Author Archives: Ryan Bronstein

Water Disparity Abstract — Ryan Bronstein

Water is a basic right. It is essential for one to achieve the highest attainable level of health. Yet, 780 million people globally lack access to an improved water source (CDC 2017) — a source that is free from external contamination. This should not be the case. In a world where $5 trillion is traded on the market each day, it is unacceptable that not enough funding is going towards ending water crises worldwide. Nevertheless, many projects have taken place to combat the water disparity that favors high income households. This essay aims to explore the different solutions circulating around the globe, such as desalination in Israel, and make proposals for countries where action has stalled, such as a regulated privatization of the water supply in Mexico. Most of these solutions will describe ways that water usage has been reduced. Therefore, this study also explores the ways Duke University has cut down its water usage and how these methods can be applied elsewhere.


Works Cited

“Global Water, Sanitation, & Hygiene (WASH).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 11 Apr. 2016. Web. 07 Apr. 2017.

Blog Post 9 – Ryan Bronstein

Permaculture is not solely a science. It is an accomplishment. In fact, it may very well prove to be one of mankind’s greatest and most important achievements. Through countless life science studies, we have learned both how the environment works and how our bodies work. Yet we have never had a definitive answer for how the two entities should coexist and work together. Permaculture provides insight into this conflict by modeling our actions and landscapes on natural systems. Humans are thus placed as part of nature and as part of the working environment with the role of efficiently managing landscapes.

With clean, efficient methods for living on Earth, permaculture has positioned science to combat climate change. Therefore, the importance and relevance of environmental communication has grown exponentially. Now that there is a way mankind can live harmoniously with the planet, it is of the utmost importance that everyone became aware of this fact. This entails using news outlets, public artworks, literature and other forms of persuasive rhetoric. Moreover, lessons on how to live with such “permanent culture” will be crucial. Permaculture is a terrific accomplishment due to its ingenuity and also its difficulty. There will need to be classes available to the public walking them through the management of this complex system. Though it may take many years for society to accept and respond to climate change, permaculture is a prime example illustrating how science has stepped up to the challenge.

Blog Post 8 – Ryan Bronstein

In Carbon Diaries, Saci Lloyd introduces the carbon card, a radical concept that forces citizens to combat climate change through a carbon quota. It is my opinion that this could do a lot of good things in the United States today. Obviously, a carbon quota at the individual level could greatly reduce America’s carbon footprint, depending on the size of the quota. Additionally, in a way, it officially condemns our unsustainable overconsumption, thus creating a foundation upon which new perceptions of the environment — ones that acknowledge the need for sustainability — can be built. Despite what the carbon card could provide, a roadblock appears in its way: who is going to want it? The simple answer is that very few people will want to give up a great portion of their consumption. Whether it’s wearing a new outfit every day, drinking bottled water instead of fountained water, or watching television for hours, the average American likes to overconsume relative to what he or she actually needs. This raises the notion that perhaps a carbon card is out of reach from modern society because people simply do not want it. The story I would like you to think about is what if every citizen only did what they wanted to do at any given time? Where would our productivity come from? Would people go to work often enough to maintain economic growth? Most importantly, would anyone pay taxes? A quota has the same effect on consumer and producer surplus as a tax; therefore, if nobody wants the quota, surely nobody wants to be taxed. Yet people still pay taxes because if this country did not have taxes, it could not run effectively. There would be poor infrastructure and public schooling, if any at all. It is now easy to see that the real roadblock for a carbon card is not how we can make people want it because very few people ever will. Rather, the challenge is figuring out how to prove to the country that the needs of the environment are just as pressing as its need for tax revenue.

Blog Post 7 – Ryan Bronstein

Our perceptions of the environment largely shape the way in which the environment is treated. This week, I took a walk with nature to remind myself of its beauty. Upon my exploration of the Duke Gardens, I came across a mother instilling in her young child a reverence towards nature as they observed the many fish of a Koi pond. What I also noticed was that the fish were gathering and swimming towards the mother and child, making their own observations as well. Thus, this image represents the symmetry between human interactions with nature and nature’s interactions with humans. Every individual is a part of nature and to disrespect the environment is to disrespect oneself.

The Encyclical of Pope Francis does a tremendous job of declaring man’s role as a part of nature. Pope Francis makes it clear that the unsustainable lifestyles largely lived today are degrading the environment. More importantly, he emphasizes that every individual has to act to heal the wounds of mother nature because that is the only way she can be saved. In order to do this, individuals must perceive nature not as something that can be owned, but rather as something that provides for each of us. Through this shift in mindset, we can learn to appreciate nature and live sustainably.

On the other hand, the Paris Agreement does not set forth the responsibility of the individual to save the environment. Instead, it sets the power with the governments and only encourages them to volunteer their assistance. Thus, it is my belief that this is a very weak agreement, made in a time when the world needs a strong declaration and commitment such as the one provided by Pope Francis. As the world degrades around us, it is time to demand action, not simply ask for volunteers. It is understandable that some nations, such as developing nations, simply do not have the resources to fight climate change. This is why the battle cannot be fought solely by the governments. Climate change must also be combatted at the individual level by living more sustainably. These lifestyles only arise out of a specific perception of the environment, one of reverence, which can be instilled at any time. It could happen to a Miami citizen as the city drowns around him, or it could even happen to a little boy observing the beautiful fish of a Koi pond for the very first time.




Blog Post 6 – Ryan Bronstein

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

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

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

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


Works Cited

Blog Post 5 – Ryan Bronstein

I am an airplane in the Anthropocene. Everyday I fly back and forth between an island off the coast of Madagascar and any one of the world’s twenty mega-cities, picking up nostalgic passengers yearning to see the last bit of conserved nature on the planet. Today, I departed from New York City. On board is a middle-aged father and ten year old son. The father appears concerned and weary, perhaps guilty. He was warned about this – about the time that his kids would lose the natural world he loved, yet treated with hatred. His son is thrilled for this trip and ironically thanks his father, but he swiftly waves off the appreciation and wonders what had been missing from the warnings. Why did he not change his ways to preserve nature all those years ago?

Blog Post 4 – Ryan Bronstein

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

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

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

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



Works Cited

Calvino, Italo, and Tim Parks. “The Petrol Pump.” Numbers in the Dark: And Other Stories. New York: Pantheon, 1995. 170-75. Print.

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

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


Culture and Environment – Ryan Bronstein

The way humans perceive their surroundings has always been a product of their culture. As Robert Cox explains, this origin of our perceptions can be exemplified by the early colonists of America (2016). The colonists greatly feared the dangerous, primitive wilderness that today is often referred to as nature with a pleasant connotation. This contrasted greatly with the indigenous Native Americans who lived with and revered their surroundings just as their ancestors and culture instructed them to do so.  Therefore, for centuries culture and the environmental perceptions have been largely intertwined, producing a multitude of different perspectives.

These cultural perspectives can differ in a variety of ways; nevertheless, Paul Wesley Schultz breaks them down into three attitudes: biospheric concerns pertaining to all living things, altruistic concerns related to other people and humanity beyond the individual, and egoistic concerns solely about oneself (2002). It is this choice set of perspectives that brings about the need for the Environmental Humanities as it is necessary to understand the motives and philosophies of a culture in order to bring in a working solution to its environmental issues. As Angela Penrose illustrates in Staying Afloat, developed nations are far too egoistic, driven primarily by business opportunities rather than the desire to make a positive change. On the other hand, third world and developing nations cannot afford to seek profit. They can barely afford to break even. The environment and climate change are not commercial products to them, but rather a life-altering, destructive phenomenon for everyone.  Unfortunately, the developed countries do not yet seem to see climate change in the same light, and it may not be until they do so that significant progress will be made.

Works Cited

Schultz, P. Wesley. “Environmental Attitudes and Behaviors Across Cultures.” Online Readings in Psychology and Culture 8.1 (2002): n. pag. Web.

Penrose, Angela. “Staying Afloat.” Loosed Upon the World: The Saga Anthology of Climate Fiction. Ed. John Joseph Adams. Saga. 323-40. Print.

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

Economy – Ryan Bronstein

The economy in its most used sense is far too specific. In the United States, perhaps due to the concurrent financialization of its institutions, the term “economy” is primarily associated with the market. By market, I mean the exchange of what Robert Costanza calls “built” capital, referring to human artifacts that have become a part of our daily consumption. Nevertheless, the economy is so much more than that.  It surrounds our society like an atmosphere, and much like Earth’s atmosphere, we are contributing to its pollution. In discussing economics, far too frequently are non-monetary based forms of capital disregarded. These forms include natural, social, and human capital, and include the most basic needs of life such as oxygen.  However, if these forms of capital are so important, why are they not being treated as such?

There are a lot of possible answers to this question, however it is most important to understand why it must be asked in the first place. These forms of non-built capital are not being protected.  As Costanza explains, an economy is meant to run on a sustainable scale, distribute resources fairly, and allocate resources efficiently so as to maintain asset values. Yet, as the values of our water and air degrade from pollution, it is foreign exchange rates and interest rates that receive the most protection on a given day.  The market has come to epitomize the economy, and as long as it does, the economy cannot efficiently perform its intended, more ecological role.


Works Cited

Adamson, Joni; Gleason, William A.; Pellow, David N.. Keywords for Environmental Studies. New York: NYU Press, 2016. Ebook Library. Web. 27 Jan. 2017.

Ryan Bronstein: Blog Post 1


Discussion Questions:

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

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

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

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

Works Cited

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

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

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