Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Environmental Writing 2013

Ramapo College, April 2013                      (photo/Jan Barry)

College is a great time to explore the world around us, starting with things that catch our eye in a class or elsewhere in our lives. Here are some aspects of life that caught the attention of 13 student-journalists in the Spring 2013 Environmental Writing course at Ramapo College. These essays—excerpted below—and a variety of other writings throughout the semester are the latest in the annual environmental explorations in this course, which I’ve posted on our class website,

Topics highlighted here range from the music of nature to the clunk of bureaucratese, the basic facts of fracking to the elusive information about gas pipeline corridors bulldozed through state forests, steps in creating a backyard wildlife habitat to examining the closing of a popular nature education center, the fate of wolves to the hidden dangers to wildlife and humans of plastic throw-aways, the latest trend in eco-friendly small businesses to the widespread greening of professional sports franchises.     

“For environmental issues, one of the biggest subjects to come up in recent years has been fracking. People often say, ‘What’s in a name?’ and that is exactly how my own personal interest began in fracking.

“The name itself seemed to emit so much intrigue and mystery, that anyone would be interested in taking a second look and diving for further information. The name seemed to be so informal that there must be some type of controversy behind it. Also, when it comes to any type of process that is involved with petroleum or natural gas, or just any type of basic retrieval of our primary energy source, there must be something behind the name that gives it such an enigma.

“Upon looking at the occasional article or internet news story on fracking, I began to realize that there’s certainly a lot more in a name. Besides the actual process itself, the effects that come from it are immense, with such problems as water contamination and other health effects, as well as the split-estate situations for landowners. However, before we get into all that, let’s start at the beginning. What exactly is fracking?”

--Steven Aliano, “Fracking: An Introduction”

“A rainforest symphony. A cicada concert. The Music in Nature Symposium at Ramapo College grew out of a student’s independent study project.

“A music major with an environmental studies minor, Adam Lazor spent a month in Costa Rica studying the sounds of cicadas and birds last summer. When the Feb. 28 symposium began, Lazor took center stage in the Trustees Pavilion and recalled his time studying insect and bird songs.

“’The experience was life-changing,’ he said.  ‘Being able to live in a foreign country and study the environment has been a dream come true.’” 

--Alexa Rivera, “Music in Nature”

“It’s that time of the year again.  The flowers are blooming, the birds are returning to the northern cities and you are ready to have the most beautiful lawn in the neighborhood.  However, have you ever thought about helping to preserve wildlife? Whether you live in an apartment or in a farm, you have the ability to create a garden that attracts beautiful wildlife and helps restore their habitat.

“Creating a Garden for Life it is important because it helps the ecosystem, and as a result our future.  Animals are part of our world and if people don’t start doing their part to protect them some species could become extinct.  Since there are so many businesses and housing developments being built, animals are being forced to leave their habitat, resulting in them being unable to survive.  What kind of a future would you have without wildlife?

“By providing food, water and a place for wildlife to live you will not only do your part in preserving the environment, but also your yard can become an official certified Wildlife Habitat. …”

--Adriana Cappelli, “Creating a Garden for Life”

“The Weis Ecology Center in Ringwood, New Jersey has been an amazing wildlife learning center for thousands of children and adults. But abruptly, as of December 31, the center closed its doors. …

“With the help of the Passaic River Coalition and support of community members, there is hope the center will reopen. … The Passaic River Coalition has preserved 1,600 acres of open space land in New Jersey since the Passaic River Coalition Land Trust was created in 1993. Now they’re looking into adding the acres of Weis Ecology Center to that number.”

--Ben Reuter, “The Fate of Weis Ecology Center”

“Wolves are among the most charismatic and controversial animals in North America. Traveling in packs through the wilderness, wolves are the oldest and largest ancestor of domestic dogs. These animals once ranged from Alaska to Mexico, but today their numbers have dropped drastically.

“Wolves have been targeted by bounty hunters for their pelts since the early 1900’s. By the 1970’s, wolves only remained in remote areas of Minnesota and Michigan. …

“The Humane Society filed a lawsuit in February to restore federal protections for gray wolves that were lifted last year. Since the protections were lifted, hunters and trappers have killed an estimated 530 wolves in Minnesota and Wisconsin. …”

--Jamie Bachar, “A New Threat to Gray Wolves”

“According to scientists and activists who troll the Pacific Ocean collecting samples every day, the tragic  findings show that ocean water, even at the furthest point from dry land in the world, has become a “soup” of miniscule plastic pieces. The original products have been crushed into tiny shards of material that fish and other marine animals mistake for food. They eat until they’re full, and eventually die. Many species of marine birds are also mistaking plastic bottle caps (which, surprise, are not recyclable because they’re made from a different plastic than the rest of the bottle), and bringing them back to feed their chicks. One of the most affected and studied species is the albatross. One research group found that 97.5% of chicks tested from the North Pacific Ocean had plastic in their bellies.

“This heartbreaking fact seems to also be the ironic full circle mark: our obsession with convenience and penchant for trusting the corporations we buy from has lowered our health to that of animals. We blindly allow plastic chemicals to enter our lives and our stomachs from water bottles, food containers, utensils, fabrics, children’s toys, the interiors of our cars, nearly all we encounter in a day’s time—and haven’t demanded to know exactly what this means for our and the planet’s long-term health.”

--Katie Attinello, “Everyday Plastics: Are the Life Cycles of Water Bottles and other Plastics Endangering our Own?”

“The Tennessee Gas Company is expanding its territory, the “Northern Upgrade,” through the Ramapo Mountains and miles of New Jersey’s most pristine forests in West Milford, Ringwood and Mahwah. The pipes are going under Monksville Reservoir, part of northern New Jersey’s main watershed where 5 million people depend on drinking water. There are currently four separate projects taking place in Northern New Jersey. Individually the environmental impacts seem minor, but are collectively significant. …

“Ramapo College of New Jersey hosted the 18th annual Ramapo River Watershed Conference on April 26. An hour of the conference was dedicated to Assessing Cumulative Impacts of Gas Pipelines in the Highlands Region and was presented by students in the Environmental Assessment Capstone course at Ramapo College. …

“’Everything in the environment depends on everything else,’ said Judith Sullivan to the Environmental Writing class at Ramapo College last month. What seems like the smallest disruption to us is really a huge disruption to nature.”

--Jaimie Moscarello, “Backyard Pipeline”

“Students in the Environmental Assessment capstone course at Ramapo College were given a bittersweet taste of the “real world” for the Spring 2013 semester. The environmental studies majors were finally granted the opportunity to put all four years of our education to the test and integrate our knowledge into a project being implemented in the college’s backyard. …

“There are three pipeline projects currently being implemented in the NJ Highlands region and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved each project without considering that they traverse the same environmentally sensitive region. 

“Additionally, the Commission’s assessment did not factor in already existing pipeline structures and the potential for future lines to be developed.  Conjointly, these projects impose significant environmental impacts to the area. So aside from reviewing each pipeline project in segments, the agency avoided reviewing the collective impacts from all three projects in the NJ Highlands Region. In several legal cases the courts have upheld such division as a violation of NEPA. This approval was a failure to review the project as a whole. …”

--Brittany Ryan, “Assessing Pipelines: Students Prepare an Environmental Impact Statement”

“Located in the heart of Hoboken, New Jersey is an up-and-coming brewery that features all-organic materials. The aptly named “Jersey Brew” has devoted its entire mission to 100% eco-friendly strategies. From recycled packaging materials to farm-fresh ingredients (they get all their ingredients from local farmers), Jersey Brew is one of several environmentally conscious brewers countrywide. …

“So how has this process gone the way of the environmentally conscious? Brooklyn Brewers, a brewery out of, you guessed it, Brooklyn, NY is powered entirely by wind turbines, which generate the facility’s energy. Not only is that a feat in itself, but this alternative energy source makes Brooklyn Brewery the very first company in New York City to be solely powered by wind. …

“Great Lakes Brewing Company in Ohio has developed an error-proof “closed loop” recycling system. Everything is therefore used for something, reducing their waste to just about nothing. Not to mention the fact that their distribution trucks run on vegetable oil. Now that’s what I call going green.”

--Ashley Intveld, “Bottoms Up to Green Beer”

“One of the most recent environmental trends is turning your home or business into an ecofriendly space. Today, there are numerous options and products available stamped with an ecofriendly label promising that through production and use, you are contributing to the environmental cause. However, many people question whether these efforts are worthwhile. …

“An article by CNN Money discusses the trend in ecofriendly small businesses and claims that customers are drawn to the ecofriendly label. One source, Steve Rosen, owner of FranNet, a franchise consulting organization states it best by saying ‘…it is something that agrees with people's social objectives.’ …

“’I have absolutely no regrets about choosing the ecofriendly options for my business. Everyone benefits from going green. Not only have I received the benefits, but my customers and employees have as well. And most importantly I can say I’m doing my part to restore the environment. That, of course, is the long term goal of all of this,’ [East Brusnwick, NJ business owner Greg] Wathen said.”

--Lisa Quaglino, “Going Green: A Growing Business Trend”

“No matter what uniform they showcase in their respective sport, many professional athletes and leagues are wearing green when it comes to supporting the environment. Despite little recognition from the media for their actions, numerous professional athletes in the United States, and the leagues they play in, are starting to focus their philanthropic ventures on environmental issues. …

“Perhaps the most proactive league when it comes to environmental issues is the National Basketball Association (NBA). For the past five years, the NBA has partnered with the NRDC to hold NBA Green Week, which this year was April 4-12. During this week, the NBA raises funds and awareness for the environment.

“Players wear NBA Green warm-up shirts for all their games during the week and the NBA highlights league and team environmental initiatives and in-arena awareness nights, recycling programs, and service projects. For example, the New York Knicks take part in ‘Trees for threes’ where they plant a tree for every three-point basket the team makes.”

--Nick Bower, “Going Green: Pro Athletes Weigh in on Environmental Issues”

“On March 23, the National Hockey League joined millions of homes throughout the United States for the second consecutive year in celebrating the World Wildlife Fund’s “Earth Hour,” the world’s largest annual action to raise awareness of environmental conservation.

“On that date, 18 of the 30 teams that make up the NHL were in action, including the New Jersey Devils, who proudly took part in the event. The Devils did their part by shutting down all non-essential electrical equipment at Prudential Center from 8:30 pm until 9:30 pm during their game against the Florida Panthers at their home arena, Prudential Center in Newark, NJ.

“While annually participating in the planet’s largest conservation spectacle is an important step towards helping the environment, the folks at Prudential Center do not stop there. They go to great lengths to make the Newark arena a leader in environmental conservation. …”

--Anthony Smith, “Prudential Center Sets Pace in Environmental Conservation”

“Super Bowl XLIV was held at Sun Life Stadium in Florida. During their time in Florida, the NFL teamed up with NextEra Energy Resources, the largest wind and solar energy producer in North America, to power the 2010 Pro Bowl and Super Bowl with renewable energy. They also formed a partnership with the US Forest Service and the Florida Division of Forestry and planted hundreds of trees throughout South Florida. …

“MetLife Stadium in New Jersey will be hosting the upcoming Super Bowl. After its construction in 2010, MetLife Stadium is one of the greenest stadiums in the country because of its partnership with the EPA. There were goals set by both the EPA and stadium officials. Goals of the agreement include cutting the stadium's annual water use by 25 percent, making it 30 percent more energy efficient than the old Giants Stadium, increasing total recycling by 25 percent and recycling 75 percent of construction waste. …

“MetLife Stadium isn’t the only stadium becoming environmentally friendly. The Washington Redskins’ FedEx Field has 8,000 solar panels in their parking lot. The New England Patriots are taking part as well. They have 3,000 panels installed at Patriot Place, a shopping center next to Gillette Stadium. The Philadelphia Eagles have about 11,000 solar panels powering their stadium. They also one-upped the other teams by adding 14 micro wind-turbines. …”

--Bill Pivetz, “The National Football League Tackles the Environment”