Nature with a price

Earlier this month, in my Social Structure and Globalization class, we watched the documentary called “Banking Nature”. This documentary explained how we have transformed nature into a victim of capitalism as well. Since we have increased our value for money, we have also put a price on nature, degrading its priceless value. We have priced nature by selling resources until it becomes limited or extinct. For example, logging companies are constantly seeking better quality wood, which is found in rainforests. Logging in rainforests is expensive, but the profits are high. Therefore, investing in rainforests has become a competition for logging companies. There have been increasing movements to reduce the effects of immense logging, so companies have negotiated with green policymakers by planting more trees. People are more satisfied by this effort to plant more trees for the many that are used. However, the companies plant trees that are non-native and inefficient for supporting the ecosystem, which is a cheaper option than replacing the high quality trees at a higher price. This creates an illusion of the green stamp many companies have. Another examples of an illusion is the land buying system. If a company opens a factory in a certain area, and after a few years, a particular animals or plant species is harmed and vulnerable because of the factory opening. The company can take the price of the current land, match it, and buy another piece of land with the same amount of money. This piece of land will remain empty, and consider itself as preserving the natural species in that area. While eradicating a particular community of animal or plant in one area, the company can earn a green stamp by just buying more land that is not used. These schemes of corporations considering themselves supportive of the environment keep people in the dark about the realities of investing in these corporations. The most shocking part are the immense loopholes that companies can take to avoid looking their profits, and earning an environmental sticker that can increase their profits. This documentary made me think that you cannot trust the product as a green product based on the stamp. You must research the company’s history and production methods before trusting an investment. Nature is a precious gem that has been corrupted by our greed for money and materials. Individual actions, leading to community reactions can help get rid of the price tag on nature.


The Connects of Climate Change

In my Social Structure and Globalization class, we are learning about how climate change leads to human migration resulting in conflicts. Climate change has caused dramatic changes in parts of the world dependent on agriculture for financial stability. Many countries rely on agriculture to export crops, receive a profit, and import necessities for survival. However, areas along the equator are undergoing increasing droughts, reducing the type of crop locals and grow and the amount of crops that can suffice for the season. This compels people to move to high income countries for more opportunities. People are migrating out of local town and abandoning farms to immigrate and work in industrialized cities. Conflicts arise as influxes of immigrants enter high income countries because it increases competition for citizens. Furthermore, governments face new challenges on restricting their borders because the populations of the high income countries are accelerating. For example, Mexican farmers are continuously migrating to the United States because the land does not support a variety of food sources. Another reason is because even with the harvest they attempt to sell in local towns, American food carts are a tough competition because the prices are lower as the crops come from large US farmers.

As cities grow and farms diminish, the crisis of food sources rises. Essentially, small farmers will be suppressed by more prominent farming industries, leading to food monopolies. This allows food companies to increase prices since there is limited competition. An example of a food monopoly is California. California decided to become a major source for almonds. However, almonds require a lot of water which California does not contain. Therefore, there has been a drop in almond production, leading to increased prices for almonds. These consequences all stem from the changing environment.

There are ways communities are taking advantage of climate change. Russian winters were short this coming year, allowing Russian farmers to grow for a longer period of time. This immensely increased their harvest, and farmers were able to sell more food resources. However, even though there are positive ways to perceive climate change, the land is not accustomed to a variety of crops or growing for a long period of time. This could have negative long-term effects as the climate is not permanent.

To avoid such conflicts and stabilize the human population, climate change is an issue that needs to be carefully addressed and contemplated.

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.


Water treatment, water wars, water recycling, and more on water

In my Ecology lab last week, we learned about sewage treatment systems in detail. There are three steps to filtering human waste. The first step is to extract all the inorganic materials like toilet paper, feminine products, diapers, etc. The next step is to breakdown the organic matter by adding liquid to the waste that fosters the productivity of bacteria. The purpose of this step is to add the right levels of bacteria that will successfully degrade the organic matter. They use the product of step two to create sludge for fertilizing the soil of farms. The third step includes the addition of chemicals such as chlorine, which kills all the bacteria and germs from the leftover waste water which is recycled into drinking water. As we treat the water to benefit humans, we still cannot completely purify the waste that is released into the ocean. Humans flush medication down the toilet, which adds hormones into the water. When the waste is released into the ocean or nearby bodies of water, wildlife is affected by the medicine that is dissolves into the water. For example, due to people flushing birth control, the hormones in the water affects the reproductively of frogs. Scientists are still trying to figure ways to treat water to remove all hormones and medical leftovers from flushed pills. However, an easier solution would be to open easy access for people to recycle their pills by sending them to a pharmacy which ships the old pills to the medical facility that reuses the medicine. Other ways include to merely educate the public about waste in the water and its affects to limit materials that are flushed.

This is a system in which our waste is recycled back into water we drink and also the fertilizer is used for the food we eat. Basically, we cannot escape our own waste. This connects to a large theme in sustainability in living to eliminate human waste. However, complete eradication of waste seems far-fetched, and a new solution of recycling seems more reasonable. After the discussion on sewage water treatment, our lab section moved onto talking about water availability in areas such as California. California strives to gain access to water from the Colorado River to accommodate for the growing population in need of water. This leads to water wars with states such as Arizona and Utah who also receive water from the river. These water wars become more intense as fresh water decreases around the world and the human population continues to grow. A solution to the difference in supply and demand includes utilizing technology that can filter the salt out of ocean water. Such systems exist, but they are incredibly expensive and inefficient. So if anyone is looking for a job in engineering, water systems is an opportunistic start.

As Escape to Save

The feeling of liberation surrounds us, but the reality of restriction shadows true liberty. At work, expressions of honest opinions are limited to maintain a professional manner. At school, if thoughts fail to align with the professor, the grade reflects that failure. At home, compromises settle for happiness and betterment of the family. Therefore, true liberation hardly exists. Subconsciously, many realize this false truth and consciously find ways to cope. I resort to exercising outdoors. Over the summer I went on long runs through the trails of the refuge playing hide and seek with the groundhog, stopping by a toad eating supper, passing fawns browsing vegetation, battling a flock of hissing geese preparing to charge by Snowden pond, gliding into a canopy of a wise forest as the rays of the sun bounce off the green leaves, exiting into a meadow of extravagant milkweed, all to run alongside a deer. Every creature seems at ease with its existence and I am no longer a busy, working student. Rather, I am merely another mammal running my own course and that is where I find my liberation. During my Ecology lab, the class took a trip to Hemlock Grove, a park in the deciduous forest. We hiked through the forest to reach our destination where we conducted a lab plotting the particular areas. The purpose of the lab was to observe how forest succession changed as we went deeper, and the circumference of trees to estimate the time the area has been in succession. As we hiked in the morning, the birds were active, the ground was moist, and the air felt cool but comforting. Usually lab days are dreadful days, but this particular lab refreshed my mind. Another relieving and new activity I enjoyed is farming. Some of the members on the sustainability LLC floor took a trip to Arcadia farms to volunteer. Since the season was over, our job was to create beds for the radishes and garlic that would grow through the winter to keep the soil active until spring. We turned over the soil, broke up the clay, evenly distributed the tip layer, and collected left over sweet potatoes on the way. Farming provided another way to connect with nature through agriculture and labor, a perfect fit for someone like me who likes to stay active outdoors. This feeling of awe motivates me even more to remain active in the community to keep places open for humans to experience emotional attachment to the natural environment.

Education as an Avenue

As the United States progresses, expansion of different departments rises on the priority list. Refuges across the nation are beginning to reach out to the community around them, educating people about the importance of conservation. In order to interact with the general public, the refuge participates in outreach events where refuge employees attend particular community events to inform visitors about the refuge system, our mission, and programs we provide for the public. Over the summer, I was assigned Visitor Service position at Patuxent Research Refuge. My position entailed creating and implementing programs for children and adults, educating them about the environment and what we can do to preserve it. I was assigned an event at the Aquatic Gardens in Washington D.C. during the Lotus Blossom Festival. During the day of the festival the sun shone on the dew of the grass and the gardens looked greener than usual due to the light rain early in the morning. The lotuses and water lilies on the wetland grew tall and large, with intricate, colorful flowers blooming in an unimaginable fashion, representing the awe of nature’s beauty.

Our table includes a blue board with pictures to represents different activities and wildlife on the refuge. Then we set out the pelts and the otter mount to attract visitors. I began by observing the first few visitors, showing interest in the set up, but hesitating to approach us. After a few hesitant groups walked by, I started to stand farther away from the table and said “Hi, how are you?” to anyone who passed, even though I knew they were great if they were at this lovely festival on a bright day. Nevertheless, my technique lured more people to the table where they could touch the items we had, while listening about the general characteristics and behavior of the animal. As the kids continued touching the items, I enlightened the parents about the refuge system, Patuxent Research Refuge, and educational opportunities we provide for the public. This technique allowed me to share a little bit about wildlife, and provide insight to the variety of activities of interest many do not know about. The most surprising fact was that much of the public does not know that refuges exist. Hopefully, through the urban refuge initiative more people will discover the wonders that a refuge has to offer all around the country. By reaching out to people living in inner cities, we can permeate interests in conservation and sustainable actions.