We have a blog!

Several days ago, members of the Green Amherst Project (GAP) unearthed this blog from the depths of the Internet, revitalized it, and plan to use it more in the coming months to post about environmental issues and events happening in the Amherst community and around the world.

Join us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

For now, we’d like to thank everyone who joined in our #ActOnClimate #DivestAmherst week of action! This week of action was held to show the Board of Trustees that the student body supports the divestment of our endowment from the coal industry.

Here’s a quick recap of everything that went on during the week:

Our week of action starts TODAY! #ActOnClimate #DivestAmherst Now!

A photo posted by Divest Amherst (@divestamherst) on

 

Thursday, Nov. 13: Climate Change 101

The week kicked off with several Amherst College professors—J.E. Dizard, H. Holleman, E.D. Mellilo, M. Medina, and D. Jones—from various academic departments addressing popular arguments made by climate change skeptics and educating students on the basic science behind climate change.

 

Friday, Nov. 14: Spray Painting T-Shirts

Students spray painted t-shirts and wore them around campus to show support of divestment.

Monday, Nov. 17: The Frontline Speaks

Members of the Amherst College community spoke about their personal experiences with climate. Covering topics from Hurricane Sandy to California to the Arctic Circle, the stories demonstrated the widespread effects of climate change on individual lives.

Tuesday, Nov. 18: Rising Tea Levels

Joined by Pete McLean of Book & Plow Farm and Laura Draucker, Director of Sustainability here at Amherst, several students gathered to discuss Amherst College’s response to climate change and sustainability issues.

Wednesday, Nov. 19: Turn-Up Val

Valentine Dining Hall was entertained with a short presentation by Lerato Teffo ’18 and Ned Kleiner ’16.

Video: http://on.fb.me/1ucXTnU

Thursday, Nov. 20: You’ve Got Mail

Amherst Students formed a chain from the steps of Frost Library to Converse Hall to deliver a giant envelope to the office of the Board of Trustees. The envelope contained a letter and a petition signed by 532 Amherst students and administrators asking the school to divest it’s endowment from the coal industry.

Video: http://on.fb.me/1vG9z8t

Thank you to everyone who joined our week of action! The Board of Trustees is meeting in January to discuss divestment. The student body has shown their support for divestment and it’s time for Amherst College to act.

Follow this blog to keep up with more Green Amherst Project and environment-related events happening in the near future!

P.S. Several members of GAP participated in #meatlessmonday tonight at dinner!

COP15: “Why Should I Care?”

By June Pan ’13

Let’s be honest. Your interest in an article about some meeting between world leaders to determine a new international protocol concerning climate change is probably about as great as my interest in attending Williams College (which is to say, Not Very). However, while one might pardon my attitude toward the college of the Purple Cow, your apathy for the Copenhagen climate summit, dear reader, is not as readily excusable.

Of course, this is purely my opinion, which you are so very quick to point out. I agree; it is my opinion, and mine alone. But being a person who loves sharing—and who also happens to be rather determined to convert you to my liberal, hippie, tree-hugging, animal-saving, humanity-loving, Let’s-Not-Destroy-The-Earth-And-Life-As-We-Know-It-ing cause—I am going to ignore your eye-rolling and share with you exactly why I think you should care about the Copenhagen conference.

First, a quick summary to jog your memories. From the 7th to the 18th of December, over 170 world leaders will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to discuss and has out a new strategy to address the pressing issue of climate change, laying the foundation for a legally binding international treaty on the same subject (to be negotiated in 2010).

Go ahead and yawn, because it does sound just as dull as you expected. So why should you care?

Because it might not be as yawn-inducing as you suspect. This year, for the holidays, the city of Copenhagen has stepped up its commitment to environmentalism, not only equipping the Christmas tree in City Hall Square with energy-efficient light bulbs, but also making said light bulbs powered by bicycles.

Yes, bicycles. This could be the best thing since light-up sneakers.

Moreover, in an effort to stay relevant, the United Nations has unofficially adopted a Bob Dylan song as the theme song for the negotiations: A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall.

“I’ve stepped in the middle of seven sad forests; I’ve been out in front of a dozen dead oceans; I heard the roar of a wave that could drown the whole world.”

The image is appropriate for the climate summit, as we are dealing with potential apocalyptic floods. The media is interested by shiny gimmicks and classics, like those above, but the aspect of the Copenhagen climate summit that truly demands your attention is the sobering reality behind it.

It is this reality that raises its hand to answer the question, “Why should I care?”

We should care, because the 1997 Kyoto Protocol to regulate climate change and global warming runs out in 2012, but global warming and human contributions to climate change will, unfortunately, not go with it. In fact, the rate of development in certain parts of the world and the correlating levels of carbon emission from to the burning of fossil fuels predict that we are taking this planet down a self-destructive track.

We should care, because the current politics of dirty energy are not only contributing to the destruction of the environment, but also to violent conflict and crimes against humanity—which go ignored and excused, because the demand for these non-renewable forms of energy has created a situation in which our hands are tied in the political arena. (I am referring, of course, to the genocide being carried out in Darfur, Sudan, and America’s reluctance to do much about it because we’re up to our eyebrows in debt to China, who supports Sudan, because Sudan is China’s primary supplier of oil.)

We should care, because deforestation and carbon emissions are devastating ecosystems—and the livelihoods of people who depend on said ecosystems—around the world. We should care, because if the current trend of rising atmospheric temperatures continues, entire island nations will go underwater with rising sea levels.

We should care, because no one should have to pay that kind of a price for our mistakes, no one should have to suffer simply because we were too comfortable, too apathetic, too set in our ways think of maybe—just maybe—making a real effort to stop climate change.

And we must care, because in a world as inter-connected and inter-dependent as the one in which we now live, the fate of one might just be the fate of all. If this ship sinks, we are all going down together—because, honestly, what lifeboat can we save ourselves with when the S.S. Earth goes under?

For our own sakes, if for nothing else, we must look to the negotiations taking place in Copenhagen—and care.

Originally published as Why Care about Global Warming? in The Amherst Student as part of the Green Amherst Project’s weekly column.

Turkey at the Table Not a Thanksgiving Necessity

By: Erin Camp

When I tell someone I am a vegetarian, the first question I hear around Thanksgiving season is, “What do you eat if you can’t have turkey?!” It pains me every time to think that the majority of our country thinks that Thanksgiving is all about a cooked, stuffed turkey. Sure, a turkey may be a picturesque tradition, but the joining of family over a healthful feast to reflect on blessings speaks much more to the meaning of the holiday.

Contrary to popular belief, vegetarians do not eat ‘tofurkey’; in fact, I will not go anywhere near that dish. Why try to mimic taste and appearance of the dish you are purposely avoiding in the first place? In a vegetarian’s eyes, the side dishes, creating new exciting recipes and the combination of delectable flavors are the most attractive parts of the meal. My family likes to change the meal every year, but we keep a staple of which we absolutely refuse to let go: our yam casserole. This year, I took charge of the meal, deciding to go with baked winter squash (yes, locally grown) stuffed with a sweet apple-cranberry vegan stuffing, and some wild rice. Simple, but delicious.

So why don’t I eat turkey (or any other meat for that matter)? My reasons are very simple. The mainstream meat industry is not sustainable, economically logical, conscious of the needs of starving peoples, encouraging of a local food economy or healthy. Although many meat-producing farms (corporations, I should say) engage in less-than-satisfactory treatment of their animals, I have chosen not to delve into that complicated topic. Below, I have elaborated on these topics, but only briefly.

Sustainability: The meat industry, particularly the beef industry, cuts down thousands of acres of forests every year to make room for cattle grazing area–forests that had previously served to sequester carbon from the atmosphere. Corporations insist on using ammonia-doused fertilizers to grow the heavily subsidized corn they use as feed, which are rapidly polluting our natural water resources like lakes and rivers. Creating these fertilizers requires enormous fossil fuel inputs. Additional energy is required to refrigerate and transport the meat. All told, the Food and Agriculture Organization found that the raising of livestock for food is responsible for 18 percent of climate change-causing greenhouse gas emissions–more than cars, planes and all other forms of transportation put together. On top of that, three to five times more water is used to cultivate animal protein than plant protein; harvesting tomatoes uses 23 gallons of water per acre, whereas turkey requires about 1,000 gallons per acre.

Economical Nonsense: Raising animals for food at the rate we do in the United States today is extremely inefficient. The U.S. livestock population consumes enough grain and soybeans to feed more than five times the entire population. One acre of pasture produces an average of 165 pounds of beef; the same acre can produce 20,000 pounds of potatoes. It takes 80 pounds of feed to raise a single 30-pound turkey.

Needs of Those Without Abundant Food Resources: If Americans reduced their meat consumption by only 10 percent, it would free 12 million tons of grain annually for human consumption. That alone would be enough to adequately feed each of the 60 million people who starve to death each year.

Not Encouraging of a Local Economy: Because adequate land to raise livestock is not readily attainable in all locations across the U.S., a diet heavily reliant on meat products supports an economy that pollutes our atmosphere with fossil fuels during food transport and discourages small, locally-owned businesses–the heart of the American economy. Did you know that meat production in the U.S. is now almost completely controlled by a small handful of about four multinational corporations?

Unhealthful Diet: I’m not saying it’s unhealthy to eat meat, but I am saying anything in excess is definitely not a good idea. Americans have gotten into the habit of eating meat at nearly every meal, which research has shown is linked to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, arthritis and osteoporosis. A vegetarian or near-vegetarian diet is easier for the human body to digest and provides a variety of nutrients (given your vegetarian eating choices are diverse) because fewer of your daily calories are used up on the same meat product. Finally, because most cattle are fed grains such as corn instead of their preferred grass, cows are increasingly getting sick. Rather than switching to feed that cows’ stomachs are designed to digest, corporations simply force their cattle to intake tons of antibiotics, which gets into the meat that humans eat on a daily basis. Not too appetizing, is it?

While this is only a brief explanation, I recommend you do your own research to find out what kind of diet is right for you. Humans have always eaten meat, but keep in mind that in ancient cultures, meat has rarely been the main course, but rather a way to accent the meal. If you take one main point from this article, I hope it is that less is better, especially when it comes to a meat-based diet. If Americans opened their minds a bit more, they would see that there is more to food than the meat in the center of their plates, and more to Thanksgiving than the turkey.

Students Should Be More Conscious of Sustainability

By Elodie Reed ’13

For me, being environmentally friendly is much like wearing a green sweater. The sweater is something you see advertised as cute, trendy and a good fashion choice. You see the sweater being worn by others and envy it. However, in order to get the sweater, you have to work for it. After all, clothes cost money, right?

Much of the same is true for helping the environment. These days, the media, businesses and your everyday acquaintances are constantly promoting green awareness and sustainability. You yourself may claim to promote preservation of the environment, but do you really actively do your part? Be honest with yourself. If you’re like me, you do the regulars: occasional recycling, maybe turning off some unused lights every now and then, and telling your friends to carpool to minimize carbon dioxide emissions. However, there are also a lot of things you don’t do. For instance, in the bathroom, you may see the air dryer, but know that using a paper towel will speed up the process despite what everyone says about deforestation. Or you might realize that taking a 20-minute shower is unnecessary and wasteful, but then you can’t resist the lure of all that hot water.

To go back to my metaphor, if you’re like me, you like the green sweater and you appreciate others who have the green sweater, but you haven’t done enough work on your part to wear one of your own. To truly claim environmental advocacy, one must commit completely to the cause, making sacrifices on many different levels in the name of saving this planet.

Now, the purpose of this article isn’t to scorn all of you who don’t take two-minute showers or do your homework by candlelight. After all, I did just admit that I’m among you. No, I wrote this article to offer some suggestions and ideas in order for Amherst students to become more environmentally friendly right in the comfort of their dorms – to give them the means to wear that green sweater.

So here are some simple ways to be sustainable within Amherst College dorms:

• Use cloth towels instead of paper. Set aside one of your personal face towels and bring it with you to use in the bathroom. We all know that the air dryers don’t work as well as paper towels, and a cloth towel will solve that issue without cutting down more trees.

• Turn off your lights when you’re not in the room. And if you see the lights on in another room not being used (for instance, a common room), feel free to shut them off. Conserve electricity!

• Take showers only for as long as you have to. It (obviously) saves water, and it will most likely make the next person in line to take a shower very happy when he or he only has to wait five minutes, not 15.

• Use your recycling bins. Despite how easy it may seem to just throw everything in one trash can, I can promise you it’s not a whole lot of extra effort to throw your plastic bottle, soda can or failed essays three more inches to the left or right.

• Don’t open your windows when the heat is on. The thermostat is adjustable for a reason. If you’re too hot, turn it down, or turn it off and then open the window.

• Don’t leave the sink running while you brush your teeth. It’s a whole lot of water wasted, and you can’t possibly be brushing and using the water at the same time. Turn the sink on when you absolutely need water and off when you don’t.

• Turn off your electronics when you aren’t using them. Despite popular belief, leaving your plugged-in computer in sleep mode isn’t any better than turning it on and off. If you shut it down when you aren’t using it, you conserve quite a bit of electricity (and you may not be so tempted to go on facebook all the time).

• Use the stairs. Though we do have the luxury of elevators in our dorms, the exercise is good for everyone, and again, you save a good amount of electricity.

These are only some basic ways to preserve the environment. The list of ways you can help is endless. No effort is too small – the Earth needs all the help it can get.

Originally published in the Amherst Student as part of the Green Amherst Project’s weekly column
http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/current/opinion/view.php?year=2009-2010&issue=03&section=opinion&article=04 

Watch You Waste: You Can Do More than Recycle

By Elodie Reed ’13

Food, drink, toys, apparel, pet products, sports equipment, school supplies, household items – practically everything that can be bought, not to mention the shopping bags the objects come in, add to the waste from consumerism. Have you ever looked at your purchases? They come in all sorts of plastic, paper, cardboard and aluminum, trying to advertise to you, the consumer, that you get more bang for your buck with the flashy, colorful and ultimately more packaged product. What, you may ask, ultimately happens to all this packaging? There are also the products themselves. Once a person has finished with their can of Coke, pair of old sneakers or broken toy car, where do they go?

There is a single answer to both questions: waste. All the wrapping materials and used or broken products go into huge landfills, creating an underground grid of piles of trash buried in the earth. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s website (www.epa.gov), Americans created 251 million tons of trash in 2006. That’s a hell of a lot of trash. And that’s just America. There are 6 other continents out there, 5 of which have good-sized populations.

You may think, so what? All that trash is deep down under a gigantic mound of dirt, it’s out of sight, and there are still plenty of new items for everyone. Think again. Every time we humans extract from the earth’s natural resources (oil, all sorts of metals like copper, aluminum, tin, etc) to make these products, we are taking out a portion of those materials that can’t be replenished. For instance, once we use all of the earth’s oil, it’s gone – man will have to find a substitute to replace gasoline, plastics, and the whole multitude of products that use oil. This applies to the rest of the earth’s natural resources as well. And as far as the landfills go, the earth is only so big. Sooner or later, there will be no more space to store trash underneath the surface, which could lead to a scene similar to the one seen in the movie “Wall-E”, where trash is literally everywhere.

To sum it up, the prospects look pretty grim unless something changes in the way we, the consumers, make and use products. Lucky for us, there are small-scale actions we can take that could result in big-scale changes. Many people are already taking these actions. Here are the ways they are helping, and ultimately what you can do to reduce waste from consumerism:

• Recycle. This is perhaps the most obvious way to help. When you recycle your soda can, scrap paper or plastic container, the material is broken down and re-used, meaning that much more of the earth’s resources are preserved. This not only applies to metal, paper and plastic, but also to clothing, shoes, toys and furniture. There are many places where you can donate your used items, such as the Salvation Army, Goodwill and homeless shelters, as well as other programs that send clothes and shoes to kids in third world countries.

• Re-usable items. You see them everywhere now, the thin cloth bags (a lot of them made out of recycled plastic fibers) used for shopping bags. These save paper and plastic bags and can be used over and over again. You can also purchase hard plastic or metal bottles to carry your water in – this saves a bunch of plastic bottles, which are in fact made out of a plastic that can’t be re-used for more plastic bottles. Also, cloth towels make a great substitute for paper ones and will save many a tree.

• Composting. Added to the landfills is often an inordinate amount of food. Composting is a way to reduce that amount –  it breaks down food particles into soil that can be used again. Also, being conscious of taking only what you can eat reduces overall food waste.

• Awareness of wasteful products. When you’re in a store, try and find the lesser-packaged product. This encourages companies to use less packaging and saves extra waste from being put into landfills. You should also avoid Styrofoam. Though it makes for a good, disposable coffee cup, it also makes for a stagnant, permanent piece of trash, as Styrofoam is not recyclable or biodegradable.

• Buying higher quality products. When you buy the cheap, chintzy version of anything, it’s what you describe it as – cheap. If you buy the better quality, perhaps more expensive item, it’s bound to last longer. With products that last longer, you will go through them slower, which saves waste.

• Crafts. People may look at you funny, judge you, think you’re gross, or, they may think you’re the absolute coolest person ever when you tell them that the bracelet on your wrist is made out of trash. There are many ways to be creative with used items, (one of which is using old chip bags to make gum-wrapper chain bracelets). These crafts not only help reduce waste, but they also look super sweet.

And that’s the way reducing waste from consumerism and ultimately helping the environment should be viewed, isn’t it? Super sweet, cool, awesome and trendy. Because it is not only the cool thing to do, it’s also the right thing to do.

Originally published in the Amherst Student as part of the Green Amherst Project’s weekly column.
http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/current/opinion/view.php?year=2009-2010&issue=05&section=opinion&article=05 

Why CFLs? Let us count the ways…

By David Emmerman ’11 and Erin Camp ’11

There are many lifestyle changes each of us can make to become more environmentally friendly.  While some of these changes are more difficult to assimilate into everyday life, there is one switch you can make that will require a miniscule amount of effort.  This one move will dramatically decrease your carbon footprint: switching your incandescent light bulbs to compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs).

Since this is such an easy switch to make, you might ask why everyone has not yet done it.  Believe it or not, there are people out there who still fall victim to the many myths out there about CFLs.

The first myth you might have heard is that the energy saved by replacing your incandescent bulbs with CFLs is insignificant. Many people therefore believe that the money saved by switching is not worth paying the extra price for a CFL.  These beliefs could not be further from the truth.  According to the Department of Energy, CFLs use about one quarter the amount of energy used by incandescent bulbs and last six to ten times as long.  These drastic reductions are possible because incandescent bulbs are grossly inefficient.  Unlike CFLs, they heat the filament inside to about 2,300 degrees Celsius, making the filament glow white-hot, emitting light.  With this method, only five to ten percent of the electricity used becomes light, with the rest expended as heat.  CFLs, on the other hand, do not use electricity to heat a solid object; rather, they consist of a gas-filled tube that emits light when current is passed through, producing ninety percent less heat.

Here at Amherst, the amount of energy produced by our efficient, natural gas-powered cogeneration plant is fixed, with about fifty percent of our peak electricity demand being met by the Mt. Tom coal plant in Holyoke.  Therefore, when you save electricity in your dorm room, you are directly preventing that amount of electricity from being purchased from the coal plant.  Our Department of Facilities has calculated that if only nineteen percent of the Amherst student body switched to CFLs, Amherst’s energy consumption would be reduced by 47,853 kilowatt-hours per year, enough energy to light 40 homes.  This means a reduction of sixteen tons a year of carbon dioxide, equivalent to taking three cars off the road or planting four acres of trees.

A second common myth about CFLs is that they are unsafe due to their mercury content.  However, most people don’t know that CFLs contain between 0.01 and 0.001 the amount of mercury found in an oral mercury-based thermometer.  While it is true that consumers should keep in mind that CFLs should be disposed of properly through recycling programs provided by places like Home Depot or our Facilities Department, the dangers are miniscule.  (But if by chance one of your CFL bulbs does break, instructions on how to dispose of it properly can be found on the Department of Energy website.)  From an environmental standpoint, people also don’t realize that far more mercury is released into the environment when using an incandescent bulb than when using a CFL because mercury is released when burning coal. Using a 100-watt incandescent bulb for 10,000 hours releases between 40 and 70 milligrams of mercury, whereas a 25-watt CFL releases only 10-18 milligrams of mercury in the same amount of time.  Even when taking into consideration the 5 milligrams of mercury contained within the CFL itself (if improperly disposed of), mercury released in the use of an incandescent dwarfs that of a CFL.

The biggest myth regarding CFLs is their unsatisfactory aesthetic quality.  Many people believe CFLs emit cold or blue light, flicker, or are too dim or too bright.  While a few of these misconceptions may have been true a decade ago, they certainly are not any longer.  CFLs nowadays are engineered specifically for consumers expecting incandescent light; they produce “soft white” light that mimics natural light from the sun, and the brightness is equal to that of a comparable incandescent bulb.

It is so easy to make this one change in your lifestyle—we promise you won’t even notice.  Several countries have already banned the sale of incandescent bulbs, including Venezuela and Cuba, with the European Union, Canada, Australia, the Philippines, California, Connecticut, and New Jersey planning to follow suit.  The Amherst College Department of Facilities is doing its part by sponsoring the Green Amherst Project’s light bulb swap program in Keefe this week that provides a free CFL for every incandescent bulb brought in.  Two wattage types will be available, and the top two dorms in terms of light bulbs swapped per capita will receive dorm pizza parties.

Conserve energy, save money, and get free pizza. We flipped the switch to CFLs… Will you?

Originally published in the Amherst Student as part of the Green Amherst Project’s weekly column.
http://amherststudent.amherst.edu/current/opinion/view.php?year=2009-2010&issue=04&section=opinion&article=04