Of all the many topics we covered throughout this semester, it’s hard to narrow it down to a single one that affected me the most. There were definitely themes that we talked about that came up in every single case study, and pretty much changed how I look at everything going on in our world today. Our food and agriculture section affected my views on organic and local products, and the ocean section changed how I choose the seafood I eat. However, the issue that I was most interested with throughout the course was the importance of biodiversity. We touched on this specifically more towards the end of the semester, but it appeared much more often then I realized. With agriculture, monoculture crops have the power to suffocate ecosystems even though it may seem the best course for high yield. Deforestation is characterized by a loss of biodiversity, and replanting mono-cultures of trees does little to bring the thousands of original species back. Elizabeth Kolbert, author of The Sixth Extinction, gave a really interesting interview that we saw in class on just how much we should be concerned with the loss of species in our world. This interview, on Fresh Air radio and transcribed in the article, describes which actions that humans have done over the past century have led to such a sudden decrease in the amount of known species. Yes, it is true that species go extinct all the time and entire ecosystems for the most part do not collapse, but adapt and survive. However, the rate at which species have been disappearing has accelerated enormously as the human population grew and started adding things like emissions and pollutions.









There are so many species that we have yet to uncover, and it is a shame that we may not discover their potential or importance to the environment before it is too late. This is an issue that I am extremely passionate about, and plan on continuing to pursue.

This course as a whole definitely brings you down to earth on the reality of the problems we face. They are serious and they are numerous, and we have impacted or caused all of them. I was prepared to feel extremely pessimistic about humanity as a whole, but what surprised me were all the communities  and groups out there who are just as passionate and have been taking action for decades. Not to mention that there have been successful cases, such as the decline of DDT. Walker & Salt point out just how “the empowerment of locals and, at the same time, the development of governance at a larger scale can contribute To a regions resilience”(138). I choose to interpret this as governance on environmental issues because will only be solved when people get involved and for the most part, the best way to do this may be to fight within the system. If I have learned anything from this course, it is just how important individual choices can be, from demanding to know where your food has come from , or boycotting a product because of how it was made. One of the other important factors was the accessibility of information. I have been lucky in what I learned in this class and plan to pass it on to friends and family, hopefully opening their eyes to problems and create new solutions.


Salt, David. Walker, Brian. (2006) Resilience Thinking: Sustaining Ecosystems and People in a Changing World. Island Press.


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Activity Blog: Spotsy Farmers Market

As the weather finally starts getting warmer, one of my favorite things about spring and summer is finally back; farmers markets. I’ve been able to visit the one located right downtown in Hurkamp park a few times, but that was pretty much all I had been to. Our section in class on supporting local vendors inspired me and so I did some research on what else was out there. Earlier today I went over the the Spotsylvania Farmers Market, which began its official season just last Saturday. I was so impressed with the amount of variety they had, and I only went to one of their three locations! The one I went to was right off the Route 3 and Gordon Rd intersection, where there is a commuter lot where over 42 vendors come from within a 100 mile radius to sell ‘producer- only goods’ which means their products are grown or made by the vendors selling them.

Photo by: Claire McCartney

Photo by: Claire McCartney

I really recommend checking out their website, it has all the information you need for farmers markets in the King George, Spotsylvania, and Fredericksburg area. It even has a great graph of whats in season (located as a separate tab) so that you can make an informed decision about what produce to buy. There was a great deal of produce, but also baked goods, meat and dairy, and specialty items like tea and spices. One of the things we mentioned in class is the struggle when buying locally vs buying organically, and which is better? Yes, buying organically will probably be cheaper than locally, but what you’re not paying directly for are the transportation costs and the thousands of miles your organic food has to travel. Local markets like this one are a much smaller range, and from what I saw, do an amazing job at promoting sustainable and eco-friendly products.

(Papa Weaver Products) Photo by: Claire McCartney

Photo by: Claire McCartney (Papa Weaver Products: No antibiotics, hormones, nitrates, MSG, preservatives, or gluten)










Photo by: Claire McCartney (Glenburnie Farm Produce Co: Chemical Free)

Photo by: Claire McCartney (Glenburnie Farm Produce Co: Chemical Free)








Photo by: Claire McCartney (Lippert Family Farm: Pasture raised)

Photo by: Claire McCartney (Lippert Family Farm: Pasture raised)








Photo by: Claire McCartney (Stallard Road Farm: "Grass finished, not just grass fed")

Photo by: Claire McCartney (Stallard Road Farm: “Grass finished, not just grass fed”)










I also went over and talked to the Virginia Cooperative Extension booth, and they were very informative and had so much information. Based from Virginia Tech, they are an organization who’s goal is to spread information about gardening and all the factors that come with it. They had brochures for soil sampling, BMP’s (best management practices), pest control, and pretty much anything you would need to know. If anyone has an interest in starting a garden (which I know I now do) they are a great resource!

Photo by: Claire McCartney

Photo by: Claire McCartney









I really recommend visiting any Saturday you can from 8am – 1pm, I’m definitely going back and checking out other locations. They also have booths that deal with agri-tourism and promoting education for kids at a young age about agriculture. And if you get the chance, visit the booth from Fieldcrest Farm, because they have some of the best zuchinni bread I’ve ever had.

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Down Under Becomes More Dangerous

When first thinking about Australia, what typically comes to mind is the strange and unusual wildlife unique to the country. From what we discussed in class, the venomous animals and large insects are by far your least concern compared to the intense heat waves that have been hitting the country hard. The record temperatures of 2009 were quickly beaten by this past January’s even higher heat wave, as temperature remained constant at 115 degrees (F) for days. Along with the health risks, raging wildfires threatened many peoples lives and homes.  We have similar wildfires here in the US, like the ones in California and Colorado, but like many things in Australia, theirs are bigger and badder. Although the ones that occurred this past summer may not have been as bad as recent years, they are coming more quickly and growing as they do. In 2009, Australia experienced ‘Black Saturday‘ which was a devastating wildfire that killed a record number of 173 people just in one day. In the article linked with the title, it goes on to say that this year, the fires started coming as early as spring, which is not a good sign for the coming years as climate change increases. The source for this picture is a really short but interesting article all about how the victims of the fires were awarded over 30 million for damages for property among other things, and it just highlights the cycle of responsibility that we’ve seen before. Rising emissions and pollution contribute to greenhouse gases which further climate change, increasing the likelihood of these wildfires to occur.

Apart from the crazy wildfires, I found a really strange article that discussed a heat wave effect that I had no idea was possible. Apparently, the heat has been so high throughout the day and night that it actually caused a mass of deaths. But instead of people, it was…bats. This article is a bit descriptive and pretty shocking, but it shows the far reaching impacts that affect more than just people. Essentially,  climate change causes more than just stress on people, and it will “obviously.. have a pretty disturbing impact on those colonies and those colonies are vital to our ecosystem”(The Telegraph)Australia can be seen as a case study, where a developed country can still face serious implications of climate change, that affects all parts of the environment.



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Biopesticides vs. Chemicals

I’ve never been that interested in agriculture, but out discussions this past week totally changed my outlook. From discovering the lasting impacts that pesticides have in our health to the limitations that sustainable farming techniques face, this issue has turned into something that I continue to look for new information on. Also I don’t know about anyone else, but it made me want to have my own garden like immediately.

The involvement that chemicals have in our food production seemed almost unreal to me. The high rate of pesticides that we consider ‘edible’ in our food market has increased exponentially as the need for more and more chemicals rises along with the desired yield of goods. This article highlights the dangers that kids face, since not only are they more susceptible to falling ill from toxic pesticides, but they typically eat a higher percentage of these foods. Below is a quick survey list of some of the most pesticide prevalent foods in our agriculture.

blog 3What shocked me the most about this list was how low corn is, but considering it makes up the majority of our products, they have figured out ways to grow high yield amounts in mono-cultures, reducing the different types of pesticides needed.

As we learned, government subsidiaries really create no incentives to practice more sustainable farming, and one might think that to produce the growing demand of food, pesticides are the only way to go. That is where the idea of bio-pesticides come in. Defined by the EPA as “pesticides derived from such natural materials as animals, plants, bacteria, and certain minerals”, this offers many advantages while still being able to support large scale farms.

Some of the many advantages include:

  • Biopesticides usually are inherently less harmful than conventional pesticides.
  • Biopesticides generally affect only the target pest and closely related organisms, in contrast to broad-spectrum conventional pesticides that may affect organisms as different as birds, insects, and mammals.
  • Biopesticides often are effective in very small quantities and often decompose quickly, thereby resulting in lower exposures and largely avoiding the pollution problems caused by conventional pesticides.
  • When used as a component of Integrated Pest Management (IPM) programs, biopesticides can greatly decrease the use of conventional pesticides, while crop yields remain high.*

*List from Agriculture: Advantages of Bio-pesticides, US EPA Agricultural Center.

With these advantages comes the need to know much more about the product you are growing and learning how to apply IPM’s (from the video we viewed) to a large scale farm. Definitely visit the link to view how the EPA regulates bio-pesticides, but if all it takes is increased education in the agricultural industry to help this method spread, it would be a big step in more natural ways of maintaining our environment with a healthy farm producing a higher yield.


Claire M

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Sustainable Palm Oil: Is It Possible

Prior to our discussions in class, I honestly had no idea just how controversial this issue really was. I had a vague idea that it was used in many of our products, but not nearly as much as it actually is. Widespread, and seemingly eco-friendly, the high demand has turned the production of this commodity into a serious threat for many species habitats. What really struck me about palm oil is that there does exist the means to produce it sustainably, even at a high volume. It all comes down to the economic benefits versus the environmental downsides. In class we talked about the RSPO certification, but what interested me were the many flaws that were pointed out. Although it seemed like finally there would be a solution and for once the possibility of a sustainable product, multi-million corporations have succeeded in over exploiting places like Indonesia and Malaysia, two of its highest producers. In this article from The Guardian, journalist Oliver Balch goes straight to the security general to discuss the factors that are preventing RSPO certification from spreading faster.


The Roundtable was enacted about a decade ago, so what is making progress so slow? Security general Darrel Webber narrowed it down to roughly three categories: slow pace of change, laggard buyers, and consumer pressure. The image below illustrates the different groups involved with getting sustainable palm oil to take off. Corporations as a rule, do not like to change their products. “Having to pass everything via consensus generally means setting the bar low to keep everyone on board” says Webber of getting corporations to agree on regulations for production. There is also the fact that large scale companies are always looking for more ways to make money so even with the certification they would be hard pressed to stop expanding and clear cutting forests.

Laggard buyers and consumer pressure both influence each other, through supply and demand. “Sustainable palm oil is still not a commodity; it’s a niche” admits Webber; also calling out these buyers as being “lukewarm towards certification”. Consumer demand may not be that important to us here in America, but in the countries closer to the production of oil, it could have a huge impact on sustainably harvested products. With government and citizen support of RSPO palm oil, the demand will cause more large scale companies to follow the rules. Smaller, local companies have already jumped on board, but it is the world wide ones that harm the environment the most.

There is some hope however. As of this year according to an article from ClimateProgress, Kellog brand joines other companies such as Hersheys and Nestle to make a commitment to go deforestation free. Also among them is Wilmar, which is the worlds largest palm oil trader, “control[ing] 45 percent of the global supply in palm oil” (Phillips). It’s slow progress, but what really impacts the pace of change are consumers primarily in India and China. With their support, more big companies will have to provide these kinds of sustainable goods. Hopefully, this is one of the few instances where people realize their responsibility to the environment before its too late.



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Collapse of Modern Society?

These past few discussion in class on the collapse of complex societies really made me look at the realities that face our present day world. There has been a lot of blame of technology, and people saying we are too dependent on it. Some people even think that without it, our modern world would collapse almost immediately, and go into an almost apocalyptic state as described in this article towards the end. While I think this is a bit of an exaggeration, I definitely think that society should use this technology to learn as much as possible about the environment in order to protect it and ourselves.

Although the advancements of the modern era definitely surpass civilizations such as the Maya, we still have the same environmental and economical problems, just on a much larger scale. What we’ve done with technology and science is amazing, but in the hands of the wrong people it can be disastrous, such as our discussion and readings on the Aral Sea.

This is an 18 minute video so fair warning..I watched all of it because apparently that’s what I do with my time but you certainly don’t have to! If you want to watch any of it, I’d recommend 2:00-4:00 but I’m going to sum it up here anyway. Basically this is a really interesting talk from TED about a few years back and deals with ways to avoid human development overpowering the planet. One of my favorite points of the speaker, Rockstrom,  was the ‘surprise factor’ we are putting on Earth. This simply means that we have to stop viewing the ecosystems and environment as controllable entities, and can’t predict how we think they’ll react to change. Since we now have the science, it only seems logical that we have the responsibility to learn as much about our planet as we can, to avoid disasters like ecocide and loss of biodiversity. In doing so, we can be better prepared to solve global problems while maintaining a sustainable future.


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Warning of the Statues

When I first learned about Easter Island years ago, it stuck in my mind as it has in most who have learned of its story. Its isolation, mystery, and of course the towering stone monuments to a civilization long gone all contributed to its appeal. The wildness of the original theories about the moai statues involving extraterrestrial help were very interesting when I read of their background, and I’m sure they would have been preferable to the truth about the islands actual history.

The Polynesians that settled on Easter Island managed not only to survive for centuries, but they did so while creating “the most advanced of all the Polynesian societies and one of the most complex in the world for its limited resources” (Ponting 4). Limited resources in fact, that originally included plants and animals previously thought never to have been there. I had read some of the research that had been uncovered prior to our class discussions, but it is still shocking to imagine the original view as one of a tropical forest. The archeological evidence provided in the BBC film we watched in class showed not only are humans capable of forcing a native species to go extinct (something that has occurred many times in history), but they will not stop even when that species is the one sustaining their lifestyle. The deforestation that took place was made possible by the one remaining piece of the puzzle; the statues. The many acres of trees that needed to be used for transport of the hundreds of statues were cut down without thought to the possible repercussions.

After coming from environments where trees and wildlife were plentiful, it seemed ridiculous that their resources could run out, it didn’t matter that the island is only about 60 square miles large.  When the trees failed to start growing again, that was when the decline started. While going through the readings and leaning about the continued research, I found an article from American Scientist that had some information I’d never heard of. The settlers brought with them only a few supplies, and among them were chickens and even rats. Although humans were responsible for the removal of virtually every tree and the soil erosion that followed, this article explains how there have been teeth marks attributed to rats on almost all of the palm seeds that have been found. This indicates that rats, who have harmed many species of plants in the past,   may have helped secure Easter Islands fate. A fate however, that would have been avoidable if not for the reckless use of the environment. There were plenty of factors that led to the collapse of the society, but it is a warning to the present day population that it was all brought about by lack of sustainable thinking and no conservation of resources. Our current dependence on non-renewable sources could have the same result in isolation and destruction if not dealt with, and we definitely have more problems in our world today than lack of trees.



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This was taken in Costa Rica on a trip with my family a few years ago, and it was really where my interest in environmental issues started. After visiting a research station called La Selva and talking to the students there, I learned more about the sustainable development all around the country.

I’m taking this course to not only learn more about the issues that are affecting my region but also affecting the rest of the world. These are things that everyone should have knowledge of and definitely a field that I would want to go into for a career.


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