Morgan Weldon is passionate about the environment, but finding a significant group of kindred spirits has been a challenge. “Sometimes I feel like the little voice in the wilderness,” Weldon said with a chuckle.
Last summer, however, Weldon was a part of a virtual chorus of young environmentalists. The Ocean Springs native was among 16 undergraduates selected for the Nissan-World Wildlife Fund Environmental Leadership Summit program. Their adventures took them to workshops and cross- cultural training in Washington, D.C., and Nashville, Tenn., followed by a two-week expedition in Brazil.
In Washington, the student leaders learned about environmental policy making by visiting the World Bank, the Environmental Protection Agency and Capitol Hill. In Nashville, participants performed volunteer service and toured Nissan’s manufacturing plant, learning about the automaker’s Nissan Green Program 2010.
“It was exciting being around other students who had studied climate change from different angles,” Weldon said. “And the program coordinators told us they didn’t want us to just be tourists. We were there not just to learn about the environment but to contribute to it.”
The group did plenty of both during their Brazilian adventure. They observed the laborious process some indigenous people use to make flour from cassava. They planted 500 trees. They helped farmers convert manure and vegetable matter into compost for more fertile soil.
Perhaps the most vivid lesson in how human activity affects the Earth came while stargazing one night on a mountainside. While marveling at a sky filled with twinkling stars, the students noticed flickering lights over much of the horizon. For a moment, they wondered if the lights were small towns in the distance.
“They were fires,” said Weldon, a member of the Sally McDonnell Barksdale Honors College and a double major in psychology and classics. “In Brazil, thousands of acres of sugar cane are burned for easier harvest. That’s just how it’s done. But, of course, the burning pours more carbon into the air.”
In Oxford, Weldon supports recycling efforts, encourages alternative transportation and promotes environmental consciousness on campus. “Thinking about the environment has become a basic part of my life,” Weldon said. “It seems obvious to me that if we value living in a beautiful and healthy environment, we have to maintain it.”