Monthly Archives: October 2016

Andy the Arborist

Before me stood a tall man, with a beard that puts my chin hairs to shame, and a smile larger than the trees he plants. He greeted me by saying, “You must be Solomon!”

Andy Dahl is the University of Iowa’s Arborist and he describes himself as an Urban Forester. He is a down to Earth (pun intended), charismatic man who is a champion for the plant ecology we see in Iowa City’s university districts. I asked him three questions:

1) What are the intricacies of forest systems?
2) How are the local animals handling the dwelling forests?
3) How do people interact with the forest overall?

No question had a straight forward answer, however, there were not straight forward questions. Andy is also not a straight forward guy. I expected to see a man who wanted to have a quick 30 minute conversation, but instead I found someone who wanted to spend more time than he had talking about his love of trees.

Andy has helped save countless trees as well as plant many more than the countless he has saved. He is an Urban Forester, he loves Neil DeGrassee Tyson, and he gives tours of the trees.

Here are some University of Iowa trees:

SE area of the Pentabest

SE area of the Pentabest

“I Am Not An Animal”: Vegetarianism in Lit

“You can’t tear flesh by hand, you can’t tear hide by hand. Our anterior teeth are not suited for tearing flesh or hide. We don’t have large canine teeth, and we wouldn’t have been able to deal with food sources that require those large canines.” -Biological Anthropologist Dr. Richard Leakey

Have you ever heard this argument against meat-eating? Though many physiologists have shown that humans have since evolved to consume and digest meat, PETA argues that because we don’t “daydream about killing cows with your bare hands and eating them raw,” humans are instinctively and biologically herbivores.

While the premise is false (just kidding, haha), this idea is compelling in that it suggests a dichotomy in which meat-eaters, everyday, partake in something unnatural, and vegetarians or vegans are more connected with their natural selves. Interesting, but cynical.

This can be a moralizing tool of environmentalists, protesting against a livestock industry (and duly so) that is responsible globally for 14.5 percent of human-induced greenhouse gases , but this posits meat-eaters are people who are “wrong,” engaged in illicit activity. As we all share the blame for the harm we’ve done to our planet and we could all do more to consciously reevaluate what we chose to put in our bodies and its environmental impact, but I can’t help but feel annoyed by the righteousness of such a simple binary.  

Two stories I read recently, Jonathan Lethem’s short story “Pending Vegan” and South Korean writer Han Kang’s The Vegetarian, represent vegetarianism as the initial crack through socialized behavior, the beginning of a return into their natural beings. While I don’t agree with this conclusion, when posed as an allegorical question, whether or not meat-eating is natural/unnatural creates some really great psychological, behavioral-analysis. 

In “Pending Vegan,” Lethem’s character Paul Espeseth takes his family to Sea-World. He already really doesn’t want to be there, but his situation is even worse because he’s on an antidepressant that, according to his therapist, creates a sense of “a kind of atmosphere of rot or corruption or peril creeping around the edges of the everyday world… ‘grub-in-meat syndrome.’”

He’s heard of the documentary exposes of these orca hells (even though he’s never watched one), he’s sympathetic towards the terrified animals being lurked by eager children, he’s read the “several famous polemics against the cruelty of farms and slaughterhouses.” But most of all, Espeseth’s  uncomfortable with the way that he feeds his kids meat, promotes animal incarceration, while asking his kids to respect and care for them as a living species. This contradiction is why he’s named himself, secretly, the Pending Vegan, he is waiting to arrive as what he thinks he ought to be.

“Civilizing children was pretty much about inducing cognitive dissonance. His daughter’s balancing of their desire both to cuddle and to devour mammals was their ticket for entry to the human pageant. If Pending Vegan admitted to them that he now believed it wrong to eat animals – even while he still craved that tang of smoky steaks and salt-greasy bacon – he’d lower himself, in their eyes, to a state of childlike moral absolutism.”

The irony that this ethical ordeal occurs at Sea World is not lost to him. As his family sits down to eat and is served mystery meat drumsticks, he thinks

“See food, eat food.

Sea World. Eat World.”

Is everyone else like him, just not self-aware enough to see that they too live in contradiction? Is this a result of “civilizing”?

The first line of Kang’s “The Vegetarian” is “Before my wife turned vegetarian, I’d always thought of her as completely unremarkable in every way.” It has much darker of a theme than Lethem’s short story. Though the husband’s sentiment is anything but pride – he describes his wife Yeong-hye’s downward spiral into complete neurosis: her vegetarianism in a household that holds bulgogi as a sustenance, accompanied by a physique like the “skeletal frame of an invalid.”

Because the story is narrated by the husband, we hear his oblivious justifications of various abuse towards Yeong-hye. Her family vehemently rejects her dietary choice, and all try to reassert their control over her. Her parents and sister invite her over for interventions, they eventually begin to physically abuse her, and try to trick her into consuming animal flesh.

Yeong-hye, a typically average and acquiescent woman, obsessively denies any attempts to change her mind. In some ways, Kang suggests, the choice is not up to her. She has begun to have vividly cruel dreams:

“Trees thick with leaves, springtime’s green light. Families picnicking, little children running about, and that small, that delicious smell. Almost painfully vivid. The babbling stream, people spreading out rush mats to sit on, sucking on kimbap. Barbecuing meat, the sounds of singing and happy laughter. But the fear. My clothes still wet with blood. Hide, hide behind the trees. Crouch down, don’t let anyone see. My bloody hands. My bloody mouth. In that barn, what had I done? Pushed that red raw mass into my mouth, felt it squish against my gums, the roof of my mouth, slick with crimson blood.”

Vegetarianism, as a part of Yeong-hye’s life, is only a simple decision, but in many ways it is signaling her coming into her independence. Though she is disturbed and begins to live her daily life in very hollow ways, she says “I’m not an animal anymore,” as she renounces and rejects any standard set by convention, or upbringing. Though Lethem’s character, Paul Espeseth, would most likely tell her, that there is no such thing as complete detoxification. And Han Kang may agree, as Yeong-hye slowly deteriorates throughout her story. 

Study: Climate-Induced Migration in Mexico

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-1-40-26-pm Elizabeth Deheza, from the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies, is the coauthor of the 2013 study “Climate Change, Migration and Security: Best-Practice Policy and Operational Options for Mexico.”

Here’s a clip from an interview from the Environment, Conflict and Cooperation website:

ECC: How will climate change impact migratory patterns within Mexico and the associated security issues?

Temperatures in Mexico are rising, precipitation levels are falling and the increasing frequency and intensity of flooding and extreme weather events pose serious threats to water, food and energy security. In turn, the availability of and competition over these key resources will alter the spatial distribution of people in Mexico.

Our Whitehall Report investigates possible linkages between environmental changes, migration and its repercussions concerning national and human security in Mexico. Controversial suggestions from the academic cluster have predicted that climate change could drive millions of people to migrate from the effects of severe drought, floods and extreme weather events, triggering major security concerns and a spike in regional tensions. Such controversial statements really sparked our attention and inspired us to further understand and quantify the climate-migration-security nexus.

ECC: What is your research approach and what are your main findings?

Our approach involved a qualitative and quantitative analysis comprising an extensive literature review, a series of interviews and an econometric model (Multinominal Logit Model – MLM). The model used demographic (characteristics of households and individuals derived from a sample of the National Census 2010), temperature and precipitation variables with a municipal-level resolution, and soil type variables. Our primary findings include:

Internal and international migration in Mexico is linked to changes in temperature and precipitation.
Climate variability is a determinant in the decision to migrate and the security risks will mainly be associated with resource stress, that is the availability and management of key resources both in sending as well as recipient communities. Resource (particularly water, but also food, land and energy) stress may arise in places already vulnerable to overcrowding, leading to resource scarcity and potentially heightening existing tensions.
Decreasing annual mean precipitation is likely to increase water scarcity induced migration from the dry north.
Food security is also threatened by increasing irregularities in the rainy season brought about by climate change. Desertification causes the abandonment of land where the production of primary resources occurs and could cause serious problems for food security in Mexico. The model shows that an increase in the mean annual temperature increases the probability of migration.

ECC: How is Mexico addressing these risks? What additional needs and priorities have you identified?

Mexico is one of the leading promoters of initiatives related to climate change globally, pushing forward adaptive measures, promoting regional collaboration through mechanisms such as the Mesoamerican Strategy for Environmental Sustainability (EMSA) and hosting international conferences such as the Conference of Parties (COP 16) and the Fourth Global Forum on Migration and Development. It has adopted a General Law on Climate Change. Mexico also recently presented its fifth national communication to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in which our findings were included. Despite such progress, Mexico has not specifically addressed the impact of climate change on migration and the phenomenon is still absent from the General Law on Climate Change and the Migration Law (which makes no mention of climate change in a list of factors impacting the decision to migrate).

One of the key policy implications is that migration within Mexico is happening, especially toward vulnerable areas, exposing an already vulnerable population to greater risks and putting more pressure on key resources in areas that lack the infrastructure to effectively manage and successfully distribute resources such as water. Therefore, it is imperative to monitor, control and map these migratory flows as they may be used as part of an adaptive strategy to manage migration opportunities through planned relocation. Such a strategy could be part of the solution for internal migration along with legal and managed migration to the US and Canada for international migration.

Greenpeace on Three Inspiring Chinese Women Environmental Activists

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-1-21-49-pm On International Women’s Day a few years ago, Greenpeace featured the amazing work of three women in China on the environmental front.

Here’s a clip:

Ruby Yang, Filmmaker

Born in Hong Kong, Ruby Yang is an accomplished filmmaker whose work explores Chinese themes. Her film ‘The Warriors of Qiuguang’ tells the story of how a group of Chinese villagers put an end to the poisoning of their land and water by three chemical plants, and won Best Documentary Short Subject Award nomination at the 83rd Academy Award. She has previously won that award for her film ‘The Blood of Yingzhou District’.

“When I was filming ‘The Warriors of Qiuguang’ I saw that around the village there were several chemical plants. The sewage from these plants directly discharged out into irrigated farmland, and farmers were using this water. And then the crops they produce would of course enter the market, creating a vicious cycle the farmers were perhaps not consciousness of.

“In 2000 I went to the countryside of Hunan to film and saw that the vegetables grown there were completely organic, and you don’t see the ominous shadow of garbage. While the economy and standard of living were improving, the surrounding environment of these rural areas had also changed a lot. Garbage and dust pollution could be seen everywhere, which troubled me.”

“Just as there are a number of challenges while filming, there are also limitations to deal with regarding broadcasting the documentary. It’s difficult for my kind of films to have any mainstream release but I hope that through non-governmental organizations, research and development groups and universities people can end up seeing my films.”

One piece of advice to give to other environmentalists? I’ve always filmed public service announcements or documentaries made from the perspective of public life. The films allow people to realise one can’t simply live life for one’s self, because your actions impact others in society. Every person is a lamp, the more you light yourself, the less darkness will be.

That Tree Might Be My Cousin

screen-shot-2016-10-29-at-1-15-13-pm Irish author Paddy Woodworth has an interesting review of David Haskell’s new book, The Forest Unseen, which focuses “on a single square metre of leaf litter in the hollow” in Tennessee, which he visited almost every day through a calendar year.

Here’s a clip:

“I think we live in a world marked by a deep paradox,” he says. “It is simultaneously riven with fathomless pain and filled with unspeakable beauty. This paradox partly emerges from our human perceptions and partly from the tension between co-operation and conflict that underlies all biology.

“Yes, the evolutionary process is competitive and is marked by no mercy for all who suffer. But in the crucible of intense competition some remarkable co-operative bonds have been welded. Every living organism exists only because of these bonds: unions that live inside every cell, alliances that allow many species to thrive in forest soil.

“Human observers and commentators can pick out any of these strands to paint a portrait of a nature that is relentlessly cruel or that is suffused with beneficence. A more complete view recognises that cruelty and beneficence are human terms for a world that is not confined by the categories of our intellectual and emotional responses.”

Art Ideas and Symbolism


Here is a great website of Environmental Artists. I especially enjoy Andy Goldsworth’s sculptural pieces. I want to try and utilize these techniques in my bottom of my pieces with people melting or in-cooperate animals.

Oil Companies: Climate Change Report Card

screen-shot-2016-10-25-at-12-15-06-pm Vice magazine did a little report card on the climate records of various oil and coal companies.

Here’s a glimpse at some of the results:

ExxonMobil: “Poor”

— Aggressively seeded disinformation about climate science and the risks of climate change. These acts are compounded by the fact that Exxon scientists knew about, and were actively studying the perils of carbon emissions on the climate as early as the 1970s.

— Once called the Paris Agreement a “step forward,” but has yet to acknowledge the goals set by the agreement for reducing carbon emissions and preventing an increase in global average temperature.

— Has stated that climate change is, according to the report, “a contributor to the physical risks faced by their businesses,” such as the impact of rising sea levels on its factories and infrastructure.

— Claims to support a revenue-neutral carbon tax, saying: “A properly designed carbon tax can be predictable, transparent, and comparatively simple to understand and implement.” Still, the company has supported the tax inconsistently, according to public statements.

— On the issue of renouncing disinformation on climate science and policy, ExxonMobil scored “egregious” for its role in discrediting climate science, especially through its membership of lobbying groups like the Global Climate Coalition.

BP: “Fair”

— Despite its affiliation with groups that work to discredit climate science and policies, BP has a better record than the other companies when it comes to “consistently” affirming climate science, and the need for a reduction in carbon emissions.

— BP left the American Legislative Exchange Council in 2015, stating that the group’s position on climate change “is clearly inconsistent with our own.”

— Publicly “expressed support,” according to the report, for the Paris Agreement and its goals for limiting the increase of global average temperature.

— Failed to disclose any public details about climate-related physical risks.