The Willow Project: Details, Impacts, and What You Can Do To Help

Photo by ConocoPhillips on CNN

An Explanation, Details, and Impacts

The Willow Project. The name might be familiar, as news about the Willow Project and its recent approval have been a prominent topic of discussion in the news lately; but what is actually happening and what are some effects that the project’s installation might have on the environment? It all dates back to 2016, when oil was discovered in the Willow prospect area of Alpine, Alaska. This location is home to the National Petroleum Reserve in the Plain of North Slope Alaska and is also home to a variety of Arctic wildlife and Native American communities. The Willow Project was initiated by the multinational corporation ConocoPhillips which proposed a massive oil and gas drilling project that will be the largest oil extraction put forward on federal lands to date. It is estimated that in the next 30 or so years, approximately 250 metric tons of CO2 will be emitted into the atmosphere due to this plan.

Furthermore, if the Willow Project produces the expected amount of oil over a 30 year time period, it is estimated that the consumption of that oil would release the equivalent of 277 million tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The project could also produce up to 600 million barrels of oil, which would severely impact the Arctic wildlife and Native American communities in this region. For example, the Teshekpuk Lake caribou herd is an imperative source of food for the Nuiqsut community which resides nearby. Many in the community have expressed concern on how the oil and gas extraction have led to sick fish, malnourished animals used for food (such as caribou), and an unhealthy, borderline toxic air quality.  

These adverse effects produce a strong risk of damage to the complex local tundra ecosystem and shockingly, the release of these greenhouse gasses could amount to the estimated total amount of annual emissions from half a million homes. These drawbacks have not gone unnoticed; on March 14, 2023, the EarthJustice organization filed a lawsuit on behalf of conservation groups to stop the Willow Project. Despite these efforts, the Willow Project has been approved and ConocoPhillips has begun to work their plan into action. 

 So, what is the ConocoPhillips corporation and what is its background? This corporation has a complicated history, including many controversial legal settlements. In May of 2019, ConocoPhillips settled a lawsuit with homeowners in northwestern Oklahoma City who accused the company of polluting their soil and water to such a degree that no vegetation would grow; and, in May of 2017, ConocoPhillips agreed to a $39 million settlement to resolve complaints brought forward by the State of New Jersey over groundwater contamination. Most famously, they were one of the 50 companies named in a 2007 lawsuit filed against manufactures, distributors, and other industrial users of the gasoline additive and proven carcinogen MTBE, found in groundwater at locations throughout New Jersey. 

A map showing the lands approved for use in the WIllow Project in Alaska.

Photo by CBS News on CBS

What Can We Do?

The Willow Project is undoubtedly controversial, and has drawn both environmental and political debate since news of the project’s potential approval broke earlier this year. Discussions regarding the harmful effects that the Willow Project could potentially have on the environment have proved to be a key argument against its approval. Although the Willow Project has since been approved, there are still several actions that we can take both in our own communities and nationwide in order to stop work on the project from taking place. 

Take legislative action. Writing a letter to your local government representative, state legislation officials, and even the White House is an important step that you can take to demonstrate climate activism and work toward stopping the Willow Project in its entirety. While one letter may not seem to amount to much, if many individuals contribute to this common cause, it would make an immense difference.

Spread awareness. Whether it be through a social media post or sharing knowledge with your peers, spreading awareness is vital in order for every individual to understand what the Willow Project is and the effects that it could have on the environment. The more people know about the Willow Project and the ecological consequences that will follow, the greater the chance that important legislation will be enacted to prevent the project from taking place in Alaska. Together, we can make a difference. 

Volunteer with environmental protection groups. Today, there are several environmental protection organizations working to inform and act on the Willow Project. EarthJustice (, Protect Our Winters (, and Defenders of Wildlife ( are just a few of the organizations that are working to collect information about the Willow Project and work to combat its installation. Contacting and volunteering with an environmental advocacy group, such as the three listed above, can help you to get involved with an important cause firsthand. 



Sensing Soundness

My sister and I founded EcoLogic Health to find ways to explore the interconnected world of humans, animals, and the environment. We have organized eco-friendly fundraisers and food drives to help support those in need, and we have started research on inflammatory diseases, specifically in the potential causal impacts the environment may have on the development of such conditions. One of our other important prerogatives is to find solutions for the animal world, as well. Recently, I thought of an interesting concept that inspired me to open our newest EcoLogic initiative – developing a sensor system to detect injury in horses.

Whether a hobbyist or a competitor, one of the most important aspects of being an equestrian is protecting the health of your horse. One of the challenges to fulfilling that obligation is that horse and rider can’t communicate verbally about what’s wrong or what hurts. For example, veterinarians and trainers can observe how a horse walks, trots, or canters and establish with some certainty whether or not the horse is lame, but without the horse providing input earlier in the state of the injury, diagnostic time is squandered, and the horse may even be subjected to unnecessary pain or discomfort. Absent complex verbal or written communication of symptoms, how can we solve for this?

As an equestrian, I’ve thought about what indicators an observer would look for to determine lameness, and wondered what other method could be applied to receive these data directly from the horse. As a matter of course, horses wear what are called “boots” when practicing, to protect them from kicking their own legs as they move. The signs of lameness are usually discovered when a horse visibly favors a sore leg. Equine boots could therefore be fitted with sensors to provide objective data demonstrating the soundness of each leg, perhaps even before the effect would be observed, visually.

In our research, we examined whether accelerometer data could be used in conjunction with a coupled nonlinear dynamics model to detect mode interactions and abnormal gaits in equines. Coupled oscillators are commonly found in nature, primarily in quadrupedal locomotion that is controlled by a central pattern generator (CPG) capable of producing rhythmic gaits, including walk, trot, canter, and gallop. By designing an accelerometer system for equine boots, we were able to monitor different types of equine motion to look for signs of lameness. We collected multi-point motion data and then compared these data to equine motion output from a model we developed called the DYnamics Model for Equine Movement (DYMEM). Analysis of the spectral content and symmetry of variance revealed a characteristic pattern that identified abnormal motion. 

With sensor-equipped boots, it will be possible for riders to receive data directly through Bluetooth or a WiFi connection, updating them in real-time whenever their horse is exercised or ridden, and providing immediate feedback for possible pain or injury before it develops into a chronic condition or requires surgical intervention to correct. My goal is to developing engineering solutions to improve the quality of life for ALL beings, whether two-legged or four.

West Coast Wildfires: A Devastating Byproduct of Climate Change

Wildfires are becoming an increasingly frequent occurrence in states located on the West Coast. California, Oregon, and Washington continue to be affected by these fires as millions of people are forced to evacuate their homes and abandon their belongings. West Coast residents are coming to terms with the fact that these fires are going to be part of their new normal. However, these wildfires are not increasing in frequency and severity just by chance; they are the result of climate change.

Our planet has continued to warm since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s when humans began to burn fossil fuels. These fossil fuels released carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, trapping excess heat. Since the 1980s, the planet has warmed approximately 0.3 degrees F per decade. Over this time, climate change has caused rising sea levels, extreme weather, and widespread droughts. In these dry conditions and higher temperatures, wildfires need only fuel and a catalyst to erupt and spread. As a result, West Coast residents are faced with larger and more dangerous wildfires each year. In California, Oregon, and Washington combined, approximately 3,380,708 acres of land have already been burned in 2021. Unfortunately, this worsening trend shows no signs of stopping.

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, roughly 90% of land on the West Coast is experiencing moderate to severe drought. Aggravated by the heat waves felt by most West Coast residents in June of 2021, fire season began one month earlier than it did in 2020. The Dixie Fire is the second-largest fire on record for California, second only to the August Complex Fire that burned over 1,000,000 acres of land in 2020. So far, the Dixie Fire has destroyed over 1,000 structures over five counties. All fires in California have burned roughly 2,000,000 acres so far in 2021.

The West Coast continues, year after year, to break records – but these are not records that we want to be breaking. Every year, the fires tearing through West Coast states are larger, they burn more land, they’re more dangerous, and they continue to devastate our communities. Every year, more people are forced to flee their homes. Every year, climate change worsens drastically.

Rather than surrender to paralysis, we should look for solutions at the local level that can have a wider impact and set a positive precedent for other affected areas. Evidence suggests that the routine and careful administration of controlled burns mitigates the potential for larger fires, as it robs the wildfire of one of its crucial needs: fuel. In the short term, to reduce fuel for the fires, we could apply controlled burns in a limited manner rather than eliminate them completely. In the short- and long-term, we have to reduce our fossil fuel emissions, which includes turning off our electronic devices when they’re not in use, reusing products, recycling, and taking public transportation. If we want any chance at helping our planet, we must take these necessary steps to reduce our carbon footprint and ultimately curb the devastating aftermath of climate change.

Firefighter works the scene as flames push towards homes during the Creek fire in the Cascadel Woods area of unincorporated Madera County, California...
Photo by Josh Edelson on

The Ethics of Vaccination

Vaccines. Like religion and politics, it’s become one of those topics that we are told that we “just shouldn’t discuss” with those who may hold a different view. Especially throughout this difficult year, in which we have all experienced the heartache and loss associated with a pandemic, the debate has become even more heated as we face a decision about how best to move forward. Should vaccines be mandatory to promote public health? What about our personal freedoms? How do we protect our most vulnerable while also protecting our individual liberties? 

The conflict between individual rights and public health is not a new one. Laws that attempt to protect or preserve life at the expense of individual freedoms range from mandatory school vaccinations to the requirement for seat belts in automobiles or helmets for motorcyclists. The prevailing legal precedent has established that in cases where individual behavior can impact society at large, then society has a right to limit that behavior. In the case of motorcyclists, for example, the choice to wear a helmet may seem on the surface only to affect the health of the motorcyclist. If there is an accident, that individual will pay the cost of the accident. However, the cost is not limited to that individual, as society pays the price associated with emergency services, medical treatment, perhaps even disability and unemployment. Therefore, this action that seems limited to personal choice is really one with a much wider impact.

Similarly, vaccinations may seem like a choice related only to an individual’s inoculation from disease. If that individual chooses to risk his or her health by not vaccinating, is it society’s job to intervene? An objective look at the benefits of mass vaccination suggest that yes, this is society’s job. Vaccination of the individual has immediate health impact for the individual, but also contributes to the overall state of protection for society. Further, it is incumbent upon us as a society to help look out for those among us who cannot comply with vaccination for medical reasons. Those who are immunocompromised, for example, rely on those healthy enough to be vaccinated to reduce their exposure to disease. We must balance everyone’s individual liberty with the liberty of all.

Politics has invaded our lives to an unprecedented extent, and unfortunately, it has colored scientific decisions with partisan hues. Being for or against masks or vaccination or accepting scientific discovery has devolved into a litmus test of party loyalty on both sides of the aisle, when it should be an opportunity to put aside political differences and reach across the ideological divide to agree on the common ground of scientific consensus.

Photo by Artem Podrez on

The Power of the Individual

Humans might like to think that mass extinctions are a thing of the past or a hypothetical event of the future, but the reality is that we are living through the 6th mass extinction, known as the Holocene Extinction, right now.  

This event, which has been occurring for the last 10,000 years, is wiping out numerous plant and animal species and is wreaking havoc on biologically diverse habitats such as coral reefs and rainforests. Data also show that it’s accelerating. In the last 100 years, we’ve lost over 500 land vertebrate species to extinction, and we are predicted to lose at least the same number of species in just the next 20 years. To make matters worse, it is human actions that are mostly responsible for the Holocene Extinction.  Urban encroachment or all-out destruction of natural habitats, climate change, pollution, hunting, genetic mutations, and increasing meat consumption all contribute to this ongoing extinction event.

Some of these problems can’t be solved easily and require cooperation and a concerted political will. But some changes can be made at the individual level.  They can be made in the moment, right now, by anyone.

So what can we do?

Raise awareness and be an advocate for our environment. Share reputable news articles on social media, volunteer for environmental organizations. Exchange ideas on how we can all reduce our fossil fuel consumption and become stewards of nature. And get out of our own echo chambers. We need to have rational, fruitful discussions with those who might not initially agree with us but who are willing to follow the science.

Reduce pollution. Recycle and use less plastic whenever possible. Try to ride a bicycle or walk instead of drive. Turn off your lights and any appliances when you aren’t using them and use energy efficient light bulbs. Whenever possible, buy things that aren’t manufactured using fossil fuels.

Eat less meat.  Eat no meat, if possible.  Plant-based alternatives have never been more abundant in the marketplace, so diverse, or so affordable. By eating less meat we cut down on climate change and habitat destruction. This is not a quick cure-all for the world’s climate woes, but it is a change that can make a difference. 

Eat Less Meat. Basil leaves and avocado on sliced bread on white ceramic plate
Photo by Lisa Fotios on

This is why our first initiative at EcoLogic Health focuses on increasing the availability of ecologically responsible, sustainable, vegetarian, and whole foods for students.

Check out some of these meat-alternatives and see what difference you can make, right now.

Thistle Meal Subscription:

Impossible Foods:

Beyond Meat:

Amy’s Meals:


Environmental impact of omnivorous, ovo-lacto-vegetarian, and vegan diet

The Earth’s Sixth Mass Extinction Is Accelerating

Vertebrates on the brink as indicators of biological annihilation and the sixth mass extinction

The Importance of Sustainable Eating

Many people throughout the United States have cut out animal products, at least partially, from their diet. Recent studies weighing the benefits of going vegan or vegetarian have proven that reducing one’s consumption of animal products leads to a reduced risk of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, Alzheimers, and lung disease. On average, vegetarians and vegans live 8 years longer than those who consume meat. As well as the benefits for humans, reduced meat production is very helpful for the environment. Meat production leads to pollution through fossil fuel usage, animal methane, effluent waste, and water and land consumption. Meat is one of the prime factors contributing to the current 6th mass extinction, also known as the Holocene extinction. Hundreds of millions of people around the world do not have access to clean water; converting to a plant-based diet conserves water and therefore would be helping to provide water to those in need. Scientists at the University of Oxford have found that converting to a plant-based diet could reduce one’s carbon footprint by up to 73%. Additionally, animals could be spared from unnecessary abuse and slaughter. Each person who transitions to veganism saves approximately 100 animal lives per year. If everyone in the world went vegan, the world’s food-related emissions would be reduced by 70% by the year 2050. Reducing one’s consumption of animal products is not only beneficial for animals, but for humans and the ecosystem, too.

sustainable eating
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