J500 Media and the Environment

Zoos: Sources of wonderment or “Pitiful Prisons”? by bendcohen

I open myself to teasing sometimes, and I’m perfectly fine with that.  When I received an onslaught of jabs from friends about a month ago over Facebook for my fascination with the application/game Zoo World.  For the uninitiated, Zoo World is like Farmville, but for cool people, but I digress.

I and most kids I knew growing up loved the real life zoo.  When you are nine years old, a zoo seems like a magical place with strange creatures that you don’t get to see anywhere else.  With that sense of juvenile wonderment, you don’t really consider that the place with the animals is still run by people who are prone to mistakes and bad habits.

Even I tended not to consider this fact, having not been to my hometown’s self-proclaimed “World Famous” Topeka Zoo in several years. The zoo had clearly lost its luster some time ago, having lost national accreditation almost  a decade ago due to mistreatment of animals, something which was supposedly rectified a few  years later.  Sadly, one of my occasional trips to the Topeka-Capital Journal’s website (nostalgia, I suppose) revealed this to  not be true.  A few offenses listed include poor safety procedures to both keep people protected from dangerous animals, and vice versa; elephants not having their feet examined on a regular basis; and a hippopotamus not being allowed in its pool for periods of up to eight hours, extremely difficult for an animal that has no sweat glands and is accustomed to spending most of its time in or near water to keep cool.

I thought this picture, purportedly from a zoo in China, was awesome at first. Lately, it's occurred to me that it's rather sad.

Environmental stewardship can mean a lot of things.  We tend to think about recycling, energy use, land conservation, etc. as ways of protecting our planet, but we all have to learn the value of it sometime.  To give somebody, a child or otherwise, some sense of a connection to the world outside of their hometown, it is well and good to stir their imagination with examples of the wondrous things they can find hidden in the trees.  This is why I still believe in zoos as valuable to communities, and why I would like to see the one I used to love as a kid hold a higher standing than it apparently does now.  It infuriates me to no end that PETA might be on to something when they refer to zoos as “pitiful prisons“, partially because PETA in general annoys me, but if we can’t maintain the wildlife (a term I suppose I’m using loosely here) we use to exemplify the more amazing aspects of nature, we really can’t expect people to understand the value of protecting it.

~Ben C.

SunChips Turn Compostable by jackiemcc

When I was growing up, my dad always had a composting pile in the backyard; so I’ve always been interested in the concept of composting. When my friend told me about the green efforts Frito-Lay is doing with their SunChips, I was intrigued to learn more. I found out that I support what they are doing, and I think their green efforts are going pay off in the long run.

The new SunChips compostable bags will be released on Earth Day of 2010. Photo Courtesy of: http://www.greenr.ca

Just recently, SunChips announced that they will be introducing eco-friendly compostable chip bags. These bags will be made from plants, so it will be completely compostable. When placed in a compost pile, the bags will break down in 14 weeks.

The bags are made from plant-based polylactic acid (PLA). And because of this, the results are earth-friendly. Not only will they reduce the waste in landfills, but less fossil fuels will be used to make the bag.

Sounds too good to be true, right? Maybe. The only discouraging part to the new bags is that they produce a louder sound when handling them. SunChips said that is because of the materials used to make the bag. The plant-based products in the bags have different sound properties than the old bags.

Despite the louder noise, I still think these compostable bags are a smart idea. They help protect the Earth, and save on unnecessary waste. It doesn’t take that long to eat a bag of chips, so the amount of time spent holding the bag is significantly less than the benefits that will be gained. This may just be a start, but it’s a huge step at least. Maybe after SunChips’ efforts, other chip companies will follow.

-Jackie McClellan

Third World Countries Being Sustainable? by jackiemcc

As I sit here in a Bahaman internet café, I recall a conversation we had last night on my dad’s sailboat about The Bahamas being sustainable. He was telling us about how he had been talking to someone who had said that what the Bahamans needed to do is be sustainable instead of continually using their resources.Third world countires like The Bahamas are not fit to become a sustainable country.

Third world countires like The Bahamas are not fit to become a sustainable country.

When I heard this, I thought it would interesting to investigate this further. At first I thought this was a good idea, but then I began to wonder how plausible it is in a third world country to be sustainable. After further investigation, I have concluded that the Bahamas, or any other third world country for that matter, is not fit to be sustainable.

I say this because I believe it is out of reach for them. With the limited resources they do have, it can be hard for them to think about being sustainable, let alone keep the resources available for future generations.

Not only that, but many people in The Bahamas probably don’t care or worry about this problem. This article discusses what sustainability is like in third world countries. They are more worried about fulfilling their basic needs, like food, not of the future.

I did find it interesting that The Bahamans as a whole are trying to be sustainable though. In June of 2006 they held a conference on tourism and sustainable development. As this Bahaman discusses, they were not fit to host this; they held it in the most expensive hotel in the area. I don’t think they completely understand what it takes to be sustainable. She also discusses that the country is not sustainable because their tourism industry is revolving around the tourists, not involving what the Bahamans want.

I also found an article that talks about how The College of the Bahamas has started promoting sustainability. They go around to other schools and encourage others to be sustainable. They also intend to start a Small Island Sustainable program in the college, where students can earn a degree in related programs.

There are others who are suggesting ways in which Bahamans can be sustainable.

While the small progress and intent of sustainability of the Bahamans is great, I don’t think it is a plausible idea for them. They don’t have the resources available that can help them carry out a full-on sustainable country. I do applaud their efforts, but I think they are in over their heads. I also think they need to be more educated on the issue before they beginning implementing such a large program.

-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  

The Travel Challenge by bpirotte

The cold is driving me nuts.

I’m tired all the time, I don’t ever want to leave the comforts of my warm bed, and class is about the last thing I want to do. But what do you do when you live in Kansas, where the weather sometimes doesn’t even make it above freezing during the winter?

Well, the solution my friend and I came up with is to visit a mutual friend in California,

The warmth of Southern California sounds like heaven in Kansas winter -photo by Ben Pirotte

where the sun is shining and the lows there are still higher than our highs here.

However, the only real way to get to California in a reasonable amount of time (and going for just a few days, trying to miss the least amount of class possible), is to fly. While the ticket price seemed reasonable for going 1,500 miles just to soak up some sun, the question then becomes, is that what it really costs to our environment?

According to the International Civil Aviation Organization’s online calculator, my friend and I will be dispelling quite a bit of CO2 into the atmosphere. 970.34 kg, or just over a ton, to be exact.

The carbon cost for travel is daunting. But do we have alternatives? Source: http://www.icao.int/

As an avid traveler, my love for exploration will not die anytime soon, but I would also like to lessen my carbon footprint. How will we, as travelers in our society, be able to do this?

A few new ideas have sprung up recently about more efficient airplanes like Boeing’s 787, or a recent flight test conducted by Virgin Atlantic airlines partially powered by palm oil.

While these seem like partial solutions to the problem we face, I think a possibly more efficient and more practical solution is something I learned about on my travels: public transportation.

While the United States at one point was the world leader in train travel with more tracks and more distance covered than any other country in the world, we have fallen short on train travel as an option for passengers. While the freight rail service seems to be thriving, passenger rail in the United States is basically non-existent. Europe, on the other hand, has a thriving passenger rail system, with many rail lines connecting cities throughout the continent, and with new developments in things such as high-speed rail, places like Spain and France have been able to cut the amount of passengers in need of flying down significantly. According to a New York Times article, there is a new link between two of Spain’s major cities, Madrid and Barcelona. In its first year of operation, it was able to snag almost half the passengers that normally fly between the cities!

Not only is taking public transportation economical, but it is also very easy to run on alternative energy, as high speed trains engines are often electric. That electricity can be created easily from wind or solar plants, making the carbon footprint from travel almost at zero.

However, there are many differing opinions held by Americans, and many of them stem from the idea that rail seems impossible in such a large country as ours is. But when I think of rail usage, I don’t expect to take a train to LA, for example. I would love to be able to take a train to Chicago, or to Wichita for the weekend, or even somewhere like Denver. A hub-and-spoke type system would be advantageous here, I think.

With Obama’s new high-speed rail plan, the possibility of passenger rail travel in the United States seems closer than ever, but will Americans be receptive to it? Would you be willing to take a train to get to your next destination?

–Ben P.

Good as Green by TreyW

As the term “Going Green” is thrown around, I find it increasingly difficult to seperate the environmentalist moniker from the color itself. With this in mind, I always think of the other ways that we label individuals with color and how these labels are all too often negative.

As children, we ask “What’s wrong? Are you yellow?” to coerce the neighborhood scaredy-cat into something everyone knows is dangerous. Later, we ask “Why so blue?” to a downtrodden friend. Even as adults, we gossip about our family’s “black sheep” after he loses his shirt on a wild night in Vegas and moves back in with mom.

Considering the other uses of color as a label, it is not at all surprising to hear Stephen Colbert mockingly use the term “Reduce, Reuse, Re-Psychos” to refer to individuals that I would consider “green.” When the color green is already being used to describe the envious and inexperienced, it only follows that going green would be seen as over-the-top, radical environmentalism.

However, I think the green movement is slowly breaking the green mold. If the views of Silent Spring author, Rachel Carson, can go from being seen as hysterical to revolutionary, I think it is only a matter of time before people who insist that guests in there home recycle the bottled water they just finished go from being “green nuts” to just positively “green.” The term greem in an environmental sense just means doing the right thing.

Whether Carson was correct or not in her assertion that nature is central to the survival of man rather than the inverse, I believe human beings should (whether out of gratitude or responsibility to nature) take the necessary steps to ensure its long-run survival. This to me is the essence of being green. Everything we do, no matter how slight, should be done in a way that keeps our surroundings intact.

*Trey Williams*