Over spring break my friends and I were lucky enough to spend a couple days in a cabin in Sevierville, Tennessee. Thankfully our cabin was just a short drive from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which we ventured into multiple times. Unfortunately, most trails were closed due to damage from wild fires. While in the Sugarland visitors center near Gatlinburg, we found a lot of exhibits highlighting the wildlife found in the forest. Another exhibit was dedicated solely to climate change and how it impacts the forest. More specifically, how ozone levels influence humans, plants, and foliage throughout the forest. As shown in the image below, ozone is harmful at ground level, and can increase as the elevation rises. Ozone is three oxygen atoms with one double bond and one single bond. Ozone forms naturally in the atmosphere which is necessary for life on the planet. However, ozone can form in the troposphere (lowest section of the atmosphere, ground level to about 6 miles up) by reacting with oxides of nitrogen. The National Park Service made it a point to publish that many of the pollutants which causes ozone levels to rise is a result to many human activities (e.g. industry, transportation, etc.). The display also featured a screen which shows the park’s last measured ozone level in parts per billion (ppb) over the past 8 hours. The day we visited the park had an ozone level of 35 ppb, well within the healthy limit for humans to breathe. Breathing ozone causes humans to experience chest pain, coughing/wheezing, and inflammation of the throat. Ozone can also cause lung tissue to become less effective, and therefore causes the lungs to become less efficient. Reducing ozone levels is critical so future generations can continue to enjoy the beauty The Great Smoky Mountains has to offer.
Author Archives: hefkar
ESA Under Attack
A hearing was held today by the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to hear arguments by Republicans who support fragmentation of the Endangered Species Act. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provides federal protection for wildlife organisms which are deemed “endangered” or “threatened.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has more information about the legislation on their website.
The Endangered Species Act allows the federal government to protect species through various involvements in business, agriculture, private property, and other aspects of life. Some of these encroachments are what is making Republicans in Congress have the desire to strip back the Endangered Species Act. Many voice their concerns over business and economic inhibitions, while others are more concerned over property rights. For example, one lobbyist argues that it is difficult for farmers to meet demands when wildlife populations exist (which are protected under the Endangered Species Act) in areas where they need to conduct agriculture. Others argue that the ESA is limiting natural gas production, as well as other industries such as mining or logging, in this country.
More Republican Congressmen and women also believe that the federal government should not be allowed to tell private citizens what to do with their private lands. Under the Endangered Species Act, the government can protect endangered populations on private property which is seen as infringement by those who do not support the bill.
Republicans are arguing for these drawbacks of the ESA under the guise of “modernizing” the bill. However, this is just a ruse for wanting to strip away protection for thousands of animals in order to protect personal interests in the businesses and people it would benefit.
Others who took the stand during the committee hearing included environmentalists who do not support the “modernization.” One such individual, Jamie Rappaport Clark, pointed out that the Obama administration removed 29 species from the list due to the protection the ESA offers.
The ESA is a critical piece of legislation to save animals around the world who face extinction.
German Giant Greenwashes
Cars, trucks, and basically everything else that burns fossil fuels on our roads and waterways are bad for the environment. It’s an immutable fact of life that has just become so obvious to everyone. Modern life, however, would not exist without these machines, therefore we as a society turn a blind eye to what’s happening in order to continue indulging in the conveniences to which we’ve become accustomed. Although automobiles don’t do much to help Mother Earth, governments and automakers around the globe are trying their best to get the greenhouses released from cars under control. (photo courtesy of EPA.gov)
In the United States, legislation titled “the Clean Air Act” (1970) sets air quality standards for the states in order to enhance and protect the quality of life for citizens. Automakers must design vehicles which abide by these standards in order to be sold and driven in the United States.
In 2016, however, it came to light that one of the largest automakers in the world was lying to governments and consumers about emissions on their vehicles violating the Clean Air Act, and it wasn’t even for the first time. Volkswagen, a German car company, was caught using a “defeat device” which provides bogus data on emission readings when activated. In 1973, Volkswagen admitted to using similar devices on thousands of the classic VW Bug models (independent.co.uk). However, this time the company lied on a much larger, much more expensive scale requiring a lot of technological work.
Volkswagen produced around 600,000 “clean diesel” vehicles outfitted with defeat devices to lie about how clean the emissions from these diesel cars actually were. This had the potential for the company to be fined upwards of $18 billion (forbes.com). However, as cited in the Forbes.com article, greenwashing (where companies lie about how environmentally friendly their product is, such as this example with Volkswagen) is often not caught by the US government, which is disheartening.
My family owns, and still drives on a daily basis, one of these deceitful diesel vehicles produced by Volkswagen. As consumers, my parents would not have purchased this vehicle knowing the damage it actually causes. Hopefully the lawsuit the US filed will cause other companies to learn and be honest with consumers about the impact their products have.
The EPA has published a page regarding the specific violations Volkswagen committed, and the final settlement which occurred.
The Environment is ‘Trumped Up’
The first 100 days after a new president is inaugurated are arguably the most important for an administration. The actions, speeches, policies, and appointments which occur in this time set the tone for how issues will be handled during that president’s term, which in turn reflects how successful of a leader (s)he will be. Although barely a week into Trump’s first 100 days, the environment (and indigenous populations, women across the globe, and science in general) is already taking a massive hit.
It begins with the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines. President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday (1/24/2017) which allows for “renegotiation” (see video, nytimes.com) on the massive project which not only threatens to augment the effects of climate change by releasing carbon into the atmosphere and introducing the ability for oil leaks across the thousands of miles, but also threatens many Native American sacred grounds. The full complaint filed by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe explicitly highlights many of the qualms associated with this destructive intrusion (link found on cnn.com).
Trump continued his assault on the environment by broadening a “global gag rule” which severely limits worldwide abortions. As stated by The Hill:
“In its expanded state, the global gag rule prohibits international organizations from receiving any U.S. global health assistance if they provide, counsel, refer or advocate for abortion services — even if they are doing so with their own, non-U.S. funds, and even if abortion is legal in their own country.”
The implications of this action are significant to environmentalism and sustainability as the population continues to grow at an exponential rate with resources becoming scarcer daily. Without proper family planning services, families in developing countries could be faced with devastating consequences of unchecked population growth such as famine or water shortages. This was a key point in Hans Rosling’s documentary “Overpopulated.”
Lastly, the Trump administration imposed many restrictions on the EPA, National Park Service, and other institutions’ abilities to release information to the public. The EPA will have all its scientific evidence supporting climate change reviewed by Trump’s team, which will then determine whether it remains available to the public or not. The Trump administration also required the Department of the Interior (and subsequently the NPS) to stop tweeting until told otherwise. This was in response to the National Park Service retweeting pictures showing the vast crowd difference between Obama’s inauguration and Trump’s. These two actions exacted upon the EPA and Department of the Interior are the scariest to me as it appears Trump will attempt to silence those who show resistance towards his presidency and policies. Furthermore, Trump controlling which scientific evidence can be presented to the American population on climate change limits education and awareness of the damage being inflicted upon our planet. This effectively halts any progress which could be made to reverse the dire situation we are heading into. Scientists across the nation are planning a march on Washington in response to this week’s actions made by Trump (http://www.scientistsmarchonwashington.com/).