For this blog, I am going to focus on global awareness which can be defined as the recognition and appreciation of thecomplexity, size, and diversity of the earth as a single entity. In order to have awareness, we must accept what we do not know and aim to learn what we are unaware of. Overall, I believe that we are all making positive strides in understanding our global impact on the Earth, but we lack the complete answer in how to reverse damages we have caused. For example, there were about 12 billion hectares of biologically productive land and water areas on Earth in 2014. Dividing by the number of people alive in that year (7 billion) gives 1.72 global hectars per person, not including wild species that also need the land. By becoming aware of data like this, we can work together towards decreasing our demand on the environment by using global goals such as the SDG’s. Also, that current levels of meat production adds nearly 6.5 billion tons of CO2-equivalent greenhouse gases every year to the atmosphere. Globally, if we do not work together, we will continue to trigger irreversible negative worldwide effects such that jeopardize earth’s resources such as biodiversity loss and ocean acidification.
My green fee proposal concerns reducing the amount of paper used on campus. Paper makes up 27% of municipal solid waste in the U.S., more than any other material that Americans throw away. College campuses are clearly a place of mass consumption of paper due to the amount of assignments printed, tests, and note taking. In order to reduce this, I would suggest that all professors ban printing of assignments and use online submissions for grading instead. Another suggestion is requiring online note taking rather than writing them out in a majority of classes besides upper level math or engineering etc. Finally, we should only purchase paper that is made from recycled materials. For example, there is already a few notebooks in the bookstore made from these recycled materials. Although this idea can be tricky for reasons such as better memory retention of written out notes, or classes that cannot type equations, I think that it can help with certain classes. Together, the individual paper-saving efforts made across departments can help to reduce Union College’s waste and carbon footprint, building momentum towards becoming a more sustainable campus.
In order to make hydroelectric power, you need altitude and rainfall. Using the power of moving water to generate electricity is the largest source of emissions-free, renewable electricity in the United States and worldwide. To increase the volume of moving water, impoundments or dams are used to collect the water. An opening in the dam uses gravity to drop water down a pipe called a penstock. The moving water causes the turbine to spin, which causes magnets inside a generator to rotate and create electricity. In 2011, hydropower provided 16% of the world’s electricity, second only to fossil fuels. Worldwide capacity in 2011 was 950 gigawatts, with 24% in the China, 8% in the United States, and 9% in Brazil. In the U.S., hydropower is produced for an average of 0.85 cents per kilowatt-hour, and convert 90% of the available energy into electricity (kwh).
Since hydropower depends on rivers and streams for generation, the potential to use hydropower as a source of electricity varies across the country. For example, the Pacific Northwest (Oregon and Washington) generates more than two-thirds of its electricity from hydroelectric dams. The Grand Coulee dam on the Columbia River in Washington is one of the largest dams in the world, with a capacity of more than 6,750 megawatts. Hydropower is a tool for developing countries and can serve as a long-term energy source. However, the flooding of land to create reservoirs can also eliminate areas where people live or grow crops.
The article I looked at claims that despite popular opinion, the global population is not growing exponentially, but rather is growing in a straight line. Exponential growth is described as the growth rate of the population, as a fraction of the population’s size, and is constant. Therefore, if a population has a growth rate of 2%, and it remains 2% as the population gets bigger, it’s growing exponentially. Despite the starting points of two quantities, the one quantity that grows exponentially will become larger than one growing linearly. For the United States, the population growth over the past half century has been very close to a straight line, the R2 is 0.9956.
Essentially, it seems as if people confuse the words exponentially and increasingly when talking about population growth. The graph shown demonstrates linear growth, and how exponential growth occurs only when the percentage growth rate remains constant as the population gets bigger.
I looked at data concerning the employment rates of single mothers vs. married mothers in 2000-2005. Unsurprisingly, the data showed that single mothers were challenged in the job market. In 2001-2003, both single and married parents employment rates dropped due to the recession. Afterwards, married parents employment rate increased but the single mothers did not. This is an issue we as a society must deal with because single mothers often do not have the same resources as married parents.
Despite the attempt to increase the productivity of crops through modern agricultural techniques, a recent study found that crop yield has not been rising at a sufficient pace to meet the projected demand by 2050. The study analyzes the historical improvements in crop yields for corn, rice, wheat and soybeans. The solid lines in the graph below show that growth has been growing at a consistent rate over that past few years. However, they also show what would happen if this growth rate continues, which is a rate that is unsustainable. The dashed lines show how productivity would need to grow even more rapidly in order to satisfy the expected demand in 2050, essentially doubling global food production.
This additional wheat production graph below shows that crop productivity is not the same across the world and is actually stagnating. In the U.S. Midwest, wheat yields per acre have been rising at a 2 percent per year. But in parts of India or Eastern Europe, they’ve basically flat-lined. It is assumed that the countries experiencing this are simply not using their resources such as fertilizers properly. However, on the other hand, some parts of the world are hitting a “biological wall,” a limit on how much yields can keep rising. Even with genetic modification and better technology, there are physiological limits for plants. This in combination with the effects of global warming such as extreme heat waves that can affect crop yield are quite terrifying when considering our future. The current population of about 7 billion is projected to rise to 9.6 billion in 2050 suggesting that our crop yields will not be sustainable. Essentially, we are not growing enough to feed the world.
After researching the effects of raising livestock and poultry for meat, I found that the negative consequences were even worse than I expected. The total amount of water needed to produce one pound of beef is 1,799 gallons of water and one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water. (Food Tank). As a comparison, the water footprint of soybeans only takes 216 gallons of water. Beef requires the largest amount of water because the bigger the animal, the more resources required such as more drinking water and water to clean etc. However, the resources that beef requires goes way beyond just water. The thousands of pounds of food cows are fed such as corn require large quantities of fertilizers, land, and fuel for farming machines, and lead to more fossil fuels and pollution. This ties into our class discussion about how cows produce large amounts of methane.
This issue is important because global meat production has doubled and will continue this upward trend. It is difficult to suggest people to become vegetarian, but reducing meat intake by 1/3 could lead to a 1/3 reduction in water usage. There is not a single human activity that affects the planet more than raising livestock.
This photo gives a visual of how water usage sky rockets due to the consumption of beef.
Although carbon dioxide emissions can, and are needed to increase plant and crop growth, emissions that are too high can decrease the nutritional value of crops. According to, PLOS Medicine, CO2 decreases the nutritional value of key staple crops, particularly rice and wheat, by lowering concentrations of protein, micronutrients, and B vitamins. Therefore, decreasing greenhouse gases could decrease 48.2% of negative health effects. Additionally, CO2 induced changes in plant chemistry will also have global consequences for all living things who consume plants, including us humans. Rising temperatures of 1 degree Celcius above pre-industrial levels are also expected to have a detrimental effect on crop growth due to increased intensity, duration, and frequency of heat waves.
This lack of nutrients from rising CO2 emission can lead to both malnutrition and can increase toxins in food. This is especially difficult because climate change and severe weather as a result can decrease food production to up to 21 to 35% of staple foods such as rice, soybeans, and wheat. In a study conducted in Japan, Australia, and the US, crops were grown in normal conditions and in experimental plots with CO2 enriched air. The current atmospheric CO2 level wis 400 parts per million. In the enriched plots, it was between 546 and 586 parts per million, “a level scientists expect the atmosphere to reach in four to six decades” (National Geographic). Results found a 9.3% drop in zinc level in wheat which led them to conclude that as CO2 increases, crop nutrients decrease. This result touches upon what is occurring now, and what can occur in the future. The article also touches upon how CO2 emissions peak in May every year, which is the a prime crop growing month. Even if we somehow figured out a way to stop carbon dioxide emission today, the damage already put into the atmosphere will affect us for years.
My definition of sustainability is the ability to avoid resource depletion in order to maintain the world’s equilibrium and benefit future generations. Ways to do this has been introduced to me since I was in grade school, but recently I feel as if issues regarding sustainability are more prominent as ever due to rising awareness of issues such as climate change, pollution, food production, and overuse of materials. The general consensus is that humans are using resources at a pace that we will never be able to maintain. Earth Overshoot Day touches upon how we would basically need another two planets to account for the natural resources used along with our rapidly growing population. The article also states that our carbon footprint has the largest impact yet. I am very interested in learning about the effects of carbon dioxide emission and the numbers that provide insight regarding the damage that has already occurred, projected damage, and what we can do to make changes.