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Republic of Georgia, (c) S Tsopurashvili 2016

  • 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.