Environmental Science: Acid Rain, Pollution Prevention, & Conservation Practices

What a joy teaching environmental science has been. Thus far, we’ve learned about the changes in environmental policy and how the Boy Scouts of America have contributed to environmental conservation practices. We have also learned about pollination, environmental changes, and threatened and endangered species.

Today, our focus shifts to acid rain, pollution prevention, and conservation practices we can engage in ourselves.

Each Sunday through the month of September, I will post a description of the activities I coordinated and the resources I used to teach the environmental science merit badge. Today’s post is the third in the series.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVarga.netWater Pollution – Oil Spill Activity

The Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Prince William Sound, Alaska, March 24, 1989, when an oil tanker bound for Long Beach, California, struck Prince William Sound’s Bligh Reef in the wee hours of ht morning and spilled over 10 million gallons of crude oil into the sea.

As the Scouts learned in the Environmental Science Timeline game we played the day prior, this disaster resulted in the International Maritime Organization introducing comprehensive marine pollution prevention rules through various conventions. We discussed this tragedy as I shared several photos and strategies that were used to clean up the oil.

We then engaged in an Oil Spill Experiment of our own. One Scout shared with us a video of an incredible new material – a foam material coated with oil-attracted silane molecules – that absorbs oil but not water. It was fascinating and extended our discussion.

Pollution Prevention & Conservation Practices @EvaVargaAir Pollution – Acid Rain Activity

Acid rain is a broad term that includes any form of precipitation (rain, snow, fog, hail, or even dust) with acidic components, such as sulfuric or nitric acid that fall to the ground from the atmosphere in wet or dry forms. With the aid of the visual above, we discussed the pathway by which precipitation becomes acidic.

While we didn’t undertake the lab outlined below due to time constraints, I encouraged each of the Scouts to set up the lab portion of the activity is to demonstrate the effects of acid rain on our environment.

Materials

  • Six Petri dishes (3 for the control, 3 for the acidic solution you choose to test)
  • Pipette
  • Large bell jar or similar item
  • Sulfuric acid or an alternative acidic solution (lactic acid – milk or a citric acid – lemon juice)
  • Two 2-liter soft drink containers
  • Four small pieces of marble or limestone
  • Small growing plant
  • Four small pieces of raw meat (fish or chicken)
  • Two green leaves
  • Small amount of soil

Procedure

Several days in advance, prepare Petri dishes with soil & stone, leaf, and raw meat (two dishes each). One set is to be the control to which distilled water is added. Add a solution of 50% sulfuric acid to the other set. Keep these in a location that is secure so they don’t accidentally get spilled.

Display the Petri dishes and show the class how the acid has affected soil/stone, plant, and animal materials compared to the items in plain water.  Together discuss what effects they think acid rain would have on the various aspects of their local ecosystem.

Set up the following long-term experiment:

  1. Place the potted plant under the bell jar and add a Petri dish or other small vessel of 10% sulfuric acid. Maintain plant normally including acid solution.
  2. Put about one inch of 10-15% sulfuric acid solution into one of the soft drink containers. Suspend a marble or limestone chip above the solution. Cap tightly.
  3. Duplicate (a) and (b) with water only as controls.
  4. Put a piece of raw meat in each of two Petri dishes; immerse one in water and cover, immerse the other in weak acid solution and cover. Note: these pieces of meat will
    deteriorate but the effect of the acid solution will become evident over a period of time.
reduce pollutionExcerpted from a slide show created by the Utah National Parks Council of the BSA

Pollution Prevention & Conservation

Lastly, we brainstormed a number of ways we could help to reduce pollution and conserve our natural resources. We filled the whiteboard with their ideas and discussed several in more depth.

Each Scout was then directed to choose two to put them into practice for the next couple of weeks. I asked that they keep track of their progress and to report back to me what they learned from the experience.


Join us next week for the final post in the series, whereupon I focus on an outdoor biodiversity study and an environmental impact statement.

Happy Earth Day: 5 Green Travel Tips

traveltipsAs a family, we travel a lot. It is a major component of how we educate our children. As we explore our world – whether on a short hike along the Oregon Coast Trail near our home or on the ancient foot paths leading to Machu Picchu, we try to keep in mind how we are impacting the earth.

Responsible travel, in our mind, should do more than merely leave no trace. When we travel, we make an effort to consciously make a positive impact. Below you will find 5 green travel tips – simple things we do to help minimize our negative impact when we travel:

5 Green Travel Tips

travellightTravel Light

Airlines today are charging more than ever for baggage fees and heavy bags also reduce the plane’s fuel economy. We pack lighter by planning out our wardrobe prior to departure – just one pair of hiking shoes and a pair of flip-flops, for example.

We also pack moisture-wicking clothes that can be washed in the sink and line-dried in just a few hours. Between the four of us, we generally take just two-three checked bags. We carry-on only a small backpack. With each successive trip, we’ve learned what we really need and continue to make small improvements.

conserveresourcesConserve Natural Resources

Around the world, water shortages are becoming increasingly big problems. Reducing our usage of water is a goal both at home and as we travel. We re-use our towels during extended stays and we turn off the water while shaving and brushing our teeth. We each carry a refillable BPA-free bottle with us.

I now take a digital photo of the brochures and maps, returning them to reception when we’ve finished with them so another may use it.  Though it has proven difficult in some countries, we also try to recycle whenever possible.

We typically leave a “Do Not Disturb” sign on our hotel room door for the duration of our stay. Why waste energy and harsh chemical cleansers when we wouldn’t clean our living spaces daily at home. We are also mindful to never leave the lights, AC/heat, or television on when we are out of the room.

buylocalBuy Local & Responsibly

You have undoubtedly seen the identical assembly line-style souvenirs at shops and road-side stands. Chances are these kitschy souvenirs weren’t locally made. It’s worth taking the time to seek out local artisans and craftsmen from whom you can buy directly. It also gives you an opportunity to ask them about their craft, learn about their culture, and engage on a deeper personal level.

There are unscrupulous people who have no problem selling ancient artifacts or products made from endangered species and precious hardwoods. When we shop, we read labels and ask questions, such as “What is this item made of?” and “Do I need special documents to take this home?”

It may not be against the law in their country to sell these items, but you can vote with your wallet by refusing to buy them. Take time to familiarize yourself with WWF’s Buyer Beware Guide.

leavenotraceLeave No Trace

National parks all around the world are reporting more and more damage caused by careless tourists. Just yesterday I read of a local natural hot springs that has been closed off to public use due to vandals and careless visitors who have left rubbish and human waste.

In places such as the Galapagos Islands, there are well-marked trails and naturalist guides who ensure that visitors stick to them. If you go hiking, it’s crucial to adhere to the established trails to avoid harming native flora. Also, consider taking an empty bag and picking up any trash you spot along the way.

embracecultureEmbrace the Culture

One of the greatest rewards of travel is meeting other people. Take time to immerse yourself in the music, art and cuisine of the native culture. Accept and embrace the differences that make it unique and take time to learn about their traditions. Get to know the locals and how they view life.

Whenever we travel to a new destination, we take a piece of that experience with us for the rest of our lives. You might be surprised what you discover when you open up your mind to new ideas

Many of the world’s developing nations have people desperately in need of basic necessities that we often take for granted. Non-profit organizations can help you make a big difference simply by packing school or medical supplies. Here are a few to get you started:

  • Adopt-A-School Promotes world literacy and donations to libraries and schools in the U.S. and around the world.
  • Cross-Cultural Solutions A nonprofit with well-thought-out projects based on community needs in 11 countries.
  • Earthwatch Sets the gold standard for voluntourism, with projects that often focus on scientific research and wildlife conservation and emphasize education for the traveler.
  • Global Vision International Runs 100 programs, partnering with local groups in 25 countries, ranging from the Jane Goodall Institute to Rainforest Concern.
  • Pack For A Purpose A nonprofit whose mission is to positively impact communities around the world by assisting travelers who want to take meaningful contributions to the destinations they visit.

carbon footprint

You might also be interested in my post, 10 Steps to More Sustainable Living.