Book Review: Sustainability Edition!

Title: We Are the Weather

Author: Jonathan Safran Foer

Year Published: 2019

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”. 

Zero Waste Week

What is Zero Waste?

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)

  1. 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.
  2. Reduce what you do use. This equals less waste overall.
    1. 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.
  3. 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. 
  4. Let everything else decompose. Composting food scraps, paper pieces, and wooden or bamboo toothbrushes returns nutrients and fiber back to the earth.

Global Climate Change Week

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.

World Food Day

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. 

MOVIES/VIDEOS

  1. “Wasted!”
  1. “A Place at the Table”
  2. “How to Feed the World”
  3. “Just Eat It”

BOOKS

  1. The Essential Urban Farmer by Novella Carpenter and Willow Rosenthal 
  2. The Urban Food Revolution: Changing the Way We Feed Cities by Peter Ladner
  3. Foodopoly: The Battle Over the Future of Food and Farming in America by Wenonah Hauter
  4. WASTE: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal by Tristram Stuart

The Cost of Inefficient Food Systems

Poor Agricultural Practices

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. 

Sources:

https://www.usda.gov/foodlossandwaste

https://www.rts.com/resources/guides/food-waste-america/

Energy Efficiency Day

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)

Source: AACEE Blog, GENERAL FACTS about Energy Efficiency https://www.energyefficiencyday.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Fast-Facts-about-Energy-Efficiency.pdf 

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:

  1. Start with an Energy Audit.
  1. Start with an Energy Audit.
  2. Unplugging devices not currently in use. This includes chargers, computers, televisions, light fixtures, etc.
  3. Switching to LED lightbulbs.
  4. Use ceiling fans instead of air conditioners.
  5. Turn down your thermostat or water heater to 120 F rather than the standard 140 F.
  6. Replace or clean the air filter in your furnace once a month.
  7. Only do full loads of laundry, and use cold water.
  8. Use Smart Strip Surge Protectors to ensure your appliances aren’t using energy while turned off.
  9. Consider installing a Low-Flow Shower Head.
  10. Use more blankets and sweaters during the winter instead of turning up the thermostat.

Help Georgia College Celebrate Campus Sustainability Month!

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
  • Featured Events: 
    • Energy Efficiency Virtual Roundtable (Register for FREE here!)

October 12-18: Food Systems Week

  • Topics will include agriculture, food waste, and food insecurity
  • Featured Events:
    • 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
  • Featured Events:
    • 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
  • Featured Events:
    • 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!

Campus Sustainability Month Interest Form

Do Your Share for Cleaner Air!

The consequences of poor air quality over long periods of time, for both humans and the rest of the natural environment, are appearing all across the globe. In fact, the effects of poor air quality are so intense in certain areas, the WHO estimates, “… air pollution causes about 2 million premature deaths worldwide per year”. Global warming, photochemical smog, acid rain, and depletion of the ozone layer are only a handful of the side-effects of our globe’s deteriorating air quality. Even in the United States where, for over 5 decades, we have had legislation specifically designed to tackle this issue, the adverse impacts of air pollution are undeniable. 

For instance, the Pacific Northwest region of the United States has had consistently bad air quality for decades. On any given day, this area (including Washington, Oregon, and Northern California), will be ranked “Unhealthy” to “Very Unhealthy” due to the high levels of ground-level ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen dioxide: the five major air pollutants measured by the EPA to gauge an area’s air quality. Current air quality dangers in the Pacific Northwest are fueled by annual wildfires. The smoke from these fires contains copious amounts of gases and fine particles that remain in the air and in the environment long after the fires have been put out. However, natural emitters of these substances are only responsible for a fraction of the pollution in our air. Anthropogenic sources in the United States, and worldwide, are the largest contributing factor to poor air quality.

It is no secret that industrial agriculture is one of the largest contributors to climate change; the production of beef in the United States alone accounts for 3.3 percent of our greenhouse gas emissions, not including any other form of agriculture or the resources it takes to distribute these goods. Significant amounts of pollutants are constantly being released from CAFOs, such as ammonia, hydrogen sulfide, particulate matter, volatile organic compounds, and pesticides, into the surrounding areas. Due to the concentration of these chemicals, farmers and other individuals living in close proximity to agricultural sites are particularly susceptible to the adverse health effects of poor air quality. 

Air Quality Bathroom Fan
How to Improve Indoor Air Quality with Items You Already Own

Although major improvements in air quality will take the cooperation of many big businesses, organizations, and politicians, there are actions we can take on an individual level to improve the quality of our air at home!

Number 1: Make Your Home a No-Smoking Zone!  Cigarettes contain over 4,000 chemicals that have been proven to cause or worsen certain health conditions such as cardiovascular disease, asthma, other respiratory illnesses, and certain cancers. Health experts suggest that eliminating second-hand cigarette smoke is the single most important aspect of keeping the air quality of your home clean.

Number 2: Skip Aerosols and Air-Fresheners Altogether! Using natural essential oils and plant extracts rather than synthetic air fresheners can reduce the amount of chemicals being put into your air. Here is a recipe for a natural air freshener:

“A common way to use essential oils as a way to freshen the air in your home is by following this recipe.

Mix your ingredients together in a spritzer bottle, shake well, then spray away!”

Check out the full article here!

Number 3: Pot a Few Plants! Along with being an aesthetically pleasing part of your home decor, certain plants such as aloe vera, ferns, or spider plants act as living air purifiers by absorbing chemical pollutants put out by synthetic materials many of us use at home. However, if you are a parent or pet-owner, some of these plants may be poisonous if ingested. It is important to do your research to find the plant that is best for your home.

Number 4: Open Your Windows Regularly! Opening your windows and doors every so often will release the stale air that has built up in your home outside, while allowing fresh air in. This can be a great tool for regulating the humidity in your home, which can reduce your chances of getting dust mites and mold build-up.

Number 5: Go Fragrance-Free! Opting for fragrance free or naturally scented products such as perfumes, deodorants, laundry detergents, dish soaps, air fresheners, etc. will reduce the amount of harsh chemicals being put into your home’s air system.

50 Years of the EPA

For five decades, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked diligently to ensure that America’s natural landscapes and resources are handled with the utmost care. Since their inception in 1970, the organization has enforced significant regulations, implemented National Compliance Initiatives, and passed more than 50 laws and executive orders in an effort to create a cleaner and healthier America. 

Quickly following the publishing of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, there was a growing concern among citizens about environmental issues that, up until that point, had gone almost entirely unnoticed. However, when public spaces such as beaches and rivers that were once used as vacation spots for many families started to become overrun with pollutants, there seemed to be a newfound understanding of how directly the health of the environment affects human life. This heightened concern from the public placed pressure on the Nixon administration to take action against the degradation of our natural resources. In his presentation to the House and Senate regarding environmental protection, Nixon proposed stricter air quality standards and guidelines, increased taxes and legislation on the use of polluting chemicals, launching federally-funded research, and a four billion dollar budget for the improvement of water-treatment facilities alone. To tackle these projects (among others), Nixon’s environmental council recommended that all environmental efforts be concentrated under the responsibility of one agency, thus the EPA was born. 

In their relatively short time as an agency, the EPA has made major strides in the fields of environmental health, natural land conservation, resource use, and environmental education. Many of the EPA’s most significant impacts were made during their first few years, including the Clean Air Act (1970), Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), Clean Water Act (1972), and the Ocean Dumping Act (1972). Due to the quick action taken by the EPA, American citizens have largely been able to avoid the damaging health effects of environmental degradation such as cardiac illness, waterborne disease, and lower-respiratory infections that remain prevalent in many other parts of the world. 

Protesters shortly before the passing of the Clean Air Act (1970).

The progress of the EPA has not come without backlash, however. Despite their efforts to improve environmental conditions for everyone, over the years they have received harsh criticism and pushback from opposing political groups. Nevertheless, the EPA has continued to push forward with projects and legislation that act in the best interest of our people and our planet.

References:

https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm

https://www.epa.gov/history/origins-epa

https://www.epa.gov/history/milestones-epa-and-environmental-history

Sustainability Fee Program

According to Section Two of the Sustainability Council’s bylaws, its purpose is to, “…identify and promote actions and initiatives that will enhance sustainability on campus” and to, “…incorporate the practices of sustainability and environmental planning into the short and long-term activities of the university…”. One of the ways the Sustainability Council aims to accomplish these goals is with the advent of the Sustainability Fee Program (SFP), a subset of the Sustainability Council at Georgia College. It consists of four student members, a Director and three Assistant Directors, who focus primarily on determining how the funds collected from each students’ Sustainability Fee will be used to make Georgia College a more sustainable campus by reviewing the grant proposals that are presented throughout the school year. At least once per semester, the Chair of the Sustainability Council will request grant proposal submissions from classes, student organizations on campus, or directly from individual students. Applications for grant proposals may be submitted to green@gcsu.edu. Once applications have been submitted, they are then reviewed by the Director of the SFP for completion and accuracy and given suggestions for improvements that could be made before the final submission. 

Academic Year 2020-2021 Student Members:

Director: Meagan Sullivan: I am a senior Geography major with a minor in Global Health and a certificate in Geographic Information Systems (GIS). As well as being a member of the Sustainability Council, I was also recently hired as the Office of Sustainability’s Community Outreach Intern. I have a special interest in environmental health and how it impacts human health; I believe that moving toward a more environmentally sustainable society is an imperative part of repairing and maintaining the health of our planet and all things that inhabit it. 

Assistant Directors:

Jessica Eleazer: I have a major in psychology, a minor in environmental science, and am pursuing the sustainability certificate. Sustainability can have a great beneficial impact on the world, and can hopefully allow the world to thrive for many more years to come. I volunteer at an animal sanctuary in Good Hope, GA. This has helped me understand the impact animal agriculture has on the world, and how precious all beings’ lives are.

Ally Esmond: Hello!  My name is Ally Esmond.  I am a sophomore Environmental Science major with a minor in Geology and a certificate in Geographic Information Science.  Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing guitar, hanging with friends, and long walks in the rain.  Sustainability to me means finding creative methods to preserve our resources and environment.

Savannah Taylor: I’m a World Languages and Cultures, and Economics double major- my concentration is in Spanish and I love to help tutor students in the language lab. I am also a part of the GCSU Leadership Certificate Program and am pursuing another certificate in Sustainability. I love sustainability because I think it’s something anyone can participate in as it stretches across all disciplines. I work for the Office of Sustainability as the Garden Manager so I’m usually covered in dirt, but I’m always looking to teach students the gardening basics and look forward to getting even more people involved in our campus garden this year!