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Patagonia gives a ‘DamNation’ about environmental sustainability

By Ryan Thomas, For The Miami Student

Hydroelectric power, ecology and historical preservation were topics of discussion Tuesday evening when over 50 students gathered in the Harry T. Wilks Theater in Armstrong Student Center to watch Patagonia's award-winning documentary "DamNation."

"DamNation," narrated by Ben Knight, an environmental activist and creator of the documentary, explores the struggle between ecological damage and the hydroelectric power that seemingly harmless dams are producing.

Tuesday night, a panel discussion followed the 90-minute documentary featuring Jonathan Levy, associate professor of geology, and Jennifer Silico of the Outdoor Pursuit Center (OPC).

The two discussed the environmental impact of local dams on the Great-Miami River.

Seaview Outfitters and OPC collaborated to bring the surprising documentary to campus.

The OPC, located in the Rec center, works to promote environmental sustainability and outdoorsmanship to students. OPC offers a variety of courses, including backpacking, rock climbing, canoeing, domestic and international trips, as well as a living-learning community for on-campus students.

Assistant Director of the OPC Maureen Mowl said she believes the film promoted OPC's policies and ethics.

"Being able to sustain the environment is important … don't go and ruin [the environment] for people," Mowl said. "We are hoping to bring some exposure to environmental issues that are happening nationally."

Mowl also believes students would be able to relate the lessons of the video back to the Miami community.

"Even knowing that this is an issue is a step in the right direction," Russell Hobart, assistant director of the OPC, said. "Beyond that, [students] have to make their own decisions."

Sean Thomas, owner of Seaview Outfitters, saw an opportunity for a partnership with the university to promote the film.

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"Seaview and Miami University's Outdoor Pursuit Center have very similar goals and objectives, thus we make great partners on projects like this," Thomas said.

As a part of Patagonia's mission, the company annually gives one percent of its total revenue to environmental causes and grants.

This year, the company sponsored "DamNation" as a part of its environmental pursuits. As a retailer of Patagonia, Seaview Outfitters promoted the film.

The issue of historical preservation was also exposed throughout the film, as once-pristine lands inhabited by Native American tribes were exploited in the effort to generate power for the expanding Western United States. Entire valleys and towns were destroyed as dams flooded areas and, with them, a way of life.

Primarily, the documentary took on the hard issues of conservation and preservation of our nation. The documentary exposed the more than 70,000 dams in the United States; these dams hinder the movement of natural species like salmon, which leads to the current declines in their species.

Sophomore Joe Brundz said he was shocked by the environmental impact.

"I'm surprised that the environment changes so rapidly with the presence of dams," Brundz said. "We need to be more aware, be sure that it's worth it."

Brundz's sentiment was the take-home message; be cautious of where dams are constructed, and be sure dams are worth the environmental and ecological damage that follows.

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