Can Heroic ‘Super Corals’ Save Our Reefs?


Our Changing Seas III by Courtney Mattison

Concerns over the world’s coral reefs, which protect and provide a habitat for organisms, have risen just as the ocean temperatures have. Coral bleaching takes place when a coral is affected by environmental stressors. Coral, when stressed, expels symbiotic algae and turns white or bright yellow (Gates). Corals have the ability to recover, but only if the environmental stressors, like change in water temperature, overfishing, pollution, and natural disasters (like hurricanes that are also caused by climate change), are reduced.

The ocean is facing the largest coral die-off in history. In 2016, it is predicted that a rough El Niño will lead to further damage in the reefs. Coral reefs “nurture 25% of the world’s marine species” making them very valuable from a biodiversity and tourism standpoint. In an attempt to aid the recovery of coral reefs, researchers have been working tirelessly to breed resilient strains of corals that might have a chance of surviving in a variety of climates.

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Coral conservationists work to create protected marine areas, but thermal stress developed by human-caused climate change is taking a toll on the fragile ecosystems. Corals grow slowly (some grow just a millimeter a year) and do not reproduce often (Mathiesen). Corals are raised in nurseries now and people are questioning whether we might have to create genetically modified species just for the sake of ecological preservation. Assisted evolution could help corals withstand warmer and more acidic ocean water. However, we must work to stabilize carbon dioxide emissions in hope of creating steady ocean temperatures.

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Courtney Mattison, one of my favorite ocean conservationists is an “artivist” (artist-activist). She creates ceramic installations that emphasise the beauty of coral reefs as well as the threats they face. She donates a percentage of her profits from ceramic design pieces to Mission Blue, which is an organization that is working to protect at least 20% of the ocean and its fragile reefs by 2020 (less than 4% of the ocean is protected today). I encourage everyone to check out her website.

Oil Drum by Courtney Mattison





How To Recycle Starbucks’s Cups (Or How Not To…)

A few weeks ago, I stopped at a Starbucks on the way to school and bought a drink with the new app (you can actually order a drink from your car now and just pick it up once you get there). Normally I use a reusable cup, but due to poor planning and a late start, my cup was in my locker at school and stained with left over coffee from the morning before. Unfortunately, I was forced to get my daily dose of caffeine in a disposable cup.

As I downed my caramel macchiato, it struck me that I had no idea as to whether I could properly and responsibly dispose of my Starbucks cup in the recycling bin. Naturally, instead of paying focusing on the math problems ahead of me in class, I researched about how to recycle a Starbucks cup.

This is what I found:

  1. Recycle the card-board holder around the cup in paper recycling
  2. Recycle the plastic top in the plastic recycling
  3. Then, sadly, throw away the actual cup

Step three is what want to talk about:

According to their website, Starbucks is “mindful of the impact [their] cups have on the environment, from the way they are manufactured to their final disposal” and has had two “cup summits” where they planned to make their cups 100% recyclable by 2015. Invariably, they have “modified” this goal as they were not able to meet it.

Although the Starbucks’s website admits that they account for 4 billion cups a year, they still have not taken the necessarily steps to make their cups completely recyclable. They have made promises after promises about making their company “green,” but their actions have not been able to about prove their promises to be true.

This is not to say that Starbucks is a completely ungreen, polluting company. They have good recycling bins and have invested in clean energy and water conservation. But these actions still do not excuse their responsibility for the 4 billion cups that are simply thrown away.

Hopefully, many of the people reading this blog use reusable cups when going to Starbucks and encourage others to do the same. While reusable cups are always preferable, it is still important for Starbucks to make their cups recyclable in order for the general population to have their daily dose of coffee in the morning somewhat sustainably.

So, if you want to help, start by explaining to EVERYONE how to properly dispose of those iconic red cups and sign this peition to make Starbucks’s cups recyclable:

The Green Revolution Prompts Sustainable Engineering

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In my city, Virginia Beach, a new high school has been developed that is pushing for the criteria of being Gold LEED certified. The Floyd E. Kellam High School has already been a great educational tool for its students and teachers alike. It has also been instrumental in teaching others about green infrastructure.

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Key Features of :

Solar Tubes: These ingenious passive solar lighting solutions provide direct sunlight to the classrooms without the need of windows. They connect from the roof to the ceiling through a complex of mirrors and prism that reflect the light to the entire classroom. They are a lot better than normal windows in that they do not provide as much room for heat to escape. They are a cheaper solution to windows and can be used in rooms that do not have an outside facing wall.

Rainwater Collectors: The school collects all the rainwater from the roof and diverts it into multiple storage units. The school then makes use of the rainwater to supply the baseball fields and grass with water on a regular basis. Also, the school has retention gardens everywhere, increasing the aesthetic value and the interests of the student in their environment.

Outside Learning: Along the balconies in the second floor, areas are allocated to the growing and cultivating of horticulture. These places allow students to grow plants for science classes, enjoy the outdoors when studying, and relax in a unique hang out spot. Green roofing not only provides an area of education for AP Environmental Classes and Biology Classes, but they provide insulation for the building as well. The soil and grass retain heat much better than normal roofing, also, they reduce the heat-island-effect by providing cooling areas for solar radiation absorption.

Learn more about The Floyd E. Kellam High School at:

Shell in the Niger Delta

Boat guides carry people through oil-polluted water in Nigeri'a Ogoniland The picture above shows boatmen carrying each other through the oil-filled waters in the Niger Delta. The Niger Delta is a section of land on the coast of Africa which is rich in oil and has been exploited by Big Oil companies throughout its history. There have been numerous oil spills, which hinder the livelihoods of the locals, and have had a lasting impact on the region. The Niger Delta is one of the most apparent instances of companies not being held responsible for the damages they cause to communities. Any correctional measures have been insufficient and only come after outcries from the civilians. Because of the power imposed by the Nigerian government, any sort of environmental action taken is extremely risky for the individuals and the community. For this reason, the injustice in the Niger Delta has been ignored for a long time.

Recently, the organization Amnesty International sent photographers, scientists, and reporters to investigate the damage done by Shell to the Niger Delta.  They found that the many spills Shell claimed to have “cleaned up” in fact are still present.  Shell had promised these communities that drilling there would benefit them, and then proceeded to destroy their livelihood.  As a community that subsists on fishing, the oil has made an enormous impact on their economic structure, as well as their way of life.  In an effort to portray the problem, Amnesty International included snapshots and stories of people who live in the areas upset by Shell.  This portrait of Emadee Roberts Kpai, a farmer from Kegbara Dere, Ogoniland, was especially impactful for me.

“Our crops are no longer productive. There are no more fish in the water. We plant the crops, they grow but the harvest is poor. We used to go fishing. We used to swim. We used to do all sorts of things in the river, because it was clean. Even our fruit trees were very productive. Before the pollution and contamination, children would go to the river and swim and play, but now no more. ”

This man is living in Ogani now, but the issues he is facing reach far past him.  The Ogani People have led protests against Shell for decades, and their calls have never been answered. Ken Saro-Wiwa, a Nigerian writer and activist, was one of the first to lead a resistance against the unfair treatment of their home.  As a result, he was executed by the Nigerian government in 1995, along with 8 other supporters.  Despite the adversity they have faced, the story of the Niger Delta has become more wide-spread and heard because of these people.

Finally, in 2015, Shell and other companies are starting to take responsibility for the spills and are working on a plan to more effectively clean them.  In a long legal battle, the Bodo people finally won 55 million pounds from Shell International.  However, the fight for them is not over.  There is no way to be compensated for the loss that these communities have faced over generations.  Shell in the Niger Delta is a poignant example of environmental injustice and environmental racism.  It is important to be aware of the way the situation is handled in the future and how Shell plans to move forward, but it is equally important to remember the history of the people of the Niger Delta, and how they fought their own environmental battle.

A New Hope: The Alliance’s BIG Move


For those of you who have and have not heard, the Green Schools Alliance has come out with some big news!

Just this week, the GSA announced one of its largest steps to date toward bringing the dream of true sustainable living closer to reality. In a coalition of 21 of the largest school districts in the United States including New York City, and Chicago, the GSA has orchestrated what’s being called the District Collaborative, consisting of more than 5,726 schools!

But right now you’re probably asking, isn’t that what the GSA already is? A band of schools aspiring to enforce a strong grassroots environmental movement?

Aye, this is accurate, and it has proven very useful over the years. But the successfulness of the campaigns up until this point has fallen largely unto the student fellows who are faced with maintaining themselves as academics, as well as avid environmentalists. I know, as a former student fellow myself, that juggling AP classes in high school while trying to tackle your action plan can be overwhelming. This is why the District Collaborative is so unique, progressive, and important. Instead of schools working individually to make themselves more sustainable, sustainability officials from each of the Big 21 districts come together to form a congress of sorts and are then able to influence sustainability policy at the national level.

Here’s how it works.

Let’s say the majority of schools use those horrific styrofoam trays every day for lunch. And every day you see everyone in your school throw them away. As a student fellow, you can try to get your school to use an alternative product, but that would be really hard, as more often than not products like that are purchased through contracts garnered by the district and the sustainable alternative costs more money.

But let’s give you some credit. You’ve probably have been working on other improvements to the cafeteria, creating waste sorting stations to compost and recycle, starting a food share table, and educating friends about healthy food. While these are a great step in the right direction, those pesky trays are still a major problem and the district can’t afford the change to a more sustainable option.

This is when the cavalry comes riding in.

The Big 21 notice the same problem. They band together to put out a bid on the sustainable option and through the power of volume purchasing, the manufacturer lowers the price since they’ll be selling so many more trays!  Then they offer that lower priced tray to more than just the Big 21. So the impact isn’t just the 3.6 million students in the Big 21, it’s all the schools across the country!

Now you’re thinking, however, ‘What if I’m not in any of the districts in the Big 21?’

Fear not, my fellow green compatriot, for schools outside of the Collaborative can follow suit and take advantage of their policy changes because the collectivized action of the Big 21 is what makes it so successful. Going back to the styrofoam tray example, the change to the more sustainable product by the largest school districts in the nation would mean that the demand for the styrofoam trays would drastically fall. In effect, the market transformation brought about by the Big 21’s actions would discourage even the manufacturer’s production of the sickly styrofoam trays!

As a takeaway, this huge move by the Alliance is great news for all of us student fellows, as well as everyone else. It gives the GSA teeth in its fight for sustainability. And while all of us student fellows, or baby teeth, have made great progress over the years, this District Collaborative will bring sweeping change.
So go ahead and take a selfie with your styrofoam tray next time you go to lunch, because soon it may be history.

Bigger Isn’t Necessarily Better: The Tiny House Movement That Makes a Big Impact

It’s a simple truth that as humans, most of us are always wanting more. For better or for worse, we’ve evolved into a materialistic species, scrambling for more than we need, want, or can afford to have. We often take that notion for granted and wave it away as an inherent piece of human nature. However, what if a small (yet growing) group of environmentalists, students, and persons looking to live simpler, put that notion up to the test? “Our life is frittered away by detail…simplify, simplify,” wrote Thoreau. Those words, though spoken ages ago, are music to the modern tiny house movement’s ears.
There’s no simple definition for the simple lifestyle. 
In the past five to ten years, tiny house populations have been sprouting up all over the country. So what is the tiny house movement? Simply put, it’s a social and environmental movement where hundreds of people voluntarily get rid of space they don’t need in order to live more simply, greenly, and efficiently. The typical American home is around 2,600 square feet, whereas the typical small or tiny house is between 100 and 400 square feet. The tiny house lifestyle isn’t one-size-fits-all: homes come in all different shapes, sizes, and designs. The only requirement is that the home dweller cuts out what he or she doesn’t absolutely need, and then uses the limited space wisely and creatively to incorporate what he or she does need. When it comes to the houses: some roll, some are rustic wooden cabins, some look like dollhouse versions of reality television star apartment flat. Whatever their build, one thing’s for sure: tiny homes spark a bigger discussion about our needs, wants, and social norms that we wouldn’t otherwise explore.
What’s the environmental impact? 
We all know that living larger means using more energy and consuming more. The average American house has 45 light bulbs, which use up 639kWh of electricity per year. By contrast, the typical tiny home needs just 6 light bulbs, which consume 85.2k per year. An even bigger consideration? Whether we know it or not, our homes are major contributors to climate change and 18% of greenhouse gases come from residential houses. The average house needs 28,000 pounds of CO2 per year: a tiny house only requires 2,000 pounds of it.
Advantages of living the tiny house life (besides the environmental impact)? 
First off, it’s easier. There’s less space, which means less space to clean and maintain. Second, monthly bills are less looming and expensive. Third, you’ll most likely be able to make better use of the outdoors. And fourth, possibly the biggest benefit, you stop buying things you don’t need and start focusing on what’s really important (of course, this is also an environmental benefit).
What sorts of people take part in the tiny house movement?
All sorts of people. Like the houses themselves, the people dwelling in them aren’t one kind. From early twenty-year-olds looking to save some money to hardcore environmentalists to people looking to cut the clutter from their lives-almost anyone can  join the movement.
By downsizing your life, you actually make room for the important things in it.

Tiny houses demand those who inhabit them to question what they really need, on both a small and large scale. On a small scale, do you really need that television, blender, or knickknack? On a large scale are you doing everything you can to live your life according to what’s really important to you? Efficient tiny houses, essentially, are reflections of the people inhabiting them. The message is this: your house, and life, will make room for what’s really important and cut out what isn’t.

Country Living said it well: “The tiny house movement isn’t necessarily about sacrifice. With thoughtful, innovative designs, some homeowners have discovered a small house actually leads to a simpler yet fuller life, connecting them with family, friends, and nature while freeing them from mortgages, wastefulness, and an urge to keep up with the Joneses.” (Niz)

What can you take away from the tiny house movement? 
What if you don’t end up joining the tiny house movement? No matter how big your space is, it’s entirely possible to apply the “less is more” attitude to it. You don’t have to own the smallest home in the world to be more aware about how you live.

Interested in learning more about the tiny house movement? Check out:

The tiny house movement and its impact on the environment:
NEED TO KNOW: PBS coverage of the Tiny House Movement:
This TED talk on the Tiny House Movement:
We The Tiny House People (Documentary):
Tiny Houses: A Solution to Homelessness?    These modern tiny house plans:
How to Start Designing A Tiny House:
5 Barriers to Consider:

What Is The Tiny House Movement?

Snow: A Pollution Popsicle

Remember snow days as a child? Upon the cancellation of school all of the neighborhood’s youth would band together for hours and hours of frigid fun. Sledding, snow ball fights, and eating snow (the fluffy white kind) were bound to be a part of the day’s activities. However, the latter of these typical snow day events is no longer an option. Studies have recently found that snow absorbs car exhaust and other air pollutants, making our winter wonderland toxic.


McGill University found that a single hour of exposure can cause chemicals such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene to be consumed by the snow. Come spring time, the snow will melt and these toxins will evaporate into the air once again.


You can combat this issue and help preserve snow day traditions by limiting the use of your car. Try running multiple errands during one trip, walking or biking to nearby locations, and carpooling with friends or colleagues to places!