Is Environmental Hope The Key To The Survival of Our Planet?

Is Environmental Hope The Key To The Survival of Our Planet?

The constant "doom and gloom" message about the environment in the news can get depressing, but it doesn't have to be that way.

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"Wild, contagious hope." These are the words of Dr. Elin Kelsey, an author, and environmental consultant. I had the pleasure of hearing her speak just last week here at Western Washington University. Friendly and energetic, Kelsey held the complete attention of her audience. Her warm smile and easy way of speaking characterize her message of optimism. Not only is she experienced in her field, but she is also incredibly passionate about education and activism regarding climate change. She's written multiple children's books, including "Not Your Typical Book About the Environment." Her children's books will inevitably comfort the future generations in assuring them that all hope is not lost! One of Kelsey's biggest achievements is the creation of the viral hashtag #OceanOptimism. Her website provides more background on the beginning of the movement, as well as books, podcasts, and other resources for those seeking hope in the midst of an environmental crisis. Although we are all growing increasingly aware of the terrible path we're headed down in terms of global climate change, we must realize that we won't get anywhere without hope.

In her presentation last week, Kelsey called for the end of generalized slogans; you know, like, "save the whales!" These overused phrases fail to even catch our attention anymore. Sure, we all want to save the whales, but that phrase makes it sound like a daunting, impossible task beyond our capabilities. Of course, saving the whales is a completely attainable goal. In fact, there is a plethora of good news about whales, but these articles tend to fly under the radar. And it's not just whales; there is good news surrounding otters, tigers, bees, gorillas, and so many more animal species with stabilizing populations.

Moreover, there is more good environmental news now than ever. With the rise of awareness about climate change and our 12-year deadline, an increasing amount of action is being taken to salvage the state of our planet. Entire cities have implemented better recycling and composting programs, and environmental activist groups have greater numbers now than ever. Still, all of these incredible, optimistic changes being made would be impossible without one key factor: hope. Kelsey believes that hope is contagious - the fight against climate change will gain more supporters when our messages are prefaced with the idea of hope rather than the depressing image of despair that we so often see. That's why it's critical that we paint the notion of climate change in a more hopeful, positive light.

With that said, I still strongly believe that each of us holds a moral responsibility to protect and take care of this earth that we inhabit. To do that, we must understand the negatives without losing sight of the positives. There is much to be done, but we can do it. I spent time discussing the importance of the balance between hope and despair in order to make progress with some other students. We felt that without despair, we would not be as pressed to make a change. However, without hope, there is zero chance of a change being made.

So, whether it be the wise words of Dr. Elin Kelsey or another source of inspiration in your life, remember to be optimistic, to seek out the good, and to realize that progress is impossible without wild, contagious hope.

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Are Plastic Straws Really Killing Sea Turtles?

It's no secret that plastic isn't great for the environment, but how sensationalized is this topic actually becoming?

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When I first saw a video of a sea turtle getting a plastic drinking straw removed from its nostril, I was obviously upset like any other viewer would be. I care a lot about the environment and about animal life and it was upsetting to see that a product of human consumption and ignorant waste was destroying precious parts of our world. I wholeheartedly jumped on the bandwagon of "plastic straws kill sea turtles!!!" but only knew about the issue from this video and what I heard from people or saw on social media. The whole topic of plastic waste into the ocean remained in the back of my mind until the recent pledge of Starbucks to stop using plastic straws in stores by 2020 reminded me of the issue.

As the topic of plastics and their pollution of the environment (largely the oceans) has become so recently powerful I decided to do some research of my own. If I was going to tell people to stop using plastic straws because they were killing sea turtles, I wanted to be sure that I wasn't just repeating everything I heard from social media.

Turns out, plastic straws are hurting sea turtles and other marine life, but a lot of what I thought about plastic waste was exaggerated (at least from what I had heard from others). Sea birds are the most impacted creature by plastic straws, not sea turtles. About 1 million or more seabirds die every year from ingesting plastic straws and choking on them. In research from recent scientific studies, 80-90% of seabirds have some kind of plastic inside of their stomachs. Also, the ecological footprint that plastic straws alone leave on the planet is actually pretty small compared to food waste or fossil fuels.

However, all the buzz about sea turtles may come from the fact that globally 86% of sea turtle species are known to be affected by plastic debris. Overwhelming amounts of plastic garbage in the ocean have caused a steady decline of the leatherback sea turtle over the past several years, so much that they have been placed on the endangered species list. Plastics can hinder eating and consumption, breathing abilities, and even reproductive capabilities of all kinds of sea turtles.

So while plastic straws may not be killing sea turtles in hordes, they are killing sea birds, and plastic overall have caused huge and deadly effects to many sealife species. We have known that plastic is bad for the environment and the oceans for quite a while, given the fact that the Great Garbage Patch was discovered almost 20 years ago, so it's more than time to start caring about the problem. If we can eliminate single-use plastic straws that aren't biodegradable, we can stop using other single-use plastics and make a better effort to reduce our harmful impacts on the oceans. Individually, we can move towards small changes, which can move our society to a more sustainable and healthy place. If you are more interested in this topic, I would suggest reading about how you can make a change or looking at this article and checking out this scientific journal.

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Vinicius Amano

@viniciusamano

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Berkeley Lab Breakthrough Brings Hope For Recyclable Plastics

Facing pressures to stop the build-up of plastic, there's finally renewed hope.

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A potential solution to recycling plastics has been found at Berkeley Lab by scientists who published their findings in Nature Chemistry. We currently face a $2.5 trillion impact from plastic pollution worldwide. Not only has this negatively affected the global ecosystem, other impacted areas include fisheries, recreation, and heritage. What's more, only 9.1% of plastics made in the U.S. in 2015 were recycled, down from 9.5% the previous year.

Traditional plastics can't be recycled due to their chemical composition which puts a strain on the recycling system.

Ultimately, plastics are disposed of which harms ecosystems and animals and clogs up waterways, or burned which releases CO2 emissions. Plastics are disposed of rather than recycled as they are a byproduct of petroleum, made of molecules known as polymers, which are made of compounds containing carbon, known as monomers. When the chemicals and the plastic are combined for commercial use, the monomers bind with the chemicals. The process at the recycling plant becomes difficult because without being able to adequately separate the chemicals and the monomers, the results of the new products are unpredictable.

This is where the Berkeley Lab breakthrough becomes important. The scientists discovered a new way to assemble the plastics at a molecular level and reuse them into new materials of any color, shape or form. It's called PDK

Also known as poly(diketoenamine), this new plastic material could reverse the pile-up of plastics at recycling plants because, at a chemical level, the carbon-based molecules and polymers are reversible through an acid bath process.

Lead author Peter Christensen, on why the study was needed and why this breakthrough is important, is because "most plastics were never made to be recycled." The goal with this product is to create a circular lifeline for plastic where it can be recycled and used for numerous products like adhesives, phone cases, and computer cables.

Since PDK only exists in the lab, for now, it is important to remember that progress doesn't happen overnight. Brett Helms, a staff scientist at Berkeley Lab's Molecular Foundry, is excited about this breakthrough because of the "opportunity to make a difference for where there are no recycling options." However, the landscape is looking grim. Despite the efforts of countries to curb and stop the use of plastic, the amount of plastic is still increasing and spreading. Therefore, it is our job to continue to recycle and continue our current efforts, until PDK becomes readily available for commercial use.

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