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Around five years ago I stumbled upon a small store in Regina, Canada named “One Thousand Villages.” The store sold small objects from earrings to miniature animals. All the objects in the store were made by locals from countries all over the world. An ivory elephant caught my eye. The elephant reminded me of one I had seen as a young child in a movie, “The Secret Garden.” In the movie, Mary Lennox’s mother has an ivory elephant. I immediately picked up the elephant and decided it was what I wanted. At that time, I saw the ivory elephant as the embodiment of beauty. Now, I see the elephant in a very different light. Whenever I look at the elephant I am reminded of how approximately eight percent of all elephants (emotional, intelligent creatures) are slaughtered each year. The elephant makes me question how I see beauty. Some trinkets can appear to be precious but tell a story of greed and destruction.

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Recently, within the past couple of years, Americans have been talking more and more about putting a tax or a cap on the amount of carbon (not carbon-dioxide) that we emit into the environment. The word “tax” can be scary, but before panicking, you have to consider the amount of damage that the carbon, which is being made from burning fossil fuels, is doing to our environment. The huge amounts of carbon currently being released into our ecosystem from burning fossil fuels is causing holes in our ozone-layer, acid rain, climate change, and a slew of other alarming problems. If we are going to have any hope of saving our planet from global warming, we need to reduce the amount of carbon emissions that we’re releasing into our environment. There are two major ways of doing this: putting a tax on carbon, or implementing a cap-and-trade system.

Let’s first start off by explaining the carbon tax proposal. A carbon tax would function as a pollution tax. It would set up a fee on the production, distribution, and use of fossil fuels. The amount of money being charged in the fee would be determined by how much carbon the fossil fuel emits when it’s burned. The more carbon, the higher the fee. Because the tax would make using dirtier fuels more expensive, it would strongly encourage people and businesses to use cleaner sources of energy more frequently and dirtier sources of energy less frequently. It could also potentially lower the amount of energy people use, make people more aware of where their energy is coming from, and its effects on the environment. The most important aspect of the carbon tax is that it would make alternative forms of energy more cost competitive with cheaper, more pollutant, harmful forms of energy (such as coal, natural gas, and oil). Also, for people who are afraid of having their taxes increased, the money raised from the carbon tax could help subsidize the taxes that they’re currently paying.

The other option would be the cap-and-trade system. This is a system where the government would put a limit on how much carbon emissions each person, company, or industry would be allowed to have each month, year, etc. People using more sustainable forms of energy, such as solar, water, and wind, and not coal, oil, or natural gas. This system would also make alternative forms of energy compete more with cheaper, more pollutant forms of energy. This is because you would be able to use more of the cleaner energy each month than you would the dirtier energy. You could stretch your carbon limit further. Again, it could also still also make people more aware of where their energy is coming from and it’s effects on the planet and our lives. These two systems, if enforced correctly, could each bring forth massive benefits to the earth, people, and society.

If we were to put these bills into law, however, we would need to get our legislators on board. In the past, both Democrats and Republicans have agreed with the idea that we need to do something (soon) about our carbon emissions. In the recent past, meaning around May 2014 or so, it was been rumoured that President Obama would use his executive authority to either put a tax on carbon, or enforce a cap-and-trade system in America. During his first term in office, Mr. Obama attempted to put a cap-and-trade bill through Congress, but it died in the Senate in 2010. Even Mr. Romney, Mr. Obama’s opponent in his second run for office, who is very conservative, was, at one point, a key architect of a cap-and-trade program in nine northeastern states. However, Mr. Romney later stopped supporting the cap-and-trade system. Another example of a politician who was, at one point, for the cap-and trade-system is the Republican 2008 presidential nominee, Senator John McCain of Arizona. He pledged to put into effect a nationwide cap-and-trade program.

Even with all these supporters of carbon legislation, we still need more in order to get some kind of carbon legislation through Congress. As environmentally responsible Americans, it is our duty and our responsibility to get our governors, legislators, mayors, congressman, president, etc. to support carbon legislation and to try and get carbon legislation through the Senate and Congress.

 

Sources:

Dowdey, Sarah. “How Carbon Tax Works.” HowStuffWorks. HowStuffWorks.com, 1998-2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

Davenport, Coral. “President Said to Be Planning to Use Executive Authority on Carbon Rule.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 May 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

“Smoke Smoking Chimney Fireplace.” Free Photo: Smoke, Smoking, Chimney, Fireplace. Pixabay, 2014. Web. 15 Sept. 2014.

Home, road trips, and NYC

After coming home from the summer, starting to get back into the swing of school, the inevitable approach of autumn and the ever looming “future” that requires planning I’m looking forward to going to New York for the Peoples Climate March!
Returning from a 4 day camping trip with my junior class, visiting colleges and a folk school (something that started in Denmark mostly for high schoolers between high school and college- even though people of all ages can go- a school that teaches traditional arts and crafts of its culture) it’s definitely nice to get home, shower, and get pumped for my next big adventure to the big city. During our trip we visited the University of MN Duluth (http://www.d.umn.edu), the North House Folk School (http://www.northhouse.org), Northland college (http://www.northland.edu), and University of Wisconsin Stout (http://www.uwstout.edu). We camped through one beautiful full moon (many of us slept under the stars) and 2 very wet, very cold storms on the shores of Lake Superior.
Every time I come back from a road trip, or any kind of travel, I find myself not knowing what to do. Do I sleep in, or count on taking a nap later? I don’t have any location to look up fun things to do in, what am I supposed to do with my time? I’ll tell you! I’ve been working with the Will Steger Foundation in Minneapolis planning a conference for and by high schoolers about sustainability, social justice and what we can do now. Youth CAN! (Climate Action Now) is in the planning process but we are excited for November 8th when this thing is going to happen! Check out our website bit.ly/youthCAN

I think one big thing about coming home is having a more clear vision in your head of who you are, and what you want to become. Having come home from this college visiting trip, I was overwhelmed at first about what different colleges have to offer, financial aid, and their art and environmental programs. I think it was really helpful to visit them on consecutive days, because then you can compare the feel of the school, it’s campus, and the different ways each school likes to present their info. In the end after so many presentations about “How this University is for you” you can actually get a feel for if it is for you, or if they’re just saying that. Even though if you’re active in any university or college you could have a great time, there will be a couple that stand out.
Needless to say even though all this college stuff can be boring (but also kind of exciting) I’m becoming more and more prepared to be involved in my part of the Peoples Climate March, and planning YouthCAN! In Minneapolis November 8. And also, realizing what kind of person I am, and want to be.

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Me and my friends taking a hike near Houghton Falls, WI.

Where’s the Catch?

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization, “One in five people on the planet depends on fish as the primary source of protein.” Because fish are vital as sustenance for many people, it is important to ask, what would happen if there were no more fish? Scientists and policy makers are asking this question a lot lately because scientists believe “that if current trends [i.e., overfishing] continue, world food fisheries could collapse entirely by 2050” (Overfishing, Save Our Seas). The problem of overfishing is occurring because the fish are being taken out of the ocean faster than they can reproduce. This rapid removal of fish from the oceans is due to a combination of demand, wasteful fishing methods, and the lack of will to regulate the fishing industry. While scientists, members of the commercial fishing industry, and politicians generally agree that the depletion of ocean fish is a serious problem, they have taken little action to address the issue due to the fear of backlash from those affected. Failure to act to reverse the damage currently happening may have catastrophic consequences for the entire oceanic biome and the food source vital to 20 percent of the earth’s population.

Conservation through the careful use of natural resources to prevent them from being lost or wasted is challenging under any circumstances, and particularly when many people are vying for limited resources. The goal in marine conservation, as in terrestrial conservation, is “to preserve and protect diversity and ecosystem function through the preservation of species, populations, and habitats.” (Klinger). For numerous reasons, though, marine conservation is even more challenging than terrestrial conservation (Klinger). It is difficult to assess fish populations due to the vast area of the ocean, the inability of scientists to track fish through tagging, and the inaccessibility of the ocean compared to land. International food values, uncooperative fisherman, hesitant governments, and difficulty of monitoring protected areas all contribute to the struggle to establish marine protection areas (Klinger). This is particularly true in the fisheries of developing countries (Overfishing, Save Our Seas). One of the greatest challenges to those seeking the solution to overfishing is to solve the problem without disturbing fishing rights and imperiling the livelihoods of the fisherman, but action must be taken to avert disaster.

Overfishing is an immediate threat to the health of our oceans, the ability of fishermen to earn a living from the sea, and the ability of people around the world to have a sufficient and steady food source. The causes of overfishing are mostly due to the techniques used to catch fish quickly and efficiently. These techniques are leading to the rapid depletion of fish in the ocean and smaller and smaller catches annually. There have been some attempts to address the issue of overfishing, including fish farming, limiting catch, and creating protected areas that are off limits to fishing. But overfishing issues have no quick solution and require a lot of people and governments to work together on solutions that are not appealing to everyone. For any or all of these ways to address overfishing to be successful, people have to agree to that overfishing is harmful to the oceans and to their occupations, and they must all work together to solve this problem. If we do not find viable solutions soon, it may be too late to save the ecosystems in the oceans and to save fish as a resource to people. A world without fish is hard to contemplate and would have significant consequences for our world.

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Klinger, Terrie, Dr. “Marine Conservation.” Access Science. McGraw Hill, n.d. Web. 24 Jan. 2014. <http://proxy.holton-arms.edu:2093/content/marine-conservation/757590&gt;.

“Overfishing.” Save Our Seas. Save Our Seas Foundation, n.d. Web. 8 Feb. 2014. <ttp://www.unep.org/dewa/giwa/publications/finalreport/overfishing.pdf>.

Camping Morals

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This past month I was lucky enough to go on a camping trip with my family in Upper Michigan, near Tahquamenon Falls and Pictured Rocks.  For me, camping is the best way to clear my head.  Being out in nature away from all the miniature dramas that play out in daily life, I feel much better about myself as a person.  Beautiful scenery, tea in the mornings and hiking in the afternoon, lots of time to read and think: all of this offers a sense of peace that doesn’t exist in the city.  These weeks are what I live for, what allow me to reset and prepare myself for the year ahead where I will have to go to school and be part of society.  This past camping trip I happened to be reading A Sand County Almanac in my down time, and I started thinking about camping very differently.   

The first thing I came to realize was that no matter how pure and sacred these moments out in nature seemed to me, they were being sold, just like anything else.  Camping, along with trips to Six Flags and Disney World, is a form of recreation, which is “commonly spoken of as an economic resource” (Leopold, 167).  In other words, camping is really just another form of entertainment that makes us feel a different way.  Areas are advertized based on how “natural” and “secluded” they are, while at the same time they are tampered with so that as many people can come see them as possible.  I experienced this on our first hike of the trip, where we spent the whole day hiking to a waterfall that was supposed to be one of the biggest and most beautiful in North America.  When we got there, the area around the waterfall had been paved with concrete, and metal rails had been put up around the waterfall.  There were tourists everywhere who had just parked in the nearby parking lot, and not far away there was a restaurant and a gift shop.  Surely all of the people here, including my family, had come here because the guide books had boasted of the “natural beauty”, and the parking lot and paved roads had been made so as many people as possible could appreciate it.  And the more people that came to see it, the more profit the park made off of the gift shop and restaurant and other convenient things for tourists to do after they had spent their allotted time appreciating nature.  I have to admit it infuriated me that we had hiked miles to come to the exact same place that these other people just drove their cars right up to.  We were looking at the exact same view, but I was sure that we had not gotten the same value from it.  By making the outdoors easy for everyone to access, they had taken away the value we get out of being there in the first place.

This brings up the question: what exactly is the value that we get out of being outdoors?  Aldo Leopold brings up that “recreation is not the outdoors, but our reaction to it” (Leopold, 173). It is obvious that there is some value in outdoor recreation because it is something that is sought after by a large amount of the public.   In the Wildlife in American Culture section of the Sand County Almanac, Leopold cites three main reasons why outdoor recreation adds cultural value:

  • There is value in any experience that stimulates awareness of history/connects us to our roots
  • There is value in any experience that reminds us of our dependency on the fundamental organization of the biota. (man-earth relation)
  • There is value in any experience where we must exercise ethical restraint. (i.e. a duck hunter who only shoots an appropriate amount of ducks.) It is voluntary adherence to ethical code, which makes us feel good about ourselves as people.

Being able to drive straight to the most “scenic” parts of a trail and being able to “camp” in a large, comfortable trailer with electricity and running water may make it easier for many people to spend time outdoors, but it dilutes the first two sources of cultural value because we are distanced from the actual act of living in the wild.  On the other hand, it is still important that people experience nature in any way they can, because in order to have the third source of cultural value, and ethical obligation to nature, one must first love nature.  So the next question is, how do you make it so lots of people can have an outdoor recreational experience, but still help it retain its value?  Aldo Leopold writes that “to promote perception is the only truly creative part of recreational engineering” (173). In other words, the only way to increase value of the experience is if people have a different mindset while outdoors. 

        This mindset is what Aldo Leopold calls the “land ethic”, meaning that ethics should extend to “man’s relation to land and to the animals and plants which grow upon it” (203). The idea is that there would be mental and social repercussions from an unjust act against nature, the same way that there is guilt and shame from an unjust act against another person or against society.  The idea is that humans have to start viewing themselves as citizens in a land community where you have to respect the other citizens, instead of as a conqueror of all the other citizens.  It is a sad truth that humans can act only based on selfish motives.  Currently, any environmental action campaign must be pitched based on how it will economically benefit the people.  We protect animals and plants that give us some apparent emotional or economic value, but not the ones that do not have any immediate benefits.  It makes me sad to think about all of this because it is true that even the joy I get out of camping is a selfish thing.  I love being in nature because it makes me feel happy, and I speak out for environmental issues because it makes me feel like a good person and I would feel guilty and insufficient if I didn’t.  One of our speakers at Sc3 said that the environmental movement had to instill in people the fact that nature has intrinsic value, unrelated to its value to us.  Unfortunately, I don’t believe that this is a concept that humans can fully accept, because we are unable to truly care about things that are not connected to ourselves.  It reminds me of the age old question: if a tree falls in a forest and there is no one there to hear it, does it make a sound?  Of course the tree makes a noise: the laws of physics do not stop just because there are no humans nearby.  But what this question suggests is that a human observer is what validates reality.  It may make a sound, but it doesn’t matter unless there is someone there to hear it and appreciate it.  This is basic human mentality, and this is why there are so few wilderness areas where humans are not allowed to build roads to go visit.  We cannot accept that is has value unless we can appreciate the value for ourselves.  This is why we will never protect nature and wilderness unless there is an ethical code dictating it, and it is our moral obligation to do so. 

 

Photos of my awesome campsites:

 

 

 

 

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Untouched Country

I spent the past weekend living life disconnected from all access to the internet, in the middle of Finland, so I apologies that this is late.

Virrat, Finland and where I live in California are not even comparable… Finland is, as you probably know, mostly lakes, swamps, and forest. It has less of a population than the state of California. Never have I seen any litter in rural areas, or people wasting resources. It is a close community who help one another out. And instead of large corporations and monopolies, small businesses emerge.

A majority of homes have no wifi or any i-devices, and kids still bike and walk to their neighborhood school with their neighbors – not to say it is an unsophisticated country; their education is ranked highest in the world.

Pollution is not a problem, nor is water like in California. It’s as if Climate Change has left this perfect little country untouched. Part of the reason is the small population, but the main aspect is that the citizens simply care more for the environment. For most Finns it is pure nature (haha excuse the pun) to reuse water for plants or to properly hunt species so everything remains in balance.

Instead of importing tons upon tons of produce, they use their own land for what it’s worth. For example my family pics a year’s worth of blueberries from our forest when they ripen, and saves them for the year. My grandfather also goes out to hunt – usually one elk feeds the family for the whole year. He also takes care of the forest, ensuring tree saplings can properly grow, and overpopulated animals are hunted more.

The plastic bag issue has not even been brought up. Most, if not all locals reuse bags. If not for shopping, then for carrying other items or as trash bags. Nothing goes to waste.

Although, understandably, all of this varies in the city, altogether Finland is the ideal balance we should strive for – environmentally and socially. I hope that Finland never changes, yet sadly it most likely will turn into a “modern” country within due time.

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While living life in recluse, I had a lot of time to think (I decided to make it the caption for my cover photo on FB, but that’s beside the point), and I urge you to read “Think About It” and let me know what you think about it (haha I’m full of puns today).

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We say we don’t waste, yet become complete wastrels when no one is watching.

We say we leave places getter than when we got there, et most people litter more than they ever pick up.

We say it’s not our fault, yet we know it is.

We say it’ll all blow over, yet we all know it won’t.

We say people can change, yet have you ever seen that happen?

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And remember, there is nothing wrong with being a tree-hugger :)

Summer Thyme

I experienced some breathtaking views this summer, from my plane ride to Australia, to my grandmother’s seaside cabin, to the luscious woods of Shepherdstown, West Virginia. However, none of those came close to the view I have outside of my bedroom window every summer morning when I wake up. From my window, our front yard garden looks like a patchwork quilt, shining a variety of shades of green in the morning dew.

 In the summer, time works differently for me. I don’t bother to remember which day of the week or month it is. Especially with all the time that I spent away from home this summer, it was easy to lose track. However, my garden served as a natural calendar. Though all the places I went were very exciting and I never wanted my visits to end, I looked forward to coming home to experience the transformation of the garden. Each time I came home after a week or two away, my front yard had come significantly closer to being able to be described as a jungle. At the beginning of the summer I had to be careful not to crush the little plants while weeding. When I came home from SC3, my front yard was the prime location for hide-and-seek.

            As we all know, plants don’t just grow up in height. To match the vertical growth in our garden we began to have growth of vegetables in our kitchen. We still have way too many tomatoes, zucchini, eggplant, and green beans than we know what to do with. (So, if you’re ever in the Boston area, stop by!) I spent one of my weeks at home largely on cooking all the food we had picked. There is nothing more satisfying than eating a meal composed solely of garden products! It also feels great to share produce with friends and family. A bursting tomato or bag full of fresh green beans is a great way to repay a favor from a neighbor or show someone that you are thinking about them. (Often times we just needed to load some of it off on people so that it didn’t go to waste!) A few times throughout the summer, we exchanged vegetables with other gardener friends who were growing different things than us. It is experiences like this that make me feel especially strongly that everyone should grow at least some of their own food, not only for the satisfaction of it but because it is practical and sustainable. With the rise of new methods of alternative urban farming (like in trucks), it is becoming more accessible to people living in any kind of area.

            I feel that by having this garden in our front yard, we are advertising to all passerby’s the benefits of growing food at home. We can definitely tell that people in the neighborhood notice our garden and we get many complements when we are working in it. One evening this summer, my family was sitting in the living room watching a movie and a young boy knocked on our window. He told us that he had walked by our garden earlier that day with his father and that they were wondering if they could have a tomato. It felt good to share our produce, and I felt that we might have inspired this boy to grow his own tomatoes next year.

            So even though my garden is not literally the most beautiful view I have seen this summer, or even the most beautiful garden, the meaning that it carries is beautiful and powerful and it is inspiring people in an area where much more emphasis needs to be put into environmental efforts.

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We gave our neighbor eggplant and she made us an eggplant Parmesan!

We gave our neighbor eggplant and she made us an eggplant Parmesan!

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This flower, called Celosia, is my pride and joy because I saw it at a fair and made my family order the seeds!

This flower, called Celosia, is my pride and joy because I saw it at a fair and made my family order the seeds!

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Herb garden- so much pesto this summer!

Herb garden- so much pesto this summer!

The view from my bedroom window.

The view from my bedroom window.

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