Week 6 Blog: The Posing Chickens and Nuclear Waste

Our topic of conversation this week was nuclear power and radioactive waste. This is a prevalent and challenging issue in France and all over the world. Nuclear waste is hazardous for the environment and people, and there is no way to recycle it or safely store it for long periods. So, this issue of nuclear waste has no definitive answer and is a highly controversial topic in most environmental and social arenas today. We had an intense debate of our own in class on a nuclear waste project, a deep geological disposal facility (the Cigéo project, or Industrial Centre for Geological Disposal). That is being pushed to essentially bury mass amounts of highly radioactive long-lived waste under the city of Bure, a city located about an hour away from Metz. We took sides as the government versus the citizens of Bure, and both sides made excellent points, proving how difficult it is to find a solution for the mass amounts of toxic waste that we are so carelessly producing.  We also had Dr. Jean Paul Salvestrini, Adjunct Professor at the school of Electrical & Computer Engineering at Georgia Tech and Director of the Georgia Tech CNRS research Lab IRL 2958, join us as a guest speaker to explain a little more about the Cigéo project in Bure, how nuclear power works, and just how dangerous it can be. He presented his research on materials and how to monitor and anticipate the degradation of concreate (one of the main materials used to build radioactive waste storage shelters) due to its contact with clay. He pointed out that the materials’ robustness and corrosion resistance are not clearly demonstrated and are a risk in this project. 

Figure 1: Dr. Boulard and Dr. Jean Paul Salvestrini talking about nuclear waste
Figure 2: Samyuktha and Laynie enjoying the posing chickens
Figure 3: Dr. Boulard and Laura looking at the birds
Figure 4: Kara leading our tour through the Botanical Gardens of Metz
Figure 5: Yannick Monget’s digital painting of Metz in the future

Our field trips of the week were to the exhibition “Hopes” and the Botanical gardens of Metz! The exhibition was a series of digital art renderings by writer Yannick Monget that depict how different places in the world will look due to climate change in the future. I thought the digital paintings were exceptionally creative, and some were much different from how I would’ve imagined. One of the most popular pieces among the class was the depiction of Metz (see Figure 5) for the way the city had been overtaken by nature to become a true Ville Verte (green city). At the botanical gardens, the graduate student and Program Assistant, Kara, gave us the grand tour explaining everything from Japanese trees to the different types of grain! As SLS program students, you would be correct to assume that we love galivanting through gardens and looking at plants, but we are also animal lovers, and the highlight of this garden was, hands down, the bird habitat. We all loved hearing Laura’s extensive knowledge of bird facts and stories of her two cute pet birds at home. We also got quite a hoot (pun intended!) out of the way the chickens loved our attention and seemingly posed for our photos. All this talk of animals makes me miss my pets at home a little extra. I don’t have any birds, but I do have two adorable dogs who I miss dearly and decided to Facetime this week to check in on; they said they miss me, of course! For those of you that are home with your pets, give them an extra hug (or pet) for us this week, and until we are home, we will keep visiting the local animals of Metz to get our fill of furry friends! 

Figure 6: SLS students walking through a “tree tunnel”
Figure 7: Laura’s pet birds Pancho (left) and Mina (right)
Figure 8: my dogs on FaceTime with me
Figure 9: SLS students looking at one of the digital paintings in the “Hopes” exhibit
Figure 10: one of the posing chickens (photo by Laynie)

Finally, this week we began the “serve” section of the Serve, Learn, Sustain program! For this part of the program, we get to put all the knowledge we have gained thus far into action by volunteering with the organizations we have met through our field trips with the class. The organizations I am most interested in working with are Un Jardin Pour 2 Mains¹, The Institut Européen d’Écologie (specifically with their Cinemaplanete film festival) ², the Oppidum³, and Motris. Motris is a new organization that came to talk to us this week along with Club UNESCO. Motris is an organization that is sparking an initiative to plant trees in the city of Metz. Their goal is to create urban forests in the heart of metropolis Metz by planting 10,000 trees. I am so excited to be a part of this project! Earlier in the semester, we read a story called L’Homme qui plantait des arbres (The man who planted trees, by French writer Jean Giono), and it was a beautiful tale of one man who changed an entire valley by dedicating his life to planting trees. The story started in a harsh, barren land where the people were savages, and by the end of the story (and the man’s life), it was a beautiful, thriving area because the valley, once a desert, had turned into an immense green forest. The tale perfectly depicted how one seemingly simple action and a heart for change can be the difference between life and death. The story inspired me, so to have the opportunity to put it into action feels so symbolic and memorable. Plus, I have always been somewhat of a tree hugger, and when I was young, I collected my apple seeds with the hope that I might be able to grow a tree one day. Now, I can do so, and I am so excited!

Figure 11: Representative from Motris telling us about the organization

1 Explained in Biodomes, a Meatless Cow, and a Lovely Picnic

2 Explained in Toxic Gardens, Marvel Movies & the Seaside

The Institut Européen d’Écologie Turns 50!

It was a very exciting week for the SLS program! One of our partners, the Institut Européen d’Écologie, celebrated its 50th anniversary on Tuesday (09/21), and we had the honor of joining them in the festivities! For their main anniversary event, they started the evening by introducing and unveiling the Aquablier, a water hourglass statue that represents the urgent need to contain global warming. The statue also had a screen that rotated through names of people/groups, and we were able to get the program name displayed (see figure 1)! The second part of the event was a conference during which we got to hear from about 12 up-and-coming voices for ecology on what they are doing to help save our planet and build a brighter future. Once everyone had spoken, they concluded the conference by showing a trailer for the movie “The Great Green Wall,” whose premiere the Metz Ciné Klub was hosting on Friday. The event ended with a party where we had the opportunity to converse with Merveille and Errol, two of the speakers. They are both brilliant students at prestigious schools in Metz and it was so entertaining to get to speak to them. It was a lovely evening, and we were all overjoyed to be a part of such a significant milestone.

Figure 1: SLS Program name being displayed on the Aquablier
Figure 2: SLS students in front of the Aquablier
Figure 3: SLS students with Merveille and Errol

Later in the week, we had an excellent zero-waste workshop with Dr. Jean-Jacques and Dr. Boulard. For our first DIY activity, they taught us how to make laundry detergent! It was so easy and only five ingredients: Marseille soap, hot water, baking soda, vinegar, and a little bit of lavender oil for scent. We each filled up a reusable glass bottle with our detergent, and it was as easy as pie! The next thing we made was toothpaste, it was also straightforward (and easy to use as you can see in figure 4) and only required four ingredients to make! Lastly, we got to try some of Dr. Jean-Jacques’ homemade kefir. His kefir was not like the milk types I have tried in the past but instead was a citrusy fizzy fermented drink made with a water base and kefir seeds. My classmates and I were slightly skeptical about the drink based on its smell at first but were pleasantly surprised at how refreshing it was after trying it! On top of its yummy taste, kefir is filled with probiotics and is excellent for maintaining a healthy intestinal microbiota. I definitely want to try to make some kefir at home soon! Making these everyday items was a fun activity that I could easily incorporate into my routine to decrease my waste output. I had never really thought about how much waste is produced just from laundry and toothpaste products alone. It put into perspective how easy it is to contribute to the plastic problem without even realizing it.

Figure 4: me testing out our homemade toothpaste
Figure 5: John, Lauren, and Olivia making laundry detergent
Figure 6: Jean-Jacques preparing the ingredients for the laundry detergent
Figure 7: Laynie, Ida, and Laura making their toothpaste with the help of Dr. Boulard and Dr. Jean-Jacques
Figure 8: Dr. Boulard and Dr. Jean-Jacques explaining the ingredients

We ended our week by attending the premiere of the film “The Great Green Wall” hosted by the Institut Européen d’Écologie. The film was all about bringing awareness to the Great Green Wall initiative in the Sahel region. This project attempts to combat the desertification of the area by planting a wall of trees that stretches across the entire Sahel: 8,000 kilometers (4970 miles) of trees planted across 11 countries! The film followed Malian singer Inna Modja as she journeyed from one end of the Sahel to the other, learning all about how climate change and desertification have ravaged many individuals’ lives across the region. Her goal was to make a song for each place she visited that represented the stories of the people while repainting their image today and for the future with a light of hope. The film was heartbreaking and uplifting at the same time. It is devastating to see how so many people’s livelihoods have become so fragile because of the climate crisis, but to see someone like Inna (and many others in the film) have a dream for a future where this region can live in peace and without fear was a beautiful thing. The emphasis on working together to overcome something that many believe is bigger than us was inspiring. Often, I get overwhelmed with the destruction of the world that we are constantly discussing in class and feel like there is no way to make a difference truly, but this movie reminded me otherwise. The Sahel needs help and has a very long way to go before the land and people can begin healing. However, the last stop Inna went in the movie was Ethiopia, and the film showed how a country once devastated by famine is one of the greenest, most peaceful parts of the region today! If that doesn’t put a fire in your belly to do all that you can in your lifetime to fight this ecological crisis, I don’t know what will! People being resilient and fighting for change together is the answer, and Inna and this film did a fantastic job portraying this message.

Figure 9: Poster for the film
Figure 12: SLS students with the Chadian and Mauritanian delegations, Great Green Wall respresentatives, mesdames Fatimetou Abdel Malick and Sarah Toumi and the IEE president: Marie Anne Isler Béguin

Check out this link to see the Institut Européen d’Écologie’s tweet about the premiere and some more photos of us!

Week 4: Produce Picking and Retreating Glaciers

Welcome back! I hope you had a fantastic weekend and were able to get out and enjoy nature a little; I know I most certainly did! We started our week of SLS activities by going on a trip to a local farm to go fruit and vegetable picking. This activity was perfect for me because I had not had a chance to go grocery shopping for the week and was all out of food! I love fresh produce, but sometimes it can get quite pricy when purchasing it from the markets, so getting to pick my fruits and veggies right from the source was super exciting. Once we arrived at the farm, I was shocked by the variety of produce they were growing. They had everything from flowers and apples to kale and tomatoes of all sorts. The fan-favorite of the group was most definitely the strawberries! We searched through the leaves for the bright red treats until we could not eat anymore. After filling our bags with strawberries, Ida and I made our way to the apple orchard, where we decided to wander down the lane where the gala apples were growing. The orchard arched over a hill and had a beautiful view of some mountains in the distance! The second to last stop was the greenhouse with the cherry tomatoes. I have never liked cherry tomatoes; in fact, I have been a cherry tomato hater for my whole life! However, after much convincing from my fellow students and the environment of new experiences, I decided to try one right off the branch. I LOVED it! Seriously, I have never tasted a tomato so flavorful in my whole life! I am not the only one who has converted to a tomato lover; Ngari was also convinced to try them and was pleasantly surprised. I am so glad that I can finally join the tomato lover club, but no guarantees I will feel the same way once I return to the states!

Ngari trying a fresh tomato
Dr. Boulard and Megan in the strawberry/tomato field

For our second outing of the week, we had the opportunity to meet with the Carrefour association located in the city center, rue des Trinitaires. We got to hear all about the association when and why it was created, its mission, and the volunteer positions. The goal of the Carrefour association is to take in young people who may not have a place to live or the means to support themselves due to immigration, familial struggles, or any other situation. The association wants to help these children-young adults, for the most part migrants, integrate into society smoothly by providing them with valuable social and educational opportunities. This is where we get to step in and get involved! The association presented a wide range of volunteer opportunities, including everything from helping teach the younger residences to assisting in art and music classes. This organization provides a unique environment that allows us to directly bond with young adults who are most likely very close to our age! I am looking forward to seeing which avenues my classmates may pursue within this organization. Personally, I think it would be super fascinating to help facilitate an art class of some sort!

Entrance to the Carrefour association

This weekend I had one of my most nature-filled weekends yet! I visited the French Alps in the town of Annecy and Chamonix. Annecy is a beautiful little town on a lake and surrounded by mountains and truly one of the most serene places I have ever been. After arriving at my hotel, I quickly noticed the many efforts towards sustainability, such as providing cards to skip towel washing, automatic electricity cut-off, and solar collectors. So, I decided to do some research, and I found out that the place I was staying has been awarded the “Green Key Label,” one of the first international eco-labels for sustainable tourism. To be awarded this label, the hotel must reduce the impact of water, energy, and waste management on the environment. I think that this is a fantastic initiative that is so applicable to our current situation as we travel abroad. I will most definitely be looking for this label as I plan for my future trips.

Mer de Glace depicted in an old postcard
Mer de Glace today

In Chamonix, I witnessed the great Mont-Blanc, the highest peak in France at a staggering 4,808.72 m! I was able to take a cable car all the way up to 3842 m, where the views were breathtaking (quite literally) because, at that elevation, you only have approximately 60% of your standard breathing capacity. While the peak of Mont-Blanc is impressive, the real stars of the show for me were the two massive glaciers I saw. The Mer de Glace (sea of ice) is a glacier that gets its name because it covers an entire valley between the mountains. However, when I saw an old postcard of the same glacier, I was absolutely shocked at how much has melted over time. It was one of the most blatant signs of climate change I have ever personally seen. The second glacier I saw was on Mont-Blac, and I got to see it from the sky as I paraglided over it. Glaciers truly are works of art that are perishing so fast from human’s lack of regard for the environment. My hope is that the world may make collective efforts to stop this destruction before these glaciers are gone forever; nonetheless, I am so thankful I got to witness them while they are still here.

Paragliding over the Mont-Blanc glacier
Peak and glacier of Mont-Blanc from a footbridge in Chamonix
Lake Annecy
Me in an ice cavern at the top of Mont-Blanc