While writing about environmental engagement, I have to tread carefully. I grew up in Los Angeles where I volunteered and organized my high school’s march for our lives walkout. Then I moved to Portland to go to a liberal arts school for environmental studies. Obviously, my experiences with activism and engagement are not universal in the slightest. However, while discussing the idea of taking action, environmental or otherwise, I feel like my life has given me a little bit of insight on what makes people tick.
An important distinction to make is the difference between types of political actions; those carried out by individuals or nongovernment groups like protesting or voting, and actions taken by committees and politicians to get motions passed. I favor direct action myself, but that’s beside the point. The point is that these groups (if they’re smart,) will want to be able to say what they’re doing, how they’ll do it, and why. Often what befalls organizations that fail this step is paralyzation from infighting. What’s sad is that often the infighting is trivial, and ends a movement before it begins.
About the reading, I believe that is precisely what is happening when it comes to California trying their damnest to rehydrate a place that was a desert, and always will be (its actually a chaparral biome, but you get the idea). You have to get the water for the golf courses people of SoCal from somewhere, and since everyone has NIMBY all the time, no one wants to be that somewhere. This is where you run into what is mentioned in the second paper, Clumsy Solutions for a Complex World.
I feel that the idea that current solutions are “clumsy” is a kind of discredit to said solutions. Unless everyone wakes up tomorrow with all the same values and priorities, all solutions will be clumsy, which is ok. We were all taught about compromise somewhere in elementary school, but along the way, we forgot what it was about. A compromise means when two parties are about to go through with action but disagree on some aspect. They negotiate and come to a middle ground, and the agreed-upon action is taken. Compromise is always a little clumsy just because it’s not exactly what either party envisioned. But you don’t love a cat with inner ear problems any less just because it falls off the couch sometimes, right?
In case you don’t know me personally, I’ll tell you now that I have a passion for agriculture. Specifically alternative agriculture for a new era. Specifically aquaponics, which I love with my whole heart.
If you recall my very heated strawberry post, I am generally frustrated with the conversations surrounding the future of food, especially GMOs. The reason people dislike GMOs is that it is a scary acronym like MSG. So here is my scathing hot take on GMOs: as long as GMOs are grown without artificial fertilizer or pesticide, it should be able to label itself as organic.
Shocking, I know. But the truth is that humans have been making GMOs since we started doing agriculture. Corn? GMOs. Wheat? GMOs. Dogs? GMOs. GMOs aren’t new in the slightest, it just used to take longer. Now we can do it quickly and with more options.
However, I would also be lying if I did not have one big problem with GMOs, and that has nothing to do with the science itself, but how it is abused by corporations. Near the popularization of GMOs, during a green revolution, private entities started genetically engineering their own seeds with lots of incredible benefits and then patenting them. The patent makes it so farmers can be sued for growing the crops unintentionally on their fields as a result of natural cross-pollination by local insects. Abuse in the same vein is making these organisms unable to reproduce outside of a lab and then giving these seeds away for free to farmers in impoverished countries. This then makes these farmers dependant on the genetically modified seeds, but unable to harvest them themselves, which means seeds must be bought year after year from the corporation that “generously” gave them away for free. It sounds like something out of a 90s movie starring a group of plucky young protagonists who take down the evil factory farm baron. But in reality, capitalism is just like that.
I’m planning on making some posts about my aquaponics projects after the semester ends, so stay tuned for that I guess!
Listen, I know that my last blog post was also about the intersection between the scientific and the social in environmental studies, but it’s not my fault that its such an incredible field. And you know things are about to get spicy when you type in the name of a threatened species of owl and Google autocompletes with “controversy.” So I am very excited.
Not to be that guy who uses the word layman, but I feel that the layman assumes that conservation happens because it should; we should save the animals, always. Unfortunately, it is much more complicated than that. Let’s say that there are an endemic species of mice in a field that are slowly decreasing in population. The only identifiable reason is that a species of snakes are eating them. They will surely go extinct if nothing is done. So you should kill the snakes? No! They live there too! They just gotta eat! What if you added a different species of mice so the snakes wouldn’t eat the threatened mice? And what, wreak havoc on the population distribution of the entire food triangle? Fools. Not to mention the nearby rural village depends highly on the money brought in by people coming to see these unique mice and buy tee-shirts and eat in diners and stay at motels, so the disappearance of those mice could destroy the town. This brings me to the northern spotted owl.
While the hypothetical mice situation falls close to the predicament of the spotted owl, I use the analogy for simplification, as the situation is more complicated than that, as always. Basically, the northern spotted owl was threatened by habitat loss by logging an encroachment by the barred owl. When logging ended, populations continued to decrease; so in an effort for conservation, a plan was proposed to remove a portion of barred owls to give the spotted owl some room. This did not go over well.
Here is an unfinished list of questions this predicament brings to mind, in no particular order, because I have ADD:
Assuming the fact that humans have had such a broad and incalculable effect on the planet and everything on it, what does the word “nature” really mean?
Assuming nature includes humans and their activities, what would it mean to “let nature take its course?”
Do humans have a responsibility to try to direct nature in a way that we see is “right” or “best?” If so, what would that entail?
If humans do not change their course in destroying the planet at a breakneck pace, will nature cease to exist or will nature entail majorly roaches and rats, being all that’s left?
Should conservation efforts only be focused on organisms that humans benefit from or that we enjoy? Species go extinct a lot, why is the spotted owl any different? We made this world, after all.
I find all of this fascinating and infinitely frustrating because I, for once, do not have a solid opinion on this, as I feel like there are too many questions for me to provide an answer. I feel like we need to think about so much about who we are and what we’ve done and what nature is before we can move forward with any confidence. But we don’t have that time, or money, or interest really. The less cute parts of conservation aren’t very profitable.
A close friend of mine is a sociology major, and while doing the readings this week I mentioned the subject matter to them; how race plays into where people live, and thus the environments they are exposed to, how gathering data in the field can be affected by whose collecting it, etc. As we were talking, I was once again reminded about the broad boundaries of environmental studies, as most of the topic we were discussing fell more into their area of interest than mine, as I tend to hone in on plants. Nevertheless, this area fascinates me, as the intersection between the social and scientific tends to.
While reading Nading’s Dengue in the Landscape, I was struck with the complexities of disease management that I had not considered. The paper goes over the notion of assigning blame to any given person as a vector for disease, and how many efforts to track dengue focuses on the personal action of citizens, and not of broader problems like infrastructure left in the hands of the government. It reminded me of a problem I have with current mainstream environmental activism. Often a narrative is pushed saying that if all of us came together and biked to work and used fewer plastics and ate less meat the planet would be saved. This is problematic because it shifts the responsibility of environmental protection to the individual acts of the consumer; a blatant distraction from the auto industry actively trying to suppress affordable access to public transport or the irresponsible decisions of factory farms or the very fact that people own private jets.
Which brings me to another point about mainstream environmentalism; the ability to follow all the prescribed steps for “helping the environment” is inherently a privilege. Biking or using public transport to work implies that you live close enough to your work to do so, likely in a high-rent neighborhood in an urban area where other people also bike to work. Using less plastic means having the money to go to a farmers market or Whole Foods and putting your wholesale brown rice in your own reusable burlap sack. Eating less meat assumes that you don’t just live off of fast food, since its cheap and filling and readily available in the food desert you live in and doesn’t require you to cook after coming home from you two minimum wage jobs. People who aren’t upper-middle or upper class have little access for participating in environmental change under capitalism because they have to make sure they’re alive first. Worst of all is that these people are also the ones most affected by environmental issues. Water, air, and noise pollution all make neighborhoods less desirable, driving rent down, meaning that these places are inhabited by poor communities. Putting aside the fact that our country doesn’t have socialized healthcare for a moment; there is a reason why people in poor neighborhoods have shorter lives and more health issues. Their homes are literally killing them.
And that’s why environmental justice is so important; because specific groups of people based on race and income are being targeted as exploitable populations, as they often don’t have the resources to go up against oil companies. Environmentalism is for everyone, and it effects some more than others. We can’t ignore it.