People And The Environment


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ENVS 1000 - Jacky Wong's Thursday tutorial presentation for May 7th, 2009

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People And The Environment

  1. 1.  People and the Environment Chris Chiu and Kat Chisholm
  2. 2. And No Birds Sing By Rachel Carson  In 1930, Dutch elm diseases, a fungal disease which attacks elm trees arrived in America and quickly spread.  Elm bark beetles, after coming into contact with spores of the invading fungus, carry the disease from tree to tree.  In an attempt to solve the problem, elm trees were sprayed with DDT at Michigan State University in 1954.  When the robins migrated back in spring, people started noticing dead and dying birds turning up on campus
  3. 3. “Dead and dying robins began to appear on campus. Few birds were seen in their normal foraging activities or assembling in their usual roosts.”  When other animals were inadvertently fed earthworms and died, Dr. Wallace, a graduate student studying robins at the University began to suspect that the cause of death was due to indirect poisoning by the birds consumption of a contaminated species.  DDT is not only effective in killing pests (although over time insects do become resistant) it also kills birds and other species that come into contact with it as well.  A tree spayed with DDT is covered in a film which does not wash away in the rain.  DDT stays on the leaves, and in autumn they fall to the ground and become one with the soil, where they are then consumed by earthworms that eat the leaves
  4. 4. “Undoubtedly some of the earthworms themselves succumb, but others survive to become ‘biological magnifiers’ of the poison.”  It only takes 11 contaminated earthworms to effectively kill a robin.  Robins eat approximately that much in as many minutes .  With a 86-88% mortality rate, the robins had a real possibility of becoming extinct.  Robins that weren’t killed off were unable to reproduce.  Records show nests with no eggs, while others, witch did have eggs these did not hatch.
  5. 5. “Not all robins received a lethal dose, but another consequence may lead to the extinction of their kind as surely as fatal poisoning.”  Evidence was found of DDT in the testes and ovaries of male and female robins.  The robin made up only a small part of the chain. Heavy mortality occurred among 90 different species of birds.  Mammals, such as raccoons, shrews and opossums that ate earthworms as well were also affected.
  6. 6. “…Dr. Wallace saw no chickadees or nuthatches at his home feeding station for the first time in many years. Three nuthatches later provided a sorry little step-by-step lesson in cause and effect: one was feeding on an elm, another was found dying of typical DDT symptoms, the third was dead.”  Treetop feeders, birds that glean their insect food from the leaves disappeared from heavily sprayed areas as well.  All parts of the food chain become a target for poisoning as the poison passes from one level to the next. Predators such as owls and hawks too died from eating contaminated prey.  Birds, such as woodpeckers and chickadees act as a protective force for certain trees against beetles and worms. As their numbers, unlike their prey, the insects don’t recover as quickly, the prey once again takes over with increased numbers with the absence of a policing force.
  7. 7. Are there any benefits of DDT?  Despite continual use for 6 years, the University lost 86% of their elm trees.  Half of the trees lost were victims of Dutch elm disease.  Other places in the Midwest experienced similar results
  8. 8. “Spraying is killing the birds but it is not saving the elms. The illusion that salvation is at the end of a spray nozzle is dangerous will-o’-the-wisp that is leading one community after another into a morass of heavy expenditures, without producing lasting results.”  Spraying DDT killed the birds and did not effectively save the elms  DDT did not solve the problem. In actuality it made it worse.
  9. 9. Sanitation Program  In New York, where there has been great success in controlling Dutch elms disease without the aid of spraying they have relied on a vigorous sanitation program or the prompt removal of all diseased or infected wood. This means all infected fire wood had to be burned before spring, when a crop of fungus carrying beetles would be released.  These practices reduced loss to 2/10 of New York’s 55,000 elm trees by 1950.  In Buffalo, these practices reduced loss to 3/10 of 1 percent of 185,000 elm trees. It would take 300 years to eliminate all of Buffalo’s elms.
  10. 10. Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living? By Richard White  Title of article comes from a bumper sticker. It poses an interesting question; why does it seem like Environmentalist are opposed to work? Also, how is it that work has come to play such a small role in American Environmentalism?  Environmentalist take two equally problematic positions, the first one is that productive work in nature is seen as a destroying of nature. The second is that only archaic forms of work provide a knowing of nature
  11. 11.  Although it cannot be argued that centuries of human labor have left nature changed, work that has changed nature has simultaneously produced much of our knowledge of nature.  Modern Environmentalism lacks an adequate consideration of this work.  Distrust of work by Environmentalist, particularly hard labour leads to a larger tendency to define humans as being outside of nature, and to frame environmental issues as a choice between humans or nature.  Most Americans celebrate nature as being a place where things remain in their natural state.
  12. 12.  The boundary between the natural world, and the world of artifice is becoming blurred. An example would be of the cows and crops we breed, the fields we cultivate, and the genes we splice. Which are they? Natural or unnatural?  The argument becomes a debate between leisure and work. Leisure, which is associated with the protection of nature, but separate from work, which destroys. When saving a old- growth forests, there is certainly a victory for the creatures who live and occupy these spaces, but no doubt it is too a defeat for the logger who earns an income from logging of that same forest.
  13. 13. “A logger’s tools extend his body into the trees so that he knows the texture of their wood and bark differs and varies, how they smell and fall. The price of this knowledge is the death of a tree.”  There would be no problems if the world were cleanly divided between work and play, as Environmentalist, who like to focus more on nature, but not so much on humans and their work seem to believe.  Work provides a fundamental knowing of nature, and perhaps our deepest connection
  14. 14. “If I sat and typed here day after day, as clerical workers type, without frequent breaks to wander and look at the mountains, I would become achingly aware of my body…My body, the nature in me, would rebel.”  The segregation of nature leads to a set of dualisms where work can only mean the absence of nature, and nature can only mean human leisure. This segregation will ultimately leave humans much poorer.  Technology serves to mask the connection to nature that modern work and machines have, even though there are no technologies that can remove us from nature
  15. 15. “…If we do not come to terms with our work, if we fail to pursue the implications of our labour and our bodies in the natural world, then we will return to patrolling the borders. We will turn public lands into public playground; we will equate wild lands with rugged play; we will imagine nature as an escape, a place where we are born again. It will be a paradise where we leave work behind. Nature may turn out to look a lot like an organic Disneyland, except it will be harder to park.”  Modern work, unlike logging, farming or herding does not come face to face with what it alters. Nothing can be learned from it, the connection modern work makes flows in only one direction.
  16. 16. “Work, then, is where we should begin.”  If environmentalism focused on work a whole series of angles on the world might be possible. Instead of irresponsibly removing ourselves from nature and pretending to be the innocent, we could become more linked to one another, and become once again linked to nature. We need to give up our hopeless fixation on purity, and begin our focus on our work.
  17. 17. Economic Globalization Has Become a War Against Nature and the Poor By Vandana Shiva  Punjab used to be the most prosperous agricultural region in India. Today every farmer is in debt  The trees have stopped bearing fruit due to the heavy use of pesticides that kills pollinators – the bees and the butterflies
  18. 18. “The native seeds have been displaced with new hybrids which cannot be saved and need to be purchased every year at a high cost. Hybrids are also very vulnerable to pest attacks.”  Corporations lured farmers into buying seeds they described as “white gold”. These seeds, which were supposed to make farmers millionaires, instead they ended up worse off. These same pesticides farmers spray their crops with are being used to commit suicide. It is a means to permanently escape their debts. The situation has become an epidemic.
  19. 19.  Mining of scarce groundwater in arid regions to grow thirsty cash crops, are creating “man-made” drought.  The exploitation of the poor in the name of globalization is “brutal and unforgivable” in the words of Shiva  Contrary to the dominant assumption, it is actually women and small farmers working with biodiversity in developing nations that are the primary food providers.
  20. 20.  Monocultures produce a high yield of one specific crop. Mixed fields of crops have a lower yield, but have a high total output of food. Yields have been defined in such ways as to make the food production on small farms by small farmers, disappear.  From the biodiversity perspective, biodiversity based productivity is higher than that of a monoculture.  Diversity is the best strategy for preventing drought and desertification.  Chemical intensification and genetic engineering does not produce more food, and often leads to yield decline. It should not be promoted as the only answer to feeding the hungry.  By doing so, nature’s diverse gifts and women’s knowledge of how to use this diversity to feed their families is being negated.
  21. 21. “While patriarchal divisions of labour has assigned women the role of feeding their families and communities, patriarchal economics and patriarchal views of science and technology magically make women’s work in providing food disappear. ‘Feeding the World’ becomes dissociated from the women who actually do it and is projected as dependent on global agribusiness and biotechnology corporations.”  In India, 90% of food processing is done by women at the household level, or by small cottage industry. This has been done intentionally. Pseudo hygiene laws are pushing food processing out of the home, and into the global agribusiness sphere. This take- over is putting millions into new poverty. It is a recipe not for feeding the world, but for stealing the livelihoods of the poor to create markets for the powerful.
  22. 22. “…Global law has enshrined the patriarchal myth of creation to create new property rights to life forms just as colonialism used the myth of discovery as the basis of the take-over of the land of other as colonies…” The knowledge of the poor is being converted into the property of global corporations. Poor will have to pay for the seeds and medicines they have evolved,
  23. 23. “The imperative to stamp out the smallest insect, the smallest plant, the smallest peasant comes from a deep fear – the fear of everything that is alive and free.”  We can only be fed when everyone else is has too been fed. This means feeding the worm and cow, we feed the soil, which supports the plants, that we then eat.  There needs to be a shift in thinking. A focus on abundance and sharing, diversity and decentralization, and respect and dignity for all beings is needed in order to become truly sustainable.
  24. 24. Discussion Questions  There are very clear themes that arise out of the three readings. From the first reading, Economic Globalization Has Become a War Against Nature and the Poor by Vandana Shiva, the idea that what is being done to the poor is inexcusable, and that there is a need for an equal sharing of resources is apparent. This connects very nicely to the idea we get from Are You an Environmentalist or Do You Work for a Living? By Richard White, that in order for Environmentalism to survive and remain tangible we must change our views of work being something separate from nature. That being said, those working in blue-collar industries are very much like the farmers of India. Do you believe that if we as a society operated in a way more like the model of India, that we could become more prosperous? Do you think it is even possible for us in North America to do things such as process our own food on a smaller scale or at home, and what steps would it take to convert to this model, which would seem to be capitalisms polar opposite?
  25. 25. Discussion Questions cont’d.  In the article And No Birds Sing by Rachel Carson, they used DDT to get rid of insects. Diminished bird populations, and damage to the ecosystem through the killing of top predators has proven that the risks far outweigh the benefits. In the article Economic Globalization Has Become a War Against Nature and the Poor by Vandana Shiva, it discusses the use of BT GM crops to eliminate weeds and insects as a way to replace dangerous pesticides such as DDT. Since both have the same effect as one another in that they harm other insects besides the pests that come into contact with them, such as pollinators like bees and monarch butterflies, should genetic engineered crops be banned just like DDT, or do their benefits outweigh the risks?