• Question: What are you doing personally to help preserve our environment for generations to come?

    Asked by Hayley to Alex, Ana, Clay, Keegan, Mark on 27 Apr 2016.
    • Photo: Mark Ritchie

      Mark Ritchie answered on 27 Apr 2016:

      Aside from all of my educational and outreach aspects of my research, I personally choose to drive a high mileage car (>30 mph) and extensively recycle. My family regularly gives older things (furniture, kids toys, clothes, etc) to needy families. I practice organic gardening in my backyard.

    • Photo: Alexander Taylor

      Alexander Taylor answered on 27 Apr 2016:

      I’m fortunate enough to live in a place (Ann Arbor, MI) that’s walkable and has good public transit, so I was able to donate my car and switch to a bike several years ago. Ann Arbor also has excellent recycling and composting services, so I’m able recycle and compost fastidiously. I have a large, organic vegetable garden that is a sample site for a pollinator study and was the most diverse urban site for pollinators in the study.

      Environmental stewardship can be a frustrating collective action problem. Although it is very important that individuals make the choices they can to alleviate pollution and protect the environment, fundamentally these choices are not enough to solve the problem. Action must be taken on a societal level, by governments, corporations and non-profits, for meaningful change to happen. To highlight that point, all of the personal actions I mentioned above are only possible because I live in a place with good public transit, recycling and composting facilities, that regulates lawn fertilizers and doesn’t spray pesticides extensively on public land.

      To the collective action side of the equation, I participate in outreach events as much as I can. I also teach a Food and Energy Systems class for non-science majors at the University of Michigan as a graduate student instructor.

    • Photo: Clay Robinson

      Clay Robinson answered on 3 May 2016:

      Before I answer, I want to challenge one of the words: Preserve. Preserve carries the connotation of “not use”. If we try to preserve the environment, we might have fewer generations to come because there will not be enough food for people if we do not use the resources we have. Certainly we need to look for better and renewable energy sources, for ways to repair some of the things we have broken, and to restore some of the ecosystems we have damaged. But still we have to use the resources. I use the word conserve our environment. I am a conservationist, not a preservationist. As an example, if we need to use a tree, let us use that tree, but plant another to replace it. I want to be known as a good steward (manager) of the environment.
      In my science, I study ways to help people use soil and water resources more effectively and efficiently with less waste. I study ways to manage the nutrients required to produce crops in order to have less potential for polluting surface and ground water. And I teach other people how to apply these principles in order to decrease their negative environmental impact. I also study tillage methods (plowing) that leave more plant materials on the soil surface after harvest (leaves, stems, and stalks) because these methods protect the soil from erosion by wind and water, and also store some carbon in the soil in organic forms. And if carbon is stored in the soil, it is not being released into the atmosphere as carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases.
      We know how to do many of these things, but sometimes people who work the land are reluctant to change what they have always done, or what their parents and grandparents did, and so there are not as many people using the technologies and principles as we would like.
      In my personal life, I recycle paper, plastic, aluminum, and glass. I compost most of our kitchen wastes. I ride my bicycle to commute (usually about 24 -40 km), as well as for exercise. I turn out the lights in rooms we are not using. In winter, I turn off the heater for the house during the day and only use a small space heater, if needed. In summer, I use the air conditioner as little as possible, and often keep the inside temperature about 25 Celsius. In summer, I often dry clothes on a line outside rather than use a clothes dryer. That does not work well in humid places, but I live in a desert.