J500 Media and the Environment

I took this class because Simran was on Oprah by Chardonnay
April 29, 2008, 9:24 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , , , ,

I first met Simran at a poetry reading. She was wearing a wig and a smile and mentioned her course on the environment. When she walked away, something happened that I’m sure is far more common than Simran would guess. My girlfriend leaned over to me and said quietly, “She’s been on Oprah.”

At the time, I was fighting to get into an honors course on climate change, but a schedule conflict was holding me back. The “J500” listing was only slightly less intimidating than working with Oprah, once removed, was intriguing. I dropped my Strategic Communication class and enrolled in one of the last spots of J500.

Ironic now, looking back to the class I swapped. In my head, looking at what I learned in this class is like a web of ideas, all interlinked, meta tagged and growing among leafy green vines. When I try to untangle all that and find a single root, I see that my takeaway has a great deal to do with strategic communication.

Each week, I squeezed in to take a seat at the table with some amazing Thinkers. My exposure to you all and your questions and ideas has inspired introspection. Early on, I saw that I’m a lousy critical thinker. What an upsetting discovery! Although our group tendency to question everything could be exhausting at times—

Define Sustainability
Communities living with the future in mind
What do you mean by communities?
And what do we mean by living?
Can we define our “future”
Saying “in mind” isn’t action-oriented enough
Why did you utilize “the” in that definition?
What was the question?
Why do you ask??

— I definitely learned how useful it is. I know I believe that we’re all in this together. What I didn’t let that entail is that we can all be learning as we go. Even the author of a cool article in Rolling Stone (Thanks, Travis). Even Oprah. Even the IPCC. Adam Werbach. NBC. Maybe not Adam Bowman. The strategic communication I learned here was about consuming information. Thinking past what I formerly considered to be the endpoint, a claim from a reliable source.

I’m hating how hyperbolic this is coming off, but I’ll risk it to take the opportunity to let you all (my classmates, Simran) know that I gained something from you that I value very much.

The satisfaction I gained from my weekly “a-ha” moments, the wonderful people I had the pleasure of interacting with, and learning a great deal about environmental issues far far far outweighs my disappointment that Oprah was never a digital visitor.

With love,
Sonya English
We'll always have our shortcomings


Reflections on a Smokestack: Musings on Life in J500 by vincemeserko
April 29, 2008, 4:12 pm
Filed under: Society + Media | Tags: , , , , ,

I was originally going to call my final post “The Death of J500 and the Rise of Burnt Orange” or something like that. I was going to perform an autopsy on the class, declare myself the leader of a new “orange movement,” unfurl a new banner with the official symbol for the movement (an eagle which would symbolize freedom) and then I’d tell you all to shop at the Big K. Instead I went with the “confessional memoir” title … so I’ll go ahead and confess. I very nearly dropped this class before it ever started. I remember sitting at home in early January and scrolling through the 347 page syllabus and thinking “hmm … perhaps I should end my collegiate career taking “introduction to dinosaurs” or “history of the Samurai” instead. I’m very very glad I hung in there. This class has been unlike anything else I’ve taken at KU. I think I’ve written that line in every “course reflection” paper I’ve ever had to do (“introduction to finite mathematics really changed my life!”) and I’m pretty sure I never actually meant it. This class had no textbooks, no formal lectures, no Powerpoint. We didn’t even use paper. We sat around a table and discussed, listened, analyzed, criticized, interrogated capitalism and learned about the intricacies of sex toys. We were lead by an instructor who didn’t claim to have all the answers and acknowledged early on that there was no truth. What the hell is this? Communism?

It was actually quite refreshing. I learn a lot better this way – when everything is up for grabs, and everything said or written is a little bit wrong in some way. That’s quite an intellectual challenge, but it was a lot more fun. As the course progressed, I found my own interests overlapping with topics from class in unexpected ways. The class blog was a great venue to illuminate those realizations. As someone who is neither outgoing nor very skilled at conversation, the blog gave me a chance to go bananas and rub shoulders with people I admire.

While Adam Werbach is an easy target for criticism, he absolutely has the right idea about how we can move forward. Environmentalism is dead – bury it with all the other -isms I say. There is no such thing as “environmental” things, only “human being” things. That’s probably the most important thing I’ll take away from this class.

Thanks to everyone. I had a great time! (begins openly weeping on keyboard).

I’ll leave you with a full YouTube version of MOFRO’s “Lochloosa” that was used in my project 2 assignment. Seems like a fitting way to close. Go see them when they come to Kansas City in July.

-Vince Meserko

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

All thanks to queen green and her eco-knights of the round table by travisjbrown

Thanks Simran. Thanks class.

Now I live my life in fear.

I’m afraid that I will melt; that polar bears will turn cannibalistic then start feasting on human flesh; that chemistry will replace farming; that Wal-Mart will become the leader of all that is “green” and take over the world in the name of environmentalism; that the polar ice caps will melt and the only beings that will survive will be Kevin Costner-esque mermen; that America will never get it; that the Texas-sized island of discarded plastic will crash into California, killing everyone in its path; hat my children will never eat a real strawberry; that my children will never grow old; that I will never grow old because I will melt. That we are on the brink of an environmental apocalypse

Pat Marvenko Smith, The Four Horsemen

Thanks a lot guys.

I didn’t even have the option of taking a green pill of a black pill.

Okay so maybe I signed up for the class.

But how was I supposed to know it would actually make me care. Now, when my mind idles, I think of carbon footprints, how wasteful everything is and if i should start training myself to breath underwater.

There is one thing, however, that I’m not afraid of. I’m not afraid that I won’t be heard. I’ve spent the last four years constructing a giant megaphone that I can use to scream to the world.

And, by golly, people will listen.

I can’t promise that I will forever and always preach the gospel of green. But I will do my damnedest to save the world.



Travis Brown

Going green is people! by jseverin


When I wrote my first piece for this site, I had little experience with blogs and had certainly never written a blog post. I had a definite aversion to journalists due to way too many misquotes and misrepresentations in the local papers. And although I have worked in the environmental field for over 7 years, I wasn’t sure just how to reach people that weren’t already part of the choir.

Three months later I am starting to get the hang of things. I’m no pro, but I think I’m starting to find my voice in the blogosphere and discovering the tremendous impact this sort of dialog can have. In the process of reading, watching, listening to, and discussing environmental media, I have learned to appreciate journalists for the difficult task they have to present a balanced and unbiased picture of what’s going on in the world and the huge responsibility that comes with that. Most importantly, I have learned that there is no magic message that is going to help put an end to our environmental woes.

I suppose I knew that all along, and it always bothered me. But the conversation we have engaged in over the past several weeks amongst ourselves and with others from around the globe has put that once disappointing realization into a positive light.

Something Adam Werbach mentioned during our discussion with him on April 24 really resonated with me. He pointed out that in an effort to solve our planetary problems, environmentalists have ignored the challenges that people face in their own lives by focusing on a “new exotic challenge of saving the world”. (My apologies if I misquoted you, Adam.) In other words, it isn’t just about this one overarching problem, but all the individual pieces of that problem. We all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable future, and that means something different to everyone. The goal is to find what that something is.

As the authors of this blog went around the room trying to define “sustainability” this week, it was evident that environmentalism isn’t about polar bears, rain forests, CFLs, wind turbines, organic food, chemical-free products, or all the green “stuff” that is starting to show up on magazine pages and The Oprah Winfrey Show (sorry, Simran).

It’s people. It is people forming relationships with each other, with the environment, with local farmers, and with the processes that bring all that “stuff” into their homes. It is people understanding and re-establishing the forgotten relationships, which probably got us into this mess in the first place. It is people – whether part of the choir or not -communicating with each other to help create the best planet we possibly can. Whether we call it Green, Blue, environmentalism, or sustainability, it is still about people.

It has been an honor writing with and learning from all the people involved in this conversation, and I look forward to continuing the dialog. Afterall, we still have to go about the dirty work of saving the world.

– Jeff Severin

About Me: Simran Sethi by j500

The official bio is below, but the reason I’m here on this blog is because I created it. I teach environmental and sustainability communications courses at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications. I’m the School’s Lacy C. Haynes Professional-in-Residence, which means I teach, conduct research for my book, and work in the field. I’m also a courtesy faculty with the Environmental Studies department. I’m a freelance journalist the creator of Sundance Channel’s environmental justice series The Good Fight, and the author of an upcoming book on eco-elitism and the power of the prairie. All of these opportunities are amazing, but one of my greatest joys is bringing these experiences back into the classroom at KU.

I never expected to be an environmental story-teller: I have never taken a journalism class and failed the one class I did take on The Earth. I failed it because it focused on the shifting of tectonic plates and bored me to tears. To this day, I only care about tectonic shifts relative to how they impact communities. I saw the impacts of multi-national corporations on poor communities in India (after a long tenure at MTV News, making documentaries in the US, then being asked to join on-air and anchor the news for MTV Asia and create the news department for MTV India) and I knew I wanted to tell those stories. But I didn’t have the language to do it. So I went back to school to get an MBA in sustainable management, looking at the social and environmental impacts of business, and learning how to tell the stories I have the privilege of telling today.

This course is designed to give students the language and literacy required to tell stories about our environment – from how we eat to what we wear, from how we work to how we live. We don’t exist outside of our eco-system, and we all care about our future. In my mind, that makes each of us environmentalists, every day (whether we’re vegan or omnivores, treehugging conservatives or liberal businessfolks, we aren’t just one thing.).

What I hope is that, in this course, we start to see the ways in which we share values and desired outcomes, and we develop the language for bridging divides, inspiring people to action, and ensuring the sustainability of our natural resources for all.

The Official Bio:

Simran Sethi is an Emmy award-winning journalist and the Lacy C. Haynes Visiting Professional Chair at the University of Kansas School of Journalism and Mass Communications, where she teaches courses on sustainability and environmental communications. She is currently writing a book on eco-elitism to be published by Harper Collins in March 2010 and is the contributing author of Ethical Markets: Growing the Green Economy, winner of the bronze 2008 Axiom Award for Best Business Ethics book. Simran is the founding host/writer of Sundance Channel’s environmental programming The Green and the creator of the Sundance web series The Good Fight, highlighting global environmental justice efforts and grassroots activism.

Named one of the top ten eco-heroes of the planet by the UK’s Independent and lauded as the “environmental messenger” by Vanity Fair, Simran has contributed segments to Nightly News with Brian Williams, Oprah Winfrey Show, Today Show, CNBC, Ellen DeGeneres Show, Martha Stewart Show and the History Channel.  She is committed to a redefinition of environmentalism that includes voices from the prairie, the inner city and the global community.  Simran serves on the Sustainability Advisory Board in Lawrence, Kansas and is the Chair of the City’s working group on climate change policy, education and outreach.

Simran currently blogs about energy policy and life cycle analysis for The Huffington Post and Alternet.  She has been a featured guest on NPR and is the host of the Emmy-award winning PBS documentary, “A School in the Woods.”  She has lectured at institutions ranging from the Commonwealth Club and Cornell University to Lawrence High School and Temple Beth Haverim; keynoted conferences including Bioneers by the Bay, the Green Business Conference, and the North American Association For Environmental Education; and moderated panels for the Clinton Global Initiative University, Demos and the Climate Group.

Simran is an associate fellow at the Asia Society.  She holds an M.B.A. in sustainable business from the Presidio School of Management and graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Sociology and Women’s Studies from Smith College.  She is the 2009 recipient of the Smith College Medal, awarded to alumnae demonstrating extraordinary professional achievements and outstanding service to their communities.

-Simran Sethi