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Nature vs. Nurture: Earth’s Greatest Hero

We’ve focused a lot on the past two weeks on historical energy heroes – from inventors, to activists, to authors, and political figures but in reality there is one major energy component that is constantly working on maintaining homeostasis for our planet, and that is the planet itself! The science behind how our earth is constantly regulating it’s own temperature, or removing CO2 from the atmosphere through photosynthesis, or how decomposition brings nutrients back to earth so that new plants can grow is nothing short of remarkable.

You’ve likely heard that trees produce oxygen, but how does it work? An article from National Geographic describes it as follows: “Trees—all plants, in fact—use the energy of sunlight, and through the process of photosynthesis they take carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air and water from the ground. In the process of converting it into wood they release oxygen into the air. In addition to the CO2 that trees capture, they also help soil capture significant amounts of carbon” (https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/how-to-erase-100-years-carbon-emissions-plant-trees#:~:text=Carbon%2Deating%20trees,release%20oxygen%20into%20the%20air). There is a lot to be gained from even planting just one tree in your own back yard, and as it grows and grows it will continue to produce oxygen, contributing to the planet’s supply.

Alternatively, you may have heard the saying that the amazon rainforest produces 20% of the worlds oxygen, however this is a myth! While photosynthesis in plants does consume CO2 and produce oxygen as a byproduct, once the tree dies and decomposes, the process releases CO2 back into the air. According to a Newsweek article published in 2019, James Randerson from the University of California, Irvine, explains the key problems in deforestation as follows: “‘Deforestation and fire-driven forest degradation affect the carbon cycle in two ways. First, there is a direct release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in the conversion process. Second, the loss of forest reduces the ability of the forest as a whole to absorb carbon. More forest fires in the Amazon will accelerate the buildup of greenhouse gases and we will have higher levels of global warming’” (https://www.newsweek.com/how-much-oxygen-amazon-rain-forest-1456274). While both points in his statement are alarming, the second portion is the key – forests, and other plants/bushes/etc, have a unique ability to absorb large amounts of carbon, and in a healthy, growing plant, it will continue to do so over the lifespan of the plant. So, if we burned down all of the trees in the world, we would not lose as much oxygen, as we would gain carbon since it’s no longer being eliminated by photosynthesis.

I won’t even begin to pretend that I understand Earth’s wind cycles and ocean currents, however I’ve come across some very interesting articles on natural planet heating and cooling while trying to learn more about these phenomenon – check them out below!

From volcano ash/sulfur entering the stratosphere and cooling the planet, to El Niño producing rain in the northern hemisphere, there are forces at work in helping to keep the planet’s temperature somewhat consistent. The problem is that these forces are almost negligible in the face of burning fossil fuels, hence the need to offset your carbon footprint as much as possible!

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Climate Change: Activists and Architects, Part 3

Happy Saint Patty’s Day! I hope you’re wearing green and celebrating in style.

Today we’ll discuss the last 50 years of activism in environmentalism – after Earth day and the National Parks were founded, after books like My First Summer in the Sierra or the Silent Spring were published to promote environmental conservation or to prevent companies from dumping harmful pollutants into our drinking water – what happened next? 

In 1988, due to record heat waves, devastating droughts, and new information about global warming that was already impacting our way of life, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was founded. Since the start, the IPCC has provided robust reporting and methodologies on measuring global warming and it’s impact on an ecological, scientific, political, social, and economic level. Today, the IPCC “is a panel of 195 member countries” and their latest report provided the science needed to create the Paris Climate Agreement (https://www.ipcc.ch/documentation/). While this is an impressive body of work, it’s not the only thing countries have been doing to secure a better future. The United Nations (UN), has held twelve major international conferences since the first one which was held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992, with the purpose of committing “Governments to address urgently some of the most pressing problems facing the world today” (https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/milestones/unced). These conferences bring together international leadership as well as Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) with the goal of identifying sustainable development all over the world – so it’s not only collecting knowledge on how to slow global warming, but also on how best to tackle development in the near future to mitigate our collective carbon footprint world-wide.

Beyond governmental bodies, “student groups in the US and later the UK and around the world began pressuring universities to divest from fossil fuels” (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/important-moments-climate-history-in-photos/), and they were having some real-world impact, because “by 2014, 837 institutions and individual investors had committed to divestment,” (see original link, along with additional source from the Guardian, here: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/08/fossil-fuel-divestment-a-brief-history). According to this same link, climate change activist have cropped up all over the world – from the largest nations forming landmark agreements such as the Kyoto Protocol in order to “mandate the reduction of greenhouse gases,” to smaller nations such as the “Pacific Climate Warriors from the Marshall Islands, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tokelau, and the Solomon Islands [whom] joined a flotilla blocking boats using the Newcastle coal port in Australia — to highlight the role of Australian coal exports in warming the planet and impacting their lives” to art in Venice and even Fashion week in London (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/important-moments-climate-history-in-photos/). It seems as though climate change activism is more prolific globally than I’d previously thought! And while there are certainly tons of activists and scientists that deserve recognition, one name in particular stands out among the crowd – Greta Thunberg – whom at the age of fifteen, “went on her first school strike, sitting alone outside the Swedish parliament to protest inaction on the climate crisis” (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/important-moments-climate-history-in-photos/). She’s certainly made a name for herself in this space, as students around the world also began taking part in the strike, and since then, according to the same link, she “has been joined by the likes of Vanessa Nakate in Uganda, Aditya Mukarji in India, Alexandria Villaseñor in the US, and tens of thousands of others.” For a few more examples of some of today’s youngest global climate leaders, check out the following link: https://www.climaterealityproject.org/blog/5-youth-climate-activists-leading-climate-fight-earth-day which outlines how some celebrated Earth Day 2020, even amid the global pandemic!

Though it’s certainly not inclusive of everyone in this field, this long list of environmental activists is truly an inspiration to anyone who has thought of getting involved but wasn’t sure how, or whether their contribution might actually make a difference. Whether you’re conducting a neighborhood cleanup, advocating for protected lands to become a national park, convening with other global leaders to discuss the science behind climate change, or adding solar to your rooftop – your contributions are notable, and greatly appreciated. What are some other ways we could help reduce our carbon footprints? Only time and innovation will tell. 

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Climate Change: Activists and Architects, Part 2

Now that we’ve got the same basic understanding of what global warming means, and where the term came from (thanks to yesterday’s blog post), we can explore the roles activists and climate conservationists have played in protecting us from it.

The phrase “global warming” may be fairly new, but the concept of protecting the environment is anything but new, and has been around for centuries! Native Americans have well-established a legacy of conservation, and thanks to the hard-fought preservation of their heritage, modern-day Americans can learn from their good example – check out the following article from The Wildlife Society for a few ideas: https://wildlife.org/a-tribal-model-of-wildlife-stewardship-from-the-wildlife-professional/.

John Muir, while originally from Dunbar, Scotland, emigrated to the United States and “explored the North American continent by foot, walking thousands of miles until he eventually settled in California. There, he fell in love with Yosemite Valley and the Sierra Nevada Mountains” (https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/earth-day-environmental-heroes), and “In 1890, due in large part to a series of articles he published in Century magazine, U.S. Congress created Yosemite National Park. Muir was also involved in the creation of the Sequoia, Mount Rainier, Petrified Forest, and Grand Canyon National Parks.” Thanks to his efforts in conservation, he founded the Sierra Club which lives on today over a hundred years later, fighting to protect the natural resources and equal access to environmental resources (https://www.sierraclub.org/lands-air-water-wildlife). Ironically, John Muir was also part of the inspiration for Theodore Roosevelt’s conservationist movement. During his presidency, he was able to protect “230 million acres of public lands” and “Much of that land – 150 millions acres – was set aside as national forests” (https://www.nps.gov/thro/learn/historyculture/theodore-roosevelt-and-conservation.htm), among many other national treasures we still enjoy today.

Thanks to these historic leaders, the environmental conservation movement had begun. Even without the science and technology to measure the effects of climate change in the early twentieth century, humans recognized the importance of protecting our natural resources. This movement gave rise to the Federal Water Pollution Control Act of 1948 which would later become the Clean Water Act of 1972 (https://www.epa.gov/laws-regulations/history-clean-water-act), the Clean Air Act of of 1963 (https://www.epa.gov/clean-air-act-overview/clean-air-act-text#:~:text=The%20Clean%20Air%20Act%20is,has%20made%20several%20minor%20changes.), and later, in 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson founded the very first Earth Day which is now celebrated all over the world! With April 22nd right round the corner, how will you celebrate?

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Climate Change: Activists and Architects

Global Warming is a buzzword you’ve likely heard before, and may even have an opinion on, but what do we really know about it? Where did it come from, and what does it mean?

According to Global Citizen, the underlying cause of global warming – “the greenhouse effect” – was published in 1965 by “scientists on the US President’s Advisory Committee”, during Lyndon B Johnson’s presidential term, however “it wasn’t until 1975 that the term “global warming” was coined by geoscientist Wallace Broecker – and it took years before the issue reached mainstream understanding” (https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/important-moments-climate-history-in-photos/). For the full report, which covers pollution of air, water, and soil, check it out here: https://www.eenews.net/assets/2019/01/11/document_cw_01.pdf, however if you’re more interested in the information regarding carbon dioxide specifically, see here instead: http://www.climatefiles.com/climate-change-evidence/presidents-report-atmospher-carbon-dioxide/#:~:text=%E2%80%9CRestoring%20the%20Quality%20of%20Our,role%20in%20addressing%20the%20future. In this report, scientists outline how fossil fuel extraction has led to an increase in Carbon Dioxide in the lower and upper sections of the atmosphere, beyond what nature can naturally filter out with rain and trees, and since, according to the report, “carbon dioxide is nearly transparent to visible light, but it is a strong absorber and back radiator of infrared radiation…an increase of atmospheric carbon dioxide could act, much like the glass in a greenhouse, to raise the temperature of the lower air” (page 118, “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment” Report). Hence, the initial foundation for the discovery of “Global Warming” was born. In 1975, in a paper called “Climatic Change: Are We on the Brink of a Pronounced Global Warming?” Wallace Broecker mapped out the effects humans were having by emitting more and more CO2, and while some of his initial findings were off, “Right on cue in 1976, temperatures started ascending, and have continued since then pretty much along the trajectory Broecker laid out” (https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2019/02/19/wallace-broecker-early-prophet-of-climate-change/).

Even though Broecker is thought of as the first to publish the phrase “global warming,” he is certainly not the first person concerned with the problem of pollution. In 1962 Rachel Carson published the “Silent Spring” in which she outlined the toxic pollution in our air and water due to pesticides, just as several environmental concerns had begun to take center stage as oil spills threatened marine life and rivers that fed city drinking water plants caught fire. Thus, in early 1970, President Richard Nixon “sent to Congress a plan to consolidate many environmental responsibilities of the federal government under one agency, a new Environmental Protection Agency” and the EPA was born (https://www.epa.gov/history/origins-epa).

While these findings are only about 50 years old, it’s important to keep in mind that thanks to innovation, research, activism, and technology, new information about is constantly coming to light. If you’re curious to learn more, stay tuned.

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