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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Talking the talk, walking the walk, chapter 6I

Mar 31 2014 • Posted by

My internship at the SouthCoast Energy Challenge has opened my eyes and caused me to deal with my own energy-wasting habits.  It has also helped me to see how much I have in common with others who find it difficult to change their old ways.   I have been very successful in being less wasteful about food this week.  My plastic bag use has been greatly reduced and I am avoiding packaged foods for fresh ingredients or minimally packaged food products.   I am in the habit of checking the back of the box to check the portion size, calorie count, salt and sugar content.  Now I also consider the package itself.   Can I recycle it?  Is there a better and less wasteful choice?

I have been humbled as I have struggled to keep my word about reducing food waste.   There have been many times when I get very cranky and wonder if all this extra effort is worth it.   Hey, life hasn’t been easy recently.   I’m tired, stressed.   I don’t have the time and energy to be tackling energy savings.  I can see where that thinking is taking me — and I remind myself that it may be tough but being energy efficient is essential to my goal of living a happier and healthier life.   I have read how our wasteful energy use is destroying our planet.   Even though I don’t want to bother at times, I cannot ignore how my habits are contributing to our collective willful blindness about our energy use.   It helps me to keep on trying because we all need to do our part and how the aggregation of all our individual energy-savings habits will make us all healthier and happier.   It will also help to save the planet.

This has helped me to connect with people when I encourage them to sign up for the Energy Challenge, home energy assessments and solar evaluations.  Yes,  we all want to save money on our energy bills but, as I talk to people, we agree that we also want to protect our beautiful South Coast environment.   We want a better world and are ready to sacrifice to make it happen.   This gives me that hopeful boost that enables me to get past my resistance to fight on.

 

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Michael Broadbent’s Efficient Dorm – Week 4

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

This week, we aren’t really going to talk about my sustainability goal.  I’m pretty sure all one of you reading this are already quite familiar with my struggles of stagnation, and nothing has really changed since last week.  Instead, we’re going to talk about CORN. KING CORN.

King Corn is a documentary following the decision of two guys who want to grow an acre of corn to see why so much corn is in our diet these days.  Not because we eat a lot of corn itself,  but because of corn syrup and other food additives made from corn.  As a result, we’re essentially “made” of corn, since most of the cells in our body are made from what we eat.  (It’s a little disingenuous to word it that way, since some of the atoms in our body came from the atoms in corn, and beyond a very basic chemical level no longer resembles corn in any way…)

The film showed the usage of corn in the livestock industry.  A lot of our beef comes from corn-fed cows and cows actually cannot survive for very long on a diet of just corn.  Over time, they get sicker and sicker until they can barely move and, eventually, succumb to death. However, since corn is cheap, cattle are fed nothing but corn for up to one year before slaughter.  This even makes the resulting beef more unhealthy.  I found it somewhat surprising that cows were able to last even a year on a purely corn diet.  Since corn is something they were never meant to eat, I would normally expect the negative impacts to appear much faster.

Corn syrup is interesting in a different way.  It’s bad for us, yeah, but not in the “slowly poisoning us” kind of way a lot of other food additives are.  It’s just really sugary and fatty.  I actually felt somewhat relieved at that, which says something about the state of food and nutrition in our country today.  I was actually happy that something was only really unhealthy in the normal sense, and not actively killing me as the days go by.

So, long story short, it turns out corn is evil now.  Who knew, right?  Even vegetables are being turned against us.  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised, considering what potatoes have done to our diet.  I wish there could be one industry where the machinations of an evil corporation weren’t actively ruining everything for everyone, but I suppose that’s a bit too much to ask for.

Sadly, “not eating corn” isn’t really feasible (unless I go on a strictly organic diet, which could be problematic in other ways), so the only real form of protest I have is writing negatively about it on the internet.  Better than nothing, I suppose.

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Local Environmental Action’s 2014 Conference

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

On March 2, 2014, I attended the Local Environmental Action Conference which was held at Northeastern University in Boston, MA. Both the Massachusetts Climate Action Network and the Toxics Action Center hosted this event. The Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) is an organization that coordinates the work of locally organized groups across Massachusetts fighting the climate crisis. The Toxics Action Center’s mission is to “work side-by-side with communities, providing you with the skills and resources needed to prevent or clean up pollution at the local level.” This event occurs every year and this was my first year attending, but certainly not my last.

We started the day with our first keynote speaker, Teri Blanton, a fellow of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth, and member of the National Environmental Justice Advisory Council. She explained the issue of mountaintop removal in Kentucky which she has been working on for over 30 years. I had never heard of mountaintop removal before this conference. To explain it in layman’s terms, it occurs when coal companies run out of coal underground and under the mountains, so they resort to utilizing the small amounts of coal in the top of the mountain. There are only thin strips of coal located in the mountain tops, but if the coal companies see coal they’ll do anything to harvest it. They clear cut all the trees and shrubs off of the mountaintop, then burn it. Using explosives to blow off the top of the mountain causes toxic particulates to end up in the air. The coal companies use harsh toxic chemicals to separate the coal from the soil. These chemicals end up in the water, making the water toxic for people in the surrounding communities to drink, bathe, cook with, etc. After listening to Teri Blanton, I learned what an atrocity the people of Kentucky and ultimately the entire country is facing. Teri Blanton is an amazing woman who has the charisma that everybody in the room could feel and it was good to know that she will continue with her amazing work to end mountaintop removal.

The first workshop that I attended was entitled “Mission Possible: Zero Waste Communities” and was presented by Brooke Nash, branch chief of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, and Christin Walth, project manager for Toward Zero Waste Newburyport. Brooke Nash emphasized that if a product can’t be reused or recycled, it should have never been made in the first place. I definitely agree because it really brings up the issue of plastic bags and Styrofoam products. She went on with a very technical breakdown of waste production in Massachusetts. She talked about how effective Pay As You Throw (PAYT) trash programs are and how there is a direct correlation to an increase in recycling among towns. She went on to explain all of the benefits of the Pay As You Throw program in towns. Christin Walth spoke next and she focused on organic waste disposal. She opened a lot of our eyes by explaining how food waste accounts for 25% of the waste that we produce. Given this, she explained how our state legislation recently passed an Organic Waste Disposal Ban which will be implemented in October of 2014. This would ban businesses and institutions from throwing more than one ton of organic waste per week in the trash. It was made very clear that organics are the key to living a zero waste lifestyle. To sum up their presentation, they stated that moving towards zero waste is “an evolution, not a revolution” which was a great way to conclude.

The next workshop that I attended was entitled “Sharing Our Resources: Co-ops, Time Banks and Peer-to-Peer Renting” and was presented by Katherine Fisher, Mike Brown, and Judy Bennett. Katherine Fisher talked about her new three-person solar company that she has been working on for the past few years. She taught everybody about co-ops and explained how they work. Mike Brown is the co-founder of GearCommons, a sharing website that focuses on outdoor equipment. He explained how his business works and what led to its development. Brown also stressed and brought awareness to how important sharing is – environmentally and financially. The last speaker, Judy Bennett, talked about the work that she has been doing for Time Trade Circle. The way Time Trade Circle works is that someone does work for someone else and gets online credits. You can then spend your credits by having someone else work for you.

In the afternoon, we had our second keynote speaker, Robin Chase, the founder and CEO of Buzzcar, co-founder and former CEO of Zipcar, and founder of GoLoco. Robin Chase talked to us about how she has shifted her life focus to bringing awareness to climate change. She gave us a bone-chilling statistic that by the 2060s, the earth will increase in temperature by seven degrees Fahrenheit, but on land, it will increase by eleven degrees Fahrenheit. She explained how worried she is for her three children and their future. She also wanted people to remember that climate change is going to affect them, as well as their children. The three key points that she wanted everybody to leave with, and focus on, is the importance of energy, consumption, and community.

The last workshop that I attended was entitled “What we can (and must) do about our massive food waste problem” and was presented by Randi Mail and Elise Vergnano. They presented all of the different ways that organic waste can be disposed of other than in your trash. We found out that residential waste accounts for 60% of all waste and commercial waste accounts for the other 40%. They showed how municipal waste is only the tip of the iceberg since manufacturing waste is seventy times greater than municipal waste. Then we learned how awful incinerators are for our environment. They are more polluting to our environment than coal burning plants. This was surprising to me and made think that we should be shutting down all incinerating plants before coal burning plants. Idealistically, they should all be shut down immediately and replaced with alternative forms of energy. One of their shocking statistics was that 40% of food produced in the United States is wasted: from the source and all the way down to your home. Massachusetts produces one million tons of food waste annually and only 10% of that waste is diverted from landfills. Regarding the Commercial Organics Ban that is supposed to be implemented this October, they showed an ideal form of composting that is being implemented in Cambridge, MA, beginning in April of 2014. Cambridge is starting a curbside composting program where everybody receives totes that they put out every week to be collected by composting trucks.

This was my entire day at the Local Environmental Action Conference. Everybody was able to choose which workshops they went to and those were the workshops that I chose. I would highly recommend that all environmentalists and frankly, anybody that cares about our future, should attend this annual event.

This is the website for the conference: http://localenvironmentalaction.org/

 

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Portable Solar Panel

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

I wanted to share this great solar product that I just purchased, Solar Restore. It is a small portable solar panel for charging USB powered devices. It can be attached to a backpack so that you can charge your cell phone or iPod as you walk. For me, this is a great solution for campers. One thing that annoys me when I’m camping is the sound and smell of a car engine running for fifteen to thirty minutes, so that a cell phone can be charged. This portable solar panel would greatly reduce both noise and air pollution for everyone trying to enjoy the great outdoors.

Overall, this is a perfect way to reduce the use of electricity needed to charge any electronic device with a USB port. I highly recommend this solar product. It is well worth the fifteen dollars!

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Collecting the Water You Don’t Use (continued)

Mar 24 2014 • Posted by

I have been great at collecting the cold water I don’t use for plants. But even though the process is easy, some members of my family still neglect to do it. Maybe they don’t find it attractive to use an old, ugly milk bottle to store the water for better use. From my observations, my grandmother and I are the only ones using this water conservation method. I’ve been doing this simple task regularly, but my real goal was to get my family to do so as well. This feels like a failure because I use my family as a test for what society is willing to put up with. I just have to re-evaluate and think of something that would interest them in storing water. Maybe I could buy decorative matching watering pots.

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