Monday, November 30, 2009

Environment in the Local News - "Image of an 'ambassador for environment'"

This is a photo of the Loxahatchee River, in the Florida Everglades, taken by Clyde Butcher, and found at this website.

"Image of an 'ambassador for environment'" was an excellent article that I found at It ties in directly with everything that we have been going over in the University Colloquium class and I am very glad to have read it.

The story centers around Clyde Butcher, a photographer, whose works were actually being displayed at the Southwest Florida Historical Museum when my class visited. Earlier this month he installed a solar heating system for his home and his Big Cypress Gallery in Ochopee. "It's affordable, he says. It cost $34,000 to install the system at his home, but federal and state incentives plus tax credits will mean his eventual out-of-pocket cost will be less than $1,500." This quote from the article really surprised me! I never even considered all of the tax benefits, though I have heard from another source during the course of the class, that a person could actually sell their energy to the energy companies! My parents really need to get solar power pronto, if you ask me! I'm at least going to research it.

But his solar system setup was not the only sustainable bit of information from this writing. Butcher says that "there will be no everglades to save," if global warming keeps up. Another gentleman by the name of Frank Jackalone, is the Florida staff director of the Sierra Club, he added to Butcher's remarks that, "Clyde lives in ground zero. His home will disappear if we don't do something about global warming in the next 10 years." Figures are also given, such as the sea level rising six and half feet by 2100, and also that actions to curb warming must be put into effect by 2015. This is exactly what the author of my State of the World chapter was saying. The upcoming (December 7-18) United Nations climate summit was also noted.

Butcher's activism was apparently inspired by the film "An Inconvenient Truth." I will definitely have to watch that some time soon.

Here are some other quotes of interest:

"Rodney Barreto, chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, called Butcher 'an iconic ambassador for the environment.' The focus on global warming was a 'natural offshoot' of his Everglades activism, he said."

"The Everglades multi-billion dollar restoration effort flows naturally into the issue of global warming, Kimball said. It is more than just getting the water quality right, getting rid of exotic species, the recovery of endangered species and increasing water supply."

"'We think if we restore the Everglades, we can get more water going from north to south and a healthier landscape more resilient to the effects of climate change,' he said. It also will provide a bigger store of water to keep saltwater at bay."

Could I have found a more perfect article for this blog? Great stuff. In addition to getting solar power, I will have to check out Butcher's gallery some day too. He sounds like an important environmental figure.

Revisiting My Semi-Sustainable Neighborhood

I took a second trip around my block, but this time I decided to go a few streets in the opposite direction. Although I feel I have gained a further insight into nature from my ecological studies at Florida Gulf Coast University, I failed to see anything truly astounding or sustainable on my walk. Still, there were some occurrences of interest. For instance, this coconut tree, with very large coconuts, pictured below.

I also found several people growing their own lemons or grapefruit, as you can see in these two images.

That's about as far as sustainability goes for my neighborhood. I still have yet to see an all out vegetable garden or fruit orchard, but that doesn't mean that my neighbors do not have an eye for horticulture.

This house (below) had many small trees, such as bonsai trees (lower left). I would be used to seeing bonsai trees in pots, but I rarely see them directly planted in the earth.

Shown at the right was an oddity - a plant growing on a tree. I have seen such symbiosis before on field trips with the University Colloquium class, but this was quite unique, it almost appeared that palm fronds were growing on this large tree (behind the palm). Again, perhaps these leaves were from some sort of small palm or possibly even a banana tree, as I have seen those in the area (though unfortunately none with bananas!).

Here at the left I thought was another interesting use of green design. Perfectly aligned palm trees that reminded one of McGregor Boulevard in Fort Myers. My neighborhood is located in Cape Coral. These were truly massive and well cared for palms, very beautiful specimens. You could tell that these neighbors were proud of them.

Coming back from a near fruitless (possible pun there!) search for sustainability, at least there is an abundance of houses such as this one which I took a photograph of on my way back home. Here is an example of a house that's practically ensconced in greenery.

Despite a seeming lack of interest in cultivating their own food, the people who inhabit my neighborhood seem to take great pride in their horticultural surroundings. I was also disappointed to find no evidence of solar paneling or even hybrid cars, for that matter. However, there are a fair amount of people growing their own citrus fruits or coconuts. I too would enjoy having these plants at my house.
Recently I have noticed that every Sunday there is a woman selling fruits and vegetables a little further down from where I ventured. I was happy to see that and maybe I will try to participate in her sustainable endeavor and buy my produce from her some day.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

FGCU Marine Lab and Canoe Trip - The Final Exploit!

Behold, the last of the Wild Man's environmental exploits. Not quite a feat of photography, but a triumph of Louvian ideals!

The FGCU Marine Lab and Canoe Trip may have been the last field trip for University Colloquium, but it was by far the best. And could you guess why per chance that would be? Because my classmates and I were able to have first-hand contact with the outside environment. Being able to participate in such a fun past time as canoeing, while admiring the natural habitat of the Estero estuary was a great idea.

Certainly, much was learned about this estuary. The characteristics of mangroves was reinforced - they're chief benefit is to maintain the coastline, holding the ground in place. They also provide water filtration, especially the black mangrove. I was also pleased to learn that oysters were living in abundance there, but sadly I was not able to eat any, but still a fascinating fact. I had no idea they could live in such a place! The estuary was a network of canals that flow close to Estero Bay and the gulf. This was a particularly isolated and pristine place. Very beautiful.

I immensely enjoyed the canoeing. I would like to buy a kayak and do some rowing soon. This gave me a good idea of the type of exercise it is: very demanding, but it many ways relaxing. It's much like hiking a mountain, it will help me to take advantage of the peacefulness of nature.

These tubs (pictured above) were used to cultivate oysters. Where were the free samples?

At the left is a large network of mangrove roots. This demonstrates their land-holding ability and it makes sense that they can serve as water filters as well. These are in fact the red mangrove variety.

Featured at the right is a large specimen of a black mangrove. The leaves are white from the salt being absorbed through the roots. I have seen these and the red mangroves before, but it is obvious that they are essential to the ecosystem of Southwest Florida.

I managed to snap a shot of this spectacle while the canoe was in motion. Shown below is a flock of some native bird, probably a white ibis, but possibly a heron.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Spirituality, Religion, and Sustainability - "Renewal"

The film "Renewal" will likely appeal to just about everybody, because it addresses the way in which three major religions are incorporating environmental topics into their services. I could not find the whole video on the Internet. For clips, one can click here - or here

I must admit that I was distracted by the sustainable meal that was being served during the film and did not catch much of what was said by the Muslims or Christians, but I was attentive to what was being done at the Teva Learning Center, which is a program that teaches Jewish children about sustainability. My mother is Jewish, and of any of the religions discussed, it is the one I would most likely want to practice.

Regarding the Jewish children, it was funny to me to see them at this camp for the environment. It almost made me wish I had been a part of something like that. I also thought it was funny because I used to go to a summer camp with a theme of Judaism, and it reminded me of that a little bit. Essentially, the counselors at Teva were trying to show the children their connection to nature and God. Thus they took them into forested areas and had them think critically and showed them awe-inspiring naturally sites, such as the cliff-scene from the first video clip I linked to above. Another practice that they incorporated was the "pishtolet," which was the collection of food waste after a meal and weighing it. I am not sure if that's how you spell the word, I checked here , which is the actual website of Teva, but to no avail. The goal of this activity, however, was to have as little waste as possible and make the students aware of how much food they take and throw away.

After watching the film, the class also discussed the eating restrictions of Muslims and Jews, or Halal and Kosher, respectively. Kosher eating has always fascinated me, similar to Halal, Kosher laws involve killing animals in a way that is not harmful to them, and facing them in a sacred direction during the process. A holy man blesses the animal. Kosher also can apply to other foods beside meat, in which case I believe it involves blessing of the food and preparing it without additives and with a process that prevents any kind of contamination.

I am not a religious person, but I am glad that religions are becoming involved in protecting the environment and promoting sustainability. This at least will spread the message through an important medium. I am also fascinated by Judaism and am glad that it is incorporating these messages, and I see how nature is very relevant to Jewish practices.

Downtown Ft. Myers and the SW Florida Historical Museum

I have lived in Southwest Florida all of my life, but there was still much for me to learn as it turned out. I have been to the SW Florida Historical Museum before, but I forgot much of what it contained. That is where the trip began and the following photo shows the first historical attraction that the class was treated to. What is so special about this house, you ask? Well, it carries the quaintly bigoted and anachronistic appellation of "cracker house." It is an actual house of a "Florida cracker" from at least a century ago. It essentially holds a combination bedroom and kitchen.

After the "cracker house," the class was taken through an old train car, which ran through this area when the train line was still running. Pictured here is a small, yet elegant room in the car.

The house and the train car were relatively recent history however, and the museum guide took us next to see the remains of prehistoric creatures that once lived right here in Southwest Florida. This was very interesting to me! The size of the creatures that once inhabited the cities that I call home is mindboggling. Difficult to frame the beast in a single photograph, I was only able to capture the upper body of this giant...SLOTH! Am I reading the information card correctly, this twenty foot tall monster that looks like Bigfoot was a SLOTH!? Sufficed to say, that was the first time I had ever seen such an animal. Sloths in modern times are only 3 to 4 feet long, and I don't think they stand on their hind legs very often. There were also gigantic shark teeth and a large woolly mammoth head featured in this display.

Traveling through time once again, we arrived thousands, if not millions of years later with the artwork of the indigenous Native Americans of this region. I believe that the Miccosukee and Seminole were among the tribes of Southwest Florida. Here are some of their tools and decorative pieces (including the small "Marco Island Cat," which is a figurine right below the mask in the top center):

There were other exhibits, including fisherman artifacts and the photographic works of Clyde Butcher and his wife, but what interested me more than those came at the end of the tour. Unbeknownst to me, the small Page Field Private Airport in Ft. Myers once was the training grounds for air force troops around the time of World War II. Pictured first is a plane engine, and secondly is a mounted chain gun.

We left the museum and were now loose in Downtown Ft. Myers. We saw parks that showcased various palm tree species from around the world, which I had no idea even existed.

Going around the city hall building, one comes upon this massive mosaic billboard. It is called "An Alternative History" and essentially represents slavery and the mistreatment of indigenous peoples in this area times past. It's an amazing piece of artwork.

The photo above was one of two cylinders that I had never noticed before. The two together are called "The Caloosahatchee Manuscipts." A little more information about them can be found here

Above is a lovely view of the Caloosahatchee River from the downtown dock area.

And our last stop was at the commemorative fountain (pictured below) in Downtown Ft. Myers, which I believe is named "The Three Friends," which included Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and Harvey Firestone. All of whom lived in Ft. Myers and on the Edison Home Estates. In light of this class, which deals with environmental issues, such as energy conservation and reducing carbon emissions, these three individuals actually could be called the root cause of our environmental problems today. Though regarded as great men, Thomas Edison inventing so many electrical gadgets, and Ford and Firestone assembling the first cars, their mechanical accomplishments would use up the earth's natural resources, cause desire for material objects, and in effect, destroy the environment!

Should we REALLY be honoring these men? My proposed title for this fountain is the "Three Horsemen of the Apocalypse."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Affluenza - A Material World Indeed

Perhaps living simply, like the Tibetan lamas in the photo above is the cure for our material wants. Picture courtesy of

The following is a quiz that I took at this website - - which gauges one's level of "affluenza," which is essentially the habit of spending often and loving material objects.

The Quiz:

1. I'm willing to pay more for a t-shirt if it has a cool corporate logo on it.
2. I believe that if I buy the cocktail dress, the cocktail party will come.
False, but that's because I am a man, and don't wear dresses, but usually I do wear whatever I already own to a party.
3. I have a shoe collection Imelda Marcos would envy.
4. When I'm cold, I take my clothes off and turn up the heat.

False, though in Florida it's the opposite.
5. I'm willing to work 40 years at a job I hate so I can buy lots of stuff.
False, I would rather work at my current job throwing luggage and making $10 an hour than do a job I don't like, however, I do want to make more money at a job I'll enjoy!
6. When I'm feeling blue, I like to go shopping and treat myself.
7. I want a sports utility vehicle, although I rarely drive in conditions that warrant one.
False, I never want an SUV!
8. I usually make just the minimum payment on my credit cards.
9. I believe that whoever dies with the most toys wins.
10. Most of the things my friends/family and I enjoy doing together are free.
11. I don't measure my self-worth (or that of others) by what I own.
12. I know how to pinch a dollar until it screams.
13. I worry about the effects of advertising on children.
True, honestly!
14. To get to work, I carpool, ride my bike or use public transportation.
15. I'd rather be shopping right now.


How was it scored?

For questions 1-9 and 15, give yourself 2 points for true and 1 point for false.
For questions 10-14, give yourself 0 points for true and 2 points for false.

How did I do?

I scored 13!

What does the website have to say about that...

If you scored:

10-15 No dangerous signs of Affluenza at this time. Watch Affluenza to help build immunity.

16-22 Warning: You have mild Affluenza. Watch Affluenza to help prevent a full-blown case, and see our handy tips for squishing the Affluenza bug.

23-30 Cut up your credit cards and call a doctor! Memorize our list of bug-beating tips. Watch Affluenza, and then watch it again.

...So I did pretty well. I answered honestly and I really do conserve my money, reuse things when possible, and don't like to buy new things very often. I like to SAVE MONEY! In fact if anything, I would say that I save to a ridiculous degree, but I do put down a lot of money every once in a while for something I really want.

Here is a link to the "Affluenza" video that was watched in the course - Watching it a second time, there were several things that caught my attention. For one, the film said that by 1987 there were more shopping malls than high schools in America. Also, it showed some really unethical marketing tactics being used to target children; including selling food at schools that kids are warned against in their health classes! "In ninety percent of divorce cases, arguments over money play a predominant role," the film also states. The documentary talks about how less money is saved in the United States today than in many other developed countries. I, however, save more than the 4%, which is our current level (though I recall from economics class that this number can change based on general economic conditions). These are all bad signs of the role of money in our society. It was mentioned in the film that Roosevelt foretold that unbridled capitalism would corrupt society. Some solutions they have for "affluenza" are the "buy nothing day," which was actually on 11/29 (I think I bought a bottled water from a vending machine though). The book Your Money or Your Life was recommended. Living in "co-families" - two families sharing a house - was also suggested, but that sounds like a stretch. I'm fine with roommates, but I guess I'd have to try the co-family situation in order to understand it.

Also there is this site which discusses this silly, yet serious disorder - On this site, 10 methods for reducing spending habits are discussed. I agree with all of them for the most part. I have never read and probably will never read the book they suggest, but I have read other books on money management such as Jim Cramer's Stay Mad for Life, which I found very helpful and believe that everybody should read such a book. Considering that my dad's primary hobby is fine-tuning his big screen projector and 61" TV system, throwing out the TV seems like a problem for me! Though I almost always am doing something else while watching TV. As for not having children, I think this website is really being absurd. I mean, if you're stupid enough to take this web site's advice on that, then maybe you're too stupid to have children, but I for one think that is an insane suggestion, and I intend to have children someday. Although I do believe people probably should be financially secure when having children, and should not have too many kids.

One final comment, and this has been a topic of discussion since the first field trip, and in the "Affluenza" film, but I have recently fine-tuned it - living a simple life. I have lived quite simply, but not in the right way. I thought that in order to save money that I would have to buy some moderately junky food. I also had a gym membership for a while. Starting about a month ago, I changed all of that. I started doing body-weight exercises, which are essentially as good as weightlifting at a gym, and it's saving me $40 a month! I have also adopted different eating habits. I thought that fruit and other healthy foods were too expensive, and apparently others my age think similarly. However, I have found that I can still shop around and get nutritional, sustainable foods for as much as I was spending. I'm eating organic foods over the garbage I used to eat. And fruit used to be nonexistent in my diet, now I eat at least four a day! I feel completely different! Truly, tribal peoples with no material objects, who live off of the natural crops and animals of the land, live better than the average American! That is the cure for "affluenza"!