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