Mathematics, Sustainability, and Global Learning

The Earth’s natural systems provide an environment for living beings on Earth. However, overtime, the human population has grown at a very fast pace, especially over the past hundred years. Human societies, up until recently, have not been very environmentally conscious due to a lack of understanding and technology regarding sustainable living and treating the Earth respectfully. Human society, at out large current size, is at a global overshoot—this means that we are using more resources than we have, and eventually our environment will run out of means to sustain the human population. We calculate how to reduce overshoot by either linear or exponential change, depending on the rate at which governments could potentially set goals to reduce our extravagant and careless use of resources. Global learning needs to occur, and for this to happen it is important that humans work as a team to live more sustainably—this means that all humans need to recognize that there are significant issues with our environment and the way that we are living. Governments need to be the leaders that they are supposed to be, and implement policies to work towards this goal, and also to implement mandatory learning about our environmental crisis. There are clear relationships between our human activities and destroying the Earth’s natural system, and the biggest issue that I see is our amount of waste and our lack of properly dealing with our waste.

Green Proposal, Plastic Problem

I think one area of campus where I see a lot of waste and not a lot of sustainability is the bookstore. On campus, the bookstore gives away a massive quantity of plastic bags, which are often discarded quickly after use. This practice is extremely not sustainable, and contributes to a lot of pollution. As we have seen in math of sustainability, using an excess of plastic is incredibly harmful to our environment–this includes our oceans, our groundwater, our wildlife, as well as many other aspects of life. Another issue with this practice is that there doesn’t seem to be a good way to recycle these plastic bags on campus; I often see them being placed in trash bins. As a green proposal, I think that Union would be wise in starting an initiative to give students reusable bags, and to encourage students to use these by charging a small fee for the plastic bags, similar to how some grocery stores do.

Geothermal Energy Production: Not the Most Sustainable Option

I learned a lot about geothermal energy production through my mini-term to New Zealand. There, geothermal energy is ideal because of New Zealand’s geographic location, which is located near where two tectonic plates meet. Geothermal energy production works via using the heat and thus energy from inside the Earth to make power. This works by pumping geothermal fluid out of the ground, converting the heat into steam, and having this steam go through turbines and turn the turbines so create energy. This is done on a large scale in New Zealand to create electricity, but there is also smaller-scale geothermal energy that people can use to heat their homes. The New Zealand geothermal practices are so successful due to the location near tectonic plates that have heat closer to the Earth’s surface, which means that other locations are much less ideal for geothermal energy production and make this practice less efficient. Geothermal energy production can be quite problematic due to the geothermal fluid itself–prior to the late 1990s, geothermal fluid was dumped into rivers after the fluid was used to create steam. This ended up polluting a lot of rivers and raising the river temperature as well as allowing for harmful, poisonous bacteria and algae to grow in rivers, killing off the wildlife. The Resource Management Act has thus put restrictions on how geothermal fluid is dealt with after the energy production process. Fluid is now pumped back into the ground after the fluid is used, to attempt to recycle the geothermal fluid. This is still quite problematic because the fluid can build up in certain locations and erupt out of the ground. Another problem that occurs is the shifting levels of the ground. When the geothermal fluid is placed back in the ground, this can also contaminate the ground water and thus our crops, since the crops are now interacting with harmful, toxic materials. Pumping the fluid back into the ground can get quite expensive, and the cleanup of the rivers in New Zealand that have been previously destroyed by this practice is extremely expensive. This is definitely not a widely commercialized practice, and I really don’t think it should be (alternatives such as solar and wind power are much better for the environment with fewer negative drawbacks). In terms of long-term sustainability, I don’t see this practice being incredibly sustainable due to the negative environmental drawbacks. However, the fluid can keep being re-used, which is a slight positive when compared to things such as coal burning or fossil fuel usage.

Growth and Decay, Population Change

Growth and decay refer to the direction in which a quantity is changing. If something is growing, it means that a value is increasing (example–world population growth over time). If something is decaying, it means that a value is decreasing (example–population of Japan is decaying over time). A growth or decay factor describes the rate at which a quantity is changing over a certain period of time via a multiplication sequence (factor implies multiplication). For example, to describe a population increase by 10%, multiply by the growth factor 1.10. To describe a population decrease by 10%, multiply by 0.90 (shows a 10% decrease because only 90% of the theoretical population is remaining. A total change is the amount by which a quantity increases or decreases–for example, the total population change for Japan from 2010 to 2016 was a population decrease by 1.13 million (128.06 million in 2010 –> 126.93 million in 2016). The percent change for this population from 2010-2016 would be a 0.88% decrease in population. The average rate of change would be decreasing by .18 million people per year (this means the population is decreasing by less than a quarter of a million people per year). The terms linear growth would refer to a steady decrease per year, resulting in a linear graph while exponential growth or decay means that a quantity is increasing more and more rapidly or decreasing more and more rapidly over time.

See the data for Japan population decay here.

Social Justice and Voting for U.S. Presidential Elections

I see voter turnout as a social justice issue. Voter turnout has consistently stayed between 45 to 85% of the voting age population in the United States. Voter turnout has clearly correlated to social justice issues, including who is allowed vote, who can afford to leave work to vote, and who feels politically empowered enough to vote. We see large dips in voter turnout prior to the great depression, as well as in the early 2000s around the recession and around the recession in the 1980s. Whenever there are poor economic times, we see dips in voter turnout. We also see dips in voter turnout when the population has less confidence in the government– this is especially true for during and post Vietnam war era United States.

Another social justice issue related to voter turnout for presidential elections is the fact that those who are financially disadvantaged tend to not be allowed to leave work to vote within voting hours. This is an issue that has been combatted by other countries including Australia, which enacted mandatory voting legislation in 1918 and has imposed fines on those who do not vote. However, since voting is not mandatory in the United States, not all employers let their employees leave work to vote. Since the United States does not have mandatory voting laws, we can attribute many changes in voter turnout to social justice issues.


Link here to data.

Population Growth and Sustainability

For my data selection, I chose to examine world population graphs. Below, we see the graph of the changing population from 1750 to the projected population in year 2100. The red line that we see in this graph shows the annual growth rate of the world population. This line expresses how growth was relatively between .4%-.6% from 1750 up through 1930, but after the baby boom post WWII, population growth shot up exponentially. Now, with less people having babies and the population is unable to replenish itself, population growth is now slowing at an exponential rate as well. There are several reasons for this–more women are joining the work force and are either waiting to have kids, having less kids, or not having kids at all. Some women choose not to have children at all due to their perception of the world in its current state, which is something I learned from my political science class this past spring. The other curve seen on this graph is the blue curve of the world population. The dark blue shaded in section represents the actual population growth from 1750 up to 2015. The lighter blue shaded in region represents the projected population growth from 2015 up to the year 2100. The population is still increasing, but at a much slower rate than in the past, which is why the slope of the projected population growth is much less steep than the slope of population growth from 1945 to 2015. This relates to sustainability because our current population growth is not sustainable for our Earth. This is partially due to the amount of food we need to grow to feed this giant population, and the amount of land that we need but do not have to efficiently grow food on (not all land is good for growing crops). This also relates to my research from last week discussing the problems with eating meat, as this population size is not sustainable for having humans be able to consume meat (which the practice of raising the meat in itself isn’t sustainable as well).

Link to article here.

Water Sustainability and Food Choices

Thinking about what I want to eat for dinner, I don’t often consider how my choices are impacting the environment. The agriculture and livestock industries require massive amounts of water; with this said, some choices for dinner are more environmentally sustainable than others. According to Kai Olson-Sawyer, a Senior Research and Policy Analyst in the GRACE Water and Energy Programs, “the total amount of water needed – to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons of water; one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water. As a comparison, the water footprint of soybeans is 216 gallons; corn is 108 gallons”. Thinking about the amount of fresh water required to raise livestock vs grow crops, choosing a plant-based diet is much better for long-term environmental sustainability, due to the extreme strain on our water resources from the livestock. The extensive amount of water required to raise animals comes partially from how much the animals need to eat and drink, as well as the number of animals that are produced in our massive food industry, especially in the United States. Due to the large differences in water requirements for production, plant-based diets contribute to much better environmental sustainability than diets that include meat.

Click here for the article link. 

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide Increases

In reading an article from the Scientific American, I have learned that for the past five years, Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere have increased at a rate of at least 2 parts per million, which is an “all time high” according to author Scott Waldman. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has been keeping a close watch on increasing Carbon Dioxide atmospheric levels due to the intense environmental threat increases in CO2 levels pose. Pieter Tans is a lead scientist at the NOAA’s Global Greenhouse Gas Reference Network, and he is especially concerned at the rate of the increases of CO2 in our atmosphere, “The rate of CO2 growth over the last decade is 100 to 200 times faster than what the Earth experienced during the transition from the last ice age,” Tans said. “This is a real shock to the atmosphere” (Waldman 2017). Why the concern? High levels of Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere can cause sea levels to rise, increase the existence of droughts, extreme weather including hurricanes, blizzards, and more. Outside of this article, I see my own concerns for rising CO2 levels in our atmosphere. A direct impact on all living things on this planet by the extreme weather is our ability to grow food. As the environment changes and becomes more hostile, it is also much more difficult for agricultural endeavors to thrive. This will end up causing food shortages and disastrous effects on all living creatures as well as the economy. Action must be taken to reduce Carbon Dioxide emissions and Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere so that life can continue to thrive on Earth.

Link to article here.



Sustainability to me means a functional, ongoing way for systems to work. I interacted closely with research in sustainability when I studied abroad on the New Zealand mini-term in the December of my Sophomore year at Union. I explored sustainability through the lens of energy resources, comparing renewable and non-renewable forms of energy, since New Zealand is the leader in renewable energy use. New Zealand has taken steps to use resources such as geothermal energy production, wind energy, hydro energy, and solar energy to cut down on carbon dioxide emissions, as well as to create a more sustainable way of living. I think that sustainability is something that is really commonly thought about throughout New Zealand culture, more so than in American culture, in my opinion. I think due to this way of thinking as well as due to the actions of politicians creating the Resource Management Act in New Zealand, their way of life has become very sustainable as compared to less sustainability in American culture. Sustainability is important to me to keep our society running and the Earth clean for generations to come, including and especially for my cutest cousin Grayson, seen below.

Here is the link to learn about the Resource Management Act of 1991.