ENVI Travel Winter Study: On the Front Lines of Climate Change in Eleuthera

Jane Tekin ‘19

I had the opportunity to spend Winter Study 2017 in Eleuthera, Bahamas, with Professor Sarah Gardner who has taught Winter Study classes in Eleuthera more than ten times, taking small groups of carefully selected students to study the real-life impacts of climate change.  Our class partnered with One Eleuthera, a community based organization on the island that works with medical care, social services, job creation, and food security.

The course was important to me in many ways. On campus, I often feel disconnected from the things I care about most – studying these issues isn’t always enough, especially with a pressing issue like climate change. Being on Eleuthera brought the immediacy of this issue to light – there was no hiding from the life-altering impacts of sea level rise and other forms of environmental degradation. There is a quote I often think of, from the Van Jones lecture I attended months ago: “It takes everyone to save everyone.” Our class made Jones’ words come to life: Eight students from a range of majors spent two weeks on the island surveying Eleutherans about their climate change awareness. We asked islanders whether they’d observed changes in temperature, sea level, flooding, and fishing and agriculture. What I think surprised most of my classmates, including myself, was how aware Eleutherans were about the reality of the changing climate. Most were more than willing to talk with us, too – which was shocking, considering the cultural and environmental destruction the tourism industry has wreaked upon the Bahamas.

Tourism is what the Bahamian government presents to the world, but there’s almost no tourist industry in mainland Eleuthera.  The main way people survive, is through farming, fishing, and small businesses.  One woman we interviewed works for a cruise line company, dressing up in “native” garb for the supposed cultural enrichment of vacationers. She told us, however, that she doesn’t mind the cultural appropriation because she’s just glad to be able to make some money to support her family.

In the “purple bubble,” we have the privilege to bury our heads in our books and learn about issues that don’t necessarily affect us firsthand. One Eleutheran we interviewed said that he can’t worry about the effects of climate change, because he has to think about surviving each day. At Williams, it often seems we have the opposite mindset, which puts us at risk of minimizing the severity of present issues for the sake of a future that is no longer a guarantee.


The class made a film about climate change in Eleuthera that will be posted on the CES Vimeo site this summer.