Wednesday, October 30, 2013

"Climate Change: Adaptation & Building Resiliency in our Communities" Conference Registration Now Open!

Register TODAY for the "Climate Change: Adaptation & Building Resiliency in our Communities" Conference! 

This event is hosted by Union, the Environmental Clearinghouse of Schenectady (ECOS) and the Schenectady County Environmental Advisory Council (SCEAC). 

Join us on January 24th in College Park Hall to hear from regional experts and get inspired to improve the environmental state of our communities!

Registration is FREE for students (excludes lunch fee) and $45 for non-students.

For more information, and to register, visit the Conference website 

Tickets are now on sale for the Schenectady Greenmarket Local Harvest Dinner!

Join in on the celebration of local food and vendors as well as the 5th anniversary of the Greenmarket itself! Support the market and buy a ticket for the local harvest dinner today!

The dinner will be held on Thursday November 14th, from 5:30PM - 8:30 PM at River Stone Manor in Scotia. For more information, and to purchase tickets, visit the Schenectady Greenmarket's website  

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Bottled water sales to pass soda sales by 2020

The New York Times has an interesting article this morning about the decline in soda sales and what it means for Coke and Pepsi. The article includes the following fact: "By the end of this decade, if not sooner, sales of bottled water are expected to surpass those of carbonated soft drinks..."
Source: The New York Times

There are many dimensions to this trend. From a public health perspective, the decline in soda sales
have to be viewed as a good thing. Coke and Pepsi have contributed to the high rates of obesity among children and the general population. Water is healthier, and so the switch is a good thing for our health.

But the drop in soda sales need not - and SHOULD NOT - be accompanied by a rise in bottled water sales. Water bottles are wasteful in energy and resources. They fill our landfills and oceans when they are thrown away, and even then only 30% of bottles that are recycled require energy to process. They are expensive. And they are not healthier or safer or cleaner or better regulated that municipal tapwater.

Sales of bottled water should be dropping just as sales of soda is dropping. There are easy alternatives that have none of the drawbacks of plastic. Buy your own refillable bottle and fill it up on-the-go. Use a drinking fountain.

Union College's Ban Bottled Water Subcommittee of U-Sustain is working to eliminate bottles from campus. This is a long-term project that will require education and improvements in our facilities. Acceptance will be much higher when people understand the motivations, and when water fountains and bottle-filling stations are convenient. We host an annual "Water Week" in which these issues are discussed. And we are funding the installation of new water fountains and bottle-filling stations through our Presidential Green Grant program. 2013's Graduation featured water "boxes" that require less energy to produce and are also recyclable.

We are following in the footsteps of the more than 90 colleges and universities that have already banned bottled water. I am confident that Union will join them soon.

And we will help drive sales of bottled water in the same direction as soda sales.

(For more, see Annie Leonard's wonderful "Story of Bottled Water," for a clear presentation on many of these issues.)

(Update 10/28/13)
Looking again at the NYTimes article, including the graphic to the right, I wonder whether the story over-hypes bottled water. Notice that bottled water sales have been pretty flat over the last ~5 years. The anticipated point where bottled water sales pass soft drink sales appears, from the graphic, to be driven by the decline in the Coke etc. rather than a rise in Dasani etc.

That's a good thing. In any case, we still want to reduce them both.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Union Students Re-inspired at Power Shift 2013 in Pittsburg, PA

By: Austin Anderson '15
     When I registered for Power Shift 2013, I knew that I would be participating in workshops and lectures providing me with the tools to fight the multi-dimensional monster that is climate change. Looking back upon this amazingly enlightening and empowering weekend I shared with fifteen other Union College students, I can say that preconception was undoubtedly true. However, what I personally took away from this conference far transcended the theoretical skills and knowledge necessary to achieve victory for this cause that is the environmental movement. That something was inspiration.
Part of the group of Union Students at Power Shift 2013
     This inspiration is a call to action that radiated from the faces of the eight thousand idealistic individuals from every imaginable background and corner of our country that participated in Power Shift this past weekend in Pittsburgh. I saw a generation coming together under a banner of solidarity, not only for the environment, but standing for all progressive values that are right and just; a generation founded in inclusive equality. What I saw underway was a shift in power from the old order to the new and I couldn’t be any more excited to be present to witness and take part in it.

So what did we learn?

     In a nutshell, we learned how to direct our passion and inspiration towards productivity and progress. For example, workshops and panels included presentations on non-violent direct action to combat the Keystone XL pipeline which will dissect our nation, delivering dirty tar-sands from Canada to the Gulf for export internationally.
Schedule for Saturday
     There were United Nation climate negotiation round-tables where students and mentors gathered to discuss solutions to global climate change.  The most glaring and unsettling issue gleaned from these sessions being the fact that developing nations are the most vulnerable to the insatiable appetite of the first world for energy and resources and its resultant carbon footprint’s effect on greenhouse gasses.
Another interesting and informative topic was that of food justice. Like all environmental issues, the complexity of this one in particular included the relationship of the livestock and agricultural industries and their effect on the environment; from the way animals are inhumanely tortured for our consumption, the intensive strain on resources such as water and fossil fuels that further perpetuates environmental degradation, and the dangers and social implications of genetic modification by multinational corporations such as Monsanto.
 Next, the idea of a “green economy” was particularly informative and will be at the cornerstone of moving from an economic infrastructure based on fossil fuel consumption towards renewable energy. The green economy as defined by the UNEP (United Nations Environmental Programme) is one that results in "improved human well-being and social equity, while significantly reducing environmental risks and ecological scarcities… is low carbon, resource efficient and socially inclusive.”
     Finally, the networking aspect of the convention was invaluable; as such occurred a conglomeration of the most impassioned and driven individuals of this movement who spent forty eight hours together and took their new connections beyond the boundaries of Pittsburgh for a future of progressive collaboration.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Seeds Found in a 2,000 Year Old Clay Jar Give Life to Once Extinct Palm

The Methuselah date palm, 2012
Kibbutz Keturah, Israel
"Genetic analyses have shown that this tree is distinct from all known date palms, and scientists want to see if the ancient tree has any unique medicinal properties no longer found in today's date palm varieties." See blog post here

"For thousands of years, Judean date palm trees were one of the most recognizable and welcome sights for people living in the Middle East -- widely cultivated throughout the region for their sweet fruit, and for the cool shade they offered from the blazing desert sun...

Judean palm trees would come to serve as one of the kingdom's chief symbols of good fortune; King David named his daughter, Tamar, after the plant's name in Hebrew...

During excavations at the site of Herod the Great's palace in Israel in the early 1960's, archeologists unearthed a small stockpile of seeds stowed in a clay jar dating back 2,000 years. For the next four decades, the ancient seeds were kept in a drawer at Tel Aviv's Bar-Ilan University. But then, in 2005, botanical researcher Elaine Solowey decided to plant one and see what, if anything, would sprout.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Recent Governmental Controversies Raise Awareness Regarding New York Water Control

Over the past few years, Governor Cuomo has proven his dedication to green initiatives such as providing funding for parks and other important conservation projects. But recently, the government's role (or lack thereof) in water control across New York State has begun to cast a shadow on Cuomo's environmental record.

Ashokan Reservoir in Ulster County, NY

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is held responsible for reporting cases of water pollution, due to flooding and natural disasters, as well as fracking. It is also charged with enforcing New York environmental standards, such as Clean Water and Clean Air Acts.

Unfortunately, Cuomo's policy of "doing less with less" has led the DEC to report significantly less instances of water pollution, keeping the public in the dark about such matters. The largely understaffed organization simply does not have the resources to enforce the state's water quality laws-- which is incredibly worrisome for the people of New York.

Recently, Environmental Advocates of New York released a report, Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Pollution, which revealed that the enforcement of environmental concerns such as pollution is on the decline. The report affirmed that water inspections have dropped by 74% since 2009 (Gahl). This is an astounding figure, and one that should not be taken lightly by the citizens of New York.

Environmental Advocates of NY's 2013 Pollution Report

All of the findings in the Environmental Advocates of New York's report are based directly upon the data that DEC submitted to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). But, DEC recently requested to discredit the report altogether, claiming it to be riddled with inaccuracies and accusations. Governor Cuomo and DEC's response to the report is rather troublesome to those concerned with real environmental issues such as pollution, since it seems that the government is more concerned with public relations than resolving this crisis.

Above all, the recent water pollution crisis serves as a call to action for the people of New York. For starters, anyone can sign the petition and urge Governor Cuomo to commit to enforcing the sewage/water quality law. This requires all instances of water pollution due to flooding and sewage (gross!) to be accounted for and subsequently reported.

Contaminated drinking water due to pollution

Don't let Governor Cuomo or the DEC let water pollution slip through the cracks! As citizens of New York, we reserve the right to know what is in our drinking water.

Submitted by: Sophie Cowley

Turning a Blind Eye to Illegal Pollution
Cuomo Controversy Over DEC Report Obscures Truth
Watchdog Documents DEC Environmental Enforcement Woes

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

From Farm to Table

As autumn begins to set into full swing, I’ve found myself craving fresh apples and cider, two of my personal staples of the season. The emerging foliage and sweet-smelling, crisp fall air inspired me to take a break from the West dining hall food and make a meal of my own. 

So, this past Sunday, a few of my friends and I made the short walk down to the Schenectady greenmarket, which is open every Sunday from 10AM-2PM. The greenmarket, now in almost its fifth year running, offers fresh produce as well as prepared local food and some funky artisan crafts. The walk down only took about five minutes from the Union campus, and by the end of our visit we had our hands full with more fruit, vegetables, bread, cheese and meat than we could possibly eat. (Although, we ended up eating all of it by the end of the day.)

A local band performing at the greenmarket

There’s something to be said about actually meeting the people who harvest the food that we enjoy, and knowing that we are supporting an organic and sustainable way of eating. Almost all of the vendors come from surrounding areas in New York, and the market pays careful attention to how all of the produce and meats are grown and harvested or raised.

Picking out some artisan crackers from Saratoga Crackers

My friends and I bought some delicious homemade pesto (called “Buddhapesto”) and local sheep-milk cheese from Danascara, an artisan cheese vendor. The plan was to make pasta (as well as steak marinated with hot peppers—for the non-vegetarians). The end result was delightful, and made for a nice break from the dining hall—not to mention how fun it was to pick out, cook and enjoy fresh food with friends.

Spaghetti with fresh pesto, grated sheep's milk cheese and local bread 

Feasting in Breazzano

The Schenectady greenmarket is held all year round, and is located downtown around City Hall through October 27th. The greenmarket then moves indoors to Proctor’s Theater until May 5th.

Check out more info on the greenmarket’s website: