Saturday, April 25, 2015

What's your Ecological Footprint?

The term environmental footprint is defined as the demand for resources from the Earth compared to how many resources there currently are. My AP Environmental Science textbook shows a chart of the world's ecological footprint. It looks like this:
The chart of ecological footprints is measured in number of Earths required to sustain their energy consumption.

The map shows that the US, Canada, Australia, and most of Europe have a huge environmental footprint per person. These countries consume resources that would amount to more than 5 earths if the whole world consumed energy the same way. So, I went online to calculate my own environmental footprint. It calculated that if everyone consumed energy the way I did, we would need 2.3 earths. After finding this out, I have been a lot more conscious about how much energy I consume. I try to turn off all lights and appliances, compost my food, and eat less meat. I even take the school bus more.

How much energy do you consume? Use the link above to see. Hopefully this is eye opening for you and you become more conscious of how much energy you consume.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Climate Feedback

Climate feedback is a group of scientists that try to help "bridge the gap" between fact and false information on the internet. A story from OntheMedia criticizes the media on its reporting of the information regarding climate change.The media "cherry-picks" facts, or they only pick facts that support their argument and not the facts that argue against their arguments. According to guest Emmanuel Vincent, founder of Climate Feedback, the group annotated an article from the Wall Street Journal that "cherry-picked". So clearly any news source, no matter how reputable, may be guilty of cherry-picking.

Writing and reporting stories for the news networks shouldn't be this easy. All sides of the story need to be reported.
This is really alarming. It's also all the more reason not to believe everything you are told. I've always said that nothing on the internet is for sure. The internet is just a combination of everyone's thoughts and ideas, most of which are wrong. We've moved from an age of published books and vetted information to crowd-sourced Wikipedia articles and to answer our questions. Whereas you would normally ask the teacher, who most likely is a learned person, in this new age everything we just ask the internet. People just accept what the internet says. It's really taken away our critical thinking ability to say, "is this information credible?" Whoever can write whatever they want. The Wall Street Journals article is not an example of this, however websites like Wikipedia can be edited by anyone. One time I went on Wikipedia and a child or some immature person had clearly written the wrong words in the context of the article. It was some sort of poop joke. But that's the thing, a lot of what's on the internet is poop. We need to be checking our facts. Climate change is one of the most questionable things on the internet, meaning that the facts are all taken out of context on the internet. When reading about climate change, it's best to be reading published works that have been reviewed by the field's peers. 

Vaccines are Supposed to HELP Your Kids

Oddly enough, actress Kristen Bell has written a blog post about vaccines on HuffPost. It is very informative and credible since she cites all of her information. The problem with vaccines that has had people in America shying away from vaccines is that they have mercury in them. However, people should not be afraid of a little bit of mercury. Vaccines are supposed to help immunize you from disease.

According to the FDA, the mercury samples in the vaccines are organomercurials, which are less concentrated amounts of mercury than the amount needed to be considered dangerous. The FDA also tests all of the vaccines extensively so there is no need to be afraid of having a "defective" vaccine.

The only thing to fear when getting vaccinated is needles.
Personally, I think that the fear of vaccines is very immature. Many Americans fear vaccines, and I think that is because they have a lack of scientific literacy or understanding, not to be offensive. Lets go back in time when there were polio epidemics. 1916 was a year of a polio epidemic in the US. 9000 cases were reported and 6000 people died. Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt had dealt with polio. Later in 1950, Jonas Salk invented the polio vaccine. This effectively prevented any more cases of polio around the world, and it is the reason why no one you know has polio. Vaccines are designed to help you. That's the definition of a vaccine. It provides you with an immunity to a virus. So why would doctors and scientists, during an age of increasing medical knowledge and technology, add harmful chemicals into vaccines to hurt you? Or maybe you think that the doctors don't know that these chemicals are harmful. Well, I hate to say it, but this is the concept of a lack of scientific literacy. Top scientists in the field, most likely with doctorates, test vaccines for up to 10 years to make sure that they are safe. Think about it, these people have spent 8 years in college, plus 10 years of research, to ensure that the vaccines are safe. If that doesn't reassure you, then I don't know what can.

Kids shouldn't use Marijuana

Marijuana plant

America has seemingly always had marijuana. Until recently, marijuana was not legal. But, in the last decade, marijuana has been fully legalized in Colorado and medical marijuana has been legalized in 23 states. According to NPR, marijuana is a regular part of people's lives in Colorado, even children. I don't think children or even high-school students should use marijuana. I think the use of marijuana is a huge problem in adolescents in America.

The fact is, there are students everywhere that use marijuana. People like rapper Two Chainz say that "marijuana is readily available to anyone who really wants to get it". I know this is true because people at my school use and sell marijuana. But now that it is becoming legalized in more states, it is inevitable that kids will use marijuana. 

This is a bad thing because kids are still developing, and marijuana will damage their brain development. The National Institute on Drug Abuse cites a study showing exactly that. The test first was conducted using rats. The rats that were exposed to marijuana during development have cognitive impairment, showing signs of "memory loss and learning disabilities". The second study conducted in New Zealand explains that kids who were exposed to pot during development had an average loss of 8 IQ points. Clearly marijuana damages your cognitive functioning when taken during developmental years. 

Kids should not be exposed to marijuana, and if marijuana is legalized, then kids will be exposed no matter what, even through second hand smoke. Legalized marijuana might damage a whole generation of Americans. We cannot forget that in terms of world education rankings, America currently ranks fourteenth out of forty countries. Marijuana might be what is keeping us on such a low ranking.

The Energy Problem has No Clear Solutions

Earlier I talked about all of the fallacies that would supposedly solve the energy problem in the United States. If you don't know what the energy problem is, it is the unsustainable consumption of energy by Americans. To learn more, click on this link to the EPA's explanation.

Fossil fuels are being burned at a drilling site.

Now I want to talk about possible solutions. The first problem with America's consumption of energy is that the U.S.'s energy supply is running low. The second problem with America's consumption of energy is the amount of fossil fuels burned to get it. Fossil fuels release greenhouse gases and other compounds into the air which contribute to the degradation of the environment. Renewable energy seems to be the way to go, since these energies do not release fossil fuels. They are also "renewable", so their supply is essentially unlimited. Since we can't just "switch" immediately to renewable energy, we need to work as a nation to create policies to change our nation's infrastructure to support a new type of renewable energy grid. These policies will take an estimated 40 years according to the authors of "Who Turned Out the Lights?", but they are the first step in solving the US's energy problem. There are no quick solutions.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Why America's Power Button is Stuck in the ON Position

Americans' Preferences for U.S. Energy Policy
The poll showing US opinion on energy.

In my American Studies class, we've just started the Junior Theme. My topic is about America's Energy policy. I was wondering why we fossil fuels still make up 83% of our energy sources even though a 2014 poll from Gallup shows that 60-70% of Americans want to use less fossil fuels and also want to switch to renewable energy sources.

In my brief time of research spanning the last week, I have found many complex answers. My main source of information so far has been a book called "Who Turned Out the Lights?" by Scott Bittle and Jean Johnson. It gives many reasons why we have gotten stuck in a "Groundhog Day like scenario". We keep reliving the same dilemma over and over again. It all stems from oil prices. When oil prices rise, people get angry and then there is government reform. The problem is, the reform is only temporary. When prices of oil go down again, everyone forgets about our energy problems and continues to consume huge amounts of energy and contribute to global warming through the release of fossil fuels. 
The book starts to talk about all of the solutions we think we have. It turns out that we can't just become energy independent to avoid being affected by oil price changes in the global market because we import 51% of our oil so the economy would stagnate if we tried. We can't just use whatever energy is the cheapest because it takes away our incentive to change and gives us the impression that everything is okay. We can't just switch to renewable energy right away. It will take us forty plus years according to the US Energy Information Administration and the authors of the book.

Feel Good College Admission Stories Won't Help American Students

Recently NY TIMES Columnist Frank Bruni wrote an article about the college admissions process trying to calm students down. However, article made me even more anxious. Bruni tried to reassure all of us students (well, the affluent, but that's another argument) that you needn't go to the Ivy Leagues to be successful in life. Frank Bruni-- *Ahem* Harvard Graduate Frank Bruni seems to be pointing us in the other direction. 

Frank Bruni is trying to tell us that we can be successful/fulfilled if even if we don't go to the most prestigious colleges. He tells the story of two students who were not the best students at their high school and did not get admitted to the MOST prestigious colleges. 
However, the colleges the students went to were the famous Kelly School of Business at Indiana University and Scripps College. Both are still VERY good schools. So there's that, and the fact that these two students went to New Trier and Phillips Exeter Academy. One is "posh enough to pass for private", while the other, Phillips Exeter, is just ridiculously, ridiculously selective. Phillips Exeter Academy is the Rolls Royce of the PRIVATE institutions!

 Phillips Exeter Academy. One word: ROYAL. 

Worst of all, he affirms one student's success by casually informing us that "He later decided to get a master’s degree in business administration, and that’s where he is now, in graduate school — at Harvard" *drops mic*. The measure of that student's success was the fact that he DID go to Harvard. It seems as though going to a prestigious school really does determine how successful you will be.  

America's student's will ALWAYS feel that colleges determine who they are. That is because Americans are so fixated on the concept of branding. We love our brand name cars, clothing, footwear, and electronics, The latest Apple product comes out with minor changes and a 200 dollar price mark up? We're getting it. New Jordans are out? Lemme get my wallet. A college is just another brand for Americans. The more prestigious the college, the more pride the students will have. People seem to forget that you are going to college to continue to learn and study for FOUR MORE YEARS.

The focus on branding is just a byproduct of a capitalist society. In fact, it is the product of greed. In a capitalist society, people want to make as much money as possible. Companies try to increase the amount of money the make by advertising their products heavily. They create a brand and give their brand some sort of signature style. We Americans are fed millions of ads a year and have subconsciously or consciously become very aware of brands. So just like companies, colleges try to brand themselves too. This is also for money as well. They want as many students as possible so that 1. They pay tuition and room and board 2. They might donate to the college in the future. If you look at the Ivy League colleges, the endowments range from $3.2  billion to $36.4 billion. See? Money is what is driving these colleges. It's also what's driving us to go to these colleges. College Admissions will always be what it is because we live in a capitalist society.

Do you guys agree with me?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Web Madness: Daily Show Replacement Shamed by Twitter Past

Recently the Daily Show announced that Trevor Noah, a South African television host and writer, would be Jon Stewart's replacement. Soon after this was revealed, the public began to criticize Noah for offensive tweets that he posted one to two years ago. NPR highlighted some of the tweets that are the most controversial. Some of them are pretty brutal. Here's one:

Almost bumped a Jewish kid crossing the road. He didn't look b4 crossing but I still would hav felt so bad in my german car!

So, Twitter exploded with backlash against #TrevorNoah, and now the status of his job is being put into question. This is becoming a common theme in America. A celebrity or rising star will have a tweet from the past dug up and scrutinized. Often there will be a furious debate, also known as a Twitter war.

Twitter is the worst medium for an argument. Linda Holmes from NPR says Twitter is like an air hockey table, except without boundaries. She says that "There's effectively no friction... nothing that keeps the pucks on the table rather than letting them fly off in whatever direction." You can say that again. There are no boundaries for conversations (the puck) and they often diverge into many different and inappropriate topics that many people would not make use of in a real life argument. In real life there are things you don't say to people, a certain respectful boundary that cannot be crossed. However, arguments on Twitter escalate very quickly, and people seem to forget those real life boundaries and instead succumb to "web madness", as I call it.

People somehow forget the usual civility of person to person interaction when on the Twitter. My advice to everyone on twitter, don't forget these are real people! They are not just the red to your blue, the wrong to your right, they are complex people that shouldn't only be judged on a single tweet! As for Trevor Noah, he is a person too! He shouldn't be judged by one (or three) bad tweets!

Do you guys think Trevor Noah should still replace Jon Stewart? Should people be judged by their social media posts? Have you ever gotten into a "Twitter War"?