The setting was filled with greens and blues, not just seeping into view from the ground and sinking from the sky, but also from the clothing of the people that surrounded me. The people who have brought me closest to nature and the people nature has brought me closest to. The quaking aspen kept us in like bars of a prison, but only reminded me of the cold spring mountains of Park City, Utah. After the branches fall off, the eyes of the aspen watch me as I ski with my family and sit quietly for science lab. The quaking aspen do not have a distinct taste, or smell like the lodgepole pines. The quaking aspen age from the bottom up, wrinkling grey overtaking the smooth pale bark that covers their core. The kinnikinnick carpets the ground and disperses around the small pond reflecting the sky shaded my quaking aspens and littered with fallen quaking aspens. The flutter of leaves and movement of bugs fill the air as the silence continues. The air up above smelled strongly of pine and the ground was damp. The quaking aspen stand their ground, but they will be overtaken by the lodgepole pines soon.
One day my sister and I were walking home from school. It was a windy, hoodie-weather day in the should-be-spring of early April. We were talking through an exam we had just taken when something huge and brown landed in front of us. A giant bird of prey perched three feet in front of us on the wet side walk. It was more than a foot tall and clutched a limp squirrel corpse in its talons, ready to chow down. I determined later, by looking at my bird book, that this was a Red-tailed hawk. This was not the type of thing you normally get to see up close, and yet, it was happening right here, in front of someone’s house in the center of suburbia. My sister made us cross to the other side of the street when the creature turned its black owlish eyes toward us but I could not make myself walk any farther away. It was fascinating to watch it rip apart the animal, fur, flesh and all.
It felt like a privilege to watch this very natural process in person. At the same time I felt sympathy for the bird. A few minutes later, someone parked in front of the house and the bird retreated to the neighbors porch roof, leaving it’s meal behind. I could not help remembering a science fair project that I had done on urban sprawl and thinking that before we sprawled into its habitat, the bird could be eating this squirrel in peace, without the disturbance of cars or pedestrians.
Though I am sure it had no such feelings of reverence towards us, I felt honored to be watching this beautiful creature. It brought to mind an article I just read in the YES Magazine about the power of language in the way that we view the earth. The author criticized our use of “it” to describe everything related to earth. No wonder, we do not respect things that are given such an inanimate name. Though they are all part of Mother Earth, we call them “it”, something that we would never use to refer to our mother or family. The author contrasts the English language in this regard with the languages of indigenous people, many of whom have respect for the earth built into their culture and language. Just as these people refer to organisms as kin, I did not feel that it was appropriate in that moment with the hawk to say “it.” I understood, watching the majestic scene, the article authors’ rejection of degrading ways of referring to the natural world.
(article: YES Magazine, Spring 2015, p. 34, IT: Alternative Grammar: A New Language of Kinship by Robin Wall Kimmerer)
About a month ago, Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma set out to disprove climate change once and for all. Inhofe is the chairman of the Senate’s Committee on Environment and Public Works, a position for which he proudly shows his competence — with snowballs. In his speech in the Senate on February 26th, Inhofe brought in a poster of his daughter’s family making an igloo, and a snowball he had made all by himself outside in D.C.
Addressing the Senate chair, Inhofe said, “In case we have forgotten, because we keep hearing that 2014 has been the warmest year on record, I ask the chair: Do you know what this is? It’s a snowball. And. . . that’s just from outside here. So it’s very, very, unseasonable.” So, to dispute the radical, twisted assumptions made by scientists on the effects of greenhouse gases building up in the earth’s atmosphere, Senator Inhofe blew away the Senate with some science of his own. He pointed out that Washington, D.C. was “unseasonable,” or unusual for that time of the year. Thus, rain falling from the sky was actually freezing, which allowed him to create a packed ball of snow that he then tossed lightly at the Senate chair.
While D.C. did experience some of it’s coldest weather in a few years, something that Senator Inhofe may have “forgotten” himself is that in certain parts of the world, about every 12 months there is a weather phenomenon that those so-called “scientists” like to call “winter.” Often times, in this “winter” season, the weather becomes a temperature at which rain freezes, allowing both the young and old alike to make (and throw) snowballs.
What Inhofe fails to note in his presentation is that global temperature has risen since the industrial age began and humans started producing more and more Carbon Dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, hence the term, global warming. Just because any one area in the winter is cold doesn’t warrant the assertion that global warming isn’t happening. Senator Inhofe might as well have brought in a tray of ice from his freezer and made the same statement to the Senate. While he was right that the weather in D.C. was unusually cold this winter, global warming isn’t the only part of climate change affecting the earth. “Global Weirding” is a term coined by Thomas L. Friedman, a Pulitzer Prize winning author and New York Times columnist. This term focuses on the fact that, through the extensive amounts of environmental harm we are causing to the earth, there are temperature extremes in different parts of the world, from the hottest heat to the coldest cold. Therefore, the recent cold bouts in cities like D.C. don’t invalidate the idea of climate change and global warming, but rather support the effects of “Global Weirding.”
It is great to know that the chairman of the Committee on Environment and Public Works can still make a snowball. However, it is disconcerting to see that he believes that the presence of cold weather and snow in one place during a season that happens every year in the Northeast is evidence against global warming. If people like this are able to spread their ideas enough and continue ignoring climate change, eventually places like the Northeastern U.S. may not have winter seasons every year, and Inhofe’s snowballs won’t exist anymore.
Maybe the next time Senator Inhofe steps up to make a presentation in the Senate, he can wave around a dollar bill and prove that the United States isn’t actually in debt. . .
Here is an article with a video of Senator Jim Inhofe’s presentation.
Here is a link to a 2010 article by Thomas L. Friedman.
Here is a link to a website about “Global Weirding”.
A while ago I went to a Climate Change Teach-in at a university. The first workshop I went to was called “Too Many People”. I was intrigued by the title and description in the program book because for the past couple years I’ve been growing more and more convinced, by a variety of sources, that overpopulation is the main cause for climate change. I’d pretty much become a firm believer that, “there’s just too many freakin’ people on this planet!” I was already planning that, if I decide when I’m older to have children, I would adopt, and refuse give birth to my own. One idea I had for what I wanted to do with my life was advocate for education for women and access to birth control in countries in Africa and other places where the birth rate is the highest in the world, in order to stop their population growth.
In the workshop the presenter started off by talking about the book Limits to Growth and showing pictures of the classic graphs you always see, with the population all of a sudden shooting up in the last 200 years, and a picture of a polygamous family in Africa with a whole horde of children swarming around (see pictures attached to this blog post). He showed models that had been made that spanned the past and projected into the future, with rates of population growth, greenhouse gas concentrations and natural resource availability, showing their relationships. Honestly, I was getting a bit bored because it was all stuff I had heard before. Then, he concluded his presentation and asked if anyone had comments. It was mostly students in the room, but it was the one other adult who raised his hand to speak, and all of us students were flabbergasted by his bluntness in what he said. He basically denied everything the presenter had been saying. He said that overpopulation is not the cause of climate change at all. He pointed out that the models of the future were flawed, and said that anyone could see that from a five-second search on the internet, the population of China is predicted to go down, and the population of most of developing Africa is predicted to increase, yet CO2 is predicted to climb. He said that that doesn’t make any sense to point to the increasing population of Africa as the cause of climate change because most Africans don’t contribute to it much at all. He pointed out that the correlation between them doesn’t make complete sense when you see that the population of China, one of the most highly polluting countries, is predicted to go down, but pollution is predicted to go up. He said that to say overpopulation is the cause of climate change is a racist theory. He said that showing these pictures of these large African families, along with these graphs, is like blaming the Africans for climate change, and is scaring people into wanting to rush over to Africa and stop their population growth, as though they are the problem. It is rich, high-emission countries like the US’s way of taking the blame away from themselves, where it should be. The cause of climate change, he said, is the dirty, wasteful, over consuming, polluting lifestyle of Americans and people in other wealthy countries, not the increasing African population. In addition into making us all feel kind of guilty, and making the presenter feel horrible about himself for being called completely wrong and extremely racist, the mans words really made me think. They made me reconsider everything I had believed about the role of overpopulation in climate change.
I did an online simulation activity recently (http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/personal_footprint/) where you can plug in information about your life and they will tell you about your ecological footprint. I found from that that it would take 4.9 Earths to sustain the entire world population if they all lived like me. And I’m a vegetarian without a dishwasher, TV, laptop, or smartphone! This just proves the man’s point about the US’s over consumption.
A cool, related fact that I learned in another workshop that day is that the world population growth in 2012 was 80 million, and the number of unintended pregnancies worldwide in 2012 was also, ironically, 80 million. So, there is no need for any kind of government imposed one-child policy or anything of that sort, or at least there wouldn’t be if we could just manage to deal with that issue. If the issue of those 80 million yearly unwanted pregnancies could be dealt with, we could achieve zero population growth and just have the population remain constant. But, as I’ve made clear in the above post, that would not solve to problem, not at all, on its own, but it would probably help!
It’s here. It’s finally spring break, and for the typical high school junior that means college touring. Well, at least that’s what I wound up doing. Last weekend my dad and I took the Amtrak to Washington University in St. Louis and went on a number of tours, including one of their engineering school. It was your basic tour, nothing crazy, but one thing that caught my attention was their huge, maybe three story environmental engineering lab with all sorts of complex machinery and lights. Our tour guide stopped us in front of the lab’s enormous glass windows and pointed out the towering, lit, transparent, sheet-like walls in the middle of the room. They were flat like doors but inside the glass sheets were hundreds of lit red and white bulbs with blue-green algae growing up from the bottom to cover nearly the entire lower half of each massive wall. Our guide summarized the project for us. In short, the blue-green algae converts waste to fuel and thus minimizes the university’s carbon footprint. Simple enough, right? But surely there’s more to it right? So I did some research.
So it turns out that the algae used in the lab is actually a microscopic organism called cyanobacterium, whose only carbon source is carbon dioxide. It fixates the CO2 and converts it into chemicals that can act as substitute energy sources for less eco-friendly fuels such as diesel, thus helping to tame global warming. In addition, once the engineered cyanobacteria start to grow all they need are water, basic salts, and carbon dioxide. In order to put these microbes into serious application however, WashU must find a way to make this form of energy production both efficient and economical, since currently the efficiency of the algae is too low to make its technology economically viable.
To do this, the engineers are attempting to alter the algae in a number of different ways. One way is by turning the bacterium’s microbes into microfactories. These microfactories would produce the bacterium’s product chemicals more efficiently than the microbes do and can be engineered to turn the fixed carbon dioxide into metabolies that through designed biosynthetic pathways can further be converted to fuels and other chemicals. This would be a much more eco-friendly approach to producing such chemicals, which traditionally have required high temperatures and pressures as well as large amounts of chemical solvents. Other ways that the WashU engineers are working to enhance the microbe’s efficiency are by controlling the production of the proteins that create the desired chemicals within the bacteria and altering what they call the bacterium’s circadian rhythms, which are the times at which an organism uses certain metabolisms. For instance, the amount of time per day that an organism uses photosynthesis to produce and store energy (typically during the day) and the amount it spends using a separate set of metabolisms (typically at night) to consume that stored energy. The engineers want to someday produce organisms that can work around the clock making biofuels or chemicals, which would be a huge step toward implementing organisms such as blue-green algae as viable energy source alternatives.
Today, I stumbled across a Science Alert article announcing that the country of Costa Rica has hit the 75 day mark on their streak of running on solely renewable energy.
The Costa Rican Electricity Institute announced that its success could be attributed to a combination of luck and action: the nation had set a zero-emission goal for 2015, and there was a significant increase at rainfall at four hydropower facilities.
As the article explains, Costa Rica is a relatively small nation, about half the size of Kentucky and with a population of 4.8 million. The Costa Rican government does an excellent job of using this to their advantage and promoting renewable energy. 80% of the country’s electricity comes from hydropower, and 13% from geothermal. Other sources include wind, biomass, and solar energy.
This investment pays off. Eco-tourism and agriculture are the country’s main industries, both of which stress the importance of and encourage the protection of the environment. Therefore, the switch to renewable energy is having tangible benefits in the country’s economy.
This past summer at SC3, there was a guest speaker who basically boiled her message down to this: it’s all going to come back to business; our world runs on money. If it’s not economically feasible now; it’s not going to happen. However, Costa Rica’s 75-day renewable energy streak is just an example that Sustainability is both economically feasible and stimulating.
The eco-capitalist believes that capital exists in nature on which all wealth depends, so government policy should be used to protect the environment and resolve its issues. Maybe this viewpoint is not extremely prevalent in the world today, but Costa Rica’s success is just a reminder that we are one step closer to achieving a healthy, sustainable relationship between man and nature.