CofC Office of Sustainability Event (Blog by Allyson Peurifoy)

I attended the “Environmental Activism and Solution” panel discussion this afternoon hosted by the CofC Office of Sustainability. This seminar was a perfect topic for my fourth blog post—and a good recap to my semester in an Environmental and Sustainability class—because we discussed the causes and effects of climate change and what can be done to inspire people on the local, state, national, and international levels. The two panelists were clear advocates of local legislation, and the multifaceted impacts it can have on climate change and other environmental issues. To begin the discussion, they compared the debate on climate change to a dangerous rafting trip; as the boat inches nearer to a deadly waterfall, the passengers begin to argue on what to do, and eventually run short on time. This illustrates how rapidly our problems are growing, and how these environmental issues should be met with intensity and urgency.

The discussion was extremely interesting to me because they mentioned much of what I have learned throughout the semester. They explained two extreme climate scenarios the Intergovernmental Panel have predicted could happen: A2 and B1. A2 is the negative extreme, where there would be a doubled and displaced population, little technological advance, drought, starvation, and a temperature and sea level rise. B1, on the other hand, indicates a stabilization of population, rapid growth in technology, and a gradual, maintainable temperature and sea level rise. The solution to A2, and the way to achieve B1 on a local level, is through continued political engagement and the monitoring of our own lifestyles. The panelists suggested participating in habits such as “Meatless

Mondays”, using a small amount of plastics, and taking public transportation. From this, they explained the polycentric society we live in that has multiple centers of power and decision-making, and how incentives are different from local level to state level to national level and beyond. Specifically, in the coastal city of Charleston, we look at concerns such as whether or not we should make sea walls, or keep rebuilding Folly Beach, or if we should move inland. However, these are not the main concerns at the state or national level; they are more focused on things such as laws, taxes, imports, and exports. This led them to their next point of interest in the discussion that was about adaption vs. mitigation. Adaption, as we learned in class, is the process of adjustment to actual or expected climate and its effects, and mitigation is technological change and substitution that reduces the cause of an effect, such as implementing policies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Their debate was that mitigation should be happening on the national level, while adaption is happening on the local level.

This seminar was a very interesting experience because we had a conversation with the panelists. We were able to ask questions, listen to their answers, and respond in ways we felt were appropriate. Although a lot of what was discussed I had heard in class, they also presented statistics and definitions I had never seen before. I would strongly recommend attending one of the Sustainability Week events in the upcoming few days.

Notes from the discussion:

* Takes government action on state, national, international level

* State has not allowed local action on a lot of climate change issues

* Compared to rafting toward deadly rapid; wasted time on arguing about what to do (ex. speed of current, amount of rainfall)

* Intergovernmental panel have been working on climate models and scenarios to predict climate change

* Two scenarios panel came up with:

o A2: population keeps increasing until it doubles, new technology is slow, 5 degree F increase and great sea rise, drought and starvation, refugees from flooding (displaced populations)

o B1: stabilization of population, rapid growth in technology, temperature and sea level rises gradually

o We need to reduce rate of carbon emissions by 2/3

o This is why it is a political science problem

* US is 2nd largest emitter in the world; we import from China which is the 1st larger

* US needs to take leadership in this because we have the power and should serve as an example for the rest of the world

* Paris Accords—green climate: fund 3 billion dollars toward reducing greenhouse emissions ($10 per person)

* Problem should be met with urgency

* CofC by 2030, 0 waste: large percentage of waste doesn’t go to landfills

* Dining halls compost

* Importance of knowing where your garbage goes

* Landfills generate a lot of methane (potent greenhouse gas)—keeping food out of landfills is a great contributor to reducing greenhouse gas

* Continue to reach out to your elected representatives

* Looking at our own lifestyles: “Meatless Mondays”, reduce personal consumption of plastics, take public transportation

* Political engagement and own life style engagement

* Citizens climate law: tax on carbon content of fossil fuels (carbon tax)

* Climate policy in terms of mitigation and adaptation

* As a coastal town, should we make sea walls, keep rebuilding Folly Beach, should we move inland? – different than state level, national level, international level

* Polycentric: multiple centers of power/decision making, what are the incentives of local level vs. state level vs. national

* Local=adaptation and national=mitigation

* 3rd world countries can’t afford adaptation (is adaptation going to happen on a global stage)

* We have the responsibility as affluent section of the world to take care of others needs

* Climate change goes across many domains; a public health issue also

* Solutions that are broad based, more about innovation

* This Changes Everything book


– Allyson Peurifoy

The agricultural sustainability project that reached over 20.9 million Chinese smallholder farmers struggling with increased populations

A group effort to improve crop yields and reduce fertilizer use utilized both bottom-up and top-down efforts to be able to successfully reach over 20 million smallholder farmers across China. Smallholder farmers, who control only a few areas of land, are beginning to dominate the agricultural landscape in countries like China, India, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa. By increasing their efficiency and reducing their environmental impacts, they are taking crucial steps to ensure sustainable food sources for the world’s (and their own country’s) growing populations. However, sharing the best practices with smallholder farmers is often a discouraging prospect because the farmers often have limited resources to invest back into their livelihoods and are often grouped in the hundreds of millions in China alone.

Included in a report by the journal Nature, Zhengxia Dou, a professor of agricultural systems in the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, teamed up with colleagues from China’s Agricultural University and other organizations in sharing a successful execution of a “long-term, broad-scale intervention that both improved yields and reduced fertilizer application across China.” The first author of the study, Zhenling Cui, along with the project leader and corresponding author, Fusuo Zhang, were both with China’s Agricultural University and assisted Dou. The study’s effort, which was in effect for over 10 years, engaged almost 21 million farmers and increased their yield on average by more than 10% and lowered fertilizer use between 15%-18%. As a whole, these actions created an increase in the farmers’ grain outputs with a decrease in fertilizer inputs, which made savings totaling close to $12.2 billion.

“The extent of the improvement in terms of yield increase and fertilizer decrease was great,” says Dou. “But it was not a surprise as similar results had been attained before. It was the scale of it all, approaching it with an all-out effort and multi-tiered partnerships among scientists, extension agents, agribusinesses, and farmers, achieving a snowball effect. That, to me, is the most impressive takeaway.”

The project began with the overall realization that the current agricultural practices with China’s large number of smallholder farmers didn’t meet the requirements they needed for sustainable productivity. Globally, the production of food has to increase 60%-110% over the 2005 levels by the year 2050 in order to meet this high demand. At this same time, the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation make farming a lot more difficult. In order to determine the best ways to meet the sustainable productivity demand, researchers in the study conducted over 13,000 field trials, which tested what they called “an integrated soil-crop system management program”, or ISSM. ISSM is a model that helps to determine which variety of crops, planting dates and densities, overall fertilizer uses, and other strategies will work best in any given climate and soil type. The tests for this particular model were done using maize, rice, and wheat.

Researchers then organized a massive campaign to work with farmers all across China after finally concluding that the ISSM model could help guide agricultural efforts across major farming zones in China, achieve yield improvements, and increase fertilizer reductions. In order to reach the 20.9 million smallholder farmers in 452 counties in China, this campaign involved more than 1,000 scientists and graduate students, 65,000 agricultural extension agents, and 130,000 agribusiness personnel, which were key partners in the effort by designing fertilizer products that matched the essential needs of the farmers.

“The collaborating scientists trained local technicians, and the technicians worked with the farmers closely to develop their management practices based on what made sense in the region,” Dou says, “This was a massive, nation-wide, multi-layered collaboration.”

To gain a deeper understanding of the current performance of Chinese farmers, the researchers conducted a survey of 8.6 million farmers from about 1,944 counties across the nation. They found a lot of room for improvements, since most had yields of at least 10 % and some as much as 50% lower than the ISSM model would predict. Dou believes the experiences and lessons gained through the nation-wide project can be applicable elsewhere, particularly in Asia. India, for example, is another country where the yields are relatively low and fertilizer use is high. In sub-Saharan Africa, both yield and fertilizer input is low, yet the lessons “inhow to work with smallholder farmers, how to earn their trust and engage with them,” Dou says, would hold true to those of China.



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: