Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Might we have an ally in the State College borough?

State College borough council president and mayoral candidate Elizabeth Goreham speaks on the need to act quickly and firmly on the environment.

Last night, Goreham spoke with Penn State's Eco-Action about State College sustainability issues. According to the Eco-Action listserve and meeting notes, they have endorsed her mayoral bid. To follow up, she sent Resolution 944 to the club, which is the State College Borough's "Declaration of the Borough as a Climate Protection Community." (Should anyone want it, I will gladly email it to them.) It includes a set of municipal and community goals (largely to do with waste reduction, more effective recycling programs, electricity use and efficiency, fuel use efficiency, and indications of increased walkability and bikeability) and the creation of the position of Sustainability Coordinator who will inform and coordinate municipal duties with the end of a smaller ecological footprint by the borough.

These are forward thinking steps.

Update: I spoke to Ms. Goreham on the phone this morning and I will be speaking on water bottles during public comment on October 12th at 7:30 pm.

Come to the Schreyer Educating for Sustainability Conference

Penn State is showing a continued investment in sustainability by bringing together a conference on sustainability that focuses on what people at Penn State are doing and can do. From the website:
Educating for Sustainability will energize faculty, staff, students and administrators to infuse environmental sustainability into the curriculum, and thereby broaden Penn State's capacity to address significant challenges related to energy and the environment. Because these challenges will require assessing ethical consequences and communicating effectively with the public and policy makers, as well as competencies for conducting scientific research and creating successful design solutions, this conference will be relevant to a broad audience.
A list of speakers can be found here (featuring yours truly). Panels cover topics as varied as nutrition, inter-disciplinary work, student activism and action, best practices, what our campus is doing, research and more.

What is the hope for the conference?
  • Present the case for environmental sustainability as a university/institutional core value
  • Promote sustainability in all sectors of higher education, but particularly the scholarly/academic arena
  • Showcase Penn State experts who are national leaders in the ethics and science of sustainability
  • Design a plan for infusing sustainable development concepts and good practices throughout the curriculum
  • Publicize the need for inclusion of educational experiences addressing the urgency of climate change and provide opportunities for students to consider related career choices
  • Provide avenues for taking action, such as opportunities to endorse statements by disciplinary communities, Freshman pledge and graduation pledge
  • Offer tracked sessions for administrators, faculty, staff, and students
If you are interested in registering click here. It's FREE!!! This is what we do and want to do even better.

Monday, September 28, 2009

The dangers from natural gas drilling to our water

Pennsylvania is on the march to opening up all of the Marcellus Shale for natural gas drilling. To learn more about the Marcellus Shale go here and here. I've been taking a bit of time to look into this because I'm concerned about what it might do to the water in our rural communities. I worry about what can happen to watersheds and then the people that drink from them, the agriculture that depends on those watersheds, and the wild ecosystems.

Here's a piece to really worry you from Water Under Attack.

WYOMING! from JOSHFOX on Vimeo.

I am worried about these things: destroyed water wells for the narrow profits of natural gas companies. As one of the ranchers says in the video, "It's amazing that what took Mother Nature millions of years to build can be destroyed in a few hours with a piece of heavy machinery."

Friday, September 25, 2009

Alex is thinking of us

From Sweden.

What are we doing to fight climate change?

While these Greenpeace activists take direct non-violent action in Pittsburgh to influence the G20 to combat climate change, I firmly believe that what we are doing is remarkably similar.

We don't have big banners. We aren't hanging from bridges. But we are changing habits and beliefs here, affecting others habits and beliefs here, and we will certainly be helping to shape habits and beliefs in many of our students' lives to come. That's part of what teachers do. We touch the future every day.

You ready for our day of action on October 14th to Take Back the Tap?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

While we are doing TED Talks

I rummaged through the TED Talks archives and found Al Gore's three talks on climate change. If you haven't seen them, give them a watch.

Do schools kill creativity?

Two participants in 3E-COE have brought this to my attention. Do schools kill creativity? It's something we need to consider.

What are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Plastic incineration costs?

What do plastics have to do with climate change?

We know that their production requires oil to make the plastic, using over 17 million barrels of oil. The industry that produces the plastic itself fuels its factories with coal. Shipment and distribution? More petroleum. Refrigeration in vending machines and other coolers? More coal-powered electricity combined with the coolant HFCs, greenhouse gases 140 to 11,000 times more heat-trapping than CO2. Disposal requires more shipment to landfills (only 14% of them excape landfills), recycling plants, or in some cases, downcycling where they can be turned into rugs or some such thing (for a fact sheet check and pdf Food and Water Watch). But there is more cost here too.

I've just been reading the EPA's 2007 Executive Summary on the release of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. A good deal of the material is on consumption or coal, petroleum, and natural gas and their respective uses in different economic sectors (electricity production, transportation, etc.). If you are versed in climate change materials, there are no surprises in the broad findings - the United States has produced, is producing, and will continue to produce a disproportionate quantity of GHGs that affect the climate. The facts contained in the summary round out and fill in our pictures.

One of the most interesting things I found came under "Other significant CO2 trends." The EPA writes, "CO2 emissions from incineration of waste (20.8 Tg CO2 Eq. in 2007) increased by 9.8 Tg CO2 Eq. (90 percent) from 1990 through 2007, as the volume of plastics and other fossil carbon-containing materials in the waste stream grew. [emphasis mine]" We know that from 1990 to 2007 time single-use plastic water bottle use has at least doubled. World Watch reports that from 1997 to 2005 the market's volume doubled to 164 billion liters. PR Inside estimates that the volume will increase to over 174 billion liters in 2011, though public awareness campaigns, bans, and the economic downturn could disrupt this trend. Nonetheless, billions of single-use plastic water bottles in the U.S. have ended up in landfills. [Burned bottle image courtesy of IfEnergy.]

I wonder, then, what proportion of these landfill-bound bottles have been incinerated and been converted into yet more GHGs. I don't know. To some degree it doesn't really matter. The life cycle of the single-use plastic water bottle is so toxic that this just adds some further ugliness to what can only be described as an ecological and social cancer.

Peak Moment

YouTube. That vast bastion of silly videos. Not just so.

I have come upon an interesting YouTube channel called Peak Moment. They describe themselves as follows:
Peak Moment is a weekly series showcasing perspectives and initiatives for local self-reliant living. Programs feature host Janaia Donaldson's conversations and on-site tours with guests preparing for accelerating energy decline, climate chaos, and economic uncertainty.

Sample topics include: local food production; renewable energy; transportation alternatives; sustainable building; personal, economic, business, and governmental responses.
I've gotten to peruse some of the programs they've aired and found them to be pretty interesting. With 158 posted videos, there's an awful lot to watch and contemplate, but my searches yielded some nice stuff guessed it: school gardens.
Take a tour with team-teachers Glenda Berliner and Jeralyn Wilson, as they show us their elementary school garden bearing many fruits. It's an important part of the curriculum: children make mason bee boxes, grow colonial medicinal plants, learn of other cultures, and put science to work. It builds community: parents work together, students form a bucket brigade to transport wood chips. It's a site for celebrations like a pumpkin harvest or a play. Whether it's the flower and vegetable beds, or the restful Zen garden, this spot has become a favorite place to be, and to grow from.

Three things emerge for me from this video. First, Berliner and Wilson understand and ground the garden in the community; they envisioned the garden as a community space that would be realized most of the time as a community for children and children with teachers that ripples out into the broader community. Second, they really envisioned the garden as a place nested within a place. Their school seems (and I am careful here) to be adapted to the northwestern Washington state environment and not vice versa. The garden is a place about these people's place. Finally, we can note that however briefly they discuss curricula, the garden permeates it. Phys ed class runs through the garden and art class uses gourds.

Gardens are quite literally places of invention and generation.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Support school gardens

Here's your chance to reinforce some good behavior by congress. Support Bernie Sanders' amendment to the Agriculture Bill that would give $2 million to school gardens! Click here to follow up with National Garden Association.

Campus coal contentions

It looks as though the Sierra Club's Coal-Free Campus Campaign has aroused some ire. For the last few days students and PSU grads have written letters to the editor of The Daily Collegian decrying the anti-coal campaign (click here and backtrack to previous letters). It's an interesting back and forth primarily because it contains ill-informed arguments.

It would be nice if some of these letter writers actually understood the problem. We understand that coal plants power our lights, computers, and appliances. Yes, coal is part of the equation that has made it possible for us to watch football games and powered the factories where our cars and trucks that got us to the game (and contributed to climate change as well). We are not ignorant straw men and stupid bandwagon joiners.

Burning coal contributes to a host of natural environmental problems: Coal plants emit
enormous amounts of greenhouse gases that in turn contribute to climate change. In this regard, the American northeast is a significant and disproportionate contributor to climate change. Coal plant waste and mining operations also poison local wells and watersheds in ways that hurt communities - especially poor communities - and devastate ecosystems. One need only look at last year's Tennessee Valley Authority's coal ash spill to see the results (at right courtesy of ENS-newswire). But those pesky facts just don't matter to some people or haven't penetrated the veil of convenience for them.

As a case in point a letter writer today states,
Coal allows us to live the lifestyle we have grown accustomed to at an affordable price. The U.S. would revert to a third world country if coal were taken out of our energy mix.
In effect, this this person argues that his leisure and convenience SHOULD come at other people's expense. And the only price that he seems to have considered is the immediate economic price or standard bottom line. He clearly has not considered the triple bottom line that would add the human welfare costs and the price to the natural environment. Were those things weighed in any kind of equal weight, he would have to conclude the real cost of doing business constitutes a disaster.

I am not making some wishy-washy argument about the intrinsic value of trees, moss, owls, and cute tree frogs. We don't need to believe in the "suchness" or "transcendent good" of other organisms to witness coal's destructive qualities when we burn it to produce electricity. Coal hurts people in enormous ways. We don't need to be treehuggers to see that thousands of people were endangered by TVA's coal ash spill. Though I am guilty right now of using a computer powered by coal, I can use that computer to urge a speedy and intelligent transition toward a cleaner world. My iPod SHOULD NOT come at the expense of other people's and other organisms' health and well-being. These are not morally defensible side effects to "business as usual" so that can run our iPods or attend football games. We are currently trapped in a system that makes hypocrites out of people with the best intentions and aspirations. Penn State can do better.

As the Sierra Club notes, "we have all of the technology we need" to solve these problems, including effective solar and wind power. But we lack the political will to do it. The recent letters seem to argue that we should do little to reduce our energy consumption as individuals, communities, or institutions. One letter writer says that be "believes in the environment." He better. It's there. And it can't supply us with coal, oil, and natural gas to burn forever. Beyond that, the atmospheric and oceanic climate feedback systems will, at some point, make it very difficult for all of us to adapt if we continue this trend.

We can see a way to escape this trap.
Reduction and replacement go hand in hand. We need to consume less by just using our sources less and making all of that use more efficient. And we need to replace dirty and climatically precarious sources much less. Coal has to go. We are morally called to do it.

Perhaps, if we think deeper about these issues, as one letter writer suggests we do, then we will figure out ways to halve our energy consumption and make coal irrelevant. That is both a realistic and hopeful step toward a solution.

Monday, September 21, 2009

We are a news item for the College of Ed!

The College of Education has included us in its newsworthy items. Check it out here!

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – This fall, a student organization known as 3E-COE (Environment, Ecology, Education – College of Education) will add a new aspect to its campaign to help the University become a little greener by reducing the waste that comes from one-time use plastic water and soda bottles.

3E-COE will be working with the Office of Physical Plant (OPP) to evaluate and upgrade the appearance and taste of water coming out of water fountains and kitchenette sinks throughout the College. 3E-COE hopes people will limit their use of plastic water bottles by taking advantage of better tasting tap water.

3E-COE started their efforts last year when they lobbied President Graham Spanier by protesting in front of Old Main about the problems associated with water bottles. The rally led to meetings with OPP on how to handle waste on campus.
Read on at the link.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Acting on water safety

What do you do when the water you drink is contaminated? When it is loaded with parasites, bacteria, and viruses that cause ear infections and diarrhea? What do you do when the likely source of those parasites comes from your neighbors' livelihoods? How do you protect yourself, your family, and your community?

These are some of the questions facing the people of Morrison, Wisconsin, a big dairy-producer in northeastern Wisconsin. As the New York Times reports today, "All it took was an early thaw for the drinking water here to become unsafe."

In brief, the story reports that very large dairy farms have been dumping in excess of 26,000,000 pounds of cow manure on their land every year (roughly the weight of 30 fully loaded modern Boeing 747s at takeoff) as well as "slaughterhouse waste and treated sewage." Some of that acts as fertilizer but with early thaws, runoff, and natural seepage into groundwater, the water table, watersheds, and ground wells have been heavily contaminated by fecal born parasites that prompted Lisa Barnard to say, “Sometimes it smells like a barn coming out of the faucet."And all of this has come to pass because of a lack of regulation and enforcement.

The story details where and how the 1972 Clean Water Act's jurisdiction and enforcement has fallen short, especially on non-point sources of water pollution. Farmers have failed to file paperwork when they should and Bush administration rules have made huge farms (700+ cows) self-regulating. In other huge livestock operations, residents and officials have gone after enormous chicken, hog, and cattle operations but with only limited success. In short (and this is my read on it) the enormous profits that can be gleaned in these industrial factory farm operations have made the "business as usual" model one that, very simply put, maximizes production, maximizes profits for a very small group of corporations and their investors, and relegates the social and ecological consequences to the nether regions. They are, as economists call them, externalities that have been ignored at the expense of human welfare, freshwater cleanliness, watershed integrity, and the constellation of ecosystems connected to these farms.

Much of the regulation has been crafted by people interested in maximizing profit and production as it has been in many other areas. This is no surprise. The discussion of regulation at the end of the Times article leaves something out completely. There is NO way to safely and ethically dispose of all of the manure that the American production of meat and milk necessarily creates. The sheer volume creates water pollution because it must go somewhere and that somewhere is always connected to a water table. I doubt that all of the regulation in the world of how they dispose of this waste can do anything. The problem lies in the interconnected subsidies in the whole agricultural industry that creates these megafarms.

We are paying so little for things that are actually very expensive and the side effects - i.e. agricultural waste runoff - are externally very expensive as well. Most awfully of all, they defile the commons; they destroy the most basic common goods - breathable air, potable water, and rich soil.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

What an opportunity!

Given how active we have been on the issue of water bottle waste reduction and a hopeful ban at Penn State, it would be foolish of us to not go for this: Brita's College FilterForGood Campaign grants.
Last year the College FilterForGood Eco-Challenge asked students how to make their campus more sustainable and the proposals flooded in. The ideas were so good, the Eco-Challenge is back this year and Brita is giving away five more grants to college students. Want to create a recycling program in your dorm, reduce waste in the cafeteria or ban bottled water on campus? Submit a proposal outlining how you can make a difference and you could receive one of five $10,000 grants to put your plan into action.
We're on it.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Let's go for a coal-free campus

A new friend of ours from Sierra Club has just alerted me that we have a chance to be part of moving us a little closer to freeing us from the choke of coal.

Sierra Club’s Coal-Free Campus Campaign at Penn State will be kicking off the semester with a press conference tomorrow (Wednesday) at 11:30am on the South Side (lawn-side) of Old Main. We're releasing a national report detailing coal use on university campuses, which is featuring Penn State. We're gonna be launching an effort to retire Penn State's 80-year-old coal plant and clear the way for clean energy, as part of an nationwide campaign, led by the Sierra Club, on more than 60 college campuses. PSU students Rose Monahan and Melissa Hannum will talk about the problem with Penn State's coal use and we'll be calling on our administration to lead the country in building a clean energy future.

The event will run from 11:30-11:50, and will be attended by local media outlets.

What: Coal-Free Campus Media Event this Wednesday Sept 16th @ 11:30 by Old Main's south entrance.

We hope you can make it by for the event--we could use your support! The more people we have there, the bigger the message will be. If you're able to attend, do your best to wear a Penn State shirt to show the Lion Pride that's behind clean energy here on campus. Definitely bring your friends who also want clean energy, and if you can make it at 11:20 to help hold a sign or join the crowd, all the better!

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Real Dirt on Farmer John

We are going to be watching The Real Dirt on Farmer John at our meeting this week at 8 pm in 134 Cedar Building. From the film's website:
The epic tale of a maverick Midwestern farmer. An outcast in his community, Farmer John bravely stands amidst a failing economy, vicious rumors, and violence. By melding the traditions of family farming with the power of art and free expression, this powerful story of transformation and renewal heralds a resurrection of farming in America.
It's a tale of redemption through organic farming and artistic expression. I guess I wonder if "farmer John" is the kind of person we think of as "an educated person." Let's get together and see!

Watch the trailer!

I like Rotten Tomatoes which gave it an 88%. Pretty good!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Now here's a goal for schools

Want a good justification for gardens that are integrated into schools? Here you go.

Michael Pollan writes:
Recently a team of designers from M.I.T. and Columbia was asked by the foundation of the insurer UnitedHealthcare to develop an innovative systems approach to tackling childhood obesity in America. Their conclusion surprised the designers as much as their sponsor: they determined that promoting the concept of a “foodshed” — a diversified, regional food economy — could be the key to improving the American diet.
That's what the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture hopes for too. As I've been working and reading lately (posts forthcoming) this is a move we need to make in schools...private and public. We live in a breadbasket of the world with good rain, beautiful mixes of forest and cropland, and splendid water. We have a foodshed here. Let's move to bring it to the fore.

So where should we go to look for the answers? How do we do it?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Fiji: Bottled Water and the Government

This week, Fiji was suspended from the Commonwealth of Nations. The country's military junta has refused to hold elections, and it recently abolished the country's judiciary after the court declared that the military junta was unconstitutional. Currently, Fiji is governed by Marshall law.

In the Fijian town Rakiraki, residents cannot drink from their local water supply: the water is not potable. Also in Rakiraki, Fiji bottled water is sold at prices comparable to those in the United States.

The US-owned Fiji bottled water company (known as Brand Fiji by the Fijian government) began operations in 1995, after an enterprising real estate and gold-mining mogul, David Gilmour, took out a 99-year lease from the Fijian government on a recently discovered aquifer. The aquifer was discovered by the Fijian government and international aid groups while exploring for clean sources of drinking water. The Brand Fiji plant is located thirty minutes from Rakiraki.

In addition to the 99-year lease, Brand Fiji receives other business advantages from the Fijian government. Specifically, Brand Fiji works with Fijian embassies in various countries to market their bottled water. The government sees the marketing of the bottled water as a means for marketing the country to tourists as an unspoiled, tropical paradise.

Brand Fiji constitutes 20% of the country's exports and 3% of its GDP.

Thus far, Brand Fiji has not spoken out against the military dictatorship.

Source: Democracy Now!, Sept. 3, 2009

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Tomorrow's Sustainable U. Involvement Fair

Sustain U internet.jpg

WHAT: We're hosting a table at this year's Sustainability Involvement Fair
: HUB Lawn at The Pennsylvania State University, University Park
WHEN: Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Bring some friends!

Penn State is #8

Greenopia has just ranked 100 schools in the U.S. using a set of 12 criteria and Penn State is #8. They write, "Great green building design, a good renewable portfolio, and a great waste program propel the Nittany Lions into our top 10." Maybe if we get our show on the road and bring education programs and further reduce our waste - i.e. dump these plastic water bottles - then we can get some even better press. Let's go state!

Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education

This month's issue of Voices of Central Pennsylvania features a story on a Pennsylvania website dedicated to green education. Sounds right up our alleys.

The Pennsylvania Center for Environmental Education (PCEE) features information for teachers and other educators on agriculture, business and industry, children, environmental non-profits, higher education, and local government. Their educational directory is located here and provides a broad range of materials (please peruse and evaluate). And, if when all is said and done with your time at Penn State and your looking for some employment or you are thinking you'd like a shot at an internship, check this link.

Their calendar of events is incredible. We should use it this coming year to help us coordinate our activities. You can also get linked into their newsletter here. Consider the incredible resources we have in the sidebar at right in conjunction with something as regional as this and then materials via Shaver's Creek, our state park system, and the Center for Sustainability and you can see some wealth of ecological education.

E.O. Wilson interview on NPR

This morning NPR played a discussion between Will Wright, the developer of SimAnt and Spore - and entymologist and ecologist E.O. Wilson, the man who coined the term I love so much, "biophilia/biophile."
If our group members ever wonder where this term comes from and about the mind and character of the man who made it, I highly suggest you listen to this interview in which they discuss, among other things, their shared love of ants and the biological roots of human behavior and nature (the field of sociobiology, "the application of evolutionary theory to social behavior").