New blog for 2012

After some deliberation about whether or not to add to this blog, or create a new one, I’ve decided to create a new blog for this year’s “Communism and the Environment” class. Please see for the new blog. Thank you to everyone who read the blog last year – Looking forward to seeing you on the new website.

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Last Blog Post (this year)

As the instructor of the course, this will be my last post. The course is long over, and I haven’t been able to keep up with posts over the summer, but I thought it would be nice to bring the blog to an official close (at least until next spring, when I teach the course again). So, thank you so much to the students for participating, and to everyone who read and commented on the blog! For those who are interested, research project topics for the course included:

  • Chernobyl
  • Comparison of agricultural policies in the Soviet Union and China
  • Current Chinese environmental policies
  • Eco-socialism in Latin America
  • Nature and the environment in Zamyatin’s We
  • Poultry imports from the USA to Russia in the post-Soviet era
  • Religion and the environment in Communist China
  • The role of the Soviet collapse on environmental policy in China and Cuba
  • Soviet and post-Soviet environmental activism
  • Soviet and post-Soviet submarine accidents
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We’ve seen this before….too lazy now to format anything so just click on the link.

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Urban agriculture in Toronto

Not sure if I will keep posting, now that the course is over. But, well, I may. Most of the students and I really enjoyed the blog aspect of the course. It has been a great way to carry the classroom conversation outside of the classroom and to engage with the wider world.

In any case, several of our posts have related to urban agriculture, inspired in part by the fascinating experiment in urban ag going on in Cuba right now. I came across this article about the growth in community gardens in Toronto, one of my favorite cities. The city manages some of these (and there’s a huge waiting list for plots, as well as applications for more to be created), but most are run by community groups. Aside from the very tangible benefits of locally produced, frequently organic foods (Toronto also has a by-law that bans pesticide use within the city), community gardens are important for reminding us that, yes, we are part of a community.

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More great links!

A few more fascinating stories related to some of the themes of the course:

  • Tom Philpott is back again on Grist, reporting on a study for the journal Science that argues that factory farming really is not the best way to feed large numbers of people. His post includes links to various studies on the topic.
  • has a photo slide of an amazing new housing development in Nanjing, China, that aims to push new boundaries in sustainable and environmentally friendly architecture.
  • Click here for a very critical review of Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. This is part of the American Enterprise Exhibit, and the exhibit explicitly asks for reader feedback.
  • While this is just a great article in The New Yorker from 1987 (!) related to humanity’s (and, in some ways, capitalism’s) attempts to control nature, looking specifically at the Mississippi River (very appropriate considering the current flooding).

Thanks, everyone, for a great semester!!

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Reflections on Dickinson’s Sustainability Agenda and Ideas for New Environmental Events

Coming in as a first year student I was regularily irratated by Dickinson’s sustainability fetish. I was annoyed at having this ideology frequently shoved down my throat. However, in retrospect sustainability is not only a positive but a necessity in today’s world. However, in my opinion some problems do remain.

It is undeniable that Dickinson uses its excellent environmental credentials as an advertising ploy and this to some extent sets an unreasonable precedent for other insitutions without our means. For example, the college farm would not be able to recieve a number of grants and other resources for organic and sustainable agriculture without the college. Likewise other colleges and business simply cannot afford to buy some of the efficient technologies implemented by Dickinson.

Thus, I challenge the college to try the following events and ideas:

  • Fund a grant that will allow a private farm or business to purchase sustainable technology.
  • Send student volunteers not only to the college farm, but to local schools and even private homes to plant gardens. Try to promote urban agriculture in Carlisle!
  • Advertise green events outside of campus and in Carlisle. Invite the local community to come and listen to speakers. Don’t assume they know they’re welcome.

In closing, it’s been a pleasure to take this course and post on this blog. This is likely my last post as a student, but who knows? This might be the perfect place to share a relevant article or ponder an environmental issue post graduation.

До свидания милый друг!

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Dickinson College Earthfest

I have always, since I’ve been a student at Dickinson, regarded our “sustainable” image with some degree of skepticism. Our use of Greenware biodegradable cups, the lack of trays in the cafeteria, even the college farm all seemed like gimmicks to sell the school to environmentally conscious applicants. As I have reached the end of this course, however, I realize that sustainability in America has something of a gimmicky image in general. It is a field of novel technologies and unorthodox methods, and at times seems to entail drastic changes in the way we live our lives. As a result, the American attitude towards sustainability seems, at least to me, to be one of passive acceptance: no one wants to destroy the environment, but many see environmentally friendly practices as a threat to their “normal” way of life. It is this tension between sustainability’s positive and negative images that Dickinson’s Earthfest on April 30th caused me to examine.

Morgan Field was the ideal setting for the convergence of local farmers, student groups, and environmental technology producers that was Earthfest; a celebration of Dickinson’s forward-thinking attitude on issues of sustainability. The clear blue skies and new spring foliage made me particularly eager to explore the various tables and stalls that had sprung up along the winding asphalt footpaths, and a healthy crowd of students had come out to do the same. Or maybe it was to ride the mechanical bull (well, mechanical shark), or to listen to the bands that were playing on Drayer porch, or to eat lunch at the giant barbeque. To be honest, some of my old skepticism had surfaced. Earthfest felt like another gimmick; a carnival with a sustainability sideshow. I grabbed a burger, the components of which had likely been produced by the distinctly unsustainable behemoth of industrial agriculture, and idly wandered from table to table. Here were the people who really cared about the “earth” part of Earthfest, and I figured that if I was going to write a blog post on this green event, then these were the people I should be talking to.

When I sat down to write, however, I realized that they were only part of the equation. As much as their zeal contrasted with the relative apathy of many students, they were there to sell sustainability. The food, music, and rides were not distractions but attractions, without which it is unlikely that a quarter of the students who showed up would have. We are, after all, a nation of consumers; we need to be sold on sustainability. The problem is that it’s a hard sell. Ecological protection comes at a price, both literally and figuratively. Green energy initiatives have to compete with traditional means of energy production, such as coal, which is both cheap to produce and a source of blue-collar employment. While families that depend on the jobs that coal power provides certainly do not want to destroy the environment, they might see environmental damage as a necessary evil of their survival. Beyond people who see sustainability as a threat, there are many more who simply do not care. It is the classic “Tragedy of the Commons” in which individuals, pursuing their own interests, damage a common resource to the detriment of the entire population. Many Americans don’t conceptualize their individual habits of consumption in terms of environmental impact, to the detriment of us all.

It is this lack of ecological thought that Earthfest most effectively addressed. By bringing together ecologically apathetic and passionate people via the use of other attractions, Earthfest represented a serious effort to sell people on sustainability. It used gimmicks to draw people in, to increase awareness of environmental issues that would otherwise go unnoticed, and to dispel perceptions of “sustainable” as “abnormal”.

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BPA Free??

After reading the post about Coke’s “green capitalist” scheme, I found this article in the New York Times, about BPA-free bottles. While BPA free seems like a step in the right direction, it’s really something more like a step sideways; this article is about BPA’s chemical cousins, such as BPS and BPAF as well as others that are still used in many plastic products. It really made me think about how much companies are actually willing to give up in order to label their products as “green.” Is the integrity of the “green” label being lost to capitalism?

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Summer Reading

Heres a book I got for some summer reading. I’ve started it and I would recommend it to all. Coming from the class we had filled with such teenage angst and frustration over the environmental practices of consumerist economies, Destroy All Cars by Blake Nelson pretty much sums up teenage environmentalist sentiments. Read away and enjoy your summer.

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33 Books to Understanding the Environmental Crisis

This year’s senior Environmental Studies and Science majors were given the mission of creating an anthology to most effectively and comprehensively explain our modern environmental crisis.

To do so, the class poured over about a 150 books. After reviewing and debating every book, we finally narrowed down the list to a total of 33 books. The topics range from resource use, conservation, climate change, globalization, sustainability, environmental ethics, and environmental justice.

As a final product, the class created this WordPress blog entitled “GREENBOOKS,” open to public consumption. Under every books is a summary of the content, key points and quotes, a justification in why it is important in explaining the environmental crisis, details about the author(s), and links to other reviews. Many students commented on the postings to give a more biased critique of the books’ quality and why or why-not it should be included on the list. Feel free to comment as well!

Please check out our GREENBOOKS blog here!

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