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Environmental Justice

Don’t Underestimate the Power of Nature

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Sometimes it is hard to continuously find motivation to reach your goals to conserve nature and work to help the environment.  Second thoughts may come up such as…Is it really worth carrying around all these reusable bags? or Can’t I just buy a plastic water bottle when I get to the gym? and even A Big-Mac sounds good right about now! 

Although everyone’s second thoughts are different, we all have them. And even if you haven’t asked yourself similar questions, I’m sure someone else has.

What can you do about this?

When you are hearing these thoughts, it is hard to snap out of it.  The only sure way  to get back to where you want (and need) to be is to venture into nature!  Petting a few animals may remind you why you choose a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.  Swimming in a lake and seeing all the fish and animals could also remind you why you don’t use plastic.  Those animals don’t deserve to eat the plastic or have it stuck around their necks!  Seeing beautiful trees and greenery is a reminder that you don’t want to cause any harm to our dear Earth!

Examples of nature’s inspiration:

nature_mississippiriver

Canoeing the Mississippi River with Quapaw Canoe Company

Clarksdale, Mississippi

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Looking out at the lake and the mountains in the distance at Linville Land Harbor

Linville, North Carolina

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Black bear at the animal sanctuary on Grandfather Mountain

Grandfather Mountain, North Carolina

5 ways to incorporate nature into your everyday life

1. Open the windows

Whether you’re cooking dinner or slaving over your computer at work, fresh sunlight from open blinds or fresh air from an open window can do wonders!

2. Have a plant

Taking care of a plant is a great way to see nature everyday. You are actively caring for it, which creates a lot of motivation! To keep the plant alive and healthy, a routine must be established which leads to it being an everyday part of your life.

3. Add a pet to your family

It does not matter if you decide on the typical dog or take the easier way and get a fish or spring for a horse, each will provide you with a source of joy. Even more so than a plant, animals provide a routine and a sense of responsibility to animals and plants of the Earth.

4. Go for a walk

Some of the best ideas are thought of during a walk!  Why is that?  I think getting fresh air and your endorphins flowing keeps the human body and mind working the way it should.

5. Eat plants

It has been proven that a plant-based diet is best for the environment.  It can also help with your health and therefore your mind as well.  Jumping head first into a plant-based diet can be daunting, which is why it is recommended to start with Meatless Mondays.

Start today

No matter how you personally choose to do it, I ask you to meditate on the beauty of our Earth and how you treat our home and all those who inhabit it.

Kristin is studying German and Physics at the University of Mississippi. She believes it is important to see the intersectionality of environmental issues.

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Environmental Justice

6 Reasons to Start Recycling Today

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Most scientific studies argue that the reduction of fossil fuel consumption is paramount to reduce the effects of climate change. We are no longer at the point where a single individual action can reduce the amount of pollution needed to make an impact. However, this should not diminish the importance of recycling, and if you don’t recycle, it’s time to start. Recycling is an easy way for people to feel like they are helping to save Mother Earth.

This is a good thing right? Well, maybe.

People use more plastic and paper when recycling was an option versus when they had to send it to the landfill. Researchers say people’s guilt for wasting is overridden by the good feelings for doing something good, but there is a reason reduce comes before recycle in the old “REDUCE. REUSE. RECYCLE.”  Reducing is the most important and most effective way to save the Earth!

I’m not saying recycling is bad!  It’s great!  Many people think that people who care about recycling also care about reducing, reusing, and other methods of reducing their footprint. It turns out there are different motivators at play.  People commonly feel guilty for using more than they need, but they feel even more positive emotion from doing the “right thing” and recycling.  This means the net feeling is good when people waste but recycle the excess.

Some of the excess that goes in the recycling may end up incinerated or sent to the landfill anyway.  This is due to contamination in the recycling process.  This is why it’s important that people don’t try to recycle things they shouldn’t.

I am definitely not telling you to stop recycling, but do think about the things you use, reduce/reuse where you can and keep recycling!

  1. CUT WASTE:  You can reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills and combustion facilities.  This allows for that area to be used for other reasons, ideally to be left in its natural state.  In 2013, recycling and composting kept 87.2 million tons of trash from landfills and incinerators in the United States.
  2. CONSERVE:  Recycling conserves natural resources such as timber, water, and minerals.  Now you are reducing the demand for new goods to be made from new material!
  3. PREVENT AIR POLLUTION:  Due to this decreased demand for new materials, there are more trees and plants able to reduce carbon dioxide and it will take less energy to recycle materials as opposed to create new products. This reduces greenhouse gases emissions.
  4. AND WATER POLLUTION:  With reduced manufacturing from raw material to consumer goods, there will be less waste going from the factories and into the watershed.  Recycling also prevents trash from going into bodies of water.
  5. PROTECT ANIMALS:  A world with more natural habitats and less pollution, native plants and animals will flourish!  You will also be preventing animals from eating recyclable materials that end up in their habitat.
  6. SAVE AND CREATE JOBS:  Your recycling efforts can create and sustain jobs in your community.  On a per ton basis, sorting and processing recyclable materials sustains more jobs than incineration or landfills.

If you’re not sure where to recycle in your area, check here.  This will tell you places in your area that take anything from paper to cell phones, hazardous materials to plastic!

If your school or workplace isn’t recycling, ask why!  And try to change it!  It is not too difficult to recycle and it’s definitely worth it.  Let me know if you have any questions and go recycle!!!

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Environmental Justice

The Damage of Dairy: The Environmental Impact of a Massive Industry

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Imagine yourself strolling beside a river in the woods near your home, only to have this idyllic scene interrupted by an unpleasant smell. You follow your nose in search of a source and discover a stream of sewage and manure flowing from the dairy farm nearby.

For Britain’s George Monbriot, this olfactory nightmare was his reality. The filamentous fungi churning out from the dairy farm was severely polluting the water, making it nearly impossible for anything there to grow.

So why hadn’t anyone done anything about this problem? If this were a chemical factory, people would be up in arms. But for some reason, a dairy farm isn’t viewed as the same sort of hazard or problem.

This pollution — the kind you can actually see and smell — is just the tip of the iceberg. Once you dig into the water use and greenhouse gas emissions that result from the dairy industry as a whole, you discover a more disastrous impact that can no longer be ignored.

What Goes In Must Come Out

The carbon footprint of dairy production is simply massive, and it all starts with how these cows are being fed.

It takes a lot of feed for a cow to produce milk, and those crops have to be grown somewhere. In the U.S. alone, livestock feed takes up 66 percent of all calories produced by crops, and the process of raising and fertilizing these crops creates a huge amount of greenhouse gases.

Once feed reaches the stomach of the cow, the digestive process creates “enteric fermentation” — cow farts. Worldwide, this accounts for 28 percent of all methane emissions related to human activity. That amounts to 80 million metric tons of methane every year.

There’s also the issue of what happens after digestion: manure. Dairies tend to collect manure and put it into a pond, where it sits and slowly digests itself. This stew of stinking manure releases all sorts of methane and nitrous oxide into the air, creating significant emissions as well.

But even with all this considered, the environmental damage of the dairy industry is far from complete.

More Than a Drop in the Bucket

Producing just a single gallon of milk takes 1,000 gallons of water, the vast majority of which is used to grow crops to feed the cows. Currently, 80 percent of all soy and 60 to 65 percent of all corn is grown solely to feed livestock.

And the expenditures of water and energy are growing by the day.

Over the next decade, we expect to need an additional 20 billion gallons of milk per year to serve the growing human population. This increase in milk production will create 200 million to 250 million tons of carbon emissions, which is equivalent to 50 million cars. And that’s just growth; that number doesn’t even consider current impact.

The production of an additional 20 billion gallons of milk per day will require 55 billion gallons of water every day. That’s about 50 percent more water than the entire state of California uses. Just think: In order to meet the growing demand for milk, we’ll have to add the equivalent of 50 million cars’ worth of carbon emissions and the entire West Coast’s share of water use to an already taxed planet. This is a significant problem.

What We Can Do?

There are people in the dairy industry who are deeply concerned about these environmental impacts and are working to do things right. Fair Oaks Farms, for example, is a dairy in Indiana that aspires to become carbon- and pollution-neutral. The owners have developed ways to turn urine and manure into bio-gas, which is used to power their plant and run their delivery trucks. Fair Oaks is a large dairy, and its size allows it to invest money into operating in a more environmentally friendly way. Unfortunately, many smaller dairies simply cannot afford to make these steps.

Changes in the dairy industry’s processes won’t be enough, however. We all have to take a long, hard look at what we’re eating. The way to combat the increase in demand for dairy products is simply to avoid increasing the demand for dairy products.

When it comes to feeding the planet, growing a plant and feeding it to a person is a much more efficient approach, cutting out the intermediary cow that converts plant into beef or into milk. Removing that middle step creates a way of eating that uses less land and saves the planet billions of gallons of water use.

We needn’t avoid dairy completely; a little decrease can make a difference. Even the smallest change, if enacted on a large scale, can make a massive impact on the health and wellness of our planet.

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Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice for Indigenous Populations

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Climate change has an inordinate effect on vulnerable populations.  The EPA has published multiple fact sheets outlining the effects of climate change on various vulnerable populations, all of which are populations that social workers encounter.

As just one example the health of indigenous peoples are affected by climate conditions because their culture relies on their local environment and natural resources for food, cultural practices, and income. Many live in isolated or low income communities such as rural areas with limited access to public services and healthcare, or they live in places most affected by climate change like communities along the coasts. The people of several Alaskan tribal villages are facing relocation due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion.

The EPA cites examples of food, water, air, land and infrastructure, and health risks to tribal populations. In the Upper Great Lakes Region, Ojibwe communities may be affected by the impacts of rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns on rice-growing conditions in lakes and rivers.

Indigenous people along the West and Gulf Coasts rely on fish and shellfish for food, livelihoods, and certain ceremonial or cultural practices. Higher sea surface temperatures increase the risk that certain fish and shellfish will become contaminated with mercury, harmful algal toxins, or naturally-occurring bacteria.

For Alaska Native communities, rising temperatures and permafrost thaw threaten traditional methods of safe food storage in ice houses, and increase risk of food contamination. Climate change may also affect the abundance and nutritional quality of local Alaskan berries that are an important source of traditional diets.

A prime example of environmental injustice is that American Indian/Alaska Native infants are more likely to be hospitalized with diarrhea than other infants in the U.S.  Many remote tribal households, primarily in western Alaska Native Villages and the Navajo Nation, do not have adequate drinking water or wastewater treatment infrastructure, increasing the risk of water-borne diseases like diarrhea.

Current revival of the Dakota Pipeline construction may pollute the water supply of several indigenous tribal communities. In addition, projected increases in large wildfires, as a result of changing weather patterns, threaten air quality for tribes in Alaska and the western United States.

Although the health and welfare of children, elders, indigenous peoples, and persons living in poverty are disproportionately affected by environmental negligence, we all will be struggling for survival if we don’t prioritize climate change and environmental collapse as the ultimate social justice issue.

The National Association of Social Workers (NASW) recently published five social justice priorities outlined in a new initiative for 2017 which are:

  • Voting rights
  • Criminal justice
  • Juvenile Justice
  • Immigration reform
  • Economic justice/Equality

Although each of the priorities are important, they mean nothing if environmental justice is not achieved.  Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, if basic needs, in this case, air, water and sustainable resources, are not protected, other priorities become less exigent.

There is a small faction of our profession dedicated to ecologically conscious social work, but the profession has been slow to jump on the environmentalist band wagon, as exemplified by NASW’s social justice priorities.  It’s urgently time to reconsider. If you are interested in the nexus of social work and environmentalism, check out the Facebook page Ecologically Conscious Social Workers. Learn more about the effect of climate damage on the populations you serve.

The health impact of environmental crises varies with age, life stage and location. And consider the environment as one of the filters you use to assess the person or situation you are facing.  Yes, we know all about person-in-environment…but let’s also focus on the environment-in-person!

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