Global Learning about Clean Water and Sanitation

The number 6 “Global Goal” decided by world leaders in 2015 was Clean Water and Sanitation. By 2030, the goal is that clean water and sanitation facilities will be available and properly managed for everyone. According to the United Nations, every 3 out of 10 people (which is equal to approximately 2.259 billion people) do not have access to safe and clean drinking water and every 6 out 10 people (which is equal to approximately 4.518 billion people) lack access to proper sanitation facilities. Lacking access to clean water and sanitation facilities causes diarrhoeal diseases, which over 800 children die from each day due to lack of access.


So what can we do? Simple lifestyle changes can make a difference. Water waste is a prevalent issue in America. The EPA estimates that household leaks alone generate water waste of about 180 gallons per week for the average American household. One load of laundry uses about 20 gallons, so the average American household is wasting the amount of water equivalent to 9 loads of laundry per week. This can be solved by simply checking for leaks, and replacing old faucets and showerheads with newer, more sustainable and efficient ones.  In addition, turning off the faucet when brushing one’s teeth can save 8 gallons of water per day. Turning off the faucet while shaving can save an additional 10 gallons of water per shave. Simple and minor lifestyle changes might seem insignificant on a daily basis, but if we stick to them, and encourage others to do the same, they will add up and make a real difference.

Green Grant

For My Green Grant proposal, I suggest that Union hold a competition to see which residential building can use the least energy and water per capita over a given month and reward the residents of winning building with an addition to their declining balance. A similar competition is run at the University of Connecticut called EcoMadness. Prizes are rewarded to the building with the lowest per capita water usage, the lowest per capita energy usage, and the greatest percentage reduction in both energy and water usage.

As a result of EcoMadness 2016, the winning residential building at the University of Connecticut for lowest per capita water usage decreased their water usage by 20% in one month. The winning residential building for the lowest per capita energy usage decreased their energy consumption by 32% in one month. If the Green Grant were to be used to hold a competition at Union and yield similar results, that would be an enormous decrease in energy and water usage in just one month.


Geothermal Energy – A Sustainable Alternative

According to the US Department of Energy, Geothermal energy is a clean and renewable alternative to fossil fuels. Harvesting geothermal energy produces only ⅙ of the carbon dioxide as producing fossil fuels. From an economic standpoint, installing a geothermal small power plant costs between $3000 to $5000/kWe, and power is sold at $0.05 per kWh. This is relatively cheap, considering the average price of electricity in New York State is $0.18 per kWh, according to NPR. Three different techniques are used to harvest geothermal energy at power plants: dry steam, flash steam and binary cycle.


Currently, Geothermal energy is primarily available in western US states, Alaska, and Hawaii. However, geothermal heat pumps can be used to tap geothermal energy almost anywhere on Earth. Major sources of geothermal energy such as magma and hot dry rock will be able to be tapped with future technological developments. It can be easily implemented into communities with no visual impacts considering, “Geothermal power plants use relatively small acreages, and don’t require storage, transportation, or combustion of fuels.” ( Geothermal is an extremely sustainable source because it relies on the heat generated at Earth’s core, which is almost unlimited. The water treated to make geothermal energy can be recycled and reused after harvesting as well. Hence, geothermal energy is clean, safe, and renewable, and should be further developed as it is a sustainable alternative to fossil fuels.

Wildlife Populations

In the World Wildlife Fund’s 2016 Living Planet Report, the organization reported that there was 58% decrease (.42 decay factor) in the populations of vertebrate animals from 1970 to 2012, such as mammals and birds. The terrestrial population decreased by 38%, a .62 decay factor. Even more alarmingly, WWF found that the populations of freshwater animal species decreased by 81% (.19 decay factor) from 1970 to 2012. These numbers are equally shocking and terrifying to me. Only 19% of the 1970 freshwater animal population still remained in 2012.

What is the reason for these extreme drops in animal populations? The World Wildlife Fund gives us 4 main reasons why this has occurred. First, habitat loss and degradation as a result of commercial and residential development. Second, our food systems have a negative impact on the natural world, such as overfishing. Third, climate change requires animals to adapt to different environments, damaging reproductive cycles and migration timing. Finally, species overexploitation harms animal populations. Sometimes this is direct and intentional, such as with illegal hunting, and other times it is unintentional, such as catching one type of fish when you meant to catch another type.

People should stay away from wildlife crime, it is both wrong and unsustainable. In addition, everyday changes we can make to our lifestyle to prevent climate change can help stop this massive decrease in animal populations.

Graduation Rates

I gathered this data on Graduation Rates from United States Public Schools by race from Education Weekly. 

As you can see, graduation rates differ greatly between races. Students who identified as Asian or Pacific Islander had a 91% graduation rate, the highest out of all races. On the other hand, students who identified as American Indian or Alaska Native had a 72% graduation rate, the lowest out of all races and almost 20% lower than Asian/Pacific Islander. The chart also tells us that students who were English-Learners had a graduation rate of 67%, while students with disabilities had a graduation rate of only 66%.

I believe that this chart shows us that there are some issues with our education system. The low graduation rates for English Learners and Students with Disabilities tells us that schools should be dedicating more resources to these demographics. Students learning English or students with learning disabilities often face challenges that students without disabilities who speak English already do not face. In order to overcome these challenges and succeed, more educational resources need to be allocated in these areas.

Sustainable Waste

The Atlas of Sustainability publishes data from around the world about environmental sustainability. Above is a chart of the top 10 countries with the most municipal waste, how much waste is collected, and where that waste goes. The United States is responsible for the most total waste collected, totaling over 200 million metric tons of municipal waste. Out of the waste collected in the United States, over 50% (52.7%), more than 100 million metric tons, ends up in landfills in the year 2014. 12.8% of waste in the United States was incinerated. In the year 2014, only 25.7% of waste was recycled in the United States, and only 8.7% of waste was composted.

When waste ends up incinerated or in landfills, it can have negative environmental impacts. Landfill waste is responsible for greenhouse gas emissions of both carbon dioxide and methane. When waste is burned, these greenhouse gases are also emitted into the air. In addition to air pollution, landfills also account for groundwater pollution. When it rains, hazardous chemicals dissolve and collect at the bottom of landfills. These chemicals dissolve into the ground, polluting the ground and soil.

When we recycle, we save waste from ending up in these landfill facilities and are able combat environmental damage. In order to reduce our negative environmental impact, Americans should make an increased effort to dispose of their lifestyle waste through recycling or composting. This way of disposal is far more environmentally friendly, and not very difficult to practice.

Fighting Water Waste

Give an example of water waste (in U.S. or other countries). Make suggestions for reducing water waste and quantify the amount of water that could be saved.


According to an article in The Washington Post, Americans wasted 1 trillion gallons of water in the year 2015. But how much really is 1 trillion gallons? Our water waste accounts for 9% of the water needed to solve the California drought problem, which has a deficit of 11 trillion gallons of water. It is also equal to 40 million swimming pools, 24 billion baths, or Lake Okeechobee in Florida.


The EPA states that a lot of the water we waste is due to leaks. The average household wastes nearly 10,000 gallons of water per year due to leaks. Ten percent of households waste more than 90 gallons of water per day due to leaks. Not only does this waste American’s water, leaks also waste American’s money. Fixing household leaks is both cost effective and an effective way of reducing waste.


Besides household leaks, there are a number of other ways to reduce our water waste. Making small changes to our lifestyles is one way to effectively reduce water waste. Individuals can try and take shorter showers, or even turning off their water after wetting their toothbrushes. In addition, I believe more water saving toilets should be installed in public bathrooms, as well as in households, in order to reduce waste. The toilets in our Reamer Campus Center are designed with two different flush settings and help reduce the amount of water used when going to the bathroom. I think that if more of these toilets were installed on campus in places like dorms and Minervas, the Union College community could effectively reduce our water waste.

Learning about Carbon Dioxide

An article published by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discussed the effect greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, methane, and carbon dioxide, have had on radiative forcing on Earth. Energy from the sun is absorbed by Earth, and what is not absorbed radiates back into space, known as radiative forcing. Radiative forcing is responsible for rising temperatures on Earth, and rising temperatures are due to emissions of greenhouse gases that humans use for everyday activities. Carbon dioxide is the greenhouse gas that is primarily responsible for rising temperatures.


In the year 1990, the annual Greenhouse Gas Index ranked at a 1.0. In 2015, the Greenhouse Gas Index had increased by 37%, ranking at a 1.37. But what does this number, 37%, really mean for our planet, and how did this happen? First, in the United States, electricity generation, which occurs at power plants, accounts for 31% of greenhouse gas emissions since 1990, followed by transportation, which accounts for 26% of greenhouse gas emissions. Our economy accounts for a large percent of the greenhouse gases that are emitted each year. In the year 2010 alone, almost 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases were emitted in Earth’s atmosphere.

But what is 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gas? According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, about 24 pounds of carbon dioxide are admitted for every gallon of gas used driving a car. 2,204 lbs is equal to 1 metric ton, so 46 billion metrics tons is equal to 101,413 billion pounds. 101,413 billion pounds is equal to 4,225.54 trillion gallons of gas. In other words, the emission of 46 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases can be explained in terms of the gas used to fuel cars each year, 4,225.54 trillion gallons of gas.

Practice Post

I became aware of the importance of environmental sustainability in middle school when I was on an alpine ski team. I love ski racing, but our competition was limited by our environment. If we had an unusually warm day in the middle of January, the ice on the race course would melt, leaving the course slushy and slow. If we had an unusually warm winter, we could lose weeks of practice and races due to the lacking snow conditions. Although I stopped skiing competitively, I still live with the lessons I learned about why environmental sustainability is so important. Today, I try to reduce by carbon footprint in whatever small ways I can, such as by taking shorter showers and separating my trash and recycling. However, I believe I could do, and should do, much more to reduce my carbon footprint. I hope to learn more about how I can do so in this course, Mathematics of Sustainability.


It is important to me to understand sustainability because our everyday personal choices both affect and depend on our environment. The decisions we make on a daily basis can have an impact on our surroundings, for better or for worse. In this course, I hope to learn how to combine quantitative reasoning skills with my knowledge of sustainability and the environment in order to help me make the best choices for myself and my planet. By learning how to interpret, analyze, and understand the environment quantitatively, I believe I can learn to make more socially-just decisions and reduce my carbon footprint.