By Jasmine Kerber '20
Transportation accounts for more than a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., but only 14% of worldwide emissions (IPCC 2014). Of course, a higher percentage of people can afford cars in the United States than in many other countries. Much of our nation is also organized in a way that makes driving convenient—some of us couldn’t reach school, work, or the grocery store without owning a car. As a result, we’ll need to form new habits, improve infrastructure, and encourage social change to make our transportation greener. Still, I hope a culture that encourages more sustainable transport will grow in the coming decades.
Public and Electric Transportation
Which emits more greenhouse gases, a city bus or a single car? That’s sort of a trick question—the bus emits more pollution per mile it drives, but if 20 people ride the bus, each of their carbon footprints are far lower than if they’d all driven their own cars. In other words, all forms of public transportation are more environmentally friendly than taking the same trip alone in your vehicle. Even carpooling with a few friends is a better (and usually cheaper) option than riding alone. Still, some forms of transit have lower emissions than others.
Many cities are working on low-emission public transit. Several nations in Europe and Asia have been building high-speed electric train lines since the 1980s. These trains can significantly reduce oil consumption, especially because they’re an alternative to both cars and planes. Electric cars also promise zero emissions on the road—a truly revolutionary concept. They could become a particularly important green transport option in rural areas, where public transportation and bike riding are not often practical. Unfortunately, the $100,000+ price tag on a Tesla isn’t affordable for the average American. The $30,000 Nissan LEAF is more affordable, however, so we definitely may see more electric car options coming to the market soon.
One other factor to keep in mind regarding electric vehicles is their energy source. In other words, a car that emits no greenhouse gases on the road might still create some negative environmental impact if charged with non-renewable energy. The more renewable our energy mix becomes, the greener electric vehicle use gets.
Cities can encourage greener transportation by making it more convenient. Copenhagen provides one fascinating success story in this category. Copenhagen’s bike culture began evolving in response to the 1970s oil crisis. Without a steady supply of Middle Eastern gas, residents needed other transportation options. By the 1980s, the city began separating bicycle and car lanes, and has continued to expand and refine the system ever since. Today, over 200 miles of bike paths around Copenhagen allow people to cycle most places, plus trains include special carriages for bike storage, and taxis are required to have bike racks. The result? More than 30% of trips made around Copenhagen now occur by bicycle.
Bogota, Colombia also focused on convenience to encourage public transit. Their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system separates public bus lanes from the rest of the street so that buses wouldn’t get stuck in traffic. The speed factor has made the program very popular—BRT transports tens of thousands of people every hour.
In general, when nice public spaces become available, people use them. Safe sidewalks promote walking, bike trails encourage biking, and reliable, convenient public transit grows busy. Infrastructure is certainly an investment that cities can’t all afford right away, but history goes to show that it’s a good investment when it makes healthy and environmentally friendly habits easy.
So you rode your bike to the grocery store. But did your groceries take a long drive to reach you? Whenever possible, buy local! Every day, freight travels thousands of miles in trucks, trains, and planes that each produce pollution. Local shopping decreases your carbon footprint. It also stimulates the local economy and supports jobs in your area, so it’s a win-win! Of course, you probably don’t have all the ingredients you need for dinner growing in your 21st century backyard, but the idea is to buy local when you can. Also remember that doing so increases demand for the things your community produces. Finally, it’s a good idea to check if anything you purchase is sustainably sourced, but that’s a topic for another blog…
In summary: Walk or bike if you can, and if not, try to use public transportation. Make more of your purchases local. Show demand for those affordable, fully emissions-free electric vehicles! And ask your local government to add sustainable transport options.
By Jourdann Fraser '20
Approximately 20 billion tampons and pads are dumped into landfills every year. But as it turns out, there is a way to handle that time of the month without creating trash. A menstrual cup is an eco-friendly alternative - a silicone device that collects blood instead of absorbing it like pads and tampons. A menstrual cup can last up to ten years (depending on how you take care of it). You only need to remove a menstrual cup every 12 hours, while with tampons and pads it’s recommended that you change them every 4 to 8 hours. Additionally, they don’t smell like tampons and pads do because they collect blood rather than soak it up.
Menstrual cups are also cost effective. Because they can be reused, they cost less in the long run. If you change your tampon three times a day (every 6 hours) for the average menstruation cycle (5-7 days), you would pay on average $211.20 for tampons for 4 years (since one pack of tampons averages $8). A menstrual cup also lasts for 4 years and costs $20 - $40 (depending on the brand).
One issue that some people face in using menstrual cups is finding the right size. To determine this, you need to consider factors like the length of your cervix during menstruation, your average amount of blood flow, cup firmness, and age. If you have a light flow, a low cervix, and aren’t having sexual intercourse, it may be best to invest in a smaller cup. Look in the links below for a comparison chart of different brands and a quiz to help you determine the size you need.
If you’re looking to invest in a menstrual cup, you’re in luck. Recently, due to efforts of Students for a Sustainable Stanford, menstrual cups will be offered for only $9 at SHPRC starting next week.
For more information about menstrual cups, check out these links:
Why You Should Invest In a Menstrual Cup: http://lunapads.com/learn/why-switch?geoip_country=US
Menstrual Cup Size Quiz: http://putacupinit.com/quiz/
Comparison of Different Brands: http://putacupinit.com/quiz/
By Yannai Plettener, French Instructor at Stanford
Although it is far from the turmoil of current American politics, France is also undergoing an eventful presidential campaign. Marked by scandals, surprise primary outcomes, and changing polls, the result appears more unpredictable than ever, less than two weeks away from Election Day. It’s true that Americans often aren’t as interested in European politics as we are in the great race that takes place every four years in the United States. This is of course due to the lasting and profound influence the US still have on countries in Western Europe, politically, economically and culturally. However, I believe that environmentalists and climate activists should keep an eye on the course of the French election.
While France's importance as a world power has decreased over the last few decades, it remains nonetheless very influential in a variety of domains, both in Europe, where it is one of the major economies of the continent, and outside – especially through diplomatic and economic relations with a network of historic allies (such as the US) and former colonies (mostly in Northern and Western Africa). In regard to environmental and energy-related issues, France plays an important role: it is part of the European Union, which is the world's third largest emitter of carbon dioxide, representing 9.6% of global emissions in 2015. France has also undertaken a leadership in the fight against climate change, as it was the host of the Paris Conference in December 2015 (the 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), during which it conducted the negotiation that resulted in the adoption of the historic Paris Agreement.
France's industry is also remarkably important in energy production, as two of the world's largest multinational companies in this sector are French: Areva and Total. Areva, owned in majority by the French State, is a leader in the development of nuclear reactors. It designed third-generation nuclear reactors, four of which are currently in construction in Finland, France, and China. It has activity and presence in the nuclear power industry on all five continents, from uranium mines in Canada, Kazakhstan or various African countries to enrichment facilities in South Korea. Areva is a world power in nuclear energy, and as a way of consequence, so is France. Almost 80% of France's own electricity production is powered by nuclear reactors – and risks of an accident are getting higher as a majority of the reactors approach their 40-year age limit. Total is one of the seven biggest oil and gas companies in the world. While both companies have also invested in renewable energies, they still are major actors in the fossil fuel industry and environmentally risky nuclear energy businesses. I also could have included Engie (formerly GDF Suez) on this list, as it is one of the top non-petroleum energy companies in the world.
Other French industrial strengths include defense, space and aeronautics technologies. Although France is nowhere close to the US in terms of investment in research and development, it is a huge science supporter, endowed with a few top-tier universities and research institutes such as the state-funded CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research). Finally, France has overseas territories spread all around the Earth, the so-called “Outre-mers”, some of which (like French Guyana in South America, or French Polynesia in the Pacific) that have naturally rich and diverse environments. In fact, France possesses the largest EEZ (exclusive economic zone – refers to sea zones over which the state has rights regarding the exploitation of marine resources) in the world, covering 11,691,000 km2 (4,514,000 mi2) in the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Mediterranean Sea and the Antarctic.
The next French “Président.e de la Republique” and his or her administration will therefore be governing a country which, despite its tiny size in comparison to the US, plays a major role in global environmental issues. By leading efforts on fighting climate change, pushing for more renewable energy, and protecting large areas of biodiversity, a progressive president could make a real difference, and act as a model in Europe. However, a more conservative one could also help Trump blow up the efforts that have been made in this domain for the last decades. So, how is it looking so far?
The presidential election is happening during a rise of extreme right-wing nationalism throughout Europe, characterized in France by the popularity of Marine Le Pen, who's been topping the polls for over a year. Le Pen doesn't believe France needs to change its electricity production system for more renewable sources, and would stand by the current domination of nuclear power. She has expressed the idea of “energy nationalism”, which would consist in furthering national sources of energy over imported ones, especially Middle-Eastern oil, and support nuclear energy in the name of energy independence. Such a proposition can appear paradoxical, since French nuclear reactors are fueled by uranium that is found nowhere on French soil. Her challenger on the right, catholic-conservative François Fillon, in the midst of a political scandal (he's being investigated for having employed his wife as a parliamentary assistant for 10 years, during which she is suspected of having earned several hundred thousand euros while doing no actual work at all), would also stand by the nuclear power. Although the French Right is not climate-sceptical like the American Right, they don't seem to offer real proposals on how to fight climate change, limiting themselves to only mentioning renewable energy and environment protection without any details or potential funding.
The current, supposed liberal, administration of François Hollande left a lot of voters disappointed. Environmentalists in particular expressed discontent with how these past five years' government did on environmental issues on the national level, despite the successful Paris conference on the international level. While still considered a step in the right direction, the energy transition bill voted by the Parliament in 2016 was called out by activists as being not ambitious enough. Marine Le Pen's most serious contender and, according to the polls, her probable competition in the run-off, Emmanuel Macron, is the direct heir of François Hollande's policy (he was Hollande's Minister of the Economy for two years), although he broke up with the Socialist Party (PS) and launched his own independent movement with the intention of transcending the right-left divide, not without any ambiguities. He claims that he will stand by the objectives of the bill (bring the share of nuclear-produced electricity down to 50% by 2025), and invest in renewable energy, but has also come out in support of fracking.
On the left, the best hopes are directed towards Jean-Luc Mélenchon, also an ex-PS member who left the party, because of ideological dissent. An outsider still a few months ago, he has surged in the polls in the last two weeks, coming very close to the three above-mentioned candidates, while the other major candidate on the left, PS-primary winner Benoit Hamon stepped back into 5th position, without any hope of winning anymore. Mélenchon hopes to benefit from very favorable opinion and a big social media presence to try and qualify for the run-off as one of the top 2 candidates after the first round. Sometimes compared to Bernie Sanders, he recognizes the urgency of the global environmental situation, and ecology is a major part of his program. His plan includes €100 billion of public investment to fund an “ecological planification”. The goal is to nationalize electricity production and distribution, phase out nuclear power as soon as possible, and raise the share of renewable electricity production up to 100% in 2050. He opposes fracking and environment-threatening trade-agreements such as TTIP, and proposes to amend the Constitution to include a “green rule”, the obligation to not take from nature more than what it can regenerate.
This situation represents huge uncertainty. Depending on the outcome, it could mark either a victory for environmentalists around the globe, or another set-back after Donald Trump's election. On the national level, the next president's policy views and decisions on how to allocate resources will have huge repercussions. Especially if France wishes to avoid the multiplication of dangerous incidents in its aging nuclear plants, it will have to chose between a risky extension of reactors' lifespan combined with the building of new ones, or a phase out of nuclear power. On the European level, with one major candidate openly against the EU (Marine Le Pen), and another one, Mélenchon, willing to step out of European treaties if they resist a change of course towards ambitious social and environmental policies, the French election, a year after Brexit, could be a decisive event and redefine powers in the region, potentially endangering European cooperation on climate change. On the international level, we are yet to see how the leaders of the world will react once Donald Trump decides to come after the Paris Agreement, a few months only after Barack Obama signed it.
As climate change and other environmental issues are becoming increasingly present in our lives, having another conservative leader at the head of a Western nation would be a disastrous signal to the rest of the world. On the other hand, if a nation like France chooses to elect a president with an informed vision, it would provide hope that democratic state-wide institutions can and will help us, citizens and activists, implement the change we need.
By Becca Nelson '20
There’s a tower of redwoods, their trunks stretching into the sky. Their canopies meet at a distant green infinity. Shafts of silver light filter through Muir Woods. There is a silence that is deepened by the smallness of sounds. The slight burble of the creek, the soft trill of a wren, the hush of my footsteps. There is a stillness that holds the weight of history. I walk amongst coast redwoods that are hundreds to thousands of years old. Leaning against an immense trunk, I hear the redwood’s ancientness in its quiet muttering. I struggle to imagine the thousands of sunrises that spilled light onto this tree’s needles, the innumerable birds that sheltered in its branches, the countless ferns it shaded, all the deer that bounded underneath. I brush my hand against bark blackened from ancient fires, jagged lightning scars from storms, thick crusts of blue lichen. I feel small and transient in its shadow.
Redwood history is interwoven with human history. Hundreds of years ago, the Coast Miwok walked through these woods and gathered redwood slabs, called kotcha, for their conical homes. Perhaps they carried them to their settlement at what is now Muir Beach. Perhaps the Miwok’s songs echoed off the redwood trunks. These redwoods survived the axe of the Spanish missionaries, the saws of American pioneers. They survived a growing lumber industry, becoming one of the last pockets of old growth redwoods remaining. Of the original 2 million acres of old growth redwood forest in California, over 97% has been altered. In 1892, the Bohemian Club, a San Francisco social society, erected a 70-foot Buddha statue amongst the redwoods. The statue has long since disintegrated to wind and weather, yet these trees endure. These redwoods shook with tremors from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. An earthquake that toppled buildings and destroyed much of San Francisco. Yet they endure. Politician William Kent donated Muir Woods to the government, and President Theodore Roosevelt declared it a national monument in 1908. In 1945, United Nation delegates walked amongst these trees, holding a ceremony in memory of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. They contemplated the history that the redwoods witnessed as they contemplated world peace.
The redwoods continue to grow, as seemingly immutable pillars against a swirling tide of changing ecological and social conditions. The future of the redwood ecosystem, however, is complicated by climate change. Redwoods rely on the upwelling of coastal currents that generates fog for their survival. Climate change will impact these fog patterns and consequently redwood forests. The Trump administration’s proposed budget cuts funding for the National Park Service, which manages Muir Woods National Monument. The administration has taken a stance against climate change mitigation policies, further hindering redwood conservation. As I climb over the gnarled roots of redwoods, I wonder if this ecosystem will adapt to a warming planet. As global warming changes nutrient cycling, will these deep roots still nourish the tree?
Redwoods provide important ecosystems services to people, including through carbon sequestration and recreational value. They are the iconic species of a biodiverse and unique ecosystem with its own intrinsic value. But beyond economics and ecology, redwoods play a role in American culture. They are praised in patriotic songs like Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land”. Many towns, institutions, and companies are named after redwoods or use its image. In fact, the coast redwood tree appears on the Stanford logo and has become our mascot. Redwoods inspire the over two million people who visit them annually at various state and national parks.
This summer I will be visiting these parks as part of a research grant I received through the Stanford Earth Summer Undergraduate Research Program. I will be interviewing park visitors about redwoods and climate change. My research will apply redwood ecology to the realm of social science. I am investigating whether redwoods can be effectively used as a flagship species to inspire people to adopt climate change mitigation behavior. Such behavior includes making lifestyle choices to reduce one’s carbon footprint as well as supporting global warming mitigation policies. I will search for patterns in how people’s attachment to redwoods and their attitude toward global warming are interconnected. I hope to use the relationship between redwoods and people as lens to study the broader relationship between land and people, between climate change and American culture.
As I finish my hike, I glance up again at the redwoods. I find the leafy point in the sky to which their trunks converge. The shadows of redwood leaves ripple over me. I take a deep breath of cedar-scented air. The sheer vastness of trees, the blanket of prehistoric ferns and horsetails, the stillness, the silver light distinguish redwood forests from other forests. The peace of this forest outlives landscapes and societies. It will outlive you and me. I imagine history from the height of a redwood. Perhaps only a force as immense and ancient as a redwood can witness history with objectivity. Each year becomes a wooden monument, a ring etched into an old tree. Each tree becomes a living history book of concentric rings. Natural history and human history ripple together in the endurance of redwoods.
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This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.