TV Talks Temperature: Climate Change and the Media

November 3, 2012 § 2 Comments

The nation is abuzz with talk. It’s pretty apparent that Hurricane Sandy was no ordinary storm. There was clearly some other force at work here. And up until recently, most of the nation would never know.

Climate Change is that unspoken cause. The media avoids it like the plague – at least until now.

The change was almost instant. After Hurricane Sandy hit on Monday night, the “mainstream media,” as some of our right-wing friends might call it, couldn’t avoid the fact any longer. Climate change caused Hurricane Sandy. It caused Irene. It caused the droughts this summer, and the super snow storms last winter. They avoided the topic for years on end. Now, the cat’s out of the bag.

Take this video from MSNBC for instance:

MSNBC Climate Change Coverage

For those of you who don’t know, his first guest was governor Andrew Cuomo, son of the much beloved former governor Mario Cuomo. He’s a pretty serious politician, and he’s not afraid to say something on TV. The tides have turned. It’s ok to talk about climate change now.

Cuomo’s not afraid to make some bold statements either, and I like to believe what he says to be a pretty widespread opinion at this point:

Anyone who says there’s not a dramatic change in weather patterns, I think is denying reality….I said to the President kiddingly the other day, ‘We have a 100-year flood every two years now.’

Let me repeat that. The governor of one of the biggest, most prominent states in the country, just made it clear, on national television, that climate change is real. This is a BIG DEAL.

How will this come to affect the fight against climate change? Only time will tell. My advice, however, is this: If there was ever a time to strike, it’s now. Make a statement. Get the word out. People are listening. People are ready for change.

Let’s go!

 

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The History of Environmentalism: Part Three: Making a Mess (The Industrial Revolution)

July 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

When we last left our planet, the Middle Ages were dawning, and people were crowding closer and closer together. Sure, there were some ups and downs – kingdoms rose and fell, peoples who were once considered barbarians settled down and became the emerging peoples of Europe, and intercontinental trade was once again begun, on a scale like never before. Perhaps the most important change during this period of time, however, was the largest influx of people to cities the world had seen to this point. As you would imagine, when more and more people crowd together, they create more and more waste. But this is just where the problem begins.

The Industrial Revolution, which followed the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, is perhaps the most significant turning point in the history of environmentalism thus far. With the mechanization of the Western world came a whole new set of problems and challenges. First and foremost, what was powering these machines? Coal, and a lot of it. The problem? Coal is dirty. To create the steam needed to run the newly mechanized world, ungodly amounts of coal were ripped from the British landscape, and then from all over Europe, the United States, and eventually from the entire world.

If you think that the environmental impact of mining all of this coal was pretty serious, the environmental impact of burning all of this coal eclipses that by a long shot. A personal favorite anecdote that I’ve always been told about this period of time involves the adaptation of a species of insect which was forced to adapt by becoming black in order to blend in with the soot-covered buildings of London. From coal mines to cities and factories, there was coal dust, soot, smog, and smoke in the air everywhere – by far the most pouted skies in history.

This environmental impact was not the only effect of the industrial revolution – there were plenty of other things that resulted out of the Industrial Revolution, though most of them would end up being detrimental to the environment in the long run. Our consumerist culture, our complete disregard for our world’s air and water supply, a lack of concern for the limits of our natural resources, and the exploration and exploitation of fossil fuels would all play a role later on in history.

Before I wrap this up, let me remind you that the Industrial Revolution wasn’t all bad. The technological advances led to a higher standard of living for the world at large, and created widespread employment and limitless opportunities. Social mobility finally peaked out from it’s hiding place, and the old world order began to decline. Perhaps most importantly, we could never fix the environmental problems of the early industrial revolution without the technologies it helped to create.

Environmental Video of the Week (7/1 -7/7/12) DOUBLE FEATURE

July 7, 2012 § Leave a comment

This week I’m excited to present you with not one, but two insanely awesome environmental videos. Both come from the amazing series, “The Story of Stuff” on YouTube.

The first video is a unique take on the anti-bottled water campaign. Not only does the video cover the dangerous effects of the bottled water industry, it delves into how and why it got to be the way it is, and provides plausible solutions for the problem.

The second video explains something that even I find very difficult to understand, the Cap and Trade system:

 

 

Environmental Video of the Week (6/24 – 6/30/12)

July 1, 2012 § 1 Comment

So, I know this is coming a little late, but this is a video you have to see.

Ever have trouble defining sustainability? I have. Well, this video will clarify things for you almost perfectly.

Check it out:

The History of Environmentalism: Part 2: Lighting the Fire (Early Civilizations – The Middle Ages)

June 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

drought

drought (Photo credit: IRRI Images)

In the beginning, people lived in harmony with the environment. However, following the Neolithic Revolution, agriculture spread and people began to settle down. So began humanity’s conquering of the environment. In particular, the three major issues facing our environment as history turned towards the Middle Ages were the spread of agriculture, the increased use of water, and the creation of unprecedented amounts of waste.

Agriculture Spreads and Grows

Agriculture by definition does not have to be environmentally damaging. However, early techniques, such as slash-and burn agriculture, had severe effects on the environment when done in increasing quantities. Deforestation by any means, as was necessary to create much of the land needed for irrigation, has a wide spectrum of dangers, ranging from the atmospheric to the hydrological, and including a devastation of biodiversity. Irrigation isn’t much better, as the diversion of water severely damages aquatic ecosystems, and destroys soil quality downstream. Continuous farming dries out soil and drains it of it’s life-supporting minerals.

The early farmers soon started to discover that they were causing these problems for themselves. Many of them found new ways to farm that were better for the land. The Iroquois people of the northeastern part of what eventually became the United States used a farming method known as the “Three Sisters,” in which they planted corn, climbing beans, and squash together, allowing them to grow and mutually benefit each other, while keeping the soil fresh. Other civilizations began to rotate their crops, allowing fields a year or so to sit and regain their nutrients, often planting nitrogen-fixing plants like beans to help replenish the soil.

Unfortunately, despite improvements in sustainable agriculture, as the world moved into the early centuries CE, the population of our planet grew at previously unheard of rates. Due to this, sustainable practices often had to be ignored in order to survive, with farmers choosing to produce as much food as possible, without concern for the future. This would not only not improve, but worsen in the centuries to come.

Water Waves Goodbye

Irrigation for increasing amounts of farming already required a ton of water as the centuries rolled on, but agriculture is not the only thing that required water. People need water to survive, and they need it ready on a daily basis, clean, and ready to go. Wells sprung up around the world, drawing gallons upon gallons of water out from underground. Damns diverted water from rivers to reservoirs and cisterns, where water could be stored, to aqueducts, which moved it all around the world, to places it never had reached before. This became a self-perpetuating problem – the more water that you could move in store, the more people who could live on our planet, and therefore more water was needed.

This increase in water usage didn’t necessarily show any negative effects right away. However, like just about every other environmental problem our world has faced, the effects would show up later on in history.

Waste Grows Alongside Cities

So now that agriculture has grown, there’s generally enough food to go around, and water is plentiful as well. New advances in agriculture seem to happen one after another, after another, and it seems that each day another group of people no longer has to farm and can turn to a new specialization, from pottery and basket weaving in the beginning, to skilled metal-smithing and jewelry making later on. Where better to practice your trade, and, more importantly, to sell your wares, than in a city. People flocked to these cities, to work, to sell, and most importantly, to live.

Cities have a unique problem – they’re packed tight. On a farm, you have maybe 10 people living on a farm with a 10 mile radius, while in a city you have no less than 10 to 100 times that (at a minimum) living in the same sized space. Human beings create 3-4 pounds of biological waste each day, not counting any non-human waste they may create. When people were out hunting and gathering, nature took it’s course with the materials, breaking them down, often before any other humans reached the same site. On a farm, there’s plenty of space to take care of the waste, and not too many people producing it. Unfortunately, in a city, that isn’t necessarily the case.

In a city, the problem of what to do with waste became a major problem. With so many people in such a crowded place, that waste begins to take up a lot more space than is necessarily available. As cities develop, and streets are paved, the amount of available space shrinks even more. In other words, humanity was headed down a dangerous path.

Did anything improve as the Middle Ages dawned? Stay tuned to find out!

Environmental Video of the Week (6/17 – 6/23/12)

June 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

For the second time this week, I’m proud to introduce a new weekly series, the Environmental Video of the Week! Each week, I’ll post and review a video related to the environment or sustainability that I found particularly moving, informative, or in this week’s case, just plain fun.

Check it out. This week’s video is “A Beginner’s Guide to Giving a Damn (About Climate Change)” from Live Earth.

So why do I like this video? Well, let’s start with the obvious. It’s just fun! With it’s adorable cartoon-cutout animals, bright colors, humorous dialogue, and hilarious sound effects, it’s hard not to enjoy this video. The video is accessible to people of all ages, intelligences, races, beliefs, etc – making it an all around useful tool for introducing environmental conservation to anyone.

One of the things that particularly struck me about the video is its message. The video exists to promote the same thing I do – to provide small, simple ways to make a huge impact on our environment – in a good way, of course! This message is exactly what the world needs, and for that, I chose to feature this video as my first Video of the Week.

The History of Environmentalism: Part 1: Early Societies

June 17, 2012 § 1 Comment

In the beginning, there was the Earth. Since its formation four and a half billion years ago, it is the unique qualities of our Earth that have allowed life not only to survive, but to thrive. While we may have only just recently begun to understand how this came to be, respect and gratitude for, and reverence of our environment and our Earth are almost as old as humanity itself. Once our earliest ancestors mastered fire, and settled down to begin living an agricultural life, then we see the beginnings of these feelings about the environment. Most of this showed up in similar forms around the world: Religion.

One of the earliest, and perhaps the classic(al) example (sorry, had to) of early environmental awareness comes from the ancient Greeks. One of the most prominent of the Greek gods, Demeter (Romans called her Ceres), was goddess of the harvest, and was

Ceres

Ceres (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

worshiped during each of the important harvest times. Other important gods ruled and controlled the waters, winds, seasons, and everything in between. By praying to these gods, the ancient Greeks were able to express their thankfulness for the gifts of the Earth, but their worship can also be seen as an early yearning to understand the forces at work maintaining our planet.

Other early cultures practiced beliefs that focused on environmental sustainability. Jewish law, which was written and practiced even earlier than the Greeks, had strict agricultural regulations. In order to allow trees to grow properly, for example, their fruits are protected in the first few years and are not to be harvested. Other laws deal with pollution, noise, and smoke, amongst other things. The ethical aspects of Dharma in Hinduism encouraged early humans in the Indus Valley to respect their environment, while Buddhism provided others with an emphasis on balancing human indulgence and destruction with the needs of the environment and others.

As a non-religious example, the practices of indigenous people, from North America to Indonesia and Africa, varied as they may be, tend to have some similar traits. Most significant among these are the beliefs that many of them share in conservation, specifically in living off the land. Most of these societies understood that they had to live with the land – they had to take into consideration the other animals, and even the other plants that they lived with and shared an environment and ecosystem with. These beliefs led to practices that have unfortunately not necessarily continued to our present day, especially the practice of using every part of every thing you take out of the environment. For the Plains Indians of North America, for example, when they killed a buffalo, all of the meat would be taken and either eaten or preserved, the bones would be used to make tools, and the skin and furs would be made into tents or clothing. This practice pervaded almost all early peoples, and varied only by the plants and animals they interacted with.

Unfortunately, as time went on, many of these practices, religious or secular, law of the people or law of the land, faded away. Civilizations in the late centuries BCE and early centuries CE started building  huge cities, leveling forests to build roads, practicing slash-and-burn agriculture, began fishing and hunting en-masse, and most significantly of all, began to experience exponential population growth. How did this change the world of sustainability? Check back next Sunday for part two in this new eight part series on the History of Environmentalism and Sustainability.

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