Slow Violence

“By slow violence I mean a violence that occurs gradually and out of sight, a violence of delayed destruction that is dispersed across time and space, an attritional violence that is typically not viewed as violence at all.” -Rob Nixon, Slow Violence and Environmentalism of the Poor

As soon I read this powerful definition in Nixon’s introduction chapter of his book connections sprouted and grew further in my head.  Last semester I wrote a final thesis paper for my Introduction to Environmental Archaeology, Native Americans and Social and Environmental Injustice.  This was the first connection I made and it was so relevant in my mind because the injustices I discussed were out of sight and done over long periods of time.  Most of the injustices were not even seen as injustices at all.  I then connected the meaning of slow violence to our studies of the Chesapeake Bay this semester.  Looking ahead I could relate Nixon’s words to our rapidly approaching study of Belize and Guatemala.

“Slow Violence” is a quintessential description of what we have learned about in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed so far in this semester.  We learned of many past injustices that humans did to the environment that changed things permanently or at least for a very long period of time.  Many times over harvesting destroyed species but this was not a instant shift.  As in the definition above, it was over time and out of sight.  No one recognized the problems until it was too late.  This is still happening with many factors today.  Some people in society might not recycle a bottle, pick up a piece of trash, or follow the directions on harmful herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. because “it’s just one time” or “just a little bit” or “that won’t matter”.  In reality this is a huge problem and each single time this happens it adds up.  One might see some banks eroding in the watershed from salt marsh destruction or lack of SAV’s in the water and think that again, it is nothing to be concerned about.  Each little bit of this adds up, as inconspicuous as it is.  This damage is delayed and widely unseen, considering these problems have been going for very long periods of time.  Some may even see these occurrences and not even understand the problem due to a lack of education or normalcy.

I can only hypothesize how this will relate to our studies in Belize and Guatemala.  This now takes me back to my paper on Native Americans and Social and Environmental Injustice.  I believe that the under developed areas and societies in these countries will feel the wrath of the more developed communities and infrastructures because they are larger in scale and are more closely connected to the government.  This can also be a factor because the more developed organizations and parts of society bring more money to the government.  Nixon writes,  “Too often in the global South, conservation, driven by powerful transnational nature NGOs, combines an antidevelopmental rhetoric with the development of finite resources for the touristic few, thereby depleting vital resources for long-term residents.”  Because tourism is the most economic powerful commerce for these countries, it takes precedence over the locals and native people.  This may not be viewed as violence but it certainly can be considered to be.  It again happens slowly and on the back burner, out of sight.

In conclusion, Rob Nixon’s strong words and meaning of “Slow Violence” certainly rings home for me and I can connect to not only what we have learned this semester, but also past classes and more studies to come.  This idea is represented in injustices to Native Americans, to our environment in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, and to the native people in Belize and Guatemala.  I look forward to learning more about how it connects in Central America and for studies even further down the road.

Nixon, Rob.  2011.  Slow Violence and Environmentalism of the Poor.  Harvard University Press.

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Journey Two Stalking

Prior to Journey Two we spent a lot of time in Natural Science courses and focusing on many large and controversial topics related to the sciences.  We went from sea level rise and climate change and how to discuss that in an ethnographic interview to invasive species and how they are drastically changing and destroying habitats.  It can be represented by the ecosystem services of an area, how much we can obtain from and learn about the environment, in the aspect of all of our class subjects.  The class took sediment samples and performed water quality tests.  We looked for ecological diversity and identified organisms at the sites we visited and then made corresponding food webs.  Altogether studying these has given us students a deeper understanding of the Chesapeake and its surrounding watershed.

During our journey, we did many in depth scientific tests and sampling of water, sediments, and organisms.  The water sampling showed health and quality of the ecosystems due to the amount of nutrients in the water, the salinity at some places, the pH and other factors.  Different areas have vastly different sediment types and qualities.  Some locations had a lot of bioturbidity and others had none.  We studied the ecosystems at each location which told us much more about the habitats.  The different organisms and their diversity showed us the health of the ecosystem.  The presence of invasive species shows a greater human interaction and less healthy ecosystem.  These are all natural science perspectives that help us understand the Chesapeake as much as possible.

Ecosystem services are another perfect example of the connection from natural science to the Chesapeake and how we learn about the area.  This connection also expands to the social sciences and humanities.  “Ecosystem services are the benefits people obtain from ecosystems. These include provisioning services such as food and water; regulating services such as flood and disease control; cultural services such as spiritual, recreational, and cultural benefits; and supporting services, such as nutrient cycling, that maintain the conditions for life on Earth.” (Ecosystems and Their Services).  The environment provides us with the knowledge that we have on the Chesapeake Bay and its area.  We gain a wealth of services from the environment that we can take a lot from.  These are just not environmentally related services though.  Cultural ecosystem services are very important to the value of any ecosystem.  The watermen culture in Smith Island is extremely important to the area.  In Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge the cultural ecosystem services are important because people are drawn for recreational activities.  In total, ecosystem services show us how important the environment is to us and all of the benefits people can have.

Invasive species are one of the easiest ways to destroy a natural habitat.  The study of invasive species lies under the natural science title but can reach into other disciplines as well.  We learned about many invasive species like phragmities, sicca deer, nutria, and many others with.  The class went to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge and met with Matt Whitbeck who talked about all of the affects and problems associated with the invasive species in the area.  Each destroy habitats and wreak havoc in their own way.  As stated above, invasive species can help to determine the health of an ecosystem.  Invasive species are signs of weakness and instability.  However, this is not just an environmental science issue.  Socially some of these species are under debate whether they should be eradicated or not.  For example, sicca deer destroy farmer’s crops but hunters want healthy populations to stick around so they can hunt them.  This has quickly become a social issue.  Also, how invasive species are eradicated and controlled is controversial.  Many herbicidal sprays that are used are bad for the environment.  Digging and ripping plants up are not energy or time conservative efforts.  Sometimes burning can be used but that can also destroy vital native species.  As you can see, this is not just a natural science problem.

We have reiterated in class over and over the facts and support behind climate change and therefore sea level rise.  It is truly an interdisciplinary concept and relates to all of the courses.  The facts and proof of climate change happening are related to the natural science course.  More intricately related are humanities and social science courses.  We studied how societies react physically and mentally to sea level rise.  During our classes and lectures on ethnographic interviews with Dr. Lampman we learned how to productively hold controversial conservations with a stranger.  This is important because to get accurate information from the interviewees, there are certain ways that topics should be discussed or brought up due to sensitivity and beliefs.  Because we could dive into the topic of climate change we drastically expanded our study and understanding of the Chesapeake.

Studying the sciences of each topic above has shown the importance of the natural science but it also connects to the humanities and social sciences courses into the importance.  This clearly illustrates the true interdisciplinary nature of the Chesapeake Semester Program.  Sediment samples, water quality tests, and ecosystem surveys showed the quality, healthiness, and diversity of the ecosystem.  Ecosystem services connects all of the subjects together and shows us how important the environment is to us.  Invasive species are seen as a biological problem in ecosystems.  However, because there are controversial and social issues around controlling and eradicating invasive species, this now becomes a social issue.  The facts, proof, and data of climate change and sea level rise is definitely in the scientific field but the responses and actions of society are social science and humanities.

 

Works Cited

Dr. Lampman, Lecturer

Matt Whitbeck, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge

“Ecosystems and Their Services”

Damed

In my last post I discussed the importance of balance and how it relates to the environment.  I would like to reopen this discussion but focus more on the aspects of this upcoming journey.  Our first stop will be Susquehanna State Park and the surrounding area.  We will discuss the Susquehanna River and the Conowingo Dam.  The dam is about a five-minute drive from my house so I have been hearing about many conflicts surrounding it for a long time.  We have had a couple assigned readings leading up to Journey Two on the Dam and the problems surrounding it.  These readings have discussed the main controversy over the dam and the many options and resolutions that have been discussed.

“Sediment and associated nutrients from the land, floodplain, and streams in the lower Susquehanna River have been transported and stored in the areas (reservoirs) behind the dams over the past century.”  That is a short description from the “Executive Summary” by the Lower Susquehanna River Watershed Assessment of the main problem going on at the dams on the Susquehanna and specifically at the Conowingo Dam.  The sediment (and nutrients) comes down river and gets trapped behind the dam.  It seems like this may have helped over the years because it keeps it from entering the Bay but that is not the case.  First, when major storm events happen the increased river flow scours the sediment build up taking some of it over the dam and downriver into the Bay.  Secondly, the area behind the dam will eventually fill up with sediment and nutrients and therefore run over and down stream.

Veering off from the problems and solution of this issue,  I want to talk about all that is involved in the situation.  This is not just an environmental issue by any means.  This is a political nightmare along with a huge social issue.  The Susquehanna River runs through New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland before it dumps into the Bay.  Although the problem with the Dam is in Maryland, the Susquehanna is mostly in New York and Pennsylvania.  This causes a problem for should have to pay, literally and figuratively, for the damage.  The effects of this sediment run over could be seen in the entire Bay,  i.e. Maryland and Virginia.  Because of the many jurisdictions involved, it gets complicated of who is in charge of what and who controls what.  To add even more confusion to the mix, the Dam is operated by Exelon, a generation electric company.  They also get put on the blame for a lot of the problem and some think they should be the ones paying for disaster.

Not only is this a major political problem, but it is becoming a social problem.  The sediment trapped behind the dam is believed to contain toxins and radioactive elements (the Peach Bottom Nuclear Power Plant is upriver from the dam).  Although dredging behind the dam would tremendously expensive it is still a plausible solution.  The question now is what to do with the toxic sediments when it is removed?  Some say it could be recycled and the elements could be used for other things.  However, what happens when the sediment is disturbed and these chemicals are washed downriver and into the Bay?  This wold be polluting our waterways and could possibly kill or infect many food sources.  Also, whatever solution or solutions that are chosen will be very expensive and will most likely come out of someones tax dollars.  Who will this be?  That, we have not figured out yet.

As you can see, this is a complex issue with many involved.  It has many sides and any approach to fix this problem will be expensive.  It is not only an eye sore but is a sore spot for many.  I am enthusiastic to learn more about the problem and face it first handed.  I hope to be able to expand on this further at a later date.

Balance

On Merriam-Webster online there are nine definitions of balance. I could not pick just one definition so I chose two: an aesthetically pleasing integration of elements and physical equilibrium.  The fact that I could not choose just one definition and I relied on a mixture of the both is a perfect example of the necessity of balance.  Instead of relying on just one thing I am using aspects of both.  Balance is important in everything we do and think about even though it usually slips our mind.  To take opinions on topics of debate one must make their own balance of ideas and thoughts.  This is often based on ones own ethics.

This idea of balance does not just relate to one’s thoughts and opinions; it relates to nearly everything in our world.  Wendell Berry discusses taking the middle in Preserving Wildness.  Berry claims, “I would prefer to stay in the middle, not to avoid taking sides, but because I think the middle is a side, as well as the real location of the problem.”  On the debate at hand he says he would rather stay in the middle on the argument.  This does not mean he does not choose a side or is neutral in the argument, but that he has a more educated view on the topic.  He takes a balance from both sides to form his opinion.  Also, by saying that the location of the problem was in the middle does not mean that being in the middle made the problem worse or that having both sides was bad.  By saying the problem was in the middle it meant that neither side is right or wrong but a balance of both.  This also means that the solution to the debate does not lay on one side, it is on both or in the middle.

Wendell Berry also makes a list of the seven defining assumptions of the ground that he stands on and that describe the “human predicament”.  Each of these were a balance of sides to build an important point.  All of these fit together in a balance to make up his opinion and the ground he stands on.  He further discusses the problem of nature, humans, wildness, and domestic.

“In going to work on this problem it is a mistake to proceed on the basis of an assumed division or divisibility between nature and humanity,  or wildness and domesticity.  But it is also a mistake to assume that there is no difference between the natural and the human. If these things could be divided, our life would be far simpler and easier than it is, just as it would be if they were not different. Our problem, exactly, is that the human and the natural are indivisible, and yet are different.”

So to work on the problem the balance of indivisibility of difference must be kept.  the human and the natural cannot be separated but they are different.  They must work together and with each other but remain different so each remains.  This is a prime example of balance and one that we need to not only “preserve wildness” but keep our beautiful nature and keep the human race thriving.

The idea of balance isn’t thought of often or expanded but it is something everyone must have in their lives to stay afloat and it is something we have on every opinion we make.  Whether you realize it or not,  you have balance in your life.  This really connected to me in multiple ways.  I am currently balancing Chesapeake Semester and all of its classes,  riding and competing for the school Equestrian Team, being social, staying healthy and fit, and staying in contact with all of my family.  Also,  when forming my opinion on all of the events and debates going on in the world news it takes a balance of all sides and information.  Every humanity, social, environmental, and political debate in the world needs a balance in the solution and to solve these problems it must be found.

Berry,  Wendell.  (1987).  Preserving Wildness.

The Road to Freedom

In the news today we see more and more social injustices around the world.  It seems as if every time I turn around there is a new story covering some new controversy in the news.  This did not impact me deeply until we got into our studies of slavery and immigration in Chesapeake Semester, especially in Journey One.  A lot of my recent writings and assignments have revolved around this topic.  As obvious as it is, we all know slavery has a horrendous social concept and is extremely unethical.  Also, in other writings I have discussed the impacts of slavery on the economies of the Chesapeake and how it is still having an impact today.  With that being said, I want to expand more on the ethics of slavery then and how that is having an impact on our society today.

One major point that stood out to me was that, even though slavery has appeared in almost everywhere in the world, slavery in colonial America is the only to ever be strictly based on race and color.  In Africa, black people enslaved black people.  Egyptians enslaved other Egyptians.  Those had more to do with class and wealth than other factors, especially like race.  During slavery in America, Africans were captured and brought across the Atlantic and sold out of ports here to the whites.  This is a huge problem because it creates the idea of an inferior race and that Blacks might not even be human.  We saw these themes throughout the time of slavery and even way after.

The “Jim Crow” laws and racial segregation was a huge impact of this.  In Savoy’s chapter “Alien Land Ethic and the distance Between” there is a section called ‘A little boy’s wondering’.  Here he discusses Kern’s doubts in the pledge of allegiance and “liberty and justice for all.”  This is partially sprung by “Jim Crow” laws and he also assumes that those are only in place “just for white boys and girls.”  (Savoy, 2015).  This is a saddening thought that a young kid at any time would think of himself inferior to other children his age.  The act of this shows just how driven home this was in society.  Would this have been the case if it wasn’t for slavery?  We cannot answer that for sure but it must have had an impact. The inferiority of the minority during the colonial time was nearly the same as that during segregation.  Even though the Blacks were by law free in the terms that no one owned them, society and the government did.

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How does that tie into our world today?  Socially I don’t think it would be fair to claim the African-American population is free today.  Bill, the speaker we talked to in Cambridge, Maryland during Journey One told us that there was still major segregation in the town and surrounding areas.  He gave the example that the town barber shop would only cut white people’s hair.  We are still in unrest in the country today and are facing many racial driven riots and other conflicts.  Police brutality and white supremacy are common topics in the media.  Politics are a huge part of this problem and making it even more complicated and harder to understand.  The inferiority that these people have faced since they were forced to come here, they are still seeing today.  This is an over lying problem in our country and it needs to be fixed to move towards actual freedom for everyone.

Savoy, Lauret E.  (2015).  Trace: Memory, History, and the American Land.  Berkeley, California.  Counterpoint Press.

Journey One Stalking

Agriculture has almost always been a part of the Chesapeake Bay region and was and still is extremely important. It left impacts on society early on by driving slave labor in the region and by driving the economy with profitable money crops.  Money crops brought many settlers to the Chesapeake Bay region in hopes of making it big which in turn boosted the economy.  The boost in agriculture called for the development of new technologies that are the basis of what we use today.  Today, the Bay is seeing lasting negative effects from agriculture then and today.  Slavery and technology were jump started by agriculture in colonial Virginia which was critical to developing the Chesapeake Bay region and making it what it is today.

The first agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay region was the Native Americans and then followed by some of the early settlers.  However, the first large scale agriculture in the area was the tobacco boom in the colonial time period.  Tobacco became a huge money crop in the region and opened the way for more crops to start.  Ed Shultz, a farmer in colonial Williamsburg said, “more land, more labor, more tobacco”.  The people wanted more land so they had more room to grow crops.  They wanted more labor, which in this case was slavery, so they could grow and sell more tobacco.  Because of tobacco’s high profit, many English settlers moved to the Chesapeake Bay region for the chance to get rich growing and selling tobacco.  These settlers and the use of slaves and other laborers created different social classes with strict ‘rules’ in society.  The rich, wealthy, and gentry mostly lived in the towns and usually had something to do with government and politics.  The middle class weren’t wealthy or poor but were still white.  The lowest class was the slaves, the indentured servants, and the dirt poor, none of which had much other than the clothes on their back.  Agriculture had a great impact on this because it separated out land owners, farmers, planters, slaves, indentured servants, and others from each other and each was looked at in different ways.  Large scale agriculture was just as important then as it is today.

In the colonial time period slavery was as important to agriculture, as agriculture is to feeding society.  Slavery is obviously unethical and is a shameful part of our history, but it was “critical” to the development of the region in Ed Shultz’s words.  Tobacco was the money crop that brought hopeful farmers and planters to the area, but slavery was the gateway that let it all happen.  These farmers, planters, and rich landowners needed someone to take care of their crop, and the more slaves they had the more they could grow.  Socially, slaves were looked at as a sign of wealth because they were so valuable.  Slavery, even though it did and still does have tremendous negative effects on society, it was vital to agriculture in the colonial period and the development of the Chesapeake Bay region as a whole.

When the tobacco boom slowed down in the Chesapeake Bay region, the rise of more crops started like wheat and cotton which also brought new technologies a long with their growth.  Wheat was less labor intensive than tobacco so less labor (less slaves) was needed to grow the crop.  Because of this, many slaves were sold to the southern states or freed.  Cotton on the other hand was very labor intensive and needed the seeds to be picked from it.  This lead to the invention of the cotton gin and many new kinds of farm equipment like the combine.  These inventions have developed into the large scale farm equipment that we have today that is crucial to our society today.  Large scale agriculture and the technologies it helped to develop are what feeds most of the billions of people on earth today.

The Chesapeake Bay watershed is filled with farmland today and the focus of much of the area is agriculture.  This still today plays a big part in the society around the Bay with that being people’s way of life.  It also plays a large role in the environment because agriculture is in the spotlight for the Bay’s poor health.  Plowing land and cutting down trees to have more farmland causes erosion and sediment to end up in the waterways.  Also, nutrient runoff from fertilizers used in agriculture are ending up in the Bay.  Both of these have negatively left an impact on the Chesapeake Bay’s health by increasing eutrophication in the water ways of the Bay.  Even though the farmland surrounding the Bay is part of the aesthetic of the region, the negative health of the Bay goes against this.

Agriculture in colonial Virginia was crucial to developing the Chesapeake Bay region then and it is still developing it today.  Slavery was a major part of agriculture then and we wouldn’t be where we are today without it, even though it goes against all of our ethics today.  Agriculture was the driving force behind many inventions that were ground breaking then and are still important to us today.   Even though agriculture is so critical to our society today, it is blamed partly for decreases in the health of the Bay.  All in all, agriculture is immensely important to the Chesapeake Bay watershed and has made society what it is from day one.

The Perfect Place

From water to slaves, from tobacco to food, everything has a reason for its location.  In just nine days of orientation and two weeks of classes this semester I have learned just how much the physical location impacts the going ons and the biography of a place.  It may seem that through history and still today that everything just fell into place and happened where it happened just because.  I have come to find between what I have learned and read this semester so far and my personal experiences that this is not true.  This was all brought together in my head by what Savoy said in an excerpt from Trace,  “Ancestors came because this river flows to an ocean across whose waters empires expanded and peoples migrated by choice and force.”

People came and stayed in the Chesapeake Bay watershed because of the resources that they had access to.  There were freshwater tributaries to get water from.  The water also laid access to plenty of clams,  oysters,  and fish to eat.  There were small and large game roaming through the forests to also eat.  The water was also perfect for transportation as you could get almost anywhere by a boat or canoe on the water.  Resources from the earth and trees could be made into pottery,  weapons,  jewelry,  shelter,  and much more.

As Savoy mentioned,  many people were forced to migrate here as slaves.  Slaves were a huge aspect of early life on the Bay even though this is a major ethical debate.  One reason they were so useful in the area was for tobacco production because it was a high maintenance crop  and the more workers the more a land owner could make.  Savoy also talked about how many of our founding fahers,  like George Washington, owned slaves.  In fact, not only is Washington’s plantation in Virginia so he could own slaves, but that is the reason the nation’s capital is in D.C.  Washington wanted to be able to use his “enslaved workers” so the capital had to be in the South.

The Chesapeake became the right location for these people and D.C. became the right location for the capital just like Chestertown is now the perfect spot for me.  I grew up in the country, outside of a small town with not much to do.  You can’t drive five minutes anywhere without passing at least one farm.  I had looked at many colleges before I visited Washington College even though it was the closest to my home.  As soon as I visited the school I saw it was similar to home.  The aesthetics of the area made me fall in love with the endless trees and rolling corn fields.  The school had the academic programs I wanted and I knew I wanted to apply for the Chesapeake Semester.  The school’s location made this all come together and become the perfect location for me.  It was in a small town on a river surrounded by rural farm land.  Being on the Chester River was the prime location for the Chesapeake Semester program that I was so excited to apply for and that I have already learned so much from.

Savoy, Lauret E.  (2015).  Trace: Memory, History, and the American Land.  Berkeley, California.  Counterpoint Press.