Studying abroad on a Non-Dickinson Program has been all but an easy experience. A couple of days ago I finally hit my month mark of being abroad and I am happy to say that everyday has gotten much better than the previous. It is with great happiness that I share the good news of my latest involvement with the S.E.A (Students for Environmental Action) community at the University of Otago. Finding a pool of like-minded people was exactly what I needed to finally feel like I had a place here. S.E.A. provides a safe space for open dialogue about pressing environmental issues locally and internationally. S.E.A hosts a variety of events ranging from coastal cleanup days, film screenings, Farmer’s Markets, lectures, seminars, workshops, etc.
S.E.A tries hard not to focus solely on local campus wide issuesbut rather extending out within the larger Dunedin community through Green Drinks. Green Drinks Dunedin is part of a non-political international movement to foster a safe space for people interested in sustainability and the environment. Green Drinks Dunedin is hosted by Sustainable Dunedin City, which is the local council on climate change activism. Last Friday I met with the head of the council and shared my experiences from COP20. She was delighted to invite me to share my experiences at the next Green Drinks Dunedin on Thursday, March 26th. I look forward to sharing my perspectives from COP20 and to continue to connect with individuals from all walks of life who truly value the environment. Cheers to keeping the conversation going on the road to Paris.
This past weekend Will and I attended a Mountain Peatlands and Climate Change Conference at La Molina University. The conference was organized and sponsored by the Rangeland Ecology and Utilization Lab, The Mountain Institute, and the Natural Resource Ecology Lab at Colorado State University. The conference consisted of several lectures and workshops presented by Peruvian universities, American universities, and NGOs. The conference was a great opportunity to learn and understand the importance of mountain peatlands and wetlands (bofedales) in front of a changing climate.
What are bofedales? Bofedales are high Andean wetlands. These native environments are being directly affected by climate change through extreme weather-related events and glacial retreat. Bofedales are key for those living downstream of the their water resources. The wetlands store water from rainfall and glacial melt.
During the coffee break, Will and I had the opportunity to talk to a couple of professors and it was really nice to hear their perspectives on the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20). After the last couple of presentations the floor opened up to a dynamic workshop that was lead by the leader of the conference. We split the entire auditorium up into three groups: Peruvian universities, American universities, and NGOs. We were all given three questions to answer and then we presented our findings and discussions to the group.
Each group selected a representative to share perspectives with the audience about what each group had discussed. I was honored to have the opportunity to represent the American universities sector of the workshop. Overall, the cooperation and collaboration between the groups was really nice to be a part of and I feel more aware of the importance of the fragile bofedales in the Andean region.
As an Earth Sciences major in the 2014 Global Climate Change Mosaic, the elective course that I choose to enroll in was ERSC 331: The Chemistry of Earth Systems. This course is a major requirement and I also thought that it would be useful in addition to the ERSC 204: Global Climate Change mosaic course. Fundamentally this course has expanded my understanding of chemical principles and mechanisms behind major earth systems. The marriage between ERSC 204 and ERSC 331 further enabled me to comprehend the earth systems as a whole in understanding ocean acidification, thermal expansion, extreme weather-related events, anthropogenic environmental effects, natural hazards, etc.
Our final research project for this course revolved around the central theme of trace elements (particularly metals) in the environment as pollutants. Within our lecture course we were taught the differences between anthropogenic and geogenic sources of elements, so that once we began our field work in the Carlisle area we were able to make educated guesses on where to collect our soil samples. Scientific studies suggest that certain trace elements are more likely to be derived from anthropogenic sources while others are more likely to be geogenic, related to and sourced from the bedrock.
Our class was split into five research groups in order to help determine the sources and effects of pollutant trace elements since Carlisle has a large diversity of land-use. Once the research groups collected, analyzed, and presented their results, as a class, we attempted to infer the potential toxicity to the Carlisle population and environment.
The objective of my group research project was to discern the effect of transportation on soil chemistry, if any. Carlisle is a historical hotspot for truck traffic since its geographic location can reach over 100 million people within a 10-hour driving radius. Therefore, I-81 and the PA Turnpike are major areas for noxious emissions from the burning of oil and gas. Our sample technique consisted of collecting 10 soil samples on a vertical transect from I-81. We collected a sample every 10 meters from the road and proceeded to collect a top soil and deep soil sample in order to test for possible trace element accumulation overtime.
Our hypothesis is as follows: If truck traffic affects soil quality, then we should find high concentrations of trace elements closer to the highway near the soil surface. Trace element concentrations should exponentially decrease as we move away from the road and with depth. After XRD, XRF, and Total Carbon (TOC) analytical tests on our soil samples we concluded that Co, Cu, Zn, and Pb exponentially decreased as we moved away from the road. Zn and Pb also revealed a trend of exponential decrease with depth as well. Oddly enough we found that Na was extremely high above our Hagerstown background soil sample that we used as a standard to test against our soil samples. We soon realized that road salt was another anthropogenic source for this element.
Overall I found this material extremely helpful as an elective course for the mosaic. Further developing my understanding of the geochemical and geophysical reactions that drive the earth systems has helped me immensely.
This past Tuesday, November 11th, the ERSC Seminar Series welcomed a special guest from the Department of Geosciences at Penn State University, Klaus Keller. His lecture was called “Climate Risk Management in the Anthropocene: From Basic Science to Decision Making (and back)” and it directly related to our studies in both of the mosaic courses, ERSC 204: Global Climate Change and SUST 330: Global Environmental Challenges and Governance.
As Keller spoke about this whole notion of decision making under uncertainty, I could not help but directly relate it to the work under the UNFCCC (United Nations Conference on Climate Change). As December 1st approaches, our cohort has been wrapping up our relevant course materials as we prepare for our time at COP20. This lecture made it evident that uncertainties are truly still a roadblock in climate negotiations.
Keller’s perspective was extremely enlightening and I was eager to speak with him after his lecture. Fortunately, Will Kochtitzky ‘16 and I were able to chat with him after his talk and he gave us some great pointers about future work in climate change post-Dickinson.
Keller also spoke about the SCRiM (Sustainable Climate Risk Management) Scholars Program which particularly peaked my interests. It is essentially an interdisciplinary team of climate scientists, economists, philosophers, statisticians, engineers, and policy analysts from 19 universities and 5 research institutions across 6 nations. Together this team works to answer the looming question of: “What are sustainable, scientifically sound, technologically feasible, economically efficient, and ethically defensible climate risk management strategies?” My sense is that this program offers an incredible opportunity to anyone who is interested in pursuing work within climate change, sustainability, sustainable development, and/or sustainable risk management development. I personally am interested in possibly applying to the SCRiM Scholars Program.
Overall, I am very pleased to have had the opportunity to speak with Keller and I really can’t believe how close we are to attending COP20. Cheers.
For further reading, please feel free to check out this link
What is the fundamental difference between the words ‘dangerous’ and ‘risky’? Uncertainty. It has come to my attention that the largest culprit for climate doubt is the market of uncertainties. The phrase ‘dangerous climate change’ is rarely seen within climate policy because it alludes to this notion of likely harm or damage, thus ‘risky climate change’ is often its placeholder. The phrase ‘risky climate change’ suddenly drops the gravity of the situation at hand to possible or uncertain effects and therefore loses its momentum as an immediate force to be reckoned with. However, we can no longer think on such a short human timescales, it is evidently a question of rapid anthropogenic effects on the global climate systems over geologic time. In order to avoid dangerous climate change transformative changes are essential within global economic, energy, and transportation systems.
It is inevitable that most human activities produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change. Rates are a key factor in the climate change equation as we begin to measure greenhouse gases with long-lived residence times. It is key to understand that gases do not just decay, dissipate, and absorb into the atmosphere, rather their respective consequences carry on for decades, centuries, and even thousands of years. Yet with this in mind, the very root of our economic, energy, and transportation infrastructure relies heavily on harmful and polluting fossil fuels. As per the United Nations Environment Programme’s 2013 Emissions Gap Report, “Business-as-usual scenarios of future developments are generally based on an extrapolation of current economic, social, and technological trends. They usually reflect policies that have taken effect as of recent cut-off date, for example, 2010. However, in some cases they may include policies that, while approved will only enter to force at a future date” (UNEP, 4). Therefore, transformative change begins with breaking the “business-as-usual” mentality and habit.
Bill McKibben boldly remarks the truth of the matter if we continue of the trajectory of mere incremental policy reforms and change within his book Eaarth, “Even if you took all the possible “conditional proposals, legislation under debate and unofficial government statements” – in other words, even if you erred on the side of insane optimism – the world in 2100 would have about 600 parts per million carbon dioxide. That is, we’d live if not in hell, then some place with a very similar temperature.” (McKibben, 20).
Whilst observing the historically less-stringent climate policy within the body of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and then equating the projected Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports it is clear that the longer we wait to cut emissions the harder it is going to get. Therefore in order to avoid ‘dangerous’ climate change transformative action is required within global economic, energy, and transportation systems because our actions yesterday, today, and tomorrow directly affect the future of our blue planet.
This weekend I finally watched the documentary, Mission Blue, which has been at the top of my Netflix list for months. The documentary showcases legendary oceanographer and marine biologist Sylvia Earle. As a fellow female scientist, Earle has been somewhat of a hero to me. I first heard about Earle’s work in my Introduction to Marine Biology course in the eighth grade. Within the course we spoke about leading female scientists in the field and naturally Sylvia Earle was at the top of the list as the first female chief scientist at the U.S National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). She has been on my radar ever since. Earle has spent her entire life studying and protecting the ocean and the documentary, Mission Blue, is all about her campaign to create a global network of protected marine sanctuaries.
I find her work particularly moving because although she is witnessing devastating damage to the ocean she often remarks that she will never give up because there is nothing else that she loves more than the ocean.
Why should I care about the ocean? Because the ocean is the cornerstone of earth’s life support system, it shapes climate and weather. It holds most of life on earth. 97% of earth’s water is there. It’s the blue heart of the planet — we should take care of our heart. It’s what makes life possible for us. We still have a really good chance to make things better than they are. They won’t get better unless we take the action and inspire others to do the same thing. No one is without power. Everybody has the capacity to do something – Sylvia Earle
In 2000, Earle was honored as a new member of the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2009, Earle received the TED prize after the global launch of Mission Blue and in 2011, she received an honorary doctorate from Smith College, followed by delivering the commencement address at Warren Wilson College. I am deeply moved by Earle’s activism and it is without hesitation that I informally nominate Sylvia Earle for next year’s Rose-Walters Prize at Dickinson College. Am I right?
For more information, please feel free to watch Sylvia Earle’s TED Talk:
Last semester I was enrolled in ERSC 202: Energy Resources with Professor of Natural Philosophy, Marcus Key. Our primary learning objectives revolved around understanding the physics, chemistry, and geology of energy resources. We also reviewed some of the major economic, political, and environmental implications within the exploration and exploitation of certain energy resources. I felt extremely well informed once I had a better grasp on the physical earth systems that created the natural resources. The common jargon of “fossil fuel” suddenly made all the sense in the world. This course sparked my interest in alternative or “green” energy resources ever since.
Our course final project was to present an oral PowerPoint presentation to inform our peers on an energy resource of choice. My colleagues presented on a vast range of alternative energies including solar, wind, hydrothermal, geothermal, biomass, etc. I decided to explore geothermal energy in Iceland, because I spent the beginning of my first summer after freshmen year in Iceland with Professor of Earth Sciences, Benjamin Edwards, conducting pillow-lava research. Nearly two years later, I am still obsessed with Iceland. As an active climate change activist, it was incredibly moving to see alternative energy as a major resource in a nation. For more information on geothermal energy in Iceland, check out this link: http://www.nea.is/geothermal/
Now with that background in mind, I was so excited to find this article on the first airborne wind turbine in the world. It is projected to harness renewable wind energy and Wi-Fi to Fairbanks, Alaska. It is so great to see an initiative like this take off because a colleague in my ERSC 202: Energy Resources course actually did her final presentation on this MIT startup, Altaeros Energies. At the time there were only prototypes but now this airborne wind turbine is expected to launch sometime next year!
Dickinson’s Global Climate Change delegation spent the past couple of days in Washington, DC. Spanning from Monday, October 20th – Tuesday, October 21st we indulged in engaging dialogues with representatives from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Sierra Club, and more. Our meetings were held in a conference room within the National Council for Science and the Environment (NCSE), as Dickinson College is an affiliate. It was an incredible opportunity and experience to hear the range of perspectives alternating from climate scientists, economists, policy makers, and grass-roots movement leaders. It is safe to say that our delegation of students felt an extreme mixture of exhaustion and excitement by the end of our last meeting today. On Monday we met with Tom Lovejoy (United Nations Foundation and George Mason University), Daniel Reifsnyder (US Department of State), Jacob Scherr (National Resources Defense Council), Laura Petes (White House Office of Science and Technology Policy), and Jon Padgham (START). Today, we met with Mike MacCraken (Climate Institute), Dallas Burtraw (Resources for the Future), Liz Perera (Sierra Club), Joel Scheraga (US Environmental Protection Agency), and Keya Chatterjee (World Wildlife Fund).
Personally, these conversations have enhanced and further informed my understanding of global climate change.
It is especially clear that climate action is NOW.
I am so thankful for these individuals that found time in their busy schedules to meet with our delegation for these past couple of days in Washington, DC. This magnitude of engagement and conversation really sets the tone for our travels to the 20th Conference of the Parties in Lima, Peru under the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change). I can hardly wait. Cheers.
Here is a video of Brady Hummel and I speaking about our experiences this weekend:
As an Earth Sciences major at Dickinson College I am well aware of the seminars that we host as a department in order to foster an open platform to share student-faculty research, relevant geoscience news, geologic field excursions, and more. I have personally participated in two seminars in which I helped present student-faculty research in Iceland and a field excursion in Baffin Island, Canada.
Today, I attended a seminar of this sort but the Physics department hosted it. What attracted me most about this seminar was the topic of discussion in lieu of all of my studies so far within my courses, ERSC 204: Global Climate Change and ERSC 331: Chemistry of Earth Systems. Additionally, Professor of Meteorology at Pennsylvania State University, Kenneth J. Davis, presented his talk in a way that was readily accessible to the non-physicist.
This Physics Colloquium was officially called “The Breathing of the Earth and Fires of Industry: Measuring Greenhouse Gas Sources and Sinks at Regional Scales”. I found this talk compelling, because Davis spoke passionately about human activity increasing the greenhouse gas concentration in the earth’s atmosphere, resulting in an irreversible greenhouse effect. I especially appreciated his position on the matter because he was proving anthropogenic climate change with physics equations that I had never even heard of before! As a budding Earth scientist I found this talk to be extremely conducive to my climate change background as a whole, because I had never seen the information presented in that way and everyday I am realizing that this is truly an interdisciplinary field of study.
Davis spoke about the distinct methods for data collected like tower-based turbulent flux measurements, extrapolation of ecosystem fluxes across space using space-based remote sensing, and atmospheric budgets that utilize weather forecast systems combined with tower-, aircraft- and satellite-based greenhouse gas concentration measurements. Overall, I am happy to say that this talk has prompted me to look into reaching a stronger background in physics within my Earth Sciences major.
For more information please feel free to check out this awesome video describing the methods used in eddy covariance flux towers:
A match was lit at COP17 in Durban, South Africa. The supplementary body known as the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) was established that December. The inclusive nature of this platform is proposed to ignite change at COP21 in Paris. The mandate of the ADP calls to “…develop a protocol, another legal instrument or an agreed outcome with legal force under the Convention applicable to all Parties, which is to be completed no later than 2015 in order for it to be adopted at the twenty-first session of the Conference of the Parties (COP) and for it to come into effect and be implemented by 2020” (UNFCCC, 2014). “Bottom-up” and “top-down” are two predominant approaches to climate change policy within the two decades of the work under the Convention. This seemingly urgent call of action as per the ADP requires a symbiotic relationship between the two. A “mixed-track” approach is better suited to achieving the post-2020 goals of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action under the balanced dimensions of stringency, compliance, and participation for all Parties.
The international climate regime exhibits both approaches working well independently to a certain extent. Therefore it is proposed that a combination of the two will facilitate a more efficient and effective global combat on climate change by 2020. Within the article The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement, Bodansky clarifies the range of confounding variables to international agreements, historic context relating to the Convention, and options to possible Durban outcomes. I initially gravitated towards the “bottom-up” approach as better suited on the basis of personal optimism regarding local grass-roots movements and voluntary national programs. Upon reading the article I soon realized that there are hard to ignore pros to the “top-down” method and that solely voluntary programs do little when brought in a global context. I found that the policy informs and enforces to a further extent in which “International law can serve a number of catalytic and facilitative functions. Gathering such as the annual meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of the Parties can focus attention, help raise public concern, and prod states to do more” (Bodansky, 2012). Legal agreements, legislation, and recommendations remain crucial in terms of maintaining stringency. However, it is important to be mindful of all Parties’ capacity in order to balance compliance and participation.
Working towards the cooperation of 195 countries with distinct agendas and interests may seem like a nearly impossible task but in order to achieve equitable, efficient, and effective international policy a new approach must be considered. A “mixed-track” combining both “top-down” and “bottom-up” approaches is better suited to achieving the post-2020 goals of the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform on Enhanced Action under the balanced dimensions of stringency, compliance, and participation for all Parties.