When I first joined ENVS-295, and was told about our upcoming engagement trip, I was initially very hesitant. The main questions which circled in my mind were as to how this could help. In the back of my mind I felt as though these were arbitrary lessons; growing up in Montana, sandwiched between one of the largest wilderness areas in the country and a firmly-planted agriculture community, I had seen more than my fairshare of resentment between ranchers and conservationists. During the 2017 Rice Ridge fire near my hometown of Ovando, MT, massive rifts formed between the agricultural community, the Forest Service, and environmental organizations working in the area. It was tremendously disappointing to see such large obstacles formed out of a destructive event when I had hoped for unity.
This was a feeling I had in my chest up until we visited a museum which focused on the history of the gorge and then met with the Columbia River Inter Tribal Fish Commission (CRITFC), a union of local tribes working together to preserve salmonid species. When I saw this connection between local, federal, and tribal enforcement as well as the energy commission of the Columbia River, I was stunned by their ability to effectively deliver change and protection. As described by William Robbins (2005), the Columbia River and Willamette Valley, home to a rich history of Native American life, changed rapidly under the rule of western settlers. These changes largely affected food stores for native communities, and the disruption is felt even today. I was intrigued by the connections between today’s fight and those of a bygone era. The next day, after a night at Champoeg State Park, we were given a presentation by Barb Iverson, the president of the Oregon Farm Bureau (OFB). For the next hour we learned about the intersection of federal and state government and how it relates to agriculture in Willamette Valley. The OFB and government had many different goals, but the level of engagement between the two groups stunned me.
After our engagement fieldtrip we then began moving into partnership organizations based on the intrigue which had been cultivated. What piqued my interest was Lewis & Clark’s ENVX Symposium, an annual event which brought in speakers to challenge our ideas of “the environment” and share their perspectives. After Sunita Narain’s topic of uneven development at the 22nd annual ENVX Symposium, where she spoke about inequality in India and across the world, I was fascinated by the intersection of cultures and policies more so than that of government and individuals. As presented by Maas et al., the intricacies of information dissemination were what commonly prevented scientists from speaking effectively with the public on hot button issues like climate change (2019). The 23rd annual ENVX Symposium, focusing on implementation of conservation, would be an amazing moment to help facilitate communication between the public and scientists through the lense of environmental studies, STEM’s more humanitarian-focused cousin.
After joining the ENVX Symposium, I began to work closely with a team of students along with professors out of the Environmental Studies program. Much of my work for the class pertained to how the organization (it being the ENVX Symposium) could maximize its ability to operate not only in the public lense but also with its rhetoric. Effective Altruism, a concept which champions the donation of money as the most critical aspect to any form of intervention (so long as it is based purely on reason), was one of the first topics we explored through our partnership organization. Unsure at first, I wrote critically of effective altruism, but wrote about the benefits of the removal of emotion from the donation process. All organizations require some kind of capital, and the ENVX Symposium is not excluded from this. For an organization which constantly has less money than it anticipates, the ability to create freely is hindered, and different avenues for success are required; it must take care with every dollar.
Other topics we focused on brought about the different aspects of operation a Non-Governmental Organization, such as the aspects of key actors and how organizations orient themselves in a period of time which is afflicted by wide scale deception and outright lies. When misinformation and disinformation is so common how do groups like the ENVX Symposium, which focuses entirely on challenging current thought patterns in environmental fields, effectively present information? To combat this, more information isn’t needed, but instead the ability to communicate information, a lesson which ties back to a point made earlier in this post. It doesn’t matter if a fact is true, it matters that the presenter is able to properly show this and engage with dissenting opinions. Only through engagement will truth become more widespread than falsehoods.
As we track further into the semester with our partnership organizations, the ENVX Symposium draws closer to its 23rd debut. Engagement with the public, alongside intelligent rhetoric is critical for success for the symposium, other than appropriate funding (something it cannot control). My past few months with the organization have shown me an entirely different side of environmental studies, and I’m excited to keep interacting with the process to deliver interesting and challenging opinions to the students of Lewis & Clark and the public.