Thoughts on well-being, sustainability and those things that constitute a good life beyond consumption.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The healing power of the lake

I am traveling, so can't post pictures of one of the most inspirational places in the world to me - the shores of Lake Superior.  I grew up across the street to this wonderful body of water and over the past week, I was able to once again hear the tremendous roar the lake can make when stirred up by fall gales.  This is where I would go to play as a child, where I went in college to decompress, and where I always come when I return "home" to visit family and friends.  I suspect we all have a place that is this important to us -- a place of comfort, that brings back memories.

I have run into many people I know while visiting Marquette, MI.  Everyone is talking about the tragedies that happened at the lake this summer.  Several people drowned in rare rip currents and a boat capsized killing two.  The lake that brings tranquility to me, brought heartache to many families and many now speak of the fear they have for it and are calling for some way to prevent such accidents in the future.  The beach was filled with signs warning of the dangerous currents and the need to avoid swimming in the water. 

I have always marveled at the lake - its vastness, its beauty and clarity, its ability to look like a mirror one day and then be treacherously rough the next.  And yes, how darn cold the water can be.  The Great Lakes, especially Lake Superior, need to be respected for what they are -- a rare piece of wildness that remains. Yes, it is tragic that so many people recently lost their life in this lake -- a lake with a long history of shipwrecks and death.  But, perhaps in an odd sort of way, these are reminders of the power of nature and the fact that we humans cannot subdue every last inch of the planet.

As I stood on the shoreline the other day with the strong winds hurling drops of water into my face, I was again reminded of how insignificant I am in nature's big picture.  The water was midnight blue and the unusually large waves were crashing violently against the rock outcroppings.  Stunning.  I reluctantly drove away.  My mother was getting a little bored waiting in the car trying to figure out why I am so fascinated with staring out at the lake.  I smiled, feeling quite revitalized having just experienced some of nature's best medicine.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thoughts on nature

A friend sent this to me this week.  It reminds us that education can come in many forms, and that nature is an important teacher.  

It were as well to be educated in the shadow 
of a mountain as in more classic shade.
Some will remember, no doubt,
not only that they went to college
but that they went to the mountain. 
Henry David Thoreau

And from another aquaintance:

And a literature review of Greenspace and health/wellbeing:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Sustainable food production and Vandana Shiva

For the second time in less than a year, I had the good fortune to meet with and attend a talk by Dr. Vandana Shiva last night. Our Moravian College delegation first met her at COP15 last December (see and

Dr. Shiva has long been a strong advocate for small farmers, the protection of crop diversity, and the empowerment of women.  She has dedicated her life to protecting biodiversity, especially through saving traditional seeds at a time when agricultural monoculture is the norm.  She also has strong feelings about GMOs, globalization and certain large corporations and these feelings are not positive!  Many of my peers (and I) share her concerns about the power of U.S. corporations, their profit motive, and their attempts to exploit resources, the environment, and people.  Such corporate trends are not going to lead to the “just sustainability” that Julian Ageyman from Tufts calls for (see Dr. Ageyman's blog at
Dr. Shiva (center) with some of my colleagues from Moravian College
I do, however, disagree with Dr. Shiva’s negative portrayal of the Green Revolution.  Indeed, many of the wartime technologies were translated to agriculture after World War II:  the production of fertilizers (instead of explosives); the agricultural use of pesticides (whose development was linked to chemical warfare as well as protecting soldiers from insect-borne diseases); the use of assembly lines to mass produce farm equipment; and even the application of nuclear research to the irradiation of seeds to produce new varieties of crops.  It is really quite a fascinating part of agricultural history--something I teach in the course I teach "The Impact of Technology on Diet and Disease". 

But I don’t believe that this led to a “militarization” of our food supply as Dr. Shiva made reference to last night.  In the 1940’s, famines in India led to the deaths of millions of people.  Dr. Shiva said that there had always been famines bout that they were regional and temporarily short-lived.  But she believes that the global persistent hunger facing the planet now has resulted from the exploits of large agribusinesses (which arose with the Green Revolution and now is the controller of genetically modified food crops, patents on life, etc.)  Acknowledging my bias as a trained plant scientist, I truly belief that many of the innovations of the Green Revolution were developed with good intentions and did make a significant and positive difference for people in developing countries around the world.  We can argue about the motives of large (U.S. corporations) and the pros and cons of GM foods elsewhere.

Ironically, this week, 2010 Borlaug Dialogue (a conference centered on the awarding of the World Food Prize conference) is being held.  This prize was started by the 1970 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Norman E. Borlaug—considered by many as the Father of the Green Revolution.  The theme this year is "Take it to the Farmer": Reaching the World's Smallholders—focusing on the small farmers and their role in world food production.
I wish I had asked Dr. Shiva about this since, as I have mentioned above, she is highly critical of the Green Revolution, but a strong advocate of the small farmer.

The WorldWatch Institute has an amazing program called Nourishing the Planet and I have been following the project blog for almost a year.  The folks from this project are in Iowa for the World Food Prize conference and posted this commentary today:’re-all-here-to-reduce-hunger-right/.
Yet another reference to the conflict between large agribusiness and small farmers.

The Nourishing the Planet blog introduced me to the book Tomorrow’s Table which I found to be a wonderful and refreshing exploration of ways to bring two very divergent perspectives (plant molecular genetics/genetic engineering and organic farming) together and consider possible synergies.  I can't recommend this book highly enough.  Perhaps a key to nourishing the planet (reducing hunger, finding a new prosperity and sources of hope, just sustainability or however you want to phrase it) lies in opening more avenues for meaningful (rather than antagonist) dialog between large corporate agriculture, smallholders, community garden leaders, scientists, and others.

Stories of Hope from Chili

What is it about the story of the Chilean miners that has captivated so many observers around the world?  Today, not only was the Chilean president at the Camp Hope site, but also the president of Bolivia.  Reporters and social networks from all around the world are covering the series of rescues.  

Is it the rare good news story that now more than half of the miners have been brought to safety?   Is it a curiosity about the difficult conditions they have had to endure for over two months 2000 feet below the Earth’s surface?  

For those of us in the U.S., does it bring back memories of mining disasters in our own country, especially those where the outcomes were not nearly so joyous such as the Sago Mine in West Virginia?  I searched for information about the only survivor from that incident—Randal McCloy, Jr.—and found a letter he wrote to the victims’ families.  How awful to watch your coworkers die.  I wonder what he is thinking today.

Is it the amazing division of labor and cooperation they have displayed with each becoming an expert in a new area—each essential to keeping them all alive? (See the story at

Is it the tremendous faith, against great adversity, they have demonstrated through prayers, poems and letters—many of which have been sent up to family and friends?  How many of us would maintain such poise and spirit under these conditions?

We do not know what the future holds for these men in terms of their physical health or psychological state; let us all keep them and their families, co-workers and friends in our prayers.

I rarely watch television, but found myself riveted to it last night waiting for the first miner, Florencio Avalos, to be rescued.  I had tears in my eyes as he hugged his sobbing son and kissed his wife for the first time in many, many weeks.  I have been following the updates on CNN all day today. 

There are so few events that call attention to the best of humanity like this.  I hear so many people we are loosing our empathy – focused too much on self and the short-term rewards.  Maybe, just maybe, this isn’t true. 

As I was writing this, I was searching internet coverage of the rescue and came across this blog entry entitled “Hope Today” that ponders this event and the way it impacts us:  Dr. Scioli is much more eloquent in the written word than I; I recommend that you read his posting as the points he makes deserve reflection. 

4:55 EST October 13th:  22 rescued.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Gold could simply be considered just one of over 100 elements in the periodic table—atomic number 79—to be exact.  We can describe its atomic structure, and its chemical and physical properties like any other chemical.  But for thousands of years, gold has been revered as much more than just a metallic element.  It has been associated with the sun, the gods, and with immortality.  For thousands of years it has been highly desired for its beauty and value and still continues to serve as a symbol of prosperity (in the traditional sense of the word).  Gold is mentioned by Homer and in the book of Genesis and is described on hieroglyphics dating back thousands of years B.C.  Around 1500 B.C., gold became the recognized standard medium of exchange for international trade, making Egypt a wealthy nation as large amounts had been found in regions along the Nile River.

The search for gold has played a significant role in world history – both in the discovery of new lands and, sadly, in horrific stories of exploitation of people and destruction of culture through slavery, brutal killings, and the melting down of antiquities to reclaim the prized element.  The desire to obtain the element was so strong, that humans even practiced alchemy with the hope that other (less valued) metals could be changed into gold.   

You can search the internet for quotes about gold; I include a few below that illustrate just how highly people value this element.

"Gold is a treasure, and he who possesses it does all he wishes to in this world, and succeeds in helping souls into paradise."  -- Christopher Columbus

"Gold is the soul of all civil life, that can resolve all things into itself, and turn itself into all things." -- Samuel Butler

"How rare is gold? If you could gather together all the gold mined in recorded history, melt it down, and pour it into one giant cube, it would measure only about eighteen yards across! That's all the gold owned by every government on earth, plus all the gold in private hands, all the gold in rings, necklaces, chains, and gold art. That's all the gold used in tooth fillings, in electronics, in coins and bars. It's everything that exists above ground now, or since man learned to extract the metal from the earth. All of it can fit into one block the size of a single house. It would weigh about 91,000 tons - less than the amount of steel made around the world in an hour. That's rare." -- Daniel M. Kehrer

In this search of quotes, I smiled when I read ones from a James Bond movie but then I found one that really caught my attention since it relates to why I thought of a blog on this topic in the first place.

“For in the true nature of things, if we rightly consider, every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver.” -- Martin Luther

This time of year, gold can be found everywhere.  It is a form of gold that can be shared by everyone, won’t result in more atrocities, and its beauty can enrich us all.  The pictures below were from another one of my early morning fall walks and probably don’t capture the hues of gold as they appeared.  But hopefully, you can get out for a walk and find some gold wealth of your own!
The rising sun casts golden tones along a wooded path.

A bee on goldenrod

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Conservation leadership and education

What a day.  The 2010 Audubon TogetherGreen Fellows were officially announced.  It is an amazing honor to be a part of this inspirational group of people.  But most of all, when you read what these folks are doing, it provides great hope for the future.  These are the stories that don't make it to the media outlets often enough.

I haven't formulated my thoughts on properity and parenting yet, but strongly believe that nature, reading and educational opportunities are a part of the "recipe".  I also believe--from personal experience--that parents can learn much from their children.  One of my fellow Fellows expresses this quite wonderfully in a post at his blogsite today:

And while we are on the themes of education and conservation leadership, my colleague Hilde Binford and I started this blog last year when we went to the U.N. Climate negotiations in Copenhagen (COP15).  She is currently in China for the pre-COP16 meetings and has posted a number of entries about what is happening (including China's quest for greater prosperity and the consequences of this).  We will be heading to Cancun for COP16 on November 30th, and will continue the e-conversation.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Sustainability in the business world

My colleague, Hilde Binford, and I teach a course entitled “Climate Crises:  Past, Present and Future”.  For one assignment, we have pairs of students research a particular company to learn about their corporate sustainability plans – especially as they pertain to carbon emissions and water usage.  Students must then do a class presentation on the company and provide an assessment as to how dedicated the company is with regards to sustainability (being green), what their motives might be, and determine how they may fare in a carbon restrained future.
What students learn is that a number of corporations have adopted a triple bottom line – a term first coined in the late 1990’s that includes three pillars:  people (human capital), the planet (natural capital), and profit.  In other words, these companies have found that their stakeholders (shareholders and customers) either appreciate or demand more sustainable practices.   Thus, showing concern for both the social and environmental realms of their company can have beneficial consequences to the more traditional consideration of the bottom line (financial gain).  These companies may still be largely focused on growth and making a profit (or concerned about a sustainable supply of resources), or they may have more altruistic philosophies.
Today I stumbled across a website called 1% for the Planet at:  You can decide which category the member corporations fall into.  I am not sure it matters.  But with quotes such as the ones I list below on their website, they really challenge the economy vs. the environment arguments.
“The economy is a wholly owned subsidiary of the environment, not the other way around.” 
-          Senator Gaylord Nelson
“If an economy is to sustain progress, it must satisfy the basic principles of ecology.”
-          Lester Brown
“If we imitate natural systems in our economy, we will create more well-paying jobs for people.”
-          Paul Hawken

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Medicine

Today the announcement of the Prize in Medicine was made – Robert G. Edwards, the “father” of in vitro fertilization technologies (IVF) or “test-tube babies" – a choice that is bound to be controversial amongst some.  (See As a high school student, I remember that many believed that this concept was akin to science fiction, but I wrote a paper on the potential ethical issues involved should the scientists be successful!
The ethical questions are real, but now 4 million babies have been brought to life through IVF.  For families with fertility problems, I am sure that this technology has contributed to their quality of life and well-being.  Others, however, question the right of humans to “play God” or wonder why we are creating babies when there are so many children who need to be fostered or adopted.  Others question whether we have too many people on the planet already.  It would be nice if an award like this (and the science behind it) could be used to initiate widespread conversations on reproductive rights and the implications for personal and world prosperity.  An opportunity to employ some science diplomacy perhaps!

A bit more on science diplomacy

Since Peter Agre's talk on Saturday, I have thought a lot about the "science as a path to peace" comment. 

In searching the internet on the topic of science diplomacy, I came across a website page of The Royal Society (London) entitled "New Frontiers in Science Diplomacy - also the name of a 2010 report found at the site.  The opening lines on the page caught my attention:

"Science diplomacy is not new, but is has never been more important. Many of the defining challenges of the 21st century – from climate change and food security, to poverty reduction and nuclear disarmament – have scientific dimensions."

Interestingly, I had just been reading some material from the TckTckTck organization that was linking climate change to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals:

“Climate change and global poverty have attracted a lot of attention in recent years as key global justice challenges of our times.  Both are serious challenges to the future health and prosperity of our planet.  They must be combated simultaneously; we cannot take care of one without addressing the other. An effective attack on poverty and the ill-effects of climate change requires taking comprehensive action that encompasses both issues. We cannot fight climate change without considering the rising energy needs of poor people and countries, nor can we effectively address global poverty without accounting for the impacts of climate change on agriculture, disease patterns, and violent weather events, all of which particularly impact the poorest countries.”

Science will indeed be important (essential) in addressing mitigation and adaptation efforts for a changing climate and in helping to address many of the Millennium Development Goals.  But given the backlash against science in the U.S. right now (the climate change skeptics and deniers, those who are fearful of vaccines or genetically modified foods, the people who don’t accept evolution), can scientists convince the public of the value of science for improving the quality of life, much less serving as a tool for international understanding and diplomacy?

These themes are sure to arise when Dr. Vandana Shiva (nuclear physicist, environmental activist, philosopher) comes to campus next week.  I will be posting on that experience, but in the meantime, if you want to learn a bit more about some of her work, you can read a series of articles at .

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Country fairs and Nobel Prize winners

How is that for an unusual blog entry title?! 

Yesterday started with the family headed to the annual school country fair and soccer games.  After about 10 inches of rain on Thursday and Friday, we were blessed with a gorgeous blue sky day, pleasant temperatures, migrating raptors, and the smells of autumn.  The abundance of the farmers' fields was quite evident with baskets of peppers, squash, cabbages, corn, cucumbers, apples, freshly made honey, etc. all around. The crips breezes carried the wonderful smells of international foods being prepared and served and the distance fiddle music being played by the grade school Sukuki students.  

The day started with a 5K run/walk to raise money for the campus beautification fund (planting more trees).  Families chatted about their recent activities during the soccer game and a father from the opposing team said how much he liked to come to Moravian's events since the environment was so welcoming and the games played fair and clean.  What a compliment!

Yes indeed, we are so blessed with the riches of life.  I wonder if other families were feeling this way too.

Last night, we had a reception and dinner for the visiting speaker - Dr. Peter Agre, Director of the John Hopkins Malaria Research Institute and co-winner of the 2003 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of aquaporins (critical channels in cell membranes for the movement of water). 

Dr. Agre grew up on a farm in Minnesota.  As a result of resources poured into science in the age of Sputnik, his father—a college chemistry professor at St. Olaf college—ended up in California for a year-long sabbatical after acquiring a significant grant.  So young Peter was surrounded by internationally renowned scientists and had the opportunity to witness first-hand Linus Pauling (another Nobel Prize winning chemist) in his efforts to protest nuclear testing.  This environment nurtured his life-long interest in both science and using science as an avenue to make a difference.  After college at a small liberal arts college in Minnesota and spending time traveling through Asia, he went to John Hopkins Medical School but retained his interest in biomedical research.  He has studied cholera, malaria, blood-group antigens (like the Rh factor) and a number of other diseases.  (You can learn more about him at and
He spoke less about his work linking science and politics and his role as president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, but in conversations after the formal talk we heard much more about his thoughts on science diplomacy.

During his talk he provided a number of important messages that struck me as relevant to some of the themes I am exploring through this blog:

1.  The importance of the gifts of education and having parents inspire a sense of wonder in their children.  I personally believe that without literacy, opportunities for education, and a strong sense of curiosity about (and respect for) nature and the cultures around us, it will be difficult to achieve a new prosperity.
2.  Regardless of how you arrive at a particular juncture in life, what is important is what you do with the opportunity.  We are given gifts and thus, have a responsibility to use them wisely and work to make the world a better place.
3.  Science can and should be a path to world peace.  (The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a Center for Science Diplomacy that has as its goal to use “science and scientific cooperation to promote international understanding and prosperity”!)
4.  Scientists have a responsibility to both communicate with the public to better inform them about the importance of science in our lives and to find ways to put science to work improving the quality of life for people around the world.