Learning and Exhorting to Save the Environment

Kate Rawls with fellow bikers
Kate Rawles with fellow bikers

By Ann Gill (M.A., ’76)

Author and educational innovator Dr. Kate Rawles (M.A., ’90) not only writes and speaks about the need to care for the planet but also raises awareness of the challenges between people and the environment by having those conversations out of doors.

She grew up in the UK, mostly in Aberdeen, Scotland. She received an undergraduate degree in philosophy and was working toward a Ph.D. when she decided to make a lateral move educationally, wanting to study applied ethics. She was drawn to CSU due to its highly ranked philosophy program in that area and the outstanding work of animal-rights scholar Dr. Bernie Rollin and development and environmental ethics scholars Dr. David Crocker and Dr. Holmes Rolston.  She was accepted to the M.A. program and awarded a graduate teaching assistantship.

Kate Rawles with hat and facemask
Rawles in Salt Flats

Upon completion of that degree, she returned to Glasgow to complete the Ph.D., during which time she lived on an eco-farm in Devon, in the south of England. While there she worked to complete her Ph.D. dissertation, the final chapter of which focused on ecological sustainability and animal welfare.

When it came time to look for a job, she had more teaching experience than many others at the same stage of their careers due to teaching at CSU and was offered a position in the Philosophy Department at Lancaster University. For the next ten years, she taught courses focused on environmental philosophy.

Then she decided “it would be more effective to have conversations about people and the environment while in nature.” She went free-lance and set up “Outdoor Philosophy” (www.outdoorphilosophy.co.uk), the foundation for which is stated as:

  • Clear, critical thinking about our relationship with ̶  and impacts on  ̶  natural living ecosystems.
  • Closing the gap between abstract accounts of environmental problems, what they really mean, and our own responsibility for them.
  • Reconnecting with the value of the natural world and our relationships with it.
  • Inspiring and supporting personal and professional change and our potential for action.

For the next ten years, she taught environmental issues halftime at Cumbria University while planning her next steps, which included a truly extraordinary bicycle trip. She built a bamboo bicycle for herself and then rode it over 8,000 miles, from Cartagena, Columbia, nearly to Cape Horn, a trek she dubbed “The Life Cycle.”

Route of “The Life Cycle” bike ride

Her next adventure was “The Carbon Cycle,” a 4500-mile bicycle trek from Texas to Alaska on which she was joined for the last portion by her partner. The “Ocean Plastic Sailing Voyage” involved a crew of scientists, artists, and activists on board a yacht sailing from the UK to the Azores and then the Canary Islands to explore the impacts of plastic pollution on the marine environment

She uses photographs and experiences from “The Life Cycle,” “The Carbon Cycle,” and “Ocean Plastic Sailing Voyage” as one of the bases of her educational endeavors. She gives talks, does podcasts, and writes books about these trips and environmental concerns. She still teaches, just not in college classrooms. She teaches kayak and other outdoor courses as a means to engage her audiences in the topic of environmental concerns. She explains that we are “wiping out a species a minute” from the planet and, according to the WWF Living Planet Report, “have lost 68% of the populations of wild animals.” She teaches attendees how to become more politically engaged. She also leads trips through Adventure Plus to raise awareness and inspire action.

Dr. Rawles recalls her time on campus fondly. She made wonderful connections, including with other international students. She did lots of mountain biking with friends and attended talks by inspiring guest speakers. She calls this time in her life “so helpful” as she works to encourage humans to save natural living ecosystems. She is on Twitter and Instagram as @CarbonCycleKate.