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Sure there are thousands of reasons that we need the environment to survive. It provides the resources we need to flourish (if at times with too much zeal) as well as the countless other necessities to humanity. Yet, what if i were to tell you that humans need nature to be better people? That’s just what psychologist Netta Weinstein found in a study conducted by the University of Rochester in 2009. What they found was that nature connects people to their true, or to use the existential term, “authentic” selves. Now how could this be true one may wonder? As a traditionally communal species, that at one time banded together in the wilderness to survive, it is hardwired into our very being. Nature brings us together. Now aside from explaining why most people in NYC are extensively rude, this to me also shows something very interesting about humans: man-made environments make us uncomfortable, even if we don’t know it. Ceaselessly, we continue to expand our labyrinth of anxiety.

Man in the wilderness jumping for joy

Nature makes us nicer

More and more of our nature is disappearing every day, and everyday the tensions of the world grow increasingly. Sure, maybe its a stretch to say that the lack of nature in our world is leading us towards global unrest, but is it a stretch to say that the word will be a little glummer when one must drive an hour to see a tree in its natural environment? We need nature not only to survive, but to stay sane, and ironically it is none other than the industrial accomplishments of humanity which eat away at our happiness. Please check out the interesting results of this study at the University of Rochester site.

That must be a typo right? You must mean save me from the sharks. Nope, no typo here friends, just a man who has come to a stunning realization: this blog doesn’t talk enough about animals. So naturally I chose to focus on the cutest and cuddliest of animals in danger. Roughly 73 million sharks are killed each year. Don’t assume a typo here either, I do mean 73 million. If you don’t believe me check it out here at WildAid. Now why might one third of ocean-open species of sharks be facing extinction? The answer lies in an Asian delicacy, shark fin soup. Despite having no value in flavor or nutrients, as well as containing high levels of mercury, Asian cultures, especially China, are pursuing the traditional delicacy with more zeal than ever.

Fins being caught from captured shark before it is thrown back to die

Hard to Justify

The manner in which these sharks are killed is unforgivable. As the fins are worth far more than the meat of the shark, these “shark finners” slice the fins off after catching them and then throw them back into the ocean to preserve space for a multitudinous bounty of fins. Sharks are useless swimmers without their fins, and these finned sharks, millions annually, either bleed to death or drown at the hand of this practice. The impacts of this commercial finning spans far beyond the shark population. The whole oceanic ecosystem lies in play, as the cycle of life cannot function properly without the presence of a predator to control populations of smaller fish. With the interrelated nature of the world’s ecosystems, this seems a dangerous price to pay for a tasteless soup.

Go to WildAid and check out what they are doing, and what you could potentially be doing, to save the sharks. Also, much love should go out to former NBA star Yao Ming, who swore off the soup in 2006, and since then has been consciously advocating against shark finning as the international ambassador for WildAid. What the world needs is more powerful people utilizing their discursive places for the greater good — people who are not afraid to rise up against popular culture, even if it is their own.

If you want to get a feel for the grotesque process that is shark finning then watch this video. I must warn that it is both graphic and upsetting.

Wendell Berry on a farm

Wendell Berry

Sorry folks, it’s back to the nitty gritty this week as the unfortunate truth is that this environmentally centered blog exists in a world of problems. Today we delve into the problems with a highly specialized global economy. Indeed, specialization was an incredible idea, one that fueled the industrial revolutions of many nations. So when I say that specialization is in itself danger0us, many readers are likely to be very weary of what is about to follow. No, I do not advocate moving back into the stone age and making our own mud huts with the use of self-made stone tools. Instead I merely ask we take a second to look at how it affects our thought processes. As ecocritics like poet and farmer Wendell Berry will advocate, specialization disconnects us from the processes that provide what we need to survive, as well as from the processes of a sustainable community. Berry specifically points to the agricultural cycle in much of his work. As people who eat, we are at the very end of an agricultural cycle, and, in essence, a life process that, until the last two hundred years, was on the forefront of human thought, driving communities to strive for more sustainable methods of feeding themselves. Now as our produce comes from all over the world, while we do not so much as give a thought to its production, we find ourselves as “consumers.”

As consumers our actions are dictated by one thing: price. In most cases, our society gives no thought to production methods, to chemical utilization, and to the sustainability of such farming as a whole as we stroll up and down the isles of our local grocery store or cruise through the McDonald’s drive-thru. We pick up the meat at Walmart because it is cheap, and give not a single thought to the rain forest  which was destroyed to raise such cattle, cattle that are often raised in heinous conditions. We all just assume that our food comes from “farms”  without paying attention to the amorphous concept that a farm has become. Why? Because agriculture is specialized and this specialization lies outside of our realms of specialization. Thus, just as we assume control of our specific jobs, we let others control what we eat, and in this manner there is a certain politics to food. We let ourselves be shut out to the consequences of such food production, both on the level of our individual bodies and our environment. The problem with specialization? Well it leads us away from looking at the problem with specialization — away from the processes of community and life — because isn’t that somebody’s job somewhere?

Please do some justice to these ideas and look into a man who can articulate such thoughts in a more cohesive fashion: Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry. This article is a good starting point for learning about the politics of food production. Don’t worry, it’s a short read.

Watch the video. This is what a man who will not be part of the disconnect sounds like. This is a man with ideals.

Well looking back through the previous posts of this blog so far I can’t help but be a little depressed. There obviously needs to be some kind of welcoming disclaimer about locking up sharp objects before reading Environ-MENTAL. Kind of hard to stir people into action when you are giving them anxiety attacks. So today’s post is something we in America can all wrap our heads around: SHOPPING! This brilliant man named Brent Schulkin came to an inordinately sage realization one day — going against the consumer American grain is a tough act as an environmentalist. Ya I know, “this sucks” doesn’t sound like that great an epiphany, but bare with me. What he came to formulate is that perhaps harnessing the consumer power of our culture is a better way of approaching the issue than condemning it. He arranged an event dubbed a “carrotmob” centered around this very concept; a sort of “procott” instead of a “boycott.” K&D Market, a liquor store in San Francisco, had agreed to use 22% of the money taken in from 1:00 to 5:00 on March 29, 2008 to invest in more sustainable energy sources for the company. The idea Schulkin had was that hopefully people would show up and make a big statement with their money — and they did. The first event raised $9,277, equating to nearly $2,ooo in eco-friendly investment.

Carrotmob Advertisement

Let's mob for Mother Nature!

Sometimes it seems difficult to imagine how we can make a difference as individuals in a society and world that are far from eco-friendly. This is the perfect example of doing little things, of what I cited from Pollan a few posts back, initiating  “viral social change.” If it starts with small businesses and does this well, imagine if large corporations utilized it for publicity. There have been dozens of “carrotmob” campaigns worldwide, and the next one in the U.S. is on Earth Day, April, 22, in my home state of Colorado. A local Boulder business called Half-fast Subs will be putting one hundred percent of revenue into sustainable energy upgrades! Now that’s commitment. Carrotmobbing is a brilliant idea and I highly encourage you to check out the website and learn more about the organization, the idea, and past and future campaigns. The blog is also worth spending some leisure time on. In fact, it supplied me with this awesome video,  analyzing through an environmental lens the means by which good ideas are formulated. Innovation seldom comes from epiphany my friends. The video below it is a self-explanation of Carrotmob which will have you laughing and nodding your head in unison.

Formulating innovative ideas

The founding of one such idea

In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act was passed by congress to ensure the safety of water from contaminants, especially those man-made. Sounds like some worthwhile legislation to me, albeit “worthwhile legislation” has become somewhat of an oxymoron as of late. Leave it to the Bush/Cheney administration to screw up a good thing. In 2005, the Bush/Cheney Energy Act incorporated a loophole, now commonly referred to as the “Haliburton Loophole, which no longer forced natural gas companies to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, and kept the EPA from meddling in the affairs of big oil.  What is hydraulic fracking(fracturing)? It is a means of natural gas extraction which is utilized deep in natural gas wells. Once such a well is drilled, millions of gallons of water, sand, and chemicals are injected at a high pressure into the well. This process fractures the shale and opens fissures, which in turn allows for natural gas to flow more freely. Major problems occur as water aquifers occur at depths of only 1,000 feet while the average well may plunge 8,000 feet down. As the cement casings of such wells are usually made lackluster due to corporate irresponsibility, these wells leak natural gas into the water supply. A far more radical means of natural gas collection, called “horizontal hydrofracking,” is essentially a process of shooting a mixture of 956 chemicals and millions of gallons of water horizontally into shale, dispersing oil which was once irretrievable. This water is contaminated and must be disposed of as toxic material. One to eight million gallons of water is generally used to frack a well, and anwywhere from 80-300 tons of chemicals! Scientists have found traces of chemicals in fracking areas, yet due to the Haliburton loophole, there is no disclosure, thus no accountability.

Water from spout lit on fire

Can you light your water on fire?

The FRAC Act, which was reintroduced in congress in 2011 after an initial failure, is a bill which would repeal the Haliburton loophole and force natural gas companies into full disclosure. A few states, including Colorado, have passed legislation on a state level that is akin to such a bill. In fact, it was two Colorado democrats who reintroduced the bill on a federal level.  Reach out to your congressperson and let them know that their constituents want to know whats in their water, and we refuse to allow big business to put the health of millions at risk in the name of more corporate capital. We have a right to be in control of our health. We should be in a state of WTF! We need to ask them, “Why the Frack?”

I would highly recommend visiting the official website to the documentary Gasland by Josh Fox. The documentary itself is an incredible resource for learning about the dangers of fracking to our drinking water, and the shady politics that allow companies to shoot chemicals into our water, and essentially down our throats, without disclosing it. On top of this,  it offers an abundance of information on the website that is free, credible, and easily accessible. The blog is a really great place to stay up to date on fracking issues and how to take action. So take some fracking action!

If you are interested please watch the following trailer for the documentary.

Now the word pirate for many of us brings forth images of Johnny Depp, Captain Hook, Blackbeard, and angry Somalians at sea. What does a pirate have to do with corporations? Well, the very definition of piracy indicates any plunder or theft, which is why we “pirate” movies when we copy/download them. Thus, “biopiracy” indicates the unauthorized plunder of biological resources. Corporations are at the heads of such plunder, committing daily atrocities as they race to develop new pharmaceutical and agricultural products. These corporations find many of the resources they need for these products in third world countries where they naturally occur, and oftentimes this search is aided by local communities who share their traditional holistic knowledge. Corporations then turn around and patent the use of the resource in question, ensuring that the competition will be unable to get a hold of it. Yet in this patenting process, where corporations give themselves “exclusive rights” to the use and marketing of a given resource, indigenous peoples and farmers are being cut off from what they developed over generations, what has been local to them their whole lives. Imagine you are the owner of, let’s say, a restaurant, and your food was so good that one day a man in a suit showed up to tell you his company liked your recipes so much that they were patenting them to use exclusively? The real kicker is it wouldn’t  matter if you said no. The long history of pillaging the third world for its all its wealth continues, as corporations have continued a disgusting tradition in this form of neo-imperialism.

Ban Terminator Seeds PosterTake so-called “terminator seeds” for instance, whose life cycle produces no seeds due to genetic tampering by corporate scientists. By going into indigenous areas, taking seeds, then patenting them with new genetic traits, corporations eventually set up a monopoly where farmers must buy seeds from a given company, such as the devious Monsanto, every growing season, when they once could use them freely utilizing the natural processes of agriculture.

How about this one? At Indira Ghandi Agriculture University in Raipur, India there were 18 varieties of drought resistant jatropha  growing, all of which contained high oil-production potential. An employee of the university quit his post and days later, by betraying this knowledge, was named technical director of India operations for the UK company D1 Oils. Soon after, D1 Oils was involved in a $160 million joint venture for the production of agrofuels through jatropha plants with oil giant BP (British Petroleum). Well if the British imperial hand hadn’t squeezed enough out of India already, leave it to the corporations. Wouldn’t you say enough is enough? Check out the Captain Hook Awards for Biopiracy brought to you by the Coalition Against Biopiracy. If the issue is one that you would like to delve in-depth into, an incredible resource for biopiracy awareness is Dr. Vandana Shiva, a well renowned eco-feminist, whose blog you can visit here.

 

Dr. Vandana Shiva speaks about seed tampering and patenting in this video:

“When you’re screaming at the top of your lungs and no one hears, what are you supposed to do?” — Daniel McGowan

The Earth Liberation front is a radical environmentalist group whose members use unorthodox and extreme tools like arson and tree spiking to combat environmentally disruptive corporate behavior. No one has ever died due to E.L.F. arson, and all activities are coordinated based upon the absence of humans to avoid casualties and injuries. Despite this, members like Daniel McGowan now face multiple counts of life in prison for what the government has deemed “eco-terrorism.” The question which should be posed is this: are the E.L.F. a terrorist organization? Is the use of  such discursive notions and their respective connotations fair when these people are being compared to  the likes of al-Qaeda?

Please watch the following two minute clip from the incredible documentary If a Tree Falls which focuses on the E.L.F.

Man stands in the remnants of a logged forest in Oregon

What's more radical?

The question McGowan poses is an important one, for how does one make a disconnected society pay attention? How do you combat corporations when they have politics in their pockets? What is terrorism? Is it burning down an empty building to prevent further destruction, or standing by while these organizations destroy our world? Maybe terrorism is cutting down our forests to build a twelve million dollar ski lodge in Vail (much like the one the E.L.F. burnt down in Oct. ’98) when 95% of our nations forests cease to exist. What’s more radical — cutting down the last five percent or fighting to save it? Who are the real terrorists — organizations like Cavel West Slaughterhouse, whose aim was to round up and slaughter the last of America’s wild horses to clear contractor land, or the E.L.F., who could not stand by idly and torched them to the ground, making them unable to operate again?

Is the line between activist and terrorist really so thin? I do not aim to condone such action, merely give food for thought — thought being an activity sorely lacking in our society. Follow the story of McGowan, the E.L.F., and this amazing documentary here.

Hemp Campaign for WWII sponsored by Federal Government

What?! Our government never flip-flops!

Hemp holds largely negative connotations in our society, but, then again, one fears what one does not know — a fact which seldom seems to drive us to enlighten ourselves. So read! Enlighten Yourself! Until 1883 hemp was the most commonly grown agricultural crop in the entire world, and was utilized for a variety of products ranging from textiles to medicines. By and large hemp is the most durable natural fiber to grace soil and its potential uses are mindblowing. As the documentary below, The Union, indicates, hemp opens up possibilities for 5,000 textile products and up to 25,000 cellulose-based products ranging from auto interior to dynamite. George Washington kept hemp fields, so did Benjamin Franklin. Yet, in 1937 the Marijuana Tax Act effectively halted American hemp production just as this article in Popular Mechanics was set to hit shelves. During WWII America ran a campaign entitled “Hemp for Victory,” urging the rapid production of hemp from American farmers, negating the 1937 act, until the end of the war came and the prohibition of industrial hemp cast its shadow over the country again in 1948. Where do we stand on hemp now? Well where does our federal government stand on a slew of practical things? Hemp is categorized with marijuana as far as the feds are concerned, and that  common misrepresentation — a misrepresentation instilled in our country due to early 20th century lobbying — is enough to override an easily produced, sustainable, and diverse resource, with thousands of eco-friendly uses, that couldn’t get you high if you smoked enough to make your face turn blue.

Hemp shoes made by industry giant Adidas

Wearing hemp clothing doesn't mean looking like a 14th century monk

The cotton industry just had too much to lose, and the logging/paper industries weren’t exceedingly happy regarding hemp’s adept paper making properties. Just as lobbying holds an iron grip upon our country (stay tuned for a post on lobbying in the coming weeks), whether it be corn, oil, or health care lobbyists, lobbying did the same then, and the shuffling of cash signaled the end of a dream, one of the few which held and still holds the power to make a dent in our global environmental crisis. The first post for this blog noted how pesticides are likely killing bees and setting the ecosystem into shambles, and where do 50 percent of agricultural pesticides go in this country? If you guessed cotton pat yourself on the back of your cotton shirt. Hemp on the other hand can grow virtually anywhere, with little nutrients and a high resistance to pests. On top of this it does not deplete the soil, in fact it does quite the opposite, which is remarkably convenient given our industrial habit of rapid and rampant soil depletion. So let’s review here — a crop that can grow virtually anywhere, with no pesticide maintenance, little environmental damage, and thousands of potential uses that  would sideline many industries that have helped get us into this environmental predicament in the first place. Kind of makes you wish Ben Franklin would come back to run down the isles of congress with one arm extended, slapping some sense into those corrupted corporate pawns one by one — perhaps the resulting clapping sound would in itself be a metaphorical clap.

Hemp may be illegal to grow, but hemp products are at least legal to buy. Apparently America doesn’t want the economic and environmental stimulus growing hemp has to offer, even though the economy might be the only thing ailing as bad as the environment nowadays. This doesn’t mean that you can’t use your dollar to advocate hemp products and support businesses that sell them. Buying hemp substitutes is one way of trying to make sure the hemp industry thrives globally if not locally. There are amazing things to find out about hemp and by visiting this page for the advocacy group Vote Hemp you can learn ways to promote hemp and industrial hemp legalization. Watch these videos, visit the page, and learn something that will be interesting and shocking to learn, just difficult to live with.

 

This snippet from a documentary, The Union, is shocking and highly informative.

Here is the 1942 “Hemp for Victory” video that was aimed at American farmers in WWII.

So the scoop on the environment? Well any permanent glacial ice is expected to melt by the year 2080. Due to the chemicals we spread into our environment 40-50 percent of women and 45-55 percent of men are expected to be diagnosed with cancer in our lifetime, percentages which have steadily climbed. Various Arctic islands start to become uninhabitable, forcing whole populations of people to move to land as their homelands become submerged. This is just the tip of the iceberg, and frankly it is enough to make the bravest man cower and soil his trowsers. So what do we do then? The problem is so gargantuan, so seemingly insurmountable, that to take up the cause seems like a futile effort to many, and slowly we become an apathetic nation, and an apathetic world.

Cartoon displays scientist w/ a sign calling for the end of the world next to religious prophecy-maker

Yes friends, it is a rickety roller coaster ride riskier than any that we have approached. Yet lets remember the risk in doing nothing: a world which likely will never restore itself, or will take thousands, if not millions, of years to do so. So what’s riskier to you — the prospect of exerting effort with no return, or the prospect of exerting no effort and leaving our children to live in an uninhabitable world. I hope that when we remember this is the ultimatum at hand perhaps it will be easier to change our trousers, and go forth ethically in a world which has suffered heavily at the hands of our previous engagements. Immanuel Kant, one of history’s greatest philosophers, developed his system of ethics around a categorical imperative — making it a duty to act by that maxim which one would will to be a universal maxim. So what maxim do you want to run the world? Even if your efforts be simple and seemingly trivial, there is to be said for them that you are contributing towards the type of world you want people to live in.

One of my favorite pieces by the amazing Michael Pollan, titled Why Bother, deals with the very question I am engaging with now. I can do the powerful piece little justice, and I hope that many of you will click on the link and engage with not only one of our great sustainability thinkers, but also a stellar call to action that asks very little. What Pollan argues is that indeed the situation at hand is intimidating, but by small actions, such as planting gardens, one can not only reduce their own carbon footprint, but also put actions into the world that may inspire viral social change in their daily lives.  This is the key, small actions on big scales. Remember that to try and help the environmental situation does not constitute life overhaul, instead it merely constitutes trying to start the chain, whether that chain be gardening, driving less, or using less energy. Just remember, the chain that you start has the potential to harness our environmental problems, and more importantly to contribute to a world worth inhabiting, both in physical and ethical terms.

“If the bee disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left” – Albert Einstein

Now a world with no bees may sound rather comforting to those who, like me, scream in shrill tones and run away daintily at the sign of a bee hovering around my head, but it is important to realize how much humanity relies on bees. Honey bees are responsible for the pollination, thus the existence, of almost all of the fruits and vegetables we consume in our diets.  As honey bee numbers begin to collapse at alarming rates, should we be concerned? A recent report from the National Academy of Sciences showed four species of North American bees having lost 96% of their colonies, and the overall geographic range of bees had dwindled from 27-83%. As we see less pollinators and smaller areas of pollination, there will likely be much of what recently happened in India, where the absence of pollinating bees led to a massive crop shortage. In such a manner, the disappearing of the bee is both an environmental and economic issue, especially in an exceedingly globalized market.

Honey bee pollinating flower

Pollination is a quintessential process for life

 

The extinction of several species of bees could potentially offset the ecosystem in a disconcerting manner, and it seems to be one of many signs that our world is rapidly changing. What looks to be killing these essential environmental agents is a combination of elements, mostly human caused, that scientists can only conjecture at at this point. The two elements that most scientists seem to agree upon are the rampant use of pesticides in industrial farming as well as a fungus whose cause remains mysterious. The increasing number of pesticide resistant, and more recently herbicide resistant, plants in recent decades has allowed for exponential growth in the amount of chemicals sprayed on crops in industrial grow areas. Such  a negative decline in bee population is an illustrator of the backlash of making a natural process into a synthetic one. Another, more controversial reason for the disappearing of the bees in such rampant numbers is the hypothesis that wireless signals from various human devices severely discombobulate the bees. This holds such great implications economically that if the science were to come out confirming such an idea, lobbyist money would likely turn it into a heated debate. (Tobacco and big oil anyone?) Yet the dwindling of the bees, in the form of crop shortages, holds its own economic dilemma.

 

So what can you do about the bee-cline? Well the first step in addressing any issue is always the adequate education of the self. This link to the documentary Vanishing of the Bees is a good place to start, even if you can’t afford to pay the $3.99 to watch it. If you ever have problems with hives at your house, be sure to call a beekeeper, as they will ensure that the bees live and are put to pollinating at full potential. Supporting farms and foods that do not utilize methods of industrialized farming is an easy way in which one can avoid supporting the overuse of pesticides and other chemicals in contemporary farming techniques. Once the bees go, then the produce goes, then animals start to go. Though the idea of being forced into a completely grain-based diet is in itself disconcerting, one can see the larger implications that even avid bread lovers are uneasy about.

 

Here is a trailer for Vanishing of the Bees: