Why every day should be World Water Day

Water is life.

Quite simply, we wouldn’t survive without it. More broadly, we use it for energy (directly and indirectly through fracking and natural gas production), farming, and personal hygiene/bathing. Aside from this, there are tons of other ways we use water that we don’t think about — especially in the manufacturing process of goods and clothing.

A quick refresher: 97.5 percent of Earth’s water is salt water, which means 2.5% is left as freshwater. Nearly 70 percent of that freshwater is frozen Antarctica and Greenland. The rest of THAT is trapped in deep underground aquifers.

So that leaves about 1 percent of the world’s fresh water accessible for human. 1 PERCENT. And what we do with it makes all the difference. That’s where World Water Day comes in.

World Water Day (March 22nd every year) is a United Nations holiday that was born to bring public awareness to global water problems and solutions.

This year, the UN is focused on water and jobs — namely the intersection of the two.

Today, almost half of the world’s workers – 1.5 billion people – work in water related sectors and nearly all jobs depend on water and those that ensure its safe delivery. Yet the millions of people who work in water are often not recognized or protected by basic labour rights. The theme in 2016 — water and jobs — is focusing on how enough quantity and quality of water can change workers’ lives and livelihoods – and even transform societies and economies.

In past years, World Water Day has been focused on sustainable development, water and energy, and international water cooperation.

And all of these topics relate back to the most important of them all — conservation. With different energy sources taking over, like natural gas, water use has declined in the U.S. at a time where it’s so necessary to conserve (considering high drought levels in the Western U.S.).

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More in the climate change trends section on WXshift

Water is life. Water is everything. And every day should be world water day.

Celebrate World Water Day on Twitter with #WorldWaterDay.

Exploration: Biosphere 2

Imagine (voluntarily) locking yourself in an enclosed space for two years, growing your own food within a glass bubble.

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The rainforest inside Biosphere 2.

This was reality for eight scientists and researchers — the “Biospherians” — who entered in the Biosphere 2‘s first mission from 1991-1993. The Biosphere, tucked in the mountains in Tucson, Arizona, was invented to see if humans could survive in an enclosed space in case of extreme future CO2 levels (which is already becoming a reality) or a space colony, for example.

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An outside look of the main room, which houses the mangroves, savanna, desert and ocean.

The Biospherians lived off the 5 ecosystems in the Biosphere 2, producing crops in a self-sustaining bubble. The bubble is made up of several ecosystems, including the rainforest, ocean, savanna and desert, to name a few, all of which are populated by plants and animals.

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The rainforest room.

The Biospherians cultivated their own garden, which produced a very “farm to table” approach to food, as they could only prepare what was ready to eat.

Over the next two years they grew 80 percent of their food, something NASA has never attempted. They recycled their sewage and effluent, drinking the same water countless times, totally purified by their plants, soil, atmosphere, and machines. (Discovery Magazine)

Despite good intentions and fact that the scientists made it 2 years within the walls, the experiment has largely been publicized as a failure. Rising CO2 levels inside the glass dropped oxygen levels, and food production waned.

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Plants in the main room above the “ocean,”

As oxygen was converted to carbon dioxide, free oxygen in the atmosphere declined. By January 1993, Biosphere 2’s carbon dioxide levels were 12 times that of the outside, and oxygen levels were what mountaineers get at 17,000 feet. The crew’s doctor was having trouble adding up simple figures and disqualified himself from duty. So, a year and four months into the mission, tank trucks containing 31,000 pounds of liquid oxygen started driving up the access road to the site. (Discovery Magazine)

Despite the deemed “failure,” the Biosphere 2 experiment left behind some great science, namely an entirely enclosed infrastructure with the aim of keeping humans (and plants and animals) alive. I walked around the basement of the dome, as well as the “lungs,” and was blown away by the recycled sewage and water systems, which they recycled for 2 years.

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It also informed how the carbon cycle and oxygen dynamics in humans connect, as well as continues to provide ecological data and fodder for visiting scientists.

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Backside of the Biosphere 2 where the Biospherian’s lived.

And why Biosphere 2, you may be wondering? Because Earth is the original Biosphere. Read more about the Biosphere 2 here.

Earth Week 2015: the rise of renewables

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

So its not all bad news this Earth Week – renewable energy is on the rise. Renewable energy, once widely called alternative energy, is changing, considering it’s not so alternative anymore – it’s finally hitting the mainstream.

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According to Climate Central, renewable energy is in a “global renaissance”:

Renewables, mainly including hydropower, solar and wind, reached 28 percent of the total electric power supply in Germany in 2014, 19 percent in the United Kingdom, 22 percent in China, 76 percent in Brazil and 13 percent in the U.S., as investments in renewables increased more than 15 percent globally last year, BNEF Chairman Michael Liebreich said Tuesday.

“I haven’t heard the word ‘alternative energy’ in the last few years,” he said. “This is not alternative when the world average (for renewables) is getting to 11 to 13 percent. This is not alternative anymore. And, it’s cheap.”

For the United States, solar energy and nuclear energy are on the rise. Solar is cheaper and more efficient than ever, and more and more areas around the country are adopting it as their method of energy. By 2020, the World Nuclear Association expects America to be home to six new nuclear reactors for clean power generation, despite the stigma nuclear power has had in the past.

There are some cool energy projects starting up around the country and the world.

A vineyard in the Napa Valley outside of San Francisco has put 1,000 floating solar panels on an irrigation pond on the property, reports CBS News. Far Niente Vineyard is a certified national landmark, so the only place open for solar is the ponds, considering all other structures are out of bounds for solar development. The output of the panels daily is four times what the winery uses – they still get a power bill, but the balance has been zero for quite some time. The system also helps the drought “by reducing evaporation from the pond by providing shade. The proximity to the water also keeps the panels cooler and more efficient than they would otherwise be.”

In my opinion, that’s not a bad idea! Nothing much else is going on in those irrigation ponds, and there are farms throughout the entire state of California that could adopt this method.

Australia is also installing it’s first floating solar farm, which will be assembled on top of a wastewater pond.

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In a move to become more sustainable, Vancouver, British Columbia has committed to run on 100% renewable energy by 2030-2035, reports the Guardian. The Canadian city, population 600,000 will achieve these goals through the greening of their transportation, electricity, and heating and cooling sectors. Since cities make up 70-75% of global CO2 emissions, Andrea Reimer, Vancouver’s deputy mayor, feels it’s important to make this change and alter the global conversation about carbon emissions and how they affect our planet.

Although Vancouver isn’t as populous as major cities in the United States, this model shows that perhaps we can start to make city-wide changes, starting with San Francisco and San Diego, both of which have expressed interest and made progress on becoming green. Other cities around the world are in different stages of the process too, including Sydney, Copenhagen, Reykjavik, and the entire country of Costa Rica.

There are small projects going on throughout the country. Check into your town, city, or state and see how they’re making it sustainable. You may be surprised!

Check back Friday 4/24 for Earth Week 5: the state of our oceans.

 

Earth Week 2015: Happy Earth Day!

Welcome to my annual Earth Week series! I believe that protecting the Earth deserves more than one day, so I’ve given it a week. Check back every day from April 20-24 to learn about a new environmental issue (or solution!) each day.

Well, maybe it’s not so happy. 14 out of the 15 hottest years on record have occurred since 2000. We’re running out of water. There’s still pollution in the Gulf of Mexico.

But we’re getting better! More cities and corporations than ever are committed to lowering greenhouse gas emissions over time. Renewable energy use is rising. Students at universities around the country, including mine (the University of Montana), are making the push to divest from fossil fuels.

This year, environmental holidays like Earth Hour and World Water Day were smashing successes, bringing information and education to thousands more than years prior.

NASA’s social campaign for Earth Day 2015

NASA has created a new celebration this Earth Day, which they named #NoPlaceLikeHome. They are encouraging social sharing with the hashtag, with which users should share their favorite places on Earth. I’ll be sharing on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, so be on the lookout for that!

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is also joining the party with a Twitter chat (#EarthDayEveryDay) featuring EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy today at 3:30pm ET. The EPA also encourages Earth lovers to celebrate Earth Day by watching videos, attending an event, and taking action.

Earth Day Network also provides a list of events around the US to celebrate this wonderful holiday. This year, Earth Day Network is focused on three facets of saving the planet:

  • Sustainable development: this idea has grown in the past few years. LEED certified buildings are gaining popularity, as well as green cities. The green cities movement includes bike transportation, urban agriculture, and solar-powered buses, to name a few.
  • Grassroots movements: like sustainable development, grassroots movements have come to t he forefront of the environmental movement, too. The biggest climate march EVER happened in New York City last September, so people are starting to see climate change and environmental issues as something we should be paying attention to.
  • 2015 – the year of the treaty?: The world has tried, yet the US has never really signed a climate treaty.. yet. Earth Day Network hopes that 2015 will be the year of a treaty, one where global leaders will catch on to serious issues and start monitoring carbon dioxide output, TOGETHER. But the bigger question remains: will we actually do the things in said treaty? Time will tell.

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As always, there are ways we personally can help the environment on this 45th Earth Day:

  • STOP USING PERSONAL CARE PRODUCTS WITH PLASTIC IN THEM, please: sorry for yelling, but it’s time, people. Did you know there’s plastic in some toothpastes and face washes? It’s easy enough to switch to a brand without them. Microbeads, made of plastic, travel through our drains and end up in our waterways, killing small organisms and clogging up ecosystems. Take it a step further and sign this petition, if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle: Take a step back and re-evaluate the three pillars of eco-friendliness – reduce, reuse, and recycle. Reduce your consumption of plastic by using a reusable cup (see what I did there?). Reuse your containers (like glass jars, plastic lunch meat containers) to save other food, or to use in arts and crafts. Recycle said plastic cups and other recyclables in your bin or at your city’s recycling plant.
  • Pledge an act of green: if online activism is your cup of tea, head over to Earth Day Network and pledge an act of green. Try to get them to 2 billion!
  • Go outside: perhaps the simplest, yet the hardest to remember. Walk to class, ride your bike, or take your dog out for a much-needed run. Doing these things not only deepens your appreciation for the outdoors and gives you an excuse to exercise, it also takes us away from our homes, so we’re using less energy.

Whatever you do, choose something you can commit to doing. Last year, I got rid of microbeads. This year, I’m going to try harder to buy food items with as little packaging as possible. Happy Earth Day!

Check back Thursday 4/23 for Earth Week 4: the rise of renewables.