The Grapes of Wrath
We will be using John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath to structure our exploration of the environment. If you've read the book before, re-read it not as a work of literature but as a documentary of people who are reacting to economic and ecological forces (here are extensive resources on the Dust Bowl), and then try to imagine what the current version of the novel would be: a family in Guatemala who can't make a living raising corn, or one in Africa fleeing a civil war brought on by competition for land or water?
In the spirit of College 8, we encourage you to buy a used copy of the book (even one that's marked up is fine, as long as there's room for you to add your comments). Any edition will do, though the most common version is the one we'll use, a paperback published by Penguin (it's 455 pages, so try to find a copy that has about that to make it easy to follow along in class). Most towns have a used bookstore, and you can get used books online as well. If you want a new copy, you might try an independent rather than a corporate chain bookstore.
The study of the environment is important for its own sake (or rather, for ours, since our lives and all life depend on it), but it's also useful for learning how to think about systems (biology, economics) and especially how these interact on one another. Thus we want to use the novel as a way into these environmental issues and their interrelationships. Here are some Study questions.
See also Literature, Art and the Environment
Literature: beauty is important in fiction and poetry, but it was also an important impetus to earlier waves of environmental movement. John Muir and others thought the beauty of nature could recharge the spiritual batteries of poor people who lived in crowded and poor conditions in the cities. But literature also spurred social movements: Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Jungle, Silent Spring (the last non-fiction, but used literary techniques).
Even though Grapes of Wrath is fiction, it was based closely on and was a critique of real events. You can find out more on how the book was received in its historical context by looking at Paul Wartzman's new book Obscene in the Extreme: The Burning and Banning of The Grapes of Wrath Ch. 1 Ch. 3 on Steinbeck's reaction. Google books link
Wartzman has a brief section on Upton Sinclair, author of The Jungle, a Socialist who ran for governor as a Democrat. He was defeated by an early and innovative propaganda and dirty tricks campaign by the newspaper (Hearst) and movie industry (MGM) among others.
Steinbeck (short biography) brief video biowas trained as a biologist, as you can tell by his careful detailed descriptions of plants and people)see his journals. His advice when his son Thom fell in love with Susan. Dorothea Lange also documented the lives of "Okie" Dust Bowl refugees, and also sought to affect political policy.
Rain: A Dust Bowl Story is a blog of several hundred poems by Shelley Shaver that chronicle what life was like. He welcomes your comments or questions. Of particular interest to us: 8. "Evening, December 15, 1933"--shows economic pressures on the family. 10. "Spring 1934: Bird's Eye View"--historical overview of the Dust Bowl area. 14. "Play Time"--the effects on children of the parents' problems. 15. "Storm: February 15, 1934"--description of the first severe storm. 16. "Schoolyard: Revelation"--interaction between the boy James and his deaf friend Barker. 127. "Piecing" and 128."Afterward: The Quilting"--the art of creating quilts. 261, 262, 263--the onslaught of Black Sunday. 305, 306, 307, 310--Encouraged by the County Agent, the farmer debates whether to change farming methods.
Social Documentationas change agent: Photography (e.g., Dorothea Lange)
Rare color images of the Great Depression, including Dust Bowl.
Newly discovered color photographs
Migrant Mother, the story behind this very famous photo, icon of the Great Depression.
David Bacon writes and photographs migrant labor, for example Blueberry workers in Maine
Images That Changed the World TEDtalk video
UCSC grad student Rian Dundon slipped into Myanmar to document life for young people under dictatorship. UCSC Soc Doc alumna reports from Egypt’s Tahrir Square 11/11.
Aaron Huey's effort to photograph poverty in America led him to the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, where the struggle of the native Lakota people -- appalling, and largely ignored -- compelled him to refocus. Five years of work later, his haunting photos intertwine with a shocking history lesson in this bold, courageous talk from TEDtalk video.
Nature on the Great Plains (video and photos).
Photovoice images of south LA.
See also Activism Page.
Many people are rising to the challenges presented by the environmental issues noted above, as well as others). Some are scholars (many at UCSC) and business people who are doing research and R&D on sustainable technologies. Others are citizens, many of whom are concerned with issues of environmental justice. Another kind of important kind of change agent is the social entrepreneur, who uses social networks and sometimes market forces to improve human well-being.
See also Food Page
Another key issue explored in the novel is agriculture. We see the shift from family farms to corporate agribusiness, and the hunger of the dispossessed. These conditions continue today on a global scale.
Food Scarcity see also here
More than 862 million people in the world go hungry.
In developing countries nearly 16 million children die every year from preventable and treatable causes. Sixty percent of these deaths are from hunger and malnutrition.
In the United States, 11.7 million children live in households where people have to skip meals or eat less to make ends meet. That means one in ten households in the U.S. are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger.
In his new book, World on the Edge: How to Prevent Environmental and Economic Collapse, Earth Policy Institute's Lester Brown looks at the state of the world's resources ( a "food bubble"), warning that the outlook does not look good when it comes to feeding the world's population.
As the Irish Times put it in an editorial this summer: “Across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, hundreds of millions are struggling to adapt to their changing climate. In the last three years, we have seen 10 million people displaced by floods in Pakistan, 13 million face hunger in east Africa, and over 10 million in the Sahel region of Africa face starvation. Even those figures only scrape the surface. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion.” This coming year may see a dramatic increase in hunger due to rising food prices from crop failures, including this summer’s in the U.S. Midwest after a scorching drought in which the Mississippi River nearly ran dry and crops withered. More 10/12.
Ironically/tragically, today in US kids of migrant laborers are going hungry (audio). (December 10, 2009) Nearly a million migrant children crisscross the U.S. with their families, from harvest to harvest and from job to job. In North Carolina, migrant families struggle to find work, and many rely on schools for food and clothing. The people who run the state's migrant program say living conditions and financial hardships for laborers are the worst in memory.
A Seat at the Table is a game/simulation from Oxfam.
Agro-Ecology See also (pesticides). Agribusiness works on very large scales, using machinery wherever possible to reduce labor costs. It uses pesticides and a great deal of fossil fuels (some oil companies bought large amounts of agricultural land in California to get tax writeoffs). UCSC has been an important center for research in returning to more sustainable community-based organic agriculture. Often, small scale farmers cannot economically compete with large subsidized farms. These people are frequently forced off the land, and have to seek work elsewhere, often moving to slums in huge capital cities.
Wes Jackson, founder of the [http://www.landinstitute.org/vnews/display.v Land Institute is figuring out how to grow food in accordance with natural principles on the Great Plains prairie. See Sanders, Scott R. “Learning from the Prairie.” In The Force of Spirit in the course reader. 2011 text interview and 2009 interview(text and audio).
Great Depression resources (some video).
Sub-prime loans, the cause of our current financial crisis, clearly explained by the brilliant and award-winning Planet Money blog (current events). The very best explanation of what led to Great Recession (interactive timeline) is their "The Giant Pool of Money" (and updates) heard on This American Life segments (audio)Transcript). ****
Another cause of Great Depression was instability caused by unequal income distribution. Current divergence now is actually greater (slideshow) Nobel winning economist Joseph Stiglitz: The Price of Inequality ( audio 6/12/12). "Back in 1928, right before the Great Depression, the richest 1 percent of Americans received 24 percent of the country’s total income. Starting with the New Deal, public policy favored greater equality and a strong middle class, so that by 1976, the share of the richest 1 percent of households had dropped to 9 percent. But then the great re-redistribution began in the 1980s, so that by 2007, right before the Great Recession, the richest 1 percent had regained its 1928 position—with 24 percent of income..." see also Gus Speth manifesto.
Richard Wilkinson: How economic inequality harms societies (TEDtalk video).
Student debt is a scam, another source of current economic problems argues Reclamations, a UC student journal. 10/11.
Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America is a 2010 book by the political journalist Matt Taibbi about the events that led to the financial crisis of 2008. Spiegel & Grau, 2010 ch. 1 excerpt, privatization.
Public Works and Public Good
When the economic and banking systems failed in 1929, the government had a alphabet soup of programs to help people recover, providing food shelter and jobs--most notably, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). This was a major component of FDR's New Deal.
New Deal/Green Deal
Some people feel that the climate change crisis is one that is as significant faced by the US in WWII and requires the same kind of mobilization of people and resources as the Great Depression (and on an international scale). Mark Hertsgaard has proposed a Global Green Deal, creating good "green collar" jobs (such as installing insulation and solar panels, which allow people to move up from manual labor to skilled and even professions, for example electrical engineering).
One way of helping very poor people that has been extraordinarily success if giving them access to capital (in Grapes of Wrath, the banks were able for foreclose/take the farms because the farmers could not repay their loans and had put the land up as collateral). Micro-loans do not require collateral, but allows people to be more productive by buying materials in bulk or tools). More info, including a biography of founder Muhammad Yunus, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize (another recent winner in environmental activist Wangari Maathai, reflecting the growing awareness that peace, justice and the environment are inextricably linked).
People can also be forced from their land by drought/famine/civil war (often these are interrelated).
New study shows migration due to global warming will be problematic. 2/12
For two decades photojournalist David Bacon has documented the connections between labor, migration, and the global economy. In his new book, Illegal People, Bacon examines the many ways globalization uproots people in Latin America and Asia, driving them to migrate. (World Affairs Council audio interview, one hour mp3 download) David Bacon's Illegal People -- How Globalization Creates Migration and Criminalizes Immigrants (Beacon Press, 2008)
The Children of NAFTA, Labor Wars on the U.S./Mexico Border (University of California, 2004)
Juan González's Harvest of Empire takes an unflinching look at the role that U.S. economic and military interests played in triggering an unprecedented wave of migration that is transforming our nation’s cultural and economic landscape. It's now the basis of a new documentary. Democracy Now segment.
Migrant construction labor TEDtalk video
Often people are forced off farms and have to migrate to large cities to live in slums to work in factories. This is documented by Ed Burtynsky (video).
Robert Neuwirth, author of Shadow Cities, finds the world’s squatter sites -- where a billion people now make their homes -- to be thriving centers of ingenuity and innovation. He takes us on a tour. (Migration) TEDtalk video
Stewart Brand on squatter cities. TEDtalk video
Against All Odds is a game from the UN that gives some insights.
UCSC alum Reyna Grande has written two acclaimed novels about the Mexican immigrant experience, her new memoir--The Distance Between Us.
LaborSee also Labor
In the novel, we see union organizing emerging as an important counter-balance to increasing corporate exploitation. Currently, the United Farms Workers (UFW) organized by Cesar Chavez and Delores Huerta (recent audio interview ), is working to protect workers from pesticide poisoning. See also here. In doing so they protect the rest of us, not just from toxins on our food, but airborne and waterborne toxins. Randy Shaw argues they set the stage for later social movements from environmentalism to the Obama campaign. Shaw is the author of "Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW, and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century." Audio interview UCSC has extensive oral histories of local farmworkers and activists (including Helen Hosmer , who knew Dorthea Lange). UCSC's Melanie DuPuis argues that we must not allow businesses to pollute the air and water because no one "owns" them (traditionally, to prove damage to a particular person or property is the only way to get legal protection, as in a car accident). This bring us to thinking about public good.
Child Labor in the fields is still legal in the US, as documented in The Harvest/La Cosecha, a new documentary directed by the veteran photographer and human rights advocate U. Roberto Romano, shines a bright light on this murky corner of the agribusiness universe. See also this article. 10/11.
Raj Patel exposes modern slavery in Florida tomato fields: "workers were chained inside trucks, charged $5 for a shower, and made to work for pennies a day, suffering heinous physical abuse from their employers. Their suffering is bought cheap, at $2 a pound in the supermarket. Yet for picking those tomatoes, the average worker earns about 45 cents for a 32 pound bucket. And far too many earn much less." audio interview 6/11.
Stephen Colbert appeared with United Farm Workers (UFW) President Arturo S. Rodriguez today to testify before Congress about a day he spent working in the fields, having taken up the UFW on its dare to American citizens "take our jobs." (Humor)
Lopez, Anna A , who obtained her PhD in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz, wrote The Farmworkers' Journey brings together for the first time the many facets of this issue into a comprehensive and accessible narrative: how corporate agribusiness operates, how binational institutions and laws promote the subjugation of Mexican farmworkers, how migration affects family life, how genetically modified corn strains pouring into Mexico from the United States are affecting farmers, how migrants face exploitation from employers, and more. (also Google book)
Slavery in modern Florida tomato fields.
Soil loss was a significant factor in the Rwanda genocide.
Global Warming/Water Scarcity
See also Global Warming and Water The debate about if it's real is over (prolonged by fossil fuel companies using many of the same tactics and PR firms used by the tobacco industry), but the one about what to do continues. Water will probably be a bigger challenge than oil in this century; some are already using the term "peak water."
Michael Mann video overview TEDtalk.
As the Irish Times put it in an editorial this summer: “Across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, hundreds of millions are struggling to adapt to their changing climate. In the last three years, we have seen 10 million people displaced by floods in Pakistan, 13 million face hunger in east Africa, and over 10 million in the Sahel region of Africa face starvation. Even those figures only scrape the surface. According to the Global Humanitarian Forum, headed up by former U.N. secretary general Kofi Annan, climate change is responsible for 300,000 deaths a year and affects 300 million people annually. By 2030, the annual death toll related to climate change is expected to rise to 500,000 and the economic cost to rocket to $600 billion.” This coming year may see a dramatic increase in hunger due to rising food prices from crop failures, including this summer’s in the U.S. Midwest after a scorching drought in which the Mississippi River nearly ran dry and crops withered. More 10/12. 12/12 UPDATE (guess what?)
Drought Monitor Map (current conditions). See also Maps page. US Megadrought 9/12. effect on food supply 10/12. Drought worsens 11/12: The report showed that 60.1 percent of the lower 48 states were in some form of drought The amount of land in extreme or exceptional drought — the two worst classifications — increased to 19.04 percent. U.S. Drought Expands In Kansas, Oklahoma And Texas 12/12.
For more on history, see Dust Bowl page
Desertification occurs when too much vegetation is removed to keep the desert from encroaching. recent example in Mongolia (Here are striking images). A more widespread general and on-going problem is Topsoil loss, the Dust Bowl being only one dramatic example.
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations by David R Montgomery (book trailer) professor of geomorphology, University of Washington discusses the problem of global soil degradation and soil erosion and why it is one of the most significant environmental crises that face our species and planet for the next 400 years to come. another talk.
Update on soil 8/12.
Architecture student Magnus Larsson details his bold plan to transform the harsh Sahara desert using bacteria and a surprising construction material: the sand itself (based on UC Davis research). See also Great Green Wall Sahara TEDtalk video.
The coming Mega-Drought pdf 10/10.