Module 10-Maura McGonigal

  1. Research a biodiversity hotspot location and summarize in 150-250 words the biodiversity and sustainability situation in the chosen area.
  2. Consider and describe the biodiversity and sustainability situation in your hometown in 150-250 words.
  3. Compare and contrast the biodiversity and sustainability in the two locations in 150-250 words.


  1. Using the following website I located a biodiversity hotspot in the Horn of Africa, The hotspot is located on the Horn of Africa, and is one of the most depleted hotspots in the world. The Horn of Africa was used extensively for its natural resources for thousands of years and been consumed to the point that only 5% of its original habitat remains intact. The two contributing factors to the destruction of the ecosystem in the Horn of Africa are overgrazing by animals and charcoal harvesting. The Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans all used the region as a source of natural resources. The lack of strong government protection also contributed to the region becoming a biodiversity hot spot. The area contains the threatened species including the antelope, baboon, gazelle, and many reptiles. The Horn of Africa is one of two arid hotspots. This is clear from the 2,750 endemic plant species in the region. The area now has 145,322 square kilometers of protected land.
  2. My hometown is Peters Township in western Pennsylvania. In my hometown we have a variety of nonnative species that have infested the region. The three main insects that have infested the area are Japanese Beetles, Lady Bugs, and Stink Bugs. These insects lack natural predators therefore enabling the species to flourish. One summer, the Japanese beetle infestation was so extreme that they nearly ate our patio peach tree to death. In my hometown, we also face an overpopulation of deer. Since 2000, the population of Peters Township has increased 29.2%. The increase in population leads to an increase in demand for housing. Unfortunately the overpopulation of deer issue continues to get worse seeing as more forestland is cleared and turned into neighborhoods each year. This leads to a large amount of automobile accidents with deer. The remaining deer struggle to survive the winter months due to a lack of low level shrubbery. The deer population is unsustainable and is largely a result of the clearing of woodlands for human housing.
  3. Both the Horn of Africa and my hometown, Peters Township, are currently faced with decreasing biodiversity and sustainability issues. Both region’s issues are partially if not fully a result of human interaction in the environment. While the regions are both facing biodiversity issues, the regions issues are manifesting in different ways. The depletion of the Horn of Africa led to the region becoming an arid environment and thereby threatening grazing species like antelope and gazelle. Peters Township should learn from the Horn of Africa’s experience and realize a similar situation is occurring with the deer in the township. In Peters Township, a decrease in land led to a depletion of food resources for deer. While the current deer population is not threatened, with continued human development, the deer population may become threatened.   Similarly, the Japanese beetle infestation in Peters Township may threaten plant species in the region. The Japanese beetles disrupted the ecosystem in western Pennsylvania because they do not have a natural predator in the region.

Module 09- Maura McGonigal



My diagram displays the connection between the Wiki Leaks Cables and climate change. The diagram begins with the Copenhagen Accord and the need for support to mitigate climate change. The Copenhagen Accord is a plan drafted by World leaders to handle climate change through mitigation and sustainable development. The need for support led to world powers seeking support through unconventional means in which cables were eventually leaked. For example China unsuccessfully attempted to use spear phishing to hack the US Climate Change Office. The United State of America used the Central Intelligence Agency to spy on other countries in search of information that could be used to gain support and political backing. The information placed in the cables was used by the United States to bribe and threaten countries into supporting the Copenhagen Accord and the United States stance on climate change. The Dutch rejected and did not support the Copenhagen Accord, stating disapproval of financial leverage for climate change negotiations. However, Saudi Arabia chose to support the Copenhagen Accord with the promise that the United States would help to diversify the country’s economy. The Saudi Arabia economy is centered around petroleum. In the cables, Saudi Arabia requested economic diversification in exchange for supporting the Copenhagen Accord. The United States threatened Ethiopia until Zenawi announced support for the Copenhagen Accord. Between the threats and bribery, the United States was able to gain backing and support for the Copenhagen Accord. This ultimately led to 140 nations supporting the accord, which comprised of 75% of the countries. These countries represented 80% of the greenhouse gas emissions.


Meetings like the Copenhagen Accord are vital for mitigation of climate change and sustainable development. Climate change is a worldwide issue that effects the poorest and the richest nations. Climate change affects everyone in the world, as well as future generations. I believe that any meetings or correspondence regarding climate change should be a public matter. I think that it is a good thing that Wiki Leaks Cables were made public and in the future should be available to the public. However, I disagree with the way in which the United State of America has conducted climate change diplomatic issues. I feel that the United States should act in a more ethical manor and set an example as a world leader. I believe that the support for the meeting should not be gained through political bribery and threats. In the case of Saudi Arabia and Zenawi, bribes and threats were used, respectively, to gain political backing in the Copenhagen Accord. Instead, I believe the meetings should focus on the countries on an individual scale and the countries should have a strong desire to help the global climate situation. I believe the results would be more beneficial if the countries are participating for the correct reasons, not because they are threatened or bribed. It has been seen that some poor nations do not support the Copenhagen Accord. I do not think that an overarching plan can be applied to all countries. Every country requires specific climate change mitigation plans that are plausible in each situation. I believe a proper plan that fits every countries situation, along with each countries desire to change, is the only solution to the global climate change.

Module 8- Maura McGonigal

I will be assessing my hometown for natural hazard events. My hometown is Peters Township Pennsylvania, which is a suburb approximately forty minutes south of Pittsburgh. Using the Nathan World Map of Natural Hazards, I determined that my hometown is at risk for tornadoes and extratropical storms or winter storms. Peters Township is at low risk for earthquakes and wildfires. According to the map, Peters Township is somewhere between zone 2 and zone 3 for tornado risk. Peters Township is in the zone 3 for the extratropical storms. These maps are a good source for determining general areas where different natural hazards are common. However, the maps make it difficult to determine the exact boarders and locations of various areas.


Using the Hungarian National Association of Radio Distress Signaling and Infocommunications’ (RSOE) Emergency and Disaster Information Service (EDIS), I discovered an Environmental Pollution incident in the state of Louisiana. Specifically, the incident occurred in the Bayou Teche waterway near Morgan City. The incident occurred on March 29th at approximately eight in the morning. The threat level is reported as “medium.” The website does not reveal details about the type of environmental pollution, but my hometown is at risk for environmental pollution events. My hometown is in an industrial area that also has farming as well as hydraulic fracturing infrastructure. All of these systems can result in environmental pollution. However, the incident in Louisiana resulted in contamination of a major waterway where as my hometown does not have a major waterway. Morgan City is a smaller scale than Peters Township. Peters Township has approximately twice the population of Morgan City. If an environmental incident occurred in Peters Township the contamination may be more contained than in the Bayou Teche waterway. The contamination in the Bayou Teche waterway will likely spread the contamination to a larger scale and have a larger impact on the environment. Often times with environmental contamination, children and pregnant women are the most vulnerable to the pollutants. Insuring that schools and homes are free of contamination is absolutely vital to protect these vulnerable populations.


According to, tornadoes are the main natural hazard threat in western Pennsylvania1. Western Pennsylvania also has a large record of floods and hail1. From my personal experience, I have seen flooding, hail storms, and a microburst in Peters Township. I live on a protected wetland and throughout the past 15 years, the creek that runs through my front yard has flooded on multiple accounts. I also witnessed a microburst in which over fifty trees in my yard were uprooted and broken. My personal experience is in agreement with and the Nathan World map, in that Peters Township in susceptible to tornadoes, winter storms, as well as some flooding and hailstorms.


In order to reduce the vulnerability to tornadoes and winter storms in Peters Township, households should maintain supplies in case of an incident. All households should have food and water in case of a natural hazard event. Households should also have a plan in place in the event of a tornado. Specifically, children should be taught to go to a secure room without windows, typically a basement or bathroom. Schools should also implement tornado drills in which the students go to a designated area away from windows. The students should also be taught how to protect their head while in the designated area incase of flying debris. Parents and teachers should implement these emergency plans to decrease vulnerability. I can make sure to follow my own advice and keep emergency supplies stocked and implement an emergency plan in the event of a natural hazard event.


  1. “Pittsburgh, PA Natural Disasters and Weather Extremes,”, 29March2016, extremes.htm.

Module 7- Maura McGonigal

I am from a town in the south hills of Pittsburgh called Peters Township. I spent my whole life in Peters Township until I moved to State College for school. Peters Township is approximately forty-five minutes outside of Pittsburgh and is in a different county than Pittsburgh. Peters Township is a typical suburb with neighborhoods and shopping centers as well as public parks and local farms. The township population is approximately forty-six thousand people. Peters Township is located far enough away from the city so that there is no public transportation in the town; everyone travels by car. The public and private schools utilize buses but that is the only other means of transportation with in the town. Many professionals that live in Peters Township commute into Pittsburgh every day.

As was mentioned in the module, Bogota, Colombia has implemented Ciclovia every Sunday and holiday during which the streets are closed for cars and opened to pedestrians. The citizens come to walk, dance, workout, cycle, skate, and more. This event promotes regular physical activity within the community and decreases pollution from cars.   In Peters Township, one day each summer, we celebrate community day. On this day the Peters Township residents have a mini Ciclovia. I think Peters Township should learn from Bogota and have more regular park events that promote exercise and health as well as decrease pollution from cars.   Throughout Peters Township there is a public trail on which people ride bikes, skate, and walk. While the trail is a nice feature, I believe a public event would be more successful at increasing physical activity and improving public health.

In the module we also learned about Curitiba’s bus system and its success as a public transit system. Curitiba implemented a bus system because it would have proven difficult to build an affordable subway system. I think Curitibia is a perfect example of a community determining the most sustainable improvement for public transportation and then acting upon it. As I mentioned previously, many residents of Peters Township commute into Pittsburgh on a daily basis via automobiles. I believe Peters Township could learn from Curitiba’s success and begin moving towards a more sustainable mode of transportation for the daily commute into Pittsburgh. In the bordering townships there are public transit trolleys that travel from the south hills into Pittsburgh. Peters Township could investigate extending the trolley tracks into a location within the township and provide incentives for residents to use the public transit rather than using their automobiles.

Module 06-Maura McGonigal

The summer after my sophomore year in college, I studied abroad. I studied photography and architecture in Rome, Italy for six weeks. During the six weeks I spent in Rome, I learned about other cultures and social norms, which became an integral part of my daily life. The most drastic change in my lifestyle during this time was my food intake. Prior to this trip, I consumed meat every night for dinner. The Italian diet mainly consists of pasta, pizza, cheese, and bread. Throughout the six weeks I spent in Italy, I ate meat twice. Meat was available, however, it was not the norm to order meat dishes. Meat options also differed from the United States. In Italy, meat options included cured meats with cheeses or cured meats in pizza or pasta. Meat dishes also double or tripled the price of pasta dishes. I only went to two restaurants where I saw a steak available on the menu. This was a drastic change to my diet that was a direct result of the Italian social norms.

As we learned in this module, meat consumption in the United States is of great concern. Meat consumption draws on a variety of social issues including animal cruelty, unsustainable agriculture, antibiotic resistance, and greenhouse gas emissions. The Meatrix video displayed the reality of factory farms highlighting animal treatment and many other social issues. In Italy, it is socially normal to consume less meat than it is in the United States. When I lived in Italy, I ate less meat than I did previously in the United States. The choice to consume less meat improves the social issues of greenhouse gas emissions and sustainable agriculture. Livestock, specifically cows, consume a large portion of the world’s supply of corn. The depletion of the corn supply is contributing to social famine in third world countries. Cows also produce a significant amount of greenhouse gases, specifically methane. By consuming less meat, the greenhouse gas emission and social famine issues are decreased. I think that the American culture could learn from the Italian social norms and decrease their meat consumption and thereby improve social issues with which we currently struggle.


Drinking Water Crisis!

My first case study focuses on drinking water safety in Rwanda. The information for this case study was found at the following link:, which is a news source for Africa. In a developing country like Africa, 4/5 of illnesses are caused by water-borne pathogens. Currently, the goal is to develop purification techniques for drinking water. Historically, boiling water has been used to kill microbial activity however this is not always possible in Rwanda. Society for Family Health, a company that provides alternative water purification techniques in Rwanda, emphasizes the importance of training the users how to properly utilize the purification products. Hygienic storage and consumption methods must also be in place for drinking water purification to succeed. This article focuses on improving access to clean drinking water in Rwanda, where drinking water is often contaminated with bacteria and viruses that lead to death. As mentioned in the module, the electronic waste sites in Africa are leaching dangerous chemicals into the environment that will persist for decades. This likely will affect the safety of drinking water near electronic dumpsites in Africa.

My second case study focuses on the drinking water regulation in China. This information was found through china dialogue, a nonprofit organization that centers around environmental and sustainability issues in China.The link to the article I used is : The article analyzes the success of the 12th five-year plan that focused on increasing access to and improving the quality of drinking water. China invested 112 billion dollars into drinking water safety improvement and has focused on science and technological innovations to meet these goals. It appears that access to safe drinking water has increased and is spreading from urban areas to rural areas. However, rural areas are experiencing issues with arsenic, salt, and fluorine contamination from geological sources as well as persistent organic pollutants and hormones from industrial and societal activity and development. Industrial contamination of the environment that then leads to unsafe drinking water displays a downside to development. The industrial activity that resulted in contamination was likely profitable but does not out weigh the detrimental effects it has on the environment and population health.

When comparing and contrasting the two case studies to my place of residence, State College Pennsylvania, there are many similarities and differences to observe. The research lab I work in at Penn State investigates drinking water contamination and the development of analytical methods for drinking water extraction and testing. Drinking water contamination is a worldwide problem that can be viewed on a global and local scale. As shown in these case studies, access to safe drinking water effects Rwanda, China, and the United States of America. This issue does not discriminate between developing or developed countries. However, the contaminants causing the issues do differ between the developed and developing countries. Rwanda, a developing country, struggles with microbial contamination that causes diarrhea, which can lead to death. Where as, the United States of America and China, developed countries, are dealing with environmental contaminants from industrial byproducts like persistent organic pollutants which with long term exposure can lead to cancer and birth defects. It is very important that in the future, developing countries and developed countries learn from the mistakes made previously as pertaining to industrial contamination of the environment. As China and the United State are now learning, contamination events from 50 years ago still persist in the environment today.

Module 04-Maura McGonigal

My hometown is Peters Township, which is a township located in Washington County Pennsylvania. At my house we have two sources of water. Our main source of water is through the municipality. The second source of water is from a private well on my parent’s property. The wells source is the water table. For this project I am going to focus on the municipally supplied water. The Pennsylvania America Water Company supplies the water to Peters Township municipality. The Pennsylvania America Water company reports the sources of water are broken down as follows: 92% surface water, 7% wells, and 1% purchased. They also report that for Pittsburgh and the surrounding areas, the Monongahela River is the only surface water source. The Pennsylvania America Water Company reports that the Monongahela River is able to provide up to 110 million gallons of water per day. After the water is used, it goes into the drainpipes and into a sand mound on my parent’s property. The sand mound filters the wastewater through various layers of filtering materials and ultimately reenters the water table. Solids are left behind in tanks that are pumped out every two years.


Water Usage for Feb 09
Activity USGS Rate Estimation My Frequency Usage
Shower 5 gallons/min 20 minutes 100 gallons
Drinking 8 oz/glass 7 glasses 0.44 gallons
Toilet 3 gallons/flush 5 times 15 gallons
Hand/Dishwashing I gallon/ time 10 times 10 gallons
Dishes 4 gallons/minute 30 minutes 120 gallons
Brush teeth 0.28 gallons 2 times 0.56 gallons
Cooking   1 time 1 gallon
      =247 gallons


Using the water USGS website estimations, I approximated that I used 247 gallons of water on Feb 09th. I would assume this is fairly accurate and representative of a normal day for me. I work in a research lab and today I washed glassware for 30 minutes. I use tap water and distilled water to clean the glassware so I doubled the USGS estimation from 2gallons/minutes to 4 gallons/minutes for dishwashing by hand.   The main areas of water usage in my life are consumption, hygiene, and work. I value my water usage for hygiene and consumption. If I were to restrict my water usage to 2 gallons of water a day, I would not be able to continue working in a research lab. On a personal level, I need to shorten my shower time, turn off water while it is not necessary, and decrease the frequency of showers. It would also be beneficial to upgrade to a newer toilet that uses less water and has an option for solid vs. liquid waste. Unfortunately, with my current work, the two-gallon a day challenge would fail. In the laboratory we do a minimum for 6 water rinses (3 from the tap and 3 distilled) for each piece of glassware. There is no way to avoid this seeing as this is protocol to avoid emulsions and contamination. If I were only focusing on my personal life, I feel that with a lot of effort I would be able to dramatically decrease my water usage. Geography plays an important role in water availability. Various parts of the world and country have scarce amounts of water. For example, the drought in California has made many Californians more conscious of their water usage than people who live in areas without a water scarcity.

Module 3-Maura McGonigal

Question 2.

In respect to the question do the ends justify the means; I think this is very situation based. There are cases where the sacrifice of the means is too much to justify the end result. There are also times where the means are a necessary evil to achieve the end. Both ethical ways of thinking exist because they both have merit and are needed for different situations. However, the decision of whether or not an action is justified depends on the individual analyzing the situation. Each individual has different experiences, which lead to different ethical beliefs. There are situations where one-person may believe that the end justifies the means but another individual may adamantly oppose the means to reach the end. As discussed in the module, this is why democracy is important. It is imperative that every individual has an opportunity to have their point of view represented in the governing body.


Question 6.

In regards to the question addressing selfishness and altruism, I personally believe that all lives are equal therefore my life is no more important or less important than any other individual’s life. I believe that every individual’s life is of equal importance. With that being said, I think it is important that each individual finds a balance in helping others and also focusing on their own success. Some individuals live an extremely altruistic life style that eventually wears on them and destroys their happiness, because they never take the time or energy to focus on their own happiness. On the other hand, some individuals live such a selfish lifestyle that they hurt and destroy the happiness of those that care about them. As with other ethical thought processes, I think that it is vital to find a happy medium between caring for others and caring for oneself. I believe that those who make themselves happy by ensuring the happiness of others achieve true happiness.


Question 4.

Question four presents a comparison of ecocentric ethics and anthropocentric ethics with regards to ecosystem’s purpose. Ecocentric ethics is a belief that ecosystems are most important and are what decisions should be made based on. Anthropocentric ethics is a belief system that humans are most important and the center of decisions. I believe that both belief systems are valid, but that neither is independently correct. I believe that both ecosystems and humans are important and are a deciding factor in decision-making and that a certain degree of balance between ecocentric and anthropocentric thought is necessary. With that being said, I believe that ecosystems existed long before humans walked this earth. I feel that ecosystems have their own purpose other than serving human needs; however, I recognize there is an overwhelming overlap between the two. As the population of humans increases, it is hard to find an ecosystem that humans do not utilize for their own purposes.

Module 2- Maura McGonigal

My diagram focuses on the story behind the creation and utilization of Biogas generators. The two main causes that triggered the implementation of Biogas generators are deforestation and negative population health effects from smoke based cooking techniques. The use of Biogas generators improved the social and ecosystem.   The social system was affected by improving children’s quality of education and women’s quality of life. Since the generators provide methane directly to households, women’s cooking times are decreased, which enabled them to then take slurry waste from the generators and create fertilizer. This then affected the ecosystem by improving the quality of soil and increasing crop production.


When comparing my diagram to Gerry Marten’s diagram, I noticed one main difference. Marten’s diagram focused on all aspects of the social and ecosystem, where my diagram focuses on specific details within the social and ecosystem. I think it is important to be able to look at the system as a whole and encompass all the contributing factors. However, I also feel at times it is important to zone in on the direct effects on the system. Marten’s and my diagram showed similarities in how the social and ecosystem are intertwined through feedback mechanisms. This is an important concept because it shows how changes in the social system affect the ecosystem and vice versa. The similarities and differences in the diagrams arise from individual perspective. It is always important to consider others opinions because everyone has different life experiences, which lead to unique perspectives.biogas-mkm5257

Getting to know you

Hello! My name is Maura. I am originally from the South Hills of Pittsburgh. I enjoy riding horses, skiing, hiking, cooking, and traveling. I graduated from Penn State in May 2014 with a degree in forensic science (chemistry option) and minors in chemistry and psychology. I began doing research my junior year and following graduation I accepted a full-time position in the research laboratory.   I am a research assistant in an analytical chemistry lab that focuses on environmental and forensic applications. I live and work full-time at University Park. I am currently applying and interviewing for pharmacy school. My career goals are to become a pharmacist. I am currently taking courses to meet the prerequisites for pharmacy school. I have laboratory experience investigating environmental chemistry impacts on human health. I am excited for this class to display other perspectives on the environment. I hope to have a well-rounded understanding of the environment and how humans effect the environment after completing this course.


The United States of America has been experiencing an energy crisis.   The coal supply is rapidly decreasing and the USA is becoming increasingly dependent on the Middle East for oil. With the diminishing amount of fossil fuels in the USA and the government’s reluctances to rely on the Middle East, the USA has displayed governance. Foreign policy and natural resource constraints have resulted in unconventional shale gas drilling in America. People have expressed great concern about the sustainability of fracking. Many people are worried about the potentially detrimental impacts fracking could have on the environment. A fracking incidence could result in dangerous chemicals leaching into drinking water. This would affect a local scale in which small towns or counties could experience health effects if fracking sites were to contaminate drinking water supplies. Maps of the shale rock basins in the USA visualize the various shale basins present in the bedrock of America. The shale rock stretching across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio is the Marcellus formation.