By Marielle Trumbauer
A question that I am often asked is, “who is your role model?” It may seem to be a simple inquiry with a simple response, but I have often viewed it as an effective measure of a person’s insight into their own life and the wisdom of those who have impacted them in some manner. Of course, family and friends play a large role in shaping who we all become, but an even larger force of developing our personalities is global history. In chaos theory, there is a concept described as the butterfly effect. Although it originated in meteorology and is focused on science, popular culture has adopted the term to illustrate the momentous impact of seemingly insignificant occurrences and people on the course of history. One of my role models is a man who never had the opportunity to see the impact of his words. He is the butterfly who flapped his wings, lived his life, and passed on before his hurricane arrived.
Henry David Thoreau was a writer, abolitionist, philosopher and—in my opinion—a genius. His works advocated both for political justice and the transcendentalist ideal of the purity of and unity with nature. He inspired generations of leaders and left his ink stain on the pages of history through the art of expression. Dr. King and Gandhi drew inspiration from his work, yet the man was only recognized posthumously and lived a simple fulfilling life during his time on earth. The modesty of this life is reflected in his writings about the beauty of nature and the overwhelming duty and responsibility of man to protect the world. This is evidenced by one of my favorite quotes by Thoreau from his book Walden: “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”
The earth is truly a paradise that demands and deserves an astounding amount of respect and admiration from its inhabitants. Unfortunately, ever since the industrial revolution, humanity has directed its attention towards productivity with any means necessary, almost completely disregarding the environmental impact of our actions. A quote that struck a particular chord with me describes this situation perfectly: “The earth is 4.6 billion years old. Let’s scale that to 46 years. We have been here for 4 hours. Our industrial revolution began one minute ago. In that time, we have destroyed more than 50% of the world’s forests. This isn’t sustainable” –Anonymous. Human history has drastically altered the ecological face of our world and dramatic climate change demonstrates the fact that we have reached the bounds that we can push our planet to. Environmental tragedies—like the one at Hanford—only serve to accelerate the rate at which earth is deteriorating. It is this fact that has led me to become interested in working with Hanford Challenge. The only way to change the earth is to get out and do something that makes a difference, which is exactly what Hanford Challenge advocates for.
My name is Marielle Trumbauer and I am a sophomore at the University of Washington. I am planning on double majoring in Business with a focus in Entrepreneurship and International Studies with a focus in Europe. I have become involved in Hanford Challenge as a part of a service-learning project for an Environmental Studies class that I am taking. I have never studied the environment before, but it has always been a passion of mine.
I grew up in Seattle with very liberal parents who instilled in me a deep sense of respect for the earth. In high school, I became highly involved in Speech and ended up going to nationals for an oratorical piece I wrote and presented about the impact of past environmental disasters on modern global economies and societies. When I was browsing the opportunities available to students for service learning in my class, I was taken aback when I realized that all I knew about Hanford was that it involved radioactivity in some form. I had spoken to well over a thousand people about Bhopal and Exxon Valdez, but I was unaware of the details of one of the worst environmental messes on earth that took place in my own backyard. My ignorance astounded me and I immediately chose to complete my project with Hanford Challenge.
After a day and a half on the job, I have learned more about Hanford than I have known in my nineteen years of life. The vital nature of the cleanup efforts and the sheer inefficiencies that have taken place in dealing with Hanford have been the two things that stood out to me most in this learning process. The part that caught my eye most prominently was the fact that the nuclear waste treatment facility was under construction before the engineers had even finished the designs. Such blatant disregard for quality when such a serious matter is at stake absolutely astounded me. It is essentially unbelievable that this could have happened and that other violations of human dignity and health, environmental care, and general respect for the site are still ongoing to this day. The timeline for completion of the effective cleanup of this site serves as a prime example of these happenings. It is not fair to wait 100 years to clean up a mess that will just continue to worsen.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work with Hanford Challenge in developing approaches to expediting the cleanup of Hanford. I hope that my work here will make a substantial difference in the progress of this fantastic organization and the site as a whole. In advancing the cleanup of Hanford, we collectively advance the well-being of our world. The importance of this can be best expressed in the words of Thoreau, because, “What’s the use of a fine house if you haven’t got a tolerable planet to put it on?”