During our IHP program, two of our classes, Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods (ANTH 3500) and Political Economy and Environmental History (ECON 3010) will be taught by our travelling faculty member, Dr. Priya Chandasekaran. Our other two classes, Science and Policy of Climate Change (ECOL 3010), and Comparative Issues in Food, Water, and Energy (SDIS 3070), will be taught by local faculty members in the countries to which we are travelling. During our time in San Francisco, we were able to begin these courses thanks to the efforts of esteemed guest lecturers who couldn’t have given us a better introduction to these subjects.
(ECON 3010): Political Economy and Environmental History
We dove into Political Economy and Environmental History by asking a basic question: what does political economy and environmental history mean, exactly? It means (un) learning climate change in order to (re) learn climate justice. Well, what is climate justice, then? Climate justice means actively critiquing and recognizing produced science, political influences, and the disproportionate effects of environmental degradation and destruction on specific populations. These two questions and answers were the basis for our first two classes.
In order to understand the relationship between political economy and environmental history, it’s important to consider the theory of dialectical relations. An idea first popularized by Karl Marx, dialectical relations refers to the idea that the materials one interacts with are related to the way one lives, and therefore, one’s position in society. In this way, the material and the person are both reflections of each other and the society which has created them. A dialectical analysis can be made between human nature in comparison to humans as a part of nature, because both these things stream from and interact with one another. The same goes for political economy and environmental history, which exist in a dialectical relationship.
Another concept we explored was environmental racism as a specific part of climate justice. Looking at the ideas of Laura Pulido, we established racism as not only an intentional, single decision, but a systematic and usually unrecognized result of a racialized society and its development. Another aspect important to understanding environmental racism is proximity; areas that are near industry, toxic fumes or heavy metals, degraded water, etc. have lower housing prices. This means that poor populations, and specifically, people of color, are forced to live in those neighborhoods because those are the only places that they can afford. Finally, we learned about the historic policies and cultural narratives that lead to this period of environmental injustice, and have been going on many site visits trying finding answers on how to ensure that there is justice, instead.
(ECOL 3010): Science and Policy of Climate Change
In the Science and Policy of Climate Change, Dr. Will Burns, a Scholar in Residence at the School of International Service at American University, refreshed our memories on the mechanics of climate change, going over the greenhouse effect, the carbon cycle, common arguments made by climate deniers and why science challenges them, and much more. With him, we continued our look at climate change policy by going over the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) signed in 1992 and the important international climate agreements that have taken place since then, such as the Kyoto Protocol, Cancun Agreements, and recent COP (Conference of the Parties) 21 Paris Agreements. Finally, Dr. Burns gave a lecture on the perils and promise of two proposed geoengineering approaches, solar radiation management and carbon dioxide removal.
Also, during a brief Skype session, we covered mitigation and adaptation strategies and their necessity in terms of addressing climate change with Alan Forsberg, our travelling faculty member based in Cochabamba, Bolivia.
(ANTH 3500): Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Research Methods
In Fieldwork Ethics and Comparative Methods, we began the semester by examining nuanced ethical questions and learning that that the way in which one thinks through the question is more important than the answer (sometimes, there is no absolute right or wrong answer!). We learned about all the aspects of informed consent and the history of how research ethics came to be established. Then, we studied the ways in which social science “research” has historically been embedded in imperial power relations, and how history is focused on the struggles of those in power, and how those in power construct the historical narrative.
SDIS (3070): Climate Capitalism and CA water Stroshane
For our Comparative Issues in Food, Water and Energy class, we accompanied California water expert Tim Stroshane to the San Francisco Bay Model in Sausalito, just across the Golden Gate Bridge. The Bay Model was built by the Army Corps of Engineers to model water flows in the Bay and the Bay Delta region. Used to predict water flow changes from new channels and other modifications, the model is the size of two football fields and even changes tide levels every few minutes. At the site visit, we learned how ⅓ of the Bay has been artificially filled in and 80% of its historical wetlands no longer exists. Furthermore, the mass diversion of water in the Delta region have led to changes in salinity, allowing saltwater to move farther east into the Bay.
Later that day, we had our first Comparative Issues class with Tim Stroshane, who gave an in-depth lecture on the history and current issues in the Sacramento and San Joaquin river valleys. He touched on the devastating effects of groundwater overdraft in some areas, which have caused ground levels to drop up to 30 feet in the last century. We learned about how low-income cities like Stockton suffer in terms of water while plenty of water is diverted to agricultural areas, and how new water infrastructure projects are fought over in California.
During our time in San Francisco, the group stayed in a local hostel. Although the rooms felt a little cramped at times, it was a good opportunity for us to bond and get to know each other. Most of us could be found in the lounge doing readings, playing cards, or chatting about our hometowns and friends. We also took full advantage of the kitchen, cooking food to save money where we could. We also liked the energy efficiency steps the hostel had taken to conserve water. This included low flow shower heads and toilets that recycle the water you washed your hands with in the bowl!
For our two weeks here, we couldn’t have asked for a better place for the group to stay!
Although classes and site visits have taken up a lot of our days in San Francisco, we’ve still found time to explore the city. It was nice to get out of our hostel rooms and see what SF had to offer! From the Mission District to Muir Woods, we’ve tried to pack in as much as we can during our short stay in the Bay!
One of the top experiences for the group was going to Off the Grid, a weekly food truck gathering, at Fort Mason Center. There was endless types of delicious food options that satisfied everyone, live music, and plenty of adorable dogs for us to pet. The biggest hit was the “Southern Comfort” truck, where there was Gumbo and fried chicken sandwiches. Most of us figured that we’re going to be away from American foods for a long time, so we might as well eat it as long as we can. As the sun was setting in the Golden Gate, some of us headed out to the pier to watch the different colors fill the sky. After that, we headed back to the stage and danced to a local jazz band until it was time for everything to close down.
As a fun team building activity, we were all scheduled to spend the day at a ropes course by the ocean. After attending class in Chinatown for the morning, we loaded into taxis and headed to the ropes course. We played fun team building games involving partners and then did an activity where we discussed our varying leadership styles. Our group is filled with many different personality types and it’s helpful to learn more about each other in order to help each other grow! After these activities it was finally time for us to put on helmets and try out the ropes course! We all put on colored helmets and tasked with a low ropes course challenge. We all had to work together to balance along a wire tight rope, climb around trees and help each other get to the end. After lots of trial and error we were finally able to figure out a way to get each other to the end by linking our arms and inching our way forward! Then, it was finally time for the high ropes course. We were all fitted with harnesses and prepared to take on the ropes course! Two of the ropes course options ended with a zipline and the other option was to balance and walk across a wooden log suspended in the air. Some people were more afraid of heights than others but we cheered each other on and everyone was able to be successful!
After the ropes course, a group of us walked down to the Sutro Baths, which are the abandoned ruins of public bathhouses along the beach. The area is now managed by the National Park Service, so there were plenty of wildflowers and local fauna for us to enjoy. In the waves, we saw dolphins leaping, which brought excited yells from the whole group. We climbed the rocks overlooking the ocean to get the best views (and pictures) possible, but also simply watched the water, saying a small goodbye to the West Coast.
During the weekends the group would split up, going to different things that peaked their interest. Parks were a big hit, with some people riding bikes through Golden Gate Park all the way to the beach or others going to Dolores Park in the Mission. There, we found panoramic views of San Francisco with plenty of good people watching to entertain us. The great thing about being in the Mission was that we could get delicious Mexican food to have a little picnic in the park. Another fun thing for all of us was walking around the city, especially the downtown area and Embarcadero along the bay. Although the hills made us grumble a little at times, we saw murals by local artists, interesting street performers, and the Bay Bridge, which all made us fall in love with this beautiful city. Other fun things included a murder mystery tour and visits to the farmers market, where we could buy an entire bag of fresh peaches for $2
During our site visit at Dover Park community garden in Oakland, California, Phat Beets provided IHP with two different kinds of sauerkraut (made by local youth of color), carrot salad with miso dressing, and an amazing grape agave agua fresca. We also had misir wot (lentil stew), ye’abesha gomen (collard greens), atakilt wot (cabbage and carrots), and injera bread made from teff flour. Incredibly, all of this was made by an Ethiopian/Eritrean group who partakes in Phat Beets farmers markets. Phat Beets, founded in 2007 by Max Cadji and Bret Brenner, is a food justice collective based out of North Oakland that was created to help the systematically disadvantaged areas in the area. They are a fully sustainable nonprofit, focusing on inequality, social, and environmental justice issues. They have an array of programs including weekly farmers markets and some free produce stands, both of which fully supplied by local farmers of color and from the urban garden we visited. Additionally, they host a number of educational food workshops, including teaching youth gardening skills by maintaining the urban gardens, and some of the youth also can apply to work pickling the local food to sell at the farmers markets. Here, they learn about nutrition and gain experience as they also sell the pickled goods at the farmers market every week. Phat Beets has made a tremendous amount of progress for food justice through supplying cheap, healthy, and locally sourced food to low income communities in North Oakland.
During our site visit at Patagonia Provisions headquarters in Sausalito, California, while having a picnic near the bay, we were able to taste what is considered to be one of the most sustainably and ethically harvested wild Sockeye smoked salmon and prairie raised bison jerky in the world. This actually helps promote the growth of grasslands and in turn promotes carbon sequestration. We also had some curry quinoa salad with kale and red beet salad from a local market. Patagonia Provisions is Patagonia’s new venture with food, and with it they aim to find a solution to the environmental crisis by investing in ethical and sustainable food. Patagonia Provisions puts an emphasis on more smaller sustainable farms and fisheries rather than large industrial agriculture.
As quoted from their website: “We aim to make the best product, cause no unnecessary harm, and perhaps most important, inspire solutions to the environmental crisis.” After eating, we were able to engage in a Q&A with some of the members of Patagonia Provisions, during which they explained that their goal was to change the way we as a nation think about food. In order to do this, they have done an immense amount of research to find farmers, fishermen, and ranchers across the country that fit their rigorous template of ethical and sustainable practices. One of their goals for the future is to create a certification such as USDA Organic or Non-GMO Verified that would fit their ethical and sustainable standards for food production. Another big project on which they are working is to transition from the use of regular wheat to more unconventional grains that are simultaneously more hearty and nutritious, help sequester more carbon from the atmosphere, and help prevent soil degradation.
San Francisco is home to what is claimed to be the most sustainable restaurant in the world, The Perennial. It is located off of Market Street about a 20 minute walk from the hostel at which we are staying. After almost every IHP student decided to go, we broke up into small groups and shared many of the delicious plates. The favorite dish among the groups was the cherry tomato toast with chard pesto and smoked walnut oil drizzled over the top, all of this sitting on top of toasted Kernza bread. Kernza is a perennial (a plant which lives for more than two years) alternative to traditional grains. The major difference between Kernza and other traditional grains is that Kernza establishes deep roots which help to restore ecosystems, promote healthy soil, mitigate drought conditions, and help sequester more carbon from the atmosphere deep into the soil. Many others enjoyed the McFarland Springs Trout drizzled with a moringa (a drought resistant plant which can also be used for purifying water), mitake, and fava bean ragu with fortified romaine liquid. The trout is sourced locally in California through an aquaponics system, meaning that the plants and fish are raised in a mutually beneficial arrangement. Plants send their roots into water which has been naturally fertilized by the fish, allowing them to use one-tenth of the water with roughly six times more productivity compared to traditional agriculture. The food scraps from the restaurant are fed to worms and larvae, which are later dehydrated and fed to the fish and creating a closed loop system that mitigates the amount of waste. Additionally, the restaurant charges a ranching surcharge to all red meat to reflect the true environmental cost. The building in which the restaurant is located is LEED Gold Certified, and they expect to be Platinum Certified once they complete the process. Everything in the restaurant is 100 percent recycled material: all of the wood comes from recovered material from Transbay Terminals, the silverware was bought on Ebay, the napkins are made from compostable fabric, all the plates and tiles are made locally using recycled material, and many other aspects of their design are made from local recycled material.
On Thursday, September 8, our group set off for a full day of touring around the Richmond area. We began the morning with a walking and bus tour of Richmond hosted by Center for a Better Environment from the Center for a Better Environment. The tour covered Richmond’s history as a place often abused by industrial waste, pollution, and construction. We learned about the environmental impacts of the Chevron refinery in the area, as well as Chevron’s influence in the city politics. As well, we heard about the organization efforts which led to Richmond’s uniquely strong Green Party.
After thanking Andres Soto, we drove several blocks to Sunpower’s corporate office for lunch and a tour. We were treated to a presentation on the company and chats with several different employees. We learned about Sunpower’s efforts to be the most sustainable and least environmentally harmful solar manufacturer, and heard about some of the challenges facing the solar industry at the moment.
Next, we capped off the day with a tour of All Power Labs. We learned about their unique biomass gasification technology, and their plans to help California deal with its large swaths of dead forests. Their biomass gasification technology is a carbon negative process, meaning it can prevent carbon from biomass such as trees being naturally released during the decomposition process all the while generating electricity. By controlling the combustion of biomass in a specific manner, All Power Labs technology can prevent carbon from being released in the process, and instead collect a significant amount of solid carbon (biochar, as it’s called). This biochar can then be reintroduced into soil to help with water retention and assist in plant growth. So, instead of a large area of forest decomposing and releasing carbon into the atmosphere over time, All Power Labs hopes to quickly turn the biomass into solid carbon and then allow these areas to grow again. Their generators are currently in use in many rural areas across the world to provide communities with clean energy and a means of responsibly handling biomass waste.
These last two weeks have been a wonderful growing and bonding experience for all 24 of us and we cannot wait to see what the next three countries have to offer!