Planting Seeds

Planting Seeds: Empowering our Children with Ways to Protect the Environment while Cultivating the Earth

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Putting it Together

Hey Bloggers. I thought I would give a quick update as to what has been taking place during the last week of the course. We are well underway working on our final paper. I am half-way done with my section on pedagogy and I am finding that I have much insight to share. It's fascinating how our pedagogy connects with the philosophies of teaching and environmentalism. The theme of my section is linking these two bodies of knowledge together. How does one educate on the environment and how does education influence environmentalism---its language, its ideals, and its focus?

Yesterday, during our last class session, each group presented a Power Point presentation to class (and a few guests) about the findings of their project. It was empowering to see all the work the groups have done throughout the semester. We have each channeled our passions to create very diverse and meaningful stewardship projects and we each have a powerful message to share with the world. The class ended in high spirits as we enjoyed refreshments from a local cafe---organized by none other than Diane. I can confidently say that we are going out of the semester extremely satisfied with all the work we have done. I feel that have reached a new spiritual plain with society and the environment.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

BLOG #2 (a bit out of order, but from march 7th nonetheless)

I really enjoyed this week’s reading by Edward Abbey of Abbey’s Road and Journey Home. Although I could not relate to many of his wild experiences and his bold demeanor, I still found both of his novels to be wonderful books. They actually inspired me to seek out possible ways that I could explore and camp outdoors over the summer with my sister (making sure to avoid any of his illegal activities). His somewhat dry humor serves to remind the reader that she is not only reading about the environment, but that she is being led on a personal journey of what Abbey experienced in the wild.

On a separate note, I am thrilled with how our project is evolving. All four of us have collaborated on the First Draft of the Written Report which was submitted today, which provided a great way for us to really tease out some of the issues we were previously having with the structure of the project’s action component. After having completed this, and being impressed with all that we each contributed, I am not nearly as worried as I had been about the next big part of our project, the final paper. We still have plenty of research to do and many resources that we can incorporate into the body of the upcoming paper, but it feels like we are on the right track, chugging along at a good pace. I look forward to continuing my work on the project over break and also getting ahead on the reading since I will be the discussion leader two classes from now. This has been a wonderful group experience, using everyone’s skills in a different way – whether that be editing, compiling, researching, or writing, we are all putting forth tremendous effort.

A Revised 1st BLOG

I am excited to be posting my first blog entry, as I’ve been hearing about this trend for quite some time, but yet to partake in it myself. Our environmental education project, is coming along with all of the effort that the Amanda, Suzanne, Justin, and I have been putting into it. We have met at least once every week since class started, typically on Monday nights, and we have really been examining the different possibilities that we all have in mind as far as the approach we will be taking. I think after speaking with both of the two possible teachers that we would be working with, we will feel much better about how to create the curriculum and what we should and should not include. I think we are all working really well together, dividing up the tasks we need to accomplish by our next progress report. We discussed the possibility of cutting back to three lessons instead of five, so that there would always be two of us leading the lesson, instead of needing to go into the classroom solo(which might have proven to be rather intimidating). Then on the final day, we would all go together after having met with the class one time each while going in pairs.
It seemed to me like the contact Amanda made with the student at Columbia was a really great meeting, and could be potentially very useful as the idea seemed to match well with the teachers plans. Our only concern here was that we might need to follow a different curriculum than we had intended to teach, but it would likely be similar regardless. However, we are still planning on speaking to Matt Gilbert, as another option which might provide us with more flexibility. Right now it seems that there are lots of different ideas and opinions about the direction we should take henceforth, but I think this will be sorted out by our next meeting on Monday. Hopefully Justin and Amanda will be able to get some more feedback after class tomorrow (Suzanne and I both are not available). I think once we have a more solid foundation with which to work, we will be able to progress more rapidly with the creation of our project. We are off to a really good start, and I look forward to seeing our progression with the project over the next few months.

Reaching Refuge

I was thrilled to be lucky enough to lead the class discussion with Justin on Regufe: An Unnatural History of Family and Place as it has been my favorite reading thus far. Not only was it a very personal experience for me as my Mom battled breast cancer in 1997, but I thought Terry Tempest Williams detailed the experience exceptionally well. There was a way in which I was able to understand and carry the idea of my Mom’s cancer that I had previously been unable or afraid to do. Fortunately, my mom has been in remission since she finished chemotherapy and radiation in 1998, so I did not experience the great pain of losing someone as Terry Tempest Williams had to. However, I felt such familiarity with her writing that evoked an eerie sense of the past in a way I never thought was possible.
I found Tempest Willliams’ style incredibly moving and inspiring despite the rather difficult subject matter. Her perseverance had a striking similarity to myself

‘Just let it go,’ mother would say. ‘You know how you feel, that’s what counts.’ For many years I have done just that – listened, observed, and quietly formed my own opinions, in a culture that rarely asks questions because it has all the answers. But one by one, I have watched the women in my family die common, heroic deaths…..The price of obedience has become too high.

Tempest Williams was a woman afraid to confront her past, but she has the ability to overcome that in her writing. As she states in the prologue, “I have been in retreat. This story is my return.” Although I was not the writer, as a reader and the fellow daughter of a mother striken with breast cancer, I too shared the same emotions. Fear and anger had shielded me from my true feelings for too many years; as Tempest Williams’ words gave me the inspiration I needed to confront my own ongoing retreat from reality.
No, I can not erase the fact that my mother had breast cancer. Nor can I ignore the concern I have for my sister and myself down the road. However I am beginning to understand that I do not have to keep those feelings inside. Despite the pain and association I felt my mother would have in reading Refuge, I highly recommended that she do so, as the impact it had was so profound.

The Differences We Can All Make if We Only Try...

I can’t believe that the semester is almost over. It seems like the time has flown by, but it is wonderful to look back and see all that has been accomplished since January. I feel that we have truly planted the seeds, which we are seeing blossom as spring emerges. The growth that the Planting Seeds project has taken truly amazes me and I am quite thrilled with all the hard work we have all contributed to make this possible.

I found the readings for last week, Nexus: Small Worlds and the Groundbreaking Theory or Networks by Mark Buchanan and Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcom Gladwell both to be very interesting. This can be partially attributed to the fact that as a psychology major, I had studied some of these theories and cases such as that of Kitty Genoveve, the young Queens woman who was brutally murdered while thirty-eight neighbors watched and did nothing. Gladwell explains how this could have possibly happened using a fairly simple, but rather unique explanation “When people are in a group, in other words, responsibility for acting is diffused.” Despite the shocking nature of this statement, it is entirely true – seen in countless examples of everyday life. Buchanan explains how such a tragedy can happen using Mark Granovetter’s idea of every human being needing a threshold, “where the perceived benefits to an individual of doing the thing in question exceed the perceived costs.” It is true that in the society we live in today, everyone is trying to get ahead and “do better” than those around them.

We live in an environment where competition to be the best has often cost individuals their titles, as greed and power redefine the scope of what many consider lawful. However this desire to be better has also created countless benefits to our society that we would not be able to experience if this desire to always be achieving more did not exist. Gladwell says in his conclusion, “In the end, Tipping Points are a reaffirmation of the potential for change and the power of intelligent action. Look at the world around you. It may seem like an immovable, implacable place. It is not. With the slightest push – in just the right place – it can be tipped” certainly a powerful message to leave with his reader. I found Gladwell’s comments to be extremely illuminating, causing me to question what I taken for granted or assumed throughout my course of study in psychology. Once I have completed my other assignments, I look forward to reading the other chapters in his book and gaining an ever greater insight into Gladwell’s theories and logic.

Monday, April 24, 2006

BLOG ABSTRACT by Melissa, Amanda, Suzanne, and Justin

Mission Statement

Saving the environment is about commitment. Commitment means everyone—adults and children of all ages and identities—coming together to plant the seeds for change.

We as environmental stewards, firmly believe that we can inspire young, school-aged children to be passionate about environmental issues and empower them to save the environment. We see agriculture as central to the lives of all individuals on this planet; it is the source of all of our food. We are committed to the education of young people about environmentally-safe farming methods and organic foods. We wish to introduce students to the ethical issues that surround agriculture. We recognize these ethical imperatives to include buying locally grown foods, supporting smaller farms, and advocating for much needed subsidies for farmers to use technology that is environmentally sustainable. We affirm that benefits of all of the aforementioned are far reaching, augmenting our health, knowledge, and realization of our moral responsibility for our planet and fellow human beings.

Our project is a small step in environmental awareness, but it is an important one. Because we are college students, we hope that the students in our classroom will be able to identify with us as young people who sit in classrooms just like theirs and have teachers, assignments, and homework just like they do. Hence, we feel that the scientific, ethical, and nutritional messages we bring to the classroom will be more palpable to the students than if they were being presented by older adults. Establishing an appropriate and positive relationship between the students and ourselves is key to the success of our project.

We feel it incumbent upon us to acknowledge that we are part of a larger picture. As ELEA stewards (Environmental Literature, Ethics and Action), we are working together with our colleagues to promote environmental awareness on campus and in the greater New York City area—an urban community that is, perhaps, too removed from the rural environment. Our project is a puzzle piece in a multifarious framework. Our readings and class discussions are integral to the formulation of our project; they complement and influence the way we as stewards think. Just as we will enter a classroom once a week to educate elementary school students, we to enter a seminar once a week to discuss these same issues with our peers and learn tremendously from our interactions. Additionally, we are aware that ELEA reflects the environmental and ethical concerns of our campus, and moreover, a young generation who feels the collective responsibility to save Planet Earth. We hope that our blog (www……) reaches like-minded individuals as a resource for their own environmental projects. Still, we also hope to change minds—to inspire the unconvinced or disinterested environmentalist to become a steward him- or herself.

We, the environmental stewards, feel empowered by working with other talented individuals to create a collage of greater environmental awareness. We have the power to plant seeds: to educate young minds and to change the world. It is with this confidence in mind that we present our environmental stewardship project…

Planting Seeds: Empowering Our Children with Ways to Safeguard the Environment While Cultivating the Earth

Action Plan

Apathy in the Face of Widespread Environmental Destruction: PROBLEM

We are disturbed by the widespread, accelerating, morbid destruction of the environment. Around the world, the ruination of natural habitats is causing the rate of species extinctions to increase rapidly. The World Wildlife fund states that every minute 25 to 40 acres of rainforest, containing priceless rare species, are cleared by loggers or burned to the ground to make way for livestock herds and expanding agriculture. Wetlands are filled in to make room for commercial developments. Overfishing threatens marine life; coal mines and oil rigs push terrestrial organisms from their original habitats. Pollution disturbs ecosystems everywhere. In addition to these problems and a host of other causes of habitat destruction, global warming drastically exacerbates the potential for species extinction; ultimately, even the vitality of the human race is in danger. As Hamdallah Zedan, executive secretary of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, has stated, “Halting the loss of species is a basic necessity of life.”
Due to the burgeoning environmental movement and the exposure of environmental issues in the media, most people have at least a basic awareness of these problems. And yet, by and large, few people seem to care. Perhaps the scientists’ predictions of the ultimate effects of global warming seem too apocalyptical to take seriously. Perhaps the fate of human extinction seems too far in the future to be concerning. Whatever the cause, certainly this is the most disturbing component of the accelerating destruction of the environment: the fact that so few people, despite their awareness, have been moved to action.

Education can solve this: PASSION

We firmly believe that it is not enough for people to merely hear about global warming on the news or to read about deforestation occasionally in the paper. We believe that the ethics of environmentalism must become an integral component of every person’s education, from the time they are young and on into adulthood. Currently, the set curriculum in schools does not adequately treat environmental issues. We feel that the skills that students learn in school—critical reading, writing, math, and science—must be harnessed in order for them to save the environment. They must see for themselves the importance of living an environmentally sustainable life. Our project seeks to give students the tools to make a difference by sharpening their skills and making them deeply informed young adults.
Furthermore, we believe that education is the primary means of changing society. Society must change if the human race is to survive—and we must ignite the spark. We must focus on the children of today because they are the adults of tomorrow. We must teach them to make smart, ethical decisions. We are passionate about the environment; we are passionate about environmental education. We must be examples for society, inspiring others to disseminate the message of environmentalism as well. Education makes environmentalism accessible and socio-environmental change a collective and realizable goal.

Environmental Education is a Journey: PERSPECTIVE

We see our project as part of the journey of environmental education. There have been efforts in recent years to educate society—particularly children—about the environment. Government officials and policy makers, such as the New York Department of Education, have begun to respond to the growing demand for environmental education in public schools, especially in urban areas where an experiential focus is difficult.
On a national level, the National Environmental Education Act, passed in 1990, requires the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase environmental literacy among young America. The act acknowledges that prior to 1990, efforts and energies toward educating our youth about our precarious environmental future were insufficient ( The program calls for training professionals and educators in environmental studies. The EPA is expected to work with local educational institutions to implement programs related to the environment. Their website provides many useful resources for children and teachers, including an environmental club for kids. They offer classroom visits and teacher workshops. However, it is uncertain how many teachers are taking advantage of these resources. With so many expectations placed upon them in the classroom, teachers need accessible resources that can be integrated into their curriculum.
A model for integrated, experiential learning is the Everett Children’s Adventure Garden in the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Opened in spring 1998, the Adventure Garden provides a place for schoolchildren to experience nature firsthand—close to home. A visit to the Garden can be an enjoyable field trip for an elementary (or even secondary) school class in New York City. Teachers can provide students the opportunity to explore concepts covered in the classroom in a hands-on environment. If teachers can integrate field trips like these into the set curriculum, environmentalism in the classroom will be a much more realistic goal for educators and exponentially more palpable for students.
But despite these resources, the truth is the quantity and quality of programs available to teachers is very limited. We need programs that are going to inspire young people to value our planet and devote themselves to working not to destroy it. We believe that those programs with a hands-on, experiential approach and those that deal with issues which seem real and important to children have been the most successful. Thus, by learning from programs such as the Adventure Garden, we hope to devise a curriculum that will truly resonate with children. Our lessons will be interactive because experiential learning is crucial to making the abstract concepts of environmentalism and environmental ethics tangible to young minds. As educators, we will be sensitive to the levels and needs of our students. We hope that students leave the program with the perspective that they are a part of the natural world, and that environmental education is a life-long, gratifying journey towards a more sustainable future.

The Empowerment of Consumer Choice: PLAN

By focusing on a particular issue in environmental ethics, agriculture, we hope to set such complex and seemingly esoteric ideas as global warming and groundwater pollution into a context as real and appealing as, well, food. We plan to discuss the various ways that farming is conducted by conventional farms, organic farms, and small-scale farms supporting local vendors. By analyzing the reasons why such farms are run differently, and the environmental consequences of these different ways of farming, students will be given the opportunity to realize that, even while doing something as simple as grocery shopping, they are making decisions that affect the health of the environment. Thus, we will use the issue of agriculture as a metaphor, or, at least, an introduction to the idea that even our most seemingly banal and common choices may impact the environment profoundly. Hopefully, our focus on agriculture will serve to give the students a more physical, and thus convincing, conception of the major environmental problems, such as global warming, and will grant the children a sense that they, themselves, have the power to affect positive environmental change.

Local and Organic Foods Sustain the Environment: POINT OF VIEW

We endorse local foods and organic produce because they are generally grown with less pesticides and chemical fertilizers than conventionally grown produce and with sustainable methods, such as crop rotation, that work to restore the vitality of the soil rather than deplete it.
Buying local and organic food supports sustainable agriculture. Organic farmers, by definition, do not use pesticides on their crops, and therefore do not contaminate their surroundings with polluted runoff as many conventional farms do. In addition, most local farmers, either out of personal conviction or a realization of the interests of their consumer market, grow organic crops or use pesticides sparingly and practice methods of sustainable agriculture, such as crop rotation, to limit the environmental impact of farming.
Conversely, supporting sustainable agriculture combats the destructive practices of immense agribusiness farms. Small to mid-scale farmers face increasing pressure from agribusiness corporations to sell their land. Every year, the number of small-scale farms in the United States drops substantially, and the landmass of large-scale factory farms owned by large corporations increases. Agribusiness factory farms, due to their incredibly large size and their focus on maximizing profit at all costs, tend to be significant sources of air and water pollution and detrimental to the health of the surrounding community. Buying local means supporting the livelihood of local farmers who have made a commitment to their products and to the health of their land and their neighbors. It is also a means of boycotting those farmers who do not practice sustainable techniques.
In addition, purchasing local food reduces the distance that food must travel from the farm to your plate; less gasoline is used and global warming is deterred. Non-locally grown food travels on average 1,300 miles before it reaches its destination; the average for local food is 100 miles. This difference of 1,200 miles for every shipment of food reveals the potential to dramatically curb carbon dioxide emissions from fuel use by buying locally grown food. Decreasing carbon dioxide emissions is desperately necessary in order to prevent global warming.

Engaged Instruction: PRODUCT

We will conduct a class on Monday, April 3rd and on Friday, April 8th; after the class on April 8th, we will take a field-trip to the Park Slope Co-op. Monday’s class will focus on locally-grown foods. We will ask students to draw a picture on transparency of what they think of when they consider a farm. We will then project these images and give each student a few minutes to describe their drawing. We will then project images of conventional farms, illuminating the use of pesticides, the crowdedness of factory farms, the appearance of monocultures, and other realities of conventional farms. Following, we will discuss the history of the green revolution and the reasons for the environmentally destructive practices of conventional farming. We will then present small-scale farms as an alternative to conventional farms, describing what different methods they employ and why these methods are better for the environment. We will discuss how local foods are shipped lesser distances than conventional foods, and use this as a segue to an analysis of global warming. Finally, we will show images of small farms, while discussing where local produce can be purchased in New York City and how to tell if foods are locally grown.
Friday’s class will begin with a skit demonstrating what “organic” means and why it is a healthy choice. The history of pesticide use will be discussed, and Rachel Carson’s impact will be mentioned. Students will complete a worksheet in which foods are described and the students must determine whether the foods are organic or not. In addition, students will be given a blind taste test to determine if there is a taste difference between conventional and organic produce.
The trip to the Park Slope Co-op will give us and the students time to get to know each other and perhaps, even, to talk to each other about local, organic, and conventional foods in a more relaxed setting. Once at the Co-op, students will complete a scavenger hunt that will allow them to exercise their newfound knowledge by finding certain local and organic items within the Co-op.


We are very excited about the prospects of our project. We are humbled to know that it is but a small step along the journey of environmental education, but are invigorated to be part of the process. As English critic John Ruskin said, “Education does not mean teaching people to know what they do not know; it means teaching them to behave as they do not behave.” If we can inspire young individuals to action, their service to the environment—their commitment to maintaining the earth and making it better for future generations—could last a lifetime, or beyond.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


I think the issues that both of the readings for this week (Nexus and The Tipping Point) stress important points about individuals' roles in the world. I appreciated that the authors were not solely acknowledging the "important" people, the connectors as Gladwell says, but also every little step in between. Every little step matters, and each of our actions matter-- they are just leading up to a tipping point, maybe... It is hard not to be pessimistic, since so many books are published and fail to even sell 100 copies let alone a million (I'm thinking of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood example) and so many clothing companies come out without being successful, and so many organizations and groups are established with certain goals that seem to never bee accomplished. It seems that the law of the few also applies to the scarcity of success. There is a minute chance that I will be President. There is a minute chance that I will star in a major motion picture. And I feel the same about the probability of these two possibilities as I do about the possibility that we can save the planet. There may be small chance, but as we read in "Don't Think of an Elephant", the frameworks being used are failing. The more we move into the future, the less likely it seems that we can change it. But I've found it helpful, reading the books for this week, to focus on the small stuff. I think your interactions and conversations and actions in your daily life are the most important. They may affect one person, two people, or no people. But that is what defines us. And we cannot all expect to shift paradigms every day. But I do have hope for the future, at least mine and those around me. If we all try to live our best and make changes for the best, that's all we can really do.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Communication is key

Hi Bloggers. I want to apologize for the hiatus in my postings. My responsibilities have been catching up with me--with everything from planning and exeduting our project, restructuring our final paper, and gearing up for our Power Point presentation.

I confidently say that the biggest lesson our group has learned in the past week is the importance of effective communication. While we have maintained our focus throughout the project, it was not until we handed in a draft of our paper to our professor, Diane, that we learned that we needed to expand our paper. We had submitted an incomplete draft of the paper (we still had sections to finish) that amounted to 30 pages. Diane, however, was expecting a paper that was around 60 pages. We were quite surprised; we had always been on top of our deadlines, our requirements, and committments. Naturally, we were overwhelmed---how were we going to regain focus and essentially double the content of our paper? When Diane and I spoke on the phone, she assured me that everything would be alright and that she would be there to encourage and support us in the process. She was very understanding and quick to offer us suggestions, yet I was still alarmed by the task that lay ahead.

Incidentally, I was home on Long Island for the Jewish holiday of Passover when Diane informed me of our predicament. This was even the more frustrating because my fellow environmental stewards and I could not reconvene that night to discuss the issue. It was not until tonight that we were able to regroup and rework our paper. Our meeting ended just 10 minutes ago, and I think that we have established a firmer structure for our paper that will allow us to expand, while having our individual voices be heard in the paper. We forsee seven major sections to our paper:

-Environmental Issues
-Pedagogy and the Educational Process
-Context: Multi-dimensional Environments
-Content: The Realization of Environmentalism
-Lesson Plans
-Projections for the Future
-Reflections on the Project

The last three sections will be collaborative; they involve our action and experience as a group. As per the first four sections, we have each decided to take one. Each of us has chosen the area that speaks the most to us---OUR PASSION. Amanda is discussing Environmental Issues, Melissa is describing the context of our project, and Suzanne is tackling content. I have chosen to give an overview of our educational methodology in the classroom and how this relates to pedagogical theory in general. We feel that with this new structure in place we can submit a strong paper that reflects the ideals and knowledge that have produced--and have been produced--by our project.

Having seen the importance of effective communication, we plan to meet with Diane within the next day to have this new plan approved. We are very excited as we enter this last phase of our Environmental Stewardship Project. The seeds have been planted; the flowers need only bloom.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The Death of My Environmentalism

In their article, “The Death of Environmentalism”, Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus argue that environmentalists are dooming themselves to failure by persisting in the ideologies and tactics of their historical precedents, the original environmentalists of the 1960’s and 70’s. As Shellenberger and Nordhaus discuss, these original earth-oriented activists were the one’s responsible for the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts and the Endangered Species Act, as well as many other important works of environmental legislation. These laws empowered the government to create a healthier American environment, for humans as well as wild things; thus, the first environmentalists were monumentally successful, to a degree that may seem astounding to environmental activists of the 21st century, who have become accustomed to persistent failure and only pyrrhic victories. Partly responsible for these early environmentalists’ success was an ideology that framed them as defenders of a distinct entity, the environment, and a governmental, legislation-focused strategy that usually followed the following pattern, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus describe:

“First, define a problem (e.g. global warming) as “environmental.” Second, craft a technical remedy (e.g., cap-and-trade). Third, sell the technical proposal to legislators through a variety of tactics, such as lobbying, third-party allies, research reports, advertising, and public relations.”

Unfortunately, the authors declare, such tactics are no longer viable in the modern political climate or effective against the horrific, global-scale issues the human race now faces, such as Global Warming. Shellenberger and Nordhaus cite a saddeningly long laundry list of important works of legislation that environmentalists have foundered, flimsied, and ultimately doomed to failure with their archaic stratagems. This list includes the U.S. refusal of the Kyoto Protocol, which devastated attempts to curb global carbon emissions, as well as the arguably fatal concession environmentalists made in 1991, when they abandoned the promising CAFE legislation (Corporate Average Fuel Economy.) If passed, this law might have dampened the environmentally catastrophic rise of the SUV culture in the United States. But environmentalists exchanged the auto industry’s support for the law—which would have allowed it to pass—for a promise that the industry would oppose governmental plans to drill in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. As Americans have recently witnessed, even with the support of the auto industry, the Refuge is far from safe from the threat of drilling; thus, what environmentalists had considered to be a sly tactical maneuver ultimately allowed fossil fuel consumption in the US to skyrocket for a concession from the auto industry that was, ultimately, unhelpful and unnecessary.
The solution to this depressing recent history of failure, the authors claim, is the death of Environmentalism as we know it. The answer is for environmentalists to stop focusing so exclusively on their narrow conception of environment, and what are and are not so-called “environmental issues”, and to embrace a new mode of operation in which issues such as global warming are realized to be, essentially, human problems, and in which traditionally disparate groups such as “labor unions, civil rights groups, and businesses [are treated] not simply as a means to an end but as true allies whose interests in economic development can be aligned with strong action on global warming.”

I read this article a full three weeks ago, and yet still its message is incessantly on my mind, sitting on my shoulder when I’m in meetings with administrators like a little cartoon angel (or, perhaps, a devil?) and while I’m talking with members of my school club, BarnardEarth. Without a doubt, I consider myself an environmentalist; but since reading this article, my self-definition has been a source of discomfort and the subject of wary introspective analysis. Specifically, I’ve had a recent conflict with the head of our school’s Facilities department in which my attitude as an environmentalist, I fear, has been more of an impediment than a boon.
Two weeks ago I met with this man to discuss his department’s recent plans for creating a more energy efficient campus. The plans, he explained to me, are just in the beginning phase. Essentially, before any changes can be made on the ground, Facilities must first submit a proposal to NYSERDA (the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) in order to gain funding for a primary study which will discover which particular developments, out of a lengthy list of potential changes, will be the most cost-effective. After this determination, Facilities may begin installing monitoring systems and working over the out-dated, energy-wasting pipes, valves, and lighting systems that now serve to keep our college warm and bright, but at the cost of the environment. The process, he explained, will take years.
Hearing the good news, that Facilities was independently and spontaneously looking into installing more energy-efficient equipment, I was elated. My first thought was that the student body should be aware of Facilities’ plans; I assumed that many other students would be as eager and happy to learn about Facilities’ submission of a proposal to NYSERDA as I was. However, as soon as I mentioned a possible newspaper article, the head of Facilities became very distressed. Evidently, he was worried about word getting out to students and faculty because he thought it might build up their expectations; when, in fact, no definite plans have been made. As he said, alarmed, We might not even make any changes at all. Nothing is decided yet!
I left his office confused and disturbed. His seemingly excessive confidentiality made me suspicious. Rebelling against what seemed, in the moment, like censorship, I immediately began speculating on how having an article written in the paper would, at least, keep them somewhat obligated to eventually making positive change. When I received an email from Facilities the next day, reminding me that the documents I had been given (I had received a list of the potential changes that Facilities had compiled with the help of a Con-Edison engineer) ought not to be distributed for publication, I responded with a verbose repartee, ultimately declaring that I had already contacted a reporter for our college’s newspaper, the Spectator, and that he could choose whether or not he wished to speak to her.
Looking back on this incident with Shellenberger and Nordhaus in mind, I feel ashamed and regretful. Even beyond the fact that I may have damaged my club’s relationship with a man and a department that are perhaps some of the most environmentally significant on campus, I am sad that I was so rude to a man who I really like, very much. I am charmed by him; he listens to classical Spanish guitar music incessantly, he has innumerable pictures of his daughter strewn across his desk, he is a good listener, and he is definitely smart. I do think he overreacted. But if I had been more compassionate, if I had seen him as a true ally rather than a means to an end, as Shellenberger and Nordhaus urge, I might have been more understanding of his need for privacy. Thinking about it now, it does make sense that the head of Facilities was alarmed at the idea of a newspaper article; often messages get skewed when they are translated by the media, and such an article may well have given students and faculty the idea that the process was further along than it actually is, or that Facilities is definitely planning on making specific changes. I do not doubt that Facilities will ultimately put into place more energy-efficient lighting and heating systems and appliances, simply because this is in their best interest; it will save them a significant amount of money to do so. And this is the reason why it makes so much sense, from a practical standpoint, to consider them as true partners: because, at least in this case, what is good for them is also good for the environment, and thus their success is our success. Personally and practically, I have learned Shallenberger and Nordhaus’s lesson the hard way.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Teaching at St. Thomas Choir School on April 3rd, 2006

I was so excited and also nervous to go the choir school yesterday on the 3rd to step forth into the action component of our project. Once Amanda and I arrived, at St. Thomas Choir School ( I was able to calm down somewhat after we set up and organized our materials. However, we both felt that it would have been beneficial if we could have observed Dr. Gilbert’s class prior to our actual lesson in order to have connected with the students more. Perhaps doing so would have also enabled us to better assess their attention span, interests, and behavior among other things. I think that showing the boys “The Meatrix” video ( was a great idea, which they really enjoyed. Many of them had seen the Matrix, so they were able to understand the spoof while also learning about farming practices and agriculture. After some communication through Diane and Amanda, we realized that there were parts of the video that we did not explain to the kids which may have come off as too violet (such as the de-beaking of chickens). It would have been great if we had more time to debrief about it afterwards, but it felt like the forty-five minutes flew by before we knew it. I think the homework assignment that we gave them to find sources nearby or near their parents’ homes since they are at boarding school was a great way to spread the message about local farms to the larger community. It seems like the school already tries to utilize some local foods at an organic store in the area, but it would even better if we could spread the word to all eight families to consider buying locally as well. Hopefully from our lesson, the boys will be able to explain to their parents not only why this is a good idea, but also the problems associated with factory farms that we discussed with them in class too. Overall I think the day was a huge success and I am eager to see the continued work that the boys will do.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A wonderful week with the boys

I can't express how awful I feel for not having kept up with the blogging. After reading all of my team members posts, I am extremely excited to share my feelings as well. It seems that we have come so far with our project and I am thrilled with the success that we have achieved teaching Dr. Gilbert's students. I was really upset to hear that the trip to the park slope food co-op had to be made earlier in the day on Friday, which caused me to be unable to attend as i had another field trip to go on in midtown with another seminar class that was taking place at the same time. Fortunately, my sister is a member of the co-op, so i will be able to travel there with her sometime later in the week in order to experience the market myself, as I feel this is a vital component of our project. Additionally I would love to see all the organic products that they have there since I have celiac disease and am required to keep a gluten-free diet (no wheat, rye, barely, malt) and it can be hard to find food products that I can eat. After meeting with Amanda, Justin, and Suzanne tonight for our regular Monday evening gathering, I was incredibly pleased with how successful the second and third lessons went. I think the scavenger hunt was a great way to turn an educational experience into something fun and interactive for all the boys. I am really looking forward to completing our final draft which has more than doubled in length! We have all added a lot to the paper which I think is coming along very well. I am excited to create our power point presentation for the class in the following two weeks, as I think it will be a great culmination to the project and class.

Success, and cynicism

I can't express how pleased I am with how our project has come together. We survived the scheduling problems and time restraints, the search for the perfect classroom- teacher- and school, the logistics of a realistic curriculum. My experience is, I think, similar to those of my partners, in that I was so surprised and impressed by the boys interest in our topics as well as the knowledge they already had. They were smart and articulate, but sometimes rambunctious. Dr. Gilberg, Diane, Amanda and I travelled a little less than an hour to the Park Slope Food Coop where we sent the kids on a scavenger hunt for organic yogurt, natural toilet paper, tofu, etc. They were enthusiastic and happy throughout the day. Now is the time where we look back to see what we could have done better, and what we did well. We are now in the process of working on our final paper to assess these things, as well as others. We are taking the project beyond the present by sending letters home to the boys parents about our project along with a list the boys will write of things they can to to support local and organic agriculture at home.

Regarding the reading, Don't Think of an Elephant, I was immediately turned off by the idea of a book that seemed to me to be completely about rhetoric. Putting out ideas of how can we bloviate in a way that will catch certain people's attention or bring attention to certain issues? That was my inital impression of the book's intentions. But I came to see that it truly is important how "we" or how progressives frame issues and promote or concentrate on certain values. It still annoys me when Lakoff writes so adamantly of "us" and "them" because I feel he ignores the majority of gray area voters and citizens. It is not so black and white, but I can see the use in his framework of getting to the morals of the environmental movement and providing more accessible issues to the public. I started reading the chapter on "the terminator" and right away thought, he better mention Enron. He did soon after I thought this, and I am glad that the connection was exposed. (If you haven't already, see the Enron documentary, The Smartest Guys in the Room- its maddening and frustrating to see the evil and greed of some of the nations richest men and women.) I think it is really important to reach out to the public in a way that people can see that all of these issues are related, but even after reading Lakoff's guide, it seems like a long difficult struggle to promote issues that will not make you rich, get you a faster car, or a bigger house. It seems difficult to think that we can just promote wind power and all of our country's top executives will be okay with not profiting off of oil anymore. I don't know, I see our government as too deep in institutionalized corruption to change the energy policies, and our culture as to materialistic to waste less, want less, spend less. I just don't know how to penetrate this complex matrix; the politics, the money, the weapons, the oil. Am I just being cynical?

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

a renaissance of environmentalism?

So Amanda and Melissa have completed their session at St. Thomas with much success. Justin and I are hoping to have a similar experience, and we are all looking forward to the field trip to the Park Slope Co-op on Friday.

Regarding the readings, I found "The Death of Environmentalism" to be a very pragmatic way of looking into the future of environmentalism. I agree that what is necessary is the building of bridges and alliances between more narrowly defined issues. We need a more holistic approach to change the way things are.
I did not get to see the premiere of "The Great Warming", the movie about global warming, but I am quite sure that this is the kind of direction that the movement ought to go in. We need to be more accessible and have a more integrated approach to looking at the state of our planet. It doesn't only include saving the rainforests because there are pretty flowers and cute monkeys there. It doesn't only mean keeping pollution our of our rivers because it stinks. It doesn't only mean preserving endangered species. Maybe we should call it humanism, to reach a broader audience. We are really trying to save the human race. Without rainforests, we would no longer be able to breathe. Without clean water, we would no longer drink. Without biodiversity, our species would not survive. And the biggest problems of the world, if we look at them closely, are products of industrialization, overpopulation, and other forms of destruction of our natural world. If we can learn to have more respect for nature, by seeing ourselves as a part of it, then we have a chance to reinvent environmentalism. But I don't necessarily agree that we need to do so within policy. We have already seen the failures, which the authors repeatedly say are really victories since they were put out there at all. But politics does involve and revolve around money. We can not take the money out of politics, as the authors suggest. We must find new channels to reach people and make changes in our own lives, as the famous Gandhi quote says, we must be the change. Though politics is a very contolling influence in our lives, it is not the only influence. That's why I think the global warming movie is a good idea. Trying to reach people through other means, with new motives and new methods. I think that the meat of Shellenberger and Nordhaus' article had good intentions, but it is only a beginning, and though it was more than 30 pages, there is much more to be said and learned about how to have a sort of renaissance of environmentalism. I hope to continue to live my life with respect for the earth and those around me and I hope that others will continue to realize our integral role not as keepers of nature but as components, as pieces of the puzzle, of the entire system of life.

This page has been created and published by a Columbia University student, faculty or staff member as part of course or other requirements. The ideas and information expressed in this publication have not been approved or authorized by Columbia University, and the University shall not be liable for any damages whatsoever resulting from any action arising in connection with its publication. Columbia University is not responsible for the contents of any off-site information referenced herein.