#EarthDay2020: Biodiversity 101

“Animal conservation” or “conservation” in general, should not be focused on “saving” animals or the earth, it should be deeper than that. It’s about preserving the balance that exists between humans, wildlife, and the earth. In essence, when we are looking at “conservation”, what we are truly looking at is the need and importance of maintaining biodiversity.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling in recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint, lessen your water impact and help the environment. This is done through a series of educational blogs to increase understanding of words like, biodiversity. These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.    #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog  #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In our previous two discussions, we looked at the importance of water, the issues associated with its availability, and small actions that can be done to conserve. But with all this environmental talk and discussions about saving the environment, what exactly does this boil down to. What precisely are we looking to save?

In our water discussion, we briefly mentioned the importance of conserving water to keep plants (this includes our crops like lettuce or cotton) and aquatic life alive. When the word “conservation” comes into mind, some may be quick to think about “animal conservation.” Others may think of the work that many ecologists, zoologists, and environmentalists have dedicated their lives to doing. But “animal conservation” or “conservation” in general, should not be focused on “saving” animals or the earth, it should be more profound than that. It’s about preserving the balance that exists between humans, wildlife, and the earth. In essence, when we are looking at “conservation,” whether it be for water, plants, or animals, what we are truly looking at is the need and importance of maintaining biodiversity.

"It is a range of biodiversity that we must care for - the whole thing - rather than just one or two stars" Attenborough
Source: Rare (@Rare_org on Twitter)
What is Biodiversity?

Biodiversity, or more specifically, biological diversity, is “the variety of life on Earth at all its levels, from genes to ecosystems, and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life.” Now, I know this definition may seem like a mouthful to process and understand; however, it’s all-encompassing of the depth that comes with the true meaning of “biodiversity.”

Let’s break down this definition and understand each component:
  1. “The variety of life of Earth at all its levels”: This phrase can be referring to one of many ways we see the environment in “levels,” and most likely refers to the trophic levels. Trophic levels are a bit like the “hierarchy” of living things, most often represented as a “food chain”. Energy flows from one trophic level to the next in the form of food. The energy begins with plants converting the sun’s energy into the food they need to survive.

Here we see the “hierarchy” of the trophic levels. At the bottom, there are “producers,” or we can simply say plants or any organisms that can perform photosynthesis (using the sun to make its food from carbon dioxide and oxygen). Above the producers, there are “primary consumers,” which are simply animals that eat plants or photosynthetic organisms, all herbivores (animals that only eat plants) are primary consumers. Now, all the levels above “primary consumers” are carnivores (they consume other animals). However, they are carnivores that have different predation pressures.

Consequently, secondary consumers are more likely to be prey than tertiary consumers. We can assume the same pattern with tertiary and quaternary consumers. For example, a lizard is a secondary consumer. The lizard is more likely to be prey than the eagle that preys on it. Most quaternary consumers are what we call apex predators. They often do not have predators, other than man.

2. “from genes to ecosystems”: This phrase refers to the aspects of life encompassing biological diversity. These components can be as small as the “genes” or as large as “ecosystems.” Both either makeup life or hold life.

We’ve probably seen the super intense scenes in criminal shows where they reveal the blood sample matches the suspect’s DNA, and then the case is solved. From these criminal shows, we come to have a basic understanding of DNA; it is what makes us unique or different from one another. Although this is not entirely the case, the general idea is accurate (there continues to be a scientific discussion on what regions of DNA makes us unique, but this topic is not the purpose of this blog). This idea of DNA becomes very important when we look at genes because DNA is a string of genes. Genes, along with DNA, are what makeup life.

Biodiversity is based in genetics
Source: InSourceDX

It is for this very reason that when looking at biodiversity, even the smallest aspect of life, such as genes, is considered. Genes, DNA, and other genetic components are units of life that make living things unique from one other; it is the central reason as to why there is such diversity among ecosystems. While we’ve come to understand what makes up life, we need to recognize what holds life. Ecosystems are the bigger picture when looking at biological diversity. An ecosystem includes a collection of different organisms, whether it be plants, animals, or even microorganisms (such as bacteria) that interact with one another, along with their physical environment. Recall the above discussion about trophic levels, the different organisms at each level interacting with one another is what forms an ecosystem. The more genetically diverse these organisms are, the more stable the ecosystem.

3. “and can encompass the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes that sustain life”: At long last, we’ve come to the final section of our definition. Here we are looking at the different processes that help “sustain life”: the evolutionary, ecological, and cultural processes.

– The evolutionary process examines how organisms have changed over time. There are different ways we can explore evolution, but what’s important here is that we can discuss these “changes”. Looking at the changes allows us to better how our environment is different from that of the past.

– The ecological process includes a variety of things that occur in the environment. These occurrences include the water cycle, the carbon cycle, photosynthesis by plants, etc. These processes, in combination, form the interactions between non-living (such as water) and living things (animals, humans, plants). The interplay between living and nonliving is crucial in maintaining a healthy ecosystem.

– The cultural process takes into account the interaction humans have with their environment. As surprising as it may seem, humans are very much a component in biological diversity. Interactions, such as water usage, agriculture, and deforestation (cutting down trees for the use of its wood) impact the environment. These interactions are a part of human culture and directly link to customs and commerce. The cultural aspect of the different processes mentioned above emphasizes the many ways humans interact with their environment.

Now that we understand biodiversity or biological diversity, we’ve come to learn what we are trying to conserve. However, we still need to know why.

We’ll discuss the why in our next blog!

This article was written by Carla Salas, who has been working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling. Carla is a current college student attending her last year at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in Chemistry, along with a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate about providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills.  The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief for all communities to be able to access the resources needed for a healthy life.  “La aqua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia”  “Both water and food are sacred and should never be despised (disdained)” 

 FOLLOW CARLA: Instagram: environmental.lawtina Tik Tok: @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina
FOLLOW CARLA: Instagram: environmental.lawtina Tik Tok: @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina

Previous Articles on Water:

#EarthDay2020: Water 101

#EarthDay2020: Water & Us

#EarthDay2020: Water & Us

Exploring where, and why our water is being used and who is using it. Explaining the need for water conservation, with family friendly ways you can help.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint, lessen your water impact and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.   #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

Before we begin our conversation about water conservation, be aware of our current water crisis by exploring our previous article, Water Scarcity, and the need for Water Conservation.

In our previous article, we discussed the need for water conservation as a means to tackle social and economic issues. However, we must address the critical conversation about who, where, and why our water is being used.

Asking the Right Questions

The U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.C) compiles data every five years and categorizes water use. In the most recent study (2015), the two most significant areas of water use were for thermoelectric power and irrigation (remember irrigation is not all-encompassing of agriculture). Now that we are 2020, a new U.S. Geological Survey (U.S.G.C) should be underway. Hopefully, we have made some improvements in water conservation.

Figure 1.0 (Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2015) This chart summarizes the total withdrawals of water and their use by states. The green (irrigation), and yellow (thermoelectric energy) make up the largest portion of bars throughout the table.
Figure 1.0 (Source: U.S. Geological Survey, 2015) This chart summarizes the total withdrawals of water and their use by states. The green (irrigation), and yellow (thermoelectric energy) make up the largest portion of bars throughout the table.

In principle, it seems that allocating our water use for thermoelectric energy (a renewable type of energy) and irrigation may not appear as a “waste.” Still, the weighing issue is not mainly “why,” but rather “who” is using the water and “where” the water is going.

Let’s take a closer look at Figure 1.0, and focus on Arizona as an example (since this is where we are). If we look at the divisions of color, we see that green dominates a majority of Arizona’s water withdrawals. As shown, a majority of Arizona’s water source is withdrawn for irrigation since green represents irrigation (be sure to see the Figure’s key). But why exactly is this such an issue?

Irrigating the Desert

To see the issue and flaw of Arizona’s water allocation, first, we need to recognize what Arizona is, a desert. As a desert, Arizona naturally faces water scarcity, and periods of intense heat, which inevitably cause water loss due to evaporation. Arizona is the second-largest producer of lettuce and spinach, which in warmer seasons, requires more water. Arizona is also growing in cattle farming for milk production. At face value, it seems illogical to allow Arizona to be such an intensive agricultural state. Still, it is one because of the economic opportunities it provides for many in rural areas. Be that as it may, Arizona can remain an intensive agricultural state for desert-adapted crops. Discussions regarding the plants being grown in Arizona are now apparent as the crisis of the Colorado River water shortages become more evident. A crop that Arizona is suggesting in transitioning is agave. This native desert plant is the main ingredient in the production of tequila. It can potentially be useful in producing fiber and or bio-fuel, which opens an entire market of economic opportunities for rural areas growing lettuce, spinach, and raising cattle.

Water and Us

Another issue with water use is human behavior. The domestic water use in the United States is disproportionate to water availability. To explain, let’s take a look at Figure 2.0 below. 

Figure 2.0 (Source: Taken from the EPA website). This map summarizes the domestic use of water (gallons of water per day per person). Bear in mind the percentages of population growth, this will be important for our discussion later.
Figure 2.0 (Source: Taken from the EPA website). This map summarizes the domestic use of water (gallons of water per day per person). Bear in mind the percentages of population growth, this will be important for our discussion later.

In Figure 2.0, let’s focus on Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Compared to the rest of the states, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona are among the highest in percent population growth, coincidentally they have some of the highest domestic water use (indicated by their blue pigmentation, please refer to the key in Figure 2.0). To add on, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona all share the Colorado River and have similar “desert-like” environments, which make them naturally dry. The disproportionate relationship between domestic water use and water availability emphasizes the need for behavioral changes. However, this is not always an easy task to handle, but we must highlight the benefits of conserving water.

Conservation for the Future

Water conservation is essential. As discussed in our previous article, there are many social and economic issues linked to water. But more importantly, we need to prepare for future drought. By conserving water, we are ensuring that water is available for future generations to come.

Source: The Balance Small Business 
Why It's Important to Conserve Water
Source: The Balance Small Business
What you can do

Here are some things you can do to conserve water (be sure to share and tell others!). In addition to those below, The Salt River Project’s Water Use it Wisely website is a great place to start. The site has tips and resources, including watering guides and xeriscape plant guides. Also, there are 101 listed ways to conserve water that are simple to accomplish. Most are easy changes to your everyday life. This website is kid-friendly and has a “Kids and Teachers” tab at the top with fun learning activities and games.

Source: R.F.Ohl 
Conserving Water at Home
Source: R.F.Ohl

This article was written by Carla Salas who has been working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling. Carla is a current college student attending her last year at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in Chemistry, along with a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate about providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills.  The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief for all communities to be able to access the resources needed for a healthy life.  “La aqua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia”  “Both water and food are sacred and should never be despised (disdained)” 

 FOLLOW CARLA: Instagram: environmental.lawtina Tik Tok: @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina
FOLLOW CARLA: Instagram: environmental.lawtina Tik Tok: @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina

Previous Article: https://aceewaste.com/2020/03/22/water-101/

#EarthDay2020: Water 101

Water is perhaps one of the most essential components for life. In the face of climate change and a growing population, water availability has become one of the biggest issues facing many communities around the world.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint, lessen your water impact and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

Water Scarcity and the need for Conservation

Water is perhaps one of the essential components of life. It provides humans, wildlife, and plants the ability to prosper. In essence, it provides a balance between resources and those who use said resources. It is vital for many reasons. First, plants use water to make food through the process of photosynthesis. Second, it holds the aquatic life we consume (fish and seaweed). Lastly, all life requires it to maintain the many chemical processes that sustain us. It is so essential that a human can only 2-3 days without fresh water. The earth’s ability to survive is heavily dependent on water availability, without it, there can be no plants, there can be no wildlife, and there can be no human life.

The Blue Planet

Water makes up a large portion of the earth’s surface (71%). However, a majority is not readily available for drinking or commercial purposes.

Of the 71% of Earth’s Water:

  • 96% is in oceans (not readily usable for agriculture or drinking)
  • 3% is freshwater
  • 2.5% of fresh water is unavailable (trapped in glaciers, ice caps)
  • ~ 0.5% of fresh water is available 
    • 0.62% of available freshwater is in groundwater
    • 0.009% of available freshwater is in lakes
    • 0.0001 % available freshwater is in rivers

When put into perspective, the available water appropriate for agriculture and drinking (called potable) is only a small fraction of the earth’s total water. In the face of climate change and a growing population, water availability has become one of the most significant issues facing many communities around the world. Such impacts of climate change include increased drought (decreases availability) and increased flooding (decreases clean water availability due to contamination).

Colorado River Compact

Here in the U.S., water availability has been an issue in Western states such as California, Arizona, Nevada, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, and New Mexico, all of which share the Colorado River as one of their primary sources of water. As a result, some of these areas have experienced drought and increased costs. California, for instance, suffered a drought lasting from December 27, 2011- March 5, 2019, a total of eight years. In the eight years, “the most intense period of drought occurred the week of July 29, 2014, where D4 [the most severe type of drought] affected 58.41% of California land” (Drought in California, 2019).

The struggle with access to the Colorado River’s water has not only caused economic and social issues within these states but has significantly impacted a more vulnerable community: Native Americans. Although the original Colorado River Compact recognized the Native American’s water rights, nothing was “on the books” until a 1963 Supreme Court decision. This decision quantified federal reserved rights of the five Native American reservations along the lower Colorado River. The Native American Reservations included in the 1963 Supreme Court (Arizona v. California) were the Chemehuevi, Cocopah, Colorado River, Fort Mohave and Quechan (Fort Yuma). However, this Supreme Court decision did not completely remedy the many issues on water availability that are still apparent in Native American communities/reservations. The reason there was no remedy is because this is STILL going through the courts.

Water as a Right

Seeing the impact of climate change on water availability in real-time poses the need and urgency to tackle issues of conservation. Conservation is crucial to ensuring water availability for communities in need around the world (such as the many Native American communities/reservation in the U.S. mentioned above). In 2019, the United Nations (UN) launched “Leaving no one behind” as a part of their 2019 World Water Development Report. This initiative obliges countries to work towards universal access to everyone, without discrimination. It also prioritizes those most sensitive to lack of availability and vulnerable to resource scarcity. As previously mentioned by the UN in previous years, access and sanitation are considered human rights. The UN identifies different components of access and sanitation as a human right:

  • Availability of water and sanitation
  • Physical accessibility of water and sanitation
  • Affordability
  • Quality and safety
  • Acceptability (by societal norms or culture of different areas)
World Water Day March 22, 2020

Using the framework already outlined by the UN, these components become part of conversations about conservation. These conservations can help improve the well-being of vulnerable communities here in the U.S. This can be a step forward into tackling the global issue of water scarcity and availability.

As we come closer to Earth Day (04/22/2020), let us take a moment and celebrate a common resource needed and shared by all on March 22, 2020 which marks World Water Day.

Our next segment will go over conservation, specifically on what’s been done in the U.S., and what can be done.

This article was written by Carla Salas who has been working with ACE Recycling in conjunction with her schooling. Carla is a current college student attending her last year at Grand Canyon University. She is majoring in Environmental Science with a focus in Chemistry, along with a minor in Pre-Law. Her future goals include getting a Master’s/P.h.D in Environmental Science along with going to law school to eventually become an environmental lawyer to fight and advocate for environmental justice for vulnerable communities. As a member of the Latinx and Hispanic culture and as a bilingual Chicana/Mexican-American community member, she is passionate about providing equal access to environmental education and justice through her bilingual skills.  The proverb below summarizes her passion for environmental justice and her belief for all communities to be able to access the resources needed for a healthy life. “La aqua y la comida es sagrada y nunca se desprecia”  “Both water and food are sacred and should never be despised (disdained)” 

FOLLOW CARLA: Instagram: environmental.lawtina Tik Tok: @carla.salas37 or Enviro.lawtina

Check out our series on Carbon!

#EarthDay2020: Your Carbon Footprint

Reducing our carbon footprint should a be goal for every household, for the environmental benefits, but also because it is generally a healthier lifestyle.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

Before we discuss ways to decrease our carbon footprints, we need to understand what carbon is and what a carbon footprint is.  Most are aware that carbon is an element found on the periodic table of elements, and some are aware that life is carbon-based.  It is essential to understand there are complex systems at work.  For an overview of these systems, read the first article in this series.  That will give you background and context for this article. 

Recently, carbon has come front and center as we engage in a worldwide conversation about the effect carbon is having on our climate, and consequently, humans as a whole.  The second article of this series discusses this in more detail.  It is in this context that the phrase carbon footprint has become part of our vocabulary.  When talking about a carbon footprint, footprint refers to what is left behind by an individual, precisely how much carbon that an individual is releasing directly or indirectly through everyday activities. 

It is crucial to understand that humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, when we alter one thing, it will change something else, and those alterations will affect all life on earth.  Likewise, your choices ripple out to affect humans halfway around the world.  Reducing our carbon footprint should be a goal for every household, for the environmental benefits, but also because it is generally a healthier lifestyle. 

Your Carbon Footprint

Your carbon footprint is essentially the carbon that you have pulled out of storage and put back into circulation.  Most of us think of driving a car when we think of putting carbon into the atmosphere, but there are far less obvious ways we do this.  For example, when you eat a quarter-pound hamburger, you are pulling 14.6 gallons of water out of the system, using 13.5 pounds of feed and producing 4 pounds of greenhouse gases. How many quarter-pound hamburgers have you eaten in the last year?  We tend to disconnect from the process of production.  This detachment blinds us to the resources that we are using. 

To calculate your actual carbon footprint, you have to include these hidden emitters of carbon dioxide. There are many carbon footprint calculators on the web.  We recommend the Footprint Calculator put out by the Global Footprint Network.  This calculator allows you to “add detail for accuracy” for some of the categories, make sure you do that.  In the end, it will give you not only your carbon footprint but many other stats.  It will tell you your Earth Share.  This number represents how many Earth’s there would need to be to sustain your lifestyle.  It tells you your ecological and carbon footprints and breaks down your consumption by category. 

What's your carbon footprint?  Comment with your score and pledge to change one thing to help lower it!
The average ecological footprint per country in 2018.
The average ecological footprint per country in 2018.
Ways to Reduce your Carbon Footprint
Reducing Energy Usage

First, let’s deal with the distinct ways to decreases our carbon footprint: reduce our use of electricity.  Here in Phoenix, this is challenging, with temperatures in the summer hitting 115 degrees in the shade.  There are ways to reduce the need for the energy-sucking air conditioner, though.

1. CREATE SHADE.   Close your blinds and plant trees that will block south and west-facing windows.  Plantlife reduces the ambient temperature by several degrees and has the added benefit of pulling carbon out of the atmosphere.  It will also cut down on noise and pollution coming from cars on the road.  Several native species are low maintenance, low water, and fast-growing. 

2. INVEST IN A SMART THERMOSTAT like the Nest.  The Nest “learns” your temperature preferences and will automatically adjust for optimal energy use when you aren’t home.  It will also give you a report on the amount of energy used, allowing you to see your peak use times and adjust.

3. UNPLUG AND ADJUST! When appliances are not in use, unplug them.  Adjust high energy usage for the night.  If your TV is off, it is still drawing power (is there a light on?  That takes energy!).  For those appliances that are used every once in a while, unplug them.  Program your pool pump to come on when the sun has gone down, and it won’t have to draw as much power. Use the dishwasher, washer and dryer, and other high energy appliances at night and sparingly.   

4. INVEST IN SOLAR.  Seriously, do it!  We went solar, and we will never go back.  We have a 3,000 square foot house that was designed poorly for energy savings.  The main living area is two stories, and both thermostats are out in this cavernous space.  During the summer, the upstairs bedrooms were like iceboxes because the air was continually running.  Aside from being illogical, it was expensive for us, and the planet.  We invested in solar panels and got the Nest thermostat.  For nine months out of the year, the electricity company owes us money. When we do have to pay, our bills are $300.00 – $400.00 less than they were. 

Reducing Carbon, Increasing Health and Community

Next, let’s look at all the ways you can reduce your carbon footprint that are less obvious.  The first three are focused on food.  The production of consumption and disposal of food is one of the most significant contributors to climate change.  The problem, however, is that many Americans aren’t hearing or talking about their food’s carbon footprint. More than half of those surveyed, in a survey conducted in concert with Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication, the study, titled Climate Change and the American Diet, resoundingly reported the willingness among Americans to eat less meat.  Most have rarely heard about the environmental impact of food in the media. And nearly two-thirds said they rarely talked about how their diet affects climate change. That same number said nobody has ever asked them to eat more plant-based foods.

 https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food  This graph shows the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted at each stage of food production.  Beef is the highest emitter of greenhouse gasses, with crops being lowest.
https://ourworldindata.org/environmental-impacts-of-food This graph shows the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted at each stage of food production. Beef is the highest emitter of greenhouse gasses, with crops being lowest.

A surplus of food is a relatively new phenomenon that many older Americans will have seen throughout their lifetime.  We eat and waste more food than ever.  With more people in the middle class, families have more spending money and less time. This lifestyle shift started in the 80s and has spiraled into “supersized” fries, drinks, and humans, resulting in a tremendous rise in diabetes and heart disease.   Our health is at risk, as much as the planet is. About half of American adults have one or more diet-related chronic diseases such as heart diseasehigh blood pressuretype 2 diabetes, and certain cancers, the report states. More and more evidence shows that the kinds of food we eat have a worsening effect on our gut health and immune system, which play significant roles in protecting our overall health. Researchers say that changing the way we eat could help prevent us from getting sick sooner — or later — in life. 

1. EAT LESS MEAT, especially red meat.  We are the only society on Earth that feels we need to eat meat every day.  As mentioned above, the amount of resources that go into producing that meat is intensive.  EarthDay.org is running a campaign focused on food.  It is called Foodprints for Future, and it highlights ways our food choices impact the planet.  One simple thing you can do to reduce your foodprint is to make it a point to have one or two vegetarian meals a week.  My children love this because I make them pancakes for dinner.  It turns out, pancakes are one thing they will all eat (parents you know this is worth its weight in gold!), and it is meatless.  Win, win.  Red meat is not good for us.  It is full of fat that raises cholesterol.  Heart disease is the number one killer in this country, primarily due to our diets, including so much red meat.   

2. REDUCE FOOD WASTE.  When food decays, it releases methane, a potent greenhouse gas.  I have three small children; food waste is prevalent in our house.  You don’t know how many times they want something, and as soon as it in front of them, they no longer “like” it or “want” it.  The struggle is real. To reduce food waste, commit to making less food, and reducing portion size.  In the US, portion sizes are out of control and affecting our health.  According to research, Portion sizes began to grow in the 1970s, rose sharply in the 1980s, and have continued in parallel with increasing body weights.   We need to remember that an abundance of food is a privilege that we squarely take advantage of when we throw away food. The fact is food insecurity is an issue worldwide, including here in the US.  The USDA defines “food insecurity” as the lack of access, at times, to enough food for all household members. In 2017, an estimated 15 million households were food insecure.  According to ActionAgainstHunger.org, around the world, more than 780 million people live in extreme poverty on less than $1.90 per person per day, an amount which is impossible to support a healthy livelihood in any part of the world. 

3. GROW FOOD.  The processes of harvesting, packaging, and shipping food all produce carbon.  Also, part of the equation is your trip to the store to buy it all.  Gardening is a fun family activity.  We have a garden and grow food from the seed.  My children love this time with their dad playing in the dirt.  We compost and use the soil to produce some very hardy plants, even in the desert. 

4. BUY LESS. Everything you buy is manufactured, shipped, and packaged.  All of that releases carbon, but also creates waste—instead, swap clothes, jewelry, etc. with your sister, friends, etc.  My mom and I frequently swap jewelry and outfits to change up our wardrobe.  Have a garage sale or donate to local charities, homeless, or woman’s shelters.  Buy from an electronics recycling facility like ACE.  Buying local helps strengthen your local economy and reduces carbon by cutting out the shipping and, often, manufacturing.  But most importantly, it gets you out in your community. 

https://www.statista.com/chart/15143/percieved-food-waste/   The US is the highest producer of food waste.
https://www.statista.com/chart/15143/percieved-food-waste/ The US is the highest producer of food waste.
Call to Action

Historical evidence tells us that 21-25% of a population needs to change their behavior to enact significant system-level changes.  67% of US adults believe the US government is not doing enough to reduce the effects of global climate change.  It is clear that while we can lean on our government, individual behavior changes are more critical. Individuals can make a difference; they have throughout history.  The present is not an exception to this truth. These behavioral changes influence our neighbors, children, family, and friends.  They, in turn, affect their neighbors, children, family, and friends.  A ripple starts that cannot be stopped and spreads in ways we cannot imagine.  Soon these ripples touch governmental policy and law, and before we know it, we have joined together to affect real institutional change that all started with simple choices. You can create significant impacts with small decisions you make.  The ripples we begin ultimately are what we leave behind when we are gone.   

PREVIOUS ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES:

#EarthDay2020: Carbon 101

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Us

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Our Electronics

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Our Electronics

For the next installment of ACE Recycling’s #EarthDay2020 blog series we are changing it up with a video. This video focuses on Carbon and Our Electronics. It explores the carbon footprint of producing, using and disposing of electronic devices.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.   #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the third installment of ACE Recycling’s #EarthDay2020 blog series, we will look at Carbon & Our Electronics. As explained in the first two articles of this series, everything has a carbon footprint. The electronic devices we use daily are not an exception to this. Carbon is released through the mining of the raw material to make the components for our electronics. Less obvious is the release of carbon through the manufacturing process & transporting the equipment and using it. Toxic chemicals leach into the environment through the improper disposal of the device. The video explains the #SmallChanges you can make for #BigImpacts on the carbon footprint of your electronics.

Other Articles in this Series

Carbon 101 – In the first article of this series we look at the carbon system as a whole.

Carbon & Us – In the second article of this series we look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole. We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other. This article explores some of those big impacts.

Up Next

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.

#EarthDay2020: Carbon & Us

In the second article of this series we will look how carbon is affecting humans as a whole. We have always had a big impact on Earth and each other. This article explores some of those big impacts.

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the second article of this series, we will look at how carbon is affecting humans as a whole.  For a general rundown on carbon, read Carbon 101, the first article in this series.   

It is a scientific fact that the climate is changing at an unprecedented pace caused by human activities, in the same way, that it is a scientific fact that a pencil will fall to the floor when dropped.  Now we need to band together to innovate and create a solution.  This common problem solving is uniquely human and one of the most potent forces on Earth.  We have created civilizations from dirt, flying machines from metal forged in fire, and the internet.  We have always had a significant impact on Earth and each other.  This article explores some of those significant impacts. 

Knowledge is Power

These impacts come from choices made by you and I, but ripple out to affect humans halfway around the world.  How do your preferences have that far of a reach?  Because nothing exists in a vacuum, that is to say, that everything affects everything else.  It is essential to understand that humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, when we alter one thing, it will change something else, and those alterations will affect all life on Earth.  Being a former teacher and general science nerd, I believe knowledge is power, and understanding is the first step to making conscious, deliberate choices in our everyday lives to decrease our impact.  Our decisions, from the car we drive to the meat we eat, affect everything else because we are part of this big, beautiful system we call Earth.       

Climate Change is Happening Now

According to the 10 New Insights in Climate Science, “The pace of contemporary rise in greenhouse gas concentrations is unprecedented in the climate history over the past 66 million years.”A warming Earth alters more than just baseline temperatures.  A warmer climate changes the water cycle, (increased temperature causes evaporation) and is shifting biomes northward.  We are actively, in real-time, seeing life on Earth adapt to this ever-warming climate.  Migration patterns, mating seasons, harvest cycles, and many other season-linked activities are changing or have changed.  Life is adjusting and adapting as it has done for millions of years. Humans are too, but most do not see the connection between climate change and societal issues.  Immigration, war due to drought and famine (Arab Spring), increased energy prices, higher food costs, and more intense and far-reaching diseases, are all direct consequences of climate change. 

As the temperature increases, evaporation increases, consequently putting more water into the air to act as a greenhouse gas, which in turn, further warms Earth.  This phenomenon is called a feedback loop, and in “normal” circumstances, this feedback loop creates and maintains the conditions needed for life to exist.  However, it can “runaway” and compound itself to the point that it will wildly swing in one direction and become irreversible. More frequent and more powerful storms in some regions and extreme drought in others are a direct effect of the altered water cycle. Both of these scenarios displace populations and change food production leading to immigration and higher food costs, respectively.  Conservative estimates on the average number of people pushed into poverty each year due to flooding and drought are 26 million.  Estimates show that 180 million people will be displaced by 2100 as a result of altered weather patterns

RCraig09 [CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]

Events once considered unlikely or rare (in terms of intensity and frequency) are becoming part of our “new normal.”  The impacts of this new standard will affect all sectors of society and include increased food prices due to crop failure, health impacts from the outbreak of water-borne disease or heatwaves, and infrastructure damage from storms.  All of this will cost us, both in monetary terms, but also in terms of human health and life. The changing Jet Stream is an example of this.  “The jet stream – a fast-moving band of air 11 km [7 miles] up in the atmosphere – is increasingly showing signs of unusual behavior…”. It is shifting hot air circulation Northward around the globe, leading to hot African air reaching northward to France and Germany.  Changing weather patterns will ultimately affect the economy of these regions, modifying what can be grown.  For France, this is especially pertinent, considering they are synonymous with vineyards.  

https://electroverse.net/multiple-all-time-low-temperature-records-fall-in-minnesota-the-changing-jet-stream/
Protecting the Most Vulnerable

In these early days of climate change, the populations most affected are the world’s most vulnerable. Estimates show that poor communities are 8-32 times more sensitive to the risks of climate change.  This reason alone could be the reason that the developed world is so slow to accept that the climate is changing.  It is, after all, our lifestyles that are causing the most negative changes to the environment, but it is not us that are being negatively affected by that lifestyle. Yet. 

Climate change is already affecting food production by reducing agricultural yields.  Increasing concentrations of carbon in the atmosphere decreases the nutritional value of food.  In the Western world, there is a disconnect from the source of our food. Additionally, we employ technology to fortify food with vitamins and minerals.  But what we must remember is, we are the exception. Most of the world are growing their food without the help of such technologies and catching food from nature.  Most of the world meets its nutritional needs through rice and fish. 

Climate and Food

The oceans are taking on the brunt of the access heat on Earth.  As ocean temperatures rise, fish yields decline.  The global availability of protein could fall by 4.1%, iron by 2.8%, and zinc by 2.5% at carbon concentrations expected by 2050.  A lack of nutritious food could affect the nutrient status of 600 million people.  With reductions in productivity due to climate change and the rising food costs associated with it, many countries will be in economic and social crises.  As climate change intensifies, an estimated 100 million could fall below the poverty line by 2030 and 3 billion by 2050.  It will be the wealthy developed nations that are called upon to assist with the humanitarian crisis that climate change causes. 

https://ccafs.cgiar.org/blog/climate-change-and-farming-what-you-need-know-about-ipcc-report#.Xjx8zWhKg2x
Money, Money, Money

Quite frankly, we should be the ones called upon to help those affected.  The US is the second highest producer of carbon emissions, second only to China.  In an ever-competitive environment, this will only get worse.  It is the need for the latest, greatest thing that fuels production and waste.  SUVs (which are a squarely American invention) were the second most crucial cause for increased global emissions in the energy sector (after power) between 2010 and 2018.  Global emissions have increased by 35% in 5 years, and overall oil and natural gas use has increased every year, despite growing awareness of the consequences. 

Why?  Money, which ultimately leads to power.  Four out of the five top fossil fuel investors are US based, and four out of the five top coal investors are Chinese.  Since the Paris Agreement was adopted (and unadopted by the US), 33 global banks have invested $1.9 trillion in fossil fuel companies.  Another reason that we continue to emit carbon even though it is clear we shouldn’t be is straightforward: change is scary.  This great country was built, literally, on coal.  It is part of the American identity, and it feels as though we are betraying it when we walk away from it.  The most important reason why we continue to rely on carbon-based fuel is because we, the people of America and ultimately, the world, have not demanded that we do not.  We have checked out and stepped back. 

Looking at it Another Way

What if, instead of seeing reducing our carbon output as an attack on our way of life, we saw opportunity?  Instead, look at it as an opportunity to be healthier, more community based, and less obsessed with material things.  Use this time to re-evaluate what is important and “cut the fat.”  This modern time calls for harnessing the most important human behavior – collective problem-solving. Humans excel at working together to innovate and create positive, sweeping change. I find that thrilling.  It boils down to this: the species that will be most uncomfortable, most affected, most desperate as the climate changes will be humans.  Life will go on without us, just as it has for millions of years.  We are not the most important of the species. That idea is a subjective, human-made concept that has no basis in biological or ecological reality; we are just another life form on the planet. 

The question is, how much do we care about our survival?  Not you as an individual, but for us as a species. I see my fellow human beings as my tribe.  If I can make a small change that will have a significant impact on them, I am willing to do it.  More importantly, if I can leave my children a better, healthier planet, I absolutely will because I am a mother, and the drive to give my children “better” is innate and visceral. Everything affects everything, so I am sending out a positive ripple that I hope is felt for years to come. After all, the ripples we start are ultimately our legacy after we are gone.

NOTE: For the first article in this series click here

COMING UP NEXT:

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.

#EarthDay2020: Carbon 101

This blog is part of a series of blogs from ACE Recycling In recognition of the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day.  This series focuses on changes you can make to decrease your carbon footprint and help the environment.  These changes are intended to be user-friendly.  Being environmentally responsible has the added benefit of being healthier and more cost-effective.  The goal is to create fun and engaging activities for the whole family.  Simple changes to our everyday lives have big impacts on our health and the health of our planet.  #EarthDay2020 #EarthRise2020 #ActsofGreen #ACERecyclingBlog #SmallChangesBigImpacts

In the first article of this series, we will look at the carbon system as a whole.  This system is complex, and though I will attempt to simplify it, I suggest you use this article as a jumping-off point to research more. There are sources within the article that are worth looking at for more in-depth information. 

Quintessential to understanding Earth’s cycles is the fact that nothing exists in a vacuum. That is to say that everything affects everything else.  It is impossible to alter the amount or composition of one thing without altering something else in some way.  It is imperative to understand that humans are a part of the system and are subject to the laws of nature.  Therefore, human activities affect all life on Earth. When we alter the path of a river, burn fuel, cut down a tree, or build a road, there are consequences.

The key to balance is understanding those consequences, good or bad, in the context of the “Big Picture.” Being a former teacher and general science nerd, I believe knowledge is power. To that end, understanding the “Big Picture” is the first step to making conscious, deliberate choices in our everyday lives to decrease our impact.  In the words of Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon we can use to change the world.” Understanding that our choices, from the car we drive to the meat we eat, affect everything else because we are part of this big, beautiful system we call Earth is the first step to creating balance.    

Carbon as a Greenhouse Gas

Earth is a closed system, much like a snow globe.  Our atmosphere acts like a shield, protecting us from harmful radiation, regulating our temperature, and holding in essential things, like oxygen and water.  The only thing that can come and go, and must for life to exist, is energy in the form of light and heat (think the sun).  However, certain compounds capture heat and hold onto it, keeping it from escaping into space.  This heat becomes trapped on Earth (hence the greenhouse analogy).  We call these compounds greenhouse gases. 

Water vapor (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and ozone (O3) are greenhouse gases. By burning fossil fuels (oil, natural gas, coal), humans are pulling carbon out of long-term storage and putting it back into circulation. There it can capture heat that would have otherwise escaped. You put carbon into the atmosphere every time you start your car or turn on a light.  

Ultimately, through natural processes, this carbon would have been released, though probably slowly over a long time.  It is the pace at which we are releasing it that is shifting the system so drastically. In terms of the history of Earth, humans have been pulling massive amounts of carbon out of Earth very fast. In that short time, a lot has changed, which is causing alarm.  The warming trend over the last 50 years (about 0.13° C or 0.23° F per decade) is nearly twice that for the previous 100 years.  But even more alarming is that we don’t know the complex consequences of this drastic shift in atmospheric carbon concentration.  Science takes time, and quite frankly, all this is happening too fast for us to get a good grip.  It would be prudent to slow down our carbon output until we fully understand the consequences of our actions.  

Natural Pathways

The elements on and within Earth exist in finite (limited) quantities.  While the amount of any given element will remain the same, they can change form. These changes occur as a result of chemical reactions, temperature, or pressure. Elements combine through chemical reactions to form various compounds, including water and minerals. Regardless of their form, they are trapped on Earth, in the ground, water, atmosphere, or living things.  These materials move through the environment, interacting with each other, and responding to change in predictable pathways.  For example, we understand that if the water is heated up, it will evaporate and enter the atmosphere. Once cool, it will fall as rain or snow.  We call these pathways biogeochemical cycles.  Remember learning about the water cycle in school?  That is water’s biogeochemical cycle.   

The diagram shows the pathway water will take as it reacts to temperature and pressure changes on Earth. Along its path it will interact with other chemicals. https://i.pinimg.com/originals/b3/8c/74/b38c74dfe446bc3fcd4fa2fdc9f3ca6a.png

Generically, elements can be stored, or they can be in circulation.  In storage, they are removed from the cycle and are not available to interact with other features in the system, although they are still subject to temperature and pressure changes. In circulation, elements are actively interacting with the environment and each other.  Usually, storage takes place because the material becomes trapped in Earth’s crust.  We call these materials minerals and find them valuable for many reasons.  An element in the atmosphere or (generally) water, is considered in circulation and becomes part of the billions of chemical reactions that take place on Earth every day.  Life stores elements, but on a shorter time scale than if they were underground. When the living thing dies, the elements it stores are released back into the environment and the cycle.

Natural Change, by Natural Forces

Throughout Earth’s history, different elements have been more or less prevalent in circulation versus storage.  There was a time when carbon, in the form of carbon dioxide, was more prevalent in the atmosphere then it is today, and oxygen was scarce.  (Curious how scientists find out what atmospheric conditions were like millions of years ago?)  Plants evolved in this carbon dioxide-rich environment and began pulling carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and into their cells.  There, carbon converts the sun’s energy into a form of energy (glucose) the plant could use to power itself.  A waste product of this chemical process is oxygen (lucky for us).  Photosynthesis forever changed the atmosphere by pulling from the atmosphere and pumping oxygen into the air. Consequently, the chemical make-up of the atmosphere changed. Because everything affects everything else, this chemical change resulted in a difference in the climate.

The chemical composition of our atmosphere is dynamic due to natural processes. These processes include volcanic eruptions, decomposition, changes in Earth’s tilt, and fires caused by lightning.  In most cases, these shifts in atmospheric chemical composition are small and therefore have minor effects. But after what we would consider a catastrophic event, things change in an instant and have significant consequences. When change occurs slowly, life has time to adapt and adjust.  When change happens quickly, as it is now, life cannot keep up with the changes and extinctions occur.  The most known example of this is the dinosaurs. After a catastrophic meteor strike, coupled with intense volcanic activity, 76% of all dinosaur species just ceased to exist. However, there have been five major mass extinctions in Earth’s history, all of which were a direct result of drastic changes in climate caused by a catastrophic event.

Long-Term Carbon Storage in Fossils

Analysis of the geochemical record held in Earth’s crust shows us past atmospheric conditions.  Studying the past, allows us to determine what will happen if a particular chemical is more or less prevalent in circulation.  Historically, when carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere are high, temperatures are high. When the dinosaurs roamed Earth, there was a lot of volcanic activity releasing massive amounts of carbon dioxide.  At that time, there was no ice at the poles as there is now, and average ocean temperatures were 95 degrees.  It was a tropical paradise on the coasts, complete with tree-sized ferns, but in-land, there were massive barren deserts.

It is during this time that the coal, natural gas, and oil we use today formed.  Large plants and small photosynthesizing algae pulled in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to create their energy.  With the carbon locked in their cells, they died and were fossilized.  Today we call those dead organisms fossil fuels. We dig them up and burn them to release the energy they hold and generate power.  As a result, the carbon they have been storing underground for 65 million years is released and put back into circulation.  This artificial (human-made) carbon release at a pace that is unprecedented and will lead to unique challenges for life on Earth.  This event is equivalent to a meteor strike – huge changes in a small amount of time that are resulting in mass extinction (yes, we are currently in a mass extinction). 

The yellow line represents atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in parts per million for the past 800,000 years. The 2013 annual average concentration is the dashed line. The peaks and valleys in carbon dioxide levels follow the coming and going of ice ages (low CO2) and warmer interglacials (higher CO2). Graph by NOAA Climate.gov, based on EPICA Dome C data (Lüthi, D., et al., 2008) provided by NOAA NCDC Paleoclimatology Program. https://www.climate.gov/news-features/understanding-climate/2013-state-climate-carbon-dioxide-tops-400-ppm
The Most Powerful Force

It is a scientific fact that the climate is changing at an unprecedented pace and that it is caused by human activities, in the same way, that it is a scientific fact that a pencil will fall to the floor when dropped.  The scientific foundation on which climate change sits is the same foundation that medicine is grounded. Science simply puts into words what occurs in the natural world, by gathering evidence and analyzing the data embedded in that evidence.

It is an undeniable truth that humans have always had significant impacts on Earth and, therefore, life on Earth. We have continuously and drastically altered the environment around us. We have done this by damming rivers, building cities in swamps (Washington DC), flattening mountains and cutting down vegetation. Many of those impacts have resulted in positive consequences, but some have adverse effects. Usually, the negative consequences are a direct result of our vast population (7.7 billion humans and counting).

We need to band together to innovate and create a solution that has resounding positive consequences.  This common problem solving is uniquely human and one of the most potent forces on Earth.  We have created civilizations from dirt, flying machines from metal forged in fire, and the internet. The key is a focus on creating more of the positive consequences while acknowledging the adverse effects. For any of this to happen, humans must recognize our direct connection to the cycles on Earth. We must first understand that we are a part of these cycles, not the master of them or some force standing on the outside. The key to balance is understanding the “Big Picture,” in which we are a part of the whole. Science helps us place the small things into the context of the big picture by defining our role within the processes on Earth.

COMING UP NEXT IN THIS SERIES:

Carbon & Us: A look at the current impact of carbon on humans

Your Carbon Footprint: A look at what a carbon footprint is and how to calculate and reduce yours in fun, family-friendly ways.