Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I'm briefly peeking out from my longer-than-anticipated blogging sabbatical to share a great video created by the Center for a New American Dream. It addresses the need to exchange America's materialism for higher intrinsic values. I think the video otherwise speaks for itself. Please take five minutes to watch it and perhaps a little more time to contemplate its message, especially in light of the holiday season that is upon us.

Monday, May 30, 2011

On sabbatical

Dear readers,
I've resigned myself to the need to go on blogging "sabbatical" for at least this summer. I may post now and again if the spirit moves me, but otherwise I have to put my energy into finishing my Masters thesis. I hope to be back in the blog-osphere come fall, if all goes as planned. Thanks for reading so far, and please come again!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Learn and take action: the bad idea of mining in Wisconsin's Bad River watershed

"What you do get when you make a 20-mile long, 1/3 mile deep open-pit iron mine in 300 days - a mine that will disrupt millions of gallons of surface and groundwater and leave millions of tons of crushed rock and wet sand lying around?"

The River Alliance of Wisconsin explains in their recent blog entry about the proposed iron mine in Northern Wisconsin's Bad River watershed, which I mentioned in my previous post.

Read their post (and consider passing it along)!

They give a concise and compelling case for why the attempt to rush the permitting process and rewrite legislation (which, by the way, was carefully constructed in response to previous mining mistakes in Wisconsin) are really bad ideas.

Clean Wisconsin also created a summary of the bill, which you can read in PDF form here.

But don't give up on hope for thwarting the potential harm this mine could cause! Let your voice be heard. Tell your legislatures that to maintain strong mining regulations and safeguard Northern Wisconsin's invaluable and sacred resources.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The importance of the sacred

Water is sacred. It is the Earth's blood. This is the worldview of the Ojibwe Native American tribe, who live in the upper Great Lakes region.

Standing in stark contrast is the worldview arguably held by much of the rest of America: water is a servant, existing to meet the needs of humans.

This comparison is not an original of mine. An Ojibwe woman brought it to my consciousness during an environmental history workshop I recently attended, which sent over 30 faculty and graduate students from the University of Wisconsin-Madison on a four-day tour around Wisconsin to experience and contemplate landscapes of health--places that evoke themes in the relationship between health and the environment. Among our stops was the reservation of the Ojibwe's Sokaogon Mole Lake band in northeastern Wisconsin. This was perhaps the most emotional stop for many of us.

The Ojibwe woman I just mentioned, Tina, the co-director of the band's environmental department, told us that the sacredness of water is firmly rooted in Sokaogon legend. They believe they are destined by the creator to live off of "food that grows on water." Centuries ago the band settled along the shores of Rice Lake, where they found this food--wild rice--which they believe to be a gift from the creator. They have been harvesting wild rice from the lake ever since, and it remains an important part of both their livelihoods and spirituality.

Rice Lake. Photo: Sokaogon Chippewa Community

But, in the mid-1980s, pressure to build a zinc and copper mine at the headwaters of the Wolf River, just two miles upstream from Rice Lake, began to threaten their livelihoods and spirituality. Over a period of about 25 years, the Sokaogon people courageously defended their sacred water against a series of national and transnational mining companies that claimed the mine would bring jobs and money to the otherwise impoverished region. However, in the process of "wealth creation," the mining activities would have dumped highly toxic heavy metals into the watershed, threatening the long-term health of the water, wild rice, and the Sokaogon people.

Fortunately, sacredness eventually defeated short-term economic gain. In 2003, the Sokaogon people were able to buy the land slated for the mine, thus protecting it from mining activities. You can read more about this story here and here.

Victory! Photo: International Indian Treaty Council

Tina was one of the band members who led the charge against the mine. She told us the story with immense passion and emotion, occasionally breaking out in tears and causing audience members' eyes (including my own) to well up. She explained that her father has harvested wild rice every year of his life, and the threat of the mine ending this tradition was utterly heartbreaking.

She also recounted how, in one meeting, she pleaded with federal government officials to stop looking at the data on their papers as she spoke to them and, instead, to look at her face and listen. The real effects of the mine cannot be seen in the data, but in the faces and hearts of the people.

One of Tina's colleagues, an engineer from Eastern Europe with a thick accent who had worked alongside Tina in the mine battle, supported this notion as he movingly explained to us that the human stories are what really matter, not the faceless quantitative data used to determine whether or not an environmental risk is strong enough for concern. And this was coming from an engineer. 

Such emotion is often missing from the decision-making process, and yet emotion is the element that brings the "human" to the table.

To add to the poignancy of this experience, it came at the start of another battle against mining pressure faced by the Ojibwe people. The Bad River band of northwestern Wisconsin are up against a proposed iron mine at the headwaters of Bad River, which poses a number of troubling threats. Among the important environmental assets the region hosts are the largest undeveloped wetland complex in the upper Great Lakes, the highest quality rivers in Wisconsin, and the largest natural wild rice bed in the Great Lakes basin, on which the Bad River people are dependent.

Harvesting wild rice on Bad River reservation, circa early 20th century. Photo: Marquette University Archives

Unfortunately the Bad River people have been thrown an added challenge--the mining firm eying the site, Gogebic Taconite, is lobbying the Wisconsin legislature to rewrite mining law to shorten the permitting process from seven years to 300 days. The shortened permitting process also shortens the amount of time the Bad River people can organize to fight against the proposed mine.

The legislation would also eliminate important environmental protections, such as restrictions on dumping toxic mine waste and a mandatory environmental risk assessment.

A couple members of the Bad River tribal council, including their president, unexpectedly attended our meeting with the Sokaogon representatives to learn about how they can build their defense. Their president spoke briefly about their predicament with eyes soaked in worry. They have a tough fight ahead of them and will need a lot of support. What's at stake impacts not just the tribe, but also all creatures--both human and nonhuman--that depend on the region's natural resources.

My fellow workshop participants and I left this experience changed. We witnessed a clear example of how a deep reverence for the Earth can prevail over greed. As Tina explained to us, the sacredness of the Earth fuels her people's passion and hope for continued health and happiness. This passion and hope sustained them throughout their fight.

If the sacredness of Earth and its resources imbued everyone's worldview, just like the Ojibwe people's, I wonder how different our world could be.

Recommended reading:
Reynolds, Glenn C. (2003). A Native American Water Ethic. Transactions, 90, 143-161.
If you are interested in supporting the Bad River band's defense against the proposed mine and live in the upper Great Lakes region, they told us about the Mother Earth Water Walk, which will take place June 11-13, 2011. It is an annual event organized by Native Americans to raise awareness about the importance of clean water. The event could be a powerful way to garner people power against the mining threat.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

The perfect gift for Mother Earth

What are you going to give Mother Earth for mother's day this year?

Whatever it is, your gift might have a hard time competing with what Bolivia is considering: her legal rights.

A recent article in Yes! Magazine highlights the movement of indigenous people and small-scale farmers in Bolivia who are advocating that their government pass a "Mother Earth" law. And it looks like they're going to succeed.

Based on the indigenous concept of Pachamama (Mother Earth), the law would state, “Mother Earth is a living dynamic system made up of the undivided community of all living beings, who are all interconnected, interdependent and complementary, sharing a common destiny.” It would require all existing and future laws to incorporate the rights of nature, and would shift the focus of Bolivia's economy and society to another indigenous concept, Sumaj Kawsay--living in harmony with nature and people. I suggest reading the article to learn more.

Bolivia is not the first country with this idea. Ecuador was actually the first to write Mother Earth's rights into its constitution, which it did so in 2008.

Communities across the U.S. have started to jump on board, too. For example, last November Pittsburgh, PA passed a law banning fracking, the hot new way to suck natural gas from the ground...and by hot, I mean horrible. The process contaminates drinking water and soil with highly flammable gas and toxic chemicals. This law essentially put the rights of nature above the rights of the natural gas-hungry corporations.

The ecofeminism movement is also a passenger on this startup bandwagon. Ecofeminists generally agree that humans must end the patriarchal domination of nature and recognize Mother Earth and all her children as our equals.

There is even a global grassroots campaign advocating for the long-ignored rights of nature to be ignored no more. So, you too could organize your community to participate in the nascent groundswell.

But even if you can't rally your grass roots to start a movement for Mother Earth's rights between now and this Mother's Day, consider doing something special for her at least. Maybe abstain from gas-fueled transportation for the day or volunteer for a local ecological restoration project. Whatever it is, make it a gift from the heart.

Read more on nature's rights here and here.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Happiness index arrives in America

Happiness has finally arrived on the American scene as an index of success.

An article in today's New York Times highlights Somerville, MA's effort to track its citizens success based on more than just economics and material wealth. The city's recent census posed several questions intended to gauge each person's happiness, and the answers will guide social policies, such as public transit and park development.

Read the full article here.

In light of the post I wrote a couple months ago about Bhutan's Gross National Happiness, I was delighted by this piece of news. While researchers are still debating whether money and materials do a happy person make, it is with little doubt that happy people do a healthy society make.

I see this effort as tied to the sustainability mantra of the triple bottom line--people, planet, profit. It is a positive step in moving our collective narrative of progress away from the failing economy-focused paradigm. Like happiness, I hope this initiative is contagious.

Photo: Life123

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Growing food and harvesting values

The students of Lakewood Elementary School are learning more than just the ABC's of modern childhood. They are also learning the ABC's of survival--how to grow their own food, that is. 

The St. Petersburg, Florida school is a test plot for the Values Project Roundtable's budding philosophy. Kip Curtis, a Roundtable member and professor of environmental studies at Eckerd College, started an organic garden there in 2009 as an opportunity to educate youth about the long lost skill of growing food, as well as to experiment with the Roundtable's ideas.

Lakewood is somewhat of an unlikely place for a project like this sprout from. It is one the most at-risk schools in St. Petersburg, populated by many of the city's poorest kids. Relatively recently, the school got an entire new batch of teachers after failing the state's standardized exams. And prior to the garden, the PTA was quite lackluster, according to Curtis.

The project, called the Edible Peace Patch, is a cooperative learning endeavor between Lakewood and Eckerd that began as a response to Curtis' students curiosity about organic farming. “Most of them have a romanticized idea about agriculture, but have never done it, which is why they have a romanticized idea about it," he said.

Eckerd students ready the garden

Curtis would know. He grew up on a sustainable farm in Massachusetts, daily performing the rituals of farm chores. While he loathed the agrarian life as a child, he realized in adulthood that it had planted the seeds for his environmental ethic. His hope is that Peace Patch will grow not just vegetables, but also a set of environmental ethics that the students will carry throughout their lives.

The garden provides experiential education for both college and elementary students. Under Curtis' leadership, Eckerd college students manage the garden and mentor the Lakewood students, teaching them about organic gardening and related science concepts. The project also recently gained a wellness kitchen, started by a graduate student intern, where the Lakewood kids get to learn how to cook the food they've grown.

Learning to cook

Through the Peace Patch, these students get to encounter the hard work required to feed oneself, as well as learn that working with the land requires cooperation--not just between people, but also between people and the landscape. Herein lies the Roundtable's underlying principle of confronting the limitations of our own existence. We can't live without hard work, each other, and the land.


With enthusiasm, Curtis explained that the project has generated an unlikely community. Upper class, white college students and poor, minority elementary kids are forming meaningful relationships with one another, when they probably would have never otherwise interacted.

Community-making is further enhanced with a harvest festival, which the students organize to celebrate the end of the long growing season (long, thanks to Florida's climate). While the PTA used to have difficulty pulling parents to their events, the festival drew more than 200 people in its first year, according to Curtis, whose own kids attend Lakewood.

For Curtis, the Peace Patch exemplifies how interwoven people and the environment are--the health of one is dependent on the health of the other.

The Peace Patch offers a promising glimpse into what the Roundtable's philosophy could look like on the ground. I also find it hopeful that such a project seems easily replicable and maintainable. If you want to learn more about the Peace Patch and follow its progress, check out their blog.

Curtis leads another project with which he is testing out the Roundtable's philosophy: the restoration of a natural area on Eckerd's campus. Since I talk more about this project in a longer article I am working on (and hoping to get published), I won't delve into that one here.

And so ends my series about the Values Project Roundtable, but they are certainly a group to keep an eye out for.

*All photos courtesy of Edible Peace Patch.

Friday, April 22, 2011

A ritual renaissance

Have you ever tried to hunt, gather, and grow all the food you'd need to prepare just one meal? Well, if you've kept up with your environmental bestsellers, you'll recall Michael Pollan's attempt at this feat in his book The Omnivore's Dilemma. Hunting, gathering and growing are all encounters with nature that require you to face the difficult side of your relationship with it in some fashion (refer to my previous post for what I mean by this "difficult" side).

To illustrate the next piece of the Values Project Roundtable's philosophical hypothesis, let's pretend you're inspired to follow Pollan's suit (or perhaps you actually did? In which case, please share your story!)...

Despite your giddiness over bagging a prize-winning (well, in your mind at least) wild turkey, you also realize that you've killed a fellow earthling. You ended this creature's life at the expense of your own need to eat.

As you forage for the mushrooms for your grandma's infamous gravy recipe, you may enjoy your time in the woods for a while, until your back starts to hurt from bending over, or the bugs surpass your tolerance threshold, or nature has hidden the mushrooms from you and you frustratingly have to spend another day on the hunt for mushroom jackpot. Not to mention you suffer from a nagging paranoia that you'll misidentify a mushroom and meet an early death, or at least spend the night in the ER, because of your mistake. Nature can be fickle like that sometimes.

Photo: EuroKulture

And then, to make your grand vision for veggies a reality, you've started a garden. While you enjoy spending your weekends digging in the dirt, after a while you realize there are some not-so-romantic notions that come with gardening. A strange fungus infects your tomatoes and thus kills your dreams of canning them for a winter's supply of pasta sauce. Or a gopher discovers your garden. To his delight and your dismay, he eats your carrots and peppers.

Yet, through it all, you've found yourself on the other end. After a long day of cooking, you're sitting at the dinner table with your nearest and dearest, regaling your adventures and follies in creating the meal, laughing with your best friend over her recent dating fail, and feeling the warmth of community wash over the room and your spirit.

Despite the road bumps in negotiating a meal out of nature, you were able to build or strengthen a few values along the way. Perhaps on both your turkey and mushroom hunts, your appreciation for the forest's beauty deepened, as you realized you're a part of its food web. Or, despite your squabbles with fungus and the gopher, your gardening experiment made you more aware of the ecological community in your own backyard. And, even after a long day in the kitchen, the meal you shared with your loved ones nurtured your sense of human community.

In a sense--and I hope I myself am interpreting this correctly--the meal with which you culminated your adventure can be seen as a ritual that mediated your encounters with the negative side of nature and with your own limits as a human. As a result, you were able to strengthen your sense of community--with both people and the land--as well as uncover a deeper layer of an ecosystem's beauty.

And so, the Roundtable argues that, in order to cope with the difficulties in our relationship with nature, we need to infuse our lives with more nature-focused rituals and other "technologies of the mind" (as they like to call them), such as art, performance and festival. In turn, these rituals transmute the troubling aspects of nature and of our own limitations into opportunities to create values, such as community and beauty. In other words, rituals could be the cultural tools to help us cultivate environmental values on a very deep level.

Burning Man is one extreme example of modern day ritual and art that builds community. Photo: (c) Pmatt Freedman.

To throw a blanket statement out there, probably every culture and definitely every religion uses ritual to create meaning within human life, often as mediators in relationships—whether between humans and humans, humans and animals, or humans and the divine.

Take, for example, the Communion ritual in Christianity. While it symbolizes the crucifixion of Jesus, it also signifies the close relationship between Christians and God, and Christians and other Christians--i.e. community.

Or, many cultures have (or had) ceremonies that initiate adolescents into adulthood. In exchange for childhood innocence, the adolescent gains acceptance into the adult community via the ceremony.

Unfortunately, American culture has become relatively impoverished in terms of ritualized encounters with nature...and rituals in general. We've become divorced from many of the duties of survival, such as growing or hunting our own food. Meals are often eaten on the run and by ourselves, and the plants and animals that we eat have been rendered merely "commodities."

And perhaps the closest thing we have to an initiation ceremony is fraternity hazing.

And so, the Roundtable is calling for a renaissance of ritual, art, performance and celebration in our relationship with nature. While scientists and engineers are working hard in the lab to come up with scientific solutions to our environmental problems, they are proposing this renaissance as one possible solution on the humanistic front.

Photo: Wildlands Restoration Volunteers
The renaissance would not entail more of just any kind of experience with nature, from what I understand. While research has shown that spending time with nature can contribute to one's proclivity toward environmentalism, several of the Roundtable members think that merely a walk in the woods, for example, is not enough. Value creation requires getting our hands dirty in what it means to be in this complex relationship.

A flagship example for the Roundtable is ecological restoration. While the ultimate goal of restoration is to revive an ecosystem, it often entails "sacrificing" species, usually invasive ones. If we were to create more rituals or celebrations around restoration, however, the sacrifice would not be in vain. Instead, restoration would become an opportunity for building community, as well as a beautiful, healthy landscape.

In this vein, rituals could be the mechanism for creating Leopold's land community.

My next post will highlight one Roundtable member's real-life experimentation with their philosophical hypothesis. 

Thursday, April 14, 2011

In sickness and in health

In any deep human relationship--from friendship to kinship to romantic partnership--you can't really claim richness unless you know both the goods and bads of the other person. According to the Values Project Roundtable, the group of scholars I introduced in my last post, the same can be said for our relationship with nature.

And yet, the Roundtable claims ours is a culture that continually denies or ignores the negatives of our relationship with nature. We've become too "sentimental" in the matrimony. In a sense, we are stuck in the honeymoon phase, and have not yet been ready to deal with the real dynamics of a deeper, more meaningful relationship.

But what is on the negative side of this relationship?

Well, for one, we need to eat to stay alive. But in order to eat, we have to kill other creatures, be they plant, animal or fungus.

Also, nature often eventually becomes our doom. We all die--a natural part of the life cycle. And many of us meet our ends because of "nature," from old age to disease to natural disaster.

And one more: survival is hard work. Well, it used to be, at least, before most of us became alienated from all the things we had do to survive, like grow, hunt and gather all our own food, chop wood for cooking and heating, build our own houses, etc.

Have I burst your bubble of bliss? I promise I'm not implying that we should all become 1970s back-to-the-landers.

A back-to-the-land wedding. Photo: State of West Virginia

As Juliet is to Romeo, humans cannot live without nature (though nature could probably live just fine without humans). And this dependency entails some things that are hard to love. But the Roundtable believes that accepting these more troubling parts of the relationship and finding ways to deal with them could turn an otherwise doomed relationship into something truly wonderful.

To briefly step away from the marriage metaphor, the success of which I am wary, I'll give you a couple more concrete examples to further illustrate the ambivalence of this relationship.

Take hunting and fishing. People in Western cultures hunt and fish for a variety of reasons, such as a chance to spend time in nature, the thrill of the catch, and (less commonly) for subsistence. While these positive aspects motivate people to hang out with nature, there lies a more difficult notion on the flip side--a successful hunting or fishing expedition results in the death of other creatures.

Or, take ecological restoration. A big focus these days is on getting rid of invasive species, because of the harm they cause to native ones--namely they bully the food and habitat away from native plants and critters and, thus, take over the joint. However, in order to restore a habitat so native species can move back in and thrive, we must kill the invasive species. Thus, in nurturing life for some species, we take away the lives of others.
And so, the first step in the Rountable's hypothesis is this need to embrace the whole of our relationship with sickness and in health, til death do us part (sorry, had to). Only then can we really begin the work of creating the values foundational to a long, happy and sustainable life together on Earth.

My next post will attempt to explain the next step of the Roundtable's hypothesis. Coincidentally, it has something to do with ceremonies...but I promise to save you from the marriage metaphor.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Land ethic, the next generation

As a Wisconsin resident and student of environmental studies, I can't really get away from Aldo Leopold (but not that one would want to). His legacy turns up everywhere.

Among the marks that Leopold, a Wisconsinite, has left on the world is the land ethic, a philosophy he defined in his seminal book A Sand County Almanac. The land ethic calls for the recognition that humans belong to a community that includes the land and all it entails: soil, water, animals, plants, and microorganisms.

In Leopold's words, "In short, a land ethic changes the role of Homo sapiens from conqueror of the land-community to plain member and citizen of it. It implies respect for his fellow-members, and also respect for the community as such."

Aldo Leopold. Photo: Aldo Leopold Foundation

Few people would dare to argue against the concept of community. In essence, it is a value, one that is coveted and upheld by many, including the environmental movement. Facets of the movement such as localism, Smart Growth, and community supported agriculture reflect the quest for community.

But, aside from constructing programs and policies that foster community, how do we actually create the value of community at a deeper level?

“Everyone is in favor of community on the face of it. But what does it mean and how do you get to it?” asked Bill Jordan, author and co-director of Depaul University's Institute for Nature and Culture.

Jordan is the unofficial leader of an interdisciplinary batch of scholars that is trying to answer this question. As the cast of the environmental movement continues to grapple with how to rally the masses toward a more ecologically sustainable lifestyle, these scholars are setting out to provoke a new conversation in environmental thinking.

“We don’t have body of environmental thought yet that is commensurate with the size of the problems we face,” said Liam Heneghan, professor of environmental science at Chicago’s DePaul University and the other co-director of their Institute for Nature and Culture.

Informally calling themselves the Values Project Roundtable, the group runs the academic gamut, representing fields such as religious studies, history, philosophy, and ecology...and they are still trying to recruit more disciplines. I have been following them for the past year, as they endeavor to articulate their philosophy, test it out, and present it to the world.

What I find most interesting about their endeavor is their bravery to tackle the complexity of values and ethics--intellectual fodder that is relatively scarce in the mainstream. While most of the conversations within the environmental community these days seem to be wrapped up in politics and economics (well, that's my perception at least), the Roundtable is targeting the foundation of individual and collective behavior.

Taking Leopold's lead, they are essentially digging to the very roots to figure out how we actually create a land ethic and the values on which it is based.

The crux of their theory is that the path to these values may require the collective "we" to do two things. First, we must accept the negative realities of our relationship with nature. Second, in order to cope with these negative realities, we need to infuse our lives with more ritual.


Let me take the next few blog posts to explain. Stay tuned.

Friday, April 1, 2011

I heart dirt

Humans were originally made from dirt, according to the creation stories of many religions and cultures. These stories are not too far from the truth.

All life comes from dirt, literally. The establishment of dirt billions of years ago helped give birth to the microorganisms that kick started evolution. Dirt also contains the basic elements of life, such as oxygen, carbon, nitrogen, etc.

And, contrary to common belief, dirt is not dead. One handful of soil contains billions of living organisms!

My excitement about dirt was recently charged after watching the documentary film Dirt! The Movie. It tells an entertaining and moving story about dirt and the relationship we humans--and all life--have with it. It includes cameos and commentary from many of the environmental movement's heavyweights: David Orr, Janine Benyus, Wes Jackson, Wangari Maathai, and Majora Carter, to name a few. But my favorite characters were the playful animated soil microbes that intermittently commented on the narrative with expressive gestures and "meeps" (their language). They made me giggle every time.

Here is the movie trailer.

With somewhat broad brush strokes, the movie paints a compelling picture of the dire straights we have put our dirt in--predicaments with which our own dire straights are inextricably tied.

We've ravaged our soils with bad farming practices, such as monocropping and pesticide use, thus endangering our food security. Ecosystems are not able to hold water, because we've stolen the soil's vegetation or sealed it up with concrete and asphalt. The eroded soil then sends our fresh water into the oceans at a faster pace than can sustain life, in some places resulting in devastating droughts. Starvation and conflicts erupt due to food shortages caused by drought, as seen in Sudan.

While the movie successfully invokes a sense of urgency and worry about these troubling issues, it does not leave the viewer depressed. It also tells the inspiring stories of people who are leading the charge to remedy these predicaments.

Schools in California are returning asphalt schoolyards back to dirt and planting gardens, in which the children work and learn. A team of Harvard students and scientists are harnessing the energy from soil microbes to generate electricity. Majora Carter pioneered the movement to install green roofs on residential buildings across New York City. And so on.

But its overall message is that every individual plays an important part in this effort. 

Movies like Dirt!, I think, are excellent communication tools to educate and engage a broader audience in environmental issues. Dirt! did a great job of revealing the deep connection we all have with soil, why it is important to heal and protect it, and ideas for how we can change the course of the gloomy fate that both we and dirt are tumbling toward.

Dirt! serves as an excellent primer to pique people's attention about an important piece of our earth that most of us take for granted...and walk all over.

photo: Josh Larios

Sunday, March 27, 2011

America's water footprint

We hear a lot about carbon footprints these days, but do you know much about your water footprint?

Our water footprint includes all the water we use for everyday activities, such as washing, and what is used to produce our products, energy, and food.

It is perhaps no surprise that Americans have the biggest water footprint of any other nation. Yemen comes in at the smallest.

This short article from Yes! Magazine reveals the average American's water footprint in comparison with the rest of the world. The numbers are quite troubling.

For example, the average American uses 11.6 gallons a day for showering only. That is the same amount of water the average Bangladeshi uses per day for everything.

 And in the 18.5 gallons we each use to flush our toilets, the average Chinese person has flushed, washed, and everything else in that same day. This makes the adage “if it’s yellow, let it mellow” seem more and more like a good idea.

Also, for the record, the United Nations states that every person needs between five and 13 gallons of water per day to meet our basic needs. This makes Americans’ daily 69.3 gallons seem embarrassingly gluttonous.

I write about this not to make everyone feel guilty. Rather, I think it is important to have this knowledge to put our resource use into perspective and to consider how we can shrink our water footprint in meaningful ways.

Thankfully, Yes! Magazine also provided a few good ideas for how to live within our means and make our water last. A couple examples that seem easy for everyone to do include fixing leaky faucets and supporting organic farming, which can even improve our water supply by boosting the soil's ability to hold water.

Perhaps World Water Day, just like Earth Day, should be every day?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Happy World Water Day?

Water is playing several starring roles in the news these days. However, none of these roles are happy ones. It is playing the bad guy in Japan's devastating tsunami; the victim in the GOP-backed proposed cuts to federal funding for clean water; and the perpetual underdog in the numerous ongoing water-related environmental issues, from looming water shortages around the globe to the creeping threat of fracking.

Despite this sad cast of characters, water is something to celebrate today, March 22: World Water Day.

This global event hatched at the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development in Rio de Janeiro. Around the world, communities host activities focused on the importance of fresh water and the sustainable management thereof. To find out what activities are being held in your neck of the woods, check out WWD's event page.

This year's theme is "Water for cities: Responding to the urban challenge," and is a call to nations to think strategically about meeting the water needs of the world's rapidly growing urban population (apparently one in two people are city dwellers these days). To celebrate this theme and in an attempt to uncover some more hopeful water stories, I scoured the Internet for as long as my patience lasted, asked a few enviro-minded friends for ideas, and then patched together this meager list of promising urban water conservation ideas and initiatives.

Saving gray water for a not-so-rainy day
Gray water reuse, or the use of wastewater from showers, baths, sinks and laundries, is getting some attention as a potential conservation strategy in urban areas. To clear any initial confusion, this method is not promoting the reuse of yucky water for drinking or bathing; rather, gray water is used to quell your garden or lawn's thirst (i.e. irrigation) or for flushing toilets. Of course, attempting this method involves safety measures to prevent contamination (the meaning of "safe" varies by state). While building codes and laws still prohibit individuals and businesses from collecting and reusing graywater in many places, grassroots groups and some states, especially the arid ones, have made progress in enabling the practice. Though, it is still unclear to me whether or not watering your lawn with bathwater is a good thing, considering some of the questionable ingredients in many soaps and shampoos. The following video tells the story of a guy in Sonoma County, CA who designed a pretty complex, but legal, gray water system.

Paving city streets with green
The city of Portland, Oregon implemented a stormwater management policy called Portland Green Streets, which it incorporated into the city's overall plan in 2007. The rainy city seeks to not only to better manage its stormwater runoff, but to also enhance livability and create habitat corridors, among other objectives. A "Green Street" is decorated with vegetative patches or strips, which suck up stormwater and/or prevent the water from flowing through the streets, picking up pollutants, and then dumping them into the watershed.

Wetland restoration is for people too
A 30,000 acre swatch of degraded wetlands abutting New Orlean's Lower Ninth Ward is getting some TLC from a collection of stakeholders that are trying to return it to its glory as a working swamp and storm buffer. Bayou Bienvenue had lost its cypress trees and swampiness to saltwater intrusion as a result of years of flood management engineering--mainly the surrounding canals that connect the Mississippi river to the Gulf of Mexico. Too much saltwater kills many picky wetland plant species, which require the right balance of fresh and saltwater. Several teams are trying different tactics to bring the wetland back to life. One team is piping in semi-treated wastewater and biosolids to revive the ecosystem (piping in sewage might sound icky, but the hope is the nutrient-rich freshwater will be inviting to wetland species, who will in turn clean the effluence from the water). Another team launched floating islands, on which they are trying to grow wetland grasses. If successful, these restoration efforts could not only resurrect an ecosystem, it could also provide natural storm protection to the people in the Lower Ninth Ward.

Lower Ninth Ward with Bayou Bienvenue in 2008. Photo: UW NOLA Group

Making the Mediterranean waters bluer
Horizon2020 is an initiative to de-pollute the Mediterranean by the year 2020. It targets urban sources of pollution, such as municipal waste, waste water, and industrial pollution, which account for 80% of the sea's pollution. (I realize the Mediterranean is not freshwater, but I nonetheless found this initiative noteworthy).

Swearing off the (water) bottle
A gaggle of colleges and universities around the U.S. have banned plastic water bottles--a rebellion led by Washington University in St. Louis, which instituted its ban in 2009. While this isn't a water conservation measure, per say, it's all part of the bigger picture nonetheless. Perhaps Congress, which reportedly spends at least $860,000 on bottled water annually, should consider following suit, especially in light of our budget woes?

City farming with wastewater
Urban agriculture is getting a boost in Ghana with support from the International Water Management Institute. An increasingly common urban ag practice in developing countries is the reuse of wastewater for crop irrigation. While a boon for water conservation, if done improperly, this practice can be a bust to human health. So, IWMI is working with urban farmers in Accra, Ghana to implement safe wastewater practices, explained in this video by WorldWatch Institute.

Photo: IWMI

For further reading...

I also found these two informative articles related to urban water conservation: Putting water conservation in the bottom line (re: sustainable business), and Building the way to water efficiency (re: green building). 

...and for kicks
Bananas might become the new trick for removing heavy metals from contaminated water in industrial settings.

So, will water have a happy ending? Save natural disasters and now-irreversible changes to the climate, we are largely in control of that storyline.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sisters act for the earth

Four nuns, a budding journalist, and a confused bird recently met for lunch. Unfortunately for the bird, a glass window stood between it and the lunch table, and no matter how much it pecked at the window, the glass would not break and allow it through to join the meal.

This bird is a member of a menagerie of creatures that live on or frequent Holy Wisdom Monastery, located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin. Fox, deer, pheasants, wild turkey, and even a once-seen wolf wander the monastery's 138 acres. The monastery grounds provide these creatures an oasis of restored prairie and woodlands within a landscape otherwise dominated by farmland and suburban development.

I recently journeyed to the monastery for research for an article for my long form journalism course. I left my visit surprisingly inspired and rejuvenated. And I don't even consider myself religious.

Holy Wisdom is also home to three Sisters, who have established an ecumenical spiritual community called the Benedictine Women of Madison. At the core of the Sisters' mission lies care for the earth.

When the founding Sisters arrived in 1953 to establish Holy Wisdom, the tired pasture land on which the monastery was built had but two trees. Now, it is home to a beautifully restored prairie, a restored glacial lake, and America's "greenest" building.

Sister Lynne Smith explained that their commitment to caring for the land partly comes from their recognition of their integral role in protecting the local ecosystem. Located just across the highway from Lake Mendota, their land is a sensitive area for the Yahara Lakes watershed. Whatever they do to their land affects the lake's water quality. The restored prairie helps to minimize their impact by controlling erosion and runoff.

First and foremost, however, the Sisters' commitment stems from their spiritual tradition. "It's been the practice of Benedictine monasteries to care for the place where they are," she said. According to the rule of Benedictine, written in the sixth century, monasteries must establish roots in their community, which entails caring for their place.

"I’ve come to think about this place as a part of our community. I go on a walk and I meet God there. It feels like a part of us," said Sister Lynne.

The Benedictine Women of Madison are part of a larger and growing movement within faith communities around the United States to become engaged in the care of "creation." This grassroots movement connects faith with a moral responsibility to care for the earth, or “creation.”

This forging of religious beliefs and environmental protection has strong potential for activating positive change. Research has shown that belief systems inform our understanding of how we fit into the world, and strongly held existing beliefs, such as religious beliefs, are powerful determinants of our behavior.

The strength of beliefs can work either in favor of or against the environment.

According to Sharon Dunwoody, professor of journalism and mass communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, our belief systems can be the strongest roadblocks to change. "Once our beliefs are set, we are pretty resistant to change," she said.

This concept sits at the heart of why environmentalism has become such a polarized movement over the past few decades. The folding of the environmental movement into "left-wing" politics has caused political conservatives to dismiss environmental issues and reject regulation. Even controversial issues backed by credible science and scientists, such as climate change, can thus fall victim to skepticism by conservatives.

"Culturally, environmentalism is not seen as a pure arena like science is, but as one contaminated by politics and ideology. That invites people to align their views ideologically," said Dunwoody.

On the other hand, aligning the environment with existing beliefs, such as religion, can also motivate its protection. For example, a 2008 Sierra Club report claimed 67% of Americans care about the environment because it’s God’s creation.

Another report, conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change and George Mason University, revealed that 48 percent of Americans believe protecting God’s creation is an important reason for taking action to reduce climate change—the fifth highest ranked reason among 16 choices. The report also claimed that, among respondents, protecting God’s creation is the second most important reason to combat climate change, behind providing a better life for future generations.

The Benedictine Sisters' motivation to care for the earth is directly tied to the tenets of their faith. "We see everything as sacred...we are taught to see Christ in everyone," said Sister Lynne.

An environmental ethic can be accessible to even those who do not already possess strong environmental beliefs. According to Dunwoody, direct experiences with nature can be formative, especially if one's existing value system lends itself accordingly. "Encountering an opportunity to learn about environmental principles [can] be an effective tool to making an [environmental] ethic relevant," she said.

The Benedictine Sisters provide ample opportunity for people to experience nature at the monastery and, thus, nurture their environmental ethic. Throughout the year, they host volunteers to help them maintain and continue the restoration of their prairie. Their land also includes trails for people to explore and connect with nature.

"Whether religious or not, when [visitors] walk out into the prairies, there is an opportunity for them to get reconnected with a deep part of themselves and something larger than them," said Sister Lynne.

Other than restoring their local landscape, the sisters have taken on a number of habits that contribute to their efforts to care for the earth. They maintain a large vegetable garden that feeds them and their guests. They also carpool and recycle.

Furthermore, in March of 2010, their newly built monastery was awarded a LEED Platinum rating by the United States Green Building Council, receiving 63 points out of a possible 69--the highest scoring building to date. Features such as high performance windows; solar panels; FSC certified wood; and low VOC paints, carpets and other materials helped them achieve their high marks. They even reused or recycled 99.75 percent of their old building. 

"We would ultimately like to buy more solar panels for the building, so the building can generate all the electricity it uses," said Sister Lynne. Their solar panel system currently generates 13 percent of the building's electricity.

Even so, the Sisters' environmental footprint is observably light. For example, as I walked about the monastery on my visit, I noticed most of the lights were turned off and each room relied on the generous amount of daylight shining through the windows.

And at lunch the Sisters told me stories that exemplified the respect and care they have for their place and the creatures they share it with. For example, they regaled stories of one bird that was fortunate to share a meal with them--a male wild turkey that used to hang around the monastery. The Sisters occasionally fed him, and they joked about how he never brought his lady turkey friends with him to share the treats.

This active relationship with nature is clearly integral to the Sisters' way of life. "When people are involved with nature, you get up close to it, touch it, smell it, see it and come to appreciate it. Then you want to save it,” said Sister Lynne.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Update: Tim DeChristopher found guilty, but double standard exposed

Shockingly and unfortunately, Tim DeChristopher, the environmental activist who saved more than 100,000 acres of public land from oil and gas drilling by "disrupting" an auction later deemed unlawful, was convicted of two felony accounts last week. He could now face up to 10 years in jail.

Journalist and author Naomi Klein poignantly revealed the double standard of this terribly disheartening outcome in her recent appearance on Democracy Now! As she explained, Tim's crime was, explicitly, participating in an auction without intent to pay. However, oil and gas companies privatize their profits with no intent to pay for their externalized costs: pollution and climate change.

Watch Noami's explanation here.

I hope more people can recognize this unjust double standard and be motivated to take action against it.

And by "taking action," I don't just mean scorning the oil and gas companies for their refusal to accept and address the harmful externalities of their business. First, I think we need to also examine and change (if needed) our own habits, which fuel their business. Second, we need to demand better of the system that is holding us back from progressing beyond the need for oil and gas.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Five ways to be actively engaged

I must admit that I've been battling with a sense of hopelessness these past few weeks, living in the epicenter of the "Crisis in Dairy Land," as John Stewart calls it. At both the state and national levels, environmental protection measures are threatened with funding cuts left and right. Wisconsin, for example, may experience a loss of state-mandated community recycling (to include the elimination of grants aiding recycling programs) and the repeal of mandatory disinfection of pathogen-contaminated drinking water.

Yet, I have to continually remind myself this is not the time to become paralyzed by hopelessness, but rather a time for concerned citizens, such as myself, to demonstrate how much they care about their environment, their personal and societal wellbeings, and their futures. So, in the spirit of Tim DeChristopher (see my previous post), I hunted around for a few ways to participate in peaceful citizen action for the environment. Unlike Tim's strategy, these aren't necessarily "disobedient," but they at least provide an avenue for one's voice to be heard.

Here are five ways to proactively work towards pro-environmental change.
(Note: A couple are biased toward Wisconsin, but hopefully they will motivate out-of-staters to investigate similar opportunities in their locales).

1. Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters' Conservation Lobby Day. This event, to take place March 16, is an opportunity for ordinary citizens to speak with their Legislators about the importance of conservation policies. Most states have their own League of Conservation Voters, so if you don't live in Dairy Land, check out opportunities with your state's League.

2. Wisconsin Bike Summit. The Governor's proposed budget cuts $5 million in state funding for bicycle infrastructure. In light of this, one way to voice your support for the protection of the state's bicycle industry is to participate in this April 19th event hosted by The Bicycle Federation of Wisconsin. The event will also feature education and networking opportunities. Wisconsin's bike industry is a significant economic strength for the state, contributing $1.5 billion annually and supporting 13,200 jobs, as a study released last year showed. If the Governor is setting out to create more jobs and decrease the deficit, $5 million seems but pocket change to maintain such an important source of state revenue.

3. Vote with your fork. Michael Pollan proposed this action back in his 2006 NY Times column, and indeed this remains a powerful tool for citizens to demand more "sustainable" food choices. His basic platform was for readers to stop participating in a food system that continues to damage our health and the environment. Just stop buying fast food. Say "no" to non-organic or foods imported from faraway places whenever possible. Stop supporting a system that perpetuates the status quo. Instead, choose to support and strengthen a system that provides food that is nourishing for you and for the environment. While this action is not new to seasoned environmentalists, the status quo still has a strong hold on our food system. So it's clear that still more people need to be motivated to participate in this form of citizen action. Don't know where to begin? Local Harvest has an interactive website to help you find sustainably grown food near you.

4. Stay informed and connected--Facebook can help. An interesting thing I have noticed throughout the Wisconsin uprising is the apparent influence of social networking. Over the past three weeks, the Facebook status updates from my Wisconsin friends have largely been links to news articles about the scary impacts of the budget and invitations to protest rallies. Not only has this helped me keep track of the almost unwieldy flurry of information, it has also helped fuel my motivation to remain engaged and active in the struggle. And based on conversations with my friends, I am not the only one to experience this. A growing number of studies and articles are uncovering the impact of social networking on civic engagement--a notable example being President Obama's campaign. And, at full disclosure, I wrote an article for Discovery News about this last year.

5. Vote. Tried, trite, but true. Complacency and ignorance are the enemies of positive change. Pay attention to what is going on with environmental and social affairs. Recognize where citizens voices need to be heard. And let your voice be heard. It does matter.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

A new kind of environmental hero

Environmentalists recently added a new hero to their list: Tim DeChristopher. But, according to the Feds, Tim may be a criminal.

Tim DeChristopher
Tim's transgression was not a Monkey Wrench Gang-style act of eco-terrorism or any other act of violence in the name of the environment. Nobody got hurt or wronged. But somebody did get duped--the Bureau of Land Management.

Two years ago, when the Bush administration was coming to a close, the BLM tried to rush large pieces of land off to auction for oil and gas drilling leases. In an effort to prevent drilling development, Tim--then a University of Utah graduate student--attended the auction. On a whim, he joined as Bidder 70 and successfully bid on 22,500 acres of land in southern Utah (clearly with no intention to drill), saving it from its dreadful fate. The only problem: he didn't have the money. His act of peaceful civil disobedience came with a price tag he didn't plan for--$1.7 million and possible jail time.

You can read one of Tim's personal statements about his actions here.

Apparently his act of peace was in violation of the Federal Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act and is considered a felony, because he interfered with and made false representations at a government auction. His trial started February 28. You can follow his trial and learn much more about his story on

Ironically, the Obama administration later deemed the BLM auction illegal, because it violated the Secretarial Order 3226, a law mandating that the Department of Interior, which includes the BLM, must take into account potential climate change impacts on all major decisions involving resource extraction (i.e. more oil and gas = more greenhouse gases = more climate change). Unfortunately this did not absolve Tim from his "crime."

Tim sets an empowering example to citizen activists, to say the least. It is terribly twisted that he be reprimanded for a peaceful act he committed for the betterment of the world, but it is hopeful to know there are people, like him, bold enough to take such action. I hope his jury listens to their voices of reason and recognizes the bigger picture of what he set out to do.

Read more here and here.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

What can America learn from Bhutan?

In their recently released budget proposal, the GOP threw some mean punches to the environment--and ultimately to Americans, who depend on a healthy environment. Here is some of the potential damage it could cause, according to NRDC, Climate Progress and Repower America:

And the list goes on.

America's budget may be in the red, but that does not justify jeopardizing the health and safety of its people and environment. Without them, there will be no economy.

While we can still hope either the Senate or the President will put a stop to this frightening bill, it is quite disheartening to be affronted with such shortsightedness and blatant disregard for the health of Americans and our environment. The paradigm of putting profit before people and the planet (apologies for the harsh alliteration) is clearly not working, and it frustrates me that we seem to remain trapped in it.

This made me wonder, how does a country go about making the environment a budget priority? Is there an existing alternative?

Thankfully, I found one in the tiny Kingdom of Bhutan.

Located in the Himalayas, Bhutan is considered a "developing" country. However, its governing philosophy seems more advanced than that of any developed country, to me. When faced with development pressures back in the 1970s, its then-king declared that Bhutan will not measure its success by its Gross Domestic Product (GDP), but by its Gross National Happiness (GNH). In other words, the country determines its development based on the long term well being of its people--a philosophy no doubt driven by its strong Buddhist tradition.

And to the Bhutanese, happiness includes a healthy environment. As one of the four pillars of the GNH index, the environment is at the core of its national planning; sustainable development, good governance, and the preservation of cultural values are the remaining three. The country recognizes that the well being of its people rests on the conservation of its natural resources, which are, after all, the foundation of its economy.

Haa Valley. Photo: Douglas J. McLaughlin

Half of Bhutan's national revenue is provided by hydroelectricity, which it sends to India. Tourism makes up another large chunk. And the tourists go to Bhutan to bask in its unique natural splendor. In fact, the country is designated as one of the world's biodiversity hot spots, and more than a quarter of its land is a national park or other protected area.

Bhutan's environmental leadership is also evident in the measures its government has taken to explicitly protect its environment. For example, in 1991 the country established the Bhutan Trust Fund for Environmental Conservation--the first of its kind in the world--to ensure financial sustainability of its conservation efforts. Also, its constitution mandates that 60 percent of its land remain covered by forest, and it is one of the few places in the world that has actually increased its forest cover over the years.

Here's a PDF that gives an overview of the environment and economic situation in Bhutan.

Photo: Thomas Wanhoff

Before you begin thinking this might be a utopia, Bhutan struggles with balancing environmental conservation and poverty alleviation, like so many developing countries. In an attempt to solve this dilemma, the country has teamed up with the United Nations' Poverty Environment Initiative. Together, they are achieving some impressive progress:
  • The development of Poverty-Environment Mainstreaming Guidelines to "green" economic development
  • A budget analysis of environment-related public investments, helping to improve their accounting
  • The establishment of participatory local planning and development based on the sustainable use of natural resources
Read this case study to learn more about this effort.

And Bhutan, like any country, has not escaped the everlasting pressures of resource extraction and modernization. For example, while not a significant part of their economy, mining is causing environmental destruction and, yes, unhappiness. Dolomite mining in the southwest of the country is not only leveling mountains, but eroding soils, contaminating water (and thus killing thirsty wildlife that rely on that water), damaging nearby tea plantations, and angering locals.

(Insert heavy sigh)

Shortcomings aside, what I think is most remarkable about Bhutan is its courage to defy a paradigm that it recognized as detrimental to the health and happiness of its people and its environment. Instead of allowing the iron fist of capitalism to swoop in and take advantage of its social and natural resources, it rejected it and came up with a bold alternative. Bhutan certainly presents an amazing model I hope America and other countries can someday emulate.

Excuse me, GOP, don't you like happiness?

Want to learn more about GNH? The Center for Bhutan Studies has a very comprehensive explanation of their GNH Index, and this video, while a little dated, provides an interesting glimpse into the culture.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The missing feminine mystique of human-wildlife management

Let's return to my series on human-wildlife relations, lest too much time passes since my last related post. As promised, I want to explore a more hopeful way of looking at conflict between humans and wildlife: co-existence. While I don't believe there can be perfect harmony between human and nonhuman earthlings (humans still haven't figured out how to live harmoniously with each other), I do believe there is potential for a positive paradigm shift in our cohabitation.

But what could facilitate the paradigm shift? I am sure there are many approaches to answering this question, but the approach I want to take is that provided by ecofeminism.

Thus far, the understanding and acceptance of ecofeminism has primarily been confined to eco-minded, feminist academic circles. Here is my attempt to throw some of these ideas out of the circle for others to catch. 

What is ecofeminism?

While there are a few camps of thought, ecofeminists are united under the recognition that ecological problems are social and cultural problems arising from a patriarchal society that supports the domination and control of nature. This oppression is linked to the oppression of women, as well as of classes, races and other groups of people dubbed as "different." This othering, a result of patriarchy’s dualism (i.e. human vs. nature), alienates us from nature and from a sense of empathy towards it, opening up space for the fear that fuels our need to dominate all that is "wild."

In its explicit inclusion of animals in this critique, ecofeminism links the oppression of animals to that of humans, claiming that animals are the victims of speciesism under the current patriarchal, anthropocentric paradigm. As ecofeminist Greta Gaard put it, "From an ecofeminist perspective, speciesism is a form of oppression that parallels and reinforces other forms of oppression."

Yes, this could be perceived as a radical perspective, but not one that is outside of reason or possibility. After all, we have let patriarchal oppression rule for so long, why should we see a perspective that embraces inclusion and equity as "out there"? Ecofeminism just seems like a more direct route to co-existence. 

Patriarchy prevents co-existence

Wildlife management has historically been a male-dominated profession with male-dominated constituencies—hunters, anglers, and trappers. (Unfortunately I couldn't find real statistics to prove this, but I think my assumption is safe). While not all men are patriarchal, this gender unbalance allows patriarchy to pervade the philosophy and practices addressing our relationship with wildlife.

The gray wolf serves as a poster child example of this. Throughout American history, the gray wolf has been a symbol of the feared wilderness that must be tamed or destroyed. Throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the dominant masculine construction of society was predicated on mastery and control of nature, which fueled the “war on wolves,” causing a near annihilation of the species.

A more recent example was the push by Alaskan sportsmen in the 2000s to reinstate lethal "control" of wolf populations. Hunters were blaming wolves for the declining ungulate (elk, moose, etc.) populations and demanding elimination of the competition. The real culprits, however, were economic changes, climate change and overhunting.

From an ecofeminist perspective, this example symbolizes the stubborn attempt of a patriarchal social structure to reestablish and reaffirm its dominance when threatened. Such struggle for dominance only perpetuates discordance between humans and wildlife.

The missing ecofeminine mystique

Ecofeminists would argue that wildlife management has long been bereft of the feminine “mystique,” which has rendered its practice and philosophy inadequate at meeting the needs of either humans or wildlife in an equal and just manner. Coexistence cannot happen while this persists.

For example, women's voices have been generally excluded from wildlife management. One study showed that women's perspectives have been underrepresented in wildlife attitude surveys. In essence, the study found that surveys are typically either addressed to or completed by the man of the house, thus neglecting opportunities for women to weigh in. Since wildlife managers often use stakeholder surveys to determine their policies, this exclusion of women's perspectives certainly implies the existence of inequality in the citizen participation process of wildlife management.

Furthermore, women are generally the wildlife friendlier gender. As prominent wildlife attitudes expert Stephen Kellert has shown in his research, women are more likely to express greater concern for animal welfare and less support for the exploitation and dominance of animals. Men, on the other hand, are more willing to exploit animals and their habitats, especially for human benefit.

Another study suggested that American women are more supportive of policies that value and protect wildlife, such as the Endangered Species Act, while men are stronger proponents of property rights.

One can therefore deduce that a better effort to include the feminine perspective into wildlife management and policy may facilitate institutionalized co-existence. Applying an ecofeminist ethic could nurture a worldview that views wildlife as our equals and their oppression as behavior to be scorned and eliminated.

*I will fully admit there are many holes in this post that beg for deeper explanation. I borrowed my ideas for this post from a term paper I wrote last year, and I had to leave a lot out. Honestly, I don't think a meager blog post can do this topic justice. But I wanted to at least throw the idea out there, and I intend to return to ecofeminism now and again.

Reading list for this post

Unfortunately, these are all academic papers, so they are not accessible for free to everyone. But if you're interested in learning more about the points I made in this post, here are my sources. For those unfamiliar with academic-style bibliographies, the journal in which you can find each article is italicized and the journal volume number is the one just after the journal title.

Anahita, S., Mix T.L., (2006). Retrofitting Frontier Masculinity for Alaska’s War Against Wolves. Gender and Society, 20, 332-353.

Anthony, M.L., Knuth, B.A., Lauber, T.B. (2004). Gender and Citizen Participation in Wildlife Management Decision Making. Society and Natural Resources, 17, 395-411.

Carlassare, E. (1999). Socialist and Cultural Ecofeminism: Allies in Resistance. Ethics and the Environment, 5, 89-106.

Czech, B., Devers, P.K., Krausman, P.R. (2001). The Relationship of Gender to Species Conservation Attitudes. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 29, 187-194.

Emel, J. (1998). Are You Man Enough, Big and Bad Enough? Wolf Eradication in the US. In J. Wolch & J. Emel (Eds), Animal Geographies: Place, Politics, and Identity in the Nature-Culture Borderlands (pp. 91-116). London: Verso.

Gaard, G. (2001). Ecofeminism on the Wing: Perspectives on Human-Animal Relations. Women and Environments International Magazine, 52/53, 19-22.

Jacobson, C.A., Brown, T.L., Scheufele, D.A. (2007). Gender-Biased Data in Survey Research Regarding Wildlife. Society and Natural Resources, 20, 373-377.

Kellert, S.R., Berry, J.K. (1987). Attitudes, Knowledge, and Behaviors toward Wildlife as Affected by Gender. Wildlife Society Bulletin, 15, 363-371.

Palamar, C.R. (2007). Wild, Women, and Wolves: An Ecological Feminist Examination of Wolf Reintroduction. Environmental Ethics, 29, 63-75.

Plumwood, V. (1992). Feminism and Ecofeminism. The Ecologist, 22, 10.