Big and Little Ways to Save the World

Smog in China. Photo credit: Erand Renz via Flickr

The air we breathe and the water we drink are more polluted than ever, wildlife habitats are being destroyed, and the world is on the brink of another mass extinction. These events all have a correlation to humans. People build factories and drive cars, burning more and more fossil fuels each day, and polluting the air further. Humans build lead pipes because it is the cheaper option, forgetting that a simple switch of water sources, and thus the pH of the water going through the pipes, can force the lead to contaminate the once potable water. Trees are used to make paper and build houses, but the replanting of trees is often neglected. Pollution, climate change, and the current state of the earth are mainly due to the industrialization of the world in the last 200 years. Just as we have aided in deteriorating the world, we can help in saving it. Something as simple as carpooling to work can take tons of fossil fuel emissions out of the equation. In the future, if people work together, it is possible to bring the world back.

Water is an absolute necessity for any living organism’s existence. Earth’s consumable water supply is, however, fleeting. According to National Geographic, only 0.007 percent of earth’s water is safe and easily accessible for the 7.5 billion people living on earth. As Americans, the issue of water scarcity is somewhat unfamiliar. Most of us have the luxury of turning the tap on to get a nice Tervis tumbler of ice water on a hot day in July and taking fifteen minute showers after a workout. In developing countries, about 1.1 billion people do not have clean water access.

Charities like Charity Water work to reduce the amount of people living with little or no access to clean water. Each dollar donated to Charity Water is given to companies who are striving to “to build sustainable, community-owned water projects around the world.” Currently, the charity is working in twenty-four countries across the globe and has given over seven million people clean accessible water since its inception in 2006.

The scarcity of clean water not only affects the health of those living in developing countries, but also creates violence within these countries. For example, during the spring of 2000 in the Bolivian city of Cochabamba, Bolivian citizens protested against the privatization of the water supply. The protests led to violence; streets were barricaded by populists and martial law was declared. This time in Cochabamba is one that Bolivians will never forget. Many believe that water is a right, not a privilege, for humans to thrive on it to live.

Recently, contamination of water has affected places a bit closer to home. Flint, Michigan has not had clean water since 2014. The city’s water became contaminated when Flint switched water sources and began utilizing water from the nearby Flint River. Residents soon began to complain about a strange color and the smell of the water coming from their pipes. Soon after, traces of lead were found in the water, eliminating its chances for safe use. In an interview with The Huffington Post, Flint resident and activist Melissa Mays described her experience with the water, “We found out that our water had been dangerous for nine months and they didn’t tell us,” Mays went on to describe her family’s life after the contamination, “Our kids are not allowed to shower, they have to sit down in the tub without letting it fill up and fill a large cup of water to dump it over their heads to bathe.” When asked why Mays did not just move to a different city, she responded that “it is illegal to sell your home with a known copper and lead problem.” Mays and all residents of Flint are stuck in their houses, with polluted water and a fear of simply taking a shower.

Image courtesy of helpforflint.com.

In the middle of the Helpforflint.com homepage, in bold letters, is “SPREAD THE WORD.” Flint residents have been living under these awful conditions for three years; they are continually forgotten about by the media, under the shadow of other breaking news. The website also has links to places to donate, such as The American Red Cross, and organizations to go through in order to travel to Flint and volunteer. The biggest way one can help the people of Flint is to not let them be forgotten; this is affecting the health and well being of so many, and their voices must be heard.

Global warming, or climate change, is the steady increase in average global temperature. This increase is believed to be a result of human activity on earth; more specifically, the use of fossils fuels and emissions of greenhouse gases.

The world’s primary source of energy is fossil fuels. These include oil, coal, and natural gas. The use of these for electrical power and transportation emits greenhouse gases that have led to global warming. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere, and examples of these are methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide.

Oil is the fossil fuel primarily used for transportation. Oil accounts for the majority of United States’ fossil fuel emissions. Burning one gallon of diesel fuel will emit approximately 22.38 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Recently, oil has been prominent in the news, because of the Dakota Access Pipeline. According to Time Magazine, the plan for this pipeline is that it “will transport 570,000 tons of crude oil from North Dakota to Illinois.” The pipeline would help the United States and Canadian oil industries; however, the pipeline goes underground near the Sioux Native American reservation, and the tribe states that its implementation would force the Sioux to move because the now contaminated groundwater will ruin their drinkable water. This pipeline has led to conflict in the area, including both violent and nonviolent protests. The DAPL was even a point of disagreement in the 2016 election; both candidates frequently received questions about where they stood on the issue.  

Behind China, the United States is the second largest producer of coal. In fact, 39 percent of the United States’ electric power supply is derived from coal-burning power plants. The combustion of coal leads to acid rain and releases nitrous oxides and mercury into the air.

Natural gas is used to power the majority of the United States’ heating and electricity for industrial buildings; it is also used for fertilizer, paints, and plastics. Natural gas is mainly composed of methane, a major fossil fuel that is responsible for many of the heat trapped in the earth’s atmosphere.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the United States uses roughly 7.08 billion barrels of petroleum products a year. These products drastically harm our air and could cause lung cancer, water contamination, and many other various health issues. In cities like Los Angeles, Shanghai, and Beijing, the air pollution is sometimes visible, as the entire city is sometimes enveloped under a blanket of smog. The air quality in Beijing is so terrible for health that in some places, citizens wear masks covering their nose and mouth on a daily basis.

Some small changes a person can make to reduce fuel emissions are to carpool places, in order to burn less fuel, or even buy a bike or electric car. Turn off the lights in a room if you are not in it, and turn off the air conditioning and heat in your house if you are going on vacation.

A Tesla factory. Photo credit: Maurizio Pesce via Wikimedia Commons.

Endeavors like the Tesla Giga Factories are creating clean, solar energy that can be used to power homes and businesses. There is currently only on Gigafactory located in Reno, Nevada; however, Tesla CEO Elon Musk believes it would only take one hundred of these factories to power the world.

Since the beginning of time there have been five mass extinctions. According to National Geographic, mass extinctions are usually caused by “flood basalt events (volcano eruptions), asteroid collisions, and sea level falls.” However, some may be triggered by various other events.

We are living in the Holocene extinction, the sixth mass extinction within the last half-billion years, and the cause of this one is humans.

Deforestation can occur from fires, land degradations, and cutting down the trees for various uses such as agriculture, development, and timber. Deforestation is detrimental to exotic animals that are or on the verge of becoming endangered. Tropical rainforests are home to the majority of the world’s biodiversity, and with little to no habitat left, it is next to impossible for these exotic species to survive.

Easily the region most affected by deforestation is the Amazon rainforest. The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest at “roughly the size of the forty-eight contiguous United States,” and it is home to millions of exotic species.

An invasive species is one that is, because of human involvement, moved to another region of the world. The threat of invasive species is responsible for about 42% of all threatened or endangered species. Invasive species are a threat to other species because they are often predators, will out-compete for nutrients, bring diseases, and prevent native species from reproducing.

A way to help with the current mass extinction is to “Adopt” or sponsor an animal from the World Wildlife Fund. Choose an animal you connect with, and you will even get a stuffed version of you new friend. The World Wildlife Fund is a great website to research one animal and educate yourself and the importance of its existence. It is also important to speak against the poaching of endangered animals, because they obviously can not protect themselves for much longer.

Global warming is also a cause for loss of wildlife. Just as greenhouse gases are unhealthy for humans to inhale, they are dangerous for animals and their habitats. Like global warming, water pollution also destroys animal habitats. The Great Barrier Reef is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World, and it is dying. Located off the coast of Australia, the reef is 1800 miles long. It is home to thousands of different types of coral and fish as well as hundred of exotic species of birds.

Photo credit: Mahmoud Habeeb via Wikimedia Commons. 

By 2016, 67% of the reef was considered dead, or bleached. Reef bleaching is a result of warm water temperatures and is identified when coral releases algae in its tissues and loses all the vibrant color it once had. There is hope—a coral can survive bleaching if the water temperature changes back fast enough. In the same way that deforestation ruins the livelihood of land animals, coral bleaching does the same for ocean dwellers. Fish use the coral for home and food, and without it the thousands of exotic species living in reefs will become extinct.

Not only can an individual help save the world, but organizations can work to make a better future too. At Collegiate, we have begun recycling more and educating students on what can and cannot be recycled, as well as implementing new policies and technology (like the refilling water fountains) that develop sustainability. While pollution and climate change may be terrifying subjects, there are steps and initiatives that people can take to change the world and save the environment.

Featured Image by Skitterphoto via Pixabay.

About the author

Olivia is a senior at Collegiate and co-chair of SCA.