Ferropolis, Photo by: Brian Carmen
Brown Coal in Germany
Being in Germany for the past two months, we have seen many different sources of energy while traveling throughout the country. You can see solar energy with the solar panels, wind energy with the windmills and fossil fuel energy from burning coal being used for many different purposes, no matter which direction you travel. Even though there are many different sources of energy being used throughout the country, the most important source of energy in Germany right now is coal. In Germany there are two significant types of coal. These two types of coal are hard coal and brown coal (“Germany”). Traveling to Ferropolis, an old brown coal mine museum, with our class allowed us to have a first hand view of what goes on at such coal mines.
Brown coal, or lignite, is a combination of coal and peat. The coal is yellowish in color and has a woody texture (Tyler). Brown coal beds are very large and are close to the surface. With the beds being so close to the surface, they are more easily worked. This leads to a very low cost in the production of brown coal. Lignite also contains a lot of moisture. Due to this, it supplies less energy per kilogram than other types of coals. With the large amount of water brown coal contains, up to 75 percent, it makes it very hard to transport long distances because, if it is exposed to air, it will begin to dry out and could eventually crumble (Kopp). Many power stations were built near mining sites to take out long transportation times in order to make sure that the brown coal would not dry out and crumble. Out of all of the coal production, 80-90% of the coal is being used in electricity production (Tyler).
Brown coal mines in Germany can be found from Koln in the west and throughout the country as you move eastwards. A lot of coal mines in eastern Germany have closed down though due to the fact that lignite in eastern Germany is less profitable than the brown coal in western Germany. Most large brown coal mines can have a life of up to 50 years. These brown coal mines target coal seams of around 50 to 75 meters thick. To get to these brown coal seams, most mines go down 300 meters and from time to time will go down to 400 meters. However, in western Germany to get to these large lignite seams, the mines go as deep as 800 meters. Most of the seams that are of this size are located at the center of Tertiary basins. The struggle with these large mines is that they have to relocate communities in order to get to these large seams of coal (Tyler). Once these mines close, the land becomes almost useless. Ferropolis is a great example of taking advantage of exhausted coal mine.
The City of Steel
Ferropolis, located in in city of Gräfenhainichen, used to be the center of brown coal mining in the Golpa-Nord open mining space. The work in this area began in 1957, with extraction beginning seven years later. This field of work became huge, as brown coal was the main energy resource during these days in East Germany. After much expansion, there were 20 operating mines with 6,000 employees. Every year approximately 100 million tons of coal was extracted (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). Although the mining grounds were a great way to provide work for people in the area, the mining took a toll on the land. Deep holes were created in the ground, and although the Golpa-Nord holes were smaller than holes in other locations, the earth was still greatly affected. Additionally, resources needed to get brown coal was not an environmentally friendly process. To gather one bucket of brown coal required sick buckets of water to be sent in and five buckets of unusable resources to be sent out and dumped (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). Using this much water to get a much smaller amount of coal was an ineffective way to use resources. Mining in Ferropolis was controversial because it had “secure jobs and excellent performance by workers and engineers,” but it was also “a place of unbridled industrial power and environmental disaster” (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). These environmental impacts were stopped when, after decades of work, brown coal mining was suddenly halted and became a thing of the past in Saxony-Anhalt and the rest of East Germany.
The brown coal mining industry was close to collapse in Germany in 1991 after almost 40 years of mining. With this change in plans, professionals had to decide what to do with the land. Should everything be torn down and scrapped or should the tracks be covered up? The answer was given by the Bauhaus Dessau. Today Ferropolis has been turned into an area offering “a museum, an industrial monument, a steel sculpture, and event location and a theme park all at the same time,” in addition to being set next to a beautiful lake with picturesque scenery (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). This solution has given the land a second chance and has set a new, positive example on dealing with nature. The museum of Ferropolis is an open-air museum with five excavators that were used during the mining times. Tours are offered at the museum and visitors can even climb the 2000 ton, 60 meter long machine nicknamed Gemini (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). These five steel monuments serve as a reminder to the environmental consequences that resulted from exploitation of the land (“Ferropolis: City of Iron”). Ferropolis has thrived as an event destination, hosting international festivals and concerts in its 25,000- seat venue (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”).
Mining excavator, “Medusa”, Photo by: Alyssa Lane
Gremminer Lake, Photo by: Jamie Pence
Ferropolis is the perfect example of how innovators created a new perspective of landscaping in an extremely environmentally friendly way. It would have cost thousands of dollars to get rid of all the old mining machinery. However, instead of trashing all the material, money was saved and the area has turned into a beautiful space with green trees and a clear lake. The lake is located on top of what used to be the coal mine. Flooding this area and creating a beautiful space has helped to drastically increase biodiversity of plants and animals in the area. Turning Ferropolis into an environmentally friendly area has turned this area of disaster into a location of celebration for all kinds of life. The hopes for future ecological practices are reflected in the Ferropolis. This area “has become the symbol of a path chosen for this century” (“Ferropolis: City of Iron”). Looking to the near future, Ferropolis hopes to further their environmental practices by becoming completely powered by renewable energy, mostly solar power (“Ferropolis: City of Steel”). Despite this wonderful landscaping that has benefited the environment in many ways, there have been consequences of the long-time mining, as there have been all around the world.
Effects of Brown Coal Mining
Brown coal plays a huge role in air pollution with high emission levels of greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide. The problem with these gases is not just the effect on the environment, with rising temperatures and increasing smog levels, but is also the negative impact it is having on the human population. The air pollution that comes from brown coal is massive compared to other fuels such as black coal or natural gases. The United States primary fuel sources consist of coal, oil, and natural gasses, and are estimated to be at roughly 85 percent of current fuel use ("The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels."). A few years ago, along with the Canadian Province Victoria, Germany had one of the highest known percentages for the emission of greenhouse gasses due to the burning of brown coal. However, Germany is also one of the few countries that has since then lowered their percentages. ("The Problem with Brown Coal | Environment Victoria.").
Chancellor Merkel has proposed to lower emissions by 22 tons with having a ‘climate fee’, along with energy efficient and green buildings. The only issues expressed about these plans has come from coal miners and major utility companies. This fee “would have forced operators to buy extra certificates for their emissions from the European Trading Scheme for CO2 emission allowances, thus making electricity from lignite less profitable” (Schwagerl). To help solve this problem, they have come to the conclusion that they will not shut down all brown coal companies, but will decrease the size of the coal mining industry by taking away the three largest coal companies in the country.
The problem that humans face with the burning of coal is the lack of fresh air that is constantly being breathed in. There are growing concerns about the expansion of coal mining and medical experts are being asked about coal and its effects on health. In the United States and all over the world there are indications that coal mining and the burning of coal has increased the risk of people having cardiopulmonary disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, hypertension, respiratory issues, in addition to other medical issues ("The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels."). The rates for the diseases are more common in coal mining areas. Therefore, in regions where brown coal is in high demand, rates for the diseases are also high. Processing chemicals and toxic impurities in coal and dust from uncovered coal trucks also increase the likelihood of health issues. Lessening the use or completely abandoning the use of brown coal as a resource would help lower the possibilities of these medical issues occurring (William, et al). Though global climate change has been a constant problem over many years, doing away with the burning of all brown coal would help to level out temperatures, smog in the air, carbon dioxide, and greenhouse gas emissions more so than they are now. Due to levels already being so high, there could be a drastic decrease in the percentage of toxic emissions. Though there is considerable evidence regarding the safety for our environment and the health of people, agencies are still wanting to monitor and assess safety protocol of mines and the uses of the source.
With all the negative effects brown coal has had on the environment, shutting down the mining in the West of Germany was a good way to start reversing the harm that had already been down to the land and the atmosphere. Ferropolis is a prime example of how to be resourceful and eco-friendly. It has shown how to preserve history while also helping and improving the future of our earth. The disaster that used to be here is now a beautiful gathering place for all to enjoy.
Castleden, William M., David Shearman, George Crisp, and Philip Finch. "The Mining and
Burning of Coal: Effects on Health and the Environment." Med J Aust The Medical
Journal of Australia 195.6 (2011): 333-35. 19 Sept. 2011. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
"Ferropolis: City of Iron." Industrielles Gartenreich. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
"Ferropolis: City of Steel." Ferropolis. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
"Germany." Euracoal. 2014. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
Kopp, Otto C. "Lignite." Encyclopedia Britannica Online. Encyclopedia Britannica. Web. 21
Schwagerl, Christian. "A Clash of Green and Brown: Germany Struggles to End Coal." N.p., 7
July 2015. Web. 20 Mar. 2016
"The Hidden Cost of Fossil Fuels." Union of Concerned Scientists. Web. 20 Mar. 2016.
"The Problem with Brown Coal | Environment Victoria." The Problem with Brown Coal
Environment Victoria. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
Tyler, David J. "Brown Coal Mining In Germany." SWAU. Web. 21 Mar. 2016.
“Before and after: entire colonies of bees have collapsed in the US”
Can you imagine a world without millions of different species and ecosystems: without rainforest, prairies, wetlands, and forests? This will be our world if we, as humans, continue to tear away at the biodiversity we know today. Biodiversity is the “variety of living organisms that exists in an ecosystem or on the planet as a whole, being the biological wealth of the earth” (Clowney, 514). The decisions and actions of humans not only impacts the species, but affects the health and well-being of mankind as well. The benefits of biodiversity are “providing chemicals, energy, fibers, food, medicines, raw materials, and wood… and helps with the quality of air and water, the fertility of soils, the degradation of wastes, and the control of pest population” (Clowney 514). One of the main ways in which humans are destroying the world’s biodiversity is by stripping the species’ habitat from them, the elimination of pest species, pollution, introduction of exotic species, overexploitation, and climate change; therefore, causing the species to go extinct (Cowney 516). We are eliminating forests through deforestation, slowly wiping out the bee population with pesticides, and over fishing and hunting certain species. We are forcing these species to adapt around our selfish wants by finding new food sources and trying to survive their new predators. We are beating biological extinction (the natural process to the evolutionary process) to the punch and cutting the rope by introducing artificial extinction. An extinction where species have no chance of adapting, no chance of living. As Holmes Rolston III states, “Our duty is ‘not to play the role of murders’” (Clowney, 532). We are thinking of only our needs and wants, and not taking into consideration the lives of others, even if it is a tiny insect that we have never seen in our life. Nevertheless, the destruction of such species for our own personal benefit, at the end of the day, is still considered “murder”. We have a duty to consider and protect as many species as we possibly can, which may involve thinking outside of the box and putting the needs of these species before our own. After all, we must not forget the golden rule: do to others as you would want done to you. When humans ignore this rule, species and ecosystems suffer. According to discovery.com, humans have caused 322 species of animals to go extinct within the past 500 years. And on top of that, according to endangeredearth.com, 41,415 species are on the IUCN Red List, with 16,306 of those species on the verge of extinction. Some may think that 41,415 isn’t a lot of species in comparison to the millions of species on the earth, but many forget that the extinction of one species can alter our ecosystem. Life works in a cycle, and when one of the components is missing, the chain is greatly impacted.
The relationship among biologically diverse ecosystems in nature are very complicated and delicate. Each part of nature has another part or three (or more) with which it is intertwined. Bees are a small link in the chain of life; however, they fit into the delicate balance and play a very important role. There are around 250,000 species of plants currently known, and of those 250,000, around 130,00 of them are dependent upon the pollination of bees. Among those 130,000 are alfalfa and clover, which the beef and dairy industries rely on as well as many fruits and vegetables. In fact, nearly one third of all fruits and vegetables depend on the pollination of bees. This means that about one bite of fruits and/or vegetables of every three is the result of a bee pollination; in short: bees are essential to maintaining biodiversity. However, as early as the mid 1990s, reports began surfacing that showed massive declines in bee populations. It was not until the mid 2000s that this began to become a serious issue as the consequences of this decline began to be realized.
One serious indicator of this problem is seen among beekeepers’ hive populations. It is what is known as Colony Collapse Disorder. Hive populations are on average around 30,000 bees, but more and more recently beekeepers have come to find the bees missing or dead, losing anywhere up to 90% of the hives. This massive decline is primarily caused by the use of pesticides such as Neonicotinoids on crops. Neonicotinoids are insect neurotoxins which cause death, memory loss, and/or effect the bees’ sense of smell causing them to be unable to find their way back to their hive. In much the same way that canaries in a coal mine forewarned impending danger to the miners, the massive decline in the bee populations should be a flashing red light to our world regarding many of the harsh agricultural practices present in today's society. Studies have shown that should an entire bee population that focuses on pollinating one species of plant die out in an area, the remaining bee populations will take over the pollination of the plant; however, it will result in a one third decline in seed production. In a world where most of the crop yields rely on the pollination of plants via bees, this is a future we do not want to see come to light. Environmental scientists and bee activists have been keeping a close eye on this problem for more than a decade, but it is still a big problem. Despite being informed of the problem, little has happened to change practices, which begs the question: can this problem be fixed now that scientists are urging a precautionary approach or is the problem too far involved to be rectified without a mass overhauling of the agricultural practices? This is a problem that is bigger than just the United States, it is an international problem.
So what impact could you possibly have with such a big problem? The answer is that you can start small. Start by calculating your carbon footprint or your footprint on the world (http://www.myforest.co.in/offset_your_carbon_footprint.php ). Secondly, researching different organizations that help fight biodiversity like Applied Environmental Research Foundation and WWF Global can give you a better understanding of the issues surrounding biodiversity. Applied Environmental Research Foundation is a “registered non-governmental organization that aims to demonstrate the conservation of biological diversity through the active participation of local communities combined with the use of research techniques” (AERF.org). AERF has numerous supporters and collaborators that aid the organization with research and activism; for example, German Mission India, University of Kent, BGSU, University of Miami, etc… With the help of this organization, funding goes into applied research in order to “ to produce knowledge that will help find real solutions to problems” (AERF.org); meanwhile, you can contribute to this research by volunteering and interning with this organization. You can also, help this organization’s mission by sponsoring a forest, in which you choose a form of membership and the amount of acres you wish to help. In addition, there are many small changes you can make to your lifestyle that seem small, but can contribute greatly. For example, buy “good wood” (wood that is sustainably legal), avoid endangered fish and focus on fish labeled with MSC (due to the fact that 80% of biodiversity is in the sea), buy organic products, plant a variety of vegetables/trees/flowers in your lawn to make it more diverse, stop killing weeds, and conserve your consumption.
One specific way to contribute to fighting the big problem of biodiversity is to focus on the declining population of bees. You can start with signing this petition (http://avaaz.org/en/save_the_bees_global/ ), which is to stop the use of the Neonicotinoid based pesticides, and you can also stop using it yourself. Another way to help is to plant bee friendly plants (asters, wild flowers, goldenrod, sunflowers, and even dandelions), buy or plant organic goods, research more about bees (http://www.helpsavebees.co.uk/bee-family-tree.html ), use bee friendly hygiene products that support and help bees http://www.beefriendlyskincare.com/pages/about-us , help make bee roads (which are a series of wild flowers http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2011/apr/12/bee-road-pollinators ) , support your local bee keepers, or even become a bee keeper yourself. You not only should educate yourself about biodiversity and the current state of the environment, but also inform those around you. Whether this be a colleague or even your children there are documentaries and even movies like the Bee Movie that anyone can watch. Helping the environment isn’t just researching and being knowledgeable, one needs to change things in their day to day life, even if they are minute. In the end these small contributions are helpful to the big picture of biodiversity, and not just with bees but with so many other things. Do we really want to live in a world where we destroy nature? It’s our duty to use the earth wisely, and by deforesting and using pesticides we are doing the exact opposite. So the next time you spray weed killers and pesticides, buy lumber, or even plan the layout of your garden or lawn, think about how this could affect the environment and in the end biodiversity.
Clowney, David, and Patricia Mosto. Earthcare: An Anthology in Environmental Ethics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009. Print
Located on the southeastern part of the Polynesian Triangle in the Pacific Ocean is Easter Island. To the general public, Easter Island is famous for the 887 stone heads that populate the landmass (Tilburg). It is also the home of some 6,000 citizens that belong to the country of Chile. In the world of anthropology, archeology, and environmental studies, Easter Island is greatly known for its cultural past that would later lead to the near destruction of the native population. Easter Island serves to many scientists, anthropologists, and environmental alarmists as a case study that shows the dangers and consequences of overpopulation.
The island was originally inhabited by the Rapa Nui people who were traced back to areas in Asia. They would then be integrated with the Polynesians when settlers arrived. The Rapa Nui that occupied the island had a lush vibrant forest at their disposal. From studies gathered from the pollen on the island the palm trees reached as tall as eighty-two feet (Earthcare). The natives would use the trees to build canoes, tools, and to use as fuel for fires. Though, the destruction of the forest is cited to have started around 400 C.E. As the human population grew the deforestation grew until the palm population what completely extinct on the island by 1500 C.E. When settlers first arrived on Easter Island they found a devastated population with the plant life only starting to come back. Though, the trees did not reach any higher than ten feet (Earthcare).
The animal population was also once a thriving community that lived alongside the humans. Only they too would see a brutal devastation due to the human activity. Birds such as albatross, petrels, terns, and other tropical birds called Easter Island their home (Earthcare). These animals were a large part of the Rapa Nui diet. As the population grew and the forest declined so did the animal population. Eventually, the entire animal population on the island would go extinct. With having ve
As mentioned by the authors of Earthcare, the rise and fall of the Rapa Nui “may be a cautionary tale for our world today” (Earthcare 613). Upon examination, it is easy to see the ways the problems of Easter Island are parallel to the problems of the world population.
Paul and Anne Ehrlich state, “the key issue in judging overpopulation is not how many people can fit in any given space but whether the population’s requirements for food, water, other resources and ecosystem services can be met on a sustainable basis” (Earthcare 617). This link between resource-use and overpopulation is striking when one examines the decline of the Rapa Nui. It is important to recognize that the issue in this scenario wasn’t that there was too little space. Rather, it was that the resource use by the population proved unsustainable. The global population and its overall resource use is alarming in its likeness to the history of Easter Island—although on a much grander scale. For this reason, it can be difficult to see clearly the realities of the population situation, and its possible effects. This is seen in the attempts to deny overpopulations or its problems. The reality is that overpopulation is real, it is happening now, and the consequences are dire.
Like the Rapa Nui, the global population has been overusing its supply of resources at an alarming rate. Easter Island was once a place with fantastic natural resources—it was a rich, sub-tropical forest of trees, bushes and shrubs. (Earthcare 613). The available resources were slowly, but surely, used up entirely. First the palm tree became extinct, then the hauhau tree, and later the entire forest. Native animals soon followed, including every species of native bird and porpoises. The miracle of life on earth is seen in the amazing resources this planet has, but these resources are being plundered. It has taken the earth as long as a millennium to produce inches of mere soils; today, they are being eroded at inches per decade (Earthcare 615). Over thousands of years during glacial periods, freshwater sources were created and expanded; now, “[they] are being mined as if they were metals” (Earthcare 615). The Ehrlichs stress that biodiversity is being destroyed “…at a rate unprecedented in 65 million years” (Earthcare 615).
It is food, water, and biodiversity that are our most important resources—they are the pillars of human existence. By the time of their decline, the Rapa Nui were not prioritizing the conservation of these resources. Instead, their continued lifestyle was given the most weight. “Perhaps any islander who tried to warn others about the dangers of progressive deforestation would have been overridden by the vested interests of those whose jobs depended on continued deforestation” (Earthcare 613). Similarly, the world has prioritized the economy. Our governments, especially at national and international levels, have failed to incite change when it comes to resource consumption, overpopulation and other environmental issues. Prominent economist Pavan Sukhdev has said: “The rules of business urgently need to be changed, so corporations compete on the basis of innovation, resource conservation and satisfaction of multiple stakeholder demands, rather than on the basis of who is most effective in influencing government regulation, avoiding taxes and obtaining subsidies for harmful activities to maximise the return for shareholders” (The Guardian). Our system is money-minded, and hinges on perpetual overuse of resources. The Rapa Nui had such a system, and when they did not change their ways, faced dire consequences. They were forced to radically change their lifestyle (by becoming cannibals). In order to avoid such extremes, we need to create change ourselves. As Stephen Emmott put, “The behavioural changes that are required of us are so fundamental that no one wants to make them. What are they? We need to consume less. A lot less.”
A Global Environmental Threat
Overpopulation has been argued as the largest threat to our existence. Part of the issue is our problematic mindset: we don’t see continued expansion as an issue. It is not well understood that if we continue to expand at this alarming rate that we will soon run out of natural resources. Fresh water is a serious concern with overpopulation. With the amount of water that humans are using and consuming, it is not being replaced fast enough. Consuming too much water results in dried lake beds that turn into dust particles. These dust particles are then polluting the air. One issue easily snowballs into many.
As mentioned, the decrease in biodiversity is one of the more disastrous consequences of overpopulation. As the population continues to increase there is a higher demand for certain types of plants: plants for clothing, trees for paper, food, etc. We have a misconception that qw can re-plant whatever we consume. The problem with this is that if the plants and crops we are planting come from the same genetic makeup and age then this leads to problems, such as diseases and pests. The more demand for certain crops the less biodiversity there will be.
Another environmental issue related to overpopulation is waste. Landfills have been an issue for decades now because they are running out of space. It follows that the more our population grows, the more waste there will be. Some of the waste is toxic which is leaching into the soil and groundwater supply. When toxic waste leaks into the groundwater it creates more of a risk for the freshwater supply as well and leads to the annihilation of certain types of species (Plant Save).
It can be difficult to decipher the impact that humans have on the environment when it comes to the environment. In Earthcare it is stated, “Assessing the environmental impact of the growing human population is complicated by the fact that the impact of each human on the natural environment is not equal” (Earthcare 609). Population growth is not equal throughout the world. Less developed countries are growing at a higher rate than in most developed countries that are growing at a steadier rate. The increase in population and in the rate of urbanization and mobility that is happening, is a very serious threat to the environment. There are scientists that warn that if we wait for the carrying capacity to limit the population size naturally then we would need to be willing to accept famine, low living standards, unemployment, political instability, and ecological destruction. Naturally scientists and economists find this unacceptable and believe that we need to find a different route to curb population growth.
It is a misconception that overpopulation does not affect our environment as significantly as it does. The current population will use up the natural resources and continue to decimate biodiversity. The overpopulation is eradicating many species and plants, it is draining the freshwater supply, and filling the landfills with toxic wastes. The human population is growing so much that we do not have the supplies such as crops to sustain the population. It seems that the only option humans have is to make enormous lifestyle changes.
Clowney, David, and Patricia Mosto, eds. Earthcare: An Anthology in Environmental Ethics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009. Print.
The out of sight, out of mind philosophy, unfortunately, can be applied to the care of our Earth. Often seen as a simple and cheap solution to various problems, including waste disposal, this method our world has adopted has led to potentially one of the most dangerous phenomena on our planet. 54% of the waste produced in America is “disposed in some type of landfill.” What would typically come to mind is an image of a “dump,” in which garbage is deposited into a man made hole in the ground, but landfills can come in another form: our oceans. The threat of groundwater contamination from landfills has always been an issue at hand, so imagine what devastation and impact that could mean for the countless life forms found in the ocean (Clowney and Mosto 363).
The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is a collection of marine debris in the North Pacific Ocean. It is considered the world’s largest landfill, and it floats in the ocean. The garbage patch spans the water from the west coast of the United States to Japan. Two separate patches have formed, the western—near Japan—and the eastern—located between Hawaii and California. The area is a slow-moving, clockwise spiral of currents created by a high-pressure system of air currents. By nature of the gyre, they accumulate plastic, other trash and natural parts of the ocean such as seaweed (National Geographic).
Scientists consider the specific area as an oceanic desert. It is filled with tiny phytoplankton but contains very few big fish or mammals. Due to this fact fisherman and sailors rarely travel through the area. It is estimated that millions of pounds of trash, mostly plastic reside the waters. It is anticipated that plastic comprises about 90 percent of the trash in marine waters. In 2006 the United Nations Environment Program reported an estimate that claims that in every square mile of ocean 46,000 pieces of floating plastic is present. In some areas the amount of plankton is outweighed by trash by a ratio of 6:1. In a given year the world produces more than 200 billion pounds of plastic, scientists believe 10 percent ends up in the ocean (5 gyres). 70 percent of the plastic sinks to the bottom of the ocean resulting to in damage to life on the ocean floor. The remaining floats. The main problem with plastic is it does not biodegrade. The durability that makes it useful to humans causes the harmful effects to nature. Plastic over time will break into smaller pieces of plastic without breaking into smaller compounds. A single plastic microbead can be 1 million times more toxic than the water surrounding it (National Geographic). The smaller parts of plastic ultimately get ingested by filter feeders or other marine animals and result in serious damage to their bodies. The effects are cascaded and cause threats to entire food chains. Filter feeders and smaller marine animals will get eaten and the poisonous effects of the plastic within their bodies are passed onto the predator.
The garbage patch presents several threats to fishing, marine life and tourism. The LA times estimates that 80 percent of ocean trash originates from the land (5 gyres). Scientists that study the effects of trash in the ocean nearly all conclude that searching and eliminating the ocean of its trash is impossible. Experts believe the solution to managing the trash within the ocean can be traced back to trash management on land. We must tackle the problem at its source (National Geographic).
The world’s waste is disportationally placed. Peter Wenz discusses environmental racism, which is the disproportional distribution of the burdens of waste unto the weakest and poorest of a nation and ultimately the world. The population makeup of the weakest and poorest populations tend to be nonwhite minorities. Throughout his essay “Just Garbage” he brings up several points that show how unevenly the burdens of waste are being distributed, and how current practices are only worsening the situation with an “out of sight out of mind”/ “as long as it’s not in my backyard” mentality. Wenz examines our consumer-oriented society, which puts high value on throwing away the old and replacing it with the new. Humans within industrialized countries focus on the newest and most improved products, hence their old products are thrown out to make room.
Despite his anthropocentric view within his essay, his theory can be connected to all species. As with The Great Pacific Garbage Patch it is evident that the poorest and weakest species is being left with the burden of human waste. The native sea life is being drastically affected by humans’ “progress” and material lifestyles. All the waste that is disregarded to allow new materials ends up somewhere, and with many people fighting to keep it away from themselves, it sometimes ends where there are no voices to be directly heard.
Wenz is a strong believer in those who reap the benefits of waste should equally share in the burdens of waste, instead of one group (a certain race or species) gaining all the benefits while another struggles to keep up with the burdens. Just like the minorities of a human society, the inhabitants of the ecological society are currently suffocating under the tax of waste. Wenz proposes a solution, LULU, which is a plan to evenly distribute the burdens of waste. With this plan different communities would be examined and each community would then be give the amount of waste it can handle. If Wenz’s LULU plan is followed all types of minorities would benefit. By switching from one group taking on all of the burdens, to all groups equally sharing the distribution of waste minorities will have greater opportunities to prosper. The plan Wenz puts forward to help humans can be generalized to the environment as a whole. The Great Pacific Garbage Patch doesn’t have to exist, and its inhabitants don’t have to struggle under the weight of waste alone (Clowney and Mosto, 368-376).
Bluntly, we have to clean this up. We must adapt our actions and mentality on our own waste. The problem however, is that the patch is located so far away from any national coastlines that no countries want to claim responsibility for it. Charles Moore, the discoverer of the patch, has stated that the cleanup process would bankrupt any country that attempts it. However, there are many international organizations and individuals who are actively pushing for awareness of it (The Ocean Cleanup).
Also, to simply just pick up the amount of trash that is currently in the Patch would take, according to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Debris Program, 67 ships a total of one year to clean up less than ONE percent of the North Pacific Ocean.
Fortunately, there is a better and more efficient solution than going out with boats and picking up the trash out of the ocean or using nets that can capture other sea life. The Ocean Cleanup company is planning on using the oceans own currents to solve the problem. They plan on setting up a 100km-long v-shaped barrier that the ocean currents will pass through. This will form a screen that will collect the plastic. The screen will be short enough in design to allow for neutrally buoyant marine life to drift through, lowering the impact the cleanup would have on ocean life.
The Ocean Cleanup’s feasibility study indicates that one 100 km long barrier “could remove 42% of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch over a period of 10 years” and they also claim that their most conservative measurements amount to 70 million kilos of plastic at 4.53 Euros per kilo. This is expensive but a lot quicker and cheaper alternative. It has passed model tests, and a 4 m long model that confirmed computer models. A coastal 2000m long model will be put to the test off the coast of Japan this year. If all works out for them they could be able to put the full scale model in the pacific in 2020.
Recycling. We currently only recover 5-10% of the plastics we produce worldwide.The environment lacks the ability to speak for itself. The result of our human waste has presented environmental dangers. The development and growth of the Great Pacific garbage patch presents an extremely difficult challenge. Our current generations have increased awareness of preserving the environment and protecting it for future generations.The increase of recycling, biodegradable product demand, and other steps we have implemented to reduce waste has made it possible to slow the growth and has even begun to reduce the size of the world’s largest dumping ground. In a broader and more preventative sense, the problem we currently face with waste disposal can be tackled with waste management. Many believe if we continue returning to the good old-fashioned 3 Rs: reduce, reuse, recycle, a large impact can be made. One of these approaches is described as industrial ecology, which turns the relationship between industry and manufacturing into its own ecosystem. In other words, the “waste products of one industry become the raw materials of another.” (Clowney and Mosto, 365). Scientists agree: if the oceans die, we die. The underlying problem with environmental pollution is the constant increase industrialized countries produce annually. We must change our economic practices and cognitions in order to preserve the environment. We can fix the world’s largest unintentional dumping ground.
Clowney D., and Mosto P. Earthcare: An Anthology in Environmental Ethics.
Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield; 2009. Print. 363-
The Ocean Cleanup. Technology. Website. 2015.
National Geographic. Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Website. 2016.
5 Gyres. The Plastic Problem. Website. 2016.
(Picture with man in canoe)
The Calm Before the Storms: Intro to Climate Change and Gardner Overview, James Cousins, Leighton Kessner Brittney Stuart, Kayla Witherspoon
The Perfect Storm to the south of Nova Scotia on October 30, 1991. From wikimedia.
Air pollution and the overall issue of climate change have rapidly gained prominence as a global issue, with their own numerous derived issues. Issues like identifying the ethics involved, getting environmental policies implemented in vastly different nations, and how we even view the problem of air pollution. The first point is where Paul Steidlmeir argues that a way of valuing the environment with ethics rather than economics needs to be found. (Earthcare, pg. 326) The second is something that may appear like progress has been made, with agreements like Kyoto and Bali. But, the worst polluters--India and China--have been exempted from their limitations, and global warming growth levels have already surpassed earlier worst-case scenarios. In the last case, we have people like William Baxter who think we should consider the effects of environmental pollution strictly from a human point of view. (Earthcare).
Stephen Gardiner’s paper ‘A Perfect Moral Storm’ is about the sheer difficulty of identifying any sort of ethical environmental policies due to Global, Intergenerational, and Theoretical concerns coming together to threaten our ability to morally act when making said policies. Gardner makes a point to specifically label decisions on what constitutes an environmental threat a value judgment as much as a scientific one, using a 2001 statement from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Gardner, pg. 347). Gardiner also makes the point that we cannot talk about environment, or how our behavior towards the environment affects other interests, without going into ethics. Gardiner takes the term ‘perfect storm’ from the story of the Andrea Gail fishing boat and its subsequent literary/cinematic adaptations. The boat is caught by three storms converging atop it, so Gardner finds it a good analogy for the three salient problems of the globalization involved, the fragmentation of cause/effect over multiple generations, and a general confusion over environmental values combining to create a ‘super-storm’ of corruption in moral environmental decision making (Gardner, pg. 348).
The Global Storm
Climate change is not just an issue for some people, but all people. There is no single country to blame for the fast progression of climate change because each gas emitted affects the entire world, not just the local area from which is comes from. Gardiner clearly states that climate change is not caused by “a single agent,” but many people refuse to believe that it is their own responsibility to ensure the environments safety, as well as their own. Some countries believe that it is their duty to instill changes in their ways to help reduce the negative effects of climate change, while others simply go about their business and do not recognize the destruction they are causing the environment, as well as their people. Since there is not overruling government for the world, it is very difficult to change and implement certain ideas to relieve or eliminate the negative effects people are causing on climate change. If there were a government overseeing the entire world, it would be collectively rational for each country and person to cooperate and find a solution, in this case, to combat climate change (Gardner, 349). Unfortunately, our world is highly separated on many issues--climate change being one of several. Some countries are exceeding and leading in ideas to improve climate change, while others do not see the issue as being significant at this time. This idea can be referred to as individual rationality, which means that each country has the opportunity to either battle against climate change or decide that the issue is not as important (Gardner, 349). Some countries that are involved in attempting to reduce emissions and help climate change include, but are not limited to, Australia, Indonesia, Germany, Japan, and Russia. For example, Australia’s goal nationwide is to decrease greenhouse gases by five percent before 2020. There are still many countries that are not necessarily on board or have a set goal for reducing emissions and helping climate change include, but are not limited to, the United States of America, India, and China. The United States attempted to pass a cap-and-trade bill to lower emissions by 17 percent by 2020, but the bill was not passed and there have been no further efforts since then. All in all, there will need to be a collective effort made by many countries in order to fully shrink the about of emissions in the air and change the current climate.
The Intergenerational Storm
While the Global storm glosses over the world wide perspective,the Intergenerational storm deals more from the perspective of time and how past and future generations will and have affected climate change. This storm will be more human-centered than anything else. This is a “lagged phenomenon” because what we are discovering from the greenhouse effect and the rising sea levels have taken a long time and will continue to take a while until they can be realized at a full capacity (Gardner 351). There is also the fact that human beings emit the greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, which can spend a surprisingly long time in the atmosphere. Now as interesting as it sounds to know the carbon dioxide you breathe will be in the air for generations to come, it’s not a good thing. Carbon dioxide can take hundreds of years to actually neutralize, which is where the lagging idea comes from. Nonetheless, roughly a quarter of all the carbon dioxide emitted will actually stay in the atmosphere forever. The fact that carbon dioxide is such a long-living gas implies three things: this is a resilient phenomenon, the climate is severely impacted by backloading, and being backloaded implies that we won’t know the damage until it is too late in the future. The first implication is saying that the amount of carbon dioxide can’t simply be reversed, and there are not too many sound ideas that would make complete sense at the moment. Scientists have been looking into the possibility of burying the carbon dioxide in the ground, but since there is so much; it’s not as simple as a dog burying his bone. This will take a lot of advanced planning to make it feasible. The last implication is purely timing, these effects of the emissions we are accumulating now will not be realized until the future. This all comes down to describing procrastination in a nutshell. We are so used and accustomed to an excessive and luxurious lifestyle, we will not do what needs to be done until it is too late and at that point our future generations will have already been destined to suffer. Now even though we have come to that realization already, it is not a popular reality and people will just choose to ignore it until it becomes overwhelmingly true. This is the reality because we rely on the idea that countries will adequately be able to predict and represent the interests of both the citizens now and those of the future. In the long run, which most don’t realize, we're not just giving the same problem to the next generation, but also rather making it worse for the generations to come. What we need to realize is that, even though the storm known as climate change will not be avoidable, there is a way that we can make it easier/less sufferable for generations to come.
Theoretical Storm/Moral Corruption
Gardiner states that the theoretical storm is our ineptitude to deal with many problems characteristic of the long-term future (Gardiner, 355). What this means is that even if we try to solve the issue of climate change, we don’t know how our actions are going to impact future generations. We perceive this as justification to make no effort at all. However, we do have a moral obligation to make a change, in order to make the suffering a little easier for generations, as stated above.
However, the small efforts that we make are not really enough. The laws, restrictions, and suggestions we put into place are hardly more than to make ourselves feel better. For example, the Clean Air Act of 1970 was put into place, and then had to be extended twice. The guidelines were not being met, making the act fairly useless for almost 20 years (epa.gov). It is also a very misleading act, because as Baxter pointed out, “clean air” is a misleading term in itself, for 2 main reasons. First of all, who is to say what “clean” air really is, and secondly, we have done so much irreversible damage to the air already, that we can never never undo, so no one can say how clean “clean air” is (Baxter, 334). We would have to sit and make large reforms to the way we do things for our environmental acts to make a real difference and slow the damage.
Why are we so against making any large reforms? We are so human-centric, anything that does not have an immediate negative effect on us we are willing to ignore. Whatever is cheapest and easiest is what we tend to focus on, and any sort of major reform will take a lot of time and energy to take effect, and the benefits won’t be seen for so long that we act like it isn’t worth it, although it most definitely is. The small changes we make that can have an immediate effect are not enough to have any long-term significance. Another reason we have a hard time changing our habits is we don’t know the true impact we have on this earth, and the consequences of our action are hard to determine. This gives us a false sense of security. One last reason that we are so reluctant to make any real reform is because many have an attitude of “the damage is already done” so there is no reason to attempt to delay what they perceive as inevitable. These reasons are flawed, and are used as excuses to not make a difference.
We have a lot of hard choices to make in order to overcome this “theoretical storm,” and it starts with us recognizing that we are indeed harming our environment, and that changes need to happen to have a sustainable life. If we can overcome this, we can be on our way to actual climate reformation.
Smog over Los Angeles
Air Pollution and Climate Change: Causes, Effects, and Ethical Issues, by Brian Carman, Brittany Ellison and Alyssa Lane
Factories all around the world are huge contributors to emission of greenhouse gasses.
Air Pollution and Climate Change: Causes and Effects
Over the last few decades, environmental issues have been growing and, although these issues may be frequently discussed, too little has been done to change the lasting effects humans are causing on our planet. Most notably are the issues of global warming and air pollution. Global warming is caused by the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These greenhouse gases trap the heat from the sun, which helps to warm the planet. One greenhouse gas is CO2, which comes from both car and truck exhaust and burning fossil fuels for energy. With the increase of carbon dioxide and other air pollutants released from factories over the last 150-200 years, these gases are responsible for the majority of global warming that has occurred (Gardiner, 2008). Although there are some air pollutants (aerosols) that lower the temperature of the earth, greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere for much longer (CO2 can last 5-200 years) and heat at least two times more than aerosols cool (Clowney and Motso, 351; Gardiner, 2008).
Global warming has become such a large issue because countries are not working together to decrease their pollution levels. These issues can either been seen as global issues that require the world to work together or as regional problems that each area must handle themselves. The Kyoto Protocol was one attempt to handle greenhouse gas emission on a global level. Although around 126 countries have ratified it, the U.S.A, who releases the most carbon, has not yet agreed to this protocol. Also, as of 2008 other huge carbon releasing countries such as India and China are not required to change their emission levels (Clowney and Motso, 326). These nations are huge contributors to the rising pollutant levels in the atmosphere and with their reluctance to cut back nothing will have the opportunity to be improved. It is very daunting to approach these issues in a global manner, but without the compliance of the whole world the pollution will continue to increase and the temperature of the earth will surely rise. Already global warming has been occurring at a much faster rate than was ever anticipated and it has been stated with more than 90% certainty that human activity is behind all the warming (Clowney and Motso, 329). It seems that we have not acted fast enough to stop our ways because we are already guaranteed to raise the temperature of the earth by two degrees, but if we do not change our industrial ways then our planet will rise by four more degrees, which will have drastic effects in all areas of the world (Clowney and Motso, 329).
Humans are and will continue to be affected by the changes in our climate in addition to plants and animals. The ozone is another very important aspect of the atmosphere that is being affected and its depletion is greatly affecting the human population. The ozone layer helps keep in heat from the sun, but it also helps to protect us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. However, a hole has been created in the ozone due to the many damaging chemicals used by humans (Clowney and Motso, 332). The thinning of the ozone layer allows more UV light to pass through the earth’s atmosphere. Human exposure to an excessive amount of solar radiation and ultraviolet rays can lead to different skin cancers, including cutaneous melanoma. Those with pale skin and people who spend excessive time in the sun are more even more susceptible to skin damage and skin cancer.
The hole in the ozone layer in 1979 compared to 2008.
Other health related issues are especially high for people in areas with high amounts of CO2. The young, elderly, and those with respiratory issues are at a higher risk of survival in areas with large amounts of CO2 ("Air Pollution: Current and Future Challenges."). Individuals who live in the city will face these problems more than those who live in the country. People of lower classes and those who live in third world countries are even more vulnerable to climate change due to how much they rely on land and natural resources. They cannot afford to have the land destroyed. Instead of helping, our actions now are only going to make matters worse for generations to come.
In addition to human harm, animals are also being affected by changes humans are causing in the environment. For example, acid rain is becoming more common as pollution increases. Acid rain has played a huge part in the melting of polar ice caps and warming the oceans. Its acidity has lead to damaged lakes, rivers, and forests, which has greatly affected the environment animals and plants live in (Clowney and Motso, 327).
This issue of climate change is most certainly a global issue, but there are many things that can be handled at a more regional level. Although our way of living may be changed some, it is necessary for us to reduce our release of greenhouse gases by finding alternative energy sources that are not carbon based. Additionally, energy use must be limited and conserved.
Locally in Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany, this town has been doing their part to create more environmentally friendly energy resources- specifically with the water provided through the company Stadtwerke. This plant treats wastewater and purifies it through three different levels of cleaning and ultimately helps to produce energy for the town. First, the wastewater goes through a rake where large materials are sorted out. Sand and suspended minerals are then sorted out after the water flows through a type of chamber (class notes). In the second stage of purification the water goes through biological purification. Microorganisms help to convert pollutants into carbon dioxide, water, and nitrogen. The microorganisms also produce sludge, which is separated from the water. The sludge is extremely important in this process because it is converted into biogas, which is then used as thermal and electrical energy. Through this anaerobic sludge stabilization, 33% of the energy demand in the area is met (class notes). Additionally, at the end of the process the water is clean, crystal clear, and is released into the nearby Elbe River. When asked if there are any negative effects of how this company handles their water and creates energy, a staff member replied, “Everything is good when you make energy from waste.” This small town is helping the world by using alternative ways to make energy, while also cleaning and purifying water. In the future they hope to be able to produce even more energy through these beneficial ways.
Sludge before water purification is complete at Stadtwerke.
Lutherstadt Wittenberg, Germany
When discussing the topic of climate change, not much can be said without bringing up ethics. If ethics was not involved in the climate change, would global warming and air pollution even be a problem? In Stephen M. Gardiner’s article A Perfect Moral Storm: Climate Change, Intergenerational Ethics and the Problem of Moral Corruption, he says that, “The peculiar features of the climate change problem pose substantial obstacle to our ability to make the hard choices necessary to address it. Climate change is a perfect moral storm” (Clowney and Mosto, 348). A perfect storm can be defined as individual destructive factors that come together to cause negative outcomes. Gardiner came up with three “storms” that merge to cause the perfect storm for climate change.
The first storm is “The Global Storm”. This storm is made up of three important characteristics: dispersion of causes and effects, fragmentation of agency and institutional inadequacy. Dispersion of causes and effects is seen through the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. These effects are not only seen at the source of emission, but are seen globally as well due to the ability of CO2 to last in the upper atmosphere for hundreds of years. Fragmentation of agency is a problem because it is not just one source that is causing climate change. Without having a world government, it is hard to come up with a way to respond to global climate change. Companies get into paradoxical positions because on one hand they know that the right thing to do is for everyone to cooperate, but on the other they know that it is unlikely to happen and they need to keep doing what they are doing for their own economic benefit (Clowney and Mosto, 328). Lastly there is institutional inadequacy. This is a problem because the lack of global government makes it hard to have global regulations for greenhouse gases that we need.
Increase in CO2 emissions through 2008 and projected CO2 emissions by IPCC through 2050.
The second storm is “The Intergenerational Storm”. Like the first storm, this storm also made up of the same three characteristics. The phenomenon that climate change caused by humans is part of the first characteristic dispersion of causes and effects. It is said to be a phenomenon because of how long it takes for the effects of greenhouse gases to happen compared to when the gases were actually released into the atmosphere (Clowney and Mosto, 351). There is a huge lag time. Fragmentation of agency and institutional inadequacy both think about future generations and how the actions of today’s people will affect the lives of people in the future.
The last storm is “The Theoretical Storm." This storm pertains to the fact that we do not have what is needed to deal with the problems of the long-term future. Gardiner says, “Even our best theories face basic and often severe difficulties addressing basic issues” (Clowney and Mosto, 355).
With the convergence of these three storms, Gardiner believes moral corruption is created. This allows for people to be more manipulative and makes them focus on some of the issues instead of all of them. Therefore, in order to better the future for ourselves and for others we have to avoid overtly selfish behavior. Our actions have already proven to be detrimental to ourselves and the rest of our planet. If we continue as we are now, the earth will continue to have increased pollution levels and rising heat. We must take the necessary actions of conserving energy and reducing pollution in order to spare ourselves and future generations and reduce/ reverse the damage we have already done.
“Air Pollution: Current and Future Challenges." EPA. Environmental Protection Agency, n.d. Web. 15 Feb. 2016.
Class Notes. Science in the Social Context. Wittenberg University, 2016.
Clowney, David, and Patricia Mosto, eds. Earthcare: An Anthology in Environmental Ethics. Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 2009. Print.
Gardiner, Lisa. “Air Pollution and Climate Change.” Windows to the Universe. 17 June 2008.Web. 15 February 2016.
Water is a precious natural resource that humans cannot live without. We need it to drink, shower, cook food, etc. Alarmingly, clean water is becoming an increasingly scarce resource. It was stated in 2006 by the World Health Organization that only 59% of the world’s population has access to adequate water sanitation systems. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, dirty water is the world’s biggest health risk. Until the past few years, most U.S. citizens believed water issues to be more prevalent in developing parts of the world, such as Africa and India (http://www.nrdc.org/water/). In sub-Saharan Africa, for example, only 16% of people have access to drinking water. For decades, many organizations have campaigned to raise money for wells in Africa and to promote clean water access in these rural areas (https://thewaterproject.org/water-in-crisis-rural-urban-africa).
Ramchandra Guha states that one third of India’s land area has been classed under unproductive wasteland (Guha 298). There is a shortage of safe drinking water because of the exploitation of groundwater, which has caused a drop in the water table. These shortages can also be correlated with the abuse of the environment in India. The issue of shortages is especially potent in small villages. In these areas, poor people are against poor people as they fight for land. The “Indian Environment Movement” is a term that is used to describe conflicts and struggles of the local Indian people.
Water Contamination in the U.S.
The recent crisis in Flint, Michigan has made water contamination--seemingly elusive, to many--a legitimate worry to average Americans. Though the U.S. as a whole does not treat this as a pressing domestic issue. However, obtaining and protecting clean water in areas like Flint is a major issue all across the country. In the last few decades, towns and cities in the United States have been plagued by unsafe lead levels in tap water--our nation’s capital included. After Washington D.C. changed how it disinfected drinking water in 2001, the levels of unsafe lead in tap water increased by a startling amount of 20 times the federally approved level. Citizens were not informed until three years after the fact. Officials responded by removing lead water pipes--repairs that ended up only prolonging contamination. Jackson, Mississippi confronted contamination just last year. In this case, officials waited six months to disclose the contamination. Studying these cases, a disturbing pattern of arises: the public is consistently uninformed, and officials are egregiously slow to react. When they did, it was often inadequate.
The EPA stated that the streams that are tapped by the water utilities which are serving a third of the population are not covered by clean-water laws. Though these laws limit levels of toxic pollutants, they are outdated and often unscientific. For example, the EPA’s trigger level for lead--15 parts per billion--is a measurement based not on its potential as a threat. Instead, it is based on the fact that nine in 10 homes that are vulnerable to lead exposure fall below this measurement. Scientists not associated with the EPA have stated levels much lower than advised are reason for alarm http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/us/regulatory-gaps-leave-unsafe-lead-levels-in-water-nationwide.html?_r=0).
Water Contamination in Flint, Michigan
Recently, lead contamination has devastated Flint, Michigan. The struggle began in August of 2014, when the struggling city switched from Detroit’s water system to the Flint River as a means of saving money. Though cost-effective, this measure was problematic: the Flint River has been long-polluted by industry, and is now highly acidic. This acidic water released toxins from Flint’s aging pipes. Soon, residents were complaining about the color, taste and smell of the water. City officials claimed these complaints to be unfounded. An official report stated that “Flint water is safe to drink.” In January 2015, Detroit offered to reconnect Flint to its water supply, even waiving the $4 million cost. The state-appointed emergency manager declined (http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/01/21/us/flint-lead-water-timeline.html).
In the United States, it is believed that somewhere between three and six million miles of pipes contain lead. In Flint Michigan, citizens are paying the price. It is estimated that 4.9% of children under the age of five that have lead levels in the blood of 5 micrograms per deciliter. It is important to know that blood levels do not have to be high to cause a detrimental effect. Children exposed to lead suffer from irreversible damage to their brains and nervous system, which leads to growth and behavior problems. This is why lead has been correlated to lower test scores (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/02/09/upshot/what-the-science-says-about-long-term-damage-from-lead.html?ribbon-ad-idx=8&rref=homepage&module=Ribbon&version=origin®ion=Header&action=click&contentCollection=Home%20Page&pgtype=article). So, the city of Flint could be suffering from this incident for decades to come. As of 9 February, 2016, Flint was put under a boil water advisory due to a drop in pressure in the city’s water supply. This pressure drop could result in bacterial contamination into the water system (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2016/02/city_of_flint_issues_boil_wate.html).
It should not be overlooked that Flint is one of the poorest and most dangerous cities in the United States (http://www.mlive.com/news/flint/index.ssf/2015/09/flint_detroit_among_nations_po.html). Ethically, economic status of a city should not lead to such a lack of attention to crisis. However, this situation calls into question whether or not it was a factor as to why the government and the EPA did not help sooner. It is apparent now that lead in the water is not the only problem. It seems that if it has taken this long to take action against lead contamination, it could take decades more for other pollutants and poisons to be evaluated and recognized. Additionally, industries such as mining and agriculture push against increased investigation and testing. Situations like the one in Flint bring to light the intense need for reform. Clean water is a right that many people, abroad as well as in our own country, consistently suffer without.
Bookchin: An Analysis and an Answer
Social ecologist Murray Bookchin states that nature and society are interlinked; seeing them as a duality is harmful. He argues, then, that human culture and innovation (“second nature”) are natural (Bookchin 287). To him, it has the potential for greatness as well as misery: “[human development] contains both the danger of tearing down the biosphere and, given a further development of humanity toward an ecological society, the capacity to provide an entirely new ecological direction.” (Bookchin 289). The crisis in Flint does not showcase human innovation at its best; it is the massive growth of industry in this city that lead to the suffering of so many of its members.
Bookchin argues that in order to truly solve ecological problems, we must also address the social issues (Bookchin 285). As residents have voiced, this kind of extreme contamination may not have been an issue had Flint not been a poor and largely black community. Social circumstances not only help in creating ecological problems, they help sustain them. It was budget cuts, after all, that lead to such careless decisions that contaminated Flint’s water. Instead of being focused on the safety of citizens, officials were focused on money and politics. It was not just individuals who are accountable, but agencies as well. The EPA’s low standards concerning what counts as hazardous and what does not are unsatisfactory.
Bookchin would see this problem partly as a manifestation of the capitalist market imperative “grow or die.” (Bookchin 292-293) The city of Flint prioritized its industry and budget over the safety of human lives. It is the industry that polluted the Flint River in the first place, the harsh economy that aggravated the struggling city in the first place, and those same industries are fighting to grow more and more. Budget cuts led to poor decision-making, and then lies and deceit.
In order to combat these negative outcomes of second nature, Bookchin would suggest a shift in power from government elites to locally based and environmentally aware social groups (Bookchin 295-296). If power was localized, there would not be inflated agencies like the EPA focused more on sheer efficiency than actual safety. These local groups would properly synthesize the social and ecological issues. Decisions would not be a simple matter of the economy and the budget; they would be informed and comprehensive. Government officials would not be so removed that they could deceive and harm their communities—they would be members of them.
“To grow or die”- Social Injustice, Indigenous People, and Multinational Corporations, By: Hannah McCartney, Katie Harman, and Amanda Crawley
In prehistoric times, dinosaurs lived in a world dependent upon evolution in order to out-live their competitors. Evolution depends on the survival of the fittest, where one dominates another in order to survive. Dinosaurs relied upon their adaptation to their environment in order to survive. This survival is crucial to the survival of one’s lineage, and the continuance of one’s family. The smallest, weakest, and slowest to adapt were forever lost to their superiors. In a human aspect, we also rely on evolution in order to survive, but we take the evolution a step farther to grow or die. We aren’t competing against other humans in the sense that dinosaurs were competing against other dinosaurs, however we are competing with the environment. Humans have the intelligence to develop technology, cities, and communicate; therefore we feel we are superior to the environment because we have the ability to change and create an environment to suit our needs. This grow or die thinking we have developed has caused production and consumption to be be of high importance. However, the continuance of growth also causes the use of more natural resources and more harm to the environment. We are continually taking from the environment, but not giving back. This is where Social ecology steps in to try to solve the problem. Social ecology explains how all of our ecological problems are due to deep-seated social problems when it comes to economic, ethnic, cultural, and gender conflicts. It is the way human beings deal with each other as social beings through the different social classes and hierarchical structure of society, and how we need to dig deep down versus scraping the surface to get to the root of the problem. We need to realize that the solution is not one where we are the superiors to the environment, but that we are one with the environment.
In social ecology the drive to grow the biggest isn’t always the best for all; in the process others are pushed out. These people consist of the poor, people of color, and indigenous people. This leads to environmental injustice. According to Guha and Martinez- Alier, “A major source of environmental injustice is the actions of large multinational corporations [and the way] in which large international corporate interests have marginalized and squashed the interests and knowledge of indigenous peoples, as well as impoverishing them, cutting them off from their traditional livelihoods and making many of them hopelessly depend on the whims of multinational corporations” (David Clowney and Patricia Mosto 284). Indigenous people aren’t defined as people of a specific country or nation in one area, indigenous people are defined by their tradition in the countries they live in, and how they are sustained by the land around them. They are usually small in number, have their own language, and their own individual traditions and rituals that they live by. Looking at environmentalism in the first world, we view how we can preserve the forests or wildlife; however, environmentalism means focusing on social issues in developing countries. The reservation of indigenous communities that has been part of their sustainable tradition are threatened and desecrated by big multinational companies and corporations due to their strive to “grow more”. People are constantly fighting a war over land or water just to sustain themselves, their traditions, and their livelihood.
Through the social interactions of humans with other humans and their hierarchical classes, indigenous people have been left out when it comes to resources. Indigenous people are not part of the higher class; they don’t have the intelligence and resources like first world people do. Therefore, they are seen as people to dominate, to take over and “help”. In order to “help” indigenous people, big corporations are coming and Westernizing their culture. The corporations don't stop and ask what do you need, they just do what makes them a profit. They end up stripping the people of their environment, of their resources, making them even poorer than they were before. The indigenous people are being stripped of their environmental justice every day. According to the EPA, “Environmental justice is the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies”(www3.epa.gov/environmentaljustice/). Corporations are involving the people, but it isn’t fair treatment nor meaningful involvement. They aren’t asking them what they really need, they are just using them to grow and make a profit.
One of the most vocal people regarding the treatment of indigenous peoples at the hands of giant, multinational corporations is Vandana Shiva in regards to the people of her own country. Shiva is the quintessential environmental activist and has been speaking out for decades against many modern and advanced agricultural practices that have directly and negatively affected not only the people of India but also the environment and biodiversity. But wait... globalization is a good thing, right? The movement and spread of ideas and technologies across borders and beyond the boundaries of language and land: what could be wrong with connecting the world in such a manner? To Shiva, it isn’t the spread of the knowledge that is the problem, rather the reason it is spreading, namely through the exploitation of indigenous peoples and lands and resources in less developed countries. These lands and resources and peoples are exploited to the benefit of large companies from the West who swoop in wearing capes in hopes of acting like the ‘savior.’ They come in with the intention to help develop the land to the same standard that one would expect in a first world country when, in reality, they are destroying the local environment and depleting the natural resources and crushing a way of life that has persisted and succeeded for many years before. The indigenous people are being deprived of their environmental justice due to the lack of understanding and respect for the indigenous people and their environment. This can be seen by looking at the state of the earth currently, we have overdeveloped and over harvested our resources, our land, and our water system and in the end, just like the dinosaurs we too can end with extinction.
Monsanto is the biggest culprit of this in India specifically, and Shiva has been fighting the powerhouse alongside the foundation she created, Navdanya, since the nineties. The hold that large corporations have over something so essential to life is abhorrent to Shiva. She makes the claims that everything comes down to seeds: all life begins as seeds, and that allowing multibillion dollar operations like Monsanto to have patents over the seeds is, in essence, giving that same company control over the creation of life. This is where Navdanya’s “Seed Sovereignty” campaign comes into play, so named because Shiva sees the company’s claims to life (read: seeds) as an “Intellectual Property” (which it is so called because of the patents the company holds) is essentially slavery in that this company owns the rights to life by holding those patents on the genetically modified seeds. This legal monopoly of the seeds that these indigenous farmers need to make a living ultimately leads to a dark and gloomy path. These farmers will pay exuberant amounts of money to obtain the seeds they need to plant their crop and then, should their crop fail or even just do poorly for the season, they are left with little more than severe debt. This then becomes a vicious cycle of ever increasing debt and reliance upon these foreigners. Shiva remarks upon this trend which has often lead to many indigenous people deciding to take their own life rather than continue down the same, spiraling path.
So what can we do to helpindigenous people? First you must consider how your actions contribute to the goals of the multinational companies. One can start by doing the smallest things such as growing your own vegetables and fruit, buying at farmers markets, researching products that impoverish and affect others, and being more focused on shifting government based power to local power. Overall, if one person is environmentally aware, that can make a difference in the global fight against corporate companies. Everyone deserves to have the opportunity to be what they wish and to have their “greatest happiness”. There are many people who are fighting for indigenous people, but many others aren’t even aware of their existence. You can look into who indigenous people are, where they are, how they are being wronged, and what you can do to help them. Some sites that might be helpful in finding out about on indigenous people and seeing the latest news are: Survival International and Amnesty International (http://www.survivalinternational.de/tribes https://www.amnesty.org/en/what-we-do/indigenous-peoples/ ). You can also look into products that are supporting indigenous work and/or philanthropic brands or associations such as looking on Survival International, or brands like Serengetee that support small indigenous businesses ( www.serengetee.com ). In the end, the fight to help those who are being impoverished by the “growing dinosaurs” is important, we need to fight to reclaim our common humanity and sense of interconnectedness. Instead of creating shut doors we should start opening them for ourselves and primarily for others. Every small victory against multinational corporations leads to a world that is more planet conscious ,and has more opportunities not only for some, but for all.
The Zika Virus, Poverty and Environmental Feminism By: Keenan Buchanan, Meredith Hood, Jamie Pence, Mackenzie Abel
Gender and nature are social constructs we have created, and how they are perceived is a matter of social and historical reality. Historically, women have been linked with nature and thus the domination of women and nature have been interconnected. Due to this deep rooted connection one “ism” cannot be stopped unless they both are, which is why ecofeminists argue that in order to promote a better respect for all humans, we must first have a respect for the environment. This is especially evident in third world countries where women are the main providers of fuel, food, and water. When nature is depleted and pushed to the limit for “developments”, which also can affect and change the culture, women suffer a greater amount of negative consequences than men overall (Clowney and Mosto, 243-263; 273-282). An example of this is the current Zika virus crisis.
The Zika virus is an emerging mosquito-borne virus. Viral infections during pregnancy are the foremost cause of maternal and fetal illness and mortality. Neonate transplacentally, prenatal-before birth-or postnatal-after birth-infections have impacts on the fetus or baby. The virus was first identified in Uganda in 1952 in humans, earlier discovered in monkeys. The symptoms are in most cases mild, involving: fever, skin rashes, muscle and joint pain and headaches. Symptoms normally occur for 2-7 days. The virus has no long lasting effects on the general public. However, during recent outbreaks in Brazil and French Polynesia national health authorities have reported potential neurological and autoimmune complications associated with the virus (World Health Organization). Researchers have found evidence linking the Zika outbreaks and microcephaly of children with mothers that obtain the virus while pregnant. Microcephaly is a rare neurological condition in which an infant’s head is significantly smaller than the average, resulting from the brain developing abnormally in the womb or not growing properly after birth (Microcephaly).
Over the last five years, the virus has been reported in the Pacific/Oceania, Americas and Africa, indicating a rapid geographic expansion, some conclude has resulted from global warming. The growing conversation focused on increasing the global community, after the breakout of Ebola, has given this virus considerable attention (World Health Organization). This outbreak has led to the declaration of a public health emergency by the World Health Organization, even threatening the 2016 Summer Olympics which are scheduled to take place in Rio de Janeiro (McNeil, et al) Health ministers from five different nations have asked women to delay having children (McNeil, et al). This request, however, is not an optimal solution in countries where women have limited access to resources and control over their bodies.
Zika is a disease of poverty. The populations most affected by this virus are poor communities living near open water that attract mosquitoes. They lack the resources for prevention methods (World Health Organization).
The countries that have reported ongoing Zika virus outbreaks, as the graph below shows, are mostly under the 50th top countries with regards to UN development index. The UN Development program website defines the Human Development Index (HDI) as “a summary of measure of average achievement in key dimensions of human development (per country): a long and healthy life, being knowledgeable and have a decent standard of living”. Through a study of the countries schooling, life expectancy, and GDP (among more) the UN development program gives a country an HDI “score” or “composite index”. In any case, there are only three countries that have ongoing Zika virus outbreaks that are above the 50th highest scores on the HDI ranking list; the three countries are also technically territories with small populations owned by other countries. The mean score for the countries is .728, which if that was a country in of itself would be considered only on the cusp of being a country with a “high development index”. What this all means, is that poorer countries, like the ones in Central and South America are more susceptible to outbreaks based on economic standing in the world.
It is important to acknowledge the Zika Virus from the perspective of poverty, especially in relation to ecofeminism. There are two different kinds of poverty: culturally perceived poverty and real poverty, with the distinction lying between perception and reality. A third world or underdeveloped country may have different means of obtaining resources, but all of their needs are still being met, perhaps even with an average or above average quality of life. However, since these methods may differ from that of a first world or a developed country, it could easily be perceived as that country living in poverty. (For example, if people wear handmade garments of natural fiber rather than synthetics.) The difference between culturally perceived poverty and real poverty, then, has to do with a difference in worldview. What appears to be an impoverished standard of living to one nation may not be to another. Real poverty, however, is an actual denial of basic needs. (Clowney and Mosto, 279-281).This is the case with the Zika Virus crisis in many parts of the infected world. Without access to proper preventative resources, the Zika Virus is more likely to spread (McNeil, et al).
This is especially important, in regards to feminism, as these countries’ women simply cannot afford to buy birth control to help stop the spread of the Zika virus and prevent babies with microcephaly from being born. Mothers’ that are informed of the diagnosis of their child are not able to have the option of an abortion due to national laws. There are other factors at play as to why these countries cannot buy birth control for many reasons: religious, social, even law. The recent increase of babies born with microcephaly has sparked debates throughout the country of Brazil regarding their abortion laws. Currently the procedure is illegal. Legal scholars within the country are preparing to go to court to fight for the rights of women. They argue that pregnant women should have the right chose the fate of their fetus once a diagnosis is known. As of now, no decisions have been finalized in regards to changing or adapting abortion laws. But, focusing on just economic power, women in these countries may not even be able to afford birth control for the prevention of pregnancy even if countries in these regions offer for reduced prices.
As with other outbreaks, policies and the reactions of other countries will determine how they are combated. The poor world has changed fundamentally over the course of history. The development crisis of countries is paralleled with the crisis with feminism. The crisis begins with the mistaken identity of culturally perceived poverty and real material poverty. The view the West has of these countries begins the discussion. Do we take the deep ecology perspective and let nature take its course or do we follow the duty based ethic principle and “fix” what the Western World has created?
The Western World has placed an oppressive conceptual framework on third world countries. We see ourselves as superior, as a separate entity and dominate. The logic of domination falls as the country is not as successful or influential amongst the world. This is the view of the ecofeminists, and it is still prevalent today.
Following the 2014 Ebola epidemic, the world took notice. Many influential countries throughout the world took action to prevent the spread of the disease. Ebola is a disease of everyone, not just the poor, unlike the Zika virus. The world reacted in such a fashion because of the potential threat it had on the entire world. The Zika virus is an emerging story and officials believe it could be under the radar for many years to come. Following the framework that the world followed during the Ebola crisis, action will not be taken worldwide until developed countries believe they are at threat. A critique on this way of thinking could be the starting point in the search for a solution to the Zika Virus.
Let's Get Deep About Ecology, By James Cousins, Leighton Kessner, Brittney Stuart, and Kayla Witherspoon
The blogs posted over the next several weeks are written by students in my Science in Social Context course that is taking place in Wittenberg, Germany. The blogs are focused on environmental ethics and justice in Germany, the European Union, and the U.S.
Intrinsic Value in the US and GermanyOverview
The United States has pretty interesting views on the value of a person or thing. The U.S. focuses less on the intrinsic value of an item, and more on the extrinsic value, or the value it provides others. For something to be valuable for the majority of Americans, it has to benefit them as a society or individually, instead of having value within itself. For example, we do not do very much to prevent landfills, or make sure the water is safe to drink. Even as human beings, we don’t necessarily see the value in other humans, and many Americans have the attitude that “if they aren’t working, they don’t deserve basic access to food and shelter.” However, this is not the opinion across the board. For example, we have a large amount of land set aside to preserve nature. We also have some social programs to make sure that people have the basic needs to survive, although even these are argued and fought against. In this way, we have some respect for the intrinsic value. Germany however, has us beat. Germany has a very large focus on the intrinsic value of a person, environment, and other nonhuman subjects. The main goal in Germany is to focus less on how someone or something can benefit them and using them in a sense. Rather, the focus remains on the actual value of a person or the subject of interest, also known as intrinsic value. Granted, there are still people in Germany who may practice extrinsic value more so than intrinsic, but the country as a whole works hard to make sure that each member of the community and the environment receives the respect it rightfully deserves. These ideals are in effect throughout the laws that they put into place.
Precautionary PrincipleWhat is this you may ask? It’s part of an attempt in Germany to cut down on the harsh effects of chemicals and other hazardous objects before allowing certain products hit the market. Germany was the first country to implement this idea in the 1970's and started a worldwide motion of safer products and more testing to be done prior to the products hitting the shelves. The United States, after hearing about the new principle, also reacted to this sudden urgency to demonstrate environmental ethics, but refused to switch over entirely to the principle itself. The principle the United States stands with, even to this day, is that a product is safe until it is proven otherwise. This is not to say that the United States does not test products prior to releasing them to the public, but it is much easier to have a product released in the United States rather than Germany because of the shorter process. General requirements for a product to pass inspection and be released in the United States is very simple. Essentially, if a product is thought to have a good basis and low levels of projected problems, the product hits the market unless there becomes a fair amount of negative feedback. The preparation in Germany for a product to be released is very extensive and involves making sure that every aspect of the product, the content and packaging, are not going to be harmful to people or the environment.
Conservation of Land
Conservation areas are defined as: "areas that have been designated in a legally binding manner and in which the special protection of nature and landscape as a whole, or of individual parts thereof, is required for the following reasons:
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
Germany, attempting to be as environmentally conscious as possible, is largely particular about recycling. Not only does Germany attempt to recycle a large amount each year, they have also made the choice to separate the types of material they recycle. In their attempt to decrease the 30 million tons of garbage waste each year, they use different bins to collect materials like paper, plastic, composite material, and cans--among others. On average per year, Germany recycles 45% of material, burns 38%, and 17% is composted. On the other hand, the USA is not as environmentally focused on recycling, since every states is not required to recycle, even just starting with plastic. However, 10 states are in full swing of recycling on a daily basis, one example being Michigan. Although not all states have the normality, like Michigan, to recycle at home and in local areas, the United States recycles about 34.3% each year. Imagine what could happen if all 50 states were on board as well!
“The well-being and flourishing of human and nonhuman life on Earth have value in themselves. These values are independent of the usefulness of the nonhuman world for human purposes.” With the first point of Deep Ecology directly relating to intrinsic value, it is clear that they have a connection to each other and play off each other in certain ideals. Deep ecology in essence is the idea of looking at the long-term effects of an environmental crisis and taking into consideration all life, a “total-field image”. Deep ecology is a movement and nothing more or less. The Norwegian philosopher who coined this movement, Arne Naess, did not make the points to come off as ideals of philosophy. This is because he didn’t want to give off the implication that Deep ecology is a science,philosophy, religion, or at least a fully developed position of some kind”. This movement deals with heavily going directly against Western modes of consciousness. People need to turn to the concept of appreciating life quality, rather than pushing for a higher standard of living. This movement would take a lot of time to adjust to since it is completely rethinking and reshaping our ideals and our way of life, a more “primal” consciousness of spirituality. Deep ecologists agree that all life has value, not just as means to human use, and that all life should be allowed to go through their “evolutionary” unfolding. Deep ecology faces a lot of backlash from other movements, this criticism points out some major holes like feminism and the problems that philosophers have within deep ecology. Before really diving into Deep ecology it’s important to get a grasp of what the eight main points actually are. The platform starts off with basically describing, for lack of a better description, intrinsic value. It is stating the definition of intrinsic value and representing what it all stands for. The richness and diversity of these life forms are also seen as values in themselves. We as humans have no right to reduce this richness or diversity, but if we must it can only be to satisfy vital needs for survival. Deep ecology also promotes a smaller human population, so that it would be easier for the human race to flourish. Human interference with non-human life is rapidly getting worse, and with that it doesn’t look like it will slow down. Deep ecology is focusing on the long run, pointing out that massive economic changes must be made and that all of these ideals must be implemented for us to all succeed in this world in harmony.
Deep Ecology, Capitalism, and Humanity
Deep ecologists view expansive capitalism as highly destructive, and calls on humanity to learn about their place in the world from the nature around them. To deep ecologists, capitalism is the prime example of ‘species selfishness.’ The Earth and nature being treated as extrinsic, nothing more than resources to exploit with no regard for Earth’s sustainability or the welfare of the common person, is considered to be highly immoral and leading to worldwide despoliation. They believe individuals needs to undergo deep personal reflection, and come to a self-realization, that they’re dependent on and empathize with the beings around them in nature. Then, the individual realizes how shallow and greedy modern life is. Deep Ecology has determined the best and only way is to return to the societies of aboriginal and indigenous that live in harmony with nature, yet are currently being threatened with extinction by modern industry. This is the goal of one sect of Deep Ecologists.
ConclusionIntrinsic value and deep ecology appear to go hand in hand, and each can be shown in the a variety of manners. Deep ecologists can get behind the goal of conserving land, recycling, and just generally respecting the intrinsic value of all aspects of life. Deep ecologists stress that we do not have a humanity-centered worldview, but respect the world as a whole. Everything has value and it is up to us to appreciate it all.