Well, World Oceans Day was yesterday… but it’s never too late to discuss the importance of oceans! Truly, every day we should be celebrating and respecting the environment in which we live, but it doesn’t hurt to have a day dedicated to oceans.
The oceans are an important part of our weather cycle. According to nature.org, oceans provide $21 TRILLION in goods and services. Cosmetics and medicine contain ingredients sourced from the ocean. Oceans provide jobs for us – fishing, aquatic sports and hobbies, life guards, etc. However, despite the ocean providing many resources for us, we continue to dump plastic, sewage, garbage, oil, and other pollutants into it. There is at least 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic in the ocean – and that is only an estimate! The tiny beads in your tooth paste and soap, the classic six-pack plastic rings, soda bottles and caps, and many more items are being dumped every day into the ocean. According to National Geographic, nearly every seabird on Earth is consuming plastic – they are mistaking it for food. Fish are also eating plastic and passing the potential contaminants up the food chain, which can make some species of fish very dangerous to eat (barring the fact that some are dangerous to eat on their own – looking at you fugu).
So what can we do about this? SO MANY THINGS. There are quite literally so many things we can do to clean up the oceans and environment.
-Reduce your waste: recycle everything you can, compost your food waste, use cloth bags, use reusable coffee cups, donate your clothing and shoes, repurpose items when possible
-Recycle: recycling starts at home – check with your local township or city to see how you can recycle at home. Encourage your place of employment to also recycle, if they aren’t already. Don’t let plastic end up in a turtle’s nose.
–Sustainable seafood: If you’re going to eat seafood and shellfish, make sure you know the source of your food and how it was caught.
I have hope that the federal government actually cares about its people, or at least the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) cares. The Clean Power Plan put forth by the EPA aims to cut our emissions by 30% by 2030 by providing guidelines for states (Environmental Protection Agency, et al., 2014b). The plan basically gives four options on how to achieve this: 1. reduce emissions of coal generating facilities 2. switch from coal (which produces carbon dixoide as a byproduct) to natural gas production (which produces methane as a byproduct) 3. increasing generation from renewable sources and using nuclear power 4. growth in end-use energy efficiency to displace emitting generation (Environmental Protection Agency, et al., 2014b).
The third and fourth options appeal to me the most, because option 1 should already be happening. Option 2 is a stickier situation: there is a valid point to move to a cleaner burning source, but methane contributes more heat to the atmosphere at a higher rate than does carbon dioxide (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014a). Options 3 and 4 are appealing, but still have their cons. Nuclear power is very efficient, but the major issues are where to build new plants; where to store the nuclear waste; and how to handle natural disasters which could damage or destroy nuclear power plants, which would leak harmful materials into the environment. Putting more resources into investing in renewables is one of the best ways to go in terms of avoiding nuclear disasters. We will run out of fossil fuel eventually (Nelder, 2009), but we won’t run out of the sun or the wind any time soon (barring any catastrophic events). Humans have already begun to invest in renewables, and technologies that use renewables have definitely improved than when they were first introduced (Nelder, 2009). However, imagine if we also divest in coal, natural gas, and oil production. A heavy investment in renewables will lead to a quicker advancement of new or existing renewable-related technology. As a nation, we should be investing more into viable long-term options, such as renewable resources; and require all new construction and development to be more energy efficient and less wasteful. I have seen wind turbines out in Central Pennsylvania – it is possible for a primarily coal-producing state to generate renewable energy. The wind turbines themselves provide jobs – all of the people that are involved in the site selection, construction, and set up of wind turbines, PLUS post-production ongoing monitoring of wind turbine kill rates of bats and birds. There are many issues to consider when dealing with energy and cleaner power plans including social justice, how much control the federal government has over states, job security, environmental health, and more (Environmental Protection Agency, 2014c). Whichever plan has a combination of options and factors that maximize energy efficiency, positive environmental health impacts, and provides the most security for livelihood will be best for not only our planet, but for humans as a species (Defries, et al., 2005). We humans need to recognize the vital services Earth provides, and treat our planet with more respect.
Environmental Protection Agency. Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards. Health & Environmental Impacts Division. Air Economics Group. (2014b). Regulatory impact analysis for the proposed carbon pollution guidelines for existing power plants and emission standards for modified and reconstructed power plants (plan No. EPA-452/R-14-002). North Carolina, USA: EPA. (Clean Power Plan) Retrieved from http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-06/documents/20140602ria-clean-power-plan.pdf