Travel day

I’m finally here! I am currently sitting in my hotel room after a long day of travel from BWI –> Quito.  There have been months worth of anticipation leading up to this trip and I have to pinch myself to realize that I am truly in South America. The trip was painless with on-time flights and very friendly airplane seat neighbors. The program coordinator picked us up right outside of customs, we boarded a bus and an hour later we arrived! Dev, one of the students, and I are sharing a room in a quaint little hotel. Breakfast is at 730 AM tomorrow, followed by a long day of logistical errands.  I can’t wait to see the city in daylight!

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Journal 14: Role up your sleeves, its gonna get messy

The US’s environmental history has been a rocky road of industrialization, corporate controlled interest that have heavily affected our ecosystems.  We have acted greedily and apathetically towards the environment, and a true green revolution is emerging.  With climate changes as a true and terrifying threat, people are beginning to realize that if we are going to save the earth we must start now.  Some neo-environmentalists such as Shellenberger take the approach that the climate is already changing so we should do what humans have always done best: adapt with technology. However, isn’t the overuse of technology and industry been a major contributor to what is happening to our climate today?  It is time to get back to our roots and live full-spectrum sustainable lives.

Solutions to climate change need to be big ideas, action and worldwide industrial changes that decrease the amount of GHGs we are emitting into the atmosphere.  We cant just “ride a bike, plant a tree”, but we need real fixes, big movements, and not just a less bad society.  Energy reform must be massive with international incentives to utilize renewable energy, natural gas over coal, and promoting energy efficiency.  So far the Kyoto Protocol had very mild success encouraging those nations that ratified the document, but failed in other major ways.  The two largest GHG emitters US and China did not ratify the protocol, limiting its effectiveness.  The US needs to be a role model in renewables.  There is incredible opportunity for us to utilize solar power and wind power in small localized systems, and in massive systems in areas such as the Midwest.  If the government divested from subsidizing the coal industry the money could be used for renewable research and installation.  Renewables are the energy of the future: they come from free resources such as the sun and wind that are infinite and clean. 

 The very consumerist industrialized culture that has mainly contributed to the climate disaster we are now in is jumping on the bandwagon of ‘being green’.  Green-washed products have become an issue in the market: companies claim that their products are environmentally friendly because they emit a certain chemical, but what other chemical replaced it?  What resources were used for developing those chemicals, transporting the good, and what movements and ideals does the corporation support? All of these questions must be asked, which is asking a lot out of every consumer.  This is why a system should be put in place that companies can be stamped with, free of charge on the company.  A message board on every product’s ‘green-spectrum,’ if you will, that alerts the consumer how smart that product is. 

Nature is the oldest truth.  It has been producing, recycling and alive way before we attempted to conquer it.  In order to be a sustainable world, we must utilize bio-mimicry and eco-effectiveness.  Nature is also a localized system in that not all species can live in all biomes.  By living local as nature does, getting energy from the sun and the wind, seeing waste as nutrients, and designing cities to be efficient, fun and beautiful, we could make great strides the livability of our earth, and reduce the threat of climate change and environmental degradation.  

Journal 13: Be precautionary

Scientific studies are crucial to understanding the relationship between us, our environment, and potential threats or toxins.  The rules of the scientific method, however, can be conservative and limiting.  For example, if a community has a high rate of cancer, the sample size may not be large enough or statistically significant to prove a correlation.  Therefore it is very difficult for small communities to provide proof of burden to the polluter due to lack of hard evidence.  The Null hypothesis states that there is no difference between the average and the tested, and either reject or accept it.  In the case of testing for cancer rates in a small community the null hypothesis could compare the local rates to national rates.  Therefore, with a small sample size, the statistical significance may be too small to prove that a community has an abnormal cancer rate. 

Since using the scientific method and statistical significance has failed many communities in the past on their quests to show proof of harm, other methods need to be utilized in the scientific and environmental justice communities.  The best method is instead of waiting for proof of harm and struggling to gain compensation, the practice of the precautionary principle should be utilized.  This principle prevents pollutants or toxins from being released before they are tested and proven to be safe.  The European Union has taken this stance on everything from pollutants to GMOs.  This “better safe than sorry” approach prevents unnecessary harm from being done to the people and the environment.   The US should take notes, because so far we have utilized the proof of burden principle instead.  Industries emit many untested pollutants that produce even more toxic secondary pollutants.  Pesticides freely seep into groundwater and waterways. GMOs are encouraged in industrial agriculture and are sold unlabeled in stores, even though they have only been lightly tested for human consumption.

The precautionary principle is an idea that can be manifested in many aspects of society.  New Orleans could have significantly benefitted from this principle before the storm hit.  The levees were not up to maintenance, and there was a large gap in emergency preparation.  This also relates to one of Bullard’s environmental social justice principles: prevention of harm.  If possible it always better to be over cautious than over lenient when it comes to innocent lives and the people’s health. 

Katrina prose

After a tragedy the media and public’s response always varies.  Post-Katrina, the people of New Orleans and across the country responded through creative expression.  Documentaries, films, songs, and poems about the injustices of Katrina abound with emotion.  Once I began to explore what the Internet had to offer in the ways of songs about Katrina, I was swept into a visual and auditory journey.  One of my favorite songs due to his surprisingly eloquent rap prose was “Tie My Hands” by Lil Wayne and Robin Thicke (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OXYQzej7aUw).  Lil Wayne, a New Orleans native, channels his emotions through his sadness and confusion.  His supportive tone shows empathy and hope, not unguided anger.  Some favorite lines include:

I knock on the door, hope isn’t home

Fate’s not around, the luck’s all gone

Don’t ask me what’s wrong, ask me what’s right

And I’ma tell you what’s life

And if you come from under that water then there’s fresh air

Just breathe, baby, God’s got a blessin’ to spare

Yes, I know the process has so much stress

But it’s the progress that feels the best

A poem that I came across summarized the storm, its devastation and subsequent recovery process from the voice of a survivor. 

The Night of the Rising Flood

by Nancy Hansen Merbitz

(sung to the tune of “The House of the Rising Sun”)

“There was a night in New Orleans

there came a rising flood,

with wind and rain, the levies busted

‘fore the night was done.

Those with cars, they got away;

them without were through.

Wait and see what happens – hey,

what else can you do?

The mothers called their children,

they called their babies home;

their fathers brought them to the attic –

then the waters rose.

Tearin through the rafters,

tryin to reach the sky.

Then they’re waiting on the rooftops,

hopin help comes by.

Many died, and many more

had nowhere to go.

Starvin in the Superdome –

what did “Brownie” know?

The Delta of New Orleans used to

shield her from the seas;

then the plunder drove it under

oil refineries.

This beloved city,

full of life and joy

won’t be left to drown in pity,

filthy mud, and oil.

Now it’s four years later,

Still the work goes on,

Raising homes ‘n buildin schools –

Won’t stop until they’re done.

Raising homes ‘n buildin schools,

Won’t stop until we’re done –

And God, we know we’re One.”

This poem calls out racial inequalities and government neglect while maintaining resilience and hope.  The emotional firsthand reflection demonstrates the voice of the people, and that through adversity and misery they had the strength to stand strong. 

Journal 11: Lightly, Carefully, Gracefully

In his talk in ATS, Bill McKibben did not hold back what is in store for our future as a result of climate change.  In fact, he made it clear that the affects of the mass amounts of GHGs that we have emitted into the atmosphere have already taken affect by acidifying the oceans, melting the polar ice caps, created a hole in the ozone layer and caused more extreme weather occurrences. He also said that while climate change is definitely occurring, we do know what we need to do to lessen its impacts on the earth and civilization.  These ideas include: stop burning “things underground” aka fossil fuels, and start using things “above ground” to power our lives such as renewable energy sources.  The only thing lacking is the political will to change, which is what we must work on as active citizens of the earth.

The images that he shared from the 350.org movement were breathtaking because they showed the worldwide passion to beat climate change.  Those who suffer the most from climate change tend to be the lowest contributors of CO2 to the atmosphere.  The images showed that climate change is not an abstract possibility of the future, but is real and is happening.  The idea of a climate refugee is new and unfortunately here to stay.  Hundreds of thousands of people are being displaced from their homes due to sea level rise, and millions will be forced to move in the future will their ancient traditions will sink to the bottom of the sea.  How is it just that the least developed countries suffer from the developed countries remnants of economic success in the ways of CO2 and pollution?

I truly enjoyed when McKibben was strident about the importance of student activism, specifically with supporting the movement for Dickinson to divest from fossil fuel investments. Climate change is the issue of our generation, and we must become passionate about its implications.  If we do not take small or large steps to stop it, how can we expect anyone else to take a stand?  By investing a portion of our endowment in the fossil fuel industry, we are in theory and practice supporting the burning of finite fossil fuels and climate change.  Divesting the small shares that we invest in the fossil fuel industry would by no means make an impact on their financials, but would help create a movement of awareness and inspiration to stop supporting an industry that will eventually kill us.  Our future is in renewable energy and lesser consumption.  By investing in renewable projects, we are investing in the future and not the corroded paste of energy production.

Seeing Bill McKibben and David Orr in succession provided an interesting comparison.  Both men are for the same basic principles of sustainability, environmental justice, and slowing climate change, but differ in their methods.  McKibben makes a point to reach the masses with his message of ‘350 ppm’ through visual aids and social media.  Orr likes to focus on language, roots, philosophical thought and Eco literacy.  Both messages are equally as important, which is why having these two great minds work together gives me hope for our future.

Food Thoughts

“All beings have a natural right to sustenance” is the ultimate truth.  The earth and the natural vegetation that exists on it used to be common wealth of the people.  Indigenous peoples would survive off of the land and never thought of it as “theirs” but Mother Nature’s.  The commodity of food was eventually necessary and unavoidable, but today’s system of industrialized agriculture has turned it from being a form of sustenance for farmers, and a local trade for citizens into an international grain trade, fused with chemicals.  Shiva states, “Whatever exists is born of food.”  We are using inorganic pesticides, fertilizers, herbicides, and genetically modified seeds to grow our food.  None of these chemicals occur naturally in food production, and need to be strongly monitored.

As consumers, instead of looking closely at what will make up our bodies, we are according to Wendell Berry “passive, uncritical, and dependent” on fast, cheap, unhealthy food.  This instant, starched, nutrition-less food is oh-so readily available, and almost too convenient for the lower class America who reside in food deserts, starved of fresh food.  Since most of America is moving towards cities, and since farms are being industrialized to the point of monstrosities, small farmers are being wiped off of the map.  Most people grow up away from farms, and have an innate disconnect from where their food actually comes from.  To many children in America today, the fluorescent supermarket isles are their fertile crop fields.  They have never seen the connection, and we have become disconnected from what sustains us as human beings.  In the Pleasantries of Eating, Wendell Berry says, “A significant part of the pleasure of eating is in one’s accurate consciousness of the lives and the world from which food comes.”  The satisfaction that comes from eating a vegetable that arose from your own soil comes not only from its unfathomable freshness, but also from the realization it’s like growing your own money.  Independence from the looming conglomerate of Monsanto and others is scary, but beatable.

            The documentary Fresh was actually quite refreshing, and eye opening.  It reminded me of the importance of thinking local, eating local, and spending local.  Sustainable economies support themselves through local ingenuity and connections.  By localizing the food markets as much as possible, we reduce our awful dependence on the major industry players, and on fossil fuels.  With the introduction of industrial agriculture, food went from being grown by 100% solar power with natural fertilizers, to being dependent on fossil fuels through motorized tractors and the production of chemical supplements.  Which one outweighs the other- would you rather have an agriculture industry that is pumped full of chemicals, supports the use of fossil fuels, displaces local farmers, gives most of its products to biofuels and animals, and is monopolized by patronizing patent-fiends, OR, have an agriculture industry that uses organic fertilizers, uses significantly less fuel, supports local economies, uses natural bio-diverse seed, and supports the sustenance of human life?  I, along with Vandana Shiva, Wendell Berry, among others (all conscious beings) would choose #2.  The transition from one seemingly efficient system to the other will be one of the most difficult fights of recent history.

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This blog: http://blog.sustainthenine.org/ gives me so much hope, and will be an extremely unique and valuable resource in my ongoing research.  They are working hard to give food security to the LNW residents who live in a unsecure food desert.

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. http://www.nola.com/hurricane/index.ssf/2012/08/brad_pitts_make_it_right_devel.html 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.