May 31, 2014
Many areas within the U.S. have begun to implement green housing and green living techniques in order to build more sustainable environments for future generations. Although there are many areas that are contributing for the betterment of environment, the areas listed below deserve special mention due to their hard work and determination towards building a completely sustainable setting.
1: Austin, Texas
Austin deserves praise for taking an old airport with a covered area of 711 acres and redesigning it into a sustainable community which is now called Mueller. The newly developed community is home to residential houses, shops, restaurants, work places, schools and parks. All the buildings in the area are being certified by the Austin Energy Co. in order to make them as energy efficient as possible.
Special features include power generation through green methods such as solar panels, 25% of the housing is reserved for lower-income groups, and gray water is reused for landscaping. It is truly a sustainable community model that should be implemented wherever possible.
2: Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The project being carried out by the development authority of Chapel Hill is called “Greenbridge”, and is truly a very efficient model. The model does not provide for residential houses, rather it focuses on having residential condos for individuals as well as families. Apart from that, the material used in buildings is renewable, roofs are planted instead of being plastered, and electricity provision is entirely solar. Also, being located in downtown, Greenbridge is truly a green living solution for industrialists and those who like to live an active lifestyle.
Special features include rainwater drainage system, 75% rate of recycle of all the material gathered from demolishing old buildings, affordable housings keeping in mind the target audience (the workforce), easily available access to mass-transit, and educational centers.
Just like Austin, Denver also converted an old airport site into what is now called “Stapleton”, a green living 4700 acres land, the largest green-living project ever to be undertaken in the U.S. During construction, over six million ton of concrete was reused by constructors to make paths for bikes as well as necessary bridges.
Some special features are the 1,100 acres of open spaces (parks), Energy Star certified housing, and some residences will have Solar Panels.
4: Issaquah, Washington
This urban village, commonly known as Issaquah Highlands, which covers a total area of 2,240 acres, is a great balance of the green space with residential spaces full of homes, schools and townhouses. The community that resides there is also planning on developing a dedicated, yet Green, commercial centers and spaces, which will cover land area of 3.9 million square feet.
Some special features of the Issaquah Highlands are that it has been getting a 4-star certification on all of its homes which have been constructed after 2006 by Energy Star, it has installed vegetation on rooftops to reduce rainwater wastage and runoff, and it acts as a protection for the wetlands which are all around the community’s borders. It is truly a great initiative, one that should be replicated all over the world.
March 29, 2014
One diet that is becoming popular is veganism. Veganism is a way of eating that eschews all animal products such as meat, dairy products, eggs, and even honey. Some people choose to become vegan for animal rights purposes. However, others choose to become vegan because they believe it is better for the planet in a myriad of ways.
Vegans say that their diet reduces water consumption around the world. It is estimated that about 70 percent of water drawn from waterways and lakes is used for farming purposes. Cattle farming is perhaps the most consuming. Some estimates say that to produce one pound of beef, it takes around 2,500 gallons of water. Even conservative estimates claim that one pound of beef uses around 1,000 gallons of water. To produce one pound of rice or grain, this is drastically reduced to 25 gallons.
Those who cut meat and other animal products out of their diet also claim that their diet saves fossil fuels. This is because conventional farming often uses petrochemical-based fertilizers for feedstock crops. In addition, pumping water from lakes and rivers along with transporting and refrigerating meat uses fossil fuels. It is estimated that it takes 54 calories of fossil fuel to produce one calorie of protein from beef. Some say that close to one third of fossil fuels consumed in the U.S. are used in animal production.
In order to produce meat, open land is required for grazing and producing animal feed. Vegans claim at being more efficient in protecting open space from deforestation. Some estimates say that by simply choosing one vegetarian meal per week saves close to 8,000 square feet of space from being converted into farmland. In addition, having less space for animal agriculture means that less topsoil will be eroded away from these areas.
Some people go vegan because it supposedly minimizes the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the environment. It is estimated that emissions from animal agriculture contribute more greenhouse gases than every vehicle on the planet. Even livestock manure is rich in nitrous oxide and methane which are two strong greenhouse gases. In fact, it is estimated that being vegan saves 50% more carbon emissions than driving a Prius.
Animal agriculture is also a large source of agricultural runoff that can pollute rivers and lakes. Pollutants that can end up in waterways are phosphorus, nitrogen, pesticides, and antibiotics. When these pollutants end up in ecosystems, they can really wreak havoc.
While veganism can certainly have its benefits, some people are skeptical of the claims that veganism is better for the environment. In fact, one Cornell study showed that eating meat might actually be better for the environment since cattle can graze on land that is not suitable for crops and is considered inferior. By grazing on land where many edible human food can be grown, this can help many people get local food without having to ship food in from elsewhere. However, noted in this study was the exception that this only applies to food when it is grown locally and if people reduce their overall meat consumption to less than the national current average.
Some skeptics of veganism also claim that removing meat from a diet and replacing it with tofu or other highly processed meat alternatives actually requires more land and resources than eating meat alone. Others claim that producing oil fats, which are typically included in a vegan diet, has a bigger impact on the environment than consuming animal fats.
In addition, animals that are raised for food are largely fed food that is not edible to humans. When vegans claim that eating meat has a bigger imprint on the environment than if a person were to just eat the grains, this isn’t really relevant considering the types of the grain.
Others emphasize that it is possible to eat a diet that includes animal products while still being conscious of the environment. Many believe that organic and sustainable farming is the answer. Pigs can be fed off food waste and dairy cows are really efficient at eating grass that is not edible to humans. The key is to attempt to minimize impact, regardless of how it is done.
February 10, 2014
Florida is a gorgeous state, and when most people think about it what comes to mind is sunny beaches and Spring Break. However, the Sunshine State plays an important role in the sustainability of our planet through its diverse ecosystem.
Florida’s ecosystem has been drastically altered over the last five decades by urban development as the population has increased. This has negatively affected the health of the Florida ecosystem. Abiotic and biotic components of nature are needed to provide the means through which solar energy is transferred through the biosphere’s phosphorus cycling and other major nutrient cycling.
There are several different varieties of animals, plants and microorganisms in most ecosystems. These ecosystems come in the form of forests, swamps, streams, reefs and more. The natural ecosystem of Florida is extremely precious because it makes a disproportionate and huge contribution to the earth’s biodiversity.
There is a famous quote by Mahatma Gandhi “What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another.”1 That quote succinctly highlights the very essence of the constant struggle between the environment and urban development. Nowhere is this struggle for balance between the two more pronounced than in the majestic Florida Everglades.
The Everglades in Trouble
The trouble began for the everglades in 1948 when the Central and Southern Florida (C&SF) Flood Control project was introduced to create canals and dikes to control and deliver water for agriculture and urban development to central and southern Florida. Once the project came to a close, a large portion of the everglade’s fragile ecosystem had been drained away. By 2011, nearly fifty percent of the original 11 million acres of the everglade’s footprint was lost.
When the C&SF project concluded, the terrain of the Florida Everglades was altered and no longer fit in with the larger ecology of Florida. Over time, countless animals fled their lost habitat in the region and headed for neighboring lands. They soon began to clash with the surrounding vulnerable ecosystems.
Hope for the Everglades
There are several stewards for conservationism that are helping the Florida Everglades recover. One of these organizations is the Nature Conservancy. The Nature Conservancy recognized that the Florida Everglades was in crisis and soon went to work to preserve over 360,000 acres in the everglades. There are long-leaf pines, seasonal wetlands and cattle ranches within the 170-mile range of the protected conservatory.
At the heart of their efforts is the Disney Wilderness Preserve located in Kissimmee. This 11,550-acre stretch of land near the headwaters is being developed to restore previous ranchlands.
Federal and private property is split 60/40 in the everglades, and that is beneficial because it allows terrific opportunities to work on existing conservation projects such as The Disney Wilderness Preserve and serves to strengthen the system’s resolve regarding any further threats.
The Nature Conservancy has launched a ten-year plan to change the everglades for the better. The plan includes connecting preserved waterways and land for animals that have a far range such as the wood storks and Florida Panther. The ten-year plan will also:
- Bring back the water storage capacity of drained and ditched freshwater wetlands in the Northern Everglades that had been drained in the past. The action will result in 100,000 acre-ft. of natural water repositories. Much of the everglade’s water supply, estuaries and wildlife will benefit from this action.
- Continue low intensity uses of agriculture and ranching in 90% of the 1.1 million acres that was lost by 2011. This action has the far-reaching potential of increasing restoration and protection efforts.
- Allow permanent protection of 300,000+ acres of private and publicly owned land. This will allow wide movement of far-ranging species of wildlife and allow conservation of economical ranching in this large range of acreage.
- Make sure that about 75% of public-owned conservatory terrain stays healthy and managed the correct way to eliminate the threat of invasive species, climate change and transformed fire regimes.
The Nature Conservancy is one organization that took the environmental disaster in the everglades and helped it begin traveling down the road of recovery. Their efforts along with other organizations and partners are working together to preserve and revive the wetland corridors in the Florida Everglades.
The years of diking and ditching of the everglades has made it vulnerable to the growing threat of climate change, though. The Florida Everglades face an increased threat of rising sea levels and temperatures and decreased precipitation because of the extensive development.
There are other organizations besides the Nature Conservancy that work to restore the everglades as close as possible to its original state in some areas. One of note that is involved in restoration of the everglades and championing other environmental causes is the Sierra Club.
The Sierra Club
John Muir founded the Sierra Club in 1892, and it is one of the largest and most influential environmental grass roots organizations in the U.S. The Sierra Club has over two million members and the organization’s motto is to “Explore, Enjoy, and Protect the Planet.”2
The Sierra Club considers restoring the everglades back to its original state a top priority and has been involved in activism for the Everglades Skyway project. The Skyway Bridge that is a part of the project is instrumental to getting fresh water to flow again and combating the rise of sea levels.
The Sierra Club’s efforts have been instrumental in the funding of the Skyway because they recruited environmental champions who sent thousands of petition letters urging President Obama to fund the project. In the end, the president proved that he is an environmental leader who stood with the Sierra Club by funding the Everglades Skyway project.
The Club has protected millions of acres of land in the Everglades, and they are also big opponents of dirty fossil fuels and feel that they harm the environment in Florida and other states. They have led efforts to move the nation away from coal-fired power plants.
They stress that this type if energy is backward and outdated and should be phased out immediately to eliminate any further damage to the environment. The Sierra Club also goes on to point out that coal-fired power plants are responsible for a big part of climate change because a third of carbon emissions in the atmosphere come from coal burning.
To answer the climate crisis regarding fossil fuel emissions, the Sierra Club started the Beyond Coal campaign to phase in clean energy in the place of dirty coal technology and infrastructure.
One of Beyond Coal’s main goals is to mobilize grassroots activists in neighborhood communities that will push out existing coal-fired power plants and prevent any new ones from being built. The Beyond Coal campaign aims to:
- Make sure coal is not mined in Appalachia and the Powder River Basin of Wyoming
- Close a third of the 500 coal plants in the United States by 2020
- Replace the majority of the closed coal plants with clean alternative energy sources such as solar, geothermal and wind.
The carbon emissions in the atmosphere make a big part of the United State’s population sick and leads to at least 13,000 premature deaths annually and $100 billion in health costs. Florida feels the impact of this along with the rest of the nation, and the Sierra Club has helped drive the Clean Air and Water campaigns that have helped push conservation and cleanup efforts in the state.
Other impacts to public health are felt in Florida, and agencies such as the Florida Department of Health help the population stay healthy by preventing disease outbreaks.
Florida Public Health Issues
Anyone that is familiar with Florida knows that it is a state that is fairly warm all year round, and some parts of the state even have a tropical climate. Insects, most notably mosquitoes carry many diseases that are a threat to Florida public health. Mosquitos thrive in the Florida climate, and the Florida Department of Health is an important part of keeping mosquito-borne diseases under control.
Any disease that originates within the environment is under the agency’s umbrella. They provide activities such as prevention, education and preparedness to help combat diseases. The agency implements many of their methods by using monitoring and surveillance. They also monitor and visit places that potentially harbor conditions that can transmit disease or cause diseases to reoccur.
Mosquito-borne illnesses that have been reported in Florida include malaria, yellow fever, encephalitis, and SLEV and EEEV infection. The Florida Department of Health uses the surveillance method to look at how the diseases are transmitted to human, domestic and wild sources. They also monitor and conduct surveillance for virus activity by animal testing (chickens).
Likewise, The Florida Department of Health offers the public education about protecting yourself from mosquitos. One is the Drain and Cover Method presented in the Mosquito Prevention section of their website. They urge you to protect yourself from being bit and prevent mosquitos from multiplying around your residence or business.
For instance, they recommend you do the following: 1) Drain out any standing water to prevent mosquitos from breeding, 2) Make sure your skin is covered with clothing and you put on mosquito repellant, and 3) Cover windows and doors with a screen that will keep the mosquitos out.
Progress and modification of Florida’s ecosystems has been happening for about 10,000 years. Throughout most of this period, the state’s natural resources were sustainable. In the past, development did not overly limit the environment’s ability to provide clean water and air and a healthy and productive ecosystem.
Lately, the massive demand for Florida’s natural resources is becoming more and more unsustainable. Hopefully, Florida can reverse the damage done within her borders through the hard work of her individual citizens and conservation groups.