Global Learning and Sustainability

The 17 global goals outlined are incredibly ambitious, some of them can potentially be achieved, others are a bit idealistic and far-fetched.  Goal number 16, which highlights peace, justice and strong institutions is a goal that will likely never be completed.  To expect governments across the world to all be stable, and all have equal respect for human rights is close to impossible.  Freedom House is a nonprofit institution that analyzes and reports on the state of human rights across the world.  By their assessment, out of the 195 recognized countries in the world, only 87 are actually considered ‘totally free.’  49 are ‘not free,’ and 59 are considered ‘partly free.’  This means that less than half (49% to be exact) of the countries in the world show complete respect for human rights and civil liberties.  With half the countries in the world not adhering to goal 16, it makes accomplishing it a daunting task.  I don’t think activism alone is able to achieve a solid foundation of human rights and strong institutions.  Activism can only do so much in the face of violent and repressive governments.  In order for goal 16 to be fully realized, military interventions might be necessary to force governments to change their ways, and their leadership.  However, military interventions go against the very nature of peace, and can lead to death, poverty, and famine, thus violating other global goals.  It begs the question if achieving goal 16 is worth worsening progress on other goals.  Out of all the goals highlighted, I think goal 16: climate action, is the most doable.  It doesn’t call for solving climate change, it simply mandates that countries and people take steps to act in the face of climate change, something which is already happening with things such as the Paris Climate Accords.

Green Fee Proposal

It’s been discussed a bit before, but I think a solid idea to lower plastic waste on campus would be by giving all freshman a metal or plastic refillable water bottle, whilst getting rid of plastic cups and purchasable plastic bottles in reamer.  This plan would only work if we got rid of plastics in reamer, as it would force students to use the water bottles that are given to them.  Union already has refill stations in place around campus, so the only real cost would be the purchasing of the bottles for incoming freshmen.  The campus would also save money, as the cost of purchasing plastic water bottles and cups for reamer would be taken out.  Also, by having students use their own bottles, the mindset of not wasting plastic would also be instilled in the campus community and would hopefully be remembered for the rest of their lives.

Wood as a Power Source

For this post, I wanted to look at a power source that has become less prevalent over time, simply because more efficient energy sources have been found.  Wood is the first energy source humans ever discovered and used, primarily as a source of light and to cook food.  It was never intended to power cars, or power homes on a large scale.  Gas, Oil, and Electricity now make up the bulk of our energy, as they are more convenient and effective for our needs.  However, after doing some research, I learned that wood is still the primary power source for a lot of people around the globe, primarily in the developing world.  According to the food and agriculture organization of the united nations “more than two billion people depend on wood energy for cooking and heating.”  In countries where electricity isn’t widely available wood is the easiest source of energy to use, as all it requires is people finding trees and cutting them down.  (Source)

Wood is a renewable source since it is something that is planted and can obviously regrow over and over again.  Using wood as one of the primary power sources for developed countries at a huge scale is probably not feasible.  However, if countries want to use more renewable energy, wood could certainly play a role in this.  According to forestry focus, “wood from sustainably managed forests, when used as an energy source, does not add extra carbon to the atmosphere as the carbon released through its combustion and/or decay is taken up by replacement trees. The net effect is that wood is carbon neutral if it comes from well managed forests.” One developed country, Ireland, is currently trying to increase its reliance on wood as a power source, and is exploring several options to do so.  The Irish government is funding research that looks at how wood can be used on a larger scale logistically, and having test runs on supply chains, alongside promoting the use of wood as a renewable source.  (Source)

Panther Population in Florida

Florida is a unique state to say the least.  It’s a place that’s brimming with various different plants and animals, and has many conservation areas of great beauty such as the everglades.  At the same time Florida is also in a constant state of development, as construction of shopping malls, housing, and retirement communities begin to fill up the state.  Coupled with this is the large number of tourists and vacationers that come to the state every year seeking sunshine.  All of this has impacted the wildlife and ecosystems of the region.  One animal that is currently endangered is the Florida panther.  Back in the 1970s and 80s when people were less environmentally conscious, the Florida panther population dropped down to around 20 or so.  It was estimated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service in 2017 that there were between 120-230 panthers.  The panther population has risen thanks to concerted efforts by conservationists to keep the panthers around, however, they are still severely endangered.

For clarity, let’s say that the population was 20 in 1975.  Let’s also say that the 2017 population was 180.  This is an obvious increase of 160 panthers over 42 years.  If we divide 160 by 42 we get the rate of change: 3.81 new panthers every year.    If in 1976 there were 23.81 panthers (up from 20 the previous year), then we can divide 23.81/20 for find the growth factor and percentage.  The growth factor is 1.1905 and the percentage increase in panthers per year is 19%.

It’s hard to believe that the panther population will soon skyrocket, but with careful study and effort, the population could likely go back up to a steady level.  This link highlights some of the dangers panthers face, and partially explains why there are so few of them.

Change in Household Incomes since 1967

For this post, I decided to look at various household income levels in the U.S. and how they’ve changed over time.  Specifically, I wanted to see what percentage of the population belongs to the highest bracket of income (>$200,000) and the lowest bracket (<$15,000).  My source for this was the U.S. census bureau, which had helpful downloadable charts on poverty and income levels.  The chart I looked at broke down income levels by race as well.

The change in income levels from 1967 to now is interesting and requires a bit of unpacking.  These two graphs I made help visualize this change.  One is a bar graph and the other is a line graph.

Both graphs show that in the last 50 years or so there became more households in the $200,000 threshold, and less households in the $15,000 threshold.  This might point to the idea that there is considerably more wealth now than there was in the 1960’s.  While this might be true, there are several other factor that can be taken into account.  The largest of these is inflation.  The value of a dollar has gone down since the 1960’s.  According to, $300 in 1967 would be worth $2,250 today.  This explains why there were so few households with >$200,000 in the 1960’s, as that money then would have been worth around $1,500,000 today.  Coupled with this is the idea that someone could successfully live off a $15,000 a year salary in the 1960’s, but that certainly isn’t possible now.  It’s unfortunate that some people have to live in this threshold.  Doing things such as raising the minimum wage might help, but its hard to determine what the exact effects of doing this would be.  It would probably improve the lives of some workers, but it might also contribute to inflation, and a push by companies to use automated workers instead.  One other brief observation about the graph is the brief dip around 2008-2010.  This likely has to do with the stock market crash of 2008.

Graph of Global CO2 Emissions

The website “Our world in data” specializes in gathering data, assessing it, and presenting it effectively through graphs.  Looking purely at numbers and trying to distill a trend or message from them is often quite difficult.  I think this website does an effective job of presenting important world data in an interesting manner.  The specific article I found the graph on is titled “CO2 and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions,” by Hannah Ritchie and Max Roser.  They elaborate on the role CO2 plays in our atmosphere (its processes and interactions with plants and humans) and give close to 30 graphs that show various statistics.  Levels of methane, nitrous oxide, are shown, along with representations of various GHG outputs by country.  All the graphs are interactive, and you are able to click on them to learn more.

The graph I chose to present deals with the global CO2 levels worldwide in recent history.  A line graph of sorts, it breaks down global CO2 emissions, but distinguishes each countries output by color.  The graph starts in the year 1751, so its interesting to see how little CO2 was emitted early on compared to now.  Industrialization and the rise of the world’s population are obviously the largest factors in play here with this trend.  However, even from 1990 to 2015, there was a significant jump, where CO2 emissions almost doubled.  In looking at the division of countries by color, one can see that the U.S. and China make up the bulk of world emissions.  China has slightly larger emissions than the U.S. currently.  I think it’s interesting to see that no other singular country comes close to the U.S. or China in terms of emissions.



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Wasting Water

Everyone is told to turn off the water while brushing their teeth.  I remember teachers in elementary school always discussing the issue, and people are prone to telling others to turn off the water.  It seems like such a minor issue compared to other environmental concerns, considering brushing teeth only takes about two minutes.  However, it is still an issue that many people aren’t educated well enough on.  According to  around 40% of Americans still don’t shut off the faucet when brushing their teeth.  This accounts for eight gallons of water wasted every day.  The population of the U.S. is around 325 million.  40% of that number is 130 million.  Assuming that everyone brushes their teeth once a day, 130 million people waste eight gallons of water a day.  So, 1,040,000,000 gallons of water are wasted every day in the U.S. because people don’t turn off the faucet.

The fact that some countries don’t have clean drinking water, or have severe water shortages makes the U.S. look irresponsible with all our wasted water.  Solving the faucet waste problem probably won’t be easy, as its a topic many are already aware of.   Telling kids in school to turn of the water when brushing their teeth is one step.  Another possible idea is to have a specific button on a faucet that dispenses a certain amount of water needed to brush teeth.  Another option could be to have some sort of number tracker on faucets that shows how much water has been used.  I think if people actually knew how much water they were wasting, they would be more prudent about shutting off the faucet.

The Impact of Livestock on Climate Change

Spurned by our brief discussion on the impact cows and methane have on the climate, I wanted to learn a little bit more about their impact.  I came across an article on “time for change” that elaborates on the issue.   The big talking point of the article for me was the fact that “agriculture is responsible for 18% of the total release of greenhouse gases world-wide.”  This is a big number, and I never realized the scale of the impact livestock had on greenhouse emissions.  This is a tricky subject, as humans are unlikely to decrease their meat consumption, and cows are used for other products such as milk as well.  As the population of the world goes up, this number is likely to increase, as a larger population means there is a larger demand livestock.

The article explains that “global meat production is expected to double from 229 million tons to 580 million tons in 2050.”  Furthermore “a kg of beef is responsible for the equivalent of the amount emitted by a European car for 250 km.” They put forth a table that breaks down where the CO2 comes from.  The message of the article: humans need to consume less meat and dairy in order to lower these numbers and the impact of climate change.

Blog Post #1

As a Political Science major, the goal is to understand how states are created, how they operate, and the effects that policy decisions have on society as a whole.  Oftentimes environmental sustainability and global climate change become politicized issues that are now partisan in nature.  This is unfortunate, as sustainability is deeply intertwined with the quality of life that people have.  From my understanding sustainability relates to maintaining the makeup of our planet and ensuring that there are enough resources to support human life.  The modern world often threatens sustainability, and it is important for people to understand these threats; whether it be from climate change, or lack crops and food.  In the Spring I took a geology class that covered climate change and I feel as though I at least have a basic understanding of the issue.  Another course that I’ve taken that relates to the issue of sustainability was Human Security.  Human Security is a concept brought forth by the United Nations that describes ways in which governments worldwide can enact policies that give people the ability to live lives that are secure from the threats of violence, hunger, and poverty.  Last winter break I had the opportunity to study in India.  When I was there, our group saw firsthand at how some of these issues can directly effect quality of life.  In taking this course, I hope to brush up on my math skills a bit and garner knowledge about how people and governments address the issue of sustainability worldwide.