Welcome to SEEC

Welcome to the blog for the Student Environmental Education Coalition (SEEC)! We are a North Carolina-based, grassroots, non-partisan, and entirely youth-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to cultivate a generation of environmentally literate students.

SEEC’s primary focus for these coming months is activism — we have recently been getting involved with prominent organizations like the Sierra Club and Dogwood Alliance to bring about change together! SEEC has had a very busy year, and with many more events on our calendar, here are just a few of our highlights:

  • Storytelling with Dogwood Alliance: On July 27th, people from all over North Carolina came together to share a night of storytelling and environmental dialogue. The night featured 10 awe-inspiring stories that spoke to the core of what protecting our environment is all about. SEEC and Dogwood hope to continue our partnership to organize future events in the Triangle community!
  • Governor Cooper Call-in Day: Enviva, a corporation that manages wood pellet factories to provide an alternative fuel source, is building a wood pellet factory in Richmond County that will result in mass deforestation and lasting environmental health consequences in the community. This would be disastrous for the environment, which is why we’re holding a call-in day to request Governor Cooper to revoke Enviva’s permit for their factory. Want to learn more? Watch this video: https://www.facebook.com/DogwoodAlliance/videos/10156219203377926/?hc_ref=ARSmjEDoi8VhRFGac4Y6gDD6tO1jMwh53LgXYO0DaWAteaEDK4QPN5BfPGq_jQgbHw
  • Sierra Club: SEEC is excited to begin a new partnership with Sierra Club, an international nonprofit famous for protecting our environment! SEEC and Sierra Club plan on getting heavily involved in activism in the local community. For example, we are getting involved in protests against Duke Energy raising electricity rates by 15% to pay for their coal ash spill, when Duke should be taking responsibility for their own actions and paying for it themselves.

Stay tuned for more details and events!


Death to Plastic Straws, For Earth’s Sake

A provocative op-ed from Kenneth Xu:

At my first beach cleanup this past spring, the marine debris that I found was predictable: old fishing nets, colorful sand toys, clear drinking straws, and soggy clothes that masqueraded as seaweed. I puzzled over how all of these castaway objects were originally created to be reusable, and how some still were even after being lost at sea—except, by definition, the single-use straws.

Americans go through 500 million drinking straws daily, at an average rate of around 1.6 straws per person per day[1]. Think about it: when you eat out at a restaurant, you likely only use your straw for half an hour or so. Then when you finish your drink, that straw gets sent to an overflowing landfill, someday making its way into nearby waters. It will inevitably outlive you, since every piece of plastic ever produced still exists on Earth[2].

The plastic straw is a prime example of a wasteful single-use product that American culture has stubbornly latched onto, as if we were barnacles stuck to a boat hull. I’m not claiming that it’s specifically your fault though. Straws are automatically served to you whether or not you want them. The environment, however, doesn’t care about whether straws are used before they’re thrown away. The ocean garbage patches will still absorb the straws, the commercial fish will still ingest the microplastics, and human civilization will still eat the toxic fish. Soon we might as well start eating plastic; by 2050, there will be more plastic than fish in the world’s seas[3]. One Nature report has already found that 1 in 4 fish purchased from seafood markets in the U.S. and Indonesia contain plastic in their guts[4].

I have a simple proposition for all of us: turn down disposable straws whenever you don’t physically need them. It’s an acknowledgment of the unsustainability of the American lifestyle and a declaration of concern for the environment as well as the world’s public health.

Maybe sometimes you really do need a straw so that you can avoid splashing your drink, staining your teeth, or messing up your lipstick. Yet these reasons don’t account for the majority of the country’s straw usage. The plastic waste crisis necessitates changing the current norms of consumer culture; instead of straws automatically being provided with drinks, they should only be given by request like condiments in restaurants or plastic bags in grocery stores.

Transitioning to a straw-less lifestyle can be tough. When plastic straws come with every single drink, sipping on them is instinctive. In order to remember to actively turn down straws in the absence of a “serve-straws-upon-request” policy, I find myself viewing each straw as the sole reason that a poor sea turtle chokes or dies. Watch the viral Youtube video[5] showing scientists removing a plastic straw lodged in a turtle’s nose. The researchers have no choice but to brutally pull out the straw with a Swiss army knife, provoking a stream of blood to pour out of the turtle’s distressed nostrils. The tortured expression on the turtle’s face is poignant and painful. And the vast majority of animals aren’t as fortunate as he was, since scientists don’t have enough time or money to save every single endangered organism in every body of water that has now been inundated with plastic death traps.

In particular, the straw epidemic is so daunting because it’s up to citizens to combat the problem—obviously no help is going to come from the current federal administration, which has practically declared war on marine animals[6]. State and local governments should start filling the gap by prohibiting plastic straws in restaurants, where straws are almost never necessary. In order to maintain revenue, the plastic industry could produce and sell more reusable/recyclable/biodegradable/compostable straws, but consumers must first spark the change by pressuring vendors to purchase those eco-friendly alternatives and adopt “serve-straws-upon-request” policies (fast food giants like McDonald’s would be a good place to start). Above all, you should push yourself to overcome the quietly destructive straw addiction. Remember that people aren’t powerless to fight environmental issues, because we humans are the ones causing most of them.

Can the brief satisfaction of drinking from little plastic tubes really justify the repercussion of accelerating the deterioration of the ocean? Nah, I think we’ll be just fine without the suckers.

Kenneth Xu is a student at Yale University and the founding executive director of SEEC. He can be contacted at kenneth.xu@yale.edu.

[1] https://www.nps.gov/commercialservices/greenline_straw_free.htm#fn1
[2] http://science.sciencemag.org/content/347/6223/768.full
[3] http://www3.weforum.org/docs/WEF_The_New_Plastics_Economy.pdf
[4] https://www.nature.com/articles/srep14340
[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wH878t78bw&t=20s
[6] http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-trump-marine-mammals-20170612-story.html

Governor Cooper Call-in Day

Enviva, a corporation that manages wood pellet factories to provide a supplementary fuel source for European countries, is building a wood pellet factory in Richmond County that will result in mass deforestation and lasting environmental health consequences for the already-disadvantaged community. In a coordinated effort to combat this injustice, SEEC recently hosted a call-in event at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics. Hundreds of students called the offices of Governor Roy Cooper to encourage him to revoke Enviva’s permit to build their factory, and SEEC hopes to continue fighting this issue in the coming months. Watch the video to learn more!

SEEC Field Day

SEEC’s first Field Day was an afternoon filled with excitement as students at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics learned about different ways to promote environmental literacy and action! Through trivia competitions, recycling games, raffles (with prizes including succulents and solar-powered USB kits), and other entertaining activities, over 100 gifted students learned more about both environmental problems and solutions. This event demonstrably achieved our goal of informing future leaders about environmental stewardship, while engaging students in an interesting and light-hearted afternoon. Many more high school students are now involved with SEEC!

Stories Happen in Forests: A Live Storytelling Event

It was a night filled with inspiration for wanderers, stargazers, and defenders alike… On July 27th, SEEC partnered with the Dogwood Alliance to host an evening of storytelling and community-building in the spirit of forest protection and community justice! The event was held in Motorco Music Hall in Durham and featured live speakers with true, personal stories such as:

  • Gary Phillips, poet laureate of Carrboro
  • TC Muhammad, Hip Hop Caucus
  • Dr. Thomas Easley, Forestry professor and Center for Diversity at NCSU
  • Reverend Leo Woodberry
  • Danna Smith, Dogwood Alliance
  • Jodi Lasseter, Climate Justice Program Director, NC LCV
  • BJ McManama, the Indigenous Environmental Network
  • Margaux Escutin, Bear Afficionado and Durham Activist

The event was a huge success and over 300 people attended. SEEC has more events planned with the Dogwood Alliance! Stay tuned for more updates as we continue to get involved with other large organizations!

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SEEC has gone abroad!

For the last week, past Executive Director Kenneth Xu has been visiting public schools in Eastern China and talking to teachers, administrators, and government officials about the importance of environmental education. Through discussions with local educators and interactive lectures for K-12 students (conducted entirely in Mandarin), SEEC has been promoting environmental literacy on a truly global scale this summer. We look forward to continuing this journey as SEEC constantly expands, though we’ll be back in North Carolina for our NatureWay Summer Camp in August!


A Talk from Teryn Norris: Energy Policy Expert

Distinguished policy advisor Teryn Norris will visit the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics to give a talk on Thursday, March 23rd! A reception with refreshments will take place at 4:20 PM in front of the lecture hall and the talk will begin at 4:30 PM. This SEEC event is free and open to the public!

Teryn Norris grew up in Asheville, N.C. and graduated from the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics in 2006. He earned a B.A. in public policy from Stanford University and received the prestigious Harry S. Truman Scholarship. He has been recognized as a Forbes 30 Under 30 and a World Economic Forum Global Shaper, and his writing has appeared in journals including Harvard Law & Policy Review and Issues in Science and Technology. Norris co-founded the Millennial Action Project, a nonprofit organization that pushes for bipartisan collaboration in legislatures nationwide. In March of 2012, he was appointed to serve as a policy advisor for the former U.S. Secretary of Energy, and he contributed significantly to President Obama’s $4 billion Clean Energy Investment Initiative. Norris now serves as Special Advisor in the DOE Office of Technology Transitions and as a Director in S&P Global Platts, an energy market intelligence consultancy.

SEEC Thanks You!


We’re excited to announce that Kenneth Xu and SEEC have been awarded the Goddard Prize for Environmental Conservancy, granting us $1,000 from the New Leaders Initiative to expand our education programs! Today we would like to thank everyone who has inspired, supported, and been involved with SEEC.

Book Drive

SEEC and Jóvenes Para Ayudar will be joining forces to co-host a book drive in Durham! We’re seeking SAT, ACT, and AP prep books (used or new), all of which will go to minority-serving educational centers like El Centro Hispano, Inc. Everyone who donates at least 2 books will be entered into a raffle for a $25 gift card to Elmo’s Diner. We look forward to both saving paper and combating educational inequities in the Triangle together!
Note: please drop off books at NCSSM’s Bryan Lobby and fill out the sheet next to the donation box by February 6th.