Sustainability Spotlight: Allison Yelvington

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Allison Yelvington is a junior majoring in Sociology while also pursuing a minor in Environmental Studies. She serves as the co-leader of the EcoRep program and works as an intern in Rice’s sustainability office. We met with Allison to discuss climate change, the EcoRep program, her experiences studying abroad in Europe this past summer, and much more.

How did you first become interested in environmental issues? What topics or issues sparked your engagement in environmentalism?

Climate change was really an issue coming to the forefront of public discourse when I was in elementary school, and I became particularly worried about it. My understanding of “global warming” was that of a child, I was concerned about my favorite cute endangered animals and wrote a letter to Santa Claus asking how he was handling melting icecaps at the North Pole.

As I grew up I had more opportunities to learn about environmental issues, learning the history of environmental legislation through Academic Decathlon in high school and getting a scientific background from AP Environmental Science.

You are majoring in Sociology while also pursuing a minor in Environmental Studies. Are you finding an opportunity to blend these two? Is this a situation where the whole is greater than the sum of the parts?

Sociology and Environmental Studies are two of my passions that for me have a very clear intersection. Environmental Sociology, and particularly sociological research around climate change, is my key research interest and what I’d like to continue to researching throughout my academic career, starting with my senior thesis and beyond into grad school. I’m really interested in the work of Eric Klinenberg’s and excited to read his new book Palaces for the People which talks about social infrastructure and it’s relation to a variety of issues including climate change. From climate refugee resettlement to resilience to natural disasters, there are a variety of ways to look at issues of climate change from a sociological perspective.

You are serving as the co-head of the EcoRep program, along with Sarah Silberman. What are your plans for the program this academic year?

As a whole the Eco-Rep program is focusing on effective long term improvements within the residential colleges, whether that’s a physical installation or establishing a Greenware program. This past summer I researched practices of other Eco-Rep programs across the country and concluded that while our program is well established, we always have room for improvement.

We’re trying many new things this year, including shortening the Green Dorm Initiative to last two weeks, rather than three, to make it more impactful and to keep up enthusiasm across that time span.

What environmental issues would you say are most important to your peers today?

I believe my peers have a growing interest in living a more sustainable lifestyle in regards to fashion, waste, ethical consumption, and more. They also as a whole tend to accept climate change as a fact, which is a good start.

It’s so easy to be overwhelmed by climate change, so how do you move forward in a constructive way?

This is a really hard question, because with a problem so huge it is easy to be overwhelmed, and yet it is critical we don’t push it to the side. For me personally, I consider climate change to be the biggest issue facing humanity, and so I can’t not let it be the issue I pursue in my life. I’m interested in going into academia, and if I do I know this is the topic I want to work on. Keeping up with this issue means there’s moments and developments that are very hopeful, and others that are overwhelming, and ultimately requires wide scale collaboration. The most constructive thing to do is engage, not ignore.

You recently participated in the Urban Sustainability and Livability summer study abroad class. What lessons did you glean from your time in London and Paris regarding combating climate change and mitigating its impacts?

Studying abroad was a hopeful experience because London and Paris had some inspiring initiatives that show they are taking climate change seriously. London has a plan in place (I’m excited to see Houston is creating its own Climate Action Plan) and Paris had great examples of well-funded public projects.

Additionally, the specific research project I worked on was looking at Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems in London and their impact on alleviating flooding, which I think is relevant to the weather variability of a climate change world. I was introduced to the topic through a panel on “Creating Flood Resilient Urban Areas,” as part of The Livable Cities Seminar hosted at the Royal Danish Embassy in London—an example of an amazing outside of the classroom educational opportunity I was able to attend on the study abroad trip.

As a voracious reader and podcast listener, what recommendations would you share with others?

Though not necessarily environmentally related, I’m a big fan of the podcasts This American Life and Reply All. For an environmental listen I suggest the CENHS podcast Cultures of Energy.

I read The Water Will Come by Jeff Goodell over the summer and found it to be a very important and sobering read about the realities of sea level rise. My next read will be Palaces for the People by Eric Klinenberg. In it, he discusses the importance of libraries, and for my final recommendation I want to suggest Fondren Library! Fondren is a sharing economy and an environmental choice, borrow books and explore resources without purchasing a new physical thing.

Let’s close with an action item. What would you encourage your fellow Rice students to do?

1. Get involved, there’s a number of environmentally focused groups and events on campus and they are truly open to everyone, even if you have never been involved before.

2. Take a class in the Environmental Studies Minor to engage with these topics more deeply and build your knowledge. Climate change is going to have an impact on your future field no matter what it is.

3. VOTE! Policy and government action is a really important part of the collective action required to combat climate change. Investigate the environmental platforms of candidates, and if they don’t have one—demand that they do.