The average population density of the United States is roughly 87 people per square mile, but in New York City that number jumps to an astonishing 27,012 people per square mile. A rapidly changing climate will impact the 82% of US population living in cities more acutely than those living in suburban and rural areas as the urban heat island effect raises average annual temperatures by as much as 5°F in cities. For Charles Callaway ‘85, a native New Yorker, he saw an opportunity to work at WE ACT for Environmental Justice as a way to address multiple needs in his neighborhood: climate education, environmental health, and the production of good jobs to meet changing demand in the workforce.
Climate change. It’s hard to miss these days. Greta Thunberg, the young climate activist who sailed to New York to speak at the UN Climate Action Summit has been in front of Congress and has been interviewed countless times (see Trevor Noah interview below). Reports of Imelda’s drenching rains in Texas (over 40 inches in some places) have suggested that it has been additionally water stoked by a warmer atmosphere and we may see more of these tropical depressions. Dorian’s cataclysmic stalling over the Bahamas as a Category 5 hurricane is still fresh in many minds.
Today it is raining (again), the mosquitos in the woods are unbearable, and the high temperature will not crack 60 degrees. Not the idyllic mid-June days we dream of during the depths of winter, but the last week has graced us with exceptional weather. Even in the rain, there is such beauty surrounding us. We need to get outside and enjoy that beauty. We need to prioritize our connection to nature, and in doing so, we will find ourselves trending toward happier, healthier, more balanced individuals.
We have never been more connected to each other (digitally), yet we have never been more disconnected from the world around us. Whether it is the food we consume, the natural world, the fuel we consume, or the waste stream we leave behind, it has become far too easy to glaze over the externalities we create as someone else’s problem.
Proctor in Costa Rica affords a language and cultural immersion experience to Proctor sophomores every winter and spring. Studying at the Cloud Forest School in Monteverde, Costa Rica and living with local host families, students not only learn an incredible amount of Spanish and continue their regular sophomore level courses, but immerse themselves in one of the most biodiverse regions of the world.
It happens all the time. I am walking from my house to the office, maybe one of the shortest commutes in New England, and in the brief stroll from house to Maxwell Savage, inevitably there are scraps of litter, refuse tossed up on asphalt shore lines from the window of a passing car. The rolling, casual wave of a hand (that I never see) leaves behind beer cans, cigarette stubs, water bottles, candy wrappers, plastic bags. The colored bits of trash sprout like a 21st century algae bloom amidst Route 11’s shoulder grit. Wasn’t there yesterday, but there today.
We have carried a different community energy this year, an energy that is still positive, still Proctor, but different. We carry the loss of Dave Pilla from the summer. We miss his cheer, his laughter, his grace, and his generosity, his constant search for the perfect cup of coffee and his constant reminder of wilderness solace and solutions. Many of us think about the way he held his depression so close, hiding it from so many. The Woodlands Office has been quieter this year, the woodstove cold for much of the winter. Next door, the Wilson Building sits empty and unused; it carries a heavy energy.
As you walk past Guilick House and approach the steps to Mary Lowell Stone House, you gaze to your left and see Proctor’s Woodlands building. For the past thirty years, white smoke would waft out of the chimney from the small cast iron wood stove inside this home base for the management of Proctor’s 2,500 acres of woodlands. The former office of longtime forester and wildlife science teacher David Pilla, few of us have ventured to this corner of campus since Dave’s passing in July. However, the time our students are spending on our land, studying wildlife and ecology, continues through the work of Alan McIntyre and Lynne Bartlett’s Conservation Ecology classes.