“I read a book about that…”

As I was just sitting in my Atmospheric Physics lecture (It’s complicated, confusing, and cumbersome), I could think of nothing else than getting back home to continue reading my new-found love: My Life on the Road by Gloria Steinem, recommended to me by the lovely Stephanie (https://adventuresofabibliophile.com/). When I told a book-loving friend of mine, she said: “Feminism. The classic. Obviously.” She knows that I spend most of my money on books. About climate change, feminism, and self-improvement. The classics. One year ago I could never have imagined reading about these topics. I would always prefer fiction over reality.

This year I started to cure my little life-crisis with books. Where do I want to go? What do I want to be? How do I get there? Everything was explained to me. In books. All the books my friend and I had read and talked about during our runs in the last months had paid off. We were teaching ourselves how to be good managers more than our study course did.

When I started working on my book on climate change, I also started reading books about it for the first time. Took everything I could get my hands on. You wouldn’t believe how many works there are in our library. Every time I now have a conversation with my dad about the topic I always add: “I read a book about that…” He now is able to interpret the look on my face and finish that sentence for me. Climate change and the media? Climate change and feminism? Climate change and refrigerators? Climate change and bearded trolls in Sweden? You name it.

Through all this reading I got a little overwhelmed by the scope of the project in front of me. I read myself into a writer’s block. Do you know who cured it? Gloria Steinem. I was so excited that even in my lecture I couldn’t stop taking notes. Which was probably not a good idea. Hydrostatic equilibrium? Adiabatic what? Again please?

“A love letter to the books…
That make you jump up hyped to change the world.
That make you write your heart out.
That make you take notes in class with all the crazy ideas you have.
That take you back to your passions.
That make you daydream about reading on.
In which you want to underline every line because they are so true, so honest, so pure, so beautiful. “

My Life on the Road is such a book. I’m just into the first chapters and I’m already inspired. Her writing style is amazing and her sentences resonated with me even in the darkest minutes of my lecture when all I did is scribble down equations I didn’t understand, next to words I had never heard, and a professor who smiled briefly but coldly and said that it all was so logical. Of course. Welcome to uni.

In the midst of all that I remembered her words. They revived in me the wish to also be a journalist, a traveller, a seeker of stories:

“It’s as if attentive people create a magnetic force field for stories the tellers themselves didn’t know they had within them. (…) The simplest paths to deep change is for the less powerful to speak as much as they listen, and for the more powerful to listen as much as they speak.” Gloria Steinem, My Life on the Road

Weeks after weeks had I tried to word in my book the need for people to listen to each other, to consider each other’s fates, and to be inclusive in all their talking. Who would have known that it could be said that easily…

As you may have noticed I am in love with this book. I will write a review once I have finished it. Until then I have some questions for you:

Do you know any good books about journalism?
Any other non-fiction you can recommend?
What was one book that made you jump in excitement, that inspired you?

NaNoWriMo Day 26: The Food We Throw Away

My grandmother is very careful with her food. She won’t throw anything away. She experienced the war, didn’t have enough to eat for so long. That stays a vital part of how she makes decisions concerning food.

Nowadays, we have lost our connection to the food we consume. There are less people in agriculture than ever before. We are moving into the cities, are not confronted with the life on the land anymore. We don’t see our food grow, we don’t know how it is made. Furthermore, there is an incredible abundance of it through technology and globalisation. Our demand has changed. In Europe, we could get strawberries and asparagus in winter. I always looked forward to the time when there are these two products available again in our region in April. Now, you can have them all year! Thats has horrifying consequences.

Children grow up in a world where they can get anything to eat at any time. In most of Europe and North America, you can have food items from all over the world just sitting on your supermarket shelf. We don’t consider where they come from anymore. Sometimes, it’s cheaper to import products from other countries than to buy them locally. There are carrots from Israel and apples from New Zealand and South Africa! We grow apples here in Germany! Why import them? What is wrong with this whole system?


1.3 billion tons of food are wasted every year. That’s a third of global food production. 1/3!!! In Europe and North America, we throw away around 100 kg of food per capita per year. In sub-saharan Africa and parts of Asia, that’s only 6-11 kg. Something is clearly going wrong here. We have lost the connection to our food.

Food lost in Europe could feed 200 million people, in Africa 300 million and in Latin America also 300 million! We could solve our global starvation problem if we wouldn’t throw away that much anymore.

Why is it lost?

“In developing countries 40% of losses occur at post-harvest and processing levels while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at retail and consumer levels.” http://www.fao.org/save-food/resources/keyfindings/en/

What is lost? 30% of the cereals grown, 20% of dairy products produced, 35% of fish and seafood, 45% of fruit and vegetables, 20% of the meat, 20% of oilseeds and pulses and 45% of roots and tubers. Now look… For our production of cereals, vegetables and fruits we need considerably less energy and water than for the whole dairy and meat industry. Therefore, the numbers for these products are so much more tragic.

“The total volume of water used each year to produce food that is lost or wasted (250km3) is equivalent to the annual flow of Russia’s Volga River, or three times the volume of Lake Geneva. (…) Similarly, 1.4 billion hectares of land – 28 percent of the world’s agricultural area – is used annually to produce food that is lost or wasted.” http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/196402/icode/

Where does all this wasted food land? On the landfill. We had a lovely module last semester, Sustainable Waste Management. We did an experiment on anaerobic landfilling of organic compounds. A lot of gas is produced in there. Guess which one? Methane. A greenhouse gas 23 times as bad for our atmosphere as CO2. Congrats to us, humans. We do not only waste water, land, work, money etc on food we throw away, we contribute further to climate change by where we throw it.

I talked a lot about our relationship with the oceans, too, in the last weeks. The by-catch rates for sea fish are 1:20 up to 1:50. That’s the amount of fish that is caught. So take that one kilo and throw the other 20-50kg back in the oceans. If the fish reaches the supermarket or you as a consumer, again 35% of it is lost! We are killing the wildlife in our oceans, destroying the balances of whole ecosystems to in the end we throw it all away?!
If these numbers aren’t shocking enough yet, let’s look into the issues a little deeper.

Tackling the issue of food waste, there are three aspects we need to consider. 1. From the field to the supermarket. 2. From the supermarket to our homes. 3. From our homes into the trash.

1. From the Field to the Supermarket.

We watched the documentary “Taste the Waste” in our study course a few weeks ago. There was a potato farmer who explained his work. The potatoes are checked if they have the right size, colour and shape. Every single one of them which doesn’t fit these parameters is thrown back onto the field. To rot.

In other countries, the harvesting machines might be not efficient enough and some food is wasted there. That problem can be fixed with modern technology and investment in monitoring this waste for example.

Here’s what we can do in this first part of the food system: Go to the fields. There are normally a lot of crops left because they do not fit the expectations of us consumers. Ugly potatoes, for example. Pick your own vegetables. That also lifts some of the moral weight off the farmers. It’s not their fault. We as consumers are the crazy ones here. A farmer showing his harvest on a local market will have a problem with selling all of his products. Why? Because we don’t like to buy the last one of a sort. We think that there is something wrong with this kale or carrot or whatever. When in the end, there is something wrong with us. If farmers allow people to get their own vegetables from the fields, they do not have to simply throw their crops away anymore. This food actually does have a purpose in the end.

2. From the Supermarkets to Our Homes.

Food waste is primarily due to our mindsets. We only buy products if they look good. Only if there are many of the products displayed. If the date printed on the packaging is not yet reached. This date doesn’t tell us anything. Depending on the type of food, you can eat them days, weeks or even months after their best before date. In German we have the term “Mindesthaltbarkeitsdatum” (we love our long words…) which basically means “at least edible until …” Now what does “at least” mean??? That doesn’t make any sense. Neither does our whole food system.

Our choices are just made on appearances. That apple that is not perfectly round, the cucumber with a non-straight shape. I’m not telling you to eat mouldy food or bad food. I just want you to give a little love to ugly carrots and tomatoes. Who of you has ever had a garden or worked in one? How many of these vegetables that you put so much water and effort into were pretty? How much percent of them would you have bought? Close to zero I suppose. In which way is your tiny garden patch different to the huge plantations we have today? They are still plants grown in nature! If you now have the numbers of your own garden in mind, try to imagine the incredible amounts of food that are thrown away in supermarkets! It hurts seeing pictures of containers full of still edible food. Good food, tasty and healthy food. All wasted because it wasn’t pretty enough.

This is what I would like you to do: Go to your store and try to find fruits that are not that pretty. Eggs that have a little crack in them (you can then put them into a glass of water to check if they are still edible. If they are on the bottom, you can). Ask if you can have any of the dairy products that the supermarkets would throw out otherwise. Ask for bread that is a day old. And please, please. Limit your products a bit in accordance to the seasons and the travels they have made. Try to eat less meat, fish and dairy products.

3. From Our Homes to the Trash


“Almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, and more than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten.” That’s a shocking statistic! That means we throw away more than ¼ of the food that could have fed us.

Here are a few things you can do:

  1. Plan your meals. Think about what you could make with what you have in the fridge. Be creative. Stick to your plans. Involve your children in the process. They need to see how important food is and that wasting it is a serious issue.
  2. Go shopping when you need something. Make a list and buy only items from your list. Don’t wander around and buy things that look nice to you and that could potentially… maybe… they are not eaten in the end. It’s the same with shopping for clothes. If it doesn’t 100% fit and you don’t like or need it 100%, don’t buy it.
  3. Look into your fridge before you go grocery shopping. You might not remember that you have already bought something.
  4. Put fresh food in the freezer. You will probably not eat a whole loaf of bread in a few days. Freeze it in slices and eat it in small portions rather than throwing away half a loaf.
  5. If you haven’t finished your meals, put them back into the fridge and eat them the next day. Stress to your children the importance of saving food or finishing it.
  6. Ask in restaurants if you can take the leftovers home.
  7. If bananas are a little too ripe, make a banana bread. If vegetables are a little squishy, cook them. Trust your senses. If they still smell good and taste good, they are still ok!
  8. Ask friends if they could use some of your vegetables you will not eat. Ask them over for dinner! Swap ingredients around neighbours.
  9. Compost organic material if you can.
  10. Eat consciously. Everything that you eat has an origin. Your cereals come from fields, your dairy products from real cows. Think of the impact you have on your environment. Enjoy your meals, don’t throw them away.

That all sounds so bad, but here is a good sign. As always, it comes from a Scandinavian country: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/denmark-food-waste-supermarket-we-food-copenhagen-surplus-produce-a6890621.html Denmark has opened its first supermarket which sells food that would have gone to waste. There are a lot of awesome projects concerning food waste. Inform yourself where you can help in your area to prevent food waste.

A lot of the food waste is due to our culture and our minds. You are hosting a party. Your biggest concern will be that you haven’t got ENOUGH food, never TOO MUCH. In a restaurant last week we finished our meals and the waiter said: “Oh, you ate everything, then it clearly must have been not enough!” What is that crazy thinking we do here? It’s always about more and more. Not about reduction. You feel embarrassed if you guests ate all the food at your party. When all you should be is happy that you don’t have to throw anything away. We need to change that perception in our society.

As you might have noticed, I’m a bit angry concerning the topic of food waste. We are just trying to fix all of these global climate issues and in the end our own consumption is one of the main problems, nobody talks about. There are more and more campaigns but do they put up signs in the supermarket: “Only buy what you need! Don’t throw food away!” Are the supermarkets themselves doing anything to reduce the amounts of food discarded? The policy makers? No.

This was a little guide to conquer the problem of food waste. If you calculate your carbon footprint, you are normally asked how much food you throw away. Because that can be quite significant for your greenhouse gas emissions. Try to be kind to our planet. Try to remember all those shocking numbers. We are wasting 1/3 of our food in the world, 1/3 of our soils, so much money and water. How much good we could derive from this 1/3! How many people we could make happy and satisfied. What a wonderful place this earth would be if we ate what we made.

Current Word Count: 43780


NaNoWriMo Day 23: Visual Note Taking

p1060230In primary school I was always caught drawing. Doodling and colouring, drawing faces and figures. In secondary school I stopped. In uni I began again. On a different level: Visual Note Taking.

What is that?

The idea behind visual note taking is that you combine images with words. You listen to what is said and transform it in your mind into a picture. Our brains are functioning in a way that we can recall images much better than text. Have you ever had the problem that you just put words on the paper without being able to recall anything afterwards? You probably just copied words from a presentation. I did that for a long time, too. Then I found out that I’m actually a visual learner. I love images, I love drawing.

This semester I’m going to nearly every lecture and I make little sketches during them. I still copy words from the board but I illustrate them. So that they look colourful and well structured. Our professors don’t particularly like structure. They talk and add information at different places, go back to a topic and jump two ahead. I was very confused by that until I discovered visual note taking. You can add to the little drawings you made because you don’t have to write everything down anymore. Notes are not meant to repeat everything that was said. They serve the purpose of underlining what is important. The process of distinguishing what is important and what isn’t is a long one. It takes practise. With the time, though, you establish a number of key words that will ring a bell. You start to have a library of pictures in your mind. If you always use the same images for the same terms, you will remember them more easily.

For example: My picture for inflation is basically a pile of money with a little plus sign. The image for insurance – a little guy with an umbrella. “Time” is a clock, “agriculture” a cow, “nature” a tree. It takes some time and a little research to find your pictures for the words you are hearing. That process is a lot of fun!

I started one year ago with a very limited visual vocabulary. With just a basic understanding of structuring information. It has got better. My first exams I learned for with visual notes were the ones this summer. I was able to remember lecture contents much better with pictures.


Here is how I make these notes.


I bought a little notebook for every subject so that I have all the notes in one place and not pages flying around. Normally, I use a fountain pen to write. Studies show that you can remember notes written in blue better. Also, I just like the look of writing with it.

Those notes are mostly words or explanations, sometimes bullet points.

With a black pen, I draw all the images. Graphs and little people, boxes and arrows.

For every subject, I then have a different coloured pen for highlighting. I will underline, circle, colour etc. This is to show the special importance of a fact.

This three colour approach can be very helpful to structure information but if you would like to use more or less colours – that’s perfectly fine too. If you just have one pen, you can draw images as well.


I normally divide my page into three parts. The left part of the page is notes. The right part is drawings. The bottom part is summary. Professional visual notetakers are able to make one huge drawing out of the information. To put everything in a well-fitting place. I’m not that experienced yet. That’s why I find it helpful to divide my pages like that. The goal is to reduce the word part and have it equal the picture part. That’s quite difficult and takes a lot of practise.

Often, I draw pictures underneath important words to remember them. I add graphs everywhere because they help me to understand certain aspects. You always have a lot of graphs in science, so that’s great.

If I’m particularly bored I will draw on the margins of my pages. They were the places for my sketches since the beginning of school. I get a little nostalgic about doodling there from time to time. Have you done that too in your childhood? Why not try and use it for your actual notes now?

Let’s get started

“I couldn’t do that, I can’t draw. How does that look so neat?” Here’s the thing. I believe that everyone is able to draw and that it just takes some practise. Observe the things around you. Sketch them with very few lines. Just get the overall shape right. Then write a word underneath that represents it.

Draw you mobile phone. “Technology”

A sofa. “Comfortable”

Books. “Education”

A camera. “Remember”

A candle. “Calm”

Write down the first associations you have. Those will be the ones you will remember. Start to draw a little library of images for yourself. You could listen to an interesting Ted Talk online. Draw the key words mentioned in the talk. Then ask yourself if you could summarise it just based on your notes. If you can, congrats, you’ve done it. You can now go and take great notes. If you can’t, practise more. Try to identify what was going wrong. Did you take too long to draw and didn’t listen anymore? Didn’t you find the right images? Did you write too much? Did your notes lack structure?


Here are some tips to get better:

Don’t focus on drawing, focus on listening. Just as you would with writing down bullet points, the note taking has to be done while listening. You miss a lot if you concentrate on sketching. If you don’t get the doodle finished, leave it. Embrace the white space. You can put something in there later on.

Draw stick figures. If you have a hard time with drawing humans, make it a stick figure. They can express a lot with their posture. Play around a little, try to make them do certain things. Let them scratch their heads. Let them lean forward and shout. Draw a speech bubble above them.

Use different fonts. You can write in CAPITAL LETTERS, in tiny and w i d e s p a c e d ones. You can do so much with fonts, stress important factors just as you do with colour. You could bend the words around an object. Make the word an object itself. Draw little banners around it. Make it pretty. Afterwards. Invest just as much time during a talk or lecture or discussion as necessary. If you want to rework your notes, you can do so later on.

Keep it simple. Don’t try to draw fancy ornaments or groups of people. Do as much as you need to understand the key facts.

Keep it short. Don’t use that much writing. Imagine a page full of text in front of you. You wouldn’t like to learn all that, right? You wouldn’t like to tell a story based on that. Make it interesting with as many pictures as possible. Ask yourself “Will I need that? Will I remember that?” If both questions are answered with no then find a different way to express this fact.

The weirder the better. Our minds remember the crazy facts. The ones that shocked us or that we were surprised about. If a funny picture pops up in your mind that reminds you of the thing you were told – draw it. If no one else gets that picture, it’s no problem. Those are your notes and you have to understand them. Doodles help us to remember. Make them remarkable.

Clip art. My go-to resource for little doodles is clip art on the internet. That works best if you have very abstract words you don’t know how to express in drawing. I had for example “insurance” in economics and wanted to depict it. When I looked it up, there was a man with an umbrella. The umbrella is a perfect image so I copied that one. There are a lot of possibilities. Look at the work of other visual note takers to get inspiration. Use their symbols!


Add comments. In statistics today I was extremely confused by all these different approaches. So I wrote it down. I let my little stick figures express my thoughts on the topic. Because why not? It’s fun and the possibility that I remember the Weibull distribution is high. Just look at that cow.


Don’t be a perfectionist. You will get things wrong, that’s fine. They will not always make sense, it’s ok. Your structure might not fit on the page. Use the next one! If your drawings look shaky, if your handwriting isn’t perfect – that’s no problem. Just keep going and keep practising. One day it will become natural to you.

Visual Note Taking is an amazing possibility to have fun whilst a meeting, in a lecture or anywhere basically. You can also try it as an alternative journal entry. You don’t have to be an artist to make beautiful notes. You can just start with little boxes and put single words in there. Connect them with arrows. It’s as easy as that.

The most important thing is to keep on listening. Focus on the key points. Be simplistic. Practise. You don’t have to start off with making the whole page into an artwork. I’m not doing that either. I’m still a beginner. I haven’t figured out how to structure a page properly. However, every little doodle that you make will help you remember more facts. If your colleagues see your well-structure notes the next time, they will be impressed.

It would make me so happy if you tried taking your notes like that. Tell me about your experiences! If you have any questions on the technique, please feel free to ask them in the comments.

Current Word Count: 38638

NaNoWriMo Day 22: 270 000 Tons

Some people say it is the plastics era. We drink out of it, we wear it, we use it for everything. It is useful, of course! I’m just looking over my desk, what do I find? Plastic headphones, plastic calculator, my laptop, my phone do have plastic parts, pens and bottles and wrappings of food, the boxes I carry my food in to uni. Everything is plastics. This is one indication of how I’m also a slave to the system of plastics that has overcome us. Slave is too passive. I also actively choose to buy those things! I can’t help it! I’m in no means better than anyone else. I just would like to bring some awareness to it. To consider our actions more consciously.

The thing is: We can do something about this problem. We can use different wrappings, bottles, clothes – there are alternatives. Why don’t we choose them? We all know the reasons. Plastics are hygienic, light, cheap. Here comes the challenge. They are too good for us and too bad for everything else around.

To make the discussion not too complex I will not focus on the obvious source of plastics – our fossil resources. This is closely related but will not be an aspect here. I want to focus on the effects plastics have on our environments and accordingly on us. We are not only eating out of plastics, we are eating them themselves. Our water is full of little plastic particles so tiny you cannot see them anymore. In our food, in fish and marine animals. We feast on plastics every day. Tasty.

I want to provide you with some numbers here: 268,940 tons of plastics are currently swimming in our oceans (1). That equals roughly estimated 50 000 elephants. Well, that’s also a bit difficult to imagine. Take the population of Los Angeles. Average of 70 kg per person. The combined weight of all people in Los Angeles equals the weight of all the plastics in the seas. That’s the weight. Sounds horrible, doesn’t it?

But why does the plastic flow and isn’t magically disappearing? This is why we bought it for, right? It is light and durable. Now we got the problem. Through sunlight and other weather phenomena the plastics are dispersed into small particles. And then eaten by all the small creatures that inhabit the sea. Plastics move up the food chain. Until we also consume them.

Not only do the animals consume them, they also get entangled, are seriously harmed and may not even hunt for food anymore (2). Have you ever tried to eat with a plastic bottle attached to your arm or even your head? With a foil around your body? It is terrifying.

Through wind and the currents in our oceans, those little particles of plastics are transported everywhere. Inputs in southern hemisphere are much higher than in the northern, but the amount that is found is approximately the same (1). Plastics are everywhere.

So now that we know all that, what now? This is maybe the most important question. I don’t want to be a preacher because I think that talking does only help to a certain extent. I show you my art, what I am passionate about. I hope that you will become passionate about it too. Also, I want to stress, that I am no environmental angel. I also buy vegetables in plastic foils. I also use shampoo in plastic bottles. I do all those things too. The thing is: I am aware of it and I try to reduce it. My way of thinking is that even a small change can have an impact. Our actions matter, the good and the bad. Maybe next time you buy water, take ones in the glass. Or buy yogurt in a glass. Buy articles in larger containers. Don’t buy bottles at all. Cook more and eat less packaged food. Bring you own cup to your favourite coffee shop. You can do many things.

Through my studies especially of waste management, I became more aware of the whole system we are a part of. When I go grocery shopping now, I think about what is going to cause the most garbage. Which of those wrappings I can reuse. It is a conscious decision. Maybe you can think about this the next time when you go shopping. Even small changes matter. To our environment and in the end also to all of us.

We are the only inhabitants on this earth making something that nature cannot break down. It tries, making the problem only worse. There is a great series of talks on plastics in oceans. Look it up here: TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch.

We had a very interesting topic in Economics today: The Stern Review on Climate Change. A little summary: It costs us up to 5-20 times more to invest in dealing with the effects of climate change than to protect it from happening in the first place. Investment in climate protection. It gets more expensive every year. GDP will decrease around 1% annually, if we change our energy sources to green energy, our transportation system. If we don’t do so, there are going to be many different effects, that influence our economy in a negative way: The weather events will get more extreme, there won’t be enough water and people will not be able to do agriculture anymore. There will be diseases and heat stress. Loss in biodiversity, pollution – the list is endless. Maybe you are a very rational person and you just want to see the effect climate change has on us on an economical level. Here are the numbers: 5-20% loss of GDP to today’s status. When we do nothing about our current situation. When we do not try to tackle climate change. When we put our hands in our laps and sit still until this earth will eventually collapse.

This is a message to the most extreme climate change deniers, people who do not see the point. To the most blind or unethical people: We will have a worldwide economic power decline of 1/5. Open your eyes and get to work.

Those numbers in the Stern Review are a few years old. We have done more research. The consequences we have found are even higher now. That’s why our potential loss will also be higher.

If we instead choose to invest in renewable energies, we might also face a potential economic benefit. The market for these energies is huge, we can make money with it! The authors suggested, that we might even have an increase in GDP in the end, of 2%.

A student asked: “When it is so much cheaper and apparently everyone knows about that, why aren’t we doing anything?” Our professor posed a question back: “Are you talking of me? All economists know this review. Everyone in this room does.” He went on to explain something totally unrelated to the question. The core remained. Why? Why aren’t we doing anything?

Dealing with climate change now is best for our own lives, our society, our economy, our environment- everyone! Or as or professor said: “Climate change is the biggest market failure we ever faced.”

We live in capitalism, we want high short-term profit. We face trade-offs. If we acquire a short-term benefit from our actions and in the long-term we might feel guilty about having polluted the environment, we don’t care. That’s how the system works. It’s the same for the big companies. In the end, they are the ones with the influence. Not the people, not the politicians and the workers, not anyone. The power lies where the money is, I’m sorry. Either we try to change that system or we try to deal with the problem together as a front against those who go on polluting. As consumers we have a choice. As people we have a choice. We can put our money where we think our interests and values are best represented. When we don’t participate in a plastic-wrapped system anymore, it has to change sooner or later. If we do not give money to companies anymore who will pollute our oceans with hazardous plastic waste, they will not be there much longer. If punishment from governments does not help, we have to do it. If we cannot speak to hearts anymore, we have to speak to bank accounts.

That all sounded so abstract. Let me break it down to some simple steps:

Notice what you buy. Buy less. Recycle more. Take action, clean up, speak up. Here’s a brilliant article on 10 easy steps to avoid plastics and to change the world in little steps: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/10-ways-reduce-plastic-pollution

Let me end with two little stories.

My mum and I went to the store recently and I tried to find a dish detergent which would be sustainable and without any hazardous substances. We found one. Wrapped in a bottle that was made from the plastics from a canal in Amsterdam. The waste would have reached the North Sea. Now it was put back into the process chain, recycled. It’s still plastics but if we cannot break it down into fossil oil again, we can at least use it as long as possible.

When I was walking around my favourite lake the other day, I saw some people collecting plastics out of it. Plastic bags, wellies, plastic wrappers – everything you might imagine. It was horrible to see that much garbage in such a little lake. On the other hand I was so happy to see people showing love to their environment. A child and his father I believe. Why don’t we make father-son fishing trips about collecting garbage in the future? Make it a challenge. Clean up your hometown.

Do you live near a coast or a lake? Start a cleaning project by yourself or ask your community if there is one. With joined efforts, with love for our planet and by little actions, we can change the world.

Here are the sources I used:

1 Eriksen M, Lebreton LCM, Carson HS, Thiel M, Moore CJ, Borerro JC, et al. (2014) Plastic Pollution in the World’s Oceans: More than 5 Trillion Plastic Pieces Weighing over 250,000 Tons Afloat at Sea. PLoS ONE 9(12): e111913. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0111913

2 David W. Laist: Overview of the biological effects of lost and discarded plastic debris in the marine environment, Marine Pollution Bulletin, Volume 18, Issue 6, Supplement B, June 1987, Pages 319-326

If you are interested in the Stern Review I mentioned, here’s the complete study: http://mudancasclimaticas.cptec.inpe.br/~rmclima/pdfs/destaques/sternreview_report_complete.pdf It’s 662 pages long, just so you know. There are some good summaries out there which you maybe rather would like to go to. I’m doing Nanowrimo, I haven’t got any time to read this whole thing either.

Current Word Count: 36 964

NaNoWriMo Day 18: Water Scarcity

Time, what a precious good. I didn’t find any of it yesterday to really sit down and put some words on the paper. I didn’t feel like it, either. Exhausted, stressed, out of ideas. Today, I’ll simply write twice as much. Can’t be that difficult, right? Because what do you do on a Saturday except writing?

Talking of precious goods, lets talk about water again. In my 12th grade finals, I made a presentation about globalisation and water shortage in Egypt. It was an interesting approach to see how certain aspects of economics and the environment are linked. In the end, globalisation puts pressure on people, governments and institutions.

Globalisation was the reason for the boom in the transport industry. Increasing greenhouse gases through longer transport ways are accelerating climate change. Precipitation gets stronger in less time, which leads to flooding. Or the seasonal rains get so unpredictable that it is impossible to conduct agriculture.

Furthermore, globalisation promotes already rich nations and does so to the disadvantage of poorer nations. We need infrastructure to acquire clean drinking water. If the global climate gets more extreme, the infrastructure and investment spending gets more expensive.

Globalisation also disenfranchises local governments and decreases their influence on social and environmental decisions. Big companies and global players are therefore able to exploit resources they know nothing about.

In our current market economy it is possible to speculate with water. Rather on the lack thereof. Certain people have an interest that countries face water scarcity. Because they can make money with it. Private investors are buying land to drill for water and they can name the price others have to pay for it. Monopoly on water. The horror of the twenty-first century.

I read an article about globalisation recently and there was an interesting point made: Experts say that globalisation is threatened. That there are too many critics and that it does not work anymore. That we have to save the globalisation for our own good. That all means that we derived a benefit from it in the first place. Which is not the case for most people. Those are said to be the losers of globalisation. They are vital parts of it, though. The big fish and the very small fish. All included in the system.

Those are the economical aspects of water scarcity. Lets deal with some of the environmental ones now. We have enough water on this planet. Our problem is, it is in the wrong place. Extreme climate events cause flooding, obviously too much water. The poles are melting and the freshwater is transported into the oceans – not usable anymore for our purpose. There is enough water, we just have to find a way that everyone has access to it.

Here are some problems: We regulate stream flows. We alter the environment around our rivers so much, that they cannot serve their purpose anymore. They cannot prevent flooding, because there are no floodplains. They do not serve as a habitat anymore because we cleared all the vegetation around them. Therefore we destroy the livelihoods of people who live from the animals and plants in these areas. Clearing erodes the landscape around, rivers get unstable and transport sediments to the next dam. And everything else that we throw into our streams.

For example, in the Save River in Zimbabwe, soil erosion and sedimentation has significantly reduced the storage capacity of reservoirs, thus intensifying competition over water supplies. (UNEP GIWA Freshwater Shortage)

Climate change has also another impact on our freshwater: Due to the sea level rise, salt water intrudes into freshwater reservoirs. That happens mostly in coastal areas where people will soon flee not only because of flooding but because their drinking water cannot be used anymore. Not for drinking, not for farming. Especially since we pollute our water so heavily that we have to dig for deeper ground water sources. When you extract too much, sea water will infiltrate and your water is lost.

In the Jordan region, the majority of aquifers are overexploited and often saline; water tables have fallen as rapidly as 0.6 m/year in the Azraq basin. (UNEP GIWA Freshwater Shortage)

Higher temperatures due to climate change will also increase evaporation. We will simply lose our water because it is too hot. Now consider the island states in this world where already many people left forever, because their islands will be underwater soon. What are we doing to our world?

Let’s dive into the causes of this problem:

Population growth. http://www.breathingearth.net/

Please have a look at this simulation. It is scary but effective. There are several problems linked to that. We need more electricity. We need more food. We need more infrastructure and therefore cities.

Urbanisation has had two critical impacts on transboundary freshwater use. Firstly, many cities divert enormous volumes of surface water or overexploit aquifers. Secondly, untreated or inadequately treated sewage from these cities is a major source of pollution. (UNEP GIWA Freshwater Shortage)

We need more land to produce more crops and animals. In our current agriculture, though, we puts chemicals into the ground we have known the hazardous effect of for decades. We over-fertilise our soil and the basis for our food dies. The European Union has sued Germany because we have too much nitrogen in our ground water. From agriculture.

On the fields, there are no trees anymore that could fix nutrients. Protect the soil from eroding. All the fertile ground can be washed away with just one storm. This is the reality we will be facing in the next few years. Irrigation systems are also extremely insufficient. Water management in general. There are not enough regulations for the use and distribution of water. How we treat it and what we put into it. It’s a public good, so we all should have access to it, right? However, we should also treat it as the most valuable resource.

In “Stress and Streams” a few days ago I talked about hydropower a lot and the environmental damage they cause. This is why I will not focus on that problem now.

The second point are market and policy failures. As water is a public good, we cannot stop people from using it.

Firstly, preventing users from accessing water resources through institutional and physical means is difficult, resulting in overuse and under-investment. Secondly, water consumption by upstream users reduces the quantity and sometimes the quality of water for downstream users. (UNEP GIWA Freshwater Shortage)

International organisations and governments of industrialised countries are subsidising a lot of agriculture worldwide. The difficulty is, that they do not promote sustainable use of water or any resources. Profit, that’s the importance.

Subsidies and trade distortions of the United States and EU severely impact agriculture and the water economy of developing countries. (UNEP GIWA Freshwater Shortage)

Those water subsidies have the effect that farmers grow crops that require a lot of water, even if the region is really not appropriate for them. The farmers get money for contradicting nature. When it doesn’t work, the subsidies are withdrawn and the farmer has to solve the problem by himself.

What do we do now, with all this information?

There are three pillars to sustainable development. Social, environmental and economic. To achieve long-term solutions we have to implement changes in all three of them. We have to develop laws to manage water resources and even more importantly, we have to find ways to implement these laws. The communities have to be included into the discussion and they need to be informed about possible infrastructure and adaptations they need to make. Planning needs to be in the hands of people who know their problem. It doesn’t help us if international cooperations provide flood control where there is severe drought. We need to listen to people telling us about the challenges they are facing. Believe them, they know best.

The environmental aspects of the discussion are to reclaim the ecosystem functions rivers once provided us with. We have to re-establish flood plains and vegetation. Put trees as windbreak in the fields, stop the monocultures and the fertiliser input. Develop efficient irrigation systems. Do research on which crops to plant in which region based on the available water resources. Improve water quality by strict regulations and providing information as well as alternatives to chemicals. Control the water flow and the consequences of dams. Use alternative energies.

Economically, we have to reward efficient water usage. Water subsidies could be changed to those which encourage sustainable water management. Crops, that don’t need that much water. Investing in infrastructure to clean water. Investing in technology and new irrigation systems.

Most importantly, these three categories have to be seen as a whole. We have to integrate social and economic instruments in our thinking about the environment. That’s the only way we are going to find an efficient and working solution.

Water concerns us all. We are only able to stay alive because of the freshwater we have access to. In the next years, there will not be that much water available anymore. That’s a fact. Maybe we will soon fight about water. To prevent those water wars, we have to find solutions when it is still possible. When climate change is not at it’s peak yet. When we are still on the cliff and not already over the edge. If we trip, we will fall deep and there will be no water anymore to catch our fall.

My source for this article was the information provided by the UN Environmental Program – Global International Waters Assessment. Here’s the brochure I used: http://www.unep.org/dewa/giwa/publications/finalreport/freshwater_shortage.pdf and here is their website: http://www.unep.org/dewa/giwa/

Current Word Count: 30 802

NaNoWriMo Day 17: You know you are an environmental student when…

You know you are a student of environmental and resource management…

When people have to ask several times to get what you are studying.

When people ask you what you can do with that.

When you answer: “I’m going to save the planet!” unironically.

When being an environmentalist is normal.

When wanting to save the world is your main goal in life.

When “Sorry for the inconvenience, we are trying to change the world” could be your slogan.

When your family considers you to be the weird one, the Eco Freak.

When you have claimed that word for yourself and wear the word with pride.

When you lead every discussion to an environmental topic in the end.

When your friends ask you if the can even come to your house if they have plastic bags with them.

When you are proud to see people with paper bags.

When you have an extra fabric bag in every handbag.

When you are happy that your supermarket does not offer plastic bags anymore.

When you constantly rage about lobbyism of big firms, inactive governments, environmentally ignorant politicians and the like.

When your parents give you cut-out newspaper articles about environmental problems.

When your parents send you articles about new technological innovations to save the world.

When you send them great articles about climate change with a praise-hands-emoji and a huge “YES!”

When you know more about environmental news than those concerning the whole world.

When you are having a hard time finding a great environmental magazine.

When you decide you would love to make your own.

When your parents do not understand you anymore when you talk about Pigouvian taxes, riparian vegetation and hyporheic zones in rivers.

When your parents smile silently about your enthusiastic views on the environment.

When you send your friends excerpts of environmental treaties to prove your point.

When you are extremely excited about the Paris Agreement.

When you marked the day it entered into force in your calendar.

When you are angry about people denying climate change.

When you detest people who think climate change was an invention by the Chinese.

When one of your first thoughts about the US election result was: Our poor poor environment.

When you try to stay positive about the environmental progress of the last years.

When you nevertheless suffer from environmental grief.

When you are a vegan.

When you at least thought about going vegan.

When you did so for mainly environmental reasons.

When there is at least one vegan food to eat at every social gathering of your course.

When people ask you which milk substitute is the best.

When you are able to make a twenty minute presentation about that.

When you know where to get the best vegan cake in town. And go there every week.

When you make cakes for each other. Vegan, naturally.

When you are excited to find certain vegetables in your supermarket.

When your fridge contains more vegetables than anything else.

When all your food containers are made of glass.

When you decide to just buy products from Europe, that are not transported around the whole globe.

When you cringe when thinking how much emissions they have cost to get into your supermarket.

When your food choices are based on the environmental and social impact they have.

When you try to make other people think about their food choices.

When you succeed in doing so.

When you drink out of glass bottles.

When your whole family does so too, now.

When second-hand shopping is perfectly normal.

When the 60 people in your course are willing to watch a documentary about food waste together.

When you get both sad and angry when you see how much food is wasted.

When you flinch every time you see food thrown away.

When you wonder about how you could have ever eaten meat.

When you meet with friends to watch documentaries. About salmon.

When you take notes about the statistics in your mind to win an argument next time.

When your youtube “To watch” list only contains nature documentaries.

When your “To read” list only contains books about the environment or related topics.

When your greatest heroes are environmentalists.

When you derive a lot of your basic knowledge from nature documentaries.

When you get more enthusiastic about watching those than blockbusters.

When you search for a list with all famous vegans to prove a point.

When you sent your friends messages about a documentary about the fates of dolphins in Japan and you are crying. Crying a lot. And hating the world.

When you are sharing this information with everyone you know.

When you are asking everyone to watch this documentary.

When your most used emoji is either a leaf or a panda.

When half your you hashtags are concerning the environment.

When you love to throw shocking numbers about fishery or oil spills or coal mining or factory farming into everyday conversation.

When you do so even though the topic was a completely different one.

When you then grin at people and say: We live in a horrible world. Let’s change it.

When you then give a list to them of all the things they could change in their lifestyle to have a smaller environmental impact.

When you have a perfectly rehearsed lecture for people who ask you why they even should do anything because their actions to not count anyway.

When you know what the carbon food print is.

When you know your carbon food print at any given moment.

When you are ashamed if you find that it is still too high.

When you changed your opinion about Leo DiCaprio a lot since you learned that he is a passionate environmentalist.

When you don’t particularly like the films he acts in but love his documentaries.

When you watch documentaries alone and stand up and cry “yes!” when someone advocates for change.

When you use your free-time to watch environmental documentaries.

When you have to sit down afterwards and write about it.

When you are in the middle of a project of writing 50 000 words in a month. About the environment.

When you can use your lecture slides to help you do that.

When your notes are written on recycled paper. With an FSC logo on it.

When you re-use paper that your printer spit out the wrong way.

When you are angry when professors tell you that you can only print your essays on one side of the paper.

When you are relieved to find out that you can upload them and do not have to print them.

When you have done excessive research on where your paper comes from.

When you get extremely excited about additional materials concerning water scarcity and climate change.

When you were in deep awe when you first entered the “environmental subjects” floor of your library.

When you just pick out random books and are surprised what a variety of environmental books there are.

When you actually read them.

When you feel weird going to any other floor.

When you can’t stay inside anymore and skip lectures to go for a walk or run.

When you simply love being outside.

When you have a photo challenge on your blog for autumn leaves. (festivalofleaves.wordpress.com)

When you go for a run and speak with a friend about the environment the whole time.

When you are on the country side and it smells awful and you just say: Waste Water Treatment Plant.

When you save little bugs that crawled onto you way and put them back into the forest again.

When you pet them softly and say that it’s going to be alright.

When you have more empathy towards animals than certain humans.

When you are a member of you uni garden. And dead serious about it.

When you have excursions to the forest.

When you dig holes in the ground for several hours.

When you simply love doing that.

When you post pictures of the pit showing other people how beautiful your soil profile was.

When you are sad that you had to close this hole again.

When you know a little something about plants.

When you refer to leaves in a river as “Leaf litter input”.

When you say “Floating Leaved Macrophytes” to water lilies.

When you draw the catchment area of your local river onto a map. Just for practise and fun.

When you give every animal and every plant around you a name. Because you love them so much.

When you collect your organic waste for the compost.

When you urge other people to do so.

When you urge other people to build a compost themselves.

When you are annoyed of people who leave their garbage everywhere.

When you pick up their garbage and throw it in the right bin.

When you are basically an expert in waste separation.

When you spent several weeks in a waste lab measuring awfully smelling gas production.

When you lecture other people how to separate their waste.

When you try to change the waste separation at your work place.

When you are angry when people buy fully automated coffee machines with those little plastic cups that get thrown away.

When you do not buy certain things when they are wrapped too much.

When you want to run around the supermarket and cry in anger about all the plastics.

When you are ashamed that you haven’t reduced your waste to zero yet.

When you discuss about using edible plates for your next party.

When you try to re-use packaging material for various purposes.

When you make art out of it.

When you start a new drawing series with animals and immediately, without thinking, pick endangered animals.

When you are able to ask people to throw names of animals at you and you know exactly where on the red list they are.

When you are jealous of Sweden and Denmark and Iceland for having made such progress in renewables.

When you switch every light off in the very moment you are leaving the room.

When you think intensively about where to cut your electricity usage.

When you stop ironing your clothes because a) you are a student and b) it costs too much energy.

When you ask people if they changed their lightbulbs to energy-saving ones.

When you take your bike everywhere. Even in the snow and minus 30 degrees.

When you want to change people’s attitude towards cars.

When you stated years ago that you do not want to have a car.

When you await in impatience the moment when electrical cars get less expensive.

When you daydream about a world without fossil fuel based cars.

When you daydream about where to put solar panels in your future home.

When your parents ask you how to change their energy consumption.

When you feel guilty about going on holidays.

When you shake your fists towards planes in the sky.

When you daydream about being part of a huge climate conference and actually making change happen.

When you just love the people around you and couldn’t imagine a more perfect place to be at this very moment in your life.

I would like to thank my lovely friends for helping me create this list. The idea was born during a run and we had to stop so often because we simply couldn’t stop laughing. Those points are sometimes just so true. You are awesome and I’m so happy to be part of this crazy environmental community! xxx

Current Wort Count: 29188

NaNoWriMo Day 16: Stress and Streams

Remember that I told you I’m a few centimetres above the water surface with my head? Yeah, now I’m submerged. The waves sometimes give me some air to breathe and my eyes to look over the incredibly large surface of the ocean… Today, though… I’m under water. It’s beautiful down here. You don’t really notice anything around you anymore with your ears and eyes full of water. It’s a lovely world.

Stress. The feeling that I described, about being under water. To be washed over by all the tasks you have to do. By all the things you had long forgotten about. Once they roll over you, those that were buried in the ground get loose. And hit you in the face. Hey, I’m still alive, even though you have forgot about me. Now deal with me.

As I already started to talk about water, let’s make that the topic for today. Let’s focus on rivers. Am I qualified to do so? Me, munching on my kale? (Since I went vegan I have grown a weird obsession with kale and potatoes) Children, it’s story time.

In the good old days, every fish could move freely and undisturbed through its river. A salmon would feed luxuriously in the oceans and would take on a journey upstream to where it was born. There it would spawn, make a hole in the ground to protect the eggs… and die. On its journey it brought a lot of glorious nutrients with it that would later enrich the soils in the little streams where it dies. All species around would rely on these nutrients and have a feast. The tiny baby fish would also profit from that until they would go down to the ocean again. What a lovely cycle. It would see lots of trees shading the rivers and leaf litter that provides habitat for large amounts of species. It would swim in a beautiful little world of its own.

A river can be described by three major variables: complexity, dynamics and connectivity. Complexity means for example the structure of the stream. How its sediments are distributed along the course of the flow, which species occur and in which diversity. Dynamics describe the flow of the stream. What materials are transported and how the speed of water alters. Connectivity tells us something about how for example fish can move inside the river. If we build a dam, the connectivity is destroyed. All these aspects are important to consider when talking about rivers. They all play a role in the cycle and balance of the ecosystem river.

Us humans, we have a thing for interrupting cycles. Alternating them. We can make it rain when we want it to! (See: cloud seeding) We can make rivers go faster! (See: channelisation) We can destroy every little functioning ecosystem around us! (See: human evolution) We developed and as we did so, we exploited nature around us. Especially in the last few decades.

What does the journey of our little salmon look like today?

In the ocean the possibility is high that it would some day get entangled by a plastic component of our packaging obsession. It would swim in an ocean that is getting more and more acidic, that offers decreasing biodiversity and where huge coral reefs have lost their colour and their life. This is the reality the fish notices. Until it is maybe biting on a hook and remaining underwater half dead for several hours. Until it is caught, transported several times around the globe and put onto your plate. If it survives, it moves up the river where it was born.

Isn’t that just fascinating? A salmon has a better orientation sense than me. Without Google Maps I wouldn’t even find my own flat anymore. Technology!

It moves up a river which transports lots of material into the ocean. Well, not only sediments – also our pharmaceuticals and microbial pollution that the river took with it on its course. A river is a perfect transport system- for our garbage. It collects everything from each site, mixes it until it reaches the oceans. And we wonder why our coasts are so polluted.

The river does not only transport pollutants, though, sediments, stones, gravel! As we channelise our streams, the bed gets deeper, the rivers get faster and the sediment load that is transported gets higher.

We destroy floodplains and wonder why we get more and more severe flooding. Floodplains are links between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. They store water. They are among the most diverse and productive systems we have on this earth. What does man decide to do? Destroy them, we don’t need them. Instead they are used for agricultural purposes. Highly fertile soil. We compact and expose the soil making it vulnerable to erosion. We put contaminants and excessive amounts of nutrients in there. This causes biomass growth in lakes where the water is transported to, that we can’t manage anymore. Many species in the lakes die because the leaf coverage does not allow any oxygen and light into the lake anymore. Great job!

Remember, water is flowing in a cycle which is quite beneficial for us to survive. However, we decide that it is a good idea to put massive amounts of pollutants in our water that we in the end will drink again. Well done, humans!

Furthermore, we do not only destroy the streams themselves but the vegetation around them. A dense canopy of trees can regulate the light that is hitting the surface of the river. Thereby the temperature and the organic matter within the stream is controlled. If we remove the trees, small streams get a lot warmer and species have a hard time adopting to these changes. Trees provide organic matter that builds the basis of a food web. They filter the water, prevent erosion and hold nutrients back. They are habitat and flood control and if that all doesn’t move you at all – they just look nice!

Our little salmon has now reached some smaller streams. Wants to go further up. And finds that it can’t. Bumps against a wall with its head. A dam. Here we get to an essential problem. Human population is increasing and so is the electricity demand. For decades, environmentalists have said: Change to renewables! Fine, we’ve done that. Hydropower. Now what? These incredibly large dams cause many challenges themselves: They hold the water back, logically. What is transported in rivers? Sediment and such. Consequently, we have a huge accumulation of sand behind the dams. Water quality is decreased, biodiversity lost. A running water system was conversed into a lake. Upstream fish now find themselves confronted with the problem that they have to live in an ecosystem that doesn’t take them anywhere. And the poor downstream fish can’t get where they want to be. What do we do? We catch them, take their eggs and put the newly hatched fish back into the streams. Disclaimer: it does not solve the problem. As the flow of the water is altered, so is the temperature. The small organisms that are gathered behind the dam produce methane. This happens especially in high temperate climates. Surprise, surprise, even renewable energy sources produce greenhouse gases!

There are many problems yet to solve, concerning hydropower. It is not a perfect system. Not for the environment, not for us. People are displaced, the downstream population gets less or no water, water-borne diseases occur.

However, we cannot forget about the positive impacts these dams have. We provide flood control and produce energy without emitting CO2. We can store energy that way. As climate change has high priority, we have to improve these systems that give us the green energy we so desperately need.

What do we need to do?

We have to re-establish the flowing of the river in some way. Fish have to be able to move up and down the dam. We can build fish ladders. They might sound cute and they often work quite well. There are little basins on each step where the fish can jump into. That way, they can go up the stream, even if a dam happens to block their way. I never said it was easy going upstream.

We have to protect the vegetation around streams. When the sea level rises and the temperatures get higher, we will have more flooding. We want nature to help us deal with this. We have to restore ecosystems and their original functions. We have to give the areas besides the rivers back to nature. Removing trees from streams does not only result in habitat loss but has other severe impacts on whole streams. That’s why we have to assess which impacts our actions have on streams. We have to reduce our pollution. Here is a shocking statistic we talked about in class today: The amount of waste water produced in a year is six times higher than the amount of water flowing in all rivers on this earth. We endanger our own health by that. A large fraction of the wastewater is for example due to animal farming. Highly hazardous substances are used in agriculture. Do we really want them in our drinking water?

Here is another problem: Reducing pollution requires infrastructure. Especially in industrialised countries we like to talk and talk but do not change anything. Pay for better infrastructure, for example. Provide education on how to deal with problems arising from degraded river ecosystems. Our intensive agriculture harms our landscape, our coast lines and oceans. At the end of this cycle ourselves. There is a lot we still need to do. Water-borne diseases kill a child on this earth every 90 seconds (http://water.org/water-crisis/women-children-facts/) We need to do something about that. Water is essential to our surviving but becomes increasingly a cause of our dying. For changing that we need to re-establish our river ecosystems, let nature do its part and work on our own part, too.

On another note: Ann Morgan whom I mentioned in yesterday’s post about writing, responded to me on twitter! *Fangirl mode on* That’s so amazing! I was so happy when I read it this morning. Isn’t she the nicest? *Fangirl mode off* Today I started a new novel  that was on her book list: The Vegetarian by Han Kang…


Current Word Count: 27263