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Question of the Week: What’s one scientific fact you learned as a youngster that still affects your environmental decisions as an adult?

2009 May 26

Each week we ask a question related to the environment. Please let us know your thoughts as comments. Feel free to respond to earlier comments or post new ideas. Previous questions.

A salt marsh is an important fishery breeding ground. Coal and oil deposits formed from plants that lived millions of years ago. So many seemingly small facts reflect just a part of the larger environment in which we live.

What’s one scientific fact you learned as a youngster that still affects your environmental decisions as an adult?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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57 Responses leave one →
  1. Joan permalink
    May 26, 2009

    It wasn’t a fact, it was a photo…of a sea turtle that died after ingesting a plastic bag. I realized that seemingly harmless things we do, like throwing trash down, can have a ripple effect on the environment. Remembering that photo affects a lot of my decisions today.

  2. Patrick permalink
    May 26, 2009

    that it’s not okay to leave plastic / non-biodegradable items behind

  3. Paige permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Turning off the lights when not in use saves energy. This simple action not only reminds you to be mindful of your energy consumption it will also save you money on your utility bill.

  4. Linda permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I’m not sure there was ever one scientific fact I learned as a kid that started me down my current path; instead, I feel it was a culmination of many things that shaped my appreciation for our amazing planet. Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom was must-see TV in our house, always. So were any and all National Geographic/Jacques Cousteau specials, no matter how often we’d seen them before. Add to that formative years spent traveling the world as a military dependent, coupled with time spent on my grandparents’ dairy farm, an innate love of animals in all forms, and some time spent as a volunteer zoo-keeper, and how could I end up with anything other than a sense of awe and wonder for the world that surrounds and nurtures us? Becoming a Biologist is simply my way of saying “thanks” and passing on the gift.

  5. Jeff permalink
    May 26, 2009

    The one fact is that matter is neither created or destroyed.
    Therefore, everything is just transferred from one place to another.
    There is no “free” lunch.

  6. Chris S permalink
    May 26, 2009

    In early 1962, the cover story on Natural History was the flooding of the Nile Valley, along many ancient Egyptian monuments, as part of the Aswan Dam Hydroeclectric project. Quite a traumatic sight, seeing priceless archaeological treasures being submerged and lost to posterity.

    It wasn’t too long later, as an undergraduate studying environmental science, that the issue of pandemic schistosomiasis in humans related to infected snail populations living in the area became well known. An unforseen consequence of altering the environment.

    The 1960’s saw many grand ideas, like the co-called Green Revolution, that never really panned out. Due mainly to an unfortunate combination of ignorance and idealistic wishful thinking.
    And all too little hard thinking about the ultimate results of large scale manipulation of the environment.

    Since the invention of agriculture, humans have been unwittingly “experimenting” with their environment. This trend continues into the present day. Huge “sanitary” landfills remove our garbage, leading to an “out of sight, out of mind” attitude that refuses to realistically deal with the issue of wasting resources. Public water supply systems create their own future problems.

    Programs are often implemented without considering the long term consequences… solving one problem only to replace with many others. Human nature is not very scientific.

    So the scientific “fact” that most influences me is the fact that a well thought out experiment is vital to obtaining good and meanful answers. Otherwise it is “garbage in – garbage out”.

  7. Lori permalink
    May 26, 2009

    It concerns me deeply. As a child I learned that styrofoam was not capable of being composted. Yet it still is massively used today. WHY IS THIS??? Why hasn’t it been banned?

  8. Dave permalink
    May 26, 2009

    The ad on tv of the old indian looking across the river with waste in it made me consious of what I through away in the water and smokey bear saying only you can prevent forest fires kept me safe with fires when were camping

  9. Johnny R. permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Immediately after WW2 there was a housing boom, but us kids wanted to keep the undeveloped properties free for us to play our games, so we did what we could to stop it, but failed of course. That area is now densely suburbanized, but it raised my awareness of humanity’s relentless growth aganda.

  10. Erik permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I remember reduce, reuse, recycle of course and that you should always snip the aluminum can 6-pack plastic rings so that birds and marine life don’t get caught up in them.

    I also remember learning that all leafy plants produce oxygen and that your body releases CO2 when you breathe, so in effect your outgoing breath allows the trees to breathe, which then allow you to breathe. A complete endless cycle that keeps us alive. After learning this I remember going up to plants and breathing on them for fun and saying “now the plant can breathe!”

  11. Gail permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Unfortunately, this is happening with a lot of items. The worst item I think is cigarette butts. Many of them litter the sides of our roads and highways because of careless people who constantly heave them out their vehicle windows.

  12. Deb permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Smoking causes Cancer.

    I had a dear childhood friend whose Mom was a chain smoker. As kids we’d often go over each others homes or carpool to different places. When I visited my friend or her mother drove us places I would come home wrecking of cigarette smoke; my mother would insist I shower and throw the clothes in the washing machine ASAP. She explained to me that smoking wasn’t a healthy decsion and that research showed it caused cancer. In my home Cancer was a familiar topic, my maternal grandmother passed away from Uterine Cancer before I was born.

  13. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Have you not heard of ant-matter. It is just a theory in the scientific world now but if Bill Clinton had not canceled the super collider in Texas we might have know more about it. Not to mention all of the discoveries that would have been made while studying matter. Also matter came into being when God spoke the world into existence. Talk about power!

  14. Kevin permalink
    May 26, 2009

    The carbon dioxide, oxygen cycle. What we breathe out, the plants breathe in, and vice versa. Its all interdependent.

  15. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I was taught by my father the importance of conserving the soil and keeping it fertile. The soil is our life as we are farmers. I was taught that even though God placed man on the Earth and gave him dominion over all the plants, animals, and birds that this dominion came with responsibilities. The people that live in rural America realize this responsibility and take it to heart. If they do not practice good stewardship, economics as well as “mother nature” will take it away from them. Did you know that the Soil & Water Conservation Districts in the United States are the worlds largest environmental organization in the world! These districts have elected boards that represent 1,000’s of landowners across the 50 states and give direction to millions of dollars to be used for conservation of the land, water, wildlife, and animals in danger of being extinct. They do it silently behind the scenes because they believe in being good steward of the land. You rarely hear of them in lawsuits or “raising hell” in Washington DC because they do not prey on the emotions of others to “obtain donations” so that their “save the planet” charity can cash flow. I must admit part of these things have been passed on by Dad and I have picked upon some by scientific observation of nature, people, and governments.

    Jimmy McCurry

  16. bell permalink
    May 26, 2009

    That we need all living creatures, even the bugs, as they are a vital food source for many other creatures in the food chain.
    So to this day I rarely use pesticides, unless the insect is dangerous to the health of my family.

  17. Edik permalink
    May 26, 2009

    The VALUE of NATURE.

  18. Chris S permalink
    May 26, 2009

    It was the Great Dust Bowl of the 1930’s that prompted the creation of the Soil& Water Conservation Districts. They get their funding through federal, state and county monies…. which leaves them vulnerable to political agendas on many levels.

    And the first observation I ever heard made about breeding resistence to pesticides in insect populations was from a high school age “farm” girl in Cape May, NJ back in the mid ’60’s who happened to work at a local riding stable that I frequented during family visits to my grandparents. Practical and clear headed, all the kids that worked there were asute observers of nature, and excellent role models for me. I believe that the stable, Hidden Valley Ranch is now owned by the Nature Conservancy.

  19. LEO BYFORD permalink
    May 26, 2009

    One of the things that I learned going up was how to take care of the land. If we did not take care of the land it would not take care of us. My grandparents live on a farm and they understood what we can do with the waste that they generated every day. I have for years tried to understand why government and people do not want to deal with the waste issues we have. Congress put in place laws and rules that the government and the private sector are mandated to follow, but when government does not follow the federal laws and encourages the private sector to not follow the federal laws it provides us with a cleard understanding why we have the environmental mess many in this country are now facing and the health and energy problems that effect each of us every day. Ever ask yourself why there is so much cancer, lung issues, or blood disorders then compared to 10, 20 or 30 yeqrs ago.

  20. Lori permalink
    May 26, 2009

    would like to hear of this theory? is it ant-matter? or anti-matter? just want clarification.

  21. Lori permalink
    May 26, 2009

    This is because people in the food industry are not education on those issues. it doesn’t matter to them unless they are directly affected. They would become our strongest lobbists, if they knew what exactly to lobby for.

  22. Lori permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Memories! They were great campaigns, powerful messages, which still come to mind even now.

  23. Ahmed ElDifrawi, Ph.D. permalink
    May 26, 2009

    It is not one scientific fact that impacting me but rather the accumilation of scientific knowledge with life experiences. Loving nature and wild life as a younbster, Scientific education, observing marine life deteruration through the years, analysing the amount of garbage a wasteful person can generate then multiplying this by the 6 billion inhabitants of the world makes me so coscious of every thing I do. Further that was the reason for me to take solar energy as my professional career being the cleanest of all energy forms.

  24. Skyler permalink
    May 26, 2009

    To this day, I still cut all the rings on my soda/beer 6-packs. I learned that animals get their head stuck and suffocate or worse, get their beak stuck and die of starvation. Guess it scared me for life.

  25. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 26, 2009

    Sorry, my spell check doesn’t discern between ant-matter and anti-matter. A physicist from a major university could enlighten you more on the theory of anti-matter. Since we did not develop our super collider a smaller version was built in Europe and research is being done there.

  26. Jimmy McCurry permalink
    May 26, 2009

    I totally agree. In Texas we have entomologists that are hired by local land owners to monitor “pests” both vegetative and of the insect world. If there is a balance of natural predators such as lacewing fly larvae, spiders, lady beetle larvae and etc they will recommend not using pesticides. The predators often take care of the situation and cost the landowners nothing except the fee of the entomologist. The less pesticides we can use the better it is for the environment, the landowner, and actually the pesticide for lower use lessens the resistance buildup of the “bad bugs” to the chemical. If however we have to spray we look at biological (natural hormones) first to protect the predators. One such hormone that has been used on beet army worms is Confirm. It is safe to the environment and affects the instars of the worms, basically they outgrow their external skeletons.

  27. James Atkinson permalink
    May 26, 2009

    The Boy Scouts taught me a lot about Nature.
    Don’t fall in love with a frog and take him home in a tank!
    “let him free to take his chances with Nature”. Jimmy.

  28. radhika kedia permalink
    May 27, 2009

    When we are kids we learn numerous things and are hardly aware of anything.when we have nothing to do we sit in front of the tv for which our parents encourage us and later they get annoyed because we are only watching the tv. Who’s fault is this? our parents.This may not sound scientifical but it is.The tv emits harmful rays that affect the eyes. therefore we shouldn’t watch much of tv.this is one fact that I have learned ever since and still watch tv only half an hour per day.

  29. Mary in PA permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I learned the lesson of conservation in all things from my parents. My mother especially, reduced, recycled and reused before the term came into fashion. We composted, harvested frugally from nature and used as little modern resources such as electricity as possible. Consumerism was not big in our home, but appreciation for all things wild was paramount.

  30. Gabriel Michas permalink
    May 27, 2009

    The value of Nature VS The nature of Value, a significant insight upon human evolution is depending on.

    And this is a scientific fact by all means.

    Thank you for the passage Edik.

  31. Anonymous permalink
    May 27, 2009

    To be fair, it is used far less than it used to, even though it’s still used extensively. Think of this – burgers used to come in those styrofoam boxes, now they come in paper wrappers or paperboard boxes. Not that those aren’t wasteful, but it’s an improvement anyway.

  32. Anonymous permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I can’t remember anymore – my parents tell me that when I was only 2 years old I would get upset at the sight of litter on the side of the road. They swear they didn’t teach me this. And I’ve loved animals for as long as I can remember. I really believe I was born with the desire to protect the natural world.

  33. Dr. Spaceman permalink
    May 27, 2009

    There wasn’t any one thing that sticks out in my mind that I can remember but many small things that I was always told to do growing up. The funny thing is now looking back on them they were pounded in my head so my pop can save some money but now they are considered ‘going green’.

    I was always told to turn off the lights, don’t take long showers, don’t let the water run while brushing my teeth, etc, etc…

    Despite what the original intentions where, I’m glad I was taught these measures that I still practice today. Now I am able to use my knowledge to teach him good, green, money saving practices.

  34. Gabriel Michas permalink
    May 27, 2009

    All the 28 answers up to now are so fruitful for good thinking results; it is an honor writing to this blog for sure. Thank you.

    To my mind, the BLUE COLOR, is surrounding life and by a scientific aspect in a way.

    As a youngster, I first show the BLUE SKY above, and from that start I also watch the BLUE SEA below, and then, then.., I found life everywhere, so precious and as unique as our little BLUE SPOT EARTH Planet in Space.

    The BLUE COLOR, like a BLUE DOLPHIN with a smile and a voice, talking and to you… always like a whisper inside, a remembrance without the need for a scientific way of thought, simple as that.
    And after all, as I am getting older, I remember better this time and understand these words from a poem, from Odysseus Elytis:

    “..Oh, mighty God, with how much Blue color you have covered us to hide in from us..”

    Scientifically yours,

  35. Linda permalink
    May 27, 2009

    Me too! I guess some lessons really do stick with you forever.

  36. druz permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I learned some thermodynamics from my Dad. When I’d stuff my clothes and toys under the bed or into the closet with the order to “clean my room”, he’d always find them. In addition to the heating he’d put on my behind, I’d have to clean the room all over again correctly. Lessons learned:

    1. Everything’s got to go somewhere (mass balance)
    2. There’s a cost for everything (energy loss from moving belt transferred to my bottom).

    Nature behaves the same.

  37. Don Olson permalink
    May 27, 2009

    Plants produce oxygen.

  38. Tracy Rouleau permalink
    May 27, 2009

    Long before the concept of ecosystem services had hit the mainstream media, and probably before it was accepted by much of the scientific community, as a child I learned about “Mother Nature”. I was taught that if we took good care of the earth, then “Mother Nature” would take good care of us, I have now passed that wisdom on to my children.

  39. NJT permalink
    May 27, 2009

    All the fresh water that is on earth and all that ever has been on earth, is all that we will ever have. There was a catchy song I heard that mentioned how the water that the dinosaurs drank is the same water we are drinking now. I remember thinking how amazing it is that the same water has been circulating throughout the earth for millenia, cleaning and regenerating itself while providing essential support, kind of like the blood stream of a living organism. Knowing that water is a finite resource, I make an extra effort to reduce consumption and water waste.

  40. KJB permalink
    May 27, 2009

    How come marine turtles lay hundreds of eggs and a very small number (three on the average) make it to adulthood? I’m originally from Costa Rica and growing up I spent weekends outdoors either in the mountains or at the beach. The most striking thing I heard as a youngster was the fact that marine turtles can lay hundreds of eggs and yet few can make it to adulthood. Humans are among the factors that affect this outcome. Every time I will be camping during “arrivadas”, I will wake up early in the morning and “erase” the tracks of the turtles in the sand to avoid people from digging up the eggs to eat. I went to college and became a biologist, one of the best things I ever did in my life.

  41. Mary permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I think that every child or young adult should be required to take an environmental class. I took one my freshman year of high school with a teacher with a lot of passion about environmental issues. Four eight years later, I’m applying to law school to study environmental law.

    The images of beaten seals, of thousands of buffalo skulls packed on top of each other, of the statistics of energy consumption and population growth(the little lighted dots that exponentially light up over a duration fo time. These are all images and thoughts that I could never forget and kept me wanting to learn more and do more.

    It’s so important to educate our youth to keep this movement going.

  42. Jackenson Durand permalink
    May 27, 2009

    I remember back to my childhood, almost every day I used to go on top of my town hill where there is a forest with big and tall trees and, that is where they used to conserve all town water reserve. I had always been a person observe, one day I asked they security guard to show me where and how they purify water, what type of chemical they was using.

  43. Lisa permalink
    May 28, 2009

    Learning about how our trash (from littering) ends up in the waterways (rivers, lakes and oceans) and the harm it can cause. Specifically the plastic six pack rings that animals get tangled up in.

  44. HCM permalink
    May 28, 2009

    While it may have scared you for life, the image is not correct. All the ring carriers sold in the US are required to be degradable by law since the early 1990s. Most are photodegrabable and lose their strength rapidly, making it nearly impossible for them to cause harm. While it doesn’t hurt to cut them up, it is unlikely they can impact wildlife if you don’t. Nothing gets hurt if you dispose of them properly (recycling program for #4 plastic).

  45. Sharon permalink
    May 28, 2009

    I learn how one thing entered into the ecosystem has a rippling affect that affects other things as the ripple affect moves outward.

  46. Karen Lo permalink
    May 28, 2009

    This is not one thing but there was this Book that my parents purchased for me on saving the environment with Sesame Street Chracters. They taught you how not to waste water when brushing your teeth and how to make sure you dont waste electricity when getting food out of the fridge. Till this day, I can still see the pictures from the book reminding me to be environmentally friendly and not be wasteful.

  47. Janet Copeland permalink
    May 31, 2009

    Litter. Just the simple concept that one persons act of litter may seem minor, but multiple that by everyone and that is what is the major scientific problem in every area. Math is the common denominator of all our problems. One person has always made a difference (good and bad) and finally the change has come in large numbers do to all the Environmental actions of our new President. This has been in the works for years and all the people and presidents before have contributed in one way or another in leading up to this. It just got so devastating that we are seeing major enactments now because the answers are back that we our the endangered species and act now or there will be no time left. All the families speaking up and statistics are being acted on. He is thankfully in the right place at the right time. Green is what this presidency is going to be remembered for. The shut down of America had to happen so that the changes could be made to redesign America’s auto industry, housing commercial buildings for the Health of Our Nation and the World.

  48. Stephanie permalink
    May 31, 2009

    A picture from my early science class days of a bird covered in oil from a spill or choked by the soda six-pack plastic rings. I remember teachers stressing the importance of reusing, reducing, and recycling.

  49. Clay Turner permalink
    June 1, 2009

    I had heard and saw a video clip of an otter that had to be clean due to oil covering his body due to a previous spill.

  50. Clay Turner permalink
    June 1, 2009

    From the previous comment I would like to add that from images like these have led me in pursuing a career in environmental engineering. It is not only animals and plants that concern me but the life of humans as well.

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