Friday, July 15, 2005

When Crunchy Kids Attack! (footage at 11)

So, there's an ongoing debate at Cornell this summer, which pits newly reinstated President Hunter Rawlings against half of the local environmentally-friendly program house, the Eco-House, which was my de facto home for two years. It turns out that there's this small piece of land to the west of campus known as the Redbud Woods. By small, I mean a couple hundred feet of wooded area next to a bunch of resident halls and frat houses. That seems pretty big, but I took a look at the Cornell .gif map that shows campus, and from the scale, it looks like the Redbud Woods is really only a little bit bigger than Goldwin Smith Hall (for all you crazy Cornellians who actually know what I'm referring to). Since I was a part of campus politics, there has been only one major issue on campus that has confounded all others: parking. Every Long Islander Cornellian wants to bring their SUV to campus, and no one has any place to park their asshole-mobiles. Every student has bitched about this issue. Every student politician has campaigned on this platform (to no avail -- the Cornell Student Assembly has absolutely no power over Cornell development and construction, unless it's constructing new and fun ways in which the student Dems and Republicans can beg for votes come election time to get themselves on the Assembly for another year). And every year, the administration is put under more pressure to accomodate increasing demands for parking and to reconcile that with the limited space of having to build around century-old academic buildings and having gorges impeding your ability to expand. So, this past couple of years, the administration decided to try and target the "Redbud Woods" for cutting down. They plan on building a parking lot there, to try and assuage the demand and basically reconstruct the entirety of West Campus as they upgrade the dorms from cheaply built wartime housing to cheaply built permanent housing. Of course, there's been a massive outcry from the resident eco-activists. After courts ruled that Cornell was within their legal right to pave the woods, the Redbud activists staged a shanty town in front of the administration building, a sit-in in then-president Lehman's office, and have now chained themselves to trees in the woods to prevent construction. That's right, folks, chained themselves to the ground to save a tiny plot of trees. To understand the true inanity of it all, recognize this: the woods are not really an Ithaca landmark, in fact the name "Redbud Woods" was coined this past couple of years in order to have some sort of way to reference the patch of trees when the Administration wanted to cut them down. The trees themselves have only been in existence for less than 50 years. Prior to that, the woods was basically a guy's backyard. And before we start freaking out about the biodiversity, redbuds are an invasive introduced species of tree that are actually crowding out native NY state tree species. Yes, these guys have chained themselves to trees to stop Cornell from bulldozing a guy's backyard a little bigger than Goldwin Smith Hall full of introduced, invasive trees. Okay, so I realize I'm being a little harsh here. As a society, we desperately need to work towards becoming more self-sustaining if we want to have a viable future for our kids and grandkids. The terrorism of our planet is finally coming to a head. Hell, just today, CNN reported that babies are now being born already chock full of harmful, carcinogenic pollutants passed to them from their mothers' blood. Bulldozing trees isn't the answer -- we need to start putting more emphasis on fewer cars, greener living, and stop making excuses to hand over a filthy, dying Earth to our children so we can live in greater comfort today. That being said, I don't see these antics as anything more than masturbatory. The Redbud Woods is too small to be considered much by way of helping the sustainability of campus, especially given that the administration also plans on bulldozing Noyes Community centre and making it a green space, much closer to the heart of campus. The invasive trees do more harm than good to local biodiversity. And, really, the average non-crunchy person like myself finds the whole chaining thing to be hysterical, not heart-warming. If I were President Rawlings, I would have a hard time seeing this as anything more than a group of activists looking to reclaim the glory days of the student actvism in the 60's, jumping all over one another to make the biggest, anti-establishment splash, not necessarily for the woods but to warm their own liberal hearts. In this counterculture culture of student activism, making a forest out of an old car and using it to block the loading dock over at Day Hall is little more than a huge dick-waving contest. In the process of writing this post, I did discover the "Save the Redbud Woods" website which had only one relevant section to me, the Alternatives section. My problem with the activism as it has been perceived is that there's so much emphasis on the dick-waving and high-profile hijinx and not much emphasis on this, the alternatives. The simple solution to the Redbud Woods issue (and to keep stop-gap measures like this from happening) is to discourage driving on campus. Increase public transportation access so that buses run more regularly, for cheaper (or for free) earlier into the morning and later into the evening, give us greater incentives for using buses, pave the roadways to encourage pedestrian traffic rather than still catering to road traffic. The problem with parking on campus isn't the people who live on West -- giving them parking lots is encouraging them to bring their cars to Ithaca and creating even more demand for parking, it's the fact that grad students or staff like myself who live far out of Ithaca's boundaries can't access campus without taking a bus that runs once an hour (or for people who live even further, once or twice a day). The problem with turning a serious activism issue into a circus is that while the cause might attract media attention, the alternatives aren't being discussed. If there's going to be clownish behaviour, then we need a ringmaster to, at the very least, float the fact that there's a brain behind all of the foolishness. And it's obvious that there are solutions to the paving of Redbud Woods, but they require a sustainable dedication by activists to greener living, while at the same time remaining practical about the reality of campus life. The activists in this case, for example, are furious that President Rawlings rejected their counterproposal to the bulldozing of the woods -- but that counterproposal was to hault all construction on campus for six months until the Redbud Woods proposal could be examined more fully. Let's not forget that the Redbud Woods project has been in discussion for two years, the proposal has been reviewed and re-reviewed throughout that time over the course of the legal battles, and putting a moratorium on all construction means that the guys working outside my building to repair the dangerous potholes in the roads that cause countless dollars worth of damage to cars and people (yes, Ithaca roads are that bad) every year would have to come back next summer because nobody's fixing a road covered in six feet of snow. And just one more time -- we're talking about people chaining themselves to trees to save a nameless plot of land full of invasive trees. I'm all about outrage when outrage is due, but let's keep it somewhat measured and proportional to the crime.


Blogger James said...

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7/16/2005 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

7/16/2005 12:59:00 PM  
Blogger James said...

I'll tell you; I'm done with environmentalist activists. It's always an exercise in self-gratification. The way to make environmentalism work for the vast majority of our population (the only logical goal of that movement) is to find ways people won't have to think about the reusing, reducing, and recycling they do.

It has to become a second nature element of the system itself; not a public exercise in stupidity.

And the tree species they are trying to save is invasive? Aren't these children ecology students? Sigh.

7/16/2005 01:00:00 PM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

Where the environment is concerned, people throw themselves into the fray without thinking, and when you tell them this, they get all defensive and go mental on ya. It just irks me - the environment seems almost to be something that everyone's jumped on the bandwagon about; the cause celebre of the day, so to speak. Who knows what or when the next great cause is going to be (world poverty anyone?) but I am almost certain it's going to be just as hyped, just as poorly thought out as any other big cause.

All it takes is a little research into anything like this but people don't think. They "emote". Nothing happens when people do that, other than events like this. (IMHO anyway) Get off your couches, get away from the telly and start looking on the net, at the library, anywhere that tells you about your local issues, the history behind these issues and what you can do about it. Don't just take other peoples' words for it, as they are just as uninformed as the rest of the mob. If more people did this, I betcha we'd get more done on important issues instead of wasting time and money on things that don't work and are counter-productive and counter-intuitive.

7/17/2005 12:10:00 PM  
Blogger Jenn said...

seriously great comments, both of you guys! i agree that very few people think about their environmentalism, but those who don't think at all about the environment are just as bad. a self-sustaining way of life is important, but we neither need to pollute to the end of time nor start embracing the amish lifestyle -- if we can simply go against the political winds and begin to use cleaner sources of energy, as well as learning to put back what we take away (such as with what Cornell is doing by replacing another site with greenspace to make up for the bulldozing of Redbud Woods) then we begin to achieve a truly self-sustaining society.

But I agree, the US makes it too difficult to recycle. In Canada, everything recyclable goes basically into the same bin and gets sorted by the recycling man. He leaves anything that's unrecyclable, but in essence he does all the work for us. We just need to get it to the curb. In the US, we have to sort our stuff into seven or eight different containers -- far too complex for the everydayman and just encourages most people to just throw things away. It's sad but true -- I recycle in Canada but I don't here.

7/18/2005 10:14:00 AM  
Anonymous Kaede said...

They don't do any of that anywhere here (except maybe London, but not anywhere I've ever been's a hole...seriously). It frustrates me no end when I try to get my husband to help with recycling. He gets nuts when I reuse things over and over (crafters are GREAT recyclers) and throws a lot of good stuff away. I try to do my bit, but what little bins they do have for recycling are hidden away where people can't see them, don't know they're there, and thus don't use them. Then they wonder why there's no space at the rubbish dumps (they call 'em tips here, did you know?) and why they have to keep giving planning permission for more.

Any environmental issues are either ridiculed (if they're so far off the wall, like wind farms which are the current peeve of a lot of morons around here) or ignored altogether and it's just really sad, given the serious shortage of space (supposedly) on this island. I rather liked the idea of getting my deposit back on bottles (back home in Alberta and Sask.) rather than it just going into the ground here. They apparently used to have a program like that but nobody used it (why???) so they didn't bother. Now they just charge you an environmental tax on every bottle, but it still doesn't get recycled. Not nearly as much as it could/should be, in MY opinion anyway...

I am adamant tho, when we get into our new house (wherever and whenever that should be) I am going to put my foot down and recycle without him if needs be. At least then I'll be TRYING to make the place a better one rather than just making a huge mess, something the Brits seem to excell at. Just look at the state of the beaches here. Amongst the worst in Europe, and that's saying something, given the environmental nightmare that is Eastern Europe now being within the EU's borders....

7/18/2005 08:31:00 PM  

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