A Slippery Slope to Extinction

A young Polar Bear is huddled by its mother on a cold Arctic day in Southern Greenland. They are enjoying the fish that the mom just caught.  Something that has become rare to find in recent years as ice has become scarcer.  All of a sudden a crack comes in between the mother and young bear.  The ice breaks apart and the young Polar Bear is suddenly drifting away from the icy shore and into the dark Northern Atlantic.  The mom cries out to her lost son, but it is no use.  The young Polar Bear is gone forever.  The young bear travels for seven straight days on the drifted iceberg.  Finally, he looks up and sees the Statue of Liberty.  The Polar Bear is now lost in The Big Apple.  New York City is not the place for a young Polar Bear used to the icy conditions in Greenland.  Why did the Polar Bear get there in the first place?  Polar Bears are cold-weather mammals that rely on ice and snow in order to survive and thrive.  With climate change becoming very real, the bright days for Polar Bears may so long be history and their inevitable extinction may be nearer than people believe.

The lost Polar Bear was sent adrift by a crack in the ice and lost from his family forever.  Although most Polar Bears will not make it to New York City, the Polar Bear population is in serious trouble.  Climate change is causing ice to melt at an alarming rate and the Polar Bears are losing the place they have called home for their entire existence.  Their population sizes are decreasing at an alarming rate and swimming conditions are becoming very dangerous to their well-being.  Fewer hunting opportunities are leading to extreme scarcity of foods for the endangered mammals.  It is projected by the U.S. Geological Survey that two thirds of Polar Bears will disappear by the year 2050.  In some areas, near the Hudson Bay of Canada, all of the ice disappears in the summertime and the Polar Bears are forced to live on land, where they eat little to nothing.  The ice-less periods has caused the Polar Bear’s seal hunting season to be cut by 20 days.  Due to the low hunting season and loss of ice, average Polar Bear weight has dropped 15 percent.  If current trends continue, Polar Bears will become extinct within the next 30-40 years.  Action is needed to slow this trend and save the Polar Bear population before it is too late.  We can all make a difference and save the Polar Bears through small steps.  But unless we each do something, nothing will change.

References:

“Global Warming and Polar Bears.” National Wildlife Federation. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Microplastics in the Marine Environment

csm_c_6_noaa_pifsc_img_1299_eb136997e5

Over the past few decades society’s waste and non renewable usage has been growing at a rampant pace. As a result, we’re left with tons of garbage and debris that litters our planet. One of the most glaring incidences of increased waste accumulation are the garbage patches of the Pacific Ocean. While the garbage patches are incredibly expansive in size, it isn’t the patches themselves that are the main problem. The plastics that make up a good portion of the floating trash islands take an immense amount of time to decompose, thus making their impact much more expansive than that of other debris.These plastics break up over time into much smaller plastic particles called microplastics. Microplastics are often so small that they cannot be seen by the naked eye, but their small size is what makes them so dangerous. Many sea dwelling creatures mistake microplastics for food, and as a result ingest massive quantities of them.

While it may seem easy to disregard the amount of microplastic in the sea for some, it is quickly becoming apparent how far reaching the consequences of microplastics are. All manner of sea life are turning up in our supermarkets and on our plates that have abnormally high levels of microplastics in their bodies. Therefore, the results of human pollution are coming full circle to the very “dinner tables” of society at large. This topic like many environmental topics has wide reaching effects. Not only is this issue nonpartisan. It stretches among all the countries of the world. Infact this issue tends to not effect the countries releasing all of this plastic waste into the oceans, it affect small populations that inhabit islands far away from our coasts. Although we do not see the grand effects from our plastic use, the rest of the world does and they are not happy with the countries, who dispose of so much waste via the oceans.

Due to the rapid growth of microplastics in the marine environment, there has been a steady increase in accumulation of toxic substances which can lead to toxic pollutants in the food web which have serious health consequences. This is because the plastic can actually absorb toxins that it comes into contact with and then contaminate its surroundings and anything that digests the plastics. Often, fish and other animals in the ocean will mistake the plastic waste for prey and consume the microplastics. This leads to a vast amount of health implications on the fish such as, lowered steroid hormone level, delayed ovulation, internal injuries and many more. The chemicals in these plastics are proven to be very toxic. They often contain plasticizers such as, Bisphenol A and dibutyl phthalates which are integrated in the plastics during the manufacturing process. While these plastics are on the surface, they become toxic and percolate into the environment or animal tissues when ingested. Here has been evidence that these toxins can change the sex of marine animals as well as have dire effects as it makes its way up the food chain. These plastic have been found in the large marine animals.  Also, microplastics can alter the natural conditions of marine habitats.   The constant increase in microplastic in the marine environment is proven to “influence the socioeconomic systems by changing the environmental quality for future generations.”  For example, in the Pacific Ocean, the steady increase of microplastics could impact the fishing industry in the near future. The impacts of microplastics can lead to output loss or loss of value in the sales for the fishing industry. Not only does this affect the industry but it effects the animals that consume these fish, including humans.

In this blog we will attempt to show you the background and history of Microplastics in Marine Environments as well as the current status and controversies. Lastly we will give a critique of the current practices to deal with this issue and wrap it up with closing comments and a take home message for the reader.  We will be using web article, peer-reviewed journal articles, and videos to help convey the importance of remediation of our oceans, specifically focusing on microplastics.

Ogunola OS, Palanisami T (2016) Microplastics in the Marine Environment: Current Status, Assessment Methodologies, Impacts and Solutions. J Pollut Eff Cont 4:161. doi:10.4172/2375-4397.1000161

We’re Just Thirsty

dirtywater.jpgEvery summer, thousands of young students arrive in the great city of Norman eager to begin a new journey at The University of Oklahoma. The excited freshman settles into their dorm room, and is likely thrilled, and possibly a little nervous, as to what their future of independence may bring once Mom or Dad finally leaves. However – all too soon – something horrible happens. The college-budgeted, or possibly environmentally responsible, individual approaches their sink, cup in hand, to procure a drink of water. The cup is filled, decently cold, and immediately following a big thirst-quenching gulp the unfortunate epiphany occurs: Norman water is awful. As many people who frequent this otherwise wondrous city will attest, local unfiltered tap water is atrocious and the taste seems borderline non-potable. A simple question resonates among those coming from other U.S. regions, and those that have called Norman home for years: Why can’t this water just be normal?

The grievances about Norman water go beyond just the “taste” of the water itself. The poor quality of the water has forced many students at the University of Oklahoma to seek out alternate sources of drinking water. The primary alternate source that students tend to use is plastic bottled water. Many students choose to drink bottled water over the Norman tap water because of the certainty that what you are drinking is entirely uncontaminated. While many students drink bottled water, very few of us dispose of the empty plastic bottles in an environmentally friendly way. Another alternate source would be water filters. Even though filtration is an effective type of water treatment and purification, often time there is only partial removal of drinking water contaminants depending upon the type of water filter used. Additionally, between production and packaging, these means of water consumption create environmental strain through excess waste. OU has made the move to add more water filtration systems for students to refill water bottles, however these systems are few in number compared to the number of campus buildings. If Norman’s quality of water was improved, it is likely that many students would switch back to tap water, reducing their overall ecological footprints.  

While visiting Tulsa, tap water is now regarded as a splendid gift, or an uncommon blessing. Bottled water is unnecessary and the overall quality of the water is often taken for granted. Upon returning to Norman, the disappointing reminder awaits. The first shower back in town is commenced with a rather peculiar smell and soft, happy skin will soon feel rougher and slightly irritated. At a local restaurant, if the establishment’s soda machine utilizes the region’s unfiltered water, an unpleasantly pungent taste is noticed with the first sip. And in one’s living quarters, bottled or heavily filtered water is once again integral to everyday life. Let’s face it: the Norman community has been exposed to unclean water for years. It’s time that we take action. Fixing these water issues will ensure the Norman community access to clean safe drinking water and protect the public health of all individuals. If we don’t take action now, the issues will continue to develop and worsen.

The following discussions throughout blogs in the upcoming weeks will address this disconcerting reality with specific regards to the region’s source of water, why it is tastes “off,” and if there exists a reason for health concern with its consumption. Furthermore, ecological, economic, and environmental impacts will be evaluated such as significant utilization of bottled water, the association of inherent risks and hazards, and the possibility of political economic relevance.

http://kgou.org/post/people-should-be-worried-combatting-normans-water-problem

image from: http://water-313.wikispaces.com

Let Them Bee: Millions of bees die due to Zika spraying in South Carolina

bees

On September 1, 2016 an aerial spray of an “insecticide targeting Zika-carrying mosquitoes” was conducted in South Carolina. Local beekeepers commented saying adults, children, and animals should have been brought inside during the spraying, but residents were unaware that an aerial spray was going to occur. This “was the first aerial spraying in 14 years” (Lamotte, 2016). Three million bees were killed during this time, leaving local beekeepers bee-less. Not every bee died immediately though, as survivors attempted to clean out their hives, they were then poisoned and later succumbed to their doom.

As Zika continues to plague our country, aerial spraying could be used more frequently to target mosquitoes carrying the virus, but it can also have serious consequences for other species. The product used for the spraying is known to be extremely harmful to bees. There are specific times that this spray is recommended, and the County Administrator clarified that they did take the right precautions during this instance.

Many local Bee enthusiasts were upset that they were not notified, but the county responded saying they posted on their website two days prior to the spraying. Beekeepers who are on the local mosquito registry were also notified, but those who practice beekeeping as a hobby are not on the local registry and therefore, were not informed. In the past, the county has done insecticide spraying by truck and informed locals, but the aerial spraying was not as widely discussed or known. A local beekeeper, Nina Stanley, became very emotional when discussing the topic, and would have requested for the spraying to have been done at night when her bees were least active and not out foraging. Although the beekeepers and hobbyists were aware this event was not out of malice, it resulted in a significant loss of bees and severely impacted their owners.

Bees are viewed by many people as a pest that wants nothing more than to sting them and ruin their day. However, this is simply not the case. Bees are a very important and crucial part of agriculture across the country. They provide pollination processes to a variety of different crops including blueberries, cucumbers, and apples. Farmers rely on honey bees to pollinate so much that they will have hives placed on their farms to provide pollination for their crops (“Why are Honey Bees”). In fact, pollination services furnished by various insects in the United States, mostly by bees, have been valued at an estimated $3 billion each year (Gorman, 2017).

While farmers heavily rely on bees to help produce more crops, their population and overall numbers have decreased significantly. One species in particular, the rusty patched bumble bee, has plunged nearly 90 percent in abundance and distribution since the late 1990s. In January of 2017, the rusty patch bumble bee was officially recognized as an endangered species (Gorman, 2017). There are a number of factors that have led to their decline in population. Instances like the insecticide spraying in South Carolina only extenuate the effects that our actions can have, which resulted in a massive loss of a species directly affecting local residents as well.

References

“Alt National Park Service. ‘The new administration puts off listing bumble bee as endangered.’ 12 Feb. 2017, 10:45 a.m. Facebook Post.”

Gorman, Steve. “U.S. Lists a Bumble Bee Species as Endangered for First Time”. Scientific American. Nature Publishing Group, 11 Jan. 2017. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

LaMotte, Sandy. “Zika Spraying Kills Millions of Honeybees.” CNN. Cable News Network, 02 Sept. 2016. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

“Why are Honey Bees Important to Crops and Farmers?” Bees Matter. Web. 12 Feb. 2017.

Sustainable Materials: A Plastic Ocean

Many plastics ultimately end up in the ocean and can be detrimental to all levels of life. Therefore, we should attempt to reduce our use of plastics in order to reduce the quantity that ends up in the ocean. Packaging is a large source of excessive plastic.

They’re everywhere. They hold the water we drink and the food we eat. They carry our groceries and our trash. They are found in our office supplies, our technological devices, our home decor, and our furniture. Because of their fast and cheap production, plastics have found their way into every crevice of contemporary life. Unsurprisingly, they have also found their way into every corner of the environment, especially our oceans. Plastics are not biodegradable, so they can affect the environment in which they have been left for many years. Since most plastics end up in the ocean when they are disposed, marine life takes on the brunt of the consequences plastics can bring.

On February 3, 2017 a goose-beaked whale was found stranded off of the coast of Norway. The whale, after being determined to be in critical shape, was euthanized. Upon examination, researchers found the whale to have 30 plastic bags in its stomach. Dr. Terje Lislevand, described the whale to have “very little blubber and was emaciated, suggesting the plastic had lead it to become malnourished” (Shavali). This is one of many instances where the negative consequences of using single use plastics have had a detrimental effect on the environment. Plastic pollution is not just affecting Norway but is a global problem. For example, Green Turtles in Australia are also ingesting plastic debris. In severe cases, this can also affect the turtle’s swimming ability. According to Libby Hall, manager of the Taronga Wildlife Hospital, Green Turtles can only reproduce after the age of 30, and only one in 1000 turtles survive to adulthood (Chettle). For this reason, every premature death in the Green Turtle population can seriously impact the species’ survival in the region.

img_6711

Plastics do not just affect large animals like whales and turtles. Although plastics are not biodegradable, they ultimately break down into pieces less than 5mm in length called microplastics. However, their reduced size does not equate to a reduced impact. One of the most obvious challenges that microplastics pose is their difficulty of being contained and removed from the environment. Their presence in the water has shown to negatively impact organisms at lower trophic levels. Researchers at the United Kingdom’s University of Exeter found that marine lugworms eat less, and therefore show a decrease in energy levels, in environments heavily contaminated with microplastics (University of Exeter). In addition, a study at Plymouth University demonstrated that when lugworms do consume microplastics, the chemicals the plastics contain can be detrimental to their health. It is no secret that a phenomenon in lower trophic levels can affect an entire ecosystem (University of Exeter). For example, a decrease in the population of lugworms due to the effects of microplastics will cause an increase in competition amongst their consumers. Not only that, but bioaccumulation of consumed substances is also a concern. Although the complete impact of microplastics is unknown, a great variety of organisms, including humans, could ultimately end up in microplastics’ line of fire.

img_6712

A law proposed to impose a five cent fee on the use of disposable plastic and paper bags in New York has been delayed. The fee was approved by city council in 2016, but has now been delayed, to be reviewed and possible reformed before it is presented again in 2018 (Nir). For opposers of the fee, a concern is the financial burden shoppers will take on. An issue easily addressed by simply bringing one’s own bags. This eliminates the need to purchase a bag at check-out. Those who support the law see it as an opportunity to reduce the amount of plastic bags that end up in landfills and oceans.

Many states are becoming aware of about the detrimental impacts that plastic bags have on our environment and are looking for ways to reduce the use of plastic bags from retail outlets such as grocery stores. These states are faced the issue of finding strategies to reduce plastic usage, implement effective recycling programs, and enacting laws to prohibit the use of plastic bags.  According to the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), “in August 2014, California became the first state to enact legislation imposing a statewide ban on single-use plastic bags at large retail stores”. This bill also imposed a 10 cent fee on the use of other types of bags such as paper bags. Another state in the U.S. that has imposed a ban on the use of non-biodegradable plastic bags is Hawaii. These two states are the first to successfully implement a ban on plastic bags at checkout, however many more states are now proposing bills to be passed in concern with the regulation of plastic bags. Over the last two years, 23 states have proposed a total of 77 bills that will hopefully be enacted in legislation. The NCSL states that, “only three states—Arizona, Idaho, and Missouri—have enacted legislation this year, all of which preempt local governments from regulating the sale or use of plastic bags, including the imposition of any fees or taxes”. Apart from fees and bans, states are also looking for ways to enforce recycling programs and policies. For example, the states of California and Delaware have passed legislation that requires retail stores to adopt at-store recycling programs (NCSL). These recycling programs have a positive impact of the environment because it allows for customers to return their plastic bags in order for them to be recycled.

In conclusion, plastics have become readily available and are a large component of consumer waste. The disposal of plastics has dangerous environmental threats to both the land and various ecosystems such as the oceans. Various governments have slowly made changes in order to place a tax on the use of plastic bags, which has opened the public eyes to the environmental cost of using disposable plastic bags as opposed to reusable ones. This is a good start to the solution of plastic waste. To what extent does the prevalence of plastics have on the environment? The ocean cannot be the only ecosystem that is damaged by plastic pollution, so what other ecosystems are affected? When did the use of plastics become common and why? Can this problem be reversed and if yes, how? What other alternative sustainable materials could be used in place of their plastic counterparts?

Works Cited

Chettle, Nicole. “Sydney Harbour hidden plastic pollution is killing endangered turtles and marine life.” ABC News, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2017-02-12/sydney-harbour-hidden-plastics-threatening-endangered-turtles/8263368. Accessed 12 February 2017.

Nir, Sarah. “State Senate Takes Aim at Plastic Bag Fee in New York City.” The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/01/17/nyregion/plastic-bags-new-york.html?_r=0. Accessed 12 February 2017.

Shavali. “A whale is found dead with more than 30 PLASTIC BAGS in its stomach – and experts say it’s ‘not surprising’.” Dailymail.com, http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-4185038/A-whale-30-PLASTIC-BAGS-stomach.html. Accessed 10 February 2017.

“State Plastic and Paper Bag Legislation: Fees, Taxes and Bans | Recycling and Reuse.” National Conference of State Legislatures, http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx. Accessed 12 February 2017.

“The impact of microplastics on marine life.” University of Exeter, http://www.exeter.ac.uk/research/feature/microplastics/. Accessed 10 February 2017.

 

 

Energy Efficiency: The Sky is the Limit

The Empire State Building towers above the streets of Manhattan, representing the pinnacle of Art Deco design and a signature architectural wonder in the modern world.  It is less apparent, however, that the Empire State Building is a leading example of energy efficiency in one of the greenest cities in the United States.  Leading up the radical transformation, New York City exemplified unparalleled sustainable development, which can be attributed to carbon emissions averages that are one third below the national level.  Many argued that if the city itself was so green, why not transform the renowned landmark as well?  Consequently, in 2008 work began on green retrofits to the Empire State Building in order to significantly reduce carbon emissions and improve energy efficiency.    

The $550 million Empire State ReBuilding Program was a groundbreaking in its transparency, documentation, and application to other office buildings like it across the planet (Miller, 2009).  Previous projects were primarily completed on a much smaller scale with little planning, in which green retrofits were fixed to various parts of a building whenever deemed necessary.  The difference for the Empire State ReBuilding Program is that renovations yield much greater energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction when taking a whole-building approach.  Using $120 million of the total budget (Lockwood, 2009), the measures taken by this retrofit program resulted in a 10-20 percent reduction in energy consumption and an energy savings of roughly 40 percent (Miller, 2009).  Ultimately, this plan will result in annual utility bill savings of $4.4 million and guarantee a three year payback on initial investment, while simultaneously reducing the building’s carbon footprint.  

Retrofits throughout the building included: refurbishing the Empire State Building’s 6,514 windows regulate external climate on heating and cooling, addition of energy efficient lighting, modifications to the building’s chiller plant, improvement in insulation and air conditioning equipment, and implementation of a central energy monitoring system to educate tenants on their energy usage and how to reduce their consumption for the future (Lockwood, 2009).  In total, project developers calculated that the application of this program will reduce peak electricity demand by 3.5 megawatts and carbon dioxide by 9 percent, thus preventing the release of approximately 105,000 tons of carbon dioxide over the next 15 years (Lockwood, 2009; Miller, 2009).  Consequently, these retrofits enabled to building to achieve LEED Gold status with respect to sustainable practices in 2011 (Bloomfield and LaSelle, 2011).  LEED is the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is used around the world to determine how sustainable buildings are, and the Empire State Building achieving the second highest level proves how plausible it is for all buildings to become more sustainable.

Though the primary purpose of this rebuilding program was to improve energy efficiency of the Empire State Building, it ultimately provided a glimpse into what is possible for greening other buildings and cities across the world.  The building now stands as the standard for a sustainable transition and has laid the groundwork for other potential programs to model their process of greening after the Empire State Building.  Thus, the benefits, both environmentally and economically, of such a transformation will potentially push other buildings and cities to follow suit in the integration of environmentally friendly practices with society.   

References:

Bloomfield, Craig & LaSelle, Jones Lang (2011, September 13). Empire State Building Achieves LEED Gold. United State Green Building Council (USGBC). Web. <http://www.usgbc.org/articles/empire-state-building-achieves-leed-gold&gt;.

Lockwood, Charles, (2009, November/December). Building Retro. Urban Land. Web. <https://www.esbnyc.com/sites/default/files/uli_building_retro_fits.pdf&gt;.

Miller, Molly, (2009, April). Retrofitting America’s Favorite Skyscraper – The Empire State Building, a Leading Example of Energy Efficiency. Rocky Mountain Institute. Web. <http://www.rmi.org/RMI+Retrofits+America’s+Favorite+Skyscraper&gt;.

Elements of your Section 1 Post

Hi everyone.  As I’ve described in class, for this first blog post I would like you to mimic the opening section of one of our book chapters in content, style, and length – some real world example that illustrates an important environment-society relation involving your topic.  I briefly mentioned the protest at Berkeley to save the oaks (trees are symbolic and important to people) from the Trees chapter and the killing of a famous reintroduced wolf who wandered outside of the national park confines (illustrating the tension between environmentalists who see the ecological value of wolves and ranchers who see the wolves as cold blooded killers) from the Wolves chapter.  You should look at all of the chapters, especially 9-17 (but also 1-8) for what I’m looking for.  As part of this, you should pose some questions about why this is an important environment-society issue for us to consider – sell it to us a bit like the book sections do (or even more).  You should also say a word or two about how you are going to approach this topic in future blog installments.
Embedded images and videos are always good within your postings – blogs are a visual medium, too.  I would like you to cite your sources as well – in the book chapters these are all listed at the end of the chapter, but I would like for you to include them at the end of each blog installment.
The idea is for everyone in class to be able to see these, not just me.  Other students in class are welcome to make comments (like bloggers do) about your posts.
If you have any questions, please ask!