Correlations of Life on Land; Global Awareness

The goal I decided to analyze is goal number 15, Life on Land. This goal sets out to, “protect, restore, and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.” This goal is essentially promoting a healthy planet for everyone who inhabits it. Because we are all part of this world’s plethora of ecosystems, goal number 15 works to protect that ecosystem through a collaborative effort. At the global level, the world works together to fight these issues. For example, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations works to enhance the productivity and sustainability of land use through the interaction between climate and human activities, and land resources.  They have created a model (below) to show this relationship. This organization works with the UN to fight climate change by implementing the most productive use of land according to biophysical and socio-economic conditions.  They do this to minimize land degradation, and to promote the rehabilitating of that land, and to promote the sustainable use of land uses as a whole.

Sustainable land use and management (human activities) decide the sustainability/resilience or degradation/vulnerability of land resources



How to workout sustainably!

For my video, I decided to interview my friend Courtney to talk about her sustainability efforts on campus.  Courtney, an avid runner, described an easy task she does to save energy.  She runs outside instead of running on the treadmill.  This saves electricity, while at the same time gives her the ability to appreciate the beauty of the Union College campus! As mentioned in the video, a normal treadmill uses about 2HP (horsepower), with the average person using it for approximately 30 minutes a day, this means they are using 0.75 kilowatts per hour everyday.  To save energy, run outside!

Reusable Coffee Cups in Wold

Every morning, students rush to Starbucks in Wold to get some coffee before their first class. The line is always enormous, stretching all the way down the hall. Sometimes, students purchase multiple cups of coffee a day to get their daily dosage of caffeine. The amount of paper and plastic cups that Starbucks uses on our campus a day creates a tremendous amount of excess waste.

Therefore, to combat this impractical waste issue, I would use the Green Grant to create reusable cups for Starbucks. There will be cups for hot and cold beverages. With the purchase of a cup (approximately 5-10 dollars), the amount of plastic and paper waste per day would be drastically decreased. To incentivize this, students who use their reusable coffee cups should receive some type of discount on their coffee. I think this idea is a quick, and cheap way to limit waste on campus.

Geothermal Energy Advancement State to State

This past month, the United States Department of Energy announced seven projects to advance geothermal energy development across the country. One of the projects will occur right next to us at Union; in Niskayuna, NY.  The projects will total approximately $11.4 million and will focus on geothermal energy enhancement through the implementation and research on the benefits and consequences of this renewable energy source.

Geothermal energy is a geographically bound.  It cannot be easily implemented in all areas of the country, and is currently solely located in the western states of the U.S.  Geothermal energy is basically using heat from the Earth as energy. It uses the warmth of the Earth as steam to heat buildings and homes.  The positive aspects of this type of renewable energy source is that it does not produce CO2 emissions, it is sustainable and can work throughout the day or night, and it can be very price competitive if situated in the right area.  Cons to geothermal energy include the deterioration of geysers and springs, and also the presence of toxic elements such as arsenic and mercury, which can contribute to health problems.

Currently, American geothermal electricity contributes 3.8 gigawatts of electricity on the grid.  The projects implemented will help expand the current systems, and is estimated to contribute 100 GW of currently inaccessible resources.  It is also supposed to remove geographical barriers of conventional geothermal resources. The projects will take place in a variety of locations across the country including, Argonne, IL; Stillwater, OK; Albuquerque, NM; Norman, OK; and at the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.

This is important because one project is occurring in our backyard, at General Electric Company in NiskayunaThis project is research based. It will work on developing and testing new directional drilling orientation sensors that are capable of operating at 300°C for a prolonged period of time (1000 hours). This research will allow measurement while drilling (MWD) at substantially hotter temperatures needed for geothermal drilling than current tools.

Through these projects, the US will hopefully limit the amount of CO2 produced in the atmosphere and create an energy source with an essentially limitless supply of energy for billions of years to come.


Energy Department Announces $11.4 Million for New Projects to Advance Efficient Drilling for Geothermal Energy 

Renewable Energy Sources: Geothermal Energy


Carbon Emission Intensity of Economies

Historically, economic growth has been linked to CO2 emissions.  Although countries who obtain differing levels of per capita CO2 emissions can still have similar gross domestic product per capita levels, these differences occur due to the differences in the CO2 intensities of these economies.  The article on Our World In Data explains that CO2 intensity measures the amount of CO2 emitted per unit of GDP. There are two key factors which affect the CO2 intensity of an economy; energy efficiency, and carbon efficiency.  Both factors simultaneously work together, because as efficiency improves in both energy and carbon usage, the CO2 emitted per unit of energy will fall.

The graph provided in the article shows CO2 intensity from 1990 to 2013 as a linear downward trend.  The CO2 intensity rates have been steadily falling since 1990. This can be considered a result of improved energy/technology efficiency, and increased capacity of renewables.

According to the graph, over the 23 year period between 1990 and 2013;

Total Change: -0.12kg

Decay Factor: (0.47kg/0.35kg)=0.74

Percentage change: (1-0.74)=.26= 26% decrease


Source: CO₂ and other Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Our World in Data 

Negative Impacts of Gentrification in Brooklyn

The process of gentrification in urban areas can have a disastrous effect its inhabitants. The process refers to a physical, social, economic and cultural phenomenon whereby urban neighborhoods are converted into more affluent communities resulting in heightened property values and the discharge of low-income families. Gentrification happens not only all over the United States, but all over the world.  On my term abroad in Washington, DC this past spring, we witnessed gentrification in its prime—we saw nicer, new buildings being constructed in a poverty-ridden area.

Due to the construction of new buildings, the area becomes more expensive to live; rents rise, and therefore, impoverished people cannot afford to live there any longer.  They are forced to leave.  This process, gentrification, changes areas drastically over the course of several years.

The article I decided to analyze from RacialMath looks into gentrification of Brooklyn, New York.  The article, Who Hurts, by Ben Gibberd published in 2005, looks deeper into the personal problems of individuals being directly influenced by the gentrification in the area. Gibbered explains the new attractiveness of the area, and how it draws wealthy, middle-high income individuals to the area. From there, displacement occurs.

An interesting story from the article is of Ms. Anaya.  She resides in an overcrowded two-family home, living with her parents, brother and twelve other tenants.  The twelve other tenant include multiple children under three years old in just the upper-floor of the apartment alone. She explains the poor condition of the apartment, explaining that ”there’s a big hole in our bathroom, and hardly any heat.” And, her parents pay $1,000 a month in rent.

However, even though Ms. Anaya and her family want to move out—they cannot. Due to gentrification issues, they cannot afford a new place in Brooklyn.  She illuminates these problems by saying, “”Everything’s $725,000,’ and that’s on a bad block.”

The issues raised in this article led me to another article posted on the RacialMath site. This article looks at the changes of rent from 1990 to 2000. I made a graph to show the increase in rent during the ten-year span.  Due to the large increase between these two years, we can only imagine how high the rent is today in Brooklyn, 18 years later.

Plastic is the Problem

The article I analyzed, entitled, Seven charts that explain the plastic pollution problem, by BBC News explains how plastic consumption, not only in the United States, but across the globe have a series of severe impacts on our environment, and maintain there for a plethora of years.

The article first explains the amount of plastic that have been produced to date of the article (December 2017). It has been recorded that 8.3bn tonnes of plastic had been produced, and as of 2015, only 9% was recycled, 12% was incinerated, and 79% was accumulated in landfills or in the natural environment. This vast amount of waste should not be extremely surprising, considering plastic products are usually ‘throwaway’ or ‘single use’ items.

Later in the article, it explains the amount of plastic that ends up in the sea. The article estimates that about 10m tonnes of plastic makes its way into the oceans annually. A study published by the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis and the University of Georgia in Athens conducted a survey which found that Asian nations were 13 of the 20 largest contributors to plastic waste in the oceans. Although the US was not the biggest contributor, we were still ranked in the top 20, meaning that we are not off the hook for ocean contamination.

The most interesting graph I found was a bar graph that estimates how long certain plastic products take to biodegrade. The graph shows that it takes 50 years for a Styrofoam cup to degrade. This basically means that everyday your morning coffee cup will stay in the environment for about half a century.


Source: Seven charts that explain the plastic pollution problem

Eco-Friendly Landscaping

WaterSense, a voluntary public-private partnership program sponsored by the EPA, seeks to help homeowners and businesses improve water efficiency and reduce their costs by promoting efficient irrigation technologies. According to research by WaterSense, about thirty percent of water used daily by the average American family is devoted to outdoor uses. This water is used for a variety of tasks, such as watering lawns and gardens, washing automobiles, maintaining swimming pools, and cleaning sidewalks and driveways. This accounts for almost one-third of residential water use nationwide, which is estimated to be more than seven-billion gallons of water per day, or 2,555-billions gallons of water annually.

However, not all this water is used efficiently. More than 50% of commercial and residential irrigation water is wasted through evaporation, run off, and useless over-watering. An inefficient irrigation system can waste an immense amount of water and money every month. There are certain ways to reduce the water wasted through landscaping needs. For example, a family could use a weather-based irrigation scheduler/controller. On a moderate sized yard, this can reduce a household’s outdoor water use by about 15 percent, saving up to 37 gallons of water every day because it would provide the right amount of water to your plants automatically. Another way to save water through landscaping is creating a rain garden. A rain garden transforms your yard to collect and drain rainwater in a way where it keeps the ground wet during hot weather. Families can also invest in a rain barrel to keep plants watered. Additionally, using the drip irrigation system is a way to ensure that water used on plants/crops goes directly to the rooms of the plants and nothing is lost to evaporation or run off.

As you can see there are easy ways families can preserve their beautiful landscape while conserving water and helping the environment.



WaterSense Fact Sheet


Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide’s Effect on Marine Life

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide rates are now higher than at any point in the last 800,000 years. According to a study conducted by the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, CO2 concentration in Earth’s atmosphere has not been this high since Earth’s average temperature ranged from 2-3 degrees Celsius, which is equivalent to 3.6-5.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Because Carbon Dioxide is a gas that absorbs heat, it also releases this heat gradually over time. As more fossil fuels, such as coal and oil, are burned annually for energy, the CO2 is being released at a higher rate, thus heating up the earth more quickly, and contributing to climate change. The NOAA predicts that this increase in atmospheric CO2 is likely responsible for two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing Earth’s temperature to rise.

Throughout the NOAA’s report, they explained how Carbon Dioxide plays an interesting role in Earth’s system because it dissolves into the ocean. When CO2 reacts with these molecules of water, it produces Carbonic Acid, which lowers the ocean’s pH. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, the ocean’s pH has shifted from 8.21 to 8.10. This ocean acidification drop of approximately 0.1 is extremely vital in the survival of marine life. This very small change in pH creates a 30 percent increase of acidity to the ocean.

Ocean acidification goes into the idea of measurements we had previously discussed in class. Looking from an outside perspective, without knowing the consequences, we would assume that a 0.1 acidity increase is virtually nothing. However, it’s effect is more detrimental than we think.  The 30 percent acidity increase makes it more difficult for marine life to extract calcium from the water to build their shells and skeletons. Therefore, through our study of scales and measurements, the context of each situation is extremely important when analyzing sustainability issues.



Source: Climate Change: Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Sustainability and the Government

In my opinion, a sustainable environment is an environment in which individuals are cautious about their impact on the planet for not only the present day, but for future generations. I was not particularly familiar with sustainability issues until my term in Washington, DC this past spring. As an intern on the Hill, I worked closely with the SEEC (Sustainable Energy and Environment Coalition) director to create innovative ideas in which the government could help lessen our environmental hazards through the implementation of a variety of programs. We looked at ways to enhance United States’ infrastructure to conserve energy, and analyzed a variety of bills in support of our ideals. For example, we uncovered that the current electric grid needs to be updated and modernized because it wastes valuable energy due to its out-of-date transmission. If clean energy technologies were used in place of the current system, it would improve efficiency, lower emissions, and even withstand climate impacts. We also looked at how federal investment can help support local governments by allowing them to improve their water systems to ensure clean water across the country. Through my work with SEEC, I was able to understand how sustainability efforts cover an assortment of topics, and how individuals can contribute to these efforts in a positive manner.