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  • Writer's pictureThe Rivers School

Megan Sweatt ’24: Energy Action Partners

After hearing more about climate change in the news, reading more articles, as well as seeing its effects in person, I have become increasingly interested in sustainability and the different ways there are to respond to the effects that climate change has on the land. For this reason, I was so excited to be an intern for Mr. Scott Kennedy and Energy Action Partners this summer. As an intern, I helped Mr. Kennedy prepare for a week-long program he will co-lead in September about adaptive agriculture in water scarce regions that have been affected by climate change. During this process, I learned all about the different ways agriculture can be sustainable, how climate change has affected the agricultural industry, and why there is now a need for these practices to be sustainable moving forward.

The course I helped to prepare for will take place in Rabat, Morocco, and will be made up of participants from WiSER or “Women in Sustainability, Environment and Renewable Energy,” as well as professional women from Morocco who want to learn more about sustainable agriculture. This week-long session is broken down into modules and lectures on climate stresses, traditional agricultural practices, biotechnology in agriculture, renewable energy in agriculture, digital agriculture, and other leadership and entrepreneurial skills. My specific role was to help Mr. Kennedy prepare solely for the biotechnology lecture.

Course and module plan

My first task was to compile an extensive resource document on biotechnology and its different areas. I then took notes on the journals and websites and answered the four questions:

  • What are the climate change stresses agriculture faces?

  • Which biotechnology innovations address which stresses?

  • What are the disadvantages or risks?

  • How could these approaches be safely and affordably introduced?

The next step was to organize the lecture by determining what the learning outcomes and what the activities would be, which we discussed over our weekly “Google Meets.” Our first activity was to have the participants break into small groups and review case studies on biotechnology in agriculture, specifically in arid and water scarce regions in northern Africa. For this research task I spent a lot of time sifting through different case study databases and resources such as UNFCCC which is the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. Another activity that was planned that I needed to research was a risk assessment activity. In biotechnology, you are essentially creating a new organism through genetic engineering or another microbial technique, and the new organism needs to be assessed to see if it is safe for human health and the environment.

Learning about the types of genetic modification

At this point in the research process, we then finalized the module’s outline and I began to fill out the final slideshow presentation. I started by introducing key terms, and then I went over the history and motivation for the usage of biotechnology. I found that it was interesting research and I learned for the first time about the Green Revolution, which was a movement in the 1960s that first introduced high yield crop varieties while hurting the environment. This is one of the things that has led to the new wave of biotechnology in agriculture and the effort to still produce high yield crops while doing so sustainably. Some of the other slides were dedicated to the specific examples of biotechnology that I found in my earlier research, which I split in two categories: microbial seed coatings, and genetic modification/engineering.

Researching climate change in Africa

Microbial seed coatings are biologically derived coatings that are applied to seeds in different stages of growing to help fortify them against different stresses such as drought. Under the category of genetic modification I gave the examples of one gene called SUB1A-1, a gene in rice that gives the plant flood resistance by decreasing the plant's growth rate so it can last longer while submerged. The other two examples were an ABA overexpression gene, which can decrease stomatal movement that cuts off water loss and provides drought resistance, along with the Bt plant varieties which create natural insecticide and that are pest-resistant. During this process I learned a lot about how drought resistance, flood resistance, and pest resistance are becoming more and more crucial crop traits as the effects of climate change become more intense.

Views in Rabat, Morocco, photographed by Mr. Kennedy

My internship with Mr. Kennedy and the team of people working on this adaptive agriculture course was a truly valuable experience. I learned more about how research works and about the environmental science field. This work has also revealed to me my interest in specifically sustainable agricultural practice. Throughout this internship I was treated as a respected member of the team, and I gained so much experience in only a few weeks. Thank you to Mr. Kennedy and Mr. Schlenker for providing me with this opportunity and ensuring I had a good intern experience.

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