Hair dye from a beetle? Highlights from Earthstock 2016

Hair dye from a beetle? Highlights from Earthstock 2016

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While representatives from many nations signed the landmark Paris Agreement about greenhouse gas emissions, students, professors and guest lecturers descended on Stony Brook last week to celebrate and discuss ways of protecting the environment as a part of Earthstock.

The 15th annual event, which featured activities and a celebration of student research, included a lecture from Charles Wurster, founder of the Environmental Defense Fund, who offered ways to persuade the public to support saving the environment.

Wurster described the beginning of the EDF, which started modestly in Stony Brook with a meeting of nine environmental scientists and one lawyer to prevent the loss of birds amid the use of the insecticide DDT.

Wurster and his colleagues were “sitting around a coffee table figuring out how to take on” a wide range of groups, including the federal government, to get them to stop spraying a pesticide that was weakening the shells of raptor eggs, said Malcolm Bowman, distinguished service professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and academic co-chair of Earthstock. Bowman said one of the reasons he joined Stony Brook in 1971 was because he “could see a revolution taking place.”

The university’s continued commitment to the environment was on display all week.

The annual celebration included a rubber duck race down a “stony brook,” outdoor yoga at the Staller Center, and a performance by a local band called Peatmoss and the Fertilizers.

Jeffrey Barnett, the interim associate dean of students and the administrative co-chair for Earthstock, said the program helps Stony Brook “connect with the local community by taking actions and educating the next generation. The festival is a way to engage people.”

John Warner, co-founder of Warner Babcock Institute for Green Chemistry, provided the keynote speech on Friday.

Warner suggested that “if we knew what we were doing, we wouldn’t have all these problems” with toxic chemicals, Bowman said. As an example, Bowman said, Warner described a beetle that sheds its skin. The chemical in that skin has remarkable dying properties and could be used in hair dye.

Warner is involved in supporting green asphalt and green chemistry, said Karina Yager, a visiting assistant professor. “Hearing his passion helps reinforce how important it is to stay engaged with this sustainability framework,” Yager said.

Earth science and environmental science teacher Rob Gelling, from Kings Park High School, brought 22 students to the festivities on Friday.

His students “enjoyed the feedback from the general public that came to our table and learned about the ability to recycle,” Geller said. His students highlighted a way to repurpose Keurig K-cups into containers in which they planted seeds. Half of the germination medium came from dried and sifted coffee grinds.

Back at the United Nations on Earth Day, the United States joined officials from other countries to sign the Paris agreement.

“There is momentum” in fighting climate change, said Yager. “Major changes have to be implemented within the next few decades to reach that goal realistically. Some are skeptical, but at least we’re on the right pathway.”

Yager said the week-long activities at Earthstock can contribute to action and awareness in the Stony Brook and Long Island communities.

“I remember when Earth Day was just a day,” Yager said. Now Earthstock is a week, which includes opportunities to “meet people who share the same vision and find out new ways to get involved.”