Monday, May 11, 2015

Environmental Writing 2015

Ramapo College campus, May 2015    (photo: Jan Barry)

College is a great opportunity to explore the world around us, starting with things that catch our eye in a class, on a field trip, or out and about in our lives. Here are some fascinating, infuriating or plumb thought-provoking interactions of people and the elements that sustain us or endanger us that caught the attention of 10 student-journalists in the Spring 2015 Environmental Writing course at Ramapo College.

Their feature stories, field trip notes, and a variety of other writings throughout the semester convey the essence of the eco-explorations in this course, posted on our class website: 

Field trip with Prof. Chuck Stead    (photo: Jan Barry)

Topics in the excerpts below range from the historic drought in California, and what can be done about it, to various environmental issues and movements in New Jersey and across the nation. The full essays and other writings follow. 

“United States culture is fast-paced, and as a result Americans have become accustomed to an “on the go” lifestyle. Americans have developed habits that help them adapt to this fast-paced culture, including relying on single-use plastic water bottles as their main source of hydration throughout the day.

“According to the Statistic Brain Research Institute, the average person in the U.S. uses 167 plastic water bottles annually; the annual spending on bottled water in the U.S. is $11.8 billion, with 30 billion bottles of water sold per year.

“This inclination to buy bottled water has negatively impacted the environment. A majority of the negative environmental effects of single-serving plastic water bottles occur before the bottle even gets into the consumer’s hand. Manufacturers use more than 47 million gallons of oil a year in order to supply plastic water bottles to American consumers, according to The Environmental Magazine…

“Once the plastic water bottle is produced it still needs to be transported; according to The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the entire process of manufacturing and transporting a single-serving plastic water bottle to store shelves takes about 5.6 to 10.2 megajoules, which adds up to a lot of energy use. This means that about 33 cents of every dollar spent on a bottle of water from abroad goes to transportation costs, according to The Huffington Post.

“Unfortunately, the life of a single-serving water bottle does not end after consumer use. According to the Container Recycling Institute, of the 30 billion single-serving water bottles purchased by Americans each year, more than 85 percent end up in landfills or incinerators. Meaning, only about 14 percent of the plastic water bottles purchased annually are recycled….”

-- from “’Just Tap It:’ Campus Movement Grows to Reduce Environmental Damage of Plastic Water Bottles” by Candace Mitchell

 Water bottle filling station   (photo: Jan Barry)

“Chipotle Mexican Grill announced on April 27 that it will only use non-GMO ingredients in its food, making it the first large U.S. restaurant chain to make a bold statement against genetically modified ingredients.

“On its website, the company posted: ‘A farewell to GMOs: When it comes to our food, genetically modified ingredients don’t make the cut.’

“This is not the first time the Tex-Mex food company has made headlines.

“In 2013, Chipotle became the first restaurant chain to label items that contained GMOs, which helped fortify a decade-long food movement in the U.S. that has health advocates questioning whether GMO foods are safe for consumers….”

-- from “Chipotle Cuts GMO Ingredients from its Menu” by Vanna Garcia

Ramapo Reservation trail    (photo: Jan Barry)

“The New York-New Jersey Trail Conference recently got a new home in Mahwah across the road from Ramapo College and next to the Ramapo Valley County Reservation. After looking at the organization’s website, I went to the building and interviewed a man who works there. Gary Willick, the Fulfillment Coordinator for the coalition of hiking clubs, gave me insight about what the trail conference does and a bit of its history.

“The trail conference, which includes numerous individual memberships, began planning to move to its new location in the Darlington Schoolhouse about ten years ago. Their old location was in a small office building down the road on Ramapo Valley Road closer to Suffern. They raised money, received several grants and finally were able to restore the old schoolhouse and construct a new wing without jeopardizing its history to be a place of business and educational value to those looking to learn more about hiking trails.

“’The new location is great,’ said Gary, a Ramapo College grad. ‘I get out of work at 5:30 and then go right over to the trail and hike.’”…

-- from “NY-NJ Hiking Clubs Have a New Headquarters” by Matthew Salerno

Fracking drilling rig   (photo: Jan Barry)

“Fracking has become a well-known and often discussed issue in recent years.  Fracking or hydraulic fracking is a technique where rock is fractured by pumping pressurized liquid composed mostly of water, along with sand and some chemicals.  The fluid is injected to create cracks in deep rock formations, thus allowing natural gas, petroleum and brine to flow up pipes to the surface. 

“Fracking has been around far longer than most people know.  The first experimental fracking began in 1947, and the first commercially successful fracking came in 1950.  As of 2012, 2.5 million fracking sites have been performed worldwide on oil and gas wells, according to Wikipedia.  Over one million of those jobs have been performed in the United States. 

“While fracking allows us to access natural gas and oil at an extremely convenient rate, it has come with a lot of controversy.  While the economic benefits of fracking are sky high, the environmental results are devastating.  Environmentalists argue, and scientists have proven that fracking often leads to the contamination of ground water, the depletion of fresh water, the degrading of air quality, air pollution, surface pollution, and the increase of potential earthquakes….”

-- from “Earth’s Fracking Epidemic” by Brian Writt

“Over the course of the past four years, the state of California has been experiencing a drought of record proportions.  In fact, the winter of 2015 is the driest winter in the Golden State’s history with the current snowpack water content reading at 1.4 inches, or 5% of the 28-inch state average.  

“But what are the dangers associated with such a severe drought?  Water is the source of life on earth, so the list of negative effects of drought is long.  Such effects include damage to agricultural production, destruction of wildlife and habitats, increased danger of bush fires and forest fires, and drop in groundwater levels as well as groundwater pollution…

“Work is being done to explore new methods of water filtration and allocation.  Several desalination plants are under construction, but many fear this is not a feasible means to securing the future of drinking water.

“Research and experimentation is also being done to explore the possibility of deriving clean drinking water from raw sewage, with promising results.  But at the moment, California is facing a devastating drought with very real consequences.  The situation on the West Coast should be an alarming wakeup call that we need to care for our environment and create a world we can continue to live in.”

-- from “California Drought Is a Wake Up Call to America” by Eric Christiansen

“According to a report from the Department of Land, Air and Water Resources, around 80 percent of water in California is used for agriculture. While a percentage of this water goes to growing crops, the bulk is used in the animal agriculture industry, according to National Geographic. Not only do these animals consume ‘virtual’ water in the form of the water used to grow their feed, but excess water is also needed to hydrate animals and keep factory farm facilities and slaughterhouses clean.

“California is the country’s leading dairy producer, and a dairy farm can use up to 150 gallons of water per cow per day, solely to keep that cow’s stall clean. Added to the water needed for feed and hydrating the cows, it has been estimated that the average farm uses 3.4 million gallons of water a day, according to the EPA. To put this in perspective, the water needed to produce one gallon of milk is equivalent the amount used by an entire month’s worth of taking showers.

“Meat production uses even more water. According to the Water Education Foundation, every pound of California beef requires 2,464 gallons of water to produce. In shower scale, that’s around six MONTHS worth of water.

“So, while taking short showers is always a good practice, this action pales in comparison to simply eliminating consumption of animal products….”

-- from “California Drought: Fracking and Animal Farming Add to Water Woes” by Samantha Bell

Walker's Pond     (photo: Erik Lipkin)

“His given name was Elwood Walker, but for those who were lucky enough to live in the same town as him he will always be remembered as ‘Woody.’  In the town of North Caldwell, NJ “Woody” Walker was a legend.  He built a ranch house on a 17-acre plot of land and lived there from 1949 until his death in 2013…

“However, for many young kids in town, now most of them in their mid-to-late 20s, Walker will be remembered for something else: Walker’s Pond.  Those 17 acres that Walker lived on included about 7 acres of wetlands, where Walker’s Pond rested peacefully.  In winter when it got cold enough, Walker would open his pond to the town for ice skating, free of charge, and there was always a thermos of hot chocolate to be found nearby…

“After his death, the town of North Caldwell discussed buying the entire 17 acres of land and turning it into nature area while dredging and breathing new life into the pond.  This would have been a beautiful area in the center of North Caldwell and the perfect legacy for North Caldwell’s ‘First Citizen,’ as Mayor Joseph Alessi often referred to him as…

“Unfortunately, only a few years after his death, the dream of turning Walker’s Pond into a  nature area is dead.  Luckily, the pond will be saved and given new life; the rest of Walker’s property however, was not so lucky.  The wetlands of Walker’s 17 acres will remain untouched but the rest of the property will be used to build houses.  In the already cramped town of North Caldwell, new housing is not needed.  But someone will make money off of it, so houses are sure to be built….”

-- from “Suburban Developments: Pushing Out the Spirit of a Man Named Woody” by Erik Lipkin

Eco-friendly gym entrance   (photo: Brianna Farulla)

“The gray, concrete warehouse sets itself apart from neighboring facilities in its industrial Essex County location. Vibrant multi-colored flags and illuminated signs on the 50,000 square foot building make it nearly impossible to miss.

“Signature Fitness of Belleville, NJ strives to be more than just a gym. Aside from providing members with the typical necessities for a workout, it offers holistic products and an eco-friendly environment…

“Signature Fitness takes pride in the type of setting that it promotes. There are recycling bins in various corners, hypoallergenic carpeting and billboards advertising the IQ air purifiers that are throughout the fitness facility. Management made the decision to go paperless just months ago, as well….”

-- from “Environmentally Conscious: More than Just Fitness” by Brianna Farulla

“The media is constantly telling us what is and what isn't safe to eat. The topic of healthy food has even come up as an environmental issue. A person can't read a magazine without seeing this week's healthy recipe featured, or go to the gym without hearing their trainer talk about the importance of healthy eating, or even walk down the produce isle at the local grocery store without wondering what really is in that apple or in that strawberry.

“In health and food related media you will most likely find the acronym GMO, and somewhere else on that page the word organic is there too. Are there any possible health risks that may come from consuming the GMOs? How do we know which of our foods are made using GMOs? There are so many questions. Now, let's find some answers….”

-- from “Are Genetically Modified Foods Safe to Eat?” by Edith Carpio

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