Bottle Ban Blocked in Grand Canyon

A New York Times article online reported the indefinite postponement of a plastic bottle ban in Grand Canyon National Park.. The plan was blocked by the national parks chief after a conversation with Coca-Cola, a major distributor and producer of Dasani water bottles. The plan was overturned last year just a couple of weeks before the implementation date on January 1st. Park service officers were disappointed with the recent decision due to the park’s commitment to sustainable practices and the tremendous success of a similar ban in Zion National Park in 2008.

“Discarded plastic bottles account for about 30 percent of the park’s total waste stream, according to the park service. Mr. Martin said the bottles are “the single biggest source of trash” found inside the canyon.”

“Banning anything is never the right answer,” a spokeswoman at Coca-Cola said. “If you do that, you don’t necessarily address the problem. You’re not allowing people to decide what they want to eat and drink and consume.” 

As travelers, we are constantly on the move. Our belongings must fit into a suitcase under 50 lb with mini shampoo bottles all snug in their Ziplock bag, awaiting inspection. We don’t always remember to pack every necessary item of clothing or quick-dry towel before jumping in the car or on a plane. But how much space does one water bottle take up? How difficult is it for every person in a family to bring his or her personal Nalgene or Sigg on their nature adventure?

A friend of mine carries her water bottle wherever she goes. She and the water bottle, Joe Nalgene, have become so attached that he now has a page on Facebook and frequently posts comments on friends’ pictures. While I don’t necessary recommend that every reusable water bottle assumes an Internet identity, I think each of us must grab remember to grab a bottle before leaving the house.

The Coca-Cola spokeswomen says that banning water bottles doesn’t address the problem. The word problem is defined as a matter or situation regarded as unwelcome or harmful and needing to be dealt with and overcome. An example of a problem is too many water bottles in the national park. The definition of the verb address is to deal with or discuss. An example of this verb in action is removing water bottles before they can be discarded, thus significantly reducing a litter and providing a cleaner healthier park for workers and visitors alike.

I’d say the national park service was doing exactly the opposite of Coca-Cola’s claims by directly addressing the problem of disposable water bottles and decreasing our dependance on bottled water production. Then again, maybe they didn’t see the problem the spokeswoman was talking about. A decrease in Dasini sales…

Implications of 7 Billion People

Some girls grow up their whole lives wanting to be mothers. They carry dolls, babysit for the neighbors, and squeal as soon as a newborn arrives for family gatherings in a decidedly adorable wintertime outfit. While I never put myself in this category the prospect of a family and children in the distant future was definitely appealing. It seems only natural to want children, little bundles of our own genetic makeup who will grow into unique individuals. The essence of ourselves lodged securely in tissue, muscle and identity of another.

And apparently I’m not alone in this sentiment. According to BBC, Huffington Post, and National Geographic, the current world population has reached seven billion peopleCNN has tried to quantify this number in terms that we can wrap our minds around:

  • If you took 7 billion steps along the Earth’s equator — at 2 feet per step — you could walk around the world at least 106 times.
  • Seven billion ants, at an average size of 3 milligrams each, would weigh at least 23 tons (46,297 pounds).
  • Suppose an average thimble holds 2 milliliters of water. Seven billion of those thimbles would fill at least five Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Some scientists report that the UN prediction is premature and the population will not reach the seven billion part until 2012 or 2013. The evidence that this number will be reached however, is fairly absolute.  In the last 21 years the world population have increased by almost two billion people and the number is not expected to decrease any time soon.

Frances Lappé in World Hunger examines the myths associated with global hunger. She argues that overpopulation is not directly correlated with hunger and instead attributes perceived food shortage to prevalence of inequality in resource distribution and land use. Much of the population growth occurs in economically developing countries where large families are investments in labor and productivity as a means to survive.

So what does that mean for my ten or twenty year plan? Will I feel the effects of 7,000,000 people eating, breathing, building, consuming around me? Do I have an obligation to the prosperity of future generations not to have children? 


Arguably, the world population estimates should not determine whether or not I decide to have a child and start a family. But it raises the larger questions dealing with the relationship between individual contribution and the global community. As an America, my ecological footprint is significantly higher than many people in Africa and South East Asia. I wonder how the birth of one child in a developed country compares to a child born in Ethiopia or Bangladesh. The world population statistics are still broken up into population by country, by socioeconomic class, by gender and by race. Our global society will not curtail this exponential population increase until all groups of people are viewed as a collective body of human beings. Seven billion people is still nothing more than a series of ones. One species. One planet. One hope. 

For more facts and information, check out:

BBC World News has a special segment on the upcoming seven billion population deadline. According to the What’s Your Number? survey, I was the 5,289,349,311th person to be born on earth.

Grist posted a Science video titled “7 billion in 7 minutes.” Click here.

Vote for Puerto Princesa Underground River!

12 days 21 hours and 08 minutes

That is the amount of time left to vote for the Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the many natural beauties in the Philippines. The competition for the New 7 Wonders of Nature has been steep and the final 28 finalists are vying for your vote. Who will represent these new hidden gems of the natural world? I can tell you where my vote is going. 

The New 7 Wonders of Nature competition is related to the New7Wonders movement to increase awareness, education, and tourism by recognizing seven unique places on earth. The founder, Bernard Weber, has written a charter and frequently updates his blog on the activity of the movement. Physical candidates from across the globe were studied by a team of experts and 28 finalists including the Bay of Fundy in Canada, the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and the Dead Sea in Jordan are among the incredible locations chosen. Ultimately, only seven will be crowned New Wonders of Nature.

Vote here for the Puerto Princesa Underground River!

The city of Puerto Princesa was my last trip in the Philippines before returning back to the states. The mayor, Edward Hagedorn, has turned the city into a source of pride for the region of Palawan and the country at large. The city is considered carbon neutral and boasts almost 90% forest cover. Investments in ecotourism, elimination of mining projects, and annual tree-planting on Valentine’s Day makes Puerto Princesa lives up to the nickname City in the Forest. Clink Hagedorn, the son of the mayor, briefly greeted me at the airport before showing me to my tour guide for the duration of my three-day trip. Each day was packed with incredible snorkeling expeditions, zip lines, and of course, the Puerto Princesa Underground River.

In order to get to the river, tourists must take a small motorized boat to the park’s entrance. The owners of the boats are local fishermen who received economic profit from the visitor activity in this remote area. The mouth of the cave is surrounded by tropical forest cover and giant monitor lizards. Families from the Philippines and around the world flock to the neon orange life vests and line up for their turn through the underground river. When it was my turn, my guide gently pushed me to the front of the tour boat; I would be holding the lamp to direct the boat through the cave.

 

As the guide pushed us into the darkness, I flipped on the battery and illuminated thousands of bats flapping overhead. Water dripped down the sheer rock walls and off the ceilings into the river below. Our boat traveling along the 8 km vein of the earth, deep into the heart of biodiversity, giant caverns and stalagmites. I swung my lamp according to the guide’s directions, left toward a mushroom rock formation and up to the cavern edge 60m above our heads. The entire tour took about an hour and I reemerged from the cave blinking as much from from the sudden wash of sunlight as sheer disbelief.

 

The Puerto Princesa UR is a wonder of nature whether it wins the contest or not. The title as a New 7 Wonders of Nature, however, would generate more tourism and revenue to a country still labeled as economically developing. Increasing revenue and prosperity in the Palawan area will fund  sustainability efforts and showcase the incredible natural wonders of the Philippine archipelago.

The act of voting only takes a minute but the implications will last for decades. Vote for the Puerto Princesa Underground River!!

Happy Vegetarian Month!!

It’s October and you know what that means… Vegetarian month! So put down your pork chop and bite into a huge juicy black bean burger (made by Morning Star).

Vegetarians get a bad rap. They are often perceived as self-righteous animal lovers, pale undernourished hipsters, or hairy peace-loving hippies. Luke McGee, a blogger for the Huffington Post UK, wrote, “At our worst [vegetarians] are self righteous, self satisfied, judgemental and often extremely rude.” Meat eaters find themselves uncomfortable eating a juicy burger or thick steak after someone at the table has announced they don’t eat meat. Knowledge that a vegetarian has RSVP-ed to a dinner party puts added stress on the host. “Will there be enough vegetarian options?” and  “What is a vegetarian options?” or “Who invited her anyway?” are common questions.

I will admit that I didn’t want to be labeled as one of the aforementioned groups. I had no desire of forcing my friends and family to question the meat on their plate or feel nervous when asking me out to dinner. I had eaten meat my whole life and wasn’t sure I could give up my favorite dishes and flavors for tofu and lettuce. I would try, for days at a time, to eat meatless options before resorting back to a turkey club or roasted chicken. I simultaneously judged and envied my friends who had made the veggie switch. I was impressed with their determination but was skeptical of their reasoning behind the change.

Getting back from the Philippines was the turning point. I had eaten pork dish after pork dish and something inside of me just said, I’m over it. And so my vegetarian life began. Instead of climbing to the tallest mountain top and declaring my rejection of animal flesh, I started off my vegetarian switch without much conscious effort. I didn’t stress myself out about the possibility of failing or setting up a strict diet plan. I just stopped eating meat and days quickly turned into weeks. As an avid foodie, I believed the change would be much more difficult than it’s turned out to be. Sure I eat PB&J more often and learned the hard way how not to refrigerate tofu, but the transition has been surprisingly satisfying. 

Now for the million dollar question:

“Why?”

Sometimes this question is asked with genuine curiosity and other times it’s a judgement, thinly veiled by feigned interest. For me, it’s not about intrinsic animal rights. I think humans are built for eating animals. Animal rights on an individual level is a different story. I got sick of hearing about the diseases, living conditions, and necessary chemicals used in the food industry  (Remember Sinclair’s The Jungle?) without questioning modern-day food production. By buying chicken, beef or pork at the grocery store I was supporting a wasteful and environmentally unsustainable process the world cannot afford. And neither could I. (Below: vegetarian ravioli from vegalicious.org)

My mom has recently become a vegetarian and my dad eats substantially less meat than he used to. My house drinks only soy milk and eats cage free eggs. I’ve started to notice more of my friends who are vegetarians and we find a closer bond through our mutually exclusive diet. Will I be a vegetarian forever? I don’t know. Nor do I suggest everyone should put the breast meat down in exchange for some tempah or beans. I just think everyone should take a second to look at the food on their plate and think about its origin. Where it came from. What it came from. When it was produced. How sustainable the process was. For me, these questions led me to a meatless option so next time I cook a meal I can say beyond reasonable doubt that

no animals were harmed in the making of this dish. 

Green Lunch Bag Talk!

Today at noon in the Environmental Center, there will be a talk on Marine Protected Areas in the Philippines. Funny, you might think. That is exactly what Katelyn did during her summer internship.Well…the speaker is me.

I even have an attractive looking poster. Getting the chance to talk about my incredible experience while educating people on the value of protecting oceans around the world? I don’t know what could be better. Making the PowerPoint last night (Prezi is complicated), waves of memories washed over me. The palm trees. Scuba diving. Hot sun and humid nights. The pictures and e-mails with friends are the only concrete evidence I have that the Philippines wasn’t a dream.

So if you’re in Lewisburg, PA at 12 noon you know where you should be.

Rain Rain Go Away

The Philippines has only two seasons: dry and wet. Dry season is the best time to visit because there’s more sun and less typhoons. It ends around April or May. The rainy season usually begins in June and lasts until September or October. I did not choose the best time to visit.

But I’ve been lucky. In general the rain has been kept to a minimum and when heavy storms did strike Manila I was traveling to Cebu or Davao, conveniently avoiding the torrents of rain. However, I arrived back in Manila on Sunday and every day since I have seen rain clouds, watched streaming droplets inch down the car window and opened my rainbow umbrella before stepping out of the house. Quite frankly there are many places in the world that are experiencing drought and someone needs to tell these rain clouds to pack up and leave town. Let’s check Weather.com:


I later learned that this persistant precipitation had a name. Tropical storm Juaning hit Legazpi City, Albay area earlier this week and has already taken 41 lives. Landslides, floods, and falling trees forced many family into evacuation centers while others were trapped in their homes due to the speed of the flood level rise. The Manila Bulletin places the damage caused by the storm at P 199,400,000 or USD $4,722,092; the majority of the loss coming from damaged agricultural crops such as rice and corn. For people with so little, destruction to their livelihood is especially devastating. The storm  made international news and videos of flooding were broadcast on CNN.

By the time the storm reached Metro Manila, it was weaker and posed less of the threat. For me, it meant bringing an umbrella and sitting in near stopped traffic for two hours but for others it meant the loss of their belongings, their homes and, in some cases, their lives. A humbling thought to say the least.

H.R. 2584

“H.R. 2584, with its deep cuts in important environmental and natural resource programs and amazing array of special interest riders and funding limitations, falls far short of meeting our responsibilities to protect and wisely use the resources of the earth.”

-Congressman Jim Moran, 8th District of Virginia

I am a proud American whether I’m home in New York, at school in Pennsylvania or traveling in the Philippines. When I read about a new bill bound for the House of Representatives, I was shocked and upset. H.R. 2584 is an appropriations bill “for the Department of the Interior, environment, and related agencies for the fiscal year ending September 30, 2012, and for other purposes.”1

The bill will prevent the Endangered Species Act from adding any new species to the list. It will remove funding for and protection of grey wolves and big horn sheep. Furthermore, the bill prevents the EPA from using funding to ” modify, cancel, or suspend the registration of a pesticide… in response to a final biological opinion or other written statement” about the harmful effects of the pesticide on an endangered species or its surrounding habitat. It will open up one millions arces around the Grand Canyon for mining!

But maybe animals aren’t very important. What about humans? The bill also adds a number of riders that would actually increase environmental health hazards for American citizens. The EPA’s current proposed Mercury and Air Toxins for power plants will be further delayed. The EPA’s appropriated funds cannot be used to increase water quality in Florida or modify the current ambient air quality standard, directly affecting public health. Our health. Cleaning up a river filled with toxins or dealing with sickness caused from air pollution is much more costly than monitoring and regulating the pollution in the first place. The pre-cautionary principle not only saves money but saves lives. And most of these riders do not even reduce the overall budget.

John Walke, in his commentary as a NRDC staff, writes, “Among other things, the Lummis amendment would weaken the Clean Air Act by blocking forthcoming protections to sharply cut mercury and toxic air pollution like arsenic and lead from power plants that burn coal and oil.”2

Congresmen Jim Moran’s press release voiced his frustrations with the bill as Ranking Member on the House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee. “The list of legislative riders and funding limitations in the bill is long: NEPA waivers, limitations on judicial review, and the blocking of pollution controls. Whole legislative texts have been dumped into this bill. These riders and limitations have nothing to do with deficit reduction and everything to do with carrying out an extreme ideological agenda.”3

 

The United States of America needs to lead to fight against environmental hazards that threaten our fellow humans and the natural world. When will the US realize large-scale mining, lax air pollution regulations, and destruction of biodiversity are things of the past? Say NO to H.R. 2584.

Additional Links:

Read the full text here or here.

Click here to send a letter to your representatives or call directly with instructions from American Bird Conservancy.

Read Top 10 American Vacation Spots the House’s Environment Spending Bill Could Ruin