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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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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Our Greatest Flaw: A Response to Richard Manning’s ‘The Oil We Eat’

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

After reading Richard Manning’s article “‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain Back to Iraq”, what struck me most was Manning’s claim that the green revolution is the worst thing to happen to the planet. I will argue that the green revolution itself is not the worst, as it stems from a much deeper and more pervasive flaw: humanity’s tendency to defy nature. Especially in the United States, we build in deserts and pipe water from distance reservoirs to grow green lawns where lush grasses are not meant to grow. We create fertility in dry, nutrient-poor soil through the generous application of fertilizers, erect cities in floodplains, construct dams, drain entire lakes, divert streams, and create entirely new water bodies. The human race has long prided itself in its ability to bend nature to its will. This, I believe, is its greatest mistake.

It is time to stop testing the limits of our ability to defy nature. We know we can do it. We’ve already proven our ingenuity. The question is not whether or not we can, but whether or not we should. As unappealing as it may initially seem, it is time to work with nature instead of against it. After all, we are guests on this planet, and as guests we are obligated to maintain the health of the environment. But even if you don’t buy in to the inherent value of the natural world, there are cold, hard facts that point to the necessity for us in the United States to cut back. Manning writes that the return on investment for oil in 2004 was only 10 barrels of oil for every barrel invested, whereas it was 100 barrels for every barrel invested in the 1940’s. He also references Dave Pimental, a well-known energy expert, who says that the world would run out of oil in about seven years if the world population were to adopt the diet of the United States today. If what Manning and Pimental say are true, it is fragrantly clear that United States agriculture cannot continue on its current path, nor should our agricultural system be replicated elsewhere in the world.

Fortunately, finding our way back to nature doesn’t have to be difficult. We put much more effort into our agricultural system than is necessary. What surprises me the most is the amount of calories of fossil fuel energy we put into each calorie of food we produce. For example, Manning argues that it takes ten calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of processed food energy produced, thirty-five calories of fossil fuel energy to make a calorie of grain-fed beef, and sixty-eight calories of fossil fuel energy to make one calorie of grain-fed pork. By producing crops and raising livestock naturally, we would save effort, energy, money, water, and chemicals, as well as prevent environmental damage and public safety hazards caused by nutrient and chemical runoff and contamination. The biggest hurdle is our political system, which subsidizes the current agricultural system and promotes its expansion. However, taking action at the individual level can act as a crucial first step toward changing things on a greater scale. By making simple changes such as eating less processed food, eating in season, buying local, gardening at home, and choosing grass-fed meat, we can eat healthier foods for much less effort and environmental cost.

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Saving The Community by Saving Money

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Sustaining our environment is by far one of the most pressing issues that our generation must confront. In order to succeed at conquering all of the environmental issues that exist, society must combine our efforts as a whole and work together to help improve the environment through building community awareness.

While I was at the New Bedford downtown farmers market, I ran into Carlos Betancourt. He is a Home Base Self Sufficiency Coordinator for PACE in New Bedford. While talking with him we discussed ways in which New Bedford can become a more progressive community.

His main point was that we need to clean up the streets and get more people working so they can afford housing. This means that the town needs to become more creative with how they employ citizens and by helping people save money through modern practices. The South Coast Energy Challenge is an environmentally friendly organization that not only creates jobs but also helps create genuine change for people by teaching them how to make simple life choices through out their day.

To help people make better life choices I want to  bring no-cost Home Energy Assessments to people who normally couldn’t through our program. Many people we talk to out of New Bedford do not qualify for an HEA. I want to change this so that the people who really will benefit from us can take advantage of the opportunities we offer.

I my self currently live in an apartment complex that houses people who would benefit from an HEA. The first step I’m going to take is to talk with my landlord to see if he wants to go through Mass Save to give our apartment community HEAs. If he were to agree and Mass Save wanted to do it we could potentially save 5% off of 500 peoples energy bill just like that. People are capable of changing their lives, all they need is the right guidance, and awareness is the first step.

 

 

 

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Energy and Environmental Myths, Misconceptions, and Controversies – Nuclear Part 2

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Last week, if you forgot (and you probably did, let’s be honest), we talked about how nuclear energy works.  Yanno, nuclear fission and all that.  Hopefully you retained at least 25% of that information, because we’re now going to talk about the various pros and cons of nuclear power and why it is such a controversy.

What makes nuclear power interesting is that, unlike many other energy types, the opposing sides can’t be described as “environmentalist” and “non-environmentalist”.  Unlike, say, coal, which environmentalists oppose and non-environmentalists support, or wind power, which environmentalists support and non-environmentalists oppose, nuclear power is supported and opposed by both environmentalists and non-environmentalists.  The reason for this is simple – many people cannot decided whether or not nuclear power is environmentally friendly or not.

Basically, nuclear power just works -different- than most other kinds of energy.  One major benefit of it is that its carbon emissions are much lower than that of many other types of energy production, such as coal.  Theoretically, a perfectly run nuclear power plant would be a much cleaner alternative to other widely used types of energy production plants.  The main problem is what happens when a nuclear power plant -doesn’t- work perfectly.  Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of radioactive waste which, if not disposed of properly, can cause serious health and environmental issues.  If the nuclear power plant itself becomes damaged (such as with Chernobyl), then it can cause the surrounding area to become dangerously radioactive for miles.

A perfectly run nuclear power plant will have very few issues or drawbacks.  Radioactive waste can be disposed of and stored safely (and sometimes even reused), and carbon emissions can be kept very low.  The problem is that mistakes and accidents can happen.  Modern nuclear power plants have a lot of safety measures that pretty much negate the chance of a nuclear meltdown from human error, but there is little people can do to protect a plant from things like natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  Nuclear power is high-risk, high-reward.  It all comes down to whether or not people are willing to take that risk.

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Not Another Plastic Bag!

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

My sustainability goal has been to reduce the amount of plastic bags I use. I had my plan all laid out in my head. I had my goal, I had my reusable bags, and I was ready to go. I went to the super market yesterday, got my groceries, and the second I got to the checkout a sense of panic instantly crawled in to my head. I planned so well so that I could practice my sustainability goal and then when it came down to it I had failed. I had forgotten all my reusable bags and I was already halfway through the register. I realized that part of the process of becoming a more sustainable person was getting over old habits. I have already placed my reusable bags in my car so that the next time I go shopping I know that I am prepared. I still plan on succeeding at my goal by the end of the summer.  All I need to do now is be more aware before I go shopping and I think that forgetting last time will actually help me remember for the long run.

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My Family’s Experience with Solar Panels

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

This past week my Dad finally got solar panels installed on his house, which has been very exciting for all of us. Although, this isn’t the first experience we have had with solar panels. About 15 years ago my parents bought a tiny cabin up in Vermont to spend our summers in. Initially there was no electricity at all. Their goal was to make it as self-sufficient as possible, so they installed solar panels to power the whole cabin. Despite being a relatively new technology, they functioned really well and made the cabin so much more practical. Although the cabin was very bare-bones, I still cherish those memories as some of the best. I learned that simplicity is far from a bad thing, and it ultimately brought us closer together as there were much fewer distractions.

About 2 months ago before I started working here, my dad was approached by one of our partners in his area. After signing up, he was informed that he had a south-facing house and was a perfect candidate for solar panels. Some of his neighbors have solar panels as well and had nothing but good reviews. Given his experience with solar panels in the past, I’m sure he was much more open to it than the average person.

The panels are installed, but now we are waiting for NSTAR to switch out the meter so it runs two ways. My dad was told to resist the temptation to turn on the system because he would be paying for some of his neighbors electricity and wind up with a huge bill at the end of the month, which several impatient customers learned the hard way. I’ll keep the blog updated from time to time about how everything is going once the system is up and running!

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