myself…why don’t more RPCVs come? What should we be doing different? Am I just a glutton for meetings?


    Education USA Kate Schachter – 2016, In Batumi, Georgia, representing our alma maters at a US State Department event

    In particular, since 2011 when NPCA started the new shared group hosting system and rotates it on a known schedule (50th anniversary in DC, Upper Midwest, Northeast, South, West, repeat), it’s been a great opportunity to meet with RPCVs from other regions. Lessons have been learned and improvements made with every single Peace Corps Connect (PCC), but still attendance is surprisingly small. If we get more people, the conference pays for itself, and then some, with NPCA able to provide lower prices, especially to new RPCVs and volunteers.

    Here are just a few of the things I love about the PCC conferences. 

    The people! Meet or reconnect with RPCVs from every era. All the rest of the things I love start here with the community.

    The information! I was chatting with Averill Strasser and his wife, and he mentioned he is working with RPCV Peter Jensen on projects all over Africa. Peter is teaching people how to bury water and has made great progress showing successes in desperate situations. Wait…what? Bury water?? Check out his YouTube channel.

    And then there’s the information embedded in the many breakout sessions. Through panel presentations and discussions, cause-related groups, Peace Corps, and NPCA shared important news about projects that impact members. This year I was pleased to have the RPCVs for Environmental Action be accepted to offer a panel presentation entitled “RPCVs Take Action on the Environment.” Many thanks to the 20 or so people who chose to sit in on our presentation instead any of the six other sessions, or opt out for a kayak trip on the Delaware River!

    The groups! A half day is devoted to the opportunity for affiliate group representatives to get together and learn what’s going on at NPCA in the area of group services; learn from each other; and give feedback to NPCA, the Affiliate Group Network Coordinator, and the Member-Elected Board members. Outside the half-day forum, we recognize groups with the Loret Miller Ruppe Award for Outstanding Community Service, which this year justly went to the Cincinnati Area Returned Volunteers (CARV) for their work with refugees. And there are more awards: the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award, the Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service, and the Deborah Harding Women of Achievement Award. Acceptance speeches are heartfelt and inspirational about the work accomplished.

    Parade of Flags – 2011, DC Parade of Flags to the Capitol

    The atmosphere! I always feel charged from the effect of being with “my people.” The combination of meetings, receptions, dinners, and downtime turn the conference into an exciting dynamic of Third Goal accomplishment. The pomp and circumstance of a Gala dinner at the Kennedy Center or a Parade of the Flags in DC in 2011; a boat cruise and dinner on the Mississippi River for 150 people in 2012; a boat ride in the Boston Harbor in 2013; a community garden service project in 2017; a hike along the Appalachian Trail in 2018. These examples bring it together for an enjoyable long weekend.

    The reflection! It all starts with our service in Peace Corps. When I went to Peace Corps Response/Georgia, I was proud to see that they had both versions of the Peace Corps Pledge – the required one, and the new one that Meleia Egger had created in 2015. I was prepared in Georgia, and still I was blown away by the poetry of it. The pledge created the right atmosphere in Berkeley when it was formally introduced. It remains a fitting commitment to world peace and friendship.


    Next year, be there! HoTPCC is Heart of Texas Peace Corps Connect, June 21-23, 2019. What’s not to like about Austin?!

    PCC Nashville to NorCal – 2014, Tennessee RPCVs hand the conference baton to NorCal


    About the Author: 

    Kate Schachter has broad Peace Corps experience. She first served as a 50+ Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana from 2004-2007, leaving a 20-year corporate career in middle management positions in two biotechnology companies in Madison, WI. Ghana was followed by active participation on the leadership team of the RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison, from 2007 to the present. She also was elected as an NPCA Board member and Group Leaders Forum Coordinator from 2010-13. In 2016 she returned to volunteer service as a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Georgia. Kate is a co-founder and group leader of the RPCVs for Environmental Action. In January 2018, she was offered a position as the UW-Madison Campus Recruiter. What better job than to talk about Peace Corps service all day?! 


  • 18 Apr 2018 by Brady Fergusson

    When I found out I would be doing my Peace Corps service in Kiribati, I had no clue where that was (it’s in the Central Pacific Ocean) or how its name is pronounced (the “t” is actually like an “s”). I also had no idea what a coral atoll is (that’s what the islands of Kiribati are). I soon learned that they are narrow strips of land that can stretch for miles from tip to tip but are only about a quarter mile wide, on average. In some locations, you can stand in one spot and see the ocean both to your left and to your right.


    Climate change and the rising ocean are having a significant impact on these low-lying islands. The problem is not that they are going to “sink” - what will probably force people to abandon them in the future is the saltwater intruding into the groundwater. Before I arrived there in 2007, the village of Ewena on the island of Abaiang was already dealing with brackish well water. One of my Health and Community Development projects was to team up with a group of nursing students to complete a water survey in the village; we found that half of the homes had brackish wells. To help overcome this problem, I worked with a village resident to write a grant for rainwater tanks. I have gone back to visit several times since I finished my service and I have been glad to see that there are now even more tanks. They have become a necessity as the wells have become increasingly brackish.



    Although the rainwater tanks have been a solution to the problem of saltwater intrusion, they are not likely to be effective in the long-term. There have already been occasions when tanks have gone dry after periods of no rain and people have had to walk long distances to find freshwater wells. In addition, the intruding saltwater is decreasing the productivity of the plants people rely on for food: taro root, breadfruit trees, and coconut trees. It seems that it is only a matter of time before Abaiang and the other islands of Kiribati can no longer sustain human habitation.



    It is heartbreaking to think that the people who were so warm and welcoming to me will have to leave their beautiful islands. I fell in love with Kiribati and with a woman I met there; although we now live half a world away, Kiribati remains close to our hearts. If you want to help the people of Kiribati, here are a few actions you can take:


    1. Talk to others about Kiribati - many people have never heard of the country or of the challenges its people are facing.

    2. Support legislation aimed at mitigating climate change (e.g. carbon pricing). If we can slow down climate change and the rise of the sea, the people of Kiribati will have more time to prepare to move elsewhere.

    3. Support people’s right to migrate. Think of immigration as more of an opportunity than a threat. President Trump has proposed eliminating the Diversity Visa Lottery, but since when is diversity a bad thing?


    I decided to join the Peace Corps because I believed that everyone has the power to make a difference. I still believe that today, and I believe we can help the people of Kiribati and others around the world to conquer the challenges posed by climate change.


  • 14 Apr 2018 by Michael Roman


    April 20, 2016


    This post is presented in this week’s series recognizing Earth Day, Friday, April 22.

    On 16 November 1989, Kiribati Minister of Home Affairs and Decentralization Babera Kirata addressed the general forum at the Small Island States Conference on Sea Level Rise in Malé Island. Highlighting his nation’s concern over the emerging greenhouse effect theory, he stated:

    Over the centuries the question of rising in sea level was never heard of. Our ancestors had lived happily for centuries on our islands, without fear that one day, our beautiful homes may be lost as a result of the deterioration in the environment. We in this present generation have inherited those small islands and we are very proud to be owners of the beautiful homes, which our ancestors had secured for us … The ground water would easily become saline, making it impossible to obtain potable water, and agriculture would be destroyed. The plankton upon which fish live on will disappear, and the livelihood of Kiribati people, who depend on fish, would be seriously affected. The effect of rising in sea level, accompanied by strong winds and high waves would be disastrous for Kiribati. (Kirata 1989: 2–3)

    His remarks highlighted the intimate connection I-Kiribati (people from Kiribati) have with their land. Land in Kiribati defines one’s sense of personhood; it is as much a part of them as they are of it. When I-Kiribati are born, they are traditionally born on their land. They grow up and have families of their own on that land. When their time comes, their bodies return to the land. Their spirits join the ancestors who have gone before, and together they watch over future generations of the land. Land, in Kiribati, cosmologically ties one’s past, present, and future together. If sea levels were to rise as predicted, the physical challenges for survival would be daunting. The challenges associated with Kiribati identity and personhood could very well be insurmountable.

    Experts say that the tiny Pacific Island nations, which collectively account for a mere 0.0012 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, are the most vulnerable and would be the first to feel the full brunt of global warming (Singh 2007: 1). To date, Kiribati has experienced devastating king tides, prolonged droughts, extended periods of rain, and, more recently, unprecedented cyclonic activity in the doldrums of the Pacific. Iorita Toromon describes the night that Cyclone Pam arrived in Tarawa:

    Yesterday and last night March 9, 2015, south Tarawa experienced strong winds with rough seas and high tides causing further destruction. Most of the seawalls, which were recently constructed, are now destroyed. Roads are covered with sand, gravel, and big stones from the ocean again. Residential houses along the coastal area are greatly affected by the strong waves too. Our lives are very threatened by sea level rise and we are worried about our future. Our wells, which are our only source of fresh water, have become salinized and are rendered unsuitable for drinking now. Our main food plants such as breadfruit and pawpaw are dying because of the ocean. Many workers do not want to go to work, as they stay home to rebuild seawalls from the rubble before the next high tide in a few days’ time. (Toroman 2015)

    She ends in fearful anticipation of the approaching king tide, an abnormally high tide that has become more powerful and brought greater devastation to all islands in Kiribati over recent years. She has great reason to worry, as her house was located on land that rose just a couple inches above the ocean during high tide. Most islands in Kiribati are thin strips of coral that rise, at most, just several feet above sea level. The lands I-Kiribati live on today are ancient barrier reefs that once surrounded high volcanic islands. Over tens of billions of years, these towering volcanic islands subsided below the ocean, leaving a thin barrier reef behind. Early settlers of these islands, some four or five thousand years ago, lived in a delicate balance between man and nature. They exploited their environment in its totality, and their cultures evolved in harmony with it (Macdonald 2001: 4–5). Very little has changed since then.

    I first went to Kiribati as a Peace Corps volunteer in 2000. I left home knowing very little about global warming, and when I arrived in Kiribati, I felt like I should have looked more into the subject. In my first letter home, I wrote this passage:

    It’s so pretty here, but scary too. I heard about global warming and I just wonder if it is true. Being here sure makes it seem real. But, I guess I trust the US government. They wouldn’t send us here if they thought it was a problem. I asked one of my Kiribati teachers about global warming and he assured me that it was nothing serious. He said, people have been saying that Kiribati would go under the ocean ever since the 1980s, and look, we are still here. So, Mike, don’t worry.

    Over the past sixteen years, however, the growing devastation from the impacts of climate change has worried many in Kiribati. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I rarely heard any discussion about global warming in the village. Whenever I brought up the subject, close friends and family would laugh at the idea. Friends and adopted family members would reassure me that Kiribati was safe from drowning by pointing to rainbows (an almost daily occurrence on the equator), and saying things like, “See! There is his promise in the sky, we are safe!”

    I returned in May 2004 for work on my first master’s degree in on the growing HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and social stigma. Then, Tarawa was experiencing an unusually prolonged drought, and months before an unusually high king tide had washed over the land. The impacts of a rapidly changing environment were now being felt. However, most people I talked with in this largely Christian nation held onto the biblical teachings of faith and obedience. It wouldn’t be much longer before the evidence changed people’s minds about climate change. A ten-year time lapse of a village adjacent to my host family’s village, Abarao Village, is provided to exemplify the damages experienced in Kiribati.

    Ten-year time lapse of Abarao Village, South Tarawa

    Ten-year time lapse of Abarao Village, South Tarawa

    Host family elders laughed at me when I asked them about moving away from Kiribati if the situation were to become worse. In response, I would hear a chorus of, “I am from Kiribati, my land is here, and I will not leave.” The connection they have to their land is so strong that even the encroaching tide may prove too weak to break this bond.

    On the other hand, Kiribati senior secondary schools graduate thousands of students each year. Of these, a handful will earn scholarships and continue their studies overseas. Some will continue schooling at local training institutions, and a few will find employment in Kiribati. The majority of graduates will return home. For this population, the opportunity to work overseas is an opportunity of a lifetime.

    In 2001, New Zealand began accepting up to seventy-five Kiribati citizens each year through its Pacific Access Category (PAC) migration scheme. To qualify for the lottery, citizens must meet certain age, health, and character requirements. If picked, lottery winners must then obtain a job offer from a New Zealand–based employer. When employment is secured, the individual and immediate family can migrate to New Zealand as permanent residents. In 2007, New Zealand implemented a new work-based migration scheme. The aim of the Regional Seasonal Employer (RSE) scheme was to fill labor shortages in the New Zealand agricultural industry.

    That same year, Ioane Teitiota, an RSE migrant worker, traveled to New Zealand with his wife. He worked in the agriculture industry while his wife worked in a rest home. During a 2011 routine traffic stop, Ioane was arrested when New Zealand authorities discovered that he had overstayed his work visa. Wanting only to extend his visa, he reached out to Michael Kidd, an Auckland-based attorney. His case took a monumental turn when his extension was denied, and Kidd argued for his stay based on humanitarian criteria. Ioane’s case unexpectedly became a seminal case in the fight for climate refugee status (Weiss 2015). Ultimately, after a four-year battle, Ioane lost and was forced to return to Kiribati with his wife and three New Zealand–born children. In its final ruling, the court stated that “a ‘sociological’ refugee or person seeking to better his or her life by escaping the perceived results of climate change is not a person to whom Article 1A(2) of the Refugee Convention applies” (Buchanan 2015).

    While the world continues to argue over the legal definition of climatically induced migrants, former president of Kiribati, Anote Tong, continues to work tirelessly to tell the world about his country and to create plans for an eventual relocation. In 2014, he purchased a 20-square-kilometer plot of land on Fiji’s Vanua Levu island for $8.77 million. The original purpose of the land acquisition was for agricultural purposes, but during a recent climate change conference in New Zealand, Tong stated that the land’s main value was for international publicity and to give his people a sense of security: “People are getting quite scared now and we need immediate solutions. This is why I want to rush the solution, so there will be a sense of comfort for our people” (Radio New Zealand 2016).

    Kiribati is just one of many nations on the frontlines of climate change. My friends and adopted family members in Kiribati have silently suffered great losses in crops and houses, and they have even buried their own children because of the impact climate change is already having on the country. What happens in Kiribati and other frontline nations should be a wakeup call for the entire world, but unfortunately, few people know Kiribati exists. To help spread the news from Kiribati, a small group of Kiribati youth and concerned individuals from around the world have created Humans of Kiribati, an online showcase of stories from the frontline. Over this past year, thousands of followers have contributed toward the success of the project. International media, movie producers, foreign governments, and everyday citizens like, share, and follow on Facebook and Instagram. We invite you to help us by sharing our pictures and stories. Our goal is to teach others about Kiribati culture, language, and lifestyle. We want to build a human connection to others and have the world know about Kiribati before it is gone. Through collective global inactions, Kiribati’s time is limited. I remain hopeful that my generation will find ways to move beyond our ways of today—not necessarily because we want to but because we have to.


    “Loss” (Photo/Story: Janice Cantieri)

    “Loss” (Photo/Story: Janice Cantieri)

    On top of recently losing their wives, both of these unimane (elders) from Marakei Island just lost their land to the most recent king tide. Itiaake Teuria, 70, on the left, had to move inland with his relatives, but when he passes the place where his old home used to be, it reminds him of the life he built with his wife and the forty-plus years of marriage they spent on that land. Maneteata Ruotaake, 69, on the right, lost his house, his kitchen, and all of his trees, but he refuses to leave his land because his wife is buried here. He wants to be buried with her, even if the waves take away the land before that time comes.

    "1...2...3... Jump" (Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman & Crystal Campbell)

    “1…2…3… Jump” (Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman & Crystal Campbell)

    Children in Kiribati are blessings to families. Adoption in Kiribati is a custom, which serves to bring people closer together through the exchange of children. The practice often serves to unite rather than separate families from one another. However, for children adopted outside of Kiribati, the dichotomy of life can be very challenging.

    For me, I would say my heart is here … with me in Australia, but my soul is in Kiribati. I have always known since I was little that I was adopted. Aside from my darker skin, I never saw myself as being different growing up. I don’t think my friends saw me as different. As I grew older, people would come up to me and ask me where I was from. They tried to guess but they never got it right—no one knew about Kiribati.

    When I told them a small country in the Pacific Ocean, I’d get, “Why are you here?” or, ”Shouldn’t you be in warmer weather?” I always just say, well I don’t know because I’ve grown up, here so I don’t know anything different. I look forward to the day I return, someday…

    "Dancing the dance of life" (Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman)

    “Dancing the dance of life” (Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman)

    Learned from elders, Kiribati dance is an art, which reflects our strong communal ties. Groups of dancers focus on the movements of their bodies. Their hands, arms, and feet move to the rhythm and beat of the song while their heads and eyes tell the story. Behind the dancers, singers and musicians perform with all their might to make the dance exciting. The whole performance reflects the unity and support our society provides to one another. The art conveys the idea that “in life there is always a time for everything, place for everyone, and amidst difficulties, anxieties, and turmoil life will still go on.”

    "What lies ahead?" (Photo/Story: Raimon Kataotao)

    “What lies ahead?” (Photo/Story: Raimon Kataotao)

    Looking toward the possibility of what our future brings and seeing this wrecked ship on shore give me butterflies. What will it be like when the next king tide hits our small island? How many houses will be destroyed when it hits? What else will wash ashore? Why do we in the Pacific have to suffer from this? Sometimes I ask myself, “What future lies ahead, and  how much longer can our motherland battle climate change?”

    "Water is life" (Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman)

    “Water is life” (Photo: Raimon Kataotao | Story: Mike Roman)

    When I returned from Peace Corps service, America was a different place. It was not home any longer—not like it was before I left. Friends and family were happy to see me, but I couldn’t relate to them like before. Striking up a conversation was difficult. They talked about movies, clothes, jobs, and money. Absentmindedly, I just stared in amazement at the amount of material things around me. Sleeping in a bed was difficult. I hadn’t slept on something soft for years, and I froze when temperatures dropped below 80 degrees. Water fountains. I. Loved. Water. Fountains. Like no one else! The water didn’t need to be boiled, filtered, and cooled overnight. You just pushed a button and drank!

    Things I cherished in the village (talking, close human relationships, and a slower-paced life) did not seem to be valued in America. It was all about going—going to work, going to school, going to appointments. Going, and most of these goings seemed to somehow revolve around money. It was a far cry from the village, where living revolved around people. People, not money, were the focus of life. When I came back, reverse culture shock got the best of me most nights. I would often cry myself to sleep, just wishing to be back home in Kiribati. Like water, Kiribati gave me life. It taught me (an American) what is important and how to truly live with others!

    Mike Roman received his PhD from the Department of Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh in 2014 and is currently at the University of Cincinnati. He is a member of the RPCVs for Environmental Action.


    Buchanan, Kelly. 2015. “New Zealand: ‘Climate Change Refugee’ Case Overview.” Washington, DC: Law Library of Congress (accessed 16 April 2016).

    Kirata, Babera. 1989. “Kiribati Country Statement.” Presented at the Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise, 14–18 November, Malé (accessed 15 April 2016).

    Macdonald, Barrie. 2001. Cinderellas of the Empire. Suva, Fiji: University of the South Pacific.

    Radio New Zealand. 2016. “Kiribati Climate-Induced Migration to Start in Five Years.” RNZ, 16 February (accessed 16 February 2016).

    Singh, Shailendra. 2007. “Climate Change: South Pacific More Vulnerable Than Thought.” IPS, 22 February.

    Toromon, Iorita. 2015. Personal communication, 19 March.


  • 10 Dec 2017 by Kate Schachter

    (A version of this blog appeared in NPCA's WorldView Fall 2017 issue.)

    Georgia is a country the size of South Carolina with 26,000 rivers through it, bordered on the north and south by the Caucasus Mountain ranges. Glaciers in the Greater Caucasus are rapidly disappearing.

    Eventually, the melting glaciers will mean less groundwater renewal from winter snows and ice melts, causing droughts and adding to problems of serious water quality problems already made worse by poor enforcement of mining laws in a country rich in mineral resources.

    Floods wash away soil from the deforested mountainsides and tons of trash from farms and towns. River banks are lined with trees whose branches collect plastic bags as “flags” that show how high the rivers rise at flood stage. It all flows down the ravines to those 26,000 rivers to feed the Black or Caspian seas.

    The nation’s villages and cities hire crews that do a great job of sweeping the sidewalks and streets, but most Georgians assume that someone else will pick up after them. Along the nation’s river banks, illegal dumping from homes and construction sites is rampant – out of sight, out of mind. There are more than 60 official landfills in Georgia, but only four of them meet international standards.

    As a Peace Corps Volunteer, I worked for the Imereti Scientists' Union - Spectri, an environmental organization that performs development work throughout Georgia. Because I was deep into working on environmental issues throughout Georgia, I also provided information to support the work of other volunteers in my region who worked in waste management, energy efficiency, water quality, flooding, deforestation, or agricultural sustainability. A decade earlier, I had served for three years in Ghana. The waste management problems I saw in Georgia equaled those from West Africa, and they’re not being properly addressed in either country.

    Inspired by Georgia’s youth

    I was encouraged by the active Georgian youth that I met at trainings, G.R.E.E.N. Camps and Let’s Play Together events. They demonstrated sincere commitment and indignation over the deteriorated environmental state of their country. Their enthusiasm gave me hope.

    After classroom trainings and hands-on activities, we began waste cleanup events where overwhelming rains had deposited large amounts of trash. This is a random group of 12- to 17-year-olds who started meeting regularly every two to three weeks to target large accumulations of trash. They were publicly engaged.

    Spectri has for 20 years been focusing its resources on youth awareness, alternative energy, flood control, waste management, climate change, and industrial pollution, all issues that Georgian public policy has been slow to identify and implement. Spectri's office is in Kutaisi, Georgia’s second-largest city and the first city to carry out municipal-level collection of separated plastics. The city started collection with a grant from the European Union Black Sea. Spectri supports the city’s grant request and enjoys strong administrative ties with City Hall, a connection that is vital to success on this scale. Spectri has also expanded its influence in neighboring countries through Students for Energy Efficiency, a university student-led group with similar youth-led groups in Ukraine, Moldova and Armenia.

    I found in my work here that good graphic resources made my job much easier. We used “Solid Waste Management: A key to delivering the global goals” from WasteAid International to demonstrate how improved waste management can improve life on all of the UN Sustainable Development Goals, especially jobs, quality of life and climate change.

    Another graphic resource showing waste management’s links to development is “Actionable Impact Themes” graphic is another way to look at waste management in the framework of development. 

    These graphics demonstrate #TheWayISeePC – as an opportunity to translate good community waste and energy management into employment opportunities and improved health.

    As citizens take charge of their natural capital in their own communities, they are empowered and, in the UN Sustainability model, can meet their basic needs. Am I dreamer? Let us all be dreamers.

    Kate Schachter is a co-founder of RPCVs for Environmental Action and served as a member of the NPCA Board of Directors and as Coordinator for the Group Leaders Forum. She served in Georgia from 2016 to 2017 and in Ghana from 2004 to 2007. She is also active on the leadership team of the RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison.




  • 09 Nov 2017 by Lila Holzman

    (This blog was first published on As You Sow on November 9, 2017, where author Lila Holzman manages the Energy Program. Lila is also on the Leadership Team of RPCV4EA.)

    Having spent my college years at Rice University, Houston will always hold a special place in my heart. I also remember experiencing my first hurricane there freshman year  -  the winds and rain were scary, but we hunkered down indoors and were fortunate to not suffer serious impacts. Watching Harvey approach from afar in August 2017, I again hoped for the best, but then the horror sunk in as friends posted photos and videos of unprecedented destruction. The National Weather Service had to develop new colors for its coding to account for the rain and floods caused by Harvey. The storm caused an estimated $190 billion worth of damage, disrupting industries and destroying homes. Only 20% of those hardest hit had flood insurance.

    And we now know that Harvey was only to be followed too closely in North America by further heartbreaking, climate-related disasters: Hurricanes Irma and Maria, and California's sweeping fires. In the wake of these events, I am driven by the question: What can we do to decrease the chances that disasters like this will continue to hurt us?

    In the fight to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, not all greenhouse gases were created equal. Carbon dioxide has long been cited as a significant culprit, but methane's global warming potential is actually greater. Methane is the main component of Natural Gas, which is a fuel that likes to brag about being cleaner than coal. Yet, studies indicate that if natural gas emissions exceed approximately 3%, this fuel becomes worse for climate change than coal. In October, I had the chance to return to visit Houston for the EPAs Natural Gas STAR and Methane Challenge Workshop. This allowed me to witness firsthand Houston's inconsistent post-Harvey recovery progress and to learn more about some concerning practices that we must continue to push the natural gas industry to improve. The future of cities like Houston depend on it.

    Step 1: Measure

    EPA’s Natural Gas STAR and Methane Challenge program brings together a promising group of companies and perspectives to encourage the implementation of “Best Management Practices” and/or a commitment to ONE Future’s goal of limiting industry-wide methane emissions to 1%. Good stuff! What are the industry’s emissions now, you ask? Good question. As technology improves, we are getting better at estimating how much methane is escaping throughout the natural gas value chain, but the industry still has a ways to go in accurately measuring these emissions. Right now, there are three main ways to calculate:

    1. Emissions and Activity Factors. This basically means measuring emissions from certain activities (like distributing natural gas) and/or a specific component (like compressors), coming up with an average emissions rate for that activity or component, and then multiplying that emissions factor by the amount of activity (miles of distribution pipes) or the number of components (compressors). While this is currently the main way of measuring used today, its accuracy in representing actual, on the ground methane emissions remains in question, and it was considered a last resort by some conference panelists.
    2. Measure gas quantity at Point A. Measure gas quantity at Point B. Divide to find the percentage of fugitive emissions that have gone missing somewhere in between. This “Lost and Unaccounted for Gas” metric is notably controversial. Most in the industry do not believe it’s a good proxy for actual emissions because of factors including: different quality meters used to measure at different points, gas volume changes due to temperature, etc.
    3. Get out and measure at the locations where the emissions are happening. While such actual measurements are the goal, the current technology and frequency used to survey entire systems for leaks or intentional releases varies incredibly. The need for continuous monitoring at the sites and equipment most likely to leak is clear, but how to do so effectively and at reasonable cost continues to be a head-scratcher that gas producers and distributors are eager to have solved.

    I was impressed to see several companies present their detection and quantification solutions during a Shark Tank-esque panel– American capitalism in action! A couple highlights included use of aerial drones as well as ground-level square footage "leak extent" tracking. Partnerships, pilot projects, and studies continue to move the needle on this critical issue.

    Leak Detection Technologies Panel

    Step 2: Mitigate

    As technology solutions continue to advance to better measure natural gas leakage, the pressure is on for companies to do what they can now to prevent and reduce emission-causing leaks. Such methods are already clear and being pushed forward. While environmental regulatory protections are being rolled back at the federal level, state authorities are now taking the reins and requiring industry-specific methane mitigation measures. States are not the only stakeholders with the power to resolve this problem. Industry leaders noted that other drivers include shareholder engagement, customer preference, and grassroots action. Climate change is a serious threat, and the natural gas industry is well aware that many stakeholders are concerned about the industry quickly reducing harmful methane emissions.

    This stakeholder pressure is why companies are becoming more serious about monitoring for leaks strategically and with increased frequency, learning more about where leaks are likely to occur, and focusing on actions to efficiently repair or event prevent leaks by implementing existing best management practices like updating aging infrastructure and using other advanced technologies. Recent studies showing that most emissions come from a small number of large leaks emphasize the importance of companies taking meaningful actions to prevent the damage caused by such “super emitters.” While these are good first steps, the industry must continue to pursue smart ways to detect, avoid, and fix leaks to achieve significant emissions reductions at reasonable cost.

    We know there's a problem, and we need to act.

    Returning from Houston, I was left feeling that inspiring progress is happening  -  but it's not fast enough. I saw signs of industry leadership, but also signs of hesitancy and reluctance. The excuse that we need more research before we act only makes sense to a point - a point that the planet is too close for comfort to reaching. We are now having to use the words "unprecedented damage" with ever-increasing frequency in cities like Houston and beyond. It is clear that we must continue to work with and press natural gas industry leaders to quickly develop smart, cost-effective solutions to this complex problem. We simply can't afford not to.

  • 23 Jul 2017 by Kevin Lee

    (a version of this blog appears in the Fall 2017 issue of WorldView magazine, published by the  National Peace Corps Association)

    If we are to reduce "Human Impact" on the global temperature rise, it will require governance and behavior change, it will not be about technology. My journey through Peace Corps from 2004-2006 and subsequent work founding and building A Single Drop for Safe Water inc. (ASDSW) in the Philippines has changed my perception on development and creation of impact, from technology and infrastructure (engineering basis) to understanding the role of behavior and governance in determining our well being.

    I arrived in the Philippines as a Peace Corps volunteer February 1, 2004, the first stage of changing my career as an industry focused mechanical engineer to an engineer that primarily used community organizing and governance building to facilitate social impact using technology. My picture of the Philippines was of beaches, corals, and coconuts, so I ended up in the Cordillera Mountains in the middle of Luzon, 1300 feet above sea level, 17 miles from the market at the end of the "new" road. 

    As a Water and Sanitation (Wat/San) volunteer my primary project was to work with the Local Government Unit (LGU) and the community to build a water system. This was a two-year journey with several diversions into "eco-tourism" (trendy BS at the time) and "male reproductive health" (the best stories) while watching heavily forested mountains rapidly being cleared and turning into agricultural wasteland, because the road enabled access both ways. I observed the working of the local government units and being part of them I was able to understand their roles in the community, the influence they have and the pressures they are under from their communities and levels of government above them.

    My awareness of climate change and its impact is a different story. It started at middle school in the 1970's (yes, this was not invented with the internet), where I remember discussions of the impact on the ozone layer by fluorocarbons and the green house effects of carbon dioxide. However, as with most of us, this receded to the back of my mind as I pursued education, mainly with the goals of meeting girls, making money, and building noisy stuff that would allow me to make money and meet girls. ANYWAY, I graduated, met a girl, built lots of big noisy stuff, and made a little money. In Ambaguio (my Peace Corps site) I watched the forest disappear and I listened to the stories of how the seasons were a-changing, and not for the better.  Access to markets got better, technology made it easier to farm, yet people had to work harder to make as much money, because yields were decreasing. This was due to nutrient deficiencies as they repeated crops, but it was also due to hotter temperatures and the real impact of climate change: the dry season was longer and the wet season was wetter. Still only a small impression, as I was dealing with how to mobilize communities to build, operate, and maintain water systems, pay for service, and get the local government to take responsibility in partnership with the community.

    In a chance meeting at the end of Peace Corps service with Gemma Bulos, I ended up as a co-founder of ASDSW, a non-stock, non-profit organization, where we were introducing appropriate water filtration technology and building community organizations to build and install them. However the real setting apart of ASDSW was based on a partnership with a development organization that was governance focused.  Mags Maglana (later board chairperson) influenced me with her thoughts on the role of government and the process of governance in service delivery. With my experience in Peace Corps and this prompting, we totally refocused ASDSW as a governance organization that does water, sanitation and hygiene, versus the traditional technology/community organizing NGO. It was a very cool and inspirational transition that resulted in ASDSW to create a niche market, be a thought leader and work with and influence government at all levels. 

    As we progressed, we entered the Humanitarian Response sector as well as the education sector. Climate Change Adaptation was starting to become a hot topic in the development field and we were able to address this through engineering so as to mitigate impact, and through governance and demand creation to allow communities to prepare and adapt. But the biggest and most tangible impact was through humanitarian response. In less than three years we responded to three large flooding events: a killer tropical storm (Washi), a massive large scale typhoon (Bopha) which started closer to the equator than any other recorded typhoon, and Typhoon Haiyan that killed close to 10,000 people. Frequency was increasing, location was moving further south and this reflected the climate change science that has conclusively concluded that this is not just a weather cycle, but human impact which is accentuating any natural cycles that occur. Not only this, but the communities that we were responding to were actively discussing the symptoms and impacts of climate change, and they sure as hell know that it exists and that they need to adapt. They also know that they personally have not contributed much to it, but they do know who to blame.

    Funnily enough we also got to hear the same from experts that travel in planes, stay in air-conditioned hotels, drive in SUV's with carbon footprints the same size as whole villages, but that's a whole 'nother rant!

    Back to the point of why we as RPCVs need to make a statement, and why I joined the RPCV for Environmental Action Group.  First of all Melissa twisted my arm really badly.  Secondly PCVs live in a society that is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gasses and is the biggest influencer for change.  PCVs generally serve in communities that are the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Not only do these communities contribute the least to the increase in temperature, but they do not have a voice and they certainly have limited influence over those that can make a difference. Often PCVs can be a burden to their host communities and have limited impact during their service.  However they can pay back those that they worked with by providing their voice to not only influence policy, but to proactively change their behaviors to reduce their carbon footprint. 

    The Paris Climate Accord is the biggest call to action on the most important issue that faces the world today. This is governance in action, where the world combined to make a policy statement. But that's the easy part. Implementation will be difficult to sustain and only good governance on a world stage will make it work. Already we are seeing where good governance and demand for action is starting to override influences that are threatening this accord. In the Philippines the current administration threatened to pull out of the accord, but public pressure has stopped that action. In the USA the current administration has pulled out of the accord, but local administrations at state and city level have stated and enacted policies to not only meet but sometimes exceed the requirements of the accord. We see where other countries are starting to fill the leadership void and take a more dynamic role. 

    There are no magic bullets to solve this issue. Technology will allow us to meet the targets, but it will require citizens of the world to change the way they live, so as to reduce their footprint while actively participating in the governance process to ensure that government as duty bearers continue to move in the right direction. As RPCVs we have the privilege to speak with authority and the RPCVs for Environmental Action is one of the channels where we can participate in the governance process that will be the prime mover to reduce human impact on global temperatures.


    Kevin Lee was born in South Africa to American parents. He was raised in New Zealand and graduated from Auckland University with a Bachelors Degree in Mechanical Engineering. For 14 years he worked in New Zealand and the U.S. as an engineer in the steel and construction industries. From 2004-2006 Kevin served in the Peace Corps/Philippines as a Water and Sanitation Volunteer. In his post-service career, Kevin co-founded A Single Drop for Safe Water, Inc. where he serves as Executive Director, and in Single Drop Consulting Services as President. Kevin was honored as Echoing Green Fellow 2007, Tech Museum Equality Laureate 2010, Ashoka Fellow 2015, and Standards 2015 Visionary Award. He is married to Luzviminda Lee and lives in Puerto Princesa, Philippines.

  • 21 Jul 2017 by Ellen Arnstein

    [A version of this blog appears in the Fall 2017 issue of WorldView magazine, published by the National Peace Corps Association.]

    None of the Bolivian farmers I worked with as a natural resources volunteer ever mentioned climate change. They said the rainy season started later every year, dry seasons were dryer and dryer, there used to be more shade trees and windbreaks, there’s not as much water as there used to be, and an increase in hail storms and disease has lowered their peach crops.

    Climate change is complex and it’s hard to predict its impact in the Andes.

    However, we can make some assumptions: high elevations will warm to a greater degree than the global mean warming and we expect the changes in oceanic circulation, extreme meteorological events, and precipitation anomalies to severely reduce water supply. Some of these predictions have already come true: In 2009, the 18,000-year-old Chacaltaya glacier disappeared six years earlier than predicted; water levels of Lake Titicaca, which supports 2.6 million people, dropped by 2.6 feet, the lowest level since 1949; And the rainy season in the high plains has been reduced from six to three months.

    Less water leads to fire-prone landscapes, destabilized slopes, and erosion. Warmer temperatures promote disease, increase stress on plants, and alter the ranges of several important crops and insects.

    People in the Andes face lower food production and increased prices as climate change and its effects contribute to decreased crop species diversity, land degradation, environmental changes, and increased population pressure with its attendant poverty and internal migration. Most of the hardship will be borne by farmers with only a small plot of land.

    They may not call it climate change but it does not go unnoticed there. How farmers perceive their environment is an indicator of seasonal climate variability. Communities can respond to challenges by taking specific actions such as adjusting their herd sizes, diversifying sources of income, and acquiring usage rights to higher elevation land. They can adopt new modern crops and agricultural techniques or try to recover traditional strategies. A recent study reports that those homes with significant ethnic knowledge of traditional farming practices incorporating ritual and Quechua language maintain greater diversity in their fields, planting tens of different types of potatoes, for example. This may indicate that the preservation of Andean culture could preserve genetic diversity and mitigate the effects of climate change.

    Farmers in the Andes can and do pursue strategies to mitigate climate change through their own societal ethics and social structure with traditional indigenous knowledge, respect, and diversity. With our language training and sensitivity to local cultures, Peace Corps Volunteers are an integral force against climate change in the Andes. These first-hand field experiences build in us a lifelong commitment to reducing the impact of climate change worldwide.


    Ellen Arnstein taught classes in solid waste management, tree biology and English and started two schoolyard nurseries and a vegetable garden while serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Camargo, Bollivia from 2007-2008. She now supervises volunteer stewardship projects for the Emerald Nature Conservancy in the parks of Boston.

  • 09 Jul 2017 by Mel Siegel

    (a version of this blog appears in the Fall 2017 issue of WorldView magazine, published by the  National Peace Corps Association)

    Since I served a very long time ago - my Ghana II cohort arrived in country one year to the day from the first-ever Peace Corps cohort - I will take a longer-term perspective on this question. In early Peace Corps days our U.S.-based training was exhaustive and exhausting: we did ten intensive weeks on the UC Berkeley campus, followed by two weeks in-country on the University of Ghana (Legon) campus. By the time we arrived at our schools we really knew a lot about the country - and we probably thought we knew even more.

    Things we believed included:

    1. the economic and educational level in Ghana south of the Volta River was comparable to remote rural areas in southern Europe, e.g., Portugal and Sicily;
    2. the southern edge of the Sahara Desert was retreating from northern Ghana at a mile or so yearly; and
    3. the Akosombo dam project - turning the river into Lake Volta - would transform Ghana and much of the West African region by bringing electrification, an aluminum smelting industry, water transportation, and irrigation-based agricultural.

    One of the highlights of our in-country training was an overnight trip to the construction site, where we all ignored everything that we'd learned about tropical intestinal infections and pigged out on the fresh water crayfish.

    I have been back to Ghana twice: in 2002 for an in-country reunion of our cohort, and in 2008 for a conference onto which I was able to tack a visit to the far north. Based on these visits, I have observations about what has actually happened relative to our beliefs in 1962.

    1. There has been truly substantial economic - but probably less educational - progress, but the gap between Ghana and the now no-longer-poor parts of Europe has become enormous.
    2. The increase in the gap - albeit on top of an improved base - is intimately related to issues of climate change and failure to implement sustainable environmental practices: the Sahara is again moving south, population has quadrupled, civil infrastructure has fallen far behind residential and commercial construction, and architecture now relies on air conditioning instead of the climate-adapted low-energy-demand structures that were previously prevalent
    3. The aluminum industry never developed to the planned extent, electric power generation is far below what was expected, so brown-outs and black-outs are common, and old-timers are convinced that the lake has dramatically changed the climate for the worse in the central region - adding insult on top of the injury of global climate change.

    I would like to expand a little on the architecture and infrastructure issue, which I think is symptomatic of "how not to do it" for environmental sustainability as well as for human comfort in the tropics. The school campus on which I taught and lived was built in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Walls were thick, windows were shuttered but not glazed, and trees and arcades provided shade. Cross ventilation and an occasional electrically-powered ceiling fan, along with acceptable attire that was appropriate to the climate, made our working and living spaces comfortable most of the time, despite the heat. In contrast, what I experienced in 2002 and 2008 were thin-walled buildings, glazed windows, and air conditioning that was inadequate when it worked – and that frequently didn't work, either because it was broken or because the electrical power had failed. It all contributed to tropical misery. To exacerbate this misery, temperatures seemed higher, and western-styled clothing that is unsuitable for a tropical climate is increasingly the norm. Hopefully, the realization that the climate is becoming more inhospitable and energy will probably become more expensive and less reliable, before it becomes more reliable, will encourage a return to adaptive architectures and life styles.

    My Peace Corps service, post-service career decisions, and involvement in the RPCVs for Environmental Action are closely linked. A component of our Peace Corps training at Berkeley was writing a "term paper" on a personally meaningful topic related to our training. The topic of my paper was a hypothetical analysis of the social and economic consequences of a Peace Corps volunteer introducing a mechanized fufu pounder to a traditional Ghanaian village. This led to my thinking about sustainable development; in particular, technology for sustainable development, probably before the idea had that name. Although my professional career has been in physics and robotics, I have always had in the back of my mind that when I get around to retiring I would take up work on the technological aspects of sustainable development issues. It was my good luck that RPCVs for Environmental Action came along at just the right time for me to realize my now more than 50-year dream in collaboration with this enthusiastic, talented, and like-minded group.


    Mel Siegel is professor emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotics Institute in its School of Computer Science. He received his bachelor's degrees from Cornell University and his PhD from the University of Colorado - Boulder under Nobel Laureate John L. Hall. He served in the Peace Corps, teaching physics and math at Achimota School, outside Accra, Ghana, in the two years between his undergraduate and graduate studies. During this period, he traveled extensively on the ground in West and Central Africa, sometimes even in compliance with Peace Corps rules.

  • 05 Apr 2017 by Kate Schachter

    Throughout the world, more and more organizations, companies and governments are going fossil free in their investment strategies. From the countries of Ireland and Norway to the city of New York, from college campuses around the world to art galleries and museums in the US, UK and Netherlands, the push to divest and reinvest in renewable energy solutions is on. The March 4, 2017 Board decision of the National Peace Corps Association to divest of their funds by March 2018 is yet another example of this important action. Why do this?

    As members of the Peace Corps community who work or have worked in cities and villages in developing countries, we know that it is the marginalized people of society who are affected the most by the negative impacts of the fossil fuel industry. Whether it is local/global pollution, public health or refugees due to environmental degradation, fossil fuels have wrought damage.

    Since we know it’s wrong to wreck the climate, it simply follows that it is also wrong to profit from that wreckage. In December 2016, the value of investment funds committed to divestment jumped to $5.2tn as concerns about investment in coal, oil and gas entered the financial mainstream. This race away from the industry means it is also wrong to keep our funds in short-sighted technologies.

    In order to keep global warming to 2°C, we must only burn 20% of the oil, gas and coal reserves that companies want to dig up. The other 80% needs to stay in the ground where it belongs. The science is there, and there is no good reason to ignore it.

    Renewables give power to the people, literally and figuratively. Renewables require a change in thinking about the power delivery system already in place, much of it locally delivered (think solar on your rooftop).  A “utility death spiral” means that it is time to take the investment-astute action and divest now. Meanwhile, fund managers are investing in renewable energy, which has now passed the midway point and is more profitable than fossil fuel energy.

    How easy is it to go fossil free in your investments? Easier than you think! Climate activist organization has produced a new website,, that allows you to check your mutual funds to find out if any of the “Carbon Underground 200” – the top 100 oil or gas and top 100 coal companies – are included in the portfolio. If they are, work with your fund manager to state your investment preferences.

    For individuals, go to, which will step you through the key concerns. And don’t forget to support institutional divestment movements, like this next one.

    For organizations, go to, where you will be able to submit a public statement, just as NPCA has done. These things take time, and a commitment can take as long as five years to complete, if needed.

    Go Fossil Free! Divest, then Invest Responsibly


    About the Author: Kate Schachter served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ghana from 2004-2007, an NPCA Board member and Group Leaders Forum Coordinator in 2010-13, and a Peace Corps Response Volunteer in Georgia from 2016-2017. She has been active on the leadership team of the RPCVs of Wisconsin-Madison since 2007. She is also one of the founding members of the NPCA affiliate group, RPCVs for Environmental Action. This blog first appeared on the NPCA website in April 2017.