Biodiversity — Ralph Diaz

Explain my knowledge of biodiversity and how that relates to this course.

Most of my experience with biodiversity is in the soil. I have taken soils 101 and have learned a large amount about soil microbes and how humans affect soil microbe populations. I find this topic really interesting, so I wanted to write about it. Obviously, using soils for agriculture decreases the microbial population in the soil. There several reasons for this. Elimination of the vast majority of soil niches created by the various plants within the ecosystem happens as soon as the land that will be used for farming is cleared. After this, plowing changes the makeup of the soil, mainly by destroying the soil structure and causing rapid degradation of organic matter in soil (humus), which holds the soil clumps (aggregates) together. Plowing causes the microbial populations to explode for a few days, then have a massive death event as the microbials run out of organic matter to obtain energy from. This results in a soil that has very few niches and a very small population of microbials to fill those niches.

Explain ways of preventing biodiversity loss in soil.

Easy ways of preventing biodiversity loss in soil that is being used for agriculture are crop rotations, cover crops, no plow or reduced plow methods, intercropping, terrace cropping, and many others. All of these methods increase the niches in the soil, which directly provides the soil with more “room” for microbials to use. Not plowing, intercropping, and terrace cropping can allow smaller grasses and plants that would typically be considered weeds (though they actually don’t negatively impact the production of the farm) to live within the crop, allowing permanent niches that greatly boost the amount of microbials. Cover crops and crop rotations help promote diverse nutrients in the soil, allowing more microbials to be sustained in the soil.

How does all of this apply to biodiversity in the world?

I think looking at the soil provides a smaller scale model of how the world’s diversity works. Humans building a city is analogous to plowing a field for a monoculture: it is virtually the worst thing we can do for the diversity in the area. Very few niches exist in a large city because (proportionally) very few non-human organisms exist. We can increase the biodiversity of the city by adding small islands of plants, similarly to using intercropping or putting grassy terraces into a farm. Also, by building up instead of out, we can make a city able to sustain more people without taking up as much of the land, also minimizing our impact on diversity. This is similar to increasing global diversity by growing crops more efficiently to eliminate how much land is used to grow crops.

Please comment some more ideas about how human activities are analogous to the soil diversity! I could use some help with developing this idea.

Thanks for reading — TJ Diaz

Ralph Diaz — The Cable Leaks

My flow chart is on the following page:

Concerning the talk about environmental protocol, the United States decided to do many things that are morally wrong, to push their own agenda. The focus of the discussion was not “What can we do to reduce our negative impact on the environment?” The discussion became “What do we need to do to influence other countries to work towards our goals?” In this conference we decide to bribe other countries with funding for projects. People in the U.S. government hacked the computer of a U.S. citizen to send an email from his email account to deceive the person the email was sent to. Hacking the computer of an individual with the goal of using that computer to deceive the representatives of another country is wrong for multiple reasons. The United States also fell to the level of threatening the Ethiopian officials to gain their support in the matter. We also cut our aid to the countries of Bolivia and Ecuador because they were refusing to support us in this discussion. This is another example of an individual entity taking a collective action problem (global climate change) and being too selfish to make sacrifices to provide everyone with benefits. That being said, I understand countries bargaining for power, but when the representatives of a country stoop to a level in which they are doing things that they would put their citizens into jail for doing, that country is obviously going down the wrong path. Stooping to these levels during a discussion that is supposed to be based on mutually benefitting all current and future countries (by protecting the earth) — I just don’t understand the purpose of these actions in this context.

There are many benefits and many disadvantages to releasing information like this to the public. When releasing sensitive information, the government often decides if the information will be a danger to the public or not. If the United States got word that its databases were hacked by another country, this information would not be released to the public because it would likely cause mass panic. This is the reason for many of the government cover-ups we see today. In the case of the cables, the United States government likely did not have to worry about the danger to its people, but the information was not released anyway. Another thing to consider when releasing information to the public is how the information impacts the reputation of the government. This information was likely not expressed because it would have harmed the reputation of the government as it has been doing from the leaks. In this case, the people of the United States deserved to know what their government was doing, while representing them, but knowing would indirectly, negatively impact them by the reputation of their country. If the public knows this information, the world knows this information, and seeing the evils of a country only generates bad feelings toward that country. All of these points become a balancing act between the right of the people to know what their government is doing throughout the world, with the direct and indirect safety of the citizens. I can not personally decide which of these two things outweighs the other. I think the representatives working in that conference should have taken other, more honorable routes towards solving this issue. The money that they would have not spent on bribing other countries could easily have gone to fixing the issue itself or funding for advertisements to better promote topics we learned about in this unit, such as carbon offsetting or reducing our output of carbon.

Module 08 – Ralph Diaz

My hometown, Hagerstown, Maryland, is only subject to strong winter storms and small impacts from tornadoes and hailstorms, according to the Nathan World Map of Natural Hazards. This map can get the job done, but it is not ideal for its job. The map consists of multiple maps with few markers to see where states begin and end. This makes it difficult to see exactly where Hagerstown is on the map. In addition, looking at multiple maps simultaneously makes comparing areas take much longer. My last complaint is that the pdf of these maps are so low resolution that you cannot zoom in to better tell where a city or position on the map is with respect to the natural hazard freequency on the map.
One of the current hazards occurring around the world is environmental pollution in Florida. My hometown is very succeptible to pollution, though it is not likely to be exposed to any significant affects from pollution in the near future. This is because there is no likely source for pollution near my hometown. My hometown is succeptable to pollution dispite this fact because one of the key aspects of pollution is that it can be caused by nearly any source. The pollution event if florida is likely due to some pollutant in the oceans. This would make the pollution event very large in scope. The severity of this disaster is listed as being fairly small, so if this were to happen to my hometown, it would likely have a very small impact on my hometown. The best way to minimize any impact to my hometown from pollution is to have emergency procedures in place. If a waterborne pollutant occurred, we could have a certain amount of stored water and means to quarantine this affected water. Coming up with countermeasures such as this is the best way to avoid being impacted from pollution.
My hometown is fairly protected against natural disasters. Being of a higher latitude, tropical natural hazards affect us on a smaller scale. Within my lifetime, my hometown has not had significant damage from tornadoes, hurricanes, or hale, though we can be affected by all of these things. During El Nino, we are impacted with warmer weather, causing a milder winter, but our precipitation levels remain somewhat constant. For all of these facts, I used my own experience and knowledge I have obtained from my Meteorology 003 class I am taking right now.
Minimizing the risk from these natural disasters is largely done by preparing for them. Building safety codes help to reduce impacts from tornadoes, the winds of hurricanes, and earthquakes. Flooding and pollution is best handled by public education concerning how to respond to these issues. most of these things are already in place in my hometown. Building codes have been in effect for more than 50 years. These were issued by the government of the state of Maryland. Public education is done regularly by news channels and weather channels. Hagerstown has many of the things needed to be safe in the event of an emergency.

Sustainable Cities — Ralph Diaz

One of the things I am least fond of in my hometown, Hagerstown, Maryland, is its level of sustainable development. Hagerstown is largely a city that was thrown together without any planning going into it. It has grown into a pseudo-pedestrian-oriented city, where many people walk and bike, but most people still have cars. This is not a good system because the city could have been guided through its growth to be a purely pedestrian-oriented city. Recent developments have caused the city to grow in this respect, however: Sidewalks have been repaved with red brink in an appealing pattern, bike lanes have been added (though some people in cars like to run the cyclists off of the road), and shops are often within close proximity to each other. Despite the growth, cars still dominate the streets because of the late implementation of these developments.

I think the best example for my hometown is the Cuban Revolution. This kind of development would be very positively impactful on my hometown. Cuba had issues with a lack of money and a lack of production causing an inability to feed its people. Manpower was not difficult to find, however, so people could work on local agricultural systems to help increase the cities total food output. This idea started a revolution causing Cuba to be a highly self sufficient country. Hagerstown is not so different from this previous state of Cuba discussed in this module. Hagerstown has many unemployed citizens (downtown Hagerstown has as much as 12% unemployment in regions); naturally with all of this unemployment, the poverty level is high. Locally growing produce would fix both of these issues simultaneously (among many other issues such as the high crime rate which could be reduced by giving people jobs).

Though much of downtown Hagerstown has adequate ability for pedestrians to do anything they need to do by foot, I would like to see Hagerstown model itself more after Beacon Hill, Boston. Beacon hill was intelligently designed in a way that inspires people to not own cars. As the module says, people in Beacon Hill are wealthy enough to own cars, but do not because walking is the more attractive method of transportation. I would like to see Hagerstown structure itself such that walking is attractive. Hagerstown could largely achieve this with a few produce markets downtown. This would allow the citizens to walk to get food and the city to eliminate roads and parking spaces, leaving more room for things like vegetation (you can see the plants lining the walkways of Beacon Hill, increasing the attractiveness of the city).

Ralph Diaz: How society has changed food in my life

When my girlfriend gains weight, she gets very upset because society tells her she is no longer pretty. Because I do not like my girlfriend hating her body, I influence her to go to the gym and eat healthier. This is a common example of a social norm dictating what someone eats. The common social norm here is that overweight men are considered undesirable by society, and, in the case of women, women that do not have large breasts while simultaneously being so thin that they’re often anorexic, are considered undesirable by society. This social norm leads to avoidance of junk foods and high calorie foods such as potato chips, chocolate, cake, etc. When these foods are not avoided, the social norm causes guilt and similar, negative attitudes.

I feel the origin of this social norm is related to the large number of undernourished people throughout the world while we are simultaneously eating so much food we are becoming obese. This is the nutrition social issue on obesity discussed in this module. The book says 1 billion people are undernourished in the world and there are 500 million obese people in the world. If those obese people were not obese and instead, the food they ate was allocated to the undernourished people of the world, we could potentially solve world hunger. I somewhat disagree with the paragraphs on obesity in this module: I do think the cause of most obesity is overeating. You will not find an obese person in an undernourished part of the world unless they are in the wealthy class that can afford to eat all day. Though other things, like genetics, affect how rapidly someone becomes obese and how hard it is to lose the weight after being obese, I think food eating food is the reason people become obese.



Preventing HIV in Thailand and Ethiopia Food Aid Deadline Approaching — Ralph Diaz




Hi guys,

My first case study is one concerning Ethiopia. This case study is about the current drought in Ethiopia. This drought is the worst drought Ethiopia has experienced in 50 years. Ethiopia is currently the second most populous country in Africa. They have lost 50-90% of their crop production due to the El Nino causing them to get dry wind from the Sahara Desert. Ethiopia is not going to get any rain until the El Nino disturbance in normal wind flow stops. The El Nino is projected to last at least until the beginning of the summer (though this particular El Nino is stronger than any on record). Despite the need for help, Ethiopia’s aid deadline is about to run out and Ethiopian government officials are asking for more monetary donations to provide food for their citizens. Ethiopia is a quickly developing country (if we were watching the Ted Talks by Hans Rosling, we would see it moving toward higher life expectancy very rapidly), but its development is almost entirely agricultural based. With the El Nino, Ethiopia has lost most of its progress and now can only support a small margin of its population without help. To overcome this issue, Ethiopia is investing all available resources to help with sustaining what little agriculture is left and prepare to help accelerate agriculture after the El Nino is over and this growing season starts. They simply need some help to sustain them until they are able to start in the next growing season. Read more at: I found even more information at:

AIDS have been a problem for many years in parts of Africa, but it has also been a growing problem in Thailand. This case study describes the new conditions of AIDS in Thailand, and how they are dealing with it. Many statistics on AIDS in Africa show how problematic this virus can be. They estimate the life expectancy in Sub-Saharan Africa would rise 15 years if AIDS did not plague this area. In Thailand, a 1989-1991 study has found the proportion of (male) prostitutes with AIDS in Thailand had gone from 2.5% to 21.6% in the two years of this study. The proportion of men tested for AIDS during conscription went from .5% to 3% in this same time period. I believe this problem is caused by a correlation that was not well highlighted the health disparities reading assignment in this chapter: the correlation between education and disease. I do not know much about the education in Thailand in the 70s and 90s, but disease and sickness tends to be more easily prevented with higher education about sickness and disease. This is wrapped up in the intervention of the Thai government: the Thai government began educating the public on STIs, providing more public tests for STIs, and providing free condoms. The police began going to sex establishment owners of men that were being treated for AIDS to educate them about AIDS. Read more at:

The first case is very similar to the Dust Bowl in the ‘30s. The United States used to be a primarily agricultural country. Much of our development was based on agriculture at this time. The weather (and our poor farming practices) caused a large setback in our development and a large hit to our population’s food security. Two main differences between these two situations are that we still had usable land in our country to rely on where Ethiopians do not, and to a large degree, Ethiopia has been able to avoid deaths through proper allocation of resources and receiving help from other countries and organizations. The second case study reminds me of growing up in Hagerstown, Maryland. Hagerstown used to have an enormous underage sex problem causing rapid spread of STIs. This inspired a push towards education to prevent these things. Some years later, when I was in primary school, I had to take a sex ed. Class every year to learn about sexually transmitted diseases and such topics. This has had large impacts on our city. The primary difference between these two developments is that Hagerstown relied on a long-term method where Thailand officials were more aggressive with short-term methods (going directly to the people in charge of prostitution, and giving out free condoms to everyone).

 – Ralph Diaz


My water usage: Ralph Diaz

Though I could not find the original source of water in my hometown, Hagerstown, Maryland, I did find that most of our water comes from a water filtering facility a few miles down the road in Williamsport, Maryland. The water is filtered locally and I’m fairy confident it comes from a local water source (the Potomac River). I have personally been to the water treatment plant that water from Hagerstown is cleaned in, and I have seen the entire cleaning process, including the last part of the process in which water is dumped into the Potomac River, where it flows into the Chesapeake Bay. The process is fairly standard: water is piped into people’s homes, and they use it; then it goes down the drain and is piped to the water treatment facility I have visited. Some homes have septic systems and other homes have well water. Homes rarely have both. Though the system in Hagerstown may be sustainable because water is being extracted from a local source, it was not always sustainable. The Potomac River was once so polluted that it was our own “Tragedy of the Commons.” Overuse and pollution of the Potomac River (30ish) years ago was destroying a natural resource that we relied on.

My Water Use

total daily use: 78 gallons

I imagine if I was living in an area where water is much less available and I had to live on two gallons a day, I would have to sacrifice many of my current daily activities which I simply could not sacrifice with my current life style. I currently take two showers a day, one shower in the morning to start my day off, and one shower at night after I get back home from the gym. I could easily eliminate a shower a day or even take a shower once every other day, but this is socially unacceptable. If I had two gallons a day I would not have much water to shower with because I would drink about half a gallon a day just to remain sufficiently hydrated. Also, right now I have to flush toilets and run faucets to remain sanitary. The different in social norms would allow me to not wash my hands 5 times a day and not flush the toilet every time I use the bathroom, thus saving 14 gallons a day, but this is somewhat not practical right now. I can, however, reduce how often I shower and the duration of my water usage somewhat right now and every bit helps.

Ethics – Ralph Diaz

Question 1: I believe it is better to be a good person. If a person is a good person, then they will always act with good intentions, but if a person is a not a good person, then when they commit good actions they’re likely doing it for personal gain. The type of person that acts only selfishly is unreliable and I believe their actions are not actually good actions because they are self-serving. I believe the impact of their actions may be good, but the action itself is not. I believe all people should strive to be virtuous and not selfish because it is better for society, which in turn is better for the individual.

Question 2: I do believe the ends can often justify the means. I believe we should all live with the intentions of maximizing utility for all people and this means some people will have to do things and give up things that they don’t want. This may be money or time or a host of other things, but the only way for man kind to truly be at peace is for all of us to take care of everyone. When we think of it in terms of the following: we can kill a perfectly healthy man and harvest his organs to save 5 lives that will die without it, this point of view becomes difficult. I do not believe we can make this man give up his life, nor could we fault him if he did not, but I believe he should do this action for these people. In general philosophy, this point of view is called consequentialism, but this view often falls short in that we are humans and in the moment we make decisions we often do not have the knowledge to know if the ends will actually justify the means.

Question 5: Though I do not believe animals’ pleasure and pain is of the same magnitude as humans, I do not believe it is of no magnitude. Nature often describes that those able to survive survive at the cost of those that are not able to survive. Humans are no exception to this rule. Humans experiment on animals to discover new medications. This is obviously without the animal’s consent, but it is necessary for the survival and progression of the human race. That being said, when we experiment on animals, they should be kept in the most comfortable environment possible. We have the privilege of being able to use these “lesser beings,” so we should treat them with the most respect we can. I believe we should treat everything and everyone we have the privilege of experiencing with the most possible respect. Everything we experience has made us who we are; regardless of the painful or the beneficial impact this experience has had on a life, the experience was a opportunity to not only experience, but build oneself into a better person.

Biogas Generating System -Ralph Diaz

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My system diagram includes many social and environmental impacts of the biogas generator. Each line indicates one idea is directly impacting the next. I did not differentiate the social and environmental parts of this diagram because they are highly interconnected. One really interesting component that I did not include in this chart is the positive feedback loop this biogas generator model is creating: as villagers are seeing the impact of this biogas generator, they are likely to want one themselves, and this creates a positive feedback loop concerning the demand of this generator. Small household units like this are self sustainable and can have large impacts on carrying capacity of the land.

The main difference between my system diagram and the example in figure 1.5 is the immediacy of impacts. The example has many impacts shown that may take years or decades to manifest, but I largely included immediate, noticeable impacts (typically things that would be noticed within a single year). Between my model and figure 1.5, the interconnection is well preserved. Both models demonstrate that each of these impacts are related in some way. I believe the main source of the differences in these two diagrams are that the writer of the example diagram and I have slightly different views. I tend to view things in what can be immediately shown or proven while the writer of the example also views things concerning potential long-term impacts. This comparison can teach us how differently we can view environmental matters and the impact of specific items in our lives.

Getting to Know You: TJ Diaz

Hi, my name is TJ Diaz. I am a 3rd year student at University Park, studying Earth Science. My major is relatively geography intensive, so that is why I am enrolled in this course. I am planning on being a high school science teacher (probably a earth science teacher) once I graduate college. If this career option is not available for any reason, I have no clue what I will do! I grew up in Hagerstown, Maryland, and I still live in the area, but after I graduate, I do not plan on living there any longer. My fun fact is that I can play basically any instrument that does not require me producing air.

I believe some of the biggest issues in our future are environmental problems. We are quickly running out of fossil fuel resources (a few generations and we will have depleted them). Global climate change may be an issue, but our energy resources are much more immediate. Distribution of resources and preservation of resources is also of extreme importance. Increasing globalization increases the importance of proper resource management. All of these problems can be aided with geography. Geography will help us to better plan where we can grow our crops, how to distribute our resources, how to take advantage of our environments renewable sources of energy, how to grow in population without disturbing other life. Geography is a necessity when devising plans to overcome virtually every environmental problem we will have in the future.