Monday, March 9, 2015

The Tragic Optimism of Human Innovation

Climate change is an opportunity clothed as a crisis. On both sides of the climate change discussion there is a sense of optimism that has thwarted the safety of our nations fiscal investments and human quality of life.  Supporters of adaptation under a warming world are convinced efforts in clean energy will end an era of environmental neglect that alters earth cycles while supporters of slow adaptation want to move forward in the same direction. Our tragic human optimism in our innovations have gotten us here stateside in some sticky situations, yet it wasn't until all sectors were on one accord that local, national and global advancements were made that benefited both humans and nature.

There are three very unique environmental catastrophes that have threatened the productivity of our natural systems, human health and well being as well as our other beloved

  • The Dust Bowl Era- Farming practices and severe drought led to soil erosion affected 100,000,000 acres, created what was called "black blizzards, dislocated 3.5 million people which is about 3% of the population in 1935. This also impacted the economy, the price of land dropped, and whats interesting is that some of the economic downturn was a result of the inability or unwillingness to adapt through shifting to other agricultural products.  Even when the system was not capable of sustaining for the legacy crops and practices some just were not ready to accept that.  This teaches us that "riding it till the wheels falls off" approach is using your optimism to double down on disaster.  The response of President Roosevelt was not to ignore this issue it was to address the practices and utilize the expert scientist to discover how this happened and the ecological strategies that connected to it for resolution. The government invested in science and used the crisis as an opportunity to protect agricultural assets and rebuild a sector of our society to protect food, job, and environmental security for generations to come.  They recognized the threat, they saw people suffering and more importantly the innovation was the relationship between the community, the government and scientists.
  • The general use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane "DDT" - Yet another cascade effect of human innovation gone awry, and a story of heartfelt passion for the use of science to show the connection between human actions, environmental consequences and what we call a crisis in ecology.  The application of this chemical indeed has saved lives protecting soldiers during the later half of World War II from contracting malaria and typhus.  Oddly enough the insecticidal properties of this chemical was learned in 1939 by a swiss chemist Paul Hermann Müller. I'm starting to see the mid to late 1900's as the age of environmental enlightenment. A time in which our intellectual advancements in science and ecology allowed for us to decide how we can reconcile our societal profits at the consequence of our environmental quality. We seemed to genuinely want to not destroy the society we fought so fiercely to protect.  With the publication of Silent Spring by author and biologist Rachel Carson our worlds were turned upside down, now connecting our beloved insecticide solution to harming animals and causing cancer.  With diligent research as well as necessary government intervention after 30 years of its use the chemical was banned in the United States.  Yet another example of how policy, scientists and the community at large worked together to address this system wide issue.  
  • Ozone depletion- Oddly my favorite story of socio-environmental accomplishments this was a global issue unlike the localized former two.  The transport of man made chemicals into the stratosphere created a global crisis for the books.  All of earth humans, terrestrial and aquatic life was assumed to be threatened. 

"The international response to the ozone threat has been perhaps the most successful of all global environmental efforts" - Levin Institute SUNY

          With 96 of ozone depletion chemicals being completely phased out in developed countries   people across the world developing nations now are following suit as well. We say we are leaders....and I love the game follow the leader unless they are leading me into a pit of poverty.  The Montreal Protocol initiated resulted in an annual decrease of CFC's from 1.1 million tons to 35,000 tons.

Energy has gotten us to where we are today and I understand the profit driven, capitalist, industrialized society we have created. Yet we have not gotten here by accident and without some tragic consequences. Risking water quality, environmental integrity expecting nature to figure it out is a tragic optimistic and reductionist insult to our dynamic earth. To visit our solutions with a fine tooth comb may allow each side to see the fears of the other.  Again this crisis is an opportunity. I love this earth, I love my city, and I love my country! I owned a business and I loved my profits. What I am saying is that I believe in our ability to create huge problems though our innovation but I also believe in is our leadership in acknowledging; our disinvestment in poor practices that result in the destruction and impairment of earth systems. We need to regroup with our scientists and evolve a new society ready to show the world just how badass the United States is. We save the world and it is our time again to put on the damn cape, stand behind our scientists and innovate in a way that saves us green, and makes us more of the kind that we love so much.

Monday, January 26, 2015

GMO Mosquitoes..Fear? Or Science Chauvanism?

I thought it was a great article to communicate the contentious apprehension we have with "GMO". Yes genetically modified organism. It is true that science currently has the power to directly access genetic material DNA to change something about an organism. We also have been influencing and modifying genes for sometime albeit less directly. Think about your pet for example. Your domestic dog or car is the result of passive genetic alteration through intentional breeding. The desired body size, coat texture or coat color, and temperament  are results of intentionally mixing genes to get the dog of your choice. 

Enter in the convo of GMO foods as a scientist I understand the double edged sword of resolving threats to crop quantity/quantity (such as pests or poor soil quality because the environment sucks) while not fully knowing the potential threats it may cause in human health or economic sector. 

Nonetheless GMO food wouldn't be needed if our natural resources were being respected and we did not live in a capitalistic global economy. (Ok stick with me I'm getting to the bugs )

People's fear of GMO at times is astonishing. In 2013 the FDA approved the first ever GMO flu vaccine. I didn't hear too many people complaining about this advancement nor did I hear any uproar about it in 2014 as we entered flu season. It's almost as if it was no big deal. 

I see this as what I call "science chauvinism". I've booked (face booked) about #FWP first world problems. It isn't until we see the direct and immediate removal of a threat to our own livelihoods that we will trust the science and scientists. The further removed we are from the system or the reality of the systems impact on other humans and their local economies the more biased and trustless we become. We have the privilege of thinking 10-20 steps ahead of science because science has saved our lives and environment. While the status of health and poverty are not absent from first world nations we are way beyond worrying about our children dying from the flu or measles. 

Now the bugs....
1. Only females feed on human blood and therefore are the target for this strategy 
2. The DNA modified in the lab population targets the larvae of the insect not allowing it to mature 
3. If the larvae of this Mosquito that carries the disease can not live they can not fly they can not bite
4. Non biting males will be released to mate with females 
5. An infected person can come from somewhere else without knowledge...a mosquito that is already here in the states can bite them and transmit it to another person 

6. I believe people want certainty about what happens if this insects DNA interacts with humans. I say to that "science never has 100% certainty I wasn't certain I was going to be in the population of women with complications from an epidural but I was; you are given the risks with all your meds but you take them. We have science that wouldn't need to exist if climate change and invasive species wasn't an issue but we do. When you think about GMO's in the future or any science for that fact take a step back and ask yourself are you being a science chauvinist because you'll trust it if your life were immediately threatened. I support science literacy but I support human exploration of solutions. The sooner we come to grips with the trade offs our IMPERFECT science possess the better. We are scientists not psychics."

Monday, December 8, 2014

Conservation Contradictions in Crook County Chicago

I am a city girl through and through! I love that Chicago has initiatives to support natural and native landscapes that promote biodiversity. However we have some miscommunication on this in the city as it relates to "weeds" and the management of private lands.  There is a weed ordinance that if found to be in violation will result in a property owner to be fined anywhere from minimum $600 upwards to $1200 plus $40 in court fees.  I am a supporter of using policies to motivate homeowners to take care of their property however this ordinance is quite unreasonable.  It states that any unmanaged vegetation and or presence of weeds in excess of 10 inches will result in a fine.  Whats crazy is that we are the prairie state and most of our native plants are well over 10 inches.  
There is nothing more insulting as a Chicagoan than to have the city kiss you and cut you at the same time. The city is actively promoting the planting of native landscaping but will also fine you for it.  This was made clear when the award winning gardener Kathy Cummings was fined for her garden.  When she went to court the judge pointed to a plant and asked her the name.....she replied "milkweed" he responded to her that "it has weed in the name" without any interest in understanding that the plant is native and an integral resource for pollinators especially the monarch butterfly. Which by the way numerous elementary schools and nature centers use as a model organism for city conservation.  I'm baffled at the disinterest of our city to make sure that we are helping to create a conservation ethic that supports our local economy and environment but this is down right unfair and insulting.  
The Illinois Department of Natural Resources has a list as we are well aware of that identifies the species that are truly weeds in our state yet the city makes no attempt to fine according to the ordinances set forth by IDNR. If its too tall your money will go short really quickly.  For me I am incensed primarily because in parts of the city where property taxes are as low as $1000 this $600 fine can be devastating. The city does not pass out warnings and it does not consider the location of your property relative to income in the city.  I am for generating revenue due to fly dumping and blatant disregard for your landscaping if it is truly unkempt. However, to push homeowners to plant only to charge them seems shady so no wonder why we call it Crook County!  
I hope that we continue to communicate the importance of conservation to the public in ways that result in addressing inconsistencies such as this one and help create solutions that result in a healthy environment and fair policies furthermore I hope to approach city council to continue this conversation in a positive and supportive manner seeing as though  the city is often in violation of their own ordinance as well as multiple utility companies that do not manage their natural areas up to the ordinance as it stands.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Rooted in The Earth: A Book Review

       Rooted in the Earth: 5 Green Thumbs Up

Rooted in the Earth is a grounding book for all readers who are looking to unearth the truth about African American environmental heritage.  Written so eloquently by Dianne D. Glave this book is filled with knowledge and captivates your imagination with a bit of story telling.  Her ability to capture our deepest connections with the environment in all its facets is not surprising as her affinity for the natural world was shaped at an early age which she gently shares in the preface of her book.

A history lesson is on every page yet authored to give acknowledgement to those who are accused of being invisible.  Ms. Glave synthesizes over a century of African American environmentalism in 10 chapters and what may have taken the average person years to dig up.  Her wide eyed perspective covers aquatic and terrestrial efforts, and includes a chapter on religion, conservation, children and women. I appreciate the final chapter Environmental Justice not being the first.  The composition of the book allows for your adoration and pride in the stories she's cultivated and the truths she has harvested. We were not always disconnected and her respect for this field shows that we are not all disconnected.

Author: Diane D. Glave
Her point that African Americans have possessed an environmental and land ethic is clear.  The statements that Blacks don't care about the environment, or that we lack a prioritization of such are false and her thoughtful research supports such.  Her gathered knowledge captures what we in the Black community know all to well. When someone speaks for you and about you they probably don't know what they are talking about.  Ms. Glave articulates more than what happened when but also gives insight to how people of color connect with nature over time and how deeply rooted our culture is to the earth and its resources.

This book is an ideal read for anyone who is interested in understanding African American communities beyond that of Environmental Justice and Food Deserts.  It is an excellent book for advanced high school students as well as undergraduate and graduate levels in philosophy, recreation, history, ecology and African American studies.  Her stories at the beginning of every chapter are narratives that lets your imagination usher you into the reality on the following pages.  The photos are timeless and I found myself wanting to see more of who we use to be when we were living in a world where our families, health, livestock and homes were rooted in the earth themselves.  There aren't many books like this written to give account to the diversity of our efforts beyond the discussion of slavery and agriculture. For that anyone who wants the truth....Diane D. Glave just gave it to you.

                Have a book you want me to review?  Inbox me on twitter @greenkels

Friday, September 5, 2014

Hot Heads Make Low Scores?

The average classroom temperature for students in Chicago depends on which school you attend.  Climate controlled classes are not in the majority of schools.  While I'm sure the administrators have cool offices with window units, students and teachers are left to swelter in rooms with little air flow and rising temperatures.  So what is the big deal about how hot a students classroom is? Does this have anything to do with climate change?  Chicago and other midwest cities suffer through winters and welcome a warm seat for studies.  Summer time however is an entirely different scenario.  Below is a graph of the Back to School temps in Chicago only for the month of September. These are averages for max (blue) median (red) and min (green) temperatures.  While at first glance it may not seem as if there is much difference between the years but the main point is that over the past nearly 20 years the temperature has gone up and not down.  Now I know what you are thinking.....whats the big deal and why does it matter?

It matters because outdoor temperatures influence indoor classroom temperatures and air quality.  How is it that all prisoners are kept at ideal temperatures that keep them comfy regardless of the weather, but our most prized people in society, those whom we are educating and investing in to become the next generation of leaders, workers and employers have to suffer when they are inside being held captive (total pun intended but I digress). My point is that our children regardless of age and or ethnicity deserve to have healthy working conditions just as any other employed population does.  Because of the expressed concern over a warming climate I think people have missed the connection between hot classrooms and performance levels of students.  Now it is an issue in my opinion for a few reasons; schools are beginning earlier or going year round back in the day students were not indoors during the hottest months of the year. Next is the unexpected fluctuations of heat extremes, we can predict the weather but we don't know how hot November 2014 will be until we experience it.  Finally it is staying warmer longer into fall in some places where fall use to be cooler, this exposes all children to increased temperatures during the school year as well. Looking at the figure below from the Chicago Climate Action Plan one can see what the impact of emissions of green house gases (gases that trap heat in the earths atmospher) on the heat wave events of Chicago. 

While the figure does not indicate when these heat events will occur it does express that heat waves will become more frequent and it is more likely ecologically speaking that there will be more intense heat waves during warmer times of the year.  Could you imagine sitting in a classroom that is 85 degrees F? There is no city worker that has to endure such conditions but our children do! There are 664 schools in the city of Chicago that serve over 400,000 students and approximately 40% of those students are African American and 45% of them Hispanic/Latino.  Students of color make up nearly 90% of public school students. However the city of Chicago and CPS have been working fervently to address what I see as a public health issue as well as an environmental justice issue.  Of the 664 schools in the past two years 157 of them have received air conditioning. The effort is a part of a $20 million investment that also distributes those monies for a/c equitably across the landscape. 

The design of more efficient learning spaces is crucial for us as a society as we try to create intelligent thinkers and problem solvers. The quality of your environment impacts the level of your performance mentally, and physically.  For students in disadvantaged settings where they live in a food desert and have an unhealthy diet, as well as a built environment with little nature, unsafe neighborhoods and schools that make you sweat one need not wonder as to how underperformance is so common in certain communities.

If we are serious as a society about sustainability we have to address the inequity in our built environment, in our education system as well as our health system. We can not have cities that thrive simply because they are siphoning resources from another group of people in the city.  We can not have a population of residents that we don't invest in and allow for them to reach their full potential.  I'm pleased at the advances CPS has made however 100% should be the goal before the summer of 2020 in my opinion. Another aspect of this conversation is the ability of the systems to be adopted in these very old buildings.  As we transform our built structures to be more efficient or serve us more appropriately there is no one size fits all.  The electrical loads from these conversions can be immense and many schools must be completely rewired for these systems to put into place.  

For the most part we need to understand as a community of color how climate influences our lives and wellbeing in the city. We need to learn what our role is in adapting to those changes and be clear with our policy makers and decision makers what we need from them to protect our homes, health and businesses from the looming threats climate change imposes. Stay cool and I hope this school year brings us all great memories and new insight.

Online resources: 
Indoor Air Quality Scientific Finding

Healthy Schools

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Be Ready: Prepare, Survive, Recover

"Be ready and keep ready, you and all your hosts that are assembled about you, and be a guard for them" Ezekiel 38:7 

For communities of color it seems like we are always in a state of reaction. There is seemingly something to be said for those of us who plan and prepare in society regardless of ethnicity. But what I have seen far too often is the displacement of preparation.  While I have yet to join a congregation I am a spiritual lady and yes I am also a scientist. I proudly am a woman of God and sometimes go to the Word to help get the message across to my own community.  May I remind the public that yes every community needs to be talked to in a language that they can understand and that is why I decided to do a blog of this nature. I speak as a Black woman, a city girl and a mother. I speak as a scientist as well as a woman of God. I speak as an activist for change and an advocate for equality. I hope that my intentions and love for the communities which I belong come across in my sharing of information. Simply because there are few opportunities for us to even have these sorts of discussions. 

There are tragic consequences to our local governments inability to adequately respond and prepare communities of color to disaster events.  In 1965 Hurricane Betsy (see the video below), Katrina's big sister was a template  for  how urban disasters and communities of color would look in the future with continuous absence of investment in infrastructure as well as the consequences of lack of preparation by the people. While we can argue about the barriers to preparation in 1965, I wholeheartedly believe this is not the case in todays society.

Another example of an urban disaster would be the 1995 Chicago heat wave in which socio-economic status determined if you died in that ridiculous heat.  I remember my mother being called for duty to respond to the many calls for assistance during that week. I also remember news casters cracking eggs and cooking them on the sidewalk. There wasn't much one could do to prepare for such an event because if you couldn't afford an air conditioner you were out of luck. However the city as many do have seasonal cooling and warming centers along with transportation for those who need relief from the days weather events.  As you can see the 1995 heat wave was a beast compared to 2012. Preparing for changes in our urban climate means that we have to look to the past and see what happened and how can we be better prepared in the future.

Even my last blog about "Under Water and Over It" was about preparation of some sorts related to water.  The disasters cities will face somewhat depends on your location. Coastal communities are at high risks of flooding, whereas cities such as Chicago our flooding is in our residential basements but loss of energy and clean drinking water are not too far from a reality. Furthermore in such a time of violent weather we don't know how tornados and winter storms will impede upon our structures let alone our health and well being.  For Black communities in segregated cities this is an even more impressive realization that we have to figure out how to prepare, survive and recover as a community, maybe even block by block.  I want to offer some solutions on how to even get this started:

1. Block clubs
Working at a block club level helps to create a neighbor network. Understanding what are the blocks resources and who is good at what would help. Knowing your block is mostly seniors would mean having to understand what external resources would be needed from surrounding blocks 

2. Attending training
Local Red Cross groups offer disaster preparedness training, this includes First Aid and recovery organizing. If your local church is interested in being the point location for congregations to have aid then beginning a disaster preparedness ministry would be a great idea

3. Talk to local government
Get involved in what your city and municipalities are doing related to extreme weather events and disasters. SPEAK UP!!! You pay taxes too, and it is extremely important that you understand what is needed to protect your property, businesses and more importantly your lives. Your elected officials are there to be held accountable make sure your community is prepared for the future.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Under Water and Over It

I am far too familiar with what too much precipitation means for a city whose storm water management is incapable of handling intense rainfall events.  But some more than others have to deal with the reality of what that actually means.  Here in Chicago people expect us to have a healthy relationship with water because we have the Great Lakes but too much of a good thing can still be bad for you.

The recent flooding in Detroit, Michigan brought up some memories and experiences of my own. Unlike Detroit, Chicago proper per my recollection has never seen such a disaster that shut down multiple freeways and flooding resulting in the loss of life.  Some things came to mind as I began reading the stories about the history of Chicago and how our water system both sewage and storm came to be as we experience it now.  The outdated systems have resulted in floods over the years and I am one of the people that lost EVERYTHING in the storm of 2011 where myself and my three kids were living in a garden apartment.

I feel as though as an urbanite I have to address this entry to those whom are rebuilding cities and let them know that there are consequences to the inadequate design of these systems that impact all people but really creates anxiety for the cities poorest.  While those who live along the Des Plaines deal with this as a consequence of living near a water way, those of us who assume we are living in the safety of the boundaries of the city away from water don't expect it to flood us out of our homes.

As we think about water, infrastructure, flooding, equity we must be mindful of all the players in the game. While I have my own private thoughts on policy makers I will say that amidst the conversations of water issues and climate change in the Black community not one...NOT ONE conversation has included a piece on policy and elected officials that hold our communities in high regard.  With the upcoming races in Cook County I would strongly suggest locals to look into who is running for Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and what their positions are relative to the issues of water and people of color....of course not just our communities but looking at what the ideal candidate for managing water policies for our entire city actually is.

Yes our communities are under water and yes we are over it.  When I was thinking about flooding of segregated communities and whose hit hardest and what recovery looks like I began to feel sick.  The reality of poverty is lack of resources and preparedness. Then I considered simple things such as flooding for me is no big deal because I can swim. When I read the accounts of people stranded and at risk of losing their lives in the water. Data shows that minorities are more at risk for drowning, as well as children within minority communities.

The data below is from a Special Report on Minority Drowning

So not only are we being flooded from our homes in severe events for me I'm not only considering the loss of real estate and material things but fundamentally what this also means for Blacks if too much water were to hit too fast how much more likely it will be for us to survive considering being prepared through swimming or at least life vests.  To realize that up to 75% of Black women in this survey reported they can't swim was mind blowing. I am a competitive swimmer, life guard, WSI and I played water polo I am an aquaholic. I hope we as a community begin to recognize that while we can not say that one event is climate change but that there are some interesting relationships between access, race, class, income and peoples abilities to survive any weather or climate related event.

Let us hope our society begins to think with a survival lens of wanting all our residents regardless of culture, income or age can be protected through a thoughtful approach to building better cities and better access to live in them.

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