PERMEABLE Bethany N. Bella
1 | Introduction I began this project with a single intention: to display the interconnectedness of humans and the natural world in one, overlapping image. I never imagined the passion or the sheer joy I would obtain from creating these colorful, whimsical portraits in and within my environment. The title PERMEABLE comes from a recently cemented understanding, derived from my ecofeminism classes at Ohio University. This understanding recognizes that every single human being’s body is part-and-parcel with the surrounding landscape of chemicals and carbon, animals and amoebas. No one of us is immune to this interplay. None of us is powerful or protected enough to withstand this onslaught of interaction at play, every single day in our modern world. I am a storyteller by unconventional terms. I write poetry, I write essays. I sometimes still write for journalistic and academic purposes. But my favorite medium for storytelling is the visual, especially through the use of digital photography and video. This photographic essay is an attempt to showcase my ever-expanding worldview of one-ness in the universe. It’s philosophical, it’s factual, but above all it’s personal. By sharing these images, all of which are original compositions unless otherwise noted, I hope I can inspire you to respect the environment around you – not just in the Rocky Mountains or the seven seas or the glaciers so far away from most of our everyday lives. In our world of increasing climate change, we cannot afford to exploit our resources anymore. We must work in tandem to cultivate, to revive and restore this precious, borrowed gift we have been given for a lifetime to share. -bnb
This project is dedicated to:
all of the women out there in the world, most of whom Iâ€™ll never meet, who continue to rise up and and raise expectations, even when they were told to back down. your voices will be heard. and to my advisors at the Voinovich School, for providing me with the research skills and opportunity to pursue this project in full confidence. you are the reason this project can see its full fruition in one season, so thank you. -bnb
Thought I would save a few trees and make this project an e-book. -bnb
Copyright 2017 Bethany N. Bella All rights reserved. No reprinting or republishing photos without the authorâ€™s written consent. Contact the author with questions of publications and research at: @bethanynbella email@example.com
Elemental ËŒelÉ™Ëˆmen(t)l/ adjective 1. primary or basic. 2. related to or embodying the powers of nature.
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
1 | Arid Drought. Perhaps one of the most publicized, most physically felt impacts of climate change in the American West. Headlines for the last seven years have continued to recount recordbreaking lows for reservoirs and snowpack reserves, especially in the ‘Golden State’ of California. In November 2016, Lake Cachuma near Santa Barbara County reached an all-time low during the summer months, achieving only 7 percent capacity for the entire area’s drinking water supply (Fears, 2016). Just ahead of December 2016, state water regulators recommended a permanent ban on over-watering urban lawns in anticipation of long-term drought strategies (Bernstein, 2016). The drought limits in the West don’t mean much for a Midwestern girl like me, until I spent a summer in San Francisco. Billboards touting water conservation reminders lined every highway stretch from sea to shining bit of parched grass. You can’t help but feel thirsty amid the arid climate and all-consuming heat of the sun. A recent onslaught of rain and snow in the early months of 2017 has given the state a much needed gulp of freshwater. The rainfall for northern California was over 200 percent of average on January 10, and the water content of the snowpack statewide was 135 percent of average, according to water management officials (Lohan, 2017).
But the recent surge in storms has caused closures in Yosemite National Park (yosemitenps, 2017); a blizzard warning for the Lake Tahoe area for the first time since 2008 (Freedman, 2017), and crazy flooding in the streets of the San Francisco Bay area (personal communication Ali Mancia, 2017). All the way back in 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that our warming world will increase climate variability and the risk of both drought and floods (IPCC, 2007). So these trends are right in line with our projected new normal. What’s more, California’s dominant agricultural sector is glutton for the dwindling H2O – as is everyone else. Overall, agriculture “is by far the leading groundwater user, and overexploitation is on the rise” (Katz, 2016). One study claims that the volume of groundwater depletion climbed 22 percent in the past decade, while fully 20 percent of all agricultural irrigation is now unsustainable (Katz, 2016). Demand for water will also increase as a result of population growth and economic development (Kundzewicz et al., 2007). All of that’s concerning, given that only 2.5 percent of all water on Earth is fresh. Even then, just 1 percent of that freshwater is easily accessible, with the rest being trapped in glaciers and snowfields (National Geographic, 2017). But water is life. The human body is literally 60 percent water. How do we quench our parched thirst, feed our people, and have enough left over for tomorrow – to do it all over again?
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
2 | Aquifer
Where is your water coming from? Where has your water been? What’s been added to your water – deliberately or deceptively – that we can’t see, even with our techno-trained eyes? We’ve run away from tending our life-giving water sources ourselves, and we’re already running our aquifers dry.
An aquifer seems like a good place to start. They’re geologic formations that can store and transmit water to wells, springs and some streams – the water that we drink, bathe in, and use for our morning tooth-brushing routine. Aquifers act like sponges, allowing water to move from one space to another. To access the underground water for human consumption, wells are drilled so the water can then be pumped out to human habitats (USGS, 2016). Precipitation adds water (known as ‘recharge’) into the porous rock of the aquifer. The rate of this recharge is not the same for all aquifers, though, a factor that must be considered when pumping water from a well (USGS, 2016). Here’s where the trouble begins: “Pumping too much water too fast draws down the water in the aquifer and might eventually cause a well to yield less water or run dry” (USGS, 2016). Our lives are saturated in water-consuming activities: showering, cooking, cleaning, toilet-flushing, and of course drinking (water, coffee, tea, etc.). Most of us in urban-esque areas are so habituated to this ‘turn on the tap, water will be there’ phenomenon that we can’t even comprehend a water-shortage crisis until it befalls us like an avalanche.
The Ogallala aquifer, the essential lifeline for water in the Midwest, has been pumped out faster than raindrops and snowmelt can seep back into the ground to replenish it (Parker, 2016). As a result, the aquifer has declined by more than 60 percent in 60 years, and in some parts is already exhausted (Parker, 2016). Will the Midwest – America’s breadbasket for agricultural commodities – be able to balance its thirst going forward? And yet, there’s another problem in the climate change predictions: “Saline intrusion due to excessive water withdrawals from aquifers is expected to be exacerbated by the effect of sea-level rise, leading to even higher [salinization] and reduction of freshwater availability” (Kundzewicz et al., 2007). This impending reality threatens the less-than-1-percent supply of freshwater we – and every other living thing – depend on for our survival. Just remember: “Pumping your well too fast or too often might also cause your neighbor's well to run dry if you both are pumping from the same aquifer” (USGS, 2016). There’s a lesson here of shared responsibility for resources we’d all benefit to retain.
I believe we’re fundamentally disconnected from our precious water sources. 8
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
3 | Alarm Arctic sea ice at record lows. Alaska surface temperatures at record highs. Chaos for climate scientists in between. Our warming world has given us all much cause for concern. The cover of the November 2015 National Geographic Magazine caught me off my guard. Staring at two words in bold letters beneath the (later recycled) plastic wrap, I noted a dramatic change in tone for environmental journalists everywhere. COOL IT, the magazine cover urged. “Climate change is real,” the inside script insisted, a dire attempt to reach the American masses in our state of, what seemed to me at the time, perpetual idleness. I realized, at this moment, there’s no turning back. Here’s the situation, and the challenge, facing our generation: “The Earth has warmed 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit, on average, since the late 19th century. Most of the warming has occurred since 1960...A few areas, most near the Antarctic, actually have gotten colder since 1960, while some parts of the Arctic have warmed as much as 15 degrees. Natural climate cycles explain why the warming has happened unevenly and fitfully, but not the warming trend itself, which has overwhelmed the cooling effect of the ash from volcanoes. It has coincided over the past half century with a surge in carbon emissions from our rapidly industrializing world. Finding a way to stop those emissions – and climate change – is the challenge for the next half century” (Kunzig, 2015).
I took this self-portrait on Wednesday, December 16, 2015, an afternoon with temperatures reaching a high of 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Gone, it seemed then, were the days of winter break snow and white Christmases. I was dressed in a tank-top in midDecember, and I was too damn frustrated no one else in my hometown circles seemed all that concerned. Flash forward a year later, and America’s new president still thinks the jury’s out. When asked during a television interview about his views on climate change, Donald J. Trump responded in early December 2016: “Nobody really knows...Look, I’m somebody that gets it, and nobody really knows” (Eilperin, 2016). The choir of climate scientists beg to differ. When Alaska’s annual average temperature is 5.9 degrees above the long-term average (Rosen, 2017), when Arctic sea ice extent is setting lows every single day in November 2016 (NASA, 2016), when climate scientists, with a high degree of confidence, report that biodiversity hot spots, coral reefs, and Arctic systems will come under very high risk at 2 degrees – a threshold that is already and relentlessly underway (Roberts, 2017) .... When is it going to sink in? When our feet are sinking amid the broken infrastructure and devastating apathy permeating through our country’s political elites? I don’t think we get it yet. Just because we can’t see or experience or anticipate climate change unfolding like a movie here in America doesn’t mean it isn’t a scientifically supported phenomenon, with proven actions and consequences, that the rest of the world is furiously trying to mitigate. Because, let me tell you, it is. And I sure hope I’m not the last one to tell you. 10
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
4 | Aroma The bees are dying. The bees are dying. Did you know that the bees are dying? I sure hope you did. I sure hope someone’s told you by now. Did you know that pollinators are the primary agents for an industry worth up to $577 billion U.S. annually (Gilbert, 2016)? Global crop production depends on these bees. One-third of the world’s food supply depends on these bees (Mann, 2015). It’s what they’re now calling ‘colony collapse disorder’ – a swift, terrible death of entire pollinator colonies: unprecedented, unsolved, and uncomfortable. Others are just calling it the ‘pollinator crisis’ (Levy, 2011). Both are, unfortunately, correct. Back in 2006, beekeepers around the country reported massive losses – more than a third of hives on average experienced such losses, with some hives posting a 90 percent vacancy (Holland, 2013). Those weren’t normal numbers then, but the declining trends are increasingly concerning 10 years later. In early 2016, a new collective of researchers published a report on pollinator disturbances, which concluded that bees and other pollinating animals are affected by a whole range of factors, including climate change, disease and pesticide use (Gilbert, 2016). Pests, parasites, increased pesticide exposure, starvation, and queen failures are also problems plaguing the bee (Holland, 2013).
Some of the recommendations gleaned from the new pollinator report and its authors – “It is ‘becoming very clear’ that pesticides have ‘definite harmful effects’ on wild bees” (Gilbert, 2016) – reminded me of Rachel Carson’s pesticide-concerns, all the way back in the 1960s. “These insecticides are not selective poisons,” Carson wrote in 1962, “they do not single out the one species of which we desire to be rid” (Carson, 1962; 2002, p. 99). No longer spraying DDT down the throats of children frolicking in summer pools (Google it, seriously), our ag-industry has now assured us that neonicotinoids, a new class of insecticides, are much safer and much more harmless to use on basically all of our food plants. Called a ‘synthetic’ pesticide because they affect the whole plant rather than a single part, neonicotinoids indeed affect the pollinating process. “As the pretreated seed grows, it incorporates the insecticide into every bud and branch, effectively turning the plant itself into a pest-killing machine” (Bittel, 2014). I can only imagine how this new kind of death-defying plant must confuse the birds and the bees. Some independent researchers are looking into these ag-claims. In 2014, scientists published a comprehensive review of the increasingly popular neonicotinoid insecticides and described their conclusions, as such: “Our results suggest that the impact of neonicotinoids on the natural environment is even more substantial than has recently been reported and is reminiscent of the effects of persistent insecticides in the past” (Hallmann et al., 2014, n.p.). Our bees are bearing the brunt of our agricultural mistakes. 12
Ecosystem ˈēkōˌsistəm/ noun ECOLOGY 1. a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment. (in general use) a complex network or interconnected system.
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
5 | Oceans I was smitten with the ocean on first sight. I still recall the absolute euphoria when the crest of Clearwater Beach came into view. “The ocean! The ocean!” I shouted exuberantly, running head-long into the salty waves and out ‘into the ocean’ – alright, up to my ankles – for the first time in all my 12 years of existence. That first summer beach sunset, walking toe-in-toe with the shoreline, captured my landlocked heart in so many ways (and waves). For the next eight years, I would bottle the sounds of oceanscapes in Los Angeles, Daytona, Hawaii, and Monterey Bay – never quite getting enough salt in my veins to satisfy my longing for the sea. We’ve all learned that the Earth’s surface is 70 percent ocean, but I find it even more staggering that 97 percent of the water on Earth is contained in the oceans (NOAA, 2016). Here are some numbers to quantify that 97 percent: The average depth of the ocean is about 12,100 feet, or 2.3 miles, and the total volume of the ocean is 321,003,271 cubic miles – enough water to fill about 352,670,000,000,000,000,000 gallon-sized milk containers (NOAA, 2016). That’s insane! But our oceans are suffocating from the onslaught of greenhouse gas emissions entering our atmosphere. By changing the atmospheric composition of carbon dioxide, as humans have done,
the balance of gases absorbed and expelled by the oceans and the atmosphere is now lopsided (Kolbert, 2006; 2015, p. 213). As a result, “more CO2 from the air enters the water than comes back out”, initiating the chemical conversion of carbon dioxide to carbonic acid; carbonic acid, “in sufficient quantities, can change the water’s pH” and affect millions of micro-marine organisms (Kolbert, 2006; 2015, p. 213). This ocean acidification, coupled with sea-level rise (see page 28), are two of the most alarming threats to our ocean ecosystems today. I’ve written elsewhere (Bella, 2016) that ocean acidification is “already affecting coral reefs” on a massive scale. “Today’s oceans are already 30 [percent] more acidic than they were before the Industrial Revolution. If current trends continue … ocean acidification could shift corals into a permanent state of decline by midcentury” (Tollefson, 2016). And yet, we continue to pollute into our atmosphere and effectively pump into our oceans a staggering amount of carbon dioxide, by way of our fossil-fuel intensive lifestyles, without much delay. We’ve already pumped 120 billion tons of carbon dioxide into our oceans, with an additional estimated 2 billion tons slated for 2015 (Kolbert 2006; 2015, p. 214). “Every day, every American, in effect, adds seven pounds of carbon to the oceans” (Kolbert, 2006; 2015, p. 214). Coral reefs, the vibrant cityscapes of marine life, like the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Australia may not survive disruptive all this coral bleaching if current sea temperature trends continue (Collins, 2016). I fear our fear for the oceans is just beginning. 16
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
6 | Forests Forests – the metaphorical ‘lungs’ of our planet – are absolutely critical to the way the Earth functions. These stocks and shoots of essentially carbon contribute much more to our global economy than we give them credit for. In brief, forests: store large amounts of carbon in their trunks and leaves, and in turn release oxygen; influence rainfall; filter fresh water and prevent flooding and soil erosion; produce wild foods, fuelwood and medicines for the people that live in and around them; and are storehouses for potential future crop varieties and genetic materials with many potential untapped healing qualities (WWF, 2016). But forests aren’t the feeling the love from us – and, in fact, are being cut down or commodified more commonly than being cared for in their old-growth habitats. Intentional or unintentional, deforestation on a worldwide scale is having a detrimental impact on our remaining forest ecosystems. An estimated 80 percent of all land animals and plants depend on forests for their homes (National Geographic, n.d.). Millions of species are at risk of extinction if deforestation remains as rampant as it has in recent decades. The biggest cause of deforestation is expanding agriculture, but mining, hydroelectricity and other infrastructure projects also present major pressures on forest ecosystems (WWF, 2016). From 2000 to
2010, 40 percent of forest conversion in the tropics and subtropics was attributed to large-scale agriculture conversion, while an additional 33 percent was attributed to local subsistence agriculture (FAO, 2016). That’s a combined agricultural influence in the forested tropics of 73 percent – nearly 3 out of every 4 trees felled in this region was to produce more food for a growing global agriculture market. On a gross basis, a total of 239 million hectares of natural forest was lost over the last 25 years (WWF, 2016). To put that number in perspective: The ‘Big Island’ of Hawaii is approximately 1 million hectares of land space (State of Hawaii, 2016). So that’s about 239 Hawaiian islands of forests that have been erased from the Earth’s land space, mostly for human agricultural expansion. Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD and REDD+), a policy mechanism developed (officially after 2007) in partnership with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), “creates a financial value for the carbon stored in forests by offering incentives for developing countries to reduce emissions from forested lands and invest in lowcarbon paths to sustainable development” (UN-REDD Programme, 2016). But can commodifying carbon in our global capitalistic reality really ‘cancel out’ the carbon-intensive drivers of deforestation booming in the global North, like agriculture and timber imports? Some critics don’t think so (Bella, 2017). While the effectiveness of the REDD regime remains to be resolved in the short-term, conversations about replacing old-growth forests with tree plantations – and let’s not forget the uprooting of indigenous peoples along the way for ‘pristine’ forest protection status – are ongoing, as well. 18
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
7 | Islands While politicians in Washington debate the existence of manmade climate change, the Earth’s island nations are building resilience. Because for these lands, these peoples who have persisted for centuries, climate change is real. Climate change has always been real. But this time, climate change is accruing ever-so quickly.
Right now, humans have caused about 1 degree Celsius of global surface temperature warming (Nuccitelli, 2016). But even if we were to completely stop our carbon quest tomorrow, the Earth would still be in for some warming – approximately 0.5 degrees Celsius more. To put that number in perspective, the Paris Agreement, which achieved nearly global consensus among the Conference of Parties (COP21) in December 2015, pledges to limit global temperature rise to “well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius” (UNFCCC, 2014).
For the Marshall Islands – you know, those islands the United States government destined as the ‘Proving Ground’ for their nuclear arsenal in the 1950s (Ishtar, 2009, p. 123) – the stakes are all too real. “Most of the 1,000 or so Marshall Islands, spread out over 29 narrow coral atolls in the South Pacific, are less than 6 feet above sea level” (Davenport, 2015). Keep in mind that global sea levels are projected to rise another 1 to 4 feet by 2100 (NASA, 2017).
And yet we’re nearly at that threshold.
For the Marshallese people, climate change is the ultimate livelihood disruptor.
Residents of the Marshall Islands are already living with the effects of global greenhouse gas emissions: One resident remarked: “I feel like we’re living underwater” (Davenport, 2015).
“We’re talking about not only people and their culture will be extinct because other people in the world are not living up to their commitment,” current Marshallese President Hilda Heine says. “We’re hoping that even though we’re a very small island country and the number of people are not that many, countries will live up to their commitment and they’ll be a little bit more sensitive to the plight of small island countries.” (Letman, 2016).
Climate model projections don’t look promising for our low-lying island nation friends, should climate change proceed as is (‘business as usual’). If global warming were to reach 4 degrees Celsius, 93 percent of Marshallese, 88 percent of the Cayman Islands, 81 percent of the people on Tuvalu, and 77 percent of current Kiribati residents would be at risk of relocation (Freedman, 2015).
“They say you, your daughter and your granddaughter too will wander rootless, with only a passport to call home,” Marshallese poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner wrote to her daughter. “Mommy promises no one will devour you, no greedy whale of a company sharking through political seas, no backwater bullying of businesses with broken morals, no blindfolded bureaucracies going to push this mother ocean over the edge. No one’s drowning, baby. No one’s moving” (Jetnil-Kijiner, 2014). 20
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
8 | Rivers The water protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota, were only trying to protect their sacred river water from future contamination. “Back home, it’s drugs, alcohol, no jobs. People don’t really know how to survive. It’s hopeless,” one water protector was quoted as saying. “All we have left is the river” (Carrie Wong, 2016). River ecosystems all over the world have been tapped for urban development, transportation, flood protection, and energy generation for centuries (WWF, 2016). "To write history without putting any water in it is to leave out a large part of the story,” wrote Donald Worsterin in Rivers of Empire (1985). Rivers provide: hunter-gatherer societies with water for drinking and washing, food, drugs and medicines, dyes, fibers and wood; irrigation for farmers’ crops; life-sustaining food and fodder during dry seasons and droughts for pastoral societies; historical roadways for commerce, exploration and conquest; and an avenue for waste disposal, in many towns and cities around the globe (McCully, 1996). One of the most damning threats to river ecosystems today, often archaic remnants from past human engineering plans, is the dam. Today, at least “3,700 major dams are either planned or under construction for hydropower and for irrigation, primarily in countries with emerging economies. Almost half (48 percent) of global river volume is already altered by flow regulation, fragmentation, or both. Completion of all dams planned or under construction would mean
that natural hydrologic flows would be lost for 93 percent of all river volume” (WWF, 2016). Dams disrupts flow, temperature and sediment properties of the river, not to mention significantly altering the migration of fish populations and their traditional spawning grounds (WWF, 2016). Fish aren’t just important for human foodstocks; they’re an important ecological link in the bigger food chain, serving as food for other fish, herons, eagles, ospreys, alligators, turtles, otters, minks, raccoons, and bears, to name a few. Fish are also important indicators of water quality and overall ecosystem health (Helfrich & Neves, 2009). Pipelines are another problem. The Dakota Access Pipeline, a 1,134mile pipeline that would carry approximately 500,000 barrels of crude per day from North Dakota to Illinois, did not originally pass near the Standing Rock reservation. The original route for the proposed pipeline crossed the Missouri River further north, 10 miles upstream of Bismarck, the state capital. Dakota Access, the company, rejected this route, citing a number of factors, including more road and wetland crossings, a longer pipeline, and higher costs (McKenna, 2016). But here’s the kicker: “Also listed as a concern was the close proximity to wellheads providing Bismarck's drinking water supply” (McKenna, 2016). Dakota Access then proposed a reroute for the pipeline, to cross the Missouri River just a half-mile upstream of the Standing Rock reservation. The people of Standing Rock rely on the Missouri River for drinking water, irrigation and fish (McKenna, 2016). Under President Trump, the pipeline process got fast-tracked for approval. The threat of oil spills along the river remains to be resolved. 22
Emergency əˈmərjənsē/ noun 1. a serious, unexpected, and often dangerous situation requiring immediate action. synonyms: crisis, urgent situation, extremity, exigency 2. arising from or needed or used in an emergency.
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
9 | Placenta Now, here’s where the jaws come out. I’m not going to explain anymore to you, dear reader, why fish are worth saving, or why oceans are magical places, or how we need to save the bees for the sake of our food supplies. Instead, I’ll provide as much damning evidence against some of our so-called ‘conventional’ ways of living that have given me pause and cause for concern in the past few years. This section is fundamentally about the inseparable connection between us as humans and our surrounding environment. Acid mine drainage refers to metal-rich water formed from a chemical reaction between water and rocks containing sulfur-bearing minerals. The runoff formed is usually acidic and frequently comes from areas where ore or coal mining activities have exposed rocks containing pyrite, a sulfur bearing mineral. Acid mine drainage is currently the main pollutant of surface water in the mid-Atlantic region, with more than 4,500 stream miles degraded to date, and contributes to loss of aquatic life, restrictions on recreational stream use, and contamination of public drinking water and industrial water supplies (EPA, 2016). A teratogen is any substance, organism, or process that causes malformations in a fetus (teratogen, n.d.). Many of these toxins are fatal at high doses, but can also cause cell death, impaired cell
function, damage to cellular DNA, and potentially significant disruptions to fetal development before death (Gilbert, 2014). The acid runoff from acid mine drainage sites dissolves heavy metals, including copper, lead, and mercury, into groundwater or surface water as it drains. Problems that can be associated with mine drainage include contaminated drinking water, disrupted growth and reproduction of aquatic plants and animals, and the corroding effects of the acid on parts of infrastructures such as bridges (USGS, 2016). Copper is often found near mines, smelters, industrial settings, landfills, and waste disposal sites. The greatest potential source of copper exposure is through drinking water. We do not know if copper can cause birth defects or other developmental effects in humans. Studies in animals suggest that ingestion of high levels of copper may cause a decrease in fetal growth (ATSDR , 2004). Lead in the environment is postnatally toxic and prenatally teratogenic. Lead crosses the placental barrier readily. Even low levels of lead are harmful and are associated with decreased intelligence, impaired neurobehavioral development, decreased stature and growth, and impaired hearing acuity (Hill, 2017). Mercury is a highly toxic element; there is no known safe level of exposure. Mercury has toxic properties and severely affects the environment and humans, especially developing fetuses and infants. Outcomes associated with prenatal (before birth) mercury exposure included the loss of IQ points, and decreased performance of tests, including memory, attention, language, and spatial cognition (BoseO’Reilly et al., 2010). Enough said. 26
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
10 | Poison Fracking, short-hand for the technology hydraulic fracturing, works like this: a well is drilled nearly 2 miles underground. The well design then curves horizontally to reach across layers of sandstone sandwiched between shale formations – the source of natural gas and oil. After exposing tiny holes in the cement-encased pipe, highly pressurized fluid charges down the well, fracturing the sandstone rock. This pressurized fluid nearly always starts out as freshwater. Oil is then released from the surrounding shale formations and flows back up the well (NGM, 2013). Unregulated chemicals, some considered toxins, are indeed present in the ‘flowback’ fluid that comes back up the well, as well. This flowback presents a big waste problem for the thousands of fracking operations scattered throughout the country. Some of the fluid is recycled for additional fracking wells; the rest is pumped back underground, into wells supposedly deep enough to avoid any potential groundwater contamination. But the long-term environmental and human health impacts are still unknown. In early March 2015, nine years after fracking furies gained traction in American energy politics, the U.S. federal government still didn’t require fracking companies to disclose the chemicals they used, and the EPA and other agencies had failed to produce data on the safety of fracking (Adler, 2015). A report issued on California’s fracking wells at the time showed traces of petroleum chemicals, heavy metals and radioactive elements, plus high levels of dissolved solids, among the
pollutants found in the fracking wastewater samples tested under the California disclosure program (Adler, 2015). Outrage ensued. Later that month, the Obama administration announced new fracking federal regulations, which required companies “to publicly disclose the chemicals used in the fracturing process within 30 days of completing fracking operations, using an industry-run website called FracFocus” (Davenport, 2015). FracFocus was already a platform in use a few years before, but these new regulations would set a precedent for future flowback tracking and analysis (Banerjee, 2015). And yet, the oil and gas companies still refused to disclose 10 percent of the chemicals catalogued for fracking, claiming the u n d i s c l o s e d i n g r e d i e n t s a s ‘ c o n fid e n t i a l b u s i n e s s information’ (Banerjee, 2015). In June 2016, a federal judge in Wyoming ruled that the proposed regulations by the Obama administration overstepped the government's authority. It’s good to know: “The proposal was contested by the state of Wyoming, a major producer of natural gas, and by a group of oil industry trade groups” (McDonnell, 2016). The Obama administration regulations were put on hold until further notice. The saga continues. In December 2016, the EPA reversed its position on the potential for groundwater contamination, saying in a long-awaited study that fracking has caused some contamination to drinking water resources across the country (Scheck & Tong, 2016). "We found scientific evidence of impacts to drinking water resources at each stage of the hydraulic fracturing water cycle," said Tom Burke, EPA Deputy Administrator. The future of fracking remains to be seen in this new era of the EPA. 28
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
11 | Power Yes. Let me just answer the question before you ask it. Yes, sea levels are rising. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association says it. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says it. NASA even says it. Oh, it’s slow. It’s gradual, rising to a point where you can’t even document incremental change in a matter of days, weeks or months. But it’s there.
NASA scientists in 2015 warned that the previous IPCC estimates were starting to look too conservative, based on updated models. “With future warming, we may lock ourselves into multiple-meter sea level rise” over the coming centuries, said Eric Rignot, a glaciologist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “We're talking about 6 meters – 18 feet – and higher of sea level rise. Sea level rise might rise half a meter per century, or several meters per century. We just don't know” (Folger, 2015). And that’s just it, these models are just our best guesses, made by a fallible, climate-changing collective whose inquiries determine the future actions on our one, true planet. (We haven’t made it to Mars yet, people.)
In 2013, the IPCC predicted an 11-to-38 inch rise in global mean sea levels. That’s an upward number of 3.2 feet. “It is virtually certain that global mean sea level rise will continue beyond 2100, with sea level rise due to thermal expansion to continue for many centuries” (IPCC, 2013).
According to NOAA, higher sea levels mean that “deadly and destructive storm surges push farther inland than they once did, which also means more frequent nuisance flooding. Disruptive and expensive, nuisance flooding is estimated to be from 300 percent to 900 percent more frequent within U.S. coastal communities than it was just 50 years ago” (NOAA, 2016).
But sea level rise, the scientists warned, would not be uniform. About 70 percent of the coastlines worldwide were then projected to experience sea level change within 20 percent of the global mean for sea level change (IPCC, 2013). “Sustained mass loss by ice sheets would cause larger sea level rise, and some part of the mass loss might be irreversible” (IPCC, 2013).
“In the United States, almost 40 percent of the population lives in relatively high-population-density coastal areas, where sea level plays a role in flooding, shoreline erosion, and hazards from storms. Globally, eight of the world's 10 largest cities are near a coast” (NOAA, 2016). To put names to faces, that’s including: Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, and Mumbai at risk of flooding (Folger, 2015).
But the IPCC is notoriously conservative, sometimes arriving at the bare-minimum consensus for publishing, since it’s a consortium of scientists from around the globe synthesizing data all at once.
Super-destructive hurricanes like Hurricane Matthew, which befell the U.S. East Coast in the fall of 2016, hint at an uncomfortable new normal (Parker, 2016). The power of the oceans is revealed. 30
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
12 | Progress A poem. A meditation. A plea for please, think about progress. I see the smokestacks rising in the distance, puffing away God only knows how many pollutants into our atmosphere. Again and again.
chemicals coursing through my veins from that untreated water bottle I took a sip from today. And yesterday. I see the way we cut up the ground for more roads, more buildings, moremoremoremoremore whatever we want all the time no stop because we can because we will because we are human. Because we are almighty, ever-living humans. This is only the next stop on the path to the afterlife, the heaven we all pray for. So it doesn’t really matter what we do here in this life, right? It’s just a layover. A really, really long layover to eternal happiness.
I see all the cars and the buses. The airplanes that line the sky, the ones I like to ride on, the ones that take me to far away places. The ones I feel guilty for loving so much.
So we can fuck it up, cut it up, chop it up, blaze it up, shoot it up.
I see the outlines of skyscrapers and big-city promises, shiny in the glow of evening sun. Or is it just the smog reflecting? I can’t tell. My lungs will one day tell me, pressed up against the back of another mother-fucking x-ray-esque machine to tell me if I’m broken, again.
I see the lights in the darkness, but I don’t see the stars anymore. I see the luminescence, but I no longer sense the essence of nature that is me, is all of me, is carbon and nitrogen and love and beauty. We all are.
I see the rivers running red. I see and feel and almost smell the soot, black like the bottom of my soles running through muck-thick grass.
I see the wrappers on the sand. I see the bottles on the lawn. I see desecration. I see apathy – rampant, incessant, completely unaware and utterly content. Why am I so discontent?
I also see the recycling signs and the reusable tote bags and the compostable buckets. We’re trying. I think we are. I think that some of us really are committed to this conservation conversation with not just our earth but our mother, Mother Nature. We need to listen.
I see the pace of progress, and I fear. Fear for our survival, all of us. I really do honestly and truly care about all of us. Sometimes I don’t know why I do.
I see the resistance. I see the movements. I see the turbines and the solar fields, and I smile. There is still good progress in this world.
I see the names of chemicals I can’t pronounce, written nearly illegible on the back of your edibles. I don’t see the names of
I see the face of those fighting for freedom – freedom from energy excess, choking on the saliva we’re all forced to spit. Its name is petroleum. Its name is fossil fuels. Its deed is already done, we think.
It doesn’t matter.
It has no idea what I see, what I see for our future. 32
Epilogue: One wÉ™n/ number, determiner, adjective, noun 1. identical; the same. 2. used to refer to the speaker, or any person, as representing people in general. 3. a noteworthy example of (used for emphasis).
ÂŠ Bethany N. Bella, 2017
13 | One There is no ‘one’. There is only ‘all’. Everything is interconnected. One planet. One connected ocean. One moon. We are part of one, unlikely experiment – and we get to live in that state of perpetual curiosity and excitement every day of our earthly lives. One sun. One solar system like ours. One collective atmosphere. We have come so far in our understanding of the world around us, but I believe there will always be more bones to discover, more cultures to understand, more history to learn. That’s the mystery that is our Earthly existence. One human species. For as much as we like to distance ourselves by nation, by religion, or by colored skin, we are one. One species that has stood the test of centuries and centuries. We were certainly not the first to arrive, and undoubtedly we won’t be the last. There’s a kind of sadness and confusion in that declaration, but that’s just what makes our time and our lives here all the more wonder-filling, a gift to the earth for the here and now. Who knows what will come next? We don’t need to ‘save’ the Earth. She will remain, steadfast and yet changing, all the while we toil and create and make a mess, trying to make things right.
It is our own connection and conservation of the land and water and air around us that needs saving. It is our vital bloodline for prosperity and future generations that is at risk. With every pump, we pull away from the sound of rivers running and oceans churning. With every swipe, we disassociate where that money has come from, what it has made, where it’s going next. With every plastic wrap, we forget soil doesn’t come wrapped in synthetics. When was the last time your hands made every ounce of energy that entered your body? I’m not calling for radical reductions. I don’t think we, as a collective, would ever buy that. I’m not that naïve. So that’s why I’ve made a transition in my thinking, and I hope you will one day see a transition for your own ways of living. Instead of trying to stop a moving mass of terrifying CHANGE, I will put up my own silent resistance called ADAPTATION. I cannot turn the tides back. I cannot cap all the carbon in the world. I cannot prevent plastics from surrounding the areas in which I live. I cannot even predict the future weather arrangements. But I can grow my own food. I can control what goes and comes in my body: my one, precious body. I can refuse plastic shopping bags. I can recycle and compost and make a point to bring a reusable coffee cup. It’s the collective aggregate, the collective resistance, I’m subscribing to now. Let the waters rise. I will still embrace our Earth lovingly. Let the storms come. I will be more mindful of my trash and waste in the wind. Let the change come. I will be ready. Will you?
CREDITS & LOCATIONS
PERMEABLE | Athens, Ohio (2016) & Ash Cave, Ohio (2016, photo by Maddy Saunders)
POISON | Fracking Injection Well, Athens County, Ohio (2014) & Self-Portrait (2016)
ARID | Mount Diablo, California (2016) & Self-Portrait (2016)
PROGRESS | Ash Cave, Ohio (2016) & Self-Portrait (2016)
AQUIFER | Poipu, Kauai (2014) & Ash Cave Spring, Ohio (2016, photo by Elli Lavon)
POWER | Big Basin Redwoods State Park, California (2016) & SelfPortrait (2015)
ALARM | Home Fire (2013) & Self-Portrait (2015)
ONE | National Geographic World Atlas (2016, photo by Bethany N. Bella) & Self-Portrait (2016)
AROMA | National Tropical Botanical Gardens, Kauai (2014) & Ohio University Portrait (2016, photo by Sarah Holm) OCEANS | Poipu Beach, Kauai (2014) & Self-Portrait (2015) FORESTS | Private Nature Preserve, SE Ohio (2016) & Self-Portrait (2016) ISLANDS | Waimea Canyon, Kauai (2014) & Self-Portrait (2015) RIVERS | Soberanes Point, California (2016) & Self-Portrait (2016) PLACENTA | Acid Mine Drainage, Athens County, Ohio (2015) & Self-Portrait (2016)
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Bethany N. Bella is an undergraduate student at Ohio University earning her Bachelor of Specialized Studies, with concentrations in geography, political science, and womenâ€™s/gender/sexuality studies, and a minor from the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.
She spends most of her school days reading, writing, and working on creative projects. Getting outside is her guilty pleasure. View her portfolio at bethanybella.com
Bethany is a lover of trees and mountains, writing poetry, sharing cultural experiences with new friends, and inspiring other women to follow their dreams. She has an interdisciplinary interest in the intersection of human society and the surrounding environment, particularly through a feminist political ecology lens.
A visual investigation of the human-environment intersection.