Plastic vs. Reusable Bags

My proposal for the Green Grant would be to give each first-year a reusable grocery bag. The overall goal of this change would be to reduce the number of disposable plastic bags that are used on campus. This reusable bag would be given to first-year students at orientation, much like the reusable water bottles that were given to my class. These bags’ purpose would be for food and bookstore items. Any students buying snacks, getting upper to go or grabbing a salad from O3, can use the reusable grocery bag. Also, I believe that incentivizing this usage by offering a 3% discount on all bookstore food purchases for students who bring the reusable bag would help encourage the success of the program. Students would save declining, and the planet in the process. If the average size of the new freshman class is about 510 students (rough estimate), then it would cost Union about $0.95 per bag, with a total cost of $484.50. Now, one order of the biodegradable plastic bags that Union currently uses in the bookstore (1000 bags per order), costs $90.29. If the bookstore saw just a 10% decrease in demand for plastic bags per term, that would mean a 30% decrease per academic year; which is significant. Then the college can order fewer plastic bags (ergo spend less money on plastic bags each term), and reduce our waste in a cost-efficient way. The Green Fee Grant is a perfect way to fund this effort and can totally be reasonably implemented next fall.

Decay of Coral Reefs

Coral reefs are vital ecosystems not only for the sea, but for coastlines as well. You may have heard the term “barrier reef”, such as the Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Northern Australia. This term is far more important than you might think though. Barrier reefs are just that; barriers. For thousands of years, these barrier reefs have protected coastlines from storms, eroding seashores and sea cliffs and kept beaches stocked with sand. They also kept fish, sea plants and other sunlight- needing animals safe and provided with all the food and habitat that they need to survive. This has also helped coast-dwelling peoples survive sustainably by fishing and harvesting sea plants to eat. However, coral is a complicated creature because it is made up of both a plant and an animal; both of which are dependent on one another for survival. If you have seen coral, I am sure that you have seen coral that is vibrantly colored, and coral that is light tan or even completely white. This is the leading sign of decay in coral.

The term for this decay is coral bleaching. It is the number one killer of coral reefs because once a coral polyp begins the process, it does not grow back and it spreads throughout the entire colony. Coral bleaching is devastating coral reefs and the ecosystems that they support. As I mentioned before, coral is extremely complex. A single coral polyp is made up of 2 components: the animal and the plant. The animal (polyp), which keeps the coral alive and builds its hard, protective outer casing or calyx, is like a tiny little anemone that has tentacles and collects food molecules from the water and brings it into the stomach. The plant part is an algae called zooxanthellae. The zooxanthellae is what gives the coral it’s color and¬†zooxanthellae supply the coral with glucose, glycerol, and amino acids, which are the products of photosynthesis. The coral uses these products to make proteins, fats, and carbohydrates, and produce calcium carbonate. They then use the calcium carbonate to make their protective calyx. Unfortunately, when coral polyps become stressed, by something as small as a snorkeler touching it or something as damaging as dynamite fishing or global warming, it expels the zooxanthellae. The coral then is no longer able to maintain its calyx and loses its healthy color. In these cases, the polyp will always die and it will take its neighbors down with it. Bleaching coral is dying coral and coral is very sensitive; a person can kill an entire colony of coral (approx 150 years of growth), simply by touching it or trying to take it home as a souvenir.

The demise of coral reefs is having a catastrophic effect on the terrestrial and marine ecosystems that they serve and protect. Global warming and the rising water temperatures are the number one cause of coral bleaching. According to a study from the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland in Australia, the problem is only getting worse.

Image result for coral reef decay graph

Live coral populations are declining rapidly and sadly, they will never grow back if we keep polluting the oceans and the climate keeps rising.

Global Healthcare Facilities

It is no secret that some countries offer better healthcare than others. Some have socialized medicine, some have public and private medicine and some have Universal care. Because healthcare is such an important resource, many countries have poured a great amount of funding, engineering and research behind their healthcare system. Those countries that prioritize healthcare, often do have the best health systems. Other times, it is more affluent nations that have the ability to provide advanced care for its citizens. Either way, it is clear that there are countries with superior care options than others. But how do we measure this? Are all countries being judged fairly?

A study conducted by Siemens in January of 2015 thought that by measuring the quality and accessibility of healthcare facilities in different countries, we could better define what ‘good’ healthcare actually means. In one graph, they measured the number of hospital beds per 1000 people. This aimed to see which countries have invested in helping and providing access to the greatest number of people.

Image result for global access to healthcare statistics

And then they showed a chart of the countries with the most access to improved sanitation. By this, they intend to show the correlation between countries that have the resources to create improved sanitation technology, and those that have the wherewithal to provide superior medical access and facilities to its people.

In the Southeast Asian and African Region the proportion of population with access to improved sanitation is far below the global average

These two figures show that we cannot view healthcare in a vacuum. It is obvious that the wealthier countries have the better healthcare systems- at face value. But we cannot judge a developing country against an economic superpower country because their resources are not equal. This is why, many developing countries do not get the aid that they need to advance because they are discriminated against. They are viewed as less than, and thus makes it harder for them to improve. It is sad that, as a global community, we are so focused on ‘being the best’ instead of helping those in need. It is important to remember for people that live in countries with superior healthcare to remember that there is more we can do to help developing countries give their people the care that they need.

Water Consumption of Idaho Potatoes

Most of you have probably never been, or even wanted to go to Idaho. Probably the most random state in the US, we have one thing that we are known for. This thing is so popular, in fact, that we emblazon it on our license plates! Idaho is loud and proud about our potatoes. And yes, before you laugh, there is other stuff to do there too, but potato production is the pride of the Gem State. On a more analytical level, the potato production out of Idaho alone accounts for $1.9 Billion dollars a year of profit for the state. Idaho produces more potatoes per year than any other state, with 62% being used for processed/ dehydrated foods (such as McDonald’s french fries), 29% are shipped fresh and 9% are planted for certified seed. 310,000 acres of land in Idaho are dedicated to the growth and harvest of potatoes. Last year alone, Idaho produced 134,850 cwt of potatoes. 1cwt = 112 pounds. So that means that last year, Idaho produced 15,103,200 pounds of potatoes. The average weight of one russet burbank potato (which is the most commonly produced type of potato in Idaho) is 5-7 oz. So basically, that’s a whole lot of potatoes.

As far as water is concerned, this level of growth places constant stress on the environment. Most of Idaho is high desert, which means that it is in a state of perpetual drought. An average of 34 gallons of water is required to grow just one pound of potatoes. So if we are to estimate how much water was used to grow Idaho’s potatoes last year, that figure sits somewhere in the ballpark of 513,508,800 gallons. (However, it was probably more because the number of pounds of potatoes produced, does not account for the potatoes that went bad or were contaminated in the growing process). All in all, this is a huge amount of water being used by only one state for only one crop. While the Idaho potato industry may be lucrative and historic for the state, it is not environmentally conscious nor is it sustainable at this rate.

Agriculture and Climate Change

Agriculture has been the main means of survival for humans for centuries. The age of hunter-gatherers is ancient history. Societies all over the globe have been built and destroyed over the resources that are yielded due to the development of agriculture and agricultural technology. Because agriculture involves utilizing a small area relative to the number of crops grown or livestock raised on it, it means that farmers and ranchers are able to produce a high volume of what they are producing in a concentrated area. However, the world has been facing an agricultural crisis in the last millennium due to exponential population growth and a vast reduction in arable farmland. This means that the demand for milk, eggs, crops, meat, etc.. is rising, but the area in which these resources are produced is shrinking. The United Nations Department of Economic and Social affairs reported a projection that the world population will reach 9.7 billion people by the year 2050. But what does that mean for the future of agriculture? Well, modern scientists have already started to come up with solutions to these issues; many of which may sound familiar. Factory farming, genetically modified foods, pesticides and artificial growth hormone and antibiotic cocktails for animals are only a few ways that agriculture has been permeated by modern technology. Unfortunately, many of these technological ‘advances’ have been catastrophic for the earth. Factory farms produce incredible amounts of CO2 and CH4 and they pollute soil, ground water and air quality. The sick animals that they raise on artificial hormones and antibiotics are then fed to humans which makes us, by default, sicker as well. The plants, such as soybeans, produced by companies like Monsanto, are so altered and sprayed with chemicals that they are de facto stripped of their nutritional value.

In the same UN/DESA study, it is projected that the yield of staple grains like wheat and corn will decrease by 50% due to the effects of global warming. Imagine that: 35 years from now, we will probably have only half the number of grains and corn that we have now because of climate change. Less arable land means fewer farms, which leads to higher prices and lower production. Agriculture, and the deforestation that is needed to create farmland, is responsible for 1/5th or 21% of all CO2 emissions in the world, between 2000 and 2010. The total estimate of CO2 emissions from agriculture in this decade was approximately 44 billion metric tonnes. Anthropic climate change is killing agriculture, but the deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions from farms is one of the single largest causes of climate change in the world. So is agriculture good or bad? The simple answer is both or neither, whichever way you choose to look at it.

You can read the whole article here.

Post #1

Being from a very rural part of the country, I was raised in the midst of nature. My small, isolated town in south-central Idaho is nestled in the Wood River Valley which cuts through four major mountain ranges and soars at its 6,500 foot elevation above sea level. The air is thin and crisp and the landscape is simply spectacular. About 20 minutes north of my house, the alpine region of Idaho begins with thick pine forests, mountain peaks that are covered with snow even on the hottest summer day, and is inhabited by moose, bears, wolves, bobcats, bald eagles and many others. However, traveling about 35 minutes south of my house, the high desert region stretches down to the Nevada border. The sagebrush covered camas prairie stretches for miles and is home to cacti, rattle snakes, scorpions, jackrabbits and coyotes. Living in between these two very distinct habitats causes my family and the other members of my community to constantly experience severe weather events. We have all had to evacuate our homes four separate times due to wildfires. Houses have been washed down the river during the spring runoff severe flood season and lives are lost every winter as a result of catastrophic avalanches. We all have a healthy respect of the nature that surrounds us and fully understand how dangerous the frontier lifestyle can be. Because of our severe weather events and the fact that we are so remote, (the nearest airport is 3 hours by car over through the prairie), we are raised to from infancy with sustainable practices. For example, in my home, we have no heat or air conditioning. During the sub-zero alpine winter, we chop wood and burn fires in our fireplaces to keep warm. We hunt for much of our own meat and we partner with local ranchers to get what we cannot grow ourselves. Everything is a whole community effort; that is how we survive the harsh conditions. We live because of the land, not in spite of it. Sustainability is a way of life for us because it is a necessity and we cherish our culture and system. I feel that now, more than ever, it is important for everyone around the world to be more conscious of their environmental impact and inform themselves on ways that they can reduce their footprint. Sustainability is incredibly important to me and my hope is that sustainable practices will become more common and widely used everywhere.