Searching for a Place to Live with the Most Ice and Thunderstorms

Atmospheric Science Students, STS Students

By Steven Slater

Steven is majoring in Atmospheric and Environmental Sciences, and his primary interest is extreme weather.

Ever since I can remember, I enjoyed watching the rare thunderstorms whenever they occurred in Western Washington. I often had to wait a year or more between seeing individual lightning bolts. I often watched The Weather Channel as my main source of weather-related content, whether it had to do with storms or snow. My mind was blown as I watched the reported snow totals rise close to 12 feet for the lake-effect vent in February 2007.

The lowlands of Western Washington don’t receive much snow, so I had to wait for that, too, though it happened more frequently than thunderstorms. I was an advocate for receiving as much snow as possible in the shortest time. The biggest event I experienced in Washington was in December 2008, where I remember playing in ~15 inches of snow at the peak of the event.

A picture containing tree, outdoor, sky, snow.
Washington in January 2012. Photo: Steven Slater.

Balancing Expectations: Preserving the Nature and History in South Dakota

STS Students

By Louise Swanson

Louise is majoring in Science, Technology, and Society with a minor in Environmental Science. She plans on working with the parks system or in museum work.

When I was growing up, I spent my weekends going to ghost town sites around the Black Hills with my father. Each time we went to Spokane we made guesses as to whether or not the old community center that Elizabeth Cady Stanton spoke at would have collapsed (a couple of years ago it did) or if the Two-Bit Mill would still be standing (about 10 years ago it was bulldozed into a nearby ravine to better allow for nature to return to the area). Meanwhile, I watched as the Gordon Stockade was refurbished and preserved for visitors to come and see where the Gordon Party lived while in the Black Hills.

A picture containing tree, grass, outdoor, building.
Spokane Community Center/Church, 2016. This photo and the following are taken by either me or my father, William Swanson. I asked him for his permission to use them.

In college I have taken both history and environmental science classes and worked for a year at The Journey Museum, and I have only become more curious about how the decision to preserve some things and not others is made and how agencies decide whether to prioritize the environment or the history of an area. The optimist in me also hopes that maybe sometimes we don’t have to choose. Maybe, sometimes there is a way that environmental conservation and historic preservation are linked.

Environmental Literature & Culture: Spring 2022 Course

Classes

By Christy Tidwell

What is nature? What do you imagine when you think of nature? What are the qualities of nature (better yet, of Nature with a capital N)? 

Pause now and think about that for a minute. 

Seriously. 

What is the image of Nature you hold in your mind? Picture it.

Photo by James Wheeler on Pexels.com

Did you imagine something like that? Maybe not that exact image, but something similar? If so, consider this response more fully. What are the qualities of this representation of nature? It’s beautiful. It has lots of elements of the natural world (I know, that seems circular, but stick with me), like trees, mountains, a lake. It’s pure and untouched. It’s wild. Notably, there are no humans in this image. 

Spooky Science at the Movies!: Week 2

Environment, Film, horror, Humanities

By Christy Tidwell

Horror movies are often defined by their monsters. Sometimes these monsters are terrifying beasts that give us nightmares (like Guillermo del Toro’s Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth or Pennywise from Stephen King’s It), sometimes they’re kind of silly (like the rampaging rabbits in Night of the Lepus), and sometimes they’re surprisingly sympathetic (like Frankenstein’s Creature).

In any case, monsters demonstrate something about both the world we live in and what we fear. In the 1950s, people feared nuclear war; now, we fear climate change. The two horror movies I’m recommending for this week directly address those fears, presenting viewers with monsters that embody the harm of nuclear warfare/testing in one case and that are the direct result of climate change’s superstorms and unpredictable weather patterns in the other.

Whether We’re Exploring Space or the Ocean, Stories Fuel Science

The Double-Edged Sword

By Olivia Burgess
The Double-Edged Sword

My Introduction to Science, Technology, & Society class recently discussed “space ethics,” and part of that conversation involved weighing the costs and benefits of prioritizing space exploration over other alternatives – most notably, ocean exploration. 

For part of our discussion, I grouped my students into two different teams and gave them a task: one team had to decide how to convince the public to support funding space exploration, while the other team needed to convince the public that it was better to support ocean exploration. 

Learning to See the Land

Environment, Humanities

By Bryce Tellmann

Many, perhaps most, of the students I teach are from the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Kansas, all states that are frequently referred to as “Plains States.” (We can spend a lot of time debating the inclusion criteria for a state to qualify as a “Plains State,” but that’s a different post.) At some point in the semester, I usually ask them, as a group, to complete this sentence: “The landscape of my state is ______.” Almost invariably, I am met with a unison chorus of “flat!” or “boring!” This response is more than mere topographical observation.

I grew up in western North Dakota, seeing the landscape much as my students do: essentially flat and nondescript. Not until years later did I realize that I lived in a very dramatic landscape: knuckles of stone push their way out of ancient hills, the last evidence of resistance to glacial domination thousands of years ago. Stretches that appear flat are actually cascading downward, racing toward whatever rare stream or coulee will collect the sparse rainfall. The grass itself frustrates efforts to touch the ground, as one must dig through several inches of dense, matted undergrowth to find soil. This immense complexity is most evident at dawn and dusk, when the extreme angle of sunlight throws easily elided variation into sharp relief.

Big Problem, Small Form: Climate Change Poetry

Environment, Poetry

By Christy Tidwell

Climate change can seem overwhelming. It’s so big, and responding to it will involve more than individual actions, so it’s easy to feel discouraged or fearful. It’s also tempting to simply deny that it’s happening and hope for the best. In This Changes Everything: Climate Change Vs. Capitalism, Naomi Klein writes about how easy it is for us to “look for a split second” and then look away, joke about it, “tell ourselves comforting stories about how humans are clever,” etc. She writes, “All we have to do is not react as if this is a full-blown crisis. All we have to do is keep on denying how frightened we actually are. And then, bit by bit, we will have arrived at the place we most fear, the thing from which we have been averting our eyes. No additional effort required.” Obviously, this denial does not solve the problem.

Poetry works against this denial in a variety of ways. Some poets simply describe the losses we face. Risa Denenberg’s “Ice Would Suffice” (2017), for instance, emphasizes how “species are lost, / spotted frogs / and tufted puffins forsaken” and observes how we remain “heedless of lacking space / or how long / our makeshift planet will host us.” From its title’s reference to Robert Frost’s “Fire and Ice” (1920), a poem about how the world might end, to its emphasis on failure and loss, Denenberg’s poem demands that readers face our own human decline and likely extinction.

Who Is Earth Day For?

Environment, history

By Frank Van Nuys

In 1976 my eighth-grade science teacher gave us an assignment that seems as if it possibly aligned with that year’s Earth Day activities. I recall this primarily because of its embarrassing results. We were told to dig up some soil from our family’s yard and bring it to school to develop our own little in-door plot for growing some plant or other. Being part of the only family in southwestern Ohio not possessed of an old coffee can or some other suitable container, I dutifully filled a black plastic lawn bag with what seemed like a lot of dirt and stuffed that in a gym bag. Managing to lug my Earth Day “earth” on to the school bus, I stuffed the gym bag in my locker. When the time came for science class, I opened the locker and discovered that the plastic bag had ruptured. I suppose I somehow wrestled my embarrassingly overflowing bag of dirt into class and eventually grew something, but that sickening demoralization of middle-school level humiliation was all that really stuck with me.

Poster for the ENACT (Environmental Action for Survival) Earth Day Teach-In on the University of Michigan – Ann Arbor campus in March 1970.

My hapless effort at dirt transplantation offers a metaphor of sorts for the Earth Day phenomenon. Well-intentioned individual efforts on behalf of noble aspirations to better the planet, even if more successful than mine, amount to relatively small achievements. The first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, was certainly a masterstroke in terms of generating citizen engagement and marketing an increasingly popular sentiment into a mass movement spectacle. It can even be argued that bipartisan passage of significant federal environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act of 1970, the Clean Water Act of 1972, and the Endangered Species Act of 1973, fed on momentum provided by Earth Day. Additional impacts included a surge in environmental organization memberships during the 1970s and growing influence of such organizations in legal actions against corporations and government agencies.