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!