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...

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Mooving Forward

This past weekend I watched Cowspiracy on Netflix and I am questioning everything in my life. This MOOvie hit real close to home because I feel like everything I believe in and support is a complete and UTTER hoax. (I will try to keep my cow puns to a minimum, but no promises). The most interesting and shocking thing in the moovie did not even concern beef; it was about fish! Fish makes up a large majority of tropical nation's diets as well as a good portion of other countries' diets. But fishing in our oceans is unsustainable because no amount of fishing can be supported by the current production. Or at least in the way that fishing is being done today. Most of the fishing that is done today is indiscriminate, meaning that people go out with trawlers and large nets and catch whatever swims into their nets. These nets often catch unwanted fish, including sharks, whales, and dolphins, and these marine organisms often become bykill. Even though sharks, whales, and dolphins are not targeted by fisherman due to international agreements, they still do a whole lot of damage to these populations because they accidentally catch them and are not able to release them before they die. A shocking statistic that the moovie shared was that for every one pound of sustainably caught fish, about five pounds of large marine organisms are also killed. At the rate that fishing is being done, there will be nearly zero fish left in the ocean by 2048. That is insane because the ocean is humongous and most of the fish in the oceans have not even been discovered. This is a crazy problem and is making me reconsider eating fish, even if it says that it was sustainably caught.

Healthy food is not quite the same thing as sustainable food. Eating healthy means getting all of your required nutrients and calories. Eating sustainably means eating food that has small environmental impacts and can support the population for many years to come with minimal environmental degradation. Cowspiracy touched on this indirectly, but nonetheless focused on how cows and other domesticated animals use a lot of resources for a considerably small amount of nutrients. It is not very sustainable to base  your diet on proteins that require a significant amount of resources. It's important to have protein in your diet, but there are other foods that require less inputs that have just as much or more protein than beef. If you think about it, it should be a lot cheaper to live on a sustainable diet because all of the food that you would eat would require less inputs for it to grow. If everyone were to stop eating beef, there would be huge economic losses for people in the agricultural sector. But there does need to be some kind of change that will allow for people to continue to prosper, even while diminishing the amount of cows that they produce. Environmentally, it would be most ideal for the cow industry to die out, but this will never fully happen. People like meat, so it is going to be hard to convince them to stop eating just for the environment. It's definitely going to be hard for me to consider eating meat after that movie, but its also hard for me to not eat meat because it makes up a large part of my diet. What's going to be even more difficult for me to not swallow is less dairy. Dairy uses so much water and grain to produce and is just as bad as eating meat. The vegan doctor in the movie described milk as baby calf growing food because it is designed to make small calves into large cows. We don't necessarily need dairy, it's just one of human's best tasting cultivations.

After watching this moovie, I am seriously reconsidering my diet. I don't feel like I eat a whole ton of meat, but I think I am going to seriously cut down my consumption of meat. Eventually, I'd like to be a vegetarian who enjoys some meat on a rare occasion. Even further down the road, I hope to become a vegan who enjoys cheese every now and again. I don't want to fully cut meat and dairy from my diet because they are delicious. Also, it's unrealistic for me to entirely cut out any food while I'm living at home and not buying my own food. I will be suggesting to my mom to reduce the amount of meat that we have in our house because of the things that I have learned from this moovie. Once I fully mooooove out, I will take serious steps towards becoming full vegetarian and possibly vegan. Until then, I will be focusing on reducing my meat consumption to at least once every two weeks.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ride into our future

Adonia Lugo is an urban anthropologist who studies the social and environmental impacts of bikes on society. During her research and life, Adonia has influenced communities to increase their reliance on human infrastructure (i.e., walking, riding bikes, etc.). Her main focus has been on advocating for bike transportation in multi-cultural hubs such as in Los Angeles and Seattle. Her advocacy is backed by research and fellow anthropologists who have also been researching similar topics. Adonia has founded and is a member of various groups that promote the idea of biking amongst races and social classes.

One of her ventures is a consulting company for sustainable transportation. Unlike many consulting firms, Bicicultures is run by researchers, professors, and PhD students and/or graduates. Using research, Bicicultures can be hired to provide alternative methods of transportation to local governments, developers, and individuals. One of the most interesting things about Bicicultures is that it was formed by Adonia and two other graduate students. They felt as though what they were researching was not well represented in the literature and wanted to reach out and spread its reach. After starting this initiative, they received inquiries and scientific papers on human infrastructure and sustainable transportation. This place of interconnectedness has really helped them all improve their advocacy and consulting efforts.

Adonia is also an advisory board member of Multicultural Communities for Mobility, which is an organization in Los Angeles that is working with local low-income communities to create bike share programs. These bike share programs are aimed to help mobility through the city so transportation throughout Los Angeles is available to every person, which will increase the ability for people to get to their jobs and social engagements. They also focus on better walkways, bike lanes, and access to all forms of transportation in areas where they are inadequate. Many low income areas are deprived of adequate sidewalks, which is very unsafe and does not promote walking and or bike riding. With the help the Multicultural Communities for Mobility, low income areas can have access to safe transportation methods and will be able to do so in  a sustainable manner.