Amaranthus 2020

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04. RE WILDI NG Dylan Byrne Brooklyn, 2019

Joshua Nodiff Costa Rica, 2014



Victoria Bartoszewicz Dartmouth, 2016 Ecuador, 2017


Ail ani M . O c as io O r t i z Dartmouth, 2019



Erin Skiff Ecuador, 2016 Galapagos, 2016


28. THE ELE P HAN TS OF T HA ILAN D Lay l a G o rdo n Ecuador, 2014 30. SAH JAH Lay l a G o rdo n Ecuador, 2014


31. DEATH A N D T HE E M E R A LD AS H B ORE R J ef f S har pe Executive Director


21. SUSTAINABILIT Y I N JAPAN M aya Fun ada Program Assistant 24. RIKERS ISLAND RENE WABLE ENER GY DE VE LO PMENT K ate B e n n et Costa Rica, 2014


Cover photo by Paula Monteagudo REWILDING Title photo by Dylan Byrne pg 6 photo by Watts Erb SWEET STRAWBERRIES... Title photo by Joanna Johnson Other photos by Victoria Bartoszewicz O U R M O U N TA I N S . . . Photo by Joanna johnson EVERYONE SHOULD WORK... Photo by Joanna Johnson S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y I S N O T E N O U G H Photo by Joanna Johnson S U S TA I N A B I L E C I T I E S . . . Title photo by Joanna Johnson pg 19 photo provided by Ailania M. Ocasio Ortiz pg 20 photo by Paula Monteagudo S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y I N J A PA N All photos by Maya Pundada RIKERS ISLAND Photos by Paula Monteagudo Images provided by Kate Bennet Map created by Shaky Sherpa of Sustainable Engineering Lab SAH JAH, ELEPHANTS OF THAILAND Photos by Joanna johnson D E AT H A N D. . . Photos by Jeff Sharpe From the Editor photo by Joanna Johnson Back cover photo by Joanna Johnson


REWILDING Shielded by the dense forest surrounding me, I abandoned civilization and all related worries and anxieties; all I brought was the clothes on my back and a thoughtful, open mind. In the wild—at least, the closest thing to the wild I could experience at the time—I was immersed in a world of surprising simplicity, in stark contrast to the vast perplexities of civilization. That state can only be described as certain tranquility and peace. I went for plenty of hikes when I was younger, and I experienced Pyramid Mountain—the hiking trail which I now set foot on—countless times. None of these hikes were as influential and definitional to my character as this particular one. During my hike, I came across a barren stretch of land. In the place where plant and wildlife had once thrived stood dead grasses and boulders, allowing a stretch of power lines to pass through. I did not doubt that most other hikers did not think twice regarding the nature of this infrastructure. I, however, looked upon them with disdain. The dead plants stood as monuments to humanity’s ideology of expansion. This expansion did not care for the beauty of nature, the harmony of simplicity that characterized this once abundant forest. Wild nature was impulsively destroyed for the sake of convenience. In his book Walden, which I picked up soon after my hike, Henry David Thoreau writes, “Our life is frittered away






by detail. Simplify, simplify.” This rather straightforward message, along with the many messages within Thoreau’s work, has a most profound impact on my overall character and interests. I no longer have a presence on social media, finding no need for the superficial relationships it propagates. I have removed myself from the dogmatic character of political ideology. No matter what they want me to believe, those who share the same “-ism” with me can no longer determine my views. I search for truth, not just what is fashionable at the moment. I avoid technology wherever I can, as I found the beauty of nature provides much more delight than any website can grant me. Since adopting this philosophy, I have been more comfortable with myself than I have ever been. For me, simplicity is happiness. I didn’t adopt the philosophy of simplicity without significant challenges. From the moment we are cast into this world, the religion of Progress is imposed upon us. We learned that; productivity is unquestionably righteous; our success is determined by material wealth; we are to give our bodies and our souls to some higher entity, whether it be the Firm, the Nation, or the aforementioned god of Progress. Escape from the complex society is made intentionally difficult— one would have to abandon everything to live in harmony with that which is simple. In the face of these formidable opponents, I remember the words of Thoreau: “Rather than love, than money, than fame, give me truth.” I have thus actively devoted my life to upholding a type of transcendentalist worldview and living as harmoniously as possible with the natural world. In this world, I perform my work for one fundamental purpose: to achieve happiness according to my standards, not those imposed upon me by an external force. I was once astonished by the complexities of life. I believed that these complexities shrouded the secrets of life and, once they are uncovered, I would be able to live a fuller life, one of truth and virtue. Indeed, I was correct—complexities shroud our lives, but they do so by diverting our attention from options many are unaware of. To live simply and reject these complexities, to abandon all superficial ideas and constructs and act pragmatically, to relentlessly critique all that currently exists in our society of abstractions; this, I believe, is the only way in which a true and meaningful life can be lived.



Interview with the author: What kind of impact does this type of lifestyle have? Reinviting simplicity into my life has required me to give up many of my belongings, hobbies, and relationships. Yet when I look back on those things which I have chosen to depart with, I am not met with a longing for the past or nostalgia for those times of abundance. Instead, I am grateful to have done away with these things. For the most part, they did not add any significant amount of happiness to my life, nor were they an integral part of my personality. Rather, they served as ways of filling time or were failed attempts at achieving the happiness that these very acquisitions prevented me from achieving. For those few genuinely good things that were caught in the line of fire, so to speak, the benefits of simplicity far outweigh the costs. Because I consume less, I consequently waste less and find more and more ways to reuse the little I do own. My hobbies, such as reading, writing, and hiking, are now more focused on benefitting myself at a spiritual level instead of providing me with a temporary excitement; they are centered around selfimprovement through harmony within the self and with the external—that is, natural—world. As previously mentioned, the relationships I now cherish are rich with meaning and add to my character in some substantive way, thereby making me happier and more comfortable with the person I am now.

What impact does living your life in this true and meaningful way have on the world & people around you? Of course, it is unrealistic to expect everyone to adopt the philosophy I have laid out. We are more dependent on technology than ever before and the prospect of minimizing its use seems implausible and outright ludicrous to most people. Even in this unfortunate reality, however, I still find it important to spread this idea to all that are willing to listen. Technology is constantly evolving and, by extension, taking power away from individuals and transferring it to abstract systems and large corporations. It must be understood that technology is not a cure-all; in fact, it is more often than not it is the problem rather than the solution. The more people that are at least partially skeptical of the thousands of technological systems imposed upon them every single day, the more clear-headed we as a society become as we head into a new age of unparalleled change. Indeed, if a great portion of the world were to understand the devastating effects that technology has on their daily lives and the fact that their autonomy is being sacrificed daily to prop up these systems, it is not so far fetched to believe that many of the social angsts that define the modern world would be significantly alleviated or perhaps done away with entirely. Human-induced climate change would significantly slow down if we were to realize the absurdity of the millions of meaningless goods offered on the marketplace and demand an end to their production. If people were content with their place in the world and were not so focused on acquiring an endless supply of material wealth, things such as violent crime and war could be significantly reduced or perhaps eradicated. In general, a content world—one that focuses on that which is spiritually uplifting and genuinely meaningful as opposed to surface level hedonism or short term prosperity—is a harmonious, safe, and affluent world.






It wasn’t until I drove back home in a semi-truck that I truly felt the gravity of this country’s agricultural systems— ones that are unseen and unheard in urban areas across the country. After my first year of college, my dad drove me, and endless stacks of boxes containing my possessions, a few of my window plants, and a load of strawberries from California to Chicago. We spent three days in his semi-truck, a 70,000 pound monster of a vehicle. Being on the road for about eight hours each day, we travelled across northern California, Nevada, Wyoming, Nebraska, and Iowa, before arriving in Illinois. During those few days, I gazed out the window looking at the landscape of the states we traveled through. The endless, empty, and straight highway was dotted by American flag-clad industrial plants and small towns, though it is ironic to call them small. They were characterized by 6 to 8 lane “streets”, giant parking lots, huge SUVs and pickup trucks, and even larger big box stores and fast-food franchises, not forgetting the enormous gas stations and truck stops. It was a landscape dedicated to fossil fuels. The most drastic part was realizing that we were in just one of the thousands of trucks that chug through this country daily. This enormous herd wasn’t even noticeable until we parked at a truck stop at night: about five football field slabs of concrete with the largest gas station I’ve ever seen. On it stood a convenience store that sold processed corn with food coloring and sugar in shiny aluminum bags, and small gadgets, toys, and cotton t-shirts shipped from China, as well as typical gas station drugs. But it had

showers, bathrooms, and a TV room for the drivers who were done for the day, as well as coffee in styrofoam cups for those who still had miles ahead of them. Calculating the carbon footprint of our miles driven was surely on my mind, but I quickly realized that wasn’t the only energy use I had to account for; the trailer attached to the truck was refrigerating the strawberries from spoiling during our 5,000-mile journey. A few hours into the trip, the generator’s belt snapped. This seemingly small piece of machinery could affect a lot more. Strawberries need to be stored at 33 degrees Fahrenheit to preserve their freshness for the grocery store. If something happened to the cooling system, the strawberries would spoil by the time we arrived in the Midwest and my dad would have to take the fall. Luckily, there was a mechanic on the way although that didn’t prevent my dad from feeling nervous for a stretch of the time. I did the math. Having burned 518 liters of diesel, the truck emitted around 1,387 kg of carbon dioxide in three days; the reefer (or refrigerating trailer) consumed another 170 liters of diesel, contributing an additional 456kg of carbon dioxide. So, if one truck containing 800 boxes of strawberries travelled over 2,000 miles in three days, emitting almost 2,000 kg of carbon for one grocery store in the Midwest, you can multiply that by the rest of the food you see in a grocery store, and the quantities are simply too large to comprehend. Unlike the mileage emissions, the refrigeration doesn’t stop when the driver stops, it stays on for days until the food is unloaded. Multiply that energy demand by all the fresh and frozen food delivered



to stores around the country and again, the energy use is staggering. (Don’t forget this food must stay frozen or refrigerated on store shelves, and those never shut off either.) But the road didn’t just carry environmental burdens; there wasn’t even one eatery in which we could order a real meal. Our restaurant choices were Denny’s or Apple Bee’s. It didn’t take long to notice that these dishes were either meat-intensive or could be mistaken for dessert; there was little to nothing nutritious or fresh. The people who spend their lives on the road, delivering food to our grocery stores, may not have a healthy meal for miles, days even. I was lucky I had packed food before we left. My dad would stop at Walmart, the “local” grocery store of the interstate, and buy simple ingredients to throw together. I understood why my dad had always packed coolers of food from home for the road. At the end of the day, the issue wasn’t that these highways didn’t have five-star restaurants or farmer’s markets for truck drivers. The ills rested in the misconception that


the available food was “cheap” when instead it was heavily subsidized; it included external environmental and health care costs whose prices would doubtlessly catch up and exceed the cost of real food. The issue was that it was acceptable to grow a third of the country’s food in a drought-burdened state, requiring thousands of trucks to deliver the food. The problem was that this country was built on fossil fuels for fossil fuels; the problem was in the massive pouring of concrete, the communities built for cars, and that somehow they were considered “cheaper” and “American”. My truck ride home proved to me that even if our current food system wasn’t environmentally degrading and fossil fuel-intensive, it would be completely inefficient, impractical, and economically and socially irresponsible. Too often the environmental impact of food taken into consideration without the social or economic components that are intertwined into the environmental crisis. Even if the carbon footprint of hauling food across the country wasn’t contributing to climate col-

lapse, why should the people who deliver it be food insecure along the way? Why should we risk hauling something our lives depend on from thousands of miles away? Why do people need to spend days behind the wheel to deliver a few hundred boxes of something as simple as strawberries to one store? Even if I had thought about these things in the past, I wouldn’t have questioned the nature of our food system, the intricate processes that keep the machine turning, producing what millions of people need to survive daily. There was one more thing I observed: I was bringing home a small lemon basil plant I had been given that school year. I saw the plant curve upwards against the windshield and towards the sunshine. It was quite ironic that we could grow something edible a few feet away from us in a machine that deceived us into thinking we would never have to grow food locally. I saw the potential for change. Maybe we all should push towards the light as we travel full speed into a changing landscape, predictable only if we pave the way.




We, as a human species, are crammers. As kids, we try to cram our grownup years into a few hours of lipstick and eyeshadow. As teenagers, we cram for tests and projects last minute and stuff ourselves with what we think is the pinnacle of adult life. As adults, we cram work, family, and other commitments into as many hours of the day as possible, and then cram sleep in on the weekends. One can say cramming isn’t a horrible thing as the deadline is met in the end. However, last-minute work is more chaotic and messier—no matter how one supports it—because enough time wasn’t dedicated to the problem. A report that you revised and reworked over a few weeks will likely be neat, orderly, and clear, unlike one that you frantically pulled together at the last minute: the latter will still have scribbles, arrows and questions marks throughout it. This is sadly the attitude people have displayed when dealing with the issue of climate change for the past few decades. To say we have been zealous and willful in taking action against the immense environmental problems is like saying trees breathe in oxygen


with a physical nose—it is true to some extent, but also incorrect. Recently, however, millions of people on Earth seem to have realized that life as we know it can and will change drastically if something doesn’t change. To combat climate change, trees have to spout noses, or we have to revise our way of thinking. Thankfully, people found it strange to see noses sticking out of the foliage, and soon a new mindset was born, both in society and in myself. Through studying for tests, watching documentaries, and doing research I came to the brilliant conclusion that we have little time to fix mother earth’s sickness before the damage becomes irreversible. As my childhood was filled with nature, I was determined to find a way to become more sustainable myself. I also wanted to help people understand how our actions have dire consequences and how they can make a difference. Luckily for us humans, cramming is our specialty. If we can stuff sleep, school, relationships, and joy into our short life spans, why can’t we reverse the century-long environmental damage in ten years?





Many have grumbled about the short amount of time we have to fix the monumental problem or chuckled that the whole climate crisis is not real. When facing such people refusing to change, one can feel alone in trying to make a dent in the world or even in their household—every room seems filled with people unwilling to take a stand and the clock is ticking with what little time we have left. With such a huge project that we need to cram into one decade, it is hard to believe anyone other than myself was crazy enough to embrace the challenge. However, looking a little farther than the next room can reveal likeminded people, who share the same drive and adroit cramming skills with me. It was through looking down the hallway that I found earnest and determined crammers tackling the difficult issue. I’ve never seen so many people as passionate about the environment as I was during my time at Sustainable Summer. We all stared at each other, thinking how amazing it was to not be the only one who wanted change. Everyone had different creative solutions through business, innovation,

technology, and policy to deal with the climate crises, but the bottom line was clear: we all demanded change. I left the program with new blooming friendships, a greater love of nature and ecosystems, and a new sense of purpose and gratitude. To be a leader in sustainability does not mean one has to force reusable water bottles into people’s hands. It merrily means to lead by example in any way that interests your heart. No one needs to major in environmental science or policy to advocate for a sustainable future, because we need allies through diverse fields. No matter what career path you decide to take, always be a steady leader in sustainable practices. The task ahead of us is difficult and huge, but not impossible. There are always like-minded humans who, just like yourself, expect great challenges but still willing to try. If anyone can save our planet, it is us, humans, for we have technology, heart, and science on our side. We decided to be the change we wish to see in the world and we can accomplish this. After all- we are crammers.






I have studied sustainability on my own, in the program at Chatham University, and with farmers and professionals in Ecuador through Sustainable Learning. I decided to change my diet and everyday habits to reflect a more earth-friendly routine. Through my research, I found three areas of focus in reducing overall carbon footprints: industrial livestock farming, transportation for agricultural products, and single-use items. Overall, I plan to convey the need for each person to become aware of these aspects of carbon emissions. I also hope to address the dire need for change on a global scale to protect humans and all lives on Earth.

as a whole contributes to large carbon emissions. The transportation of agricultural materials over far distances also creates a huge carbon footprint. In other words, when an individual purchases food grown far away, they are enabling massive carbon emissions in the transportation process. It is extremely vital to purchase food items that are grown locally and sustainably. In Resilient Agriculture: Cultivating Food Systems for a Changing Climate, Laura Lengnick writes: “Compared to industrial production systems, sustainable production systems tend to enhance the resilience of the food system within which they reside” (Lengnick, 2015).

When addressing human carbon emissions, it is important to address the largest and most pressing issues first. According to many scientific studies, livestock farming is the human species’ largest contributing factor in our immense carbon and methane emissions. Livestock production is resource-demanding: it occupies 30% of the world’s ice-free surface and consumes 8% of global human water use, mainly for the irrigation of feed crops (FAO 2009a). Moreover, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that there will be a 73% increase in meat and egg consumption and a 58% increase in dairy consumption worldwide by the year 2050 (taking the base values of 2011). The increase in population, which will likely be 9.4 billion by 2050, would put additional pressure on the availability of land, water, and energy. As a result, feed production to meet the increasing demand for animal products will be a challenge in the context of the three pillars of sustainability: planet, profit., and people (Makkar and Ankers 2014a). Along with livestock production, industrial agriculture

Another contributing factor in global carbon emissions is the use of single-use items rapidly accumulating in the landfill. Disposable plastics, papers, wrappers, or products of any kind are extremely harmful to the environment and our human species. A lot of trash we throw away ends up in the ocean, polluting the water. The plastic ingested by wildlife can either kill ocean animals or we, humans, will end up consuming microplastic when we eat seafood. Humans have made countless mistakes in being able to function while supporting an ecologically sound society. Each person needs to become aware of their meat consumption, agricultural purchases, and single-use trash. As the Earth’s ecosystems are rapidly changing, or deteriorating, many species are becoming extinct. The scientific evidence of human-caused climate change is overwhelming. Yet with the information currently available, we have the option to change our negatively impactful behaviors—otherwise, our species as we know it could face dire consequences.




We are in the midst of a catastrophic crisis unlike anything ever experienced on Earth. Our planet is engulfed in flames, scorching communities, and setting ecosystems ablaze. Political leaders from around the world are pioneering ecocide, either out of malignant complacency or to protect their stronghold on capital. Corporate executives are colluding with legislators and regulators to safeguard profits at the expense of a habitable climate. Together, their power is manifested as the systems — capitalism, colonialism, patriarchy, and white supremacy — that uphold our climate crisis. These members of the ruling class will not relinquish power voluntarily. What can we, the people, do to avert this imminent anthropogenic calamity? While individuals can adopt more sustainable lifestyles, it is not enough to merely sustain the ecosphere. Rather, we must regenerate it. Shifts such as composting, reducing meat consumption, and expanding public transit are indeed worthwhile; however, they currently aren’t accessible options for all. Furthermore, they are negligible unless we engage in a total grassroots revolution. 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global greenhouse gas emissions, and so the necessary action must be institutional, not individual. Striving for regeneration beyond sustainability is paramount, and to do so requires the structural overhaul of our economy. The structural overhaul requires political upheaval, which can only happen when communities come together and cultivate collective power. We must elevate the



voices, stories, and experiences of folks at the frontlines of the climate crisis, and then transform our shared demands into legislative action. This action cannot spawn from political leaders or corporate figureheads. Rather, it must center those most affected by climate colonialism, environmental racism, and disaster capitalism. Grassroots legislative action is inadequate if it monetizes carbon, or fails to codify justice, equity, and self-determination for all. Grassroots legislative action must foster the just transition from an extractive economy to a regenerative economy. Without justice, a world devoid of climate change would not a regenerative future. A just transition requires going beyond a carbon-neutral or low-carbon economy — we need a zero-carbon economy. We must divest stocks, bonds, public and private endowments, and employee pensions from fossil fuels. We must phase out all fossil fuel infrastructure immediately, from fracked gas pipelines to coal-fired power plants to oil refineries and expand renewable power plants onshore and offshore. This would demand the creation of 20 million new jobs, each with a union, living wage, and adequate training for former fossil fuel workers. This would restructure the economy with stronger labor protections while holding corporate polluters accountable and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. The only piece of legislation proposing the just transition to a regenerative economy is the Green New Deal. We will pay for it by reducing military spending on imperializing oil reserves, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies, taxing the ruling class, and making industry polluters pay fees. Enacting the Green New Deal is a necessary step to avert the climate crisis, but it is only the first step in a larger struggle for climate justice. Subsequently, we must cultivate a commons in which land is decolonized and food, water, and energy systems are socially-owned. We need renewable energy cooperatives, community permaculture systems, and municipal water reclamation infrastructure to foster energy democracy, food sovereignty, and clean water for all. We must amplify the wisdom of indigenous leaders, elevate the voices from communities of color, listen to the stories from low-income communities, and build coalitions to practice solidarity in action. We are in a state of climate emergency, but a regenerative future is not just possible but also feasible.






Sustainability studies how natural systems function, remain diverse, and produce everything they need for their ecology to remain in balance (environmental To maintain balance, natural resources must regenerate at the rate they are being used. However, as a society, we have exploited these resources and consumed them at a rate that can’t be maintained in the quantities that are used. Sustainably speaking, Puerto Rico is not as advanced as other countries, such as Switzerland and France. These were ranked first and second by the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) for their environmental policymaking and sustainability practices. Puerto Rican towns and cities that are farther away from the capital (San Juan), like Mayagüez, are more prone to a lack of sustainable efforts. The need for a sustainable change emerges because of various reasons. Poorly developed urban planning makes amenities and daily activities distant and not easily accessible for bikers as there are few trail routes in the city. Mayagüez lacks efficient public transportation, and the existing options are scarce and limited. Supermarkets have high levels of imported goods and encourage high consumption of those goods. There has been water rationing because demand is higher than the number of water reservoirs. These issues directly demonstrate how the community is struggling to meet its needs. When an individual depends on their transportation, it directly impacts the amount of petroleum used. The lack of accessibility to natural trails is a health and environmental issue, and the overconsumption of water leads to rationing and, eventually, a limited amount of water

overall. On a larger scale, Puerto Rico is powered by a government agency that generates electricity mostly run by fossil fuels, drastically increasing our carbon footprint. Mayagüez would gain many social and economic benefits if it focused on meeting needs sustainably. A report written by Hallie Kennan and Chris Busch discusses the way sustainable cities could drive business growth and reported an increase in time efficiency, improved health, and innovation inspired by diversity. The information emphasized the aspect of urban planning. When done thoughtfully, urban planning with sustainability in mind is good for both the environment and community. An increase in time efficiency would be possible because commute times decrease when the community lives closer to jobs and amenities. Improved health is also expected as physically, and mentally healthy workers are involved in activities improving their minds and bodies. Research shows that every hour spent driving increases the risk of obesity by 6%. On the other hand, biking to work can promote cardiovascular fitness and reduce cancer mortality. Overall improved health increases job productivity and performance. Kennan and Busch write about innovation inspired by diversity, for instance, access to public spaces (common in sustainable cities) help diverse groups of people to interact; diversity is equal to greater innovation and creativity. A few towns in Puerto Rico have taken the initiative to become sustainable and have experienced some of the aforementioned benefits. The community of Toro Negro, 19


for example, has joined these sustainable efforts. It is located in Ciales, to the center of the island, and is considerably distant to surrounding cities. I spoke with their community leader, José Figueroa, to be able to share some of their work. The community has worked for fifteen years towards improving its infrastructure, its management of solid wastes, its health, and the protection of its nearby rivers; Río Toro Negro and Río Matrullas. As most of the island, Toro Negro was heavily affected after hurricane María, mostly because they are very distant from immediate relief. The community efficiently searched for alternatives to be able to help itself. After the crisis was over, it decided to become completely solar-powered, an idea proposed by Somos Solar. Besides solar energy, the community has a potable water reservoir that holds 12,000 gallons of water and they have installed pipelines and a resilient center. These improvements avoid the events that



occurred during and after the hurricane. The community of Toro Negro also added waste recipients near the river for visitors to dispose of their trash and to educate them about the importance of a clean river. During the last few years, it has promoted education and created Por Amor al Río, which presents four workshops to the general public yearly. When asked about the benefits of such changes in his home, José Figueroa viewed the community as clean and healthy; he believes their solar power and their water supply have given them energetic security and that it overall facilitates their lives. In the economic aspect, he stated, “if you don’t have electrical energy in your house, you start to lose money,” referring to the fact that a power outage causes loss of money on fuel for power generators and other related aspects. The community of Toro Negro is a small part of Puerto Rico that demonstrates that sustainable practices have ad-

vantages that could be beneficial to Mayagüez and the island as a whole. Mayagüez could emulate Toro Negro’s ideals to become sustainable. To do so, it would have to increase the amount of public transportation, promote energy alternatives, construct more bike trails. As well as manifest concern about well thought out urban planning in future development. The city should encourage and educate its community about less usage of plastic material and more biodegradable products, as well as embrace and promote recycling programs. Mayagüez should follow Toro Negro’s community as an example, in becoming empowered to protect and maintain their resources. Mayagüez’s communities must work together to achieve the goal of becoming more sustainable. In doing so, they will demand action from their local government and support from other cities to make Puerto Rico more sustainable and environmentally conscious.


S U S TA I N A B I L I T Y I N J A PA N I go by Maya but my legal name is Misaki. I was born and raised in Tokyo, about 45 minutes outside of downtown. Although my family is conventionally Japanese and I went to a domestic, mediocre high school, I decided to study in Indiana as a foreign exchange student in my junior year in high school. My time in the Midwest not only fostered my personal growth but also made me realize how environmentally Japanese people live compared to those in Indiana. I never imagined that some people deny climate change, which all Japanese students learn in elementary school. I never knew that a single trash bin can collect plastic waste, food scraps, paper, and batteries all at once. I never expected to wear a winter jacket in August, due to the central heating system that kept the temperature under 60 degrees in the school building. When I came back home from Indiana, I was very proud of Japanese people’s environmental lifestyles that I had taken for granted before my study abroad. For example, many people believe that wasting food is disrespectful to all laborers involved as well as animals whose lives are taken for our consumption. For the vast majority of the country, public transportation is readily available, clean, and punctual.




Also, a lot of people bike or walk everywhere because most things are densely concentrated. In fact, Japan used to have an extremely isolationist foreign policy that rejected almost all interactions with the West between mid-17th and 19th centuries. During the Edo period (1603-1867), Japan managed an circular economy due to its lack of natural resources and foreign trade. A survey by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was reflective of Japan’s environmental consciousness: nearly 90% of respondents answered that it would be good/ very good for Japan to take a more active role in fighting climate change (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 2017). Last September, youths in Tokyo organized the Global Climate Strike along with millions of other activists all around the world. In Shibuya, one of the largest downtown areas in Tokyo, approximately 2,800 people joined the strike (Merion, 2019).


.... Wait a minute? Isn’t 2,800 too few for a city of over 36 million (Tokyo Population, 2019)? In contrast, 100,000 people demonstrated in London and 250,000 in NYC (Barclay & Rensnick, 2019), despite significantly smaller populations in those cities. Although I don’t necessarily believe the number of strikers accurately reflects their commitment to sustainability, Japan has a significant gap between its citizens’ climate awareness and their actions. At the end of the day, my country is much less environmental than I initially believed. In fact, Japan has won the “Fossil of the Day” Award twice from Climate Action Network International. Every year, this international NGO gives the satirical award to countries with a failed commitment to a sustainable future. Despite international criticism, Japan has been promoting coal-fired

power plants at home and abroad, especially in developing countries to “help the economy” (Mainichi Japan, 2019). Moreover, Tokyo’s reliance on fossil fuels has increased since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear accident, which left the nearby towns inhabitable to this date. Another problem with Japan’s sustainability is the use of plastic. Indeed, Japan is the world’s secondlargest producer of plastic waste per capita after the US (McCurry, 2019). Perhaps, a cultural preference is partially responsible—customers associate elaborate packaging not only with high-end service but also with sanitation and freshness. Since other Asian countries such as China, Malaysia, and the Philippines refused to remain the world’s plastic dumping ground, plastic waste is accumulating in Japanese warehouses and incinerators are at full capacity. Last spring, however,


the Japanese government passed a policy to require shops to charge for plastic bags. Although Japanese society is starting to embrace sustainability, disposable bags account for merely 2% of total plastic waste in Japan, thus charging small fees will do little to reduce plastic waste (Takeuchi & Tsunashima, Nikkei).

were overrepresented. Interestingly, my Japanese friends who regularly interact with foreign media/people tend to be more environmentally conscious than those who only get information in Japanese, regardless of their academic/professional background. To be completely honest, it is difficult to stay

hopeful about Japanese people’s attitudes toward sustainability. But at least, I know my country is slowly but surely making progress toward a sustainable future. One day, I hope to regain my pride for Japan as a leader of sustainability.

Finally, I was also wrong about Japan’s attitude toward food waste. Despite our traditional philosophy about food waste, in the 2015 fiscal year, 6.46 million tons of food intended for human consumption was unsold (, 2018). In the same year, Japan’s food sufficiency rate was only 39%—in order words, Japan is throwing out a huge amount of food that it cannot even produce on its own (, 2018). One reason for Japan’s food waste is the commercial distribution law known as the “one-third rule.” Under this rule, food producers need to deliver products to retailers within the first third of the period that runs from the production date to the final sell-by date. If they are unable to meet that deadline, the retailers have a right to refuse the deliveries (, 2018). This practice was intended to ensure consistent quality for food products, but it has resulted in a massive loss of goods that are weeks, sometimes months, away from their expiration dates. Japan is a unique country whose citizens are deeply concerned about climate change and other environmental issues yet reluctant to take any actions. When I went to a vegan meetup in Tokyo a few years ago, more than 70% of participants were white, including the organizer, and I saw only a handful of Japanese natives. Even at the Global Climate Strike in September, foreigners, particularly those of European descent,






While doing research for a policy paper in my Energy & Society class at the University of California, Berkeley (taught by Nobel Laureate, Dan Kammen, co-author of the IPCC Report), I came across a breaking story that the NY City Council had voted to finally close the notorious mass incarceration center on Rikers Island. Located on a landfill island seeping with methane, Rikers Island is not only unfit for human life, but has also served as a long-lasting symbol of the unjust American prison system. Ergo, upon seeing news that this land was up for grabs, I began to research who the players would be in this large land acquisition pursuit in one of the most densely populated cities in the world. Three primary options, as outlined in my letter to Mayor de Blasio below, have emerged, with both public and private roots. However, it quickly became clear to me that one option would be the most forwardthinking, equitable, and sustainable option for New Yorkers. Passionate about this option, I wrote a letter to Mayor de Blasio, albeit no response yet, in hopes that Rikers Island will finally be a symbol not of injustice, oppression, and racism, but rather what New York City stands for: innovation, growth, and equity for all.

To: Mayor de Blasio and Members of the City Council From: Kate Bennett, UC Berkeley Undergraduate with the Energy Resources Group Subject: Rikers Island Renewable Energy Development Dear Mayor de Blasio,

produces about 200 megawatts of solar energy, but per your comprehensive resiliency strategy, OneNYC, the city has a goal of producing 1000 megawatts by 2030. Adopting the Renewable Rikers Act with my recommended increased acreage for a solar farm would get New York City to almost half of this goal.

With the impending closure of the mass incarceration site at Rikers Island, New York City is now pressed with the decision of what to develop on the centrally-located 415-acres of open land. I strongly recommend that this island be used as a renewable energy hub to further New York City’s goal toward 1000 megawatts solar capacity by 2030, shut down natural gas “peakers” (natural-gasfired generators used during peak energy use) disproportionally polluting low-income communities, and move New York City toward an equitable and sustainable future. As you know, just this October, the New York City Council approved an $8B plan to shut down the incarceration complex on Rikers Island by 2026. Currently, there are three primary proposals for the island’s development: a renewable energy hub, an extension to La Guardia Airport, and low-cost housing. The city should move forward with the renewable energy hub proposal, which has been codified in the new Renewable Rikers Act under the guidance of Council Member Costa Constantinides. I recommend augmenting Constantinides’ proposal by dedicating half of the island (rather than one quarter) for solar panels and batteries, which would generate approximately 200 megawatts of electricity per day, with 600 megawatts storable in batteries. As of this November, the city

Further, developing a renewable energy hub per the Renewable Rikers Act would be more efficient and equitable than the other two proposals because: 1) The back-up power of this newly-installed solar would allow natural-gas-fired plants disproportionately placed in low- income communities to be shut down, which would reduce pollution and clear land for low-cost housing; 2) It would address environmental justice concerns by limiting pollution from La Guardia Airport that permeates low-income waterfront areas; 3) The island was built upon landfill, which secretes toxic methane, and is therefore unfit for housing due to the inevitable long exposure of methane to humans; 4) There is only one inconvenient bridge connecting Rikers Island to New York City (specifically, Queens), so in order to create equitable housing, large infrastructure changes would be necessary to connect Rikers to Manhattan and the rest of the City. Turning Rikers into a solar plant would evidently reduce infrastructure stresses on low- income neighborhoods while also increasing renewable energy development that NYC desperately needs. For all of the reasons outlined above, creating a renewable energy hub on Rikers Island provides the most sustainable, equitable, and innovative approach to the impending land-use changes on Rikers Island. 25



Above is an interactive map displaying where power plants are located in New York City. Clearly, most of the plants are located on the waterfront, in historically low-income minority communities of the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn. When comparing this data to the first map, the areas where the most energy is used compared to where it is produced is evidently disproportionate. Based on the comparison of these maps and other research primarily in the New York Times, it is apparent that most of New York City’s fossil fuel power plants are heavily polluting low-income communities of color, while this energy is heavily consumed in higher-income areas of Manhattan. When considering the proposals for the redevelopment of Rikers Island, it is especially critical to consider how the development will affect the nearby communities that have bared high-polluting infrastructure burdens for decades.



Developed at the School of Engineering and Applied Science at Columbia University, the map above displays the disparate levels of energy use throughout the city. Areas in dark red have the highest energy use, then reduce in energy use as the color turns lighter red, orange, then yellow, which marks the least amount of energy use in the city. Evidently, the highest energy use in the city is concentrated in Manhattan, especially in areas of the highest concentrated wealth (i.e. Midtown and the Financial District are two of the darkest red areas on the map). The map represents an estimate of the total annual building energy consumption at the block level and at the tax lot level for New York City, and is expressed in kilowatt hours (kWh) per square meter of land area. A mathematical model based on statistics, not individual building data, was used to estimate the annual energy consumption values for buildings throughout the five boroughs. To see the percentage break down of the estimated end-uses, hover over or click on a block or tax lot. The tax lot level data shows how much energy an average building of that size and type would use. (






Far away, the elephant trumpets. A vocal, baby elephant, Wan Mai, is afraid of a water buffalo rising from the mud. Within seconds, his herd surrounds him. The matriarch, Kum Suk, uses the 40,000 muscles of her trunk, to remind any nearby danger of her power. The momentary fear subsides and the huddle disperses. In the hills of Northern Thailand, the Chang Thai (Thai elephants) are free. Fifty years ago, when their parents and grandparents thundered through these mountains, 70% of Thailand was covered with forest. Today’s wild generation lives off the 20% left. Most of their cousins have been shipped off to camps, circuses and zoos so the humans can have some fun. The smaller forest cover is just right for the two thousand wild left among them. Lulu wanders through the night, straying from her mother and matriarch grandmother, for just a few hours. She moved from the camp to the forest when she was just a few years old, too young and small to be ridden. She leaves her sleeping herd to explore, a freedom she’s never been allowed. As she nears the edge of the forest, the cover thins, opening to a rice field. A generalist herbivore by nature, she tries a new food, holding extra rice stalks in the finger at the tip of her trunk. She walks back to her herd, pesticides in her stomach, and falls asleep. The next morning, she cannot follow her mother. She’s too sick to walk and her tusches (small tusks) become soft. A few weeks later, one of them falls off. She struggles to survive in the Chang Mai elephant hospital, under the care of her gorchaw-gay (elephant watcher). When she returns to the forest, she will still eat eighteen hours a day, but only the food she knows. She won’t be so quick to leave the herd anymore. Sixty-five million years ago, Hyracoida (hyrax) separated from the Elephantid lineage, taking advantage of the Cre-

taceous-Paleogene extinction, thriving in a dinosaur-free world (Ludovic 2007). Forty million years later, Mammut americanum was born in America, bearing the earliest resemblance to its modern long lost cousins (Ludovic 2007). When George Cuvier, a French extinctionist discovered its remains in 1817, he named it Mastodon, meaning “nipple tooth”, believing that it’s primitive Elephantid tusks looked like nipples. As the family evolved, continents split and the earth cooled, leaving parents and offspring estranged. Between four and six million year ago, Loxodonta, the modern African Elephant, walked away from Mammuthus (Mammoth), shedding its wool to adapt to the late Cenozoic. Three million years ago, the mammoth left behind its last offspring, Elephas, the modern Asian Elephant, before extinction (Ludovic 2007). Soon after, the nipple-tooth disappeared, leaving Elephas maximus as its closest relative to carry on the family genes. Sah Jah, a modern Elephas maximus indicus, walks through the forest alone. She sees the herd inviting her to join, but she just grumbles a greeting and walks the other way. Years before, her companion was captured and taken to an elephant camp. She’s wandered alone ever since. Although she’s old enough to be the matriarch of her own herd, she never mated. Her eyes are as golden as they are sad. After her companion’s capture, she trumpeted her grief for days and nights. Like crying you can’t escape. The Karen villages surrounding the forest still hear it, feeling sorry for their gorchaw (elephant), but needing the money to feed their own families. They will forget when they feed their children. They will forget when the money comes. Wan Mai yanked out a tree while Gureepo and Lulu stole mangos. Pati Sayee offered Thong Dee some beer and Sah Jah sulked across the stream I walked away for the last time, telling the elephants I’d be back, knowing I wouldn’t be.




We trekked for three hours Up the mountain Down the mountain Ignoring the parasites drinking our blood Bleeding crimson through our clothes Thorns through our thighs, Our hands, our hair Too tired to notice Each shoe was ten pounds The mud caked in the cracks A chocolate cake stuck in a pan. We trekked for three hours Through rain and fog Over fallen bamboo, under a canopy Of branches and tarantulas


Then I saw her And I forgot that We had trekked for three hours And didn’t hear a sound Silent as day Gray, wrinkled, old Golden eyes The goddess of the woods Standing alone Like elephants don’t Your Golden Eyes Met my blue ones Paralyzed by language Because to describe the her Just to name her Is like trying to catch Something invisible



Presently, most of America is in a state of semiquarantine and stasis as the covid-19 virus strangles life as we know it into a shadow of its former self. With the closure of the New York City public schools a week ago, my wife and two young children decamped from our 950 square foot apartment in Brooklyn for our “country house” in rural Litchfield County, CT. I have been spending my time roughly equivalently between homeschooling our kids (ages two and four), working on various house and property projects, and managing what could quite possibly be the end of the non-profit organization I have spent the past 8 years building. How I came to own 5 acres of former cow pasture is not particularly relevant to this story, but I will tell a little of it anyway. An 1850s farmhouse, at only two bedrooms it was too small for most people’s liking and situated too close to the road, as farmhouses of the era most often are. So it was passed over by buyers until my wife and I bought it, seeking an “escape” from the city and a place where our kids could experience the outdoors. The old timber frame barn, hand-hewed from ancient chestnut trees spoke to me, as did the stream, a branch of Sprain Brook, that bisected the property.





We spend many weekends and most holidays at the house, but until now, had never spent more than a couple of weeks consecutively. One event I look forward to every year is our staff training, which we hold on the property. Wonderful colleagues gather for an intense week before our programs kick off every summer. But with the impacts of the coronavirus growing more profound every day, the prospect of running our programs this summer is in doubt. The truth of it is, should the coronavirus outbreak extend into the summer, a very probable scenario at this point, it would make it nearly impossible to survive financially. There is a certain impotence to the situation, one that no amount of managerial savvy can really correct for. So, rather than dwell on something that is largely outside my control, I have instead been concerning myself with my ash trees. The emerald ash borer first arrived in the US from China in 2002, most probably as a “hitchhiker” on a shipping container. Lacking any natural predator here, it has spread quickly throughout most of the Midwest and pushed its way into New England in recent years, feeding almost exclusively on its favorite tree, the ash. Most experts believe it is simply a short matter of time before nearly all of the ash trees in the US are gone. The ash is a remarkable tree species. It grows in marginal conditions, quickly in good ones, and is prized for its lumber. Straight grained and strong, it’s what baseball bats and ax handles are famously made of, and also one of the best trees for firewood. On my property, I have a lot of maple, beech, birch, and oak. And many mature ash trees, which have nearly all been killed within the last two years by the emerald ash borer. Two rather large and standing dead trees were, until last week, in the fall zone of structures on my land; recent victims of the borer. Five more grew tall on the southern edge of a clearing on the other side of our stream, an otherwise perfect spot for a garden. Ash don’t cast a lot of shade compared to maple or oak, but these were big trees and without them blocking the southern sun, my growing conditions would be substantially improved, turning a roughly tenth of an acre from dappled shade to full sun. In the right circumstances, it only takes a few minutes to fell a tree that has spent decades earning its

place in this world. As humans, we have the potential to influence the environment in remarkably fast and impactful ways. This is not always a bad thing for nature, in my opinion. While clearing large swaths of rainforest to plant a monoculture of African palm is undoubtedly ecologically disastrous, we can also act on the landscape in ways that produce abundance not just for humans, but for wildlife as well. Ecological succession is a natural process, and humans have the benefit of understanding enough about nature to help coax biodiversity into existence, particularly in circumstances where the landscape has already been disturbed, more quickly and more harmoniously than nature would if left alone. We don’t always do this, obviously. But we can. Thus, even though the roar of a chainsaw feels in many ways like the embodiment of the destruction of nature, it is something altogether different if felling several standing dead trees will now give way to a food forest of chestnut, apple, persimmon, mulberry and other fruit and nut trees with a diversity of annuals and perennials growing in the understory. But what of the ash. To turn it all into firewood would be the most practical use, although a shame for posterity. Instead I have a local sawyer coming with a portable saw mill to process several of the trees into rough sawn lumber. I have a modest woodworking shop in the barn and imagine producing benches, a table, and other furniture from the lumber. Sturdy, functional pieces that will help tell the story of these trees long after they are gone. “Daddy, what happened to the trees,” my four year old daughter asks the day after I began felling the ash trees. I explained why I cut them down, showing her the tunnels left by the ash borer. She has lots of other questions, including if the other types of trees will get eaten by the insects and die. I tell her that they will be fine. She also wants to know how old the trees were before we cut them down, so we counted the rings of one of the larger trees, around 40. About the same age as I am. “Will all of the ash trees die,” she asks. “I don’t know,” I respond. “I hope not.” This piece was written March 23rd, 2020



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FROM THE EDITOR Wo r k o n A m a r a n t h u s Vo l I I I b e g a n b a c k i n J a n u a r y, a n d a t h e m e e m e rg e d rat h e r q u i c k l y : how do we take responsibility for the health of the planet? This common thread ties together each piece, each page exploring the notion of responsibility for the planet and its people. While every author approaches this idea differently, it is apparent what is on their minds: humans are responsible for the state of the world, and we are scrambling for ways to help. I think we all have ideas of who should be held responsible, who should be doing more. Placing blame is not a strategy, not a sign of leadership. Acknowledgement of responsibility and direct action are. The world is a different place now than it was just a few months ago. We have seen the damage done and the impacts on communities around the globe. We cannot unsee, and we cannot forget, how current leadership and existing systems failed. We cannot allow ourselves to be convinced that we should ‘return to normal,’ when we know that the way things were, were destructive, exploitive, and unjust. We are our best chance for change. Human connection and solidarity; a commitment to building up our communities. The contributions made to Amaranthus demonstrate the commitment of individuals to the global community- of individuals examining their personal philosophy, their participation in unhealthy systems, their relationships with the inhabitants of this planet. I take each article as an expression of solidarity with the planet and all life- and find inspiration and immense gratitude knowing that the members of the Sustainable Summer community continue to commit to action. I’d like to thank Maya Funada for her incredible efforts towards this volume of Amaranthus. Her insight and support were instrumental and immensely appreciated at every stage of the process. And finally, thank you to all of our contributors- the Sustainalble Summer community continues to be one of my greatest sources of inspiration and hope.



ABOUT AMARANTHUS Amaranthus is an annual publication by Sustainable Learning, a Brooklyn, NY-based 501(c)(3) not-for-profit that specializes in youth environmental leadership programming. The publication’s purpose is to cultivate an intellectual and emotional connection ​ within our community. It is distributed to few thousand readers from our community of program alums and their parents, educators from a variety of disciplines, and the general public that shares an interest in educating for sustainability, youth leadership development, and environmentallyconscious living. Our editorial approach is similar to that of a subscription-based commercial magazine. We do not assume that our ​publication will be read and enjoyed simply because its recipients have an affiliation with ​Sustainable Learning. We strive to deliver a publication that is stylish, engaging and relevant, with demanding standards for writing, editing and design. Every article in ​Amaranthus has some ​connection​to Sustainable Learning’s mission of cultivating the next generation of environmental leaders​ . These may be from a program alum or from a staff member. Anything that we can put in a digital journal will be considered as long as it speaks to the topics of environmental leadership, education, and/or activism.

If you are interested in submitting to next year’s edition, please email your submission ​​ to​by December 31st, 2020. REQUIREMENTS: Although not intended to be an exhaustive list, we will consider publication of​the following: - creative pieces - photography and illustrations - critical essays - DIY projects ​- academic writing - product and book reviews If your piece will help others be environmental leaders in their communities and can be included in a printed publication, we’d like to take a look. Prose submissions should be 5 ​​ 00 ​- 15,000 ​words​; the majority of published material is under 3,000 words. All photos and other graphics should be the highest possible resolution, ideally 300 dpi, and include relevant metadata (caption, location, etc). We prefer polished manuscripts to “first drafts,” with the understanding that revisions, additional research and some rewriting may be necessary. Writers will be consulted on revisions;