Archive | December 2012

DID YOU KNOW? The one reason you shouldn’t buy helium-filled balloons ever again:

The Earth is running out of helium! That’s right: helium cannot be synthesized in a lab, and it’s a nonrenewable gas, so we get all of our supplies by separating it from the natural gas found by drilling underground. Once that helium is pumped into a balloon, we all know that it slowly deflates and loses that helium. What I didn’t know (and I’ll bet you didn’t either) is that once it leaks out into the atmosphere, it cannot be recovered. There is currently no viable method of extracting helium from the mix of other gases in the Earth’s atmosphere.

But what else can you do with helium besides fill balloons and make yourself sound funny after inhaling it? A lot of important things, actually! It’s a very stable, odorless, colorless gas that will not burn or react with other elements, so it has many applications in the medical field. Helium is used in its liquid form to cool the magnets in hospital MRI machines and cryogenically preserve tissue samples, and is also mixed with oxygen in tanks to make it easier for the elderly to breathe in and process (a mixture of helium and oxygen requires less pressure to reach the lungs than pure oxygen). It helped with NASA’s shuttle launch by cooling and purging the cavity between the cold fuel and the hot gas created by burning the fuel.

The U.S has the highest production rate of helium in the world, probably because we have high rates of natural gas extraction. About 75% of the world’s helium supply comes from the U.S.Unfortunately, neither of these resources are indefinite, and experts believe that helium reserves will run out completely in 30 to 50 years. As of now, there is no substitute that can be used in all of these applications, and no way of synthesizing helium artificially. So, what can you do about it? STOP BUYING HELIUM BALLOONS! There are so many other ways of decorating that don’t use up this valuable resource. Or, if you absolutely have to have balloons, fill them with regular air and let guests kick them around on the floor, or just use one or two in strategic spots rather than bunches and bunches of them.



Genetically Modified Organisms–Yes or No?

A genetically modified (GM) food has had some portion of its genome altered, whether through insertion of a gene from another unrelated species (transgenic) or just from another strain of the same species (cisgenic). These genetic changes help confer benefits to the plant, such as the classic example of “golden rice”, a strain of rice developed in 2000 for areas with a shortage of Vitamin A. The rice can synthesize betacarotene, which is a precursor of Vitamin A, to help with this deficiency, and the rice grains are consequently a golden yellow color rather than white.

We have all eaten  (GM) foods before, even if we don’t think we have. Almost all of the vegetable oil in the US comes from GM plants, as well as any products that this oil is used in, like margarine, cooking oil, and shortening. Additionally, a high percentage of sugar beets used to produce sugar are genetically modified, as well as the commodity crops: corn, wheat, and soy.

Some of the benefits of GM foods are:

  • More nutrition per same amount of food
  • Higher income for poor farmers (higher yields per area)
  • Drought, disease, and pest resistance
  • Less loss/waste
  • Longer storage ability for transport
  • Can be specific to indigenous crops
  • Vaccines implanted in foods
  • Food security for the country
  • Reduce labor needs
  • Able to grow crops on previously “useless” land

Some negative effects include:

  • Unknown human health effects; not enough research
  • “Playing God”
  • creation of super viruses, stronger pests, or herbicide-resistant plants
  • Claiming of modifications as intellectual property could create monopolies
  • Ethical questions-are we changing the “purpose” of an organism?
  • No precautionary principle in place right now
  • Animal rights questions
  • Environmental risks
  • Some modifications don’t actually work well (i.e. golden rice-need to eat 27 bowls a day to have enough Vitamin A)
  • Allergen issues

Prop 37, a Californian statute that would have required all GM foods to be labeled as such, was unfortunately defeated. People who were against the bill believed that it would add too many costs for the consumer, and . Many other countries have already banned the import of GM foods, including Peru, Ireland, China, Japan, Austria, Hungary, and most recently: Kenya.

Personally, I believe that GM foods can be a good thing, but that there should be a lot more research done of the long-term human health effects before they are used at such a huge scale. In addition, I believe that items that use these foods should be labeled (as Prop 37 would have done), so that anyone who makes the conscious choice to avoid GM foods could do so more easily.



And now for some positive news! The rate of deforestation in the Amazon Rainforest is the lowest it’s been in 24 years!

(Rather than reposting an article from another source, I will now write a few articles of my own. Keep those comments coming!)

One of the environmental causes that I am the most passionate about is the destruction and deforestation of the Amazon Rainforest. In fact, when we were given free reign on the topic for our ENV 100 final paper, this is the one that I chose. While conducting my research, I realized just how scary the situation in the rainforest is–we immediately think of deforestation when we hear the words “Amazon Rainforest”, but it is difficult for most of us to realize the true scale and consequences of this destruction. Every second, 1.5 acres of rainforest are destroyed. To compare this to an image that may be more easily understood, a football field has a total area of about 9/10ths of an acre. That’s a little less than one-and-a-half football fields gone EVERY SECOND. Now do you see how terrifying this is?

Luckily, a new low in Amazonian destruction may be on the horizon. The Brazilian government reported on the 27th of November that the deforestation within the Amazon was the lowest it has been in 24 years! Using satellite images, the Brazilian Nation Institute for Space Research reported that 27% fewer square miles were destroyed this year in comparison to last year’s data (1,798 sq. miles this year as compared to 2,478 sq. miles last year). While these numbers are still staggeringly high when we think about the loss of habitat, biodiversity, and more, this drop in destruction is a very good thing.

However, deforestation is not the only problem that the Amazon has to worry about. As popularized by shows like “Jungle Gold” on the Discovery Channel, the Amazon plays host to massive quantities of gold ore, which is extracted using processes that not only rip apart huge areas of the land itself and fell thousands of trees, but also dumps thousands of gallons of toxic, mercury-contaminated waste water back into the river systems. The mercury is used to extract the gold from the junk dirt and ore surrounding it, and since the miners cannot afford to (or just don’t want to) dispose of the chemical correctly, they just pour it back into the water, where it can contaminate fish and other river organisms, and in turn poison the native people who eat the fish.

In order to stop the total destruction of the Amazon rainforest before it’s too late, we must focus our attention on the multitude of problems that the it is facing, and strive to continue this downward trend in deforestation!



CO2 Output Hits Record High


Around the world, we are emitting more carbon dioxide than ever.

For 2012, according to new projections by the Global Carbon Project, there is likely to be a 2.6 percent rise in global CO2 emissions from the burning of fossil fuels compared to the year before. That puts emissions of the gas at 58 percent higher than 1990 levels.

NEWS: Green Roofs Shown to Offset Warming

In 2011, China was the biggest producer of CO2, accounting for 28 percent of global emissions, researchers report in the journals Nature Climate Change and Earth System Science Data Discussions. The United States followed with 16 percent, the European Union with 11 percent and India with seven percent.

Regionally, emissions are increasing faster in some places than in others. In 2011, emissions grew in China by nearly 10 percent and in India by more than seven percent.

In the United States and the European Union, on the other hand, emission rates declined by a couple of percentage points.

Still, in emissions-per-person tallies, the United States led the way with more than 17 tons of CO2 released for every American. The European Union came next with just over seven tons per person. China was close behind and India was lowest, with slightly less than two tons emitted per person.

BLOG: 2011 Greenhouse Gases A Record

The findings, say the authors, add urgency to reports about how dangerously high levels of emissions are affecting the environment and society. Projections for 2012 make it seem less and less likely that we’ll be able to stay within the international goal of keeping global warming below two degrees.

“These latest figures come amidst climate talks in Doha,” said Corinne Le Quéré, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and professor at UEA in a press release. “But with emissions continuing to grow, it’s as if no one is listening to the entire scientific community.”