Elizabeth tree hugger 600By Elizabeth Villano

As the redwood and climate intern at Turtle Island, I have one of the coolest jobs in the world. I live in the redwoods, get to learn as much as I possibly can about them, and then share that knowledge with students all around the Bay Area. Why should children learn about redwoods?

Redwood forests hold more above ground carbon than any other forest in the world, including the Amazon rainforest! Redwood can live up to 2,500 years old, and take another few hundred years to rot, making them an extremely long term carbon sink. This is important because of climate change, one of the scariest problems of our generation.

With 95% of the historic redwood habitat deforested in the 20th century, Turtle Island Restoration Network is tackling a small component of the restoration work with our 10,000 redwoods project. Every redwood that lives to 100 years has the potential to sequester 24,876 lbs of carbon- more than the average American emits in one year!

My journey was not a smooth or straight path to the Turtle Island internship I have today. I graduated from Brandeis University with a B.S. in Health, Science, Society, and Policy (HSSP); a public health degree. While I enjoyed my time learning about public health, I found myself thinking more about the environmental components of health; how the environment we live in affects our health.

Worldwide, an estimated 12.6 million deaths each year are attributed to unhealthy environments (WHO), from air pollution, to chemical leaks, poor water quality, or natural disasters. While many of these deaths are outside of the United States, I believe in the power of environmental education and good stewardship to move our society into a better future, for the planet and the people on it.

“It is still breathtaking to think about the monstrous potential these saplings have as they mature.” ~ Elizabeth Villano

Turtle Island has given me a platform to harness my enthusiasm with restoration work and education. And a way to combine my passion about public health with stewardship for the environment. I am hopeful that my generation will come together and work together worldwide to implement these ideals.

I’m thinking of all of this as my boss and I are crouched over a redwood sprout. Its burgeoning form reminds me of the many students I have helped seed redwoods, as well as the educational aspect of our project – reclaiming floodplains in northern Marin county.

I think back on the students’ reactions as they see a redwood germinate the first time. It is still breathtaking to think about the monstrous potential these saplings have as they mature. This is a memory that would only have come from my hands-on work as an intern.

Want to do similar good work? Want to help? Turtle Island is always looking for volunteers, people to adopt a redwood tree, and yes, like me, to be an intern.