THE INVADERS FROM OUTER…Ukraine…?

Last month, the Black-Sea-Native Zebra Mussels were spotted in Lake Travis, indicating that Lake Travis is home to a new, invasive species.

According to the US Department of Agriculture, an invasive species is defined as a species that is both non-native to an ecosystem and presents possible harm to the environment or human health. Through rapid colonization of their new homes, zebra mussels quickly push out rival species, damaging or threatening native life. Since they can quickly adapt and reproduce in non-native water, they rapidly expand into various places such as pipes, boats, and on-the-water machinery, causing damage or malfunction.

Zebra Mussels are not the only species to be wary of, and there are many worse cases around the world of a species taking a new habitat and then running amok. Australia, in particular, is well-known for accidentally providing a home to invasive species. While the blunders can seem comical at times, invasive species cause many problems for native people and wildlife.

Invasive species are usually spread by humans themselves, and everyone should be aware of activities that could harmfully spread species across the Earth.  Below are a few tips which you can employ to prevent the spread of invasive species.

  1. If you’re going on an exotic vacation, don’t sneak fruits, nuts, seeds, lumber or other plant life out of the country.  While it may seem tempting if you see a beautiful species of plant or an interesting looking fruit, vegetation may harbor bugs, fungus or other plants that would love to hitch a ride.

  2. When it comes to stopping mussels from invading our lakes and harming other wildlife, the best way to prevent their migration is to ensure you check your vehicles for places they might hide. If you’re an active boater, keep your vessel well tuned and cleaned, especially when you move your boat from one body of water to another. Remember, Clean, Drain, Dry!

  3. Don’t. Release. Pets. While it may seem like a good alternative if you can no longer take care of your pet, it’s a bad idea. In Teller Lake, Colorado, it is believed that someone dumped just a few goldfish into the lake. Today, the lake is “infested” with more than 4,000 goldfish who have no natural predators. While the owner may have thought that releasing the fish was a better alternative than maintaining them, the goldies quickly muscled out the other fish and monopolized the area.

If you want to get involved, sign this petition to remove and quarantine areas currently affected by zebra mussels here in Lake Travis.

Nuclear Energy: Green or Obscene?

Nuclear energy is the source of a huge debate when it comes to alternative energies. Many people see nuclear energy as a bountiful, affordable, and clean energy source, which can help power large areas with only a few resources. Alternatively, many view nuclear energy negatively due to the extreme risks it proposes or the toxic waste it produces. In this post, I’m going to discuss both a pro and a con argument to using nuclear energy, and through it hopefully, you can find out what you believe.

       An Argument For Using Nuclear Energy

On the pro side of the argument, many cite the energy produced from nuclear reactions is much cleaner than fossil fuels. Through the use of nuclear energy, humans have avoided producing 64 gigatons of greenhouse gas emissions. While nuclear energy does produce waste, there are management options for that waste, with many nuclear plants even moving towards reprocessing to ensure maximum efficiency before any waste is produced.

While nuclear energy is perceived as being the most hazardous and lethal form of energy production due to the publicity of large scale accidents, many experts indicate it is in actuality the safest. While there have been catastrophes involving nuclear energy production, all but 7 of a total of 33 have been contained, and only 4 have ever caused significant radiation damages (Fukushima, Chernobyl, Three Mile Island, and  Windscale). Conversely, the next safest form of energy—wind—has had 1,500 accidents in the last 5 years. As the status quo, fossil fuels have caused significantly more damage, with some estimates indicating more than 13,000 deaths can be attributed yearly to the energy source. “Nuclear meltdown” may make headlines, but it’s far from the most dangerous energy source that we are using.

       An Argument Against Using Nuclear Energy

With the above considered, there are many cons to nuclear energy, chief among them is the waste produced. Despite its volatile and toxic nature, nuclear waste can be managed; the predicament is that it needs to be managed for an extremely long time. Plutonium-239, an element commonly used in nuclear fission, is said to have a half-life of 24,000 years. For perspective, it would take the duration of 4 recorded human histories for any plutonium being buried right now to decay past the point of radiation. Notably, Pu-239 is one of the more quickly decaying substances, with materials such as Iodine-129 having a half-life of 15.7 million years.

Aside from the predicament of how long it needs to be managed, the problem also extends to whether or not it will be mismanaged. Between the years of 1946 and 1993, more than a dozen countries used ocean dumping as a measure to get rid of nuclear waste, causing the deaths of millions of sea-based animals in the Arctic alone. If aquatic mismanagement wasn’t enough, Germany has hundreds of cubic kilometers of radioactive waste simply lying around on the surface, as the government has not decided a permanent home for the substance in the more than 40 years the waste has been around. If these administrative blunders weren’t enough, the mismanagement of nuclear technology to create weaponry has devastating effects on any and all life on Earth.

The debate for nuclear energy has been around since its discovery and invention, and opinions on the practice are far-reaching. Hopefully, you can find greater insight on the argument in this post. Furthermore, if you are especially interested in the dispute, you can support the affirmative at nuclearmatters.com, help to refute it by supporting activism at greenpeace.org, or even go the middle route with creating and support better regulation and oversight.

3 Ways to End Elephant Poaching

The problem of elephant poaching requires little introduction. Across Africa and Asia, thousands of Elephants are killed for ivory each year, with some conservationists estimating that the deaths by hunting per year could be as high as 20,000. However, even those statistics are down from the 100,000 elephants reportedly killed between 2010 and 2012. With these extreme numbers, some people are left wondering whether or not there is a solution to the rampant poaching of these animals.

In the United States, state laws regulate when and under what circumstances you can hunt many game species, allowing for a natural repopulation of species in the area. While there are laws concerning hunting and especially ivory in Africa, due to high poverty and little oversight, bribery and corruption of officials are exceedingly common. With that in mind, many governments are left helpless to stop the poaching and illegal trade, as laws passed go virtually unacknowledged by both officials and the public.

There are potential solutions to poaching in Africa, which are not often implicated. While there are many controversial opinions on the issue of ending poaching, there may be more solutions than meets the eye.

  1. Increased Protection. While this one is a fairly basic solution, there are many different ways of implementing it. Some park protection agencies in Africa use drones to keep watch at night, while others have sought out military tactics in order to stop black market poachers. In any case, stepping up security is a popular choice amongst African governments in the fight against poaching.

  2. Communal Conservancies. Despite global trends, Namibia has done something extraordinary. Between the years of 2002 and 2013, the elephant population has grown from 9,600 to 16,000. How? The government of Namibia has policies in action where local communities can establish wildlife tourism, and where communities can keep vast amounts of the revenue made. In this way, many of Namibia’s rural residents are incentivized to make sure that the Elephant population is maintained and safe.

  3. Legalize Ivory Trade. No, you heard that one right. While it may seem counter-intuitive, many people believe that by legalizing the trade of tusks, many of the reckless crimes and actions committed by criminal hunters in the black market would come more effectively under regulation. While it’s a controversial opinion to many, it may open up the market to better oversight and a more responsible harvesting of ivory.

If this post has encouraged you to help the elephants, donations are a great way to get involved. The African Wildlife Foundation is a great group which funds programs to help stop the poaching of elephants and violation of African conservancies. While poaching and ivory harvest solutions are far from black and white, seeking out, implementing, and studying the effects of different solutions can forge a better future for our world.

Greening Your Commute

With the rise of companies like Tesla and the emergence of zero-emissions vehicles (ZEV’s), many people point to a future where many cars become vastly more environmentally friendly and produce substantially less pollution. Even freighting has begun to experiment with zero-emission models, seeking better boats and vehicles to avoid damaging the natural environment. This is an exciting time, with many industry-wide players progressing towards a “zero-emissions” standard. On a personal scale, how can we reduce the pollution we make in day-to-day life?

There are, fortunately, quite a few ways to reduce your emissions, and none of them need to be as expensive as buying a new zero-emissions car.

 

While it’s often difficult to get around Texas without the use of a vehicle, there are many ways you can reduce the negative effects of using a car. In general, try and make the journeys you take by car as efficient as possible, whether by taking a ride with someone else or maintaining your own ride properly. If you can, taking your bike or taking a walk instead of driving are great ways to get fresh air and keep air fresh.

Hopefully, these tips helped you to find things that will help you reduce your vehicle emissions where you can! 

 

Preserving Texas Biocrusts

Many Texans love hiking, and various Texas cities and parks have great trails for the enjoyment of visitors. However, while there are many aspects of Texas parks to enjoy, it is imperative to stay on the trail while hiking at these parks. For parks with drier habitats and soils, this becomes especially true. Why? One answer lies in the preservation of biocrusts.

What are biocrusts? Biocrusts are thin layers of organisms, usually in the form of lichens, mosses or cyanobacteria, that hold the top-most layers of soil together. While most species of plants and fungi avoid these conditions, biocrusts have adapted to thrive in them.

Biocrusts are composed of a range of organisms. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, because as a unit biocrusts have the important role of keeping nutrients intact within the soil. These organisms excel at fixing nitrogen and putting carbon back into soils, breaking down organic matter and protecting soils from erosion. By doing this, they provide key nutrients needed for the survival of many other plants and wildlife, forming an important foundation in arid to semi-arid ecosystems.

As many people are unfamiliar with biocrusts, they tend also to be unfamiliar with how they are damaging them. As a result, humans are often more likely to walk on biocrusts than they are to acknowledge their importance. The continuous damage done to biocrusts can debilitate the soil, and prevent the biocrusts making nutrients and water available for other species, in turn making it harder for other plants and wildlife to grow.

Biocrusts are often disturbed by humans who wander from trails. Hopefully, this post has shown that staying on the trail and not damaging biocrusts is important!

How To Reduce Your Chemical Pollution

Today, many chemicals which were once not suitable for humans to come into contact with have been adapted for use in many items that seem integral to everyday life. Batteries made out of lithium, lead or mercury, exist in many varieties of laptops and cars, and toxic chemicals once found in plants that people dared not touch have been repurposed to make medicines for the sick. Although humans now benefit from these products, the environment can be exposed to harmful waste from the manufacture or disposal of such items.

Just how much chemical waste do humans produce? The answer: a lot. Some organizations estimate the global annual average to exceed 200 million tons. In 2016, The EPA also cited that each person in the United States on average produces around 4 pounds of household hazardous wastes, or waste in the form of various harmful chemicals. This is equivalent to 530,000 tons of waste produced by US households annually.

The numbers can be overwhelming, but thankfully there are a variety of things that you can do to help reduce chemical waste. Small actions can lead to big results!

  1. Always Recycle Batteries. This is a tip that cannot be stressed enough. Batteries are composed of chemicals toxic to flora and fauna, and some battery materials can be volatile when combined with otherwise common substances. For instance, Lithium and Water can react violently to release Lithium Hydroxide, a poisonous substance which can cause great irritation to the skin and eyes if exposed in either humans or animals. Although many Americans already recycle traditional alkaline batteries, be sure to try and repurpose or recycle your car or computer batteries.
  2. Be Aware Of What’s On Your Face. Much of the cosmetics e industry is not environmentally friendly.  As an example, microbeads can be mistaken by fish for zooplankton and swallowed, creating a toxic internal environment in the fish.  Unfortunately, these fish can become today’s catch and tomorrow’s dinner. Even though you never intended on swallowing those little plastic beads, by washing them down a drain you may end up doing just that.
  3. It May be Clean but is It Green? Cleaning products are potential marketing trap.  Harsh cleaning materials may kill undesirable bacteria, but they may also harm the health of people. Disinfectants are essentially pesticides and they can carry with them many damaging chemicals. Therefore, make sure you do the right research on the soaps, polishes or wipes to make sure they are truly environmentally-friendly. Fortunately, The EPA has this handy-dandy search tool where many greener products can be found!

In general, being aware of the impacts that the chemicals you are using can have is very important. Become aware of your local recycling codes or check out The Official Poison Control Website, so that you know which chemicals to avoid. Hopefully, these points have brought to your attention the threats of chemical pollution, as well as how you can resist contributing to it. Remember: small actions can lead to big results, and by being conscious of your environmental impact you can contribute to a better, greener world.

Water Conservation

Water is pretty great, right? It’s able to carry people and goods long distances, can be cooling for many animals in hot areas, and it is a key element of life on Earth.

As nice as water is for human beings, we often take it for granted. The average American uses between 80-100 gallons of water per day doing various tasks. Some of these tasks can be surprisingly inconspicuous; taking a shower longer than 15 minutes, for instance, can use more than thirty gallons of water. However, those statistics are nothing compared to 3,000 gallons that can be lost annually due to a single leaky faucet or showerhead.

This can be certainly taxing for the natural environment, as even major lakes and rivers such as the Colorado River have dried up due to water mismanagement and overuse in the past. While Agriculture may be an especially hard hitter when it comes to water use, everyday tasks are also something to keep in mind when conserving water.

With that, a few more ways that you can help reduce your water use that are:

  1. Don’t wash small/half-full laundry loads – Along with cleaning fewer clothes, a modern-day load of laundry can demand up to 15 to 30 gallons of water, with older models sometimes using as much as 45 gallons!
  2. Switch to a “low flow” shower head – This choice is not only environmentally friendly but cheaper too! A low-flow showerhead can use up to 75% less water than a conventional shower head, conserving both water and costs!
  3. Avoid wasting food– A 2013 study by the World Resources Institute indicated that the wasting of 1.3 billion tons of food was equivalent to the wasting of 45 trillion gallons of water! It’s a shocking statistic, especially as the same institute believes it accounted for nearly ¼ of all agricultural water waste in the same year.

Hopefully, you can find ways to apply these tips in your own life– or if you’re already practicing these, you can comment below any more environmental tips you may want to share. Either way, stay mindful or water use, as too often it can stumble into water waste.

Slash and Burn Awareness

Around the world, many of our greatest forests are quickly disappearing. In Brazil, increases in agricultural demand caused the loss of nearly 27,700 square kilometers of forest in 2004 alone. While there are many reasons for forest loss, slash and burn agriculture is definitely one of them.

Slash and Burn Agriculture is a practice of clearing land for farming by rapidly cutting down and burning trees or forests. Farmers practicing this will often cut down a plot of trees, burn the recently slashed area, and once the land is clear they move to a new plot and begin the process again. This causes a very fast destruction of the natural environment, a rapid loss of soil fertility in the affected plots, and significant deforestation (the rapid clearing of a wooded or forest area) in the area.

Why is it a problem? While slash and burn clearing is often the most convenient way to clear a forest, it is far from the healthiest. The practice of Slash and Burn Agriculture is a major contributor to the agriculture industry producing 24% of Greenhouse Gas Emissions internationally.

However, there are some solutions to the problems that slash and burn agriculture causes. Some of these are the following:

  1. Inga Alley Cropping is a tactic of replanting a sturdy, nitrogen-fixing plant in deforested areas to revive the soil and provide a new generation of trees.
  2. Soil Relocation is also a unique solution to reviving these areas and bringing nutrients back to damaged land by relocating it from more fertile areas.

If you found this blog post interesting, you may want to check out this Global Giving wildlife conservation fund, or a project to help the previously mentioned Inga Alley Cropping internationally, via the INGA Foundation. Both are great ways to help recover from the damages done by slash and burn clearing, and great projects to help the greater environment!

An Unseen Pollutant

Many people across the world are familiar with light pollution, the pollution that causes the night sky over urban areas to remain dark and starless. However, there’s a secret pollution that’s very similar to light pollution and that not many people know about. Light Pollution has a brother: Noise Pollution.

According to conserve-energy-future.com, “noise pollution takes place when there is either excessive amount of noise or an unpleasant sound that causes [a] temporary disruption in the natural balance”. For most human beings, noise pollution seems to be a feature of regular life; whether it’s people talking loudly into their cell phones, distant cars going by or children at play, it all just seems like a feature of the everyday. This feature, however, can be deeply damaging to the natural environment as well as our own health.

There are, fortunately, a few ways you can help reduce  noise pollution:

  1. Avoid using loud machinery, especially at night. This one’s just a given unless you insist on being “that guy” in your local neighborhood. Alternatives to using a leaf blower, for example, include raking the leaves, which also provides more exercise for you.
  2. Plant a Tree! No kidding: trees or other leafy vegetation excel at absorbing noise, with leaves and branches acting the same way as soundproofing walls do in recording studios.
  3. Keep the windows closed. Whether you’re listening to music, watching a movie, or just making a lot of noise in general, make sure you keep the windows shut. The world might be just dying to hear your cleaning playlist from 2007, but unfortunately, it will only add to the noisy pollution in urban areas.

Additionally, if you’re looking to get more involved (as the upstanding-environmental superhero you know you are), Noise Pollution Clearinghouse is an organization dedicated to raising awareness and supporting any activism in the fight against noise damaging the greater environment.

Desertification

All around the world, deserts seem to be doing something scary– growing. In Sub-Saharan Africa, experts are called in each year to help build greater environmental infrastructure, or help with educating of better farming practices to fight this slowly-increasing problem. In China, the Gobi Desert is slowly creeping Eastward, forcing the government to relocate tens of thousands of people as “ecological migrants”. In our own backyard, California faces serious struggles in the agricultural industry thanks to seemingly ever-scarcer water.

Conserve-Energy-Future.com defines desertification as “a process of land degradation in arid, semi-arid and sub-humid areas due to various factors including climatic variations and human activities”. It is a process which often debilitates soil and makes the land unsuitable for farming and growth for many years to come.

Since the growth of desertification threatens the use of arable land all across the world, many scientists are searching for ways to reduce desertification around the world. However, this is easier said than done. One Ecologist, Allan Savory, spent decades of his career trying to reduce overgrazing, only to realize later that he had been working against himself all along.

While desertification is challenging to eliminate, there are some ways that it can be reduced. Things you can do include:

One example
is to practice leaving plant residue on drying lands to deteriorate naturally and restore nutrients to the soil. This is something everyone can do in their local garden.
Another way to stop desertification is ensuring that the food you are eating is farmed with healthy practices, and returns nutrients to the soil it’s grown in.

A neat project to check out is the African “Great Green Wall”, a project that aims to revive land that has been wounded by desertification by the replanting of trees and relocation of soil in the area of dying land.

If you’re looking for more ways to get involved, a project in Ethiopia aims to plant 10,000 trees strategically to fight desertification, and the link is here!