We have all heard the doom and gloom of climate science and what the future holds. While it is important to understand climate change, we should not let it weigh us down.
Working for Paul Scanlon with the Office of Sustainability has opened an avenue for me to explore the pathway of how our world can change for the better. He constantly provides me with initiatives and projects in our local area that promote better systems. I would like to share some of the inspiring and interesting news I have heard with you.
Minimizing food waste and improving sustainable food production practices is extremely valuable in a world in which 40% of all food produced is wasted. Food production is estimated to be responsible for 30% to 46% of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
One of the topics I find most fascinating is regenerative agriculture. Two years ago, I read Gabe Brown’s “Dirt to Soil” and have never looked at plants the same way. For me, his philosophies just make sense. The basic principle is to mimic how plants grow in nature; it’s what they do best! With regenerative practices, the no-till method is used to plant seeds as well as cover crops during the off-season. Biodiversity is encouraged to bring in as many nutrients to the soil as possible.
This is how farmers can maximize growth and profit without using additional fertilizers or pesticides. Plants need intact soil and biodiversity to reach their fullest potential, and livestock assists in that process. Brown even mentions that most bugs are not pests and will benefit your crops. The more diversity on your farm or in your garden, the better.
Regenerative farming causes plants to take more carbon dioxide out of the air and store it as carbon in the soil than conventional farming does. To provide incentives for farmers to “go green,” federal legislation has been proposed to allow farmers to increase their revenues by selling carbon credits to companies looking to lower their carbon footprints!
There is a revolution of regenerative farmers taking on the challenge of transitioning their land to no-till biodiverse havens. Most operations save money and can produce more to make a profit. The first step in changing our world is to rethink how we grow our food. Food can even start on your windowsill with soil, sun, water, and a little seed.
Maybe you’ve heard about it, but hydrogen energy is the newest renewable technology. Part of the fight against climate change will have to be from innovations. The newly passed Bipartisan Infrastructure Law granted $7 billion for the creation of regional H2Hubs (centers for developing hydrogen electricity). The combination of hydrogen atoms with oxygen atoms produces an electric reaction, similar to how a battery functions. NASA and industrial processes already use this energy source. The Department of Energy (DOE) hopes to use hydrogen for a better purpose. There is a “National Clean Hydrogen Strategy and Roadmap” on the DOE’s website containing more information about hydrogen power across the United States.
To fully establish clean energy across the country, there must be multiple sources of renewable energy. Each community has different strengths and weaknesses that renewable sources can play off of. As an example, SRU’s campus could use geothermal energy powered by renewable electricity to eliminate our coal usage for heating while also providing cooling.
Many companies and manufacturers are facing increasing pressure from stakeholders to reduce their carbon emissions and clean up their practices. This is an area that you, as an SRU student, can help make moves in as well. The Office of Sustainability has open positions for students to conduct sustainability assessments on food manufacturing facilities. You can apply for this internship on Handshake.
I have already talked about it, but I bring it up again because it is such a crucial piece of the climate change puzzle. Solving our waste and packaging problem will also help solve our carbon emission problem; everything is connected.
Within the lab, there were several discoveries of fungi and worms that can break down specific types of plastic. For what we have already produced, there is hope to turn the plastic found in the ocean back into a part of the environment.
In 2011, researchers at Yale University published an article identifying fungi found in Ecuador that can degrade polyester plastic. Their full paper can be found online in the American Society for Microbiology Journal. More recently, researchers at Stanford found that the common mealworm can digest Styrofoam and several other forms of plastic. They can break down the chemical components into workable soil for crops. These discoveries are considerably old news, and research is being conducted to further these discoveries and provide communities with the materials to use these organisms.
Currently, there are around six industrial petrochemical ethane cracker plants proposed to be built in the Western Pennsylvania region. These large plants use natural gas from fracking to make ethylene, the building block of commercialized plastic products. If we want to create sustainable communities, we have to strive for better alternatives than natural gas.
Even with these discoveries, organisms cannot break down plastic already in the ecosystem as fast as we produce it. We still need to be conscious of our waste and mindful of what we spend our money on. Being environmentally conscious can save your wallet, too!
Just as every community will have a different situation and solution to the climate crisis, everyone has different ideas of how we can accomplish net zero emissions. For SRU alum Alaina Carney, “conservation in every aspect” is key. On a personal level, we need to positively highlight our prevention methods, like rewilding our lawns, using less energy, creating educating each other. While supporting these local initiatives, we should be enacting legislature that helps fund energy and infrastructure change at the manufacturing levels.
Along the same lines as Carney’s answer, a current student, Alexes Gomez, believes in “the initiative to restore nature”. They blame convenience for our exploitation of the land and say that we should be more conscious of using what we already have. Instead of building and creating more, we could collaborate with other communities to rebuild common spaces.
Sustainability is more than lab research and discoveries. We need to develop a reliance on each other. We all need to shift our mindsets to see new alternatives and ways of functioning as a community. If SRU was more in tune with students and professors, we could be assisting each other in developing initiatives for the future. With a higher sense of community, we feel more responsibility for each other. Everything else falls into place once we realize our importance in the bigger picture of sustainability.
If interested in learning more about plastics, you can attend the Sustainability Next Summit on Nov. 16.