Paul Ehrlich: Ideas, Impressions, Impacts

Picture provided by the Nicholas School of the Environment
Post written by Kenneth Xu 

On October 18th, 2016, we attended renowned biologist Paul R. Ehrlich’s talk on “Surviving the Sixth Mass Extinction” at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. At 84 years old, an age that he humorously emphasized, Professor Ehrlich serves as the Bing Professor of Population Studies at Stanford University and President of Stanford’s Center for Conservation Biology. In 1968, he published the controversial yet best-selling book The Population Bomb, which launched him to fame and paved the way for a career full of prestigious awards for leadership in biology and environmental research. He is both venerated and criticized for his unwavering devotion to his predictions of the Earth’s future.

We immediately noticed Dr. Ehrlich’s amusing personality and youthful vigor. He spoke passionately about not only overpopulation, but also more broadly about how to convince the general public and government to take action on environmental issues. He emphasized the importance of psychology, economics, and public policy in the environment movement, which piqued our interest in the role of social sciences in environmental action. The questions that he raised were similar to ones that SEEC had previously been wondering about: How can public opinion of environmental problems be changed? How do citizens convince politicians to represent their wishes? How can environmental education be implemented effectively?

SEEC serves as a direct response to these questions. At a time when environmental education is left in the hands of non-governmental organizations and grassroots nonprofits such as our own, we believe that the very existence of SEEC and the necessity of its mission reflects on the federal government. Given that even serious environmental problems are hotly debated, it’s unsurprising that the U.S. government largely ignores environmental education. Because sustainability is erroneously considered partisan by many Americans, which Paul Ehrlich constantly reminds us, political barriers are obstacles that SEEC has to deal with on a daily basis. How do we convey to parents that we are not only educating their kids on important issues but also giving them a jumpstart on their STEM education and transforming them into future leaders? We only have an inkling of an idea, though you can bet that we’re trying our best to inspire other young people and bring about tangible change. As Paul Ehrlich leaves the spotlight, SEEC is working hard to take his place.

Environmental Politics

As everyone watches the first presidential debates of 2016, we would just like to remind people that the concept of global warming was NOT created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive. When voting, please keep each candidate’s prospective environmental policies in mind!

In addition, we apologize for the temporary disruption to our official website. It will return as soon as we finish maintenance!

NatureWay 2016

We are happy to say that NatureWay 2016 was ultimately a huge success! Each day of the week was filled with unique lessons about various aspects of the environment, along with many hands-on activities. For example, when teaching the kids about zoology, counselors used plaster to model what ancient fossils would have looked like, helping to explain how fossils are created. Other activities included creating a vinegar/baking soda volcano, planting flowers in plastic water bottles, constructing a compost bin, and even tie-dying shirts just for fun. However, the camp was more than just an educational experience for the kids — the counselors learned quite a few things as well. Not only did we learn how to keep children engaged, but we discovered how to create our own lessons in ways that would spark inspiration for learning more about the natural world, as well as a lifelong interest in STEM. Overall, NatureWay was a truly amazing experience for everyone involved, and we thank everyone who participated in the camp and helped make it so rewarding.

Click here for more exclusive pictures of the NatureWay Charity Summer Camp

NatureWay Registration

Know any kids (ages 6-10) in central North Carolina who like nature? Registration is open for NatureWay, a free STEM-focused summer camp led by SEEC. It will be held from August 8-12 (9 AM-5 PM) at East Chapel Hill High School. We are happy to have found a talented batch of counselors from many different schools, with everyone having expertise in environmental topics like Earth science, aquatic ecology, conservation biology, and more! NatureWay’s counselors are winners of the Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge, Governor’s School attendees, SEEC Executive Board members, etc. If interested, contact naturewaycharity@gmail.com for more information!

Upcoming Events

Hello all!

We have recently partnered with NatureWay, a nonprofit that advocates for environmental literacy through youth summer enrichment, to lead the 4th annual NatureWay summer camp in early August. We are currently searching for one more high school volunteer who could serve as a counselor for NatureWay, which we plan on hosting in Chapel Hill. Please contact us (contact@envirocoalition.org) if you would like to help out!

We also wanted to let everyone know that SEEC will be holding a conference in the fall to introduce young adults to different fields and careers in environmental science, with various environmental leaders (scientists, lawyers, etc.) present to share their experiences!

Protect NC Waters

Ever since the summer of 1995, when millions of fish died in the Neuse River due to low oxygen levels caused by pollution-induced algal blooms, North Carolina has done its best to create policies that could protect bodies of water and the life within them from pollution. However, recently the North Carolina Senate voted to get rid of, or at least delay, water protection policies that were originally slated to be implemented soon. For example, the policy that was created to protect Jordan Lake was delayed for the 5th time, and the rules that were supposed to be implemented to preserve Falls Lake were delayed as well. In addition to this, these policies that were created to protect important bodies of water, such as using low-cost vegetated buffers along rivers, will be replaced by alternatives that will likely be less reliable in 2020. Please help protect our water by contacting a state Representative here!

Ocean Acidification: The Silent Killer

More on water-related problems: here is a guest review article from Kenneth Xu, Founder and Executive President of the Student Environmental Education Coalition.

In a few decades, once-vibrant coral reef ecosystems will erode away. Along the coast, plankton and shellfish at the base of the food web will slowly dissolve into seawater. The herring, mackerel, and other commercially important fish that feed on them will struggle to survive. People in maritime industries and coastal economies will undoubtedly suffer from the far-reaching consequences of more acidic waters. No, this is not the same problem as global warming. This looming issue is known as ocean acidification, commonly referred to as “the other carbon dioxide problem” (The Economist 2010). By 2100, the average pH of seawater is expected to drop from 8.1 to 7.8-7.6, possibly tripling the ocean’s acidity (Mora et al. 2013). Because this change is scarcely noticed on land, many people are unaware of its significance and ramifications. Understanding the causes and effects of ocean acidification is crucial for governments to make informed decisions that will not only protect marine life but also future generations of people around the world.

The oceans cover 71% of Earth’s surface and serve as the world’s largest carbon sink, bearing the brunt of humanity’s abundant carbon dioxide emissions. Along with global warming and sea level rise, ocean acidification is a lesser-known but very troubling consequence of rising greenhouse gas levels. It is caused by the ocean’s increased uptake of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, an action that slows down global warming but fundamentally alters marine chemistry in the process. When seawater (H2O) absorbs carbon dioxide (CO2) from the overlying air, it forms carbonic acid (H2CO3), which can then react with H2O to form a bicarbonate ion (HCO3) and a hydronium ion (H3O+). This increases the water’s hydrogen ion concentration and therefore raises seawater acidity, indicated by a lower pH.

The lowered pH of seawater leads to a myriad of ecological effects, some of which include more frequent toxic algal blooms (Tatters, Fu, and Hutchins 2012), poorly developed coral reefs (Manzello et al. 2008), dissolution of important calcifying plankton (Bednaršek et al. 2012), decreased calcification of mussels and oysters (Gazeau et al. 2007), lowered metabolic rates in predators like the Humboldt squid (Rui and Seibel 2008), reduced immune response of shellfish (Mackenzie et al. 2014), increased numbers of invasive species (Hall-Spencer and Allen 2015), and reduced growth and survival rates of many fish (Baumann, Talmage, and Gobler 2011). Clearly, many vital species will be endangered by more acidic conditions. In addition, as CO2 uptake increases, the ability of the ocean to absorb atmospheric CO2 decreases, which means that the pace of global warming will actually speed up as the ocean becomes more saturated with carbon (Schuster and Watson 2007).

Ocean acidification obviously poses a serious risk to marine ecosystems, but it also threatens the livelihood of people who rely on the ocean’s resources. Shellfish harvests will likely decline, coral reefs will no longer provide food or shoreline protection, and valuable top predators like tuna will be harmed by the disappearance of their food sources (Logan 2010). Commercial fisheries will then be devastated and food security will likely be jeopardized in maritime nations. Coastal economies in the U.S. such as Chesapeake Bay could effectively be bankrupted (National Resources Defense Council 2015). Not only will ocean acidification mount up serious socioeconomic costs in the U.S., but it will also unfairly hurt the developing countries and islands that have contributed the least to CO2 emissions. Ocean acidification is an imminent, fundamental change that most of humanity is unprepared to handle. Combined with other marine environmental problems such as ocean pollution, coastal eutrophication, and overfishing, the future of the ocean is troubling. In conjunction with global warming and other anthropogenic hazards, the future of the entire biosphere is grim.

Despite presenting serious economic repercussions in the near future, ocean acidification is woefully under-addressed in the media. Budget cuts for oceanography research seem to be as commonly mentioned in the news as actual discussion of marine environment issues themselves. There remains a wealth of knowledge to be gained from ocean acidification research, which is still only in its early stages. Even though ocean acidification is perhaps equally as significant as global warming, it commands far less attention. Thus, in order to fuel research on this topic, there must be increased public awareness and grassroots activity. Furthermore, policymakers need to adequately fund marine scientists to learn more about the changes in ocean chemistry that are currently occurring and the issues that ocean acidification will bring in the future, in addition to devising last-resort solutions like geoengineering.

Most importantly, governments need to take a preventative approach and focus on reducing anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions to combat ocean acidification at its core. As stated by famed climate scientist Ken Caldeira, “It is within our technical and economic means…to largely eliminate carbon dioxide emissions from our economies by mid-century. It is thought that the cost of doing this — perhaps 2% of the worldwide economic production — would be small, yet at present it has proven difficult for societies to decide to undertake this conversion” (2012). People tend not to react until problems have already been exacerbated, so perhaps we should strive to break this pattern before the consequences of our wasteful habits become dire. Although the Paris Agreement of 2015 was a strong start, each and every one of us needs to build on this momentum to truly make progress in the fight against ocean acidification and climate change. The solution to this problem lies within the people’s hands, especially the next generation of scientists, politicians, and responsible citizens.

Bibliography

Baumann, Hannes, Stephanie C. Talmage, and Christopher J. Gobler. 2011. “Reduced Early Life Growth and Survival in a Fish in Direct Response to Increased Carbon Dioxide.” Nature Climate Change, 2011, 38-41. doi: 10.1038/nclimate1291.
Bednaršek, N., G. A. Tarling, D. C. E. Bakker, S. Fielding, E. M. Jones, H. J. Venables, P. Ward, A. Kuzirian, B. Lézé, R. A. Feely, and E. J. Murphy. 2012. “Extensive Dissolution of Live Pteropods in the Southern Ocean.” Nature Geoscience Nature Geosci, 2012, 881-85. doi: 10.1038/NGEO1635.
Caldeira, Ken. 2012. “Ocean Acidification.” Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. Accessed December 29, 2015. http://www.whoi.edu/page.do?pid=83380&tid=3622&cid=131410.
Gazeau, F., C. Quiblier, J. M. Jansen, J.-P. Gattuso, J. J. Middelburg, and C. H. R. Heip. 2007. “Impact of elevated CO2 on shellfish calcification.” Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, L07603, doi:10.1029/2006GL028554.
Hall-Spencer, Jason, and Ro Allen. 2015. “The Impact of CO2 Emissions on ‘nuisance’ Marine Species.” RRBS Research and Reports in Biodiversity Studies: 33. doi: 10.2147/RRBS.S70357.  
Logan, Cheryl. 2010. “A Review of Ocean Acidification and America’s Response.” BioScience (2010) 60 (10): 819-828. doi:10.1525/bio.2010.60.10.8.
Mackenzie CL, Lynch SA, Culloty SC, and Malham SK. 2014. “Future Oceanic Warming and Acidification Alter Immune Response and Disease Status in a Commercial Shellfish Species, Mytilus edulis L.” Jiravanichpaisal P, ed. PLoS ONE. 2014;9(6):e99712. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099712.
Manzello DP, Kleypas JA, Budd DA, Eakin CM, Glynn PW, and Langdon C. 2008. “Poorly cemented coral reefs of the eastern tropical Pacific: Possible insights into reef development in a high-CO2 world.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 2008;105(30):10450-10455. doi:10.1073/pnas.0712167105.
Mora, Camilo et al. 2013. “Biotic and Human Vulnerability to Projected Changes in Ocean Biogeochemistry over the 21st Century.” Ed. Georgina M. Mace. PLoS Biology 11.10 (2013): e1001682. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1001682.
“Ocean Acidification.” National Resources Defense Council. Accessed December 29, 2015. http://www.nrdc.org/oceans/acidification/files/ocean-acidification-eastcoast.pdf.
Rui, Rosa, and Seibel, Brad. 2008. “Synergistic Effects of Climate-related Variables Suggest Future Physiological Impairment in a Top Oceanic Predator.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0806886105.
Schuster, U., and A. J. Watson. 2007. “A variable and decreasing sink for atmospheric CO2 in the North Atlantic.” J. Geophys. Res., 112, C11006, doi:10.1029/2006JC003941.
Tatters AO, Fu F-X, Hutchins DA. 2012. “High CO2 and Silicate Limitation Synergistically Increase the Toxicity of Pseudo-nitzschia fraudulenta.” PLoS ONE 7(2): e32116. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0032116.
“The Other Carbon-Dioxide Problem.” The Economist. July 3, 2010. Accessed December 29, 2015. http://www.economist.com/node/16479264.

Welcome to SEEC

Welcome to the blog for the Student Environmental Education Coalition (SEEC)! We are a North Carolina-based, grassroots, non-partisan, and entirely youth-led 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that aims to cultivate a generation of environmentally literate students.

With 2016 marking the warmest year ever recorded, it is becoming increasingly necessary for widespread changes to be made. The quality of the environment and human prosperity are undoubtedly intertwined, so it is up to the current generation of young people to determine the future of our relationship with the environment and therefore our own well-being.

We are focusing on conservation education for a few months:

  • Blue Ridge Parkway: In 2013, the NC General Assembly cut land conservation funding by more than 40%. This harms the Conservation Trust for North Carolina (CTNC), a group whose mission is to protect land like the Blue Ridge Parkway from problems such as overdevelopment and pollution. The Blue Ridge Parkway is a beautiful National Park service that attracts more than 14 million visitors per year and contributes $300 million to the local economy. However, budget cuts make it difficult for CTNC to effectively carry out its plan to preserve the expanse of Blue Ridge Parkway, therefore one of our goals will be to generate funding in order to continue protecting the endangered species and unique ecosystems within the Blue Ridge Parkway.
  • SAVE THE BEES: Recently, the endangerment of bees in North Carolina has become a pressing yet underaddressed issue. Bees are crucial to our food economy; we rely on bees to pollinate 71% of our crops, including almonds, apples, strawberries, and alfalfa. The root of this problem traces back to climate change, parasites, and most importantly, the use of neonicotinoids. These insecticides affect the pollen and nectar of plants, and because they are so toxic to bees (6000 times more toxic to bees than DDT!), bees are dying off at tremendous rates. This brings us to another one of our goals: to raise awareness about what agrochemical companies are doing and to discourage users from spraying bee-killing pesticides recklessly.
  • Butterfly Highway: The Butterfly Highway is a North Carolina project that creates more natural habitats for pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies. Not only are pollinators important to our ecosystems, but they also contribute to the production of 70% of crops in our economy! With this knowledge, our Director of Service Learning has been building community butterfly gardens in and around the Chapel Hill area, working with a diverse group of youth to create sustainable pollinator gardens.

Stay tuned for more details and events!