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Environment

Are Our National Parks in Danger?

September 15, 2017
National parks in danger

The 388 parks, monuments and recreation areas managed by the National Park Service cover some of the most beautiful and iconic landscapes in the United States. From mountains to glaciers to forests, they protect rare ecosystems and species. They also ensure that people can enjoy nature, and they bring tourism money to nearby communities.

Some of these parks, though, are now in trouble due to a wide variety of potential threats. What exactly is putting our national parks in danger, how serious is the situation and what can we do about it? Keep reading to find out.

Political Climate

Republican lawmakers recently proposed a bill that would transfer protected federal lands to the states. Lawmakers who support the bill have said the lands have little value when the federal government owns them. Supporters argue that they bring in approximately $6.46 billion and create around 6 million jobs.

Those who are against the change worry that protected lands could be sold off once under state control and opened up for oil drilling or property development. States might choose to do this to make money, while others would have little choice due to budget restrictions.

Actions like this have been met with opposition. After a bill to sell more than 3 million acres of public land caused an uproar among conservationists, hunters and fishermen, U.S. Congressman Jason Chaffetz of Utah announced that he would withdraw it.

Pollution and Climate Change

National parks also face a less direct threat from pollution, climate change and other damage to the environment. The pollution levels in some parks are almost as bad as those in urban areas. In Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for example, emissions from industry and power plants blow in from outside the park. That’s not the type of smoke Great Smoky should be known for.

Climate change may cause long-term changes to national parks, as it will to the rest of the world. Glaciers in Montana’s Glacier National Park are already melting. As climate change continues to worsen, we may see more forest fires and storms, as well as higher temperatures that change the ecosystems of the parks. Because national parks are such iconic representations of nature, the effects of climate change seem even more pronounced within them.

Budget Issues

Many of our national parks don’t have enough funding to keep up with repairs, maintenance and the needs of visitors. Roads, buildings and water systems could all use some attention. Some have estimated the parks need around $600 million just to get the infrastructure up to par.

The National Parks Conservation Association has expressed concerns over the Trump Administration’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018, which includes large cuts to the Department of Interior and Environmental Protection Agency budgets. It also has said that Trump’s hiring freeze may prevent the parks from having enough personnel.

From the Outside In

Though a main goal of establishing the parks is to enable people to enjoy them, the influx of people from places around the world has also created challenges for the health of the parks. Overcrowding can degrade the natural landscape and the habitats of the animals that live there.

When people come to parks, they also sometimes accidentally carry with them species that aren’t native to the area. They might accidentally have seeds of foreign plant species or bugs that aren’t from the area. If these species make their new home in the park, they won’t have any natural competition and may destroy native species.

Some non-native species may escape from homes into the park. For example, people sometimes keep exotic snakes as pets, but if they escape or are released into the wild, they can cause problems. More than 650,000 invasive species have already been identified in national parks in the United States.

U.S. national parks provide critical protection for unique and important ecosystems and create a way for people to easily enjoy and learn more about nature. These national parks in danger from budget cuts and pollution; however, they must be preserved if we want to keep enjoying the benefits from these parks.

Environment

The Relationship Between Hurricane Harvey and Climate Change

September 4, 2017
Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey made landfall on August 25 as an enormous Category 4 hurricane. A Category 4 predicts catastrophic damage and winds in excess of 130 mph. Areas affected by it will remain inhospitable for weeks, or even months. And even though hurricanes weaken as soon as they hit land, they still can still cause significant damage farther inland. This exact scenario is what we saw happen with Harvey. Unfortunately, the likelihood of a repeat continues to rise.

As of the last count, 39 people have died in relation to Harvey. The city has also lost electricity, is losing its clean water supply, has seen two chemical explosions, and has had to take on over 50 inches of rainfall, all from one storm that dumped over 24.5 trillion gallons of rain onto Texas and Louisiana.

A Changing Climate

To understand why Hurricane Harvey is a harbinger of climate changes means understanding how the climate is expected to change. It started out with the name “global warming” for a reason. As the planet’s overall temperature increases, the poles become less cold and more like the tropics and the tropical range expands. The tropics have two main climate features: heat and humidity.

We get storms when a cold front meets a warm front. So when the air in the poles becomes warmer, there will be fewer overall storms. But the other aspect is an increase in humidity. Warmer air means more efficient evaporation, the same way water will evaporate quickly during the summer but takes much longer during the fall. That means there’s more humidity in the atmosphere, floating around and waiting to become a stronger than usual storm.

So we add the decreasing storm frequency to the increase in storm intensity, and you end up with a recipe for disaster. Experts say that hurricanes like Harvey should be rare, but Katrina happened a little over 10 years ago. That storm resulted in just under 2,000 deaths, catastrophic flooding and years to clean up. Hurricane Harvey is presenting some of the same challenges.

A Fluke or the Future?

Right now, we have a President who has made several public statements dismissing climate change. Scientists are being asked to adjust their papers to avoid words like “climate change” or “global warming” by the United States government. Trump’s budget chief said climate research is a waste of taxpayer money. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, does not think that humans are a driving force behind accelerated climate change. Trump has announced that he plans to take the U.S. out of the Paris Agreement, a plan which had no downside for the U.S. except shame.

That is a problem. Climate scientists, who are the only ones qualified to make these decisions, have already noted that Hurricane Harvey was likely intensified partially by climate change. They have already stated that human activity and the increased release of greenhouse gases are contributing to climate change. Their concern is no longer if climate change is occurring because the data shows that it is. The concern among experts now is how bad will it get and what we can do to mitigate the damage.

Trump’s blatant disregard for the only people who are qualified to speak on the subject is worrying. Four years may not seem like a long time, but in the few months he’s been in office, much of his work has focused on un-doing Obama era environmental regulations.

That leaves us vulnerable. Without laws in place to help curtail our environmental impact, we stand little chance of helping to minimize climate change. The U.S. is currently the second largest producer of greenhouse gases (GHG), right behind China. However, per capita, we still produce more GHG. China’s per capita production comes in at about 4.6 tons, while the US hits an astounding 19.8. That is not a good thing, and it highlights just how corrosive our current way of life is for the environment.

Meanwhile, as Hurricane Harvey is dying off, Hurricane Irma is gearing up. It’s already a Category 3 hurricane, but it’s still pretty far out to sea. We don’t know its path yet. Also, in South Asia, monsoon season has started, and it has been an absolute disaster. The increase in humidity has led to flooding the region hasn’t seen for years. Already, 1,200 people have died from these floods, and they’re affecting 41 million people.

So, we’re in danger. Storms may become less frequent, but when they do occur, they’re more likely to bring unheard of devastation. With only 45 percent of Americans concerned about climate change, mnay citizens may not be raising the alarm we should.  If our government refuses to do anything to help protect us or plan for the future, what kind of future will we have?

Environment

A Carbon Footprint You May Never Have Considered: Your Apparel

August 14, 2017
Carbon Footprint of Apparel

You’re well aware of the usual suspects that cause your carbon footprint to grow — driving a gas-guzzling car, eating imported produce and tossing recyclables in the trash can all come to mind. But you might not realize you’re hurting the earth by building your wardrobe without considering the carbon footprint of apparel.

On the list of products most often purchased by consumers — and most often replaced by them, too — clothing and accessories come just after food and beverages on the list. This means the apparel industry has had to figure out how to produce products as quickly and as cheaply as possible. It’s no surprise, then, that their methods end up taking the planet and its resources for granted.

Clothing Production Wastes and Pollutes Water

Look at the tag in the back of your shirt or in your favorite pair of slacks. What was the main ingredient used to create the garment? It’s likely you will find it’s made of cotton, which means you’re wearing a not-so-eco-friendly fabric unknowingly.

To successfully grow enough cotton to produce a single shirt, farmers need around 2,700 liters of water to properly irrigate the crop. This is more than two times what an average person drinks in a year. As you can imagine, this means cotton production in places where people already struggle to get the water they need to drink puts quite the strain on the environment.

Clothing manufacturers are also notorious for polluting water during production. On top of that, lots of water is required to dye fabrics. This water, of course, becomes waste afterward.

Manufacturing Uses Fossil Fuels and Chemicals

Cotton isn’t the only offender when it comes to non-eco-friendly practices. Digging deeper into clothing production reveals just how dependent some fabrics are on the most notorious materials.

Take polyester, for example. In order to produce the most commonly used clothing fiber in the world, manufacturers use 70 million barrels of oil every year. Many other synthetic fibers emit extremely damaging gases, like N2O, 300 times worse for the atmosphere than CO2. And, of all the world’s chemicals, 25 percent are used by the textile industry.

These decisions clearly come back to hurt the earth in the long run. It’s easy to see how the atmosphere suffers and how such reliance on non-sustainable fossil fuels can quickly deplete the planet’s resources. But it’s not just production that makes a big difference to the earth around us. For example, plastic fibers shed from our clothing make up 85 percent of the man-made material found on the U.S. coastline.

Cleaning Out Your Closet Can Make Waste

Cleaning out closest

The average American discards around 70 pounds of clothing per year. What do you do with clothes you no longer want? If you said, “Throw them in the trash,” there’s work to be done to shrink your carbon footprint further.

Clothing still in good condition can have a second life if you donate it to a non-profit organization that sells secondhand goods for cheaper prices or gives items to the less-fortunate for free. The garments that aren’t in resale condition might still have a bit of value if you can get a bit creative:

  • Use holey old T-shirts to create dust rags for your house
  • Let your kids turn old socks into puppets the next time you’re stuck inside on a rainy day

Some companies will even recycle the most down-and-out textiles in your home in order to create industrial rags or other useful products. The possibilities are endless, so do your research before you toss fabric into the trash.

It’s a Joint Effort to Get Greener

Now that you know the clothing industry’s secrets — and have improved your own methods for cleaning out your closets — you are better prepared for shrinking the carbon footprint you leave behind. You should feel good about your efforts to learn and do more. You’re working toward the greater good and safeguarding the earth for generations to come.

Environment

A Climate Change Side Effect: Risk Epicenters

August 7, 2017
Climate Change Side Effect

Climate change has become a divisive concept. Some believe that a climate change side effect only impact a small portion of the world and that the consequences won’t be that severe. Then, there are the people who believe that climate change is the biggest and most important problem facing humanity today. Science shows this second group of people is on the right track, as there is a growing body of articles and research studies that show climate change will have significant consequences.

But just how badly will climate change affect the world? Unnervingly, in more ways than one.

Socio-Economic

This is an often-overlooked climate change side effect. If harsh heat wipes out crops in the southern part of the U.S., this isn’t just a problem for farmers. Rather, it affects an entire social class. Conversely, those in the northern part of the U.S. may not be as affected.

One study shows how climate change would affect people according to socioeconomics. The study showed that the poorest third of counties in the U.S. are set to experience an income loss of between two and 20 percent. Granted, this is a worst-case scenario, but it’s important to acknowledge the deadly possibility of this outcome.

Water

You can live without food for weeks, but you need water every 72 hours to stay alive. It’s such a valuable resource, people may even go to war over water supplies in the next 100 years as clean water becomes increasingly scarce. If climate change continues to eviscerate certain parts of the world with massive droughts, vast reserves of water begin to look better and better.

Recently, Egypt threatened Ethiopia. Why? Ethiopia wanted to dam the Nile River. If that doesn’t scream “urgent problem,” nothing does. Water is key to life on Earth, and will be profoundly affected by climate change.

Melting

The Arctic is the focal point of melting ice caps. As the Earth gets warmer, it’s only natural that the icy parts of the world will begin to melt. Not only does this endanger the lives of people and wildlife, it affects the political landscape, as well.

What happens if a crumbling iceberg wipes out a town, or if rising sea levels drown coastlines? Who takes the blame for this? It’s a scary idea that deserves discussion.

Pandemics

Rapidly spreading diseases can affect any country on the planet — especially in our highly mobile modern society. You may believe you’re not at risk for a pandemic if you live in a medically advanced country like the U.S., but the risk for a pandemic focuses more on unstoppable viruses and diseases. Nobody on Earth is truly safe from a pandemic.

Pandemics can also raise political tension, as travel bans begin to be enacted. It’s only a matter of time before those tensions rise to a tipping point.

Migration

This is an aspect that may come as a surprise to you. In certain parts of the world, climate change is making some areas unlivable. Whether they are under attack from constant monsoons or continuous drought, these extreme weather events are too much for some populations.

If people can’t live in these areas, they’ll begin to migrate. And, as we’ve seen, many countries don’t welcome massive in-migrations of refugees. It causes a lot of problems, and it’s a serious issue that needs to be considered when dealing with climate change.

Environment

Going Green is for Everyone

July 31, 2017
Going Green

“Going green” seems to be the buzzword of this generation. It refers to making changes in your life that will help the planet and slow down the negative effects that have been impacting the environment. For some, going green might seem like a “hippie” movement, and they might dismiss it as a lifestyle that is not for them.

While there is a variety of different ways to go green, you don’t have to go to extremes — like becoming vegan or living in a commune — to develop a lifestyle that improves your health and the planet. Anyone can make simple changes in their lives to have a positive impact on the world.

Start Small

Going green starts with small steps that can be done inside the home on a daily basis. For example, turning off lights when you’re not in the room helps. So does using rechargeable batteries and setting electronic devices to energy saver mode. Have some appliances in your house you don’t use every day? Unplug them until you need them to save on energy.

You can also make small adjustments to conserve water. It is one of the most important elements on the planet to sustain life. Without it, you can’t grow food or hydrate your body. It’s crucial for survival. Water is both a renewable and nonrenewable resource, so it’s imperative to preserve it — and you don’t have to turn your whole way of life upside-down to accomplish that.

Some small things you can do to go green with water include installing low-flow shower heads and toilets, turning off the faucet while you’re brushing your teeth and changing your landscaping to plants that are native to your area so they use less water. Native plants also help conserve the natural environment of your area.

Other ways to start small with going green include walking or riding a bike when possible instead of driving a car. This will reduce emissions released into the atmosphere and put you on the path to healthy living through exercise.

Make It a Family Affair

No one said you had to go green on your own. Get your family and friends involved. After you’ve started with the small steps, gradually adding more ways to be green will be easy and will have a huge impact on the environment. Here are some ideas:

  • Recycle

    Does your community have a recycling program? If so, participate and have your kids help separate the trash from the recyclables. Even toddlers have the ability to separate plastic, cardboard, glass and paper into individual bins for pick up. If it all goes into one bin, even easier!

 

  • Grow a garden

    Planting a garden as a family has so many benefits. Kids will learn where food comes from and how to eat healthily. Having fresh fruits and veggies reduces the amount of food you have to buy from the grocery store, which in turn reduces the amount of package waste and the impact of shipping products from one area to another. In addition, you’ll bond as a family and teach your kids responsibility.

Family garden

 

  • Use reusable bags and containers

When you make your trips to the store, take reusable bags with you. When you pack a lunch for work or for your kids, use reusable containers. This small practice reduces the amount of waste in landfills.

Another way you and your family can go green is by reusing paper at home. Whenever you have to print a document, print on both sides. If you only print on one side, use the other side for art projects or cut the paper into smaller pieces to make your own note pads. If you have old toys, furniture or clothing that your kids have outgrown, find ways to recycle them instead of throwing them into the landfill.

Going green doesn’t have to be a daunting task. It is definitely the trendy thing to do, but it has so many benefits for you and the environment. Saving the planet is going to take all of us. Start small and go from there — it will add up to make a huge impact.

Environment

The Debate Over Teaching Climate Change in Schools

July 24, 2017
Climate Change

Even with concern for climate change in the US being the highest it’s been in about 30 years, only 45 percent of Americans are worried about it. This almost even split is likely to make the debate over the issue of climate change even more controversial regardless of whether you believe or doubt the phenomena.

However, more debate has risen recently over whether school curriculums should include climate change. This conundrum is extremely complicated, delving into issues beyond climate change itself, like how we decide what topics our children learn.

What Has Happened?

Recent events have proven that the debate over teaching climate change in schools is far from finished. In Florida, House Bill 989 passed in June. This bill enabled any individual in Florida to raise concerns about a school’s curriculum and potentially have it changed. Some people believe this bill to be an attack on the teaching of climate change and other controversial topics.

Similarly, in February 2017, the state of Idaho removed any references to climate change from the education curriculum. While many Republican sources argued that the move was simply an act of giving control back to individual school districts over their own curriculum, the specific removal of how human behavior affects Earth’s climate can be viewed as a direct attack on the teaching of climate change itself.

Theory or Fact?

The issue at the heart of the debate over teaching climate change in schools is whether it is a scientific theory or scientific fact. Few question the place of scientific facts in our nation’s curriculum — gravity is a force keeping us on the ground. Electrons have a negative charge, and humans are mammals. But should we consider climate change a fact or theory?

The general scientific consensus is that climate change happens, and we are at least one of the causes. While many prominent scientists and officials do question this basic premise, most controversy surrounds the extent that humans influence global warming. This is why many people criticize the teaching of climate change in schools. If uncertainty exists, then many people believe schools should not teach the subject to their children.

To Teach or Not to Teach — That Is the Question

The uncertainty surrounding climate change is one of the main reasons why its relevance to the curriculum is questioned so regularly. However, 97 percent of scientists agree on both climate change happening in the world and human activity’s effect on it — so is it really that uncertain?

The real danger that surrounds teaching climate change in schools comes from the potential for teachers to fail to teach it properly. Climate change’s controversial nature is likely to spur passionate opinions from even teachers themselves, supposed bastions of impartiality.

Many teachers misrepresent the scientific consensus regarding climate change, teaching inconsistently with the reportedly 97 percent of the scientific community who support the occurrence of human-influenced climate change.

What to Do?

So what is the solution to the debate over teaching climate change in schools?

Simply put, there is no one solution. No single action can possibly solve the myriad of problems likely to arise from teaching climate change in schools, or from failing to teach it.

But if, as many scientists believe, human activity is a factor in climate change, then it is essential for the next generation to learn about the potential effects of their actions — and what they can do to alleviate the results of those actions.