Friday, June 26, 2015

Redefining Your Environment

According to Merriam Webster Dictionary:

Environment: en·vi·ron·ment: the circumstances, objects, or conditions by which one is surrounded.
Sustainable: sus·tain·able: able to last or continue for a long time.

My collegiate history of involvement with environmental protests, petitions, campaigns, and resolutions have taught me a great deal about local and global environmental issues and sustainability. What these experiences have failed to teach me is how to define and place these environmental issues into any context. It wasn't until I became an anthropology major that I began to value the importance of definition; more specifically the ability to redefine what "the environment" encompasses and what it means to be "sustainable". Countless ethnographies, classes and discussions have opened my eyes to the complexities that exist within understanding and defining the boundaries of environmental issues, eliminating my naivety in believing there is any ease in achieving a sustainable environment.

On a smaller scale, these past two weeks have already granted me a range of experiences that have redefined my environment and understanding of sustainable practices. My work environment has physically changed from inside a classroom to UW Stout offices and the streets and waterways of Menomonie, Wisconsin. Within this new environment, I am slowly learning the anthropological nuances of observing, note taking, interviewing, transcribing and analyzing. Dr. Tina Lee, among other professors, has provided the platform for independent thought, creativity and engagement, allowing me to develop as an individual and as an anthropology student. My partner, Eniola, has illustrated the importance of collaboration and communication in a friendship and academic partnership, which I am forever grateful for. It wasn't until this past week that I truly began to understand how sustainability transcends the natural environment and becomes something outside of what the LAKES REU group is working to achieve with Lakes Menomin and Tainter. Sustainability in my work environment is more than individual choices of reusing and recycling, but building a strong foundation where the commitment to academic advancement of environmental and sustainable comprehension is carried beyond this summer into the years to follow. 

More broadly, I have recognized the importance of intersections between the environment and the sustainable practices needed to achieve the environmental utopia. I have come to learn that the environment in which I am working in extends beyond the physical boundaries of walls or water. As an individual my environment consists of the physicalities of Menomonie; however as an anthropology student, my environment is not solely a classroom or a polluted waterway, but the political, social and economic conversations that take place in residential neighborhoods, coffee shops and town halls. My environment is the words of concerned residents, the economic development of downtown businesses and farms, and the text of legal ordinances that transform the every day lives of those affected by the the algal blooms of the lakes. Achieving environmental sustainability, therefore, cannot be successful without the incorporation and careful consideration of all involved.  Sustaining the health of the lakes for future generations also involves sustaining the health of the community, paving an avenue where the biological, political, economic and social values of Menomonie can positively coexist for years to come. 

It is this experience in Menomonie where I begin to disassemble the boundaries of environmental issues that I once so naively found easy to define and resolve. Environmental sustainability cannot exist without taking into consideration how the implementation of environmentally sustainable policies affects, incorporates or excludes those outside of the physical environment. And so I call for anyone involved in committing to a sustainable future, or anyone who cares to read this, to critically reflect on, respond to and redefine "the environment" and "sustainability" when doing so. Lastly, my goals for the summer, for those of Menomonie and for those of the greater Red Cedar watershed area, are to dedicate myself to the communities as best as possible by incorporating and listening to all involved in advocating for a sustainable and inclusive solution to the Red Cedar waterways.

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