Monday, June 22, 2009

A Few Thoughts on Poverty

As many of you know, I'm spending this summer traveling through India, the United Kingdom, and Ireland, and then heading back to real life in Pittsburgh on August 3. I've been in India for a few days now. The best way that I can describe the experience is...dense.

On one hand, India is home to countless architectural marvels, the king of them being the Taj Mahal (which is much smaller, but much more breathtaking than I expected). The history of the different regions, the forced unification of them into India under the British empire and the subsequent founding of the modern nation are fascinating. The food varies a lot more from region to region than most American restaurants would indicate, and the mixture of Western clothes and traditional clothing of people is unlike anything else I've seen.

Unfortunately, a significant fraction of India's billion people live in grim poverty, and numerous institutions (institutions in the cultural, legal, and economic sense) keep them there. And this poverty isn't hidden, as it is in many other places - it is everywhere. Children tug on my arms in the streets, bone-thin mothers with babies hold out their hands for a few rupees (1 rupee = 0.02 USD), and amputees sleep on the sidewalks with their fingers cupped.

I haven't given money to any of them.

Sometimes I am annoyed that they are harassing me and my companions, other times I am concerned that they are trying to distract me so they can pickpocket me, and sometimes I can't help but feel ill at the sight of the sores on their stumps. Mostly I feel sick that the reality for many of the children I see is that they don't understand why some adult pushes them out to collect coins from sympathetic tourists and turn over every rupee what is essentially a pimp, and that the babies held by their mothers are doomed to the same fate. And I feel even sicker about the fact that most of the horrendously mutilated people on the streets were purposefully mutilated by someone so that they would earn more begging in the streets.

Giving money to these people supports the exploitation of begging, which is why most people don't give anything to them. In theory, it all makes sense, but when someone is looking at me with my fancy backpack and boots, and knowing that I have more money in my pocket then they will have in a year, it eats at me.

As part of the cost of my trips this summer, I have resolved to make donations to one or more reputable organizations in the places I visit to give something back to the places I've been.

And keep my conscience clear enough to help me sleep at night.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Urban Agriculture in Pittsburgh

In yesterday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, there was an article about the uncommonly high number of vegetable seeds sold this year - some vendors reporting twice the amount sold last year, overtaking flower seeds for the first time in a long time. While I am thrilled to see that urban and suburban agriculture is increasing, I have to wonder what sort of practices are being undertaken. Not all gardens are created equal.

I took a class called "Farms and Gardens" at Pomona College last semester in the Environmental Analysis Department under Professors Rick Hazlett and Juan Araya. The class was a mixture of agricultural theory and application, including weekly reading assignments and homework packets, guest speakers, a field trip to the Upland Apiary, as well as cultivating a garden plot (shown below) and other special projects at the college's organic farm.

We learned a lot about organic farming practices, and some students experimented with permaculture techniques and other non-traditional farming practices. I wonder how many of the gardners in Pittsburgh are going organic to avoid contaminating waterways with pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers this summer.

And then there's the subject of "organic" fertilizers, but I'll have to tackle that subject later.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Global Warming Hasn't Yet Changed the Composition of the Blogosphere

Mattt Thompson told me I should start blogging, so I did. Hopefully this blog will
  • improve my writing skills
  • force me to keep up with environmentally-related news, and
  • help me figure out what I want to do with my life.
Also, the more things you can find about me on Google, the more proof there is that I exist. And I am all about asserting my existence.