Environmental Literature | Social Justice | Sustainable Futures

Intro Blog: Nanki Singh

January 23rd, 2017 | Posted by Nanki Singh in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Name: Nanki Singh

Hometown: New Delhi, India

Major: Public Policy and Global Health (Potential)

Three topics/ideas/issues that intrigue me: Public Health, sustainability via technology, Evolutionary Biology

Most interesting bit of news I read today (or lately): A new study has found that parrotfish are critical for coral reef health!!


The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben
What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz


Water: Friend or Foe? Exploring water, life, and ethics
“This year’s Ethics Film Series investigates the ethical and moral questions that arise when water becomes “the enemy,” the cursed necessity that is too scarce or too polluted. Without water, there is no life, and film provides a spectacular means of depicting the unfortunate cases when water can ruin one’s life. This series splits its time between examining water scarcity and water pollution as drivers of human action.”

Scientific Communication

The US environmental movement needs a new message

Getting a scientific message across means taking human nature into account

How to Convince Non-Recyclers to Ditch the Trash Bag

Prompt: “What is your favorite movie with an environmental message? Why? Do you think films that show what you value and do not want harmed (such as beautiful sunsets at the beach or healthy children playing at a park) or document a problem (such as people walking through apocalyptic floods or dirty water coming out of someone’s faucet) or portray a fictional time and place motivate people more? Why?”

When I was in tenth grade, I watched the ABC program Earth 2100, which attempted to predict the events of the next century based on our current [something] climate change, energy use, and treatment of natural resources. I wouldn’t necessarily call it my favorite environmental movie, but it is definitely the one that has had the biggest impact on me. It was terrifying to see that level of death and carnage laid out in a way that seemed entirely plausible, especially since they relied on an array of experts to make fact-based, logical predictions about the course of history. It gave me the impression of a dystopian future that was quickly approaching and nearly unstoppable, and I felt an overwhelming and slightly panicky sense of urgency by the end.

The advantage of depicting this hypothetical future was that the filmmakers had the ability to portray problems of a nature and dimension that have never been scene in modern times. Because it was a combination of the fantastically unprecedented and disconcertingly plausible, I think the film had a much greater emotional impact and motivated me more than it would have otherwise. Additionally, it not only showed what the world might look like if humans continue to ignore environmental disasters and global warming, but also took the audience through each failure and missed opportunity for action along the way, which made the subsequent destruction and loss of life far more devastating to experience.

Works Cited:

Bednar, R., Bicks, M., Avellino, R., Hirsch, L., Hanan, M., Neufel, J., Thomas, A., … MPI Home Video (Firm). (2009). Earth 2100. Orland Park, Ill.: MPI Home Video.

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 4 The Environment in/of Visual and Popular Culture.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

Many people have become motivated to care about ecology (particularly air quality and water quality) because they have or know some who has asthma, cancer, or another illness that is environmentally triggered. Do you or someone you know have health concerns that shape your relationship with the environment?

It has always been intriguing to me the way that people choose to think and behave based on an issue’s closeness to them. An issue can be easily dismissed by people who do not feel an urgent or immediate conscience of said issue. Our perceptions of a situation are impacted by our own personal relationship to the problem at hand. While air and water quality are definitely environmental concerns, the urgency to change public attitudes and behaviors relating to these problems only comes when they are viewed as human health concerns. The fault in this phenomenon of thinking is the initial separation of the environment and humans. The Environment is perceived to be some far off, distant entity that we as individuals have no direct impact on; when in reality, the environment is everything from the air we breathe to the ecological systems that we disrupt with light pollution.


Protestors of Flint Water Crisis (http://www.blackbottomarchives.com/blackpapersocialjustice/2016/10/11/flint-still-doesnt-have-water)

By connecting human life to the environment, there is more of a responsibility felt on our parts to ensure healthy relations and behaviors. My relationship with the environment is undoubtedly shaped by the health of people in areas who are either affected by environmental oppression, or people in nations that have harsh ecological conditions which hinder development. Cox speaks of “sacrifice zones” which are essentially areas in which legislatures feel less responsibility to protect the environment due to the race or socioeconomic status of the people in said region. This discriminatory, illogical thinking strips people of the basic right to a clean, healthy living environment.


Work Cited

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

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

Our perception and understanding of the word ‘wilderness’ is a symbolic construction. Cox presents the contested history of Yosemite Valley as evidence of this construction, noting that the Mariposa Battalion cleansed the region of Native Americans in order to establish “pristine wilderness.” As a result, Watkins’ famed photographs of Yosemite depict spotless landscapes, untouched by humans, solidifying the symbolic construction of wilderness. Much of the modern perception of wilderness in the United States can be traced back to the events in Yosemite, when humans decided that wilderness meant “an uncultivated, uninhabited region.” By evicting the Native Americans from the valley, they decided that the presence of humans in the wilderness would compromise the wild qualities of those regions.

This distanced, human-free construction of wilderness hinders the ability and drive for humans to protect it. We are inherently driven by gains: economic, interpersonal, individual. Because wilderness is depicted as an isolated system, independent of human life, it doesn’t provide the same motivation to protect as other things do. Our history with Yosemite and cultural definitions of wilderness have forced a disconnect between ourselves and the wild. The symbolic construction of wilderness represents a mental state in which we believe that wilderness is a place that we do not belong since it must be untouched.

In order to protect something, we must find value in it. It must matter to us personally, because it affects us personally. When wilderness becomes relatable, we are more inclined to want to protect it, and by extension protect ourselves. As the symbolic construction of wilderness stands now, there is little incentive to protect, however this does not prevent the symbolic construction of wilderness from changing and becoming more accessible to the public in the future.

Works Cited:

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 4 The Environment In/of Visual and Popular Culture.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

Ryan Bronstein: Blog Post 1

January 21st, 2017 | Posted by Ryan Bronstein in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)


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.

In the novel Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere, author Dr. Robert Cox discusses the role of visual and popular culture in the context of environmental communication. Cox explores the use of condensation symbols, defined by Cox in Chapter 4 as “a word or phrase…that ‘stirs vivid impressions involving the listeners’ most basic values’”. He continues by examining the effects that the image of the polar bear, as a condensation symbol, has had on the communication of environmental problems. In Photo 4.2, Cox’s caption prompts a discussion around this type of symbol:

[W]hat difference would it make if an image of a climate change refugee became the new condensation symbol? Do you think polar bears on broken ice are more visually resonant than people walking through floods? As more humans are impacted by climate disruptions, do you think the condensation symbol will change?

When considering a response, I immediately referred back to an earlier passage in the novel where Cox described the history of Yosemite Valley. Those living in early eastern America became infatuated with the majesty and unequaled beauty of the valley through photography, and in order for the area to be secured as a tourist area, the native indigenous people living in the valley were either killed or relocated. This history is vital to our understanding of how images of people and images of the environment interact within the public sphere.

The removal represents how the relationship between native humans and their habitat was deemed inferior to the “pristine nature” of Yosemite Valley. There exists a romanticism that many people hold with the environment. This belief, coupled with the common view that humans are the sole cause of its destruction, are the reasons why images of the environment that are void of humans are so attractive and so powerful. There is a tendency of humans to sympathize with the environment, as we believe we are its spokespeople. Therefore, I hypothesize that photographs of human lives put at risk by climate change will likely be viewed as self-imposed and will not stir as much public outrage as a polar bear who had little contribution to the effects that have altered its environment so drastically. As a result of this praise for the environment and the loathing of human actions, photographs of the effects of environmental disaster inflicted on humans will most likely never be more synonymous with climate change than the depictions of polar bears starving on increasingly smaller ice flows.

Personally, I would prefer a public sphere that values and celebrates the connection and the coexistence of humans and the world surrounding them. This view is beautifully illustrated in Robert F. Kennedy Jr.’s speech at the May 2000 EcoSummit conference:

We are not protecting nature for nature’s sake. We are protecting nature because it enriches us. It enriches us economically…It enriches us culturally, recreationally, aesthetically, spiritually, and historically…I do not want my children growing up in a world where we have lost touch with the seasons and tides, and the things that connects use to the ten thousand generations of human beings that were here before laptops, and that connect us ultimately to God. (Canadian Parliamentary Review 12)

Working through this other frame, a condensation symbol consisting of both humans and the environment would be incredibly influential and would more successfully contribute to the solving of vital environmental problems.

Works Cited

Kennedy, Robert F., Jr. “Who Speaks for the Environment?” Canadian Parliamentary Review 23.3 (2000): 12. Web. 20 Jan. 2017.

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Chapter 4 The Environment In/of Visual and Popular Culture.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. Print.

This blog post is a reaction to the following discussion prompts:

Are apocalyptic warnings about global warming effective, or do such warnings create problems of credibility or paralyze action? How can scientists raise awareness of future, serious effects from climate changes—rising sea levels, deaths from prolonged droughts, and so on—without relying on some vision of catastrophic events?

Some climate scientists and journalists have complained that the public cannot “see” global warming. How would you solve this problem? Which medium do you think can most compellingly express the impacts of prolonged drought, rising sea levels, disease, and so forth?

The general American public is understandably isolated from an accurate understanding of the true effects of climate change on our planet. As a result of much of the discourse surrounding this topic being confined to the academic sphere, not to mention the difficulty of interpreting the occasional statistic, most people find it almost impossible to imagine an environment drastically altered from the current one and the impact it will have on their lives.

The issue, as Cox insists, is all about framing. An accurate portrayal of the consequences of humans’ actions is limitedly broadcast unto the pages of scientific journals such as Science and Nature. Yet, the audience of these and similar publications is one that already has a heightened consciousness of the state of environmental affairs.

To generate massive action, it is the masses that have to be reached. The channel must be carefully selected, and the message must be even more carefully determined so that it is encoded and eventually decoded properly to spur action. There have been many attempts to achieve both general public interest and awareness, but we can undoubtedly do better.

A favorite channel has been visual media, such as television and cinema. Directors and producers have worked together to bring the public fascinating scenes of what our lives might be like in 50, 100, or even 1000 years. However, these futuristic visions truly are overly apocalyptic and go so far into the future that it cannot be comprehended.

The solution is double-sided. The government must work to eliminate the biggest threats to the environment through tax incentives and penalties. At the same time, the education system has to double-down on its efforts to spread climate awareness to children, and hopefully the future will be brighter and cleaner as a result.

Works Cited:

Cox, Robert, and Phaedra C. Pezullo. “Symbolic Constructions of Environment, The Environment In/of Visual and Popular Culture.” Environmental Communication and the Public Sphere. Los Angeles: SAGE, 2016. N. pag. Print.

Mary Osborn Blog 1/20/2016

January 20th, 2017 | Posted by Mary Jordan in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Discussion Question: There are many debates over food today, from whether or not we should reduce pesticide consumption to what we should serve kids at lunch to the rights of food producers to participate in shaping food cultures. We have noted terms such as “organic,” “conventional,” and “real food.” What other words have you noticed in food debates? Which ones have moved you to take action or change your daily practices?


Agriculture is something no one can say doesn’t affect their life in one way, shape, or form. “You are what you eat”, I have heard many times before yet feel that many people in America specifically are influenced by labeling, advertisements, location of items on grocery store shelves, and perceived prices of goods. This in turn affects their diet, which affects healthcare, which affects politics, and so on and so forth. Yet all that aside, the food we eat and how it is produced to me is the most important environmental issue.

Some would argue that agriculture really doesn’t harm the environment that much and this is true if the practices used by farmers and producers was sustainable. Yet in the US and other parts of the world, not all are not using the most sustainable farming practices. The carbon footprint of food waste is higher than most people think as well. CO2 emissions related to food consumption and waste is the highest in the US, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/the-big-footprint-of-food-waste). This is largely caused by higher agricultural carbon industries such as red meat and dairy. In addition, ready-made meals and processed foods also contribute to higher carbon emissions.

After knowing this, I want to make positive changes to reduce my food carbon footprint and join what is referred to as the “Slow Food Movement” which promotes good, clean, fair food (Slow Food International. http://www.slowfood.com/). According to their website, “roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tons — gets lost or wasted. Meanwhile over 840 million people worldwide (12% of the world population) are undernourished” (http://www.slowfood.com/what-we-do/themes/food-waste/). It is easy to forget the real value of food and therefore we are more likely to waste it. I can only do but so much yet I think if everyone made small changes to reduce the amount of food they waste, buy from local farmers, and support more sustainable farming practices we can make moves in the right direction.

Photo found at: (http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/the-big-footprint-of-food-waste).


Works Cited:

“Food Waste.” Slow Food. 2015 Slow Food, n.d. Web. <http://www.slowfood.com/what-we-do/themes/food-waste/>.

Wilson, Lindsay. “Http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/the-big-footprint-of-food-waste.” Shrink That Footprint. N.p., n.d. Web.

Kevin Bhimani Blog #2

January 19th, 2017 | Posted by Kevin Bhimani in Uncategorized - (0 Comments)

Kevin Bhimani Blog #2:

Discussion Question: There are many debates over food today, from whether or not we should reduce pesticide consumption to what we should serve kids at lunch to the rights of food producers to participate in shaping food cultures. We have noted terms such as “organic,” “conventional,” and “real food.” What other words have you noticed in food debates? Which ones have moved you to take action or change your daily practices? Which do you find unpersuasive?

From the plethora of food choices and terminology that we face today as consumers, it is increasingly unclear as to what exactly we are putting in our bodies. Words such as “superfoods”, “artisanal”, “probiotic”, “non-GMO”, and more are used to describe many of the foods we eat daily, yet do we really know what they mean (Tarantino)? I for one, like many others, succumb to the inherent biases that my mind has and think that foods that have such labels are healthier for me so I am more likely to purchase products with such descriptions. This is similar to what Cox described in the reading when talking about the notion of the Water Environment Federation changing the name of sewage sludge to ‘biosolids’ instead (Cox). The idea was to change the way people perceive the waste in an effort to get rid of the “negative connotation” surrounding the word (Cox). They wanted to encourage people to view ‘biosolids’ as something very beneficial that could help sustainable living. For a seemingly different reason, though using the same tactic, I believe that companies are using language in a manipulative manner in order to sway customer preferences. When a fruit or other food product is labeled “organic”, many people instantly think that this food will be better for them and in order to live a healthier life they must consume such products. These companies understand the rhetorical situation surrounding food marketing and are taking advantage of pre-existing biases, when in reality most consumers likely do not know what distinguishes a ‘superfood’ from a regular food for example. It is incredibly interesting to see this dynamic play out in our society today with many lawsuits resulting from this and more, but in the end I believe that the best way to eat healthy is to do research on your own to see what you should and shouldn’t be putting in your body. I have realized I can no longer rely on the companies telling the whole story when it comes to products so I have come to disregard a lot of the words labeled on foods.


Works Cited:

Burns, Tamara. “Whole Foods Dodges Claims in ‘Natural’ Mislabeling Class Action.” Top Class Actions. Top Class Actions, 07 Oct. 2015. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.


Tarantino, Olivia. “25 Health-Food Buzzwords And What They Mean.” Yahoo! Yahoo!, 18 Aug. 2016. Web. 19 Jan. 2017.