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Overpopulation   Over Consumption   Climate Change    Energy Conservation    Air Pollution    Water Pollution      Water Conservation      Soil Pollution      Solid Waste Management       Recycling & Composting

Thank you for taking the time to stop by. We believe you're here because you already have a good understanding of the issues affecting our environment, and the future of our planet. At the same time you might want to broaden your understanding of some issues you're not as familiar with, and possibly do more to help Planet Earth and its myriad ecosystems. Like most everyone these days, you're probably stretched for time, so we tried to eliminate a lot of filler.

What you’ll find is a list of different issues that individually, but more so collectively, are putting strains on our planet.The articles are easy to read through and offer simple ideas on things you could do, if you’re not already doing them, to reduce your carbon footprint.

Depending on your level of environmentalism, there are the three Rs, actually five Rs: refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle, and recover; as well as composting, conserving water and energy, better insulating your home to reduce heat loss; turning down your heat and/or installing a programmable thermostat, installing solar panels-and if doing so, replacing your existing heating and cooling systems with a mini-split heat pump which can heat and cool your entire house with one unit, quite possibly powered entirely by solar panels.

Then there are lots of other things like combining errands when shopping, buying local and buying organic; walking, biking, or taking public transportation whenever possible, driving a hybrid and/or electric vehicle, planting trees, donating to worthy environmental causes, supporting politicians that help protect the environment, and so much more. All these things will help restore Mother Earth's myriad ecosystems. And, best of all, in many cases they’ll save you money.

Depending on your level of expertise, as well as certain personal beliefs you might have surrounding particular issues - especially the first one: Overpopulation, which we only touch on briefly, some of the information contained you might be quite familiar with. At the end of each commentary, we offer Things That You Can Do — with the exception, of course, Overpopulation.

1. OVERPOPULATION
The last thing we will attempt to do is side with any personal or political view about birth control, abortion, women's rights, and all the issues that surround the discussion of how many is too many.


(a band of gypsies crossing sub-Saharan Africa; photo credits: www.journal-neo.org and a crowded beach in China’s eastern Shandong province. http://ldsmag.com)


That said, it’s hard to argue that if substantially fewer people lived on Planet Earth, the environment would be in much better shape than it is today. Unfortunately, if current predictions for world population growth are accurate and if third-world countries continue to aspire to live a life accustom to developed countries, than the prospects for restoring the health and vitality of Mother Earth are pretty bleak. Why?

It's simple arithmetic that comes down to Carrying Capacity. How many people can Earth's finite natural resources provide for? Unfortunately—and herein lays the problem—that is a script which has been modified as many times as . . . as there are people on the planet. What we do know, and this leads to the next commentary, is that it has been suggested that if everyone on the planet consumed as much as the average US citizen, four Earths would be needed to sustain them.

Learn more about how overpopulation effects the environment

2. OVER CONSUMPTION
Taking into consideration our first topic, "OVERPOPULATION", it's just as easy to say that even with 7 billion people on the planet today, our myriad ecosystems could be virtually pristine if certain practices adopted by our predecessors, especially here in the United States, had continued in perpetuity. After all, if was the Native Americans who said "We don't inherit the Earth from our Ancestors. We borrow it from our Children."


(Black Friday's mad dash to cash out; photo credits: www.huffingtonpost.org and a giant McMansion with more rooms than will ever be used. www.therealdeal.com)

Obviously, without fossil fuels and all the modern "conveniences" that were spawned by the introduction of the internal combustion engine and electricity, the world that we know today would be a dramatically different place than it is.

With that in mind, and despite the fast-paced, often-times stressful nature of the society we've created in the United States and other industrialized countries, how many would give it all up for a life without electricity, running water, mechanized agriculture, all the medical and scientific advances we've made, the ability to travel vast distances in hours—not days? The list goes on and on.
How many would argue, though, that if more thought had been given to the impact, especially long-term, that many of our modern "conveniences" would have on the overall stability of the planet, if they would have proceeded at the same pace? In many respects, the world was changed on Utah's Promontory Summit on May 10, 1869. That was the day they drove the golden spike (actually four spikes, two of which were gold), signaling the completion of the transcontinental railroad. Suddenly this country, and the entire world, for that matter, seemed much smaller. Since then it’s been full steam ahead.

 


(Photo courtesy of Norman Rockwell Museum)


Less than 40 years after the golden spike was driven into the ground, internal combustion vehicles were being driven in most of the major cities. Automobiles have come a long way since Henry Ford was able to mass produce as many as 9,000-10,000 Model Ts per day in 1925. And all those advances, largely taken for granted, have necessitated the need for materials from all over the globe, as you'll see in the chart below.

A look at the raw materials used to produce car parts and where in the world these resources can be found. Add this infographic from Allianz.

 

The following are some statistics copied in from GreenLivingTips.com on consumption relating to various goods, services and resources we use, which bring to light the amount of over consumption that takes place by a relatively small slice of the world population. While several of the statistics are several years old and the author/researcher resides in Southern Australia, they were well researched at various noted environmental organizations.

We are a country consumed by consumption. Will it ever slow down, and what are the consequences if it doesn’t? To that end, what can you do to help reverse the process? With "OVERPOPULATION" out of the way, we introduce Things That You Can Do, and we break those down into three categories: "Small, Medium, and Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"
Based on your answers, you can get a sense of how large your carbon footprint might be (i.e., put another way, what impact you’re having on the environment.)

 

Things That You Can Do - Small

 

 

A Little More Involved - Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99.Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

3. CLIMATE CHANGE
Once upon a time, around 1984, Ozone Depletion became the "Hole Story." Today, some thirty years later, the depletion of the protective ozone layer is still a very important and ongoing concern. But the continued and significant heating of the planet, principally in the last three decades, is without a doubt, most scientists agree, our wake up call.
Climate Change is the most pressing issue man has ever faced; a potentially catastrophic problem, with consequences that will affect every single living creature. Not only will increased temperatures cause sea levels to rise, potentially submerging low-lying metropolises like New York, Miami, and New Orleans, cities like Boston and Tampa Bay are also very much at risk. Next there is the issue of storms. Few can forget the devastating images from Hurricane Katrina or Superstorm Sandy.

   

(New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina photo credits: www.cbsnews.com and Seaside Heights, NJ (not far from where CrunchTime's founder grew up) after Sandy blew through www.nj.com respectively)

According to the The New York Times on August 8, 2017, "the average temperature in the United States has risen rapidly and drastically since 1980, and recent decades have been the warmest of the past 1,500 years, according to a sweeping federal climate change report. The report by scientists from 13 federal agencies concludes that Americans are feeling the effects of climate change right now."
The skeptics will tell you that Climate Change doesn’t exist; that the gradual heating of the planet is just the natural geological rhythm of the planet. While Earth has gone through periodic, moderate temperature changes for eons, none of the core samples extracted from Antarctica ice—giving us a timeline of the makeup of the atmosphere, much like rings on a tree demonstrate its age, point to such a rapid increase as we’ve seen in the past few decades. As the chart below shows, the ten hottest years on record have all occurred in the past 19 years.


(photo credit: climatecentral.org)

All living creatures are affected by climate change, not just human beings. According to Nature.com

 

 

Leading scientists and experts agree that we need to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere to a point below 350ppm to have any hope of staving off the advances of climate change. Here’s why 350 is the magic number.
For many, many years global warming, as it was first called, was like carbon monoxide—somewhat a silent killer. Analogous to the first cases of carbon monoxide poisoning, oftentimes caused by a faulty heating system slowly emitting its odorless, tasteless gas before it "innocently" took the lives of its prey, global warming was, early on, a much more innocuous killer. For example:

 

 

Many believe that Hurricane Katrina was the canary in the coal mine, a harbinger of things to come. Others believe that the warning signs were present long before the levees were breached in New Orleans that fateful day in August 2005. Scientists, geologists, and others who had studied the history of the Earth were well aware of how the Earth had warmed and cooled many, many times in its 4.5 billion year history. In fact, some people are unaware that “during the Ice Age, the Earth's average temperature was only about 12 degrees Fahrenheit colder than it is today.”

That small change in median temperature, preventing much of the fallen snow from melting for tens of thousands of years, was enough to cover everything in ice, up to two miles thick, north of present day St. Louis as recently as 18,000 years ago.

There is no doubt that the Earth, through natural measures not completely understood by man, has gone through these cooling then heating temperature shifts many tens-of-thousands in duration, several times before. And many pundits will argue that our recent temperature increase is due to just that. Others, including Jim Hansen, a leading scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Laboratory, will argue that what’s happening today is unprecedented, and if we don’t get a handle on it today—not tomorrow, life as we know it will not be the same in a surprisingly short period of time.

To get a quick opinion from Jim Hansen, in terms of how he views global climate change, check out this somewhat technical but compelling 7½-minute interview with Dr. Hansen speaking to The Economist. For a longer, some might call heart-to-heart “discussion”, including how he was arrested for protesting in front of the White House, take a few minutes to watch Dr. Hanson’s TED talk

Lastly, this statement by Dr. Hanson stood out enough for Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org, and one of the most well-known authorities on Climate Change, to post it at their website. “If humanity wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted, paleoclimate evidence and ongoing climate change suggest that CO2 will need to be reduced from [current levels] to at most 350 ppm.” Dr. James Hansen

Bill McKibben goes on to say that “Dr. Hansen is one of the most respected climatologists in the world, and when he says that climate change is incompatible with human civilization, we think human civilization ought to sit up and take notice.”

Below, 350.org presents a simplified version of our climate crisis and what it means for humanity: “That “350 ppm” is where 350.org gets its name. “PPM” stands for “parts per million,” which is simply a way of measuring the ratio of carbon dioxide molecules to all other molecules in the atmosphere. Many scientists, climate experts, and progressive government parties agree with Dr. Hansen that 350 ppm is the “safe” level of carbon dioxide.”

“Since the beginning of human civilization, our atmosphere contained about 275 ppm of carbon dioxide. That is the planet “on which civilization developed and to which life on earth is adapted.” Beginning in the 18th century, humans began to burn coal, gas, and oil to produce energy and goods. The amount of carbon in the atmosphere began to rise, at first slowly and now more quickly. Many of the activities we do every day like turning the lights on, cooking food, or heating our homes rely on energy sources that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases. We’re taking millions of years’ worth of carbon, once stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere.”

“Right now we’re at 400 ppm, and we’re adding 2 ppm of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere every year. Unless we are able to rapidly turn that around and return to below 350 ppm this century, we risk triggering tipping points and irreversible impacts that could send climate change spinning truly beyond our control.”


(www.350.org)


“So far, we’ve experienced about 1 degree (Celsius) of warming, and the impacts are frightening. Glaciers everywhere are melting and disappearing fast, threatening the primary source of clean water for millions of people. Mosquitoes, who like a warmer world, are spreading into lots of new places, and bringing malaria, dengue fever, and now the Zika virus with them. Drought is becoming much more common making food harder to grow in many places. Sea levels have begun to rise, and scientists warn that they could go up as much as several meters this century. If that happens, many of the world’s cities, island nations, and farmland will be underwater. Meanwhile, the oceans are growing more acidic because of the CO2 they are absorbing. Which makes it harder for animals like corals and clams to build their shells and exoskeletons. All around the globe, we’re stacking the deck for extreme weather — like hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, blizzards, and droughts — which exacerbates conflicts and security issues in regions that are already strapped for resources.”

“The Arctic is sending us perhaps the clearest message that climate change is occurring much more rapidly than scientists had previously thought. In the summer of 2012, roughly half of the Arctic’s sea ice went missing (some scientists estimate that the total volume of summer sea ice loss may be as high as 80%). The entire Arctic region is undergoing drastic changes, threatening vital habitat for countless species (yes, including polar bears) and the livelihoods of many indigenous communities. This is also bringing us closer to dangerous tipping points, like the breakdown of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from quickening permafrost melt.” “This is the science of climate change. While much of the details are still being studied, one thing is no longer up for debate: our climate is changing profoundly and rapidly, and human activity is the cause.”
The take away from all this is that if we as a people all come together and do our part to reduce the amount of CO2 flowing in to the air, we can get levels down below 350PPM. There is much that you can do; we all can do.

 

Things That You Can Do – Small

 

 

A Little More Involved - Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99. Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

4. ENERGY CONSERVATION
Wasting energy (in its many forms) and all the unnecessary pollution it creates, is one of the biggest challenges we face in terms of staving off Climate Change. Yet, ironically, it’s also one of the simplest to control. Easy? No. Simple? Yes!

Simply by making some small changes, some of them seemingly insignificant, if done on a large enough scale, could have a profound . . . profound impact. And you’ve probably heard many, if not most of them, before: walking, biking or taking public transportation instead of driving a car (at least an internal combustion one); washing clothes in cold water and/or hanging them outside to dry; taking shorter or slightly cooler showers; turning off lights when you leave a room—especially incandescents, if you’re still using those dinosaurs. (However, if you're still using the soon-to-be-dinosaur CFLs, don't shut them off if they've been on less than 15 minutes. The electronic ballast will burn out more quickly if you do).

Either way, it's time to get on the LED bandwagon—they’ll save you a ton of money as shown below; using a timer to turn certain energy-consuming appliances on and off (one of the largest energy hogs in your house, is a TIVO box. No sense having it running while you’re asleep); setting the thermostat a few degrees cooler and putting on a sweater or sweatshirt; first trying a ceiling fan to cool off instead of simply reaching for the AC (or reversing the direction of the rotation of the blades during colder months to reflect warm air back down away from the ceiling); adding more insulation to walls, ceiling, or attics—if needed, or caulking around windows and doors, or wherever you feel a draft; planting large shrubs in front of north-facing windows; or closing shades on south or east-facing windows during the warmer months. This is by no means a complete list, but it does show you things you can do, either for free or without spending a boatload of money.


(Courtesy: Johnson County REMC)


There are, in addition, some bigger or big-ticket items you can invest in. Many of which will pay for themselves in a surprisingly short period of time. You can also, in most cases, opt out of your current electricity provider and go with one that provides all or a percent of the electricity you use from renewable sources such as solar and wind. You may cost a few pennies more per kilowatt hour, but you’ll be supporting a growing movement (think organic food, which due to widespread demand and acceptance has led to more palatable costs (no, in most cases organic food is still more expensive than conventional, but toxic pesticides and herbicides that contribute to all sorts of health problems do help reduce the amount of produce and other foods that spoil).

Electing to purchase electricity from renewable sources helps to support those efforts and does or will lead to an equalization of cost so that renewable energy costs are on par with those energy sources that must be extracted from the ground.

Actually, the cost of most renewable energy, such as solar or wind is much less expensive than fossil fuels. And those costs are continuing to go down, dramatically. And once a solar array is in place on your roof and paid for, you’re getting your electricity for free . . . or close to free. And, with a mini-split heat pump running off the electricity generated by your solar panels, your heating and cooling will be free, or just about zero! And isn’t the avoided cost of poorer health priceless?

Noted environmental author and president of the Earth Policy Institute, Lester Brown, states that “Sunlight striking the Earth’s surface in just one hour delivers enough energy to power the world economy for a year.” Think about that, one hour of sunlight supplies enough energy to power the entire world economy for a year

If only we could capture a sufficient amount of it. Actually we can because the barriers for making that happen have all but vanished. “The decline in PV panel prices over the decades is astonishing. In 1972, they cost over $74 per watt. The average price as of mid-2014 was less than 70¢ per watt—99 percent cheaper.” And in 2015 it was closer to 30¢ per watt. And that incredibly dramatic cost reduction is causing utilities to rethink how they generate electricity, as shown in the graph below showing the number of fossil fuel type power plants being “retired” each year.


(Courtesy US Energy Independence Alliance)



So, how do we go about capturing a sufficient amount of the sunlight striking the Earth’s surface? The simple answer is put more solar panels in place. And we’re talking along the magnitude of millions and millions and millions of panels. Sure, it would take some time, but it’s conceivable, especially if offshore wind turbines were added to the mix, that the world could generate virtually all its electricity through solar.

 
(Solar Array in New Zealand and Wind Turbines in action; Courtesy Country of New Zealand and Mother Nature Network)



To that end, while the world is making great strides in that direction, sadly it’s China more so than the United States that is leading the way. CNBC reported that the world has invested $2.9 trillion in green energy sources since 2004. More recently China began leading the way with its push towards solar power. The "Global Trends in Renewable Energy Investment 2018" report published in early April 2018 found that of the 98 gigawatts (GW) of new solar capacity installed in 2017, a staggering 53 GW was added by China. What's more, of the $160.8 billion that solar power attracted, $86.5 billion was invested in China.

The bottom line is, we . . . and the energy providers can choose to get or produce our energy from several different sources: oil, natural gas, gasoline, kerosene, nuclear, solar, wind, hydroelectric, geothermal, and more. But most of us choose . . . or accept the most convenient, accepted, or readily available source. And those, quite often, are the ones that are both finite in nature and contribute the most to greenhouse gas production, and hence Climate Change.

There is only a limited supply of fossil fuels left in the ground. And the rate at which we are using them up is staggering. Besides the contributing problem of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions that come with burning fossil fuels, with a relatively short supply, many other things that we absolutely need (or at least presently need) petroleum for may become luxury items if petroleum reserves are all but used up.

Furthermore, the price we pay for a gallon of gas at the pump, of the cost to heat our homes with gas or oil, do not reflect the true cost of using these petroleum products. Here’s an example that might shed some light on this: The roughly $12 cost of a pack of cigarettes (in some areas) does not reflect the true cost of smoking.

While some may still believe that Climate Change is a hoax, not that many people believe that cigarettes do not cause cancer and other horrible diseases. For someone who has been a habitual smoker and contracts a disease (e.g., lung cancer, emphysema, COPD, Heart Disease—or simply dying from a stroke, aortic aneurysm, or heart attack) and incurs hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills, or more, for treating the disease; or is no longer a productive member of the work force, these costs simply are not reflected in the cost of a pack of cigarettes.

Similarly, it is well known in the scientific community that an increase in the amount of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere increases temperatures on the planet leading to catastrophic flooding, out-of-control wildfires as we’ve seen in California and other Western states; etc. etc. The money that insurance companies pay out in claims is not offset by taxes levied on petroleum companies. That is beginning to change as insurance companies are waking up to the huge costs of Climate Change related natural disasters, such as the catastrophic floods in Texas from Hurricane Harvey, and more recently the devastating forest fires in California in November 2018 that destroyed more than fifteen thousands structures and killed approximately 80 people.


(*Jacob Saylors, 11, walks through the burned remains of his home in Paradise, Calif., Sunday.
His family lost a home in the same spot to a fire 10 years earlier. Courtesy: Josh Edelson/AFP/Getty Images>


Sadly, these massive wildfires are becoming the new “normal”. And virtually all the sound scientific minds agree that unless we transition to carbon-free sources of energy, these already unimaginable, apocalyptic disasters will only continue to happen more frequently. For a million different reasons, it makes no sense to generate electricity from fossil fuels. Either leave them in the ground or use them sparingly for things other than the generation of electricity.

To that point, there are many other things that we use fossil fuels for in the production of our goods and services. I’m not saying they’re all good, but petroleum is required for the production of virtually any new plastic, and many, many more things you might not have considered. Sure, there are natural, organic, or more “earth-friendly” (and consumer friendly) versions of some of these, but petroleum is used in the production of so many things including: shoe polish, antihistamines, panty hose, soap, detergent, car and bicycle tires (rubber tapping is somewhat of a lost practice . . . and couldn’t really keep up with demand anyway), cortisone, deodorant, footballs, basketballs, transparent tape, electrical tape, rubbing alcohol, nail polish, petroleum jelly (duh), perfume (love that dinosaur smell), umbrellas, house paint, insect repellant, denture adhesive, hair coloring, lip stick, clothesline, dice, candles, vitamin capsules, hand lotion, cold cream, golf bags, shower curtains, artificial limbs, and so much more. So there are plenty of things that are made with petroleum that we take for granted . . . if we’re not so worried about our health that is. (did I mention toothbrushes, vitamin capsules and shaving cream?)

So, we know that fossil fuels, in particular petroleum, are finite natural resources. And we know that burning them emits all sorts of pollution contributing to health issues while heating up our atmosphere. So why can’t we seem to ween ourselves off of fossil fuels? The answer, or answers, to that question could open up Pandora’s Box. But, as noted earlier, there are so many things we could be doing—and the key word in that sentence is “WE”, that if done by the masses could have a dramatic impact at staving off Climate Change.

Not to belabor the point, but the options, actually solutions, are out there. It’s just a matter of implementing them . . . on massive scale. Everyone wants better health, a better future for their next-of-kin, less conflict in the world, more jobs, and a higher standard of living, just to name a few. Every single one of those things that aspire to could be had if we as a nation, as a world, switched to clean, renewable energy.

 

Things That You Can Do – Small

 

 

A Little More Involved – Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99. Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

 

5. AIR POLUTION

Air Pollution, like the sky above us, is something that's all around us, and it's something which virtually all scientists and climatologists agree helped spawn Global Climate Change. Air Pollution has many sources and one thing is for sure, carbon monoxide gas from the tailpipes of all petroleum-burning vehicles is a large contributor to the saturation of these gases in the atmosphere. But vehicular traffic is just one of several culprits.

The generation of electricity is the largest contributor to greenhouse gases—roughly 38%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. And more than 70% of that electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels—mostly coal and natural gas. The burning of coal, even so called "clean coal” generates an enormous amount of Sulfur Dioxide and Mercury. And these are just two of a dozen or so toxic gases release during the burning of coal, such as at this facility in Kentucky.


(photo credit: steam enginerevolution.com)

Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, such as in China where their main form of energy for everything from electricity generation, heat, and cooking was dependent on the burning of coal, the air quality in big cities like Shanghai, Beijing, and Guangzhou is deemed unhealthy most days as witnessed by the throngs of people below who wear face masks virtually year-round to avoid breathing in all the particulates circulating in the air.

Coal is a particularly dirty form of energy—not to mention newer technologies, like mountaintop mining, for extracting it from the Earth. No amount of “cleaning” coal before it is burned will remove most of the heavy metals and toxin that it is laced with. Attempts at cleaning coal only transfer all those life-threatening compounds to so called slurry pits where the lethal matter always manages to find its way in to ground water.


(Once magnificent mountain ranges are now permanently scarred) (Photo courtesy of www.ilovemountaintops.org )


In addition to coal, we burn crude oil, natural gas (much of it sourced from the dangerous and controversial Hydraulic fracturing, commonly known as “fracking”), tar sands—which is extremely thick viscous sludge that first needs to be injected with toxic chemicals to thin it out so that it can travel hundreds or thousands of miles through a pipeline to be burned. There are also waste-to-energy facilities that burn all the garbage that is collected from curbside collection programs and burn it at an extremely high rate—releasing all kinds of toxic fumes from whatever dangerous stuff was set out at the curb: batteries, electronics, plastic, and discarded medicine just to name a few.

The garbage that is still buried in landfills, and the number of these giant refuses for trash are dwindling in number, as explained in the Recycling and Composting commentary, are another source of greenhouse gas. Trash that ferments in a landfill releases methane and other hazardous gasses that only add to the pollution in the air. Then there are the devastating wildfires that have become a regular occurrence in California and other western states. All the millions of tons of carbon that the tens-of-millions of trees had once stored is now back up in the atmosphere. And did I mention the exhaust coming from the tailpipes of cars, trucks, and buses, or trains, boats, ships, and air planes, lawn mowers, leaf blowers, and snow blowers? Hovering above the Earth for about 62 miles are five different and relatively thin layers of gases that together make up our atmosphere.

Closest to the Earth’s surface is the troposphere. It is between 4 and 12 miles thick and contains approximately half of the Earth's atmosphere. The higher you go up in the troposphere the colder it gets. Virtually all dust and water vapor is in this layer and that’s why we have clouds.

The second layer is the stratosphere which starts above the troposphere and extends to about 31 miles above the ground. This is where the majority of Earth’s protective ozone is located, which heats the atmosphere while also absorbing harmful Ultraviolet (uva and uvb) rays from the sun. The air here is very dry, nearly a thousand times thinner than at sea level. This thinness reduces resistance allowing jet aircraft to attain near supersonic speed.

 


(The different layers of our "paper-thin" atmosphere) Photo courtesy of UCAR for Science Education


The third layer, the mesosphere starts at 31 miles and extends to about 53 miles above the Earth’s surface. The very top of the mesosphere, called the mesopause, is the coldest part of Earth's atmosphere, with temperatures averaging about minus 130 degrees F (minus 90 C).

Next is the thermosphere which extends from about 56 miles to between 310 and 620 miles above Earth. It is in the first couple miles of the thermosphere that our “atmosphere” ostensibly ends and outer space begins. Thermosphere temperatures can reach 2,700 degrees F (1,500 C) at its outer edge The air density is so low that most of this layer is what is normally thought of as outer space. This is where the space shuttle flew and where the International Space Stations orbits the Earth. There’s your crash course about Earth’s atmosphere.

As thick as it may seem, the atmosphere can only absorb so much greenhouse gas. If not put in check the saturation of CO2 in the stratosphere will rise less like the steady progression of an escalator and instead increase exponentially like a hockey stick.
There are literally hundreds and hundreds of things that we can do to help decrease the amount of CO2 that seeps into the atmosphere as well as what’s already present. If everyone – the hundreds of millions of people in the United States, and the billions of other people that breathe the same air we do, all made just little changes in their daily routines that could have an ENORMOUS impact.

 

Things That You Can Do - Small

 

 

A Little More Involved – Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99. Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

6. WATER POLLUTION
Protecting the sanctity of our water supply ranks right up there with protecting the purity of the air that we breathe. That’s because the second absolutely essential human need after air, and that of most every living creature, is the need for water. And not just any form of water, but potable water. Potable water, essentially, is water that is “fit or suitable for drinking”, by both humans and other life forms. You’ve probably heard the planet is covered by roughly 70 percent water, which makes one wonder why we don’t call our home planet Water? But of all the water that covers the Earth’s surface, an infinitesimal amount is deemed potable—about 1%. That’s right, only one percent. And here’s the kicker. Most of that one percent of fresh, potable water, is frozen at the polar ice caps—in the Arctic and Antarctic; at least for now. Sadly.

Here in most parts of the United States we seldom think about water, or the lack there of. We turn on the kitchen or bath faucet, or turn on the shower, and presto, instant—in most cases, clean water; fit or suitable to drink. Meanwhile, in other parts of the world, things are much different. As noted, most of the seventy percent of the Earth’s surface is water, and salt water at that. And the cost to desalinize water is expensive and time consuming. But that’s not the end of the story. In many cases, water is horribly polluted. And one key thing to remember about water pollution is that it’s not the stuff you can see floating on the top that you have to worry about; it’s the toxic mix of microscopic and near- microscopic chemicals: heavy metals, radioactive materials, and a whole host of deadly stuff, that can find its way in to your tap water. While this is a commentary about water pollution, there’s a direct correlation to Water Conservation; conserving the existing potable water that we have. If we conserve water, they’ll be less of a need to tap into that toxic soup.

No doubt you’ve seen the images of the immense “Plastic Island” floating in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of California. It’s roughly twice the size of Texas and growing by the plastic bag. Sadly, many aquatic sea creatures, such as sea turtles, whose favorite food is jelly fish, can’t discern between jelly fish and a large plastic bag. The consequences can be deadly The plastic bag, or some other plastic obstruction, will block their digestive track. Bloated, they are unable to dive below the surface of the water. Unable to dive, they have no source of food, and starve to death, helpless, floating on the surface.

As horrible as that is, on a much larger scale and over a longer period of time, the micro pollutants, many incredibly toxic to any creature that comes into contact with them, are consumed by sea life. Where they lodge in the fatty tissue of creatures and are passed up the food chain all the way to humans as each successive larger creature in nature’s “perfect” symphony, consume these deadly toxins in greater and greater concentration. Envision the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in April 2010, where some five million barrels of oil-roughly 275,000 gallons of raw crude oil escaped into the pristine waters of the Gulf, where every living sea creature was affected, before the oil made its way onto the equally pristine shoreline, causing even more unspeakable damage.

Despite their “best efforts” to remedy the situation, it was an epic disaster that will haunt the Gulf Coast for decades. Taking into consideration 275,000 gallons of incredibly thick, viscous crude oil breaking down into minute components—which does happen, and being absorbed by shrimp and all the other aquatic life that live(d)(s) there. While you many not taste petroleum in your shrimp, the chemicals can linger in your system for weeks, months, even years.

More good news: If you’re a fan of bright white copy paper or brand name paper towels, napkins, bathroom or facial tissue—more than likely made from virgin stock if you’re into that crisp clean “new paper car” smell, there was a price you paid for that whiteness. Paper manufacturers, that are harvesting tens of thousands of trees every week to make the aforementioned products, use chlorine to bleach the paper pulp to get it to that nice bright white color. The byproduct of that bleaching process, however, is dioxins; one of the most deadly toxins known to man.

Unfortunately, dioxins are everywhere, and not just a result of paper bleaching. They are also produced during waste incineration or when most conventional fuels—oil, coal, and wood, are burned. They can rain down on and into the soil where they collect in high concentrations (see The Dirt On Soil” - our commentary on Soil Pollution). There, they can contaminate water and the plants we consume. When radioactive dioxins do enter the food chain they are stored in animal fat, and much like the other toxins in water that start at a microscopic level, they make their way up the food chain all the way to humans, most often in the form of dairy, meat, fish, and shellfish. In fact, over ninety percent of human exposure to dioxins is through the food we eat.

Dioxins are what’s known as a stable chemical meaning that once consumed, they can stay in the human body for a very long period of time. In fact, with a half-life of seven to as long as eleven years, their deadly effects continue to harm humans almost continuously.

Once consumed, dioxins can stay in the body for a long time. They are stable chemicals, which means they do not break down. Once in the body, it may take between seven and 11 years for dioxin's radioactivity to fall to half its original level.

Something else to think about when you’re thirsty and grabbing a drink of water from the tap. The mining industry, especially gold, silver, copper, and uranium, uses a relatively low-cost method to separate the metal from ore. Cyanide heap leaching is a process for recovering these valuable metals by trickling cyanide solutions through low-grade ore that has been pulverized into minute pieces stacked on open-air pads. The process can take weeks, and the liquid runoff contains high levels of cyanide that collects in holding ponds, which are nothing more than large ponds lined with plastic a few mils thick. Cyanide is one of the most lethal compounds ever created by man. Cyanide can be deadly to humans in doses as minute as 1 milligram (roughly the size of a grain of sand) per one-and-a-half pounds of body weight.

We could go on and on about the various contaminants present in the water we consume, but suffice it to say, water is becoming more and more polluted with each passing month, if not each passing day. There is much you can do to help prevent our water supply from becoming even more contaminated. To that end:

 

Things That You Can Do - Small

 

 

A Little More Involved – Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99.Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

7. WATER CONSERVATION
Conserving water is not only one of the most important things we as humans can do, it is also one of the easiest . . . with literally hundreds and hundreds of things you can do to conserve this most precious resource. We’ve all seen pictures of planet Earth from outer space and seen that the vast majority of the planet is covered by . . . you guessed it, water. So why all the frenzy to conserve? Easy. There is water, and there is potable water; the latter of which we have relatively little of on planet Earth—and this goes to the issue of Water Pollution, a separate commentary. With the world’s population above 7.6 billion people in July 2018, with China currently at 1.4 billion and India just sixty million behind them, but projected to become the most populous nation on the planet by 2022, it’s hard to know if the projections for world population of 9 billion in 2037 and 10 billion in 2055 are accurate. Most striking is that the majority of the population increases are in countries ill-equipped to deal with the demands of more people. Demands like more food, more space, more resources, more energy to power “things”, and of course, more water.

All the water on the planet is all there has ever been. And, more importantly, all there will ever be. Period! Planet Earth’s water goes through a continuous cycle of evaporation, transportation from one location to another—mostly enmeshed as small droplets in the certain types of clouds circulating around the planet; until just the right conditions are met, and water falls anywhere from a light mist to torrential downpours. Parts of southeastern Texas, during Hurricane Harvey, received in excess of 60 (sixty) inches of rain in about five days. Obviously it seldom, if ever, snows in the Houston area of Texas, but if that much precipitation fell as snow somewhere, it would have translated into about 65 FEET of snow. (According to NOAA—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration “On average, thirteen inches of snow equals one inch of rain in the US, although this ratio can vary from two inches for sleet to nearly fifty inches for very dry, powdery snow under certain conditions.”)

Meanwhile, many parts of Western Africa, much of Australia and many other regions on the planet, see but a small fraction of the rainfall they once did. The reason being is as a result of Climate Change we have disrupted the planet’s natural water cycle. That’s right, our climate is so delicately balanced, that just an insignificant change in mean temperatures—one or two degrees Fahrenheit can create catastrophic changes for the flow of water around the globe. This means virtually no hydration for the crops that are needed to feed exploding populations, turning once robust farms into parched landscape. To a lesser degree, but nonetheless relevant to citizens of the United States, many parts of the heartland and California’s Central Valley, which sandwiched between the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range and coastal hills, is an area roughly fifty miles wide and 450 miles long, receive far less rainfall than they did just a few decades ago. And the horrific wildfires that we seem to experience every year in California, as well as other western states, can be attributed to lower rainfall due to Climate Change. The roots do not get saturated as they should causing trees to become dry timber. Winds, exacerbated by high heat and low humidity flow down from the foothills of California and turn small fires into raging infernos, destroying hundreds of structures and thousands of lives.

So conservation is thinking about your use of water every single time you run water at your home or at work: the kitchen and bathroom sink, the shower and/or tub, watering your lawn or garden, washing your dishes, washing your clothes, washing your car, brushing your teeth; so many things. It’s also thinking about food choices. Certain classifications of food require far greater amounts of water to get from a starting point (seed, infant animal, etc.) to harvest or slaughter to your kitchen table. For example, according to Food Tank, “the Think Tank for Food”, it takes 1,799 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, and one pound of pork takes 576 gallons of water. As a comparison, the water footprint to grow a pound corn is 108 gallons.

To emphasis the importance of conserving water, many experts, and not just scientists, climatologists or politicians have said that World War III, if it occurs, would not be fought over religion, over land disputes or over spawned aggression between nations. And, no, they don’t believe it will be fought over oil. Many experts believe that WW III, and we're not advocating a World War or condoning it if it does happen, would be fought over water. That’s right, water. Next to air, water is the most vital human element. And the amount of potable water on the planet is infinitesimally smaller than most people are aware of, and dwindling.

In conclusion, despite the fact that 70% of the planet is covered by water, a mere 1% of that water is potable (fresh water fit for consumption). And of that relatively small amount, the vast majority of it is locked in the polar ice caps – for now anyway. Global Climate Change is "unlocking" that water, but not in a way that benefits us*.

*As Antarctica continues to melt or, worse, have sections break off and fall into the surrounding water, sea levels do not change due to displacement. However, as the ice that covers Greenland's bedrock is lost, that will increase sea levels, causing a potentially catastrophic disaster for coastal cities and regions like Boston, New York, Baltimore, Southern Florida, as well as New Orleans and the entire Gulf Coast.

The bottom line is: Don’t Waste Water!
And here’s what you can do to help.

 

Things That You Can Do – Small

 

 

A Little More Involved – Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99.Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

8. THE DIRT ON SOIL
The ground that we walk on is all too often taken for granted. We treat it like dirt when we should do all that we can to safeguard it from the many threats it faces. Here’s something to think about. Aside from any seafood we eat, we are pretty much dependent on soil for providing all the other food that eat, whether that be fruit and vegetables, poultry, beef, pork, and just about anything else. So the quality of our soil, and preserving its integrity, is of vital importance to all life forms.

And a large part of that integrity is the actual make-up, or composition of the soil. It’s a lot more than “dirt”. In fact, you might be surprised to learn that soil is made up of as much as 50% air and water. The other components of soil, and it varies from location to location, is approximately 45% minerals and 5% organic matter. And as important are the nutrients found in minerals and organic material, it’s the air and water that provide the magic that brings us so much of the food we eat. Soil contains an incomprehensible number of microorganisms, and they need air to survive. And it’s during their biological process of breaking down matter into smaller components that so many of the nutrients found in soil are released. But the plants would not grow if those nutrients were delivered through the soil. And that’s why soil water is so vital for plant uptake.

Unlike the sky above us or rivers running through many communities, revealing various degrees of pollution, the dirt under our feet is not something we generally give much thought to. But our soil is under threat in many different ways. And these threats will continue to have more and more of an impact as the world’s population continues to soar. Around 1800 there were a billion people on the planet. By 1960 there were three billion. By 2000 that number had doubled to six billion. And by 2050, it is estimated that there will be some nine billion people inhabiting planet Earth. If we don’t protect our soil, and given current agricultural practices, there is absolutely no way the planet could provide enough food for nine billion people.

Since around the time of the first Earth Day in 1970 our soil has seen an increased level of neglect, mismanagement, and outright abuse; principally in the form of pollutants infiltrating deep into this natural resource that we are so heavily dependent on. In many ways Earth’s soil is like a sponge blanketing every square inch not covered by water. Soil that is covered by asphalt may appear to be protected from pollutants, but toxins dumped into soil, leached from landfills, or acid rain falling from the sky make their way into our water bodies and extend in every direction under our feet. Those pollutants end up in so much of the food that we eat and can have long-term health effects on all living creatures.

But pollution is not the only threat to our soil. Soil erosion and desertification caused by the denuding of land is a widespread problem affecting millions of square miles of land. The most destructive and widespread denuding of our land is the deforestation taking place in our tropical rain forests. Exotic hardwood trees such as mahogany, rosewood and others are being felled to make furniture and other high end housewares, while other less valuable trees are being cut to build structures, to cook with, or simply to plant grass for cattle grazing to supply cheap beef to fast food restaurants. This results in these lush, biodiverse ecosystems being transformed into barren desserts in a frighteningly short period of time.

Rising global temperatures have greatly affected the flow of moisture in our atmosphere. To the point where regions of some continents—particularly Africa and Australia, have seen precipitous decreases in rainfall. While some other regions have seen destructive increases in rainfall causing biblical flooding. There are many threats, in addition to pollution, that our soil is exposed to. But here is a list of some of the most serious ones, in no particular order:

Soil Erosion:

Soil erosion, while not a new phenomenon. It is something that has occurred periodically for millions of years. More recently, however, it is a threat that has grown exponentially, principally due to human activity. First, a little explanation: Soil erosion is caused, as most know, by either wind or water removing soil from one location and depositing it somewhere else; whether that be land, or a body of water. As population increased and once barren land was taken, soil that was once compact and held in place for millennia can be loosened by animals trampling over it, by the frequent plowing of fields, or simply denuding all forms of vegetation. Once loosened, strong winds can whip up collect fine particles of topsoil, and deposit it a few yards or even several miles away.

While wind erosion is a somewhat constant occurrence, water erosion typically happens less frequently, but oftentimes with dramatic consequences. Think of all the torrential rainstorms that seem to be occurring with much greater frequency, and the footage on the News of downtown streets being turned into raging rivers, landslides sending homes and other structures cascading down hills and/or wiping out streets below as near liquid soil is dramatically relocated to places where it isn’t wanted or needed. Around the world, Earth’s soil is (was) only about ten feet thick, at best. As populations increase more intensive farming is needed, depleting organic matter which causes the structure of topsoil to weaken. Lack of fields to plant crops in has caused an increase in the amount of slopes that are being used to grow crops. A combination of weakly aggregated soil and slopes leads to soil being easily mobilized by rainfall.

That water runoff, which can begin as a barely-noticeable stream, can quickly enlarge into a small river carrying topsoil and all its organic matter with it. Once that soil is gone, it’s virtually impossible to retrieve. In many parts of the world where excessive cultivation, overgrazing, and deforestation all lead to excessive soil erosion.

Fertilizers, Pesticides, and other Pollutants:

Fertilizers
As man gradually shifted from being a hunter gatherer to harvesting food from the soil and farming became more widespread, man learned that by rotating crops from location to location it gave the topsoil the ability to replenish nutrients that had been depleted from the soil. Recently researchers in the UK discovered that cow manure was used as a fertilizer as far back as 8,000 years ago. Rich in nutrients, it allowed soil to be reinvigorated with minerals such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, or NPK. Any one of these nutrients is pretty much all a plant needs to grow; all three combined, along with sun and water, is like rocket fuel for plants. Cow dung, as it’s often called, can not only help maintain moisture levels and thus improve the texture of soil, it also helps to support the growth of microorganisms essential for rich, nutrient soil.

As populations grew requiring an ever-increasing amount of food to be grown, commercial agriculture began its rise. At the same time, fertilizers went from largely animal byproduct to highly engineered chemical fertilizers. While these chemical fertilizers certainly increased the production from a plot of land, that came with a price; a very heavy one as we’re learning.

Organic fertilizer, such as cow manure not only couldn’t keep up with demand, the quality of it was inconsistent; sometimes nearly void of the essential NPK elements. That brought about the rise of chemical fertilizers. They were much more consistent in terms of quality and they could also be altered for different growing conditions. And they could be produced in massive volumes, relatively inexpensively. But chemical fertilizers are not just limited to farms. In today’s felt need for lush, pristine, green lawns there is a tremendous overuse of them at homes, parks, and ball fields.

Manipulating soil can have adverse consequences. Not just for man, but for all life forms. While chemical fertilizers do allow soil to yield more and typically better quality crops . . . for a period of time, in the long run because of the depletion of nutrients, the use of chemical fertilizers will almost always lead to smaller yields and/or poorer quality crops. That’s because much like the human body, maintaining the health of soil health requires regular care and the avoidance of harmful substances.

While NPK can definitely increase the speed in which crops grow and produce better yields, if they’re added to soil without keeping them in balance it can lead to unintended problems. Even if the NPK are kept in balance, overuse of fertilizers will lead to an excessive buildup of nitrogen which will lower the soil’s pH balance causing it to become acidic, resulting in less plant growth.

A more serious problem is the leaching of chemical fertilizers into groundwater. In small amounts NPK is safe, but if too much of it, especially nitrogen, seeps into waterbodies it can have adverse and severe consequences to aquatic life. This begins to delve into the issue of Water Pollution, but it’s important to quickly illustrate that too much nitrogen in water is a serious problem. And ironically it’s because the nitrogen does exactly what it’s designed to do: help plants grow; even those in water. Microscopic plankton along with other aquatic plants can be fueled by nitrogen and grow out of control. When these different plants forms die and decompose, it robs the water of oxygen which fish and other aquatic life need to survive.

Lastly, one other consequence of the over fertilization of land that is also not directly related to soil, but nonetheless important and worth mentioning, is that nitrogen, albeit a lesser known greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide CO2, it is just as harmful.

Pesticides
As a preamble to pesticides, it's good to know that Pesticides is a broad category that can be broken down into several subcategories, with Herbicides and Fungicides being two of the more common ones. Fungicides and herbicides are forms of pesticide, and pesticides are substances that kill plant pests, with "pests" meaning a broad spectrum of problems, including fungi and even other plants.The Latin meaning of "cide" is "kill" or "killer" (Homicide is a well known example of the suffix in use).

While some sort of "pest control" has been a part of farmer's and landscaper's days for nearly as long as the sun has been coming up, in more recent years chemists have been able to concoct some absolutely lethal pesticides that'll not only kill any insect that comes anywhere near any sort of vegetation growing from the soil, many will are supremely good at causing cancer in anyone who spends any time near this vegetation.

Homeguides.com states that "Herbicides are different from other types of pesticides because they're designed to kill or curtail certain kinds of plant growth rather than protect them. Herbicides are applied in places such as lawns and golf courses. A selective herbicide is designed to kill only one type of plant in an area containing more plant varieties; an example is an herbicide that kills weeds growing among grass." Roundup®, made by Monsanto®, is one of the best know herbicides, and as of this writing, is facing many multi-million dollar lawsuits by people who have alleged to have developed different types of terminal cancer from repeated exposure.

Needless-to-say, if these different pesticides are so effective at killing things,it's probably a good and healthy idea to avoid them, including that which might be on the food that we eat.

Other Pollutants
Aside from fertilizers and pesticides, perhaps the most pervasive yet easy to control threat to soil comes from the things we discard. Going way back in time, as man learned to fabricate things for the home, for factories, for entertainment, for transportation, and so much more, it meant that more and more “stuff” was created; much of it with a limited life span. Think of everything that you have ever possessed in your life. If you no longer have it, where do you suppose it went? More than likely it was buried or burned. Landfills have been a way of life in the United States since the first municipal landfill was created in Fresno, CA in 1937. You can read a lot more about landfills, including the infamous Fresh Kills Landfill that served New York City, in the "SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT" commentary. But suffice it to say, the amount of refuge, trash, garbage, whatever you want to call it, that we have to deal with is going to bury us.

Since there is no limit and no hard and fast restrictions as to what gets dumped in a landfill (or burned in an incinerator, for that matter--more on that later), any one of a number of toxic chemicals, heavy metals, and radioactive material, just to name a few, can seep through everything in its way—there is no oxygen deep inside of a landfill so liquids do not evaporate, and eventually leach into whatever water body might be nearby. Some of that toxic brew can make its way to water that is used to irrigate the crops we eat. Much of the rest of it ends up in water that humans or other creatures consume. And, with the same oversight, or lack thereof, with regard to what gets placed in the garbage picked up at the curb (for many people it's "Out of Sight, Out of Mind"), if it doesn't make its way into groundwater that way, the toxic particulate matter much of that hazardous stuff we indicated was once destined for a landfill, is instead burned and ends up as toxic smoke spreading all across the land; oftentimes settling on topsoil used for agriculture. If it isn't absorbed by the soil it more than likely runs off and eventually finds it way into a body of water where it could later end up most anywhere, including your kitchen faucet which you might have opened to get a drink or get some water to cook food in.

Since landfill space is shrinking rapidly and the siting of new landfills is next to impossible—you’ve heard of NIMBY before, right? “Not In My Back Yard”, whatever doesn’t get recycled gets burned, as mentioned, in an industrial incinerator (or waste-to-energy facilty, which is only slightly better than a plain incinerator--there are much better ways to generate electricity, as noted in the ENERGY CONSERVATION commentary..

Difficult as it may be, preventing pollutants from infiltrating our soil and waterbodies might be easier than preventing erosion and the consequences of over fertilizing crops. Entirely preventing erosion is much like preventing a horse from escaping the barn after it’s already bolted through the door. Geological forces have already dictated what takes place in the future. In other words, the landscape has been altered too much to entirely prevent it; Mother Nature is a formidable force. Fertilizers, even organic ones, are a widespread commodity, that if used properly yield such great benefits it’ll never be outlawed. Coming up with new ways to limit or prevent toxic substances from being used in the production of the incalculable number of things we make is at least something humans might have some control over; if nothing else, at least by voting with their hard-earned dollars.

A real solution, however, is to simply reduce the amount of stuff you buy. And to give more thought to the stuff you do buy. As the world population grows so does the amount of waste we produce. It is then necessary to find some way of disposing of this waste. The soil has in recent years been selected as a medium in which to dispose of waste. The consequences have been serious in terms of soil pollution, damage to land, pollution of water courses and in some cases damage to the health of plants, animals and humans. Dispersal of waste from its source can be through the atmosphere, via the water bodies or directly into the soil itself.

Once in the soil, not only can it enter the food chain thereby affecting plants, animals and humans but in some cases also alters the composition of the soil and its ability to perform its many functions. For example, there is evidence that some forms of pollution can diminish the populations of soil organisms such as earthworms and microbes, which in turn decreases the biotic capabilities of the soil. Furthermore, once in the soil pollutants can often be transported from there through to the water bodies where they contribute to further, extended damage to the environment. Soil pollution is now much more under the spotlight of government though there are many countries that still ignore the effects of soil pollution.

There are both inorganic and organic pollutants. Some of the main toxic substances in waste are inorganic constituents such as heavy metals, including cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury, nickel, zinc, amongst others. The two main culprits responsible for the transfer of heavy metals to land are smelting and mining activities and the spreading of metal-laden sewage sludge on land. In most countries there is a history of mining and smelting and certainly in the earlier years there was either ignorance about the damage that could be caused by the spoil material on land or a 'couldn't care less' attitude. Either way, the mining and smelting industries have left a legacy of undesirable heavy metal contents on significant parts of our landscape. In more recent years it has been the spreading of sewage sludge on the land that has led to the pollution of soils.

Organic based pollutants, such as PCBs (polychlorobiphenols), PAHs (polyaromatic hydrocarbons), pesticides, pathogens, are mainly associated with various industrial outputs and the chemicals used by the industries. There are many thousand synthetic chemicals used in industry and these can reach the soil by direct or indirect means. Pesticide manufacture relies on many of these chemicals and the widespread use of pesticides in intensive farming has meant that soils in many parts of the world have received significant quantities of them. It is now appreciated that some of the early insecticides such as DDT, aldrin and dieldrin had considerable damaging impact to the environment. The organic based pollutants have the potential to disrupt hormonal systems and modify the natural growth of humans and animals and to alter significantly the content and diversity of organisms in the soil.

The benefits of using fertilizers and pesticides to keep crops healthy are the driving force behind the widespread use of these treatments. Curtailing blights, disease, insects and malnourishment, fertilizers and pesticides help maximize the food stocks gain from each acre of field agriculture. However, the use of chemical sprays, powders and gases can bring about unintentional harm to those exposed both directly and indirectly living in the environment surrounding the crop. Chemical fertilizers are important for the cost-effective production of commercial crops, and have been since the 1930s. With a growing population and high cost of living, a bountiful harvest ensures enough food is available for everyone at affordable prices. However, using chemical fertilizers do have their hidden dangers about which most people may not know.

Take for example, this toxic alphabet soup of toxic chemicals typically found in a landfill:

In summary, local landfills are full of dangerous toxic chemicals, such as those mentioned above. Worse, many of the same chemicals, and more, are also in the air that we breathe. But it is the leaching of these eight toxic materials—in liquid form seeping to the bottom of a landfill and then inevitably in to the adjacent soil before that toxic cocktail makes its way in to ground water; the very water that we drink, bath and cook with.
There are plenty of different water purifiers on the market, most any of them will remove the “big” stuff: turbidity. But it’s the microscopic stuff you can’t see, the radioactive stuff, the dioxins, the cyanide from the mining industry, and so much more, that should scare the bejesus out of you. And, just to let you know, the FDA regulations for bottled water are much less stringent than what comes out of your tap. To that end, you might consider a reverse osmosis (RO) water filter, the technology used for kidney dialysis.

 

Things That You Can Do - Small

 

 

A Little More Involved - Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 

Total Possible Score 99. Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

 

9. SOLID WASTE MANAGEMENT
With world population at approximately 7.7 BILLION people, with an ever-increasing number of those people hoping to attain a lifestyle commensurate to those in the United States, it’s safe to say that we as a people generate an unimaginable amount of solid waste, not to mention what every living, breathing creature eliminates. We touched on the amount of solid waste created in the OVER CONSUMPTION” commentary, but suffice it to say, we are not only running out of the finite natural resources to produce the things we as a people want, we are quickly running out of ways to deal with the surplus of goods a large percent of the population acquires and eventually tries to, for one reason of another, get rid of.

According to Wikipedia, and not surprisingly, “Americans generate more waste than any other nation in the world, officially with 4.4 pounds (2.0 kg) of municipal solid waste (MSW) per person per day, with another study estimating 7.1 pounds per capita per day. Fifty five percent of this waste is contributed as residential garbage, while the remaining forty five percent of waste in the U.S.'s ‘waste stream' comes from manufacturing, retailing, and commercial trade in the U.S. economy. The following Pie Chart will give you a glimpse into the makeup of a typical landfill.


Since there is no true “away”, all this stuff must go somewhere: given to other family members; donated to a charitable cause; repaired and reused, if broken; repurposed; stored in a facility for future use; illegally dumped; or set out as “trash” destined for a landfill or incinerator. And we know, from the "SOIL POLLUTION" commentary., the consequences of either of those last two options.

To make matters worse, we—and Americans are at the top of the list of people to blame, are poring through our finite natural resources at a pace that requires two addition Earths to provide. Put another way, we will need as many as three planets with all the resources Planet Earth once had. The speed at which we are using up these resources is simply unsustainable.

Blame it on TV advertising or what have you, but we need to experience a paradigm shift and quickly become minimalists. Is it greed, is it a feeling of inferiority, are we compelled to keep up with or out shine our neighbors, do we have a collective need for “retail therapy”, are we bored and find shopping—in a store or online, something to excite us? There are many factors, but whatever they might be, we must change our behavior if we are to allow future generations to enjoy even a small part of what we take for granted today.

That is the only possible way we can begin to dig ourselves out of this glutinous hole we are digging. There are a lot of unhappy people in the world who think that buying more “stuff” is going to be their salvation. Whereas it’s been well demonstrated that those who have less and are truly appreciative and grateful for what they have, are the happiest people on the planet. There is joy in simplicity.

Scaling back on what we as a society buy is only half the equation. What to do with everything we have that we either: a.) don’t want; b.) bought by mistake: c.) would like to replace because it’s not working anymore and would cost more to fix than to replace (that’s a sad irony); d.) feel compelled to have a bigger, better, faster, shinier version of. In my opinion, if trying to sell it through a service such as CraigsList of eBay, just to name a few, probably the best thing to do with this stuff is find someone else that might be able to put it to good use, through a house of worship or any one of a good number of charities* . . . hopefully for a good long while.

If a new home for something can’t be found, probably the next best thing is to repurpose it or recycle it, if possible. The latter could very well help with the issue of dwindling natural resources. Finding a new home for something will also help to avoid or at least delay the item(s) from ending up in a landfill or being incinerated; both of which have negative consequences. So probably the best way to deal with our Solid Waste issue is not to create it in the first place. Be selective in what you buy; buy things that come with no packaging or at least a minimal amount of packaging; buy used vs. new versions of things; borrow or rent things if you only need them for a short time; find new uses of things (basement or garage shelves, lawn ornaments, just to name a few); recycle it, if possible. But try to avoid disposing of it as trash. That only adds to the heap of trouble we’re in.

 

Things That You Can Do – Small

 

 

A Little More Involved – Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 


Total Possible Score 99.Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extra green!

10. RECYCLING AND COMPOSTING
To help combat the mind-boggling amount of trash we try to get rid of, all I can say is it’s a good thing someone invented recycling. As mentioned in other commentaries, Earth only has a finite supply of natural resources with which to make virtually every single item you come into contact with on a daily basis. Everything, everything that you use as part of your daily life, originated from Earth’s finite natural resources. Yes, there are synthetic and artificial things, but they no doubt had their roots in the soil under our feet or the water somewhere nearby that’s in near constant motion. It’s all about supply and demand. If the demand for something outstrips the supply of that item, or the ingredients needed to produce that item, prices go up.

Conversely, if there is a huge surplus of unsold products, or a glut of materials needed to make that/those item(s), the price goes down. Simple economics. The problem we have is not enough people demand buying products made from recycled materials, so we have a massive and growing surplus of feedstock (plastic, metals, glass, paper & cardboard) that is not being turned into new end products (plastic: new containers, new but smaller packaging, some clothing—especially from No. 1 PET plastic); (metals: new cans and other containers, car parts, building material, shelves, electronic components like the case containing your CPU); (glass: again, new containers and glassware, glassphalt—which at present is limited and needs further research); (paper: all kinds of office goods, newsprint, all kinds of new boxes). Bottom line is we should be putting laws in place that would require the use of this surplus of recycled feedstock go into making new end products instead of using up our finite natural resources: trees, minerals, sand, petroleum, etc.

Once upon a time, starting in the mid-80s very little recycling was being done. Then, not only did we start to see that landfills were closing and trying to site a new one, kind of like a nuclear power plant, was next to impossible. So, let’s take a little journey to two of the largest landfills ever.


(The infamous Fresh Kills Landfill in its “heyday” Seagulls and trash for as far as the eye could see. Photo courtesy of New York Magazine®)


“The Fresh Kills landfill was opened in 1948 as a “temporary” landfill. But by 1955 it became the largest landfill in the world and remained so until its closure in 2001. At the peak of its operation, in 1986, Fresh Kills received 29,000 tons of residential waste per day. From 1991 until its closing it was the only landfill to receive New York City’s residential waste. It consists of four mounds which range in height from 90 to approximately 225 feet and hold approximately 150 million tons of solid waste.”
New York City Department of Parks and Recreation and New York City Department of City Planning

Before continuing with Fresh Kills, let’s jettison across the country to the Puente Hill Landfill, outside of Los Angeles, which after Fresh Kills closing in 2001, became the world’s largest landfill, topping out at more than 500 feet. After some 56 years of receiving the majority of Los Angeles County’s trash, it was closed on Halloween 2013. During its peak operations, the landfill could receive up to 13,200 tons of trash in a single day, according to LACSD. If there was a silver lining to all monstrous mountain of trash was that all of the methane gas the landfill generated was converted to turn a turbine that generated 50 megawatts of power, enough for 70,000 homes in Southern California. At least some good came out of all that smelly trash.

Back to the Staten Island borough of New York and the 150 million tons of trash buried at Fresh Kills. Think about that for a second, that’s three hundred BILLION (300,000,000,000) pounds of every imaginable kind of stuff that was ever created by man. And not all of it is good. In addition to all sorts of things that could have been composted—first and foremost any type of produce; or recycled: cardboard, paper, glass, plastic, certain metals, and many other miscellaneous things, there are things like old sofas, mattresses, and furniture of all kinds; building debris, parts of old cars, electronics, clothing, rugs and carpeting . . . the list goes on and on and on. Then, of course, there’s all sorts of food matter than typically doesn’t get composted. Food is a HUGE amount of what ends up in landfills.

But it’s the hazardous, heavy metal, toxic, oftentimes lethal stuff that ends up in landfills . . . and all too often leaches into the ground beneath it, and then into a body of water that humans or wildlife depend on. As man started to concoct all sorts of different mixtures of liquids and other less than benign components, whose basic elements were part of Earth’s original matter, a long and growing list of toxic substances were introduced to all living species. While some of these substances have certainly improved countless lives, many others led to unimaginable harm.

As more and more landfills were capped and closed, thousands of municipalities, from small towns to large cities, began to collect certain materials that could be recycled and sell them to companies that could help turn them into new end products. Initially the collection of those materials—mostly newspapers, tin cans, and assorted glass was done at volunteer-staffed collection centers. Like many others, that’s how the author of these commentaries began working on behalf of Mother Nature.

landfills

In hindsight, the drop-off centers were a highly inefficient way to collect recyclables—long lines of idling cars, making sure there was an adequate number of volunteers to staff the drop-off center, hauling bundles of newspapers up a series of steps to a platform where they could be tossed into a dumpster; having to meticulously separate different colored glass, after removing the metal “necks” that most bottle tops attached to. But it was a start. Some towns had somewhat stationary dumpsters where people brought their stuff and put the various materials in separate compartments of the dumpster. Needless-to-say that alleviated the need to have scores of volunteers, but contamination rates were higher since there was no one “policing” what was tossed into the dumpster.

Gradually, as was the case in Boston when I got involved in working towards a multi-material curbside collection program, newspaper was the only thing collected curbside. Supply and demand caused the markets to fluctuate to the point where newspaper “thieves” were driving around city streets picking up bundles of newspapers before the collection trucks had a chance to get them, and finding a market for them. Tides turned and it wasn’t long before there was a surplus of newsprint and prices for the commodity plummeted.

Nonetheless, collections not only continued, but expanded to include metal, and glass. But in most cases it was labor-intensive as two people were needed: one to drive the truck, another to pick up the recycling bin and separate the material into the correct bins on the truck. Later came the advent of single-stream recycling where everything was mixed together as huge advances at the recycling centers that received the picked up goods were made. Things could automatically be separated using a combination of screens, blowers, magnets, and lastly human hands. They could then be bundled together and shipped off to other companies that turned them into new end products.

Once again, supply and demand kicked in and there was a huge surplus of feedstock collected from the various recycling programs. So, companies began shipping these huge bundles of material overseas—mostly to China, to make new stuff out of it. But once again supply outstripped demand, a surplus was created and they because more picky in terms of the quality, or contamination rates, as it’s called, of the feedstock they received.

To deal with this issue of oversupply more legislation is needed to ensure that these commodities are used ahead of virgin source materials, which there’s a finite supply of. For example, according to a study published in Environmental Research Letters in 2009, it’s estimated that “global production and use of bottled water required the equivalent of between 100 and 160 million barrels of oil in 2007.” But that’s not all.

“The real problem is the energy cost: PET itself is typically made from petroleum. Making a kilogram of PET, which is enough for around 30 one-liter plastic bottles, takes around 3 liters of petroleum. More energy is then required to turn that PET into bottles, to filter, ozonate, or otherwise purify the water, to run the bottling machines, and to chill the bottle before use. Put all the different pieces together in the production and transportation of bottled water, and the energy costs of bottled water can be the oil equivalent of a quarter or more of the volume of the bottle.”

According to the Beverage Marketing Corporation (BMC), “bottled water passed a major milestone in 2016 when it surpassed carbonated soft drinks to become the largest beverage category by volume in the United States. Total bottled water volume grew from 11.8 billion gallons in 2015 to 12.8 billion gallons in 2016, an increase of nearly 9 percent.” BMC goes on to say that “Sales revenues for the U.S. bottled water market in 2016 were nearly $16 billion in wholesale dollars, a 7.4% increase over the previous year.” If those 12.8 billion gallons of water, some 1.6 trillion fluid ounces, were bottled solely in the 8-ounce bottles so prevalent today, that would represent more than 204 billion plastic bottles.



Bottled water manufacturers’ encourage the perception that their products are purer and safer than tap water. Bottled water can cost up to 10,000 times more per gallon than tap water. But the reality is that tap water is actually held to more stringent quality standards than bottled water, and some brands of bottled water are just tap water in disguise.

To add insult to injury and demonstrate the hypocrisy of the bottled water industry is that the FDA regulation for tap water is more stringent than bottle water. The principal reason bottle water may taste better than what’s coming out of your tap is that it is run through a charcoal filter to remove the taste of the chlorine. Chlorine, as you know, is added to water to kill bacterial, which it does remarkably well. The problem is that while it may kill the bacteria, it doesn’t remove it. So essentially you’re consuming dead bacteria, which trihalomethanes—a known carcinogen. That’s why investing in a water filter is a win win win proposition. Better tasting water, less plastic bottles, more money in your wallet.

What’s more, our increasing consumption of bottled water—more than 22 gallons per U.S. citizen in 2004 according to the Earth Policy Institute—fuels an unsustainable industry that takes a heavy toll on the environment. Approximately 1.5 million barrels of oil—enough to run 100,000 cars for a whole year—are used to make plastic water bottles, while transporting these bottles burns even more oil. The growth in bottled water production has increased water extraction in areas near bottling plants, leading to water shortages that affect nearby consumers and farmers. In addition to the millions of gallons of water used in the plastic-making process, two gallons of water are wasted in the purification process for every gallon that goes into the bottles. Nearly 90 percent of water bottles are not recycled and wind up in landfills where it takes thousands of years for the plastic to decompose.

So the next time you feel thirsty, forgo the bottle and turn to the tap. Because the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s standards for tap water are more stringent than the Food and Drug Administration’s standards for bottled water, you’ll be drinking water that is just as safe as, or safer than, bottled. If, however, you don’t like the taste of your tap water or are unsure of its quality, you can buy a filter pitcher or install an inexpensive faucet filter to remove trace chemicals and bacteria. If you will be away from home, fill a reusable bottle from your tap and refill it along the way; travel bottles with built-in filters are also available.

But plastic water bottles along with other plastic bottles, and the tens-of-thousands of other things that are contained in or packaged in plastic isn’t the only problem. While plastic is the largest item found in landfills by volume, paper products, including corrugated cardboard represents the largest commodity by weight in landfills.

Yet we continue to cut down our dwindling forests, some of them old growth forests, hundreds, or even thousands of years old, so that we can read our newspapers, or print out our reports, or receive reports and statements, or receive new products, or even make confetti with. The same trees that take in vast quantities of CO2 and convert it into much of the air that we breathe. Criminal. Especially when there are post-consumer recycled versions of the same products.

In many ways, as intelligent as humans are supposed to be, we seem to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. There was so much wisdom we could have gained from the Native Americans who lived on these lands for thousands and thousands of years and did it virtually no harm. Then, in 1859, just a few hundred years after the settlers arrived in the “New World” crude oil was discovered in Pennsylvania, and we’ve been screaming ahead faster and faster towards an almost certain apocalyptic end. Unless of course, we begin to alter our trajectory asap. One small way we can help is by dealing with the unimaginable amount of waste we generate.

 

Things That You Can Do – Small

 

 

A Little More Involved – Medium Size Things You Can Do

 

 

Things That You Can Do - Large – You’ll Earn a Green for doing these!"

 


Total Possible Score 99.Your Score: ____ If you got a 99, give yourself one more point for being extragreen!

For all of us at CrunchTime™ we hope that you enjoyed this self-test and more importantly got some tips out of it to lead a more sustainable existence and walk softly on Planet Earth because magnificent Planet Earth is the only home we will ever know! And she’s in tough shape. Mother Earth needs to be mothered. Do your part by doing everything you can to lessen your impact on Earth’s myriad ecosystems.

Any thoughts feedback or suggestions for other questions, please, by all means, send anything to info@crunchtime.me. We’d love to hear from you.

Be Green. And remember, Nature bats last!

For the Earth!

CrunchTime Environmental LLC