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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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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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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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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NeuroPLASTICity

Jul 10 2014 • Posted by

Let’s talk brains. The brain is essentially a giant supercomputer that functions both chemically and electrically to form the most complex molecular machine known to mankind. Neuroscience is the beautiful study that aims to brave this mystery that is the brain. Research in this field will undoubtedly be monumental in fields such as medicine and technology. There’s an immense amount of cool stuff surrounding neuroscience, one of most astounding has to be the concept of neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the fantastical ability of the brain to physically alter its structure in response to experience. In an amazing reciprocal relationship with behavior, the brain can literally rearrange itself to better respond to stimuli and to adapt to new behaviors.

All of this is relevant because I’m trying to change my behavior. As a part of my sustainability goal this summer, I’m making an effort to reduce my consumption of plastic water bottles, and I believe neuroplasticity can help. If I begin to adjust my behavior and perspective regarding plastic, then my brain may gradually adapt to the new behavior and physically reorganize to a mental state that is more environmentally conscious. It’s a long-shot, but it’s based in science, so I’m willing to give it a try.

Somewhere along the line, my brain adjusted to the understanding that plastic is everywhere. This isn’t totally surprising, seeing that world generates approximately 32 million tons of plastic each year. Out of habit and society’s influence, I’ve become numb to this sea of plastic that surrounds myself and the rest of the world. Plastic is made up of organic materials that degrade very slowly, posing environmental hazards as our nation of consumers use-up and throw-out plastic at ever-increasing rates.

I’ve made the transition to a reusable steel water bottle that is both efficient and fashionable, and I’m beginning to readjust my view on the wasteful luxury that is plastic water bottles. NeuroPLASTICity may be my ticket to fully achieving a refreshed lifestyle of sustainability and conscious consumerism. Healthy habits require consistency, and so I’m eager to “train my brain” into considering the environment more than I’m used to. Thanks for reading,

Mike Salhany

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Let’s Be Real-ly Sustainable

Jul 10 2014 • Posted by

One night, a few years ago, I rode home from Boston with my dad. As we sat in bumper-to-bumper traffic on Route 24, we passed the time, as usual, by debating ideas and discussing things that bothered us. I was studying environmental policy at Boston University at the time, and when we landed on the subject of my classes I mentioned to him how I felt that my chosen career path seemed futile because it felt like I was working toward an outcome that, at best, meant delaying the inevitable. This fear had arisen from the realization that what we deem lasting or durable enough to call “sustainable” cannot be sustained indefinitely and until we raise the standard for sustainability, our actions will never be enough.

We live in a world where virtually everything is made out of plastic or some other non-biodegradable material. Sure, there’s recycling, but not everything can be recycled. Think you’re helping the planet by recycling those plastic water bottles? Think again. The caps can’t be recycled. They go straight to the landfill along with many other products you may think you are recycling but are really only sending to the recycling plant to be thrown away, including juice boxes, pizza boxes, and wire hangers. Then, even when we can recycle or reuse things, they are still thrown out eventually or not actually recycled. A water bottle can only be sent through so many cycles before someone throws it away. Plastic bags may be used to carry a lunch or line a small trash can, but this only means gaining one or two more uses at most before the bags are thrown away. Unwanted computers and other electronics are often sent off to be recycled, only to be exported to landfills in third-world countries1. “Non-disposable” or “reusable” products and other things meant to last are overlooked by many environmental activists because they are not purchased with intention of disposal in mind, but these products will degrade and be thrown away just like all of the disposable products we would have used otherwise. Everything degrades eventually and everything must, at some point, be replaced. What does this mean? Everything eventually ends up in a landfill, somewhere. If the things we make, consume, and discard are non-biodegradable (meaning they take hundreds or thousands of years to degrade) or if they are made of toxic chemicals that can be released as a product degrades, we are in serious trouble.

If we really want to make change, we need to revamp the entire system. We need a technological revolution in which we switch to biodegradable and natural materials for our products and packaging. Yes, this means eliminating plastics entirely. Unfortunately the legislation necessary to make this possible is very unlikely to happen. Businesses find plastics favorable because they satisfy the desire for short-term profit and degrade quickly enough to maintain a rapid cycle of obsolescence, and our government is tied to puppet strings held by large corporations. I don’t mean to be depressing. I mean to be realistic. Some might argue that delaying environmental catastrophe is better than allowing it to come faster. I don’t know about you, but if it’s going to happen anyway I’d rather not spend my life working so hard to fight it. I’d like to prevent environmental damage entirely and help to create a culture that is truly sustainable. This is only possible if we get serious, change our ways of thinking, and make the logical choices, however difficult they may seem.

 

An interesting article about where our old technology ends up:  http://www.ban.org/library/AwayIsAPlaceEssayFINAL.pdf

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I Vote, I Count

Jul 03 2014 • Posted by

In the days of big-money politics, it seems easy to believe that one’s vote hardly matters anymore. Races are fought and won in early-primary and battleground states, and around 40% the country doesn’t partake anyway, so why bother? However, Richard Manning closes his article “The Oil We Eat” stating that he voted twice in 2002 elections, once the conventional way, and another way by hunting for wild elk to supply his family with meat for the year.

The choice to use wild elk meat counts as a vote in my mind, too. After watching the documentary film King Corn, and reading Manning’s article, I believe that by hunting for his own meat, the author is decreasing the demand for beef, chicken, and pork, and by extension, his desire for corn (the industrial meat complex relies on corn to feed their animals). Briefly, the American government has subsidized the production of meat and especially corn so much, ostensibly to meet the booming demand of the American people. This is an enormous industrial machine, and it is widely recognized that this policy of relative monoculture is a disaster. As a result, withdrawing your dollar, and thereby decreasing the demand from these products seems like a vote against bad agricultural policy. No one asked the layman about whether you’d like corn to be supported by massive government subsidies, right? On one hand, that’s the beauty of a representative democracy- we elect people who have expertise in various areas to be our leaders, and they think and make decisions for us. However, on the other, there seems to be minimal meaningful ways to make one’s dissenting voice meaningfully heard in relation to these policy choices.

This idea of “voting with your wallet” is not new to me, there’s a great guide out there called the Better World Shoppers Guide, which rates prominent products and companies on an A-F scale based on their environmental and social responsibilities. It’s graphic, easy to read, just like a school report card, and the size allows it to be tossed into your reusable bag with a wallet and keys.There’s a similar guide revealing corporation’s political contribution, where one can discern which companies support what in our government.

From the outside, I think it might seem like kind of a menial task to be a single person making a choice about where to buy things and when to abstain, but I believe the true power of voting with the dollar is found in the ripple effect. Chances are, at least some of one’s friends and family have the same political or moral values as yourself. When the action steps that one is taking are shared, it grows the power of the idea. Even just one friend taking up the same action, whether it be buying coffee from a fair trade company or skipping their weekly banana purchase, doubles the impact of the behavior one exhibits. There are so many ways to make change, and a well-rounded approach of a couple different change-making strategies  is the only way to truly see the change that we’d like to in the world. Voting with your dollar is a way of being the change.

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Disgusted with my Food

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

After reading ‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain back to Iraq and watching the film King Corn I was deeply shocked and started becoming more intrigued about the food we eat. I thought King Corn was a more though provoking movie as it made me question more about the food I eat every day. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it is a about two friends who decide to grow an acre of corn after discovering that their bodies, and most Americans, have traces of corn in their bodies after a hair analysis. They then learn all about the history of corn and trace what happens to the corn they grow after it leaves their field and learn that most corn either is turned into corn syrup or becomes animal feed. It really awakens you to how processed some of our food can be.
It really makes you start thinking about what you are putting in your body; for example the bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats I ate this morning or the Snapple I’m currently drinking, both contain High Fructose Corn Syrup and I am slightly disgusted with myself when I think about where it came from and how it was made. The awful impact it had on the environment to grow that corn, process it, and turn it into food, makes me enjoy it so much less when I didn’t know anything about it. All the fertilizers and chemicals that are used to make crops grow faster and bigger usually end up polluting other areas of land through water runoff, cross pollinations, and many other ways.

In ‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain back to Iraq Richard Manning says, “ The Mississippi River’s heavily fertilized effluvia has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey”. The state of New Jersey is roughly 9,000 square miles, which just means that there is a large area that is no longer inhabitable by living things and it’s all because of the chemicals we are putting in the ground. It’s even worse to think that almost every product in a normal grocery store is derived from either corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup or from corn based animal feed; both of which are two of the main leading contributors of the obesity epidemic in America.
Now when I eat food, I’m going to start thinking about all the energy that was used in getting it from soil to my plate. I will probably start buying more local and organic fruits and veggies because I don’t even want to think about all the harmful chemicals I have already ingested from the twenty years of eating mass produced food. Hopefully other people start realizing that what they eat has a significant impact on the environment.

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Week 1 Struggles

Jun 26 2014 • Posted by

This was my first week at trying to achieve my sustainability goal of driving less. For the most part it did not go as well as I thought it would, mainly because I was working a lot so I was forced to drive. Even when I wasn’t working, I had to run little errands at the bank and the supermarket. You would be surprised though at how far you drive from your home to these places that are in your town. To the super market it is a short drive, but it’s like an eighteen mile round trip which I never noticed until now. I have to start debating whether I need to go out and get it immediately or if I can wait until when it’s convenient.

On the plus side, I did start doing things to my car that will save on gas when I’m driving. I finally discovered the great invention of cruise control, allowing me to stay at a constant speed while on the highway. This way, I don’t waste fuel accelerating or decelerating. I can’t believe it took me this long to actually use it, highly recommend it to everyone who uses the highway. Another thing that helped me work on my sustainability goal was that I was allowed to work from home one day since I was only doing event research. I didn’t have to drive the 35 minute commute to work that day which saved me plenty of gas. I also looked up some ways to help save gas while driving and I plan on using those actions for the rest of the summer.

Next week, I may attempt to bike to my other job which is in my hometown and about a 10-15 minute drive by car. It will be a challenge, but it will definitely help me lower my carbon footprint and it will be a good workout. I plan on also checking my tire pressure this weekend as well to make sure it is at the optimal level since not only will it lower my carbon emissions, but also increase my safety when driving . The tires are one of the most crucial parts of the car and it is vital to the efficiency and my safety that they are properly inflated. Plus, this action is totally free of cost and will save me an estimated 332 pounds of CO2 emissions and will allow the car to operate closer to its highest fuel efficiency.

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