Human Impact on Wildlife Endangerment and Extinction
This week focuses on the issue of biodiversity loss and the ways humans have had part in the decline of Earth’s species. Through our destructive and wasteful means of consumption, wildlife populations and biodiversity have decreased rapidly in recent years, and are likely to continue this pattern. In order to reverse the damage done, we must emphasize the protection and preservation of wildlife through laws, treaties, and other environmental initiatives.
Extinction occurs when there is a “disappearance of all members of a species from the earth” (Miller 2019, 176). This phenomenon occurs naturally, when a species is unable to adapt to changes in its environment. However, since the emergence of human culture, extinction rates have skyrocketed to 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate (Miller 2019, 176). According to the London Zoological Society and the World Wildlife Federation, “populations of wild animals have decreased by an average of more than fifty percent over the past forty years” (Geo Beats2014). This steep loss of life has occurred “mostly because of habitat loss and degradation, climate change, ocean acidification, and other environmentally harmful effects of human activities” (Miller 2019, 176). Our impact on biodiversity is so severe that biodiversity researchers have predicted that up to 20-50% of the earth’s species could be extinct by the end of the century. This is extremely dangerous, because the premature loss of species can alter the balance of an ecosystem. Everything in the environment works together in a complex and intricate life system, so if even one piece is removed quicker than the ecosystem has time to adjust, there can be serious consequences for that ecosystem as well as the dependent human life.
For example, The core case study of chapter nine focuses on the decline of bee populations. The natural world (the human race included) relies on bees to maintain equilibrium within ecosystems and provide fertilized crops. According to the text, “European honeybees pollinate about 71% of vegetable and fruit crops that provide 90% of the world’s food and a third of the U.S. food supply” (Miller 2019, 175). Bees are a necessary piece of our biosphere, and their absence could lead to immense ecological damage and global food crisis. Since the 1980s, bee populations have been declining rapidly due to emerging parasites, viruses, fungal diseases, and pesticides. (Miller 2019, 175). This could have dangerous ramifications not only for the environment, but for humans as well, as we rely heavily on the honeybee for food and products. This demonstrates that human activities have led to a dangerous decline in earth’s species, and this could threaten the health of ecosystems as well as human food security.
Fig. 1, Human Dependence on Bees.
Additionally the killing, capturing, and selling of wildlife are destructive human practices which occur on a large scale and contribute to increased extinction rates. Many species of animals (even those which are legally protected) are poached for their parts deemed valuable, or are sold live to collectors. The textbook even highlights that “the global wildlife trade is worth an estimated $19 billion a year” (Miller 2019, 189). This is because people find a great amount of fiscal value in animals and their parts, especially if they are identified as threatened or endangered. For example, Rhino and Elephant species are butchered for their horns and ivory tusks, and the rest of their bodies are discarded and wasted. A majority of rhino species are endangered because of these poaching practices. Additionally, the demand for bushmeat, which is a source of protein for many indigenous people in West and Central Africa, has increased dramatically in recent years. This is likely due to the rapidly increasing populations in certain areas of Africa, as well as the demand for “exotic” meats such as gorillas, antelopes, elephants, etc. in restaurants. This is a dangerous trend, as the hunting of wildlife has threatened many species, and has even led Miss Waldron’s red colobus monkey to extinction.
In the Global Wildlife Population Decline video, several shocking and heartbreaking images demonstrate the painful harm human activities are placing on wildlife. In one scene, a rhino lays on the grass as his face (horn removed by poachers) bleeds profusely. This image is extremely graphic and tragic, as it is evident that the animal was killed violently for one “valuable” part, and left to suffer and rot. In another scene, a tiger is shown trapped in a well, his eyes wide in fear. If he is not helped, he will likely die of starvation because of human alterations to the creature’s habitat. These images are haunting and eye opening. As someone with an intense soft spot for animals and wildlife, the sight of these innocent beings’ pain at the hands of humans brought me to tears. The pain felt from these types of images is intensified with the realization that this sort of harm is happening all over the world, at alarming rates.
Fig 2, Poaching of a Rhinoceros.
There are several ways in which governments and individuals are attempting to alleviate the destructive impact of humans on wildlife populations. Legislation and treaties such as the Endangered Species Act of 1973 attempt to tackle issues on a governmental level. The Endangered Species Act “is designed to identify and protect endangered species in the United States and abroad” (Miller 2019, 195). The act was enacted in order to bring back population levels to a place where protection is no longer necessary. Though acts such as the Endangered species act are often difficult to carry out and monitor, their existence nonetheless makes a difference. Other means of protecting wildlife on a federal level include wildlife refuges and other protected areas such as national parks. Seed banks, botanical gardens, zoos, aquariums, and wildlife farms are also established with the goal of protecting, preserving, and nurturing threatened and endangered species and habitats.
Costa Rica is a great example of a country that has taken the initiative to protect and sustain wildlife and ecosystems. Home to an immense amount of biodiversity, Costa Rica has assumed the responsibility of protecting its precious and life-giving ecology. Through establishing a system of nature reserves and national parks, the country has devoted “a larger proportion of its land to biodiversity conservation than any other country” (Miller 2019, 202). Costa Rica also incentivizes the conservation and restoration of its environment to landowners and corporations. In order to preserve the precious and necessary biodiversity around the globe, we must learn from places like Costa Rica and take dramatic action towards the protection of wildlife if we intend to maintain a healthy planet for future generations.
In conclusion, because of human activities, wildlife and biodiversity have been severely threatened in recent years. This is an extremely dangerous reality, as biodiversity plays a crucial role in the environment’s health and equilibrium. If we don’t act soon through increased legislation, treaties, and other environmental initiatives, we could face severe ecological crises, as well as the demise of species who deserve to live unharmed by human activities.
Word Count: 1107
Question: What would be a feasible alternative for Indigenous West and Central Africans who depend on bushmeat for a source of protein?
Geo Beats. “Global Wildlife Population Declined By 50% In Last 40 Years.” Dailymotion. Dailymotion, September 30, 2014. https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x26ybub.
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage
Aquatic Biodiversity Loss and Unsustainability in the Food Industry
This week centers around two environmental issues involving human irresponsibility: the immense loss of aquatic biodiversity (and the ecological/anthropogenic consequences of a damaged aquatic ecosystem) and unsustainable food production. These issues both demonstrate the shocking and dangerous relationship between human activities and the health of the environment, and have serious ramifications on the future of our survival. We must act soon to mitigate the effects of human activity on aquatic biodiversity and in the food production industry in order to ensure a sustainable and balanced future.
Firstly, aquatic ecosystems are crucial to both human beings and the environment. Tourism, as well as about 300 million jobs, directly depend on the oceans. Furthermore, about half of the world depends on the ocean for a large amount of their protein and nutrient intake. Oceans produce 50-70% of the oxygen we breathe, and help Natural barriers such as “coral reefs, mangrove forests, and sea-grass beds reduce the impacts on land from tsunamis and major storms” (Miller 2019, 233). In other words, we completely depend on these ecosystems for our existence and safety. Oceans and other aquatic environments are key to the balance of our world, so too much damage to these ecosystems is extremely dangerous. The interconnections between aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems mean that damage to Earth’s aquatic world is damage to its terrestrial environment as well. Too much harm to aquatic ecosystems throws the entire world off-kilter, which puts us in bad shape.
However, despite our dependence on aquatic ecosystems, human activity has increasingly led to the oversaturated “loss and degradation of aquatic habitat” (Miller 2019, 234). Habitat loss and degradation is the most prominent threat to both terrestrial and aquatic biodiversity. Also, “sea-bottom habitats are being degraded and destroyed by impacts from dredging operations and trawler fishing boats” (Miller 2019, 234). In freshwater ecosystems, humans have caused habitat loss through the construction of dams and the removal of water for irrigation and city water supplies. These are just a few examples of how people have led to destruction of aquatic environments, regardless of the fact that they rely on them for life.
The coral reefs demonstrate this habitat damage and its ecological consequences, as they have been destroyed due to “coastal development, overfishing, pollution, warmer ocean water, and ocean acidification” (Miller 2019, 234). Coral reefs are home to about a fourth of Earth’s marine fish species, meaning their destruction results in the death or displacement of those species. This has serious ramifications not only on the environment, but on human populations as well. As many communities rely on the wildlife which inhabits coral reefs as food (specifically protein), the loss of coral reefs is likely to worsen the global hunger crisis. With each past mass extinction, studies show that it has taken coral reefs 4 million to 10 million years to recuperate. This means that “if we have triggered a sixth mass extinction as some scientists say, many of the coral species that are currently centers of marine biodiversity are likely to disappear again for millions of years” (Miller 2019, 234). The loss of coral reefs means the permanent (on a human time scale) loss of ocean biodiversity and stability.
Fig 1, Dead Coral Reef
Another major issue regarding humans’ impact on marine life is overfishing. As the population and the commercial fish industry skyrocket, the extensive harvesting of sea life intensifies. Additionally, trawlers, long-lining, purse seine fishing, and drift nets are all methods of catching sea life which results in mass harvesting of fish as well as unintended creatures called bycatch. Bycatch often includes turtles, dolphins, etc., and leads to large amounts of unnecessary death.
Fig 2, Turtle bycatch.
Sharks are a relevant example of unnecessary overfishing and hunting. Sharks are portrayed in the media as bloodthirsty monsters, but the reality is that “you are much more likely to be killed by a falling coconut, than by a shark (Miller 2019, 239). People overlook this, however, and continue to hunt them mercilessly. They also harvested for their fins, which are deemed very valuable. However, “there is no reliable evidence that shark fins provide flavor or have any nutritional or medicinal value” (Miller 2019, 239). Shark meat is even considered dangerous because of the excess mercury and toxins that it could contain. Additionally, this practice of hunting sharks for their fins is cruel and barbaric, as sharks are thrown back into the water alive after their fins are removed, where they bleed to death or drown. Sharks are a keystone species in many ecosystems, so the ruthless human vendetta against them is extremely dangerous to the health of the environments and communities to which they are connected.
Similarly, the harmful effects of human activity on the environment can also be seen in humans’ unsustainable practices in food production. The past few years have seen a rapid increase in food production, as agriculture, ranching, and fishing industries have become more industrialized. For example, a tilling practice in which the topsoil is plowed and smoothed over “ has contributed to massive topsoil erosion worldwide” over several decades (Miller 2019, 261). Damage to topsoil results in a deep decline in the health of that land’s ecosystem, leading to a plethora of problems including soil infertility, desertification, water pollution, and increased flooding. Agriculture and other means of food production is also incredibly inefficient because of the heavy reliance on fossil fuels. The textbook details that, “altogether, food production accounts for about 17% of all of the energy used in the United States, more than any other industry” (Miller 2019, 272). This shocking percentage demonstrates the extent to which unsustainable practices in food production contribute to our current climate and environmental crises.
Overfishing and unsustainable food production practices in general are also an issue regarding food security and the inequalities of food accessibility, as we need to find a way to healthily nourish our increasingly large population without depleting the planet. The textbook explains that “we live in a world where, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 815 million people face health problems because they do not get enough nutritious food to eat and another 2.1 billion people (up from 857 million in 1980) have health problems caused mostly by eating too much sugar, fat, and salt.” (Miller 2019, 264). This demonstrates the need to develop sustainable production practices that can reach a global scale. Consumption of natural resources inevitably increases as the population rises, but there must be a way to provide the necessary nutrients to humans without compromising Earth’s safety.
In conclusion, human activity has played an integral role in the endangerment of aquatic biodiversity, and has encouraged unsustainable food production practices. In order to ensure a future where our increasing population can be supported by the environment and can rely on a secure, nutritional food supply, we must act soon. If we can learn to treat our aquatic ecosystems with more respect, and manage our food production more sustainably, we can better anticipate a healthy future of our species and the earth.
Word Count: 1162
Question: How can we demonstrate the severity of declining aquatic biodiversity and the deteriorating health of aquatic ecosystems to people who don’t want to listen?
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage
Protecting Soil Biodiversity
The films Symphony of Soil and Dirt! aim to highlight the rare and intricate nature of the soil found on our planet. As Dirt! points out, of the endless expanse of space and matter materialized by the big bang, Earth is the only planet that we know of to possess the “living, breathing skin” of soil which supports life (Dirt! 0:30). Soil is the reason life is even possible on Earth, and is so filled to the brim with living organisms that it could be considered a living thing itself. However, this intricate living layer is often exploited and mistreated by human activities such as unsustainable agriculture practices and the depletion of natural capital to meet consumption demands. In order to preserve the soil which is so crucial to our existence and our planet’s well being, we must adopt more sustainable practices which work in harmony with Earth’s natural processes.
A major concept emphasized by both films is the ancient and recycled nature of soil. Dirt! beautifully highlights that the elements in soil are “made from stars very different from our star, very far away, and has probably been recycled through dozens of stars before it got to us” (Dirt! 1:08). Soil is made of billions of years-old substances, and has culminated to a matter which is rare, complex, and life-giving. Through systems such as the carbon and phosphorus cycles, nutrients are recycled throughout these materials to perpetuate and nurture life. Then, as soil ages and more life grows, decays, and interacts upon it, the soil becomes richer; more complex. I think this fact is fascinating, as it conceptualizes the ancient nature of the ground beneath my feet.
Soil itself is also incredibly alive. Dirt! emphasizes that “with the amount of species that live in a teaspoon of dirt… it’s very obvious dirt may be more alive than we are” (Dirt! 1:47). The pores which make up 50% of the soil under our feet are filled with air, water, and water vapor, allowing living things like microorganisms to flourish by the million (Garcia 17:45). These countless organic beings drive the ability for soil to be productive and function efficiently, and therefore enable the ecosystem to thrive. Within the soil, microorganisms are fed by the carbon absorbed by plants through photosynthesis, and the plants in turn receive the nutrient balance and equilibrium they need to survive. The plant exudates simple sugars, carbohydrates, and proteins so bacteria and fungi can grow and protect the roots of that plant. Because of this natural exchange of nutrients, there are a “million organisms per teaspoon of soil” near almost any given plant (Garcia 21:30). Additionally, nitrogen (though it makes up the largest percentage of air in the atmosphere) is unavailable to us and to the chemistry/cycles of life except for by the important process of nitrogen fixation, which is undertaken by specific bacteria in the soil. If plants did not exudate “food” for bacteria and fungi to grow, nitrogen would not be available for us and other living beings to interact with. This demonstrates how intricate, intentional, and necessary soil/plant processes are.
Fig. 1, Functions of soil biodiversity.
Fig. 2, Soil Biodiversity
However, there are many unsustainable practices which deplete the nutrients of land and threaten the biodiversity and delicate balance of soil ecosystems. Dirt! asserts that “the demand for natural resources has completely changed our relationship with dirt” (Dirt! 25:35). Globally, we consider certain natural materials to be more fiscally valuable, and we destroy landscapes to acquire these resources. For example, mountaintop removal is a strategy people use to mine coal. Using this method, which Dirt! calls “strip mining with a vengeance,” companies “literally cut and level mountaintops” “in the name of cheap electricity” (Dirt! 25:55). Mountaintop removal and other mining practices occur on an enormous scale, and destroy all of the natural capital in their path. Insufficiently managed consumption such as this leads to the destruction of intricate ecosystems, and makes it very difficult for soil to recover to its former state. The biodiversity accumulated over thousands or even millions of years is depleted so that humans can obtain things which they deem valuable.
Fig. 3, Mountaintop removal mining.
Agriculture is another realm in which the treatment of soil is concerned. For example,“70% of our freshwater resources on this planet now are used just for agriculture irrigation” (Garcia 53:39). Because of this, we are depleting our freshwater resources at an unsustainable rate. This is an issue because it could lead to water shortages for humans, for animals in the wild, and can disrupt freshwater and its dependent ecosystems around the globe. Aquifers in particular are being depleted, which is extremely problematic. The resulting salinization and erosion of soil also drastically affects the productivity or that soil to be used in agriculture.
However, agriculture isn’t inherently destructive, and can be neutral or even beneficial to the soil depending on how you treat it (Garcia 40:10). For example, a solution to excess irrigation is no-drip lines, which when introduced to farmland, use “vastly less water and less electricity to bring water to your field crops” (Garcia 55:19). Farmers can also use varying crops to cover more soil surface area in order to decrease evaporation from the soil. The soil therefore retains more water and there is less need for continuous and excessive irrigation. This demonstrates that innovation and attention to natural processes can be used to alleviate issues like agricultural irrigation. Symphony of Soil describes agriculture as a “dance with nature” (31:20). On a farm, farmers must act in harmony with the land, while also acting decisively with the goal of creating a surplus of product. The film described that we should attempt to mimic natural systems in agriculture in order to produce crop yields that are in harmony with nature, don’t harm the soil, and can get us the food we need. Yields are more successful when crops are planted in a way that mimics their natural environment.
In conclusion, soil is an intricate and crucial aspect on Earth which practically grants us our lives, so we must adopt more sustainable practices if we want a healthy and biodiverse world in the years to come. We must learn to respect and appreciate our soils as a life-giving foundation. As Symphony of Soil asserts, “Only rarely have we stood back and celebrated our soils as something beautiful, and perhaps even mysterious” (Garcia 0:05). It is time we acknowledge the beauty, delicacy, and power of a healthy soil ecosystem, and take the time to learn how to nurture it through biomimicry and innovative sustainable practices.
Word Count: 1114
Question: What are some ways people who are not connected to the agriculture industry in any way encourage sustainable agriculture practices?
Burns, Paulette. “International Year of Soils 2015.” UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, November 17, 2017. https://www.ceh.ac.uk/international-year-soils-2015.
Dirt!. Directed by Gene Rosow and Bill Benenson. 2009. Common Ground Media.
Garcia, Deborah K. “Symphony of Soil.” YouTube. YouTube, November 23, 2018. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDZVKMe2FTg.
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage
“What Is Mountaintop Removal Mining?” Earthjustice, September 17, 2015. https://earthjustice.org/features/campaigns/what-is-mountaintop-removal-mining.
The Hazards of Toxic Chemicals and Human Waste
This week’s material centers around the hazards of human activities and waste to the environment and human health. As seen in these chapters as well as the class as a whole, human activities often have a negative impact on the environment, which in turn has a negative impact on human lives. Carelessness and human error in production, the unsustainable harvesting of natural capital, and the saturation and mishandling of solid and hazardous waste all contribute to the presence of hazards for human beings. In order to alleviate the harms of pollutants and toxic chemicals, preventative measures and legislation should be encouraged so we can ensure large scale safety for all walks of life.
Chapter 17 describes the concept of hazards, and details the encroaching presence of chemical hazards in today’s world. The texbook states that “a toxic chemical is an element or compound that can cause temporary or permanent harm or death to humans” (Miller 2019, 418). Hazards can come from a plethora of areas, but the realm of chemical hazards has increased significantly due to anthropogenic activities and environmental damage. These chemicals are a growing concern in today’s commercial atmosphere, as many toxic substances have been revealed to exist in common products.
For example, as described in “Chemical Creep: How Toxic Chemicals Are Sneaking Into Your Food, And Your Body,” chemicals with hormone-mimicking and other harmful qualities have secret existences in common products. These “stealth chemicals” such as phthalates and BPA may disrupt hormone functioning and “harm the brain, raise the risk of asthma and obesity, and slow down the growth of a developing baby” (Peeples 2013). These chemicals are found in many plastic products, as well as food products where certain plastics were used in their production. As there is not much information about the exact source or cause of these chemicals, it is difficult to gauge how we can solve this issue. However, we can assume with certainty that the presence of stealth chemicals can be attributed to human error in plastic/packaging production, and the leaching of chemicals into the environment and food products. On an individual level, people can try to refrain from such products, but these efforts are likely ineffective because stealth chemicals are so interwoven into modern goods and food production. Legislation, like the BPA and phthalate ban in baby bottles and toys, though not 100 percent successful, can help significantly and should be implemented on a larger scale as soon as scientists are able to find more information on the matter.
Fig. 1, BPA ban.
Chapter 21 describes another type of hazard: the accumulating amounts of human waste and its ramifications on human and environmental health. Industrial solid waste and municipal solid waste are both piling up to unsustainable levels in the environment. The textbook details that “Much of the world’s MSW ends up as litter in rivers, lakes, the ocean, and natural landscapes” or is “burned or buried in landfills or that end up as litter” (Miller 2019, 539). This has extremely detrimental effects on the environment, as it contaminates and saturates ecosystems and can greatly affect plant, animal, and human life. Waste itself can also be deemed “hazardous,”meaning it contains toxic chemicals or flammable properties which pose their own threats when being discarded. The “four R’s of waste reduction”: “refuse (don’t use it), reduce (use less of it), reuse (use it over and over), and recycle (convert used resources to useful items and buy products made from recycled materials)” can help alleviate the problem of excessive waste (Miller 2018, 543). However, these tenants need to be actualized on a large scale to make a major difference… this means that legislation and serious changes in the current waste management system need to become involved.
Fig. 2, Waste accumulation.
One way legislators can help alleviate the problem of excess waste and unwanted chemicals is by implementing the precautionary principle through preventative measures. The textbook states that “scientists and health officials, especially those in European Union countries, push for much greater emphasis on pollution prevention” (Miller 2019, 427). This demonstrates that the precautionary principle is being implemented worldwide, with regulations such as the Stockholm Convention of 2000 (Miller 2019, 428). There is some discretion surrounding the precautionary principle in practice as there are disagreements to how far we should go to satisfy a scientific hunch. However, I believe that it is important to take as much precaution as possible, as the health of people and the environment are too precious to leave up to chance. We must work to incorporate the precautionary principle and sustainable, low waste practices into businesses and large corporations so that we can better ensure the health of our world and species.
For example, the plastic bag ban in NYC is a preventative measure in which government officials are attempting to implement the “refuse” approach on a large scale. According to the textbook, “plastic bags can take up to 400 to 1,000 years to degrade” (Miller 2019, 539). One-use plastic bags are a worldwide issue which causes extreme damage to the environment, as they can block the flow of sewage systems, kill wildlife, aid in the spread of disease, and contribute to the general global waste pileup. Because of this severe environmental issue, and the excessive use of plastic bags in American cities, New York issued a state-wide ban on single-use plastic bags. This demonstrates that governments can get involved in the curbing of waste pollution.
Fig. 2, Plastic bag litter.
However, the issues presented by waste pollution and chemical toxicity are also magnified by social inequalities. The ability to escape the harm of pollution and unwanted chemicals is disproportionally difficult for minority groups such as people of color. This is an example of environmental racism because minorities are exposed to a larger amount of harmful substances because of socioeconomic restrictions and inequalities. For example, many people of color cannot afford to shop organic, making them more susceptible to chemicals such as phthalates and pesticides. It is also proven that minorities are disproportionately affected by pollution and waste contaminants. This inequality is one that must be addressed by environmentalists, as the right to equally uncontaminated products, air, water, etc. is an important aspect of environmental justice. This is another reason why the issues of waste pollution and toxic “stealth” chemicals must be addressed, as it is unfair that certain groups of people have to face the hazardous consequences of the world’s unsustainable decisions.
In conclusion, chemical and waste hazards are problems which are increasingly magnified by unsustainable human activity. These issues are often invisible to the eye and affect minorities disproportionately. Therefore, preventative measures regarding waste and chemical hazards are necessary because they pose great threats to human lives and to the environment in unfair and serious ways. Though the health of people isn’t the only reason why we should emphasize sustainability in our societies, it is a definite incentive for change because we can perceive the risks that environmental harm and social inequality have posed for our species.
Word Count: 1172
Question: How can universities (including Fordham) work to improve their recycling methods? When I look into communal recycling bins in dorms, I can see that there has been minimal effort to be sure of what can be recycled. How can we get across to students the severity of the waste crisis?
Admin. “Ban on BPA Milk Bottles via the Star Newspaper 15th March 2011.” Katrin BJ Sdn Bhd, March 15, 2011. http://katrinbj.com/ban-on-bpa-milk-bottles/.
Kim, Juliana. “What to Know About N.Y.’s Plastic Bag Ban.” The New York Times. The New York Times, October 20, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/20/nyregion/what-to-know-new-york-state-ban-plastic-bags.html.
Peeples, Lynne. “Chemical Creep: How Toxic Chemicals Are Sneaking Into Your Food, And Your Body.” HuffPost. HuffPost, March 7, 2013. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/toxic-chemicals-food-body_n_2829270.
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage
The Exploitation of Water Resources
This week explores the exploitation of Earth’s water resources through the irresponsible management of freshwater and water pollution. The material presented has communicated the failure of humans to maintain the health and sustainability of our precious water ecosystems. Though we have a responsibility to repair the damage which has already been done on our water resources, the most important thing we can do for the future of our world is to establish large-scale preventive measures to decrease the overuse and pollution of aquatic ecosystems.
Chapter 13 emphasizes our failure in managing Earth’s freshwater supplies. The textbook asserts that “Despite its importance, freshwater is one of our most poorly managed resources. We waste it, pollute it, and do not value it highly enough” (Miller 2019, 301). The presence of freshwater is absolutely essential to the lives of humans and many other species on Earth. Water is a key player in our health, economies, and climate management, and without healthy aquatic systems, our environment will inevitably collapse. However, our use of freshwater is skyrocketing with the rise in population, the increased consumption practices in affluent communities, and irresponsible water usage in industry and agriculture. As someone who actively watches their water usage and eats a vegetarian diet, my projected water footprint is about 578 cubic meters. This means that people who generally don’t watch their water usage have much higher water footprints, which is frightening, as 578 cubic meters is a ridiculously large amount of water. This is dangerous, because we are depleting a resource which is nonrenewable on a human time scale.
Additionally, the inability to access safe drinking water is an increasingly prevalent and severe human health crisis. The textbook asserts that “more than 3.4 million die from waterborne infectious diseases—an average of 9,300 deaths each day because they lack access to safe drinking water” (Miller 2019, 301). This shows the divide that has occurred between the populations who exploit water resources, and those that cannot even manage to fulfill their human right to clean drinking water. Additionally, competition for freshwater resources has led to increasing tensions within and between countries, demonstrating that the lack of freshwater not only has health and environmental repercussions, but human rights and political repercussions as well.
An example of a lack of reliable drinking water and its societal implications is the water war in Cochabamba, Bolivia. In Spanish class last year, we were required to view the film “También la Lluvia,” which emphasized the parallels between water shortages, classism, and colonialism. In the film, Spanish directors go to a small Bolivian town and hire local indigenous people to act in a film about Christopher Columbus. During the filming of the movie, the actors participate in local riots and protests due to their lack of clean and reliable drinking water in their village. The film emphasizes the idea that freshwater is a life-giving resource which affluent communities take for granted. The riots seen in the film took place in Bolivia in 2000 in “response to the privatization of the city’s municipal water supply company” (Cochabamba 2020). This film and historical event show clearly that the maltreatment of freshwater resources is an activity of immense privilege, and has huge implications for the lives of oppressed people and their environments.
Fig. 1, Cochabamba Water War Protest.
Another pressing issue regarding the state of our water systems is our failure to mitigate the existence of water pollution. The textbook defines water pollution as “any change in water quality that can harm living organisms or make the water unfit for human uses such as drinking, irrigation, and recreation” (Miller 2019, 501). Water pollutants have a plethora of harmful effects on aquatic ecosystems, including diseases, excessive plant nutrients, oxygen depletion, organic and inorganic chemicals, disruptive sediments, harmful heavy metals (could be carcinogenic), and excessive thermal energy (Miller 2019, 508). These extremely damaging pollutants exist in our water sources in incredible excess, demonstrating the irresponsibility of people and emphasizing the ill management of aquatic ecosystems.
An example of pollution’s harmful effects on aquatic systems is the case of the Albatross. The Albatross video and photos by Chris Jordan depict the horrific effects of water pollution on the albatross, an aquatic bird species. Pollution from plastic products is particularly emphasized here, as plastic overwhelms the albatross ecosystems and is often consumed by the creatures. Not only does the consumption of such waste do horrors to the digestive systems of the birds (not to mention the illness, choking hazards, and pain that it causes), but the excessive presence of plastic pollutants also poses external bacterial and toxic threats to the birds as well as their ecosystem. The Albatross video explains these issues alongside gruesome imagery of dead, plastic filled albatross. The sight of piled plastic litter in the corpses of innocent birds is incredibly haunting and provocative. This case serves as a warning sign and a wake up call to the reality of the damage we are inflicting on our precious water resources.
Fig. 3, 4 & 5: Plastic-filled Albatros Corpses.
However, finding sustainable solutions to the issues of freshwater depletion and water pollution is a difficult feat, as most developments present significant drawbacks in addition to their benefits. For example, pumping freshwater from deep aquifers could produce “enough freshwater to support billions of people for centuries” (Miller 2019, 311). However, this does not resolve the fact that water is technically nonrenewable on a human timescale. Additionally, the geological consequences of such an endeavor are unknown, and the cost of the process would be extensive. Dams are another mentionable “solution,” with the intends to “capture and store the surface runoff from a river’s watershed, and release it as needed to control floods, to generate electricity (hydropower), and to supply freshwater for irrigation and for towns and cities” (Miller 2019, 312). This sounds ideal, however the construction and use of dams can severely disrupt surrounding ecosystem services and river flow. In the case of water pollution, clean up jobs are generally difficult to do thoroughly because of its scale (how do we “dispose” of waste without it becoming pollution in one way or another?) and the fact that a lot of the destructive aspects of pollution, like the toxic chemicals that are exuded from solid waste, sewage, and nonpoint sources like fertilizers, are invisible to the eye.
Evidently, our irresponsible handling of freshwater resources and water pollution demonstrate the overwhelming and disproportionate effects of environmental damage. The difficulties in finding effective after-the-fact solutions emphasizes the need for large scale preventative measures to limit the overuse of water and the pollution-enabling practices before they worsen the problems we already have. Yes, we need to solve the crisis at hand, but unless we learn to limit our wasteful water usage and decrease the amount of waste we produce, matters will only become worse.
Word count: 1138
Question: How can college campuses work to improve their water footprints? How can students get involved?
“Cochabamba Water War.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, November 14, 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cochabamba_Water_War.
Jordan, Chris. Albatross. Accessed November 16, 2020. https://www.albatrossthefilm.com/.
Jordan, Chris. “Midway: Message from the Gyre.” Chris Jordan Photography, February 2011. http://www.chrisjordan.com/gallery/midway/.
Miller, G. Tyler, and Scott Spoolman. Living in the Environment. Stamford, CT: Cengage
Water Footprint Network. “Personal Water Footprint.” Waterfootprint. Accessed November 17, 2020. https://www.waterfootprint.org/en/water-footprint/personal-water-footprint/.
Capitalism: an Outdated System of Unsustainability
In this week’s readings, “Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency” by Andreas Malm and “In the Shadows of Coronavirus” by Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo, the two authors analyze the coronavirus and climate change in the context of capitalism and socioeconomic inequality. The essays describe how current issues have illuminated the immense correlations between social inequality, political corruption, and the intricate consequences of colonialism and capitalism in light of global catastrophe. Additionally, the issues brought to light by the coronavirus pandemic have demonstrated the immense failures of our current capitalist system, and demonstrate why we must take action to dismantle it.
An extremely important theme within the works of Andreas Malm and Antonio Y. Vázquez-Arroyo is the inevitable downfall of environmental stability (and the human race) regardless of our hypothetical success in handling the coronavirus. As Malm states on page 6 of his essay, “Every measure taken to contain [the virus] was advertised as temporary, like police tape marking off a street, and so we can just as easily envision a planet lifted back to the status quo ante” (Malm 6). Whether or not we are able to take control of the coronavirus situation at hand, we still must admit to the crippling reality of capitalism which is essentially destroying the planet. The moment the virus is out of the picture, people will most likely race to the streets to indulge in the consumerist wonders that they had to leave behind when the world was on lockdown. In other words, people will feel more inclined to spend their money without regard for the ecological consequences. He details, “Private consumption might be more alluring than ever. Who would want to stand on a packed bus or train after this? Unutilised capacity in car and steel and coal plants will burst forth and stockpiled inputs fall in line with the supply chains. Out of sight, the oil drills back in operation, hammering away” (Malm 6). The overwhelming use of fossil fuels will not decline because of covid’s eradication. If the virus and the other climate and sociopolitical upheavals which are occurring at the moment do not overtake the human race, then the eventual ruin of our environment at the hand of capitalism will. Throughout their essays, the two authors detail how capitalism interacts with other aspects of our failing world to emphasize the need for drastic structural change.
One severe way that capitalism has failed society is through the disproportionate effects of catastrophe on different people groups, and the priorities placed on lives in higher socioeconomic classes. Vázquez-Arroyo presents the fact that response to global catastrophes is generally dependent on the “racial, gender, and class discursive and ideological conceits” involved (Vázquez-Arroyo 4). The reality of differing vulnerabilities in the light of the coronavirus and climate change are absolutely major players in the decisions of inaction or apathy presented by figures such as Trump. When the most affected group of a catastrophic event is a minority which is already systematically oppressed, it is less likely that government officials (and people in general) will pay as much attention and place as much immediate importance on the issue. For example, Vázquez-Arroyo notes the vulnerability of refugees, prisoners, and “people in many other colonial and neo-colonial situations and spaces within the planetary order ruled by capital” (Vázquez-Arroyo 6). The hierarchical inequalities resulting from colonization and capitalism have endorsed immense disparity between the impact of catastrophes on vulnerable groups and the external reactions to the issue. This structural violence is present in the impact of corona on communities such as the Bronx, as well as in cases of environmental racism where the effects of environmental damage are seen in the health of minority groups first. Consequently, Vázquez-Arroyo suggests that structural violence in light of disproportionately damaging catastrophes (like covid and climate change) endorses the presence of rebellion and social change.
Fig 1, Capitalism endorses structural racism.
Given the structural corruption at play in these complex issues, it is obvious that the “solution” must herein lie in the dismantling of the unjust, unsuccessful societal systems themselves. Vázquez-Arroyo states in his essay that the responsibility of people in power is “ to change institutional arrangements that increase vulnerability, in order to avert the threat, not just to aver it” (Vázquez-Arroyo 8). Similarly, Malm asserts that “An enemy of higher order must be overcome, and not for a month or a year or two: the shutdown of fossil capital would have to be permanent” (Malm 21). Both authors emphasize the fact that a feasible solution to the global catastrophes at bay lie outside of the realm of individual action and must be attacked head on. Collective action and political change are necessary to combat the oppressive warlike threats which we are facing. This can only be possible through the dismantling of capitalist structures, as the mere concept of capitalism is incredibly unsustainable for the environment and for the well being of society.
Fig 2, Rallying for structural change.
Fig 3, individual action is not enough.
In response to this need for great structural change, Malm’s article suggests a “war communism” which entails the complete reimagining of capitalist thought and the concept of private property in the social and political life of the modern population. He asserts that “capitalism will not die a natural death,” so we must take extreme and direct action to take it down while we can (Malm 73). Malm’s communism recognizes that our time to slowly progress society towards more sustainable practices is up, and we now need to drastically alter the foundations of our lives in order to save ourselves from mass extinction. I of course cannot be sure if Malm’s specific suggestions are the end-all-be-all solutions to the intersectional issues at hand, nor am I secure in believing that enough people would be on board with the concept of combative communism. However, I do think that if we were to save our species and our Earth as we know it, we would require some extreme division from capitalism and an emphasis on the immediacy of impending climate and societal catastrophe.
In conclusion, the coronavirus pandemic and the culmination of global crises occurring at the moment have demonstrated the failures and severe consequences of capitalism. It is evident given these essays and the culmination of readings from this course that taking our time to work slowly towards sustainability is no longer an option. As the pandemic and vast array of tragedies occurring at the moment have brought to light, our current system is no longer working. It cannot sustain us and our irresponsible actions, and it kicks the most vulnerable populations to the curb when consequences begin to arise. For the sake of our survival and equality in global and environmental health, we must find a way to cease our dependence on capitalism before it is really too late.
Word Count: 1119
Question: Why are people so opposed to communism? In my experience, a lot of devout christians are fundamentally against communism. Why is this, and how can we attempt to change this mindset?
Hannah, Simon. “The Fight against Climate Change Is a Fight against Capitalism.” openDemocracy, August 13, 2019. https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/oureconomy/fight-against-climate-change-fight-against-capitalism/.
Malm, Andreas. Corona, Climate, Chronic Emergency: War Communism in the Twenty-First Century. London: Verso, 2020.
Vázquez-Arroyo, Antonio Y. “In the Shadows of Coronavirus.” Web log. Critical Times (blog), April 29, 2020. https://ctjournal.org/2020/04/29/in-the-shadows-of-coronavirus/.
xraymike79. “February 2014.” Collapse of Industrial Civilization, February 2014. https://collapseofindustrialcivilization.com/2014/02/.
My Role as an Environmental Stakeholder
Prior to this class, I was unclear about my role as an environmentalist. I knew I was passionate about environmental issues (as environmental studies is my major) but I only had a general sense of what I hoped to do with that zeal in the future. However, throughout this class, my opinions and knowledge of anthropogenic damage on natural systems intensified, and I learned the value and importance of widespread environmental literacy. Educating the people around me (even those who I know may not want to listen) about the reality of the current environmental crises is something that is I believe is my responsibility as an environmentalist. In this time of sociopolitical polarity and crucial decision making, the widespread understanding of the reality of environmental issues and the severe consequences of our actions is incredibly important.
This is also why I have recently decided to pursue a career in elementary education, in hopes of guiding future generations in a direction of environmentalism. Of course, I will continue to carry out individual practices of sustainability (like eating a plant-based diet, recycling, donating, shopping sustainability, etc.), but I believe my main role as an environmental stakeholder is to preserve my knowledge of environmental studies in the minds of future generations. Whether that entails being strictly a science teacher, or being an english or art teacher who tailors my curriculum to communicate environmentally friendly messages, I’m not sure. However, the unit we covered discussing environmental literacy and education made me realize that my skills in working with kids could be an excellent tool to make a positive mark on the future of our world. Since the issues we face are not likely to disappear any time soon, it is more important than ever to ensure that we continue to have passionate young people willing to fight for their rights and the rights of the environment. I believe I can help make that happen.