Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Climate Change and Environmental Refugees

Dear Editor,

As I was reading the section on global climate change in The Reporter’s Environmental Handbook, I found myself drawn to all the issues that are tied to climate change and the approaches have been used or are currently being used to address those problems. 

I am particularly interested in the changes we’ll see in human populations and how we adapt to global climate change within this century. A short paragraph in The Reporter’s Environmental Handbook on population migrations due to climate change caught my eye. There is a term for these people that I have learned during my time as a college student called “environmental refugees.” These populations had to leave their homes because of sea level rise, agricultural failure, and drought. People may move on a small scale to another area within their country or on a much larger scale to another part of the world to escape difficulties due to climate change.

At the end of January as part of the “Lesson of Sustainability: The Expert Practitioners Series” at Ramapo College, a representative from the Maldives came to speak about the background and political history of Maldives and how climate change is changing the livelihood of the Maldivian people. Her name is Thilmeeza Hussain. When I first came in to listen to Ms. Hussain’s presentation, I was expecting to see the same patterns of issues that a country of low-lying islands would experience as other low-lying countries would experience in real time.

Interesting too, because the reading mentioned that Maldives was one of the ten most vulnerable countries to rising sea levels, according to The United Nations Environment Program. Then she started talking about the political history of the country: how the country was under a certain religious rule thousands of years ago, how the people were oppressed by a dictatorship that disguised itself as a democracy for decades, how its citizens fought to gain a legitimate democracy – only for it to be short-lived because political leaders were still under dictator influence and so Maldives became a dictatorship once again. I thought to myself, “wait, that doesn’t have anything to do with the environment or climate change.”

It actually does. While the country was in dictatorship, people were already experiencing the effects of climate change. They had to migrate to other islands because they found themselves in water inside their homes. The leader at the time did not pay much attention to that detail or why it’s happening. When democracy came into play for that short time, President Nasheet launched environmental campaigns to help Maldivians to adapt to these changes and called out to the world that Maldives needs help. After President Nasheet was forced to step down from his position, the population was silenced from speaking about their problems, including climate change.

The livelihood of environmental refugees is an important issue to consider, because while we see populations already making their move we can only expect more to seek refuge from their once habitable homes in the near future. And with countries that are oppressed from speaking out that they need international assistance, their people and culture may be unable to take refuge elsewhere and worse – may soon cease to exist.

Kristen Andrada
Ramapo College Environmental Studies Undergraduate

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Permaculture: From Farm to Living in the World

By Kyle Van Dyke

According to Andrew Faust, a trainer and educator in the practice of permaculture, permaculture is a “pathway beyond sustainability.” Speaking at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ on Thursday, February 6, the well-spoken, Quaker-raised and prophetic Faust launched into an information-rich, intensive explanation of the basics of permaculture.

More than just about sustaining our current systems in the future, and not limited to just gardening or farming with which the term is often associated, Andrew explained that permaculture is about designing a world we want to live in that is in harmony with the Earth's natural systems. It's about “embracing a life that we want to see instead of running away from what we don't want to see.”

He urged us to ask ourselves more challenging questions about what we really want in life, and how that contrasts with what our lives are actually like right now. Currently, the world that previous generations have designed and built for us is not making the people of the Western world any happier, according to the Gross National Happiness index. Although we are still better off than other nations in economic terms, our life satisfaction has actually decreased over time.

Think you can survive alone on your self-sufficient organic farm in the middle of nowhere? Andrew Faust dismisses the notion. After building his own homestead in West Virginia, including a 1,600 square foot strawbale house, and living there for eight years, he realized he couldn't survive there on his own. The air pollution from a nearby coal-fired power plant would contaminate the rainwater falling from the clouds. In other similar ways, constructing your own “fiefdom,” Andrew says, just will not work.

But would you really want it to work, anyway? Humans are social animals. If you shut out the world and are only concerned about your own short-term survival, what's the point? Even if it was possible, I doubt living a life on a lonely farm would be a satisfying existence. Nor would living in an isolated eco-village. This will not solve the big problems facing the world today. And besides, what are you going to do? Shut the whole world out when times get tough? Turn away your community's, your state's, your nation's, your world's hungry and poor?

Andrew urges that we have to “engage the world.” In other words, we have to actually work with our neighbors, local governments, businesses, non-profits, and change society for the better. Not just pick a spot where you're going to have your own, individual organic farm, isolated from the world.

One of the most important points he makes, in stark contrast to modern planning, is to “let the landscape tell you where to put your elements,” such as farms, railroads, and homes. The idea is that nature already provides you with a design that is sensible in terms of long-range planning and minimal energy usage. The key is to ask nature, “what would be best to place here and how would it be best to build it, given the topography, sunlight, geology, proximity to a water source, locally available resources, etc.,” rather than, “what can I impose and build here, thereby covering up and ignoring the original 'organic design' via complex machinery, while also ignoring the significant amount of fossil-fuel dependent energy required to maintain it over the long-term?”

Look around your neighborhood. Look at it with Google Earth. Take a walk. What aspects of your neighborhood seem “imposed,” arising only from the human will to place it there? What aspects of your neighborhood seem “organic,” arising from humans' guidance and harmony with nature's will?

Toxic Legacy: Learning from Environmental History

By Kristen Andrada

Initially when I first looked at environmental problems, I was quite ignorant; I thought that people were ignorant for not thinking about the consequences of their actions that would pollute or destroy the environment and cause harm to themselves and all life around them. But I’ve come to learn that there’s reason for things people do, even if they don’t care much for the environment.

I’ve come to develop an interest in environmental history, because it shows that you can’t just look at the environmental aspect of an environmental problem but you must look at all the parties involved, their histories, as well as the political and social movements that are occurring at that time. You come to learn that everything interconnects, and reading everything on the “Toxic Legacy” website is a great example of that.

When I first heard about the paint sludge problem, I thought it wasn’t a big deal compared to other environmental tragedies that I’ve heard about around the world. Because it was on a LOCAL level, I understood that it can still be easily handled if it was within reach. Prior to this I saw a pattern that people often don’t work towards problems unless the problem was in their way. Of course, this was a problem for people because they lived in that situation, but more so it was a problem that they couldn’t get out of because they didn’t know that it was a problem to begin with and they didn’t have a voice because these people were living in poor communities.

Then everything made sense to me when I read about Ford’s history in Ringwood. I had no idea that the manufacturing plant was the largest in the world at the time. I had no idea that was a product of veterans coming back home from WWII to encourage the development of families. And of course no one really thought much about the consequences of where they put waste since there were no environmental laws established at the time. With their fast paced business and assembly line work, they needed to remove wastes as fast as they pumped out new cars for families. Yes, many Americans have enjoyed this luxury, but at a great price for their neighbors and future families.

As mentioned in class, problems don’t arise to the public level until someone says something about it and it’s important to keep going with that until the problem is solved. As much as I love learning about the environmental history of some things, a lot of the times that problem still persists and needs updating of the key players in the issue and what (or if) policies are in process for change.

Andrew Faust: Applying Permaculture to the Bigger Picture

By Colin English

At the second lecture of Ramapo College of New Jersey’s series of environmental speakers, on February 6, a modern Thoreauan comfortably paced the front of the room.  Knowing that the audience constituted students and faculty predominantly of the Environmental discipline, Andrew Faust, director of the Center for Bioregional Living in Ellenville, NY, dove into the depths of Permaculture with an eloquent intellectuality.

He carefully unfolded a human movement to simpler solutions for our economic woes, to a consideration of existing ecological systems already meticulously honed by nature, and a methodology that can give anyone the Thoreauvian waltz into the sensical synergy between humanity and the environment. Permaculture, he described, “attempts to balance and simultaneously achieve human needs and preserve ecological integrity.” It was during his own journey into Permaculture, however, when he realized his mind had become too narrowly focused. By removing himself from the human juggernaut, his micro-solutions operating off-the-grid would not spur the global revolution we need. There needed to be something more.
Permaculture must move beyond a simple sustainability for a given time period and away from micro-scale isolationism to a comprehensive, interdisciplinary, ethical solution. Permaculture has the opportunity to transform corrupted for-profit institutions into formidable forces for ethical, environmentally sound business. Instead of separating his ideas and principles from the larger system, he needed to engage the world head on. Through Permaculture, we can ask ourselves: “What are we designing for?” Are we designing for only the short-term, crash-course endings, as well as the pursuit of profits? Have we designed our system at the expense of a true understanding of the Earth? Yes, he argues.
The ecological realm that we have pillaged and exploited in a dangerous narcissism has only served to artificially separate us from our most natural caregiver. Nature has given us all the tools and lessons we need to live happily and well, and even given us the knowledge to create a sound, and diversely efficient economy. Economy and ecology do not need to be mutually exclusive adversaries like they are in modern times. Yet, we still erroneously model our socio-economic culture on an infinite growth syndrome, and our methods of life remain utterly contrary to natural systems. For example, we need only to look at an act as mundane as brushing our teeth for evidence of our misunderstanding. Our centralized, globalized, and massive scale system of transportation, exploitation, and production of resources is completely utilized to make a single toothbrush. There’s a much better way, and it has been just outside our window and mindsets every day.
Andrew Faust argues for a refitted, not reconstructed infrastructure; a regionally diffuse model of community, ecology, and economy - not a uniform disregard for local diversity. We must design for a local and regional variation that appropriately meets both place and culture. Permaculture can be expanded to understand how the Earth works at a given location, why the area has developed as such, and how a community can make every effort to assimilate into it. Through a mix of public and expert planning, humanity at any location can combine the intuitive knowledge of the local people with technical expertise to create something that works without global expense.
Look out your window and ask yourself a series of questions. Do you see an arid desert or a lush valley? What is the physiography (defined as the physical geology and geography)? Do you know the composition of the rocks under your feet or the flora and fauna around your house? How do the hydrological systems function, and are there other areas like yours? These are the simple questions both individuals and communities can ask to make our system fundamentally sound, not removed from reality. As we begin to align with the natural principles and systems honed through millennia, humanity can make a regionally diffuse system that is adaptable to unique situations and hazards, resilient to human failure, and one that has a multiplicity of sensible resources and structures.
To complement the distribution of systems to fit the natural ecology, we must also rethink our logic behind environmental regulation. Establish rigid protocol that must be adhered to in order to operate with American business and economic sectors, instead of relying on a punitive system that continues to be inconsequentially violated by repeat offenders. We must address the true costs of the military industrial monstrosity we have supported for decades. The disastrous impacts are apparent around us, notably encapsulated by endemic warfare, entire populations languishing in poverty and starvation, incredible daily losses of biodiversity and ecological integrity, and how we live in a world in which a child is often afraid to touch the grasses, the trees, and the bugs of the Earth. From his lecture, a defining trait of Andrew Faust is his encyclopedic knowledge of history and literature. As his last thought to the audience, he proposed a meditation on a quote by the ancient Herodotus: “The point of history is not to repeat it.”

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Endangered Islanders Take on Global Climate Change

By Brianne Bishop

The Maldives, a group of islands southwest of India, has a population of 320,000 people. There are approximately 315 million people in the United States. The United States is over 900 times larger than the Maldives Islands. So, why is it that 320,000 people are devoting more of their time and energy into reversing global climate change than the 315 million people living in the United States?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because the people of the Maldives are experiencing first hand how global climate change is affecting the Earth. I am not saying that the people of the United States do not care, most do. But it is in fact difficult for Americans to relate to the Maldivians. Because Americans do not see what the Maldivians see or experience what the Maldivians experience. Hearing what is happening and living what is happening are two completely different terms. 

I was surprised I’d never heard of these islands, until a climate activist from the Maldives spoke recently at Ramapo College  The crystal clear blue water, the soft and pure looking sand, and the island getaway atmosphere is everyone’s dream vacation spot. I can picture myself snorkeling through the Indian Ocean, witnessing the colorful coral reefs, exquisite ocean life, and soaking up the sun. When I Google searched for image results of the Maldives, I found mostly tourist attraction photos exhibiting the scenic beaches and resorts. None of the photos showed the hardships that the Maldives islands have been enduring. No wonder most Americans have no knowledge of how climate change is hitting the Maldives.
These islands are breathtakingly beautiful, but their beauty is slowly diminishing. The Maldivians have been experiencing the bleaching and destruction of their once vivid coral reefs, beach and sand erosion, changing weather patterns and worst of all rising sea levels. The rising sea levels and damaging weather patterns have been a rising concern for the natives. The highest point on the islands has been measured at 5ft. above sea level. Destructive Monsoon seasons, tsunamis, and other drastic weather changing storms have been known to wipe out islands, forcing inhabitants to be relocated. Imagine that. Losing not only your home and all your belongings, but also your entire island. It is something almost completely un-relatable to most Americans, but may not be for long. Sea levels are rising and hurricanes are becoming more powerful and more destructive, for example hurricane Sandy.
Now imagine if this were occurring here in the States. What if our low-lying East coast places such as Long Island, Jersey City, etc. were being wiped out by tsunamis? How would we be reacting? I fully believe that we would be acting more like the people of the Maldives who have made the pact to become carbon neutral and are continually raising awareness and taking action to reverse climate change.

What struck me the most about the Maldives is that they have been taking steps in order to reduce their own environmental impact, but because of the location of the islands being on the equator, they are suffering from the carelessness of other nations around the World. Their own efforts to reverse climate change can only do so much for them; they need the entire world to be on board as well. If other people were experiencing similar hardships and fears that the Maldives face daily, they would undoubtedly be more concerned with the impact and effects that we humans are having on the Earth.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Thilmeeza Hussain: An Islander Confronts Global Issue

By Colin English

Rarely is the world graced by an individual in which youth does not delay the development of wisdom and  personal experience to drive the world forward. On Thursday, January 30th, such an individual visited Ramapo College to educate our students on the plight of the Maldives and its connection to global climate change. Speaking to a variety of students in the undergraduate and masters Environmental programs, and a room filled with an impressive cumulative knowledge of socio-environmental issues, Thilmeeza Hussain surprised even the veterans of the discipline.

By her 30s, she has assisted a new democracy, formed in 2008 in the Maldives, as its Northern Regional Minister; she represented the small island chain in the United Nations as its Deputy Permanent Ambassador; she spearheaded efforts to change the global discussion on women’s rights and climate change; and she founded a non-profit organization named Climate Wise Women to search for success on different sociopolitical fronts.

Thilmeeza offered a unique frame of sustainability and global climate change because of her experience in international politics and decision making, her efforts to implement social and environmental change through a new democratic leadership position, and due to her time spent finding the synthesis between various human channels of activity and the environment.

Amidst pictures of colorful corals and aquatic life, she provided stern messages of hard lessons learned. The islands' democratic administration that fought so diligently to improve the social and environmental realities of both the Maldives and the world was brutally overthrown and its citizens beaten in the streets. Amidst a room of learned students and professionals, Thilmeeza provided harsh reminders that institutions like the U.N. continue to ignore women like herself.

To an observer, that may seem like the dismal reality we find ourselves in. Efforts for a sound common understanding of climate and women’s issues are often squandered at the hands of corruption and limited foresight. Democratic governments filled with youthful aspirants and lofty goals for a better world are torn down as quickly as they ascended. And after all the cries for help from the Maldivian people about losing their homes and islands to slow-acting climate impacts, they are continually ignored by governments, international regulation, and other communities. After people like Thilmeeza have persistently engaged the world throughout multiple venues to attempt to validate their need for survival, they are held under the physical and metaphorical rising tide.

Still, there is hope, there is resilience, and there is a spirit that Thilmeeza embodied in her lecture. In between the failures and set backs she relayed to our audience, two messages stood out. The first: “Survival is non-negotiable.” The Maldivian people refuse to back down to the sea of water and official debate about their doom: they will continue to show the world that survival is the only path of action and a healthier approach to climate the only consequence. The second, a chant used in public protests of the Maldivian government: “Kuriah, Kuriah, Baarah, Kuriah!” Neither beatings by brutal regimes nor the apathetic ignorance of other nations will keep the Maldivian people from leading the global charge against social and environmental injustice, “faster, faster, forward, faster.”

Toxic Legacy: Environmental Justice

By Tiffany Liang

Take a globe, spin it around, and let your finger land on this exotic location: Ringwood, New Jersey. The Garden State is known for a number of things. One thing that comes to mind is gateway to New York City. Another might be Jersey Shore. A few cynics might even call the state a giant dumping ground. They would be correct.

In 1980, Ford Motors shut down a manufacturing plant in Mahwah, about half an hour from Ringwood. The factory no longer exists. Instead, it left something evil percolating in the soil. In an era before Superfund, before the National Environmental Policy Act, polluters were free to discard wastes in any way they saw fit. In Ford’s case, they disposed of their toxic paint sludge in the cheapest way possible—they dumped it in nearby fields and woods.

In 1983, the Ringwood area was listed as a Superfund site. Under the EPA’s oversight, Ford cleaned up pockets of the sludge, and in 1994, Ringwood was delisted. But then, the EPA did something it had never done before. It put the site back on the list. The latest proposal of remediation involves putting a cap over two of the main dumping sites in Ringwood: Peters Mine and Cannon Mine. The third spot, the O’Connor disposal site, will be used as backfill for the mines once the sludge has been cleaned up.

This is a classic example of an emerging concern called environmental justice.

Three subtribes of Ramapough Lenape Indians live in Ringwood, Mahwah, and Hillburn. They are by no means rich, and they are not registered in the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Turtle clan lives on top of the Superfund site in Ringwood. Residents complain of strange smells coming from Peter’s Mine. A recycling center sits directly across from the O’Connor disposal site. Sink holes litter the residential area by Cannon Mine.

The Turtle Clan has had it. The Deer clan in Hillburn, New York got Ford to completely remove its paint sludge in areas along the Ramapo River. Capping may be the cheapest, no-hassle solution, but the toxic sludge will continue leaching lead, benzene, and arsenic. To add insult to injury, the Environmental Justice section of the EPA’s Environmental Impact Statement was poorly conducted, according to the tribe. If rewritten, it could affect the final remedial action. The car company, and especially the EPA, has a vested interest in cleaning the Ringwood site as thoroughly as possible. Capping should not be an option. The streams that run from Ringwood eventually flow in the Wanaque Reservoir, which supplies water to over two million people in New Jersey.

If Ford is not careful, its toxic legacy will continue for decades to come.

Toxic Legacy: One Man’s Story

By Anthony Vigna

People say that pictures are worth a thousand words, and I believe that this statement heavily applies to a photo of Ringwood resident Mickey Van Dunk, taken by Thomas E. Franklin and published in The Record’s “Toxic Legacy” series. In the photo, Dunk stares at the camera with a serious, blank face that is almost devoid of any emotion, with a rare disease called hidradenitis suppurativa displayed prominently on his face. The current state of his disease is a result, he feels, of the millions of gallons of paint sludge dumped by Ford that contaminated his neighborhood in Ringwood, NJ. He’s had 17 different surgeries that have removed large amounts of his skin since he was a teenager, and he then refused to undergo any more surgery. He’s even had multiple suicidal incidents where he has come close to ending his own life.

This disease is genetic in Dunk’s family in certain aspects, but his state is not entirely the fault of his family’s history. For starters, exposure to pollutants is sure to make the effects of the disease a lot worse. This is evidenced by the fact that Dunk’s Harvard-trained surgeon, Dr. Parmad Ganchi, claims that he has one of the absolute worse cases of the disease that he has ever seen. The fact that hidradenitis suppurativa has reached Dunk’s face is a rarity in itself, as the disease typically never reaches that area of a person’s body. Despite the fact that no health study has been conducted, Dunk’s disease seems to be influenced by the sludge dump instigated by Ford.

Not only is this deadly disease ruining his health, but its also killing all of his dreams and aspirations. Dunk often dreams about hanging outdoors like he used to before he was sick, engaging in activities like ice fishing and walking through water. He longs for the days where he could drive backhoes and dump trucks at construction sites, like his last job 12 years ago. Dunk even dreams of having boys with his wife, but unfortunately none of this is feasible. His current state prevents him from enjoying himself or working the job that he loves. He also tried to have kids with his wife, Linda, but unfortunately Dunk is now sterile. Not only that, but Dunk had to learn how to undress in the dark in order to make sure that he doesn’t scare her at night. Clearly, a life has been tragically ruined, he feels, due to Ford’s lack of care for the environment.

Keep in mind that this is only one person’s life that was drastically altered by this dump. In reality, the entire area of Ringwood where the dumping took place has been devastated by this disaster. Dunk’s story illustrates the dangers of Ford’s toxic legacy. One look at his photograph shows viewers how bad the damage to the area has been, and exhibits the harmful effects that such contamination can have on human beings. Hopefully, people will be able to look at Dunk’s face and be inspired to properly take care of the environment in the future. I know I have, as his story has inspired me to become more aware of environmental issues. Ford’s actions are inexcusable, and action must be taken to prevent things like this from happening in the future.