In this project, I’m motivated by a desire to understand how to create impactful change through the adoption of sustainable consumption practices and lifestyles. As the negative effects of climate change continue to grow, I seek to better understand how I and my peers can make changes in our own lives to move away from unsustainable consumption practices. In this project, I explore the unique community of Colorado College (CC) and ask questions about this community’s culture, values, and practices in an attempt to better understand how messages of sustainability infused into popular culture can translate into meaningful action. I use focus groups to build a dialogue around CC’s culture and shed light on some of the sustainability successes and challenges faced by this community. I found that many individuals within the Colorado College community perceive the school’s unique culture as supportive of a narrative of sustainability. When thought of through a sociological perspective, this finding can have implications for the ways individuals act and consume within their social realm. Additionally, I found that in some ways, the dominant culture at Colorado College depends on classed expressions of taste and positionality, thus pointing to the exclusionary potential of this culture. This research holds implications for the ways messages of sustainability can be infused into and supported by popular culture and sheds light on some of the challenges and successes faced by communities with a perceived strong emphasis on sustainable lifestyles. In the future, this research can lead to a discussion of how sustainable consumption practices and lifestyles can be promoted through the process of shifting cultural norms and the implementation of institutional initiatives.
Community interactions form the foundation of ecosystems, but their complexity makes predicting species responses to new pressures a difficult challenge. For example, if climate change forces the upward range shift of one species in a system, closely interacting species will either suffer or excel under the new community compositions. This study explores the interactions between two closely related monkeyflowers (Mimulus tilingii var. caespitosus and Mimulus guttatus) and their shared pollinators in order to understand potential responses to future climate changes or species loss. We arranged plants in three community composition treatments (heterospecific, conspecific, and no neighbors) to understand how plant fitness and pollinator visitation are affected by neighboring plants. Specifically, does plant fitness decrease due to pollen limitation or heterospecific pollen deposition under any community treatment? Furthermore, how does environmental data illustrate the system’s response to climate variation at different temporal scales? In our experiment, M. tilingii produced fewer seeds under the conspecific community composition and pollinator exclusion treatments (both p<.001), likely due to intraspecific resource competition and pollen-limitation. Rather than impeding plant fitness, it appears heterospecific interactions may actually stabilize M. tilingii populations. Plants and pollinators also responded positively to higher temperatures and lower cloud cover, indicating sensitivity to climate. Thus, changes in plant or pollinator species abundances, or climate could severely impact the dynamics or viability of the system.
Despite being the largest US methane emitter, the main source of water pollution, the driving force behind species extinction and habitat loss, and an intensive natural resource user, animal agriculture is scantily regulated and almost never considered as an option for combating climate change. This thesis seeks to provide a comprehensive analysis of the widespread environmental harms of the meat industry to demonstrate why it must be controlled. The historic 2015 Paris Agreement provides a framework for policy makers to address several ecological and climate threats, and regulating animal agriculture falls directly in line with the provisions put forth in the agreement. In order for the US to uphold their emissions reductions commitment and duties under the Paris agreement, industrial animal agriculture must be addressed. Current policies are examined as either hindrances or tools for controlling the detrimental impacts of the industry, followed by recommendations for policy vehicles and outlets to regulate the widespread degradation from industrial animal agriculture. If the earth is to avoid catastrophic climate change and ecological collapse, the cow in the room must be addressed.
Alpine ecotones are often used as sites for measuring ecological responses to environmental changes. Recent decades of human-induced climate change have had a measured effect of increasing the altitude of alpine treelines in areas with increasing regional summer temperatures. On Pikes Peak (Southern Rocky Mountains, Colorado), there has been a measured treeline advance in the past several decades. The purpose of this study is to determine whether alpine willow shrubs on Pikes Peak are also advancing upslope in response to recent climate warming trends. After sampling ~300 shrubs in linear transects directed upslope, the shrubs were aged by counting and measuring annual growth rings. There is a significant negative correlation between shrub age and elevation for shrubs on the bottom of the valley (p=0.015). The mean shrub age decreases with increased elevation, and the ages in the lowest elevation band are significantly different from those in the highest elevation band for valley shrubs (p=0.041). The width of annual growth rings did not appear to have a correlation with annual or growing season temperature anomalies. A photographic analysis of aerial photographs from the past several decades was inconclusive. This study suggests that shrubs are increasingly recruiting at higher elevations on Pikes Peak, and have perhaps spread to their current elevation within the past 30 years. By surveying shrub movement in alpine environments, extrapolations can be made about how shrub distribution will change in the future and how shrubs may contribute to feedback cycles for regional climate phenomena.
This thesis advocates for the federal regulation of hydraulic fracturing based on two fundamental arguments. First, I argue that natural gas will be the primary energy source in the United States over the next few decades focusing on the national security implications associated with climate change and foreign oil dependencies. Second, I argue that federal regulation is the only way to ensure the continued development of domestic natural gas due to growing public concern pertaining to groundwater contamination. Finally, the paper presents four policy recommendations to be carried out on the federal level.