Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A Brief, yet Enlightening Environmental Interview with My Grandparents

I gave my grandparents a call in order to see what their views about sustainability were. I also wanted to know what growing up for them was like. It was a brief conversation, but I think I got what I was looking for.

My grandmother deferred the interview to my grandfather and I first asked him what his perspective or philosophy about the environment was. He told me that he didn't believe in global warming, because he'd been reading about it, and it seemed to be improving, while at the same time more and more polar bears were becoming endangered. This was an interesting theory to say the least.

Anyway, I got some real good information out of him regarding his sense of place growing up. He said that everything was different now. "If I told you about the things we had back then, you probably wouldn't know what the hell I was talking about," he joked. He said that when he was growing up everybody's family lived on the same block and families were very close. He said his family used to hunt and fish together all of the time when he was young. Both he and my grandmother spoke of having parks in the city, which you don't find anymore. My grandmother said that my grandfather and her used to go to the park and spend the whole day there. Even though they grew up in the city, things were clearly different than they are now.

Also of note, is that my grandfather pointed out that there weren't as many cars back when he was growing up, but everything was being run by coal. Still, global warming wasn't an issue back then.

I was very pleased with the results of the interview, I sort of figured before hand that my grandfather would not put much faith into global warming claims, but he seemed to have a highly developed sense of place. It does seem odd, however, that even though he has spent so much time outdoors hunting and fishing, he doesn't seem to think that the environment is in danger. This seems to run counter to what Richard Louv, Aldo Leopold, and David Orr would say on the matter.

Wildman Jesse's Final Thoughts on University Colloquium

Altogether I think that the University Colloquium class did a good and comprehensive job in inculcating ideas about sustainability and the environment. Though I don't mean to say that other things couldn't have been done. In many ways it was perfect, because it managed to cover most of the issues related to sustainability and was not too demanding. Having said that, it still could have been a little less demanding! I also see a few things that it could be lacking, and I have also discussed these in the last paper that was due in the class.

This blog unto itself could do with a few less entries I believe. The concepts to be dealt with in entries such as "packaging," "The Earth Charter," and "State of the World Impressions" were either practically pointless (as with "packaging") or already addressed sufficiently in class (as with the other two). The blog would not be so bad, though, if it were not for the papers...

Four papers seemed a little excessive in my opinion, perhaps two or three would have been better. I didn't mind the topics, and they seemed important, but they really interfered with doing work in other classes. Still, maybe they were beneficial (I at least was able to fine tune my writing ability which had been lying dormant for some time), maybe there was a problem with the readings...

The writings of John Dewey and Marjory Stoneman Douglas stand out to me as particularly dull, heavy-worded, outdated, and not lending to memory. I could not tell you more than two things that Stoneman Douglas wrote in her twenty page essay that was in the University Colloquium reader. As for Dewey, I just thought there might have been many other authors to choose from for a class focused on environmental issues. If you want to talk about learning, give me Socrates, if you want to talk about the environment, let me read Rachel Carson. The writings of Richard Louv were assigned first along with Dewey, and I had hoped that more articles like his would have been presented. Leopold, Orr, even The Earth Charter, were all fine, but an article like "Endgame" seemed a little out of place. I will say though that the assigned books State of the World 2009 and A Land Remembered were excellent choices for this course.

So, ok, a few reading issues, let's get down to brass tacks here. Some of the field trips were unnecessary. That's right, I said it. I like a good field trip, ECHO made sense, and the canoe trip was fun, but, and despite what I wrote about them in my blog, Corkscrew and Matanzas Pass were probably expendable. Maybe keep one, lose the other. As I said in paper 4, I would rather see a water treatment plant or the waste management facility. Maybe saying that I'd rather go to a waste management facility over going to a nature trail sounds idiotic, but I think that would give more variety and deal with the real issues of this course.

But again, it was all acceptable and I don't regret my experience in the course. The former were all suggestions. I could say that the three or four presentations in the class were undesirable, but I probably needed that practice too (I actually gave more speeches in front of this class than in the speech class I took!). Keep up the good work Mrs. Davis and the other University Colloquium staff!

That's what I'm talkin' about! Image courtesy of

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

State of the World Issues that Matter to Me

Certainly everything addressed in the book State of the World 2009 by the Worldwatch Institute was of importance to me. However, there were a few issues that stood out.

It was made mention of in the chapter that I presented in a group and wrote about that one solution to the problem of carbon emissions was a process known as carbon capture and storage (CCS). My chapter was called "A Safe Landing for the Climate" and it just briefly stated that the cost of such a system would make it unreliable in most situations (26). CCS is also noted in the chapter "An Enduring Energy Future," where it is also denounced as unnecessary due to the use of renewable energy resources in its stead (131). However, a whole Climate Connection article is devoted to it, entitled "Carbon Capture and Storage." Here, the authors talk about how much of the world is dependent on coal and oil for fuel and the fact that carbon capture and storage "aims to capture carbon dioxide (CO2) from any large point source, liquefy it, and store it underground" (99) Yet despite its apparent usefulness, the authors do point out its shortfalls or "constraints." One being that the technology may only "become available in the medium [rather] than the short term." "The number and location of safe reservoirs" is another problem. Another issue is that only CO2 will be captured, but other GHG's must be lessened according to the Kyoto Protocol. This process also uses a large amount of water, is expensive, changes the whole infrastructure of the plant or facility it is used on, and there are other alternatives already in the works (100-102). Carbon capture and storage may already be an obsolete technology, but it seemed interesting to me that CO2 could be recycled and that it could be used with preexisting coal and oil power plants.

Of additional fascination to me are the environmental issues related to South America, including Brazil, and other Spanish speaking countries. I am a Spanish minor, I am studying Portuguese, and I intend to visit much of Latin America some day, if not live there. South American countries are mentioned in the Climate Connection "Employment in a Low-Carbon World," where it talks about the growing biofuel crops in Brazil and Colombia offering more jobs. Brazil is also said to have over 500,000 recycling jobs in this article (117-118). In the chapter "Building Resilience," it tells of a city in Colombia that is making sure that low-income households are not building homes in areas that could be affected by the changing climate. Ecuador, Colombia, and Peru come up in a box about protecting watersheds in this chapter. These countries are taking efforts to "conserve clean and abundant water supplies" (161-162). Presented in the "Women and Climate Change: Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacities" Climate Connection, Guatemala, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico have been planting trees for the Mayan Nuts Project, which is contributing to reforestation. These were just a handful of the topics offered in State of the World 2009 that dealt with Latin America, and they definitely got my attention.

The last issue I'll cover was given in the Climate Connection "Using the Market to Address Climate Change," which I did a presentation on. Being a business major, this was a very relevant idea. According to the article, there are two main market-driven possibilities for forcing carbon emitting companies to lower their emissions. The two ways to do it are carbon taxes and a cap and trade system. A tax rate would be based on "the marginal damage done by a unit of carbon emitted." However, this "marginal damage is unknown," and is thus more of a political decision. A cap and trade system on the other hand would employ a limit on the total amount of carbon emissions in the country and allowances would be issued to companies. The price of an allowance could be dictated by market forces in an auction type setting. This type of system could change whole business structures, and probably for the better (103-105).

After getting a good idea about what this very informative book has to say about the future of the environment, there are some clear ways that I can see in which the United States can change their environmental policies. I think we as a country need to forget about using oil and coal as energy sources altogether and switch over to renewable resources. And all of these large, emitting companies will just have to deal with it. That's the main thing, I think, but also we need to "build resilience" against the coming climate changes, and at least I believe that our agricultural scene needs to change. I think we should be growing more sustainable crops and raising more sustainable livestock and fish.

I myself will be attempting as best I can to buy more sustainable products such as food, and I will do my best to limit my carbon emissions, for example by driving less.

The Earth Charter - Comprehensive But Unlikely

The Earth Charter created by the Earth Charter Commission was read and discussed in the University Colloquium class. The document is divided into four principles, which are comprised of sixteen total parts, by which the people of Earth should live in order live with optimum sustainability and cooperation. Here is the link for the actual website of the commission where you can read the charter:

The principles are very comprehensive and include many ideas that were talked about in the University Colloquium class. One such parallel that I see is in the first principle - Respect and Care for the Community of Life. Number two under that heading says that "with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect the rights of people." This is basically the theme of the novel A Land Remembered by Patrick D. Smith, and also a point in the article by Aldo Leopold entitled "The Land Ethic." Number four on the charter deals with preserving Earth's resources for future generations, which is part of the definition of sustainability, and major theme of the University Colloquium course.

Principle II. Ecological Integrity, pretty much encompasses every topic concerning sustainability and the environment that was suggested in the class. "Protect and restore the integrity of Earth's ecological systems," reads number five, which is under the second principle. It is directly related to such articles as "Endgame" by Michael Grunwald, and the writings of Aldo Leopold and Marjory Stoneman Douglas. "Reduce, reuse, and recycle," the need for "efficiency when using energy," and promotion of "environmentally sound technologies" are all integral to sustainability and appear under number seven. Alternative energy sources and "environmentally sound technologies" were given in State of the World 2009, and shown on videos. I recall one new technology from a video shown in class that would capture carbon in huge filters, and I also learned about the difference between top and front-loading washing machines and that there are more energy efficient surge protectors available.

Of course, the University Colloquium class, in and of itself, is right in line with number eight, which tells of the need for the knowledge of sustainability to be spread. The writings dealing with ecological education by David Orr would fit in with this item. This also ties right into number fourteen under principle IV - "integrate into formal education and life-long learning the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life."

In regards to environmental issues, The Earth Charter seems to have all of its bases covered, even addressing economic, political, and social problems. Nobody could fault it for not being thorough, but perhaps it is too ideal. I believe it is merely dealing with symptoms of the global issues of today. It's like a prescription for how to get better, but something tells me that not everybody is going to take the doctor's advice, so to speak. I would instead agree more with David Orr in his article "The Problem of Sustainability," in which he narrows the environmental problems down to a fault in the human condition. People will have to change at a more primal, basic level in order to see and understand just how important the environment is. They will have to be intelligent and educated thoroughly. Otherwise, nothing else that The Earth Charter proposes will even matter.