Part of the solution: My trip to Washington, D.C. and London
Alexis, a student in the School of Sustainability and School of Politics and Global Studies, traveled to Washington, D.C. and London last summer as part of the Global Sustainability Studies Program. Comparing sustainability policy and governance in the two locations, Roeckner honed her political science skills and experienced new cultures, places and people. Here, Roeckner reflects on her trip.
In your view, what is a sustainable world?
A sustainable world is one where humans understand that we owe our planet nothing but respect and gratitude for all it does. It is a world where we work with the environment to use its resources in a way that does not harm the planet or our chances for survival.
Why did you choose to study at ASU’s School of Sustainability?I saw the movie Avatar. In all seriousness, I chose to study at the School of Sustainability because I wanted to join the amazing groups of people who are focused on giving back and on saving the human race from self-destruction. A field that would teach me how to help others and the home in which we all live was something I had to be a part of. Above all, I wanted to be part of the solutions. It is not easy to look into the eyes of children and assure yourself they will grow up in a safe, healthy environment unless you personally are working to make that vision a reality.
What in particular drew you to the D.C./London trip?
I had visited Washington, D.C. five years prior to the trip and fell in love with the city. Our nation’s capitol is such a thriving place of driven people that work together to run our nation, and I was so excited at the thought of learning about sustainability in such a place.I am also very interested in political science (hence my minor), and the topic of comparing sustainability between two governments intrigued me. Additionally, I had never set foot outside the United States before and had always dreamed of seeing London. And although I had always dreamed of seeing London, the idea of going abroad was definitely out of my comfort zone. I wanted to do something that absolutely terrified me.
What did you learn from comparing sustainability policies and implementation in both places?
The most important thing I learned is that government is ridiculously complicated. Now I understand why the process of introducing, debating, passing and implementing laws takes so much time in the United States. There are so many policy mazes to be navigated, so much fine print to read, and so many departments to go through that it’s no wonder the bills take forever to get anywhere. Sustainability itself is a very complex topic, but throw it into the realm of government and there goes any chance of understanding more than the basic picture. However, according to one of our speakers who briefed us on the national budget-making process, the fourteen of us who sat through his lecture now know more about how our budget works than 99.99 percent of the rest of the country.
I also learned that England as a whole has a slightly stronger resolve to become a sustainable country, and for its government, sustainability is not such a controversial topic. For example, when we visited Parliament, we were shown a few very cool pamphlets that were written by scientists with the intent of educating policymakers on important social/economic/environmental issues in comprehensible language. These pamphlets are popular and useful whereas in the United States, for example, there is still a debate about whether or not climate change exists and the pamphlets might not go over as well.
Perhaps the most important lesson I took away is that the only way to get bills passed in Congress is to keep on pushing through no matter what. The only way to get sustainability-related policies advanced is to never give up on them.
What’s one thing you will take with you from D.C.? London?
Every memory that was made in both places I will carry with me forever. If I had to choose one thing I have taken from D.C., it’s my love for the city and my desire to work there someday. I loved walking to and from our ASU headquarters every day simply because I got to walk with everyone else there who moved with purpose as they went on their ways to change the world. Some day, I want to be one of those people.
The most significant thing I’ve taken from London, hands down, is my newly found ability to throw myself out of my comfort zone and push myself through anything. When I arrived in England I was terrified to be in another country, and by the time I left I was taking the Tube all over the city by myself and never wanting to leave. I had never felt such a sense of independence and confidence before in my life, and I’ll never forget what it was like to feel so free from anxiety and self-doubt.
You want to become a future educator on sustainability. How will you use your study abroad experience in this career path?
This experience provided so much depth to the term “sustainability.” For starters, I got to be with thirteen other students who asked questions of our presenters that related to their own fields of study, which was always an educational experience for me. Because we were ultimately learning how government is used as a tool to implement sustainability into the infrastructure of a nation, I have a more realistic expectation of what can be done in the future, and I went from constantly wondering why the government just doesn’t push a button to implement simple policies to marveling at those who work in government without losing their minds. Additionally, it was great to get an in-depth understanding of how another country’s government works. Seeing another way of doing things – inside and outside of government – is always humbling and opens up a world of opportunities.
We also visited the U.S. Green Building Council’s Center for Green Schools while we were in D.C., and I have been captivated by their work ever since. I intend to reach out to the employee who gave us a tour in the hopes that some day I can work for the Center. If anything, this trip has shown me that there are people out there who are willing to create solutions and that there is always hope for the future. In the field of sustainability, that knowledge will push me through my career.
If you could do one thing over during your trip, what would it be?
I honestly can’t think of a thing I’d do differently other than perhaps packing an umbrella. Being from the desert, I was quite bemused by the wet stuff that fell from the sky in London. If I could repeat just one thing, I would visit the National Mall just one more time.
Photos by Alexis Roeckner