Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Essence of climate change. Short videos.

Bill McKibben and have some good videos up on spreading the word on combating climate change. Here they are.

Watch the second video here and learn about October 24th International Day of Climate Action. What do you say to organizing something here?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Food, Inc.

This needs no introduction, but I must say after seeing King Corn I am very excited to see another production about food. I hope it gets media attention and helps shift Americans' awareness of industrial agriculture.


Monday, June 15, 2009

The Importance of Teaching Place

The summer 2009 issue of Rethinking Schools (Vol. 23, No. 4) is dedicated to ecological teaching. Indeed, it is titled, "Teaching for Environmental Justice." In this issue, Ann Pelo, an early childhood teacher and author from Seattle, WA, has an excellent article dealing with teaching children "place" as a fundamental component of ecological education. The pithiness and clarity of her article is well worth the read.

In short, Pelo argues that "our work as teachers is to give children a sense of place--to invite children to braid their identities together with the place where they live by calling their attention to the air, the sky, the cracks in the sidewalk where the earth bursts out of its cement" (p 31, all references are to the above mentioned issue of Rethinking Schools). Pelo goes on to outline the components necessary for teaching students this sense of place, which include attentiveness to one's surroundings, sensual experience of place, and learning how to talk about one's place using language that identifies the specific elements of that place.

Fundamentally, Pelo's argument regarding the importance of teaching place is that when children come to know a place, they also learn to love it. Furthermore, by learning how to love the place with which they are in the most frequent and intimate contact as children, they learn how to come to a knowledge and love of other places in which they may live. Therefore, learning about and loving a specific place does not lead to a narrow provincialism, but provides students with a way for loving and knowing any place they inhabit. Pelo also contends that through this knowledge of and affection for a place, children (we) become more likely to defend the health of that place.

If you have the time and access, I recommend getting your hands on a copy of this issue of Rethinking Schools for your own pedagogical and personal enrichment.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Factory Farm-acology

Johns Hopkins Magazine has an excellent and terrifying piece out about the problems of factory farming, titled "Farmacology." In short, when we pump 50-80% of available antibiotics into the animals that most of us eat, we are playing a game of chicken (no pun intended) with evolution and anti-biotic resistance. The huge concentrations of animals we breed create incredibly drug-resistant microbes that get into our air, water, and move about on factory farm workers. In short, this is worrisome.

The article features 1972 JHU graduate, Ellen Silbergeld. They write,
After Silbergeld first heard about farmers feeding antibiotic additives to broiler chickens, she asked two faculty members in Maryland's poultry science program to show her the school's chicken barns on the Eastern Shore. As soon as she walked into one, she thought, "This is really serious." There were thousands of chickens crowded in tight confines. She says, "They are raised — how can I put this nicely? — they are raised on top of their own shit. They walk around on litter, which is sawdust or some kind of substrate, covered in feces. It's the most unhygienic thing you can imagine." The air was hot and full of dust. Periodic partial removal of litter from the barns created large piles of manure that were stored outside with minimal containment measures. Any farm worker laboring in such a facility had to be exposed to microbes, Silbergeld thought. If the chickens had been fed antibiotics, then some of those microbes had to be drug resistant.
But it doesn't stop at the air inside of the barns. What if you are in a car on a highway driving behind a poultry truck en route to a euphemistically named processing plant. Well, Silbergeld and her students created an experiment:
One day, a Bloomberg School colleague down the hall from Silbergeld came back from a weekend on the Eastern Shore complaining about how disgusting she'd found having to drive behind a truck hauling chickens to a processing plant. Silbergeld remarks, "When somebody says 'disgusting,' I say, 'Wait a minute, there's got to be something going on here.'" She and two of her students, Ana Rule and Sean Evans, designed what they called the "baby-you-can-drive-my-car" study. They loaded passenger cars with sampling equipment, figured out that an intersection on the Eastern Shore near the Virginia border would have a lot of poultry trucks passing through on the way to Perdue and Tyson processing plants, and drove to an adjacent shopping center parking lot. Whenever a poultry truck stopped at the traffic light, the researchers would slide in behind and follow it to the processors. Afterward, they sampled the air inside the car, as well as the car's exterior door handles and an unopened soda can they had placed in the car's cup holder. They found that the air in the car and both surfaces showed increased levels of enterococci after they'd driven behind the chicken trucks. Samples obtained before the car followed the trucks contained no resistant enterococci; a quarter of the bacteria isolated after the trucks showed resistance to antimicrobials, including tetracycline, erythromycin, and streptomycin.
I am of the opinion that to be an educated person is to have some idea of where your food comes from and how it became the food it became. These conditions are unacceptable (and they say nothing about how hens are treated elsewhere) and bring me back to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and all of the filth. But modern technology enables the development of super-bacteria in these animals. A dangerous game we play with nature here. A very dangerous game.

How does our thinking about developing teaching as farming and farming as teaching play into this? What is a sustainable source of meat (if you eat it) and how do we make that real? How can schools help?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Sustainability Now! on WKPS the Lion

My friend Mike Shamalla (Graduate - Landscape Architecture) and I airing our first episode of Sustainability Now on WKPS the Lion 90.7 fm. Check us out for the summer's remaining Fridays from 4-5 pm. We'll be dealing with issues of local, regional, national, and international sustainability, conservation, energy use, climate change, population, and of course education.

From our Sustainability Now blog for today's show:
Kevin Gombotz from Matson Environmental ( is going to share some of the really cool stuff that he has been doing helping people to be more energy efficient. Recently an energy audit at Whitehall Township building identified $25,000 in improvments that would save them $19,000 a year....that's an awesome turnaround on investment. Can't wait to get the details.
Give a listen if you can!

Monday, June 1, 2009

The way the recession could affect Pennsylvania state parks

The following press release came out earlier this month from the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. In my opinion, we are blessed with some great natural areas, state parks, and state forests in Pennsylvania. I've hiked, biked, and camped in several state forests including Tioga, Forbes, Michaux, Allegheney, Rothrock, and Bald Eagle and am constantly blown away by the beauty and grandeur in our state. There are also thousands of square miles of basically untouched forest where the "wild" is kept in wilderness. But the upcoming state budget before the state's senate could threaten that. Read on and consider calling DCNR or your state senator:


Department of Conservation
and Natural Resources
Commonwealth News Bureau
Room 308, Main Capitol
Harrisburg, PA 17120


CONTACT: Christina Novak
DCNR Press Secretary
(717) 772-9101

Families, Outdoor Enthusiasts Would Miss Out on Popular Destinations; Businesses Relying on Visitors Will Suffer Millions in Losses

HARRISBURG (May 14, 2009) — The millions of visitors who flock to Pennsylvania’s state parks and forests to relax and experience nature’s beauty would have fewer opportunities to do so under a budget plan that passed the Senate last week.

If enacted, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources acting Secretary John Quigley said the Senate proposal will force the agency to close at least 35 state parks and 1,000 miles of state forest roads, which would sharply reduce access for anglers, hunters and hikers.

Under Senate Bill 850, an additional $19 million would be cut from DCNR’s budget beyond the difficult but prudent reductions Governor Edward G. Rendell proposed in February.

“Families that cannot afford to take a vacation because of the tough economic times could always count on enjoying a little rest and relaxation at a nearby state park or forest,” said Quigley. “However, if the Senate’s budget proposal is enacted, there would be even fewer of those opportunities as we would have to close a number of state parks. That means less traffic and fewer dollars being spent in the rural communities with businesses and jobs that count on these parks and forests.

“The Senate’s proposal would be absolutely devastating to these rural areas and to our efforts to preserve our natural resources for present and future generations. In contrast, the Governor’s budget proposal reflects the difficult economy we now face and would still allow us to provide a quality outdoor experience for our citizens and visitors,” Quigley said, also noting that closing 35 state parks would turn away more than 3 million visitors and wipe out at least $57 million in visitor spending on products and services in nearby communities.

Many other programs that enhance a visitor’s experience at a state park or forest, protect natural resources, or help communities offer more recreational opportunities also would suffer under the Senate’s proposal. About 40,000 acres of forest would be vulnerable to gypsy moths because the department will not be able to apply treatments, while a program that offers one million tree seedlings for purchase by landowners would be eliminated. The seedling program helps protect watersheds, control soil erosion, reclaim former mining areas, and provide food and cover to wildlife.

In addition, DCNR would likely remove state forest rangers who serve as the primary contact for visitors and who promote safety and enforce the law on forestlands. Local governments and communities that depend on DCNR for important topographic, geologic and technical information, as well as help with 1,000 active grants for parks, trails and other recreational developments will receive less help under the Senate’s proposal.

Quigley also noted that the Senate’s plan does not restore funding for the department’s heritage tourism grants, despite repeated criticisms by the caucus when Governor Rendell made the difficult decision to cut the program.

Pennsylvania has 117 state parks and 2.1 million acres of state forests, including 3,000 miles of roads that provide access to the forests.