Issues island nations face with modern consumption practices.

Beach debris at Lion’s Park -Tutuilia, American Samoa shows the impacts of both localized littering and ocean debris being deposited on the shoreline.

In the modern era, gone are the days when whole island villages consumed all the food they needed by planting gardens, fishing in the ocean and picking food off of the trees.  With the modernization of consumption practices comes a whole new slew of issues island nations have to face.  These items can be listed in three major categories:  health, infrastructure and pollution.  Over the last 40 years as consumption practices around the world have significantly changed the way island communities interact with the world around them.

Non Communicable Diseases – Issues with Health

One of the largest problems with modernization of island communities is the overall diet that is being consumed by the population as a whole.  According to the World Health Organization, a transition has occurred from pathogen based diseases to food intake and activity based health concerns.  In the 2011 report on American Samoa the WHO reports;

“The most serious health issues relate to the increase in chronic diseases associated with lifestyle, with their roots in improper nutrition and physical inactivity. Significant increases in the prevalence of obesity, in both sexes and at increasingly younger ages, are associated with a number of these conditions. Hypertension, cardiovascular diseases, cerebrovascular diseases, type II diabetes mellitus and its complications, arthritis, gout and some forms of cancer are among the most important chronic diseases. (http://www.wpro.who.int/countries/asm/1FAMSpro2011_finaldraft.pdf)

These dietary concerns are largely focused on the prevalence of foods packaged in metal lined plastic bags.  Prepackaged foods fall out of shipping containers like waves on a shore.  The names and varieties are as diverse as the country of origin the store owners call home.  In American Samoa, local markets are rarely operated by indigenous islanders and are instead run by entrepreneurs from places like Vietnam and China.  As part of the big picture of the problems with the local economy, this is one of the issues that many may point to regarding causes of money leaving the local economy at a catastrophic rate.  What can be said to be growing in America Samoa at an enormous rate is the wasteline of children.  With the prevalence of packaged food, the tastes of children are turning to this highly addictive, easy to consume food.  And the results are showing.  Diabetes, anemia, cancer and heart disease are all appearing as part of a modernized Samoa that are not part of it’s history and culture.  According to a guest speaker at a recent farming education event, the island of American Samoa is currently facing a 40% or greater population diagnosis of Diabetes.  This staggering statistic is supported by the American Diabetes Association

Pollution – What happens to all that packaging?

 Another part of the island life that was never part of it’s original heritage is the packaging from these manufactured goods.  Items like steel food containers, aluminum cans, plastic bottles and bags with a metallic lining are being shipped to the island and are offloaded from shipping containers by the tens of thousands every couple of weeks.  With these imported materials comes a requirement to dispose of these materials on island or export them for reclamation of the natural resources they contain.  In the case of many Pacific Island Nations with no recycling programs, the eventuality for the majority of these items is the community landfill.   For islands with recycling initiatives in place, these programs are often source separated materials – requiring individualized participation at a community drop off point instead of curbside pickup.  The need to expand collection he problem can be addressed by acquiring the next stage in technology, MRF Units.  The issue is expanding the capacity to recycle to include single stream sources like generated from public recycling containers like those found in community parks and at business locations, further allowing or even mandating by law – curbside collection that occurs in most, but not all, states.

Littering is a common behaviour in American Samoa.

Aluminum cans are littered into this hole in the sidewalk on a regular basis even though they are collected multiple times a week. This type of mentality shows the lack of education and need for local recycling programs.

What do you do when there is no concentrated focus on recycling as part of the cultural norm?  Unfortunately, as is often seen in American Samoa, where the focus of recycling does not exist – excessive littering and open burning of trash does.  This creates two specific problems.  One, emissions from burning trash are often toxic, especially when burning plastics and hazardous materials like batteries.  In addition, island based littering adds to the global burden of mitigating ocean pollution efforts by groups like The Plastic Pollution Coalition and 5 Gyres.  Due to the creation of litter on island nations combined with relatively short distances for litter to travel to reach the ocean,  much of this debris can become ocean debris as it enters streams and estuaries that feed into global currents.

With limited space to increase infrastructure, meet growing population needs and prepare for rising sea levels  expected with continued melting of the global ice shelves and glaciers; island governments will face many difficulties between balancing the population’s desires for manufactured and consumer goods and the need manage the waste stream produced by a growing consumption of these goods.  Without the implementation of infrastructure to separate and process the packaging from these goods, many governments are likely to find themselves beyond reasonable capacity in managing their island’s waste streams.

Unfortunately, even with a focus toward capturing recycling goods, there are other issues to be focused on throughout the search to develop solutions.  One reason recycling programs often have difficulty taking off is the cost of shipping materials off island.  When local businesses ship items inbound for the community to purchase, it’s easy to add the costs of shipping these items into the retail price.  However, without enhanced manufactures responsibility to reclaim or assist with the costs of shipping the items or their packaging off island, governments will continue to find the cost of shipping recycled goods to be greater than the resale value of the raw materials themselves.  It will only be with a blend of government action, education, and increased infrastructure that the combined issues of healthy lifestyles and waste management can be effectively tackled.

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Online Petitions – Do They Really Bring Change?

If you use the internet, you have seen them – online petitions.  Generally they come with a form letter of some kind, laying out the standardized logo or pitch on why this thing or that is wrong with the world.  Most of the time, the authors and hosting web sites are truly passionate and desire to create real change within the system they are focused on, as well as having a real need or concern to fix a system that appears to be broken.  In most cases, as a compassionate individual who believes in the process of teaching love and fair treatment of all people, I tend to agree with the cause to bring awareness and light to the topic.  At one point in my life I signed up and shared these petitions with my friends and family, thinking that in the long haul they would bring real change that would someday impact my life.

Boy was I right, and I didn’t have to wait a very long time for that change to come into my life!  Under the current system of politics in the United States, the practice of lobbying is bigger than it has ever been in the past 300 years of colonized control of North America.  Major corporations spend billions of dollars annually on lobby efforts.  According to this article from about.com

 “Lobbyists are people who are (often) paid to influence policy-makers at the local, state and federal levels. They represent special interests in the decision-making process in the legislative and executive branches of government.  There are more than 11,000 lobbyists registered at the federal level.”

Which explains to me why – within hours, if not moments later, the flow of email begins.  The system in and of itself is a burdensome beast that may feel requires fighting fire with more fire.  This online method of saying, ” Yes, I also agree that this circumstance is not appropriate and I would like to see this issue addressed as well.”  So we  sign on, feeling good about ourselves for taking 30 seconds of action to pay attention to something that is important in our lives.   Then it comes – that first email.  Often its a simple thank you and don’t forget to check out our website.  Then comes day 2 and a new email or letter from a director asking me to share this valuable information with my friends or to donate to their cause because, lets be honest – this work isn’t cheap and if it’s important to you then maybe helping kick in against the multi-billion dollar evil corporate giants isn’t such a bad thing is it?

One email, one group – eh not so bad.  If you are like me however, deleting that email isn’t top priority #1 in my life today.  What generally happens is that my phone or tablet beep saying that I have a new email and I see it, swipe the notice off my screen and move on with life.  Then one day I notice that I have over 8,000 emails in my mailbox.  Each organization that I signed a petition for is now sending me one or two or three emails a week and quite honestly – I don’t read them.  I saw the tag line, I know they want me to care more – but I’M A BUSY PERSON!  I already signed your petition to say I cared, now let me pay attention to the _____________ [insert your favorite gladiator style activity that detracts from the stresses of the job and the problems with the world that allows you to forget about the problems of the world (while receiving advertizing from the corporations most responsible for the problems in the world that I told you I cared about ), all the time spending your hard earned money that you have been programed to believe that mindless consumption is the solution – when really it’s the problem].

And that’s when it hit me, I am the problem.  The way I consume is the problem here.  With 8,000 unread emails in my email box and over 10k  total emails just sitting there; I’m consuming data storage space, which requires electricity – and I live in a coal burning nation where my carbon footprint is increased every day just because I agreed that I believe that things need to change – so now I’m causing more damage than good.  The use of data storage for all those emails means that I’m contributing to: plastic waste, water pollution, the destruction of natural and pristine environments, carbon pollution and the overall destruction of the planet.  The sites have to be built – causing greater human sprawl.  Equipment needs to be made, so natural resources have to be mined.  Electricity has to be used, contributing to water and air pollution.  Here’s the kicker – I gave my permission for this to happen.  I signed that online petition, through a third party who I know is all about marketing and collecting my information so they can send me updates, ask for money and bring new issues to my email box so that I might consider being concerned about them too!

Let me be honest, I am by a lobbyist.  I am not paid by some major corporation, or even a minor one.  I have taken on jobs in the past to acquire such work, but I never kept those jobs more than 3 days.  They have left a major annoyance in my spirit that I could not ignore.  I write blogs to engage people in discussion, hoping we will think about both the actions, decisions and financial contributions we make on a daily basis.  Also, I am a consumer.  I like to go out and spend money too, I like to feel good and the physical and chemical changes that happen for you when ‘going out’ are not unique.

So, what is to be done?  Are we to be expected to go backwards in time and live like cavemen with minimal comforts or pleasures in life? No, no we should not.  It is important to note however that the individual actions we take, explaining to another person face to face why we are choosing the decisions we make.  With so much noise out there in the world today – including this very blog – it’s important to understand the factors of internalization and the living of behaviors, including shopping habits, that create the greatest of changes.

How can this be done?  It’s a great question.  Supporting change in all levels of the planet is important.  So, here are some simple suggestions.

1.  Contact the business directly.  Begin by having a conversation.  Ask the person you speak with if they are aware of the circumstances in which you are concerned and if they have heard about this problem before.  Remember that you are speaking to a person too!  This person in most cases is not going to be the person directly responsible and may not even know there is a problem.  In the movie GMO OMG, Jeremy

Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor

Siefert uses the telephone and personal visits to engage in a conversation, if not with Monsanto Corporation, with viewers of his movie on the topic of Genetically Modified Foods.  While I don’t remember the number he quotes; in one part of the movie he notes how many receptionists have left the company.  When people know that there is something wrong with the company they represent, or the products they make – they are usually willing to hear the concerns of their customers.

2.  Spend your money where your values lie.  In a world of technology many great tools like Buycott, an online application for smartphones allows you to indicate what kind of values you have.  Are you against human trafficking or slavery, do you support veterans or gender/orientation issues, maybe pesticide use or diseases like cancer or autism are of concern for your.  This easy to use app allows you to scan the barcodes of anything you purchase and learn if the manufacture of that product is an active supporter or partner celebrating the concerns you have about making the world a better place.  This app will also tell you if there is a conflict like the company is known to use child labor, use or create demand for deforested lands or use products that are scientifically known to cause issues like Cancer or Autism in their products.

3.  Use the tools provided by government agencies to communicate with them effectively.  Did you know that there is a whole process of approval for most every government activity that occurs. For example, when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) permits a company like Bayer Chemical to produce and use agents like Neonicanitoids on American Soil, it’s because the company provided requests  clearly stating what the chemical was, what it was most likely intended to be used for, how it was likely to be used and expected outcomes of that product.  This is a requirement of law.  The corporation is a for profit entity and it is likely that a full suite of disclosures outlining the worst possible scenarios will not occur.  It is the responsibility of the EPA, by law, to provide an open public comment period where people can provide examples of reasonable information that would guide the process.  The site regulations.gov to provide public input on decisions being made by government agencies.  The processes of using pesticides, building projects on government land, the approval of chemicals for use in the USA and a lot more are all open to public opinion periods where citizens can provide their insights or concerns regarding practices and products before they are approved.

4.  Be effective in incorporating the tools of social media to inform and educate others.  Write your own blog, share factual articles, scientific reports and engage in conversation.  Liking and sharing doesn’t create change by itself.  It requires the both the aspects of understanding the information and creating dialogue where insight and enlightenment occur though dialogue.  Where many people miss the boat is that they don’t incorporate the action of changing their personal habits to align with the issues they are signing up to speak out against.

At the end of the day, you may find that online petitions are a way to speak out against an issue, however if you don’t align your practices with the issues you speak out against – are you just creating more of the same?

Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor
Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor
Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor
Jeremy Seifert Director / Writer / Editor

“It’s been a long semester” or “If I don’t write something soon I may never get back on the horse!”

It happened.  Not only did the 1950’s Adam West Batman Series pop into my head as I wrote the title,  but this blog is happening because I haven’t written a blog in close to two months, and internally I miss it.  The thought popped into my head about a week ago, with 3 midterms to go and no desire to focus on anything, I buckled down on the things that were most important, maintaining my concerns for sustaining my GPA, proving that hard work is worth it, regardless of how weary you get.  So I’ve been plugging away at life, paying 6 professors to dictate my days, and ensure that I processes some of what enters my brain.  And so, after weeks of watching myself put this page on the back burner, I’m getting back on the horse.

What’s happened in two months?  Well, besides taking 6 classes at university this semester, family life, and all the fun of 12-14 hour work days may good things have been happening.

The best of these is that I met Dr. Marcus Erickson of 5 Gyres Institute.  As a person who wants to change the way the consumption impacts pollution, and how plastics are polluting our oceans this meeting was amazing for me.  I have spent much time researching and learning about topics like enhanced manufacturer responsibility and conversion campaigns.  These are exciting topics that I hope people will look into.

But really, if I don’t keep writing – nobody’s going to go looking for anything.  Let this be a lesson, it’s easier to stay on task, with regularly consistency than it is to try and rebuild a habit.

Thanks for coming back to see what I’m doing.

I will write again soon

Because we were to tired to go – my thoughts about the Aurora Theater Shootings

It’s been a year now, and lots of things have happened since I first moved to Aurora, Colorado.  The one thing that didn’t happen, we didn’t go to watch the premier of Batman series, The Dark Knight Rises, a movie that I still have yet to see.  I had just moved to Colorado exactly 2 weeks prior and was full of energy and excitement about life.  I had tried to convince my brother-in-law to come out with me, to watch the movie on it’s premier night while my sister stayed home with their son.  What strikes me in looking back was how much naivety I had about children back then.  A two year old takes a lot of energy, energy that diminishes after a long day of work a normal job.  Add  to it the need to keep up with chores, the non stop work of maintaining a living area where a random guest would not believe that toys and laundry are the primary modes of decoration and viola it becomes apparent that the work of parenting in a quality way can really be taxing.  Even with my wild eyed and bounding energy having waited 10 years to get to Colorado, the night had been a rough one and the little guy didn’t go down easy.  By the time it was time to go, we had decided that it had been a long night and there wasn’t value in rushing to get to a movie as we were not only tired but also running behind schedule if we wanted to see all the previews.  We decided to hang out at home, playing a card game in the basement or something of the likes.  The details of the specific range of activities, how we learned of the shooting; well they are part of the haze that happens as people focus on the details of improving the life around them instead of the things that might have been.

We didn’t make it to the movie, and therefore our lives were not catastrophically impacted with the trauma of ‘having been there’.  However, it was a pretty shocking thing, to not go somewhere where there was an effort to massacre a large number of people for reasons not yet understood.  In some ways I miss living in a smaller community where the shootings happen one at a time and usually drugs are involved.  And I’ve been to an event where there was a peaceful gathering and someone was shot. Honestly, these things have helped to strengthen my resolve in continuing down the pathway of my own personal development and resolve to receive and own the vision of potential within myself.

Before the shooting, I was focused on the idea that helping others in a social work method – one or two at a time, or in small community groups – and I’m sure I would have been happy for a while.  But while this would have passed some time, I was still fighting some internal battles if this was the right thing for me to do.  For me, the ‘what could have been’ was an awakening in my mind.  Fortunately I came to Colorado with some tools in my kit that I continue to use.  Prayer and meditation have led me to understand the real calling I have in life, that if we focus on solutions for the greater good for all, a greater impact could be had for the benefit of providing a place for future generations to have a chance to live in health and happiness on Planet A.

So, I wasn’t there.  I have had known a person or two that was, the church that I have attended most since I moved actually had a large group of people in the theater at that time ( almost 50) ; and they also seem to have something extra about them – a drive to be aware about the value of life.  For me, not that far from 40, this is the impact the shootings had most on me.  It not that I  have a new dream, it’s that I have reminders why the focus is so important, sights on goals that may not be achieved until I’m 80 and I have resolve to realize that it’s necessary to keep moving forward.  Hopefully along the way I’ll continue to be  privileged by  motivating others.  I hope to continue to have chances to encourage others along the way; to dig deep inside and, without having to know that they could have been a victim, find the drive to make some change for the better.

You don’t have to be there, or a could have been there, to have the same appreciation for life.  Being involved in healthy activities that bring passion for life, and sharing those passions with others in a positive way should be part of the goals of each of us, regardless of our walk in life.  Being aware of injustice, compassionate towards change and willing to be a catalyst doesn’t require a near death experience – it shouldn’t require one.  Tragic events can do many things, I hope that for anyone else reading this – the idea of being and growing stronger are the things it does within you.