Friday, July 10, 2015

Are Environmental Issues Freedom Issues?

Two hundred and thirty-nine years later after our independence from Great Britain, the United States remains an independent nation and a global symbol of freedom. Today the discussion of freedom resonates through different citizens who question its definition and application. As a student, a woman, a young adult and a citizen with close family members in another country, defining and understanding freedom is something I often grapple with.

On Environmental Justice And Why Environmentalism Is Not Elitism

Relevant spoken word by a woman from the Marshall Islands, UN Climate Summit 2014

       In many ways this blog is an expansion on my post from last week on how I came to care about environmentalism and in many ways it’s a rant.  When I was applying to colleges I wrote many essays like this post, but the one that I remember most was in response to the very broad prompt, “What matters to you most and why?”  My 17 year old self was appalled.  How was I supposed to answer a question like that?  Narrow in on the single thing you care about most and say why?  I had no idea where to begin.  In the end, I wrote an essay about people.  I wrote that I liked talking to people, that I liked learning about people, and that ultimately I wanted to do something to help people.  While this is all still true, the way I think about these things and the way I envision my future has changed so much.
I quote my 17 year old self, “Environmental issues concern me, but they are not what I feel most passionately about and I cannot envision myself devoting my life to them.”  The irony in this is pretty obvious as I now plan to do just that.  I never would have pictured myself studying the things I have been or pursuing a career centered around environmental issues (and especially not as an economist), but my understanding of environmentalism has deeply changed over the past few years. 
I used to think of environmentalism as a scientific issue rather than a social issue.  I thought it was all about diverting wasting, finding alternative fuels, and reducing emissions.  In some ways it is, but environmental issues are also deeply social.  Environmentalism is as much about race and class as it is about measuring biodiversity.  Too often we forget this.  We think of environmental activism as driving hybrid cars, eating organic, and purchasing Patagonia fleeces.  While all these are good things, this is a very narrow definition of environmentalism which is problematic in that it excludes a large portion of the population who can’t afford to do these things.  So often I have heard that environmentalism is an elitist movement, that it is a cause for the wealthy.  This is not only false, but it obscures the fact that low-income people are disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and changing climates.  A factory is never permitted to pollute the air of a wealthy neighborhood, we pay poorer countries to take on our electronic waste, and increasingly severe droughts in the Middle East hurt the farmers not the wealthy politicians.  What is most unjust is that these are not the people who actually produce the largest portion of the pollution.  This is why we must take action to address climate change and adopt more sustainable practices, because when we hurt the Earth we also hurt someone else who relies on this planet, and when we cause irreparable damage we harm future generations.  This is why I plan to study environmental issues, so that I may pursue a career which promotes environmental justice, and hopefully this will ultimately allow me to do something that helps people just as I always planned. 

The American Dream

America, the melting pot, the land of opportunity, the land of the free and the home of brave.  Twenty two years ago my parents immigrated to this great country. They wanted to provide my siblings and me with opportunities that were not available in their native country. There are many people out there that are critical about our government. While that may not always be a good thing, that is the beauty about in this country. Everyone is entitled to their own opinion and they are free to speak their mind. While, there are many areas in which our government could improve upon,  I think we forget how lucky we are to live in such a great country. Independence day for many is reminder of how lucky we are to live in nation where we are granted many liberties.

However, as a minority in the United States I can never forget how fortunate I am to live in such wonderful country. I see the struggle my parents face everyday as immigrants in the United States. They come from a foreign land where the language, the culture, and the values are different. They work jobs where the pay never amounts to the effort put into those jobs. I have never heard my parents complain about working in the conditions that they do. In contrast, I hear my parents express how grateful they are to have a job and the opportunities they have been granted by this wonderful country.

I do not come from a wealthy family, but I do come from a humble family that values hard work and effort.  I owe everything I have achieved to my parents and this great country. It is crucial to me that I make my parents effort worth the while by carrying out my education. I struggled to find my identity as an American for a long time, facing racial barriers and economic challenges. However, I was able to push myself forward, attend college, and I am now currently participating in the REU Lakes program.

The REU Lakes Program hopes to clean up the waterways in order to create a safer and cleaner environment for all those living in the surrounding areas. My participation in this research contributes to furthering equality in the United States. It is important for me to be an example and to show other minorities that there are opportunities out there for them. This program has granted me the opportunity to develop skills and knowledge.

Finally, I have found my identity as an American. American is not a cookie cutter shape. America is mix of colors, cultures, and values. I am proud to be a part of two great cultures. Now, I sit alongside my parents that come from another country, but proudly wear red, white, and blue every 4th of July. This is the American Dream my parents came in search of twenty two years ago.

"This 4th of July is Your's, not Mine..."

Week 4: Environmentalism For Everyone

This past week, we, as a nation, celebrated the 4th of July. A holiday of freedom and liberation. The advent of this day in 1776 led to further successes and conquests for the young nation. Expansion, growth, trade- the United States would continue on the path towards global and political hegemony. Though the U.S. is a 'super-power' today, within the U.S., citizens are not regarded as super-heroes. Throughout the U.S., portions and pockets of this country's citizens feel the poignant externalities of our countries' elitism. Global economic and political success comes at a cost that is felt by individuals both within the country and by citizens for outside of the U.S. that feel the impact of these harms. They are felt due to the exporting or outsourcing of externalities to places that will accept the reward (financial compensation) over the risk.
Within the U.S., though we feel the impact environmentally of our agricultural, business, and political endeavors, they are not felt equally. Certain groups of people are impacted far differently than others. Unfortunately, the negative impacts are often distributed among groups of lower socioeconomic status, people of color, and generally geographic regions that contain both of these groups. It would seem that systematically, when it comes to environmental degradation and the health harms that come with it, these two groups are disadvantaged. There are many groups in the U.S. that are insulated from environmental and global climate change. They are insulated through their financial ability and stability. If the gas prices change, they can afford it. If it gets too hot where they live, they can move north. And most importantly, if a proposed dump, nuclear power facility, logging or mining endeavor gets too close for comfort they have a voice that will actually be heard. Not all people have this privilege. In fact, many times the people most acutely feeling the degradation of global climate change (spurred by anthropogenic lifestyles) are the people contributing least to it.
I will share an example that I got to experience first hand in Yasuni National Forest, in the Amazon of Ecuador. I had the ability to spend a few days in a beautiful rain forest in Ecuador this past January. We were in a national reserve and stayed at a research site of one of the local institutions. This site is about a 10 hour drive on a bumpy gravel road from the nearest "town."Though, there are plenty of the Waorani people living in the area, a larger felt presence is the Suzuki oil reserve. Sharing a boarder with the national forest, the reserve is pumping raw petroleum and natural gas and some of it directly into the atmosphere and Tiputini River. The river that the local people use for recreation and sustenance. Unfortunately, do to the language barrier, and the disadvantaged position these people are in, they are not being heard within the country's political sphere. Rather, they are being bought off. They have been bought off with tools and toys they don't use and aren't beneficial to their local situation. They have purchased cars and boats that they didn't teach them how to operate, and unfortunately were crashed or broken almost immediately. However, there is a large indigenous rights movement that has a presence in Ecuador and hopefully is only growing in strength.
Pipes carrying natural gas
Tour guide demonstrating the raw petroleum at the surface of the waste pond
Waste pond
Burning off natural gas
This experience from Ecuador was rather depressing, but I want to be clear that this environmental racism and the injustice that happens "abroad" is not as far away as I would like to think it is, and cannot and should not be distanced from the U.S. As a hegemonic power, the U.S. has power, privilege, and influence among many other nation states. We as citizens have some of that power and privilege, too. When it comes to purchasing (oil or other products) we have the ability to vote with our dollar. Every time something is purchased from a factory farm, an agro-business, or a company with exploitive practices, economically, they see that purchase as continued demand for their products and the means that produce them. The U.S. dollar holds a lot of power. I don't pretend to not struggle with this fact. I am a college student spending time researching at an institution an hour from my home town and will spend part of the summer making that commute. I will buy groceries at the local Wal-Mart for the same reasons as ever: convenience. Cheap and easy products that are available 24 hours of the day. Systematically, some groups of people are disadvantaged. This is clear in multiple facets of the United States, but individually, we all have agency in our day to day lives. The first step is awareness, and the second conscientious choice.
Some helpful sources on the concept of environmental racism and the unequal and inequitable distribution of resources' costs and benefits will be attached.

Here is an article chronicling U.S. environmental racism regarding nuclear waste and it's costs and benefits.

Here is another example in California.

And a final article.

We can’t all be Washingtons, but we can all be Patriots.

I read the topic for this blog posting last week, and have been thinking about it a lot. Just being able to put into words my ideas of what freedom, justice, and equality are consumed a lot of my spare time because they are abstract ideas, yet everyone has some concept of what those things either look like or should look like. We have personal views and ideas of what these things are, regardless if you consciously know it or not. In some ways, it’s easier to point out what’s not just or what’s unfair. So before I apply how these three things impact my views on research, I should first have a better definition of what they are.

Be the Change You Wish to See in Menomonie

          All people have the right to live in an environment that has a healthy ecosystem and does not put them at risk for harm. Right now Tainter Lake and Lake Menomin are not in a state of health and the people of Menomonie suffer as a result. Dogs have died or gotten ill from drinking the lake water, children cannot enjoy hot summer days swimming and the smell drives boaters out of the county looking for cleaner lakes. These people are not able to use the environment around them in ways that they want to and this is not fair. 

          I like to think that my research will help the people of Menomonie find solutions to the cyanobacteria problem that plagues the water in late summer. The data that I collect will be used in policy creation. It is this thought that keeps me focused when in the field and lab. However, to make great change in the watersheds water quality the people within the watershed will have to be motivated to help. Getting people from all parts of the watershed to understand that their way of life affects the way of life of those all around the watershed is a challenging part of this project. When people realize the power that they hold and use it to change their practices to help others live a better life, that is when the greatest change to water quality will occur. Without this realization, adoption of new policy, and continued research there will not be an improvement in water quality and the people of Menomonie will face injustice.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Freedom is the Result of Effort

Our Nation has been through many counts when giving up was probably the easy path, but that just our style. The United States has been faced with many problems a few being the birth of our Nation, two World Wars, and the great depression. We are very resilient, but freedom isn't just the right to say we are Americans, but the fact that we can call this piece of land our Home. Now I don't know about you all but I know I like to keep my home kept up and enjoyable. The problem is that our Nation has several problems, some including water quality or just the quantity of water.

In this neck of the woods we have the water quality issue that everyone here knows about. I mean from what it sounds like later this summer you wouldn't even want to have a picnic next to this Lake. That's not freedom. How can you be completely free when the Lake next your house is toxic. That's where our research comes into play. The hard combined effort of the LAKES-REU staff and the people of this area will clean up this lake to what people remembered. The memories of when they were kids swimming in it all summer long. This goal is a work in progress but it will have benefits that can spread farther then just this small little town. Our research could help guide other people in fixing their water problems and hopefully leading to freeing the hold on their lakes.

We all deserve to have the full experience of freedom. We are Americans after all! Lets make it so we are able to enjoy everything this great Nation has to offers. Oh yea and Happy Belayed 4th of July everyone!!!!

Question: Is freedom really free?

Celebrating the 4th of July with my team members was a blast. I really enjoyed helping Lissette and Megan pass out surveys. It was a pleasure to meet different members of the community and converse with them about the conditions of the lakes. It was also great to see the excitement and somewhat concern members of the community had about this critical issue. It shows me that people are interested in learning about the issue and passionate about contributing to a solution. We also got the chance to grill and hang with one other as we celebrated an major accomplishment of our great nation. Although it was fun and games, it continues to bring up a vital question. Is freedom really free? Every person, regardless of race, ethnicity,or age, is entitled to live in a neighborhood, and city that supports wellness and good health overall. The community members of Menomonie deserve the right to live in an environment where they have access to clean water in the lakes. Many families would love to swim and fish in the surrounding lakes but they are limited because of the phosphorus causing a rapid load of cyanobacteria. I hope by participating in the Biology aspect of the LAKES research will develop a solution and can sustain the lakes natural resources and limit the rapid growth of cyanobacteria. This would not only clear the lakes up, but give the community a reason to believe again. This environmental issue has occurred long enough and now it's time to make a difference.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

History, Time, and Creating a Future.

To put it short I have a long list of hobbies. They range from reading to video games to hiking. I think this all comes down to my biggest hobby; Exploring. I would rather spend my money going somewhere new and feeling what others have felt, to hear what they heard and to see what they saw. If professional world traveller was a position I would take it, but realistically it isn't and I don't have the money to sustain travelling forever. To make up for it I found different mediums to explore through and history is the biggest. I pick up a different book anand it allows me to jumbp into a different world and explore different ideas.

I see history as the study of time. Sure it might be different locations in time, but lets be real, what is better than reading the accounts that happened and were amazing. History is wierd though  because people generally see it as only the past, but it isn', all time iss going to be history, so we should see the world as we want it and send it in that direction the best that we can. Time is completely interactive. I think that is why, I am a part of the LAKES project; I need to do something to change the historical future.

All of my research up to this point has been in some way about changing the future and people relationship to the world and others in its future. My previous research was an exploratory study on how university students recognize structures of violence. The idea was that I would eventually find out about students understandings and find a way to educate them. The research needs to be continued even at this point because it doesn't have the implementation that I want for it to be impactful to the future.

Overall, I would say that my hobbies impact the way that I research, because I always want to see a different future by the time I am done with the research, I am doing. My hobbies are about exploring and history is how I often access exploration. It takes me to worlds of truth and time that I can research to work towards a different future.

Farmers: What do they Need?

Meta-cognition was the topic for discussion in the week two blog posts, but I totally zoned out writing up a post, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about the topic through my day to day experiences in the LAKES program.

My research project for this summer is to survey farmers and make a social network graph based off of the information that we get back from the survey, but to be honest, I have no clue what that entails at this point. Right now I am learning that farmers are very busy people and aren’t always around to take a survey. Sometimes they are willing, but they are too tired from another hard day’s work and only a little to take from it. I think that we are going to learn from the farmers that they need help to implement a lot of the best management practices that we are surveying them on, so I hope we are all up to the task, because this isn’t there job alone. If these people are putting vegetables on our tables, gas in our cars, and meat and dairy in our bellies, the least we can do is help them implement these best management practices. What I want to learn more about this summer is what help these farmers want or need to implement these practices efficiently and effectively. The way that I see it currently, is that we are asking these farmers to provide for us then we tell them how they should do it. My biggest hope is to capture this in my research to get farmers and willing volunteers on board to help them.

I plan to do this first by creating a social network graph for the farmers with the data that I receive back from the surveys. First of all, we need to know what the farmer needs to implement these practices. I think we will gather from our incentives section and landowner assistance sections of the surveys what they need and who they need it from. Then I can ask for some interdisciplinary help and see if other surveys captured public’s willingness to help the farmers in the way they need it to fix OUR watershed.