Words of the Watershed Volume I
Preamble ................................................................................................................................ 1 Here
Go to your place and think by Jashvina Devadoss ......................................................... 2 Unrecognition by Abby Peterson ....................................................................................... 4 Alive by Nicole Wong .......................................................................................................... 4 On fracking, futility, and friends who arenâ€™t environmentalists by Ella Teevan ..... 5 May 2012, family visits from southern Iowa...by Jonathan Pyner.......................................8 To students at UC Berkeley, new to the area by Corey Scher ....................................... 9 Strawberry Creek Watershed Haikus by Ariel Cherbowsky ........................................ 9 Forecast by Abby Peterson ..................................................................................................10 Faithful Forever by Salmon Foreboding .......................................................................... 10 Untitled by Jashvina Devadoss ..........................................................................................11
Cows by Natalie Holt .......................................................................................................... 12 Rustic Woods, after Shishkin by Alison Ke .................................................................... 13 Wissahickon Creek, PA by Alison Ke .............................................................................. 13 Burrowing Owl by Stephanie Martin .............................................................................. 14 Wild Ginger by Stephanie Martin .................................................................................... 14 Berkeley Marina by Manon von Kaenel .......................................................................... 15 Sunset from the Roof by Manon von Kaenel .................................................................. 15 Tree Line by Jonathan Reader ............................................................................................ 16
White Ribbons and Roads by Hanna Morris ................................................................ 17 Pesticide exposure in the home ranks higher than in the field by Stacey Dixon ...... 20 Pier 39 by Brittney Hodson ................................................................................................ 21 Changing of the Guards by C.S. Hull .............................................................................. 21 Climbing up to Buena Vista by Jessica A. Rogness ....................................................... 22
The environmental externalities of fracking by Rohit Upadhya ................................ 23 A Chance of Rain by Maria Moon .................................................................................... 28 Squirrel Defense by C.S. Hull .......................................................................................... 28 12 Ways to Re-Wild Your Life by Meredith Jacobson .................................................... 29 The Bottle by Katie Valtcheva ........................................................................................... 30 A Story about Numbers by Judy Li .................................................................................. 31 The Possible by Kristy Drutman ....................................................................................... 33
Staff and Sponsors ........................................................................................................... 34
Table of Contents
Front cover art by Katie Holmes
1 Words of the Watershed began as an idea. It was the idea that UC Berkeley is a watershed of environmental ideas, flowing from many directions in different forms and textures. We wanted to create a journal that would be a physical place for all of those ideas, narratives, and perspectives to drain into, a place we can all drink inspiration from, helping us redefine our relationship with Berkeley and beyond. This is UC Berkeley’s Undergraduate Journal of Local Environmental Writing. “Local” is meant to include both writing about Berkeley or the Bay Area, and writing created by people who live here in the Bay Area. We use “environmental writing” to indicate work that explores our relationship with the earth and all its inhabitants. This is a space where creative, academic, and journalistic writing and art can dwell together on common ground. With our first issue, we hope to plant a seed that will grow, establishing Words of the Watershed as a part of the Berkeley ecosystem of thought and environmental stewardship. I am so thankful to the amazing team that created this issue, a team of people who put their minds and creative spirits together, turning an idea into reality. Likewise, we cannot continue growing and thriving without the support of many communities: writers and artists, readers, and supporters. Please join us. Be a part of this idea. Strive to fully inhabit the beautiful Berkeley watershed that we share: in its physical form of creeks, rain, soil, and life, and in its creative forms of words and artwork that dwell in and around us. The theme of this first volume is “Here, There, and Everywhere.” “Here” includes pieces about Berkeley and the Bay Area. “There” includes pieces about other places, near and far. And “Everywhere” includes pieces that are relevant to more than just one place. This issue contains observations, celebrations, and calls to action. We need them all. While its form may adapt as time goes on, currently, Words of the Watershed aims to be an annual journal, with printed and online versions. If you are reading this in print, be sure to check out our online magazine, which contains a handful of pieces that we weren’t able to print. You can find the online magazine at this link: serc.berkeley.edu/words-of-the-watershed. If you are reading this online, and would like to read a print copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll let you know how you can get one. Thank you for reading, supporting, and co-inhabiting this watershed with us. Share your copy with a friend, consider submitting to next year’s issue, and spread the Words of the Watershed. Sincerely, Meredith Jacobson Founder and Editor
Go to your place and think Jashvina Devadoss
/explore/ write about how it fits into the Berkeley urban environment. What is “urban” about it, how does the “urban” manifest in your place? What is not “urban”? How might you re-imagine this place? You may find it helpful to think about your own personal definition of urban and your own vision for the modern urban environment.” What does it mean to our city that we can have this beautiful grove in the hills? How does that change our city? How does it change us? From the top of my mother tree, I can see out into the Bay. Even as my limbs twine around hers, even in that intimacy of touch, my ears remind me of the Bay. I cannot forget the Bay with her, cannot separate her from this place. I found her the autumn before last, in desperate longing for my home, my sweet green mountain named after my town. I’d left it the day after my eighteenth birthday, full of love for my home and excitement for what was to come. I immersed myself in the Bay upon coming, touching and tasting all the colorful life in this new place. But every so often, my new urban environment would become too much, and I would be overcome with longing for Idaho. I’d run around in the hills for hours trying to soothe my heart, trying to connect with the “natural” world that I had grown to depend on, a world that had become of essence to life. It was on one such eight-hour romp in the hills that I found my mother tree at the top of a ridge, with hundreds of sisters and brothers and gorgeously lush undergrowth. I touched her bark, easily swinging my limbs through her limbs to the fullness of her great stature, and there I lay in her arms. She embraced me as her child; the feeling of her body against mine calmed my wild, hurting heart. It is she and those like her that allow me to live in the Bay. I came from mountains, and because of this, it is my ability to see the Bay from above that allows me to make sense of it; it is the “natural” that allows my life in the urban. …. I remember early, early summer mornings in Berkeley, the air like cool, clean milk on my skin (and isn’t that another dichotomy, that I have known warm milk fresh from cows that nuzzled and licked my body, yet my first thought of milk is in its refrigerated, pasteurized form?) I remember hearing the creak of trees swaying in a forest for the first time and knowing that sound from hardwood floors, oh my chagrin, my great shame at that association. I remember my love Noor going camping for the first time, just last year, voice full of joy, “Jash! I loved it just as you said I would!” Then she told me about being surrounded by trees and hearing a whooshing, a great wind-sound she knew from cars. “I didn’t realize…I didn’t realize it was actually the sound of the wind in the trees.” My heart dropped, and a quick intake of breath accompanied my sadness for her life-experience, for my beautiful Noor to have known the wind by way of cars, and not by way of trees. Yet, of course this is so. She grew up in Los Angeles. How can I blame her for that? How can she blame herself for that? We are our environments. We come from a place of separation, of distances, and must go from there to the immediate, to the close, to the (dare I say it?) natural. I, with my thoughts of milk, with more meditation on and interaction with the fresh warm cow tongues licking, will know milk in warm closeness instead of from a distance of sterilization and preservation, of pasteurization and refrigeration. I have known the creaking of trees in a forest enough to hear that sound for what it is, live tree bodies feeling wind and gravity, and some days when my feet touch certain spots in wood floors, my mind jumps that separation and I think of live tree bodies in the wind. There are places of transition, places in between, encounters that invite us into the intimacy of the natural.
3 That brings me back to the milk, the cool clean early summer morning air milk on my skin. It was just this summer, when I lived close to two loves, and saw them every day. I was walking from my love’s blue house to my own at half-past four in the morning, and as I passed my love’s wooden shingled house, I saw three graceful brown bodies in his garden, a family, perhaps. It was so quiet that I could hear the crunch of their teeth on green leaves. They saw me watching them; their alert, delicate, strong heads lifted up towards me. I looked and looked at them as they looked and looked at me. Minutes passed in that long silent looking moment. … Marshall Berman, in his book All That Is Solid Melts Into Air talks about the boulevard in nineteenth century Paris, how the boulevards split open impoverished inner-city Parisian neighborhoods, spilling out the urban poor to see and be seen by the rest of Paris for the first time. For the first time, the socioeconomic classes of Paris had a space in which to interact with one another. In Baudelaire’s Eyes of the Poor, two lovers eating in a café are forced to see and be seen in the eyes of a poor family. In the encounter made possible by the new, open urban space, the narrator sees himself through the eyes of the poor and feels ashamed of himself and his lover with their “glasses and decanters, too big for [their] thirst.” She expresses disgust for the poor family, which in turn leads him to feel hatred for her. Berman argues that the personal acts of modern men and women are no longer merely personal, but must also be political- “from this moment on, the boulevard will be as vital as the boudoir in the making of modern love.” Our relations to others and ourselves and our corresponding actions stem from the encounters we have in our environments. For this reason, Berman argues for modernism in the streets, for a vision of cities founded on open, democratic spaces. I believe urbanism with spaces like my mother tree provides the same sort of encounter, an encounter with oppressed, too-often-forgotten life. It brings this life into view and gives us a pause akin to that of the man who looks again at the café he sits in and finds in it only a celebration of gluttony. The deer come down to the city and remind us of “other” life. The trees in the canyon cannot move, but by their existence, we have a space in which to interact with them, and it is only because of this space that the deer can come into the city to see and be seen by us. The encounters made possible by this space allow us to “jump the separation;” they bring into our consciousness life and systems of life not entirely in human control. This is an intimacy, and perhaps a more honest one than that experienced in untouched (or less-touched) places. It allows these worlds to coexist, the natural and the urban. These spaces allow us to be urban beings and still value life and systems of life not completely under our rule. Our encounters with urban natural spaces lead us to put greater value on natural spaces, and that, in turn, begins to inform and define our actions as urban people. I believe our encounters with the natural world have the power to transform and redefine our politics. And in a world where a greater portion of the population live in urban environments than do in rural, I say: Bring on the urban wild.
A woman is walking on the slope, a full bodyâ€™s length above the man walking with her. Above them the hills shift like a sleeper stirring under sheets, and light rumples the flatlands below. He is coaxing her downhill over the loose treachery of dust. A lizard darts into the leaf litter, sound scratches the dry air. She stops. A layer of fever rises from the chaparral along the trail, and, sweating, she pushes the sunglasses away from her eyes. A hot crawl of cars gleams down the valley freeway. Reflections prickle from bumper to sky.
Nicole Wong To live here to sit here on a wooden bench wrinkled from holding in the sun Here where the earth stops moving because I stop moving, no need to smile to myself to prove that I am this bench unflickeringly still, steadfast light travels, and has its own rays, its own thoughts; After leaving here, I tread through pavement stages but I am lying down, quietly looking up from soft soil. This garden like a stroller beneath my feat, this garden where I acknowledge the day like the leaves illuminate the wind.
On fracking, futility, and friends who aren’t environmentalists Ella Teevan
It’s Wednesday night, and that can only mean one thing: it’s conference call time. If you’ve never experienced this vexing but indispensable activist tool, you’ve missed out on a lot of long pauses, background noise, infuriating hold music, and a little sound that goes “ping!” But when you’ve got to coordinate with ten organizers on ten different campuses, the conference call is the only game in town. Our Students Against Fracking call is well underway when my roommate, Whitney, trudges in silently, sheds her backpack, and plops onto her mattress. I’m lying in my bed, nursing a bowl of ice cream in one hand and my phone in the other. A voice blares into my ear. “Wait, Ella, didn’t you say the activist toolkit – “ “No, no,” I interrupt, scooping another bite of ice cream. “There’s a difference between the activist toolkit and the fractivist toolkit.” I catch Whitney’s eye. She raises her eyebrows in bemused disbelief. My phone keeps chattering away in my ear. Whitney shakes her head and bustles away. From the kitchen, her voice, incredulous, floats into my other ear: “How are you a real person?” My roommate might scoff at our “fracktivism,” but the campus and the state are starting to take notice. For those unfamiliar, fracking, short for hydraulic fracturing, is a dirty and dangerous process of oil and natural gas extraction. I’ll let you look up the details yourself, but the short version is that fracking has a host of devastating impacts on us and for our planet. Here in California, the oil industry is gearing up to frack the Monterey Shale for oil, and the process is regulated but still legal, even during the current drought. Students Against Fracking, the statewide coalition, is calling upon Governor Brown to ban fracking in our state. I can’t remotely claim Students Against Fracking as my own idea. But I’ve never felt this invested in a student group before in my three years at Cal, and for that reason, the UC Berkeley chapter feels like my baby. I’ve been putting in twenty hours a week for a month now, sitting through conference calls, approaching strangers on Sproul Plaza for petition signatures, and typing miles of emails. I’ve even been to Sacramento for protests twice – once at 6:30 in the morning. A year or two ago, when I was changing light bulbs in sorority houses for my uninspiring internship, I would have balked at such a time commitment. What’s changed is that, this time around, I believe genuinely and concretely that we can win. We, as students, have the power to be the tipping point that brings the state’s growing anti-fracking movement to victory. And it’s not just empty rhetoric; I’ve seen our potential in action. In December, I watched with bated breath as Berkeley’s ASUC became the first student government in the state, and only the second in the country, to pass a unanimous resolution calling for a ban on fracking. Now, other California universities are starting to follow suit. I dialed and re-dialed council members in our meeting on the night before the Los Angeles fracking moratorium passed in committee, and now the City Council has voted unanimously to pass the moratorium. But again, I’ll spare you the details. What made me sure we would win was the students at our teach-in. At our first teach-in this February, I spotted a visiting group of high schoolers on Sproul. At first, I didn’t think there was much chance they’d want to listen to our presentation, but I gave it a shot. “Hey, have you folks heard of fracking?” They mumbled inaudibly. Then, one student piped up: “Can I have a button?” I figured he’d probably just take the red and white button – “Ban Fracking Now,” it proclaimed – and I’d move on. “Hey, can I have one, too?”
But even in Berkeley, where historic social change has happened and, we’re hoping, is happening again, we’ve all got that one skeptical friend. Maybe we’ve got ten of them. He’s not a bad person – he’s awesome – but he just doesn’t see the point in signing a petition to the Governor. She’s really cool, we went to that Modest Mouse show together, but she doesn’t get why the Keystone XL pipeline is such a big deal. And this is where my roommate Whitney stands: we can’t make a dent. I ask her to sign a petition and she shrugs; I ask her to come to a teach-in and she laughs. To Whitney, our sign-on letters and lobby days will have about as much impact on the all-powerful oil industry as a spitball launched at an impregnable fortress. We surround ourselves with idealistic, energetic, hopeful people, who share our basic faith that a better world is possible. But it’s hard not to wonder sometimes, when no one shows up to your meeting, when the State Department plows ahead with Keystone XL, when your dad suggests you get a “real job” instead of a career in the nonprofit world: what if the Whitneys of the world are right? What if “fractivist” is nothing but a silly, empty word? What if the oil industry is too great a Goliath to our tiny, pitiable, deluded David? What if we can’t reach enough of our peers in time to avert climate catastrophe, and Sproul Plaza ends up underwater? The feeling of futility overwhelms me sometimes. At our speakers’ workshop last week, our trainer reminded the six of us that, unless we cut our carbon emissions in half in the next 35 years, we won’t be able to stop global temperatures from hurtling a catastrophic 2° C upward, creating a fundamentally different and terrifying world. I tried not to let it show, but inwardly, my hope shriveled up. We were too small. I sat through the rest of the training, but it felt pointless. We’re only fighting one form of fossil fuel reliance, in one state, I thought. And there are only six of us, sitting in this living room! We’re so small, and the forces we’re fighting – at their roots, imperialism, global capitalism, and an entrenched dependence on fossil fuels – are mind-numbingly vast and seemingly inescapable. It’s
“What’s fracking?” Suddenly, like a light switch had flicked on somewhere, this group of eight or nine high school students had gone from lackluster to grinning and enthusiastic. I saw my chance. “Do you all want to check out our teach-in?” “Yeah, dude, let’s go!” said the first one who’d wanted the button. He nudged his friend, who stood up. Slowly, the students ambled across Sproul to their teacher. “Can we go learn about fracking?” “What?” “There’s this lady. She wants to teach us about fracking.” “It’s this way of getting oil – “ I squeezed through them and shook the teacher’s hand, but the high schoolers’ voices drowned mine out. They hurried over to our patch of grass, where we’d set up signs: “Don’t frack with us!” and “Frack is Wack.” And not only did they stay through the whole talk, but every one of them signed our petition. Two sixteen-year-old young women stayed after to have their photos taken with the “Students Against Fracking” sign (we’ll be taking these “photo petitions” and sending them to Governor Brown and President Obama). Even when I told them they weren’t old enough for us to send their photo petitions to the President, they insisted on staying to capture the moment of being part of the movement. The teach-in was, as one of our members put it breathlessly as we were wrapping up, “a wild success.” I’m convinced that the infectious energy of these students is the reason we will win. We’re building the capacity to multiply it a thousand-fold and spread it to all corners of the Golden State. As students, we can afford to be idealistic, enthusiastic, and uncompromising. We listen to each other, and lawmakers, elected officials, the media, and the public listen to us. More than any of our victories so far, our first teach-in has made me sure that students will build the frack-free, fossil-free world we imagine – and deserve.
7 enough to drive anyone to the fetal position, if not the liquor store, or to another, more winnable cause to fight for. Whitney has picked mental health awareness and suicide prevention. She can save lives. She decided at age sixteen, the same age as the high school students who came to our teach-in, to be firmly apolitical. Now she wears green awareness ribbons around her wrist and ties them to her guitar. I don’t mean to downplay the importance of her causes and I hope it doesn’t come across that way; I think she’s admirable and I’m thankful to know someone who cares so deeply about something. But politics, and the hopefully worthwhile life choices that we driven environmentalists make, aren’t for her. She rolls her eyes when I tell her about the vegetables I get from my CSA box, shakes her head when I worry about rhino species going extinct, and giggles when she sees me eating my “Veganic Sprouted Ancient Grain O’s.” (Alright, that last one is worthy of ridicule, I’ll admit.) Living with her is a constant reminder that I have to use both my ears: the one that hears her laughing from the kitchen at what, to her, is my nerdy tree-hugging, and the one glued to my phone every Wednesday for the Students Against Fracking call. After all, I thought the students at the teachin would be just as dismissive, but I was wrong. For now, I’m going to keep fighting against fracking and climate change, and for our planet and the people on it – and I hope you’ll join me. Student political activism isn’t useless. Sometimes it’s awe-inspiring. Sometimes it seems utterly, laughably futile. Most of the time it’s mundane: the 6 AM bus ride to Sacramento, the sore throat after yelling for two hours at a protest, the ten long seconds of silence in a conference call. I’m simultaneously convinced our victory is inevitable and terrified that I’m wrong. But it’s my cause, and it’s too important to give up.
Mom drove Dad and I across the Richmond bridge Winded around the headland’s face mountainous wall to meet Family from Iowa plains Horizons sprouting with corn and beans Gazing across flat sea feeling at home but for waves reflecting sun meridian dimming wind swirling fog specters bridges and Alcatraz breeze salted by the ocean’s dew seasons our hair and sweatshirts Gliding boot soles across bubbling white pulp my uncle shaves grooves in the sand mounding each step’s sandy outline wet comparable only to summer’s thunderheads crashing across the hills And his saturated lawn His hands hang in his pockets natural humble steps acquainting him he’s never seen tide before the sea washes half-way to his shins soaks a dark blue longitude through his jeans Delivered up the beach Socks squishing in-soles His mouth’s corners curve a corn kernel’s length veiled behind his mustache
May 2012, family visits from southern Iowa for my Berkeley graduation and visits the Marin Headlands
To students at UC Berkeley, new to the area: Corey Scher
You are here if you allow yourself to be. Learn the lore of the Bay, and dive in (not literally; until we bioremediate). Call it home â€“ and treat it that way. Because if we can achieve it here, equality might resonate.
Strawberry Creek Watershed Haikus Ariel Cherbowsky
Gurgle farewell calls by the Oxford Street culvertsunlight awaits you! Yes, even within the native plant nursery, exotic weeds grow. Pull weeds then dig holes for California nativesrevegetation.
Forecast Abby Peterson We pace the sidewalk while sunlight mingles the melting fog with exhaust. Eight inches of snow have fallen in Lebanon; at last, a Northwest Passage is thawed open for the oil rigs; storms in the fevered gulf stream spiral like hallucinations toward shore. While gathered sparrows blow apart, each to huddle on its own twig in scrub, we wait here for the rainstorm brooding over the bay to snap into pellets of ice. Our arms still clinging in the wrong position, we are tensed in place by the promise of cold. How else could we possibly wait for release from our numb and inauspicious weather? Faithful Forever Salmon Foreboding Atop a mat of moss on a local laurel my mind seeps into strawberry creek sending my soul sailing down the sweet steady stream squish snap trickle I walk on the ripples stones support my sway over floating leaves of bay quercus my attention now? breaking surface tension under the skimmers and by the tadpoles eroding and weathered married to gravity like water Faithful forever
11 Jashvina Devadoss I didn’t wash my face this morning, a thin layer of love covered my cheeks, my forehead, my chin, left over from the wet of kisses you gave me in the white-grey light of morning, a love I didn’t want to be cleansed of. I think of you kissing me, gently, with so much love that I turn into a creek, first the headwaters, lush, awakened, then quickly flowing downstream so that soon you are swimming in the creek of me, and when you emerge, you are dripping wet with love. I think of human mothers spitting on fingers to wipe dirt from human children’s faces, or cat mothers licking kittens’ faces, and the way small humans and kittens cringe from and revel in that love bath. Think of lovers sealing letters of poetry with their spit, spit as protection for innermost tender heart-longings. Think of your mother moving halfway across the world so that when she told her little sister about her first-born child, she wrote it and sealed that news with spit. Think of your aunt sending spit back doubly, a little sister in awe, please kiss the child for me. I saw Mumbai paved with the spit of rickshaw drivers, I saw a city kept alive by spit, a city whose blood is a continual flow of red juice from rickshaw drivers chewing beady. Maybe this is why Singapore is lifeless and grey, because it is illegal to spit on the street there. Think of humans all over the world exchanging spit as an act of love. We humans make our lives in valleys around rivers, farmland in fertile valleys, floodplains of the Nile, the settling of the University of California on Strawberry Creek. Our love is wet, the Turkish bath culture that celebrates each new joy with a communal bathing, the South Indian culture that pours water on its girls when they become women. We come into the world in a flood of water when our water homes inside our mothers break. I hear most babies are terrified of leaving the water. They scream and cry at the thought of the world without water. I remember Ignacio talking about a past era when water was considered a human right, and then reading about Nestle in Pakistan taking water from the people of Pakistan to bottle and sell to U.S. us, about Coca-Cola draining groundwater in India so that the men and women of Kerala banned the sale of Killer Coke in that state. There are acres of green lawn watered at high sun in suburban America. I remember climbing the tallest mountain in Idaho with four friends, two slow, three fast, we climbed and waited and climbed and waited until we were all at the top together- triumphant. We gave them all our water and then descended and waited in dry heat, then descended and descended in the dust, no longer waiting, throats, mouths, bodies aching for water. Two male friends of six-foot height with sixpack stomachs cowering in the tiny shade of a car, I quietly rise and find a family to graciously gift us water, a simple, precious gift between humans. Arriving back to desperate eyes open wide, hallucinatory, at the sight of full water bottles, water a mirage, I place water in open hands, two tall strong male friends bow deeply to me in gratitude. Water, Joshua unconscious on the bed at someone’s grandmother’s house, body too marinated in alcohol, too starved of water. I come from a dinner party to find him delirious. I sit on the bed, surrounded by light too bright for his eyes to open more than halfway, gently touch a glass of water to his lips. Christian Joshua says without jest, “You must be an angel.” Water, running cross country races in heat above 100 degrees Fahrenheit, only the taste of dry dirt in your mouth at the end, eyes searching only for water, mouth too dry to even spit. Have you ever been thirsty? I recorded a song once with five women, Chinese, Indian, Dene, Latina, Oregonian, we sang Water is life, agua es vida, paani hai zindagee, Think of the creek you swam in and became. Think of your water womb home; you cried when you left. Think of humans all over the world exchanging spit as an act of love.
Natalie Holt I am drawn to cows as photography subjects for their sedentary nature. Their presence is quiet, optically relaxing, and does not command attention away from the larger landscape. The photos are named for the locations in which these cows were shot: vastly different environments reflecting both the ecological variation within California and the adaptability of grazing animals to such diversity.
Left: Rustic Woods, after Shishkin Alison Ke
Below: Wissahickon Creek, PA Alison Ke
Right: Burrowing Owl Stephanie Martin
Below: Wild Ginger
Left: Berkeley Marina
Manon von Kaenel
Below: Sunset from the Roof Manon von Kaenel
White Ribbons and Roads Hanna Elizabeth Morris Last night, I dreamed of an infinite and straight road. Like a white ribbon tightly stretched, the road extended into the endless distance before me. It was surrounded by vast darkness and hushed silence. When I awoke in the morning, I was freezing cold. Shivering and shaking, but too tired to get out of bed and walk towards the heater. My body needed to move towards warmth, but my mind was so stubbornly unwavering that I couldn’t stand up. I rolled onto my side and saw him there. His eyes were peacefully closed, breathing steadily and rhythmically like the rolling waves outside our windowpanes. He was completely wrapped in the white cotton blankets, warm and happy. I looked down at my bare legs and realized why I was so cold. Stepping out of bed, I grabbed my clothes. I walked out of his room and quietly tiptoed down the hall to my own. When I pushed open the door, the unsealed blinds sent warm rays of morning sunlight onto my cold, pale skin. “We are fighting for these women. We are fighting for their freedom and independence. We are fighting for their choice.” John takes a bite of his McDonald’s hamburger and slurps a giant swig of Coca-Cola. With his mouth still full of meat, he greets me through a wide, toothy grin. “Lena,” he says, “I haven’t seen you all day! How was your afternoon?” I sit down in an empty chair at the communal kitchen table and take a sip of water from a plastic cup. “It’s very hot out today. I feel quite drained.” John takes another bite of hamburger and smiles, again, without fully chewing. “I know, it’s so hot here on the Ivory Coast! But, it’s also quite nice in the mornings. Although, I was a little too warm under my cotton blankets when I awoke this morning. I think it may be getting hotter and hotter each day we are here.” He takes another bite. “Do you think you were able to get through to any of the village women today?” I look down into my plastic cup and spin the water round and round. I softly reply, “I’ve been able to talk with many of the young women. Our conversations have been very meaningful.” John nods his head vigorously with elated support. “That’s absolutely fantastic to hear! The younger, the better! We need these girls to know that they should abstain and resist the men until marriage. And remember, Lena, let them know that they should even try to abstain as much as possible once married and that they must come to one of our clinics in order to retrieve birth control before having sex. Reinforce in their minds that the appropriate amount of babies per woman is two. No more.”
I stand up and walk out the back entrance. The bright sunlight blinds me. I fruitlessly try to shield my pale eyes with the palm of my hand. I glance back through the glass doors and see John stand up and brush hamburger bun crumbs off his khaki cargo shorts. He re-tucks his white polo and confidently walks towards me, smiling. I notice a red ketchup stain on his shorts. “What’s the matter, hun?” John asks coyly while closing the door behind him. “You seem like something’s the matter.” He lowers his voice and whispers into my ear, “Don’t worry about last night. You were magnificent. Now you really are a mature woman, aren’t you, hun?” Shivers run up my spine. I desperately want to move out of his gaze but stand immobile. I can’t speak. I see the image of an endless white road, pulsating through my mind. I feel guilt, shame, disgust, and fear. It’s not a fear of John that’s inching up through my body, but rather, a fear of something unknown. Suddenly the road doesn’t seem so straight and narrow and the darkness is luring me in. I straighten my shoulders and stare straight at John, breaking his one-sided gaze. He shifts his weight and I can see he feels uneasy. “I have to go,” I tell him as I walk towards the edge of the driveway. “I will be back in a couple hours for the meeting.” “Oh yeah,” I add shouting across the driveway, “I’m pretty sure we didn’t use any birth control last night.” I turn and walk towards town. I hear the sound of construction, the beeping of trucks and the crashing of stones. Looking up ahead, I see a huge, empty and sterile space where lush forest used to be. I move closer and feel my stomach churn and my chest get heavy. I cover my mouth and try to avoid breathing in the dust and smoke. I walk away from the construction site and towards the ocean’s edge. I take off my shoes and press my feet into the soft sand. The tiny grains enwrap my feet with a warm embrace. I look out at the crashing waves in front of me, rhythmic like John’s sleeping breath. The distant construction sound grows louder and the soothing rhythm is lost. I turn away from the ocean and head back towards town. As I walk across the beach, I see an African woman with three small children and one baby strapped to her back. She is facing the water, with eyes pressed closed. She looks so peaceful and holy, like a nun at prayer. A loud crash from the construction penetrates the still air. Her eyes burst open and she is staring right at me. I feel like a sacrilegious intruder caught decimating a most blessed place of life and worship. I see smoke billowing
“Yes,” I reply with a cracking voice as the memory of last night creeps into my thoughts.
19 from the construction site behind her and feel like death itself. I quickly shut my eyes. It is all too much to bear. I see the white ribbon cut before me. Now there is only darkness, with a path no longer in view. But instead of fear, I feel something quite different. I decide to open my eyes. The woman is looking past me, staring out at the ocean. I turn to face the water and there, my gaze is met.
Pesticide exposure in the home ranks higher than in the field Stacey Dixon
Pesticide exposure indoors is as much an issue as exposure outside in the field, but who is paying attention? The answer is very few. People often mention workers’ rights issues in the Salinas Valley, and demand better treatment of migrant workers in the field. However, very few mention the circumstances of chemical exposure inside the home, where pesticides have little degradation routes and are only able to re-suspend in the air and settle back down onto the couch, curtains, rug, and children’s clothes. Indoor air pollution is hypothesized to be even more potent than outdoor pollution due to its persistence and inability to degrade. On average, people accumulate a body-burden, or the build-up of chemicals in our tissues and blood stream, of around 200 chemicals, many newly manufactured chemicals not properly tested for carcinogenic effects. For citizens of Salinas Valley, chemical exposure is even more prevalent than average, as the agricultural area thrives due to industrial chemical inputs; pesticides and herbicides. And just as chemicals harm workers in the field, chemical spraying affects nearby homes and residents. Chemicals may reach the home through aerial drift or workers’ clothing or tools that are tracked into the home…this concept gives “welcoming mommy/daddy home” a new insidious layer. We must give policy-level attention to the issue of chemical exposure in the home because it’s dangerous and affecting individuals’ health. Those who spend time at home, often women and children, suffer from indoor air and surface pollution, and may face increased damage to reproductive systems, higher rates of cancer, hormonal imbalances, and other possible negative health outcomes. Currently, researchers at the University of California Berkeley have formed a CommunityUniversity partnership to investigate how pesticide exposure is affecting the health of the children in the Salinas Valley. Researchers are conducting a cohort studies that enrolled 601 pregnant women in 1999-2000 and are following their children through the age of 12, measuring exposure and health outcomes. The study is called CHAMACOS, which stands for “Center For the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas.” The word also means “little children” in Mexican Spanish. This study is a key piece in linking exposure to negative health outcomes in the Salinas Valley and should be used as leverage when negotiating policy level change. To tackle this issue of pesticide exposure in the home, I advocate a multi-layer action plan: 1) spraying should be limited as much as possible—if any at all—and farmers should notify community members so that precautions can be taken, 2) no-spraying boundaries around homes should be increased substantially, to reduce drift, 3) workers should be issued separate clothes for the work environment and facilities to shower after working in the field, so as to not bring home pesticides to their families, and 4) more homes should be given monitoring systems for indoor air pollution, to empower citizens with data and further advance policy initiatives on the local level. ....
Alavanja, M., Hoppin, J. A., & Kamel, F. (2004). Health effects of chronic pesticide exposure: Cancer and neuro toxicity. Annual Review Public Health, 25, 155-197. Environmental Working Group. (2005). Body Burden: The Pollution in Newborns. July 14. Bearmer, P. I. (2011). Pesticide exposure of farmworkers’ children. University of Arizona. Pesiticides in the Modern World. Eskenazi, B. (2012). Cerch: Center for environmental research and children’s health. the CHAMACOS study., 2014, from http://cerch.org/research-programs/chamacos/ Harnly, M. E., Bradman, A., Nishioka, M., et. al. (2009). Pesticides in dust from homes in an agricultural area. Environmental Science & Technology, 43(23), 8767-8774. Shin, H., McKone, T. E., & Bennett, D. H. (2012). Intake fraction for the indoor environment: A tool for prioritiz ing indoor chemical sources. Environmental Science & Technology, 46(18), 10063-10072. Retrieved from http://dx.doi.org/10.1021/es3018286
Changing of the Guards C.S. Hull
Lingering on the flank of Sonoma Mountain todayâ€™s sun leans into the tree lines pour over the sienna meadow greens fade to blue powder pockmarked by silhouettes of sparrow overhead perches patiently clicks croon for the sky to change its colors electric calls ripple rhythmic against umber maroons between shrub tufts pink slides in and out across the new erupt
The black bay foiled against ruby flickers of sailboats and cigarette butts. Bellows from sea lions and sea liners being tugged into port. Salty fishermen blinded by deep fog and ancient fishing traditions guilty of depleting the jaded sea, forgotten on land as profits raise mugs of porter frothing at the top and around jetty rocks. Piping clam chowder, king crab legs filling empty bellies as pelicans bell, hungry, eying crushed seashells. A diamond clad sky dances behind misty screens, ashamed to be seen, such an unworthy crew draped and drunken in their pearls and the stale smell of forties and twenties and somethings still back asleep in the rocking cabins. Rosy Cheeks painted upon ivory skin and tin cans floating, named, anchored as iridescent dew and black coffee rise, meeting in the smoky morning air.
Climbing Up to Buena Vista Jessica A. Rogness
but breaking for air, I saw her braking her own climb to watch me, her black eyes centered in fur, a matte finish of honey highlights from the sun’s rays, a gradient camouflage with the bark of a tree disguising what she was after. I paused and stared back with just as much wonder, and some endearment to what I knew, or at least I assumed I knew. I’d seen her in picture books, on Animal Planet, in National Geographic; but she wouldn’t know all the human studies and she knew even less about me. Her eyes saw nothing except a bipedal with an aluminum third leg extended to climb the slope, a stick too clunky for digging for termites, and my fiberglass third eye capturing the highlights, the black eyes, the blonde “black” bear. Slowly descending, she knew that she had been seen, so she tried a different tactic: blending with the pine-needle-brushed floor of her home. She stilled while I moved on to break my breather. Then looking back, I saw her bound off to find a new tree, food, air.
The growing controversy over hydraulic fracturing seems to suffer from a lack of discussion on the concrete scientific evidence. For instance, the documentary Gasland (2010) is widely touted as an excellent study on the dangers and harms of fracking among greens, despite the film being extremely unscientific (i.e. assuming that the methane in local drinking waters were from fracking, despite the fact that methane has naturally seeped into surface waters for decades). But on the flip side, the industryâ€™s response to criticism also tends to be unscientific, and fracking proponents seem to have a tendency of denying any externalities from unconventional operations whatsoever. Thus, this piece seeks to examine scientific papers that analyze the externalities from fracking, and raise the bar for the growing debate. In general, the science shows that fracking can cause a wide variety of problems, ranging from increased rates of birth defects to radiation contamination. Metal Contamination in Pennsylvania The Marcellus Shale formation in Pennsylvania is a rapidly growing region of oil and gas extraction, much of it through fracking; as a result, there are massive amounts of wastewater (on the order of hundreds of millions of gallons per year) that need to be properly disposed of. For many years, a good proportion of this wastewater was processed through either municipal sewage treatment plants, or standard wastewater treatment plants. After being processed, the wastewater (now supposedly normal and healthy) is returned to surface waters, like streams and rivers. Of course, the big question is whether standard treatment plants can actually properly process the wastewater from fracking. This paper (Ferrar 2013), published in March 2013 in Environmetal Science & Technology, studied the outputs of three wastewater treatment plants in the Marcellus Shale, and whether they were able to properly treat fracking wastewater. Turns out that while the concentrations of dangerous compounds were reduced by quite a bit, the output (also known as â€œeffluentâ€?) still contained very high levels of certain compounds: The analysis of effluent samples...supports our first hypothesis that concentrations of analytes in effluent were above water quality criteria. Ba, Sr, and bromides are of particular public health concern. For the metals strontium and barium, both surpassed the federal [maximum contamination levels] MCL for drinking water (recommended, not regulated, MCL for Sr). (Ferrar 2013: 3478) Of course, it is important to realize that this concentration will become diluted almost immediately, and will become increasingly diluted as the particles progress through the water; thus, it is not a given that these concentrations of toxins pose an immediate public health risk. But as the paper cautions, there is also the
The environmental externalities of fracking, according to peerreviewed science
24 probability of 1) the formation of plumes with above-regulation levels of metal concentrations, and 2) the inability for the metals to become diluted due to increasing levels of solutes, which will become an increasingly possibility as local carbon extraction increases (Ferrar 2012: 3479). The paper goes on to note that after the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP) asked companies to stop sending their wastewater to local treatment plants, the contamination levels dropped to below regulation levels (Ferrar 2012: 3479). Radiation Contamination in Pennsylvania Despite PADEP’s actions to limit the wastewater that is sent to treatment plants, there are other causes for worry. This paper (Warner 2013), published in October 2013 in Environmental Science & Technology, was somewhat of a follow-up to Ferrar 2013, in that it also studied the effects of treatment of wastewater by standard treatment plants. It focuses on one treatment plant that “exclusively treat[s] oil and gas wastewater.” (Warner 2013: 11850). The study found that the effluent contained elevated levels of certain problematic compounds, like salt, chlorides, and bromies; but most eye-opening was the high level of radiation (specifically, Radium) that was in the treatment plant’s output: ...immediately adjacent to the treatment facility discharge site we recorded much higher maximum activities of both Ra-226 (8732 Bq/kg) and Ra-228 (2072 Bq/kg) in the sediments. These Ra activities were 200 times greater than any background sediment samples collected either upstream of the facility or from other western PA rivers for sediment samples of similar grain size. (Warner 2013: 11855) The mean activities (“activity” is the technical term for the amount of radiation) of Ra-226 and Ra-228 found in the soil around the plant’s discharge zone were 4255 Bq/ kg and 1110 Bq/kg, respectively. These levels are above standard regulations for radioactive waste in the United States. As the paper notes: These radioactivity levels are...above management regulations in the U.S. that range from 185 to 1850 Bq/kg. For example, in Michigan a radiation threshold that would require transportation of solid waste to a licensed radioactive waste disposal facility is 1850 Bq/kg. (Warner 2013: 11855) Furthermore, it is fairly certain that this waste is a direct result of fracking operations, and not conventional oil and gas drilling, because of the analyzed ratios between Ra-226 and Ra-228, and comparison with the known Radium levels for the Marcellus wastewater. The paper notes two additional causes of concern. First, while this radiation contamination is currently confined to a relatively small area (up to 200m downstream of the discharge site), the amount of radiation that is accumulating at the bottom of the river bed still poses a threat via bioaccumulation. This is a process by radiation becomes increasingly concentrated as it moves up the food chain (from plants, to small herbivores, to carnivores, etc). And second, there is also the issue of radioactivity in
Air Pollution and Birth Defects in Colorado Like Pennsylvania, Colorado is another state where unconventional drilling operations have skyrocketed over the past decade. This has also lead to a host of scientific papers analyzing the effects of fracking on local public health. This paper (McKenzie 2012), published in February 2012 in Science of the Total Environment, studied the air quality around fracking sites in Colorado, and their corresponding theoretical impact on public health. The paper summarizes the ways in which unconventional drilling operations can pollute the local air: As shown by ambient air studies in Colorado, Texas, and Wyoming, the NGD process results in direct and fugitive air emissions of a complex mixture of pollutants from the natural gas resource itself as well as diesel engines, tanks containing produced water, and on site materials used in production, such as drilling muds and fracking fluids. (McKenzie 2012: 80) It’s also worth noting that fracking, due to its high dependency on water when compared to conventional drilling, requires far more gasoline-driven vehicles to transport water, sand, and wastewater back and forth than does normal oil and gas operations. The study divided the area of study into two regions, defined by their proximity to gas wells: one region that held areas less than half a mile from a well, and the other region that held areas more than half a mile from a well. The study then analyzed the probabilities of several different health outcomes, based on the measured concentration levels of various air pollutants: Our results show that the non-cancer [hazard index] HI from air emissions due to natural gas development is greater for residents living closer to wells. Our greatest HI corresponds to the relatively short-term (i.e., subchronic), but high emission, well completion period. This HI is driven principally by exposure to trimethylbenzenes, aliphatic hydrocarbons, and xylenes, all of which have neurological and/or respiratory effects. We also calculated higher cancer risks for residents living nearer to wells as compared to residents residing further from wells. Benzene is the major contributor to lifetime excess cancer risk for both scenarios. (McKenzie 2012: 83) It is worth noting the specific increase in cancer risk for people living closer to wells: The cumulative cancer risks...were 6 in a million for residents >½ from wells and 10 in a million for residents ≤½ mile from wells. (McKenzie 2012: 83) Unfortunately, the estimated increase in cancer risk isn’t the only bad news about air pollution from fracking. A more recent study (McKenzie 2014) published January
the waste products of the treatment plant. Despite the effluent having relatively high levels of radioactivity, this still represents a fraction of what was present in the original, untreated wastewater. This means the waste products of the plants are also radioactive: the fact that this waste, which is often dumped in residual landfills, present an even higher radiation exposure risk than the Radium that has accumulated in the river sediments (Warner 2013: 11855).
26 2014 in Environmental Health Perspectives by many of the same authors as McKenzie 2012, analyzed the correlation between birth defects and proximity of the maternal home to gas wells. This study hypothesized that there was a connection between air pollution from unconventional drilling operations and birth defects like congenital heart defects, neural tube defects, and others. This is based on the fact that many of the pollutants that get into the air from fracking operations (including our old friend Benzene) are hypothesized to be teratogens--compounds that interfere with fetal development and cause birth defects and mutations (McKenzie 2014: 4). The study analyzed 124,842 live births in rural Colorado, controlled for confounding factors like smoking, drinking, age, etc., and then divided the groups based on the proximity to wells, as well as density of nearby wells. The results are somewhat complicated, and its worth reading the â€œResultsâ€? section of the paper, but in general the conclusion sums the implications up nicely: This study suggests a positive association between greater density and proximity of natural gas wells within a 10-mile radius of maternal residence and greater prevalence of CHDs and possibly NTDs, but not oral clefts, preterm birth, or reduced fetal growth. (McKenzie 2014: 16) Endocrine-Disrupting Chemical Contamination in Colorado Teratogens from unconventional drilling operations donâ€™t just pollute the air; they can also contaminate local waters. This paper (Kassotis 2013), published in 2013 in Endocrinology, studied whether fracking was causing local waters to become contaminated with endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs). The study had two parts: first, to study whether certain suspected fracking chemicals are actually EDCs, and second, to measure the levels of these chemicals in surface and ground waters in rural Colorado. The results of the first part of the study confirmed that fracking does use chemicals that exhibit a variety of hormone-disrupting capabilities. In fact, this section was something of a ground-breaker, in that it was the first attempt to analyze the endocrine-disrupting capability of certain fracking chemicals: To our knowledge this is the first report of antiestrogenic activity of ethylene glycol monobutyl ether, 2-ethylhexanol, ethylene glycol, diethanolamine, diethylene glycol methyl ether, sodium tetraborate decahydrate, 1,2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, n,n-dimethyl formamide, cumene, and styrene; and novel antiandrogenic activity of 2 ethylhexanol, naphthalene, diethanolamine, sodium tetraborate decahydrate, 1,2- bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, and cumene. (Kassotis 2013: 5). The second part of the study, which analyzed the chemical activity levels at five different sites, found that unconventional drilling operations had lead to elevated levels of EDCs in local surface and ground waters: Importantly, we found that water samples from sites with known natural gas drilling incidents had greater estrogen and androgen receptor activities than drilling sparse or absent reference sites. Very little estrogen or androgen receptor activity was measured in drilling-sparse reference water samples, moderate levels were measured in samples collected from the Colorado River (the drainage basin for all Colorado collection sites), and moderate to high activities were measured in water samples from Garfield County spill sites. The Garfield County spill sites were known to have various types of contamination including produced water (wastewater and
Conclusions It should be clear by now that the unconventional oil extraction is, in fact, stressful for the local environment. But even then, the science remains limited; a key lesson, as with most things concerning environmental externalities, is that more science needs to be done, and that development and expansion of extractive industries should probably be done in a conservative and highly regulated fashion (if at all) until the science becomes more clear.
chemical mixture recovered after hydraulic fracturing) pipe leaks, a produced water tank spill, the improper disposal of produced water into surface water, and a natural gas upwelling, which may have resulted in the distinct site-specific patterns of activities observed. (Kassotis 2013: 5) It is important to note that there was no comparison of these elevated levels to any reference value (like a federal regulatory threshold or a medically-sanctioned limit for health effects). But on the flip side, this could be a consequence of this type of research being so novel; perhaps there hasnâ€™t been a proper thrust to characterize the health effects of fracking chemicals that are EDCs, and thus the standards of water concentration levels might not even exist in the first place.
A Chance of Rain Maria Moon
dancing for RAIN fLOWERING lightness from darkness. moist freedom dancing wild ………………. little rivers flowing gently as is universal rhythm, cosmic earth beat.
Squirrel Defense C.S. Hull it’s dark out in the meadow today took the snow away “sure been a poor acorn year” forced the squirrels to scrap squirrel spit and shingle bits lay down on frozen ground they leave tiny teeth marks gnawing “awl through” the flesh of new wood securing the louvers “that old oak” leans too close a west side infiltration highway “time to lop the limb” clean
Twelve Ways to Re-Wild Your Life Meredith Jacobson
The more I live in rectangular rhythms and put things in boxes and only turn at right angles, the more I lose sight of the entire, full universe of possibility (in every realm – I mean that as ambiguous as it sounds). Here are my steps to re-wild my life. I can’t claim to do all of these things, or any of them on an every day basis. But they serve as a guide and a reminder. Every little change means something, and reminds me of wonderful feelings that I can’t risk forgetting. It’s like keeping a seed bank of sensation. The best part? These can all be done anywhere: in the deepest, darkest forest and in the most chaotic concrete jungle. 1. Stop looking at the time, and start letting life move in organic, chaotic chunks. 2. Leave empty space in your schedule to allow for meandering, mosying, bumping into people, observing, feeling. 3. Walk barefoot sometimes. Even if it hurts a little bit. 4. Constantly change the routes that you take, and even better, don’t walk in straight lines. Curve. 5. Don’t just look at plants from afar – touch them! Smell them! Maybe even taste them! 6. Hoot and holler when you feel like it. 7. Sometimes draw the world rather than photographing it. You’ll be amazed at how more fully you can see a tree once you sit down to draw its branches and leaves. 8. Walk on terrain that challenges your muscles and balance. If you’re sore or dirty afterward, you’re doing it right: you’re an animal! Feel like one! 9. Watch the sunset whenever you can, without turning away. 10. Star-gaze like you mean it. Get comfortable and linger. Your eyesight will change. 11. Sometimes dress too lightly for the weather. Let the chill or the rain or the snow fully inhabit you. 12. Sing, play, or listen to songs that don’t have words. Don’t confine your world to the limits of words.
A clear bottle rolls down the trail the label long since melted away; now, instead of soda or alcohol, mud fills the inside and a fern pops its leaves upwards, creating a jungle within the clear microcosm. One day the vines will creep through the funnel, overcoming the bottle until it is fully covered by nature. My mind is the bottle, my imagination the fern. Random images become interwoven as the mind interacts with the trail Giant ferns and Giant banana slugs set me inside Jurassic park; I flinch a bird caw could be a raptor in the bushes. Neon orange mushrooms burst from the tree trunks as if they could not keep themselves in the fairy dimension where tiny trolls hop on them like platforms to reach the top of the warty tree that was once a wizard cursed to petrification and service to the mystical wood after he turned all the foxes into redwoods and all the snakes into eucalyptus and then chopped the once mighty predators, now plants so that their stumps became gravestones. The trees have been here for decades, but we only see them for a second; would they grow even taller and mightier if we knew their histories? The park is limited by a few hundred acres, but my perceptions are endless, creating a whole universe with its own laws where ducks can laugh and trees are people and everything is bigger on the inside like a rainforest growing in a bottle.
The Bottle Katie Valtcheva
In many academic fields, there has been a transition from the qualitative to a more quantitative mode of communication. This is in large part thanks to advances in math and science that make complex equations and models possible, and the legitimacy that such complex organization of thought demands, especially from those not as well versed in their derivations. We have accepted and continue to reinforce a society in which numbers are held in higher esteem than words. Describe your achievements in numbers for your resume. Take the easy classes to boost your GPA. Count the hours you spent doing community service. While it is a fact that numbers are powerful and useful descriptors that are in many ways more exact than words, a society hooked on numerical performance changes how we treat each other and the environment. The progression of the study of economics over the past two centuries is a large contributor to this shift. Early economists like Adam Smith and Malthus would be considered philosophers today. They came from an era when economics was mainly a qualitative study of human behavior, and attempted to understand interactions like consumer choices and market patterns without numbers. Gradually, economists became inspired by physicists modeled their thoughts with equations and graphs. Fast forward to the first half of the 20th century, economists were called to answer tough policy questions with mathematical models to help guide new regulatory agencies during the Great Depression. Economists answered that call, and have since shaped the economics discipline to rely on mathematic models as their dominant tool to determine policy recommendations. Economic models are so appealing because they have great predicting power. After all, why spend so much money on a new policy to boost employment if politicians cannot be at least somewhat confident that it will actually reduce unemployment? Economic models provide numerical solutions that can be compared across different hypothetical policy scenarios. What is disturbing about this transition is that real-life policy results seldom mirror the on-paper economic solutions because economic models are riddled with assumptions and simplifications to represent society. Any middle school student can attest to the fact that real-life is complicated. The “perfect information” assumption for all players in the market never actually exists on a large scale – that’s why advertising is so prevalent. The economists that created the current economic system also failed to include environment and natural resource requirements into the equations as fundamental components, and emphasized labor and capital instead. Thus, pollution and climate change are categorized as “externalities”, issues that exist because they could not be naturally eliminated by the free market. Fossil fuel reserves continue to be depleted because “capital” is used to purchase energy at whatever quantity needed for production of goods. These goods feed consumption, the underlying lifeblood of our market system that boosts numerical measures of growth like country GDP index. In a society so obsessed with growth, overconsumption is great for the economy, but bad for the environment. We have all heard permutations of this argument before: “Keystone XL brings jobs and is good for the North American economy, but is bad for the environment”, “a carbon tax would hurt businesses, so we can’t afford to control carbon emissions that way”, or a statement that can cause great angst amongst students studying environmental issues, “there is no money in the environmental field.” I do not agree with any of those statements. These statements demonstrate a common trend of pitting environmental concerns against economic concerns. Cost-benefit analyses of projects that will protect coastal communities from sea level rise, or help speed the transition from fossil fuel energy to renewable energy are powerful analyses, but they miss the important emotional side of decision-making. Blocking Keystone XL, reducing carbon emissions, and protecting vulnerable communities from sea level rise are important decisions that should consider the unquantifiable benefits of setting precedent and taking responsibility for each other and future generations. I do not advocate leaving the market system, and I do actually like math to a certain extent. I just don’t like how these two ideas have managed morph together in a way that has changed the
A Story about Numbers
32 refinery on neighboring communities. What is the cost of this injustice? How did Injustice become just another externality of this market system? There is no good way to represent justice with a monetary value. It is one of those things like safe water, thriving ecosystems, health, and happiness that are impossible to accurately quantify in monetary terms. When it comes to climate change, comparing our children’s future with profits today as if they are equal substitutes is just downright immoral. I dream of the day when the U.S. government treats climate change like it treats war. I mean this in the most peaceful way possible and in a very specific sense. The government does not wait until the prices of missiles, drones, and aircraft carriers get “price competitive” before it decides to go to war, nor does it conduct a quantitative market-based cost-benefit analysis of whether it would be economically efficient to go to war. After all, the U.S. military budget is enormous and grows to accommodate for greater protection for troops and international commitments. Climate change deserves the same type of government commitment that war gets. We shouldn’t have to waste time analyzing the cost-effectiveness of moving away from a dirty fossil fuel past and towards a clean energy future when we already know that the sooner we make the switch, the less disastrous climate change impacts will be. We know enough and have enough technology to start making that change now. I do not know how to change an entire society’s perception of quantitative and qualitative information so that we can move forward on addressing climate issues. If I did, I would have dropped out of school to do it. However, I do know that environmental climate justice cannot be accurately represented with a price tag. Such issues require us to think in terms of values and stories alongside numbers and models. To help change the current societal discourse dominated by numbers, we have a responsibility to bring back morality, empathy, and political voice into our communities, policy decisions, and economic systems; to remind each other that money is something that should not control our society, because a just and healthy world is worth so much more than money can ever buy.
Kristy Drutman When I ponder our fight for a sustainable, clean energy future, my thoughts always seem to linger upon the Berkeley Art Museum’s current exhibit, “The Possible.” According to a local art history expert, this exhibit sheds light upon the beauty of process. It connects people from an array of backgrounds to contribute to this ongoing, expansive, beautiful masterpiece. What astounded me and somewhat troubled me was that this project has no true conclusion or destination. The exhibit suddenly becomes malleable, complex, and unpredictable. Reading about the Keystone XL Pipeline, it seemed that the government is not moving toward the “possible” but rather an imperative conclusion. Quick, simple, cheap, convenient- the typical slur of eye-catching phrases that have convinced generations to consume, pollute, and destroy natural resources at a frighteningly rapid rate. Although this pipeline poses environmental and public health threats across the nation and eventually the globe, these details seem to be buried into the margins of someone else’s story. This pipeline is another tactless act to add more pages to the fossil fuel industry’s fighting literature as it slowly draws to a close. The pipeline does not spark innovation or progress, but rather notes a decline in our national government’s ability to address the clear concerns of its citizens. The fossil fuel industry has expended considerable effort to overpower the voices of millions of citizens fighting the battle for environmental justice. Once again, the Keystone will be another environmental case study, another costly investment, and another mess America will need to bandage and sweep under our “what were we thinking?” bin. Our country needs to seriously re-evaluate the “possible” as we have reached a point of absurdity. As a dear colleague of mine brilliantly stated, “Although I may worry about my future in terms of graduating, attending graduate school, securing a decent job, and marrying a significant other- all of these aspects of my life will be doomed because there will be no future.” Time is of the essence, we must develop the story that has been so powerfully written by millions of activists, lawyers, policy makers, scientists, professors, students, parents, children.. the list unravels. Our nation must consider the value of human lives, and how to invest in a sustainable future. Our government and our fellow Americans must identify the essential needs of humanity, and how these cannot be ethically supported by an industry dependent upon finite resources. Although this story will require a powershift, a new lifestyle, and a new trajectory- it is possible. We must begin constructing our futures through a process, one that generations can follow and contribute to over the years. We must be the weavers, the sculptors, the painters, and the dreamers to add onto this glimmering vision. We must empower others to contribute anything they can to launch into this movement without intimidation or fear. We will be able to integrate sustainability with a plethora of sectors (health, education, business, marketing, environmentalism less polarized and more naturalized. Consequently, we will build a green economy and will make sustainability a lifestyle individuals from any socioeconomic background can embrace. We are at a pivotal moment to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, and to craft a remarkable, everlasting green future.
Photograph by Elizabeth Foltz
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Editorial Staff Carli Baker
Haley Williams Hanna Morris Hannah Miller Manon von Kaenel Mary Zhou Meredith Jacobson Natalie Holt
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The Associated Students of California (ASUC) The Student Environmental Resource Center (SERC) The Student Opportunity Fund (SOF) Michele Jacobson Zen Trenholm “Say not, ‘I have found the truth,’ but rather, ‘I have found a truth.’ Say not ‘I have found the
path of the soul.’ Say rather, ‘I have met the soul walking upon my path.’ For the souls walk upon all paths. The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.” - Khalil Gibran
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our resources is just as important as defense abroad. Otherwise, what is there to defend?“ - Robert Redford
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” - Margaret Mead
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A UC Berkeley undergraduate journal of local environmental writing.
Published on May 5, 2014
Words of the Watershed is UC Berkeley's Undergraduate Journal of Local Environmental Writing, and is a publication of the Student Environmen...