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Project Green Challenge: Moving From Conventional to Conscious

Project Green Challenge: Moving From Conventional to Conscious

Megan Fuerst is a sophomore at Ohio State University, and last year’s runner-up for Project Green Challenge, a 30-day eco-lifestyle initiative for students globally. Megan is majoring in Environment, Economy, Development and Sustainability with a concentration in Policy Analysis. She hopes to use this degree to help the re-legalization of industrial hemp in the U.S. and to create more environmentally-friendly policies among major corporations.

I grew up in Chardon, Ohio, surrounded by the Holden Arboretum. As a child, this meant I had acres and acres of woods, rivers and fields to explore. I was raised to love the outdoors and everything Mother Nature had to offer. However, it wasn’t until participating in Project Green Challenge 2013 during my freshman year of college that I learned the many ways my beloved Mother Nature was in danger and how my lifestyle was only adding to her decline.

Megan Fuerst (right) at the golden gate bridge with two of her fellow PGC participants and finalists, Anabella Funk (left) and Erin Mundorf (middle), after their first day at the eco-summit in San Francisco.

Last year I was a freshman at Ohio State University, one of the largest universities in the country, undeclared in a major and feeling lost. I decided to join a few clubs on campus in order to meet people, most importantly the Students For Recycling club. As it turned out, joining this particular club, where I am now the webmaster, was the single best decision of my life, because it introduced me to Project Green Challenge (PGC) and Teens Turning Green. PGC is a 30-day eco lifestyle competition during the month of October. Each day has a unique, sustainability-related theme, with awesome prizes everyday, as well as an incredible grand prize worth more than $12,000.

By the end of the first day of PGC, I was hooked. After just one day I had learned more that I had ever imagined! Day 1 was the “body” challenge, and I realized that I had never actually thought about what I was putting onto and into my body. That was all the wake-up call I needed. After watching Annie Leonard’s Story on Cosmetics [watch below] I couldn’t understand how people could just buy any product without even wondering about the ingredients. At the same time, I knew that I was just as guilty as the next person. This made me eager to, first, buy new products, and second, to inform the world about this cycle of consumerism and big business.

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Throughout the month, I learned more about the three major components of being green (reduce, recycle and reuse) in more depth than I ever thought possible. Reducing involved more than simply not throwing away as much stuff. It included conserving water, watching my meat intake to reduce agricultural farm waste and pollution, and not buying into hot new items. I understood the importance of reusing and instantly worked towards eliminating plastics from my life, especially plastic bags while grocery shopping. Finally, PGC taught me that recycling is more than just throwing my plastic water bottles in the blue bin rather than the black one. I discovered the term “upcycle” and I learned how to work toward a life of zero waste.

The beauty of PGC is that it works. It helped me find my perfect path in life, and gave me all the resources and motivation I needed to move forward in the sustainability movement. I went from being lost and uncertain to declaring a major with absolute commitment in just one month. Most importantly, Project Green Challenge made sure to emphasize the importance of spreading the word. What good is all this knowledge if I can’t share it and create change with it? I gained a newfound confidence through PGC because I had this awesome team of eco-superstars supporting me.

PGC is a lot of work. But, you soon discover that the work is worth it! Teens Turning Green has exceptional incentives to keep students motivated. By doing well on a challenge, you could receive an incredible package full of eco-products such as body care items, stainless steel water bottles, food, reusable containers and more. I even got a yoga mat as a prize one day! Every action is rewarded, and the result is a large team of newfound activists.

I was lucky enough to be a finalist and was flown out to the PGC Finals, a three-day eco-summit in San Francisco at the end of November. It was the experience of a lifetime. I listened to amazing speakers talk about their contributions to the world of sustainability, ate fresh, local and organic meals, modeled ethically produced clothing and created my very own perfume from organic oils. The summit ended with presentations from the finalists, and I couldn’t believe my ears when I was named the PGC 2013 Runner-Up. It has led to a whole new chapter of beautiful experiences.

Megan was named Project Green Challenge 2014 Runner-Up after her presentation on the last day of the eco-summit.

At its core, PGC has one major goal, and that is to create positive change for our planet. This change might take place in your own life, your school or your community, but one thing is certain: you will not come out the same person you were when you started. You will become more informed and conscious, ready to take on the world and set out to fix every problem you encounter. For me, PGC was the start to a life of purpose, responsibility and activism. Sign up for this year’s challenge and I’m willing to bet it will do the same for you.

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A net-casting ogre-faced spider. CBG Photography Group, Centre for Biodiversity Genomics / CC BY-SA 3.0

Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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