Journal 9: Orr & the black swan Katrina

David Orr’s speech on Black Swan events was refreshing and overwhelming all at once.  One of the reasons I enjoy his writing is his ability to concisely say an idea in a paragraph, when it takes others books.  I found it fascinating to listen to his talk on black swan events while simultaneously applying it to the Katrina disaster.  The topics that he addressed which I enjoyed the most were his attention to media, eco-literacy, and full-spectrum sustainability.

I had never thought about the origination of advertising in media, and was completely surprised to hear the insane amount of ads that we are exposed to every day.  Having grown up in an age of instant media, news, and mass advertising, I am not actively aware of when I am being brainwashed by ads.  This is especially important in reference to climate change, because it is a topic that everyone should be talking about and hearing about in news and advertising.  News on the state of earth needs to be more in demand by viewers than celebrity scandals and should be appearing on both slow and fast variables of the news.  I believe our generation is more in-tune to eco-issues than generations before us, and that there is hope in making sustainability ‘cool’.   The fast/slow variables of news apply heavily to Katrina and its aftermath.  When the hurricane made landfall it was the front page of every newspaper, and was a very fast variable.  The topic remained a slow variable for a few months, but tapered off.  The next disaster strikes, somewhere in the world, and recaptured the attention of Americans away from struggling NOLA residents.  One unsettling comment that I received when telling people I was going on the NOLA service trip over winter break was, “why would you go to new Orleans when Sandy just happened?”  Yes, Sandy was incredibly destructive; however, the residents of Slidell, LA were still in recovery mode from hurricane Isaac that hit in August.  Aren’t they equally as important as Sandy victims?  Just because Sandy was in the fast variable news, everyone puts all other disaster recover on the backburner of his or her minds.

David Orr is also a huge advocate for ecological literacy.  He explains that eco-literacy should be incorporated into all education, and not just high school earth science classes.  Eco-literacy involves the arts, sciences, and humanities, therefore making it intertwined with most aspects of life.  Education leads to awareness, interest and action.  If schools teach eco-literacy to their students when they are learning how to spell, their fluency in the environment will carry on to adulthood.  This should especially be incorporated in NOLA school education.  Children need to be raised thinking about the environment around them, and understand the local ecology in relation to the storms which will only increase in power in the future.

Orr also discussed full-spectrum sustainability and its benefits.  Full-spectrum sustainability looks upstream and downstream during development processes.  It includes all people involved in designing a project and makes sure everyone has the same goal of aiming for zero-waste and future efficiency.  This idea is being used in the Oberlin project, and should be incorporated into Dickinson’s future development plans.  Full-spectrum sustainability, to me, also seems like a way to live life in that every consumerist decision should be cautiously made.  We need to think local, buy local, and love our localities.  Communities that act local create thriving economies and live sustainably.  In the future, I dream of carbon free communities which rely on localized renewable energy that fits best with the local climate, and residents who think locally enough to care about the condition of their air, water, and soil.  Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” campaign to build sustainable houses that are storm resistant in the Lower Ninth Ward exemplifies this strategy. The homes are extremely expensive, but build to last and have low energy and maintenance bills.

As we move in the direction of capriciousness, our collective consciousness is losing focus on what is really important.  Virtual reality is becoming more desirable as reality appears bleak, and we are looking for easy answers.  According to Orr, before we reach the point of inevitable disasters with more Black Swan events such as Katrina and Sandy, we must start from society’s roots by educating and inspiring the world to care about earth once again.


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