Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Author Archives: Jessica Marlow

“The Green Crusader”

April 20th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)
  1. Power/ability: Influence people’s mindsets and behavior in an eco-friendly direction!
  2. Name: The Green Crusader
  3. Motto: “For the good of us all.”
  4. Outfit: Dark green suit, sunglasses
  5. Appearance: Looks like a normal person when not in superhero garb, small scale permaculture farmer in Vermont like Ben Falk

  1. Transportation: Natural flight (most eco-friendly) –> think superman
  2. Weakness: His “kryptonite” is pollution
  3. Side kicks: The planet
    1. Earth world planet globe smiling happy cartoon vector Vector clipart ...
  4. Villain: Consumerism, commercialization, wasteful human behaviors
  5. Species/Backstory: Appears to be human, but comes from a planet that was transformed into an arid wasteland as a result of overconsumption and unsustainable practices. He now travels the universe finding planets in danger of facing the same fate and does his best to deter their impeding destruction.





Final Project Abstract – Jessica Marlow

April 8th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Since uranium mines were first opened in 1944 in the Navajo Nation, the Navajo people and others living in the region have faced disproportionately high negative health and environmental outcomes. Purposefully kept ignorant of the harmful radioactive effects of uranium mining and milling, Navajo people across generations are continually affected by this environmental injustice. In this project, I will first evaluate uranium mining and milling in the Navajo Nation, with a close look into both current health and societal conditions of the people living in contaminated areas and also historical factors and context which contribute to this injustice. Then, I will address Yellowcake, a work of environmental fiction written by Ann Cummins whose father once worked in the uranium industry. This novel paints a vibrant image of life in the Navajo Nation, following the banal daily workings of two families, one Navajo and one Anglo-American, both of which have been impacted by the uranium industry, though to different effect. Through analysis of this work, we can better understand the role of literature and the humanities in communicating underrepresented environmental issues in mainstream media. Lastly, I will attempt a work of environmental fiction of my own in the form of short story, writing about the air pollution problem in Beijing while drawing upon my mother’s experiences in the growing up in the city for inspiration.


April 1st, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

We’re sitting in Francesca’s, a quaint little cafe on 9th street. The walls are purple, bedecked with colorful paintings, and bouncing with laughter and conversation. I’m sitting across from my college advisor happily chatting about my current classes when the word “permaculture” enters the conversation. At this, my advisor stops me – “perma-what”?

Frankly, less than one week ago, I was in the same position. What is permaculture? I had heard of agriculture, of course, of industrialized planting. I have discussed CAFOs at length and horticulture in my spare time. But permaculture? The word brought to mind images of “permafrost” and the Arctic. Little did I know that permaculture is a form of “permanent” + “agriculture.” More than simply promoting sustainability and the idea of doing less bad, permaculture endorses actively doing good, mimicking natural patterns and relationships found within nature itself. As exhibited in the film Inhabit, permaculture can take on countless shapes and forms, ranging from Ben Falk, the self-sustaining homestead farmer from Vermont who makes farming look far more attractive than I ever thought possible, to Mark Shephard who makes his livelihood off of a perennial agricultural forest, to suburban gardens, to rain gardens along the streets of New Jersey. Our current approach to permaculture is founded on three core ethical principles: “care for the earth,” “care for people,” and “fair share,” established as part of the Permaculture Design Course, a manual which helps people like myself who had zero exposure to the concept of permaculture create their own form of agriculture, tailored to their lifestyle but sharing the same kind of positive impact.

Interestingly, though the term “permaculture” has a very short history, with the term first coined in the 1970s, permaculture principles fueled much of history’s agriculture. For example, the Three Sisters farming method which grows squash, corn, and beans together and is currently used by Susana Kaye Lein on Salamander Springs Farm – as shown in the film Inhabit – was widespread in Native American societies and used by the Iroquois as trade goods. This goes to show that in calling ecologically friendly “advances” may not actually be so innovative, but rather a return to earlier times in which people and Mother Earth coexisted more peaceably.

a short short story

March 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

The warm form next to me shifts, then a blast of cold hits. Small feet pad across cold wooden floors. I don’t even need to peek out from under my heavy grey blanket to know that Teiko has already woken up. But I don’t want to – not yet. It’s too cold. Cold and wet and lonely. The bed is nice. Nice and warm. I wish I had more blankets but Obaa-san says that we only have enough for one per bed. To my right I see Momiji sound asleep, and I nestle a little closer to the little furnace that is my sister. When I was little, I didn’t have any sisters though. It was just me and Okaa-san and Otou-san and the baby. I think the baby was a boy. But then the baby disappeared one day and Okaa-san cried and cried and eventually Otou-san got quieter and quieter. Some days he wouldn’t come home until very late and I sometimes I could hear the sound of him shouting over Okaa-sans crying. But then one day they disappeared too. Obaa-san says that they got caught in floodwaters while they were on their way home from visiting the local Shinto temple. Apparently she found me playing on the beach. So now we live together, Obaa-san and I, along with Teiko and Momiji and Akira and Rei and Kyoko and Risa and Daichi and this new boy named Shou. He’s new. Sometimes he’s still a bit shy and cries sometimes but we help him. Yesterday I taught him how to lay out the seeweed Rei and Daichi gather to dry on the port side of our house. Usually the water doesn’t rise up too high so it stays drier over there. I remember when I was little on special occasions we would eat something called fish sometimes. It was usually cold and slimy. Obaa-san says that we can’t eat fish anymore because lots of them died and a lot of the ones that are left have goo inside. So we eat seaweed. Maybe today I will teach Shou the game I learned where you count the wave crests and see how high we can get. Maybe I should get out of bed. But then again. It’s so warm here…

Using Social Media for Good

March 10th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I, quite frankly, am not good at social media.

I do not have the most friends on Facebook.

I rarely post – if at all – on Instagram.

I wouldn’t know where to start if I decided to get a Twitter.

However —

Social media has power. It influences not only our thoughts but also the very issues we think about – the issues we deem worthy of spending those few extra seconds we have before class starts or the last couple minutes before we go to sleep at night contemplating. For some, it means indulging in Tastemade videos on Snapchat, for others, scrolling through women’s fashion on Pinterest. Or, it could mean spreading awareness about environmental issues and the choices we can make to lessen our negative impact on climate change.

#ecolit290 #recycle #sustainability #actonclimate

A post shared by jessica li (@life_in_the_anthropocene) on

It could mean posting pictures of the world around us, of nature’s many wonders which may not be here in ten years or twenty years for future generations.

#ecolit290 #nature #plants #flowers

A post shared by jessica li (@life_in_the_anthropocene) on

It could even mean exposing the harmful impacts of everyday activities that society has deemed acceptable (i.e. both the cars we drive and the roads we drive on).

oil on water

Media options are numerous, and opportunities are infinite. Coming from someone who owns up to her poor social media skills, if I can make an Instagram account, spread awareness through environmental photography, and have my posts be “liked” by complete strangers, you can too.

Don’t just make a post, make an impact.

Follow me on Instagram: life_in_the_anthropocene

Also, for more information on how social media can help save the environment, check out this article by the Huffington Post.

**One thing to remember as you go forward is to always act – and post – purposefully. Drawing a parallel to two recent and critical environmental documents, the Paris Accords and Popes Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudito Si, I encourage you all to follow in Pope Francis’ footsteps. In his multiple chapter long encyclical, Pope Francis delves deeply into the real issue of climate change is at hand and the effects it will have on us all, focusing specifically on impoverished nations. He calls on Christians – using the Bible as evidence – to protect the Earth we live in, to not see it as a cheap and bottomless source of resources meant for us to exploit, but rather a gift in which we are meant to coexist. This encyclical calls on the individual to act, to change behaviors, and in essence,”be the change you want to see in the world,” to quote a very wise man ~ Ghandi. In contrast, the Paris Accords, the product of almost fifty years of deliberation among the international community, failed to put forth anything substantial regarding the issue of climate change, instead encouraging participating nations to follow protocol which is best for their own country and, for developed nations, to help out undeveloped nations when possible. Though both are key documents in the global climate change conversation, one is far more substantial than the other and thus has far greater impact.


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.

teaching complacency

February 24th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

I stirs, woken by the oh-so-familiar plop-plop-kerplop, plop-plop-kerplop mantra of water on water. The ceiling is leaking again, and I looks over at the large stove pot which has long since forgotten what it is like to house the comforting aroma of grandmama’s good chicken gumbo. It’s only a little over halfway full. That’s good, though I doubt the buses will still be running today. Rolling over, I check my iPhone – yep, there’s the email: school from home. What a shame. It’s always a hassle to coordinate the class-wide GoogleHangouts call when school is cancelled – there are always a few students “unable” to connect. However, when I confront them about missing class the next day I we meet in person, they always have a convenient excuse – last week, Maddie was complaining that her entire house’s WiFi was out because the rain damaged some part of their wireless technology or something. I actually felt kind of bad when I had to send her to ISS – In School Suspension. She was so earnest, but we all know lying is not a tolerable offense. And there’s no way the WiFi was down – there’s no way a little bit of rain could do that. In fact, President Bell just issued an official statement informing us that our efforts are paying off – Igloo and Glacier, the two last polar bears – just had a cub. As I scroll through Facebook, I see picture after picture of the happy family of bears. It’s been a while since there has been this much news – typically my feed consists of advertisements from different companies trying to sell this face mask that will miraculously remove all of your blackheads or some newly engineered kind of banana that has more protein in it than a chicken breast, peppered with interesting little quizzes claiming to be able to tell your age and weight based on your fashion sense and such. As I scroll through the pictures, I find myself wondering why ten years ago those radicals were making such a big deal about climate change. Life goes on – for us, and even for the polar bears. It’s realizations like this that make me appreciate just how accurate President Bell’s slogan is – it really is just “climate change, NOT everything change.” That being said, I need to at least put on a blouse and brush my hair; class starts in ten minutes, and I have to look presentable from the waist up at least – though my fuzzy purple pajama bottoms are staying on for sure. At least one good thing has come out of all this rain!

Butterflies in the Anthropocene

February 16th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Thud – thud – thud. Our wings beat in vain, propelling us forward in what feels to be an endless cycle, an eternity in which we are fated to forever remain here – moving yet immobile. It’s warm, crowded. The lights – too bright – glint from above, reflecting in the clear box that both is our world and separates us from it. But one day, we may be free. One day, if the rain comes back, and the sun gently warms the earth instead of scalding it. One day, if the hard gleaming metal fades back into a gentle green, and the earth giggles, we will once again flutter the clear skies and dance with dandelions. Perhaps, one day we will be more than a mass of fragile wings yearning for release.

Storytelling Across Media

February 10th, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Novel. Short story. Film.

Oil on Water. “The Petrol Pump.” Pumzi.

This past week, we have examined three literary pieces crafted in three different forms of media.

One, Oil on Water, a novel written by Helon Habila and published in 2010, takes us on a tumultuous journey through the war-torn and oil-drenched jungle that is the undeveloped region of Nigeria. From the eyes of a hopeful reporter, Rufus, we flash forward and backward in time before fully grasping the complexities of not only the kidnapping of a rich British petroleum engineer’s wife, but also the many power struggles within the country – racial, socio-economic, cultural – all of which find their root in a common evil: oil. In it’s vivid imagery and diction which fairly bring the inky stench of oil to life, Oil on Water provides a startling anecdotal rendition of the very real oil wars that occurred in Nigeria nine short years ago and the struggle several countries undoubtedly still face. More significantly, this novel is up close and personal. Real pain is experienced; real strife is endured.

Two, “The Petrol Pump” is a short story written by Italo Calvino in the 1970s but set in a dystopian society in which there is a severe oil shortage, such that crude oil costs $11.00/barrel and there are only certain hours in which oil is sold. The piece which captures only a small sliver of time, an instance of banal everyday existence for a speaker whose identity remains enigmatic, takes on a wonderfully lyrical tone as the first-person speaker muses to himself of the history of the oil shortage, punctuating his idle contemplation with powerful statements like: ” Money and the subterranean world are family and they go back a long way.” At the root of the dystopic world lies one uniting factor: oil.

Three, Pumzi, a short film written and directed by Kenyan Wanuri Kahiu, depicts a Kenya from far in the future, one post-WWIII, the River Wars. In under twenty minutes, Kahiu establishes a futuristic world of complete destitution, one in which humans have lost all traces of individuality but rather survive mechanically, similar to machines in a world full of metal. Though they have adopted sustainable practices, they have lost the vitality of life, with even unconscious dreams crushed by the system’s “dream suppressor” drugs. One lone woman breaks from the norms of the future’s reality to take the role of Mother Earth. She cares for and protects a young seedling, ultimately prioritizing it above her own life as she selflessly gives the last of her precious water source to the plant.

Though the media through which each piece is presented differs, all three works provide emotional, vivid stories of what could, can, and will happen if we humans continue to squander the earth’s natural resources. Perhaps the ultimate uniting factor of the three stories is their universality – all messages are not limited to one culture group or people, but rather can and should be heard and acted upon by all.

Works Cited

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.

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

Culture and Environmental Response

February 3rd, 2017 | Posted by Jessica Marlow in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Culture. Defined by anthropologist Sir Edward B. Tylor as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, beliefs, arts, morals, law, customs, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by [a human] as a member of society,” culture is an ever present truth in the human existence. However, I would argue that an equally significant aspect of culture is its attendant sense of mystery.

As humans, while we are always part of a culture, there are far more cultures from which we are excluded, cultures we seek to understand through an amalgam of media, from personal experience to anthropologists’ notes to news headlines to books and short stories. When perceiving culture, it is particularly interesting to examine the intersection of culture with environment as the two are inextricably linked and mutually influential.

Today, as I was scouring the web for a news piece detailing an environmental solution, I came across this recent article regarding a biodiversity campaign in Nigeria. While the work being done in the Niger Delta addresses several issues including recent oil spills threatening local fisheries as well as the loss of biodiversity in local tortoises, crocodiles, and plants, the primary species of interest for the locals is the Sclater’s Guenon, a species of monkey. However, locally, it is known by another name, ‘First Daughter’ of Itam- Awa Itam. These monkeys are seen as sisters and brothers in the local culture, and, as a direct result, biodiversity efforts which seek to plant the fruit trees the Sclater’s Guenon relies upon for food have found strong local support.

Image result for Sclater’s Guenon

While I found this story fascinating, I had complete faith that the same situation would never occur in a completely different culture like the United States. Seeing monkeys as brothers and sisters is most definitely not a part of American culture as far as I know. However, upon deeper consideration, I realized that we in America have in fact reacted in the exact same way. When a dearly beloved creature, the American Bald Eagle, symbol of American freedom and prosperity and vital part of our nation’s culture, became considered an endangered species, Americans changed both policies and practices – primarily concerning the use of DDT as a pesticide – to protect the raptor.

Thus, while culture is a diverse entity and its interactions with the environment are often complex, not all environmental issues register differently in different cultures. As seen in Nigeria with the Sclater’s Guenon and in the US with the American Bald Eagle, cultural relationships may differ, but both nations have groups which formed in defense of the animals the regions held dear and pushed forward efforts for the conservation of biodiversity.



Bald Eagle. N.p., n.d. Web. 02 Feb. 2017. <http://www.biologicaldiversity.org/species/birds/bald_eagle/>.

Sclater’s Guenon. Digital image. Cercopan. N.p., n.d. Web. 2 Feb. 2017. <http://cercopan.org/sclaters-guenon/>.

Street, Brian Vincent. “Sir Edward Burnett Tylor.” Encyclopædia Britannica. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Jan. 2007. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.

Uwaegbulam, Chinedum. “Niger Delta Biodiversity Project Rescues Endangered Species.”The Guardian. N.p., 09 Jan. 2017. Web. 2 Feb. 2017.