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  • Climbing Vines: Exploring the Environmental Humanities
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Climbing Vines: Exploring the Environmental Humanities

Maggie Trias

Guest author

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The ivory tower is a metaphorical place that suggests scholars are too high above everyone to be aware of what is happening on the ground. These individuals can follow the direct paths of their pursuits with very little consideration for the lasting effect of their actions. However, in the real world, to live a scholarly life unaware of how our academic theories have an effect on the ground leads to an unsustainable society. 

Martinvl; Ivy- clad engine house chimney stack of the abandoned Wheal Glynn lead mine.

The student organization Climbing Vines, organized at Arizona State University’s Tempe campus, was created in an attempt to make important academic knowledge more accessible to the public, and to students studying in the environmental humanities and sustainability sciences. The name of the club, “climbing vines,” metaphorically, raises questions about how we can bring knowledge down from the ivory tower so that it can have a practical benefit on the ground. Members of this club believe that environmental knowledge and action is more important than ever. “The humanities have a way of sharing information in a way that people are ready and able to hear it,” says Kimara Crichlow, secretary of Climbing Vines.

29 November 2015; Global Climate March

The environmental humanities is the study and analysis of the relationship between humans and the environment. This rapidly expanding field is drawing attention because of its relevance and application to  interlinked social justice and environmental fields of study. There is no other club quite like this on campus. Students can attend discussions with leading faculty from ASU, learn from fellow club members, and explore interdisciplinary environmental humanities and sciences.

In environmental studies generally, “There is a lack of creating an effective relationship with information,” club founder and president Zane Encinas says. With issues like climate change, for example, “Numbers are not always capable of changing attitudes, perception, or behavior.” By focusing on the environmental humanities, this ASU Club provides more tools to engage with communities and inspire engagement with environmental and social justice thought and action.

A typical club meeting consists of engaging activities while discussing relevant environmental topics with other members or guest speakers. For example, Adriene Jenik is an artist and educator at ASU focused on environmental issues relating to the US desert. With her specialization in data humanization, she has recently developed visualizations to better display human impacts on the environment. The application of environmental humanities to a variety of studies, such as this, make for great topics of discussion.

Graphic depicting annual mean global temperatures (1850-2018, from {{w|World Meteorological Organization}} data)

As a club, Climbing Vines branches out into many fields making it a welcoming atmosphere to everyone. “[The environmental humanities is] representative of a sense of place that is at an intersection of various communities“ says Encinas. Rather than a traditional approach of simply informing one of how they can improve their worldly impacts, Encinas hopes the club will inspire change by drawing sustainable conclusions around people’s individual experiences and ideas. By incorporating applied sustainable thought, there is hope that more change will be catalyzed both inside and outside of academia. The club hopes to inspire and lead as the world works to transition to more democratic, sustainable, and just social and environmental systems.

Climbing Vines will be working to support the Humanities Lab, and the Food, Health, and Climate Lab at Humanities Week taking place October 18-22 across the ASU Tempe campus. With an entire week dedicated to humanities based presentations, activities, exhibits, panels and performances there is an event tailored for everyone. The goal of the Humanities Lab and this course topic is to encourage the recognition of current events, projects, and discoveries in the environmental humanities and climate sciences. In relation to humanities week, Crichlow stated “I hope that our participation in Humanities Week will give people an opportunity to understand how important the humanities are.” Forming a new appreciation of the environment through the humanities will make it less likely for you to be caught in your own ivory tower.

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