As much as I would have liked to go to Paris, I couldn’t attend the United Nations COP21 climate conference where nations agreed to reduce carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Parties attending the conference agreed to set a goal of limiting global warming to less than two degrees Centigrade compared to pre-industrial levels. They will pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees which will require zero emissions sometime between 2030 and 2050.
Does this seem as overwhelming to you as it does to me? Could I possibly make any difference? What impact is my existence having? I decided to find out. It’s actually not that hard. There are numerous sites online to help you determine your own carbon footprint. There’s even one for kids at PBSKids. Most of the calculators have simple questionnaires. There are four major areas covered.
1 Home and energy source: How many people live under how many square feet? Your electric bill will help you here, so have it handy. Also be prepared to be shocked by how great an effect lowering the heat or raising the a/c one degree can have!
2 Food: What you eat and where it comes from. You’ll be asked what foods you eat, including beef, pork, fish, poultry, eggs and dairy, and asked how frequently you eat them. Some calculators will ask where your hamburger was raised, were your tomatoes were grown. Were they purchased at Publix? Lower carbon emissions result if your food is not trucked over long distances.
3 Transportation: What kind of a car do you drive? What is the mileage? Do you carpool? Bike? Take the bus? Carpooling daily to work is great, but even once a week to church or to a meeting once a month can add up.
4 Do you recycle? Reuse? Reduce? This one surprised me. I thought I was doing a good job filling the recycle bin every week and carrying my cloth bags to shopping venues. A calculator challenged me. Do I shop for pleasure, for therapy, or just to replace as needed?
If I were ever convinced that I am not contributing to the release of excess CO2, this checklist helped put me in my place. As someone who wants to contribute to solving, not contributing to the problems of the world, I need to be aware of how I shop, dress, drive and live and I must consider every act an ethical choice. The slow leak in my irrigation system rightly weighed on my mind, not because I have a water bill (I don’t, since I’m on a well), but because I was wasting our most valuable resource. The personal decision to pay $310 to locate, much less correct the leak, was part of my commitment to change the world by tweaking the way I live.
I urge you, my friends, to check out your own carbon footprint and see where you can tweak your life to make a small, but effective difference for the sake of this beautiful world we’ve been given. One of several good calculators can be accessed at www.nature.org/greenliving/carboncalculator.
I stumbled onto devil’s corkscrews on my way to something else. I thought you might enjoy my further exploration of the strange formations. In the mid-1800s early ranchers in Sioux County, Nebraska were discovering spiraled tubes, up to nine feet long, which they nicknamed “devil’s corkscrews,” more formally, Daemonelix.
What were they? Only when teaching children at the Florida Museum of Natural History did I learn about trace fossils, evidence that something had been in a place: a footprint or leaf print, a burrow, coprolite (fossilized poop). The ranchers’ fossils were remnants of spiral burrows dug by rodents found at the spiral base. They had super long front teeth like modern beavers, with stubby tails instead of paddles like the modern beaver. These clever little rodents burrowed near water, but instead of digging straight down, they dug spirals, making it harder for predators to reach them, and perhaps, slowing water.
Paleocastor, which means “ancient beaver,” died out during the Oligocene when the planet cooled down and dried out. Could he not adapt from the wet world he knew to the grasses and prairies? Then why did some aquatic beavers survive to become great dam builders? What do you think?
You can visit Agate Fossil Beds National Monument in Nebraska or check out nps.gov/agfo/learn/nature/mammalfossils.htm to see more interesting (extinct) critters.
There are no floating garbage patches in the Pacific, not as we think of them, i.e., floating landfills. There are small aggregates of trash, but the gigantic gyres we’ve been told variously are the size of Texas, or twice the size of Texas, or sometimes even the size of the continent, are not composed of large objects like refrigerators, toys and wreckage from storm-battered buildings. They are, basically, microbits of plastic, the size of salt and pepper. Plastic, which breaks down, but never goes away.
The smaller rafts of plastic debris, more recent intentional or unintentional human castoffs, which haven’t had time to break down, have revealed a surprise to researchers from the University of Florida, traveling with Sea Eduation Foundation. Debris which hasn’t had time to break down, is serving as a micro habitat to several species of Asian crabs, mussels and other small sea creatures. They cannot attach to the plastic, but they can use goose-neck barnacles which are able to attach themselves to the smooth surface of plastic.
My first reaction to this news was, great! At least our garbage in the sea is serving some useful purpose. Silly me. Turns out non-native species are hitching rides on castoffs from both sides of the ocean, traveling to new destinations, becoming invasive. This unexpected consequence of allowing our garbage to reach the sea, has the potential to destroy native species’ habitat.
A recent study estimated that around eight million metric tons of our plastic waste enters the oceans from land each year. How far-reaching are the consequences of our failure to properly dispose of the plastic items we use! If you don’t have recycle bins at your house, apartment complex or business, contact your solid waste department and ask how you can best recycle. If you do recycle, good for you! Be sure to rinse the items, as failure to do so contaminates other items and lowers the value of the recyclable. The plastics that cannot go into the recycle bins should be placed in cans with secure lids, not loosly tossed, but ideally, bagged.
Picture: Manila Harbour
Significant change is occurring in our atmosphere, the security blanket that is a protective wrap around our earthly home, keeping this a comfortable place to live. But species, both plants and animals moving further north, and other changes cannot be denied, whether or not you believe climate change is caused by man. On June 18, Pope Francis published his second encyclical, Laudato Si, On the Care of our Common Home. It is critical of consumerism and irresponsible development and addresses environmental degradation and global warming, relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment, apathy, and the pursuit of profit, and political short sightedness.
It is a joy to hear our church leaders speak to the challenge of climate change and urge us to embrace stewardship of God’s creation and our responsibility to future generations. Pope Francis cast humanity’s relationship with the natural world in ethical terms and challenged the world to stop pollution, recycle and carpool, to live without air conditioning and live a less materialistic and wasteful life. He urged all to hear “both the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.”
Live without air conditioning. Hmmm….What could you do without?