Environmental Ethics Symposium Transcripts

Betsy Lindley

Maria Blevins: Hello, welcome to the Utah Valley University Environmental Ethics Symposium of 2020. I’m Maria Blevins, I’m a Professor of Communication in the Communication Department. I’m here with Dr. Lindley from the Outdoor Recreation Department. In this series, we’re highlighting Utah Valley University community members and how environmental ethics figures into their teaching, research, and their lives. Dr. Lindley, tell me a little about your journey to become an outdoor recreation professor.

Betsy Lindley: Well, I figured out relatively early that teaching was what I wanted to do and I wasn’t really sure the how and the where of that. And then the college that I went to had a ropes course class. And that really hooked me into this first idea of outdoor education and how much people could learn, how much it built community, and how different it was than all the rest of the classes I was taking. So, that was a big turning point for me. I was good at school and I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated, so I went to grad school and studied outdoor education and outdoor recreation there. And then that, again I graduated, and I would have never believed I would have gone back to get a PhD. I, through some mentors and some opportunities, ended up teaching college with a master’s degree and that set me forward into thinking this is what I wanted to do. And I just can’t say how important mentors have been in my life, people who gave me opportunities. Whether it was the guy I worked for in college, who didn’t pay me but I got to go on every rafting, kayaking, outdoor trip that he ran. I got paid in experiences and I loaded a lot of boats, but I got to paddle a lot and see how somebody worked. And then, continuing on, just a lot of mentors at every turn of the road that helped to set to where I am and what I’m doing, so.

Maria Blevins: Cool. How does environmental ethics fit into your job of being an outdoor rec professor?

Betsy Lindley: Well, the reality is, the environment is both the place and the curriculum, a lot of times, for what we’re doing. Obviously, we spend a lot of time in the outdoors. I think, in the bigger picture of environmental ethics, it’s the decisions we make and the political pieces that are there. For us, it’s almost as much or more a land ethic: how do we act towards the land in these places that we are and these places that we’re taking students. And so we are dependent on, a) an environment, but we’re also dependent on access. And we are lucky to live in a public land state where access is pretty incredible. But I think there’s always competing uses for that land and so that is, that is a piece that is constantly there. A few years ago there was—Rock Canyon is a super-important place in Utah County. People climb there, people hike there, people do all kinds of stuff. And the mouth of that canyon was actually privately owned. And so, there was a bit of brouhaha over what’s going to happen, are we going to sell it, is somebody going to close it off? There was rumor of it being turned into a gravel pit. And all of these user groups came together and said “this is not okay.” And so, how are we going to, how do we navigate these pieces.

We’re also in a place that is growing really, really fast. I have people who tell me they used to hunt where my house is. And lots of places like that are out there as well. So the public lands is both a privilege and responsibility. And public lands encompasses everything from the City of Lehi parks to the national parks that we have in this state. And those are all a piece of how this works. So, it’s hard to talk about a land ethic without talking about Aldo Leopold. And Leopold says, “when we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.” And I think that’s so important. Almost everyone who lives in Utah uses public lands in some way, shape, or fashion. I’m still blown away that I can leave my house and cross a wilderness boundary in under thirty minutes. And that’s just a piece of “how do we act, how do we protect those things that we care about, and how does that all fit into what we’re doing?” And for me, it’s both a personal passion and, professionally, if those lands aren’t there, it makes it very hard for me to do my job

Maria Blevins: Yeah, that’s interesting, that that ethic not only fits into your personal ethos, but it is a huge part of the Utah economy. And I think that’s a discussion we don’t have that often.

Betsy Lindley: Right. And the governor’s Office of Economic Development has been doing a ton of good. We have a Utah Outdoor Recreation Director and that’s a very new thing in western states. There’s a great grant program that municipalities can access funding in order to build recreational infrastructure, be it trails, sometimes it’s parking lots and bathrooms. We have trail infrastructure there but we don’t have great ways for the public to access those pieces. I believe (and my numbers may be a couple of years old) six billion dollars in outdoor recreation related revenue happens in the state of Utah. And that’s significant. And that doesn’t even count the quality of life piece that’s much harder to put a number on. I live here for those reasons and I know a lot of other people do as well.

Maria Blevins: Can you tell me about Leave No Trace and what that means as an outdoor recreator?

Betsy Lindley: Awesome. So, Leave No Trace is just the simple idea that we want to leave places better than we found them. And that’s as simple as packing out the trash you brought with you, it’s as challenging as figuring out what to do with human waste, and everything in between. I lead trips, I take large numbers of people, groups of ten or twelve, out into these places. And large groups have larger impacts. The important thing to remember though is that they can have positive impacts as well as negative impacts. I would hesitate to guess how many fire rings and how many pounds of trash that my groups and I have carried out of the woods over the course of my career. And, individually, it’s not that much, but over time a group of people can have a really positive impact on a place. And so, as recreationists, thinking about how and where and what—how can I minimize my impact here? Can I camp or walk on a trail where somebody’s camped before? Can I take my trash out at a minimum, but also if I see pieces of trash on the trail, can I pick those up as well? How do I handle managing my dog when I’m out there? How do I interact with other user groups, other people? We’re sharing these trails with more and more people. All of us have been out in the last six months and have seen an incredible increase in usage, during COVID, of these outdoor spaces. Which is phenomenal for our mental health, physical health, but can be a little bit challenging on the resources, when we really have lot of people out more so than normal and who may not be used to being out and making decisions from the idea of a Leave No Trace standpoint.

Maria Blevins: I feel like we have, kind of, implicitly, been talking about being outside being good for people—you know, that that experience in that ropes course class had a profound effect on you. But can you talk to me a little bit about how you think maybe socially, mentally, and physically being outside makes a person’s life better or more joyful?

Betsy Lindley: Yeah, and I think we all have anecdotal stories of that, how important it is, how when it’s all going bad sometimes just getting outside is something important that we can do. But there’s also a lot of research behind it as well. Research just, in the difference—and it’s not just activity; there’s research that says that activity, physical activity, is also good for us physically, mentally, spiritually—but the outdoors is good for us as well. Research that looks at the difference between walking in a park versus walking on a treadmill, and we have different physical reactions when we do that. Even as simple as looking at pictures of the outdoors on computer screens changes people’s stress levels and stress hormones.

Many programs are starting to arise to help people do this. The Wounded Warriors programs are using all kinds of outdoor activities to help returning veterans with their physical and psychological challenges that they are facing from fly-fishing to rafting to backpacking, and sometimes it’s even just building community. A guy by the name of Stacy Bare was working for the Sierra Club. He’s a veteran, he also has started his own company and is working with people to build community. And the goal is community, the place that they’re doing it is the outdoors. There are some folks at Cal Berkley who are looking at the science of awe, how just being blown away by the beauty of a place is important. There’s also a world out that’s trying to figure out “how do we prescribe nature?” How does the medical profession prescribe nature in a way that helps people? And even in places that have less economic privilege, is it putting people on a bus? There’s a doctor, I can’t remember where he lives [Dr. David Sabgir in Columbus, Ohio], but he has the “Walk With A Doctor” every Saturday morning in a city park. He just tells people “hey, at 9 AM I’ll be in the city park and we’re going to walk for an hour, we’re going to walk, we’re going to talk, we’re going to do whatever it is.” So the medical community is starting to see, and we’re starting to see through research, that there is both physical, mental, and emotional value to the outdoors. And it’s not just anecdotal, it’s not just “I feel better when I’m there.” The science is showing that. Now we have to figure out how to make the economics of medicine and the economics of other things work so that that is a reasonable outcome. The old school studies of hospital rooms that could see into a park, or into trees, or into something natural versus hospital rooms that are looking out on another building. And it actually enhances patient recovery.

So I know, personally for me, anecdotally, the outdoors is an incredibly important. It’s healing, it’s an escape, it’s a simpler way of living. If I can live out of this backpack for a week or a month, why do I need all of this stuff that I have in my house? I need to eat, I need to walk, and I need to sleep and that’s a powerful thing in my world. But it’s not just that. A guy by the name of Richard Louv has written a book called Last Child in the Woods talking about how kids need, not only time outside, but free play. A guy by the name of David Sobel also talks very much about the importance of free play. It’s awesome for kids to be at soccer practice and to be doing all of these organized activities outside. But the social and cognitive benefits and maturity, that comes from kids having to navigate those spaces. And obviously we need to be aware of safety and all of those things. But we also, at some point, have to figure out “how do we interact with other humans?” And if there’s always an adult there saying “yes, you can; no, you can’t,” then those kids don’t ever learn those negotiating skills of the playground, of the woods, of the trees. A more recent book, The Nature Fix by Florence Williams, also delves deeply into the impacts of nature on human health. And it’s a wonderful read, she’s actually a journalist, that’s her background and everything from looking at how other countries—Japan calls it “forest bathing” and it’s just spending time out in the woods. And as we become a more and more urban society, how and where are we finding those places? And how do we make that?

We live in Utah, there are a lot of public lands, there’s a lot of trail systems. Typically what happens when the trail builders come in is the people who currently live there don’t want trails because they don’t want people in my backyard. And then the next people buy those houses because of the trail or the access to parks or whatever it is. So there’s actually economic benefit to that trail infrastructure. We have the Murdock Trail, we have the Jordan River Trail, we have the Provo River Trail. Most of us here in Utah County and in Salt Lake County have access to trails and there’s also documented benefits, health benefits, of people that live in x number of miles of trails they can access. They’re more likely to walk if they feel like there’s a safe place to do so.

Maria Blevins: That’s, like, a lot of really good evidence on how the outdoors can help a human and then we also connect it to, you know, having access to those spaces is important, through land policy. I would ask: if the outdoors is so positive to individuals, how can individuals be positive to the outdoors? So, you talked a little about leaving it better than you find it, picking up garbage. Do you have any other, sort of, pieces of advice that you can give to people about when they’re in the wilderness, or even just outside?

Betsy Lindley: I think one of the things is, trying to—I hesitate, because it’s both a pro and a con—but I think expanding our world. So, we all know that there are trailheads that are hammered; is there somewhere else we can go? For example, here in Utah County: Mount Timpanogos. Hugely popular, tons of people hike Timpanogos every year. But there are a lot of other peaks here in Utah County, from Nebo to Box Elder to Lone Peak. There’s a lot of other mountains to climb. If it’s going to be on a Saturday during July, can I choose to go somewhere else? Can I disperse that impact? Can I think about “hey, maybe these other people don’t know that there’s other places to go; I’m going to seek out a trailhead that’s less used and less popular so that I’m going to decrease a little bit of impact on that place.” I have friends that work for the forest service and on busy days on Timpanogos, people are literally parking two miles down the road from the trailhead. So, adding to that all-day hike is two miles of road on the front end and two miles of road on the back end. Can I go another day? Can I go another time? Can I go another place? Timp’s going to be there. Have I hiked Box Elder? Have I hiked Nebo? Have I hiked Cascade Peak, Provo Peak? What are those other places that I can go? And then just also thinking about different times of day and different times of year. How can we spread out our impact on these places? Because we have positive impacts and we also have negative impacts on these places that we care about a lot. And I’m so excited to see so many people at these places. I’m glad that people are outside using them instead of inside watching Netflix or playing video games or doing whatever they’re doing. But there’s also a cost to that, both to the resource and to us. I don’t love being on a trail with a ton of other people. So I choose to go different places and different times to help mitigate that, for my own personal sanity.

Maria Blevins: That’s great. Betsy, is there anything I forgot to ask you in regard to ethics and outdoor recreation?

Betsy Lindley: I think what I would end with is this idea that there’s a public process for all of these public lands, from Lehi City Parks to Utah State Parks to National Parks. And something that I try and introduce my students to is: know about what’s going on with the places you care about. All of these things are created by some kind of statute—whether it’s a law at the federal level, whether it’s city council policy—and they can all go away. If we don’t care about them, if you’re not involved in knowing about what’s happening to the places that you like to recreate, or the places around the places you like to recreate, then things are going to happen and those things, if we as a community don’t value those places, then they’re maybe not going to be there. We’ve decided they’re valuable and so we keep them there. If nobody uses them and if we decide that they’re not valuable, somebody’s going to look to make a buck off of them. That city park in the city that you live in, it’s worth way more to somebody if they subdivide it and put however many more houses on it. But what do we lose as a community when it’s not there? I think it’s important that we vote, because voting is how we have a say in the process, it’s how we help to impact who is sitting in those seats and making those decisions. And again, those decisions affect my quality of life. And so I am very much interested in them. And I guess the last thing I would do is finish with a quote from Dr. Suess.

Maria Blevins: Yeah!

Betsy Lindley: He wrote a book called The Lorax, and the last line in The Lorax says “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” We live in a place where we have amazing access to public lands. We take that for granted. I firmly believe that everybody in the West should go live in the East for two years where you have to pay to access land to recreate on, or own it, or lease it, and that that would give us a new view on just how lucky we are to have access to all of these lands and that we should take care of them in the micro— “what I do on these lands impacts them”—but we should also care about them in the macro: what are the decisions that are being made and how can I be a part of saving and protecting these lands that I think are important.

Maria Blevins: Great. Thank you so much; really appreciate you.

Betsy Lindley: Yeah, thanks so much, I appreciate the chance to talk.

Cassie Bingham and Marissa Getts

Hilary Hungerford: Okay, I think we’re good. So, welcome. This podcast is part of the Environmental Ethics Symposium Fall 2020. So, I have two really exciting guests with me today. We have Cassie Bingham and Marissa Getz from the Center for Social Impact. So, I’ll have each of them just briefly introduce themselves and then we have some questions around environmental ethics and their work. Cassie, let’s hear from you.

Cassie Bingham: Yeah, I’m glad to be here. My name’s Cassie Bingham, as Hillary mentioned. I’m the program director over Impact Program Design in the Center for Social Impact. I work with our student leaders in the center creating programming that is socially impactful and getting UVU students involved in that, so yeah.

Marissa Getz: And I’m Marissa. I actually have sort of downplayed my—not downplayed— bumped down my hours at the Center for Social Impact. But I worked with student leaders in similar work that Cassie was doing, developing programs to teach people how you can change the world in a strategic way. We worked on taking students on trips where they can dig into different social problems and learn from living experts. That, and we started a couple of classes that I’m really excited about. Right now, the reason why I stopped working at UVU—a wonderful place—is because I’m doing a graduate program at Harvard School of Design. And I’m studying Urban Planning. So, the environment and humans and how we all intersect is very, very interesting to me.

Hilary Hungerford: Great, thank you. I’m so glad you’re both here with us today. So, first I would just like you to tell us a little bit about the Center for Social Impact and what kinds of work you do at the center

Cassie Bingham: Yeah, uhm, the Center for Social Impact, it used to be the Center for Volunteering and Service Learning, for a little over two decades actually. But really, recently, in just the last couple of years, we’ve really transitioned into a more holistic approach to social impact work and now we’re called the Center for Social Impact. So although we still have direct service as one of the pillars—we call them pathways in the center—we also have five additional areas where we do social impact programming, social impact events, and areas where we mentor students. And they include things like community activism, and policy and governance, and social entrepreneurship, etc. And so we take a really holistic approach to teaching students that no matter what they’re interested in, no matter what they’re passionate about, there’s a place for them to be able to get meaningfully involved and strategically involved, like Marissa said, in social impact work and in addressing the social challenges that we face in our current world. And a couple of the frameworks that we use to approach that are looking at problems through a systems lens—so, systems thinking—and also design thinking. We teach students how to strategically design interventions for social problems and that includes looking at problems through a systems lens. So, yeah that’s what we do at the Center for Social Impact.

Marissa Getz: And just to add, really quick onto that, a lot of people think that because what we’re called is the Center for Social Impact—you know, quote-unquote “social”—that that has nothing to do with the environment. And anyone that assumes that could not be more wrong. I’m sure you’ll hear through our whole discussion that the environment intersects with social so much, with our relationship with it, it impacts our lives and also, you know, we care about world problems beyond just humanity. Just wanted to make that very, very clear in this environmental ethics symposium

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, that’s great, thank you so much. Next, I’m just going to ask if you could each tell us a little about your journey and becoming part of social impact at UVU. Kind of what motivated you to get into this work, what motivates you to keep going with this work.

Cassie Bingham: Yeah, I’ll start. Actually, Marissa was already working at the Center for Social Impact before me and luckily both her and I had been colleagues in college and we had also worked together a little bit in various social entrepreneurship initiatives in Uganda, Africa, actually. And so she had reached out to me and said that the job was available and I got excited because the way she was explaining the approach that the Center takes, which I just described as very holistic, was really appealing to me because I’m really interested in intersectionality and just the interconnectedness of social impact work. And like Marissa just mentioned, that involves not only our human relationships but our relationships to the earth, our relationships to our physical surroundings, and the systems that we live within. So, I got really excited and I’m glad that I was hired. I’ve been at UVU for about a year now and Marissa and I in conjunction with a couple other staff members at the Center have really worked on pushing forward these views of interconnectedness and intersectionality and how we address social problems through those lenses. So I, personally in my career trajectory, I graduated in social anthropology and international development and so I had a lot of interest in how we address social issues. And then in my personal career I’ve worked in non-profit organizations, I’ve worked with international NGOs doing various aid work and then development work and fundraising. And then I’ve dabbled a little bit in social entrepreneurship. But, one of my biggest personal passions has been social justice, and especially racial and ethnic justice and equity. And that’s something that I’ve kind of brought to the table. But learning from Marissa, a lot of that being a co-worker with her, has been learning about the environment and about the intersection environmentalism has with social justice issues.

Hilary Hungerford: Nice, thank you so much Cassie. Marissa, let’s hear from you.

Marissa Getz: Yeah, first I think it’s very important: Cassie is one of the most talented and intelligent people that I have ever met in my life. So, anyone at UVU etc., please, please get involved with the Center for Social Impact and just learn from her, so important. We were so excited when Cassie accepted the position. I, my route has been pretty similar to Cassie’s. I studied sociology, a minor in international development. The first class that we took together was an international development course where we were both so intimidated and both thought the other person was so cool. But, yeah, I was also a Middle East studies minor. And I think, in all of that, I recognized some really important things. That we make a lot of assumptions about our way of life being the best way of life, in the western world especially in the U.S. and that really colors a lot of the way we look at and interact with the world. And I started seeing really big holes in that. And so that was able to pull me away, a little bit, from this general, like, “white savior” type of idea, which anyone who gets involved with the Center for Social Impact will learn more about that and what it means and the harm that it’s done in the world.

So, yeah, I worked on a lot of similar things that Cassie did. Did a lot of international development stuff, did some research on access to water in rural Malawi, did research on agriculture in rural Malawi. Some really fun and interesting things that brought into my worldview a lot. I also did a lot of teaching in social impact during my undergrad. I TAed for a class called Social Innovation and I loved it. It’s really amazing to see students come alive as they get better frameworks for critical thinking surrounding social impact issues. And so that was always so exciting. I felt like my light bulb continues to go off and so it’s so, so fun to see students, as they hear something they’ll go “oh my god, I thought something so different my whole life and this is blowing my mind!” Because it absolutely changed my world.

And so, also growing up in Glacier National Park, Montana like right next to it, has made the environment a huge part of my life. People look at it very differently than many people do in cities. And so understanding that and coming to Utah and seeing how differently people treated the environment, along with my work about access to water and agriculture in rural Malawi, have really fueled my interest in just finding different ways to think about how we improve our world.

Hilary Hungerford: That’s so great, thanks so much. I’m going to kind of combine the next two questions, thinking about what does environmental ethics mean to you and then what are a few of these ethics that are really important in your life and kind of guiding a lot of your thinking?

Cassie Bingham: Yeah, you know, I think that my understanding of and incorporating of environmental ethics is still emerging. I guess all of ours is still emerging, but for me especially, like I was saying, you know, I’ve started to realize more and more how important it is from an intersectional lens that I incorporate environmental ethics into my worldview and into my value system in order to continue to move forward in other equity goals, whether it’s racial equity or gender equity or whatever it may be. But I would say that for me environmental ethics includes that then. You know, seeing how environmental issues can affect more than just the planet or some of the more surface-level ways we think about it. But looking at, you know, the geographical differences between where, you know, I mean colonizers, basically, have put brown and black people in the world and then how we’ve chosen where we build specific industries and things like that and seeing the statistical disparities between pollution rates when it comes to districts that have brown and black people or other marginalized people compared to people of privilege, right? You know, those are things that I’ve just now in the last few years started to become more aware of and started to become aware of the fact that me being invested in having environmentally ethical values plays a role and affects the actual outcomes of various peoples in this world.

And, you know, you can zoom out even more to the global, you know, ethics of environmentalism when it comes to climate change and how that is affecting people who are marginalized and disenfranchised compared to people with privilege. Looking at, you know, the populations in the world especially in other countries that are being affected by natural disasters that are increasing, you know, statistically increasing due to climate change or that are being affected by drastic changes in weather patterns and things like that and how that affects food availability and food accessibility and everything like that. Just seeing the interconnectedness of

how our decisions as humans environmentally impact the very real human outcomes of various populations around the world, that has started to weigh on me quite a bit.

And so, I guess wrapping that up, my environmental ethics then have become more personally important. I’ve started to question myself more on my personal habits but also more on what am I doing with the freedoms that I have when it comes to voting, or to ethical consumerism and how I’m affecting the choices of large corporations, or how I am pushing for the lobbying and advocating in big government, which I think has an outsized effect on environmental outcomes and environmental policy, right? So I guess my ethical stance is just much more interrogative of myself and what I’m doing to influence these systems.

Hilary Hungerford: Thank you.

Marissa Getz: Cassie’s always so hard to follow because she always manages to say everything in a perfect amount of time. I would say I agree wholeheartedly with everything that Cassie just said and that anything that she said could be said for me and how I also feel about the earth. Some things to add to that is, for so long I was so interested in international development, I think because of that sort of white savior-y “oh I can help people in other places.” That kind of idea, it felt, you know, maybe the wrong word, but sexier in terms of a career, etc. And I started realizing, like, “oh, the work that I’m doing Malawi in researching access to water, in researching agriculture and how it’s changed, is all directly linked to climate change.” Which is almost entirely driven by the western world and our consumption, our modes of transportation, the way we do business. And so it became this question of how can I, ethically, go to other countries and go “oh, do this! do this!” Like, how can we solve this problem when the root cause of all these problems really comes back to my and my country’s way of life? And so that’s really where I began to interrogate that. And it’s been a continuous process of that and I hope that I do that for the rest of my life.

Something else that has really influenced my environmental ethic is—so Cassie mentioned earlier this idea of design. And how can we do this design in a way that we are creating, that we are really solving problems based on the user of these systems? You know, like, our system of mass incarceration is not solving anyone’s problems; it’s actually causing so many and it’s hurting so many people and it’s not designed around the people of our country. It’s designed around white supremacy and upholding that. So, when we think about designing systems, our environmental systems or our economic systems, it’s designed around humans. And there’s a reason why many scholars and writers have started to call this period of time the Anthropocene, which is, you know, where basically everything sort of revolves around humans and the changes that are happening in our earth are happening because of humans and because of our exorbitant consumption and quest for comfort above anything. And so, I think I’m really interested in—you know, there’s some systems in design where humans are absolutely the users, they’re the main people we must design around. But what does design look like when we’re designing for people as animals? People as species? For humans as part of this bigger ecosystems? What if it was ecosystem design, instead of human-centered design? What if we stopped thinking about humans as the center of our earth? And those are some of the really big questions that underlie my main environmental ethic and my actions while also, yeah, this—we can’t be perfect until we fix our systems. Yeah.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, great, thank you so much for that insight. You’re right, there’s such big ideas and so many big conversations; I think it’s really exciting to talk about these things. The next question, you both touched on a little bit, but it’s thinking about how the environment intersects with other things you’re working on. So, I like that you’ve talked a lot about interconnectedness and intersectionality, because that’s kind of the same way that I approach environmental issues: that they’re not just these isolated kind of put the environment in a box and deal with, like, reducing your carbon or something. It’s this really larger conversation about how you’re living in the world and how you’re approaching so many different aspects of justice: social justice, environmental justice, so many commonalities. So if you can talk just a little bit more about some of these ways that environment intersects with some of the other issues you’re working on.

Marissa Getz: Could I pop in first on this one? Great. Some of things that I’m interested in and that also are happening, like some exciting movement at the CSI, is this big reckoning with ourselves about how we, the U.S. as a settler-colonial state, have treated indigenous people. And you cannot talk about environmentalism, about having a relationship with the land, without acknowledging that many of us who are here are settlers in a land that is not our own. And that the people who have led the way in sustainable lifestyles are indigenous people. And yet they are some of the voices we have silenced the most, and continue to do so, and that a lot of the new kind of Elon Musk type of sustainability people are taking a lot of those ideas from indigenous people and calling their own, when actually they’re centuries-old, I mean, millennia-old. And I think that’s a really big thing that we’re interested in, is this intersectionality of land sovereignty, of investing in indigenous wisdom and communities, and how that relates to the environment and creating, like, this sort of ripple effect throughout the U.S. And Cassie can talk more about the specifics.

Cassie Bingham: Yeah and I’ll talk a little bit more in a minute about the specific projects that we’re working on, but just to add to what Marissa was saying, you know, I wholeheartedly agree with everything she just said about indigenous technology, indigenous knowledge, indigenous wisdom, and how we often exploit or take, instead of just share in or give credit for and utilize and reciprocate and, you know, all of the good things we could be doing with that. But I’ll also add in there a little bit, you know, another intersectional lens from the black community and from what we’ve been seeing in these recent and current events, with Black Lives Matter protests and all of the conversations and dialogue going around, you know, what Black Lives Matter means and, you know, various people fighting about if they support it or not. You know, for me and at the Center, we support and endorse Black Lives Matter, just, period. But for me, when I try to explain that concept to others, we might be focusing a lot on just individual incidents and events. You know, like one instance where police officers shot an unarmed black man. And although all of those incidents are extremely important, especially when you see the statistical patterns of police brutality against black people, Black Lives Matter is not only about police brutality. That’s just one aspect. We have seen the systematic devaluing of black lives across many sectors, across many fields, and in many ways, not the least of which is in environmentalism. You know, what I was already referring to when it comes to the actual geographic, you know, districting of black and brown communities, you know, with segregation itself during Jim Crow, but then also was upheld through these systems of design, like Marissa is talking about with redlining and things like that. But also, when it comes to where we value actually intervening with even current issues. Look at Flint, Michigan. And that was an environmental issue of, you know, water purity and how the slowness to intervene with that problem and to try to correct that problem—and we still don’t see it corrected. Thinking about how that environmental issue, had it been affecting a white community or a wealthier community, it probably would have been intervened with immediately, right? But instead we see it being completely ignored. And so, there’s so many ways in which black lives, but also other BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] lives in general, are being devalued in terms of how we respond to environmental disaster, how we respond to environmental degradation and things like that. And so, I think that it’s important for us to acknowledge that when we look at these current issues and disparities, how that intersects with environmental ethics and the people whose lives we’re valuing or devaluing.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, those are both such important issues that I think we think a lot about in terms of environmental ethics in my classes and other classes across UVU too. So I’m happy to see that there’s a lot of commonalities with the Center for Social Impact and other discussions being had on campus. So this kind of brings me to my next question, which is, what are some of the projects that you and your students are working on right now that are around these questions of environment and intersections? And maybe if there’s ways that other students can get involved in those or learn about those?

Cassie Bingham: Yeah, I’ll jump in on this one, just because I’m at the Center for more hours currently than Marissa is, although she was key in developing many of these programs and is a mastermind in helping us insert a lot of the intersectionality that we do find in our programs. Because we are so recently transitioning into this holistic approach to social impact, a lot of our programs are in the development stages. And so some of them are, in terms of student involvement from UVU, some of them are like to be announced when it’s time for other students to come in. But we’re in the active stages of developing them. But we have some exciting stuff going on.

In our philanthropy pathway, as Marissa, this is one of the points where Marissa was talking about, where we’re trying to start to incorporate non-western viewpoints on some of the parts of social impact. And so for philanthropy, specifically, we’ve been trying to set up a program where we’re working in partnership with the native initiative at UVU to kind of reframe philanthropy away from the way that we necessarily look at it from a western sense and look at it more from an indigenous viewpoint, where philanthropy is very much a healing method of distributing funds where they’re needed, and looking at reciprocity and what that might mean, and where money is used and distributed in a way where we are respecting both humans and the land. And so we’ve got some cool things in the work. We’re going to be working directly with hiring and working with native students on this project and some of the funding activities that we’re looking into actually include some, like, ethnobotany things. We’re looking into doing some hikes and stuff that students can pay for, where indigenous hike leaders will talk about the land and talk about native plants and things like that in Utah. So we’ve got some cool intersections of indigenous viewpoints of the environment when it comes to creating philanthropic funds and things like that. So that’s one of the projects we’re working on.

Another kind of environmental project that we’re working on is what we’re calling social impact boxes. Some students might have seen those already if you attended this summer. But we’re trying to focus on creating or curating some boxes with samplings of various ethical products, a lot of them being ecologically friendly products, so students can start thinking more consciously about their consumer habits. So we’re trying to introduce students to brands that are, not just brands that are using it as a branding ploy, to say, you know, that they’re eco-friendly or that they are in some way ethical. But our impact at the Center is actually vetting right now and doing deep research into what their actual practices are. And we’re trying to find products that are really exemplary of, within a capitalist system, how do we produce products that are actually earth friendly or equitable or ethical in other ways? Whether that means that they’re minority- owned, or whatever it might mean. So that’s another project that we’re currently working on.

And the last one that I’ll highlight is, we have two of our fellows who will soon be launching a podcast. It’s going to just be called Real Talk, people will be able to find it on our Instagram TV, IG TV. And they’ll be discussing topics exactly like what we’re discussing right now on this podcast. They’ll be discussing topics of intersectionality when it comes to a wide range of social issues. And so I’m sure that there will be environmental topics included in those. And so we’re really excited to hear from students on that.

Marissa Getz: And one thing that I’ll add is that we have this amazing class that we are so excited about. It’s [...] Social Impact Seminar. So it kind of talks about, what are these basic frameworks for questioning how we involve ourselves in social problems that we care about? Cassie teaches it; we used to co-teach it and that’s one of the things that I miss most about my job, is teaching that class with Cassie. But it’s this really amazing one-credit class where students can start to engage in these processes of critical thinking through choosing a specific social environmental problem that they care about. So, you kind of get to direct some of that and the way that you’re engaging or the lens that you’re engaging these questions and these frameworks with. But I would highly recommend that if students want to get involved, that’s one of the readily available things that’s developed, it’s running. It’s so good for students to just jump in and start being, like, “alright, I’m ready to look at the world in a little bit of a different way and I’m ready to explore something I care about more in that process.”

Hilary Hungerford: That’s great, I want to take the class too! I think we’ll wrap it up there. So, just a reminder, this was Cassie Bingham and Marissa Getz from the Center for Social Impact and you can find the webpage of the Center for Social Impact on UVU’s site. Thank you both so much for this conversation; I learned a lot and think you all are doing such amazing work in the Center, but also it was really cool to learn more about your ideas and what’s kind of motivating you towards this work. Thank you for spending time with me! Yeah, and we’ll end here, have a good day.

Marissa Getz: You too, thanks for having us.

Hilary Hungerford: Thank you.

Hilary Hungerford

Thomas Bretz: Welcome to one of our podcasts for the 2020 Utah Valley University Environmental Ethics Symposium hosted by UVU Center for the Study of Ethics. For this year’s symposium, we recorded several interviews with some of the people right here at UVU who do interesting work in environmental ethics and related themes. And we do actually hope to conduct maybe some more of these interviews in years to come. My name is Thomas Bretz, I am an environmental philosopher here at UVU and today I have the great pleasure of talking to Dr. Hilary Hungerford, who is a professor at Utah Valley University in the Earth Science Department, working on various issues relating to environmental ethics and sustainability. We are also, I might add, directing the Environmental Ethics minor together here at UVU. Dr. Hungerford, welcome and thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Hilary Hungerford: Thank you for interviewing me; it’s so fun to be a part of this podcast.

Thomas Bretz: How are you doing today?

Hilary Hungerford: I’m doing well. It’s chilly here, it’s starting to be fall, so the mornings are just like invigorating and cold. It’s so great.

Thomas Bretz: That’s awesome, I love fall.

Hilary Hungerford: Me too.

Thomas Bretz: Well, let’s kind of jump right to it. So maybe you could tell us a little bit about what environmental ethics actually means to you?

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, that’s a really good question that I’ve been thinking a lot about. Even though I’ve done some of these interviews, it’s sometimes...it’s hard to really come up with, like, one definition of what environmental ethics means to me. So, when I was thinking about it the last few days, I was thinking there’s kind of a personal way of looking at environmental ethics and then there’s kind of a social way or an interpersonal way that I think about it. So, personally when I think about environmental ethics, I think about things like “how do my actions impact the earth?” or “how do my consumption patterns impact climate change?” or like “how does my water use impact all these other earth systems?” And then kind of a social way of looking at it is: how are these bigger environmental issues impacting different groups of people around the world? And how are we, like, all connected in these relationships around environmental systems, but then some people are impacted way more than others? So, I guess both of those frames kind of look at impacts and justice and thinking, really, about how we live in a more-than-human world. It’s really easy, I think, in my day-to-day life to just think about myself and my kids and my husband. And it’s sometimes it’s easy to forget about the bees or the flowers or the molecules of water in the atmosphere. But our lives depend on everything and we’re interlaced with everything. So, thinking about our impacts, justice, and trying to center other things. A more-than-human world. I really like that way of thinking about things.

Thomas Bretz: That’s excellent, yeah. No, and I think I definitely agree that partially it’s about paying attention to the things that do all this work, you know, like the bees but that, you know, usually receive short thrift in our appreciation of what makes things run.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, exactly, like even in my yard. So, I live in Orem, Utah, kind of just like a typical ranch-style, old brick house and we have this huge lawn and I just like can’t bring myself to be putting on all these other pesticides when I see, like, there’s bees buzzing around all the time, there’s other insects crawling around, there’s all this kind of, like, a biosphere right in front of my steps. And so, I even think about environmental ethics like that. Like, do I want to be using these pesticides or fertilizers like everyone else? Like, it’s a weed patch but it’s like alive and it’s exciting.

Thomas Bretz: Yeah, now that’s really interesting. Actually, I talked with somebody the other day about, I think, the two different attitudes you can have towards a garden is either an aesthetic object for your pleasure, or maybe it’s building a community around your house. You know, we have like, we have insects and other animals and plants and kind of feel that it’s kind of cool having a garden, but that, like, two different approaches, I would say.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, for sure.
Thomas Bretz: Are there any environmental ethics or forms of environmental ethics that are dear to you? And why is that, if they are?

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, that’s great. So, something that we try to do in Geography—my discipline—is, we try to uncover relationships that are often hidden. So, we can think about like products that we use or, like, I drink coffee, I’m a big coffee drinker, I kind of need that in the mornings. So, in Geography, we talk about, like, trying to uncover all the relationships that would go behind, like, producing your cup of coffee. Like, what is it? What do the fields look like where it’s being produced? What kind of ecological impacts are there? What about the people that are working there? Are they treated fairly? Are they paid fairly for their labor and for their time? So, I guess just trying to make all this stuff that’s hidden behind the workings of capitalism, trying to uncover those and think about those and be really conscious about the way that you consume things. And, you know, I’m not perfect. I don’t do this all the time, but I try my best and try to think about just the impact that I’m having in my daily life. But I also recognize that like there’s like small things that everybody can change, but there’s also like these huge, larger systems of, like, energy production or something, that’s this huge contributor to climate change that no matter how much I try to lower my carbon footprint, there are these other systems that are like so big. So also trying to figure out a way to change those through policy or just even like helping students be aware of those systems. Yeah, so I guess how that relates to environmental ethics is just like again, just like understanding your impact and that everything you do has an impact for good or bad, and just trying to think about like what do I want that to look like? Do I want to support companies or products that pay people nothing, that don’t pay a living wage? Even if it’s not in our own county. But, you know, the U.S., we have this huge global footprint. So trying to think about like what’s my responsibility in that and how can I help communities around the world? Even though it can be a little daunting, but I think it’s really important to think about those things.

Thomas Bretz: Yeah, I think that’s really great. I also think, like, at least in the mainstream dominant western traditions, when we think about ethics, we think about, usually about these kind of things you intentionally do in a very specific time and place. But I think, you know, that you bring up this really important point, right? That when we do EE, it goes way beyond this kind of nicely limited actions, because there’s all this hidden stuff that’s happening as well. HH: Yeah, yeah, exactly. I’ve been thinking a lot about that hidden stuff. Like, even in my classes, I have them do some readings lately and people are like “oh my gosh, I had no idea this was happening.” or I had, recently I had my students read—

Thomas Bretz: Actually, can you tell me a little bit more about the way you teach with these kind of ideas, because I think that would be very interesting.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, I guess I’m going right into that question. But yeah, I had my students read a chapter about the pioneer/indigenous contact around Utah Lake and kind of think about what our landscapes look like now and how they’ve been so altered and what that means for, like, sustainability. Like, can this continue to go on? And it was a really hard reading for a lot of them because, you know, you often don’t like to think about your own backyard or even people in like your family lineage doing things that maybe weren’t the best. Yeah, but then after, their responses were really interesting, saying, just like, “I had no idea this happened. I had, like, no idea that pioneers treated indigenous people just like most other colonizers.” Like, “I had no idea that farming maybe wasn’t actually the best practice of land use in such an arid place like Utah.” Or just kind of like things that we take for granted now. Again, trying to, like, see the context of how those things came to be and question, like, “is this the best way to be sustainable?” And that’s something I think a lot about. I teach the sustainability class at UVU which has been really, really fun.

Thomas Bretz: And that’s the first of its kind at UVU, right?

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, it is, we started it—this is the second time I’m teaching it and we have a great group of students; they’re really diving into these questions. Like, this week we’re talking all about wolves and rewilding. It’s such a fun class; everybody should take it. But yeah—yeah, the first we even think, even question this idea of sustainability like what does that mean? A lot of times we hear “sustainability,” we think about just using natural resources. And kind of a point that, like, we can continue to use those and maintain our lifestyles for the coming future. Or like, you know, so our children or grandchildren can live, like, a reasonable lifestyle, like we do. But we really interrogate that idea and say like “well, maybe the West is using too many resources.” We take, like, our carbon footprint quiz, try to measure how much we’re using of Earth’s resources. And we see that, it’s not that everyone on Earth is using too many resources; it’s that we in wealthy countries have this huge, huge impact on earth systems, like, way overburdening the earth systems compared to other people. I saw too, just this week in the news, there was a study that’s estimating, like, “the top 1% has like as much carbon footprint as the bottom half of humanity.” So, when we think about sustainability, it’s not just like “okay can I recycle this?” or “how can I use this product?” But it’s also about, like, “well is this the best way to organize our economy? Is this the best way—like, should we even be doing these things?” We live in a world that’s way bigger than just the United States. Is it ethical to say that some places shouldn’t have the same standard of living as we do? I mean, that seems, that seems crazy. So when you start to really peel this idea of sustainability off and, like, thinking more than just about “okay, I can recycle” or I can get, like, solar-power for my house, or I can get an electric car—which are all good things—but if you think about it in a more kind of global way of looking at things, you see that it’s not that easy. And it makes these really, really big ethical questions about like the way that our lifestyles are, the way we use so many resources, and the way like we exploit so many places and people. It’s really hard, it’s really hard work.

Thomas Bertz: Yeah, you know, and I think that also speaks right to a common misconception, or at least way of misspeaking, when we talk about environmental issues, right? It’s always like “humans do this, humans do that.” There’s this idea that we’re all in this together, in the same way, to the same extent. But I think what you just said really complicates this idea, you know, that we’re all equally responsible or that we’re all equally impacted. You know, which I think really isn’t the case.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, right, so I have my students watch this documentary film called Keeping Our Head Above the Water. It’s about Tuvalu, in the South Pacific, and that they’re already seeing sea-level rise. It’s already impacting their communities and their agriculture. And it’s basically countries that are, like, planning for their own demise because of climate change and sea level rise. And it’s now. A lot of times we think about climate change impacts we think about, like, “well, in 100 years these things are going to change.” But we already see it now, in countries in the South Pacific like Tuvalu or Kiribati. I mean, their contribution to these problems is negligible. But they’re really bearing the impacts of it. So we talk about, like, well what’s the responsibility of the international community then? What’s the responsibility of China or the United States as these major carbon producers? And it’s fun? and it’s hard, because there’s no clear answer. But I think that they’re really critical questions to think about for our future.

Thomas Bretz: You know, I guess whenever you teach it, the relevance is obvious. Like, you don’t have to do a lot of work to show people why it’s relevant.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah. That film does such a great job. Because like we can talk about “oh, Utah is in a drought” or “we’re seeing less snow every year” But, I mean, we all can water our lawns without trouble, we all have water. So it doesn’t—it’s not real for us. Even though the ski industry, it’s real for them. They’re feeling impacts. They’re trying to figure out ways to mitigate it. But for, like, an everyday person in Utah, we don’t really feel it. And we might not. We have massive amounts of wealth and infrastructure to mitigate climate change, but not everywhere has that. I mean, the majority of the world probably doesn’t have that.

Thomas Bretz: Yeah, yeah no. These are great points. Now I’m actually curious, like, what kind of research are you doing? Or what are some of the projects you have worked on or are working on right now?

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah. So, a lot of my research has been around community adaptation to environmental change, mostly in West Africa. So, early on my work was about, like, water infrastructure and what happens when people don’t have access to water infrastructure in urban areas in West Africa. And then thinking about, you know, how urban growth and climate change is just going to make those systems more difficult. I took some students, UVU students, a few years ago to Senegal and we looked at community adaptation to flooding. That was really, really cool. We worked with a local mayor’s office that I happened to have a little bit of contact with. And that was a really fun project because my colleague, Eddie Cadet in Earth Science, he came too and he—so, I’m more of a social scientist and Eddie is more of a physical scientist. So he sampled water and soil to look at contaminants that were posing problems to the population and then I did interviews with people about kind of the social impacts of flooding. And that was a really exciting project to kind of bring this interdisciplinary view to this environmental problem.

I’m starting some work on water conservation in Utah. Kind of the barriers to water conservation, particularly in regards to outdoor landscaping. So, we’re just starting now, going to do some surveys on, like, why people don’t have more water conserving landscapes. Like, maybe it’s cost, maybe they don’t know about it, maybe it’s aesthetic. So, trying to figure out what the problem is and then we can try to adjust that through some education programs. That’s something I’m excited about that’s coming up.

I was supposed to go to Benin, West Africa, last summer. I was a Peace Corps volunteer there, before I came back to grad school. And it’s a really interesting part of the world because they have some historic forests there that are protected through their cultural systems. They call them, like, ancestral forests or sacred forests. So they’re kind of, like, created forests but protected areas, people still interact with them but they’re these, like, biodiversity hotspots. So we were going to go and do some mapping work, try to map how land uses changed around them over time and how people interact with them. And that’s still, still in the cards, as soon as pandemic let’s us travel some more. But yeah, those are kind of the things I’m working on right now.

Thomas Bretz: It was in the before times, but yeah.
Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, I know. Yeah. Well, luckily those communities haven’t been  impacted by COVID too much.

Thomas Bretz: That’s good to hear. Yeah. You know, I’m really also fascinated also by, you know, kind of the applicability of the work. Because in philosophy, that’s always what students demand but you can’t always give them, because it’s really conceptual analysis and that’s often kind of it. But it’s really great ot hear about these projects that also think about, well, what are we going to do about this?

Well, is there anything else that you want to add or say about EE. I mean, this was really fascinating but is there anything else you want to share with our students, faculty, listeners?

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, I think I would say that I see a lot of times when students start to learn about this stuff, they get overwhelmed and, like, “how do I make a difference and what can I do?” And you can’t do everything. Like, you can choose what you can do. Like, not everybody has to live, like, your life doesn’t have to look the same way in order to still like kind of be responsible in like environmentally ethic and environmentally responsible. Like, not everybody has to be a vegan—no offense, Thomas, I know you’re vegan. But, like, not everybody has to do that. Not everybody has to have an electric car. I don’t. They’re expensive. But I try to do other things to try and offset it.

So, I would just say, do what you can. And also, you know, make sure that you’re electing representatives too that also have these ideas of a more-than-human world. Because they’re going to be making policies that you live within. So, even if you try to be as ethical in your daily life in terms of approaching the environment, at some level there’s going to be some infrastructure that you can’t get out of. So it’s really great to like—this is election season, but even in a non-election season, it’s always good to think about how you can get involved in politics or programs in your local area. Like, for example, today’s a really exciting day for me because I’m going to be appointed to the Natural Resource Stewardship Committee for the city of Orem. So, like, the official day.

Thomas Bretz: That’s amazing!
Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, I’m really excited for, like, a way to get involved in my city and trying to make my city better. It’s really exciting.

Thomas Bretz: That’s really awesome. Yeah, that’s also a really great way to end, on a kind of more optimistic/realistic note, like, what we can do. But yeah, thank you so much, I mean, this was really great and fascinating. And again, this was Dr. Hilary Hungerford from the Earth Science department here at UVU. And yeah, check out her classes, sustainability class in particular, and her projects. And yeah, I look forward to talk more.

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah, thanks Thomas, this was so fun. Bye.

Maria Blevins

Hilary Hungerford: Okay, great. Welcome everyone! This is Hillary Hungerford interviewing Dr. Maria Blevins as part of the Environmental Ethics Symposium in the fall of 2020. Dr. Blevins is Associate Professor of Communications at Utah Valley University. She works a lot on environmental issues and we’re going to talk today about how environmental ethics fits into this work. Thank you so much, Dr. Blevins, for being here with me today.

Maria Blevins: Thank you for inviting me; this is really fun.
Hilary Hungerford: Okay, so my first question is, would you mind just telling me a little about your journey to becoming a communications professor?

Maria Blevins: Yeah, I’m happy to, because I feel like it fits really deeply into how my environmental ethics got started. So, I did not study communication as an undergrad. I studied outdoor recreation and I minored in sailing. So, you can imagine me as a twenty-one-year-old: all I wanted to do was backpack and ski. I chose the university that I chose because it had Class III river takeout and I canoed every day that it was warm enough. So being outside was a huge part of my life. When I graduated from my undergrad, I went and worked as a ropes course director and then a summer camp director. And it was actually through my work on a ropes course that I was able to learn some communication theories. So, if any of these listeners have not done a ropes course, there’s low ropes course and high ropes course. And low ropes course is where a team is given a challenge to do, like a problem to solve together—it’s usually a pretty physical problem, like get up and over a wall or cross an imaginary lava river. And so, what ropes courses did—they were really popular in the nineties and early two-thousands—was they gave a group a challenge and then an outside facilitator would sort of watch what they were up to and then give them feedback. So, it was through going to a ropes course conference that I learned my first communication theory, which was “forming, storming, norming, and performing,” which are the stages that a group goes through. And that sort of intrigued me.

I continued in the outdoor field and became a whitewater rafting guide and after about five years of that I was turning thirty and I thought “You know what would be a cool? A job with health insurance.” So that inspired me to go back to college to pursue a master’s degree. And I really was just thinking about all of these concepts I learned on ropes courses and that’s when I decided communication is what I wanted to study. I went to the University of Montana, who also had a program in Alternative Dispute Resolution for Natural Resources. And that got me really intrigued on how we make decisions on land management policy and are there ways that we could navigate the systems that would be more cooperative, public participation processes. And when I finished my master’s, I got a job as the Madison River manager. And that job involved getting all of the stakeholders that use the Madison River—so, landowners adjacent to the river, fly fishing guides, fly fishing enthusiasts, or just people that like to be out on the river tubing or hanging out, you know, having a good time. So, it turned out that job was really difficult, and I decided I need a little more street cred. So, I went back and got my PhD in communication, focusing on organizational communication, conflict, and environmental communication. And that is sort of the journey to becoming a professor and how I got to UVU.

Hilary Hungerford: That’s so great. It’s so interesting to learn about how you came to UVU and how our paths eventually crossed.

Maria Blevins: Yeah, so fun!
Hilary Hungerford: So now, I want you to talk about what environmental ethics means for you.

Maria Blevins: Yeah, so my definition of Environmental Ethics, it’s kind of going to span my journey. So, I would say that as an outdoor recreational enthusiast, my first definition of Environmental Ethics was thinking about wilderness, thinking about preserving those special lands. But as my thinking has grown deeper, I would say my definition of Environmental Ethics has grown deeper as well. And it really is that we have a responsibility as humans to take care of each other, but we also have a responsibility to take care of the non-human world. So that incorporates animals and trees. And this doesn’t mean that we don’t have to ever cut down a tree to build a house or make paper, or that we never, you know, hurt an animal or kill an animal for food or for meat. What it does mean though is that we really think about how it’s all connected and are we making ethical decisions for, not only our species, but for everyone who shares this crazy rock we call home, Earth.

Hilary Hungerford: Thanks, I like that. I think that theme of connection and interconnectedness comes across in lots of the interviews for this environmental ethics symposium this year.

Maria Blevins: Yeah, yeah.
Hilary Hungerford: So, building on that, what are some of the Environmental Ethics that you hold dear in life and why?

Maria Blevins: Yeah. I think probably my first one is the concept of environmental justice. So, the history of the environmental movement sort of started with the transcendentalists and Thoreau writing about how nature and the sublime are so special. John Muir made the argument that there are wilderness areas that are so important that they should be kept aside. Teddy Roosevelt, you know, signed a lot of legislation that put some land aside. But the seventies and eighties brought an interesting conversation that, outside of just wilderness and how inspiring it can be to be outside, often people with marginalized identities or socio-economic statuses that might not be as privileged, we often put a lot of the unhealthy results of capitalism in their backyards. And that results in unclean water, it results in things that make people sick, it results in food scarcities. And if my Environmental Ethic focuses around the interconnectedness of everything, we really have to look at how we’re treating humans, we have to look at how we’re treating plants and animals and the whole earth. So, I would say that one Environmental Ethic I hold dear is that concept of environmental justice. But I would also just say that, with the coming of climate change, I think every human, that every creature that lives on this earth, that their life is sort of in danger, right? We see the fires right now, we see that our life is being impacted by smoke. We’re at what many scientists are calling the beginning of a mass extinction where crazy numbers of species are going to go extinct. And I just think that if we have the ability to think through that and change that, it would be really cool if we could do that. So, I would say environmental justice and then like a concept of “Hey, can we just really think about how we’re all connected and make some changes that will support life for everything?”

Hilary Hungerford: Nice, thank you so much for sharing those. So, thinking about how you define ethics and then some of your really key core values in Environmental Ethics, how does that come into your teaching?

Maria Blevins: Yeah. I mean, I think one of the reasons that I’m drawn to be a teacher is that it’s such an intense privilege in my life to get to share different ways of thinking, share different worldviews, share different readings that I think are impactful with students. And I teach an environmental communication class and students are always super-surprised about—like, here’s an example: our university is in Utah, most of us live in Utah. We are the second most arid state in the United States and yet we have the cheapest water in the entire nation. So that’s like a really interesting disconnect that surprises my students; it surprises me when I found that out. So, I think that exposing people to these contradictions that exist in our thinking about the environment and our thinking about using natural resources and really getting to explore those contradictions and helping my students explore those contradictions is probably how it impacts my teaching the most.

Hilary Hungerford: That’s great. I’m going to enroll in your class next semester and explore those ideas with you. So, let’s move into talking a little bit about your research. How do these ideas come into your research and what are some projects you’re working on that explore these ideas of Environmental Ethics?

Maria Blevins: Yeah. So, like you said, I identify myself as a communications scholar that focus on sort of where environmental conflicts, organizational membership, and environmental issues come together. And so that’s sort of where I find things to be really interesting. I have three projects that I’m working on right now that I think exemplify my environmental Ethics and they’re questions that I’m interested in asking.

So, the first one is, as I said in my introduction, I started my career as a whitewater rafting guide. And I still am very much a whitewater enthusiast; I try to go on a few trips a year. And in the year of 2015, a group of women that work for the National Parks Service at Grand Canyon National Park came together and wrote an email to then Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewel and they outlined just years of sexual assault and harassment from the river rangers. And that started a huge discussion in the guiding community about, sort of the social environment of guiding, and how it can be a little rough and tumble, and how sexual harassment is sort of the norm. So, I’ve interviewed about sixty whitewater rafting guides, just talking about how they construct gender for that job and maybe strategies that people use to fit into that environment that is not necessarily welcoming to everyone. And how I think that fits into my Environmental Ethic is, all of the science talks about how spending time in nature is so good for your body and for your mind and for your spiritual self. And so, if not everyone is welcome in outdoor communities, I think that that is really problematic. And I also believe that we fight harder for things that we love. And so, if some people have a barrier to getting onto rivers, maybe they’re not going to care about rivers so much. So, in that guiding project, I’m really looking at who is welcome in these outdoor communities and who are we excluding and what are the consequences of that? And I think that goes for gender, I think that goes for heteronormativity, and I think that goes for race. And so that’s that project and how it fits into my ethics.

The other projects that I’m working on is for students and faculty at Utah Valley University. We are very lucky to be one of the few universities in America that has a field station at a national park. So, we have a field station at Capitol Reef National Park. And the national parks in Utah are seeing unprecedented visitation, as people realize just how awesome it is to go hang out there. So we are really just trying to capture some information about who’s coming to the park, what they’re doing there, to help the national park understand ways that they can manage visitors, projects that might make more visitors able to come and enjoy it, and just sort of understand what makes this place special and why people are connected. And again, I think that that’s so important because people should have access to these incredible spaces. And so, if we can have more access for more people through this research, that seems great.

And the last project I’m working with is Utah Lake. And I just want to point out that Hillary is interviewing me, and she is also working with me on the Capitol Reef and Utah Lake project. And it feels so fun to collaborate and I think that’s another ethic, is embracing other epistemologies, other methodologies, and finding the people in the world that share your values and will band together with you and have some fun and, you know, raise a little ruckus. So, anyway, I wanted to do a shoutout for that.

So, the Utah Lake project. Utah Lake is a beautiful lake our campus overlooks. However, it has had some environmental issues with some mine tailings, I think some of the sewage from the area was pumped into there. So, it kind of has a reputation as being a dirty place or water that you don’t necessarily want to be involved with. And so, we’re teaming up with some geoscientists and they’re going to look at the physical realties of the lake, what’s in it, what does it look like. And then a group of social scientists are looking at the, really the stories that are told around Utah Lake and what would need to happen for it to be held as more of a sacred place in Utah Valley. So again, that is, I truly believe that water is a resource that we undervalue pretty consistently and the fact that we have this incredible lake right here and it’s sort of—we kind of hold our nose and ignore it. I would love to see how we could change our values about that.

So those are three projects that I’m working with. I have worked with students and am going to work with students on all of those. And I think they’ve been into my environmental ethic because I just want to understand how humans fit into this world in a connected way with all living things.

Hilary Hungerford: Nice. I really like what I’m hearing from what you’re saying is, it’s really about interconnection but also making sure these spaces are open to everybody. And we may not really realize that a lot of people don’t feel welcome in outdoor spaces. We think “oh why wouldn’t you want to go hiking” or go to some beautiful outdoor space. But people might not be able to access it or might not feel safe in these spaces. And I think that also goes along with these kind of intersections of environmental justice with gender and race, and so many social issues that come out of privileging these environmental issues. Fascinating stuff.

Maria Blevins: That’s beautifully said Hilary, yes.

Hilary Hungerford: So, we’re just about done but I wanted to see if you had any other comments on Environmental Ethics or kind of, like, big take home messages you want to leave us with.

Maria Blevins: You know, I think you summarized it really well in, just, it’s about connection. And it’s about taking time to connect with yourself, taking time to connect with your community, taking time to connect with maybe people that you find are outside your community, but are other humans sharing this planet with us and finding out about their experiences. And then also finding out about the other species that are happening. While we do this interview, it is fall and I had the opportunity recently to go on a hike through a forest that had a bunch of aspen trees and, holy moley, if that isn’t just this incredible experience. These aspens are connected underground to each other as one large organism, and their tree leaves are changing color, and the wind whispering through them, is really incredible. And just feeling connected to that made me just feel like this planet was even a little more special than it was before I went on that hike. So, get out there and spend a little time out there. Because I do think it makes our lives more joyful. And then be thinking about “what barriers that might keep other people from being out there?” So that’s like, a lot of concluding thoughts, but get out there. Yeah. Have some fun out in the world.

Hilary Hungerford: I love it. Yeah, let’s find joy outside and help others find joy too. Maria Blevins: Yes! Let’s make that tee-shirt!

Hilary Hungerford: Yeah. [laughs] So that ends our interview. Thank you again Dr. Blevins for joining us and thank you for all your contributions to environment at UVU.

Maria Blevins: Thank you so much Dr. Hungerford, have a great day. Hilary Hungerford: You too.