Friday, March 24, 2017

Top 5 Sustainability Documentaries

Sometimes it can seem overwhelming to do your own research on sustainability, and all the facets that go along with it. Fortunately over the years,  there have been amazing documentaries created about sustainability and the environment around the world.

Food Inc. 
This documentary is centered around the conditions of the American food industry and food system and how its aggressive structure is affecting the world. It features interviews from farmers who are pressured by huge corporations and their deceitful marketing and intensive farming techniques. Hopefully this film with enlighten you and change your view on what foods we eat.

Plastic Planet
This film analyzes the material that has become indispensable in today's society. It highlights the consequences of the mass consumption and production of plastic and how it is extremely harmful to the world. This documentary will hopefully put a perspective on your consumption habits of plastic and make you more aware of the pollution caused by it. Just because you may not see the repercussions it in your environment, does not mean it doesn't exist in someone else's.

Many people might not think anything of cow farms, slaughterhouses, or even our consumption of beef. However, the director of this film points out how this industry is very destructive toward our planet. Animal agriculture is seen to be one of the leading causes in deforestation, pollution, water consumption and much more. Even if you don't want to give up eating meat, at least educate yourself on the process and harms of this industry.

Waste Land
Rio de Janerio is popularly known as the city that held the 2016 summer olympics, but did you know it is also host the largest waste dump in Latin America? This documentary shows what life is like to the people  living here is like. This film with make you face the harsh reality of something that can eventually become a problem in your city. Hopefully you can be aware of your waste habits after watching.

Before the Flood
This film follows Leonardo DiCaprio around the world as he meets with some of the most powerful and influential figures to talk about climate change. He takes you to places that you might overlook to really show how global warming is affecting our planet. It can be engaging, emotional and alarming to witness such terror, but can also inspire people to make a change. This film points out that even though humans created this, we are powerful enough to do something and change the outcome of our planet's life.

More links:

Thursday, March 23, 2017

7 Easy Ways To Go Green in College

Being in college, you are bogged down by the stress of school and daily responsibilities. However you can make small changes that help the planet without much effort or money.

1.  Take Electronic Notes-With the world being so digitally focused, so can your studies. Try saving paper (and money) by taking your notes electronically instead of purchasing notebooks and flashcards.

2. Start Using Reusable Bags- Everybody goes grocery shopping, and if you think about it, that is a lot of paper and plastic bags being accumulated and wasted. Reusable bags are under $2 and will help the environment in the long run.

3. Stop Using Bottled Water- Buy a reusable water bottle, or even they are too expensive, reuse old water bottles. Landfills are a filled with over 2 million tons of water bottles! That is very sad. So please, save yourself some money, whilst saving the world along with it.

4. Get Paperless Mail- Junk mail is an annoyance to both you and the environment. Hundreds of pieces of paper from junk mail are being tossed out everyday. Opting out online can save resources! Also, opt into paperless billings for all your bills. With everything being digital now a days, there is no reason to get wasted paper sent to you.

5. Get Rid of Aerosol Sprays- Not many people know this, but aerosol sprays contain many gases that lead to global warming. With thousands of different products in the world, it is not hard finding a pump spray alternative.

6. Walk/Bike More- Not only does it help with a healthier lifestyle, cutting down on driving can help save you gas money and the environment!

7. Recycle- Recycling should be a no-brainer by now. When you can, recycle. By sorting paper, plastic, or up-cycling old things, you can save a lot of trash from reaching landfills.

These are just a few tips that can be easily implemented into your life, and will save you money. By going green, you are saving green!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Sustainability in Tea Drinking

All true tea comes from the plant Camellia Sinensis. It is grown on nearly every continent on Earth, however the majority of production is concentrated in China, India, and Kenya. There are a variety of ways that tea is grown from heavily managed tea plantations where plants are only kept for about a maximum of three years before being tossed out to ancient wild forests. When considering buying sustainable tea there are five major factors to examine; soil, water, pest management, transportation/carbon footprint, and labor.

We first consider soil because not only does the quality of soil have an effect on the end product that we consume, but also the plant itself has an effect on the soil and therefore the surrounding ecosystem beyond the tea farm. Tea requires a soil rich in nitrogen, preferably ammonium, in order to grow healthily and produce its desired theanine and caffeine. This means that the plants need to have a source of fertilization whether from decaying surrounding biomass such as dropped leaves, commercial fertilizers, or agricultural fertilizers such as manure. Depending on the climate and the positioning of the tea farm, the way that the fertilizer is applied can also affect nearby water sources and thus surrounding ecosystems. Tea farms that use commercial fertilizers will likely still leave the soil of their farm greatly depleted and contaminate local water sources such as rivers or groundwater supplies. These will usually be the large scale farms which require efficiency to operate profitably. Some larger scale farms are able to use natural compost fertilizers, but that is often something a smaller garden can do more easily and profitably. Wild tea forests harvested for tea (almost exclusively found in some areas of Eastern Asia) rely on natural fertilization sources such as surrounding decaying plants and wild animal manure. Some modern farms are exploring ways of mimicking this natural fertilization system too.

The next factor to consider is water. As briefly touched upon this is related to the issue of soil. However there are two further reasons to consider the issue of water when deciding where to source your tea from. Tea requires a considerable amount of water to grow. Some tea plants such as the purple variety have been cultivated in order to be more drought tolerant, but much of tea is not. If planted in an area without sufficient natural water tea can drain the groundwater supply, harming the local ecosystem. Furthermore the water that the tea uptakes will naturally impart some of what it contained. If the tea is planted in an area where the groundwater supply is contaminated by other agricultural or mining operations then that can damage the plants and possibly leave trace concentrations of heavy metals in the final product. Higher elevation rural farms with reliable rainfall and fog as their main sources of water may have better chances of being uncontaminated.

This then brings us to the issue of pest management. As with every living thing, tea has some natural predators in the insect and fungal world and weed world. There are multiple ways to combat pests and many different available pesticides. Tea itself produces natural pesticides such as caffeine. In order to protect their yields, large tea plantations often use pesticides to control or prevent pests. Without getting too deep into the issue of pesticides specifically, the main thing to consider here is actually how strict a country’s laws are about pesticide useage and safety and how strictly those laws are enforced as well as how easy it is to apply those pesticides and even whether or not they’re wanted. One common misconception about a particular tea, Oriental Beauty (Dongfang Meiren) is that because its processing requires it to be bitten by a particular pest that no pesticides at all are used on these plants. However there are still weeds that farmers might use herbicides against or harmful fungi. Since transporting pesticides up into remote mountainous regions is difficult, it is less likely that pesticides are used on wild tea trees.

However the more remote that a tea forest is the more carbon will be needed to transport the finished good to international markets. Furthermore wild tea trees have significantly lower yields than large plantations or even small to mid sized farms and the per-unit carbon cost will also substantially increase. In this respect farms closest the consumer are likely to have the lowest transportation/carbon-footprint cost.

Finally we come to the issue of labor. Depending on the region, tea farmers and tea pickers can be treated extremely differently. In the modern age living costs have increased, wages have increased, and young people’s interest in being tea farmers has dramatically decreased. This has led to some farms in rural and poorer regions relying on human trafficking in order to get the labor they need to pick all of their tea. Estates in India are known for housing their tea pickers/producers in small towns nearby. The BBC did an investigation into some of these estates at one point and found many of the tea workers were living in deplorable conditions, being refused wages, and instances of illegal child labor as well. This is not true of all Indian tea estates, but it’s a reminder that we as consumers must pay attention to the issue of labor in addition to the environmental aspects of our tea. Some teas are more likely to be mechanically harvested than others such as the case with most Japanese teas. This increases the carbon footprint to an extent, however the people who work on the farms are more likely to be paid livable wages and live in good conditions.

In many of the aforementioned respects, small producers who produce primarily from wild tea forests are most likely to be doing so sustainably. However for Western markets and especially mid-to-lower level prices that leaves consumers with very little tea to consume, not to mention it is nearly impossible for the average consumer to be able to distinguish wild tea from farmed tea on their own. So how do tea consumers trust what they’re drinking and know how it was produced? Look to the suppliers. Many tea shops go through wholesale tea suppliers to get their products. Their names and descriptions and offerings will all sound very similar and it is rather unlikely that the owners of the tea shops know where they are selling from or the conditions under which the tea was produced. However there are wholesalers such as Tealet which care greatly about sustainability and go through great lengths to visit the tea farms themselves and confirm all aspects of sustainability before putting bids on their teas and selling them abroad. Many small tea stores also source the tea themselves by visiting farms abroad as well. Consumers can look for this by reading tea shop owners blogs, talking to the tea shop owners, and asking questions about the discussed important aspects of tea production sustainability. Tea is a fantastic drink with consumption continuing to grow worldwide. Without sustainable practices in production it’s future will end up in jeopardy.

One of the best sources of tea information in English:

Using Virtual Reality to Reduce Pollution Reality

A few months ago I got my first Samsung smartphone, a Galaxy S7. One of the perks of getting this phone at the time was a free Oculus Gear VR- my first virtual reality headset. I’ve been dreaming of VR and AR (Augmented Reality) since the 90’s when I was in elementary school pretending to be a Pokemon trainer with my classmates on the playground. All I wanted was a way for Pokemon to be more solid than just in my imagination. However in the years that I’ve grown up and VR has finally become a consumable reality I’ve realized that I had completely overlooked the immense transformational effect that is possible with VR.

VR is more than about putting yourself in a fantasy world wherever you live. It’s capable of more than just being another gaming device or educational tool. VR is also fantastic as a vacation device. One of the first things that I did when exploring my Oculus Gear’s capabilities was go into Hulu. There they have a large library of 360 videos- and in particular 360 National Geographic videos. My favorite one to go to is that of a Glowworm Cave in New Zealand.

In reality, New Zealand is about 7000 miles away from where I live in Portland, Oregon. A plane trip there would take around 16 or more hours. A really rough estimate puts that at 371,000 pounds of CO2 from that one flight, and of course that would be doubled on the return trip for a rough total of 371 tons of CO2. For comparisons sake the average car is estimated to only produce about 5.2 tons of CO2 per year. Not only has this Oculus Gear saved me the several thousands of dollars that it would take to fly me to New Zealand, it has also helped prevent me from contributing to an added 371 tons of pollution to the environment.

Of course, one could argue that the plans will fly without me, but consider what will happen when VR headsets become as ubiquitous as our TVs and our smartphones (and when the image quality also improves greatly). Thousands and millions of people could then make the choice to see these amazing sights without contributing to global pollution.

Furthermore, thanks to VR I can visit the caves as often as I’d like without ever disturbing that environment. Imagine a future in which there might be thousands of different live streaming 360 VR cameras in natural zones where people might go and experience serene nature without disturbing nature.

I forgot where I read this, but someone once said that the best way to protect nature is to stay away from it. Living in cities is more environmentally friendly than suburbs, staying out of nature preserves is better for them than exploring them, avoiding wildlife keeps them healthier and happier than trying to spy on them. With VR this ideal of experiencing nature while staying separate from it in order to better protect it while still enjoying it becomes ever closer to reality.

And the extra bonus is, I didn’t have to worry about carnivorous worms falling on my head!

VR is going to be a win for humanity and a major win for nature.