November 20, 2012 § Leave a comment
I can’t remember the time I first heard the story of the first Thanksgiving, but it very well may have been around kindergarten. We all know this story – the Pilgrims land on Plymouth Rock, and are helped to adapt to live off the land by helpful Native Americans – led by Squanto, of course. It was a celebration of the harvest, and only later did it become a national holiday.
As we grow older, we begin to learn a bit more about Thanksgiving and the Pilgrims. Certain details are revealed, corrected, adjusted. We learn that Pilgrims are often misrepresented as dressing like Puritans. We learn about the significance of the Mayflower contact. We learn about all those Pilgrims who died in that first winter. We learn about the massacres that occurred soon after. We learn about the way that this relationship with tribes like the Wampanoag quickly turned towards prejudice and persecution.
When we finally begin to know about something, we begin to contextualize it. You can the first Thanksgiving it as the epitome of intercultural exchange and understanding. On the contrary, you can see it as the beginning of the “white man” beginning his forceful dominance of the American continent.
I choose to see it as a parable of sustainable agriculture.
There’s an important question that kind of gets blown over in schools. Yes, the Native Americans showed the Pilgrims how to farm successfully, but why was this so?
The Pilgrims came from Europe, where farming was practiced much like it is in modern America – if perhaps, on a much smaller scale. Large, sprawling fields grew one crop at a time – usually wheat. Many, many peasants would work these fields night and day, from planting to harvest. What their field didn’t grow, they could trade or buy from others, or at least their Lords could and would.
When the Pilgrims first began to farm in New England, they more than likely attempted to model their efforts on those of their former homeland. This wouldn’t work here, however, and here’s why:
The crops grown in the Americas – in particular, corn – requires quite a lot of nutrition from the soil, and often removes most of the nitrates – one of the most important nutrient groups – within a few plantings. In Europe, similar problems were taken care of by a simple cycle of crop rotations. In Plymouth, however, there was neither the manpower nor the available farmland to do this. Thus, the information imparted by Squanto and his people was invaluable.
How was it that the Wampanoag taught the Pilgrims to farm? The method by which Native Americans had been planting and farming for countless centuries prior: Using the Three Sisters.
The Three Sisters is perhaps the most ingenious yet simple agricultural method ever devised. A few corn stalks – maize, as they would call it – are planted, surrounded by squash plants, and covered by climbing beans. The three work together, benefiting each other, creating ideal environments for each plant.
The maize, which is the largest grain provider of the three, provides a structure on which the climbing beans can grow. The beans in turn puts nitrogen back into the ground, while the squash works to prevent weeds and pests.
If modern farms took a note from the Native Americans, we’d be in much better shape agriculturally. Today, we are the Pilgrims of the modern era, and boy are we screwing up. We, just like our forefathers, are trying to farm in large monocultures – huge, one crop farms, that grow anything from corn to chickens to beef – and only that. There’s plenty wrong with this system of farming, and rather than listing them, I’ll just explain the solutions.
Polycultures. Polycultures are the solution. The Three Sisters are a perfect example of polyculture, and are exactly why and how the first Thanksgiving needs to become a something that teaches us more than history. In his book The Omnivore’s Dilemma, Michael Pollan presents the working of a “grass farm,” a pristine example of polyculture at work. On this farm, grass feeds the pigs and cows, who help the grass and other crops grow better via their manure. Pigs work hand in hand with the compost to create better crop outputs and to renitrogenate the soil. Without use of pesticides, antibiotics, or most industrial feed supplies, this farm, and those like it, produce unbelievable quantity at a fairly sizable quantity.
The other reason why this polyculture is to be preferred as the premeir method of farming is the low use of fossil fuels. The problem that the Pilgrims faced early on was, as I mentioned, the need for a large labor force to work their giant monocultures. In modern society, we have replaced the slaves and peasants of our past with tractors and plows, reapers and combines, all of which are making us slaves to big oil instead. A polyculture, since everything is produced on-farm, can be run with little manpower and little machinery – an incredible bonus for our nation and our planet.
On a final note, let me wish a happy Thanksgiving to all. I hope you are all safe and healthy, and lastly, I hope that we all learn from our past this Thanksgiving.
Satire Hits Home: “Nation Suddenly Realizes This Just Going To Be A Thing That Happens From Now On | The Onion – Americas Finest News Source”
November 1, 2012 § Leave a comment
It’s technically satire. It’s the truth. Read it. Laugh, then catch yourself and realize its not a joke.
July 26, 2012 § Leave a comment
ATTENTION: MASSIVE SPOILER ALERT!!!
For those of you who made it past that warning, I’m safely assuming that you’ve either seen The Dark Knight Rises or just don’t care (and should reconsider your priorities) because this movie, as you likely know, was EPIC. While I could ramble on for hours about the merits of the movie, there is, as always, that specific aspect of the movie I want to discuss: One of the major plot points of the movie centered around clean, sustainable energy.
Christopher Nolan‘s Gotham is designed to be a mirror of real life. Over the three movie arc, the city has been plagued by issues with clean water, terrorism, an income gap, organized crime, corruption, and everything in between. For the third and final movie of the trilogy, however, Nolan decided to tackle perhaps the biggest real-world issue he has to date: the environment. Right from the start, Bruce Wayne and Miranda Tate are involved in a discussion about a sustainable energy project that they had invested in. As it turns out, the project, which was incredibly expensive, did in fact successfully create a nuclear fusion-powered device – something in our world that we are years away from.
The problem with the nuclear fusion device parallels the issues faced throughout history with nuclear power: There is incredible danger involved, in contrast with the incredibly high levels of efficiency. If everything goes right, nuclear power is the perfect solution. If not, however, the damage would be catastrophic – in the case of Bruce Wayne’s device, being able to be turned into an immensely powerful nuclear bomb.
My point? As I always love to point out, sustainability and environmentalism is truly becoming mainstream – do I sense a Captain Planet movie in the making? (PLEASE CHRISTOPHER NOLAN, PLEASE!)
July 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
Check out this awesome post from the Green Education Forum all about sustainability education!
July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment
When we last left our planet, the Middle Ages were dawning, and people were crowding closer and closer together. Sure, there were some ups and downs – kingdoms rose and fell, peoples who were once considered barbarians settled down and became the emerging peoples of Europe, and intercontinental trade was once again begun, on a scale like never before. Perhaps the most important change during this period of time, however, was the largest influx of people to cities the world had seen to this point. As you would imagine, when more and more people crowd together, they create more and more waste. But this is just where the problem begins.
The Industrial Revolution, which followed the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is perhaps the most significant turning point in the history of environmentalism thus far. With the mechanization of the Western world came a whole new set of problems and challenges. First and foremost, what was powering these machines? Coal, and a lot of it. The problem? Coal is dirty. To create the steam needed to run the newly mechanized world, ungodly amounts of coal were ripped from the British landscape, and then from all over Europe, the United States, and eventually from the entire world.
If you think that the environmental impact of mining all of this coal was pretty serious, the environmental impact of burning all of this coal eclipses that by a long shot. A personal favorite anecdote that I’ve always been told about this period of time involves the adaptation of a species of insect which was forced to adapt by becoming black in order to blend in with the soot-covered buildings of London. From coal mines to cities and factories, there was coal dust, soot, smog, and smoke in the air everywhere – by far the most pouted skies in history.
This environmental impact was not the only effect of the industrial revolution – there were plenty of other things that resulted out of the Industrial Revolution, though most of them would end up being detrimental to the environment in the long run. Our consumerist culture, our complete disregard for our world’s air and water supply, a lack of concern for the limits of our natural resources, and the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels would all play a role later on in history.
Before I wrap this up, let me remind you that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t all bad. The technological advances led to a higher standard of living for the world at large, and created widespread employment and limitless opportunities. Social mobility finally peaked out from it’s hiding place, and the old world order began to decline. Perhaps most importantly, we could never fix the environmental problems of the early industrial revolution without the technologies it helped to create.
July 7, 2012 § Leave a comment
The first video is a unique take on the anti-bottled water campaign. Not only does the video cover the dangerous effects of the bottled water industry, it delves into how and why it got to be the way it is, and provides plausible solutions for the problem.
The second video explains something that even I find very difficult to understand, the Cap and Trade system: