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.

Global Awareness about Clean Energy Sources

For this paper, I focused on the use of clean and affordable energy sources as one of the global goals in the Mathematics, Sustainability, and Global Learning unit. I found this an incredibly useful topic to focus in on due to the fact that it is such a needed topic for people to know more about and for them to utilize in their every day lives.

Throughout this course, we have talked a great deal about the importance of utilizing renewable resources to create the energy we need for our everyday lives. However, the reason I am now choosing to focus in on the “awareness” aspect of the paper is because I feel as though this is not fully known to so much of our planet. The United States has one of the larger carbon footprints when compared to other countries, showing that we are in overshoot and are not living a sustainable lifestyles. With this in mind, it is impossible to imagine that our planet will be able to survive if we keep up these actions. For this reason, I think awareness of alternative, and clean energy sources is an incredibly needed tactic in order to help save our planet and move towards a more sustainable lifestyle, in which we utilize other forms of energy.

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.

Green Fee Idea

I think a great way that this school could manage and lower the carbon footprint of the students could be to lower the amount of meat products offered in the dining halls. After learning that the amount of water and natural resources needed to produce meat products for people to consume is unbelievably high, I realized that cutting back on meat would make a very large impact on our environment. For this reason, I think the school would benefit from using $25,000 to offer more vegetarian options and perhaps some meals on some days without meat at all. The school could use the money to invest in other protein sources, such as tofu and bean products, so that students are still attaining protein in their diet, minus the environmental impact.

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.

Rabbit Island

A small island off the coast of Japan became famous after videos of visitors being swarmed by rabbits were released online. These videos of dozens of rabbits on this island quickly went viral and begun a long list of rumors to how the rabbits first came to the island. Some say a British couple brought them decades ago, others say the rabbits are offspring of animals that used to be on the island for chemical weapon testing, although experts insists those animals were all euthanized. Although how the rabbits got to the island may be in question, they have managed to increase their population by over 30% in the last 11 years.

The fame of these rabbits brought tourists from all around the world to the island. In 2005 the island had 136,000 visitors which increased to 254,000 in 2015. This is an average increase of 11,800 tourists per year.

In general, the population keeps growing, but in the article I read by national geographic, individual rabbits are suffering. The rabbits are depending greatly on the humans to feed them, however the food tourists usually bring is actually harmful to rabbits in large quantities, like cabbage. Rabbits are also frequently run over by the vehicles on the island and suffer health issues related to human contact.

However, because the people on the island have been able to coexist with these rabbits, Takashi Seki at the Ministry of the Environment says that artificial intervention with these rabbits is “undesirable,” although it will be interesting to see how the increasing rabbit population affects the ecosystem of the island in the next few years.

Population Growth and Decay in Schenectady, NY

According to the World Population Review, Schenectady, New York’s population as of 2017 is estimated to be 65,625 people. In comparison, Schenectady is the 9th largest city in New York, based off of the 2017 US Census Bureau. The review also revealed that the city had a population density of 6080.95 people/mi^2.

Based on information obtained from the American Community Survey, there was an average 2.67 people per household and the median income for households is $41,243. Lastly, 16.2% of families and 21.1% of individuals living in Schenectady are below the federal poverty line, where 38.3% of those under 18 are in poverty, and 10.2% of those 65 years or older.

So the question is how the population has fluctuated over the years. As you can see in the chart below, Schenectady suffered an enormous population decline with a decay rate of -11.01%  (roughly 10,000 people). In the years after, the population suffered a slow decrease that may have been caused by the economic decline the city suffered through. Below is a table and chart displaying the growth/decay of our city’s population. 

Where Our Garbage Goes

The graph I looked at shows discarded materials by the millionth ton from the years 1960-2005. I found it very interesting and alarming that so much of our discarded materials are merely just thrown into landfills, along with the fact that only recently we as a society started converting our waste into energy and composting as well. 

As a nation, we are slowly becoming more sustainable, but we must continue working to fix our problems and find new ways to convert waste into clean energy. Another graph that I looked at is landfill waste in the European Union in 2005 (Netherlands, Sweden, Denmark, France, Italy, Germany, Spain, the UK, Bulgaria, and Ireland). The waste was measured in kilograms per person. 

I found this graph very interesting to see Ireland was leading the way in waste per person and the average for the EU was surprisingly high. Although the statistics are over ten years old, it’s surprising to see how high some countries landfill waste was. As humans, we should continuously work towards getting away from landfill usage and utilizing our waste for energy. At this pace, we will not be able to properly discard any of our materials, because landfills will be overwhelmingly large and our ozone will continue to deteriorate.

American Isn’t the Biggest Problem

In this article, it is discussed how many different countries, other than America, are found to be incredible dangerous when it comes to littering and keep trash off of the streets and oceans. When people tend to think of Global Warming and littering issues, they tend to only think of what they can do in their own country, and for the most part, this seems to be talked about in America.

I think an important part of this process, if we as humans are really trying to make a difference on our environment, would be to educate other countries about the dangerous of littering as well. As shown in the chart taken from this article, other countries such as China and Indonesia are struggling immensely when it comes to trash issues.

I would argue that we are not actually making an impact on the environment as a whole if we do not take a step back and make sure we are educating the whole world, not just our country.