Monday, November 23, 2009
From Scandinavia, I headed to India, where I spent three weeks studying Tibetan Buddhism and climbing in the high Himalayan plateau of Ladakh. From there I traveled south to the northern plains and visited the more touristy sites of Jaipur in the Rajasthani desert, Agra to see the truly magnificent Taj Mahal, and Varanasi to see the Hindu holy city. I also went to Dharamsala, the home in exile for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan Government, and a large population of Tibetan refugees who have recently escaped from Tibet. I have been interested in the political situation in Tibet for a long time, but it always seemed as something that was handed to me, rather than something I sought out on my own. In middle school, my best friend’s mother would host monks and rimpoches who came to give teachings in the town hall, in small town Vermont. I fell into Tibetan culture by cooking momos (dumplings filled with vegetables or mutton) and tingmo (a steamed bread) for the teachers and being told we had to go give khatas (ceremonial scarves and a sign of respect) to the lamas. But in Ladakh, in the high Himalayas, it became my own. I was traveling to 1000 year old temples tucked into the barren hillsides offering khatas again to 25 foot tall carved wooden Buddhas, or going to festivals in ancient monasteries where dancers retold traditional Buddhist folklore.
Similarly, Dharamsala stirred my academic work and interests that I had moved away from. I fell quickly into teaching English to Tibetan refugees and began asking questions about the dynamics of displacement for the students that I was tutoring. I decided that while I enjoyed ski patrol, this was where I wanted to focus when I returned to the states. So when my hulking, heaving plane touched down, the only job that was remotely interesting was working as a Paraeducator in an ELL (English Language Learning) classroom in Burlington, Vermont. I love it. The students are amazing. They are endlessly optimistic, engaged, and hilarious. They are also challenging, with the gamut of English proficiency, learning differences, family situations, trauma, etc. They are predominately Somali Bantu, but also Nepalese who are being evicted from Bhutan, some from Burma, China, and a smattering of other African countries.
In my spare time, I continue to study Hindi and Tibetan languages. I also try to process and explore my experiences, with the hope of returning in the next two years. My memories of India are complicated: it is an intense country, which has really shaken the foundation of my thoughts in Environmental Studies. The images that linger behind my eyes are of the people, negotiating an overwhelming population, poverty, and the rapid push for modernization. It seems as though industrialization has happened in thirty years, and the infrastructure for its debris is still non-existent. In Varanasi, the holy Ganges River flows through the city, parts of it black from where the sewage flows straight into the river. Nearby, young boys are fishing... in many ways, India was incredibly disheartening. The job seems even more overwhelming, even more unattainable, in a place where the vast majority of people are struggling to meet basic needs. Yet, at the same time, there is a momentum in that: that if people depend on the river intimately for their sustenance, its vulnerability is almost more compelling. I try to sift through my frustrations and find pockets of optimism.
I find that I am more oriented toward social considerations as a result of my job—I go home and research the conflicts that have given rise to the displaced populations I am working with, I read mostly about racism in school environments, and sociology books about modern India. But Environmental Studies has given me the framework to think about human migration in a wider context than the social dynamics. My thinking continues to be situated in a conversation about place-attachment and what influences that, whether environmental or social.
If you have questions or thoughts, I am always interested in what current students are working on, as well as the reflections of other alumni. alexa.m.schmidt(at)gmail.com
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I knew that I was going to take at least a year off before applying to grad school because I wanted to get more work experience, so I returned to Portland in August where I spent the winter of 2006 bouncing around a few jobs. My first job was working for a photo lab, which was at best motivation to find a better job. After 6 weeks, I quit and started working for REI (part time) and an Intellectual Property law firm (full time). I was probably working too many hours, but in January my hours went down at REI, so I started looking for a part-time internship because I wanted to do something more closely related to my degree and my interests. I wound up interning at a Portland-based climate change consultancy that I learned about from a lunchtime talk given by its founder at Lewis and Clark in 2005. In March, I decided to return to Yellowstone in Summer 2007 by way of a five-week hiking trip across Spain.
While I was in Yellowstone, I was offered a Research Assistant position with the consulting firm and started on Labor Day 2007. I know that I probably would not have gotten that job had I not interned 10 hours a week earlier in the year. This job was a great opportunity for me because I was able to provide research support and gained a lot of experience conducting greenhouse gas inventories, drafting reports, and helping to develop a few Excel based models. I also helped author a short paper on carbon market opportunities for public transportation organizations with a colleague. In October 2008, I started the GRE and application process because I wanted to start a graduate program that would combine my climate change experience with my other interests in public land management.
Which I guess brings us to the present. I am in my first semester of a 2 year MS in Resource Conservation program at the University of Montana. Ultimately, I am glad that I waited to apply to grad school. I have a better idea of what I need to study, and I think that I also gained a lot from my work experiences. One other thing, if anyone wants to contact me, my e-mail is email@example.com. Just kidding, it is matt.ehrman (at) gmail.com. If you have one, ditch the stupid handle. I have seen people arbitrarily toss out resumes for that and stupid fonts.
Wednesday, September 16, 2009
At L&C I doubled majored in Political Science and Environmental Studies. After graduating, I lived and worked in Portland for a year while I applied to law school. During this year I lived in SW Portland and I worked for Portland General Electric as a clerk, for L&C as a debate coach, and for Powerscore as an LSAT instructor.
In 2008, I moved to New York City to begin law school at Columbia University School of Law. New York is a lot different than Portland. It has some downsides like the crowds, trash, and how expensive everything is; but it is also a lot of fun! I’ve really enjoyed exploring the city and going to the great concerts, museums, events and speakers.
I spent my first year taking the traditional curriculum taught to all law students across the country: Constitutional Law, Torts, Civil Procedure, Criminal Law, Contracts and Property. During my first year I also did a lot of extracurriculars related to environmental law. I served on the board of the environmental law society and I coordinated Columbia's participation in the Focus the Nation events last semester. I also participated in the Environmental Law Moot Court.
After finishing my first year, I spent summer 2009 back in Portland, working for the Portland Metropolitan Public Defender. Working for a public defender definitely gives you a different perspective than reading about criminal law in a case book. I found helping represent those who cannot afford lawyers to be both a challenging and rewarding job and I recommend it to anyone interested in the law.
I am now starting my second year of law school. I get to pick my classes this year, which is a big improvement from last year; I am taking Evidence, Tax, Environmental Law, and Protection of Natural Resources. I have been elected president of the environmental law society and will serve as a staff editor of the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law.
Well, that’s about all I’ve done since graduating from L&C. I am looking forward to taking more interesting classes and beginning my career in the law!
Monday, September 14, 2009
It all started the summer after freshman year when I got a salmon cannery job on Bristol Bay. Actually, it all started with my 10th grade history teacher, Mrs. Monahan. She was a powerhouse at my high school: brilliant, young, funny, and a great storyteller. She regaled us with tales of her 1980’s jaunt to the Northern slime-lines. Crazies making Jell-o out of seawater and guts, impossible work, incognito gangsters, and the ping-pong table that shared the break-room with a murdered corpse for 3 weeks, all set at the end of the world. She spawned the goldfish of an idea in my fishbowl head to one day test my mettle where the tundra meets the sea. I went, and hated it. I actually loved it, but what I loved I also hated. We compared the cannery to an abusive relationship; you couldn’t escape and always came back. I was hooked on the absurdities, the awesome open landscape, the fish gore, the beautiful souls I met, and the frantic cocktail of pace and sleep deprivation. Regardless, it was great for my photography and I returned for two more seasons to work in the plant and then aboard a tender.
This first summer proved to give a strong current to my ENVS career. I was a member of the first class to have complete freedom over the design of our concentrations, and I decided to pursue art. I was greatly encouraged in the alternative photo classes I took from Jacinda Russell. With her help I created mixed media, alternative, and installation pieces inspired by the theories, issues, and concerns brought up in my ENVS classes. At the same time, “my issue” topic for ENVS projects gravitated to marine fisheries.
Having successfully snagged a Mellon Situated Research Grant in my junior year, I traveled and lived abroad in Primorskii krai, in the Russian Far East. For 6 months I interviewed people involved in most aspects of fisheries (NGOs, Government Industrial and Scientific fishery orgs, Academia, Commercial fishing companies, etc.) conducting research for a thesis verbosely titled “Fractured Visuals. How Russian Images of Far Eastern Fisheries Encourage Predicated Ways of Seeing? An Adaptation of Center-Periphery Relations.” This was a departure from art, a sociological study of images as products that have been produced with inherent cultural values, meanings, and orientations.
With this background it seems too perfect that I stumbled into the “Project/Outreach Coordinator” Americorps position with the Yukon River Drainage Fisheries Association, a non-profit established to create a forum, sense of unity, and represent the interests of the roughly 40 subsistence/commercial fishing villages along the Yukon River. It is the only river-wide, representational group open to all citizens. I will be organizing volunteer service and environmental education programs for high school youth based around salmon conservation and community development. The YRDFA's goal is to enable newer generations to become active community members and retain their local, cultural traditions. The happy byproduct is that I get to travel to remote and rural parts of Alaska that would otherwise be inaccessible.
As they say, it is a big sea out there. One full of fish, a lot of garbage, and some spectacular opportunities for those willing to risk it. You can’t stop swimming!
Evan Blankenship, ENVS 2009 alumnus
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
The biggest, most obvious change is that there will be no more ENVS emails from our administrative coordinator Pete about poster celebrations and pizza meetings. They will still take place, of course, but now we will find out about them via MyLC, an RSS reader that is our new go-to source of information. Above and beyond some required ENVS feeds, students get to pick and choose those that appear in their MyLC, which can include anything from new ENVS internships to the latest New York Times headlines.
Students at LC should not have to reinvent the wheel with every new research project. Engaging with existing resources and building off of them is what Web 2.0 is all about. We recreated and expanded sample research themes for all of our ten local and overseas research sites. They are now ready for students and instructors to use as a jumping off point for situated research. Research site pages are now conveniently located in the Resources section of the new website. This section is our toolkit for ENVS projects, with support from the newly redesigned Help Wiki collection for when we get stuck.
Another key feature of our community-building effort is the segregation of Delicious —a Web 2.0 site where we share online research resources—into three “Delicii,” as we call them. There is a general, free-for-all database called lcenvs where you can add any interesting, environmentally related content such as Grist articles or news stories that you want to share with other ENVS students. As always, Delicious resources can be commented on by anyone in lcenvs. The two other ”Delicii” are lcenvsres and lcenvsgis, which separates research site-related resources (all newly tagged and organized for easy searchability) and GIS metadata used for mapping and spatial analysis.
Finally, the updated scholarship database provides us with tons of ideas and past examples of ENVS student work to inspire our concentration or research project. Together we hope these new and more easily accessible resources via the beautifully designed new website provides a better way of doing environmental studies that doesn’t require you to reinvent the wheel.
Sarah Bobertz and Dick Fink,
ENVS Research Assistants
Thursday, July 2, 2009
“How to Deal with Environmentalists” was the title of a session that took place at Portland State University in June during the Let Live’s NW Animal Rights Conference. Animal rights activists and environmentalists have a longstanding ethical disagreement over the intrinsic value of ecosystems, species and individual animals. Animal rights activists focus on individual animals, while environmentalists are generally more holistic, concentrating on the good of entire ecosystems. The fact that animal rights vs. environmentalism is still an ongoing debate is a good reason for an environmental studies student to enter into the discourse, especially with such mainstream attention to rising carbon emissions, species extinction and the increasingly industrialized food culture.
To provide a better context on my interest in the Let Live Conference, I should probably talk a little bit about my summer research. I am currently a Mellon Research Initiative researcher for Professor Deborah Heath and Professor Daena Goldsmith’s project,“Local/Global Networks: Wine & Foie Gras.” Foie gras and wine are both produits de terroir, meaning that they are influenced by geological, climatic, and cultural factors in specific regions where they are produced. As both a practical and theoretical concept, terroir may bridge the gap between consumers and producers in the homogenized industrial world. However, foie gras is also a heated animal rights issue because of its unique production methods, viewed by animal rights activists as animal cruelty. Therefore, I was sent to this conference to observe and document the ethical claims made by these animal rights activists regarding foie gras production.
After having spent seven weeks examining claims made by scientists, French foie gras producers, US foie gras producers, and animal rights activists, I went into this conference with a fairly broad understanding of the arguments made by both sides of the foie gras debate (for more information on the debate or on INRA's research on foie gras, please read Sarah DiGregorio's article here or Dr. Guémené's report here). At the “Regional Issues in Animal Activism” panel, speaker Tim Hitchens referred to the foie gras debate as a cultural battle against Portland’s “new pop culture” for eating cruel meat. He claims that this trend has been heightened due to the influence of local chefs such as Gabriel Rucker of Le Pigeon, who even sports “I [Heart] Foie Gras” t-shirts. I asked Tim how he would address the cultural battle if French chefs argued that foie gras was traditional rather than hip, and he pointed out that Portland chefs aren’t cooking foie gras in traditional dishes and even if they were, their tradition is causing suffering.
This is a video of an anti-foie gras protest held on June 27, 2009
in front of Sel Gris restaurant on SW Hawthorne.
The second talk that I went to dealt mainly with the anti-foie gras movement and polarization of angry chefs in Chicago. According to speakers Nathan Runkle and J. Johnson, the weak spot in the Chicago foie gras ban was that it was too heavily focused on foie gras and not the issue of animal cruelty itself: “It is about more than foie gras.“ Many in favor of foie gras could not agree more. For animal rights activists, the divide that the issue created in Chicago was between foie gras and animal rights; for chefs and producers, it is between foie gras and their traditions/freedom of choice.
In addition to dealing to “How to Deal With Environmentalists,” I wish that there had been a session on “How to Stump Environmentalists” because, to me, the animal rights vs. environmentalist debate is not as easy as the general “veganism has a smaller carbon footprint” argument that I heard several times this weekend. I find it hard to believe that veganism is the only plausible step towards an alternative food system that environmentalists would agree with. In attending the Let Live NW Animal Rights Conference this weekend, I was not able to see any solid reconciliation between the two positions, but I was able to better understand the basis of animal rights arguments and to find some peace in my admiration for their efforts.
Monday, June 29, 2009
It also must be considered that new species colonize, and have colonized, regions or landmasses all the time, often leading to the demise of the previously dominant species. That is simply a fact of nature. In this case, we are the ones that facilitated this transport of new biota, so it is considered unnatural. This is to say that we are somehow distinct from the natural world, and most or all of our actions are not natural, which is a whole other debate altogether. Yet another consideration is that we are deciding how to restore these ecosystems and habitats into something more “natural” (define this term as you well). Once again this requires value judgments that are inevitably linked to human interest, simply because we are the ones making the decisions. Money pours in to save the oh-so-charming kiwi and the ever-intriguing tuatara, but what about those critters less likely to capture the public’s hearts, and dollars. Somehow we have convinced ourselves that we are doing the best thing for nature, that we know what is right. But are we not just chasing our tails? Will we not have to, ten years hence, treat these conservation practices, too, as blemishes on the well-intentioned conservation track record? All these questions, among countless others, were confronted and debated between us on our long bus rides, and it would be foolish to say that we came anywhere close to agreement. Yet, these are the questions conservation scientists and policy-makers grapple with every day.
Over the course of three months, we were able to witness the incredible success stories of conservation that have served as models for others throughout the world, but also those shocking blunders of conservation that seem all too ridiculous and avoidable in hindsight. As a case study, New Zealand provides perhaps the most extreme of examples due to its unique natural history. But the root of these debates is the same no matter how and where you approach them. We must take risks in order to act fast. Valued species and resources are not considered equal, ever. Priorities must be established, and sacrifices made. Just like the human interference in the past, and very much the present, that injured the natural balance and health of ecosystems, conservation in practice is just another form of manipulation. Yet, it is fueled by the intentions of restoring and protecting, with enough knowledge that things will truly be helped, and not further harmed. As with all endeavors, the money must come from somewhere, hopefully not undermining the cause.
All of our thoughts and questions found no conclusions or answers, probably because they would only result in yet another opinion or value judgment. And that is the basic principle of conservation. We often must react before it is too late. We would only hope that we would have a complete grasp on an issue, knowing the full effects of each potential course of action. But this is never so. This is not to say that we should do nothing and completely give up. However, all this must be considered. Perhaps we can someday rid conservation of the need to consider profits and other solely human-based regulating factors, so as to throw our full attention on nature itself. But in the end we are only humans, just one piece, one force of nature. As nature is certainly not static, we cannot truly know how things should be, and therefore find some perfect solution to the issue at hand.
I do not want it to seem as if we left completely jaded regarding conservation and environmental issues, returning broken-spirited and without hope for the future. This was simply a wake-up call, allowing us to realize the complexities of this art. Conservation is about much more than the small microcosm that is being considered. This dialogue must be continued no matter where we are and what is at stake. We also came out with a greater understanding of why things live where they do, and why this is important in understanding the past, present, and future biology of a place. I don’t think we could have learned the things we learned in any other place in the world. The most rewarding part being that this was not the end of our studies on conservation and biology, but clearly just the beginning as many of us continue our studies in these fields.
Posted by Kat Fiedler '11
Monday, June 8, 2009
The introduced mammals have thrived in their new habitats, as the rest of the biota simply had not evolved to have any defenses against these new creatures. As a result native bird and plant species are severely threatened, while introduced mammal populations and invasive plants are increasing exponentially. Flightless, and ignorant, birds have no chance in defending their nests or themselves. Native habitat is being taken over by the much more successful plants and, in terms of the logging industry, much more profitable introduced trees.
What came as a shock to us Northern hemisphere biology students was how much of New Zealand’s conservation practices involved directly killing the guilty species. Much of the country is covered with trap lines and bait stations full of poison pellets. Poison, manufactured under the name of 1080, is aerially distributed with the intent of killing the introduced mammals. This was a hard pill for me to swallow. It must be remembered that conservation is a reactionary science, in that we are constantly cleaning up some environmental problem, often of human origin.
Sometimes it may be deemed necessary to act before all the pieces of the puzzle are fully assessed. While the Department of Conservation (DOC) claims to have already investigated many of the affects of 1080 on native species and the soil it could leach into, they also admit that much of this research is ongoing and very much not complete. We were able to meet with many representatives from DOC, yet each time I was left not entirely convinced with their arguments. Much of these efforts were focused on the mainland where it is impossible to completely control an environment simply due to the fact that it is not isolated. Animals, and seeds, are free to disperse throughout these areas as they please. This process of population control is never-ending, in time and in funding requirements. Other efforts have been carried out on many of New Zealand’s surrounding islands where virtually all of the introduced species have been eliminated. This has allowed DOC and other conservation scientists to facilitate the recovery of native flora and reintroduce or transplant threatened species, such as the tuatara, the South Island robin, or the kiwi. DOC is certainly not void of success stories, but still has their hands full, if not overflowing.
The great internal debate concerning this form of conservation begins when one realizes the enormity of the introduced species problem. Even those scientists and conservation managers who have invested their life’s work in these problems admit that there is no end in sight. It is perhaps impossible to ever eliminate the threat of these species, let alone entire populations. So who are we, then, to go about killing these creatures that we introduced to somehow artificially sustain native populations? How long will this go on, or will we be able to even afford these methods? Furthermore, what damage is being done to the health of these ecosystems, as new chemicals and compounds leach into the soil, and are do the benefits outweigh the costs? Is any legitimate research even being done regarding these questions?
Posted by Kat Fiedler '11
Friday, May 22, 2009
Our program was biology-focused, with courses on the biogeography, conservation, and cultural heritage of New Zealand, and life in extreme places (namely, Antarctica or geothermal sites). Most of our learning was on the road as we circled the entirety of not only the North Island and South Island by bus, but also a few Subantarctic islands via Russian icebreaker. We were never without a well-informed brain to pick, as countless professors from Victoria University in Wellington followed along giving lectures on roadside stops or post-dinner pajama lectures in the hostels. From the moment we stepped off the plane, issues of conservation were readily apparent. As we all passed through biosecurity, most of us had to have our well-used hiking boots scrubbed to remove any caked-on mud that could hold seeds of plants yet to be introduced to NZ. This is when I realized that they take this sort of thing pretty seriously around here.
The land of Aotearoa was, in essence, the perfect place for the core of conservation to be confronted. A few basics about the country must be established first. New Zealand has known a long history of isolation and lack of human settlement. Having been fully separated from the rest of Gondwana (that is, Australia, Antarctica, Africa, and South America) for a good 60 million years due to the development of the Tasman Sea, mammals simply missed the boat. This allowed for the biota of the landmass to evolve without the usually dominant mammals. Furthermore, New Zealand’s isolation as an island also allows it to maintain much of its unique flora.
It is pretty easy to see the enormous gaps that are left in the biosphere, and the fauna of New Zealand also took note. It is often said that New Zealand is a case study of what would happen if birds ruled the world. You will find dozens of flightless species, many of which could not be considered “street-smart” in any way. They are often ignorant of the threat any mammal, human or non-human, could pose. Another important factor in New Zealand’s story is that it was the last major landmass to be settled by humans. It was not until around 800 years ago that the Maori people, quickly followed by Europeans, came onto the scene. And with them, of course, came all sorts of mammals (rats, livestock, possums, stoats, cats, dogs, etc.), and a full menu of eager plants, whether intentionally or not. It is not hard to see how New Zealand’s quirky natural history primes it to be a fantastic case study for conservation.
One of New Zealand's quirky and well-adored birds, the kiwi.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
After graduating from Lewis & Clark, things were a little bumpy. I worked as a research assistant (RA) for the Environmental Studies program and helped out with the Mellon Foundation-sponsored faculty workshop in southern Oregon. The job was pretty great – I biked to campus two or three days a week, did some research, worked on a bunch of online stuff, and got a mini-vacation down to Canyonville’s Seven Feathers casino. After my RA position ended, I worked at a tamale stand at various farmers markets around Portland. I enjoyed myself, and got to eat plenty of fresh food for free, which helped out with expenses. This job also ended, and I started to feel a little desperate about paying the bills, as well as finding a job in my field. I had been applying to environmental education positions with every non-profit I could find, and hadn’t gotten a single response. I was on idealist.org and Craigslist every day, and the job postings were starting to dwindle. It struck me that I had graduated college at a very bad time.
In desperation, I finally landed a job as a receptionist at a high-end day spa in downtown Portland. It was awful. I had to wear all black, talk in a soothing whisper, and I wasn’t allowed to wear shoes. It basically felt like a cult. After two of my paychecks bounced, they decided that they had to downsize, and I was laid off. And that is how I became an unemployed college graduate.
Feeling totally defeated and ashamed of my perceived failures, I moved back to San Francisco to live with my parents. At first, I had a hard time with the fact that I couldn’t "hack it” in Portland. However, I began reconnecting with my old friends, and realized that there were a lot of things I wanted to be doing. I worked part time doing construction with my father, and spent my free time riding my bike around, taking a ceramics class, doing yoga, and singing karaoke. I have to admit: living rent-free can have its perks!
I eventually found an internship with an environmental non-profit in Berkeley called the David Brower Center. I basically just started showing up once a week and doing whatever job they needed someone to perform. I figured that it would look good on a resume, and maybe by a stroke of luck I would be able to make enough connections that I would be recommended to another organization six months down the line. Instead, the Brower Center decided that they needed another staff member, and created a position for me. I am officially the “visitor and tenant services coordinator.” Kind of a long title for what is basically a really busy receptionist position. This time, however, I’m a receptionist at a place that I love.
I am happy to say that I am now, finally, working in my field. It ended up being a great idea to move back home, and although I miss Portland, it just wasn’t working out for me. I know I’ll always be able to come back to visit, and now the Environmental Studies program has one more alumni in the Bay Area. If anyone is interested in contacting me, I would be glad to help out with any internship or job recommendations that come my way. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted by Kelly Rogala, ENVS '08
Wednesday, May 6, 2009
In March, I proposed my Environmental Studies concentration, entitled "Community, Individuals and the Connected Environment," where I was able to situate the topics of social structures, social psychology, environmental attitudes and community obligations within (1) a focused study and possible thesis topic as well as (2) the cross-cultural examination of ecovillages and cohousing neighborhoods. Although I am frequently reminded of the impracticality and complexity of ecovillages as a tool to foster responsible environmental attitudes and actions, I am convinced that only through a thorough study will these arguments be verified. Ecotopia/Ecocalypse has shown me that the utopian vision of a tightly-knit community has been in the minds of scholars and authors for centuries, and thus the foundational ideals of ecovillages may provide some insight and inspiration to environmentalists as we try to overcome our environmental crises and reformulate a more ecologically responsible society.
Within the various novels that we analyzed in Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse, I found that there are particular social structures associated with the author's formulation of dystopias and utopias. Using Grid Group Cultural theory and deontological ethics, I was able to analyze these different social structures with focus on the different forms of personal obligations that entailed of each society. I did a similar study in Jim's Situtating Environmental Problems and Solutions class, using Grid Group Cultural theory to theorize the environmental attitudes developed within the tight group bonds of egalitarian communities, such as ecovillages. In both the Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse project as well as the Situating Environmental Problems and Solutions synthesis, I have tried to find connections between strong interpersonal bonds and ethical commitments to community and ecological health. These studies have helped me to develop a theory about egalitarian communities and their associated personal obligations and environmental attitudes that I hope will serve as a foundation for my concentration and future research on ecovillages. Given the focus topic of my major and interests in intentional communities, I am tremendously fortunate to have had the opportunity to take Evan's class. In addition to giving substance to my Environmental studies interests, Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse has also provided me with the ability to see the religious undertones of current environmental problems and solutions.
Evan Berry will be leaving us next year to teach at American University in Washington, D.C. Although my peers and I are sad to be parting with Evan after such a short time together in Ecotopia/Ecopocalypse, we are all grateful for his incredible insight and provisions on our studies of environmental discourse and wish him the best of luck on his future endeavors.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Sarah Bobertz and I attended the Regional Innovation Forum at the end of March in Portland, Oregon, which sought to bring together “engaged citizens and community leaders from every sector to explore the systemic challenges facing our region that require coordinated effort between individuals, communities, organizations, and local, regional and national policymakers” (Blue Ocean Event Inc., 2009).
We both chose to follow the Social Innovation track, which emphasized the importance of communities working together on similar interests, enabling its members to solve challenges collectively through hard work, collaboration and taking risks. A social entrepreneur is someone who assumes the risk, recognizing injustice and its embedded support structure and sees it as malleable. This entrepreneur then takes the opportunity to disrupt the equilibrium at a deep level and stabilize a new and more just equilibrium. Current social entrepreneurs are already busy at confronting these challenges and are creating models.
What this forum really stressed was the need for social change within the community and a need to change our methods of communication. To emphasize this point, the social innovation track was designed to allow for more engagement between the individuals sitting in the audience and to lessen the impersonal speaker vs. audience relationship. To mimic a community model and better our communication, we were asked by Jolene Estimos from the Warm Springs Reservation to introduce ourselves through a story telling method. We were then asked to define our place, our role, our gift, what we were concerned with and what questions we had. This method of introduction helped us understand our physical, social, relational obligations to our community and recognize that we each bring something unique to the table, which we should use to benefit the community. We need to learn how to use our gifts to bring about real change and become entrepreneurs.
Amy Pearl, founder of Springboard, a social innovation organization in Portland, facilitated the discussion on social innovation. One thing she said that really resonated with me was, “The answer to hunger is not food.” We need to bring about real substantial social change that addresses the root causes of social and environmental challenges, not just shallow solutions.
This forum was inspirational as well as confronting. I realize that there are a lot of changes that need to be made, most of which are not easy to establish because they are unpalatible. Social change is going to be necessary although difficult to spread. Through the improvement of communication and community models as well as the daring initiative of individuals and groups in the community, change will slowly occur across local and global scales.
Written by Rosanne Wielemaker
Monday, April 13, 2009
Since ENVS tries to stay on the bleeding edge of instructional technology, we sought to adopt a more distributed, “Web 2.0” approach to situated research that would allow students to a) pool resources together into an easily accessible repository and b) decentralize the process of adding, browsing, and commenting. After experimenting with a number of different frameworks, ENVS eventually settled on Delicious: a free application that employs tagged bookmarks to organize information.
A Delicious bookmark is much like the ones you’d find on your own browser: a web address (URL) that points to some resource found on the Web. The key advantage of Delicious is that the bookmarks reside outside any one particular computer (i.e., they’re stored on Delicious’ server); essentially, ENVS has created its own “virtual database” of resources viewable by anybody, anytime. A tag is merely a keyword assigned to and associated with a specific bookmark that describes some of its attributes. When a student finds an interesting resource on the Web, she can add it into the ENVS pool of common information by bookmarking and tagging it in our Delicious account, making it available to other students who might be interested in the same topic. She can also add brief notes about the resource as a help to others.
Let’s say that while performing some research on Ecuador – one of ENVS’ situated research sites – I come across a really cool website examining the phenomenon of ecotourism in the city of Cuenca that I’d like share with others as a resource. By bookmarking its URL in the ENVS Delicious account, adding the tags “Ecuador,” “economy,” “landuse,” and “policy,” and creating a short note describing the resource, I can add this website into ENVS’ common pool of information. Later, a subsequent student doing research on same topic can go to the ENVS Delicious account and run a query using the keywords “Ecuador” and “policy.” My website will come up as a relevant resource; knowledge has been shared!
After checking out this particular website, let's then say that our hypothetical student decides it’s not as germane to her own research project as she originally thought; she could then choose to enter a short comment into the Delicious record noting that the resource focuses exclusively on, say, theoretical arguments and lacks any discussion on indigenous responses to ecotourism, her specific topic of interest. Now let's say that the following semester, a third student finds this particular resource on Delicious and notes the comments others have left. Voilà: information has been shared and annotated by numerous students over multiple semesters. Students no longer need to individually “reinvent the wheel” and start from scratch when doing research, but rather are able to stand on the shoulders of their peers. Knowledge has become social!
Thursday, April 2, 2009
Last weekend I attended the Regional Innovation Forum, a two-day conference on environmental issues in Portland sponsored in part by Focus the Nation, Lewis & Clark, and several regional environmental organizations. The Forum focused specifically on addressing smart energy solutions, social innovation, sustainability in schools and climate change. The Forum’s primary objective, and primary accomplishment in my view, was to bring together leaders and advocates in the environmental community who would not otherwise cross paths to coordinate and share ideas for increasing sustainability in the region.
The conference was broken down into three groups, or “tracks,” to focus on energy solutions, social innovation, or sustainability in schools. I chose the social innovation track, which focused on innovative projects and examples of “social entrepreneurship” in the region. A presentation about the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunus resonated with me because – as phrased by a documentary on his work on microcredit in Bangladesh – he was not “turning things upside down; he was turning them rightside up.” This is a perfect turn of phrase for what so many environmentalists perceive their role in the world to be, myself included. We have radical ideas about how to change the world, but we aren’t trying to turn the world on its head.
By now, nearly everyone is familiar with an environmental footprint: the negative impact that our everyday actions have on the planet. In contrast, the Forum introduced to me the idea of an environmental handprint: the positive impact one makes on the environment, and the good one does to reverse environmental inequality. In a field that has a tragic tendency to wax negatively about global crises, destruction, and our imminent demise, the environmental handprint is refreshingly inspiring. We should be thinking about what we can do, not what we can’t do. Sitting in the Expo Center surrounded by environmental advocates, I was touched by how many people were focusing not only on reducing their footprint, but increasing their handprint. Instead of collapsing under the weight of our environmental problems (as I am often tempted to do), there are people all across the country and the world who have taken a tiny piece of the environmental puzzle and embraced the challenge of trying to put it back together.
In fact, there was no mention of the buzzwords that usually follow environmentalists; no one talked about limits, destruction, regulation, or crisis. The social entrepreneurs who presented projects were overwhelmingly optimistic about solving our environmental problems. They are working on increasing their environmental handprints, rather than panicking about our ecological footprint. I think there is a terrible shortage of optimism in current environmental thinking. Everyone has something to contribute to the world. Things so simple as pet rescue projects, community gardens, and projects like The ReBuilding Center (http://www.rebuildingcenter.org/) have positive impacts on the world, and contribute to the kind of positive, innovative environmental change we need.