If you take a look at your hands, your wrists, or your neck, you will likely see something special, precious even. It is quite dense, glows with an almost aura-like quality, and, as of press time, costs about $1,350 an ounce. The material – gold – is familiar to all of us. Less known, however, is how it gets to us and the role of another unique metal in that process. Liquid Mercury, a toxic substance that has been phased out of equipment and processes in the US over many years, is essential to artisanal gold mining in much of the world.
On October 16th, Luis Fernandez the director of the Carnegie Amazon Mercury Ecosystem Project visited Wake Forest for a lecture on the use of mercury in artisanal, or manual gold mining and its impacts on the environment and people of the Madre de Dios region of Peru. Madre de Dios is a region of eastern Peru extending into the Amazon basin and is marked by some of the most intensive artisanal gold mining activity in South America.
The process of gold mining in the Amazon is much as it was a few hundred years ago here in the US. Water cannons are used to wash away the topsoil from small areas of forest, a few hundred feet square. This leads to extensive deforestation; a new study from Greg Asner, also with the Carnegie Institute, determined that over 120,000 acres have been deforested for gold mining in Madre de Dios and small artisanal mines have become the main culprit. After removing the vegetation and topsoil, the pay dirt is then washed through equipment to separate the gold by gravity. The problem with the pay dirt in Peru, and other areas where artisanal gold mining is common, is that the gold is present only in small flakes, not the stereotypical nuggets. So, miners use mercury to bind the small flakes of gold and concentrate them, separating the gold from other sediments. In the end, the mercury is burned off, releasing it into the atmosphere and environment. This mercury finds its way into soil and rivers, where it is slowly accumulated in crops and fish, contaminating some of the only reliable sources of food in the region.
Fernandez’s research focuses on identification of mercury contamination in fish and people in the region and his latest work has produced alarming information: over 60% of fish sold in markets in Puerto Maldonado, the capital of Madre de Dios, are contaminated with dangerous levels of mercury and 78% of people in Puerto Maldonado had unsafe levels of mercury in their bodies. Even worse, the most vulnerable population, women of childbearing age, had the highest mercury levels at 3 times the safe amount.
So, with all this bad news we ask ourselves, what can be done? What are the long-term effects on these populations? What are the long-term effects on the environment? Can the contaminated areas be reforested and, if so, how can it be done? Can the demand for gold be reduced so that it is not profitable for these small-scale, mostly illegal operations to persist? The answers to many of these questions are still unknown. There are currently few identified major health effects due to the low but chronic exposure to mercury, but cryptic effects such as decreased intelligence in children are being identified. Methods of removing mercury from the environment on a large scale are in their infancy and the gold mines are small but spread across a vast area, further complicating restoration efforts. What is known, however, is that if consumers demand safely and responsibly mined gold, as has been done with diamonds, or if they simply demand less gold, artisanal gold mining activity and the damage it causes will fade.
Contributed by Max Messinger
“When you die, God will not ask you how old the earth is. He will ask you ‘what did you do with what I gave you?’”
In celebration of World Food Day, the WFU Divinity School’s Food, Faith, and Religious Leadership Initiative and the WFU Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability hosted Richard Cizik for a discussion of what some refer to as creation care, or a scriptural call to care for God’s creation.
Cizik served for ten years as Vice President for Governmental Affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals, the top staff position in the organization. In a 2008 interview with NPR’s “Fresh Air,” he expressed support for addressing climate change and sparked a national uproar within the evangelical movement. Soon thereafter, he was discharged from his post.
In his work as the president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, Cizik is now empowered to address the interconnections between food, poverty, and climate change. He references Bob Doppelt’s book, The Power of Sustainable Thinking in saying that we cannot be good stewards of creation without understanding the systems that surround us. Global hunger is not simply a matter of inadequate distribution: floods, draught, poverty, the subjugated roles of women, and regressive global economic and agricultural policies all play a role in the inability of families and communities to access food.
According to Cizik, food and climate have become two of the most important issues to young evangelical voters. He believes that leadership on these issues requires bold action and a commitment to morally just behavior. In the conversion from climate denial to climate action, he witnesses a deny-deliberate-do-defend cycle. He sees more and more faith leaders making the conversion and answering the call to action because it is aligned with their intrinsic biblical values.
By Dedee DeLongpre Johnston, Director of Sustainability
A diverse academic audience was prescribed a remedy for some of the defining environmental issues of the century when Winona LaDuke, American Indian political activist and founding co-director of Honor the Earth, spoke at Wake Forest in late September.
LaDuke’s heritage and experience – founding director of the White Earth Land Recovery Project in her Anishinaabe homelands in Minnesota, co-chair of the Indigenous Women’s Network, former board member of Greenpeace USA, and two-time national office vice presidential candidate – provided a unique landscape for her lecture entitled “To Honor the Spirit of the Earth: Contemporary Indigenous Approaches to Sustainable Economies.” Ulrike Wiethaus, professor of Religion and American Ethnic Studies, says “Winona LaDuke is a global leader and spokesperson in environmental sustainability. She offers a perspective and depth of knowledge that is rarely heard on our campus.”
LaDuke outlined what she identifies as the three most important issues regarding sustainability: climate change, peak oil, and food insecurity. She went on to describe how the current American view on sustainability and the environment is both flawed and unsustainable, saying “It seems like people don’t want to stick around for another 1000 years.” Rather than making viable public policy, we simply clean up the messes we make. She explained to the audience that Americans have an addiction, and that we partake in extreme behaviors, including fracking and mountaintop removal, in order to feed this addiction.
By highlighting various flaws she sees in our economy and the catastrophic consequences of our current behaviors, she urged the audience to spring into action, describing the changes she implemented in her own community: eating local foods, using renewable energy, and increasing the biodiversity of her crops. She emphasized that if her community, which has high rates of poverty, incarceration, and chronic illness, can do it, then the Wake Forest community can too. “You could sit here and pretend that someone else is going to do it. But as my culture says, ‘you are either at the table or on the menu.”
LaDuke’s lecture was a wake-up call for several attendees. As Dr. Wanda Balzano, director of the Women’s and Gender Studies program articulated, “Not only is Winona LaDuke a role model for many women who are fighting for social justice, but she is also one of the most important voices of our time as an environmentalist, as an inspirational author, and as a feminist and political activist.” Her presentation will hopefully incite change in our Wake Forest community, and inspire us to plan for the next seven generations in everything that we do.
By Andrea Becker (’16), Staff Writer
The tension in addressing environmental issues is always: how can we solve environmental problems without harming our economy? On a more individual level, it is often about the personal sacrifices we must make to ensure a collective sustainable world. The panel entitled Good for Me, Good for Us? addressed this tension with three distinct speakers: Julian Agyeman, Professor and Chair of Urban Environmental Policy and Planning at Tufts University, Sabine O’Hara, Dean of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability, and Environmental Services at University of the District of Columbia, and Larry Rasmussen, Professor Emeritus of Social Ethics at Union Theological Seminary.
I’ve now been to dozens of panels and events on sustainability, but this one was different. This conversation among the three panelists was the first I’ve seen to feature morality as a central component to sustainability. In this sense, there was no discussion of the effects of climate change or a debate on the problems of overfishing. Rather there was a genuine ethical conversation about the ways people can work together or individually to make changes to the system.
I found Dr. Agyeman’s discussion of a movement towards sharing economies to be the most fascinating. As an example, Agyeman explained that we don’t need to buy a power drill that we will only use once, but can instead borrow it from a tool-sharing network. Examples of sharing economies exist all over, whether it’s couch-surfing, bike-sharing or car-sharing programs like Zipcar. I came away from the event feeling a need to change the way I participate in our economic system, because every dollar I spend is a vote for the type of future I want. Senior Janak Padhiar reflected on Dr. Agyeman’s contributions, “I was particularly inspired and intrigued by the ways in which the notions of spatial justice and inter-culturalism are vital to progressive, diverse urban communities; cities require responsible planning and multiple mechanisms of innovation, technology, infrastructure, education, and civic planning to positively advance human equality.” All three speakers made mention of social justice and equality as keys to a sustainable future.
Dr. Sabine O’Hara spoke from a background in neo-classical economics, and gave a different perspective from a field that often lacks inclusion of environmental problems in its analysis. As a college dean at a land-grant university in an urban environment, O’Hara, brought attention to the fact that that universities must engage with local communities to create a more sustainable future. First-year student Lauren Formica enjoyed the holistic nature of the panel. She said, “each of these individuals can claim expertise in a field in which ethics and values come into play everyday.”
Dr. Larry Rasmussen spoke with urgency of the need to change the way our society functions, as he made reference to the tragedy of the commons. Rasmussen asked the key question, “Can capitalism be fully ecologized?” His critique of the economic system included mentions of social justice related to justice for nature. He left these questions open for students to ponder.
Often discussions of environmental issues rely too heavily on trying to hammer home the scientific facts about why we need to change our behaviors. This panel, however, took a more philosophical approach to enlighten students on the ways they can revolutionize and change our current economic system. Senior Emily Bachman appreciated the focus on equity and environmental justice. She explained, “I think this focus is vital in making the sustainability movement about all people, rather than a privilege of the wealthy.” I was inspired by the open, diverse views and discussion on this particular panel and struck by how it catered to several different areas of study and backgrounds.
Sanders McNair, Campus Garden Intern (’13)
Environmental artist Vibha Galhotra will be coming to Winston-Salem this month from her home in Delhi, India. Galhotra will address Wake Forest students, faculty, and staff in a series of lectures taking place on October 24 and 25, before the preview of her exhibition Metropia on October 25 at the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art (SECCA). The exhibition will run from October 26 to February 10, 2013. Her collection muses on the environmental changes accompanying the rapid urbanization taking place in parts of India.
Galhotra is part of a broad community of artists who have drawn inspiration from modern environmental change.
In 2008, Brazilian visual artist Vik Muniz shed light on the life of sanitation workers through a series of portraits made from recyclables in his “Pictures of Garbage.” Both the subjects and the medium were drawn from the now-closed Jardim Gramacho landfill in Rio de Janeiro.
Photographic artist Chris Jordan provides a unique perspective on the transformation of the American landscape in his collection, “Running the Numbers: An American Self-Portrait.”
In the spring of 2011 the Office of Sustainability’s very own DeNoia Woods (WFU ‘12) created an exhibition entitled, “Green, it’s not a color, it’s a movement,” which was hosted at the StArt Gallery in Reynolda Village. According to Woods, her exhibition was comprised of, “artwork created by students as interpretations of environmental consciousness through the use of reclaimed materials.”
Another student Yana Klein (WFU ‘14), created a blog this fall for the express purpose of, “connect[ing] environmental issues with the glue of artistic expression.” Check out her blog to keep a pulse on environmental art at the university, in Winston-Salem, and beyond.
By Joey DeRosa, Communications and Outreach Intern
Join Z. Smith Reynolds Library and the Office of Sustainability for a free screening of the film, Gasland. Explore the controversial world of hyrdrofracturing (fracking) for natural gas in preparation for the panel discussion on April 25.
When: 6:00 p.m.
Where: Z. Smith Reynolds Library, 4th Floor Auditorium
This screening is free and open to the public.
From the Gasland web site: “The largest domestic natural gas drilling boom in history has swept across the United States. The Halliburton-developed drilling technology of “fracking” or hydraulic fracturing has unlocked a “Saudia Arabia of natural gas” just beneath us. But is fracking safe? When filmmaker Josh Fox is asked to lease his land for drilling, he embarks on a cross-country odyssey uncovering a trail of secrets, lies and contamination. A recently drilled nearby Pennsylvania town reports that residents are able to light their drinking water on fire. This is just one of the many absurd and astonishing revelations of a new country called GASLAND. Part verite travelogue, part expose, part mystery, part bluegrass banjo meltdown, part showdown.”
After the film, a panel comprised of University Police Chief Regina Lawson, Associate Vice President for Facilities and Campus Services, Jim Alty, Dr. Vaughn McCall, a sleep science specialist and Wake Forest Baptist Medical School and Paul Bogard, English professor and author of The Geography of Night responded to campus concerns about light pollution.
Often, people equate increased lighting with a safer campus. Lawson commented that the perception that crime occurs at night in dark areas is counter to the crime data from campus. Alty mentioned that many things go into making a place feel safe, not simply the lighting. In the end, it is not a zero-sum game. “Good lighting doesn’t just mean brighter lights,” Alty said.
Decreasing light pollution does not have to mean walking through a dark campus. Instead, Facilities and Campus Services can and does install light shields that direct light where it is needed instead of into the night sky. They are also working to replace outdated light bulbs with LEDs, which produce light that is easier to direct leading to decreased light pollution. Concerned students, faculty, and staff are invited to participate in a campus safety walking tour each fall that is a partnership between by Facilities and Campus Services and Student Government.
Dr. McCall emphasized the impact of light pollution on sleep health. As mentioned in the film, an increase in light pollution and the accompanying decrease in the quantity of deep sleep leads to a decrease in melatonin, which can have serious impacts for overall health and waking behavior. Some scientists even suggest a correlation between this decrease in melatonin and an increase in cases of breast cancer. “There is a belief that we control our own biology,” Dr. McCall said. “We insist on behaving in ways that are counter to how we are engineered.”
This event was made possible by the Office of Sustainability and the Center for Energy, Environment and Sustainability (CEES).
By Tiffany White and Caitlin Edwards
Pietra Rivoli, a Georgetown business professor, economist and author of “The Travels of a T-Shirt in the Global Economy,” discussed American perceptions of global trade at an hour-long talk on February 2.
Rivoli spent five years tracing the path of a simple cotton T-shirt from a Texas cotton field to a Chinese factory to a used clothing market in Africa to investigate the politics, economics, ethics, and history of modern business and globalization.
Her journey, was sparked when she and her students realized that they knew nothing about the origins of the T-shirts hanging in their university store. When they paid $10 for a T-shirt, was the actual cost – from environmental harm and unsafe labor conditions – much higher?
“I found this debate very difficult in the abstract, said Rivoli. “My job is to educate, but it was difficult to have these conversations with my students. We didn’t know the story behind our stuff. But we could know, we could try to know — that was my motivation for the book.”
What she found was a tale of global trade, of tariffs, of politics and of protest. Her conclusions flew in the face of her traditional economic training. “Traditionally, you learn that the losers in global trade are the ones who oppose it. But after beginning research, I learned that many of the winners opposed it too,” she said.
Rivoli proposed three reasons that the so-called “winners” of global trade – those who benefit from a higher GNP and cheaper consumer goods, without the risk of job loss – would oppose globalization. From safe working conditions to environmental concerns, the issues all boil down to an innate human concern for fairness.
According to the 2010 Pew Global Attitudes Project, between 2002 and 2010, the percentage of the American public that believed growing international trade was “very good or somewhat good” for the country dropped from 78 percent to 66 percent.
“Clearly 44 percent of Americans have not lost jobs due to global trade. They are not losers in the traditional sense.”
“Some winners in global trade won’t play the game unless it’s fair,” she said.
In preparation for the lecture, more than 70 Wake Forest students read the book and participated in small-group discussions as part of the Campus Life and Office of Sustainability book club —providing for an engaging post-lecture question-and-answer session.
In response to a student question about effective policies to address fairness concerns in global trade, Rivoli said, “We have to get the special interests out of politics — that’s the only way that free trade is going to start to work for more people. I think it’s a problem of politics, I don’t think it’s a problem of economics.”
The lecture was part of the Social Justice Working Group’s “Focus on Fair Trade” and was sponsored by Campus Life, the Office of Sustainability, and the Center for Energy, Environment, and Sustainability (CEES).
By Caitlin (Brooks) Edwards, Wake Forest Fellow
Tuesday January 31, 2012, 4:00-5:15 p.m. Worrell 1312
Join us for this presentation along with a panel discussion on “What is the Social Responsibility of Business?”John Allison, Distinguished Professor of Practice, WFU Schools of Business and Former CEO and Retired Chairman and CEO, BB&T will join Robb for the panel discussion. Aman Sing, Editorial Director of CSRwire will moderate.
Please join us for a reception in Worrell at 5:15 p.m., immediately following the event.
As the semester draws to a close, coffee purchases across campus skyrocket. Though students, faculty and staff members down mug after mug of the black stuff, few stop to think about the impact of their morning buzz on the world outside the Reynolda Campus. A small group of university community members burst the bubble and gathered for a screening of “Black Gold” in the newly renovated auditorium on the fourth floor of the ZSR Library on November 8.
The film highlighted the inequity inherent in the global coffee trade by juxtaposing scenes from prospering, coffee-hungry cities in the Western world and scenes from impoverished coffee growing areas in southern and western Ethiopia. Coffee prices, determined in London and New York by commodities speculators, have unfathomable consequences for the lives of coffee growers thousands of miles away. When the price is low, poverty and hunger reign. During a period of low prices, unable to make a fair living growing coffee, one farmer explains that he will grow khat (a narcotic plant) to support himself and his family.
As a complement to the film, audience members enjoyed a sampling of fair trade coffee and tea provided by Campus Grounds and a talk from Dr. Jeanne Simonelli, anthropology professor and applied cultural anthropologist. Simonelli provided a brief demonstration, complete with board game money, to help audience members visualize the inequities in the global coffee trade.
Junior Erin Murphy felt much more informed about the global coffee trade after the screening. “It made me think about how much goes into producing just one cup of coffee, a luxury I know I take for granted and drink every day. I had no idea the farmers who produce the coffee got so little for their efforts and that their families and villages were suffering so much from it,” Murphy said.
The movie also had a huge impact on junior De’noia Woods. Although Woods does not drink coffee, she now feels compelled to share insights from the film with her coffee-consuming friends. “I will make sure to educate people who I know drink coffee by the caseload about the negative effects of the coffee trade,” Woods said.
The screening was a partnership between Z. Smith Reynolds Library, the Office of Sustainability and WFU Focus on Fair Trade.
By Jane Connors, Communications and Outreach Intern