Monthly Archives: January 2017

This Week’s Links: Newsletters

Business & Environment: Guardian Sustainable Business

Politics & Environment: Grist

Environmental News: EcoWatch

Environment + Health: Environmental Health News

Other Newsletters

Center for Humans and Nature

Duke Energy Initiative Newsletter

Sustainable Duke Newsletter

Duke Campus Farm Newsletter

Bonus Article that may be of interest

How To Use Moral Reframing To Persuade Conservatives To Support Immigration

“To make a convincing argument, try give up your own ideas about why an issue is important and instead think about the values of the person you’re arguing with.”

Do you have a favorite newsletter not mentioned here? Please add it in the comments!


Blog Post: Why Queer Ecology is Pointless

by Margaret Overton

I think I’m finally beginning to put a finger on why the concept of queer ecology seemed so strange to me. The LGBTQ movement is primarily about social issues: the right to marry, the right to job security, the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender identification, and most importantly, the right to simple acceptance by others. But on the other hand, environmental activism and the study of ecology is far more about tangible changes to the world around us: developing clean energy, decreasing pollution, preserving biodiversity, and protecting ecosystems. In short, the two movements have zero goals in common, making it odd from the beginning that they should be working together.

But when I began looking into the different justifications for queer ecology as a practice, rather than an equal partnership, it began looking more like the LGBTQ movement had simply taken ideas about nature and used them to support their own goals, while doing nothing to promote environmental causes. Ecology disproved the idea of homosexuality being “unnatural,” but the relationship was not reciprocal; LGBTQ activists have done little to return the favor.

I would argue that since the two movements lack common grounds in terms of their goals or even the types of outcomes they want to see from society, the concept of queer ecology lacks a clear purpose for existing. In some cases, individuals may have interests that extend beyond LGBTQ rights (vegetarianism or veganism, for example) and they are able to use these areas as a foundation for environmental causes, but unless some overlap exists between the broader movements, they ought to remain separate. Instead, the best way for LGBTQ individuals to support the environment is as human beings, just like everybody else.

Blog #3 – Thabit Pulak – Social and Environmental Degradation

Talking with a tannery factory owner in Bangladesh, Summer of 2016

When I first looked at the term “degradation”, I thought I already knew what it meant. The meaning that was engrained in my head was mostly confined to that of physical degradation of tangible materials and resources. In an environmental sense, I had envisioned it meaning the breakdown or contamination of natural resources like lakes and forest land. This definition made sense to me, as I had witnessed such degradation of natural resources in Bangladesh, my ancestral homeland. I had personally seen the huge amounts of toxic chromium waste being dumped into the rivers that flowed alongside homes by the leather processing companies nearby. The purple, blue, and yellow bodies of water I had seen had all left a stark image in my mind of what I perceived to be environmental degradation.
But reading the definition of degradation in “Keywords for Environmental Studies” led me to think about another aspect of the term which hadn’t been obvious to me before, and that was the social aspect of degradation. When such resources are broken down or contaminated, there is a real impact on the lives of the people who have to live in that environment. Thinking about the word through this lens struck me hard – the amount of social degradation that resulted from the resource contamination was much greater than the visible environmental degradation. Now that I think about it, I recall seeing the locals who lived in the area – and I remembered just how difficult their lives seemed to be. I recalled how bad the smell of the air was, from the toxic fumes of the dumped chromium in the water – it had given me a headache for the 2 hours I was there – so how could the residents live there for long periods of time? The only way to obtain clean drinking water was to buy bottled water from the city, which pinched these residents’ already strained finances.
It made me sad to see these people being affected so negatively by the forces of modern capitalism and globalization, which don’t value environmental and social sustainability as much as pure economic growth in financial terms. The future of economics cannot go in this direction much longer without including the costs of the environment – otherwise, such degradation, both environmental and social, will continue until it is possibly too late.

And that will be just sad.

Standing in front of a wasteland filled with scrap leather from the tanneries

Me and my sister standing by a lake in Bangladesh which has been severely contaminated with waste leather and toxic chromium from the tanneries


“2016 Bangladesh Visit.” Thabit Pulak Homepage. N.p., n.d. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

Adamson, Joni, William A. Gleason, and David N. Pellow. Keywords for Environmental Studies. New York: New York UP, 2016. Print.

The Wilderness and Art

It’s difficult to determine whether a concept such as the wilderness exists independently of human beings, or whether the wilderness has no meaning void of human interpretation. It’s undeniable that there are certain qualities of nature that are unique. The transcendentalists, according to Cox, find the wilderness as a source of spirituality. The wilderness’ spirituality may not exist void of human beings, meaning it probably is a symbolic construction, however this does not negate the real positive experiences it provides people across cultures.


It is important to note that I am not claiming that the only value of the wilderness is its relation to human beings. Rather, I am claiming that the spiritual value of the wilderness is an incentive for us to protect it.


To be honest, I have never personally felt this spiritual connection to the wilderness. The longest I’ve spent in isolation in the forest was five days during summer camp, and I dreaded the experience. Although I didn’t feel the spirituality of the wilderness there, I do, to some degree, experience the spirituality of the wilderness second hand, through art.


Some of the greatest artists have used the wilderness and its spirituality to express what otherwise cannot be understood. My favourite poet, Robert Frost who is heavily influenced by the transcendentalists, embraces the wilderness and has created beautiful works just by describing nature. Whether or whether not this beauty exists intrinsically does not diminish its important to us. It therefore is worth protecting.

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 1 Studying/Practicing Environmental Communication.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

Blog 2: Urban Ecology and the True Price of Consumer Goods

Pipes reaching deep into aquifers pump ground water up and into a bottling plant. The plant, owned by a private, foreign company, bottles and sells the water worldwide, claiming to be a unique product of “Pacific romance and luxury” that has remained “Untouched by Man,” (Kaplan, 696). The private, foreign company pays rent on the land around the bottling plant to a semi-militaristic nation. That bottled water is then shipped across thousands of miles to you, the consumer. You then tilt the familiar square plastic bottle to your lips and wait for the perfect water to reach your mouth.

And you wait and you wait, and yet even when you have finished the bottle, the perfect water still escapes you. Bottled water is more than convenient hydration or a luxury experience, whether it originates from mountain streams or underground aquifers. The water that comes from a retail bottle is the sum of every distance the water crossed to get to you, every human life that handled the bottle, and every action that occurred as a result of water sales.

There are politics behind every drop of water, economic value within every bottle, and social consequences that result from requiring payment for the most basic life-giving resource. The environment is not independent from human life. As David Harvey said, “It is inconsistent to hold that everything in the world relates to everything else, as ecologists tend to, and then decide that the built environment and the urban structures that go into it are somehow outside of both theoretical and practical consideration” (Heynen, 60). Deciding that the built environment and its human characteristics relate to everything else in the world allows consumers to contemplate the true cost of the goods offered to them, beyond what they see on the price tag. Therefore, drinking a bottle of water can never be viewed independently from the processes used to create it.


Works Cited:

Adamson, Joni; Gleason, William A.; Pellow, David N.. Keywords for Environmental Studies. New York: NYU Press, 2016. Ebook Library. Web. 28 Jan. 2017.

Kaplan, M. (2007), Fijian Water in Fiji and New York: Local Politics and a Global Commodity. Cultural Anthropology, 22: 685–706. doi:10.1525/can.2007.22.4.685

Blog Post #2 – Joe Jacob


While preparing for my presentation on pollution, I learned that there are several types of pollution, some of which are air, thermal, and noise pollution. Although it wasn’t particularly alarming to find that there are many different types of pollution, it was shocking to realize that nearly all of these forms of pollution are omnipresent in my daily life. Even as I’m writing this in my own room, I’m affected by multiple types of pollution: the bright lamp next to me contributes to thermal and light pollution, my roommate’s incessant spraying of air freshener is polluting our air, and my loud neighbors in the adjacent apartment are contributing to noise pollution as well as my growing dislike of them.

By beginning to notice the extent to which pollution is present in my life, I’ve also begun to comprehend the gravity of the problem of pollution in our world. The magnitude of this problem is daunting because it seems as though pollution is created exponentially faster than our efforts are able to eliminate it. Even Duke, arguably a very environmentally conscious university, is still far off from becoming carbon neutral. This observation therefore makes it almost ludicrous to think that in the future, an average suburban home can drastically reduce its emissions to the point that it would have a healthy relationship with its local environment.

Given that pollution is an exponentially growing issue, largely stimulated by our own ignorance, I believe the primary objective to battle it is to spread awareness by educating others. Ultimately, the environmental effect of one lamp turned off is almost negligible, but the environmental effect of having a million lamps turned off is impossible to ignore.


Works Cited

Rinkesh. “Pollution: Causes and Effects.” Conserve Energy Future. N.p., 24 Dec. 2016. Web. 26 Jan. 2017.

Blog Post #1 – Joe Jacob

Discussion prompt: How many phones have you owned in your life? What do you do with the old one when you buy a new one: trash, donate, or recycle it? Where do recycled phones go?


Although I’ve been fortunate enough to have owned five phones in my life, it had never crossed my mind to recycle the old phones after I stopped using them. As a result, many of my old phones were sentenced to spend the remainder of their lifetime in trash: beginning in my garbage can and ending in a distant landfill.

While there are some cellphone owners that are diligent about recycling their cellphones, there are many others who share my ignorance. In the United States, roughly 90% of adults own a mobile phone of some kind, and on average, these owners replace their mobile phone once every 22 months. This means that Americans purchase 119 million phones every year, and of those new phones, only about 15 million will be recycled. This means that 104 million phones share the same fate as my old cellphones: becoming a permanent contribution to our country’s growing e-waste.

Of the portion of old cellphones that do get recycled, what happens to them? First, it’s important to understand that a primary motivation for recycling phones is to salvage the precious and valuable materials the phones contain, which are generally nickel, cadmium, mercury, and lead. Given this fiscal incentive, many recyclers lose interest in the environmental benefits their work can create and choose to neglect these green benefits in exchange for larger monetary returns. This compromise sometimes results in the practice of informal recycling, which uses primitive stripping and burning methods to extract precious materials from the phones. Unfortunately, these methods generally produce pollution and introduce harmful toxins to those performing the processing. While there are a few e-waste recycling companies that value the environment’s health, they lack the capacity to process the sheer volume of e-waste being produced, and consequently, a lot of excess e-waste is sent to foreign countries for unregulated and sometimes harmful e-waste processing, such as informal recycling as mentioned above.

While there are efforts to recycle phones, it seems as though all phones are not recycled equally; however, this only creates a great opportunity for innovation in this sphere that will ultimately help to protect our environment.


Works Cited

Acaroglu, Leyla. “Where Do Old Cellphones Go to Die?” The New York Times. The New York Times, 04 May 2013. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

Anderson, Monica. “Technology Device Ownership: 2015.” Pew Research Center: Internet, Science & Tech. N.p., 29 Oct. 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

Https:// “Your Smartphone’s Secret Afterlife (Smartphones Unlocked).” CNET. N.p., 02 Dec. 2012. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

“20 Staggering E-Waste Facts.” N.p., 08 Feb. 2016. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

“Where Do Mobile Phones Go When They Die?” Triple Pundit: People, Planet, Profit. N.p., 01 May 2015. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

Blog Post 2-Victoria Grant

I was a bit rushed on giving my ecofeminism lesson so here is the through rundown. Ecofeminism is a word I have never heard before participating in this assignment. I have heard of the word feminist and would consider myself to be one but, how did eco fit with womens equality? After research, I see they are very much intertwined.

Ecofeminism came from womens interconnected sense of identity. The term looks at how the environment connects people of different backgrounds including: race, class, gender, etc. Themes of empathy, caring, and connection have been deep rooted in the movement which, oddly enough, already tend to be associated with women. Ecofeminist are people who look at eco-social and environmental problems and work to correct those issues. They fight for human justice, interspecies justice, and human-environment justice while other feminist environmentalisms ignore species question.

An ecofeminist action is to work towards detecting and correcting a problem as they occur; not waiting until people in high standards start to become affected. Ecofeminist argue policies and practices of economic, environmental, interspecies, and gender justice that offer more effective strategies for intervention and prevention of crisis. They are environmental social justice advocates who fight for the rights of all when the situation arises. The take home for ecofeminism is women get stuff done the right way the first time.

Blog Post 1

The above picture was taken at the Thai Muang Turtle Sanctuary in southern Thailand. The sanctuary is home to hundreds of endangered sea turtles, fish, corals, birds and an alligator. Not only does the sanctuary release and nurse animals, it doubles as a research center. I was told before my first day of work at this facility that it was run by Thai locals and on a small budget generated from tourists visiting the private site. The majority of the tanks that hold the animals were large plastic bins that had their water filtered by a homemade plastic piping system. The staff did not have a uniform or graduate level education. I was blown away by how well run and successful the facility was despite all these should-be shortcomings. Most Western people, myself embarrassingly included, would assume that the facility would not be run at the same standard of a sanctuary in the United States. I believe that the staff’s genuine love for the animals motivated them to be learn as much as they could and make creative low-cost solutions for their tanks.

This photo forces people to reconsider their pre-convinced beliefs about legitimate animal relief efforts in third world countries. I picked this photo because one can see that the sanctuary is not “glamorous.” One would see this photo and assume that the site does not do a good job of nurturing their animals, but the sanctuary is actually able to ensure that 80% of their juvenile turtle reach adult hood. In the wild around 10% of sea turtles reach adulthood.

I went to Thailand last summer through a civic service program run by Duke. I had always wanted to go to Thailand since my best friend went several years ago. I distinctly remember being shown pictures from their trip and finding the picture of the family on top of an elephant as the most interesting. I hoped on my trip to Thailand that I would get to take a picture on the elephants. One of the first things we learned in our program’s orientation was how cruel the Elephant tourism actually was. People practice phajaan in order to domesticate the elephants for tourism. The process involves taking a mother elephant and her calf from the wild and then killing the calf in front of the mother. The mother will then be beat and tortured for several days while it is mourning the death of its calf in order to break the mothers spirit so she will be willing to let tourists ride on top of it. Then the trainer will use a hook in the head of the elephant to help with stirring. If you look closely, you can see the hook on the top of the elephants head. All elephants involved in the industry have chronic back issues because the elephants spine cannot support more than 400 pounds for more than 4 hours, but the elephants are forced to support over a ton for 8 hours a day.

I picked this photo to represent something I do not agree with because the photo is deceptively happy. One would see this photo and and not think the that elephant industry was cruel, in fact one would likely want a picture like this one. I am influenced by how aesthetically pleasing this photo is because it does not accurately represent how ugly the elephant tourism industry is. This picture should remind us to never judge a book by its cover.

Colombian fishermen are among the most under privileged members of Colombia’s society. For decades there were fishermen who could not provide for their family because they could not catch enough fish because of their outdated fishing equipment. Due to globalization, advanced fishing rods have reached Colombia at costs low enough for poor fishermen to be able to afford them. Fishermen are now able to catch much more fish than they have ever caught before. They are able to put food on the table and sell extra food in the market. Unfortunately, fishes are now being removed from the ecosystem faster than they can be replenished. The flooding of the market with increased fish catches has also led to a drop in the value of fishes. The government is now trying to implement policies and education programs so they can teach the fishermen how to fish sustainably.

This image does not alter my opinion of the topic, but it reminds me too understand both sides of the issue. I like that the photo has the fisherman in it because it makes the situation more personal. The fishermen did not finish school. He did not learn about the tragedy of the commons or the importance of sustainable fishing. However, he knows that fish are able to help him better his and his families life. This photo highlights the importance of sustainable practices. There is a way that the environment can stay healthy while the fisherman is able to support himself.

Blog Post 2

Before reading about Globalization for class, I thought globalization was a panacea that had no draw backs. I was ecstatic that tools, ideas and medicines would be reaching every corner of the world. However, the Keywords passage made me think more critically about the environmental impacts of globalization and realize that the very nature of globalization is environmentally unsound. In order for the tools, ideas and medicines to reach new areas, they must get there.

While goods are cheaper and better built than ever before, the way the goods are being transported is similar to how they have always been. Today, factories in countries with low environmental standards make products, then the products are shipped or flown across the world and finally driven to where they will be sold. The entire process creates tons of carbon dioxide that makes the net benefit of the product negative. In order to maximize the benefits of cheap, high quality goods, society must pressure big business to invest sustainable manufacturing and transportation methods.