Updated: Jul 20

By Kyle Tianshi, Grade 10

The San Bernardino National Forest is one of nature’s finest miracles–a lustrous unpolluted sky over 800,000 acres of pine forests, soaring peaks, and cascading waterfalls. Amid the picturesque landscape, a seemingly innocuous metal tube runs down the slope of a mountain. The standard hiker might stumble upon a portion of the pipe and pay it no heed, but most don’t realize that it connects an aquifer of natural water to a factory owned by Nestle, one of the world’s leading bottled water manufacturers.

Nestle withdraws 60 million gallons of water from the aquifer every year. Despite claiming they constantly monitor the environmental conditions of the spring and only collect water that naturally comes to the surface, their actions have undoubtedly impacted the forest negatively. Residents noticed a significant decrease in the water level of streams, sometimes reporting that rivers were running completely dry for periods of time. As news spread and protests arose about the company’s extravagant water usage, people began uncovering the true nature of the operation. Nestle must pay a small fee of several hundred dollars per year for a license from the United States Forest Service to gain access to the water. It sounds simple enough, but people were shocked to find that Nestle was operating under an expired permit from 1988.

By 2017, the petitions against Nestle had reached their peak. People were rightly perturbed that a foreign company was somehow allowed to drain millions of gallons of water while the rest of California did all they could to conserve during the decade-long drought. A petition called the Courage Campaign amassed over 140,000 signatures within a few months–and each name under the movement meant an email to Nestle and the California Water Resources Control Board. Whether it was to reduce the staggering number of emails storming their inbox or to get to the bottom of the situation, the state finally began examining Nestle’s operations.

The investigation found that Nestle might only be entitled to 2.3 million gallons of water, a far cry from the 58 million they took that year. The California Water Resources Control Board offered to renew Nestle’s permit for three more years, giving them the ability to continue the operation as long as there was sufficient water in the spring. The decision was backed by the argument that they needed more time to do the proper studies and accurately assess the situation. Though many were unhappy that Nestle could continue the operation, if only temporarily, there was nothing that they could do except sit back and wait.

On April 23, 2021, the California Water Board released a draft cease and desist order, informing Nestle Waters that they must stop all unlawful diversion of water and limit themselves to over 25 times less water than they were originally taking. The announcement came as a huge relief to many Californians and is an enormous step in the right direction.

The war, however, is far from over. As of today, Nestle is still fighting against the Water Board, and the state is finding it difficult to take down a multi-billion dollar company. This is where we should step in. One of the biggest reasons why the cease and desist draft came to fruition in the first place was the overwhelming public outcry from citizens all across America. Sign petitions. Voice your concerns. Generate awareness. And most importantly, the next time you take a sip from a plastic water bottle, think about where it came from.,than%20fishes%20in%20the%20sea.,depend%20on%20regular%20surface%20flows.,000%20diarrhoeal%20deaths%20each%20year.

Cover photo from: Urban Milwaukee

By Emma Li, Grade 12

At this point, “the coronavirus” is probably the most famous household name of them all. Emerging in a series of cases in Wuhan, China in December of 2019, COVID-19 swept through the world at a frighteningly rapid rate, forcing many countries to shut down their economies and borders to stem the spread of the highly contagious virus. The first year of the new decade was defined by the pandemic and its impact—either directly or indirectly—on individual families, blue-collar workers, small businesses, and the 2020 U.S. presidential election, to name a few. As businesses and schools are starting to open up again, most people are eager to leave behind the trials of 2020 and return to regular living.

While COVID has been physically, emotionally, and mentally taxing on all of us, there does appear to be a silver lining to the pandemic’s untimely interference in our lives: some positive effects on the environment. While research on this topic is still tentative and not universally descriptive, many researchers of reputable institutions, including NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration), the U.S. Geological Survey, and the ESA (European Space Administration), have presented early research that identifies the pandemic as a potential cause for the changing climate.

After the onset of COVID-19 and the implementation of social distancing regulations, satellite images and data show a decrease in air pollution in many high-polluting countries like India. (1) In New York, air pollution levels dropped by nearly 30% during lockdown (4). At the time of its release in November 2020, the European Environment Agency’s briefing “COVID and Europe’s Environment: impacts of a global pandemic” reported “an unparalleled reduction in GHG emissions in the EU compared to 2019” (2). The briefing also mentions a significant decline in atmospheric NO₂ concentration after lockdown measures were put in place in spring of 2020. (2)

Through analyzing the turbidity and amount of solid material in water, scientists have also concluded that general water quality has improved in some areas during the pandemic. (1) Research scientist Nima Pahlevan at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center found that water in western Manhattan has become clearer; satellite data indicated a “40% drop in turbidity during the pandemic in a section of the Hudson River.” (1) Pahlevan speculated that due to lockdown, fewer people commuted to Manhattan, which reduced the amount of pollutants that ended up in the Hudson River and thus improved water quality there.

However, not all environmental impacts of the pandemic have been positive. In addition to reducing air and water pollution levels, the coronavirus has changed deforestation rates, though not uniformly across the board. Despite the fact that parts of the rainforest in Colombia and Peru have experienced less deforestation since the pandemic began, the Brazilian Amazon rainforest saw greater rates of deforestation, as did rainforests in tropical Indonesia and the Congo. (1) Following the same negative trend, the pandemic also caused a significant surge in plastic production and consumption because of global demand for PPE like masks and gloves. The World Health Organization estimated that the global population uses up 89 million medical masks, 76 million examination gloves, and 1.6 million sets of goggles per month. (3)

Perhaps the most grim piece of news is that many experts label the strides made during the coronavirus as temporary. Pahlevan—the Manhattan water quality researcher—believes that “once we return to pre-pandemic behaviors, water quality will revert as well,” and other researchers agree that “environmental improvements… won’t last if the world goes back to its pre-pandemic ways.” (1) The European Environment Agency noted that “while short-term reductions in energy use and emissions may make 2020 targets achievable, any longer-term goals will require political decisions that prioritize recovery measures which contribute significantly to climate change mitigation.” (2)

We know that the environment is deteriorating fast, and that it is vital for us to preserve it before all actions become too little, too late. The coronavirus has shown that if we all act together, we can make a significant difference in lowering pollution levels in our cities. However, the coronavirus has also shown with flimsy social distancing regulations in the U.S. that it takes deliberate policies to enact real change. Without enforcement in place to ensure that people follow the law, there will always be dissenters hindering the movement to restore the environment, just as there are still people refusing to wear masks in order to help stop spreading SARS-CoV-2. Of course, the individual liberties promised by America’s founding documents must be taken into account when writing environmental policies in the United States; but in this day and age, when we teeter at the edge of a cliff where total environmental destruction lies beyond, Americans have to ask themselves what is really more important: their personal freedom, or Earth’s future?





By Ryan Zhao, Grade 7

Imagine landfills piling up with trash and animals going extinct. The cause of this would in part be because we didn’t recycle. Since the Industrial Age, the Earth’s atmosphere has been bombarded with greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide, and methane. Due to this barrage of greenhouse gases, the planet has warmed up significantly. Climate change has cost the United States hundreds of billions of dollars in the last two fiscal years alone. Yet, we have proven since the 1980s that resources such as aluminum and plastics can be safely recycled and/or repurposed to protect the environment by decreasing the production of such resources. We must recycle plastics; it is beneficial to the environment, protects all of the cute and furry animals that are endangered species and at risk of becoming extinct, and strengthens local municipalities by increasing recycling revenue while reducing the amount of land required at landfills.

Recycling plastics and metals are essential to our planet’s survival. In fact, global warming could be counteracted with just a few cans put into a blue bin per week by each American household. Recycling, which refers to the repurposing and reusing of plastics and metals, prevents the emissions of many greenhouse gases and water pollutants and saves energy by decreasing the production of these recycled materials. This, in turn, means that less energy is used, and fewer greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere.

Another benefit of recycling is how it preserves ecosystems. Oftentimes, you may walk outside and see plastic bottles plugging a storm drain or waterway; this has harmful effects for marine wildlife and increases the chance of flooding in low-lying areas. As a result, the plastic materials that find their way into wildlife habits will endanger many animals and directly cause their premature death. For example, if we continue to neglect recycling, many polar bears will continue to die due to climate change and global warming. Polar bears nowadays are malnourished and weak, and they don’t have enough food to be apex predators like they were before. Global warming is destroying the habitats of polar bears, and it is directly caused by the lack of recycling and the overproduction of plastics and metals that area not reused. According to a study from BBC, polar bears will die by the end of the century if we don’t do more to combat shrinking ice caps and climate change, so seeing them floating in the middle of the ocean on an ever-shrinking piece of ice is not new. These once-majestic predators are now patchy-furred and thin. Their natural foods are so scarce that after reaching shore on their ever-shrinking chunk of ice, they must scavenge around in trash cans to gain just the smallest amount of nourishment.

An added benefit for recycling is that it would translate into additional funding for towns within the City of San Diego, and these municipalities could use the monies for research on global warming and ways to combat climate change. Recycling assists us in generating more revenue for our cities, which is good for everyone. Everybody gets slightly lowered taxes, and over time, the environment becomes much cleaner. According to KPBS, in 2017 San Diego made more than 3 million dollars by selling recycled metals alone.

Furthermore, we’ve seen the impacts of reduced production due to COVID-19; when we found ourselves locked away, many factories closed down temporarily. This caused a drastic decrease in the amount of pollutants emitted, thereby causing the air quality to clear up substantially. This is because the manufacturing of plastics is oil derived, which means the process emits an enormous amount of pollutants. Recycling also helps us use less energy in producing metals and plastics, which means that we release fewer pollutants into the air by reusing them instead of manufacturing them from scratch. If we can do this consistently for years, with everyone just recycling a few bottles or cans a day, then we would see the same results that COVID-19 produced. Clear skies would be seen from horizon to horizon. With all this evidence and motivation to recycle, you would belong in the looney bin if you didn’t recycle.

So why should you recycle? To save the environment! To save the polar bears! And to save ourselves money! Everywhere you look, there are good things that will come out of recycling. Recycling is good for all of us. It helps the earth to live in harmony, and it helps maintain ecosystems and their animal populations. Recycling helps to preserve natural habitats, which allows animals to thrive. Finally, we get to earn ourselves some money without doing much. And even if recycling stopped generating revenue for American cities, this does not undermine the value of recycling. Recycling has countless benefits, as we are protecting the only known planet that we can conceivably live on. And if I have to say it again, I will: Due to our own actions, recycling is one of the few options left for us to combat our own extinction. We have the power to save ourselves by just moving our hands a few inches and dropping that bottle into the blue bin, and yet we are not making use of that power. If we don’t, what else did we get our hands for?

Cover photo from The New York Times