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The Power of Musicking

Posted by: holmesbc | October 15, 2014 | No Comment |

Despite having played an instrument since the age of six – first piano, then guitar, until finally discovering my passion in vocal music – I never considered it any more than a hobby. I recognized that perhaps it meant something when, after a tiresome day or stressful week, all I wanted was to get near a piano and a solitary place to sing. Regardless, I never thought it possible to interconnect my passion for music with my more academic studies: political science and environmental studies. Last fall, however, I was fortunate enough to discover something called “ecomusicology”. Simply put, Ecomusicology examines how music both reflects and affects our relationship with nature in political, individual, and spiritual spheres. It expands into areas of non-human animals, and even plants, and their relationships with or reliance upon sound. What enthuses me, though, is the intersection between music and politics, particularly environmental politics and environmental justice.

The first weekend of October, I traveled to Asheville, North Carolina to attend a conference titled “Ecomusics & Ecomusicologies: Dialogues”. Topics discussed ranged from indigenous groups’ use of sound for healing, music in response to mountaintop coal removal in Appalachia (of which there is a LOT, and which I will touch on in a bit), and affects of sound on self-awareness and being – among many others. The creative arts are a necessary tool to bring out our true “humanness,” as one presenter put it. As an environmentalist, I have to wonder why music and the arts are left out of our usual discussion of sustainability. How can we sustain the human population if we disregard the histories that progressed us to where we are today? The arts as a whole are representative of cultures, values, beliefs, and concerns of any given time throughout our human history. Thus, in the quest to answer “What is it we wish to sustain?” I feel we should also be thinking about what we are proud of as a species. Perhaps I am biased, but I would think the arts are something almost all of us can say we are thankful for.

 

As environmental activist Tim DeChristopher said, “We will be a movement when we sing like a movement”. I love this quote for the fact that it emphasizes the simple power of song in forming a sense of community, one that is going to be essential for our species to thrive in the near and distant future. Music is not just a thing produced, but an action we engage with, sometimes called “musicking”. The act of musicking is social and political in that it establishes a set of relationships between all involved. This perception of music is essential to the understanding of music as protest. When I traveled up to New York City in September for the People’s Climate March, I was fortunate to happen upon a small group of people (amidst the 400,000 there) singing “If I Had A Hammer” as they marched. As a child, “If I Had A Hammer” was a song I listened to during car rides down from Ohio to South Carolina, a song on a Peter, Paul, and Mary album that my father insisted on overplaying. Now I understand that particular song’s significance in countless social movements across America. This enhanced depth of understanding is of not only songs but also social activism in general, and I am thrilled to apply it in my own life, political engagement, and my overall understandings of sustainability and the human species.

-Abby Tennenbaum

Abbynew

under: Uncategorized

Mindfulness + Sustainability

Posted by: holmesbc | October 6, 2014 | No Comment |

About a year ago I was on the medical school track until I realized I wanted to see more of the world versus more time studying in a classroom. Medicine is still fascinating to me but it’s not my passion. Then sustainability waltzed on into my life.

At the beginning of Spring 2014, you could have called me sustainability virgin. During that semester I took a course on sustainability with Dr. Brian Fisher and interned at the Office of Sustainability.  When I entered the realm of sustainability, I had an open mind; one could say I was eager to learn. After one semester of an internship and the sustainability course, I had a pretty good grasp on the major goal of sustainability. My personal definition wasn’t as clear to me. What I was clear on is what sustainability did not include reduce, reuse and recycle. Sustainability is a balance between systems. These systems include human and environmental systems. The systems thinking aspect of sustainability can be complex but the general categorization has been helpful for me because although I was not interested in conventional medicine and becoming a doctor, the topic of health never left. When I started visualizing society, as a human system the future was not as limiting and daunting.

I began to realize the human system has multiple facets. A few of them being economic, social, physical, and mental and all of them need to be healthy to be successful. Personally, the word health to me has started to coincide with sustainability. Anyway, I have noticed I have been consistent with yearning to do things that aid in optimizing the physical and mental health of people.

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There are several ways to build the mental and physical health of our society and they all coincide with creating a more sustainable environment. Mental health is a topic that has similar “new age” aura around it as sustainability. People are too scared to approach the truths. Mental health has been a apart of my life ever since my father passed away when I was a toddler. After he passed my mom put my sister and I in therapy to “talk about our feelings and help us cope with our fathers’ death properly. Again, I was very young and I don’t remember talking about anything grandeur. Anyway, from that point on I have always been open and honest with myself. It wasn’t until the past few years that I realized how important and healthy it is to be aware of your emotions, how they’re expressed and why. My mom has a case of severe depression and PTSD along with General Anxiety Disorder (according to the DSM V). Growing up and through her adult life, she never talked about her issues. I remember clearly that we were always in therapy but she never went for herself. A lot of events built up and inhibited her to be strong which led to her eventual surrender. As I was walking through Forever 21 sophomore year, I get a call from my sister informing me that my mom was going into an institution. At that time, Conner was a senior in high school and my youngest sister was in 7th grade. Obviously not an ideal time but the timing proved the severity of her depressive state. She arrived at Emory hospital and they had her go through Electric Shock Therapy. The ECT treatment ended up not working because a year later she traveled back to Emory and began ketamine therapy. Which brings us to today. Yes, it is sad but she should be an example to everyone out there: talk about your emotions and be ok with them because not doing so is not sustainable (my mom as exhibit A).

Along with the ketamine treatment, she visits a psychiatrist every week and partakes in mindfulness therapy. At first, and for a WHILE, I was doubtful that breathing a few times a day would improve your mood. And really who has time for it? About a year or so later positive psychology popped up as one of the psychology class options. I decided to enroll because I could tell it was helping my mom a lot but I needed evidence! As the course has gone on I have become less and less skeptical about mindfulness. Honestly, I have started to make a lot od connections between positive psychology and mindfulness. The two work hand in hand. Ok, I know breathing for 10 minutes a day seems useless and why would we do that when we have so many other tasks on our list to do? Well, I thought the same way about 6 weeks ago. Hear me out.

Mindfulness has several forms: yoga, meditation, breathing, and tai chi, just to name a few. Through those practices one can improve physical and mental well being. Mental well being is what will help with sustainability because mindfulness cultivates characteristics such as gratitude, optimism, adaptability, forgiveness, and living with an open mind and living in the moment. If you are in my brain, you are making lists upon lists of examples about how this would help sustainability. I am going to go through a situation in which mindfulness helped me close friend out with sustainability.

My family is a bit confused as to why I have gained interest in sustainability. In their mind I went from Neurosurgeon path to paid hippie. Originally, I got defensive for several reasons. One, my family must not know me because when have I ever exhibited hippie like qualities and two, I knew there was more to the concept than hugging trees (although I find myself unintentionally doing this at times). Anyway, my family has an intense and successful background: bank chief finical executive, board member, highly regarded in their local political system, lawyer, mathematician, professional ballerina and Olympic swimmer. When you have a group like that it’s hard for them to understand. Mindfulness helped me rework through my head and adapt to their perspective. The adaptability mindset that is cultivated allows you to step out of your own head and observe how others are handling the situation without taking judgment, just with an open mind. I realized I needed to explain to them what I am doing in a way that will speak to them. First, I sent them a youtube video about the Office of Sustainability mission along with an article I was interviewed for and by doing so they are now clear on what my idea of sustainability is and that I am working hard at my job (and a campus celebrity J ). Secondly, I am going to send them a note about how I can apply sustainability to any job that I am doing by living according to my values. I want to point out to them that I am not working towards being an environmentalist. My family has worked hard to get to where they are and all they want is the best for me, which mainly means they want me to have a stable financial situation. Third, I would talk with them about the potential jobs I am thinking about (NO CLUE, but they don’t have to know) and their potential income. Lastly, I will ask if they have any questions.

Throughout the process I am exhibiting adaptability and openness along with non-judgment (especially when I am acknowledging that they probably have questions). This is a concrete example but mindfulness itself provides sustainability to the individual through cultivating mental strength. As Garden Coordinator for the Office of Sustainability, I have found being in the garden, around green plants oxygenated air and natural aromas is a mindfulness experience in itself. Simply noticing the details around you is a form of mindfulness.

Keep in mind I am NOT a positive psychologist and these are just my observation after 6 weeks in a positive psychology course. There are plenty of studies and accounts that have found empirical evidence supporting mindfulness. Please look into the studies if you are doubtful because the studies are what sway me as well.

Sustainability is complex and can be frustrating…I know. But if you keep an open mind, your head and heart in the moment and take a deep breath, you have no idea what you will be able to achieve!

-Kelsea Sears

 

 

 

under: Kelsea Sears, Office Staff

One of my favorite T.V shows over the past couple of years has been Mad Men, a show whose intricate plot unfolds while following a set of characters working for an advertising agency in Manhattan. In one of the earlier seasons, the main protagonist Don Draper offers a bit of advice to a client saying, “If you don’t like what is being said, then change the conversation.” I like to think that one of the goals of sustainability is to change the questions that people are asking, to change the conversation. Instead of where do I shop, where is my food coming from? Instead of where I can I throw this away, can this be composted or recycled? Instead of where can I park, how can I get there?

Photo via Post & Courier

Photo via Post & Courier

That last conversation is something that I am quite passionate about. As a cyclist, I am in favor of promoting not only cycling, but also other forms of public transportation. With the population in the Charleston area set to grow significantly over the next 25 years, dealing with how we are going to transport ourselves from one place to the other is going to be, if it isn’t already, a serious issue. And for a region that’s already cramped for space, adding more parking spaces and highway lanes isn’t the answer. Last night Gabe Klein, the former Director of Transportation Systems in Chicago and Washington D.C., gave his follow up presentation on his findings and suggestions for ways that Charleston can begin to address its growing transportation needs for the near, immediate, and distant future. His suggestions ranged in scope from bringing back sections of the old Charleston streetcar network (which used to be fairly extensive) to upgrading the city’s parking meters and raising the price of parking to increase revenues for other transportation initiatives.

In regards to my personal favorite mode of transit, biking, Klein mentioned that Charleston is in the “awkward adolescent stage” when it comes to commuting by bike, and I would definitely have to agree.  There are enough cycling commuters to be noticed, but not enough of a mainstream cycling culture for cyclist to begin policing themselves to start following the rules of the road. Klein spoke of tensions that exist between different commuters and those who commute by different modes, and in Charleston, there is definitely a tension between drivers and cyclists. But these tensions are often artificial and are indicators of successful changes in transportation mode shares. A recent local example is the new bike parking available on King Street.

Hopefully many of Klein’s recommendations will come to pass. I realize there are barriers to accomplishing these goals, not the least of which is funding. Regardless, the fact that he was doing work in Charleston means that we’re beginning to realize that we don’t like what’s being said, and that we’re changing the conversation.

-Aaron Holly, Graduate Assistant

under: Aaron Holly, Blog, CofC Bikes

SISE 2014: What I learned

Posted by: holmesbc | September 11, 2014 | No Comment |

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In April of 2014 my project advisor at the Office of Sustainability, Ashlyn Hochschild, emailed out several different opportunities to get more involved in the sustainability realm. One of the things listed in the email was the Summer Institute on Sustainability and Energy (SISE) at the University of Illinois at Chicago, a two week intensive for undergraduate seniors, graduate students, and sustainability professionals focusing on renewable energy and the sustainability of those energy practices. Not having anything to lose, I decided to apply.  Fast-forward four months and a very intense application process later I was boarding a 6am flight to Chicago.

SISE provides a unique learning opportunity for the 50-60 people selected to participate every year by combining interesting lectures, unique research projects, and amazing field trips. The lectures we attended were given by some of the top energy and sustainability professionals in the Chicago area with topics that ranged from sustainable airports to batteries to the importance of business and entrepreneurship in the field. Not only did these top professionals lecture us, but also they acted as mentors for the duration of the program.

For the group research project we were given a problem to research and solve in our assigned groups over two weeks relating to the theme of Urban Energy. We were mentored, presented, wrote business plans and what resulted was twelve groups with twelve great ideas. This project gave everyone an opportunity to explore an unfamiliar topic and to gain the experience of accomplishing a large task in a short amount of time while also building our professionalism skills.

The last main learning component of the program is the field trips. We visited a total of three sites in Chicago during our two-week stay: Illinois Institute of Technology, O’Hare international Airport, and Argonne National Laboratory. Each site showed us what sustainability looks like in the real world, specifically the energy field. Between learning about the smart grid technology already available at IIT, the goats and sheep kept at O’Hare, and seeing the Advanced Photon Source and Transportation Labs at Argonne, the participants gained a true understanding of how the world is beginning to make a change towards a more sustainable future.

I knew when I accepted my invitation to attend the fourth annual SISE I would be exposed to new ideas and learn so much from the lectures and field trips, but I would have never expected that I would learn the most from the other participants. Living with 60 strangers for two weeks seems like it could end in disaster, however working, learning and living with everyone 24 hours a day gave me a better understanding of the world and sustainability. When we weren’t in lectures or on trips everyone would go explore the wonderful city we were in. Somewhere between waiting 90 minutes to try Chicago’s famous pizza, stuffing too many people in a sketchy cab, arriving to the park to hear live music about a minute before it ends, finding a random band playing swing music on the sidewalk and dancing with new friends, watching fireworks off Navy Pier, staying up until 6am in the dorm singing in 15 different languages and dancing, having cook-outs, taking too many selfies, seeing the Air & Water Show, playing Cards Against Humanity and Hanabi, and just having wonderful conversations with people, the participants of SISE 2014 became a family.  The feeling I had at

SISE is one I hope everyone can experience at some point in their life. Being in the realm of environmental studies and sustainability comes with a lot of negativity but being surrounded by people who have the same goal of bettering the world, I have never felt more hopeful about the outlook of our existence on this planet.

One the first day of SISE, I walked into aconversation between participants on the physics of the organic chemistry of some type of renewable energy and I thought I was accepted by mistake. That conversation was my first exposure of many to the great minds of chemistry, physics, mathematics, economics, policy, business, geography, architecture, and so much more that made up the participants of SISE 2014 who taught me so much about the world and myself. Three weeks after SISE ended, I still miss the family I gained there, but I know that in our respective areas of the world we will still be working together to make a difference. – Virginia Whorley, Sustainability Intern

under: Office Staff, SISE, Virginia Whorely

Ideas on Communication

Posted by: Jen Jones | August 27, 2014 | No Comment |

Guest Blog from Office Intern and MES/MPA graduate student Tripp McElwee

I was messy as a youth.  Very messy.  My room was constantly a wreck, littered with dirty clothes, candy wrappers, and whatever toys I was interested in at the time.  My parents would constantly tell me to clean it up.  Sometimes it was asked nicely, sometimes it was firmly bellowed, and sometimes it was screamed, but it never worked.  I was never told why I needed to clean my room, I was just told to clean it up.  In my mind it was a schedule:  create mess, receive punishment, clean room, create mess… repeat.  The rate of ascension of my parent’s anger was only paralleled by the rate of crap piling up in my room. 

As a college student, I began to realize that my messiness actually negatively impacted my life.  A lack of organization of my possessions led to me looking for things all the time, this led to being late all of the time, causing frustration and scattered thoughts.  It wasn’t until my early twenties that I learned there is a reason for being organized; you are more calm, more efficient, and a generally more effective adult.  Whenever I truly understood this I developed the proper habits to become the relatively clean, organized individual I am today.

Good for you Tripp, what does this have to do with sustainability?

Changing habits is difficult, and people generally do not change them by being commanded or accused of doing the wrong thing.  Change comes through understanding.  As much as I love my dear sweet parents, the best thing they could have done when I was a youth is sit down and discuss sincerely the reasons why organization is important.  Maybe it would have worked, and maybe it wouldn’t, but it was the only real chance at changing my behaviors.  For me, sustainability isn’t actually about changing habits, it’s about changing paradigms.  If thought processes are changed, then the habits will follow.  If a citizen or a business is commanded to recycle their paper and plastic without any ideological backdrop, it is unlikely to continue for very long.  If a citizen sees the Charleston County Landfill with their own eyes and understands the finite dimensions of waste disposal, it may lead to a much more sustainable solution:  a change in ideology.

I have often been frustrated by environmentalist’s accusatory tones when communicating with people who think differently from them.  One that truly wants to make macro changes in public opinion must understand that this type of communication will only further alienate those with differing views.  Creating more sustainable systems will occur through leading by example, and positivist education, not through apocalyptic sermons and accusation.  If you believe in a more sustainable future like I do, lead by example, strap on a smile and educate your friends and co-workers.  In time, the room might start to clean itself up.

under: Guest Bloggers, Tripp McElwee

On Leaking Faucets

Posted by: cohenoa | July 7, 2014 | No Comment |

The KlawAfter moving to Charleston without a place to live and suffering a series of frantic and disappointing Craigslist encounters, I found myself a room to sublease.  I met with the current resident of the room the same day I contacted her, checked out the second story home once, and moved in a few hours later.  It seemed like I was getting a great deal – the home sat right near Colonial Lake and I was paying under $600 per month, utilities included.  I shared the house with three girls, all of whom seemed to be agreeable human beings from my limited impression of them.  It took me a few days to realize how unsavory my situation actually was.

The faucet dripped.  Constantly.  The only way to make it stop was to push down, hard, in just the right place and in just the right way.  I was the only one who would make the effort to get it to stop or put a mason jar underneath to catch the water, but I would come home to find that the tap was leaking so much that it might as well have been on and the mason jar – overfull with water – had been defiled with soap and dish scum.  Then their water bill came in and usage was astronomically high, something like three times what one household would normally use in a month.  I was astonished that my housemates had done nothing to fix the problem up until this point, nor even considered it a problem, and clearly there were no intentions to act in the immediate future.  It was infuriating that around the world people kill and die for access to drinking water but my privileged housemates were wasting it without a second thought.

So what did I do? I did some research, rode my bike to the nearest bathroom supply outlet, bought some replacement parts, and fixed the faucet.  It took me maybe an hour.

While this is indeed a great outlet for complaining about my living situation, I do have a point.  Sustainability is not some highfalutin word for soaring idealisms and unfeasible praxis – it is about real people and solvable issues.  At its core it is about making your stomping grounds more efficient, and consequently more livable.

So let’s leave “sustainability” for the thinkers.  The common man has his equally noble role to play: to make his living space as livable as possible with what he’s got.  And it’s easy.  Keeping your kitchen clean, using diluted dish soap, taking shorter showers, using less toilet paper, flushing less often, fixing your screen door with a piece of used floss, that sort of thing.  Reducing then reusing and only then recycling.  It’s not about the environment; it will be fine with or without us.  It’s about you, it’s about me, and it’s about all the leaky faucets on this rock we call Earth.  Anything less is a fundamental lack of respect.

-Corey Klawunder

under: Uncategorized

Green Fireworks?

Posted by: cohenoa | July 4, 2014 | No Comment |

fireworks5As we enter this 4th of July weekend our minds fill with wonderful thoughts of barbecues, flag waiving and most of all, the spectacle of fireworks. Being a firework enthusiast myself I was interested in learning more about these enchantments, but also weary of what I might find. 

In addition to the traditional recipe for things that go boom, today’s billion-dollar Pyrotechnic industry uses metals such as magnesium and copper to achieve different colors and light intensities. [1] Recently as firework shows have become more technical, some fireworks even contain computer chips to help timing.

As I read more about fireworks and their ingredients my worries were confirmed with reports of toxic byproducts of firework displays such as heavy metals, chlorates, and dioxins accumulating in the air, water, and land. These products are mostly the result of the oxidizer component of the firework breaking down. [2] Talk about a buzz-kill.

This dark side of fireworks at times may even pose a serious threat to air quality. During extreme instances the EPA takes notice [3]. This toxic side effect of fireworks and safety concerns has caused some cities to opt for expensive laser shows over the traditional firework displays. 

However, to the relief of firework lovers like myself, there is the possibility of green fireworks, and not just in color. Fireworks have been developed and used that utilize nitrogen rich compounds and other less toxic components. These new ecofriendly fireworks can also be smokeless. To put the cherry on top they are even said to be more vivid in color than standard fireworks.

As one can guess, there is probably a reason we don’t use them—price. These green fireworks are currently cost prohibitive for larger scale shows but have been used for smaller scale displays. Perhaps, in the future given the right consumer demand we can have large-scale shows using smokeless, more colorful, and non-toxic fireworks.     

-John Brooker

Sources

[1] “Chemistry of Firework Colors.” About.com Chemistry. Web. 01 July 2014.

[1]Wiley-Blackwell. “Environmentally Friendly Fireworks And Other Pyrotechnics.”   

      ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 19 March 2008.

      <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080317102449.htm>.

[2]“Treatment of Data Influenced by Exceptional Events.” EPA. Environmental 

       Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 03 July 2014.

under: Uncategorized

We Came, We Saw, We Smelled

Posted by: cohenoa | June 30, 2014 | No Comment |

10436085_797599710264215_8518982736669780004_nLast Monday morning at Bees Ferry Landfill in West Ashley, the Office crew got to learn a few things about landfills from Bronwyn Santos of Charleston County’s Environmental Management, who was kind enough to give us a tour of the 700-acre trash heap.

The first thing that took most of us off guard was how scenic the site appears as you enter—the rolling hills, now considered sanctuary grounds for wild birds, are actually heaping piles of waste that have since been covered over with dirt and grass. Piled in the back of a pickup truck, we rolled past these grassy mounds and soon arrived at the fresh fill. While the smell of methane was reasonable to expect, we couldn’t have anticipated the crazy number of gulls that flocked over our heads like a Hitchcock movie while Bronwyn explained the workings and composition of the landfill. Some of us picked our way through the rubble and mud to get closer to the worksite, where men in bulldozers were filling a gigantic valley with truckloads of trash. The scene was incredible—it was as if the earth had broken open and oozed out old mattresses and sneakers and broken chairs and plastic bottles, waste that formed cliffs where vultures and gulls could perch. 

From what Bronwyn told us, a few statistics were particularly striking. Apparently, 25% of the waste sent to Bees Ferry is recyclable paper. From the amount of plastic bottles we saw strewn around the dirt-trash mountain range, it’s clear that a much higher percentage of that waste is recyclable material in general. Another 28% of what they receive is food waste. They’re the only landfill in the region that will receive food waste, so a lot of it is sent here. It makes sense then that they have a compost operation, which we got to witness next. Taking place within the area that is technically reserved for piling waste, the compost procedure mixes this food waste (nitrogen) with yard waste (carbon) to create a good amount of dark nutritious dirt that they process and resell for $10 a ton (definitely a steal.) The dirt is also used to mix in with the landfills and to help “close” them up when they’ve reached capacity. We learned about the “recipe” for a trash fill, which includes a plastic catchment layer at the bottom that is meant to prevent toxins from the waste from seeping into the environment, and several deep wells that allow for groundwater testing and treatment. 

Even while addressing this regimented management, Bronwyn was in no way disingenuous about the unsustainable nature of the whole operation. According to her, the facility—which is only a decade or so old to begin with—is sure to reach its limit in only 20 years. This was pretty shocking to hear; even worse is that there’s no purported plan for what to do after that. No catchment layer can prevent this literal wasteland from toxifying the environment around it—not to mention the grievances of surrounding communities, from whom the facility receives regular complaints. So even while Bee’s Ferry is a special case in that it composts and has a mixed fill and is quite regulated, it’s still a temporary and even hazardous solution—yet landfills in general are our most standard method of dealing with waste. 

Visibly seeing the masses of trash we generate, and what becomes of it, should not be such an out of the ordinary experience. If it were up to me, school systems would mandate educational field trips to local landfills. Just as people should be more aware of where their food and materials come from, they should know where they go. Seeing and knowing about what comes of the waste we generate is a necessary first step before you can convince people to care about their role in the issue. The culture of mindless disposal is not sustainable—we’d like to cover the problem with grass and call it a bird sanctuary, but when the trucks roll over and cause the whole earth to shake, it’ll be clear that we are no longer standing on solid ground. 

–Genna DeGroot

under: Uncategorized

Even though I’ve only been in the Office for around two weeks, I’ve learned very quickly that the only thing that I knew about sustainability – that it has to do with environmental science – was wrong. Sustainability simply means preserving the world we live in, including the people who depend on it, for generations to come. As a result, it crosses into nearly every field. And perhaps one of the most overlooked aspects of sustainability is one that is also most crucial – its relation to human health.

In 2011, there was a serious measles outbreak in Minneapolis, which resulted in over 3000 individuals being exposed to the disease. A new study published by Pediatrics revealed that the root cause of the epidemic was one unvaccinated child.

According to the authors, the 30-month child demonstrated clear early signs of measles upon returning to the United States from a trip to Kenya, where he presumably contracted the disease. Unfortunately, despite fever, cough, and vomiting, the child prior to effective diagnosis of measles ultimately passed the incredibly contagious virus on to another household member as well as three other children in a child day-care center. The measles quickly spread from individual to individual within the small Somali immigrant community in Minneapolis, a region generally considered to be a low vaccine uptake area.

Although only 21 people were diagnosed with measles directly related to the incident, researchers estimate that it was the largest outbreak of measles in the area for more than 20 years. According to the study, 16 of the 21 diagnosed with measles weren’t vaccinated, despite the fact that 9 of the 16 unvaccinated people were age-eligible for the MMR vaccine. The MMR vaccine not only protects against measles but also mumps, rubella, and chicken pox. Over the group of unvaccinated people diagnosed with measles, 7 were not vaccinated due to safety concerns.

Over the last decade, Somali children living in this specific community have experienced a significant drop in MMR vaccine coverage. While in 2004 over 91 percent of children received vaccination, by 2010 the percentage dropped to 54 percent. Although there are a number of factors that could have led to this significant decrease, likely the main root cause is the misinformation about vaccination that spread throughout the U.S. linking vaccination to autism. (This original paper has been entirely discredited by professional health officials, researchers, and community leaders.)

This alarming information relates to sustainability in a number of ways. First of all, we as a species cannot begin to create and develop solutions to more “traditionally” sustainability issues relating to the environment without our health. Recycling, lobbying against clearcutting, protesting fracking, biodiversity conservation and everything that might immediately come to mind takes a backseat to being healthy enough to take action.

Second, this root cause of this issue – the one unvaccinated child – unveils some of the most fundamental problems behind a large majority of sustainability issues. First, people do not immediately recognize the consequences – both short-term and long-term – of the decisions that they make today, not only on themselves but on other people and the world around them. I’d guess that the parents of that child who chose not to vaccinate him had no idea it would lead to more than 20 other cases. Similarly, one might not know that not cutting plastic soda rings may end up entangling and killing marine animals.

This leads me to my second point – this issue proves my personal opinion that one of the major issues behind nearly every single environmental issue is a lack of communication – whether it’s between different fields, within the sustainability field, between the public and private sectors, or with the general public. Misinformation, in my opinion, is a major killer. 

Fortunately, this also means there is a very simple solution to very complicated problems – communication and collaboration. If that Somali community in Minneapolis had been exposed to enough information that there is absolutely no link between vaccination and autism, they might have taken the time to vaccinate their child, especially if they had known how dangerous measles can become in serious cases. If people are aware that bottled water and tap water are essentially the same, they might stop buying plastic bottles of water. 

Not only can we educate people (and ourselves!) about the simple roles that we can play in living sustainable lifestyles, but who knows – maybe the next great environmental breakthrough will come from someone who might not have traditionally had access to the right information. Regardless, I’m a firm believer that communication is key. 

-Emily Li

under: Uncategorized

Clean Up Your Next Trip to the Beach

Posted by: cohenoa | June 19, 2014 | No Comment |
090904-01-great-pacific-garbage-patch-gyre-ocean-trash_big

An image of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which has recently grown to the size of Texas. You can help prevent ocean pollution by participating in beach sweeps.

What do a toothbrush, a fishing hook, a shovel, a piece of caution tape, a flip-flop, a water bottle and a tent have in common? Well, unless you plan on constructing some kind of contraption with random items, the answer is, “Things I’ve found on Folly Beach.”  Weird right? Wrong. These items are commonly found on the edge of America and rarely given a second thought by beach-goers. Isn’t that sad? We live in a society where beach litter is so common that many people rarely give a second thought about it.

Lucky for us, South Carolina beaches aren’t plagued with as much litter as some other beaches states, especially Hawaii. Due to the islands’ close proximity to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, large amounts of plastic and other waste wash onto the white sandy shores. On the more northern beaches, there is so much litter that the plastic has integrated itself into the sand, giving the beaches a multicolored look.

 According to Ocean Conservancy, a non-profit organization that works to educate the public on the importance of healthy oceans, the most common items found on beaches are cigarettes and cigarette filters. Commonly people toss their cigarettes on the ground, assuming they will decompose because the outside is made of paper. In reality, the filter doesn’t decompose at the same rate as the rest of the product, leaving it to pollute the oceans. After cigarettes, the nine most common things found on beaches are as follows: food wrappers, plastic beverage bottles, plastic bags, bottle caps, cutlery, straws, glass beverage bottles, beverage cans and paper bags. These items are used around the world every day so it is no surprise that they can be found in mass amounts on sandy shores.  

With this amount of waste washing onto beaches around the world, one can only imagine the volume of waste currently residing in waterways. While the Great Pacific Garbage Patch is one of the most well known issues involving ocean pollution, there are actually 5 gyres around the world, each collecting trash. In some places, the pieces of plastic outnumber the marine life. This debris causes a lot more problems than altering the appearance of your favorite beach. For marine life, coming into contact with debris can be a fatal experience. Not only does the pollution disrupt natural habitats, but also sea creatures can become entangled in debris such as fishing line and bottle rings, causing them to suffocate. Some marine life, such as sea turtles, face endangerment due to ingestion of these items. Sea turtles specifically will eat plastic bags, which they believe to be jellyfish – a fatal mistake. As more marine life ingests the debris, small amounts of plastic are increasingly found in seafood that we eat regularly, which poses a threat to human health.

Now this is all very depressing and sad and I’m sure you’re thinking, “Wow, there is so much trash in the ocean and I’m only one person. I can’t do anything.” WRONG. By spreading awareness about this issue and actively participating in clean up efforts, you can do a lot. The Ocean Conservancy hosts an annual International Coastal Cleanup where thousands of volunteers around the world participate in beach sweep in hopes of making a dent in the large amount of debris returning to the oceans.  In 2014, 648,015 volunteers collected 12,329,332 pounds of trash over 12,914 miles of beaches. If picking up trash isn’t your favorite thing to do, you can pledge to stop using some of the most commonly found items including plastic water bottles, plastic grocery bags and straws.  Small changes affect everything and those small changes start with us. So the next time you are taking a walk on Folly Beach and see a water bottle or straw, pick it up. Make sure to check out this link for 10 things you can do for trash free seas.

-Virginia Whorley

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