All posts by Ben W

Final Project

Here is our presentation for the final project. The advertisements we created are within this pdf.

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Here is the full Peta investigation on Hermes animal cruelty if anybody wants to watch it in full.

And we definitely recommend that you watch the documentary The True Cost, which is currently on Netflix.

We had such a great time creating this project and we enjoyed viewing the amazing art of others!

The Persevering Class

The New Yorker’s “A Valuable Reputation” examines yet another case of an ethical scientist vs. a large corporation. This is not the first nor the last case of science vs. profit, and in this unfortunate system of deregulation and privatization, the only solution, it appears, is to completely change the system.

When science, economics, and politics become so intertwined that the goal of safeguarding humanity becomes obsolete, it’s clear that the system is fundamentally flawed.

A few days ago, I visited the Brooklyn Grange, a rooftop farm, and after being in the concrete jungle of New York City for so long, seeing nature really refocused my attention on its importance and relevance, even in the city.

While many people follow the notion of “out of sight, out of mind,” the importance of knowing what is going into our bodies is ever so important in a world of profit driven farming, where corporations will do anything, including breaking the law, to make more profit at the expense of the environment, our health, and the law.

Scientists like Dr. Tyrone Hayes, Rachel Carson, and Frances Oldham Kelsey work diligently to maintain ethics in science and research and it’s unfortunate and unnerving to read about the mistreatment of scientists who solely wish to protect humanity. Targetting his credibility as a scientist, Syngenta made Dr. Hayes paranoid and seemingly mentally ill. The power they had to control his life in order to hide the truth about their harmful product is frightening, and surely the government and the EPA needs to take better steps to regulate products in an objective way. It’s refreshing to hear about people like Frances Oldham Kelsey, though, and to see how their dedication and ethics can truly prevent disasters.

This article deeply explores the idea of “sound science,” a campaign by corporations to “slow the pace of regulation,” as stated by the article’s author, Rachel Aviv. As we’ve seen in Merchants of Doubt and various other articles and films, corporations need only produce a certain factor of doubt and uncertainty to divide the public and keep their products in the marketplace. And focusing their attention on these issues, as opposed to the science itself, corporations lose track of what’s important in the grand scale of the world and long term impact.

What surprised me about corporations such as Syngenta is their focus on public relations departments. While one might think the purpose of such a company is to provide safe products that enhance, for example, the way vegetables are grown, these companies instead focus on convincing the public that their product is safe, rather than spending the time and money to make a new, hopefully safer one.

This article, however, introduced my to the process of cost-benefit analysis, in which, according to Aviv, “a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use.” This system frightens me and I expect a majority of the public would agree that no product, regardless of its economic benefits, would be worth the lives of innocent citizens.

Thinking about how different products might impact my daily life, I think about NYU’s food service Aramark. From the personal scale of seeing the workers pour gallons of pre mixed eggs from huge bags onto the stove to make scrambled eggs to seeing the precut fruit coming out of sealed packages rather than being freshly cut, I am disgusted by their practices here in the dining halls. But, I can only imagine where this food is coming from and how they and their contractors treat the animals, fields, and workers.

Of course, everything I read online about Aramark and every corporation is going to be biased, but I’ve learned through this article to continue questioning everything, to look closely at the sources of all research and products, and to never sell myself out for money.

Brandicapped

How do you know if your business is “brandicapped?” Mel Epstein digs right into answering this question in his book Brandicapped through the story of a fictional small town that lacks brand identity and clarity. Epstein explains,

“You don’t know who you are: the city…the factory…the business. You don’t know exactly what you do: each and every one of you. And you have absolutely no idea why anybody should care to remember anything about your business!” (48)

And that is how you know if you need to rethink and restructure your brand.

To understand Brandicapped, I think it it’s useful to look at Epstein’s definition of the word: “the devastating inability to clearly and quickly communicate exactly who your business is, what it does and why anybody should care to remember” (73).

In his branding process, Epstein explains three major questions to consider when branding oneself:

  1. Who are you?
  2. What do you do?
  3. Why should anybody care to remember you?

Epstein also explains the importance of a brand positioning statement. One of my favorite clothing brands, Everlane, has done a tremendous job positioning themselves to the customer. They answer the three questions very clearly and make their brand positioning statement front and center: radical transparency.

Everlane's "About" section on their website
Everlane’s “About” section on their website

When looking at other companies, it’s sometimes hard to find their positioning statement, making Everlane’s ethical, sustainable practices and statements refreshing and industry-leading.

Epstein ends his process by discussing the Quintessential Problem Solving Process of Know, Play, and Do. Workers, especially those in leadership roles, must know everything they can about the business, play with the business model to always make it relevant, and do their best to create, produce, communicate, market, and sell their product.

Before the Flood Documentary

This weekend, I had the opportunity to see Leonardo DiCaprio’s new film, Before the Flood. Following DiCaprio’s journey through places and phenomena shaped by climate change, the film features many familiar faces we’ve seen in documentaries about environmentalism and climate change.

As a recently appointed UN Messenger of Peace with a focus on climate change, DiCaprio has been using his stardom for quite a while to bring attention to issues on climate change. However, dissenters evenmoreso attack climate change supporters because of DiCaprio’s appointment to the UN, saying he has no scientific background and as a Hollywood actor is just as superficial as climate change is.

The film also examines climate change denialism funded by fossil fuel industries, including the Koch Brothers. Like Merchants of Doubt, the film explains that all these corporations have to do is divide the public, not win the debate; corporations find people with fairly reasonable credentials to speak lofty on climate change. This is enough to create a two-sided debate amongst the public.

But, this film brought to my attention the fact that a large percentage of US leaders in the Senate and House of Representatives are connected, in one way or another, to fossil fuel companies and halt progress on preventative measures.

Another issue the film examines is the issue of lifestyle and consumption. People argue that these issues must be put at the center of climate negotiations. American consumption of energy has increased dramatically and seemingly exponentially, and compared to the consumption of other nations is completely ridiculous. But, Dicaprio argues that consumption is never going to change; Americans are not going to want less, spend less, or expect less. Rather, what needs to change is the type of energy used: from fossil fuels to renewables.

But currently, the US is hypocritical in telling other nations to use renewables when they don’t even push it on themselves. A major question the film posed is: Why can’t the US lead by example when it comes to renewable energy and climate change provisions? Is it not our responsibility to help the world transition before it’s too late?

Besides for renewable energy, the film looks at melting glaciers in Iceland, rising sea levels and its effect on small island countries and even here in the US, the effect of palm oil throughout the world, air quality and toxicity in China, coral reef destruction, “carbon bombs” in forest fires, and methane release from cows, among other topics. This film certainly tries to tie all of these topics into one large discussion on climate change, and while overwhelming, it certainly brings to awareness many issues that I’ve known about and many that I hadn’t learned about.

Ending the Paris Climate Accord Signing and serving as the ending of the film, DiCaprio powerfully declared to world leaders: “Now think about the shame that each of us will carry when our children and grandchildren look back and realize that we had the means of stopping this devastation, but simply lacked the political will to do so. Massive change is required right now—one that leads to a new collective consciousness, a new collective evolution of the human race inspired and enabled by a sense of urgency from all of you. You are the last best hope of earth. We ask you to protect it. Or we, and all living things we cherish, are history.”

If you have time, I highly recommend seeing this film in theaters, on Hulu, or on YouTube.

Final Project Update

Imagine your commute to work or school today. Picture those ads you saw everywhere: on the subway, plastered on construction walls, practically anywhere you are in New York City you can see an advertisement for something.

Have you ever purchased something because of an ad? Do those ads generally catch your attention?

Well here is our final project: the anti-advertisement advertisement. Instead of perpetuating our constant value of consumption and consumerism, these ads aren’t trying to sell you anything; rather, they’re trying to remind you and educate you of the potential dangers of such material based industries such as the fashion industry.

Highlighting injustices from the industry, from environmental destruction such as air pollution to animal rights to water contamination, these anti-consumerist fashion advertisements serve to educate the public consumer and urge them to rethink the products they buy.

My brother Joey and I are working together for the midterm. Our focus is on sustainable fashion, so our project will be an unconventional look at advertising. We will be creating 4-7 false advertisements of companies that are failing to practice sustainable manufacturing. This means that the companies are not regulating their effects on the environment or on the people making the clothing. We will be keeping the same aesthetics, branding, and logo design of each advertisement, but changing the name to reflect these unsustainable companies.

A lot of our inspiration came from the documentary The True Cost, which details multiple facets of the global fashion industry, from cotton farming and Monsanto’s seeds to outsourced production to consumerism. We were also inspired by CR Fashion Book‘s pseudo-advertisement “fantasy” campaign, and played with extending fake advertisements to make more of a political statement about the current state of the destructive fashion industry.

This week, Joey and I began taking pictures for our satirical advertisements. We chose the companies that we want to base our advertisements on and changed the names to signify aspects in which the companies are unsustainable and harm the earth.

We have created a calendar for when we will take each photo and travel to the different locations. We are also using the Gallatin computer lab to access Photoshop, experiment with lighting, saturation, and hue, and design the ads.

The first photo was taken in the East Village. We waited for perfect cloudy weather, scoured around for the perfect setting, set up the camera, got in costume, and took plenty of photos and poses. While we got many weird looks on the street, we figured we’re in New York— everybody does weird things.

We don’t want to give too much away, but here’s a sneak peek of some of the unedited shots we got.

Next week we plan on visiting the Bronx Botanical Gardens.

Consumer Craze

While unfortunately I had no food at my dorm, I went on a little grocery store tease to Whole Foods where I used to shop back home. Until recently, I had assumed that everything at Whole Foods is good for the planet and for humans (in moderation, of course). But looking more closely at the food I buy (or would buy) makes me wonder: Does “organic” really mean anything?

Almost everything at Whole Foods has some sort of label: USDA Organic, NON GMO Project Verified, Vegetarian Fed, Cage Free, USA Grown, Sustainable Farming, and so many more. But often times, I am attracted to these products simply because of the conscious sounding label.

Whole Foods states on their website their definition of organic:

– No toxic or persistent pesticides or herbicides

– No sewer sludge or synthetic fertilizers

– No GMOs (genetically modified organisms)

– No antibiotics

– No synthetic growth hormones

– No irradiation

But, why aren’t most consumers aware of these policies?

Shopping consciously extends to so many more areas than food. Body care is often labelled FairTrade or Cruelty Free. Clothing is sometimes labeled 100% Organic Cotton. But, most people don’t care how products other than food are made. Because food is consumed in the body and affects one’s personal health on a more individual and personal level, more attention is placed on buying organic foods. But, clothing and body care is just as important. While they may not go in the body, on the body can be just as important. The chemicals in skincare products like makeup and soaps can be harmful to the skin, just as clothing with toxic chemical dye and treatment can be.

Consumers should be just as attentive as they are with food when it comes to other products. But, they must also learn more about the meaning of different labels and how it impacts themselves and the world.

 

 

The Fight Forward

 

“The blood run out of their noses and out their mouths…. They’re trying to cover this stuff up. But it’s not going to be covered up, because I’m going to bring it out in the open for people to see” (Shutmatt 3). Sounding like a biblical scene or one from a sci-fi horror movie, Wilbur Tennant’s farm was a strong and real case of the impact of fluoropolymers and the unregulated chemical industry.

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Dead cattle. Photo curtesy of: http://aussiehunter.org/2016/05/dead-cow-1/

“The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Brian Shutmatt has so many levels of shock and horror. I find the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act to be particularly disturbing. “Under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, the E.P.A. can test chemicals only when it has been provided evidence of harm. This arrangement, which largely allows chemical companies to regulate themselves, is the reason that the E.P.A. has restricted only five chemicals, out of tens of thousands on the market, in the last 40 years” (12).

With globalization’s neoliberal policies of free trade, privatization, and deregulation, companies, including DuPont, 3M, and so many more giant powers are able to reap the benefits of these policies solely to make more profit. They use their agency to overrule small court cases. Even large cases, such as the fine DuPont had to pay for its concealment of knowledge of PFOA’s toxicity and presence in the environment, only cost pennies compared to their profit.

“The fine represented less than 2 percent of the profits earned by DuPont on PFOA that year” (12). With the seemingly innumerable profits corporations have, one wonders why that money is not used to create a better world.

Such megacorporations reap the benefits of unaware Americans as well. “Corporations could rely upon the public misperception that if a chemical was dangerous, it was regulated’ (12). But, unfortunately, as this article explains, the E.P.A. and other local and federal government environmental agencies have and use little control over mega-corporations.

Whether the government does not provide enough funding for environmental agencies or whether economic policies simply promote privatization and deregulation, policy must be adjusted for the environment to be salvaged.

Millennials and Generation Z hold true voices when it comes to the future we will live in. We must use our capacity to share ideals of sustainable practices, transparency, and regulation to make this world a safer and healthier place for us and for all mankind.

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Millenials protesting climate change. Photo curtesy of: http://thegbrief.com/articles/are-millennials-as-eco-friendly-as-they-seem-522

Like Rob Bilott, we must fight for “the right thing,” even if it takes decades. Bilott’s devotion to uncovering the truth and making substantial change serves as inspiration to us all to find something we are passionate about and take the time and resources to fully develop an argument and change the way citizens look at the world.

Like Rob Bilott, EarthJustice works to represent class actions and citizens affected by the local impact corporations have on the environment and health. EarthJustice is a resource citizens can use to get legal protection and aid in uncovering truths corporations try to hide and in enacting policies and laws to fix the issues.

“How the West Was Lost: Ranchers Devastated by Fossil Fuel Boom” by Emily J. Gertz similarly reiterates the way the government currently works in relation to energy corporations.

Quoting Walter Merschat, a Casper-based geologist, Gertz writes, “‘The underlying reason is that they [Wyoming environmental officials who failed to take the boom’s impacts on groundwater seriously] were tied to the state,’ he said, ‘and the state is tied to the economy, and the economy is tied to oil, coal, and gas wealth, and they were told, “Don’t rock the boat”’” (Gertz 7).

As I grasped from both articles, often times local communities are tied to corporations so much so that the government, economy, and everything else related to the town’s functioning relies on corporations.

In Wyoming, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and so many more places, corporations can control the people, the government, the education, and the laws of the community. This power and control must be challenged so that innocent Americans, such as L.J. and Karen Turner, can continue living the American dream of opportunity.

Without a healthy environment, life cannot sustain itself. Soon enough, our natural resources will be consumed, and only then, it seems, when the damage has been done will the government make corporations liable and responsible.

I also chose to read “GM Seed Firm Monsanto Dismisses ‘Moral Trial’ as a Staged Stunt” by John Vidal. With my interest in sustainable fashion, Monsanto’s cotton seed developments and patents have been of much controversy within the industry. With illness, cancer, deformities, and all sorts of health and environmental issues being blamed on these “unnatural” seeds and products to grow them, this article is very relevant in my studies.

The True Cost, a recent documentary on sustainable fashion, focuses partly on the controversy of GMOs and organic cotton and Monsanto’s impact in Texas and India. Without explicitly blaming Monsanto, the documentary pairs images of deformed children and adults dying of cancer with Monsanto commercials and footage of farmers spraying Monsanto pesticides on the patented seeds.

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Farmer spraying Monsanto pesticides on cotton seeds. Photo curtesy of The True Cost documentary

It is unlikely, I suspect, that Monsanto’s chemicals and seeds don’t impact humans and the environment. Like DuPont, tobacco companies, and so many more industries, I suspect that Monsanto has similar studies and data that they have neglected to share with the public that prove the detrimental consequences of its products.

I find this topic hard to research because of the many biases that exist, and this article certainly documents Monsanto’s opinion on the “Moral Trial.”

“‘It is a staged event, a mock trial where anti-agriculture technology and anti-Monsanto critics play organisers, judge and jury, and where the outcome is pre-determined,’ wrote Martha Burmaster, Monsanto’s director of human rights” (Vidal 2).

And while this may be true, I still subliminally find it to be false. Whenever I read a Monsanto statement, my mind automatically reads it in an uncanny tone, giving me goosebumps and questioning its validity. I expect that the language used is meant to calm readers and trick them into thinking the statements are true and accurate, when in fact they may not be.

In the coming weeks and months, I hope that this “Moral Trial” being held in The Hague will provide a forum for possible victims of Monsanto to safely express their experiences. Additionally, I hope it will help develop international law, bring more international attention and coverage to the controversies, and serve as a basis for the fight forward.

Peace Be Upon This Nation

trump-peaceWhat frightens us on the macroscopic scale of climate change and environmental issues is how our country can vote for a president who will ignore today’s issues and treat America like a business.  We look at global warming and the industries that contribute—the fossil fuel industries (oil, natural gas, coal, electricity), the motor industry…—and we see that they need more restrictive limits, not less.  Private companies at the moment have tremendous power, both politically and geographically, and do not care whose land they are taking.  We see that with the Dakota Pipeline and the sacred land being stolen from Native American tribes.

Companies also destroy communities with their fracking efforts, causing earthquakes and damage to the Earth.  In Garth Lenz’s True Cost of Oil, we learn that energy and oil companies are not stopping their proliferation of pipelines and tar mines, some of the highest greenhouse gas emitting processes.  We become aware of the “world’s largest and most devastating environmental and industrial project” situated in the heart of Canada’s largest and most intact forest, the Boreal.  And what frightens us most is the fact that we weren’t even aware of the Alberta Tar Sands before this video. This is the largest oil reserve outside of Saudi Arabia, and it’s right across the border in Canada. The mainstream press does not make us aware of the tremendous damage and exploitation being done to the environment from these acres of industrial complexes. Forests are being destroyed, animals are being kicked out of their natural habitats, and the Earth is getting warmer and warmer.

Trump wishes to significantly deregulate business, which will grant these companies free reign to do what they want.  Additionally, Trump plans to cut the business tax rate from 35% to 15%.  While it would make it cheaper for businesses to get started, private companies have the power to inflate prices, making inexpensive necessities (like medication) hard to come by.

Holding My Breath

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Standing in the street, I tell myself to hold my breath and it will get better. Although I had learned in psychology class the idea of sensory adaptation—that breathing in the fumes would eventually adapt my sense to the smell—I couldn’t help but hold my breath. I close my eyes, standing behind this idling truck, and I’m taken back to a moment in time.

Sitting in a tent, 8 years old, I take a deep breath and close my eyes. Ten Earth Ranger campers are packed into an enclosed tent, surrounding a twig-filled metal bucket. “Imagine a world where you must pay for oxygen,” says the counselor. “A world where oxygen is sold in tanks, like gasoline from the station.” Imagining this far off world, I smell something burning. I open my eyes, see twigs on fire, and smoke filling the enclosed tent. When campers begin to cough, the counselor passes a gas mask around and directs each camper to take a deep breath through the mask and pass it along. She explains what will happen if society continues destroying the environment. I panic. I can’t breathe. I’m going to suffocate. She unzips the tent door and we exit. I am relieved beyond imagination. Breathe in. Breathe out. You are alive. You can breathe.

From the summers of 2004-2009, I attended a local park district camp at Emily Oaks Nature Center. As a camp for kids who loved to be outdoors, activities ranged from canoeing to hiking to camping and building fires. I learned about the environment and nature from an innocent child’s perspective, and I was forever scarred with the memory of that activity.

Due to its frightening and dangerous nature, that activity was never again done at the camp; but, I think I was taught a truly important lesson. Standing in the streets of New York, I often times wish I have a mask to wear to breathe in untainted oxygen. “It’s nice to be home and breathe in fresh air,” my sister says every times she visits Chicago from New York. The world my camp counselor demonstrated is not that far off. It’s much closer to home than it may seem to most people.