JOB TITLES: Author; sustainability lecturer, Boston University Questrom School of Business; podcast co-host, The Climate Minute
FAVORITE TRINITY MEMORY: During my senior year, Craig Schneider taught a small seminar class called “Marine Phytogeography.” He hosted all classes at his house, where we were fortunate to meet his delightful wife and his children. He frequently had guest speakers, and the class felt more like a journal club of transcendent thinkers than an undergraduate seminar.
What is the focus of your 2016 book? Protecting the Planet: Environmental Champions from Conservation to Climate Change illuminates the work of 50 of the nation’s most compelling environmental innovators, past and present. I wrote this book with my father, my first environmental hero. Our text brings climate change to the public in a digestible and optimistic way, pulling readers in through the connection to people. We begin with the mounting evidence for climate change as seen in rising carbon dioxide levels, higher global temperatures, melting ice sheets, and sea-level rise. We then review the history of the U.S. environmental movement, focusing on key people who changed our understanding of the human impact on our natural surroundings. Turning to the present, we recount the activities of individuals pursuing remedies for climate change. We conclude with a set of actionable strategies, demonstrating that there are real reasons to hope that we can achieve a sustainable lifestyle, protect our planet as our home, and ensure the future for our children.
What sparked your interest in the environment? I grew up with a dad who rescued wildlife from human impact. He brought home the strangest pets, including a snapping turtle named Snapshot in honor of his photography predilection and a baby squirrel named Rocky. We even spent a weekend caring for a raptor (sanctioned, of course). My dad frequently took my siblings and me camping in the Rocky Mountains, concocting elaborate nature scavenger hunts to help us learn how many needles were on a yellow pine and how to recognize an oak acorn. We assumed it was for our entertainment, but now as a parent, I realize it was likely an ingenious way to keep us occupied while he fished for our dinner! As a teenager, I read an article about splicing cow genes into salmon to create super salmon. That article lit up a different area of interest for me: the interface between the natural world and humans’ impact on it.
Was there a professor who was particularly influential? As a student in Trinity’s Interdisciplinary Science Program, I was tremendously fortunate to do raccoon research—tracking them through the woods—with Professor Michael O’Donnell early in my career. Additionally, Professor Craig Schneider inspired my interest in botany. I took every class that he offered and have vivid memories of our field trip to the quaking bog and his famous bison lecture, which left not a dry eye in the class. The assignments that Professor Schneider, or “Doc,” devised were academically rigorous and fun; they challenged me to think creatively. Doc and Professor O’Donnell are spectacular, devoted mentors, and we are still in touch!
What do you see as the biggest challenges in environmental conservation? In my graduate studies, I turned my focus toward climate change. Paraphrasing from Protecting the Planet’s introduction: The more I learned about the dangers of climate change, the more puzzled I became about why we were not taking drastic actions to stop releasing greenhouse gases. I learned how climate change would affect every aspect of our existence. I knew I needed to do something to have a positive impact and to feel part of the solution. I decided to write a book. I started thinking about the moments that I heard about climate change and felt energized to solve the problem. Those moments came when I learned about the work and stories of the people featured in my book. These leaders have made incredible impacts on our knowledge about climate change. They give me hope and direction for how to tackle the biggest challenge the world has ever faced.
How did your time at Trinity help prepare you for what you do now? As a professor of sustainability, I endeavor to re-create the academic environment that so many of my Trinity professors cultivated for me. They taught me to think critically, grasp complexity, and connect my knowledge with real-world issues; they awakened interests that are integral to who I am today. My professors prepared me to learn once I left Trinity and to be an active participant in shaping the world around me. As an aside, I have run 12 marathons since college. Trinity’s Head Cross Country Coach George Suitor taught me how to run long distances, planting the seed for what keeps me motivated and steady in life—running!