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Communication & the Dissemination of Information

We have discussed non traditional means of communication and information dissemination at length in this class. Zines, public radio, community theatre, and protests have all been presented as examples. With this website we have created a democratic and egalitarian forum for the discussion of all facets of UVM’s relationship with the natural environment. In it we present some of our own observations and content, as well as the work of some of our peers who are particularly well versed in these themes. We also include links to further information for those looking to get educated, which includes ourselves. Finally, we hope to show opportunities for taking meaningful action for the environment while here at UVM. We intend for this website to function as an introduction to environmentalism here at UVM, but also as an empowering tool to help students communicate and mobilize collectively. In this way we hope to contribute to the consensus building and education that will be necessary to creating a brighter environmental future.

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Environmental Rhetoric

The following pictures also illustrate the issue of the source of environmental rhetoric. The photo of the mural is a clear display of a student’s environmental concerns, the voice of a student speaking out for the well being of the environment. The contrasting pictures, however, represent rhetoric that comes from the University. This second group of images also transmits an environmental message, yet it is entirely different than the message conveyed by the first image. This raises questions of authenticity, as well as intent. The University, after all, is a business, and is run like one. It must advertise itself as any other business, yet the lines between advertising and environmentally progressive action are blurred. We know that we must take advertisements with a grain of salt, because there are calculated interests behind them, but do we do the same for UVM’s messages?

The following pictures also illustrate the issue of the source of environmental rhetoric. The photo of the mural is a clear display of a student’s environmental concerns, the voice of a student speaking out for the well being of the environment. The contrasting pictures, however, represent rhetoric that comes from the University. This second group of images also transmits an environmental message, yet it is entirely different than the message conveyed by the first image. This raises questions of authenticity, as well as intent. The University, after all, is a business, and is run like one. It must advertise itself as any other business, yet the lines between advertising and environmentally progressive action are blurred. We know that we must take advertisements with a grain of salt, because there are calculated interests behind them, but do we do the same for UVM’s messages?

UVM has privileged access to our eyes and attention while we are students living and learning within its boundaries and under its rules. Whatever the messages the powers of the university choose to send us, we receive. This is what makes the rhetoric and action of groups such as VSTEP, as well as the International Socialist Organization all the more important. These groups demonstrate ways of resisting and contesting the messages of our University, and simultaneously fighting for a better way. The alternative viewpoints that these groups give space to will be central to achieving environmental progress. In our project, we have tried to give them a space to discuss their groups’ missions and the work they do to accomplish these missions, as well as their takes on the environmental rhetoric and affects of the University.

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Composting & Consumption

Even without the dangers of these two products, there are contradictions and dishonesty in the way that UVM represents its dining services. I recently had the privilege of meeting with Bill Hackett, the unit manager of the Marche and Alice’s Café, who offered me some very discouraging news on the state of composting at UVM. He told me that because the Intervale, the local farm that had been taking the compost from UVM, didn’t receive an extension on their leased land, they are no longer accepting any compost. Mr. Hackett went on to explain that all the compost that the University has been taking is being thrown away. He looked at me, pointed at the compost bin and sign above it that are pictured below and said, “it’s all smoke and mirrors now.”

It seems to be something of a trend to criticize UVM for not staying true to its environmental rhetoric. Environmentally savvy students will be quick to cynically tell you that most of the compost collected in the Davis Center is too contaminated to ever use, and is typically just thrown away anyway. Others will cry foul at an earth day festival where generators are brought in to power moon bounces for students to play on. Students will also complain that the vegan and local food options are lacking from dining services. These are serious concerns, and represent points of emphasis for students to push the university towards changing and improving its practices. If the compost is thrown away and we still get most of our food from factory farms, is there hypocrisy in the environmentally righteous rhetoric of the University? Is there virtue in thousands of university students encountering the concepts of local foods and composting as things to be coveted? Or is it simply smoke and mirrors, and are the environmental messages only serving to pacify us UVM students into a false sense of environmental peace, disempowering us from taking dramatic action?

All students who come through the University of Vermont will have an idea of what composting is, as well as an awareness of the local foods movement. It is exposure to these ideas amongst the country’s youth that will help these movements gain momentum. While the efforts themselves may achieve relatively little tangible success while we are at school, the impact they have on our student body’s consciousness should not be underestimated. Without the opportunity to witness the practices of composting and buying locally in the university setting, many students would grow into adults without ever realizing the importance of these practices.

Looking back at the history of the environmental movement shows that some of our most celebrated and important environmental leaders and scholars of today are not always professing novel ideas. In fact, they remind us strongly of the origins of the environmental movement forty years ago, which are still struggling to grab larger portions of the population behind their cause. We can see a pitfall of this movement as the leaders didn’t bring in enough people in a consensus building, educational manner. While environmental causes are of imminent and urgent importance, focusing too much on immediate change without building the consensus and distributing the information effectively may actually achieve less in the long term.

Our composting and consumption patterns of today are very important, but so too are the composting and consumption patterns the next generation of adults. If this next generation, which fills today’s universities, grows up with an appreciation of environmental causes such as composting and local consumption, we can foresee a population that understands and actively pursues more benign methods of relating to the environment. While the University should be actively pressed to improve the way that it relates to the environment, this struggle should be shared and advertised in an effort to spread the ideals of environmental responsibility to the young minds now studying here at UVM. After all, it is these young minds that will be making the decisions that will shape our species’ future, a future that is intimately tied to the fate of the natural environment.

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UVM’s dining services

A casual observer of UVM’s dining services would be impressed with the environmentally friendly ways of eating at this University. Just one glance around the marche reveals compostable cutlery, biodegradable take out containers, and coming soon a farm stand of local foods. A closer look tells a lot more about these so-called green initiatives. In Brennans, there are even poetic stanzas written on the wall discussing the sustainability of the food it serves.

Despite the inspiring environmentally conscious rhetoric of dining services, the cutlery that was made from cornstarch for the sake of being biodegradable is no longer accepted in the compost. It was recently found that certain toxins which were used in the cohesion of the cutlery were not breaking down with the compost, and in fact contaminated a host of otherwise good compost. There is also the difficult ethical dilemma of using food products to make cutlery when there are still so many without enough to eat. Biodegradable takeout containers also have a dirty little secret that would make environmentalists cringe. These containers are in fact made from sugar cane farmed in the everglades of the southeastern United States. These carbon sinks are being slowly eroded by human demands. According the U.S. Geological Survey of 1999, over 50% of the everglades’ original area has been converted to agricultural or metropolitan areas. Are biodegradable take out containers really that environmentally friendly if they stimulate more demand for sugar cane, and with this demand the increasing profitability of destroying the everglades? UVM gets to further its image as a green university while a national treasure and carbon sink is destroyed.

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