Spring has Sprung

Although the spring season technically began in March, the April showers accompanied by warm, humid air have just begun. Spring is a time of growth and renewal-a perfect time to start a butterfly garden.

The first step to creating a garden is to determine which type of pollinators you would like to attract. Butterflies and bees each enjoy different types of plants.

Next, look into which nectar or color the pollinators you wish to attract prefer. This can be done with a simple internet search. A great resource is: http://www.butterflywebsite.com/butterflygardening.cfm

Finally, you must purchase and plant your flowers or plants, preferably in a sunny location in a quiet, not heavily trafficked space.

Soon your yard will be brimming with bees, butterflies, or whatever insects your plants attract. Creating a butterfly garden is beneficial to both you and the pollinators and is a great way to enjoy the warm weather ahead.

Dr. Jane Goodall

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This past Tuesday I saw Dr. Jane Goodall speak in Toronto. Her strength and elegance is beyond inspiring. She spoke about her life, her activism, and our changing world.

Dr. Jane Goodall started off by thanking her supportive mother who always encouraged her. She talked about her adventures as a curious child and she spoke about growing up during World War II. She did a lot with very little. She would borrow The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting from the library and she said that she loved reading about Tarzan (going on to say that he married the wrong Jane!) She stressed how important it is to work toward discovering your passion (take a year off, work, volunteer, do what you have to do!). She set out to study animals in Africa. She waitressed for a year and saved money leading up to her first trip to Africa.

She spoke about her work as a primatologist and she explained how she became an activist in the process. Her chimpanzee studies led her to advocate for them. She highlighted how social and intelligent animals are, detailing how complex the relationships can be within a community of animals. She told us a heartwarming story about Wounda the chimpanzee and gave us the backstory behind the infamous hug scene in an accompanying viral video. She touched on how animal testing is wrong as well.

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She emphasised how important it is to help people in poverty. Human needs and conservation are linked. She spoke about how, in order to help conserve resources and save ecosystems, we have to provide people with water, food, healthcare, and education. Helping people will help with reforestation and ecosystem recovery. Saving animals through ecotourism will help our planet flourish, but first we must connect our brains to our hearts.

She talked about how we need to eat less meat. She brought a cow stuffed animal on stage and went on to say that consumers can make a change. She explained how large scale meat production is harming the environment. She illustrated how cattle can be packed in small spaces and she mentioned the antibiotics they are fed, which help keep the cows alive in the harsh conditions. Methane from the cows also contributes to the blanket of greenhouse gases above us. We need to support local organic farms and get the government to do the same, but in the meantime we all need to try to eat less meat!

She said herself that she has to go faster at age 82 because she doesn’t have that much time left. She travels 300 days a year and ticket sales go toward the Jane Goodall Institute! She works with children and tells them that they are capable of changing the world. She did say that she runs into young people who are disheartened by the state of their world and she understands why. She said that we have stolen the world from our children, but that there is still hope. She quoted Gandhi saying that, “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” She stated that we only have one Earth and that we all have to help our world every single day. 

The Future is Now

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In Theodore Roosevelt’s seventh message to Congress on December 3rd, 1907, he stressed conservation, stating, “To waste, to destroy, our natural resources, to skin and exhaust the land instead of using it so as to increase its usefulness, will result in undermining in the days of our children the very prosperity which we ought by right to hand down to them.”

Remaining cognizant of natural resources to ensure “prosperity” for future generations is not a message that has changed since 1907, but in fact grown in importance in those 109 years. Population has since then sky rocketed from 1.75 billion in 1907 to over 7 billion in 2016. Colonized countries such as China have developed independent economies and consequently have had boosting eras of industrialization, and technological developments and a growing consumer culture have given rise to sustainable and not-so-sustainable ways to use our natural resources.

       Environmental problems that for Roosevelt were “far into the distant future” prove to affect our daily lives. This Earth Day is the perfect opportunity not only to reflect on the environmental problems that have already occurred but also to consider the challenges that are yet to come.

Our Declining Resources

       Many of the problems with natural resources, such as water shortages, are caused by both misuse and overuse which will lead to problems in the near future.

In California, for example, mismanagement, a five-year drought, and an abundance of agriculture has led to a severe water shortage that, according to News-week, will cost California 2.7 billion dollars in 2015 alone. So what exactly caused the water shortage?

       First, California over-estimated the amount of water that they have. When officials divided up rights to the Colorado River, which provides critical water supplies to seven states including California, they claimed it has 1.4 trillion gallons a year more than the river actually produces, a mismanagement that led to a disproportionate number of citizens with water.

       Second, 70% of the Colorado River’s water goes to producing two thirds of our nation’s fruits and nuts. According to the Pacific Institute, each American indirectly uses over 300 gallons of California’s water each week by eating food grown in California. Additionally, one almond takes almost an entire gallon of water to produce. In a state where thousands of citizens are without running water, if California limited the production of almonds, it would make a huge difference on water accessibility to citizens.

       Additionally, due to the drought, California has started tapping into aquifers, or groundwater, for up to 60% of its water use as rivers start to dry up, according to CBS News. This is a problem because, according to PBS, of the 37 major aquifers, 21 of them are losing more water than is being replaced and 13 aquifers could exceed a point where they will not replenish themselves. Because of mismanagement, California is depleting natural resources in order to fulfill the needs of the people and agriculture and forcing them deeper and deeper into the dry and expensive desert California has created.

The Sixth Mass Extinction

       In addition to resources readily declining, scientists say the Earth is on the brink of its sixth mass extinction in the past half-billion years of plants and animals –except instead of cataclysmic asteroids or volcanic eruptions, the primary cause is humans. According to the Center for Biological Diversity, 99% of threatened species are at risk due to human activities, through habitat loss, introduction of new species, and climate change.

According to The Washington Post, the Earth is losing mammal species 20-100 times as fast as ever before, a statistic meaning that extinctions could rival the event that killed the dinosaurs 250 million years ago.  Thus, by mid-century, 30-50% of all species could be heading toward extinction.

“We are now moving into another one of these events that could easily, easily ruin the lives of everybody on the planet,” Stanford biologist Paul Ehrlich said in a video created by the school. Our loss of biodiversity is not a problem that is off into the future but one we are right in the middle of as more than 10,000 species annually go extinct.

China and their Environmental Problems

       China’s air pollution due to urban development and an abundance of factories is another example of how environmental disasters can lead to the need for change. According to The New York Times, air pollution is calculated to contribute to 1.6 million deaths a year, which is specifically 17% of all deaths in China and 4,400 people a day.

       The dangerous particles are fewer than 2.5 microns in diameter. After entering the lungs, they are absorbed into the blood stream and can result in asthma, strokes, lung cancer, and heart attacks. The particles are part of the smog that shrouds large cities such as Beijing, and that comes from industrial zones.

       Due to these staggering numbers, China, the world’s biggest polluter, also has the world’s largest renewable energy market, according to CNN. China has had to face its reality, and in doing so they have made environmental reform a main part of their five-year-plan, which, according to Telegraph, is a social and economic plan that details changes from 2016 to 2020. Additionally, last year, in an agreement with President Obama, China pledged to cap its outputs of greenhouse gases by 2030 or earlier.

The Real Meaning of 2 Degrees Celsius  

       In 2009, 114 countries signed the “Copenhagen Accord,” which recognizes the “scientific view that the increase in global temperature should be below 2  degrees Celsius.” So, why 2 degrees?

According to Carlo Jaeger, chairman of the Germany-based Global Climate Forum, “Humans never have lived in post-2-degree world, if we start warming the planet way beyond what humans have ever experienced, God knows what will wait for us.”

       Regardless of whether this increase in temperature is due to humans or just natural climate irregularities, this number was agreed to represent a dangerous increase by countries around the world at the most recent international Climate Change meeting in Paris . They pledged to do their best to limit warming “well below” 2 degrees by moving towards 100% clean energy, meaning no greenhouse gas emissions, between 2050 and 2080.

According to NASA, the global world temperature has raised almost 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution. Local temperatures fluctuate significantly, but global temperatures depend on “how much energy the planet receives and how much it radiate back into space—quantities that change very little.” In fact, it was a drop of only 2 degrees Celsius that caused the Little Ice Age.

The World Resource Institute has projected that if we continue to live the same and emissions remain “unabated,” the world is on track to exceed its “budget” in 30 years, “expos[e] communities to increasingly dangerous forest fires, extreme weather, drought, and other climate impacts.”

Scientists and the international community have agreed that 2 degrees, the number you haven’t ever really heard of, will determine the way we chose to live our lives in the near future and how we chose to cut back on certain aspects of them.

 

First Grade Environmentalists

First grade students have set the bar high for everyone at my school. Their creative and honest insights have made my school into the eco-elegant place it should be. I thought I would share what I have learned from them (and their fabulous teachers.)

I was first exposed to the work being done in the first grade when it was brought to my attention that a first grade student wanted to speak at the TEDx event I help coordinate. After interviewing the passionate 6 year old, there was no way I could turn her down. As she spoke, she explained to everyone that it is easy being green.

At the beginning of the school year, the first grade class took a stroll through the school’s nature trail and noticed significant amounts of trash littering the woods. They were upset by it so they decided, along with their teachers, that they would work to answer the question: How can we reduce the litter on our Earth?

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For starters, they collected shoes from the school community that they would then donate to a company called Community Recycling. They spread the word by designing signs that were placed around the school. In addition, they told family and friends about it. The teachers used this project as an opportunity to teach the students about graphing, adding, counting by 2s, and sorting. They also practiced their creative writing skills by writing stories about who might have worn the shoes. They recently received $50 from Community Recycling that they will donate to a worthy cause of their choice.

 

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Next they took a trip to the local High Acres landfill, where they met a falcon that works there. They learned about the garbage that piles up in immense landfills and decided to start a composting project.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 10.25.40 PMThe first graders were given an earthworm farm to aid their compost efforts. In addition to the school’s larger compost pile, the worm factory houses 2,000 “red wigglers” that help decompose fruit and vegetable scraps from the classroom. The soil that will be created as a product will be used in the school’s garden when planting season rolls around. The students also researched different types of decomposers like snails, earthworms, pill bugs, and termites.

Screen Shot 2016-04-10 at 10.27.42 PM Later, they explored the whole school collecting data on how many recycling bins and compost bins each classroom had. They discovered that not many classes had compost bins. To fix this problem, they wrote persuasive letters to various teachers asking them to consider adding compost bins to their classrooms. They designed all of the labels for the compost bins. Each label includes a QR code that links to a video the students made about composting. The video explains what can go in the compost and is a must watch! First graders also oversee all of the composting from the Lower School lunch. Everyday a team of first graders weighs, tracks and dumps the compost. They then return the bin back to the lunch room. (They are more responsible than the high school students that help with the compost at my lunch!)

The first graders are raising mealworms that eat styrofoam and turn it into a biodegradable soil. They have also been learning about their life cycles (as some have turned into darkling beetles.) The best part about this project is that each student is responsible for two mealworms and they have become pets. Each mealworm has an individual name to match its personality! (Pictured below: Shimmer, Gia, Spot, and Mistletoe)

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The entire day is filled with green activities and lessons:

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In art class they learned how to make recycled paper.

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The students discovered that they could save 87 paper cups a week during snack time by using plastic cups. Now the entire Lower School uses reusable cups!

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Lastly, the students launched a school-wide marker recycling program. They wrote an email to the whole school asking teachers to dispose dried markers into boxes they have placed around the school. These markers will be sent to Crayola and be converted into clean energy!

I hope that projects like these will be used in every classroom. Saving our planet seems like a daunting task, but starting with fun, affordable, and interesting projects like these certainly makes it easier. The first graders at my school are doing more than their fair share to make the world a greener place. Now it’s your turn!

 

The Environmentalist Stereotype: What Sc3 Taught Me About Diversity

After reading others’ (wonderful!) blog posts this past month about their experiences at Sc3, I decided it was time to do my own. However, I wanted to do mine on a topic that has been lingering in my head since I stepped off the NCTC grounds:
What does the word “environmentalist” mean to me?
Meriam-Webster’s dictionary defines it as a “theory that views environment rather than heredity as the important factor in the development and especially the cultural and intellectual development of an individual or group.” This is great, but a textbook definition is pointless if we can’t define the word ourselves. Often times we associate a particular kind of person with the word “environmentalist.” But should we? Why can’t anybody be an environmentalist?
Before Sc3, when I thought of the term “environmentalist,” I automatically pictured a white, mid-20s male who owned 7 pairs of Birkenstocks. I had always held a passion for helping the environment, but I, for some reason, disliked the term “environmentalist.” I found that many so-called “environmentalists” were also condescending know-it-alls who forced their world view on others. Sc3 changed all that.
Given my perspective, I was a bit nervous (but also excited) about shipping off to a place (Sc3) where I’d be surrounded by them. I assumed that they’d have one conversation with me and look at me like the uneducated person I thought I was, but quite the opposite happened. Many people I’ve spoken to have said that as soon as they stepped onto the NCTC grounds, they felt at home.
During my first dinner at Sc3 I felt out of place. I was surrounded by tons of wonderful, outspoken people who were up to date with the news and knew exactly what they were talking about. As a person who had just gotten into environmentalism, I felt like a sour brown leaf in a forest of green ones. I would listen to these people talk with admiration, but never engage. The next morning, I woke up and whether it was the frigidity of the West Virginian morning air or something in my organic breakfast, something changed. Throughout that day I began to take notice of the diversity in my surroundings. Diversity in skin color. Diversity in where “home” was. Diversity in laughter. People from my school sat next to people from all over the world. By my second dinner, Sc3 felt like a second home.
There are multiple memories I acquired during the short span of that week, but one specific memory I find myself prying into often occurred on the second to last day of the program. We were working on a project where we recorded bits of personal stories roughly based off of how we got interested in environmentalism. I met two of the most different people I had ever met. They came from the same state, but from what I’d overheard, held drastically different outlooks. As I listened to their stories back to back, I realized something. Despite these two peoples’ differing views, as they each told their stories, neither one of their voices was bland or indifferent. Nobody, in fact, in my OST group or throughout the week, spoke with a hint of flailing emotion in his or her voice. All week, I’d been searching for the reason why I felt so at peace with my surroundings, a feeling that does not come easy to me.  I found that reason here.
I found that reason in the speculation that we were all voices. Every single interaction I experienced at NCTC was different. Whether it was with my roommate or a person I ranted to about animal rights once, every conversation forced me to look at my surroundings in a new perspective. Each communication provided me with fuel. I had been so caught up on defining my experience at Sc3 that I failed to realize that it was precisely the lack of a clear-cut, black-and-white definition that Sc3 gave to me that made it special.
 Although Sc3 was one of the best weeks of my life, I don’t feel nostalgic for its experiences like I would with any other excursion, whether it be childhood sleep away camp or a camping trip. I don’t feel wistful during the school year because I know that while we may be thousands of miles apart in distance, every member of Sc3 – faculty, student, or professor – is united in interest and in faith with a common purpose.
We are much more complex than could ever be defined. By categorizing ourselves, we lose our diversity. I realize now that we each have a backstory that transcends categorization. It is our attitude that unites us. I am not ashamed of the term “environmentalist.” I am proud of it. To me, it means that I am part of a community of people who have chosen to be positive about the future of our environment and dedicate a part of themselves – whether it be their entire life or simply a minute each day – to preserving our home. While we may all track different area codes, at the end of the day, the most important one is the one we share.

The Importance of Proper E-Waste Disposal

A couple of weeks ago, right before my school let out for spring break, my Green Team held its annual E-Waste Drive. I’ve been helping to organize these drives for four years now and at this point they feel pretty routine and straight-forward to arrange. However, what surprised me this time around was how many people seemed to not know what E-Waste really was, nor how important it is to dispose of it properly.

Firstly, E-Waste is anything with electrically powered components. It’s the most rapidly growing segment of the municipal solid waste stream, and includes computers, electronics, keyboards, mice, radios, CD players, Gameboys, LCD screens, light bulbs, cooling and heating appliances, cell phones, and even batteries! What makes it so hard to communicate just what E-Waste is how many different shapes and sizes it comes in! More than that, E-Waste includes anything containing precious metals, chemical flame retarded plastics, CFC foams—the list goes on and on. I’ve attached an official list of many of these products to the back of this post.

As for the importance of recycling E-Waste, here’s what you need to know: when E-waste is deposited into solid waste landfills, the heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, beryllium, and chromium contained in them build up and become dangerous. Solid waste landfills are built to handle non-toxic materials like banana peels; not the toxic soup that these materials create. Disposal of these materials in the landfills have the potential to breakdown liners and barriers later, as well as leach into and contaminate vital natural resources such as water. Furthermore, properly disposing of E-Waste allows valuable materials such as aluminum, copper, gold, silver, plastics, and ferrous metals to be recovered and refurbished and used to make new products. This can help to extend the life of municipal landfills, create jobs for local area recyclers, and provide a valuable education program to promote waste reduction efforts. So not only does extracting fewer of these raw materials from the earth reduce pollution and save energy, but is economically rewarding. Currently the cost associated with separating these materials out of the waste stream force many Americans to put E-waste into landfills, some of which do not have diversion plans (especially where environmental laws are weak).

In closing, knowing if something’s recyclable is the first step to recycling it, and E-Waste is no exception. Because of this, I highly recommend organizing a drive in your community. Proper disposal of E-Waste is so important, and through promoting it we can create jobs, save landfill space, help others, and conserve natural resources.

The Environment’s Silent Killer

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You gingerly open the mailbox and cautiously look into its depths. A couple bills, a letter from a friend, a magazine you subscribe to, and then finally you catch sight of it. You back away and tremble in fear for one of the biggest threats to the environment is sitting inside the postbox. You guessed it, junk mail.

Junk mail, although it is one of the few items that is keeping the postal service in business, is also a detriment to the world around us. It is useless waste that is typically recycled (hopefully) without ever being read.

Ever heard of deforestation? Junk mail is a contributor as 100 million trees are cut down each year to become the nuisance that is ad mail. Still don’t believe this is a real problem? The average amount of junk mail per week is 16 pieces whereas 1.5 personal letters are received.

Don’t worry you can help by registering with organizations such as GreenDimes which contacts businesses on your behalf to eliminate the junk mail they use to overload your mailbox. The profits they gain go towards planting trees to make up for the loss of forrest due to unwanted circulars. The first step to saving the planet sits right in your front yard.