Saturday, May 30, 2009

Don't Be a Human Smokestack

At least Shea has heard me rant before about why I find it irritatingly hypocritical when environmentalists smoke. I will quickly address my previously discussed two reasons and then venture onto a new one I found yesterday in an article online.

1) The Right to Clean Air: To support the right to clean air (i.e. clean from pollution) while simultaneously smoking is hypocritical. According to the National Cancer Institute, there are over 4,000 chemicals in cigarettes (including many known carcinogens); even worse, about 3,000 nonsmokers die of lung cancer each year because of second-hand smoke. If the factory can't pollute the air, you shouldn't either. Yes, the scale may be different, but one must practice what one preaches.

For more smoking and cancer facts, go to the National Cancer Institute site.

2) Economics and Agriculture: Basically, you are giving money to the tobacco industry, which CLEARLY does not care about your health and well-being, and you are also continuing the process of growing the tobacco plant on land that could have been potentially used for other crops. Use your money wisely.

But butts (cigarette butts, that is) make up a new point.

According to a recent article in Eco Salon, cigarette butts account for 1.7 billion pounds of non-biodegradable trash in the Western World: 250 billion butts in the US, 200 tons in the UK, over 7 billion butts in Australia plus the rest of Europe.

In most Western countries, this accounts for 50% of all litter. This litter can seep into the ground and into our waterways, and in light of the aforementioned discussion of carcinogens, this is a scary thought.

A few weeks ago in the NY Times, there was an article about how the mayor of San Fran is considering a tax on cigarettes for just this reason: the need to clean up the butts. Just as San Fran has pioneered with other environmental issues, I would hope this becomes successful.

And one more thing... the best reason why an environmentalist shouldn't smoke: The world needs you. (Photo)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Plant a tree with Odwalla!

Carter Lavin (you can access his Energy Matters blog on the sidebar) sent me a link today to the Odwalla tree planting program. From May 27th until December 31, you can help plant a tree just by the click of your finger.

Choose a national park in California, Colorado, Florida, Michigan, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, Utah, or Virginia, and Odwalla will donate $1.00 to the purchase of the tree to plant.

Odwalla will pay up to $100,000 for trees, which cost from $.25 to $1.20 per tree.

Do some super good with your Superfood drink!

Graphic courtesy of

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Norms of Food

In the article "School Lunches Around the World" in the Huffington Post, Marlene Phillips discusses the new Country Watch column from the website School Food Policy. These columns highlight the vastly different mentality that other countries hold toward food, in contrast to the US.

Think back to your high school cafeteria or even the "upgrade" to your dining hall. What food surrounds you? Burgers, fries, pizza, fried foods, overly sugared and overly oiled entrees. Of course, there will be a salad bar, but it, too, feels institutional. This "cornucopia" of the American diet does not change much from elementary school to college--the food quality might get a bit better, one would hope.

Let's take a short world tour to see how other countries engage in the ritual we call lunch...

For Japan,
"Japanese schoolchildren eat lunch in the classroom, and students take turns serving the meal and cleaning up afterward. Their teacher eats the same food with them -- typically rice, soup, fish and milk -- and pays close attention to manners."

The lunch here is actually made into something that teaches manners (the serving aspect) and a balanced diet. It is simple but appealing. Even better, the schools send out a calendar to the parents each month detailing the benefits of the food provided; I doubt most schools in the US would want to detail the "nutritional benefits" or detail the "organic and local variety" of their lunches (Sidwell, excluded).

To move from healthful and simple to a healthful gourmet, look at France,
"Here's what students in one Paris school district ate for lunch last Tuesday: cucumbers with garlic and fine herbs; Basque chicken thigh with herbs, red and green bell peppers and olive oil; couscous; organic yogurt and an apple. For snack, they had organic bread, butter, hot chocolate and fruit."

Reading this made me jealous. I would love to see this in any public school cafeteria or, even more so, in college. A colorful lunch, rich with produce and organic options--and some seasoning. Moreover, how awesome would it be for school to give organic bread, fruit, and hot chocolate as a snack?

When thinking about the environment, health, and community building (aka socialization process), I think Italy would win:
"On a recent Friday, students in the northern city of Piacenza ate zucchini risotto and mozzarella, tomato and basil salad. Tomorrow they're getting pesto lasagna, a selection of cheeses and a platter of garden vegetables. Meat only shows up on menus only once or twice a week, and it's usually not the main course."

I would have to say that the zucchini risotto and tomato and basil salad sound like better meatless options than the mediocre pizza that often characterizes our schools.

Such a diet not only confers environmental benefits (i.e. those conferred by organic diets, local diets, and vegetarian diets), but also promotes good health. Marlene Phillips makes a good point when she notes that we end up paying "twice" for these meals: once for their existence and a second time for the health detriments caused by them. A nation plagued with rising obesity rates and diabetes rates could save money on health care if the national diet of fat, salt, and sugar was eschewed for something like the examples above. I think it would be fascinating to see the economics done on the correlation of such a diet and health care costs; it is very difficult to extract the individual costs of many of the problems people face, but a good diet and exercise are always habits good for a healthy person and, likewise, a healthy planet.

(Photo courtesy of School Food Policy)

Want to be part of real action on global warming?

I wanted to share this information for any interested students--- applications are due by June 1.

"SustainUS is now accepting applications for the UN Climate Negotiations!

Agents of Change is now accepting applications to join the SustainUS youth delegation to the fifteenth session of the Conference of the Parties to the Climate Change Convention and fifth meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (COP15 and COP/MOP5), which will be in Copenhagen, Denmark from December 7-18, 2009. COP15 will determine the future international policy on climate change, and youth must make their voice heard. Between now and December, youth from across the globe will organize to bring a sense of urgency and rationality to the meeting. The future of the UNFCCC process is up for debate and with it the future of international action to stop climate change. If the UNFCCC cannot respond to the urgent conclusions contained in the report of the IPCC, the ability of the international mechanism to respond to global challenges might become irrelevant.

Applications and more info are available for download at"

Friday, May 22, 2009

Georgetown Sustainability Preliminary Review 08-09

How did GU do this year as far as sustainability goes? According to the Year in Review's sustainability section:
  • Georgetown's carbon footprint is 17 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 square feet.
  • 1,140 tons of waste was recycled this year, about 30% of the total waste.
Here are some other interesting facts:
  • 172,890 apples were served at Leo's.
  • 135,000 pounds of bananas were served at Leo's.
  • 154,600 Red Bliss potatoes were served at Leo's.
  • 41,178 used textbooks were sold.
  • For every 10 textbooks sold, 3 are used.
  • Over 1,000 people went on 100 Outdoor Education trips.
So what does this REALLY mean? Find out why Georgetown is, well, below average.

Georgetown's Carbon Emissions:
17 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 square feet.
This statistic is a little misleading. Generally, carbon emissions are measured per MWHs (megawatt hours, units of energy) rather than per feet (units of area). According to the Energy Information Administration, the national average carbon dioxide emitted is 0.668 tons per MWH*. In 2003, there were 64,783 million square feet accounted for commercial buildings**. Also in 2003, there were 1,027.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide emitted by commercial sectors***. This means that the average for commercial buildings is 15.85 metric tons of carbon dioxide per 1,000 square feet. Georgetown is a little behind, but not too bad. (Carbon dioxide emissions fluctuate, so it's hard to project this number to the present year.)

Georgetown's Recycling:
1,140 tons of waste recycled, 30% of total waste.
This article claims that 70% of trash can be recycled. According to the EPA****, the waste recovered is about 32.5%. Again, a little below average.

Georgetown's Food:
172,890 apples, 135,000 pounds of bananas, and 154,600 Red Bliss potatoes were served at Leo's.
The average meal travels 1,500 miles according to this article, which talks about a restaurant in Hawaii located near sugar cane plantations, and a sugar processing plant. The restaurant's sugar does not come from the sugar plant, located a mile away. Instead, it goes from the plantations, to refineries in California, to packaging companies in New York, and then all over the world - traveling, in this case about 10,000 miles.

According to one study*****, the average apple travels 1,555 miles. Even though apples grow in many places close to D.C., it is more likely that they travel far because Aramark does not purchase local food (as far as I know...)
Chiquita bananas grow in the Caribbean and Central America (1,550 miles), and Red Bliss potatoes grow in California (2,800 miles), Minnesota (1,250 miles), and the Dakotas (1,540 miles).

That's a LOT of miles... Assuming approximately 30 mpg for travel and 22.2 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon****** yielding 0.74 pounds of carbon dioxide per mile, an apple contributes about 1,150 pounds of carbon dioxide, a banana contributes about 1,147 pounds of carbon dioxide, and a Red Bliss potato contributes about 1,380 pounds of carbon dioxide. (Granted, this is NOT per unit of food. It is per shipment. However, this doesn't account for the millions of other shipments also going on at that time.)

Georgetown's Books:
41,178 used textbooks were sold and for every 10 textbooks sold, 3 are used.
There's not much to be said here, but used textbooks prevent trees from being cut down and also save students lots of money. At, they plant a tree for every textbook bought, sold, donated, or rented. (Yes, you can now rent textbooks!)

Georgetown's Awareness:
Over 1,000 people went on 100 Outdoor Education trips.
1,000 more people got to experience the outdoors - something that most of us in D.C. take for granted.

In Conclusion:
Though it looks as though Georgetown is hovering around average as far as carbon emissions/recycling goes, the averages are, in my opinion, woefully low. Emissions are always hard to read if you are unfamiliar with the subject since it is quite abstract. But also my calculations may be wrong since I'm no expert and other commercial buildings may be inherently more energy intensive, bringing the average up. As we know from Recyclemania, Georgetown has done okay with recycling. A good amount of recyclable material is still being trashed - a product of the norm?

Our food sourcing is one of the most worrying parts of this, though, again, it is reflective of our national mindset. We don't blink an eye at eating bananas in the dead of winter, or apples in early spring. Instead, we demand our food whenever we want it, without regard for the fact that our food is more traveled than we are.

My Conclusion:
Georgetown's numbers are just that - average. Georgetown students are not average; they are exceptional. I think we can do a lot better.


Image from:

Frozen Food, a Staple of the College Diet

...But should it be? The New York Times wrote a follow up report on the salmonella breakout two years ago, which was traced back to ConAgra's frozen pot pies. ConAgra's response? To transfer the responsibility to the consumer. ConAgra decided to repackage its frozen food meals with new instructions. The normal kill temperature for salmonella is 165 degrees Fahrenheit, which means the inside of food needs to reach that temperature.

Do you know the temperature your microwave reaches? Do you own a food thermometer? Most likely not. NYT reporters tried to follow the new instructions, which failed to get the food to reach the kill temperature. ConAgra responded that they are aiming to get the food to be able to reach this temperature, as it is a "safety issue." But if it's a safety issue, why are these meals still allowed to be sold?

This all goes back to knowing the source of your food. If there were more transparency, American consumers wouldn't be faced with this problem today. What it boils down to... is the question of who's responsibility is it for food safety? Of course, it's debatable... but as a consumer, you are the one with the most at stake.

A follow-up comment from the American Frozen Food Institute can be read here. Comments from other NYT readers and experts can be read here.

Bags for the People

When we first discussed the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009, i.e. the DC bag tax, the issue was raised of its impact on the low-income residents of the District. Would the tax end up creating a burden for those it is meant to help? Thankfully, the act itself included note of measures to help provide reusable bags to low-income residents. I was even more pleased to see such an initiative taking place on the ground. In a recent article on Tree Hugger, I read about an NYC program called Bags for the People, which is a nonprofit that provides just this service. They sew old clothing to make reusable bags--an innovative use of resources and sharing of skills.

Why are they giving away such bags for

"Our bags are free so no one is excluded from actively participating in this simple lifestyle change. We want our bags to be a truly positive experience that will create dialogue and instill environmentally conscious thought while cutting back on plastic bag usage. Furthermore, for us, it is about our environment and making positive change, not making money"

This reminded me of the reusable notebook idea in a way, for both utilize present resources to help reduce waste and to have a community building experience. Possibly a great addition for a future clothes swap would be to make such bags? If only I knew how to sew well....

Photo credit: Bags for the People

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Building a walkway over the Hudson

The picture to the right is of two bridges in my hometown of Poughkeepsie, NY. The bridge in the immediate foreground is the Mid-Hudson Bridge, used by thousands of auto commuters each day. The bridge under construction in the background is actually an old railroad bridge, which has been inoperable since catching fire in the 1970s.

The work that's being done now will turn the old bridge into a walking and bike path, and will likely be complete by the early fall. It is the culmination of a grassroots effort that's lasted nearly ten years.

This is exactly the sort of practical, widely appealing project that I think everyone can get behind. It's unclear whether many (if any) potential commuters in the river's immediate vicinity will actually leave the car at home and walk or bike to work. From an environmental perspective, however, that's not even the point. This is a great use of an existing resource to develop a beautiful space for outdoor recreation. Furthermore, the walkway will be dedicated as a state park, so it will provide an economic boon to the communities on both sides of the river, while also opening up an exciting environment for local activity. For almost the last year now, the construction has also been a source for jobs.

Projects such as these help to promote the fundamental appreciation of the outdoors that is essential to any large-scale efforts to improve environmental quality on the whole. Even more encouraging is the wide-ranging support and effort on behalf of this new project. Walkway Over the Hudson, the nonprofit that engineered its development, ended up working with local business leaders and the city governments in Poughkeepsie and Highland (the town across the river) to get this idea off the ground. The final shot in the arm came in the form of federal dollars secured by U.S. Rep. Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), who serves this district. The earmark process may be much maligned, but in many cases such as this one, earmarks are responsible for providing some of the support needed to advance creative and useful projects that simply happen to be good ideas. That's something we can all encourage.

Walkway Over the Hudson

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Assessing the Climate Bill

If you’re at all serious about climate change, you’ve hopefully been following the recent negotiations over the so-called “Waxman/Markey” bill, because it’s pretty much the biggest game in town right now when it comes to the environmental movement. The bill, introduced by Democratic representatives Henry Waxman and Ed Markey and known formally as the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, will clear a major procedural hurdle this week if it can make it through a vote in the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Notably, the bill would create a nationwide “cap and trade” system to oversee the long-term reduction of US carbon emissions. If you’re not quite up to speed on cap and trade, it essentially means that a national “cap” would be set on carbon emissions, decreasing over time to theoretically insure an 80 percent reduction by 2050. Emitters of carbon dioxide would then be able to “trade” emissions credits if they come in under the cap, or be forced to buy credits if they continue to emit more than the permitted amount of carbon dioxide.

Cap and trade systems are widely considered to be the most politically and economically viable way to reduce emissions on a large scale. Our country already operates a cap and trade system to contain emissions of sulfur dioxide, which has been highly successful. The world’s largest cap and trade system for carbon dioxide emissions has been operating in Europe since 2005; they call theirs an “emissions trading scheme,” which does sound decidedly more European.

For our proposed cap and trade bill, negotiations in the Energy and Commerce Committee have been pretty contentious. Republican Rep. George Radonovich of California called the Waxman/Markey bill “environmental socialism,” while Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX), the ranking Republican member on the committee, displayed with the following quote why the his party has little credibility left on any matter related to science:

"Wind is God’s way of balancing heat. That’s what wind is. Wouldn’t it be ironic if in the interest of global warming we mandated massive switches to wind energy, which is a finite resource, which slows the winds down, which causes the temperature to go up? I mean, it does make some sense."

Yeah…not exactly.

Despite the predictable Republican opposition, however, with large majorities both on the committee and on the full House floor, most of the debate over this bill has actually come within the Democratic Party, with centrist representatives from coal-producing areas (Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, etc.) especially concerned about the potential economic impacts of putting a price on carbon. Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL), who leads the centrist New Democrat Coalition, was responsible for leading an effort a couple of weeks ago to put the Waxman/Markey bill on the shelf indefinitely. “In the throes of a recession,” said Davis, “more of a burden on industry is not a good idea.”

Waxman, who chairs the Energy and Commerce committee, has forged ahead in search of a compromise. And as Mike noted last week, it hasn’t necessarily been pretty. The climate bill, released in final draft form last Friday and set for a vote potentially by the end of this week, has been watered down considerably from Waxman and Markey’s original proposal, and from President Obama’s own cap and trade preferences as laid out in his 2010 budget. As Mike mentioned, the initial emissions reduction target has been lowered from 20 percent by 2020 to 17 percent by 2020. This doesn’t seem like the biggest cut, but still – it’s the little things. More significantly, though, the bill, which originally proposed that 100 percent of emissions allowances under the cap and trade plan be auctioned off by the federal government, will now provide for 85 percent of the allowances to be allocated freely to utilities, oil refiners, heating companies, and various heavy industries like cement and steel. This is potentially troubling because the decision not to auction permits not only minimizes the incentive to invest in cleaner technologies; it also results in the loss of a significant revenue stream for the federal government that makes the debt-related concerns about Obama’s budget begin to shine brighter and brighter. Some of the money from the cap and trade scheme, estimated in Barack’s original budget proposal at over $600 billion, was also intended to promote renewable energy development. Without those funds, this becomes considerably more difficult, along with the quest to make Waxman and Markey’s bill “budget-neutral.”

There are a host of other concerns that should give pause to people concerned about the bill’s potential effectiveness. Standards for renewable energy use in electricity generation have also been trimmed, while provisions also exist for carbon emitters to “lower” their emissions by investing in carbon offsets, which essentially means taking the easy way out and not actually transitioning away from dirty technologies.

In light of all these compromises, how, as environmentalists, should we view the climate bill in its current state?

While I sympathize with Mike’s criticism that “negotiations in the Energy & Commerce Committee have severely limited the potential impact of Reps Waxman and Markey's cap and trade legislation,” I think I’d have to disagree with his characterization of the committee’s negotiations as a “FAIL.” We need to recognize that the most important thing right now, above all, should be putting a system in place, and establishing the fact that from this point forward, there will be a steadily decreasing cap on America’s carbon dioxide emissions. As long as this system works okay, even passably, the tinkering can come later to optimize the environmental and economic results.

We should ask ourselves what’s better: do we hold out for a perfect system that is (albeit sadly) probably not politically feasible right now, given the concerns among powerful members in our own party, with an understanding that this approach would probably compromise the more important goal of putting a price on carbon as soon as possible? Or do we understand that the legislative process is going to result in some compromises, and realize that this bill, while imperfect, is still a tremendous and necessary step in the right direction?

Take Europe for example. In setting up the EU Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS), they basically had the same debate about seven years ago that we’re currently having. The European Commission (the EU’s executive body), in the spirit of getting a functioning system together, worked closely with industry leaders and EU Member States to arrive at an initial ETS with a few key provisions that were against the Commission’s preferences. One of the areas in which the Commission caved? The EU’s decision to allocate allowances freely.

Europe’s initial failures with its emissions trading scheme have been well documented. During the scheme’s first, or “trial” phase, from 2005-2007, emissions in Europe actually rose by nearly 2 percent. Though the free allowances have been blamed, this was not the only reason for the ETS’ beginning troubles. Another big issue with the ETS in the trial phase was that many countries allocated significantly more emissions allowances than the EU-wide cap provided for, resulting in an over-supply that destroyed much of the market demand for allowances and caused the price of carbon to crash to just €0.02 per ton by the end of the trading period in December 2007.

The Commission introduced some key reforms for 2008, taking greater control of the allocation process to insure that the Member States allocated fewer permits. The demand for, and accompanying price of carbon recovered accordingly, combining with the economic recession to produce a 2 percent drop in emissions for 2008. The EU also negotiated some important reforms for the trading period from 2013-2020, which will see a greater use of allowance auctioning and a generally harder line taken on European polluters. Undoubtedly, the jury will remain out on Europe’s emissions trading scheme as more results continue to emerge. But two things that Europe’s experience suggests, at least initially, are important to consider:

-First, the price of carbon will likely be far more important than how the emissions permits are allocated. When the price of carbon in Europe was high (in 2008, and also before it crashed during the first trading period), efforts to reduce carbon emissions took place. When it was too low, those efforts fell off. In looking at our own proposed cap and trade system, we should worry less about auctioning and more about making sure that sufficiently few permits are allocated so that there is enough market scarcity for the price of carbon to remain high.

-Secondly, the Commission’s willingness to compromise in order to put a system in place has resulted in an ETS that is now credible enough to allow for reforms that will make it work better in the long term. Without those compromises, efforts to get the EU ETS off the ground would likely have failed.

Waxman and Markey appear to be especially cognizant of the second fact. It’s also what Paul Krugman wrote about the other day in the New York Times when he warned against making “the perfect the enemy of the good.” Adds Krugman: “After all the years of denial, after all the years of inaction, we finally have a chance to do something major about climate change. Waxman-Markey is imperfect, it’s disappointing in some respects, but it’s action we can take now. And the planet won’t wait.”

Presumably following this same line of thinking, Al Gore has voiced his support for Waxman/Markey in its current state, as have many environmental groups. Amazingly, the negotiations in the Energy and Commerce committee have produced a scenario where industry leaders are working with, as opposed to against, environmental interests, to come up with a scheme that is widely acceptable. I would of course like to see a more stringent cap and trade proposal, but I also recognize that as environmentalists, at a certain point we’re going to have to be more than intransigent tree-huggers.

What we’re seeing right now, I think, is the evolution of the environmental movement into a credible political body that can actually get things done as opposed to continually trying to beat down the door. The continued Republican opposition to Waxman/Markey is unfortunately predictable, but Democratic leaders are apparently rallying around the bill, which may be enough to (finally!) pass a workable cap on carbon emissions in the United States. As environmentalists, we should undoubtedly continue to advocate for the best bill possible, especially as it traverses the dangerous, dream-destroying legislative waters of the United States Senate. If Waxman/Markey makes it into law, we should follow it closely and make sure it works and continues to work as best as possible.

What we can’t do, however, is make the perfect the enemy of the good. The planet can’t support too many more years without a US carbon cap, which means it also can’t support an approach to environmentalism that rejects anything and everything that is not entirely ideal, or perfectly “eco-friendly.” Even in its present state, if we can get Waxman/Markey signed into law, I think we’ll all be happy for it going forward.

(Image courtesy Allianz Knowledge)

It's About Time: Plans on Mileage and Emissions

Earlier today, President Obama announced national rules for automobile emissions and mileage standards. Though these rules won't take effect until 2012, it's a good start.

The new mileage standard will be 35.5 miles per gallon, a rise from the current rule of 25. One of the issues with regulating mileage standards is that each state determines its own. California currently has a mileage standard of about 35.5, with a few states (and the District of Columbia!) planning to adopt California's standards. Now, with a national standard, this will be unnecessary.

It is supported by both environmentalists (for obvious reasons) and the auto industry, which is currently planning its business strategy.

Read more about this plan from the New York Times or from New York Magazine, which offers a wide range of opinions.

[UPDATE: 5/20, the NYT's editorial board endorses this act in "The Earth Wins One."]

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Obama, Notre Dame Speech, and Climate

I was just reading Barack Obama's commencement speech at Notre Dame, and I thought he did a great job amidst all of the controversy. He was very eloquent in his approach to sensitive issues and strongly emphasized the themes of common ground and the bond of humanity. I was also very pleased to see a mention of climate change and the environment, noted here:

"We must decide how to save God's creation from a changing climate that threatens to
destroy it. We must seek peace at a time when there are those who will stop at nothing to do us harm, and when weapons in the hands of a few can destroy the many. And we must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with its ever-growing diversity - diversity of thought, of culture, and of belief.

In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.

It is this last challenge that I'd like to talk about today. For the major threats we face in the 21st century - whether it's global recession or violent extremism; the spread of nuclear weapons or pandemic disease - do not discriminate. They do not recognize borders. They do not see color. They do not target specific ethnic groups.

Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history."

Book Review: Fast Food Nation

I'm pretty sure I'm one of the last people in the world to have read Fast Food Nation (as cleverly alluded to on satirical blog and propagandist of the "new" environmental movement Stuff White People Like), but I finally got around to reading it and thoroughly enjoyed it.

I'm a big Michael Pollan fan, but I understand that people might not literally want to know what they're eating. For people with weaker stomachs (but still care about what they're funding/eating and more importantly, what their children are eating), Fast Food Nation is for you.

Fast Food Nation analyzes the growth of the fast food industry from a historical, market-based point of view. Eric Schlosser discusses the rise of many fast food chains, most thoroughly McDonald's but also Yum! Brands' Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut; Subway; Burger King; Jack in the Box; and Wendy's.

His main focus is on the rampant social justice issues with fast food rather than the abundance of fat and sugar in your McMeal, which is a nice departure from the "air of moral superiority that often accompanies" (257) advocates of vegetarianism/veganism.

After watching Schlosser in Food, Inc., I thought that this book was going to be an anti-corporate work denouncing multinational corporations and promoting veganism. I was glad to read, right in the introduction, that Schlosser was mostly worried about the welfare of our nation's children, whom fast food is mostly marketed to, and that he had eaten a good amount of fast food while conducting research for this book.

Schlosser paints the fast food industry as one that not only goes to any means necessary to make a profit, but one that blatantly disregards the welfare of the people who work for it and uses totalitarian tactics to silence its critics.

He discusses the high school dropouts who work behind the counters of their local fast food restaurants. These are young people who are generally not educated about their rights and are exploited by the system to work long hours, subject to menial labor which ultimately doesn't leave them with any valuable skills for their next job.

He continues with narrative about the factory farms where cows are raised and potatoes are grown. He discusses a lot of the same facts that were discussed in Food, Inc. and the Omnivore's Dilemma - namely that the way that factory farms are set up now promote the evolution and spread of super viruses/bacteria such as e. coli 0157:H7.

Schlosser offers a rare, behind the scenes view of meatpacking/slaughterhouse corporations. These sections were the parts of the book I found most disturbing - on several levels.

Though meatpacking is a highly skilled job, most of the employers are illegal immigrants, who can not read/write English, who have no skills, and are getting paid minimum wage. The corporations keep it this way because these workers are least likely to unionize for fear of losing their job and least likely to demand health care, which is much needed on this job. This keeps prices down and profits up.

Lurking above all of this is the mega-power of these super corporations on a political scale. One of the most infuriating facts is that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not have the power to recall meat. Even if half of the nation's beef was infected with e. coli, the government lacks the legal authority to recall the meat. Additionally, the blatant disregard for human safety in the name of profit is sickening.

Schlosser finishes by reminding the reader that the US is a capitalist society - which means that, ultimately, the corporation responds to the consumer. With these super sized companies, it's hard to remember that the consumer is still the one in control. To get these corporations to change their practices, people need to demand change - but before this, people need to become aware.

Conclusion? You probably won't get disgusted by the depiction of the actual food in this book, but it would be hard to suppress the anger and indignation from discovering that many of our nation's worst social justice issues are funded by the sale of Big Macs and Happy Meals.

(A side note: I'm also pretty sure that this book is on the reading list for Professor Fuisz's Humanities 011 class on banned books... I do know that it's on some class' required reading list. Does anyone know?)

Friday, May 15, 2009

ABC News: Move Out Drive

I have written about the on campus move out drive that has been going on for the past few weeks a few times, and I must say that I am very pleased by how successful it has been. The move out drive has been a work in progress over the years:
2006: one collection site in Red Square for all of campus on one day
2007: collections on each floor without enough manpower to check them
2008: one collection site per residence hall without any monitoring or publicity

But this year has seen a lot of collaboration and early planning and great contacts!

I spoke about
KEYS earlier, and Dot Johnson, Valerie Johnson's daughter, a GU alumna, and a great artist, was able to hook us up with a friend of hers at ABC News, who was interested in writing about trends of sustainability at college campuses.

Jess Buckley, Hall Director of McCarthy and Director of Project Hilltop, wrote of today's filming with ABC News,
"ABC News, with reporter Gregory Simmons, was on campus filming about our drive & the trend of move out drives on campuses. Valerie Johnson from KEYS helped us coordinate a number of drop offs and pick ups today with Catholic Charities, Community Connections, and N St Village. So far, we've donated over 3 tons of clothes, 500 books, 6 fridges, a number of boxes of household goods, toiletries, food, small electronics, and more."

You can check out the awesome photos here.

Awesome job, everyone!

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Thursday, May 14, 2009

A Car-free DC?

On Tuesday, the NYT blog posed the question of a "Car Free America". Witold Rybczynski, a professor at Penn, made the claim that only 5 cities in the US would be livable car-free:

"There are only six American downtown districts that are dense enough to support mass transit, which you need if you’re going to be carless: New York City (Midtown and Downtown), Chicago, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco. That’s it. The breaking-point for density and mass transit feasibility seems to be about 50 persons per acre, which means families living in flats and apartments, rather than single-family houses, even row houses. Not necessarily high-rise apartments, but at least walk-ups."

After reading that I wondered, what about DC?

Washington, DC, for one, is significantly smaller than the other cities mentioned. It is only 68 square miles, about half the size of Philly and about a third of Chicago and San Fran.

Moreover, the DC metro station, in my opinion, is very effective and surprisingly clean. Granted, it does not stop as frequently as the subway does in New York or Philadelphia, but the city, in my opinion, does not need metro stops on every block. I think that the positioning of metro stations and the orientation around them adds some character.

If one factors in metrobus as well, the realm of car-free DC expands much farther because most places in the District can be reached by, at the very most, a metro ride, a bus ride, and then a short walk. Even still, you might even be able to walk the majority of the way there. From Georgetown alone, you can walk out to Maryland if you want to put in the time.

Likewise, it is rather ironic that DC is not listed in the example of these cities when the photo on the blog page is of Clarendon, VA. The Wilson Boulevard corridor of Arlington is a perfect example of smart growth. In other words, it is designed for readily available metro access and readily available stores and restaurants. The block pictured above has a Barnes & Noble, an Apple store, a Pottery Barn, a Starbucks, a Whole Foods, and a number of retail locations all around each other with convenience stores, cafes, and restaurants within two blocks. Juxtapose that with a number of condo complexes, and you have a car-free area, if you ask me. (For other needs, you can even just walk one mile and hit the Ballston Commons Mall, next to another supermarket as well--Harris Teeter.)

Moreover, although the professor mentioned above makes the assertion that a city would need a population density of at least 50 persons per acre, I would question DC's exclusion from this. DC has a relatively large park system (especially Rock Creek) and the National Mall, both of which are obviously residence-free. I wonder what the population density of the built-up part of the city would be.

Maybe I am biased about car-free DC because I love to walk so much. But what do you all think?

Book Review: Ecological Intelligence

I just finished reading Daniel Goleman's Ecological Intelligence: How Knowing the Hidden Impacts of What We Buy Can Change Everything . Goleman is also the author of the books Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence. You have probably heard about the former, considering how prevalent "EQ (or Emotional IQ/Quotient) tests" appear online.

Ecological intelligence, considered by Time Magazine to be one of the ten ideas changing the world right now, is a very new and very powerful concept. Ecological intelligence refers to the knowledge and understanding of the histories of the products we buy and the decisions we buy. When you go to the supermarket, for instance, you only see products on shelves; you do not know about how much water, how much energy, and how many miles went into their creation. When you choose paper or plastic, how do you know which bag has a less effect on the environment? And how do you know how much of an offset that reusable tote is? Goleman explores these questions and the role of INFORMATION and RADICAL TRANSPARENCY in this discourse...

One would hope that, given full information on two equivalent products, the consumer would opt for the one that has a better social and environmental history; however, greenwashing (common in marketing campaigns today--just think of some ads in the metro stations) is far from a carbon footprint label.

The Good Guide is one of many innovations Goleman discusses. One of my friends recently told me about the Good Guide when he had been thinking about such an idea himself. Founded by students in Berkeley, it is a cell phone- and Internet-based service that rates consumer goods on their health, environmental, and social impacts, letting you know the product's and company's history with just a snapshot (for the cell phone) or a click (for the Internet). Essentially, it compiles and condenses all of this data for you in the moment in takes to make that shopping decision. The Guide is only in its beta version now but could have a lot of potential.

Likewise, Goleman speaks a lot about the idea of RADICAL TRANSPARENCY. With new technological advances, consumers are able to find out more about companies, and more info can come out through the press as well. Radical transparency, then, can be the best of defenses: businesses should make all of their information available to consumers and position themselves for innovation and openness.

The ideas in this book are akin to those in the online web video The Story of Stuff by former Greenpeace activist Annie Leonard. Leonard's video has come into the news recently under accusations that it is an attack on capitalism. However, in my firm opinion, it is not an attack on capitalism itself, but rather a misguided manifestation of it. In the economic model of PERFECT COMPETITION, both consumers and producers have full knowledge of the product. With the lack of information that exists today for so many of the goods we buy, this "perfect knowledge" is noticeably missing. Such a lack of shared knowledge also prohibits the innovation provided by a competitive market; if consumers had all of the information about their purchases right in front of them at the store, then companies would probably be much more likely to innovate, a lesson that needs to be learned from the current problems in the automobile industry.

I think that the last lines of Goleman's book are perhaps the most powerful and most telling. He quotes Ian McCallum, a South African physician and naturalist who writes about ecological intelligence, saying, "We have to stop speaking about the Earth being in need of healing..the Earth doesn't need healing. We do" (247).

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

A Bag Tax for DC?

Tomorrow, the DC City Councilmen will be voting on the Anacostia Rivershed Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009.

The act would put a 5 cent tax on plastic bags and would ban the use of non-recyclable plastic bags, ensuring that all recyclable bags were labeled as such as well. The retailer would keep 1 cent (or 2 cents if the place has a credit program, e.g. Whole Foods) and the rest would go to the cleanup of the Anacostia River, historically the recipient of all of the District's trash.

What about low income residents, you ask? According to, "before the fee takes effect, the city will conduct an intensive outreach campaign that includes not only public education, but also provides reusable carryout bags to residents for free. The city will work with service providers to distribute multiple reusable bags to seniors and low-income households."

Why is this so important, and what can you do?

20,000 tons of trash enter the Anacostia River EVERY YEAR, and, according to a recent study by the DOE, plastic bags, Styrofoam, snack wrappers, bottles and cans as 85% of the trash in the River.

The Act would be a great model of environmental justice. It would work toward the goal of promoting a sustainable lifestyle, make such a lifestyle available to those across socioeconomic lines, and work to ensure that all citizens have the right to a clean environment.

What can you do?

Visit the website above (the source of my stats and photo), sign their petition, and follow these steps as well.

Please take 5 minutes out of your busy day to make 5 calls to the key Councilmembers whose votes will decide the future of the Anacostia:

* At-Large Councilmember Kwame Brown – 202-724-8174 (
* At-Large Councilmember Michael Brown – 202-724-8105 (
* At-Large Councilmember David Catania – 202-724-7772 (
* Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans – 202-724-8058 (
* Ward 3 Councilmember Mary Cheh – 202-724-8062 (

We suggest you say something like this (feel free to edit and make it personal):

“My name is ___________ and I live in _______________. I wanted to call and thank Councilmember __________________ for their support of the Anacostia River Cleanup and Protection Act of 2009. When they vote this Thursday morning, I hope they’ll stay strong in their support to put renewed energy behind cleaning up the Anacostia River and making a lasting impact on the health of our communities.”

The District may be your home for only four years, but your impact can last far beyond that.

FAIL: The Energy & Commerce Committee

So maybe it's not an epic fail, but negotiations in the Energy & Commerce Committee have severely limited the potential impact of Reps Waxman and Markey's cap and trade legislation. The agreement, which will enter the markup phase on Monday, calls for a 17% carbon emissions reduction below 2005 levels by 2020, which isn't bad (it tops the 14% President Obama campaigned for) but it is a reduction in the original plan, which called for 20% reductions.

However, that's a mole hill compared to the mountain of a concession Waxman and Markey have made in deciding to give away about half of the pollution permits for free to utilities and endangered industries. Under their agreement, the bill would allow for 35% of permits to be given away free to power distribution companies and 15% to be given free to power intensive industries, like steel and cement production. Also 1-5% could be given away to petroleum refiners.

Don't get me wrong - this bill is still very important for clean energy supporters. It will begin to price dirty energy in realistic terms and it will present the US's commitment to renewable energy before international climate negotiations in Copenhagen this winter. But at the same time these concessions present two types of problems...

1. Economic: We're kind of in a budget deficit. And we kind of will be for a few years, according to President Obama's proposed budget. That same budget also accounts for hundreds of billions in revenues from carbon permit sales. Well, you can't earn revenue if you're giving them away free, can you? This loss in government revenue threatens to be enough to hurt the President's promise of a middle class tax cut, something that kinda sorta mighta won him the election...

2. Environmental: The EU's cap and trade plan gave away all of the permits for free initially, and subsequently their carbon emissions increased over the first few years of their plan. That probably won't happen in the US - we're learning at least something from the Old World's mistakes - but it is pretty obvious that auctioning all of the permits would do a much better job of cutting emissions and encouraging the switch to a clean energy future.

I'll try to continue updating Renewable Energy Turns Me On on the cap and trade bill's progress this summer. It's expected to get out of committee by Memorial Day, then it's onto the floor. That's when it'll get really fun - a recent poll showed only 24% of Americans even know that "cap and trade" is a term that refers to environmental issues...

EPA Green Power Challenge

The other day, when I was on facebook, I noticed a page for "The American Dream is Green." Since I thought it sounded like the name of a cool new nonprofit (I missed the blatant AU eagle--I was on a friend from AU's profile), I did some research on it and discovered the EPA College and University Green Power Challenge.

The competition ran throughout the 2008-2009 cycle and included many schools across athletic divisions, as detailed on the site. To me, it sounded like a hybrid of Recyclemania, the defunct energy saving competition, and the EPA.

Syracuse was the only school in the Big East to participate, much to my dismay. Georgetown was not represented; holding it out for DC was only AU and Catholic--both of which did fairly well. If they can do well and Syracuse can do well, I would hope that Georgetown could succeed as well--rather, I know.

Photo courtesy of

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Oiligarchy: Life imitating art?

In the awkward time between the end of finals and the beginning of internships, I've been watching a lot of movies, reading a few books, and playing a lot of video games. (As well as sitting around outside and playing with my dog...)

I stumbled upon a game called Oiligarchy. You are the CEO of an oil company: you can drill all over the world (Texas, Alaska, Venezuela, Iraq, and Nigeria), corrupt politicians, increase oil addiction, and stop alternative energies.

What I found interesting/sad was how eerily the game imitates real life. Throughout the game, the player can see the oil reserves depleting and the people becoming restless. Also interesting are little news articles/political acts that pop up, such as "Electric Car Pilot Program Act" or "The Trolley Preservation Act" (an act that increases the oil addiction by preserving all trolleys, as public forms of transportation, in museums), depending on how you play the game.

The game has two endings and lots of details. For example, in Venezuela when you put an oil rig down you destroy rainforest. In Nigeria, when you start exploring the land, all the fish in the pond die. Though some people have thought that this is a pro-oil game, it's actually a very clever satire and critique of the oil industry as well as American consumerism.

One reviewer calls this game "one of the most important games released this year" and says "selfish short-term greed runs this game." Life imitating art or art imitating life?

Image from:

Campus Green Fees

I read in article today in the Huffington post on campus green fees "GREEN FEES: College Students Demand To Pay Their Own Way To Renewables". The Renewable Georgetown campaign from the 2006-2007 school year was similar to this. The petition called for a $30 increase in tuition for 30% of the university's energy to come from renewable sources. We were able to get well over a thousand signatures (If you know the exact number, please post). The University did take note of the petition (presented by Alex Johnston); however, what we got was different...

The University said that it would explore options for renewable energy with the other universities in DC. Much of Georgetown's energy comes from nuclear power--not fossil-fuel based but not free of potential drawbacks. Nevertheless, the main result as the creation of a Sustainability Action Committee for students, faculty, and staff. This committee which meets at irregular intervals is used as a talking session, but unfortunately and to its major disadvantage, it has no money allotted to it. Consequently, the awareness of such a committee on campus and its ability to affect real change has appeared limited so far. It has been a progress, but sustainability is not a destination, but a journey--and this journey has only begun.

A few of the schools on the list of universities with green fees caught my attention. The following schools have fees set up to promote on campus projects only (i.e. not off campus projects as well). The College of William and Mary and UNC-Chapel Hill both caught my attention, especially because the latter is a noted basketball rival.

* The College Of William and Mary
* Northeastern Illinois University
* Northland College
* Appalachian State University
* Bemidji State University
* University of Colorado at Colorado Springs
* University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

Would Georgetown students be willing to accept a green fee? We could probably start another petition and, if marketed well, have good results. However, would it run into the obstacle of being associated with all of the other fees that we pay that seem to have no direct impact on us? The activities fee leaves a large unused endowment, and a green fee/fund could run into problems if not used and if not made directly relevant to the improvement of student life.

However, as the other universities begin to champion such causes and the Pope being vocal about the issue
himself, there are clear reasons for Georgetown to assert itself as a force for college sustainability. It could be a powerful re-establishment of Georgetown's commitment to ethics and integrity, a part of its pursuit of excellence, and a way to reinvigorate the emphasis on social and universal good inherent in the Catholic/Jesuit identity.

Photo from

Move Out Collections: Monday

Here's just one angle on the collections from yesterday. Awesome job, everyone!!! Special thanks to McCarthy Hall Director Jess Buckley and almost graduate (in less than a week!) Shea Kinser! Also thanks to the Johnsons and the rest of the KEYS crew!

Stay tuned for more data from the drive!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Connecting with Goods and with People

Every year, around this time, Georgetown experiences its Exodus. No, it isn't the Exodus you read about in Bib Lit: it is the end of the semester, when everyone goes home in a mad rush. Too much stuff to store for the next few months? Too many random items you packed for freshman year turn out unused? Leaving your townhouse (and all the furniture in it)? All too often, these items will get tossed into trash cans and dumpsters; however, there is another way.

For the past few years, there have been different attempts at coordinating a move out drive, to collect some of these unwanted items and connect them with those that truly need them. The drive has evolved every year, and I hope this year's will continue on an uphill climb. Specifically, I wanted to spend this blog post discussing the KEYS for the Homeless Foundation, one of the charities with which we are working.

KEYS for the Homeless was founded by Valerie Johnson about ten years ago as a youth project at Holy Trinity and has seen amazing successes since. If you have ever worked at a hotel or stayed in a hotel, you would probably know that these places need to go through habitual periods of refurnishing. The towels, linens, and furniture items might still be in perfectly good condition; however, for the sake of upkeep, they will be rotated out. For many years, these items would have ended up in a dumpster; however, in this problem, Valerie saw a solution. KEYS for the Homeless works with a number of hospitality services (hotels et al.) to collect these items and connect them with homeless shelters throughout the DC area. The life cycle of these goods are being continued, and the lives of thousands of DC residents are being made better.

In the past three years, KEYS has redistributed over $400,000 in goods and works with organizations that serve over 40,000 people. I am very proud that KEYS will be an integral part of the move out drive this year. KEYS's commitment to social justice and fostering the good of the community (on so many levels) is what Georgetown is all about.

Photo courtesy of

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Let's Follow Sweden's Example

I came across this article from The Guardian's website. Sweden is leaps and bounds ahead of pretty much every country as far as decreasing carbon emissions goes...

One of the more interesting solutions they've found for powering vehicles? Methane produced from the entrails of slaughtered cows. Read on...

Monday, May 4, 2009

Smile, Shea: Sports and Sustainability

If there is one rallying point for the majority of Georgetown, it is none other than BASKETBALL. One of the few ventures off campus is the trip over to the Verizon Center, that behemoth of Gallery Place, to watch our time (hopefully) win. In our discussions of connecting the environmental message with campus spirit, basketball always comes up. We have thought about how to connect sustainability and basketball, but not much has come of the brainstorming.

Consequently, I was very excited to read a story about Fan Cans in Environmental Leader. As a part of their new recycling initiative, Coca Cola has set these receptacles up throughout the Washington Nationals Complex right here in the District.

Quick highlights:
-Permutations of baseball helmets, football helmets, and racing helmets.
-Composed of 50% post-consumer and industrial plastic
-100% recyclable at end of its life

If only the Verizon Center could have them!

I have always been disheartened by the lack of recycling facilities in the Verizon Center. Dasani water bottles or being sold left and right, but at the end of the game, they all end up in the trash. Last year, I remember thinking about this and wondering what could be done; however, working within the Georgetown Athletics department (or the University) itself would only go so far because the Verizon Center was not owned by Georgetown, and it was a HUGE venue.

I am very happy to see that Coca Cola is taking the initiative to connect sports and sustainability; I think it is a great way to capitalize on team pride and the overall spirit of the game. Plus, even if you don't usually recycle (Why, I would ask you first), you have to admit that you love the designs on these--they just make you happy.

I would be shocked if the Verizon Center does not see these by the end of the year, and if they don't, I think it would be a great issue to champion. If the structure exists, it should not be too hard.

Shea, you may not get Jack to chew the pollution box, but you may be able to see fellow Hoyas recycle.

Image from

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Surviving without Safeway: an Exploration and Ethics for Eating in DC

So, as you all probably know already, the Safeway on Wisconsin Avenue (termed by many as "social Safeway,") is going to be closed for a year during a reconstruction phase. Many Georgetown students are probably very upset about this; however, if life teaches us anything, when one door closes, many more open.

What I mean by this is that I encourage all of you to explore the many other opportunities near Georgetown--many of them not much farther away than Safeway.
-Whole Foods
-Trader Joe's
-Farmer's Markets
The first two are just about a mile away (not much farther than Safeway is), and you can get to the markets in Dupont and Foggy Bottom easily.

So what is there to discover?

Whole Foods:
If you love beautiful bright organic produce, Whole Foods is beckoning you. It is located at 2323 Wisconsin Avenue, a short walk from campus or a GUTS bus ride away (the last stop). Many people believe that Whole Foods is overpriced, but it, in some cases, is cheaper than Safeway (at least in the case of Silk soymilk). You have a wealth of organic and all-natural brands from which to choose, and, as an added plus, there are free samples of fruit and cheese EVERYWHERE. You can almost make a meal out of the samples!

If you want to venture off campus a bit, there are two other Whole Foods locations inside the district:
1) 15th & P (between Dupont and Logan Circles): You can get here by the G2 bus or a 2 mile walk (great for the good weather). What's the added bonus? There is an Asian bistro/sushi bar attached to the store--a great complement to your shopping.
2) Tenleytown: This is right next to the titular metro station; it is a 3 mile walk away, and it is accessible by the 30 buses. Added bonus?
The Art-o-mat. Sponsored by Artists in Cellophane, art-o-mats are old cigarette vending machines converted to sell fine art (books, cds, and more). (FUTURE BLOG ENTRY)
Trader Joe's is located at 25th & L, a mile from campus down M Street. Trader Joe's has the friendliest cashiers--they will almost always start up a conversation with you! Trader Joe's has free samples as well, which vary by time of day and day of the week. Trader Joe's also has excellent prices--I am always amazed at how cheap things are. If I am not mistaken, TJ's does not heat its stores (or keeps the heat low), relying on the large volume of people to keep the store heated. Many organic and natural options are available as well.

Do you want to meet the person growing your food? There are Farmer's Markets all across the DC area. Fresh Farm Markets has locations in Dupont Circle (Sunday mornings) and Foggy Bottom (Wednesday afternoons). Dupont Circle, in the past at least, has had free apples and cheese sampling, and in the fall there are great pumpkin yogurt smoothies. You can also buy food from Polyface Farms in Dupont. There are also a few more farmer's markets in Arlington, too!

So, make the most of Safeway's construction phase. Eat organically, naturally, locally (or all three), and expand your knowledge of the city a bit! You won't regret it!

Smart Solutions with Smart Grids

A new technology is on the horizon that could revolutionize the way that we consume energy - smart grids.

A smart grid is a meter which goes in someones home and measures the amount of energy the house uses. However, it also shows the prices of electricity from the utilities company. Prices are cheaper at different times of day, for example at night, so by having this information available we could decide to run our dishwasher (for example) at night and save money.

Conversely, since we pay utilities for a set amount of electricity, we could sell the unused electricity back to the utility company. Or, if your building has solar panels, for example, you could sell that excess energy to the utility company as well.

In essence, it will allow people to pay exactly for the amount of energy they use.

The New York Times recently wrote an article on this, which you can read here and it was also a major focal point of Thomas Friedman's book, Hot, Flat, and Crowded.

What I think would be interesting though, is if Georgetown implemented smart grids. A lot of people don't realize that the amount of utilities we use (whether it's electricity, heat, water, etc.) is directly reflected in our tuition. How would this work?

What would need to happen would be for each dorm room/apartment to have a smart grid. For residents of those rooms/buildings, their tuition would be affected by the utilities they use.

For buildings that are shared, the utilities cost would have to be spread out, much like it is now. However, I think that if we had these grids in our rooms people would be much more aware of the amount of energy they used - and it would translate to being more aware of how much energy we use elsewhere.

There are always those people who really don't care about the environment, who will blast their air conditioner with the windows open and leave the lights on all day. But I think they'd start caring about how much energy they use when they have to pay for it.

Instead of allocating the price of utilities evenly for everyone, people would pay for the amount they actually use. Essentially, what would need to happen is a line-by-line outline of our tuition... something I think that we should know, anyway.

I know that this is unlikely to happen while I'm still here, Georgetown lacking on the technology forefront (I mean... I don't even have wireless all the time. Really?) but it's definitely something to consider for the future, especially since this technology looks like it's going to take off.

Friday, May 1, 2009


In an effort to make itself an example for the rest of the nation to follow, Capitol Hill will no longer be powered by coal. You heard right, the Capitol Power Plant is currently transitioning to cleaner burning natural gas for its boilers' fuel source. Coal will be used in emergency situations - like cold winter days - until late 2010 when the plant will be able to meet any predictable demand with natural gas.

The Capitol Power Plant isn't exactly large, but the importance of this act lies in its symbolism. If Congress is to lead us to a new energy future, maybe their electricity shouldn't come from old world sources. Natural gas isn't exactly an alternative energy source (actually, it's not one at all), but at least it's a step in the right direction.

More important is exactly how this change came about.

Remember the Power Shift conference in March? Well, a big part of that event was a youth lobby day on the Hill demanding clean energy legislation. During the hoopla, a coalition of environmental groups put together a protest of the Capitol Power Plant's use of coal, which not only creates tons of emissions, but also is detrimental to the air quality in SE DC, and don't even get me started about mountain coal mining...

But anyway, that coalition effectively reached out to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who in turn requested that the acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen Ayers, transition the plant away from coal. And, as of today, the Ayers announced the current transition. Bravo for youth lobbying and the slow creep of common sense onto Capitol Hill!!

This is why I love carbon capping

At EcoAction's clothing swap last week, I was having an oh-too-serious conversation about carbon cap legislation, carbon capture technology (which some crazy people have tried to convince us makes coal green and clean), and why the government should support both. The conversation/argument was mostly about whether or not the government should subsidize carbon capture research. My argument was, as long as carbon emissions have a price, then renewable energy can beat dirty energy in the marketplace. Even with the government's help, coal would never beat wind under a carbon cap scenario. So why not help it out? I mean, capturing carbon emissions underground does seem pretty great if it's feasible.

Just as an aside, check out what happened last time the Dept. of Energy tried to do this on a large scale. Finance majors - remember to discount before making an NPV comparison!

Well, while I was at work the other day I found this great report on the consequences of different scenarios on the energy market. The Congressional Research Service estimates that under a cap & trade bill in which all allowances are auctioned off (Europe gave them all away for free and for the first few years of their program, total emissions increased.....) wind power would be about 20% cheaper than any type of coal power. In fact, even if the government subsidizes carbon capture research and the coal industry is able to implement carbon capture and sequestration (CCS) at costs 50% below current estimates, wind would still win on price! This made me unspeakably happy.

Despite what your views on the environment and global warming are, the truth is simple: carbon emissions cost us money. A lot of it. Like, hundreds of million of refugees and crazy silly droughts and rebuilding cities in less than a century type of money. So, why do we live in a fantasy land where polluters can emit carbon for free? Well, by the end of the summer, hopefully we'll be living in reality. The ball is in your court, Congress - give us cap & trade!