Three days before the People’s Climate March this past September, Emma Spett stood in a crowd of 400 NYU students at Kimmel to hear the event’s organizer Bill McKibben speak about the “groundbreaking moment” that was about to occur. Spett almost couldn’t believe that she was one of the people who brought McKibben there.
As vice president of EarthMatters, the largest and oldest environmental club at NYU, Spett is in charge of organizing club events on campus. While McKibben’s appearance was an accomplishment, Spett wants to set the bar even higher.
“We’re trying to get a big-name speaker again,” Spett said. “We were talking about trying to get Al Gore because, you know, we dream big.”
Spett, a Gallatin junior, grew up on a farm in Mahwah, New Jersey, where her family had 22 horses and a nature conservatory in their backyard. While this alone could explain Spett’s love for the environment, she said it was not always her main interest.
“I came to college wanting to do human rights work and not really thinking about environmentalism,” Spett said. “But as I learned more about human rights work and what it entailed, I realized that the most important human right to me was a well-functioning environment.”
This realization led Spett to declare an environment-focused Gallatin major and then to travel the globe in search of solutions to challenges threatening the environment.
Her well-rounded education has brought Spett to far-flung corners of the globe in search of solutions to various environmental problems. This summer, for example, she will spend two months in the northern Indian region of Ladakh to conduct research regarding community-based conservation, which she says is representative of her future goals.
“I’m really interested in exploring how small-scale conservation works around the word,” Spett said. “Because in places like the Himalayas, you need local knowledge to interact with the environment.”
At the end of the day, what matters the most to Spett is the ability to positively impact the environment, a goal that she feels she can best work toward at home in New York City.
“New York City is the only place where you can actually do whatever you want, and the opportunities are huge,” Spett said.
With this in mind, Spett began blazing a trail for the environmental community at NYU. As the head of the Washington Square Community Supported Agriculture Program, she organizes an exchange in which a group of students pays the Norwich Meadows Farm in upstate New York to truck-deliver local produce to the Green House at Seventh Street Residence Hall throughout the semester.
“It’s an amazing way to bring yourself closer to how you interact with your food and help farmers grapple with the issues that are arising based on new weather patterns,” Spett said.
Spett’s involvement with the CSA Program eventually led her to EarthMatters. The two organizations merged last semester, with Spett as the leader of CSA and the vice president of EarthMatters.
CAS junior Davis Saltonstall, who works closely with Spett as EarthMatters’ president, praises her as a source of inspiration for younger members.
“Emma is an incredibly passionate leader,” Saltonstall said. “She’s always ready to share her opinion and motivate people to action with a bubbly attitude. Working with her has been an unquestionably exciting experience because she is so motivated to make change.”
This semester, Spelt will launch the NYU Environmental Student Times, which will feature a variety of environment-related literary and artistic works submitted by students.
“I’ve always thought about starting a journal, and this year I was sitting around with some friends and we were just like, ‘We should do it,’” Spett said. “It’s adding on to our goal of bringing everyone together to acknowledge that there’s a lot of really good work relating to environmentalism happening at NYU.”
Coming up with solutions to environmental problems in New York City is far from easy, but Spett is determined to make a difference. Eventually, Spett says she would like to attend Cambridge University and study in their evidence-based conservation program. Until then, she plans to continue to make strides in the environmental world.
“I have a really strong responsibility for all the work I do,” Spett said. “I can’t see myself doing anything else because I see environmental work and conservation as ways to foster this respect for the planet in all forms.”
• Marina Zheng