Thursday, May 29, 2014

Denying science versus debating policy

Calls for a national policy to combat the causes of climate change - namely the accumulation of carbon in the atmosphere - are intensifying, as major scientific and governmental organizations such as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have sought to highlight the established scientific facts, the changes that are already occurring, and to highlight the significant risks we could face in the near future.

Earlier this month, two different groups of scientists reported results that indicate that the collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is essentially inevitable. Such a collapse would result in sea level rise of more than 3 meters.

And next week President Obama and the US Environmental Protection Agency is expected to announce new EPA regulations designed to reduce carbon pollution from existing coal-fired power plants.

Enter Amy Ridenour, a syndicated columnist who, on May 23rd, 2014, published an Op-Ed in the Schenectady Gazette in which she listed the "Top 10 reasons why Congress should ignore advice to pass major legislation to combat climate change." (The Gazette doesn't have a link to their version; but here is a link to essentially the same article via the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel).

How the US and the world should confront the threat of climate change is a complex question, and one that is worthy of debate. Should Congress pass a comprehensive Cap-and-Trade system or Carbon Tax to create market incentives for reducing carbon pollution? Should we rely on Executive-branch regulations like the EPA's rules about powerplants and autos? Or, alternatively, should we do nothing? - for example if the cost of such policies to our economy are too expensive when compared to the future costs of dealing with the effects of climate change.

I have my own thoughts. Amy Ridenour has her own thoughts. By all means, let's have a public debate about what we should do. Let's let those who believe in an activist government face off with those who have a more libertarian bent. But that debate must begin with the acceptance of the scientific facts - that the climate is warming and that humans are responsible.

And that is where Ms. Ridenour's piece went wrong.

She led off her Top-10 list with a whopper at #1: "The world isn't warming." She adopted the well-worn tactic of the Climate Denier community of cherry-picking the >100 year temperature record to select the particular starting point - the late 1990's - that shows little warming. In fact, when the full range of historical temperature records is presented, one cannot help but conclude that the Earth is warming.

My response was to publish a Letter to the Editor to the Schenectady Gazette, in which I called her to task for denying that the world is warming. And, I had some fun pointing to John Oliver's "Statistically Representative" climate debate, in which the balance of scientific opinion is accurately represented by 97 scientists vs. 3 climate deniers.

Ms. Ridenour had her fun, too:

Well played, Ms. Ridenour. Well played.

But let's move on. I would happily listen to the debate about which policy approach is the best. Let's hear economists like Richard Tol debate Nicholas Stern about how we should price present-day action versus future disruptions. Let's compare a market approach like Cap-and-Trade to a carbon tax in terms of which one works best and has the smallest impact on the economy.

But we must start with the acceptance of the scientific facts. Though Ms. Ridenour rails against the use of the "97% of scientists" figure, the existence of climate change and the role of humans is accepted by virtually every major scientific society including AAAS, the National Academy of Science, and the American Geophysicists' Union.

I suspect that writers like Ms. Ridenour begin their analysis of climate science with a distaste for the prescriptions: They don't like the prospect of policies that will increase the price of energy and likely act as a drag on our economy, and so they search for faults with the science. But that's not the way it works.

Accept the science. Then let's debate the policy.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Bike to Work/School Day, Friday 5/16

Once again it is that time of year for bike to work/school day (5/16) to promote bicycle commuting as a green alternative to driving as well as the general fitness benefits of riding a bike.

We would like to encourage anyone all who are able to bike to and from work/school on the 16th and if you decide to ride please sign up to help bolster our numbers (this is a competition after all!). Use this link to register:

Celebratory breakfast for our cyclists on Friday 5/16 made possible by the Bicycle Advisory Committee & Human Resources. Location/Time TBD.

To stay updated on cycling events & infrastructure on & off campus visit


Monday, May 5, 2014

What Happened at Union 
for Earth Week 2014:

A photo timeline of our events!

Schenectady Greenmarket comes to U!
Owner of 3 Chicks and a Pea with her yummy
fresh hummus and spreads

The Peanut Principle with over 50 varieties of peanut and nut butters.

Zero Out on Plate Waste Part I 
and Bicycle Repair Expo 
by BAC Action Group of U-Sustain

How much food waste does Union generate?
We found out by weighing the food waste in West dining during the lunch period.
On Tuesday during lunch, the average was .17 lbs wasted per person.
We can do better!

Andrew Parnes '17 is the head of the Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC), 
U-Sustain's newest action group.
He will be organizing events and fix it workshops as well as making 
u-locks and helmets available for rent in the library.
Let's make Union a safe and bike friendly campus!

Ozone House puts on a clothing swap 
in honor of Earth Week 
and in support of Malawi Mommy Bags Project


Zero Out on Plate Waste Part II
and Ban Bottled Water Day 
by Ban Bottled Water Action Group of U-Sustain

Part II of Zero Out on Plate Waste, you receive a gold star for cleaning your plate 
and signage about food waste in put up in the dining hall.
Waste reduction of .01lbs/person during the lunch period 
which may not seem like a lot, but is an important first step!

The Ban Bottled Water Action Group of U-Sustain tabling at Reamer to
 provide information on disposable bottled water and alternatives.

"I Commit" and 
launch of Green Your Event Checklist 
and info by the Green Events Team of U-Sustain

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Lady Liberty Goes Green!

A recent visit to Liberty Island was most impressive. Lady Liberty was grand and the history fascinating. For example – did you know that the statue is made of copper only as thick as two pennies pressed together? I didn’t! But because I wasn’t expecting it, I was absolutely blown away by Liberty Island’s environmental record. Their approach is multifaceted including building practices, energy monitoring purchasing, food/beverage sourcing, water conservation and waste reduction efforts.

So I wondered….how does Union compare? Would someone be as impressed when they visit our campus?

Environmentally friendly  approach to ……
Liberty Island
Union College

100% Green Power User Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) purchased to support electricity generation equivalent to Liberty Island’s consumption via wind power.
100% Green Power User
Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) purchased to support electricity generation equivalent to Union College’s consumption via wind power.

All lights are turned off each night!
With the exception of lighting for safety/security academic and administrative buildings turn their lights out each night. Lighting controls are used wherever applicable to reduce consumption.
Heating & Cooling
Geothermal heating and cooling reducing energy demand by 35%

Geothermal wells are utilized for summer reheats in the Peter Irving Wold Center & for dehumidification in the Schaffer Library. Geothermal is also the sole source of heating for the Kelly Adirondack Center.
Water Conservation
Rainwater collection that reduces water usage by 40%
Water sensors on high efficiency sinks and toilets
Waterless urinals – saves 395,000 gallons water/year
Rainwater collection fulfills most watering needs for Octopus’ Garden.
Installation of low flow showerheads, high efficiency toilets and sinks with new construction/renovation.

Waste Diversion
Green Building
LEED platinum Gift Pavilion     (ex: 43% of building materials with recycled content)
LEED Gold Peter Irving Wold Center. (20% of building materials with recycled content)
All new construction & renovation is built to LEED standard.
Equipment Standards
All new equipment is Energy Star qualified.
New appliances/computers are Energy Star or EPEAT Gold whenever possible.
Cleaning Products

All Green Seal cleaning products!
 100% recycled paper products
Green Seal products used wherever effective.
100% recycled paper products
Organic, free trade, shade grown coffee
Aspretto by Sodexo is 100% ethically sourced coffee and tea
All produce is either organic or locally grown

All produce used for Ozone Café & O3 Marketplace is either locally grown or organic.
All product grown in Octopus’ Garden is organic.
Condiment pump system instead of individual packets eliminated >3 million condiment packets/year
Condiment pump system used in all dining locations. Packets are used only  when necessary at events.
Dining Ware
Disposable coffee cups with a corn starch lining rather than plastic, biodegradable, compostable & chlorine free – always composted never sent to the landfill. All other dining ware is reusable on Liberty island.

100% of dining ware used in resident dining halls is reusable. China is also available upon request for your event.
Majority of disposable dining ware used on campus is compostable and composting occurs at all resident dining locations as well as upon request for events.
2012 Sustainability Award  & 2012 Innovator of the Year from National Restaurant Association, 2001-2005 WasteWise Award from the US Environmental Protection Agency, 2002 US Department of the Interior Environmental Achievement Award & Certified Green Restaurant in 2002.
2013 & 2014 EPA Green Power Leadership Club, 2012-2013 EPA College & University Green Power Challenge winner for Liberty League, Participant in the Energy Star Low Carbon IT Program, 2011 & 2012 Recyclemania Per Capita Classic and Cardboard Winners, 2014 NEEP award recipient

Liberty Island ‘s footprint may be small but their impact is great on 4 million visitors per year. Lady Liberty standing up for freedom and sustainability – a model for us all.

Thank you to the National Parks Service for all that you do!

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

DIITD Results: Congratulations Communications!

Communications at 69 University has won Union's Do It in the Dark competition with an overall reduction of 37.7%!

Below is an image of the final results.

On Monday, March 10, 2014 we went to 
congratulate those who work Communications...

We brought them a banner and a cake!

Meghan presented the office with an invitation to the first U-Sustain meeting of spring term (Wednesday, April 9) to officially receive their plaque and prize.

How did they reduce their energy use by 37.7%? Well, they said that they turned the heat down in the entire building. They turned the heat off in the bathrooms. 
And, they turned their lights off whenever possible. 

Congratulations Communications!
We applaud your inspiring energy and efforts in taking the steps to reduce your energy use.