One Person Adds 37 Million Bacteria to a Room

March 31, 2012

The title of this article quickly captured my attention. The quote “We live in this microbial soup, and a big ingredient is our own microorganisms” sum up the article pretty well. In an hour each person adds 37 million bacteria to the room. The air we breath comes from the floor dusts. A study was done in university classroom on the ground floor during a period of eight days. During those eight days four days were occupied with people and the remaining four days were empty. The result of the study was that “”human occupancy was associated with substantially increased airborne concentrations”  of bacteria and fungi of various sizes. This means that humans are the leading carrier of bacteria. This is very interesting and makes sense since for an example its easy for someone to catch a cold/flu from their classmates from sitting in the same lecture hall. We need to take care of ourselves very well and keep our immune system in check.

Breakfast for Biodiversity

March 30, 2012

This book gives an interesting perspective about the rainforest that differs from other similar reads.  In the Preface the author states:

We can appreciate the temptation to focus on the facts of rain forest destruction, and we agree that the nature of the problem itself is quite worthy of persistent propaganda. This, we suppose, is why all the books say the same thing—tropical rain forests are useful and beautiful, yet they are being destroyed.  That the problem needs to be brought to the attention of the public, we agree. But once alerted to the problem, the public asks what to do. Causes must be addressed, and we feel that most of the popular literature on the subject does not do it adequately.

I think we have all been a victim of rainforest destruction related proaganda. It is everywhere from news articles, food labels, posters, T-shirts– you name it! However, does this issue deserve this attention? What is really happening to the rain forest?

The book describes some of the major areas of concerns in the rainforest as well as their causes.  The book discusses the destruction of large plots of land in order to grow banana trees, which are a major export and cash crop for Central America.  This farming industry has elicited the need for logging operations.  These loggers kept only a handful of valuable trees species alive and remove the rest.

By the 1930s, the land along almost all the rivers was deforested and planted with bananas, while the surrounding forest was riddled with trails made for dragging logs.  The logging process intensified in the late 1940s and 1950s, when machinery was brought into the areas and a complex network of logging roads crisscrossed what forests remained after the inroads already made by the banana plantations.

However, as Americans, can we honestly tell other countries to protect their forests when we have nearly destroyed ours to extinction? Over the last 200 years we have destroyed 95% of our natural forests for industrialization purposes.  How can we condone telling other countries to not do the same?

This book gives interesting strategies for rain forest conservation.  One being the development of an egalitarian society.

Our social construction of the rain forest is distinct from those of a local peasant farmer, a banana company executive, or an indigenous person living in the forest.  We believe that as (and if) society evolves into a more egalitarian form, some of these distinctions will tend to diminish.

It is also mentioned that “backlashers,” which are groups who emphasize the needs of local people, have not helped reduce the destruction of the rainforest.

The strategies of the conservationists criticized by the backlashers were born of the realization that razor wire fences and armed guards will not protect rain forests in perpetuity.

Perhaps the destruction of the rainforest is simply a reflection of the lack of social justice and opportunities for people who live in these areas to choose a lifestyle that doesn’t involve harming the environment they live in.

Breakfast of Biodiversity

March 28, 2012

This book is totally different from the last book we read it is really dense. I had to be really focus to read this book. Breakfast of Biodiversity  is filled with facts discussing problems the rainforest are facing due to agriculture, deforestation, greed/ and survival. Also the issues of the global south and the global north. The authors wrote this book to make readers become more aware of the problems around us and where/how our daily food comes from affects our environment.

Banana Plantation in Costa Rica

The First Chapter “Slicing up the Rain Forest on your Breakfast Cereal” gave us the  big picture of the problems happening the rainforest in Costa Rice and to countries similar to Costa Rica. Bananas are the main export in Costa Rica and are the backbone of the country’s economy. We as readers and consumers don’t really pay extra attention to where our food comes from or what’s it affecting just like the book we read earlier “Eating Animals” In order to grow the bananas the trees are cut from the rainforest and in the book the authors also tell us that soil in the area is a big issue. The soil tends to be more acidic and with clay soil which affects the growing of crops. The nutrients is the soil are easily washed away during the heavy rainstorms. The bananas are raised with pesticides and other harmful products such as DDT which also affects the worker’s health. The workers only earn $3 per day but the workers are okay with it since this provide them jobs and be able to support themselves or else they have to move to another country to find jobs.  Costa Rican do this in order to support its nobody fault. Overpopulation is also an issue workers then to have more babies so that they can help farm crops but then again overpopulation causes deforestation.

Another big problem is companies like the United Fruits Company are hungry for profits they built railroads and cut down trees in order to grow more bananas to be able to gain more capital and money. In order to help solve the problem the companies like United Fruits need to stop growing bigger and being greedy.

So what’s the solution? Can we leave the rain forest alone? So that they can restore themselves?

Is rainforest going to be extinct in the next 20-30 years?

What do you think about green revolution?

Breakfast of Biodiversity Chapters 1-5

March 28, 2012

1. Slicing up the Rain Forest on Your Breakfast Cereal

This chapter introduces us to the rain forest that many of us know. The rain forest that covers only 7 percent of the earth’s surface, but contains over half of the animal and plant species on the earth. The reader is introduced to the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica which is a site of great rain forest conservation.  The beauty of the rain forest within these conservation areas is expressed as well as the great problems that exist out side of these areas.  The first major problem the author addresses is the problem of the banana.  Banana companies have converted large sections of rain forest into strictly being banana plantations.   Many times bio diverse rain forests are removed right up to their river banks and replaced with the banana trees.  Natural streams are channelized an drainage canals are constructed to prevent flooding of the fields.  Also, agrochemicals are applied to the land to insure high yields. the fertile Caribbean lowland ecosystem is completely stripped of its biodiversity and transformed into a homogeneous and chemical laden landscape.   This process of stripping the land of its natural biodiversity does not only occur for banana cultivation. This pattern of stripping the natural environment is also used for cattle production, citrus farming, African oil palm plantations, and rubber tree plantations.

2. The Rain Forest is Neither Fragile Nor Stable

Vandermeer lists and expounds on six factors she says are key in the functioning of rain forests.

  1. Enormous amounts of DIVERSITY-  There incredibly vast numbers of species of plants animals and other living things in rain forests.  this great diversity can cause problems for some species.  Vandermeer notes that with such a large number of species all sharing the same habitat, a lot of the species must be rare.  This scarcity makes the existence of these species very fragile
  2. SEX-  With so many species and such few numbers representing each species, reproduction is of the utmost importance for the continuance of these species.  Due to the fact that most of the species are plants, pollination is crucial for the survival of the many species.
  3. Problem of HERBIVORES –  From the point of view of plants, herbivores present a problem for the prolonged existence of some plants. Many insects and animals have a diet which consists of leaves, shoots, and seeds. With so few numbers of each species, the plants need to remain intact to keep the species alive. It is common for herbivores to specialize in consuming certain types of plants.  Because of this if a great number of plants belonging to the same species are all bunched together, it is easier for the specialized herbivores to locate and consume them.
  4. DISPERSAL of OFFSPRING- Plants have evolved various strategies to disperse their seeds. This is to prevent large number of plants from the same species to be clumped together and more easily fall victim to herbivores. there are two ways plants have evolved to disperse their offspring. One is the separation of seed from the disperser’s food reward and the other is satiation.  Plants have evolved to proved the dispersers with food.  For example, a bird eats a fruit from a plant and moves on. the seed passes through the bird and is not digested and is excreted unharmed in the birds stool elsewhere.
  5. DEATH- When a tree dies and collapses, it creates a gap in the canopy of the forest. this gap allows sunlight to pass down to the lower levels of the forest. this allows other, not so largely sized species to flourish and grow.  When this gap occurs there are three stages of  plants that grown. Pioneer plants enter the gap first, then come secondary species, and eventually a climax tree grows to replace the original tree that fell.  
  6. SOIL- Plants receive the majority  of their nutrients through their root systems. this means that the soil these roots are submerged in is very crucial to the survival of the plants. the most important nutrients plants need are potassium, magnesium, calcium, and nitrogen.  When there is not an array of different species in an area, it will limit the diversity of nutrients in the soil.

3.  Farming on Rain Forest Soils

Because of the diverse settings rain forests exist in, they provide great venues for agricultural cultivation.  There are five basic soils that are crucial to agriculture in rain forests:

  1. Acid Soils- contain few nutrients and the nutrients that are contained are usually unavailable to crops
  2. Alluvial Soils- deposited on the floodplains of rivers. Carry a lot of organic matter due to the fact that there are many living creatures in rivers. this organic matter gets deposited into the land.
  3. Volcanic Soils- This type of soil is derived from volcanic ash.  Volcanic soil is not present in all rain forests due to the fact that there are not volcanoes in every rain forest.  Very productive soils.  These soils contain clays which have a high ability to capture and maintain nutrients.
  4. Hillside Soils- They erode very rapidly.  the natural vegetation that covers them protects them from erosion. when the natural plants are removed and they are used for agriculture, they erode very quickly and become unproductive.
  5. Swamp soils-  The soils of natural wetlands are very rich in organic matter. there are very few crops including rice that can grow in wet land conditions. However, swamps can be drained resulting in incredibly rich soils. this process is costly and are large scale. large fruit companies partake in draining wetlands to use the rich soil.


The burning of naturally inhabiting plants in order to plant crops is a very common for of agriculture.  it is the easiest solution to problems that come with agricultural production. The first problem is that of plant competition. this commonly takes place in the form of weeds.  When crops are planted throughout a plot of forest that have been cleared the plants that have already been there have an advantage over the newly planted crops. When burning the patch that has been cleared before planting the new seed, the undesirable species are forced out to make way for the newly planted seeds to thrive. THe second problem is nutrient cycling. when plants die they released nutrients that are then used by other plants to grow and flourish. when burning all the plants in an area, all of these nutrients of the newly killed plants are released into the soil and the crops that are to be planted can use all these nutrients.

4. The Political Economy of Agriculture in Rain Forest Areas

      The clearing of land for agricultural use can be described as deforestation.  Recently a key crop that is planted when deforestation occurs is the banana tree.  The companies that own these vast plantations hold much political power in the countries they are located.  These companies have been known to purchase or even steal land from peasant farmers that is known to have good soil for farming. this then pushes these local farmers to areas of land that do not have good soil.

Vandermeer discusses the transformation of farming into agriculture. The evolution,he says, occurred in two waves.  The first wave began and the end of the U.S. Civil War and the second wave stared at the end of World War II.  She writes that at the end of the eighteenth century two factors dramatically impacted the growth of long distance trade of agricultural products. The factors she notes are the evolution of technology to mill grain and the second being a change in the social organization of work.  In Western Europe, for example, the advancements in the ease to mill grain had caused the price of bread to decline, therefore giving the masses easier access to bread. This was the start to a complex grain trade which occurred at the end of the eighteenth century.

5. The Multiple Faces of Agriculture in the Modern World System

In this section Vandermeer dissects the modern world system the impacts on the phenomenon that is deforestation. He looks at three aspects of the modern system:

1. Operation of DEVELOPED World Agriculture-  There are three units to modern agriculture: SUPPLIERS- supply the the inputs such as seeds chemicals and equipment to the farmers, FARMERS-The farm itself, BUYER- the unit that the farmer supplies the product to.   The farmers have little economic leverage in this situation due to their small size compared to the suppliers and the purchasers. Suppliers are known to extort great sums of money from the farmers for their supply and the buyers are not willing to provide appropriate compensation to the farmers for the products. This leaves the farmers stuck in the middle between two greater powers.

2. Dynamics of Developed World Economies-  Vandermeer discusses how phases of economic expansion and contraction are not desirable.  Economic contraction is associated with political instability, something the the factory owners and political advisers obviously want to avoid. Contractions are a crisis at the general level in that it can destroy a complete economic system and a crisis for individual factory owners in their goal of profits and investments.

3. Global South Economics as Related to Developed World Structures- The economic systems of the developed nations are articulated as Vandermeer notes. Articulated in the anatomical sense that  joints are composed of connected segments.  The typical economy in a developed nation is articulated in the fact that the two main sectors of economy are connected.  In the Global South, the two main sectors of the economies are not connected.  Because the systems of the traditional agriculturalists and the system of the export agriculturalist are not connected the economy is referred to as a dual economy.

The Modern World System and Tropical Deforestation

When reviewing the socioeconomic structure of the Global South, it is easy to recognize how rain forests become the targets of deforestation.  When there is a low market value for tropical export crops, the big company is not who suffers the most, but rather the proletarian farmers who lose their jobs and are forced to clear land to farm a  lifestyle of subsistence farming.  Because most of the land that already exists for agriculture is used to cultivate the very crops that had the low market value to begin with, these farmers who must search in the rain forest to destroy plants and create their own farm. The logger is right there beside the farmer searching for untainted land in the rain forest to which he can cultivate the necessary wood needed to meet the quota of logs for the corporation he works for.

Breakfast of Biodiversity

March 28, 2012


Breakfast of Biodiversity: The Political Ecology of Rain Forest Destruction by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto covers a range of environmental and economic issues that many Americans continue to ignore. The main issue of the book is how the first world is exploiting the world’s rain forests to supply their needs, while the rest of the book goes into alternative models and possible solutions to this imbalanced economic interaction. The authors discuss important new developments in our understanding of rain forest biology and they asses the impacts of free trade on the rain forest. This book has really opened my eyes to the exploitation of such biologically diverse and important biomes. Many forests have been clear cut by the gluttonous American mindset that is creating the demands for such destructive ecologic impacts. At the center of the movement to save the tropical environment, we find democracy, sustainable agriculture, and land security for the poor.

A theory that I found interesting was the dependency theory. This theory states that “…the underdevelopment of the Global South is not an accident of history or a product of bad real estate, but an organic outgrowth of the progression of the developed world” (p.73). I have been aware of how the first world perpetuates the third, but I have never considered it on the detail examined in this book. Basically money, in the form of products and resources, is being shipped out of the Global South and inserted into the economy of the developed world. This is secured by social pressures to maintain consumption power in the developed world’s working class. In the Global South Americans do not care about the economic growth of the country being exploited. It is more beneficial to keep economic growth at bay, ensuring the Global North retains control to enjoy the lowest consumer prices. There is no base of development in the third world, and foreign corporations  could care less if their outsourced employees have enough money to buy cotton, bananas, or sugar. Rather they are interested in whether the developed world, specifically their workers, can buy the products produced. Essentially the workers and factory owners of the developed world are the consumers of the less developed world’s products. This submissive relationship has created serious ecologic impacts.

Chapter 6: The Political Ecology of Logging and Related Activities

  • The authors discuss the theory that the destruction of the rain forests does not entirely mean that all biodiversity is lost within the area. The forest , with all of its animals and plants, will often grow back. However, the idea of logging an area of forest and then building roads and parking lots will definitely decrease the biodiversity in the area.
  • Is it possible that there is unnecessary resistance to logging when it isn’t truly known how badly it will effect the forest in the long run? The time scale of regrowth is 40-80 years (small amount of time compared to the rest of the forest).
Chapter 7: Globalization and the New Politics
  • Currently the “developed world” contains 17% of the people now using 70% of the energy resources of the world. This leaves only 30% of the remaining energy resources for the other 83% of the world’s population.
  • The US has only 4% of its original old growth forests left. What right do we have to tell others not to cut down their forests?
Chapter 8: Rain Forest Conservation
  • In Costa Rica there are limited jobs (Banana companies) so people often cut down the forests on their owned lands to make money and feed their families. Most people would think that the forests are cut down by large companies from other countries but in many cases it is the locals who are cutting parts of the remaining rain forests down.
  • The authors point out that ecotourism may protect some parts of forest, but locals are not the primary beneficiaries. It is counterproductive to keep them from using the land that is preserved to make a livelihood if it can be done sustainably. They will instead go out and illegally cut down the “protected” forests anyway.
  • Industrialization may provide relief economically, environmentally, and socially, but only if it comes from the bottom up and is not forced on developing nations by the US. This puts the interest of the native people ahead of foreign investors.
Chapter 9: Biodiversity, Agriculture, and Rain Forests
  • The rain forests play a large role in producing medicines and research for cures to disease and illness. Not only does cutting down the forest possibly give rise to new developments, but it also creates a risk to the overall chances of new research being developed.
  • The authors mention that the tropical rain forests cover only about 7% of the earth’s surface but are home to more than 50% of all the plant and animal species of the world.  They are also home to a large percentage of the plants used to make medicine.
  • This has led to several revolutions around the world when the locals felt they should have been entitled to the same amount (if not more) of the resources as everyone else.  The Vietnamese for example believed they should have the right to their own resources. The Americans and Russians said absolutely not and were willing to fight for it.
Chapter 10: Who Constructs the Rain Forest?
  • In order to save the rain forests, the local people must be first introduced in the strategies of using and preserving their lands.
  • Social justice must be the focus. Environmental preservation, as we know it today, will not save the rain forests.
  • “If we feel the view of nature as something to be appreciated is even partially correct, our promotion of that view needs to take the form of a struggle for social justice” (167).
Chapter 11: Past Causes, Future Models, Present Action
  • The book poses three fundamental questions:
  1. What causes rain forest destruction? Answer: There is a web of causality, no single component of which is truly the cause.
  2. What is a model for the future? Answer: A planned mosaic, based on ecological and egalitarian principles.
  3. What is the political action plan? Answer: Intensify the struggle for social justice.

Help the cows!

March 28, 2012
                                                                                                         March 27, 2012

Less ‘pink slime’ may mean more poorly treated cattle

Robin Shreeves

If you haven’t heard about the “pink slime” filler discovered in our meet products, here’s a quick review.  Beef Productions Inc. a company that makes lean meat product from fatty trimmings have had to shut down three of their 4 plants due to consumer uproar.

Now grocery stores all over the country are advertising their “fillerless” beef.  However, the lack of this filler will result in an increase in beef prices.  Even more troubling, perhaps, is that the lack of filler will result in 1.5 million more head of cattle slaughtered to make up for the loss of filler.  Most of these cows will be from factory farms which keep cattle in inhumane conditions, pump them with antibiotics so they can digest the food they give them to grow faster, and are a source environmental concerns.

Do you want to help the cows? Try eating less beef or look for local alternatives that feed and treat their cattle properly.

A Biodiverse Breakfast

March 28, 2012

The reading for this week focused on The Rain forest, and factors that influence rain forest destruction.  the book was called Breakfast of Biodiversity and it was written by John Vandermeer and Ivette Perfecto.  I found this book to be somewhat repetitive of things I have learned in other classes involving the rain forest, and the exploitation of it, but this book did a good job of covering some broad themes, that were focused on in my other classes.

This is a picture of land cleared for Bananas as one can see it takes out huge swaths of forest in order to successfully make a banana plantation

The first chapter, gets right into the problems with banana plantations in Costa Rica, and how it promotes rain forest destruction.  From another class we discussed the history of bananas in the Americas, and it focused mainly on the ways United Fruit Company was able to make money from harvesting bananas.  As Vandermeer points out Costa Ricans, have a love hate relationship with bananas.  This goes to exemplify the problems big industry usually brings to areas outside their headquarters.  Costa Rica which is in debt openly welcomed the banana industry which promised money,  this is only at the expense of of forests.

This is a Coffee plantation doing similar damage as the banana plantation, Coffee production is another example of an agricultural enterprise that is suited for areas were rain forests occur.  This in turn leads to the destruction of forests to plant coffee.

Something that I began to realize, and that I feel Vandermeer really placed emphasis on is that deforestation is a result more of agriculture rather than large scale logging operations.  As he points out this is counter intuitive, mostly because the soils of Rainforests are poorly suited for cultivating crops, the only thing that the soils support well is Rain Forests.  Any agriculture, and money made there of is only going to be short lived.

Another problem associated with rain forests is that they are located in areas of poverty and unrest in most cases, and as stated above money is always needed in areas like this.  And as above, people begin to exploit resources in order to make money to get along, even if those resources are not going to sustain profit for very long, and in the case of the rainforest, agriculture is something that is short lived in these areas.

Project Update

March 27, 2012

I have a meeting with Sean later this week to go over some new numbers to give us a more realistic projection of the cost of the LED lights. One has been installed on Bashford lawn as a test and will be used to collect information. I have continued to look through the literature on these lights and similar projects – and have begun to write up a report.

Step Aside Rainforests

March 27, 2012

Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Grassland

A recent article in the National Geographic Daily News reveals that “Grasslands [are] More Diverse Than Rain Forests – In Small Areas.” The grassland pictured here has the highest number of plants in a square foot – though rainforests still have the largest number of plant species on a large scale,  which is to be expected considering their size. Grasslands and meadows in Eastern Europe and Argentina have been discovered to have an incredible amount of plant species – a 527 sq. foot Czech grassland has 131 vascular plant species. In just 1 sq. foot of grassland in Romania (Cluj-Napoca), 43 species were cataloged. This is in comparison to the 942 species found in 2.5 acres of a rainforest in Ecuador. Biologists who conducted the study claim  mowing and grazing levels, slow growth rates and infertile soils allow “grass species to cram into small area” (Mosher). It is interesting to see that this biodiversity is only found in tropical rainforests and grasslands.

“Burning a Renaissance Painting to Cook a Meal”

March 27, 2012

Vandermeer’s Breakfast of Biodiversity raises many important points concerning tropical rainforest destruction. Few think of the extent to which the rainforest is threatened – or the extent to which a rainforest may properly operate. He begins the book by discussing the Sarapiqui region of Costa Rica, a region which was drastically changed when the Standard Fruit Company. This company alone was responsible for a great portion of rainforest destruction in Costa Rica – “rain forest cover in the region plummet[ed] from almost 90% in 1950 to approximately 25% today” (6). Much of this forest was destroyed to accommodate for banana plantations, a practice which is still prevalent in many Latin American countries, including Costa Rica. Since this book was published, things  have changed somewhat. There has been a greater push for biodiversity, and many small farms are encouraged to plant a variety of crops.

Costa Rica: Banana Plant

Yet, on large farms and plantations the single-crop mentality persists, which has also been a great harm to banana plants themselves (recently, there has been a new fungal virus – Tropical Race 4).

Tropical Race 4This is an image of a banana plant affected by Tropical Race 4

Vandermeer continues to discuss 6 key factors in rain forest function: biodiversity, pollination, herbivory, seed dispersal, gap dynamics/forms of disturbance, and soils. Many of these key factors may not be associated with rain forest destruction – especially soil, which is a major contributor to rain forest destruction. Soil in tropical rain forests is very nutrient-deprived, and while plants have adapted to this fact, it also  makes it difficult for regular cycles to operate when a forest is slashed & burned. In this scenario, a flood of  nutrients is released into the forest, but each year the growing season will be lessened (36). Many methods have been developed to combat soil destruction, such as the Chinampa system which catches nutrients as they run off.

Vandermeer also discusses the political economy of agriculture, which once again involves bananas – specifically the United Fruit Company. He takes care to note how intensive agriculture, integrative production, and modernization contributed to the rainforests we know today. Indeed, “the fate of the rain forest is intimately tied to various agricultural activities” (69). It is within this modernized system of agriculture that it becomes apparent how much food insecurity and poverty have impacted deforestation – a problem which will continue to grow as long as the economy and environment remain unstable. Under the current capitalist system, these problems will not be addressed – for capitalism to survive, the peasants who live in and around rainforests, and the rainforests themselves, must be exploited. Or at least that is what is commonly accepted as fact. However, other options have been advocated, including plans that would improve the Brazilian economy, thereby presenting no reason for the extent of tropical deforestation.

Already Vandermeer has raised serious questions concerning rainforest destruction – primarily how we can change our behaviors to make this less of a necessity in today’s socio-political and economic realities. Should modernization be curtailed in an effort to prevent rainforest destruction? Are those who protested against the WTO right in their views of globalization? Or should we take a more moderate track that seeks to protect the rainforest while still allowing for a level of destruction? Capitalists of course argue that these resources are meant to be used, whereas environmentalists are against negotiating the destruction of the forest. However, given today’s socio-political context, it is apparent both sides must renege on their strict arguments and allow for compromise. A pragmatic approach is the only true option in preventing this:

from continuing to occur.