Health and Science Writing-Maymester
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Blog 1: “Floods Make a Healthier Habitat”
What if floods weren’t so bad after all? Yes they wreak havoc, but they also spark transformation. Floods induce the “deep cleansing” local communities need to keep their living environments healthy and suitable.
According to Howard Frumkin’s “Healthy Human Habitats” Ted Talk, every human needs six key elements to maintain a healthy habitat; clean air, fresh water, access to healthy food, physical activity, socialization, and interaction with nature. Without these, the average human risks healthy survival and proper daily functioning. Floods can strip all six of these essentials from man, making it easier to stimulate environmental change.
Only meters away from the Chattahoochee River stands the famed Six Flags Over Georgia, one of the most popular amusement parks in Atlanta. In nearly forty years of operation, Six Flags had never been completely submerged underwater. The park rusted under nearly 20 feet of water for days after the disastrous flood took its toll, and local officials struggled to find reasonable solutions to drain the park.
Although the park encountered major flood damage, the watery whirlwind proved to be a blessing in disguise. Clean up crews not only drained the park, but removed local trees and in-grown vegetation whisked about in the flood waters. This greatly improved the appearance and landscape of the park, and removed heaps of kudzu that had grown along the gates and boundaries of the park for decades.
According to the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Clean Air Campaign, 54% of Cobb County’s water pollution originates from the dumping of waste products and toxins into freshwater rivers and streams like the Chattahoochee. Because of the kudzu removal, visitors found it harder to liter and dump waste around the outskirts of the park, especially near the river. In turn, this measure reduced Six Flags’ water pollution contribution by 30%, creating a healthier environment for both residents and visitors.
This habitat now has a clean freshwater supply, cleaner air due to reduced toxins, and positive nature perceptions due to unpleasant vegetation removal. Visitors and guests can engage in more physical activity because of park expansion, and the Chattahoochee River is stable. Cobb County is making strides to becoming a healthier environment, although it is still not the “ideal human habitat.”
Habitats comprising the six key elements within close proximity are identified as a mixed-use communities. They possess better living and safety conditions for residents, and enhance social opportunities. Beautifully designed sidewalks and green spaces inspire physical activity for children, and large eco-friendly buildings allow for cleaner air and workspace. Ultimately the convenience of mixed-use communities reduces pollution, stress, and allows communities to better prepare for natural disasters.
Similar to Six Flags, Clarkdale Elementary School suffered severe flood damage just miles away. The flood swallowed the entire school, burying all furniture and pathways in a 12-foot-deep abyss. Corroded pipes and deteriorating walls surrendered to the raging flood, causing some walls in the building to cave in.
County officials immediately deemed the school unsafe, and Clarkdale closed for renovation. Parents reenrolled their students in other elementary schools nearby, many of whose infrastructures were more modern than Clarkdale’s. Traces of the mixed-use concept can be seen in neighboring areas surrounding Clarkdale Elementary.
Following the renovation of Clarkdale Elementary School, Cobb County schools were able to make eco-friendly changes to alleviate health disparities and promote better nutrition and access to healthy food. Parts of Clarkdale’s new campus include a community gardening project, which also helps prevent soil erosion and water contamination. Recycling bins help concentrate waste, and shortened bus routes cut long travel times for students, reducing their exposure to fumes and toxins.
Although the concept of mixed-use communities is prevalent in few areas of the county, Cobb County is proving to be an environmentally healthy and stable habitat. With continued progress, the county demonstrates that this an area where humans can thrive, even after natural disasters unfold.
Anchorage Alaska: A City with Grit
Alaska. For most people, the word paints a place of the frigid north, only filled with ice and snow. Alaska flouts against such a stereotype. Alaska is a goulash of many cities, cultures, and climates, all stretching from the warm, lust forests of southeast Alaska to the harsh cold of the Artic north. One of the most well-known places in Alaska is Anchorage. Despite the picturesque portrayals in travel brochures, Anchorage lacks many characteristics for it to be a truly “healthy human habitat.”
Howard Frumkin describes a healthy human habitat as a city that encourages social interactions, physical activity, and has accessibility to nature. Anchorage as a city satisfies all of these requirements but some of its neighborhoods lacks these beneficial aspects. Despite the high and favorable air, water, and food quality rating by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the organization ignores the differences of living conditions amongst Anchorage neighborhoods. Anchorage is much like the state of Alaska, composed of a hodgepodge of communities and landscapes.
Neighborhoods such as Downtown, Fairview, and Sand Lake are fairly healthy and vibrant areas; they have shops nearby and tend to have many parks that connect to all the neighborhoods through the Coastal Trail. Thanks to the “midnight sun,” these neighborhoods are pleasantly lush with life and community activities. Many would spend well into the night playing sports or walking through the parks and trails. All the other neighborhoods, however, lack access to these areas. Neighborhoods like Midtown and Mountain View are, quite frankly, “gray.” Though there are a decent amount of shops and stores nearby, many still have to travel by car to their jobs. Highways and roads sprawl and crisscross the innards of the city, making it rather unwelcoming for pedestrians to walk or bike. There are barely any decent parks in these areas as well, an unfortunate result from having to layer every bit of land with concrete and gravel.
The climate of Alaska is a double-edge sword for most Alaskans. In the summer, the weather remains fairly warm and mild. Even the winters are mellow compared to other cities like Fairbanks. Nonetheless, there’s a catch. Spring in Anchorage is characterized by mounds and mounds of gray slush, created from the melting snow and gravel on the roads. Even summer comes with a price. In certain areas, the wind kicks up the dirt and dust left over on the roads and stirs up mini “dust storms” in the neighborhoods.
The wildlife is the only aspect of Anchorage Alaska that doesn’t carry any negative aspects. It only takes a short car drive down south of Anchorage to see the richness of Alaska. There are many national parks, good camping areas, and excellent views for sightseeing just outside the city. Moose, deer, mountain goats, and bears are common in these parks. Fishing is a popular sport for both residents and tourists; fresh salmon and seafood are available easily and relatively cheap in Anchorage.
For all of its faults, Anchorage is merely halfway to becoming a healthy human habitat. Regardless of all the praise and good rating endowed by agencies like the EPA and by tourist organizations, the city of Anchorage leans towards mediocre at best. The wildlife is splendid but it tends to be overshadowed by the highways and roads in Anchorage. For Anchorage to be truly healthy, the city needs to improve its infrastructure and integrate the wildlife rather than burying it with thick layers of concrete.
Instructor: Sheila Tefft
19 May 2015
The Anti-Vaccine Movement: A Misguided Attempt to Protect Children and Steps to Counter the Movement
Fear of the unknown is one of mankind’s oldest and well known fears. Advances in technology often is shrouded in mystery and misunderstandings. An excellent representation of this fear is the current anti-vaccine movement. Autism frequently rouses extreme emotions and pain for families with autistic children and for worried, potential parents. The uncertainty and fear unfortunately was thus projected onto vaccines, as the causes of autism is still not known today. Oddly, many of the backlash against vaccines also come from highly educated parents. In an ironic twist, these highly educated individuals make “uneducated choices” because they were their reassured by their own belief of being highly informed (Offit).
Vaccinations have reached an all-time low in the United States and may continue to go lower. In January 2015, an outbreak of measles occurred in Disneyland California, infecting at least 32 individuals (Gumbel). The measles virus was later traced to be carried by an unvaccinated host and spread mostly to unvaccinated people in the theme park. As reported by the CDC, vaccinations such as the MMR and diphtheria vaccines help to prevent thousands of deaths per year. In 1964, over 15,000 Americans died of diphtheria in 1921, while at most one case of diphtheria per year was reported to the CDC since 2004 (CDC.) Vaccines have worked incredibly well that most Americans have taken them for granted, forgetting the horrors these preventable diseases wrecked.
Parents must understand vaccines not only help to protect their children but the children of others as well. In a survey study conducted in 2012, an educational effort teaching the role of vaccines in herd immunity lead to an increase in parental willingness to immunize their children for the welfare of others (Quadri-Sheriff). As soon as the parents’ fears of vaccines are shown to be unfounded, parents ceased to be on the defensive and becane more open. Parents, in other words, do not want the truth; they want reassurances and security. As Amy Wallace pointed out in Wired Science, “Science loses ground to pseudo-science because the latter seems to offer more comfort” (Wallace). Humans are not rational beings; we still rely on our emotions and intuitions to guide us. Another approach must be develop to counter the anti-vaccination movement. Rather than crudely repudiating anti-vaxers with cold statistics, it is more important to establish a warm, reassuring atmosphere in both the science and medical sectors. The anti-vaccination movement plays on parents’ fears for their child’s well being. Like what any parents would do, they immediately become defensive and hostile to everything that resembles a threat to their child, no matter how unfounded it is. The only hope to counter such fears is by providing a safe space for parents while exposing the exploitative goals of anti-vaxer proponents and groups.
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