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!

Planning A Drought Resistant Lawn & Garden

Summer is almost upon us, and for much of Texas, that means a dreaded dry season for our lawns and gardens. While much of the Southern US deals with an unfortunate dry period, many southerners don’t prepare their lawns or gardens for such a brutal season. How do you maintain a lawn or garden that can truly handle the summers here?
First, while many lawns in Texas use drought-resistant grasses, it’s important to note that not all grasses are created equal. For southern lawns, many professionals recommend grasses such as Bermuda grass, or Zoysia grass, both of which enjoy full sun and can take a lot of traffic.
Secondly, it’s wise to avoid putting your lawn under too much stress during a drought. During a drought, your lawn is likely already under a lot of pressure, and activities such as planting, mowing, or relocating your turf is only going to make your grass have a harder time surviving through a dry period.
Gardens have a different set of needs entirely. Many Texas gardeners know the stress and strain their flowers or other plants endure in summer, but here are a few tips to keep in mind for your garden to have the best chance of surviving and potentially flourishing. During summer it is important to do a good job of weeding your garden, since you don’t have any water to spare for the unwanted neighbors. Additionally, organic litter such as fallen leaves can be crushed and transformed into fertilizer for gardens, so compost those leaves!
While the tips above work well for a garden that has already been planted, planning your garden strategically from the beginning can best help your garden withstand a Texas-sized drought. With this in mind, place plants with similar watering needs together. Another wise decision is to plant using Mediterranean herbs and flowers, since these plants, including lavender and oregano, have grown accustomed to climates with the longer, drier summers in central Texas.
Hopefully these tips can be useful when maintaining a Texas garden or lawn. Happy planting!

A Natural Fallacy

Legally, what does ‘natural’ mean? Nothing. Some companies in the food industry will often claim “all natural” products, but since the FDA doesn’t define this term, many companies are injecting things like sodium or high fructose corn syrup into their foods. Additionally, cosmetics, as seen here, will often advertise having “natural” or “fresh” makeup components, but rarely do these words have any basis in facts, healthy wellbeing, or environmental impact.
Labeling an item as ‘natural’ is perhaps one of the most dangerous pitfalls for the consumer who desires to be environmentally responsible. Additionally, here are a few resources for the misleading claim: “American Shoppers mislead by greenwash”, The FDA on “What is the Meaning of Natural?” and NPR on “What is Natural Food?

This Week the BaerEngineering Green Team brings you a few fun facts about the environment!

Air pollution and its affects

Did you know air pollution, particularly ground-level ozone, is at its worst between April and October?  Air emissions from vehicle engines, electric generation units, industrial facilities, and many everyday activities contribute to the problem. In fact, on-road vehicles account for nearly 50% of ozone-forming emissions released in Central Texas.  Elevated ozone levels can have a significant impact on human health. When ozone levels are high many individuals may experience increased respiratory ailments.  Especially susceptible are children, older adults, and those with lung diseases like asthma.

Now is a good time to become air aware. Here are some steps you can take to learn about and reduce air pollution:

  • Take action by reducing drive alone trips and conserving electricity
  • Learn about the color coded air quality guide call the Air Quality Index (AQI) by going to www.airnow.gov
  • Check the daily air quality forecast every day by watching the local weather forecasts, sign up for air quality forecast emails from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, or download and use the AirNow app on your mobile device

For more information visit: www.aircentraltexas.org

Happy Breathing!

Just say “No”…to bottled water

Today’s heat index is 106..Summer is almost here! In three days, to be exact. Time for cookouts, floating the river, and lounging by the pool (if you haven’t done so already). But before you load up your cooler with ice cold beverages, consider what kind of packaging you select. You know what I’m talking about…the biggest scam of recent history…bottled water.

According to National GeographicAmericans drink their way through 50 BILLION bottles of water per year (and spend over $100 billion per year to do so), and most of those bottles do not get recycled (over 80% end up in landfills). Consider these other ramifications of bottled water:

  • Transporting the bottles and keeping them cold also burns fossil fuels, which give off greenhouse gases.
  • Groundwater pumping by bottled-water companies draws heavily on underground aquifers and harms watersheds.
  • According to some estimates, it takes up to three liters of water to produce one liter of bottled water. What kind of ROI is that?
  • As of 2013, 783 million people do not have access to clean water and almost 2.5 billion do not have access to adequate sanitation. And we are paying for something free!!! WHY.
  • Bottled water, even that “organic sustainable artisan spring water hand-captured by underprivileged yogis on a spirit journey” is not necessarily healthier or cleaner than tap water, and in many cases is often of lower quality. And that’s not even getting into the BPA and other chemicals in the bottles themselves that leach into the water. On that note, bottled water is usually taken from municipal supplies anyway, so I say again, we are paying for something free.

I want to encourage everyone to make more sustainable choices in your outdoor activities, and use reusable drinking containers. We got those excellent insulated mugs at the White Elephant party last December. Hard-plastic and stainless-steel water bottles are also good options. For picnics, why not buy reusable plastic cups (they are like 80 cents each), or challenge yourself to make a Solo cup last all summer (my grandma has used the same pack of Solo cups for several years). On that note, instead of buying lots of individual bottles of water or juice, why not buy a gallon or two and pour it into said reusable cups? That way we can save the bottled water for the people who actually need it, like those in developing countries, or Flint, MIWest Virginia, or North Carolina.

If you would like more information on bottled water, you can refer to these articles.

Reader’s Digest

United Nations

 

Catie Sauer
Archaeological Technician
LEED® Green Associate™

2015 EBJ Business Achievement Award – Small Firm, Gold Medal Winner!

Each year Environmental Business Journal recognizes outstanding business performance in the environmental industry with our EBJ Business Achievement Awards. Environmental Business Journal is proud to announce its 18th annual business achievement awards. Congratulations to the winners, thanks to all the companies that submitted nominations, and we hope to see you in San Diego for the official awards ceremony at Environmental Industry Summit XIV on March 9, 2016 at Hotel del Coronado in San Diego.

In October-December 2015, EBJ solicited the environmental industry via e-mail, social media, its website, industry events and word-of-mouth for nominations for the EBJ Business Achievement Awards. Nominations were accepted in 200-word essays in either specific or unspecified categories. Categories or size designations may have been adjusted depending on the volume of nominations or the number of worthy recipients. Final awards were determined by a committee of EBJ staff and EBJ editorial advisory board members.

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