Graduate Student | Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources | North Carolina State University
2023 – 2024 Global Change Research Fellow
Statement of purpose:
My upbringing inspired me to pursue a career in environmental science and advocacy, as I come from a nexus of climate justice issues. I grew up on the Texas-Louisiana Coast, arguably the most industrialized and polluted area of the United States. Relatedly, this area is ground zero for climate change related disasters, including hurricanes that are increasing in frequency and severity. My family, who are generational fishers and shrimpers, were deeply impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Oil Disaster. My ancestral (Houma) lands of Southern Louisiana are the fast disappearing in the country due to climate change, sea level rise, and industrial activity.
I have years of experience working in environmental justice movement building to create a cultural shift in an area dominated by fossil fuels, and to work towards a just transition. In just a few short years, I’ve seen the momentum in the Gulf South for environmental justice grow rapidly. And if change in the Gulf South is possible, then let me tell you: we can change anything. By working with legendary organizers, I’ve learned that the key to sustainable, equitable future is through community engagement, relationship building, and public education. I believe that the worlds of community organizing and scientific research have a lot to learn from each other, and that bridging these disciplines can result in monumental change for the planet.
Description of research:
I am interested in exploring the limitations, promises, and definitions of ecosystem “restoration” through an anti-colonial and public science approach. Under the guidance of Dr. Caren Cooper, my research will thus integrate two complementary components. The first component is exploring – and pushing – the boundaries of public science design and implementation. The second component is investigating the challenges and areas of promise in restoration ecology in coastal or wetland ecosystems as climate change and industrial activity persist. In particular, I want to research the potential positive outcomes of wetland and marine ecosystem restoration, which could include: changes in water quality, increased oyster yields and fish populations, or marshland (natural or artificial) resilience against storm surges and hurricanes in coastal areas. In the same body of research, I also plan to identify the specific limitations of restoration or conservation efforts due to continued and planned industrial activity. Importantly, I believe that the people closest to the problem are the closest to the solution. Participatory science is therefore essential to conducting high-quality and thorough research. Participatory science, however, has had its own limiting standards as historically, most participants are affluent, white, and in urban centers. So, my research is an exploration in scientific pedagogy and communication in addition to conservation biology. I plan to engage blue-collar communities that work in nature based labor such as fishing and shrimping – such as my own Indigenous community in the Gulf South. The ultimate goal of my research is to empower communities with the knowledge they helped create, and use it to enact change that improves their lives and of our natural world.
Caren Cooper (Department of Forestry and Environmental Resources, NCSU)