Monthly Archives: February 2017

Only technology can save us from climate change – Thabit Pulak

Being at Duke, we all probably realize that we are pretty much living in an echo chamber when it comes to issues like climate change. The overwhelming majority of us in this bubble here will likely agree that climate change is human made (as do 97% of scientists) , and poses a threat to our continued existence if nothing is done about it. But yet as it stands, nearly half of Americans don’t believe that climate change is man made. America is one of the richest countries in the world, with one of the most “educated” populations in the world – but yet how can so many people think this way, despite concrete evidence? I was suddenly curious – was this problem limited only to America? Did other countries also have large amounts of climate change deniers? I personally hypothesized that perhaps countries that have economic reliance on fossil fuels (which is mostly developed nations) are perhaps more likely to have a larger portion of the population deny the human impact of climate change, due to dominant internal politics of that nations.

I found it surprisingly easy to look up the statistics of climate change opinion by country. Wikipedia had a table listing all the countries from first to last – and just at a cursory glance, it seemed immediately clear to me how low America ranked on that list (where higher up on that list indicates a higher portion of the population supporting the fact that climate change being man-made). What surprised me even more, is that so-called progressive European nations like Germany, United Kingdom, and France, all had similar percentages of climate change deniers to the United States (at about half the population, if not more!). I took a look at an analysis by Pew Research, and they concluded my suspicions – according to them, “People in countries with high per-capita levels of carbon emissions are less intensely concerned about climate change”. This makes sense – if you are emitting a ton of carbon, you likely depend on it, and perhaps are unwilling to give it up. Internal politics within those nations are likely to keep this going. It is simply too economically “worth-it” for these nations to make any change, especially if they are not immediately affected by climate change.

I’m not going to lie – I am quite pessimistic in this issue as a whole. I don’t actually think that the world can come to a consensus in quick enough of a time to regulate carbon emissions worldwide. Well-meaning environmentalists scattered throughout the developed world might put pressure on their own governments to change, but it simply will never outweigh the immediate economic benefits of mining fossil fuels. The current pressure on countries like India/Bangladesh and other developing nations to curtail their activities such as population growth is hypocritical, and in the large scale – not impactful to the scale of saving the planet. The average American emits over 35 times the carbon of the average Indian (who already consumes somewhat more relative to other developing nations). It is clear that the developed nations have done much more to impact climate change in a negative way than most developing nations can ever dream of. Putting the burden on the developing nations is not reasonable, unless it is facilitated by the developed nations themselves.

I personally think that for this issue in particular, the best solution we will have is if our technologies advance to the point in which clean energy is so economical, that it makes no sense to mine for fossil fuels, IN THE SHORT TERM, as well as the long term. Most people care about the short term more than the long term (unfortunately) – this is why green energy hasn’t picked up the steam it should have, despite arguments by scientists on the benefits in the long term. Science can save us – green energy needs to be viewed by the capitalistic market as the sole economically viable choice.

Wike, Richard. “What the World Thinks about Climate Change in 7 Charts.” Pew Research Center. N.p., 18 Apr. 2016. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

“Climate Change Opinion by Country.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 25 Feb. 2017. Web. 27 Feb. 2017.

Thoughts on Pumzi, Oil on Water, and The Petrol Pump – Thabit Pulak

Out of all three pieces which we had the opportunity to engage with, I felt that Pumzi had the deepest effect on me. When it comes to issues of the environment, especially if describing a future apocalyptic-type scenario, I feel that visual media is the best way to go about it. Pumzi paints the grim picture of how a society in East Africa lives in a future where water is scarce. The interesting thing about Pumzi was that technology was quite advanced – much more relatively to what we have today. Yet it appeared that the living standards – as in the comforts that we humans are typically accustomed to in the modern world today – have dropped substantially. It appears that not only is water incredibly scarce, but energy seems to be at a premium as well – humans are required to get on exercise machines, and take turns running it in order to power the living facility. It appears that the technological advances in the future are solely serving the purpose of sheer survival, and nothing much more. Pumzi is a possible glimpse into a future when people don’t care about their careless habits in the present.

The Petrol Pump was the next most impactful piece on my mind. I honestly have never read anything like it before – the entire writing piece focused on a space in time that was perhaps no longer than 30 minutes. It was quite remarkable to me that the writer was able to wring out so much meaning and introspection within that constrained time frame. I felt myself asking questions about the environmental/societal implications of my own day to day actions as the writer talked about his thoughts during the process of finding gas to pump into his car.

Oil on Water by Helon Habila wasn’t a bad piece by any means – but I place it last simply because Pumzi and the Petrol Pump were so good! In this story, Habila describes the fight between Nigerian Militants and the oil companies for their mutual desire for oil in the country. Habila vividly describes the destruction of natural land via the exploitation by the developed world.

One thing I feel however, is that Oil on Water – at least compared to the other two pieces we engaged with – seems to shift blame on environmental destruction more to large corporations and foreign interests rather than the individual. While there is a very important truth to this, I don’t think this is the best truth to push forward. What I mean by this is that these corporations are ultimately run by people. These people at one point in their lives, were young children, growing up and learning from their surroundings. I think the best messages are those that push forward individual responsibility as well as bringing awareness to the problems big corporations have made to the environment. The Petrol Pump seems to reconcile these two things better than Oil on Water.

Works Cited

Pumzi by Wanuri Kahiu
Calvino, Italo, and Tim Parks. “The Petrol Pump.” Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 170-75. Print.
Habila, Helon. Oil on Water: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

Preaching to the Choir

While I have compliments and criticisms for all the things we read and watched this week, these comments are mostly stylistic. I am fully supportive of what these works are fundamentally representing: climate change is happening, it is our fault and we need to do something about it. As a class, we learned a lot from the works we interacted with in class, but everyday we are are preaching to choir. It would benefit the United States at large if our citizens would read and discuss any of these works. Sadly, this currently cannot happen.

1 in 4 of Americans are skeptical of global warming according to a 2014 Gallup poll, despite 97% of climate scientists saying that global warming is real and a problem! Public schools are part of the blame for this flawed thought and are also the best way to change this flawed thinking. Public schools have very specific guidelines, from local and state government, for what they can teach since these schools receive their budget from taxes. This has led to public schools in South Dakota receiving a “balanced teaching of global warming,” which means teachers must say that global warming is theory rather than a proven fact. Teachers must present both “sides” when discussing global warming in Texas and teachers in Kentucky must “discuss the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories [global warming].” Public schools can not show the kinds of material that we look at class and that is a waste of an opportunity.

50.4 million children attended some form of public education (K-12) in 2016. That is 50.4 million Americans who will have the ability to VOTE. They are not being taught what they need to in order to become a fully-informed voter because of their state’s political agendas. These children need to wrestle with various kinds of environmental material. Some teachers who want to teach their classes about climate change can not because they also did not receive any education on the subject matter while in school. This has led to the majority of teachers who do discuss climate change, not doing so for more than an hour or two a school year. This also has led to more troublesome outcomes. 30% of teachers teach that humans have a small role in global warming and 10% of teachers deny the very existence of global warming to their students.

Despite the fact that the United States’s Department of Defense has announced that climate change is the number one threat to our country, state governments still disagree! in 2015, Florida’s government banned all of its employees from using the word “climate change.” Donald Trump’s presidency will likely do not thing to address the fact that our local governments are preventing our children from receiving the appropriate education to understand global warming.

However, there is hope! People can pressure their local governments to allow climate change education in schools. The Portland School Board just recently prohibited any material that is skeptical of global warming from being used in schools because of a push by a coalition of environmentalists, parents and students. We all need to pressure our local governments to create a syllabus that public schools will have to use when teaching their students about global warming. Short stories, interactive timelines and Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentaries are all easy, useful and attractive means of getting the climate change message across to young people. These all are great examples of what should be on a state-mandated curriculum.

But I guess I am still preaching to the choir.


IMAGE found from:

Sustainable Duke News

Re-blogging the rich and wonderful content loaded into this week’s Sustainable Duke newsletter:


Nominate staff, faculty, or students for the 5th Annual Sustainability Awards

Nominations due March 24th, award winners and their nominators will be celebrated at the annual Duke Sustainability Awards luncheon

Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative 2016 Annual Report

Read about the innovative programs implemented by DCOI to produce carbon offsets for Duke University

DCOI Collaboration Builds Local Carbon Markets
Urban Offsets partners with “TreesCharlotte” to create offsets that support climate commitments by Duke University and other institutions

Live for Life Mobile Market CSA & Customized CSA Work Drop Off Site

CSA sign up and special chance to customize drop off location at your workplace

Duke Campus Farm 2016 Annual Report

Learn about new staff, programs, and produce at the farm in 2016

Duke Campus Farm 2016 CSA Sign Ups Open

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Duke Campus Farm Offers First Credit-Bearing In-The-Field Programming

“Imagining Food Futures” brings humanities and natural science scholars together

The Herald-Sun: Back to The Land

Duke Campus Farm promotes education, food systems

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Make the Right Choice America!

In Margret Atwood’s It’s Not Climate Change, It’s Everything Change, Atwood reminds us of the choice we have for our future with the environment. Three options: humans have locked themselves away in an energy-efficient paradise, we destroyed the planet and are living in Dante’s inferno, or we do what is necessary now to preserve life as we know it. Atwood’s choices are not unique or different from what society has been shown time and time again. Mankind is constantly reminded of the destruction we cause to the environment yet, many of us still refuse to change. People deny the facts and ignore the current situation. When will change come? Who will lead change?

Collaborative change must be made now to correct the issues at hand but, current administration is among the non-believers. The United States is one of the largest producers of pollution and the only major country that argues the legitimacy of climate change. Every country beside the U.S. agrees measures must be made to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. President Obama’s stance on climate change brought promise to other countries of the United States possible collaboration on the correcting the situation. When China and the U.S. met and discussed climate change, the world thought change may come and the major contributors would help make a difference.

The Paris Agreement designed by the UN Framework of Convention of Climate Change. When designed, the hope was countries would take their own measures to help stop a two degree rise in temperature. By giving countries freedom to choose their reduction measures, the UN hoped countries would then aggressively work further to reduce pollution and not just work towards the two-degree goal. America and 131 countries ratified the Paris Agreement which is enough to cause a significant impact in climate change. The Paris Agreement is predicted to have worked with its goal but, needed more aggressive reduction to significantly help with global warming. By getting countries to start working on reduction efforts, there was hope countries would begin to transition into other environmental issues and work on other pollution factors. The problem with the agreement is in the name. The document is an agreement because, it does not have a way to enforce countries to comply with reduction measures. Current administration is clear they do not set to follow the agreement and congress is ok to follow the lead. The time has come for the people to speak up and make their voice hold.

Surveys show 7 out of 10 voters believe actions should be made to correct climate change. People have made the decision and now must act upon their choice. Being passive in agreement is not going to bring about the change needed. Now, is the time to take action and start acting in a manner to correct the problem.

Sutter, John. The Paris Agreement is Bigger than Trump… Isn’t it?. CNN. 2017.

When Will the Masses Rise Up?

The science is settled; the consensus among scientists is undeniable. Yet according to Pew Research in 2016, only 48% of Americans believe that global warming is a result of human activity. The poll results go on to show that the campaign of misinformation and mudslinging that has been perpetrated by politicians, oil executives, and other wealthy business interests has permeated the public mind and poisoned perceptions of science and truth.

In class, we discussed whether we thought action would be more effective if it were driven by institutions or the public. However, much of this debate relies on definitions. Institutions can often be restricted to simply the government, or may extend to include large companies, regulatory bodies, even characteristics of the products we buy and the buildings we inhabit. Another meta-problem with the debate was the conflict between what is realistic and what would be ideal, as well as how success ought to be defined.

However, watching Before the Flood brought a new perspective to that discussion by depicting the urgency and importance of finding solutions to temperature increases, ocean acidification, and ice cap melting. We cannot afford to wonder what the best course of action might be in an ideal world, and in acknowledging this fact, the answer to the debate itself becomes clear.

Historically, institutions (be they legal, formal, economic, or even customary) are slow to change and incredibly difficult to alter without the support of the public. The abolition of slavery may have been accomplished by the passing of a law, but the ramifications of Jim Crow laws, segregation, and centuries upon centuries of discrimination and prejudice have left a mark that will take many decades to erase, if not more. Gay marriage was legalized by the Supreme Court in 2015, but this was only accomplished following decades of activism and a growing share of public support for equal rights. Even now, the legal protections of LGBTQ individuals remain shaky at best, and social acceptance remains a lofty goal for many.

In short, the government is not going to do anything about climate change until the cries of the public overwhelm the power of the millions of dollars that are poured into the pockets and SuperPACs of politicians by individuals, lobbyists, and corporations. Citizens will have to be louder than those who would prefer to have the country look the other way so they can continue to profit off of fossil fuels and unsustainable use of natural resources. And even if the institutions decide to listen to the public, change will be slow in coming, and as the documentary depicted in heartbreaking fashion, by that point it may be too late for some people. Individuals must lead the charge to make lifestyle changes on a broad scale because we live in a real and flawed world, not an ideal one. When faced with a challenge as great as the one that exists today, we have to rely on each other to be the change we want to see in the world, not the climate change we must bring ourselves to acknowledge now.




Pew source:

The Impact of Visual Media on Human Emotion

Written imagery as well as visual imagery serve as necessary factors for effective communication in their respective mediums. The interpretation of such communication is often intentionally left open-ended. While some find a less direct form of messaging confusing, I argue that forcing an individual viewer to grapple with multiple possibilities of message is more beneficial in developing a curious and forward-thinking audience.

Take for example, Margaret Atwood’s It’s Not Climate Change, It’s Everything Change. The haunting animations used in the article coupled with the copious un-captioned photographs of times before, present, and yet to come, evoke a strong sense of mystery in the reader. Atwood, as an incredible artist, forces the act of not-knowing on the viewer, while at the same time provides a certain lens for them to view the issue. This avenue of communication is incredibly inspiring. These images of life in the future are just as prominent as the words within the article, and some could argue that they have more impact on the average reader. Business and marketing leader Ekaterina Walter stated, “Two years ago, marketers were spreading the maxim that ‘content is king,’ but now, it seems, ‘a picture really is worth a thousand words.'” If this statement has merit, then the film Before the Flood must have incredible impact on viewers, as I can vouch that it did for me.

In Before the Flood, Leonardo DiCaprio travels the world to give a glimpse of multiple perspectives of people and interviews them in their native environment. I was amazed at the specific sites that DiCaprio travelled, as I had recently been there myself. In Kangerlassuaq, Greenland, I walked atop the Greenland Ice Sheet, in perhaps the exact same spot as DiCaprio, and witnessed scientific evidence of the glacier melt first-hand. On the other side of the world, Leonardo filmed the end of The Revenant in Ushuaia, Argentina, to find snow for the set. Surprisingly, a year prior I had set sail from the same southernmost city in the world, to witness climate change on the magnificent snowy desert of a continent. While visiting these places, going back through my photos, and watching Before the Flood, I have experienced the absolute beauty and majesty of places like the poles and have forced myself to recognize that in as short 20 years, some of these awe-inspiring places will be gone or completely unrecognizable. No amount of facts or statistics could have moved me as monumentally as these images have.

I hope that the inspiring imagery that the film and the article contain show that dismissal of the facts of reality in exchange for the comforting world of deliberate ignorance is not acceptable and that it they will finally influence some to change for the betterment of the world and all those in it.

Evighedsfjord, Greenland

Ilulissat Fjord (also known as Greenland’s Iceberg Factory)


Neko Harbour, Antarctica

Danco Island, Antarctica











Note: Students On Ice is the educational program I travelled with and I strongly advise perusing their website and resources if anyone is even somewhat interested in the polar regions:

Works Cited

Before the Flood (2016) by Fisher Stevens

Blog Post 6


Before the Flood succeeded in demonstrating two main facts about humans and the environment. The first is that humans have inarguably changed the environment around us for the worst. The second, and probably most important fact is we will feel the consequences of climate change a lot quicker than most people expect. For example, as was pointed out in the documentary, the polar ice caps will be completely melted in the summer by 2040. This will have an immense negative effect on ocean currents, weather patterns, sea levels, etc. 2040 is only about 20 years away.


The only to combat climate change is to address human behavior and over consumption. This was highlighted in the documentary. I felt that whenever director Fisher Stevens wanted to make a point about how developed countries over consume, he used America as an example. Although this probably strikes home with most of the documentary’s viewers, the fact that I grew up in Canada made it hard to relate to some of this evidence. So, in this blog post, I decided to research how the Canada consumes and produces energy compared to citizens of other countries in the world.


Canadians consume more energy per capita than Americans, which probably isn’t so shocking for a country that withdrew from the Kyoto agreements. Canada, though, faces similar issues to the United States. For example, most of our energy consumption is a result of the transportation services sector. However, we also face a unique issue, namely the extremely pollutant oil sands.


The oil sands, which were also mentioned in the documentary, are both a blessing and a curse to Canada. Thanks to the oil sands, Canada remains a relevant economic player. People’s lives also depend on the oil sands. According to the Government of Alberta, the oil sands employ 133,000 people. On the other hand, the in order to refine one barrel of oil trapped in the sand, it takes 4.5 barrels of clean water. That is why the oil extraction areas in Alberta consume as much fresh water as the city Calgary. Also, refining oil in this manner is 22% more carbon intensive than normal methods.


This all goes to say that the oil sands debate is not cut and dry. Although it is necessary in the long term to cease refining the oil sands, Canada cannot just stop producing oil immediately. The process must be gradual.





Alberta, Government Of. “Facts and Statistics.” Alberta Energy: Facts and Statistics. Energy Alberta, n.d. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

“Analysis.” Households and the Environment: Energy Use: Analysis. Statistics Canada, 19 Dec. 2012. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.


“Energy.” Statistics Canada, 07 Oct. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.


Lewis, Barbara (10 May 2012). “Insight: Canada’s oil sand battle with Europe | Reuters”. Retrieved 2013-08-27.


The Prodigal Son, Elon Musk and Global Climate Change

“Save the Earth.”

I would be lying if I said, that this isn’t a hackneyed phrase in the crusade against climate change.

In this light, Margaret Atwood’s article “Climate Change is Everything Change” is not only thought-provoking, but a necessary and exigent voice in the global climate conversation today. It is simple, yet perspicacious, effectively relaying the gravity of climate change, offering insight into our future alternatives and in this vein, hoping to inspire action.

Economics dictates, that all humans act in rational self interest. So, what possibly could be more important, than saving and conserving the only planet, that we are capable residing on? (until, that is, Elon Musk colonizes Venus)

There is a cataclysm that we ourselves have been brewing, yet we are beginning to understand as global climate change only now. Backed by wealthy corporations and powerful governmental officials, it is embroiled in polarizing, conspiratorial political fights that deny its existence. How can you even begin to solve a problem, whose existence you refuse to acknowledge? And yet it exists nevertheless.

Everything we have, everything we were born into- the life sustaining air we breathe, the rich and varied food we eat, the showers of winsome rain, the colorful and creepy bugs, the gusty winds, the yellow sands. Like the prodigal son we are squandering all that we have inherited. It is true, if the climate changes, everything changes. In chaos theory, this phenomenon is explained by the butterfly effect. This is the sensitive dependence on initial conditions in which a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. But our changes are no longer small. Our race to accumulate more and more petro-dollars, our rapidly growing economic and technological advances are unparalleled- In history and in terms of the damage they are doing. Changes in weather patters, increase in sea levels, melting polar-caps, increasing diseases and dying species, all are pointing to our reckless and selfish behavior. We are guilty, and we need to act fast. History has repeatedly demonstrated how novel technologies can potentially abrogate established markets, and effectively transmute the way people behave, transport and communicate. It is imperative to keep in mind however, that the key to maximizing these revolutionary innovations is concurrently creating the infrastructure to sustain them. Whether Elon Musk’s gigafactory, or switching to Hydro/solar/wind power- we need to act. What we cannot do is stagnate, and cling to models of the past. The future is now, and we are responsible.



Works Cited

“Butterfly Effect.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Feb. 2017. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

Effect, Cool. “How Climate Change Will Destroy Our World If We Don’t Act Quickly (Cool Effect).” Mashable. Mashable, 07 Oct. 2016. Web. 24 Feb. 2017.

Blog Post 6 – Ryan Bronstein

In her short story, “Time Capsule Found on the Dead Planet,” Margaret Atwood makes an analogy that really struck me. She compares our modern reverence towards money to the way Ancient civilizations revered the gods. Both entities have been carved out of shining metals and provide intangible forms of power “as if by magic” as Atwood explains. Taking this a step further, our contemporary fascination with money is staggering. Our treasury and federal reserve are like temples and its workers are like clergymen who dictate the use and flow of money.

The question has to be raised: how did humanity arrive here? At what point did belief turn into greed? There is likely no single answer; nevertheless, broad speculations may point in the right direction. For instance, by asking why money is revered in today’s society, we can infer the answer is related to value. The value of money is what provides it with the power to turn paper into comfort, excess, and luxury. Similarly, this is what the gods could provide to the Ancient civilizations. Citizens believed the gods provided them with water, warmth, and anything else of value to their lives. For these reasons, Atwood hit this analogy right on the mark.

With value being the common link between the gods and money, we can start to see the origins of the transition from religious society to the modern monetary-based society. Assuming that it is instinctive in human nature to chase value, there must have been a time when the amount of money you had became more valuable than your beliefs. This is a really powerful notion that many people would probably like to think does not apply to them. However, our neoliberalist society, increasing financialization of almost every institution, and commercialization of most resources are all signs that money may already be the dominating force of modern society.

So when did money outpace religion? It is likely impossible to say as a number of confounding factors would lead to this drastic movement. Perhaps it is associated with the Industrial Revolution and the subsequent commercialization of goods. Additionally, it could be associated with scientific advancements that offered explanations for how the world works, thus decreasing the value of the gods. Whatever the answer may be, it is important to study because this chase for more value is shaping our perceptions of what is important and leaving environmental degradation as an afterthought.


Works Cited