Jul 7, 2016
Ryan Ballman

City of Trees Documentary Review


By M.A. in Environmental Studies Director Thomas Walker

City of Trees Banner

In the beautiful and engaging new documentary City of Trees, the natural world returns to life and a community comes together. The film tells a story about the Green Corps program, which provides job training for long-term unemployed residents through planting trees in Washington’s beleaguered and impoverished Ward 8. Continue reading »

Apr 22, 2016
Ryan Ballman

Unearthing Earth Day


By M.A. in Environmental Studies Director Thomas Walker

Goucher College Environmental Studies - Unearthing Earth Day

So, Earth Day, April 22, is once again upon us—inevitable, resilient, and hopeful as signs of spring itself. Our annual observance of it, now spanning two generations since its founding, begs some questions about how an event that catalyzed a movement, defined the modern concept of environmentalism, and neatly catalogued its problems has seemingly become a commodity, a mere calendar custom. Continue reading »

Mar 29, 2016
Ryan Ballman

Michael K. Dorsey, Climate Deadline—Paris


During Spring 2016 Residency, scholar Michael K. Dorsey joined us as a guest speaker to share his perspective and insights about the historic climate change conferences in Paris. Above is a recording of his speech.

He also screened a documentary on the Paris climate talks titled Climate Deadline—Paris, which he co-produced.

Feb 11, 2016
Ryan Ballman

You’re Like a Fine Wine, Valentine!


By Kayhla Cornell

Climate Change & Wine - Goucher Environmental Studies

“May you never steal, lie, or cheat, but if you must steal, then steal away my sorrows, and if you must lie, lie with me all the nights of my life, and if you must cheat, then please cheat death because I couldn’t live a day without you,” she said to the Riesling in her glass…

Matters of the Heart

The 14th of February, Valentine’s Day, Lover’s Day, The Day that Shall Not be Named—no matter what you have decided to call it, the statistical truth remains that 62% of Americans celebrate the holiday. You might be out with your significant other, singling and mingling around town with your friends, sobbing over ice cream and rom-coms, or you might even be content sitting on the couch watching Netflix with your cat. But no February 14th passes without a little indulgence in everyone’s favorite Valentine—wine. Continue reading »

Dec 21, 2015
Ryan Ballman

COP21: We’re Serious, Santa–No More Coal!


By Kayhla Cornell

COP21 No More Coal, Santa - Goucher College Environmental Studies

‘Twas the night before the climate talks ended, when all through my house;
I was certainly stirring, fingers poised on my keyboard mouse.
My “refresh” icon was loading, “Save the Earth!” stocking-ed feet under my chair;
hope overflowing that the results of the COP21 talks soon would be there.
The environmentalists were restless, tossing and turning in their beds;
Planet-warming carbon emissions and the future of Earth in their heads.

Well, that might not be exactly how it goes in the original, but it certainly rings true for those of us who kept up with the climate talks in Paris from November 30th, waiting to hear about the results of the final negotiations. Many of us know that as the planet grows warmer and we are increasingly seeing the negative impacts of climate change such as droughts, flooding, and resource scarcity, the time to begin aggressive climate action was…a while ago.

So what about these climate talks made environmentalists all over the globe frantically await negotiation results?

Continue reading »

Nov 19, 2015
Ryan Ballman

The Great Cranberry Scare


By Kayhla Cornell

The Great Cranberry Scare - Kayhla Cornell

It never fails to sneak up and surprise us every single year–The holiday season. Keeping with good spirits and glad tidings, it will soon be time to drag out your family’s long-cherished recipes, spend hours slaving over the stove, and make your yearly attempt to access “The Force”- mentally willing that 18 pound bird to cook faster.

While the Holidays will offer you a warm and fuzzy time to appreciate those who matter most, there is one presence at your table that is overlooked and neglected.

You dish them out of a can, thaw them from a frozen package, pour them into glasses for beverages and every once in a while you watch that denim clad father and son duo wade out to their hips into a vast sea of them – cranberries! But do you ever think about the Cranberry Scare of 1959? That’s right; there was once a Thanksgiving devoid of those classic little berries. Continue reading »

Jun 4, 2015
Ryan Ballman

Goucher Faculty and Students Lead Yardfarmers Project



Erik Assadourian, Environmental Studies faculty member, is the creator of Yardfarmers, an upcoming reality TV show about young Americans moving back in with their parents to farm their parents’ yards and neighborhood greenspaces. Why? Because yardfarming could help solve many of America’s challenges: from the obesity epidemic to food insecurity, from the abuses of industrial agriculture to food deserts, from social isolation to climate change.

Goucher Environmental Studies Students Kayhla Cornell and Julia Erbe are also involved with the launch of this innovative series. Learn more about Yardfarmers and the exciting work of Goucher’s faculty and students HERE

May 12, 2015
John Perrelli

The Dinner Party with 7 Billion Guests



The World Environment Day competition, hosted by the United Nations Environment Programme, selected a blog post entitled “The Dinner Party with 7 Billion Guests” from Allie Ballentine, Master’s in Environmental Studies student, as one of the top 10 finalists for their blog competition.

Blog Excerpt:

I live in the United States, and we are a nation of consumers in a world of consumers and hopeful consumers.  As I sit in front of my laptop and look around my home, I see very few items that I actually need.  The roof is one, the water in the tap, the food in the fridge, and the electricity that made all of that possible, and makes this blog possible.  Those items are needed.  Much of the rest simply is not.  Most of my items belong to the trappings of a modern life.  A life of comfort and convenience and ridiculous excessiveness.  In case you’re wondering, I am not rich, at least by American standards, and I don’t own much that I purchased new. Compared to those in a developing world though, I am rich beyond measure and likely live by a desired standard.  And this poses a real problem.  Those in developing nations deserve to live just as well as all of their fellow humans, but if the entire world, 7 billion people, live exactly as we do in the U.S., with our rampant desire for new and better and more stuff, what of will become of our home?

Read the full article HERE.


Apr 14, 2015

Call for contestants for TV show created by Erik Assadourian (Faculty)


In our inaugural blog, Erik Assadourian invited us to uproot ourselves in time and relocate ourselves in the past or the future, choosing 300 years in either direction to imagine the worlds we would inhabit.

In his latest project as senior fellow at the Worldwatch Institute, Erik asks us instead of uprooting to put down roots and sow seeds. Yardfarmers is a call for college students to come home and plant seeds of sustainability. Really. It’s a reality TV show that will follow the lives of twentysomethings who confront the challenges of sustainability in their own family’s backyards. In reality, the future is right there in the backyard, and this small space accentuates the many issues this show will address, including global issues like climate change, urban issues like food deserts, obesity, youth unemployment, and scaling issues like industrial agriculture.

Not only that, but this embrace of sufficiency in the practice of yardfarming may help us weather the turbulence ahead as “more food will be grown locally so interruptions in global food trade from droughts and disasters won’t be as catastrophic.”

Contestants may have to deal with droughts and figure out how to harvest rainwater; some may reap the bounty of overabundance and have to find creative ways to prepare zucchini 50 different ways; others may experience multigenerational family conflicts. But all the stories from six contestants multiply explore the literal and figurative growth from planting a seed and helping to mobilize a new generation to grow their food locally and acquire the skills and knowledge for sufficiency, sustainability, and resilience in the face of ecological turbulence.

The call has just gone out for six contestants to participate in this venture. Training and preparations begin this fall, filming in spring 2016, and the series release in spring 2017. Follow these developments on Twitter @yardfarmers.

Oct 8, 2014

Taking a Ride in the Time Machine | Your choice: Do you take a ride in the time machine 300 years forward or 300 years back?

Image by thethreesisters via Flickr

Image by thethreesisters via Flickr

This week I’ve been reading Global Environmental Politics: From Person to Planet, by State of the World 2013 contributor Simon Nicholson and Paul Wapner and it has proved an excellent read—with classic articles from a score of environmental experts, many of which have been on my ‘To Read’ list for a long time. But the hidden gem of the book resides on page 33. This being a college reader, each section ends with a thought exercise, with “The Time Machine,” wrapping up Section 1:

“Imagine you are sitting in a time machine. You are required to make a choice. You can go back 300 years or forward 300 years. You can’t stay in the present, and once you have made your decision, you’re not coming back…. Which would you choose? To go forward or back?”

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I had a lot of fun thinking through this. Though in truth, I would need just a bit more information before I could truly make my choice. Here’s my question: If I chose to go backwards in time would I get to influence the past, possibly even preventing the ecocidal present I’m now part of (kind of like that sci-fi show Continuum but set in Colonial America rather than modern-day Canada)? Perhaps I could become some sort of prophet that spreads a new ecological philosophy so that we never go down the suicidal grow-until-we-crash path. Possibly I could selectively introduce vaccines and antibiotics and sanitation—the best parts of the industrial revolution in my opinion—but decoupled from all the bad forms of progress that grew in parallel to this public health revolution. Or maybe I’d simply be shot or jailed as I tried to implement these changes. By 1714 the ideology of growth was well rooted and let’s be honest, I’m not sure how one would go from penniless time-immigrant to influential shaper of the future. If I was lucky, maybe I could sell enough future knowledge to buy up some of Manhattan before the island’s real estate market really took off. But probability of success aside, if you told me that there was any chance at all, I think I’d take it.

But let’s then assume the answer is no. That time is not linear and all is already as it ever will be. So if I went back in time, then that was always the case and I’ve already influenced it and it turned out as it turned out (You still with me? If not read here). In that case, I’d go forward. Certainly not because I think I’d be traveling to some sort of happy Star Trek future but just because I’m damn curious to see how the coming centuries unfold.

Call me suicidal if you will—the odds favor that if I left from Washington, I’d end up landing in the ocean (300 years from now I’d bet all the Manhattan real estate I bought in 1714 that Washington is underwater as Western or possibly all of Antarctica will most likely be ice-free by then). Or maybe I wouldn’t even be on a planet with a breathable atmosphere any longer. Or maybe I’d die from radioactive fallout still floating in the air from the nukes detonated during World War III.

Then again, if the collapse was slow and controlled rather than rapid and rabid, I might arrive thinking I pushed the “Backwards” button instead of the “Forward” one. With families farming little plots of land, dressed in home-tanned leather pants and homespun cotton shirts. But I’m sure a few minutes later I’d notice the well cared-for rifle or pair of binoculars—a family’s prize heirloom that has been well-used and passed on for generations. And once I turned my eyes toward the horizon, I’m sure I’d see some sharp angles of ruined skyscrapers hidden amongst the trees.

But is there any chance I’d see some sort of biomimickry-cradle-to-cradle-solar-organic utopia? I highly doubt it. While several chapters bring up the importance of hope in motivating us to build a sustainable future (“optimism makes us bigger,” blathers Alex Steffen, and Barbara Kingsolver has a whole essay on “How to Be Hopeful”), let’s be honest. More of the chapters—from Thomas Friedman’s essay “Too Many Americans?” to Bill McKibben’s “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math”—reveal that the window for getting to a high-tech sustainable future has closed (if it was ever open in the first place). Instead, we may get to a sustainable future–but through a painful process of degrowth (with how painful that process being determined by who leads it–people or the planet).

Growth of fungi in a Petri dish (Photo by: Dr. David Midgley Cultures: Dr. David Midgley University of Sydney, Australia.)

An essay by Charles C. Mann beautifully explores this point. When any species is given unbridled access to resources, it grows until it is stopped by some competing force. As he notes, if nothing stopped the growth of a single Proteus vulgaris bacterium, in just 36 hours “this single bacterium could cover the entire planet in a foot-deep layer of single-celled ooze.” The same goes with humans, where, as Mann notes, our monocropped grain fields look similar to the Petri dishes that bacteria colonies completely fill up and then collapse in. Mann reflects on what biologist Lynn Margulis thought about whether we too would grow until we crash, “It would be foolish to expect anything else…. More than that it would be unnatural.”

Of course the point of the book is that global environmental politics, wielded well, may help prevent our eventual crash, or at least help steer our descent so the future looks more like Colonial Williamsburg than The Planet of the Apes (the original not the crappy remake). Let’s “hope” Nicholson and Wapner are right.

Erik Assadourian is a Senior Fellow at the Worldwatch Institute and is teaching a course on Environmental Sustainability & Resilience at Goucher College this winter.


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