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Gulf of Mexico Could Experience Record-Breaking “Dead Zone”

The Gulf of Mexico could experience one of its largest “dead zones” this summer. Scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association  forecast the dead zone ,  an area of low to zero oxygen, in the Gulf of Mexico to be the equivalent of nearly the size of Massachusetts or roughly 7,829 miles.

Dead zones can disrupt the marine ecosystem, as the low oxygen levels, otherwise known as hypoxia, harm existing marine life. The primary cause of dead zones is nutrient pollution from human activities; the nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) used in fertilizers and found in sewage are washed into the ocean by spring rains and eventually accumulate on the top of the ocean.

As these chemicals collect on the ocean’s surface, oxygen is prevented from reaching the water column and can lead to an overgrowth of algae, which consumes more oxygen as it decomposes, leading to the further depletion of the essential element. This accumulation of nutrients that leads to dangerously low oxygen is also referred to as eutrophication.

Nutrient pollution in the Gulf of Mexico

In a TED conference, ocean expert, Nancy Rabalais reported, “The nitrogen that is put in fertilizers and the phosphorous goes on the land and drains off into the Mississippi river and ends up in the Gulf of Mexico. There’s three times more nitrogen in the water in the Mississippi now than there was in the 1950s”

She emphasized resolving these agriculture issues by promoting the use of less fertilizers, precision fertilizing and trying sustainable agricultural alternatives, for example perennial wheatgrass. In contrast to corn plants, perennial wheatgrass has far longer roots and can therefore trap the nitrogen in the soil and keep the soil from running off.

Rabalais challenged her audience to make “less consumptive decisions” and highlighted the everyday, subtle choices that can be introduced to minimise our reliance on nitrogen. The changes to reduce our “nitrogen footprint” and its devastating damage on marine life can be as simple as cutting down on our consumption of corn oil, consuming less meat and using a car dependent on non-ethanol gas.

The world’s largest dead zone

The Gulf of Mexico is not the only body of water at risk. The world’s largest dead zone is in fact the Baltic Sea, which has experienced a 10-fold hypoxic increase. Climate change is a large factor in the sea’s large dead zone; however, the predominant cause for the growth is nutrient pollution.

Formed 10,000 to 15,000 years ago after the latest ice age, the Baltic Sea is the world’s youngest sea and is surrounded by nine coastal states: Finland, Russia, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Estonia, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania. The distinguishing feature of the Baltic Sea is its brackish water, a combination of salty seawater and fresh water. The salty sea water constitutes the Baltic Sea’s deeper water layer, while the water layer on the sea’s surface is diluted by rainwater and more than 250 rivers and streams with the major rivers draining into Baltic Sea being the Neva, Vistula, Neman and Kemijoki.

In response to this environmental disaster, certain chemicals are now banned, such as DDT, a pesticide used to additionally control the spread diseases during World War Two and PCBs, man-made chemicals implemented in electrical equipment, have been replaced by accumulating nutrient pollution.

Subsequently, the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan has been established as part of an initiative to restore the Baltic Sea’s ecosystem to its previous condition by 2021. The ambitious plan aims to incorporate up to date scientific knowledge and different management approaches to create assertive environmental policies around the Baltic Sea. The main objectives of the programme are to create a Baltic Sea that is unaffected by eutrophication, undisturbed by hazardous components, encourage biodiversity and sustainable, eco-friendly maritime activities.

Ultimately, the main challenge to dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico and the Baltic Sea will be eutrophication, the spread of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorous) from the land into sea and the cause of oxygen deprivation in the water body. Nonetheless, programme initiatives such as the HELCOM Baltic Sea Action Plan and encouraging subtle, small steps to cut down on our nitrogen footprint can help restores dead zones to their original, thriving ecosystems.

See Also:
Celebrating Arbor Day

Why Are Eco-friendly Choices for Our Environment Important?

Why Are Eco-friendly Choices for Our Environment Important?

Earlier this year, as the Midwest was plunged into its coldest weather on record, on the other side of the planet, wildfires raged in Australia’s record-breaking heat. This is weather in the age of extremes.  It’s clear that an answer to climate change is needed at a policy level. While acts like the Green New Deal that propose economic stimulus programs aiming to address climate change are being met with the tired mantra of “we can’t afford to do it,” a louder voice is finally starting to answer in response: we can’t afford not to. Outside of politics, individuals can make small changes in their personal lives that will support a healthier planet and environment.

College News takes a look at the impact of a few industries on the environment and what we can do about it.

Fashion’s influence on the environment

Fashion’s harsh impact on our environment cannot be denied, and its negative effect is further amplified by consumers prioritizing price over ethics. When is the last time you were at a fast fashion retailer and considered what your purchase would mean to the environment?

You probably thought about the price, the trend, the places you would wear it and maybe considered the cost-per-wear.

But did you consider the amount of water used to manufacture that garment? The emissions created from transporting that garment from overseas? The chemicals and dyes used to give that garment its color How many pieces just like yours that will end up in a landfill in a matter of months?

The next time you’re indulging in some retail therapy, take a moment to consider the full life that item has lived before it found itself in your hands.

What can you do?

Participating in the second-hand clothing economy is likely the easiest way to reduce your footprint. If sifting through Goodwill bins isn’t quite your thing, there are many curated second-hand retailers where you can shop online and in person for gently used, on-trend pieces.Whatever you do, keep your clothes out of the trash.

According to the EPA over 16 million tons of textile waste were generated in the US in 2014 alone. Over 10 million tons of that ended up in landfills. If pre-loved clothing just isn’t your jam, you can become a conscious consumer of new clothing as well. Take a couple of minutes to research your favorite brands and take a look at their stance on sustainability.

Many brand are making the move towards sustainable manufacturing practices.

Technology

Technology may seem eco-friendly—it saves time, paper, energy and transportation; however, with most of us updating our gadgets as soon as they are released, more tech waste than ever is being generated.

According to The Balance Small Business, only 15 to 30 percent of tech waste is recycled. Twenty to 50 million tons of tech waste is generated worldwide every year, which amounts to over five percent of the municipal waste stream. Seventy percent of hazardous waste is deposited in landfills. And tech waste is expected to increase by eight percent each year.

What can you do?

Whenever you upgrade your technology, recycle your out-of-date tech. Many office supply stores and community centers host recycling drives for used tech. If your tech is still functional, it’s worth trying to trade in when you are buying your new tech or take to a reseller platform to sell your gadget directly to its new home.

Pollution

If you look around, you’ll see waste everywhere in the environment. According to Rubicon Global, the average household in the United States produces over four pounds per day of trash and over 56 tons per year. Forty percent of the world’s total waste is produced in the United States despite the country only making up five percent of the world’s population. Six hundred and forty pounds of solid waste is produced by the average college student annually. Ninety thousand pounds of waste will be left behind by the average American for future generations.

What can you do?

The easiest way to create a change within our environment is by creating less waste in our daily lives and responsibly disposing of the waste we do create. In addition, we can try to help clean up the waste created by others. Next time you see a piece of trash on the ground, do your part for the planet and dispose of it responsibly. Every piece of trash kept out of the environment adds up to reduce our negligent waste on this planet.

This article was originally published in the spring edition of College News.

See also: It’s World Bee Day and We’re a-Buzz

Sustainable Gems for Graduation Day

What is Zero Waste and Why Does it Have a Gender Problem?

The zero-waste movement is about eliminating all waste from your life, including cutting down on packaging, composting and recycling. If you search the #zerowaste and #zerowasteliving tags on Instagram, you’ll find yourself in the world of DIY beauty products, glass containers, non-toxic cleaning products and re-useable straws.

Zero waste aligns quite nicely with other millennial trends, like minimalist design and socially conscious consuming. But it isn’t only in the realm of influencers, it’s a movement whose practitioners share the serious goal of sending as little to landfill as possible.

For those who are trying to live a zero-waste life, avoiding plastic packaging, disposable coffee cups and paper towels is common place. They are experts in reusing and recycling, composting and DIY-ing. Many say it is their goal to accumulate about one-quart of trash over the span of an entire year.

Remaining conscious of our consumerist habits is a good thing, we stand behind that statement with certainty. But in looking at the faces leading the movement to save mother earth—it strikes us that most are women, which begs the question: why are eco-initiatives so feminized?

Across the board, when it comes to taking initiatives to make our personal lives greener, women are leading the charge. “A vexing question,” asked The Guardian recently, “Why do men recycle less than women?”

Zero-waste and wives

For married women who are already doing the grocery shopping and household cleaning, bringing zero-waste habits into practice seemed like a logical leap. Many wives and mothers have found that—even if the goal of living a more environmentally conscious life was a shared one—the day-to-day work of actually figuring out how to live that way fall to them.

Zero waste, it seems, falls under the umbrella of “second-shift” work—a term used to describe the cleaning and childcare work women do after coming home from their full-time job. Work, researchers have found, that is not equally shared. In fact, married mothers shoulder so much second-shift work, that a recent study has found that they spend more time on housework than single moms. (A good graphic was created by the French artist Emma that easily explains household-work inequalities.)

The pattern of enthusiastic zero-waste woman and her long-suffering male partner is uncomfortably common, reported Vox, once you know to ask about it. It’s essentially another layer to “having it all”: a career, a family, a picture-perfect life that’s now holding itself to even-greater idealistic standards.

The problem with coding behaviors as feminine

While the work of going zero waste falls into the category of responsibilities usually handled by women, this lifestyle faces another gender hurdle: eco-friendly choices are often coded as feminine behaviour.

Take, for example, a responsible zero waster who will carry around reusable utensils, a reusable straw, a mason jar, a water bottle or reusable mug (or both!), a cloth handkerchief and a metal or glass container for snacks or leftovers. Women are used to having a purse or tote of stuff with them—and what’s a few more, if it saves the planet? But a “phone-keys-wallet” guy is unlikely to hop on board with suddenly quintupling his daily essentials.

Zero waste comes with an added component of emotional labor too. Adherents spend their days politely refusing straws, declining gifts from family members and gently explaining their lifestyle in a non-judgemental way to strangers.

Emotional labor is a zeitgeisty, feminist word that describes the invisible, extra steps women do to make their way through the world every day. Already living with its weight on their shoulders, it can feel like less of a reach for women to commit to not-always-comfortable explanations of their habits to prying friends and colleagues; for men, who it is generally agreed, do less of this work, taking on this aspect of zero waste can feel like a steeper mountain to climb.

Do your very best, but…

Saving the planet is often talked about as an individual aim. You need to use fewer plastic bags. You need to ride your bike instead of driving your car. You need to re-think your life so that after one year, your total garbage output fits into a mason jar.

And while habits of individual have had an impact on business practices (following consumer practices, Trader Joe’s announced it would be decreasing its plastic use, among other examples), the current environmental crisis is not going to be solved by bringing your own coffee cup.

In the last decade, the fossil fuel industry has poured $180 billion into new plastics manufacturing facilities, and experts say global plastic production will jump by 40 percent as a result.

And for all the women who are running earth-happy homes? They’re not represented in positions of leadership that have influence on keeping plastic out of the oceans. According to a 2017 analysis, the global oil and gas industry has fewer women in leadership positions than in other industries and given that only 5 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs are women that’s already a low bar.

But perhaps this explains why women focus on their family’s waste. Locked out of the rooms where the most impactful decisions are being made but terrified for their children’s future, they obsess over the plastic output that is within their domain.

See also: Five Books About Climate Change You Need to Read Now

Celebrating Arbor Day

Today on Friday the 26th of April, it is Arbor Day and if you’re a native to Nebraska you may already know what Arbor Day is and the history behind it. Although, for those who have yet to come across Arbor Day, we’ll be going through the historical significance of Arbor Day and why it is still conspicuously necessary today.

Arbor Day derives itself from the Latin word for tree, ‘Arbor’. In the year 1872, J.Sterling Morton from Nebraska City founded Arbor Day in response to the absence of trees in Nebraska and the first Arbor Day celebrated that year saw the plantation of approximately one million trees in Nebraska.

The yearly plantation of tress in Nebraska amassed attention throughout the United States and thus became a globally and nationally celebrated day in America for over a century. The importance of Arbor Day is paramount in today’s age of exceeding levels of pollution and concerning, global warming crisis. Our health is consequently at risk of respiratory conditions from asthma to cases of lung cancer in non-smokers, in there thousands. The International Agency of Research on Cancer (IARC) reported in 2010, that 230,000 deaths from lung cancer globally were the result of air pollution, with evidence to suggest pollution simultaneously increased the risk of bladder cancer.

Go green: how trees eradicate pollution

Trees ensure our air is clean and that we can breathe freely, via absorbing the rocketing levels of carbon dioxide emitted by our vehicles and other toxic pollutants such as sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and ammonia. It takes four trees to remove the amount of pollution created from a 5000-mile drive, which for some is the just half of the mileage covered in a year.

According to a 2011 report by the US Forest Service, urban forests in Los Angeles comprising of trees and shrub canopies, which cover a quarter of the city were found to have reduced 1,976 tons of air pollution in the city. The benefits don’t stop there, as Los Angeles’ trees demonstrated cuts to annual residential energy costs by $10.2 million per year.

The costs saved in Los Angeles to our health and in our homes, is just a small taste of what we can achieve by continuing onwards the celebration of Arbor Day and planting more trees!

The ‘Time For Trees’ initiative

In order to counteract the global decline in our mental and physical health, due to air pollution, the Arbor Day Foundation has established a ‘Time For Trees’ campaign initiative. The impetus behind their campaign calls upon the plantation of trees; subsequently, they aspire to plant 100 million tress and work to inspire five million tree planters around the globe to fulfil their campaign’s mission.

The positive, global outcomes of the campaign are endless; listed in depth on the Time for Trees campaign page , the plantation benefits of 100 million trees include:

  • Absorbing 8 million tons of carbon – the equivalent of taking 6.2 million cars off the road for one year.
  • Filtering 7.1 billion cubic meters of water runoff, enough water to fill the water bottle of every person on Earth every day for five years.
  • Filtering 15,850 tons of microscopic airborne particulate matter out of the air, which could fill up nine Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • Removing 578,000 tons of chemical air pollution from our atmosphere, enough gaseous pollution to fill 70,000 Goodyear®
  • Providing $32.9 Billion in total environmental benefits – the equivalent of the operating budget of Chicago for about 10 years.

Source: timefortrees.org/impact.cfm

In support of Arbor Day and every human’s fundamental right and existential necessity of being able to breathe safely in air free of toxins, donate today towards the Time for Trees initiative.

See Also:

Toxic Cloud in Shanghai: Air Pollution Reaches All Time High

Go Plastic Free With These Tips

Humans have Caused Wildlife Populations to Decline by 60 Percent

Go Plastic-Free with These Tips

Every day, approximately eight million pieces of plastic find their way into the oceans. Nearly three-quarters of all litter on beaches is plastic. And this volume of plastic pollution leaves an impact—plastic kills more than 1.1 million seabirds and animals every year.

Here are some staggering facts about the current state of our plastic pollution crisis:

  • A plastic bag is used for a total average time of 12 minutes. It then takes up to 1,000 years to decompose.
  • Since the 1950s, around 8.3 billion tons of plastic have been produced worldwide. That’s equivalent to the weight of roughly a billion elephants or 47 million blue whales. And only nine percent of it has been recycled.
  • There are five trillion pieces of plastic in our oceans—enough to circle the earth over 400 times.

While the problem seems large beyond measure, every small action by even just a single person has an impact. Consider these plastic-free alternatives in your personal journey to contribute to a happier, healthier planet.

Carry a reusable bag

This is Plastic-Free-Living 101. Make sure you keep a spare cloth bag in the back of your car, bottom of your backpack or purse, or just generally around so you can grab it before heading out to do your shopping. Worldwide, about 2 million plastic bags are used every minute. You can do your small part in dropping that number.

Use plastic-free containers

Glass or metal jars can be used to store grains, nuts, flour and other foods, as well as laundry detergent, dish soap and lotions. Always make sure to have a reusable water bottle on hand as well—one million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute.

Keep plastic-free items in your backpack

Try packing a bamboo cutlery set, paper straw and your own water bottle to eliminate the need for most single-use plastics while on the go. Restaurants and vendors all over the world are getting much more used to people bringing their own containers.

Buy in bulk

To avoid plastic food packaging, try shopping in the bulk aisle at the market and bringing your own glass containers. Weigh the jar beforehand to avoid being overcharged.

Buy used items

Some plastic is unavoidable, especially in modern appliances. For things like a vacuum cleaner, try looking around for a second-hand one either online or at a local thrift shop. If you’re not buying new, you’re also avoiding all the packaging.

Recycle “good” plastics

Whenever you can, recycle your plastics. Recyclable plastic includes clear plastic bottles, bottles for shampoos, yogurt containers, toys and reusable food containers. Things like disposable cutlery, cling wrap and coffee cups and lids likely won’t be able to be recycled, so try to find non-plastic alternatives for these.

Wear natural fibers

Synthetic fibers from clothing are an enormous plastic pollution problem, because they are a key contributor to microplastic pollution. When possible, choose clothing made of cotton, wool, hemp and silk. Or consider buying your clothes second hand.

Make your own

As so many products are packaged in plastic, it can feel unavoidable. For certain things, you can try making your own at home. For example, try a DIY toothpaste made out of baking soda, coconut oil and essential oils.

See also: Five Books About Climate Change You Need to Read Now

Five Books About Climate Change You Need to Read Now

Five Books About Climate Change You Need to Read Now

Whether you’re an eco-activist or not, it’s impossible to ignore the debate that has followed the most recent international climate report and a devastating slew of natural disasters.

Global warming should be a reality, not a controversy. If average global temperatures exceed just half a degree, the risk for major natural disasters will significantly increase.

If you want to understand the real facts behind the figures, put your energy into reading these five powerful books that promote awareness about climate change.

Rising: Dispatches from the New American Shore, Elizabeth Rush

This poetic report about how rising sea levels are affecting American shorelines is compelling, relevant and accessible. The reality is that coastlines are disappearing and salt is causing devastation to essential habitats and those who live alongside them. Rush doesn’t just share her own personal discovery of the urgency of climate change, but interviews the experts and gives voices to the survivors of ravaged coastal communities all over the country. 

The Whale and the Supercomputer: On the Northern Front of Climate Change, Charles Wohlforth

This fascinating text about climate change as it is seen in Northern Alaska is packed full of science that, while not oversimplified, is accessible and stimulating. In the far North, these issues and fears are no longer an abstract idea, but a reality that has drastically altered daily life. Wohlforth follows both a traditional Eskimo whale-hunting party as they race to shore near Barrow and a team of scientists on a quest to understand the snow. These different but intertwined groups must work out how best to survive while navigating the issue that is now bearing down upon us all.

The City Where We Once Lived, Eric Barnes

If you’re working up the courage to embrace hard-hitting non-fiction texts, Barnes’ dystopian novel will still pack a pretty loaded punch when it comes to the issue of climate change. In a near (and foreseeable) future, climate change has caused the crumbling North End of an unknown city to be abandoned by all but the scavengers, who are attempting to bury their memories of what was lost. Like the topic it discusses, this haunting story is purposefully an exhausting and depressing read, but it is also a rewarding one; one that forces you to look sharply at yourself and at humanity. 

The Great Derangement: Climate Change and the Unthinkable, Amitav Ghosh

In his first major work of non-fiction, acclaimed Indian novelist Ghosh asks: “Are we deranged?” Certainly, we seem unable to grasp the sheer threat of climate change, and even more incapable of preventing it thus far. This literary text moves the conversation away from science and towards culture, politics and ethics, begging the reader to recognize the problem in being so unwilling to protect the future of life on Earth. The eerie relevance of this narrative realises the critical need to think about the unthinkable.

Below Freezing: Elegy for the Melting Planet, Donald Anderson

This ‘collage’ of ‘scientific fact, newspaper reports and excerpts from novels, short stories, nonfiction, history, creative nonfiction and poetry’, is both absorbing and informative. Anderson tackles the beauty and dangers of the cold, as well as the alarming rate at which our planet is warming in a meditated way that feels as serene as the conditions it explores.

Further reading: 12 Years to Halt Climate Change Catastrophe, Warns UN

Humans-have-Caused-Wildlife-Populations-to-Decline-by-60-Percent

Humans have Caused Wildlife Populations to Decline by 60 Percent

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) have declared a state of emergency for wildlife after revealing that the world’s mammals, birds, fish and reptiles have decreased by a staggering 60 percent since 1970.

By overusing natural resources, driving climate change and polluting the planet, humanity has not only prompted a cataclysmic decline in wildlife populations, but destroyed the system upon which it depends for clean air, water and every day existence.

The report warns: “Humans are living beyond the planet’s means and wiping out life on earth in the process.”

According to the Living Planet Report 2018, only a quarter of the world’s land area remains free from the impacts of human activity, a figure that is expected to fall to just a tenth by 2050. More than 4,000 species have declined between 1970 and 2014, the most recent available data.

Between 2009 and 2014, African elephant populations in Tanzania fell by 60 percent alone, largely due to poaching. WWF has warned that current protection methods are failing and more needs to be done to protect numerous species from becoming extinct in the near future.

Mike Barrett, executive director of science and conservation at WWF said: “We are sleepwalking towards the edge of a cliff.

“If there was a 60 percent decline in the human population, that would be equivalent to emptying North America, South America, Africa, Europe, China and Oceania. That is the scale of what we have done.”

“We are the first generation to know we are destroying our planet and the last that can do anything about it,” added Tanya Steele, chief executive of the WWF. “The collapse of global wildlife populations is a warning sign that nature is dying.”

It’s not just poaching that is threatening the planet. “Exploding” levels of human consumption, over-exploitation of natural resources such as over-fishing, cutting down forests and the use of pesticides in agriculture are having dire effects on the system that humanity is dependent upon. The report highlights food, health and medicines as amenities that rely on natural resources.

“It is a classic example of where the disappearance is the result of our own consumption, because the deforestation is being driven by ever expanding agriculture producing soy, which is being exported to countries including the UK to feed pigs and chickens,” Barrett said.

Plastic pollution is also proving a significant threat. The percentage of seabirds with plastic in their stomach is estimated to have risen from five percent in 1960, to 90 percent today. Plastic can suffocate and injure marine animals and, if mistaken for food, can cause fish and turtles to suffer blockage, starvation and internal wounds.

The report added that around half of the planet’s shallow water corals have been lost in just 30 years, and that the most damaged habitats are rivers and lakes, where populations have fallen by 83 percent due to the thirst of agriculture and the large quantity of dams.

South and Central America are the worst affected regions, seeing a drop of 89 percent in vertebrate populations.

More species referenced in the report as those whose populations are in decline include black and white rhinos, polar bears, African grey parrots, hedgehogs, whale sharks, Bornean orangutans, puffins and the wandering albatross.

“If we want a world with orangutans and puffins, clean air and enough food for everyone, we need urgent action from our leaders and a new global deal for nature and people that kick starts a global programme of recovery,” said Steele.

A 2020 meeting of the UN’s Convention on Biological Diversity is expected to make new commitments for the protection of nature.

Barrett said: “We need a new global deal for nature and people and we have this narrow window of less than two years to get it.”

“This really is the last chance. We have to get it right this time.”

Further reading: 12 Years to Halt Climate Change Catastrophe, Warns UN