Where’s It From?

In just a decade, Apple has sold over one billion iPhones. The sleek model is ubiquitous, and we are increasingly reliant on this pocket-sized processor. In fact, 83 percent of American teenagers own an iPhone. But where do these beloved devices come from?

First, the iPhone requires minerals from around the world. The typical smartphone uses about 70 elements from the periodic table, according to CNBC. Some of these minerals, such as gold and tungsten, are classified as “conflict minerals.” The mining and trade of these metals has historically helped finance armed groups and humanitarian crises, such as in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

Another group of these minerals, rare earth metals, possess unique magnetic and conductive properties. These metals are essential to the iPhone’s capabilities, but mining rare earth elements can have devastating impacts on the environment. For example, mines of rare earth metals often generate large amounts of radioactive and toxic waste.

Next, the iPhone is manufactured using pieces from over 200 independent suppliers around the world, spanning six continents and 43 countries. With a South Korean battery, Japanese camera, German accelerometer, French gyroscope, Taiwanese sensor, and American software, the making of an iPhone is truly a global endeavor.

The iPhone is assembled in China, with about 400 individual manufacturing steps. One factory in Zhengzhou, China employs about 350,000 employees at 94 production lines. According to The New York Times, these workers earn $1.90 per hour on average. This factory produces 500,000 iPhones a day, or about 350 every minute.

Lastly, the iPhones are shipped for sale. Most leave China on commercial planes, with thousands of small, lightweight smartphones tucked away with luggage. Over 75 percent of the iPhone’s lifetime greenhouse gas emissions are created just in this manufacturing process, according to Greenpeace.

Perhaps the iPhone’s most devastating impact on the environment, however, is in its death. According to the United Nations, less than 16 percent of electronic waste is recycled. Another study by MIT showed that only 10 percent of mobile phones in the U.S. are recycled. Due to its toxic components, electronic waste is damaging to both the environment and public health.

While consumers continue upgrading their iPhones to get the latest model, production also continues. According to Greenpeace, over 7.1 billion smartphones have been manufactured in the past decade -- one for nearly every person on Earth.

The creation of a single iPhone involves a complex global chain of production, impacting miners in the DRC and factory workers in China. Before buying your next phone, consider where it comes from.

By Zina Dolan



It’s Not Just About Humans

The advancement of human technology has been hailed as one of the greatest achievements in human history. Modern day individuals are able to access and interact with the world around them in ways that were unimaginable a mere 100 years ago. It is hard to comprehend how people would function without cellphones, cars and advanced housing technology. What is often ignored however, is the impact these technological adaptations have on animal populations.

To better understand this relationship, it is helpful to turn to an expert. Dr. Larry Ulibarri, a professor of Anthropology at the University of Oregon, specifically focuses on primatology and is one of the few Anthropologists in the world who specializes in Red Shanked Doucs, a primate native to Vietnam. Ulibarri believes his interest in Anthropology stemmed from his infatuation with Jane Goodall at a young age.

“When I was growing up, I idolized Jane Goodall and had that picture where she’s reaching out and touching Flint, this little Chimpanzee, and he’s reaching out and touching her,” explained Dr. Ulibarri. “I ripped that out of a National Geographic magazine and had it pinned next to my bed. I thought I would grow up and be Jane Goodall or marry Jane Goodall.”

As he made his way through completing a Bachelors, Masters, and later Doctorate degree in Anthropology, he realized just how much animals in the natural world are influenced by human technology and development. During his time in Son Tra Vietnam, Dr. Ulibarri often witnessed the interaction between human construction and primate populations.

“What we saw with some frequency in Vietnam was that the construction forest crew, people that are not paid much in a rapidly developing country... were subsisting off of hunting when they were in the forest. Primates, especially primates that aren’t very fast or cryptic, unlike some of the Colobine primates, were easy prey. There is a significant impact just from development.”

The detrimental relationship between the construction workers and the primates in Son Tra highlights an all too familiar scenario. As technological advancements allow for humans to continuously expand into the animal habitats, the tie between humans and animals must be examined and adjusted. Many animal populations are experiencing massive decreases due to new road construction and city expansion.

Dr. Ulibarri pointed out the concerning alterations made to habitats as roads are developed. “You are talking about this gap between the forest on one side of the road and the forest on the other side of the road becoming increasingly larger and larger,” said Dr. Ulibarri. “Amphibians, frogs, arboreal primates are not going to be able to cross that road with the same efficiency, and in some cases not at all because it is too large. They can’t cover the distance and the steepness of the slope. It’s open, which exposes them to predators and people and hunters.”

Dr. Ulibarri continued on to discuss how we often think of issues like road development impeding the survival of animals as being an issue that takes place “somewhere else” rather than close to home. This assumption however, could not be further from the truth. As America continues to look towards the logging industry for necessary resources, forests that were once home to an abundance of organisms become a more rare sight.

“Oregon is a logging state. It’s a significant part of that domestic product. What happens to that whole forest community if people log it out?” Dr. Ulibarri said. “Some of those animals are going to die. Some of those animals are going to move to an adjacent plot of forest and then they are in direct competition at that point. They don’t know the forest as well. Maybe, depending on the species you are talking about, they are an invader into another conspecifics territory, and that’s going to change the dynamics.”

The Northern Spotted Owl which originally called old growth forests in California it’s home, has experienced massive displacement and disruption due to the the advancement of logging technology and deforestation. The Barred Owl, which lost its habitat to the logging industry, has been moving into the Spotted Owl’s territory and threatening their survival. Human influence and technology has directly affected the resources and space available to these species, compromising their wellbeing.

So is there a way to stop human technology from causing the decline of animal populations? The simple answer is yes, conservation. This idea however is far from simple. In order for conservation to be successful, Dr. Ulibarri explained that educating the global community needs to start from a young age. When people understand that the human relationship with animal populations must be mutual, there is a chance for conservation to work.

“Conservation is more about the people than it is about the animals or the landscape,” said Dr. Ulibarri.  

Through a change of perspective and an increase in awareness, perhaps human technology and development can work in harmony with animal populations.

by Alyssa Wulf


Electric Excursions

Whirs can now be heard everywhere on the University of Oregon's campus, and it's coming from the electric longboards and scooters. These new modes of transportation are much faster than their human-powered equivalent, but does owning one cause any harm to the environment?

The most common board found on campus is made by a company called Boosted Boards. The board is controlled by a remote with a trigger that is held down and a dial used with the thumb. Up is forward, down is stop, releasing the trigger slows the board down and there is an emergency brake in case. The board has a top speed of 22 miles an hour and a range of 14 miles. It also takes about 90 minutes to charge.

William Klineburger, a junior at the University of Oregon, has had his board since freshman year. Klineburger has put 1100 miles on the board, according to a phone app that tracks mileage. He appreciates most of the safety that comes with having one of these boards.

"It's safer because on a normal longboard it can be hard to stop. Especially on campus when people are normally on their phones. They don't see where they're going and they can't immediately," Klineburger said. "With this people get freaked out because the sound of going fast but with this, I can stop better than anyone else."

While the board is convenient, it is costly. Out of the four models of Boosted Boards, the most expensive is $1600. The cheapest is $749.  

Brayden Figueroa, a senior at the U of O, has skated all his life. Figueroa prefers riding them because of the speed it offers compared to a regular longboard. He has even been able to pull people around town with the power he can get from an electric longboard.

"I've skated all my life," Figueroa said, "This board carves like any other board."

The most popular electric scooter on campus is Go Trax. An electric scooter is much cheaper than an electric longboard. They're on sale for $299.99 on their website. The scooter has two triggers on the handlebars a black one to make it go, a red one to stop the front wheel and a pedal on the back to stop the back wheel. It has a top speed of 15 miles and a range of 12 miles. The scooter has a longer charging time of about four hours.

Emily Sloan, a freshman hurdle runner at the U of O, also appreciates the ease it has brought to her commute. It takes 10 minutes for her to get from her home to campus and spends about five minutes getting around campus.

"It's an easy thing to learn how to use," Sloan said, as a teammate asked her to use her scooter."Everyone on the team wants one."

The boards and scooters use a lithium-ion battery, a type of battery that is used in most cellphones to the newest Tesla car. While a lithium-ion battery has an advertised shelf life of a decade, every time the battery is charged the capacity of the battery deteriorates.

Shannon Boettcher a chemistry professor who studies electrochemistry at the University of Oregon believes three big problems face the heavy use of lithium-ion batteries. "These lithium-ion batteries are not easy to make," Boettcher said. "While using an electric mode of transportation can be beneficial, the way these batteries are produced can offset the benefits."  

They're other problems such as lithium being a natural resource. "As lithium technology is scaled down we may run out, just like any other resource," Boettcher said. Another problem is that there is no efficient way to recycle the batteries either. Boettcher did seem to be skeptical that these problems would last. "As this tech continues to advance we could find ways to recycle these cells," Boettcher said, "The time may come where we can recycle batteries. The science isn't there yet."  

By Lucas Warner 

 The Footprint of Flying

Air travel is more accessible than ever before, but there are hidden costs to flying. Flying just one fewer round-trip transatlantic flight has the same potential to reduce carbon emissions as switching to a plant-based diet for two years. Making two such flights has a larger footprint than an entire year of driving.

Assessments like these, collected by the University of British Columbia, compare all the environmental implications of an action, from the production of raw materials through manufacturing, use, repair, and disposal. The UBC team found that some of the most commonly-promoted strategies in environmental education — comprehensive recycling and changing to energy-efficient light bulbs — have far less potential to reduce emissions than flying less. It takes eight years of comprehensive recycling to counteract the carbon emissions from a single transatlantic flight.

One of the reasons flights have such a drastic impact is due to the fact that planes release their emissions at a higher altitude than cars, so their vapor trails and tropospheric ozone are much more damaging, albeit shorter-lasting. Trains and buses are far more carbon-efficient travel methods, up to 55-75 percent better than flying, according to The Huffington Post.

In many cases, people are stressing to address lower impact problems instead of focusing on a simple way they can reduce their footprint. Yet for college students, this doesn’t do the story full justice.

Study abroad, trips home and vacations are valuable experiences in a college student’s life. They offer students the chance to maintain relationships, practice new languages and explore new values, governance, and art. Yet to reduce our carbon impact, we’ve got to temper our desire for travel with our responsibility to the planet and future generations. Our generation is the most passionate about preventing climate change, and that’s not necessarily compatible with travel - the tourism industry accounts for 10 percent of global carbon emissions, according to The Independent.

Professor Kenneth Doxsee, green chemistry and sustainability specialist at the University of Oregon, has spent quite a bit of time grappling with the hefty carbon cost of air travel. In his “Decision-making for Sustainability” Clark Honors College class, he says the lecture on air travel emissions is, “One of the most stressing, but also one of the most appreciated.” There are several seemingly easy ways to reduce emissions when booking flights, like only booking flights that are near capacity, choosing airlines that recycle, traveling nonstop and going when temperatures are lower, but these don’t have very significant effects.

As Doxsee says, “The most obvious way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from air travel is not to fly. Stay home.” In practice, this might mean challenging conventions like coming home in the middle of study abroad, or during short school breaks: “If [students] are overseas, and their families are here, how do they stay in communication other than coming home? Coming home for the major holidays is just something we’ve come to expect.” Individual action is the clearest retort to the impacts of air travel.

Strategies to take accountability off of the consumer have been largely unsuccessful up to this point. According to Reuters, in 2012 the EU established a carbon credit system that would tax airlines for their flights. However, they couldn’t make the plan as large as they wanted because other countries refused to participate, and they’ve been scaling it down since then.

Another strategy for sustainable travel is carbon offset programs, which calculate the given emissions from a flight, match them with a project to reduce carbon in the atmosphere like planting trees, and allow the customer to pay enough money on top of their ticket to balance the damage. This sounds great, but these programs are so unpopular that, according to The Smithsonian, major airlines with carbon offset programs like United and and Delta refuse to release the statistics on how many people actually make use of their programs. Furthermore, most programs simply aren’t effective. A 2016 study commissioned by the EU found that, of carbon offset projects, “Only two percent of the projects and seven percent of potential CER (Certified Emission Reduction) supply have a high likelihood of ensuring environmental integrity.”

Adoption of biofuels is yet another potential way to reduce plane emissions. According to The New York Times, United Airlines was able to reduce their emissions on flights out of L.A. by 60 percent after switching to a company called AltAir Fuels. Yet so far, per NYT, “a viable commercial market has not been developed.”

Doxsee warns of such fuels, “If you pick the typical plants we’re looking at for bio-fuels, they’re things like corn; they don’t just grow randomly everywhere, but they require farming, and fertilizers, and our fertilizer technologies are bad, so it leads to other environmental impacts. Or we’re taking food and turning it into fuels instead, and we start to starve the planet.” This is why life-cycle assessments, like those done by UBC, are so useful: they aren’t blind to increased efficiency at one step at the expense of inefficiency at another.

Our current flight culture doesn’t seem likely to change on its own. It will take engagement, education and breaking of norms to reduce the popularity of air travel. Doxsee advocates for a “soft-touch approach” when it comes to influencing the decisions of others, educating rather than confronting. He notes, “We do have a reasonably receptive audience here on campus, but people just don’t always recognize the implications of what they do.”

In some carbon accounting situations, choices can end up looking rather ambiguous because of all the life-cycle factors. One example is the impact of printed paper vs. electronic. Doxsee says, “That piece of paper I used came from somewhere, and paper’s very expensive to produce, and tough on the environment. On the other hand, a computer’s expensive to produce and tough on the environment too. But if I use it enough times, and save enough paper, then it makes a difference.” Yet when it comes to air travel, there’s no reason to get bogged down in the numbers. Carbon-wise, there’s a clear win to be had by not flying, even if that means using another means of transportation.

It’s tempting to throw the towel in on the whole carbon-accounting business, but Doxsee is emphatically optimistic about the fight against climate change even if his class does often elicit cynicism. “We can’t give up hope, but at the same time we’ve got to recognize that just being hopeful’s not enough.”

Ultimately, how much you fly is a personal choice. But it’s worth recognizing the gravity of that choice, and giving some real consideration to whether or not flying less is realistic for you.

By Oscar Bernat


A Home for Marine Technologies: Inside Oregon State University's O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory

On the western outskirts of the Oregon State University campus lies the O.H Hinsdale Wave Research Laboratory. When you first arrive at the lab, it looks like nothing more than two large metal warehouses. However, a small sign out front that reads “ENTERING TSUNAMI HAZARD ZONE” gives you the feeling that there’s a lot more to the lab than its first appearances, and you’d be right.

Built in 1973, the O.H. Hinsdale lab has served as one of the primary tsunami research sites for the National Science Foundation (NSF). While the lab is open to other companies and organizations, it reserves 50 percent of the its budget and time for NSF.

The lab has two major facilities. The first facility is the Large Wave Flume. According to information given out by the lab, “The Large Wave Flume is the largest of its kind in North America” and is primarily used for long wave and tsunami generation. The flume sits at 342 feet long, 12 feet wide and 15 feet in depth.

The second facility is the Directional Wave Basin. The basin is 160 feet long, 87 feet wide and 4.5 feet in depth, which makes it one of the largest wave basin facilities in the world. The purpose of the Directional Wave Basin is to help better understand how tsunamis work, what their impact is on a human and environmental level, and study ways to reduce their impact.

At the head of the facility is Director Pedro Lomonaco. “My job is to perform, design, execute and understand processes in the ocean but in the small-scale and in the lab as well.” Lomonaco was originally a civil engineer who’s path in the field eventually led him to coastal engineering. “Working with the ocean is really what appeals to me,” said Lomonaco.

The current project going on in the Directional Wave Basin called Overland Flow Project. The project’s goal is to replicate a part of a coastal community and reproduce the effects of storm surge and tsunami conditions in order to better understand the impact they could have on a human level. To do this, the researchers place 100 cubes that represent houses in a 10 by 10 grid. The majority of the cubes are made out of concrete, but eight are metal in order to house the research technology that take readings of the waves and water surface. A sea wall on the right side of the grid protects 50 of the cubes, while the other 50 remain exposed to the wave conditions.

Lomonaco said, “We are going to repeat the test to have a one to one comparison to see what happens when you have a protection that introduces sheltering and whether your house is going to be more protected and how much protection you are getting.”

To create more accurate conditions the basin not only produces waves but also creates a current. Two lagoons on either side of the basin take water and put it into the basin, or “ocean,” which raises the water level and produces a current that flows in the direction of the replica coastal community.

Lomonaco expressed his excitement for the project by saying, “At the end of the day you have to enjoy any of it. There are some that are boring and some that are cooler, I think this is super cool. It has a lot of challenges but it’s very different and the size of it is quite significant in terms of economical investment and time, so it’s something that you have an appreciation for.”

The research at the O.H. Hinsdale Wave Research Lab is essential to understanding tsunamis. By better understanding tsunamis, we can start to create ways to protect ourselves and our communities against them. In doing so, we have the potential to save communities and the lives of those who live in them.  

Written by Robbie Kessler, Photos by Marin Stuart


 Fighting Flames in the Digital Age

Wildfires in the western United States are growing and becoming more frequent. Over the past few years we have seen longer, hotter and drier seasons across the Western U.S. This is due to the change in our climate creating less moisture, more thunderstorms and a greater risk for large scale wildfires. Just a few months ago, the Camp Fire in Paradise Valley, CA spanned 20,000 acres and destroyed virtually the entire town of Paradise. This fire was caused by an electrical spark out in a field, and became unstoppable due to the drought-like dry conditions in rural Northern California. It was considered one of the deadliest fires in the state’s history.

Due to that fire, many firefighting agencies within the state of California, as well as on the regional and national level, have developed programs and initiatives involving new technologies to combat these wildfires and hopefully be able to better prepare and educate the public. One of these technologies is data sharing amongst firefighters and firefighting agencies in order to better understand the surrounding landscape and the wildfire risk.

Fire chief Frank Revolt of the Mammoth Lakes fire protection district says, “Often in fire services, we are reactionary, and we can’t afford to let that time pass and the scale of wildfires is new to us,” he said.

Technology in firefighting has always been a huge factor in what level of destruction is present during and after a massive wildfire. Today, due to the new landscape, fire chiefs and agencies are starting to come together to discuss what they can develop to be better prepared. Places such as the Fire Data Lab is an organization committed to accelerating the use of data-driven decision making within firefighting. This means that when there is a wildfire, the response will be based on data collected using the technologies developed to assess what to do going forward.

Oregon State University has been funded by the U.S. Department of Defense to better help firefighters predict how wildfires behave in places like Central Oregon and across the West. The university has been given over $2 million dollars to research and determine what conditions affect the way certain plants and shrubs burn in a wildfire. Their goal is to better understand the conditions in which wildfires are spreading in order to further efforts to prevent severe wildfires.

“Rather than focusing just on how different trees burn, Blunck’s team plans to examine how temperature and the presence of flammable gases impact fuel conditions. The team will take pencil-sized samples of different trees in Oregon’s forests and examine commonalities in how they burn,” said the Bend Bulletin article on the research. “With both projects, the team is trying to develop research that can better guide computerized wildfire models that fire managers use to simulate wildfire behavior,” said Blunck.

Michael McLaughlin, California director for the Western Fire Chiefs Association and Fire Chief with the Cosumnes Fire department in Elk Grove California, works mostly in fire policy coming up with ways to implement technology to minimize risk and impacts of wildfire. He spoke about the emergence of new technology in the firefighting world and its effect on the way research and data is collected:

McLaughlin mentioned the emergence of many types of technology including integrating location services for fire apparatus’ so response times and resource distribution can be more efficient. One of the biggest things he mentioned that is an integral part of the firefighting services and tracking the environmental impact is having the ability to track and predict the pathway of a fire.

“We can track the destruction and course of a hurricane using weather and radar. But we cannot do that for a fire as easily because it is wind driven and burning across topographical land with a variety of fuels driving the fire,” he said. “Fire is a physical and chemical thing so the variables of fire reacting with fuels and reacting within the atmosphere makes it difficult to track,” he said.

In regards to the environment, the biggest piece of technology to be implemented is creating a more efficient way to measure destruction as well as the effect on the forest itself. Mechanisms such as tree health and soil acidity measurements  are often considered to be old school because they use properties of physical forest health which is important. However, it may be easier to measure the environmental and atmospheric impact that a wildfire can have on an area using emerging technologies such as satellite data, improved measurement tools and a better understanding of the fuels in a given area.

McLaughlin said that “technology touches all aspects of what we do- from the pre-planning stage, understanding the landscape and fuel types. Then, using technologies during the event of a wildfire itself, deploying resources having to alert communities and assess risk. As well as in the stages after a fire- trying to make more predictions and how we can change and do better after an initial attack.”

Technology can play a vital role in the prevention and fighting of wildfires. With drier, hotter and longer fire seasons, fires are inevitable in the western United States. Agencies and companies have to learn how to better use and invest in technology that will help assess and protect communities as well as the forests and environment.

By Ceili Cornelius