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.
Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is a naturally occuring greenhouse gas that is a part of our atmosphere. The reliance on factories and various forms of transportation to burn fossil fuels have increased the amount of CO2 found in our atmosphere today. While, carbon dioxide only makes up 0.04% of the atmosphere this number has increased significantly overtime. Today CO2 levels consist of over 380 parts per million (ppm) but, prior to the Industrial Revolution carbon dioxide consisted of 270 ppm. Specifically, throughout this decade, CO2 levels have increased on average, 2.3ppm per year. Also, we emit 400 billion tons of carbon dioxide per year. In metric units this is 362.874 Tonnes. Again, this number simply shows that while CO2 makes up less than 1% of our atmosphere, the unnatural increase of CO2 has shown negative effects.
It is important that we find a way to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere because it has serious effects on the environment such as making our oceans more acidic and increasing the temperature on earth. A New York Times article discusses the fact that removing Carbon Dioxide from the atmosphere is a potential way to stop global warming. The goal would be to keep the carbon dioxide below the two degree Celsius target estimated in 2015 by the Paris Agreement. However, this is an extremely difficult task. One suggestion would be to follow a process known as “direct air capture” to minimize its presence. All of the studies show that it is extremely hard to decrease the amount of CO2 currently in the atmosphere but it is crucial that we take conscious steps to reduce it for the future sake of our environment.
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
The word sustainability has been used frequently throughout my life. My father has worked in the waste business my entire life and has instilled the values of conservation and protection towards our environment. His company has always revolved around way to reduce waste from communities by picking up garbage more than once per week, as well as pushing for a stronger urge towards recycling. At a young age, my father would bring me to the transfer stations and teach me about the importance of recycling. He would take me to the landfills in South Florida to show me how waste can be broken down over time or unable to be broken down. This led to his desire to lead a more sustainable life rather than continue down an environmentally destructive path. The knowledge that my father has given me has shown me the difference that we can make, as well as the fact that there is still time to fix the mistakes that we have made. Throughout my entire life, I have tried to live with a sustainable mindset while doing my part in making sure to reduce waste.
Union has exposed me to sustainability in a way I had never been previously. Union’s commitment to sustainability has stimulated my interest in environmentalism and has encouraged me to reduce my own carbon footprint. Since coming to Union I am more cognizant of my own environmental practices and habits and I continue to recycle, compost, use a reusable water bottle, and support Octopus’s Garden and Ozone Café. While my relationship with sustainable living is a relatively new one, I am excited to learn more about how math relates to global issues such as agriculture and climate change. As a Psychology and Spanish double major, I have had little exposure to environmental studies in an academic setting, but I look forward to exploring sustainability through a quantitative lens and learning about how I can help to better the future of our planet.
What sustainability means to me has changed since coming to Union and being given the opportunity to study abroad. This past spring, I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. In Florence, I lived with a host family whom was extremely environmentally conscious. Italy but also Florence in particular has severe air pollution issues, which have affected the health of many citizens. Their lack of clean air has lead to government intervention in order to regulate the amount of water households can use and the amount of time the heat can be left on. This has been done to improve some of the environmental problems that have left Florence with the worst air quality in all of Italy. Not only that, but my family made it their mission to compost, recycle, and minimize waste constantly. This is something that has also been shown to me at Union. The Students here have made it their mission to make composting and recyclying a part of our daily lives with composting and recycling bins located all throughout campus. While abroad, I became more aware of the importance of a sustainable lifestyle in order to reduce my own carbon footprint.
Krka National Rain Forest in Lozovac, Croatia
The first moment I saw the earth as more than a mere surface we live on was my freshman year of high school. I was on a service trip in Nicaragua, and on the final night we climbed to the top of an active volcano, and sat while watching the most incredible sunset I have ever witnessed. Watching the incredibly large, bright red sun move down beneath the mountains on the horizon within minutes and witnessing the entire view turn to darkness was a new level of breathtaking. This is when I started to understand the utter beauty of this planet.
When I noticed that this was an option for a course, I felt that it would be a fantastic opportunity to learn more about making sure the planet can stay as beautiful and natural as possible. People constantly try to convince others to do what they can to help the environment and the world we live in, but so many of us do not understand why, or just how bad the state of our planet is. I think learning the specific stats and numbers surrounding the problem of the poor state of our environment will not only bring more light to the problem, but hopefully convince people to do what they can to help.