Ten Square Miles

An Environmental Activism Resource

Month: January 2016 (page 2 of 4)

If A Tree Falls (2011)


If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front is an awarding winning documentary that was directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman.  This documentary follows the story of Daniel McGowan, a man who got arrested because he helped commit arson with the extremist environmental group ELF (Earth Liberation Front).  At one point ELF was considered America’s number one terrorist group, as said by the FBI, due to the group’s violent nature and numerous arsons against certain businesses.  The film focuses on Daniel’s reasoning for his actions and his time awaiting his final sentence. Daniel is followed throughout the documentary and he explains why ELF felt the need to take extreme measures. This particular documentary is associated with many production companies such as British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), Independent Television Service (ITVS), Lucky Hat Entertainment, Marshall Curry Productions LLC and P.O.V./American Documentary.  If A Tree Falls was first released January 2011 at the Sundance Film Festival in the United States.  Since then it has been nominated for ten awards, of which the documentary has won six out of those ten nominations.


Official trailer for If A Tree Falls (2011): https://youtu.be/WRwN-crcQrI




“Company Credits.” IMDb. IMDb.com. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.


If A Tree Falls. Dir. Marshall Curry. Oscilloscope Laboratories, 2011. Film.


“If a Tree Falls.” If a Tree Falls. Web. 8 Dec. 2015.



Carbon Emissions Past, Present and Future

It’s about a year old, but I think this is an interesting video that you can interact with.

Watch the video here.


Sweden Plans to be the First Fossil Fuel Free Country

Just before the climate talks began Sweden had announced their plan to be fossil fuel free by spending 542 million dollars on green infrastructure. Other countries are following their lead such as Denmark, which produced 140% of its energy needs with just wind power and gives energy to neighboring countries. It’s nice to see countries making huge progress with renewable energy.

Read more here.


The Ugly Truth About Cosmetics

It’s difficult, through the layers of mascara and foundation, to see how harmful the cosmetics industry is to the environment. So many companies these days simply slap the word “natural” in front their product and ignore how wildly problematic the word is. Between trends and cost and packaging and chemicals, the cosmetics industry, while it looks pretty on the surface is anything but.

Pink, glittery, and gorgeous, cosmetics look innocent enough until you look at the label. Most cosmetics currently sold in stores are full of damaging chemicals, waiting to wreak havoc on the environment when they are washed down your drain. Those gorgeous lipsticks might just be full of P-phenylenediamine, a chemical toxic to aquatic ecosystems. Over periods of time, it can diminish the plankton population and even kills many aquatic species.  Dioxane, a chemical found in many cosmetics such as shampoos, conditioners, moisturizers, and soaps, is a carcinogenic chemical, costly to remove from products, although possible, and fatal to insects and fish populations. This list goes on and on with triclocan which changes the biochemistry of amphibians, and DBP which can change the biochemistry, genetics, and growth of fish when washed down the drain. When cosmetics go down the drain to tamper with the aquatic eco-system, what becomes of the rest of the world? All life on Earth is dependent on water and if that water and life in that water has experienced chemical alteration, so will the rest of the Earth.

Not only this, but cosmetics packaging in incredibly harmful to the environment. Because of the numerous chemicals in each products, the packaging must be made out of material durable about not to corrode when in contact with the products. This means that the plastic is more difficult and will simply sit in landfills as more and more plastic bottles and packages accumulate. Such packaging is costly not only to the environment, but also when compared to the cost of homemade and truly natural cosmetics products in reusable containers.


The latest trend in cosmetics is throwing “natural” in front of every name and product. Consumers want to feel as though they are being less harmful to the environment by buying a product made from natural ingredients. However, in order to cash in on this trend, many cosmetics companies are looking towards acquiring natural products through farming and mining. However, it is not cost-effective to harvest these ingredients sustainably. They farm through pesticides and toxins to increase yield, doing more damage than good, effectively eliminating anything natural about their product.

However, that’s not to say that someone must forego their favorite beauty regimen. There are cosmetics companies that stay true to the “natural” label. http://makeup.allwomenstalk.com/natural-makeup-products-that-arent-harmful-to-your-skin-or-the-environment provides a rundown of some top-notch makeup products that won’t harm people or the environment. Not only is buying from eco-friendly cosmetic companies an option, but making homemade products can be beneficial as well. Not only is it a safe way to ensure that the ingredients in the products are natural and safe, but it also reduces, even eliminating wasteful packaging. The ugly truth about cosmetic companies is that they damage the environment, but by being eco-friendly in personal beauty routines, people can reduce the risk to the environment and potentially make lasting change in the beauty industry.


The Reality of Fiction

This past weekend I watched Mad Max: Fury Road for I think about the ninth time. Of course, I was struck by the gorgeous cinematography and flawless editing, but more than that I was struck by the landscape. The desert stretched out for miles and although I was comfortably seated on couch and outside my window were hundreds of trees, I felt that all I could see was the desert. Setting aside the problematic fact that the film industry is, in many ways, harmful to the environment and that Mad Max is in no way a truly environmental production, blowing up several cars and trucks in the production process, the film and others like it, can act as guidelines for what could become of the Earth and its resources if we let it.

The film Mad Max essentially reads as a crystal ball for every environmental nightmare of our time. What would happen if the human race were to consume resources at the current rate? Deforestation, water shortage, a strange cult-like attachment to cars, human fighting human in an attempt to secure what precious few resources remain. Despite the film being science fiction, the reality of the situation may not be so far-fetched.

Human have never consumed resources at the current rate or experienced environmental degradation at the current rate. While the production team originally meant to film in Australia, they eventually relocated to Namibia. According to rumors and reports from locals, the production team conducted themselves with very little concern for the environment, ironic due to the subject matter of the film. Some reports say the production team brought in extra sand and glues branches onto already unhealthy trees. However, this aside, the location of the film provides an interesting contrast to American life.

Namibian citizens produce nearly 1/16th of the carbon emissions of Australians or Americans, due largely to the fact that only 34% of Namibians enjoy the amenity of electricity. While it is nearly unthinkable for Americans or citizens of first world countries to relinquish the luxuries to which they are accustomed, the comparison between Namibia and America is an important one. Sustainability is about balance. If we continue to consume, there will be no planet left to consume. While no one necessarily is suggesting Americans give up electricity and running water in favor of living off the land, it would do everyone well to look to other nations that do not experience modern amenities and maybe take note of the way in which they interact with the environment. It would not be so difficult for Americans to become more conscience of their consumption habits and to attempt to change, even a little. If we do not, it is not so difficult to tell where we may be in 10, 15, 50 years. The fiction of film may one day be our reality.

Tips to Make the Switch to Waste-Free

More and more we hear tales of people who make the switch to a zero waste lifestyle, completely eliminating harmful products, packaging, and plastics from their life. These people generate absolutely no trash. This is becoming a growing trend and one to be proud of. Not everyone will go 100% waste free, but if everyone adopted just a few waste eliminating practices, the environment might stand a chance. Here are a few tips to eliminate waste from your life and take a step toward becoming completely waste free.

  1. Ditch the disposables

You would be surprised how much plastic you throw out without even knowing it. Getting rid of disposables means bringing your own bags and containers to the supermarket, replacing paper towels with cloth towels, and packing your own lunch which doesn’t just benefit the environment, but benefits you as well.

2. Compost, Compost, Compost

It’s easy to throw out whatever food you don’t eat, just toss it in the garbage and it’s out of sight, out of mind, but not only is composting quick, it is amazing for the environment. If you’re able, try setting up a compost in your backyard and whatever food or leftovers you can’t eat can go back into the Earth. If you aren’t able to compost right from your own house, it may take more thought, but you can find composting sites not too far from you at http://www.findacomposter.com/

3. Buy secondhand

It’s no secret how harmful clothing manufacturing is to the environment. Clothing makes up  3% of all global emissions. Buying clothes secondhand not only saves cute clothes from the trash, but decreases demand for new products and for manufacturing plants.

4.  Make your own supplies

It’ll take some research and time, but making your own cleaning supplies and cosmetics not only eliminates the waste from packaging, but also cuts down on the harsh chemicals in many products. Finding natural alternatives such as vinegar and baking soda for cleaning and trying out beauty products like an all natural eggnog hair mask for the holidays can be a fun experiment beneficial for both you and the planet.

While it may at first seem impossible to completely eliminate waste from your life, with perseverance, change can happen. Start small, one change at a time and you’ll be there, living a zero waste lifestyle in no time.

Rodale Institute

The Rodale Institute was founded as an organic learning farm. Located in Kutztown, Pennsylvania, this 333 acre farm does research to improve the productivity practices of organic farming.

They are committed to:
“…give farmers the tools and knowledge to increase soil health, crop quality and yields while simplifying farm management overall.

…ensure citizens feel confident the food they feed their families is good for them and for the world around them.”

The Rodale Farm is open for visitors for both self-guided and group tours. If you find yourself in the Lehigh Vally, a visit to the farm is a great way to spend the day. Also, check out their website at http://rodaleinstitute.org

The Environmental Art of Andy Goldsworthy

Art has always been an essential part of the environmental movement, some artists such as Sayaka Kajita using reclaimed material in sculptures and photographs. More often than not, it is the use of man-made trash or reclaimed products to convey some sort of message about the degradation of the environment. However, one important environmental artist, Andy Goldsworthy, knows that sometimes the best collaborator is not material created by man, but material provided by the Earth.

The British sculptor lives and works in Scotland, creating pieces solely out of material he finds in nature and photographing the artwork upon completion. What makes Goldsworthy’s pieces so impactful is that they last as long as nature does. While he may photograph them, the essence of the piece is in the materials, the leaves and stones, and in the way they change with the world around them. He was once quoted saying, “A stone is ingrained with geological and historical memories.”  It is that appreciation for the material that makes Goldsworthy’s art so lively, so ecstatically beautiful. The piece lives and then it dies. The art becomes of part of the stones memory and the stone becomes part of the art.

Although most of his installments are done in nature, many of them without an audience, Goldsworthy worked with stone for an installment at the National art gallery in 2004, titled roof. The installment featured domes made of stacked slate, dealing with his interest in the human passage through time. Goldsworthy had done several pieces like it, fashioning domes out of less durable materials like leaves and twigs.

What is so striking about Goldsworthy’s work is that he is able to create a piece using only the materials in the natural world. He can patiently piece together sculptors that will topple over in mere moments. Goldsworthy is a model of peaceful collaboration and creation with the Earth and a model to follow. Not only does he see the beauty in the Earth, but he enhances that beauty without destroying it. It is possible to use the planet without misusing the planet. One of the most important lessons from Goldsworthy’s art is that the Earth will be there long after we are. Humans can create and build and destroy, but it will all amount to nothing if we cannot coexist with the planet. He builds a sculpture with the Earth and allows the materials to return to the Earth in their own time. He doesn’t rush the artistic process and allows nature to take its course without interfering, something all humans must emulate if we are to survive as a species.

Wasteland (2010)

Wasteland, directed by Lucy Walker, is a documentary that was released in 2010. It featured Vik Muniz, an artist that combines photography with everyday objects and materials to create multidimensional art.  The entire documentary focuses on one of Vik Muniz’s projects involving the workers of the largest garbage dump in the world, Jardim Gramacho, which is in his native country of Brazil.  In Brazil, Muniz discovers and learns about the people who pick through the garage to find recyclables.  As the documentary goes on, it shifts from the artwork to each individual as s/he tells his or her own personal story.  Tiaõ, Zumbi, Suelem, Isis, Irma, Valter, and Magna, all let the filmmakers into their homes and hearts. At the beginning of the film Vik Muniz states his mission with the project; he vows to try to help change the catadores’ (garbage pickers) life through art. Together with the filmmakers, along with the production companies Almega Projects and O2 Filmes, Muniz sets out to make this mission a reality.

This film has a chronological structure, starting with the Vik Muniz’ thesis and ending with a conclusion on his mission.  The documentary starts out by introducing Vik Muniz along with his background and previous art projects.  As the documentary progresses it introduces Muniz’s new project idea to use garbage in his upcoming art pieces.  It shows Muniz’s point of view by showing him not only explaining his project to other but also debating about whether his mission to change lives through artwork was actually plausible. By doing this the documentary subliminal encourages the audience to see the world through Muniz’s shoes, in other words, to feel connected to him.  It is a powerful approach because it appeals to the audience’s emotion and gets them invested before the documentary’s main story even starts. The beginning of the film also included Vik Muniz’s first impressions of the catadores, he predicted that most of them would be depressed and drug addicts.  This was important to include because it contrasted with what many of the catadores personal stories.  Most of the catadores had pride in their work because it was honest and didn’t involve drugs or prostitution. Vik Muniz at first generalized them based off their situation and location; however, the documentary proved that the catadores weren’t perfect, they weren’t exactly overjoyed but they weren’t terribly depressed. They were just people, people trying to make a living like everyone else in the world. So the juxtaposition of those two narrations were important because it emphasized the point that at the end of the day people are just trying to survive, and that everyone has a range of personal obstacles and experiences.

Wasteland (2010) has a good mixture of shots.  Although the frames were obviously planned out, the cinematography as a whole was simple, and this allowed the audience to focus entirely on the interviewed catadores. The filmmakers captured the reality and entirety of dumps while complimenting those shots with shots of the homes of the workers.  This style allowed the audience to see the catadores for their entirety; it didn’t just show their work but also their homes, neighborhoods, families and hopes.  As a result of this, the catadores aren’t dehumanized as workers that go unnoticed but instead as whole human beings who are relatable. Unlike Home (2009), directed by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, which portrayed groups of people as nameless masses without a voice, in Wasteland (2010) the people were up close, outspoken and real.  Since the objective of the artist was to change the catadores lives, the fact that he focuses mostly on their stories is effective because it helps others sympathize and want to help as well.  Watching Muniz’s journey, hearing the people’s voices and seeing their faces of joy when the artwork was finished was inspirational.  It is obvious by his reaction that Vik Muniz felt good about helping them and the film makes other want to reach out as well. This documentary portrays helping people as rewarding, which motivates audiences to follow suit.

Official trailer for Wasteland (2010): https://vimeo.com/16290358 







Pharmaceuticals in Drinking Water

Pharmaceuticals, chemical ingredients from prescription drugs and over the counter drugs, are cannot really be treated in the wastewater treatment process. The WHO has found trace concentrations in drinking water, normally below 0.1 parts per billion. They vary from place to place and some water is more contaminated than other sources. As of right now, it is uncertain of this effect on humans, however, as seen in Last Call in the Oasis, hormone disruptors have shown to cause problems in fish and frogs. Some male fish and amphibians have been feminized where they produce eggs due to these chemicals. This has led to some worries about hormone disruption as well as antibiotic resistance in humans.

Find more about this problem here

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