In 2015, over 305 million visitors experienced the natural wonders of “America’s best idea” — the 84 million acres of the U.S. National Parks, from Acadia National Park in Maine to Yosemite National Park in California. The parks are known for their natural beauty, scenic vistas and unspoiled landscapes.
However, the U.S. National Parks are increasingly suffering damage of one kind or another from factors such as park visitors, drones and even fracking. If this damage continues, it poses a real threat to the viability of the U.S. National Parks as pristine wilderness areas.
Visitor Pollution Is the Destructive First Threat
Human visitors to the parks pose the first kind of threat. In Yellowstone National Park, park rangers have recovered furniture, diapers, pennies and trash from its iconic geysers and pools.
In the beautiful blue Morning Glory Pool, trash from visitors has blocked the vents that ensure the circulation of water in the pool. As a result, the deep blue that has drawn thousands of visitors is fading and is being replaced with orange and yellow striations. A certain species of microorganism is responsible for the pool’s deep blue color, and they are now threatened by the changing circulation pattern.
Damage to the unique natural wonders themselves is only one kind of destruction, though. The U.S. National Parks suffer damage by countless visitors who pick the wildflowers, pose with tree carvings they carefully crafted with their knives and burn illegal campfires — for starters.
Visitor Behavior Causes Damaging Ripple Effects
Yes, each visitor likely thinks their penny/wildflower souvenir/carving/campfire is a great way to commemorate the visit. Tossing a penny may seem highly insignificant given the vastness of the acreage in National Parks.
One penny or one flower may be, but think of the aggregate through the years. Added up, each one of the millions of visitors tossing a penny into a geyser or plucking a flower is doing significant damage.
The rise of social media and the age of the selfie may have exacerbated the problem. Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and the like all share an emphasis on images as records of life events. People posing and smiling next to their tree carvings in places like Grand Teton National Park are part of sharing the experience.
Park employees can only do so much to repair the damage. They do deploy long mechanical arms to retrieve garbage from the pools and geysers. However, the temperature of the water — some are as hot as 250 degrees Fahrenheit — can impede these efforts. And, of course, the picked wildflowers and damaged trees can’t be repaired.
The U.S. National Parks have also suffered damage from drones. A drone crashed into Yellowstone’s Grand Prismatic Spring two years ago and has never been found. The spring is more than 120 feet deep, making recovery efforts nearly impossible even with mechanical arms.
In a sense, the drones are simply another kind of visitor — just an unexpected technological one. The National Park Service issued a temporary ban on them in 2014, but that doesn’t seem to have halted their use. Last summer, incidents rose throughout the parks — it’s been difficult to enforce the rule within the expansive grounds of most parks.
Should a drone crash in the park and not be recovered, it becomes another kind of garbage — just delivered through the air rather than through two-legged visitors physically in the park.
Fracking on Adjacent Lands Causes Issues
The third form of damage comes from the oil and gas industries fracking on adjacent lands. Although U.S. National Parks are protected from fracking, national forests and state parks aren’t. The drilling and extraction of fracking are often surprisingly close to National Park land. Visitors to Montana’s Glacier National Park, for example, see signs warning them about the effects of gas in the air from fracking.
Moreover, the rivers, streams and other waterways as well as air and wildlife are not confined to the protected boundaries of the National Parks. They circulate throughout the region. That means fracking in a National Forest may causes damage to waterways, air pollution and disruption of wildlife habitats.
How We Can Preserve America’s Treasures
Given the importance of the U.S. National Parks, solutions to these kinds of damage are imperative. The solution to each depends on the cause.
Visitors to the National Parks need to be made more aware of the collective toll of their actions. Education on the kinds of damage — the number of coins tossed in the pools at Yellowstone or the couches retrieved — should start in the primary grades.
Perhaps the U.S. National Parks could start a social media campaign showing the damage done by careless hikers, campers and visitors. Have people sign a pledge on social media that they will be part of the solution — the visitor who simply enjoys — rather than a visitor who does damage.
The solution to drones becoming garbage may need regulation. A law making it illegal to fly in National Park space would eliminate that source of damage.
The solutions to fracking damage can be technological. Although proponents and opponents of fracking have vastly different estimates of the amount of damage fracking causes, some of the equipment and infrastructure used in fracking, such as air compressors, can be designed and chosen to be as environmentally friendly as possible. Drilling using compressed air as an alternative to water may do more to protect waterways. Some compressors also run on electricity rather than oil, thus eliminating emissions and other environmental damage from oil.
The U.S. National Parks have long been known as “America’s best idea.” We need to keep them that way by helping to minimize the damage they face.
Bobbi Peterson loves writing and regularly posts on her blog Living Life Green. She’s also a freelance writer, green living advocate and environmentalist. You can find more from Bobbi on Twitter.
Two Ancient Japanese Philosophies Are the Future of Eco-Living
Our obsession with all things new has blighted the planet. We have a waste crisis, particularly when it comes to plastic. US scientists have calculated the total amount of plastic ever made – 8.3 billion tons! Unfortunately, only 9% of this is estimated to have been recycled. And current global trends point to there being 12 billion tons of plastic waste by 2050.
However, two ancient Japanese philosophies are providing an antidote to the excesses of modern life. By emphasizing the elimination of waste and the acceptance of the old and imperfect, the concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi have positively influenced Japanese life for centuries.
They are now making their way into the consciousness of the Western mainstream, with an increasing influence in the UK and US. By encouraging us to be frugal with our possessions, (i.e. using natural materials for interior design) these concepts can be the future of eco-living.
What is Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai??
Wabi-Sabi emphasizes an acceptance of transience and imperfection. Although Wabi had the original meaning of sad and lonely, it has come to describe those that are simple, unmaterialistic and at one with nature. The term Sabi is defined as the “the bloom of time”, and has evolved into a new meaning: taking pleasure and seeing beauty in things that are old and faded.
Any flaws in objects, like cracks or marks, are cherished because they illustrate the passage of time. Wear and tear is seen as a representation of their loving use. This makes it intrinsically linked to Wabi, due to its emphasis on simplicity and rejection of materialism.
In the West, Wabi-Sabi has infiltrated many elements of daily life, from cuisine to interior design. Specialist Japanese homeware companies, like Sansho, source handmade products that embody the Wabi-Sabi philosophy. Their products, largely made from natural materials, are handcrafted by traditional Japanese artisans – meaning no two pieces are the same and no two pieces are “perfect” in size or shape.
Mottainai is a term expressing a feeling of regret concerning waste, translating roughly in English to either “what a waste!” or “Don’t waste!”. The philosophy emphasizes the intrinsic value of a resource or object, and is linked to hinto animism, the notion that all objects have a spirit, or ‘kami’. The idea that we are part of nature is a key part of Japanese psychology.
Mottainai also has origins in Buddhist philosophy. The Buddhist monastic tradition emphasizes a life of frugality, to allow us to concentrate on attaining enlightenment. It is from this move towards frugality that a link to Mottainai as a concept of waste can be made.
How have Wabi-Sabi and Mottainai promoted eco living?
Wabi-Sabi is still a prominent feature of Japanese life today, and has remained instrumental in the way people design their homes. The ideas of imperfection and frugality are hugely influential.
For example, instead of buying a brand-new kitchen table, many Japanese people instead retain a table that has been passed through the generations. Although its long use can be seen by various marks and scratches, Wabi-Sabi has taught people that they should value it because of its imperfect nature. Those scratches and marks are a story and signify the passage of time. This is a far cry from what we typically associate with the Western World.
Like Wabi Sabi, Mottainai is manifested throughout Japanese life, creating a great respect for Japanese resources. This has had a major impact on home design. For example, the Japanese prefer natural materials in their homes, such as using soil and dried grass as thermal insulation.
Their influence in the UK
The UK appears to be increasingly influenced by thes two concepts. Some new reports indicate that Wabi Sabi has been labelled as ‘the trend of 2018’. For example, Japanese ofuro baths inspired the project that won the New London Architecture’s 2017 Don’t Move, Improve award. Ofuro baths are smaller than typical baths, use less water, and are usually made out of natural materials, like hinoki wood.
Many other UK properties have also been influenced by these philosophies, such as natural Kebony wood being applied to the external cladding of a Victorian property in Hampstead; or a house in Lancaster Gate using rice paper partitions as sub-dividers. These examples embody the spirit of both philosophies. They are representative of Mottainai because of their use of natural resources to discourage waste. And they’re reflective of Wabi-Sabi because they accept imperfect materials that have not been engineered or modified.
In a world that is plagued by mass over-consumption and an incessant need for novelty, the ancient concepts of Mottainai and Wabi-Sabi provide a blueprint for living a more sustainable life. They help us to reduce consumption and put less of a strain on the planet. This refreshing mindset can help us transform the way we go about our day to day lives.
How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018
Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.
Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:
1. Energy – produce it, save it
If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.
It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.
While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.
Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!
2. Don’t be just another tourist
Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.
3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly
We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.
To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.
It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.
4. Know thy recycling
People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.
People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.
5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool
Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.
All in all
The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.
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