Final Portfolio

December 17, 2010

Week 2: Cronon ” The Trouble With Wilderness”

Week 3: Abbey “Desert Solitaire”

Week 4: Coates “Nature” Chapter 1-5

Week 5: Coates ” Nature” Chapter 6-9

Week 6: no post

Week 7:  Environment and Society I present

Week 9: How to be Idle

Week 10: Eating Animals

Week 11: Breakfast of Biodiversity

Week 12: Robbins “Lawn People”

News Articles








Nature part 1

December 17, 2010

In reading Coates Nature, although dense I found some points really interesting in the book, that I’ll mark below. We as people tend to see ourselves as part of “nature”, however in a way we remain seperate from it, most likely mentally however this distaches us in a way from nature.

Coates says a couple things in the first chapters, that I either hope to challenge in class, or just want people to take note of for their significance.

page 9: Humanity did not create the natural world, but we did create the idea of nature.

page 10: We view nature the way we are taught to view nature, and thus through our anticipations of it. It is impossible to perfectly define and measure nature without some degree of ethnocentrism. Anthropocentric views gave us (what we view as) ‘authority’ over nature. This is one of my favorites.

page 11:Part of humanity’s separation from nature involves the creation of the perspective of nature as a ruthless, intensifying force that threatens the ever expanding population.

here i think its important to ask, if our population increase is really “nature’s” doing?

Coates also mentions here how no culture has existed without evironmental changes and challenges.

page 14: Environmentalism and environmental protection as we know it did not exist together before 1945.

page 16: We have not altered the earth’s surface to separate ourselves from nature, but simply the population increased and means of destruction became more powerful.

Western world and nature: I think it’s important that we take note of the role the Western world had over nature, Or hoped to have, as they saw it as inferior to them, wanting to have control over it. What does Coates say about this being how we lost nature?

page 48: Christianity in the Middle Ages viewed nature as something less than divinity.

The role of the Industrial Revolution… has led people to pronounce it the watershed between today’s impoverished world and the nature we have lost.

page 69: The Reformation brought little or no respect to the gain of nature.

Gaia- the godess of Earth. Mother Nature according to Greek Mythology

Digital Course Summary

December 17, 2010


Week 1: Introduction

Week 2: Meadowlands

Week 3: Desert Solitaire

Week 4: Nature (part 1)

Week 5: Nature (part 2)

Weeks 6-7: Environment and Society

Week 8: Break

Week 9: How to be Idle

Week 10: Eating Animals (no longer)

Week 11: Breakfast of Biodiversity (John M and I presented/ led the conversation)

Week 12: Lawn People

Week 13:  Project Consultations

Week 14: Thanksgiving Break

Week 15-16: Project Presentations: Emailed to Krygier

Our lawns have taken over our minds

December 17, 2010

My parents are very liberal, wonderful people, who have taught me to think for myself, but they fertilizer our lawn, have it mowed, and water it during the summer.  The lawn has most definitely taken over their minds, and set them to work.  The lawn controls them, to the point where I’ll hear my mom criticize neighbors who have let their yards run wild–this is also because she is a master gardner and puts great labor into her trees and flowers.  Regardless though, what is the deal with have a perfect lawn?

Adding to the irony:

-The people who do put chemicals on their lawns believe that it is worse for the environment than those who do not use the chemicals.

-1999: US spent $1.2 billion on insecticides, not including the $9 billion total for all gardening consumption/products.

-Any explanation of this local phenomenon will reveal that it is nested within a wider context of pressures and coercions.

-American lawns as the conscious expression of the collective American psyche.

-Domestication:  who is to say who domesticated who??  Currently, maize cannot reproduce my itself, it is dependent on the human species.

-Modern lawns are not an expression of culture, although they do require inputs.

-What is the driving force behind the pressure to have a perfect lawn?  To give the impression that your home and household is also perfect?  Does this philosophy relate to wanting a perfect life?  A perfect body?  A perfect soul?  (Radiohead, Creep.)


Learning to be Idle: Lateness applied

December 17, 2010

This book caused me to indulge in an extra nap or two over break, and really prevented me from not only finishing the book, but doing a lot of work that should have been done.  The important point: I was happy, just like the toddler napping.

Discussion of “How to be Idle”:

  • Must be a discussion during a great lunch after a few martinis, a must, for anything and everything good in life.
  • Whole point of the point: enjoy life, try not to be so self-depricating, eat good food and drink merrily, have a cigarette occasionally, and make sure you nap if you need to.
  • Ancient Chinese Philosophy that “freedom and non-chalance” and essential in a “wise and merry philosophy of living”
  • Most pernicious myth of modern society:  that a job is the answer to all woes.
  • The clock and the machine tore us from nature.
  • Frightening person:  John Wesley–enjoyed terrifying and controlling small children through satanic images all to forge an obedient mindset later in life.
  • Low wages keep people from toiling.  Hunger as a motivation to work is now replaced with possessions and status (the need to achieve and obtain these things).
  • Socialism: Oscar Wilde regretted that a portion of the community had been enslaved, but to solve this by enslaving the entire community is childish.
  • According to UN report:  Work kills 2 million people per year.
  • The idler is the student of art and of living.
  • When I read this, life began to make sense:  John Lennon is the perfect image of a modern idler.  He and Yoko spent a week in bed for World Peace!
  • Speaking of, the ned os the perfect place to think, to be creative, and to come up with new ideas—I could not agree more.
  • While I was reading this book, I was drinking tea, and ironically, my tea bag read:  One of the best actions we can take, with courage, is to relax. –Yogi tea bag
  • Society pressures us to get out of bed so we don’t think too much, why not allow for more idleness?

  • Nazi’s were especially fearful of idlers–sent them to work-camps, this is very similar to Lord Farquaad of Shrek world.
  • pg. 41 spelling error of “magnificent”
  • Traditional skiving was during the 17th century when Saint Monday was celebrated by drinking; however; this tradition was killed by the industrial revolution.
  • During the hour of the hangover, noon, we should all just abandon ourselves to the hangover itself and watch Zoolander.  Okay!
  • Tom suggests that we need more days to “convalesce” so that we can reach our full strength and health before we go back to daily life after being sick.
  • Interesting, being ill as considered unpatriotic due to its inconvenience to the work culture.
  • At 3 pm, if naps are taken, they split the day in half and make it more manageable and less stressful.  There used to be much more relaxed work rhythms, but because of the industrial revolution, they are no longer.
  • Some of my favorite, and the world’s favorite people are idlers: John Lennon, Jesus, and Buddha: the nap as an early form of meditation.
  • Tea encourages more intelligent conversations, tea time in Japan and China are linked to seeking enlightenment, Zen Buddhist monks drink tea.  I agreed that loose leaf tea is always better and you can always find a huge selection.
  • Fishing: an activity of idlers.
  • Death: as the ultimate idleness.  Not sure how I feel about these thoughts.
  • In Summary, go enjoy life while smoking a cigarette!

Environment and Society

December 17, 2010

Topics of potentially thought-provoking conversation:

  • Types of people and there philosophies about their relationship with nature:
  • Our responsibility, stewardship, caring for the environment–should not be utilitarian (the people who are exploiting natural resources for profit)–“this piece of nature is useful to me, therefore it has value”
  • Gifford Pinchot vs. John Moir:  Pinchot is a utilitarian who is the head of the forest service “conservation.”  Moir founded the Sierra Club and is a preservationist.  During the Hetch Hetchy Valley controversy, Pinchot supported the valley in becoming a reservoir for the people of San Francisco to use while Moir opposed this because it would cut off water to the sequoia groves and take them down during the construction.  Pinchot’s argument was that it provided greater benefits for more people.
  • Aldo Leopold’s “The Land Ethic”–integrated ecology into an ethical framework=ecocentric, we are part of the environment and depend on its well-being, we have an interdependence relationship.
  • One step further: moral extensionism, meaning that we have a moral obligation to protect the environment.
  • Population–caused visions of scarcity e.g. Phoenix, Arizona during the 1990’s grew by 300 ppl per DAY, they use approximately 225 gallons of water per day (this is affluence) and they’ve lost the Gila monsters.
  • Geometric growth=exponential.  Malthus describes that:  wars, famine, and disease keep a population in check, warfare is counterproductive, and the moral-code of self-restraint will avert resource crisis.
  • I (environmental Impact)=PxAxT where P=population, A=affluence (level of consumption, how many goods per person are consumed, and T=technology.
  • Neo-Malthusians emphasize population growth as the greatest factor of environmental degradation.  Those opposing argue that technology is by far the worst due to our petrochemical based economy, and our excessive use of pesticides, and fossil fuels.  An alternative economy would offset the population growth.
  • Green Revolution:  used new cultivation techniques based on a heavy-inputs system of agriculture (which is very degrading to the environment and not sustainable and very expensive to maintain).  e.g. in India, 1965-1980 they increased wheat production x3!  This trend occurred in Indonesia and the Philippines.  These methods caused the calories produced to be more ecologically expensive due to the extensive and excessive use of pesticides/fertilizers, loss of soils, loss of biodiversity.
  • Current growth rates are declining (peaked in the 60’s and 70’s).  Is population the social driver of environmental change?  Or is environmental change the product/outcome of social/environmental circumstances?  Surprisingly, we are nearly at a population growth rate of <1%=ZPG (where the number of births =the number of deaths)  Reason for increase is a universal phenomenon of women becoming more educated and literate which is directly, significantly correlated with lower fertility rates.
  • Conclusion:  Malthusians are dangerous i.e. Indian sterilization = way too much emphasis on population growth, not enough on the driving forces (economy, society, politics).

  • Markets and commodities:  Two outlooks of Paul Ehrlich and Julian Simon–believes that the future is always better than the present.  Population growth as a good phenomenon because it improved the quality of life: more people equals more good and innovative ideas, more demand for things such as clean air and water.
  • Economic worldview:  describes the creative potential of humans, the economy interacts with the population–e.g. as some or any commodity (e.g. fish) decline due to population growth and an increase in demand, the cost of the product also rises.  Then consumers are presented with a choice:  (use less or use something else) they may turn to a cheaper alternative which are innovations as a response to scarcity then the demand will decline, decreasing the cost, because the alternative they will use less of that product or commodity.
  • Paradox (Jevon’s Paradox):  conservation of goods may lead to the increased use of an alternative product and hence more environmental stress.
  • What about all environmental sources?  Coase Theorem, explains externalities i.e. pollution which is most efficiently controlled through the bargaining between parties, or property owners by the use of contracts.  This supports the free market where people can sort out their disagreements, come to understandings, and design rules and restrictions (socially and economically cheap).  Although efficient markets require public investments.
  • Market-based solutions to environmental problems include that the increase of money drives providers to new sources (tax), the money from the tax is then used to research or search for new alternatives. e.g. Swedish carbon taxation began in 1991.  e.g. Peak oil–we estimate that it peaked in the 70’s, hence the increased price in gasoline over time: whats next? Green economy or complete catastrophe.

  • Risks and Hazards:
  • The Great Flood of 1993:  occurred in the MidWest and there was over $20 billion in damages, killed 48 people, unpredictable?  are people irrational who live there?  what about people who live on the Mississippi floodplain, how irrational are they when they know the dangers??
  • The Indians, stated to the colonies:  never build on a floodplain, according to Hickcox.
  • Cap and Trade:  1995 Trading system was put into place when there was a prevalence of acid rain, after the cap and trade was implemented there was a 30% reduction (in acid rain).
  • Green consumption: demand for green, consumer demand for organic foods.  But really, how legitimate are these labels when it comes to both organic and “green”??
  • Gaps between Nature and the economy:  can the functioning of whole ecosystems be assured in markets that capture only the value of discrete and specific goods/services?  Crisis of equality–not equal/democratic:  top 1/5 of the worlds richest people earned 83% of the world’s income, money and power lies in the hands of corporate entities—not people!
  • Institutions and the commons:
  • Why is controlling carbon so hard when it is so important to be doing so?
  • Instantly in the air; emitted by one country is then burdened by all.
  • How can rules/norms of global behavior be fashioned to encourage shared costs/collective benefits?  On what scale is this cooperation possible?
  • Tragedy of the Commons:  “ruin is the destination all men rush, pursuing own best interest in a society that believes in its own best interest”–Garrett Hardin
  • Land and resources must be made into non-commons by the power of law and property.
  • Such institutions are plausible e.g. lobsters in Maine, the fishermen had a limit on the number of traps they could set e.g. they have self-regulated irrigation systems in Southern India.

Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks Tuesday Morning

December 17, 2010

I’ve always loved the stars and especially the occasional meteor shower, Tuesday morning I was up late studying for two exams and was able to sight about five meteors near the constellation of Orion.  This was around the 3 am, a few hours after the moon descended behind the horizon which was great because then visibility was much clearer.  However, the temperature was unbearably cold!

If you are interested in other celestial events, check this site out for dates coming soon. The next meteor shower is January 4th, the Quadrantids!

Nature: Thoughts including Jim Morrison’s Poetic Thoughts (Part 2)

December 17, 2010

This book is quite dense, the density was definitely a challenge to remain focused through, I even put off writing my notes until now.  At least Jim Morrison is keeping me awake; his thoughts on nature can be heard in his poetic lyrics during “When the Music’s Over.”  Jim describes how humans have degraded our planet, the capitalist consumers placing profit on all natural resources (wanting the world NOW), humanity needing help (maybe by a religious force) connecting with nature again, and suggests that we can save energy by turning out the lights when we are done partying, when the music’s over; however, we probably should not be partying as hard as he did when he was alive.

What have they done to the earth?
What have they done to our fair sister?
Ravaged and plundered and ripped her and bit her
Stuck her with knives in the side of the dawn
And tied her with fences and dragged her down

I hear a very gentle sound
With your ear down to the ground
We want the world and we want it…
We want the world and we want it…

Persian night, babe
See the light, babe
Save us!
Save us!

So when the music’s over
When the music’s over, yeah
When the music’s over
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights
Turn out the lights

Topics of rich discussion about the second part of the Nature:

  • The Middle Ages:  Chenu describes the world soul, man as a microcosm and the universe as a macrocosm.  Christianity deeply inscribed into the Middle Age mind.
  • 4,000-6,000 years ago fire was used widely as a hunting mechanism; as a result during the middle of the Bronze Age, 1/2 of England was no longer “wildwood”
  • Most clearance of land was done by Cisterian monks from France who arrived and spread from Scotland to Hungary
  • Population/climate parallels:  Few degress warmer from 1086-1300, caused the population to grow from 1.5 million to 4 million.  Then it was cooler and wetter which increased cattle disease and led to poor harvest; one of those diseases was the bubonic plague which killed 25-40% of England’s population, and 20 million across Europe.
  • Landscapes of power
  • Animal Court Trials (strange)
  • St. Francis was an exception to the arrogant anthropocentrism of dominant christian religion e.g. he called animals “brother” and “sister.”  Other exceptions were monks, hermits, and Franciscans.
  • New Technology developed during the Midieval Ages, most importantly the plough share that required 8 oxen to pull and exploiting the land became easier.  As a result, “ecological triumphalism” arose where people had the impression that “we shape the world according to our needs”–much the same as it is today.  Huge environmental impact occurred during cathedral construction in the 12th-13th centuries.
  • The Advent of Modernity:  Metaphor of the petroleum station as how humanity has reduced nature to a resource to fuel its bottomless tank.  How did we get to this??
  • 17th Century Scientific Revolution:  capitalist modes of production
  • 18th Century Enlightenment Project:  locomotive of modernity with its emphasis of man as master of his own destiny and the supreme explanatory power of reason.  “What is nature?” because inseparable from “What can we do to nature?”
  • The World Beyond Europe:  the beatniks (basic revolutionaries of our time).
  • Zen Buddhism:  oneness of all life. *stresses low consumption levels*
  • Where are we headed?

Potential for Good

December 16, 2010

The Rainforest Alliance has been working on developing more sustainable productions of bananas since 1990.  As a result of the not for profit program, some 15 percent of all bananas sold internationally now come from Rainforest Alliance Certified farms. The group is especially proud of its agreements with two of the largest growers, Favorita and Chiquita.  All of Favorita’s farms in Ecuador and all of Chiquita’s farms in Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica and Panama are certified sustainable under the program.  However, they still recommend that Americans boycott bananas and purchase local fruits instead until there is greater fairness and increases in pay (life) for the workers.

Eating the Rainforest, for breakfast!

December 16, 2010

Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction emphasizes the commonly exploitation patterns of corporate control over rain forest deforestation that is causing socioeconomic and environmental destruction in Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Guatemala, and South East Asia.  The purpose of this book is to understand the great “web of causality” in which these corporations have caught the locals of the Latin American countries into; they are slowly sucking the life out of their prey, the natural resources from the locals.


Topics of Discussion:

  • Land: Rain forests make up 7% of the earth’s surface and 50% of all the plant and animal species.
  • Common pattern seen in the production of hamburgers and bananas:
  1. “visionary” capitalists see the economic opportunity in the goods (bananas)
  2. purchase/steal/bribe the local government for the land (in order to deforest it)
  3. import the local workers to the site (i.e. Nicaraguans)
  4. after the first boom period of the cash crop, BUST: now vast unemployment
  5. failure to find new work in a new region, they subsistence farm in the rain forest
  6. they deforest the rain forest for the subsistence agriculture
  7. Costa Ricans and other Latin American governments greet this business so help them out of their horrible debt.  The pattern of the unemployed moving to shantytowns nearby or farming has greatly decreased the size of the rain forest from 90% total original area in 1950, to 25% of the original, natural land today.
  • Standard Fruit Co.: DBCP, a fungicide left many workers sterile.  The Co. never paid them for their losses because they created loopholes to dance through to not pay the compensation.
  • Sarapiquí Valley, Costa Rica: 50,000 square hectares are bio. preserve, 100,000 square hectares are small legal farms, and 100,000 are old growth forests, small farms, pastures and fruit plantations.
  • They have no labor unions here
  • Solidarista Movement
  • “Bridges for Bananas” the U.S. military built infrastructure to better access and transport bananas
  • CORBANA: non-environmentally friendly research, done mostly to genetically modify the bananas e.g. fungal-resistant nanners
  • Most of the Costa Ricans support the banana plantation expansions because they are desperately trying to dig out national debt, however expectedly, most of the money leaves the country.


  • Single focus solutions: both are just single threads in the “web of causality,” the problem lies within the fabric itself
  1. smash capitalism
  2. birth control
  • Root causes of deforestation: Food insecurity and poverty. They are the antidote to simplistic views and they analyze the socio-economic-ecological systems which will resolve the issue if addressed.
  • Reveals: that there is enough land, it is just occupied by other activities.  Sustainable agricultural techniques are replaced by expensive, unnecessary, destructive, chemical methods.  This same pattern occurs in arid deserts of Africa: Food insecurity→degradation→desertification.  Then the cycle feeds into itself, once the land is desertified, the locals must move elsewhere, just as the peasants seek out the rain forest to farm.




This is what clear-cutting looks like.  (

  • Two Models to save the rain forest:
  1. Mainstream environmental movement approach:  Use money to purchase small islands of rain forest to protect.  The problem is that there is a lack of consciousness and power as to what occurs surrounding the islands i.e. pesticides and landless peasants.
  2. Political ecology strategy: Emphasizes the land between the islands and the people.  Works to use the land system so that the conditions of production are according to the needs of the local people.  This is a very Marxist ideology, where in my opinion, it seems a revolution would need to take place because of the obvious disharmony between the modes of production and the relations of production.  Vanermeer and Perfecto do mention another important Marxist point that this approach seeks to organize people who oppose ecological and socially demanding development; the people must unite with political forces with similar fundamental goals.
  • The Rainforest as both fragile and stable (resilient):  it is both,  but the chemical and deforestation inputs are too devastating for the rainforest to be resilient to, therefore the rainforest in more accurately categorized as fragile, much like a “house of cards”
  • Essential elements that describe the rainforest:
  1. High biodiversity: the more diverse the system, the more fragile it is.  Each species is very rare, maybe only 2 individuals in one species, hopefully they are close by for reproductive purposes.
  2. Sex/Pollination:  Mutualism.  Traplining by hummingbirds, they take note on where the nectar plants are so that they can always have food and be able to locate it.
  3. Herbivores:  Many insects and animals that eat only specific plants; can be threat to survival, however, plants have adapted defenses: structural, chemical, and mutual.
  4. Dispersal of offspring: squrrells and oaks, fruit seeds and stool.
  5. Soil: both rather infertile and super lush.
  • Rainforest diversity: SE Asia dominated by one species=a dream land for timber companies
  • Farming on rainforest soils:  Plenty of water and no winter BUT very acidic soils–nutrients in plant material rather than the soil(opposite case for the US corn belt).  Will have a good growing season during the first year and then the second will be a bust because the soil depletes so rapidly leaving the farmer in poverty.  Many pests–can destroy a crop within days, weeds, and diseases that love hot, wet environments.  All these factors work against the farmer and contribute to them moving on to new plots of land to work for the first boom of season.
  • 5 basic soil types:
  1. acidic (high in aluminum and iron)
  2. alluvial (deposited by floodplains, stores nutrients well)
  3. volcanic (rich when young)
  4. hillside (erodes rapidly)
  5. swamp (rich in organic material)
  • Soil mosaic: very important to know in order to be successful and sustainable.  Planting perennials is also a must, growing seasonal crops is possible if agroecosystems are in place (among trees of fruit and timber).  e.g. Javanese gardens include over 600 different species of plants.

More deforestation, this is in Brazil.

United Fruit Co.:  forced many peasants off of their own land and into acid soils (unproductive), by 1950, 75% of the peasants were without land or it was marginal.  Arbenz was a good politician who was trying to fight for the rights of the peasants to have land (their land), so then the CIA had bombs dropped over Guatemala City to frighten the people and Arbenz so that he would resign, sadly yet understandably he resigned.

  • Farming=production of food from the land.
  • Agriculture=production of food from petroleum.
  • Other factors that degrade the land:  the use of internal combustion engines, DDT, the Green Revolution during the 60’s (bad–led to the dependency on chemicals, now: all GMO’s.  Gross!)
  • Agricultural activities deforesting the rainforest are embedded into larger structures:
  • Modern agriculture:
  1. suppliers (supply inputs such as machinery, pesticides, fertilizers, and seeds)
  2. the unit (farm and farmers=food, fiber)
  3. to who they supply to =milled grains, canned vegetables, fast food

Notice that farmers are the middle step between supply and demand, this causes them to be apart of the industrial system, the worker of the food factory (personally, I think this has become a typical example of other realms of life adopting a “McDonaldized” model.  In a Marxist way of looking at this the laborers are the proletariat and the those who own the machines (like factories,  the means of production) are the bourgeoise, again there is great disharmony between the two–a revolution is necessary for these people who are being exploited.

  • Repeating pattern:  When Fruit Co. or other mass producing fruit companies cut back on production,  the unemployed worker must either migrate or carve a piece of the rainforest to farm.  The base of the development is for economic growth= the Global North who owns the means of production and are solely concerned about the feeding in to the demands of the global north working class and their consumption of the product (their profits).  If we were to boycott the consumption/ purchase of bananas and tropical timbers, there would be no demand, and then demands for fair treatment and payment of the corporation’s workers could be made.
  • Overall:  the lack of land and the lack of food security is the driving force of deforestation.
  • The force that is creating the landless peasants is the cause.
  • In order to save the lungs of the world we must change the world systems.  Personally, I believe this must begin on a person level, starting with educating the masses about this, and then implementing huge boycotts–boycotts are very effective when multinational corporations start to lose money.  That’s their whole aim, but in masses we have the power to point in which direction that aim should go and how it gets there.