The Importance of Protecting The Arctic Refuge

In 2017, Congress slyly opened up the coastal plains of the Arctic Refuge to oil and gas drilling under the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.  Aside from the fact that high income families and major corporations were the ones to benefit the most from this act, it also includes Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) Provisions

Under these provisions, the Oil and Gas Program was established, “P.L. 115-97 directs the Secretary of the Interior, acting through the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), to establish and administer a competitive program for the leasing, development, production, and transportation of oil and gas in and from ANWR’s Coastal Plain.” 

After years of tearing down forests and dredging up the earth, we only have a few pieces of natural land left, and thanks to Trump and his administration, that may be destroyed too.

Why do we need to protect this land?

This land consists of nearly 19 million acres of wilderness in Northeast Alaska, just off the border of Canada.  It’s the most pristine forest in the country, and the last to be affected by human interference.  Not only is it home to polar bears, caribou, and other precious animal species, but it’s also sacred to the Indigenous Gwich’in people.

According to the Gwich’in Steering Committee, the Gwich’in people are a part of the Athapaskans and make up 15 communities across the Yukon, Alaska, and the border of Canada.  They regard the coastal plains of the Arctic Refuge as “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins”, because of its significance to the Porcupine Caribou.

Every year between May and June, the Caribou herd migrates to this region to give birth to and nurse nearly 40,000 calves, which is why the Gwich’in people gave the coastal plains its name.  The Gwich’in have come to depend heavily on the caribou for food, clothing, tools, and spiritual guidance, while respecting the animal’s existence.

Trump’s plan to exploit this land will cause irreparable damage to the wildlife, landscape, and Indigenous people who depend on it.  Despite the major environmental impact, the BLM and government officials are in a race to start seismic testing.  According the Center of Biological Diversity, this is the unforgivable act of blasting the seafloor to map out oil and gas reserves, killing marine life and leaving long lasting environmental damage.

His administration isn’t leaving much room to fight this unjust plan against mother nature and the Gwich’in people, but we have to do everything we can to fight this monstrosity.

What you can do:

Write

The NRDC has set up a link to write to President Trump and Internal Secretary Bernhardt, asking to halt plans to drill for oil and gas. The organization also has a link to write to your state senators to support the Arctic Refuge Protection Act, which will stop Trump’s plan.

Use these resources, reach out to government officials, and spread awareness to your friends and family, because the time is running out.

Transportation Solutions to the Negative Impact of Flying

It’s no secret that air travel is terrible for the environment, but how many people take this into consideration when booking their flights?  Prior to Covid-19, flying has been on the rise.  Although we’re seeing a slowdown, it is only temporary and people will eventually return to the skies. 

The flight shaming movement has gained some traction over the past few years, causing travelers to make conscious decisions, though only on a small scale.  If more people start to take the environmental impact of flying into consideration and look into train travel or other sustainable modes of transportation, maybe we can see a decrease in demand.

The Environmental Impact:

In 2019, airplanes contributed 915 million tons of CO2 emissions, that’s 2% of emissions worldwide and 12% of emissions from travel. Calculations from Blue Sky Model show that planes produce an average of 53 lbs of CO2 per air mile. In a previous post relating to carbon offsets and the aviation industry, I mentioned that air travel is expected to triple by the year 2050.

Although some airlines are investing in carbon offsets, and the ICAO and EPA have emission standards in place, it may not be enough. A lot of the focus is on CO2 emissions, but there’s much more to it. Aside from CO2, aircrafts also emit Nitrous Oxide, methane, and water vapor at high altitudes. 

According to Jeff Overton at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, water vapor itself has a short life span within the atmosphere and causes minimal warming directly.  However, it indirectly contributes to the productions of contrails and contrail-induced cirrus clouds.  Like other greenhouse gases, these contrails and clouds absorb infrared radiation and warm the atmosphere, but the effect is 3 times stronger than CO2.

The Future of Rail Travel

The goal is to make the most sustainable choice in regards to transportation.  Of course, there are going to be times when flying is necessary, like family emergencies, work obligations, or trips overseas.  But train travel is the most sustainable alternative and is where we should start shifting our focus.

A report from the International Energy Agency (IEA) shows that trains produce the lowest amount of greenhouse gases when compared to other modes of transportation, yet they only carry 8% of the world’s passengers. 

The best rail systems in the world are found in Europe, Russia, and Asia, and are commonly used among travelers.  These systems have been well designed and many run on electricity, whereas trains in North and South America still run on diesel.  Although the train system in the U.S. doesn’t have the same efficiency or infrastructure, Amtrak has plenty of routes across the country and is making progress.

According to their website, the company is in the process of designing 28 high speed trains to add to their Acela Express service.  Currently the Acela Express has two routes, one between Washington D.C. and New York City, and one between New York City and Boston.  Their website also states that the decision to expand this fleet is based off the popular demand of these routes. If this new service continues to grow and succeed, it could potentially change the way we travel, expand railways, and make train travel more accessible.

The reality is that we need to drastically slow down air travel because our planet can’t keep up.  The airline industry is made up of corporations focused on profit, and will continue to grow if the market demands it.  In order to prevent this from happening we have to do our part, spread awareness, and make the best choices possible. Let’s give trains a chance and build a sustainable future.

Amicalola Falls State Park

The Northern side of Georgia is home to Chattahoochee National Forest and marks the beginning of the Blue Ridge mountains.  In this area, you’ll find yourself close to many hiking trails, waterfalls, and beautiful sights.  A special place, in particular, is Amicalola Falls, the highest waterfall in the state at 729 feet high.  From here there are trails for all levels, even wheelchair accessible points.  For those who are more adventurous, there is a 10-mile hike to the Southernmost point of the Appalachian Trail and Springer Mountain.

View from top of Amicalola Falls with red, green, and yellow trees surrounding the water.
View from the top of Amicalola Falls

When I visited during the first weekend of November, I was with my family, so long strenuous hikes were out of the question.  We still had an amazing time seeing the falls, driving through the mountains, and exploring other towns and parks in Georgia.

What you need to know:

Hours: 7:00 a.m.-Sunset

Entrance Fee: $5 per vehicle.

Upon entering the park, there is a parking lot and welcome center straight ahead, but we followed the road on the left which took us all the way to the top of the falls.  The parking lot halfway up the mountain is next to the west ridge falls access trail, which leads to the lower observation deck. 

The second parking lot at the top of the falls is located right next to the upper observation deck, as well as bathrooms, picnic tables, and a refreshment stand.  There is a stairway that connects the upper and lower levels, which is less than a quarter-mile, but of course one can drive between the two if preferred.

With this being one of the most popular parks in Georgia, it gets very crowded on the weekend and it can be tough to find parking, so I recommend going when it opens or during a weekday.

Where to stay:

Amicalola Falls State Park & Lodge– Campsites, lodge rooms, and private cabins are the accommodations that can be booked within the park.  There are also adventure packages available to all guests.

There are several lodges and campgrounds nearby, and hotels can be found in the towns of Dahlonega and Gainesville.  However, we stayed at an Airbnb a little further out in the town of Commerce.

Nearby Sites:

The falls can be seen within 1-2 hours, which gave us plenty of time to explore other parts of Georgia.  Nearby there are vineyards, a gold mine, and more waterfalls and hiking trails.  We decided to take a drive through Helen, the alpine village, and then visit Unicoi State Park.

Helen is a charming Bavarian village filled with excitement and things to do.  Festivals are held throughout the year, including Oktoberfest.  There are also plenty of outdoor activities, like tubing, fishing, and hiking. On the northern edge of the city is Unicoi State Park and Anna Ruby Falls, one of the more popular trails.  Unicoi is nested on a beautiful lake with campgrounds and an adventure park, we decided to park and walk down the lake’s trail and take some photos. 

We enjoyed the weekend exploring all of the beauty and nature that Georgia has to offer.  It gave us the chance to get away from Florida’s continuous summer and experience fall.  We were able the colors of red and yellow throughout the mountains while breathing in the fresh air and taking the scenery in.  Leaving, I knew we were only seeing a small sliver of what Georgia has to offer, and that filled me with an eagerness to come back.