Environmental Racism

Many citizens of the United Sates refuse to believe the Climate Crisis exists. The predominant driver in this blissful ignorance is deception; they do not believe that the Earth is perishing because they will be and are the last to see these effects. Racism is an apparent reality in the United States whether it is displayed discretely or not. Although it is rarely discussed, this oppression continues even into Climate Change and environmental degradation. In fact, it is evident that there is disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards in lower-class communities all over the United States. 

What influences this disproportion?

One of the greatest instigating factors in this behavior are, “industries that follow the path of least resistance when deciding where to locate hazardous waste sites and other polluting facilities” (Erickson, Michigan News). In order to conserve money usage and ensure profit, large energy companies have systematic plans to limit money spent to discard waste. This problem even extends beyond just the disposing of dangerous biproducts. Factories are often constructed in low-income areas to once again limit expenses; subsequently, this lowers the value of said houses in surrounding areas, trapping the residents, limiting options to sell their houses, and leaving them with long-term health deficits. Morning Consult reported that, “In a poll conducted June 16-18 among 1,840 adults, 61 percent of Hispanic adults and 56 percent of Black adults said they’re ‘very’ or ‘extremely’ concerned about the impact of local pollution on themselves and their family, friends and community members, compared to 39 percent of white adults who said the same. In comparison, 27 percent of white adults, 17 percent of Hispanic adults and 12 percent of Black adults said they were ‘not that concerned’ or ‘not at all concerned’ about local pollution.” This further supports the notion of distrust and evident exposure to toxic elements due to individuals’ demography. 

People immediately believe that everyone is equally at risk of exposure to pollutants. However, according to Raquel Pinderhughes, “. . .a growing body of research shows that the most common victims of environmental hazards and pollution are minorities and the poor.” There is not one square inch of Earth that is not actively affected by the Climate crisis; although, much of it is concentrated in areas that people do not think twice about. Under previous governmental leadership, all protection for these communities was completely revoked, worsening their state. Whether it is particulate matter or toxic carcinogens, this problem is far from alleviation and needs desperate attention. 

Sources:

Erickson, Jim. “Targeting Minority, Low-Income Neighborhoods for Hazardous Waste Sites.” University of Michigan News, 19 Jan. 2016, news.umich.edu/targeting-minority-low-income-neighborhoods-for-hazardous-waste-sites/.

II, Vann R. Newkirk. “Environmental Racism Is Real, According to Trump’s EPA.” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company, 28 Feb. 2018, http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2018/02/the-trump-administration-finds-that-environmental-racism-is-real/554315/.

Jenkins, Lisa Martine. “’They’re Living With It Every Day’: Environmental Injustices Leave Minorities With Pollution Anxieties.” Morning Consult, 6 July 2020, morningconsult.com/2020/07/06/environment-racial-inequality-pollution/.

Pinderhughes, Raquel. “The Impact of Race on Environmental Quality: An Empirical and Theoretical Discussion.” JSTOR https://www.jstor.org/stable/1389310?seq=1/.

U.S. Rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement

What is the Paris Climate Agreement?

In short, The Paris Agreement is explained by the United Nations as, “a legally binding international treaty on climate change.” The primary goal is to limit global warming to below 2 degrees Celsius in comparison to pre-industrial levels; however, ideally, 1.6 degrees. To do this, efforts would entail reaching a global peak of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible. Thus, ensuring long-term reparation and a climate neutral world. As of just recently, the United States has contributed to a list of 174 countries world-wide. With combined contributions, these ideals seem more and more obtainable.

Biden’s Signing of Executive Order to Rejoin Agreement

As of January 20th, the 46th president, Joseph Biden, was inaugurated into office. Just hours after this action, he signed a number of significant executive orders- one being to rejoin the Paris Agreement. Because predecessor United States president, Donald Trump had removed the country from this agreement, Biden took quick action towards a reversal. This is only one of the multitude of actions Biden has taken thus far. The New York Times reports that, “President Biden on Wednesday will direct federal agencies to determine how expansive a ban on new oil and gas leasing on federal land should be, part of a suite of executive orders that will effectively launch his agenda to combat climate change. . . .”

U.S. President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders, including rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office just hours after his inauguration on January 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. Biden became the 46th president of the United States earlier today during the ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Credit: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Significance of the Paris Agreement

Although the list of actions Biden has already taken is consistently expanding, The Paris Climate Agreement remains quite a significant one. Due to the combination of 175 countries’ efforts, the future of the environment seems a little more hopeful. In fact, NPR expresses that this agreement is, “the largest international effort to curb global warming.” Since the U.S. is the second largest contributor to global carbon emission [following China], it was vital for Biden to take immediate action. Although, it will take a lot more than rejoining this agreement to gain control of the Climate Crisis- with the consistent imploring from American citizens, assigning of environmental experts to more government positions, and the controlling of emission outputs- this goal is more and more visible on the horizon.

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Sources:

Berwyn, Bob. “The US Rejoins the Paris Agreement, but Rebuilding Credibility on Climate Action Will Take Time.” Inside Climate News, 21 Jan. 2021, insideclimatenews.org/news/21012021/biden-paris-climate-agreement/.

Friedman, Lisa. “Biden Sets in Motion Plan to Ban New Oil and Gas Leases on Federal Land.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 25 Jan. 2021, http://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/25/climate/biden-climate-change.html.

Rott, Nathan. “Biden Moves To Have U.S. Rejoin Climate Accord.” NPR, NPR, 20 Jan. 2021, http://www.npr.org/sections/inauguration-day-live-updates/2021/01/20/958923821/biden-moves-to-have-u-s-rejoin-climate-accord.

Unfccc.int, unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement.

A War against Fast Fashion

H&M, Zaful, Forever 21, Zara, Shein: Teenagers’ go-to brands are not only notorious for their stylish clothing, but also their lasting effects on the planet. For the most part, there is no ignoring the faults of these multi-million dollar companies. The cheap and cute clothes distract many from the true inside workings, factory conditions, employee treatment, and the exploitation of materials. This is not accounted for but, must be.

What is Fast Fashion?

According to Ethical Consumer, “Fast fashion is ‘fast’ in a number of senses: the rate of production is fast; the customer’s decision to purchase is fast; delivery is fast; and garments are worn fast, usually only a few times before being discarded. It is a model that is entirely unsustainable.” The mass production of goods is precisely how these industries flourish. They are quick in updating products the minute something becomes insignificant in the world of fashion. If their cheap prices weren’t convincing enough to draw in materialistic consumers, then their up-to-date products will.

These clothes are, essentially, “too good to be true.” The reason why the prices are so desirable and inexpensive is a direct result of cheap production, poor employee treatment, and the fragility of the materials used. They are virtually made to be worn a couple of times and then thrown away. In a New York Times article, it is stated that “Fast-fashion brands may not design their clothing to last (and they don’t), but as artifacts of a particularly consumptive era, they might become an important part of the fossil record” (Schlossberg).

Environmental Degradation Instigated by Fast Fashion

The constant alterations to current fashion trends inherently makes for a wasteful society. This society, then, reflects on the fashion industries and their attempts to appease consumers. Materialism and commercialization of the fashion world is a huge contributing factor to the environments degradation. We live in a “throw away” society which has now invaded the top clothing industries. It is all about how much you can get for minimal money usage. This ideology inhabits both the consumer’s and producer’s mindsets.

To quote New York Times once more, Tatiana Schlossberg exclaims, “More than 60 percent of fabric fibers are now synthetics, derived from fossil fuels, so if and when our clothing ends up in a landfill (about 85 percent of textile waste in the United States goes to landfills or is incinerated), it will not decay.” On top of materials that are already discarded each day, clothes are being gradually and increasingly added to it. Due to the endurability of these products, often times they do not last longer than a few wears. This is mostly because they were not made to. These industries are training consumers to buy their cheap clothes, wear them once or twice, throw them away, and then go buy a newer and better piece. A constant cycle that has shaped modern-day shoppers. In fact, “The fashion industry is the second-most-polluting industry—coming in right behind big oil—according to the UN. The fashion industry not only produces 10% of global carbon emissions, but also contributes 20% of waste water production” (Rao). These industries are the essence of a global injustice being perpetuated against our planet adding on to the other prevalent violations.

How You Can Help

This problem is a big one and it will take immense reparation to abolish the damage it has placed on consumers and the environment. But, nonetheless, you can do your part to help. One of the best ways to do this is buying second hand. Thrift stores have cute clothes that are usually quite durable. Rather than buying new clothes, you can purchase new, old clothes with a clear conscious. In fact, after you are finished with these products, instead of throwing them away, you can donate them back. It is challenging to train yourself out of a materialistic mindset, but with knowing you are helping the planet and contributing to kinder industries that work to support lower-class communities, it will be worth it.

List of Apparent Fast Fashion Industries:

  • Forever 21
  • H&M
  • Top Shop
  • Zara
  • Zaful
  • Urban Outfitters
  • Pacsun
  • Hot Topic
  • Gap
  • Fashion Nova
  • rue21

Sources:

Crumbie, Alex. “What Is Fast Fashion and Why Is It a Problem?” Ethical Consumer, 31 Oct. 2019, http://www.ethicalconsumer.org/fashion-clothing/what-fast-fashion-why-it-problem.

Rao, Pavithra. “Battling the Damaging Effects of ‘Fast Fashion’ | Africa Renewal.” United Nations, United Nations, 2019, http://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2019-march-2020/battling-damaging-effects-%E2%80%98fast-fashion%E2%80%99.

Schlossberg, Tatiana. “How Fast Fashion Is Destroying the Planet.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 3 Sept. 2019, http://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/03/books/review/how-fast-fashion-is-destroying-the-planet.html.

Changes To Global Freshwater Networks

Although most of our water-drinking necessities rest on the water beneath our feet, lakes, streams, and freshwater systems maintain ecosystems and the necessary biodiversity within them. They are used to not only relay the current strain of climate hazards but also contain keystone species on which scientists and entire ecosystems rely. Therefore, leaving many to worry about these networks’ current state as time progresses and greenhouse gasses continue to grow in quantity.

Changing Weather Phenomena’s

As global weather patterns are continuously altered by an increase in air temperature, lakes, rivers, and streams experience the implications. Precipitation and evaporation rates have begun impacting freshwater areas in various ways. Shallow, stagnant water being more susceptible to a change, are escalating to warmer temperatures thus completely altering the chemical composition of said body. The Environmental Institute at Indiana University exclaimed, “Increasing temperatures, causing earlier snowmelt, combined with higher precipitation amounts and more severe weather and flooding will impact the reproduction abilities of aquatic species. Changes in the timing of high and low stream flow creates stress on aquatic plants and animals, decreasing survival rates.” Evaporation naturally increases through the addition of heat to bodies of water. This suggests that the water is closer to changing forms into a gaseous state. So, these frequent and rapid changes in aquatic levels induce a stressful environment for biotic inhabitants.

One of the most heavily researched lakes, The Caspian Sea, provides a focal point for environmental scientists. It is said to display the clear effects of weather and atmospheric alterations instigated by the climate crisis. The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) stated in a recent article that “‘The Caspian Sea can be viewed as representative of many other lakes in the world. Many people are not even aware that an inland lake is dramatically shrinking due to climate change, as our models indicate,’ says Matthias Prange. The report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) also failed to mention lakes, and disregarded the social, political and economic consequences of global warming on the affected regions.”

Local Environmental Changes Can Instigate Vast Modifications to Surrounding Bodies of Water

Deforestation and agriculture are often environmental issues that are discussed individually without mention of the effects they might have on alternate aquatic environments. Nonetheless, these ecosystems are in constant relation to one another and interferences with one affects the integrity of the next. Deforestation, to start, is the removal of trees which frequently includes their roots. These roots are responsible for holding soil in the ground ensuring decreased erosion. However, when removed from the equation, erosion is increased and soil commonly ends up in local freshwater systems. In addition to the already warmed body of water, this creates an ideal environment for blooming activity. Soil includes nutrients which then fuels algae growth inherently allowing for a flourishing effect.

Agricultural runoff virtually has the same result. Rather than the plain soil eroding from farms and ranches, most commercialized crops require fertilizer which incorporates into the dirt. Thus, increasing the nutrient levels present in the sediments. This often finds its way into neighboring streams and lakes influencing similar but even heightened events. With the absence of surrounding trees, these bodies have no protection from erosion. Indiana University continues to explain that “Warmer water temperatures in deep lakes slows down processes that add oxygen to the water, creating dead zones, or areas with less oxygen that are unable to support life. These dead zones can produce large-scale fish mortality and toxic algal blooms.” Dead-zones are becoming more and more apparent as Climate Change progresses.

Changes in Speciation

Species’ presence is also altered as a result of changing freshwater environments. Specialist species that reside in specific environments shaped to their needs, require an ecosystem that will suffice to their minuscule range of tolerance. However, as mentioned, chemical compositions of lakes and streams are more frequently undergoing a complete refashioning of chemical and physical traits: temperature, oxygenation, water level, TSS (total suspended sediment), and other various alterations. Not to mention, after soil erosion infiltrates into these aquatic environments, the sediment within the water often creates a scene in which gilled fish cannot survive. Sediments will adhere to the tight space and slowly kill the organism limiting necessary oxygenation. Alternatively, Generalist species-often known as invasive- easily adapt and thrive in various environments due to their natural adaptability. Not only will they out-compete the native Specialist species present, but will thrive in the new condition modifying the entire ecosystem.

Invasive Cyanobacteria

“Warmer air and water temperatures,” the Environmental Resilience Institute at Indiana State exclaims, “may also expand the ranges of current invasive species, or allow new ones to establish. Invasive species can pose challenges to the success of ecosystem protection efforts ranging from large ecosystem management, such as the Great Lakes, to the restoration of coastal estuaries.” Every day there is an increase in species added to the list of endangered species. Some may seem as insignificant as an aquatic plant, but all have a place in an ecosystem that may suffer in its absence.

Sources:

“Lakes, Rivers, and Streams.” Environmental Resilience Institute Part of the Prepared for Environmental Change Grand Challenge, eri.iu.edu/erit/implications/lakes-rivers-streams.html. 

marum_de. “Climate Crisis Is Causing Lakes to Shrink.” EurekAlert!, http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2020-12/m-cf-cci122220.php. 

2020 is set to be warmest year in history Despite La niña effect

Each year we see new record temperatures and an increasing presence of dire natural disasters. 2020, following this pattern, is said to once again break predecessor records. We have witnessed disastrous fires, a premature and long-lasting hurricane season, and abnormal weather in different regions of the world. However, this news is more concerning than prior years due to 2020 falling on a La Nina year.

What is the La Nina Effect?

This phenomenon is a weather pattern change in the Pacific Ocean. La Nina’s coupling event, the El Nino Southern Oscillation- or ENSO- has the opposite effect. It is instigated by the reversal of Trade Winds and Ocean Currents in the Pacific Ocean. Thus, influencing warmer ocean temperatures on the West coast of the Americas and the upwelling of cold nutrient-rich water on the East coast of Asia. This cold water, however,  is normally present in the Western Pacific rather than the East, ensuring flourishing fisheries and an absence of extreme wildfires. However, the change in wind direction and ocean currents alters the composition of the ocean and weather. But, back to the La Nina effect. This effect is an extreme normal and known as a cooling effect. California would have even drier conditions and even more aggressive wildfires, fisheries would flourish, and there would be even more hurricane activity in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.

2020’s Abnormal Weather Patterns

The European Union has warned that 2020 is headed to break the 2016 record of being the hottest year recorded. In an article by Jake Johnson, he reported, “‘Globally and in Europe, September 2020 was the warmest September on record, with the global average 0.05°C warmer than the previous warmest September in 2019,’ the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) said in an analysis released Wednesday morning.” Though this is common for a La Nina year, these patterns are abnormal at this magnitude. Some say that 2020 is a perfect example of what we have to expect in the future. As greenhouse gasses pile up and Climate Change progresses, there is a heightened concern for environmental scientists. Ivana Kottasova, a writer for CNN exclaimed that “The recurrent climate phenomenon, which developed in August and strengthened in October, is normally associated with below-normal sea surface temperatures in the Pacific Ocean caused by changes in winds, air pressure and rainfall.” Despite La Nina being limited to the Pacific Ocean, it normally serves as a cooling effect for the entire planet- which has not been seen this year. So, even with this “cooling,” 2020 has still surpassed the temperatures documented in 2016.

Firefighters perform structure protection against the Glass Fire in Napa County, California on Thursday, October 1, 2020. (Photo: Getty Images)

We already are seeing the degrading effects on the environment, but this year more so than ever. With merely a 1.8°F rise from the pre-industrial period, it has caused unimaginable harm to our atmosphere and the environment’s stability. Just in December scientists have measured a difference of “1.16 degrees above normal” (Zeke Hausfather). This year as well as previous years have posed as a mass wake-up call addressing the integrity of our Planet’s future. Whether or not detrimental fossil fuel industries will answer this confrontation just might determine the future of mankind.

Sources:

Kottasová, Ivana. “2020 Set to Be One of Three Hottest Years on Record despite La Niña’s Cooling Effect, Report Says.” CNN, Cable News Network, 2 Dec. 2020, http://www.cnn.com/2020/12/02/world/climate-change-effects-wmo-2020-intl/index.html.

Common Dreams, and Jake Johnson. “Scientists Warn 2020 on Pace to Become Hottest Year Ever as September Heat Smashes Previous Record.” Common Dreams, 7 Oct. 2020, http://www.commondreams.org/news/2020/10/07/scientists-warn-2020-pace-become-hottest-year-ever-september-heat-smashes-previous.

Press, The Associated. “2020 Likely to End up Hottest Year on Record.” NBCNews.com, NBCUniversal News Group, 15 Dec. 2020, http://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/2020-likely-end-hottest-year-record-rcna199.

“What Is La Niña?” NOAA SciJinks – All About Weather, scijinks.gov/la-nina/.

Wind Energy

The wind has helped facilitate needs for the past 2,000 years. Yet, more recently it has been a staple renewable energy source. Environmental scientists often debate which renewable power source is the best. Wind energy always presents itself in the top two place- competing with solar energy. What thrusts this power source to the top of the list is not just the minimal waste but also it has proven to be one of the most cost-effective, it has opened up thousands of job opportunities, it is sustainable, and wind turbines can be constructed on multi-purpose lands.

Wind Energy’s Contribution to the Economy

Though wind turbines are costly and laborious to construct, their construction and maintenance obviously require employment. According to the American Wind Energy Association, “American wind energy is a major job creator– today over 120,000 U.S. workers now have wind-powered careers. And these jobs are spread across all 50 states, meaning your state has a wind job even if it doesn’t have a wind farm.” The main fear many people have when the idea of switching entirely to renewable energy comes up is that many jobs will be lost. However, studies prove that this is far from true and jobs won’t be lost but merely used for another specialty. As energy production evolves, employment opportunities will too. It is also stated that “U.S. wind power drives unmatched economic development into rural America. Because of extra income from wind projects, family farmers and ranchers have a new source of stable income, small-town school districts can offer their students top-notch educations, and local taxes stay low.” Farmlands can be dually used to also house wind turbines without disturbing the crops or cattle. This does not only help the economy but also conserves land usage and compensates for its immense size.

Sustainability And Minimal Emission Outputs

Many of the current non-sustainable energy sources release toxic greenhouse gases that continue to put a strain on the environment, whereas wind energy does not. After the construction of the turbines, it is a completely clean fuel source. An article titled, “Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy,” by the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, supports that “Wind energy doesn’t pollute the air like power plants that rely on combustion of fossil fuels, such as coal or natural gas, which emit particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide—causing human health problems and economic damages.” Thus, making wind energy extremely advantageous in conserving the environment. However, the current problem engineers are faced with is the recycling of the turbine after they cease to work. On average, the current wind turbine lasts 20 to 25 years- not an incredibly long time. With this in mind, Ocean Based Perpetual Energy has researched the possibility of ensuring recyclable turbine models. In an article titled, “Recyclable Wind Turbine Blade Innovation Could Transform Other Renewable Energy Industries,” they exclaim that “Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), in partnership with Arkema Inc. of Pennsylvania, have demonstrated the feasibility of thermoplastic resin and validated its structural integrity on a thermoplastic composite blade manufactured at NREL.” Therefore, the possibility of recycled wind turbines is not so far-fetched and companies are proactively working to make them.

Sources:

“Advantages and Challenges of Wind Energy.” Energy.gov, http://www.energy.gov/eere/wind/advantages-and-challenges-wind-energy.

“Benefits of Wind.” AWEA, http://www.awea.org/wind-101/benefits-of-wind.

“Recyclable Wind Turbine Blade Innovation Could Transform Other Renewable Energy Industries.” OceanBased, 30 Nov. 2020, oceanbased.energy/recyclable-wind-turbine-blade-innovation-could-transform-renewable-energy-industries/.

The Melting of Permafrost and its Potential Lasting Effects

The current pandemic has inflicted relentless harm and destruction on the United States along with the rest of the world. It is hard to say when it will end and the extent of the damage it will cause. However, Covid-19 might just be the beginning. Scientists believe that Climate Change is harming more than just our environment at the present. In fact, as the permafrost blanketing the Artic continues to melt, not only will it release immense amounts of CO2 and methane, but potentially threatening microbes as well.

main article image

What is Permafrost and why is this a foreseeable issue?

Permafrost is a thick layer of soil that remains frozen throughout the year, occurring predominantly in polar regions. It houses frozen microorganisms and many fossil fuels. What’s so threatening about this notion is that microbes do not need the complete thawing of the ice to come back to life. In the article, “Scientists Fear Ancient Diseases Could Be Released by the Melting Arctic,” by Zach Boren, a writer for Green Peace, he talks about this phenomena with climate scientist, Dr Romanovsky. Romanosky stresses that “part of the material that has been frozen for thousands of years is no longer continuously frozen.” The thawing of this ice has only just begun and will continue to gradually escalate in speed over the next few decades. He continues to warn that, “these microbes – awakened from their long slumber – may take the opportunity to move towards the taliks, where it’s less likely to refreeze.” Most of the apparent viruses being concealed by the frost are ones that scientists already know of. This includes Smallpox, the Plague, and Anthrax and they all already have associated vaccines or antibiotics. However, there are already cases of this happening. In 2016 a child died in Russia due to an outbreak of anthrax that scientists said seemed to have spawned from the corpses of infected reindeers buried 70 years prior.

Potential viruses aren’t the only problem

In the article, “As Permafrost Melts It’s Unleashing Ancient Viruses, Carbon – And Now Fuel Spills,” by Jean-Philippe Chognot, she suggests, “Locked into the permafrost is an estimated 1.7 trillion tonnes of carbon in the form of frozen organic matter.” This soil contains roughly, “twice as much carbon – mainly in the form of methane and CO2 – as Earth’s atmosphere.” As the frost begins to warm up and thaw, this matter begins to decompose releasing carbon and methane into the atmosphere. “The melting permafrost,” Chognot continues to state, “also presents a serious and costly threat to infrastructure, risking mudslides and damage to buildings, roads and oil pipelines.” Carbon and methane are already showing apparent degradation to the atmosphere and our environment. Another factor outputting greenhouse gases will immensely increase the pre-existing threat.

Sources:

Zach Boren @zdboren, et al. “Scientists Fear Ancient Diseases Could Be Released by the Melting Arctic.” Unearthed, 3 July 2020, unearthed.greenpeace.org/2020/07/03/arctic-permafrost-pandemic-life-uh-finds-a-way/.

Jean-Philippe Chognot, AFP. “As Permafrost Melts It’s Unleashing Ancient Viruses, Carbon – And Now Fuel Spills.” ScienceAlert, 7 June 2020, http://www.sciencealert.com/as-permafrost-melts-ancient-viruses-and-now-fuel-spills-are-being-unleashed.