Trees, and How They Can Slow Climate Change

As human civilization arose, we needed something with which to build shelter and provide fuel for cooking and warmth. While masonry is durable and may look nice, it is expensive and heavy. We needed a light but strong material to build everything from ships to tools. The obvious choice was, and still is, wood. Wood is lighter than stone, strong, and most importantly, it is easy to work with. The issue is that,  when humans became dependent on wood, there was an abundance of it. This, coupled with humanity’s little to non-existent knowledge about greenhouse gases and the role trees play in keeping the atmosphere healthy, means we have historically cut down trees as we pleased. Because there were so many trees, there was no incentive to plant more. After all, you wouldn’t add more sand to the Sahara, would you? Unfortunately for humans, it took us over 100,000 years to realize the impact of deforestation. By that time we had already cut down almost HALF of the trees on Earth.

Approximately 30% of land on earth is currently covered with more than three trillion trees.  While that sounds like a lot, there is even more unused area. According to a team of researchers led by ecologist Tom Crowther at Swiss University ETH Zurich, there is sufficient area for another 1.2 trillion trees on Earth. His team’s calculations don’t include farmland or urban areas and limit the number of trees on grazing pastures. This means you can still enjoy the sun, buns, and burgers to which you have grown accustomed, while trillions of trees work to sequester hundreds of billions of tons of CO2 out of the atmosphere. To put that into perspective, global yearly CO2 emissions are approximately 38 billion tons. Even if the ideal spacing of trees is not achieved, there would still be a significant positive impact on climate change. 

At the current rate of $1 per tree for nonprofits such as the Arbor Day Foundation, planting trees is the most economical and most effective solution to climate change that is supported by scientific research. The added value is that, while governments around the world have programs to plant trees, such as China’s “Great Green Wall”, individuals can help, too! We don’t have to depend on world governments to take action, you can make an impact. If every person plants a few trees, we will be well on our way to regrowing the Earth. 

Written by Lucas of the Baer Engineering Green Team – Highschool Student Intern

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.