environment/nature

What happens after we throw something in a garbage can? From the user’s perspective, it disappears once the trash collectors pick it up (if you live in an area with municipal trash collection, of course; I grew up in a rural area where everyone had to deal with their own trash). Where does it go? Sometimes items are taken to a dump not far from where it was thrown away and either buried, bulldozed into large heaps, or incinerated.

But Carlo Ratti, an architect who works with the SENSEable City Lab at MIT, directed a project to find out just how far garbage can travel, with the goal of helping us understand the “removal chain” that conveniently disappears our trash for us as well as we’ve come to understand the global supply chains that bring us items in the first place. His team asked 500 people in Seattle to tag items they would be throwing out anyway with small tracking chips. They tagged a total of 3,000 objects, everything from tin cans to cell phones to sneakers. And the results showed that some of the items we get rid of can go on a rather dramatic journey, traveling thousands of miles:

The Trash Track website contains information about the methodology and ideas behind the project.

Thanks to Dmitriy T.M. for the tip!

Carni K sent in an interesting story about Kellogg’s, the cereal company. Kellogg’s is suing the Maya Archaeology Institute (MAI), a non-profit Guatemalan organization aimed at protecting the local history, culture, and natural environment. Why? It uses a toucan in its logo.

For those of you who did not spend your youth eating highly sugared empty carbohydrates for breakfast, the toucan (specifically, Toucan Sam) is the mascot of Kellogg’s Froot Loops. The toucan is also a large-billed colorful bird indigenous to Central and South America, the Caribbean, and southern Florida.

While this sort of cultural cannibalism is certainly common in American culture, it is a bold move nonetheless for Kellogg’s to not only appropriate the toucan, but to claim that no one else has a right to represent the toucan.  Dr. Francisco Estrada-Belli puts it this way: “This is a bit like the Washington Redskins claiming trademark infringement against the National Congress of American Indians.”

And therein lies the problem: who is allowed to claim the symbolic use of this bird—an indigenous Guatemalan organization or a company that makes cereal and other convenience foods marketed to children and families?

To me, this brings up another question: what gives any of us the right to use the toucan at all? While cultural representations of animals may not directly harm animals, and have been central in human cultures for tens of thousands of years, they can contribute to a particular perception of those same animals. And animal advocates know that perception then shapes treatment. If we perceive an animal to be dumb or trivial, for example, then that animal may not seem worthy of our concern.

Many types of toucans, for example, are endangered. Of the more than 40 species making up their family, 35 are included on the International Union for Conservation of Nature red list, meaning that they are either endangered, threatened, or otherwise subject to concern.  Their troubled status comes not from people hunting or eating them, but from the increasing levels of habitat destruction in the tropical regions in which they live… which brings us back to the Maya Archaeology Institute.

The organization’s mission includes protecting Guatemala’s rainforests, including the animals and plants that live there. Kellogg’s, on the other hand, has made the toucan into a funny bird whose large nose lets him sniff out Froot Loops wherever they are hiding.

Who should have the right to represent the toucan?  Anyone?

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Margo DeMello has a PhD in cultural anthropology and teaches anthropology, cultural studies, and sociology at Central New Mexico Community College. Her research areas include body modification and adornment and human-animal studies.

If you would like to write a post for Sociological Images, please see our Guidelines for Guest Bloggers.

The political and engineering failures that caused the devastation in New Orleans were multiple and decades in the making. First, the storm surge was amplified by years of oil and natural gas companies degrading the integrity of the wetlands with pipelines, causing the land to sink at an alarming rate (source). The Mississippi river levee system was created in response to the sinking wetlands, but this system actually compounds the problem by preventing much of the river’s silt from being deposited in the ocean where it creates a natural buffer (source). Combined, these factors have eroded one million square acres of Bayou since 1930, bringing the coastline 30 miles closer to New Orleans and leaving only a 20 mile buffer from hurricanes (source). Every 2.7 miles of wetlands reduces storm surge by 1 foot, so Katrina surges of 10 – 20 feet in New Orleans would have been 0 – 9 feet with better oversight of corporations carving up the wetlands – not big enough to breach the levees (source).

Secondly, in 1968, The Army Corps of Engineers built the 76-mile Mississippi River Gulf Canal Outlet (MRGO), a canal that brings ships straight from the Gulf of Mexico to the New Orleans Industrial Canal (source). The MRGO was built right through the Ninth Ward, physically separating the Lower Ninth Ward from the city. The canal salinated and decimated Bayou Bienville, a freshwater swamp and natural storm buffer along the north end of the Ninth Ward.

A healthy Cypress swamp:

Flickr creative commons Thomas Gehrke.

The Bayou Bienville Cypress swamp today:


The MRGO was nicknamed “Hurricane Highway” post-Katrina because it brought the storm surge directly to the Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish. To add insult to injury, the MRGO has been an economic boondoggle; used by an average of one ship per day since it was built (source). The Army Corps started filling in the canal in 2009 after a federal court decision showing that officials knew that creating the MRGO would doom the residents of St. Bernard Parish and the Lower Ninth Ward (source). The judge chided the Army Corps, noting that they “not only knew, but admitted by 1988, that the MRGO threatened human life… and yet it did not act in time to prevent the catastrophic disaster that ensued with the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina.”

The third preventable human aspect of Katrina was a network of levees suffering from poor design and disrepair from bureaucratic bickering; an 80% cut to levee repair funds under the Bush Administration and misspent money (source). After Katrina, the Corps admitted that “the hurricane protection system in New Orleans and southeast Louisiana was a system in name only,” “an inconsistent patchwork of protection, containing flaws in design and construction, and not built to handle a hurricane anywhere near the size of Katrina” (source). With a weak storm buffer, the storm surge pipeline of the MRGO, and a fatally flawed levee system, it’s no surprise that the greatest number of fatalities occurred in the Lower Ninth Ward and St. Bernard Parish (source).

This is an excerpt from a much longer account of the Hurricane Katrina disaster, published at Caroline Heldman’s blog.

Caroline Heldman is a professor of politics at Occidental College. You can follow her at her blog and on Twitter and Facebook.

Dmitriy T.M. sent in a video put together by the Center for Investigative Reporting about some of the hidden costs of gasoline use in the U.S.:

Also check out our earlier posts on Lisa Margonelli’s TED talk about the political economy of oil in the U.S. as well as the inconsistent relationship between gas prices and how much we drive.

Megan H. and Ami R. sent in contrasting examples of using gender to market fuel-efficient cars. Megan saw this ad (one in a series that plays on the “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” Apple ads) advocating electric cars over gasoline-powered ones. In this ad, femininity is associated with environmental responsibility. The most stereotypically masculine man in the ad — the blue-collar worker in a hard hat and filthy clothes — represents the harmful oil industry. Beneficial, good wind energy, on the other hand, is personified by a pretty woman in a filmy dress. Her beauty renders the bad guys speechless:

Dodge, on the other hand, wants to distance its claims to fuel efficiency from any association with femininity. Ami found this ad for the new Dodge Charger in the magazine for Go! Chapel Hill, an organization that advocates less car use:

So here, fuel efficiency with is also associated with femininity, but in the negative sense of emasculation. The Charger is the one exception to the other fuel efficient cars out there. You can get better gas mileage and still protect your manly reputation.

For other examples of gender representations of the environment or environmental movement, see our previous posts on femininity and benign nature, using PETA tactics to oppose the BP oil spill, nature in vintage men’s magazines, and even girls can drive electric cars!

Cross-posted at Love Isn’t Enough.

The West has a long history in which Black and African people were stereotyped as more in touch with nature and more like animals than White and European people.  This elision still haunts us, and Sasha H. sent in a link to an example. To be fair, I went through several pages of Google search results and found only two instances of this particular mistake, but I thought it was worth pointing out as a cautionary tale.

Sasha’s link was to an amusement-focused website called Silly Village.  They posted a series of photographs of a little girl, named Tippi Degré, who was born to wildlife photographers in Namibia, where she grew up. The photos are of her with lots of animals and the set of photos is titled “Young Girl Life with Wild Animals.”  The thing is, though, two of the photos do not include animals, but include only her and local Africans, no animals at all.

I found this same mistake at a more serious source, one that should have editors who are more careful than this, The Telegraph.  The story, titled “The Real-Life Mowgli who Grew Up with Africa’s Wild Animals,” includes a slideshow introduced with this language:

A remarkable range of pictures in a new book show Tippi Degre — a French girl labelled the ‘real-life Mowgli’ — growing up with wild animals.

But the slideshow includes three images, again conflating African animals with African people.

If this happened rarely, it could be chocked up to a random mistake, but this conflation is actually rather ubiquitous.  We’ve posted on this many times. Here are three choice posts: animalizing women of color, Africa is wild and you can be too, and choosing girls of color for animal costumes.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

I argued earlier that Avatar was not a story about a heroic people, the Na’vi, but a white savior.  I summarized:

Sully is not only a superior human being, he is also a superior Na’vi. After being briefly ostracized for his participation in the land grab, he tames the most violent creature in the sky, thereby proving himself to be the highest quality warrior imaginable per the Na’vi mythology.  He gives them hope, works out their strategy, and is their most-valuable-weapon in the war. In the end, with all Na’vi contenders for leadership conveniently dead, he assumes the role of chief… and gets the-most-valuable-girl for good measure. Throngs of Na’vi bow to him.

Avatar was heralded as a break-through movie for its technological achievements, but its theme is tired.  With the aim of pointing to how Avatar simply regurgitated a strong history of white, Western self-congratulation, Craig Saddlemire and Ryan Conrad re-mixed the movie with other similar movies, including Blind Side, Dancing with Wolves, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai, Out of Africa, Stargate, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

They go through several features of these narratives: awe at the “native” landanimalspeople, the decision that they are helpless and doomed without White, Western intervention, the designation of a White savior who devotes him or herself to their rescue, native self-subordination, and more.  It’s pretty powerful. Thanks to Lizzy Furth for sending the video along!

See also: Formula for a successful American movie.

Lisa Wade, PhD is a professor at Occidental College. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture, and a textbook about gender. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

In the 1940s and ’50s dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane, a synthetic pesticide better known as DDT, was used to kill bugs that spread malaria and typhus in several parts of the world.  DDT was argued to be toxic to humans and the environment in the famous environmental opus, Silent Spring.  It was banned by the U.S. government in 1972.

Before all that, though, it was sprayed in American neighborhoods to suppress insect populations. The new movie Tree of Life has a great scene re-enacting the way that children would frolick in the spray as the DDT trucks went by. Here are two screen shots from the trailer:

Searching around, I also found some vintage footage (the person who uploaded the clip doesn’t specify the documentary):

The scene reminded me of an old post we’d written, below, featuring advertisements for the pesticide, one with the ironic slogan “DDT is good for Me-e-e!”

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DDT was a pesticide marketed to housewives (and many others). We later discovered it to be an environmental toxin. Below are three of the advertisements (via Mindfully and KnowDrama and noticed thanks to John L.):

DDT-laced wallpaper, from Copyranter:

(text for this final ad after the jump)

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