Today is the last day of the semester for me. So, you have read every post of mine from beginning to end, I am certain…. Right? Well, in any case, thinking globally is what will give the world a decent future. Being unable to breathe, find water, or live comfortably is what is at stake as far as climate change. Respecting the Earth means conserving everything possible.
I think a prime example of not being responsible was the recent fertilizer plant explosion. Let’s be honest here – is it really necessary to store that much fertilizer? What happened to using natural options like manure? Stockpiling harmful chemicals for later use on the Earth makes absolutely no sense to me. I understand that farmers are looking to increase their yield, however, is it worth polluting your own drinking water? Synthetic fertilizer use is something that I have never been a fan of. For my lemon trees, I use bat guano (and they look great). When I lived in a rural area, I never once felt the need to use any pesticides, herbicides, or artificial fertilizer. My family had rabbits, chickens, and various other farm animals that were more than willing to donate their waste to our garden. Perhaps this is old-fashioned, but I think that natural, self-sufficient farming is the way to go. Even in my one bedroom apartment, I am able to grow my own tomatoes (and hopefully lemons) this year. Knowing where my food comes from means a great deal to me. The Hepatitis A infected strawberries that mad many people sick in Michigan really opened my eyes to the fact that the people who harvest and grow food matter. Sanitary conditions around the food I eat matters.
Beyond my food rant, environmental responsibility counts. Although people may not recognize you for doing daily tasks that help the environment, deep down (at least for me) I feel good about what I have done. I know that not being conscious of the life that exists around me (even in an apartment) would be a big mistake. I do my best to maintain the “wild” that lives around my home. As far as my occupation, obviously I am working to make that more sustainable as well. In every aspect of my life, I try to do something that I think would make my future self proud – or at least not full of rage. I know that my family does not share a respect for the Earth. They respect the animals that they kill and eat because of their value as far as food, but the soil and air? My family does not care about such trivial things. I have seen my father pour oil on the ground before. I have seen him burn plastic. Respect for the Earth itself is clearly not something that my family shares with me.
At least individually, I feel like I make an impact. It is difficult to make others understand my concern, but there are people out there who are obviously much better educators about this than I am, and I am thankful for that. I think there is still hope for the Earth, but a significant change in behavior will only be achieved by an absolutely terrifying mega natural disaster. This is pessimistic, and unfortunate, but it is the way that our society works. I am proud to be in the group (minority?) of people who already cares about the Earth. My actions matter.
I certainly hope that my recent posts have given my readers a lot more information as far as sustainability – both in their daily lives and in their aquariums.
Recently I was given a budget (finally) of $15,000 to create the large aquarium I have discussed in previous posts. This means that some aspects of the aquarium will change, but in a way it makes the process easier for me. More than likely, I am going to end up creating a custom tank that is 8′ x 4′ x 3′, which will be much easier to clean, and lighting will reach the bottom without a problem. The width of the tank will truly make it a “reef” tank. I have seem aquariums created in similar styles at Preuss Pets and they are absolutely beautiful. The width of the tank makes it so that it appears that one is viewing the top of a shallow section of the ocean. Keeping the top of the tank free of coverings (glass, plastic, etc) means that I am using fewer materials and making the aquarium much more visually interesting. The whole point of the aquarium is to soothe patients and look stunning. This change in the shape of the aquarium is definitely a good thing.
The change in the aquarium dimensions also means that fewer lights have to be purchased. Since the lights themselves cost a couple thousand dollars, this is great for the buyer. The potential fish that I had picked out are still viable candidates for this tank. The trigger will definitely be an addition, but the need to feed live food makes the lion fish unlikely to be joining the trigger.
The readings in relation to Eaarth and Hope, Human and Wild came at a perfect time for me. Obviously fish tank maintenance and setup is a huge part of my life, and integrating sustainability into it is certainly a challenge. Taking the perspective of Bill McKibben allowed me to re-evaluate what I have been doing with my business. With every fish tank, a lot of water is wasted – it is a necessity of the business. High power canister and power filters have reduced the frequency of water changes from daily to once every 1-2 weeks. In the past, daily water changes discouraged many people from entering into the aquarium hobby. Each water change removes 20% of the water, however, so I have been trying to find uses for the “waste water”. Dirty fish water is certainly nutrient-rich. I use what I can to water my lemon trees and flowers, but on the 180 gallon tank that I work on, I am simply overwhelmed by the amount of waste water, so most of it goes down the drain. An element of my new business will probably involve donating water (with fish excrement fertilizer) to farmers, who will actually have a purpose for it. After all, fish waste is organic and nutrient dense. I have not yet thought of a purpose for the saltwater waste water.
My trip to the local clown fish breeder gave me some perspective on captive breeding. While it is a worthy cause, the breeder explained that his life now basically revolves around clown fish, so breeding takes a great deal of care, effort, and expertise. Breeding saltwater fish is not something I could see myself putting enough time into to be successful, however, I am supportive of those who do, and will try, with every opportunity, to buy captive bred fish. I know that buying responsibly bred marine fish will make a difference (however small) on the health of the ocean, which I care a great deal about.
Needless to say, my business (which will be created as soon as I think of a name) will try to focus as much as possible on sustainable practices. My carbon footprint calculation also made me reconsider my pointless driving to work every day, which could easily be switched to walking. I realize from conversations with friends and family that I am in the minority when it comes to honestly caring about the environment, but I want to do what is right in every aspect of my life. I hope you do too.
Today I calculated my household’s carbon footprint as well as the carbon footprint of my dad’s household. The two homes are very different. I live in a one-bedroom apartment whereas my dad owns a house with six bedrooms. Two people live in my apartment, while seven live in his house. Clearly, these two places are going to have some differences as far as energy use, and therefore significant differences in carbon footprints.
What is a carbon footprint, you ask? I used the EPA site to calculate carbon footprints for both my households. The way I understand it is that the carbon we use (fossil fuel) is removed from the earth, and is not necessarily intended to be used for a very long time. The excess carbon introduced into our systems causes significant problems, like deterioration of coral reefs, extreme weather, and other abnormal climate problems. While everything is made out of carbon, the scale of mankind’s overuse of it is concerning.
Many of our daily activities cause emissions of greenhouse gases. For example, we produce greenhouse gas emissions from burning gasoline when we drive, burning oil or gas for home heating, or using electricity generated from coal, natural gas, and oil. Greenhouse gas emissions vary among individuals depending on a person’s location, habits, and personal choices.
At my dad’s house, five out of seven of the people living in his household have their own car. Since he lives about 20 miles from work and typically works six days a week, he uses quite a bit of gas. The other people in the household also have to drive some distance to get to work and/or school. Due to the location of the house, a lot of driving is required for everyone. A wood burner is used to heat the household. During the summer, my dad usually ends up turning off the air conditioner by early July, simply due to the cost.
Currently, my father’s household contributes 118,206 pounds of carbon dioxide per year. By performing regular maintenance on vehicles, turning down the air conditioner by ten degrees, enabling the sleep feature on the computer, replacing 28 light bulbs with energy star lights, and making other changes, their emissions could be as low as 103,537 pounds per year.
At my apartment, we only have one car. I work just down the road, but I drive 25 miles to get to school twice a week. The location of our apartment allows us to walk or ride our bikes to work when the weather is nice. My apartment is normally kept at a very comfortable temperature, since it is not expensive to heat a one-bedroom apartment.
My annual emissions are 16,078 pounds per year. By reducing the number of miles I drive by ten miles per week, I can save $85 annually. I know this is not realistic, because I will not be walking during the winter months, however, it is good to know that I can save money (and carbon) by walking during the warmer months. By reducing my mileage, performing maintenance on my vehicle, enabling the sleep feature on my computer, washing my clothes in cold water, and replacing my light bulbs with Energy Star bulbs, I can save $243 and 2,665 pounds of CO2 annually.
Honestly, I was very surprised that my dad’s household had such low emissions. His emissions were 37,050 pounds per year less than the U.S. average. My dad is by no means a “green” person. He is responsible about the environment only when it saves or earns him money. Everyone in the household is of the same mindset. Cans and bottles are returned only for the deposit. As mentioned earlier, comfort during the summer is sacrificed to save money. I cannot say that I blame him for this. My dad has five children living with him, and every penny counts.
Work-wise, I can honestly say that I do the best I can to make aquariums have the smallest impact possible. Every tank I work on has a timer system, which prevents the lighting from being on too long. The freshwater aquariums all contain thriving freshwater plants. Every marine tank I work on contains a majority of, if not completely captive-bred fish. When I purchase RO water, I refill five or ten-gallon jugs. I try to keep waste down to a minimum.
Something I found surprising was that the calculator did not ask whether I lived in a house or an apartment. I had the impression that apartments used significantly less energy that homes. The Clean Air Trust backed me up on this hypothesis.
…[A]partments typically use up to 35 percent less energy per square foot of heated floor space than single detached homes.
The fact that this was not accounted for on the EPA site surprised me. I also know from previous carbon footprint calculations that lifestyle makes a huge differences. Vegans and vegetarians have smaller footprints than omnivores as well. A New York Times article explains the changes that can be made environmentally by switching to a vegan or vegetarian diet. As an ex vegetarian (who has calculated her carbon footprint many times), I know that the change is significant.
Gidon Eshel, a Bard Center fellow at Bard College in upstate New York, said his studies show that the average American diet each year requires the production of greenhouse gases equivalent to an extra ton and a half of carbon dioxide compared with a strictly vegetarian diet.
The EPA is missing a few components in their calculator, but I did like the emphasis on change. At the end of the calculation, questions are asked regarding what your household is willing to change to reduce emissions. When one’s results are printed, the majority of the page (at least for my households) focuses on changes that can be made and how much money and carbon can be saved by doing so. Whoever created this calculator was quite the optimist. I strongly suggest calculating your own carbon footprint and comparing it to my results. You may be surprised about where changes can be made.
We recently visited the Kusamala Garden, at the Nature’s Gift Permaculture Centre here in Malawi’s capital city, Lilongwe, where the newly appointed manager, Aren, showed us around. The purpose of this initiative is to educate the local Malawian farmers about growing crops the permaculture way, nature’s way. Educating them through this model garden about a more sustainable way to work the land, take care of their families using what nature gives us and saving enough to use next year.
What is permaculture? “Permaculture is a branch of ecological design, ecological engineering, and environmental design which develops sustainable architecture and self-maintained agricultural systems modeled from natural ecosystems.” In plain English “Permaculture combines the best of natural landscaping and edible landscaping.” **
Other than full time staff that works the land, sowing and caring for the crops; five interns learn and experiment with sustainable methods and processes. One of Aren’s passions is the wide variety of mushrooms that the land yields during the rains of the wet season and the few rainless days during this season. Many of these are poisonous but a small variety are safe for human consumption. He is also experimenting in growing these in a more sustainable way as well as alternative uses for these, as an ongoing process.
The staff and interns have allocated a small area for experimenting, which he refers to as the ‘intern garden’. In this garden it looks wild and untamed but healthy, fruitful bounty is evidence of their success. One little success that he showed us are a system of four ‘pits’ into which waste water flows, providing abundant water to thirsty banana and papaya trees, ensuring a better harvest.
They also use a natural way of preparing the soil for planting vegetables instead of tilling the soil. An estimated 18 square meter block houses a fair amount of chickens for about six weeks that has the sole task of scratching, eating and leaving their droppings behind. This loosens the ground and clears the land of grasses and plants, brings natural pests like termites and ants under control if not wipe them out, and fertilizes the soil.
The chickens and their eggs also serve as a source of food for the staff and interns. Keep in mind that all of these aspects serve as a model to the local people to enable them to take care of their families.
Moving over to the commercial garden the picture looks a lot less nature’s way which is exactly what Aren mentioned. Currently the season is left to run its course and the plants are fed, watered and harvested for the vegetable boxes which are made available every Friday for six weeks, stretching from mid January to February.
For the new season much of what have proved successful in the intern garden will be applied to the commercial garden, promising success.
A nursery was set up in which the seeds are sown and nurtured until it is big and strong enough to be transplanted into the commercial garden. Aren explains that he has a 24 week window in which produce can grow until harvesting. Their success at transplanting from the nursery to the garden is not great and some more experimenting is needed.
A fruit forest is still in its pots but trees like mango and guava have been growing from the soil. Other trees such as the Moringa tree, known for its many health and nutritional qualities, as well as other trees known for their natural foliage abilities are also growing rapidly.
A medicinal garden was established by another intern and the characteristics of permaculture are quite visible. Aloe and turmeric, lemon grass, cosmos, and ginger all share flower beds and the aroma in the air as well as the butterflies, testifies of harmony, nature’s way. Aren tells of the chuchu (chayote) plant and in the medicinal garden a fruit of this practically unknown plant hangs.
Pests, in the form of termites, ants and such, are a big problem. Aren explains that IPM (integrated pest management) and companion planting is part of their experimenting. They are not having success yet but he explains that the current status of the commercial garden makes it difficult to implement it in its totality.
Composting for fertilizer is very much in process. Plants like the comfrey plant, which he calls a ‘miner’ plant because of its amazing ability to extract nutrients from very deep into the ground and storing them in its leaves, are nurtured and grown all over the garden for this purpose. When the green leaves are harvested, it gets added to the compost heaps. This way the nutrients stored in the leaves becomes part of the natural compost, which goes into the soil again.
Overall this project has many challenges but also many successes. Once the garden is settled and established, educating the Malawian people will be so much easier since the fruit of permaculture is growing before their eyes.
For more information about Kusamala Garden and the whole initiative, please visit their website and blog at http://www.kusamala.org. Get involved in their projects and cry or laugh about their failures or successes.
So, I recently had a comment on a post about the fish that I planned on putting in the large scale aquarium discussed in a previous post. There are so many options. The rule for saltwater aquariums is one inch of adult fish per five gallons of saltwater. The number of fish I can put in a tank that size is mind-boggling. Since I have a 1,077 gallon tank, I can potentially put right around 200 inches of adult fish in my tank. Making the average size of a fish 8-12 inches, I could easily fit 20 large fish in the tank. Typically, for aesthetic appeal, tanks contain a large number of smaller fish and several larger “spotlight” fish. This means that I can fit a huge number of fish in the tank. The tank that I am creating is considered a reef tank because it contains live rock and invertebrates. This is an essential factor to consider when choosing fish. Of course, as with everything, I want to pick fish that are captive bred, which becomes a challenge with the fish that can be put in this tank. Three of my top picks for the aquarium were lion fish triggers, and lunar wrasses.
Lion fish are probably one of the most beautiful fish available for marine aquariums. They have spines that cover most of their body. These spines are not only for display – lion fish are venomous. Although the sting of a lion fish hurts a great deal, aquarium owners are not stung often, simply because lion fish are slow swimmers. This is why I am not particularly nervous about getting into a tank with this species. Lion fish are usually considered reef safe because they do not have a tendency to damage live rock or eat the invertebrates that inhabit it. The challenge with lion fish is getting them to eat. Many lion fish die in captivity because they are fed the wrong food. Lion fish absolutely must eat live food or else they will starve. Some lion fish can eventually be trained to eat frozen, flake, or pellet food. In general, lion fish are extremely picky, but worth the hassle because of their splendor. Unfortunately, lion fish are not easily bred in captivity, meaning that every purchase of a lion fish equates to a significant impact on the ecosystem it came from. Unfortunately, more and more people have been releasing lion fish in areas that they are not native to (because the owners do not want the fish as pets anymore), and they are becoming a problematic species. This weighs heavily on my mind.
Triggers are fascinating fish because of the way that they swim. Their anal fins do not look like typical fins. These special fins are thin and wave through the water, helping to propel the fish. Triggers are known for being aggressive, but easy to care for. Triggers will eat almost anything, including all of the crustaceans in a tank, which qualifies them as not reef safe. The triggers have an elongated face, which makes it easier for the fish to peck out anything hiding in live rock – including the atrocious bristle worms. Personally, I am willing to lose all the crustaceans in a tank just to kill all of the bristle worms. For this reason, triggers are high on my list of fish to put in my huge tank. There are three varieties of triggers (that I am aware of) that can be bred in captivity, which is a good for the hobby. The blue spot trigger is one of the most vibrant, and least aggressive. This variety is probably the one that I will end up putting in the tank. Its sheer beauty and ability to destroy bristle worms makes it an excellent fish.
Lunar wrasses are also known for their beauty. Unlike the trigger, which is unpredictable as far as tank mates go, the lunar wrasse is peaceful toward other fish. They will eat every invertebrate in their path, making them not reef safe. Lunar wrasses typically reach an adult size of ten inches. The bright blue and purple markings on the fish make it stand out in an aquarium. The most interesting thing I have noticed about this fish is its behavior. Lunar wrasses not only beg for food when they begin to recognize their owner, they also hide in surprising ways. Considering its size, one would not think that this fish could hide anywhere, however, these fish find the most unusual places to escape. If I am algae-wiping an aquarium, these fish will instantly burrow under the sand, or hide so snugly in a rock that I am unable even to see them. Their talent for hiding is impressive. The downside to this fish is that this particular species has not been bred in captivity yet.
Clearly I have some tough decisions to make. All of these fish are beautiful additions to a tank, however, I need to consider the implications of purchasing fish that are not captive-bred. Perhaps the sheer size of my aquarium will make me the first to breed some of these fish.
The Growing Patch Feed