Save the Grand Fennell Oak
PC Community Unites to Speak Out Against the College’s Plans to Cut Down Historic Campus Tree
With the demolition of Fennell Hall expected to start this summer for the School of Nursing and Health Sciences, the school plans to cut down the over 150-year-old Grand Fennell Oak to make room for this building. Immediately, faculty from all disciplines, as well as students and families, began demonstrating their frustration and opposition to these plans. A student-created change.org petition has since been published online, asking for the College to rethink this decision. Amassing over 600 signatures in the first three days alone and over 1,000 in the first week, the petition has received great support from our campus community, proving how much the red oak is valued by our community members. From a monetary perspective, The Grand Fennell Oak is appraised at over $44,000, according to the tree asset value listed on the 2022 Providence College Tree Inventory and Management Plan. However, it’s clear that this tree has a significantly greater inherent, historic, and personal value to members of the Providence College community.
Many petition supporters have brought up the environmental importance of trees, explaining that trees are important habitats for insect species, as well as important for air and stormwater filtration, as Jill Parrett, Director of Environmental Health and Safety, explains. Trees play an integral role in removing pollution from our air, converting it into clean, breathable oxygen. She also mentions that trees have the added benefit of alleviating stress and improving mental health. In addition, Parrett states that “mature trees with large canopies also provide a respite from the urban heat islands we live in.” Multiple comments on the petition similarly address how trees will be essential in helping us cope with increased temperatures due to climate change. As carbon dioxide concentrations continue to rise due to our reliance on fossil fuels, we will need trees to remove these pollutants from our atmosphere via photosynthesis. However, if we carelessly cut down trees, we threaten our planet and our very existence. It is especially important to protect large trees like the Grand Fennell Oak, as larger trees are much more effective at removing atmospheric pollutants than small trees.
Additionally, native trees play an essential role in our ecosystem. As Providence College cuts down native trees and replaces them with non-native species, this will threaten the biodiversity we have on campus. For example, Audubon explains that scientists have determined that oak trees are home to more than 550 moth and butterfly species. This means that oaks are not only vital to the survival of these insects, but organisms that rely on caterpillars, moths, and butterflies as food. Audubon adds that in contrast, the ginkgo tree, a non-native species, supports just five species. We need to prioritize preserving these valuable tree species and keeping our campus a natural environment where nature and biodiversity can flourish.
Others add that it is our responsibility to protect Creation and serve as stewards of our environment as highlighted in Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Sí: On the Care of Our Common Home. Dr. Lynette Boos from the Mathematics and Computer Science Department emphasizes that we have “been entrusted with an irreplaceable resource for current and future students, and it is our responsibility to be careful stewards and not do anything short-sighted because it seems convenient.” Dr. Joe Cammarano of the Political Science Department similarly adds that these decisions cannot be based on short-term economic gain; rather, they must focus on and prioritize our long-term stewardship of our Earth. When the School of Nursing and Health Sciences opens, Providence College will undeniably grow economically; however, we cannot ignore the long-term consequences of these actions which would endanger the preservation of nature for future generations, he explains.
In his encyclical, Pope Francis highlights that we need to stop treating nature as a resource to be manipulated and exploited to our advantage. To cut down the Grand Fennell Oak would be in direct opposition to the words of Pope Francis. In his encyclical, he explains, “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.” Cutting down the Grand Fennell Oak only perpetuates this trend of human destruction which the Pope is trying to warn us about. We have no right to carelessly destroy and rid our planet of its biodiversity. To do so would be to violate God’s Creation. Dr. Sandra Keating from the Department of Theology echoes this idea, explaining that the Grand Fennell Oak “does not belong to us; it belongs to the order of Creation. These are the types of decisions that have contributed to our current environmental issues.”
As explained in Laudato Sí, we owe it to future generations to preserve and protect plants, animals, and our environment. Providence College Alumni have explained similar sentiments. Beth Ferland ’94 talks about how she has multiple family members that have attended Providence College, all walking on the same grounds as the Grand Fennell Oak. “My dad walked by this tree, many of my uncles, myself, my husband, and now my daughter,” she says. “Looking forward to the future hoping my grandchildren will enjoy the tree and think of their parents, grandparents, and great grandparents who were witnesses to this grand tree.” Choosing to cut down this tree would erase an important part of history for many alumni, students, and faculty.
Professors also have strong memories associated with the tree. Judd Schiffman of the Art Department, for example, has used the Grand Fennell Oak as a source of inspiration in his ceramics classes. He explains that in the studio, students have been making sculptures to place at the base of its trunk and honor the tree. Schiffman adds that he makes a point to walk underneath the Grand Fennell Oak when he travels from the studio to the art gallery in Smith Center for the Arts, explaining that “it creates an abundance of shade and feels like a wild, natural space in the midst of a very well-groomed and cared for campus.”
Dr. Boos, whose office is in Howley Hall, also has a strong connection to the red oak. Since her first day at Providence College, she has been “in awe of this tree,” something she continues to feel every morning when she walks into her office. Parrett adds that during her field work across campus, she loves observing the tree change from season to season, whether it’s watching the leaves change color or counting bird nests.
Current students have also expressed their deep, personal connections with the Grand Fennell Oak. Lily Alessandro ’24 has lived in Fennell Hall since her freshman year. Although she is sad about the demolition of the building, she hopes that the tree can remain and “coexist” as our campus continues to grow. She explains that she chose to live in Fennell Hall because of its “closeness to nature.” Alessandro appreciates the naturalness of lower campus and this tree specifically, as much of the environment on campus is carefully pruned and landscaped. As a Catholic, she explains that the Grand Fennell Oak serves as a reminder of the beauty and mystery of nature, as well as God’s creativity and love for Creation.
Another PC student, Sarah Klema ’23, lived in Fennell Hall during the pandemic, explaining that during this isolating time, the Grand Fennell Oak, which stood right outside her window, helped her feel less alone. She states that each day, “it became routine to greet the tree before entering [her] dorm, or to stand under its presence in a moment of contemplation when coming back from a walk.” She felt protected underneath its canopy, during a time in which she needed this comfort.
The only question that remains is what can we, as students, faculty, families, and alumni, do to save this historic tree? Dr. Tuba Agartan of the Health Sciences Department explains that sustainability needs to be prioritized more at Providence College, specifically by incorporating sustainability initiatives into the College’s strategic plan and courses. From a student level, one of the best things we can do is speak out and express our opinions. Student support and advocacy has been imperative in implementing some of the most impactful sustainability changes on campus. From composting to reusable to-go boxes, these are successful initiatives that were brought up and proposed by students. By expressing our opposition to the destruction of the Grand Fennell Oak, students can play a critical role in saving this tree.
The Grand Fennell Oak existed long before Providence College was established. It would be careless to cut it down and lose such an important part of history and our ecosystem. As Dr. Keating explains, “At a Catholic College, we should be an example of commitment to protect Creation, not to destroy what is in our way.”
Pesticide Use on PC’s Campus
Why We Need to Stop this Practice to Preserve Biodiversity
Despite the devastating impact it has on important pollinator species, Providence College still uses pesticides on campus. Pollinators including honeybees play a vital role in our ecosystem, responsible for pollinating over 80 percent of flowering plant species. Bees are also involved in the production of one-third of the food we eat. However, across the country, humans still heavily rely on the very chemicals that are responsible for killing countless bees each year. Pesticides are not species specific. When we use pesticides to eliminate certain pests, we kill all insect species in their path. We need to stop using toxic chemicals and prioritize the preservation, health, and safety of all species.
The U.S. Department of the Interior estimates that 1 billion pounds of pesticides are used every year in the United States alone. This not only poses a threat to insect species but to humans, as pesticides can be transported via runoff into our groundwater. This means that pesticides also have a dangerous impact on marine and aquatic organisms. Additionally, because pesticides are sprayed onto fruits and vegetables, this means that pesticides are directly on our food.
Pesticides and herbicides can cause both acute and chronic health issues. As the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency explains, these chemicals can cause skin and eye irritation and, in severe cases, damage to the nervous and endocrine systems and cancers. Pesticides can also lead to respiratory issues due to inhalation. If pesticides can threaten humans at this level, it’s no surprise that bee populations are seeing dramatic population declines in recent years.
These chemicals can also lead to a variety of side effects or sub lethal effects in bees. While these effects are not deadly, they are threatening to honeybee survival and function. Researchers have found that pesticides have a negative effect on memory, learning, foraging, breathing, reproduction, and body temperature regulation, all of which impede honeybee survival individually and as a species.
Dr. Rachael Bonoan, a professor in the Providence College Biology Department who specializes in pollinator ecology, explains that one of the best things we can do to protect pollinators is to stop using pesticides. Instead of mowing the grass and landscaping frequently, we should instead embrace the natural variety of plants and wildflowers that grow on campus, including the weeds. Having a wide range of plant and flowering species significantly helps pollinators, but this plant diversity is threatened by the use of pesticides and herbicides. We should prioritize planting native plant species including coneflowers, goldenrod, and lavender which are popular among pollinators.
There are also natural, unharmful alternatives to pesticides that are equally as effective as chemical pesticides, Dr. Bonoan explains. This method, known as Integrated Pest Management, involves introducing predators into an environment to naturally remove pests. Aphids, for example, are common agricultural pests that are controlled through IPM. By introducing ladybugs into their fields, farmers can naturally eliminate aphids that are destructive to crops. Similarly, the cucumber beetle, another pest that threatens crop yield and production, is drawn to cucumbers. By cultivating cucumber plants away from the fields, they are naturally deterred from crops.
Dr. Bonoan adds that supporting local farms is also beneficial for bees as well as humans because many local farms choose to avoid using pesticides in their fields. Furthermore, instead of using chemical fertilizers to keep our lawns green, we can instead opt for natural fertilizers that are composed of animal waste and other natural materials. These fertilizers encourage nutrient release in the soil, providing plants with important nutrients naturally such as nitrogen and phosphorus.
It’s clear that pesticides are a huge threat to biodiversity. So why do we continue to use them on PC’s campus? It has been ingrained in us that we need to have a perfectly landscaped and green lawn, which continues to be the only acceptable way for many people. If we were to let the weeds, grass, and wildflowers grow, I would argue it would make our campus even more beautiful and natural, not to mention a place where biodiversity can thrive. We need to start rethinking what our front yards should look like. By continuing to rely on pesticides to make our environment unnatural and perfect, we only further harm ourselves and animals with these toxic chemicals. We need to start healing nature. In order for Providence College to truly be a part of the PVD Pesticide Free initiative, we need to fully commit to eliminating all pesticides on campus.
Treating the Land: A Weekend Reforesting the Australian Tablelands
“The right tree in the right place for the right reason” is the slogan for one of the most successful tree planting programs and community organizations on the Australian Tablelands. Providence College students who are studying abroad in Australia, along with other student volunteers, had the pleasure of spending a weekend with Trees for the Evelyn and Atherton Tablelands, learning about their tree planting, nursery, and most importantly their community. The Tablelands is home to the Australian rainforest, one of the oldest rainforests in the world, which is facing issues due to deforestation and climate change. TREAT was formed in 1982 by Joan Wright and Jeff Tracey, who felt the need to help reforest the land by increasing the stock of plants needed for reforestation. By collecting seeds and growing seedlings in the nursery, they were able to plant 2,778 trees in the first year.
Today, TREAT will plant up to 3,000 trees per planting session, culminating in roughly 100,000 trees annually. The tree planting cycle begins with TREAT’s special relationships with local landowners and the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, in which they can acquire land to rebuild the depleting rainforest. There are planting sessions every Saturday in the wet season and weekly meetings from 7 a.m. to noon year round. At the meetings, volunteers participate in tasks such as seed preparation, seed sowing, potting up/on of seedling stock, and plant maintenance. These tasks help support the growth of seedlings and the nursery which will then be planted on these Saturday mornings.
Volunteers with TREAT are able to get a better understanding of the social scene provided for the community. With over 400 current members,TREAT is one giant family; one member explained that it is the only volunteer organization he is a part of in which people continue to return year after year. Some volunteers have been with TREAT for upwards of thirty years. This is supported by the Australian practice of smoko, which is a mid-morning coffee break made for socializing. When asked about what they liked most about TREAT, volunteers unanimously answered that it is the ecological importance of restoring the rainforest and the friends they have made through their involvement.
TREAT’s determined work cycle begins with picking a site. For example, one program worked TREAT at Masseys Creek. The site is prepped to begin, a process that can range from a day’s work to a week-long operation. This process is not for the weak-minded: a plot ranges from 1,500 trees to nearly 3,000 and each hole is individually raked, dug, fertilized, and watered. At Masseys Creek, approximately 1450 holes were prepared for the following day.
In the afternoon, volunteers finished preparing to plant by adding water crystals to each fertilized hole. These are used in the dry season to ensure the trees are maintaining enough moisture. Fertilizer was also added to ensure the soil was adequate for planting. Additionally, it was very important to make sure the tree species were properly mixed around the property, so they can access a variety of nutrients in the soil and compete less for sunlight or canopy space. Picking the proper trees to border the plot was also crucial, as the edges of the forest are the most susceptible to damage. By increasing the density along the edges, they hoped to provide the plot with a stronger barrier to prevent cyclone damage. By implementing a diverse mix of trees and fruit, TREAT hopes to promote an increase in the local fauna. One example of this is the growing cassowary population within the tablelands. Volunteers felt lucky to encounter over thirteen of the prehistoric-looking birds; however, they have rarely been seen in years past. One of the TREAT workers said the most rewarding part of his job is seeing cassowary, because it proves they are successfully returning the land to its natural state.
On the final day, it was time for planting. Volunteers crawled through the mud, making sure each hole was drained and properly filled in. They were able to converse with local landowners to get a better understanding of TREAT’s benefits to their property value. For example, it prevents erosion, provides a self-diversifying ecosystem with pollinators/seed spreaders, and is easier to maintain than farmland.
For the people of Atherton, nothing beats Friday mornings at the TREAT nursery. With a thriving social scene, educational opportunities, and environmental benefits, TREAT has become a local hotspot to unify the community. Each Friday, around 45 volunteers of all ages and backgrounds arrive with baked goods, seeds, and a passion to make a difference. A key to this is the communication taking place within the community rather than from a higher-up. Many of the landowners take comfort in knowing that the information and advice were coming from fellow farmers. This aspect brought together the community faster than any government project could have. When asked what keeps volunteers coming back to TREAT, some offered joking answers, such as “There’s nothing better to do when you’re retired!” while others explained they found the job they never knew they needed.
The wide range of opportunities and skill sets is also crucial to allowing TREAT to open its doors to all people. One mother and her two young children ran free around TREAT, taking up any tasks they could get ahold of. On the other end of the spectrum, there was a group of ladies living in a nearby retirement home who explained that they no longer have the energy to go to the tree plantings but are grateful to sit and pot, knowing their job is just as important in the tree cycle.
Education is also a drawing factor for the community, which was clearly seen on the large bulletin board in the nursery. There is a range of classes, volunteer opportunities, and other shared interest groups that are open to the public.
It was clear that these people were not just going through the motions, but understood the science behind what they were doing. For some people the processes are beneficial to their own property; for example, if a person brings in seeds, they can take a tree sapling back to their property in exchange, diversifying their land. Many of the longest members began as farmers or landowners looking to revegetate their property.
At the end of the three-day planting process, it was hard for the volunteers to say goodbye. They had grown trees, relationships, and a desire to make a difference. They believe that this is not a job or a chore: it is a rewarding family with shared interests and a passion to save the rainforest.
This article was written by Rosie Kelly ’24 in collaboration with Merrill Willis of San Diego State University and Carly Burns of the University of Maryland.
ECOPC Kicks Off Earth Week with Eaton Street Clean-up and Clean Plate Challenge
In the week leading up to their annual Earth Day celebration on Saturday, April 22, ECOPC hosted a variety of different events, including their Eaton Street Clean-up and Clean Plate Challenge. For the clean-up, the club recruited eight volunteers to pick up litter on the yards, driveways, and sidewalks along Eaton Street. Supplies such as trash bags and gloves were provided by The 02908 Club, who typically send out their own clean-up crew after weekend parties.
The volunteers spent about one hour picking up litter, primarily cans and bottles, staying away from the significant amount of broken glass that littered the street. They plan to host another clean-up with Bio Society, this time at a beach, to close out their Earth Week festivities.
One volunteer expressed her frustration with the blatant disrespect for the property and the community. “What was surprising to me was how it wasn’t just littering and single-use drinks, but it was also clearly deliberate destruction of property…like a TV, or the fact that people put bottles and cans right under people’s tires.” Many volunteers were similarly disgusted by the sheer amount of trash, especially the shattered TV they came across on the sidewalk and the trash going down the drains.
Another volunteer brought up the apparent lack of concern students have for cleaning up after themselves. “What was really disturbing to me was the parking lots between the houses. They were completely covered in cans, bottles, and other trash. There had to have been thousands that no one had the courtesy or care to pick up. I found it really striking, but I think it’s an unfortunate reflection of the culture at PC, and how we don’t value sustainability as much as we should.”
“My thoughts were more like, wow, people can’t walk their dogs here because of all the glass,” another volunteer said. “It’s not safe anymore because of their littering.” Another added, “It’s disrespectful to people who live and drive on the roads regularly that aren’t just seniors.”
Aside from the clean-up, ECOPC also held their second Clean Plate Challenge of the year in Raymond Dining Hall this Tuesday from 4–8 p.m., where they measured students’ leftovers before they were thrown away or composted. Approximately 162 pounds of food scraps were measured by the club during this short four hour period, about 2.5 times more waste than their last event in the fall.
Through this challenge, ECOPC hopes to raise awareness about food waste, and how it’s easy for students to decrease their waste by taking smaller portions. However, many students expressed frustration towards the dining hall’s large portion sizes given at stations that are not self-serve. This is a concern that Sodexo is currently addressing with their staff.
In addition, on Thursday, ECOPC hosted a worms and dirt dessert table in Ray. They hope to see a large turnout at their Earth Day celebration this Saturday, as well as improve environmental awareness on campus through their events.
Why You Should Continue Meatless Meals After Lent
The Environmental Impacts of the Meat Industry
The return to campus after Easter break marks the end of meatless Fridays in observance of Lent. From an environmental perspective, eliminating meat on Fridays at Providence College has a positive impact on our planet. Annually, an average American diet produces 2,000 kilograms of greenhouse gasses. However, by eliminating meat from your diet for just one day a week, you can decrease this amount by 400 kilograms. Switching to a plant-based diet is arguably one of the best things we can do to live sustainably and help our planet. While this lifestyle might not be something everyone is able to adopt, the next best thing we can do is avoid eating meat for one day, one week, or even for one meal.
About one-third of greenhouse gasses emitted into our atmosphere are from food production. Of this number, about 60 percent can be attributed to meat production, while 29 percent is attributed to the production of plant-based foods. Animals raised for meat, specifically cows, also release a greenhouse gas called methane, which is 26 percent stronger and better at trapping heat than carbon dioxide. It’s estimated that these animals are responsible for one-third of our global methane emissions. Plant-based meat, however, releases about 90 percent fewer emissions.
Additionally, around 70 percent of our world’s deforestation is due to agriculture, most notably meat production. As meat consumption continues to increase over the years, deforestation and the loss of trees to meet demand will make it even more difficult to remove carbon dioxide emissions from our atmosphere and mitigate climate change. On the other hand, plant-based meat uses up to 95 percent less land according to the United Nations Environment Assembly.
Meat production also has a significant water footprint. 15,000 liters of water are required to produce just 1 kilogram of beef. Pork and chicken similarly require a lot of water, using about 6,000 and 4,300 liters of water respectively per kilogram of meat. More specifically, the UN Environment Assembly estimates that 2,500 liters of water are used to produce one beef burger, and just three slices of bacon require 408 liters. Think of all the water you can save by choosing to skip a burger for one day, as well as how much water we’ve preserved by not serving them on campus during Lent. The UN also estimates that plant-based meat substitutes use 75-95 percent less water.
Meat consumption has a significant environmental impact, requiring copious amounts of resources. By making small dietary changes to exclude meat partially or entirely, it’s possible to help preserve these resources, as well as minimize our greenhouse gas emissions. Adopting a plant-based diet in some form is one of the best ways we as individuals can help do our part in mitigating climate change.
Making Earth Day Every Day
Why We Need to Celebrate This Holiday Year-round
The 1960s was a critical decade for environmental policy in the United States, serving as the first time politicians began to recognize how humans play a large role in environmental destruction. Fortunately, this led to important policy changes and legislation to protect our planet. However, this relationship between human activity and ecological degradation was something already well-known among environmentalists prior to the 1960s.
Environmentalists including Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, and Gaylord Nelson were essential figures in the environmental movement. Carson’s Silent Spring is arguably one of the most influential texts of the movement. Published in 1962, it revealed the dangers of D.D.T. and pesticide use on both human and wildlife health, accusing chemical companies of hiding these dangerous side effects from the public. The publication resulted in the ban of D.D.T. across the country. With his Sand County Almanac published in 1949, Leopold introduced the term “land ethic” for the first time, an idea that humans need to coexist with nature, rather than continue to dominate and exploit it. This message is still prevalent today, as decades later, it seems as though we still have yet to adopt such a vision.
In 1969, environmentalist and Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson proposed the idea for Earth Day, and in 1970, it was celebrated for the first time on April 22. Earth Day was a turning point for environmental awareness and advocacy in the U.S. The same year in 1970, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was formed, as well as the National Environmental Education Act and the Clean Air Act. In the next three years, the U.S. would also go on to establish the Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act. The first Earth Day was an environmental breakthrough, resulting in some of the most important environmental legislation we have to date.
Still, just over 50 years later, it seems as though we have forgotten the importance of Earth Day and what it means as we continue to act in unsustainable ways that harm our planet. Every year, over one billion people in over 193 countries celebrate Earth Day. Imagine how much of an impact we could make if this many people treated every day like Earth Day.
From what the March 2023 I.P.C.C. report explains, it’s clear that we need people advocating for environmental change year-round. According to the report, we have already caused our planet to warm an additional 1.1 degrees Celsius, dangerously nearing the 1.5 degrees Celsius scientists constantly warn is the tipping point.
What happens if temperatures increase by 1.5 degrees Celsius? In terms of biodiversity, 14 percent of species could be threatened with extinction, and a loss of up to 90 percent of coral reefs is also expected. Additionally, 950 million people could start experiencing drought as well as extreme temperatures, with 45–58 days of the year likely to surpass 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Flooding is also expected to affect 24 percent more people with this increase.
We need to change our habits every day of the year, not just on Earth Day. We cannot combat climate change and other environmental issues by reflecting on our lifestyles and advocating for the planet only one day a year. It’s our responsibility to not only make sustainable choices each day but to push for environmental policy that is crucial for mitigating climate change. If we want to live on a planet that is equitable, sustainable, just, and habitable, this is something we have to do all year.
Eleventh Atmospheric River of the Season Hits California
In December, January, and March, California experienced severe flooding, rain, snow, and wind due to atmospheric rivers, areas of high moisture that transport water vapor from tropical regions to different locations across the world. Once atmospheric rivers arrive on land, they release water in the form of precipitation. These rivers can range anywhere from 250 to 375 miles in width and 1,000 to 2,000 miles in length. Unlike those in California, not all atmospheric rivers are catastrophic and dangerous. Rather, they are essential for delivering water to areas that need it. However, due to climate change, these phenomena could become significantly stronger and more frequent.
Last December, over one third of Americans were issued winter weather and wind chill alerts in response to reports of unprecedented weather conditions anticipated in 37 states around the country. California was one of these states. By the end of December 2022, about 17 feet of snow had fallen in Sierra Nevada, and since October 2022, 50 feet of snow have fallen in this area. In terms of rainfall, some areas in California were seeing over 40 inches of rain from Dec. 26 to Jan. 11. Millions of people were under flood alerts and thousands were told to evacuate.
Another atmospheric river has already begun to hit California, the eleventh this winter. On March 10, Governor Newsom and later President Biden issued a state of emergency for 34 counties in the state. As of Monday, 18 million Californians were under flood alerts, and this number continues to grow. Elevations over 7,000 feet are expected to see four feet of snow and those over 9,000 are projecting snowfall amounts around eight feet. Lower elevations are expected to experience significant flooding and high winds.
Climate change exacerbates natural disasters and extreme weather events. Catastrophes including hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are only a few examples of disasters anticipated to increase in severity and frequency, with atmospheric rivers expected to see similar trends. When our planet increases in temperature, the atmosphere is able to hold more water vapor. This means rainfall numbers and storm intensity will become even greater. According to NASA, these atmospheric rivers will become larger and more frequent. They estimate that they will increase in size by 25 percent and increase in frequency by 50 percent.
As we continue to accelerate climate change, we will only see more natural disasters and endanger countless more people. As we emit more carbon dioxide due to our reliance on fossil fuels, our atmosphere will absorb more heat. With this added heat, more water vapor can be held in the air meaning more severe and intense rainfall. To prevent these storms, we need to start transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy and prioritize achieving net-zero emissions.
Harmful Algal Bloom Threatens Marine and Human Health
Florida’s Red Tide
In October, a harmful algal bloom was detected in Florida. However, the red tide has recently become significantly more dangerous. Since then, the red tide has dispersed its red waters to the entire southwest coast of Florida, spanning 5,000 miles and devastating marine ecosystems. Since Dec. 12, 2022, 20 tons of fish have been found beached along the coast. It’s estimated that 104 sea turtles and seven manatees have also died. Human health is similarly at risk with some Florida residents reporting coughs, difficulty breathing, and burning of the eyes. The red tide is not expected to end in the near future, with conditions expected to worsen before they improve.
Harmful algal blooms are formed when algal growth increases exponentially. Usually, algal blooms aren’t harmful, serving as a food source for animals that rely on them. However, harmful algal blooms, as the name implies, produce toxins that threaten both wildlife survival and human health. If humans inhale these toxins, they will enter the body and cause a variety of health issues including coughing, difficulty breathing, and eye and skin irritation. If contaminated fish are consumed, however, the human health effects can be much more severe, leading to multiple forms of shellfish and fish poisoning illnesses including paralytic shellfish poisoning and neurotoxic shellfish poisoning.
The animal health effects are very similar to those experienced by humans. Harmful algal blooms affect not only fish but also marine mammals and seabirds. Fish and shellfish are part of the diets of many marine species, including dolphins and seabirds. This means that, like humans, these organisms are ingesting toxins by eating contaminated fish. Marine mammals, specifically ones like dolphins and manatees that require oxygen, can also inhale toxins when they visit the surface to breathe, leading to respiratory problems.
A main factor that leads to harmful algal blooms is climate change. Blooms begin to form when there are more nutrients in the water. Nutrients usually enter water via runoff following periods of precipitation. As climate change increases the severity and frequency of weather events, precipitation and runoff will become more common, fueling more harmful algal blooms. Increases in carbon dioxide in our atmosphere also promote algal growth as algae are a plant species that relies on photosynthesis. Increased temperatures are also optimal for algal growth which will become more common due to global warming. Usually, the winter weather moves algal blooms away from the coast. However, as climate change makes our winters milder, this allows harmful algal blooms to persist and cause further damage.
Climate change continues to have a relationship with the most devastating environmental issues we are witnessing today. Actions need to be taken to mitigate climate change and prevent subsequent environmental catastrophes.
Holding Your Elected Officials Accountable
Defense of the Willow Project Contradicts Biden Administration’s Commitment to Clean Energy
The ConocoPhillips Willow project is an incredibly overlooked fossil fuel initiative despite the devastating toll it will have on our planet and its environmental injustice implications. If approved, the Willow project will be the largest oil project in the country, extracting over 600 million barrels of oil in just 30 years. The burning of this oil would release 280 million metric tons of carbon dioxide into our atmosphere.
Willow will also be dangerous to native communities, as living in close proximity to these sites can lead to a variety of health issues. One nearby native community, Nuiqsut, has already expressed their concern and disapproval of this project. Many members of this community are concerned about chemical and noise pollution and potential oil spills, factors that could cause serious health issues. ConocoPhillips already had a gas leak at another one of their Alaskan drilling sites last year.
The location of Willow in the fragile arctic ecosystem will have devastating effects on the area, making it even more susceptible to climate change. The Arctic is particularly vulnerable to climate change as its temperatures increase four times faster than the rest of the planet due to Arctic amplification. When arctic ice melts due to warming temperatures, the reflective white ice becomes absorbent dark ocean water. This causes the Arctic to heat at a faster rate. Willow will also have a detrimental effect on wildlife, threatening birds, caribou, and other important species.
The project has already been approved in the Alaska House of Representatives in a 36-0 vote and has unfortunately received support from the Biden Administration. With the Final Supplemental Impact Statement having already been released by the US Bureau of Land Management, it seems as though the government is moving even closer to approving the project.
Supporting the Willow Project is hypocritical and dangerous. Throughout his presidency, Biden has consistently denounced fossil fuels and supported clean energy, reaffirming his commitment to climate action. On his first day in office, the United States re-entered the Paris Climate Agreement; that same year, he signed an executive order for the federal government to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act was also seen as a breakthrough in climate action being the largest climate investment in US history. The over $350 billion bill would go towards decreasing emissions, important conservation efforts, making clean energy affordable, and combating environmental injustice.
Everything about the Willow project opposes these policies and the current Administration’s commitment to supporting conservation and clean energy, as well as their commitment to mitigating climate change and environmental injustice. If approved, the future of our planet will be even more uncertain as we move further away from mitigating climate change and decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions. Approving the Willow project would demonstrate not only a lack of support for our planet but a prioritization of money and support for the fossil fuel industry while overlooking the safety of native Alaskan communities and wildlife. We need to hold our elected officials accountable for the promises they make. You can take action by signing Protect the Arctic’s petition to “tell President Biden & Secretary Haaland to say no to Willow.”
What’s the Buzz About?
USDA Approves First Vaccine for Bees
Recently, the United States Department of Agriculture approved a vaccine for honeybees to protect these crucial pollinators against American Foulbrood Disease, a highly contagious disease that infects bee larvae and pupae. AFB can spread quickly within honeybee colonies, as well as to other hives, making it particularly dangerous.
Bees have great ecological importance. Without bees, flowering plants and trees wouldn’t be pollinated, causing sharp declines in global biodiversity. Three-quarters of the plants on our planet are flowering species, meaning that without bees, we would lose 75 percent of the world’s plants. Bees are also vital for food production, pollinating around 35 percent of the food we eat. If bees disappeared or went extinct, we would be unable to survive.
AFB affects honeybee colonies via spores. If these bacterial spores enter hives and infect larvae and pupae, the colony could collapse within a matter of weeks. When bees feed larvae food contaminated by these spores, the disease is transmitted to the developing bees. Once consumed, the spores multiply within the larvae and kill them. During development, larvae inhabit honeycomb cells in the hive. When an infected larva dies, it needs to be cleaned out by worker bees. The cleaning process causes the release of more spores, infecting and killing countless other larvae in the hive.
How will the vaccine be administered to these tiny insects? Instead of injecting the vaccines into bees using miniature syringes, the vaccine will be incorporated into the queen bee’s food. Honeybees have a unique method of deciding which female becomes the queen. Multiple female larvae will be fed “royal jelly,” a nutrient-rich substance that causes ovary formation. This ensures that the queen bee is the only female that can reproduce in the colony. Whichever female larva emerges first becomes the queen and consumes the female larvae that have yet to hatch.
Bee biology differs from that of most organisms because the queen bee is the only one to reproduce in the colony. This means that all of the bees in the hive are genetically related. When the queen bee ingests the AFB vaccine it will enter her ovaries and will be passed onto her offspring. Thus, the vaccine will only need to be administered to the queen in new colonies.
Recent reports have stated that over the past 25 years, the Colorado honeybee population has decreased by over 72 percent. According to a study conducted by Bee Informed and beekeepers across the US, from April 2020 to April 2021, 45.5 percent of honeybee colonies across the country were lost. These declines are mainly due to climate change, habitat loss, and fragmentation, pesticides, and parasites; however, these statistics could in part be linked to AFB, which is why this new vaccine is so important. Additionally, the vaccine could pave the way for further research into different bee illnesses to see if we can develop more vaccines for other threatening diseases. In the meantime, while AFB continues to have a devastating effect on honeybee colonies, this vaccine will be essential in helping to preserve arguably the most important species on the planet.