Bearing News
Where the sea meets the sand. photo by Maddie Orr

Is it too late?

Trash Talking

“Reduce, reuse, recycle” originated from the 1970s, an era of nature conscious activism as Americans demanded cleaner water sources, less pollution and more sustainability in the natural world.

In 1976 Congress passed the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, which provided the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) with the “authority to control hazardous waste from the ‘cradle-to-grave,’” according to the EPA’s website.

The “Three Rs” of waste reduction promote environmentally friendly practices, influencing generations to continue the trend as students create various clubs focused on sustainability, such as Rock Bridge Reaches Out’s Environmental Coalition.

The club meets almost every other Tuesday to take empty the plastic recycling from available bags in the hallways for the City of Columbia to remove.

Outdoor trash
The trash can overflows with trash. This frequently happens after students return from lunch and throw all of the days trash in the two bins outside the North doors. photo by Cam DeVore.
A club takes action

A member of recycling club, junior Courtney Bach helps with paper collection. photo by Turner DeArmond
A member of recycling club, junior Courtney Bach helps with paper collection. photo by Turner DeArmond

As a freshman, junior Kierra Pilot, who is now an Environmental Coalition core leader, knew she wanted to make a positive impact on the natural world. After seeing posters for the organization around the hallways, she joined. The group’s project for that year centered around replacing the school’s fluorescent lights with Light Emitting Diode light emitting diode ones through a light audit to reduce the cost and wasted energy required to illuminate the school.

“Starting at Rock Bridge, I feel like just picking up trash you see in the hallway and actually putting it where it belongs, like Kickstarts in the recycling bins or like paper in the blue bins in the classrooms and trash in the trash cans, you know,” Pilot said. “And then outside of Rock Bridge, you can turn off your light when you leave for school, unplug your laptop or your phone; picking up outside of Rock Bridge, like I know it’s kind of dirty out there.”

By taking out the recycling, Pilot said the club shows high schoolers it is “possible for people our age to make a big impact by doing small steps.” Besides working with the Environmental Coalition, she also looks into outside groups such as Earth Guardians, which aims to “inspire and train diverse youth to be effective leaders in the environmental, climate and social justice movements.” Pilot signed up to join Earth Guardians a few weeks ago as a way to reach more people after a fellow club member brought up the group.

“I think picking up after ourselves, especially outside of school, could help [improve the school’s sustainability],” Pilot said. “I know a lot of people don’t like using laptops, but reducing the number of papers we print out and waste would be beneficial.”

Columbians call for change

Carolyn Amparan, Osage Group Chair with the Missouri Chapter of the Sierra Club, was a member of the Columbia Mayor’s Task Force for Climate Action and Adaptation Planning. The Sierra club operates at the local, state and national level. While Amparan said there are a variety of ways for students and administrators to improve campus’ sustainability, she suggests individual individual schools and s and overall school system create their their own “climate action and adaptation plan” based on the City of Columbia’s plan. She said the changes people and schools can make can save them money.

“Many people think that recycling is enough, but it is not for multiple reasons. It is good and important but not enough. Each of us needs to actively reduce how much we are using, reuse more and then what is left needs to be composted or recycled before sending a small amount of trash to the landfill,” Amparan said. “We are blessed with abundance in our country, but we’ve opted for convenience over sustainability.”

Landfills in the U.S. received 26.8 million tons of plastic in 2017, according to the EPA. On an individual level, senior Samantha Fierke has made it her goal to reduce her personal trash through a shift to a “wider focus of sustainability, and that includes energy saving and water saving.” Her behavior initially changed “almost as a game,” Fierke said, but the more she researched and committed wholeheartedly to building sustainable habits, the more she embraced a minimal waste lifestyle.

“Especially being one of the younger generations and seeing kind of impending doom, if you want to look at it that way, I thought it was worth a try to make some of these changes in my life,” Fierke said. “And at first it kind of seemed like a high score I had to get on an app on your phone, right, and I would make more and more changes every day or every week trying to see just how much better I could do, just for the sake of personal challenges ’cause I don’t have a lot of things in my life that I have to hold myself to that are difficult.”

Through informed decision-making, responsible travel, waste reduction and making conscientious purchases, individuals can promote positive global impact and “help in the fight against climate change,” according to the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF). Sophomore Sumaiya Hussein spent the first 14 years of her life in Bangladesh where she went to school and learned English.

An empty Brisk tea bottle lies disregarded on the side of the road. Trash is around the North parking lot on a daily basis. Photo by Cam DeVore.

She and her family moved to the U.S. last year. Aside from cultural and linguistic differences, Hussein said people in her country would toss waste in the Padma River near her home, while in Columbia she noticed there is less trash in the streets and a greater emphasis on recycling.

The Padma River runs adjacent to Rajshah city, which regularly pollutes the river through domestic and municipal sewage containing fecal matter. These conditions adversely affect the river’s biodiversity and promote the growth of pathogenic bacteria, according to the Current World Environment’s “Assessment of Bacterial Pollution in Sediment of Padam River, Rajshahi, Bangladesh.”

“We threw our junk into that river, and that river has now turned into black toxic water,” Hussein said. “Like poor people who do not get enough resources like fresh water, they drink and bathe in that water, and that can cause diseases and everything.”

Unclean drinking water can have adverse health effects such as neurological disorders, gastrointestinal illness and reproductive problems, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While in the U.S. the EPA regulates the quality of drinking water in public water systems, five million people in Bangladesh lack access to safe water, according to the nonprofit organization

Longwood University’s “Litter and Debris in Our Waterways” discussed how improper waste disposal and plastic pollution can contaminate water sources, which in turn has “harmful impacts on wildlife and human health.” When one lacks a sense of responsibility for his or her community or fellow citizens, he or she is more likely to litter, especially if the individual is under 30, according to Keep Tennessee Beautiful, an affiliate of the nonprofit organization Keep America Beautiful.

Another contributing factor in one’s decision to improperly discard trash is his or her willingness to do so publicly. While clean environments tend to stay clean, especially those with available recycling receptacles, environments with trash attract further littering.

“That’s a really big thing at Rock Bridge. Like people just throw their trash everywhere. And outside, I know things decompose, but we can still pick them up,” Pilot said. “And I know I work at a grocery store, and I see a lot of people use plastic bags instead of paper, and I feel like if you would just use that it would help.”

Simple acts of eliminating environmental contaminants can have resounding impacts on public health and human rights world-wide since pollution is both an environmental and a social issue both an environmental and a social issue, according to High-Quality Technical Assistance for Results (HEART), which is a compilation of international development, education, health, nutrition and social protection and water and sanitation organizations. HEART claimed prioritizing greater investments into pollution cleanup could help grow economies and save lives. Additionally, pollution and poverty share a strong link; almost 92 percent of pollution-related deaths “occur in low- and middle-income countries,” and children are the most vulnerable victims, according to HEART.

“We have trash in our streets, which also has polluted the air. . . If you go to a neighborhood, you’d see clean, and then you would — if you turned to the next road, you’d see there’s a pile of junk in the road. It’s like people are careless,” Hussein said. “They don’t even think it’s going to [contribute to] the chances of the air being more polluted because there’s a lot of workers, a lot of traffic, a lot of cars being used in a daily life. And so, there are some people work every day, and they would pee at the corner walls of the street.”

Although pollution and environmental destruction have global ramifications, individual actions can reduce the harm one does to nature. The EPA suggests conserving energy, properly inflating tires and mulching and composting to decrease daily pollution. Pilot carpools as a way to reduce her carbon footprint, which is how much carbon dioxide and carbon compounds a person or group emits from fossil fuels. While she acknowledged the subjectivity of ethics, Fierke said the fashion industry is, in her opinion, unethical through its practices of “modern slave labor and child labor.” Additionally she said the industry’s practice of outsourcing to Third World allows it to create “low-quality, mass-produced clothing to keep up with rapidly changing fashion trends” through the work of wage laborers.

“They’re using a lot of plastic materials, and the materials degrade so quickly that people are forced to go out and buy new clothes all the time to replace it, and they just throw out the old ones,” Fierke said. “Some people will donate them, but a lot of times they’re so low quality that they get beyond the point of donation where they just have to go into landfills.”

In Annie Radner Linden’s 2016 senior project for Bard College, she authored “An Analysis of the Fast Fashion Industry” in which she wrote, “The level of pollution that is generated as a direct result of the textile and clothing industry presents a dilemma given the fact that many individuals value fashion over the protection of the environment.” This industry contributes to the depletion of natural resources, and items easily end up in the landfill when trends change.

Fast fashion products typically are made from plastics and cellulosic fibers, the two types of man-made fibers, which include nylon and polyester. In her 2012 book, “Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion,” author Elizabeth L. Cline explains the toll producing cheap clothing takes on the environment through the substantial use of plastic fibers in apparel products. Each year Americans throw away 68 pounds of textiles per person on average, according to the EPA Office of Solid Waste, and the National Center for Biotechnology Information reported four percent of municipal solid waste comes from clothing and other textiles.

“Since the fibers are made out of plastic, whenever you wash them, they release microplastics into the water stream,” Fierke said. “They release microplastics into the plumbing and then into our larger bodies of water, and it goes down the chain eventually into the ocean, and that’s what causes a lot of pH change and ocean acidification is the small things that we don’t even notice is all of this microscopic plastic washing away.”

Although people may be aware of the impact their actions have on the environment, Linden said in a capitalist society, the industry is unlikely to change unless the demands and desires of consumers shift to a focus on sustainability instead of immediacy. Fierke started only buying used and second-hand items nearly three years ago when she made it her New Year’s Resolution not to purchase any new clothes, mostly from Goodwill Industries.

“After that [first] year it just kept going because I got to the point where it’s just depressing to walk into a mall or a normal chain store. It just reminded me of all of the things that I was against and that I had been working against,” Fierke said. “If you go to an actual consignment store or thrift shop, you can find things for even cheaper than what fast fashion would be and so much more ethical.”

Through focused research and observing the practices of others who are committing to a a sustainable lifestyle similar to the one she is living, Fierke said she learns how and why others have committed to live this way, too. One of her more recent focuses, is anti-consumerism.

Following the phrase “Your dollar is your vote,” Fierke said she has begun to investigate what she is spending her money on and what she is supporting because each dollar since each dollar she uses “supports or promotes” a specific practice.

What’s the most pressing environmental issue?
"The greenhouse gases are a major issue because it is destroying the ozone layer, which the ozone layer prevents us from sun damage."
"Global warming, just because it's going to take a lot of work and a lot of money, and collaborative effort [to combat]. It’s definitely going to be pressing because you're going to need the people as a whole to contribute."
"Carbon admissions. We need to cut back; not just the U.S., but other countries as well. We need to enforce regulations somehow. Like if we look at China's pollution, they need to wear masks around to just breathe. There was some article on the news where corporations were coming out with breathing tanks, or breathing stations for sale where you would need to pay for fresh air. I feel like if we somehow are able to cut back on carbon admissions in places where population is really dense then we will be able to slow down climate change or global warming"
"I would say corporal carbon admissions. Business, specifically large businesses produce a lot of carbon along with other polluters. If we could reduce and regulate that significantly, that would help. As well as [regulate] car admissions. We need to emphasize the implementation of better public transport or better green ways of transport: biking, walking, all those."

“Find something that you’re passionate about. You kind of have to do a little bit of research, look around and find something that you can start with,” Ferkie said. “For me it started with actual trash, what trash I had and trying to reduce that, and then it branched from there. But it could be, you know, if you’re really passionate about the availability of water in, either in our country or in Third World countries, and taking steps to reduce that.”

Is it the course of nature?

As a little kid, freshman Aary Kumar had a small pepper plant that refused to grow, and she thought it was dead. When it suddenly started growing, she was elated. Her appreciation for nature and interest in gardening led her to become co-vice president of Rock Bridge Grows to Give (RBGG), a club where students grow fresh produce in the Columbia Area Career Center’s greenhouse then donate what they collect to the Food Bank.

After coordinating with the Food Bank, RBGG president senior Anya Kumar said the group plans to grow vegetables, such as tomatoes, peppers and leafy greens since the organization generally receives non-perishable food items rather than fresh ones. Club members will take time on certain days to water plants in the greenhouse.

“I think it’s just really fun to watch the plants grow and then know that you planted that and it grew into food you can actually eat,” Aarya Kumar said.

When people purchase food at a grocery store, rather than from a local farmer or growing it themselves, the items they buy require large-scale, long-distance transportation, which relies on the energy burning fossil fuels produces, according to the One Green Planet, which is “a platform for the growing compassionate and eco-conscious generation.”

Additionally, the EPA considers 30 percent of all insecticides, 60 percent of all herbicides and 90 percent of all fungicides carcinogenic. When people grow their own food, however, they are able to regulate what chemical agents they use and subsequently consume.

Nature’s complex ecosystems are both habitats for wildlife and production centers for agricultural good. Aside from being fresh and requiring less transportation time, local foods are beneficial to the preservation of open space and genetic diversity, according to The University of Vermont.

Solar powered tractor in tall grass. Photo by Bailey Stover

If one is passionate about helping support failing ecosystems but may not know where to start, Fierke said getting an urban beehive, planting natives and helping remove invasive species in local communities is a way to branch out and work in one’s area of interest.

“I do some gardening and kind of outdoor activities as well to attempt to give back to the pieces of earth that I or my family owns,” Fierke said. “We only plant natives or edible foods, so either things that are homegrown food that we can eat ourselves or things that are native and will help house pollinators and different types of birds; they’re native to the area as well.”

“The actions of RBGG will help provide fresh produce to members of our community who are unable to access such foods on a normal basis. This will improve their health, nutrition [and] diet, and we hope it will inspire other communities across the globe to do something similar.”

-Anya Kumar, senior

The idea for the group originated from Aarya Kumar and her friend wanting to “give students an opportunity to garden” and participate in a community service project, as well as their shared interest in gardening. Before RBGG can begin planting, however, members must fundraise for general supplies and pots. She said the club hopes to begin planting in December. For people interested in gardening on their own, however, Aarya Kumar suggested purchasing a packet of seeds and researching which plants are easiest to grow and what support the organism needs to thrive.

“The actions of RBGG will help provide fresh produce to members of our community who are unable to access such foods on a normal basis,” Anya Kumar said. “This will improve their health, nutrition [and] diet, and we hope it will inspire other communities across the globe to do something similar.”

Of all people ages 10 to 17 in Missouri, 12.5 percent have obesity, which “makes the state the 38 highest/lowest obesity rate in the nation for this age group,” according to State of Childhood Obesity, a project with the Robert Wood Johnson foundation. Along with supporting locals through access to healthy meal options, RBGG is taking part in one of Missouri’s most dominant prominent uses of land. Second only to Texas, in 2017 Missouri farms covered 27.8 million acres, which translates to 63 percent of the state’s land, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture

In comparison, 70.63 percent of land in Bangladesh is dedicated to agriculture, which is 12,772 square miles smaller than Missouri. In 2010, agricultural methane emissions accounted for 68.25 percent of the country’s total and were equivalent to 70,353 thousand metric tons of carbon dioxide.

The Encyclopedia of Nations said, “Agriculture remains the most important sector of Bangladeshi economy, contributing 19.6 percent to the national GDP and providing employment for 63 percent of the population.” Nevertheless, the Asian Development Bank reported 24.3 percent of Bangladesh’s population lives below the national poverty line as of 2016. Hussein said well-paying positions and “the higher qualities of jobs” go to people who “have full education and who have their degree.” She said this practice “cuts out” less educated workers who must turn to low-paying jobs. Because they are unable to afford fresh water, or may lack access to the resource, Hussein said some people bathe in and drink from the Padma River instead.

“They can not afford houses, so they’ll literally live in groups of tin house. Tin houses are made out of tins or steels, which are grouped together, and that would take up a lot of space. And they do not have enough resources like water or food, and shelter is a big point,” Hussein said. “Most of the land is taken up by big cities, shopping malls, streets, roads, big roads and factories.”

One reason for global warming, the long-term rise in average temperature across Earth’s various climate systems, is the “increased amounts of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere” as a result of humans burning fossil fuels, according to the University of Santa Barbra California’s (USBC) ScienceLine. This explanation, however, is still under debate as numerous factors in addition to human pollution contribute to the Earth’s changing climates.

Another hypothesis for this issue is the atmosphere is trapping gases emissions and acting as an incubator. The emissions of gases from most power plants, trains, airplanes, cars and factories can release more than 10 times the amount of gas as a volcanic eruption, according to USBC’s ScienceLine.

Although human activities such as driving fuel-inefficient cars or not recycling contribute to climate change, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) said the issue is caused by industrial activities. The U.S. transportation sector produces almost 30 percent of all U.S. global warming emissions, the UCS reported, and is made up of trucks, planes, trains, ships, freight and cars. Cars and trucks collectively emit roughly 24 pounds of carbon dioxide and “other global-warming gases” per gallon of gasoline, which accounts for about 1/5 of all U.S. emissions, according to the USC.

As global temperatures rise higher than 1.5 degrees Celsius, Amparan said global warming’s “devastating impacts” significantly increase. Climate-related risk levels for human and natural systems depend on factors such as the specifics of the warming, geographic location, mitigation options, human responses and one’s vulnerability.

The themerature (1.5 degrees Celsius) number comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s special report on the effects of global warming above this temperature. NASA reported warming has already surpassed this measure above pre-industrial levels in many regions. Environmental impacts will not disperse evenly across the globe, and certain areas, like islands, face a higher threat level than others. Moving away from fossil fuels and toward clean, renewable energy sources, as well as making

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Luthi, D., et al.. 2008; Etheridge, D.M., et al. 2010; Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) Source with permission: NASA
There was a brief temperature decline after 2016, which was the warmest year on record, reflecting the very strong El Niño event in progress. Similar short-term declines have followed past El Niños, such as the ones in 1973, 1983 and 1998 (highlighted with blue boxes). Credit with permission: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Data source: NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

schools and other spaces more energy efficient, are two steps Amparan said all people and communities can take to do their part in keeping global temperature to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Amparan said one of the Sierra Club’s current national projects is working to close coal-fired power plants.

Coal-fired plants currently fuel 38 percent of global electricity, and “efficiency gains in electricity generation from coal-fired power stations will play a crucial part in reducing CO2 emissions at a global level, according to the World Coal Association. U.S. power companies announced the “retirement of more than 546 coal-fired power units, totaling roughly 102 gigawatts (GW) of generating capacity” between 2010 and 2019 and intend to retire another 17 GW by 2025, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Plant owners are retiring their units in part because of increased competition from renewables and natural gas.

“Not only do these plants produce significant greenhouse gas emissions, they also pollute the air with other harmful pollutants, which result in premature deaths and hospitalizations every year,” Amparan said. “It is urgent that all of us start factoring sustainability into all decisions we make.”

Aside from supporting environmentally conscious groups through purchases and voting, the Center for Biological Diversity suggests people use Green-e certified companies, ones that generate at least half their power from clean sources, and carefully consider the ethicality and environmental impact of what they eat and purchase. At a school and individual level, Anya Kumar said RBGG’s actions aim to promote plant growth through human care and will help to keep the environment clean.

“If we don’t help the environment, the Earth is just gonna kind of come to an end,” Aarya Kumar said. “It’s a pressing issue we need to take action [with].”

Short-lived climate pollutants influence global warming more than carbon dioxide, and they “represent a major development issue that calls for quick and significant global action,” according to the Climate & Clean Air CoalitionMethane, hydrofluorocarbons, tropospheric ozone and black carbon are the main sources of short-lived climate pollutants.

As climate change causes global temperatures to rise, NASA said locations lower altitudes and disadvantaged people and communities will generally generally experience higher climate-related risks. Hussein said there is air pollution, overpopulation and congestion in Bangladesh, and she said there “poor people living in slums” with a factory next to their house. Growing up Hussein noticed breathing the polluted air was difficult for people with asthma and said the traffic only contributed to the poor air quality.

“Air pollution, you know, it’s like you can sort of see the dust in the air, like sort of. When it rains it clears out everything. Growing up there I didn’t notice it that much as a child until I was a teenager,” Hussein said. “Since I grew up there it was normal for me, but I could sense that there is something wrong with this air. Like here it’s more fresh. I could feel it. It’s fresh. And there you just know that You could see the, when you’re traveling or there’s cars speeding up against you, you can see the dust and everything in the air. It’s kind of like that clear.”

So, what about the future?

Growing up in St. Charles, Mo., Ed Smith was a Boy Scout who liked to be in nature. He and his dad went fishing often, and he learned to love nature. He graduated from Missouri State University with a degree in political science, then, following a stint from 2007-08 working on a political candidate’s campaign, worked for a nonprofit environmental group trying to pass federal climate change legislation during former President Obama’s first two years in office. 

“Having experiences are everything,” Smith said, “so I grew up concerned about our environment, preserving it.”

Smith now works as the Policy Director for the non-profit organization Missouri Coalition for the Environment (MCE). This year marks MCE’s 50 aniversy as an independent, state-based environmental organization, Smith said, which makes it older than the EPA and the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. Over the years the organization has evolved to include two major programmatic areas that focus on water resources and the food system. Smith said people in this country should not go hungry, and lawmakers and citizens must work to slow the effects of climate change. 

“The environment, our water, is already polluted. We know this,” Smith said. “It’s our opinion that it’s getting worse, and there is no room for delay when it comes to actions to reverse some of the damages that are happening, especially considering Missouri is home to a variety of endangered species in terms of flora and fauna. So it’s our duty as humans that have dominion over our environment to preserve and protect it into the future.”


In addition to its history of working on energy and carbon pollution reduction, Smith said MCE helped incubate and launch Renew Missouri and watchdogs the Callaway Plant’s nuclear reactor. The effects of climate change extend to nearly all facets of life, which Pilot said is a pressing concern today because it affects the weather and results in two hour delay start school days in early November. She said she feels like there should be more propaganda about Missouri’s environmental degradation. 

“I feel like us trying [to] avoiding [climate change] or ignoring it now will not help in the future,” Pilot said. “Once it happens it’s going to happen; it’s not going to change.”

As with Pilot’s carpooling and the small, personally achievable steps she has taken to reduce her carbon footprint, Smith said effective, long-lasting change boils down the private and public positive actions people are willing to take. He categorized these measures with “two buckets: the ‘personal life choices’ bucket and the ‘being a good citizen and engaging in democracy’ bucket.” If people actively participate in both areas, Smith said the country, planet and species will be better off. 

“There are a million different little and large things people can do in their daily lives to reduce their personal carbon footprint,” Smith said. “Just try to do as much minimizing harm as possible in your personal life, and there are a variety of ways to do that including eating less meat, eating more fruits and vegetables, knowing your farmer, knowing where your food’s coming from.”

While large-scale actions, such as McDonald’s public shift toward green living by collaborating with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and completely eliminating foam coffee cups with its switch to 100 percent recyclable containers, may cause trends in certain business sectors, sustainable living practices on a small scale can make a difference as well.

Smith said the first aspect includes living sustainably by reducing energy output, weatherizing homes and being efficient with car travel. Fierke’s initial “game” of discipline with her actions and purchases quickly turned into habit building, and the more she researched, the more she committed to her actions wholeheartedly.

“Most recently I started timing my showers on my phone and trying to reduce the amount of time I spend in the shower,” Fierke said. “Or I’ll plug the drain of my sink when I’m getting ready in the morning so I can visibly see how much water is collecting rather than just letting it run down the drain ’cause then I’m a lot more conscious of it.”

Fierke’s actions occur largely on an independent level, but she said she tries to integrate eco-conscious living into her daily routines. Occasionally she will do volunteer work or donate to charitable organizations like One Tree Planted, which is a 501C3 non-profit based in Vermont that uses each donated dollar to plant a tree. Word choice for products caught Fierke’s attention, especially with “biodegradable,” which she said has no legal regulations since everything is technically biodegradable, even if “some things take millions of years,” which is what makes the difference to her. 

Smith echoed Fierke’s sentiment and said MCE works to protect the environment and make sure all people have access to the natural resources they need. He said urban sprawl, the creation of impervious surfaces, “big box stores” and parking lots with water runoff contribute to flooding in Missouri. Local and national authorities are responsible for creating improved infrastructure, such as drains and filtration systems, to provide citizens with safe and clean drinking water and sanitation, according to the United Nations Regional Information Centre

“We believe at Missouri Coalition for the Environment that access to clean water is a fundamental human right,” Smith said. “We’re not the only organization that believes that, and right now what we’re seeing is profit over people in all sorts of segments of our society, but also when it comes to environmental exploitation.”

The Clean Water Act requires states to identify water sources not meeting water quality standards, which include swimming, maintaining aquatic life and providing drinking water for wildlife, livestock and people, according to the Missouri Department of Natural Resources. MCE is “committed to protecting access to Missouri’s water treasures,” and Smith said waiting a decade to correct water pollution problems will lead to further, more extensive concerns.

“Missourians deserve to be able to go enjoy nature without the fear of swimming in a water body or fishing in a water body or recreating in a water body that will hurt their health,” Smith said. “It’s important because we only have one planet. I know it’s an overused, I feel sometimes, [saying], but water is a finite resource. We need to protect it.”

In 2015 water pollution caused 1.8 million deaths, according to a study published in The Lancet. Low-income communities are at a disproportionately high risk of illness from unsafe water, which in total sickness approximately 1 billion people each year, according to the non-profit National Resources Defense Council, Inc. Unpurified water, especially that contaminated by animal and human waste, can cause a variety of diseases including cholera, typhoid, giardia and Legionnaires’ disease. Without reliable access to unpolluted water that is free of trash and harmful bacteria, humans would not be able to survive.

“I am a person who wants to think about my future,” Pilot said, “and I don’t want to think about worrying about if we’re going to have lights in 20 years. . . I want to live to see the world, not a trashy world with mess everywhere.”

If governments, nonprofit groups, individuals and other parties take no further action to halt and reverse the effects of climate change, effects detailed by the WWF include: wildlife habitat destruction, increased flooding, extreme history, ice-free Arctic summers, coral reef degradation and rising sea levels. To prevent such a world from existing, the Sierra Club works as one of the nation’s oldest grassroots environmental organizations. Along with nearly seven thousand other members nationwide, Amparan works through education and activism to help shape a cleaner, more sustainable, more socially just world. 

“Young people can help them think about the future, about what happens between now and 2050 and what happens after 2050,” Amparan said. “It’s your future and you need to demand that it be protected.”

Using one’s voice and vote to affect change, and making informed decisions to support the Earth are just a few ways people are able to act on climate change, according to the environmental recruiter Earth Day Network. With a variety of moving factors, such as what reductions corporations are willing to make on their carbon emissions and how much single-use plastic people use and throw away, Fierke said she is not sure how long the planet and society are going to last.

“I’ve got a little bit of hope that we can do something, but I know that it has to be fast,” Fierke said. “We don’t have a few more years to keep figuring it out, we have to somehow motivate larger powers to work now because no matter what the actual time span is, we are running out of time to fix things at least. Because if we wait until ‘The End,’ whatever that may be, it’s going to be far too late to do anything to even postpone it.”

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