Archive for 'On My Mind Post'
After watching Who Killed the Electric Car (2006), we took a look at some of the new plug-in electric cars from Chevy, Ford, Nissan, and Tesla now on the market. Are electric cars really the answer for ending our dependence on foreign crude oil? Could it be that simple? This Daily Show clip (8 minutes) is one of my favorites on the history of American president’s trying to get us to cure our addiction to oil:
So, your text had a section on carbon offsets, but we never discussed it in class. There are many companies out there now marketing carbon offsets to reduce your “carbon footprint.” Terrapass is a popular one. You can offset one year’s worth of air travel (an estimated 8,000 pounds of carbon emitted) for just $50.60 as of 5/5/2011. Your money goes to support wind farms and methane capture projects-that’s how the carbon is “offset.” Some companies will even plant trees to offset carbon produced by your lifestyle.
So, does this approach mitigate (lesson) global climate change or encourage “cheating?” Watch this clever parody of carbon offsetting by a couple of Brits:
*If you want to learn more, visit www.cheatneutral.com
So, what do you think?
*Try www.carbonfootprint.com to for a carbon calculator if you want to assess how much carbon dioxide results from your lifestyle.
As we approach the final day before the AP exam, have you reviewed the nutrient cycles? Knowledge of these cycles is critical-they tie everything together. In the fall we learned primary reservoirs, key chemical reactions, and anthropogenic impacts. I also had each of you write a creative short-story of a cycle. Here is a good one by MiriamA:
To be consistent is Carl’s game. His friends even go as far as to call him a connoisseur of consistency. But even the existence of a consistent Carbon molecule can be quite stressful. Sometimes, the mundane routine of Carl’s daily reality was overpowering: wake up, realize he’s stuck in a rock, think about eating breakfast, but realize he’s in a rock, take a nap, consider breaking out of his rock prison, and then realizing he is stuck. In a rock. Repeat for millennia.
Carl’s predicament made him pretty bored. His life seemed doomed to be forever consistent, when all of a sudden, Carl realized his rock was on top. Way on top: Consistent Carl was king of the lithosphere. Through weathering, Carl’s little piece of sedimentary rock was exposed and divided. Centuries went by; he was trod on by wooly mammoths, rained on incessantly, rolled by the wind down hills, and pushed back up them by construction trucks as gravel. And just when our friend Carl could no longer take the inconsistency of his new life, the greatest change yet struck him: Lichen was Carl’s new immediate neighbor. Carl’s rock was broken down by lichen into the soil. Carl was excited to be returned to the soil once more, but to his surprise…he was RESPIRATED.
As Carl considered changing his vacation response on his email back to his classic signature of “-You’re Favorite Boring Molecule”, Carl had yet another wake up call. His neighbor Lichen (fondly known as DJ Breakdown) had used energy to break him down, and had respired in the process, releasing Carl airborne as CO2 into the atmosphere.
Feeling like a new molecule, Carl was in ‘CO2 Tattoo Parlor’, inking in his newfound freedom, when he felt himself being pulled eastward over a body of water. He was newly surrounded by other, unfamiliar, yet similarly liberated CO2 molecules (some with ‘Stairway to Heaven’) inked across their covalent bonds), bumping about in the atmosphere. Back in his consistent days, Carl had attended school with perfect attendance, and thus new that the amount of CO2 in the air pocket he was in was greater than that in water, and that he would soon be diffused below the water’s surface. As he mentally prepared for the big plunge, Carl was yet again surprised when he was intercepted by a surface-dwelling aquatic organism and used for photosynthesis.
When the surface-dweller decayed, Carl was yet again released by the help of decomposers. He floated down, down, down, past his previously airborne friends who had arrived at the same place he had through diffusion. He bumped in H20, and formed Carbonic Acid. Carl, who had never been part of such a demanding relationship before, could barely recognize himself. The change kept going when he was transformed into bicarbonate, and then met Calcium. Before Carl knew it, he was part of Calcium Carbonate; planted on the bottom of the ocean floor as part of a coral reef. Carl had come a long way since his rock days, and was here to stay. He bought a new desk, got a haircut, and moved in for a while.
But what happened to some of Carl’s tattooed friends? Some of them were diffused, some of them decayed, but some were used in photosynthesis in photosynthetic organisms on the surface of the water. When that producer was eaten, the consumer respired to use glucose, and released the CO2 back into the atmosphere. They were airborne once more (‘Free Bird’ was added to the covalent bonds), but that did not last long. The CO2 was used once again for photosynthesis on the shore, helping a tree to grow. Years and years passed, and Carl’s friends went with the decaying tree to the soil, where they were broken into smaller and smaller pieces. And like Carl’s favorite book, Life Swap, Carl’s friends settled down over the millennia for a nice consistent life as sedimentary rock.
A little summary of pathways also by MiriamA:
Released to atmosphere
Used by plants for photosynthesis
Plants eaten by consumers
Higher level consumers eat those consumers and respire, returning to atmosphere
Co2 travels on over to a large body of water
Diffuses into the ocean (high to low)
Used by surface dwelling creatures, respire, returned to atmosphere
Where it is used by plants for photosynthesis
Turn into sedimentary rock again………
Diffused Co2 meets up with H20, makes carbonic acid, which turns into bicarbonate
Bicarbonate meets with calcium to make calcium bicarbonate
Precipitates, becomes coral!!
Degraded coral is impacted together, turns into sedimentary rock
So, do you remember the steps of the carbon cycle? Do you remember the formulas for these forms of carbon? Do you recall all the ways humans alter this cycle?
I don’t know why I didn’t think about this before but a while ago I found out about this seach engine, which is powered by Google, called Blackle. It saves energy by just having the background being black instead of white. It’s pretty cool, so check it out. I posted a link with specifics on how it saves energy.
I know things are winding down, but I was amazed by all the recent news stories that deal with our units of study. At this point in the course, reading the news is a way to study. This AP exam is constantly being rewritten as new research is published or new environmental disasters occur! Check out any that interest you:
BBC: BP oil spill: The environmental impact one year on (yes, it’s been a year already!)
NPR: Washing Away The Arctic Coastline (more on sea level rise)
HAPPY EARTH DAY!
If you did notice lately, it is very “hip” to “green.” I’m watching my favorite Thursday night NBC comedy shows, and seeing all these public service announcements for “green week.” Heck, even the NBC peacock logo is green this week! Check out NBC’s slick website: http://www.nbc.com/Green/
And, FOX is getting in on the act too. Check out their slick website: http://www.fox.com/greenitmeanit/
This type of public relations stuff is called “greenwashing.” Here’s a definition (can’t find or recall the source):
Greenwashing is the unjustified appropriation of environmental virtue by a company, an industry, a government, a politician or even a non-government organization to create a pro-environmental image, sell a product or a policy, or to try and rehabilitate their standing with the public and decision makers after being embroiled in controversy.
So, why is what NBC or Fox doing this week considered sorta sly? Well…do you think the network executives are doing it for the network or us (or both)? You decide.
If you want to know more, here are a few “watchdog” sites that monitor greenwashing:
So, be a smart consumer, not all that is green is good. ANY group can claim to be green-there is no government standard! Love to discuss any of this with any of you here or in class one day…can you think of other examples you’ve seen?
We can only take so many field trips, but this is one I would love to do if we had the time. We discussed coal-fired power plants in class, but this short interactive tour (with real pics and computer animations) will give you a better feel than the diagrams in your text.
Image source: Scientific American
According to this recent NPR story, China is planning to build 500 coal-fired plants over the next decade-that’s almost one a week!!!
Yes, I had to do it. I try to teach environmental science without preaching, but this one topic is hardest for me to avoid. There are probably hundreds of other posts out there on the topic, but I still feel the need to let this out (sorry as it is a bit long with the 3 video clips). If you agree with my arguments, forward the blog link to a parent or friend…
I was born in 1968. I am trying hard to remember (without a Google search) on when I first saw bottled water for sale. Can you? I cannot recall bottled water for sale in college in the late 80s, or when I was in the Army in the early 90s. Must have been the late 90s…at least in my memory.
I found this graph, but I have failed in locating the original source (I think it is at the bottom):
Ok, regardless of my memory, the stuff has become very popular….
So, why my opposition? Well, I don’t drink bottled water for FIVE reasons:
1. Cost. This may be the ultimate rip-off. Let’s say you can buy a 16-ounce bottle for 69 cents…8 of those bottles equals $5.52/gallon (8 x 16 = 128 ounces or 1 gallon). If you drink one a day for 365 days, that’s $252/year on water alone and $2,520 dollars for 10 years! It is more like you paid $1.50, not 69 cents–so double that! Now, last time I checked my tap water costs $1.25/ccf (or about 750 gallons) at the lowest price tier. Not really sure I need to do the math for you, but seems like I’ve got safe water at less than a penny a gallon? Ok, it is 0.16 cents/gallon if you must see the math. Is there really any need to extrapolate my tap water costs out to a year or ten? And, that rate includes what the city charges me for stormwater and sewage treatment facilities–so the price just drinking water is even less.
2. Safety-Water quality. Ok, lots has been published about this over the last 10 years. You check it out for yourself. First, there was the NRDC report in 1999. On the issue of water quality (safety), here is the NRDC answer to the question “is bottled water safer than tap water?:”
“No, not necessarily. NRDC conducted a four-year review of the bottled water industry and the safety standards that govern it, including a comparison of national bottled water rules with national tap water rules, and independent testing of over 1,000 bottles of water. Our conclusion is that there is no assurance that just because water comes out of a bottle it is any cleaner or safer than water from the tap. And in fact, an estimated 25 percent or more of bottled water is really just tap water in a bottle — sometimes further treated, sometimes not.”
So, that was 1999. Has much changed since then? I guess you could start with the EPA, if you trust the government. Here is an answer from the FAQ section of the EPA website on Ground Water & Drinking Water:
Is bottled water safer than tap water?
Bottled water is not necessarily safer than your tap water. EPA sets standards for tap water provided by public water systems; the Food and Drug Administration sets bottled water standards based on EPA’s tap water standards. Bottled water and tap water are both safe to drink if they meet these standards, although people with severely compromised immune systems and children may have special needs. Some bottled water is treated more than tap water, while some is treated less or not treated at all. Bottled water costs much more than tap water on a per gallon basis. Bottled water is valuable in emergency situations (such as floods and earthquakes), and high quality bottled water may be a desirable option for people with weakened immune systems. Consumers who choose to purchase bottled water should carefully read its label to understand what they are buying, whether it is a better taste, or a certain method of treatment. More information on bottled water is available from the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) (www.bottledwater.org/), which represents most US bottlers.
On top of all that, some bottled water is missing flouride treatment which most cities add to prevent tooth decay from bacteria. While toothpaste does contain flouride, those that drink only bottled water are getting considerably less floride. Note: The benefits of flouride is hotly debated…that’s another story. Regardless, the EPA requires Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities to send me a report on my drinking water quality each year. You can access the 2009 report here. Does your favorite bottled water company send you these?
3. Dangers of plastics: I try to live by the precautionary principle on this one. Yes, there are many fears about the dangers of chemicals that may leach out of plastic bottles. Most of this is “frontier science” at the moment–it will probably take years for us to have solid data on health effects. The folks that make the plastic resin (PET) that holds most bottled water say the stuff is safe. A recent study by a professor at the University of Heidelberg documented antimony values (in ppt) hundreds of times higher than that of pristine groundwater. Long term exposure of antimony can cause such as headache, dizzness, depression and in large doses, violent vomiting and death…Others fear the leaching of pthalates into bottled water. Some studies suggest some pthalates act as endocrine disruptors-in particular mimicing the female hormone estrogen.
Even if you don’t buy into the possible health effects on humans, consider the effects of all that plastic on the ecosystem. Oil-based plastics are not biodegradable, but they are photodegradable–that means they will simply break into smaller pieces due to weathering in the sun. So, plastics never go away, they just fragment into smaller pieces. All of this plastic has a tremendous impact on marine ecosystems. Watch this 7 minute TEDTalks segment by Captain Charles Moore for a quick lesson on plastics in the Pacific Ocean:
*To learn more about the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, click here.
4. Infrastructure: In Charlotte, North Carolina, my water bill pays for the water treatment facilities and pipes that carry drinking water (as well as for stormwater drains/pipes and wastewater treatment). My property taxes do not. So, for every dollar I give to bottled water companies, that is a dollar less Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has to treat and transport my tap water. So, as bottled water companies prosper and grow, our public water infrastructure crumbles…The America Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently graded our drinking water infrastructure at “D-.” According to ASCE, we face an $11 BILLION shortfall each year in shoring up this infrastructure. How will we pay for it if more and more dollars go to soft drink companies peddling bottled water?
5. Taste: I honestly cannot tell a difference. But, yes, some folks think bottled water tastes better…I think this short video from the Showtime series Penn and Teller: Bullshit puts the issue to rest:
So, what do you think? Do you buy bottled water? Why? Which of these 5 reasons would you disagree with? If you refuse to drink bottled water, why? If you’ve never taken a stand, do so now! Post a response/comment…
Ok..so I am biased? Here is a rebuttal from the Competitive Enterprise Institute :
Note: “The Competitive Enterprise Institute is a public interest group dedicated to free enterprise and limited government. We believe that the best solutions come from people making their own choices in a free marketplace, rather than government intervention. Since it was founded by Fred L. Smith, Jr. in 1984, CEI has grown to a team of over 40 policy experts and staff.” This boilerplate was taken from the www.cei.org.
Alum Richard Gee (’10) just sent me this link to a The Economist article and map about which countries are growning genetically modified crops. I wish we had more time to spend on GMOs, but with me out of town it was not meant to be this year. I’m not too concerned for you all on the AP exam as GMOs made it as a free response topic two years ago, so I doubt it will come around again this soon. Interesting regardless as this is becoming more prevalent as industrialized agriculture spreads. Key points from the brief article:
As can be seen in our map, GM technology has been enthusiastically embraced in the Americas and in many Asian countries. By contrast, many European countries are subject to severe restrictions on growing GM crops. Developing countries are planting GM crops at a more rapid rate than rich countries.
Click to enlarge the image.
Ironic, to me, that in the age of plastic that plastic bags are dying AND in the digital age printer paper is booming. Check these stories out:
Cities/countries banning plastic bags-
HP CEO discusses why printing on paper NOT declining-