May 18, 2011

Out with the Old EcoHouse, in With the New

Friday evening I checked out of the EcoHouse and moved in to my summer home, where I'll be living with two other Macalester students and my boyfriend. It was bitter sweet, saying goodbye to everyone. But I know that this is going to be a fantastic summer, and next semester will be a fantastic experience. I'll be studying abroad in Paris, France, interning with the Ministère d'Ecologie, Energie, et Development Durable. Essentially, this is the department of Ecology, Energy, and Sustainable Development. I'm incredibly excited for this opportunity.

When we left the house, we left it spotlessly clean (thank you very much Julia). Everything put away, everything empty of our things, I realized that the EcoHouse is just a house. It's the people inside of it that make it special, that make the experience unique. We are the ones who make the house sustainable, not just the bits of plaster and steel that hold the house together.

I'm very excited for next year's house. I believe that they will continue to add to this house and give back even more than we did.

Mar 19, 2011

Spring Break

EcoHouse officially has its group for next year! 
Camille Erickson (full year)
Stephen Peyton (Fall)
Kyle Gename (Fall)
Eleanor Trenary (Fall)
Nick Matzke (Spring)
Lisa Goese (Spring)
Leah Plummer (Spring)

Congratulations guys, I'm sure you will do a wonderful job!!

So for Spring Break I went back to Cleveland. I drove, which is cheaper and I think somewhat better for the environment than flying but I'm feeling guilty for the carbon all the same. I love avoiding Chicago by driving through the heart of Illinois because there are fewer tolls and it is so much prettier! There are a lot of wind farms. For about 20 minutes along 1-39, turbines dominate the landscape. I took lots of pictures and will post them to this blog once Mickey returns and I can borrow his camera cord.

Things have changed slightly since I last wrote about being sustainable at home. Not to say that my parents have had a huge change of heart and are now doing everything I do. I wouldn't expect that at all. While they're still not composting, they have decided to sell my mother's minivan in exchange for a new Prius. While hybrids are only a bandaid on the sustainability issue of cars, they are still preferable to traditional automobiles. I am very proud of my parents for that decision. It's also a big deal that they're selling the minivan. My mother had been considering getting a prius and keeping the minivan for when she needed to haul something or make a trip to college, but my argument that it is cheaper to simply rent a minivan for the few times she needs it took hold. My parents will continue to be a two car family!! Also, I was suprised to find one morning that my dad hadn't left for work, his car was still in the garage. After searching the house for him and finding that he was, in fact, gone, I texted to ask where he was. He'd taken the train to work.


My heart soars like a hawk. My father is now one of the few people in Shaker Heights actually using the rapid in the way that the original developers of the city intended. It's cheaper than continually filling the car with gas and paying for speeding tickets (which apparently accompany owning a 6 gear manual Acura TL S-style that drives like a dream).

Cleveland itself is also a lot more sustainable than I'd previously given it credit. Over the summer I learned that the city was in the process of setting up an urban farm, and this break I learned that they have a Carshare program very similar to the Twin Cities' Hour Car. Check it out: Programs like this are great for people who can't afford a car, but need to use one occasionally when public transportation isn't enough. 

Who knows, with so much sustainable development occurring in Cleveland, I may end up returning there after college! Well. Maybe.

Mar 11, 2011

Majora Carter

Yesterday I had the amazing opportunity to go hear Majora Carter speak at the U of M campus. If you aren't familiar with who she is, she is a grass roots activist working to revitalize the South Bronx. She works with (who she calls) "America's most expensive citizens," those who are on welfare, who are repeatedly in and out of prison, and who are highly dependent on government aid. She is working to create "green collar jobs." She has built beautiful parks, is building a green way, bringing green roofs to the Bronx, and helping it to recover from the decades of waste and abuse it has received from the state of New York. She believes very strongly that you don't need to move out of your neighborhood to live in a better one, and helps people to make that possible. If you would like to know more about her efforts, visit

Mar 10, 2011


Last Friday was Founder's Day, and as such, all of us got dressed up for the dance. Mickey and I had to sing and were heading out when we realized that it was a photo opportunity. So here it is for all of you who actually follow this blog! The 2010 - 2011 EcoHouse!!

 From left to right: Maars, Julia, Meg (Me!), and Mickey

Feb 19, 2011

Another Semester

Falling back into EcoHouse life is like falling back into a chair cushion I haven't sat upon in a while. It feels right and it's comfortable, yet some of the familiarity is lost. There is a moment of trying to remember all of the things I do differently here than I do with my parents. I know where things are, yet I'm looking for things that are from my other home. The light hits the house differently, and rooms are dimmer and strange times. New objects and items have found their way into EcoHouse since I left. There is a piano where there once was a chair, and that chair where there once was a different chair, now in a place where there once was no chair at all. Posters have been changed and lamps have been moved. There is a rug spread on the floor, with flowers and swirls of different colors, reminding me of the hippies from the 60's who once attempted our same lifestyle. Mickey made thermally insulated curtains that now hang keeping the cold out from our giant leaky window.

Suddenly I stand upon the precipice of the last half of my year in the EcoHouse. In March new students will apply and be accepted and it will be our turn to decide what we leave behind and move on. And that's the thing about sustainability. The house must go on, and it will go on without us. The future iterations of this house will build upon what we leave behind. 

Over winter break a statistics student did a survey comparing the energy usage of the Japan house to the EcoHouse. Not surprisingly, this house uses about half the energy. What was incredibly surprising was that our iteration of the EcoHouse has used about twice as much energy as any house before us. SHOCK!! We thought we'd been doing so well! 

Well, we were. Sort of. Our habits are strong, and we're good about minimizing our energy usage, but we (I) made one crucial mistake. We turned on the dehumidifier. I had read online that if you dry clothes in the basement you should have a dehumidifier running. Apparently this is only really true in the summer, and still should only be done while the clothes are drying. Fairly new dehumidifiers are moisture sensing and will turn on when needed, but the old (energy sucking) one in the EcoHouse basement was not quite so fancy. And BOY did it use energy. Since we turned it off, our neutral (mid day, refrigerator fan off, nothing running) energy usage is about .25 - .30 kW (according to our TED). With it on, our average was about .70 - .90 kW. Needless to say, it's off now. 

I'm sure after a comparison of next semester's data our house will be redeemed.

Jan 12, 2011

Being green at home

The EcoHouse itself is not particularly exciting, if you look at is as merely a house. It was built in the 50s (most likely on an empty lot that was sold off from a neighboring house). When the project was started, they added insulation, fixed up the kitchen, painted, replaced the roof, added fluorescent light bulbs, replaced a few mirrors, put in a new toilet, and added a pre-warmer to the water heater that is powered by sunlight. On the surface, it could almost be seen as a basic remodel. Of course it is the culture of the students inhabiting it that makes the house special. 

Before Julia, Maars, Mickey, and I all moved in together, we didn't do many of the things we do now. I think I can safely say that none of us composted in our dorms. We couldn't really cook that often if at all because of the limited kitchen space and lack of a freezer or large fridge. So we couldn't put into practice many of our energy saving techniques through our current food consumption practices. None of us had cars on campus, so we were taking the bus, biking, and walking like we do now. I'm sure we all turned off lights, but did we take shorter showers? We weren't recording every bit of energy we were using. We weren't really in control of how warm our rooms were, but if my house-mates old dorm rooms were anything like mine, they were WAY too hot. 

Coming together in this house, we were able to start over. We could form entirely new habits in this house that was ours. We've figured out how to live with each others different cleanliness requirements. We've been good about casually reminding each other to turn off lights, to unplug appliances when we're done, to bring the reusable bags to the grocery store. We have weekly house meetings to talk about our highs and lows, positive observations and negative observations. We've became a true community, and I truly feel like we're finding away of life that is better, cleaner, and healthier than other options. 

So about those other options. 

I could beat myself up for all of the bad habits I've slipped back into being away from EcoHouse, but I'd like to look at this as more of a learning experience than a relapse. The first thing I did wrong is I flew home. Now driving wouldn't have been better, I believe it's about the same amount of fuel used. I could have taken a train, but that was going to take me a whole day and be MORE expensive than taking a plane. So, I made the economic, efficient choice, and took the plane. If it had been cheaper, I absolutely would have taken the train, time commitment and all. It was a promise I made myself. But the average American definitely wouldn't. 

Coming home to a house that was also built in the 50s on a spare lot at a glance seems like it would be the same. Shaker Heights is a street car neighborhood, like Mac Groveland, though a little more recent. Actually, my house is a short walk away from a rapid stop (the train in Cleveland), about 75 yards. I could easily take public transit into the city and get around. Our house is bigger though, a 5 bedroom house with 3 baths and two half baths, a full finished basement, large expansive rooms, little to no insulation. Having little insulation is not that uncommon for a house like this, except that my parents recently spent a whole lot of money remodeling this house. We moved here last May, after selling off my old childhood home. They were downsizing (a sustainable choice) but standing in my closet will tell you how much money they're losing to their heating bill because they didn't add insulation as their first step.

My parents added quite a few energy star rated appliances to their kitchen but they have electric ovens instead of gas ovens, which are less energy efficient than the later. They have a front load washer and a dryer with an energy setting and moisture sensing, two purchases that I recommended in the sustainable energy guide I made for Frogtown Neighborhood Association. Our cabinets were even made locally (by Amish people!). Of course, there were no materials used in remodeling this house that were reused, unlike the EcoHouse. They haven't redone the roof, it wasn't necessary, but I bet my parents won't put in a steel roof, even with the stone covering. It won't stop me from making a strong argument for it, however. 

None of this really has anything to do with me. I didn't have any input in the remodeling decisions we made (otherwise we'd have paperstone counters instead of granite). As it is, the house is gorgeous. I'm not going to pretend I'm disappointed in them, even if they didn't make the most sustainable choices. The fact is it's a challenge to modify someone else's lifestyle. Actually I wouldn't recommend it, environmental mission or not. So trying to put my new habits into my old routine was like trying to shove a slightly warped peg into a hole that had always fit perfectly before. 

Take my shopping routine for instance. I'd never really thought twice about where I buy my food until this break when I tried to bring a little EcoHouse to Shaker. My side of Cleveland seems not to have any CO-OPs like Mississippi Market. My dad believes there's one on the West Side, but the distance I would have to drive to just pick up groceries makes it not worth it. My family eats way more eat than I do at school and we eat all kinds. Regardless of whether it's a CAFO product or not. 

I mentioned starting a compost pile to my parents and they said they wouldn't ever keep it up or use the finished product (Mom likes Miracle Grow just fine for her flowers). The same amount of people live in this house as the one at school, but we have a much larger refrigerator and a second one downstairs. I tried making vegetable stock for my parents. I saved all the vegetable scraps for a week and used the broth to make a few soups. My mom mentioned she might do it again, but didn't seem too excited about regularly saving all of her scraps. They take up a lot of room in the freezer. 

So what is a girl to do? Find simple ways to help my parents stay in their same routine but make more sustainable choices. For instance, when our sunroom roof started leaking in the middle of the night, we agreed that if ice-dams were forming in the gutters, it was time to insulate the house. Dad even took my advice on adding weatherstripping and plastic covering to the windows. When it's an argument like that, it's hard to find a flaw. Other things are trickier. Such as convincing my parents that even though small appliances don't use THAT much energy when plugged in, unplugging all of them when not in use makes a pretty big difference. It's hard to prove that, so I can't get them to change.

I'm not going to bash my head against the wall and stubbornly keep pushing my parents in a different direction. They're still good people. They recycle almost everything they can, and they don't even throw batteries in the trash. They dispose of them properly. Mom's always been a lover of the farmers' market, and insistent that we turn lights off. Unless I find a good rebate for them, they aren't likely to install a solar panel on their roof, but then again, I can't blame them. Without the rebate, PV solar panels aren't likely to pay themselves back before needing to be replaced, and Cleveland probably doesn't get enough sun anyway. Each step they take is a step, and it's good, even if it is slow movement. There is no such thing as being too eco friendly, but there is such thing as being over zealous. My parents will never live the way I intend to, but they don't live the way their parents did either.

When I move out of the EcoHouse, I'm not concerned that my habits will slip. I know it will be harder to maintain them, if only because the EcoHouse can serve as training wheels to those learning how to live sustainably. But starting over makes it easier to implement an entirely different routine. Sure I'll have to make my own worm bin, I'll probably have to weatherproof my own windows, and I'll certainly need to pay even more attention to how much electricity and gas I use (utilities are pricey!) but I'll still be living deliberately. As long as I'm making my own decisions, I know I'll be able to make good choices.

Oct 23, 2010


I've grown so used to using vermiculture that I almost forget it's different.
Well no, none of my friends compost with worms that I know of. But it's a fairly low maintenance way of reducing your waste.

Worms are incredible. They break down food just like a normal compost pile would, the difference is you can easily do it in your house without a smell (or a mess). At EcoHouse we have stacking worm trays. This way we can shift the trays as the top one fills. The vertical orientation also allows water to seep to the bottom where we collect it in a jar. This worm tea is a more effective fertilizer than miracle grow, plus it's natural. When the compost is finished, you sift out the worms and add the compost to your garden.

Worms eat all the regular household scraps you might compost, but they also eat shredded paper, dryer lint, egg cartons, wood chips, etc. Those carbon heavy materials provide a nice bedding for the worms. Having a bedding is important because it provides the worms food, a nice place to live, and it keeps your bin from smelling. We use peet moss, but we also add other carbon heavy materials so that we don't use too much of the peet moss (it's expensive and a limited resource).
If you're looking to set up your own bins, you can either get stacking trays like ours (Worm Factory, available online at or if you're in the cities, Eggplant Urban Farm Supply on Selby Ave) or make your own out of Tupperware. It's imperative that the worms have the ability to move from tray to tray, and that it's easy for you to lift out the trays so you can fork through and supply oxygen to the soil.

For more information, we recommend reading the book "Worms eat my garbage." It's been a great resource for us, plus it gets into more of the complicated worm composting management strategies.

Oct 13, 2010

Living Deliberately

In 1845, Thoreau went into the woods.

In 2010, I went into a residential neighborhood that happens to have a lot of big trees.

I won't try to pretend like living in the EcoHouse is remotely similar to Thoreau living in his cottage. Though similarly square in shape, (well the EcoHouse may be a little longer than it is wide), that about sums of the similarities in our structures. Plus, the EcoHouse has far more weather-stripping and insulation than Thoreau's cottage. I certainly hope we won't feel the wind through the walls come winter.

Thoreau has been on my mind first because of a blurb in Blessed Unrest about his social activism. More recently because of a reading I had to do for one of my Environmental History classes. In the section of Walden, Where I lived, and What I lived for, Thoreau talks about how he wished to live deliberately. As I read those words, I realized that the intention embodied everything I had been feeling about living in the EcoHouse.

When we first moved in, we spoke about all the things we wanted to do and try this year. All the things we wanted to learn to make ourselves instead of buy. There were habits we would need to learn: shorter showers, composting, tending the worms, turning off lights, buying different soaps... but we knew we could do them with a little effort.

We all got used to whole grain bread. I'm not sure if that kind of flour is any more sustainable than white flour (perhaps less processing?) but it's healthier for you so we agreed to make the switch. We buy from a co-op when we can, but we buy at Rainbow or Target if it's cheaper there-- we are still poor college students. I've started going to the Farmer's market every weekend to buy eggs and the last of the fall harvest. We take out the composting after it's been full... for 3 days. We have a separate jar for the worms so we don't over feed them. We freeze vegetable ends and scraps and when we have enough, we make vegetable stock, and then compost the remains. One less thing to buy, far tastier soup.

We're living deliberately. We're making choices to live healthier, and better. Maybe every now and then we buy into the green washing fads (after all, Caribou does guarantee that their coffee is fair trade AND rainforest safe! couldn't hurt, right?) but what started off as having to be a conscious decision has now become second nature. We're almost two months in. Now we're looking out as to how we can help other people make their homes EcoHouses too.
When I tell people I live in the EcoHouse, they usually ask what makes it Eco. As I started to get into the spiel we've been asked to relay about how it was renovated-- "Oh so cool! So everything's state of the art??"
Well no. There are a lot of "new" things in the EcoHouse (I really love pointing out our solar powered water heating). But a lot of it is old, and that's what makes it Eco. So if you already have a house, just changing your habits slightly can make your house an EcoHouse too.
That's part of what I'm working on at my internship. I'm making a guide not only on how to renovate houses to be more sustainable, but how current residents can make their house more energy efficient (and thus "greener") by making a few easy changes.
Coming up on the EcoHouse calendar is making a pumpkin pie… from an actual pumpkin. Pictures to follow soon. Also, I have pictures from my cheese making adventure that will find their way here soon.

Sep 8, 2010

How did I get here?

Today was my first day of classes. Actually I just had one class, so today was my first day of a class. This class is American Urban Environmental History, taught by Chris Wells. Aside from the fact that this is an *awesome* class (apparently a redundant statement) it fulfills a couple graduation requirements, part of my core for my major, and potentially part of my Urban Studies Concentration. The academic and practical reasons for my taking this class are apparently clear. But the question he asked us in class today wasn't to understand those reasons; it was the more intangible mentality behind motivation. It was to understand us as people, not as students. I wish I'd gotten that immediately, but it's provided me some inspiration for thought. To dwell upon something that has been bothering me for a while.

How did I get here?

It's a question that is asked of me on almost every tour I give, by every freshman I met in the last week, by my peers, by my friends from home, by my professors, and now by me. A lot of times it's easy to put myself on autopilot. To assume a character and just go, feeling compromised at every turn as I make decisions for someone else's rational and not my own. What took me to Costa Rica the summer after my junior year was not an interest to improve my Spanish-- I didn't, after all, speak it yet-- but being turned down by a scholarship Arabic program in Egypt which I was interested in because of my desire to travel and potentially study international relations.
            What I experienced in Costa Rica, however, was not the colors and bright experience I expected. It was a much darker, richer, and sweeter culture than I ever knew. To understand this, you must know that from my earliest memories the places I have lived have been in pristine neighborhoods of prim suburbanites who get together on the rare occasion to dine together and chat about politics. The places I have lived have been full of middle class people who belonged to country clubs and went skiing in the winter. Kids rode their bikes without fear of dangerous strangers, hopscotch games and chalk drawings littered the sidewalks, and squirrels darted up and down the elm and maple trees on the tree lawns. Residents of the Twin Cities would recognize this as Edina. Clevelanders would recognize this as Shaker. With the exception of three years of my education, I have always attended public school. I felt as if I’d worked for my education, instead of my daddy buying it for me like those spoiled rich kids who lived out in the far reaches of the developments.
I had a spoiled childhood, however. My mental status was so innocent that it surprises me that I ever learned anything about the world. My parents didn’t actively shelter me, yet since they did nothing to teach me of the dark world I really lived in, I never ventured out of the safety of the bubble that I had been placed in. I knew of war, to be sure. Yet in my mind, war was something that had died out ages before. My brother and I would take toy fighter planes and shoot at each other, we had beautiful death scenes that would last for ten minutes, only so that we could be resuscitated and die again. It never occurred, at least not to me, that such tragedies and atrocities were still very much a reality. We went on playing these games until we moved on and I outgrew them.
Needless to say I grew up from the little tomboy who loved to fight with her brothers and shoot dart guns. I was smart, and I wanted to learn as many languages as possible. I wanted power. I had delusions of grandeur, that I could someday change the world with my influences. Going to Costa Rica knocked me back into place. I lived in a house that had a dirt floor, that had cockroaches in the shower, with people that were so poor they could barely make rent, and yet opened their arms to me. They threw huge parties and fed everyone who came by. They wanted to know about you. To hear your stories. But best of all, they knew how to sit together in the evening in silence, enjoying the place around them. They were poor, by American standards. But they had so much more than I did.
I realized that to instigate policy, I had to be able to understand the symptoms that arose from the fundamental problems. I wanted to be active in a community, to volunteer, and to experience. I decided that I would take a gap year in order to do something different with my life. At that point I played with many ideas of what I wanted to do. At first I wanted to return to Costa Rica and help out with the English program at the local technical school. I changed my mind, however, deciding that maybe it would be better for me to work locally. I thought about getting an internship with a law firm, or a small business, but that was the old me, not this new idea I had of myself. It was at that point I called Dr. Scott Miller.
Two years ago I was still that naïve little girl who believed she could change the world in a year. I wanted to help people, and I still do. I was so ignorantly confident that people would be willing to receive what I had to offer. So the first day I walked into Cleveland School of the Arts, I made sure I looked good. I wanted to reflect the person I considered myself to be, a smart girl from the suburbs who wanted to learn more about the world around her. My hair was blow-dried and straightened. My nails were perfectly manicured. I wore a tunic shirt and black leggings with neat clark flats on my feet. I wanted to look professional. I was there to teach and be taught. I was dressed how I imagined a student teacher at Shaker (my alma-mater) would have dressed. I tried to look older as well, acknowledging that it would be hard to get respect if the students could tell how young I was.
Looking back now it’s hard to keep from laughing at my naïveté.  The students could not help but laugh at me. They had to listen to me? Someone who was self described as living in a bubble? The boys snickered and made crude comments. The girls rolled their eyes. They didn’t understand me. Who had Dr. Miller brought in this time? The year before they had another student teacher, a 22 year old woman who soon after completing her student teacher requirement decided she did not want to be a teacher.
I sat there smiling while Dr. Miller spoke of me, saying that I was talented in math and could help the students anytime they needed. He encouraged them to use me for tutoring and help. “Oh we’re going to use her,” said one of the boys. I looked up, blushing beet red. Dr. Miller glared at the student. He continued with his introductions, however, not bothering to stop. I rationalized that the comment in and of itself was innocent, it was silly. Before I knew it the students were moving on to their next classes and the juniors and seniors were pouring in.
Looking back on that year, I wouldn’t say that I didn’t learn anything. That’s certainly what I thought immediately after finishing. It was hard, and the hours were ridiculously long. The students often fought against me, and I know I never fully earned their respect. After that year, I felt like it had been a waste, wished I had travelled more, or even just gone to school right away. I hadn’t learned what I had sought out to learn. But I’m not sure I knew what I wanted to learn to begin with. I wanted to know about the things outside of my bubble, as broad of a description as that may be. If nothing else, that time at CSA taught me to be even more self reliant and independent than I was already inclined to be. I no longer felt comfortable asking my parents for money, for help, or for advice.
I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore, nor did I want to major in theater. When I got onto campus, I took one glance at the course schedule for those majoring in International Studies and realized it no longer held much interest for me. I knew I was going to be an Environmental Studies major.
But I’ve jumped ahead! Bear with me as I provide you background information, that for the sake of continuity, belongs here, and not earlier in this reflection. Before I ever applied to go to Egypt and then got put on a plane to Costa Rica, I was really bad at physics. In fact, I got a C in physics freshman year. Senior year, I was given the choice of taking either AP Physics or AP Environmental Science for my science credit, so I opted for the one I had a better chance of passing. The class was a lot more math and science than I expected, but I still (somehow) got an A in the class both semesters and a 5 on the AP exam.
Then I took my gap year, thought about my future, did a lot of reading about Environmentalist movements, finished up at CSA, and left for college.
Now you’re caught up.
I took Environmental Science again my first semester at Macalester. I figured it would be a recap, but it’s also required for an Environmental Studies major. My professor was absolutely phenominal. Though I knew the material, one chapter in my textbook caught my attention immediately. It was a chapter about urban environmentalism. Each chapter of that book usually took me about 2 hours to read but this one I finished in 30 minutes. I was so interested that I actually read some of the suggested readings at the end and wrote every paper from that point forward about Green Urban Development. I was hooked. Being from Cleveland, I never really knew cities could be beautiful. Though of course there is nature in Cleveland, it does not have nearly as many parks and gardens as the Twin Cities, so you’d have to stretch your imagination to call the place beautiful. It’s drab. It’s dirty. And God is it poor. Looking at pictures of the ingenuity and creativity coming out of Berlin, however, one would wonder why the movement hasn’t spread more quickly.
I thought about taking American Environmental History that next semester, but I was told by my ES professor that it was really Chris Wells’ class. That I should wait til he came back from sabbatical. Instead I took Ecology and Science of Renewable Energy-- two natural science courses that would provide a good foundation of understanding. In addition to those classes, I took Intro to Human Geography. I didn’t, at the time, know it would count for my major. I just figured it’d be a nice introduction to Urban Geography (since Intro to Urban Studies wasn’t offered that semester). But that class, in combination with Ecology, led me to begin to view the city instead of being separate from the Environment, as actually being part of a greater system. Humans aren’t separate from nature, we are nature.
Which brings me back, again, to something that happened before I got to Macalester. The second summer of my gap year (the first being after I graduated) I travelled to Tanzania on a mission trip. I was there to look at hospitals, schools, and churches to see where there was opportunity to send over volunteers (stemming from my newfound humanitarianism). I was there with a man who had just graduated from college having before that spent 5 years in the Marines. During one of our many long conversations, he said something that I haven’t been able to shake. He said, “Humans always come first, no matter what.” He was talking about policy, but it didn’t sit right with me. It’s that long debate of pitting humans against nature. Either or. Would you save a hundred tigers if it meant that 50 humans would die? It’s a hard question to answer. It’s uncomfortable to say the least. But if you view the system wholeistically, as an Ecosystem—encorporating every organism and inorganic components as well, then saving the rainforest will often save more humans than it hurts. If we preserve and take care of our ecosystems, then we are in turn helping ourselves. The ethics of this statement can be debated over and over again, but ultimately, whether God created us or we’re here by coincidence, we are nourished by the same things that other organisms need to survive. The only thing that truly makes us different is the ability to conciously recognize this fact. Doesn’t that make us responsible?
If every ailmant that befalls humans today could ultimately be attributed to our ongoing struggle to control everyting around us, including nature, what would that mean? Humans without clean water because of humans polluting and losing their natural resistance to the organisms that now make us sick. Humans starving for food because their buildings and development has driven away all the game. Humans dying of cancer because their cars pollute the air and infest them with carcinogens. Humans poor because their agroeconomies are built on failing monocultures and they don’t grow any food they can actually eat. If I was a part of the people searching to find a way to negotiate with nature to reestablish harmonious living situations, could I have also found my humanitarian needs filled?

How did I get here?

The decision to apply to live in a sustainably modified house fit in nicely with my interest in Urban green movements, so that, in short, is how I came to the EcoHouse. And how did I get into American Urban Environmental History? Well first and foremost because someone else dropped out of the class and I was first on the wait list, but also because I need to take the course to fufill my major, Chris Wells is teaching it, and it’s an awesome class.
But I wouldn’t have declared the major if it hadn’t been for that chapter I read with that awesome professor who told me to wait to take American Environmental History until Chris Wells came back because it’s “his class” so then I did a little research on what other classes he taught, found American Urban Environmental History, and decided I absolutely had to take it, no matter what, it would fit in my major core it just had to, and declared the Sustainable Development core partially for that reason.

I could go on for about six more pages about the randomness and chance decisions that brought me to this bed I’m sitting on with this laptop before me. I could talk about the millions of other things that make me who I am and have caused me to reapproach my life in an attempt to detach from the material and petty desires that bring me unhappiness. I could talk about my summers at camp in the Vermont mountains breathing in the clean air and losing myself in the woods to feel entirely connected to everything.
Everything is how I got here. A lot of it is why I’m here. But where, in the metaphysical sense of both words, is here?