Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Brielle Tobin and Barbara Lynn Weaver

Health and Socioeconomic Disparities of Food Deserts

Food insecurity exists when communities experience inconsistent access to adequate food due to lack of money and other resources. While especially relevant in today’s social climate, food insecurity in and of itself it not a new issue. Historically, there have always been parties who don’t know where or when their next meal will happen, such as early hunter gatherers. However, despite the time elapsed since we transitioned from a nomadic lifestyle, one in six Americans still experience food insecurity, either lacking funds to provide food or lacking access to food (Hartman). The latter can be described using the term food deserts, which are defined as “households being more than a mile from a supermarket with no access to a vehicle” (Chinni). The most recent societal transition from urban life to suburban life has exacerbated food insecurity as wealthy families move out of cities, and grocery stores move with them. For families with cars, this spread of resources doesn’t create a problem, but for families without transportation, the distance to the grocery store, and therefore access to food, can become impassable.

In areas such as Durham, North Carolina, where a history of redlining defines and restricts economic opportunities for all households within specific areas, families must rely on supermarkets and grocery stores that cater to low-income budgets for nutritious meals (Michaels). Redlined districts were originally based on racial division, and those within the districts were and still are deliberately denied loans based simply on the area in which they live. As a result, private transportation is often a luxury that only those of higher socioeconomic status, or those living in higher graded districts, can achieve. Grocery stores that carry the healthiest food are also oftentimes the most expensive. Consequently, chains such as Whole Foods are focused in areas of higher wealth, like suburbs, where families that can afford cars and gas can also afford the more expensive goods. The need for transportation and mobility to reach nutritious food is then the first barrier between a well-rounded dinner for four and items off the four for four menu at a fast food restaurant.

As demonstrated by redlining, low income populations facing discrimination are almost always populations of minorities. These populations are more likely to be living in areas affected by food deserts. For example, the United States Department of Agriculture states that, “the percent of the population that is non-Hispanic Black is over twice as large in urban food deserts than in other urban areas” (Dutko). A history of oppression coupled with increasing economic disparities creates areas of poverty in which food deserts appear. This causation is evident in the specific locations of grocery stores, as stated in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine: “Studies have found that wealthy districts have three times as many supermarkets as poor ones do, that white neighborhoods contain an average of four times as many supermarkets as predominantly black ones do” (Morland). Distinction between white and/or wealthy neighborhoods and lower income communities with minorities is not a new phenomenon; however, the issue of food security is a pertinent and daily battle in which every person regardless of wealth or race must participate.

Discrimination in terms of supermarket placement is not solely found in densely populated cities, as food deserts outside of urban areas also present immense obstacles for rural communities. For instance, the subject of food sovereignty is prioritized in numerous Native American communities. An exemplification of this issue is the Oglala Lakota people of South Dakota’s Pine River Reservation who rely on 95 percent of their goods to be shipped in from outside of the Nation (Elliot). The dependency caused by this food desert restricts the lives of those within the community and prevents communities from maintaining their independence. The experiences of people living within urban and rural food deserts establishes the pressing matter of food deserts as an environmental justice issue. Withdrawing access to goods from specific communities based on race and income rejects the rights for all to lead safe and healthy lives, and stresses the increasing importance of providing equal opportunities for adequate food.

Food deserts are indicators of more than just socioeconomic injustice; they indicate public health and safety concerns for those living within their borders. Residents with a chronic lack of access to adequate food resources are shown to have higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and cardiovascular disease (Corapi). Families who cannot afford grocery stores will purchase food from the ever-available and affordable fast food restaurants, causing higher than usual rates of chronic illnesses to develop in the population. Along with medical bills that may exceed what a family is capable of paying, these chronic illnesses can cause diet-related cancers and even premature death. These severe consequences of living in a food desert represent the potential for a life expectancy far shorter than counterparts living near a grocery store. For example, adults diagnosed with diabetes can anticipate a life 15 years shorter than otherwise would have been allotted to them (Gallagher). In this case, consistent access to healthy food is truly a life or death situation.

Image 1: Diagram of the Impacts of Food Deserts by Barbara Lynn Weaver

Along with experiencing shorter than average life expectancy, families living within the bounds of food deserts are also subjected to decreasing wealth as time passes. By their very nature, food deserts are located in areas of low population and low income, but as time progresses, these two characteristics are exacerbated. As wealth abandons a neighborhood, businesses follow. This means that all too often, when new stores do open, they choose areas of relative wealth and prosperity. Without new businesses to bring economic attention to a neighborhood, that neighborhood will get less wealthy over time. This trend of decreasing wealth represents a positive feedback loop, in which low initial wealth causes even lower wealth to develop within a population. Additionally, food deserts have long term impacts on the economic success of the children raised within them. Children facing poor nutrition or chronic illness are statistically more susceptible to encountering social and behavioral problems in school (Child Hunger). Such problems can hinder educational advancements, causing children to incur administrative discipline or academic probation. Living in a food desert can stand between educational, and therefore economic, success or failure.

While causes of food deserts are systemic and their impacts often cyclical, many solutions are emerging that attempt to address multiple aspects of the harm caused by food deserts. A favorable program promising the eventual erasure of food deserts originates from the USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The goal of the USDA’s Community Food Projects Competitive Grant Program is to increase access to local nutritious food by working with producers and consumers to promote independence, create long-term solutions, and construct programs that are beneficial for the whole community (CFP). Another solution is the opening of community-owned food cooperatives. In areas such as Greensboro, North Carolina, communities previously living within food deserts are given a sense of responsibility when shopping at their co-op grocery store because not only are they improving their own health, but they are also showing the value of communities that mobilize and make democratic decisions to benefit one another (Johnson). However, a point often overlooked is that increasing access to supermarkets and grocery stores does not necessarily change behavior. According to a pilot study in Philadelphia, members of a community in which access was expanded did not show an increase in the consumption of fruits or vegetables (Cummins). To further decrease the harm of food deserts, new initiatives need to be created to address the connected between community awareness and individual action.

Examining the causes, impacts, and solutions of resource insecurity found inside food deserts reveals the complexity of the problem and the importance of environmental justice. Historical events like redlining, which separate people of socioeconomic status, are inextricably linked to the creation of food deserts. Food deserts in turn lower the wealth and health of affected communities, leading to increasing public health concerns and propagating the cycle of poverty. Programs that acknowledge the issue, and bring it into the public sphere, are key to combating food deserts. Grocery stores alone cannot solve food deserts, and it is vital that the culture of fast food and convenience be examined in relation to socioeconomic disparities. Environmental justice, behavioral change, and exposure to adequate food have the potential to bring the development and expansion of food deserts under control when used in combination.


Works Cited

“Child Hunger in America.” Feeding America. Web. Fed 28, 2017. http://www.feedingamerica.org/hunger-in-america/impact-of-hunger/child-hunger/?referrer=http://www.sustainableamerica.org/blog/what-is-food-insecurity/

Chinni, Dante. “The Socio-Economic Significance of Food Deserts.” PBS. June 29, 2011. Web. Feb. 29, 2017.  http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/the-socio-economic-significance-of-food-deserts/

“Community Food Projects (CFP) Competitive Grants Program.” National Institute of Food and Agriculture in partnership with the USDA. Web. Feb 27, 2017. https://nifa.usda.gov/funding-opportunity/community-food-projects-cfp-competitive-grants-program

Corapi, Sarah. “Why it takes more than a grocery store to eliminate a ‘food desert’” PBS. Feb 3, 2014. Web. Feb 27, 2017.http://www.pbs.org/newshour/updates/takes-grocery-store-eliminate-food-desert/

Cummins*, Steven, Ellen Flint, and Stephen A. Matthews. “New Neighborhood Grocery Store Increased Awareness Of Food Access But Did Not Alter Dietary Habits Or Obesity.”Health Affairs. N.p., 01 Feb. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. <http://content.healthaffairs.org/content/33/2/283.abstract>.

Elliot, Scott. “Tribal Communities Strive to Regain Food Sovereignty.” National Institute of Food and Agriculture in partnership with the USDA. Nov 17, 2015. Web. Mar 2, 2017. http://blogs.usda.gov/2015/11/17/tribal-communities-strive-to-regain-food-sovereignty/#more-61940

Gallagher, Mari. “The Chicago Food Desert Progress Report.” Mari Gallagher Research and Consulting Group. June 2009. Web. March 1, 2017. http://marigallagher.com/site_media/dynamic/project_files/ChicagoFoodDesProg2009.pdf

Hartman, Brian. “Food Insecurity: 1 in 6 Americans Struggles to Buy Food.” abc News. Sept. 8, 2011. Web. Feb. 28, 2017. http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/headlines/2011/09/food-insecurity-1-in-6-americans-struggles-to-buy-food/

Johnson, Cat. “New North Carolina Coop to Turn a Food Desert into a Food Oasis.”Shareable. 9 Feb. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. http://www.shareable.net/blog/new-north-carolina-coop-to-turn-a-food-desert-into-a-food-oasis

Morland, K., Wing, S., et al. “Neighborhood characteristics associated with the location of food stores and food service places.” American Journal of Preventive Medicine. January 2002, vol. 22(1): p. 23-29. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11777675 (3/05/11)

Paula Dutko, Michele Ver Ploeg, Tracey Farrigan. “Characteristics and Influential Factors of Food Deserts.” Economic Research Service, USDA. Aug. 2012. Web. Feb. 27, 2017. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/err140/30940_err140.pdf
Will Michaels, Frank Stasio. “Mapping Inequality: How Redlining is Still Affecting Inner Cities.” WUNC, North Carolina Public Radio. Jun 26, 2014. Web. Mar 2, 2017. http://wunc.org/post/mapping-inequality-how-redlining-still-affecting-inner-cities#stream/0

Nanki Singh and Riley Cohen

March 3rd, 2017




Deviating from its original use as gum filling for indigenous canoes, the first barrel of refined Alberta Oil Sand was only shipped out in 1978. Despite only being processed for around forty years, the Oil Sands have impacted Canada, and even the world, in an environmental, social, and economic fashion.


In recent years the Oil Sands industry in Alberta has seriously expanded, evolving into a multi-billion dollar industry that employs hundreds of thousands of people. It would be impossible for Canada to completely eliminate its reliance on the Oil Sands in a short period of time without causing serious harm to the employees of this industry. However, it is clear, even to the current Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that allowing the oil industry to control the economic fate of Canada is unwise. It must be phased out.


Over the course of this paper, we will explore the specific impacts of the Oil Sands on multiple facets of the issue. Furthermore, we will weigh the benefits and harms that the oil sands have on Canada. This should clarify and, hopefully, reduce the complexity of the issue.


History of the Oil Sands:


Upon first exploring western Canada, colonists were intrigued by the Oil Sands and documented their encounters with these strange pockets of black goo. One of the earliest recorded descriptions of the Oil Sands or bitumen comes from Sir Alexander McKenzie in 1788. Not only does he note just how extensive the reserves of bitumen are, but he also writes about how this substance is used by the indigenous population to fill their canoes. Interestingly, the process by which the native inhabitants of Alberta refine the bitumen into gum for their canoes is similar to the process we use now to refine the sand into oil.


Throughout the 19th century there was no commercial use for the Oil Sands, but quickly after the turn of the century many began to drill in Alberta, hoping that the presence of oil in the sand was an overflow of a large oil reserve stuck underneath the surface. To their dismay, no attempts to strike pockets of oil were successful. The United States, shortly after gaining nuclear technology, also developed an interest in refining the Oil Sands. They planned on igniting a nuclear bomb underground, which would theoretically make the ground reach high enough temperatures to refine the sand into crude oil. Thankfully, the Canadian government rejected this project.


In the 1960s, the first successful projects to refine the Oil Sands began to emerge, and by 1971, the Sun Oil Company was pumping out 30,000 barrels of crude oil a day. This marks the beginning large-scale corporate mining operations in Alberta.


Today, the scale of the Oil Sand extraction has increased to gargantuan proportions. It is now the third largest oil reserve that is proven to exist. In 2007, 726,100 barrels of oil were being pumped out each day. If companies keep to their current mining objectives, future planned production could be around 5,000,000 barrels of oil a day.   



Estimate of production is taken from a synthesis of data from:

“Athabasca oil sands.” Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 27 February 2017. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Petroleum History Society Archives 15.4 (2005): n. pag. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

“Oil Sands History and Development.” Institute for Oil Sands Innovation. University of Alberta, Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Feb. 2017.

Gordon Pitts. “The Man Who Saw Gold in Alberta’s Oil Sands.” Globe and Mail [Calgary] 25 Aug. 2012: n. pag. Web.


Oil Sands’ Emissions and Contributions to Climate Change:


Although the Oil Sands have only been industrially mined for about forty-five years, a relatively small time when compared to a geological timescale, its impact on the environment and contribution to global warming is immense. With today’s technology, we have access to about 170 billion barrels of oil from the Oil Sands. It is estimated that the Oil Sands hold up to 1.63 trillion barrels of oil. If those barrels of oil were all consumed, the Earth’s average temperature would raise 0.4 degrees Celsius.


The statistic above, however, only includes the green gas house gas emissions from burning the oil once it has been refined. The process of refining the Oil Sands also contributes to climate change, and it is far more polluting than the process of refining normal crude oil. In fact, Greenpeace estimates that the Oil Sands are three to four times dirtier than normal oil. It is important to note, however, that the Greenpeace estimation is pretty liberal. The Scientific American estimates that oil burned from the Oil Sands results in an increase of greenhouse gas emissions of only fourteen percent more than the average oil burned in the US. This increase is still considerable, although it is far less than Greenpeace’s estimation.


Furthermore, the the bitumen in the Oil Sands create a by-product known as petroleum (pet) coke. It is used to create jet fuel and diesel and is possible one of the dirtiest fossil fuels, emitting 20 percent more CO2 than oil. The Canadian tar sands alone produce 10 million metric tons of pet coke a year. It is important to note that since pet coke is not the primary resource being mined in the Oil Sands, it is often not included in companies’ reports on their environmental impact.


In 2011, the Oil Sands emitted 47 million metric tons of CO2 into our atmosphere, which is a relatively small number when compared to the two billion tons of CO2 that was emitted by US coal mining in the same year. Eliminating our consumption of oil from the Tar Sands would definitely not stop greenhouse gas emissions, but it would be a step in the right direction.  


Biello, David. “How Much Will Tar Sands Oil Add to Global Warming?” Scientific American 23 Jan. 2013: n. pag. Web. 1 Mar. 2017.

“The Tar Sands and Climate Change.” Greenpeace Canada. Greenpeace, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

Economic Impact of the Oil Sands:


It is estimated that over the next 20 years, the Oil Sands will have contributed four trillion dollars to the Canadian economy and 1.2 trillion dollars in taxes to the Canadian government. In 2012, the Oil Sands single handedly generated 91 billion dollars. Considering that in 2016 the Canadian gross domestic product was only 1.5 trillion, the Oil Sands clearly have an immense impact on its country’s economy.


The Oil Sands have essentially transformed Alberta, replacing its agriculture-based economy to a massive oil-based economy. This change, of course, has led to economic prosperity for Alberta. The province is now even debt-free. The Oil Sands have also supplied the Canadian economy with 480,000 jobs, many of which are in Alberta. It is to think of that number as just figure, but those are 480,000 people who are now able to provide for their families. These are also, in general, low skilled jobs. If the Oil Sands industry would cease to exist, many of these people would have a difficult time finding a job with a similar skill-level and pay.


It is also important to note that there still a lot of oil left in the tar sands. In fact, Canada has the world’s third largest proven oil reserve. A lot of it, however, is difficult to retrieve. Nonetheless, in theory, the Oil Sand industry could generate a lot of income for Canada for many years to come. In fact, the industry would like to double their output of oil by 2025. If they succeed in doing so, it is estimated that the Canadian gross domestic product will double and another 700,000 jobs will be added to the economy over the next 25 years.


Although allowing the oil industry in Canada to grow would theoretically be lucrative, many question whether this growth would result in Canada being unhealthily dependent on oil. Oil prices definitely have a direct impact on the Canadian economy. In 2016 oil prices dropped significantly, which resulted in an economic slouch. Since the process of refining the tar sands is tedious, companies in Alberta spend more per barrel to extract oil. As oil prices continue to plunge, profit margins for these companies shrink and reverberations are felt across the country. These reverberations would be exponentially larger if the industry succeeded in doubling their size.


“Economic Contribution.” Canada’s Oil Sands. Canada’s Oil & Natural Gas Producers, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017

“Alberta’s Oil Sands: Social Impacts.” Gale Canada in Context, Gale, 2016. Canada in Context, n.d. 01 Mar. 2017.

“Oil Sands and the Economy: 5 Things You May Not Know.” Oil Sands Question and Response (OSQAR) Blog. Suncor, 18 Sept. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

Slav, Irina. “Oil Bust Continues To Take Its Toll On Canadian Economy.” OilPrice.com. OilPrice, 05 July 2016. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.


The impact of Oil Sands on Human Health

All we are saying is that the basis for the human health risk assessment is flawed.”

It is a fact, that the crude oil processed from the sands of the Boreal Forests in Alberta, Canada is one of the world’s dirtiest and most environmentally destructive sources of fuel. An increasing body of research evidences the serious health risks posed by the extraction and production processes. Despite this, the state and federal governments have done little to address the public health risks it poses.

The University of Toronto’s environmental chemistry research group recently published a study that reported: the PAH emissions estimated in the environmental impact assessments of the oilsands, are shown to be lower, than what they actually are. . In fact, researchers recently studied the chemical concentrations from direct oil sands industrial activity (mining, processing and transport). They asserted that the actual levels of chemicals in the air, may be two to three times higher than what was recorded in other scientific studies. (Cotter)

PAH refers to the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which are released into the air, water and soil when bitumen-rich oil sands are mined and processed .(Cotter) This was to approve developments in the Athabasca oilsands region. Of the multiple risks posed by the oil sands operations in Alberta’s Athabasca region, the health implications remain vast, and extremely underestimated. The most predominant causes are the explosions and industrial accidents that occur at the site(s) during the production process, and setting up of its infrastructure. These industrial mishaps have deleterious effects, and manifest themselves by decreasing the health of the biotic species around:

              Various forms of cancer are becoming prevalent, attributed to the production process.

              Freshwater is being made toxic by downstream seepage- causing catastrophic damage to aquatic, animal and human life in the area.

              It accounts for high emissions of hazardous pollution and dust from tailing ponds and mining sites. These lead to increasing cases of respiratory and lung diseases, especially in the miners and workers.

Despite all the overwhelming research that of the negative effects of the oil sands projects, especially those that impact human health- directly and indirectly- more projects are being planned in the region.


Oil Sands: An endangerment to the animals of Alberta

“Birds tell us so much about what is going on around us. They tell us that there needs to be a change in U.S. energy policy.” Gabriela Chavarria, director of the NRDC’s science center

It comes as no surprise, that the habitat and health, of various species of animals have been detrimentally impacted by the infrastructure and production processes of the oilsands. While the industry’s impacts on human health have been greatly assessed and criticized, there remains a lack of literature and urgency when it comes to our animal co-inhabitants. The oil sands have led to the poisoning of waterways, irregularities in the food chain and clean air supply. Concurrently there has been an incessant increase in CO2 emissions and a gradual degradation in the surrounding areas. This has led to “drops and even disappearances of species near pipelines, platforms and other infrastructure of the tarsands.” (Wells)

Powell, Todd. “Alberta Places Wildlife at Further Risk with Tar Sands Wetlands Exemption.”The National Wildlife Federation Blog. National Wildlife Federation, 12 Sept. 2012. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Over hundreds of decomposed ducks have been found on the surface of the oil sands company’s pollutant-filled reservoir in Alberta. It has been reported that its lake-sized reservoir, also known as a tailings pond, killed an estimated 1,606 birds. (Blog) These ponds hold an amalgamate of clayey sand, hydrocarbons, and heavy metals that remain as by products after the oil extraction process. A study conducted by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) estimated a death toll of 166 million birds over the next 5 decades.

Sadly, one of the animals most harmed by the expanding tar sands operation is the the Woodland Caribou. Due to the pernicious loss of its habitat, the Caribou, an animal already considered endangered is soon expected to go extinct. This would make the Woodland Caribous the third species of Caribou to disappear from the earth. Other animals facing endangerment include: the Grey Wolf, the Black Bear and aquatic life. (Wells)


The Oil Sands: A social cost or social benefit

It is an indisputable fact, that the Canadians have and continue to benefit tremendously from the economic growth and high paying jobs due to the tar sands in Alberta. But these developments have rightly raised concerns to various social issues. In the recent past, debate over issues such as: short- and long-term environmental impacts on water quality and wildlife habitats, the affect of extraction projects on aboriginal people’s traditional lifestyles, affordable housing and drug and alcohol addiction have begun to be brought to the fore-front.

The exploitation of the oil sands has left in its wake of positive financial upshots, multiple negative payoffs. The magnitude of the social costs- direct and indirect- was perhaps never fathomed to have been what it currently is. It is not hard to conclude, that the socials costs are indeed outweighing social benefits. This led us to question: what then is justification enough, for the proponents of the oilsands, to either scale back or completely stop their economically beneficial yet biologically, socially and environmentally detrimental activities?

The following is the data provided by Canada’s GreenPeace 2010 report on the Social Costs of OilSands production in Alberta:

1996 – 2006: More than 700,000 people poured into Alberta to work in the oil industry, creating severe housing shortages roads, schools and healthcare facilities.

2006: Homelessness in Edmonton increased by 19 per cent, while Calgary has seen a 458 per cent growth in the number of homeless people since 1996.

1999 – 2007: The population of Fort McMurray jumped from 36,000 to 65,000.

Further, it was reported that in the span of a decade, the cost of a single-family home in Fort McMurray rose from $175,000 to over $900,000. (GreenPeace) This was twice the average price of a house in Canada. In fact, some workers were paying over $700 monthly for a cramped single room; in desperation workers and tradesman wrapped insulation around their vehicles and camped outside in below freezing temperatures. (Greenpeace)

The negative socio-economic effects of rapid growth, have negative alterations to the traditional way of life: on the land, drug and alcohol abuse, and increased dependence on handouts by NGO’s. It has simply been a downward spiral for the way of life for the the people of Alberta. Additionally, crime and safety issues have seen a dramatic increase (Gale). They have been in “lock step with increased population and the boomtown mentality of Fort McMurray that has been fostered by the oil sands development” (Gale).

Substance abuse, gambling and family violence has thus increased in Alberta, especially in towns closer to the tar sands projects. At this rate, it is not difficult to see Alberta as the Skid-Row of Canada in a not so distant future. For example, A GreenPeace Report shows-


Fort McMurray:

  •             Has the highest suicide rate in the country for men age 18-24;
  •             Reports five times more drug offences than the rest of Alberta;
  •             Has an 89 per cent higher rate of assault;
  •             Has a 117 per cent higher rate of impaired driving offences.
  •             Women in Alberta experience the highest level of spousal abuse in Canada.
  •             A recent report doctor-patient ratio of 1 to 1579 – three times lower than found in countries such as China, Mexico and Uzbekistan.
  •             Exploitation of the workers is not uncommon.
  •             Tailings ponds cover nearly 60 square kilometres of forest and muskeg around the Athabasca River. They contain dozens of carcinogens that have killed birds, fish and mammals. To date, no provincial or federal agency has done a review of the ponds or their seepage rates into groundwater and the river.

Those most harshly impacted by these actions however, have been the aboriginal communities of the Fort McMurray district. For them the negative ecological and socio-economical impacts of the oil sands developments are closely intertwined, and highly detrimental. The First Nations have inhabited the forest lands of the Athabasca river region for hundreds of years. “Thousands of Chipewyans live in small communities downstream from the oil sands projects north of Fort McMurray. These communities fear a destruction of the forest and river habitats that support the fishing and hunting that is central to their traditional lifestyle.” (Steward)

A recent study on the Social Impacts of Alberta’s Oil Sands reported shockingly despairing news. According to them, the Moose meat from the region now contains unacceptably high levels of arsenic. Arsenic is known to be a potent carcinogen. Further, the Metis fishermen in Fort Chipewyan have discovered hundreds of deformed fish, downstream from the mining areas. It is not hard to understand then, why there is a sudden increase in the reported cases of renal failure, lupus, hyperthyroidism and cancer amongst the aboriginals who eat the local duck, moose and fish (Gale).

Additionally, the Chipewyans claim that the production surrounding tar sands is damaging and degrading their traditional lands. They contest that not only are they are not made aware of the development plans, but nor do they receive adequate compensation for this utter destruction of their resources. “Many of Canada’s First Nations people, including the Cree, Métis, Dene, and Athabascan, are tied to the land and rely on the continued existence of wildlife for their living. Wildlife is becoming tainted by toxins. Fish and game animals are appearing covered with tumors and mutations. Fish frying in a pan smells like burning plastic.” (Steward)


Oil Sands and Deforestation

According to Global Forest Watch data, from 2000-2013, Canada lost more than 26 million hectares of forest, mainly in its boreal region. More than 20 percent of the boreal forest region (more than 150 million hectares) is now covered by industrial concessions for timber operations, hydrocarbon development, hydroelectric power reservoirs, and mineral extraction.”

Canada is laden with one of Earth’s major ecological treasures: The Boreal forests. But in the light of the Economic Boom attributed to the Oil Sands found here, why are they important? It has been found that Canada is home to 54% of the worlds Boreal Forests. Making it the world largest and most ecologically intact of its kind- at least up until now. (Peterson) These forests boast of a rich and varied system of bogs, mountain ranges, coniferous and mixed forests, forested plains, waterways and peatlands. It also supports a web of wildlife that are now increasingly facing endangerment. From the Grey Wolf to the Woodland Caribou and the Black Bear. Further, some studies have shown that because the caribou avoids areas approx. 500m of the industrial areas, it does not cross the fragmented and cleared forest areas. This in turn, makes the ecological footprint of the tar sands higher than the actual physical footprint. Industrial development and forest fires in Canada’s tar sands region has cleared or degraded 775,500 hectares (almost two million acres) of boreal forest since the year 2000. (Tencer)

FORT MCMURRAY, AB – JUNE 20: The Shell Oil Jackpine open pit mine uses trucks that are 3 stories tall, weigh one million pounds, and cost 7 million dollars each. There is explosive growth in the oil field areas around Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada. The oil extracted from this area is the product that would travel through the proposed Keystone XL oil pipeline. (Photo by Michael S. Williamson/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

It has oft been overlooked, that these boreal forests capture and retain twice the amount of Carbon Dioxide as compared to Tropical Forests. Hence, their destruction plays a critical role in the increasing global climate issue today.  However, today these forests are being recklessly destroyed. The oilsands companies in their incessant need for extracting oil have cleared and harmed much of the forest by activities such as logging, mining and building hydrodams. (Petersen)



In the long-term, the rate at which our planet currently consumes fossil fuels is not sustainable and we must move towards renewable energy sources. However, given that the economy is essentially inextricably tied to oil, it would be unrealistic to cut out oil from the Canadian economy any time in the near future. This makes the Oil Sands issue far more complex.


The long term goal for many people concerned about climate change is to first halt the expansion of the oil industry in Canada and then slowly reduce its output. Below are some proposed methods to accomplish this task.



In order to protect the land and animals that live in the Albertan forest and halt the expansion of the oil industry, the Government of Alberta would have have to use legislation. Some proposed legislation includes:

  • Establishing more protected areas. This would restrict the amount of land that could be purchased and developed by oil companies.
  • Establishing harsher offset policies. Offset policies ensure that mining companies offset their environmental impact by contributing by doing environmental work. The Pembina Institute recommends that for every hectare of land companies destroy for oil, three hectares of land should be restored or conserved.
  • Establishing conserved land that integral to the survival of certain species.


Reducing Impact on Climate Change:

No matter what measures are implemented, it is impossible to completely eliminate the carbon footprint of the Oil Sands, and for the extraction of oil in general. However, there are ways to reduce the impact of mining until we transition to sustainable forms of energies. These include:

  • Implementing carbon capture technology at the mining sites. This technology would reduce the output of CO2 at the sites.
  • Ensuring that Alberta stays committed to scientifically defined greenhouse gas emission rates that are in line with Global emission reduction targets. This means that the Canadian government cannot back out of Global initiatives, such as the Tokyo protocol.


Reducing the Social Costs of the Oil Sands:

It is important to note that as the the Oil Sands industry begins to contract, so will its societal impacts. However, in the meantime, the Canadian treat the issues in these affected with a high degree of seriousness. This includes creating programs to work directly with these communities to create a better home and working environment.


Institute, Pembina. “Oilsands Solutions.” Pembina Institute. Pembina Institute, n.d. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. “Kyoto Protocol.” Kyoto Protocol. N.p., 30 May 2013. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.



In this analysis we sought to map the impact of the multiple consequences produced due the extraction and production processes of the Oil Sands in Alberta. It serves as a preliminary exposition into the history, the significant changes and the research with regard to the Oil Sands.

While the detrimental effects of Canada’s economic juggernaut have been de-emphasized in the past, today there is a growing dialogue in the public sphere and media for the same. In our greed for Petro-dollars, we have destroyed the product of thousands of geological years, in a short span of 45 years. While Canada’s economy remains largely dependent on the Oil Sands, so are a myriad of other factors. These other dependent factors in turn are dying, being depleted and damaged in our belligerent greed for oil. We have wreaked irreparable havoc to the land, the boreal forests and the flora and fauna of areas surrounding the Oil Sands extraction sites. We are driving animals to extinction, polluting the air and making the once clean waters highly toxic. These systemic failures, in turn are contributing heavily to the global change in climate. Further, the displacement of the indigenous people, and the influx of migrant workers and laborers has contributed to increasing levels of crime, and lower standards of living. However, solutions exist. Those listed above are just a few of the myriad of ways to prevent the current situation from worsening.

Today, we possess the means and are aware of the methods to halt our destructive actions. In this vein, we need to address the issue before it gets too late.  


 Works Cited

“Alberta’s Oil Sands: Social Impacts.” Gale Canada in Context. Detroit: Gale, 2016. N. pag. Canada in Context. Web. 3 Mar. 2017.

Blog, /. Tar Sands Project. “Alberta’s Wildlife Death Toll on the Rise.” Iowa Tar Sands Project. N.p., 18 Dec. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Cotter, John. “Health Risks Of Oilsands Likely Worse Than We Thought.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 05 Apr. 2014. Web. 01 Mar. 2017.

GreenPeace. “Tar Sands and Social Costs.” Stop the Tar Sands (2010): 1-2. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

Petersen, Rachael, Nigel Sizer, and Peter Lee. “Tar Sands Threaten World’s Largest Boreal Forest.” Tar Sands Threaten World’s Largest Boreal Forest. World Resources Institute, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017.

Steward, Gillian. “First Nations Bear the Risks of Oilsands Development.” Thestar.com. N.p., 28 Aug. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Tencer, Daniel. “Canada The World Leader In Deforestation, Study Finds.” The Huffington Post. The Huffington Post, 05 Sept. 2014. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Wells, Jeff, PhD. “Impact on Birds of Tar Sands Oil Development in Canada’s Boreal Forest.” NRDC Report December 2008 (n.d.): n. pag. Web.

Mexico City Water Crisis

Welcome to Iztapalapa, one of the sixteen municipalities of Mexico City. As the most populous borough of Mexico City, Iztapalapa is home to 1.8 million residents with a population density of 40,000 people per square mile – approximately 150% of the density of New York City. It is also the poorest neighborhood in Mexico City. The archetypal image of an urban slum, the city’s residents all share the same obsession, an obsession that permeates every action, movement, and thought: clean water.

        Growing up in Iztapalapa, or any other of Mexico City’s impoverished boroughs, citizens might incredulously chuckle at the idea that the brown and gray landscape they find themselves living in, with the faucets in their homes that are either broken or dry, was once a breathing civilization upon an even livelier lake. Indeed, this was the case until the Spanish arrived in the 16th century and drained the lake for their own well-being, filling it with concrete. Now, centuries later, millions of people still yearn for this lost water.

        For a country striving to emulate the success of its neighbors, Mexico’s government maniacally refuses to commit resources to solve a 20th century engineering problem. After expelling the clean water that naturally resided within the city, the capital – located more than two kilometers above sea level – has not found a way to effectively retain and recycle rain water. Moreover, their sewage system is a travesty, and the city is forced to discharge billions of gallons of dirty water through artificial canals that leak and pollute the surrounding land and rivers. Consequently, they face the challenge of bringing clean water back to the city, consuming a tremendous amount of energy and capital required to pump the water towards the highland metropolis, opposing gravity the entire passage.

        Once that water makes its way (back) to the city, one can imagine it is in high demand. Mexico City boasts a population of nine million; thus expectedly, just as there exist impoverished neighborhoods such as Iztapalapa, there are wealthy neighborhoods, such as Miguel Hidalgo and Cuajimalpa, located westward, closer to the water reservoirs. Here, the amenities include aesthetic golf courses and a water pressure of 14 kg/cm2, a rate 28 times that of Iztapalapa (Watts 2015). These districts also claim the lowest water prices in the city.

        For those living in poor neighborhoods, but in particular Iztapalapa, local wells continually prove themselves to be unreliable. Most days, water will not even come out of the tap, and when it does, its yellow tint and smell of hydrogen sulfide are enough to dissuade even the most dehydrated people from quenching their thirst with its almost certain disease-ridden water. Additionally, what cannot be seen or smelled also pose dangers. The local water is known to contain high levels of toxic chemicals – such as magnesium, nitrogen, and sodium – which can only be removed at prices which the town struggles to afford. Consumption of such water could lead to diarrheal diseases, chronic kidney disease, intestinal infectious diseases, and lower respiratory infections, responsible for approximately 8% of Mexico’s total burden of disease, according to the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME 2015). Furthermore, these contaminants make their way to the food supply through irrigation, thereby increasing the occurrence of disease and leading to crop kills. In fact, in the town of Endhó, farmers are no longer able to grow tomatoes due to the high concentration of heavy metals (Watts 2015).

        As a result of its contaminated wells, Iztapalapa is forced to bring in water from the dam in the wealthy city of Cutzamala, located 150km away, through a series of pipelines. Nevertheless, the water they receive from these pipes can be thought of as nothing more than the leftovers of the wealthy neighborhoods. The little water that enters Iztapalapa only does so after flowing through fissured, eroded pipes that cause leaks and add heavy metals and other contaminants to the water. Thus, the most populated borough of one of the most populated cities in the world is left with a shortage of dirty water.

        Other than leaks and a small supply to begin with, there are a number of confounding factors affecting the diminished water supply of Iztapalapa. First of all, Mexico City lacks large-scale wastewater reclamation and rainwater collection processes, forcing it to drill into aquifers to meet the high water demand. This is important because Mexico City is located upon clay beds, and when drillers break through the clay, the ground is susceptible to fissures. In fact, the fissures and fragments have become such a pervasive problem that Mexico City is sinking up to nine inches per year in some regions. Even worse, it is sinking unevenly due to the composition of volcanic soil within the ground. Therefore, the pipelines that rely on gravity to bring water to towns like Iztapalapa become greatly imbalanced and cannot transport water as efficiently.

        Human-caused climate change is also exacerbating these issues by simultaneously increasing the demand for water and decreasing its supply. Through the burning of fossil fuels and the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, Iztapalapa is experiencing aridification, which makes raises the heat and incidents of drought. Thus, in the midst of desert-like conditions, when the citizens need water most, more water is being stolen away through evaporation. To compound the problem, the dam in Cutzamala that brings water to Iztapalapa is on its way towards drying up. This leads to an increased need for digging to tap aquifers, which in turn leads to more land sinking. The impact of this subsidence cannot be overstated. There have been 15 elementary schools recorded to have crumbled or caved in as a result of the cracks in the ground. It follows that experts predict that ten percent of Mexicans ages 15-65 could try to emigrate north in response to the subsidence, unpredictability of floods, and the recurrence of droughts (Kimmelman 2017).      

If ten percent of citizens do become climate refugees, what becomes of the other ninety percent who remain in their homes? How does their future look? Unfortunately, it appears bleak. Mexico has already seen tensions rise through several protests, including the hijacking of water delivery trucks led by citizens claiming their pipes have not brought them water for weeks at a time. Moreover, all signs point to this water disparity growing as a result human-induced climate change, increased water demand, decreased water supply, and Iztapalapa’s increasing population growth. One environmental scientist, Juan Jose Santibanez, has already made a bold prediction for the city’s bleak future in an interview with PBS: “There is a very high probability that, by 2020, there will be a mini-revolution, at least in Mexico City”. At stake is the health of citizens without access to clean water as well as those with access as violent conflict may occur to end this disparity once and for all. Consequently, a bigger picture shows us that what is really at stake is the health of Mexico City’s civilization and environment, especially considering that in perhaps every war, it is both the social institutions and physical environment that become ravaged.

        There are ongoing debates as to how Mexico City’s dangerous future can be avoided. One in particular is over the importance of rainwater collection. Systems for effective rainwater collection can be very expensive for impoverished areas. Of course, the Mexican government could fund such systems; however, there are many complications. First of all, the government is not incredibly liquid, as it is dealing with a current account deficit that is 2.7% of its GDP. Secondly, the effectiveness of rainwater collection is still under large scrutiny in part due to climate change. As stated earlier, climate change is causing desertification, but also unpredictable flooding. It is not known whether rainwater would be a reliable, consistent source of hydration. Scientists predict that rainwater could provide anywhere from 10 to 30 percent of the city’s water needs, a range that is supposedly too wide for politicians to confidently invest in rainwater collection systems.

Other proposed solutions have been to repair leaks in the poorly constructed pipelines and increase the use of recycled water. Nevertheless, such projects would be devastating to Mexico’s budget. This raises perhaps the most crucial debate centered around the water crisis of Mexico City: is clean water a basic right to all people regardless of socioeconomic background? If so, the Mexican government needs to ensure access to clean water to every citizen. Whether through out-of-pocket funding or foreign aid, the water crisis must be resolved. On the other hand, if accessible clean water is not deemed a basic right, then Mexico can continue on the track it follows today: the privatization of water. One of the leading political ideologies pertaining to water comes from Mexico’s center-left political group which proposed the General Water Act that allows private firms to control the water supply system (Watts 2015). This proposal quickly led to massive demonstrations across Mexico this past January, particularly in Tijuana. Citizens fear that privatization would increase the price of water and further the disparity of water accessibility that exists between the upper and lower classes. As the water crisis and ensuing violence continue to grow each day, somebody – whether it be a public or private organization – must write the checks and bring water to Mexico City before supplies completely run out.

Of course, it would be wonderful if the Mexican government would declare clean water a basic right and could deliver it to all its people. Though this appears highly improbable today as the government moves towards privatization, such a declaration is not entirely out of reach. By applying the ecological humanities, strides can be made in this direction. By daring to ask questions related to ethics and human nature, going against the status quo, this area of study brings to the table discussions that have not otherwise been had. The ecological humanities would explore the golden question of who should have access to clean water, provide an understanding as to why this water disparity exists today, and through the application of persuasive, honest literature, it could reshape perceptions of accessibility to a more equitable, healthy form. The Mexico City water crisis is an extremely complex issue with no simple solution. In order to understand the full scope of the problem and thus respond accordingly, its analysis cannot be limited to just an economic or empirical approach. The social circumstances that developed this disparity must also be explored, and this starts by gaining an understanding of the human to human interactions and attitudes that allowed this conflict to occur in the first place.

Throughout this paper, the term “crisis” was used to describe the water disparity of Mexico City, highlighted by the town of Iztapalapa. This term is fitting in the present as low-income citizens suffer diarrheal diseases, respiratory infections, and decreased productivity as a result of their dehydration and the contaminants in the little water they have. Nevertheless, this term is on the verge of being replaced. If the Mexican government does not provide its citizens with one of their most basic rights in the access to clean water, then a new term could arise, and the “Mexican Water Crisis” could become the “Mexican Water Wars.”


Works Cited

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). GBDCompareDataVisualization. Seattle, WA:        IHME, University of Washington, 2016. Available from http://         vizhub.healthdata.org/gbd-compare. (Accessed March 2nd, 2017).

Kimmelman, Michael. “Mexico City, Parched and Sinking, Faces a Water Crisis.” The New York  Times. The New York Times, 17 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

“Mexico City faces growing water crisis.” PBS. Public Broadcasting Service, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

“Mexico Current Account to GDP | 1980-2017 | Data | Chart | Calendar.” Mexico Current        Account to GDP | 1980-2017 | Data | Chart | Calendar. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Watts, Jonathan. “Mexico City’s water crisis – from source to sewer.” Mexico City live. Guardian        News and Media, 12 Nov. 2015. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.



March 4th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The world has become obsessed with plastic, and it is easy to at first see why. It is lightweight, water-resistant, durable, versatile, strong and seemingly inexpensive. The very properties that make plastic so popular, are the same reasons why it is destroying our planet. This issue has become so significant that the UN declared war on Marine Debris in February 2017. Plastic’s chemical makeup and single-use nature enable it to threaten marine life, the world’s ecosystems and human health.

It is important to first understand the chemical make up of plastic and how plastic is made. Plastics “belong to a chemical family of high polymers, they are essentially made up of a long chain of molecules containing repeated units of carbon atoms” (Plasticpollution.org). Oil companies make plastic through fractional distillation of crude oil because the boiling point of hydrocarbons increases with molecular size. These companies will use the practice of  “cracking” to convert the higher-boiling fractions into gasoline and plastic by cracking the molecules to the C4-C10 range. Since plastic is made from the same polymers that gasoline is made from (Molecules with 4 to 10 carbon atoms) oil companies far the trade off producing gasoline or plastic. it is worth noting that “making [water] bottles to meet America’s demand for bottled water uses more than 17 millions barrels of oil annually, enough to fuel 1.3 million cars for a year” (Pacific Institute).

According to a 2014 report from the EPA, The United States produced 258 million tons of waste. 12.9% of this waste was plastic waste and this percent is deceivingly small. 12.9% of 258 million tons is over 33 million tons of plastic waste! This 12.9% of trash is far more damaging to the environment than the 61% of waste from paper, food, yard clippings and wood. On a global scale, 299 million tons of plastic were produced in 2013. While plastic debris makes a small percentage of on-land waste, it makes up a disproportionate amount of marine debris. The United Nations Joint Group of Experts on the Scientific Aspects of Marine Pollution determined that of the 80% of the world marine pollution, 60-95% of the waste is plastic debris.

Plastic marine debris wreaks havoc on every aspect ecosystems and can do so for hundreds of years. Since plastic has a very high molecular weight and stability due to its long chain of repeated carbon molecules, it does not degrade quickly. For example, a banana peel would take 2-5 weeks to decompose while a plastic bottle would take 450 years. The convenience of plastic’s lightweight means that plastic will be buoyant enough to float on the ocean’s surface and be carried by currents around the globe. Plastic will absorb waterborne pollutants as it travels and leach toxic compounds, such as Bisphenol A (BPA). This means that not only will plastic make the water it inhabits more toxic, it too will become more toxic. The toxins that are released as plastic degrades will contribute to increasing ocean acidification.

Marine animals die from plastic by either consuming it or getting entangled in it. It is estimated that 100,000 marine animals and 1,000,000 marine birds die each year from plastic marine debris. Sea turtles mistake plastic bags for jellyfish causing them to suffocate to death. Plastic is in the environment for so long that it is entirely possible for a turtle to consume a plastic bag and after that sea turtle dies, the plastic bag will resurface and then be re-consumed. Seals and dolphins get entangled and drown in floating trash. Not even the mighty Blue Whale is safe from mile long ghost nets. (Ghost nets are fishing nets that been purposefully discarded or accidentally lost in the ocean.) Marine birds are particularly susceptible to marine debris because floating red pieces of plastic look exactly like their favorite pray, the shrimp. That is why it is nearly impossible to find any red/pink small pieces of litter in the ocean. “It is estimated that of the 1.5 million Laysan Albatrosses which inhabit Midway, all of them have plastic in their digestive system; for one third of the chicks, the plastic blockage is deadly, coining Midway Atoll as ‘albatross graveyards.’ Since plastic is able to break into smaller and smaller pieces but remain plastic, even the microscopic zoo plankton will consume plastic debris” ( ).

Biomagnification makes the plastic consumption issue relevant to human health. It is estimated that 66% of the world fish population has plastic in their digestive tract. Since plastic can not be broken down by any animal’s stomach, as fish are eaten by predators higher on the food chain, those animals will build up plastic in their own stomach. Plastic releases Bisphenol within an organism (as it does in the environment). The problem with this is that the animals at the top of the food chain, such as Tuna and Swordfish, will have large quantities of Bisphenol in them. Unfortunately, these are also some of the most popular consumer fish in the world. Biomagnification is why there has been a documented increase of Bisphenol in humans. A 2008 study published in the Journal of American Association found that higher Bisphenol A levels were significantly associated with heart disease, diabetes, and abnormally high levels of certain liver enzymes ( ). Other studies concluded that Bisphenol A increase breast cancer risks and exposure to Bisphenol A at young ages leads to externalizing behaviors ( ).

Single-use plastic products and private companies/unions and are the 2 main culprits of marine debris. The fact that we have a products that are intended to be used once and then thrown out has altered how we treat all consumer goods. No product in the history of humanity has been designed to be used once and then disposed of. The Ocean Conservancy organization does hundreds of beach cleans each year and tally what kinds of trash is ending up on the beach. Out of the top 10 items frequently found only the most found item (cigarette) and least found (paper bags) are not a single use plastic items. The cheapness of these products makes people naturally assume they are trash. At the very most, 25% of plastic debris is recycled in the United States. (Utah Recycles) This means that the other 75% of 33 million tons of plastic is sitting in landfills or polluting the environment. While there certainly needs to be reform to Americas municipal solid waste service in order to better handle and treat the increased amount of plastic, it would be easier to not even have the plastic to begin with. For a personal example, in my first week of personal trash collection I realized that I had used 6 sets of plastic utensils. I did not even realize I used that much in a week because once I throw the product away, I forget about it. I now carry metal utensils with me when I eat. Not only does this save plastic, but I get to use a better product that is available at all times.

Major Corporations, such as Kelloggs and Coca Cola, have billions of dollars in assets and are doing everything they can to fight any legislation that would increase standards for plastic pollution. These companies pay groups such as the Progressive Bag Affiliates and America Chemistry Council to lobby against reducing plastic. Both of these companies helped pass legislation in Arizona that made the banning of plate bags illegal. A 2010 bill that was introduced in the Senate that would outlaw single-use carryout bags of any material failed after the American Chemistry Council spent millions on lobbyists to defeat it. In Europe, Cocla Cola has been spent one million euros to lobby against deposit return schemes(DRS). The DRS laws charge an extra tax on all plastic bottles that will be returned to the customer when the consumer deposits their purchased plastic bottles. The movement was intended to reduce the amount of plastic that gets thrown away, but Coca Cola feared that it would reduce their bottom line. While these companies try to reduce environmental legislation in their usual markets, they send their trash to foreign markets where there is little to no anti-plastic legislation.  This why china recovers 56% (by weight) of waste plastic imports worldwide. In China, trash can be deposited at low-tech, unregulated facilities that destroy the local environments because there is no legislation in place against such practices.

Yet, there is hope. The world has the ability to increase how much plastic is recycled, to develop new uses for recycled plastic and to make environmentally-friendly plastic. San Francisco is paving the way towards high recycling rates. The city has already reached an 80% recycling rate and has shown that if a megacity can do it, then so can any city. Every extra ton of plastic recycled saves 5,774 kWh of electricity, 685 gallons of oil, 98 millions bTu’s of Energy and 30 cub yards of landfall space. Not only is this economical beneficial to society, every ton recycled will be one less ton entering the ocean. There have been studies that demonstrated that plastic bottles shredded into small polyethylene terephthalate (PET) can be used as sand-substitution aggregates in cementitious concrete composites. If this can be done on a large scale, the world can use plastic in landfalls to make a cheap legitimate building material. Another research group was able to create plastic that is decomposable by adding biodegradable polyolefin’s synthesis (active additives such as pro oxidants and starch). There are several other potential solutions, but there should be more. As attention to this issue grows, so will the funding necessary to develop solutions. However, technological advances will not be enough. We most change our behavior as humans.

This does not fit into my analysis of the issue, but is certainly worth reporting. I took a environmental course (ENVRON 346) in which we learned about the different issue affecting the world’s oceans. I learned about how plastic was produced from oil, but I had trouble recalling all the part of the process. I searched on google “how is plastic made from oil” and every answer on the first page was biased! The first result is from Plastic Europe the Association of Plastic Manufactures, the second was the Independent Statistic & Analysis U.S. Energy Information Administration then the third American Chemistry Council and forth Polyplastics Solution Platform for Engineering Plastics. There are countless sites after the first page that are also run by fraudulent organizations. None of these websites accurately represented how oil was made at all. All the sites made the process seem organic and healthy and even said that recycling is incredibly efficient. None of the sites made it clear that the same hydro-carbons used for plastic were the same used for gasoline production. These organizations have managed to use their massive budgets to buy prime internet space, space that is supposed to be for open and true information. This should trouble every individual.

Victoria Grant and Mary Osborn

Saving Pilot Whales: Climate Change and Potential Solutions

Ocean ecosystem stability depends on all creatures involved to maintain the natural balance of the ecological pyramid. The food chain relies on predators and prey to keep each from overpopulating or going extinct. One species in particular, the pilot whale, is a type of predator that prey on squid and other fish in order to survive. Due to anthropogenic forcings, the prey populations have decreased which results in a food chain alteration affecting all the species within the marine ecosystem. The strain on prey populations pressures pilot whales, who feed on these species, into having to search for prey in other areas of the ocean increasing the instances of beaching. In addition, climate change is altering the marine ecosystems and the species which rely on them. This increases both temperatures and acidification of the water that these species rely on. Natural balances in place have been affected by the way humans are treating the planet. Organizations and conservationists are doing their best to try and save these whales and study the forces and reasons for the beaching and the reduction in their population.

Beaching of pilot whales is something that naturally happens as a result of time of year and geography of a landscape. Areas which have shallow waters and curved beaches are more likely to result in beaching of whales than a normal beaching areas which creates areas of “hotspots” where this is seen more often. Yet when pilot whales feel the need to move from one location to another due to lack of food, this can result in more beaching in areas these whales are not used to hunting in. Since these pilot whales rely on echo-location they cannot identify that they are swimming into shallow waters because when the sand is soft the echo does not send back in the same way (BBC News, What makes this New Zealand beach a whale graveyard?). Scientists have found that due to humans overfishing the prey of the pilot whale, many species of pilot whale have been forced to leave the area in which they normally hunt to find more food, resulting in increased instances of beaching. Not only have humans affected the prey species but also affect the natural cycles of the ocean.

Climate change has been found to contribute to stranding events in current years and the progression of increasing temperatures and changes in weather patterns will continue to worsen the severity of whale stranding. Climate change impacts the activity of marine life by raising the temperature of the water and increasing acidification. Oceans naturally absorb the carbon dioxide emitted but, with the excessive emission output by humans, oceans are absorbing higher carbon dioxide levels which increase acidification. Increased acidification negatively impacts marine ecosystems through the destruction of habitats, like coral reefs, and causing physiological stress. Organisms experience reduced growth and reproduction impacting the species in relation to them. Since climate change has accelerated in recent decades, scientists have detected significant genetic evidence of bottlenecks (Miralles et al 2016). Bottlenecks in particular lead towards extinction due to the loss of biodiversity within the populations of pilot whales. Therefore, climate change is indirectly affecting pilot whales and other ocean species.

Change in weather patterns and acidification have impacted pilot whales prey animal. Pilot whales’ main source of food relocating due to the changing ocean environment and coming further north towards countries like Tasmania. Their prey move into bay areas where the pilot whales get trapped when the tides change. Prey species are continuing to relocate and come into areas which provide higher beaching risks for pilot whales. The stranding events with pilot whales tend to be more severe than most cetacean species due to their strong social bonds. Pilot whales move in large pods and the members of the pod have strong social bonds to each other (Nolan 2003). Although one whale may be stranded, the rest of the pod will join the lone whale which could be several hundred whales. Predictions of more whale beachings have been made and show the events will get worse if no action is taken to correct the problem.

Climate change worsens with no immediate action and further impacts the pilot whale’s prey. More beachings will result in more deaths of the species which could change their endangered status. Whale deaths negatively impact tourism on the beaches they become stranded on. Whales have the tendency to explode after they die because their bodies are pent up with gases. People would have to cut open the whales after they die in each stranding event; taking away the beauty and appeal of a beach. The bodies of the dead whales have no place to go after death because, if returned to the ocean, they may end up on the private property of the beach residents. If the problem causing whale stranding is not corrected, whales will continue to get stranded and beach deaths will increase. Pilot whales are currently not in endangered species status but, scientists worry if the pattern continues, they may join the ranks of many other species toward extinction (Nolan 2003). With a declining food supply and population deaths increasing with each year, scientists’ worries are proving to be valid.

Solutions in which will help not only the pilot whale species but other marine species includes projects such as the Blue Carbon Initiative which mitigates climate change through the restoration and protection of the marine ecosystems that support the pilot whale and its prey species. This is supported by a majority of international organizations such as IUCN and IOC-UNESCO. Another project in effect is the Ocean Acidification international Reference User Group (OA-iRUG) which uses scientific information and conveys it to audiences of the general public. This focuses also on policy and decision makers which end up having the most power in regard to conserving marine ecosystems (IUCN, The Ocean and Climate Change). These projects which take into account the effects of climate change on marine ecosystems focuses on overall ecosystem stability which protects and supports marine organisms such as the pilot whale.

Climate change must be addressed to fully correct the problem. Pilot whales are going to continue to follow their prey if their prey relocates to areas with high stranding risks, the whales will continue to put them at risk. It was found that “the population of short-finned pilot whales that inhabited the coastal waters of California also abandoned the sector in search of its prey” which are squid (Go to Whales Online, Climate Change). Only one whale has to become stranded to cause a huge event to occur. Actions to combat large greenhouse gas emissions must be taken by federal governments but, ordinary people have the power to reduce their carbon footprint. By reducing fossil fuel use by driving less and lower the thermostat at home, one can begin lowering their carbon output and reduce their contribution to the problem. Voters can look for laws and voice their opinions on legislation pertaining to greenhouse emissions or government role in climate change programs. Becoming active in larger organizations is another way to contribute to the fight against climate change.

Works Cited:

“Climate Change.” Go to Whales Online. Whales Online, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2017. <http://baleinesendirect.org/en/whales-at-risk/threats/climate-change/>.

“THE OCEAN AND CLIMATE CHANGE.” (n.d.): n. pag. IUCN – International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Web. <https://www.iucn.org/sites/dev/files/import/downloads/oceans_and_cc_brochure_final_1011.pdf>.

Miralles, Laura, Marc Oremus, Mónica A. Silva, Serge Planes, and Eva Garcia-Vazquez. “Interspecific Hybridization in Pilot Whales and Asymmetric Genetic Introgression in Northern Globicephala Melas under the Scenario of Global Warming.” Plos One 11.8 (2016): n. pag. Web.

Nettleford, Jocelyn. “Whale Strandings No Surprise to Climatologists.” Australian Broadcasting Corporations. (2004). Web. <http://www.abc.net.au/7.30/content/2004/s1255082.htm>.

Nolan, Tanya. “Mass Whale Beaching Mystery Solved.” ABC Local Radio. (2003). Web.<http://www.abc.net.au/worldtoday/content/2003/s997632.htm>.

“What Makes This New Zealand Beach a Whale Graveyard?” BBC News. BBC, 13 Feb. 2017. Web. 03 Mar. 2017. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-38953557>.

With every light switch flipped, every faucet turned, and every car driven, humans consume more of the Earth’s precious and limited natural resources – often unsustainably. While we must work to curb our ever-expanding environmental footprint, we cannot neglect past environmental transgressions, especially as their effects continue to impact lives. One such transgression exists in the Navajo Nation – a region spanning parts of Arizona, New Mexico, and Utah – where the native people have lived for decades on land contaminated by pollution from abandoned uranium mines. However, these mines represent a deeper social issue – one of environmental justice, as the Navajo people, a minority group, have suffered a “disproportionate burden of costs” while others profit (Cox and Pezullo). The environmental injustice endured by the Navajo people is rooted in a history of discrimination, has extended to present day, and looms ever more ominously under the current administration.

Uranium mining in the Navajo Nation dates back to 1944. From the end of World War II and into the Cold War Era, uranium, a necessary component in the fledgling nuclear program, was in high demand. So, private mining corporations swarmed the uranium rich Navajo Nation, bringing with them new mining jobs for the Navajo people. From 1944 until 1986 when the final uranium mine was closed, a total of 30 million tons of uranium ore was extracted, much of which was sold to the United States Atomic Energy Commission, the only purchaser of uranium ore mined from the Navajo Nation until 1966 (Landry). However, after being shut down, uranium mines were abandoned without proper seals or caps, leaving 521 uranium mines open to local contaminate air and water (Arnold).


As stated by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, uranium is “a naturally-occurring radioactive metal [that] may cause adverse health effects related to both its radiological and chemical properties.” The milling process further exacerbates the contaminant effects of uranium as the chemical process which separates the uranium from rock leaves behind mill tailings which “are rich in the chemicals and radioactive materials that were not removed, such as radium and thorium.” These radioactive materials, have been shown to have detrimental health impacts on exposed populations, particularly in the kidney and urinary systems (Uranium). More studies are currently underway to more clearly understand the effects of uranium exposure on human health, for example, the Navajo Birth Cohort Study. Headed by Maria Welch of the Southwest Research Information Center, the study of 599 has found that 27% of participants have elevated levels of uranium in their urine, a staggering statistic in comparison to the 5% of the general US population. Another alarming statistic reports that cancer rates in the Navajo Nation have doubled from 1970 to 1990 (Morales).  Health risks due to uranium exposure are a real and present danger to the people of the Navajo Nation.

Not only is the generation of men who suffered direct exposure as they worked in the uranium mines and mills affected, but also the women who came into daily contact with radioactive particles as they washed their husband’s clothes, their children who often played in pools contaminated by radiation, and even future generations who breathe contaminated air, drink contaminated water, and live in homes built from contaminated materials (Arnold). The health and wellbeing of over 173,000 people is at stake, with those most affected residing near the 4 main clusters of Uranium mines, in the Four Corners area: Tse Tah, Red Valley and Cove, Ariz., and Monument Valley (Arizona Rural Policy Institute) (Landry). Contamination from abandoned uranium mines has pervaded deep into the lives of the Navajo people, bringing with it not only health risks but also a sense of distrust towards federal government.


From a historical standpoint, distrust towards the American government is warranted. The Navajo Nation, along with many other Native American tribes, has suffered a history of maltreatment at the hands of the predominantly Caucasian American federal government. Tensions escalated alongside restrictions on Native American rights as America entered the era of colonial expansion, manifesting in 1864 when over 9,000 innocent Navajo people were forced on the 18 day “Long Walk” from their homes to the Bosque Redondo Reservation at Fort Sumner, New Mexico, located over 300 miles away from their homeland. Only 7,304 Navajo were released in 1868 when a treaty agreement was signed, releasing the surviving natives from captivity but not returning full ownership of their former lands (Navajo Internment Ends). The Navajo people have endured a history of persecution, stigmatization, and discrimination which, unfortunately, continues to impact current generations as well.

Historical discrimination which established the Navajo people as a marginalized minority group has heavily influenced both the Navajo people’s socioeconomic position. Of the 173,667 people living on the reservation, 96.1% of which are either American Indian or Alaska Native in ethnicity, a disproportionate number face economic instability. Average per capita income in the Navajo nation is only $10,685, under half of the average in the State of Arizona, $25,680. Poverty levels are an extremely high 38% in the Navajo Nation, over twice as high as Arizona which has a poverty rate of 18% (Arizona Rural Policy Institute). The Navajo people, like many other Native American tribes living on reservations and African American populations, are confined to a cycle of poverty heavily influenced by geographic location. These groups often live in communities lacking basic infrastructure like gas stations, groceries, and hair salons, leading them to venture into other communities to partake in these services (Peralta). Money flows outward, and the local economy is further weakened in a positive feedback loop that perpetuates poverty in marginalized ethnic groups.

Not only are these groups marginalized financially, they also lack recognition in politics. Only three presidents have visited Native American territory in American history, the most recent being Barack Obama’s visit to the Standing Rock tribe in North Dakota in 2014 (Zezima). In the words of founder George McGraw of DIGDEEP, an organization working to provide clean drinking water in the Navajo Nation, “This is a community that has found itself voiceless” both economically and politically (Morales). Lacking the financial resources to provide for health care necessitated by uranium exposure and the political pull needed to lobby for their people’s wellbeing, the Navajo’s lack of voice extends beyond economics and politics to their health outcomes, an issue further complicated by a legacy of purposeful historic dissimulation of pertinent information.

In this regard, parallels can be drawn from Navajo uranium contamination to the Tuskegee Experiments and lead-contaminated water in Flint, Michigan. In the forty-year-long Tuskegee Experiment, more officially known as the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male which began in 1932, 399 men with syphilis were purposefully withheld treatment even after penicillin, the drug of choice, became available. Though they were given free medical trials, meals, and burial insurance, informed consent was absent from the experiment and patients were kept ignorant of highly relevant personal health circumstances (Tuskegee Timeline). In 2016 when government officials allowed water from the Flint River to corrode city pipes in Flint, Michigan, despite full knowledge that the corrosion was introducing lead and other toxins into the water supply (Yu and Shapiro). Though seemingly disjointed – one an officially conducted study from the 1930s and the other a policy scandal from under a year ago – the health injustices in Tuskegee and Flint share a commonality with the uranium mining-affected Navajo Nation in that consequences primarily affected marginalized groups kept deliberately ignorant of vital information directly relevant to health outcomes.

When uranium mining first commenced in the 1940s, the Navajo did not even have a word meaning “radioactivity” (Arnold). Rather, many Navajo saw the influx of uranium mining as a blessing, an opportunity for work that did not require them to travel away from home. Sadly, this blessing effectually acted more as a curse, bringing forth many years of contamination and many attendant negative health outcomes. In fact, jobs offered in uranium mines qualify as a form of economic blackmail, perpetuating the concept that low-income communities must choose between “financial worth and environmental protection” when seeking employment (Cox and Pezullo). George Tutt, former uranium miner, recounted his initial reaction to the influx of uranium mines, saying, “We thought we were very fortunate,” but added that “we were not told, ‘Later on this will affect you in this way'” (Arnold). Lack of transparency has repeated itself time and time again in American history, primarily impacting already marginalized minority population groups and contributing to a legacy of distrust and pessimism towards both the US government and the greater American society.


Looking forward, we must find methods and resources to remediate the environmental health issue of abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo Nation. Such efforts are already underway, undertaken by a diverse set of organizations, ranging from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to Anadarko Petroleum to NGOs like DIGDEEP, an organization working to build clean water wells for those living on the reservation (Morales). Recently, the United States federal government and two subsidiaries of the Freeport-McMoRan mining company, Cyprus Amax Minerals Co. and Western Nuclear Inc., reached a $600 million settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation. The mining companies will clean up 94 abandoned uranium mines in the Navajo reservation, with the United States government contributing $335 million to a trust account to help fund site evaluations, cost analyses, and cleanup of the mines. (Landry). While the costs of uranium mine clean up are high, no monetary can, nor should, quantify decades spent by Navajo people surrounded by uranium mines, mills, and waste. However, about one third of mining companies from the time of uranium mining proliferation have either shut down or run out of money (Morales). With many of these companies unable to pay their due share in uranium cleanup efforts, it becomes a question of who will pay and when.

In this regard, the United States government has actively taken strides to address uranium contamination; in 2008, the EPA established a Five-Year Plan to confront contamination in the Navajo Nation and, in 2014, initiated another Five-Year Plan to continue the efforts of the original (United States Environmental Protection Agency). However, with the recent election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency, the situation becomes ever more unclear, especially as he has publically called climate change a “hoax” and stocked his cabinet with climate change deniers, including Scott Pruitt who is to lead the EPA (Davenport and Lipton). In demonstrating a clear lack of regard towards environmental issues, Trump also disregards the populations most affected and further destabilizes their already precarious existence.

With over 160,000 abandoned hard rock mines contributing to negative health outcomes in the western United States, it is critical that we continue to endorse clean up initiatives and spread awareness about this issue (Morales). However, the best advice offered by the EPA in a fact sheet addressing the effect of uranium and radiation on health is to “eat a healthy diet,” “use drinking water from a regulated source,” “get regular cancer screenings,” and “REDUCE YOUR CONTACT” (United States Environmental Protection Agency). For impoverished and marginalized populations residing in the Navajo reservation, these seemingly intuitive tips are simply not feasible due to social, geographic, and financial limitations. The fact of the matter is, environmental injustices committed against the native people of the Navajo nation in the mid- to late-1900s have demonstrable health impact on local populations to this day and will continue to do so unless improvements are made in terms of intervention and remediation.

In the years to come, we must work to rectify uranium contamination in the Navajo Nation. Scientifically speaking, more studies can be conducted to better understand the full extent of the impact of uranium contamination on both local environment and residents, and new technologies focusing on the remediation of hard rock mines and contaminated locales should be further explored. The humanities and social sciences will be crucial in raising awareness of the issue at hand and in forming policies which will make intervention implementation both cost effective and feasible for the affected and often marginalized communities. Hard sciences, soft sciences, and humanities must coalesce to right the wrong committed against not only the Navajo Nation but against all communities facing environmental injustice.

Looking back, had humans not desired to use uranium to build atomic weapons to assert their nation’s dominance in the global sphere, perhaps the uranium would have remained safely embedded in the rocks of Arizona, Utah, and New Mexico. Had humans informed mine and mill workers of the adverse health effects they and their families would face from exposure to radioactive dust and rays, perhaps workers would take more precautions or choose find other work. Had humans valued the lives of other humans equally, regardless of race, history, or socio-economic status, perhaps uranium mines would have been properly capped and covered instead of abandoned and left open to contaminate. In the years to come, we cannot allow our value systems to condone discriminatory policy and practice but rather we must unite seemingly disparate forms of human intelligence in defense of not only the marginalized, but mother earth herself.


Works Cited


Arizona Rural Policy Institute. “Demographic Analysis of the Navajo Nation Using 2010 Census and 2010 American Community Survey Estimates.” North Arizona University. n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

Arnold, Carrie. “Once Upon a Mine: The Legacy of Uranium on the Navajo Nation.” Environmental Health Perspectives 122.2 (2014): A44-49. Environmental Health Perspectives. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 10 Environmental Justice and Climate Justice Movements.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. 4th ed. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. N. pag. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Davenport, Coral, and Eric Lipton. “Trump Picks Scott Pruitt, Climate Change Denialist, to Lead E.P.A.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 7 Dec. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2017.

Landry, Alysa. “Navajo Nation Abandoned Uranium Mines Cleanup Gets $600 Million.” Indian Country Media Network. N.p., 14 Feb. 2017. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

Morales, Laurel. “For The Navajo Nation, Uranium Mining’s Deadly Legacy Lingers.” NPR. NPR, 10 Apr. 2016. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

“Navajo Internment Ends, but 2,000 Died While Imprisoned – Timeline – Native Voices.” U.S. National Library of Medicine. National Institutes of Health, n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Peralta, Katherine. “Native Americans Left Behind in the Economic Recovery.” U.S. News and World Report. U.S. News and World Report, 27 Nov. 2014. Web. 17 Feb. 2017.

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Five-Year Plan 2014 – 2018: Federal Actions to Address Impacts of Uranium Contamination on the Navajo Nation.” Fact Sheet. The White House. Washington, D.C. n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2017

United States Environmental Protection Agency. “Uranium and Radiation on the Navajo Nation YOUR HEALTH.” Fact Sheet. The White House. Washington, D.C. n.d. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

“Uranium.” Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 03 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

“U.S. Public Health Service Syphilis Study at Tuskegee – The Tuskegee Timeline.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 08 Dec. 2016. Web. 18 Feb. 2017.

Yu, Mallory, and Ari Shapiro. “Flint Residents’ Broken Faith: ‘The People We Trusted Failed Us’.” NPR. NPR, 10 Feb. 2016. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.

Zezima, Katie. “As Obama makes rare presidential visit to Indian reservation, past U.S. betrayals loom.” The Washington Post. The Washington Post, 13 Jun. 2014. Web. 19 Feb. 2017.


Science and society, two seemingly opposing spheres, are undeniably interconnected, and this can only be seen once the fact that humans and the environment are not antagonists is acknowledged. Once this is understood, it is possible to dissect issues of the environment in terms of the impact they have on humans and society; history and sociology combine with biology and earth science to create a deeper awareness of the world and its people. Unveiling the issue of how redlining in Durham leads to predominantly black neighborhoods becoming subjected to experiencing the detrimental effects of having less green space than their predominantly white counterparts will serve as a case study of this notion.

Blast to the Past

A delve into history is imperative to understanding current events and societal aspects. To understand why certain neighborhoods are deemed sacrifice zones, or areas that can be allotted more environmental degradation than other seemingly more important areas, it is essential to uncover institutional, geographical oppression of the past. During the depression era, as a means of halting homes from being foreclosed, there were governmental initiatives to provide bonds for American people to pay their mortgage. Except, much like any other time in history, there was an exclusive definition of what it meant to be American and what level of protection the government would provide its citizens. Will Michaels and Frank Stacio highlight this discriminative aspect of the loaning process by stating that, “…in larger cities, the government drew boundaries between neighborhoods that were eligible and ineligible for new loans. The so-called ‘risky’ areas were usually low income, African-American communities.” Thus, the African-American community suffered through the depression with no assistance from the same government that was setting out to stimulate economic prosperity in neighborhoods just down the road. This seemingly aged practice has followed the black community to present day institutionalized discrimination, including environmental oppression. These same boundaries are used in current decisions made on allocations of resources during infrastructure planning.

Lack of Green? What Does that Even Mean?

            While nature is not the first image that pops into a person’s head when thinking of infrastructure, the planning of parks and tree plantings is intertwined with decisions on where to place roads and buildings. Since the “risky area” based boundaries excluded African-American communities from receiving governmental benefits, this same exclusion occurs when the government is deciding which areas will be rich, green urban forests and which areas will be desolate, grey urban deserts. Elizabeth Friend elaborates on this phenomenon by explaining, “These maps were also used by the City of Durham to direct tree-planting programs, resulting in lush canopies in wealthy white neighborhoods and sparse plantings in East Durham,” she also adds, “…East Durham has 40 percent less tree canopy coverage than the traditionally higher-income neighborhoods like Trinity Park, a direct result of redlining.” This case plays into the notion that certain areas of the environment can be sacrificed for the sake of human civilization. It is seemingly thought that making the white neighborhoods’ greenery abundant will off-set the environmental effects of depriving entire communities of adequate vegetation. Or have the environmental effects of this practice even crossed the policy makers’ minds? If they realize or not, any action taken on the environment is connected to issues of other areas; which is why the melting of arctic ice is not caused by actions taking place directly in this region of the world. Essentially, taking environmental risks in one area will affect the quality of the environment in other areas, but it should not take the thought of environmental behavior being connected to see how depriving certain communities of greenery due to traces of decades old racism and class discrimination is problematic. This issue exemplifies how the social aspects of a human cannot be isolated from environmental issues and vice versa.

The Issue Does Not Stop There

As if this inequity wasn’t enough, the lack of greenery in a community brings arise to other issues involving not only the environment, but also health and economic issues adversely impacting the people in these areas. With a bias of green infrastructure comes a bias of air quality, home prices, and overall mental happiness. Early environmental movements were based on the notion that nature was awestriking and needed to be preserved for the pure aesthetic value it provided mankind. In low income, non-white communities, the freedom and peace provided by the aesthetic qualities of vegetation is stripped away. This issue does not stop here because a non-aesthetically pleasing community leads to a drop in the value of the homes in these areas. On top of all of that, without trees to produce oxygen and reduce the carbon dioxide, the air quality in the corresponding area decrease; thus, the people in these already marginalized groups are forced to breathe in far more harmful pollutants that lead to asthma and deaths related to heart attacks and respiratory issues. Cheryl Katz reported in 2012 that, “Communities of color and those with low education and high poverty and unemployment face greater health risks even if their air quality meets federal health standards.” Poorer communities in America, and all over the world, are the first to experience the effects of environmental neglect due to the fact that they do not have the resources or governmental assistance the wealthier communities have to avoid and compensate for the effects occurring. Imagine being systematically beat down a system due to the color of your skin, your socioeconomic class, or even your gender, and then having to return to a home in a neighborhood that looks and feels like an entirely different world compared to the lush, green neighborhoods down the road. It is almost as if the opposing green and grey communities parallel the civil and social atmospheres for privileged and marginalized people living in the same nation, except each group knowing an entirely different America.

Implications + Moving forward

While seemingly backwards, it is necessary to once again look to the past in order to understand the present situation, thus reshaping thought about moving forward. It would be easy to wonder why the people in these communities have not spoken out about these injustices in order to bring about change, and if they even know there is a difference between their community and the communities down the road. Historically people of color and of lower economic classes are fully aware of the injustices occurring in their backyards, their voice are muffled out by the desires of people who could make a change. J. Robert Cox suggests that, “the arrangements and procedures of power may undermine the respect accorded to such individuals by narrowly defining the acceptable rhetorical norms of environmental decision making.” That is to say that the people in these communities often speak out against these inequities, but are shut down by the notion that they do not know what they are talking about due to their emotional connection to the issue.

Brian Palmer’s ideas support the notion that you must look back to understand the present by stating, “Communities of color have been battling this injustice for decades. To understand environmental justice, it’s worth looking back at the events that helped launch the movement in the first place.” The foundation of the environmental justice field was established during the civil rights movement as people spoke against the environmental inequities that were occurring alongside other more visible injustices. Once it is understood that environmental oppression stretches back into the civil rights movement, there can be systematic changes made that parallel the institutional changes that have been made during this movement that alleviated some of the more apparent discrimination that was occurring at the time. Greg Cooper suggests in a report published in 2016 that the city planners in Durham should take advantage of most of the trees aging to redistribute the green infrastructure which will in turn correct the bias that stems back to redlining of the depression era.

In order to move forward, there must first be an acceptance of the events of the past that are still impacting the lives of American people. Next, the government must place value in the right to a clean environment and adjust or create systems that protect this right. Even so, without a clear understanding of the fact that the human and the environment are interwoven, the right cannot exist purely out of the verity that perceptions of realities begin with the construction of related objects. As long as the environment is constructed as being separate from the human, it will continue to be perceived as having immense expendability and manipulability. This parallels the truth that as long as people of color are constructed by xenophobic and paternalistic terms, they will continue to be perceived as a group that is expendable. The degrading actions taken on both the environment and people of color unveil the vile perceptions of both entities that undoubtedly need to be address and reconstructed.




Works Cited

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 10 Environmental Justice and Climate Justice Movements.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. N. pag. Print.

Designed by Contexture International | Http://www.contextureintl.com. “Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis for Street Tree Plantings.” Durhams Urban Forest. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Friend, Elizabeth. “Depression-Era Redlining Leaves Parts Of Durham Less Green.” WUNC. N.p., 10 June 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Michaels, Will, and Frank Stacio. “Mapping Inequality: How Redlining Is Still Affecting Inner Cities.” WUNC. N.p., 26 June 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.

Palmer, Brian. “The History of Environmental Justice in Five Minutes.” NRDC. N.p., 18 May 2016. Web. 03 Mar. 2017.


The Root of the Problem: A Look into Monsanto Co.

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) are defined as “organisms in which genetic material (DNA) has been altered in a way that does not occur naturally by mating and/or natural recombination” (WHO). In our current climate, there is widespread debate not only in the realm of if these GMOs have benefitted our planet in the aspects of long-term food production, yield, health, and more but also as to whether or not they should even be allowed.

Source: Organics

At the core of the controversy surrounding them is a certain company called Monsanto. Founded in 1901 as a chemical company, Monsanto found its claim to fame (or more poignantly, infamy) by innovating the agribusiness/biotechnology sphere in the 1980s by changing the genetic makeup of plant cells. They have pushed to make seeds that are resistant to pesticides, grow bigger fruits and vegetables, add supplemental nutrients, delay the ripening process, and more in an effort to revolutionize the age-old techniques of farming (Bruso). Yet, not surprisingly, this “innovation” has led to a plethora of problems currently plaguing not only the farming industry, but our society as a whole. The use of legal power to overrun farmers, an enormous yearly revenue to buy out competitors, and inherent dangerous effects of their chemical imprint has led to a scorched trail of health problems, harmful environmental impacts, and jobless farmers in its path. The following analysis will point to the root of these issues and a give a detailed look as to what impact it has had on our society.

One of the primary notions leading to the controversy surround Monsanto is the ruthless strong-arming and lobbying that the company has used in order to pursue their own revenue-driven agenda. The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated that in 2016, 94% of soybean acres and 92% of corn acres were planted with biotech varieties—Monsanto owns 90% of the market share in those sectors (Bunge). They then use this to drive a $13.5 billion a year revenue to increasingly raise prices of their seeds and drive organic farmers into bankruptcy if they cannot afford the hikes. With this in mind, one might be curious as to why farmers buy into the model of using the genetically modified seeds in the first place, being as though almost all seeds used today in the U.S. are genetically modified. The answer lies in the fact that these seeds not only provide for increased crop yields due to the incredibly detailed way in which they were engineering, but also the fact that it is an enormous convenience to farmers to use “Round-Up Ready seeds” as they are resistant to many pesticides.



Source: NY Times

Farmers simply have to plant the seed and spray the chemicals on their crops, killing everything in its way besides the plant itself. Yet, many farmers today cannot buy the seeds as they have become far too expensive to purchase as crop prices continually decrease overtime.

Source: Wall Street Journal

It is a problem likened to the Epipen today, as these seeds often times are viewed as a necessity to make a living, but many farmers can simply not afford them at the price they are at today.

Now if you just so happen to have these seeds on your land without having a costly and exclusive contract with Monsanto, rest-assured there will be a powerful force of private investigators (or the “seed police” as they are colloquially called by farmers), lawyers, and more coming for your small operation. Take for instance Gary Rinehart. In 2002, he was visited by one of these Monsanto cronies at his general store that he owns in the 350-person town of Eagleville, Missouri. The man asked why he was illegally using Monsanto-patented genetically modified seeds for his farm, when Rinehart in fact was doing no such thing. Yet, Rinehart was still brought to court, forced to hire a lawyer, pay exorbitant fees, all to have the case dropped as it was clear no foul-play was at work. And in the end, Rinehart was left with an incredibly expensive bill, detracting from his livelihood as he was working hard to maintain his store, whereas for Monsanto, this was just another day’s work in which thousands of farmers just like him are being persecuted (Barlett and Steele).

Source: Vanity Fair

The concept of patenting seeds in and of itself is far-fetched, as for “nearly all of its history the United States Patent and Trademark Office had refused to grant patents on seeds, viewing them as life-forms with too many variables to be patented” (Barlett and Steele). However, in 1980, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a five-to-four decision to change the classification of seeds into widgets, thus opening the door for Monsanto and other companies to exploit this and patent their own technology surrounding them. (Barlett and Steele).

However, even though Monsanto may make GMOs, they do not want consumers to know that the food that they are eating has been genetically modified. The case of Proposition 37 in California, which proposed “to label all GMO foods, including processed foods that contain GMO ingredients, to prevent GMO foods from being labeled or advertised as ‘natural’” is a good example (Frostenson). Agriculture company giants funded a massive resistance to defeat the proposition from Monsanto leading the way to Pespi Co., Nestle, and more all contributing huge sums.

Source: Sunlight Foundation

Monsanto and friends are so large and have so much cash flow that they can simply lobby politicians to get their way in most every scenario that benefits them. By referencing the aforementioned statistic that Monsanto owns 90% of all GMOs, they essentially control the food supply for the U.S. They are able to control what type of food is planted in terms of how the seeds are genetically modified, they control who has the rights to use their seeds, and they can lobby to control the labeling (rather selective mislabeling) of the food that their seeds produce. And if all the above does not work to stop their competitors and opposition, Monsanto can and will buy them. In 2005, Monsanto “paid $1.4 billion for Seminis, which controlled 40% of the U.S. market for lettuce, tomatoes, and other vegetable and fruit seeds” (Barlett and Steele). Then two weeks after that, it bought out Emergent Genetics (third-largest cottonseed company) for another $300 million. They have put such a stronghold on the market for GMOs, unlike any other company in any other industry. And with a market capitalization of $50.66 billion, it makes them one of the largest companies in the world regardless of industry. A long history of mergers and acquisitions activity, coupled with future interests could “lift the new value [of Monsanto] to more than $100 billion” effectively giving them the monopolistic power to acquire and eliminate any and all competition in their way (Hakim).

Furthermore, the use of harmful chemicals on Monsanto’s part negatively impacts the environment and people alike. One such instance of the type of environmental detriment that Monsanto has caused can be seen with Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD) among bee populations. The benefits bees have to the food supply cannot be understated. Many of our fruits, vegetables, and more are reliant on bees pollinating them so that they can grow with the proper nutrients, something that is a problem if bee colonies are collapsing. True to fashion of eliminating opposition, Monsanto acquired a company called Beelogics whose primary focus is to combat and control Colony Collapse Disorder (Alliance for Natural Health). Monsanto’s use of pesticides has been linked to CCD in many instances, yet the overwhelming power that they have always finds a way to subvert this.

Source: NY Times

For example, organic beekeeper Terry Ingram had a catalog of fifteen years of research backing his claim that “Round-Up Ready” crops were causing CCD. However, when he asked the Illinois Department of Agriculture to test one of his honeycombs because the bees would not go near it, they did not test for chemicals, rather “foulbrood, a disease that affects bee larvae” and followed that up by confiscating every piece of bee equipment that he had, including the bees themselves. They destroyed all his evidence in the process as well (Alliance for Natural Health).

Another such reference comes on March 8, 1949 in which Monsanto’s plant in Nitro, West Virginia exploded, sending tons of chemical vapor into the air, covering the surrounding town (Barlett and Steele). This chemical, known as dioxin, has been classified by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a “known human carcinogen”. Workers and citizens across the town had skin eruptions within days following the explosion, pointing to the dangerous effects that the chemicals Monsanto is putting in the food that we eat can cause. Monsanto is even in the pockets of the Environmental Protection Agency when it comes to health concerns as a recent court filing on the behalf of a number of people claiming that Monsanto’s Roundup gave them cancer details how the EPA is reportedly colluding with Monsanto (Gillam). The claim is that top-ranking EPA official Jess Rowland “who oversees the EPA’s cancer assessment for glyphosate, the key ingredient in Monsanto’s weed-killing products, is a key author of a report finding glyphosate was not likely to be carcinogenic” and is using this to work with Monsanto to help them in their legal battle. There is even direct discord in the EPA, as toxicologist Marion Copley cites evidence from previous animal studies that “he is almost certain that glyphosate causes cancer” (Gillam). It abundantly clear that the chemicals that Monsanto uses in its products we have most definitely encountered are harmful to not only humans but the environment as a whole, yet once again with enough power (read: money) they can change the rhetoric to further their cause.

In terms of solutions for combatting Monsanto, there have been numerous rallies and organizations formed attempting to stop the agrochemical giant. However, Monsanto actually believes that it can change the perception of its own company by future innovations that they will try and introduce. One of these being an “RNA spray”, which is supposed to kill harmful pests that destroy crop fields and “be no more harmful than orange juice to humans” (Regalado). Yet, just like with anything Monsanto does, their biggest battle is from a public relations standpoint. As Regalado put it, “the real problem can be summarized in a single word: Monsanto. For half the world, that is enough to know it’s evil. But Monsanto is also the best way to make this real. For the scientifically literate, this is the dream molecule.” There is some merit in trying to push the boundaries and make good on decades of turmoil that has been caused, but unfortunately this is still not a reality in its current state. In addition to supporting organizations that fight Monsanto and the injustices that they bring upon farmers, everyday citizens, and the environment every day, you can make an impact by simply boycotting the Monsanto line of products.

Source: Organics

Currently, this is the best way to advocate against the company as the only way to fight a company that’s only concern is money is to take that away from them. And consumers around the world have the power to do just that.




Mapping Sea Level Trends

From National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA): Tides and Currents Sea Level Trends Map  https://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/sltrends/sltrends.shtml.

Mapping Public Opinion Trends

From Yale Program on Climate Change: Yale Climate Opinion Maps http://climatecommunication.yale.edu/visualizations-data/ycom-us-2016/.

Shell Knew

“‘Shell knew’: oil giant’s 1991 film warned of climate change danger” via The Guardian

“Public information film unseen for years shows Shell had clear grasp of global warming 26 years ago but has not acted accordingly since, say critics”

Events This Week & Weekend

#DataRescue at UNC!

Wendell Berry Film at The Carolina Theater!

E.O. Wilson Biodiversity Days at Duke!