Blog 5: A Land Remembered

A Land Remembered
A Land Remembered

A Land Remembered is a story of three generations of MacIveys and their relationship to the environment around them. The first generation’s main character is Tobias MacIvey and he is who I related to most in the book. Tobias begins the book dirt poor and barely surviving off the land. His main priority throughout the book is providing for his family however he can. After he moves from Georgia to Florida, he starts penning cattle wandering around the swamp in the hopes of selling them. He befriends a Seminole Indian named Keith Tiger and a runaway slave named Skillit who help him with his cattle wrangling. That part of the book was important because it contrasted the hatred of the people Skillit and Keith were hiding from to Tobias’s attitude and which recurred throughout the book in different forms. Tobias goes on to make a pretty good living selling cattle and oranges from his orange grove, his character shows that you can make a good living without harming the environment and sets the stage for his descendants’ stories.

Tobias had a complicated relationship with the environment. When he first arrived in Florida there was barely anything for his family to eat so that was surely frustrating for him. Over time, though, the environment provided for him – almost like a Thank You for being respectful of the environment and in general a good person. He found cattle in the swamp and Keith taught him how to graze them without ruining the environment and eventually used his cattle money to plant an orange grove. He made his living in the most literal sense off the land and while he was respectful of it he ended up being a middle ground between his son Zech who was very committed to preserving natural land and his grandson Sol who wanted to exploit the land for profit. It’s that same middle ground that I like to think I occupy when it comes to environmentalism.

Florida Scrubland

Florida Scrubland, Copyright Ted C. MacRae
This book, at least the parts covering Tobias’s life, is all about his sense of place. He moves the family to Florida because he knows the Civil War will ruin his homeland and he moves them to a place he can barely feed his family at first because of the sandy soil and wild animals. When the house burns down that was the ultimate destruction of his sense of place but all that adversity shapes and informs his perspective and sets him up to prosper in his new land. Whereas he begins the book cursing wild hogs for knocking down his fence he ends the book refusing to fence his land because he doesn’t believe that anyone should own it. An important thing to note is that it seemed as though his attitude toward his sense of place was affected by how much he could get out of the land, rather than the other way around, which I found interesting. Finishing his life with a strong sense of place and being grateful toward the environment left a legacy of sustainability to his son Zech that he carried on throughout his life and which ultimately culminated in Sol’s end of life repentance.

As mentioned, I view Tobias as the middle ground character out of the three main characters, somewhere between Zech the dedicated preservationist and Sol the exploiter. This is how I think of myself on environmental issues – I don’t go out of the way to either preserve the land or exploit it, but rather just coexist with it. I also related with Tobias when he stood up to the men chasing Keith Tiger and Bird Jumper as growing up in a military family I’ve met and befriended people from all walks of life and like to think I’d act the same way if I face a similar situation.

Picture credit:
http://www.amazon.com/Land-Remembered-Patrick-D-Smith/dp/1561641162
https://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/florida-scrub-lizard/

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Blog 5: A Land Remembered

A Land Remembered
A Land Remembered

A Land Remembered is a story of three generations of MacIveys and their relationship to the environment around them. The first generation’s main character is Tobias MacIvey and he is who I related to most in the book. Tobias begins the book dirt poor and barely surviving off the land. His main priority throughout the book is providing for his family however he can. After he moves from Georgia to Florida, he starts penning cattle wandering around the swamp in the hopes of selling them. He befriends a Seminole Indian named Keith Tiger and a runaway slave named Skillit who help him with his cattle wrangling. That part of the book was important because it contrasted the hatred of the people Skillit and Keith were hiding from to Tobias’s attitude and which recurred throughout the book in different forms. Tobias goes on to make a pretty good living selling cattle and oranges from his orange grove, his character shows that you can make a good living without harming the environment and sets the stage for his descendants’ stories.

Tobias had a complicated relationship with the environment. When he first arrived in Florida there was barely anything for his family to eat so that was surely frustrating for him. Over time, though, the environment provided for him – almost like a Thank You for being respectful of the environment and in general a good person. He found cattle in the swamp and Keith taught him how to graze them without ruining the environment and eventually used his cattle money to plant an orange grove. He made his living in the most literal sense off the land and while he was respectful of it he ended up being a middle ground between his son Zech who was very committed to preserving natural land and his grandson Sol who wanted to exploit the land for profit. It’s that same middle ground that I like to think I occupy when it comes to environmentalism.

Florida Scrubland Florida Scrubland, Copyright Ted C. MacRae

This book, at least the parts covering Tobias’s life, is all about his sense of place. He moves the family to Florida because he knows the Civil War will ruin his homeland and he moves them to a place he can barely feed his family at first because of the sandy soil and wild animals. When the house burns down that was the ultimate destruction of his sense of place but all that adversity shapes and informs his perspective and sets him up to prosper in his new land. Whereas he begins the book cursing wild hogs for knocking down his fence he ends the book refusing to fence his land because he doesn’t believe that anyone should own it. An important thing to note is that it seemed as though his attitude toward his sense of place was affected by how much he could get out of the land, rather than the other way around, which I found interesting. Finishing his life with a strong sense of place and being grateful toward the environment left a legacy of sustainability to his son Zech that he carried on throughout his life and which ultimately culminated in Sol’s end of life repentance.

As mentioned, I view Tobias as the middle ground character out of the three main characters, somewhere between Zech the dedicated preservationist and Sol the exploiter. This is how I think of myself on environmental issues – I don’t go out of the way to either preserve the land or exploit it, but rather just coexist with it. I also related with Tobias when he stood up to the men chasing Keith Tiger and Bird Jumper as growing up in a military family I’ve met and befriended people from all walks of life and like to think I’d act the same way if I face a similar situation.

Picture credit:
http://www.amazon.com/Land-Remembered-Patrick-D-Smith/dp/1561641162
https://beetlesinthebush.wordpress.com/2009/11/19/florida-scrub-lizard/

Blog 4: Land Ethics

Reading the excerpt from Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac I thought some of his criticism was poorly targeted, weakening his overall argument. His central thesis that we should be ethical toward plants, animals, and the environment in general is a good one that I don’t think many would disagree with – all else equal being ethical is superior being unethical – but leaves a lot of obvious counterpoints unaddressed.

His strongest point was “[p]erhaps the most serious obstacle impeding the evolution of a land ethic is the fact that our educational and economic system is headed away from, rather than toward, an intense consciousness of land. Your true modern is separated from the land by many middlemen, and by innumerable physical gadgets. He has no vital relation to it; to him it is the space between cities on which crops grow.” (pg 75) This part didn’t address the main point of why we should treat the land ethically directly, but it was a strong point because of how fundamentally true it is. Some may criticize him as a Luddite for blaming technology and modernity in general for the failures of “the evolution of a land ethic” but I think it’s a valid point to bring up. The people I personally know that are most ethical towards the land and the environment in their actions are not my politically left-leaning friends and family or those among them that constantly share Sierra Club posts in my Facebook feed. It’s generally my older relatives that grew up intimately with the environment, who as children had acres of natural forests, rivers, and swamps to explore. People like my grandpa who grew up in the Ohio River Valley before moving to South Florida and working as a surveyor in the Everglades in his early 20s. That kind of experience in a natural environment affects you. It’s people like my uncle who grew up on a farm in Iowa and has lived on farms ever since. He doesn’t have the ideological support for land ethics like the author does but he knows intuitively that keeping acres and acres of natural forest on his land is ultimately a good thing, even though he could make more money by planting crops there instead.

Upper Iowa River
The Upper Iowa River, not far from where my uncle lives.

In the same vein, the author wildly underestimates the depth of economic theory, even considering when the book was published. He asserts that “[o]ne basic weakness in a conservation system based wholly on economic motives is that most members of the land community have no economic value.” (pg 65) In reality, economists have explored non-monetary valuations since at least Adam Smith and one of the basic tenets of value theory is that market price is not the same as economic value. If my mother’s house went up in flames she wouldn’t save the jewelry or television or any other high-price things, she’d go straight for her photo albums and things with similar sentimental value. Even though a photo album probably would fetch no more than $20 on the open market she values them more than the hundreds or even thousand of dollars she could get for saving other objects. Just because she values something more than its market price doesn’t mean this isn’t an economic decision. In the same way, asserting that white cedar, tamarack, cypress, beech, and hemlock have no economic value because they aren’t commodities is simply wrong. In the same part of the book, the author attacks attempts at making a pro-environment argument using economics as circumlocutions. However, I think economic arguments are the strongest ways to make pro-environment arguments. So long as the data backs up the claim, people will be far more likely to change their habits if your argument is along the lines of “Our overuse of pesticides is killing birds. Without these birds imagine how annoying mosquitoes will be, not to mention the unforeseeable domino effect on the food chain.” Rather than “Our overuse of pesticides is killing birds. These birds have a right to live and it’s unethical to take that from them.” People act in their own self-interest so framing a point around that will be far more effective.

I didn’t really understand when the author said, “Perhaps the most important of these is the new evidence that poundage or tonnage is no measure of the food-value of farm crops; the products of fertile soil may be qualitatively as well as quantitatively superior.” (pg 74) I think he’s making the point that one pound of crops grown in fertile soil has more food value than, say, a pound and a quarter of the same crops grown in depleted soil, which makes sense, but he doesn’t elaborate or explain why this is “perhaps the most important” discontent in agriculture or how this weaves into his overall argument instead leaving that to “abler pens.”

Overall, I think Aldo Leopold wrote in support of a worthy goal but his arguments were wanting. Several times he attacked something pejoratively, such as the ornithology studies, without explaining what was wrong with it and other times his hyperbole or dismissiveness simply made his argument seem weak, such as comparing land ethics to Odysseus hanging slaves or the aforementioned economic valuations. It was a thought-provoking excerpt, though, and a good read.

Picture from: http://vantrekker.com/2013/09/14/upper-iowa-river-pictures/

Blog 3: Louv – Last Child in the Woods

Reading through the assigned excerpt of Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods I was mostly struck by how much sense it made. His basic point is that being in nature is good for kids. I tend to be a critical person by default so this made me think back to my childhood to see if I could find any counter-evidence. Growing up I lived all over the place because my dad was in the army and most of the places we lived, probably intentionally – my mom is a big Richard Louv fan, were very “green;” by which I mean we lived near a small forest, creek, or pond. We often visited my grandma’s family in small town Iowa where for a week or two we were outside more than we were inside. I can remember when we lived in Kansas playing paintball in the forest separating Fort Leavenworth from the Missouri River and during the winter playing on the ice where the Missouri’s offshoots had frozen. In Virginia we would run around the forest that our neighborhood backed up to, playing and exploring and doing what kids do. The exception to this was when we lived in Seoul, South Korea – the second most populated metro area in the world and the eleventh most densely populated city with more than a million people. Before we moved to Korea I had been a pretty good student, getting mostly As and a few Bs but my two years in Seoul that shifted to getting mostly Bs and more Cs than As. It’s very possible that that was simply because I entered middle school and courses were harder or I didn’t take it seriously because my friends didn’t or any number of reasons but looking back after reading Louv’s argument I think it’s possible that it was because we lived in downtown Seoul with very few green areas.

Yongsan Garrison
A view of part of Yongsan Garrison, Seoul, South Korea.

I’ve long thought that ADHD was overdiagnosed and overmedicated. Growing up, my brother – who grew up in the same mostly green environments I did – was very fidgety in class and would get bored and stop paying attention. Some of his teachers suggested getting him diagnosed and on some sort of ADHD medication but most just chalked it up to being a boy. Had he been born ten years later I’m of the opinion that he would have been essentially forced into getting examined and that examination would have resulted in an ADHD diagnosis. A few years later, he grew out of being so fidgety and restless and it turns out that he just didn’t like school, preferring to work with his hands. I think it would’ve been a disservice to him to treat him with medication for that, even if he really does or did have mild ADHD.

As Louv says repeatedly, more research on the subject is needed because we really don’t understand ADHD all that well. After reading the excerpt from his book, he’s convinced me that having kids spend more time in nature and incorporating more nature into our everyday lives in general can help those with ADHD by allowing them to live more normal lives. Certainly there will still be people whose ADHD is so severe that it requires medication but all else being equal, I think the vast majority of people would agree that treating a kid with a daily 20 minute walk in the park is better than treating him with a daily dose of Ritalin. Louv notes, “[m]ore time in nature […] may go a long way toward reducing attention deficits in children, and, just as important, increasing their joy in life.” I wholeheartedly agree.

Fort Leavenworth
A picture taken on Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

After detailing the existing evidence in support of his position Louv says, “[e]ven the most extensive research is unlikely to capture the full benefits of direct, natural experience” which he accentuates with an Einstein quote. This strikes me as a cop-out. It’s a common tactic in a debate which could hinge on the outcome of the future event to hedge your position by laying out a justification in case that future event doesn’t go your way. Louv frames this hedge so that if future research supports his position he can say that the research is positive in spite of the research not capturing the full benefits and if future research refutes his position he can say that it would have been positive if it could fully capture the benefits of the nature. This is akin to what SEC football fans do every season: if the best SEC team goes undefeated then they’re the best team in the country which is proof that the SEC is the best and if no SEC team goes undefeated then that’s also proof that the SEC is the best because the SEC is such a tough conference that it’s expected that every team will lose at least a game. I think Louv’s argument is strong enough that he didn’t need this logical fallacy to make his case, in fact I think him using that weakens his argument.

“They also found, that the positive influence of near-home nature on concentration may be more pronounced for girls (ages six to nine) than for boys” was something that Louv covered that I found a little unclear. He had previously implied that ADHD disproportionately affected boys and seemed to be focusing his argument along that line then throws in research that showed that girls benefited more from near-home nature than boys. This result suggests another variable is at work and undermines his argument that nature is a good treatment for ADHD to some extent, although it bolsters his argument that nature is good for all kids – an argument not many would argue with. So based on this, I imagine that either I read too much into his assumptions or he was unclear at some point because it would be extremely unusual to present evidence that complicates your argument as supporting it.

Ultimately, reading Richard Louv’s excerpt corroborated things that I had read in other places and preexisting biases from my childhood that I have. For example, a few years ago the twitter account @GhettoHikes became extremely popular because it was funny but the underlying situation supports Louv’s argument: getting kids in an urban environment out in nature is good for them. In addition, one of the things that struck me most about Edmund Morris’s biographies of Teddy Roosevelt was how much credit both Morris and Roosevelt gave to being in nature in regards to Roosevelt’s successful life. I think that as research continues it will show that being in nature is an important health, economic, and societal benefit and will help incentivize making cities greener. If a business can get 10% more productivity out of employees by converting an auxiliary building to a garden then they will do it if it makes economic sense.

picture credits:
http://www.army.mil/yongsan
http://www.dailydwelling.com/a-walk-around-ft-leavenworth/

Blog Post 2: My Environmental Stance

As I said in the first post I’m really not all that green – I consider myself environmentally agnostic – but I do do some environmentally conscious things. For example, I take short showers and throw my trash away but I do those to save time and to not be an inconsiderate jerk, respectively. The environmental consequences don’t really factor into my decision. You can see that better in my recycling habits. If I have something, say a cardboard box, that should be recycled I’m happy to recycle it but if I pass a trash can before a recycling can I have no qualms about throwing it away, either. I suppose that my decisions could affect the environment long-term, but I don’t really see my personal impact being much more than marginal. The likelihood that me throwing away a plastic bottle instead of recycling it is the straw that breaks the camel’s back and leads us into an unrecoverable nosedive to extinction is so infinitesimal that making a decision based on it doesn’t make sense.

As odd as it may seem, somebody I’ve found myself agreeing with on environmental issues was George Carlin. Yes, that George Carlin:

“We’re so self-important. Everybody’s going to save something now. “Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save those snails.” And the greatest arrogance of all: save the planet.
[…]
The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles … hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worldwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages … And we think some plastic bags and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet isn’t going anywhere. WE are!
[…]
The planet will be here for a long, long, LONG time after we’re gone, and it will heal itself, it will cleanse itself, ’cause that’s what it does. It’s a self-correcting system. The air and the water will recover, the earth will be renewed. And if it’s true that plastic is not degradable, well, the planet will simply incorporate plastic into a new paradigm: the earth plus plastic. The earth doesn’t share our prejudice toward plastic. Plastic came out of the earth. The earth probably sees plastic as just another one of its children. Could be the only reason the earth allowed us to be spawned from it in the first place. It wanted plastic for itself. Didn’t know how to make it. Needed us. Could be the answer to our age-old egocentric philosophical question, “Why are we here?”

George CarlinObviously, Carlin is a comedian and no great environmental thinker. He was simply saying that to get a laugh, but as George Bernard Shaw said, “My way of joking is to tell the truth. That’s the funniest joke in the world.” I think his points about the Earth being self-sustaining are important and I also think that he’s right to some extent when talking about the arrogance of us humans to think that we can impact the planet. However, just because we can do something doesn’t mean we should. It’s certainly not great to pump tons of pollutants into the air every day regardless of whether or not the planet will be permanently affected. Considering all the horrible things a lot of people are doing to the environment it’s hard to get excited about turning off a light or recycling as much as possible. That said, perhaps it’s exactly because of those people harming the environment that we should get excited about doing anything possible to offset it.

In all honesty, I’m not all that sure about ways to make myself more environmentally aware. I suppose the best way is just to continue educating myself about it. Just from having one lecture in this course I’m already starting to consider my actions a little bit more. Hopefully this course continues to have that effect on me.

photo credit: http://georgecarlin.com/media-2/

Blog Entry 1: Course Expectations

I’m a little apprehensive taking colloquium this semester. I’ve never been a person who really felt at one with nature or anything like that. Give me a couch, a cold beer, and a football game and I’m a happy camper. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t litter and in general I’m considerate about what I do but I don’t go out of my way to “go green” and such. However, I think it’ll be a great opportunity to get out of my comfort zone and learn things that really matter on a global scale. I’m not entirely sure what to expect from this course, but I imagine it’s going to focus on sustainaThe Evergladesbility and ways that we can ensure the planet’s future. In the wake of unprecedented human development and growth this is more important than ever. I believe this is a mandatory course for all FGCU students because of our local ecosystems. We live in and around some very unique ecosystems, from the everglades to the cypress islands to estuaries that are in the most literal sense irreplaceable and it’s important to understand the interactions that make them unique and the challenges they face. In addition, this is a region of the country with a lot of growth and development which puts those ecosystems in jeopardy. By educating all FGCU students about sustainability we make it less likely that these ecosystems are irreversibly changed or destroyed.

The photo comes from this Miami New Times article.

-Brendan