Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Princeton Review Names Green Honor Roll

The Princeton Review announced its Green Honor Roll, a new complement to the college rankings.

The top 15 schools are the following:
  • Arizona State University, Tempe campus
  • Bates College (Lewiston, Me.)
  • Binghamton University (State University of New York at Binghamton)
  • College of the Atlantic (Bar Harbor, Me.)
  • Colorado College (Colorado Springs, Colo.)
  • Dickinson College (Carlisle, Pa.)
  • Evergreen State College (Olympia, Wash.)
  • Georgia Institute of Technology (Atlanta, Ga.)
  • Harvard College (Cambridge, Mass.)
  • Middlebury College (Middlebury, Vt.)
  • Northeastern University (Boston, Mass.)
  • University of California (Berkeley, Calif.)
  • University of New Hampshire (Durham, N.H.)
  • University of Washington (Seattle, Wash.)
  • Yale University (New Haven, Conn.)
What can Georgetown do to get closer to some of these?
  • Administration: Presidents' Climate Commitment
  • Creativity: Bates has a "Trashion Show." Activities that encourage creativity and eco-friendly thinking outside the box could be fun.
  • Food: Advocacy for local and organic options, a stronger program of donating food that can be donated (rather than discarding it)
  • Transportation: Bicycle co-op, subsidized metro fare

Monday, July 27, 2009

The College Student's Dream

When I was reading Planet Green earlier today, I came across one of the most amusing names for an article that I have ever seen: "Why Buying Nothing, Doing Less, and Being Lazy Can Help Save the Planet."

This probably brings comfort to many people out there who thought that by doing absolutely nothing that they were not being productive. However, this is the rare occasion where "armchair environmentalism" can be real environmentalism.

Basically, this brings up a few interesting points we've discussed in the past:
  • The T-shirt dilemma: How to give out prizes that don't engender environmental costs and waste in and of themselves
  • How to get people (myself included) away from a computer and outside
Although doing nothing in some respects has its eco advantage, being active in advocacy is still essential. Want to idle online? Email your Senator about ACES! Guess what--it's also FREE TO DO!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

How Green are Consumers Really Willing to Be?

On Friday, I attended the event "iPods vs. the Environment: the Real Story Behind How Green American Consumers are Willing to Be" at the Alliance to Save Energy. Suzanne Shelton, of the Shelton Group, was presenting, discussing the results of the recent EcoPulse survey, the premier survey for green consumerism in the US. The Shelton Group also runs UtilityPulse, EnergyPulse, and GreenLiving Pulse.

As Suzanne (the self-described "fastest talking Southern woman you'll ever meet") said herself, there was a lot of information packed into that one hour seminar (full of graphs and focus groups), so I am going to highlight here what I found most shocking or interesting.

1) American consumers say one thing an do another. The best way to put this one is the fact that Americans are fantastic at being "armchair environmentalists." We like the government and corporate America to take action (and think that they should be the ones to make the changes), but when it comes to taking actions ourselves, we fall short.

Concerning this point, consumers were asked whether or not a company's environmental practices affect their purchases.

47% of respondents said it did.

Now the question got more specific. Consumers were asked if they have actually made such a choice based on environmental practices.

14% actually did.

Then, they were asked to name the product.

7.5% could.

Basically, consumers are, as Suzanne put it, "terrified of getting screwed." With all of the greenwashing going on in the media, consumers don't know what to do, and the default ends up being to do nothing.

Another highlight from this first section of the presentation was the question about motivation, i.e. what is the best motivation for energy efficiency. Saving money was, not shockingly, the top motivation this year; however, what I found interesting was that back in 2005, "promoting energy independence and protecting the domestic economy" was number one. This motivator went from 35.7% to 4% over the past few years. Interesting how much economics and geopolitics shape our motivators, huh?

2) Consumers know less about green than you think.

Just as we had our armchair environmentalists before, we now have our "cocktail green" here; in other words, most consumers only know enough about sustainability issues to get by a cocktail party conversation.

Some (sad) surprises here:

a) Only about 53 percent of consumers could provide a feature of a green home. (The vast majority named solar panels as a characteristic.)

b) When asked what label was the best to read (100% natural, natural, organic, bio-engineered, etc.), 100% natural (which has no regulation at all to it) beat organic.

c) 61.3 percent of consumers did not think that they used more electricity than they did five years ago.

d) 40 percent can't name an example of renewable energy.

3) Skepticism

In this section, Suzanne outlined The Shelton Group's market segmentation. They break the market down into four groups although other firms may break it down anywhere from 12 to 66.

8.9 % Skeptics: Those that react adversely to any mention of green, environment, sustainability, etc and that tend to deny climate change has any correlation to man's behavior.

Most common demographic: White, CEO-level, Republican males (for whom it is easier to deny the issues than to make any changes)

24.5% Activists: Obviously, this section has its fair share of tree huggers, but it also has more mainstream consumers--often well-educated people who know the issues and act upon them.

Most common demographic: Baby boomers, who with the kids now grown and gone have time to revisit old values or spend some more time and money on their personal health and well-being

33.1% Distracteds: These are the people who tend to see themselves as too busy to focus on the issue; they may be confused or apathetic.

33.6 % Wannabes: These are the people who like the idea of green behavior and may have the thoughts, but when it comes to the actions, they aren't there.

Most common demographic: Generation Y (Our generation), who are sometimes the first to speak up about the issues but, when it comes time to make the purchase, refuse to sacrifice money (because they may not have it yet)

The photo was taken from yugatech.com through Google Images.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What George Will Doesn't See

Well, first of all, the answer is probably a lot of things, more than could possibly be discussed here. But I needed to write something in response to his op-ed piece in the Washington Post today.

The noted climate denier and Post op-ed writer wrote about what he sees as the increasing skepticism around climate change and the lack of youth activism.

He writes,

"When New York Times columnist Tom Friedman called upon "young Americans" to "get a million people on the Washington Mall calling for a price on carbon," another columnist, Mark Steyn, responded: "If you're 29, there has been no global warming for your entire adult life. If you're graduating high school, there has been no global warming since you entered first grade."

Which could explain why the Mall does not reverberate with youthful clamors about carbon. And why, regarding climate change, the U.S. government, rushing to impose unilateral cap-and-trade burdens on the sagging U.S. economy, looks increasingly like someone who bought a closetful of platform shoes and bell-bottom slacks just as disco was dying."

As someone right in the middle of the age bracket provided by Will and a "young American," I can strongly say that there is a lot about youth that George does not seem to know.

First of all, today's youth is educated. More young people are attending college today than in the generations of our parents and grandparents. And these young people understand facts. Not everyone will be a science whiz, but we are not that easily duped by climate misinformation. We grew up reading about the ozone layer in Scholastic magazine and hearing about the environment on Nick News. Since we were toddlers or elementary school children, the Clean Air Act has been in place. We learned about pollution in our science classes back in elementary school. Now that we are older, we study the history behind the environment, the workings of the government, the principles of economics, and the dynamics of foreign countries. Do not underestimate us.

Moreover, our generation lives in the aftermath of the downfall of Big Tobacco. One of the most powerful lobbies had been brought to its knees during our lives so far. Bad science and corporate misinformation was at the heart of Big Tobacco's success for a while, but the public interest won in the end. We environmental activists need to study the success of the fight against Big Tobacco because there is a lot to learn and to bring to the table in reforming agriculture and energy.

Lastly, Mr. Will, today's youth does care. Maybe some of them don't know the steps to take, but when directed, they will gladly help. We have our outdoor enthusiasts, our global humanitarians, and our general do-gooders. They fill our universities today, and they fill conferences and events all the time to learn more about this issue. 10,000 of them attended Power Shift this past February. That's right, Mr. Will, 10,000 of us right here in Washington.

We may not be marching on Washington every day, but that is because we bring our activism to our own communities---spreading the word to our families, our friends, our classmates, our colleagues, our professors. Or maybe we are working for firms, NGOs, or nonprofits that are seeking to make a difference. You might not see us (Myopia is a sad side effect of age), but do not doubt for one moment that we are there.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Waxman Report: A Testament to the Public Interest

Today, I went to see Henry Waxman speak at a Politics & Prose event at the Historic Sixth & I Synagogue downtown. He was speaking about his new book, entitled The Waxman Report, in which he describes the inner workings of Congress: how true reform is achieved.

Does the name Waxman sound familiar? It should. He's the chairman of Energy and Commerce in the House and one of the champions behind ACES (and a long defender of the public interest).

Henry Waxman has represented Los Angeles since 1975, and with 34 years under his belt, he had a lot of knowledge to impart, and I had ready ears to take it all in (and now ready typing fingers to share it with you.)

The best way to begin (my teaser for the rest) is his opening quote: "It has been my long-held belief that government can play a very positive role in millions of people's lives." Waxman, you have made this true.

Waxman's thesis goes against the strain of popular rhetoric begun in the Reagan years that whenever the government touches something, it is doomed to failure. Reagan was of the government was not the solution, but the problem. To Reagan then (and to the right even today), the myth that the government can do nothing right is a deeply held belief.

However, the government has often achieved great things for the public interest--many of which we now take for granted.

Do you have a snack by you right now while you're reading this? Maybe a beverage? Turn it around to read the nutrition label. You can see the calories, the sugar, the fat, the sodium, the nutrients, the ingredients, etc. You know that because of legislation that only came about after a long, arduous struggle with food manufacturers claiming that such labeling would put them out of business. Changing labels--oh the costs! And consumers won't even understand them! Well, many consumers do, and if we are to solve the obesity crisis of today, we need to sharpen our vision for such labels.

Here's another thing you probably take for granted. Think of the last time you were on an airplane. There was no one smoking, was there? Congress took up an "experiment" to ban smoking on planes--tested for two years only on trips of less than 2 hours, and this legislation only passed by one vote. That's right: ONE vote. (Three after it finally got through and some people wanted to be with the winners). Opponents decried the idea that smokers would have to spend so long without cigarettes and suggested just making separate sections on the plane--as if smoke respected boundaries. But the public interest won, the air was made cleaner, we became healthier, and now you may see snakes on a plane, but not smoke. (Sorry, I had to put the bad movie reference in there).

The main issues he discussed were the following:
1) Tobacco Reform: A fight against corporate misinformation and the pollution of the air (Sound familiar?)
2) Ryan White Act (HIV/AIDS Policy)
3) Access to drugs for rare diseases
4) Clean Air Act: A long, grueling fight of ten years but a success for the public interest in the end (Just think what would have happened otherwise. Reagan and Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) wanted to "eviscerate" all standards for air pollution and allow auto companies to make cars that would produce emissions twice as large as they are.)

Waxman's talk was a refreshing dose in optimistic public interst liberalism. When asked about he origins of his belief in the positive change the government could achieve, he spoke of his parents, who idolized FDR for his use of the goverment to help people. Waxman laid out the two founding principles of his political philosophy:
1) He believes in ensuring the opportunity for every person to achieve his maximum potential.
2) There are going to be those with luck and talent who will be able to have great success, and there will be those without either who will struggle; however, the government's job is to provide a safety net for those individuals and to respect the DIGNITY of the human being.

When answering someone's question about problems with the military-industrial complex, he presented two important principles for achieving successful reform/championing your cause:
1) Figure out who the true enemies are. Do not assume your enemies, do not overstate your enemies, and try to build coalitions.
2) Individuals CAN make a difference. Try to become an expert in YOUR issue, and you will go far. (He gave a great example about Al Gore here.)

And last but not least, with regard to the legislation mentioned above, he noted how we reflect on many of those things now and can't even fathom that it was otherwise. One day, it will be the same for the reforms for which we are working today. Twenty years from now, your kids will ask you, "There was really a time when....?"

So, take a deep breath of fresh, clean air (a public good Waxman's worked to protect), and get energized for the fall.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Agraria: Farmers & Fishers: The Waterfront Gets a Renovation

I just discovered today that Agraria, one of the restaurants lining Georgetown's beautiful waterfront and a long advocate of sustainable agriculture/dining, has undergone a name and menu change. Now known as "Agraria: Farmers & Fishers," it brings the influence of the water to its sister restaurant Founding Farmers (which I highly recommend and which Kristin reviewed a few months ago). Thew new Agraria has a more affordable menu with MANY more options than before, including "farmhouse pizzas" and "heritage tacos" (made in homage to the field workers who plant, tend, and harvest our food).

You can check out the new menu here.

What I am most intrigued to try:

Summer Hummus with Griddled Navajo Bread

Spicy Tuna Farm Salad

Veggie Farmhouse Pizza

Agraria's new menu still celebrates the diversity of the American family farm. With a new menu that looks this good, you may overeat, but there's at least no guilt to be felt from the sourcing of your food!

Image taken from restaurant's website.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Advocating for a Healthy Future

Rep. Louise Slaughter from New York's 28th District, seen in the photo, introduced the Protection of Antibiotics for Medical Treatment Act last March, and the discussion around it has been revived amidst the health care reform debates.

PAMTA is of significant importance for both environmental and medical reasons.

According to the Union of Concerned Scientists,

"70 percent of antibiotics produced in this country -- nearly 13 million pounds per year -- are used in animal agriculture for these nontherapeutic purposes. This amount is estimated to be more than four times the amount of drugs used to treat human illness."

If you saw Food, Inc. (which you need to see if you have not already), you would probably remember the discussion about the feeding of antibiotics to animals to account for the settings of the factory farming situation and to make them grow faster.

These antibiotics go through the animals' digestive systems and end up in the ground, from which they will leak into the groundwater. Rep. Slaughter, a microbiologist by profession, spoke about the damaging effect this can have on human resistance to drugs.

Do you want safe food and water? Do you want people and animals do be in good health? I'm sure you do. So, go here to get your voice heard.

The photo is taken from Rep. Slaughter's website: http://www.flickr.com/photos/22483217@N06/

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wax-ing Poetic for the Future of Waxman-Markey

The time is now.

The air, the sea, the land, the life
Are facing undue pain and strife
And the future seems a bit too grim
And the future bright begins to dim.

The time is now.

But there is hope—the nation’s pride
To change the course, to change the tide.
Where will we be? I don’t know how.
But one thing I know.
The time is now.

To protect our land, to protect our sea
To protect our jobs, protect posteri-ty
To clean our tears, to clean our sky
For these and more—I do know why.

The amber waves of grain no more
They’ve turned to corn—to rot and store
In warehouses, inside a cow
Hungry stomachs, hearts—a broken vow.

The majesty of purple hills
Subject to not quite oil spills
But to the burden of King Coal,
Ripping apart their tops and soul.

The fruited plain has little borne,
No fruits, my friend, just only corn
The land once there, a chem’cal den
To be repeated time and time again.

The grace of God, the other part
The soul, the spirit, and the heart
Seem lost to those who lose their jobs
Who fortune pries and picks and robs.

The sea, the glimmer, that shining sea
Will soon become cal-a-mi-ty
With oil dripping , dripping, dropped
The sea of life, those lives, just stopped.

I do know what, I do know why
I do know when, I do know who
The time is now, the who is you.

The who to make the change we need,
To save today from blind’d greed
To save tomorrow from our sins
To hold up high our hearts and chins
As nation proud and nation strong
And nation bright, as all along
We knew we could if only tried,
If freed from past, from ropes untied.
To see the jobs, the hearts, and sky
For this and more, it’s clearly why
You now must act, the who is you
It is what only you can do
To promise us that truly will
You pass a stronger climate bill.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Re-Launch of Clean Skies News PLUS a Poem to Sen. Boxer

This morning, July 15th, marked the re-launch of the Clean Skies Network, an energy and environmental online news network. Promoters for the Clean Skies launch (including GU alumna Meg Martin) contacted us at “Renewable Energy Turns Me On” to participate in the exciting event.

The re-launch functioned as an open house for the news network. I was able to sit in on a few live tapings of interviews as well as sit in and watch in the control room. Moreover, the Clean Skies Network office has an aesthetically appealing modern design. Kimberly Collel, part of the American Clean Skies Foundation, said that they were going for a “gallery” design with an airy touch—the brilliant white walls and light, open feeling to the hallways certainly adds that touch. The gallery feel is finished off with glowing energy facts on the walls, reminiscent of exhibits you might see at the Smithsonian. Everything looks bright, new, and clean—how we would love our skies to look, right?

The first event was a live set of interviews with Miles Grant from Grist.org and the Honorable Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD).
Miles Grant was up first and spoke about what he hopes to see for the US climate legislation, especially as Copenhagen looms in the near future. Grant would love to see Barbara Boxer, Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman (and one of EcoAction’s favorite environmental advocates), get a bill through the Senate by the end of the year. However, the bill that we currently have needs work. Grant would like to see more permits auctioned off instead of handed out, for the current arrangement eliminates the revenue potential that originally existed from cap-and-trade. He also wanted a bill that would not only unite the country (in terms of working past regional biases) but also set a standard that is a model for other countries. (Right on, Grant!) One of Grant’s main focuses was the power of American innovation. If you told him thirty years ago that he could have a computer in his pocket in the form of a cell phone with more power than a room-sized computer, he wouldn’t have believed it, and thirty years from now, we will probably have a vast array of new technology in this sector. All we need to do is innovate! Go to work, America!

In the interlude between Grant and Bartlett, Jimmy Carter’s malaise speech (for which today marks the 30th anniversary) was discussed. In this speech, Carter addressed the many crises facing the country at that moment, including the dependence on foreign oil. Sadly, too many of his words ring true. Moreover, thinking of Carter and energy reminded me of the sad fact that Ronald Reagan eliminated the solar panels that Carter installed in the White House. (It becomes even more ironic, thus, that the EPA is in the Ronald Reagan Building, is it not?)

Rep. Bartlett voted against ACES and was very strong against it, using the typical Republican argument against regulation. He does not think that legislation is needed and believes that patriotism and education are the solution. The thrust of Bartlett’s argument was that the US was able to undertake massive efforts in conservation during World War II—Americans saved fuel and resources to provide for the war effort, and we also saw victory gardens spring up across the country. He thinks that such an emphasis on conservation, one rooted in individual action and patriotism, is the solution.

Rep. Bartlett stressed the need for education as a solution, but as we know, the facts are there. As Bill Clinton said at the Campus Progress Conference last year, we can’t bank our future on 5%, the small contingent of climate change deniers among the scientific community. If the facts are there and the moral imperative is there, then why have we not seen action yet? I really can’t see Rush Limbaugh having a garden in his backyard unless he somehow begins to believe in a crazy “liberal” conspiracy on our food system. The other problem in relying solely on individual action is the role of corporations. You can get people to carpool, to install CFLs, to turn off their lights, etc., but that is only one small step. Just think of the vast supply chains that exist in the manufacture and distribution of goods and the production of energy—let alone the energy used by office buildings.

Bartlett kept stressing that the public is educable, but are bad habits that easy to break? Can a patriotic impulse be believed by climate naysayers, or will they just reject it under the influence of the lobbies of our dead energy sources?

However, my favorite part of the Bartlett interview was when he complimented France and Europe as a whole. It is rare that you hear Europe complimented from the American right, but he spoke about the lack of SUVs and individual use pick-up trucks on the streets in France. There is no need for such cars; Europe has far outpaced us in fuel efficiency. Although I disagreed with some of Bartlett’s points, I was comforted to hear a Republican who does believe that action is needed (He’s not another Sarah Palin-type) and has made steps himself (Prius, solar panels, etc.) He puts his belief in individual citizen/consumer action to practice, and for that I respect him.

Next up was Tyson Slocum, the Energy Policy Director of Public Citizen. Slocum spoke about the problems that he saw in Waxman-Markey, notably the way that the bill gives in too much to utility companies. Slocum does not expect to see legislation enacted by Copenhagen, but he actually thinks that not having something rigidly in place could leave us more flexible in negotiations.

After Slocum came Denise Bode of AWEA (American Wind Energy Association). She spoke about the job potential from the wind industry. Wind energy would help to create jobs and do so especially in some of the areas that have been suffering high unemployment.

I also caught the interview of Joseph Romm, editor of Climate Progress. He stressed the transformative impact of the climate legislation but expressed a legitimate concern that much of the American public does not understand the scope of the problem that lies ahead of us. When asked what he would grade Obama on his work on the climate change issue, Romm said that he would give Obama a “B” for his environmental messaging. He would like to see the same effort that is being put behind health care put behind climate change as well. The health of our people, our environment, and our moral authority in the global community depends on this.

If you want to check out my tweets from the event, you can check me out on Twitter at JonathanCohn. Miles Grant and Joseph Romm can also be followed on Twitter as well.

For my final note, a short poem to Senator Boxer,

When it comes to this fall
And you start to roll the ball
For our act to save the air,
The land, and the sea,
And don’t forget posteri-ty,
Get ready for the political game
And be true to your name.

Win the Senate boxing match, Boxer!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Walmart and Sustainabilty: Strange Bedfellows or a Powerful Partnership?

Interested in knowing the impact of your purchases? A "sustainability index" may be coming soon to a store near you. Who's leading the way? Walmart?

That's right. This Thursday, Walmart is planning to unveil its plan for such an index at a meeting with suppliers, academics, environmentalists, and government officials. Consumer good companies from Unilever to General Mills are planning to attend and learn about the sustainability consortium idea from Walmart. The inclusion of other retailers is especially significant because Walmart apparently wants the idea to reach beyond its own stores: in other words, it wants to initiate but not be the sole user of the index/consortium.

The impact of such an index would be incredibly far-reaching. Walmart collected about $406 billion in revenue last year and has major leverage in the consumer goods world. As shown in Food, Inc., when Walmart decided to sell Stonyfield yogurt, the impact of Stonyfield's ethical practices increased drastically, and Walmart also recently decided not to sell dairy from cows treated with rBST growth hormones. When Walmart sets a standard, retailers need to follow if they want to sell, and if Walmart wants its sustainability index, retailers will have no choice but to search through their supply chains to find the data.

For more info on Walmart and rBST, you can read more here: http://www.thedailygreen.com/environmental-news/latest/milk-hormones-rbst-47032108.

For info on Walmart and CFLs, go here: http://www.treehugger.com/files/2006/08/walmart_to_sell.php.

So, eco-active Hoyas or other folks out there who are "turned on" by renewable energy, what are your thoughts on this? Can Walmart be a leader in sustainability?

Photo is Walmart's standard logo.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Free Stickers

Shepard Fairey, the designer of the Obama "Hope" poster, has designed an image depicting our clean energy future and is partnering with MoveOn to give out free stickers with the new design!

Show your support for our FUTURE, and click here to get one!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Drink Some Acai Juice and Much on some Goji Berries While You Read This One: New Green Words in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary

The following words are among the newest additions to the Merriam Webster Dictionary. The year with them refers to their first appearance in an English-language publication.

Carbon footprint (1999): the negative impact that something (as a person or business) has on the environment; specifically: the amount of carbon emitted by something during a given period.

Green-collar (1990): of, relating to, or involving actions for protecting the natural environment. jobs

Locavore (2005): one who eats foods grown locally whenever possible.

Want to check out the rest (including acai, goji, and many others)? Visit
Yesterday, I attended Campus Progress's National Conference, where 1,000 young people joined together to learn about the pressing issues facing our country and how to champion the progressive solutions to bring about a better future. I will highlight the big name speakers that were there: Van Jones, Kathleen Sebelius, John Oliver, Nancy Pelosi, and Bill Clinton.

Mind you, the whole conference was free--which just makes it so much better. (A free t-shirt also came with it--as did free food.)

Go to the Campus Progress site for more info: http://www.campusprogress.org/common/3725/2009-conference-home.

Even though I ran off to a quick lunchtime Adams Morgan trip, I was (thankfully) able to make it back in time for Van Jones’s speech during the lunch plenary. Van Jones, the author of the Green Collar Economy and founder of Green for All, now works in the White House Council on the Environment as the Special Advisor for Green Jobs. If you saw him at Power Shift, you already know that he is a very inspirational speaker and connects with his audience very well. I have included some memorable points in his speech below:

“As powerful as he is as president, he is more powerful as precedent.”
What a great line! All of the reforms that come as well as all of the barriers broken just open the door for more future opportunities.

“Barack Obama inspires all of you, but who do you think inspires Barack Obama?”
This is a great thought for the politically disenfranchised. The idea that some politicians actually have people’s concerns in mind and in heart is a welcome reminder that politics is not just about money and power—it can be about working for the common good.

When talking about green jobs, Jones noted Hilda Solis—to much applause from the audience. Reacting to such loud approbation, he said that with “so many smiles, we should get some solar panels here.” That has led me to come up with my new favorite eco pick-up line: “Your smile’s so bright I should buy you a solar panel.” (or something along those lines)

After Van Jones spoke, Kathleen Sebelius, former Governor of Kansas and the current Secretary of Health and Human Services, gave her keynote. I am not going to go into full detail here in order to keep this focused, but health care and the environment are inextricably linked because that which damages our air, our land, and our water will also damage our bodies (and, through that, our minds and our souls/spirits).
The evening plenary had the top-name speakers. It was about 2 ½ hours long—full of applause, laughs, smiles, and nods of approbation. First up was John Oliver from The Daily Show. This guy is in all ways hilarious. The audience was laughing nonstop; if you would like to hear some more about this in detail, just ask me.
After Oliver appeared Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. She could not be “off campus” for long, but she said that “Well, being here at “Campus” Progress should count, right?” Nancy Pelosi spoke about the three pillars of our budget: 1) education, 2) health care, and 3) energy. These pillars are vital in making the budget “a statement of our national values.”

When discussing energy, she lauded the landmark of ACES, noting its role as a national security bill, a health issue, an economic issue, and a moral issue. As a national security issue, it helps to provide the US with energy independence—vital when the top oil producing countries often do not like the US. It is health issue for the reasons I noted above. As an economic issue, it helps us to stay competitive in the global market. Pelosi as well as Clinton and Jones mentioned how rapidly China has been developing renewable energy technology; clean and green technology is something that we can innovate right here in the US, and we should not give up such an opportunity. As a moral issue, combating climate change can be religious (“If you believe as I do that this planet is God’s creation, we have a moral responsibility..”) or indicative of the basic generational duty that we have.
When talking about the ultimate passage of ACES, Speaker Pelosi said that we WILL reduce emissions 80% by 2050 and then clarified to say “AT LEAST 80%” to much applause.

Education and climate change are also inextricably tied together (and not just with regard to rampant misinformation). Pelosi quoted a prior statement of hers on the four key parts to a solution to education: “Science, science, science, science.” If we are to innovate our way into a clean energy future, we need our students to have the skills and the intellect to do so—and we need such skills to be available to everyone. (For those of us in the liberal arts, we can write about the tech in newspapers, journals, magazines, etc., and we can write the books that unveil the amazing history of their discovery---my plan, of course.)
Pelosi also cited the importance of “justice for all” in energy, health care, and education—a vital part of any reform.

One of my favorite Nancy moments was her reaction to the five year-old who was sitting in the front row. (Why was a kid there? I still don’t know) When she saw the kid, she said (in a sweet, almost grandmotherly voice), “You are the future.” She then looked at the whole audience to say, “All of you are the future.”
In her closing, she spoke about the Greek word “ananke.” In some interpretations, this word means “scarcity,” but in others it means “opportunity.” At such an intersection (where scarcity meets opportunity) lies the hope, the ability, and the desire for true reform.

Last but certainly not least to appear was former President Bill Clinton. I saw him speak last year at a rally, and he always has an instantaneous connection with his crowd. What is often touted as the essence of his style is to be able to make people feel as though he is talking directly to them; part of this is his very deliberate style of his speech. He seems to put a lot of thought in all that he says.

Clinton spoke for a while about the need for a “communitarian” approach to the issues facing us and the world, in other words, the idea that “We’re all in this together.” Such an approach has been eschewed for the past few decades because of the “politics of division” (often cited as culture wars) around issues that distract us from the pressing ones. He stressed the importance of reflecting on what the implications of the issues (and solutions) on our lives—best way to see what is of genuine importance.

In the modern day, as Clinton said, good citizenship requires more than it did in the 20th century. Issues like the economy and the environment cannot be isolated and cannot be ignored; it become our duty to “advance public good as private citizens”—for each person to see his or her role as a stakeholder in the future.
When we work toward such a future, the question is not “what” or “how much.” The true question, as Clinton drove home, was “how.” How do we get there? How do we innovate to obtain the future that we need, for which we hope and aspire, that can be within our reach with just a little effort? It is this brainpower, creativity, intellect, and drive that makes the world turn. Many say that money makes the world go round, but to do so ignores the power of ideas. It is this creativity and this intellect that not only makes the world go round but also changes it.

Some Key Points to Take Away From the Conference:

• There are people who care about your opinions and do want to work (actively and profoundly) for the common good. Find out which politicians they are and be their champions. Find out who they are not, and force them to change if they want to stay. (AKA LOBBY—Someone will listen.)
• Know where your money goes. I think that endowment transparency is a major issue for Georgetown and needs more attention.
• As I feel that I have written before, human power is the greatest renewable resource. Use it (your brains, your motivation, your energy) to power our future.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Solar Trash Compactors

I know we have a few solar trash compactors around campus somewhere (but, from what I can see, not in the most hypervisible of places); however, I saw a lot of such receptacles when I was in Philadelphia recently and was very impressed by the city's initiative.

Throughout a fair amount of Center City, Philadelphia, there are Big Bellysolar trash and recycling compactors along the streets. These receptacles have mini solar panels that provide the energy to condense all of the trash inside--taking it off the grid, reducing the footprint, and enabling it to hold much more than previously possible. In high-traffic areas where trash often overflows, such a compactor is a major boon because it keeps the area clean (and reduces labor costs along the way).

Seeing these in Philadelphia made me wish that we could have a few more of these on campus---a great way to combine discussions about solar power and recycling into one medium (while simultaneously keeping our campus clean). Moreover, I would love to see them throughout DC. It is always disheartening to see all of the plastic bottles lining the trash cans in all neighborhoods of the District.

The Downtown DC BID recently began a recycling program, but it is still rather limited in light of the existing need. I think that the Georgetown BID should really take advantage of such an idea--if the residents are avid about cleanliness, then why not? Wouldn't it be great to see recycling receptacles discussed at the ANC?

Photo courtesy of http://www.bigbellysolar.com

Saturday, July 4, 2009

America, the Beautiful?

The other day, when I was thinking about July 4th, the well-known song "America the Beautiful" (by Katharine Lee Bates) came to mind. I thought today would be a good time to reflect on the lyrics of the song:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain
America! America!
God shed your grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood
From sea to shining sea.

When the emissions from our cars, our factories, our burning fuels threaten the spacious skies,
and the chemical fertilizers and pesticides threaten the amber waves of grain,
and strip mining threatens the purple mountains' majesties,
and the shining sea faces oil spills and toxic waste,
then where is the grace, the good, the brotherhood?

So, take this July 4th to reflect not only on the past and the present of the good ole US of A but, even more importantly, of its future--of the promise that awaits with the right steps forward. With the right voices, the right actions, and the right enthusiasm, progress is possible.

"Never underestimate the power of a small but committed group of people to change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." – Margaret Mead

Image from finartamerica.com