Nurturing Nature

30 billion water bottles can all be wrong

Just a few weeks ago, a new year came in and naturally, that new year was accompanied by celebrations across households and all over the globe. Smiles and laughter always seem to be the usual at the start of each new year as does the making of resolutions. We promise to take better care of ourselves, our families, and our friendships. We even strive to work harder and for so many of us, we see it as a fresh start, a time for starting over one more time. Through the coolness and pallor that accompanies yet another season, I find it remarkable that it happens to be the winter season that designates this fresh start that is so imperative to so many. A fresh start, a time for starting over...just as the leaves fell months prior and the trees now stand bare before us, almost as if they themselves are starting over, beginning from where they started, getting ready for growth and a new cycle of life...and yet here we are again- finding beauty in another season and hence we are nurtured one more time. We are given another gift...the views of purity as we gaze upon the streets that become calm, peaceful, serene while being accompanied by a glistening brightness that when looked upon gives us a moment of reflection. We stand in awe of that beauty before us, but even so, we seldom include resolutions that promise to heal the damage that our planet has sustained and we seldom include promises to maintain that infinite beauty that nurtures us, once again.

With the first official blizzard of the season and as I watched the first snowflakes fall right before my eyes, I contemplated while remaining hopeful. Hopeful that minds and hearts will awaken to the underlying concerns that affect the planet Earth. I remain hopeful that actions will replace the notion that one person can make no difference. As awareness is raised, especially when it comes to the environment, the actions of every person counts and makes all the difference towards establishing a healthier planet. Brooke Medicine Eagle is quoted as saying, "There is hope if people will begin to awaken that spiritual part of them, that heartfelt knowledge that we are caretakers of this planet.” Once this happens, what follows next is the implementation of sincere efforts to do what is best for planet Earth. Our actions can begin as soon as we realize how serious environmental concerns are. We do not have to rely on the beginning of a new year to begin making simple changes. It can start today or as soon as we realize that the smallest changes can have the biggest impact on the health of our planet, as well as the beauty of each season, and then consequently on us.

The idea of making changes can sometimes seem daunting. In reality, however, especially when it comes to the environment, small, simple changes have the most impact on the planet. For example, buying produce from your local farmer's market instead of a grocery store reduces your carbon footprint and this positively impacts the environment. Reusing plastic bags, conserving water, and recycling on a daily basis are all actions that should not be underestimated. In addition, when going away for a few days, do more than just "turn off" appliances. Be sure to unplug them as this conserves energy and believe it or not, it saves you money, as well. Also, in our own households, we often rely on lighting them with regular light bulbs, however, switching to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFL's) is a great way to aid in the conservation of energy. These light bulbs last longer and use less energy, and this can only impact our natural world positively. Finally, when drinking water out of a plastic bottle, remember this statistic taken from "There are 50 billion water bottles consumed every year, about 30 billion of them in the US (which means we consume roughly 60 percent of the world's water bottles, even though we're about 4.5 percent of the world population)." That statistic, along with the fact that just the production of water bottles wastes fossil fuels, should encourage everyone to make a change in that regard. Most of the time, these water bottles are not even recycled and they usually end up in landfills where they will never fully decompose. So, what is the solution? Faucet filters that can easily be purchased for reasonable prices should be utilized and placed on our kitchen faucets. Tap water is the way to go as is the use of reusable water bottles. Once again, small changes that are feasible and practical for everyone, should be implemented in our daily lives. That way, we can rest assured that we are doing our part in maintaining that infinite beauty season after season. Just as the winter season seems to be a fresh start, why not accompany it on this journey and start over today? Our natural world will thank us while our surroundings can continue to mesmerize us, as well.

Beyond the Horizon

Gazing outdoors from the inside of my home, under the comfort of my own covers, I often find myself pondering about the very issues that trouble me when it comes to the environment. The colors and views before me that accompany every season and every time of day- whether dawn, noon, or dusk, seem to speak volumes to me and I continue to wonder on the surrounding nature whose primary purpose is to soothe and comfort. I continue to speculate, I continue to question, I continue to wonder, and as I often stare upon the horizon especially as the sun sets, I continue to reflect beyond it. I continue to marvel at the spectrum of colors that our horizon lends to us at any moment of time and it seems that if we ask questions beyond our own horizon and attempt to see past the obvious limits before us, we will continue to realize that our environment needs more attention and raising awareness is the most crucial step in acquiring this attention. It seems that the horizon of our atmosphere serves as yet another focal point for concern and we can continue to remain voiceless or we can look beyond for solutions that will ultimately lead to a healthier planet, a healthier home, and a healthier horizon for us all.

Just recently, I began to better understand the issue of our ozone layer and the impact that ozone depletion has on the future scope of our planet. However, what exactly is the ozone layer and how does ozone depletion affect us? For starters, ozone depletion just happens to be one of the most troubling worldwide environmental problems. We may know the basics- that the Earth's atmosphere is divided into several layers, with each one serving an important role. The troposphere is where human activities take place such as flying small aircrafts or flying in hot air balloons. The next layer is called the stratosphere and it is in this layer in which the ozone layer of our Earth is found. The job of the ozone layer is to protect our planet from the dangerous UV rays of the sun. If not protected, the Earth could face some disastrous effects. Unfortunately, our current issue with the ozone layer is that it is slowly being depleted, being worn out, as a result of human actions, particularly as a result of substances being manufactured by certain industries.

These industries often use chemicals called chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) in manufacturing items like solvents or even soaps. Over time, CFC's are carried into the stratosphere by wind and this is when ozone depletion takes place. The CFC's are broken down by the sun's UV rays which ultimately causes chlorine atoms to be released into the ozone. The chlorine atoms then react with the ozone, causing a chemical cycle to occur that basically destroys the good ozone needed to protect our Earth. Once depleted, there is not much that can be done to replenish the ozone layer, although the ozone layer may slowly recover on its own. As long as we decrease the amount of CFC's and other harmful chemicals being released into the ozone, we can be confident we are only improving our conditions on Earth.

This is because exposure to these chemicals actually causes large amounts of ultraviolet rays to reach Earth, often resulting in skin cancer and even cataracts in human beings. Not only this, plants are also negatively affected by the depletion of the ozone layer. As a result of the exposure to the UV rays, plants will not be able to form correctly, will lack certain nutrients needed for their growth development, and some may even have a shorter life span. Without the development of plants, animals will not have proper food, plant diseases will increase, and the amount of plants present in the environment will be imbalanced. In addition to this, ozone depletion has a great effect on marine life.  Too much exposure to UV radiation has affected the development of fish, shrimp, crabs, amphibians, and numerous other types of marine life.

So, what can be done? The  most important step in preventing further ozone depletion is to decrease the amount of chlorine that is released from various industries into the stratosphere. This requires the effort and action of every nation on this Earth. Fortunately, years ago, the governments of approximately 200 countries signed an international agreement, The Montreal Protocol, in an effort to end the production of harmful chemicals that are depleting the ozone layer. Since then, amendments have been made to this agreement and countries are doing their part as a whole and trying to encourage others to do the same. However, there are small steps that every household can undertake as well. For example, carpooling, bike riding, and taking public transportation are all activities that contribute to saving our ozone layer. In addition, avoiding the use of harmful cleaning agents to perform household chores is also another way to protect the ozone layer. These cleaners often contain toxic chemicals that are not only bad for our bodies, but contribute to harmful substances being released into the stratosphere. Natural cleaning products are just as effective, less toxic, and are considered eco-friendly. Another small step is to simply avoid using pesticides. Sometimes we use pesticides on our gardens or weeds, however, it is important to be aware that pesticides are a poor choice for the environment and harmful for the ozone layer. Once again, natural sources that are organic are a better choice not only for weeds but also for the ozone layer. As always, consistency is key when it comes to our environment and small changes always lead to lasting results...remember this the next time you gaze beyond the horizon.


For so many parents, teachers, and students, the month of September marks the official start to the academic year. For some, it is a dreaded time...after all, it also marks the end of summer vacations and time spent relaxing. It marks the temporary end of serene moments on the lake or relaxing by the ocean side while witnessing yet another one of nature's beauties. For others, it can also be a bittersweet moment of time. Yes, another fun-filled summer might be over but returning to a sense of routine is almost welcomed and invited. In addition, the change of seasons becomes something to look forward to, and although the beauty of summer ends in this month, we all know that the autumn season lies ahead of us. We might miss the sounds of waves crashing, yet we also look forward to the splendor that accompanies yet another season. We trade sun-filled days for cool, gentle breezes. We trade lemonade for apple cider, and we trade those walks on the beach for telling camp stories around a cozy fire. Most of all, we trade those picture perfect views consisting of lush, green forests for another type of serenity...the serenity that hides behind almost every color of the rainbow during the autumn season. Every year, that fall foliage that nurtures us so greatly stands before us as another reminder that nature serves to soothe us more than we realize. Unfortunately, what remains the same throughout each season is the reality that we need to be more actively engaged in ensuring that we are doing our part in nurturing the very nature that we rely on in our everyday lives. When it comes to the beauty of fall foliage, I can't help but to think of the bigger picture. Take global warming as an example. Is it possible that an environmental concern such as global warming could have a direct impact on the stunning array of colors that we look forward to each autumn? According to environmental experts, the answer is yes.

The fact that our planet is becoming warmer, and that human activity has pretty much caused it, has prompted many scientists to take a closer look at the impact of global warming on our health, economy, and environment. Through the act of burning fossil fuels, greenhouse gases are added to the atmosphere, thereby trapping heat which results in a steady rise in the temperature of our planet. The effects of this are constantly being discussed, reported, and brought to our attention. Heat waves, air pollution, wildfires, rising sea levels, flooding, respiratory health...all of these topics have been studied in detail and are causes for concern. It is only in recent years in which scientists have added yet another impact of global warming to this list and have made the link when it comes to global warming and fall foliage. With warmer temperatures on the rise, the autumn season becomes shortened and leaves continue to maintain heat. Typically, leaves change color when their production of chlorophyll decreases as the days get shorter every year. This whole process is dependent on temperature and levels of moisture, and with global warming now becoming a factor in autumn, the production of chlorophyll becomes prolonged in the leaves. This means the process of leaves changing their colors will ultimately happen later and later each year. This, in turn, brings cause for concern as it can introduce invasive species to a particular area and it can directly impact the economy since many states rely on the revenue brought in by tourism during the fall months.
So, as another start to the academic year rolls around, what practical measures can we take to do our part? I find this time of year, especially, to be a great opportunity in setting goals and this is no different when it comes to taking care of the environment. Setting small goals, making small changes, and being persistent lay the foundation for a brighter and more colorful future for the nature that we love and value. In addition, high school students can take the lead in their own schools as many high schools offer great programs that allow students to raise awareness in regards to environmental issues. Most high schools do this through environmental clubs that allow the perfect opportunity to spread the word. If a particular high school has not yet added an environmental club to their list of afterschool programs, then why not gather a few students, approach the administration, and get a club started at your local school? Ensuring that schools have recycling programs in place, starting a school garden, displaying posters, passing out brochures with information on environmental concerns, or even hosting a school wide event that raises these concerns will only have a positive impact on issues like global warming and pollution, and of course, if the end result is maintaining and protecting the exquisite nature that allows us to take a break and reflect on life, then the effort is all worth it.

Please be sure to visit my Facebook page: I want to hear from you! What changes have you made in your local community that will have a positive impact on our planet? Upload photos, tell me your story, or send me a message, and I will share your thoughts and photos on my page. I'm very excited to hear about the events you have hosted, the clubs you have started, or the creative ways that you have brought change to your community!


Every season seems to come with its own natural beauty. Fall marks the picturesque foliage that keeps us in awe while in winter we seem to be drawn to the stunning whiteness of the snow as we sip hot chocolate from indoors. In spring, who can deny the beauty of the greenery that marks the start of this cycle of seasons? As these summer months quickly pass on by, I find myself reflecting on what summer means to so many people. My summers, in particular, are filled with time spent with family and friends, time spent outdoors. Whether enjoying mesmerizing sunsets on the beach or riding a kayak along the most serene of lakes, summer seems to be filled with an endless array of natural beauty...lakes that seem to be engulfed by tall, green trees...endless oceans that seem to soothe us simply by the sound of their skies, even in their simplicity, still seem to keep us amazed through their complexity.  And yet, environmental issues such as deforestation and pollution continue to remain and may, one day, even impact that beauty that we often rely on as we seek to be nurtured by nature.

For example, let's take a closer look at the issue of deforestation. This issue is a major concern, not only in the United States, but all over the world. According to, "an estimated 18 million acres of forest are lost each year." It is safe to say that deforestation has taken a major toll on the Earth's vast forests, which ultimately results in damage to the quality of the environment, which, of course, has many negative effects. For starters, one of the biggest impacts of deforestation is the loss of habitats for millions of species. A majority of the Earth's animals actually depend on  and live in forests, and unfortunately, do not survive in the wild because of the loss of their habitat due to deforestation. In addition to this, deforestation alters the climate severely. Soil makes up a large amount of a forest, and needs to be protected by the shade of the trees in order to thrive and prosper within the forest. However, because of deforestation, the soil quickly dries out because of too much exposure to the sun's rays. Without the trees in place to protect the soil, forests can eventually become deserts. Also, with the loss of trees, harmful substances, such as the greenhouse gases, cannot be absorbed and are released into the atmosphere, resulting in global warming.  As if these issues are not enough, I simply cannot imagine not being able to, one day, rely on the beauty of endless forests as I seek to reflect upon other issues of our world.

In addition, pollution is not any newcomer to this world. It has been an ongoing environmental issue for years, and continues to grow at a rapid pace. Air, water, and even soil pollution are just a few of the many forms of pollution that affect our surroundings.  Air pollution proves to be the most dangerous for the environment. The harmful smoke released from vehicles, chimneys, factories, or the burning of wood, have played a big role in damaging the environment. The sulfur dioxide emitted from the smoke causes global warming and acid rain to occur, and as a result, has increased temperatures and has caused droughts to take place as well. With these harmful gases in the air health issues such as asthma and lung cancer are becoming more and more evident in people. Not only this, water pollution has greatly affected many species living on Earth. Toxic wastes that are dumped into various bodies of water have caused the water to become contaminated with chemicals, leading to the deaths of many sea creatures. Lastly, soil pollution, which takes place because of human activities, has a great impact on the environment. The soil on Earth is gradually becoming more unfit for plants to grow in due to the use of pesticides and insecticides. Because the plants do not grow properly, soil erosion takes place. Those blue skies and oceans that we value a great deal for our own pleasure should be better maintained as they certainly contribute to our own well being.

With environmental issues like deforestation and pollution taking place, it is important to raise awareness and help make a difference for the Earth in which we live. Most of us know the basics when it comes to issues like recycling and conserving energy, but other simple actions like planting gardens and trees, or even riding a bike more often, can make all the difference in improving the condition of the Earth. Consistency with these actions is what matters most. We should make it a goal to preserve the natural beauty of our environment and encourage others around us to do the same. Small, consistent steps will eventually lead  to big, lasting changes, and with the motivation to preserve our surroundings, our environment will be saved in no time! So do your part, help protect the Earth, and watch miracles unfold before your very eyes. After all, a change in action starts a chain reaction. And with that chain reaction we can ensure that those endless forests, blue skies, and soothing oceans continue to mesmerize us summer after summer. 

Seeds of Wonder

This spring, in an effort to raise environmental awareness, I started focusing on and promoting the act of planting gardens. I hosted an event for girls last April in which one of the workshops offered tips on planting gardens, and the girls, at that time, even took home mini-gardens of their own: seed starting kits to later transplant into gardens once the seeds started to sprout. Around the same time, I also took it upon myself to plant seeds and over the weeks that followed I watched them sprout and later I transplanted them into a garden, all the while feeling very satisfied with myself that I was playing an active role in reducing my carbon footprint. However, as time went on and I continued tending to my garden, I slowly found myself reflecting on what was happening right before my eyes. Yes, there are many environmental benefits to planting gardens. They readily provide us with fruits and vegetables in our own backyards. They even absorb carbon dioxide in the air and they release oxygen. No one can deny the positive environmental impact that comes with planting gardens. But, with me, it became so much more as I started to realize that not only do gardens benefit the environment, they can also benefit us on such a deeper, almost therapeutic level.

For starters, it struck me as I began to see how gardens brought people together in a meaningful, positive manner. I heard stories of busy families that would all of a sudden be pulled into this closeness with the common goal of gardening at the center. The act of planting gardens has something beneficial for every age group whether it's watering, digging, pulling, planting, or simply watching seeds begin to sprout and evolve. I believe that gardening may, perhaps, just be one of the most meaningful activities that families can take part in together. In addition, in today's demanding society, individuals may also find it a struggle to maintain a regular exercise schedule. When done properly, gardening can be incorporated into any exercise routine which in turn can only benefit both our minds and bodies. The amount of stamina involved in planting gardens benefits the mind while the physical aspect of digging and planting actually involves a great deal of flexibility of the muscles and increases the strength of our bodies. Finally, the most surprising aspect of watching a garden grow was the deeper effect it had on me mentally. Planting seeds, not knowing whether or not they would fully sprout, and the amazement before me once they actually did, brought a certain appreciation for life difficult to put into words. The trust and confidence that you put into planting a garden and then watching it grow can only best be described as miraculous.

Robert Brault is even quoted as saying, "Why try to explain miracles to your kids when you could just have them plant a garden." From my own personal experience, I was in awe to witness the extraordinary progress of my very own plants that started merely as tiny seeds and then transformed into large, leafy plants that now serve as various food sources. And their growing has not quite stopped just yet. Along this astounding journey, I discovered that planting gardens teaches us about the miracle of life and growing. To plant a garden requires a great deal of patience, trust, and faith. This process is not rushed, it happens at its own time with proper care and commitment. To finally see the beginning of a harvest is not only satisfying, but wondrous and soothing. No matter what age, both adults and children alike can witness a  miracle taking place before their very eyes with the simple action of planting a seed into the Earth. While I may have initially believed that I was nurturing nature by planting a garden, I came to eventually realize it was actually nature that was nurturing me.


Nurturing Nature

is written by 

Tasneem Tawfeek

Tasneem Tawfeek, age 16, currently attends Henry Becton Regional High School in East Rutherford, New Jersey where she has lived for the past three years. She was born in Boston, MA where she was raised, but also lived in Atlanta, GA for two years. Originally from the country of Egypt, Tasneem loves to travel and spend time with family. She has also spent a great deal of time volunteering at her local library where she has had the opportunity to work with children through a variety of activities and events. 

In her spare time Tasneem enjoys ice skating, writing, reading, photography, and also gardening. Over the past year, she has made it a goal for herself to promote awareness when it comes to the environment. You can follow Tasneem on her Facebook page at 
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Tasneem Tawfeek
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