Climate change a big challenge, but there are reasons for hope

Note: This article was originally published in the Honolulu Star-Advertiser May 5, 2016.

We love catch-phrases, especially in our movies. It wouldn’t be a Star Wars movie if we didn’t hear “I have a bad feeling about this” every so often.

My favorite catch-phrase, though, is from Star Trek. Whenever things go wrong, a character shouts “I can fix that” and charges off to do just that.

Climate change is an incredibly difficult challenge. A recent letter writer to this newspaper shared that they were tired of reading only about the problems of climate change, with no solutions. Another writer responded by saying that there were no solutions as long as human beings keep acting like human beings.

I used to think that World History was the most depressing class I ever took – one tale after another of humans exploiting humans. Now I am taking a class called Ocean Environmental Challenges and it is even more depressing. And yet I am still optimistic. To explain why, my top ten reasons for hope, and more, for the future:

  • The End of Fossil Fuels. Whether you believe we will run out of oil or that alternative energy solutions will be embraced, the use of fossil fuels is coming to an end, probably within this century.
  • Compostable Plastic. Unlike today’s petroleum-based plastics that never completely break down, future plastics will be made with materials that are made from natural, bio-degradable materials.
  • Plastic-eating Bacteria. Scientists have developed bacteria that can consume petroleum-based plastic, breaking it down into harmless materials. This will take time, but will eventually eliminate the plastic we have already created.
  • Carbon Dioxide Capture. Systems that absorb carbon dioxide from smoke stacks and along roadsides are being developed that will prevent some carbon dioxide from getting into the atmosphere as well as take carbon dioxide out of the air.
  • Concrete made from Carbon Dioxide. This is being done now and it is great because it not only stores the carbon dioxide it also provides a market for its capture.
  • Solar Windows. Engineers are creating windows that are also solar collectors. And it’s not just windows, it’s solar paints, shingles, and more. Scientists are discovering how to merge solar power collection capability into virtually any material.
  • Medical Science. There are so many breakthroughs in medical science, technology, and engineering that it is mind-boggling to think what the future will bring. With new technologies, much of it available at very low cost, people will be able to live much longer, healthier lives.
  • The Ocean Cleanup Project. Founded by a teenager, Boyan Slat, Ocean Cleanup has created a system that can potentially remove vast quantities of plastic from the ocean.
  • Vertical Farming. Scientists have discovered techniques, such as aquaponics, that will allow food to be grown using much less land, less fertilizer, and fewer natural resources, such as water. Vertical farms allow food to be grown close to where it will be consumed, eliminating the huge resources and costs incurred transporting food.
  • Young People. To previous generations, the world was a vast place divided into many regions that had little influence on each other. Not so for today’s young people. They see the world as one contiguous entity, where everything – countries, people, oceans, and butterflies – is connected.

This gives them a great perspective and a full sense of the need to protect and restore our world. They understand that the solutions to our world’s challenges lie within each of them individually.

They look around, see those challenges, and say, “I can fix that.”

Science Olympiad “Judge”

The email that evening seemed innocent enough. I knew Professor Krupp a little, but I had never taken a class from him. “Mike”, it said, “I am looking for judges for the Science Olympiad, and one of your professors recommended you. Would you like to be a judge for the regional at Windward Community College?”

Windward Science Olympiad 10 Years of Awesome

Hmmm, I’m a student, not a teacher, but can I be a judge? Why not? I thought, it can’t be that hard. So with images of myself (not quite in wig and robe but almost) showing up on the big day to pass judgment I quickly replied. “No problem. Thanks for asking and sign me up.”

The easiest fish ever caught.

The next day, the details arrive in my inbox. Uh-oh. What’s this it says? Judges have to WRITE the test??? My topic was “Ice and Water in the Solar System.” It had been a while since I had taken Astronomy! And in between I had Chemistry, which of course erased all previous knowledge from my brain. Panic set in until I remembered that there is a higher power with the answers: Google.

Google has the answers and the answer to this turned out to be that this was a new topic for 2014 so therefore no previous tests were to be found! Now I was in trouble. I would actually have to – gack! arrgh! eek! – write the test.

I had never written a test before, so this was a challenge. I plunged in, and bit by bit got it done. Of course, it wasn’t just a test, it was a Science Olympiad, and I’m in the business of making Science interesting, so I had better make this an interesting test.
When I finally got a first draft done I gave it to two middle school science teachers that I know for feedback. “Was it hard enough?” I asked. They threw the test at me. Apparently it was a bit TOO interesting: between them, they got 3 questions right (out of 50).

Hawaii Science OlympiadAnyway, it finally all came together, and with the great help of Professor Laychek we were able to use the Imaginarium planetarium for our section of the Olympiad, which I think made it fun and interesting for the teams that participated. I enjoyed my part very much, despite the challenge, and further had the opportunity to coach a couple of the teams that participated to prepare for the State Olympiad, which was also a really great and fun experience.

Of course, a project like this often has a peanut gallery, and I had a great one: all the teachers I know. Because only they (and now me a little bit) appreciate what a challenge it is and how much time and work it takes to write a good test, not to mention grading it and providing feedback. Thank you, teachers.

Visit the Hawaii Science Olympiad Website at http://www.hsso.org/

 

Earth Day 2070

Good to take the long view when it comes to Earth Day.

Science Camps of America Blog

Today, April 22, 2070, is the 100th anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day. It is proper upon these occasions to consider our progress for this past century.Earth Day 1970

In the first few decades after that first Earth Day in 1970, there were some battles won – cleaner air and water, CDCs were banned, lands were protected – but the pressures and challenges of population growth were too great. The Earth warmed, the seas rose, water became scarce.

smokestackMidway through this hundred year span, though, things started to change. Many factors seemed to come together almost simultaneously. By 2020, everyone on the planet was connected. Universal and instantaneous translation software created a virtual globe without borders. Medical technology gave us thirty more years of healthy living. It seemed completely reasonable when President Colbert signed the order raising the retirement age to 85 in 2028.

seeds-earth-day

Perhaps it was those extra years that…

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Report on Summer Science Camp 2013

The euphoria of camp wears off quickly, but fortunately, almost magically (perhaps for the rest of our lives), anytime we wish we can close our eyes and instantly our minds flash through the images and sounds that make up our memories of camp. We smile, and for a moment, the euphoria returns.

23 Campers, 4 Staff, 2 10-day sessions, 21 Field Trips, 50/50 Girls/Boys, 50/50 Hawaii/Mainland, 1200 miles per session, 15 average age, 17 lava encounters, 3 pickup basketball games, 27 Rings of Saturn sightings

Our first Science Camp was held this summer on the Big Island of Hawaii and was very successful (more on that later). Here are some numbers from camp:

We had two great groups of good, smart, friendly kids which really made it possible for everyone, campers and staff, to have a great time and to achieve what we set out to do.

Land & Sea Science Camp group photo

Land & Sea Science Camp

Of course, calling something a success doesn’t make it so. You have to have criteria for the claim. Here is ours:

  • No one was lost or seriously hurt (seems basic, but you have to pay attention!)
  • Everyone was housed and fed (it was surprising how important this became!)
  • Campers had fun and bonded closely with each other (per surveys and interviews)
  • Everyone learned a lot of science (without homework or classes!)
  • Met or exceeded our science programming goals

Most importantly, we proved that an overnight camp can be a fantastic environment for teens to learn science in a hands-on, experiential way. One of the reasons I feel confident declaring camp a success is that at the end of each session, no one wanted to leave! The last day was very emotional: many tears, hugs, and sad good-byes. At once, everyone was suddenly realizing what a fantastic experience it had been and that, sadly, it was ending.

Air & Space Science Camp Group Picture

Air & Space Science Camp

I want to thank a number of people for their help in making Science Camp a success: our staff, Patty Halpin, science teacher and Toni Difante, counselor for their hard work, patience and for creating a fun, open and comfortable camp environment;  Julia Neal, Pahala Plantation Cottages, for taking such good care of us every day; The Edmund C. Olson Trust and Mrs. Zora Charles for the scholarships they provided; the many Big Island organizations and individuals that allowed us to visit; members of the Science Camps of America Board of Directors and Board of Advisors for their help and guidance in making camp a reality. Special thanks are added for my wife Sheri, who was officially the camp nurse, but unofficially just about everything else, and without whom, this camp would not have been possible.

Patty

Patty

Sheri

Sheri

Toni

Toni

Beyond Traditional Learning

To build long-lasting connections with the science we are learning each day, we have included activities at Science Camp that enrich the total experience.  Here is a look at how we are doing that.

Enrichment through Hawaiian Culture

hawaiian-music

Through Hawaiian language, art, culture, dance, music and history, our intent is to better understand the threads that link us to the past and to the future in this place. Many of the issues we face today – energy, sustainability, climate change, natural hazards, sea level change – were just as critical to the Hawaiians of old. Understanding the approach an island people used to deal with these issues can be related to finding the ways that our ‘island’ planet will do the same.

Enrichment through the Arts

Enrichment through the ArtsUsing photography, videography, art, drawing, music and dance is a powerful way to deepen the understanding of the environmental science that our campers will be studying. Visiting a volcano is a great learning experience, but how does it make you feel?  How can you share with others how you felt while hearing the harrowing story of a tsunami survivor? How does a photographer capture a feeling? We want our campers to find ways to express themselves and to share those expressions with others.  Our specialists will be helping our young scientists learn.

Enrichment through Nature

Enrichment through NatureAs human beings we are wired to connect with nature. Study after study shows that being outdoors is a benefit, no matter what activity it is. At camp we will almost always be outside.  What recharges you? Is it the beach? the ocean? walking through the forest? hiking in the desert? The Big Island offers so much variety, including volcanoes, mountains, forests, deserts and beaches, that we are going to have continuous chances to connect and re-connect with the great outdoors.

Enrichment through Camp Life

Enrichment through Camp LifeAttending camp has so many benefits for the intangibles that are so critical today: leadership, confidence, teamwork, to learn to fail and to try again, to help others, to expand one’s horizons.  These are what are called ’21st century skills’ but camps have been teaching these skills since the 1860’s. And, naturally, making new friends, exploring new places and having fun.

Here is how it comes together…

5 StepsWe hike from camp to the shoreline through a wild coastal plain of old lava flows, scrub brush and lowland forest. As we walk, we learn about the plants we are seeing, the climate that allows this environment, and the forces that created this coastline. When we reach the ancient Hawaiian trail known as The King’s Trail, we learn about what we are seeing and hear tales of myth and history as we continue our hike along the coast.  We find a remote cove where we can stop and have lunch, take videos and pictures or draw, study the topography of the land. We talk about explosive volcanism and what we are seeing around us, and then we look for and measure evidence of changes in sea level in the past. After hiking back, we work together to assemble a multimedia video about the day, including video clips, photos, music and voice-overs.  Before turning in for the night, we post the video on the Science Camp community website so our families and friends can log in and see what we did today.
5of75_Kiholo

Learn more at ScienceCampsAmerica.com.

kingstrail_kau

Courtesy of Ka’u Preservation

Earth Day 2070

Today, April 22, 2070, is the 100th anniversary of the celebration of Earth Day. It is proper upon these occasions to consider our progress for this past century.Earth Day 1970

In the first few decades after that first Earth Day in 1970, there were some battles won – cleaner air and water, CDCs were banned, lands were protected – but the pressures and challenges of population growth were too great. The Earth warmed, the seas rose, water became scarce.

smokestackMidway through this hundred year span, though, things started to change. Many factors seemed to come together almost simultaneously. By 2020, everyone on the planet was connected. Universal and instantaneous translation software created a virtual globe without borders. Medical technology gave us thirty more years of healthy living. It seemed completely reasonable when President Colbert signed the order raising the retirement age to 85 in 2028.

seeds-earth-day

Perhaps it was those extra years that gave us a greater appreciation for the need to care for our planet. We selected leaders who sought long-term solutions and we started to work together. We built new homes away from rising seas, we switched to renewable energies, we learned to grow our food cleanly, we protected our lands and watersheds and we continue to work on cleaning up what remains.

A hundred years have passed since that first glimmering of awareness and we did not fail. It got worse before it got better and we still have a way to go, but our species no longer threatens our own existence.

The Difference Between Hiking and Exploring

My grandsons (Aiden and Isaac, ages 5 and (almost) 7) were asked to go hiking.  What do they pack? Magnifying glass, notepad and pencil! These guys don’t hike, they explore!

Exploring

Have you ever thought about the difference between hiking and exploring?

To me, exploring means observing and wondering about what is around you, while hiking is more about letting the magic of the great outdoors soak in.

Hiking is great and letting the great outdoors sink in is, to me anyway, as important as breathing!

6a00d8341bf67c53ef017c3260668d970b-800wi

Exploring, though, is all about asking questions: why is that tree so different? what kind of bird is that? why is that hill there? what’s on the other side of that pond? what kind of animal poop is this? (a favorite with the boys).  Once the questions are out there, it is natural to make guesses, discuss the possibilities with others, research what others have learned and make some conclusions. This is, of course, scientific method.

It is an invaluable skill for people to learn. The Scientific Method is not as much a way to answer scientific questions as it is a method of answering any question scientifically.

Keep exploring, my boys!

hiking kilaueaScientific Method