Author Archives: sjg5509

Infrastructure is extremely important in human society. Throughout history, humans have progressively developed and created more infrastructure, such as roads, bridges, and dams.  However, people might not always think what of environmental effects are caused from human development.   We might not think that the massive cities and highway systems used to be forests or plains. While human infrastructure and development evidently cannot entirely cease, it could be implemented in a more environmentally-friendly way.

Human infrastructure can often hurt natural habitats and impact biodiversity.  For instance, road development can be very damaging to the environment.  Roads can fragment habitats or disrupt migration patterns of species. Additionally, animals can often get hit and killed by drivers.  Similarly, dams can fragment rivers and be obtrusive to the environment, to some extent.  While not all are that devastating, some can increase pollution, flood habitats, or block sediment flow.  Additionally, some dams can hinder migration of certain aquatic animals.  For instance, salmon typically travel upstream to reproduce, but dams can sometimes block migration.  Human water systems (like irrigation) can also negatively impact the environment. This can lead to droughts and threaten wetlands and biodiversity.

While infrastructure is necessary to human society, people need to find a better way of making infrastructure a bit more ecologically friendly.  One approach is to plan and design infrastructure to reduce the ecological impact.  A rather new practice is to create “green bridges” over certain highways for animals to travel or migrate over.  Doing so helps reduce the fragmentation effect that major highway systems can cause.  A similar practice for dams and fish is also possible.  To make dams less disruptive to these migratory fish, humans can add methods to allow fish to swim upstream past a dam.  One specific method is a “fish ladder,” which may be a practice that needs further introduced to rivers with migratory fish.

                Another approach is to protect targeted areas from any infrastructural development all together.  For instance, the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) helps identify areas that are sensitive which need protection from activities such as mining or harvesting oil.  They then work with governments and industries to keep the fragile areas safe from development.  A potential solution to the problem is that more organizations could fight for similar protections from infrastructure and help more areas.  Alternatively, the role could be put in the hands of governments and national alliances to create and enforce respective legislature.  Laws could be passed that protect certain areas of ecosystems from things like major roadway construction projects.

                An additional related approach is a “mitigation approach”.  Essentially, if humans have to destroy a part of a forest or some wetlands to build infrastructure, they would be required to “replant” an equivalent to maintain sustainability.  While this approach is mostly theoretical, it serves as a way that makes construction have to accommodate for what they destroy.  A downside of this approach is that “manmade” wetlands can often be very poor in biodiversity and ecological health, as a manmade natural system would be difficult to produce.

As human population continues to grow, we will need more and more infrastructure.  However, infrastructure can be damaging to the environment, as it can fragment habitats or cause pollution.  Evidently, society needs to seek potential solutions to build in an ecologically-friendly manner.  Infrastructure could be planned, designed, and built to provide alternate migratory paths such as “green bridges” or “fish ladders”.  Alternatively, government and environmental organizations could identify and protect critical and fragile environments from infrastructural development all together.  One more potential action is to make constructors “mitigate” any destroyed habitats by replacing them with a new one.

“Infrastructure.” World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2016.



Illegal Wildlife Trade

Illegal wildlife trade is a global issue that has been a hot topic recently.  Many people hear about poachers or the black market for ivory, but they may not know the extent of the issues.  To put things in perspective, “Rhino poaching in South Africa increased from 13 to 1,004 between 2007 and 2013” (World Wildlife Fund). This statistic is very alarming, because that the issue of illegal wildlife trade is exploding and prompts societal action.  Additionally, illegal wildlife trade is not limited to ivory.  Thousands of other species, such as the Green Turtle and the Amur Tiger, are threatened by illegal trade.

As human population continues to grow, the demand for resources does as well.  However, natural wildlife populations can’t always keep up with the increasing demand.  This is an even bigger issue for goods in demand from endangered species.  The demand these goods valuable, creating more incentive for poachers to hunt these endangered species.  An example is that a recent myth in Vietnam saying that rhino horns can cure cancer has caused an extreme spike in the price of rhino horn and poaching.  Poverty in foreign countries can amplify poaching, as it can be seen as an easy source of money.  Since poaching often occurs in less-developed countries,  it can be harder to regulate and enforce from global organizations.  Illegal wildlife trade and poaching can create imbalances in natural populations and ecosystems, promote extinction, and increase illegal activity and crime rates worldwide.

One potential area for improvement on the issue is increasing regulation and enforcement of illegal trade.  Global nations could fight more against illegal black market networks and increase the ramifications for violators.  Reducing corruption and crime in general could also reduce illegal wildlife trade, since poaching is caused by big organized crime networks.  Individual poachers are often poor locals and the only ones that get caught.  However, punishing an individual would not do much in the grand scheme of things, as it would just deter one person.  Individual poachers often work for or sell to larger crime organizations, so targeting the larger networks may be more beneficial.  Fighting the larger crime organizations could affect thousands of poachers as a result.  Another option could be that more nations could comply with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  To increase participation, global organizations could either offer benefits for compliance or penalties for defiance.

An additional approach could be on the consumer end, instead.  Society potentially could look into decreasing demand for illegal products as a whole in order to indirectly undermine illegal hunting.  The demand of illegal goods causes value to increase, which is one of the main reasons of why poaching is so prevalent in the first place.  While easier said than done, this approach suggests societal changes.  The people and societies that purchase these illegal wildlife goods need to learn to not value these goods as much.  The consumers might need more education about the topic, and they need to understand the irreversible environmental consequences from exploiting endangered species.  This knowledge could potentially reduce the demand for the illegal goods as a whole.

Additional effort can be placed into organizations against illegal wildlife trade.   For instance, the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) are two organizations that certify sustainable wildlife goods.  TRAFFIC is a wildlife trade monitoring network that helps regulate and enforce legislation.  Additionally, antipoaching brigades are groups that fight against illegal hunters.

Illegal wildlife trade is worldwide threat that is increasing at an alarming rate.  A lack of action towards the issue could cause extinction, ecological imbalance, and corruption.  While the issue is very complex, a mix of approaches to the issue could help.  Increased enforcement and regulation, consumer action, increased education, and more organizations could help reduce illegal wildlife trade overall.  Society needs to decide if they should treat illegal wildlife trade as a serious global issue.  If so, the issue needs addressed promptly before it grows even further.

“Illegal Wildlife Trade.” World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web. 23 Mar. 2016.

Deforestation – The Overexploitation of Trees

In a typical week, a Penn State student may use dozens of paper towels, notebook paper, and products with paper packaging.  These are just some examples of tree products, and humans use trees and wood for all kinds of things such as construction and manufacturing.  It becomes problematic when humans use tree resources faster than the earth can naturally sustain this harvesting.  Forests are important on a global scale for providing vital oxygen to the planet.  However, deforestation can jeopardize this oxygen production, disrupt natural ecosystems, and affect global warming and climate change.  The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) states that about 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions are caused from deforestation, and about 50 thousand square miles of forest are lost every year.  These alarming statistics question how society can find a solution to deforestation.  Should humans reduce their dependency on trees and seek a more “paper-free” life?  Or, should society focus on conservation measures, such as creating preserved habitats in foreign forests.  Would things like recycling and increasing public awareness improve the issue?

Many major forests reside in foreign countries.  A problem from this is that illegal logging often occurs without enough regulation.  Loosely regulated forestry laws in foreign nations can be a major issue, because populations have the ability to overexploit the resource.  A better-known example is the deforestation of tropical rainforests because rainforests are known for their immense biodiversity.  Removing rainforests can have major environmental consequences that can damage the diversity of ecosystems.  A potential solution to prevent overharvesting tree products could be to increase legislation and regulations.  The issue could be brought up with international relations groups, such as the United Nations, where more policies are passed.  Countries could be required to better-enforce certain protection and conservation laws for forests.  Similarly, an additional solution would be to provide economic or political incentives for foreign countries to abide by forestry regulations.

An alternative route could be geared towards making the public more aware about the issue and promoting conservation measures and reduced dependency of tree products.  For most people, deforestation might not be an issue they think of on a day to day basis.  However, spreading word of the cause and increasing public awareness could make individuals reduce their use of tree products.  For instance, if people were more actively reminded to save paper and decrease waste, they might be more likely to maybe use a hand dryer instead of a paper towel dryer.  Penn State even reminds its population of this issue by placing little “are you sure?” signs by many trash cans.  Additionally, promoting the cause could also make people recycle more, further helping to reduce our tree-product use.  Another area to spread awareness for deforestation could be in the form of donations.  More funding organizations could be created and promoted to put money into protected reservations of forests around the world.  As a personal anecdote, I remember seeing a little gumball-like machine in a park one time.  Instead of dispensing gumballs, the machine collected quarters that went towards protecting acres of forests in foreign countries.  If there were more things like this, organizations that fight deforestation could be better funded.  This could even take the form of television advertisements similar to animal shelter ads, but instead promoting the reduction of deforestation.  More funds could go towards organizations like the WWF that fight illegal logging and create protected areas.  For instance, the WWF created the Global Forest and Trade Network (GTFN), which links companies and communities among dozens of nations across the world that aim to make the forestry industry more sustainable.  Overall, further promoting the issue and creating more organizations can make the public more inclined to fight the issue.

Deforestation and the overuse of tree products is a modern issue which can be environmentally alarming.  Society is harvesting trees faster than nature can naturally sustain reproduction, which has the potential for irreversible consequences.   A key consequence is that deforestation disrupts oxygen production and the absorption of greenhouse gasses, contributing to global warming and climate change.  Ignoring the issue can affect the planet as a whole, so society has to realize that deforestation is an issue that needs to be addressed.  Global nations could attempt to tackle the issue by improving regulation and increasing legislature with regards to illegal deforestation.  Countries can work together and create international policies and organizations that better fight the issue at a global level.  Additionally, individuals in society could become more informed and aware about the issue and work towards improving conservation efforts.  While there may not be a single direct solution to the problem, society will have to take a mixture of approaches to deforestation, as ignoring the issue could cause environmental disasters around the globe.

“Deforestation.” WorldWildlife. World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web. 02 Mar. 2016.

The Overuse of Inorganic Fertilizers in Modern Agriculture

Fertilizers are often thought of as a useful thing for agriculture.  However, the overuse of inorganic fertilizers can lead to negative environmental consequences.  Inorganic fertilizers can be detrimental to the environment, when abused.  Problems that can stem from overusing fertilizers include runoff and erosion, the contamination of water supplies, and disruptions to aquatic life.  As a society, we need to be aware of the consequences of relying on these substances.  What’s at stake, and what are the tradeoffs?  Are there any supposable alternatives that could be more ecological friendly and sustainable?

Nitrates, phosphates, and other nutrients are abundant in common agricultural fertilizers.  However, erosion causes the nutrients from these fertilizers to runoff into bodies of water.  While some people might think that more nutrients would be a good thing, the runoff can act as a pollutant when there’s a lot of it.  An overabundance of nutrients in bodies of water can create a phenomenon called cultural eutrophication.  Excess nutrients can cause immense algal blooms.  The large algae populations use up much of the dissolved oxygen in the water and create a thick layer on top of the water.  Essentially, this can create “dead zones” in bodies of water, where there is inefficient oxygen for natural biological activity.  Thick algal blooms can block out the sun, and hinder photosynthetic activity, thus creating a form of chain reaction.  Organisms that require more oxygen are unable to survive in these conditions, causing them to die out from the harsh environment.  For instance, The Gulf of Mexico suffers from dead zones and eutrophication.  Agricultural runoff from farmlands flows down the Mississippi river and into the Gulf of Mexico.  This has disrupted natural productivity and has affected fish populations in the Gulf.

One approach of tackling this issue is increasing legislature and regulations.  One example is the Safe Drinking Water Act, which sets to ensure the quality of drinking waters sources by setting limits on contaminants in them.  However, attempting to clean up pollution from unsatisfactory drinking water supplies is an immense challenge.  Fixing the aftermath of pollution might not be the ideal way to go.  Instead, taking a preventative approach for protecting the water supplies from pollution in a can be more effective than cleaning up the afterwards.  That is, laws and regulations should target reducing the runoff of fertilizers, finding ways to curb erosion, and potentially even altering the composition of fertilizers to make them more eco-friendly.

An additional potential way to reduce overusing fertilizers is exploring genetically modified crops.  If scientists can engineer crops that can grow with less nutrients and fertilizers, would this be acceptable?  GMO’s could create larger crop yields while requiring less fertilizers.  However, the use of GMO’s can be a somewhat controversial topic.  There usually are unforeseen environmental circumstances from using GMO’s, as society never would know how they would affect ecosystems before they are introduced.  Additionally, some consumers could become alienated towards purchasing and consuming these modified food products.  This alternate viewpoint transitions into the next potential approach – going organic.

Organic products have been on the rise, as of lately.  People may be skeptical to pesticides, inorganic fertilizes , GMO’s, and chemicals used on foods they put in their bodies.  These people would likely suggest the practice of organic agriculture, which uses few pesticides, fertilizers, or genetically modified organisms.  The organic approach would suggest using organic fertilizers, such as compost, as opposed to inorganic fertilizers.  Locally, students at Penn State can see the compost bins placed across campus.  They can choose to compost their food items and help to promote a more ecological friendly fertilizer.  Most students at Penn State probably weren’t even that aware how useful composting could be.

Now, what farmers and food production companies have to look out for is how many people are demanding organic products.  If people become more sensitive of the ways their food is raised, they may be more inclined to purchase organic products, and likewise the producers would want to then raise food organically.  Evidently, this approach suggests that the issue lies in the hands of the consumers.  The way consumers want their products raised will have influences on the environment and the agricultural industry.

The overuse of inorganic fertilizers in modern agriculture can cause environmental consequences.  Aquatic life can be disrupted when excess fertilizers erode into water supplies, causing further issues towards ecological cycles.  While there is not a discrete solution, society has to seek ways of dealing with this issue, whether it ranges from experimenting with GMO’s to creating more laws or buying “organic food”.

Moritz, Mary Beth. “AP Environmental Science.” Cumberland Valley School District. CV Schools, n.d. Web. 10 Feb. 2016.

Environmental Sustainability: The Overuse of Resources: Overfishing

With human populations always on the rise, society demands more and more resources all the time.  Now, more food is needed and demanded by more and more people.  One problem that can arise from this is overfishing.  Overfishing happens when humans catch more fish than the populations can naturally sustain.   If humans fish too much, there will be less fish in the wild to naturally reproduce.  In essence, this can create chain reaction.  Fish populations dip when humans keep fishing them, and when the fish become scarcer, the demand to fish for them will remain steady.  Around the globe, some areas are even extremely dependent on fish for economic reasons.  If overfishing depletes the ocean of most of its fish, many areas could face severe economic problems, along with threatened food supplies.  Evidently, overfishing is big ongoing problem that does not have a discrete solution.  Should society tighten up on regulations on overfishing?  Should the consumers themselves seek initiative to seek sustainable seafood products?

If humans overfish a certain species of fish, the populations can become critically endangered, potentially even to the point of extinction.  According to the WWF, 85% of the world’s fisheries have been pushed to biological limits.  Some populations, such as the important Atlantic Bluefin tuna, have been threatened near extinction.  Overfishing can create an imbalance to the ecosystem, because fish high on the food chain are hunted more while smaller fish, like anchovies, can end up experiencing population blooms.

What potential answers can society look for to curb overfishing?

Global nations could work together to allocate more sections of the ocean to marine protected areas (MPA’s).  MPA’s protect against destructive fishing and are intended to let endangered populations regrow.  However, only 1.6 percent of the world’s oceans consists of MPA’s.  It might help if nations increased this percentage to help further protect these marine life populations.

Additionally, greater and stricter enforcement of laws or the introduction of new laws could help reduce overfishing.  Illegal fishing can run rampant around the world, and this especially is a problem if endangered or sought-after species are specifically targeted.  If the ocean and markets were more tightly regulated, these at-risk populations could have increased rates of recovery.

Also, one potential solution could be if governments would put a tax on at-risk fish to help curb overfishing.  First, the higher price would lower the amount of fish purchased.  Then, the tax money raised potentially could be used to fund marine life protection projects, like MPA’s.  However, a downfall of this is that people would most likely continue to demand high volumes of fish, but would not want to pay the higher price.  If taxes were implemented and caused prices to be inflated too high, then a spike in illegal fishing and smuggling may occur.

On the other hand, many governments subsidize fishing fleets, basically creating the opposite outcome of the previous proposal.  Subsidizing fleets can allow unprofitable fishing operations to continue to fish, and overall promotes overfishing even more.  Perhaps, this government subsidization should be cut, or instead be altered to provide money to fisheries that adhere to regulations and do not overfish.

One real-world approach to help curb overfishing is the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), founded by WWF.  This organization set standards to determine which fisheries are operating on a sustainable level.  Fisheries that meet the standards are allowed to become certified and bear the MSC label.  Thousands of fish-related products around the world have the MSC label on them, which is something consumers might desire to look out for in the future.  If the entire market was aware which products were caught sustainably or not, the consumers might be more inclined to purchase the sustainable product.  If consumers demanded sustainable fish products, then fisheries would be more enticed to have sustainable fishing practices.

Evidently, implementing a direct solution to overfishing is almost impossible, since each option may come with some downfalls.  Population will continue to rise, and fish will be demanded even more.  If humans do not fish sustainably, then they risk severe and dangerous drops in wild fish populations and can potentially threaten species to the point of extinction. Even if one approach does not rid the world of this problem, society as a whole needs to address overfishing as best as they can.

“Overfishing.” Overfishing | Threats | WWF. World Wildlife Fund, n.d. Web.