What were you doing when you were 16? If I remember correctly, I changed my hairstyle. Tanya Das from Mount Laurel? Well, she changes the world.
Das invented a remote-controlled underwater robot capable of detecting and removing plastic waste from the ocean and other bodies of water, a global problem that affects both humans and marine life. She has trained more than 6,000 young leaders in 12 countries. She traveled to her parents’ birthplace in India, one of the poorest part of the country, to teach 250 students how to use the device to clear debris from a local river. She founded a global non-profit organization, Motion for the Ocean, to teach young people about ocean pollution, climate change, science and technology. She was one of 25 young environmental activists from around the world to receive the Action for Nature International Young Eco-Hero Award, which recognizes young people who take critical action to solve difficult environmental problems. She took her passion for saving the environment from personal conversations with Senator Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President and Nobel Prize winning environmentalist Al Gore.
Oh, one more thing: Das is considering becoming President of the United States.
âI believe it can happen,â she said. “Why not?”
However, before she hopefully takes the oath of office, there is a lot of important work to be done.
âI believe my generation is responsible for the future of the planet,â said Das, now 17 and a senior at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, ranked # 1 private boarding school in America . âOur mission is to give all young people the means to change behaviors that destroy the environment. We lobby, we advocate for policies, all through the prism of the plastics problem.
âMy philosophy of this movement is that people start like a drop of water, then become a wave, then a tsunami. I have seen and I believe it will happen. Youth have power.
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Eliminating plastics from the oceans is not Das’s only goal. She also hopes to solve the growing problem of ocean acidification, which is a reduction in the pH of the ocean over time, caused mainly by the absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As the earth warms, ocean water absorbs heat and distributes it more evenly across the planet. The ocean also absorbs about 30 percent of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The extra heat and CO2 in the ocean can change the environment for plants and animals.
âWe cannot save our oceans without reducing carbon emissions,â Das pleaded. âThe ocean is crying and we are responsible. The oceans are teeming with biodiversity and feed more than a billion people. We must save our seas. The enemy is man-made, but we have the solution. We need to pressure organizations to move away from things like coal and go solar. We were one of the first families in our neighborhood to have solar panels on our house.
âYour actions to help may seem like drops. But really, what is an ocean if not an amalgamation of individual drops? ”
While Das has traveled the world teaching young people about his plastic-guzzling underwater robot and hopes to go to college on one of America’s shores to stay near an ocean, his heart remains rooted in Mount Laurel. . Born in Camden, she struggled in school. I only learned to read in kindergarten. Learning math was like trying to find a hairpin in the dark. Her parents moved to Mount Laurel, where she began to flourish academically.
âIn one summer, I learned all the skills I needed,â Das said. âWhen I was in second grade at Countryside Elementary School, they told me I had to take an IQ test. I have been identified as gifted. Some people say I was late in Camden because I was bored. May be. I do not know.
âWhen it comes to robotics, I got really interested when I was in Ms. Maureen Barrett’s STEM underwater robotics class at Harrington Middle School. That’s where it all started, and I’m still in touch with her. I haven’t forgotten it.
A young girl from Mount Laurel is determined to solve the world’s problems, from the depths of the oceans and, hopefully, from the Oval Office.
âI was inspired by a poem by Walt Whitman,â said Das, on âI Dreamed in a Dreamâ. âHe goes, ‘I dreamed in a dream, I saw a city invincible to attacks from all of the rest of the earth.’ And so, I dream.
Phil Gianficaro, columnist for USA TODAY Network, can be reached at 215-345-3078, [email protected] and @philgianficaro on Twitter.