SouthCoast Rail – Something Worth Supporting

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

during this past wee, Lucas and I attended a local community event in support of the South Coast Rail project.  I have  never been to a meeting like this and I tough it was going to be comedically bad, perhaps due to the  amount of Parks & Recreation  that I watch.  I was so glad I was wrong. The sense of community in the room and support of the local project, the police, and the state representative, was off the charts. I learned so much about the projects underway and how crime had dropped in the area due to increased patrols.

The Rail project itself has high hopes for bringing in much needed revenue to the South Coast areas like Fall River and New Bedford. We have so much to offer on this side of the state that no one up north seems to be aware of. The area itself will grow exponentially once the project is complete.

To learn more about the actions of the South Coast Rail, visit www.southcoastrail.com

Next week I will be updating with more info on it after I have thoroughly researched it.

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Making Energy Audits a Norm

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

I have discovered a new way for people to educate people on having an energy assessment done. I plan on discussing this during the next team meeting, but I am posting this as a blog post because I believe that this saying can be used by other people to simply make energy assessments a more common occurrence.

“Have you completed your energy audit this year?” I asked people today. This statement implies that an energy audit is something they should have been doing already. When I asked this, many people were taken aback, scared that they have been doing something wrong. And they HAVE- not saving energy and money is awful! If people are aware of energy audits, then I can happily share the information about the SouthCoast Energy Challenge and then tell them that the service is at no cost to them. This makes them feel like they are back in the loop and there is an easy way to get there. For those that don’t know, this allows me to start from the beginning and give them the pitch about our nonprofit organization and why saving energy and money is good- something most people can relate to easily.

Even if you are not one of the interns giving your pitch, people in conversation could bring this up. Hopefully getting your energy audit done every 3 years will be as common as asking someone if they have done taxes this year.

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Week 8 “Tiny Houses”

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

Hey all,

So this week has been a busy one. Wednesday I ventured to New Bedford for the Ocean Explorium “Solar Decathalon” event. The event was a showcase of a team building a unique solar home that would compete in an event overseas. It was interesting to see the team of young women from Brown University explain their home, which claimed a 90% energy efficiency and a design that promotes the use of solar for the changing seasons in France, where the competion will be held.

This inspired me a bit. We watched “The End of Suburbia at this week’s team meeting.  Since I’m studying Urban Sociology, I was already quite aware of how problematic our suburbs are, particularly in their energy consumption. I had to wonder where our motivation for a big house, big yard, and fancy cars came from. No doubt the prevalence of suburbia enforced these desires, but I can’t come to terms with them considering their impact.  I have begun looking at alternative ways to live.

I have discovered the tiny house movement, which promotes small houses that are sustainable and efficient for heat and energy use. Obviously the smaller the house, the easier it is to heat/power. Responding to the issue that suburbs present will require a re-assessment of our most basically held assumptions about a desired life, especially if we want a sustainable future. Here’s a link to an article about tiny houses

http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-26964724

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“The End of Suburbia” Reaction

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

The documentary, “The End of Suburbia”, described the impact of keeping the American Dream in the form of continuous building of suburban communities. I had always assumed that suburbs grew simply due to a growing population.  There were  flaws with the system, but there was not much we could have done to prevent this. However, this is not the case. After WWII, America had a lot of soldiers coming home, tired of war and tightly packed cities. To house these soldiers and the population that would soon swell, many neighborhoods were built surrounding cities with clusters of houses with their own yards. The automobile became the main transportation unit, making the distance from the cities and work not a problem due to new road construction.  Resources could now be brought into these areas without production in the same area.

Clearly, suburbs did not just “happen”. Through conscious effort of making these inefficient areas thrive, we have now been wasting space and energy for quite some time. Almost everyone owns or at least uses a car today. Cars use gasoline, polluting the air with each commute. Getting food from large organizations has become the norm as they can transport huge quantities of food into an area (which has even MORE problems that I have ranted about in past blogs).

What was great about the documentary was that it showed the issues about suburban life that people may not have thought about. Seeing the causes gets me more interested because it shows that sometimes we make mistakes and not everything that bad that happens, or will happen, is out of our control. This movie did not motivate me to change my everyday life, but it did change my outlook on the future.

The solution to suburban life is living in areas that promote “new urbanism”. Taking urban-like designs for multi-family living while promoting walking and public transportation is a more efficient approach to how we live in neighborhoods. Communities become closer and we might use less energy as these areas develop. Some parts of the U.S. are creating these environments, but in areas that are already established, it is difficult to make this change. Around long strips of road we can put in bushes and trees. As large corporations move out of an area, chunks of land fall into disuse, so that will be the perfect time to transform those areas into new urbanism living environments.

If you want to see more about new urbanism, this is an interesting site: http://www.newurbanism.org/

Though not too many new urbanism sites are near the Massachusetts south coast, perhaps in time we can make that happen.

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Facing suburban reality

Apr 14 2014 • Posted by

Are we blindly heading to disaster….distracted by the toys of modern-day living and charmed by politicians who tell us what we want to hear rather than what we need to hear?   After watching “The End of Suburbia” at our team meeting, I was disturbed because nothing much has changed since the documentary was released a decade ago.   Has “The American Dream” become a noose around our collective necks rather than a call for collective action representing the best qualities of American life…stubborn determination, inventiveness and a sense of “e pluribus unum (one of many one)”.  At times, I fear for the future of our country and our planet; at other times, I am hopeful that, despite our self-destructive ways, we will eventually do the right thing.   In some ways, I cannot blame ordinary Americans; they want a better life for themselves and future generations.   They looked to nature as a balm for the dirty, crowded cities where they felt like captives.  Unfortunately, the bucolic idyll that they envisioned when they moved to the suburban subdivisions that sprouted like invasive weeds after World War II was a false promise.   The only thing bucolic was the name of the suburban neighborhood — Peaceful Meadows, Fox Run, etc. — and the result was more dependence on cars and clogged highways..   This car-centric lifestyle is no longer sustainable; we have reached the tipping point for energy production and must consume less.   A world of less energy resources and severe climate change is scary — extreme weather, geopolitical unrest, food and water shortages, etc. — and it is very hard to tell the American public that they must change their way of life.   How do you tell them that there will be less money to go around and that they will need to pay more for food, energy and all of life’s essentials?  Life is tough enough; don’t tell me that is going to get worse.    What’s the point of trying if we are doomed.   Politicians, especially those who want to get elected and re-elected, know they need to tell the American public what it wants to hear — and deliver bad news in an upbeat manner.   Even though smart politicians — those who have read the environmental briefings –  know we are facing disaster unless we alter the American way of life, they have peddled the mythology of boundless abundance for so long that it is very hard to start singing a different tune.   Yes, we are facing environment and financial disaster unless we change and consume less – but change may be scary but it may lead the way to a more pleasing future.   Rather than sitting in endless traffic jams, imagine walkable communities where we work and live and are closer to our food sources.   We may have less money but we may be happier in the long run with neighbors helping neighbors in a more balanced and cooperative lifestyle.

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Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 7

Apr 07 2014 • Posted by

It’s been a challenging week … but I keep on trying even when I fall short on my energy-saving goals.   I want to save energy.   I want to live a more sustainable and healthy life … but time and energy fail me at times.   As I have talked to people while out looking for leads for home energy assessments and solar energy, I realize we are in the same boat.   We do care about saving energy… but time runs out and other problems take up our time.   The problem is that there are always going to be immediate concerns — the house, job, health, etc. — that demand immediate attention.   My challenge – and the challenge of everyone I have talked to – is to find a way to incorporate clean energy into our hectic lives.   I was disturbed by the recent UN report that shows that the degradation of our planet is accelerating and the tipping point where destructive climate changes will be irreversible is fast approaching — in just a few years not 20, 50 and 100 years from now.   We have all seen nature’s fury causing hardship around the world; I need to remember this when I am tired and don’t feel like taking the extra step to save

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A Positive Outlook

Apr 01 2014 • Posted by

Sometimes I get overwhelmed when I think about the impact everyone has on the environment. It seems like day to day living and existing leaves an irreparable impact on the planet humans are supposed to be living on indefinitely? When I consider everything that I’ve done that’s been detrimental to the environment (i.e. the amount of plastics that I’ve consumed and disposed of,  eating meat that contributes to the release of methane and other noxious gases into the atmosphere, driving and gas consumption), I get really sad. When I multiply this impact by, say, I don’t know… 7 billion? I get even sadder.

This uphill battle towards saving the world sometimes feels like it’s just too much. That in itself is an issue, and probably the reason a lot of folks simply refuse to take action towards changing the way they live. This pessimistic way of looking at things is taking over, acting like a virus. The hopelessness makes people feel like they are such a small speck on the face of the planet that their personal lifestyle choices couldn’t possibly change the ways things are going. Now, if you multiply that feeling of helplessness and despair by 7 billion, you have 7 billion people remaining stagnant, refusing to conserve energy and reduce pollution because they feel like the task at hand is impossible.

That is what needs to change. There needs to be an attitude change among people of the world. This mentality of “Gee, I’m just a drop in the bucket” or “Well, it kind of stinks, we’re killing the world as we know it, but there’s nothing little old me can do to stop this destruction” needs to be put to an end. Not only does it need to be put to an end but it needs to be replaced and converted into positivity!

What we have going on right now is a general consensus that there is nothing we can do to stop the inevitable. But if we change that to the idea that if everyone hops on board with sustainability initiatives we can turn things around, our impact on the environment will lighten up a bit. If we multiply the positivity and desire to make changes by 7 billion, we’ll be all set.

So with all of that said, what needs to happen next? I think one of the most important things is educating people on how simple it is to make positive lifestyle changes that not only save the environment, but save them money. People should be focused less on what will happen if they fail to make changes and focused more on the positive things that will happen in response to multiple people making sustainable and healthy choices. This is the age of media. There should be more education and media attention helping people learn about sustainable and healthy choices. And as an artist I feel very compelled to create things that will help push people in this direction. So, no more imagining apocalyptic scenes and crying about a future comparable to the one Pixar showed us in WallE. It’s time to be positive and grow.

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Michael Broadbent’s Efficient Dorm – Week 5

Apr 01 2014 • Posted by

(Long story short, I was on spring break this week and thus didn’t really have the opportunity for any ‘efficient dorm’ progress.  Thus, I decided to get a bit… creative with my blog post.  Enjoy.)

Spring break.  An entire week off from college.  No worries about homework, classes, and even the magic of dorm living for a full 9 days.

I lie in my bed at home, looking forward to the days of rest that will soon come.  All is quiet and peaceful, except for the quiet hum of the heating system.  For a moment, all is bliss.

“MICHAEL ,WAIT!  HOLD ON! DID YOU REMEMBER TO UNPLUG THE MICROWAVE BEFORE YOU LEFT?” my brain suddenly screeches, jolting me awake.  I pause for a moment in thought.  Did I remember to unplug my microwave?  I know I emptied my fridge, turned off my clock, and brought my laptop home with me.  But the microwave.  Surely I didn’t forget something so obvious?

My room was closed for break, and thus I have no choice but to resist the urge to go check.  But for all I know, my microwave could be sitting there in my dorm, leeching energy.  ’Do microwaves use that much electricity while idle?’ I wonder. ‘Surely they wouldn’t have to use that much, since they really only have to power the clock on the front, right?’   I quickly shake my head and shove the thought away.  No, it doesn’t matter how much energy it is really using.  It’s the principle of it!  I had gone through all that effort to make myself more energy efficient, and now I simply leave an appliance plugged in for over a week!  It’s unacceptable!

I get out of bed and begin pacing around my room.  There had to be a solution.  But what?  I quickly think of a couple plans.  One would be to break into the school, sneak into my dorm, and unplug the microwave.   That, however, would be both difficult and illegal.  Another, more rational, plan would be to call a friend who was able to keep their room over spring break and ask THEM to unplug it.

I reach for my phone, but stop just before dialing.  No, that wouldn’t work either.  They didn’t have my keys, and driving over to give it to them could potentially use more energy than I’d save.

It is at this point I realize that there is no way out.  I am simply a failure.  It is now the future, and I have failed.  The Apocalypse will not be averted, and it is all my fault.

Days pass.  I spend the rest of my spring break in agony.  Unable to think about anything other than the incredible amounts of energy waste which I was no doubt creating.  Any and all joy and relaxation is sapped from my being, my stay at home no longer being a paradise but a prison.

Finally, the ‘vacation’ comes to an end.  Not wasting any time, I gather my things and speed off back to my school, dashing up the stairs of my building faster than any would believe possible.  I ram my key into the lock and swing open the door to my room.  In one swift movement, I step inside and slide over to my microwave.

It is unplugged.

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Commuter Rail

Apr 01 2014 • Posted by

Whenever I visit North Kingstown in Rhode Island, I’m reminded about one of the state’s most underutilized, energy-saving resources – the Wickford Junction MBTA Station. The station opened two years ago. It cost the state of Rhode Island 44 million dollars to build and it costs $721,629 per year to operate and maintain. It is a beautiful station with a 400-foot wind turbine in the background. It was built with new technology, including energy efficient lights and charging stations for electric cars.

Every time I drive past the station, the parking lot is empty. So I did some research and found out that there are 1100 parking spaces with only 175 riders per day. Only 16% of the parking spaces are being utilized, which doesn’t take into account that some riders are dropped off at the station. In an effort to encourage more riders, the state of Rhode Island offered free parking if you rode the train. Still the numbers remained the same.

If I lived in North Kingstown, I would utilize the Wickford Junction MBTA Station. The fare from North Kingstown to Boston is $9.00/one way (half price for students and seniors). With the cost of gas at $3.50/gallon, there is no way that I could drive round trip to Boston for $9.00. There is also the added bonus of reducing CO2 emissions by taking the train. In conclusion, riding the commuter rail is good on the pocketbook and great for the environment!

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Thoughts about King Corn

Apr 01 2014 • Posted by

This past week I watched a very interesting  independent documentary,  King Corn.

The movie unsurprisingly focused on the staple that feeds America, corn. The documentary wasn’t biased toward whether the industrialization of corn was good or bad; it just showed the facts. It depicted how corn is in nearly everything – from our hair to the beef in our hamburgers – nearly everything is make out of this “resource”.

From a sustainability perspective, it shows how industrialization has seeped into formerly sustainable agrarian areas. Everything now seems to focus on pesticides, mass production, and sales charts. Yet, farmers can’t even feed their families with the crop they grow.

In my opinion, in order to be sustainable, we need to support farmers with a local perspective. Having mass-production farms in foreign lands drain resources and creates greenhouse gases from transportation. Utilizing local farms stimulates the local economy, and also reduces transportation greenhouse gases in the process.

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