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Dr. Rule Speaks on Environmental Issues

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On Wednesday, Dr. Joseph Rule, a retired professor from Old Dominion University, led a discussion at Roanoke College on environmental issues and conservation on a global, national, and state scale. Dr. Rule was hosted as a part of the Honors Program Conference Week as their keynote speaker, but was open to all on campus and to the community. The audience consisted of community enthusiasts and students.

Dr. Rule has taught ocean, Earth, and atmospheric sciences at ODU and currently works with environmental organizations in the Chesapeake Bay area to raise awareness and spread education on the topic of conservation.

The lecture presented by Dr. Rule began with explanations of what sustainability means and what it is defined as. Using the definition of sustainability, Dr. Rule transitioned into an introduction on renewable resources.

Renewable resource and natural resource depletion is listed as a global concern by United Nations, according to Dr. Rule’s lecture. Unfortunately, a current problem is that in our development of renewable resources, and our consumption of them, we create waste. Waste disposal, including wastewater and solid waste, was another global concern that Dr. Rule tackled in his lecture. Other global concerns from the UN included climate change, and pollution of water, air (ozone), and soil. A hot topic of his lecture to the audience revolved around global warming.

As the concern for global warming rises, more and more people become involved in trying to fix this issue. A memorable moment of Dr. Rule’s lecture involved presenting a map of the globe, color-coding the areas with highest global warming rates. The highest levels are in the northern most parts of the globe, but also seem to be moving further down. Adding into this already insightful diagram, Dr. Rule showed the locations of “biological dead zones” highlighting those in America and scaling down to those in Virginia.

Perhaps the most intriguing items on Dr. Rule’s discussion list were his focus on issues in VA and the health of the Chesapeake Bay Area. This was more localized for audience members so it drew their focus. Dr. Rule spent time discussing waste disposal in VA and how while solid waste production in VA is going down, VA is still importing solid wastes from other states to dispose of as a mean of revenue.

Other VA issues covered by Dr. Rule included coal mining, fracking, and deforestation. Along with his discussion of mining and deforestation, Dr. Rule presented photos that were pretty shocking and sad to see. This added a strong impact to his lecture. In the talk of coal mining in VA, the audience did learn that, while coal mining is decreasing in VA, there are still a lot of new permits being issued for strip mining just in case there is new money to be found.

Dr. Rule said, “Strip mining, in my opinion is one of the most destructive mining techniques [out there].”

Moving on from mining, Dr. Rule focused a large amount of time on his passion of the health of the Chesapeake Bay Area. In this topic he highlighted issues with commercial fishing and crabbing, water and air pollution, the destruction that giant algae blooms can cause, and issues with dissolved oxygen in the water. There are dead zones in the Chesapeake Bay, which means there are dangerously low levels of dissolved oxygen that make it harder for fish and animals to survive in that environment. After conversing about the problems, Dr. Rule introduced the audience to potential solutions.

This included work being done by the Chesapeake Bay Foundation with their goal to educate, advocate, litigate, and restore. There is currently an EPA clean water blueprint in effect that has plans to limit the deposit of nutrients into the bay and hopefully get the area restored to 75% of its original health by 2025. Organizations are sponsoring oyster restorations and wastewater treatment plants.

Connecting to his topic of the Chesapeake Bay health, Dr. Rule also commented on the pollution of the Elizabeth River Watershed and his role on the board for the conservation of this river. Dr. Rule kept the interest of his audience during his keynote lecture and covered other topics as well. He also discussed global air pollution levels, freshwater and drought issues in the US, and the rising of sea levels. At the end of his lecture Dr. Rule encouraged students to get involved in organizations but to make sure they pick an organization with the right goals and which has high percentage of funds going towards the cause.