Environmental Writing 2011

May 27th, 2011

By Jan Barry

EnvironmentFrom Agent Orange’s insidious grasp out of the past of the war in Vietnam to current health concerns of many residents of Ramapo River communities, to the potential future effects of global climate change, 11 student-reporters at Ramapo College of New Jersey dug into a wide array of ecological issues in the Spring 2011 Environmental Writing class.

Here are some of many insightful passages that summarize topics students chose to research and report in magazine-style final writing projects, all of which are posted on our class website, Ramapo Lookout, along with their other writing assignments throughout the semester.


“The Earth is as a storm. Violently it crashes and trumpets along its trillion year journey. Like a wildfire burning on a California horizon, the Earth surrounds itself in tapestry of both beauty and terror. In essence our planet is a hospitable destroyer. It will deny life as easily as it fosters it. Often times life will simply die off, a casualty of the constant unseen equation of nature. Still, despite the changes our planet has seen, the existence of life has always remained firmly rooted. However, our modern age has threatened life with a new villain: pollutants.”

— From Destroying our Oceans: Impact of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch by John Clancey


“Beekeepers throughout the Garden State know there is something wrong. Some blame mites and pesticides but others are still puzzled as to what exactly is causing colony collapse disorder.

“’I had beehives that were full of bees and produced a great honey crop, and two weeks later were empty,’ says Joe Triemel, Corresponding Secretary at the Essex Co. Beekeepers.

“Why all the buzz? Bees are very critical to agricultural practices.”

— From New Jersey’s Buzz on Colony Collapse Disorder by Courtney Leiva


“When being advised to follow a healthy diet, the one food that is indisputably on the top of the list is fish. Its Omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals keep our heart pumping and our blood pressure low. It is an easy food to cook, requiring little preparation and, in most cases, done in less than 30 minutes. It is almost impossible to make a bad dish with fish unless, of course, the fish itself has been contaminated.

“With the recent environmental disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, which was formally known to produce quality fish, particularly shellfish, fish lovers now question the safety of the fish coming from the Gulf. Do we believe the government agencies that maintain the fish from the Gulf is safe or do we stop buying, adding to the sorry economic state of the Gulf fishermen’s woes, who are just recovering from Hurricane Katrina?”

— From Is Eating Fish as Healthy as It Used to Be? by Virginia DiBianca


“Climate change, or global warming as it is often referred to, has been a hot button issue in recent years. It has dominated the environmental arena, and has even played a role in the political spectrum, as Democrats and Republicans hold very different ideas about the phenomenon. There is a lot of conflicting information about this so-called global warming and the process of weeding through all of it to separate fact from fiction can seem overwhelming. The truth of the matter is, depending upon who you ask, you will likely get a very different interpretation of climate change, its causes, its effects, and what it ultimately means for you and me.

“Climate change, or global warming, is certainly a very complex issue with a myriad of facts, data, and evidence from a host of different organizations to take into account. But these are the bare-bone facts of the situation. There is evidence to support hundreds of thousands of years of constantly changing climate situations on our planet. But there is also hard proof that humans have, if nothing else, sped the process up a significant amount. It is really up to each citizen of the planet Earth to make their own decision about climate change and make their day-to-day choices accordingly.”

— From Climate Change: A Complex Issue with Clashing Points of View by Lindsey de Stefan


“Jeff Genser, a Suffern native, pleaded to the council about flood issues. He stated, ‘You’re proposing to eliminate 100 acres of flood plain, and turn it from a pervious area to an impervious. And that is unacceptable, in my opinion.’ He went on to propose his own idea for what could be built on the flood plain next to the Ramapo River, a Vertical Farm. ‘A building could be constructed that could supply food to half of Bergen County…use all the water it comes into [from the river], over and over again, and have no pollution and environmental impact.’ The idea seemed to stir no interest by the council.

“Many individuals mentioned how the mall would impact the surrounding community. Some were frustrated over the idea of Stag Hill residents being stranded in an emergency situation, being that the only access road to their community would become a constant point of traffic and congestion. Retired resident Ron Whalberg asked the council, ‘At what point do we stop endangering future generations?’”

— From A Changed Mahwah by Graig Mihok


“It is a race against time for a fading era of American heroes who served their country and feel they were poisoned by their government. It is a race against time for the Vietnamese people suffering from health conditions and birth defects. The U.S. government is left with a choice. It can accept responsibility and dedicate itself to all who suffered from the Agent Orange spraying campaigns, or it can wait for the end of an era. It can hope for the best that history will forget. The natural environment and the lives it gracefully sustains are in serious danger.

“For Agent Orange investigator Fred Wilcox, justice is yet to be done. ‘The government can start by saying sorry,’ he said.”

— From War After the War: The Environmental Assault of Agent Orange by Dan Savino


“Consumers seem to be paying attention to what they eat more and more. It is too soon to prove whether GM seeds, crops and foods will hurt or help us, but staying informed and questioning claims for will help to insure our safety. Big corporations own the rights to a very crucial part of the food chain. Urging others to ask questions, voice opinions and challenge tests is incredibly important. Food and its nutrients are what help us survive. As consumers and as humans we have the right to take control over the products we use daily.”

— From Genetically Modified Food: What Does it Mean for You and Your Kitchen? by Lorraine Metz


“Some say it’s just a coincidence; that it would take years, if not decades, for us to see any change in prices if we started drilling. Experts say that the process of actually obtaining the oil, refining it, dispersing it, and using it takes an extreme amount of time and money, so that we wouldn’t see any relief in the near future. The Energy Information Association found that increased drilling would have a very small, if any, impact before 2030. They also found that even once the oil starts flowing, it would only bring in about 0.2 million barrels per day.

“Others argue that just by lifting a ban on drilling, it would influence the market to lower prices. This is what seemingly happened between 2008 and 2010 with President Bush’s decision. However, other economists argue that the oil industry is part of a global market and since the United States would only be contributing less than one million barrels per day, it wouldn’t do much for the prices. How would one explain what happened after Bush’s decision? The theory of supply and demand seems pretty fitting, which would directly benefit us in this situation.”

— From To Drill or Not to Drill? Offshore Oil Drilling and How it Can Affect You by Brittany Shann


“’Many residents have told me they don’t trust DuPont or the NJ DEP. They think DuPont is covering up pollution and DEP is rubber stamping inadequate DuPont cleanup plans,’ says Bill Wolfe, former planner and policy analyst for the state Department of Environmental Protection and former policy director of Sierra Club’s New Jersey Chapter.

“’They are frustrated by the slow pace of cleanup, angry for not being told about vapor intrusion, and disgusted by repeated failures by local and state officials to provide full information and allow them to have a meaningful role in cleanup decisions that affect their lives, their family’s health, and their property value,’ he says.”

— From DuPont: Pompton Lakes Site Still a Source of Conflict After 25-Year Clean Up by Deanna Dunsmuir


“Some fluctuations in the Earth’s temperature are inevitable regardless of human activity, but centuries of rising temperatures and seas lie ahead if the release of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation continues unabated, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The panel shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former Vice President Al Gore for alerting the world to warming’s risks.

“Over the next decade, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency plans to regulate sources of greenhouse gases, imposing efficiency and emissions requirements. Until the UNFCCC starts taking action on a global scale, it seems that countering global warming and climate change is up to the people’s smaller actions and lifestyle changes. Maybe then those with the greater power will see that we are prepared for much bigger, even drastic changes.”


— From Global Warming: Small Steps Towards Conquering a Big Threat by Jessica Vasquez


“A tract of twenty-two acres of forest named after the former Governor of New Jersey, George Brinton McClellan, was purchased a few years ago by Seton Hall Prep School of West Orange, New Jersey. The school’s plan’s to clear the old growth forest rippled through the community and neighboring towns and has caused many concerns. For two years, town residents and students attended zoning board hearings to voice their opinion on the proposed clear cutting. …

“The Mallangas, both active members of the Sierra Club, also brought in Bruce Kershner. Kershner is a field ecologist who is also a national authority on old growth forests and took a survey of the 22 acres of trees. He identified the trees and expressed the historical and biological value of the forest. Board members attacked his testimony claiming that the use of the term ‘old growth forest’ can not be used if he cannot tell the exact age of the trees. They repeatedly interrupted him during his testimony to ask him for credentials and if he had a background in studying and observing old growth forests. Kershner has studied old growth forests for over 30 years all over the country, but that did not seem like a sufficient enough background for the zoning board members.”

— From Seton Hall Prep Clear Cuts Our Future by Amanda Nesheiwat


(This article was also posted at EarthAirWater, Earth Legacy, and Ramapo Lookout.)

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