Tag Archives: earth

Gardening With The Kids and DIY Almond Milk

            This week has been rough and I know the upcoming weeks are going to bring a lot of work too. I can say that the garden event with 13th and Union 1st graders was a success last week and the week before that. For those that may not have heard about this event already, our house invited over 1st graders of 13th and Union to learn about basic concepts of sustainability, permaculture, and planting seeds. They were very excited and had a lot of questions as well as a lot to share. Erin Sullivan, the VISTA, helped make this event possible by coordinating permission slips, bringing the kids over with the teachers, and supervising the children. She followed up with me after all the events were over and expressed how much the kids loved the event and had a lot of fun. The second graders even got a little jealous and want to visit the garden. I wish we could’ve done more events with more grades but the PSSAs were going on this time of the year and we are very busy with final projects and exams ourselves. Before leaving the house this semester, I hope we can discuss ideas, topics, event ideas amongst the housemates to create a guide for the next housemates. This event or something similar should continue in the future to start getting younger kids to think about the interconnectedness of their lives and the world.

            Apart from the garden event that I hosted this semester, Sam, our one housemate, has been getting into making her own almond milk. Between herself and I, we use a lot of almond milk/cashew milk containers, which are not recyclable or compostable. She wanted to avoid this by trying a more natural approach to almond milk by doing it herself at home on our dining room table! She soaks the almonds in water overnight and then mushes it and makes a liquidy paste out of it. The first time, the almond milk was pretty chunky but now she bought a special bag for it online, which will hopefully keep the chunks out for smooth almond milk. Down below there is a link for how to make your own almond milk at home.


Have a good summer and try to keep the AC off!






Economics and the Environment: Analyzing Various Perspectives

The question of sustainable living goes much deeper than the daily changes we make in our lives to save water and energy and resources. It means confronting our individual, local, and global paradigms, it means deciding what we value in the world, how we imagine our future, and what our relationship to each other and the earth is.

Embarking on a journey of sustainable living requires a deep confrontation, analysis, and development of our ethics. This semester I am taking an Environmental Ethics course that is dramatically reshaping my perspectives and I would like to open a conversation with all of our readers about these themes. Today, I’d like to talk about an email by Lawrence Summer. He was the Chief Economist of the World Bank and signed this memo in 1991:

DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

— Lawrence Summers
At first glance, this email appears grossly classist, racist, environmentally damaging, and a serious breach of human rights and equality. How could one justify the mass exportation of pollution to poor populations? How is that fair? Why can’t we address pollution itself instead? How could anyone believe the detrimental health effects from dirty industry are justifiable for any population? When I first read this letter in my Environmental Sociology course, I thought all of these things and I was absolutely horrified. Now, I am taking my environmental ethics course and we took a deeper look at some aspects of what was put forth in this memo.
In my environmental ethics class, we read a source discussing the meanings behind what Summers is saying. According to this, and our discussion in class, Summers is raising the point that in these poor countries, the benefit of wages outweighs the benefit of a clean environment – it is a question of suffering from death by starvation or pollution. He essentially argues that due to poverty, the demand for industry and jobs is higher than the need for a clean environment because of survival needs, that the demand for a clean environment is a function of rising income. Bringing in industry, even if it is polluting, means economic growth, which environmental controls would slow.
Akin to this argument is the discussion of sustainable development in poorer nations. Some environmentalists argue that richer nations should invest in sustainable development in undeveloped nations as reparations for the environmental destruction they have caused and as a means to alleviate poverty sustainably. But, there are arguments against this from people in these countries because many rich nations raised their standard of living through the use of cheap fossil fuels. They argue that a plan of sustainable development denies them the same opportunity to raise quality of life cheaply and quickly. So, the same could be said for those arguing to keep polluting industries out of poor countries. Does this deny them much needed economic opportunity to which the cost of pollution is something they are willing to pay? If demand for clean environments increases with income, couldn’t it be possible for polluting industry to come in and provide jobs, increase income, and down the line lead to a higher demand for a clean environment and thus the institution of environmental controls can be implemented once the control is there? Maybe, maybe not.
The the capitalist system relies on market forces, and working within this context, maybe Summer’s perspective makes sense. In the richer nations, there is demand for cleaner environments. In poorer nations, there is demand for economic opportunity, even if it has negative environmental impact (and thus negative impact on human health). In terms of supply and demand, it would make sense for polluting industries to go to those countries. The demand for the products that have a polluting production process exists, and thus either these products need to not be produced, or their going to have to be produced somewhere – who is willing to produce it?
I think overall though, Summers argument still leaves much to be desired in terms of environmental protection and human safety. But, how do we balance environmental and economic needs? I believe an important part of the solution is using market mechanisms to force industry to be less polluting and pay fair wages in all countries. A cultural shift in the consumer consciousness of rich countries may be the best approach. We must internalize the externalitites – both of the environment and labor. If the demand for ethically produced goods, being the least environmentally damaging and produced with fair wages, is present, then industry will have to modify its practices. This would mean higher costs for Americas and other rich nations, but this would reduce the gross over-consumption by requiring smarter and less purchasing due to the higher cost. Wages in rich nations could also be raised to account for the high costs. The issue would be that this greatly decreases profit for industry. While profit is the main goal of capitalism, shifting how profit can be made is necessary to have a more equitable global society. Corporations should not be making billions of dollars if they are destroying the environment and paying people unlivable wages. This kind of solution may slow growth, but it would equalize standards of living more fairly. In the long term, capitalism is an unsustainable system, but it can not be overhauled in a night. We must use the power of demand to change it for the better, and slowly transition into an overall more equitable, sustainable system.
We want to hear what you think! How do we balance economic and environmental needs? Does Summers present a valid argument or is it wholly unfair? Is providing jobs or protecting the environment more important? What responsibilities do we have towards future generations? We want to hear what you think!

Spreading Sustainable Living: Insights from Life at the Albright Sustainability House

What kinds of approaches and challenges are there when attempting to establish sustainable homes, centers, and communities? To me, living sustainably is not just a matter of acting sustainably, it’s about building strong relationships that utilize everyone’s unique talents and cultivating community that creates and enriches the long-term goals of sustainability: creating a world that is viable now and in the future. This in itself requires a deeper look at the ways in which we can and should build community structures based around sustainability and the challenges of doing so. If we wanted to spread “sustainability houses” across our community or even in general, how does our experience here in the house help? Looking at the approaches, successes, and challenges experienced in the sustainability house provides important perspectives to consider when spreading visions of sustainable living. We have developed a number of ways of creating and maintaining a successful, harmonious, and effective communal sustainability structure, albeit not without its imperfections and questions of application in “the real world.”
We do a number of things that work very well. First, we have a house manager that serves as a central source of organizing activities, behaviors, requirements, and events. While there is this form of central leadership, each member of the house serves as a “council member,” where everyone has an equal and democratic say in what we decide to do. We have weekly meetings to discuss steps forward, challenges, and changes that need addressing, as well as to collectively work on group projects. We (as we’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts) have also created a chalkboard wall in the kitchen to serve as reminders of upcoming events and assignments and designed info-graphics for sustainability tips in each common room of the house. We also have 5 people here each with different skill sets and interests. Our majors range from environmental studies, environmental science, education, marine aquatics, philosophy, and political science. Instead of focusing on purely environmental sustainability approaches, we encourage the participation of everyone’s unique paradigms to inform and enrich our approach to sustainability. And really, environmentalism in itself is a topic that must be approached from all of these angles and more. These aspects of our home make for an effective way of ensuring that we meet our goals of sustainability, hold each other accountable and keep each other driven, continually progress and evolve in our activities, and overall create a successful program and better world.
All of these approaches provide valuable examples of ways in which effective sustainable homes through open, communal structures can be created. This is not to say this is the only way, but from this experience, I believe that approaches that only address required sustainable behavior for individuals that leaves everyone to their own devices not only leaves more room for people to not fulfill their requirements, but also falls short of what living sustainably should really mean. Living sustainably in a singular pocket is not sustainability because it does not actively work towards a more sustainable world. Yes, singular changes in behavior is important, but the challenge of sustainability is getting many to live this way – we must actively change the world or else the big changes needed will never happen. We at the house are not only modifying our own behaviors, we are also actively engaging in projects and community outreach that actively works towards creating a better world. We give tours of our house and our community garden to the local elementary school and local summer programs. We go to the local elementary school to do environmental education programs. We hold events on campus to get more students active in environmentalism and sustainable behavior. We write this blog and have created a social media presence to show what we are doing and spread the joys and challenges of this experience. I believe that any group working towards building communal sustainability must think beyond their immediate surroundings and become an active member of the sustainability movement.
While we do a number of things that I find to be integral to creating a successful and true sustainable home, the success our situation is not entirely applicable to widespread creation of other sustainable homes. In living here, we have incentive to do things for many reasons. We are living as part of a program on our college campus – our work in this house counts as course credit so we are graded and given a number of assignments we must complete. All of us applied to live in the house out of mutual and predisposed interest in sustainability. We receive (some) funding from the college to do our projects. While this is a great program that is beneficial for many parties, it exposes the challenge of how to have programs and homes like this in “the real world.” Where is the incentive for the average citizen to live in a sustainable house (whether than means converting their own home or joining a group)? It requires sacrifices, money, and active work. One must always be checking their habits as they go about their daily routine. Installing compostable toilets and solar panels is vastly expensive. Constantly engaging in activism and community outreach requires extensive work and time. Without say, a college program, government funding/incentives, or truly dedicated environmentalists, creating sustainable homes and communities is quite the challenge. But – that’s why what we do here is so important – those of us truly dedicated to the environment and/or those of us with the privilege to be a part of a college program, must always attempt to lead the way. Our lifestyles, projects, and communal outreach must serve as positive examples, shining beacons, inspiring alternatives to the status-quo.

Join the conversation – comment below and add your two cents! What are successful ways of creating communal structures based around sustainability? What do you think people must do and be in order to be truly sustainable? How do we spread sustainable living? How do we make sustainable living appealing to the average citizen? How do we fund these projects?