Senior Cassidy Thompson recently presented her findings on the fate of rainwater that falls at Georgia College’s West Campus Village as part of her senior capstone for her BA in Geography. Cassidy used aerial imagery from airplanes and drones to acquire detailed spatial elevation data and high-resolution photography. Working with a Geographic Information System (GIS), Cassidy was able to create a virtual-3D model of West Campus so that she could extract surface water flowlines detailing the hundreds of pathways that surface runoff take following a stormwater event.
The detailed elevation data for West Campus was derived from the National Elevation Dataset, provided by the US Geological Survey. The high-resolution aerial imagery was captured by Cassidy and her geography professor, Dr. Mark Rochelo. They flew an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), commonly known as a drone, that collected a couple of hundred color photographs of the facility. Back in the GIS Teaching Lab, Cassidy and Dr. Rochelo ‘stitched’ the photos together using a virtual-3D rendering software called Pix4D to create very detailed images. Inside the GIS software (ESRI ArcGIS Pro), she extracted additional information about ditches, drains, and diversion canals. Cassidy spent a couple of wet afternoons walking around and watching the water run downhill to complete her field work!
The purpose of this investigation is to support the university’s stormwater management plan, and in particular map the portions of West Campus that flow into one of the facility’s stormwater retention ponds. As part of an integrated low-impact development approach, the water is channeled into low, vegetated areas where it can slowly seep into the groundwater and reduce downstream flooding. Cassidy’s project proved that over 80% of the paved surfaces at West Campus, including rooftops, sidewalks, and parking lots, has flow paths that guide the stormwater into a qualified retention structure. The effort will help clean impurities out of the runoff, and will also qualify Georgia College for a substantial reduction in the stormwater management fees we pay to Baldwin County.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the clothing industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions, releasing 1.7 billion tons of CO2 and using 1.5 trillion gallons of water per year, making the clothing industry, particularly fast fashion, a major contributor to pollution in the forms of microplastics and chemical waste (Davis, 2020). This means that the production of clothing, just behind oil and gas, is one of the most carbon intensive industries in the world, as it is heavily reliant on the use of fossil fuels. In response to these alarming statistics, environmentalists have called for a change in the industry’s production methods as well as a shift in the demands of consumers. In order to stay within the IPCC’s goal of remaining under two degrees of global warming, experts suggest that the fashion industry would need to cut its carbon emissions by 80% by the year 2050 (Young and Hagan, 2019); however, current trends suggest that emissions could actually increase by up to 60%.
Clothing retailers who constantly put out new, cheap clothing to keep up with trends in fashion such as Forever 21, H&M, Shein, etc., are typically the culprit for this kind of clothing sale and distribution. These stores have been criticised for their unsustainable practices, as they often also contribute to thousands and thousands of articles of clothes being wasted and thrown into landfills every year. An effective way to avoid contributing to unsustainable fashion is to buy from small sustainable businesses, donating/upcycling old clothes rather than throwing them away, shop secondhand (from places such as Goodwill), or to wear the clothes you already have for as long as you possibly can to eliminate the demand for new clothes to be produced.
Davis, Nicola. “Fast fashion speeding toward environmental disaster, report warns”. The Guardian. April 2020.
According to the United Nations, one in nine people on the planet do not have access to the amount of food needed to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Because of this, more people are estimated to die from hunger every day than malaria, tuberculosis, and AIDS combined. This has become such a large issue globally, that the UN has made hunger and poverty a top priority in constructing their Sustainable Development Goals for the coming decades. Even in America, home to one of the largest global economies, 12% of households are considered food insecure (a number that is only increasing amongst the COVID-19 crisis). One might think that the solution to this problem would simply be to produce more food; however, approximately one third of the food produced worldwide goes to waste, meaning, the amount of food being produced isn’t the driving force behind this issue.
How can these two problems coexist?
Food waste, as defined by the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) is “…food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste by consumers.” However, this differs from food loss. Food loss is considered to be any food products that are unused or thrown away before being purchased by consumers. The majority of food loss occurs during the production stage, mainly due to unmet aesthetic standards set in place by distributors, and are therefore rejected by the supermarkets where food is purchased by consumers. Since a majority of the food we consume in the United States is shipped from other countries and must travel a ways to reach us (even products such as produce that have a limited shelf life), there is also a significant portion of food that spoils during transportation, and is therefore uneaten. This is also considered a form of food loss because it occurs even before reaching the hands of consumers, meaning that the 49 million tons per year that are wasted in individual households is just a fraction of the total food products that actually go to waste.
How does this impact the environment?
Since only about 5% of leftover food products get composted, the vast majority of them end up in landfills, making it the largest source of solid municipal waste in the United States. When these food products begin to decompose, they release a powerful greenhouse gas called methane, which is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. This methane is released into the atmosphere, along with the many metric tons of carbon emissions released during the transportation process, which ultimately add to the greenhouse effect. Food production is also responsible for 25% of freshwater consumption, making it the leading cause of freshwater pollution. So when that food goes uneaten, all of the water used during the lengthy process required to get food from the farm to your dinner table, was used for nothing.
How do we solve this issue?
Food consumption is one of the major aspects of sustainability in which consumers do have choices. The most simple of those choices being to reduce your food waste as much as possible. If there are leftover items in your refrigerator or pantry that you know will go unwanted, donate them to a local soup kitchen or homeless shelter. For spoiled produce, try to find a compost station near your home to avoid sending all of that food to the landfills. Also, farmers markets are a great way to ensure the food you buy is local and in season; these are two important components of reducing the carbon footprint of the food industry.
Below are several links to resources that you may find useful if you are wanting to avoid food waste and reduce your overall carbon footprint:
We Are the Weather by Jonathan Safran Foer is an analysis of how our actions, particularly our dietary choices, directly affect the planet’s climate through a very human lens. Although Foer is a practicing vegetarian, and has been for a while, he delves into how he sometimes still tends to make choices that negatively impact the environment even though he has the knowledge, power, and passion to choose differently. As someone who claims to care very deeply for the natural environment, and has published several books on the subject, he begs the question that is most likely preventing substantial environmental change: Why do people who care so much about the planet still deliberately act against it? Is it the culture we have been brought up in? Is it a matter of socioeconomic privilege and availability, or lack thereof, of knowledge about the issue? Or perhaps do we just not care as much as we claim to? Foer continually makes the argument that while he does do more for the environment than most people, his sporadic mistakes may completely negate the rest of his efforts. I would argue that his additional efforts are in no way dismissable because he, on occasion, consumes beef or other animal byproducts, as one of the main arguments of the entire environmental movement is to decrease, not completely eliminate, consumption of products that are harmful to the planet.
However, revisiting the question of why those who care about the wellbeing of Earth still actively act against it; Foer makes a compelling argument early on in the book, comparing fighting global climate change to fighting a war, “When the planetary crisis matters to us all, it has the quality of a war being fought over there. We are aware of the existential stakes and the urgency, but even when we know that a war for our survival is raging, we don’t feel immersed in it. That distance between awareness and feeling can make it very difficult for even thoughtful and politically engaged people– people who want to act– to act”, (Foer, 13). In the Western world, and America especially I would argue, the general mindset is that all of these looming issues are “over there”, as he puts it. We don’t feel their urgency until they impact us directly on an individual level. Even calling it an environmental crisis makes it seem as though it is nature’s problem, and not mankinds’ problem, which it also is. We have come to accept the increased threats and danger of climate change as simply “the weather” and the taxing means of combating climate change as part of life. An analogy I like to use for climate change is: Think of your house, with everyone you love inside of it. Now think, if there were a bear outside your house, terrorizing you and your loved ones and putting them all in danger, would you spend millions and millions of dollars on ammunition or building a moat, all while still feeding the bear? Or would you use what you already have to get rid of it? There must be a collective effort made by all people to tackle climate change at the source of the issue, rather than spending all of our resources to alleviate the after effects.
This collective effort, Foer argues, is entirely possible, with the help of a few key players. Anytime in the past century that America has entered a war, the country as a whole has garnered all of the support and resources it possibly can to claim victory. So why not implement those same efforts in regards to climate change? Why do we only create big change when it suits the American political agenda? With combined efforts of the government, mass media companies, and citizens alike, America has accomplished great things and we currently have the opportunity to add tackling climate change to that list. Placing a price control on coal, limiting meat intake, regulation on gasoline prices, and carbon tax deals are all solutions with the potential to cure our sick planet, we just have to act. Many view these actions as some kind of sacrifice, but should there come a day when we can tell our children and grandchildren and great-grandchildren how we were able to put our differences, and conveniences, and selfishness aside to save our only true home, as Foer says, “We shall have made no sacrifice at all”.
The primary purpose of the Zero Waste movement is to attempt to eliminate as much waste from your daily routine as possible. The massive amounts of trash that accumulate in landfills and oceans around the world present a variety of environmental issues such as pollution, water and air contamination, ecosystem destructions, and contribution to carbon dioxide emissions. While many people acknowledge that for a variety of reasons it is nearly impossible to prevent no waste, there are many steps one can take to avoid creating unnecessary waste.
Steps to Becoming Zero Waste (EarthEasy Blog)
Refuse what you don’t need. This prevents unwanted items from coming into your home and applies to all those promotional items you’re offered, along with things like junk mail and plastic straws.
Reduce what you do use. This equals less waste overall.
Reuse whatever you can. Can you extend the lifespan of something by mending, handing down, or repairing? Can you buy or sell second-hand? Reusing also means swapping disposable products for reusable ones that can easily be laundered instead of thrown away.
Recycle what you can’t refuse or reduce. Recycling is one way to save resources from ending up in the waste stream and eventually a landfill.
Let everything else decompose. Composting food scraps, paper pieces, and wooden or bamboo toothbrushes returns nutrients and fiber back to the earth.
October 19th-25 is Global Climate Change Week, giving all of us an opportunity to reflect on how the actions of modern society as a whole, as well as our individual actions, impact what scientists call “the biggest threat currently facing our planet”. Nearly every aspect of modern life (from transportation to agriculture to fashion) has a negative impact on the environment to some extent, and it is the goal of the Office of Sustainability to ensure that Georgia College as a campus is doing everything it can to combat the effects of climate change and operate as sustainably as possible.
Despite the amount of pushback from big oil and gas companies as well as select members of the general public, the evidence for human-caused climate change is plentiful and alarming. It is true that the pattern of Earth’s climate changes naturally, and has several times in the past hundred-thousand years or so; however, the current warming trend is unprecedented and, according to scientists, over 95% likely to be the result of human activity beginning in the mid 20th century. The main culprit for this unprecedented rate of warming: carbon dioxide.
Due to a process known as the greenhouse effect, carbon dioxide (among other greenhouse gases) that are released into the air trap heat in Earth’s atmosphere and over time have caused a significant rise in the globe’s general temperatures; specifically a 2.05 degree F increase since the late-19th century. Two degrees may not seem significant, but we have already started to see the impacts of global temperature rise. Melting ice caps, rising sea levels, rising ocean temperatures, ocean acidification, and an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events can all be traced directly back to the overarching issue of global climate change. These resulting environmental issues pose a direct threat to human, animal, and environmental health.
Scientists believe that the effects of climate change are guaranteed to continue through to the end of this century and beyond with no way to completely stop them. However, there are certainly actions we can take to help prevent the worsening of our situation and promote change.
October 16th is World Food Day! Today is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the fundamental flaws within our global, national, and local food systems, as well as reflect on what part we each play as the individuals that make up these systems. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, please check out our last blog post, “The Cost of Inefficient Food Systems”, or choose from the following list that has been put together by the Office of Sustainability.
For the past several decades, climate scientists have warned that agricultural industries must undergo significant changes if we are to avoid catastrophic levels of warming to the planet. The global agricultural industry has a notoriously large carbon footprint and, alongside transportation, is one of the largest emitters of carbon dioxide and other harmful greenhouse gases. In the U.S., agricultural land use accounts for 20% of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions. The amount of freshwater and other resources used to maintain livestock alone has a massive impact on the environment, and when combined with harmful techniques such as slash-and-burn agriculture, deforestation, overgrazing, and the use of chemical fertilizers, this could spell disaster for these areas if more sustainable methods are not introduced. Agriculture is just one facet of the food industry that contributes to global climate change, but nearly every stage of food, whether it be production, transportation, distribution, or consumption, has its own adverse effects on the environment.
Food Loss vs. Food Waste
Food waste, as the US Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) defines it, is “…food discarded by retailers due to color or appearance and plate waste by consumers.” Food loss, however, is considered to be any food products that are unused or thrown away before being purchased by consumers. The majority of food loss occurs during the production stage, mainly because produce items do not meet certain aesthetic standards and are therefore rejected by supermarkets. There is also a significant portion of food that spoils during transportation, and is therefore uneaten. This is also considered a form of food loss because it occurs before reaching the hands of consumers, meaning that the 49 million tons per year that are wasted in individual households is just a fraction of the total food products that actually go to waste.
The Environmental Impact of Uneaten Food
Since only about 5% of leftover food products get composted, the vast majority of them end up in landfills, making it the largest source of solid municipal waste in the United States. When these food products begin to decompose, they release a powerful greenhouse gas called methane, which is 86 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. Food waste is also responsible for 25% of freshwater consumption and is the leading cause of freshwater pollution.
In 2020, the US Senate passed a resolution that officially designated today, October 7th, as Energy Efficiency Day “in celebration of the economic and environmental benefits driven by efficiency”. By proclaiming this day as a national holiday, the major goals of this resolution are to save money, cut pollution, and create jobs by switching the majority of our energy use to renewable sources. As of right now, 29 universities, state, county, and city governments have signed on to participate in this year’s Energy Efficiency Day. It is common knowledge among scientists and environmentalists alike that the burning of fossil fuels for energy use is the largest contributor to climate change. But does it have to be? Many argue not. Economists, climate scientists, and healthcare professionals (among many others) have offered compelling evidence of the benefits of renewable energy.
General Facts about Energy Efficiency
Since 1990, savings from energy efficiency gains have averted the need to build 313 large power plants and has delivered cumulative savings of nearly $790 billion for Americans. (ACEEE)
Efficiency could provide one-third of total expected electricity generation needs by 2030, avoiding the need for an additional 487 large power plants.
Energy efficiency employs 2.25 million people in the US today – more than the number of people who work in the coal, oil, gas, electricity and even renewable energy industries combined. (ACEEE)
Rural households, especially low-income, nonwhite and elderly, spend an average of 40% more of their incomes on energy than their metropolitan counterparts. Energy efficiency upgrades could lessen these energy burdens and save households more than $400 a year. (ACEEE)
Reducing annual electricity use by 15% nationwide would save more than six lives every
day, prevent nearly 30,000 asthma episodes each year, and save Americans up to $20
billion through avoided health harms annually. (ACEEE & Physicians for Social Responsibility)
Bonus Fact: The United States is the second largest consumer of energy.
Energy Efficient Employment in America
One of the most widely-used counter arguments for renewable energy sources is that it will result in significant job losses for those working in the coal, oil, and gas industries. However, studies show that energy efficiency is one of the fastest growing job sectors in the US, employing nearly 2.5 million people. There is substantial projected growth for all areas of industry within the energy-efficiency sector, including manufacturing, construction, and wholesale trade. With the continual advent of renewable technology, there are more and more opportunities for businesses and organizations to provide energy efficient options to consumers as well as become more energy efficient themselves.
While reducing inefficient energy use will require the cooperation of the coal, oil, and gas industries, there are many options for individuals looking to reduce their personal energy use:
Held every October, Campus Sustainability Month is an international celebration of sustainability in higher education. Throughout the month, colleges and universities organize events on campus and elsewhere to engage and inspire incoming students and other campus stakeholders to become sustainability change agents. These events include teach-ins, sustainability pledge drives, zero-energy concerts, waste audits, green sporting events, letter-writing campaigns, service projects and much more!
Each week during the month of October will have a different theme, each focusing on one aspect of sustainability:
October 5-11: Energy Efficiency Week
Topics will include water and air quality, pollution, fossil fuels, and energy efficiency
Energy Efficiency Virtual Roundtable (Register for FREEhere!)
October 12-18: Food Systems Week
Topics will include agriculture, food waste, and food insecurity
October 16: World Food Day
Virtual tour of GC’s Community Garden and Compost Facility
Swipe Out Hunger Meeting
October 19-25: Global Climate Change Week
Topics will include carbon emissions, renewable energy, and green infrastructure
Virtual screening of The Human Element
Showcase of Luma, the Solar Flower
October 26-31: Zero Waste Week
Topics will include recycling, upcycling, compost, and sustainable shopping
Hard to Recycle Items Collection Drive
Virtual Zero Waste Workshop
***All dates for events can be found on the calendar below.
October at a Glance:
If you are interested in participating in any of these events or learning more about the topic of sustainability, please fill out the form below and let us know which events you are interested in and the Office of Sustainability will follow up with more detailed information about each event you select!