You’ve probably heard a little something about the environment recently and most likely it didn’t sound good. Whether the planet runs out of clean water or a list of beaches and cities go underwater, the state of the environment should concern us all. Here’s what you should know.
The human impact on the environment has huge consequences. Buckle up for Environment 101 to learn more about what’s going on and what to expect.
Global Warming and Climate Change
The walk to class sucks enough already, especially in Florida’s 80-degree summers. Global warming refers to the increase in temperature between the Earth’s surface and the ozone layer separating us from outer space. According to NASA, the average temperature of Earth’s surface has risen “about 2.0 degrees Fahrenheit since the late nineteenth century,” with most of that change occurring “in the past 35 years.” Greenhouse gases cause this increase in temperature by absorbing and re-emitting heat, and boy, do we make a lot of them. Capitalism loves fossil fuels more than rave-girls spin hula-hoops and say the word “vibes.” These gases not only eat up the ozone and weaken our protection from the sun’s UV radiation but trap those harmful rays in here with us. Sort of like an oven, except instead of chocolate chip cookies or deep-dish pizza, glaciers, delicately balanced ecosystems and human skin cook.
To beat the heat, you might drive to campus instead, but that won’t stop the problem. Petroleum, natural gas and coal release billions of metric tons of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere every year. The EPA attributes “almost all of the increase in greenhouse gases” to human activity.
While you enjoy spring break at the beach remember oceans are getting warmer as well, about 0.302 degrees Fahrenheit warmer according to NASA. When that hot salty stew of spilled oil and plastic water bottles melts glaciers, it consumes not only the arctic landscape, but islands and beaches around the globe when sea-levels begin to rise. NASA reports that global sea levels have risen approximately eight inches in the last century. Earthlings stand to lose prime beach-front real estate and tanning locations, and you can’t lay out at the beach if the sun burns a hole in your towel. But if that doesn’t make you sad enough, here’s a video of a starving, homeless polar bear.
If you thought puberty gave you acne, just wait until the air outside clogs your pores. The consumption of fossil fuels largely contributes to air pollution, muddling up lovely blue skies and lavender sunsets with a brown smog that looks like the toilets at your local 18+ club. Imagine that smelly black smoke you see pouring out of old cars on the road. That doesn’t just disappear. When last measured in April 2018, carbon dioxide levels surpassed 400 parts per million, continuing the 1950s tradition of producing more CO2 than any other time in history. The U.S. alone emitted 5,795 million metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2016. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather cough because I hit the bong too hard, not because I forgot my gas mask on my way to Taco Bell. Besides that, the U.S. produces far too much nitrous oxide, fluorinated gases and methane. Oh my.
Packed campus garages across the country generate a lot of carbon dioxide, but major corporations do this on an even larger scale. When big oil drills under the ocean for that money-making sludge they risk destroying miles of ocean ecosystems. Chemical fertilizers and pesticides might keep our crops fat and bug-free but unexpected consequences often go ignored for fat stacks of cash. “So many of our country’s most lucrative industries unforgivingly exploit our environment, animals and human beings just to make a dollar (billions of dollars, actually)” recent Florida State graduate Cody Shook said. But no amount of money could make me ignore giant mutant mosquitoes and soil dryer than President Trump’s toupee.
And what about garbage? Multiply that sticky dumpster behind your dorm by a few hundred acres. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. pumped out about 254 million tons of garbage in 2013, recycling only about 34 percent of that. Sometimes we export trash to other countries. If not, it sits in landfills that have the potential to leak into the surrounding soil and contaminate groundwater. Sometimes trash finds its way into the ocean and if lucky, it can join its comrades in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, which according to CNN has grown three times the size of France.
Deforestation and Species Extinction
These may not sound like they have anything to do with you, but global consumerism drives deforestation and species extinction in numerous ways. All the more reason to boycott textbook companies, am I right? Unsustainable agricultural practices, like clear-cutting, eliminate 18.7 million acres of forest annually, according to the World Wildlife Fund. Palm oil, soy and cattle ranching are the main demands for these practices. Pollution and deforestation limit the amount of clean air we have to breathe, tainting the supply and cutting off the supplier; contributing factors to the growing list of endangered species. That list unfortunately contains bonobos, orangutans and the great white shark, just to name a few. Man, Shark Week sounds hella boring if our oceans are too acidic for sustainable reproduction and rising temperatures make the water inhospitable to certain lifeforms.
5 Things You Can “Do Less Of” About It
Okay, now what? You feel all sad about communities of islanders losing their native homelands and the polar bear trying to figure out what the trashcan’s got for lunch, but you don’t have anywhere to put all that energy. A look at this huge issue may feel overwhelming or even hopeless. Don’t suppress that passion to the back corner of the brain where things-we-don’t-like-to-think-about go and hide; instead, take action (or take less of these actions).
1. Drive Less
Think about how much you drive around unnecessarily or better yet, how much money you spend on gas. That petrol burns a hole in your pocket and a hole in the sky. The EPA reports that transportation was responsible for 28 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in 2016. Carpool to reduce the number of cars on the road. Take the bus and respond to that “where you at?” text guilt-free. Read a book, eat a sandwich and get there all without having to wonder how long its been since you looked at the road. Bike or walk to get chiseled calf-muscles and a butt that almost excuses that fact that you’re 20 minutes late and covered in sweat. Shop local to eliminate some demand for products that need to be driven, shipped or flown over in gas-guzzling vehicles.
2. Use Less Water
I won’t pretend I haven’t sat in the tub with the shower running contemplating every stupid decision I’ve ever made, but the EPA anticipates water shortages in 40 states by 2024, so I’ve gotta make some changes. Don’t get me wrong, everyone needs a good shower cry every now and then but some things, like having clean water to drink when I’m 28 years old, are worth the sacrifice. Make a shower playlist with two average-length songs on it and then get the hell out. Turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth or wash the dishes. If the water goes straight down the drain, you might as well start collecting rainwater to boil now because you may run out of water. Water scarcity is really real, y’all. According to the World Wildlife Fund, some 3.8 billion people have little to no access to clean drinking water. Flint, Michigan, U.S.A. still doesn’t have access to clean water. Proactivity through conscious everyday choices takes only the effort of remembering to use the faucet sparingly.
3. Use Less Energy
Much like step number two, using less energy requires turning off the switch when you finish using that light or appliance. Squeeze in every ray of natural light while you can: It costs zero dollars and doesn’t carry that ugly fluorescent yellow tinge that hurts my eyes so much. Get some plants to remind you to open the blinds and save some money on your electric bill. When the sun goes down, set the mood with a dimmer switch that lets you control how much light and how much energy you really need right now. On a nice day consider not living in an arctic ice-box. Turn off the A/C and open a window but make sure it has a screen over it because nothing makes me close a window faster than literally any type of bug. Let’s face our fear of the dark and turn off the T.V. before going to bed. Let’s face our fear of silence and turn the T.V. off when we move to another room—unless home alone late at night after watching Scream with your friends but they all left and now you find yourself just standing in the kitchen listening for the patio furniture to move. Conserving energy means thinking about what you really need right now and what you can do without.
4. Throw Less Away
That non-biodegradable piece of plastic you threw out on the highway last week could have easily been melted down and turned into a lawn chair for a nice old man, but it ended up floating into the ocean and choking out a sea turtle. It takes energy to move that trash out of your way, usually in the form of gasoline powered trucks that fart greenhouse gasses into the air. Tossing recyclables into the trash takes up energy and space we don’t have to spare. According to the National Waste & Recycling Association, the average American throws away about 4.4 pounds of trash each day. It creates a demand for more plastic when tons of it already take their sweet time to decompose in landfills (upwards of 450 years, by the way). Easily reduce your input once you realize how your actions everyday effect the world at large. The dollar store sells plates and cups, so save that Styrofoam and plastic crap for the family barbeque. Most of the stuff we buy at the supermarket comes in plastic or glass containers. Ask for paper instead of plastic bags at checkout and use those as receptacles for all the empty jars of alfredo sauce until ready to take them to your local recycling plant. Remember to rinse them out with the dishes before though. Take your unwanted clothes to Goodwill donation centers or sell them at consignment shops. Better yet, take a few bags down to H&M and they’ll recycle your textiles for you, scraps of fabric and all. Toss less, recycle more.
I won’t use my vegetarian mind-control ray gun to try and convince you to give up meat, but according to the EPA, agricultural practices produce nine percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Nine may not seem like much, but most of this gas comes in the form of nitrous oxide and methane, which have, respectively, a Global Warming Potential 265 to 298 and 28 to 36 times higher than carbon dioxide, making them way worse for the environment. A couple meatless days a week reduces the demand for livestock and animal products. It reduces the demand for the thousands of gallons of water needed for these animals everyday. Over time it reduces deforestation for their pastures and the fossil fuels used to process and ship out the meat once they slaughter all the animals. Conserve these resources by eating meat one or two times fewer per week. And soy Italian sausage tastes really good, just FYI.
Public Policy & The Environment
This whole story isn’t doom and gloom, right? Awareness and action are slowly leading the change.
The EPA regulates the production of pesticides, examining their composition, where and how much they’ll be used and how they’re stored and disposed of.
The Clean Air Act regulates air emissions to maintain the National Ambient Air Quality Standards; regulating, but not prohibiting, the “emissions of hazardous air pollutants.”
Bonus Tip: Call Your Representative More
Encouraging your local government to implement eco-conscious services and utilities offers a great way to effect change on a larger level. Some of my friends tell me they don’t recycle because they don’t think it makes much of a difference. Coca-Cola will still sell a bunch of bottles and make a bunch of money and not be responsible for the disposal of all that plastic. Well, if you think about the bigger picture, demanding more recycling options and better public transportation like zero-emission city buses or bike sharing programs from your local government can really change the world. Start a petition to get the plastic bag banned or for street lights to come on an hour later when the sun actually goes down. That way our grandchildren won’t have to get used to picking plastic out of their seafood.