J500 Media and the Environment

Reflections on the semester: The whole enchilada by jmuselmann

Food is at the fiber of our very being. It is passed around piping hot with potholders, it is handed to us, self-contained, through the car door in paper sacks and divvied accordingly. It’s what we eat because our family does, our friends have tried, our mothers can afford. We throw it away, and we raise it high above our heads for to honor a friend or deity as an intentional sacrifice. Boxed up, it is heaved and flown across the world, passing some to bless others.

One way or another, people get their hands on food. And then we all have the decision of what to do with it. Some have the luxury of waiting to eat it, others use it as currency or a positioning of power, while for many others, who have not been able to make the decision in quite some time, it is always this: Put it into the holes in our faces in time to prolong death.

Of course by this point, we know we aren’t just talking about food. But rather, how food passes and intersects with our needs for a healthy environment and body whole. The need for change is dire and yet lingers on. The idea of going green is gaining unprecedented momentum, and yet, in many ways, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be. People can easily eat their organic cake and not recycle, and we let them. But even within the green universe, there lies a wad of inconsistencies and tradeoffs to be sifted through and decided upon. It’s a voyage that has caused more than one breakdown in the grocery store, where I’m stunned into inaction, clutching my wallet in front of the onions, biting my lip at the global repercussions. Often I leave almost empty-handed. Pressure too great.

People say, “the choice is up to us” as consumers, but it sure is hard. Without good legislative infrastructure to guide food ways, it shouldn’t be surprising that it veers toward the same reckless trajectory as other things in this country, trailing irreversible damage in the wake of progress and profit.

Take me, for example: At least in some point in my life, I have recycled. I have also littered. Oh, and I have been the one calling into report the tags of those I see throw things out of their cars while driving: approximate time of infringement, rough location, type of violation, what kind of model and the company make. I guess this class has shown me that maybe I don’t need a number in my glove box to bring about change, I need only open my fridge instead.

—Jacob Muselmann

Earth Day: yer doin’ it wrong. by bendcohen

Earth Day is great.  For one day a year, even the non-environmentalists can get together and say “You know what, I kind of like the planet.”  For forty years now, Earth Day has provided people a brief respite from being called tree huggers (at least in a derogatory way).  The problem is, when a lot of people only pay attention to sustainability on special occasions, they can get it wrong.

I first thought about this point a few years ago when the story came out that Sir Paul McCartney, an avid environmentalist when not busy being the guy who wrote “Hey Jude”, had some kind of especially green automobile delivered to him in England from Japan.  Now, no matter how it was transferred, getting a car from east Asia to the (for them) far end of Europe would take a lot of money and a lot of energy.  Apparently the plan was that the car, a Lexus L600H, would be transported by boat.  Sadly, the news broke quickly that this didn’t happen, and it was delivered by airplane. The estimate given for how much this increased the carbon footprint of the car: about 100 times.

"Know what gets great mileage? My yellow subma-" "Don't even start, Ringo."

I roll my eyes when celebrities try to take up a cause and occasionally fail miserably, because no matter how insignificant they are supposed to be to a movement, inevitably the media will focus on them, and the ironic situations that frequently arise from the attempted mixing of two different kinds of green lifestyles.  One of those is the kind of “green” that traditionally gets the label, that of somebody who tries to lead a sustainable life, in The Cute One’s case by buying an awesome, really expensive hybrid car.

I am reminded by the occasional poor attempts at encouraging the right thing on Earth Day this year.  During an Earth Day celebration at KU’s Kansas Union, where different environmental groups passed out literature and hosted educational games, there was one booth that got my attention.  After picking up a reusable water bottle from them, I noticed that they were the source of a t-shirt I had seen with some frequency that day.  It was green, and read on the front “My shirt is green.  Are you?”

While a little condescending, my biggest problem with the shirt wasn’t what it was, but how people acquired it.  You see, the whole Earth Day fair was sponsored by Coca-Cola, which has a corporate partnership with the University.  Needless to say, they liked having their name on something positive, and also wanted a good way to make money off of it, which I don’t begrudge them.  Back to the t-shirts: you got one by buying two bottles of soda.  Buy more of an unhealthy product packaged in a non-biodegradable object, and get a free t-shirt (made of organic cotton!), without even a note to be sure to recycle those bottles.  In related news, authorities still have not located Irony’s body, though have assured us that they will continue searching around the clock.

In fairness, I later asked somebody working at the fair who assured me that the exchange was a mix-up.  The plan was that the t-shirts would be a new line made out of recycled plastic, but this fell through, and they hoped using organic cotton would be sufficient for people.  For me, it wasn’t.  For everyone I mentioned it to, it wasn’t.  There’s a difference between supporting sustainability, and giving it lip-service on a holiday, and this was cleanly the latter.

Celebrities Going Green…Or Are They? by jackiemcc

Last week, I was browsing the Internet, and came across one of ABC’s Stars Go Green videos. In these videos, they feature celebrities in their own homes who are going green.

These days so many stars are claiming to go green. However, after viewing the above video, I started to rethink the concept of celebrities going green. I began to wonder how many of them are actual leading green lives themselves.

It’s easy for someone to say they’re going green, but the truth is, that not all of them practice what they preach. There are many stars out there who say they support protecting the environment, but when you look at their personal lives, they are not following through with their word. All these stars are contributing to ‘greenwashing.’

Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, John Travolta, Natalie Portman, and Madonna are all among the culprits. Many of them preach for a greener environment, but when they’re off flying their own private jets and “using synthetic materials in [their] vegan line of footwear,” it’s hard to believe them. All of their practices are not supporting the environment.

But what is prompting these stars to greenwash? Last semester I took a “Current Issues in Journalism” course at KU. In this course, we discussed a lot of these same issues. We talked about how celebrities are used to promote popularity of certain products. Because consumers idolize certain celebrities, they may be tempted to buy a certain product if their favorite celebrity is using it.

As a result, celebrities might catch on to this, and take their popularity for advantage. They may think that because they’re popular, people will believe whatever they say. And this is what is happening with the “going green” trend. It is quite popular now, so the celebrities want say they support the cause, even if their actions don’t confirm it. Bottom line, they want to make themselves look good, so they can maintain public approval.

Whatever their reason, I would ask these celebrities who are not following through with their words, to please step aside and make room for those who are going green. There is no need for those who aren’t contributing to the issue; you’re not positively impacting the environment. I would rather hear from the celebrities who are, even if that means fewer.

-Jackie McClellan

Costa Rica: a small country with a big environmental impact by bpirotte

To fight the harsh Kansas winter, my family decided to pack up and leave for sunny, warm Costa Rica. Known around the world as an eco-paradise, this tiny, Central American country has a lot to protect.

Papaya and cocktail shrimp--a meal of local flavor.

Fresh food, especially fruit, is an important part of Costa Rican’s “Pura” lifestyle. At the hotel, shrimp cocktail fills a papaya bowl. The shrimp was caught off Costa Rica’s coast, and the papaya was also grown nearby. Talk about eating local! As a plus for living in this tropical environment, locals pay significantly less for their products. A pound of bananas at a local market only cost 19 colones  (that’s only 3 cents!), compared to the cost in the US of an average around 30-40 cents.  However,  is that the true cost of a banana? Unsustainable practices in Costa Rica’s banana industry include heavy use of pesticides, deforestation, and improper treatment of many banana harvesters.

Tourism is booming in Costa Rica, which claims to be one of the most eco-friendly tourist destinations in the world. However, places like Costa Rica’s North Pacific coast, in the state of Guanacaste, are sometimes trading tourist dollars for safe environmental practices, as resorts and the winter homes of rich migratory North American retirees flood the landscape.

Hotels and resorts in the Guanacaste region could threaten Costa Rica's eco-attitude.

Biodiversity is an incredibly important part of Costa Rica.

A howler monkey hides in a tree in Costa Rica’s rainforest.

Tree root forms interesting shapes in the Costa Rican rainforest.

Comparable to the size of West Virginia, this small tropical country contains five percent of all of earth’s species. However, pressures from population growth and development from tourism are a constant threat to Costa Rica’s abundant wildlife.

An aloe plant blooms in the rainforest.

While there, I learned this tiny country is a big player in environmental sustainability, despite its miniscule size. However, no country is perfect, and Costa Rica is no exception. With the tourism industry booming, and a global desire for a tasty banana, this Central American country has to deal with some difficult choices.

Hopefully the sun isn't setting on Costa Rica's eco-friendly practices.

Photos and text by Ben Pirotte

Creating Rain Because Of Climate Change by micolea

It turns out rain can be induced after all.   

It was reported last month that a cloud seeding operation brought rain to provinces in Bicol, Philippines.  

To combat the rain and water shortage and aid farmers in saving their farms, the Philippine Department of Agriculture has distributed funding for cloud seeding. From airplanes, either salt crystals or dry ice are released into the clouds. The desired outcome of this process is to cause precipitation in clouds that will eventually lead to the formation of rain.  

Photo by barto/Courtesy Flickr


While the Philippine Islands is accustomed to experiencing mild droughts every year, this year is an exception. 

 The El Nino phenomenon has caused massive droughts for many regions in the Philippines, particularly in Luzon and Mindanao. This climate pattern is linked with droughts, floods and other turbulent weather. Typically, the countries most affected by the El Nino phenomenon are those surrounding the Pacific Ocean. The current dry spell has been plaguing the Philippine Islands and its farmers by causing crops to dwindle and diminish because of the lack of rain.  

Photo by Greenpeace Southeast Asia/Courtesy Flickr

 I never knew a concept like artificial rain even existed. While on one hand, I think that this is a beneficial scientific process, which, in the Philippine’s case helped to restore peoples’ livelihood, I also believe that with innovation comes consequences. Rain is a natural circumstance. Artificial rain is not. So if rain continues to be created, it might end up contributing to the effects of climate change instead of resisting it. But is cloud seeding made valid if it is saving the lives and livelihoods of an entire country?  

Although the effects of cloud seeding can yield desired results like bringing much-needed rain to arid areas or in other cases halting rain, it can also produce undesired weather effects. For instance, the concentration of rainfall in one sector can lead to the reduction of rain in another. Other side effects include hail and even a decline in rainfall.  

My mother, who grew up in the Philippines, always tells me stories of her childhood. I distinctly remember a story she told me about how her family would make efforts to conserve water. For example, when taking a shower, she would turn off the water in between shampooing and conditioning her hair. Recently, in an effort to preserve water in larger, overpopulated Philippine cities, water is rationed on a daily basis. This means that at certain times of the day, for hours at a time, people do not have access to running water.   

Water is such a precious resource.  It flows throughout various aspects of our lives: we need it to keep us hydrated, to cleanse our bodies and to grow and harvest crops.  We need it for our survival. So while I am aware of the troublesome effects of cloud seeding, I support its use because of the potential it has to save many peoples’ means of subsistence.   

Micole Aronowitz  

Grading the Pantry by bpirotte

A lot of Clementines, Sun Chips and of course, MILK–staples in my kitchen. While I’m a sucker for convenience, I try to stay relatively healthy and be at least conscious of my environmental impact. So what do these particular items say about me? Because you are what you eat, right?

Let’s start with the Clementines.

Clementine mandarins- a fridge favorite. Photo by Ben Pirotte

I buy relatively large bags of Cuties, which are small varieties of mandarins. They’re easy to peel, small, and seedless. They’re a convenient and seemingly healthy snack from California. However, to achieve that convenience, they are treated with Imazalil or Thiabendazole, both common pesticides used on citrus fruits. The peeling is also waxed and possibly even gassed in order to increase shelf-life and appearance. Turns out being “cute” comes at a price.

So, first item examined: I’ll give myself a B-. Even though the’yre definitely non-organic, gassed, and shipped over 1000 miles to get to me, they’re still relatively healthy, right? Yikes. Scratch that. I probably deserve more like a C.

Next item: Sun Chips. I’ve been eating them since I was little, so they have the nostalgia thing going for them. They’re a crunchy, well-seasoned snack. So, what does that new 100% compostable bag business really mean? Am I being a more environmentally responsible consumer for buying Sun Chips? Well, if we’re talking about buying local, for example, this would constitute a “fail.” The company that produces Sun Chips, Frito Lay, is a national chain that ships all over the United States and the world. If we’re talking about buying organic, again, not so much. Sun Chips ingredients include artificial flavors, and even Maltodextrin. However, the new ad placed on the bags of the product indicate the chips are contained in a compostable bag. While that doesn’t mean you can just compost the bag, it does leave less of a carbon footprint because it uses less petroleum-based plastic. Also, apparently at least one of the plants that produces Sun Chips is solar, with plans for further solar plants in the future. Not bad, right? I think I will give myself a B+ for the Sun Chips. While still supporting a large chain, I am proud of supporting at least a sub-company that supports greener production.

Now for the milk.

Iwig Family Milk-local goodness. Photo by Ben Pirotte

Milk is my favorite beverage, hands down. I would much rather drink milk than pop, juice, or even water. My milk purchase is something I feel proud of, though, because I have recently started buying from local producer, Iwig Family Dairy, who sells milk in a reusable glass bottle in grocery stores around Kansas. They’re an organic dairy farm not far from where I live in Lawrence, Kansas. It’s tasty and guilt free. Tecumseh, where the milk comes from, is only about 25 miles from Lawrence. Organic: check. Local: checkity-check. The reusable glass bottle adds a nice touch. Milke grade: an honest A.

While I’m sure I have committed several more food sins with my Double Stuffed Oreos, Ramen noodles, and pepperonis, I think I’m at least headed in the right direction. It’s rough to think about what you are is what you eat–when what you’re eating might not be so great.

–Ben P.

Words Matter by bpirotte

Green. Healthy. Organic. Biophilia. Sustainable. “Global warming” or “climate change?” It all seems so overwhelming!

Word choice is important to help understanding of debated issues. http://phsgirard.org/images/calvin-on-scientific-law__word_choice_1_.gif

With the recent trend of the “green movement” and the idea of wanting to have a positive impact on our environment come a lot of words. And they can often be really confusing.

So, how do we begin to define words like these? How do we know these definitions can be trusted? The truth is, one definition almost never suffices, and making sure you’re educated and well-rounded in the sources you use can help.

For example, this week in my Media and the Environment course at the University of Kansas, our class had a guest lecturer from Kansas State University named Ben Champion who heads a sustainability group at the university. We looked past our school’s sports rivalries and had an informative discussion about the definition specifically of sustainability. We wondered if sustainability is even truly definable? However, we came up with a few definitions.

Ben Champion used his own definition: “[a] healthy system composed of relationships that do not damage the integrity of those economic social and environmental relationships.”

Ok, so we are kind of starting to get an understanding of what sustainability means. What about words like “organic?”  Dictionary.com has multiple definitions for organic. But here’s two I picked that seemed to pertain to what is talked about in regard to environmental issues (especially involving food). 1.”pertaining to, involving, or grown with fertilizers or pesticides of animal or vegetable origin, as distinguished from manufactured chemicals: organic farming; organic fruits.” and 2. “developing in a manner analogous to the natural growth and evolution characteristic of living organisms; arising as a natural out growth.” See? Now you know at some basic level what that label on your milk is boasting. Whether or not the company is truly upholding its values is another story. But if you understand the basics, you might be able to do some of your own research to come to your own conclusions on the reliability of companies.

It’s hard when we have so much to already worry about to try and wrap our minds around issues like these. So, it’s important for not only journalists, but people in all fields to use their words wisely. If you’re trying to talk to someone about the problems we face as a planet with the change in the Earth’s overall temperature, do you use “global warming” or “climate change?” What if it’s the coldest winter you ever remember. Would global warming really have an impact then?

With such heated topics as climate change or the green movement, it’s important to choose your words wisely. You never know the impact it can have on someone.