An Altrenate Experience

img_0314By Asha Brogan

While in class and reading “Communicating with Nature” we predominantly discussed the American perspective, and many of us in the US only observe that culture. I recently was given the chance to spend a few months in Berlin, Germany studying. During my time there I not only took a class in environmental science taught by a native EU citizen, but I experienced the EUs attempts to prevent a linear consumer cycle toward a more circular one, as discussed in “Communicating With Nature”. The times this seemed most prominent were in the complex recycling system and grocery shopping experience.

While Americans can save a few pennies by using their own bag at some grocery stores the generic plastic bag is still a staple of Kroger’s nationwide. At our local “Rewe” (Its not Ree Wee Asha, its Rei Vae) If you went to the store and forgot to bring your own bag it would cost you several Euros, and as a college student thats a fair sum. The only bags the store provided where a fairly heavy weight plastic or cloth bag each costing 3 Euro. One quickly formed a habit of keeping a grocery bag or two tucked in a purse and this is a habit thats carried over into my American life.

The recycling system is nearly a mind game. But cleverly devised by the EU Environmental commission. There is the cardboards and papers, the plastic. and the glass bins. Then the glass bins are divided up by color: green, clear, and brown. I will not lie that I groaned knowing it was time to haul out the large bag of wine bottles I had accumulated and sort them into the various bins located on the sidewalk down from my apartment, yet all my neighbors did it, and the bins would fill me with guilt if I didn’t use them. Not to mention the trash cans were too small to contain all of our waste.

Small baby steps don’t seem like a difficult step, although they apparently are since I don’t see many of the changes that Europe has, and the US still is rated as one of the largest consumers in the US. I do hope we can come to a point where this changes though.


Can’t Buy My Happiness?

Erica Bock

After discussing the “buyosphere” and America’s immense amount of consumerism in class, I decided to delve deeper into the topic to find out more details on the reasoning and symptoms of “consuming our way to happiness”. It is generally known that because of technology, the increased amount of individuals becoming educated, and the wealth of our nation that consumerism is on the rise. However, it is often said that “money can’t buy happiness”. But can it?

Research suggests that money can buy happiness when it comes to those who are impoverished. After evaluating the needy and evaluating the wealthy, it was obvious that that the wealthy had a higher level of happiness. However, research goes further to say that the happiness of the financially better off depends on what their money is spent on. According to the Wall Street Journal, individuals who consume “experiences” are said to be happier than those  who consume “items”. Regardless, the consumer still remains happier.

Psychology Today also agrees with the fact that income and happiness are undoubtedly related. However, the correlation between the two is much stronger in the impoverished than in the middle-class and wealthy. Nonetheless, research has also shown that as the average income of an American has tripled, the average happiness of Americans has remained constant. The conclusion: money can buy happiness, but it definitely has its limits.

Conforming to be aesthetic by:Traci Alig

In this past week, we talked about the “Bliss” picture taken by Charles O’Rear, which is used on various Windows PC backgrounds. In class, we discussed how this picture on PC backgrounds looks much unlike the initial picture taken. The picture on PCs contrasts quite a bit from the unedited picture itself because it is exceedingly edited to make the aspects of the picture more vivid. The colors of the picture are edited to look brighter and more jovial. Some of my peers said that this may be done to help one feel happier and less stressed while doing his or her work. They also said that it is used as a sort of meditating landscape, something that is very pleasing to the eye. We learned that the actual place of this picture is a severely dangerous road considering there have been an enormous amount of car crashes on the road alongside this field. This picture is displayed to us through a Windows PC to provoke a positive emotion with nature, yet, the picture is hardly realistic.

Original picture taken by Charles O’Rear compared to edited version:

Image result for unedited bliss picture on windows PC Image result for unedited bliss picture on windows PC

Many things in society are displayed aesthetically to us as young children. For example, in cartoons nature is constantly displayed as this colorful, vibrant place, when in fact, nature is most likely not as vibrant as shown in cartoons. In cartoons, the world is displayed as this safe place where we are seemingly immortal. This leaves children to their imaginations and helps protect their minds. Protecting their minds leads to viewing the world differently than it really is and brings out positive thoughts about the outside world.


Ways to (kind of) Fix the Consumer System


The past week’s in-class discussion has been about consumption. A problem with the current way we consume goods is that it’s a linear system. We are using resources in a way that is not sustainable. We are depleting the environment of its resources while also littering the world with toxins and waste. A problem with the current linear consumer system is how much waste it produces. A way to fix this linear system would be to utilize the waste we produce as a potential resource. Reusing “waste” or products that no longer work will enable us to minimize the amount of resources we consume and would decrease the massive amount of goods that goes into landfills or other disposals around the world.

Recycling is a great way for “waste” to reenter the consumer world and is better for the environment than using raw materials. Recycling aluminum requires 5% the energy needed to create new aluminum from mining raw material. Creating plastics from recycled plastics takes two thirds the energy needed to make new plastic. An interesting way to recycle plastics yourself is the ProtoCycler. The ProtoCycler by ReDeTec will shred plastic and create filament that can then be made into anything using a 3D printer.

Biodegradable products would help prevent products from entering the landfill and staying there for potentially thousand or even millions of years. Products can even benefit the environment, such as the Saltwater Brewery’s edible six-pack rings. The rings solve the problem of plastic rings killing marine life and benefit them by being food for those animals.

These options aren’t going to solve all the problems with today’s consumer system but they are good options to start addressing the issue.


Existence Within the Buyosphere


The buyosphere. Google it right now. First you’ll see a fashion website/store that closed. How about “define buyosphere”? You get a wonderful result from Urban Dictionary: “The complete collection of places online where you can buy stuff” (Credit to user Jiffer). Scroll further down from the Urban Dictionary result and you’ll get a master’s thesis. Reading it will give you basically what we talked about in class with more detail.

When it comes down to it, all three of these are basically one in the same.

We have evolved, if you would call it evolution, to the point where we are consumed by what we buy to consume. I am currently running an ad-blocker, but for the majority of the internet users they will see pop up ads on nearly every site they visit now. Then we have delivery services that can bring it to our door that same day or the next day. I got something from Japan in three days and they apologized for it being late. We have the power to buy almost anything on the internet.

So did the buyosphere just envelope us recently? No. It has been around since the dawn of advertising; it has increased in size with each advancement of advertisements. Radio and newspaper ads were common before TV stepped in. Once TVs became an integral part of the home, ads saw the opportunity for profit. This is the main goal of an ad: Even if you don’t like or want the product/service, you at least associate their name with the product/service.

Then the internet came along and the buyosphere grew even larger.

No longer were you limited to local or regional ads. Now you could get an ad from another country. Italian River Cruises! Buy German Beer! Ads were not limited to just your local area, but they could now reach a global audience faster and more effectively. Add the recent targeted ads and you get ads that are put specifically before you so that you see them and want to buy into them.

Then certain websites come along that allow you to ship to your house next day. Others where you can look at unusual and interesting things that make you want to buy it. The world of options expand and with it so does the wallet. You have to work to buy the weird fluffy thing you saw on your Facebook feed for your dog to bite through in a matter of seconds. A fluffy dog toy costing $25 would require a minimum wage worker to work at least four hours to cover (assuming an $8 min wage and no taxes).

We have gotten to the point where we work four hours for a fluffy dog toy.

Then we feel guilty about the splurge, but you see your dog happily annihilate the toy. Then you see some giant hamster bubble thing that you want. $689. That would require at least 87 hours of work to pay for it. But you really need the bubble. You need to feel the rush as you topple over yourself rolling down the hill.

Now we work 87 hours for a human hamster ball.

The cycle would repeat again. You want something. You work for it. You buy it. Now you need more money for more stuff. The endless cycle of needing, working, and buying. Only way to escape the cycle is to either drop of the grid and live off the land. Or you can always die. That’s a little bit too drastic though. So how do we escape the cycle? The best way to put it is to quote Hotel California by The Eagles:

“Relax said the nightman

We are programmed to receive

You can check out any time you like

But you can never leave!”


  • Josh Obermeyer


Master’s Thesis


Leave No Trace


The last week in class we discussed the acceptance that as a society we must keep our lawns looking pristine. We even dug a little further and defined what a lawn really is, and how the concept of having and maintaining a lawn is an act that completely relies on human effort. I wanted to look at another landscape that has quite a bit of meaning to myself, and present it as an example of how the disneyfication of a natural landscape can often be harmful. The difference between this landscape and those of our backyards is how they’re both maintained, and how human effects can put these landscapes into danger.

Two summers ago nine of my friends and I took a train from Chicago to Raton, New Mexico for a ten day backpacking trip at a Boy Scouting camp known as Philmont Scout Ranch. Over 1 million Boy Scouts have walked hundreds of miles in trails that span elevations of up to 12,441 feet. My friends and I had an 80 mile trip, landing a stop at the highest point on the ranch known as Mt. Badly. This was a climb that took quite a few hours to make, topping off at an elevation that is a quarter of Mt. Everest’s height. But, just north of the ranch was a landscape known as the Valle Vidal.

The Valle Vidal is classified as a desert, according to Philmont’s website (link below), but it is more or less a forested desert. Our hike took us into the Valle for about half of the trip, and every camp we visited was expected to be kept under pristine conditions. This is because the land is quite literally too natural to urbanize. It is a perfect location for oil drilling, but the landscape cannot take any deforestation due to a massive forest fire made outside of the territory in 2003 that left many of the trees black and dead. The fire spread from an area outside of the property that had become urbanized locally and slowly became mistreated, and the effects had spread over to pristine land. Keeping the land natural is crucial to the land’s survival, which is why was donated to Boy Scouts and other environmentalists to enjoy and support the growth of the land.

So because of a mistreatment of nature, I beautiful landscape had taken a rough hit. In 2006, an act was approved to keep the land from being drilled. And on top of that, the Scouters and trailblazers who attend follow a strict set of rules for keeping the property safe. The rules mostly revolve around staying away from grass that isn’t worn, and the disposal of waste properly. If we followed these rules at home, imagine how different our landscapes would look.



Can Disneyfication and Environmental Consciousness Coexist?


Disneyfication – the transformation (as of something real or unsettling) into carefully controlled and safe entertainment or an environment with similar qualities (M-W)

Theming – the use of an overarching theme to create a holistic and integrated spatial organization of a consumer venue (Lucas, Scott. The Themed Space)

The term Disneyfication originated from the environment of Disney theme parks. These parks are highly controlled, made to appear natural, but they are actually mostly artificial. There are robotic animals, electronic nature sounds, smellitzers, fake rain, and life-like nature components (grass, trees, and rain cycle). The thing about all of this is not that Disney is fooling us into “purchasing” this outdoor experience, it is that we don’t care that we are being played. By doing this, they establish nature as a commodity to serve human needs.


To rope us in, Disney incorporates all aspects of entertainment into their parks, including amusement, food, drink, lodging, and merchandise. This represents how commodification and consumerism have crept into all parts of our society. Shopping, in these instances, is seen a play or recreation, rather than essential acts. Other entities besides Disney have started using these techniques to provide a ‘full experience’ for their consumers. When you go to many outdoor stores, you will find much more than products – you will find ‘nature’ displays sometimes even including real animals. Just look at Bass Pro Shops, REI, L.L. Bean, or Cabela’s.

What I find interesting about this concept is that Disney promotes both conservation principles (messages in Wall-E, their website, Disneynature) and mass consumerism. These two principles cannot coexist in an entity’s mission. Every Disney film and show has hundreds of pieces of merchandise than can be purchased and which Disney markets toward children who then beg their parents to buy it for them. The actions of Disney make it clear that they believe human advancement of technology can save the world from the detriment it is facing environmentally.



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