Archive for February, 2011

Stay Cool

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Since I was in first grade my parents and I have visited many national parks throughout the United States.  Visiting parks like Glacier, Kenai Fjords, Denali, Mount Rainier and the Rocky Mountains has shown me how important it is to protect our national parks.  Flying into Alaska two summers ago was one of the most awe-inspiring experiences of my life.  I had seen glaciers before, but never on this scale.  Out of the plane window I could see glaciers that stretched on for miles and tall mountains almost completely engulfed by snow; however, even these glaciers were nothing like the glaciers of the past.

Alaska, 2009

Several days later, in Kenai Fjords I had the opportunity to get very close to the glaciers.  Hiking beside Exit Glacier, we could make out a group of people on an expedition across the glacier.  They appeared no larger than ants in comparison to the landscape as they navigated around crevasses over ten stories deep.  From the top of the mountain, all I could see was immense amounts of ice and snow that seemed to go on forever.  Later on a boat trip in the Prince William Sound, I got within a hundred yards of a tidewater glacier that periodically calved into the sound.  Being surrounded by glaciers that have been around for thousands of years and hearing them constantly groan and crack as they move and break off was a very powerful experience.

Kenai Fjords, 2009

Because of increasing temperatures, glaciers that once covered the landscapes in these national parks have now retreated drastically, many disappearing forever.  This Time Lapse video shows drastic changes of a glacier in Alaska over a three year span.   The glaciers in Glacier National Park in Montana are expected to disappear completely by the year 2020.  Why does this matter?  Melting glaciers contribute to rising sea levels and climate change, as glaciers play an important role in regulating temperatures on Earth.  Unlike dark rock which absorb heat, the white glaciers reflect the sun’s rays.  As the glaciers melt, there will be more absorption and less reflection of rays, which will lead to an increase in world temperature.  So, let’s stay cool and work to reduce our community’s greenhouse gas emissions.


Thursday, February 17th, 2011

It came as no surprise when I read that China’s environmental problems are some of the worst in the world for any major country; however, I was slightly surprised to learn how far reaching the effects of some of these problems could be.  Air pollution is one of China’s greatest problems, largely stemming from their reliance on coal as an energy source and their rapidly increasing number of motor vehicles.  In his book, Collapse, Jared Diamond writes that China’s pollutant levels are currently several times higher than they should be to be considered safe to live under.  In fact, China is home to 16 of the 20 most polluted cities in the world.

In addition to pollution, China’s air quality is diminished by its increasing frequency of dust storms.  Plan B 3.0 describes China’s ongoing battle with desertification and the resulting dust storms.  These dust storms not only affect areas in China, but have also been known to affect the United States and South Korea.  For instance, in April 2001 a major dust storm from China crossed the Pacific leaving the western United States covered in dust.  Currently there is an average of 10 major dust storms a year; however, as deserts continue to expand across the country this number will continue to increase.  These dust storms not only interrupt everyday activities, but also pose serious health risks to those breathing the contaminated air.

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Will it get better?  Perhaps, but according to the CBS news clip above, “China is using America’s inaction on the environment as an excuse to not change their ways.”  As Kenneth Lieberthal of the University of Michigan said, “[The Chinese] say as long as the US doesn’t move forward, how can you expect a poor country like China to move forward?”  If China’s pollution levels don’t improve; however, it can be assured that other countries will also suffer.

Don’t Have a Cow

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

While brainstorming about what to focus on in my blog this week, I came across the Meatless Monday campaign, which I thought fit in perfectly with our discussion on deforestation.  I had always assumed that logging was the primary cause of deforestation and was surprised that on average throughout the world, cattle ranching is a bigger cause than logging and large-scale agriculture and ranked second to small-holder agriculture.  In the world, cattle ranching is the cause of 20-25% of deforestation.  In Brazil, the country with the highest rate of deforestation in the world, cattle ranching is the leading cause of deforestation- contributing to 80% of all loss.  Cattle ranching has other environmental effects besides deforestation, such as an estimated contribution of 20% of manufactured greenhouse gas emissions.  It also uses up large amounts of water and fossil fuels.  The Meatless Monday campaign encourages people to help reduce the effects of cattle ranching on the environment and improve their physical wellbeing at the same time by avoiding meat on Mondays.  Several chain restaurants, such as Moe’s Southwest Grill, are participating in the campaign.  Closer to home for us as UMW students is Sodexo’s recent pledge to offer Meatless Monday option, which according to their recent news release will officially begin in the colleges they serve during the Fall 2011 semester.  After looking at the vast effects of deforestation including floods and mudslides, habitat fragmentation, and water pollution to name a few, I decided that giving up meat for one day is definitely worth it when it not only helps the environment, but also improves my health.  You too, can take the pledge here.