J500 Media and the Environment

A nerd in the eco-age. by bobbygrace

Not all electronics rest in peace.

Not all electronics rest in peace. Photo credit: electricbrains

I am a nerd. I like Nintendo and computers and gadgets. I work at an electronics store. I wear glasses and I know a lot of keyboard commands.

But, I am an environmentalist as well. I tend to eat local, organic, and slow foods. I bike to get around. I compost and recycle. I drink from a reusable bottle and I’m an environmental studies major.

These two parts of my personality have never really gone hand in hand in the past. The technology world tends to discards the slower, older, near useless gizmo for the slimmer, faster, sexier new model. On the other hand, one of the core environmental messages is to consume less. Turn your lights off, conserve water, etc.

And so I’m a bit torn. How do I deal with such conflict?

First let’s admit that we need technology. I don’t want to think about life without a computer. But at the same time, many electronics contain heavy metals like lead, mercury, and cadmium. These metals make producing electronics cheaper, but are very hazardous. Once in landfills, they leach toxins into the very groundwater we drink from.

There are a number of electronic waste recyclers that will take your stuff, but there are few that can be entirely trusted. If these companies don’t send your e-waste to the landfill, they will ship it overseas where it will be smashed and burned to extract precious metals. The hazardous materials end up in the land and water of poorer regions of the world. Check out this New York Times article on the after life of cell phones for examples of where your e-waste typically ends up.

Don’t you worry, Kansans, there are environmentally responsible options for you. You can try Asset Life Cycle in Topeka or the Surplus Exchange in Kansas City, MO. Both have no landfill, no exporting policies and take all kinds of e-waste.

Now if you don’t mind, I’m going to go level my Pokemon in peace. I mean, uh, read that new Michael Pollan book

For more great resources on eco-smart electronics and e-waste regulation try:
ban.org – The Basel Action Network works to prevent overseas shipping of e-waste.
RoHS Compliance – The RoHS initiative was designed to eliminate heavy metals and other harmful substances from electronics.
Kansas Organization of Recyclers – KOR works to manage all sorts of recycling in Kansas.
Energy Star – Energy Star was designed to improve the energy efficiency of electronics.

Bobby Grace


Taking the Student Ghetto to the Ecohood by vincemeserko

Isn’t it time vengeance became environmentally friendly? This is the conclusion I draw driving down Tennessee Street after a concert one night. At the show, a fraternity guy with a disproportionately large head had accidentally spilled beer on me, and because I have no discernible physical strength, I just sucked it up, dried myself off and groveled in the corner. I was in a pretty angry mood driving home that night so I started thinking of some payback schemes, like leveling all the fraternity and sorority houses in the student ghetto and building something cool like a roller coaster on the newly unoccupied land. The roller coaster idea seemed implausible, but I still liked the idea of leveling the buildings. The concept of a large open space in the middle of an aging broken-down neighborhood made this community the ideal setting for my proposal. Let’s turn the student ghetto into an ecohood. Ecohoods are environmentally sustainable neighborhoods borne from the ashes of depressed communities. The student ghetto is hardly a real ghetto, but it is slightly depressing that you only here about it after someone is hit by a car or a shadowy figure brandishing a knife has attacked someone on its dark streets. This community deserves a renovated image, and an ecohood can do just that. Ecohoods typically contain:

-Clustered homes to minimize land usage

-Recycled water systems that funnel sink and shower water to

community crops

-Extensive use of solar energy

-Water purification systems to decontaminate well water


-Community gardens fertilized by leftover compost

The vast unoccupied field leftover after the Greek houses are razed (14th and Tennessee streets) is the perfect spot for community supported agriculture and sustainable farming. It can act as the ecohood’s centerpiece.

Cooperative housing units such as the Ad Astra House at 1033 Kentucky St. have already started experimenting with an ecohood sustainable design making them logical participants in a future ecohood. These sustainable communities are also becoming increasingly attractive options for students. An ecohood in Prescott, Arizona has become a popular housing alternative for college students unhappy with the dorms.

Ecohoods invite criticism because such an altered lifestyle can seem like a hassle or just another pilot project doomed to fail. In reality, these projects are the perfect avenue for engineering and architecture students (maybe even some of those displaced from our housing destruction) to apply their skills to practical problems. It’s ok if they’re in the pilot phase. While getting beer spilled on me does not make me a de facto urban planner, I know that if Ecohoods can work in Detroit, they can surely work in Kansas.
The appeal of ecohoods is simple: they are fun and they are populated by fun people with curiosity and ingenuity. Check out this guy at the ecohood in Prescott, Arizona:

While I’m half-joking about destroying the Greek housing on Tennessee, there is nothing comedic about the possibility of sustainable alternative housing in the student ghetto … or enacting a little eco-revenge.

More information: www.ecohood.info



Members of the Prescott ecohood get dirty with Mother Earth.

photo courtesy of: http://www.positivenewsus.org

-Vince Meserko

No Hippie Daydream by jenh
February 21, 2008, 11:40 am
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , , ,

I grew up eating real, juice-down-your-chin produce from my parents’ garden. On warm spring afternoons my mom could find me in a jungle of green vines devouring sugar-snap peas or sun-ripened cherry tomatoes.

My partner, Jessica, has similar stories about childhood on her grandfather’s Douglas County farm. It’s something that unites us in taste bud horror every time we bite into a restaurant sandwich and discover it includes a mushy, plasticine pale tomato shipped from hundreds of miles away.

Jess wants to bring the flavors of our childhoods to people who don’t have land or the time to grow their own food. That’s partly what prompted her to apply to the local farming program Growing Growers. Growing Growers strives to meet the increasing nationwide and local interest in locally raised and produced foods. The creators of the program hope it helps meet the needs of nearby restaurants, consumer groups and markets such as the Lawrence Farmers’ Market.

Growing growers helps aspiring newbies like Jess connect with small farms and growers already in business in the I-70 corridor. This leads to apprenticeships, some of them paid and some of them volunteer (read: unpaid). The program also includes monthly workshops and the chance to visit urban and rural farm operations.

Last year Jess spent her first day as an apprentice shoveling fermented soy goop onto the chilly March soil. Spreading that steaming okara compost at Moon on the Meadow farm in eastern Lawrence zapped any lingering romanticism for farm life and showed her what the real work of farming would be.

Lessons like that reinforce that if we want to start our own sustainable farm on her grandfather’s land, we can’t be all back-to-the-land 1960s wistful about it. We’ll have to be realistic about what it will take to feed other people, and ourselves. I’ll be honest and say that I find that intimidating.

So in the meantime, especially after I’ve trudged home in the snow or slush from my office, I’m staving off my farming insecurities with daydreams. I think about the crunch of fresh spinach, the sugary rush of a honeydew melon and the way a heavy, ripened tomato feels in my hand, and when I do, I know that the work ahead will be worth the result. — Jen Humphrey

Only a few months between the snows of February and the joys of the farmer’s market. (Credit: DLFM)


Chew on this! by rarab

As synchronicity would have it, I’ve stumbled upon a number of recent articles that tie in perfectly with our current discussion about food consumption and environmental awareness. I realize that the last thing my fellow classmates need is another reading assignment, but I think these stories are particularly enlightening–and in most cases highly entertaining, so I hope you’ll at least give them a quick scan. Still, to make sure this doesn’t cut into your ability to watch the Rock of Love 2 “Mud Bowl” in its entirety, I’ve taken the liberty of highlighting the passages that I think best address the issues we’ve been discussing–and I’ve bolded the key points to help showcase the main arguments. So here goes…Yesterday, when I got home, I was pleasantly surprised to see that my latest issue of The New Yorker magazine featured a major story on the attempts of some companies within the British food industry to create labeling listing a particular food item’s carbon footprint:

[Terry Leahy, CEO of British supermarket chain Tesco] announced that Tesco would cut its energy use in half by 2010, drastically limit the number of products it transports by air, and place airplane symbols on the packaging of those which it does. More important, in an effort to help consumers understand the environmental impact of the choices they make every day, he told the forum that Tesco would develop a system of carbon labels and put them on each of its seventy thousand products. “Customers want us to develop ways to take complicated carbon calculations and present them simply,” he said. “We will therefore begin the search for a universally accepted and commonly understood measure of the carbon footprint of every product we sell—looking at its complete life cycle, from production through distribution to consumption. It will enable us to label all our products so that customers can compare their carbon footprint as easily as they can currently compare their price or their nutritional profile.”

Leahy’s sincerity was evident, but so was his need to placate his customers. Studies have consistently demonstrated that, given a choice, people prefer to buy products that are environmentally benign. That choice, however, is almost never easy. “A carbon label will put the power in the hands of consumers to choose how they want to be green,” Tom Delay, the head of the British government’s Carbon Trust, said. “It will empower us all to make informed choices and in turn drive a market for low-carbon products.” Tesco was not alone in telling people what it would do to address the collective burden of our greenhouse-gas emissions. Compelled by economic necessity as much as by ecological awareness, many corporations now seem to compete as vigorously to display their environmental credentials as they do to sell their products.

However, as the article goes on to say, developing that universally accepted standard of carbon labeling is no easy task:

In order to develop the label for Walkers [British potato chips], researchers had to calculate the amount of energy required to plant seeds for the ingredients (sunflower oil and potatoes), as well as to make the fertilizers and pesticides used on those potatoes. Next, they factored in the energy required for diesel tractors to collect the potatoes, then the effects of chopping, cleaning, storing, and bagging them. The packaging and printing processes also emit carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, as does the petroleum used to deliver those crisps to stores. Finally, the research team assessed the impact of throwing the empty bags in the trash, collecting the garbage in a truck, driving to a landfill, and burying them. In the end, the researchers—from the Carbon Trust—found that seventy-five grams of greenhouse gases are expended in the production of every individual-size bag of potato chips.

“Crisps are easy,” Murlis had told me. “They have only one important ingredient, and the potatoes are often harvested near the factory.” We were sitting in a deserted hotel lounge in Central London, and Murlis stirred his tea slowly, then frowned. “Let’s just assume every mother cares about the environment—what then?” he asked. “Should the carbon content matter more to her than the fat content or the calories in the products she buys?”

But, of course, every story on the environment MUST include the counterpoint argument, and this story is no exception:

“It’s a foolish concept: provincial, damaging, and simplistic.” [Adrian] Williams is an agricultural researcher in the Natural Resources Department of Cranfield University, in England. He has been commissioned by the British government to analyze the relative environmental impacts of a number of foods. “The idea that a product travels a certain distance and is therefore worse than one you raised nearby—well, it’s just idiotic,” he said. “It doesn’t take into consideration the land use, the type of transportation, the weather, or even the season. Potatoes you buy in winter, of course, have a far higher environmental ticket than if you were to buy them in August.” Williams pointed out that when people talk about global warming they usually speak only about carbon dioxide. Making milk or meat contributes less CO2 to the atmosphere than building a house or making a washing machine. But the animals produce methane and nitrous oxide, and those are greenhouse gases, too. “This is not an equation like the number of calories or even the cost of a product,’’ he said. “There is no one number that works.”

Fair enough. The article goes on to say much more, and I highly recommend reading it, but I’ll leave it at that for now. Meanwhile, I also wanted to share an excerpt from this wonderful interview with Food Guru Michael Pollan:

OR: In some ways, this book seemed to make the case for the “shock doctrine” of the food industry. There’s this notion that what’s bad for us is good for the industry.

MP: There is a disconnect between the economic imperatives of the food industry and the biological imperatives of the human eater. You make money in the food industry by processing food as much as possible. It’s very hard to make money selling whole foods as they grow. They’re too cheap and common; farmers are too productive. The price of commodities is always falling.

But if you process food, you then have a way to add value to it. For example, it’s very hard to make money selling oats. Very simple grain, really good for you. I can buy organic oats for .79 cents a pound. That’s a big bag of oats. But there’s little money in it for anyone. If you turn those oats into Cheerios, there’s a lot more money in it. Suddenly, you have your intellectual property, your little design, donut-shaped cereal, you have a convenience food, you just have to add milk, you don’t have to cook it anymore and you can charge about four or five dollars for much less than a pound of oats. So that’s a good business.

But in fact, over time, those Cheerios will turn into a commodity, too, and all the supermarkets will have their store brand and it will be hard to expand your market and grow. So what do you do? You go up the next level of processing, and you make honey nut Cheerios cereal bars. These new bars that have a layer of synthetic milk through the middle and the idea is that it’s a bowl of cereal that you could eat dry in the school bus or in the car.

OR: You have a way of making that sound really unappealing.

MP: They really are. Look at the ingredients on the label — it will say “made with real milk.” Check out what the real milk is. It’s ten ingredients that include some powdered milk and a lot of other strange things. But then you’re selling a few ounces of oats for a great many dollars. By the pound, you’ve taken that 79 cents, and my guess is you’re up to 10 or 20 dollars a pound for your oats because you’ve added all of this excitement and novelty.

And then you go up another level: Now you have these cereal straws. You take that oat material, and you extrude it through some machine that turns it into a straw and then you line that with that fake milk product. Then your children sip milk through it and you feel virtuous because you’re increasing their milk consumption. But at every step of the way, this food has gotten less nutritious. None of them are as healthy as that bowl of oatmeal, and the reason is, the more you process food, the less nutrients it has unless you add them back in. And even if you try to add them back in, you’re only going to add in the stuff you know is missing. There are other things you don’t know about because nutrition science doesn’t see them yet.

So that’s the capitalist imperative behind food. The fact is we would be better off with the oatmeal. The industry has many tricks to make sure we don’t eat the oatmeal. One is to market the wonders of these processed products. The other is to convince us we’re too busy to cook. And they’re very good at that. If you look at the picture of American life, family life on view in food commercials for television, you would think it’s this frenetic madhouse in every household in America, where the idea of cooking is absolutely inconceivable.

Yet, at the same time, there are images of people lounging in front of the television, doing their email and doing all sorts of other things, but there’s simply no time to cook. I think we’ve been sold this bill of goods that cooking is this heroic thing that only happens on special occasions.

Finally, I’d like to share this article from the Feb. 13th New York Times (“I Love You, But You Eat Meat”). The story is about couples with different eating habits (vegans living with meat-eaters, vegetarians and those who observe kosher practices, etc.) It was meant as a cute Valentine’s Day piece about opposites attracting, I suppose, but it also had some themes that resonated with our current discussion about diets–and tolerance. Here’s what I thought was the best passage:

Food has a strong subconscious link to love, said Kathryn Zerbe, a psychiatrist who specializes in eating disorders at Oregon Health and Science University in Portland. That is why refusing a partner’s food “can feel like rejection,” she said.

As with other differences couples face, tolerance and compromise are essential at the dinner table, marital therapists said. “If you can’t allow your partner to have latitude in what he or she eats, then maybe your problem isn’t about food,” said Susan Jaffe, a psychiatrist in Manhattan.

Dynise Balcavage, 42, an associate creative director at an advertising agency and vegan who lives in Philadelphia, said she has been happily married to her omnivorous husband, John Gatti, 53, for seven years.

“We have this little dance we’ve choreographed in the kitchen,” she said. She prepares vegan meals and averts her eyes when he adds anchovies or cheese. And she does not show disapproval when he orders meat in a restaurant.

“I’m not a vegangelical,” she said. “He’s an adult and I respect his choices just as he respects mine.”

Okay, so that’s all the food for thought (sorry) I’m dishing out for now. Sorry for the long post (I think I just slightly went over 250 words), but I hope it inspires discussion–or at the very least, I hope it makes you think twice about the food you consume.



Caption: An excessive carbon footprint has become the equivalent of wearing a scarlet letter. Photograph by Horacio Salinas.

Why don’t we have sustain on the brain? by travisjbrown

It’s no secret that Lawrence is known for its radicals, liberals, and hippies. This reputation is one of the many reasons I am proud to call myself a Lawrencian. But there’s one more name I wish they’d bestow upon us: treehuggers.

Artist: Camilla Engman camillaengman.com

Woahohoho there tiger. Becoming a treehugger isn’t going to be that easy.

One way that Lawrence could become a green city is by building eco-communities. This seems right up our alley. The town has a long history of cooperative housing and still offers coop living opportunities . The coop lifestyle is a more sustainable lifestyle. Think abou it: you have a group of people sharing food, utilities, rides, skills. However, a coop house is not neccesarily a green house.

Lawrence has all the ingredients needed to produce green communities. We have environmentally conscious citizens, we have coop housing, we have large-scale interest in buying local and the means to do so. So why aren’t sustainable communes popping up all over the place?

People might be slowed down by the financial fears behind going green. Even though the road to sustainable living may lead to more economical living, many are turned off by the initial investments. It usually costs between $20,000 and $30,000 to install enough solar panels to fit your energy needs. The average Lawrencian’s yearly salary is just under $36,000. It stands to reason that many would be apprehensive about making the big jump. But there are other ways to take on a green lifestyle.

For example, check out the Lincoln-Dameron ecohood in Prescott, Arizona. This neighborhood transformed itself into a green community over time. It did not take heavy funding or a complete renovation. It was just developed by people who either wanted to live simple lives, cared about the environment or just enjoyed the sense of community.

Now, that doesn’t seem too glamorous. But its an economic way to be environmental. And it’s pretty damn cool.

Coop housing in Lawrence

-Travis Brown

A Whole New World: Jeff Severin by jseverin
February 21, 2008, 9:30 am
Filed under: Society + Media

I do not own an iPod. I do not use my cell phone to do anything but make phone calls. I have never owned a game system more advanced than the original Nintendo. And when I get home at the end of the day, the last thing I want to do sit down in front of a computer. Obviously the blogosphere is a whole new world for me.

This may have something to do with my upbringing. At last check, my hometown was still home to about 216 people. Although we weren’t in the sticks, we didn’t have cable television until I was in middle school (and even then, we didn’t get MTV). Instead we spent a lot of time outdoors – exploring the creek that ran through our backyard, riding our bikes out to our uncle’s farm, walking downtown to buy candy at the general store, and fishing on the Wolf River.

Those experiences certainly influenced my education and career path. Although I had planned on going to medical school from age 6, I learned in my first year at KU that I was more interested in how humans were impacting the planet than what was happening inside the human body. So I got my degree in Environmental Studies, and took my first job with Kansas StreamLink.

It was tough to beat splashing through Kansas creeks, catching critters and teaching kids about water quality, but after a few years I had the opportunity to come work for my alma mater. In my first job at KU I managed the Environmental Stewardship Program, working to increase recycling opportunities on campus and helping develop the ideas behind the Center for Sustainability. I am now Director of that Center, and plan on sticking around as long as they will keep me here. It’s pretty much my dream job.

Despite the lack of technology in my life, I do have a fairly extensive collection of CDs. Johnny Cash, Emmylou Harris, Patty Griffin, Guster, Josh Ritter, and The Flaming Lips are among my favorites. When I get home at the end of the day, I prefer spending time with my wife (we met in the scholarship halls at KU), going to KU basketball games, and tromping through the trees behind the house with our dog Willa.

I did enjoy sitting down in front of a monitor recently to see sonogram images of our first baby girl (due in June). Of course, now I have a whole new set of environmental concerns to worry about – BPA in bottles, phthalates in baby lotion, and an ever growing ecological footprint. Who knows, maybe I’ll find time between changing diapers to blog about it.

Mt. Elbert

– Jeff