Thursday, May 15, 2014

Environmental Writing 2014

Ramapo College, May 2014    (photo: Jan Barry)

The world as classroom is a key aspect of lifelong learning. That’s an insight that savvy educators try to instill in students from kindergarten to college. Sometimes that awakening happens unexpectedly. Here are some aspects of life that caught the attention of 13 student-journalists in the Spring 2014 Environmental Writing course at Ramapo College. Their insights—a sampling is excerpted here—in writings throughout the semester are the core of the ongoing environmental explorations in this course, which are posted on our class website,

“So I raised my hand in Professor Michael Edelstein’s Environmental Studies’ capstone course to volunteer to be co-Project Manager of a student-run firm contracted to the Ramapough-Lenape Nation and I did not know who the Ramapoughs were. A student of Ramapo College of New Jersey for my undergraduate years, I had never meaningfully learned about the tribal lands our school rests atop of, nor that although our institution bears the anglicized version of their namesake, I had not once spoken to a member of the Ramapoughs. Unsurprisingly, I soon found this ignorance to be the norm for the people of Ramapo College.

“As our project progressed throughout the course of the semester, my knowledge of the ecological and human damage the Ramapoughs endured quickly grew. Shocked by the massive levels of toxic materials and social stigma their community collectively endures, I began to talk with other Ramapo College students I encountered in the cafeteria, in classes, and at the campus office I worked in…

“These conversations I had with a diverse cross-section of the Ramapo College student body attest to the level of misinformation about the Ramapough community. This ignorance was not malicious or representative of their character. Both located within the same locality, the Ramapo College community and the Ramapough Turtle Clan exist in a rift that is worlds apart. People either do not know or they are misled by pervasive social stigmatization.”

--Colin English, “World as Classroom: Meeting the Ramapoughs”

“The findings of many of the Physical team members point to decades of neglect, societal oppression, and environmental injustices to the Ramapough community. Before the dangerous intersection of mining and contamination that reduced their ability to utilize the land and practice their culture occurred, the Ramapoughs freely drank from trout-producing streams, enjoyed a proud sense of societal self-sufficiency, and knew that their children were under the constant, safe vigil of the community. The Turtle Clan currently suffers a disproportionately high degree of risk from mining, natural hazards, and environmental contamination in comparison to the surrounding communities.

“Unlike much of the region, the situation of the Turtle Clan remains dire. The other residents of Ringwood are not affected by volatile organic compounds in the groundwater that, due to their chemical properties, quickly off-gas into the Ramapoughs' air before significant migration occurs downstream. The students of Ramapo College of New Jersey will not wake up each morning to the sporadic hums of backhoes nor the steady stream of trucks as toxic materials are dug up around them. The surrounding communities will not be forced to forgo much of their low-energy culture to survive in a high-energy dominant culture…

“The Cultural indicator determined that Ford’s contamination caused a loss of indigenous knowledge among the Ramapoughs because they were forced to stop hunting and gathering normally. The Borough’s proposed placement of Ringwood’s recycling center over the O’Connor Landfill, rather than remove all contamination, would further restrict access to cultural lands as well as bring in streams of traffic and visitors along a once-isolated road where many Ramapough families live. Relocation of the Clan would allow them to continue cultural practices, as well as relearn them, unhindered.”

--Colin English, Tiffany Liang, and Rudolph Reda, “ Environmental Justice Issues at Ringwood Mines Superfund Site”

“Hurricane Sandy hit New Jersey around 8 pm on October 29, 2012. The east coast of the United States was ravaged alongside the Bahamas, Bermuda, the Greater Antilles and Canada. When Sandy was predicted to hit my hometown near the ocean, I never thought the damages would be as great as they turned out to be. I’d seen news reports of hurricanes, twisters, and tornadoes vastly altering the landscape and the way people had to rebuild their lives, but I had never experienced such damages firsthand….

“The area had major damage. Walking through the streets, it felt eerie—houses ripped apart, furniture in the soaked streets, cars flooded, some even carried away, driftwood found miles inland, piers and trails vanished like they had never been there, sand from the nearby beaches covering the roads. The destruction was terrible, but we could rebuild.

“The power was out for over a week, and many people went out and bought generators, and then the gas crisis started. Cars and generators both ran on gas, and while many people had taken off work to help with the repair effort, some couldn’t and needed fuel.  There were lines for gas that stretched for blocks, curving around corners, in the hopes that gas would be available. Leaving  around five in the morning to fill up the family car with my mother, we had to wait well past sunrise just to reach the gas station.

“While it was a tragic moment in the New Jersey history books, the community came together like never before. Within three days, shelters were set up for those that had lost everything and had nowhere to go; families could still eat a meal thanks to those that were more fortunate and could donate or lend a helping hand; neighbors who had generators put up signs offering outlets to charge cell phones.”

--Devin Hartmann, “Sandy Stories”

“The modern world currently enjoys more riches and wealth than ever could have been imagined. The developed world is overflowing with cheap food, advanced medical care, clean water, air-conditioning, electricity, computers, etc. The list is endless. The complex and amazing lifestyle of the modern world is fantastic. We live radically different now than how humans did 500 years ago, let alone 200,000 years ago when modern humans first appeared….

“The real tragedy of modern society is that we not only dismiss our previous generations as irrelevant, but that we also dismiss future generations. We extract resources, destroy the environment, and grow our populations to irresponsible levels, leaving our children and grandchildren to clean up the wreckage. Soon, modern society’s assumptions will be proven irrevocably wrong, and then, hopefully, we can change the world for the better.

“But in the meantime, change your lifestyle. Make your life more local. Downsize your impact on the environment by reducing your resource use. Sell your car. Grow your own food. Meet your neighbors. Get creative.”

--Kyle Van Dyke, “Our World”

“Just as humans are heavily relying on and overusing antibiotics, farmers are relying on and overusing pesticides and herbicides. Humans make stronger medicines only to create an environment where germs then adapt and become resistant, creating supergerms. Monsanto made Roundup to kill weeds and when the weeds adapted and became super weeds, then they created a stronger Roundup formula. Humans are under the false impression that we can alter nature, but the truth is nature will always find a way to outsmart human actions. Scientists try to take short cuts, but these shortcuts sometimes prove to be harmful to human health….

“There are alternatives. Natural home remedy weed killers can be made without the harsh chemicals of commercialized products. Ingredients usually consist of vinegar, salt, liquid dish soap, and a spray bottle. If you want to remove dandelions specifically from your yard you can make a non-toxic dandelion killer that consists of apple cider vinegar, table salt, and dish soap. Users even claim the homemade concoctions have a higher success rate than Roundup and without the use of harsh chemicals.

“Better for your lawn, better for your health, and better for the environment.”

--Brianne Bishop, “The Dangerous Side of Herbicides”

“There is several garbage patches located all over the globe, but the largest ones are the Indian Ocean patch, the North Atlantic patch and the Great Pacific patch. The reason the trash has built up in certain locations is because of the long rotating ocean currents called gyres. There are five major gyres located all over the ocean and three out of the five of them are filled with waste….
“The garbage in these gyres is doing a lot of harm to the wildlife of the ocean. Many animals eat it and then are unable to swallow or digest it and they die shortly after. Sea turtles and birds are mainly victims of this. Some fish end up getting caught in the trash and are unable to escape. The trash also prevents the wildlife from getting to their food’s location, so eating waste becomes the only option for them. Another problem comes from when the plastic deteriorates in the water. The plastic particles that come from the trash are also toxic to the ocean life as well. These toxins spread around the food chain of the ocean.

“Many people don’t realize that the damage to the ocean could affect them as well. Since there are fish that are caught out in the gyres, there have been cases of people getting sick from eating fish with plastic toxins in them. Research has shown that animals consuming these toxic substances is becoming a problem all around the globe. What makes this situation worse is that there is barely anything being done to clean up any of these gyres.”

--Michael Seyler, “Ocean Life Threatened by Giant Garbage Patches”

“The proposed pipeline would carry oil from Canada to the United States, where it eventually would reach Gulf Coast refineries. Supporters say it would create thousands of jobs and help the United States get closer to a goal of energy independence. Opponents include environmentalists who say the project wouldn’t create much permanent employment once it was finished, and argue it would reinforce the nation’s use of an energy source that worsens global warming. Such a project will only increase our dependence on a limited resource. …

“With elections coming up, many conservative-state Democrats’ seats are up for re-election and this could make them seem bi-partisan and help them win votes. For them, it would seem to be a smart political move with no consequences to them, as any such bill will almost certainly be vetoed by Obama.

“According to CBS News, the vote is likely to happen soon with the mechanics still being worked out. The vote will likely show where the country’s leaders have their heads--new and more sustainable energies or business as usual.”

--Joseph Farley, “Keystone Pipeline Issue Coming to a Head in Congress”

“When bees forage from flower to flower, they carry pollen with them on their fuzzy little bodies, enabling flowers to reproduce. Because honeybees are found worldwide, they help the reproduction of many fruits and flowers. Honeybees have become commercialized not only for the honey they produce but for their role in pollinating crops on agricultural sites. Our food derives from the plants that are pollinated from pollinators like honey bees. …

“Recently, an emerging disease that scientists are extensively looking into is Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD). The symptoms of this disease are: (1) the rapid loss of worker bees; (2) a noticeable lack of dead bees both within or surrounding the hive; and (3) the delayed invasion of hive pests and kelptoparasitism from other hives….

“’The Value of Honey Bees as Pollinators of U.S. Crops in 2000’ accesses CCD’s impact on the human population: ‘Although CCD probably will not cause the honeybees to go extinct, it could push many beekeepers out of business. If beekeepers’ skills and know-how become a rarity as a result, then even if CCD is eventually overcome, nearly 100 percent of our crops could be left without pollinators - and a large-scale production of certain crops could become impossible.’ We will still have corn, wheat, potatoes and rice - because these crops don’t need pollinators - but a large portion of our fruits and vegetables may become luxury. The decline of the honeybee will affect our lives since a third of our diet come from fruits and vegetables that depend heavily in the honeybee pollination.”

--Kristen Andrada, “Honeybee Crisis and its Impact on Our Food Supply”

“Genetically Modified Organisms, or GMOs, are not trusted not only by people who care about their health, but those who also care about their impacts on the environment.  There are many websites dedicated to stopping the use of GMOs in products, listing all the things that are wrong with them.  However, they may already be in our food and many of our food products.  According to “Questions & Answers on Food from Genetically Engineered Plants” on the U.S Food and Drug Administration’s website, most GMO plants include “corn, canola, soybean, and cotton,” which are used in many major food and snack products….

“These are the two sides to the debate over the use of GMOs.  The U.S government considers them safe, as well as scientific organizations.  However, there is other scientific research that show that it may be detrimental to our health (according to animal studies), and there are concerns over how different aspects of the environment, such as nature and ecology, will be affected by the GM crops.  It may be difficult to avoid these types of crops in popular products, which is why labeling GM products in the U.S would be good idea.”

--Jonathan Mallon, “Genetically Modified Food: Pros and Cons”

“In recent decades humans are being reminded of the phrase “climate change” and how it can affect them. Climate change has the definition within itself; it is when the weather changes from how it used to be to how it is currently, except that for the world the change in climate is hotter than it has been in human history. With the weather getting hotter, causing ice glaciers to break and water to rise, climate change has caused severe effects in major parts of the world. From tsunami in Asia, earthquakes in the United States, and hurricanes in the Caribbean, the world is becoming a more dangerous place to live….
“I decided to take two countries such as the Dominican Republic and the United States to show how a third world country and a first world country compare to each other with problems that the entire world is facing. I wanted to show a country that was on an island that is a lot more at risk of becoming flooded by water because of the damages that we are all doing, but most of all the people living in first world countries.

“Climate change can be avoided by humans deciding to take public transportation, shutting off electricity and water when not in used, stopping the fast pace of merchandising which waste a lot of plastic and causes factories to work harder and longer at making these products, and most importantly, to take care of each other as we teach each other how to reduce, reuse and recycle. The reason why curing the environment is harder than finding a cure for anything else is because it requires all of us to help in order to make the planet better. Therefore, if more people are aware of how fast the world is diminishing then more people will take action.”

--Jesus Santos, “People Around the World Need to Address Climate Change”

“The majority of people in the world depend on cars for transportation.  In 2011, The Huffington Post reported that over 1 billion people worldwide own a car, making public transportation appear to be obsolete.

“Unfortunately, such a figure means that people are creating a bigger carbon footprint on the environment than ever before while solutions, like eco-friendly cars, continue to fail to catch mainstream appeal. After all of these years, solutions for the current transportation model continue to struggle to gain momentum, and it’s creating a huge problem for everyone.

“Jack Daly, 53-year-old World Sustainability Professor at Ramapo College, said that the continued use of cars for transportation is having a huge negative effect on the environment.

“’I think cars are probably the most selfish invention in the modern world,’ he said. ‘he automobile is a big boost for GDP because it’s a hard, durable, expensive product, but in terms of sustainability it’s a joke.’”

--Anthony Vigna, “Eco-Friendly Transportation Struggles to Transform Gas-Guzzling Highways”

“During my spring break I traveled down to Florida to the Ft. Myers area.  The land was blessed with bright sun, warm weather, and interesting wildlife.  I had to barely leave the trailer to spot a few brightly colored green geckos prowling the area. These lizards would often be prey to my grandparents’ cat Sea Ray, despite my disapproval of letting her out free  and unrestrained. But what we saw around the trailer was only a fraction of Florida's diverse wildlife.

“To catch a glimpse of this wildlife, my grandparents and I traveled to the Six Mile Cypress Slough Preserve, an environmental education center in Ft. Myers build with a boardwalk above the swampy earth where visitors can see and learn about the area's unique ecosystem. …

“These six miles were preserved due to the efforts of dedicated students.  In 2001, they took the preserve as it was and expanded its purpose.  It moved from a simple preserve to an opportunity to educate people about the ecosystem of the Ft. Myers estuary.  The trees filter the water and keep it clear, allowing a variety of gators, birds and other animals to survive in this little section of Florida.”

--Kaitlyn McCaffrey, “World as Classroom: Visiting a Cypress Preserve in Florida”

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