Tuesday, December 29, 2020

World Sustainability and COVID

"Fog at Overpeck County Park" December 2020 (photo/Jan Barry)

The fall 2020 semester at Ramapo College opened in the midst of global crisis due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Only a few students and faculty were allowed on campus, primarily for lab courses. Most classes were held online. Despite precautions, COVID-19 swept through my World Sustainability class of 31 students and their families. Suddenly the concept of studying global environmental and social crisis was no longer theoretical.

The possibility of impending catastrophic climate change took on a new perspective, as within a few months the United States of America staggered from a once-in-a-century public health crisis that triggered economic collapse in much of the world’s trend setting economy. In many ways, our society seemed to be wandering in a fog.

An international cast of undergraduate students dug into what was happening around the world—researching and writing case studies set in India, Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, China, Russia, Poland, Greece, Syria, Africa, Australia, Latin America, Canada, New Jersey, New York City and elsewhere.

Probing discussions were stirred up and guided by fellow World Sustainability professors Harriet Shugarman and Amanda Nesheiwat and environmental activists Paula Rogovin and Sam Difalco, who joined the class via Zoom. The entire class attended an online conference on youth climate activism and the presidential election hosted by Ramapo Green, a campus environmental group. Students were also encouraged to write about what they learned from their experiences.

Here’s a selection of their work in the midst of the COVID crisis.

Coming Down with COVID

By Mike Araujo

During the time I’ve had this class, I got Covid-19 and it wasn’t the best, to be honest with you. Looking back at it, I was incredibly lucky and it was probably some of the worst pain I’ve dealt with in a long, long time.

I remember it was the day before class I felt so bad. I had gone to the clinic the night before and tested negative but that morning I felt sharp pains all over, especially on my forehead from the aching headache I’d developed overnight. I knew something was very wrong and I immediately went to my mom and she told me to put my mask on because my stepdad had already contracted it. We went to the hospital during my Psych class time slot and I was in terrible pain and I felt short of breath and I could barely smell due to the amount of mucus built up.

I got tested positive and I spent the rest of that week in a state of intense pain and a hazy fever dream state. I tried my best to attend classes but even getting up on time was so hard. Honestly, I don’t remember much after that Tuesday. It had gotten so bad that by the next week I felt like it was a dream.

I tried my hardest to keep my professors in the loop and how I wasn’t feeling too hot about even being awake and was given some passes to skip class which I didn’t use for some strange reason. The symptoms were literally all of them except the loss of taste, smell, and not being able to breathe.

That Tuesday felt so strange because I had literally been blasted into next week and I missed so much school content and I knew I was so screwed because I was always drowsy during class and struggling to even keep my eyes open and pay attention to the lessons.

By the end of that week, I knew I was gonna have to catch up so fast and it was incredibly daunting but I was determined to catch up even though my body wouldn’t allow it. Thankfully, the weekend of my second week with Covid things started getting better.

I had tried to catch up and it really set me back and I was doing my very best to get back on track. I sadly failed my Math class from what I know now and I hope that’s all I failed.

But Covid really screwed me over, especially since immediately as I was cleared I was back to work. I wasn’t just working normally. I was being forced to work for another day, leaving me no days to myself to do school work and setting me back even more. I couldn’t just tell them to take me off the schedule because it would’ve just ended with me being fired.

Learning about Environmental Activism in my Community

By Julia Tybinkowska

I couldn’t do volunteering work on campus due to COVID-19. I decided to do some online research about things my community does to help the environment and community.

The Rockland County Environmental Management Council is in charge of protecting my community’s natural resources, and provides public awareness of environmental issues and achievements. They are responsible for educating the public about environmental issues and opportunities. Their activities also include sponsoring the Eleanor Burlingham Earth Day Contest for students to help them interact in the environment. They also sponsor the Edward Brophy Green Champion Award for any business, group or school that shows exceptional environmental management.

They are in charge of monitoring land use and development and working to preserve water resources, and also looking to create a green infrastructure to help manage storm water runoff. EMC also help find new technologies to reduce carbon footprints and greenhouse gas emissions; and promote “reduce, reuse, recycle” to reduce waste in government, commercial and residential places.

I’d never heard of the EMC, and the more I read about it I learned how much of a reflection it has on my community. They are very present in schools and teaching young students about how important it is to acknowledge environmental issues and be present in making a change. I believe bringing more awareness and information to the younger generation will help push people to make a change and interact with their environment.

In 2014, Keep Rockland Beautiful (KRB) was created. KRB regulates roadway and waterways cleanups all throughout the county. It is a great learning system to help educate our whole community. I have seen many signs and heard about KRB in the news. Being able to have this constantly repeating on the news helps engrave this program into your brain.

The village of Montebello was honored for starting the first electronic car charging station, the first solar panel installation on government buildings, the first Tree City USA, and NY State Climate Smart Community adopter. Clarkston was also honored for being the first to install large scale solar panels on top of a closed landfill.

Being able to do this research about my community’s mission to preserve our environment was such a benefit. A lot of these associations I had no clue about, and really didn’t think more things existed past the Keep Rockland Beautiful association. It felt very comforting knowing that there is a direct push to educate students how they can be pro-active and help on environmental issues.

Case Study: China's Environmental Problems

By Steven Neff

Over the years, the amount of pollution on the planet has continued to increase, causing many health problems for people living in those polluted areas and for the planet. Many countries around the world face sustainability issues, some being more detrimental to the planet than others. Currently China is one of the biggest contributors to the excessive amounts of pollution on the Earth. The country produces the most amount of carbon dioxide per year and has a severe water crisis. China also faces problems with soil pollution and desertification.

China, as of 2018, is the leading country with the most CO2 emissions. That year alone China produced 10.06 billion metric tons of CO2. This is an extremely large issue because the excessive amounts of carbon dioxide can contribute to the greenhouse effect. The greenhouse effect is when more thermal energy builds up in the atmosphere and can lead to the natural temperature of the planet to rise. This is a main cause of global warming. Global warming has been known to be a major dilemma for the future of the planet, and for the future of humanity. It has been causing the polar ice caps to start melting into the ocean, which can lead to sea levels rising a couple meters. Melting ice caps also release a lot of stored carbon dioxide and methane, which further worsen the effects of global warming.

China’s pollution laws are very lax when it comes to factories and where they release their waste because the country relies more on meeting the demands of buyers of cheap goods; therefore, the factories will keep operating without restrictions. The air quality is also extremely problematic. The country focuses more on economic growth because many people were lifted out of poverty, but as a cost the quality of the environment plummeted. Most of China’s growth was powered by coal, which was cheap and easy to source, but it polluted the air a lot. Rural homes even used coal to warm their homes. The intense smog in Beijing comes from an abundance of coal-powered factories, south of the city, and due to the mountains to the north and west of the city, the factories’ emissions stay trapped in Beijing.

China has also been experiencing a sever scarcity of water, primarily in the northern area if the country. This scarcity is mainly caused by insufficient local water resources and lack of access to clean water. Clean water is less available due to the increased amount of pollution and it has a detrimental impact on the environment and society. Water pollution is China’s worst environmental issue, and it stems from the mass dumping of toxic human waste and industrial waste. The surfaces of the lakes turn green due to an increase in algae growing that are caused by the pollution. The ground water found in 90 percent of the cities in China is also contaminated. China’s water pollution doubled from what their government predicted it would be at because of the neglect of agricultural waste. Most of that waste was farm fertilizer. It has been revealed that China’s water sources contain a toxic amount of arsenic, fluorine, and sulfates, which have been linked to be the cause of an increase various diseases. China has poor environmental regulations, especially for factories. Factories are allowed to dump waste into rivers and lakes, and as a result, small nearby villages that rely on that contaminated water for drinking, cooking, and cleaning face significantly higher rates of cancer and death.

Another major hazard that China faces is soil pollution. In 2014 a survey showed that nearly one fifth of the farmland was contaminated with chemical waste, heavy metals, mining residues, and pesticides. Farms in the Hunan Province grow poisoned crops due to the smoke released from the nearby smelting factories. The smoke contains cadmium, which is released when smelting iron, lead, and copper ores. Since it is a heavy metal, the liver and kidneys cannot remove it from the body if it is ingested, so it can accumulate and cause bone diseases and, sometimes, cancer. Pesticides also contaminate the soil and crops and can have a severe impact on a person’s health. Livestock on these farms also become contaminated with chemicals and then are killed and sold to the public for consumption. This allows for disease to spread a lot easier from rural areas or more suburban/urban areas. Efforts of reducing the amount of land pollution consisted of trading away ownership of that polluted land, which meant the government was not motivated to properly fix their issue of pollution.

The country also lost about a quarter if its land to desertification. Desertification is the process where biological life in an area is lost due to either natural processes or human activities, in which the land becomes more uninhabitable and desert-like. This can destroy farmland and bury small villages, which forces people to leave their homes. The areas hit by desertification become more arid due to the massive increase in pollution through the air and soil. Along with the scarcity if water, the land remains dry and can no longer sustain life.

Overpopulation has provided to be a issue also. More people mean that factories have to stay open to have more jobs and produce more goods to meet the demand of the people, which in turn causes more pollution to the air. Since clean water is scarce, contaminated water is supplied to the public, causing more people to contract diseases. Diseases will be able to spread much easier because of the overcrowding in the country. As the population continues to grow, it also indicates that there are more people to produce waste to harm the environment.

As previously stated, China favors the growth of its economy more than the wellbeing of the people and the environment. In conclusion, China is one of the leading causes as to why the planet is in its current state of crisis, due to its excessive CO2 emissions, water scarcity and pollution, and soil pollution.

Works Cited

“Is Air Quality in China a Social Problem?” ChinaPower Project, 26 Aug. 2020, chinapower.csis.org/air-quality/.

“The Most Neglected Threat to Public Health in China Is Toxic Soil.” The Economist, The Economist Newspaper, 8 June 2017, www.economist.com/briefing/2017/06/08/the-most-neglected-threat-to-public-health-in-china-is-toxic-soil.

Borgen, Clint. “Water Pollution in China Is the Country's Worst Environmental Issue.” The Borgen Project, Clint Borgen Https://Borgenproject.org/Wp-Content/Uploads/The_Borgen_Project_Logo_small.Jpg, 16 Dec. 2019, borgenproject.org/water-pollution-in-china/.

Jiang, Yong. “China's Water Scarcity.” Journal of Environmental Management, Academic Press, 17 June 2009, www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0301479709001339.

Kan, Haidong. “Environment and Health in China: Challenges and Opportunities.” Environmental Health Perspectives, National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dec. 2009, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2799473/.

Stanway, David. “China Soil Pollution Efforts Stymied by Local Governments: Greenpeace.” Reuters, Thomson Reuters, 17 Apr. 2019, www.reuters.com/article/us-china-pollution-soil/china-soil-pollution-efforts-stymied-by-local-governments-greenpeace-idUSKCN1RT04D.

Trump’s Attack on Native Americans

By Hanna Malec

In this class, many sustainability topics have been discussed at length. One that has always piqued my interest has been the relationship between Native Americans and climate change. The rapid development of technology and its industries has brought upon the dangerous consequences of climate change. Minorities are often the first to face these consequences, despite not reaping the benefits of technology. President Trump has done nothing to protect Native American land or rights throughout his presidency; recently, he’s taken an outright dangerous and extreme step against them.

According to an article in the New York Times on December 16, 2020: “The Trump administration is rushing to approve a final wave of large-scale mining and energy projects on federal lands, encouraged by investors who want to try to ensure the projects move ahead even after President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. takes office” (Lipton, New York Times). Trump has been working to approve large projects in many states including Arizona, Utah, Nevada, Virginia, and West Virginia. Each of these projects is located near Native American land. This is no coincidence, this is an act of violence against minorities who are not able to fight government funded projects.

In Arizona, the Forest Service has begun a project on federal land that is considered sacred by a local Native American tribe, also known as the Chí’chil Biłdagoteel Historic District. The Forest Service, funded by the government, is preparing the construction of a large copper mine. This will be one of the nation’s largest copper mines when completely constructed.

In Utah, the Interior Department is looking to begin drilling into what they believe is an underground supply of helium inside a national wilderness area where new energy leasing is currently banned. The Interior Department states, “The BLM will consult with interested parties on identifying the area of potential effect, appropriate cultural resource identification efforts, the determination of effects to historic properties, and if necessary, the resolution of adverse effects for the proposed project” (BLM National NEPA Register). Although they state that they are looking into appropriate cultural resource identification and potential effect to historic properties, it is impossible to respect and spare the national land while drilling for helium underground.

In Nevada, the department is also granting final approval to construct an open-pit lithium mine on federal land right above a prehistoric volcano site. This is yet another federally protected piece of land that Trump is giving access to large, invasive construction energy crews.

Lastly, the Forest Service is taking another step to grant funding to constructing a natural gas pipeline to be built through the Jefferson National Forest. This pipeline goes through Virginia and West Virginia, and crosses the Appalachian Trail. If constructed, this pipeline would impact thousands of people in local communities.

Trump has shown no care for the environment or sustainability, and even less for Native Americans. The author explains, “Some, like a planned uranium mine in South Dakota, will require further approvals, or face lawsuits seeking to stop them, like the planned helium drilling project in Utah. But others, like the lithium mine in Nevada, will have the final federal permit needed before construction can begin, and will be hard for the next administration to stop. Whether they are the final word or not, the last-minute actions are just the latest evidence of how the far-reaching shift in regulatory policy under Mr. Trump has altered the balance between environmental concerns and business, giving substantial new weight to corporate interests” (Lipton, New York Times).

Through this activity, I have learned that corporate greed is far more destructive and manipulative than I could have ever imagined. I have also been inspired to continue researching these issues and looking into ways I can help. Donating to the Native American Rights Fund (NARF) and educating others on the issue are small steps anyone can take to help support the right side of history.

Big Tech and Climate Change

By Andrew Clark

In July, Microsoft began testing hydrogen fuel cells for data center power back-ups. These cells could be powered by zero-carbon hydrogen generated from renewable energy sources, opposed to the current diesel generators stationed at 160 data centers worldwide. By 2030, Microsoft plans on phasing out all diesel generators. For almost a decade, the company has been 100% carbon neutral, meaning all emissions that they emit are being counter-acted with carbon offsets.

In June, Amazon set their sights on running on 100% renewable energy by 2025, 5 years earlier than they originally planned for. Bezos in February pledged to donate $10 billion of his own money to scientists, activists and nongovernmental organizations working to fix climate change. This is being done under the newly founded Bezos Earth Fund. Mackenzie Scott, Bezos' ex-wife also has pledged to donate $1.7B of her wealth, $125M of that going to climate change actions.

In October, Amazon unveiled their first custom electric delivery vehicle partnered with Rivian, an electric car manufacturer. Their goal is to have 10,000 new vans on the road by 2022 and 100,000 by 2023. However, Amazon's previous track record on climate change steps has been slow.

Last January, Amazon was under fire for threatening to terminate two employees for speaking out about the company’s environmental policies, the Washington Post reported. In 2019, Greenpeace did an investigation that found that only 12% of Amazon’s web services ran only on renewable energy, despite their promise of running fully 100% renewable.

In September, Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google, pledged that they will work to run their operations purely on carbon-free energy by 2030. Like Microsoft, they have purchased enough carbon offsets to counter-ac t their emissions since their birth, thus becoming carbon negative. In Google's first decade they were the first major company to be carbon neutral. By 2030, Google’s goal is to be the first company to operate carbon free 24/7 at all of their data centers and campuses. Last year, Google pledged that, by 2022, it would include recycled materials in all of its Made By Google product, a list that includes Pixelphones, Pixelbooks, Google Home speakers, Nest devices, and accessories like phone cases and charging stands.

With the release of the Google Pixel5 and the new line of Nest Devices, they are ahead of schedule. 100% of the aluminum on the Pixel is recycled and the Nest Audio has 70% recycled plastic.

Apple says it runs on 100% renewable energy in their stores, data centers, and offices around the globe. 100% of rare earth materials in the iPhones are recycled using robots. More than 11 million devices were sent by Apple to be refurbished for new users in 2019, a 42 percent increase from the previous year.

During the recent unveiling of the new iPhone 12, it was revealed that going forward, iPhones will not be accompanied by wired headphones or a power adapter. The decision was made on an environmental aspect.

Lisa Jackson, Apple VP of environment, policy and social initiatives, said: “We know that customers have been accumulating USB power adapters, and that producing millions of unneeded adapters consumes resources and adds to our carbon footprint.” Jackson said Apple believes there are over 700 million pairs of wired Ear Pods and around 2 billion power adapters in circulation around the world. “And that’s not counting the billions of third party adapters.”

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Dealing with Covid-19

By Catherine Gordon

This year has been full of many ups and downs, but Covid-19 definitely takes the cake for the worst possible part of the year. Like everyone else around the world, Covid-19 has taken a huge toll on me mentally and physically. It has been an extremely tough year, but I am adapting and beginning to learn how to cope with the mental and physical blockages that are thrown our way due to Covid.

When lockdown first began, I wasn’t prepared for our lives to alter in the significant way in which it did. No one had planned on being in lockdown for so long, for we didn’t realize just how dangerous Covid really is. The first month in lockdown wasn’t too bad. I really enjoyed the family time because before Covid, as a 19-year-old, I was out with my friends all the time. It was almost like a break from regular life. As the months began to pass, my mental health began to decline pretty fast. Not being able to see people, hug people, and live my life not in fear were things I began to miss quickly. I am a very social and sentimental person, so not being able to see people or hug my grandparents are things that impacted me a lot.

Now that we have been in “quarantine” for a little over 9 months, I have begun to learn how to deal with my sadness and frustration with the life we are living right now. I have started doing physical things to get my mind off the things that are bothering me, such as yoga, cooking, working out, etc. This is benefitting me not only now, but for the future as well. I look forward to the day where things finally get back to normal and I can see my friends and family again freely.

Another big part of Covid that has taken a toll on me is watching the news and hearing about the deaths, the people suffering, and the effects of Covid. Covid is very easy to get, so making sure that we are social distancing and taking the correct steps in living our lives today is super important. When I watch the news and I hear about all of the new deaths caused by Covid it makes me feel a bit selfish for being sad about not being able to see my friends and family. Many people have died from Covid, some people I even know, so when I think about that it makes me determined to not put myself and others around me at risk.

Actually, I think I had Covid in February before lockdown even began. I was sick for a really long time, had the symptoms, and was tested for the flu and strep on three separate occasions in which they all came back negative. I recovered and have no effects still from it, so I am not as concerned for me as I am for my mom, dad, and others who are at higher risk. The anxiety I get from Covid overall is still something I am struggling with a lot, but I am trying to find ways to reduce my anxiety. Once again, yoga and meditation are activities that have been benefitting me a lot, so I really enjoyed our breaks in class where we would meditate.

Overall, Covid is extremely serious, so it is going to take a toll on people whether they want it to or not. It is something that we have no control over right now, but we do have control over following the correct precautions in order to keep ourselves and others around us safe. I am working on my mental health a lot at the moment, praying for life to return to normal, but in the meantime I need to focus on adapting and trying to live my happiest life in these unfortunate circumstances.