How High School Students Are Collaborating to Organize Youth Climate Strikes
By Ocean Heroes Liam Neupert and Elise Malterre
Young people are often told that they don't have the ability to truly make a difference in the world. Not being able to vote can be a very powerless feeling. Youth are discouraged to be engaged in politics because, in theory, they don't have as much life experience or perspective. We, Elise and Liam, wanted to challenge this idea, especially when it comes to climate change. With the impending reality of our earth's demise, we took it upon ourselves to create a difference in Boise, Idaho, the place we both call home.
Elise: I have grown up backpacking, rafting, camping, and adventuring all through our beautiful state. From where I live now, I can be on a hiking trail in under ten minutes. Growing up with this exposure to the outdoors from a young age makes the idea of losing these resources something truly, truly terrifying. In the past few years, I have started working with organizations to conserve both on a local and global scale. I've become more and more passionate about ocean conservation and the effect that we have on coral reef destruction, ocean acidification, and plastic pollution from a land-locked state over 500 miles from the ocean. It breaks my heart to see the apathy of our population as the living world we take for granted rapidly dies. The oceans impact all of our lives, no matter where we live. This climate emergency we face covers all walks of life, so we all need to engage in combating and mitigating it from every angle, whether that is the food we eat, the clothing we wear, the land we live on, the vehicles we drive, or the bottles we drink water from. I have made choices on an individual level to go vegan, lower my consumption of all products, minimize plastic and other waste, ride my bike or walk whenever possible, and overall lower personal impact. This is really important, but I also see the need for large scale changes from governments and corporations to truly stop the destruction and begin to rebuild however we still can.
Liam: I haven't really grown up in an "outdoorsy" family but I have always loved being outside and enjoying nature. When I was younger I was always outside running around, playing games, and just soaking up the sun and I still find it so necessary for me to take time almost every day to just go outside and breathe in the air. As I have gotten older and began to make my own decisions, I found myself looking into the different impacts that animal products have on the environment which led to my switch to veganism. I also began to see how terrible most of the industries we have today are. Because of this research, I quit fast fashion by only buying second hand and/or if I really can't find something that second hand, I purchase through sustainable brands. I have also switched my personal consumption to as low waste as is accessible for me. For me, that means bringing my water bottle, coffee cup, and utensils wherever I go, but I also try to buy my groceries package free and work to educate others on individual impacts. All of these changes have been because of the urgency that is the climate crisis. We as youth haven't been given a ton of power for voice, but we are the ones who are going to have to face the effects of the climate crisis at its worst.
Elise: We started hearing about Greta Thunburg around the same time as the rest of the world, as she skipped school to protest for climate action outside the Swedish Parliament in August of 2018. Suddenly, more and more climate strikes were beginning to gain momentum and attract attention. Organizations like Zero Hour, Fridays for Future, and US Youth Climate Strike were making headlines, and thus the youth climate movement was born and thriving. We decided to join the rest of the world to show our local and national politicians that climate action is critical, and we won't sit idly by watching the continuation of exploitation of earth's natural resources.
Liam: In mid-February of 2019, a local youth activist organization posted the news around the March 15th strike called on by Alexandria Villasenor on their social media feed. When I saw that people were finally getting together to create some action behind the climate crisis, I was ecstatic and quickly wrote back, "How can I help? Who is leading this?" and only after a few minutes received a message back saying "no one in Idaho had stepped up to put our name on the map, this could be a great opportunity for you!" Once I heard that, I quickly sent an email to the US Youth Climate Strikes saying I wanted to be the state lead for the climate strikes, and within the next few days, I had been added to the national slack team and shared google folder. I quickly realized that it couldn't be done alone and I knew Elise was extremely passionate about environmental issues, so I told her there was no way she was not helping me with this, and of course, she happily agreed. From there, we began creating a team, getting logistics ready and striking every Friday, just as Greta does. It first started with me sitting alone on the steps but soon Elise and other members of our group began to join in.
Elise: As the weeks went on, more and more students joined us to strike on the steps of the Capitol, but our crowd was never more than five or six people. Generally, most of the interactions we had were with people in support, then one Friday, some high schoolers drove by at their lunch break and yelled, "F*** climate change. There's still snow!" There had been so much support from our immediate circle of friends, family, and school, that we hadn't faced must backlash until this drastic shift in tone. As our social media presence grew and we gained more attention, we had to face challenges of negative and often incredibly insulting comments on Instagram, more yelling at the Capitol as people drove by, or even stopping as they walked by to tell us how ignorant and uneducated we are. As we sat on the Capitol steps, politician after politician would completely write us off as they walked by. It is amazingly discouraging to be up against our people with adamantly opposing opinions, who have authority, a fancy title, and an incredible amount of doubt in your knowledge and capabilities. At the same time, this became our fuel to prove them wrong.
Liam: After Elise and I solidified that we were going to do lead the strikes I began to reach out via social media, posting on my Instagram story asking who would be interested in helping out. Within a day, we had made a team and the craziness that is planning a protest began. With a group of about 12, it had its difficulties: trouble communicating, low turn out to calls, and much more, but through it, Elise and I definitely found out how to pull our own weight and the weight of others. I was spending endless hours in and out of school working on things such as emails, press, permits, outreach, and just generally how to create a protest from the ground up.
After a month of hard passion-driven work, it was finally the day we had been waiting for, only about 3 hours of sleep but a ton of excitement for what was about to happen. In the end, our protest went better than we could have imagined. We had over 300 people turn out to support climate action, around 200 of those students. We had speakers from all angles, schools, races, identities, and we even had a local representative give a speech to show her support for the cause. The energy between us and the crowd was electric and you could tell we were there to make change. I can personally say that when I was speaking, I was buzzing and that was a feeling of passion and excitement that I have never felt before. Beyond our speakers, we also had letters for people to write to legislatures and had a local zero waste shop pop up to educate people on the impacts your individual waste can have.
Elise: We wanted clear objectives and action items, to ensure that the strike had a lasting impact beyond just a one-day event. We set up two letter-writing stations at the strike where anyone could write a postcard to a politician about why they demand climate action and acknowledgment of the climate emergency from our local government to be distributed across our legislative branches. Overall, I would definitely agree that it was a huge success. One of the security guards even said it was one of the most peaceful and well-organized protests he had seen at the Capitol! It was such an empowering feeling to be up on the steps speaking about something I, and so many others, are so passionate about. At one point, the microphone stopped working, so I had to yell half of my speech to a crowd of 300 people, half of which could barely hear me. The crowd remained so supportive (with the exception of a few hecklers) throughout the entire speech and the event itself. I was proud of my fellow citizens of Boise for standing up for what we believe in to make a difference. Following the strike, Liam and I were invited to speak to a group of legislators, were interviewed by our local NPR station, and were featured in Boise Weekly, Idaho Press, and Idaho News. Beyond that, there have been countless individuals that came up to us after the event, or messaged us through social media thanking us for putting in the work to make change. We have so many more people wanting to get involved to make the next strike even bigger and better. I am moving to New York for school this year, so the Idaho Climate Strike team will look different moving forward. I will continue to work with Liam on sustainability and conservation efforts, but my role will be changing very soon.
Liam: Since then, both Elise and I have been doing tons of work related to the climate crisis. We were both given the amazing opportunity to go to Vancouver for the three-day Ocean Heroes Bootcamp co-founded by actor Adrian Grenier's Lonely Whale, Captain Planet Foundation, and Point Break Foundation, which equips kids passionate about our environment to create campaigns to reduce plastic pollution and implement them in their hometowns
As for next steps, I don't know exactly what it will look like. As for personal projects, I am currently looking into ways to make the idea of low waste more accessible to everyone. I am also working to find an organization that I can really connect with for the work I want to help with related to climate. Of course, one big next step is the September 20th strikes that most states in the U.S. are doing. You can easily find out if there is one happening near you by looking up the Youth Climate Strikes and if there isn't one happening in your area, I recommend taking on that challenge. Yes, it is a lot of work, but working on the strike is something I personally loved doing and I would recommend anyone who wants to get engaged in climate work to simply reach out to the organizations out there such as Zero Hour, Sunrise Movement, and the many more that exist out there.
Soon after the Climate Strike, whether related or not, we heard the exciting news that Idaho Power pledged to stop using coal, and rely solely on clean energy sources by 2045.
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Human actions have taken a steep toll on whales and dolphins. Some studies estimate that small whale abundance, which includes dolphins, has fallen 87% since 1980 and thousands of whales die from rope entanglement annually. But humans also cause less obvious harm. Researchers have found changes in the stress levels, reproductive health and respiratory health of these animals, but this valuable data is extremely hard to collect.
Researchers work with trained dolphins to learn more about their sensory abilities, seen here testing a dolphin's hearing. Jason Bruck / CC BY-ND
A Lot to Learn From Hormones<p>When sampling the blow, we are looking for hormones in mucus as these can be used to gauge psychological and physiological health. We are specifically interested in <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0114062" target="_blank">hormones like cortisol</a> and <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ygcen.2018.04.003" target="_blank">progesterone</a>, which indicate stress levels and reproductive ability respectively, but can also help determine overall health.</p><p>Additionally, blow samples can detect <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.1128%2FmSystems.00119-17" target="_blank">respiratory pathogens</a> in the lungs or nasal passages - blowholes evolved from noses after all.</p><p>This health analysis is especially important in areas with oil spills as the chemicals can cause hormonal problems that harm <a href="https://www.carmmha.org/investigating-how-oil-spills-affect-dolphins-and-whales/" target="_blank">development, metabolism and reproduction</a> in dolphins.</p><p>Hormone samples can provide scientists with valuable data, but collecting them from intelligent and unpredictable animals is challenging.</p>
Cetacean Collaborators<p>To build a drone that can stealthily collect spray from moving dolphins, we needed more data on their eyesight and hearing, and this is data that couldn't be collected in the wild nor simulated in a lab.</p><p>We worked with dolphins at facilities like Dolphin Quest in Bermuda, which provides guests opportunities to learn about dolphins while allowing <a href="https://dolphinquest.com/about-us/our-story/" target="_blank">scientists access to animals for noninvasive research</a>. Here the dolphins can swim away if they choose not to work with us, so we had to design the study like a game; the way a kindergarten teacher entertains a class. If the dolphins aren't interested, we don't get to do the science.</p><p>Over the course of hundreds of sessions, we sought to answer two questions: What can dolphins hear and what can they see around their heads?</p><p>To test dolphin hearing, we set up microphones and cameras to record dolphin behavior as we played drone noise in the air. We analyzed the responses to each noise – such as how many dolphins looked at the speaker – and used these as a proxy for their ability to hear the sounds.</p>
<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="5f31daf07a652b8d64a093b993ee4e96"><iframe lazy-loadable="true" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UjmQeH3vXHI?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span>
Robodolphin doesn't look like a real dolphin, but it doesn't need to in order to train our drone pilots. C.J. Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND<p>To build robodolphin, we worked with dolphins trained to "chuff" or sneeze on command to measure spray characteristics. We used high-speed photography to see the dolphins' breath as it moved through the air. Then we conducted high resolution CT scans of a dolphin head and 3D-printed a replica of a nasal passage.</p><p>Now, we have a complete robodolphin and are tweaking its sprays to be nearly identical to the real thing. This will allow us to determine how close we need to get to collect the samples, and therefore, how quiet our drone needs to be.</p>
The replica dolphin blowhole was designed from a scan of a real blowhole passage, and the spray it produces closely matches the real thing. Alvin Ngo, Mitch Ford and CJ Barton / Oklahoma State University / CC BY-ND
A Bit of Practice, Then Into the Wild<p>In the next few months, we will test flights over robodolphin with existing drones to determine the timing and strategy for collection. From there, we will fabricate a low-noise drone that can fly fast enough and with sufficient maneuverability to capture samples from wild dolphins. Like a video game, we will use the visual field data to develop approach trajectories to stay in the visual blindspots.</p><p>We plan to test our drones on a truck-mounted robodolphin moving down a runway, then using a boat to simulate realistic conditions. The next steps will involve ocean testing with dolphins trained for open ocean swimming. These tests will determine if our devices can catch and hold the hormones as the drone flies back to a researcher's boat.</p><p>Finally, we will deploy the system to collect data on wild dolphins. Our first goal is to test resident dolphins – animals that live on the coasts and deal directly with boat and oil industry noise – which will allow us to learn more about stress resulting from human impacts.</p><p>Those samples are a way off, but if all goes well we will have a specially built drone capable of flying long distances and capturing samples undetected in a few years. The samples collected will allow researchers to do better science with impact on the animals they study.</p>
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Billions worth of valuable metals such as gold, silver and copper were dumped or burned last year as electronic waste produced globally jumped to a record 53.6 million tons (Mt), or 7.3 kilogram per person, a UN report showed on Thursday.
Environmental and Health Hazard<p>Experts say e-waste, which is now the world's fastest-growing domestic waste stream, poses serious environmental and health risks.</p><p>Simply throwing away electronic items without ensuring they get properly recycled leads to the loss of key materials such as iron, copper and gold, which can otherwise be recovered and used as primary raw materials to make new equipment, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions from extraction and refinement of raw materials.</p><p>Refrigerants found in electronic equipment such as fridge and air conditioners also contribute to global warming. A total of 98 Mt of CO2-equivalents, or about 0.3% of global energy-related emissions, were released into the atmosphere in 2019 from discarded refrigerators and ACs that were not recycled properly, the report said.</p><p>E-waste contains several toxic additives or hazardous substances, such as mercury and brominated flame retardants (BFR), and simply burning it or throwing it away could lead to serious health issues. Several studies have linked unregulated recycling of e-waste to adverse birth outcomes like stillbirth and premature birth, damages to the human brain or nervous system and in some cases hearing loss and heart troubles.</p><p>"Informal and improper e-waste recycling is a major emerging hazard silently affecting our health and that of future generations. One in four children are dying from avoidable environmental exposures," said Maria Neira, director of the Environment, Climate Change and Health Department at the World Health Organization. "One in four children could be saved, if we take action to protect their health and ensure a safe environment."</p>
Europe Leads the Way<p>While most of the e-waste was generated in Asia (24.9 Mt) in 2019, Europe led the charts on a per person basis with 16.2 kg per capita, the report said.</p><p>But the continent also recorded the <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/the-eu-declares-war-on-e-waste/a-51108790" target="_blank">highest documented formal e-waste collection and recycling</a> rate at 42.5%, still below its target of 65%. Europe was well ahead of the others on this front. Asia ranked second with 11.7%.</p><p>The authors said while more that 70% of the world's population was covered by some form of e-waste policy or laws, not much was being done toward implementation and enforcement of the regulations to encourage the take-up of a collection and recycling infrastructure due to lack of investment and political motivation.</p><p>"You have to think about new economic systems," said Kühr.</p><p>One approach could be that consumers no longer buy the products, but only the service they offer. The device would remain the property of the maker, who would then have an interest in offering his customers the best service and the necessary equipment. The maker would also be interested in designing his products in such a way that they are easier to repair and easier to recycle, Kühr said.</p>
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