With the Zika virus officially entering the United States, panic has ensued in the South. After Congress failed to pass a bill that would provide funding for combatting Zika, many states have taken the fight into their own hands. Following the standard procedure of preventative action, South Carolina began spraying insecticides by plane on Sunday August 28th. The chemical sprayed is called Naled and this is not the first time it has been sprayed in South Carolina, considering the state’s ongoing effort to combat West Nile Virus. However, that was the first time that the insecticide has been sprayed by plane, in order to spread it over a larger area. Though Naled poses no serious risk to human health, it can kill insects other than mosquitos. Beekeepers in Dorchester County, South Carolina found this out the hard way when they woke up to millions of dead bees on the morning of August 29th.
In a recent piece entitled Unnatural Selection published in the New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert writes of the challenges confronting conservation as the world moves into a new, warmer, more acidic equilibrium as a result of human-induced climate change. In her piece, Kolbert profiles two ongoing efforts to genetically-modify wild species for the purpose of regenerating natural populations. Should humans assist evolution in an attempt to fix the detrimental effects of climate change?
On Wednesday, February 24th, the Huffington Post published an article calling attention to the World Trade Organization’s (WTO) objections to India’s “ambitious program to create homegrown solar energy.” The declaration was especially controversial due to the organization’s history of and capacity to squash other international efforts attempting to utilize local resources and businesses to build sustainable energy programs.
Yellowstone National Park recently announced the number of bison they are planning to cull this year, and as per usual, it has been met with outrage by environmentalists and tourists alike.
Originating high in the Rockies north of Boulder, the Colorado River travels 1,450 miles to Mexico. It is a symbolic keystone of the American Southwest, known for carving the Grand Canyon and surrounding landscapes. The reality is that its water is essential for everyday life in the arid states of Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. 33 million people depend on it for their primary water supply. It water supports farms, ranches, cities, suburbs, tourism and a $26 billion recreation industry.
While it known for its beauty and symbolism, it is also famous for the ways in which it has been exploited. As written in The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict, “It is the most contested, played-upon, silt-laden, diverted, engineered, dammed, stored (four times its volume and one-fifth of its length is held in reservoirs), farmed with, and metro-dependent river in America.”
For millions of years, the Colorado River ran to the Sea of Cortez, yet this came to halt in 1998. Due to an increasing population and a changing climate, demand for its water is way higher than its supply. 12 major dams and countless aqueducts divert its water for a wide array of uses. Among the largest perpetrators is the agriculture industry, which uses unsustainable techniques to convert desert soil into food production- ensuring that us Hoosiers have unlimited access to spinach in January and February. Similarly, there are countless golf courses and backyard pools in Arizona and New Mexico- clear examples of how were are not working within the constraints of the environment. I would argue that the over-exploitation of the Colorado River is reflective of a trend of unsustainable water usage in our country, and highlights certain ethical questions surrounding environmental exploitation and climate change.
While it is true that water is essential for the life of every human, the ways in which this resource is used varies greatly throughout the world. The average American uses about 2,000 gallons of water a day in the food they eat, energy they use, and products they buy. This is two times the global average. While millions of people spend a significant part of every day transporting the water they will use for hydration, cooking, and hygiene, others flick on a faucet and have immediate access to cold and clean water. There is an apparent disconnect in more developed societies from natural resources essential to daily life, and their origins. In her article, “The Missing Piece: A Water Ethic,” Sandra Postel argues that, “in our technologically sophisticated world, we no longer grasp the need for the wild river, the blackwater swamp, or even the diversity of species collectively performing nature’s work.” We have become so “sophisticated” as a society that we no longer value the importance of the river, just not for providing ecological services, but for sustaining our own human life. This disconnect may have extreme consequences in the coming years.
Ethical concerns about water management, highlighted by the exploitation of the Colorado River, center around stewardship and equity. The Tragedy of the Commons may be a beneficial tool in understanding part of the problem with water as a public resource. In this case, rational acts in self interest are irrational and harmful to the needs of the greater community. Postel further asserts that “our stewardship of water will determine not only the quality but the staying power of human societies.” How do you convince societies to sacrifice some comforts for the wellbeing of people who have not yet been born? In terms of water, the time table might be even shorter. In this case, the question is not about leaving a habitable planet for future generations, but ensuring that, within our lifespans, we leave enough water for our older selves.
Water is a renewable resource, given that we do not extract it past a sustainable yield. For rivers, this means understanding the processes that create them, and working within the boundaries of sustainability. The exploitation of the Colorado River is a clear case of unsustainable water management. This will have significant consequences in the coming years, when this water is not only needed to fill our swimming pools, but to hydrate our citizens on the most basic level. Conflict over water rights will only increase in the coming years, as climate change continues to take its toll. Wars have been fought over oil as a resource, so it would not be surprising if conflicts over water management accelerated into violence.
I argue that, as a society, we must shift away from our current utilitarian view of water, which disconnects us from our most basic reliance on it as a species. We must confront our ever-growing demands of water and work within the ecology of freshwater systems to ensure a future for many species, including our own. Postel calls for a new ethic that says, “it is not only right and good but necessary that all living things get enough water before some get more than enough.” It will be a race against time for societies to collectively produce this new ethic before the environmental consequences of climate change have taken their full effect.
The ability of humans to genetically modify the resources we use for food has changed the way in which we view and interact with the environment and natural resources. In the past, seeds for agricultural staples, like corn and soybeans, have undergone genetic modification to improve growth and yield and make the most efficient use of agricultural inputs. While controversy still surrounds the issue of genetically-modified organisms (GMOs), many argue that they must be part of a sustainable food future in which humans make the most of every developed acre. Continue reading “GMOs, Salmon and Overfishing”
A little over a week ago, on November 6th, President Obama rejected the Keystone XL Pipeline deal. The gigantic project has been the topic of equally gigantic controversy over the past seven years, for much of Obama’s presidency. Republicans and oil/business interests have generally been in favor of the pipeline, while environmental groups and most Democrats (with the exception of construction unions), including the president, have generally been against it.
With cheap airfare, vacation packages, and travel agencies on the rise, it comes as no surprise that international travel and tourism have become more accessible for citizens of the U.S. and the world. Indeed, particularly for younger demographics, travel presents an opportunity for exposure to new cultures, a better understanding of the world, and immense personal growth.
It was seventy years ago today that the New Mexico desert was first lit in the glare of a nuclear explosion. Dubbed “Trinity” by the scientists who had built it, the 1945 test was the first time an atomic bomb had ever been detonated. A little over a month later, similar devices would be dropped on the Japanese cities of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, ending WWII in the Pacific and killing as many as 200,000 people. Three explosions in three different locations, they were the first of many, with results that sparked fears of nuclear warfare that remain today. And now, seventy years later, photos depicting the tests pay homage to the dark anniversary.
Lovers of social media, rejoice! It appears that even the furthest expanses of nature are not beyond the range of wireless internet. This was only further underscored this morning, when Japanese officials announced that Mount Fuji, the country’s iconic, snow-topped peaked, will be equipped with free Wi-Fi in the near future. Tourists and hikers alike will now be able to post from eight hotspots on the mountain, in a move likely to draw scorn from some environmental purists.
One would certainly hope that, as far as environmental regulation goes, we are better off than we were fifty years ago. We would hope that novels like Rachel Carson’s ground-shifting Silent Spring, a work chronicling the dangers of the U.S. chemical industry, have made enough of an effect to prevent the author’s dystopian predictions from becoming a reality.
Soulja Boy CDs, broken office chairs, flip phones, jean shorts, used plastic forks, Capital One junk mail, and homemade Christmas gifts from ex-girlfriends. What do these items have in common? No one wants them.
Technological advances, fashion trends, and the allure of the “new” banish some of these items to discounted bundles on eBay and spots on nostalgic Buzzfeed lists. Unfortunately, though, most of them are simply thrown away, tossed in a black garbage bag when Dad decides that it’s time to clean out the basement, or a high school locker is cleared out, or a dorm room is packed up in May.
But where is “away?” What will happen to the items purchased by many of us on Black Friday or Cyber Monday? Where will iPhone 6s, black leggings, and Hunger Games tote bags be five years from now? Where do toothpicks, Gatorade bottles, and receipts go now, and why should we care?
The answer to these question matters, and it’s why DePauw’s theme for 2014-15 is “Envisioning Zero Waste.” Most of these items end up in a landfill or incinerator, creating more greenhouse gas emissions and harming air and water quality. The production of these items is not benign, either, often involving unethical extraction of resources in other countries with assembly in unsafe factories. The scenario is much more complex than a glossy Best Buy advertisement.
What is zero waste? We define the term as an ideal, where everything that could be reused, repurposed, or recycled would be kept out of a landfill or incinerator. The Janet Prindle Institute for Ethics, Facilities Management, Environmental Fellows, and others are partnering with the Office of Sustainability to consider zero waste this year.
DePauw students are leading the way. Many of DePauw’s 20 Eco-Reps—students who gather weekly and work on small group sustainability projects—are taking on various initiatives related to zero waste. Mary Satterthwaite ’18 and Anna Muckerman ’15 are doing a recycling audit of campus, and Nick McCreary ’15 and Eric Steele ’15 have worked tirelessly with members of the Campus Sustainability Committee and Facilities Management to implement recycling at home football tailgates. The juniors in Environmental Fellows are considering a parternship with Bon Appetit and local farmers on compost efforts too.
We invite the DePauw community to participate in our “Envisioning Zero Waste” theme year. Reduce, reuse, and recycle, at the office and at home. For a more complete set of goals and context to the theme year, please check out a recent DePauw web story on the project. And please consider coming to any of the What a Waste! Reclaiming the Value of People and Things events, led by Professor Jennifer Everett. On November 17th at 4pm, we will be screening Terra Blight in Watson Forum, a documentary about the harmful effects of “recycled” electronics sent abroad. You can watch the trailer below.
It’s issues like these that we should consider as we prepare for the upcoming holiday season, for Black Friday, and Cyber Monday. When you make your purchase, please consider: where will this item be in five years?