By Kenzley Defler, VISTA Leader 2020-2021
When hearing the word sustainability, many people think of recycling, not using plastic straws, and renewable energy. For a long time those “green” and “environmental” images were all that came to my mind as well. I’ve learned however, that sustainability is about so much more than throwing your single-use plastic bottle in a recycling bin.
I now think of sustainability as a compass, where north is nature, east is the economy, south is society, and west is personal well-being. This simple visual represents a bigger picture of sustainability, one with many more implications and areas for improvement. When considering all points of the sustainability compass, the interconnectedness of the natural world and built environment starts to take hold.
Although they may not represent it with a compass, many international leaders within the environmental field recognize the interconnected framework. In 2015, the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs drafted 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to guide member states in directly working towards, “peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future.” As you’ll see, these SDGs cover everything from conserving water to expanding access to renewable energy to improving gender equality to promoting economic growth.
Another environmental leader who demonstrates a big-picture sustainability mindset is Project Drawdown as they describe a future where anthropogenically caused climate change is reversed and the catastrophic effects are averted. One of the 3 main solutions suggested by Project Drawdown, solutions aimed to decrease greenhouse gas emissions, is to, “Improve Society,” by “fostering equality for all.”
In order to achieve the future so many of us hope to see, we need to balance a regenerative and clean environment with a just society and an equitable economy, all while supporting and engaging all people. This is what sustainability means to me.
The SDGs illustrate that the work being done by AmeriCorps VISTA is indeed working towards sustainability. In fact, the #1 SDG is to, “End poverty in all its forms everywhere,” directly mirroring AmeriCorps’ anti-poverty focus. Some of our VISTA organizations such as the Fairbanks Soil and Water Conservation District focus on the environmental and food security side of poverty reduction. Others such as the Fairbanks Reentry Coalition and Northern Hope Center focus on supporting people and developing just and equitable services for all. An economic focus is seen within United Way of the Tanana Valley which connects its local partner agencies to the necessary funding to achieve their goals. Through these and other organizations, our Fairbanks VISTAs approach their fight against poverty from all sides of the sustainability compass.
While the path towards long-term change often seems daunting, I like to fall back on the compass for both direction and reassurance. When I remember how many opportunities there are to engage with the planet and people around me, I’m filled with hope and motivation to continue working towards a more sustainable future.
This summer, Fairbanks welcomes 9 Summer Associate VISTAs who will be serving at 6 different organizations! Summer Associates serve for 10 weeks and perform direct service work to combat hunger, prevent summer learning loss, and fight poverty in our community.
By Stephen Greenlaw, FNSB Noel Wien Library 2020-2021
I am not going to tell you the unlimited touristy things to do or explain the seasons or describe when to see the Northern Lights. There’s plenty of information on stuff like that out there. When I first came to Fairbanks, I did a lot of those things myself. Instead, I am here to share my story and give you a little personal wisdom that will get you out and about in Fairbanks.
First off, you won’t find a place like this anywhere else! Originally, from San Diego, California, I moved to Fairbanks in the fall of 2013 to pursue my degree in Fisheries at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. My first two years were tough, transitioning from sunny San Diego to Alaska, as I had never experienced snow before. Luckily, I lived on campus at UAF which connected me to everything I needed to live comfortably.
When I first arrived in town, I didn’t know many people and I didn’t have a car. Although Fairbanks seems pretty spread out, not having a car isn’t the end of the world and you can still get around. If you want to travel around by bike, pick up a fairbanks bike map from UAF Green Bikes. If you don’t have a car, it will be best to live near a bus line and familiarize yourself with the bus routes. And don’t be shy about asking friends or fellow VISTAs for a ride, especially if you are walking to get groceries at -45F. Your frozen face will thank me later!
Speaking of winters, I recommend getting a happy light and taking vitamin D. Winters can be dark and mental health is important. Take care of yourselves. According to Explore Fairbanks, “with the shortest day of the year – December 21st this year – Fairbanks will have about 3hrs 41mins when the sun is up.”
Obviously, dress for the weather. Frostbite is no joke. Wear layers and have a winter hat to keep your head covered and gloves on whenever you’re outside, even if it’s only for a few minutes. And don’t forget these wise words, “What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.” ― John Steinbeck, Travels with Charley: In Search of America.
My next piece of advice is to find a hobby! Learn to ski or go ice skating in the winter. Check out the UAF trails and go hiking in and around town. And if you plan to do a long hike, let a buddy know. If you are wanting to go hiking outside of town, check out one of my favorite hiking spots: Wickersham Dome.
In the summer, do some wild blueberry picking or look for fishing spots around Fairbanks.There are lots of ponds filled with a dinner that’s ready to be caught. I’d recommend getting a fishing pole and buying a fishing license at Fred Myers. Keep in mind, non-residents pay a higher price compared to residents for a fishing license. Enjoy what each season in Alaska has to offer. As Henry David Thoreau wrote in Walden, “Live in each season as it passes; breathe the air, drink the drink, taste the fruit, and resign yourself to the influence of the earth.”
Speaking of seasons- Did you know that in May of 2020 Fairbanks hit a world-record birch pollen count?! According to the article by Alaska Public Media, “the typical symptoms are itchy, watery eyes and nose, sneezing, and, for some people, it worsens their asthma.” If you have allergies, you may want to get allergy medication for the summer.
It is important that you learn about Alaska Native cultures and histories. A good place to start is at the Morris Thompson Cultural Center.Check out this resource: Indigenous Peoples and Languages of Alaska. And lastly, here are two videos I recommend watching: What People Get Wrong About Alaska Natives and Alaska Native Cultures Overview.
Overall, my advice to folks moving to Fairbanks is really put yourselves out there. Immerse yourselves in the community. Fairbanks has a lot to offer and folks will appreciate you for being someone who wants to help and be part of the community!
Of the many things to do in Fairbanks, here are some of my favorites!
I recognize that my time living and working in Fairbanks took place on the traditional and unceded lands of the Lower Tanana Dene Peoples.
"AmeriCorps VISTAs, or Volunteers in Service to America, sign up for a year fighting poverty in communities across the nation, including Fairbanks.
For a small stipend, they serve at non-profits and other organizations, helping their hosts expand their reach and help more people in the community."
Read the full story at KTVF's website.