Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Ryan Bronstein: Blog Post 1

January 21st, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Bronstein in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


Discussion Questions:

What do Herndl and Brown (1996) mean when they claim that “in a very real sense, there is no objective environment in the phenomenal world, no environment separate from the words we use to represent it” (p. 3)? Do you agree with this assertion?

Is wilderness merely a symbolic construction? Does this matter to whether or not you want to protect it?

In the quote, Herndl and Brown express their idea that the “environment” from a symbolic perspective is nothing more than how society describes it.  In other words, it can be a dark, wild place as the environment was to the colonists; or it could be a place of sublime tranquility as it was to John Muir and his fellow preservationists.  To a certain extent, I absolutely agree.  It is a fact that many colonists feared the environment around them, and thus came to define their surroundings a dark and treacherous.  Furthermore, it is also true that the description of the environment as “sublime” by John Muir led to a movement that created 84.9 million acres of National Parks by 2012, land that is free from human interference and truly sublime.  Therefore, in these moments, the environment was at least partially what society said it would be.

Nevertheless, the wilderness, or the environment, is not solely symbolic.  The problems Earth faces today are very real with extreme consequences.  It is impossible to simply say we, as members of society, care for the sublime wilderness and expect that to be enough to solve its problems.  Words alone will not reduce carbon dioxide emissions nor bring back extirpated species.  I believe there was a time that the environment was primarily symbolic, however that was before the Anthropocene.  Since then, it has become a much more tangible construction and must be treated as such in order to gain commitment for the assistance it needs.

Works Cited

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 3 Symbolic Constructions of Environment.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 2 Contested Meanings of Environment.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

“National Parks, National Forests, and U.S. Wildernesses.” PBS. PBS, 18 Apr. 2012. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

In the novel Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, author Dr. Robert Cox discusses the role of visual and popular culture in the context of environmental communication. Cox explores the use of condensation symbols, defined by Cox in Chapter 4 as “a word or phrase…that ‘stirs vivid impressions involving the listeners’ most basic values’”. He continues by examining the effects that the image of the polar bear, as a condensation symbol, has had on the communication of environmental problems. In Photo 4.2, Cox’s caption prompts a discussion around this type of symbol:

[W]hat difference would it make if an image of a climate change refugee became the new condensation symbol? Do you think polar bears on broken ice are more visually resonant than people walking through floods? As more humans are impacted by climate disruptions, do you think the condensation symbol will change?

When considering a response, I immediately referred back to an earlier passage in the novel where Cox described the history of Yosemite Valley. Those living in early eastern America became infatuated with the majesty and unequaled beauty of the valley through photography, and in order for the area to be secured as a tourist area, the native indigenous people living in the valley were either killed or relocated. This history is vital to our understanding of how images of people and images of the environment interact within the public sphere.

The removal represents how the relationship between native humans and their habitat was deemed inferior to the “pristine nature” of Yosemite Valley. There exists a romanticism that many people hold with the environment. This belief, coupled with the common view that humans are the sole cause of its destruction, are the reasons why images of the environment that are void of humans are so attractive and so powerful. There is a tendency of humans to sympathize with the environment, as we believe we are its spokespeople. Therefore, I hypothesize that photographs of human lives put at risk by climate change will likely be viewed as self-imposed and will not stir as much public outrage as a polar bear who had little contribution to the effects that have altered its environment so drastically. As a result of this praise for the environment and the loathing of human actions, photographs of the effects of environmental disaster inflicted on humans will most likely never be more synonymous with climate change than the depictions of polar bears starving on increasingly smaller ice flows.

Personally, I would prefer a public sphere that values and celebrates the connection and the coexistence of humans and the world surrounding them. This view is beautifully illustrated in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s speech at the May 2000 EcoSummit conference:

We are not protecting nature for nature’s sake. We are protecting nature because it enriches us. It enriches us economically…It enriches us culturally, recreationally, aesthetically, spiritually, and historically…I do not want my children growing up in a world where we have lost touch with the seasons and tides, and the things that connects use to the ten thousand generations of human beings that were here before laptops, and that connect us ultimately to God. (Canadian Parliamentary Review 12)

Working through this other frame, a condensation symbol consisting of both humans and the environment would be incredibly influential and would more successfully contribute to the solving of vital environmental problems.

Works Cited

Kennedy, Robert F., Jr. “Who Speaks for the Environment?” Canadian Parliamentary Review 23.3 (2000): 12. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 4 The Environment In/of Visual and Popular Culture.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

This blog post is a reaction to the following discussion prompts:

Are apocalyptic warnings about global warming effective, or do such warnings create problems of credibility or paralyze action? How can scientists raise awareness of future, serious effects from climate changes—rising sea levels, deaths from prolonged droughts, and so on—without relying on some vision of catastrophic events?

Some climate scientists and journalists have complained that the public cannot “see” global warming. How would you solve this problem? Which medium do you think can most compellingly express the impacts of prolonged drought, rising sea levels, disease, and so forth?

The general American public is understandably isolated from an accurate understanding of the true effects of climate change on our planet. As a result of much of the discourse surrounding this topic being confined to the academic sphere, not to mention the difficulty of interpreting the occasional statistic, most people find it almost impossible to imagine an environment drastically altered from the current one and the impact it will have on their lives.

The issue, as Cox insists, is all about framing. An accurate portrayal of the consequences of humans’ actions is limitedly broadcast unto the pages of scientific journals such as Science and Nature. Yet, the audience of these and similar publications is one that already has a heightened consciousness of the state of environmental affairs.

To generate massive action, it is the masses that have to be reached. The channel must be carefully selected, and the message must be even more carefully determined so that it is encoded and eventually decoded properly to spur action. There have been many attempts to achieve both general public interest and awareness, but we can undoubtedly do better.

A favorite channel has been visual media, such as television and cinema. Directors and producers have worked together to bring the public fascinating scenes of what our lives might be like in 50, 100, or even 1000 years. However, these futuristic visions truly are overly apocalyptic and go so far into the future that it cannot be comprehended.

The solution is double-sided. The government must work to eliminate the biggest threats to the environment through tax incentives and penalties. At the same time, the education system has to double-down on its efforts to spread climate awareness to children, and hopefully the future will be brighter and cleaner as a result.

Works Cited:

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Symbolic Constructions of Environment, The Environment In/of Visual and Popular Culture.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. N. pag. Print.

Mary Osborn Blog 1/20/2016

January 20th, 2017 | Posted by Mary Osborn in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Discussion Question: There are many debates over food today, from whether or not we should reduce pesticide consumption to what we should serve kids at lunch to the rights of food producers to participate in shaping food cultures. We have noted terms such as “organic,” “conventional,” and “real food.” What other words have you noticed in food debates? Which ones have moved you to take action or change your daily practices?


Agriculture is something no one can say doesn’t affect their life in one way, shape, or form. “You are what you eat”, I have heard many times before yet feel that many people in America specifically are influenced by labeling, advertisements, location of items on grocery store shelves, and perceived prices of goods. This in turn affects their diet, which affects healthcare, which affects politics, and so on and so forth. Yet all that aside, the food we eat and how it is produced to me is the most important environmental issue.

Some would argue that agriculture really doesn’t harm the environment that much and this is true if the practices used by farmers and producers was sustainable. Yet in the US and other parts of the world, not all are not using the most sustainable farming practices. The carbon footprint of food waste is higher than most people think as well. CO2 emissions related to food consumption and waste is the highest in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/the-big-footprint-of-food-waste). This is largely caused by higher agricultural carbon industries such as red meat and dairy. In addition, ready-made meals and processed foods also contribute to higher carbon emissions.

After knowing this, I want to make positive changes to reduce my food carbon footprint and join what is referred to as the “Slow Food Movement” which promotes good, clean, fair food (Slow Food International. http://www.slowfood.com/). According to their website, “roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. Meanwhile over 840 million people worldwide (12% of the world population) are undernourished” (http://www.slowfood.com/what-we-do/themes/food-waste/). It is easy to forget the real value of food and therefore we are more likely to waste it. I can only do but so much yet I think if everyone made small changes to reduce the amount of food they waste, buy from local farmers, and support more sustainable farming practices we can make moves in the right direction.

Photo found at: (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/the-big-footprint-of-food-waste).


Works Cited:

“Food Waste.” Slow Food. 2015 Slow Food, n.d. Web. <http://www.slowfood.com/what-we-do/themes/food-waste/>.

Wilson, Lindsay. “Http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/the-big-footprint-of-food-waste.” Shrink That Footprint. N.p., n.d. Web.

Kevin Bhimani Blog #2

January 19th, 2017 | Posted by Kevin Bhimani in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Kevin Bhimani Blog #2:

Discussion Question: There are many debates over food today, from whether or not we should reduce pesticide consumption to what we should serve kids at lunch to the rights of food producers to participate in shaping food cultures. We have noted terms such as “organic,” “conventional,” and “real food.” What other words have you noticed in food debates? Which ones have moved you to take action or change your daily practices? Which do you find unpersuasive?

From the plethora of food choices and terminology that we face today as consumers, it is increasingly unclear as to what exactly we are putting in our bodies. Words such as “superfoods”, “artisanal”, “probiotic”, “non-GMO”, and more are used to describe many of the foods we eat daily, yet do we really know what they mean (Tarantino)? I for one, like many others, succumb to the inherent biases that my mind has and think that foods that have such labels are healthier for me so I am more likely to purchase products with such descriptions. This is similar to what Cox described in the reading when talking about the notion of the Water Environment Federation changing the name of sewage sludge to ‘biosolids’ instead (Cox). The idea was to change the way people perceive the waste in an effort to get rid of the “negative connotation” surrounding the word (Cox). They wanted to encourage people to view ‘biosolids’ as something very beneficial that could help sustainable living. For a seemingly different reason, though using the same tactic, I believe that companies are using language in a manipulative manner in order to sway customer preferences. When a fruit or other food product is labeled “organic”, many people instantly think that this food will be better for them and in order to live a healthier life they must consume such products. These companies understand the rhetorical situation surrounding food marketing and are taking advantage of pre-existing biases, when in reality most consumers likely do not know what distinguishes a ‘superfood’ from a regular food for example. It is incredibly interesting to see this dynamic play out in our society today with many lawsuits resulting from this and more, but in the end I believe that the best way to eat healthy is to do research on your own to see what you should and shouldn’t be putting in your body. I have realized I can no longer rely on the companies telling the whole story when it comes to products so I have come to disregard a lot of the words labeled on foods.


Works Cited:

Burns, Tamara. “Whole Foods Dodges Claims in ‘Natural’ Mislabeling Class Action.” Top Class Actions. Top Class Actions, 07 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.


Tarantino, Olivia. “25 Health-Food Buzzwords And What They Mean.” Yahoo! Yahoo!, 18 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Introduction: Kevin Bhimani

January 19th, 2017 | Posted by Kevin Bhimani in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Name: Kevin Bhimani

Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

Major: Economics

Three topics/ideas/issues that intrigue me: financial markets, electric cars, biodiversity

Most interesting bit of news that I read today (or lately): NASA and NOAA confirmed that 2016 was the hottest year followed by 2015 and 2014

A subject discussed in detail by Cox and Pezzulo in Chapter 4 of their co-authored textbook Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, environmental communication is not limited to words but rather spans a wide range of medias, from sounds we hear while interacting with others to images we pull up on our technological devices which have become an increasingly powerful presence in our modern global age.

In specific, I would like to further examine environmentally charged images, specifically in relation to animals and their well-being.

Here, we have this image, very obviously Photoshopped, of several polar bears.

Situated very comfortably in what appears to be a wide expanse of Arctic, the bears wear headphones, hold tables, and drink soda while roasting a baby penguin over a fire pit. Found on a personal blog discussing politics from a conservative view by David Mesa of Arizona, this image fails to persuade me that global warming is a hoax as the its associated article argues. While I did find the completely divergent use of the polar bear, a seasoned condensation symbol against global warming,  interesting, it was ineffectual in changing my beliefs, as beyond making light of the polar bear symbol, there was little else conveyed by this image. Also, I am slightly confused and disturbed by the seemingly random and unexplained inclusion of the roasted baby penguin.

A more effective image, in my opinion, is this image which utilizes the polar bear in its more conventional form.

Drawing upon modern society’s obsession with the “cute” polar bear and also our natural tendency to feel protective of the family unit, this image which depicts a mother and cub cuddling forlornly on a lone iceberg amidst dark waters affirms the dangers of climate change while specifically focusing on Arctic animals.  Aesthetically, this photo speaks volumes as the white bears stand in stark contrast with the water. It also evokes an image of the phrase “No man is an island” from John Donne’s poem, reminding viewers that humanity is part of a greater whole and many in said greater whole are suffering as a direct result of climate change.

An image which I find interesting is this one:

Aesthetically, this image is jarring. Again, we see the inclusion of mother/child imagery as the gorilla carries her cub on her back and is accompanied by the simple by poignant slogan “where the wood go, wildlife goes.”Instead of peacefully roaming the trees, the gorilla mother is chopped in half, bloody, with her child still clinging to her. To me, the above image is highly effective in emphasizing the impact of deforestation on animals, however, I find it to be overly abrasive and a turn off, despite my own personal beliefs that deforestation is dangerous and has enormous negative environmental effects, on animal life, soil quality, air quality, etc.

Environmental communication can be vastly improved through the inclusion of diverse medias such as photography and images. However, when we utilize them, we must take note of the aesthetics utilized, message conveyed, and also the media’s effect on viewers. Another danger of images in particular is that as they can only capture one instance, many other critical factors pertinent to the same issue are omitted, as shown in the gorilla image above.


Works Cited:

Acharya, Ganesh Prasad. Wildlife, 3. Digital image. Ads of the World. Sanctuary India, 04 Dec. 2014. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Hall, David. Polar Bears. Digital image. Liberty Musings. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.

Lefranc, Eric. A polar bear cub is comforted by its mother as they drift miles from shore on a rapidly shrinking ice floe. Digital image. The Telegraph. N.p., 02 Mar. 2010. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.



Introduction: Joe Jacob

January 17th, 2017 | Posted by Joe Jacob in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Name: Joe Jacob

Hometown: Roslyn Heights, NY

Major: Computer Science

Three topics/ideas/issues that intrigue me: Web development, tech startups, and globalization

Most interesting bit of news I read recently: The last tenant for a to-be remodeled apartment building was given $17 million to move out

Introduction: Juliana Posen

January 13th, 2017 | Posted by Juliana Posen in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Name: Juliana Posen

Hometown: Chappaqua, NY

Major: Economics

Three topics/ideas/issues that intrigue me: Reducing ecological footprints, water pollution, financial economics

Most interesting bit of news I read recently: Exxon knew about climate change 40 years ago but former CEO Rex Tillerson still won’t admit the extent of the threat of global warming

Name: Barbara Lynn Weaver

Hometown: Raleigh, NC

Major: Environmental Science or Spanish

Three topics that intrigue me: Urban Forestry, water conservation in developing nations, and the stigma surrounding mental health

Most interesting bit of news I read today: over 2 million citizens in Lima source water from contaminated wells