VCU Common Book selection explores link between climate change, social justice

The James River estuary begins in the Richmond area with the head of the tide located near 14th Street. Photo by Lily Doshi

Dylan Seay, Contributing Writer

VCU has selected “Rising: Dispatches From the New American Shore” by Elizabeth Rush to be the Common Book for the 2021-2022 school year. 

The selection was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in 2019 under the category of General Nonfiction. The book focuses on the link between climate change and social justice. 

The university Common Book is sponsored by the University College department and the Office of the Provost as an initiative to welcome new students to the culture of VCU, according to a university release. The book marks the program’s 15th year. 

“Climate change is affecting vulnerable human communities and vulnerable landscapes,” Rush said. “The book is really about what we can learn from those living with climate change in the present tense, and asks what we can learn from them about the future that we share.”

Rush wrote the book to share her experiences studying rise in sea level and interviewing those who lived on the front lines of climate change, she said.

“I thought if I can bring them with me into people’s living rooms to really listen to how climate change is transforming these vulnerable communities, it has a chance to make it clear and also sort of emotionally resonant,” Rush said. 

Rush hopes the book will inspire students to act on aspects of climate change that resonate with them and work to make an impact within their communities, whether it be joining organizations to combat climate change or making lifestyle changes, she said.

The book will be primarily distributed as an e-book, said Felicia Williams, associate dean of the University College and director of the Common Book program. Past Common Book selections were distributed in print copies.

“Research shows that eBooks can be accessed via a variety of technologies, including computer, smartphone, tablet, and eReaders,” Williams said. “Further, eBooks are by definition paperless, which is considered to be better for the environment.”

Some print copies will be available at the James Branch Cabell Library on Monroe Park Campus and the Health Sciences Library on the MCV Campus, Williams said.

The James River is accessible from downtown areas of Richmond. Photo by Lily Doshi

Edward Crawford, an assistant professor in the Center for Environmental Studies and specialist in wetland ecology, recommends the book for students and said the book’s subject material is relevant to Richmond. 

“Anything students can do to build their foundational knowledge base is beneficial,” Crawford said. “So having a nonfiction book that’s going to give facts about what’s going on with the climate is going to benefit everybody that reads it.”

The environmental science professor is the deputy director of VCU’s Rice Rivers Center, which conducts environmental field research on the James River.

The James River estuary begins in the Richmond area with the head of the tide being around 14th Street, Crawford said. This allows the city to be impacted by sea level rise. 

Beyond rising sea levels, Crawford said rising temperatures and increased rainfall are indicative of the changing climates that challenge communities around the globe today.

Crawford said voting is a tool to combat climate change in Richmond. 

“[Students] can vote for candidates that they feel support their view on what’s going on with the world around them,” Crawford said. “They can also vote with their wallets; they can buy products that are more sustainable and less harmful for their environment.”

He said it is important that students be aware of the impact that even the most minor decisions can have on the world around them.

“You should be aware that every single thing that you use in your life, no matter what it is, from this pen right here to your cell phone to this computer to a toothbrush to toothpaste,” Crawford said. “Everything has an impact on the environment.” 

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