My experience at a camp at SCBI

For many consecutive years in my childhood, from the years 2008 to 2012, I have attended a camp at the Smithsonian Conservational Biology Institute, in Front Royal, Virginia. This was long before the institute was given a campus for George Mason University. This amazing camp was where I first laid eyes on my dream, the dream to become an Animal Conservationist. Here at the camp, I met many fantastic friends, socialized with them, hiked with them in nature, and even watched and learned from the caretakers of the animals at the center about how they live. This was the stepping stone that led me to go to Mason and follow my dreams.

On the first year, when I was out of fifth grade, I went to this camp out of curiosity. From the very start, where we watched a newborn Black Footed Ferret being taken care of, I was hooked. I had a blast hiking, touring the area, and just plain socializing. Incidentally, since I had started this camp, I had become less tense, less awkward, and far more social than I was during my early elementary school years.

On the second year, I had much more luck finding animals in the wild, aside from the captive ones in the Institute. One of the days, I saw three black bears and a bobcat on the same day! Too accompany that feat, I made at least a dozen new friends, and I even got to interact with a Kiwi! I learned amazing things, like what the diet of all the animals in the SCBI, and even got to pet an endangered Clouded Leopard!

The next two years I stayed there for not one but two full weeks for both years. I got even more social, won many contests in the camp games, had a lot of fun with the students who matured with me, and got to see even more animals.

As the years went on, I became more and more distant from the other campers and the animals of the center, but often I look back, and think “man I want to see them again!” I even was able to revisit some of the hikes in recent years, sniffling tears of nostalgia while doing it. I also revisited the 4-H center where the camp visited last weekend, and I felt many more tears of nostalgia go through to my eyes. What a lovely experience!

Watersheds and Sustainability

For today’s blog post I wanted to talk about some really interesting discussion I had in one of my engineering classes, in this case Water Resource engineering. So first off for some background one of the major early topics in this class is the delineation of watersheds, basically just drawing a line around a set of rivers following topographic lines to represent the area where if any drop of water falls that drop will end up in one of the rivers. This is very key to planning any kind of project around streams and rivers as it allows you to develop rainfall and flow rates for things such as floods and heavy rainfall events. During this discussion our professor brought up a case study about flood planning in Colorado. In it, a small town was wrecked by a flood one year even though they had many measures in place against such an event. As it turned out the previous year the upper valley of the river running through the town had experienced a major wildfire, decimating much of the plant life and interrupting much of the soil biology. As it turned out this majorly effected the flow rate and evapo-transpiration (rate at which plants take in water essentially) of the basin which in turn caused the amount of water entering the river to be much much higher than any previous year on record. This concept really kind of blew my mind, the idea that you can build something to withstand even 100 year event rainfalls but there are still sooo many other variables to take into account, something as simple as a fire destroying plant life to cause major flooding downstream, is simply incredible.

The Environment in the Media

UnknownWhen it comes to commercials and advertisements today, they usually mention products such as cars, toys, or movies. Sometimes they mention politics when it pertains to current pending issues such as global politics, natural disasters, and what the newest policies are. But what about issues that are associated with the environment and associated with policies that could affect where you live? What about those eco-friendly commercials that use the environment as a tool to persuade buyers to purchase their products? Exactly, in recent news and political issues, there has been barely any discussions regarding these issues. This could be because no one cares about the place that they live in or because they are just too busy with other issues to appreciate what they have.

Being a double major in Communication (with a concentration in Public Relations) and Environmental and Sustainability Studies (with a concentration in Politics) and a minor in Conflict Analysis and Resolutions, I have grown to recognize and understand how companies are putting their messages out to the public. They utilize the surrounding areas to appeal to their viewers and consumers that see the environment and associate it with the product and automatically see that it helps the environment or does not effect the environment in any way shape or form. For example, automobile companies that as associated with being fuel efficient and helps the environment. They place this fancy, brand new car in a beautiful, empty, environmentally friendly area to enhance the “idea” of the eco-friendly product. However, in reality the car uses a lot of gas and uses gas that is Diesel or any other gas type.

Now for everyone’s favorite topic…. politics. Many people do not associate the outside and trees with politicians and the United Nations. When it comes to understanding what exactly needs to be regulated it can be complicated and simple at the same time. There are rules and regulations for about every environmental issue that has come up over the years. With the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency they are designed to create and enforce the laws and regulations that are set. But within the last few years, they have not been as present in the media explaining current issues that have been present. Plus with recent Presidential debates, I have not heard of them talk about what their views are on the current issues and what can be done to improve the current state of the environment.

All in all, the environment and the media is a tricky subject. Whether it is dealing with advertisements and commercials or politicians in the news it is hard to decide whether or not what is being said is helping or hurting the current state of the environment.

Future Green Ambassadors?

As I was thinking of a new project idea for this class, I wanted to try and start up something new for George Mason University. It would more so be focusing on the cultural/social aspect of being more sustainable as a university. And this would affect not only on-campus students, which is where most projects fall under since it is easier of a scope and to advertise towards.

My idea was to create the position of a ‘Green Ambassador’ for all Registered Student Organizations (RSO) at Mason. This person would be kind of like another executive position of the RSO. This person would then be responsible for ‘greening’ any events that an RSO does. They would go through some kind of informational meeting to learn about different sustainability initiatives on campus and access to different resources that can help their RSO have more sustainable habits. This would be either for meetings, events, etc. that the RSO holds. For example, the officer with the Green Ambassador position could provide reusable cups at meetings, could coordinate having recycling bins at events held, or give insight for different service opportunities for the RSO to do in the gardens on campus. A staff member of the Office of Sustainability could be in charge of holding those meetings and passing on information to them.

On and off campus students are part of RSO’s, so this would be reaching more students. This positon could even be made mandatory so someone from an RSO has to at least hear the information about sustainability resources at one point. This will help students as well by giving them an opportunity to have a leadership position that can go on their resume. And as I personally have seen, there are more environmental-focused major students out there than I thought as I move up higher into my core classes. Obviously not all are part of the LLC on campus, but they are still interested and passionate about sustainability. And they definitely have other interests/activities around campus that they are involved with. This way they can combine those interests while educating others around them. And peer education is much more trusted than authority education.

The problem I have with this is that I think the Office of Student Involvement would be very set in their ways with how RSOs are set up, so they would not be open to the idea of adding a new position, especially towards sustainability. I think I would need to scope the position in a way that would benefit them more. Thoughts?

But again, I think the scope of this project is extending eco-conscious ideas to more students, giving other students an opportunity to test their leadership abilities in their field, and as the implementation of more sustainable practices in different entities grow, the culture of sustainability can start to thrive as well.

Vortex Blades

Vortex Blades may be the turbines of the future. Right now they are just a prototype and still being tested, so there may be some time until actual instillation and use. What’s special about the vortex blades is that they have no turbine blades. It uses a whole different mechanism to generate electricity for the surrounding country. This turbine stands forty feet tall and is hollow. They vibrate like a guitar string when air passes by them. It was created by Spanish engineers in 2010, they said they were inspired by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster.
The vortex blades are fifty percent less expensive than traditional turbines. While they are thirty percent less efficient as the turbines you are able to install double the amount of them down in a wind farm due to them being bladeless and taking less place. Vortex blades being less expensive helps contribute to you being able to install double the amount of them. This increases the net energy gain by a significant amount even with them being less efficient. Vortex blades are also way more silent than wind turbines so that’s a plus. There is also less maintenance that’s goes into them as they don’t have all the gears and moving parts that wind turbines have. Due to the vortex blades having no turbine blades this is also way safer for birds as they can be killed by running into wind turbine blades.
The vortex blades don’t capture energy via the circular motion of a propeller. Vortex blades take advantage of something called vorticity. Vorticity is an aerodynamic effect that produces a pattern of spinning vortices. A vortex, plural vortices, is a mass of whirling air, an example is a whirlwind. Vorticity has for a long time been an enemy to architects who try to build around it. That is because with enough wind the vorticity can lead to an oscillating motion, which can cause the eventual collapse of the building like in the Tacoma Narrows Bridge incident.
To generate energy the vortex blades have two magnets at the base of the cone structure. This acts as a nonelectrical motor. When the cone oscillates to one side, due to the vorticity, the repelling magnets pull it in the opposite direction, like a slight nudge to boost the masts movement regardless of wind speed. This kinetic energy is converted into electrical energy due to the alternator that multiplies the frequency of the oscillations and improves the energy gathering efficiency.

Assateague Island

This was my second time on the Assateague trip. Same place, different people, and different feelings. On September 18th, we went to the island one night before the volunteering workday. The most remarkable thing is the clear sky. Without glasses, I still could see the blurring and shining stars! Ryan told us the Milky Way, which looks like a hazy band across the sky! It is so beautiful! I have never see a Milky Way ever. I was surprised that I still could see the lights without glasses that I started to think about the air pollution in Beijing in the earlier years. Thankfully, it is way much better now based on the pictures of Beijing from my dad.

On the second day there, we got up pretty early in order to see the sunrise. We saw three ponies walking by the beach with the sunrise. It was my first time sees the sunrise, and it was THE memorable view in my life. I had a special feeling of be matched because my Chinese name means the sunrise. On the beach, there are some empty big shells. I learned those are from the horseshoe crabs. They have been living on the Earth for 450 million years ago, and they have been considering as the living fossil. Those empty shells are not dead; conversely, they are the continuity of life. When they mature by increasing body size, they shed the old shell and form a new one. It is gratified they are still alive, which represents the bay provides a good living condition for these crabs and other creatures in the ocean.

Back to the Assateague Island, one goal of ours is keeping building up the sand fences to avoid the increasing water level and the dunes ruin the beach. Since I did the similar work last year, I feel more comfortable with work and enjoy the time there even more. Although, I was hammering the nails little bit slow at the beginning, but I picked up the skills back quickly. At the end of the trip, we paddled the board in the number one Maryland Bay, and we caught some little living creatures. These are important for people who have not start to realize the important of protecting our environment. The longer time people spend their time with the nature; they build up a stronger relationship with the environment, so that they will grow the protection consciousness. This trip is a good start to anyone who loves the beach to grow their environmental knowledge and consciousness.

Unending Growth, Space Travel, and Off World Resource Extraction

Sustainability as Walter Simpson puts it is perhaps the greatest challenge we will ever face and I agree. How will the world be able to create true sustainability in the face of unending exponential growth? Well, any educated person should know that the idea of exponential growth on a planet of finite resources is ridiculous. At some point it must come to a stop. But there are others who push for growth – especially technologically – with a hope that one day we will be able to obtain resources from elsewhere in the solar system or even beyond.

But does this really make sense? While I am an avid supporter of technological advancement especially when it comes to space, I cannot put my eggs all in one basket. The future of our entire planet is at stake. I believe that if we continue on this pace of development the only option for continued survival on our world may be to export resources from within the solar system. But this idea is truly enormous in scale and just as the agricultural industry has embraced the “go big or go home” mentality, so our space ventures would probably require an exponentially larger effort to be sustainable. But my point here is neither to support or refute the idea of importing resources within our solar system but just to bring it to light and hopefully incite meaningful conversation around the future of our world and the possible implications of advanced technology that hasn’t been created yet.

I first want to discuss the matter of creating the infrastructure that would allow for such a massive undertaking in space. Before we can get to a point where we can actually go out to another planet and mine resources or extract gases for fuel and then return them to the planet safely, we would have to build all these things using the current resources on our own planet. It could take decades of research and development. Assuming we would use all the materials and resources we have available to us now and taking into account new legislation towards limiting carbon based fuels how would we ever achieve this, the ability to even develop and advance space technology at a sufficient pace to be of any value to our world.

I truly believe it is important for us to develop space technology because it has changed our lives for the better. I do believe it is possible that one day we can import resources from planets in our solar system but it may not make since to do so if we can develop sustainable technologies on Earth that provide all the energy resources we need. The one thing I do fear is that we may run out of certain necessary rare materials that are required for manufacturing high technology such as computers. I believe if we do want to preserve the earth then we should limit the mining of those resources on our planet and only if it is possible that we can take them from other non-life bearing planets in the solar system. I do realize I opened up Pandora’s box here and that I can elaborate for many more pages on this topic, but for now I hope this is sufficient to stimulate thought on the subject and the implications herein of where humanity may go in the future.

The Impact of Recycling in Marion County, Ohio and Surrounding Counties

This year, I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Angela Carbetta, leader of many environmental projects and the same person that hired me to be Lucky the Ladybug during an event at the Marion County Visitor Bureau. Angela has inspired me to better my life and the lives of others around me through increasing my efforts to better the Earth. I did this by simply encouraging others to recycle. It amazes me how many people still do not recycle! It also amazes me how people can just sit back and do nothing. Anyway, Angela is the director of Marion County Recycling and Litter Prevention and has been the head of Marion’s Eco-Arts Festival, which occurs every October. The festival features many items that are made out of ordinary household items that were not recycled. In a way, they are ultimately recycled as a result of this artwork. Angela has placed recycling hoppers at very important strategic locations throughout the region in Marion, Delaware, Knox, and Morrow Counties. There are four hoppers in Marion County placed at Ridgedale, River Valley, and Pleasant High School and in the village of New Bloomington. She indirectly inspired me to create my club, the Environmentalists Club at Ridgedale, my high school. I created it in the seventh grade. At its peak, the club had over 40 members with five members a part of the administration. As President, I led many efforts at Ridgedale, such as the planting of new trees on our unused practice fields, starting composting, creating gardens, and working with the Ridgedale Leo Club with the Adopt-A-Highway program. Due to administrative conflicts, I had to disband the club. As a member of the Ridgedale Leo Club, I led projects, such as eye glass and battery recycling. For many years, I was looked up to by many people for my leadership skills and knowledge. Saving the Earth has been something I have been very passionate about. For a very long time, my parents never recycled, and when I asked them why, they said “It is too much work.” I think that is the problem that many people have today. They all think that recycling is a lot of work. While yes, there are some things that you need to make sure you are doing, it does not take up a lot of time to just take a water bottle and put it in the receptacle.

Conservation in Front Royale

During the summer of 2013 I took a Conservation 100 class at the Smithsonian-Mason School of Conservation in Front Royal, VA. This was my first experience with anything related to conservation, and I believe that is what really got me interested in sustainability and conservation. These two things go hand in hand because I think that in order to ensure that there is an abundance of resources and biodiversity for the future we must protect what we have now and use it wisely.

While I was taking the Conservation 100 class each student had the opportunity to choose a mentor the worked in a specific field of study. I chose to work with the herpetology specialist because I have always been interested in reptiles and amphibians. Each day we would go out into the woods with our mentor to get hands on experience learning about the local reptile and amphibian species. One of the days our mentor showed us how they track the box turtle populations in the area; when they found new turtles they would attach a radio signal to their shell, that did not hurt the animal in any way, then release it. She then showed us how to use the antenna to track the signal on a specific turtle. It took a lot of wandering in the woods listening to faint beeping, but we finally found the turtle we were looking for. We made sure it was in good health, then released it again. On a couple other days we walked along some small creeks turning over rocks to find different salamander species. We ended up finding three different species local to the region. Our mentor told us that the Shenandoah salamander, which we did not find, is an endangered species that only lives on a few mountain tops in the Shenandoah Mountains. They look almost identical to the Eastern Red-Backed salamander, which we did find, but the two species compete for the same food and living space. The Shenandoah salamander can only live above a certain altitude, unlike the Eastern Red-Backed, so there is no way for them to avoid the rough competition. I was also made aware that water pollution is also a huge problem for this endangered species because their skin absorbs whatever is in the water. This is also a problem for all amphibians around the world today. I learned so much about local reptile and amphibian species and how they are being affected by changes that are going on. Taking that class and learning from my mentor is what makes me want to learn even more about sustainability and conserving animal species around the world.

Assateague Island

Assateague Island is one of my favorite annual trips conducted within the Sustainability LLC. Assateague Island is located in Berlin, Maryland, which is approximately a three-hour drive from campus. Home to salt marshes and wild horses, beautiful Assateague Island turns 50 this year and is still thriving.

Camping for the first time on Assateague Island I believe helped myself and others understand just how this tiny island still continues to survive. Camping on the island is something we have never experienced before and I would love to try it again next year. For the second time in my life, I actually learned how to build and break down a tent, the correct way. (Shoutout to Andrew and Anthony!) I also learned the best type of wood and material to use when building a campfire, as well as how to start and keep a campfire running.

To me, our annual Assateague trip will always feel like our first real event together as a community. I feel that camping together this time really allowed me to get to know a lot of LLC members I had not known before, specifically more of the members within the Outdoor Adventure LLC. Also, I feel that doing an event such as the Assateague Island camping trip serves as a good common ground when it comes to bonding and finding things you may have in common with your fellow neighbor.

Aside from all the events and activities that happened during our Assateague adventure, I believe the common theme overall was patience. Patience was involved when Ryan was trying to build the campfire, but couldn’t get a spark. Patience was involved while Roger and I were both navigating the drive to Assateague. We both needed a bit of patience and understanding when it came to encountering long rush hour traffic jams, aggressive drivers, and constantly dying cell phones. Lastly, patience was required during the fence building activity. Obviously, it’s not easy to stand in the hot sun and hammer a tiny nail into a small wooden fence, but it’s always worth it in the end.