Ensuring Preservation of the Mayan Culture

We have spent the past few days in the small town of Blue Creek, Belize. While here, we had the opportunity to visit the Tumul K’in Center of Learning for the surrounding Mayan community. The school teaches Mayan children from ages 13 to 20 everything from mathematics and English to traditional Mayan cultural knowledge. The school teaches sixty percent traditional academic classes like the mathematics and English courses while the remaining forty percent of classes center around their Mayan cultures and ancient knowledge. While this could potentially take away from the students’ opportunity to learn about the inter-workings of today’s world, it is still important that they learn about their complex cultural history that was so vital to their ancestor’s daily lives and general survival. During our visit with the Pamunkey Indians at the Pamunkey Indian Reservation, we were told by a native Warren Taylor that a lot of their cultural knowledge and history had been lost because it had not been passed on from generation to generation in the past couple centuries. Warren’s grandfather, Warren Cook, did not learn much from his father because he wanted a better, more modern-world oriented lifestyle for his son. This is why it is so important that the Mayans teach their students about their cultural history so is does not die with a generation.

We had the opportunity to visit with the Ack family while in Blue Creek, an average local family with seven children, two of which attended the Tumul K’in school. As we were trying to communicate with the youngest child of two years, his mother informed us that he does not understand English because they speak in their native Mayan language at home. The fact that the Ack family still speaks their native Mayan language at home in a country where the official language is the modern English shows that the people from this culture want to keep their ancient values, beliefs and language alive and close to heart. As seen with the Pamunkey, it is very easy to lose vital cultural knowledge if it is not passed on to the next generation. It is obvious how important this ancient culture is to the present Mayans at Blue Creek, and even if the class time could be spent learning more about how to be successful in today’s modern world, learning about their ancient traditions should be a priority as well. We have seen how easy it is for knowledge to be lost, and if the Mayans wish to ensure the preservation of their culture, it is a good thing they are teaching it in their school alongside the more modern classes.

The Geographical Problems of Diplomacy

For as long as anyone in this country can remember, states have made laws that apply to that particular state’s entire geographical boundaries.  This presents a problem when the state of Pennsylvania makes a law that intends to help pollution in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.  The Chesapeake Bay watershed in Pennsylvania is difficult to manage by the state because Pennsylvania only has a certain amount of its population residing within the confines of the Bay’s watershed, so when it makes laws attempting to clean up the polluted watershed, they do not apply to many of the state’s residents.  For this reason, Pennsylvania should seriously consider making laws based on certain geographical constraints, like the Chesapeake Bay watershed, instead of having them apply to the entire state.  It might be a lot easier if their Chesapeake Bay cleanup effort only applied to the people within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

None of the actual Chesapeake Bay actually lies within the state of Pennsylvania’s borders, so it is difficult to get residents of Pennsylvania to care about the bay and the challenges it faces, most notably pollution from agricultural runoff.  Despite this, it is of utmost importance to the bay’s health.  Fifty percent of the Chesapeake Bay’s freshwater comes from the mighty Susquehanna River which means a lot of runoff coming from the Pennsylvanian farms ends up in the large estuary below (Hardesty).  Even though it is so important to the bay’s persistence, it is difficult to convince Pennsylvania citizens to care about how their actions affect the bay because they lack the connection with the bay us Marylanders have.  They cannot see the effect they are having on the bay the same way we can.  It is extremely difficult to convince citizens that their actions are negatively affecting something so far away.  Problems also arise because only twenty-five percent of Pennsylvania’s population resides within the watershed boundary (Hardesty).  When Pennsylvania attempts to make a law involving pollution and the attempted clean-up of the bay, it becomes problematic because the actions of seventy-five percent of the population have no effect on the Chesapeake Bay.  This is vastly different than Maryland in which ninety-seven percent of the population lives within the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

This is why Pennsylvania needs to consider changing their political procedure for this particular issue.  When making laws involving the potential clean-up of the Chesapeake Bay, the state of Pennsylvania should consider only involving the twenty-five percent of residents living within the Bay’s watershed.  This would make for a much easier clean-up effort in that the state would only have to focus on a certain segment of their population in getting them on board and not have to convince the other seventy-five percent of their residents of the legitimacy and urgency of this issue.  If Pennsylvania could somehow only make laws applying to this concentrated quarter of their population, their attempt to clean up their section of the watershed could go much easier and smoother.

Why are we not more concerned about rising sea levels?

The topic of sea levels rising has been the controversial subject of a lot of debate over the past several years.  Everyone from the political world to the scientific world has attempted to find the answer of what is happening with sea levels, why it is happening and how much money to spend on answering these questions and finding a solution.  Everyone wants to figure out the cause of the sea level rising and the answer to the debate on whether it is a product of our actions or simply the earth’s natural trend.  But when it comes to the people who live near coastlines, the why of sea level rise should not matter as much as the fact that sea level is indeed rising and their homes and lifestyle could be underwater soon.  Everyone in coastal communities should be more concerned about this than they are because it is happening now and it is happening fast.

Sea level rise is a serious issue regardless of the source of its problem.  Globally, the sea has risen eight inches since 1880 and even more in certain cities along the United States Atlantic coast.  It has risen over 17 inches in New York City since 1856, 13 inches in Baltimore since 1902, and ten inches in Boston in less than a century.  This trend it going to be a big problem for people living along the coast soon because there is no end in sight (Levin).  It is already an issue in coastal areas during extreme high tides.  Two times every month, during the new and full moon, gravitational pull from the sun and the moon combine to make high tide even higher than usual.  Back in 1970, these tides were not a huge issue most of the time for coastal towns, but today is a different story.  The times that these extreme high tides have created flooding issues in coastal communities have quadrupled since 1970.  This is and will continue to be a huge issue for these coastal societies.

We as a society need to stop being as concerned about the source of rising seawater and be more concerned about the fact that sea level is actually rising.  People living in coastal cities, especially New Orleans, really need to be more worried about their home and streets getting drowned in the rising water levels.  They cannot simply wait around for natural or technological fix.  Whatever the reason for not worrying about it, whether it is denial of it actually happening or thinking it will not happen for a long time, there needs to be some sort of solution or plan because the sea level is rising and we will not be able to stop it any time soon.

Healthy Labels

Putting labels on food is a historically recent phenomenon and a direct result of increased food production and knowledge.  We have finally developed the ability to produce enough food to give the common person the luxury of choosing what to eat whatever the season.  We have also gathered enough information about food and what the human body needs to function efficiently that there are recommended doses and healthy and unhealthy foods.  The process of eating food used to involve eating when hungry and not eating when not hungry.  Now we are surrounded by labels that tell us what to do and it has become an advertising race to the forefront of the grocery store.  Companies use buzz words like “heart healthy” and “natural” as well as eye-popping designs and wild, noticeable colors.  But with so much motivation from the seller to gain the customer’s attention besides the desire for them to live a healthy lifestyle, it can be difficult to trust what you see on these labels.

Retailers will do whatever they can to help separate themselves from their competition including stretching the truth in their labels on their products.  If retailers can put labels such as “natural” or “organic” or “grass-fed” on their product, they give themselves the opportunity to charge more.  Unfortunately, these labels do not always tell the whole story of the product because something may be GMO-free but unhealthy in other ways.  This makes it extremely difficult for consumers to decipher what products are healthiest (M. Hardesty, personal communication, September 6, 2015).  The company KIND and their bars have recently come under fire for advertising a gluten-free, GMO-free, antioxidant filled product implying an extremely healthy snack.  Unfortunately for them, the FDA deemed the bar unhealthy citing high saturated fat levels along with other violations of the labeling laws.  The labeling laws were put in place in an attempt to prevent companies from misleading consumer on their products, and KIND was in violation of those laws in their “good source of fiber” claim and their lack of a “not low-fat” label.  It is this kind of false advertising that makes it difficult to trust labels and there should be more enforcement on labels from the FDA and more research by the consumer.

Despite all of this, if we as consumers operate under the assumption that we cannot trust labels, then products with healthy labels are still better than the average product despite their violations.  Obviously, a KIND bar is healthier than a Snickers bar.  Customers then face the question of whether to spend more money on these “healthy” products or save money on cheaper, unhealthier products.  However, if consumers choose to spend the extra money on healthier products, they should have more comfort in knowing that the product is actually as healthy as advertised.  With this in mind, the FDA should do everything in their power to make sure labels are as accurate as possible.

A Respect for the Bay and its People

There is no denying that the Chesapeake Bay at its current state has issues.  Compare today’s Chesapeake Bay with the bay from 150 years ago and this becomes extraordinarily apparent.  It has become a dump zone for all sorts of uninvited nutrients, sediments and waste from sources ranging in the alphabet from agriculture to sewage pipes.

The question of what we should do about the Chesapeake Bay is an ethical one.  We can certainly find out what will happen to the bay and the various markets that depend on it through science equations and projections as well as economic principles.  However, whether we should or should not individually or as a society make an effort to clean up the bay comes down to ethics.  It is ethical because every reasonable solution comes with opposition from another source.  If we do nothing about the problems of the bay, it would anger naturalists and everyone involved with the bay clean-up process.  If we impose sanctions on fishermen and farmers around the Chesapeake Bay watershed in order to decrease runoff and increase aquatic organisms, it would aggravate farmers and watermen but satisfy scientists looking to clean up the bay.  There is not one solution that would make everyone involved one hundred percent content, which is why the solution must come down to ethics.

For me, we will find the best solutions to this overwhelming problem through respect.  We must not only have a respect for the Chesapeake Bay and the surrounding environment of the Chesapeake watershed, but also every single person who lives and works within the watershed from New York to southern Virginia.  That means that not only do we need to have an understanding of the science and what will happen to the bay if current trends continue, but we also must have a respect for each other.  The only way we can bring people with such conflicting views as the scientist who wants to save the crab population and the waterman who needs to make a living from catching crabs together is having respect for each other.

We recently had the opportunity to converse with Captain Russel Dize while trot lining in the Choptank River.  He said when crab size regulations recently changed, he kept the crabs that used to be allowed but no longer were in a separate bushel for a day.  He ended up throwing back almost two bushels of crabs and a lot of potential profit and I cannot imagine how disheartening that must have been.  This kind of frustration creates animosity that simply cannot exist if we hope to create an environment of compromise.  The question of what to do about the bay and the reasoning behind these decisions are not always obvious, which is why we need everyone involved on the same page to make the best decision possible.  The way we can do that is through respect for everyone and everything involved, because getting this wrong could have disastrous consequences for everyone.