Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Author Archives: John Desan

Permaculture & Biomimicry

April 2nd, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Whenever I got a cut that bleed when I was a kid, I would ask my dad how long it would be until my cut would heal. He would almost always answer “soon, the human body does a fantastic job at healing itself.” This quote echoes the principle that “nature heals itself better than anything else.” The concept of permaculture reminds me of how mimicking “the patterns and relationships found in nature” creates useful products for people because nature truly does it better. This concept is known as biomimicry.

Velcro came from copying what the structure of a bur. A bur is seed or dry fruit that hooks or teeth. These types of seed easily latch on to animal fur so that the seeds can be carried and dispersed across long distances. Inventors realized that we can use multiple sets of these hooks and create a strong attachable fabric product. Qualcomm, a semiconductor and telecommunications equipment company, used the reflective properties of the Morpho butterflies’ wing to make a new display technology. This type of butterfly creates its colors because of microstructures in the wing that use the process of structural coloration instead of pigmentation. Qualcomm was able to create a display that reflects light so only the desired color is visible in each individual pixel.

The shark is my personal favorite animal used in Biomimicry. The shark is one the most incredible animals in the animal kingdom. The United States Navy has been trying to unlock the secret of sharks’ hydrodynamic body shape so theirs ships hauls can glide through the water easier. These same scientists are also interested in finding out how shark’s skin never has barnacles on it because barnacles cost the military millions in increased drag (ships requires more fuel to go a distance) and cleaning costs. Medical scientists study the sharks skin and immune systems. Shark’s skin is able to grow back faster than almost any animal because of how quickly denticles are replaced. The sharks immune system is able to fight off cancer & arthritis, as well as detoxify bacterial, fungal, anthropogenic and environmental toxins.


Qualcomm: https://www.qualcomm.com/news/onq/2010/01/07/nature-knows-best

Sharks: http://www.elasmo-research.org/education/topics/p_wound.htm   

Desan – how the plastic became alive

March 25th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The words have come today. The stories make living on the sea better, they give me a chance to get away from it. The short works are worth more than any amount of Pagrus-plastious stratus that I can catch. I can tell that It is trying to wipe away my memories so books let me experience new ones.

I fear I will lose my ability to experience sensation to it. 2 years ago when I left, there were hundreds of story-makers. I used to be able to get a story in a few days for a small Mercluccius-plastious australis. But as the tides continue to rise, the story tellers are forced from their homes. No one can write on the sea, that is well known. Now I know of only 5 story makers and the price of their service has has continued to rise as the lengths between receiving stories grow. The balloon captain said that it seems like they will lose all of the native Island story tellers in the next 2 months, so they will try to expand their air routes north in hopes to find new ones.

I remember when anyone could write a story. We were warned that the amount of plastic in the animals we were eating had reach toxic levels but no one listened. No one wanted to change their regular diet. We all said it was to too hard to change our habits but now that we are living like this we realize how stupid we were.

We kept eating and eating and eating. Then, the 1-hour-WAR happened. The plastic was beginning to turn people mad all those decades ago. One of the United States 4 star generals went mad and fired the entire nuclear arsenal on the world. and the world fired back. The radiation from all the bombs caused the temperature of the world to soar and melt every piece of ice on the planet and destroy the Ozone. Waters rose hundreds of feet. What we did not see coming was the effects of the fall-out.

All the plastic inside of us became alive. The same thing happened to the animals and plants. That is why all animals know have “plastious” added on to their scientific name. No one could figure out how the radiation made the plastic alive in us and I do not think we ever will. Everyone is too infected to figure it out.

Now we just wonder the empty oceans waiting for the words. the words that will let us be free for only a moment.

It is becoming stronger, I can tell. It has taken me several weeks to record this and I have already forgotten what I have said in the beginning.


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.




Preaching to the Choir

February 27th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (1 Comments)

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

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

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

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

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

But I guess I am still preaching to the choir.


IMAGE found from: https://nescwaterblogged.wordpress.com/2012/12/12/preaching-to-the-choir/

A gas pump in the anthropocene

February 19th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I remember when people came to see me hundreds of times a day. I could proudly fill up thousands of car gas tanks in a week. Now, no one sees me anymore. The government announced that the world has ran out of oil, which renders me obsolete, me and all the other millions of pumps world wide.

The owner of this stations talks with his friends about how the government will be creating new stations and that these stations would be power by “renewable energy.” But I do not think that people will like these stations. Over a hundred years ago the owner bought one of those electric charging stations, it could fill up a car faster and chapter than any other pump, but no one used it. Everyone still came to me.

Blog Post 4

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

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

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

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

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

Isabel Floode

Blog Post 3

February 6th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Food is important to everyone. People need food in order to grow, reproduce and survive. Over the human course of history, food has evolved from just a fundamental need to a cornerstone of religion and culture. For example, bread is now more than a complex carbohydrate. To a Roman Catholic, the bread in the ceremony of Eucharist literally has the presence of Jesus in it. Food has become revered! I heard a comment in class 2 weeks ago that made think differently about how cultures view nature and environmental issues: “maybe people respect the environment more based off of how involved they are with the food process.”

CUESA estimates that the average American meal travels 1,500 miles from farm to the plate. This distance that food travels to get to the plate has greatly increased from when the United States was first colonized in the 17th century. Crops were grown right outside of colonies like Jamestown and Plymouth. Residents of such small cities also likely had something to do with the food process as such small towns split up creating the space to farm, planting the seeds, tending the field and preparing the food. Residents were able to appreciate by clear example that nature provides food. I do not think that the increased distance that food has to travel and the decreased interest in environmental issues are just correlated. The increasing distance that food travels is a cause for the decreased interest in environmental issue.

Environmental issues register differently in different cultures because every culture has a different level of respect for nature. People used to worship nature just because it made crops grow. Because people revered food and where it came from ,the environment, people care about its well-being and respected it more. Today, fruits and vegetables are grown in laboratories and then flown across the globe. Frozen foods can be prepared in a overseas factory and then shipped around the world to be heated up in any home with a microwave. Food is no longer synonymous with a farm, but massive factories and shipping trucks. The loss of the direct presence of nature on the food process has led people to forget the importance of a sound ecosystem for food production. People are bombarded by comments that the environment is struggling and soon will not be able to provide for us, but they are not able to comprehend this because nature’s ability to provide has been hijacked. People are now able to buy Avocados in a non growing season because of genetic modification and large green houses. Society now believes it can make food on its own. The saddest thing is that the process that is hailed as the new way of making food (meat packing factories, trans-Pacific carrier ships, etc) is a major culprit of destroying the world’s environment. The ability to see that Nature is human’s provider is crucial for respecting natures, and this respect is crucial for caring about environmental issues.



Blog Post 1

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blog Post 2

January 27th, 2017 | Posted by John Desan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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

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