Saturday, April 23rd, 2011 | Author:


As this graph shows, human population and extinction rates have been rising at the same amount, in the same time frame. These increasingly high extinction rates result in a loss of biodiversity on a global scale. As the graph suggests, human actions have led to the large growth in extinction. (Note: extinctions are a natural occurrence when a specie is unable to adapt to a changing environment….but our current levels of extinction are not natural)  Why should we care? According to this MSNBC article, we still have time to stop or slow down the Earth’s 6th Mass Extinction. However, in order to know how to stop or slow down a mass extinction, first we need to know what causes it in the first place. As Dr. S taught in class, there are 5 main human-caused extinctions:

1. Excessive Predation: hunting, raising wild animals as pets

2. Habitat Destruction: deforestation, housing developments, growth of cities

3. Destruction of Keystone Species: species that play a crucial role in their ecosystem–> without it the ecosystem could collapse.

4. Introduction of Exotic Species: competitors overthrow native species, unnatural predators disrupt the food chain, diseases spread especially among plants.

5. Pollution and Contamination: BP oil spill, water pollution, air pollution, climate change

It is important that we all do our part in trying to stop the 6th mass extinction, but it also goes further than just an individual level. It needs to be an international level. We need to get governments from across the globe to recognize the serious problem on our hands. However, that starts with community efforts (like our campus for instance). Communities can appeal to their government representatives and let them know that this issue is important to us. Let’s all do our part in trying to stop excessive predation (give up hunting as a hobby, or do it less, or make sure the species you’re hunting is not endangered), habitat destruction (deforestation), destruction of keystone species, introduction of exotic species, and pollution and contamination (recycle, throw trash in trash cans, etc).

Final Thoughts-

Over the semester I have learned so much from this class, and honestly i’m going to miss it so much in my upcoming semesters! I am now more knowledgeable about global problems, but also specific case studies of these problems (domestically and internationally). I have learned different solutions to these problems…there is hope that we can fix them! These global problems are the issues that I hope to help solve someday, and maybe that’s why they mean so much to me. Whether there will be one solution, I don’t know. I think it is more likely that a number of solutions, creative ideas, technological advances, and a more thorough understanding of nature will help us solve these problems. I think it is important to note the global trends that Dr. S lectured: rise in population, rise in water demand, decline in natural resource supply, rise of ecosystem services suffering, decrease in crop yields, decrease in biodiversity, and an increase in climate change.

Let’s spread the word by appreciating and respecting the true value of nature!

Fun Earth Day Activities:

On Friday, I stopped by the Underground to celebrate Earth Day! I was happy to see that there was a good turnout (even though it was raining!), because that means that we have an active community who cares about our environment! There were many fun activities such as tie dye, decorating reusable cups (I made mine with a sun, earth, and an ocean!), making t-shirts, and many more. While this was a fun, lighthearted celebration, I did keep in mind what Earth Day is truly about: respecting our Earth and our environment.

-Kristen Callahan

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Friday, April 08th, 2011 | Author:

(Demonstrators protesting to protect coral reefs in Belize.)

Coral reefs, “the rainforests of the seas”, are very beneficial for humans and are necessary for the survival of marine life. So why are we (whether directly or indirectly) destroying them? And what can we do to stop harming these coral reefs? These are some of the thoughts that first pop into my mind when thinking about threatened coral reefs. On this wonderful website about coral reefs I found some answers to my questions.

First, I think it is important to discuss why we should care about coral reefs. According to NOAA, coral reef tourism, jobs, and food amounts to about $375 billion per year. Since coral reefs need specific living conditions to thrive (shallow depth, warm water, specific salinity), they tend to grow around tropical islands, many of whose economies rely heavily on tourism revenue. What will happen to these countries economies if all of a sudden their coral reefs (a major source of tourism profits) have died? Will less people take vacations to those countries? Those affected countries could lose billions of dollars a year as a result.

Besides coral reefs important economic value, we should also care because they are an intricate part of the marine food web. About 25% of fish take shelter in coral reefs, along with up to 2 million other species. Therefore, if most of the coral reefs in the ocean die, 2 million species would become displaced, and perhaps die. This would have a devastating effect on the food web. In turn, that would effect our fisheries (which we also discussed in class). We are already overfishing 75% of wild fish. If these wild fish (our food source) lose their food source (smaller fish, microorganisms, etc) because the coral reefs supporting those species have died, then the populations of wild fish we eat will take a sharp decline. (Which will be bad because they’re already in danger/overfished!)

In addition, coral reefs also protect shorelines by lessening the impact of storms and waves. While I could go on and on discussing more about coral reefs, I think the two points I made about why we should care about coral reefs are possibly the most important. Especially because it explains why coral reefs are important to us, therefore, governments and people can realize that it is in our best interests to preserve them!

-Kristen Callahan

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Friday, April 01st, 2011 | Author:

On March 19th I went to the Environmental Film Festival in DC to see the film “America’s Lost Landscape: The Tallgrass Prairie”.The first thing I want to note is that the theatre was packed! I was surprised because I figured that a film about the prairies wouldn’t exactly be the most popular of the films. This film focused mostly on how the tallgrass prairie, a “national treasure”, had been lost to white farmers and settlers after the War of 1812. One statistic that struck me was that if the pre-settler prairie was a thousand piece puzzle, only about one piece is left. The beginning of the film explained how the prairie has hot, dry summers and cold, wet winters. Since the climate is too dry for trees, the Big Blue Stem (about 5-10ft tall) grass is the major plant of the prairie. The prairie had biodiversity with a hundred species of birds, bison, elk, coyotes, and badgers, in addition to many different types of grasses and plants. About 30 Indian tribes lived on the tallgrass prairie. After the War of 1812 when the Indians were pushed out of the prairie, the white settlers flooded onto the land. Louis and Clark had discovered that the prairie soil was very fertile, and the settlers cleared the land for extensive farming. By the 1880s all of the bison had vanished from the prairie (keep in mind this is only about 70 years since the settlers arrived0. By 1900, there was no prairie left…it had all been converted into farm land. This devastation of the tallgrass prairie is so shocking because it happened within the lifetime of one person.

The last part of the film focused on a man named Aldo Leopold and his efforts to conserve the prairie lands. His books helped redefine the environmental movement and the way that people viewed their land. By the 1960s, the prairie conservation had taken hold and some of the tallgrasses began to return. Today, prairie conservationists focus on doing roadside restoration projects. While the tallgrass prairie is an important place for agriculture, I think it is important that we try and save a portion of it (like establishing national parks). We can’t expect to change the ecosystem of the tallgrass prairie, and the soil would be more productive if we worked with it, instead of against it. I really enjoyed watching this film and learning about the tallgrass prairie, especially since it is a topic that I have never really studied before. I hope that after reading this blog you can respect the tallgrass prairie and realize that conservation efforts are important.

-Kristen Callahan

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Friday, March 18th, 2011 | Author:

As a political science major, all this talk about how the FDA (and other influential members of government) is essentially run by former Monsanto executives is especially disturbing to me. Monsanto’s product is seeds that are genetically modified organisms (GMOs). Monsanto produces 90% of the world’s GMO seeds for farming.

While it may seem like Monsanto is a bully that no one wants to stand up to, The Organic Consumers Association is a strong organization trying to expose the truth about non-organic foods/farming techniques. They take a harsh stance against Monsanto. The Organic Consumers Association posted this very enlightening article: ten-things-monsanto does not want you to know.

The documentary Food, Inc. really nailed the truth about Monsanto…which is that it’s evil/unhealthy! It seems like it is forcing small farmers to make a choice: use our product, or we’ll run you out of business one way or another. This article summarizes the extent that Monsanto has penetrated our government. Dear government, aren’t you supposed to be protecting us!?

It seems as if Monsanto is everywhere in our government: poisoning our justice system (Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas…former Monsanto lawyer), infecting government executive positions (former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld…formerly on the Board of Directors of Monsanto’s Searle pharmaceuticals), and penetrating our Departments (U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Anne Veneman was on the Board of Directors of Monsanto’s Calgene Corporation and U.S. Secretary of Health, Tommy Thompson, received $50,000 in donations from Monsanto during his winning campaign for Wisconsin’s governor).

If Monsanto continues to have powerful and influential friends in the government, it will be very hard (though not impossible) to instill change in the system.

In addition, while I was surfing around the Monsanto website, and found this extremely misleading video about their goals and vision: Monsanto.

If I had seen that video without seeing Food, Inc., I would have just assumed that Monsanto was an honest company invested in trying to make the world a better place one seed at a time.

Dr. S was right…I’ve definitely changed my eating habits since watching Food, Inc. I haven’t eaten meat since watching the documentary because I don’t know if Mary Washington’s meat is organic or not. Anyone know whether it is or not?

-Kristen Callahan

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Friday, March 11th, 2011 | Author:

I think Australia’s first issue is that farmers tried to “command and control” the environment. Australia’s soil has low fertility, therefore to get any productivity out of it, the farmers had to command and control it by adding lots of inputs. However, it’s not like the people really had any choice…they needed food, therefore they farmed. However, over the centuries since farming started in Australia, clearly the soil and the environment has been degraded to a tipping point. It seems like all of their problems have culminated up to this pinnacle time of record droughts, climate change, and environmental degradation (due to farming).

I think the best solution would be to stop trying to control the environment, and start working with it. Since Australia’s soils and climate are not optimal for farming, trying to control the land does not work nearly as well as it does in, say, the U.S. (I’m not saying that command/control is good or sustainable, I’m just saying that it works better in the U.S than in Australia). One way (and I think possibly the best way) to start working with the environment would be to switch to new high-value crops that don’t need water. (One of the solutions that we discussed in class). I think this would be effective because it works well with Australia’s climate (hot and dry), and can be grown in less fertile soils. Some of the crops that were mentioned in class were wine and nuts, and in addition, having kangaroo farms.

Lastly, I think the soils in Australia that have already been devastated completely by salinization (I think in class Dr.S said it was about 10% of the soils with the potential to reach 25%) should be left alone. Possibly the Australian government could even make those areas National Parks, or just protected areas, to ensure that they have a chance the recover (even if it does take 500 years, it will be helpful in the long run!)

Also, this article is a good read!

-Kristen Callahan

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Friday, February 25th, 2011 | Author:

Since we’ve been talking about the impacts of global warming and climate change in class this past week, today I’ve decided to address the global warming induced rising sea level problem. Dr. S mentioned that sea level will rise almost twice as fast along the U.S. Northeastern coastline compared to global sea levels. This is pretty disheartening news considering me and millions of Americans could experience these effects sooner rather than later. This site lists the Top 10 U.S. cities most vulnerable to rising sea level. Seven out of the ten cities are along the East coast, and Virginia Beach is #5!

Now, this may just have been me, but (ignorantly) I always figured that sea level rise due to global warming was caused by the melting of glaciers and ice caps. However, in class I learned that the main contributors to rising sea level are sea ice melting in Antarctica, and the fact that as the ocean warms, the water expands. Therefore, as the earth continues to warm, the ocean continues to rise…and since no one is sure how much the earth will warm, no one can say for sure how little or how much the ocean will rise.

This interactive map allows you to zoom in on any coastline on the Earth and see (depending on sea level can choose between 0-14m) what areas/cities will be “washed away”.

Sea Level Rise Impacts on Florida and Miami

According to the above video, our generation is going to have to find a new state to retire in! Just kidding….maybe. Florida, recognized as being very vulnerable to sea level rise, has numerous famous and historical cities that would be devastated by the effects of sea level rise. These cities include (but are not limited to) historical St. Augustine, FL (the oldest city in the U.S.), Miami, Jacksonville, Daytona Beach, and Tampa. Billions upon billions of dollars would be lost, along with millions of homes, businesses, and lives if we continue to allow global warming to warm the ocean.

Therefore (as repeated ad nauseam) as part of the global community we all need to embrace a lifestyle that includes using renewable energy, having an efficient car, etc. It will take each individual, each community, each city, and each nation if we want to stop global warming and rising sea level in it’s tracks.

Otherwise, make sure you sign your posterity up for swim lessons. 😉

-Kristen Callahan

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Thursday, February 17th, 2011 | Author:

In class, we discussed a number of proposed solutions (by the UN and World Bank) to help stabilize the Aral Sea region.

These included: moving the region away from agriculture, moving the region into oil and gas drilling, improving canals, charging for water use, using genetically engineered crops, and piping in water from the Caspian Sea/redirecting other rivers into the Aral Sea.

Possibly the most logical solution would be to pipe in water from the Caspian Sea and other rivers. However, this would just bring about ecological disaster to the Caspian Sea and other effected ecosystems. Next, moving the region away from agriculture, seems like it would solve all the problems…the redirected rivers could then flow back into the Aral Sea, right? True…but what about all those farmers? It would take many many years to stop all the farming in the region, and the citizens would lose their jobs. Economic devastation could hit the region during the lull between farming and possibly working in fisheries again. Another solution, charging for water use, will only harm the people living in the Aral Sea region. People have already suffered great economic loss after the Aral Sea receded, and it is doubtful that many could afford to buy the amount of water they would need for themselves, their families, and their crops. Now, moving the region towards oil and gas drilling would probably benefit the U.S. the most (since we’re still addicted to oil), however that will again have disastrous results. Oil and gas drilling would ruin the ecosystem and only cause more problems. The last two solutions, using genetically engineered crops, and improving canals, seem like the best two solutions to me. I know there are many debates about genetically engineered crops (of which I admittedly know little about), but it seems like a plausible solution, at least compared to the other ones. In addition, improving canals and water efficiency would be a beneficial thing to do that way the region would not waste anymore water. However, I’m not sure how much of an impact just improving canals would have on the Aral Sea region.

Whether or not it is clear which solution will work the best, if any, it is indeed clear that the people and animals in the Aral Sea region need help, and need it now.

-Kristen Callahan

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Friday, February 04th, 2011 | Author:

Well, in the case between Haiti v. the Dominican Republic, yes it is.

Before reading about this case study, I didn’t know much about Haiti or the DR, except that a) they were on the same island, b) Haiti was extremely poor, and c) the DR attracted some vacationers.

However, now I know that some of the factors contributing to the downfall of Haiti v. the “success” of the Dominican Republic are deforestation, response to environmental problems, and attitude towards neighbors.

After reading the Diamond chapter and listening to Dr. S, I began to like the Dominican Republic more and more and Haiti less and less. (Not that I don’t have pity for Haitians, I just have more respect for the Dominican Republic for attempting to save their environment.)

After reading about the former Dominican Republic President Joaquin Balaguer, I began to understand that leadership really makes all the difference when it comes to the environment. Here in the U.S. we’ve had the good fortune to have had many presidents that understand the importance of conserving the environment (such as Jimmy Carter, FDR, and Teddy Roosevelt). In the Dominican Republic, Joaquin Balaguer (while adopting controversial violent tactics)  knew the importance of environmental conservation, and took dramatic steps to ensure that their country had a relatively healthy habitat. Haiti on the other hand, has never had a political leader that truly cared about saving their environment…Which is why only 1% of their country is covered by forests, compared to the Dominican Republics’ 28%.

I believe that if Haitians wish to improve their country, they need to start with improving their environment. They need to learn from their neighbors (namely, the Dominian Republic…even if they do have a rocky relationship). Lastly, they need to elect a leader who understands that if they want the grass to be greener in Haiti, they need to stop decimating their environment.

-Kristen Callahan

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Wednesday, January 26th, 2011 | Author:

I believe that in order for anyone to be able to solve a problem effectively, they need to understand the causes of the problem first. That is why I was happy to learn the five causes of global environmental problems in the first week of class. Without fixing these five problems, (1) population growth, (2) unsustainable resource use, (3) poverty, (4) excluding environmental costs from market prices, and (5) trying to manage nature without knowing enough about it, we will unfortunately continue to degrade our Earth. I believe that these five problems are directly related to the Poverty Cycle. For this blog, I will focus on the first three environmental problems, which I feel are the most pressing issues.

I think that population growth is the most pressing issue for the world because with every single baby being born, we add more and more stress on our already stressed environment. And with about 2.5 babies being born every second, we can’t afford to wait any longer! Couples of all countries need to be respectful of the Earth and limit themselves to 2 kids (which would maintain a stable population level), especially since Mother Nature is known to strike back…

Now, linked to population growth is unsustainable resource use, our second environmental problem. As human population continues to grow at an exponential rate, there is huge demand for resources. However, it is estimated by some that the Earth can only support around 7 billion people. We are projected to reach that maximum in the next year or so! Where are all of the resources to support 9 billion or 12 billion people going to come from? Since we are already unsustainable in the use of our resources (ex: we’re running out of important energy sources such as oil and coal), a growing population will inevitably lead to poverty, which then leads to even more unsustainable resource use.

But are we doomed? Not necessarily. Only if the global community (yes, that includes you) continues to ignore the need to lead a responsible and sustainable lifestyle (including making sacrifices like giving up your SUV…).

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Monday, January 24th, 2011 | Author:

Welcome to UMW Blogs. This is your first post. Edit or delete it, then start blogging! If you need some help getting started with UMW Blogs please refer to the support documentation here.

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