Meet sustainability junior Daryn Lee Lieberman

Daryn Lee LiebermanDaryn Lee Lieberman is an Arizona State University online student pursuing a bachelor’s degree from the School of Sustainability. Recently, Lieberman presented a vertical garden project for elementary schools at ASU’s inaugural Change the World event (more on that project in the Q&A below), so we decided to ask him some questions to get to know more about him and his work. Lieberman, a junior, describes himself as a “reconnecting indigenous student” and said that when he lived in San Antonio — where he started his undergraduate studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio — he organized a large march downtown in opposition of the Dakota Access Pipeline. Standing up for indigenous rights is important to him, and he said he’s in the process of starting a nonprofit that will “assist with sustainable development in indigenous communities — specifically to increase their sovereignty, visibility and ecosystem/community health.” Lieberman said he would have preferred to be an on-campus student, but financial challenges related to out-of-state tuition compelled him to become an online student. He said he has overcome many other obstacles in life: “I dropped out of high school after my attempted suicide and got my GED (and I’m not ashamed of that), I work on maintaining my mental health on a daily basis, and I recently had jaw surgery.” But regardless of challenges, Lieberman is determined to forge ahead and make the world a better place. Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability? Answer: It was fairly recently, actually. To be quite frank, I chose sustainability because it involved environmental issues but wasn’t heavily chemistry and biology based, and for a while I was unsure if I made the right decision. I was on a study abroad trip with the GREEN Program (which I highly recommend) and we were in a lecture at the Daini Nuclear Power Plant in the Fukushima Prefecture of Japan, and seeing how this one prefecture was working so adamantly towards transitioning to renewables while facing opposition from the national government, reminded me a lot of home (California) and the everyday struggles tribal nations face from the settler-colonial governments at the state and federal level (look at the land being taken from the Gila River Nation for the Loop 202 expansion). We were on the bus on our way back to our accommodations and I remember thinking: “Wow, this was the right decision! We have so much work to do in terms of making environmentally conscious decisions and I need to make sure that indigenous nations have a seat at the table.” The only thing that I’m still wary about is that sustainability programs, especially in the ASU School of Sustainability, are so heavily focused on humans and rarely focus on animal well-being. Of course, Abrahamic religions are to blame, as in our society they’ve influenced us to believe that humans are the pinnacle. Look at the terms “dehumanize” or when referencing someone as an “animal” — it reinforces the idea that animals are less than. That’s something I want to change. I don’t yet know how but I’m determined to do so. In addition to this, I did a resilient city report and presentation on the Kingdom of Hawaii. (Yes, it is a kingdom under colonial occupation of the U.S government. Check the U.S National Archives and you’ll find all the information you need to know.) After interviewing a few Kanaka Maoli and hearing what the tourism industry is doing to their land and how much plastic is washing up on Hawaiian beaches, I was even more determined to make a difference. Q: Can you describe the “Sow it Forward: Vertical Garden Project” that you presented at Change the World, and why you are passionate about bringing garden education into schools? A: I work with amazing School of Sustainability students Tearsa Saffell and Christina Schmitt on this project. The “Sow it Forward: Vertical Garden Project” is essentially a food education program for elementary schools where we introduce vertical gardens and education to low-income and low-food-access schools in Maricopa County. I’m passionate about bringing garden education into schools because society as a whole (me included) has a very large disconnect from the land and where our food comes from. When you think about food, you think of In-N-Out, grocery stores, maybe a farmers market, but your thought process doesn’t immediately think farm — and if it does it usually refers to factory farms (which is an even greater issue). This causes our disposable mind set to grow further. We don’t realize how much work goes into the food we grow, how much resources it takes, and more. In addition, this is a step in eliminating food deserts. If we can do this, then low-income communities can have more choices when it comes to making environmentally conscious decisions. Capitalism has forced so many people into a life of struggling to survive that they do not have the option to even consider the environmental implications of their choices, and that's not their fault — it is due to corporate and governmental greed. Daryn Lee LiebermanQ: What other sustainability related activities are you involved with? A: I volunteer with the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, and I am in the process of starting my own non profit that will assist with sustainable development in indigenous communities — specifically to increase their sovereignty, visibility and ecosystem/community health. I also spend free time going on rants on Twitter about environmental issues (follow me! @darynoceansun). I thought about starting a podcast but that’s amongst a list of things I'd like to do in my “Idea Journal.” Q: How do you envision applying sustainability to your future career? A: If all goes well with my nonprofit I would love my career to expand along with it and stand with our indigenous communities to uplift our people. I would really love to travel to other countries and assist with sustainable development through a decolonial perspective as well, because I believe that colonialism is a major barrier to sustainable development. That doesn’t mean that I'm some decolonized guru — I have tons of work to do at decolonizing the way I think, but acknowledging that is the first step. Q: Is there anything else you’d like to add? A: I think the only thing that I would add is that everyone should recognize the occupied land they are on (Phoenix is on occupied Akimel O'odham land), take care of your mental health because it is the most important aspect of your life, and do what makes you happy because it’s your life to live and no one else's.