Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Roads in the Anthropocene

February 16th, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I’m poured out, and over. Over and over.

Humans claiming as theirs, what never really was.

Each layer of my unnatural being, slowly enshrouding what was once green, and alive.

But, man’s always been this way. He walks over everything, just like he walks over me.

Hard rubber soles, hollow souls. Building all these roads.

Roads that run in every direction, but roads that lead to nowhere.

Roads that they envisage pave the way to a better tomorrow

Purposefully oblivious that today might be their last.

Bridging the gap with fiction

February 16th, 2017 | Posted by Joe Jacob in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Often, people do not see the impact of their actions on the environment. There is no immediate visual indication of how their full gas tanks, ubiquitous air conditioning, or even long showers damage our ecosystem, and consequently, many of these people continue with their harmful quotidian routines, ignorant of their impact. Unbeknownst to them, more often than not, their lifestyles’ negative byproduct contributes to the pollution of environments hundreds of miles away from them. This geographical disconnect between these peoples’ actions and their actions’ effects may never be closed; therefore, it is imperative to educate people of their impact because quantifying the effect of their lifestyles will help them understand the reason they need to change.

In Oil on Water, the reader is introduced to a country plagued by oil. Foreign greed for oil had reduced the country’s land and people to just tools for harvesting more oil. By viewing these people as inanimate objects, the foreign oil tycoons never developed any empathy for these people’s hardships. They never knew the smell of oil on water. In order to have the reader develop empathy for the country’s suffering, Helon Habila fills his narrative with vivid descriptions of the country’s environment: everything from the sweet taste of corn porridge to the putrid smell of dead life in the oil-infested waters. By familiarizing the reader to the realities of the country’s environment, Habila attempts to bridge the geographic disconnect between the readers’ lifestyles and their foreign footprint on a land’s environment.

A Nigerian village's oil-infested shoreline

A Nigerian village’s oil-infested shoreline

Although fiction may not be the most succinct way of communicating facts, it is indeed a valuable medium for immersing a reader in experiences starkly different from their own. Without personal experience, it’s sometimes difficult to understand the gravity of a problem; however, fiction attempts to fill that void by recounting the experience of someone else and ultimately making you feel as if it were your own.


Works Cited

Calvino, Italo. Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Vintage International, 1996. Print.

Dodocutepoison. “Pumzi.” YouTube. YouTube, 07 Dec. 2012. Web. 16 Feb. 2017.

Habila, Helon. Oil on Water. Lagos; Nigeria; Parrésia Publishers Ltd.: n.p., 2016. Print.


I sit in the 4 by 4 stall and wait for the next person who has become so filled with pain to come relieve themselves. This exchange has moved away from a simple release, wipe, and go. Now, with every flush they can see the pain and destruction that I am causing. They used to not understand that with every turn of the handle I used several gallons of their most prized resource. Both of us used to be free to use this resource as we pleased…or were we? But in any case, now they understand, and our exchange has become rather toxic. They are so filled with the pain of the barren world that they are living in that they come to relieve themselves, and are met by one of the very objects causing this pain. If they had took the time to understand before now, we both could be living free of the pain that we have both caused.

The “Spot” Bot (Nanki Singh, Brielle Tobin, Mary Osborn, Joe Jacob)

  • A dog robot
  • replaces real dogs – plays fetch, cuddles, and wags its tail – a little too perfect
  • wealthy people who feel the need to have a pet
  • it looks just like a real dog except no genitalia
  • people still crave the companionship of a dog, except they are unable to live in the new atmosphere

People view these dogs are the best thing ever because they are ignorant of what dogs used to be! these dogs don’t even have warmth! 🙁

Eco-Tips for reducing your digital trace

Device Maintenance

  • Buy Conscientiously & Consume Selectively
    • buy energy-saver devices
    • buy repairable devices
    • buy used and refurbished devices
    • buy only what you need
    • buy only when you must
  • Optimize Charging
  • Optimize Device Life
    • treat your devices with care
  • Repair, Reuse, Re-make, and only then Recycle
    • check out iFixit, Instructables, and YouTube for DIY repair instructions
    • be sure you recycle responsibly using a reputable electronics recycling center

Online Activity

  • Reduce Streaming
  • Save Selectively: by reducing the amount of data you save, you reduce your carbon footprint
    • delete unnecessary data
    • save only what is needed
    • reduce over-redundant saving
  • Use Green Web Hosts
  • Design Low-Carbon Websites
    • reduce the load on your website (with carefully-chosen colors, lower-resolution images, deliberately-designed typefaces, and reduced interactivity) and you reduce the energy it consumes
  • Use Carbon-Neutral Search Engines like Ecosia (Ecosia also donates trees each time you search)
  • Try Tab for a Cause to make your tab-opening activities work toward making positive change
  • Try GoodBlock ad blocker, “the ad blocker with a purpose”




Blog Post 4

February 13th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

While watching the 7 p.m. London News Network I heard one of the women report that “the price of oil has risen slightly over the course of the week.” I have had trouble thinking about anything but oil since my last trip to Nigeria. I saw first hand the damage all these oil companies are doing to the environment and local communities. I can not image the price of oil ever being high enough to compensate for the true cost of producing, shipping and using oil. I guess it wouldn’t even matter if the price of a single barrel was a million pounds because the companies all would keep for themselves. Well maybe they would use it to pay for another ransom.

I had to quit the first job I got when I returned. I worked at the aquarium right next to the Thames by the Eye of London. Most people would have liked to have my job. I got 10£ an hour to work at the ticket window that faced the river, but that river terrified me. Anytime I saw a branch or large piece of trash I would have flashbacks to seeing arms floating along side the boat.

Not even my friends are willing to change their opinion on oil. I think it is because they never once learned in school about the science behind oil, but I can not blame them because neither did I. I learned everything on my own only after my time in Nigeria. Have you ever tried to explain to a construction worker that oil is bad? He laughed at me. They always laugh at me. You should have seen their faces when I told them even using google would use oil.

I’m afraid that no one will learn until it is too late. That people will only realize it is too late when the petroleum pump runs dry. But if we wait until the holy nozzle is unable to provide, then the environment at large may already be ruined.

Isabel Floode

When Fiction Isn’t Enough

February 11th, 2017 | Posted by Margaret Overton in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I was taken aback when our class was asked about our willingness to make lifestyle changes if we were given a list of concrete actions that would help the environment. Intellectually, I wanted to say that I would absolutely be willing to make sacrifices and alterations, but internally, I knew that a combination of laziness, selfishness, and unwillingness to acknowledge or admit the impact that my tiny life has on the world around me. I remain far removed from the effects of climate change both at Duke and back in Tennessee, and I still struggle with finding a sense of proximity to these issues.

Theoretically, this is when fiction and storytelling becomes most important. Although I may not live out an environmental crisis in my suburban surroundings, I can witness their effects on others on the page or onscreen. Yet even these experiences are difficult for me to truly relate to. I am neither an immigrant, nor a journalist, nor a farmer, and while I can feel sympathy for these individuals and their struggles, at the end of the day, I am unable to muster up the deep connection and sense of responsibility that their tales ought to invoke.

Oil on Water made me feel guilty about the impact of American greed on Nigerians and its ecosystems, but internally, I am able to redirect the blame onto oil companies and large companies rather than myself, a single student. “The Petrol Pump” also induced a sense of concern for an unavoidable future when we have exhausted our oil resources, but again, I perceive the responsibility for finding a solution to be that of scientists and businesses, not myself. And while the world depicted in Pumzi is rather frightening, it is different enough from the world I experience every day that I do not feel the sense of urgency or concern that it might arouse if I felt more of a personal connection to the story.

Climate change and environmental degradation may be a process measured in years, but action and change must occur now if we are to avoid a catastrophic future. Writers, directors, producers, artists, and especially scientists and academics must work together to find a way to catch, and more importantly, to hold the attention of the public. I consider myself to be more interested in sustainability issues than the average person, and even I tend to view such problems as belonging to either a time or a place far removed from where I am today.

If fiction is to be a pathway for spreading messages about the importance of solving climate challenges with adequate speed, it has to start being more direct and vivid in its stories. It should worry less about being artistic or having allegorical messages, and not shy away from the frightening, the painful, and the taboo. It must be willing to confront its audience personally, speaking to them individually and in terms that will strike them with a sense of responsibility and urgency. I need to hear the stories that are brutal, that are ugly, that are inconclusive. But most importantly, they must feel very, very real. In a society where we are too often numb to real tragedy and horror in our media, it is the responsibility of those who want to make an impact on people to find a way to cut through the fog and strike directly at our hearts. Then we may get the message, and I hope it won’t be too late.


Works Cited:

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.

Dodocutepoison. “Pumzi”. Youtube. Youtube, LLC. 2013

Buying Nature

February 11th, 2017 | Posted by Barbara Lynn Weaver in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Buying Nature

When I was in elementary school, my mom topped off each bag lunch with a plastic water bottle. Only used once. When the clay soil in my backyard wasn’t conducive to plant growth, I bought better soil from the plant nursery. It came in a plastic bag. When my friend sent me a picture from her college, it was of the oxygen bar that just opened on her campus. She paid money to breathe ‘better’ air. While these experiences are my own, they are not unique. As Wanuri Kahiu said, “I am not so unique that my story is relevant only to myself.” The bottling and purchasing of natural resources happens worldwide.

In her TEDx Talk, Kahiu, who directed Pumzi, said that she thinks the idea of bottling nature and selling it for profit is ridiculous. She asked, “where does the idea of buying natural things end?” And her question is a difficult one, because the short term answers are very different from the long term ones. For short term end points, bottled water is convenient, bagged soil creates life, and canned air is entertaining. Natural resources under this mindset are continuously consumed and thrown away, without regard to the effects and ethics that the distribution of these products can have in the long run.

Regarding the long term, buying natural things can end in instability and poverty for entire nations of people, as depicted by the Nigerian oil conflicts in Oil on Water. The sequestration of nature can also have psychological repercussions, like the plaguing paranoia that the nature we take advantage of will one-day cease to exist, and take us with it, as exhibited in The Petrol Pump. Kahiu, through Pumzi, presents perhaps the bleakest long term outcome of them all: the eradication of hope.

My personal experiences buying nature are not unique, and neither are the experiences of the millions of people who have to face the long term repercussions, like those mentioned above, daily. Their stories are not so unique that they are relevant only to themselves. Buying natural things does not end at the checkout counter; it ricochets around in the lives of others around the world.



Kahiu, Wanuri. “No More Labels.” TEDx Talks. Feb 4 2014. Web. Feb 8 2017. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4–BIlZE_78

Blog Post 4

February 11th, 2017 | Posted by Victoria Grant in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The readings and short film showed the exploitative nature of mankind. In some shape or form, the reader was struck by greed and the consequences of the emotion: destruction, pain, and limiting-reign.  All the works looked at the exploitation of natural resources which are limited and being used unsustainably by powerful nations.

Oil on Water revolved around the use of oil in Africa, specifically Nigeria, and the war on the environment. The story followed a journalist, Rufus, and his mentor/friend, Zaq, as they attempted to find a kidnapped woman. While looking for the woman, Rufus and Zaq became witnesses to a system of abuse and exploitation of resources and people. Big oil companies take from the land at the expense of the people. While the company made money, water was being poisoned: killing the plants, animals, and people in the area. Militants attempted to fight off the oil companies to help the environment but, while they fought big companies, innocent people were caught in the crossfire and some used the mission of others to make money.

The short story, The Petrol Pump, and the film, Pumzi, were works showing the exploitation of people in a first person point of view. In the short story, the reader sees a character who is living in a world facing a oil crisis. Desperation to find oil is felt and the protagonist leads the reader to wonder about a world without this resource they rely heavily upon. In the film, the audience sees the effect of losing a resource. The protagonist shows a world were there is no water and the desperate measures that must be taken to keep a civilization alive.

The exploitation observed in the works bring into question the system society has created. We have decided to take all we can without reserve or concern for others. Now the works ask, what is the consequence for our actions and when will we be punished?

Image result for exploitation of natural resources in africa

Works Cited

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.

Dodocutepoison. “Pumzi”. Youtube. Youtube, LLC. 2013.


Blog #4 – Kevin Bhimani

February 10th, 2017 | Posted by Kevin Bhimani in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Blog 2/10/17

Kevin Bhimani Blog #4

The book Oil on Water presented an interesting take not only on the issues of pollution and degradation resulting from oil extraction in Nigeria, but it also gave a look into how this was not simply just a black and white conflict. There are multiple factors stemming from the geopolitical atmosphere that need to be taken into account as this is such a complex situation. The novel revolves around a reporter, Rufus, and his quest to find a missing woman along with his friend and mentor, Zaq. This led to a journey filled with encounters that shed light on the issues of land control, corporate greed, hypocrisy, and more. My main take away from this story was the huge cultural disparity between how people in other countries view the environment versus how we in the United States and other 1st world countries do. The natives in the book had such a deep connection to their land which is why they were so passionate about protecting it, whereas in the U.S. we simply view it as something that is there for our disposal—just another tool that can make our lives easier. There is a fundamental difference in ideology, which is expounded upon in this research paper. The notion of protecting our Earth as humans won’t come to fruition until there is a common sentiment amongst all people and cultures. Our land and natural resources are something that we should preserve and cultivate so that we can use it for generations to come, not something that we exploit.

Additionally, the short story The Petrol Pump and the short film Pumzi were to me the two most intriguing things that we have been exposed to in the course thus far. The dystopian nature that they gave off was something likened to Netflix’s Black Mirror, a show in which different scenarios are presented in which the world has a significantly twisted, and sometimes bleak view. The idea of producing no waste, or not having any sign of life outside the bubble that has been created to further the human race are notions that seem all too distant now, but very soon we may realize that this is not so far off. I believe the objective that Italo Calvino is going for when describing the last bit of gas being pumped into that sports car or Wanuri Kahiu is representing when depicting a hypothetical world after WWIII “The War of Water” is that we won’t be focusing on the trivial aspects of life anymore when the very basic needs of our planet cease to exist. If we run out of gas, water, food, etc. then our entire dynamic as a society fundamentally changes, and it is interesting to see directors, artists, and more take this topic on and give it their own view. Films such as Mad Max, Blade Runner, and books like Fahrenheit 451 are all other examples of this genre that I personally find to be fascinating.


Works Cited

Calvino, Italo, and Tim Parks. Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1995. Print.

Habila, Helon. Oil on Water: A Novel. New York: W.W. Norton, 2011. Print.

Pumzi by Wanuri Kahiu




The film Pumzi, the novel Oil on Water, and the short story “The Petrol Pump” all were inspired by the unsustainable actions of mankind and set out to deliver warnings or raise awareness of this vast issue. Nevertheless, each story had its own unique way of portraying the urgency of its message. Therefore, each story also differed in how it made me feel and want to act moving forward.

Pumzi takes the viewer into the future to a time following a devastating war over water. It is the story of a young woman who fights to conserve what may very well be the last living plant in the world. In the end, she values the plant over everything and gives her life to it upon a treacherous journey in the desert where the tree can grow and prosper away from the fatal human touch of her civilization. This film instilled a strange sense of remorse and guilt in me. I say strange because this story is about a society in East Africa far from my home and an entire World War into the future. Nevertheless, it still made me recognize the need for change because this distant future did not feel so far. Specifically, it made me want to tell my government to change their policies right now before it is too late.

Oil on Water by Helon Habila had a similar effect on me as Pumzi did. Through the story of a journalist observing the fight over oil between Nigerian militants and oil manufacturers, Habila shows very clearly the destructive effects of the unsustainable practices of the developed world, such as the exploitation of oil-containing lands. The novel is full of emotion, devastation, and most importantly, truth. It is a fictional story yet this destruction is happening in Nigeria today. As I read the novel, I again yearned for my government to simply fix this – to stop all their ruinous practices and help the Nigerians. As unlikely as my appeal may be, it still made me look towards change. In fact, it was even more effective in grabbing my attention than Pumzi was because it raised concerns about the present rather than the future.

Lastly, “The Petrol Pump” had an entirely different effect upon me. By focusing on the thoughts of a single individual as he pumps his gas and contemplates sustainability, I too focused on my own actions. The short story made me question how I react when I am driving and my fuel reserves get low. In this case, I was not considering what society needed to do to avoid a disastrous future or alleviate the problems of the present. Instead, I realized that maybe I should be the one changing my unsustainable ways. Thus, I found “The Petrol Pump” to be the most effective story in producing change towards sustainability in the mindset of the reader.



Works Cited

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.

Dodocutepoison. “Pumzi”. Youtube. Youtube, LLC. 2013.