Week 6 Progress Update

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

I haven’t had much of a chance to work on my sustainability goal this week because I’ve been super busy. I’m going to make a real effort next week to work on that. I thought I would take this time to update about my progress with the internship so far this summer. This week has been very busy for all of us, and we’ve had some awesome events to attend.

My first event was a little rough this week. It was the Fall River Farmer’s Market. It was raining and it was pretty small. Other vendors also didn’t show up because of the weather. People wanted to get out of the rain and really didn’t want to listen to my pitch. But things turned around in the middle of the week when I attended the Wareham Book Sale. I was pleasantly surprised by the turnout. Most of the people who attended were senior citizens, so they weren’t in as much of a rush as most people at other events, which was nice. I even got a couple of the librarians to sign up. Since I was by myself it ended up being great practice for me. I was able to get 11 leads altogether, which really made up for my event earlier in the week. Then on Saturday Jen and I attended the Holistic Health and Wellness fair in Westport, and got to talk to a lot of cool people. Although there weren’t quite as many people as I expected, almost everyone we did speak to signed up. We were each able to get 7, most of which were solar leads since Westport doesn’t have NSTAR or National Grid. I got to practice my solar and solar hot water pitches quite a bit and feel a lot more confident about that. I found that people responded really well to the idea of solar water, since basically every homeowner is eligible and it’s so much less invasive than full blown solar. People were really open-minded and nice and we fit in well with the crowd.

Overall this has been a good week for me, and I’m sure for others as well. Next week has some great events to attend as well, and I’m excited and hope to keep up the good pace.

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The Bike! A Reflection on Last Week + Some Additional Maundering

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

It fell to me this week to be a manager of the Energy Challenge’s Energy Bike. The Bike was donated by a science teacher, and when pedaled enough, it produces enough power to light up four CFL bulbs. While I wouldn’t say the bike is the easiest prop the Challenge uses, the effort is all is worth it when people’s faces light up (see what I did there? Puns, friends) when they realize that their energies were translated into electricity, just by pedaling a bike.  Some common questions I received this weekend were whether we were selling it, could it be hooked up to a TV or video games, and other suggestions along this line. Although the power generated by the bike is honestly quite menial, the idea brings solutions in an age where people (myself included) struggle to get exercise and use tons of electricity.

Let me pan out. In the age of convenience, I think it is rare for people to actually consider what energy is used to create their electricity, and where it’s from. Is it an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico? Is it a product of mountaintop removal in Appalachia?  Maybe it’s a solar farm based on the top of a closed landfill. I often think of this mindset when contemplating the Not In My Backyard attitude. NIMBites (or NIMBans) are generally against wind farms because, stereotypically, they do not like the way a surfeit of wind turbines look on their horizon, or otherwise scenic views. In response to this, I would comment on two sentiments.

The first: I believe that money should not be able to buy the privilege of not caring about where energy comes from, because energy is something that everyone on the planet needs and uses. One shouldn’t be able to purchase a view that everyone shares, an unpopular sentiment in my coastal town. The beach is fantastic, and I love appreciating the raw beauty of nature, but until technology is developed that allows the same amount of clean energy output, everyone must pitch in, rich or poor, whether your house borders a landfill or Nantucket Sound. The second point expands on the previous thought. My step-father says that he feels more American when he passes the wind turbines that power my town’s wastewater treatment plant and dump. At first, I thought this comment was ridiculous. Similarly to my friends, I’m not crazy about uber-patriotism. Quite honestly, I feel awkward sometimes about facing the flag and putting my hand on my heart during the National Anthem, and I find Stephen Colbert’s nationalism-on-steroids attitude hilarious. However, I thought about what my stepfather said, and it is really more, dare I say it, profound, than upon first hearing.  I’m thinking he feels American because wind turbines, and by extension renewable energy, is the way of the future. The wind turbine is an example of innovation: a technique that’s been in use for ages (remember Don Quixote?) with a twist of modernity.  What I think the United States is all about, and what makes this country truly great, is the ability of the people within it to come together for the common good. Our democracy may be dysfunctional, but I trust it. As a result of this tradition of collaboration and connection, it’s American to all do our part in the battle against climate change, a dependance on foreign energy sources, and our instinctive nature to desire “more”.

A TV show I’ve been watching posits that America is no longer the greatest country in the world, and I believe that’s true. However, I do know that we have the potential to be. I want to be part of the change. I would love to hear your thoughts about what I’ve written about this week.

Until next week!

Gabi

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Little Victories

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

Weeds! Those feisty little green devils keep popping up in my garden. Here I am trying to be sustainable and grow my own veggies and these little plants keep popping up to ruin my day. I can’t complain, though. Sure, my garden had a bit of a rocky start. For the first week after planting, a gopher taking up residence under my neighbor’s shed snuck out every night to nibble on my basil. But my plants are growing, I haven’t had any issues with bugs or fungus, and I’ve even noticed a few little tomatoes developing! Yay!

In other news, this past week brought a personal victory. I finally did it. I convinced my mother to use reusable bags when she grocery shops. Yes, even my mother, who drives an SUV, insists on forsaking the piles of reusable bottles collecting in our cabinets and the perfectly good filtration system on our refrigerator in favor of plastic bottles, and thinks that a house isn’t clean until it’s full of chemicals has taken a step to be more sustainable. There is hope, my friends. There is hope.

Until next week, blog readers.

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Wheaton College Green Club

Jul 22 2014 • Posted by

Ever since my freshman year at Wheaton College, I have been a part of a club called SEGA, which stands for Students Engaged in Green Activism. Our goal is to promote energy awareness as well as get students to recognize green initiatives on campus. For the first year, we were a very small club with just four members, including me, having weekly meetings and promoting who we are to the entire campus.

But recently, our membership increased to seven members. As a result of that jump, we created big projects present and future that could definitely make an impact to the campus. The first project we started was a recycling program with an organization called Terracycle whose job is to recycle unconventional objects like shampoo bottles, mouthwash, deodorants, toothpaste, and others and then they give points to an organization, in this case, ours. To get the entire campus involved, we set up boxes in some of the dorms with a list of items and were honestly very skeptical about the result. However, over the year, the student body really got involved and we were able to send a couple boxes to Terracycle. We earned 4,000 points in total, so we could donate those points to a charity of our choice, but we haven’t decided what to do with them yet. This is a successful program and we can’t wait to continue it next year.

For the future, we may build a miniature version of wind turbine to power one building on campus to show the campus that we are completely invested in green energy and that they should do the same. This may become a project for next year and we have the help of the physics professor to build this. So, I have high hopes for next year and the future of this club for green activism. You can check us out on Facebook under Wheaton SEGA to see all we have done. https://www.facebook.com/wheatonsega?ref_type=bookmark

 

 

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How to Convince the “Skeptics”

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

Explaining global warming to a climate change denier is not an easy task, and should be approached with strategy, a calm demeanor, and careful wording. If I pull out the “big gun words”, like greenhouse gas emissions, carbon dioxide, or fossil fuel combustion, then people will generally lose interest and are going to stop listening. For many individuals who lack scientific literacy, these words are confusing, intimidating, and vague – leading to a misconstrued understanding of the fundamental scientific principles that help explain global warming. The fact that humankind is inadvertently causing the drastic climate change observed today is difficult for some people to wrap their head around. Individuals may feel insulted, victimized, or doubtful when considering humanities devastating impact on the environment – especially when a small majority of politicians, celebrities, and other trusted public figures are consistently encouraging a philosophy of climate-change skepticism. So what’s the best way to convince someone who isn’t so quick to take the bait?

First things first – don’t argue. Arguing will kill your chances at convincing the other person because many people view arguments as a game to be won, as opposed to a conversation to be had. Instead, listen intently and genuinely to the individual - let them talk first and explain that you understand their point of view and that they’re correct in many regards. Aim to reach a common agreement, such as that just about everyone acknowledges that the world is getting hotter (just not that human’s are responsible). Consider even appreciating their skepticism and complimenting their inability to believe everything they hear. Don’t act like a scientist, or a teacher, or a know-it-all. The conversation, though spoken with confidence, should be colloquial and unexaggerated. This will help to gain the trust of the individual.

Then get to the meat of the issue. Explain that global warming is happening. Without a doubt, the world’s temperature is increasing at staggering rates, leading experts to theorize what or who could be responsible. When speaking to those who lack scientific literacy, this would be a good time to avoid “big science words” and to make things as simple as possible. Explain that the observed temperature increase correlates to humanity’s growing usage of oil and gas. This “stuff” is rich in energy, and we burn it to fuel our cars, our homes, and just about anything that uses energy and electricity. But when we burn it, where does it go? It goes up, forming a “blanket” that becomes a part of the Earth’s atmosphere. The more energy we burn, the bigger this blanket gets. When the sun’s hot rays reach the Earth, our planet absorbs some of this heat, and sends some of the heat back up towards space. But the blanket of burned gasses acts like a barrier to outer space – causing the heat from the sun to stay trapped on Earth. Over time, like 100′s of years, this heat increase becomes a problem by making our planet really hot – too hot to allow life to sustain in our environment.

Once you’ve explained the basics of global warming, it is important not to force the other person to change their mind or to accept your explanation. An individual’s beliefs are a core psychological aspect that helps define identity, and people are not quick to change their understanding of things. The point of your entire conversation with the climate skeptic should be to implant the quick and easy-to-comprehend idea that humanity is responsible, and that it’s not something to be ashamed of or insulted by. The “blanket” analogy is especially strong in this regard, as it makes sense without emphasizing science, and it provides an explanation that is not commonly heard or explained. Given enough time to think and reconsider things, the skeptic may begin to accept that global warming is possibly caused by humanity’s doing. I believe that they need to reach this understanding themselves, without being ostracized or convinced by a know-it-all.

I hope you enjoyed reading my guide to help convince the skeptics, as awareness is the single most important factor towards changing policies to prevent and reduce the reality that is global warming. Good luck, and remember that education is invaluable and that everyone deserves to know the truth.

Until next time,

Mike Salhany

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Energy and Environmental Myths, Misconceptions, and Controversies – Solar Roadways Part 1

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

Before we dive into the pros and cons of this (very) controversial new idea, let’s discuss what it is and who’s doing it.  That’ll buy me at least ONE week to sort out my arguments before I throw myself into the meat grinder of public opinion.

Solar Roadways are, basically, solar panels that can also be used as roads, as invented and invisioned by Scott and Julie Bursaw.  They are shaped like octogons, and only a foot or two in diameter.  They also contain LEDs which can be used to simulate lines typically painted on the road.   Parking lots and driveways could also be made in similar ways.  Though it would begin with the creation of new roads and parking lots, the creators of Solar Roadways hope to have all roads replaced with these panels.

They are made with a thick layer of tempered glass, made to support large amounts of weight (over 250,000 pounds), and so that they don’t become dangerous to motorists or passersby, should the glass break.  It is designed with traction in mind so that cars don’t slip on a rainy day.

That’s pretty much all there is to it!  There’s a lot of complicated science to it, but all you really need to know is that they are solar panels that are also used as roads, and they have to made and installed differently as a result.  This is kind of a short entry, but like I said – I want to get my story straight.  I still need to read arguments on both sides, find some in-depth articles about the cost and tech, etc.  Next week, friends.

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A Midsummer’s Update!

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

Not to be that person (the one at family gatherings who exclaims “you’re getting old so fast! Time flies!”), but indulge me for a few more sentences. I can’t believe it’s already the middle of July, and we’re just about to hit the halfway point in the Energy Challenge internship. It really has gone by fast, especially because it’s my last summer before I go away to college. I feel much more confident in myself than previously, because I’ve been able to pick up some more hours and attend community events from Marion to Fall River. I’ve gotten upwards of twenty leads for two weeks straight, and I hope to keep the streak alive for a third next week, something that virtually never happened last summer.

Perhaps the most meaningful experience happened just yesterday, when my task was to sign people up at a mobile food bank. I’ve volunteered at food pantries before, but I had never spoken to the people any more than just the average pleasantries. In this case, we were told to walk the line of people and sign them up. I arrived at 7:30, and there were already people in line for the 9:30 start time, something I understood after the start time rolled around and the snaking line was several people deep and the temperature only rising. We were in good company, people from the nearby Coalition for Social Justice were signing individuals up to vote and informing them about one of the ballot referendum questions (one that would instate a policy that guaranteed an hour of paid sick leave for every thirty hours worked).Obviously, the Energy Challenge isn’t always able to perform outreach towards every demographic, and canvassing the Mobile Food Bank was an opportunity to reach people who absolutely have the right to take advantage of the benefits offered by MassSave, but may not always know how to receive them. I would have never been able to attend this event last summer, because I didn’t have my license, and I’m glad that even though I have the same(ish) job, it’s a new experience.

As for my sustainability goal: it goes well! As previously mentioned, my purple reusable mug is pretty much glued to my side. However, I did feel an unbeatable yen for an iced coffee on a particularly hot and humid summer day last week, so I got one. At least the coffee was fair-trade and organic, but that did not change the fundamental fact that it was “wrapped in plastic”, as one of my co-workers articulated the phenomena of single-usage drink devices. I also drank from some plastic water bottles at a friend’s house, just because it was the only option, but it was still kind of infuriating. It should not be so hard anymore to bring a water dispenser instead of plastic bottles. In cases like these, I find it really hard not to keep my mouth shut about the issues. My friends and family have always known that I am knowledgeable about humanity’s impact on climate change, and perhaps an overzealous younger me helped to deafen their ears and minds about their role in it (trust me, it’s possible).  More blogging to come on this particular topic.

Gabi

 

 

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Week 5 Updates

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

It’s been a busy few weeks for me, and I’d like to share my experiences so far.  I have been enjoying going to events and talking to all types of people. At first it was really nerve-wracking, but I’m starting to get past that. I’ve never been much of a salesperson, so I struggled with the idea of annoying and bothering people. However, after talking to enough people I have realized that I am not bothering them at all, and in fact I’m helping them out. When I changed my perspective, I noticed it became much easier to talk to people and to give my best pitch. Additionally, people have been nicer than I expected, even the ones who are uninterested, with the exception of a few of course. When I go to an event and meet a lot of friendly and open-minded people, I find a lot more meaning in my work and it’s empowering. My first couple events were very poorly attended so I felt discouraged at first, but I no longer feel that way. Although this past week has been slow in terms of events, last week was a great learning experience and I look forward to expanding upon that in the upcoming weeks.

My sustainability goal for the summer has not been going quite as well as I planned. The maintenance worker for my building said that they don’t have recycling bins because nobody used them in the past and he did not seem open to the idea at all. I could still talk to the landlord, but I haven’t gotten around to it. In the meantime, my recycling is really piling up and I need to look into some alternatives. As a result, an addition to my summer goal is that I want to find a place to take my recycling that is still convenient for me. However, I did get a dryer rack for my clothes! The washer/dryer costs $2.50 each so it’s great to not only save energy, but money as well.

My final update is about my Dad’s newly installed solar panels. He is very happy with them, and I’m going to his house tomorrow to check them out! He said everything has gone as planned and doesn’t foresee any issues in the future, although he is curious what I think of them. I’ll be sure to mention it in my next blog post!

 

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Every Lead Counts: A Reflection on the Success of the SouthCoast Energy Challenge

Jul 16 2014 • Posted by

On the 4th of July, I tabled for the Southcoast Energy Challenge at the Charles Morgan Event in New Bedford. In light of what was forecasted as an impending hurricane, many New Bedford residents had opted to stay indoors, and in any case, the event was pretty empty. For the first few hours I stood with my clipboard, bored with inactivity and grumpy because I wasn’t getting any signups. But then I realized something. Whenever we attend another event, we always end up with at least one more signup, which translates into one more person taking energy saving actions. All we have to do to get someone else on board with environmental initiatives is go to another event. Without overwhelming interest it wasn’t always obvious, but in the world of non-profits, we’re successful.

So what makes our program so effective? As anyone who has worked in an environmental-related field can attest, it’s difficult to get people to care about the inherent value of the natural world. People are moved by nothing more than they are by self-interest and short-term consequence. The crucial point to remember is that everything we do to the environment eventually comes back around to us. Through provisioning, regulating, supporting, and cultural services we are either directly or indirectly connected to every ecosystem on Earth. When we translate environmental issues into terms of human benefit, especially when those terms are specific, getting people to care is a whole lot easier. This is what we do as purveyors and advocates of the Southcoast Energy Challenge, and it is what makes the program so great.

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My Coffee Addiction

Jul 10 2014 • Posted by

I, like numerous other college students and even most adults, am addicted to coffee. My family has a Keurig single cup coffee maker, which is awesome. I can make a cup of coffee whenever I want, even if it happens to be several times during the day. It was a blessing when my aunt gifted it to us for Christmas a couple of years ago, but we would later learn that it was a nightmare when it came to disposing of the K-Cups.

Due to the unique design to ensure the freshness of roasted coffee in each serving, most people are aware that each K-Cup cannot be recycled or at least not as a whole unit. There are three layers to each K-Cup and only two parts of it can be recycled. Trust me, I know it is a pain to separate them- I’ve been doing it for a couple years now, because it’s such responsible action regarding the environment.

Let me break these k-cups down. The foil lid can be recycled with other aluminum products. The filter inside is made of paper, so it can also be recycled with other paper products. Before you recycle the paper, make sure to remove as much of the coffee grounds as possible or else it will contaminate the recyclables. The last part of the K-Cup is the plastic outer shell, which actually isn’t recyclable (for some reason) so we are forced to throw that out, creating more waste. Of course, there is alternate option to all this.

The phrase goes Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle; notice how recycle is last. I recently discovered that Keurig produces a reusable filter, which I purchased of course, that allows us to reduce the amount of waste we produce by being able to reuse the filter multiple times. All you need to do is simply fill the filter up with your own coffee grounds and clean it out once it’s done. I know it may sound like a hassle, but really it will only add a minute or two to your morning routine, and it will make a significant difference to the amount of waste created, especially if you drink as much coffee as I do.

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