On April 11, 2018, the University of Utah’s Sustainability Department held Earth Fest at library square on campus. A plethora of environmental organizations set up booths to inform students how they can become involved in environmental and sustainability action. The University of Utah’s sustainability department is involved in numerous ways and has an action plan for a more sustained future. If you’re interested, check out my post below.
One example of the University of Utah’s sustainability department involvement is Tree Campus USA, which protects and celebrates campus trees and the important impact trees have on the health of our community now, and generations to come. Included in my Earth Fest Instagram highlight, planting trees helps with carbon sequestration, energy conservation, stormwater filtration and improved air quality.
In addition, the Sierra Club Utah Chapter provided some amazing information about the critical issues Utah currently faces and a 2018 Legislative update. In general, this is an incredible organization that pushes for significant environmental progression.
Regarding America’s Redrock Wilderness, according to the Sierra Club Utah Chapter, “ Today, the two biggest threats to the wilderness character of Utah are the explosion of off-road vehicle use and the dramatic increase in oil and gas exploration.” On the bright side, Utah wilderness advocates have developed and found a wide range of support for the Red Rock Wilderness Act, which means that legislation would designate over 9 million acres of wild lands in Utah as official wilderness. This would protect one of America’s most unique national treasures from threats such as mineral and energy development and ORV use.
Earth Fest was incredibly helpful in regards to discovering various environmental organizations and become involved. I chose a handful to display on my Instagram highlight that I mentioned above. I especially liked the informative information provided by the Sierra Club, including the 2018 legislative update. I am having issues uploading images on WordPress, everything seems to have an HTTP error. Once finals are over I am going to explore this more. So as of now, if you would like a copy of the update email me and I am happy to send it. I will try to have the copy uploaded soon.
Whether you attend Plant Based Utah’s nutrition symposium, try out beekeeping, become involved in planting trees, stay tuned into protecting wild Utah or any of the other organizations and events that I mention in my highlight, sustainability actions go a long way and it all starts with the little things. I will continue to dive into and focus on sustainability, so stay tuned tree huggers!
Sustainability at the University of Utah
In 2008, the University signed the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment with the goal to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. To accomplish the neutrality goal, the U created the 2010 Climate Action Plan, which is currently being updated by the Sustainability Office.
There are 12 sustainability action plan chapters at the University of Utah:
- Administration and Communication
- Sustainability Education
- Sustainability Research
- Engagement (Student and Community)
- Air Quality, Emissions, Buildings, and Energy
- Food Systems (Dining, Gardens, and Wellness)
- Grounds and Water
- Transportation (Commuting and Campus Mobility)
- Diversity and Affordability
- Sustainable Investments
Yes or Hell No to GMO?
Genetically Modified Organisms, also known as GMOs, are in an outstanding amount of food all over the world. It is time to take a closer look at what we feed our bodies.
You may notice a “Non -GMO” verified label on some of your food and feel a gain of health, but do you know what it means when GMO, is or is not present in the food you eat? Is it worth the extra time and money to search for GMO-free food? Organisms, which have been genetically modified, are prevalent in the world, especially the United States. Cultivating knowledge on what a genetically modified organism is, the impact they have on the environment, as well as the impact on human health, will provide you an understanding on where to stand in this controversial matter and surprised you on who is hell no to GMO.
What is GMO?
Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been manipulated in the result of a laboratory process. This laboratory process consists of genes from the DNA of one species, which may come from bacteria, viruses, insects, animals or even humans and is artificially forced into the genes of an unrelated plant or animal. (Institute For Responsible Technology 2003)
GMOs were first introduced to our food supply in the mid- 1990s and are now present in the vast majority of processed foods, especially in the United States. Scientists have genetically engineered seeds to increase the plant’s resistance to insects, tolerate herbicides and extreme temperatures to produce a higher crop yield. In addition, genetically modified foods can give stronger colors, increased shelf life, and eliminate seeds, such as in fruits like watermelons and grapes. (Institute For Responsible Technology 2003) Who likes to bite a watermelon and spend minutes spitting out the seeds?
According to the Genetic Literacy Project (2016), the first GM crops were approved in 1996. Since then, eighteen million farmers in twenty-eight nations around the world (twenty developing countries and eight industrialized nations) harvest GMO crops on an estimated 4.94 billion acres! One of these harvest crops is located on Kauai, Hawaii. I was able to speak with a Kauai local Audrey about what a GMO plantation looks like. “The land around the crops look dead, there isn’t that ‘Hawaiian’ sparkle over there. The water can become very brown on the Westside due to the toxic chemical dump. That is not how Hawaiian waters are supposed to look like.” In addition, Huffington Post (2013) author Maggie Sergio quotes, “I thought about the surrounding land, air, and the ocean just a short distance away. I then thought about these fields being saturated with experimental pesticides, and my heart broke wide open.” (para. 14) Audrey and Maggie surface a valid concern that many have in regards to GMOs, which is the impact they have on our environment.
The Impact of GMOs on the Environment
According to Purdue University (2016), “This is not an argument to keep or lose GMO’s. It is just a simple question: What happens if they go away?” States Wally Tyner a professor of agricultural economics from Purdue University. Wally Tyner (along with peers, James and Lois Acker, Farzad Taheripour, and Harry Mahaffey) used a Purdue-developed GTAPBIO model that showed an elimination of all GMOs in the United States alone would decline the corn yield by 11.2 percent on average. In addition, soybeans would lose 5.2 percent of their yields and cotton 18.6 percent. A lower crop yield would need more land for agricultural production. The study showed that 102,000 hectares of U.S. forest and pasture would need to be converted to cropland. This results in the prediction that greenhouse gas emissions would increase significantly. (Purdue University 2016)
University of Utah research biologist Shelby Gonzalez spoke with me in an interview about the prediction model done by researchers at Purdue. She was familiar with this study and states, “I trust their model as far as they have explored it because I trust algorithms and I trust sound scientific research” (personal communication, October 30, 2017). Shelby is pro GMO because she thinks that they represent incredible technological advancement and is concerned about Purdue’s prediction on higher greenhouse gas emissions.
The science behind the modification of an organism’s genes is undeniably incredible. GMOs have given us the ability to become more efficient in agriculture. However, alternating nature can come at a cost. For example, scientists have seen an imbalance of weeds and bugs that have resulted in a higher use of toxic chemicals. We learned what GMOs are used for seed elimination (such as in watermelons) and increased shelf life etc., but the vast majority are engineered for herbicide tolerance and that has put us down a slippery slope.
I asked a 17 year old, 32 year old and a 65 year old who develops and sells GMOs? Every person was unaware that GMOs are developed and sold by the world’s largest chemical companies, which makes them a direct extension of chemical agriculture. This is a problem because the use of toxic herbicides such as Roundup have increased 15 times since GMOs were introduced. According to National Geographic writer Elizabeth Grossman (2015) , Roundup’s primary ingredient glyphosate is a probable human carcinogen. You might find Roundup in your garage as a lawn and garden weed killer, but the primary use of it is in agriculture. The use of Roundup skyrocketed after seeds were genetically engineered to tolerate glyphosate. Farmers can apply the weed killer to entire fields without destroying crops because these seeds produce plants that are not killed by glyphosate. It is important to note that, “glyphosate is not included in the United States testing of food for pesticide residues or the monitoring of chemicals in the human blood and tissues.” (para. 9) Therefore, the effect of glyphosate is not yet known and has been suspected to lead to cancers.
The impact GMOs can have the environment is also a problem because superweeds and superbugs have emerged that can only be killed with a heavier toxic poison. A study conducted by Washington State University estimated that between 1996 and 2011, pesticide and herbicide use was increased by more than 400 million pounds. This evidence purposes that GMO crops are fueling an escalating arms race with problematic superweeds and insects. Therefore, Farmers who grow non-GMO version of crops (that are commonly genetically modified, such as soy, canola, and corn) typically receive a substantial premium for their non- GMO crops. (Chipotle 2017)