Your Order of Fish & Chips is Going Extinct

Open nearly any diner or local restaurant menu in New England and you’ll see fish and chips as a popular option. The fish in fish and chips is North Atlantic cod. So many people in New England and around the country enjoy fish and chips, but few people know the impact global warming and overfishing are having on New England’s cod population.

Global warming, as we know, is caused by an excess of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. A “side effect” of global warming that’s often referenced is rising ocean levels; however, it might not be clear that the rising ocean levels stem from the ocean becoming warmer. The ocean is naturally resistant to temperature changes because the hydrogen bonds in water form very stable bonds, so a large amount of heat energy is required to break them apart. This means that water can absorb a large amount of heat energy before its temperature rises. The rising temperature of the ocean illustrates how drastic global warming has become.

codfish

Since the ocean’s temperature is normally very stable, aquatic species are largely accustomed to a specific temperature within their habitat and do not respond well to change. Specifically, the North Atlantic cod has been shown to have difficulty adapting to the warmer water. Cod generally migrate late in the spring and early in the fall; however, with warmer water, that migration pattern could shift to much earlier in the spring and much later in the fall to avoid the warm waters. Cod could also move permanently farther north, or even stop migrating if there is no sea ice left at all. Some populations, particularly those farther south such as in North Carolina and off the coast of southern New England, would become entirely extinct by 2100 if the ocean temperature projections for that time are true.

Not only do New Englanders love to eat cod, but cod fishing is also a massive industry across New England and the North Atlantic. In the mid-1990s, there was a massive drop off in cod population due to overfishing. Since the population was so endangered that the New England Fishery Management Council said they were headed “seemingly inexorably, to oblivion.” In January of 2013, Congress passed regulations on cod quotas in the Northeast: cuts as much as 80% for the next three years off the coast of Maine. While this will hopefully help to raise the population of cod in the North Atlantic, it hurts the local economy. Fishery is a massive industry in New England, and such a drastic cut to an already declining population and struggling industry means that life will become even more difficult to fishermen relying on the next catch. Also, the warming waters might mean that cod populations will not increase to their former abundance even with highly managed fishing quotas.

cod

Scientists know that the declining population of cod in the North Atlantic is due to both overfishing and climate change. However, they are not yet sure what the best course is to fix it. Although fishing quotas have been imposed, those also injure the local economy and make it difficult to justify continued cuts on quotas. Additionally, cod is only an indicator for other fisheries across the globe. If all species need to move farther north to avoid warmer waters, what will live in the southern waters? Northern waters do not provide the coral reefs that southern waters do, so a multitude of fish populations that rely on coral reefs could become extinct. All of these issues are just as important as the impacts of global warming on land. The ocean takes up so much of our Earth’s surface, and we depend so deeply on the ocean, from water supply, food, transportation, recreation, and industry. I think we need to pay a lot more attention to what’s happening everywhere in the ocean, from the sea caps to the coral reefs, and including the smaller indicators, like cod, that show us what’s happening in a wider scale.

Politics and Global Warming in America

We all look to our political figures and government to help solve the many problems that consume the United States. We look to our government in times of war, we look to our government to help keep peaceful relations with other countries, we even turn to our government to make decisions on gay marriage. Yet, many of our political figures are in denial about one of the biggest problems not only the United States faces, but that the world faces as well. This problem is global warming.

Global warming has become a serious threat to the health and way of living for many people in the world. According to Nasa, Earth’s global temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880.  That number does not seem that significant, but in reality it is. Many animals have become extinct or will become extinct in the next couple of decades due to Earth becoming uninhabitable for many organisms. For example, the polar bears in Antarctica are going to have a hard time finding a place to live because all the ice that they currently live on is melting away. If they are unable to find a new home or adapt to the changes, they could become extinct. Global warming is a phenomenon that is caused by many factors, but mainly the increase in GreenHouse Gases, especially CO2. According to Nasa CO2 has increased by 400.06 parts per million. With trends  like these coupled with  extreme weather, both of which are clear indicators that global warming is occurring. Why are so many politicians still in denial?

 In the video below, Senator James Inhofe, a republican from Oklahoma brings a snowball to a Senator convention. He proceeds to talk about how 2014 was the warmest weather the United States has ever had. Yet, he says global warming cannot exist because of snow. In his talk he claims that 67 places in the United States have experienced record lows. Unfortunately, he does not understand that global warming is linked to extreme weather.  Senator James is not the only political figure who doesn’t understand how global warming works. An astounding 56 percent of all Congressional Republicans do not believe in global warming. Some believe that global warming is not a major concern and some believe that global warming is a natural phenomenon that does not occur due to human activity. In the article below there are many quotes by Senators and Representatives who do not believe in global warming.

 Global warming is a major issue in the world. Almost 97 percent of the science behind global warming says that it is natural but is occurring at a faster rate due to human activity.  Yet, the people that virtually run our country are in denial. How can we expect people’s habits to change if those who we turn to for answers are in denial about the issue? Can we make change and hopefully influence our government to change? I believe that if we have enough people and enough power behind the movement, anything can happen, just look at the push for gay marriage. It may have taken a long time, but here we are now as a nation, arguing for the right for people to marry whomever they please, and that is why I believe that we can change people’s views on global warming and begin to make a difference.

http://www.motherjones.com/blue-marble/2015/02/inhofe-snowball-climate-change(click on link and scroll to video)

http://climate.nasa.gov/

http://billmoyers.com/2015/02/03/congress-climate-deniers/

Ice Cores – A view into our past and future

Ice Core

An ice core is a cylindrical tube of solid ice that has been drilled out of an ice sheet or glacier. Most ice cores come from Greenland or Antarctica, the longest ice core is approximately three kilometers long. Ice cores provide researchers with a view into the temperatures and atmospheres of the past. If you were to slice a little disk out of an ice core you would see a bunch of little bubbles indicating gases that have been trapped in the ice for up to 800,000 years.

Ice Slice

So what do ice cores tells us? Why are they important? Ice cores relay important information about earth’s history every year involving temperature, atmosphere gas concentrations, volcanic eruptions, nuclear bombing, isotope ratios of water, and dust concentrations. In fact, when measuring how many years an ice core can date back to, researchers look to the well-known dates called “dating horizons”. A dating horizon is something like seasonal dust storms that can be used to mark periods of time, or a well-known volcanic eruption.

Sulfur Graph

Sulfur concentrations are the best way to tell when a volcanic eruption may have taken place. In the image above are the graphs of sulfate concentrations in ice cores from both Greenland and Antarctic. 73,880 years ago the Toba volcano in Indonesia erupted and sent historic amounts of ash and sulfur up into the stratosphere, effecting the whole planet years later in the form of acid rain.

With the information taken from ice cores, scientists are able to make predictions for earth’s climate in the future based on the past. By looking at the patterns of temperature and greenhouse gas levels post natural disasters like a volcanic eruption, scientists can make accurate predictions for our future.

One of the other things that scientists have been looking at in the ice cores is greenhouse gas levels. CO2 concentrations in the Antarctic ice cores show that over the past millennium they remained pretty constant in levels until the early 19th century and the industrial revolution. CO2 concentrations have been exponentially on the rise ever since then due to fossil fuel emissions and deforestation. According to the British Antarctic Survey, CO2 concentrations are at least 40% higher than they were before the industrial revolution. That doesn’t seem all that bad when you compare it to the CH4 (methane) concentrations over the past two centuries which has increased more than 200%.

Ice cores_science briefing_FINAL.indd

Looking at the ice cores it is easy to see that the highest levels of carbon dioxide are during the warmest years and the lowest during the coldest. This simply supports the statement that there is a link to rising temperatures and greenhouse gas emissions. Taking this information into consideration, the earth is only seeing an increase in greenhouse gas emissions even though we know that the increase doesn’t bode well for earth’s well-being. Taking into account earth’s history, we as the ones who inhabit earth should be doing everything we can to try and change the predicted future and potentially save ourselves from unforeseeable fates. Scientists have never seen greenhouse gas levels as high as they are now, so there is no predicting what will happen accurately, they can only guess.

A New Culprit?

The earthquake that hit Nepal is hardly news anymore. The 7.8 magnitude quake on April 25 caused enormous damage and even killed 19 on Mount Everest. If that wasn’t enough, the 6.3 magnitude aftershock the following day just rubs salt on the wound. Does anyone recall how earthquakes happen? The earth underground is made up of tectonic plates, which are like chunks of rock pressed and held together. When rocks slip past each other violently, break, or somehow make a jerky movement, the earth aboveground feels the tremors of those plates suddenly setting into a new place.

Featured image

Seems like everything underground is out of our control, doesn’t it? The most we do to the earth is drill it and no one seems to think those can cause an earthquake. Maybe not drilling, but Dr. Vivek Kumar Srivastava claims that global warming can cause an earthquake and undoubtedly has caused the one in Nepal. But how does heat in the atmosphere affect the earth beneath us? Well, it’s a chain reaction in this case. With the global temperature rising, ice and permafrost in the Arctic melts and raises sea levels. And perhaps a few centimeters of extra water wouldn’t be too bad, but sea levels have been on the rise for a while and are projected to rise by another 1 or 2 meters by 2100. Of course, coastal cities will be hit hardest, but this also means that there will be an extra 1 or 2 meters of water weight sitting all over the globe, adding much extra weight on the earth’s crust. Higher pressure on the earth’s crust causes the greater stress between the tectonic plates beneath us and therefore jerks much more violently into place.

Featured image

The connection seems plausible, and of course no one is pointing fingers. But will we be in the near future? It’s been repeated over and over again that humans are the greatest cause of global warming and that we would come to regret our inaction gravely in the future. But could this be that future? Collapsing food chains, heat waves, rising seas, we’re observing and hearing about them all. But some people in the world might be paying for the fury of global warming right now. I’m aware that, I’m using the word “might”. Are we still going to take that chance?

For the First Time in 40 Years… Economic Growth Hasn’t Lead to an Increase in CO2 Emissions.

On an average, people tend to commonly associate CO2 emissions with the economy. So, what I am trying to get at is that many people think that if there is a global economic growth, in correlation, we expect to see an increase int he CO2 emissions as well. However, for the first time in over 40 years, we are seeing that this is not the case. This my friends is amazing news for all of us who care about the environment. While this is great news, the question still remains; what has triggered this trend to finally changed? Well, there are several factors and the International Energy Agency has evaluated all of the reasons that they believe that there hasn’t been an increase, but rather a decrease in the CO2 emissions, even though there was an increase in economic growth.

China is the worlds largest CO2 emitter and it is also the country where a majority of the worlds industrial work takes place. Over the past two years, China has taken an initiative to reduce the amount of CO2 that they emit by shifting towards using renewable sources of energy, rather than using non-renewable sources of energy. In China’s case, they have led the world in the amount of solar installations with the hope of cleaning up the countries polluted air. In figure 1, you will see that by the end of 2015, China hopes to add as much as 15 gigawatts of solar energy, which will power around 16 million houses. They want to accomplish this task by installing cheap solar panels on top of commercial buildings, rather than just confiding panels in the rural areas.

Figure 1.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.07.23 PM

Additionally, the second factor that has attributed for there to be a decrease in the amount of energy used is the idea that awareness causes people to change their behaviors. People are greedy. Unfortunately,  this is the hard truth. If you tell them that they will save money by buying certain types of technology, they will be willing to do it. This has been happening all over the U.S. The more aware people become about the energy that they are using, the more willing they are to change their behaviors and their electronics. Over the past year, home energy efficiency has decreased drastically, causing there to be an overall decrease in energy. In figure 2, you will see that there is a decrease in the amount of energy in a per capita basis as well as a GDP basis. 

Figure 2.

Screen Shot 2015-03-14 at 3.25.06 PM

The third, which can be overruled, but it is still just as important. The IEA has reported that one of the reasons there is a decrease in CO2 emissions is because transportation has become more efficient. Cars are now being made in order to be more efficient.

Now, the final reason that CO2 emissions have decreased, while the economy prospers, is due to the fact that there was a natural gas boom, due to fracking. Robert Starvins, a leading environmental economist said, “This has, in turn, led to significant increases in dispatch of gas-fired electricity generation, relative to dispatch of coal-fired generation, as well as increased investment in new gas-fired electric generation capacity, and cessation of investment in new coal generation in the United States.” 

Now, lets rejoice. While the world still needs to make huge strides to bettering the environmental conditions, the progress we are making is incredible. China, the worlds leading CO2 emitter has come to its senses and so is the rest of the world.

Just Green Enough: A Compromise of Equality & Sustainability

The lack of environmental justice in American society is now being linked clearly to an issue prevalent in urban areas: environmental gentrification.

Environmental gentrification is the process of affluent populations moving into low-income neighborhoods and therefore changing the culture and demographics’ of that neighborhood.   This change generally leads to the displacement of the low-income population, as the neighborhood is no longer affordable.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a guiding document detailing the organization’s intention to “incorporate environmental justice into its decision making processes.” (PERC) Meaning, the EPA is now taking into account the way in which pollution generally impacts the poor more significantly than the affluent. A disturbing example of such is illustrated in a “1983 study showing that hazardous waste landfills in the Southeast were almost entirely located in low-income, minority communities” (PERC)

This ruling of the EPA seems like a good thing. It means making low-income and historically disenfranchised neighborhoods cleaner and more environmentally friendly. It means upgrading low-income neighborhoods with things like LEED-certified green buildings, and bike lanes.” (Grist) LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. There are different levels of LEED certification based on a point system. Any LEED certified building, is to a certain extent, energy efficient. A LEED certified building could have solar panels, harnessing sunlight to create electricity or heat. Essentially, the building’s design is geared to use the least amount of energy possible. Bike lanes would contribute to the fight against climate change, as it offers an alternative to driving or public transportation. Climate change is in part attributable to greenhouse gas emissions. Cars, when in use, emit greenhouse gases. These greenhouse gases range from carbon dioxide to methane. They build up in the atmosphere and block infrared rays from leaving, effectively heating the earth. This process is called the greenhouse effect.  Figure 1 illustrates this occurrence.

Figure 1:

greenhouse-effect

Upgrading these neighborhoods would not only be environmentally friendly but also aesthetically beneficial to the community. Unfortunately, these improvements can lead to the displacement of the population it was geared towards helping.

Sprucing up a neighborhood with nifty environmentally friendly upgrades can trigger gentrification. Logically, if a historically “bad” neighborhood becomes cleaner and more “green” it will attract a new population. A population that can afford to take into account these upgrades. H. Spencer Banzhaf describes this occurrence aptly when he says:

“Residents who moved into dirtier communities tend to place a higher priority on low-cost housing than on the environment. Cleaning up the environment may increase those costs by more than their willingness to pay, as wealthier households bid up property values. As poor residents are more likely to rent their housing, they stand to lose from these increased housing costs.” (PERC)

Though environmental gentrification may be excellent for the environment, it’s not always ethically right. For example, in the 1990s, Pilsen, Chicago was an unsafe and predominately Hispanic community. “In 2012, however, the Chicago Department of Transportation finished upgrading two rundown streets by rebuilding them with recycled materials, permeable pavers, green streetscaping and sustainable stormwater runoff solutions.”  in Pilsen, Chicago. The neighborhood is now considered to be one of the ‘greenest in America’. (governing) Unfortunately, the rent prices are now soaring, displacing the low-income population that once resided there. Figure 2 shows a street in Pilsen, Chicago.

Figure 2:

gentrification-pilsen-illinois-tropic-of-meta

Fortuitously, a compromise between both displaced inhabitants and the environment can be found in the idea of making neighborhoods “Just Green Enough.” Meaning, “to make a neighborhood more livable, without triggering gentrification.” (governing) There are two main components to this idea, the first being to make environmental improvements to the neighborhood without disturbing the identity of the neighborhood. The second being, allowing the community to be involved in making the neighborhood more sustainable. In addition, when a neighborhood is undergoing improvements, taking certain precautions, including local job training and rent subsidies, to prevent displacement. (governing)

Environmental justice is inevitably tied to issues of social justice, as the environment dictates the circumstances of its inhabitants.  The “Just Green Enough” initiative is a perfect example of the connection between the two. More importantly, however, making neighborhoods “Just Green Enough” means a more sustainable and equal environment and society.

Sources:

http://thehigherlearning.com/2014/10/13/nasa-confirms-that-huge-methane-cloud-in-u-s-southwest-is-real-deal/

http://perc.org/blog/environmental-justice-or-gentrification

http://perc.org/sites/default/files/ps42.pdf

http://grist.org/cities/can-we-green-the-hood-without-gentrifying-it/

http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/gov-green-gentrification-series.html

http://www.wilderutopia.com/sustainability/land/green-urbanism-balancing-evironmental-justice-with-gentrification/

From Cotton Field to Vagina to Landfill: The Story of Tampons and Other Sanitary Products

Wait, My Menstrual Cycle Is Contributing to Environmental Degradation?

I know this not a topic that everyone wants to talk about. However, it has been a fact of life since the beginning of time. The average woman menstruates for 38 years in her lifetime. Unfortunately, in today’s world, 38 years’ worth of menstrual cycles translates into a lot of waste and energy. To be exact, there is approximately 62,415 pounds of sanitary products that end up in landfills[1]. Not to mention the countless tons of fuel that goes into producing these necessities. The truth of the matter is that sanitary items are one of the most unsustainable used products. In North America, over 20 billion pads and tampons are only used once before they are tossed. [2] But how exactly do sanitary items hurt our environment?

How the Waste Affects the Environment

 Cotton

Since most pads and tampons are made up of conventionally produced cotton, there has already been damage done before it even reaches the store self. Conventional cotton farmers usually treat the cotton with toxic pesticides such as aldicarb, phorate, methamidophos and endosulfan[3]. These chemicals are harmful to the people working with them and wildlife. Once sprayed, these toxins often move through the air to other nearby communities contaminating water sources, killing soil micro-organisms, bees, and other beneficial insects.[4]

This image displays all of the toxic chemicals that can be found in pads.

This image displays all of the toxic chemicals that can be found in pads.

Also, most of the cotton is then bleached with chlorine gas.[5] Once the cotton bleached chlorine enters a landfill, it becomes deadly to organisms living in water and the soil.[6] Another harmful chemical found in most sanitary products is called dioxin. Dioxin is a carcinogen that over time accumulates in the food chain. Within an organism it can trigger biological effects such as hormonal disturbances and alterations in cell functions[7] as well as adding to the risk of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and liver damage in humans.[8]

Plastic

It’s not only the cotton that’s harmful, but it is also the plastic applicators and the plastic wrapping. The manufacturing process of producing these disposables consumes a lot of energy[9] and nonrenewable resources which contributes to global warming. Most disposable pads and tampons are made from 90 percent plastic derived from crude oil.[10] When crude oil based plastics reenter the environment it releases large amounts of toxic pollutants which ultimately leads to devastating damage to wildlife and the natural landscape.[11] Combined with other super absorbent materials, the manufacture of sanitary items releases greenhouse gases: nitrogen oxide, sulphur dioxide, and carbon dioxide which are causing our planet to heat up.[12]

Alternatives

I too was shocked to realize that not only are these feminine products not good for the environment, but they are also harmful to my own health. Fortunately, there are healthier and eco friendlier alternatives. Natracare is a company that produces organic chemical-free pads and tampon. These products are more eco-friendly because they are bio degradable and do less damage to the environment since they are bleached without harsh chemicals or sprayed with pesticides.[13]

However, the best alternatives are menstrual cups or reusable pads which have life uses of 15 years. Products such as the Keeper menstrual cup claims those 40 years’ worth of disposables can easily be converted into as few as four menstrual cups![14] Similar to The Keeper, Lunapads claim to divert more than 1 million disposable pads and tampons from landfills every month. Over the course of one year, that is more than 12 million less feminine products contributing to environmental issues. [15]

This image shows how 4 menstrual cups can replace a truck load's worth of sanitary waste.

This image shows how 4 menstrual cups can replace a truck load’s worth of sanitary waste.