Environmentalism: More Than Just Trees and Recycling A Journey through the Discovery of what Environmentalism Really is

I take the cap off the bottle, and let it drop to the ground. I then stomped on it, savoring the crinkling of plastic, squeaky and satisfying. I then picked it up, replaced the cap, and put into the large plastic bag my mother was opening. I did that about a hundred times, until the garage was free of plastic bottles. I helped my mother drag the bags of cans and bottles into the car, and we drove to a shabby recycling center. A crusty man came sat up from his chair, helped us count our bottles and cans, took them from us, and gave us some cash. My mother and I continue doing this out of concern for the environment, but mostly for the cash we got. It was not much, but it helps a single mother working as a part time cashier, raising three sons. I was about seven or eight at the time, and I felt good that I was “saving the environment.” Recycling was promoted everywhere I went; in my house, at my school, at my church, so by recycling, I felt like I was a hero. Fast Forward six years. I scan the list, and select environmentalism. I am not exactly sure why, but it might be because my brother has a concern over the environment ( he voted for Jill Stein, by the way). I realized that there must be an aspect of climate change I was missing, and I was determined to discover it and understand what my brother values. Two weeks later, I am with Jess and Olivia, and we are on the same boat of researching the environment, and for our core text, we all tackle Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach.

Ecotopia sparked my initial question: How do the world’s most environmentally conscious country compare with Ecotopia? Callenbach’s Ecotopia is a country consisting of Northern California, Washington, and Oregon, who have seceded from the United States in attempt to create the most environmentally conscious country possible. This was achieved through means, like sewage control and elimination of all kind of emissions. These regulations caused much change in society: people love trees, clothing is different due to different materials, the education system is more revolved on outdoors. I was reading and thought to myself, “How likely is this to occur in reality?” To give me an idea, I looked up what were the most environmentally friendly countries on Earth, and what about these countries make them environmentally friendly. According to the article Which are the World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Countries, Yale's Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which is based off how much protection is given to human and environmental health, reveals that the top scoring countries are Finland, Iceland, Sweden, and Denmark (Shirley). Apparently, these countries have made efforts to have access to clean water, emit less carbon dioxide, and obtain energy through renewable sources. For example, Finland has promised to cut Carbon emissions low enough to be lower than the carrying capacity by 2050, and Iceland obtains all of its energy through hydropower and geothermal energy (Shirley). I compared Ecotopia and countries like Finland, Iceland, and Sweden, and determined that we have a long way to go if we want to have our own “Ecotopia”. For instance, Finland and Sweden are still focusing on the issue of high car usage, when Ecotopia already has completely banned it. However, there are two prominent similarities that seem possible to spread to many other countries: A moderate population and developed methods of energy obtaining. This changed the direction of my research to focusing on population control.

Here are the results of Yale's 2016 Environmentalism Performance Index. As one can observe, Norway, Iceland, Finland, and Sweden are red, which in this diagram, indicates a high score. https://assets.weforum.org/editor/TAJmCES7D6u7xGnKYnhO7OG_jakYnpp9aoCM4zeAp0c.jpg

After reading a bit of Ecotopia and Which are the World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Countries, I became curious about how population growth has taken toll on the Earth. So I read the article, Population and Environment: A Global Challenge. I knew the statistics of correlation of population control and carbon dioxide emissions were not going to be pretty, but I discovered much more than that. The authors, Dover and Butler, do not only reveal that the world population has exploded this last century with our numbers going from 1 billion to 7 billion in a hundred years, but that our human culture and goals are ultimately the cause of climate change; not merely numbers. I was fascinated how the author stated thathow the carrying capacity of the Earth depends on the resource consumption of its inhabitants, as the author writes,

“An average middle-class American consumes 3.3 times the subsistence level of food and almost 250 times the subsistence level of clean water. So if everyone on Earth lived like a middle class American, then the planet might have a carrying capacity of around 2 billion” (Dover and Butler).
The United States uses up more that twice the electricity than Germany, Spain, Italy, or Russia http://shrinkthatfootprint.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/household1.gif

Us cutting down our own emissions will not completely solve the issue, though. The article states, “It is the countries in between—those that are developing and experiencing intense resource consumption (which may be driven by demand from developed countries)—that are often the location of the most environmental damage” (Dover and Butler). This is where population control ties into modernizing developing countries: Countries, like Syria, Afghanistan, and Iraq, home many refugee camps, require vast amounts of trees and vast amounts of fossil fuels to satisfy the demand of such higher numbers of people; there is no other way for civilians to be sustained (Dover and Butler). One of the solutions the authors offered was the spread of technological advancement; to give the less fortunate countries access to energy producing technology like solar panels, windmills, and hydropower, so that the large mass of people’s needs can be met. With this in mind, my hypothesis that population was the major contributing factor to climate change was not only confirmed, but my idea on population impacts change; Rather than focusing on lowering population, the world should focus to increase the carrying capacity of the Earth, aiming for the least amount of carbon emitted per person.

This is to give you an idea how population saturated Syrian refugee camps are. Think about how much resources are needed to support such vast numbers, and the lack of resources the brown sand has to offer.http://i.dailymail.co.uk/i/pix/2016/02/04/00/30DB7D3C00000578-3429835-image-a-1_1454544752296.jpg

So, by now, I had set in my mind that the solution of Climate change consisted of our customs of consumerism falling, and the modernization of less fortunate countries. When I investigated what world-wide attempts have been made to achieve these goals I found the documentary by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Climate Change: The Science, Solutions, and Politics, which is about the convention in Paris the United Nations held in December of 2015 that was intended for various countries of the world to come together and formulate a solution to the issue of climate change. What caught my interest is Harrabin stated that to solve India’s issues of providing enough energy for its inhabitants, $800 billion will be needed. I thought to myself, “If so much is needed, how much support are the developing nations, like India, receiving? My research question was now, “What is being done to support developing countries?”

At this stage, I knew that developing countries were receiving much attention, but I had no idea how much, exactly. The Young African Leaders Initiative, an organization dedicated to supporting African countries lacking in energy, understands that climate change will only worsen the situations of the millions with no energy. YALI brandished that the World Bank has promised to give $1 billion to promote energy efficiency for African energy, and the U.S.-Africa Clean Energy Finance initiative invested $400,000 to dedicate $19.4 million to construct a 8.5 megawatt, grid connected solar panel for Rwanda. (Nakagawa) The list goes on: the U.S. Trade and Development Agency has accomplished 32 projects to bring energy to 10 countries, and Obama’s Power Africa program has had $43 billion raised. To me, all of these promises seem fabulous, but I wondered why none of these projects or contributions were mentioned in the United Nations Environment assembly. I decided to certify if these promises were becoming reality, so I chose to do further research into Power Africa’s progress. I chose Power Africa, for it seemed to be the organization that YALI admired the most. I was about to find out if YALI had a reason to admire Power Africa.

This is to give you answers and visuals of what state Nigeria is in currently, and it will later help you understand why progress of Power Africa may be slow and ineffective. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UrX_GJ7WrHY Credit for video goes to Seeker Network

When it comes to climate control and organization, I have had very high expectations. Living a life of being bombarded by inspirational messages from countless organizations, I would imagine that the huge issue of climate change would have been solved by one or several of those many organizations out there. To see one of these at work, I researched Power Africa, an organization initiated by Barack Obama in 2013 to ultimately supply 20 million African families with 10,000 megawatts of power by 2030. According to the article, Obama’s Africa Power Plan Falls Short, Leaving Continent in Dark, so far, only less than 5% of the promised amount of energy produced has been produced, and 9 million dollars have already been invested into Power Africa (Olorunnipa and Alake). Immediately after reading this, I felt that I could claim that organizations like this would not work at all, but could not, since this was only one of many organizations. However, that claim was indeed confirmed when the author wrote, “Power Africa’s delivery of results in Nigeria and elsewhere could determine whether the next U.S. president continues to invest in the continent’s power sector”. All my hope for Power Africa somehow getting on track diminished. There is no way Trump is continuing the futile attempt of Power Africa. According to the article, Obama’s ‘Power Africa Uncertain on Trump Victory, Trump openly admitted at the Republican National Convention in Gettysburg, “We are going to ask every department head and government to provide a list of wasteful spending projects that we can eliminate in my first 100 days. The politicians have talked about this for years, but I’m going to do it ,”Even Wesley Omonfoman, a Nigerian business man, admits,

“Frankly I don’t see it continuing. The impact of Power Africa really hasn’t been felt in Nigeria. The US would likely discontinue a lot of such support programs under Mr. Trump”.
Yes, it has only been three years of Power Africa's announcement of his promise of 10,000 megawatts, but this graph visually shows how far behind Power Africa is. http://thebreakthrough.org/images/elements/energy_pov_4_unmet_demand.png

Even Wesley Omonfoman, a Nigerian business man, admits, “Frankly I don’t see it continuing. The impact of Power Africa really hasn’t been felt in Nigeria. The US would likely discontinue a lot of such support programs under Mr. Trump”. (Anyaogu) Power Africa may only be one of many organizations, but many others are likely to be ended by Trump. Trump does not prioritize environmentalism, and would rather put money into projects he finds has more hope. If Nigeria is not experiencing any change, most likely, many other programs are failing in their promises as well. I have seen that even though programs and companies donate vast amounts of money to a cause, that is not the solution to climate change. The reason why expensive plans do not work is that there is always turbulence; things go wrong. For example, plant production in Nigeria was delayed, and also, the Export-Import Bank, a huge contributor to Power Africa, had trouble financially, so less input than expected came through them (Anyaogu). Because of this, I fear that climate change would have already played its toll by the time significant progress has been made in solving the issue, so we are going to have to find other ways to solve the issue: Quicker, more drastic ways.

I now understand why my brother is very passionate about the environment; there is a whole world more to being “green” than crushing bottles and turning them into shabby centers to get some cash. I have been assured that consumerism and how our life-style has come to be are the main contributors to climate change, and how reckless consumerism is the true problem behind our population growing; the carrying capacity of the earth depends on our lifestyles. http://images.wisegeek.com/a-busy-mall-with-stairs-and-escalator.jpg

I realized that I wreck the environment by merely living how I live. http://www.everbluetraining.com/sites/default/files/u31499/energyconsumption_0.jpg

I discovered that much of the issue lies on developing countries that are forced to burn fossil fuels and chop down hundreds of trees just to have enough to eat. http://pictures.richardhealey.com/pictures/original/p1122_tree.jpg

I have realized that the reason why so much support that is given to the many countries in need seems ineffective because unwanted problems arise. But how do we prevent reaching the point of no return before the benefits of the organizations shine through? In the end, what I have taken from this independent study is that countries are not responsible for saving the world from becoming too warm, but us individuals are. As the article, Population and Environment: A Global Challenge reads, “So if everyone on Earth lived like a middle class American, then the planet might have a carrying capacity of around 2 billion. However, if people only consumed what they actually needed, then the Earth could potentially support a much higher figure. After knowing this, I do not feel like much of hero when I merely toss a crushed bottle in a bag. Face it. We can all modify our consumerist lifestyles: We can all cut the showertime by a few minutes, invest in solar panel installations, and spend less time in the car and more time on foot.

Yes, our governments are doing most of the tough work for us, but progress is slow, so we must do all we can, literally, if we wish to preserve the world.

Sources Used

Anyaogu, Isaac. Obama’s ‘Power Africa’ Uncertain on Trump Victory. Business Day, 9 November, 2016, Web.

Dovers, Stephen. Butler, Colin. Population and Environment: A Global Challenge. Australian Academy of Science, 24 July, 2015, Web.

Harrabin, Roger. Changing Climate Change: The Science, Solution, and Politics. British Broadcasting Corporation, 1 December, 2015, Web.

Nakagawa, Melanie. Climate Solution in Developing Countries. Young African Leaders Initiative, Web.

Olorunnipa, Toluse. Alake, Tope. Obama’s Africa Power Plan Falls Short, Leaving Continent in Darkness. Bloomberg Politics, 21 September, 2016, Web.

Shirley, Adam. Which are the World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Countries?. Jackson, Lucas, World Economic Forum, 20 May, 2016, Web.

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Diego De Leon
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