Sunday, April 16, 2017

It's all Berry Interesting...

Wendell Berry is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, and a farmer. Berry was born in 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky amidst the turmoil of the Great Depression. Berry grew up on a fifth generation tobacco farm in rural Kentucky. He grew up working on the farm with his family. Berry's mother was  a huge reader, which helped to spark Berry's interest in literature. He went to Millersburg Military Instituted and the University of Kentucky with a BA and MS in English. At UK, he met his wife Tanya Amyx, who he had two children with. After university, Berry went on to become a fellow at Stanford's creative writing program. Berry was recognized as a Guggenheim Fellow and lived in Tuscany for a year working along many great writers. After his time away, he worked as a professor at NYU for two years before returning back to Kentucky to work as a farmer. While on the farm, Berry wrote many novels, poems, short stories, and essays. Berry's first novel, Nathan Coulter, a book about a young boy coming of age, was published in 1960. Most of Berry's work reflected the ideal that one's work ought to be rooted in and responsive to one's place. Berry felt akin to people who showed their connection to their home through their works, like Henry Thoreau and his good pal Harry Caudil. Some of Barry's major themes included the ingenuity of nature, respect for locals and local knowledge, and a deep Christian appreciation for our obligations to each other. Barry was also wary of technology and how it would ultimately destroy our connection with nature.

Berry's farmer life definitely helped him to develop his ideas for his literary works as well as form his ideas on life. Berry was an activist for the peace and the environment, writing letters and articles for papers against the Vietnam War and the installation of a nuclear power plant in Indiana. Berry also wrote activist papers to the Bush administration after 9/11 and how they should handle National Security. Berry continues to write today about how the world is at risk to modernization. Berry also continues to join in on protests for the environment and even cut ties with the University of Kentucky in order to continue to protest the coal industry. Berry is very true to himself which makes his writing very interesting and more convincing than most other writers of any time period.

Berry has formed the Berry Center in Kentucky "for the purpose of bringing focus, knowledge and cohesiveness to the work of changing our ruinous industrial agriculture system into a system and culture that uses nature as the standard, accepts no permanent damage to the ecosphere, and takes into consideration human health in local communities." (Wikipedia). Much of Berry's activism has been in the form of protest or through written work. He has had to face many different administrations with various ecological agendas. No matter the issue, he stuck true to his beliefs and fought for them before his own concern. The fact that Berry shows so much concern for the issues he fights against makes his writing hold more grip in the literary world. It was definitely interesting to learn this about him before reading through his essay about wildlife preservation.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Where to start?

There are many topics in this world that I would love to write about for ten weeks in my global sustainability seminar. There are so many things wrong with the world that I want to fix and explore, but I can only choose three at the moment. So here we go.

Some interesting topics include the following:

BEE-utiful World:
 It would BEE neat to explore how climate change and human interactions are affecting pollinating species across the world and what can be done to help preserve their numbers. As temperatures increase, geographic ranges of plants are changing. It would be interesting to see how they are responding.

Google Time!
Wow. Bees and other pollinators are at extreme risk due to climate change. This is mostly due to the fact that climate change can mess up the time-syncing between pollinators and plants. If plants are blooming too early for honeybees and other pollinators to reproduce at, then those plants cannot be pollinated and the honeybees get overwhelmed or just can't harvest enough to keep their clan going. Obviously pesticides are also an issue because they are killing bees and other pollinators even if its not its intended purpose. There are so many deep issues with these guys.

 Another topic could be delving into how using GMO's can actually be sustainable and improve lives. All crops today are GMOs, whether they were created in a lab or out in the field. GMOs can be designed to use less space to grow, use less water, and produce more food which would help to solve population growth problems along with many other problems.

Google Time!
GMO's, like I said before, are prevalent in all parts of the world through the process of natural selection and actual bioengineering. But most of the GMO's out there focus on duplicating DNA or inserting DNA from other plants, which isn't that dangerous. The real danger GMO's pose is the loss of biodiversity and the inability of the poorer farmer to be able to compete with big brands. But GMO's can be engineered to use less water, which would drastically reduce the amount of water being used in agriculture. As a number one user of water, it would be awesome if they were able to reduce water intake per pound of food.

State of the Environment:
 It would be interesting to look at how governments around the world are presenting the idea of sustainability and what they are doing to actually reduce their environmental impacts. There are many countries that are working towards combatting climate change while others are ignoring it. *cough cough* the united states president *cough cough*.

Google Time!
There is so much going on in our world with our new president. This guy doesn't believe that the world is getting hotter because of us. If he looked back when he was a young fella, he would have remembered that he was not able to see a clear skyline in any city because of all of the pollution. Administering regulations in the US has lead to better air quality than ever. Around the world, countries are taking large steps in the way of sustainability and improving their environment. Germany implements more solar panels than the US with much less area and much less sun. Sweden has the lowest carbon emissions and uses the most renewable energy in the world! There are countries that are doing it right and there are countries not doing enough. It would be cool to explore that.

After all of this exploring, I'm still uncertain which topic to choose because there are so many different ways to go with each of them. If I were to choose one though, I would choose the GMO's because I feel like there is a lot of good literature available that will help me in my search to find out how GMO's can relate to sustainability.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Let's Save the World

This past week I went to a seminar on water resources and conflict-resolution. After the seminar, I was talking with some people who had attended the seminar and we all said what we were doing and what we wanted to do in our futures. I told them that I wanted to save the world. A tall task, but something that can be achieved with an accumulation of small actions. There was a teacher in middle school that had said that you should try to leave the world in a better state than when you entered it. I have carried this notion with me since hearing it and I have based my life around this.

My current life is pretty comfortable. With this excess in comfort comes an excess in resource consumption. Over the last couple of months, I have been trying to lessen my impact on this earth. Frankly, it's really hard. Nonetheless, I continue to bring consciousness into my daily actions and decisions so that I can be a better friend to mother nature. I have been putting in the effort to reduce the number of times a week that I eat out and I nearly always bring a reusable cup when I get my coffee in the mornings. Also, I have increased the amount of composting that occurs in my household, which we use to grow the plants in our garden. Whenever I can, I try to carpool with people so that the emissions between us are reduced. I'm a speedy showerer and I try to beat my record each shower. When I go out to eat, I usually order a vegetarian meal instead of meat or I avoid red meat since its more expensive and resource intensive. At this point in my life, I am proud of my accomplishments and I hope to always improve upon them so that I can inspire others to make similar changes.

I believe that small changes can make a huge difference. Dr. Brower and Dr. Leon suggest some wonderful small steps to leading a more sustainable lifestyle. We have touched upon each of these items in our capstone series. There are several actions that I can personally control in my life like eating less meat, eating organic, and using sustainable transportation. When it comes to items regarding where I live, unfortunately, I do not have much if any control. Living at home with a family that has established ways makes it hard to make changes, especially when I'm not home that much to discuss these issues with them. Fortunately, everyone except for me lives close to school or work. While I'm in school, I have to live at home to reduce costs and because I don't work enough to make money to sustain living on my own quite yet. But, the changes that I can try to make for my contribution to my household can make some great changes in the world.

In my opinion, even the smallest action can have an impact. It's like the butterfly effect; if you change one tiny thing in history, the future can change. I feel like the same thing can happen when you make lifestyle changes. No one should ever get discouraged if they are making a small change. If you get change at the grocery store and you save it in a piggy bank, eventually you will have enough money to make another purchase. You can use your 'change' to treat earth the way it should be. If you start by making small changes, making larger changes won't be as difficult. Sweeping changes are still necessary if we want to make the largest possible difference on this earth, but we can't just force people to make major changes without preparing for them or even understanding why they should do them. As I reach the end of the capstone sequence, I realize that there are many small changes that I have made in my life. While I move on from this experience, I am going to be working on making larger changes that will hopefully inspire others to do the same.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Getting off of the Grid

The current electrical grid system is being challenged by the idea of fuel cells. Fuel cells convert chemical energy to electrical energy through various chemical reactions. There are many benefits to installing and implementing these fuel cells. Environmentally, fuel cells are much better than the current electrical grid because they emit far fewer criteria pollutants and create very little noise. The fact that they do not emit many emissions, let alone far fewer criteria pollutants is very impressive. With nearly no noise created by fuel cells, power plants or even individual cells for homes could be located closer to cities and communities, which reduce the distance that the energy would have to travel to be utilized. Fuel cells are also relatively efficient in producing energy, roughly between 30 and 60% efficient when used without other fuel systems. When paired with a gas turbine, efficiency increases to over 70%. When the byproduct of heat is reentered into the system, efficiency of the fuel cell can reach 85%. Fuel cells release heat as a byproduct, which can be used in different processes that include boilers, domestic hot water, space heating loops, swimming pools, and absorption cooling thermal loads. Fuel cells are also much more reliable than the current methods for energy production. They are less subject to interruptions, such as storms or power failures. Power plants with fuel cells can produce the same quality of energy as contemporary energy systems. They are easy to permit and do not require air permits since there are nearly no emissions. Fuel cells are very modular and operate at constant efficiencies. Overall, fuel cells look pretty darn good.

However, there are some downsides to using fuel cells as a main source of energy. Fuel cells are very expensive and require large initial investments to use. A lot of work is going into decreasing these costs to make the fuel cell more competitive with other energy sources. Fuel cells also heavily rely on hydrogen as its main input which is obtained from natural gas and other fossil fuels. By allowing more fuels to be used to run these cells will allow for costs to go down and for less dependence on just one kind of fuel that might not always be available. Integrating the fuel cells into our current grid system is a major challenge for researchers and promoters. The grid is very established and changing it will cost a lot of money. Also, fuel infrastructure and human infrastructure has to change to be able to handle and supply this kind of energy. The government will also have some issues trying to figure out how to regulate fuel cells so that they are safe and produced properly.

It's crazy to think that UCI is the leader of fuel cell research and other outstanding sustainability research. We are the first school with hydrogen fuel cell buses that emit no carbon emissions. We are also the only school to offer a graduate course on fuel cells. It's also great that Orange County is stepping up its game and investing and implementing fuel cells to reduce emissions. Orange County is a leader in air quality standards and strive to reduce emissions to preserve the air.

A question I have is how long can one fuel cell last?

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Saving the extra mile

This past week we discussed transportation and its implications on sustainability. As a commuter, I already know that what I'm doing is completely unsustainable and this discussion session made me feel really bad about my current habits. But there are other ways to reduce my transportation footprint than just not driving my car. It would be really difficult for me to be able to get to school, work, and water polo without using my car since I don't live close to any of these places. So finding alternative methods to reduce my impacts was really helpful.

This week I decided to cut bananas from my diet because they travel a long ways to end up on my kitchen counter. Typically, I would eat one banana a day because they are the ultimate on-the-go snack and/or meal. So instead of grabbing a banana, I grabbed grapes in the morning before I left for work each morning. The grapes were grown in California, which means that they traveled far fewer miles to enter into my fridge than the bananas did to reach my counter. Grapes taste just as good as bananas, so the switch was definitely easy. Unfortunately, it takes a lot more grapes to fill me up than it would for one banana to. But I would like to think it is still better for me to eat the grapes than the bananas because of the less amounts of transport required and less packaging changes. However, grapes actually require packaging when you buy them from the store while bananas usually just have stickers. The grapes packaging is recyclable though, so maybe it is still okay and I would assume it undergoes fewer package changes. This switch was not too difficult for me to do and I feel like it made a difference.

On Friday, I arranged a carpool with my friend to school and to work. What made this carpool pretty supreme was that my friend's car is electric, making my impact even smaller! It's tough to give up your car for a day and be totally reliant on somebody else and be able to be flexible with their schedule. Fortunately for me, my friend and I have about the same schedule for work and school. This made it easier on both of us to actually go through with this. I chose to carpool with my friend because it made a lot of sense for me to initiate it since we both go to the same places and since I live on her route to and from school. To be honest, I think that this was more difficult for my friend than for me because she had to remember to pick me up. Usually she just drives to school without having to get off the freeway, but on Friday, she had to remember to get off at my street! This was a great way for me to reduce my driving impact because it took little effort on my part and allowed me to not emit much or any green house gases from my vehicle. It makes a lot of sense to carpool with someone who has an electric car because the benefits are just endless.

This week was not as challenging as I thought it would be. I'm glad I made some good life changes that I hope to continue to implement into my life as the days go on.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

(R)Evolving Respect

In the Fall, I had written a post about my sustainability ethic. In that post I talked about how I equate sustainability with respect. Today, I still believe that the roots of sustainability are in the principles of respect. As I said before, sustainability is respecting resources, respecting current generations, and respecting future generations. My thoughts on this have not wavered very much and if they have, they have wavered to expand my ideas on how very important respect is to preserving the earth.

Each week of the sustainability capstone series has introduced me to new topics that have broadened my view and knowledge about sustainability. Sustainability is more than just making resources last and improving the environment. Sustainability is about how we can make the world a better place for all that inhabit it. This entails social justice as well as environmental justice, which all chalk down to respect. We have to respect the issues that other parts of the world endure while respecting the resources that we drain with our comparatively lavish lifestyles here in California. We have to respect that people need to survive before they can worry about preserving fish populations and that we need to respect the fact that they might not want to follow the rules that are created by developed countries that form guidelines on how developing countries should develop. It's crazy how interconnected throughout policy that sustainability is. Almost every topic in the political and environmental realm can be weaved into the quilt that is sustainability.

I still struggle every day to meet my sustainability ethic because it is difficult to always remember to live up to it when I am so busy and don't know what I had for lunch that day. But, I have definitely stepped up my game since fall quarter, making small changes in my life that I hope will have some impacts on the earth and the people that I interact with. Since fall quarter, I have reduced my consumption of fast food, thus reducing the amount of unnecessary packaging and other food wastes. I have also increased my composting efforts on a family wide basis in my home. Instead of getting plastic cups for my iced coffee, I have started bringing a reusable cup to Dunkin Donuts when I get my coffee in the morning. Also, I have reduced the amount of times a week that I go there, saving gas and money. I tried cutting meat from my diet, but I have had a rough couple of weeks emotionally and it was hard to make a transition as significant as this. As my life starts to settle down, I will do my best to get back on track. Although I have lots of flaws and struggles, I am more aware of what I am doing wrong or that is against my morals, which is a large part of being able to make more sustainable choices in my life. I'm still working on it, but I have definitely improved upon my ethic since the fall.

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Leading the Shirtless

Being a leader is hard and is often a role that I fall into, despite being opposed to doing so. But sometimes, you have to stand up and be that leader that others need. Usually, I become a leader in familiar environments where I know the people or I know the situation. I think it would be increasingly difficult if I was trying to be a leader where I knew nothing and knew no one. *cough cough Mr. President*

Since I have some experience with being a leader, whether it had been as team captain for water polo or a group leader for a project, I should be able to apply my experience to some new topics that I have been learning about. Sustainability is starting to gain a good amount of ground these days because of brave leaders and first followers. I aspire to join the movements that others have started in the sustainability field, but first, I feel that it is important for me to understand what I am doing before I try to inspire others to do the same. Some of the qualities that I feel that I would need to gain before becoming a great leader in the sustainability world include being bold, unafraid of criticism, friendly, accepting of contrasting ideals, calm, and courageous. To be a leader, you most definitely have to be bold because you are trying to make a statement and bolding makes your statement stand out and makes it worth reading. You must also be unafraid of criticism because in order to lead a successful movement, you should be able to accept criticisms to create the most alluring and successful movements. Being friendly is just good for life and for making a safe space for others to feel welcome which will help to grow our movement. To me, the hardest thing about being a leader is to accept that not everyone will have the same ideals as you and you can't  change everyone. Sometimes you have to accept that they have those ideals and you can't fight them on it. Any strong leader is calm, cool, and collected and acts on rationality opposed to on sole emotions. In the political atmosphere today, it is hard to find a calm person who uses rationality along with their emotions to lead their follows. And in the words of Rachel Green, "You gotta have courage." An ideal leader will embrace all of these aspects.

Being a first follower is incredible. I think it takes more guts than it does to be a leader because you are getting on board with someone who has no following and you are putting yourself completely into the unknown. At least the leader knows what they are doing, or so we hope. A first follower is crucial to getting others to join a cause. Like that shirtless dancing guy's first follower, you have to just embrace the movement and show others that it is ok to accept these ideas. As a very cautious and self aware/self conscious person, I do not think that I have what it takes to be a first follower. Usually, I wait for the approval of my peers before I jump on into the movement. A first follower is a brave soul and I definitely respect them. I have a long ways to go before I gain the confidence in myself to be a first follower. If there's another person being the first follower, I am more likely to join in on the idea. Even the first flow of people to a movement make it easier for me to get on board. As I continue to learn more about the world around me,  I hope to improve my confidence and hopefully take steps closer to the first follower and leader. We will see what I get myself into...