Wednesday, January 26, 2011

"We are living on this planet as if we had another one to go to." -Terri Swearingen

Modern space exploration has revealed a great deal about the wonders of our universe, but we still have yet to discover another place with conditions so perfect that it can actually host any form of life. Our little planet Earth is nothing short of a miracle, being the perfect distance from the sun and having enough water on its surface that it can self-regulate its temperature range as it spins and rotates in the Solar System. It has a natural atmosphere that blocks out the dangerous wavelengths beaming from the sun while still allowing the necessary ones to warm the surface of the planet. Millions of years of changes within this rare environment have led to the ecosystem that we know today, one that is more complex than the inner workings of your computer. Naturally, the earth's systems are sustainable. Joining in on this sustainability is our venture, but what exactly does that word mean?
Two summers ago, I had the opportunity to teach a class on sustainability to schoolchildren in Arkansas. I was able to convey the concept of sustainability to them by allowing them to draw a picture of a forest. They would add their sketchings of rivers, trees, bugs, and animals, and then I would start by pointing at the sun. "The sun gives us energy," I would say. "The sun heats up our planet so that it is warm enough for us and it also provides food to plants." Several anxious students would volunteer the word "photosynthesis" at this point, and proud of their input, they would smile at themselves as we moved on. The plants make food energy out of the light energy provided by the sun. Then animals eat the plants and that gives them the energy they need to live. When these plants and animals die, their bodies breakdown and provide nutrients to the soil, allowing new plants to grow and new animals to live. Each action allows other actions to begin, energy and matter are never wasted.
Living sustainably means taking from the Earth what we need to live now without compromising the ability of future generations to live later. According to, it would take 4.44 planets to sustain my current lifestyle if everyone shared it. I am using significantly more resources than our planet can naturally regenerate. I encourage you to visit this site and take the short quiz to find out how your own ecological impact compares. While they rarely admit as much, people often take for granted that there will always be a place for humans to live with the things that they need. But there doesn't seem to be much hope for finding another planet to live on anytime soon, so we need to start joining in on the cycle of sustainability to properly handle the resources that we already have here. We need to relearn ways of participating in the Earth's natural, sustaining, life-giving ways of being.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." -Mahatmas Gandhi

I find myself too often thinking of all the things I'll do in the future, I dream lists of ways I can make a difference later on. I think things like, "when I have the money to get my own house, I'll have it designed to be ecologically sound. And when I have my own family, I'll make sure that we all take short showers and recycle everything possible." As I'm finding, and as anyone with their own house or family can attest to: life doesn't get easier as you go along. In fact, the common trend is that as you get older you acquire more, not less responsibilities and you find yourself with less, not more time to do the things you've always wanted to do. I study environmental science at the University of South Florida, I wear my Simple shoes ( made of recycled materials, and I drive a gas-efficient car, but I know there is more that I could do. And there is no time better then now for me to step up and start taking action. It's time for me to stop dreaming about the things I'll do later on, and start doing them now. I have decided to spend the next ten weeks conducting a sustainability project in which I will address several aspects of living an environmentally friendly lifestyle. I will implement them into my own life, then blog about my experiences and share tips along the way so that you and your friends can join in on the fun.
            Aside from being an Environmental Science student, I am also a part-time employee with Advanced Environmental Laboratories, where I help to run tests on local water and soil samples to analyze the environmental impacts of human activity. Really, the companies sending us the samples are looking to meet legal standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but I like to look at the results of our tests as small glimpses of the larger picture that is the human impact on the Planet Earth. On days that I am not in the lab, I intern with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC). With them, I have been able to play a small role in several statewide projects based on population regeneration of threatened and endangered species. Most of these species populations are dwindling because of habitat loss, and while there isn't a lot I can do to stop development in our country, I can certainly study and assist the animals affected. My hope is that the information collected can sway developers and lawmakers to extend protections for these species before their situation becomes any worse. Aside from stating my credentials for sharing accurate information on the topic of environmental issues, I have shared my current undertakings in an effort to help you see one thing: I am busy, very busy. Like most Americans, I find myself juggling multiple tasks most hours of the day, leaving very little time for me to reevaluate my everyday habits in light of current issues, including environmental ones. I believe, however, that if taken one step at a time, I can learn to live a more sustainable lifestyle, and I can help you do so too. I only work part time, and I'm putting myself through college, so if I can afford the changes that will follow in the next ten weeks, so can you. If I can find the time in my schedule to not only make these changes in my own life, but also research them in order to better inform my audience, then you can find the time to implement some of the changes as well. No more excuses. It's time to start making a difference, here and now. Together we can save our planet, one small act at a time.