Moving Conversations: The Environment, Coast to Coast

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The Big Green Bus team hit the road with a fresh agenda for the summer of 2013: to do more listening than talking. The group ended up with a change to its itinerary, as well, on the heels of mechanical troubles en route. But between the East Coast and the West Coast, and the country’s northern tier and Key West, the bus crew heard stories about sustainability that opened eyes, opened hearts, and built connections for the future.

Big Green Bus

The Big Green Bus crew traveled more than 10,000 miles between June and August 2013 to learn about how environmental issues are affecting different communities. (Photo by Martin Grant)

After nearly a decade of trips, three different buses, and a roster of alumni that’s nearing 100 members, the Big Green Bus has roots sunk deep in Dartmouth lore and tradition. It’s a well-known story: In 2005, Dartmouth’s ultimate Frisbee team needed a way to travel to summer tournaments, a trip that soon opened up the chance to do environmental advocacy work along the way. From that pragmatic start, the bus has become a Dartmouth icon and—as the back of bus reads—a genuine “vehicle for change.” After several seasons of running “a classroom on wheels,” the 2013 crew chose to emphasize their roles as learners as well as communicators. They would seek out local experience and expertise, and then convey that wisdom farther down the road.

One method the 2013 team turned to: video interviews with the leaders of the local projects the bus team visited. The Big Green Bus website now serves as a repository and resource for those stories, holding insights and expertise on topics from organic farming to a pay-as-you-can restaurant program.

Other stories brought personal impact. For Patrick Saylor ’16, from Stowe, Vt., the person who stands out is a Communities for a Better Environment (CBE) youth intern, a young woman who grew up in a southeast Los Angeles community surrounded by chemical processing plants and other industrial sites. Saylor finds himself inspired by her work—“challenging local governments to take action, at the moment in a campaign to modify propositions for a new freight corridor proposed along I-710 to prevent air pollution from freight traffic from further polluting her community.”

Jordan Kastrinsky ’16, from Greenwood Village, Colo., singled out a connection made at a West Virginia community dinner. It was a conversation with someone, he says, whose “ideas resonated with my own,” even across differences of age and geography and situation, including the fact that the individual works in the coal industry. Even so, Kastrinsky remembers, he was determined “to make as much of an environmentally conscious lifestyle for himself and his family as he could, so as to help better the Earth.”

On the group’s blog, Ari Sopher ’14, from Los Angeles, records the summer’s impact:  a shift in her point of view: “In thinking about environmental issues,” she writes, “it was the mountains and rivers that I was always concerned with. After this summer, the environmental movement, to me, will always be about the people—the communities in West Virginia who feel the effects of coal mining and the communities in Los Angeles who breathe in the pollution from the oil refineries and recycling plants. Everything is more complicated than I can even imagine, and there are always groups of people that are feeling the effects of all of our actions.”

There, in these stories, is the message at the heart of the 2013 Big Green Bus trip: environmental challenges are complex; they weave in and out of a great variety of lives, and that’s part of the reason why simplistic solutions aren’t helpful. But if the answers are not simplistic, sometimes, the students found, they can be simple: keep talking, keep trying.

“The way abstract challenges—like climate change—impact real human lives are what we hold on to at the end of the day,” says Saylor. “That’s what inspires others to take action. I am walking away from this summer on the bus bolstered with stories that remind me to stay hopeful, inspired that others are working every day to better their communities, and motivated to continue work towards the world that I envision.”

To find out more about the Big Green Bus trip this summer, watch the video The Calm of the Storm, made by this year’s crew.