Archive for September 15th, 2011

Refuse, Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse Your Way into More Sustainable Living


Refuse, Reduce, Recycle, and Reuse Your Way into More Sustainable Living


Posted 14 September 2011, by Caroline Higgins, Technorati,



Can we as consumers help to make positive global environmental changes with our purchasing power? Absolutely. Each time we make a purchase, we are supporting manufacturers who often need to adjust production in order to help lighten their carbon footprints. They won’t begin to do this until they receive notification from you, the consumer, in the way of decreased sales. The products in our hands and in our cupboards are truly what impacts not only their bottom line, but Mother’s Earth’s as well. We must all consider our part in the impact and cost on our planet.

What are the ways that this can be done, you might ask. To begin with, when considering a purchase, ask yourself if you really need the item. This is the very first step, towards REDUCING your carbon imprint. Secondly, take a good look at that packaging, and REFUSE all items that are marketed for single use. Is it something that can be recycled, or will it just end up as another piece in the massive landfill we are acquiring? Always try to purchase locally made and produced items when available. Support your local economy.

A good rule of thumb to think about when purchasing and item, is ‘will this cause harm to anyone or anything by purchasing it?’

Think of ways you can REUSE all items you bring into your day. Consider free cycle, barter, or donations to charitable organizations, rather than hauling it to the dump. There is value in your discarded items, if you remember that old rule –“Your trash is someone’s treasure.”

If you haven’t already begun a COMPOST pile, now is the time to do so. Along with the usual garden and food items, there are things you haven’t thought of including, such as dryer lint, hair, ash, and floor sweepings which can be included in red worm bins.

We all are, hopefully, involved in RECYCLING in our daily lives, but estimates reveal that everyone can reduce their household trash percentages by 75-80% if they will only become aware of what they are discarding. Just ask yourself, is there a better alternative? More often than not, you will find that there definitely is a better choice for you and Mother Earth.


Article Author: Caroline Higgins

Caroline Higgins is a Technorati editor, social media connoisseur, and writer, which keeps her glued to the screen for the most part. She has a keen interest in the latest breaking news within the technical, science, entertainment, health and sporting worlds. …

Caroline Higgins’s author pageAuthor’s Blog



Water evaporated from trees cools global climate

Water evaporated from trees cools global climate


Posted 14 September 2011, by Ken Caldeira (Carnegie Institution for Science), EurakAlert (American Association for the Advancement of Science),


Washington, DC. — Scientists have long debated about the impact on global climate of water evaporated from vegetation. New research from Carnegie’s Global Ecology department concludes that evaporated water helps cool the earth as a whole, not just the local area of evaporation, demonstrating that evaporation of water from trees and lakes could have a cooling effect on the entire atmosphere. These findings, published September 14 in Environmental Research Letters, have major implications for land-use decision making.

Evaporative cooling is the process by which a local area is cooled by the energy used in the evaporation process, energy that would have otherwise heated the area’s surface. It is well known that the paving over of urban areas and the clearing of forests can contribute to local warming by decreasing local evaporative cooling, but it was not understood whether this decreased evaporation would also contribute to global warming

The Earth has been getting warmer over at least the past several decades, primarily as a result of the emissions of carbon dioxide from the burning of coal, oil, and gas, as well as the clearing of forests. But because water vapor plays so many roles in the climate system, the global climate effects of changes in evaporation were not well understood.

The researchers even thought it was possible that evaporation could have a warming effect on global climate, because water vapor acts as a greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Also, the energy taken up in evaporating water is released back into the environment when the water vapor condenses and returns to earth, mostly as rain. Globally, this cycle of evaporation and condensation moves energy around, but cannot create or destroy energy. So, evaporation cannot directly affect the global balance of energy on our planet.

The team led by George Ban-Weiss, formerly of Carnegie and currently at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, included Carnegie’s Long Cao, Julia Pongratz and Ken Caldeira, as well as Govindasamy Bala of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore. Using a climate model, they found that increased evaporation actually had an overall cooling effect on the global climate.

Increased evaporation tends to cause clouds to form low in the atmosphere, which act to reflect the sun’s warming rays back out into space. This has a cooling influence.

“This shows us that the evaporation of water from trees and lakes in urban parks, like New York’s Central Park, not only help keep our cities cool, but also helps keep the whole planet cool,” Caldeira said. “Our research also shows that we need to improve our understanding of how our daily activities can drive changes in both local and global climate. That steam coming out of your tea-kettle may be helping to cool the Earth, but that cooling influence will be overwhelmed if that water was boiled by burning gas or coal.”


The Department of Global Ecology was established in 2002 to help build the scientific foundations for a sustainable future. The department is located on the campus of Stanford University, but is an independent research organization funded by the Carnegie Institution. Its scientists conduct basic research on a wide range of large-scale environmental issues, including climate change, ocean acidification, biological invasions, and changes in biodiversity.

The Carnegie Institution for Science ( is a private, nonprofit organization headquartered in Washington, D.C., with six research departments throughout the U.S. Since its founding in 1902, the Carnegie Institution has been a pioneering force in basic scientific research. Carnegie scientists are leaders in plant biology, developmental biology, astronomy, materials science, global ecology, and Earth and planetary science.


Subversive Environmental History

Subversive Environmental History


Posted 13 September 2011, by Evaggelos Vallianatos, Truthout,


Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm. Cimarron County, Oklahoma, USA, April 1936. (Photo: Arthur Rothstein / Farm Security Administration)

In an original essay Aldo Leopold wrote in volume 31 of the “Journal of Forestry,” in 1933, he connected the survival of America to an abiding respect for nature, especially the integrity of the land.

Leopold was professor at the University of Wisconsin. He was disturbed by America’s misuse of its forests, land and wildlife. He drew an intimate connection between land and civilization, insisting that civilization “is a state of mutual and interdependent cooperation between human animals, other animals, plants and soils, which may be disrupted at any moment by the failure of any of them.”

Disruption on a huge scale did take place in the United States in the 1930s, in Leopold’s time. In his classic, “A Sand County Almanac” (Oxford University Press, 1966), he likened the United States to “a hypochondriac, so obsessed with its own economic health as to have lost the capacity to remain healthy.”

In fact, Leopold saw the American obsession spreading throughout the world. He lamented: “The whole world is so greedy for more bathtubs that it has lost the stability necessary to build them, or even to turn off the tap” (p. xi).

Industrialized farmers “broke” the land causing a dust bowl in the Great Plains that dusted out some 3.5 million Okies, especially from Kansas and Oklahoma. Wrecking the land triggered the calamity of the Great Plains.

Some 30 years later, in the early 1960s, three books elaborated Leopold’s message to some degree. The first was “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson (Boston, 1962). Carson documented the misuse of pesticides, the heedless dumping of millions upon millions of pounds of biocides all over America, but especially in the lands of industrialized farmers.

The second book was “The Quiet Crisis” by Stewart Udall (New York, 1963). This is an absorbing history of what America did to its pristine and abundant, natural treasures of land, forests, rivers, lakes and mountains.

Udall paints not a pretty picture. He keeps talking of over-grazing, over-farming, cut-and-run policies of the timber barons, land grabbers, great giveaway, every man for himself and lumber tycoons in order to capture the violent relations of Americans toward nature in the first century and a half of the country’s life. The main characteristic of that era was plundering of the natural world by corporations and individuals.

White Americans also nearly exterminated the indigenous population, the only humans in the continent who had a land ethic. Whites also were responsible for the near annihilation of the beaver and the buffalo.

However, thanks to thinkers and activists like John Muir and Leopold and the policies of a few statesmen like Theodore Roosevelt and Franklin Delano Roosevelt, America, after the dust bowls of the 1930s, made the late transition to “conservation” policies, which are some kind of a tenuous truce in its ever-present war against nature.

Udall writes with doubtful conviction. He was in a position of power in the 1960s, but he failed to walk the talk.

Udall was the secretary of the Interior Department under presidents John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson. He did precious little to stop the plunder of nature in America, especially in California when corporate farmers violated the law in grabbing subsidized water, incessantly becoming larger and larger.

The Department of the Interior was then and remains the largest owner of land in the United States.

Udall could have stopped the rising agribusiness empire in the West, ending the water subsidies to huge corporate farmers, putting an end to the decimation of public lands by ranchers and land grabbers, projects of both agribusiness and state and federal governments. However, he did nothing of the sort. His eloquent book was, in some measure, a quiet apologia steeped in guilt.

The third book is “Pesticides and the Living Landscape” by Robert L. Rudd (Madison, Wisconsin, 1964). This is a variation of the theme explored by Carson, only more scholarly and suggestive of the futility of trying to dominate nature with toxins. Rudd talks about the ruthless arrogance and the scientific incompetence and greed of those exploiting the land, hubris pitted against the eternal values and verities of the natural world.

These studies, especially “Silent Spring,” triggered all kinds of alarms in the country. The chemical industry called Carson “communist,” an old spinster who did not know science. President Kennedy and a few senators praised Carson.

The federal government, however, stayed on the sidelines. It started half-hearted policies of trying to control pollution and ecological despoliation.

The environmentalists also sided with Carson. Yet, for many of them it was not easy to fall in love with nature. They had the guilt of moneyed men who meant to do good while not infringing on the privileges of their class. With such muddled thinking, “environmentalism,” always deferential of corporations, never captured the country’s soul.

On the other hand, corporations remained on the offensive. Their armies of lobbyists and purchased academics have been killing the ecological idea even before it makes it to the print or public debate, especially that. They fight ferociously any plan to “regulate” their industrial activities while spreading disinformation about the environment, denying the country’s severe ecological crisis, even rejecting the toxic effects of agribusiness and the calamity of global warming.

On the face of such corporate audacity verging on gangsterism, the federal government remains polite and silent and supportive of corporations.

For example, in 1966, the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) of the Department of the Interior administered by Udall published a pamphlet, “Fish, Wildlife and Pesticides” in which it described the serious ecological harm caused by farm sprays while assuring Americans, “There has been no Silent Spring – yet. The frogs croak their love songs, the wild geese fly north on schedule and the salmon splash their way upstream to spawn.”

Aside from this gentle if misleading treatment of pollution and death in nature, the FWS ignored the damming of the rivers threatening the salmon with extinction.

In December 1969, the US Department of Health, Education and Welfare elaborated the pesticide danger in greater detail in the hefty “Report of the Secretary’s Commission on Pesticides and Their Relationship to Environmental Health.”

The report said that, yes, pesticides are hazardous, indeed, they are threat to global ecosystems, but Americans have no choice but to adapt to them: they are indispensable to food production.

The report also, for the first time ever, documented environmental racism in America. Blacks receive greater dosages of pesticides than whites. The following figure shows the unequal amounts of poison in the form of DDT in the blood of whites and blacks:

Once the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) came into being, it also started studying the effects of agricultural sprays. In the early 1970s, it completed 11 reports examining the uses of pesticides everywhere in nature and society: in forests, aquatic environment, suburban homes and farms.

The EPA’s Herbicide Report (1974) was an example of good science serving the public interest. The report, prepared by the EPA’s Science Advisory Board, was groundbreaking in its assessment of weed killers, bringing to light startling news: herbicides altering the nutrition value of crops, changing their physiology, making them appetizing to insects. Herbicides also cause insect-pest outbreaks while stimulating their reproduction (pp. 45, 61).

The EPA, however, did nothing with the findings of this report. In 1974, the EPA had some more bad news about the farmers’ spays, challenging the assumption that farmers use pesticides to increase food production. “Farmer’s Pesticide Use Decisions and Attitudes on Alternate Crop Protection Methods” by Rosmarie von Rumker, an EPA consultant, reported that farmers turned to pesticide merchants for advice and, second, chlorine-based sprays reduced the yield of corn and soybeans, the implication being that all toxics are inimical to crops.

This was the time of Jimmy Carter in the White House. Carter spoke about the 1970s being “a decade of environmental progress,” which started on January 1, 1970, with the signing into law of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Carter was effusive in his comments about NEPA calling it “the nation’s charter for protecting and improving the environment.”

However, Carter’s rosy picture of environmental progress was wrong. The NEPA is a good law but, like so many other good laws, corporations and their lobbyists, who had plenty to do in the writing of these laws, kept working through their purchased members of Congress, crippling the NEPA’s effectiveness, making it a routine administrative program of endless assessments without teeth. In addition, when it comes to agribusiness issues, the chemical industry, assisted by the scientists of the land grant universities, controls the mind and the policies of both farmers and policymakers, thus neutralizing the NEPA and all other legislation.

In July 1980, only a few months before the election of Reagan, the EPA published “Acid Rain,” a report on the sulfuric and nitric acids coming out of the stacks of American factories and cars burning fossil fuels. These acids travel hundreds of miles with the wind and then fall to the earth, forming deadly acid rain. Now, we know that the same factories and cars burning coal and petroleum also emit carbon dioxide, thus causing global warming.

One of the EPA scientists responsible for the preparation of the “Acid Rain” report, Richard Laska, said to me on March 17, 1988, that Reagan’s first EPA administrator, Anne Gorsuch, was so enraged by the findings of the “Acid Rain” report she “burned” it, perhaps symbolically.

The Carter administration also studied America’s agricultural crisis, the rural exodus of family farmers and the threatening rise of agribusiness as the dominant force in rural America. And, again, just before the Reagan men and women took over the government, the Carter Department of Agriculture (USDA) published two pioneering studies, one on organic agriculture: “Report and Recommendations on Organic Farming” (July 1980) and another on the precarious nature of American agriculture, becoming primarily agribusiness, “A Time to Choose” (January 1981).

Yet, the time to choose had just about expired. Agribusiness was in the saddle all over the country.

Robert van den Bosch, professor of biology at Berkeley, exposed the corruption in America’s agricultural and environmental education and policy establishment in his pioneering “The Pesticide Conspiracy” (New York, 1978).

The story van den Bosch tells is extraordinary, but true: Merchants of poison bribe professors and politicians, fund the suppression of research into traditional farming and treat the USDA and the EPA like subsidiaries of the chemical industry. They write the laws and enjoy the protection of the government.

From my experience at the EPA, where I worked from 1979 to 2004, I can certify that van den Bosch is right: the government envelops the industry’s corruption with the epiphenomena of science and regulation, so that the actions of the chemical industry mafia look both legal and routine.

Whether one is concerned about spreading cancer, the general decline in the quality of life throughout nature and society, global warming, the killing of America’s democratic family farming or children eating food contaminated with toxins, the source of the problem is the same: powerful corporations abusing society’s trust and the political system for their profits, using methods for food production which are not safe for humans or wildlife.

Indeed, I would argue that the mafia model is the unspoken factor in the government-industrial-academic complex determining the fate of agriculture, public health and the environment in the United States.

Consider these additional examples:

  1.  Children are by far the greatest victims of our toxic agriculture: Two scientists with the Environmental Defense Fund, now Environmental Defense, Stephanie G. Harris and Joseph H. Highland, reported that the late 1970s, when they studied children, were not “normal times,” children being “the defenseless victims of environmental pollution.” Their report, “Birthright Denied” (New York, 1977), was thorough and timely, examining all kinds of toxins found in mothers’ milk, including dioxins.Like Harris, a former reporter for The New York Times, Philip Shabecoff and his wife Alice Shabecoff, investigated the fate of children born and growing up in a toxic world. The result is “Poisoned Profits: The Toxic Assault on Our Children” (New York, 2008), a powerful indictment of giant corporate polluters; agribusiness; large farmers and other poisoners responsible for higher rates of birth defects, cancer, asthma, autism and other deadly diseases of America’s children.
  2. In her 1983 book, “A Bitter Fog,” Carol Van Strum dissects the forces at work allowing for the endless spraying and contamination of nature by pesticides, especially those carrying with them dioxins, by far the most lethal of toxic substances of industrialized societies. Van Strum said to me in the spring of 1989 that, once the Sierra Club published her book, it immediately pulled it back from the market. She had no doubt that it was herbicide merchants who set fire to her house, killing her children in the woods of Oregon.
  3. In order to undermine the public’s fear of cancer and dilute the charge it was approving cancer-causing chemicals for food, in the mid-1980s, the EPA, with the blessings of the Reagan White House and Congress, funded the US National Academy of Sciences to “study” the Delaney Clause, the only provision in the federal law prohibiting cancer-causing chemicals – carcinogens – in processed food. In its 1987 report, “Regulating Pesticides in Food,” the Academy prepared the ground for the EPA to dismantle the Delaney Clause, which the Academy renamed the “Delaney Paradox.”By 1987, cancer-causing sprays were pervasive in American crops and food. Sixty percent of weed killers were carcinogens, 90 percent of crop disease-fighting chemicals (fungicides) were carcinogens and 30 percent of insect sprays were also cancer-causing chemicals. And since most of the crop spays concentrate in processed food, the easy, but dangerous, option for the EPA was to get rid of the troubling prohibition, which the EPA did with fanfare in 1996 under a Republican-dominated Congress, but a Democratic White House. President Bill Clinton; the EPA administrator Carol Browner; and Dr. Lynn Goldman, a pediatrician and assistant administrator for pesticides at the EPA, signed off on that abhorrent policy.
  4. While the united Democrats-Republicans on Capitol Hill and the White House and the EPA were celebrating the elimination of the Delaney Clause, three researchers, two environmental scientists and one journalist, Theo Colborn, John Peterson Myers and Dianne Dumanoski authored “Our Stolen Future” (New York, 1996). This was another silent spring-like story, updated to include the effects of hormone-like toxins, many of them farm sprays, on humans and wildlife. The book documented the effects of the toxic hormone imposters to be global and lasting – causing malformations of newborns and declining fertility in wildlife and humans.

Al Gore, vice president of the United States, wrote the preface to “Our Stolen Future.” Yet, his former personal assistant who had become the EPA administrator, Browner, ignored the tragedy of the hormone-like sprays in the environment.

In this shameless fashion, Gore repeated his inaction on global warming about which he wrote a good book while a US senator: “Earth in the Balance” (Boston, 1992). Gore was vice president and Browner the administrator of the EPA from 1993 to 2001. Gore did nothing on global warming and Browner did nothing to protect human health and nature from the torrent of dangers issuing from America’s industrial establishment.

However, being out of power brought Gore back to his senses and he became a passionate defender of the earth, publishing an honest and eloquent book on global warming: “An Inconvenient Truth” (Rodale Press) in 2005. On October 12, 2007, he earned the Nobel Prize for peace for his eloquent and courageous stand on the environmental emergency we face because of global warming.

Gore’s late conversion does not diminish his failure as a politician. Adding insult to injury, the Clinton-Gore administration appointed a woman pediatrician, Goldman, to administer the EPA’s largest office, which was responsible for pesticides and other toxic chemicals, my base for most of the years of my tenure at the EPA.

Goldman kept talking about children’s health, but her policies, like those of Browner, left children in the same terrible condition they had been and continue to be under Republican and Democratic administrations.

Environmentalism is in crisis in the United States. Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus (“The Death of Environmentalism,” Grist Magazine, January 13, 2005) argue – still persuasively six years later – that environmentalists have to rethink everything they do.

Environmentalists do not fail because they don’t have consistent or attractive values. They do. Environmentalists fail because their opponents – mafia-like corporate plunderers of nature, unethical academic scientists, large farmers, oil companies, power companies, mountain destroyers, developers of wetlands, loggers, industrial fishers  and other industrialists – are armed to the teeth.

These businessmen make up the military-industrial complex. They often do their work under various covers. Some of them operate behind the façade of nonprofit or faith-based organizations, as well as domestic and international development.

They make up a kleptocracy instrumental in the making of environmental policy. For example, preachers like Pat Robertson and Republican politicians set the tone of the George W. Bush administration’s outrageous attack against both nature and public health.

The Obama administration comes perilously close to following on the footsteps of the Bush administration. Marsha Coleman-Adebayo, an EPA colleague fired by the Bush administration, wrote a letter to the EPA administrator Lisa Jackson (August 5, 2011) in which she accused her of fostering “a culture of fear, intimidation and retaliation.”

Evaggelos Vallianatos
Evaggelos Vallianatos is the author of “This Land is Their Land” and “The Passion of the Greeks.”

From Brooklyn to Brazil: an Environmental Awakening


From Brooklyn to Brazil: an Environmental Awakening

UVM senior Joshua Carrera took time on a field study trip to Ecuador to visit a butterfly farm in the country's Cloud Forest. (Photo courtesy of Joshua Carrera)


Posted 14 September 2011, by Jon Reidel, University of Vermont,



Growing up in Brooklyn, Joshua Carrera says he didn’t know much about the environment — or UVM. He certainly didn’t anticipate that after traveling the world studying management and human ecology in Ecuador and Brazil he’d appear on the June 2011 cover of Nature Conservancy Magazine.

His first step on that journey was enrolling at the High School for Environmental Studies in Manhattan, a UVM partnership school that sends a handful of students to the university each year. As a student there, he was selected for a “Leaders in Environmental Action for the Future (LEAF)” internship, awarded by the Nature Conservancy. After his junior year, the internship brought him to Vermont, where Carrera helped remove invasive plant species from Southern Lake Champlain.

The LEAF internship also included a visit to UVM and a meeting with an alumnus of his high school, then-UVM sophomore Dylan Arie Hass-Floersch ’07. Now a college senior, Carrera says the meeting helped him decide to attend UVM, where he’s since immersed himself in campus groups like the ALANA Student Center and the Women’s Center along with his coursework in natural resources.

Even after attending an environmentally themed high school and participating in the LEAF internship, Carrera says he wasn’t convinced that studying and working on behalf of the environment was his future. But that changed after two highly influential service-learning courses in ornithology with Alan Strong, associate professor in the Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and an ecotourism course in Costa Rica with Extension instructor and outreach coordinator David Kestenbaum.

“I’d taken over 20 courses, but these two had such an incredible impact on the way I see things,” Carrera says. “I would never have learned things like how to travel sustainably and lowering my environmental impact had I not come to UVM. It has played a major role in what I’m doing today and how I think about the world.”

Experiential learning in the Amazon

Carrera, one of six UVM students in 2010 to receive a total of $36,000 in Benjamin A. Gilman Scholarship money to study abroad, travelled in August 2010 to study in Ecuador, where his mother was born, and Brazil through the SIT Study Abroad Program. Based on his research, which involved interviewing farmers and other stakeholders in the Amazon, Carrera found that a lack of land rights creates a disincentive for people to take care of their land in an environmentally responsible way, which can be damaging to the Amazon rainforest. “That’s one of the biggest environmental problems right now because people need to make a quick buck to survive, and they are going to use that land as quickly as possible before getting caught, if they ever do.”

Carrera is also working on a research project and paper that focuses on the economic viability of cacao, a fruit, as an alternative to cattle ranching. More returns are realized from cacao than cattle, Carrera says, which makes it a good candidate to help farmers shift away from cattle production. Since cattle production and the deforestation it causes produces higher amounts of carbon emissions, a switch to cacao and other plant-based production means a cleaner environment.

“But, stakeholders such as farmers must benefit from the proposed methods of reducing emissions if the program is to succeed,” Carrera writes. “If environmentally sustainable alternatives are not supported, deforestation will continue, which will result in carbon emissions and further contribute to our global problem of climate change.”

The last month of Carrera’s travels allowed for some backpacking across South America, which he chronicled in his blog, and some time to think about his next move. He’s considering studying environmental economics in graduate school or pursuing his dream of working in community-based eco-tourism in the Galapagos Islands, where he says the current economic model is unsustainable.

Bringing it back to Brooklyn

Before returning to UVM for the fall semester, however, Carrera spent time visiting his old neighborhood in Brooklyn. Even though his time growing up there was not always easy — including a painful period when he and his family were forced to move to a homeless shelter when Carrera was 15 years old – he says maintaining close ties to his friends and family is important.

“That situation explains a lot about why I think the way I do today and how the world is sometimes really unfair,” says Carrera. “It has played a role in why I want to help others because I feel that everything I’ve done and my achievements are because of people’s efforts to help me.”

Carrera wants to return the favor by one day speaking with students from his high school who might be going through similar hardships. “I think stories like mine are important and can be a source of inspiration,” he says. “I think about where I came from and what I’ve been able to do since I left Brooklyn all the time. The whole homeless situation is one of those problems that you never see, so you often don’t know that your friend sitting right next to you is homeless. Maybe a student in a similar situation will hear my story and say, ‘Wow, he did it. Maybe I could do it. He’s telling me how I can do it, so I’m going to go for it.’”



Sex Secrets of Environmental History: grocery shopping


Sex Secrets of Environmental History: grocery shopping


Posted 14 September 2011, by Barbara Cuerden, Creaturality,



From Virginia Scharff: Man and Nature! (Sex secrets of Environmental History)

Chapter Two in Human/Nature: Biology, Culture and Environmental History

In terms of rhopography, Virginia Scharff has analyzed, calculated, and drawn conclusions from hacking through the jungle of the grocery expeditions that most women with families are forced to do every week. I can’t put it any better than she has:
[Women’s] their domestic work remains ecologically transformative in ways that tend to be incremental rather than cataclysmic, easier to see in the aggregate than in the particular…

Let me try to make a trivial part of that work visible by turning a personal anecdote into a story about environmental history. One fall day I returned from the grocery store annoyed, as I often am, by the fact that getting food into our household had once again cost me an hour and a half of valuable writing time. …

Trudging back and forth from car to kitchen with my dozen bags, I began to wonder how much freight I was carrying that day. And so, turning annoyance into science, I went into the bathroom, got the scale, and put it on the kitchen floor. Then I weighed those groceries sack by sack. That day’s load, comprising most but by no means all of what I would purchase and carry during an average week’s grocery shopping, weighed in at 78 pounds.

Most weeks I end up at a grocery store four or five times because we’ve run out of milk or lettuce or coffee, or somebody has to take something to school for a class snack. I figure those extra trips add up, conservatively, to another 25 pounds of freight, but let’s round off my weekly total to one hundred pounds of groceries for a family of four. Multiply that by fifty-two weeks per year, and you’ve got me carrying fifty-two hundred pounds of groceries a year. That doesn’t seem too bad; only a bit over two and a half tons. But in the course of each shopping trip, I heft each item five times – from the shelf into the cart, from the cart to the conveyer belt, from the conveyer belt into bags, from the counter back into the cart [or if you are lucky there’s a bagger], from the cart to the car, the car to the house, and once in the house to whatever constitutes being ‘put away’ in my house. So it seems fair to me to multiply the total weekly weight of groceries by five in order to account for the number of times I lift and carry items to complete the job of ‘grocery shopping’. Reckoned this way, I haul a total of twenty-six thousand pounds or thirteen tons, of groceries a year before I’ve so much as opened a single can of tomatoes to make dinner. 

… this problem is pretty boring. But being tiresome doesn’t rule it out as a description of a meaningful encounter with nature through work. I have risked boring you in order to demystify the mingling of production and consumption,of work and leisure, of mechanization and labor power, of nature and culture: a woman shopper’s encounter with gravity, a tomato’s encounter with a can. This isn’t very sexy stuff, but it is, I assure you, essential to reproducing human organisms. If I don’t do this work, people in my house don’t eat.

So, think: What percentage of that tomato is packaging? Where does all that varied and hefty stuff come from? Why do I choose to buy and carry and process and dispose of the particular things I do – Mexican tomatoes and South American ground beef, spaghetti from Italy and oranges from Florida, Corn Pops from Battle Creek and Budweiser from st. Louis? Pretty soon I am thinking about bulk marketing and recycling, about takeout food fast food and home delivery pizza, about McDonald’s burgers and the Amazon rainforest, about the global economy and ecology of eating middle-class America today. Follow the trails of human encounters with nature outward, from the grocery bags in my kitchen, and I think you’ll see some of the possibilities of women’s environmental history. …

These tedious and domestic details are not, I know, heroic rendezvous between man and nature, dramas of dominance and submission, tragedies or triumphs. They are little didactic lessons, seemingly devoid of sex or secrecy, significant only because they are endlessly iterated and replicated. They are the acts that keep the species going, boring, idiotic, fascinating. I suppose they have at least those attributes in common with the kinds of sex secrets I haven’t revealed in this essay…



Care for the earth and care of the body


Care for the earth and care of the body


Posted 14 September 2011, by Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, C.S.J. *, Catholic News Agency,



Care for God’s beloved creation presupposes a universal purpose of the earth’s goods.  Stewardship brings with it responsible freedom “to respect creation and to  promote an environmental culture that is based on respect for ethical values, the protection of life, an economy of solidarity and sustainable development.”  (Benedict XVI: “Pope Encourages Ethical Ecology,” June 7, 2007). The issues are all of the same cloth, and attending to one without the other distorts the unitary view of the earth. Environmental imposition of contraceptives, abortion, genetic manipulation of human beings, and other distortions of the ethical norms that affect the care of human beings, must be rejected.

Catholic Social Justice and the Family

Moral principles begin with the family nucleus which is oriented toward joy, life and love.  The transcendent character of men and women and their relationship with their Creator “favors an ecological respect for the environment and a respect for the dignity of every human being from conception to natural death” (Ibid).

Catholic social justice is justice according to the natural law.  It is not mercy, giving the undeserved what they do not deserve.  It accords the innocent what they deserve.  It lifts up the humble.  Catholic social justice affirms and protects the life of the individual and the family, and in a just society, ownership and property are ideals that protect the family.  Those who work deserve the fruits of their labor.  Freedom, the art of self-governing and self-control, opposes any arrangement that destroys the family.  To paraphrase St. Paul, the family is the temple of God, and God must dwell within it. This is the essence of the Church’s teaching on social justice.

The Human Body

It goes without saying that the body participates in an integrated vision of the human person.  Blessed John Paul II never ceased to remind us, and particularly our youth, that the human body has a specific meaning and role to play in our redemption.  (John Paul II: “General Audience on the Theology of the Body,” (1982-84). Caring for it has assumed greater importance at a time when the body is seen as a machine to be manipulated, abused and misused in the name of self-gratification and personal freedom.  “We are temples of God,” Paul reminds us, “and God [does] dwell within” (1 Cor 3:16). To internalize the divine indwelling is to reverence all of God’s creation.

Fragrance of the Garden

A healthy garden must be watered, trimmed and kept clean. As a healthy garden scents the atmosphere with its fragrances, so the lives of those who bear fruit and exude “the odor of sanctity,” made tangible through their person.  In Catholic asceticism, “the odor of sanctity” has come to mean that fragrance proceeding from the person, clothing, or domicile of a saint during life or after death.  The phrase also refers to a reputation for goodness and righteousness.  In his classic, “The Graces of Interior Prayer,” A. Poulain writes: “Many saints have emitted agreeable odours during their lifetime or at death.  These odours were various; they resembled those of the violet or the rose, orange-blossom, cinnamon, musk, benjamin, etc” (375, starred footnote).  A beautiful scent may have the force of persuasion that convinces more than words or appearance.  Paul links holiness in Christ to the image of a fragrant aroma:

But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads in every place the fragrance that comes from knowing him.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life (2 Cor 2:14-16).

Similarly, Mahatma Gandhi compares the scent of a rose to the gospel of Christ and the Christian way of life:

Let your life speak to us even as the rose needs no speech but simply spreads its perfume. Even the blind who do not see the rose perceive its fragrance.  That is the secret of the rose.  But the Gospel that Jesus preached is much more subtle and fragrant than the Gospel of the rose.  If the rose needs no agent, much less does the Gospel of Christ need any agent (S.K. George, Gandhi and the Church,” published on Gandhi’s 75th birthday).
Despite the grim picture of our torn and unlovely world, our task is to be fruitful in the garden and make it an array of beauty for ourselves and for others in the present.  Dedicated care-givers do this every day. The Creator-Spirit who breathed and brooded over cosmos is the same Spirit who, in every age and with our cooperation produces new and beautiful fruits.

* Sr. Joan L. Roccasalvo, a member of the Congregation of St. Joseph, Brentwood, NY, holds degrees in philosophy (Ph.L), musicology (Ph.D.), theology (M.A.), and liturgical studies (Ph.D). She has taught at all levels of Catholic education and writes with a particular focus on a theology of beauty and the sacred arts. Her e-mail address is



Kentucky News Review: Kentucky schools offer studies in peace education

Kentucky News Review: Kentucky schools offer studies in peace education


Posted 14 September 2011, by Lu-Ann Farrar, Kentucky News Review (, kentucky .com



Sept. 14, 2011

  • Kentucky’s universities are offering programs in peace education, according to The field of study is relatively new and interdisciplinary in nature. A college focus area, certificate or minor typically includes one to three required peace studies courses, along with a selection of two to five courses in social and economic justice, cultural studies, ecology, philosophy, women’s studies, theology, conflict resolution and a service-learning component. Ten Bluegrass and Community and Technical College professors created a new course in 2003 called Introduction to Peace Studies. Since then, two more courses have been added. In 2004, BCTC created a focus area in Peace & Justice Studies, a concentration of courses totaling 16 hours within the 60-hour associate in arts degree, reports Berea College, Madisonville Community College, Bellarmine University and University of Louisville offer programs in peace and justice education.
  • Bowling Green-Warren County Drug Task Force officers recovered the remnants of 10 to 12 methamphetamine labs inside a cave that is part of the Mammoth Cave karst system, reports the Daily News. Any gases or liquid waste from the labs had already seeped into the water table. Drug investigators retrieved about 10 pounds of solid waste. “None of us want to be drinking the hazardous waste that meth labs produce,” task force Director Tommy Loving said to the Daily News. For every pound of methamphetamine produced, six pounds of waste are left behind.
  • Three teachers from Kentucky have been named All-American Teachers of the Year by the National Math and Science Initiative, a national, non-profit organization focused on improving mathematics and science achievement, according to Kentucky Teacher. AP Biology teacher Carlos Verdecchia from Bryan Station High School was among the teachers. Also named are Johnson Central High School AP English teacher Amiee Cantrell-Webb and Henderson County High School AP Calculus teacher Brian Sullivan. Verdecchia said his students have taught him, too. “I’m always surprised and often reminded years later when I meet with students that were not stellar students, they have fond memories of my class or just remember my name. I’m reminded daily that what we educators consider the top priority for our student (passing a test or finishing a project) is often not the top priority of our student lives.”
  • Featured in today’s commentary by Frank DeFord on National Public Radio, a piece in The Atlantic by Taylor Branch, “The Shame of College Sports.”