Roots & Shoots: An Interdisciplinary, Student-Led Approach to Environmentalism


(credit: Hugo Van Lawick)

A young Jane Goodall reaching out to a baby chimpanzee, a link between the past and the present, human and animal

Jane Goodall, world-renowned researcher and environmentalist, founded the Roots & Shoots organization on the basis of hope. The name is rather fitting. Goodall and her organization established the roots and Supriya Roy and her OHS branch of the Roots & Shoots Club are the sprouts and blossoms. 

It is a place of growth—metaphorical and physical. For Goodall and Roy, hope is more than a belief in serendipitous intervention. “Hope is often misunderstood. People tend to think that it is simply passive wishful thinking: I hope something will happen but I’m not going to do anything about it. This is indeed the opposite of real hope, which requires action and engagement,” writes Goodall. 

As students, this might seem overwhelming. Yet, Roy and her club work together to find solutions to an array of environmental problems, from animal trafficking to water management in economically developing countries—painting a clearer picture of this hopeful future. “I really want to provide an environment where I can discuss with my peers effective and sustainable solutions to today’s global and most critical challenges,” Roy says.

Members review current United Nations programs and discuss what could be improved. For now, these are theoretical solutions. But Roy hopes that the philosophy and discussions in the club will help plant seeds for practical solutions of the future.

She says that her main aspiration for the club is to inspire a philosophy that club members can translate to their respective careers end apply to their personal worldviews as well.” Today’s students will be tomorrow’s leaders, politicians, environmentalists, science writers, teachers, and poets. 

This discussion might seem particularly relevant to political, legislative, and scientific fields, but Roy emphasizes an interdisciplinary approach. “Often, the most overlooked aspect is our interdisciplinary dependence on the environment.” One of Roy’s favorite events of the year was her collaboration with Pixelate where she hosted poet Brian Teare to discuss his poem “Doomstead Days”—further proof of the interconnected web of environmentalism. 

Even if the issues we face require change on a global scale, Roy believes that, on an individual level, the media, poems, and documentaries we consume and the conversations we have can still make a difference. Roy encourages everyone to consider alternative perspectives when researching environmentalism and beyond. Right now, she is reading An Immense World by Ed Young. Of course, she also recommends Hope by Jane Goodall—as well as the documentary HOME on behalf of Dr. Heather Walker-Dale, the club’s sponsor, and The Blue Planet, her childhood favorite. The important thing is to keep educating yourself and lead with compassion.

“There is still so much in the world worth fighting for. So much that is beautiful, so many wonderful people working to reverse the harm, to help alleviate the suffering. And so many young people dedicated to making this a better world. All conspiring to inspire us and to give us hope that it is not too late to turn things around, if we all do our part” – Jane Goodall