Current issue – Soil erosion and land degradation

August 31, 2011

Land degradation is the effect of human processes causing a change in the value of the environment and earth.

This is largely related to agricultural use, caused mainly by:
– clearcutting and deforestation – at a pace exceeding natural growth and/or replanting
– nutrient loss through poor rotation – lack of regulation or lack of education
– overgrazing – tragedy of the commons
– industrial waste and improper disposal – lack of control or scientific understanding

Effects include:
– Mainly soil erosion
– Oversalination (salting) through water irrigation OR waterlogging
– Increases in either acidity or alkalinity

It’s estimated that up to 40% of agricultural land is “seriously degraded.” Soil erosion is one of the major environmental issues today that frequently goes unnoticed, which can also be easier to repair than most.


Class project ideas

August 31, 2011

An idea for a project:

Studying (and perhaps implementing) insulation on campus. This will mainly be thermal insulation to remove unwanted heat loss or gain, increasing energy efficiency. Several phases will come through it.

Planning

The point to look at-
– building design
– climate
– budget

Performing an energy audit will allow one to determine whether insulation is required or can be added. Look at which buildings have more heat loss that can be removed (be it thermal bridging or outdated design), and those through which air conditioning can be insulated.

Types

Window insulation
Pipe insulation
Thermal conducts

Factors to consider

Ventilation
Energy consumption
Ease of applicability
Costs vs returns

Huygens spacecraft multilayer thermal insulation

Huygens spacecraft multilayer thermal insulation

Footnote: from what I understand it’s preferable to continue projects from past terms, in which case I’d like to go for the Nothing With A Face food festival.


Introduction to Chris

August 31, 2011

Welcome to Christian Ng.

Chris, or Christian, doesn’t matter which. Same with flammable and inflammable.

I’m currently a junior majoring in geography.

And this is a picture of not-me, because I don’t have a working camera to take one of myself at the moment.

And here is a link in an image.

Wishing everyone a great term.


Week 1 reading notes

August 31, 2011

The trouble with wilderness is that it’s a fabricated reality. The generally accepted (and faulty) idea of wilderness is that “it’s there and we’re here,” separating humanity from what originally sprang us. Not only does this cause simple logical problems (why are we “unnatural” if we came from the same place), it also gives birth to conflict.

Conflict has always been a part of human history, starting back with when we were “more natural,” for the benefit of ourselves and our species. We were always fighting back with other animals for resources to ensure our own survival, as other animals do with others. It’s not the only part of us, or the only thing that ensures what’s best, but it’s an intrinsic part of how life forms survive. Some animals have speed, some are good at hiding and stealth, some have strength and size, some have useful features such as claws or venom, but as it turns out, intelligence and the ability to turn tools and create is the winning factor.

The problem with conflicting ourselves and separating ourselves from nature today is that we are fighting against what we have been and need to be a part of, an irony not lost on everyone. Too often the meaning of “nature” is perverted into different forms: as a means to gain spiritual enlightenment, as  a pristine world which we will destroy (oftentimes, when people comment on the beauty of a waterfall or butterfly, I like to tell them to overturn a rock and find a centipede or caterpillar, or watch a predator devour a rabbit), as something which when left alone will fix itself.

Indeed, it seems that more often than not, what we consider great about nature is what we’re emotionally affected to do, as dictated by evolution. As said in the Cronon piece, it’s unusual how we (at least for a time) only considered the “pretty” landscapes worth designating as protected, and ignored swamps: even to this day, not a single grassland is protected as a national park.

There’s also other issues, such as differing views on what nature is:
– as a place for religious activity
– a national renewal for America to reinvent itself
– something we should strive to be as opposed to ourselves
– a place to escape from responsibilities

Logical extremities depicting humans and nature as “us and them” hark back to the issues of conflict: we should not be thinking this way because it’s not only ironic and impractical, but because it’s also self destructive. We have to take responsibility for both ourselves and those that we affect, meaning nature and wilderness, and the environment which we can’t separate ourselves from. We as people cannot take nature for granted, but we cannot pervert that into meaning that by leaving it alone it will fix itself, or that we must in fact leave it alone or it will be destroyed.

Not only does it hand us these problems, it also completely ignores the fact that loss and destruction and entropy and extinction and “ugliness” is as intrinsic to nature as is birth and gain and construction and “beauty.” (seeing ugliness and beauty as simple terms to describe what our brain tells us is good and bad, something that is a result of our evolution IN nature)

We have intelligence on our side. Let’s use it.

1)      If we are a product of nature, how can we be “unnatural,” regardless of what we do?

2)      Are there any reasons we can’t see what we can do for nature while taking from it, as opposed to trying to distance ourselves completely in order to “not destroy” it?

3)      Who should decide what regulations put into place to determine our relationship with nature, and what safeguards can be put in place to protect against abuse and/or incompetence?

4)      What can be used to give people images of nature that are different from their preconceived notions derived from media and society, and that beauty and ugliness is just a product of what our brain tells us?


Oil companies always frack things up

August 31, 2011

“Instead, the report’s strongest statement may be that there is, indeed, a problem.”

At least people know it.  I chose this article on fracking because I heard about it for the first time last semester and was appalled.  This new way of retrieving natural gas is leaking toxic chemicals into groundwater and into wells, causing farms in Pennsylvania to end up with hairless animals and exploding sinks.  How is this being allowed?  Fancy lawyers for the fracking companies argue there is no proof that the fracking caused these effects.  However, no such effects existed before the fracking began.  This specific article addresses the need to put laws and regulations in place in order for fracking to continue.  There are very few limitations currently because the process is relatively new.  Like any new practice being put into common use, there need to be some serious regulations put in place to prevent this from becoming a huge hazard for the environment and for the communities near fracking sites.

Fracking diagram


The Meadowlands! (Reading Response)

August 31, 2011

This book completely blew me away. The massive amount of information gathered by the author about one single area is just phenomenal. I must admit that my view of the meadowlands, which was till now of an extremely boring place has turned into one of curiousness and excitement. Let’s just say I would do anything possible to visit Secaucus now!

My favorite part of the book, out of instinct would be the time when the author goes canoeing with his friend Dave. The description reminds me of the spooky swamps in The Lord of the Rings, synonymous with death and destruction — something that only exists in fairy tales. However, even though this book woke me up to the fact that fairy tales often originate from the reality around us, I don’t seem to associate swamps with death and destruction anymore. I am more like the Mayor now, who would get irritated if someone said anything bad about the swamps. I have moved beyond popular notions – thanks to this book – and learned to appreciate the “vibrant” life in the meadows.

This leads to my first interesting realization from the book: The role of society in creating an image of the surroundings around us. For example, as the meadowlands of NJ have become a dustbin and dumping ground for places like Manhattan, they have also become a breeding place for underworld figures and poverty for that matter which is something that the rich abhor. The rich and successful, are often able to influence mass media, which I believe is highly influential in shaping perspectives about the meadowlands. For example, not everyone reads “The Meadowlands” by Sullivan, instead they read newspapers which complain about the industries in the meadowlands polluting the air in Manhattan without realizing the fact that Manhattan feeds on these industries. This leads me to my first question: Are humans so caught up in assumptions and ideas presented by mass media, that they forget to appreciate the intricate details in the geography around them. For example, everyone assumes that the swamps are dead, until unless they take one of those nature trails on a canoe!

About mid-way into the book, the state of the meadowlands today reminded of my hometown — New Delhi, India. About twenty years ago, an introduction to Delhi would always be something like this: Delhi is the Capital of India located on the banks of river Yamuna. It is almost viewed as an insult to say Yamuna when describing Delhi today. Yamuna was a source of livelihood to people in Delhi about twenty years ago. As industries came up and Delhi grew up to be one of India’s best cities, Yamuna turned black! The last I saw of Yamuna was stagnant black fuming water! But thinking about it, we have a devel0ped Delhi now (and I dont complain about it!), and the price we paid is Yamuna. My question is:  Most cities in the world have created huge dumping grounds to develop and become centers for industry and commerce. Environmentalists complain about Yamuna. But is there a way which we can use to develop and not have dustbins? Practically, I do not think there is. But being able to appreciate garbage seems to be an interesting idea to me!

Another question:  I loved reading the book and there are millions of ideas and thoughts that I encountered while doing so. I would like to know, what are the most important issues in the book that I should focus and hope to address as an Environmental Geographer?

I must also mention that my favorite quote in the book is: “GARBAGE IS BEAUTIFUL” ! I somehow feel that talking about the environment around us, everything just boils down to perspective.

The trouble with Wilderness was an interesting read to me but also very confusing! I appreciate the author’s idea that we create wilderness to get out of our daily life and that it is wrong to separate nature from humans because humans have always caused changes to the environment around them. He also talks about how we go into wilderness in the hope of finding the supernatural, for example on the top of a mountain. Are all these places, even the national parks he talks about for that matter, not less inhabited by people? So why would these places not be called wilderness. If this is not wilderness, what is it? Is it the cities, where there is “perfect” interaction between nature and humans? I am not sure I understand his point!

Yamuna close to its Origin

Yamuna in Delhi

This presentation by the Govt. of Delhi shows a desperate attempt to mend and repair the image of a destroyed river and a government that failed to save it from being destroyed — in preparation of the Commonwealth Games held in 2010 in Delhi. Seems like the NJ meadowlands and Delhi have something in common!

– Harsha


Meadowlands reading response

August 31, 2011

The description of this place does not sound like it could be a real place.  The book starts out describing how people were seeking to tame the Meadowlands at first.  It seems once they figured out how to do it they made no attempt to manage it.  We’ve seen through history books that the creation of cities is followed by the creation of huge amounts of waste.  Now, after generations of both residential and industrial waste have completely trashed the area, the description of the Meadowlands reads like a dystopian novel.  In the chapter titled “Digging”, there are descriptions that I’m fairly confident could be matched almost exactly to tales of life after world destruction.  The book quotes the landfill tour guide, Abels, saying, “‘When it was burning, this was Dante’s Inferno out here … There were flames everywhere and it was like Yellowstone with geysers of steam and smoke.  I think you can name any chemical and it was here'” (151).  Described in this book is a place that literally issues fire and poisonous gas.  On top of it, it became a haven for any man who needed to make a dead body disappear.  If it isn’t awful enough that a place was forced to this state, at least we can all agree it’s pretty bad to have specific body-dumping grounds available to any person on the street.  The use of colors in this book is very effective.  The water is described as being greenish-brown, and Sullivan speaks of the red lichen that resembles blood in the muck where numerous bodies have been sucked under.  This area is clearly no longer a wilderness.  It has been conquered and subsequently destroyed by humans.

It was spooky to read this novel and follow it up with the reading from Cronon.  He talks in the beginning of the article about feeling that areas of wilderness are simply that because humans have allowed them to take place.  Continuing with this idea, that would mean there are no places left in the world that are wild because our machines could not defeat them.  It is terrifying to see what has happened with the mismanagement of the Meadowlands, and I know our society’s dependence on oil and other natural resources is driving people to do the same to other areas of land.  If wilderness only exists because we let it, that means eventually when we have destroyed all other tracts of land, we will move on to the wild areas.  We have already seen this begin to happen with the push to drill in Alaska.  Land is only wild because we let it be that way, so the survival of the magnificent natural wonders is dependent on the decisions of current and future generations.  Frankly, nothing makes me lose hope for the environment faster than this.

If you had one, would you dump a body in the Meadowlands?

How far are we actually from a dystopian identity?

What would be some solutions to prevent greed for land becoming so large that we destroy our last areas of wilderness?

What is the new definition of wilderness?

Are areas like the Meadowlands salvageable?

the next "Meadowlands"