What Earth Charter Indiana means to me
By Christine Slover, Butler University
A river on fire: this was how I became aware of human impact and was welcomed to the field of environmentalism. During my third grade ecology unit, my teacher displayed images of oil spills, mountains of trash, polluted waterways, and deformed frogs. Everyone in the class was stunned, and I felt responsible. Nightly anxiety attacks became routine. I felt hopeless and disgusted by the humans that had allowed our world to come crashing down.
When I was ten, my grandparents took my cousin and me to Costa Rica to open our minds and instill in us a sense of adventure. We went to several protected sites in the jungle and along the coast where I became acquainted with Howler Monkeys, Toucans, Poison Dart Frogs, and Loggerhead Sea Turtles. We were in the wonders of nature, and I couldn’t get enough. I was exposed to healthy ecosystems and learned how these areas were adapting to rising global temperatures. Because I was able to see that the world was not all polluted, my nightmares diminished.
As I continued to grow up in Central Kentucky, horses became the center of my life, but I still cherished the earth. I founded an Acts of Random Kindness club in high school, where we would give away plants for Earth Day and raise awareness about climate change. However, mounds of homework became my never-ending daily chore. High school meant that I was constantly asked what my life plans were, and although I had no idea, I felt a constant pressure to have definitive responses.
The turning point
I gained clarity during my senior year spring break in North Carolina. My family and I visited an uninhabited island off the coast. We explored the beach, dolphin watched, and admired wild ponies.
We had brought two plastic bags to collect treasures along the beach. But as I reached down to pick up shells, I noticed more and more trash. Cans with Japanese writing, plastic bottles, and plastic straws were a few items that composed the mounds of trash dotted along the coast. I told my mother that we should pack out as much of this pollution as possible, and our bags filled up in minutes. We did not even seem to make a noticable difference.
When I went to grab a couple of glass jugs, I noticed a bird under the pile. Its deceased body was bloated and contorted. It appeared as though it became entangled in trash and was unable to escape, instead floating with its killer to shore. I had seen similar sights in documentaries, but to see this first hand made much deeper impact. This was what I was picking up the trash to prevent.
I began to cry for the bird, and for the dolphins that had to maneuver around these silent killers, and for the horses who grazed amongst the trash. I decided then and there that environmental studies was the degree I needed to pursue at Butler University.
Working with ECI
Early during my freshman year second semester, Executive Director of Earth Charter Indiana, Jim Poyser, came to Butler’s Sustainability Club to do a presentation on food waste. I felt like Jim was speaking to my heart when he made a called for volunteers to put their beliefs into action.
We taught kids in various schools around Indianapolis about food waste through helping them conduct food audits. This hands-on experience allowed them to visualize their impacts, and some of these students went on to create presentations for the Eco-Science Fair at the Indiana State Museum, which I helped judge. It was empowering to observe this shared passion fuel students to make differences and create more educational outlets for others.
Not only have I learned more about the issue of climate change, but also about grassroots non-profit groups, the education system, and how to work with others so that interests from all parties are considered. Jim has infused in me a greater sense of wisdom, but this came at an emotional cost when we attended an IUPUI Law Symposium regarding climate change on March 22. Here is an excerpt from that weekly reflection:
“I began to absorb the information and started to panic as all the dots began to connect. I called my aunt and spent the night at her house. I hadn’t had a panic attack in years, with most of them occurring in third grade. I reflected with my aunt before curling up in bed.
I woke up early on Saturday to help Jim with his day camp however, I felt terrible. My stomach hurt, I still felt exhausted, and I was emotionally drained. I definitely felt the effects of my distress the night before, and possibly the stomach bug. I hated to cancel on Jim, but I did.. The effects of stress on physical and mental health is something that I find to be often overlooked in America.
I write this Saturday evening, still shaken up. I have doubts about continuing on this path however, I know that I will always be incorporating the environment into my life and in my interactions with others. I do not believe I have the emotional stamina, and it is so easy to feel helpless and deflated when the statistics are literally shocking. What has driven me thus far is the responsibility I feel like I have to help others through educating them.”
This confrontation with reality was rock bottom during my internship, and it returned me to third grade. But as I knighted giggling students with whatever I could find — a broom, a pencil — I saw the impact I was making. I bestowed to them wristbands that declared the bearer a Food Waste Warrior during food audits, which allowed me to realize my positive impact in this community. By reflecting on this internship experience, I am able to see my growth and realize that the shining moments were created by brilliant, passionate youth and Jim’s caring soul.