Teaching Global Citizens: How Personal Choices Affect the Environment

by Becky Urban

Globalization has spread ideas, products, and technology as transportation and telecommunication infrastructure continue to improve.  Often when people talk about globalization, they focus on intercultural competence and inclusion.  Of course these are important aspects to this topic; however, when I hear the term globalization, I immediately think of how global inequities drive widespread environmental issues.

The public and many textbooks often blame our environmental problems on the ever increasing human population—now at over 7.35 billion individuals.  However, perhaps even more important is the ever increasing consumption of goods that further escalates ecosystem degradation.  Less than 20% of the world’s population live in highly developed countries, but these countries use a disproportionate amount of global resources.  According to the Worldwatch Institute, 2.8 billion people survive on less than $2 a day, more than 1 billion lack access to safe drinking water, and while the US is approximately only 5% of the global population, we use ~25% of the world’s fossil fuel resources.  Our current rates of consumption are not sustainable.  Who wouldn’t want a refrigerator, mobile phone, and quicker transportation?  These products, what our students consider necessities, require more energy and resources to produce, and may be considered luxuries in a different part of the world.  Globalization has facilitated industry, over-consumption, and increased energy use, thus leading to increased pollution, resource depletion, and species extinction.

The Anthropocene extinction is the sixth great extinction event in the history of life on Earth, and refers to the ongoing extinction of plants and animals due primarily to human activity.  According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), 869 species have become extinct in the last 500 years due to human activity.  The vertebrate species remaining have exhibited a 25% average decline in abundance, while 67% of invertebrate species have exhibited a 45% mean abundance decline.

As we move people and products across the world, we inadvertently transport additional species, and some of these species cause significant ecological, economic, and/or societal harm.  Often the introduction of such species is by accident.  When the HMS Wellington rinsed water barrels during a stop in Hawaii, it inadvertently introduced mosquitoes; these mosquitoes spread avian malaria quickly and resulted in widespread mortality of the endemic honey-creeper populations.

Other times a species is introduced on purpose.  The Nile perch was brought into Lake Victoria for commercial fishing and as a sport fish to improve tourism, but its introduction decimated the local ecosystem and caused the greatest vertebrate mass extinction in modern times (over 200 endemic fish species were lost).  The Nile perch is a voracious predator and would consume and/or out-compete the native cichlid populations.  Not only was there a decline in species diversity, but the introduction of Nile perch also resulted in widespread deforestation, soil erosion, and decline in water quality.  With no refrigeration, fish must be dried for storage.  Local fishermen would capture cichlids, and dry them in the sun.  However, Nile perch is a larger, oily fish, and in order to dry the fish, people cut down trees around Lake Victoria.  As forests were cut down, soil erosion increased.  Soil particles flowed into Lake Victoria, increasing the turbidity of the water and adding excess nutrients.  Not only was water quality impacted, but the decline in water clarity also made it difficult for the remaining cichlid populations to find mates.

Thanks to the aquarium trade, venomous lion-fish are causing havoc throughout coral reefs in the Caribbean.  Thanks to the pet trade, there are now Burmese python throughout southern Florida.  These snakes were most likely released into the field by owners who no longer wished to care for their pets.  Since the introduction of this python, populations of several species of mammals (raccoons, opossum, bobcat) have declined over 80%.  Gut content analysis shows that pythons will consume just about any bird, mammal, or reptile throughout the Everglades, including federally listed endangered species.

Transportation does not just make it easier for us to move living organisms around the planet.  Trade allows us to have tropical fruit and fresh vegetables year round, but growing and transporting these goods results in increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  Transportation and industry are two of the leading causes of carbon dioxide emissions.  Carbon dioxide is also emitted as forests are converted into agricultural lands.  The vast majority of climate scientists believe that the scientific evidence shows mean global temperatures are rising, and that human activity has played a large role in these increases.  With increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations, life on this planet will continue, but our ecosystems and the services they provide will likely change.  Ocean acidification, sea-level rise, extreme weather events, water shortages, threats to agriculture, and the increased spread of pathogens will change the planet.

While globalization has caused widespread environmental degradation through over- consumption and utilization, globalization can also bring people to work together around common problems.  The Montreal Protocol is a successful international treaty that was designed to address our earth’s thinning stratospheric ozone layer caused by the release of human-made gases, such as CFCs.  This protocol recognized the science behind this environmental issue and forced countries to regulate these chemicals.

Globalization can also spur technological innovation to improve the environment.  Just before world leaders gathered in Paris for the UN climate change talks last year, Bill Gates announced the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.  This organization consists of wealthy business leaders investing billions of dollars into developing green technology and making it more affordable.  Over the last few years, the technological advances in renewable energy has been impressive; every week there seems to be a new wind turbine, solar cell, or bio-fuel method announced.  And while these technologies are exciting and give us hope for an improved environment, we should not discount how our consumption rates drive the current environmental issues.

As we educate our students to become world-ready graduates, please also teach them how to become responsible global citizens by having them understand how their personal choices influence the environment and the global community.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Message of Hope

by Don Raiger, Director of Advancement

On Sunday, November 6, my wife Dawn suffered a seizure. She’s never had seizures in the past, and there was no warning as to its arrival. She was upright and mobile one moment and on the floor and unconscious the next. It’s as jarring an experience as you can imagine. She was taken to the local hospital via ambulance, and upon our arrival in the emergency room, she received a battery of tests including a CT scan, which indicated a possible brain anomaly, and warranted an overnight stay for further testing and observation.

She was brought up to a regular hospital room. She was stable, acting much like herself. I left her at about 11:30 PM to go home and get some sleep. At 2:00 AM, I was awakened by the telephone. Dawn had experienced three separate seizure episodes and was moved to ICU. I went back to the hospital to find Dawn unconscious, but stable after the seizures subsided. From there, it was on to an MRI and more tests.

Later that day, we experienced one of those surreal conversations with the doctor who had reviewed her scans. They had found a “gum ball-sized mass” on her right frontal lobe and had begun consulting with Penn State Hershey as to next steps.

In short, more stark terms, my wife has a brain tumor. It’s most likely benign, but we won’t know for certain until it is removed and analyzed. She’s currently scheduled for surgery at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore on Monday, 11/21. The prognosis is good – but she still has to have brain surgery.

So why am I telling you all of this? I’m just trying to drive home the fact that on 11/5, everything about our lives was normal. By 11/9 we realized she had a brain tumor, and on 11/21 she’s getting brain surgery. That’s how fast life can change. However, change is inevitable, whether its good or bad, and it’s not the change that matters, but how we react to it. Both Dawn and I very easily could have wasted our time feeling lost and sorry for our situation. We could have simply waited for things to happen – more test results, more referrals, etc. Instead, we took charge and made phone calls, connected with friends and family, made appointments, canceled others and stayed focused on the problem at hand. Friends spoke on our behalf and opened doors that otherwise would have been much harder to open. For instance, there’s no way we’d be in the place we are at Hopkins without a friend and co-worker reaching out to a cousin who reached out to a colleague who reached out to – you get the idea. We’ve had total strangers working on our behalf because of folks who spoke out for us.

It’s strange how something like this can actually rekindle your faith in humanity. Most people you meet are genuinely good, and they want to do the right thing. The best part is that if you give them the chance, they generally do.

If you’ve read this far, God bless you. Some key points I’m trying to make amidst this rambling dissertation:

First, we are not in control, but that’s OK. Despite our best efforts, life will find ways to punch us in the gut or pleasantly surprise us. Control what you can and put yourself in good situations and when life does what it does, adapt accordingly.

Second, accept help. Let people make phone calls, make meals, write references – whatever. No act is completely unselfish. Helping you out makes them feel good, and you could probably use the assistance.

Third, manage your relationships, because if you don’t, there won’t be help from anyone to accept. You never know who is going to step up and make a huge play on your behalf. Respect the folks with whom you share this rock, and they will never cease to surprise you. Do it because it’s the right thing to do – not because you think they can help you. Karma is real (regardless of what you call it), and you get what you give.

It Mattered and It Still Matters

by Teddi Sakellarides

Last Friday, I scrolled through my phone and counted 16 texts and emails from individual people (Hillary-supporters and non-supporters alike) telling me they were sorry for my loss, that they knew how disappointed I was, that they were aware of my 10-year commitment to this candidate, and they were sad I didn’t get the woman president I had dreamed about for so long. The messages were genuine and written in a language that truly reflected a form of deep sadness.

The fact that people felt the need to write me and say these things reminded me of what is critically important:

Hillary mattered.
A woman president mattered.
This campaign mattered.
This loss matters.
It will continue to matter.

There was a widely-circulated narrative during the election that there was simply no enthusiasm or excitement surrounding Hillary. For whatever reason, people really valued this narrative. They liked thinking that Hillary was a weak last-option and that the majority of her supporters were just passionless voters shrugging their shoulders in resignation and pressing a button because no one else was available. Her supposed mediocrity made a lot of people feel better about her success and (I believe) in women’s success in general. A woman could be a default option; nothing more.

But this story simply wasn’t true. All the messages people sent me are proof it wasn’t. I was excited and hopeful about Hillary, possessing the joy and zeal that no one wanted to think actually existed in her fan-base. And I wasn’t the only one, either. Over the last three days I have talked and cried with so many people who exhibit a disappointment so intense it resembles nothing short of grief. They were people who the morning after the election asked “How are you?” and then could barely answer the question themselves without their voices cracking. They were people who lost sleep, who didn’t know how to go throughout their day, who walked around in a fog feeling like they lost something irreplaceable–not only an election, but an entire hope for the future and vision for their home. They were sad Trump won, but they were also sad Hillary lost. They didn’t just reject him; they believed in her. That’s an important distinction, and it debunks all the claims that Hillary was nothing more than a last-resort. People were invested in her campaign. They cared and believed.

The sadness that comes with this is real and profound, but it will inevitably subside. It may evolve into anger, and hopefully after that, resistance and activism. In the meantime, I am honored to be surrounded by people who are sad, because it reminds me that the last year and a half was not for naught; it reminds me that it all mattered, and that it will continue to matter. One day I’ll tell my daughters I was a part of an important effort in this country, and I grieved with others when it didn’t work. And although it wasn’t a win, I’ll tell them all that with pride too.