Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Author Archives: Alyssa Cleveland

Colors Across the Tracks – Final Project Abstact

April 7th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

A significant remnant of great depression era redlining is the disparity in the green spaces in different parts of Durham, and cities alike. This serves as an emblem of institutionalized discrimination due to the fact that the placement of trees and parks is based on decades old boundaries that were constructed to hinder the movement of African-American people. These boundaries continue to exist as an obstacle to African-American liberation due to the lack of green spaces leading to lower quality air, lack of biodiversity, and a decline in overall mental happiness. Through a stop motion video, the impact of this injustice is explained through voice over and visuals. This video serves as a demonstration of how already marginalized peoples will be the first to experience the powerful effects of environmental neglect.

Hope as a Catalyst

March 30th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

As I have been drilling chemistry into my head over the past few days for an upcoming exam, I could not help but connect the concepts I am learning in chemistry 101 to concepts that are apparent throughout the environmental humanities. In kinetics, we learn that a catalyst is  substance that is added to a reaction in order to lower the activation energy, and thus speed up the rate of the reaction. I view hope as a catalyst that environmentalist use to find solutions and problem solve. One of the most captivating solutions we have discussed is permaculture. In its simplest description, permaculture is an ethics based way of living that strives to maximize natural benefits of the environment while maintaining a mutualistic relationship with other aspects of ecological systems. These principles are based on the assumption that humans are indeed a part of the the ecosystem and are responsible to make decisions that promote the harmony and respond to the feedback the environment provides. It is common of our current industrial system to ignore this feedback and exploit the environment for the ways in which it can benefit human kind. Permaculture urges the focus on smaller, community based sustainability rather than large scale, exploitative practices which prevail in our agricultural means today. Designing ways to thrive in the long-term in many areas, not just agriculturally, has become the focus of permaculture.

Permaculture looks towards systems in nature and pre-industrial societies in order to create innovative solutions to environmental issues. It is a very poetic way of thinking in that sense; the utilization of the very entity that it strives to protect as a model for its growth and development is ingenious. In the same light it is very logical and rational way of thinking because it looks back in order to look forward. In science and math problems it is imperative to change the given problem so that it looks like a problem that is familiar and has specific, known steps to solve it. By letting the problem of sustainability become as familiar as an ecological system, this allows for specific steps to be taken to solve seemingly mountainous issues.

New Lenses

March 24th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Central Park, New York City Bethesda terrace “What If You Could See WiFi?”

After looking through the environmental art pieces by artist Nickoley Lamn which demonstrate what it be like if we could see seemingly intangible aspects of digital life such as cellular network and wifi, I found myself viewing the world in all new ways. I began to see the world through a lens of viewing the carbon footprint of all of my actions and products that I have bought. I want to be clear that this tale of realization is one of present times, and not a fantasy that I have imagined for some dystopian, end-of-the-world future. This is not climate fiction; this is reality. It began when I sat down for breakfast, the moment in the day in which I begin to reflect on all that needs to accomplished in the day. As flavors of tropical fruits and southern specialties exploded in my mouth, I started to taste something a little more sour, and it wasn’t the pineapple either. It was the thought of the carbon footprint that the fruit and grains had on the environment. I had never really thought about my food in this way, but the stories we have read and viewed have begun to infiltrate my thinking and behaviors. I moved on throughout my day, and I began to have this emotional tie to everything that i had already knew had a negative impact on the environment, but for some reason, now everything seemed distorted, cars seemed like monsters, trashcans seemed to be overfilling with unnecessary waste, and the sound of water running in the bathroom seemed to be beating my ears.This disgust I felt when simply eating fruit is, I suppose, the purpose of environmental humanities in the first place. To enlist an emotional response from the viewer or reader, which will in turn create a behavior change or at least a mindset change. Admittedly, the rest of the population who does not feel the importance of these issues already will not have the same response to stories and art about environmental issues. However, humanities do have the ability to tap into the subconsciousness of people that will gradually make a difference.

Aesthetics and Behavioral Changes

March 10th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Using the aesthetically qualities of vegetation to entice an environmentally friendly behavioral change

There is no doubt that we as a people base our reactions and sentiments on visuals. For example, there is an entire field called “color study” in which analyzes the way in which certain colors affect the human mood. What is interesting is when companies and organizations capitalize on the aesthetic aspects that cause people to behave in a certain way.

On our nature hunt this week, I became aware of the visual aspects of the campus in a way that I hadn’t experienced before. It is pretty interesting that it take consciously taking in the aesthetics of a place to understand the impact that visuals have on my own daily decisions. I came across many environmental visuals that communicated to me different ideas. Take the construction on east campus versus the heavily wooded areas on west campus for example; I had more feelings that the campus was environmentally friendly when I was surrounded by green space, rather than overturned soil and construction trucks. This idea connects to the discrepancy of green spaces in Durham leading to an overall decrease in mental happiness in East Durham compared to their green heavy counterparts. 

I was most captivated by the ways in which visuals were used on campus to entice people to behave differently. For example, the simple placement of bike racks around campus can change the culture around biking versus riding the bus. Also, Duke like to brag when they are working towards sustainability; they place lots of stickers and plaques on buildings and classrooms that meet certain energy and sustainability goals. This also relates to the idea that people are motivated by small positive, visual reinforcements. The biggest push to change behavior that I witnessed was the usage of vegetation around areas in which contained recycling and trash bins. As if a the site of the plant would remind the person throwing something away, that they were indeed making an environmental decision. While I may be looking into the placement of items on campus too closely, it is still vital to understand environmental communication and behavioral changes by analyzing the visuals tied to those ideas.

Lineage of the Paris Agreement

March 9th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


Across the Tracks: A Discrepancy of Green Spaces

March 3rd, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


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.

Faith and Climate Change

February 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Bill Clinton states that he believes that climate change is so hard for people to grasp because the concept of the future itself is “abstract”. This human inability to completely understand the seemingly unseen and unknown is a precise explanation as to why implementing personal level lifestyle changes has been such a challenge. Until climate change and all the resulting effects become an unavoidable truth in a person’s, it is quite impossible to move them to make changes. However, where I think this idea is lacking is assuming that once people grasp the future and accept climate change, then that will be all it takes to motivate them to change. Even in our class, a class full of people dedicated to learning about environmental issues plaguing our generation, it is hard make environmentally conscious decisions.

Along with having faith in the nearing future, it is also imperative that people are aware that climate change does not just mean a slight raise in their hometown’s temperature; the effects of climate change are unmeasurable. The human and environment not being connected was an idea that was quickly debunked by our course; however, it is still a very prominent thought that impacts the way in which common people and politicians view climate change. If they acknowledge climate change at all that is. Once people are able to see that the human and the environment are indeed connected, they will be able to not only accept that human action does in fact have an impact on the environment, but they will also be able to understand the a changing environment means changes for human society and culture. If we continue down the same path that we are on now, the effects of changing temperature will make natural disasters worse on human civilization, cities we know now will be underwater, displacing thousands of people, and the overall quality of life will decrease.

It is also important to highlight that the poorest people in each nation will feel the effects of these changes first. This is another reason governments and institutions have yet to make clear and powerful efforts towards making the environment a priority. While the poor will be hit first, due to the lack of money or resources to deal with the imminent natural disasters and rise in cost of resources, the effects will eventually reach the very rich. The earth is the habitat for ALL people and climate change and its effects do not care who you are or how much money you have. Money can only buy you so much time, but until people see that these effects are not poor-sensitive the current path of destruction will continue.

A Toilet in the Anthropocene

February 16th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

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

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

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

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

Memories + Dreams Shaping Perspectives

February 9th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

“To be a great reporter required a lot of suffering, a lot of backstory, and I was finding that out for myself.” – Helon Habila 

I listen as my grandmother recounts an event that I, too, experienced. Only, as I listen, I hear nuances that I had once dismissed as meaningless occurrences that had no impact on the meaning of the story being told. I then realize that the selection of detail, itself, impacts the meaning of any story. The way in which history is recorded and retold is telling in itself of societal and cultural values. While reporting is seen as an unbiased entity, the very choice to retell an event is making a statement about the value and importance of that story. The telling of stories, both fictional and non-fictional, is an act of declaring importance to certain issues that would have otherwise been dismissed as meaningless occurrences. Images of the past, memories, and of the future, dreams, have an impact on the perspective that a person has on current issues, and this truth is not exempt from issues involving the environment. The usage memories and dreams is a key aspect to the success that many environmental artist have in communicating the importance of said issues.

In the novel Oil on Water, author Helon Habila utilizes memories as a motif throughout the storyline to demonstrate how the recollection of past events have the power to shape current and future perspectives on problem plaguing African communities. He makes the argument that the telling of these tales of destruction on the African villages due to the extraction of oil will catch the attention of someone and that is when change can happen. The novel’s structure supports this idea because  the author chooses to describe images of the past, or memories, when attempting to explain events that were happening in real time in the novel. Along with structure, the repetition of simple words like “remember”, “tell”, and “truth” supports the theme that the act of remembering and revealing the truth of problematic events will cause change in at least one person’s heart which will then spread to the people they interact with.

The usage of memories is also seen in the short story The Petrol Pump by Italo Calvino. Instead of using memories to tell stories, this piece of literature utilizes memories as a means of forewarning. Since the story in set in a future in which oil is scarce, the protagonist has memories of an “easier” time that serve as nostalgia to a time period of exploitation. This sweet recollection of the destructive dependency on oil in a setting that no longer can exploit the earth demonstrates the sad truth that people may not see how their actions are detrimental until they have security in resources as a memory alone instead of a current reality. This nostalgia is paired with a dream of the future in which there will no longer be a human population because people will no longer be able to support themselves on the depleting source oil. Imagining a future in which humans are obsolete and ultimately decompose into oil instills a feeling of fear that could potentially serve as a means of changing behavior.

The short film Pumzi directed by Wanuri Kahiu draws on this idea of dreams of the future shaping perspective but in a more hopeful sense. Asha, a woman living in a dystopian technology based future who represents Mother Earth in the film, had reoccurring visions of a future in which she was united with vegetation and water. She was then ordered by officials to take her “dream suppressants” so that these images of nature would not haunt her. Suppressing the hope of a future united with nature again was a mechanism that the government used to control the people they were over. These images of fertility and hope pushed her to go against the corrupted system in which she was shackled. Dreams became the motivation to protect the environment even over her own well-being.

The utilization of images of the past and the future serve as bridges to finding solutions to current issues.

Works Cited

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

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

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

Culture and Engineering

February 4th, 2017 | Posted by Alyssa Cleveland in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

How do environmental issues register differently in different cultures? (Or do they?)

To begin, it is imperative to highlight the validity of this question even without the answer. The shear acknowledgement of the possibility that environmental issues, or any issue for that matter, could be viewed differently by different people. Often, more times than not, a there is a notion that all people think the same way; this way being “Western”. To recognize that different cultural aspects could impact the way people view the environment and corresponding issues is a beginning step to engineering solutions to these said issues. And let me specify what I exactly I mean by engineering. Any innovative usage of materials to solve some problem is the definition of engineering; not just the fancy projects built by the “greatest” minds in Western countries.

The true difference in how different cultures register different issues is demonstrated through how each group of people decide to move forward, or engineer. As demonstrated in the environmental fiction piece “Staying Afloat” by Angela Penrose, while Western societies tend to try to monetize and profit from sustainable solutions, poorer countries and people tend to find ways to prevail with the means that they are given. This short story also highlights how if a people are more connected to ancestry and the history of their people due to cultural aspects such as valuing family, they are more likely to looking backwards in time for a solution. This opposes the tendency of people who do not have family and ancestry at the core of their culture to try to find completely new solutions with a main focus on the economy. The globalization of ideas has made the way that people find solutions less polarized;however, this is not to say that viewpoints have become monolithic. The combination of different perspectives and cultural backgrounds to solve these interconnected environmental issues is the most efficient way to finding the means to environmental recovery and behavioral changes. While having a council in which people come from different countries to discuss possible solutions to environmental issues and the human health problems related to said issues would be ideal, there would be a number of political concerns due to the fact that any group containing more than on perspective must have regulations and mediation. And who would mediate? Western countries? Who would have the ultimate say so? Would this run like a direct democracy where issues are voted on? Which issues are valued first on the list? While collaboration would come with a set of concerns, it could truly be the solution to finding solutions.


Work Cited

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