Eco-Ninjas Beware!

I recently read a post from my favorite, and possibly only one I follow, sustainability blogger: Sustainability In Style. She made a post regarding the repentance and averageness of the same old ways people are told to be more eco-friendly; such as using reusable bags, turning off the lights, and recycling. These things are easy to advertise, simple to do, and most even have financial incentives now in some states of the U.S. These are the things most people are bombarded with and this is what only comes to mind when some people think of modern environmentalists. So she wanted to outline some other uncommon ways people can be more sustainable in their daily lives.

I personally related to one of them immediately as I had an experience very similar to the one she was describing. It was about refusing extra packaging or unnecessary items that an ‘Eco-Ninja’ might not want. For instance, at GMU we have a big number of fast-food places that automatically think you want to take your food to-go even though there is seating available at the space. One time at Panda Express, I asked to have the order for dine-in, not to-go, yet they put my food in a Styrofoam container, in a plastic bag, with plastic utensils to boot. I was very frustrated as all this plastic was to waste and I didn’t even have a choice! Styrofoam is one of the worst kinds of plastics and it can no longer be recycled because of the food content. I didn’t need a bag since I was going to dine-in. And I intended to eat there, so I brought my own reusable silverware. All of this could have been avoided if I had a say in my own meal.

This made me think about the multiple systems that are put in place for us as humans, where things are automatically done for us. It is sad to think that this had become so automatic for them to use this unnecessary plastic for every customer, regardless of their potential to make more eco-conscious decisions. And this also upset me for the lack of choices our society and its set systems have for us. We have become easier to manage and control through these set systems to continue the ‘status quo’ that unfortunately means degrading our environment as well. For those who are already more eco-conscious, it is appreciative when we have more of a choice as to what we actually receive with our products bought. The provider may think of it as a nicer gesture to provide these things, but then when I refuse the extra, I don’t want to be looked at as odd for my decision as well. Do I actually need this receipt? No. Do I really even need a straw with this drink? Nope. More choices in how people can experience services may just make people think more about what they really need, rather than automatically getting the environmentally degrading option.

Sustainability In Style blog post: http://sustainabilityinstyle.com/top-tips-to-be-an-eco-ninja/

 

Monsanto and GMOs

I would like to talk about an issue that is often talked about those promoting sustainability; Monstanto. More specifically I would like to discuss their use of GMOs and the controversy that surrounds them. I hold an opinion that many in my field would likely disagree with. Personally I have absolutely no issues with the use of GMOs and I feel that labelling GMOs in food would not improve anyones health or make any difference. There are people that say that the use of GMOs is detrimental to human health and they should be labeled or avoided altogether. However, there is no conclusive evidence that supports the claim that genetically modified food is dangerous for consumption. The very few arguments against GMOs rely on statistics that have been debunked and the falicies are easily regocnizable to anyone who understands that correlation does not equal causation. This article, http://responsibletechnology.org/10-reasons-to-avoid-gmos/ observes the health of Americans overall since lab engineered genetically modified foods were introduced. They state that GMOs are unhealthy because, since their inception, food allergies, chronic illnesses, and reproductive diseases have increased. However there is zero evidence to support this claim.

Humans have been genetically modifying foods for 10,000 years using selective breeding. It wasn’t until the 1980‘s and 90‘s that GMOs recieved criticism. The only difference was that they could now be genetically modified in a lab. The fact is that 70% of all food in the United States contains some form of GMO and even more have been previously artificially cultivated. The anti GMO movement is on par with the anti vaxer movement. They cling to arguments and statistics that have been debunked and refuse to accept the evidence out of fear of something not fully understood. Monsanto is a dispicable organazation whose aggresive and often immoral business practices have destroyed more than a few lives. Their use of pesticides and herbicides are what is truly detrimental to the health of humans and the environment. However if there is one thing they should not be under fire for it is their use of GMOs.

Understanding the Climate

This semester I am taking several classes which relate to climate change, they include: paleontology and atmospheric science. In these classes I have already learned a lot about the history of the Earth as well as the present and what we can expect for the future. Being able to understand the inner workings causing climate change, and understanding what we don’t know about it, has helped me grasp our role in the future of the climate. The Earth has been going through warming and cooling phases throughout its history. The temperature changes throughout these time periods can be determined by analyzing fossils and other geologic features. Modern data makes it clear that humans have accelerated the gradual warming trend that has been underway for many years. The industries we have created have caused a distinct change in the composition of the atmosphere. The increased warming returned by greenhouse gases in the atmosphere causes the environment to change in such a way that methane and CO2 are released into the atmosphere, thus further accelerating the warming in a positive feedback loop.

I have learned just how much energy Earth receives from the sun. It accounts for around 90% of the energy on earth. This energy is the huge driving force that allows our atmosphere to function in our environmental system. It will be very beneficial and necessary for us to improve our extraction of this energy. The energy extraction techniques we primarily use now tend to remove resources from their natural place in the geological environment and displace them into our ecological system in harmful ways that disrupt the functioning of sensitive environmental network.

There are many possibilities for any field of work to create harmony between humans and the environment. This is because of the seemingly infinite aspects involved in these interactions. Possibly because we are born and raised on the earth, it is what we learn from. In fact, science is based on natural observations of the Earth and universe.

The Great Dismal Swamp

Dear readers,

As you all my already know I am employed by the USGS as a field and lab tech. One activity I participate in at USGS is is the Land Carbon Study project at the Great Dismal Swamp in south eastern Va as well as north eastern N. Carolina.

The Great Dismal Swamp National Wildlife Refuge, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service, “is the largest intact remnant of a vast habitat that once covered more than one million acres of southeastern VA and northeastern N. Carolina.” Today the refuge currently contains 112,000 acres of land.

In my work at the swamp I assist a grad student at George Mason with testing for carbon dioxide and methane gas that is being released directly from the ground or water sitting on top of the ground (since it’s a swamp things are often flooded). One day we hope this work along with many other facets of the project will be able to enumerate the ways in which carbon is sequestered in the ground at the swamp or not and which habitats in the swamp are sequestering and losing the most carbon.

Our work is also being used to attempt to correlate the moisture measurements of a land-sat satellite with our measurements of soil moisture on the ground. If it is possible to do this then satellites could be used in a wide number of applications for sensing soil moisture from space. Given the abundance of forrest cover shrouding the soil layer it is at best quite a long shot to accurately predict surface soil moisture but an estimation may still be useful.

All the work being done in the swamp today does relate to the sustainability of our earth because at the great dismal swamp our research is contributing to the larger plan of restoring this great and abundant refuge to its true historic habitat. You see ever since the many canals were dug throughout the swamp beginning with George Washington, it has drastically changed the hydrological model of the swamp. this is such a complex topic that I don’t want to go into it in depth but to keep things simple it has created excessive drainage of the swamp which I believe from my own observations within the swamp is causing a decrease in peat formation and a lowering or compaction of its soils due to the increased aeration as the soil moisture drops and increases the metabolic activity towards degrading the carbon content. This as well as the influx of swamp maple a tree that is invasive here has disrupted the habitat and put it under a great deal of stress in some situations.

I hope to see this swamp, one of the last remaining remnants of a great historic habitat in Virginia, restored to its rightful state and to be preserved as a great icon of spices diversity and carbon containing peat. a place where the cypress, cedar and picossin pines thrive, the many birds and eagles sing, and the bear prowl, and the deer browse! It is truly a gem that know one knows about.

The Washington Youth Summit on the Environment (WYSE)

Approximately three years ago, I received a letter in the mail from George Mason University. I had no idea what was going to be inside the envelope. I opened it to see an invitation to this thing called the Washington Youth Summit on the Environment. Only 250 students from across the country are allowed to participate in this hallowed event. Long story short, after many months of frustration, crying, fundraising, and rainy afternoons, I was able to pay the $1,925 needed to attend the conference. I was nominated as a result of my academic excellence and my interest in sustainability. Were it not for that letter, I would not be here today.

The conference brought together 250 like-minded high school students for a week of enrichment, expansion in our knowledge of environmental troubles and sustainability, amongst other things. The conference was June 23-28, 2013, just three days after my birthday! I was only one of four people that went from Ohio. This conference was a gateway that led to many new things in my life. It was a time for my first flight and my first visit to Washington, D.C. This conference solidified my wanting to participate in politics.

There were many field visits and speakers that were part of the conference. One of those speakers was the the director of the Bureau of Reclamation. I visited the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, participated in a discussion on the Klamath River Basin in Oregon and the disputes occurring between locals and the Native Americans. Ladies and gentlemen, I suggest that you tell your friends in high school about this conference. It has changed my life. It is what brought me here to Mason.

Mushrooms, mold, and society

Long ago, a potato famine caused misery for the Irish. A fungus had proliferated throughout the country, infecting an important food. Many Irish people migrated to the United States for more hope in farming success and better living situations.

A few years ago, the frog populations began to decline rapidly. The frogs would seem to be paralyzed, floating on the water. A graduate student awaits the opportunity to get funding for his research on the impact of fungus on amphibians. The Batrachochytrium dendrobatitis fungus grows on the skin of frogs, disallowing the ability to breathe. The graduate student’s grant for research is finally approved.

Before terrestrial plants existed, Mycorrhizae began to grow on the roots of aquatic plants. This symbiotic relationship allows the plants to gain more access to nutrients as the fungus can extend through the soil to absorb as much as possible. Mycorrhizae can also grow inside the plants stem walls, helping the plant to efficiently utilize nutrients. In return, the fungi receive sugars. This relationship allowed aquatic plants to spread out and move towards dry land. The fungus assisted plants new to the terrestrial environment with absorbing nutrients from dry soil.

Fungi are classified as sexually and asexually reproducing organisms with intricate growing systems. As I learn this interesting material, I think to myself these are such a small, even microscopic species that can impact our society in vast ways. This species still holds mysteries as much of its mechanical ways of utilizing nutrients and growing its hyphal tips to expand throughout the surface lacks support of research.

After learning such interesting material in a class with only eight people learning about mushrooms, mold, and society, one student expresses that fungi are “so weird”. My professor replies, “It’s not that they’re weird, we just haven’t taken the time to understand and appreciate their attributes”. My professor was right. Anything different from the building mechanisms of the human existence is uncanny to people. But it’s only a matter of exploring the odd or “weird” aspects of nature, which leads to gaining greater respect for the diversity of life.

 

Don’t forget the faucet!

In the previous week I recall watching the super bowl. Which I am sure many of you may have sat yourselves down to watch as well. The commercials are always what grabs everyones attention, yet the one that targeted sustainability specifically was Colgate’s “Make every drop of water count”.

Hopefully you’ve all seen it, if not don’t worry. I’ll get the premise across.

So, do you think that by showing a young girl from a third world country grabbing at the flowing water will create citizens to ACTUALLY turn their faucet off while brushing their teeth? Yeah, it definitely could happen.

What I want to talk about is WHY it’s important to turn off the faucet while brushing.

Less than 1% of all of the water on Earth’s surface can be consumed or used for everyday activities, (bathing, washing, etc.). Wise usage can make all of the difference. As simple as turning off your faucet can save multiple gallons each day. A family of four uses up to 400 gallons of water each day…just think of how many jugs of milk that is!! (It’s easier for me to visualize this by relating it to milk.) So if we think about all the water on campus we must go through…wow, so many gallons.

By simply turning the faucet off while brushing your teeth in the morning and before bed you can save about 8 gallons. Although brushing is (on average) a 2 & 1/2 minute process, there can be a lot of water getting lost down the drain in this process. Within a month you can be saving 200 gallons. We may not be able to visually see the water being saved, but if we believe hard enough maybe we can just imagine a tank being filled up with all of that water we didn’t let out of the leaky faucet.

Well Colgate, thank you for your commercial. I think that although some may refuse to turn their faucets off, there will be those who will go the extra mile and take more preventative measures.

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?”
― Martin Luther King Jr.

Check out the commercial here!! —> https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/arts-and-entertainment/wp/2016/02/07/colgates-super-bowl-psa-reminds-you-to-turn-off-the-tap/

 

Wildlife Trafficking

Wildlife trafficking is a huge issue throughout the world today. It involves the illegal gathering and transportation of animals or any part of them. This can be down throughout a country or throughout the world. The estimated value of wildlife trafficking is in the billions making it a very profitable venture. Products that are involved in wildlife trafficking include exotic pets, and anything that can be made from an animals tusks, fur, fins, skulls, and horns.

Wildlife trafficking is a huge problem that can cause the endangerment of animals. One animal that has become near extinction because of wildlife trafficking is the Northern White Rhino. There are only three left in the world, all of which are in zoos and have trouble mating. Some other animals that are trafficked include Tigers, geckos, bearded dragons, and elephants.I feel like wildlife trafficking is one of the worst things someone can do. As it promotes poaching and can put animals in danger. Trafficking is one thing that you probably can’t get completely rid of but you can definitely reduce the amount of it. You can reduce it by making the punishments for catching the traffickers more severe. For instance life sentences in jail. I hope one day wildlife trafficking will be something that is not as big as a problem and doesn’t draw as much interest.

Global Warming?

Weather on the southeast has been running rapid for the past few weeks. One day it’s 28 degrees with rain and ice, while the next day it’s 53 degrees and sunny. The weird weather has even been setting new records all over. Just these 3 days ago, New York hit its coldest record of the year since 1994 with a shocking -37 degrees Fahrenheit. So could the increasing global warming patterns be to blame for our crazy weather patterns?

Maybe not. New research from NASA suggests that global warming is actually improving. A new study has apparently concluded that the rising sea level has been slowed by at least 15%. Changes in the global water cycle, as well as increased water storage within the land, have been to blame more than anything else. Details from the study show that “the global water cycle offsets the losses that occurred from groundwater pumping, causing the land to act like a sponge – temporarily.”

With this newly published data on global warming and this crazy weather, what are we to think? Has our recent weather been the cause of global warming or is there something more to it?

 

Sources:

Bastasch, M. (2016, February 12). NASA Study Concludes Global Warming Is Actually Slowing Sea Level Rise. Retrieved February 16, 2016, from http://dailycaller.com/2016/02/12/nasa-study-concludes-global-warming-is-actually-slowing-sea-level-rise/

 

I went vegan for a day and here’s what happened

Veganism is something that is very dreadful for a lot of people, myself included. I did a small research before writing this and most people I asked said that being vegan involved being stigmatized, it’s expensive and it limits your choices. That scared me a bit but hey, I was only doing this for a day so why not try it on campus. With a limited access to a kitchen and $10 in my wallet, I went on to look at a list of my choices.

Southside:
Well, there is the obvious salad bar and stir fry. The pasta and sandwich stand might be a choice for some if you don’t add any protein.

Johnson Center:
This was definitely where there was the most choices but it is not very accessible to most meal plans. I have freedom so I could go wherever I wanted and ask for a dish without meat or animal by-product in it. I felt that I had the most freedom to customize in Freshens which is a place inside the Express. The menu includes different rice bowls, crepes, salads, and smoothies.

The Globe:
There was a salad there and different cooked veggies and carbs such as rice and pasta. There wasn’t any plant-based proteins the day I went but it was still very good.

I only investigated those three dining options but I her Ike’s is also very good. My only concern about on-campus vegan options would be for someone who has limited meal plan. I have “freedom” so I can choose to eat wherever I want but for someone who can only go to dining halls, the options might be a lot more limited and boring. There’s only so many times you can eat stir-fry.