Environmental News 9: Alpine plants are losing their white “protective coat”

April 17, 2021

A researcher Dr. Maria Vorkauf, who studies alpine plant physiology says: “Snow cover protects alpine plants from frost and the growing season begins after the snowmelt. Changes in the snow melt have a very strong influence on this period.” The snowmelt data has been collected since the 1960s, and between 1,000 and 2,500 meters a snow cover in the Alps has been melting an average of 2.8 days earlier per decade. Environmental scientists at the Universityof Basel predict that by the end of the century, snow cover at 2,500 meters could disappear a month earlier than today. This prediction was made based on the environmental mathematical models, which combined the collected data with the latest climate scenarios for Switzerland, and if greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, without consistent climate protection measures, the date of snowmelt in the last third of the 21st century is likely to move forward by six days per decade. The models also demonstrate that earlier snowmelt at high elevations cannot be compensated for by greater precipitation in the winter, which was predicted by climate models. Dr. Vorkauf explains: “As soon as the three-week running mean of daily air temperatures exceeds 5 °C, snow melts relatively quickly. At high elevations in particular, temperature is much more important than the depth of the snow cover.” The early snowmelt could extend the growing season of alpine plants leading to fewer flowers, less leaf growth and a lower survival rate due to the higher risk of frost.

Source: University of Basel https://www.unibas.ch/en/News-Events/News/Uni-Research/Alpine-plants-are-losing-their-white-protective-coat.html

By Liza Dmitrieva 

Leontopodium (flower)

Environmental News 7: Can Lions Help Us Learn Why We Yawn?

April 7, 2021

During a field study on Hyena’s in the wild, the researchers frequently documented lions in the area and noticed that they yawned at peculiarly frequent rates. This sparked interest in investigating why lions yawn. While this may seem like a lackluster question, scientists of multiple disciplines have long worked to understand why different species yawn, and the answers are still unclear.

In this study, the researchers noted that when one lion yawns, and another yawns shortly after, the second lion tends to mimic the behavior of the first in their actions immediately following the yawn. This led to the hypothesis that lions use yawning behavior as a form of communication to keep members of the pride on the same page. This is interesting when compared to human yawning as there are two main hypotheses regarding human yawns. One is that we use yawns to increase alertness, and the other is that we use yawns to signal to our group that it is time to sleep. This lion study could help scientists form a new conclusion as to how yawning affects humans psychologically and why it is “contagious” among groups of people.

For more information on this research project, I would recommend the following link. https://www.sciencenews.org/article/lion-yawn-contagious-synchronize-group-movement-hunt

April 5, 2021

Project Title: Sustainable Resources and Environmental Planning 

Project Participant: Liza Dmitrieva

Description & Overview of Project: 

The dictionary definition of sustainability states that it is the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance. Sustainability is a part of environmental science, a broad field that can be approached from various disciplines, including business, technology, natural and social sciences. Nowadays if we want to work on or improve sustainable ways, it is important to include interdiscipline in the project because each field adds an important knowledge and insights that can be helpful with understanding of how our society and ways of doing things can be more efficient and environmentally-friendly. 

The idea of building sustainable cities and finding sustainable ways has been growing in the past couple of decades. The environmental and climate changes our world is facing, including increasing temperatures, rising ocean water level, decrease in green spaces and reduction and dying of many species of animals and plants. If we want to prevent ecological crises, one of the things we have to work on is to utilize the sustainable systems in the cities and incorporate these technologies and make them a new norm rather than unique innovations. 

For this project I would like to study what are some of the sustainable technologies and techniques that are used in the greenest and most sustainable cities around the world. Due to physical differences of spaces and landscapes, cultural differences, and regional budget – the environmental approaches may differ, and that has to be taken into account when planning for the sustainability improvements in the regions. I would also look at how environmental urban planners work and what they take into account when remodeling or improving spaces. I would look at how some of the techniques could be applied to Delaware, OH, or some other cities I am personally familiar with.

Outline of Project:

  • Find the list of the most sustainable cities or places around the world
  • Study and analyze what exactly makes them sustainable; what techniques they utilize to support sustainable ways from the perspective of infrastructure, resource usage, and how the relationship between citizens and nature is established
  • Learn the hazards and what is expected to happen if no sustainable techniques are implemented
  • Look at the websites of various environmental and urban planning organizations; and analyze the green sustainable projects they have worked on
  • Think of how these technologies could be implemented in Delaware, OH, or in other places I think of

Annotated Bibliography:

April 4, 2021

Analysis: Nature by Peter Coates

Part 1

“Nature’s meaning is not inherent, but varies according to context and derives from convention” (Chapter 1)

In the first few chapters Peter Coates concentrates on the idea of “nature”, how it has been viewed throughout times, and what is the appropriate/correct definition of the word “nature”. In modern English language, the idea of nature is complicated with multiple definitions. He points out the differences between Greek and modern English definition and understanding of nature. Greeks thought of nature as an internal property and principle rather than a physical territory or material entity. I would personally compare this definition to the modern definition of “wilderness”, where land is untouched by humans and it has its own way of being. Coats also mentions that in the beginning when we just begin to study nature or environmental history, we take it as the world around people where there are no effects from human communities. Nature has been on Earth since the beginning and it has changed a lot over time due to some natural process or environmental changes caused by humans. Nature has its own history and the natural scientists try to study that through chemical and physical analysis. Even though it is a nice idea of separating humans and nature and studying these two huge fields on their own, in reality we can not actually study them separately. There is a long history of environmental-human relationships and they often depend on each other and affecting each other’s functions.

Part 2

In later chapters Coates introduces the idea of landscape: “Places that are the combined product of human and biological forces” (Chapter 6) He further discusses how humans have had an effect on the environment since the beginning. Some things such as urbanization, deforestation and agriculture- are seen as more obvious examples of human intervention to nature. But some other examples, such as domesticating plants or artificial gardens or natural parks (which do not destroy nature) still require the changes to the original wild form. The environmental changes caused by humans are much older than we originally thought because every interaction with nature had its own effect on how it looks or function today. So when studying environmental history we have to assume human impact on the environment since the existence of first humans. Coates further explores the idea of landscape. He talks about privatization and industrialization, rethinking the idea of the environment in our society, development and formation of our values, birth and evolution of sustainability. We need to realize that even positive work done on saving or making the environment greener does not make it more wild, there is still human intervention that has to be taken into account.

By Liza Dmitrieva

Environmental and Financial Concerns Following SpaceX Launch

March 31, 2021

On Tuesday (3/30) in Boca Chica, Texas, Elon Musk’s SpaceX launched rocket Starship SN11. The rocket had a smooth takeoff but exploded upon landing. This explosion sent thick fog into the atmosphere and lowered local air quality. Musk later announced that he would be donating $30 million to the area after the failed experiment. However, local residents worry about the environmental and financial implications of future launches. The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission conducted safety analyses on the launch site and found no safety concerns. There are two planned launches of even larger aircrafts than the Starship SN11, and this worries locals. Elon Musk has encouraged people to move to the area for work. Local commissioners voted to allocate more than $1 million towards encouraging space-related ventures. This also concerned residents. Many are stating that the money could have been invested into the community and the people that already live and work there.


“Plastic pollution disproportionately hitting marginalized groups” – UN News

March 31, 2021

A report created by the UN Environment Programme published on Tuesday, March 30th indicates that vulnerable groups of people experience greater impacts of environmental degradation than more privileged groups. While the report had a focus on the impact from plastic pollution, the same groups are also disproportionately impacted by road building, oil drilling, fracking, and water contamination.

Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme defines ‘environmental justice’ as “…educating those on the frontlines of plastic pollution about its risks, including them in decisions about its production, use, and disposal, and ensuring their access to a credible judicial system”. The report calls for environmental justice to be enacted in the form of governing bodies prioritizing the needs of these marginalized peoples – specifically mentioning the need to expand plastic waste monitoring, investigate current waste management procedures, and conduct more studies into the health impacts of plastic pollution. The Environment Programme also requests that business and industry leaders, as well as individuals push for environmental justice.

Link to article

Eating Animals

March 31, 2021

I appreciated the content of this book and was able to stay engaged more than I felt I had in previous readings. I also appreciated the angle the Foer came from when writing this book. He takes a non-judgmental stance, while admitting that this topic is one that gets people talking and, often, pretty heated. He understands that diet can be based on your regional/personal context, and I liked that. I know I personally have attempted to make shifts in my diet but I can’t necessarily do so for financial, familial, and sometimes social reasons. This book makes me reflect on what issues people find important and are willing to fight over vs. what people can say “agree to disagree”. Telling people what they can/can’t eat never ends well, but I have even found myself in this argument before. Meat is also so engrained into American culture that it’s hard to convince a person otherwise (thanks corporate propaganda). At a point, I know I personally have attempted to reconcile my dietary habits with the impact the upkeep of my food requires, and this book made that all the more difficult. Ethically-sourced is the way to go, as long as it actually is ethically-sourced.

This reading also refreshed in my mind how arbitrary buzzwords are when describing food “quality”. “Organic”, “natural”, and “free-range” have such low standards that they become nearly meaningless. These practices can be implemented properly, but don’t have to be.

Eating Animals

March 31, 2021

Eating Animals is a moving book by Jonathan Safran Foer that details the process by which animals are raised and processed for human consumption. Unlike many debates on the ethics of eating animals, Mr. Foer does not take a judgmental stance on the issue, instead, he simply strives to share as much information about modern livestock practices as possible.

Mr. Foer begins his tale by telling the audience how he had been interested in being a vegetarian since he was young, but continually dropped the practice when it became inconvenient. He goes on to explain that he and his wife didn’t like the idea of animals suffering for their consumption, but that they also both liked meat. When he finally became a father, Mr. Foer found himself wanting to settle his family’s ethical dilemma by conducting his own research into the matter. One of the ways he did this was to request large meat producing companies allow him to take a tour of their facilities. They never got back to him, so he went to the other side for some more information. The first point where the story turns dark then follows. He and his animal rights associate sneak into a turkey rearing facility at night and find a chick that appears to be having a stroke of some kind. The associate has to slit the poor chick’s throat.

From there, Mr. Foer begins retelling one of his most bewildering discoveries. That of how turkeys are hatched, grown, and killed. First key factor of the “industrial turkey” breed is that they are prone to weak immune systems, low fortitude, and a high death rate. Furthermore, just about every species of livestock is culled before reaching adulthood, and the way in which the killing is done cannot be considered humane even by the most liberal of standards. To take Mr. Foer’s turkey example, when it is time for the birds to be slaughtered, they are transported hanging by their feet, and not at all gently. Mr. Foer reports that many turkeys break bones, and sustain other major injuries while being transported. Once at the slaughterhouse, the turkeys go through an electric bath, meant to kill them. This slaughter method is however, rather ineffective as plenty of fully conscious turkeys are processed alive. While I would like to fully cover all the levels of unnecessary abuse to both animals, workers, and consumers stemming from these slaughterhouses, I think it’s best you just read that part yourself. Trust me, it gets far worse.

Despite the horrid processes Mr. Foer describes, there is a thread of hope for ethical animal agriculture in this book. Mr. Foer meets with several farmers who base their entire practice around the ethical treatment of their animals. To stick with the turkey example, Mr. Foer finds a farmer who raises heritage breed turkeys that are allowed outside, and not just the “free range” get to look out a window kind of outside, but the actual outdoors where the animals can perform natural behaviors in stable social groups until it is time for them to be (much more ethically) processed.

Before reading this book, I knew that I wanted to reduce the amount of meat in my diet for sustainability reasons, however this book showed me a reason closer to my heart to avoid factory farmed animal products. The ethics of factory farming. I had previously known that factory farms existed in large quantities, but I never understood just how terrible these places could be. As someone who has kept a large variety of animals in captivity, it was appalling to hear about the abuse and neglect these living beings were subjected to. After reading this book, I will definitely be looking for more alternatives to meat. If it’s not ethically sourced, I’m not sure I’ll be able to keep it down anymore.

Eating Animals Analysis

March 31, 2021

This book was one of the most intriguing readings we have had so far, as it truly tests our boundaries of appetite when the concern for health and ethics of life is a contributing factor. As someone who has had an omnivorous diet for most of their life, I have always struggled to find a diet that nourishes my body the way it needs to be, all while giving a big financial finger to the companies and organizations that torture these animals and disregard the essence of life all for the sake of money. This book identifies many examples of just what happens behind the scenes of these companies; This is not even the half of it. The horror described in this book only scratches the surface of all that happens to the poor animals kept behind closed doors of big corporations of farms, pet stores, and meat markets.

Here are some topics that I thought about while reading the book:

  1. The idea of what animals are okay to eat and which are not based on demographics. We are okay to eat pigs in America, but find it almost intolerable for dogs to be eaten. On other sides of the world, this is the exact opposite. While we have differences in what can and can’t be eaten, the one thing that should be universal is the idea of the quality of life. Not how long something lives, but the life they were given while they had time on Earth.
  2. Our perception of what is okay/not okay with pets versus livestock and animals seen as pests. There are things like whipping a dog to get it to move that is seen as animal cruelty, but do the same thing with a pig when it does not cooperate in a factory. Another example is the use of glue traps for mice, lizards, and small rodents. These traps are something that is still sold and used in stores but would be a major problem if used against a stray dog that keeps coming to an area. Overall, this practice is extremely torturous and a painful way to die. Some animals caught in them will chew off their appendages just to try and break free, and this does not always work. In many cases, there are commonalities of how we treat our pets and livestock that could be a type of animal cruelty as well. An example is the idea of shocking animals into submission. Whether it is a shock collar for a pet or a tazer for livestock to keep moving. Many people will say that both practices are inhumane.
  3. Some of the places that say they are humane and give the necessities of life and health to their livestock do not always tell the truth. In many cases, the employers that work there are also very abusive to animals without any reason. To work there, you almost have to have a missing sense of importance for life in these animals, so feelings will already be detached from what kind of pain and suffering there is feeling. Some people even find enjoyment out of it.
  4. The advantages to a plant-based diet are much better than expected or known by most of the public. We are also moving in a culinary direction where plants are becoming much easier to switch to over meat. Veggie burgers and plants that taste like meat make the actual switch more accessible to those that have spent most of their lives eating meat.

Analysis: Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

March 31, 2021

This book might be considered a horror story just because it is based on reality, which is definitely terrifying at times. I liked how detailed Foer was when he provided his argument. Often when talking about the topic, people just get defensive and don’t provide much of their thoughts: 

“And eating animals is one of those topics, like abortion, where it is impossible to definitively know some of the most important details…  that cuts right to one’s deepest discomforts, often provoking defensiveness or aggression. It’s a slippery, frustrating, and resonant subject. Each question prompts another, and it’s easy to find yourself defending a position far more extreme than you actually believe or could live by. Or worse, finding no position worth defending or living by.”(10)

But the author went step-by-step explaining the industry, what it does to animals, their health and wellbeing on earth, and what damages the modern farms and slaughterhouses have on the environment. These days I often meet people who choose a meat-free diet because of the toxic fumes and unlivable conditions produced there. Many people though try to avoid the reality just to enjoy their meals. And, honestly, I might be one of them. I think it is important to be educated on this subject, know where meat comes from and what it has gone through. But also it is important to fight for better conditions for animals, choose and support places that have respect for the animals. I personally know my body, and I wish I could be a vegetarian, but everytime I try this diet it simply does not work for my health. Often when there is a conversation regarding this topic, there is also a lot of judgment. That’s why I like how Foer does not judge the readers for their choices, but he just tells his story to educate us, giving us a choice to join him in his journey of vegetarianism. 

Another thing that always interests me about this topic is how we decide what animals are acceptable to eat. Whether an animal is a source of companionship or food mostly depends on the culture and society. But still how it came to be that it is okay to eat a cow but eating a horse in Western society makes you less humane?? And if we do fight for animal rights, how can we make people think similarly about the “meat-farm animals” as we do think of cats and dogs?

By Liza Dmitrieva