J500 Media and the Environment

Laugh and They’ll Laugh With You (Hopefully) by KaylaReg

I lived with the female version of Ras Trent for two years of college.

She was completely unmoved by what her brain was like on drugs or how she too could kill her younger sibling while driving under the influence.

Only one anti-drug campaign I know of ever made her stop and think, simply because it was so funny that she didn’t know what she was watching.

Like it or not, we live in a world of multiple and sometimes conflicting truths, where reality is often different for each person. In such a world, laughter can be the best tool for putting all of its complexities in perspective.

William McDougall, one of the theorists discussed in Dr. Jim Lyttle’s research on humor, claims that laughter gives us a sort of release from the stresses of living in a conflicted society. It’s why we laugh at the satiric hyperbole of Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. We understand the absurdity of the movie because we see very real reflections of it every day, like Atrazine in our water and fast-food being likened to cocaine. When we can find humor in even what seems to be the most desperate of dilemmas, the situation can’t paralyze us in fear and we can still work to fix it.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure whether people are seeing much humor in things these days.

Consider this video telling us that if we don’t shape up immediately, global warming will kill our daughters and we will be responsible.

Buzzkill, right?

This is my very basic illustration of the paths of humor. Laughing at an out-group will set a norm for exclusion. Self deprecation will allow members of an out-group feel comfortable. Shared laughter creates a bond and sense of community between groups.

Such advertisements are just begging for parody from Will Ferrell, Adam McKay and John C. Reilly’s Green Team and the psychotic earth day spokesman. At least these videos make environmentalism look better than the “tree people” of this Ali G Show episode and it couldn’t hurt environmentalists to take a little ownership over such self-deprecation. It works for politicians, and few things are more political today than Mother Earth.

Since the political polarizing of environmentalism, the saviors and enemies of our planet are seen in terms of left and right, Democrat and Republican and who signed what legislation and who worked against it. Such absolutes construct artificial dividers of people based on opinions and affiliations, undermining the whole “we’re in this together” idea of the environment.

According to Lyttle, anthropomorphic and sociological studies have repeatedly shown that shared laughter creates a sense of community among diverse populations and reflects tolerance, acceptance and sympathy towards others. Remember what The Cosby Show did for defusing stereotypes and empowering the black community?

We can bash the Monsantos of the world all day and night, but it won’t get the average farmer to stop using its products. If anything, demonizing Monsanto products (that frankly help many farmers support their family) only excludes its customers from the conversation, throwing away any knowledge the group could have offered.

If environmental leaders want people to jump on the bandwagon, they might want to take a hint from the Huxtables and stop taking everything so seriously.

Green Police, a Super Bowl advertisement for a hybrid car, is a great example of how environmentalism can poke a little fun at itself and still reinforce a positive, progressive message. Jack Black’s Earth to America promotion encouraged me to be part of a movement towards progress, not a frenzy to stop a speeding train. I wanted to learn more about coal and clean air after I giggled at the Cohen Brothers’ This is Reality video.

Ultimately, laughter influences our attitudes, understanding, and brings people together better than any amount of finger-pointing or doomsday warnings ever will.

Swami Beyondananda argues that by embracing societal conflicts with humor, we’re better able to process its paradoxes and see solutions that fall outside of our normal thinking. No better example exists than America’s greatest humorist Mark Twain. By making us laugh at the often complicated and multiple truths of humanity, he completely changed American perception of slavery and racism.

So even though Ed Begley wants you to know that “there’s nothing funny about climate change,” I’m going to respectfully disagree. I’m sure we can find plenty of humor in climate change as well as everything else in life, and it’s something to be embraced.

Lighten up, principal Begley. It’s time to have some laughs.

-Kayla R.


My Night as a Zambian by KaylaReg
February 12, 2010, 6:39 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 4 | Tags: , , , ,

As part of an eighth grade class field trip, I spent a night at the Heifer Project International (HPI) Global Village in Arkansas. HPI works to teach people sustainable farming practices and management of natural resources in more than 55 countries around the world, including the U.S. This, in effect, gives them the power to actually be self-sufficient.

The global village staff divided us by lottery into groups representing a particular country or socioeconomic status HPI serves to help. Each group was given (or not given) a certain amount of resources reflecting what a typical person from that country or population has in real life. There were enough resources to feed everyone collectively, but no group was given enough to make it through the night on its own.

I’m reluctant to say my HPI experience is a perfect reflection of the real world market, but I can see some connection. The global economy commands the lowest price for the highest yield, and a country’s resources are only as good as its free market price. Without any organization or formal leadership, members from Zambia (the group I was in), Appalachia and Thailand, (I’ll call it ZAT) traded one item for another, jumping on whatever seemed like a good deal.

Taken from the USDA's Global Food Security Report. LAC= Latin America and Caribbean, CIS = Commonwealth of Independent States, SSA = Sub-Saharan Africa

Students from the Urban Ghetto and Refugee camp (lets call them both UR), the two groups without any resources, begged to start a fire or do dishes in exchange for anything to eat.  We traded all of our extra rice for oil and we needed matches and water to even consider labor costs.Then there was Guatemala, the only group with clean water rights and least willing to negotiate.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture’s Food Security Assessment, between 2007 and 2009, food insecurity (consuming less than 2,100 calories per day per person) in developing countries increased by nearly 2 percent, reaching an estimated 833 million people. Food insecure countries, particularly those in Sub Sahara Africa and Asia, have been hardest hit by the global economic crisis as they’ve become more dependent on food-imports and foreign investment.

Eventually, everyone from ZAT and UR was too hungry to continue trying to dominating the global village market. We talked about what we had and what we needed and traded accordingly. Because we cooperated instead of competed, Guatemala couldn’t demand a ridiculous amount of labor or resources for half a cup of water and everyone, regardless of global village status, got a good meal.

Agriculture giant Monsanto claims what the struggling African farmers really need is its patented drought resistant seed, offered liberty free. It’s “sustainable agriculture,” its website states, “and that’s what Monsanto seeds are all about.”

Really? I thought Monsanto seeds were about profit.

I don’t want to end on a cheesy note, but just like in the global village, no country can get by completely on its own. Collectively though, there’s certainly enough for everyone.  To me, finding that balance is really what sustainability is all about.

-Kayla Regan

Sustainability but ‘Shh, tame the ability’ by jmuselmann
February 12, 2010, 4:40 pm
Filed under: J500 Week 4, Society + Media | Tags: , , , , , ,

For a long time I thought I had been talking about sustainability, but it was really just me becoming glassy-eyed and warm as I imagined tiny, delicate green plants emerging through the smoggy, wicked epicenter up to Mother Nature’s sky, where we all belong, with the sun, and…

Sustainability is like a mystic yin-yang. Does that help?

It was usually downhill from there. What were people even talking about? I didn’t know, but I thought it was noble, and, you know, wanted it to happen. But what though? Thankfully, my emotionally delusional days are over, and I’ve sobered up enough to  want to know what sustainability actually is, minus the imagery. I wanted something objective and  concrete. Now that, I quickly realized, was delusional: I found out about as many definitions of sustainability as there are ways to do it. Often, it is defined as the balance of people, planets and profits. But there’s something missing in this equation, something intrinsically bound up in the root of the word, sustain: time. Balancing people, the planet and profits becomes skewed when we do no think about the long-term. As someone probably told them, Monsanto, like almost every business involved in the business of food, needed to acknowledge sustainability. And let’s just say its approach sounded, well, familiar.

Theirs is a three-pronged message. The first two focus on increasing populations equaling increased food production (help us, Monsanto!), and the last one pledges, over the next 10 years, to help all “their” farmers, plus an extra five million people/contestants! It is among the many stabs at sustainability that makes one feel good without knowing why, and that should raise red flags.

So should the USDA definition, which fixates on efficiency and “enhancing.” Efficiency is code for corner-cutting and rationalization. And to enhance the environment? Hang on, doesn’t something have to be good and well before it can be enhanced? Be wary of vague interpretations of sustainability that prey on your lack of understanding.

I’m glad the DCFPC, a council that creates and promotes healthful and environmentally conscious food initiatives for Douglas County, has adopted a definition focused on the future, on maintaining and enduring. Because without a vision for tomorrow, a falling elephant is flying right up until it hits the ground, and we’ll start conserving when we need to—but not yet.

—Jacob Muselmann

GMO: Friend or Foe by mstinawood

The debate over what is and isn’t sustainable is a complicated one. Keep in mind that the concept of sustainability rests on the principle of meeting present needs without compromising future generations from meeting their own needs. On one hand you have multinational companies, like Monsanto, that claim they offer farmers more sustainable growing methods in the form of GMOs. On the other hand, there are arguments that GMOs are anything but safe and sustainable. Because biotechnology is such a new field it is surrounded with scientific uncertainty. This uncertainty has created an arena of opportunistic arguments wrought with propaganda and marketing ploys.

We as consumers play a large role in GMOs. We eat them and purchase them, therefore we hold the economic power to stop their production or ensure their survival. In the United States, most consumers are completely unaware of what a GMO is, let alone whether or not the food they buy contains them. The most important source of power we as consumers can excercise is knowledge. We must take it upon ourselves to inform and educate those around us and make them understand why it is important. The problems that exist with GMOs must also be recognized by our government. We as a people must demand to know what it is that we are consuming. In order to obtain legislation requiring producers to label their products that contain GMOs would be difficult and expensive. A better tactic would be for GMO free producers to voluntarily label their products as such and we as consumers can then give them our economic support.

It is easy to feel helpless in these times of globalization and economic struggle. By simply using the power that we all possess we can bring about change and a healthier world.

Tina Wood

Photo Credit

Don’t “Just Eat It” by tylerw09
February 13, 2009, 3:34 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , ,

“Just eat it.”

That’s how Larry Lev , an agricultural economist at Oregon State University, described the motto of industrial agriculture in an article by Carla Wise.

People just eat what is readily available and cheap. I admit that sometimes I am guilty of this, no one is perfect.

I do consider myself “sustainable” for a number of reasons. I try to eat local, recycle, unplug things when I am not using them, avoid driving my car when I can, take short showers and try to be aware of all the things I am doing.

Every article I read for this class makes me want to research my food more thoroughly. After watching the video about Monsanto I realized the mainstream media isn’t telling us everything. They are hardly telling us anything.

What can I do about this? If a lot of people know then can they make a difference?

This week is leaving me feeling somewhat helpless and uninformed.

– Tyler Waugh

Super Seeds by amandat09
February 13, 2009, 2:54 pm
Filed under: Energy + Climate, Food + Health, Society + Media | Tags: , ,

The world’s population is expected to read 9 billion in a few short decades. More food will be needed for those 3 billion more mouths, and Monsanto thinks it has the answers. By improving yields through their seeds, they say they can improve water quality and the lives of farmers.


Monsanto produces modified hybrid seeds to sell to farmers, with the expectation that these seeds will increase farmer’s yields. But the farmers aren’t allowed to grow their own seeds from Monsanto’s and replant them. The seeds are patented, so this would technically be illegal- they have to keep buying seeds every season. They have to come back to the seed company for pesticides and chemicals in order to make them grow properly. But if their neighbors use is and get a higher yield, don’t they have to buy them to keep up?

photo from pacificseed.com

photo from pacificseed.com

Reading about big seed companies like this one makes me think of how we got here. I think of the Green Revolution. The invention of pesticides created the ability to feed more mass numbers of people, in a way allowing the world population to grow to its current rate. Would we be able to feed 6 billion people without pesticides and mass farming? Probably not. Can we feed the expected 9 billion people in 2050 without them?

Right now, we have enough food in the world to feed every mouth. But food distribution is so out of whack because of political pressures, poverty and social inequality that it doesn’t seem like enough. Seeds for farming have become such a globalized, controlled-by-the-few thing, that it is disconnected from many peoples’ lives. If more food actually was grown sustainably and locally, maybe this would be different. Wouldn’t it be simpler if more communities had a direct hand in the food they ate? It seems like we’ve come so far in terms of industrialization and development, only to realize that going back to the basics of food production may be the best route after all.

-Amanda Thompson

Generic Brands say BUBBYE to rBST in Milk by shemme

Dairy Cow

Photo by *~Laura~* on Flickr.com

Wal-Mart, the largest grocery retailer in the US, made a bold move last week when it announced that its Great Value brand milk will be sourced exclusively from hormone-free dairy cows. Other “budget” retailers like Kroger Co. and Safeway Inc. have changed their house brands to using exclusively hormone-free milk, too.

Why are budget groceries making the switch? Because customers have demanded it.

Not everyone can afford to purchase organic milk, often costing more than $3 for half a gallon as compared to around $1.70 for conventional milk. Store brands, or “generic” brands, offer the same kinds of products that national brands do, but at rock bottom prices. For consumers concerned about what’s in their milk, hormone free options from some of the most affordable brands in the US, like Great Value and Kroger, make a nice economic middle ground between conventional and certified organic.

Growth hormones, often referred to as rBST or RBGH, is marketed under the name Posilac by Monsanto, a giant agricultural company that also makes herbicides, insecticides, and genetically modified seeds. Some of you may remember that just this month Monsanto was lobbying in Kansas to keep milk producers from putting “hormone free” on their labels. We’re not the only ones. Monsanto has been waging big battles in other states as well (see this NY Times article).

Monsanto, are you listening? Consumers don’t want milk from cows treated with your product.

Monsanto may create front groups, lobby our government, and even try to control the media…

But we can all take comfort in knowing that in the end, it’s us – the consumers – who can stop a Goliath like Monsanto by simply voicing our concerns and putting our money where our mouth is. Thank you Wal-Mart, Kroger, Safeway and others out there who are listening!

Learn more about the issues surrounding Monsanto and rBGH at Sustainable Table.

~ Sarah H

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