Middlebury

 

Students in senior seminar explore the future of a sustainable Vermont

July 1, 2014

By Diane Munroe and Avery McNiff

This year’s environmental studies senior seminars focused on a text by Elizabeth Courtney and Eric Zencey, Greening Vermont: The Search for a Sustainable State. The book traces the history of environmental action in Vermont and challenges readers to think about how the state can thrive in a climate-altered future.

For both the fall and spring seminars, the community-based projects aimed to tell hopeful stories that would inspire local action. The groups grappled with many of the themes presented in the book, such as access to local food and local energy; reduced energy consumption, smart growth, and sustainable transportation; resilience to a changing climate; and measuring well-being. While climate change was the central focus for the students’ work, they were equally attentive to social and economic equity.

Fall Semester

Students in the fall semester tackled projects related to energy, carbon abatement, and climate change—with project partners ranging from the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources to the Vermont Council on Rural Development. Specifically, the students worked on the following research and community engagement projects:

• Strategizing and communicating ways to reduce energy consumption in town energy committees and religious and spiritual communities

• Siting of new energy projects

• Understanding the feasibility of adopting a market-based, carbon abatement policy for the state

• Using climate adaptation planning and asset mapping to build community resilience to the changing climate

Molly Rose-Williams ’13.5 reflected, “This course was a really valuable foray into what it will mean for me to move out into the non-academic world and begin addressing climate change as part of a community and not just an individual. It allowed me to really get an introduction to how huge the coming challenges are, and what kinds of things can be done to address them—what is already happening and what still needs to happen.”

Spring Semester

During the spring semester, the class worked with community partners in Rutland to explore energy efficiency improvements, the local food economy, disaster preparedness, the creative economy, and sustainable transportation. The groups engaged many of Rutland’s civic leaders and provided usable resources through data analysis, policy recommendations, and storytelling.

Environmental Studies Director Jon Isham remarked, “The ES majors in Senior Seminar showed the power of community-based learning. Rutland, with its growing commitment to solar power, local food, community building, and public transportation, is quickly becoming central Vermont’s boomtown. We were honored to work with Mayor Louras and other leaders to bear witness to this change.”

All twelve of the community-based research projects completed over this academic year were part of an exhibit at the Vermont Folklife Center titled, “Greening Vermont: The Search Continues: An Exploration of the Value of Local Initiatives in Tackling Climate Change.”

Please visit the ES 401 webpage for project case statements, videos of final presentations, access to all final project materials, and to explore additional examples of community engagement through the project archive.