Travel Responsibly

In the classroom portion of ABE 199: Sustainable Biosystems we learned that sustainability does not really have one single, set definition. Its definition can vary from person to person, and it does not apply to just one area of discussion. My personal definition of sustainability has a lot to do with efficiency as well as being conscience of surroundings and the cause and effect associated to those varying surroundings. Whether it is an effect on humans or the environment. In class, we learned that sustainability influences three major sectors. Social, environmental, and economical. While sustainability has an every-changing definition and reaches too wide to easily comprehend, it is something that is important to consider in almost, if not every endeavor. The application of sustainability has a huge impact on those sectors, but it is a type of push and pull because those sectors can very heavily impact the way that sustainability is practiced.

This is an example of a graph that shows how the three sectors interact. Personally, this is the optimal model, but in many cases the circles can be rearranged based on how people think the three sectors are actually being used.

When it comes to travel, it is easy to forget about sustainability. In my opinion, when a person forgets completely about sustainability it is easy to make irresponsible and uniformed decisions. Whether it is a decision that effects your social life, your morals, or the environment around you, it is easy to forget when it is not something that would create an effect on your everyday life. It is easy to leave litter because there is already litter. It is easy to decide to enjoy yourself a little too much on a night out. It is easy to walk past a situation that someone should intervene in. These are all situations that are easy to pass up in everyday life, but even easier to pass up when you are just visiting somewhere, because how does it really effect you. Honestly, it probably has no noticeable effect on you as a person. Unless it is a question of your morals that is. However when you are traveling, in many facets your decisions effect other people more. They have to live with the litter you left on the beach. They have to live with the effects of your decisions far longer than you do.
That is why when a person travels it is so important to take into account whether your choices are sustainable for all three sectors of the graph above. I think that a great first step of carrying sustainability in the front of your mind is to take a personal responsibility to learn about the place you are visiting before you go. This is not only something that can be incredibly interesting, but also is something that can help you to feel more of a connection between where you are going and your home. There will be differences, but the similarities between your home and the place that you are going will help you care more about not only the place that you are visiting but also about the people that live in that place who can often be taken for granted.
I truly believe that as a person I need to do more of this when I travel. I can definitely see where I can improve in making decisions that take the people that live there full time in to account. The biggest way this trip showed me that I can take personal responsibility is by cleaning up more than I brought. The beach is one place that Puerto Rico really lives on. Between attracting tourists and the way that the locals use the beaches it is easy to tell that beaches are a part of not only the islands revenue, but also the culture of the island. This proves to me that by taking a personal responsibility to help clean up more than just what I brought I will not only create a more enjoyable place for myself and other tourists potentially helping draw more travelers and money to the island, but also help social aspects of the culture that revolve around the beaches, and the by helping the environment by cutting out more litter that could potentially harm animals and the ecosystems they live in.

This is an image of our group exploring a beautiful beach. It was well kept and many locals came later in the day, but there was definitely more trash we could have picked up and tossed on our way back to the bus that would have taken no extra time at all.

Lagoon or Rice?

This is a map of where the lagoon would end up being. It also shows how much would be taken over by different amounts of rain

When you think of engineering, I can almost guarantee that your mind does not go directly to education. That is unless you are thinking of the schooling required to become one. The same goes for systems thinking. When I heard the definition of systems thinking presented in ABE 100 as well as ABE 199, my mind immediately made the connection to engineering. Systems thinking is an approach to “complicated” problems that cannot be easily solved like “complex” problems by looking at the inner workings. One example we were given in class of complex versus complicated was looking at a clock and a huge crowd of people. With a clock, you can look inside and see hundreds of gears all turning to keep track of the time. It is something that a person can trace through and at least get the gist of what is going on to get to the actual time telling. The clock is a complex there can be many parts that look so busy, but in the end, we can eventually deduce what is going on. The clock also has almost no outside “variables” acting on it. At first glance I did not think of the people as a system at all, but when you think of it as a type of flow diagram, each person is imputing and outputting huge amounts of actions and reactions that in turn cause a reaction from another person creating a huge chain it is easy to see that these people are in fact in a system. A complicated system to be more specific. This is classified as a complicated system because of the way that we cannot just figure out the system by looking at it. It is always changing. People make their own decisions and that alone creates a sort of chaos that makes the system hard to understand and even harder to predict.
This is where systems thinking comes in. The process of systems thinking can be applied to almost any problem. It is a process that I believe would greatly benefit from creating a SMART goal or goals. SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-oriented. Smart goals are a great way to begin a system thinking project because of the way they play so well with the main attribute of systems thinking, measuring success. Measuring success is what we learned as possibly the most important part of systems thinking because how can you really tell if something is successful if you had no measurement benchmarks in the first place?
One great example of a complex problem faced not only in Puerto Rico, but also in Illinois and nearly everywhere else in the world is that of deforestation and habitat destruction. Also in Puerto Rico they face the challenge of what land to keep devoted to agriculture and what land to revert back. I think that the debate between what portions to keep agricultural and what to revert to natural is very interesting. As we learned at the Hacienda, Puerto Rico has a very attainable, specific, measurable, time-oriented goal to revert thirty-three percent of its land back to the natural environment by 2033. This is a great example of something that is completely measurable and time-oriented, but the major problem with this is where do you draw the line with agricultural land to be reverted back?
Our friend Professor Perez, introduced it with the rice problem. While he was somewhat focused on soil salinity and sodium content, he was also concerned with loosing parts of his production land to a project to bring back the natural lagoon. He figured out all kinds of proof behind the adverse effects bringing back the lagoon and how much farmland would be lost. This is a huge and complicated systems thinking problem because there are so many people involved and so many inputs into the system from the natural inputs and effects of the natural or agricultural land. Some of the measures for the quality of land after are effects on the oceans and bays from agricultural run-off which is something that Dr. Perez has already started working on, while other measures would be the satisfaction of the people around the areas of natural restoration versus. This is measure is slightly less tangible, but could be determined by the reception of the people via survey.
Overall, the benchmarks created by systems thinking will serve as great tools to measure the way that the different types of land restoration and usage effect the environment and by using the measures it will make it much easier to see how and where it is best to aim the thirty-three percent of natural land versus the necessary land for agricultural production for food crops. This will make the process of restoring the land much more effective because with the help of scientists like Dr. Perez we can research where it is best to implement restoration efforts.

Look at the View from Here!

Perspective is everything. Each and every person in the world, no matter how similar of a background, has a different perspective. Sure, many people seem to have similarities with how they view the world, but overall a perspective is like a snowflake and each person is going to have something that is slightly or completely different than the next. While we know that perspectives can be similar, we also can tell that these similarities seem to stem from similar situations that result from gender, religion, and background. I am not saying that just because someone is the same gender or religion as someone they will always have similar perspective, but what I am saying is that in general people with similar attributes have some similarities in the perspective that they look at life from.

I am a white female that grew up in a tiny town with very narrow views. It is a place in the middle of cornfields where teenagers do peculiar things for fun because well, what else is there to do. I grew up in the standard, stereotypical small town full of football-watchers, beer drinkers, and Republicans. A town like mine tends to impose its views on the people living there because to be honest, if you have a view that is different than the majority you could potentially be outed and in a town like that, with only so many people to be friends with, that could prove disastrous for your social life as word travels from group to group seemingly faster than it comes out of your mouth.

Once I went to college I had the realization that there are other views, and there are much less hostile environments to share them in. However, at that point my perspective of the world had somewhat already taken its shape. Puerto Rico, while technically part of the United States, is completely different than Illinois and even more different from my tiny corner of Illinois. From cornfields to dry forests and lakes to the ocean, the environment here is one hundred percent different than that of Illinois. The diverse ecosystem is home to dazzling creatures that can be found nowhere else. Overall, Puerto Rico seems truly magical compared to Illinois that, for me, can be so mundane. But this is all perspective. While warm weather and beaches is something that screams vacation to one may be completely boring and normal to another. Not to mention the way that my view of the world has been shaped compared to that of the locals.

Attempting to find a place to fit into a different culture is something that I believe almost all travelers experience. There are a lot of times that travelers feel an awkwardness about this new place they have found themselves in. You feel like you don’t know where you are going or that you stick out like a sore thumb and everyone is looking at you. That is part of a perspective that I believe many travelers share. You are caught between trying to enjoy the environment of the place you are traveling, and making some attempt to blend into the locals who have been here for their entire life.

I think that a huge difference in perspective of the two places is how much must be done in a period of time. There are so many farmers in my little town who get up at 5:00 in the morning or even earlier to begin their days and end far after the sun goes down. Today at the coffee plantation, we learned that workers that are payed by the weight of the berries they pick and can come and go pretty much as they please. While these two farms clearly are growing different crops that require different types of care, it is still obvious that Puerto Rico in general is much more lax on how much productivity they would like to see in one day. This is a mindset that we have not only encountered in agriculture however, we also say this when a convenience store near our apartment shut its door in our faces as we arrived at exactly 6:00 in the afternoon. I can confidently say that in the continental U.S. there are stores that purposefully stay open ten to fifteen minutes past their closing times to accommodate those paying customers that just barely missed the closing time. Another example is the sheer number of holidays in Puerto Rico. I learned at University of Mayaguez, their semesters last around fifteen weeks in order to accommodate the number of holidays that they have not counting their spring break. We also learned that there are a lot of days considered holidays either federally, island-wide, or locally that businesses close for.

Overall, I believe that perspectives of myself versus that of those in living in Puerto Rico probably differ the most in sense of time, but I would not limit sense of time to be the only difference between the two. Perspectives depend on a lot of different variables, but in the end all perspectives matter because in order to solve the problems facing the world we will need different perspectives to look at problems from different angles to solve them efficiently and effectively.

cafe grand batey

This is a picture of the sign of the coffee farm that we visited. The image shows a man hand harvesting by hand and while he is in a cloth, it is still very similar to the way they pick coffee beans today. But the workers are no longer slaves or servants, but people getting paid by weight rather than an hourly wage which allows them to create their own hours.

Day One Disaster

I had my bag packed and was positive that I had packed everything from a swimsuit to my tooth brush. I was staying the night with Maddie, another girl on the trip who lives in Chicago, so we could make it to O’Hare by 5 o’clock in the morning. We went and got dinner and came back to her house to finish getting ready for the trip. We were all settled in. ll was well. I went to bed believing I was fully prepared for the day of travel that loomed ahead. When we woke up, it all seemed normal I ate a pop tart and brushed my teeth, I laced up my shoes excited for the adventure ahead and gathered my bags and Maddie and I were out the door. For me, the forty-five-minute trip to O’Hare seemed to take forever. When we finally arrived, one of the other students Myles was also just getting out of his car. This only made us more excited about the opportunities for us ahead. Out of the car, we dragged our bags into the airport and stood with some of the other student on the trip talking excitedly about getting out of the frigid Illinois winter and to warm, sunny Puerto Rico. We then decided it would be a great idea to print out our boarding passes while we waited for the rest of our group to arrive.
That is when crisis struck. I was walking up to the kiosk for United and reaching for my wallet to grab my ID to print out my boarding pass when a sense of panic washed over me. Where was my wallet? I need my ID to get on the plane and it was nowhere to be found. I pulled everything out of my backpack frantically looking for it. It was not there. I opened my carry-on bag thinking maybe when I was putting clothes back this morning I threw it on top, but sadly no. By this time, everyone (minus one that missed the plane, but that’s another story) was there and ready to go through security. I was in a little bit of a panic, so what did I do? I, of course, called my mom. She was on her way to exercise class all the way back in Effingham, and honestly could not have helped me too much other than calming me down. After explaining the situation to her we got to work on locating my wallet. I once again checked my backpack and carry on to no avail as Maddie called her parents to look for the wallet back at her house. After Maddie got off the phone we were almost positive that I had lost it getting into or out of the car because her parents could not find the wallet where I had slept in the house. After hearing this, we walked outside and looked to see if I had dropped it there. Once again, nothing. At this point I was convinced that there was no way I was getting to Puerto Rico, and to make matters worse I had lost my wallet and would have to replace all the IDs and cards inside. But then, Maddie’s phone started ringing again. Her parents had found my wallet! I was elated to hear that I had not lost my wallet forever, but was still worried about how I was going to get to Puerto Rico because it was too late to get my wallet to O’Hare as Maddie’s parents were leaving for California from a different airport.
At this point, I had called my dad to get a picture of my passport, and was waiting with Professor Rodriguez in line for security with only my luggage and boarding pass. No ID. As we approached the front of the line I could only feel dread as I waited to hear that TSA agent to tell me “Sorry I cannot let you go.” When we finally go to that point, we explained the situation and they called out a code and another agent came forward and asked me if I had anything in my bag or backpack that would identify me like a piece of mail or a prescription medication, but of course I had none of those items. The officer from the TSA then told me that he would have to ask me some questions regarding myself to identify myself. As I filled out a form with some of my information, he dialed a number. We stood there for a few minutes making small talk about where I was trying to get to. As it turns out, he was heading to San Juan in the upcoming week and was telling me all about what he likes about Puerto Rico and asking me where we were heading. Then someone on the other end of the phone must have picked up, and I instantly got more nervous. I had done nothing wrong, but there was something about that situation that made me incredibly nervous. The officer started asking me questions about traveling and my residence and all kinds of things until he suddenly stopped. I was worried I said something wrong, but that weight was lifted as I learned that they had verified my identity and I would be allowed to pass through security and eventually board my plane. One last tiny snag hit when we thought about the return trip. I would need to have my ID in Puerto Rico to get on a plane back home. Luckily, one of Maddie’s friends that was taking her parents to the airport was able to mail my wallet to me and now we are just exploring, and waiting for my wallet.
Overall, I cannot be more thankful for being able to get on that plane. So far, we have had an absolutely amazing time here, but I would have never made it without the help of other people like Maddie, Professor Rodriguez, and the extremely nice TSA officer to get me here. I am so excited to have this opportunity, but if there are any lessons to learn from this, remember that politely saying “sir, ma’am, please, and thank you” go a long way, and if you forget your form of identification to the airport you will absolutely feel stupid.
(Pictured below is me, incredibly happy about making it to Puerto Rico.)