J500 Media and the Environment

Conversations with a Hippie by kimwallace

A funny thing happened when I went home to Arkansas a few weekends ago. I was having lunch with a friend from high school when we got to talking about my job and my classes. Obviously, I couldn’t not mention Media and Environment to him. The conversation went kind of like this:

Him: What’s up with that weird polka-dot can in your purse? Do you carry that thing everywhere?

Me: I don’t want to have plastics leaching into my body every time I want to drink water! This aluminum can is cleaner and better for the environment.

Him: Leach? Is that the right word to use? Wouldn’t leach mean, like, sucking something out of you, not putting something into you?

Me: Shutup.

Him: So, is this whole environmental thing real, or is it just a fad? Is someone paying you to do this?

Me: It’s real! I’ve made a big turnaround the past year, because of my job, my classes and where I live.

Him: You’re a hippie now.

It’s a typical conversation with my friend, a comedian-type. But it made me open my eyes: These stereotypes really do exist. Before, I figured that people, especially young people, were catching on to the environmental movement faster than ever because of the exposure and education on it. But still, there are skeptics. I don’t think my friend is a skeptic, but just someone who has to be convinced. Of course, my shutup response to him wasn’t one of engaging conversation, but that’s kind of how our relationship is.

Maybe it’s not evident from the above, comedic conversation, but this class has taught my how to talk about the environment every day with people who care and people who could care. My friend is a smart, receptive guy, and we did get into a more intelligent conversation about energy use, the nuclear power plant in Arkansas and other green issues. I was taken aback by how I was able to roll with the punches in our 1-2 conversation.

That same weekend in Arkansas, I was speaking at a high school journalism convention in Rogers (Rogers, Bentonville, all of where I’m from = Wal-Mart Country). During my stay at the Embassy Suites, I noticed that the Wal-Mart Sustainability Conference was going on as well.

Normally, I am unenthusiastic about anything that has to do with Wal-Mart (I come from a town that has three SuperCenters and a Neighborhood Market, so you can see how refreshed I am living in Lawrence where there is SuperTarget and local business), but I was intrigued by this conference. Of course, I wasn’t able to sneak in and catch a glimpse of Adam Webach or any other Wal-Mart SuperHeroes, but I was impressed that I knew that if I did run into somebody like that at the hotel, I would be able to have a conversation with a little depth.

And that’s the biggest, most important thing that I will take away from this class: The power of conversation. Not lectures, not discussions, not talks. Conversation. From Wiki:

Conversation is the verbalization of concepts involving abstractions and concrete objects which make up the world we live in.

A conversation is communication by two or more people, or by ones self. Conversations are the ideal form of communication in some respects, since they allow people with different views of a topic to learn from each other.

I can’t wait for these conversations to catch fire even more. It’s going to be an exciting adventure in the world of environmentalism. Soon, “the world” will be able to mean the same thing as “the world of environmentalism.” I’m so happy to have had a running start because of this class. We just need to keep the conversation rolling.

My best,

Kim Wallace

Did Al Gore doom the environmental movement? by Lauren Keith

by Mohamed Sami, energytribune.com

“This isn’t a political issue. This is a moral issue,” the former politician claimed triumphantly.

“Woo!” I called out from my theater chair, pumping my fist in the air like I was Captain Planet, ready to combine the five element rings. “You’re damn right!”

I looked around for some support from the rest of the audience, 90 percent of which was made up of half-empty cups of flat Coke and overturned popcorn buckets from the last movie that played. My fellow planeteers were nowhere in sight, even though I could have sworn that I saw Heart ducking down in the front row, apparently a little embarrassed by my outburst.

I thought my Heart was in the right place.

So I decided that if the audience wouldn’t come to the movie theater, I would have the movie theater come to the audience. I set up screenings of the documentary and invited everyone that I had even remotely come in contact with to come watch it.

Some showed up. A few of my Republican friends gave me the stink-eye when I told them what it was. “More like Al Snore,” they said.

People came and went. I gave complimentary recycle cans to people for hanging out with me, but they still didn’t seem too interested in anything Gore or I had to say.

Unfortunately, 22 showings later, I still couldn’t pinpoint why no one cared.

And then Media and the Environment dawned on me.

Environmental storytellers have a hard time connecting the dots that the audience needs to have connected for them. We tell people to recycle, to save the Amazon, to quit breathing so often, but we hardly tell them the most relevant part: why it’s important.

I don’t shop at The Merc to save the polar bears. I don’t make my roommates unplug the microwave (and soon the refrigerator, they joke) because the glaciers are melting. I do it so we can save ourselves.

We are so used to people being able to string the concepts together themselves that we don’t realize that this time we need to be the ones providing the glue of the conversation.

We are the eco-friendly adhesives.

It saddens me that a more expensive case of Bud Select has my friends more worried about the state of the environment than a carbon dioxide graph did, but I’m ready to meet them where they are: at the grocery store.

Al Gore and “An Inconvenient Truth” didn’t doom the environmental movement.

Leonardo DiCaprio and “The 11th Hour” didn’t doom the environmental movement.

Our (PowerPoint) presentation doomed the environmental movement.

Until environmentalists can reframe their argument and make the environment relevant to the general public, it will be our movement’s 11th hour.

—Lauren Keith

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$625.80 WELL SPENT by shemme
April 29, 2008, 10:51 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

I’d much rather spend my tuition dollars on a class like “Media & The Environment” – awesome guests, amazing field trips, free online readings, no exams – than the typical course where we listen to the same person lecture each time, nobody ever talks or shares opinions/ideas, you have to buy some big expensive textbook that you never read other than right before the exams, and you never really learn much about anyone else taking the class. I think this class was a truly worthwhile investment of both time and money.

I learned that there isn’t ONE solution just waiting for us to discover it. Nobody has all the answers – environmental issues are just too big and complex. However, there are a lot of little solutions that can be implemented in different ways that overall will have great impact. The future of humanity and the Earth will depend on every individual, world government, and business leader doing their part. Nobody is exempt; waiting around for someone else to find that ONE solution, for someone else to invent a technological fix, for someone else to figure out what to do with YOUR garbage … it won’t work. We all have to do our part, and we have to act now.

I learned that blogging can play a role in the communication of important issues and that bloggers can be a reliable information source (but be careful). I had never read a blog before this class, much less written for one. I always thought, “Who the hell are these bloggers? Who has time to blog? Don’t these people have real jobs?” Now I know the answer is that they’re people, just like me, who are passionate and have something to say. They squeeze blogging into their lives because they care and yes, most have ‘real’ jobs because blogging (in most cases) provides little to no income. (Suprise!)

I also learned that the frame in which I understand climate change and in which I make my daily choices is mine and may not make sense to anyone other than myself. Everyone has different values, different ideas, different priorities and agendas, different lenses through which they view the world – everyone is just different. We must consider these differences when framing environmental issues and make sure that the message is relevant to the audience that we are communicating with. Frame, re-frame, re-frame again and keep on keepin’ on. There will always be one more person down the road who’s just a little bit different from the last…

Anyway, I’ve learned more than what I’ve written here, but some of it is still digesting. I really enjoyed getting to know everyone in the class – some a little more than others and others maybe a bit too much – but it was always fun and interesting to hear what everyone was thinking. Thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to learn from y’all – hope to see some of you around this summer!

~ Sarah H

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I took this class because Simran was on Oprah by Chardonnay
April 29, 2008, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I first met Simran at a poetry reading. She was wearing a wig and a smile and mentioned her course on the environment. When she walked away, something happened that I’m sure is far more common than Simran would guess. My girlfriend leaned over to me and said quietly, “She’s been on Oprah.”

At the time, I was fighting to get into an honors course on climate change, but a schedule conflict was holding me back. The “J500” listing was only slightly less intimidating than working with Oprah, once removed, was intriguing. I dropped my Strategic Communication class and enrolled in one of the last spots of J500.

Ironic now, looking back to the class I swapped. In my head, looking at what I learned in this class is like a web of ideas, all interlinked, meta tagged and growing among leafy green vines. When I try to untangle all that and find a single root, I see that my takeaway has a great deal to do with strategic communication.

Each week, I squeezed in to take a seat at the table with some amazing Thinkers. My exposure to you all and your questions and ideas has inspired introspection. Early on, I saw that I’m a lousy critical thinker. What an upsetting discovery! Although our group tendency to question everything could be exhausting at times—

Define Sustainability
Communities living with the future in mind
What do you mean by communities?
And what do we mean by living?
Can we define our “future”
Saying “in mind” isn’t action-oriented enough
Why did you utilize “the” in that definition?
What was the question?
Why do you ask??

— I definitely learned how useful it is. I know I believe that we’re all in this together. What I didn’t let that entail is that we can all be learning as we go. Even the author of a cool article in Rolling Stone (Thanks, Travis). Even Oprah. Even the IPCC. Adam Werbach. NBC. Maybe not Adam Bowman. The strategic communication I learned here was about consuming information. Thinking past what I formerly considered to be the endpoint, a claim from a reliable source.

I’m hating how hyperbolic this is coming off, but I’ll risk it to take the opportunity to let you all (my classmates, Simran) know that I gained something from you that I value very much.

The satisfaction I gained from my weekly “a-ha” moments, the wonderful people I had the pleasure of interacting with, and learning a great deal about environmental issues far far far outweighs my disappointment that Oprah was never a digital visitor.

With love,
Sonya English
We'll always have our shortcomings

My Report Card by denzylj
April 29, 2008, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , ,

Such has been my performance since attending KU, that I’ve been blissfully unaware of all the “As” I’ve notched.

That is to say Bisphenol A.

In the sweltering heat, I’ve played soccer, and not being sufficiently acclimated (and out of shape), I’ve consumed copious amounts of water – from the same old, dare I say it, leaching plastic bottles. They’ve long since been discarded, but that’s courtesy of some shock revelations ala courses 500 and 624. Those numbers have brought more insight than I could have hoped for, but it’s the others I fear most – those single digit ones underneath the bottles, the ones we don’t pay much heed to or even know about. On the pitch, I thought it was about getting in shape, building up the physique, getting kicked in the shins or solar plexus only to soldier on, but now to have the wind sucked out of me, and the not too small mention of a dent to my male pride … by accounts of how Bisphenol A leads to decreased testosterone levels in men.

I also don’t look at buildings the same way. I hesitate to step into a room without thinking of VOCs and wonder how long and how much chemicals I’ve been exposed to. How much more can this body take. Actually make that how much can this earth endure? Such has been my exposure… suddenly that seems a nasty word, education maybe in this class that I can rattle off a gazillion definitions of sustainable living. OK, I exaggerate, but you get the picture. I think twice about which light bulbs to buy; unplugging idle electrical components; short flushes and long ones; plastics this side, newspapers that side, aluminum there; Prius’s above SUV’s, one minute showers and green versus being in the dark.

It’s been a good education, but one which is far from over. I’m not scoring As for effort yet. Some serious lifestyle reshuffling has to go on, but the wealth of information has been informative. Encouraging too are the many students who’ve show a genuine commitment to treasuring our natural heritage. I can’t help sensing though that there’s still a disconnect between first world agendas and developing and third world priorities. How, for instance, do we talk to villagers in Mali about energy efficient compact fluorescent light bulbs and recycling when they’re preoccupied with a struggle for survival, about global warming and reducing carbon emissions when the fingers are pointing back to the world’s biggest polluters? Debate perhaps for another forum. But credit to Simran for a well-organized program with expert guests and informative readings.

Now where’s that Bisphenol A?


Reflections on a Smokestack: Musings on Life in J500 by vincemeserko
April 29, 2008, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

I was originally going to call my final post “The Death of J500 and the Rise of Burnt Orange” or something like that. I was going to perform an autopsy on the class, declare myself the leader of a new “orange movement,” unfurl a new banner with the official symbol for the movement (an eagle which would symbolize freedom) and then I’d tell you all to shop at the Big K. Instead I went with the “confessional memoir” title … so I’ll go ahead and confess. I very nearly dropped this class before it ever started. I remember sitting at home in early January and scrolling through the 347 page syllabus and thinking “hmm … perhaps I should end my collegiate career taking “introduction to dinosaurs” or “history of the Samurai” instead. I’m very very glad I hung in there. This class has been unlike anything else I’ve taken at KU. I think I’ve written that line in every “course reflection” paper I’ve ever had to do (“introduction to finite mathematics really changed my life!”) and I’m pretty sure I never actually meant it. This class had no textbooks, no formal lectures, no Powerpoint. We didn’t even use paper. We sat around a table and discussed, listened, analyzed, criticized, interrogated capitalism and learned about the intricacies of sex toys. We were lead by an instructor who didn’t claim to have all the answers and acknowledged early on that there was no truth. What the hell is this? Communism?

It was actually quite refreshing. I learn a lot better this way – when everything is up for grabs, and everything said or written is a little bit wrong in some way. That’s quite an intellectual challenge, but it was a lot more fun. As the course progressed, I found my own interests overlapping with topics from class in unexpected ways. The class blog was a great venue to illuminate those realizations. As someone who is neither outgoing nor very skilled at conversation, the blog gave me a chance to go bananas and rub shoulders with people I admire.

While Adam Werbach is an easy target for criticism, he absolutely has the right idea about how we can move forward. Environmentalism is dead – bury it with all the other -isms I say. There is no such thing as “environmental” things, only “human being” things. That’s probably the most important thing I’ll take away from this class.

Thanks to everyone. I had a great time! (begins openly weeping on keyboard).

I’ll leave you with a full YouTube version of MOFRO’s “Lochloosa” that was used in my project 2 assignment. Seems like a fitting way to close. Go see them when they come to Kansas City in July.

-Vince Meserko

Collage of Green by sachikom
April 29, 2008, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

The beginning of the class was a culture shock. I was surprised how much environmentalists can sacrifice to prevent environmental crisis. Concepts like vegan and limiting human populations for the environment went beyond my understanding. But I always like to get out of my comfort zone. I enjoyed learning and interacting with all of you who have different values.

I had been angry and depressed for the second quarter, my darkest green period in the semester. I was freezing in my apartment not using the heater. I always brought a plastic bag with me just in case I had to buy something. I was mad at people who can’t do simple recycling. I blamed politicians. I felt powerless because I couldn’t even convince my friends why we have to care about the environment. The humor week relieved some of my tension. I liked George Spyros‘s lecture. I learned to be clever and sexy.

Photo Credit: 2desktop.com, Beautiful Green Leaf

I then noticed my friends were annoyed by me. Even though I stopped preaching environmentalism, I often talked about global warming, recycling and local and organic food. This class constantly kept me thinking. I couldn’t stop outputting things I learned. On the other hand, my friends’ response taught me something. I wondered if some audience were tired and overwhelmed by massive information and products selling green. Many lay audiences cannot tell what is true green and what is greenwash. I thought it is our responsibility to provide accurate information and guide them to the right direction.

In my opinion, we cannot expect everybody to sacrifice a certain lifestyle or value to protect the environment. But everybody can participate in the movement at a different level. My contribution is to be a reporter and fill a gap between people who have different values. For example, I share the passion of environmentalists. At the same time, I can relate to people who are less willing to take action. I will not be an environmental journalist particularly. But environmentalism should be always part of my lifework.

By Sachiko Miyakawa