juliastories 1969-12-31 19:00:00

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juliastories 1969-12-31 19:00:00

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Rick Warren and Conversations with One’s Feet

Reblogged from Tim Tseng:

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“Why are all these Asian Americans so upset with Pastor Rick Warren? It’s just a humorous use of an image, after all? It’s just a joke, right?”

– Link to Christianity Today story
– Link to Religion News Service story.

Apparently not. The huge outcry over Rick Warren’s posting of a Red Guard led to Pastor Warren’s half-hearted public apology yesterday.

Read more… 675 more words

My first reblog! “the body of Christ may be diverse, but the white person is always the face and the Asian (and other non-white people) are always the feet.”
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New Roots in Music City

New Roots in Music City: the growth of urban agriculture in Nashville, Tennessee

NASHVILLE, T.N. – “The chicken came first for us.”

Jason Adkins, Trevecca Nazarene University professor and Environmental Projects Coordinator, clutches one spotted and one yellow chicken in each thick black glove.  His denim overalls are frayed at the edges and spattered with dirt. A pair of black Crocs trod over a thin layer of wood shavings as he meticulously checks and refills each water tank. His bright smile and tousled brown hair match his cheerful disposition walking around the coop, taking it all in, breathing in the pungent smell of feed, feathers and feces.

Meanwhile his seventy precious egg-providers go about their daily lives. The chickens come in brown, yellow, black and white. They move constantly, bumping into each other and clucking in high tones. “Some of them are more boisterous, some are pushier. Some like to be held and some of them don’t.”  Adkins keeps his fowl friends updated on current events, talking to them soothingly about the situation in the Middle East and uprisings in Egypt. Meanwhile, he measures feed and cleans mesh cages while weaving through his feathery friends with ease. Out here, Adkins is a farmer; only his hip, thick-framed black glasses hint that he might be something more.

Trevecca Nazarene chicken coop

These seventy chickens provide eggs for the Nashville Mobile Market, an operation founded in February 2011 that aims to bring fresh and nutritious food to the low-income “food deserts” of the city. Adkins is just one of many examples of farmers cultivating urban land for crops and bringing healthy food to the underserved.

As director of Trevecca Nazarene’s “Environmental Justice and Care” department of their Center for Social Justice, Adkins is responsible for managing the three acres of land set aside by the university for growing crops, as well as an organic greenhouse, fruit trees and

a biodiesel machine.  Adkins first got introduced to urban farming at a previous job, working on a farm with men recovering from addiction. The farm setting proved to be an ideal place for recovering addicts to channel their energy into something that was physically invigorating, good for the earth and satisfying to the belly.

Four years ago, Trevecca Nazarene University in Nashville, Tennessee had just opened its new Social Justice center and invited Adkins to lend his expertise on environmental issues. He quickly discovered that food was the perfect way to wedge himself into the community.  “The neighborhood I moved into invited me to help with a community garden, and that was my ticket in,” Adkisn says.  He envisioned a garden where people of all ages and backgrounds could labor towards a common goal.

Last year, the farm produced 1500 pounds of food, with another 500-600 pounds of food in the greenhouse and twenty pounds of seedlings. On campus, students walk amongst olive, fig and jujube trees; swiss chard, kale and blueberry patches; fragrant flowers and nutritious soil. The greenhouse also produces tilapia, onions, cabbage, lettuce, basil, eggplant, strawberries, tomatoes, aloe, Cuban oregano, spinach and chocolate mint.  This local and fresh produce is sold at the university market, used in the cafeteria, sent home with youth volunteers, dispersed amongst different community gardens, cooked in monthly volunteer and community dinners, and stocked in enterprises like the Nashville Mobile Market.


Hands on Nashville urban farmAdkins’ grassroots approach to sustainability may be new to Nashville’s campuses of higher learning, but he’s not alone in his commitment to reshaping the city’s use of agriculture. Josh Corlew, manager of the Urban Agriculture program at volunteer-mobilizer Hands on Nashville, has witnessed firsthand the growing trend in demand for locally grown and produced food.

“People are realizing the importance of our food choices,” Corlew says, “not just in our own health, but the health of our environment and world. People are making choices that are healthier for everybody.”

The urban agricultural division of Hands on Nashville began in 2011 as an extension of relief efforts for the Nashville Flood of May 2010 that submerged much of the city for weeks. Hands on Nashville was thrust into crisis mode as it became the city’s only agency recruiting and placing over 150,000 volunteers for flood response and recovery. Thus, the organization developed a positive relationship with governmental agencies and Nashville bureaucracy. Through the relief efforts in various parts of the city, Corlew discovered a substantial amount of floodplains bought by the city with no plans for use. He saw growing potential in these unused zones, some of which had been abandoned for thirty or forty years.

Today, Hands on Nashville has access to five acres of floodplains purchased from flood recovery by Metro Parks Nashville. The farm serves as a buffer between a nearby creek and the neighborhood, an intentional setup that protects the farm’s watershed as well as the neighbors’ water source. Like the rest of Hands on Nashville, volunteers run and maintain the farm year-round. The farm’s wide variety of produce includes spinach, lettuce, garlic, peas, tomatoes, squash, cucumbers, corn, Brussels sprouts, kale, cabbage, turnips, collard greens, mustard greens, beans, pumpkins and watermelon. Their root vegetables – potatoes, sweet potatoes, radishes, carrots – are grown in a foot of nutritious imported top soil lying on top of a thick layer of cardboard.

Last year, Hands on Nashville’s urban agriculture program produced 1200 pounds of food; this year, with the addition of a new field, Corlew expects to grow twice as much. The food grown at Hands on Nashville goes directly to the nonprofits that provide the volunteers, including Preston Taylor Ministries, Bethlehem Centers of Nashville, and Youth Encouragement Services. In the summer, groups of up to sixty children from nonprofit partners come to the farm on a designated day of the week for five weeks to work on the farm and learn about growing food. Most of the volunteers are children from low-income neighborhoods considered food insecure or food deserts.

The operation has been praised by Mayor Karl Dean and featured in The Tennessean and other local media. “It’s a boon to the community and empowers volunteers to make eco-friendly and health-conscious choices,” Corlew says.

Yet the operation is still small, part of a movement that accounts for only a fraction of Nashville’s food economy.

One of the city’s biggest advocates and pioneers of urban agriculture is Sizwe Herring, lead gardener, speaker and community food advocate for EarthMatters Tennessee. Herring used to oversee the creation and production of his one crop at the George W Carver Food Park: nourished soil. The food park featured composting and earthworms, yet hosted a big and diverse group of green-thumb-wannabes each week.

However, in spring 2011, the George Carver Food Park was shut down due to complaints from the neighbors about light and noise. This attitude may reflect the city’s attitudes towards the organic and local-grown foods.

“We’ve created a place where someone can say this is my job and they have something to be proud of,” explains Herring. “We all have an intimate connection with food. Our mothers and grandmother have stories about the foods they ate they pass on. It’s something that can hold a family and a community together.”[1]


Looking ahead to the immediate future of urban agriculture in Music City, neither Adkins nor Corlew plans to measure growth in terms of numbers.

“We need to change the food culture in Nashville,” Corlew says. “In order for Nashville to buy enough local and sustainable food to make a difference, we need to move away from traditional farming.” Corlew believes that the key to this change is education, hence the emphasis on volunteer labor, backyard cultivation workshops and youth employment at Hands on Nashville. “We’re instilling a value in students and families to care for their health and the environment.”

Corlew predicts that the most change in our food systems will come from the bottom up, from grassroots efforts that address one backyard at a time.

“We need to think about food differently.”

Meanwhile, Joe Bandy, sociology professor and co-facilitator of the Cumberland Sustainability Project at Vanderbilt University, believes that the necessary push towards a substantial local food sector of the market is job creation.

“Nationally, there’s a growing sustainable agriculture movement, and people are becoming more concerned about toxins and organics,” Bandy says. “Places like Whole Foods are still a relatively small part of the food amongst the middle and working class where price is more of a factor.” The emergence of Nashville farmers’ markets, organic boutiques and green technology shows promise, but the local food sector lags severely behind that of major urban agriculture cities like Chicago, Seattle and Detroit.

According to Bandy, the keys to expansion are laborers, knowledge and political support. “Working people have a hard time finding the time to manage gardening, much less the time to learn how to garden,” Bandy says. “The sustainable agriculture movement needs political support. I don’t think the Mayor’s Office is against it, but they haven’t come out as for it, to educate and train workers in the area and supply financial resources to employ workers. On a volunteer basis, it’s going to be very supplemental, almost incidental. You’ll need employees to manage anything substantial.”

Adkins’ measurements for change and success, however, extend far beyond an educated public and manpower for the movement.

“We’re trying to do something larger,” Adkins says. “Yes, we want to make a difference economically. Our goal is to inspire and educate people to grow their own food, but we also want to be a small-scale production farm as well. The only things keeping us back are time and muscle, human labor and imagination. But even while we’re focused on that, we want everyone to get a broader sense of how the food system works, how nutrition works, environmental issues, and environmental justice.”

Adkins cites racial and ecological reconciliation as part of his long-term goals for the farm. “We need to address the institutionalized racism, both in our systems and our attitudes. Not just doing something all the time, but thinking intentionally about seeking justice, too.” His vision for racial reconciliation and diversity in the environmental movement stems from his learning stint at Growing Power, one of the nation’s largest urban agriculture programs led by basketball player-turned-urban farmer, Will Allen.

“I am very much inspired and my work informed by Will Allen,” Adkins says. “I learned a lot about racial reconciliation and institutionalized racism as well as particular growing techniques that I hadn’t known before.”

growing powerLocated in Milwaukee, WI since 1993, Growing Power boasts six traditional greenhouses, two aquaponic hoop houses, a worm depository, an apiary (beehives), three poultry houses, outdoor livestock pens, a rainwater catchment system, a retail store and more. The organization hosts multiple national conferences and tours 3500 visitors per year. It offers intensive programs in anti-racist food justice training and has expanded to satellite sites in Chicago, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Mississippi.

Many of Growing Power’s techniques have been well-integrated into Adkins’ fully sustainable greenhouse operations: vermicomposting (the byproduct of earthworm digestion becomes seven times as nutritious as the original!), tilapia fed with self-regenerating duckweed, soil block potting rather than using traditional plastic pots.  However, despite all he’s learned about farming, Adkins is confident in finding his own place in the urban agriculture movement. “I don’t ever expect to be Growing Power,” Adkins says with a laugh. “I don’t expect, nor do I want, to get that big.” He still hopes to make a positive economic impact in the community, but he acknowledges that such a drastic expansion could undercut his long-term goals.

“One of the biggest challenges in urban farming is getting the community involved in what we’re doing. That’s a whole aspect of the work that’s quite different from the mechanics of growing,” Adkins says. “Most of the successes I’m talking about are very difficult to measure. Maybe when we begin seeing truly diverse people working on and making decisions about the farm, we’ll have reached our goal.”


As the impacts of warmer temperatures continue to mount – record-breaking heat, months of drought, increased tornados and freak weather incidents like the Nashville Flood – Nashville is beginning to see what could happen if we don’t follow the paths of other major urban agriculture hubs such as Seattle, Chicago and Detroit. “The obvious correlation between urban agriculture and climate change is plant life to absorb carbon dioxide,” Bandy says. However, he believes that the real contribution from urban agriculture is education. “Urban farming provides the chance for everyday citizens without much ecological consciousness to gain a sense of where our food comes from, understand the world’s ecological systems, and experience firsthand how our bodies are affected positively or negatively by what we eat.” This education will open minds to a variety of environmental issues and ultimately mobilize the public to support legislation to reduce greenhouse gases.

Another key component of growing local and sustainable food is the elimination of fuel-guzzling semi-trucks driving thousands of miles to deliver produce to parts of the country where those crops aren’t grown. The less fuel we use, the less emissions enter the atmosphere and heat the planet.

For now, it seems Nashville is just getting comfortable with the idea of buying local or organic food at a slight premium. Bandy predicts that only a major food crisis will end our unhealthy agriculture practices. “Our food system is so out of whack right now. People don’t know the kinds of problems it wreaks on us: toxins, obesity, malnutrition, a lack of food security despite cheap food. We need not only sustainable agriculture but also a much more robust and educated public. Those contradictions are things people need to learn about before we can envision new solutions.”

And so we continue to envision the possible. Students at Vanderbilt University dream of rooftop gardens on top of dormitories and an onsite garden for hands-on service learning. Josh Corlew dreams of building Hands on Nashville’s newest greenhouse in a low-income neighborhood and expanding their summer program to college students. And Jason Adkins dreams of a few new residents for Trevecca’s farm: angora rabbits for wool, beehives for honey, and goats to mow the grass.

For now these operations are small, but each one plants seeds in hopes of a bigger harvest to come.

[1]Duke, Marne. Sizwe Herring, EarthMatters Tennessee. 6 Apr 2011. http://www.localtable.net/articles/featured_old3.php

Posted in climate change, environmental justice, global warming, nashville, organic farming, urban agriculture, urban farming | Comments Off on New Roots in Music City

The politics of environmental justice

The politics of environmental justice

By Summy Lau

After four years in office, President Obama looks ten years older as he takes center stage at the White House for his second inauguration. New creases line his mouth and eyes, his hair has turned peppery gray, and freckles and spots dot his once smooth, bright skin. And after four years of Congressional gridlock, fierce criticism over health care reform, stimulating the economy and raising the debt limit, it’s not difficult to see how the job might age someone beyond their years. Instead of the vibrant, young energy that exuded from then-Senator Obama on the campaign trail in 2008, a determined expression sets into the President’s face.

As his inauguration speech rolls forward, powerful and hopeful words delivered by a skilled orator, it quickly becomes clear that the change in his demeanor isn’t limited to his outward appearance. There’s a newfound urgency in his voice, a new assertiveness in his promises.

For climate change activists, the new change is welcome, even years overdue.

In one speech, President Obama mentions climate change more than he has the entire campaign. It was an election season marked by “climate silence,” with both sides refusing to address the issue for the first time in a generation.  For now, we can hope that the days of silence are over.

 “If Congress won’t act soon to protect future generations, I will,” President Obama asserts. “I will direct my Cabinet to come up with executive actions we can take, now and in the future, to reduce pollution, prepare our communities for the consequences of climate change, and speed the transition to more sustainable sources of energy.”

It’s almost hard to believe this no-holds-barred President is the same Obama that, as New Yorker contributor Elizabeth Kolbert points out, “sat on the sidelines in 2009 and 2010 while congressional leaders tried to put together majorities in favor of climate legislation. Since the midterm elections, Obama has barely mentioned climate change, and just about every decision that his Administration has made on energy and the environment has been wrong.”

To be fair, our President is facing one of the most gridlocked legislative branches in American history. Congress refuses to work with the president and across party lines in order to enact crucial change. Prominent Republican representatives, such as Sen. Rubio and Rep. Bachmann, deny climate change altogether, decry Obama’s efforts as futile and dismiss global warming as a money-making myth.

Such heavy divides have made climate change the defining issue of our time. “Climate change has become a wedge issue,” says Roger Pielke Jr., professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado. “It’s today’s flag-burning or partial-birth-abortion issue.”

I sincerely hope that President Obama recognizes the weight of his words. The time to act is now, and the change we need is drastic. Will his renewed promises to protect our dying Earth be the spark that finally lights this movement? Or will we fail to hold him accountable once more?

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Sweating without a Plan

Sweating without a Plan: How Nashville’s inaction towards climate change could be the biggest risk of all

by Summy Lau | 29 January 2013

Humidity, dehydration and a constant sheen of sweat characterized the few weeks I spent in Nashville during July 2010. As a Chicago native, I didn’t realize that the scorching summer temperatures were unusual, but that month would go on to be the tenth-hottest July ever recorded, preceded by the fifth-hottest June. Now rising temps, severe droughts, floods and freak weather events are causing scientists, reporters and professors to declare that climate change isn’t going to destroy Nashville—it’s already started.

Measurable trends show our climate is getting hotter, drier and more unpredictable. Compare the past ten years (2003-2012) to the decade before and you’ll find Nashville’s mean annual temperature rose 0.7oF, an unthinkable gain by meteorological standards. [1] Meanwhile, the summer of 2012 was the second driest on record for all of middle Tennessee: In June, The Tennessean reported that Nashville received a paltry 0.26” of rainfall. The drought forced nearby Williamson County to issue a mandatory restriction on water use and irrigation [2]. And the Southeast is getting hit by more frequent and intense tornadoes; earlier and longer-lasting tornado seasons are to blame for increasing the risk of events like the April 2011 string of twisters that destroyed Tuscaloosa. Overall, 3,527 monthly weather records were broken for heat, rain, and snow across the US in 2012 according to the National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), and one hundred of these records belonged to Tennessee.


As the impacts of warmer temperatures continue to mount, are city leaders doing enough to prepare Nashville and its residents for the future costs of climate change?

Most major cities in the United States, such as Los Angeles, NYC, Chicago, Portland and Miami, have plans in place to first slow down, then survive the oncoming hazards of global warming. These cities are leading the way in creating detailed adaptation plans for their states, which the EPA defines as plans that “lay out a strategy, including specific policy recommendations, that a state will use to address climate change and reduce its greenhouse gas emissions.” For example, the main goal of the Chicago Climate Action Plan is “to reduce our emissions and prepare for change.” Its strategies focus on five different areas: energy-efficient architecture, clean energy, efficient transportation, reduced waste, and adaptation. Their plan puts innovation and education on the forefront of the city’s defenses to protect the wellbeing of all citizens.

Yet despite the red flags, Nashville has chosen to make no explicit moves in regards to climate change or even express the need to prepare. In fact, Tennessee is one of just 18 states that has yet to complete a state climate change action plan.

“The attitude of Metro Public Works has been geared towards environmental consciousness the past few years,” says Steve Haruch, Culture Editor at Nashville Scene and author of an August 2010 article[3] on the effects of climate change in Nashville. “There are efforts toward mitigation and adaptation to be as environmentally conscious as possible moving forward, but nothing directly addressing climate change.” He points to a few examples of Nashville trying to lower its carbon footprint, like the green renovations of Deaderick Street in the heart of downtown. (Nashville’s “green street” is now divided by a median of plants and boasts new LED traffic lights and pedestrian signals, rain gardens, pervious concrete, and solar-powered parking meters. [4] But Metro Public Works is designed to run on a project-by-project basis, Haruch notes. It’s not equipped to address the big picture. Instead, these sustainability development projects are slapping a Band-Aid over the crack in a dam set to burst.



Jason Adkins, Professor and Environmental Projects Coordinator at Trevecca Nazarene University, believes the consequences of not having an adaptation plan spells disaster for the city’s poorest and most vulnerable residents. He describes the toll that extreme heat has on vulnerable populations, compounded each year by intensified summers: “People experiencing homelessness are forced to endure extreme heat that’s becoming all the more frequent,” he says. “They don’t have water. They don’t have shelter. The homeless are liable to suffer from dehydration, stroke, and over-exhaustion.”

“Climate change hits the poor first and worst,” adds Adkins.

Perhaps no other event has caused as much damage and hazard to the city as the Tennessee Floods of May 2010, when torrential rains engulfed much of the city for over a week. The rain killed 10 in Davidson County, flooded major tourist attractions such as the Grand Ole Opry, Bridgestone Arena and LP Field, and cost well over $1.5 billion in damage alone (not factoring in loss of revenue.) [5]

But only the underserved neighborhoods lacking proper infrastructure lost everything.

“We called it ‘a thousand year flood’,” Adkins says. “The lowest-income housing was next to the creeks that flooded, and entire homeless camps washed away. These once-rare events – the acceleration of storms, diluting of banks and creeks, extreme heat, extreme drought, early springs and record rains – are becoming the norm.”


Despite vague promises from Mayor Karl Dean to make Nashville more sustainable and eco-conscious, both government officials and citizens have been slow to respond to the significant threats to its economy and residents posed by climate change.

The Southeast region is, as Haruch dryly notes, “a state where schools can legally question evolution as a concept.” This same attitude has shown itself in the city’s tepid resolve against climate change. There’s little hard data to conclude whether or not climate change acceptance is lower in more conservative states, but difficulty in pushing legislation for green energy may be a sign of apathy and reluctance to change.

Clearly climate change has had trouble gaining traction in Nashville. Haruch notes the difficulty in telling “the climate story” in such a way that people will care about the issue enough to act before devastation hits. “Climate change is thought of as something that affects coastal areas or ‘somewhere else’ besides our home,” he says. “People aren’t connecting the dots yet.”

But we will. Today, it’s January and 70oF. This afternoon, a flash-flood thunderstorm ripped through Nashville and spawned 21 tornadoes across Middle Tennessee. Wilson and Hickman counties reported severe damage, and one Nashville resident was killed by falling debris from the storm [6] And while climate skeptics are all too keen to declare that not every intense thunderstorm, period of drought, or unusually warm day can be linked to global warming, there are trends we cannot ignore. By staying the course and choosing not to create a plan of action, we’re taking a huge gamble—a risk that scientific research confirms will end in catastrophe. For the sake of Nashville’s economy and people, particularly our most vulnerable populations, it’s time for the city to get serious and prepare before the next disaster hits.


[1] “Monthly Average Mean Temperatures at Nashville, Tennessee (1871-Present)” http://www.srh.noaa.gov/ohx/?n=monthlymeantemps

[2] Bundgaard, Chris. “Drought forces mandatory water restrictions.” WKRN-TV Nashville. 5 July 2012. http://www.wkrn.com/story/18958667/drought-forces-mandatory-water-restrictions

[4] Johnson, Elizabeth. “Renovated Deaderick Street enhances Nashville’s city core.” The Tennessean. Jun 2010. http://www.tennessean.com/article/20100615/DAVIDSON/100615071/Renovated-Deaderick-Street-enhances-Nashville-s-city-core

[5]Edwards, Joe. “Nashville flood damage tops $1.5 billion; Grand Ole Opry stage underwater.” May 2010. http://www.csmonitor.com/From-the-news-wires/2010/0509/Nashville-flood-damage-tops-1.5-billion-Grand-Ole-Opry-stage-underwater

[6] WKRN-TV Nashville. “Storms spawn 21 tornadoes, leave 1 dead in Nashville.” 6 Feb 2013. http://www.wkrn.com/story/20761477/tennessee-weather-wednesday

Posted in action plan, climate change, global warming, nashville | Comments Off on Sweating without a Plan

Books: Digital or Print?

One summer back in the third grade, when I was, if possible, nerdier than I am today, I created a book fort in the back corner of my closet. I pinned postcards to the walls with blue pieces of sticky tack, hammered a green blanket over my head as a tent, and stacked all of the books in my possession into teetering walls of pages and spines. Once I’d finished, I crawled inside my book burrow with flashlight, pulled open a paperback, (most likely inhaled that oft-mentioned old-book smell), and began to read. You can imagine how many friends I had that summer (none)—but that’s not the point.

The point is that even at that early age, I had already begun to construct my relationship with literature as one not based solely on words, but on the physical manifestation of those words. I had already begun the habit of romanticizing the object, and not just the content, of the book.

Then again, book fetishes are common enough. Even non-readers can admire the “cultured” look of  floor-to-ceiling shelves packed with hundreds and hundreds of books. Want to look well-read? Don’t worry, there are books-by-the-foot available for purchase to furnish your empty library. (The ultimate nightmarish example of this kind of “culture” can be found in Jay Gatsby’s magnificent library—with its shelves and shelves of books, their pages still uncut).

Even so, there I was—a young third-grader, and later a young high-schooler—enthralled with the sensory experience of the physical book. Imagine my horror when in my final years of high school, the e-reader was born—sleek-edged, paperless, and dangerous—into the world. Who could love such a cold, soulless piece of literary-hypocrisy? And furthermore, what did the arrival of those two-tone e-readers mean for bookstores, libraries, and that closely-cultivated locus of literary pride, the personal bookshelf?

Then, freshman year of college, a friend of mine got one and I began to change my mind about the e-reader.

For one, e-readers offered convenience. You could skip the drive to the book store and order that hard-to-find book, with a single click, online. You could read from your iPhone, your Mac, or the e-reader itself. You could yourself the trouble of lugging ten books to the airport in your carry-on because you can’t decide which one you want to read on the plane. You could get the classics, from Plato’s Republic to Mark Twain’s Huck Finn, for free. Also, you could do the world a favor:  by paring back your book-cover, braggart ego, it became possible to save one tree, two trees, twenty trees, or two-hundred trees, depending on your book-consuming tendencies.

But then again, the environmental benefits are highly contested.

A study by the Cleantech Group in 2008 showed that in 2008, 125 million trees were used in the U.S. book and newspaper industries. At the same time, though there was a certain amount of CO2 used to produce and run e-readers, the e-reader would equal out in terms of CO2 production if just 22.5 physical books were displaced by their digital counterparts.

According to a 2011 analysis by The Millions, however, it would take “five years (32.5 books) of steady eBook consumption (on the same device) to match the ecological footprint of reading the same number of print books the old fashioned way.”

Update to a new device, though, as so many people do, and the positive environmental impact of the e-reader is lost.

Based on my own experience, though, I read e-books on my computer and my phone, not just my e-reader, and those devices I would use and replace after a given amount of time anyway, regardless of my digital reading habits.

Josephine Michener, a Barnes & Noble nook seller in Nashville, thinks the greatest advantage of e-readers was their economic value.

“You don’t have to pay for hardback books. Instead of paying $30 for a book that’s just come out, you can pay $15. And everyone has to worry about space and shelves, if they have a ton of books,” Michener said.

On the other hand, Michener has grown up with physical books. Her grandparents owned a bookshop in Lawrence, Kansas.

“For me, books are comforting. I like to re-read things, so sometimes I stare at my shelves and then pick out a book to read over again. If I’m reading a book that’s mind-numbing-brain-rot-out-of-my-ear, then maybe I’ll read it on my cell phone instead,” Michener said.

And Ross Daniels, a Nashville native carrying a copy of William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, said, “I got a Kindle Fire as a graduation gift, and I do like it—but mainly for browsing. I’m probably never going to use it for reading. For one my mother works in book publishing, and my stepdad sold music—physical, tangible CDs, and lost his job. And really I don’t object to them on moral, but aesthetic, grounds.”

So how do we read these days? How do we fetishize the book, and if we do, is that a dying, or merely just a changing, practice?

Tumblr blogs (like the famous bookshelfporn) abound. We can use digital technology to fetishize the physical object of the book and scroll through endless photographs of libraries, people reading, old bookshops, and shelves piled high with books. Even bookshelves are digital: look at Goodreads, the most famous internet bookshelf, where the whole world can see the books you’ve read, are reading, or plan to read.

As far as the digital/physical debate goes, right now I read in a state of limbo. I’ve got Butterfield 8, a library book; Infinite Jest, a store-bought paperback, John Cheever Stories, a yellowed, used bookstore find, and The Tenth of December, a digital book which I can now access on my Kindle, my Macbook, and my iPhone.

In this shifting time, perhaps the best we can do is experiment with our reading habits, attempt to buy used instead of new, and hope that, if possible, some dream combination of aesthetic and innovation will save us from our little literary conundrum.

Posted in digital, e-readers, green innovation, kindle, Life, Literature, print, sustainability, sustainable reading, writing | Comments Off on Books: Digital or Print?

Setting the Tone for Climate Change Literature


I have a habit of writing late at night. I set up a chair at my kitchen window, prop my laptop on the sill, and gaze out at the 2 a.m. Nashville pastoral. It’s the same view every night. There’s the quiet calm of the empty bank parking lot, the dimmed lights of the closed Walgreens, and the distant glow of the McDonald’s yellow, curving M.

Tonight was no different. I set my computer on the sill and began to write a post about climate change and the environment in contemporary literature. The day had been unusually temperate—70 in the middle of January—and I opened the window to take in the night air. The breeze was stronger than usual (the windows shivered in their frames) but the night was lovely.

Not an hour later, I received a text from a friend: “Look outside if you haven’t. It’s about to be stormy.” Within twenty minutes, the wind had kicked up and the lanky street lamp outside my apartment began to sway. Twenty more minutes, and the wind was twisting great sheets of rain around the buildings. Tornado sirens spiraled out over the city. I sat at my window, baffled.

Is this normal weather? What is normal weather? With so many mega-storms affecting the U.S. in the past few years—from Sandy to Katrina to the Nashville’s great flood in 2010—it makes sense to look out the window and think, sure, the wind is dying down and the storm is passing over, but what about next month, or next week?

This Monday, I spoke with Professor Teresa Goddu, who co-directs the The Cumberland Project, a faculty initiative to incorporate sustainability topics in Vanderbilt’s curriculum. Professor Goddu, an American Studies and English professor, currently teaches a class that explores “ecotopia as a conceptual model.”

As I wrote in my previous post, I’m a fledgling convert to the climate crisis movement. I didn’t know where to begin. What did climate change literature look like? More importantly, if the author consciously wrote climate crisis advocacy fiction, could it really be considered art, or was it instead literary propaganda?

Professor Goddu said, “We need to address your use of the term “advocacy.” Literature that addresses climate change is not necessarily advocacy literature. Authors write about crucial issues. Whether they’re advocating or not is something different. Tony Morrison often talks about how, as an author, she lays bare crucial issues in her work, but she has no duty to come up with the answers to solve them.”

Ah, that made sense. Climate change literature, like all great literature, should be written as an attempt to describe and understand the world and the human condition. As the Greek philosopher and writer Nikos Kazantzakis put it, “The real meaning of enlightenment” (for our purposes, literature) “is to gaze with undimmed eyes on all darkness.”

To gaze with undimmed eyes at darkness suits enlightenment and literary understanding. Ideally, however, climate change literature will also galvanize readers into action.

Professor Goddu added, “The question is whether to cater to hope or to fear. The question is how to tell this story so that people will actually listen. Something I ask my students to consider in class is dystopian literature. Is it useful to us? Is the despair that dystopian literature creates helpful? I’m trying to bring in ecotopian literature that works the muscle of creative thinking and open us up to new possibilities.”

Nicole Burdakin, a Vanderbilt senior in the English Honors Program with a double major in Geology, is currently writing a novella for her Honors thesis. The novella focuses on the research efforts of a paleozoologist who also works as a consultant for a polar bear exhibit in a California zoo. Climate change is a peripheral theme throughout the novella.

I asked Nicole why she chose climate change as a theme for her novel.

Burdakin explained, “Climate change and literary fiction work together in that the climate is a metaphor for a lot of character struggles and character development issues. The idea of impending change, the idea of something being irreversible and out of your control—there are a lot of good metaphorical parallels between what’s happening in the climate and what’s happening with the characters.”

Looking back over some of my own work, I see that I’ve subconsciously used consequences of the climate crisis (the worst drought Texas had seen in 70 years, for example) as metaphors for my characters’ personal struggles.

Literature does help us understand the world. Climate crisis literature achieves the same goals, but it highlights different problems.

Yes, climate change serves as a metaphor for the characters’ struggles and fears, but what’s terrifying is that the climate crisis in reality is not a metaphorical parallel for our problems. It is our greatest problem, one that cannot be pushed back behind our periphery vision for much longer.

Climate change is the fitful baby we hope will quiet down if we let it be. The problem with a whimpering baby, though, is nine times out of ten, the baby doesn’t quiet down. The baby only screams louder.

Though the tornado sirens have quieted for now, they still echo in my head. When is the next time they’ll ring again?

Posted in climate change literature, dystopia, ecotopia, environment, nashville, tornado sirens, tornados, writing | Comments Off on Setting the Tone for Climate Change Literature

me & global warming

note: i’m back and blogging after a winter break hiatus! here’s a bit on my background and how I came to understand global warming as the defining issue that will make or break our species…

I first learned of global warming during my first summer of high school, in your typical mind-numbing summer school health class. Class topics ranged from alcoholism to mental health, sexually transmitted diseases to medicinal marijuana. Our teacher, Ms. Kirley, had bleach blonde hair, long and coarse, and told us often of her penchant for organic food and hemp toast. She had probably run out of lesson ideas by the time we reached the end of the course. The last week of class, she gave each of us a free copy of Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth. I had heard of global warming on the news a couple times but never really understood the term. We watched parts of the documentary online, and a couple of the more outspoken students wasted no time debunking the climate change myth.

“One degree? Who cares about one degree? Just crank up the A/C, that’s why we invented it.”

“There’s nothing we can do about how hot the world is. It doesn’t feel hotter than when we were kids. Some solar energy company just made this up.”

“Yes! I hate winter—this is the best news ever.”

“Liberal bullshit.”

They egged each other on while Ms. Kirley patiently let the discussion run its course. I laughed it off with the rest of them and shrugged. They were right. No one had started migrating north yet. Winter still felt bitterly cold. And summer’s just supposed to be hot.
By the end of class, several students had thoughtfully left their copies of An Inconvenient Truth on our teacher’s desk. They wouldn’t want to waste paper, after all. I never turn down free things, so I held on to mine, with no intentions to read it any time soon.

Four years later, I came home for my first winter break of college, blew the dust off and pulled the book from its familiar spot on my shelf. I had just spent a semester in Oceanography, and one of our lab days had been devoted to watching An Inconvenient Truth. Looking back, that day was pretty similar to a conversion experience: with the lights dimmed, surrounded by passionate climate change believers and intelligent university students murmuring assent, the urgent voice of Al Gore called me to believe, to take action and risk comfort for the sake of planet Earth. “It takes time to connect the dots, I know that. But I also know that there can be a day of reckoning when you wish you had connected the dots more quickly.” Open your eyes and believe before it’s too late, he warned! Then came his final altar call: “Future generations may well have occasion to ask themselves, ‘What were our parents thinking? Why didn’t they wake up when they had a chance?’”

I had woken up.

Despite what my classmates in health class may have thought, climate change is not a good thing. The more I learned about environmental inequality and social justice, researched climate change science, traveled overseas, and grew to care for extremely vulnerable communities, the more I see that climate change really is, at the heart of it, a moral issue. It’s not a hoax invented by Democrats to scare everyone and take money away from oil industries in order to fulfill a secret agenda, or whatever the conspiracy theories are these days. It’s a literally undeniable fact derived from sound science: we’re facing an impending doom that’s going to wipe away whole cities and countries and all of human life if we don’t change course.

Americans are far and away responsible for creating the most carbon dioxide that’s baking the earth and melting the snow caps, but other countries are catching up:

“the paltry attempts to reduce global warming are being overtaken elsewhere by the attempt to raise hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty. Advances in living standards in China, India, and Africa will radically increase the demand for cars, televisions, air-conditioners, washing machines—in short, the demand for power and the burning of fossil fuels.” –David Remnick, The New Yorker

It’s hard to care about an issue that doesn’t affect our daily lives. But global warming is a global issue, today more than ever, and it’s already starting to affect the world’s poorest and most unprepared communities. It’s a short matter of time before it will start inconveniencing us, in a very undeniable way.

Although there’s a lot to fear for future generations, and rightfully so, we humans are an innovative species. Green technology, energy and lifestyles will become the norm. Necessity is the mother of invention, and people have started finding incredibly creative and sustainable solutions that will provide more jobs, support economies and preserve some of the natural world for our children. We need smart people engineering a green future. We need community engagement in sustainable living, slow food production and climate change education. And as an electorate, we need is some political will in America to lead the fight against climate change.

Along with sustainable solutions, laws that reduce carbon outputs and advancing technology, the final battle against climate change will require a shift in the mindset of our very society. We’re enslaved by a consumerist mentality, an insatiable thirst to create, buy, use and dispose of material things in order to be happy. We put incredible value in manufactured symbols of worth and status. When we can put aside our love of things and replace it with a love for people, a respect for the lives of those we’ve never met already destroyed by climate change, then our planet’s fate will change.

Will this ever be possible? Time will tell soon enough. But I prefer to be optimistic in the face of near-inevitable catastrophe. The resources that we humans have in order to pull together a last-ditch solution – creativity, intelligence, innovation, civic engagement and a basic love for our fellow man – they’re enough to grant us the luxury of hope, and better still, they’re renewable.

Posted in an inconvenient truth, climate change, global warming | Comments Off on me & global warming

Time to Change the Road We’re On

Hey there literature lovers, it’s been awhile. Let’s just say the obvious: it’s my fault, not yours. I haven’t kept up with you as a good friend should, and all I can offer you are my few feeble excuses. I blame my blogging truancy on the combined forces of post-finals burnout and a holiday-treat-induced torpor, if those count for anything. Regardless, I’m back, and this time I’m here to stay.

First things first, an important update: this semester I signed up for a journalism class that focuses on “telling the story of climate change.” The primary goal of our writings will be to “explore environmental crisis and innovative breakthrough.

The first day was of class was a humiliation. Nalgene bottles lined the tables, their plastic rainbow bodies plastered with bumper stickers from PETA, 350.org, Clean Water Movement. Then there was me, with my brown cowboy boots and single-serve non-recyclable Dasani. I stuck out like a very sore, non-Green thumb.

Next it came time to introduce ourselves. All around me were leaders of Vanderbilt’s Green Movement. Students who had protested our campus’ coal factory, students who had become vegetarians for both ethical and environmental reasons, students who had led initiative in their high school to ban single-serve water bottles.

Now I really felt guilty about that Dasani. I started blushing and the girl next to me piped up. “That water bottle was made from polar bear tears.”

What did I say when it was my turn to speak? “So I’m from Texas, so…I don’t really know much about climate change, per say…”

There was no ugly silence. I was not banned from the room. But I did feel like an idiot, and rightly so.

Then again, there was context for my ignorance. Texas is not the most environmentally progressive state. The majority of our citizens are in some way connected to the fossil fuels industry, and they feel a deep loyalty to their bread-and-butter providers. They’re oilfield workers and Exxon employees. They frack shale and drill oil and proclaim, in their twangiest of twangs, “Global warming? That’s blue state bullshit.”

But I joined this class for a reason. I wanted to learn about climate change, and I did.

Our first assignment, Bill McKibben’s article “Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math,” really did terrify me. Turns out, this “blue state bullshit”—this climate change hoopla—is a very real and present danger, one that threatens not just our country (or my lovely Texas) but the entire planet.

So what now?

ImageI admit I have a long way to go. I need to educate myself not just as a human, but as a writer, too.

After all, have I not spouted on about the duty of writers to understand the human condition? What could be more relevant to the human condition than the condition of our planet, on which all seven billion humans reside?

Whether we like it or not, whether we believe it or not, climate change will affect, or already is affecting, millions of human beings across the globe. To ignore climate change in fiction, them, is to write fantasy rather than literature. To ignore climate change in our day-to-day lives, however, is to submerge ourselves in a far more dangerous escapism, one that leads down a path of destruction not just to nature and our furry polar bear friends, but to human life as we know it.

I used to count myself a good citizen because I turned off the lights when I left the room, because I took quick showers (as long as I wasn’t washing my hair), and because I recycled my newspapers on campus. Damn.

So what now?

As a good citizen—and more specifically, as a good writer—I wish to move forward by learning as much as I can about climate change, to explore how authors have understood the environmental crisis in literature, and to add my voice to the chorus that sings the necessity of not just belief, but action, too.

Posted in bill mckibben, climate change, environmental crisis, Literature, writing | Comments Off on Time to Change the Road We’re On

My Blog Matters

Why does my blog matter?


It matters because hip hop matters.

Hip Hop is one of the top music genres in America.  The hip hop community encompasses music, fashion, art and much more yet it has only been around since the 1970’s, making it one of the fastest growing genres in America. Hip hop’s position in the music industry is currently changing.  In the early 2000’s there was a significant decline in the sales of hip hop albums, mainly due to the pirating of hip hop music online.  Despite this fact, many hip hop artists have been able to conquer the unfavorable climate in the music industry.  There are hip hop artists who are still topping billboard charts and artists who are seeing growth in the area of digital album and single sales. 


Although hip hop has had much success, it is still misunderstood and undervalued by many Americans. Many people dwell on the negative aspects of hip hop and fail to realize that hip hop is relevant and critical to boarder American culture and the political world.  Since the 1970’s hip hop has become an icon for American culture, yet it’s significance is rarely seen in this way. And it’s not just your typical old white conservatives who criticize hip hop culture, there are also influential African Americans such as Bill Cosby and Oprah Winfrey, who have criticized hip hop for it’s misogyny and use of the n-word.


 Though the hip hop community isn’t perfect, I believe that hip hop music is beautiful, lyrical, rhythmic, and expressive. I also believe that through hip hop music, and the artists who make this music, we have a lens into our cultural identity.  I realize that not everyone will share the same love I have for the sound of hip hop music, but I yearn for the nation to appreciate the content of hip hop and how it can help us better understand who we are as a nation.


I created my blog because there is no place online that I’m aware of that discuses why hip hop matters to America and the positive influence hip hop has on important aspects of American culture.  Sure there are blogs and websites that present the latest hip hop releases. And there are also websites and blogs that focus on the latest hip hop gossip.  But there are few places online that analyze how hip hop artists are impacting and defining our culture through their music and lives.


“Let Hip Hop Ring” was created to explore how the hip hop community can help us understand hard topics such as violence, drugs, war, women and gender issues and gay rights from a different perspective.  It was also created to explore hip hop in the context of other hot topics in America such as The POTUS, the presidential election, elected officials, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, television, fashion, art, and other topics relevant today. Finally “Let Hip Hop Ring” was created so that Americans can realize that the hip hop community holds value; that it is not just a genre of music that promotes violence, drugs, and crime.  My blog was created to explore the positive impact hip hop has on America. While my first dozen or so post did not get to cover every single topic I set out to cover, I hope to grow “Let Hip Hop Ring” into a community for intellectual and thought provoking conversations about how hip hop is central to American culture.


The original concept of my blog was to talk about how hip hop artists are intertwining their music and lives with politics.  This came from a realization that hip hop is more political than most people see.  Inspired by Tupac Shakur’s lyricism,


“The war on drugs is a war on you and me. And yet they say this is the Home of the Free, But if you ask me its all about hypocrisy The constitution, yo, it don’t apply to me, Lady Liberty still the b*tch lied to me”


I wanted to show that there are hip hop artists who care about a lot more than “fucking bitches and getting money.” I wanted my blog “to be entertaining, educational, and inspiring” and I planned to “break down walls, barriers, and stereotypes, to build a greater appreciation of the hip hop culture.” And pretty much… LET HIP HOP RING. But through my exploration in the realm of hip hop and politics, I realized that if we understand hip hop, we can better understand many other aspect of American culture.


In the last few months there have been many hip hop artists who have been battling the societal norms of both hip hop and of America.  These battles have highlighted some of the obstacles that everyday Americans face.


If we understand artists like Frank Ocean we can understand the state of the homosexuality in America:


“[Frank] is the first major hip hop artist that I know of, to come out as bisexual.  The hip hop community definitely had mixed feelings about his action…but I do think Frank has opened the doors to help change the way people think.  I’m happy and excited that Frank Ocean is helping hip hop to become less homophobic. Hopefully because of him and other artists who will eventually follow his lead, it won’t matter who you love and write love songs about, as long as it is good hip hop music.”


Frank Ocean has cracked open the doors for homosexuality to be accepted in hip hop, however the doors are not completely open yet.  If someone more mainstream such as Canadian rapper Drake came out of the closet tomorrow, I’m sure there would be backlash and outrage, but Frank HAS put his foot in the door. In America, there are gay people who are accepted in our society, such as Anderson Cooper, Elton John, Rosie O’Donnell and Ellen DeGeneres.  But they are just beginning to be accepted for who they are. Just like in hip hop, homosexuals still have many challenges to face before their love is considered normal.


If we understand artists like Nicki Minaj, we can understand women’s issues in America.  She may be known for having the biggest booty in hip hop, or having 58 different personalities, but she has definitely knocked down hip hop’s barrier for women. And has shown that women can be just as successful as men in any field in America.  Nicki has also ushered in a new generation of female rappers including Azealia Banks, Brianna Perry and Angel Haze.  Through her album sales and by becoming a household name, she has proven that females can achieve ultimate success in male dominated fields.  Her success was proven a few months ago when the POTUS took the time to comment on one of her songs:


“Nick Minaj is arguably the hottest female rapper out and is known for her multiple eccentric personalities…On Lil Wayne’s recent mixtape, Minaj raps, “I’m a Republican voting for Mitt Romney, You lazy b*tches is f*cking up the economy.”… The President himself commented on these lyrics during a radio interview.  He talked about how he knows that “she likes to play different characters” in her songs. Minaj responded to the president on twitter saying, “Ha! Thank you for understanding my creative humor & sarcasm Mr. President, the smart ones always do… *sends love & support.”  So the President can rest assured knowing that he will probably get her vote.”


            Hip Hop is becoming a more female friendly genre, one female rapper at a time, just as other historically male dominated fields in America are becoming more welcoming to females, such as politics.  Hilary Clinton and Sarah Palin helped break down barriers for women in politics during the 2008 election.  Because of their example and because of the desire of many women to become more equal to men, there has been a rise in female members in congress.  And let’s not forget that the female vote ultimately helped keep Barack Obama in office.  Women are making strides in every aspect of America life, but as we see hip hop:

 Nicki Minaj is the only female household name in rap today

And as we see in politics:

Women make up only 17% of congress, but half of the population of the United States

Women still have a ways to go before we are on the same playing field as men.


If we understand hip hop we can understand how both hip hop artists and the American government are failing minorities when it comes to the war on drugs:

Minorities, especially blacks and Hispanics, are affected by marijuana related arrests more than any other race.  As members of the hip hop community, we should want marijuana to be legal to get black men out of prison and to keep young black men from going to prison; not just so we can get high whenever and wherever we want. Hip Hop artists should not only rap about the great feeling they get when they are high but also about how marijuana is hurting the black community. Too often the hip hop community glamorizes the use of marijuana and forgets the dark side that has lead so many men and women in prison.”


 Hip hop artists smoke, write songs about it, (sometimes) get arrested, make bail, and then go on with their lives.  Young black men listen to hip hop music about marijuana, smoke marijuana, get arrested and land in jail for a long time. People in the hip hop community have taken steps to legalize marijuana, but for the wrong reasons. Hip hop is currently causing as much harm to young African Americans as the law is. If the hip hop artists want marijuana laws to change, they must also change and stand up for the rights of their young black listeners.  They must use their power to convey messages, to show how bad the war on drugs is hurting the black community.


Not only do many Americans neglect the lens hip hop creates into our culture, but many Americans also undervalue the positive power hip hop music can have.  Though there are naysayers such as Cosby and Winfrey, three of the most influential African Americans in America, Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, and Cory Booker, realize that hip hop does have valuable qualities.


Hip Hop is thought of as a divisive culture, although it is actually very unifying.  The love of hip hop created an unusual bond between two of the most powerful couples in America: Barack and Michelle Obama and Beyoncé and Jay-Z Carter.


 Jay Z and President Obama have a great friendship and are constantly supporting one another. Jay Z has recently appeared on an Obama ad.  Jay Z may be one of the hardest working rappers campaigning for Obama. Jay Z and his wife Beyoncé hosted an event brining in an estimated 4 million dollars for the campaign. Jay Z, who strongly supported President Obama in the 2008 election, is still a strong supporter after four years.”


            Barack Obama has met with hip hop heavy hitters, Jay Z and Kanye West, to explore how hip hop can be used to engage young people in topics such as education and incarceration. To Barack Obama, “hip hop is not just a mirror of what is, it should also be a reflection of what can be.” He pushes the lens metaphor even further than I did.  He sees that hip hop can help change and better our nation, because of the influence so many hip hop artists have.  Michelle Obama has also used hip hop to empower others. She teamed up with Beyoncé for her “Let’s Move” campaign.  The music video they created uses Beyoncé’s music to inspire children to live a healthy lifestyle. 


Hip hop music is also loved and respected by Newark Mayor Cory Booker:

Many people have suggested that Cory Booker could be the next black president (although he’s denied any interest in being president, his main goal being making Newark a better place). But like our current president, he’s obviously a fan of Jay Z and hip hop.  In an interview with All Hip Hop, Mayor Booker says he loves Queen Latifah, Eminem, Jay Z, Common, Tupac, Biggie, and Run DMC. Mayor Booker says that “music is a great unifier: it bridges racial, religious and cultural divides and actually unifies a people.” And I couldn’t agree with him more!”


            The President, First Lady, and Cory Booker’s endorsement of hip hop should signify that there is value in this culture.  I believe if these three people of power can find meaning and relevance in hip hop, anyone can.


So yes, hip hop is great and all, it can help us understand who we are and what we believe in, and it can also have a great impact on our society, but I would be blind and dumb to not acknowledge the fact that hip hop CAN have a negative impact on our youth.  The commercialization of this type of “ignorant” hip hop as many people call it, is what’s effecting the youth.

If you listen to any hip hop radio station in America, you’re bound to hear multiple songs about


(2 Chainz – I Luv Dem Strippers ft. Nicki Minaj) http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=atHekn9KE18

(Dance Like a Stripper – M.E)



(Gucci Mane – Bricks)


(Kid Cudi – Marijuana)



(Chief Keef – I Don’t Like (feat.) Lil Reese)


(Yo Gotti – Bulletproof)


And just plain Bullshit

(Chief Keef – Love Sosa)


(Trinidad James – All Gold Everything)



Ok, hip hop definitely has its flaws. While these songs are fun to listen to and dance along to at parties, there is so much more to learn from hip hop. Violence, drugs, money and sex are all apart of the street life that many hip hop artists come from. But no one focuses on how some artists are using hip hop to over come the streets they were born into.  On Kendrick Lamar’s latest album, good kid, m.A.A.d city he explains that in the midst of violence and crime in this city, rapping was his only escape,

            Park the car and we start rhyming ya bish,

            The only thing we had to free our mind.

                                                – Money Trees, Kendrick Lamar

            Hip Hop is an outlet of creative expression for many minority and lower class kids.  Hip hop was the only light at the end of a very dark tunnel for many artists who are successful today.


“From standing on the corners boppin’

To driving some of the hottest cars New York has ever seen

For dropping some of the hottest verses rap has ever heard…

I flow for those ‘dro’ed out; all my niggas

Locked down in the ten by four, controlling the house…

“I flow for chicks wishin’, they ain’t have to strip to pay tuition”

                                                – Hard Knock Life, Jay Z


“You either working or you slanging cocaine on my block

You had to hustle, cause that’s how we was raised on my block

And you stayed on your hop until you made you a knot

On yo’ block you prolly bred a Fat Pat or 2Pac

Or Big Pun, or B.I., ya homeboys from knee-high”

                                                – On My Block, Scarface


“In the hood selling CDs cause they showed love at the Mom & Pops

‘Til I sold em all even when my buzz was small and still chose to cop

Fact remains that I’m still the same and I’ll never change or settle

Cause I ain’t tripping on mainstream cause love from the underground, that’s forever”

                                                – 4EvaNaDay Theme, Big Krit


“He said: “I write what I see

Write to make it right, don’t like where I be

I’d like to make it like the sights on TV

Quite the great life, so nice and easy

See: now you can still die from that

But it’s better than not being alive from straps”

– Hip Hop Saved My Life, Lupe Fiasco


In all of these examples, the artists had hard lives, and many were forced to do illegal things to survive.  Hip hop literally saved their lives.  The goal of my goal is to celebrate hip hop for all of the good it is doing, but also examine it to try to prevent the harm it could cause. 


To me, the future of “Let Hip Hop Ring” seems bright.  I think that I can make the case for hip hop to people who don’t understand or undervalue it because I’m on the outskirts of hip hop as well.  Coming from the suburbs, I definitely can’t relate to the perils of ‘gangster rap’ and being a female, some of the misogynistic lyrics are off putting to me, but I believe there is much more to learn from hip hop.  Everyday I see something new to I could write about.  I want to incorporate more media aspects into my blog, since it is a blog about music, I think videos, music clips, album covers, and more will add to the content of the site. And I want my blog to be a community where other people can write and comment about what they have learned from hip hop.  If “Let Hip Hop Ring” can change one person’s perspective on hip hop or help some one see hip hop as a genre that has more to offer than violent, derogatory music, I will consider it a success. 

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Legalized It

Legalized It

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warm orange soda, the lorax and why any of this matters

The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.

– Gaylord Nelson, founder of Earth Day

There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for man’s greed.

– Mohandas K. Gandhi

We drove for an hour, weaving through chaotic traffic and crashing down bumpy roads, to the edges of Mexico City. On the way, we passed miles of slums and shantytowns stacked high on the mountainsides.  Our driver and guide reminded us that the vibrant splashes of pastels painted on the walls hid a very dark existence; each mountain contained hundreds of thousands of Mexico City’s poorest, crammed in the slums with little likelihood of leaving. After an hour of carsickness, we let out a collective sigh of relief as the van screeched to a stop. We pried the door open and savored the first breath of cool, fresh air as it drifted into the stuffy van. We spilled out of the open doors like fresh pastries poured from a basket, ten empanadas scattered on a giant plate of asphalt and rubble. We had reached the destination for today’s house visit: Las Esmeraldas, a flat, desolate neighborhood that looked even bleaker under the gray sky. It was quiet except for the occasional bark of a stray dog.

Thirteen other university students and I came on a missions trip working with a local community center, Armonía Ministries, playing and loving on kids in the slum community. That day we drove out to Las Esmeraldas to visit the family of Brenda, my favorite girl from the center. Brenda was a very mature 8-year-old with an adorably dopey younger brother, and we had latched onto each other from the very first day. It was our first house visit, so I had no idea what to expect. In fact I hadn’t had much experience with poverty in general; my parents worked hard and sacrificed their whole lives to give me and my brother much easier childhoods than they had in China. Even from the mission trips I took with my church to Navajo reservations in Arizona, where the water runs brown and big families live in teeny adobe homes, I was not prepared to see the level of poverty that pervades everyday life in Mexico City.

Brenda bounded toward us, taking special care to greet me with an enthusiastic “Maestra! Maestra!” She took me by the hand and led us all into her home. Along with a second car, we packed eighteen people into the one room home, smaller than a standard dorm on the Vanderbilt freshmen campus. The solid cement walls had been painted a sickly bright orange and covered with dozens of religious icons like the Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and various depictions of Christ. They had also taped cartoon characters, American celebrities, even glossy full-color magazine ads that I wouldn’t have thought twice about throwing away. A small TV with a crooked antenna sat in the corner showing the news in black-and-white. Flies swarmed around some food and garbage left outside the entrance. There was no bathroom, no kitchen. There wasn’t even a real door. Brenda showed off the metal twin-size bunk bed that she, her mom, her brother, and another child all shared. Just then her mom squeezed in behind us with two 1-liter bottles of warm orange soda and a roll of plastic cups that she had gotten from a store down the street. She was buying us drinks? Yet Brenda beamed with joy and excitement at the chance to host her American friends. She was proud of her home. With a translator, her mom told us the story of how Armonía Ministries helped her when she didn’t have anyone to turn to.

We were only in the city for three weeks, but many things from the trip will stick with me forever. I think of Brenda often and wonder what she’s doing, what she looks like, where she is. I couldn’t accept that such a sweet, wonderful child could grow up in Las Esmereldas. Nor could I imagine myself ever feeling happy in her situation, unless it was all I had ever known.

City of Contrasts

A city of contrasts: rich and poor homes side-by-side

Las esmeraldasLas Esmeraldas

In Dr. Seuss’ classic tale of advocacy and conservation, the Lorax speaks for the trees. We have associations and federations and agencies dedicated to protecting the most vulnerable parts of nature that don’t have a voice: endangered species, biodiversity, wildlife, land preserves, air quality. These are all good and essential components of taking care of the Earth. But who speaks up when people are voiceless? This is what makes environmental justice the definitive human movement, for nothing connects us all to such a complete degree and magnitude as the world in which we live. The environment is not just nature, but it encompasses all aspects of life: where we live, work, play, learn and grow. Environmental justice combines social justice for all with care for sustainability and an eye to the future.

The inseparable connection between human quality of life and the environment first drew me to the EJ movement. Just as the environment encapsulates everything, every social justice issue is exacerbated by the way we use the environment. Traditional environmentalism stood up for the birds, the wilderness and the wetlands. Now, EJ is the movement that stands up for the poor. We realize that people need environmental advocacy in both urban and rural habitats. Toxic poisoning, landfill use, extractive energy industries and contaminated water supplies all demonstrate the human piece of environmentalism, and the principles of EJ are global in scope. EJ pulls together a million different pieces of the puzzle to find a comprehensive solution for the most devastating problems we face.

Through this blog, I have aimed to find my own voice in this broad movement and make the connections between environmentalism and people. Why? Because EJ declares that it’s reprehensible for Brenda’s family to live in a one-room cement room, and to have another billion people in the world living with even less.

I want to stand with the movement and declare the same.

I want to speak up about something that matters.

Well, what I actually want to do is steal Brenda away and adopt her and sell all my stuff and give the money to her family and put her through school. But I can’t. So instead I’ll remember her and talk about her to all who will listen. And if I close my eyes and force myself, I can still taste the distinct flavor of fizzy Mexican orange soda, both syrupy and bitter with carbonation, as I tried to wash away the lump in my throat.

Can blogs change lives? Just ask then-Senator Obama as he stepped onto the platform in McCormick Place on Election Night, in front of a roaring crowd of thousands to deliver his first acceptance speech as President of the United States. Do words have the power to transform? Look to the authors of Common Sense, who, through a few dangerous ideas in a few pamphlets, provided the spark that ignited a revolutionary war. Does my blog matter? A thousand times yes. I may not have turned the world of environmental justice on its head or sparked a revolution, but I contributed my voice to a current issue of unparalleled relevance and scope. EJ represents the essence of the greatest challenges of our time, and it’s up to all of us to raise our voices, start putting together the pieces and coming up with solutions. My way of participating in the movement this semester has been through blogging, and I’ve learned so much from the experience.

First, environmental justice is a movement in the grassroots: people protesting environmental harms and demanding not just equality, but justice. As EJ champion Dr. Robert Bullard states, “The environmental justice movement isn’t seeking to simply redistribute environmental harms, but to abolish them.” In the same spirit, blogs are a great representation of a local movement, localized to the point of individuality. Blogs are a form of “citizen journalism” where everyone can get involved and report their own experience from the field, wherever they are: cities, countryside, overseas. Bloggers report their own perspectives and interactions to make their voice heard. EJ blogs like 350.org (350.org/about/blog) and EJ Food (ejfood.blogspot.com) report environmental justice issues in real time with lots of human stories and first-hand witnesses.

This semester we’ve also seen the importance of blogs and social media in today’s globalized world. We spread ideas faster than ever in history, and EJ blogs like mine are the new Delano grape boycott, Little Rock Nine sit-in, Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech. It’s probably irreverent to compare something like a blog, a mere collection of mostly anonymous thoughts posted on a website, to these monumental acts of civil disobedience and intense personal risk. But for the blogs that take this issue seriously, for those that spread awareness of the topic with conviction and urgency, they share the same spirit with these towering historical figures of social justice. EJ is, first and foremost, a civil rights issue. We’re all on this planet together, learning and advocating and solving problems together.

Doing research for this blog and delving deeper into EJ issues also helped me see just how complex the factors involved are; this blog is just the beginning of a lifelong process of understanding the web of forces at play that lead to incidental and systemic environmental injustices. Like a giant jigsaw puzzle, EJ has many influences, factors and stakeholders that make it such a universal issue. First, one of the biggest forces at play in environmental hazards is governmental bodies and institutions. We have unjust laws, more explicitly on a local level, that allow systemic environmental injustice and even environmental racism against people of color (“the disproportionate impact of environmental hazards on people of color, closely tied to socioeconomic class”, EJNet.org). Some examples of institutionalized and systemic environmental racism are toxic waste sites and landfills built disproportionately in communities of color. I examined the election hoping to hear mention of sustainable living and climate change fight (and therefore, climate justice: the idea that certain people groups will be disproportionately impacted by climate change). Yet #ClimateSilence2012 showed that we’re not ready to make any real changes. With a sharply divided House and Senate, any possibly helpful legislation will be shut down by conservatives and lost in gridlock. Climate change played an ominously minor role in the presidential race this year and may reveal a growing acceptance, apathy or unwise deprioritization on the part of the American public towards climate change. Attitudes like these make EJ blogs even more important in educating others and spreading awareness.

A second factor of the EJ movement is personal choice and sacrifice. One way that I explored this topic in my blog was by eating as vegetarian as possible this semester! I didn’t want to stop eating meat just to save animals or protect grazing land or for health reasons, which are of course all great and valid reasons for this lifestyle choice. However, I made a conscious choice to broaden my veggie and bean palate primarily because I want to live with integrity. As I quoted previously, if we fed the grain we feed to livestock to the 1.4 billion people living in abject poverty, each of them would get more than half a ton of grain, or about 3 pounds of grain/day, twice the grain they would need to survive. The planet couldn’t support all 7 billion of us if we all ate meat on a daily basis, and this is one way to stand in solidarity with the majority of the world while lowering the amount of pollution in our planet. Of course, if the whole world consumed as much as an average American in any other way (drove cars, ate food, used electricity, tossed waste) the world also could not support us all. The human cost of eating meat led us to give thanks over the dead body of a happy organic turkey for Thanksgiving.

Another piece to the EJ puzzle I investigated was the role of faith and organized religion in the EJ movement. I come from a strong Christian family (my dad is a pastor, and my mom a social worker at a Christian non-profit), so the beliefs, language and customs of Christianity have always been taught as second nature. In that, it’s sometimes hard for me to step back and see how our actions are perceived by others and what is the heart behind the laws our Republican conservative representatives push. Some Christians claim that God gave us dominion over the earth to use resources for our benefit. However, He also commands us to care for the poor, the orphans and the widows; to care for His creation; to “live justly and walk humbly and love mercy”. All these things lead me to believe that the Christian Church is not doing enough to advocate for EJ in our local communities nor speaking up to our political representatives to protect minorities and vulnerable populations.  So much of conservative politics is affected by the financial support of huge corporations and donors that want to maximize their profits, and for now environmentally safe and just practices with low carbon production and fair trade values are generally less profitable. This will change as technology improves, but for now people of faith and so-called Christian conservatives need to support environmentally just measures. Corporations must consider the triple bottom line: people, planet and profit. Environmental degradation, on the local and global scale, is an urgent matter that the Bible indirectly addresses when we’re called to love our neighbors as ourselves. In the future I would love to do more research on other faiths’ approach to the environmental crisis and EJ.

In addition to religious institutions, I explored the efforts of my school, Vanderbilt University, to “go green”. I hadn’t known just how much of an intentional effort Vanderbilt makes to stand out from the crowd in terms of environmentally-conscious initiatives. That said, from a student perspective it just doesn’t really feel like Vandy cares enough about environmental or social justice to sacrifice profit. For example, there’s a giant coal plant in the middle of campus. I also need to further investigate Vandy’s employment and purchasing practices, particularly in dining: where we get our food, what’s in it, how it’s prepared, and how the workers are treated. Vandy’s treatment of workers has been a controversial topic lately, even sparking an “Occupy Vanderbilt” movement last spring where students and activists moved into tents by Kirkland Hall to protest low wages, unstable work hours and irresponsible endowment investment in Africa land grabs.

In the future, I’d like to fish out some local Nashville stories. The injustices in Nashville are well hidden and rarely discussed: food deserts, exploitation of preserved land, educational inequity and homelessness to name a few. At least in passing discussion Mayor Karl Dean has addressed the environmental aspect of EJ: “Nashville needs to be a leading city for sustainable living with clean air, clean water and plenty of preserved open space. This is important for the livability of our city for current residents and for our future economic growth. Businesses and individuals are attracted to cities with strong environmental practices and transportation options.” But I haven’t yet explored the justice piece. Is Nashville really committed to equal access to our city’s resources for all? If so, why do residents of the Edgehill community (right next to Vanderbilt) lack access to fresh food for miles? What’s at the heart of the city’s educational inequality? And what’s going on with our water and air?


To conclude, this blog has given me the chance to personally wrestle with EJ and forced me to really ask myself how I can live a life of integrity. After seeing the magnitude and breadth of EJ, the change that EJ can bring to poor communities, how can I turn my back and pretend that I do not know? I realize now that recycling plastic bottles really isn’t the answer to securing the safety of the world’s vulnerable, it’s EJ: fighting against multinational corporations, toxins, hazardous wastes, unhealthy work environments…anything that threatens the fundamental rights of others to clean air, land, water and food. If the EJ wave is what lifts the kids at Armonía out of the slums, I have no choice but to get stoked and hang ten.

If I had one take away from my exploration of EJ, I would say that it’s never too late to change course. And what a journey it’s been so far! I’ve learned so much and practiced the art of blogging in the process. But this is not the end. I’m on the cusp of graduation, leaving Nashville with my bachelor’s degree in tow, and there’s no telling what my next step is. I do know that, wherever I end up and whatever I do, I want to live a life of vision: to dream of what could be fueled by the conviction of what should be.

Until next time,



Me & Brenda
A.K.A. why my blog matters

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Is Vanderbilt Staying True to its Environmental Commitments?

Hi everyone! I hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday and tried some of the tips outlined in my previous post to have a more sustainable celebration.

As you’ve seen, in my blog I’ve tried to provide some of my own interpretations of research, anecdotes and news stories of relevance to the environmental justice movement. Today I want to explore some local initiatives here at Vanderbilt University and around Nashville. As an official, beautiful national arboretum, ideally our campus would be one of the greenest in the country. I will explore the efforts that Vanderbilt is putting forth to protect its environment and inhabitants (students, faculty and staff). Lastly, together we will decide whether or not the university is creating a healthy environment for all. Today we’ll examine some of the standout initiatives on campus, but you can read the full list of VU Sustainability links and partners here.

First, as a university, Vanderbilt has agreed to stand committed to reducing our carbon footprint and remaining conscious of the needs of the environment. In VU’s Environmental Commitment Statement, we state: Vanderbilt University is a local and global community leader committed to environmental stewardship, protecting natural resources, and enhancing quality of life while maintaining academic, medical, social, and economic productivity. (Read the rest of Vandy’s Environmental Commitment Statement here.) Let’s examine if the school is holding up its end of the bargain in the three areas stated in the commitment…

Protecting Natural Resources

Dirt's good for you

Dirt’s good for you


In the bathrooms of some of the libraries and academic buildings on campus, you will no longer find that traditional pink soap dispensed from the wall. Instead, they’ve been replaced by bottles of chunky brown goop called EcoSuds! EcoSuds is an environmentally friendly soap bottled right here at Vanderbilt. We have a biodiesel fuel production system in the heart of campus, and one of its by-products is glycerin, the main ingredient in soap. Despite its muddy appearance, EcoSuds soap is very moisturizing, kills bacteria without lots of chemical additives, and smells terrific. It also works well as a shower gel, dish soap, carwash, blood stain remover, or laundry soap. The EcoSuds and biodiesel fuel programs are run by the young student organization Alternative Energy Club.


Water Conservation

Some useful tips on how to conserve water on campus and more importantly why. Particularly alarming is the inseparable connection between water resources and climate change.

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles

Electric vehicles

Vanderbilt is quickly becoming more accommodating to electric vehicles in hopes that specially marked parking spaces and convenient fill stations will encourage more people to trade in their gas guzzlers for cars that reduce our carbon footprint. A solar-powered electric vehicle (EV) charging station was recently put up at the corner of 21st Avenue South and Broadway. The Smart Modal Area Recharge Terminal, or SMART station, can charge up to 10 vehicles and joins five other stations around the university campus and medical center, bringing the total number of EV charging bays at Vanderbilt to 19. There are about 10 spots outside the library reserved for electric cars. Currently I’ve never seen a car parked in those spots, but hopefully in the next few years we’ll be ready for the technology of the future.

Environmental Stewardship


I really appreciated this post from SustainVU, the campus-wide umbrella institution dedicated to spreading awareness about environmental consciousness. Similar to my last vlog post, it discusses the best way to reduce our carbon footprint: reduce waste and “stave off holiday excess.” We buy things we don’t need and make food we don’t eat. “Add in all the energy use from extra travel and hospitality, and the last six weeks of the year can have quite an impact on our natural resources,” the post states. As we wrap up 2012, SustainVU provides a simple but profound reminder that the heart of environmental degradation and injustice is ultimately human greed. The insatiable desire for MORE, ironically, seems to rear its ugly head the most during the holiday season when we should be the most content with what we have.


This page describes some of the green buildings on campus, built purposefully to be environmentally conscious and aesthetically pleasing. I was quite surprised to discover that Chef James Bistro is LEED-certified.

Enhancing Quality of Life

Vanderbilt Environment Health and Safety

The creation of VEHS fulfilled the last portion of the commitment, to enhance quality of life…while maintaining medical productivity. VEHS provides “safety services and information to support the teaching, research, and patient care missions for Vanderbilt University and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.” VEHS initiatives include hospital and clinic safety, occupational safety and training, environmental waste management, fire safety and emergency management, biosafety, radiation safety, and sustainability and environmental management. All necessary parts of maintaining a healthy environment for staff and patients in the medical center and our med students.

Vanderbilt Institute for Energy & Environment

The VIEE addresses the environmental concerns of the university and educates the student body through many different disciplines: the social and behavioral sciences, physical sciences, engineering, law and policy. Its broad scope makes the VIEE a promising breeding ground for new ideas and solutions. “The future health and well-being of humanity hinge in large part on smart production and use of energy, water, and related resources, as these are central determinants of climate change, habitable space, and human and ecological health.”

Similarly, I was pleasantly surprised to discover the existence of the Vanderbilt Climate Change Research Network. We have a group of some of the best and brightest minds in the environmental movement joining forces to openly discuss and begin solving climate change. One of the members of the CCRN is a former professor, Dr. Bandy, who initially spurred my interest in environmental justice and encouraged me to write a published article on the effects of pesticides on migrant workers. “Climate change is widely regarded as one of the most difficult problems facing modern society. Developing legal, economic, and social responses requires interdisciplinary research that is theoretically sophisticated and policy-relevant.

All this good stuff aside, in terms of raising quality of life, I would like to do more research on what’s happening to our wonderful dining workers. Their working conditions have been stirring a lot of controversy lately—apparently the pay is terrible, job security very low, and Vanderbilt isn’t doing anything to rectify the situation. Again I don’t have many details yet but will update the blog as I collect information.  If Vandy Dining turns out to be a cruel and unjust industry, here are some healthy, local and organic alternatives to campus dining!

The final verdict…Better than expected

Overall I was surprised to see just how many environmental initiatives are available on this campus: committees, councils, climate change experts, student-led conservation efforts. Everyone can participate in lowering our Commodore Carbon Footprint, and the resources are certainly available for the Vanderbilt community to educate itself. I hope the university continues becoming even more eco-friendly, from arranging guest lecturers to publishing new research on climate change solutions to ensuring a safe and healthy environment for at Vanderbilt. There’s a ton of opportunity for solid change at this school, if we’re all willing to work together and make these initiatives successful.

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