25 May 2008

Manhattan Wheatfield

(Agnes Denes in her Wheatfield)

In the Summer of 1982, Agnes Denes began planting wheat on two acres of landfill at Battery Park in Manhattan. Two hundred truckloads of dirt were brought in and two hundred eighty five furrows were dug by hand and cleared of rocks and garbage. Only two blocks away from Wall Street and the New York Stock Exchange, the field was maintained for four months. The harvested crop yielded 1000 pounds of healthy golden wheat. For this brief period of time, the activities of the city and the countryside came together.

“In planting and harvesting a wheat crop in the midst of an urban environment, Denes called attention to human values, misplaced priorities and ecological concerns. The paradox of growing wheat on an area of land worth $4.5 billion, called attention to the hunger and mismanagement of resources which afflicts some parts of the world whilst others thrive.” (From ‘Land and Environmental Art’ Ed. Jeffrey Kastner, Phaidon Press Limited, London, 1998.)

(Wheatfield being harvested)

Denes’ intention with this project was to show the potential of the site, and the economic disparity between land use and its value in the city. Hunger is just as applicable today as it was in 1982 with worldwide food shortages making headlines and food price escalations on the rise. Last December officials from the United Nations warned, "In an ‘unforeseen and unprecedented’ shift, the world food supply is dwindling rapidly and food prices are soaring to historic levels"

(Wheatfield and Statue of Liberty)

In spite of this short supply and rising cost of food, much is being wasted. There is a culture of food waste that is prevalent in many countries. Recently reported is that half of all food readied from harvest never makes it to a dinner table. In the USA, 14 percent of all food purchased for household use is thrown away. In England the number is 18 percent. The article concludes, "ultimately the problem is a cultural one. We have grown accustomed to an uninterrupted bounty and the economic impact has not yet grown severe enough to change peoples’ habits significantly."

Wasted food

The LDS Church has a great tradition of working towards alleviating hunger in the world. As of last year the Church has donated over 58,000 tons of food through its welfare services. Church members hold a fast once a month by skipping several meals and giving the money they would have spent on that food to the hungry. During one such fast in January 1985, the Church raised $6 million in a single day to help famine-stricken East Africa. Another fast in November of the same year produced another $4 million.

After visiting Welfare Square in Salt Lake City, James T. Morris, executive director for the United Nations World Food Program said, "If we all made a little sacrifice, there would be no hungry people. If others did what the Mormon Church does, the (hunger) problem could be solved." Morris said the total number of hungry people in the world is estimated to be some 840 million people and that "twenty-five thousand people die every day from hunger in the world." (source)

Edible Estates: front yard garden in Los Angeles by Fritz Haeg

In spite of the ‘charity’ of various people and groups today, where does the real answer lie? "We will have to find in the next 25 years, food for as many people again as we have been able to produce in the whole history of man till now." (source) How can we align the values and priorities of humanity with that of how we are collectively living? With all our innovation and technology, we still have not figured out how to properly feed the world.

Where space is tight, try a rainwater harvesting Vertical Garden by Michael Tampilic

Spencer W. Kimball said, "Every family should grow a garden" while Marion G. Romney stated, "We will see the day when we live on what we produce." Small gardens at the scale of the household may well provide the answer to world hunger problems. According to Sylvan H. Wittwer in a BYU Studies article, "The science and art of food production in home gardens should be exploited. Production is at the site of use. Wastes and by-products can be utilized as fertilizer. Energy expenditures from fossil fuels are minimized. Marketing, packaging, and transport problems are eliminated. High production and top quality are possible. Home gardening can be the most intensive food production system on earth." And as Agnes Denes has shown us with her Wheatfield in Manhattan, when it comes to food, any piece of land will do.

Roof Garden by Patrick Blanc The Vertical Garden was conceived after many observations in natural environments. The Vertical Garden relies on a new way to grow plants without any soil. Since its weight is very light, it is possible to set up the Vertical Garden on any wall, whatever its size.
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24 May 2008

Women Pioneers for the Environment

Lois Gibbs speaking at a Citizens Clearing House for Hazardous Waste rally 1990 (source)

'Women Pioneers for the Environment' is a wonderful book published in 1998 by Mary Joy Breton. In it she recounts courageous examples of women who paved the way by standing up for the environment in difficult times and places. As quoted in the Preface, "Where man had gone into the wild armed with guns, the women went in armed with nothing more than goodwill, tact, and delicacy, and succeeded in making many new discoveries where generations of men had failed." From the chapter ‘Those Know-Nothing Housewives’ we learn about Lois Gibbs who organized the victims of Love Canal.

Map showing location of canal (source)

Hooker Chemical Corporation dumped 21,800 tons of toxic waste over a ten year period into an abandoned canal in the city of Niagara Falls, New York. They then covered it up and sold it to the Niagara Falls School Board for $1.00 back in 1953. An elementary school and neighborhood were eventually built on the site. By the mid-1970’s a choking stench became apparent and sludge began oozing out of the ground. Chemicals began leaking through basements and into backyards. The city and county authorities failed to act, most likely because of the large presence and influence of Hooker Chemical in the community. Lois Gibbs, whose family lived in the neighborhood, had a son, Michael, who began suffering from asthma, epilepsy, and liver, urinary, and respiratory problems after starting his first year of school. After her son was denied a transfer to another school, she decided to take action and went door to door to collect signatures for a petition.

Ecumenical Task Force map of Love Canal area pinpointing areas of health, environmental and vegetation hazards, 1981 (source)

She discovered that many others also seemed to be affected. She conducted a survey of the residents and presented it to state authorities, which was discounted because she was a housewife. She presented her petition to the State Health Department. She recalled, "I realized that I had to know what I was talking about…I was intimidated by the meeting—me, Lois Gibbs, a housewife whose biggest decision up to then had been what color wallpaper to use in my kitchen." (page 120) Finally, in 1978, the New York State Health Department conducted an inspection and determined that the area was unsafe. "The report documented that at Love Canal, between 1958 and 1975, five out of every twenty-four children had been born with defects—including deformed ears and teeth, deafness, cleft palates, and mental retardation, as well as abnormalities of the kidneys, heart, and pelvis. The report also substantiated the abnormally high rate of miscarriages in the community (50 percent higher for women living there). The Health Department warned residents to stay on the sidewalks, not to eat vegetables grown in their own gardens, and to stay out of their yards and basements." (page 120)

Lois Gibb's home, undated (source)

Reporters came to Gibbs for statements; she made national headlines, appeared on television, and organized rallies to increase awareness of what was happening. The State decided to purchase the homes of 237 families living closest to the dumpsite, allowing them to relocate. This left 710 families, including Gibbs, to endure for two more years. Meanwhile, they continued to live through this while mail carriers wore gas masks to deliver their mail. In May 1980, President Jimmy Carter declared the community a federal disaster area for the second time and signed the order providing funds to relocate all the remaining residents. The US Justice Department filed a lawsuit against Hooker Chemical and through the effort of Lois Gibbs, the national conscious of hazardous waste began, beginning with the Federal Government’s Superfund program and the cleanup of this and other dump sites around the country.

President Carter signed Love Canal Bill with Lois Gibbs 30 Sep 1980 (source)
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10 May 2008

Sidebar Updated

Be sure to check out the updated sidebar with lots of new links and sections. There is way more on this topic than I ever imagined there would be and I am still continually finding groups, research, and individuals. Added sections include:

-BYU Studies essays
-Sunstone essays
-Dialogue essays
-LDS Organizations section
-Additional LDS Magazine articles
-Religion and Environment section
-Additional essays with links

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09 May 2008

Highlighted Environmental Artist: Chris Jordan

Paper Bags, 2007
Depicts 1.14 million brown paper supermarket bags, the number used in the US every hour.

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual print size:

Running the Numbers
An American Self-Portrait

"This series looks at contemporary American culture through the austere lens of statistics. Each image portrays a specific quantity of something…My hope is that images representing these quantities might have a different effect than the raw numbers alone, such as we find daily in articles and books…This project visually examines these vast and bizarre measures of our society, in large intricately detailed prints assembled from thousands of smaller photographs. The underlying desire is to emphasize the role of the individual in a society that is increasingly enormous, incomprehensible, and overwhelming."

Cans Seurat, 2007
Depicts 106,000 aluminum cans, the number used in the US every thirty seconds.

Partial zoom:

Detail at actual size:

Plastic Cups, 2008
Depicts one million plastic cups, the number used on airline flights in the US every six hours.

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Detail at actual size:

"My only caveat about this series is that the prints must be seen in person to be experienced the way they are intended. As with any large artwork, their scale carries a vital part of their substance which is lost in these little web images. Hopefully the JPEGs displayed here might be enough to arouse your curiosity to attend an exhibition, or to arrange one if you are in a position to do so. The series is a work in progress, and new images will be posted as they are completed, so please stay tuned."

~chris jordan, Seattle, 2007
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07 May 2008

The Pollution Market: Capping and Trading Emissions

As a follow-up to my last post in which I mentioned the need for laws limiting environmental destruction, I have finally learned about this ‘cap and trade’ issue I keep hearing about. I wasn’t exactly sure what people were talking about, so here’s the low down. The cap part is a government-mandated restriction on emissions. The trade part provides a profit incentive by creating a new commodities market. A power plant that cuts its pollution more than required could sell the extra allowances to plants that could not cut emissions enough. While it may sound counter-intuitive to be able to buy pollution on the free market, this system allows us to reach environmental goals with the support of business.

The 1977 Clean Air Act had a ‘command and control’ approach, offering a one-size-fits-all solution that didn’t solve the problem of emissions control. By the late 80’s, Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp proposed the first emissions cap and trading system which was written into the Clean Air Act of 1990 to help curb acid rain from sulfur dioxide emissions. The law required a 50% cut in sulfur dioxide emissions to help bring rivers and lakes back to life. It set a permanent upper cap on emissions and split up the quantity of pollution among the power plants. "But it was the second part of the law – the emissions-trading system – that completely transformed the paradigm that had historically pitted environmentalism against economic growth." (*page 5-6)

Two months later PG&E CEO Richard Clark said, "…now that there’s a way to make money from cutting pollution, I have a dozen proposals for emissions reductions from my own employees on the shop floor, and a dozen more from outside consultants. The environment isn’t just a money loser – it’s a profit center." (*page 6) "Within five years, U.S. utilities cut emissions 30 percent more than the law required, even while increasing electric generation from coal by 6.8 percent and reducing retail electricity prices." (*page 7) This type of innovation allows the cap, over time, to be lowered in order to reduce overall emissions, which is the goal in all of this.

With such results from sulfur dioxide, this same type of system can and should be applied to carbon dioxide emissions as well. Venture capitalist John Doerr said, "Every single day, we dump 70 million tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere like it’s an open sewer, like it’s entirely free to do that. It’s really hard to change consumer behavior when consumers don’t know how much their behavior costs." (*page 8)

*From the book ‘Earth, the Sequel: the Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming’ by Fred Krupp and Miriam Horn, published in 2008.
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05 May 2008

Who is Building Green?

Wondering what types of organizations are building green, I went through the list of LEED projects that have been registered, but not yet completed. This list is already one year old, but as of April 2007, there were over 6000 such registered projects. The comprehensive ‘Green Building Materials in the U.S.’ report appears to be the best resource out there for tracking the trends of green building and the green market. Unfortunately it costs $2750 to download the pdf, so I have not been able to access it. I did my own informal research going through the 116-page list of LEED registered projects. Here is the breakdown showing the number of green projects categorized by owner type:

LEED Registered Projects (through April 12, 2007)
Government (Local, State, Federal) – 1848 (30%)
Non-profit Organization - 1103 (18%)
Profit Organization – 2520 (41%)
Individual – 229 (4%)
Other – 424 (7%)
TOTAL - 6124

Government and non-profit represent roughly half (48%) of all green building projects out there, while the profitable sector represents less than half at 41%. These results show a fairly good balance of profit and non-profit projects. The free market encourages profitability, and the incentives and restrictions in place encourage non-profit and government work. However, it will not always be profitable to be green, and when the profit margins disappear, so will those green projects. We need to have further regulations in place requiring responsible building practices. It should be illegal to build environmentally irresponsible projects. No different than a building code concerned with safety or restrictive covenants concerned with aesthetics, an environmental code would be available for government jurisdictions to adopt requiring that developments address environmental concerns. Organizations need to be held responsible for their buildings and the impact they are making.
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