J500 Media and the Environment

How farm aid can help the environment
May 1, 2009, 3:41 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , ,

I’m not going to lie: sometimes it’s hard to keep a little optimism when it comes environmentalism — really hard. Try watching Flow or Earthlings and then go try to enjoy yourself. It’s best to call it a night immediately, even if you caught the matinee performance. And like those documentaries as they approach the credits (or in Al Gore’s case are the credits), I see some hope for the future based on what I’ve learned about in KCCUA.

Somtimes a spare tire is all we have or need. Urban agriculutre mixes urban life with resourceful farming practices.

Sometimes a spare tire is all we have or need. Urban agriculture mixes urban life with resourceful farming practices.

We eat food on a daily basis but we don’t think about food daily. It’s only when we are unhappy with our image or startled after a close-call with our health that we talk about diets, and then, most of us are still talking about soda.

But urban agriculture can reverse this trend. Urban agriculture can get us interested in growing things in our windowsills or in plots of undeveloped land cushioned between parking lots and storefronts. Even renters in small apartments can grow plants things from eggplants to cherry tomatoes from their bedroom balcony.

Urban agriculture can help us if we are worried about our health or rising food prices. It can even lead to promising business and economic opportunities if we are worried about the lightness of our wallets. These days, it’s difficult to rely on the stock-market, so why not invest now in the soil in our own back yards?

As environmentalists and journalists we have such a hard time getting people to read and consider the truth. No one wants to hear about real energy solutions only light-bulbs and other “feelgoods.” What if we stopped trying to introduce people to the movement via the TV and instead handed them a spade and a few Fourth of July tomato seeds?

—Bryan Dykman

Shifting the focus from Universal Healthcare to Universal Environment
Pollution finds its way into every part of our life, especially our food and our water. When will we realize that our healthcare and our environmental policy should be connected?

Pollution finds its way into every part of our life, especially our food and our water. When will we realize that our healthcare and our environmental policy should be connected?

A while ago, I was advocating for Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius to stay in Kansas and help battle the eminent threat of two coal power plants proposed to be built in Holcomb Kansas. Well, she didn’t listen to me.

But maybe the second time’s the charm?

With an environmentally friendly secretary of HHS, maybe the environmental movement will start to be seen as a close counterpart to the nation’s “health care crisis.”

Not to long ago, I was arguing with my friends about what they would rather have: a universal healthcare system or a clean environment. With only so much money to go around (and the mass expense of a universal healthcare system), I asked them to pick one. After complaining about “that’s not fair” and “I’d do both” a few of them considered that maybe if we spent money cleaning up our environment now, we wouldn’t have to spend so much money taking care of everyone later.

Aren’t many of our cancer problems related to our environment? Haven’t we seen the correlation between the air we breathe and the water we drink and our health? I think it’s obvious, but I think what’s less obvious is why we continue to focus on some Utopian healthcare system instead of cleaning up the trash around us.

If we continue to pump money into taking care of us after we are already sick, instead of lowering the number of environmentally related illnesses, those lines people complain about in Canada will look like the express lane at Hy-Vee compared to the packed waiting rooms we’ll start experiencing here. Remember we have about 270,000,000 more people than Canada.

The senate is set to confirm Sebelius sometime next week and despite her abortion and tax woes, no one seems to think that he confirmation vote will be anything but successful.

Bryan Dykman

Kansas cries over “hormone free” milk
April 3, 2009, 2:17 pm
Filed under: Food + Health | Tags: , , ,
Not treated with any hormones (but FDA says those extra hormones don't hurt)

Not treated with any hormones (but FDA says those extra hormones don't hurt)

When I think about hormones, drinking milk doesn’t come to mind. But maybe it should.

This week a bill (summary) was being debated at the statehouse that would require milk producers who labeled their milk as being “hormone free” to also include an additional label that would say something like “but the FDA doesn’t think hormones are bad.”

I first heard about injecting growth hormones in cows to boost milk levels in the documentary The Corporation. Ok so some cows have extra hormones, some don’t. Why does that matter on the milk label?

Worldwide, most developed countries have forbid the use of rBGH in milk production — Japan, the UK, most of the EU, Australia, New Zealand, but not the United States. Those countries have realized that rBGH, while not destructive to human life, certainly is not agreeable with the cows.

As consumers, we should want to be informed about what is in our milk supply and should take serious pause when so many other developed countries have turned their back on growth hormones. Sure, the FDA says it isn’t harmful to humans, and considering how many unnecessary trials they do, they are probably right.

But at the end of the day, if we are going to drink milk, it aught to come from healthy cows.

Over a year ago, Monsanto Co. tried to get this label requirement past at the federal level.  They were denied. May the states have similar wisdom.

-Bryan Dykman

How ending wars can save the environment
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?

Why spending money won’t save us
March 6, 2009, 3:52 pm
Filed under: Business + Politics, Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

What’s worse than a bad environment? A bad environmental policy.

Uploaded to flickr.com on July 24, 2008 by net_efekt

Uploaded to flickr.com on July 24, 2008 by net_efekt

Between subsidizing oil and commercial farming, to this nations devotion to ethanol, we have made some major mistakes in how we spend tax dollars in the name of a clean environment.

By now most people know about the side effects of growing too much corn for fuel instead of food. And if they don’t know, they’ve seen them in the price increase at the grocery store or around the bar.

But, do we know the side effects of over subsidizing select parts of the economy? Do we understand that our tax and subsidy policy has everything to do with our clean environment or our lack thereof?

Hardly. And it’s obvious when we look at this nations attitude toward the public sector subsidizing (the new word is “bailing out”) the private sector.

We are so use to spending money as the end all be all. But we have spent a lot of money in this country and look at the results — a crippled economy, a dollar that has lost over 90 percent of its value and little to no actual wealth.

We need to seriously consider how we spend money on the environment and what role money has in its regulation or protection. We need to understand the economy is the human extension of ecology — money flowing through our economy is symbolically the same as energy flowing through our ecosystem. Money like energy can be wasted. Money like energy is being wasted. Is it really a coincidence that the color of the environmental movement is the color of money?

Better question: If I spent $100 on the environment, would the government give me any change I could believe in?

Bryan Dykman

We are what we . . . drink???
February 27, 2009, 11:42 am
Filed under: Business + Politics, Food + Health | Tags: , , , , ,

All this talk about food is making me thirsty. Anyone else care for a bottled water?

Uploaded to flickr.com on August 17, 2006 by treidling

Uploaded to flickr.com on August 17, 2006 by treidling

No? Why not? Is it because it’s insane to pay money for water that we could have got out of any tap? Is it because the company selling us the water is pretty much taking it out of the ground at an alarming rate of sometimes 800 gallons per minute for free (and with huge tax incentives) and draining a resource that we all must have to survive?

Water. H20. Agua. Eau. We have to have it. And we need to defend it from being contaminated by the “116,000 human-made chemicals that are finding their way into public water supply systems.”

Ok so maybe that bottled water is looking pretty good right now? Actually, bottled water is sometimes less regulated than the water in the public drinking supply: “The EPA mandates that local water treatment plants provide city residents with a detailed account of tap water’s source and the results of any testing, including contaminant level violations. Bottled water companies are under no such directives.”

In all the talk about food, we forget that 70 percent of water irrigates our agriculture. 20 percent flows (or flushes) for commercial use. Only 10 percent is left for us to drink. Local farming, organic farming and community farming have the potential to dramatically reduce the excessive amounts of water that is used.

We need to start asking some basic questions about our water supply and the effects private companies have on it. We constantly talk about “away” being a place. But whether water is flushed or drained or poured out, it can never really go away.

Here’s the best primer on water I’ve seen to date. Here’s what the NY Times, Treehugger, and USA Today thought.

— Bryan Dykman

Why spending more $$$ sometimes buys less
February 20, 2009, 2:01 pm
Filed under: Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , , , ,

Public schools might be where we win or lose a portion of the environmental fight, and right now, we are losing.

Uploaded to Flickr.com on November 10, 2008 by specialkrb

Uploaded to Flickr.com on November 10, 2008 by specialkrb

Why public schools? Almost half of the state budget is allocated to schools. In fact, less than two years ago, the state Supreme Court ruled that the state wasn’t spending enough, and had a constitutional duty to give them more financing. Children spend so much time in school — a state mandated 11,000 hours a year over at least 13 years.

So many resources go into schools, yet because they have to meet federal standards, hardly any flexibility is allowed in day-to-day schooling. It appears that spending more money hardly helps us buy a better education, just a more strictly planned one.

Sounds like a bad diet.

Teaching nutrition of such a limited basis (maybe one lesson a month or one guest speaker a year) makes it seem trivial and out of the ordinary, maybe even stupid to some kids. Especially in the era of NCLB, nutrition may even seem standardized.

Yet, eating is something we all do every day. And what we eat can’t be standardized. It has to be a reflection on the region and climate we live in, or else we are shipping in tons of frozen and preserved, low-quality factory foods. So why aren’t schools (where children practically spend every day) choosing to spend more time on this?

Money, state and federal funding, resources, community willingness?

Where Kansas Spends Money

Where Kansas Spends Money

As much as we idealize our public schools and praise them for raising test scores, there is much that institutionalized schooling can’t do. I find it sad that we spend so much time and resources at a state level and have so many good teachers, but we still have to teach to tests, serve A or B lunch, and sit quietly while the state legislature decides to spend $33 to $55 dollars less on every student.

—Bryan Dykman