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It’s Earth Day — and as we’ve blogged before, our namesake (Albert Schweitzer) was a man ahead of his time when it came to environmental issues. (Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring dedication reads, “To Albert Schweitzer, who said ‘Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth.”)

Indeed, Schweitzer’s legacy is one of reverence for all life: not just human life, not just animal life, but the life of nature as well. And across the U.S., Schweitzer Fellows are carrying on that legacy through service projects that urgent issues related to our planet’s health.

One example? Thomas Azwell, a Bay Area Schweitzer Fellow for Life who  believes that the development of community gardens provides both a means to engage people in the production and environmental impact of their food and to increase local vegetation (in turn reducing greenhouse gases from the atmosphere).

As a 2008-09 Fellow, Azwell helped to develop a curriculum, “Seed to Belly”, that follows the entire food pathway from propagation to consumption and disposal.

“The curriculum provides a framework for community members to learn techniques for seed propagation, plant care, harvesting produce, healthy food preparation, and composting of green-waste, thus promoting an intrinsic motivation to proactively care for the environment,” Azwell says.

That’s motivation has long been intrinsic for Azwell, who is now researching methods for developing and promoting industrial ecology, sustainable agriculture (organic farming), and bioremediation (microbial degradation of toxins). (“I tie these three broad topics together with a single technology, composting,” Azwell says.) For more on Azwell, click here.

Caitlin Fritz, a 2007-08 Schweitzer Fellow in Boston, also finds community gardens to be an important tool in making the link between our own health and that of our planet. Fritz collaborated with the Sullivan Middle School-Based Health Center, sponsored by Family Health Center of Worcester, to develop a community garden, along with a student group to manage the garden (the Beetle Juice Club).

“While the main focus of the garden and the student group was to increase plant-to-food connections as the first step towards promoting healthier eating habits within the school and community, everything we did in the garden featured an environmental undertone, including teaching other kids to care for the environment as part of the student created mission statement for the Beetle Juice Club,” Fritz says.

Discussions of climate change were frequent when the group discussed the origins of the food we eat. “Much of the intent of the garden was to get kids to eat things they can grow right in their own backyards, or find at farmers market’s in their community, instead of eating foods that have traveled from all over the world,” Fritz says. “Not only does growing your own food or buying local and in season produce ensure that the food is fresher and healthier for you, but it reduces the greenhouse gas emissions used in transporting foods from Chile, or Australia, or from other corners of the planet.” For more on Fritz, click here.

Like Azwell and Fritz,  Meghan Moda worked to address issues of human and environmental health as a Schweitzer Fellow.

“My Schweitzer Fellowship project had two components—working with a group of high school students to measure particulate matter and other environmental variables along routes that they use to walk to and from school, and broader community sampling walks to educate and involve the community in environmental justice issues including air pollution, noise pollution, and trash,” Moda says.

One of the main contaminates Moda and those she worked with measured was particulate matter, which is most commonly associated with the burning of fossil fuels—a main contributor to climate change. But it is also linked to asthma, lung disease, cancer, and premature death. Moda’s project also prompted broader discussions about “sustainability from a health perspective and the interaction between our environment and our health, which sounds like a simple discussion, but in the community where we implemented this project, many people had never considered the link.”

During her time as a Fellow, Meghan deepened her own understanding of that link. “One of the many valuable lessons I learned as a Fellow is that we are all connected, to each other and to the world we live in,” she says. “This reverence for and appreciation of all life – human and animal – sets an example that I try to judge my actions by.”

In Moda’s opinion, “the single most important change a person can make in their life to combat climate change is to realize that their actions and their way of life does matter.”

“So often people think of climate change as something that is bigger than them, that it is out of their ability to influence or change, but each of us makes decisions on a daily basis that impact climate change and the environment,” she says. “Once people realize that their actions matter and once they internalize the problem, little changes in lifestyle become easy to make (and there are so many that can make a difference)!”

“It is a big step to change your thinking from ‘it’s someone else’s problem’ or ‘what can I do about it, I am just one person”’ to understanding that change occurs one person at a time,” Moda says. For more on Moda, click here.

Want to read more about Schweitzer Fellows’ environmental work? Click here, here, and here.