Should Mother Earth have rights?

This question may sound extreme or downright bizarre, but other nations have adopted laws that essentially grant the environment its own bill of rights. Bolivia, for example, enacted the Law of Mother Earth which grants the environment with the rights to life, diversity of life, to water and clean air, to equilibrium, to restoration, and to pollution-free living (Neill, 2014). A bill of rights like this personifies the environment. It makes people realize that it is a living system.

According to Stevens (2017), other nations have begun to consider adopting similar strategies. In India, the Ganges and Yamuna rivers have received similar rights and appointed two official protectors. Any harm, like pollution, to these rivers would be equivalent to harming a person. This will allow for immediate criminal action to be taken against any perpetrator. New Zealand is another nation which grants one of its natural features person-hood status. The nation’s Te Urewera National Park was given protections in 2014.

However, despite the good intentions of these policies, implementation has been difficult, especially for Bolivia. The reason: business opposition. The existing business community is ripe with “careless exploitation of natural resources” (Chávez, 2014). This is a problem that is not just unique to Bolivia. This exploitation is seen worldwide.

Nonetheless, legislation like the Law of Mother Earth can go a long way in reframing attitudes and beliefs about our environment. It helps make people realize that our natural systems are fragile and need to be given rights. We can no longer exploit without consequence. Humans are dependent on nature. We have not conquered it as many would like to assume. It is important that we treat it with the same respect that we would grant to a person.

References

Chávez, F. (2014). Bolivia’s Mother Earth Law Hard to Implement. Inter Press Service. Retrieved from: http://www.ipsnews.net/2014/05/bolivias-mother-earth-law-hard-implement/

Neill, P. (2014). Law of Mother Earth: A Vision From Bolivia. Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/peter-neill/law-of-mother-earth-a-vis_b_6180446.html

Stevens, S. (2017, April 10). Can human rights save Mother Nature? Mother Nature Network. Retrieved from: http://www.mnn.com/earth-matters/wilderness-resources/stories/can-human-rights-save-mother-nature#disqus_area

Advertisements

LED Street Lights Coming to Chicago

Chicago street lights are going to be getting a much needed update. Following a brief trial run this past December, the city is committed to replacing 270,000 old sodium pressured lamps with new smart LED replacements (Wisniewski, 2017). These new lamps will ultimately reduce energy consumption while also cutting maintenance costs. There is also a belief that these lights will help to reduce crimes because they last longer and will not leave communities in the dark. However, the city needs to approach this program with more caution. Concerns about increased light pollution are coming to light.

According to some US researchers, LED street lights have potential drawbacks on the overall health of an urban ecosystem. The harsher bright blues of LEDs are believed to affect sleep cycles of both the human residents and local fauna. There are also concerns about whether the December trials were effective. A Chicago curbed article questions if enough residents were surveyed; after all, who goes outside in the winter cold just to observe the lights? (Koziarz, 2016).

Despite these concerns, ultimately this project is much needed in order to update Chicago outdated street lighting infrastructure. Not only will these street lights be LED energy efficient but also will have a smart component that will communicate with city workers. This allows for the city to pinpoint broken lamps and replace them quicker (City of Chicago, n.d.).

Ultimately, this project contributes to making Chicago more sustainable. Clearly, it will address economic, environment, and energy factors. These new lamps are a needed upgrade from the older lamps, yet the project needs to do more in order to insure social equity and health concerns. These are the two major concerns that opponents present. If addressed, the project would be more sustainable.

In particular, the city must consider the brightness and color of the new lamps. This will insure the program being successful. More emphasis is needed on the smart component these new lamps offer. This will immensely improve the current response times responding to outages. The city must also make sure the program is implemented throughout the entire city. If only done in ‘dangerous’ neighborhoods, it demonstrates an obvious bias.

References

City of Chicago. (n.d). Chicago’s Smart Lighting Project. Retrieved from: https://www.cityofchicago.org/city/en/depts/cdot/supp_info/chicago-s-smart-lighting-project.html

Koziarz, J. (2016, December).  Chicagoans urged to weigh-in on new LED street lighting options. Chicago Curbed. Retrieved from: http://chicago.curbed.com/2016/12/19/14007922/chicago-urban-planning-new-led-streetlight-program-demonstation

Wisniewski, M. (2017, March 27). Chicago chooses vendor for massive streetlight replacement program. Chicago Tribune. Retrieved from: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-chicago-streetlights-leds-met-20170328-story.html

The Cleveland Model in Chicago

Like most major cities, Chicago is plagued with many interconnected problems that affect both the overall health of the city and the health of individual Chicagoans. Disinvestment in areas on the south and west sides has led to a lack of opportunities for these residents, especially affecting the youth. In a report by the Great Cities Institute, the authors highlight this major problem and demonstrate that unemployment disproportionately affects youth of color (Cordova & Wilson, 2017). This trend also can wreak havoc on health. In a report by Woolf et al. (2015), the authors highlight the various ways income and wealth can negatively impact an individual’s health. They conclude that “better economic conditions for American families mean longer lives and better health, and better health means lower health care costs (Woolf et al. 2015, p. 12). This disinvestment also damages a community’s reputation, making the problem cyclical. Corporations do not want to risk moving into these areas, which is ironic because they created the problem in the first place by leaving.

So what can be done to fix this enormous problem? I believe these communities should adopt what has become to be known as the Cleveland Model.

As the video explains, the model is to create community owned green cooperatives and sell their products to anchor institutions, the economic anchors of the city. I believe that this could easily be adapted in Chicago; however, there are some limitations that must be first considered.

First, it might be difficult to raise the initial capital needed to construct the facilities and infrastructure needed. Communities alone cannot do this on their own, especially those already struggling.  Second, there needs to be consideration of the political obstacles in the way. There may be issues with project zoning. Support from political leaders would be needed in order for a model like this to be implemented. It involves a lot of support and coordination to be impactful. Finally, the anchor institutions must be on board which may be difficult, especially if they have contractual agreements with other suppliers. The cooperatives will struggle to sell to their products and produce.

Nonetheless, I believe the Cleveland Model will be beneficial for the health of the entire city. It will provide the much needed jobs and opportunities for the dis-invested neighborhoods. It will create not only service jobs to maintain the greenhouses but also it would include managerial and professional opportunities. It will increase access to healthy foods in existing food deserts while eliminating the need for large corporations to establish chain grocery stores in the area.

By adopting the Cleveland Model, Chicago would be more sustainable. It would bring much needed investment in neighborhoods blighted with crime, joblessness, and sickness. It also would improve the overall health of the city, given these cooperatives would use green practices. Most importantly, the Cleveland Model will help individuals to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

References:

Córdova, T.L. & Wilson, M.D. (2017, January). Abandoned in their Neighborhoods: Youth Joblessness amidst the Flight of Industry and Opportunity. Retrieved from University of Illinois at Chicago, Great Cities Institute website: https://greatcities.uic.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/Abandoned-in-their-Neighborhoods-Executive-Summary.pdf

Democracy Collaborative. (2014, September 23). The Cleveland Model: How the Evergreen Cooperatives Build Community Wealth. [Video File]. Retrieved from:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s_kLye_6VBc

Woolf, S.H., Aron, L., Dubay, L., Simon, S.M., Zimmerman, E., & Lux, K.M. (2015, April) How Are Income And Wealth Linked to Health And Longevity?. Retrieved from: http://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/49116/2000178-How-are-Income-and-Wealth-Linked-to-Health-and-Longevity.pdf

Clarifying Recycling Bins and Recyclabale Materials

The following post is formatted as a Letter of Inquiry to revamp the existing recycling program present on UIC’s campus.

Project Description:

According to Tom Szaky, CEO of a recycling company, as quoted in an Atlantic article, “Typically, 50% of what you put in your recycling bin is never recycled. It’s sorted and thrown out.” Human error is a large contributing factor to this. People throw unrecyclable materials in recycling bins (Winter, 2015).

To any astute observer, this is nothing new. In fact the other day, while on UIC’s campus, I witnessed students throwing unrecyclable materials into recycling bins. I almost did that same thing by mistake. Yes, the bins are marked, but still they look similar. The University should invest in either new bins that not only are differently colored but differently shaped. Currently on campus, I have seen some bins that are like this (i.e. the see-through bins for plastic bottles). This will help students from making careless mistakes.

However, this may not always prevent unrecyclable items from being tossed into these bins. The University also needs to clarify what is recyclable and what is not. This is something that simple posters can fix. Currently, these bins do list the types of materials, yet it might be better to also list materials that should not be thrown into them. It also might be better to show them with pictures.

So in sum, I am proposing:

  1. UIC needs new unique and more identifiable recycling bins.
  2. Above these bins should be posters that clarify both recyclable and unrecyclable materials.

By doing this, the University can continue on its goal towards sustainability and becoming a Zero Waste Campus, as identified in UIC Climate Commitments: Aspirational Goals and Short-Term Action Items (UIC Office of Sustainability, 2016).

Timeline:

This project can be implemented rather quickly, with the exception of the new bins. The posters can be designed and printed within a week. The bins might take longer to order and to arrive, hopefully no longer than a semester.

Preliminary Project Budget:

The posters should be not cost more than $100, but can easily be made for less, depending on the materials used. Each new bin should not cost more than $20. Ideally, it would be nice to replace all recycling bins that are not clearly marked but 20 new bins would be acceptable. Making the budget for bins and posters total around $500. However, this budget can easily be negotiated.

References:
UIC Office of Sustainability. (2016, April). UIC Climate Commitments Aspirational Goals and Short-term Action Items. Retrieved from https://sustainability.uic.edu/files/2016/04/UIC-Climate-Commitments-Aspirational-Goals-and-Action-Items.pdf

Winters, D. (2015, December 4). The Violent Afterlife of a Recycled Plastic Bottle. The Atlantic. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2015/12/what-actually-happens-to-a-recycled-plastic-bottle/418326/