Nature vs Nurture: A New Perspective on an Old Problem

“Nature!” shouts Immanuel Kant and the nativists of psychology. “Nurture!” shouts John Locke and the behaviorists. The current consensus is that human development is about 2/5 nurture and 3/5 nature, but the percentages will undoubtedly continue to vacillate with new discoveries just as they have for centuries. Perhaps this psychological “nature versus nurture” model of attribution in human development can also be applied to our perceptions of rivers. Rivers play an integral role in modern culture, and they’ve played an even larger role in the past. They are also necessary to survival; every civilization in the past 10,000 years has been based around a major river. Is our love of rivers more something we are born with and express as part of a human dependence on water, or is it an appreciation learned from culture that changes with the tides?

Ann Woodlief, author of “In River Time,” could make a strong argument that humans’ love of rivers is in our genes. While reflecting by the water, she wonders if “perhaps the fluid life within us welcomes signs of the river’s generous cleansing.” She suggests that our own flesh and blood connects us to flowing water. By focusing on the similarity every human has with the river, she explains how our perception of them is as much biological as cultural. She feels a base connection with the river and its flow, taking every opportunity to describe how human life is just a blip in the long, terrain-shaping life of a river. This relative timelessness helps explain humans’ appreciation of rivers as it factors into religion.

Religion is undeniably a product of nature. Every early society independently developed a religious structure, which means that it can’t have come from the spread of a cultural idea. We worship things that we see as above us. Forces of nature, since they dictated the lives of early humans, were seen this way, and so were worshipped. Rivers, in addition to being forces of nature, were also givers of life through food and clean water, so were even more worshipped. For example, the Powhatan, a tribe that lived below the fall line of the James, worshipped the god known as Okee by throwing tobacco and beads into the river as sacrifices.

On the other hand, different cultures have had vastly different perceptions of the rivers around which they were built. Ranging from apathy and pollution to worship and reverence, these differing cultural views have far too much variety to be explained by a common human reaction ascribed by the “nature”argument of attribution. Rather, views of rivers are learned through nurture. Unsurprisingly, societies with religions and livelihoods focused on coexistence with the earth treated rivers better than those that focused on progress and expansion. When explorers from England reached the east coast of North America, the Thames was already polluted with human waste and carried disease. The rivers of North America, on the other hand, were pristine- an explorer named Edward Wingfield described it as “a River, for breadth, sweetnes of water… so stored with Sturgion and other sweete Fish as no mans fortune hath ever possessed the like.”

A cultural dichotomy exists in America between those who love rivers and those who are apathetic towards them. Guest writers at the HJ Andrews experimental forest fall into the first group, many of them focusing on the shaping and sustaining qualities of rivers. Sanitra felt able to imagine herself in the HJA when she read Robin Kimmerer’s “Listening to Water.” Parr, when reading the same reflection, noticed how Kimmerer described each drop of water as having an important story to tell while traveling and sustaining life. Most Americans, however, don’t notice how rivers shape their lives. Even in Richmond, a self-proclaimed river city, most citizens aren’t aware of the river’s importance and many have never been to the James’ banks. Globalization and specialization have both most likely contributed to a declining appreciation for rivers- as we globalize we have to think less about where products come from, and as we specialize we trade an individual understanding of the system (which includes rivers) for a deeper understanding of just a part of it. Different people in the same culture have vastly different levels of passion for rivers, and different cultures express different amounts of interest in rivers. Both of these factors suggest a cultural influence on perception of rivers.

Just as psychologists on both sides of the nature vs nurture debate acknowledge that both have some influence, we must acknowledge that both have an influence on our perception of rivers. Cultures equally dependent on rivers can have vastly different perceptions of them, suggesting that a universal genetic attitude toward rivers is not present. Cultures where religion (a product of human nature) is focused around rivers tend to have a much greater appreciation of them. Writers like Anna Woodlief and Robin Kimmerer believe humans are linked to rivers through our shared dependence on water. We should utilize the “nurture” aspect of humans’ love for rivers to build cultural appreciation for and awareness of their many benefits to us.

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The Living in Living and Learning

Synthetic Post #2

I’ve always loved flying. While my little sister was the nervous traveler and my brother was indifferent, I was the kid who my parents could rely on to pick a fight over the window seat no matter how many times I was told to be the “mature, big sister.” My need for the window seat goes beyond being ideal for nap taking and propping your feet up against the wall when the seat in front of you is lacking a foot rest.

Even on ground level, I’m bothered if I can’t identify my location on a map. This is even more so true in the air, where it never ceases to amaze me how the landmarks I can see from 40,000 feet are nearly identical to, albeit a tad larger than, the shapes on the map hanging on my wall. Thus, the window seat makes all the difference, because above easy access to the bathroom I prioritize looking out the window and keeping track of what city or state we’re flying over.

I’d gotten pretty good at the flight from Richmond to Boston and vice-versa, but before Geo James I was only capable of a basic interaction with the land I was looking down upon. I deduced where we were based upon recognizable skylines and uniquely shaped inlets and peninsulas. On my most recent trip home however, I noticed every river we flew over (first the James, then the York, the Rappahannock, and so on up the East Coast) and knew that a city shouldn’t be too far off. I saw the Chesapeake Bay and wondered if any of the trash we cleaned up from Belle Isle would have ended up there yet. No matter how hard I squinted I couldn’t tell if there were tires buried in the riverbed but was nevertheless comforted knowing that due to our efforts that at least the James is slightly more Tire-less.

This is just one example of the enhanced perspective GeoJames has given me on the world around me and a way the class has given meaning to the term “living and learning community”. The value in the “living” part is in encouraging what you learn to impact the way you live and allowing your lived experience to enhance your learning.

From reading my classmates’ blog posts throughout the semester, I’ve seen that I’m not the only one to notice such concrete effects. McKenzie has allowed the curriculum to increase her (hesitant) love of green space. Andrew noted that after “elite training as a member of Earth Lodge” we “notice more than most” in the nature around campus.

Because the “living” aspect of class has been so essential to our understanding of and commitment to the class’s purpose, such understanding was not so clear at the beginning of the semester. Both Sanitra and Parr recognized this in their blog posts.

Our first introduction to the curriculum was the summer reading – Portlandness and Forest Under Story.

When discussing the Portlandness atlas, I remember finding relevant that the authors chose to introduce Portland as a Cascading City in favor of a more stereotypical or commonly known descriptor. In my summer reading blog post, I wrote that this was because “they didn’t want their Atlas to simply reinforce preconceived notions of Portland but instead give honest insight into the “Portlandness” experienced by the city’s everyday inhabitants.”

I think the same can be said of this class, which framed geography in terms of a watershed, a new term for the majority of the class (as was evidenced by our need to define it every day of the trip and biweekly at the beginning of the semester). Although it may have presented some confusion upfront, it opened the door for all of us to conceptualize the campus, city, and planet in this new way – as a watershed, otherwise known as “any area of land from which water and materials drain to a common point, such as a stream, river, pond, lake or ocean.” (Thanks for the reminder, Sanitra).

This class also asked more of us than others. We were asked to form a community with each other and use that community to both enhance our learning experience inside the classroom and find relevancy for the curriculum outside the confines of Gray classroom. As Quinn eloquently summarized, I would argue that our SSIR has been able to do so effectively.

To evidence this, I present the snapchat I sent to many members of Earth Lodge from a plane, in which I mistakenly identified the York River as “The Mighty James” (which is really besides the point, but I feel obligated to admit). Even though I identified the river on my own and found satisfaction in doing so, I appreciated that validation of my excitement by my likeminded and like-passioned friends, who could relate to my identification excitement as only tree-test veterans can. Without the “living” to supplement the “learning,” this may not have been the case.

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The Politics of the Environment

 

In our studies, we are constantly addressing the best practices of environmental management, but we do not often look into serious ways of implementation besides demanding that the best practice for the environment is immediately put into action.  I believe that anyone studying environmental issues should also do a comprehensive economic analysis of the United States, and globally, in order to gain perspective on environmental issues.  Then, steps taken to improve environmental health can be better tailored for compromise with the corporations that drive economies around the world.  By including other perspectives in the conversation about protecting the environment, even if the perspectives are polar opposites, it should increase the chances that policies and steps can actually be implemented to protect the environment.

After reading Heera’s second synthetic post about the Dakota Access Pipeline, an image of loud groups of angry protesters who have latched onto one aspect of the pipeline issue manifested itself in my mind.  While one of the largest complaints against the pipeline is that a potential breakage may endanger water sources, the fact that the construction of this pipeline would make the transportation of oil safer, cheaper, and more environmentally friendly due to a decrease in the chances of spillage incidents compared to transportation by road and rail paints a different picture of environmental protection.  While I am in favor of the pipeline in this sense, I do not agree with it in terms of the fact that it is being built on the sovereign land of the Sioux Nation without their consent.  For every issue there needs to be discussion, which cannot occur if we only know one side of the issue.  Early on the year, I asked if we could take an in depth look at the operations of either the coal powered energy plants or the logging companies.  However, the discussion of any sort of operations as these was mostly limited to how many carbon emissions or coal ash are produced.   I do not believe that any sort of meaningful environmental protection discussion can occur without fully understanding the operations of the companies that provide the energy to enable our daily lives.

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The politics found behind every environmental issue can be seen very clearly in the case of water rights.  In the case of the pipeline, the benefit of our water resources must be carefully balanced with that of our energy resources.  In the article “Water Sustainability in a Changing World”, one of the key issues that is restricting the American people from properly taking care of their water resources is the complicated jurisdictional systems which lead to an inability to view and manage water in a holistic manner.  An example of this is that wastewater discharge permits are granted without thought of any downstream uses.  The ridiculousness of our current system of managing water allows for different water quality standards for interstate rivers on each side of the same body of water.  Our discussion of this topic began in the beginning of the year with the Willamette watershed and noticing the numerous factors that impacted the health of the entire system.  Due to the interconnectedness of water sources, there is no reasonable way of managing them in the current system due to its fragmented nature and containing so much bureaucratic red tape among the states, counties, and federal government.

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Map of 77 Major U.S. Watersheds                Perhaps a better way to delineate water resources?

 

Every environmental issue is not just black in white in the sense that:

  1. This harms the environment so it is inherently bad and I must be against it

or

  1. This event is beneficial for the environment so it is inherently good and must be implemented

There is a careful balance that must be struck when managing the environment in conjunction with public policy to promote the common good for all people.  With the recent election, Donald Trump’s victory, and his stance on the environment during the election, it is important for the public to maintain pressure on the most important issues in terms of overall environmental health, such as climate change.  However, it is also important to keep in mind that everything is a process and as such, fossil fuels must be phased out in a process as well.  Any form of demanding immediate and definitive action will only serve to further entrench climate change deniers and those who oppose environmental protection.  Both sides of the political spectrum must work together to protect the asset that is the environment.  This is an issue that demands global action, which has begun to be taken through deals such as the Paris Agreement, which are instrumental to effectively manage global warming.

In order to protect the environment, the best option appears to be education and exposure at an early age.  However, most adults right now have a mindset that is extremely difficult to change, and for some, no amounts of education and exposure will do anything to change their perspective on the value of the environment.  It is the adults, not children that are driving current events, so their viewpoints must be taken into consideration in order to gain any traction in environmental protection.  With global warming as a critical issue, we are at a junction where we cannot just wait for education initiatives to take effect.  Rather, the best option appears to be careful negotiation that values corporate interests as much as it does environmental issues.  There must be a give and take here because of the drastic need for legislation to be passed that protects are valuable natural environment.

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Going Back to Roots (Synthetic Log 2)

When Leonardo Dicaprio won his first Oscar as the best actor of 2016, he used his moment, not to address his personal life story, but to present the rising concern of climate change. This pressing issue has finally sparked many political activists and figures, such as Leo, to take a stance and speak up about the poor treatment towards our home. The quality of our world is declining at a rapid rate due to high consumption trends, radical population growth, and poor waste disposal practices. As Leo puts it, “Mother Earth is hurting. And she needs a generation of thoughtful, caring and active kids like all of you to protect her for the future.” The time for change is long overdue and we must inspire others to change their lifestyle habits as well. However, I want to take his words literally. To make any progress, we must revitalize our old values and go back to our roots. In other words, we must educate the “active kids” and guide them not to make the same mistakes as we did.

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Leo speaks at the 2016 Paris Agreement for climate change.

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Lives on less than $1,000 a month and donates 2/3 of his salary to his own environmental organization- the Honnold Foundation.

As we mentioned in class, the focus on global sustainability is a recent scientific trend. Thus, this generation and future generations will have the exposure and awareness to make better choices than our predecessors have. In fact, studies show that most millennials are already demonstrating this and are typically more sustainability-conscious than past generations. They were more likely to purchase products from sustainability-focused companies and rate environmental concerns as a higher priority. However, despite these results, over half of millennials feel that they cannot solve the issue of climate change and will actually worsen Earth’s conditions. It goes to show that we still have the responsibility in educating them about environmental issues and the impact everyone has. As a result, environmental leadership is crucial in providing this service. Figures such as Leonardo Dicaprio, Alex Honnold, and Al Gore have reshaped the environmental movement and brought this topic to light for many young audiences such as myself. Despite their different professions- a renowned actor, a professional athlete, and a political figurehead- they have devoted their status and careers in improving environmental issues and inspiring others to do the same. These three individuals demonstrate the strong qualities of environmental leadership: power, knowledge, and passion. Although all three traits are equally important and true environmental leadership incorporates all of these components, I agree with Rachel’s comment that knowledge is the foundation in which passion is based upon. Only by truly understanding the problems at hand can one begin to develop an interest towards it. In some sense, knowledge is the gateway to action which can best be acquired through exposure and personal experiences.

Exposing young children to the great outdoors and environmentally-conscious living will get them to be more mindful of our planet as they grow older. As Mckenzie mentions in her blog post, she used to incorporate the outdoors in her daily life such as climbing trees and running on trails even though she does not feel the same way now. Children, for the most part, want to be more connected to their environment, but they often lack the means or guidance to do so. Barriers such as access to public lands/green spaces, public transportation, and environmental mentorship often hinders their ability to explore the idea of sustainable living, especially if they come from a family which does not emphasize the concept. Thus, I think Natalie’s internship at the James River Park Headquarters is the model example of what we should be aiming for. The camp provided a very different experience and taught young minds about environmental awareness. It not only gave them a first-hand look at some of the issues around their local homes such as pollution and run-off, but also puts them in a group that is learning the same thing. It’s a great system to reinforce the idea of sustainable living and starting at the local level eventually translates into big picture thinking when they’re older. It is important to go out into the field and personally see some of the problems we have in our environment. Although exposure through a book or classroom is also important, it becomes a bit disconnecting if you can’t actually see it happen before your eyes.

Congrats Natalie for being awarded Civic Fellowship during your time at the JRA Headquarters!!

The coolest group of people I know- Earth Lodge! It has and always will be a pleasure.

 

Thus, I think Quinn got it absolutely right. What I learned most wasn’t necessarily from the in-class lectures or readings. Instead, it was from the discussions, interactions, and real world examples from the cool cats in our SSIR, the people that we met such as Bill Shanabruch, and the people who hope to one-day meet such as Ralph White. Through the environmental leadership of all these figures and from our cool dad, Todd, we have learned about the hidden holes of supposed ecotopias, the human impact on riparian habitats, and even the policy behind an environmental proposal. These lessons have made such a lasting impression on me because we had to get our hands dirty in the process: we kayaked through the sediment filled Willamette, picked up countless bags of trash at the Dutch Gap, and wrote our own Gambles Mill proposal. Thus, I can honestly say that the things I have and will continue to learn from Earth lodge is going to stay with me all throughout my life. I will continue to look down upon the CSO systems, encourage natural riverbank erosion, and attend every Floodwall film festival out there. It has been quite a journey with Earth Lodge this past semester and I think that whenever we get a bit overwhelmed, let’s just go back to these roots.

 

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Leading Us All to a Cleaner Future (Synthesis 2)

A View of the James River from Belle Isle

Looking into the water of the James River, it was hard to believe that just on the opposite bank from myself stood a city of over 200,000 people. Swirling and gurgling past my feet, the clear water of the James looked as though it had just emerged from protected lands, not like it was passing through the middle of a medium sized city. Quite fittingly, the source of the voice that narrated the audio tape that I was listening to as I gazed into the water had a lot to do with the current state of the James River. As the voice of Ralph White spoke about the ancient rocks interrupting the flow of water in front of me, I thought about the impact that his leadership would have on the James River for many years into the future. Now, as I reflect on the legacy of environmental leadership that Mr. White leaves behind, I also think about how his legacy can be preserved in the absence of a leader as strong as Mr. White. A movement towards environmental protection and stewardship can of course benefit from strong leaders, but those of us who wish to see a healthier planet for future generations cannot rely on someone leading us towards that brighter future.

Leadership, just as in any other area like business or government, is also very important in environmental protection and stewardship. Without a strong leader, a movement for greater environmentalism might loose site of its goals or suffer from a lack of a sense of direction. A leader can also help to broaden support for a movement, or drum up political or civilian monetary support for the movement. However, not everyone can be an effective leader because any strong leader needs to contain certain characteristics which will make them more effective. According to William C. Dennison and Jane E. Thomas, environmental leaders need to contain three characteristics for successful leadership: knowledge, power and passion. Knowledge refers to the leader’s understanding of environmental issues, power concerns the leader’s ability to motivate change in others through effective communication, and passion refers to the level of caring that the leader displays about environmental issues. It would of course be difficult for any one person to contain a huge amount of all three of these characteristics, but some mix of the three is necessary. According to a member of the staff of the James River Park System who works in the children education programs, passion is the most important characteristic for an environmental leader. Especially when working with children, a lesser level of knowledge is acceptable and power is also not as necessary since children are quite impressionable and easily motivated. However, it is only through passion that a leader can pass on the desire to protect our environment to children or adults. Unfortunately, adults are often more easily convinced by facts and evidence, in which case knowledge is also very important. However, for both children and adults, the ability of a leader to instill a desire to protect the environment is most important, whether through passion, knowledge, or power, and Ralph White was so effective as an environmental leader because he could convince those around him that the James River and the environment around the river were worth protecting.

Ralph White, local hero

Ralph White, standing in front of the James River

Ralph White, now retired from the James River Park System, is credited as the father of the park. Melissa Scott Sinclair of “Style Weekly” refers to Mr. White as “the man who shaped the rough James River Park System into a gem”. However, as Ms. Sinclair’s article points out, Mr. White did not take money and resources from the city or state government to build the park, but rather used “an army of volunteers” to the James River and surrounding property into a central feature of the city of Richmond. Mr. White built support for the park through ideal environmental leadership. Descriptions of Mr. White portray a man most certainly not lacking in passion. His training as a naturalist provided him with plenty of knowledge, and even if he did not enjoy working with the government and those who did not fully support his vision, Mr. White still had the power to motivate them to mostly support him and the park. But now that Mr. White has retired, does another leader take his place, or can his legacy be protected and even built upon without a single leader?  Mr. White himself has said that the success, and even greater future for the James, is in the hands of the future James River stewards. But who are these future stewards?

I believe that the future stewards of the James River will be those members of the community who simply care enough about their local environment to take a stand and fight. These members of the community can individually become environmental leaders even if they do not have all three characteristics. If they care about protecting their local environment, then they already have the required passion. Once they care, they will educate themselves on the relevant issues and gain the necessary knowledge. The third component, power, comes through collective action when multiple members of the community join forces and through the power of numbers motivate the government to support their cause. This is how community members, such as Susan from Michael’s post, can become leaders for environmental protection. Susan, who benefits greatly from the the natural environment around Reedy Creek, did not like the idea of the proposed stream restoration that is planned for a stretch of the creek. Her passion for the creek and its protection led her to better understand why the stream restoration could do more harm than good. Finally, her desire to protect the creek, combined with the will of her neighbors,

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Save Reedy Creek Lawn Sign

has finally been heard by the city, evident in the fact that almost all of Richmond’s mayoral candidates oppose the stream restoration. Susan herself does not quite meet the criteria for environmental leadership, but I believe that the definition for an environmental leader needs to be expanded to allow for joint community leadership. Together, as a community, those who have filled there lawns with save Reedy Creek lawn signs act as environmental leaders. In Parr’s observation log about the Richmond Folk Festival, he writes a little about how community support for environmental protection is so important. This community support becomes even more powerful when members of the community come together to become environmental leaders.

Allowing for communities as a whole to be environmental leaders also removes some pressure for the individual, which is great for individuals like myself who carry the passion, and even some of the knowledge necessary for leadership, but who do not carry the required power for change. However, along with other individuals, such as my classmates, I can begin to influence greater environmental stewardship.  For example, by myself I have the passion, and even some of the knowledge necessary to lead restorative change in the Gambles Mill Corridor. However, I have none of the power necessary to motivate the University of Richmond to make the changes I feel would best support the environmental protection of the corridor and the Little Westham Creek which runs through the corridor. But joined together with my classmates and others who support environmental interests on campus, we contain the power to influence the university to allocate more resources towards environmental protection, thus fully meeting the requirements for environmental leadership. Individual leaders are of course still valuable to environmental causes, but they are not the only way in which leadership can manifest itself and protect the environment for a cleaner and brighter future.

 

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Leaders Moving the Earth

According to John Muir, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” His words have inspired people across the decades and have created a world through his words where people can visualize and appreciate nature. Muir is considered the Father of our National Parks and fought to preserve the land in which he found solace. Environmental leaders like John Muir have the power to motivate the public and affect change in policy and government. In Dennison and Thomas’s chapter on environmental leadership, they emphasize the importance of power, passion, and knowledge performing in harmony to best motivate followers. In order to understand how each of these qualities work together, it is important to analyze how each one is important to leadership as a whole.

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Al Gore speaking on global warming

In this case, power is defined as having the resources to accomplish leadership goals. For instance, if the goals of the leader are to alter legislation, then the individual should be a legislator, lobbyist, or another involved party in order to influence lawmaking processes. A true leader must have some platform in which to stand and have his or her voice heard. As Quinn stated in her post, “passion turns to power.” In other words, having a stage is not important unless the person standing there truly cares about the issue. Al Gore is the epitome of an environmental leader with power. He used his power as Vice President to bring climate change to the spotlight and ensure the nation was aware of the issue. In fact, he won the Nobel Prize in 2007 for his work on global warming. Gore proclaimed, “Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?’ We have to hear that question from them, now.” His boldness and commitment to the cause led to his success as an environmental leader. Those in positions of power have a unique opportunity to inspire the community and more leaders should take the opportunity to use their own stage and voice their opinions about the environment to others. We are in the midst of the sustainability movement and it is imperative that we inform the public.

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Ralph White standing on the rocks at Belle Isle

Another essential component of a great leader is passion. People are more motivated by individuals who demonstrate that they truly care about a cause. Ralph White is the perfect example of this kind of leader. He is an inspirational figure who will go to the ends of the earth to protect the James River. His accomplishments as the head of the James River Park System prove his dedication to the community. When Nathan Burrell took over his job, many people warned him that he had “big shoes to fill.” As McKenzie alludes in her post, White was an essential asset to the government to have someone so committed in his position. Beginning in 1980, he was the only employee working for the park system and worked until Burrell took his place. His dedication to the river is the main reason why so many Richmonders look up to him as the poster figure of the James. White displays a desire to protect the river at all costs and it is quite an admirable quality. We could all take a lesson from Ralph White as we must remember why we are leading in the first place.

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Bill Shanabruch wading in Reedy Creek

Knowledge is the last key to being a successful leader. A leader must be aware of the issues at hand to have intellectual conversations with his or her followers or, especially, government representatives. Fully understanding the problems is the foundation in which passion is based. Passion is driven by the desire to change something and is non-existent without comprehension of the issue. The Reedy Creek Coalition is an excellent example of an organization with the knowledge to be effective. Bill Shanabruch, the backbone of the coalition, has informed himself of every aspect of the Reedy Creek stream restoration to be able to inform others who are interested in learning more about the proposed project. As Jack reiterated in his post, Shanabruch’s knowledge and passion for the restoration is truly “evident.” In an interview with him at the creek, he provided countless statistics off-hand and was completely prepared to answer all questions. Working as the head of the organization, he has created a means for the public, especially local homeowners, to voice their concerns to the local government. Without his effective leadership, the coalition would not have been as successful as it was. The City Council has voted to not accept funds from the Department of Environmental Quality and the project is currently halted for the foreseeable future. Knowledge truly is power. Shanabruch’s commitment to understanding the issues makes him a good leader. A leader is responsible for learning the appropriate skills for the goals they have in mind.

However, there is no set list of characteristics that defines the perfect leader. Clearly, John Muir and Al Gore approach environmentalism in very different ways, but both are still effective leaders. There are many factors that determine when a certain type of leader is needed: time period, political movements, as well as the followers themselves. Timing is everything and Bill Shanabruch stepped in at the right time for the residents of Forest Hill Park and became a voice for the community. It is impossible to pinpoint exactly what kind of person is the best leader, but the ultimate goal is to solve issues with the support of the public. Every leader needs followers and the only way to gain support is to motivate people to care about the cause. Effective environmental leaders are the ones like Al Gore who voice their opinions, the ones like Ralph White who care, and the ones like Bill Shanabruch who are well-informed. We could all learn from these successful leaders and their accomplishments. While each of them are very different, they all have one thing in common: a desire for sustainability. Keeping our goals in mind, how can we become the environmental leaders of our generation?

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Connecting the semester together (Synthetic Post #2)

Summer reading is one of the worst things in all of education. I am sure this is a view shared by many people worldwide. Most college students would agree that summer is a time for fun and relaxation, rather than work and development. Despite this, class every single one us in this class happily turned in our summer reading essays without delay. Something is different about the people in the class that sets us apart from the rest. Before even starting the school year, we all read the same two novels. The first was Forest Under Story, a collection of reflection essays on the HJ Andrews experimental forest. Next was Portlandness, which was more of an atlas which contained countless maps of the city itself. These two novels set the stage for a semester of exploration and discussion, all without us even sharing our thoughts with others. I think it was important that we did not have discussions about these novels with our peers. This was a time for personal reflection and expression. Before learning about watersheds and environmental issues, we had to first learn where we personally stood on them. Subconsciously we all were eager to read the novels because we were in the process of discovering more about ourselves. Without knowing it, we were recognizing where our knowledge and values existed before we did anything with the rest of the class. This was an essential part of the course, because it started our leaning process before the class even started.

Portland Waterfront

Portland Waterfront

Jumping in headfirst, we started the semester off with a delightful trip to Portland.  We experienced a wide range of places, including anything from urban centers and hydroelectric dams to remote wilderness forests. Long term research facilities in the HJ Andrews were the first thing on our agenda. Here we learned the importance of knowing about one’s environment in order to better understand it. We drove around mountain passes and even went white water rafting. Much of our time however was spent in the city. Although in the same region, this was a much different landscape then the HJ Andrews. In the city there was almost to much to take in and things were constantly happening all around us. Our little yellow journals were filled to the brim with notes of all the new and great things around us. Some of us in the group were like Mckenzie, who wondered what the impact of a major urban center would have on the watershed. But at the time our knowledge was slim, and most of what we understood about watersheds came only from observations. We did however have the seed in our minds to want to learn more about the true impacts, and this trip was a great set up to the formal semester.

US Geological Survey’s Hydrologic Unit Map

US Geological Survey’s Hydrologic Unit Map

Reading other people’s blogs I was reminded on how we started the formal semester with basics of watershed hydrology and geographic nomenclature. At the start of the lectures we were all curious about what we saw in Portland. Countless questions filled our minds about watersheds and how the experiences Oregon connected with our local watershed. We first learned the importance of the US Geological Survey’s Hydrologic Unit codes and how water flows through a watershed. New terms like “Place” and “Region” were formally defined for us. At the time, I wondered why we were learning such ideas. Forsyth’s Place Blindness model seemed esoteric and pointless in the context of the real world. It was not till the end of the semester where I was able to look back and reflect. At the start of the semester we formed ideas about what the environment means to us, at this point we were learning about what the environment should be. All we really had at this point in time was knowledge. Up next on the agenda was looking outward to seeing what really can be done.

Bill Shanabruch at Reedy Creek

Bill Shanabruch at Reedy Creek

After learning in the classroom, we shifted focus to real life case studies. The Dutch Gap was the first instance where we were able to use our new found knowledge and use that to better understand the real world. We saw the Dominion Power Plant which stored toxic coal ash in flooded ponds right next to the James, as well as their legal outflow points which can actually boil the water in the James. Our kayak instructors told us all about this, and it was them who opened our eyes to the connectivity of the entire world. Non point source pollution was somehow made visible, and all of the concepts we learned in class came to life. Our eyes were lighting up because we were able to apply the formal concepts learned in the class room to the real world to make sense of it all. After this, we learned about the Reedy Creek restoration where the conflict was alive. Here we had the pleasure of meeting with Bill Shanabruch, who’s intense passion seemed to rub off onto us. After informing us of the facts, Jack and many others of our group were “frustrated” with how Richmond City was dealing with things. The knowledge implanted in us was telling us what was right and wrong, and although we had no real power over the outcome we had a pretty good idea of the correct choice. Here we were able to finally able to use the knowledge gained, and see what was happening in the real world in an enlightened manner.

 

After taking this class I think all 13 of us have grown. Many people take classes for the credit. You simply dot it for the grade and forget it, then move on to the next thing. But I personally think it is different for those of us lucky enough to be in this class. As outlined in this essay, the lessons taught in the class facilitated this process. Everything was planned out and everything thing we did had a purpose. This carefully constructed format of  a living learning community allowed us to develop easily. We all have grown, in knowledge and personality through what Quinn describes as this “close-knit community” formed through the class. We have grown to know more about our local ecosystem. We have grown the understand how natural hydrological processes work. We have grown understand different models and GIS software  . But knowledge by itself is useless. What matters is that we have all grown on a personal level. The foundation started at that first summer reading, that was built upon with every trip and activity has come together to mean something. I truly believe that we have all grown to love the James River, and in the future I hope we can use what we learned this semester and combine it with the love to make great changes happen.

River Protest Blocking Arctic Drilling

River Protest Blocking Arctic Drilling. Do these people love the river?

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Unpopular Opinions

What is your own experience with green spaces? Have they impacted you in a negative or positive way? Have they improved your well-being?

To be honest, I do not like green spaces, especially in comparison to the rest of Earth Lodge. I do not like bugs. I do not like humidity, or when it’s too hot or too cold. I do not like trail running, or really any kind of outdoor exercise; I am more of a gym rat. I am a typical, addicted-to-my-phone millennial who cannot survive without wifi. So why am I writing an essay about why green spaces and being outdoors are important? Because even though I do not always love them, other people do, and the greenery is incredible beneficial to its surroundings. I give respect to their importance and contribution to surrounding life, but no more, no less.

I did not always prefer the comfort of an airconditioned cozy indoor setting to “the great outdoors.” When I was little, I loved climbing trees and going for runs in our local park. But now, when I think about climbing a tree, all I see are the spiders and ants and creepy crawly critters. I don’t run at all, not even on a treadmill. It isn’t that I hate everything about the outdoors and green spaces. I had a great time in Oregon at the H.J Andrew’s Forest. It was calming, kind of meditative, but I could not take a job there or live in a cabin in the woods for the rest of my life, no matter how cool and rustic. I also love to look at stars and sunsets, and my family makes s’mores in our fire pit when my older sister and I are home on breaks. It is not that I do not have great fun in green spaces anymore. It is just that I am, for the most part, indifferent.

Studies have been done on green spaces, and I read a lot about the impact that they have on mental health. Symptoms of ADD in children can be reduced through activities in green spaces. They also help children develop cognitive, emotional, and behavioral connections. Mental health improves in those who move to areas with more green spaces, and continues to be better for years after they moved. Green spaces have even been linked to reduced stress and muscle tension, enhanced mood, improved attention, and reduced anger and aggression. Why is this relevant? UR’s campus is full of green spaces, and full of stressed students just trying to pay attention in their classes to pass their tests and learn a little bit. The green spaces are beautiful, and are a real crowd pleaser for prospective students coming on tours, but according to the studies, they serve a greater purpose. Just walking by one, the Westhampton Green outside our dorm, for example, can help improve mental health. Even though I don’t spend exorbitant amounts of time outside, I still reap the benefits of green spaces on campus.

Green spaces are also crucial to help the surrounding environment. We learned in class about how a buffer zone of vegetation is recommended on both sides of a river or stream. Environmentalists say that it helps to shade the river, provide habitat, regulate soil erosion, and filters pollutants and groundwater before it reaches the river. In addition, green spaces remove pollutants from the air, regulate the air temperature and increase rainfall retention. This is significant because without green spaces, the rest of the ecosystem would suffer. For example, animals would be left without a home and the nearby waterways would not have a natural groundwater filter in place. Heera talks in her post about her experience participating in a protest for protecting land from the Dakota Access Pipeline. I agree with those protestors – land and green spaces should be protected to save the environment, even if I’m not a huge fan of them. At risk of sounding like a broken record, green spaces are critical to a thriving environment. This doesn’t mean I want to do a 180 and be outside all the time, but the information I found makes me less indifferent to the green spaces around me.  

Green spaces are loved by Earth Lodgers and others alike. I would venture so far as to say that I love them too. Or at least, I admire them from afar. I appreciate the positive impact they have on my peers and myself, even if it is just in passing. I appreciate that they keep the world going around by how they benefit ecosystems. Writing this essay and doing a little bit of extra research makes it hard to say that I hate green spaces. Although you will still not find me lying in the Westhampton Green or the quad for hours on end, I will speak of them more fondly. To be honest, I suppose that I actually do like green spaces.

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Synthetic #2: Benefits of the River to the Individual and Group

“WATER IS LIFE! WATER IS LIFE! WATER IS LIFE!”

As the protesters passionately chanted to the beat of a drum and shouted outside of the Army Corp of Engineer’s office in Richmond, I stood amidst the crowd, chanting along, but also observed the people around me. I saw colorful posters saying “No one holds the right to destroy” and “I stand with Standing Rock”. The $3.7 billion dollar Dakota Access Pipeline project would carry oil from western North Dakota to Illinois, where it would be linked with other pipelines. However, the pipeline crosses ancestral lands that the members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe hold dear, and it would also be a massive environmental and health concern if the pipeline would break near the Missouri River, which is the tribe’s main water supply. People around me talked about the hours spent making posters the night before and arranged rides for people who did not have ways of transportation. People who came from North Dakota gave testimonials about residents getting charged for trespassing and rioting when they were actually participating in peaceful protest, the horrible conditions of the prison cells, and police officers turning in their badges after witnessing the violence ensued at Standing Rock. As I stood there, holding the colorful spray painted sign, I began to feel a sense of community with not only the people around me, but the rest of the world as we stood together in solidarity.

Map accurately depicting the controversy of the North Dakota Access Pipeline

Map accurately depicting the controversy of the North Dakota Access Pipeline

 

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Richmond Community Stands against DAPL outside the Army Corp of Engineers’ office

Members of the Richmond Community proudly standing against DAPL outside of Army Corp of Engineers building

Viewpoint from within the crowd

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One of the many signs seen outside of homes who were against the Reedy Creek Restoration project

Given that this was my first protest, this experience touched me and fascinated me on how people from various backgrounds came together for a united cause. A similar event happened in the Richmond community with the Reedy Creek Restoration project. The project was supposed to reduce excess nutrients by cutting down multiple trees to meet federal clean up rules, or as Parr stated, “nothing more than a government project to just “check off the box” and say they did something beneficial, without actually looking up the details.” There was no real evidence that suggested benefits from cleaning up the creek. People who were passionate about the issue went to the city council meetings and posted signs outside of their house saying “Reedy Creek Stream “Restoration”” with a bold red sign over it. The Richmond City Council ultimately voted 8-1 against in state grant funding for the project, bowing to strong opposition from South Richmond residents who opposed the water-quality measure because it would mean the removal of several hundred trees.

Given the previous two examples, nature and our surroundings can influence and inspire people as a group to act. As Jack mentioned in his previous blog post about the Richmond Folk Festival, he illustrated the importance of group mentality and the community effort in the accomplishment of any social cause. There are obvious benefits that a group can accomplish,  but where is the evidence of the benefits being exposed to nature to the individual? The article from National Geographic explains the specific benefits to the brain when exposed to nature. Nature allows the prefrontal cortex, the brain’s command center, to dial down and rest compared to volunteers sitting in a parking lot or sitting in a lab. They also found that when volunteers looked at urban scenes, brains showed an increased blood flow to the amygdala, which influences fear and anxiety. However, when even viewing just pictures of nature, increased blood flow to the anterior cingulate is observed, which is associated with empathy and altruism. Perhaps nature makes us nicer and calmer (maybe that’s why Earth Lodge gets along so well compared to other SSIRs, who knows). According to research from the University of Exeter Medical School, they found people who lived near green spaces reported less mental distress, even after adjusting for income, education, and employment.

Places across the country and around the world are starting to realize these benefits of nature. South Korea embraced this medicalization of nature as many suffer from work stress, digital addiction, and intense academic pressures. Korea has healing forests, where people go to escape into nature for days, weeks, and sometimes months at a time. Korea even offers a forest healing degree program at Chungbuk University, which practices prenatal forest meditation, wood crafts for cancer patients, forest burials, and so much more. Due to increased knowledge of these health benefits, visitors to Korea’s forests increased from 9.4 million in 2010 to 12.8 million in 2013. There are also famous areas in urban areas such as Central Park.  The designer of Central Park, Frederick Law Olmsted, said, “If we analyze the operations of scenes of beauty upon the mind, and consider the intimate relation of the mind upon the nervous system and the whole physical economy, the action and reaction which constantly occur between bodily and mental conditions, the reinvigoration which results from such scenes is readily comprehended. . . . The enjoyment of scenery employs the mind without fatigue and yet exercises it; tranquilizes it and yet enlivens it; and thus, through the influence of the mind over the body gives the effect of refreshing rest and reinvigoration to the whole system”

So, how does this relate to us in our own lives? In class, we have explored how the James river, or any river, brings people together and forms a community, but we have not investigated the intrinsic benefits of the individual. As Natalie stated in her blog, “parks and green spaces allow for enjoyment of nature and wild, natural, growing things; they provide cleaner air, a dynamic of peace and quiet, and the chance to not be surrounded by so many other humans or so much chaos and noise.” With the knowledge that nature has health benefits to the individual, the knowledge can incentivize not just us, but also the public to go outside and take in nature as well. I’ll leave  this with the question that Michael had earlier in class in relation to this topic: how do we make people passionate about the outside world, especially when it brings so many benefits to us as individuals and the community as a whole?

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Community Trails: Where Do They Lead and How Do We Get There?

My dog’s tail wags furiously as she playfully prances back and forth in the gravel parking lot.  It is a struggle to clip her leash on before she gallops over the small grass median and onto the Norwalk River Valley Trail.  Nearly four hundred miles away, local Richmond citizens walk out their backdoors, dogs in toe, planning on strolling the Gambles Mill Corridor.  What role do urban and suburban trails play in the communities they connect?  Are they wasted spaces that could be used for more efficient and practical purposes?  These questions are vital as my hometown, Wilton, CT, continues to lengthen the Norwalk River Valley Trail and the University of Richmond continues to plan the Gambles Mill Corridor.

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This map shows the current and projected sections of the NRVT that will span the entire Norwalk River watershed, connecting five different towns.

The Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) is a projected 38-mile path within the Norwalk River watershed.  The recreation and commuter corridor is projected to connect five different townships, providing connectivity for walkers, runners, hikers, cyclists, students, employees, pets and, on some sections, horseback riders.  The Wilton loop has significantly progressed since the town began to connect previously existing public trails during my senior year of high school.

The longest section of the Wilton corridor is built on land owned by the town previously set aside for the rerouting of the Super 7 Highway.  In 1957, the Connecticut Highway Department proposed to widen the current US 7 highway from two lanes to four, but after spending nearly 33 million dollars on acquiring the necessary land to build the new highway, the Department’s proposal was delayed by local towns rejecting the plans.  It was not until 1974 when the Department pressed for another US 7 extension, this time planning to pave 469 acres of woodlands and 157 acres of wetlands, including state park properties.  In the coming decades, 330 families and 19 businesses would be removed as the highway’s final details were falling into place.  Boundary disputes between public and private land extrapolated into large political debates as homeowners challenged highway planners.  Residents were concerned about how adjacent land use would affect their personal properties and the uninhabited forests between private plots.  According to Hansen and DeFries, any industrial construction could decrease the size of ecosystems, disrupt the natural cycles within the area, wipe out a vital resource or cause edge effects that negatively impact surrounding wilderness.  Additionally, all the new pavement would be impervious and prevent rainfall from percolating into the soil while simultaneously wiping out flora biodiversity and destroying habit corridors for fauna.

The proposed highway would cut right through the heart of Wilton and its surrounding towns.

The proposed highway would cut right through the heart of Wilton and its surrounding towns.

Wilton’s sense of region and space increased dramatically as it was preparing to shift from a small, rural community to a series of exits on a high-speed freeway.  Most residents found themselves frustrated with how the human dimensions of their environment would soon outweigh the natural elements surrounding their homes.  In short, many found what Monica defines as the local land ethic to be unbalanced.  Interstate connectivity would improve, but it would so at the cost of precious wetlands and a proud psycho-geographic sense of bucolic community.

Opponents to Super 7, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Friends of the Earth, the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials and a coalition of local residents, eventually dismantled the major plans in the 1990’s.  During my years as a Wilton resident, sections of US 7 would be marginally widened; however, the highway would not be rerouted through forestlands or wetlands.  As plans for the highway were being refuted and designs for a green corridor were being suggested, Pat Sesto emerged as an environmental leader for Wilton.  As the director of Environmental Affairs for the town since 1992 and chair of the NRVT since its early stages, Sesto was a driving force behind much of the trail’s organization and design.  Although she claims that it is “not Pat Sesto’s trail, [it] is Wilton’s trail,” Sesto was a consistent figure head, repetitively advocating for the corridor and its importance.  Holding political power made it easy for Sesto to take action, but her passion for the environment and the trail itself was the key to her success.  By communicating and negotiating with both local residents and those of higher political standing, Sesto effectively made the NVRT a focus for the town.  As Dennison and Thomas state, “knowledge, power, and passion together are a potent combination” and Sesto had all three.

Signage along the trail urges residents to"finish this project together, as a community."

Signage along the trail urges residents to “finish [funding] this project together, as a community.”

In the spring of 2013, Sesto applied for a recreational trail grant of 1.6 million dollars through the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, paid for by the Federal Highway Administration.  Although this funding was not fully granted, other local donors collaborated to help begin the implementation phase of the trail later that summer.  Without a strong community effort, funding for the NRVT would never have accumulated so quickly and the land may have been utilized in a different manner.  In a much earlier blog post, Parr notes that if a society can “better understand [itself within] a larger sense of community, then [it] can push more people to take action to protect watersheds.”  In Wilton’s case, Parr’s idea of community was crucial for raising enough funds to initiate construction of the NRVT.  According to signage on the Sharp Hill Road access point, developers are roughly one million dollars short of fully funding the completion of the Wilton loop.

Local businesses promote a sense of community by asking residents to "come run with us!"

Local businesses promote a sense of community by asking residents to “come run with us!”

Today, the NRVT remains partially completed, serving as a fragmented wilderness corridor for recreation and commuting alike.  The middle school and high school cross country and track & field teams use the trails as well as individual runners and cyclists.  Young and old families are often seen casually walking dogs or riding bikes along the gravel path.  Local businesses even host weekly group runs and 5k races where customers can buy merchandise, illustrating just one aspect of the NRVT’s economic benefits for the town.  In this way, the trail serves as a focal point of Wilton, connecting community members of different backgrounds as well as a variety of local businesses.

Physically, the trail spans five townships, joining the entire Norwalk River watershed together.  This provides a safe means for residents to access main streets, train stations, schools, offices and bus stops here in Wilton, but also in Danbury, Redding, Ridgefield and Norwalk.  Because the trail spreads across these town boundaries, a large-scale sense of regional community is delicately crafted.

The trail allows uses to safely cross major roads, increasing connectivity between residential areas and commercial areas.

The trail allows users to safely cross major roads, increasing connectivity between residential areas and commercial areas.

Each of the five corridors depends on the other four in order to fully realize the grand concept of the NRVT.  Because of this mutual reliance, each town is pressured into planning, funding and developing their respective section of the trail in a timely manner as to follow through with their promise of the trail.

 

Named for and located within a watershed, the NRVT helps to remind residents of their role within the global water cycle.  Using the corridor gives participants a meaningful connection to the watershed, making the ownership and stewardship of the land all participants’ responsibility.

Chestnut Hill Brook, a tributary of the Norwalk River, runs nearby this section of the trail.

Chestnut Hill Brook, a tributary of the Norwalk River, runs nearby this section of the trail.

With the Norwalk River and its tributaries so close, trail users can actively witness how their lives are just small functions within a set of hierarchical ecosystems and cycles that power Earth and its many dimensions.  Schnoor argues that understanding the movement of water is crucial for protecting water sustainability and the NRVT brings people closer to the River where they can witness the water cycle in action.  Additionally, trash cleanups and other organized service projects along the corridor promote this idea of mutual accountability and help to educate the public on the movement of water.

The NRVT stands as a proud centerpiece of Wilton, CT.  It serves as a recreational trail, uniting the town, as well as a commuting pathway.  A sense of community functions at both the larger watershed scale in addition to a more localized town scale.  The corridor draws residents to native businesses and promotes an active lifestyle for young and old residents alike.  The history of our previously planned Super 7 Highway turned wilderness trail is truly a success story and illustrates the power of strong environmental leadership as well as the importance of community in prompting change.  In these ways, the NRVT defines Wilton as a place in the minds of residents as well as on the map.  However, the initial question still stands: where do community trails, such as the NRVT and Gambles Mill, lead?  Perhaps it’s to main street, Long Island Sound or the James River.  Maybe they lead to a more unified community or a more enriching lifestyle grounded in experiencing wilderness.  For me and my dog, they just lead around the next bend, pointing towards a future of responsible environmental stewardship and united connectivity.

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Lucy sniffs the cold winter air in one of the NRVT parking lots, waiting to chase whatever lies around the next bend of the trail.

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