Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Saying goodbye to APES

Keystone XL Pipeline update (May 18th): Grassroots movements are rallying together to disapprove of the proposed Keystone pipeline. The group Bold Nebraska, established by Jane Kleeb, represents farmers opposed to the pipeline and TransCanada. It's exciting to see more citizens becoming vocal about their opinions, as they recognize the adverse effects that the pipeline will bring. 

APES: Yesterday, I had my last AP Environmental Science class of the year, on the last day of high school. It was emotional, because the class has guaranteed more than an education for me. The experiences that APES has provided, introducing me to my best friends and taking me to remote tropical islands, are incredible. I'm going to miss the class and Ms. Began so much. 

Our last assignment included writing a letter to a person of power, regarding an environmental issue we cared about. I wrote to the president of the college I'll be attending - Harvey Mudd - about divesting from fossil fuels. The letters are getting mailed today; I hope I receive a response! 

Here is an excerpt of my reflection of APES: 

Taking AP Environmental Science has been such an enlightening experience. It’s one of the only classes that focuses on issues beyond the individual, applicable to real life. Our generation has so many environmental challenges to tackle, before climate change drowns San Francisco and poor waste management leaves half the world sick and destitute. While it’s easy to be discouraged by the intense work that lies ahead, this class has taught us that there are solutions. We have the opportunity to fix problems and we need to take it.

“We shall never achieve harmony with the land, anymore than we shall achieve absolute justice or liberty for people. In these higher aspirations the important thing is not to achieve but to strive.” Aldo Leopold

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Political activism

It's April and election season in India. Business and development are on every candidate's agenda, but for what may be the first time ever, environmental causes are also being considered. 

It's heartening to see politicians accept that environmental action is are necessary components of their plans in office. Both major parties contending for seats in the Parliament, the Congress and BJP, have reinforced their aims to find the right balance of renewable and non-renewable energy sources, as well as limiting greenhouse gas emissions. 

Anna da Costa, a research fellow based in New Delhi for the Worldwatch Institute, suggests that carrying out sustainability plans are definitely more difficult than giving lip service to environmental issues. Worldwide frameworks for implementing and reaching environmental targets haven't been clearly created yet, giving the new administration of rather chaotic India quite a task to live up to. 

I'm so glad that India is beginning to reflect on its impact on the environment. A large, populous country changing its ways to help the planet may sway other governments to do the same. It's imperative, however, that elected officials follow through on their promises. I hope India becomes a model for developing countries' sustainability paths. It's exciting to see positive change. 

Find the original article here

Saturday, March 22, 2014

March updates

At the convergence of environmentalism, economics, and politics is the controversy over supporting solar power. Traditionally a party that dismissed environmentalism as a fad and eyed Obama’s administration as one of “solar cronies,” the Republican Party is now turning onto a new, but divisive path. Several conservative leaders and party members now accept and welcome an increase in the development and usage of renewable energy resources, especially solar energy. Big name Republican politicians, including Barry Goldwater Jr., claim themselves to be the “original environmentalists,” who loved the original Western Frontier. Georgia’s Tea Party has even teamed up with the Sierra Club to form the “Green Tea Coalition” just last year.

Traditional conservatives panic at the support the GOP has for policies usually associated with liberals. At the heart of this rather sudden switch are multi-faceted issues of “national security,” fossil fuel spending, and the concept of the free market. Every conservative solar-panel user has different motives for pledging allegiance to the growing solar power movement. Instead of eyeing domestic oil reserves as we noticed our pro-drilling panel members did in our ANWR debate, Republicans like Tom Morrissey, former state party chairman for Arizona, see solar energy as an opportunity to divest from Middle Eastern fossil-fuel related conflicts. The utilities industry is also increasingly seen as “regulated monopolies” controlled by a handful of bureaucrats, not the free market economy that most Republicans advocate. This new, more liberal stance on energy consumption is surprising, but positive as well, in my opinion. If Obama’s administration chooses to campaign for an advancement in renewable energy resources research and usage, perhaps change will happen faster with more Republicans’ support. It’s important we take this political shift in attitudes, driven by economics and foreign policy, and produce real action.

Find the original article here

In other news, SAS, Tanglin Trust School, UWC East, and the International School of Singapore hosted the first local global issues conference last week! It was a definite success  Students from eight schools discussed issues to a number of problems that are prevalent here, ranging from the lack of care for elderly people and preserving the Macritchie rainforest (as opposed to converting it into a trainforest, as one of my friends cleverly put it). Each GANG - Global Action Network Group - presented their Local Action Plans and committed to the carrying out of the plans, with a set timeline. We also hosted three speakers who focused on human trafficking. Check out the photos from the event. More information on each of the action plans will come in once people make progress!  

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Apple acknowledges climate change

Sorry about missing a February post! School has been busy - Global Issues Network is hosting a local conference for students islandwide - GINSING2014 - to brainstorm solutions to issues prevalent in Singapore on March 16th. We're also trying to integrate sustainable uniforms, made by Waste 2 Wear, into the school's dress code policy to promote closing the consumer waste cycle. A number of fundraisers, like County Fair at school, have been helping us raise money for our causes. It's been a busy few weeks! I hope the outcomes turn out positively as well. 

This recent article by the Guardian may herald a new wave of corporate sustainability. Apple has declared that it will continue to invest in sustainable energy resources, attempting to "curb its environmental impact" while fighting "the use of minerals mined in the DRC that can fund war and human rights abuses." When multinational corporations start making it clear that they support protecting the planet, I take it as a good sign. Hopefully this will encourage others to take a stand against rising carbon dioxide emissions. Let's hope that Apple sticks to their promises.

Friday, January 31, 2014

The Pipeline

At the convergence of politics, economics, and environmentalism lies the issue of the Keystone XL oil pipeline. The State Department contends that the project will have little impact on climate change but ignores the fragmentation of wildlife, land, and communities that will result. The environmental impact assessment is causing fissures within the Democratic Party and the entire country as environmental activists, organized labor, and job hungry Republican senators struggle against the implications of building the pipeline. 

Do we want dirtier oil, releasing 17% more carbon emissions, or several thousand jobs for Americans? There's a fine line that separates the socio-economic-environmental effects of the Keystone Pipeline. 

The comments on this CNN article are particularly interesting. 

All of us will be watching Obama in the next 90 days. Let's hope he makes the right decision.  

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Gold mining in Indonesia

In AP Environmental Science, we keep track of current environmental news. Here's a snippet from our non-renewable resources unit - my reflection on a New York Times article on gold mining in Indonesia.

What do we want? Fancy gold jewelry or brain damage, kidney malfunctioning, and dysfunctional neurological development for those that provide the metals? 

A recent investigation of Indonesia’s gold mining industry shows us an alarming trend: one hundred grams of mercury are incorporated into the purified gold amalgam during the processing stage. 

Some environmental activists believe that the mercury is not being legally imported, but smuggled into Indonesia for small-scale miners, under the radar. It seems preposterous that the miners would be willing to put themselves at risk but in the lower income level regions of Indonesia’s mining industry, lack of education and high gold prices are to blame. Miners burn the mercury after purifying the gold with it, in turn releasing the heavy metal into the atmosphere and any liquid excesses into nearby water bodies. 

But the damage isn’t limited to wildlife. Children in the area been found to have dysfunctional motor skills, while parents that operate the gold purifying businesses have internal mercury levels as high has 25 parts per million, as opposed to the World Health Organization’s healthy standard of one ppm. I believe that when environmental degradation and health hazards coincide, it’s a sign that the manufacturing process and world of consumerism must change. 

Buyers’ demand for precious metals, prices, and purity often obscure the adverse environmental and health impacts behind the curtain of air conditioned showrooms and thief proof cases. Educational programs on both sides of the spectrum – manufacturing and consuming – need to be implemented for healthier mining. 

Tuesday, December 31, 2013


2013 has been a year of environmental ups and downs. Here are 12 events that sum up the year.

January: President Obama's Second Inaugural Speech states that Americans "will respond to the threat of climate change." NPR reviews suggested that just mentioning climate change in his speech resulted in the "biggest cheers from the crowd."

February: A number of surveys conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago finds that the degradation of the environment isn't a priority for people worldwide. The US is no exception to this rule, where the economy is #1 and the environment is #6. This is where my AP Environmental Science textbook's definition of sustainability comes into play: finding the right balance between socio-economic and environmental issues. 

March: Fertilizer runoff and human disturbance is proving to be detrimental for aquatic life in more than 55% of the US's streams. These findings were the result of the EPA's first stream and river health survey. 

April: The UK's carbon tax system is declared a leading country in its tackling of carbon emissions. The nation follows the KPMG Green Tax Index based in Switzerland, attempting to encourage corporate and individual sustainability.  

May: Danish 9th grade students discover that WiFi routers inhibit garden cress sapling growth. Could our widespread cell phone use adversely affect larger trees? The neuroscience department at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden is interested in repeating the experiment. 

June: Buttercup the duck is fitted with a silicone prosthetic foot, thanks to the merging of technology and animal care. Visit his Facebook page

July: A published report featured on CNN suggests that over two million deaths are attributed to outdoor air pollution annually. Fine particulate matter including dust, soot, smoke, and liquid droplets lodge in lungs, causing cancer and respiratory diseases. In addition, over 470,000 people die due to anthropogenic ozone pollution. 

August: 228 dolphins are found dead along the East Coast of the US. Lesions in the mammals' lungs may be due to the morbillivirus. Heavy metals, pesticides, and hydrocarbons dumped into the water are suspected to have made the respiratory infections worse. The deaths of the dolphins is worrying. As keystone and indicator species, healthy dolphins demonstrate an ecosystem of high integrity. 

September: California passes a bill regulating the fracking industry. While environmental groups were unhappy with the new law, oil and gas companies are now required to obtain permits before drilling. 

October: The government shutdown causes problems for people and the planet. Work near toxic waste sites was halted by the EPA, for example, and law suits that tried to close down polluting cement kilns were temporarily put on hold. 

November: Typhoon Haiyan devastates the Philippines and many cite climate change as a cause of the natural disaster. The warming of the earth and ocean as well as the disruption of regular currents induces intense tropical storms. 

December: It's not usual for the breezy Bay Area air to drop to -3 degrees Celsius. Yet this year the region, along with several other cities nation wide, is experiencing a severe winter. Global climate weirding is definitely a problem that needs to be addressed.  

Happy 2014! Let's make this one our most sustainable yet.