When I transferred to UNH as a junior as an anthropology major, I did not know exactly what it was I wanted to pursue. I had previously struggled with selecting an area of focus, torn between political science, environmental science, cultural anthropology, agriculture, and even philosophy. Through focusing on social institutions and stratification, policy, and cultural adaption, the courses that I took upon reaching UNH enabled me to see the connections between culture and sustainability. Feeling enlightened, I dedicated myself to culture and sustainability studies, taking on sustainability as a second major. My coursework and internships at the Sustainability Institute have embodied this connection and allowed me to explore the interplay between culture and sustainability on many different levels. I finally feel as if I have found a niche.
Once I leave this campus, I will have a short-lived break from academia this summer, working for Clean Air-Cool Planet applying what I have learned at UNH to engage businesses in the discussion of coastal adaptation. In the fall, I will be leaving for Arizona to pursue a Masters in Sustainability at ASU.
As graduation approaches, there are many things coming to an end and beginning all at once. When I stop to think about it, a suite of conflicting emotions swells (“Am I sad? Am I not?”), and I find it easier to focus on all the work that must be accomplished between now and that day, not to think about it at all.
Logistically though, there are things that I will have to consider. In Arizona, I will once more be immersed in a community that values sustainability in its culture and operations, something I was very fortunate to have at UNH.
But what if I wasn’t? Many graduating students go on to enter the professional world, or to move to a new location and embark on an adventure. This is all wonderful, but who is there to provide the biodiesel busses? The locally-grown dining hall produce? The composting service? The methane-powered energy? We’ve finally grown accustomed to these services, but now we must transition into entirely new environments.
Unknowingly, many of us at UNH have been living relatively sustainably in comparison with the general population. This is because UNH has provided all of these services to us. Much like learning to do laundry, cook our food, and sew on the occasional button, we have learn how to make sustainable lifestyle choices. But when we are surrounded by Business-As-Usual, who will teach us? There are resources available to help us make career choices, and a google search can take care of the rest. But if you’re not deeply involved in sustainability, you may not know where to look.
There are some basic actions that anyone can take. For example, in searching for apartments in Arizona from afar, I am fastidiously Google-mapping the addresses to determine if there is public transportation in close proximity. This will not only save me money on parking and gas, but also cut carbon emissions. For the same reason, I am purchasing a bike that I can use year-round in the warmer climate, which could save me time spent at the gym.
Many people move to new areas and simply “live” there. Oddly many students take it upon themselves to participate in local cultural activities when they study abroad, but not in new living situations. Part of moving to a new place is embracing everything they have to offer and taking advantage of all their resources. This means not only seeking out transportation and waste services, but exploring local culture; for example, live music, movie showings, and festivals. Community involvement and connectedness is an important component to sustainability; it fosters relationships, compassion, and interdependence. It is also essential to explore the natural beauty of the surrounding area. Hiking, walking, biking, and swimming in the Durham region have helped to shape my experience and my memories at UNH. ASU also has a wealth of opportunities for outdoor exploration that I look forward to, particularly since the landscape is so different.
I have also been able to find vast resources on farmer’s markets in the ASU area, some of
which are held on campus. Evidence here suggests that, even if you’re not continuing at school, college websites are a great resources for finding out about these events, as well as transportation that might be discounted for the public.
In general, doing some digging on what your new area has to offer could be rewarding. Information on either green vehicle purchasing or finding public transportation, securing a composting service, finding local food and farmers markets, and other sustainable lifestyle choices is not always readily available. UNH has instilled these values and habits in its students. Now that these resources will no longer be handed to us, it is up to us to use the knowledge we have accrued to seek them out, and to carry sustainability with us into the world.
Written by Megan.
Tags: Culture & Sustainability
Over the last two years the city of Vancouver has been in the process of developing the Vancouver Food Strategy
a list of comprehensive actions that serve to “integrate individual food policies into a more coordinated food systems approach, and align food systems goals within broader City plans and processes.” The Executive Summary, released in January of 2013, describes the various strategies used to create the five priority actions of the strategy. The summary describes its consultation process, which was based on four principles, two of which highlight the importance of community context and engagement.
The first of these principles was to engage ethno-culturally diverse communities. The outreach in this area consisted of roundtable meetings with immigrant settlement organizations and religious institutions, as well as events with multicultural youth and the general public. All outreach materials were translated into seven languages. The second was to engage socio-economically diverse, age-diverse, and harder-to-reach communities through storytelling. This gave these groups the opportunities to share their “food” stories. This is proven to be an effective way of engaging groups and determining community priorities, reflecting the “diverse ways that food shapes one’s experiences of the city…”
What these two methods of consultation demonstrate is the importance of considering the culture in which food planning is implemented. One of the goals of the Vancouver Food Strategy was to ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable populations were being met. This was attempted through recognizing diversity and using a holistic approach to increase food security and resilience. Factors of social stratification and access to resources must be taken into consideration if the benefits of these plans are to permeate the entire society. Variation in socioeconomic and demographic conditions must be taken into account to overcome existing issues like child poverty, hunger, and diseases related to malnutrition.
Written by Megan.
Another catastrophic event occurred last week, which was overshadowed for many by what transpired in Boston. Wednesday night, in the town of West, Texas, an explosion and fire in a fertilizer plant on the outskirts of town killed fourteen and injured around 200. The cause of the explosion is still unknown; there is no evidence of criminal activity. It has been speculated that a fire started first and led to the explosion, which indicates that there was a reaction with chemicals involved in the production of fertilizer. Over 1000 residents were evacuated from their homes, partly due to concern about the volatility of another tank at the plant. In areas impacted by the explosion, authorities began to allow residents to return briefly on Saturday. There is concern about exposure of firefighters and town residents in close proximity to the plant to anhydrous ammonia, a chemical involved in the explosion that can lead to death in cases of exposure to high concentrations.
Fertilizers most often contain phosphorus, nitrogen, potassium, calcium, sulfur, and other micronutrients. The production of fertilizer isa complex process eight-stage process that involves the burning of natural gas and steam, the production of nitric acid and ammonia, and the use of sulfuric acid and potassium chloride. With the amount of volatile chemicals and compounds involved, an uncontrolled reaction is bound to occur at some point.
Aside from the fact that this was a devastating event, why am I focusing on it in a sustainability-related blog? Sustainability literature emphasizes systems thinking, which allows one to look at a problem holistically with an “outside the box” approach. In the case of this recent explosion, sustainable systems thinking offers a solution, in a couple of ways. First, it is mono-culture farming that depletes the nutrients of the soil and creates the supposed need for fertilizers. If farming were localized and crops diversified, soil quality degradation might not be an issue. Second, the production of natural fertilizer through composting is not a dangerous process; it is a closed-loop system that would take care of our waste and cut water use without the use of chemicals. It may be a concern that composting might not produce enough fertilizer, but towns have begun to experiment with this on a larger scale in the form of composting toilets at parks and beaches. In addition, the demand for large quantities would be resolved by local farming and individual compost production. Hopefully these local movements foreshadow a larger transition towards more sustainable waste processing and fertilizer production, which would not only be healthier and economically savvy, but might help to avoid tragedies like the explosion that occurred in Texas last week.
Written by Megan.
Tags: Food, agriculture, & nutrition
April 22nd, 2013 · 1 Comment
Congratulations to Chris, Jocelyn and Catie for winning the Earth Day contest we held today with @UofNH! All three students told us they do great things for the environment, from carpooling to using reusable water bottles and coffee mugs to starting a new sustainability and business student group.
At UNH, even our Wildcat knows how to go green, drinking tap water out of a reusable bottle. Happy Earth Day from UNH!
Written by Sara.
Tags: Biodiversity & health · Climate & energy · Culture & Sustainability · Higher Education · Uncategorized
I recently traveled to Arizona State University for a recruitment visit for students who have been accepted to the Sustainability program. During my last day in sunny Arizona, I was able to attend “Emerge”, a program through which innovative artists, scientists, and prolific thinkers are invited from all over to participate in workshops, after which they present their results to the public. One of the more memorable speakers at this event was Guillermo Bert, an artist from Chile. His most recent project is called Encoded Textiles
. This project came about through his knowledge of the issues faced by the Mapuche, the indigenous inhabitants of south-central Chile.
In recent years, the Mapuche have experienced a disinterest in heritage and history from their younger
members, a common result of globalization and technological advances that results in a lost sense of unifying foundational culture and identity. Bert had noticed similarities between the traditional patterns used by the Mapuche in weaved rugs and blankets, and QR (quick response) codes. This new innovation is a coded square that can be scanned with smartphones, taking the user to a link, text, or image. Bert contacted Mapuche weavers and asked if they would work with him. His idea was to marry traditional weaving with QR codes, thereby bringing history to the younger generations.
When scanned with QR code readers, the rugs and blankets bring smartphone wielders to artwork, images, poetry, and videos that most often tell stories of globalization, development, and colonialism. The beauty in this project comes in large part from its irony; Bert leverages technology, a product of globalization and the very thing that is subverting the Mapuche cultural history, to revive it.
Bert noted that getting the codes to actually work was a challenge. The weaving had to be very precise, and there was a notable amount of weaving, unweaving, and re-weaving. However the effort appears to have been worth the while, as these amazing pieces have succeeding in communicating ancient stories through modern means. Please take a look at his website, like the project page on Facebook, and keep an eye out for the documentary, Coded Stories.
Written by Megan.
Tags: Culture & Sustainability
February 27th, 2013 · 1 Comment
Picture from travelfoodanddrink.com
No, this is not something my friends and I thought of one late night in college. It’s the best part of the Sugar on Snow Supper, an event that is widespread through VT and other parts of New England during maple syrup season.
Go to any small town in Vermont or NH and ask someone what a Sugar on Snow Supper is. If they’ve been living there a long time, chances are they will not only tell you what it is, but where the best ones are. I have been going to these my entire life, and yes my family, from Spofford NH, has our favorites; who has the best food, what’s the best crowd, and so on.
Sugar on snow, or “snow on supper” as my 3-year-old self used to call it, is a celebration of the start of spring and sugaring season, a big part of the agriculture industry in New England. Our grandparents were a part of these long before community dinners became a trendy college campus thing to do.
Hosts of Sugar on Snow dinners are granges, fire houses, and often churches. It acts as a fundraiser for that organization and it brings in a ton of people. They have multiple seatings starting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. (varies by location), allowing for essentially three or four dinners to happen in one night.
Now for the food: it’s the same every year. Dinner is community style and consists of ham, baked beans, potato salad, coleslaw, deviled eggs and roles. While perhaps packed with cholesterol and lacking a green vegetable of any kind, it’s delicious, (you can have a huge salad for lunch that day before you go). If you’re a vegetarian or have other strict diet needs, don’t let this deter you from going, just bring some food that you can eat, they don’t mind within reason.
After dinner comes the main event. A big bowl of snow is put in front of you; no, it’s not snow from the pile the plow made out back, as a miscommunication with some friends I brought in college led them to believe. They also put out a plate of plain donuts and a plate of pickles, and give you a pitcher of hot maple syrup.
My family differs on our styles of how to put the maple syrup on our bowls of snow. One style is to poke holes in the snow, so as to make nice pockets of maple syrup that easily wrap around your fork. Or, you can simply loosen up the surface and drench the whole thing; it’s up to you really. Whichever you decide, you can then put your now sticky but still warm maple syrup on your fork and eat it plain, or my favorite, put it over the donut and take a bite. Why the pickle? Because after one or two bites your mouth is ready to go into diabetic shock, and the dill cuts it, as well as loosens up any stuck to the roof of your mouth.
Sugar on Snow is a tradition we will always continue in my family. It was one of my grandfather’s favorite events; and my uncle, cousins, and now their kids all go every year. In fact we’re going to one this Saturday! It’s taught me over and over again that we shouldn’t be quick to dismiss the generations before us. There may be other tools we have to build communities and connect with one another, but they did it without Facebook, Twitter, and Google hangouts. Suppers like these have been happening for long, long time and they’re still a huge part of Vermont and New England Culture. Ask your grandparents what events they used to go to, perhaps some still exist and they would love for younger generations to join them and continue the tradition.
Written by Jackie.
Tags: Culture & Sustainability · Food, agriculture, & nutrition
February 20th, 2013 · 1 Comment
Bill McKibben stated that all the work he has done for the last twenty-five years has been in anticipation of the moment when the climate movement would take off. It seems this moment was Sunday afternoon, when 50,000 supporters, after traveling to Washington D.C., gathered to protest the Keystone XL Pipeline.
Approximately thirty UNH students, myself included, made the trip Saturday in order to be prepared for Sunday morning’s events. Up bright and early at 6 am, we left the church we had slept in and eventually headed to the Greenpeace Student Network Convergence. The speakers, who had come from North Carolina, Texas, and all over, were inspiring. Their stories encouraged us and excited us, giving us renewed energy for the long day ahead.
The rally began at noon at the Washington Monument. Our group was immersed in a sea of diverse people with a common purpose. Surrounded and short, I couldn’t perceive the expanding of the crowd, and was unaware of the amount of people until the emcee Rev. Lennox Yearwood called out the growing tally, “35,000”… “40,000”… and finally “50,000.”
The speakers at the rally were as diverse as the crowd. Bill McKibben was one of the earlier speakers, and in his usual fashion, his speech was short but meaningful and hopeful that this rally represented the awakening of the people. Among others were Chief Jackie Thomas of the Saik’uz First Nation and Crystal Lameman of the Beaver Lake Cree First Nations. Both spoke of the suffering in their tribes that resulted from oil infrastructure imposed on their land, which polluted their natural resources and lead to serious health issues like an increase in cancer cases. Both women re-framed the human relationship with nature, referring to it as our mother, who was striking back after our mistreatment. It is always amazing to hear stories of the implications of climate change and fossil fuel use for different groups. Many of these stories are hidden from the public eye, and describe interactions with climate change that may be very different from those of a bunch of students from New Hampshire. It is essential for us to internalize the whole spectrum of influenced communities.
After the final speaker, the march to the White House began. We saw the mass of the crowd stretch out before us into a line; when fully expanded, those at the back of the march had just left the monument while those at the front were reaching the end. As we walked, we saw all ages from children through old men and women, which was refreshing; on a college campus the age of involvement and interaction in the climate discussion is concentrated to a smaller range. We saw farmers whose well water had been irreparably polluted by fracking next to parents fighting for the futures of their children. There was chanting and music and even the occasional sporadic dancing. Despite the seriousness of the issue (and the biting cold), the mood was cheerful and the protest was peaceful. As we reached the White House there was no climbing of the fence; the only complaint was that we lingered too long on the sidewalk as we called to gather our group to begin the trip back to New Hampshire.
UNH students were able to take part in the biggest climate-related protest in history. The feeling of unity and empowerment was stronger than I have ever experienced. 50,000 people is no small number, and for it to be ignored would call into question the integrity of the democratic process our country claims to uphold. I am hopeful that this event represents a shifting of values in the public sphere, and that it will be catalyst needed for change at the institutional level.
Written by Megan.
This week, an historic resignation by Pope Benedict XVI was announced. While he is known for conservatism and, many have said, not leading the church into a new century; I learned through the news this week that he is considered the first Green Pope.
He may be the most prominent religious leader to do this, but other priests and pastors have also begun a conversation about the connection between followers and nature, and God and nature, and a broader message of living peaceably and sustainably on this planet. Just one example is the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development based in Jerusalem.
While we may be disappointed by our political leaders’ ability to combat climate change, it’s promising to see that religious leaders are spreading a message in that part of our culture. Historically it seems that many religions have not embraced a view of nature and preservation, at least not in many western religions. The first example many might think of is the Native Americans, whose relationship with religion and nature were intertwined. When it comes to Catholicism or Christianity, however, nature and sustainability are not the first concepts that come to mind.
But if religious leaders continue to spread this message, it can and will eventually have an enormous impact. For a moment, set aside the hotly debated issues surrounding religion in our society right now; instead, look at their way of messaging; not Fox News’ way of messaging, but everyday church members and missionaries.
When Christians and missionaries spread their message, it’s called “witnessing”. They want to share with others their experience with getting to know the Lord, entering their church community, and why they want others to enter it too. The same is true of any other religion, people are drawn to it and decide to join a religion because of the shared beliefs they have with that community, and the positive aspects it brings to their lives.
It may seem hard to “preach” about climate change and try to get others to listen without feeling as though you want to just scream, “Don’t you see what’s happening?!?!?!” But that is very often not effective. Each person will come to their own decision and realization on the matter, just as they would decide to join a religious community or church. For some, they may feel that the “conspiracy” side of our food system is a very telling aspect and it resonates with them; in other words, learning about diluted third party approval systems for fair trade, organic and others. Or perhaps they are from a military background, and can really grasp the food security concept; more local food in the region equals a more secure food region should natural disasters strike elsewhere, cutting off supply.
There are a lot of groups on campuses, and countless other non-profits and community groups all involved in the same fight. There’s no doubt that progress is being made, and the opportunities that lie in otherwise ignored groups and communities, like religions, can and should be part of the conversation. Leaders like this are a great asset to creating widespread and global change.
It’s important to think about how to spread the message, and that doesn’t always mean deciding what you want to say to people. Most often, it means listening to others, researching where they are coming from, and communicating with them on a level that they understand and in terms that they will draw a personal connection from. We might not all agree on every smaller issue within these complex problems we’re trying to solve, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t all get on board with the actions necessary to create a sustainable future for ourselves.
Written by Jackie.
Tags: Climate & energy · Culture & Sustainability
Sustainability is something that we try to emanate through choices we make in our daily lives. An example of a way we can do this is through our diets. Eating organic, vegetarian, and vegan are all examples of sustainable diets, but often not without their own exceptions. In terms of operations and large-scale farming, reports have shown that adopting a vegan diet can have more impact on reducing carbon emissions than purchasing a hybrid car. I myself am not a vegan, but like many struggle with making the right choices in food. According to this article, 70% of grains grown in the U.S., as well as 80% of land, and 50% of our water supply is used to raise and feed animals. More staggering, the article states that were the grains and water be turned over to human food supply, it would be enough to feed the world.
Many who follow a vegan diet, as well as those looking for low fat high protein foods, have been delighted with the discovery of quinoa; a low-fat gluten free food that contains essential amino acids that vegans and vegetarians struggle to consume without meat. It seemed to be the answer, in part, to the dietary concerns of veganism. Unfortunately those whose veganism is motivated by environmental concerns and animal rights often are also passionate about human rights and social equality. Quinoa lovers everywhere were confronted with a moral dilemma recently when it came to light that our demand for this tiny miracle grain has exacerbated starvation and poverty in areas where it is farmed, like Bolivia and Peru. The price of quinoa has been driven high enough that poorer people in Peru and Bolivia cannot afford it; imported food is cheaper. In this tale-as-old-as-time, another common phenomenon is that, upon seeing the value of a crop, farmers will abandon traditional farming methods for their family or community and devote resources to creating a monoculture, in this case of quinoa.
Attempts to grow this little grain elsewhere have failed. Quinoa lovers everywhere who are concerned about this issue face a choice: a) decrease carbon footprint while fueling poverty through a broken system? b) face dietary deficiencies? and for vegans, option c) abandon your ways and contribute to climate change? None of these sounds particularly tempting. This catch-twenty-two is not unique, but merely an example of the interplay between social inequality and sustainability. Other examples come to mind: the fact that the less affluent cannot afford local, organic, fair trade foods, or the fact that those impacted by natural disasters are disproportionately non-white and less wealthy. We are aware of the tangible policies that stand in the way to carbon emissions reductions and sustainability, but can we truly achieve sustainability without first addressing social inequality? This is a question that goes beyond statistics and requires a significant shift in moral and political values, the likelihood of which is no more guaranteed than saving ourselves from climate change.
Written by Megan.
Tags: Climate & energy · Food, agriculture, & nutrition
How often do you hear sustainability in the news? Not in a commercial, but on a nightly news segment? It’s true climate change has been getting more play on major networks after Hurricane Sandy and other major events. But only for that first few weeks, and when the next thing happens we’re consumed in that. Stories have been slightly more prevalent, it was just released that 2012 was the warmest year on record, but the urgency that those in the climate change arena are feeling is missing in the mainstream media. Other stories that are easier to fit into a simple two sided problem are focused on instead, one favorite example being the flu shot.
The flu season is worse than ever, and every news network touting the flu shot, listing where they’re available, constantly saying that it’s the one and only thing that will prevent the spread of the disease and protect us; but what about the planet? Is there no urgency to prevent Hurricane Sandy part two? It has to stop being treated like an isolated disaster and start being discussed as part of a much bigger and ongoing threat to the planet and our lifestyles we so enjoy now.
There is not one simple answer; nor, by the way, is preventing the flu. The shot is not the one and only thing that will fight off the germs; diet, health, immune system strength, and a whole variety of factors in being a healthy human being play into how your body fights off disease; but that’s not a simple solution and it doesn’t fit into a 2 or 3 minute news slot. The media has an even harder time oversimplifying sustainability because it’s rarely a simple thing. There are many simple solutions and actions to take, but the big picture of climate change is too daunting a task for the oversimplified and fast-paced world the networks create. Then again, so is gun control, health, the Iraq war, and a host of other issues that still get play on the news cycle; and as far as celebrities and reality stars being on “real” news channels, lets not even go there.
Next time you watch the news, listen to the weathermen and women on air today. Each does the same banter about not worrying, “those warmer temps will come back soon”, as though a cold winter is now a bad thing. It is ingrained in our minds that snow, wind, and cold are terrible events. Messaging that isn’t needed in the Northeast where complaining about the weather was already a past time. Warmer, drier winters are causing a multitude of consequences down the road, the largest being drought, and many other issues stemming from that: crop growth, tourism, well water, and so on. When was the last time you remember hearing a weatherman say that?
Seeking out alternative news sources is one of the many ways we can all begin to better inform ourselves, not just about climate change but about any issue. Get away from the same top 5 stories on every channel, and what the Kardashians are doing. You will probably find that you learn a lot about the world without even really trying.
Written by Jackie.