jump to navigation

Interdisciplinary Science for the Public Good Brought to you by Dr. Beth Feingold October 11, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in environmental justice.
add a comment

Beth Feingold, PhD, MPH, MESc, Vassar geology class of 2001 is lead author of the study:
“Livestock Density as Risk Factor for Livestock-associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus aureus, the Netherlands.”

This important study shows that people who live near livestock or in livestock farming communities may be at greater risk of acquiring, Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA), a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to penicillin and certain first-line antibiotics.

Advertisements

Barry Commoner: A Feminist Environmentalist October 3, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Barry Commoner, connectthedotsmovement.org, earth community, environmental justice, environmentalism, feminism, fracking, Precautionary Principle, Sandra Steingraber.
3 comments

This is cross-posted at CommonDreams.org, SpeakOut,  and RH Reality Check.

When, as a 21-year-old geology major I chose scientist and activist Barry Commoner as my presidential candidate, I was lambasted by some of my lesbian sisters at Yale for wasting my vote.  But upon reading his obituary in the New York Times, I feel proud of the choice I made back then. Barry Commoner, who died September 30, deserves to be remembered as a visionary scientific thinker who advocated for connecting the dots between components in systems of oppression.Barry Commoner, who died on Sunday at the age of 95.

I’d like to remember Commoner as a feminist environmentalist. Why? For one thing, Commoner split with conservation groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation who subscribed to Paul Ehrlich’s theories articulated in The Population Bomb. These organizations, at the time, essentially blamed women for enviromental degradation asserting that it was a byproduct of overpopulation.  Commoner was a scientist of the Rachel Carson variety. As the Times put it, his overarching concern was “a radical ideal of social justice in which everything was indeed connected to everything else… He insisted that the planet’s future depended on industry’s learning not to make messes in the first place, rather than on trying to clean them up.”

This line of thinking leads directly to scientists and activists today who insist on seeing the connections between energy, transportation, agricultural and industrial systems that emphasize technological progress and financial profits disregarding consequences such as groundwater contamination, global climate change, and the health of all living beings.  Too, Commoner could well be remembered as the direct ancestor of scientists today like Sandra Steingraber, a signatory of the Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle, a scientist who has devoted her life to explaining the ways that chemical contaminants endanger health, and who currently leads the fight in New York against fracking. For Commoner planted the seed for precaution with his precept that “Preventing a disease is far more efficient than treating it.”

And I don’t know if in his late years Commoner was aware of the work of activist Ashley Maier, cofounder of Connect the Dots, an organization that uses the social-ecological model, that individuals live within multiple spheres of influence, to address connections between environment, human and animal well-being.  But I’d like to think that his longevity might have been connected to the hope he could have derived from the work of younger activists like Maier.

Though I never spoke with my graduate school mentor, paleontologist Stephen Jay Gould, about Commoner, it didn’t surprise me to read his comment in a review of Commoner’s book, Making Peace with the Planet, that it “suffers the commonest of unkind fates: to be so self-evidently true and just that we pass it by as a twice-told tale.” Though he eschewed the politics of science, Steve’s view that Commoner was “right and compassionate on nearly every major issue” rings true as we contemplate as obvious yet imperative Commoner’s prescription of solar energy, electric-powered vehicles, and massive recycling programs, among others, as components of a plan to reverse the formidable, “radically wrong” path of the planet.

Bringing Wise MInd to “Mine-golia” May 30, 2012

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Buddhist concepts, Copper, environmental justice, mineral resources, Mongolia, slow violence.
1 comment so far

This piece is cross-posted on Shambhala SunSpace.

How shall we bring the Buddhist “perfections of the heart,” such as generosity, patience, equanimity, truthfulness, renunciation, and wisdom, to the ways we interact with the earth? I sometimes find myself adopting what might be considered a generous stance of sharing equally what Earth offers. But then I realize that I’m reacting to a feeling of needing more than what I already have.

In “The Bodhisattva Path,” the eighth-century monk, scholar and poet Shantideva wrote:

May I become an inexhaustible treasure
For those who are poor and destitute.
May I turn into all things they could need,
And may these be placed close beside them….

Just like space
And the great elements such as earth,
May I always support the life
Of all the boundless creatures.

I reflected on these verses, and having listened recently to Sylvia Boorstein’s talk “The Paramitas as the Path” and a four-part series on National Public Radio about resource development in the Central Asian nation of Mongolia, I wondered how we human beings might apply Wise Mind to the issue of extraction of Mongolian mineral resources.

As reported in the NPR series, the sparsely populated nation of Mongolia is in the midst of a mining boom that has the potential to reduce widespread poverty there. The country is rich in copper and gold, among other metals, particularly in the Gobi region where nomadic herders have traditionally depended on water for sustenance. But water will be used in vast quantities at the copper mega-mine being developed at Oyu Tolgoi(“Turquoise Hill”) about 50 miles north of the Chinese border. Mining operations willlower the water table and threaten the livelihood of herders who constitute as much as 40% of the population.

Humans have used copper for thousands of years. King Solomon mined it at Timna to help build the temple in Jerusalem. It’s a critical resource for most of humanity, but it is also easily recycled. According to the International Copper Association, 80% of the copper ever mined is in use today. So something doesn’t feel right about unearthing more copper to lift a portion of a nation’s people out of poverty while sacrificing compatriots who will suffer from groundwater depletion.

And yet, as Sylvia says (a phrase that is heard nearly every day in my household) when she teaches about the paramis (the fully cultivated mind and heart qualities of a fully awakened being), to practice generosity and equanimity is to be wise. That is, Sylvia teaches that wisdom is an anomalous parami because we can’t wake up in the morning and say “Today I am going to be wise.” Instead one can treat simply nine of the paramis as aspects of one: wisdom.

Is it generous to endorse the actions of Rio Tinto, a massive Australian mining company, so that the financial wealth that accrues from copper mining trickles down to the people of Mongolia? Or is that simply plundering the earth? Perhaps as Sylvia teaches, giving up destructive habits such as surface and underground mining on massive scales is truly the manifestation of generosity.

Sylvia also teaches that suffering is caused by the imperative in the mind that things be different. The truth of Mongolia is that it is a landlocked nation with little arable land. Does it make sense to struggle with this reality, to pry from the earth more of what we think we need? In my view, creation of a vast mine in a remote region for the extraction of a recyclable mineral resource seems to be the result of confused rather than clear, wise minds.

About a Poem: Jill S. Schneiderman on Donald Rothberg’s “Tomato” April 5, 2011

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in contemplative practice, environmental justice, environmentalism, food justice, mindfulness practice.
add a comment

From Shambhala Sun | May 2011
You’ll find this article on page 96 of the magazine.

TOMATO

Tomato in my salad bowl
Is all there is.
Big as a watermelon,
big as the earth,
big as my mind.
Glistening, shining, with
time’s still rush,
We’re locked together
for this part of eternity,
Tomato and me.

I feel taken into
the cherry tomato roundness,
orange redness,
its fact of existing.
I’ve never known
a tomato
quite like this.

This could go on a long time,
It’s so compelling.
I’m becoming tomato,
Tomato me.
Who’ll blink first, me or tomato?

It is said that
“Freedom is not needing to know what comes next.”

I eat it.

Then,
I notice a leaf of lettuce.

———————————————————-
Slowly consuming a raisin often serves as an introductory exercise in the practice of mindful eating. But for me, there’s nothing like paying attention to a homegrown tomato. So when tomato season came to a close and I resumed my teaching on environmentalism and social justice, I delighted in this poem by Donald Rothberg, a teacher of socially engaged Buddhism. I thought, “Tomato” could be an anthem for twenty-first-century environmentalists because, as my friend John Elder, a teacher of American nature writing, says, the Slow Food movement will be to twenty-first century environmentalism what wilderness preservation was to its twentieth-century precursor—the nexus of progressive action.

As the Western frontier of the United States disappeared in the late-nineteenth century, naturalists like John Muir worked to preserve areas they deemed “wilderness;” consequently, national parks exist today. But elitism tainted that movement, and women and people of color avoided it. Later, in the twentieth century, a new environmentalism prioritized concern for social justice. In the seventies, feminists revealed connections between the exploitation of nature and the oppression of women and other groups who were considered secondary in society. Building on those ideas, contemporary environmental justice activists have exposed how communities of color and low-income urban dwellers are the primary bearers of environmental ills. Unnatural disasters following Hurricane Katrina and the Port-au-Prince earthquake, for example, have highlighted this.

Today the Slow Food movement excites populations of racially and economically diverse young people largely unencumbered by traditional gender roles. Heightening awareness of the connection between food and environment, the movement has the potential to galvanize others because it unites pleasure with responsibility. “Kill me along with this tree I occupy” or “Taste this tomato!” Which rallying cry do you think will encourage others to embrace environmental awareness? My students are choosing the latter.

What we eat and how we come by it matters to every living being and therefore constitutes a unifying theme for a lasting and socially just environmentalism. With its emphasis on stillness and sufficiency, Buddhism has much to offer this new environmentalism. Slow Food is about paying attention to what we eat and how we produce it—in other words, being mindful about consumption. In my opinion, whether we’re consuming raisins or tomatoes, socially engaged Buddhists can share with others the powerful practice of mindful eating.

Jill Schneiderman is professor of earth science at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, and editor of The Earth Around Us: Maintaining a Livable Planet.


As seen in the May 2011 issue of the Shambhala Sun. Click here to browse the entire issue online.


‘Eaarth’ Gay on ‘Eaarth’ Day 2010 April 22, 2010

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in 'Eaarth' Day, Buddhist concepts, climate change, contemplative practice, earth community, environmental justice, LGBT concerns, Vassar College.
5 comments

Sometimes I feel blasé about Earth Day because I grow tired of talk without action. As a bujugeoscientist (that’s a Buddhist, Jewish, geoscientist) I’m inclined towards Right Speech and Right Action among the steps of the eightfold-path. As a result, I am unmoved by the verbiage of Earth Day.

Founded with good intentions by Senator Gaylord Nelson forty years ago today, it was designed as an environmental “teach-in” to inspire awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment. But I think it’s time for the speechifying (and partying that sometimes goes with it) to be supplanted by serious (right) action.

So, I’m pleased to share my delight today at having stumbled upon a new organization, OUT for Sustainability that aims to engage and mobilize the LGBT community around progressive environmental thinking. In my opinion, environmentalists like those running Earth Day events can learn plenty from LGBT activists who have had to mobilize swiftly to fight life-threatening illness and counter gross civil rights injustices.

The current state of Eaarth should move Eaarthlings as the AIDS-crisis moved LGBT activists. Started in 2009, OUT for Sustainability seems to me to represent the type of alliances this planet and its living beings need now. My queer Vassar College students get this connection; for example, they are OUT working on advanced degrees in epidemiology and environmental science; serving as educators about climate change; directing films about the effects of Hurricane Katrina; and promoting organizations that focus on issues of environmental justice, including food justice and health.

Thank you students! Thank you OUT for Sustainability. On Eaarth Day 2010, this Eaarth Gay feels inspired.

Chile, Haiti, and “Govinda’s Bridge” March 4, 2010

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in Andes, Buddhist concepts, Chile, disasters, earth community, earth cycles, earthquakes, environmental justice, geology, Haiti.
3 comments

This piece is cross-posted at Shambhala SunSpace.

When I turned as part of my daily practice to today’s page of Offerings, a compilation of Buddhist quotations, I read a comment by Lama Anagarika Govinda that registered as particularly meaningful in light of the recent earthquake in Chile:

“A bridge is revealed which connects the everyday world of sense perceptions to the realm of timeless knowledge.”

Oddly enough, given the topic of collapsed infrastructure as a result of recent high magnitude earthquakes in Haiti and Chile, a visible viaduct has emerged which connects the agonizing reality of these events to the timeless truth that economically and educationally impoverished people are disproportionately vulnerable to risks posed by life on a dynamic planet.

How is it that these two seismic events in the first quarter of 2010 have together exposed Govinda’s bridge?

In order to answer that question we must compare geologically these natural events. Both earthquakes occurred at lithospheric plate boundaries. Geologists have come to expect earthquakes at these locations because such boundaries, which are delineated by earthquakes and often volcanism, are the relatively flexible seams that connect pieces of comparatively inflexible crust comprising the skin of the earth. When rigid crust moves, it releases energy stored in the rocks causing them to break abruptly. This is a fundamental geological reality that all human beings must understand, as a starting point, if we are to lessen the catastrophic human consequences that follow from such natural events. Both temblors were massive — Chile magnitude 8.8 , Haiti 7.0. In fact, the Chilean event ranks among the largest quakes ever measured.

A substantial geological difference between the Chile and Haiti tremors was that the former originated deep in the Earth’s crust, 35 km, while the latter one had a shallow focus, 13 km. The difference in the depth of the rupture relates to the type of plate boundary at each site — sideways sliding in Haiti versus downward thrust in Chile. And though to the geologically uninitiated the difference between 8.8 and 7.0 may seem negligible, the Richter scale is logarithmic, not linear, and that means that the Chilean quake was substantially stronger than the Haitian one. These geological details beg the human question, why do the numbers of Haitian deaths and catastrophic injuries eclipse Chilean ones?

The answer to the question has socioeconomic, rather than geologic roots. An adage well known to geologists reads, “Earthquakes don’t kill people, buildings do.” Many Chileans were spared crush-injuries and death because Chile constructed quake-resistant buildings after experiencing a 9.5 magnitude earthquake in 1960. In this recent event, buildings shook but did not collapse into stacks of flattened concrete, minimizing the chance that Chileans might be killed or trapped inside them. Too, the Chilean quake struck near Concepcion, a region of much lower population than Port-au-Prince.

We can build earthquake-resistant structures with adequate know-how and financial resources. Concrete, a common and relatively strong masonry material consists of cement — primarily heated limestone that is finely ground and mixed with the mineral gypsum—that binds together sand and gravel. But concrete doesn’t stretch or extend very well when stressed by shearing horizontal forces. It can be reinforced with steel bars or pre-stressed for use as an earthquake-resistant building material. Other elements of an earthquake resistant building include a good-quality foundation and high quality cement.

Living on land prone to shift, Chileans endure constant reminders of the need to utilize high quality building materials and enforce strict building regulations. Haitians also receive portentous jolts. But Chile, not Haiti, is one of the most earthquake-ready countries in South America, Central America and the Caribbean. Why are buildings in Chile more stable than those in Haiti? While 98% of Chileans are literate and 18% of the population lives in poverty, the respective numbers for Haiti are 53% and 80%. These numbers may explain why Haitians have used brittle steel without ribbing and poor quality cement to hold together concrete. And using cement too sparingly for mortar between concrete blocks or in the production of the concrete itself reduces the earthquake resistance of the structure built with it. In Haiti inferior building materials and poor building practices have been replicated from the foundation up. As a result, the Haitian earthquake left more than 200,000 people dead, nearly one million people homeless, and an indeterminate amount of pain and anguish; in Chile we may hope that the death toll will not reach four digits.

When we examine a geologic map of the world, an unfortunate reality becomes clear: the earth’s most populous cities exist along plate boundaries. Plate boundaries coincide with shorelines and sources of water hence our earliest civilizations arose there and grew to be villages and towns. Today large population centers in places like Tehran and Istanbul are disasters waiting to happen. Though geologists cannot predict when an earthquake will occur, we can forecast, in decades-wide windows, the inevitability of such events. Haphazardly constructed communities in vulnerable mega-cities put millions of people at risk for the suffering that ensues after a large earthquake in a poorly prepared region. The Buddha taught that suffering is endless yet one must vow to end it. Anyone who subscribes to this principle must reject as unacceptable the disproportionate vulnerability of the poor and under-educated to the earth’s perpetual processes.

President Obama’s Environmentalism February 18, 2010

Posted by Jill S. Schneiderman in environmental justice.
2 comments

photo by Chris Brizzard, San Francisco Bay View

President Obama has taken plenty of heat lately because he has included nuclear power, offshore oil drilling and “clean coal” as foundations of his energy policy.  His recent budget proposes to triple federal construction-loan guarantees for new nuclear reactors at a cost of $54.5 billion. Leaders of organizations including the leaders of the Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, and Friends of the Earth, among others, have expressed disappointment in what they view as the President’s limited actions in the arena of energy and environment. But frankly I’m not surprised and I’m not terribly upset by Obama’s choices. We are faced with the seemingly intractable problem of voracious consumption of fossil fuel resources and concomitant global warming. What’s a leader to do?

As Senator Obama, the President supported development of nuclear power and when he became President, he appointed as Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar, a fifth generation Coloradan who environmentalists felt was too much of a champion for farmers and ranchers. Why am I not so stunned or dejected by President Obama’s choices on these matters? Because his priorities reflect his history as an African American community organizer in Chicago in neighborhoods like the Southside and Altgeld Gardens housing development, areas that have been described as “toxic doughnuts” because of being surrounded by waste facilities and other locally undesirable land uses.

What President Obama may view as among the most pressing environmental issues of the day are issues of environmental injustice—instances in which African American and other people of color communities have become environmental sacrifice zones where polluting industries compromise the health of children and adults who live daily with releases of hazardous substances into proximal air, water and land. For the President, environmentalism may mean prioritizing the rescue of people from contaminated environments rather than protecting environments from people who pollute.