Follow Up: Food Retreat 2011

This year, the Home Grown Food Retreat was more than a success. With more than 100 community members and students gathering in the Vallecito Room* on the Fort Lewis College campus, many ideas were expressed, and some spurred action right in that very room. Keynote Speaker Mark Winne showed a great example of how his community in Sane Fe is working to advance food security in small and simple steps. His precedence initiated an endeavor by the citizens of Durango to form our very own local food council, which will be working to make Durango a better place in the “food” atmosphere of our community. Although Durango is very focused on the “loca-vore” food movement, there are many places we can expand in food culture to make our city a food advocate example for the rest of the country.
There were four main speakers from the Durango community that put on great workshops for everyone to choose from. These workshops included a demonstration of having local homegrown food year around, gardens as a means for strengthening our youth and community, climate considerations, garden planning and design, and also voting with your wallet, how shopping local determines the community economy.
Overall, there was a wonderful turnout this year, that encouraged change to make a difference in the Durango community. Everyone from the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center would like to give a big thanks to everyone who contributed, and the the community members who participated, and especially to ours speaker, Mark Winne. We can’t wait for next year!

“Be the change you wish to see in the world”

Take Back Your Future

eagleThe Environmental Center has “positive action” as one of its core values.  Our message is, “Doing some positive for the planet and other people feels great and is fun. So, join the party.” Still, we often get the response, “What’s the point?” And a dispassionate analysis of the state of the world and the structures of power make this a perfectly reasonable point of view. 

In deciding what to do for this year’s Earth Week celebration, students at the Center decided to take up this challenge head on. The theme they chose was “Take Back Your Future,” and they have consistently reminded me that the note of defiance in the title is important. Even our positive crew feel that with the recession, bailouts, debt, climate change, and the potential for large-scale renewable energy still unrealized,  their future is vaporizing. 

This cuts especially deep around the issue of jobs.  Students at Fort Lewis graduate with a good idea about what the world needs and plenty of passion to provide it. But it’s rough out there, and the opportunities to earn a living while doing something positive for the world are always harder to come by than entry-level service jobs.  Why is this? If the supply-and-demand curve is the answer to all our problems, why isn’t there a robust market for jobs in public service? This question is deeply frustrating for students, especially when they see CEOs earning millions for crashing their company and the economy.

Defiance in the face of the disconnect between what is and what ought is necessary. But what does effective defiance look like?  EC students have some ideas.  Earth Week starts with a re-localization fair on March 29th and then continues with events on public service careers, alternative health care, and food security, and then ends on April 2nd with a campus forum on civil disobedience that asks, “What is the best response to a political system that defends powerful interests instead of empowering its citizens?”

The truth is that the impact of one week of events will be limited. But the impact of a campus full of students geared up to take charge of their own future and that of their communities could be devastating. Take Back Your Future is a call to arms. Let’s link them together and demand a future we can all be proud of.  Visit the Earth Week 2010 website for all the details.

Marcus Renner

Why Bother with Economics?

Sustainable_Business_IconI told a friend of mine I was pursuing sustainable economics, to which she replied, “Oh, you mean spending money on green stuff.”

Her response left me with the sensation we’d just successfully lobotomized centuries of economic thought.  Money is to economics, as humanity is to the sheer weight of the universe, an interesting vantage point, but, ultimately irrelevant.  She did reveal, however, a peculiar vocabulary failure in modern economics, and one that has the potential to render international co-operation, and discourse, utterly mute if not accurately understood. What is sustainable economics, and does it amount to anything beyond trendy PR? 

For a crash course in the cryptic nature of grasping what sustainability is, look no further than how the Global Citizens Center, the international think tank behind the South Korean International Protocol on Climate Change, assessed the issue.

“Environmentally sustainable, based on that our biosphere is a closed system with finite resources and a limited capacity for self-renewal.  We depend on the Earth’s natural resources and therefore we must create an economic system that respects the integrity of ecosystems and ensures the resilience of life supporting systems.”

This is supposed to definitively lead the world to a more conscious and sound future.  Yet it nearly epitomizes design by committee and reads more like a checklist for mission statement buzzwords.  People are led to nod smugly rather than encourage nations to endeavor on a constructive sustainable path.  Economics deal with choice under uncertainty, so to dig down to what differentiates sustainable economics, start with the foundation, choice.

According to economists humanity exists in a limited, self interested, nature.  Directed by the “invisible hand,” humans act in coordination with their values.  Because we are not all knowing, we make decisions that satisfy our individual values often with obnoxious unintended consequences.  Over time, the choices we make and the interests we pursue begin to overlap and order evolves, which economist understand in terms of rules, incentives, actions, and outcomes.

Rules are the expectations, cultures, and traditions of people that bring about incentives.  Incentives are reactions, consequences, and coercion, which civilizations promote to inspire or discourage actions.  Actions are exactly that, the choices you make every minute of every day.  Outcomes are simply what’s we’re left to live with, and in turn they sculpt and adapt the very rules they’re derived from.  These are the functions of economics, far more fascinating than currency alone.  Economic policies tinker with the incentives that construct and constrain the choices people ultimately get to make. 

The outcomes sustainable economists seek are those that limit the uncertainty of the health and resilience of not only humans, but the human habitat, earth, as well.  Since no one can know the epic consequences of each decision they make, sustainable economics wants to build rules that demand greater accountability, transparency, and consciousness when making choices, economic, or otherwise.  The goal is a tipping point, a world-wide “dur” moment when sustainability becomes one of the rules of being human.

– Ryan Riebau

Ryan is a member of the Sustainable Business Team at the Fort Lewis College Environmental Center.  He is majoring in Business Economics at Fort Lewis College.

Obama, Jaguars and the EPA

Environmental Protection Agency Logo

Environmental Protection Agency Logo

It’s time for President Obama to step up and reverse the damage caused by the Bush Administration’s laissez faire approach to wildlife. According to the Los Angeles Times, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has announced their plans to designate habitat for endangered jaguars in the southwest. Habitat protection is the first step to species recovery; migratory and reintroduced jaguars stand a much better chance for survival if their land is protected. Although they were historically common in the southwest, jaguars have all but disappeared from the United States. Public interest in jaguars was sparked last March, when the first jaguar in decades was spotted in Arizona. Unfortunately, the jaguar died shortly after he was captured, presumably due to stress.

Despite this new development, the Obama administration isn’t doing a good job of protecting wildlife, according to the Center for Biological Diversity. With a 5% budget cut for the Environmental Protection Agency, even the best management plans won’t be enforced enough to offer effective protection. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar plans to cut funding to endangered species programs, including listing, recovery, conservation and law enforcement. So even if the jaguars get their habitat designation, no one is going to be there to make sure the habitats are protected. Great plan, guys.

Colorado may never have to worry about jaguars, but we have our own problems with endangered animals. Wildlife advocacy group WildEarth Guardians has given the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service a “D” for their decision not to protect prairie dogs from poisoning on private land. According to the Durango Herald, the Environmental Protection Agency received an “F” for approving extended use of poisons in 11 states last year. Ranchers claim the prairie dogs compete with cattle for food and damage the land with their burrows. However, the rodents are a key member of the ecosystem, acting as a food source for many predators as well as aerating and naturally fertilizing the soil.

Liz Grogan

All Drains Lead to the Ocean

Seagull by Liz Grogan

Seagull by Liz Grogan

“We get into the habit of thinking, this is the world, but that’s not true at all. The real world is a much darker and deeper place than this, and much of it is occupied by jellyfish and things.”

– Haruki Murakami

My goldfish, Kurt and Dave, have requested I write an appeal for the fishes. They may be happy and healthy fish living in a tank on my desk, but they also know there are plenty of other fish in the sea who are not as lucky as they are and need help. You may be asking: what does Colorado, a landlocked state, have to do with the sea?

As any person who’s watched Finding Nemo should know, all drains lead to the ocean. It is surprising what an effect we can have on even the darkest depths of the ocean. Every time we take our cars somewhere, the friction of the road rubs tiny bits of rubber off your tires. Water samples from the oceanic middle-of-nowhere show that rubber particles have made their way through the streams and rivers and into oceans, thousands of miles from the nearest car. Who would’ve thought driving your car could impact the environment thousands of feet below the sea? Heavy metals from abandoned mines, hormones, fertilizers, even oil and waste pollute Colorado’s own rivers every day due to carelessness. If these pollutants go untreated, they eventually show up in the oceans. Colorado River and its tributaries, for example, drain into the Gulf of California, home to a wide range of fascinating and endangered animals, such as whales, sea turtles, rays, and whale sharks. A recent study has determined that due to a number of preventable factors, only jellyfish will remain in the oceans in 40 years. A “jellyfish bloom,” and can result from any number of changes in the environment, including warming waters, cooling waters, overfishing, increased nutrients, and pollution. I think jellyfish are pretty neat, but not nearly fascinating enough to be the only animals left in the oceans. With all those venomous tentacles, I can’t imagine they’d taste very good either.

There are some simple ways to reduce the pollutants in water. The most important thing you can do is make sure you dispose chemicals properly. People carelessly dump all sorts of chemicals down their drains, not giving a second thought to where they will end up. Anything from prescription drugs to pet waste can have devastating effects on the water quality. Even if we do not directly dump chemicals into drains, they can get washed into storm drains the next time it rains. In order to combat heavy metals in the rivers, Senator Mark Udall’s Good Samaritan legislation will amend the Clean Water Act and allow groups to clean up the mines without being legally responsible for the pollutants. You can read more about the Good Samaritan amendment on Senator Udall’s website.

Of course, it isn’t just the oceans we endanger by acting irresponsibly. Colorado’s native species of fish are even more directly impacted by our water quality. Trout can’t reproduce if they are bombarded by hormones. They can’t grow big and strong if all they eat is junk food (overly fertilized algae, as opposed to their traditional diet of insects). They won’t grow at all if poisoned by heavy metals (so far, no studies on the effect of heavy metal bands like AC/DC and Spinal Tap). We (should) already know that we need to protect our own fish – why not go the extra mile (or thousand) and protect the oceans as well?

If you still don’t think there’s enough reason to protect the oceans, fine. You can wait a couple of years for the oceans to rise enough for Colorado to become a coastal state. As for me, I’m not about to face the wrath of my goldfish for being too lazy to protect the oceans.

 Liz Grogan

Water, Water Everywhere, but Not a Drop to Drink

water_drop1Water pollution is a big concern, and has been for a long time.  As the problem of population continues to grow, Americans are being exposed to more unhealthy water every year.  This is a problem that needs to be taken care of, and fast.  There have been many articles written on this topic recently, here are a few that I’ve found showing some of the problems we are having with our water around the southwest.

The Salt Lake Tribune reports that, “Utah is one of 49 states that warn anglers about dangerously contaminated fish in their lakes and streams.”  This is from Robert F. Kennedy, the founder and chairman of a worldwide environmental group network named Waterkeeper Alliance.   It is not only the streams and rivers in Utah that have been affected; it is also the Great Salt Lake.  Utah is the only state in the union that advises people not to eat certain waterfowl due to high levels of mercury in the lake.  Utah is currently looking for a replacement Great Salt Lakekeeper because the last one was let go for not following the groups guide lines for clean water. 

Another article in The Salt Lake Tribune highlights the small community Yerington, NV, located about 75 miles southeast of Reno next to a long abandoned copper mine.  The ground water near this small farming community has concentrations of uranium well over the EPA standards for safe drinking water.  The oil company BP, who now owns the abandoned mine site, claims that the mine has nothing to do with the unsafe levels of uranium and arsenic.  The small population of the town is forming a group to investigate the situation and hopefully get some backing from the government to get the contamination cleaned up.

On a more positive note, the Vail Daily is reporting on a community initiative to keep prescription drugs for entering local streams and reservoirs.  Rather than flushing these unused drugs down the toilet, City Market will be accepting these to be properly disposed.  Different kinds of prescription drugs cannot be taken out of the water through regular water treatment processes, causing many problems for fish populations in the area.  Creating collection sites and a simple marketing strategy is an easy and productive way to take care of this problem. 

Many policies are in place to keep our rivers and lakes clean, we just need to obey them.  There are several companies and individuals that dispose of toxins in a way that is not friendly to the environment.  If these people and companies would look at what they are doing to the environment and stop focusing on their bottom line things would be much better and safer for all of us.  Although there are laws in place, they could be much stricter so we can force these polluters to see the light.  Then we’ll all be able to enjoy our waterways for generations to come.

Royce Johnson

Energy in the Future

windturbineMost people have realized that the future of transportation relies heavily on alternative fuel sources.  The majority of experts agree that at some point we will run out of fossil fuel and will be forced to adopt new technologies in order to continue our ability to travel large distances in a short amount of time.  But where we will go from here?

According to the Durango Herald Colorado State University is experimenting with longer lasting batteries that may allow electric cars to be more efficient and cheaper to drive.  Colorado State University’s batteries are cheaper to make, last longer, and are more powerful than the lithium ion batteries that we use today.  This new battery could allow electric vehicles to travel hundreds of miles on a single charge.  Currently the lithium ion rechargeable batteries used in electric cars cost around $15,000 and can only power a car between 40 miles, for the new Chevy Volt, to 244 for the Tesla Roadster, which costs $45,000.  With this new technology we may see more affordable electric cars that can be driven as far as our modern gas powered ones.

Another method of fueling vehicles is by using Biodiesel.  According to there are many ways to create biodiesel, including using many of the same processes as making paper.  In Missoula, Montana, a paper mill has closed putting workers out of business and has led politicians and business owners to search for a new way to employ workers.  One idea is to convert the paper plant to produce biodiesel.  Whether or not this is a good idea is hard to say but if this does pass it would mean more jobs for people in Missoula as well as a new source for biodiesel in the area.

To prevent our world from falling apart lets continue to look for new ways to power our vehicles and, hopefully, we will be able to break our dependence on fossil fuels.

Ben Rogers