Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Carbon first, what next?

The law of diminishing return refers to the idea that as supply increases, the value or return diminishes. Richard Heinburg explains this concept with espresso. He said that with one cup of espresso, he would be able to get his work done with high quality. If he had two cups, he would get more work done, however, the quality of work would not be as great as if he were to have just one cup. And it all goes to hell if he has three cups because it would cost him more to do that work since the quality would be so low. The law of diminishing return definitely applies to sustainability. We cannot keep using the unsustainable means of energy just because they are easy to produce. The more we produce of it, the lower its value to us. There is only so much that oil can do for our society. It has created and devastated our economies and eventually will no longer be of use to us. Although our lives currently rely on oil, there must come a point where the production and use of oil will no longer offer the same return that it did in the past. Richard also mentions that societies that have invested in complexities often reach a point in their society where their specialization does not give them any profit to society, often leading to their demise. We should not wait for the oil and carbon way of life to reach its diminishing return for us to turn to new means of energy production and consumption.

Resilience is ability to absorb shocks and be able to still function. Resilience has not been the focus of our lives because for the past hundreds of years, the focus has been on profits. But our financial institutions are making profits through speculation and debt, which is nowhere near resilient to environmental shocks. A more resilient society would use a more cooperative framework that would achieve goals for all opposed to just those who want to make profits.  Working together to decide what should be made or what services should be offered can have outstanding impacts on our society like increasing environmental health and slowing down population growth. There are so many aspects of life that are put into the hands of the people who just want to make money at any expense and we should take back our rights as humans to these aspects. There is no reason why we could not work together and be profitable, while also creating resilient systems. Our current economic system is unstable at best and is unpredictable because of the way that investments are made using speculation and piggybacking on other's debts. We need to reshape our society to become more resilient so that we can have a better future where more people feel like they have control over their lives and that the environment doesn't have to suffer at the expense of profits.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Reaching for the Starbucks: Making the Coffee Industry Sustainable

Starbucks, a global coffee phenomenon, is one of the most sustainable companies out there. When I think of Starbucks, I just think of overpriced, acidic coffee with no soul. After learning about their sustainable mission and achievements, I now understand why it is so overpriced (I'm still not keen on its taste, but will complain less about it). It's hard to believe that a company as large as Starbucks actually cares about its impacts on the environment and on society. Starbucks began its path toward sustainability in 2004 by focusing on renewable energy, energy conservation, and climate action and mitigation efforts. On Starbucks website, they mention that they have always been aware of their impacts on the environment and local farms because they depend on them for their business. Their awareness is what is making them a leader in sustainable business practices.

As climate change has become an even greater presence in our lives, Starbucks has increased its role in decreasing its impact on the earth. Starbucks works from on the farm level to the global level on how it should manage its resources from start to finish. Starbucks is dedicated to conservation and buys coffee base on the Coffee and Farmer Equity (C.A.F.E.) Practices that ensure that their coffee is coming from sustainable and socially responsible farms. Not only are their resources for their main source of revenue more sustainable, but so are their stores. Starbucks builds its stores based on the LEEDS standards which have high standards for efficiency. Many of their new stores are up to LEEDS standards and they have been working since 2008 on bringing more of their existing stores to these standards. Definitely a step in the right direction.

Starbucks is working towards reducing its impacts on the environment by changing packaging design guidelines, offering reusable cups, advocating for local recycling infrastructure and expanding our customer-facing and behind-the-counter recycling practices. Starbucks understands that the disposal of their cups is reliant on their consumers. They advocate for the use of reusable cups and for their consumers to recycle their cups in recycling bins opposed to trash bins. In their stores, many landlords promote the idea of recycling their plastic and fibrous materials, making the behind the scenes green as well as in the forefront. At the moment, Starbucks is working on programs that will make their manufacturing plants as green as their stores. There are a few more kinks to work out than making their stores greener.

"As a company that relies on agricultural products, we have long been aware that the planet is our most important business partner." -Starbucks

Starbs is ahead of the game. They seem like this massive company that is trying to take over the world, but they actually do some good while they are doing it. This financial powerhouse depends on natural resources to make its profits, so it only makes sense for it to work with instead of against the environment. Kudos to you Starbucks.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Gotta keep Standing

Standing Rock, like many protests, is one that needs to happen. After reading an article from the LA Times titled "The Protests at Standing Rock are Necessary," this idea is confirmed. The article compared the Malheur militia's protests last year on public land in the Northwest to the protests of the Sioux Tribe at Standing Rock to stop the creation of the Dakota Access Pipeline in their reservation. Coincidentally, the Bundy family had just received their court hearings the other week and received minimal punishment in comparison to the protestors at Standing Rock. The Bundy family were covered in weapons and ammo and were expressing their rights on public land and were not arrested as brutally as the peaceful protestors in North Dakota. This article examines the principle of white privilege in the world of protests. In comparison, the Bundy family, who nearly took over the state of Oregon, were almost just left alone during their protests while at Standing Rock, the protestors are being bombarded by SWAT level policing. In the Bundy family protest, they were fighting to stop government encroachment on western lands, which was seen as a minimal issue to the government at the time. The Sioux tribe have a concrete issue at hand where money is involved, so they are being faced with all that the US government can throw at them even though they are peacefully protesting. The unequal treatment of these two similar but different protests is mind boggling.

The main issue I have with Standing Rock is that it's not the government's nor the company whose building the pipeline's land to be building on. This event is our generations Trail of Tears if we don't decide to get on the right side of history. The way that this protest is being handled by the government is not alright. Instead of taking the side of the defenseless, the government, including Hillary Clinton, are taking the side of the oil company because it means more energy security. But at what price? I believe energy security is important, however, I believe people's health and prosperity rank higher. By building this pipeline through the Sioux's land, their groundwater is more than likely to become contaminated due to a leak, spill, or explosion. America wants energy security, but lacks the same wants for water security for people of all backgrounds.

These pipelines are not even sustainable. They are temporary routes of destruction. If as a nation we want to decrease our dependence on oil, then maybe we should stop building these pipelines and start creating alternative means of energy. But to do that, we would need large investments from somewhere to start a project like that. The only interest in mind for this pipeline is the interest of the oil company because they are paying for it themselves and they have to pay large fees to the government in the form of taxes and permits. Environmental justice is not evident in this protest because another minority group is being put at risk for a white man's pursuit. The pipeline was proposed to be placed near Bismarck on public land, but was moved to Standing Rock in mind of public interest. But Bismarck is white and the Siouxs are not. So that's why their protest is unsuccessful at the time being. This protest is so important because it is not just an environmental issue, but also a racially-charged political protest.

The sustainability community, including myself, should support the protestors at Standing Rock because of the environmental, social, and medical harms that the pipeline could cause. Promoting environmental justice is also another reason that it needs our support because it is unequal and unjust that just because the Sioux are not white that they should have to give up their right to their land for white men to endanger their lives (again). It's ridiculous that this protest is still going on because I am pretty sure that it is illegal for the oil company to do anything on the Sioux's reservation. Stand up for those at Standing Rock.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Agents of (S)influence

I don't know what we did to deserve this presidential election. I personally, do not feel represented by these characters. There are many people who feel this way, and, like me, are waiting for someone to come out and say that this is all a joke and that we are going to get new people to vote for next year. These agents of influence are dividing the nation into dangerous groups of ideas and thoughts. These groups are so dangerous because of the attacks that they cast on each other because they want to prove to the others that their ideas should hold more weight over decisions than the other group's. This kind of behavior is immature and honestly scary. There are so many tumultuous decisions that are about to be made and people are arguing and picking fights. The fighting stems from the immaturity that is seen on the public stage from our presidential nominees. No one is truly civil and it is setting a precedence for the rest of us to act in similar ways. I do not care for this behavior, and I am sure that many others feel the same as I.

Our wonderful presidential nominees have their opinions on global climate change, but have not focused their efforts on this subject as much as they should, in my opinion. But I guess its better that they don't so that people are not misled by some of their ideas. Some great contributors in the media for global climate change include Leonardo DiCaprio, Bernie Sanders, and President Obama, just to name a few. They address that there is climate change, which is a huge step in representing these issues. They reach out to others and represent the facts of the issues for the grand masses. These agents are great for the general public's understanding of the struggles that are facing our earth. However, many of my agents are my professors and fellow classmates. We explore facts in depth and look at causation and solutions. We are the people who provide the facts for these famous guys and that is incredibly cool. I definitely value my academic peers and masters because there is so much that can be learned from them that can be backed with so much knowledge. I am only able to trust the famous people because I have learned so much about the issues that are prevalent from my professors. It is entertaining and great to hear that famous people are addressing these issues, but for me, I don't really deem them influential in my life in this area. My academic community is so amazing because we share similar values and have a common purpose.

I feel as though I don't have too much influence yet to my main influencers because I am still on my way to achieving their level. However, the more I learn, the more I feel like that I can make a difference and help to spread the truths of our academic community. Tonight, I sat with my friends and I explained Mie scattering to them over beers and they thought it was so cool. If I can convince them that Mie scattering is cool and that I am smart, then there is hope that I can one day influence people in a positive way for our earth. My values are very important to me and I am trying to match my actions to them at all times because I feel like that is one way that I can influence people is through leading by example. If I practice what I preach and continue to learn, there is no telling how many people I could influence in my life, hopefully for the better. That is my goal.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Thoughts for Food

This past week, I made a commitment to track what I was eating to see how sustainable my lifestyle is. I already knew my food lifestyle is the least sustainable thing about me. I literally leave my house before 8 AM every day and am running late for everything, so I resort to a lot of eating out. Since school started, I have been eating out at least once a day, sometimes three times in one day. Luckily for me, I was working forty hour weeks before I started school, so I have been able to sustain this unsustainable lifestyle. I have to eat and I don't always have time to pack food, so I do the best I can to survive. The past couple have days have been slightly better than my first three weeks back in school. Let's take a look:

Day 1: Definitely drove 3 miles out of my way to go to school to get Dunkin Donuts for my Iced Dark Roast Coffee and breakfast sandwich. I brought lunch that day (Chicken Stir Fry and Fried Rice from dinner the night before). After I got out of practice, I went to happy hour at Eureka with my friends and got a turkey burger and a beer (so goooood).

Day 2: I had a banana for breakfast as I was running out the door. For lunch, I grabbed a turkey cranberry sandwich from the restaurant in my office park (third one of the week). For a snack, I had pub cheese and crackers. For dinner, my dad brought home undercooked Little Caesar's pizza (ugh dad, really?).

Day 3: I did not have breakfast because I woke up and washed my car, then rushed to go play some water polo. When I got home, I think I had a quesadilla and then went to coffee with my mom and got a donut. Later, I made some nachos. For dinner, my dad brought home an italian sub (redemption for the night before).

Day 4: My mom made pumpkin bread and I went and got coffee. For lunch, I made the best gouda-sharp cheddar sandwich. For dinner, we had picking food which all revolved around different cheeses. (Probably my favorite day ever).

Day 5: For breakfast, I had a slice of the pumpkin bread my mom had made the day before. At lunch, I made some hot dogs right before leaving to go get coffee before school. My mom made lasagna and chicken sausage for dinner.

Well, the past five days were not the healthiest, but also not the worst I have eaten. I made an effort to eat at home when I could. My major downside that I hate to admit is my coffee addiction. I only drink Dunkin Donuts coffee because it is the best. But in order for me to get my fix, I have to drive six miles round trip, which is a lot. And then I don't even use a reusable cup! I am the worst! But thankfully, in a month or two, they will be opening a Dunkin Donuts that will not take me out of my way at all and will save me so many miles. I need to get a reusable cup so I can keep up my coffee habit. But then again, coffee is a water intensive crop, so maybe I need to reduce my coffee intake too to make this habit more sustainable.

Other than my coffee binging, I don't think that I had an excessively bad weekend. I was more aware of what I was eating and more conscious of what I was eating with and on. I used only one paper plate this weekend, when I usually use a couple a day. That in itself is a victory. Let's not get into my napkin needs, because its bad. I cannot eat anything without a napkin, and of course its a paper napkin. But I feel like I use napkins so well that it's not wasted. If a majority of my napkins were free of food residue, I think I would have a problem. I don't know.

I am a work in progress. I do my best and try to lead from example. Other aspects of my life are more sustainable, like my showering habits. I take 4-6 minute showers everyday. I only take water that I am going to drink. I recycle like crazy. But it is all about finding balance. I cannot force sustainability into my lifestyle, I have to adjust to it. Making the conscious effort is the hardest part. After I do that, it will all seem drastically easier. I don't think that I will continue to track my food, but rather take the extra moment to make better decisions. Tracking is good when you know you're not doing so well. Now that I have done that, I will make a better effort towards reducing my food impact on the world.

Monday, October 10, 2016

BioBlitz: sacking declining biodiversity

National Geographic and the National Park Service are calling a blitz on declining sustainability. In May 2016 during the centennial celebration of the National Park Service, the BioBlitz was introduced. A BioBlitz is a 24-hour event that brings together scientists, children, educators, and members of the community to identify as many species of plants, animals, and other organisms as they possibly can. This past year, BioBlitzes occurred at over one hundred national parks throughout the United States of America. There was an event close to Orange County in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreational Area. 

These BioBlitzes are helpful in getting a sense of what kind of biodiversity there is in the world right outside our door. There are so many species of plants, animals, and other organisms that is almost overwhelming to think about. Even more overwhelming is the fact that many species are in jeopardy of going extinct. When we go outside and identify species, we can gain a better understanding of how small our existence as a species is and how large our impacts is on every other species. Comprehending the biodiversity that is evident in our surroundings is useful in promoting sustainability for various reasons. Many people love animals and plants, so when they find out the shear extent of biodiversity in their regions, they can become more in tune with the preservation of these ecosystems. Also, abundant biodiversity is also helpful in research for medicinal purposes which is also another way that the promotion of bioblitzes helps sustainability. I think as a general rule in my life is that the more you know about your world, the more you care. If people are exposed to the varying levels of biodiversity in their lives, it could help lead them to a path of sustainability that will further increase biodiversity.

In my writing last week, I don't believe I mentioned preserving nature per se. I wrote about respecting the environment as a my way of understanding sustainability. Within being respectful to the environment, there is a large space for preserving nature and promoting biodiversity as well as managing nature in a way that is respectful to the resources and to the future generations that will rely on those resources. Biodiversity is so important in nature because it creates complex and highly productive ecosystems. When you destroy biodiversity, you promote disease, homogeneity, and an extremely unproductive ecosystem. We need to think of biodiversity as a part of sustainability because its more than just keeping the earth beautiful; its about keeping it healthy and productive.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


Respect. My parents taught me the meaning of this word before I even could understand what it was. I have always tried my best to be respectful to others and to myself. As I get older, I have come to realize that its not just people that you need to respect; you need to respect all aspects of life on earth, especially the things that aren't living.

Sustainability is synonymous to respect in my books. Current definitions of sustainability emphasize resourcefulness and equity. When a person, a culture, or a society is sustainable, they are respecting their current resources, they are respecting the needs of their people, and respecting the lives of people who aren't even in existence yet.

The concept of connecting sustainability with respect is easier to write about than it is to put into action. I value the idea of respect very highly, but I definitely continue to struggle with my respect in regards to sustainability. In our society, we have been raised on the idea of consumerism which has created a culture of wastefulness. It's hard to make these sustainable choices when it goes against what you had grown up with. Even though I struggle at times with living sustainability, I believe as I get older that it is getting easier to wrap my head around the changes that I should make in my lifestyle. When I was younger, I remember being taught the three R's and that has stuck with me for most of my life. But no one really told me about how destructive my lifestyle was to others and to the environment. High school was the first time that someone had shed the light on how modern societies ravage the land and exploit people in the process of providing modern comforts and "necessities." After learning about these ideas, that's probably when I really started caring about the idea of sustainability. Learning about the large scale effects of living the way that we do definitely gave me the perspective I needed to understand that all of my actions, no matter how small, affect the world that I live in. That's kind of crazy. As I am getting older and making more of my own choices, this idea is having more substance in my life.

If I were to live my life more sustainably, I would probably be even more broke than I currently am. Living sustainably is more expensive because of the extra care and thought that is being made while producing products and services. As a college student, it's hard to remain on a sustainable track because I don't always have the time to think about what I am doing and I don't have the means to choose the most sustainable product over the cheapest product. But I am starting to realize that I need to start taking more care when I am shopping so that I can start being more sustainable now so that I can make this a habit to keep. The largest obstacle to sustainability in my life is the price of it.

I would like to think that I live according to my sustainability ethic most of the time. There are times when I don't and I definitely acknowledge that. I'm still figuring out what I care about in this life and how I want to live it. I'm on my way to being the person I want to be and I am pretty certain that I want to be a more sustainable person.