Personal Changes and Shortcomings

Recently, I’ve been doing my best to reduce the amount of waste I produce through my daily activities. This includes reducing the amount of plastic and disposable products I use, making my own products, and recycling when I can

I did my best to make more of an effort to avoid things such as straws, Styrofoam, napkins, plastic bags/wrappers, and any other wasteful products. This was hard for me, and I realized that a had a heavy reliance on some of these things, and to cutting down on them was very hard for me to do. But it put into perspective for me how easily accessible these wasteful products are.

I already make my own hair products, so I didn’t have to reduce my consumption in that department very much. I significantly reduced the amount of eating out I usually did and opted to pack a lunch instead. While it was less convenient than just walking in to the closest fast food place, I didn’t mind it, and I also saved money doing this.

One of the biggest changes I made was to only use reusable containers for my lunch. Instead of using bags and bottles that would usually get thrown away, I bought some containers from Walmart to pack my food in instead. I also did all my shopping using reusable shopping bags. I’ve also found that I liked both these methods more and wonder why I hadn’t been doing this before.

I also recycle, though I’m not as reliant on it. One of the issues I have with recycling is if the materials we recycle are indeed getting recycled. And it turns out a lot don’t. A pizza box with grease stains and melted cheese stuck to it gets thrown in the landfill. PVC plastics contain too many additives also get trashed. Broken shards of glass are thrown away as well. Also, how is the process of recycling these materials impacting the environment? While I think recycling is good and useful for reducing the amount of trash going in the landfill, I think it’s important to not let it give us a false sense of security. Recycling isn’t the only thing we should be doing to decrease our ecological impact.

Most importantly in my journey of personal change, I did my best to start composting. When it came to composting, I found it was easier to find composting bins and stations downtown than in North Charleston. Much like with recycling bins and centers, there’s very little access to composting areas near where I live. I’m planning on starting a compost at home, but there’s been some reluctance from the people I live with at the moment.

Overall, it’s been an interesting experience with changing my habits. I hope I can refine then and improve for the future as well.

ABZÛ: A Story of Environmentalism Told Without Narration

Our relationship with the ocean with modern day media is more or less antagonistic. From movies like Jaws to the way many sea creatures are represented in documentaries or science blogs shoehorn the idea that “the ocean is scary” and continue to feed public fear of the deep, blue unknown. The media has more power over public perception than we think. I feel that it’s the responsibility of artists and the media to, rather than brew fear and misunderstanding, make works that have lasting and positive impact when it comes to issues concerning our environment. ABZÛ, a title from Giant Squid Studios, is an indie game that tells a story of environmentalism through a lens unique to video games: the language of interaction.

I will start by saying that ABZÛ is one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played. It’s full of vivid colors that make the world feel bright and open. As you swim around, you’re able to explore deeper depths, learn about the diversity of species and interact with everything around you. This is already a vastly different representation we see of the ocean. Rather than the usual portrayal of the ocean’s vast emptiness, this world feels full and gorgeous and fills the player with a sense of wonder rather than dread.

But the greatest thing about this game is in its message. Without spoiling anything, ABZÛ biggest message is about the subjugation of nature, and how human activity has played a major role in its deterioration. The imagery used throughout the game is symbolic and moving. As you dive deeper, you see a less dazzling aspect of this underwater world, with wildlife becoming less friendly along with mines and other man-made hazards littering the area. The diversity begins to slowly diminish as well, showing how human activity has deeply affected the ecosystem. Its message isn’t all doom and gloom wrapped is a beautiful package. It’s as much of a story about human responsibility to the environment as it is one of redemption, a path to mending society’s mistakes and building a healthier relationship with the environment. Technology is portrayed as having both the power to harm and to heal, and the player slowly builds a more amicable relationship with the wildlife they’re surrounded by.

What stands out the most to me is the use of the Great White Shark as its mascot. An animal typically depicted as a vicious antagonist is treated with reverence and respect. As I touched on in my first blog post, a shark is an apex predator. Their function goes beyond just eating things. They regulate population sizes and prevent potential trophic cascades. This makes them incredibly important to the health of an ecosystem. Rather than depicting them as bloodthirsty murder machines, they are acknowledged for their usefulness to nature. Instead of looked upon with fear, they are a companion.

I think a story like this is more beautifully told through the medium it’s in. Unlike other art forms like film, that can only show and tell its message, video games actively make the player complicit in this system of subjugation. It’s a beautiful, immersive, and moving experience that’s told uniquely through the interactivity that video games allow us. By letting players explore the expansive underwater world, it teaches about the importance of biodiversity, the negative impacts of human development, and how we can heal rather than destroy simply through understanding, empathizing with living things we would typically run in fear from. In the face of real-world environmental catastrophe, the message of ABZÛ is an important one. It’s a marvelous and profound example of art being used to spread a positive and important message, as well as challenge our views of the natural world.

ABZÛ is available for purchase on PS4, XBOX, and Steam.

Scrubbing Carbon from the Atmosphere

In the news article I presented in class, I discussed how scientists and engineers are thinking of ways of using technology to directly remove carbon emissions from our atmosphere. Through a multitude of methods both natural and man-made, all collectively known as negative emissions technologies (nets), these technologies show us interesting ways to effectively “scrub” carbon from the atmosphere. Scientists, however, aren’t convinced of the viability of many of these technologies, and that they may cause more environmental harm than good.

The nets listed in the article are direct air capture, enhanced weathering, ocean fertilization, and bioenergy methods like burning plants and planting more forests. Direct air capture involves building machines that specialize in sucking carbon emissions directly from the air. To be an effective method, however, we would need an incredible number of machines produced. Thousands upon thousands. This would not only be extremely costly, but it would take a significant amount of resources to produce that many machines, which makes this method not very viable or sustainable.

Enhanced weathering is the breaking down of certain rocks by naturally combining with the carbon in the air. It’s suggested that we should crush the mineral olivine down to fine sand and spread it across beaches. The issues with this method, however, is that it would require a ton of mining. Constant mining for minerals and the collection of resources needed to grind down the mineral. It simply would not be feasible to mine that many materials and distribute them globally. And again, isn’t a sustainable practice as we are collecting a large amount of nonrenewable materials.

Ocean fertilization involves the sprinkling of iron and other nutrients in the ocean in order to replenish phytoplankton population. Phytoplankton are tiny, microscopic plants that will utilize the carbon as they grow and sink when they die, taking the carbon with them. This method is a bit controversial, since the sprinkling of iron into the ocean is essentially ocean dumping. Also, there isn’t nearly enough research to suggest that this method would at all be effective. One study was conducted at a salmon fishery in Canada, however this study should not be trusted since it was conducted without any scientific oversight and was the source of outrage among scientists. And once again, where do we get the iron? This would be another massive use of resources and would not be sustainable over time.

The last two methods involve terrestrial plants, either burning them to utilize the carbon or through planting more forests. Burning them simply wouldn’t be nearly as effective as even the other methods, because you’d have to burn a lot in order to take out as much carbon as we put in. Personally, I think that planting more trees would actually be the most beneficial of all these methods. You’d be replenishing habitats, provide resources and shelter to the populations in those areas, while also contributing to reducing the carbon load on our atmosphere. However, the world currently cuts down way more forests than we plant, and planting new forests would require a lot of land.

While there is merit in trying to engineer our way out of the climate crisis, there are issues with our approach. The reasons being that, along with all the ones listed above, the economic costs to implement these methods is too high, and it’s just easier and more effective to reduce the amount of carbon being emitted into the atmosphere altogether.


  • Fountain, Henry. “Can We Really Scrub Carbon Dioxide From the Atmosphere?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 28 Feb. 2018.
  • Norton, Michael, and Molly Hurley-Depret. “Negative Emission Technologies Will Not Compensate for Inadequate Climate Change Mitigation Efforts, Say European Science Academies.” EASAC Website, EASAC, 1 Feb. 2018,

Trophic Cascades

Today in class we discussed what an ecosystem is, how they work, and how the earth is full of interconnected systems. One of those systems is a food web. A food web is a system of connected food chains, giving information essentially on “what eats what” and the different organisms existing in an environment at different trophic levels. A trophic level is simply what that animal primarily eats and where they fit in the food web (e.g., big fish eats smaller fish, who eats even smaller fish, who eats primary producers like algae or seaweed). These trophic exist in balance with one another. For example, plants exist as the primary producers within an ecosystem. Then comes the herbivores, who eat the plants, then the carnivores that eat them.

Figure illustrating how removing one trophic level would affect the rest of the food chain.

If there is a shift in population size at one trophic, however, it can cause a dramatic at a different level. Let’s look at sharks. Currently, many species of sharks are threatened or endangered due to the fishing industry. This impact on their population density trickles down to the rest of the food web. With less predators, species they typically prey on (tuna, manta rays, etc.) can thrive, and their population sizes will grow much larger than they were originally. However, they will deplete their limited resources until there is none left. Then, their population size will decrease dramatically. Not only this, but the sick or injured fish that are usually consumed by sharks could have a negative impact on schools. Apex predators like sharks also regulate more than just population sizes of their prey. They also function as the main force cycling nutrition throughout the ecosystem and removing invasive species.

This is known as a trophic cascade, a butterfly effect where if one population is affected, the rest of the food web is affected as well. Fluctuations in population occur and can drastically change the environment and the abundance of life there. It shows that our actions to the environment, no matter how small we believe them to be, have a rather large impact. This makes the need for conservation efforts even more necessary. Allowing sharks to increase their numbers through better regulation of fishing would be of instant benefit to coral reefs.

Trophic cascades are becoming increasingly common as humans continue to change these natural environments and impact the organisms living there. Currently, humans are taking sharks out of the water faster than they can reproduce. This is actively diminishing their population numbers at a significant rate, and we can already see the effects of it. Sharks are very important for maintaining healthy ocean ecosystems.

For more information on trophic cascades and shark population decline, please check out the following links: