Trash doesn't disappear. It is packaged and tucked away into unpopulated corners. Some trash is invisible but smells poorly and diffuses quietly through the atmosphere. Waste is present everywhere.
Look around. If you're inside, the room probably has a trash can, the lights might be on and the air conditioning might be running.
The trash can neatly wraps waste in plastic, only to be deposited at a landfill where it rots and releases methane, while the power for the lights is generated by an electric station like the dam by Lake McClure and carried by wires all the way to your lamp.
This is a simplified, reduced picture of waste.
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In reality, the picture is a lot more grim. Landfill, energy consumption and greenhouse gases are seriously contaminating the biosphere.
In Merced alone, according to the city's climate action plan, residents and businesses consumed 1.5 million kilowatt hours and released 500,000 metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2008 -- enough gas to fill more than a half-billion party balloons.
It is hard to visualize quantities as large as these. A carbon footprint this large is the sum of smaller, individual footprints. We are messy as a society, and we are inefficient as individuals. This type of behavior is harming the environment drastically.
On the other hand, imagine renewable energy. Imagine a world without wires. A world where energy is free and the air is clean.
Utopian? Perhaps. But our current state of affairs is equally dystopian. Everyone is connected to a power grid, and the price of energy is controlled by corporations. A lot of work had to happen to structure society as it is structured today. World population is growing, energy demand is increasing, and the levels of pollution are high.
The time has come to work toward clean energy and a cleaner future, and this work begins with you -- students like you, community members like you. Ask yourself, "How is my behavior affecting the environment?"
Then act on the answers you give yourself. Turn off the lights, change your lamps to compact fluorescents, eat in, don't use plastic bottles, take shorter showers, avoid printing, and, in general, reduce, reuse and recycle.
It is as easy to decrease your carbon footprint as it is to create it. All it takes is a different mindset.
Want to learn ways to decrease your carbon footprint? The students at UC Merced are hosting Earth Week events to educate students and the community about sustainability.
Now in its second year, UC Merced's student-run Earth Week celebration is growing and evolving. Organized by junior Diana Franklin -- the Associated Students of UC Merced's commissioner of sustainability -- the five-day celebration will begin with a kickoff event Monday and culminate on Earth Day on Friday.
The kickoff event, scheduled for 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, will be something of a sustainability street fair, with various attractions, information and food. Campus clubs devoted to environmental awareness and energy efficiency will have tables along Scholars Lane.
And the campus' student chapter of Engineers for a Sustainable World is organizing a green business fair, which will feature local businesses committed to sustainability -- like J&R Tacos of Merced, which will be giving away free organically grown corn.
Also returning for its second year is the Earth Week Speaker Series, organized by the Alliance to Save Energy's Green Campus Program at UC Merced.
The highlight of the series will come Thursday, when author Richard Oppenlander will give a talk and then sign copies of his new book, Comfortably Unaware: Global Depletion and Food Responsibility ... What You Choose to Eat.
Sustainability is a way of life at UC Merced, and you can make it a way of life for yourself, as well. Join us in celebrating Earth Week and doing your part to make our planet a healthier place.
Dmitri Medvedko is a UC Merced junior and the project coordinator for the Alliance to Save Energy's Green Campus Program at UC Merced. For more on UC Merced's Earth Week celebration, visit http://bit.ly/g3wIT1.