My Obsession With Human Dwellings

I recently became obsessed with human dwellings. I’m not sure why or when this happened exactly; I just know that the housing crisis had something to do with it. My mom and my dad (despite being born and growing up in completely different countries—US and Brazil, respectively) both grew up in humble blue collar households and their parents instilled in them the value of honest hard work as a means to make a living.

As an American, I have been exposed to the foundational values of the “American Dream” of freedom, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This freedom in pursuing happiness offered anyone, even those born in lower social classes, the possibility of attempting to “climb the social ladder” and attain means higher than those with which they grew up. This is the basis of the so-called “American Dream” and this dream was, and still is, shared by Americans and people from other nations alike. It seems, however, that at some point in our history, this dream became synonymous with having the commodities that we have become so exposed to through advertisements and the media in general. From my perspective, this distortion of peoples’ priorities has created a lifestyle of excess where the average American is gearing away from the promised “happiness” and moving towards personal economical burden and a general reduction of quality of life. This lifestyle, in turn, is also contributing to the environmental degradation of an already very depleted planet.

However, “how does this relate to my obsession with human dwellings?” you might ask.Well, somewhere along the line I found out that one of the areas of our society that has experienced this increasing trend of “more is better” has been the size of homes. The median size of the new average American home has doubled since 1950, while the amount of people per household has decreased by over 25%, making our houses the biggest in the world—four times larger than the international average. This increase of size standards, however, has brought more of a burden to the average American than it has a sense of comfort, especially in light of the economic crisis we are barely coming out of, in which many people lost or nearly lost their homes.

This latter part, I’m afraid I cannot relate to. I grew up mostly in Brazil and my parents had a motto “don’t spend it unless you actually have it,” and it carried them through saving enough money to pay for our house in cash. My parents built our home slowly (I can still remember living for years in a house with only a few rooms actually finished), but they never had a mortgage.

In addition to the economic burden caused partially by the current size of our homes, there are many environmental consequences related to their construction and energy consumption. Around 40% of all of the raw materials consumed by humans are used in construction (around three quarters of an acre of forest are needed to build the average American home and it adds seven tons of waste to the landfill). At its current average size of 2,349 square feet, an American house emits more carbon dioxide than the average American car.

In light of our current energy crisis, dwindling natural resources and climate change, these numbers are especially startling. Despite all of the advancements in building techniques to improve insulation and design, houses still consume the same amount of energy as those built in the 1960s. The culprit, apparently, is the size of the homes.

While the majority of the population continues to partake in this culture of “excess”, others, in search for a happier and more sustainable way of living, have chosen to reconsider their lifestyles and take steps towards downscaling and simplifying their lives.

Some of these “others” are a part of what has been called the “Tiny House Movement.” This movement started out with people who advocate simple living through small dwellings for sustainability and financial freedom.

tiny houses

Some Americans choose to live in small houses to avoid going into debt and live more simply with the Tiny House Movement. Photo courtesy of Portland Alternative Dwellings (www.padtinyhouses.com).

Since I stumbled upon tiny houses, I became avidly interested in ways that people can live that don’t fit the status quo. As young people, we are in the perfect position to explore and discover new ways to solve the problems of our current times. So, if you are interested in ways to live more frugally, I’d recommend checking out the following documentary:

By Hari Baumbach

Dave Foreman of Earth First! Visits FLC

Without knowing what to expect when attending the Dave Foreman talk hosted by Fort Lewis College on April 5th, I would have to say I look at the state of the world from an entirely new perspective. Dave Foreman considers himself a conservationist and is co-founder of “Earth First!, an environmental advocacy group based in the Southwest. Earth First! was established by Foreman, Mike Roselle and Howie Wolke in response to an increased awareness of corporate influence on many large environmental advocacy groups. On earthfirst.org, you can find a more complete outline of their movement’s overall goals and their continuing mission to make people aware of the challenges we face as beings on this earth.

For the most part, a lot of the knowledge Dave Foreman shared was nothing new to the audience such as, earth being in its sixth mass extinction, the extinction of passenger pigeons and the human overpopulation conflict. However, if there was one thing I took away from Foreman’s talk, it would have to be his emphasis on human being’s desire to control everything in the natural world. “We are all earthlings,” Foreman said. The best analogy he used was to “think of earth as a 550 page story.” Complex life has only been around for as long as 550 million years and if you put humans in this story of our earth’s history we would be the last sentence of the last page. Yet, within that last sentence we have caused change that should have taken at least a couple chapters. Through our desire to control the nature that we have feared for so long, we consequently have blinded ourselves from what the earth itself needs to survive.

In order for us to have a world in the future that is similar to the one we know at the moment, “we must all become part of the neighborhood,” Foreman said. The heart and soul of the conservation movement, Foreman believes, is “to treat your neighbor as you would want to be treated.” All earthlings are part of this world—our neighbors. It is time for us to treat other living things as such.

By Hunter Mallinger

Algae: Fuel of the Future?

algae blooms in Finland

Algae blooms along the coast. Photo used by Fair Use.

The global population of humans has seen alarming exponential growth in the past century, which can be largely attributed to the exploitation of our most prized resource: fossil fuels. Fossil fuels are utilized in most facets of human society including agriculture, transportation, clothing and technology. However, with our increasing reliance and use of these non-renewable resources, comes the concern of oil reserve depletion. Peak oil indicates the point in time in which maximum petroleum extraction is reached and, within our modern population, is a concern that this may also be the limiting resource for our species.  In other words, as peak oil is reached and our oil supplies decline, our population numbers will shortly follow. This highlights the importance of exploring alternative petroleum sources that are socially, ecologically and economically sound. In this article, I will address one of the possible alternatives and with that several issues concerning this potential global solution to peak oil.

There has been much research and many publications regarding algal fuels as a potential solution to peak oil concerns, due to their direct petroleum replacement capabilities. However, the economic efficiency and social feasibility continue to be a topic of chief concern. Currently, if produced on a large scale, algal fuels are estimated upwards of $10 per gallon, which, compared to fossil fuels, are not as economically feasible. However, continued research will only decrease these economic figures and with the potential positive ecological and social results, this may be an ideal future prospect.

With regards to the ecological benefits of algal fuels, several are most prominent.  Algal fuels are autotrophic microorganisms that provide a carbon neutral fuel source, which may address concerns of global warming. In a basic sense, algae utilizes CO2 as the carbon building block for hydrocarbon chains (fuel), which takes as much CO2 out of the atmosphere as is released by burning the refined fuels. In comparison to burning fossil fuels, this may result in a more stable atmosphere, which in turn will decrease the amount of abnormal temperature fluctuations globally. These current abnormal temperature fluctuations are a causative agent of global population crashes and more recently have been hypothesized to be a primary reason for the current global extinction epidemic.

It has been observed that, in some locations, oil-drilling sites cause significant negative effects on the surrounding environment. Chemicals released throughout the drilling process as well as anthropogenic fragmentation are concerns for many conservation biologists. Another ecological benefit of algal fuels involves the ability to use sewage water, which is high in nitrogen and phosphorus and used as “fertilizer” for the growing algae. This would decrease the issue of oceanic dead zones caused by sewage disposal along coastal regions and allow those habitats to begin the process of recovery.

Since humans first began to mass-extract fossil fuels, there has been much conflict throughout regions where large oil reserves are present. A shift to algal fuels may reduce social problems currently seen due to fossil fuel extraction. Since algae grow in nearly every region of the earth, in theory, algal fields could be placed in all regions and territories. Furthermore, the highest production would be in regions that have the largest amounts of solar radiation, such as arid desert regions. These arid climates commonly struggle with social conflicts and depressions due to low amounts of fertile land and limited access to clean water. While the amount of water sources for these regions is of concern for algal fields, further research may be able to utilize algal fields as purification ducts, providing economic stability from fuel production and increase water sanitation. After the fuels are extracted, the remaining algae may be used for agricultural purposes, providing a more stable food source.

So while there is much more research that must be completed in order to provide an economically, ecologically and socially sound alternative fuel source, algal fuels appear to be a promising option for the future.

By Drew Walters

Different Cultures’ Perspectives on Human-Animal Relationships

As a human, are you always thinking about animals? I believe humans cannot live without animals because we depend on them to eat and survive. However, the animals humans eat differ. Each person has his or her symbol animals, which are determined by the environment around the person. Japanese people live on an island, so they mainly eat fish. As many people know, the famous Japanese cuisine is sushi. Native American people live in the middle of a continent, so they eat animals, which live in the continent. Depending on the tribe, the animals they eat are different.

Buffalo and Lakota People:

I chose to write about the relationship between buffalo and Native Americans because I went to a Buffalo Harvest with the Native American Center. Before I went there, I have never seen the killing of animals except killing fish. When people eat the buffalo, they pray for him and express their appreciation for him. I felt how important buffalos are for Native people. “As the buffalo roamed the Plains, so did the Lakota. The entire existence of the people centered around the buffalo’s epic migration across the vast plains of North America – from Canada to Mexico; the Pacific Northwest to the Appalachian Mountains” (Prairie Edge June 16 2011).

http://www.prairieedge.com/tribe-scribe/the-heart-soul-of-the-lakota-the-buffalo/

Grazing buffalo

Photo used by Fair Use.

Fish and Japanese People:

Japanese people cannot separate from fish. For me, fish plays an important part in my food. I grew up in the countryside of Japan. When I went to my grandparents’ or relatives’ house, I always ate fresh raw fish with my family. I learned how to gut fish on a school field trip. I was always told by my mother to eat fish and not eat too much beef or pork for my health.

Since the past animals have supported the lives of humans. In the past, people knew how important the animals were. However, I think people have forgotten this and many people choose to eat unhealthy junk food. They are not eating “real food”. Real food is defined by the as local/community-based, fair trade, ecologically sound and humane. There is an organization, “Real Food Challenge”, which requires 20 % real food in our campus by 2020. Our sustainability team started working to educate students in Fort Lewis College. I want to teach students in Fort Lewis College how important the real food is.

http://www.realfoodchallenge.org/

By Hanae Miyabo