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Rooted In Reality
Solutions to environmental issues are rooted in our ability to make change
October 22, 2019
Individual efforts help improve environmental issues
Plastic fills beaches, oceans, the stomachs of marine animals. Temperatures reach an all-time high, melting ice caps and sucking the moisture out of lakes and rivers. Humans and animals alike breathe polluted air, unwittingly contaminating their bodies with a single breath.
The gravity of the environmental situation has seemingly come crashing down all at once. People have made the realization that something must be done, yet it seems as though no action is being taken. People may think their actions as one person couldn’t possibly make a difference, or they simply may not know where to start.
For junior Anna West, the story is different. As a student in Environmental Science last year, she discovered the importance of taking responsibility for treating the environment with the respect it so desperately needs. West has always had an interest in environmental issues, but Environmental Science helped her broaden her perspective and implement change in her own life.
“It gave us more background knowledge about what we can do, and we explored it in more depth than you would get from, say, the news or something,” West explained.
Environmental Science teacher Mrs. Kim Maxwell believes that being informed is the first step people must make before making changes to their lives.
“I think it’s a lack of awareness that kids have… I think just being informed of, you know, like having access to clean water is something that not a lot of people have,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “Only one in six people in the world have access to clean water. And so something as simple as [walking] into the bathroom and [flipping] on the sink… that’s not a luxury that everybody has.”
From what she learned in Environmental Science, West realized that while one person’s actions may seem inconsequential, even the smallest changes can prove impactful.
“Success and change can come about [many] ways. If a lot of individuals change, that would make a difference. For example, overgrazing from cows is a big problem and a lot of methane comes from cattle, so if everybody gave up meat one day of the week, a lot of good things would come from that,” West said.
Mrs. Maxwell agrees that small changes can help contribute to a much bigger environmental movement.
“There’s also a lot of resource consumption when it comes to agriculture and meat industries,” Mrs. Maxwell said. “So not necessarily saying that everybody should become a vegetarian, but even if you went like meatless for a day, that would reduce the overall resources that are utilized in that industry.”
West explains that while individual actions are essential in improving the environmental situation, responsibility also falls on corporations.
“Not everything is able to be done on a grand scale, but I think the key to making real change is … a mixture of large contributions and individual actions,” West said.
An example of a way large corporations can enact environmental change is UMSL Sustainability, an organization made up of UMSL students and staff. It aims to spread awareness about how to live more eco-friendly lives and provides resources for people at UMSL to start making changes in their lives.
Ashley Breyfogle, a biology major at UMSL, aids in planning Sustainability’s events and spreading the word about the program.
“We’re a group of faculty and students that … are always brainstorming different ideas on how to make things more sustainable,” Breyfogle explained. “The thing I’m really focused on right now is … working on getting recycling and [composting] over at Meadows, the apartment on campus.”
Breyfogle gets the opportunity to take action on a much larger scale than just implementing change in her daily life. Because of her involvement in Sustainability, her reach is larger than that of an ordinary person.
However, Breyfogle believes that anyone who puts their mind to it can live a more sustainable life. From recycling to joining an organization like Sustainability, she believes anything and everything has an impact.
“Talking to people, like peer influence, is a good way to get people to start recycling or whatever else. Small scale, it doesn’t seem like you make a difference, but you definitely do,” Breyfogle said.
Mrs. Maxwell agrees that individual actions can make a huge difference in improving the environmental problems that are being faced today.
“Some things can be as simple as, instead of throwing your plastic bottle in, throw it in the recycling bins that are placed in every single classroom throughout the school. I take multiple plastic bottles out of my trash cans every day. That’s one really small thing that could happen, but on a really large scale can make a difference.” Mrs. Maxwell said.
According to Mrs. Maxwell, it’s important to remember that the resources we have today must be saved for the future. In her eyes, resource consumption is one of the biggest environmental issues that must be tackled.
“Our world is just what we got, there’s not a new one… The resources we have are the resources we have. Some of them are able to be renewed and some of them are not, and if we’re not using them sustainably… the world as we know it is going to become much more expensive, much harder to survive in,” Mrs. Maxwell said.
While it’s easy to focus on the many negative aspects of the current environmental situation, it’s important to remember that action is being made, both on a small and large scale.
“There are a lot of companies that are coming about that have like, reusable water bottles, reusable feminine hygiene products. There’s a lot of companies who are using more organic and eco-friendly stuff and trying to spread awareness,” West said.
West believes that companies with a big influence are an important factor in getting individuals to live more sustainably.
“They’re important because of their impact, mostly, and because more people believe them over some small thing. They just have a much bigger range and a bigger influence,” West explained.
Climate In Crisis
Changes in Earth’s climate have potential for deadly consequences for this generation
A land that was once a symbol of paradise, notorious for its clear waters, coral reefs, exotic cuisine and diverse wildlife, is now in shambles. A once-cozy blue house with an easy white porch, now lays completely upside down amongst the debris. The streets which previously resonated the enthusiastic chatter between tourists and locals, are now flooded with the incessant clamor of bulldozers clearing the city’s remnants. With the official death toll now reaching at least 50, and an estimated 76,000 residents left homeless, Hurricane Dorian has left the Bahamas in devastation. Dorian is only the latest of many natural disasters this year.
With recent changes in the earth’s climate, natural disasters, such as Hurricane Dorian, are becoming more and more frequent. According to information gathered by NASA on global climate change, hurricanes will grow more frequent and intense, more droughts and heat waves will occur and sea levels will rise, along with many other effects as the climate’s temperature increases.
Environmental Science teacher and sponsor of FHC’s environmental club, Mrs. Kellie Staback, is well-informed on some of the biggest issues with the current climate risks.
“With the rising global temperature that comes with climate change, you have to worry about the melting of the ice caps and sea level rise. Weather extremes as well: flooding that we’ve seen in the past few years, ocean acidification is another big one with coral bleaching and the loss of biodiversity in the ocean,” Staback said.
Although the concept of climate change is a complex one, it is not an issue that can only be grasped by adult minds. Many students are also very aware of the changes the planet is experiencing. Senior and co-president of the Environmental Club, Anne Meister, has a thorough understanding of what effects climate change can have on the earth.
“The way that we live right now is going to drastically change within 10 to 15 years, because it won’t just be the earth getting hotter. We’ll see the coldest winters we’ve ever seen. We’ll see the hottest summers we’ve ever seen. We’ll see more hurricanes and more floods that devastate towns and cities and coastlines,” Meister said.
Meister has even witnessed these repercussions firsthand while traveling the country with her father, who works as a plant scientist.
“We were driving all over the country this year, and [my dad was] like, ‘Those crop machines shouldn’t be out right now… The farmers should already be planting their crops,’ and ‘We’re going to run out of food,’” Meister said.
Although the issues that threaten the future of planet earth appear to be well known amongst the general public, the overall climate temperature continues to rise. But according to Staback, this is not due to a lack of regard today’s youth has for the environment.
“I would say that a lot of students truly care about what’s going on in the environment,” Staback explained. “I think that they really want to have an understanding of what’s actually happening, and are there ways that they, as an individual, can actually make a difference.”
Eric Aldrich, a meteorology instructor at the University of Missouri- Columbia, agrees that there is a positive attitude toward reducing climate pollution. However, he believes that those who are concerned are not always informed on the truth of what the issues are.
“The climate has always been changing; that’s nothing new. The climate will continue to change, too. I think many people just think that it has started to change, when that’s not the case at all. Now, the rate at which it is changing is happening quicker,” Aldrich said. “[Attitude toward the environment is] good in that, people do genuinely care about the climate and environment. There just needs to be more education on how the natural climate changing process changes.”
The first step to preventing climate change is understanding what it is. Meister provided a brief description of global warming, which is arguably the biggest contributor to climate change.
“[Greenhouse gasses are] making a blanket around the Earth, so that the sun rays- they can come in, but they can’t get out,” Meister said.
Additionally, in order to understand how a change in climate can be prevented, it is important to recognize what its initial causes are. Staback provided some information on the biggest contributors to air pollution, which drive global warming and climate change.
“[Greenhouse gas emissions are] really due to urbanization, industrialization, those types of things, but the greenhouse gas emissions come from a variety of things like transportation: cars, trains, airplanes, [etc.], but also stationary sources like power plants and factories. And even methane from livestock is a big issue,” Staback said.
There are many things that can be done to reduce pollution, and Staback instills in her students that it only takes one person to begin a change that can have a monumental impact.
“I always tell them that it truly takes one individual. If you look at The Ocean Cleanup Project, it took one teenager to have this idea, and now this idea is being implemented out in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch,” Staback said. “So, I tell them that individuals matter, and their care for the environment matters.”
Even if the efforts of one individual do not spark a nationwide project, all of the minor acts that people carry out every day can have a significant impact on the air and climate quality. Aldrich provided some of the very basics that almost everyone can take part in.
“Carpool, bike and walk more, don’t participate in open burning, recycle, upgrade to new vehicles [such as those that are battery powered],” Aldrich said.
Staback also shared some household habits that could have a drastic impact when implemented continuously.
“Eat less meat. With the greenhouse gas methane, if we’re eating less meat, then we’re not driving that whole industry,” Staback said. “[Also,]conserving energy at home; thinking about light usage and energy efficient appliances that are in your house. If possible, I know it’s difficult with our society today, but [try] using renewable resources if you can.”
Meister is passionate about the often unrecognized effects food waste can have on global warming and climate change. She suggests being conscious of what food products could still be eaten instead of thrown out.
“People should start thinking about their food waste, and being like, ‘Okay, can I eat this still? I can still eat this,’” Meister said. “Food lasts a lot longer than people actually think it does.”
With the joined efforts of the planet’s inhabitants, earth’s preservation is most certainly within reach. However, even though it only takes one person to start a movement, no one individual can make the change on their own. That is why Staback highly encourages students to raise awareness for issues they’re passionate about.
“Just raising awareness: telling other people what you know. Like I said: individuals matter. If one person is sharing what they care about, then it might spark somebody else to make a change too,” Staback said.
The Wastebin Of Our World
Litter creates detrimental effects on our environment
The sun scrapes over the tree line of Legacy Park, igniting the emerald soccer fields, reaching to the black pavement of the student parking lot, and shining on the students as they emerge from cars and buses, ready for a brand new day at Francis Howell Central. However, in the grass around the school, in the parking lot, and inside the building itself, a person could see litter, tarnishing the image.
According to National Geographic, 8.63 billion tons of plastic products have been made in total. Of that shocking amount, 6.3 billion tons have become plastic garbage, 79 percent of which ends up litter. This number seems unrealistic, but real life examples are all around, according to Mrs. Karen Flood, all they would have to do is look on the ground in front of them.
“I find litter everywhere I go. I always pick it up as I walk through the building of [the] school, I pick it up in the parking lot,” Mrs. Flood said. “I think litter is one of the biggest problems that we have with our throwaway society.”
The most common item Mrs. Flood finds is (unsurprisingly) plastics and personal waste, things most people use on a daily basis and throw away without a thought.
“I think the most common [item I find] is plastic, lots of food and drink [waste], especially when I’m out at parks and stuff,” Mrs. Flood said. “I think most of the stuff that I find is [what] people have left from either eating or drinking.”
Mrs. Flood is part of a group called Clean Stream, a group that goes out and retrieves litter from bodies of water locally.
“We started doing Clean Stream because we thought it was really important for the students to have something [that they] got together and did…for our [local] community,” Mrs. Flood said. “A lot of the things that we’ve done in the past have been for hurricane relief for storms, and we wanted to do something that the students would be directly affected [by].”
Much of the trash seen in the rivers and lakes that Clean Stream helps get rid of is caused by everyday people just leaving their trash around, even if it’s nowhere near a body of water, according to Mrs. Kellie Staback, the sponsor for the Environmental Club and an Environmental Sciences teacher.
“A lot of the plastic packaging either makes it to a landfill, where it takes hundreds and hundreds of years to decompose, or it doesn’t make it to a landfill,” Mrs. Staback said. “It ends up littering, just like we see around our own campus community. It could get stuck in rain runoff and get into our creeks and streams and rivers, and eventually into the ocean.”
It may also hurt the organisms living in the wild where the waste used by humans ends up and could potentially hurt them in many ways.
“It definitely impacts ecosystems. A lot of times, different researchers have found that animals actually eat the plastic that’s in the rivers, in the creeks, or even…on the side of the road, which makes them obviously very sick and can actually lead to their deaths,” Staback said. “It’s not only affecting the quality of our own environment as humans, but also [the quality of life] for other organisms too.”
Other than Clean Stream, the school has provided another way to help alleviate the issue of litter; Wednesday afternoon nature walks. Junior Sarah Skelly, a member of the Environmental Club, plans to take part in these walks after school during PLC time.
“We’re going to be walking around the campus of school and picking up trash, and then on Sundays, we might go into Legacy Park and pick up trash there too,” Skelly said.
As a student here, Skelly said she believes the easiest and simplest way to help is to make sure trash is thrown away, both when it comes to personal waste and any waste seen around a person’s area.
“Recycle plastic, paper and cans that can be recycled, stuff like that. [You] can also make sure that [your] trash makes it in the trash can, and if [you] see litter, pick it up,” Skelly said.