Sunday, May 17, 2020

Studying the World of 2020

"Wood Duck at Sunset" by Jan Barry 

Ramapo College of New Jersey has taken an innovative approach to teaching about global climate change. Last fall, the liberal arts college in Mahwah, NJ directed all incoming students to take a course in World Sustainability. So it was that I began teaching one of several classrooms full of newcomers an expanded course that previously was provided to a smaller cohort of students majoring in environmental studies.

This development came about because student leaders requested that every student have an opportunity to learn about what’s happening in today’s world. As one of my Fall 2019 students noted in the course evaluation, this class “gave me a better understanding of the things that are harming the world and the sustainability issues in different parts of the world.”

Having previously taught Environmental Writing for nearly a decade after retiring as a news reporter, I jauntily told the Spring semester class in January that this global topic was a stretch for me so we were going to be learning about world sustainability together.

Midway through the semester, the conornavirus pandemic hit our part of the world and classes did not resume on campus after spring break. Abruptly, students and professors across New Jersey and much of the United States were thrown into learning how to live, study and communicate online, via email and unfamiliar conference programs such as Zoom.

We were suddenly immersed in the midst of a global crisis that was all too real, not futuristic like climate change. Some students and family members got sick with the mysterious virus. The mounting number of hospitalizations and deaths in New Jersey, New York City and across the United States relentlessly shot higher and higher. In the midst of stay-at-home orders, medical quarantines, cautious expeditions to food stores, jobs and medical appointments, finding out what was happening in our own communities, let alone around the world, became a challenge. 

Here's a selection of perceptive, often amazing essays by students in our Spring 2020 World Sustainability class.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Sustainability Issues in Australia

By Nicole Kenyon

I often find it extremely difficult to take into consideration issues that are going on in other parts of the world, because in my mind I feel that it doesn’t affect me. I was lucky enough to be able to take this class and look at things from a completely different perspective. In this paper I will be discussing a couple of major issues going on in Australia.

There is sometimes this nagging feeling that I should be doing things to help this environment even if some of the more awful things will occur when I am no longer on this earth; it doesn’t mean it won’t affect my niece and the people I love and care about.  

When conducting my research, it was very apparent that there is a huge threat to the Great Barrier Reef in Australia. The Reef is under extreme threat due to climate change, poor water quality from land-based run-off and impacts from fishing.

“Climate change impacts on coral reefs are predicted to worsen and critically affect the survival of coral reefs globally without the strongest possible climate change mitigation.” (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority) In February 2020, the temperatures were the highest ever recorded since the 1900’s. “A pale or lightly bleached coral typically regains its color within a few weeks or months and survives.”  (ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies) If the temperatures continue to rise the coral is not going to be able to survive.

Working from Sydney, Australia, Terry Hughes surveyed the Great Barrier Reef multiple times within the past 9 years, and every year the reef is becoming more and more damaged. “The mass bleaching indicates that corals are under intense stress from the waters around them, which have been growing increasingly hotter.” (New York Times)

The world’s oceans absorb about 93% of the heat trapped by the greenhouse gases that humans release into the atmosphere and has been affecting not only the Great Barrier Reef. The stress on the corals from the ever-so hot summers make it difficult for them to survive. “The ripple effect could be significant. Hundreds of people get their protein primarily from reef fish like the coral trout, which is already being affected by the bleaching events on the Great Barrier Reef. Many scientists worry that the loss of that food supply could become a humanitarian crisis.” (New York Times)

The coral started to show signs of being affected in January, the same time that Australia’s bush-fire crisis reached its peak. “Scientists had warned 20 years ago that coral reefs would be at risk if humans did not address climate change.” (New York Times)

“New research suggest recent record-breaking heat in southeastern Australia is linked to the climate change.” (Science News for Students) Research shows that human-caused climate change is going to cause at least 30 percent more fires. The fires that occurred in Australia have not only affected the people living there but also the animals. I came across many photos while doing my research of animals dead because of these fires. An intense heat wave in the region is more likely now than it was in the 1900’s. Research shows that summers in Australia have been lasting longer and longer each month. “The year 2019 was Australia’s hottest and driest since modern recordkeeping began in 1910.” (Science News)

The fires in Australia have killed more than 30 people, destroyed nearly 6,000 structures, and wiped out hundreds of millions of animals. “More than 1 billion mammals, birds, and reptiles nationwide – some of them found nowhere else on the earth – may have been affected or killed by the fires sweeping across Australia according to a University of Sydney estimate.” (The Washington Post)

It was eye opening to me to see how devastating these fires were, and research shows that these fires are caused by climate change. It does not matter if some animals survived because their habitat has been wiped away and they will end up dying.

After conducting my research, I found it interesting to see how all three of these topics relate to one another. Climate change and environmental issues mostly caused by humans have been affecting our world for many years. Research shows that scientists predicted the threats to the Great Barrier Reef 20 years ago, and still nothing has really been done about it. The climate change is affecting the temperatures as well, resulting in hotter and longer summers, which then result in wildfires. Animals have been in in danger of extinction, and if the climate continues the way it is, the world and people living it will suffer extreme consequences.


ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies. (2020). Retrieved from

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. (2020). Retrieved from
New York Times. (2020). Retrieved from
Science News. (2020). Retrieved from
Science News for Students. (2020). Retrieved from
The Washington Post. (2020). Retrieved from

Global Crisis of Plastics Pollution

By Nicole Conroy

Sea life has been threatened by the use of disposable plastic for years. The plastic that has been discarded into the ocean has killed and harmed many sea creatures. There are over 5 million plastics in the world’s ocean that continues to increase with time. These plastics are harming, not only the sea life, but humans’ drinking water as well. 

The amount of plastic in the oceans are polluting our drinking water we put in water bottles, not giving us enough of the clean water we need. The effect of plastic is becoming a long-term problem; however, taking small steps makes a major difference, and the steps benefit not only sea life, but human health as well. Due to the fact that we eat some of these sea creatures that ingest these plastics and are unable to digest them, we now find ourselves consuming these plastics, harming our own health.

Plastic has negative effects on sea life and long-lasting consequences. Martins Ifijeh, the author of “Rising Threat to Marine Life,” which summarizes experts’ presentations at a Science Journalism Workshop in South Africa in 2017, provides detail on how problematic plastic is becoming. The amount of plastic in the oceans is alarming and increasing. A large number of marine mammals are lost every year. Some mammals are lost due to swallowing these plastic objects that they cannot break down in their digestive track. Other creatures are lost due to being strangled or developing a growth deformity from this consumption of plastic. Ifijeh writes:

‘The United Nation's [Environmental Program] believes there are over 5.25 million plastics in the world's ocean, weighing about 268,940 tones. A volume it said has led to over one million marine mammals being lost every year across the globe, with some either being entangled in plastic debris, leading to strangulation or growth deformity, or are killed due to the chemical breakdown in such plastics which they perhaps swallowed. They say the lifespan of these litters like plastic bags may be between 200 to 400 years, well outlasting the lifespan of aquatic habitats that often mistake them for food, hence causing blockage in their digestive systems, leading eventually to death. A plastic bottle is thought to take at least 450 years to fully break down.”

The amount of plastic that is already in our ocean and continues to expand shows how polluted our water is becoming. The death of marine life from this man-made product is an immense amount and is still growing each day.

Society can initiate small steps to start making a difference, not only to save sea life, but to improve human health as well. The author states that creating 100 percent recyclable plastic will prevent most of this problem. Adding screens over storm drains will catch litter and prevent the debris from going into the waters. This author also claims that these precautions will not only benefit the sea-life, but also the health of humans overall:

“The Algalita Marine Research Foundation suggests creating a 100 per cent recyclable and compostable grocery list, choosing paper, glass, or bio-plastic, and petitioning local councils to install screens over storm drains to help keep them free of debris. Reducing, reusing, and recycling, are ultimately considered to be the most important and effective catch-cries when taking a proactive approach towards protecting valuable sea-life, and in turn this care will also contribute to the health of humans' own future generations.”

 I agree with the idea of making 100 percent reusable plastic to prevent a great deal of harmful debris. As effective as the screen over the storm drain may seem, we must think about the new challenges created by the screen.  The trash screened from the drain can be used as fertilizer and once the screen is replaced it can be recycled.  The idea that this strategy will improve human health overall can appeal to all readers and interest them in improving their health and their children’s health, as well as the health of sea-life.  For example, because the water will be less polluted, humans can provide less toxic water for their children and themselves.

Changing the way plastic is made can just be the start to overcoming this problem to save sea life and human health as well. The idea of fixing this problem may not be easy, but will benefit the world over all. 

Work Cited

"Rising Threat to Marine Life." This Day, Oct 02 2017, ProQuest. Web. 9 Oct. 2019.

My Experience Living Through a Pandemic

By Eddie Hayes

The coronavirus or COVID-19 has truly taken the world by storm. In what seemed like overnight, the world went from business as usual to instantly going into full lockdown. This has been an extremely confusing time and everyone’s lives seem to have been to a degree turned upside down. I know for a fact that my life has been completely different ever since this virus started to gain worldwide attention.

New rules and restrictions have been placed on businesses and most public places throughout the country. We all are also tightly following the new social distancing guidelines, as this helps to stop the spread of the virus. If you go to the grocery store you will see basically everyone wearing masks to protect themselves and others, in an effort to lessen the risk of spreading the virus. Many places have now even made it mandatory for you to wear masks if you wish to enter. You also see numerous people either losing their jobs, or having their small businesses going under, because they are no longer getting enough business to stay afloat.

New Jersey has experienced some of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the country. Governor Phil Murphy in March had declared a public health emergency. He has recently extended that order for another 30 days. “These declarations, unless extended, expire after 30 days. We’re still in a public health emergency,” Murphy said. 

The current number of cases in New Jersey has recently surpassed 130,000 and the death toll is around 8,500. Fortunately, the numbers in the state have finally started going down so that is some good news to hold onto. 
One major aspect of my life that has been completely altered is my social life, just like everyone else. For the time being, I can no longer casually go out and hang out with one of my friends. It has been months since people have been able to interact with each other regularly. I try my best to go outside and enjoy the nice weather when I can, while being careful not to get too close to anyone, and bringing a mask if necessary.

The whole country and even the world has gone into a full blown quarantine in order to reduce the spread. Another huge change has been school. All of our classes have been transferred to online, as we cannot currently go on campus and be in a classroom setting. Overall, my workload has been the same and I have no complaints about the online classes; however, I do know some people who the transition has not been as seamless for and they are struggling with the new style of learning. Also, my family has been trying to limit the amount that we go out as much as possible. Both of my parents wear masks when they are at work and when we go grocery shopping we make sure to be as safe as possible.
Reducing the spread is not only important to keep us all safe, but it is also important to slow down the infection rate so that we do not overwhelm hospitals. This is frequently referred to as flattening the curve. Although the coronavirus is still a serious threat and not to be taken lightly, the nationwide efforts to reduce the spread and the nationwide quarantine have definitely worked and have made the situation a lot better than it could have been if we had not heeded the advice of the professionals.

No one is positive when the world will go back to normal, as we all eagerly wait for breaking news of a new miracle vaccine that would thrust us back to our daily lives. Realistically, it will most likely still take some time until things can go back to the way they used to be. This event has been very significant and it will definitely take a while for people to get back to normal. There may be parts of our society that never truly go back to how they were before.

Overall, this pandemic has been truly life changing and has changed nearly every aspect of life. Things from our social life, the economy, to the healthcare system have all felt the wrath of this virus. Overall, the news on this situation has been getting better, which is reassuring and we can only hope that it is sooner than later until we can get back to our regular lives.

Work Cited

Coronavirus in New Zealand

By Sophie White

During this extremely difficult and trying time it is often very hard to see past what is happening to us as Americans. We have indeed been hit so hard during this pandemic but we are not the only ones. Countries all over the world are either still being affected or are trying to come back from all the tragedy. New Zealand, like us, endured a state of lockdown. However, New Zealand was a lot quicker at combating coronavirus than we were in the beginning.

 Making the decision as to when to lift the lockdown is a drastic one. All factors have to be weighed before deciding. In New Zealand, some restrictions are being lifted. 

“‘We are opening up the economy, but we're not opening up people's social lives,’ [Prime Minister] Ardern said at the daily government briefing” (BBCNews). Some nonessential businesses will start to reopen to ease into reopening the whole economy. However the social distancing rules are still going to be in place. “Most people will still be required to remain at home at all times and avoid all social interactions” (BBCNews). 

The hope is to avoid a major economic lapse. “A leading economist says the Government has a ‘massive fiscal repair job’ on its hands as it tackles the biggest economic recession of our lifetime thanks to the coronavirus pandemic”(NewsHub).

No matter what is done though, the country’s economy is going to suffer greatly. New Zealand has a great deal of time before things are somewhat normal again.

However, the sense of normal we as humans knew for so long is not what we will be getting back right away. "Day follows night, just as night follows day. At some stage we will come round the corner and come out the other side - but I think this is a big reset. There's going to be some structural adjustments that go on here," the economist said (NewsHub). As much as they hope to go back to the ways things were, it is just not possible after all that New Zealand has experienced. Social distancing is going to be around for a while in order to prevent another spike in the outbreak.

New Zealand is on the path to recovery so far. According to the Guardian, “New Zealand has recorded its first day of no new cases of Covid-19 since a stringent national lockdown began more than one month ago” So as of now, things are on the brighter side for New Zealand, in terms of containing the coronavirus. However, they cannot just let everyone back out because there is a big risk of the number of cases going back up. “‘We are still wanting to be sure that there is no undetected community transmission,’” New Zealand’s director-general of health said (TheGuardian). But the rules are definitely a lot looser now.

Because New Zealand was on top of the corona outbreak from the start they had fewer cases than some countries. “There have been 1,487 confirmed and probable cases of Covid-19 in New Zealand, with 86% of them now recovered. Seven people are in the hospital. Twenty people have died of the virus; no additional deaths were reported on Monday” (TheGuardian).

The coronavirus has done damage in a number of countries all over the world, and in many it is still going on. New Zealand is doing their best to control it and protect human lives. They locked down the country, similar to many other countries, in order to contain the outbreak. And like these countries their economy is in great danger. New Zealand has a long road of getting better ahead of them, as people and an economy. People who were affected more greatly such as losing a loved one and those who lost their jobs have so much healing and coping to deal with. Hopefully New Zealand can make a full recovery soon.

Works Cited

Burrows, Matt. “Economist's Warning to New Zealand: Coronavirus to Bring Biggest
Recession of Our Lifetime.” Newshub, 1 Apr. 2020,

“Coronavirus: New Zealand Claims No Community Cases as Lockdown Eases.” BBC
News, BBC, 27 Apr. 2020,

“New Zealand Records First Day with No New Covid-19 Cases since before Lockdown.”
The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 4 May 2020,

Crises in the Congo

By Patrick Gardner

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is located in Central Africa, North of Angola, and West of Tanzania.  It is the single most biodiverse country in Africa, home to over 10,000 species (Congo Rainforest).  The northern part of the country is covered with 1.55 million square kilometers of equatorial rainforest, more than half of Africa’s forest, centered around the Congo River (UNEP Study).  The country also contains a wealth of minerals and precious metals, in particular in the Katanga region, on the southern border of the country (Britannica).

The Democratic Republic of the Congo is suffering from a multitude of environmental and public health crises, all of which are exacerbated by economic problems, and a repressive government.

Of the 10,000 species mentioned earlier, 190 are classified as threatened, endangered, or critically endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (UNEP Study).  Deforestation has increased in the last few years, with the DRC losing the 2nd largest area of tropical primary forest in the world in 2018 (Bergen).  This has not only reduced the habitat of many tropical species, reduction of tropical primary forests have adversely impacted the climate in the region.  Loss of rainforest has resulted in reduced rainfall, which has the potential to harm small-scale rain-fed agriculture, a practice common in the DRC (UNEP Study). 

Another problem is the prevalence of unregulated hunting, with up to 1.7 million tonnes of bush meat being harvested per year (UNEP Study).  Unregulated mining, by as many as 2,000,000 people, is causing significant environmental damage (UNEP Study). This includes erosion and leachate from mine tailings, and more worrisome, the release of approximately 15 tonnes of mercury annually, as losses from the process of gold refining.  Overfishing in the Congo River is yet another problem, as the river is one of the primary sources of food for millions of people, resulting in localized overfishing around population centers (UNEP Study).

Civil unrest has been a nearly continuous problem in the DRC since its independence from Belgium in 1960, making it more difficult to address any of the other problems the country faces.  The country has struggled to enact political elections, with voter suppression being fairly commonplace, with more than one million Congolese unable to vote in 2019 (Roth).  In addition, use of force to repress dissent is a frequent occurrence, with mass arrests, and occasional lethal shootings of protesters by state security forces (Roth).  Other, independent armed groups are also profuse, with more than 140 such groups operating in the North Kivu and South Kivu provinces alone (Roth).  The UN Human Rights Council has been attempting to maintain some form of order in the country, holding trials against militia leaders and members of the Congolese security force, but has faced resistance, with two UN investigators murdered in 2017 (Roth).

The DRC is among the poorest countries in the world, with 72% of the population living on less than $2.00 per day (Overview).  The country has been hit hard by drops in commodity prices, as its only properly functional industry, the mining of copper and cobalt, have seen drops in value (Overview).  The main problems are lack of access to clean water, with only 43% of households having access to drinking water, and healthcare, with only 20% of households having access to proper sanitation, and 43% of children in the DRC being undernourished.

The Democratic Republic of the Congo has chronically suffered from outbreaks of deadly pathogens, such as TB, Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and Ebola (Neglected Tropical Diseases).  In particular, the DRC saw a massive Measles outbreak in 2019, with 310,000 suspected cases, and nearly 5,000 deaths, coinciding with the second deadliest documented Ebola outbreak  (DR Congo Measles).  This was eventually blunted by a massive vaccination campaign, with over 18 million people vaccinated in the last five months of the year. 

As of April 22, COVID-19 has yet to cause too much damage to the country, with only 350 cases reported (Gigova).  However, this may change, as other public health crises, such as the outbreaks mentioned before, have taxed the country’s already lackluster healthcare system to the limit (Gigova).  This was already the case before COVID-19, as the large response to the 2019 Ebola outbreak drew resources away from the Measles outbreak, a contributing factor to why it was as bad as it was (Gigova).

Works Cited

“'Deadly Environment' plus 'Political and Social' Obstacles Hinder Ebola Fight in DR Congo, Security Council Hears | | UN News.” United Nations, United Nations, 24 July 2019,
Bergen, Molly. Congo Basin Deforestation Threatens Food and Water Supplies Throughout Africa. World Resources Institute, 13 Sept. 2019,
“Congo Rainforest and Basin.” WWF, World Wildlife Fund,
“DR Congo Measles: More than 6,000 Dead in World's Worst Outbreak.” BBC News, BBC, 8 Jan. 2020,
Gigova, Radina. “DRC Is Fighting Several Killer Diseases, Including Covid-19.” CNN, Cable News Network, 22 Apr. 2020,
“Neglected Tropical Diseases.” World Health Organization, World Health Organization, 2016,
“Overview.” World Bank,
Roth, Kenneth. “World Report 2019: Rights Trends in Democratic Republic of Congo.” Human Rights Watch, 17 Jan. 2019,
The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Msiri.” Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Encyclop√¶dia Britannica, Inc., 16 Dec. 2019,
“UNEP Study Confirms DR Congo's Potential as Environmental Powerhouse but Warns of Critical Threats.” UN Environment, 7 Aug. 2017,

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Coronavirus Global Crisis

By Chris Kaplan

Over the years, life has been going and changing in its various ways. From natural disasters, to unfortunate attacks, to diseases that spread worldwide. This is how life goes on. With all of these unfortunate experiences comes a great outcome where people can learn a thing or two. Today, we have a huge global crisis going on. This coronavirus has many people in tears and in hospital ventilators. It is truly a traumatic experience. 

This all started in a city known as Wuhan, China. Unfortunately, people think this virus is just another virus. What people don’t know is that it is a sign from above. Our Lord and Savior is watching from above and He sees everyone contributing to this endless sin. He came down to earth and took upon a 100% human form to finish the scriptures that were written around eight hundred years before. He died on the cross for us so that he can pay for our sins, but the time has come where everyone is getting out of control. 

This coronavirus originated in China. This was because the Chinese people believed that it was okay to eat exotic animals such as bats, rats, snakes, etc. It is known to be a delicacy to the Chinese when they eat these animals. If you are wealthy you can eat such animals. What these people don’t understand is that they are harming themselves and others around them from these stupid choices. 

According to The Atlantic, three months ago, no one knew that Covid-19 existed. Now the virus has spread to almost every country, infecting at least 446,000 people whom we know about, and many more whom we do not. It has crashed economies and broken health-care systems, filled hospitals and emptied public spaces. It has separated people from their workplaces and their friends. It has disrupted modern society on a scale that most living people have never witnessed. Soon, most everyone in the United States will know someone who has been infected. Like World War II or the 9/11 attacks, this pandemic has already imprinted itself upon the nation’s psyche. 

Having fallen behind, it will be difficult—but not impossible—for the United States to catch up. To an extent, the near-term future is set because COVID-19 is a slow and long illness. People who were infected several days ago will only start showing symptoms now, even if they isolated themselves. Some of those people will enter intensive-care units. 

As of last weekend, the nation had 17,000 confirmed cases, but the actual number was probably somewhere between 60,000 and 200,000. Numbers are now starting to rise exponentially: As of Wednesday morning, the official case count was 54,000, and the actual case count is unknown. Health care officials are already seeing worrying signs: dwindling equipment, growing numbers of patients, and doctors and nurses who are themselves becoming infected.

Italy and Spain offer grim warnings about the future. Hospitals are out of room, supplies, and staff. Unable to treat or save everyone, doctors have been forced to think the unthinkable: rationing care to patients who are most likely to survive, while letting others die. The U.S. has fewer hospital beds per capita than Italy. A study released by a team at Imperial College London concluded that if the pandemic is left unchecked, those beds will all be full by late April. By the end of June, for every available critical-care bed, there will be roughly 15 COVID-19 patients in need of one. By the end of the summer, the pandemic will have directly killed 2.2 million Americans, notwithstanding those who will indirectly die as hospitals are unable to care for the usual slew of heart attacks, strokes, and car accidents. This is the worst-case scenario. To avert it, four things need to happen—and quickly.

There are four things that we can do as a global community to prevent these things. We should take care of third world countries as a start, next, everyone should try to be decently clean at all times, also people should try to help the less fortunate to prevent tragic incidents, and lastly, we should all come together as a whole, one human race to strive to be the best we can be. 

All in all, these countries and their people are all struggling to survive due to this pandemic. It is truly saddening to see people lose their lives to a virus started by uncivilized people. They ate dirty foods that caused this whole issue. I truly don’t understand why these people thought it was cool to do such things. All because of these people we have lost many precious lives to people. I pray for everyone struggling with this virus because it has taken a toll on everyone’s daily lives.