Final Thoughts

April 22nd, 2011

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed my learning experience throughout this semester. The material was interesting and relevant. Not to mention things moved at a pretty good rate – being that there is so much to address when it comes to the Environment. Only the surface was brushed for many of the topics we covered. It is clear that environmental problems and possible sustainable solutions are extremely complex issues.

I especially enjoyed the use of case studies to help illustrate certain forms of environmental degradation. I was unaware of cases such as the Aural Sea. I also did not know about the extensive habitat destruction in the Everglades. I liked the studies most when it seemed as though the effected areas were moving towards improvement. The gloom and doom is really hard to avoid when discussing enviro problems.

It felt like a lot of problems are similar in many ways. I was discussing with my friend about how solutions for something like soil erosion in one area may be similar if not identical to another area. I realize that we do have the knowledge and the know-how to fix many of the world’s problems. The real issue is getting motivation and funding to tackle these issues. I think the next step is to get people to act – we need to do more than just get the word out. Unfortunately, the word falls on deaf ears, and people are too comfortable with what they know. If governments need to take action to get the people to act, then they need to start making laws and moving forward without hesitation. There should be incentives built in to being ecoconscious in all areas of life. Especially in America where expectations are high and time is money – it should become inconvenient to be bad to the environment. While this sounds difficult to achieve – it is possible. There should be extra taxes, extra inspections, and laws surrounding the most notorious offenders of environmental degradation (huge cars, huge poorly insulated houses, eating meat ect.) I think we would see a massive behavioral change in people if being green was the better option all around.


Activity Blog

April 20th, 2011

I attended the poster session for student research projects in the Great Hall the other day. There were many especially interesting Environmental studies that were being presented.

An interesting theme in the session centered around the use of Atrazine herbicides. Atrazine is used to help increase crop-yield. However, due to some questionable effects of this chemical it has been outlawed in Europe. It is still used in the U.S. and has contaminated drinking water.  Atrazine is associated with potential health hazards such as birth defects and menstrual issues. One poster centered around the effect of atrazine on the thyroid of Zebra fish.

Another poster looked at the effect of sea level rise on the shoreline in Staffard county. The rising tides have caused significant erosion. Over 146 acres have been eroded since the first recording. There does not appear to be any end in sight due to an ever increasing sea level. The presenters felt that residents in the community needed to act to protect the land from future erosion before it was lost forever.

There was also an interesting poster on acid mine drainage. The drainage seeps into local water areas and forms sulfuric acid. The acid becomes more concentrated in the summer as the bodies of water shrink and turns the water to an unnatural orange color. I thought this concept of increased toxicity concentrations in summer was interesting. I am interested to learn more about how seasons effect the way pollution interacts with our environment.



April 15th, 2011

I grew up in the woods – being surrounded by trees always seemed natural to me. It was not until I got older that I realized not many people live in, or even near, a forest. The forest near my home is expansive, but relatively young. Signs of human interference are obvious by the miles of stone-wall tracing old boundaries through the woods. The area was once cleared for farming, and all of the trees are mostly young pines, probably between 50 and 100 years old. Pines grow very quickly compared to most native species and can grow easily in sandier soil. The youth of the woods creates a unique habitat, where gaps are filling in, and random thickets of young trees compete. Its sad to think that the forest will probably never be able to reach its ultimate stage again before being cleared again for development.

Old growth forests are particularly special places – and they are dwindling around the world. Occasionally in my young forest there will be a massive giant – obviously left by the farmers. I imagine what it would be like if the forest were composed of all giants like this and how amazing it would look. Old growth forests are extremely rich in diversity – becoming home to many varieties of plants and animals. They also serve as a type of ‘safe haven’ for certain species that cannot survive in younger forests. Many rare and endangered species rely on old growth forests for their habitat, such as the Northern spotted owl. The arrival of European settlers in the U.S. destroyed nearly all of the country’s original old growth forest – very similar to Europe itself.

While there are still areas of old-growth throughout the world, many are fragmented. Forest resilience and diversity truly depends on how intact the forest is – meaning how much area it covers without any unnatural disturbance. Only about 23% of all forests today are considered ‘intact’. Canada still contains a considerable amount of intact forest and is also home to some truly stunning old growth forests.

We should pay attention to the preservation of all types of forest and not just focus entirely on the Tropical Rainforest. Each forest is special and home to unique species. Maintaining our forests is extremely important to maintaining biodiversity around the world.



April 7th, 2011

Its rare to find someone who doesn’t have an electronic device – be it an ipod, ipad, computer, cell phone ect. The demand for these products is surging to meet the leaps and bound we have made in technology. These advanced electronic devices require rare minerals, such as copper, tungsten and coltan, to make the battery and other circuitry components. Unfortunately, these minerals are mostly found in areas that are undergoing political strife and war – such as the Democratic Republic of Congo. This has given the label Conflict Minerals, similar to the infamous Blood Diamonds of Sierra Leone. Purchasing minerals from these areas helps fund the ongoing conflict and corruption – as well as endangering young children who are forced to mine them.

Happily – both Apple and Intel have agreed to stop purchasing Conflict Minerals. This will seriously drive down the demand for minerals from these regions and maybe even cease much of the income made from the element exports. Apple and Intel were actually pushed into this decision due to the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which was passed last year. There is a section deep in the bill that sets regulations on preventing the purchase of conflict minerals. By 2012, all companies will be required to audit their purchasing of minerals to be sure none of it is sourced from conflict areas.

I am very glad to hear that this regulation has been put into law, even if it was done somewhat sneakily. Its frustrating to see the United States spend massive sums of money on aid and military protection for some countries – while foolishly funding war in others. This goes back to knowing where we get our products from – be it food, electronics, even wood for our furniture. We have so much purchasing power – we should use it to do the right thing as often as we can.

Original Article

More on Conflict Minerals in the Congo & How We Can Help


Foodie Conscious

March 17th, 2011

All the talk of sustainable agriculture and organic practices reminds me of a class I took for my Freshman seminar years ago. The class was called Sustainability & The Environment. A requirement for the class was to read Michael Pollen’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (the inspiration for Food Inc.). This book essentially changed my entire outlook on food and began shaping my personal food choices. I cut out chicken, pork and beef from my diet as a stance against factory farming. Over time I began buying organic when I could and became well-versed in label reading. I stopped buying highly processed foods, anything with artificial sweeteners (and avoiding High Fructose Corn Syrup when possible), and looking for where my food was being made and distributed from so i could try to buy more locally. I discovered that I have a passion for nutrition, especially eco-friendly nutrition. I think its important for people to care about what they eat, where it comes from and how it affects their body. It is equally as important to care about the environment and recognize how our food choices affect the world.

Being a vegetarian or vegan is not always easy (or healthy) if you aren’t properly informed about your personal dietary needs. Swearing off meat does not mean you can just eat bread  or pasta for every meal. It has taken me years of tuning my diet to find a good balance for my own body. To be honest, I was not very good at this in the beginning, dealing with campus meal-plan restrictions and lacking knowledge about vegetarian nutrition. Living off campus, with a full kitchen at my disposal, and no Sodexo meal plan has certainly helped me out for the past 2 years. I am still learning every day.

Big Salad from Edible Perspective

One thing I struggled with the most was knowing how to prepare meals, how to use raw ingredients, and what kinds of things can be thrown together quickly but be highly nutritious (and tasty!). I discovered an incredible resource in the online blogging world. Foodie bloggers are prevalent on the net and have formed their own little subculture of cooking creations. I follow several bloggers (most of which are college students like myself) who are focused on eating healthy vegetarian lifestyles (some are even Vegan).

Spelt Berry Porridge with Granola Dates & Raspberries (click for source)

(most of the healthy foodies like to start their day with a type of porridge – like Oatmeal, Oat Bran ect. A ritual that I have also adopted! Keeps you full for hours.)

They take photos of almost every meal, share their recipe ideas and circulate a huge wealth of knowledge on food. These blogs are an endless source of inspiration for my own food choices. I have learned a lot from reading these blogs, especially when it comes to supplementing my diet with protein and vitamins. The focus is always on eating fresh, eating healthy, and often sticking to a budget. I think this blog world is a fantastic resource for anyone who is thinking about becoming a vegetarian or just wants some inspiration for healthy (meat-free) cooking!

Veggie pizza with a buckwheat crust, click for source

Some of my favorite foodie bloggers!

The Broccoli Hut

The Happy Herbivore (great recipes section)


Edible Perspective


Oh She Glows

Vegetarians looove nut butter for protein - here is homemade Double Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Almond Butter by Edible Perspective - click for source


Big Rocks & Little Water

March 10th, 2011

Over Spring break I visited family in Arizona. While I was there I went hiking in Sedona at the Red Rocks State Park. The park was breathtaking, with many trails leading to outlooks onto massive rock formations in the distance. The signature crimson color of the rocks comes from iron oxide staining. There are nine stone layers composed of sandstone, limestone and basalt, representing millions of years and different geological periods.

In about 1000 AD, a group of native peoples settled in the area of Sedona. This group is called the Sinagua Indians, meaning literally Without Water in Spanish. As you can guess, they managed to use agricultural methods that required little to no water to farm the dry environment. The Sinagua used irrigation ditches and check dams of the few rivers to grow their crops. They supplemented these farming practices with hunting and gathering. The Indians formed a stratified social system and also interacted with neighboring groups.

Volcanic activity at the Sunset Crater in the northern part of the region created a disturbance for the Sinagua. The crater erupted several times over a few years, blanketing the earth in ash. However, the Sinagua soon returned to the eruption area and established themselves again.

The interesting thing about the Sinagua is their strange disappearance. About a hundred years before Spanish explorers arrived in the area it seems the group vanished for no apparent reason. As we have learned about other ‘vanishing’ cultures, its likely something to do with environmental problems. Perhaps a major drought made normal life nearly impossible for the Sinagua? Life is very difficult with little to no water. Even though this group was very well adapted to having dry conditions, they were still vulnerable to mother nature. It should be a reminder for us to tread carefully with our water supplies and usage.

In Red Rocks state park there is a river that runs through the main park area called Oak Creek. This was likely one of the water sources for the Sinagua and later became a major source for European settlers. Early settlers used the riversides to plant apple and peach orchards. The river creates a stark contrast with the rest of the rocky arid landscape. The Red Rocks park personnel seemed especially proud of this ‘water feature’. The diversity of life explodes wherever there is water in Arizona. I am glad to see this portion of land protected as a state park. It is beautiful and unique.


Way Down Below The Ocean

February 24th, 2011

The other day we were discussing the elusive Narwhal in class. I used to think this creature was ‘mythical’ too until I saw a silly cartoon about them online and became more interested in the funny looking creature. After our class discussion I decided it would be interesting to learn more about the threatened Narwhal.

The Narwhal lives in the Arctic all year, with the highest population concentrated around the Canadian/Greenland areas. The Narwhal has only three main predators, the Orca, Polar Bears and of course humans. Inuits hunt the Narwhal and have incorporated it into local legend. They travel in pods of 10-100, making them quite social creatures.

These whales are 13-16 feet long and can live to be 50 years old. They are generally slow moving unless chased by a predator. The Narwhal is sometimes referred to as the ‘sea unicorn’ because of its prominent 7-10 ft. spiral tusk. Male Narwhals have much larger tusks than females. Occasionally, a Narwhal will grow double tusks. It is uncertain exactly what purpose the tusk serves, but is probably a secondary sexual characteristic, similar to a peacock’s feathers. The tusk is actually a tooth that grows from the upper jaw. Narwhals gives birth to one calf at a time after a lengthy 16 month gestation period. So obviously, their population is quite slow growing. They love to eat cod, but also dine on squid, shrimp, and other types of fish.

The Narwhal is listed as Near Threatened and it is illegal for humans to poach these whales. The Inuit are an exception to this ban and are still allowed to hunt the animal, as it is an important nutrient source in their diet. However, Climate Change is going to be the biggest threat to Narwhal populations. The current populated is estimated around 50,000-75,000 individuals.

“Their habitual nature, small numbers, and limited range and diet make them extremely sensitive to climate change, says a study in Ecological Applications. Global warming is already affecting the sea ice narwhals are adapted to, and will likely increase their exposure to such events as ice entrapments—phenomena caused by sudden weather changes that quickly seal cracks in dense ice, which can suffocate cetaceans. A warming ocean could have an even bigger impact on narwhals by disrupting their finely tuned ecosystems and, thus, their food source.” – WWF

The Narwhal is certainly a unique creature and it would be very unfortunate to lose this species due to climate change. If the Narwhal’s habitat continues to deteriorate, do you think the Inuit should still be allowed to hunt these whales?

Narwhal Video!! – NarwhalsNatGeo

Narwhal facts and information:

Defenders Of Wildlife

National Geographic


As The River Flows

February 17th, 2011

When I first came to UMW I heard a lot of talk about the local Rappahannock river and how it was an important focus for conservation in the state. The Rappahannock always reminded me a lot about my own state river in New Hampshire, the Merrimack, often lovingly referred to as the Mighty Merrimack by locals. The Merrimack river stretches down the center of New Hampshire into Massachusetts and effects a huge area of the watershed in my small state.

The Merrimack is a very important feature to NH, as it helped power the Mill industries that once dominated and shaped the state in the 1800s. Many dams and canals were installed to harness the water’s power. Today there are several hydropower facilities. However, with the massive growth of industry right along the riverside, the Merrimack quickly became overrun with pollution from trash dumping and factory runoff. Growing population did not help this matter, as many citizens and farmers would carelessly throw their waste into the water. The river was also used as a sewage dump for large towns in the state, making the water particularly foul. The Clean Water Act of 1972 set into motion events to clean up the Merrimack. Cleanup was slow, Manchester (the largest town in NH) didn’t stop dumping sewage until 1992. However, activism for this cause has gained momentum in more recent years and the river is much cleaner than it has been since the 1800s.

Growing up as a child I recall my parents telling me that the river was ‘dirty’ and that I should not swim in it. We had to drive upstate to the mountains where pristine rivers flowed. There was always a stigma against swimming in the Merrimack or many of its feeder rivers. Many people would say that it was only safe to boat on the water. My parents told me that they took a small boat down the river once in the 80s, after only a few hours the hull was covered with a toxic sludge that permanently stained the craft. It’s no wonder they didn’t want me swimming in it. Although the river is much cleaner in recent years, the water quality is still questionable in many places. Many people do swim in the polluted waters, and simply choose to ignore the dirtiness.

Despite the pollution, the riverside is still one of my favorite places. The Suncook river (one of the feeders to the Merrimack) runs through my town. The flood of 2006 caused the Suncook to flood its banks and reroute itself through part of the town. The new course flows through an old sandpit, creating a unique new habitat. We lovingly call this spot the ‘avulsion’, which is a technical term for a rerouted river. The river exposed lots of clay deposits that are pure enough to mold and set to bake in the sun on a hot summer day. I hope that the Merrimack cleanup will continue until the river is as close to its original state as possible.

The Avuslion

Here is an informative blog about the Merrimack in case anyone wants to learn more about the river! A Look At The Merrimack

The Lawrence Dam on the Merrimack


To Modify Or Not To Modify

February 2nd, 2011

We recently talked about the push for desert agriculture and how it is ruining the Aral sea. The simplest solution would of course be to stop farming in the desert, stop diverting the rivers. But the area had quickly become dependent on the influx of food and profits. It seems that once an area starts producing more than average, it would be problematic if it ever produced less. The same story goes for our own country.

The other day I was watching TV and saw a commercial praising the American farmer. Wholesome shots of men in plaid shirts standing in fields of wheat seemed nice enough. But at the end I saw the sponsor: Monstano. I was familiar with this name and it immediately put a bad taste in my mouth.  Monsanto is the mastermind behind the infamous pesticide RoundUp, and also behind genetically engineered seedlings that can withstand this particular poison. RoundUp is probably one of the worst things one can spray, as it kills anything green, unless the plant is specially modified. Monsanto has used genetic engineering in many different ways, including using antibiotic markers on DNA sequences. This type of genetic modification has unknown health effects, but there have been some troubling cases and effects reported. The only successful way of really monitoring the effects of modified foods is for them all to be labeled.

It seems to me that a company like Monsanto would be entirely focused on production and profit, while ignoring environmental and health problems that arise from their work. This sounds like the same mindset of the farming around the Aral sea. We have become reliant on unnaturally large yields due to genetic engineering and pesticide use in this country. It would be interesting to see if we could grow enough food to feed our nation if everything was grown organically, free of GMs. Our bioengineering is similar to the rerouting of rivers. It opens exciting new doors, but it is easy to lose sight of consequences, especially when it becomes too late to fix.

How do you feel about Genetic Modification of your food? Would you be less inclined to buy something that you knew what genetically modified?

The The Future Of Food is a very informative documentary that goes quite in-depth on genetic modification, just some food for thought.


A Start

January 27th, 2011

Over consumption of natural resources has been a major theme in our class discussions for the past few days. Looking at the collapse of various societies and their mistakes always causes me to think of present day problems. A lot of reactions to those failed societies run along the lines of ‘how could they be so stupid?’ or ‘why would anyone cut down the last tree if they knew full well it was the last?’. But our society certainly isn’t showing many signs of greater intelligence and foresight in regard to our own problems. We go about our daily lives, completely absorbed by only the immediate environment. I bet no one would think twice about drilling the very last barrel of oil, even if they knew it was the last. It’s just business as usual.

Being wasteful is popular because it’s just so easy when consequences are delayed. Our culture is a fan of shortcuts and quick fixes. For example, due to prolonged cold temperatures the pipes in my house froze. Luckily, they thawed out without bursting. But now the only remedy our repairman has given us is to keep the taps drizzling all night long. This results in a massive waste of water. We are still waiting for our landlord to decide if he wants to make a more permanent fix (by ripping up the floors and insulating the pipes correctly). But of course that’s a lot of work and money, it’s not as easy as just letting the taps run. Our household is pretty eco-conscious and all of us are uncomfortable with wasting water like this. It’s a frustrating situation that was really incredibly preventable, considering the house was redone recently and the plumbing could have been updated easily. Often I think there should be stricter penalties for being wasteful. Also, we should try to promote a more farsighted type of outlook in our general culture. Instant gratification is a dangerous lifestyle.