28 November 2009

Food to Gold: Resource Consumption

Throughout the semester we have been exploring issues of resources. We’ve been confronted with our attitudes and perspectives about where our resources come from, where they go, and who is affected on either end of the process. In the first unit we examined food. We saw the impacts of the green revolution and what that means for small scale farmers. We learned that most of our food comes from large mono crops that use large amounts of pesticides and herbicides, and require lots of water and energy to maintain. The land that it uses is eventually rendered useless from all the chemicals poured into it and the food they produce are pleasing to the eye but the genetic modifications and chemical treatments actually make them worse for your body. We came to understand the importance that organic farming has in the world and how a direct relationship between producers and consumers can help to achieve sustainability, better health, and our environment.

In the second unit we visited the landfill in Khon Kaen and saw where our trash goes. Most people in America have some sort of relationship with their waste, most people are, at the very least, aware of the notion of recycling. But for the most part our garbage disappears much the way our food appears in our supermarkets. The garbage leaves but very few of us actually know where it goes and whose lives it impacts. Few of us realize that many people’s livelihoods are dependent on what they scavenge from our waste.

The first two units discussed issues that we probably have some concept of, more and more people are coming to be educated on the importance of eating locally and also there is more awareness about refuse disposal thanks to recycling endeavors. But in the last two units we studied the effects of hydroelectric dams and mining for precious metals, semi-precious metals, and minerals. When you consider dams and mines and how they impact other people it is very easy to take yourself out of the equation. The dams and mines we visited have displaced countless people, have upset their livelihoods and changed their culture. The dams are built because there is a demand for energy, the modern daily life is dependent on the use of electricity. And where there is electricity or any form or electrical appliance there is copper, or gold, or silicon. Copper is in all forms of wires from big power lines to the lines running through the walls in your house to the extension cord connected to your computer to the circuitry inside the computer which is also riddled with gold. These minerals need to be mined and the process of mining is a very destructive and hazardous one that affect the lives of many.

We don’t typically realize our dependence and thus our support too readily, at least I know I didn’t. When I eat a sandwich I don’t think about where the ingredients come from, and when I throw out the wrapper I don’t think about where it goes, when I sit down and flip the switch on my computer or TV I don’t realize that the energy that is powering them is being generated somewhere, and I don’t even think about the copper and gold inside of my TV that is crucial for its function. But being confronted with all these truths is truly an enlightening event, when we bear witness to how connected all of our everyday actions and seemingly benign chores are to the lives of so many people we could not help but to wonder how this is possible. How can we allow ourselves to not recognize our impact. It is true that we have a bit of a consumer fetish and that ignorance is bliss. Now that our eyes have been opened to these issues it will be difficult to close them. We have a responsibility to open the eyes of others, attempt to remove ignorance, and raise awareness; which is really what this semester has been about.

Tommy Russo
Fairfield University

1 comment:

Kara Heumann said...

Your blog does a good job of summing up the connections we have made throughout these units. I also felt enlightened in realizing my personal contribution to the effect the world's globalization movement has on other parts of the world. The problem I am confronted with, particularly after our mining unit, is not in regard to recognizing our own impact, but in changing them. I have sat in discussions with villagers affected by the gold mine; I’ve created relationships with them and feel urged to stand next to them as they oppose the mine. But in reflection, I am typing this comment on a computer that requires the extraction of minerals and when I leave to go eat, I’ll probably call a friend from a cell phone containing gold. I don’t know how to live without these things yet myself, so are my own eyes really open? Or do I just think they are? Before attempting to open the eyes of others, I have to continue working on myself. In focusing on changing myself, I will hope that others are inspired to change too.

Kara Heumann
Indiana University