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.

Friday, February 28, 2014

How is Union Doing in Do it in the Dark?

Some suggestions to reduce electricity use: 
Replace your incandescent light bulbs with Compact Fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs)
Turn off the lights when you leave the room
Unplug chargers, printers, and other electronic devices when they are not in use

What is Do it in the Dark?
As a participant of Campus Conservation Nationals (CCN), a 3-week electricity conservation competition program known on campus as Do It In the Dark (DIITD), we have this online platform that displays participating buildings' electricity consumption. Check your buildings standings compared to others on campus as well Union's standing in comparison to other NY6 schools. NY6 schools include Colgate University, St. Lawrence University, Hamilton College & Hobart and William Smith Colleges.

As of 2/28/14.... (one week left in the competition)

To keep updated about the competition, 
go to the building dashboard

Thursday, February 27, 2014

How is Union Doing? Updates on Recyclemania

Recyclemania Quick Facts

What: a recycling competition and benchmarking tool for college and university recycling programs to promote waste reduction activities to their campus.

Where: Colleges and universities in the US and Canada, including Union College.

When: Feb 2 - March 29 (8 weeks)

Some Results: 
Food Service Organics
 pounds of food composted / person
The standings as of 2/27/14. Union is in first place for Food Service Organics
with 6.547 lbs. of food composted per person.
Hint: zoom in on your browser to better see graph 

What does this mean? 

          Well, it means that we do a good job composting. 

But, it also means that we are wasting a lot of food on campus. 

While food waste is generated in the kitchens during food preparation, much of the food waste we generate is from the consumer end, mainly students in the dining halls. In the spring term U-Sustain will be working on ways to raise awareness about food waste and campaign to reduce our food waste. 

Here are some food waste facts from the United Nations Environment Programme 
  • Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year — approximately 1.3 billion tonnes — gets lost or wasted.
  • In the United States 30% of all food, worth US$48.3 billion (€32.5 billion), is thrown away each year. It is estimated that about half of the water used to produce this food also goes to waste, since agriculture is the largest human use of water. (Jones, 2004 cited in Lundqvist et al., 2008)
  • In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions. (This is why composting is so important!!)

Per Capita Classic
total amount of paper, cardboard, bottles, and cans collected 
on a per person basis
The standings of the Per Capital Classic as of 2/27/14, sorted by state.
Union ranks 37th overall and 6th in New York State
Hint: zoom in on your browser to better see graph

To learn more about Recyclemania and to look at the standings, 

At the end of the competition, there will be a final post about our results compared to past years. :)

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pizza, Politics, and Environmental Activism: students are encouraged to plant seeds and be a little more patient

By Marissa Peck
On Tuesday, February 19th 2014 over thirty students squeezed into a classroom in the basement of Lippman hall for a Pizza and Politics panel on Environmental Activism. Members from Pi Sigma Alpha- Union’s political science group-the Environmental Club, and Ozone House were in attendance. The panel consisted of Political Science Professor Tony Dell’Aera, Electraical Engineering Professor Robert Smith, and David Higby, the Director of Federal Government Relations of the Nature Conservancy. After a brief introduction by the panelists, Zach Jonas ’14 only had to ask one question, and the students and panelists took it from there for the almost hour long meeting: What is the role of activism, specifically environmental activism, in policy change?
Zach Jonas '14 introducing the panel. Professor Dell'Aera
is on the far left, David Hibgy is in the middle,
and Professor Smith is on the right.

Professor Dell’Aera began by explaining that our political system was slow moving and that it is difficult to change the status quo. Policy change must be compatible with the political system, and activism is key in providing a vision of the future that favors policy makers as well as the activists’ mission.
David Higby spoke from his experience as a lobbyist, who does not use money or bribery, but who does represent the values and beliefs of the Nature Conservancy. He used previous examples of policy changes that environmentalists hold dear to their hearts: the Clean Air Act of 1963 and the Clean Water Act of 1972. These two pieces of legislation were major steps forward in environmental policy, and they were made possible by activists. Policy makers responded to public demands for cleaner water and air. These two laws were passed when many people doubted they ever would be, just as many doubted that women would realize suffrage or desegregation would be achieved in the U.S.
Professor Del'lAera explaining the current political situation
on Capitol Hill.
Today, partisanship has changed and environmentalism is seen as a ‘special interest’ instead of a general interest topic that crosses party lines. According to Higby, this extreme polarization that we are seeing today on Capitol Hill has to do with widespread gerrymandering, or the (successful) attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party by manipulating district boundaries to create advantageous districts for a certain party. This gerrymandering has created a gridlock, and the push for environmental policy is becoming harder and harder. It is here where local activism can play an instrumental role because districts are drawn by local and state representatives. Higby sees that activism at the local level can be the most effective in changing policy at the national level.
Higby listing off environmental policy achievements,
such as the Clean Water Act.
Professor Smith provided an interesting perspective as he mostly works in the research of alternative energies. He has taught the ESPE capstone senior seminar for the past two years. He stated that our society is resistance to change and to learning, and he importantly pointed out the media’s role in affecting the general public. Interestingly, he saw the media’s influence to have positive potential in gathering a critical mass on one side of an issue, specifically on the issue of climate change.
Climate change is a pressing concern, and Higby matter-of-factley stated that “we do not have a generation to wait for congress to change.” Action must be taken sooner. Professor Smith proposed that perhaps the immediateness of climate change might be the exact thing that gathers a critical mass and pushes for the congressional change that we, as a nation, desperately need to benefit not only the environmental movement but also other social movements and issues we face as a society.
Austin Anderson '15 
Austin Anderson ’15 then asked the question that reflected the motivation of the majority of the students in the room for attending the panel. What can we do, as students and young people, to achieve true strides for America’s environmental policy? Austin described the sometimes frustrating reality that environmental degradation and movements for protection are really out of our control. In response, Higby immediately threw the question back to Austin: “What do you think you can do?” Higby later explained that he did this to show us that we already know what to do and we possess most of the tools to achieve change, we just have to do it.
Professor Smith answering Austin's question.
“We expect instant gratification,” stated Professor Dell’Aera. He explained that in our modern world information and communication are instantaneous and we have grown accustomed to this fast-paced return. So, when we do not succeed at something in the same fast paced manner, we consider our work to be a failure. But, with the environmental movement, change is slow and we must be patient. Professor Dell’Aera stressed that we, as activists, must train ourselves to accept small changes and we must pride ourselves in our small feats because it is through dedicated and long-term small achievements that we will realize great change. “Substantial change does not take place without all of the small scale, cumulative success,” said Professor Dell’Aera. We plant the seeds and must be patient while they grow.

Students listening to the panel.
                What was the take home message of this Pizza and Politics? The political situation today unfortunately is not in favor of change. All panelists believed that the Keystone XL pipeline would end up being approved by the government because, as Higby remarked, “the politics of today are going to win out over the public (and environmental) interest of tomorrow.” However, the panelists were hopeful and looking to us, the students, to continue to be encouraged by the activist environment, which fosters new activists and keeps pushing for change. Not participating because it is difficult to achieve large-scale and quick change is the wrong mentality. We must keep chipping away and always stay true to the facts that we know to be true. Eventually these facts will support the movement and pressure big change (aka: save the planet!)