Student Campaign Helps Convince University to Cancel Construction of Gas Plant
Mat Roberts was the editor-in-chief of College Green Magazine. If he’s not lost in a good book (“Ishmael” by Daniel Quinn) or a good vegetarian meal, then Mat enjoys writing or tending to his lush garden. Gracie Umana was the multimedia editor for College Green Magazine. Gracie graduated from Ohio University this past May with a B.S. in Visual Communications and is currently living in Athens, OH. She loves warm puppies and great local food.
Small victories may be small, but they sure are sweet.
A little over a month ago, I walked across the stage wearing a red patch across my chest that symbolizes a movement for student power. My last year of college was not spent plastered to the awe of graduation, but rather spent fighting a systematic force of higher education that is connected to economic and environmental hardship. In that same breath I graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Journalism, was blinded by a bright flash initiated from a camera, and was handed a warm note welcoming me into a prestigious clan of Ohio University alumni. I was relieved to be done, but not proud to be a Bobcat.
The only reason I had my qualms was the lack of effort I saw coming from the administration to address climate change and provide positive learning experiences for students as they enter a world in which we all must understand and be able to apply sustainability and climate resilience for the rest of our lives. It was not fair for a handful of dedicated souls to step up to the plate, yet the only thing that has ever made great change in the face of adversity is just that.
With the added efforts of Ohio University environmentalists pushing for clean energy and a new progressive Student Senate taking the helm next fall semester, the Ohio University Board of Trustees have decided to discontinue the construction of a $75-100,000,000 gas plant on the Athens Main Campus. This co-generational gas plant would have locked the school into a 50-year contract with the gas industry, ensuring our dependence on fossil fuels and combustive energy all the way up until 2075.
Maybe our collective activism only helped the decision a little, but the front-line people I know in this rowdy group made sure their peers and colleagues were aware of the consequences of fossil-fuel infrastructure as it relates to larger social issues. I'm proud to say the spark of these efforts started in Columbus, OH, during Bill McKibben's "Do The Math" tour in November, 2012.
Since then, the wave of passionate students and community members pushing a progressive stance to address global issues and environmental awareness in Athens, OH, and at Ohio University is gaining power. The moments I was proud to be a Bobcat were seeing passionate students stand up to raise awareness on fossil-fuel divestment, rape culture, tuition hikes and unraveling a complex landscape of interconnected inequalities:
In our first talks with Ohio University administration, we tried to explain why the shale gas boom will be short-lived and unpredictable in price (remember your gas bill this winter?), how renewable investments now will work towards Ohio University’s Climate Action Plan and save money long-term, and how dedication to diversifying the energy portfolio of the university, by investing in geothermal or solar-thermal for the heating and cooling needs, can be a great opportunity to be known for educational heroism. (We were told the construction of the gas plant was set in stone).
There were many students, teachers and community members behind the opposition of the gas plant. Each individual played a key role in sparking this paradigm shift. Caitlyn McDaniel, recently elected VP of Student Senate and former president of Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition, stated in her "official message" that the Bobcats Beyond Gas community will continue leading the conversation and begin working with the University to move off all fossil fuel energy sources in the future:
While the Ohio University Sierra Student Coalition and its affiliate organizations within the Athens community are proud of the decision that our university has made in regards to this investment, we must continue to maintain our position on methane gas: as we face the dire results of climate change, we cannot approve any combustive energy source, especially one that is only slightly less pollutive than coal.
As long as we are dependent on fossil fuels, methane gas will be a mere band-aid on an open wound. Despite all of the best intentions and warmest wishes, it is a product that will continue to contribute to the death of entire ecosystems, the permanent extinction of species and their habitats, and an ever-changing landscape that will forever alter our social and economic ways of life.
The late nights preparing for presentations and class raps, long rides on the bus to protest the Keystone XL pipeline (twice!), making new relationships and taking new power on student government, educating our peers about critical environmental issues, and staying humble enough to listen to our elders have all been worth the victory.
I believe I speak for all who have been a part of this revolutionary initiative when I say the real change is just beginning. The opportunity to create a sustainable future, without compromising the Bobcat experience, is far from unrealistic. We are proud to see our Ohio University leaders make the right choice. Sure we will be running on gas for a little while, but at least we have some flexibility to explore clean energy options right here on campus ... Our door is always open when you are ready to talk.
"It’s time to take off our shackles and break free from this system that stifles our voice and our power," said Gracie Umana. “We outnumber the administration by a crazy amount. We give way more money to this institution than one donor could possibly amount for. Students eager to learn are what make higher education possible, not the amount of money flowing into [OU President Rodrick] McDavis’ pockets, and I want that eagerness back."
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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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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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