Environment and Society pt 2

March 29, 2017

I think the conversation about how we interfere with disturbances in the forests is interesting.  If the forests were completely separate from humans then I’d think it’d be an easy decision to just let the forests go through their natural cycles.  However, if there are houses and towns nearby then it becomes harder to decide when to interfere.  I think the hardest place to decide when to interfere is in national and state parks.  I think these places should try to keep the cycle as natural as possible, though I know that’s not what they do, for tourists’ sake.

The chapter on wolves was really interesting because I learned in a historic literature that the hatred for wolves is a really old thing that Americans inherited from Eurasia.  It would be hard to reverse so many people’s idea of them in order to restore their presence in many different locations, but I do think it’s something worth doing for those habitats. However, the local farmers in the area would need to involved in the conversation.

Current Event:

In Pittsburgh, the water’s lead levels have been rising and have recently spiked.  They’re talking about privatizing the water supply, but studies show that that hasn’t helped many other cities. The government and other private water and sewer suppliers have agreed to pay for water filters for the city.  (This is half a bragging current event-the Aly Shaw that’s quoted and pictured is my older sister, who’s working with the campaign who helped convince the mayor’s office to supply the filters) Many Pittsburghers Oppose Privatization of the City’s Water System


Environment and Society: part 2

March 29, 2017

Unlike the first part of this book which discusses broad concepts and perspectives, the second half dedicates its pages to addressing specific issues in detail. I liked this much better because it’s easier to relate to on a personal level due to their relevance and concreteness. Furthermore, the book analyzes these issues from varying perspectives (to an extent) including environmental, economic, historical, and social, which is nice.

However, there were some things that I did not care for. For example, in Chapter 12: Uranium it was very clear to see the authors distaste for uranium and nuclear energy. In my opinion, the author attempted to be unbiased to the information, but did an extremely poor job of it. After reading some of my classmate’s blogs, it was also apparent that what was written in that chapter had a negative impact on their opinions.

While reading the chapter I personally found myself getting stressed out and angry at the wording the author used and the way they presented their information. They highlighted the negatives and left out the pros (many of which people already don’t know about). Not only did they highlight the negatives, they did it in such a way that came off as almost demonizing the entire industry. The only positive aspect they talked about was the negligible greenhouse gases emitted, and even that was fleeting and overshadowed by the onslaught of critique. And then, miraculously, when I got to the summarizing section, the author had an evident shift in writing style that suggested they were impartial to the subject, as if they had been the entire time when it was evident that they were not. It just made me think that this is a problem in itself—that so many people truly think they are being open and entertaining all perspectives of an issue, when they actually have tunnel vision. Needless to say, it did a good job of confirming people’s fears and left no realistic promise of advancement.


 

Progress toward a Zika vaccine

RNA

MIT researchers have devised a new vaccine candidate for the Zika virus in the form of messenger RNA. Essentially, the genetic material is packaged into a nanoparticle that is delivered to the cells. Once inside, he RNA is translated into proteins that provoke an immune response from the host. RNA vaccines are appealing for a handful of reasons including its ability to function like a synthetic virus that is not pathogenic and does not spread, its capacity to induce host cells to produce many copies of the proteins encoded by the RNA thus provoking a stronger immune response, and the capability of controlling how long its expressed thus ensuring it will not integrate into the host genome.

To learn more, visit MIT’s website!


Environment and Society Pt. 2

March 29, 2017

I noticed that the discussion of how environmentalism is inseperable from economics in the end of the first half carried through into all of the next chapters. The chapters on tuna, french fries, and bottled water all talk about the economic impliations of these industries, and I found this interesting beause people tend to focus only on the environmental damage these things cause. I found the risk assessment of bottled vs. tap water very telling, because it shows a lot of people’s paranoia about tap water is unfounded. I noticed the book didn’t talk about the other reasons people are worried about tap water, though, because a lot of people believe that there are discarded pharmaceuticals in the water or in extreme cases that the government is putting mind control chemicals in the water. I don’t agree with this, and I think this viewpoint is absurd, but it explains why people who seem like they would care about the planet still buy bottled water. It would have been interesting if these viewpoints had been disussed in the book. I also found the history of potatoes very fascinating. Potatoes have traveled all around the world, and been held under all sorts of different beliefs. I wonder about the first Andean people to try eating potatoes, since they were originally poisonous. How did they get the idea to eat them, and then to breed different varieties? I also would love to visit the potato garden. All in all, I found the second half of the book to be more coherent than the first half. The chapter transitions were less jarring, and i think it was this idea of the political economy that tied everything together.

Current Event

Amazonian rainforests are not the untouched, pristine places we think of them as, but they were shaped by the indigenous people living there thousands of years ago. There are plants such as cacao, acaii, and brazil nut that are likely to be domesticated plants planted in pre-colonial times. I really like this because we tend to think of altering the environment as a modern human thing, but people really have been shaping the land around them since the start of civilization. It reminds me of the part in the reading where they talked about how native americans had actually altered huge amounts of land, and how national parks had to be restored to a human-less state even though people had been affecting it for thousands of years. It also shows that it is possible to shape nature without damaging it, and I think we could learn a thing or two from indigenous cultures.

https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2017/03/170302143939.htm


Week 11: Environment & Society Part 2

March 29, 2017

Environment & Society Part 2

I thought the second half of this book was structured very differently from any other books we’ve had all semester. This section looked at nine critical and examines each of them in turn using a sample for each approaches. Each chapter begins with a short history of the object followed by a discussion of ways in which the the object present a “puzzle” in our current society and then presents a different, opposing point of view. The authors provide many points of observation for exploration, rather than problems in these chapters in two parts. First, while many parts are obviously linked to problems with human involvement, not all human relations with non-humans are problems. Second, this structure allows room for people to think seriously about how different things in our world have their own unique characteristics. This gives opportunities to break away from the environment as an undifferentiated generic problem. In this way, it allowed me to not rank the problems in order of importance but how each topic has their own level of attention due to certain concerns that we do not always associate them with.

Chapter 9

This chapter focused on carbon dioxide, and how in our natural cycles was not a problem due to photosynthesis for plants as well as the carbon cycle from animals. In the history of the carbon dioxide, it states “living things have the ability to influence the biochemical characteristics of the Earth, often in ways that change the conditions to which they must adapt in order to survive.” Which is a textbook-like quote that shows that we must adapt to the environment we have created due to our actions. The carbon dioxide puzzle states: carbon is everywhere and in a constant state of flow, which makes it hard to capture, pin down and isolate which makes its impacts often distant in time and place from its sources, and that carbon dioxide is extremely sensitive to our economic activity, which makes our transition to a cleaner alternative to carbon dioxide-emitting fuels extremely difficult, or as the authors described as “like an operation on conjoined twins rather than a mere amputation.”

Chapter 10

This chapter focuses on the trees, a perennial plant with a woody structure that have 100,000 species worldwide, and encompassing a quarter of all living plant species. Trees have a complex relationship with humans, as trees has been present on Earth long before humans, as they are fundamentally symbolic for people, there are also a very materialistic part of human history. There are ways to replace what we have removed from our environment, unfortunately it takes years to decades to get a tree to get to its original state. By 1980, it was estimated that almost a fifth of the world’s forest was lost over a relatively short period, mostly due to deforestation by humans. The puzzle of trees states that: trees reveal many things about human activity (agricultural revolution, urbanization, and industrialization) as well as how overall tree cover and composition of forested areas have been transformed dramatically by human activity. This also included how trees are so engrained in our market and political economies.

Chapter 11

This chapter focuses on the wolves, and how as a species carry cultural significance and how the public’s perceptions as well as the negative connotations they carry. In earlier times, wolves were domesticated and essential towards hunting and companionship versus present day how humans value the wolves enough to allow them to thrive (such as they’re threatened species but we have some conservation teams working on bringing them back) as well as the social constructions that accompany the wolves.

Chapter 12

This chapter focuses on the use of uranium and the way humans have abuse this metallic element. This radioactive heavy metal has a violent history for the use of nuclear technology, such as the Manhattan Project: a research and development undertaking during World War II that produced the first nuclear weapons. It was led by the United States with the support of the United Kingdom and Canada. As a result, the United States dropped a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima, Japan that resulted in a radioactive fallout killed approximately 150,000 people. Currently, the nuclear focus splits in two directions: continued development for nuclear arms, but much went towards “peaceful” applications (ex. nuclear power plants). To use as “long-lasting” power, we must be wary of the nuclear fuel chain, the process of changing mined uranium to electricity and described as the “cradle-to-grave” cycle that results in all of its by-products. The resulting electricity produced a significant amount of the world’s electricity usage, which they consider “relatively” clean. However, producing nuclear fuel and power follows a grave risk, pollution, and toxic-waste products that is produced at every step in the chain (if you count it would be at least 9 steps) and the threat of worst-case scenarios.

Chapter 13

This chapter focuses on tuna, and how our need to feed many people. One of the ways to fish these tuna species are caught by “Purse Seine” fishing: an effective fishing method for species that school near the surface with a large net that encircles the target catch, and after which the bottom of the net is drawn tight, thus confining the catch in the net. This style of fishing poses a threat to the surrounding organisms in the water, as well as the mammals (such as smaller whales, dolphins, turtles, etc.) that need to breathe and ultimately drown. Our value for the fish changes over time in society: including evolving tastes, technological developments and evolving right and wrong ideas that can change the way we harvest and eat tuna.

Chapter 14

This chapter focuses on lawns, and the associations of a lawn means. Lawns are not a very old cultural phenomenon, but have become a valuable for aesthetic purposes during the Columbian Exchange. This “curb appeal” have both environmental impacts as well as benefits. Some impacts include: chemical inputs and fertilizer runoff are bad for the surrounding ecosystem, that can ultimately have impacts on human health, as well as the extremely high demand for water during the summer months that increases the urban heat island effect. Alternatively, green lawns can decrease this urban heat island effect as well as absorption of carbon, although minuscule in comparison if living in a city. The turfgrass monoculture of lawns raises many questions that have not been considered due to the pure aesthetic and cultural purposes they serve in our society.

Chapter 15

This chapter focuses on bottled water and how the essential liquid is marketed commodity of bottled water for resale and consumption at distant sites as a recent phenomenon. “Spring water” was perceived to have health benefits of hot springs in Europe. Later, many descriptive words to fresh water were given labels to these bottled waters as “artesian,” “mineral,” “purified,” and ‘fortified” that are now considered elite, certainly expensive and began the reliable way to receive modern municipal tap water. Between 2002 and 2007, global consumption of bottled water grew from 34 billion gallons annually to 49 billion, representing a 7.6 percent annual increase over this five year period. This also represents the massive growing economy. Just in 2007 alone, the United States amounted to more than 11 billion dollars, which puts bottled water the number two sales position for all beverages marked, behind only carbonated soft drinks. The rise of bottled water consumption, in both wealthy and poorer countries, arises a perception that traditional and municipal water sources are compromised to attempt to keep up with the demand. To try to meet the demand, more than 30 million tons of plastic entered the municipal solid stream in 2007, less than 7% of which was recovered in recycling efforts. One quote that really spoke to me in this chapter was, “Despite being wrapped in an image of good health and clean living, bottled water has negative environmental implications.” And not to make the bottled water industry sound worse, but a quick google search shows that over 68% of the fresh water on Earth is found in icecaps and glaciers, and just 30% is found in ground water. Therefore, only 0.3% of our freshwater is found in the surface water of lakes, rivers and swamps.

Chapter 16

This chapter focuses on french fries and the monoculture, globalization and increase distance between food production and consumption of a single species of potato. These crops were essential to feed massive groups of people during many famines, but skipping forward to 1872, when American horticulturalist Luther Burbank developed what we recognize as the standard Idaho potato, the Russet Burbank. Wild potatoes are inedible, bitter and toxic, which makes is why we have monocultured the spud to mass produce into french fries. In 1921, frying potatoes was a popular method to quickly cook food that led to the emergence of new types of dining styles: drive-through and and fast-food restaurants, which exploded with popular demand. In 2000, worldwide exports of frozen potato products (90% being just fries) valued at almost 2 billion dollars. Mass production of these potatoes prove to be difficult, as they require uniformity in shape and size, as well as the insectification of cultivation, with widespread environmental implications, fertilizer and pesticides. This expectation of such homogeneous french fries leads to heavy processing of the potato in fast-food production, and what people are willing to avoid ethical precautions for production of easy-access greasy fast-foods.

Chapter 17

This chapter focuses on e-waste and our advancements in technologies that is leading us towards a “digital divide.” The category of e-waste comprises mostly of household and corporate machines at their “end-of-life” or EOL. While electronics make up under 2% of municipal solid waste, they are an area of concern for environmental groups since their “impacts are disproportionate to their volume in landfills.” Which means that, for example, the discarded electronics comprise of heavy metals in landfills (the US has 70% of the heavy metals in landfills made up in discarded electronics) and is rapidly growing part of the waste stream. Due to the way that electronics function, these products are made with materials that are hazardous to dispose of and process, often called hazardous waste. The statistics of disposal of e-waste are difficult to obtain and compare due to countries, states, provinces and municipalities categorize items differently and the varying methods for measuring measuring or estimating the amounts of e-waste they manage. Due to the rapid advancements of our technologies, people often do not consider the major environmental impacts associated with it, and can be broken down into three generalizations. First, technology innovations leads to the consumption of novel goods, often without consideration of how they will be disposed, or at least safely. Second, countries such as the United States, Europe and developed countries are the primary consumers of advancing technologies, consumption in other areas are growing, and as products reach their EOL, the anticipated overall amount of e-waste produced globally will rise. Third, technological innovations also lead to shorter life spans for electronic goods as people often jump at the next opportunity to get the best tech of the time that will work best with current software and operating systems, which puts a growing burden on e-waste globally. And lastly, as companies claim to “phase out” a particular hazardous chemical, other materials are often used in place and may also include toxins.

In return of the concerns above, we still have to address the growing problem of our current e-waste that is building up in our landfills. The Global North saw a disposal cost of hazardous materials being multiplied by a factor of 25 in the 1970-80s. In order to try to bring this cost down, the Pollution Haven Hypothesis came into view. This “haven” was a theory that holds that some countries might voluntarily reduce environmental regulations in order to attract foreign direct investment. This means that other countries looking to reduce labor costs and export their negative externalities of their production at a cheaper price targeted these “haven” countries. To prevent countries taking advantage of these “haven” countries, the Basal Convention was created in 1992. Since this convention, it has been ratified by 172 countries. The US signed the agreement in the early 1990s but did not ratify it, which posed a significantly difficult for tracking electronics and other hazardous waste, since it was the world’s largest producer of both. Since the effect of the Basal Convention, many firms and countries have shifted from exporting e-waste for disposal to exporting e-waste for recycling. This convention was also enacted to prevent the “spatial fix” – sending hazardous to other regions – of wealthy countries to try to even out the trade in e-waste and the environmental justice that it raises. E-waste is a byproduct of mass consumption societies in which technological advances combine with planned obsolescence to encourage demand.

Current Event

The warming Arctic temperatures increasingly allows sunlight into the waters below to allow phytoplankton blooms. As a result, 30% of the ice-covered Arctic Ocean have warmed and increased prevalence of meltwater pools on top of the ice that allows more light to pass through than bare or snow-covered ice. This creates an “undersea Arctic greenhouse” beneath the ice.

Read more here: https://www.sciencenews.org/article/thinning-ice-creates-undersea-arctic-greenhouses


Environment and Society Pt.2

March 29, 2017

Current event:

Asian dust providing key nutrients for California’s giant sequoias

Researchers have found that dust from the Gobi desert has been providing more phosphorus than previously thought for plants in the Sierras Nevadas. It has contributed more phosphorous for plants than bedrock weathering.

In recent years it has been a bit of mystery how all these big trees have been sustained in this ecosystem without a lot of phosphorus in the bedrock,” said Emma Aronson, an assistant professor of plant pathology and microbiology at UC Riverside. “This work begins to unravel that mystery and show that dust may be shaping this iconic California ecosystem.

The study is projected to help predict the impacts of climate change, expected to increase drought and create more desert conditions. Scientists expect more dust moving in the atmosphere, bringing phosphorus to far mountainous ecosystems.

After collecting dust and isotopic signatures in the Sierra Nevadas, the researchers found that the amount of dust from Central Valley sources was greater at lower elevations compared to higher elevations. They also found that more Central Valley dust was entering higher elevations later in the dry season than just after the spring rains.

Environment and Society Pt. 2

I thought the second part of this book was very informative. The few things that stood out to me was the plastic water bottles, rights of trees, and carbon dioxide. Like mentioned before humans don’t really make the greatest decisions. I personally think plastic water bottle are stupid. If we can make and use reusable water bottles that last years instead of buying and using hundreds of plastic bottles, why use the plastic water bottles, there is no point. However I do appreciate the fact that plastic water bottles help transport clean water to those who really need it. Which makes it hard to completely hate plastic water bottles. It’s also hard to choose your stance on water bottles when you know they are helping save people’s lives all around the world. I’ve never really thought about giving trees rights before. This book helped me put that into perspective. I guess I do always feel bad when I see trees getting cut down but I know there’s nothing I can do about it so I just look away and keep moving. However, giving trees rights can help me not feel as bad anymore. I believe it should happen. Trees are what help us stay alive so why should they do all the work and not have any rights for themselves. Lastly, the global north and global south was intriguing. People in the northern hemisphere, especially in America, never think about how we may be affecting our own species on a daily basis. Humans across the globe are being affected by our decisions and actions. Their health, safety, and life is being horribly affected and we don’t know it.

 

 

 


Post #8 Environment and Society Pt. 2- Dom

March 29, 2017

Part 2:

In the second half of Environment and Society, it talks about many different topics. one of the topics that really started to make me think was water. My current event is about clean water access around the world, so the topic of plastic bottled water had me in mixed emotions. We all know that plastic production has grown rapidly since bottled water became popular, which correlates to landfills being filled up with more plastic in them, as well as bad gases being released in the environment when the trashed plastic is burned. Of course this is bad, but what is even worse is the millions of women and children deprived of clean water. This is where the silver lining with plastic water bottles come in. Plastic bottles filled with clean water, that are sent over to areas all over the world that do not have access to clean water, literally saves lives. Too many Americans take the easy access to clean water for granted, which is why I think are use of plastic water bottles is unnecessary, but for women and children that are not as fortunate, plastic water bottles give them the opportunity to live a healthier life. To me, the benefits that plastic water bottles give to human beings deprived of clean water will ALWAYS out weigh the negatives plastic water bottles give to the environment.

The chapters about global warming and carbon dioxide in this text were very insightful. The way the text talked about the global north and global south was logical and made sense. What I took from these chapters, is that even though individuals contribute to global warming and CO2 emissions, the problem comes down to governments cracking down on large corporations who have the biggest impact on these issues. To me, the only way the world can really see change on these two issues is if the largest contributors in each country are regulated and forced to adapt their industry to a more environmental friendly process. It comes down to this, we either fix it now, or we try to fix it when its to late.

 

Current Event:

CLIMATE CHANGE POISED TO DEPRIVE THE POOR OF CLEAN WATER

-On World Water Day, March 22nd,  WaterAid released its State of the World’s Water report. This report gave a warning that stated “because of climate change, the world’s poorest communities will face an even tougher struggle for access to clean water”. The big threat climate change gives to clean water are extreme weather events, which include storm surges, flooding, droughts, contaminated water sources, dry up rivers, ponds and springs, and contribute to the spread of waterborne diseases. The extreme weather conditions of droughts, flooding, and fluctuating high and low temperatures can be largely attributed to CO2 emissions, the consumption of meat and dairy, as well as industrialization and urbanization leading to deforestation. Today, clean water access is a major issue because there are already 663 million people in the world without access to clean water, with women and children being disproportionately affected. A report released by the United Nations Children’s Fund notes that one in four (600 million children) will be living without basic access to water by 2040. Solutions to this issue consist of improved storage systems to take advantage of rainfall and floods, as well as sanitation systems to ensure the water can be cleaned. These solutions can only be accomplished by an an international effort for infrastructure overhaul. Nicole Hurtubise, CEO of WaterAid Canada, said it best when she stated, “Governments around the world must acknowledge the importance of water, sanitation, and hygiene in building climate resistance”. In conclusion, poor areas around the world will suffer more, year in and year out, until governments around the world start to address climate change and realize the threats it gives to the world.

Image result for dirty water in africa

 


Environment and Society Part 2

March 29, 2017

Chapter 9: Carbon engineers are working on a way to use an absorbing solution to remove carbon dioxide from the air, then sell the captured gas to oil companies and use it to feed algae that produce biofuel. Another team of scientists is creating artificial trees that take carbon dioxide out of the air, then release it underground or store it to be used industrially. People involved in both of these projects were concerned with of the economic feasibility of them, which circles back to the idea that carbon production problems are rooted in the economy. Lackner, one of the scientists creating artificial trees, has an idea that the government could mandate energy companies to buy a “certificate of sequestration” for each ton of fossil fuel extracted. Carbon dioxide could also be used to make methanol via electrolysis, carbonated drinks, formic acid and dry ice.

Chapter 10: It was interesting to read about how reliant humans are on trees, for things like food to shelter to spiritual connections. This made me wonder about the history of Arbor Day, and I found that it stemmed from the importance of trees as windbreakers for soil, trees as fuel and building materials and shade.

Here is an in-depth study on the biodiversity of cocoa plantations.

Win-Win Ecology by Michael Rosenzweig might be an interesting book to read for this class as it goes more in-depth to explaining reconciliation ecology and providing interesting territorial and aquatic case histories.

Which approach – rights-of-nature approach, market approach or political economy approach – do you think is the most valuable?

Chapter 11: It’s interesting that sometimes the survival of a species depends on that species’ cultural significance and the public’s perceptions/ negative constructions. This concept connected to my previous current event about the protection of gray wolves under the endangered species act. Here is a list of all the wolf organizations in Canada, the United States and Europe (it’s surprisingly long).

Do you think species reintroductions should be guided by ecocentric, anthropocentric or economic concerns?

Chapter 12: It was interesting to read about the nuclear fuel chain, which only made me more wary about using nuclear power due to all of the risks like meltdowns, long-lasting pollutants, environmental injustice, the potential building of weapons and potentially unpredictable events (like the migration of radioactive contamination at Maxey Flats, Kentucky).

Do you think the safety risks, pollution and toxic waste products of nuclear fuel are worth the power supplied and the decrease in greenhouse gases?

Chapter 13: Besides the bycatch of dolphins, shark and ray bycatch is still high with purse seiners. Here is a study surrounding the bycatch in small-tuna fisheries and methods of decreasing bycatch. Because tuna are a top predator in marine environments, a severe decline in their numbers can cause an imbalance in marine systems. According to the WWF, over 85% of global fish stocks are at risk of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. WWF has been tagging the Atlantic bluefin tuna in the Mediterranean Sea so that they can better understand their migratory behaviors and explain to fisheries managers how to protect bluefin tuna.

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This food chain shows the organisms that will be affected from a decrease in tuna. Here a link to a video about the sustainability of the Atlantic bluefin tuna.

Chapter 14: Living in a suburb of Chicago, I see the feeling of responsibility and sense of social status that comes from the lawn as a social construction. Our family avoids using chemicals to treat our lawn. To reduce the amount of lawn but still maintain a healthy looking yard, my dad and his friend planted trees and bushes around the yard, then covered the area with different rocks. They also made a grotto made of bricks, rocks and mulch, then enclosed the space with trees. Organic mulch, which retains moisture and suppresses weeds (sometimes), can be a good substitute for grass. This website gives examples of organic mulch, along with its pros and cons.

Chapter 15: Various water-purifying devices such as the Life Straw and water-purifying bicycle can eliminate the package, landfill and garbage management costs from water bottles (thought there is still the cost of energy and material impacts of transportation). Energy from the bike is used to purify the bicycle and people can ride the bike to water sources that may be far away. The bike also provides a way to easily transport that collected water. Ultraviolet light sources can remove 99.9% of impurities from any water source in two minutes (but people may associate unclear drinking water with high risk even after it is filtered, so choose not to use this method).

cycloclean-water-purifying-bike-537x395

Here is a picture of the wonderful water-purifying bicycle.

Chapter 17: The numbers associated with the production of French fries were shocking, especially the steps of potato farming including soil fumigant, insecticide, herbicide, fertilizers, fungicides and crop dusting. If you want to learn more about slow food, here is a good website. This is also a good website to learn more about herbicide-resistant crops and GMO’s that that function as insecticide.  My take-home message from this chapter was to eat homemade fries that can be made with any type of potato, olive oil and seasoning cooked in the oven rather than French fries.