Project Materials

April 29, 2009

Since I have thus far failed to attach PDFs to a WordPress post, we’ll do it the old-fashioned way (FTP). Here are links to our report and letter to the administration.


Breakfast for Biodiversity

April 28, 2009

This wasn’t the worst book or the best.  Vandemeer presents equations and explanations throughout the book.  Agreeing with Mark  the demand for bananas causes long term cycles of forest destruction as workers immigrate into banana production areas and eventually are forced out of plantation work with the only option of clearing additional forest for their own survival. Vandemeer also make a clear presentation of the problems of small pristine tropical park reserves in a sea of agriculture showing reduction of biodiversity as compared to landscapes that may be less pristine from mild to moderate farming and logging having more sustainable biodiversity. Here the argument is presented that less intensive agriculture (shade coffee,small plot farming) may both diminish poverty and loss of biodiversity.


Breakfast of Biodiversity

April 22, 2009

In this book Vandermeer discusses the many problems that have gone on in the rain forests. The author analyzes the rain forest by conducting case studies in many countries such as Central America, Costa Rica, and Nicaragua. He points out that there has been a movement towards deforestation. Also, he talks about the “web of casualty” which explains the reasons why farmers clear the rain forest. They do this mainly for agricultural purposes so they can grow more food as well as use the food grown to trade and make money. Vandermeer goes on discussing the reasons why farmers should not do this. Not only that but talks about how the rain forests need to be left alone and are not to be messed with in order to survive. Not only that but political action needs to be taken place in order to keep the rain forests safe.


Lawn People

April 22, 2009

I thought this book was fairly easy to get through and I liked how the subject is relevant to pretty much everyone in America.  Never before had I given any thought to how just simply taking care of ones yard by killing weeds could have such a detrimental effect on the environment.  Lawn people is a term that describes people that will do anything to have the best lawn on the street even if it means poisoning the underground water system.  I also liked how Paul Robbins found out that even though middle to upper class families understand how important recycling and protecting our environment is they rarely do so and most of the time they are the ones who are using the most chemicals because they can afford it and it seems like a class thing.  I know after reading this book I’m going to thing twice about putting harmful chemicals on my lawn when I grow up. 


Lawn Story

April 15, 2009

For many years in my youth, I would mow our acre of grass with a push mower. It would seem to take hours, which, I suppose it did. At the beginning of the summer when the grass would grow so rapidly, I would be mowing once a week. Eventually we realized that we didn’t even really use the back half of the lawn for anything that required neatly manicured grass and gave up on cutting it. However, after letting it go for a number of years, my mother discovered the beauty of our sourcing labor and hired a landscaping company with superior economies of scale to talk care of the job in about a half an how. I have to ask myself, what is the point of keeping it neat and cut? We rarely go out on that part of the property – long or short grass.


Lawn People

April 15, 2009

In Lawn People, Paul Robbins analyzes dominant urban ecology: the common neighborhood lawn. His perspective is that of a political ecologist, combining natural science with economics as well as sociological considerations. I enjoyed his writing style of including more detailed tidbits on a subject, such as the chemical names of fertilizers, when warranted. Since the late ’80’s the use of lawn chemicals has increased dramatically, causing harm to the water table that is difficult to curtail or control, due to its delocalized nature. In the introduction, Robbins makes an interesting reference to a survey that showed the people who use lawn chemicals are more likely to believe that they are in fact harmful, an interesting paradox.


Lawn People

April 15, 2009

Perhaps the most astounding thing about reading this book was realizing how the “lawn culture” has altered Americans’ perception of the outdoors. Nature is chaotic; but at the same time, harmonious. What looks like a tangled mess of weeds and rotting logs on the bottom of the forest is actually a precisely balanced ecosystem. As the author shows, especially in Chapter 3, is that “lawn people” desire a product that is the exact opposite: an area that appears uniform but is in fact dangerously out of balance. It is incredibly fortunate that a “perfect” lawn grass does not exist – such a plant would quickly propogate throughout the continent and destory all other plant life. Plants and animals keep other in check through competition for resources. The particular balance that arises depends on the starting conditions: the terrain, soil quality, weather, etc. However, humans have complete disregard for this natural process: we like to have what we want, regardless of what is there already.

Chapter 4 was particularly interesting to me as a chemistry major, and frightening. My logic goes like this: if we are taking an action that is possibly harmful to the Earth and ourselves, and definitely not good for either, why do we need proof to stop? (I use the same argument with emissions and global warming). Lawn chemicals, are, at the very best, merely not harmful to humans or the environment. If the best possible result from using something is not doing harm, does it really make sense to keep using it?!? I think in the end this flawed reasoning is the result of group psychology, something I am not particularly well-versed in. Robbins points this out in Chapter 6 – “intensive lawn management tends to cluster.” Stop being a sheep!!


Lawn Story

April 15, 2009

Like others, I used to work for a landscaping company in high school. That in and of itself was eye-opening; people would come in with an idea of how they wanted their land to look, and it really didn’t matter what nature had put there. We had people importing trees from halfway around the world because they liked the shape of the leaf, or even worse, because they wanted to look richer than their neighbors. Anyways, a lot of the work this company did was corporate contracts. The thing about office park lawns is that they see much less traffic than your typical residential lawn, and fortunately, they aren’t typically as laden with chemicals (at least in my experience). This combination makes them more attractive to small animals, which seems like a good thing. Then they get mowed. I’ll spare the nasty details, but I was unlucky enough to witness from a short distance what happens when you combine an industrial ride-on mower and a rabbit den. Incredibly depressing.


Lawn People 1, 2, & 3

April 15, 2009

Chapter 1

In this chapter Robbins discusses the problems with lawn care – chemicals in particular such as pesticides. He did a survey showing that the people who use lawn chemicals in most cases having a higher income, higher house values, are better educated, and were older than the non users. Those who use lawn chemicals usually lived in non rural areas and their neighbors often also used chemicals. The people that use chemicals on their lawn were more likely to believe that lawn care has a negative effect on the local water supply than people who did not use chemicals but did it anyways.

“Common sense thinking as well as generations of good academic scholarship has tended to view landscapes like lawns as “cultural”.

“To cleanup or repair the legacy of ecological destruction from the past; monies required to invent and develop, and produce synthetics and “natural” substitutes as means and objects of production and consumption; the huge sums required to pay off oil sheiks and energy companies (ground rent and monopoly profit); the garbage disposal costs; the extra costs of congested urban space.”

What do you think Robbins means by this quote?
I think it means that it would take a lot of money to find a suitable synthetic and natural substitute for the chemicals currently used that are destroying the ecology not to mention the amount of money that would be needed to pay off the sheiks and energy companies that are currently making a ton of money with what is currently being used. Not only that there are many new and previously undreamed of hazards in life such as man made herbicides and pesticides but society has also geared themselves towards managing those hazards.

Chapter 2

This chapter covers the history of grass across the earth. Many types of the earth’s grasses have evolved along with the domesticated livestock and their wild ancestors over the last 10,000 years. Evolutionary selection for grazing tolerance most likely produced the types of grass that we recognize in society today. These kinds of turf grass tend to grow densely, close to the surface and depend on rhizomatic growth instead of seeds for reproduction. Humans have had a relationship with several kinds of grass for a very long time. It is very interesting that out of the 15 major world crops, 10 are grasses which include wheat, maize, millet, and rice.

Robbins describes and talks about the different functions of grass in America and Europe. In American “it forms a coherent aesthetic, has never been the expression of a regional American cultural sensibility. Instead, it has at various times played a number of symbolic roles in the ecological metabolism of a shifting political economy. In it’s European roots, it was an embodiment of emerging labor and land arrangements tied to expropriation of agrarian property”.

What do you think about this?

Chapter 3

In this chapter Robbins brings up the question of whether lawns need the chemicals and labor that it receives?

What is your view on this?

This chapter covers how Turf grass has evolved to survive and grow under conditions of grazing. For most plants and grasses, grazing causes a major challenge, reproduction and growth typically occur at the top and outmost vertical extension. By being eaten this usually means that the plants or grass have had to endure retarded growth as well as a reduction in reproduction. The grazing by wild and domesticated animals over the years has resulted in the survival and reproduction of many different qualities of grass. Then he goes on discussing the structure and growth of turf grass as well as discussing the reasons why lawns need so much care.


Lawn Story

April 15, 2009

I don’t have a story about myself, but I do have one about my sister.  When she was about 12 years old my dad had gotten a new ridding mower and against better judgement he let her cut the back yard.  Now we only have one tree in the backyard and somehow she managed to hit that tree head on.  My parents are still puzzled to this day on how she was able to run straight into it.  I guess this story isn’t that funny to people that are reading it, but we still get a laugh out of it when we are all just sitting around and talking.