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Oceans

How Citizen Science Affects Ocean Health

January 15, 2018
Citizen science affects ocean health

Subject to legends, ruled by gods and viewed as the source of life, the vast ocean continues to captivate humanity’s heart and mind. The ocean’s depths and extent boggle scientists on the issue of collecting adequate levels of data. Buoys and satellites provide a measure of assistance, but citizen scientists offer the most potential to gain the data necessary for analysis and exploration.

Citizen science affects ocean health, and citizen scientific assistance with data-gathering will benefit the wellness of the ocean and its diverse lifeforms. Globalizing citizen scientist initiatives provides the answer to gathering data needed to protect and heal the oceans.

Asking Sailors to Gather Data

Sailors travel far and wide across the oceans, carrying cargo, fishing and enjoying the scenery — going farther than many researchers on a daily basis. Therefore, it only makes sense that scientists are asking sailors to gather data. The process entails attaching cheap, small sampling instruments to sailboats, cargo vessels or yachts. The collected data enables scientists to reach more accurate weather forecasts and climate change models. At sea, rescuers may quickly locate lost boats and planes thanks to this data.

Ocean research vessels cost over $30,000 daily to operate, plus the cost of the research team and processing the gathered data. Gliders and other environmental sample processors fill data gaps to a small degree, but often end up as ocean trash unless retrieved after an operation. Most research happens in the top 330 feet of the sea, and expanding research teams and budgets only helps a little. Asking sailors to contribute their mileage along with data goes a long way in increasing scientific data analysis and eliminating the use of models based on inferences.

The Ocean Abundant Awaits Citizen Scientists

Why not use satellites to measure the vast oceans? Satellite technology allows scientists to measure the globe, but what’s below the surface proves more difficult — darkness, heavy ocean pressure and gravity present obstacles.

Unlike mapping land details, the ocean blocks radio waves from satellites. Only 0.05 percent of the sea is mapped, roughly the size of Tasmania — with details good enough to locate airplane wreckage and undersea volcano vents. The sea floor is only mapped to a resolution of 5 km. Sonar systems on ships map a resolution of nearly 100 meters, and sailors and other citizen scientists are ideal to help with the job of mapping.

The ocean consumes 71 percent of the Earth’s surface while 95 percent of the ocean remains unexplored in detail. Everything below that 330 feet holds potential and knowledge yet unknown. Citizen science affects ocean health by gathering vital data that even technology can’t produce at this time.

Citizen Scientists Help Study Phytoplankton

The Secchi Study, through the Plymouth University Marine Institute, serves as one of the most extensive marine projects spearheaded by citizen scientists. Gathered data is produced by anglers, divers and sailors to map the sea’s phytoplankton, which are experiencing an increasing decline possibly due to climate change. Citizen scientists upload their data to the Secchi app in the form of photos and notes on ocean clarity, GPS location, water temperature and sea life observations. Those who participate have access to all the data submitted, as well as the institute.

Many researchers tasked with monitoring water quality at the opening of major riverway systems don’t possess enough resources to monitor it from river to stream to watershed. Citizen scientists who track water quality on a local basis help these researchers maintain quality water systems for all. Citizen scientists may each monitor a stream or lake, while a larger network tracks the quality of a watershed. Local impact on the oceans may be measured and contaminants stopped from the onset.

Watershed maps allow researchers and citizen scientists to trace stream and river paths to the ocean. Citizen scientists could link their local observations with NASA’s satellite observations of marine phytoplankton blooms to identify dead zones. The satellites cannot track dead zones directly, but citizen scientists can monitor chlorophyll concentration in the surface waters and watch for variations to track impact.

Citizen Scientists Provide Insight on Warming Oceans and Sea Life

Citizen scientists conducting thousands of surveys as part of a major study discovered that increasing ocean temperatures threaten shallow reef systems worldwide. The Reef Life Survey followed over 200 divers as they surveyed 2,406 sites around the world in 44 countries. The survey allowed researchers to gather data on an unprecedented global level over the past 10 years.

The data contributed to researcher understanding of various factors determining the effectiveness of marine-protected sites globally. An intrinsic insight from the survey revealed the link between the ratios of invertebrates to fish in a given ecosystem. Colder water habitats hold more invertebrates, while warmer waters contain more fish. As the oceans warm from climate change, researchers believe fish distribution will shift worldwide toward the poles and deeper oceans, where outsider fish compete with local fish populations.

Citizen scientists are vital to predict and protect the global impact of such factors on ocean health. They help improve researcher and public knowledge of how the ocean and Earth respond to change.

Student Citizen Scientists Help Endangered Eels

What do a bunch of kids holding a bucket in a creek have to do with science?  This year, in Poughkeepsie, New York, area high school and college students donning rubber waders shifted through the freshwaters to pull up baby eels as citizen scientists on a mission. These young scientists monitored freshwater eel populations through the Hudson River Eel Project, created nearly a decade ago as researchers noted a reduction in eel catching as of 2008.

Historically, eels provided sustenance for humans, birds and other eels. Recently, many countries noted a reduction in eel populations due to overfishing, such as in Japan. As eels migrate into local eastern waterways from the sea, culverts and dams stop their progression upstream — also blocking food sources for ocean mammals, birds and fish. Baby eels maturing in freshwater environments contribute to the health of local ecosystems. Losing the baby eel populations means a major impact on local environments and the ocean.

The reduction of eel populations in Asian countries leads to a market in the United States where the eel may be overfished locally to fulfill supply and demand. Legalized eel fishing prevails only in South Carolina and Maine, but poaching increasingly concerns researchers. They don’t have the resources to produce the data needed to protect the eel population, but student citizen scientists are saving the endangered eels one bucket at a time.

Citizen scientists of all ages are vital to increasing the understanding of how oceans and the Earth respond to change, especially via human impact. Citizen science affects ocean health directly through the analysis of data gathered in local waterways and ecosystems, and the knowledge determined is a direct result of citizen scientists who take part in an all-hands-on-deck effort.Powerful satellites and technology produce astonishing findings, but the vast, unexplored places of this Earth have always been meant for human eyes alone.

Environment

Eco-Friendly Composting Methods That Will Transform Your Garden

January 12, 2018
Eco-Friendly Composting Methods

What if I said you could reduce landfills and improve your land while spending no money in the process of fulfilling these two crucial tasks? Anyone can contribute to the environment while transforming their yard into a thriving space with crops and floral life. All that’s required is a little knowledge on composting.

Composting grants you the power to take your garden to the next level. You can transform ordinary dirt into soil that properly nourishes your greens. Best of all, you don’t have to rely on the synthetic chemicals emitted from commercial fertilizers. Choosing organic is as simple as organizing your waste and setting it aside.

If you haven’t started composting yet, you’re missing out on the valuable benefits this simple act has to offer.

Reducing Your Ecological Footprint

Did you know in the United States alone, families generate a cumulative amount of roughly 250 million tons of trash per year? The average car only weighs approximately one half of a ton, so imagine 500 million vehicles stacked into one unbelievably huge lot. Pretty unfathomable, right?

You can play your part in reducing waste by transforming trash into a valuable resource. Virtually any organic, non-animal-based material will work. Instead of tossing your coffee beans, fruit peels and paper products into the dumpster, use them in your yard instead!

One man’s trash is the soil’s treasure.

How Composting Improves Your Land

Composting takes ordinary waste and transforms it into a crucial element that strengthens your soil.
When you place all of your organic materials in composting containers, the components decompose into an eclectic mixture of mineral-rich soil. That’s because insects and worms consume all of the waste. This matter then expels from the insects through waste in the form of a nutrient and vitamin-rich mixture.

Nothing beats the natural process of composting. While synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients to your land, their impact is often short-lived. Composting provides a natural fertilizer that nourishes your ground with a more significant influence.

Start with Organizational Measures

Creating the perfect composting pile requires a bit of preparation. When you dispose of waste, you may find yourself separating your trash into various categories. Plastic goes into one bin and paper goes into another. But when you choose which waste goes into your compost pile, you have to use caution.

Tossing all of your waste into one large trash can is easy. But when you want to transform your scraps into valuable soil, you have to eliminate unnecessary materials that will ruin your fertilizer.

Keep a separate container for waste which you will not place into your composting bin. You should discard diapers, recycled magazines and meat scraps separately to keep your waste divisions organized.

Know Which Materials to Throw Aside

Composting is a science. With the right know-how and knowledge, you can produce the fertile soil and land you’ve always dreamed of achieving.

No two materials are the same, especially when it comes to their ability to decompose. Not sure which products to include in your composting pile? Check out the list materials to avoid throwing in your compost pile:

  • Plastic materials
  • Cat and dog excrements
  • Poisonous or diseased plants
  • Fish and meats
  • Colored or glossy papers
  • Bones
  • Ashes from charcoal or coal

Scan the Environmental Protection Agency’s website for a greater understanding of which materials to withhold from your composting pile to get the most out of your effort.

Consider Root Growth Hormones for Added Growth

By composting your waste, you’ve already taken the first step necessary to provide your plants and crops with the nutrients they need. The next step involves acquiring the proper root growth hormone.

If you’re unfamiliar with this process, rooting hormones are a synthetic mixture of plant growth hormones that assist in the plant’s natural formation of roots. Using this compound will help your plants grow thicker, healthier roots which grant your greens a stronger life potential. You can make your own rooting hormone using apple cider vinegar, honey or willow water.

When you use root growth hormones in combination with composting soil, you aid your plants’ growth process immensely. Once you find the right rooting hormone for your greenery, applying the compound is relatively simple. After you drip powder onto a cutting, you will plant the mixture into a hole in your soil. Nutrient-rich soil produced from composting ensures your growth hormones perform to their maximum potential.

Turn Composting Into a Family-Friendly Activity

You don’t have to exhaust yourself in the process of building a better future for the environment. Take gardening, for instance. Planting and sowing seeds in your garden allow you to spend time outdoors with your family in a bonding experience that gets all family members involved.

Making fertilizer through composting offers an incredible learning experience children can engage in through hands-on learning. You’ll enlighten them on the benefits of recycling while they play an active part in bringing your garden to life.

Once your compost pile transforms into good soil, you can plant flowers and crops together as a family. Picky-eaters might even try new tastes knowing they helped create the foods lining your kitchen.

Save the Environment and Lessen Your Expenses

Did you know composting can save you hundreds of dollars on your monthly food expenses? Making your own organically grown fertilizer provides you with a fresh heaping of soil you can use to sow vegetables and fruits. If you’ve ever shopped organic before, you know the price of crops can be quite pricey, especially during the cold winter season. Why not grow your own produce instead?

Compost-friendly waste products grant you the power to harvest food from the comforts of your own home. When your fruits or vegetables spoil, you can recycle them with the satisfaction of knowing they will one day help new crops thrive.

Wildlife

Why I Think There Should Be a Pangolin Protection Law

January 8, 2018
Pangolin Protection Law

Which animal has it worst in the world of animal trafficking? Elephants and rhinos get most of the attention, but the highest-trafficked mammal is the pangolin, which resides in Asia and Africa.

Looking at the pangolin, you’d think of a cross between a pinecone and a badger. This “walking artichoke” is a fiercely adorable and determined creature just as important as an elephant or rhino.

Pangolin meat is considered a delicacy in both China and Vietnam, and their scales are also in high demand in many countries. As a result, greedy poachers can earn a high profit from taking pangolins from their wild habitat and butchering them.

Many people don’t know the pangolin exists, which creates a knowledge gap interfering with the protection of the pangolin population across the world. Experts and conservationists rush to educate the public and governments on the existence of pangolins. Meanwhile, the threat of extinction escalates to near certainty.

When dire conservation needs arise, only then does the international community take action. Experts now warn the pangolin will be extinct within our lifetimes if the illegal trade continues at the current pace. Will the international community step up to save pangolins, or ignore their conservation needs?

I believe there should be a law that protects the species from any form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership across international borders. Cruelty toward wildlife pervades in society, to the endangerment of biodiversity.

The Trouble With Capturing Pangolin Poachers and Traders

Humans illegally poached and traded more than a million pangolins in the last decade — more than elephants and rhinos combined. Many countries enact laws that protect pangolins, but punish lawbreakers with light fines. Lack of enforcement of these laws continues to harm the pangolin population.

Traders shifted to the African pangolin population to source parts for purchases as Asian species dramatically decreased. The African species faced increasing pressure from regional and local demand for traditional uses and bush meat.

Scale number and size commonly help identify living and dead pangolin specimens when authorities conduct checks. Enforcement of anti-poaching and anti-trading laws grew difficult to conduct, due to the trading of the small non-living meat and scale parts. Anything governments can do to cultivate a culture of unsustainable illegal trade will benefit endangered pangolins. Poachers and traders will continue to find a way around capture, but the lawbreakers eventually get caught. However, these criminals appear willing to face jail time.

In traditional Chinese medicine, lore states a pangolin’s scales cure cancer. This year, the Chinese government seized 12 tons of pangolin scales in Shenzhen. This discovery set a new record for the largest seizure of endangered pangolin parts. The hoard represents the butchering of 20,000 to 30,000 individual pangolins.

Positive Moves for Pangolin Preservation

The international community has stepped up to help pangolins in recent years. The International Fund for Animal Welfare put forward a petition to classify the eight pangolin species as endangered per the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) in July 2015.

Thankfully, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) determined to take action to prevent the abuse of this vulnerable species — under international law, commercially trading the pangolin is now banned. More than 180 nations in attendance at the CITES 17th Conference of the Parties in South Africa in September 2016 voted to move pangolins from Appendix II to Appendix I. The decision shifted the status of all eight pangolin species from “threatened” to “endangered” under the ESA.

The Indonesian government opposed raising protection for two pangolin species, expressing interest in farming the species along with Uganda and China. Is it more ethical to farm pangolins? Does this successfully detract business from the illegal poaching and trading of pangolins in the wild? Unfortunately, pangolins rarely survive life in captivity, much less being bred.

Indonesia’s disapproval triggered a vote on trade ban proposals for two of the four Asian species. One hundred and fourteen governments voted in favor of the proposals, with Indonesia against and five countries abstaining.

The responsibility to enforce the laws approved by CITES falls on individual countries. Some avoid enacting the mandated measures, or impose light punishments. International encouragement must push these governments to step up and do their parts.

Pangolins’ official classification as an endangered species provides a higher call to action for governments to protect them. The ESA listing raises the need and action for protection in international eyes. Lawbreakers continue to poach and trade pangolins. The call to action must shift to swift and final decisiveness as an international movement to save pangolins from extinction. International governments must enact a full-spectrum protection law that protects all pangolin species from any form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership.

Cloning Provides a Possible Pangolin Conservation Solution

Failure to enact an international protection law on pangolins opens the quandary to alternative conservation ideas. Though cloning technology is still developing, is cloning to save biodiversity an ethical decision? Could cloning the pangolin species save the population from extinction?

Cloning provides one possible solution to pangolin conservation. Assuming all goes well with successfully cloning pangolins, the opportunity to conserve the species offers long-term hope for preserving and cultivating biodiversity.

However, the species may not survive in the wild, even if successfully cloned pangolins lived several years into adulthood. Created in captivity, what chances do cloned species have to survive, and where would they go? Consider tigers as an example: Each tiger needs 25,000 acres of their natural environment, yet farmers consume more than 93 percent of their habitat. The same quandary exists for pangolins if cloned.

Even if successful, cloning will not solve the problem of illegal pangolin poaching or trading. Our global society must directly address this issue by creating a pangolin protection law. I urge the international community to reject all form of poaching, hunting, trade or pet ownership by enacting a full-spectrum protection law.

Let no illegal act go unpunished or ignored. The time to protect the pangolin population is now.

Environment

Unfortunately, Yes the President Can Legally Reduce National Monuments

January 5, 2018
President Can Legally Reduce National Monuments

You read that right. The president can cut national monuments at his discretion, as evidenced by Donald Trump’s recent decision to reduce Utah’s two national monuments by considerable proportions. If you thought the Antiquities Act granted landmarks such as Bears Ear and the Grand Staircase Monument special protection against governmental interference, think again.

Although public outcries from groups including the Native American community proclaim Trump’s decision an act of illegality, the president is moving forward in his decision to slash Utah’s landmarks by a remarkable two million acres — the most extensive monumental cutback in the United States’ history.

A Brief History of Bears Ear and the Grand Staircase Monument

If you’re unfamiliar with Utah’s two infamous monuments, a brief understanding of their history will help you realize what sparked this recent debate.

Both the Bears Ear and Grand Staircase monument grant the general public access to the plants and wildlife within the surrounding area. The Bears Ear National Monument also provides tribal access to a sacred land that various tribes from the Native American community access daily.

In 2016, former President Obama declared Bears Ear a national monument to further preserve and guarantee Native American access to the Utah terrain. The Grand Staircase was similarly established as a protected site in 1996 to protect the land from unwanted damage and pollution. However, much of the controversy surrounding this monument states that the 1.3 million acres of size prevent the poverty-stricken area from accessing the land for more productive measures.

With Trump’s recent decision to slash Utah’s monuments by nearly two million acres, the future of Bears Ear and the Grand Stair Monument remains uncertain.

What You Need to Know About the Antiquities Act

The Antiquities Act dates back over nearly a century to when President Teddy Roosevelt first passed the bill in 1906. When Roosevelt first signed this bill, his priority centered on protecting the Native Americans from losing the land they hold sacred to their culture.

This act grants the president power to mark designated natural areas and monuments into conservation units. As a result, the act aims to extend the protection of the land for public interest and protected use.

Many claim Trump’s decision to cut Utah’s preserved land as an unreasonable breach of power based on the details outlined in the Antiquities Act which warrant conservation. However, President Trump’s decision to cut Bear Ears aligns with the Antiquities Act declaration that the President should protect national monuments while utilizing the least expanse of land.

The Antiquities Act leaves a gray area that does not explicitly state Trump cannot cut these significant sites into smaller proportions. In fact, various presidents who preceded Trump decreased the amount of land allotted to these landmarks, too. However, prior presidents made minor cuts to the nation’s protected areas. Trump’s decision to reduce Utah’s monuments by several million acres is the most substantial cut the country has yet to experience.

Understanding the Acts Set by Predecessor Presidents

Even if the Antiquities Act explicitly stated that future presidents could not legally reduce national monuments or alter protected land such as Bears Ear and the Grand Staircase Movement, Trump’s decision may still have held some ground.

Current and future presidents are permitted to override specific acts established by prior officials. Even though Teddy Roosevelt passed this bill in the early twentieth century, that doesn’t mean all of his successors must abide by his every decree.

If every individual following Roosevelt had to adhere to the principles he established during his presidency, this sense of authority would forever grant Roosevelt power ever after his time in office. No policy is guaranteed a lifetime of use because laws must alter and change to accommodate the nation’s ever-changing societal demands and needs.

While many may protest and disagree with Trump’s recent decisions, his choice to cut Utah’s land still falls within the realm of legal abidance. Political choices that were once upheld by those in office before him can change at any point in time. The same rule of thumb applies to Trump’s future successors, who may have the power to follow — or undo — several of the policies he himself establishes during his time in office.

How Trump Claims to Improve Utah’s Community

Rather than harming the Native American community’s access to these national lands, Trump believes his decision will assist them. When making remarks on the Antiquities Act Designations, President Trump voiced that the new overturn of this bill will allow Natives to have a newfound voice in the land.

Although the president claims to have made his decision with the indigenous population in mind, various Native American tribes took the initiative in suing Trump to voice their discontent.

What Trump’s Cut Means for the Future of Archaeological and National Sites

Parks and environmental displays, such as Utah’s highly debated monuments, offer everyday citizens the ability to explore their natural surroundings in a protected environment. As the number of archaeological sites shrinks, what will become of our ability to connect to the natural environment?

Unfortunately, the president’s decision to cut back Utah’s monuments by drastic proportions may be the first warning of what’s still to come. The possibility that other states will experience monumental reduction is an increasing probability. This equates to not only less monumental access in Utah but in the nation as a whole.

The Dangers of Making National Monuments into Public Land

Once areas such as Bears Ear National and the Grand Staircase monuments become federally owned, their protection seems to falter.

One of the major threats toward formerly protected lands is the change in legal ownership. The ownership shifts toward the federal government, who could easily decide to place these lands under potentially dangerous acts ruining the natural wildlife and plants.

Protestors who disagree with Trump’s decision fear Bear Ears and the Grand Staircase monument are now open to prospective mining, oil drilling and building establishments. As federal property, these lands lose their protection against environmental damage that they formally possessed.

While Trump proclaims to have the people of Utah in mind, the future of these two historically significant areas remains up in the air.

Green Technology

10 Green Tech Blogs You Should Read this Year

January 1, 2018
green tech blogs

Getting advice about green technology is tricky in the age of information. Frankly, the sheer amount that’s available can be overwhelming, and it’s hard to know which sources to trust. Some sites do a better job of nailing down the facts than others. If you’re looking for green tech blogs you should read, then check these out. They’re well known for both accuracy and current developments

1. Mother Nature Network

Also known as MNN, this trusted and global source of information covers environmentalism from all angles. They discuss technology, but they also explain how people and families interact with and alter the environment, just by existing within it. They offer a wide variety of information, including lighter, conversational topics as well as the more in-depth articles about scientific advances. They write about everything from pets to political threats to protected areas.

2. Grist

Grist keeps the focus on environment and people. They’re a well-established blog and have been around since 1999. As a nonprofit, they accept donations in order to continue writing about clean energy, sustainable food sources, city-wide advances to improve quality of life, and environmental justice. Their ability to combine advances in technology with unbiased political reporting helps give readers a comprehensive image of the challenges the industry is facing.

3. Triple Pundit

The triple topic for this site revolves around people, planet, and profit. Unlike the previous sites, and many of the others on this list, they focus on business just as much as on the environment. One of the biggest boons in that intersection right now, of course, is environmental technology. If you’re looking for short, summary articles, this isn’t the place to go. TriplePundit specialized in longer, in-depth articles that give readers a solid understanding of the topic. Don’t expect a lot of fluff on this site.

4. Treehugger

Treehugger doesn’t focus exclusively on technology but instead aims to be a “one-stop shop” for sustainability. Advancing technology is a big part of that. The blog, which was started in 2004, has been part of making sustainability mainstream. But the team isn’t content to stop with talking points. They want to drive actual change, whether that means introducing new technologies or teaching individuals how to garden.

5. The Energy Collective

Another site where the primary focus is on technology, this site is one place where you can get the most accurate, up to date information possible. The focus for this site is on advances in sustainability, including new fuels, innovations, and the latest advances regarding climate change. Their writers come from all over the globe, giving you a truly international perspective. The most significant part of that is their focus on how different countries are competing with each other to get ahead in the green technology industry.

6. Alternative Energy News

If you’re looking specifically for tech news as it relates to energy, this blog is the perfect niche for you. It was created in 2006 by someone with a passion, but not a background, in green technology. Alex Ramon was a photographer and bicycle mechanic but switched to try and bring people around the world good news. It turns out, he was very successful with it! Choose from over 25 categories to peruse, and find whatever information you’re looking for with absolute ease.

7. Green Biz

The intersection of green technology and business meets in this online blog, which has become well-known in management sectors across many industries. They are primarily a blog, but they also host events for networking and promote research throughout the industry. That gives them some exclusive looks at new technology that could make a big difference for anyone who’s looking to get ahead. Even if you don’t check this blog out daily, it’s one you’ll want on your list of updates.

8. Clean Technica

Clean Technica has won monthly awards for their dedication to clean technology in the past. Their caliber of writing and consistent commitment to finding the best information has put them in the top spot and made them a trusted name. They’ve been focused on green technology including solar, wind, electric, and energy storage. They’re one part of a larger network of blogs, so they have sufficient resources to fact check all of their work and make sure they aren’t misleading anyone.

9. Huffington Post

Huffington Post covers a vast range of topics, including everything from women’s rights to celebrity gossip. They’re widely prominent, and they have an entire section dedicated to sustainability. While some of those aspects may hit on individual elements, many others focus on U.S. and worldwide green technology and sustainability initiatives. You’ll find everything here, from learning how to compost at home to international water safety and hope spots.

10. Alt Energy Magazine

Another all-star focused on green energy and fuel instead of all things sustainable, this site’s work is anything but outdated. Their site not only offers connections to other companies in the green tech industry. It also highlights multiple articles a day about relevant, breaking news. Plus, it’s surprisingly easy to navigate the site, with a focus on content over aesthetic. It’s a niche aspect of the internet, but one that’s sure to appeal to many people who value information and accuracy.

These are just a few of the many sustainability blogs available. There are sure to be some hidden gems that aren’t presented here, but these are some of the best known and best-written options out there. As far as blogs go, green tech blogs are something you should read and be aware of green tech options that are out there to help the climate and help you live a more sustainable lifestyle. Don’t let the new year slip by without adding at least one of these to your reading lists!

Environment

Obama’s Environmental Legacy Versus the Legacy Trump Is Leaving

December 29, 2017
Obama's environmental legacy

Since the primordial cook fires of our ancestors first released carbon into the atmosphere, humans have made changes to their environment. Our surroundings, after all, are our vehicle for advancement: We learned breeding and farming to supply a steady food supply, cut trees from the forests for shelter, and burned whatever we could for heat and light. The Earth provides what we consume, fueling our collective forward motion.

Consumption and modification of the environment seat us at the forefront of all other species and allows us the luxury of meteoric advancement — often at the cost of our surroundings. Our progress has finally reached a terminal point where we, as a species, become aware of our unsustainable lifestyles. We may still use the Earth as elastic for the evolutionary slingshot of the human race, but our future seeks better propulsion by sustainable means.

Reasons for Current and Continued Fossil Fuel Reliance

Both politics and economics play into our entrenched use of fossil fuels.

What is good for the short-term economy is seldom good for the environment. Fossil fuels are an excellent example of this: They are plentiful, simple to use, and reasonably cheap to extract and refine. Oil and natural gas are also used in primary life functions, from transportation to heating, making them a cornerstone of modern life and a significant portion of many national economies. A country can grow massively wealthy from the discovery and sale of oil or natural gas reserves.

Likewise, many jobs stay tied to extraction, refinement and sale of these fuels. When jobs are at stake, people tend to vote. Thus, the right’s alignment with traditional energy industries — and its opposition to green energy — makes some sense. President Trump carried most regions reliant on jobs tied to mining, drilling and fracking. When votes are cast along these lines, it is no surprise Republican candidates advocate for the continued reliance on carbon-emitting energy sources.

Obama’s Environmental Legacy

Where Trump’s campaign leaned on expanding the existing coal, oil and natural gas industries, his predecessor trod clearly in the opposite direction. President Obama aided legislation intended to preserve the environment: laws and orders ranging from the high-profile rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline to the long-term official goal of increasing fuel efficiency for personal vehicles. He also expanded existing wildlife refuges and national monuments and established new ones.

He also advocated for the expansion of renewable energy sources. In his infamous bailout bill, signed into law during the height of the economic recession, provisions included some $90 million earmarked for green energy subsidies.

In separate legislation, Obama also established massive tax credits for individual households interested in pursuing renewable energy. Individuals claimed these by contributing solar power to the grid, driving an electric car or even insulating their homes better, so as to decrease carbon wastefulness. Thousands of Americans felt incentivized to hop on board. Obama also funded continued research into the science behind renewable energy, rendering facilitators like turbines and panels more efficient.

Trump’s Environmental Legacy

It is hard to imagine a sharper about-face from the Obama-era legislation than the claims and tangible movement of the Trump team. During his campaign, Trump promised to entirely eradicate the EPA, a claim he since stepped back from, but whose specter continues to loom in the White House. He has settled for a 31 percent decrease in the agency’s budget and laying off several thousand associated jobs.

His pick for the agency head — Scott Pruitt — is a public climate change denier, and the EPA removed its climate change page in April. Trump has himself claimed climate science is a hoax and that any related action will cost America jobs and worsen economic suffering. Indeed, he recently signed an executive order in the midst of a team of miners, an act that would loosen mining restrictions on federal lands.

Lesser Trump legislation includes abolishing restrictions on big-game trophy hunting and tossing out the Clean Water Rule — a dangerous move that will open loopholes and ambiguity within the law. These are only two examples of a wide-ranging pattern of attacks on conservation norms.

The Facts

For all the political maneuvering and supposed protection of jobs in traditional energy sectors, the numbers tell a different story. The U.S. employs roughly 200,000 workers across all fossil fuel industries — which include oil, natural gas and coal. These numbers pale in comparison to the budding renewable energy industry, which claimed over 1 million workers in 2016. Further, job opportunities for renewable applications are on the rise. Wind energy boasted a 32 percent growth in employment between 2015 and 2016.

Conversely, oil and gas jobs have dwindled in recent years. Logic dictates that when one industry grows, the other will shrink, and there seems to be a bleak future for those involved in fossil fuels around the world. While some have proposed legislation allowing traditional fuel workers the chance to train for renewable energy jobs, little tangible action has been taken by the Trump administration.

The Future

Renewable energy marches on, in spite of the best efforts from the current administration. Thus, we find ourselves in a strange time: a government in denial of basic scientific fact, and a flourishing new industry replacing the wasteful and traditional energy sources. History cannot look kindly on this president.

Environment

Eco-Friendly New Year’s Resolutions You Should Make This Year

December 25, 2017
Eco-friendly new year's resolutions

Thanksgiving is behind us, and 2017 is nearly over. While we’re digesting our holiday meals, it’s time to start thinking about our Christmas plans and your New Year’s Resolutions. New Years is a great time to make some eco-friendly resolutions. If you’re not sure where to start, or you’re not sure what classifies as an eco-friendly resolution, you’ve come to the right place. Here are a few ideas to help you get started with planning your resolutions for the upcoming year.

Bring Your Own Bags

Unless you live in California (which has banned them) nearly every store puts your purchases in single-use plastic bags. These bags are the second most common form of litter in the world, second only to cigarette butts. They get caught in the wind, they end up in oceans and lakes and rivers where they kill wildlife, and they use up millions of barrels of oil each year to produce.

One of the easiest eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions to make is to give up plastic bags in favor of reusable bags. If you keep forgetting them, consider investing in a set of compact pocket- or purse-sized bags.

Use Less Water

Do you know how much water you use every single day? Between trips to the bathroom, showers, cooking and the water you drink, it can be hard to keep track. The USGS estimates that a single person uses between 80 and 100 gallons of water every single day. How can you reduce your water use?

  • Keep track of it — use apps like Dropcountr to keep track of your water usage. Not only will it give you a better idea of how much water you use, but it will also let you know the best places to reduce your overall water use.
  • Update your fixtures — old showerheads can use a ton of water. Update your bathroom with a low-flow showerhead and toilet. They work the same except for the fact that they use less water.
  • Skip the bottled water — Buying bottled water is wasteful in more ways than one. Instead, invest in a good reusable water bottle and water filtration if your local tap water tastes gross.

Eat Less Meat (Or Go Organic)

Meat can be part of a healthy diet, but it is also rough on the environment. Raising cows and pigs generates lots of CO2 and other greenhouse gasses, uses millions of gallons of water every year and cost millions of dollars. Reducing your overall meat consumption can help to reduce your carbon footprint and improve your overall health.

If you just can’t live with the idea of not eating meat a few times a week, try switching to organic, free-range meat sources. Most of these meets come from small local farms, which helps to bolster your local economy as well as your local ecosystems.

If you want to be more eco-friendly without making any dramatic changes to your lifestyle, just reduce your meat consumption.

Drive Less, Walk More

Personal vehicles make getting to and from work, school, and the store much more convenient, but these cars and trucks also account for more than 30% of emissions in the United States. You can help to reduce your overall carbon footprint by making an eco-friendly New Year’s resolution to drive less and walk, bike or use public transportation more.

The dramatic impact that cars have was never more evident than in Beijing in 2015. For the 70th anniversary of Victory Day, Beijing officials wanted clear skies for their parade, so they banned cars for two weeks before the event. Do you know what happened?

The skies turned perfectly blue. Just two weeks of no cars was enough to clear the smog away. Once cars were allowed to drive again, the haze came back in less than 24 hours.

Recycle and Compost

It’s 2017 — recycling isn’t as hard as it used to be. Many cities provide recycling bins and don’t even require you to sort your recyclables. Just put everything you can recycle in one container, and workers, with the help of machinery, will sort it at the plant. If you don’t already recycle, consider making that part of your eco-friendly New Year’s resolutions.

If you’ve got a garden or are planning on starting one, consider recycling your organic waste as well (kitchen waste! Not that organic waste!) in the form of a compost pile. Keep your coffee grounds, your eggshells and your vegetable shavings in a compost bin. This organic matter will decompose and provide nutrients that help your plants and flowers grow.

It doesn’t take much to make your new year a little more environmentally friendly. Use these resolution suggestions or come up with your own, and let us know what you’re planning on doing in 2018 to make your home and your family a little more eco-friendly.

Oceans

What Can We Realistically Do to Fight Sea Level Rise?

December 22, 2017
fight sea level rise

Climate change is heralding a new age of unpredictable weather and changing worldwide topography. We don’t know what will happen as we deal with the consequences of our excessive fossil fuel use. What we do know is that climate change is not some distant reality. It’s happening now, and it’s happening faster in some areas than in others.

One of the more concrete concerns associated with global climate change is sea level rise. We know warming the planet is causing the oceans to rise. What we don’t know is how much, how soon or how to stop it. The reality is, we can’t halt climate change altogether. We’ve gone too far for that, and our current CO2 levels are at or above 410 parts per million. That’s far above what we need to maintain to have a stable global temperature. Since CO2 takes anywhere from 20 to 200 years for a majority of the gas to disappear from the atmosphere, we’ve already done the damage. Now, we’re facing the question of what we can do about it.

Flood Preparation

The first and most important thing to do is evaluate and determine which areas are most at risk for increased floods. Rising ocean levels will push people out of their homes, forcing them to relocate. Flooding of low-lying wetlands and sanctuaries is a serious concern, and native species will struggle to find suitable habitats in their forced migrations. The salt water can also contaminate underground aquifers that are close to the coast, as well as damaging the soil.

On top of that, ocean surges will become stronger and more devastating, hitting areas that were safe five years earlier. One study predicts coastal flooding may increase by 50 percent by 2050. Some islands that are low enough may vanish entirely, and islands that don’t may have their land mass drastically reduced. Another study found that with enough meltwater, the oceans could rise enough to completely submerge London.

Lower Emissions

While carbon dioxide is the main greenhouse gas people talk about because of its long lifespan, there are others that also contribute to climate change. These are often shorter-lived gases like methane, which only remains in the air for about 12 years. These gases, dubbed “short-lived climate pollutants,” are not as big a factor in the long term, but they still contribute to climate change. By slowing or eliminating their output, we can mitigate sea level rise.

To fight sea level rise, we need to address the areas that are warming the most quickly. The Arctic is especially at risk. In some cases, the Arctic may be warming twice as fast as the rest of the world. Arctic ice also has the highest risk of turning to meltwater — such as the Greenland ice sheet, which is the one that could flood London.

One study found reducing soot and methane production by about 30 to 60 percent could slow sea level rise by a whopping 18 percent. That’s a significant difference, and could give people and animals more time to adjust to the rapidly changing environment. Reducing emissions could be incredibly beneficial for the millions who live in coastal cities like New York City, London and Miami, among others.

The downside is that limiting these short-term pollutants can slow sea level rise, but it can’t reverse the process of climate change. To do that, we need to find ways to remove CO2 and other pollutants from the air at a faster rate than we can put them in. At the rate we are currently producing, that is next to impossible. But it’s not stopping anyone from trying!

Marine Solutions

The ocean is the biggest carbon sink on the planet. The only reason CO2 doesn’t hang around in the atmosphere for hundreds of years is that the sea sucks it up. An increase in CO2 means the oceans are becoming more acidic, which is also killing off marine life. We know nothing soaks up CO2 the way plants do. That’s why people are seriously looking at manufacturing vast kelp farms, both to harvest for food and to help reduce CO2 in the air and oceans. Enough farms may eventually make a global difference, but only if people take a real interest in the product.

Innovation

Besides everyone cutting down on emissions, individual cities may be able to engineer their way out of danger. Some of the ideas people are now exploring are nothing short of inspired. In the Netherlands, floating neighborhoods and farms are reminiscent of the movie Waterworld.

Dubai and the UAE have been creating human-made islands for a while now, although the UAE is the only country to have completed the project. That knowledge of how to create a livable space where there wasn’t one could help countries and islands regain some of their landmasses.

We might be stuck with climate change for now, but that doesn’t mean we should give up. We can still mitigate the damage we do, fight sea level rise and decrease the extremes we experience as a result. Since the problem is already here, we might as well try to make it a little bit better.

Environment

My Favorite Holiday Eco-Friendly Dishes and Desserts

December 18, 2017
eco-friendly dishes and desserts

Welcome to Part 3 of the 3-part eco-friendly holiday series. You can read Part 1 Part 2 here.

Thanksgiving is behind us and just when we thought that we were done with cooking for a while, it’s time to prepare for the holidays. Whether you’re planning a big holiday feast or just a small intimate gathering for your immediate family, it’s time to start thinking about your menu and the kind of foods you want to serve.

Did you know that you can make your holiday dinner eco-friendly? Believe it or not, it is possible. Here are some of my favorite holiday eco-friendly dishes and desserts to help you make your holiday menu as green as possible.

Buy Organic and Local Where Possible

You’ve got tons of options for the main course for your holiday feast — turkey, goose, roast or some equally flavorful vegan alternatives. The biggest thing you want to remember for your main course protein is to buy local, organic and/or free range proteins. They’re a bit more expensive than the alternative, but they’re better both for you and for the environment.

Using local meat and produce helps to reduce carbon emissions by reducing the distance that the food has to travel.

I don’t know about you, but by the time holiday dinner rolls around, I have had just about enough of turkey for a while, and so I tend to go with a beef roast. I’ve included some vegan alternatives that are just as savory as well though!

Holiday Roast

Ingredients

  • Local, free-range rib eye roast, roughly 3lbs.
  • ¼ cup fresh chopped rosemary
  • ¼ cup chopped garlic. (This is about 20 cloves, give or take a few.)
  • Salt/pepper to taste
  • 4 tbsp olive oil
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • 4 cups mushrooms — use whatever is in season or choose your favorite mushrooms.
  • 1 cup beef stock.

Heat your oven to 350 °F. Tie the roast and season with salt and pepper. Mix your rosemary and garlic with 2 tbsp of olive oil and set aside. Add the other 2 tbsp of oil to a cast iron skillet over medium heat and brown the roast on all sides. Remove the pan from heat and cover the roast with the garlic and rosemary mixture. Roast for 1 to 1½ hours, until temperature reads 135 °F with a meat thermometer. Remove from heat and let rest.

While the roast is resting, sauté your mushrooms with butter until they’re cooked through and have absorbed the butter. Remove the roast from the pan, deglaze with stock and cook until thickened. Then just slice and serve!

Mushroom Wellington

You don’t need beef to have a fantastic holiday feast.

Ingredients

Vegan Filo Dough

  • 2 cups whole grain spelt flour
  • 1 tsp sea salt
  • 1 medium avocado mashed
  • ¾ cup very hot water

Filling

  • 1tbsp flax seed, ground
  • 1tbsp water
  • 3 1/8 cup of brown mushrooms
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 3 cloves crushed garlic
  • ½ c and 1 tsp dry white wine
  • ½ c and 1 tsp water
  • 1 tbsp vegetable stock paste
  • 1/8 c rolled oats
  • 1/8 c walnuts
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 3 1/8 cup thawed spinach
  • Juice of half a lemon
  • Cheese (omit for fully vegan recipe)
  1. Mix the pastry — add flour and salt to a bowl or food processor and combine. Add the avocado and blend, then add water a little at a time and blend. You want pliable dough that’s not too sticky. Knead for about five minutes, then wrap in plastic and rest while you make the filling. Mix your water and flax seed and let rest in the fridge while you cook the filling.
  2. Stew your garlic, water, white wine and stock paste over medium heat for 20 minutes or so. You can add more water if it starts to dry out.
  3. Dry sauté the mushrooms over high heat until well browned. Once browned, add the mushrooms to the garlic and wine mixture and cook for 15 more minutes. Toss the red onion in the pan where you were cooking the mushroom and sauté until translucent.
  4. Grind up the rolled oats and walnuts to a powder in a food processor. Mix the onions, mushroom mixture, rolled oats and walnut mixture and the flax seeds from the fridge until well combined. Wring out the thawed frozen spinach to get rid of as much water as possible. Season with salt, pepper and lemon juice.
  5. Roll out your dough and layer the ingredients on it — spinach first, then mushrooms and then top with cheese if you’re using it. Roll up the Wellington, brush with an egg wash (or use soy milk for a vegan recipe) and bake for 15-30 minutes until evenly browned.

Sides

Side dishes for holiday dinner are as varied as the people hosting these fantastic meals, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be eco-friendly.  The biggest trick for veggie sides is to use seasonal vegetables — beets, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots and citrus fruits are all in season in December, making them an ideal eco-friendly choice!

Maple Balsamic Brussels Sprouts

Ingredients

  • 1.5 cups Brussels sprouts
  • 1 bunch broccoli, broccolini or other seasonal vegetables.
  • A few handfuls of arugula
  • 2-4 tbsp olive oil
  • 1-2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1-2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • ¼ cup dried cranberries
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Remove the outer leaves of your Brussels sprouts and chop them in half. Cut the rest of your vegetables into bite-sized pieces. Heat your oven to 375 °F.

Spread your veggies out on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil, maple syrup, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper, and toss to coat. Bake until browned but not burnt — 20 minutes for veggies like broccoli and broccolini, 45 minutes for other vegetables like Brussels sprouts.

Toss with arugula and cranberries and serve immediately, or store and warm up right before serving.

Roasted Garlic Mashed Potatoes

Potatoes are in season in the winter, and you can’t have a proper tasty and filling meal without some potato goodness. This is not traditionally a vegan dish, but you can easily substitute the butter and milk for vegan-friendly alternatives — I’ll include some below.

Ingredients

  • 4 lbs of locally grown organic potatoes, peeled and cubed. (If you like some skin in your mashed potatoes, opt for red potatoes or other small varieties.)
  • 1 head of garlic, unpeeled.
  • 4 – 8 tbsp butter (substitute vegan buttery spread or olive oil)
  • 1 c half and half or whole milk (Substitute unflavored and unsweetened almond or soy milk)
  • Salt and pepper to taste

First, peel and chop your potatoes, then toss them into a pot of water with a pinch of salt and bring to a boil. Cook until the potatoes break apart when punctured with a fork.

While the potatoes are cooking, heat up your oven to 350. Don’t peel the garlic — instead, just chop off the top of the head, doing your best to expose all the cloves. Drizzle with olive oil, cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes or so until the garlic is browned and very soft. Remove and cool.

Once the potatoes are cooked, drain the water and mash them until they’ve reached the consistency you prefer. I like them chunky, but other people prefer smoother mashed potatoes, so this is entirely up to you. Mix in your butter and milk, and stir until smooth. Squeeze the roasted garlic out of the cloves into the potatoes and mix well — I love the subtle taste of roasted garlic, so I tend to use the whole head but feel free to season to taste.

Add salt and pepper, and serve.

Dessert

You can’t have a holiday dinner without dessert. Break out the fine dessert china instead of using disposable plates and silverware. It looks better, and it’s better for the environment.  We’ve got one no-bake dessert to keep you from having to turn the oven on, and one that takes advantage of the seasonal citrus fruit that’s available in December!

No Bake Eggnog Bites

Ingredients

  • 1 ¾ cups of gluten-free oat flour
  • ¼ cup coconut flour (can be substituted for more oat flour if preferred)
  • 2 tbsp granulated sweetener (sugar, coconut palm sugar, etc.)
  • Pinch each of sea salt, nutmeg, and cloves
  • ¼ cup nut butter of choice (almond, cashew, etc.)
  • ¼ cup brown rice syrup (or any sticky sweetener)
  • ¼ cup eggnog of choice (substitute Silk or Almond eggnog for vegan recipe)

First, mix dry ingredients — flour, sweetener, sea salt, cloves, nutmeg — in a bowl and combine well.

Next, heat your nut butter and sticky sweetener in a microwave-safe bowl or small saucepan until combined. Add this to the dry ingredients and mix. Once mixed, pour in your eggnog and mix well until a thick batter forms.

Using your hands, form the dough into balls and refrigerate to firm. Simple but tasty — if you want, you can even add a scoop of protein powder to make them a little less of a guilty pleasure.

Grapefruit Brown Sugar Muffins

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cup brown sugar
  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • ¼ tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup flour
  • 2 grapefruits, sliced

Cream together your butter and sugar, then stir in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla extract. Mix in your flour a bit at a time, until well combined. Scoop the batter into a muffin tin and top each muffin with a slice of grapefruit.

Bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean when inserted in the center of the cupcake.

It’s not hard to keep holiday eco-friendly while still enjoying all the amazingly rich flavors of the season. Just remember to buy local, buy seasonal and skip the disposable dishware, and you’re well on your way to reducing your carbon footprint while still making eco-friendly dishes and desserts to remember.

Environment

My Favorite Eco-Friendly Christmas Gift Ideas

December 15, 2017
Favorite eco-friendly Christmas gift ideas

Thanks for joining me for Part 2 of this 3-part series on eco-friendly holiday celebration. You can reader Part 1 here.

It’s that time of year again where everyone starts thinking about what they’re going to get for the people they love. Presents have to be thought through, bought and wrapped before people arrive for Christmas. And don’t forget to consider shipping time for those gifts that have to be sent through the mail. This year, choose a theme to base gifts upon rather than stressing over each individual gift.

Buying eco-friendly gifts doesn’t have to mean doing a lot of research to find the right gift for the people on your list. These gifts are easy to think of if you spend a short amount of time imagining ways you and the ones closest to you can help the earth. Check out some ideas for my favorite eco-friendly Christmas gift ideas, so you can rest easy Christmas morning knowing you’ve done your part to give back to the earth too.

1. A Drying Rack

Drying racks are something not many people think about buying unless they’re in college. Not only can drying racks save time and money, but they can also help decrease the energy consumption of a household, which means a family’s carbon footprint can be lightened. Get a drying rack for that person who always talks about how many loads of laundry they do, and they’ll quickly notice an improvement in their finances and concerns for the planet.

2. Reusable Water Bottles

One of the many things people get and forget to replace is a reusable water bottle. They come in all shapes and sizes, which means they can be personalized for everyone. They’re easily refillable and will help reduce the catastrophic plastic pollution growth that’s accumulated over the last few decades.

3. Biodegradable Soap Nuts

Reducing the use of household chemicals is a big way people can be more eco-friendly, and a place chemicals can sneak in is through washing machine detergents. Help a friend or family member skip the next bottle of dyed, soap liquid and use soap nuts instead. They’re compostable and work well to remove things like stains and smells. Plus, they can be reused after a wash, which can save money.

4. Composting Bin

Using a composting bin is something people have to warm up to, but when they’re presented as a gift with a set of instructions, it makes them easy to use. Composting is important for anyone concerned about being eco-friendly because they help minimize the damage effects of landfills, like how they’re the third-largest source of human methane emissions. Try giving a bin to a friend everyone looks up to and see if you can get a trend going.

5. Fabric Shopping Bags

Your friends and family probably have one or two of these lying around the house somewhere because they get given out so frequently as free gifts from stores, but it’s for a good reason. Reusing fabric bags keeps plastic bags out of the ocean and paper bags from unnecessary tree depletion. They’re collapsible, eco-friendly and basically the perfect gift for people who grocery shop frequently.

Giving gifts each year for Christmas always presents new challenges that everyone has to overcome. Some people you drift away from and don’t know as well, and some people are out of your daily life entirely, but you still have to get them something. It can feel nearly impossible to figure out what to get the people you love when there’s so much to choose from, so take it easy this year and go with presents that fit an eco-friendly theme.

By giving your loved ones gifts that give back to the earth, you can help minimize carbon footprints without breaking a sweat. Help those closest to you start using refillable water bottles or cloth grocery bags. Anything produced with little impact on the earth and reusable for a considerable amount of time will help the earth while simultaneously helping you check people off your gift list.

Think about the lifestyles your friends and family lead to decide which of the favorite eco-friendly Christmas gift ideas are the right ones for them. Not everyone will want to use the same gift, but they will all love to get behind the idea of presents that help them while helping the world.

 

Have other go-to gifts you love? Share your favorite eco-friendly Christmas gift ideas in the comments below.