J500 Media and the Environment

Savoring the Forbidden Fruit by justinlev7

What is this thing we call the Internet?

No, really. What is it?

dsouza_alanWe use it every day. Networking sites like Facebook let people access anyone, anywhere, in seconds. Google sorts and organizes more words and ideas in a minute than any human can hope to process in her life. Dazzling fortunes are made, used and wasted; overwhelming games and images are developed and stored;  trillions of stories are told.

This thing, this Internet, didn’t even exist 30 years ago. Now, it permeates our media environment. It is the purest manifestation of Enlightenment humanism, an endless library of human knowledge. Anything  and everything mankind has known and recorded probably waits in there like an apple in the Garden, waiting to be plucked and digested by some enterprising individual. It is collective human consciousness, literally resting in the palm of your hand.

Watch this video. You’ll like it.

Internet breakthroughs, like all technology,  advance exponentially. Where is this all leading us?

Some, such as the believers in the Singularity, would say knowledge and resultant technology are advancing to an impossible point where all knowledge will unite in a single ego, and individuality will cease (like at the end of Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End.) Admittedly, the idea is a little crazy… but so is the idea that Christ died for our sins, or that Energy might equal Matter times the Speed of Light, squared. Right?

Is the Singularity what the Internet is moving us toward? Perhaps… If so, I think we’d all do well to keep our eyes on that sneaky bugger.

But then, maybe, as Zen Buddhists would tell you, all technology is insignificant. Perhaps the Internet simply is, just as a rock simply is, or a picnic lunch simply is, and the responsible human should relax, observe and contemplate it (try to grok it, to use the words of another ridiculously nerdy author for me to be referencing). After all, humans spend so much time altering their environment…

This spring break, let your environment alter you.

Justin Leverett is done for the week. Shabbat shalom, y’all 🙂

Got a light? got a clue? by tylerw09
March 13, 2009, 3:05 pm
Filed under: Society + Media, Waste + Recycling | Tags: , , , , , ,

One of the many ashtrays at KU. Photo by Tyler Waugh I never grew up with cigarettes. My parents both smoked, but never in the house and never in the car. Everyday after dinner they would go outside and smoke a cigarette on the porch and talk about their days. My Mom quit a few years ago, citing acupuncture and will power as how she quit, but my Dad still smokes to this day.

Everyone knows smoking is bad for your health. We all know that “Cigarette smoking is the major single cause of cancer mortality (death) in the United States.” But what about the environment?

The air pollution emitted by cigarettes is 10 times greater than diesel car exhaust?

Not so surprising is how much it takes to make a cigarette.

4 miles of paper an hour to roll and pack cigarettes. To the tobacco industry and smokers all a tree is good for is to produce 100 cigarettes.

But What about the butts? Many people don’t like to litter, but some think that this doesn’t apply to smokers.

This post isn’t about these alarming statistics, it’s about me. I started smoking when I was a sophomore living in Hash hall. People would socialize and smoke cigarettes out on the porch, and that’s how I got sucked in. Though I at first thought of me as a “social smoker” (whatever that is) but am now addicted.

What will make me quit?

The smell didn’t.

The coughing didn’t.

The disgusting interior of my car didn’t.

The wasted money didn’t.

Will these facts about the environment? Maybe it will help. I haven’t smoked all day.

-Tyler Waugh

How ending wars can save the environment by bryand09
Uploaded to Flickr.com on September 28, 2008 by Wild-Jungleman

Uploaded to Flickr.com on September 28, 2008 by Wild-Jungleman

By himself, Obama cannot clean up the environment, stop global warming, or create a single green job.

Stop for a second and really take this statement in. It may seem obvious, but with all the demands competing for Obama’s attention, an outsider might think US citizens have forgotten the basics of US Civics 101.

Pop quiz: what is the president’s job? Between signing statements and executive orders, we may have forgotten that it’s not the president’s job to make laws but to make sure they are being followed. His job is to make sure the laws are being “executed,” hence the “executive” branch.

Today, our president is our chief economic adviser who talks with the media about spending more money that we can possibly conceptualize. But just because he isn’t a legislature, that does not mean he can’t help the environmental movement.

Take his power as commander and chief of the military. Obama has the power to bring the troops home from Iraq and Afghanistan but instead is sending 17,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan and staying at least one more year in Iraq.

The environmental damages caused by war may be obvious. But the real killer is all the money we are spending abroad when we have so many problems at home. The congressional budget office estimates that we will spend 2.6 trillion dollars fighting these wars by the end of 2010.

It all comes back to spending and what we choose to spend our money on. Look at how much we spend on defense as opposed to energy. Look at how much we spend on education compared to health care. If we taught people how to eat healthy and prevented our ground water and food supply from being contaminated, would we need to spend so much on health care years down the line? If we spend a trillion dollars on wind turbines, would we really need to fight wars over oil?

Winds of Change by matthewtb

It is said that “everything is bigger in Texas.”  Being the second largest state in the nation, it is a small country unto itself.  The state has been renowned for it’s oil production and refinement, but that maybe about to change.  Texas is helping to lead the country with green energy solutions in a big way.  By 2020 the state hopes to supply 20% of it’s energy needs with renewable resources.  


The people who are leading the way for these renewables are former oil tycoons, like T. Boone Pickens.  He has been promoting plans to rebuild the countries energy infrastructure, using energy from solar, wind, and natural gas.  Oil companies are also looking at ways to stay afloat in today’s ‘sea of green’.  They are adapting their business strategies to fit better with the times, investing in these renewables and turning a profit.  Soon enough Texas will be a global leader in using renewable energies.  Plans are even in the making to install the first off-coast wind turbines in the country, near Galveston.

Peak oil in this country was reached in the seventies.  Global peak oil is right around the bend.  Even though the wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine, these renewable energies hold the key to our future.  I am excited about the development of cleaner, renewable energies.  However,  I am not excited to think that our state of Kansas is still sitting on it’s head over the coal issue, when we too could be reaping the wind.

-Matt Bristow

Thanks to siemens.com for the photo.

Thanks to youtube.com for the video.

The Dinner Table: The New American Feedlot by Janie

Dinner’s ready and what’s on the table?

Corn, corn, and more corn!

That steak on your plate?  Corn bred and fed.  Ready-made rolls?  Corn produced modified starch.  Coca-cola?  High fructose corn syrup.  Bell peppers?  Coated with corn ethanol wax for shine.

Made possible by evolutionary advantage and government subsidies, these fields of sweet golden ears have risen to  God-like status on the agricultural hierarchy.  Monocultures of the stuff wave in the Midwestern wind, testaments to our conversion from dinner table to feedlot.  Its abundance have allowed it to manifest in most of the foods we eat, an addition that has made the modern diet of fast, processed, and cheap food possible.  The consequences of our corn worship, however, has lay waste to human health.

Our self-induced corn-fed daze is not unlike that of another American food icon: the cow.  Though naturally grass-eaters, cows are switched to a diet of hormones, antibiotics, and corn at a young age in order to “beef up the beef,” you might say.  Simply, cows need calories and corn is calories.  It’s only economical, to maximize calories and minimize costs, isn’t it?

We now know, in our waistlines and in the nutrition of our beef, that cheap corn calories is not a alliteration we want to use.  The low cost of corn allows for the low cost of processed foods– products targeted and affordable to those with low incomes, those who now make up a large percentage of America’s obese.  Likewise, corn-fed beef contains a more saturated fats and requires more antibiotics to combat their corn-created health problems.

We hail corn as the new king crop, the solution to an increasing population, and the answer to our fossil fuel problem.  Yet I fear that this new king may be Ozymandias himself in disguise, ready to lay waste to the environment and our health in order to build artificial monuments in his name.

Janie Chen

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Compost: From Garbage to Garden by mstinawood

My backyard is a perennial disappointment. Every spring my excitement for summer builds with false hope of home grown tomatoes, cucumbers, and reconstructing my mother’s vegetable garden. Year after year I am forced to face the unfortunate fact that nothing thrives in my yard other than the onion weeds that waft the stentch of morning breath with the summer breeze. The canopy of trees hovering over my house provide an oasis of cool shade but do not allow the sun to reach the forsaken garden site below. Despite all the misgivings of my current location, there is one outdoor project that my yard is perfect for… composting!

About one third of household waste is compostable. Combine that with the curbside recycling I recently signed up for and I’ve reduced my landfill waste to one small bag per week! Composting is easy to do and the result is nutrient rich material that will fortify your garden. All you need to get started is organic waste, minus meat and dairy, and some space. Some compost piles are enclosed, but they don’t have to be. Compost bins can be purchased or easily constructed out of chicken wire, lumber, old pallets, or fencing. Other useful tools to have on hand are a garden hose, wheel barrow, and common gardening tools. A 4 x 4 x 4 foot area out of direct sunlight and easily accessible on a grassy or soil base is ideal for your compost pile. Mix your organic materials together and add water as needed to keep the materials moist. Your compost pile should be turned over about once a month, except in winter. The compost is ready when it is dark and crumbly and none of the starting ingredients are visible. With compost you can grow flowers and vegetables without fertilizer and boost the nutrient content of your soil. Happy composting!

Tina Wood

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Cooshy on your Tooshy by amandat09

It’s something you don’t really think about… unless you’re using it. We’ve all noticed uncomfortable, rough toilet paper before, whether it’s at a restaurant or somewhere on campus. It’s easy not to think about the price of the soft, comfy toilet paper if that’s what you’re used to. But the environmental costs of the softest brands will make you think twice next time you need to go.


Greenpeace recently put out a Tissue Guide that ranks different toilet paper brands based on their recycled content and impact on the environment. In order to get the soft, plush toilet paper most Americans prefer, you have to get fiber from standing trees. This can often lead to cutting down old-growth trees in rainforests for nothing but the use of toilet paper. An article in the New York Times said that European countries were usually satisfied with rougher toilet paper, and used toilet paper with almost explusively recycled content. Why isn’t think something we accept, and why isn’t it something people think about more?

The Greenpeace guide said Americans could save more than 400,000 trees if each family bought just one roll of recycled toilet paper. One roll? That doesn’t seem so hard. I think a lot of people, myself included sometimes, can get stuck in a green “rut,” thinking that recycling cans and using canvas bags are the only things we can do to help the environment. But there’s always something else you can do to help the environment last, even if it’s just wiping your…. ya know.


down-to-earth energy by jessicasb

For two years, I lived in what Treehugger calls “a well-kept secret.”

That is, a home or building that uses geothermal energy.

My decision to live in Dennis E. Rieger Scholarship Hall on the University of Kansas campus didn’t have anything to do with their use of geothermal energy. But it did teach me that even organizations as large and notable as the University can make good choices about energy use.

Geothermal energy works by pumping water into the Earth. Whereas surface temperatures change dramatically throughout the seasons, the temperature underground doesn’t. Water comes back “cool” in the hot summer days, cooling your home. Water comes back “hot” in the winter, warming your home.

More than 1 million homes in the United States use geo-exchange systems, according to Treehugger, and for every million homes like it, CO2 emissions are reduced by 9 billion pounds. Geothermal energy emits little to no greenhouse gases.

Ken Stoner, director of student housing at the time, said the geothermal energy system cost about $70,000 to $90,000 more than a standard energy system. But the University expected the energy-efficient system to pay for itself in about seven years.

All of these positives are leading to more and more buildings using geothermal energy.

Instead of avoiding talking about renewable energy, be it solar, wind or geothermal, more people and organizations should “try it before they knock it.”

Living in a scholarship hall run by an energy efficient heating and cooling system didn’t even faze me. Yes, our energy was reliable. Yes, the heating and cooling worked great.

‘Green’ living doesn’t have to be uncomfortable or strange — it can just be a matter of using what Mother Nature has given you and using it to your advantage. And that doesn’t need to be a secret.

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to YouTube for the video.

Plastic and Plankton and Peril, oh my! by meganr21

I grew up about 5 miles from the ocean and I can count the number of times I went to the beach on one hand. Between the Hyperion Wastewater Treatment Plant overflowing into the ocean during heavy rains and all the litter, it’s never been an appealing place to spend the day. Who wants to go swimming with plastic bottles and packaging? Certainly not me.


Plastic has been hailed the ‘lubricant of globalization’ because it’s a vapor and moisture barrier that enables safe shipment of products around the world. The same qualities that make plastics so great for trade make them virtually indestructible, so when they find their way into the ocean they’re there to stay.

A sea turtle with a plastic ring around its waist.

A sea turtle with a plastic ring around its waist.


Plastics don’t biodegrade, they photodegrade meaning that UV light from the sun makes plastic brittle so it breaks into pieces that can look like natural prey. Plastics like PCB and DDE are toxic so anything that eats jellyfish is also consuming potentially lethal plastics.


Plastics pose and even sinister threat than interrupting the food chain. A survey done off the coast of California found that in some areas the plastic to plankton ratios were 40:1 or even higher. So what’s the big deal?


Trash in the ocean shades the surface and only a certain amount of solar energy gets down into the ocean. Plankton act as a carbon sink (something that stores more carbon dioxide than it releases, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions) and require sunlight to bloom and grow. Too much shade means fewer plankton and more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.


86% of all ocean debris is plastic. As a whole we need to work harder to protect the environment, not only to maintain the integrity of our oceans but to save ourselves and our future.


Megan Richards


Image credits: © Dino Ferri/Audobon Institute and Wildcoast


The Beauty Cult by mackenzies09

Argan fruit & Moroccan landscape

Argan fruit & Moroccan landscape

It seems every couple of months the beauty industry reveals a new “it” component and an answer to our vainest prayers. The most popular of which hail straight from nature, of course.

Recent stars and some has-beens, in no particular order, include the acai berry, jojoba, lemongrass, baobab and goji berries. These quirky ingredients have been added to smoothies, energy drinks, hair treatments, lip balm and wrinkle remedies. All have made the beauty industry a lot of money (in 2006, sales of  skin care products topped $60 billion) and all have been ousted by the next, like an old dog competing with a new puppy.

Argan oil appears to be the latest hot commodity in the skin care world (as well as culinary). Argan oil is derived from the fruit seed of the Aragania Spinosa tree indigenous to Morocco. The oil contains high levels of antioxidants and essential fatty acids, and may lower cholesterol. Boasting claims of miraculous healing powers for skin, hair and finger nails, it is destined to change the lives of many women.

It is the women of Moroccan who gather, dry, hand-crack, and press the seeds to extract their oil. With a literacy rate of only 39 percent, Moroccan women don’t have a lot options. In 2006, there were nine cooperatives that employed roughly 2,000 women to produce the lucrative oil. They were paid four euros per day. There are no real numbers for how many women may be working outside of these cooperatives, which are said to pay as little as one euro per day. The average yearly income is roughly 1,015 euro.

Moroccan women hand-cracking argan seeds

Moroccan women hand-cracking argan seeds

Shiny hair and glowing skin may sound wonderful but at what cost are we achieving such aesthetic pleasures? Before I pick up another miracle serum I’m going to find out whose hands extracted the spoils of my fountain of youth.


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