Closing Considerations

For my last civic issues blog post concerning the environment, I want to close with something more relatable to all of you: what ways Penn State and other universities are discussing climate change.  

Many large institutions like Penn State offer students with the option to choose climate change-related majors. This enables students, who have the desire, to learn specifics about this topic at an in-depth level rather than the ‘on the surface’ facts from google, scholarly articles, etc. Although other smaller, liberal arts schools might not offer this much specificity on this topic, most schools do offer clubs and programs that are dedicated to discussing environmental topics.

Many of these groups are engaged in proposing sustainability initiatives and informing the rest of the university about their programs. Programs at schools like this range from clubs like ‘Eco-Action’ at Penn State to the Public Interest Research Group at UC Berkeley. Other schools have action plans for the future regarding the environment, such as Colgate University planning to be carbon neutral by 2020 – their campus planning and building design will incorporate sustainable practices.

Penn State has implemented a ‘green-2-go’ service – instead of using the polystyrene containers for every take out meal, the dining hall allows students to keep the Green2Go Box after eating, returning it at the next meal for a clean one – a simple way to reuse. It was estimated that Students, faculty, and other guests use about 495,000 of these polystyrene containers at UP annually – almost half a million containers sent to the landfills every year.

Seeing that this is the last blog, I also wanted to end with what I thought were the most important takeaways from my semester’s worth of environmental themed facts and policies, so you can either form an opinion on climate change (given that you didn’t have set opinions before) or consider your position on climate change and whether or not you feel differently after reading these blogs (ie: believing climate change should be handled by the government Vs. the public, whether the change in temperature is significant enough to act Vs. not act, etc.).

  1. Looking at global temperature: The majority of the warming of earth’s atmosphere has occurred from about 1980 to present day – faster than any previous period of time. It is your decision to decide whether this seems statistically significant enough to become a concern to the public society.
  2. Who is responsible for global climate change? A never ending argument that doesn’t have one justified answer – it depends on your point of view. Humans can be largely responsible for recent climate change because of daily activities – amount of energy used when doing household chores or tasks, amount of hours spent driving a car, etc. Industrial or agricultural companies who produce greenhouse gases like methane and nitrous oxide can be primarily responsible. Or, the earth itself can be primarily responsible – it is just inevitable that the temperature will vary from year to year, century to century, but humans have not been part of the primary cause.
  3. Who is responsible for taking action on climate change? The government is in charge of enforcing policies and laws. While other citizens cannot do this, they can become active in their local government initiatives and programs, or contribute individually – taking steps at home or on the road.
  4. Understanding that regardless of your opinion on climate change, some effects of climate change are unavoidable. In example, carbon dioxide will not just disappear – it will remain in the atmosphere for about a century.
  5. Having an awareness of future effects, and deciding the action you want to take, depending on your position.
  6. Listening to the statistics. We cannot argue with what science says – especially not statistics given by researchers like those at NASA. You cannot change statistics but you can interpret them in the way you want. Like I mentioned before, there are statistics about the average temperature of the globe that prove it is gradually warming, but it is up to you to decide whether these temperatures mean anything significant.

I hope these blogs have led you to discover what you truly believe in regarding climate change, the environment, sustainability, and other related topics, and helped you gain new insight on this topic! 


Government and The Environment

Earlier in the semester, I introduced the topic of climate change by addressing the differences between having an awareness of climate change (which most of the public already does) and taking actions to prevent climate change (which a majority would agree they have yet to do anything significant.) Addressing other factors that lead to climate change would be incomplete without one major factor: US involvement. What has the United States been doing in recent years? Has the government had an active role in preventing or accelerating climate change? Will these actions affect the future in positive or negative ways?

These are all questions that have relatively complicated answers, due to the contrasting sides to the climate change argument. Relating to the most obvious example, former president Barrack Obama has an extremely different viewpoint than current President Donald Trump. Primarily, one of the biggest ways the government has contributed to preventing global warming has been the creation of the EPA. Created by Richard Nixon for the purpose of the health of humans and the environment, it had many regulations based on laws enforced by the government. Obama’s administration made major leaps in the EPA’s progress for preventing climate change: In revealing his Clean Power Plan, he restricted the level of carbon dioxide pollutants from power plants – requiring at least a 32% reduction by 2030. According to articles published by ATR, he enforced over 3900 rules within the EPA (about 500 annually). In terms of protecting the environment overall (not just specific to the EPA), Obama rejected the Keystone XL oil pipeline, raised fuel-efficiency standards, invested in forms of green energy, established America’s first national ocean policy – the list goes on and on.

As I mentioned earlier, there are two conflicting sides to the topic of climate change. Even after acknowledging the benefits Obama’s EPA has given the environment, some people worry the government isn’t handling the situations at stake in the right ways and thus should be handling them differently (oppositely than how Obama handled them). People who support this side believe climate change is in fact a hoax. In fact, President Donald Trump has a plan to launch executive actions which will reduce Obama’s climate change initiatives – his Climate Action Plan and the Clean Power Plan – two of Obama’s most significant programs for preventing climate change.

One of the biggest reasons some people believe the government must redesign their ways of handling climate change is because of the cost of dealing with these problems. There are a plethora of statistics to keep in mind when reading the cost. According to the GAO, (government accountability office) federal spending in regards to climate and environment escalated from 4.6$ billion in 2003 to 8.8$ billion in 2010. Additionally, more than 32.5$ billion was spent on climate research from 1989 to 2009. Following the restrictions set by the EPA and other environmental programs costs the U.S. economy, in total, an estimated more than $1.75 trillion per year. The GAO reports that even with this substantial increase in money, there is still ‘a lack of shared understanding of strategic priorities’ – in other words, officials who have the responsibility to enforce the rules and regulations do not completely understand the situation at hand. Has money even had an impact? The globe has been warming for centuries and carbon dioxide and methane levels have continued to increase – nearly 38 percent and 148 percent, respectively, as of 2009. In truth, as of 2008, there was no “overarching policy goal for climate change that guides the programs funded or priorities among programs.”

Additionally, despite the statistics about global warming I talked about in the end of my first blog (if you haven’t read it, click here if you’re interested), some people believe the government should be doing less because of the temperatures caused by global warming. Because they are changing so slowly over time, they think the government should only take action when it becomes more relevant.

So, can we actually determine which view is accurate? In all honesty, the answer is no. This is all simple due to the fact that your opinion is your opinion, and reading articles and data sites about global climate change will not necessarily change that. You interpret the global warming statistics in whichever way you want – seeing global warming as an applicable issue right now, or as a problem that shouldn’t become of concern until years, or decades later.


Attending a Deliberation: Reflection

Over this past weekend, I attended a deliberation discussing “The Electoral College.” Many of the other deliberations, including my own, is regarding immigration – which is extremely fitting given the potential changes in immigration laws as an outcome of the presidential election in November. I didn’t want to attend an immigration deliberation (partly due to the fact that my group would most likely be discussing the same issues/topics as another immigration group), so my roommate suggested I attend hers about the Electoral College. Up until this year, I was never into politics but as I began to hear how ‘controversial’ this year’s election was going to be, I started paying closer attention to the news, articles I saw on the internet, and discussions about politics in general. Initially, I didn’t know exactly what we would be talking about in this deliberation, but the group had an issue guide that was very clearly outlined the hour and a half deliberation.

The main topic of the deliberation was whether the electoral college should be kept in tact as it is, or be demolished to create a new system. Prior to this deliberation, I hadn’t thought about making amendments to the electoral college, and wasn’t sure how this group had decided to talk about this. However, once I was reminded of the fact that Hillary Clinton won the popular yet did not win the presidential election, I now saw this as an extremely relevant issue.

Of the two ‘options’ (keeping electoral college or making amends to it), the majority of the group was in favor of making amends. As we broke into smaller groups to discuss both sides, my group did agree that it would not be possible to completely demolish the electoral college, given how slowly changes in the government are processed. Primarily, it would be difficult to establish an accurate ‘in-between’ (in between keeping the electoral college and completely demolishing it) that all of congress would approve. Additionally, even if a final decision was reached, these aspects of the government are written in the constitution, and making an amendment would take many, many years to become active.

Nonetheless, the major focal point of our mini group discussion was what the amendment could be. One of the proposed ideas for what could be done to get rid of the electoral college and create a new system would be to introduce a state-by-state proportional system. In this system, electors would be selected in proportion to the votes that are cast for each candidate and/or party, instead of them being selected by a statewide vote. However, in carrying out this change, distributing the votes would be difficult, especially in smaller states and states where the two candidates are close.

All in all, I think this topic is a very tricky one to deal with simply because whatever happens, not everyone will be satisfied. It is impossible for everyone to be in agreement because of how many contrasting opinions there are. Attending this deliberation was an eye-opening experience, as I now have more of an interest in what goes on in today’s politics and the structure of the government.

Problems with Plastic

Whether you’re walking to class, walking around in a supermarket, or at your friend’s soccer game, chances are you’ll see everyone holding or carrying one thing in common – a water bottle. It has been estimated that 1,000 people open a plastic water bottle every second of every day. Leaving in a hurry? Quick – just grab a disposable water bottle, perfect for on the go. Healthier than a bottle of soda or juice, bottled water is expected to outsell soft drinks in 2017, according to the New York Times. While this is a benefit to society, as drinking water rather than soft drinks is healthier for the human body, it is certainly not a benefit to the environment.

A majority of society today has fallen accustom to using plastic water bottles, drawn to the idea of convenience. Evian, aquafina, dasani, fiji, smart water, deer park, poland spring… These brands have all become popular over the last decade, and I could easily go on and on. The point is, society has grown to think using plastic water bottles is normal because they can be recycled – they can do no harm to the environment – and this is where the facts need to be straightened out.

You finish a water bottle and immediately go to recycle it (hopefully, instead of the trash can…) and think you’re doing the environment a favor. And this is true, most of the time. Recycling is generally better for the environment than waste going to landfills because it takes ⅔ less energy to make new products from recycled plastic than plastic that has gone to a waste landfill. Nonetheless, there are two sides to this truth. It’s sometimes harder to recycle plastic than what most of society thinks. Only about 6.8% percent of total plastic used in the US is actually recycled, but luckily it’s higher for bottles – 37% for sodas and 28% for milk cartons and water bottles. Plastic water bottles and other types of plastic bottles can only be recycled through certain municipalities, depending on that type of plastic. So, throwing your plastic yogurt containers in the same bright blue recycling bin as your milk carton or water bottle might be doing more bad than good.

You might be asking yourself, “Can’t I just look at the numbers on the bottom of plastic containers and sort them into their respective groups?” This is also true, but only to a certain extent. Plastics with a #1 (soda and water bottles) or a #2 (detergent bottles and milk cartons) are considered to be able to be recycled, but sometimes even containers with these numbers cannot be recycled due to dyes, additives and chemicals in the plastic. These additives have different properties (like melting at different temperatures), and therefore cannot be recycled all together.

So how does this connect to the environment? Primarily, there are still many people who don’t recycle – these plastic bottles end up in trash sites which then end up in earth’s bodies of water – creeks, rivers, oceans, etc. Birds, whales, dolphins and other sea animals do not differentiate plastic debris from food and end up ingesting the plastic scraps, adding to the death toll of these animals one by one. Breaking down plastic releases toxins that soak into soil and water – not only destroying and breaking down the environment but harming the animals as well. Additionally, to point out a problem no one talks about – the more water we buy, the less we think we rely on it – but the percentage of safe water is only going to decrease, limiting our supplies of drinking water.

On the other hand, there are people who do not believe in the idea of plastic bottles harming the environment, and to these people, I would encourage you to seek out ‘safer’ disposable bottles. There are forms of disposable water bottles like bottles such as ‘Just Water.’ This bottle is made out of 54% paper, 28% plant-based plastic, and is 100% fully recyclable. Read about these bottles more in-depth here!

Overall, for the sake of the environment, the best option is to use reusable water bottles. Buying multiple – one to keep in your purse or bag, another to keep in your car, some in your kitchen, etc. – is more convenient than society thinks, and far better than using a plastic water bottle each day. These bottles have no harm on the environment, and will protect and sustain the earth for centuries to come.



Environment Engagement

Starting a new semester means a new round of blog posts. For those of you who did not follow my blogs first semester, I wrote about my passion of traveling and exploring the world. My inspiration for my civic issues topic, the environment, came from my final project in RCL I. My group made a history of public controversy video on climate change, which I enjoyed researching and creating. Therefore, I found it more than appropriate to continue this interest with something that can benefit everyone – posts related to the environment. More specifically, climate change, including subtopics such as the people and government’s awareness, both sides of the debate about whether climate change is existent, etc.

The place where we live. The place where animals live. An 11-letter word that arguably holds importance over anything else, that dictates our survival, the place we call home: the environment. The complex of physical, chemical, and biotic factors (as climate, soil, and living things) that act upon an organism or an ecological community and ultimately determine its form and survival, as defined by Webster dictionary. What we do for our environment will essentially determine our future, and in the same sense, what outside forces – like climate change – are doing, or have done, for our environment will also determine the future.

Before engaging in any discussion of subtopics of climate change, it is more than necessary to begin with and understand what climate change really is. A summation of climate change can be described as the gradual warming of earth’s atmosphere caused by the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere which have devastating effects and have been destroying the environment for decades.

So in the vastness of climate change discussion, I decided to begin with a discussion of the difference between being aware and taking action. I would say that most of you would agree with the fact that you have a wide awareness of climate change. Nonetheless, where the answer becomes blurry is if I were to ask what have you done to prevent climate change – some of you might not have definite answers, and this is where my blog begins.

Unfortunately, as much as society might say they completely understand what climate change is doing to our environment, the same society has done little to actually prevent climate change. Where does this gap originate? In attempt to answer this, Anthony Leiserowitz, the Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication (CCC) at Yale University conducted a large study examining how much society thought they were at risk because of global warming, and what global warming actually means for the environment. Sadly, it was concluded that although the public might be aware, about 92% of Americans think this issue is of low priority in comparison to other issues because the effects aren’t immediate.

The awareness versus action gap is the reality for most americans for various reasons –  one reason being the type of communication about global warming and climate change. Individuals might be introduced to evidence regarding climate change, and therefore might change their attitude of whether or not it is evident in today’s society. Unfortunately, this attitude change, in most cases, does not mean a step towards taking positive action.

Furthermore, it is possible that misinterpretation of data is a reason for the belief that action is not needed immediately, and this is where a debate is brought up: whether or not the hardcore evidence can be used to prove that action is necessary, rather than just a keen awareness.

To side with the large majority who agree this issue isn’t a pressing issue, it is true that the effects of climate change are not immediate, because the earth has been warming for centuries. However, on the contrary, that doesn’t stop the effects from being devastating. NASA confirmed that the average global temperature has increased by 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1880, but ⅔ of the warming has occurred since 1975 – meaning about .15-.20 degrees celsius increase per decade. Certainly not immediate, but extremely powerful. To get a perspective, a one degree drop was enough to put the Earth into an ice age, and a five-degree drop destroyed an entire part of North America 20,000 years ago. It is possible that those who agree that this isn’t of grave concern in today’s century are failing to take into account the ideas of sustainability for the future – sustaining our environment for our children, our children’s children, etc.

In closing, I invite you to give me any feedback – whether agreeing or disagreeing about anything in this first blog, and ask further questions. I hope to include these comments or answer your questions in further blogs while discussing certain topics of climate change.