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Kate Hannon
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In the New York Times article by Hiroko Tabuchi, one line in particular stood out to me given the context of our discussion on Tuesday: “Given the lack of availability of COVID-19 testing, researchers say it’s impossible to know yet just how much higher risk polluted communities face in contracting and dying from the virus”. Though we could not know the full impact of pollution on COVID-19 incidence and morbidity, all the evidence we have suggests there is a relationship between the two variables. However, no immediate action was taken to address this impact, and in fact the regulation of pollution was relaxed at the onset on the pandemic (mostly out of reasonable safety concerns). This reminded me a lot of one of the things that Michael Hendryx focused on during his Ted Talk, which is that at a certain point we have to stop looking for more and more evidence that a phenomenon is truly causal (in his case the impact of MTR on health outcomes) and begin to act on the information we have. COVID-19 transmission, especially, is obviously a time-sensitive issue; if all evidence suggests that there is a relationship between pollution and the severity of COVID-19 cases, we need to use this information to begin advocating for policy changes immediately rather than waiting for us to have all possible data, which could take many months and years. The United States tends to be (arguably) overly-cautious towards implementing policies to address climate change, but especially when these problems disproportionately affect low-income/minority communities, as is the case for both Mountain Top Removal and pollution during COVID-19.
Toggle Commented Mar 29, 2022 on Last Post for the Semester at Jolly Green General
One of the things that stuck out to me in reading this article was how many different but similar plans there are to create cap-and-trade restrictions on greenhouse gas restrictions, some of which had bipartisan support. I try to be a pretty politically engaged person and yet, despite these many proposed policies, I don’t often see updates on these policies in the news. Similarly, on social media, I often see my friends sharing updates on issues they care about, I have never once seen people posting about cap-and-trade policies. It seems like there is no strong, sustained political will power behind this bill, the kind that could help these bills become laws. This is despite the fact that climate change is among the most important issues to young people today. Why is this? One possibility is that cap-and-trade policies are not flashy enough to draw attention during a time where success in mainstream media is indicated by the amount of attention you draw. Another possible reason for this lack of attention is that the huge problem that climate change presents can feel overwhelming, and a cap-and-trade program, though useful, will only address a small part of this issue. Because a cap-and-trade program represents one step in addressing climate change, people might feel like it’s not worth even trying to enact the proposed changes.
Toggle Commented Mar 23, 2022 on Paper for Thursday at Jolly Green General
While reading these articles, one major point that stood out was how localized air pollution often is. By localized, I’m referring both to local air pollution in China as well as air pollution in Australia (especially as a result of differences in ozone concentrations). In China, rapid development has led to high levels of local pollution. Local populations are bearing the cost of local pollution, and yet the development that caused this pollution has benefitted the world as a whole; for example, factories produce goods that are consumed throughout the world. In Australia, pollution and ozone concentrations are having negative effects on asthma rates in children, though the actions of people outside of Australia could still be having an influence on ozone depletion in the country. To me, these examples beg the question: how much (if any) responsibility does the rest of the world have to address local pollution in developing countries, or to address problems like ozone depletion that disproportionately affect certain areas of the world? When we talk about pollution in developing countries, we tend to think about how these countries are contributing to climate change as a whole. This is an important consideration, but I also think it’s important to think about the local pollution in developing nations. The world benefits economically from this development, but the consequences of pollution are almost entirely felt, at least in the short run, by these developing countries. One possible way to address this issue is for foreign countries investing in these countries to be partially responsible for ensuring this presence in the country is not environmentally destructive in major ways. In the case of developed nations like Australia that may be bearing the burden of pollution throughout the world (in this case looking at ozone levels), such solutions may be harder to implement, but still deserve consideration as we work to make economic development more sustainable and equitable.
Toggle Commented Mar 16, 2022 on Papers for Thursday at Jolly Green General
In “Fueling our Future”, Professor Schrag, a professor of earth and planetary studies at Harvard, describes an exercise in which undergraduate students are asked to stabilize atmospheric concentrations of CO2 below 550 ppm by the year 2100. Schrag chose 550 ppm because it would require major changes in our behavior but is probably achievable (unlike lower ppm levels). I really enjoyed learning about this project. Though it is sad that success is so difficult to achieve, exercises like this one give me hope because it allows people to quantitatively visualize possible climate change solutions at the undergraduate level. Personally, though I care about climate change and have tried to educate myself on it, real solutions to issues like CO2 levels have always felt like something only experts could understand. Being able to be a part of these solutions, even on a theoretical level, makes the climate crisis seem so much more accessible to college students. Even if, as Schrag’s students quickly learned, these solutions are complicated and extremely difficult, they gain a much greater understanding of what must be done to stabilize our levels of CO2 production. Reading about this project made me feel more capable of understanding the specific policies that will define the level of success or failure of our response to climate change. It is unfortunate that only students in Professor Schrag’s “Technological Approaches to Mitigation of Climate Change” are expected to complete this project; I would argue that this exercise, or something similar, should be mandatory for all college students, especially students at liberal arts colleges like W&L. Just as we value cultivating a baseline understanding of literature and math, understanding the ways in which we can address climate change is an important part of cultivating educated and socially responsible citizens.
Toggle Commented Mar 9, 2022 on Papers for Thursday at Jolly Green General
I thought the article provided an interesting perspective on the positive and negative effects of technology on efforts to prevent overfishing. This felt especially relevant given our discussions in class about how technology is an important tool in decreasing the impact of negative externalities on the environment. In the case of overfishing, technologies like real-time vessel tracking can help ensure laws aimed at preventing overfishing are being enforced, while electronic data collection is an important tool in creating stock assessments. At the same time, though, technology has been and continues to be a major factor contributing to the rise of overfishing. Technologies like satellite tracking and predictive modeling make is easier and less expensive to fish, which in turn incentivizes the overuse of this resource. In this case, technology forces a further tradeoff between increasing profit and preventing the overexploitation of fish. Besides being relevant because of what it means for the health of fisheries, this served as a good reminder that the impacts of new technology on the environment are varied and depend highly on how they are used by the humans controlling them. In this article, for example, it seemed that different uses of these technologies partially explained why fishery health in developed countries has diverged so strongly from fishery health in coastal developing countries, where overfishing is much more rampant. It would make sense for the practices involved in technology use in developing countries’ fisheries to prioritize short-term profit maximization, but if these businesses were able to invest in technologies designed to create healthy fisheries they might experience more long-term success.
Toggle Commented Feb 10, 2022 on Paper for Thursday at Jolly Green General
The report “Amazonian forest loss and the long reach of China’s influence” notes that deforestation increases in the periods immediately preceding elections, as a result of political pressure to allow more deforestation and expectations by those responsible for deforestation that enforcement of these regulations will soon be relaxed. The article also discusses the increased Chinese interference in Brazil’s development, both through the purchasing of Brazilian beef and soybeans as well as through investment in the country’s infostructure. China has also begun to increasingly invest in land purchases in Brazil. As China’s involvement in the Brazilian economy grows, I wonder whether the phenomenon of deforestation rates rising in the periods preceding elections will grow more pronounced as a result of their increased political and economic power in the region? China is a major global power, and corruption has been an issue in Brazil’s government for much of its history; it seems clear that their influence could lead to the reduction in policies preventing deforestation. Already, the Brazilian government is working to expand the amount of land that can be purchased by foreigners in order to appease Chinese demands for more land. Even if all of Brazil’s policies protecting the Amazon remained in place, which is unlikely under Bolsonaro, just the appearance of China’s increased influence could lead farmers and investors to feel more comfortable contributing to deforestation illegally in the Amazon.
Toggle Commented Feb 2, 2022 on Reading for Thursday at Jolly Green General
I really enjoyed learning about Julianna Keeling’s company Terravive, which makes compostable products as an alternative to single-use plastics. A lot of the time, it feels like sustainability, though necessary, can come at the expense of economic success or the well-being of people today. Terravive, however, has come up with several ways to “sneak a sandwich”. For example, Terravive manufactures their products exclusively in the United States, which reduces carbon dioxide emissions by lowering emissions caused by freight transport. At the same time, manufacturing in the United States allows Terravive to ensure proper working conditions for their employees and promotes American manufacturing. Overall, Keeling’s presentation made me feel more hopeful about the feasibility of implementing sustainability measures. One question I had during this presentation, however, was how scalable these sustainable measures are among larger corporations, especially considering their obligation to maximize shareholder profits? Last Spring Term I took a Business and Social Responsibility class that left me feeling underwhelmed by the ability of corporations to self-regulate on environmental protection measures. How do we apply the sustainability policies of smaller companies like Terravive to major corporations like Fortune 500 companies?
Toggle Commented Feb 1, 2022 on Sustainability Webinar at Jolly Green General
These two studies raised several interesting points regarding how we pay for conservation efforts in countries where tourism is heavily impacted by the environment. Both studies focused on the United States, Canada, and (in the Barbados study) the United Kingdom. Caribbean tourists were represented in the Barbados study, comprising 10% of the sample, though the study notes that they were underrepresented. I am very curious about how this population, along with Central American tourists, would be affected by the proposed fees in Barbados and Belize. Though a $20+ fee might seem very reasonable to an American tourist who is presumably already spending considerable money on flights and hotels, I wonder if tourists coming to Barbados and Belize from neighboring developing countries would have the same level of resources to pay these fees. These fees will not be prohibitive to an American already shelling out thousands of dollars on a vacation, but the same might not be true for someone from a nearby country who is working with a much lower budget. I think it would be important to understand how the tax would be applied to those leaving the country; for example, would someone from Guatemala visiting family in Belize be expected to pay the tax? Environmental preservation is extremely important, and it seems only fair that those enjoying Belize and Barbados’ clean water and beaches help pay for their conservation. At the same time, I hope attention is paid to the impacts of these fees on tourists from nearby developing countries, who should also be able to participate in tourism in Belize and Barbados.
Toggle Commented Jan 26, 2022 on Readings for Thursday at Jolly Green General
Initially, I found John Quiggin’s article to be more hopeful than Robert Solow’s speech. Quiggin says, for example, that there is “no technical obstacle to reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 80 to 90 percent over a few decades”. He also believes that we can simultaneously make life better for the billions of people living in poverty, without destroying the planet or other species. An optimistic perspective from an expert was nice to see, especially in comparison to the other article. At the same time, the further I read into the article the more and more unlikely the type of changes he was describing seemed. Making these changes, he explained, are a matter of will we rather than can we. Personally, I was not comforted by this distinction. Based on today’s political gridlock and misinformation, I am doubtful we could enact the kinds of major improvements Quiggin described, especially upon learning that some of these technologies have been around for years. Why now, of all times, could we expect ourselves to do better in attempting to solve a problem we’ve known about for decades? I honestly think it would’ve been more comforting to read that the necessary technology to mitigate the effects of climate change does not exist yet, and for that reason we have failed to adequately address climate change. I have a lot of faith in human ingenuity and our ability to create these technologies, but less so that we will create the social and political circumstances necessary to enact the policies and changes that will allow us to utilize them.
Toggle Commented Jan 19, 2022 on Readings for Thursday at Jolly Green General
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Jan 12, 2022