Acting Environmentally

Environmental Art | Action | Activism

Final Abstract: A Story Map of Jane Goodall’s Activism

Since 1960, Jane Goodall has changed the world perception of animal conservation through over 50 years of groundbreaking work studying, protecting, and saving chimpanzees. Her discoveries disputed misconceptions about chimpanzees and other primates, and she has since dedicated her life to urging humans to protect and live in harmony with all living things on this planet. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute (JGI) in 1977 to continue her vision through advocacy, education, and research and now spends an average of 300 days traveling as an environmental activist.

The JGI website actually has a timeline of Dr. Goodall and JGI’s life, as well as a map of worldwide JGI projects. The “Tapestry of Hope” also created an interactive map of all Roots & Shoots projects, a youth development program started by JGI.

Rather than repeat these previous maps/timelines, my project aims to test the power of maps, social media, and storytelling. Inspired by her storytelling abilities, I will follow the hashtag “WheresJane” and read news articles on  Dr. Goodall’s recent activism. I will then use this information to create a StoryMap that tracks Goodall’s impact as she spreads environmental awareness and hope around the world.

A Song for the Environment

My biggest takeaway from Living Environmentally is the idea that individuals can make a difference and change the world in a positive way. As a result, I decided to do a paper on music and the environment, because to me, art has always been very important and as time has progressed, I have definitely begun to see different ways in which art has/can be used as forms of activism.

In my paper, I will discuss specific songs and artists and how they have been influenced by specific environmental movements. I will be looking into lower artist such as Michael Jackson and Joni Mitchell and their views on the Environment and how that has played a role in their music. Likewise I will look at specific songs such as “Earth Song” by Michael Jackson and “Big Yellow Taxi” by Joni Mitchell and see how these songs were shaped by the time.

In comparison, I will compare this to more modern artists such as John Luther, Coldplay, and John Legend and how their music has been shaped by both their environmental beliefs and actions. I will discuss their involvement in different environmental groups and their efforts through the lens of what they those to focus on in their songs.

Finally, I will tie all of these songs and artists together by writing my own environmental activist song using themes and ideas that I have seen from these other musicians. I am not sure if I will perform it though because I am not good at singing.

Final Abstract: Inspiring a New Generation of Environmentalists

In a shocking turn of events, I will not be writing about algae! I found it hard to make it activism-themed, so instead I will be writing about another environmental topic that is very near and dear to my heart: environmental activism among youth.


Anthropogenic climate change is increasingly threatening our society with drastic and irreversible health threats to our planet and all of the species that call it home. Politicians fight over the best way to combat the consequences of climate change, but they have been largely unsuccessful in creating the change we need. So many of the individuals that are blockading the environmental movement should be almost irrelevant to this conversation. These oil company owners, conservative politicians, and other old, white, wealthy men with stakes in the oil industry are going to be dead before the more toxic, dystopian-like effects of climate change begin to seep into society. However, if we continue to let these individuals use their power to influence environmental legislation, the youngest generations could be living in a world not too far off from many of the dystopias described by Margaret Atwood and other authors whose works we read in class. It is absolutely essential that our youth — especially Generation Z —  become educated and engaged with environmental issues such as climate change. Fortunately, there is already a wave of budding young environmental activists, from the 21 kids who sued the federal government for their lack of responsible climate action to the preschoolers in my mom’s class who have pledged to give up plastic straws to our very own “Acting Environmentally” class, the voices behind April 3 Plastic Free and Duke Divestment. In this paper I am going to discuss youth environmental activism from a number of angles. I will review research on environmental literacy among youth, analyze case studies of environmental youth activists, discuss some of my own experiences with climate change education to elementary schoolers, and attempt to conduct long-distance interviews with some of my mom’s preschool students who recently had an environmental unit that included the straw-free pledge.

The Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act has recently been caught in the crosshairs of the new Trump administration, with the aim of either eliminating or changing the act. While these actions would be disastrous, I will investigate the political climate in which the act was first passed and discuss why the act was more of a political move to get Nixon re-elected, rather than out of environmental concern. I will review the Earth Day movement of the late 1960s and the early 1970s and discuss how Nixon changed his mind about the environment to get votes from the environmental community. I will examine the most telling case about how the act was ignored in the construction of the Tellico Dam in Tennessee. The state was pushing forward with a dam that was unneeded, and the snail darter was discovered and listed as an endangered species. However, the construction of the dam continued and largely ignored the Endangered Species Act and destroyed the habitat of the snail darter. Additionally, I will address the attempts of the Republican Party to destroy this act, whenever they had a majority in the House and the Senate, even though Nixon was a Republican that passed this bill. By looking at all of the conditions and reactions to the bill, I have concluded that this was a calculated political move that has forever since “haunted” the Republican Party.

Final Project Abstract: A guide to zero-waste living in Durham

The goal of living zero-waste is to drastically reduce the amount of trash one produces to almost nothing.  In 2013, the average American produced 4.4 pounds of trash per day (Environmental Protection Agency).  In a society where many items are used and quickly discarded, zero-waste is an appealing form of environmental activism as it dramatically reduces the amount of trash going into the landfill for even one person.  Based on the average, going zero-waste living can reduce 1,606 pounds of waste from the landfill for one person per year.  Zero-waste, and reducing the amount of trash one produces is a tangible and concrete way for the individual to help the environment on a daily basis.  Going zero-waste, and even reducing waste, can take on many forms, but requires some planning and know-how to achieve. In a world of convenience going zero waste takes forethought and intention, but the payoff is the knowledge that you are helping the environment by not contributing to our planet’s growing collection of trash. The following is a guidebook for going zero waste in Durham, NC. It will look into tips and tricks for going zero-waste, where to shop, how to divert items from the landfill, and how to live in Durham and not produce trash. It will explore the costs and time requirements of zero-waste living and ways to reduce waste and save money. This guidebook will explore what it takes in the average day to day life to reduce waste in your life and aid the environment.


Environmental Protection Agency. (2016, March 29). Municipal Solid Waste. Retrieved from:

Monuments: Stories, People, and Hope

     Although Dr. Farber and Pedro Lasch did not address art as an act of environmental activism specifically, the creativity, tactics, and process of making impactful, time-sustaining monuments could definitely be applied to environmental activism projects. From the power of stories to representation to hope, the Penn Monument Lab project and Pedro’s accompanying comments touched on and connected multiple themes that our class has discussed throughout the semester.

    During the introduction of the Monument Lab: A Public Art and History Project, Farber described how his team analyzed the placement and characteristics of current monuments in Philadelphia. He brought up the question of presence and power, asking “What is present and what is missing? Whose stories are being told?”. I immediately thought of the Radical Mapping group because they asked very similar questions. Instead of just asking what and who the monuments represent, Farber brought to light whose stories were missing and how they can fill in those gaps. This included people of different races, genders, sexual orientations, family backgrounds, etc. – essentially “inviting everyone to the table”, as Crystal Dreisbach previously urged.

    Secondly, Farber encouraged us to “meet people where they are”, which applies to both public monuments and environmental movements. If we want to engage as many people as possible, we must first welcome them into the space, then use actionable and transactional methods to keep them engaged. For example, Farber discussed the importance of quick actions such as signing a petition or writing down one’s own idea, then giving them a “gift” in a form of this transaction. He also emphasized participatory social engagement and furthering one’s own goals by connecting to others’ issues. For environmentalism, this means understanding the intersectionality of nature with issues of human health, poverty, race, etc. to reach more people in the conversation. Art, therefore, acts as an incredibly powerful tool to welcome people and keep them engaged.

    Lastly, Farber and Pedro discussed the exhaustion that incurs from hours of labor behind getting permits and building the monuments, and how to combat that. Ultimately, the answer is hope. Seeing one’s work come into fruition, other people interacting with it, and pushing a project to greater levels than anticipated will further one’s motivation. The work is exhausting indeed, but Hope, this feeling of expectation, can and will keep you going.

    I felt inspired by Dr. Farber and Pedro Lasch’s talk and thought that it was a great way to summarize this semester. They discussed activism, art, and people, and now it is our job to apply these concepts to environmental projects of our own.

Chumba Koech Final Abstract

The rapid advancement of technology and agriculture practices in the United States has shaped the landscape of the country. In an attempt to increase production yields, the development of pesticides led to its nation-wide use. While increasing production yields, little was known about its adverse effects on human health. The primary objective of this paper is to examine the role of pesticides in agriculture and their effect on obesity and type 2 diabetes. This paper presents evidence that pesticides are detrimental to human health because pesticides disrupt metabolic homeostasis, predisposing individuals to gain weight.  From this information it can be concluded that the usage of pesticides in the United States needs to reduced. In examining the detrimental effects of pesticides, alternative solutions have been proposed. Permaculture, a human and environment friendly model, presents practices that eliminate the need for the current pesticides used in our country.  In conclusion, pesticides have been proven to harm our bodies metabolic homeostasis. This has led to the proposal for permaculture practices in commercial farming.


Final Project Abstract: “Does an Amazon Echo Paired with Smart Bulb IoT Technology Actually Save Energy?”

As voice assistants continue to proliferate throughout the world, we will see almost every appliance in homes become voice-friendly. Almost all large technology companies have developed their own voice assistant – Amazon (Alexa), Google (Google), and Apple (Siri) all developed ways to interface voice technology with so-called “Smart Homes”. For my project, I will begin developing an Alexa skill that can track energy consumption of a smart bulb over time. I will develop this application using Amazon Web Services (AWS) paired with a JavaScript function with Node.js framework. Upon completion, I would like to ponder the question: do smarter homes mean more efficient technology? The primary driver behind this is the fact that an Amazon Echo is always listening, and therefore always needs to be plugged in. As smart home technology continues to spread, we need to make sure that the benefits actually outweigh the costs.

Urban vs. Rural Sustainability Within the Food System

The food system of the United States has received increasing attention in recent years for its negative environmental impacts. While the increasing conversation and mobility towards a sustainable and just food system has had many positive impacts across the country, it has also occasionally devolved into a blame game between urban and rural (or agriculture and non-agriculture) environments. There are environmental impacts generated both by populations living within the agricultural sector and those living outside of it. In urban centers we see increasing instances of food deserts as well as an increasing disconnect with the food system as a whole. In the agricultural sector we face the continuing problems of resource consumption and depletion, environmental contamination from pesticides and other forms of pollution, as well as increasing incidences of factory and monocultural farming. While these problems may be unique to their respective sectors, they are by no means disconnected. This paper discusses the need for a comprehensive understanding of the food systems in America, and a joint effort between agricultural and non agricultural sectors to work towards just and sustainable food systems.

Final Project Abstract: “Marx and Monkeywrenching: What Eco-Socialism Means for the Environmental Movement in America”

Since the 2016 presidential election, interest in socialism has hit an all-time high in the United States. As social movements seek to focus on intersectionality and the interactions between many societal issues, environmental causes are increasingly viewed through political and socioeconomic lenses. I review the relationship between socialist movements and environmental issues throughout history, then turn to the present day and look specifically at the policies, stances, and activist and organizing strategies of the Democratic Socialists of America with regard to environmental causes, with particular emphasis on their Climate and Environmental Justice Working Group. Finally, I address the broader implications of the growing eco-socialism movement for other political and environmental activists.

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