Thursday, April 30, 2015

Insects: A Silent Extinction

When many of us think of conservation efforts, animals like polar bears or tigers are at the top of our lists. Maybe this is because they are mammals and we can better relate to them unlike those creepy crawly insects. However, entomologists like May Berenbaum believe insects are at  a greater risk of extinction compared to other familiar taxa.

And that's a problem especially when you think about the essential roles insects play in the environment such as pollination and decomposition.

Honeybees are the iconic symbol of pollination and one of the few insects commonly cultivated by people but even they are in trouble. Many beekeepers are losing around 40-50% their bees to an unknown malady.

And while bees are essential for producing crops and honey, let's not forget about the decomposers. Stoneflies and caddisflies help to reduce the abundance of leaf litter in streams and are important prey to fish, but due to reduced riparian vegetation and increased land fertilization around streams, these aquatic insects have been reduced enough to further affect water conditions in Sweden.

Recently in Britain, dozens of insects were put on the Red List due to possibility of each species going extinct. The iridescent green tansy beetle once common in the wetlands are now endangered not only in Britain, but worldwide.

But on a positive note, a species of giant stick insects, thought extinct for 80 years, was found on Ball's Pyramid by two Australian scientists. Discovering the frass (excrement) of the stick insect, they risked their lives to find the nocturnal creature and rediscover it. However, this illustrates one of the problems of determining insect extinction or status: they are hard to find. While many of us can easily spot an elephant or a whale, insects are a different story.

The loss of insects and the impacts it has on humans just goes to show not to take the little things in life for granted.

Climate Change and the Spread of Insect-borne Disease

Insects can be vectors of disease and as temperatures rise, diseases and insects normally found in warmer climates are starting to appear in more temperate climates. Insects like mosquitoes can carry diseases such as West Nile Virus and dengue fever and are now posing a risk to the United States and have killed American citizens.

And it’s not only the United States who is as risk.

Insect-borne diseases once limited to equatorial regions have spread to southern and eastern Europe. Studies predict that soon mosquitos carrying tropical diseases like dengue fever and chikungunya will reach Britain. Britain is already thought to be a suitable environment for West Nile Virus and the main carrier species of mosquito was discovered in Kent.

While climate change seems to be helping the distribution of mosquitoes, bats, which are predators of these insects, are being negatively impacted. Bats use echolocation to navigate and locate prey in the dark. Unfortunately, climate change is affecting the volume and clarity of the sound generated by temperate region bats making it harder for them to catch the pest mosquitoes.

And now we must combat these pests in place of the bats.

New developments in LED lightbulbs may lead to customized lights that can deter insects. Artificial lights can attract insects carrying deadly diseases such as mosquitoes and this is a problem in developing countries like Brazil. The United States is taking a bit of a different approach, and of course, it involves drones.

White House officials highlighted a Microsoft project to warn against the spread of insect-borne diseases by robotically stalking mosquitoes. This autonomous system would help detect pathogens in the environment before people were infected.

Along with the drones, Obama is trying to raise awareness of climate change, how it impacts our health, and how to take action to reduce health risks associated with climate change. Negotiating a deal with China to cut greenhouse gases and enacting EPA regulations is another head of the fight against climate change.

However, some Republican lawmakers in Congress don’t feel climate change is a substantial risk. And with climate change consistently polling low among American priorities with doubt the steps Obama is taking to reduce pollution is worth the cost to the economy, sufficient change may come slowly.
How a Home can Help the Planet

As companies and individuals become more aware of the severity of environmental problems, sustainable housing becomes an increasingly mainstream concept. Currently, the private building sector is responsible for about half of US energy consumption, and in 2010, it produced nearly half of the carbon emissions. Individual homes aren’t much better. Heating and cooling systems typically lose 20% of circulated air, the 90% of homes with dark colored roofs hold more heat, causing greater air conditioning use, and many individuals ignore simple options such as utilization of daylight or choosing energy efficient appliances. Luckily, innovations in carbon neutral and energy efficient housing are booming, and accessible solutions might soon be a widespread reality.

Architecture students are hungrier than ever for education on sustainable building. By participating in development projects, such as the one that created the Dynamic Augmented Living Environment (DALE), a micro home designed to adapt to and utilize the changing Southern California weather, students are paving the way for a greener future. Their product fits in perfectly with the expanding industry, and other creations like theirs are featured in the US Department of Energy’s Solar Decathlon, a competition that displays the sustainable homes built by 20 different colleges. These innovations might even make their way into the big leagues and join the most prominent current designs at Ecobuild, a conference where over 800 companies and 60,000 guests attend debates, seminars, and showrooms that educate on the latest advancements in sustainable homes. Interest in “zero bill homes,” houses that incur no energy costs, is increasing as pollution and energy costs become more of a concern. Companies are realizing that there is little extra cost if green technologies are added during initial construction, and the reduction in bills, emissions, and wastefulness more than pays for it.

These builders understand the approach of sustainability, the idea that we need to “[meet] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This means that sustainable housing involves reduction of waste, increase of re-use and recycling, less maintenance, lower environmental impacts and costs, better reliability, and greater user satisfaction. Waste is not measured exclusively in terms of material, but relates to time, land use, and financial return. Action plans for optimal building consider re-use of existing materials, design for minimum waste, lean construction, minimizing energy use, what energy is in use, pollution, biodiversity, conservation of water resources, respect for people and local environments, and setting targets to measure progress.

With all of this in mind, architect Mike Reynolds created one of the best known eco-houses, the Earthship. Since the 1970’s, these homes have been constructed using old tires, bottles, stucco, and other recycled materials, coupled with sustainable water, waste, energy, and food systems to create completely off-grid and self-sufficient homes. Today, more than 2,000 Earthships exist across the world, and their 70% improvement in energy usage is welcome help for a struggling planet. These buildings utilize the unique climates of each region to build the most efficient homes possible, and costs range from the Simple Survival Model at a $25,000 to a luxurious $1.5 million mansion. Local regulations need to be considered when constructing these green houses, as certain building materials might not be accepted, and often times banks are unwilling to loan money. However, options exist to work within these conditions, and doing it part way is better than not doing it at all.

Even if you can’t live in an Earthship or other eco-home, there are a number of things that you can do to improve your impact. The EPA has a number of easy suggestions, such as utilizing the sun instead of turning on lights, sealing and insulating to prevent air loss, using efficient ENERGY STAR appliances, and making conversions to renewable sources for various utilities.  There’s always something a person can do, and ever little bit makes a difference. And who knows, maybe the future will be made of old tires, bottles, and dirt. 

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Climate Change and Its effects on three animals of the Arctic

           When people think of climate change the first thing that usually comes to mind is how the arctic is affected. The Arctic is one of the coldest places on earth therefore it is wondered what will happen to the things that live there when it warms up. Animals in these parts have adapted to the cold and use this cold for survival. In the last century the frozen ground of the arctic called the permafrost has warmed four to seven degrees. (Berwyn)This may not seem like a huge deal but when it is causing ice to melt earlier and form later it has detrimental effects on organisms that depend on the ice for survival. This temperature change is hindering a lot of animals and is making it hard for them to survive. (Berwyn) The ice melting alone is enough to kill off several species if it continues to melt as fast as it currently is. Every animal is the arctic is going to be effected in some way by the climate change. So what are some specific animals being effected by the warming temperatures of the arctic?  Polar Bears is one animal that first comes to every one’s mind because they are one of the biggest predators of the arctic. Another is the walrus and arctic birds. These animals all have one thing in common. That it is becoming harder and harder for them to find food due to the warming climate.
According to climate change models the population of arctic birds could be reduced by nearly half. These models include habitat loss and decreased breeding ability. With the warmer temperatures the trees are able to grow future north than they have ever before. (Kirby, Arctic Birds) This means this will replace the tundra conditions that a lot of arctic birds need to effectively breed. Some of the bids affected are geese Calidrid waders, birds of the sandpiper family, and the red-breasted goose which is worse off out of all the birds listed. (Kirby, Arctic Birds) Climate change for the arctic is not all bad but the rate at which it is changing will be impossible for many species to adapt. If the climate increased by just 1.7 degrees by 2070 many species could lose more than half their habitat. If it increases by 5 degrees in that time the red-breasted goose would lose more than 99% of its habitat. In conclusion, due to loss of breeding and feeding grounds all these birds are in serious danger of going extinct if the temperature keeps increasing. (Kirby, Arctic Birds)

Another animal at risk of going extinct is the polar bear. This animal is an extremely fierce predator capable of killing animals as large as the beluga whale. So its hunting skills are not the reason why it’s suffering. Climate change is causing the polar bears hunting ground to literally melt away from under their feet. Ice is their main hunting ground. Because it is melting sooner and forming later their hunting season is significantly shorter and their geographical range is smaller as well. (Gazette) Not only does the ice not stay as long it is also not forming at all in some places it used too. It’s melting away and not returning. A large portion of polar bears like to live on the ice all the time. (Gazette) On the other hand there are some bears  that live on land partially these bears are being studied to see if their land diets are as healthy as their fatty sea ice diets. The results show that the bears will typically only eat the land food when the ice can’t be hunted on. The results show that hunting in land is better than eating nothing. But is still not enough to replace the lipid-rich seals present in the iced-lands. (Gazette)

The edge of ice is much further north than it has been in the past and it looks as if it’s retreating to the north. The Walruses is dependent on thick ice for survival. They need especially thick ice because of their massive weights. (Kirby, Walruses article) Males can weigh up to 2,000 pounds and females about half that. Thin ice cannot support weight that heavy. Another issue the retreating ice is causing for the walruses is now the ice is over deeper water. The walruses dive to the sea floor to feed on mollusks so now they have to dive deeper distances than they did in the past and soon it could get too deep for them. Breeding is directly connected to the ice for these animals because they do all their breeding on the ice. It is already being seen that the calf numbers are dropping.  The ice decreasing takes away the breeding and the hunting grounds for the walrus. (Kirby, Walruses article)

These three animals the polar bear, the arctic birds, and the walrus all are a part of a dynamic ecosystem that is currently shrinking. These animals are part of a food web that could be thrown out of whack terribly if any one of them suffered. The global temperature is expected to continue to rise even more and more as the years pass. (Green Facts) It is highly unlikely that the animals can adapt quickly enough to survive the increasing temperatures. The arctic is going to look very different in the future with what will probably be some different animals unless the climate change rate slows.

Green Roofs Can Help in More Ways Than One

               A green roof located on top of the Chicago City Hall

For the most part, cities consist of roads, sidewalks and buildings that are made of cement, asphalt and steel. Cities are not typically known for having types of green spaces. However, over the year’s rooftop gardens and other types of green roofs have been becoming more common in urban areas. Green roofs not only have environmental benefits, but they can also save energy and money, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide amenities for people living in urban spaces.

One major benefit of green roofs is their ability to capture and retain rainwater. When precipitation falls on a regular roof, most of the water runs off and into sewers, often taking pollutants with it. A green roof is able to capture roughly 80% of rainwater compared to 24% of a regular roof. This amount is able to increase as long as the plants continue to grow. A more mature rooftop system can even act as a filter and trap particles. Some cities, like San Francisco, are having problems with their storm water management systems. They are now turning to green roofs as a way to deal with the aging infrastructure in a cost effective way. Another problem that San Francisco is trying to decrease is the amount of pollutants that are entering the Bay. Runoff often results in an overflow in sewer systems, which transports pollutants to the Bay.

Green roofs can also provide more energy efficient buildings and save money in the long run. Other types of roofs are dark and absorb a lot of heat from solar radiation. This causes there to be a higher demand to cool a building down. A green roof can reduce the temperature of the roof and provide insulation. By reducing the amount of energy needed to cool a building, there is also a reduction in the greenhouse gases being emitted by cooling systems. In colder regions it’s typically for a greenhouse not to function all year round due to heating costs. Some manufacturers are looking to be able to have year round greenhouses on roofs by using heat from forges that can melt tools and car parts. This has enabled some areas to grow fruits and vegetables year round. This has allowed residents of cities to gain access to fresh produce, which has helped to improve public health.

Cities around the world are constantly expanding, which is why it’s important for green roofs to be constructed in these areas. Green roofs are beneficial in cities because they are aesthetically pleasing and can connect people to nature. With climate change comes unpredictable weather patters. Green rooftops can help with excessive rainfall and fluctuations in temperatures. Equations are being used in some cities to determine how effective a green roof would be. Lighter colored roofs have been suggested to help reduce the temperatures in cities. However, there is the possibility that these types of roofs may just redistribute the heat. The lighter roofs also don’t help with reducing rainwater run off. Cities are becoming more invested in green roofs because of the many benefits. France recently passed a law that all commercial buildings must have roofs that are partially covered with plants or solar panels. This is a good example of a city taking steps in the right direction. Legislation can be used to make beneficial changes in cities in terms of reducing runoff, pollution, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, saving on energy and costs and providing amenities to the citizens.

Monday, April 27, 2015

A Threat to Biodiversity: Habitat Destruction

          It is well-known throughout the world that as populations continue to grow, more land space is needed. Because of this, habitat destruction has caused a lot of concern for the amount (or lack of) biodiversity left on the planet. Biodiversity, by definition, is the variety of life in the world or in a particular habitat/ecosystem. The reason why biodiversity is important is because it boosts an ecosystem’s productivity, and it shows that each organism in an environment is important and has its own role to play. So, for habitat destruction to be so prevalent today, it’s no wonder why there’s such a large concern about the biodiversity that is left.
          Habitat destruction- resulting in habitat loss- is one of the biggest threats to biodiversity; it’s actually the main reason why species so extinct (Schmoop). Habitat destruction can come in many forms. Some examples include clearing out rainforests for cultivated land, pollution in places like wetlands and marine environments, and even fragmentation of ecosystems that essentially divide an entire environment into smaller parts. In fact, about half of the original forests in the world have disappeared due to habitat destruction for cultivation and agriculture (WWF). Many of our coral reefs have been destroyed as well. Not only do the animals and organisms living in an area that’s being destroyed lose their habitat, but they also lose important life necessities like food, shelter, and sometimes even nesting/breeding grounds.
          The Giant Anteater and Maned Wolf in Argentina and Bolivia are dying off due to tropical forests being depleted in their area, while pitcher plants in Borneo are being uprooted from their land for people to create oil palm plantations (Schmoop). Another animal being affected by habitat destruction- also due to the production of Palm Oil- is the Orangutan (Ziegler). In the US, river turtles are losing their breeding grounds thanks to habitat destruction and pollution; they have gone down from 10,000 to just 600 in number, and have been listed as endangered in our country (Huffington). In Australia, the Swift Parrot has declined in numbers because of the habitat destruction that is happening in their ecosystems; the canopies that they rely on for food and breeding have disappeared over the years (Sydney Morning Herald).
          This is an important issue to focus on not only to rid the ignorance toward the animals that we live with, but to gain a better understanding that every individual organism on Earth has their own part to play in their ecosystems. It’s basic food chain knowledge that when something happens to one part of the chain, the chain itself is broken. With biodiversity being so heavily affected due to habitat destruction, we can expect the variety of organisms in our world to drastically decline if nothing is done about the problem and if people aren’t more aware of the consequences.

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Effect Climate Change has on Weather Related Events

The question is asked all the time: “how will global climate change affect people directly?”  For many, there is a thought that they are invisible and nothing can harm them. This thought process can do significant damage to the earth when it comes to climate change. There are many who believe that global climate change will not affect them and this is why many will not change their environmentally destructive ways of life. Below I will discuss the ways in which global climate change does affect humans in terms of weather related events. If people realize that they are causing harm to not only the planet but to themselves then maybe people will be more accountable for their actions concerning what is good and bad for the planet we live on. Global climate change is leading to hotter days, increases in rainfall and flooding, and is causing stronger and more severe hurricanes and droughts. This amplification of weather and climate extremes will be the most direct impact to people all over the globe. The increase in temperature is also causing at times dangerous changes to the global landscape. This adds stress to wildlife, and people. People can see this impact on their everyday lives.
One weather related event that is impacted by climate change is hurricanes. Hurricanes destroy buildings, roads, and take people’s lives. According to the National Wildlife Federation the warming of the oceans waters will cause maximum wind speeds to increase as much as thirteen percent, which is enough energy to boost the hurricane up to the next category. It is described by the National Wildlife Federation that rising sea levels will cause more damaging storm surges and further erode the coastal wetlands, which is a natural defense mechanism against the hurricanes. This will cause the people who live on the coast more vulnerable. The amount of coastal development is increasing which means more and more people are living in hurricane areas.
More frequent droughts can also be linked back to climate change. By the end of the century, if greenhouse emissions continue to rise at their current rates, The New York Times written by Gillis says that the  major heat waves that occur around every 20 years will increase to every few years and will across large areas of the planet. Human population growth means more people will be subjected to these kinds of conditions as well. California has been experiencing a drought for the past 4 years. This is correlated with record temperature highs. It has been raining a lot more than snowing. Rain doesn’t reach the reservoirs because it soaks into the ground quickly and this rain melts the snow faster. The normal cyclical conditions in California are different than what they used to be and this is thought to be drawn back to the long term warming on the state.
Wild fires are occurring more and more due to the increasing temperatures. There is less snow which means less snow seeping deep into the ground. More water is falling in place of the snow and as rain it flows away down rivers. The ground is not as moist as it would typically be May and June which is the most arid time of the year. This along with the growing season starting earlier means the ground is drier and there is more to burn. These factors lead to a longer fire season, which have increased by two months over the past 30 years. More lightning strikes are causing more wildfires to start as well. This is because there are more severe storms occurring due to the warmer temperatures.

Warmer air also holds more moisture therefore rainfall and severe thunder and lightning storms will increase by an expected 10 to 31 percent over the century.  It is likely that the frequency of heavy precipitation or the proportion of total rainfall will increase in the 21st century over many areas of the globe. The frequency of extreme storm surges is expected to rise by as much as 10 times in future decades because of increasing temperatures. Global warming has already doubled the chance of storms like hurricane Katrina. It is expected that these huge storms can occur every few years.
In conclusion, Global climate change has an impact on increasing the duration and severity of weather related events. This is caused mainly by the warmer air temperature being able to hold more water and dumping larger amounts of rainfall at once. This causes two major issues, one being longer periods of dry spells which can lead to droughts and wildfires and the other being when all the moisture is dumped at one time and it is trapped in the air larger hurricanes and storms in general will result. These events are going to harm more and more people as time goes on not only because these events are becoming more frequent and more severe. It is because there are more people living on the planet. More people than ever before are living in disaster prone areas therefore more will get hurt by them. People are driving global climate change in the first place so if there are more people climate change will increase more. The facts show that climate change has a major impact on the weather an events related to weather.

Works Cited
Barringer, Felicity, and Kenneth Chang. "Experts See New Normal as a Hotter, Drier West Faces More Huge Fires." The New York Times. The New York Times, 01 July 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
Gillis, Justin. "U.N. Panel Finds Climate Change Behind Some Extreme Weather Events." The New York Times. The New York Times, 18 Nov. 2011. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.
"Global Warming and Hurricanes." Natonal Wildlife Fedration, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2015.

Nagourney, Adam. "As California Drought Enters 4th Year, Conservation Efforts and Worries Increase." The New York Times. The New York Times, 17 Mar. 2015. Web. 18 Mar. 2015.

Rice, Doyal. "Climate Change to Worsen Hurricane Storm Surge." USA Today. USA Today, 18 Mar. 2013. Web. 18 Mar. 20