J500 Media and the Environment

Reduce, Reuse, Retackle by jmuselmann

image fromgardenmandy.com

Environmentalism nowadays may seem new-fangled and trendy, but recycling, its old-school call to action, has character and appeal in its simplicity. It’s about as ubiquitous as the three Rs are in school, and like reading, writing and ‘rithmatic, it’s thought to be good for everyone. But even this durable cause can get messy, and when it does, it ain’t so wholesome anymore.

A few days ago I spoke with Jeff Joseph of Jeff’s Curbside Recycling, one of the smaller-scale operations in Lawrence, Kan. Well, maybe the smallest: his company consists of a man with a truck. He was driving around the city, tending to his customer’s pre-sorted trash when in two words from across the phone line he casually shattered my perception of the untouchable triad of folded green arrows: Recycling contamination. Can you even put those words together? (It’s when different substances are accidentally recycled into one material.)

Breaking down in the soil to later become a natural reincarnation is one thing, but what about when there are particles of plastic in my recycled milk carton? Not only is that disturbing (move over, BPA), but it’s also expensive. It’s such a problem in the city of Fresno that perpetrators—whether intentional or not—collect fines on the third offense. San Francisco is also trying to bag up the problem because it renders thousands of tons of initially recycled material a waste, suspended in your newspaper or whatever else was in the same recycling facility when it was ground up.

Joseph said “single stream” companies, which pick up all recyclables together to be sorted later, were more prone to commingling sins. The EPA has acknowledged the problem and established guidelines—but we all know what that means (and doesn’t mean in the case of toxic waste, a much scarier implication).

Deffenbaugh, which happens to be Lawrence’s only single-stream pickup and largest recycler, said it made pickup more convenient and minimized the cost because sorting was automated. According to the company, about 4 percent of the total volume received is extracted by hand before the recyclables are sorted. Here’s what that system typically looks like:

But are many companies with green intentions missing the point not in what they are doing but in how they are doing it? Must this movement yield to cheapness and efficiency for its growth? Does the business of recycling need to adopt the corporate world’s devout faith in the ability of machines to undo our laziness, or can we expect people to sort the soda cans from the beer bottles? As the green movement spreads its wings, people are gaining more incentives to be sustainable each day, but the often-clumsy to go green easily arrives at growth is costly—in dollars, the very resources we are trying to renew, and possibly our health. The ends don’t make the means irrelevant, since we are, after all, going in a circle.

—Jacob M.

Love your Mother Earth by Kelly

In grade school we sang a song called, “Love Your Mother Earth.”  In my mind, I was singing about an ethereal woman who soared through the skies on the wings of eagles.  She spoke the language of the ocean and her hair was made of ferns.

Mother Earth photo: flickr.com

We also sang about Santa Claus and the Headless Horseman.*

Over time these childhood characters fade away, only resurfacing as nostalgia or a great Halloween costume.  Such was the fate of Mother Earth.  Sure she is one of my favorite childhood memories, but Mother Earth, like the Headless Horseman, is kind of a weirdo.  I mean come on, she’s made of plants.

It really is too bad because these images can make people see environmentalism as strange and inhuman.  People generally aren’t comfortable with a woman who has the whole world in her womb and they are afraid that environmentalism will force them to honor an ideal akin to this weird plant lady.

I am here to clear the air.** I want to assure you that taking care of the earth does not turn you into one of “those people” who look, and smell, like compost.  You will still be allowed to bathe, and you don’t have to weave your own clothes out of last night’s leftovers.  It’s going to be okay.  In fact, it’s going to be better.

Environmentalism speaks directly to what we need as people.  It gives us healthy food, clean water, and breathable air.  Adopting an environmentally friendly lifestyle won’t ruin our lives. It will make our lives better. It can strengthen our communities, power our homes, and restore balance to our backyards.

Environmentalism is all about quality of life and reconnecting to what really sustains us.  It starts with acknowledging the intrinsic connection between us and the earth.  I realize that sounds dramatic, but it’s just true. Everything we need to survive is provided by the earth. We grow our food in it, we drink its water, and we build our homes on it from materials that come out of it.

Being an environmentalist means you acknowledge this connection between us and the earth, and you’re willing to respect it.  It means you are committed to improving our quality of life. You want healthier food, clearer air, and cleaner water. You understand that your actions today can ensure that the earth will be able to provide for us tomorrow.

And there is nothing weird and inhuman about that.


*In retrospect, I realize it’s odd that we sang about the Headless Horseman.

**environmental pun intended.

Trend Today, Trite Tomorrow by Kelly

I love a good ad slogan.  They’re catchy, creative and stick in your head.  Really good ones actually affect behavior. For instance, I check myself before I wreck myself and  I occasionally enjoy an incredible, edible egg. I’ve also gone green.

I don’t use disposable lunch bags or water bottles, I recycle, I take my own bags to the grocery store and I buy organic fairly often. I even make a special effort at the gym to use those machines that generate their own electricity.

A well-crafted slogan is a great public relations tool and it can do big things for movements like environmentalism. It has the power to raise money, spread awareness and inspire action.  With the help of a good slogan, a movement like environmentalism becomes the crusade du jour.

Unfortunately, there is the inevitable effect of time on trendiness. Once a phrase has lost its momentum it becomes trite and  lifeless, unlikely to surface again except for maybe on a novelty t-shirt. But while the the slogan may have died, the issue is still an issue. And, my apologies to advertisers and wordsmiths worldwide, the issue is what’s really important.

If someone asks me why I buy organic, I’m not going to throw them a slogan and say I’m going green. If someone wants to know why I recycle, I don’t say I give a hoot and don’t pollute. How does that answer their question? That answer is too vague and leaves you sounding uninformed or, worse, insincere.

Instead, I tell them about minimizing waste and pollution. I explain that organic food keeps pesticides out of the ground and out of our bodies. I inform them about the issue. Anything less and you’ll end up like Woodsy Owl,  motivating people to do hardly more than shake their heads and smile at your silliness.

While my love for slogans is strong, my love for the environment is stronger, so I pay attention to what it means to go green. Now, I’m better at recognizing when something is environmentally friendly without the help of  a “go green” label.

Slogans help start a movement, but it’s people that keep it going. If a slogan catches your attention, research the underlying issue. Get educated about a movement or a cause. Save the slogan from itself by turning the trend into a habit, because information will outlive any ad campaign.


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*

The Struggle of the Eco-Man by brennad87

My roommate’s voice was loud through our shared wall.

“I’m just not sure,” she lamented. “I mean… get this, he drives a Smart Car.”

Her friend laughed.

“He what?”

“I know… and not just that, he calls it Smart Car… like ‘I’m gonna go get Smart Car’, like it’s a name or something.”

Eco-Man has his work cut out for him in fighting our cultural stereotypes.

Eco-Man has his work cut out for him in fighting our cultural stereotypes.

They continued discussing the goods and bads of Brad, but I pondered their comment. Brad’s environmental consciousness apparently compromised his masculinity. Did his green car made him undateable?

Girls like me can look cool with our canvas bags. Apparently, it is harder for men. As one blogger lamented in “Masculinity-friendly environmentalism, please!” his reusable shopping bag compromised his macho image. To test if other men felt the same, I conducted an informal survey of classmates. Of ten boys polled, 40% would feel their masculinity judged if they drove a Smart Car. Sixty percent would feel judged while carrying a canvas bag.

Can a man be a man AND environmentally conscious?

Can a man be a man AND environmentally conscious?

In our culture, advertising denotes real men as those who eat burgers and drive hummers. Environmentalists struggle against this image. As Holly Brubach wrote in the New York Times: “Vegetarianism may occupy the moral high ground, but among men it’s regarded as, if not a girl thing, then at least a girlie thing — an anemic regimen for sensitive souls subsisting on rabbit food and tofurkey.” Vegetarian women outnumber men by 2:1.

Gender stereotypes are a cultural barrier thwarting environmentalism. But what the mass public doesn’t know is that that real men eat locally grown rutabagas.

— images from http://www.acclaimimages.com and http://www.dpchallenge.com

on the (farming) fence by jessicasb

I’ve taken to shopping at the farmers’ market, and I buy local milk in glass containers to support a family business and not waste plastic.

Local eating is nothing new, but in 2007, it became the hot topic of the ‘green’ movement when New Oxford American Dictionary named “locavore” the word of the year. 

local eatingLocavores are people who eat locally grown ingredients for a variety of reasons: it’s fresh, it supports the local economy and it reduces the carbon footprint of shipping food.

But when researching criticism of the locavore movement, I was pretty surprised.

James McWilliams, an associate professor of history at Texas State University, is skeptical of locavorism because he believes it sets up a regional food system that is nearly impossible to reach everywhere.

An article in Environmental Science and Technology finds that greenhouse gas emissions associated with food are dominated by the production phase, 83% in the average U.S. household, compared with transportation being responsible for 11% of it.

I’m torn. So many aspects of the ‘green’ movement are black and white. Driving less? Check. Taking shorter showers? Duh.

But when it comes to eating, it becomes tricky. What should people care about when they go grocery shopping? Their local economy? Meeting new people at the farmers’ market? The amount of greenhouse gases it took to produce their dinner? Type of packaging?

The locavore movement is a trend, just like Uggs. Some people love them, some people hate them. Its popularity may make local eating a hit in the meantime, but its trendiness doesn’t guarantee a long shelf life. It ultimately comes down to what aspect of the ‘green’ eating world people care about the most. 

And while I’ll continue buying local milk, I’m still on the fence about what aspect of ‘green’ eating is most important to me. What’s the most important to you?

— Jessica Sain-Baird

Thanks to gochie* on Flickr for the photo.

For every semester, learn, learn, learn… by rarab

Photo courtesy of bencourtney23

So, what did I learn this semester. Hmm…let’s see, what did I learn…What. Did. I. Learn.

Oh, I know. I learned that a certain local politician contibutes to the cause by not always flushing on “the deuce.”

I learned a lot about my classmates, namely that Lauren doesn’t want you to procreate, and that if I visit Jennifer, I’ll probably just “hold it.” I also learned what to do if I ever somehow get my first period.

I learned that I’m a bad person. No matter how hard I try to live an eco-conscious life, I’m still buying way too much “un-green” stuff (and stuff in general), I’m still putting too much trash in the landfill, I’m still not reducing my carbon footprint enough.

Through the artwork of Chris Jordan, I learned that I’m not alone in my wasteful ways…and that we’ll soon be surrounded by skyscrapers of Dixie Cups.

I learned about Environmental Justice, which says there’s no environmental safety for any of us unless it’s available to all of us.

I learned that I don’t agree with Adam Werbach. I learned I feel strongly that market reform is necessary, but it shouldn’t be the primary motivation for saving our planet–or ourselves. I learned I could go on about my difference with Werbach, but I learned to let things go, too… (I learned to take a deep breath).

What else…let’s see…I learned that we have a remarkably strong Governor–and a courageous Secretary of Health and Environment. I learned we’re fortunate to live in a state where some of our leaders are willing to see the bigger picture of global climate change.

I learned that corn is the devil’s fruit, that the ethanol craze (environmentalism unchecked) can lead to a food crisis, and that none of the presidential candidates are doing a good job of addressing pressing environmental issues.

I learned that a month of blogging doesn’t earn you enough money to buy a CD…unless it’s something in the discount bin. I learned that there were other rewards to blogging (and other hidden costs).

I learned that I was surrounded by a class of amazing people–some were silent in person but raged through their writing, most were funny, all were genuinely searching. It’s been amazing to read these perspectives. I learned that we had an incredible teacher who made it possible for us to talk directly to each other–and with people on the cutting-edge of environmentalism.

Finally, I learned that I can’t keep a post under 250 words.

So, good luck, everyone. It’s been an enlightening class, to say the least. I’ll be interested to hear how all of you apply the knowledge we gained from this semester.

And, of course, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to learn from you.


Photo courtesy of Vineus