Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Arctic Blast 2008

There is nothing like a big snow storm to remind a person the power of the weather. This is the first Christmas I will spend away from my family. After spending six hour fruitlessly waiting in a train which was delayed, because another train was frozen to the tracks, I have decided to settle down and spend Christmas in Portland.
Blanketed in snow the city has for a few days radically changed. There are very few cars on the roads, most people have chosen instead to walk. The street, instead of being dangerous dividers, have opened up into a new community space. So far I have hitched two rides downtown, I've meet and talked with more people than I would have if there had not been any snow. I strangely feel united with my Portland comrades, we are all having to change our habits to confront this change. Instead of waiting for the bus with a few drunken hobos the bus stops are filled with every Portlander, many of who have never ridden the bus before. Instead of traveling around the city I have been forced to remain close to home and discover the places around me. It has been a truly local experience. Many of the assumptions that I had made about Portland seem to have been false. People don't need cars to go everywhere, and we can use spaces in our community to benefit the community. The city is relatively quiet, instead of rushing around people seem to be taking it easy.
In a couple of days the snow will melt away and things will return to the way they were before the Arctic Blast of 2008. The most inspiring thing for me was watching how it is possible for people to change their habits and the way we see our city. While it took a snow storm for this to happen, perhaps someday we might be able to make this change happen without a storm. Seeing the city differently gave me hope that we can make a city that works for people instead of working for the sake of working.

Friday, December 12, 2008

new LC bike coordinator position!

The idea behind this position is to pay someone to support a bike culture at Lewis and Clark. While many students are interested in biking, have bikes on campus, or bike to school, there is no one person who helps to promote this alternative form of transportation. The key focus of the bike coordinator for this year would be to reinvigorate the bike room and make it a functional space. There are many knowledgeable students on campus who are passionate about biking and are interested in helping students learn to use their bikes. The bike coordinator would be responsible for finding and organizing these people by setting up bike room rules and hours.

The bike coordinator is a non work study position and you will get paid $600 over the course of the semester through the sustainability council. There are 15 weeks in the semester so this equals working 4 hours a week at 10 dollars an hour. You would be responsible for either attending the monthly sustainability council meetings or submitting a report on what you have accomplished before the meetings. If you have any more questions please do not hesitate to write to me, kielj@lclark.edu.

All application will be due by January 25th. Depending on the number of applicants we receive we may ask you to set up a time for an interview. We will announce who is receiving the position shortly after January 25th.

if you are interested please email me (kielj@) and i'll send you the questions

Monday, December 1, 2008

Town in Pakistan bans motorized four wheeled vehicles

here is an interesting example of a town banning cars in order to improve the general well-being of the population and fight global warming


some final notes about sustainability at the end of the semester

Historians figure that about 80 billion humans have inhabited the planet over the course of human history. This totals out to about 2.16 trillion years. Due to rapidly increasing population humans over the last 100 years, one fifth of all those years has taken place in the twentieth century. One fifth of all the experiences humans have ever gone through occurred between 1900 and 2000. At the same time our economy and ability to consume has increased dramatically. The world economy is 120 times larger than it was in 1500. Our per capita income has increased 9 fold. Technology has allowed us unprecedented freedom to travel and experience people and places. As the world has increased in size our individualism and freedom have surprisingly increased as well. However the question is at what long-term cost?

The most interesting thing I have ever read about sustainability was in a book called Something New Under the Sun, in it author John McNeill said, “It is impossible to know whether humankind has entered a genuine ecological crisis. It is clear enough that our current ways are ecologically unsustainable, but we cannot know for how long we may yet sustain them, or what might happen if we do. In any case, human history since the dawn of agriculture is replete with unsustainable societies, some of which vanished but many of which changed their ways and survived. They changed not to sustainability but to some new and different kind of unsustainable. Perhaps we can, as it were, pile one unsustainable regime upon another indefinitely, making adjustments large and small but avoiding collapse.” These adjustments have become what sustainability means, simply avoiding collapse. However I am not satisfied with this answer.

Looking toward the future it would seem like at some point in our lives we will get the chance to own an electric car. The incentive for the development of electric cars is based on the assumption that gas prices will at some point go up again. However if enough people start buying electric cars the price of gas will go down causing people to return to buying gasoline powered cars. Perhaps through tax incentives we could prevent this trend but passing gas taxes is a difficult thing to do.

Sustainability has to be about a historical reexamination of what we view as “rational decisions” and place those decisions in a long-term perspective. It cannot be a simple rationality, market driven replacement scheme, but a conscious effort to improve society that is based on knowledge. If we remove our agency and leave ourselves prey to our rational decisions I don’t think we stand much chance of becoming either sustainable or sexy. As our school and society continues to seek ways to “green” itself I hope we begin to see the ways in which our current system is preventing us from saving ourselves. Sustainability needs to be about seeing past our ideological assumptions to develop new ways of how our society could be structured that is both sustainable and increases the individualism and freedom we have enjoyed over the past century.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

LC Students Forgo Showers, Attend Environmental Conference

By Kiel Johnson

There is a certain feeling after good sex when your entire body is exhausted but at the same time completely satisfied. Well this past weekend nine Lewis & Clark students journeyed up to Seattle for the second annual Cascade Climate Network convergence. All of these students felt that way by the end of the weekend. They were joined by 120 student environmental leaders representing most colleges and universities in Washington and Oregon. The student organized and lead event was surprising amazing considering that it was student organized and lead.
The two day event was filled with grand idealism, organic food, and actual genuine inspiration. Jared Schly (12’) said, “The weekend was epic. Mind expanding in every way.”
For two days these students attended workshops and talked with other students about what they were doing at their respective colleges. Some of the trainings offered were on topics such as, starting a campus garden, starting a bike share program, how do you run a meeting, and how do you deal with a school's pesky administration.
The highlight for Jared Schly (12') was the open discussions Saturday night. If you have ever, while in an alternate state, turned to your friend and asked “what is nature?” or “dude look at all those stars, we are so fucking insignificant” then you may or may not have enjoyed the open discussions. While it is unlikely that many people were in altered states we all broke off into groups and had interesting conversations that weren't guided by some professor whose ultimate goal is to turn everyone into himself. One group was titled “what are the social constructs of nature?” and while they never really came close to answering this question they all felt pretty smart trying to.
At the end of the weekend Holly Kellum (11’) was “I was amazed at how much progress has been made in regards to sustainability but I also got a glimpse of how much work is still ahead of us. The knowledge and technology are there, we just need to implement it, and sooner rather than later if it is going to be effective.”
The best part was just getting to be around all these people from other school who were all doing amazing things and passionate and committed to doing more things. Lewis & Clark is not alone in the struggle to change into a more environmentally responsible campus. We still might not know how to deal with the administration, or anything about starting a campus garden but at least we know that it is not just one person, or just our school that is trying to do these things. The convergence gave hope that if we work together we can begin to accomplish some of the goals on our long list of things to do to become a more sustainable place.


By Alex Johnson

I have worms, but it's not what you think. A few months ago I decided to start vermicomposting, which is really just a fancy word for composting with worms. I can't remember where I originally found out about vermicomposting, but I've been at it for a few months and have learned a lot along the way. People always have questions about how it works, so I'll tell you a little bit about the process. First, a story:
In 1999, the Medical University of South Carolina built a worm composting system to recycle food waste from their cafeteria. The facility, which is the size of a small bus and filled with worms, can process 250 pounds of food waste in a day (that's over 30 tons in an academic year). Banana peels, egg shells and half-eaten hamburgers go in and high-quality vermicompost (worm poop) comes out.
Composting is nature's way of recycling. You might not be aware of it, but it's happening all around you. An apple core thrown into the brush will break down very quickly. Come spring, you'll hardly recognize the leaves that fell in autumn. Many organisms aid in the process of decomposition, but one of the most helpful is the redworm. Its tendency to live in heaps of decaying material like leaves and manure and its voracious appetite make it ideal for composting food scraps.
There are many good reasons to give vermicomposting a try. You can do it in a small area (unlike conventional composting), vermicompost is great for gardens and house plants, and it keeps recyclable materials out of landfills.
I'll be the first to admit that there's nothing particularly normal about keeping several thousand worms to compost food waste - my friends have taken to calling me 'the worm whisperer' - but it doesn't necessarily have to be a counterculture experience. All you need is a container and worms. Add damp, torn-up newspaper and some food scraps and you'll be producing your own vermicompost. Perhaps someday Lewis & Clark will follow the lead of MUSC and compost all of our food waste on-site, but until then, you ought to give it a try yourself. It's amazing how passionate you can become about a creature whose anus looks exactly like its mouth.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Are Cars the New Cigerettes?

Reprinted with permission from bikeportland.org by Jonathan Maus

Are cars are the new smoking cigarettes? It’s something that came from my continued bewilderment that, while most everyone realizes the multitude of negative impacts that come with America’s love-affair with cars, we are just now (and hardly still) beginning to think of them in the same way as cigarettes. That is, as something that is very dangerous, has broad public health implications, and claims the lives of thousands of people each year.
Way back when, cigarettes were cool. Everybody smoked them. From housewives to movie stars, nobody considered the negative impacts of puffing away (like lung cancer, asthma from secondhand smoke, and so on). But, as people started dying by the tens of thousands (including two Marlboro Men), suspicions grew.

Suddenly, the health care community caught on, the government started warning consumers, and popular culture eventually followed.
Now, cigarettes are banned in many public places and the number of people smoke regularly has dwindled to a much more sensible amount.
But there’s another silent killer in our midst — cars. They pollute our air, they kill tens of thousands of people each year (usually in “accidents”), they contribute to obesity, climate change, sprawl, and oil dependence, they degrade our public spaces, and so on.
Fortunately, people are starting to make the connection between cars and cigarettes. They’re beginning to understand that there are serious consequences for all of us because of our high rates of car usage.
Today, I came across even more validation that the comparison is valid while reading the excellent blog, How We Drive. The blog is written by Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic: Why we drive the way we do.
In a post he titled, Changing Entrenched Behaviors, Vanderbilt shared a slide from a talk given by Michael O’Hare, a professor of public policy at University of California at Berkeley. In the slide, O’Hare compares cigarettes in 1968 with cars in 2008.

Vanderbilt wrote on his blog that, “I imagine there would have been few people in 1968 predicting that by 2008 smoking in public places would largely be a thing of the past.”
I hope everyone realizes that I’m intrigued by the ‘cars are the new smoking’ idea not because I simply hate cars and don’t think anyone should drive them. Cars have their place, just like cigarettes have their place. There’s nothing wrong with them, the problem is with us.
I drive my mini-van now and then and I have nothing against taking a drag from a cigarette, a cigar, or other rolled tobacco product if the opportunity presents itself.
It’s not the cars (or the cigarettes), it’s how we choose to use them. I just hope it doesn’t take 40 more years for America to kick this deadly habit.

Leaf Blowers Part Three

I hate leaf blowers, every LC student hates leaf blowers, the faculty hates leaf blowers, the administration hates leaf blowers, and most especially leaf blowers hate leaf blowers. So why do we have leaf blowers on our campus? Not only are they annoying for a community but the pollution and noise is especially damaging to the user who is in constant close proximity to the blower. It is like standing next to the exhaust of a car all day only that exhaust is several times more toxic and that car is located on an airplane runway. Last year I had a conversation with facilities about why we have leaf blowers. The answer was that the Executive Committee wants a leaf free campus, because in their opinion this looks most presentable. So every year we spend lots and lots of dollars paying people to blow leaves around. We have been locked into using these wasteful machines and there is no force for change.
Few people know that last year for a month Copeland was a “leaf blower free zone”. This was because at the end of my meeting I agreed to maintain Copeland in exchange for them not using leaf blowers there. Every week I would go out and pick up trash around Copeland. Students walking by me mostly thought I had gotten into some sort of trouble. However by doing this it allowed me to send weekly updates about my work and continually remind facilities that leaf blowers are bad. At the end of my work I wrote a very long summary in which I said “I don’t think I prevented one leaf blower from being used” and that the problem with leaf blowers was that there is no interaction between the facility workers and those who benefit from their work. Why should they care if they are making a lot of noise as long as it makes their job easier?
Our inability to manage the problem of leaf blowers is a symptom of a larger problem on campus. No matter how many community forums we have or emails from student government asking us to attend meetings most people just don’t give a fuck. We did not go to college and spend thousands of dollars every year to participate in making the Lewis and Clark community a better place. We pay this money to get our degree so we can supposedly go out and make the world a better place, or just make a bunch of money. However, this logic is obviously flawed. The solution to leaf blowers is simple. Purchase a leaf vacuum. This is a big cart that you can drive around that will suck up leaves. It would save the school money in terms of labor and would decrease the amount of pollution we create. But no one seems interested. The only way upgrading would save us money would be to “let go of some workers” and facilities doesn’t want to do that. Furthermore as long as facilities are getting rid of the leaves the Executive Council has no reason to question them. All the while leaf blowers continue to pollute both the air and noise of our campus.
We have reached a strange point in which because we are so focused on passing a test for some class about environmental destruction that we hurry by the leaf blower on our way to pass that test. How are we supposed to prevent nuclear waste if we are unable to solve the problem of leaf blowers? We are caught in a fantasy that by reading about the world we will somehow solve the world’s problems. Our work is the excuse we give ourselves for not engaging the world around us. Schoolwork has become the opiate of the masses. Instead of learning how to actually change the world we are simply learning how to read a book really well. Our campus has been locked into thinking that leaf blowers are necessary. In truth they are actually costing us much more in terms of health and noise. Up until now students have merely interpreted the world. The point however is to change it!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

How Sexy is Obama's Sustainability?

Written by guest writer Ben Brysacz

When members of one political camp are chanting “Drill, baby, drill,” it’s not particularly challenging to figure out who’s more environmentally-friendly. Take a look at Obama’s webpage and you’ll find a few bullet points about his plan to increase fuel economy standards, create millions of green jobs building hybrid cars and weatherizing homes, and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050. These are goals that most of us embrace. Yet some environmentalists might think Obama’s plans are watered down, that they are not strong enough. What they don’t understand is that sustainability encompasses more than the nuts and bolts of environmental policy, and that we need a President who enacts sustainable policies across the board.

First, Obama’s approach to foreign policy is pragmatic and dynamic. Ending our dependence on imported oil from Venezuela and the Middle East will open new opportunities for the next President. He might, for example, make a stronger case for women’s rights in the face of an illiberal Saudi regime. More importantly, he would deprive autocratic rulers of the windfall profits that sustain them. Obama’s emphasis on diplomacy and strong alliances will reduce the likelihood of war, the least sustainable of all human activities.

Governments can pour money into clean technology, greenhouse gas reduction, and environmental protection with sparse results, but it takes a sustainable, private market for green products to effect lasting change. That’s why Obama’s approach unites the interests of free market entrepreneurs with those of environmental activists, harnessing the market to serve noble social goals. In the process of helping Detroit become competitive and clean, an Obama administration would be fostering job opportunities for high school and college graduates in communities that are struggling today. The same goes for clean wind and solar industries – we can make sustainability a family business, one that sustains generations of Americans.

Finally, Obama’s candidacy illustrates his political sustainability. Even today there are Americans who do not believe we should focus on environmental policy. Some don’t believe climate change is human-caused. Even among those of us who prioritize this issue, there is significant disagreement about the way forward. Obama’s campaign has never taken these challenges for granted. According to the accounts of friends and acquaintances throughout his past, Obama takes opposing viewpoints seriously and treats respectfully those who disagree with him. Perhaps his greatest achievement so far has been to create a consensus about the problems we must solve: failing healthcare systems, a damaged international reputation, and global warming to name a few. That is a crucial first step, and one that we cannot afford to ruin by alienating people. Over the next four years, I hope we will see an Obama administration that builds consensus on environmental issues, and pushes meaningful, workable legislation through Congress, knowing when and where compromise is appropriate. He could do more than protect the environment; he could transform American values, and make environmental stewardship a hallmark of our national identity.

Even if we elect Obama, change will be tough. Then again, this election isn’t about unrealistic change, it’s about change we can believe in.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Leaf Blowers Part Two

The costs of leaf blowers far out weigh the benefits we receive from their use. Leaf blowers cost the entire community in terms of pollution, labor, and noise. In return we get a leaf free landscape. Last year I spent considerable time trying to solve this problem on our campus and I concluded that the issue is more complex. There exists a way of allocating resources at our school that isn’t accountable to anything besides what the mystical “executive committee” decrees. The people who ask and hand out money have very little connection to those whom their services actually benefit.
In California there are several either rich or very progressive cities that have banned the use of gas powered leaf blowers. I spoke with one of the lead groundskeepers for the parks department in Berkley, which is not surprisingly one of the places on this list. She told me how there had to be a change in what people saw as aesthetically pleasing for a park. There are less grassy spaces in Berkley. If leaves aren’t picked up then they stain and kill the grass and at Lewis and Clark we love our grassy spaces but perhaps we should reconsider how many grassy spaces we need. While I agree that we probably have more grassy landscapes than we really need, I think the solution to leaf blowers is much easier than getting rid of these spaces.
At the beginning of last semester I sent a letter to the groundskeepers about my feeling regarding leaf blowers. I’ll be the first to admit that this letter was not very tactful but it got me a meeting. The meeting was pretty tense and not very productive. The school follows the city of Portland’s restrictions for what hours you can operate leaf blowers. They purchased the most efficient and quiet leaf blowers on the market. For the school this was case closed. Their job is to make sure the grounds are maintained; removing leaves is crucial to this. This however misses the larger picture of why we are paying them.
When doing a job becomes more important than the original purpose of that job something has gone wrong. We blow leaves to beatify our campus but who determines what is beautiful? If I have to endure a constant annoying noise in order to have a beautiful campus I don’t really consider that beautiful, just annoying. So what solutions exist? The groundskeeper from Berkeley also told me about a leaf vacuum they use to pick up leaves. Its a machines that you drive around which sucks up all the leaves and puts them in a bag. Having a machine like this would significantly not only reduce the pollution and noise created by our current method but also the amount of time and money we spend blowing leaves. At my meeting I asked what we pay in labor to blow leaves, no one knew the answer to this, but as anyone living on campus will tell you, that number has to be significant. It would be worth looking into whether the savings in labor would offset the cost of purchasing one of these machines.
If you in the slightest share my concern about leaf blowers I urge you to email Gabe Bishop, the head groundskeeper, and politely ask him to consider other, less noisy, faster, and less polluting ways to keep our campus beautiful. His email is gbishop@lclark.edu. Our groundskeepers have no way of knowing what the effects of their policies are. It is important that we maintain some level of involvement and communication with them. After all it is our money and our campus. How sustainable is it for our school to continually raise tuition money but not engage in practices that not only reduce our costs but make our campus more enjoyable? The answer is not very.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Leaf Blowers: Part One

Evil has returned. This is not the kind of evil that steals bicycles or is named Sarah Palin. It is much worse. This evil threatens to give us cancer and tear our community apart by taking away the most basic necessity of a community, one's ability to talk and be heard. However, unlike a deadly airborne disease, this evil is much more detectable. You can hear its approach from far away, in fact, in most cases that is all you will be able to hear. Leaf blowers spare only the already deaf from their destruction.
Towards the end of last year I began a campaign to fight back against the leaf blowers. For my Environmental Economics class I looked at the “real cost” of leaf blowers. Leaf blowers affect us in two main areas: sound and health. To figure out the cost of noise I looked at how property values of homes next to airports are lower than the property value of a house in a similar neighborhood. Since the noise of an airplane taking off and landing is the same as a leaf blower (in many cases it is actually lower) the cost difference between these two houses is what people would be willing to pay to not have to endure that constant noise. I found that people were willing to pay $2,500 more to have a house in a neighborhood that does not have to hear airplanes. While this study is by no means foolproof it shows that there definitely is a cost associated with noise.
Leaf blowers also cost us in terms of our health. A German study found that people exposed to a constant and loud noise such as a leaf blower are one forth more likely to have a heart attack. A World Health Study looked at noise and not surprisingly found that annoying noises also lead to angry and irrational behavior. As anyone walking around a leaf blower will tell you, they also create pollution. Leaf blowers rely on two-stroke engine technology. This type of engine causes much more pollution then the four-stroke engines cars use. Because fuel is leaking into the combustion chamber each time there is a new charge this creates a more potent air pollutant. The California Air Resource board concluded, “Thus, for the average 1999 leaf blower and car data presented in Table 9, we calculate that hydrocarbon emissions from one-half hour of leaf blower operation equal about 7,700 miles of driving, at 30 miles per hour average speed. The carbon monoxide emission benchmark is significantly different. For carbon monoxide, one-half hour of leaf blower usage would be equivalent to about 440 miles of automobile travel at 30 miles per hour average speed.” Now this all seems pretty alarming and exaggerated but the Toronto Board of Health came up with a similar result. “Leaf blowers can be more polluting than cars. Compared to a new car (1999 or 2000 model), one hour of operation of commercial gasoline-powered lead blowers emits 498 times as much hydrocarbon's, 49 times as much particulate matter and 26 times as much carbon monoxide.” In either study the pollution generated by leaf blowers is significant. The trouble really comes from the carbon monoxide, which reduces our ability to carry blood to the heart. This affects the leaf blower user the most since they are the ones exposed to the majority of fumes. It should be noted that both these studies looked at leaf blowers built before 2000 and since that time there have been significant, although not perfect, improvements to the efficiency of leaf blowers.
Too often our environmental costs are looked at only in terms of CO2 or how many trees we are cutting down. There are many other consequences of our actions that are much harder to quantify but just as damaging. Leaf blowers negatively affect our community in several ways. These costs not just paid by the labor it takes to use them (which is significant) or in the gasoline you must buy to operate them. The real cost of leaf blowers is paid by a community that must endure this constant noise and is exposed to deadly pollution. The most unfortunate part of this cost is that those who blow the leaves aren’t the ones necessarily paying the highest cost. They are imposing this cost on everyone else. In my second part on leaf blowers next week I’ll describe what alternatives to leaf blowers exist and my personal efforts to eradicate them from our campus.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Power Vote

Looking down our nation’s current path it is easy to imagine a future in which wars over natural resources continue because our economy is even more dependent on using a disproportionate percentage of our planet’s finite resources. With elections only four weeks away, our country is moving towards a time of huge change. This year, people between the ages of 18-29 make up approximately one fourth of the voting population in America. With numbers this large we have the opportunity to change the way politicians campaign, vote on legislation, and run the country. This can only happen if we get people to mobilize their feelings into one loud voice. This is why the Power Vote campaign is important.

Across the nation over 300 schools are taking part in the “Power Vote” campaign (founded by the Energy Action Coalition). This campaign is creating a nationwide movement backed by young voters who are passionate about moving our nation towards a green future. But what does this mean?

Power Vote stands on a platform of ideals that look towards solving not only environmental issues, but also economic and human right issues. The platform includes 6 main concepts:
1. Green jobs now
2. Investing in a clean energy economy
3. Cut global warming pollution now
4. End our dependence on dirty energy (not just foreign)
5. Re-engage our nation as a leader in the international community
6. Take dirty money out of politics

These are the ideals that the Power Vote campaign stands on. This is what we want to see initiated in the next four years and continued on in the future of our nation. Sign the Power Vote pledge to tell our leaders these are important issues. Join the movement and become one of the 200,909 (and growing) young voters building the bridge to a new future. Demand real, tangible, CHANGE!

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Another Green List

I was once told that the best way to reduce my carbon footprint would be to kill myself. While this is probably true I have not reached the personal conclusion that such extreme measures are required to reduce my environmental impact, however I also don't want to live a life dictated by always choosing the most environmentally friendly option. If we were to base all of our decisions on what most was most sustainable our lives would be pretty boring and we would probably want to kill ourselves anyways. So where is the fun in being sustainable? Does it really mean we have to take 2 minute showers?
Well not if you shower with someone else, then you could shower for 4 minutes. For me the fun comes from thinking about my actions. By engaging myself to critically evaluate what my everyday decisions mean for the future and how they personally reflect my own values. I thought I'd use the rest of my column to list some things to think about (I'd like to thanks the SEED members who helped contribute to this list).

-our school spends between $75,000 and $105,000 each month on electricity
-with the on campus washing machines if you set them to “brights and colors” it uses cold water, which doesn't require as much electricity and also does not turn your socks pink
-restarting your computer uses about as much energy as leaving it running, if you plan to leave your computer unattended for more than 2 hours it is always a good idea to turn it off or at the very least put it to sleep
-on a similar note the surge generated by turning on and off your lights is almost zero. it is always best to turn off your lights when you leave the room
-us the “10 second rule” for idling car engines. If your (non-diesel) car is parked or sitting for more then 10 seconds you will have used more fuel then turning it off and restarting it. According to the California Energy Commission leaving your car idling for 2 minutes uses the same amount of fuel as driving for one mile. Also starting your engine has negligible impact on it's overall longevity, in fact leaving it idling can lead to build up of fuel residues.
-use clothes lines and drying racks to dry your clothes
-use your own towel to wash your hands and face, instead of paper ones
-carry around your own set of utensils
-learn to fix a bike at the LC bike co-op
-learn to fix your computer at Free Geek (look it up online, it is awesome)
-when buying a bagel or pastry at Maggie's tell them you don't need a bag if you are just going to immediately throw it away, also bring your own mugs and they will even give you a discount
-when printing readings or papers always print double sided or just do the readings from your computer
-sit by the river every once and a while and drink a beer
-pay attention to how much packaging you use and find ways to reduce this amount
-say hello to people
-give Shane a hug

This list is never complete and for each person it is a little different, but I think it is important to share with others what we are doing because that is much more powerful then just complaining about how unsustainable the school is. This past summer I attended a march in Seattle for universal health care, me and a couple hundred other people went through downtown Seattle carrying signs and stopping traffic. But while doing this I realized we were really engaging people in any kind of meaningful way that made them question the health care system, or show how a different system might be better, in fact we were making them late to work. While I don't think there isn't a place for marching it cannot be the only solution. The real solution has to come from how we create our own environment and how our habits reflect our ideals.

Profitable Sustainability

If you notice sometime this year the air is a little cleaner and the globe a little cooler look no further than the top of the athletics’ building. Solar energy is coming to Lewis and Clark College, however I am surprising even myself when I say this solar energy is not sustainable. It is an economically sweet deal in which the school will have to pay nothing but will receive solar energy at a lower cost than we are currently paying for electricity. These panels will supply .67% of our school's energy needs and there are even plans to expand the program. It is such a great deal that the only thing preventing us from putting solar panels up everywhere is a lack of roofs which can support the weight of the panels.

Under the power purchase agreement Lewis and Clark is technically leasing the space to Honeywell who is then going to pay all the costs for building and maintaining the panels. This arrangement works out well since we, as a non-profit institution, cannot receive all the government incentives which make putting up solar panels economically feasible (around $900,000 for this system). So everyone wins, we get clean green energy from a source which costs less than through the grid, and Honeywell gets a committed buyer of their energy and a profitable return on their investment. However the story is much more complex than it seems.

Like many things "sustainable" the closer you look the harder it gets to see how an action is sustainable. Honeywell is a huge international corporation. Their one goal is to increase the wealth of their stockholders. To do this they have engaged in some pretty unsustainable practices. Remember feeling bad after seeing the picture of the naked Vietnamese girl running down the street after her village got bombed by Napalm? Well the same company which supplied the bomb that destroyed that girl's village is the one which will soon to be supplying us with clean green energy. But the story gets even more complex. Kent Anson, the vice president of Global Energy for Honeywell Building Solutions said about our solar panel plan, “by developing projects that have environmental and financial drivers, we will see the type of widespread adoption that will have a lasting impact on greenhouse gas emissions”. It seems ironic that a company which is seemingly so concerned about greenhouse gas emissions ranks 44th on a list of US corporations most responsible for air pollution and who is linked to more super fund clean up sites (128) than any other company. Not to mention a long and costly track record of waiting until court orders are handed out before spending money to actually begin cleaning up their messes. While Honeywell generously gives money to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, between 1998 and 2005 they spent over 30 million dollars in lobbying efforts, according to The Center for Public Integrity. Money which I doubt was spent solely on trying to improve our missing and exploited children's center.

So later this year when Honeywell's trucks and cranes arrive on our campus to provide us with the sustainable energy our community demands, I will be torn. Can it be that the company which is partly responsible for our current environmental crisis also provide us with salvation, or is it all just another ploy to line the pockets of their shareholders? For me those panels will not represent the shift into an alternative world that can defeat and begin to come to terms with the environmental impact we have caused. I will look at it with the same sadness I felt after seeing the picture of the Vietnamese girl. The quest for profitability only leads to more problems than solutions. This is not to say that all things profitable are bad, just that profitability by its very nature is based in greed and we are going to need a lot more than greed to save ourselves.

Sustainability is Sexy

Sustainability is a lot like learning how ride a bike, except you never really learn how ride the bike of sustainability. Once I asked a room full of student environmental leaders from around the Northwest who would consider their eating habits to be ecologically sustainable - and no one raised their hand. It is never very inspiring when even the people advocating a cause aren't actually able to live up to that cause in real life. At Lewis & Clark I took a great class on the political economy of food. We would spend all class talking about how bad the industrial food system is and how the corporations are destroying the environment. However after one particularly heated discussion, someone said, “None of this really matters because we all know that this weekend we are all going to get drunk on some shitty beer”. This has always stayed with me. Now when I go to talks about sustainability they are always exciting but I frequently ask myself whether I could see some frat boy announce to his brothers, “I refuse to drink cheap beer because of the ecological impact corn farms are having on our environment. I will only play beer pong with local organic beer”. Any real solution to the environmental problems we are facing will have to be able to convince even those frat boys to act radically different.
Sustainability is defined as many things, but all of these definitions include three important categories: economics, ecology, and equity. Underlying each is the idea that we should be, as the Department of Ecology puts it, “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” This column understands that sustainability is very important, but that it also needs to be based in the actual so as not to avoid becoming just as useless as another bumper sticker.
So this is where Lewis and Clark stands. In 2005 the 3 campuses of L&C bought 8,216, 514 kW of electricity - the vast majority of which did not come from renewable sources. This is equal to 122,070,284 pounds of carbon per year... which is the same as driving a SUV around for 12,000,000,000 miles every year. However various leaders around our campus have since taken up the charge. In 2007, President Hochsettler signed the President's Climate Commitment which says that our campus will become carbon neutral by 2050. Last year, through the hard work of Elise Maxwell and SEED the school changed its Student Green Energy Policy from an “opt-in” to an “opt-out,” requiring students to check a box saying that don't want to pay for green energy. This raised the amount of renewable energy we bought from 375,600 kW to 1,200,000 kW, or over 1/8th of our total energy purchases. Since 1991 our school's building area has gone up by 41%, students living on campus has risen 21%, faculty and staff 14%, yet our energy consumption has only gone up by 10%. This relatively small increase can be attributed to Richard Bettega, who is a member of the Sustainability Council, and his genuine dedication to making the school consume less energy. If you see either Elise or Richard around campus give them a hug for helping to make us a lot greener (also give Shane Rivera a hug because he has a sign offering you to). Sustainability is an issue that we all have to get to know and I hope to use this column to make some people get to know it a little better so that one day we really will know how to ride a bike and beer pong will be played with local organic beer.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Sharing is Caring

Sharing a shower is one of the most sexually tantalizing, revealing, and cleansing things you can do with another person. Feeling the heat from their body as you lather them up with soap, unsure whether the hot steam that is filling the shower is coming from the water or your passion. Showering is a wonderful experience that should be shared with many people simultaneously. At least this is what was advocated by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in 2006 as one thing you can do to be more sustainable. Sustainability is the acknowledgement that we have limited resources and we must use them more efficiently. Sharing resources is fundamental to this goal however it poses many problems for our liability worried society.
It has been suggested many times that Lewis & Clark provide a car-sharing program for students. Instead of needing to have a car on campus for the once a week trip to the grocery shore or the few times you need to get anywhere besides Sellwood or Downtown you could just borrow a car from the school. Like many good sustainable ideas car sharing is huge over in Europe but in America the idea of sharing a car poses many insurmountable challenges, mainly the threat of who would be liable. LC currently loans out SUV’s to student groups however getting an insurance company to cover loaning out cars to college students on a daily basis is much more difficult. While it makes perfect sense for our community to have a program like this the fear that someone is going to sue the college for ten million dollars because the tires weren’t correctly inflated and they got into an accident makes it a hard sell.
This summer I was involved in forming the LC Bike Library. Students could check out bikes from campus safety for free and ride them around for the day. The bikes were paid for with the left over SEED budget and were given regular tune-ups and an overhaul by the bike co-op. Before biking, people had to sign a waiver saying that no one at LC could be responsible for anything that happened while riding the bike. Over the course of the summer over 60 students and staff used these unadvertised bikes. The program was not only successful at making biking more accessible but one of the most exciting things for me was how into it the campus safety officers got. Instead of writing people up they were providing a service. However just like with car sharing, bike sharing poses many liabilities.
One day in the middle of August I got a call saying that someone had crashed one of the bikes and was in the hospital. While the accident was the result of an inexperienced bike rider I still felt tremendously guilty. Was I responsible because I had made this program available to people? The individual ended up being okay but what if she had died? Immediately after the accident I told campus safety to put a hold on the program. Since then they have contacted me about restarting it but I personally I have found little motivation to put more energy into the program.
While sharing a shower is fun and sexy, sharing things like cars and bikes can be dangerous. It is difficult to judge how to best prevent accidents from happening. How many tests and waivers do you need to make people go through before you can root out everyone who is going to pose a liability? Or do we need to just accept that the liability is there and people are going to get into bike and car accidents no matter where they get them from? While I wholeheartedly support the sharing our resources I have come to realize that it is not as easy as just giving people the opportunity to share. There is a certain fear of each other that prevents us from always offering a lending hand, especially to strangers. It is often difficult to judge if this fear is well founded. However I still believe that controlling this fear is vital to create the foundation for a sustainable society. For now I’m just sticking to sharing showers but perhaps someday I’ll wake up and feel like more people need to ride bikes and it just makes sense for us to share.

How Sustainable is Capitalism?

When I told my communist father that I was pursing an economics major he sent me a cardboard cutout of Karl Marx in the mail. I now hang this cut out next to my desk. In the past two weeks I swear the grin on Marx’s face has gotten bigger and the hammer he holds in his hand has slowly started lowering, ready at any moment to crush capitalism. With the massive nationalization of our nationals lending firms that has taken place it is very tempting to get out my dusty copy of the Manifesto and think about how Marx saw it all coming. Reading everyday about the billions of dollars governments and companies are throwing in vain to prevent a wider economic collapse one has to wonder how sustainable this system is.
Last year I visited the Stanford Business School and wandered into a lecture where the vice-president of Barclays, the British version of Bank of America, was giving a talk. In his talk he was asked about the mortgage crisis that was only beginning to emerge. People, especially in San Francisco which is next to Stanford, had begun realizing that the speculative prices they had paid for their homes would never pay off and were beginning to default on their loans, leading directly to last week in which the companies that offered all these loans are going bankrupt themselves. In his talk the vice-president told the audience of how this mortgage crisis was a much bigger deal than anything he had ever seen before and that it would make the completely trump the economic recession we saw after the dot com bubble burst. He went on to say that this was a problem, which he had seen before and was confident he would see again. Investment firms are in the business of creating markets based on speculation.
To often we think of sustainability only in terms of the environment but creating a sustainable economy is just as important. Throughout all of our lives we have been lucky to live in times of prosperity however we must also keep in mind how fragile this prosperity is. Our economic growth is largely the result of other countries willingness to shoulder our debt. What will happen when these countries decide we are too risky of an investment?
Since the government is working overtime to print new currency to buy up these firms we will be facing higher inflation for a long time to come, this will make finding jobs and even buying food more difficult. While I don't think the market collapse of the last few weeks proves the need for a communist revolution (just yet) it should make us at least give pause and maybe consider whether this is the best way to do things.

Carbon Neutralizing

By the year 2050 it is predicted that the Earth will have lost 60% of it’s glacier volume. By that same year Lewis and Clark has agreed to become carbon neutral. In 2006 our President, Tom Hochstettler signed the Presidents Climate Commitment, saying, “Given our institution’s and sector’s responsibility to future generations, we are compelled to do our part to address the pernicious effects of global warming”. (pernicious means deadly) At the time we were one of only a hundred colleges to sign the declaration, now the list has grown to over 500. By signing we have agreed to make a road map for reaching this goal. In two years the college wanted to have an inventory of all its carbon emissions and a plan for “neutralizing” those emissions. Our two years are now up.
Richard Bettega, the Vice President for facilities, was given the task of coming up with the plan. Richard has always been a force for reason and has shown a true commitment towards make our school a more sustainable place. In his plan he encourages the school not to look towards buying carbon offsets from a second party, as many other colleges are doing, but making institutional changes that reduce and directly offset our carbon emissions. Buying carbon offsets are a tricky business because it is difficult to judge how well they reduce the effects of global warming. There are many instances when the random planting of more trees can have unattended consequences which disrupt the existing ecosystems. There are no regulations for buying carbon offsets so it is very easy for a company to just pocket the money. Lewis and Clark needs to do better than just outsourcing our carbon emissions and it is very exciting that we have someone like Richard who also agrees with this. The hard part is how do we reconcile our annual carbon contribution of 18,000 metric tons.
This summer the college looked into placing a wind farm in Eastern Oregon on land owned by the school. Unfortunately every company contacted turned down the deal because there was not enough wind. Now the school is seeking to install a solar array there. In Oregon where a large percentage of our energy still comes from coal this would be a huge step in reducing Lewis and Clark’s contribution to global greenhouse gases a majority of which comes from electricity usage. One of the major hurtles facing this development is the uncertainty investors are facing regarding government financing for renewable energy projects. However, it is likely that these issues will get settled after the next election. By building this solar array our school would set an example for other institutions to follow and would be taking care of our responsibility to future generations. Let’s hope it happens.

What Moves You?

H.G. Wells once said, “when I see a man on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race”. If H.G. Wells suddenly showed up to the Lewis and Clark bike garage under the library this year he would not be feeling much despair because it seems like the number of bicycles on campus has increased exponentially. Bike parking, which used to be abundant, now is in short supply. The NSO bike ride this year attracted over 50 cyclists who formed the first LC “critical mass” of bikes that managed to “cork” (stop traffic) on Barbur Boulevard for a few exciting seconds of “bicycle power”, and for some a few seconds of confusion as to why we were biking through red lights. At the same time that bicycling seems to be taking over LC the number of people commuting by car is also growing.
The number of commuter parking passes sold on campus, people who drive only themselves to campus everyday, increased by about 2% last year from the year before (about 440 daily commuters each semester). Our progressive staff bought 8.2% more passes over the same time. So it would not seem like higher gas prices or Al Gore begging us to start confronting global warming seems to be having much of an effect on the number of people driving to Lewis and Clark everyday. Locating our school on top of a hill and the rainy weather certainly do not necessarily make bicycling the ideal mode of transportation. Cars are a great invention, they allow us to travel further and do things that 100 years ago would have been impossible yet how do we deal with our rising number of cars on campus and the need to address the causes of global warming? If we as a school are to seriously confront our carbon footprint more needs to be done so that the number of car commuters starts decreasing. Bicycling has to be at the forefront of this shift.
The Lewis and Clark community and especially those already on bikes need to do more to show that bicycling is the best transportation option. They need to help people see that while you can spend your time reading about society and environmental crisis if at the same time you isolate yourself in a car you are missing what it means to be a part of a community and what it means to engage yourself in your environment. Hidden behind car windows it is easier to drive by the homeless man on the corner and forget that our automobiles are responsible for one third of our carbon emissions or how the 5.7 million miles of paved highways in the US effect our environment. The result of this isolation is a culture which does not need to care what happens to the environment because in a car the majority of us are unaffected by the consequences we are creating.
Students need to be more involved in working with the school to create a free bike library and push for more funding for bike projects and other projects that promote alternatives to the commuter car. REED College has a bike loan program with paid bike mechanics and several other colleges offer free bikes to students who do not bring cars to campus. PSU has an active and subsidized Zipcar car loan program. The only reason these programs do not exist at Lewis and Clark is that people who want them are not involved in our transportation decisions. While H.G. Wells might be excited to see all the people biking around campus if he glanced over to the massive Griswold parking lot he would be horrified to find a growing number of people who have decided that commuting to school everyday by car is the best way to transport oneself.