In my first career, I was a carpenter. On jobsites in Ohio, California, and a few places in between, I saw the everyday realities of life and work as a laborer refracted through differences of class, race, gender, nationality, and citizenship status. Eventually joining a company specializing in “green” home remodels, I hoped to align my professional work with my political convictions as an environmentalist. Unfortunately, I quickly found myself facing the same contradictions of traditional jobsites, and the “green capitalism” philosophy that I had embraced turned out to be greenwashing—it soothed the consciences of wealthy and white clients, while keeping out of sight the exploitation of undocumented workers and the illicit sourcing of materials like tropical hardwoods.
Prodded by the 2008 financial crisis to find a new line of work, I pursued my questions about the green economy in graduate school, earning a PhD in history from New York University in 2018. My dissertation reconstructed the cycles of political violence, development schemes, and environmental change in northern Guatemala that eventually led to the creation of the Maya Biosphere Reserve. Now one of the world’s most visited ecotourist destinations, the Maya Biosphere Reserve is simultaneously one of the most dangerous places on earth for the people who live there. Based on the research carried out for the dissertation, I have published essays for distinct audiences of specialist scholars, conservationists, and the wider public.
As a postdoctoral fellow at Yale University, I began work on a second book project examining how popular myths about the Maya have informed the scientific study of climate change. For more than a century, scientific fables of the Maya “collapse” have played an major role as a case study in the relationship between climate change and social change, yet they are grounded in pseudo-history that erase thousands of years of sustainable Maya land management, and they continue to reverberate through talk about “climate refugees” in our current political discourse.
This year (2019-20) I am teaching introductory surveys and topics courses on global environmental history at DePauw University.
Knowing full well the contradictions we ourselves face, my family and I persist in making our home and garden as sustainable as possible in the Great Lakes region that will always be our true home.