2014 Symposium: How can society become better stewards of our environment?

Myrtle Beach: There are small changes that every person is capable of making to help the environment. Simple things like recycling, walking in short distances, car-pooling. Those are just some minor lifestyle changes that don’t cost much of anything and will aide our environment.

This is not a battle that we alone can win though. Businesses also need to use better practices with waste and emissions in plants. Deforestation in manufacturing is another huge problem.

I don’t have any solutions for this other than individuals making changes, and businesses acting responsibly. I’m hoping this will happen on its own, but if necessary there needs to be some more strict regulations put in place.

Raleigh: There is probably not a person in the world that is not aware of the climate changes occurring in the world. Natural disasters such as tsunamis, tornadoes, droughts, and flooding seem to happen all over the world and more often. What are the causes of it? There are many disastrous events happening in our environment due to peoples’ activities such as deforestation, water crisis, looming energy crisis, environmental refugees, biodiversity loss, climate change, greenhouse effect, acid rains, ozone layer depletion, and such.

Moreover, many researchers and scientists are seriously alarmed by the rates of global warming. According to the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research located in Oslo, Norway, measurements of temperature started from about 1860s and a steady rise of temperature was recorded until 1940s (due to rapid industrialization), then hit a plateau until 1970s, and in the recent thirty years the rise of the temperature was the highest. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change there was an increase of 0.74ºC in global mean temperature from 1906 to 2005. Much of it is happening because of carbon dioxide emissions and each year scientists calculate how much of it was emitted in the atmosphere. Thus, in 2013 global emissions rose by 2.3 percent, and some of the worst offenders in the world is the U.S.A. and European countries.

What can we, as a society, do to improve our environment? The obvious answer is to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, focus on sustainable development, implement clean renewable energy technologies, improve agricultural practices, address water and deforestation crisis around the world, develop more sustainable and energy efficient building practices, introduce carbon taxes, etc. Undoubtedly, it’s a daunting task to accomplish. It has been evident that nations have difficult time coordinating their efforts when addressing environmental issues though some steps have been taken. On a personal level, people can contribute as well. They can use environmentally friendly materials, buy hybrid or electric cars, support local producers, install solar panels for their houses, reduce household waste, clean their surroundings and, most importantly, educate their children about the environmental issues because children are the ones who will inherit the planet.

Asheville: The existential threat posed by climate change should be a wakeup call to each of us. Rising sea levels, shrinking polar ice caps, warmer oceans, and fewer variety of species remind us that our earth is a delicate system which we have been taking advantage of for far too long. As we approach peak oil and run out of landfill space, we need to look for new ways to think about our relationship to our environment. Our current approach has been to regard undeveloped resources as waste. We consider that which is not actively being processed as unclaimed. They are available for anyone to take.

Bolivia undertook a bold experiment earlier this year. They extended legal rights to the environment, providing it with the same legal and moral worth as any individual. In order to justify the extraction of resources, Bolivian companies must now prove a greater social good is served by processing those resources, and that they are compensating the ecosystem for the loss of those resources in some way. While the new rights have not been extensively tested in court, the Bolivian model of recognition is an interesting one as we consider how we ought to orient ourselves toward our environment.

Tecumseh, a great Native American leader, once said “The earth does not belong to us; we belong to the earth.” This quote is a good reminder that we are dependent on the health of our environment, not only for our own existence, but also for the existence of future generations. We must regard the environment as an entity with moral worth, both for our sake and for our continued existence.

Prescott Valley: Society can become better stewards of our environment in a number of ways. To begin with, people must force themselves to be aware and educate themselves as to the factors that affect the environment, from the water they drink and use, to the trash, litter and substances, large and small, that they throw on the ground and in the ponds, streams, rivers and lakes, to the air they breathe and pollute with second hand smoke, exhaust and chemicals, to the forests and wooded areas that they inhabit on weekend outings for hunting, fishing, boating and all terrain driving.

In order to be better stewards, people have to assess the damage done first hand, whether it’s seeing a huge pile of glass or plastic bottles, water jugs and cans in a ditch or an abandoned rusty, junky old car sitting in a field. As a steward of the environment, people must take it upon themselves to remove the cans and bottles and junky old cars and either recycle them through a recycling center, or make sure they are reclaimed or salvaged in the proper manner.

Communities where litter and other environmental concerns seem to be a reoccurring problem can initiate weekend outings to a number of pinpointed areas where problems exist and initiate the cleanup process. Continual monitoring of the situation will keep the area clean and safe for others to use. If there is an abandoned lot with dry weeds high as the sky mixed with newspaper and other trash, gather the necessary tools, schedule another outing and cut down the weeds and clean up the area before something worse happens-like a fire. Don’t wait for the public works department and complain, “That’s someone else’s job.” Any town or city can adopt the same kind of community awareness programs or stewardship for almost any environmental concern.

Awareness is the key factor with environmental stewardship, and if the problem is a larger one that involves direct dumping or polluting of a stream, lake or river, without following Clean Water Act rulings, then schedule a public meeting with the industrial polluters and get the right answers for cleanup procedures and future preventative measures.

People don’t have to become tattle tales to become environmental stewards. They simply must take it upon themselves to keep a check within their communities over public areas, waterways and roadways for problems that affect the environment.

One such example of stewardship is the cleanup of the Muskegon River in Egleston Township, Michigan. A resident there, Jerry Carlson, arranged several cleanups that eliminated hundreds of pounds of trash from the river to the tune of over 4,000 soda cans and other objects. All it took was Jerry’s shock over the pollution he witnessed to jump start a cleanup campaign. Others can do the same no matter the concern.

Genuine stewardship and awareness for maintaining environmental order starts at the local level and extends beyond to stewards in the next county, state and entire country. Citizens are responsible for what they have been given and must protect it and leave it in pristine condition for generations that follow.

Cartwright: Consume less. If we consume less material goods, we’ll have less trash which ends up in landfills. Ever think of how much garbage you create in a day’s time? The average person creates about 4.3 pounds of garbage per day. That’s over 1,500 pounds per person per year. This ends up in landfills which results in methane gas emissions and pollutants in the groundwater. Cut down on your consumption, and you cut down on your impact on the environment.

Think about how much packaging is thrown out each day. I bought a razor the other day and it was in this heavy duty plastic packaging that I threw out. Could it have been in a smaller more efficient packaging? Yes. Businesses could help by packaging products in more efficient packaging. It may not look the prettiest, but I would still have bout the razor if it had been in a smaller packaging.

But cutting consumption like this is only part of the battle. We need to cut our energy consumption at all levels. How many of you forget and leave a light on or leave the TV on or leave the heat on? Guess what. It costs you money and has an impact on the environment. The energy being used is derived from a power plant that is having an impact on the environment. How many of you drive a lot or take a bunch of quick trips to the grocery store every week? Well, you’re having a tremendous impact on the environment each and every time you start up your car. Consider cutting back on the discretionary trips and you’ll help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

We can also be better stewards of the environment by taking the initiative to plant more trees which help clean our air and have other environmental benefits. I have a pretty simple philosophy with this one. If I cut down a tree, I replace that tree with at least one new tree. If we all did this and if real estate developers would commit to doing this, we’d make great strides in being better stewards of the environment.

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