Electricity Now

Hello valued readers,

My focus this month is about electricity reduction. We all know we should turn out the lights when we leave a room… Electricity isn’t only consumed when you turn something on or off, it’s also surging through the appliances and chargers we leave idle. So if you’d like to save more money, take that extra step to unplug the microwave or your phone charger after use.

Another point I’d like to address is our dependence upon electricity and the detriment it causes on our mental and physical health. We are becoming more aware of the impact our phones or televisions can have towards our sleep patterns. Doctors advise the latter to be turned off for about 30 minutes prior to rest. So if you are having problems going to bed at night or staying asleep, adjust your nightly habits accordingly.

Lastly, I must stress the use of natural lighting vs electricity… Use as much daylight as you can! Not only would you be saving money, you would undoubtedly be saving yourself a headache/migraine at the end of the day. As a student, I know how crippling florescent lights can be at exhausting periods of time. This is why I enjoy natural light (and remember Thoreau and Walden?).

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Until next time,

R. Whitfield

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Economics and the Environment: Analyzing Various Perspectives

The question of sustainable living goes much deeper than the daily changes we make in our lives to save water and energy and resources. It means confronting our individual, local, and global paradigms, it means deciding what we value in the world, how we imagine our future, and what our relationship to each other and the earth is.

Embarking on a journey of sustainable living requires a deep confrontation, analysis, and development of our ethics. This semester I am taking an Environmental Ethics course that is dramatically reshaping my perspectives and I would like to open a conversation with all of our readers about these themes. Today, I’d like to talk about an email by Lawrence Summer. He was the Chief Economist of the World Bank and signed this memo in 1991:

DATE: December 12, 1991
TO: Distribution
FR: Lawrence H. Summers
Subject: GEP

‘Dirty’ Industries: Just between you and me, shouldn’t the World Bank be encouraging MORE migration of the dirty industries to the LDCs [Least Developed Countries]? I can think of three reasons:

1) The measurements of the costs of health impairing pollution depends on the foregone earnings from increased morbidity and mortality. From this point of view a given amount of health impairing pollution should be done in the country with the lowest cost, which will be the country with the lowest wages. I think the economic logic behind dumping a load of toxic waste in the lowest wage country is impeccable and we should face up to that.

2) The costs of pollution are likely to be non-linear as the initial increments of pollution probably have very low cost. I’ve always thought that under-populated countries in Africa are vastly UNDER-polluted, their air quality is probably vastly inefficiently low compared to Los Angeles or Mexico City. Only the lamentable facts that so much pollution is generated by non-tradable industries (transport, electrical generation) and that the unit transport costs of solid waste are so high prevent world welfare enhancing trade in air pollution and waste.

3) The demand for a clean environment for aesthetic and health reasons is likely to have very high income elasticity. The concern over an agent that causes a one in a million change in the odds of prostrate[sic] cancer is obviously going to be much higher in a country where people survive to get prostrate[sic] cancer than in a country where under 5 mortality is 200 per thousand. Also, much of the concern over industrial atmosphere discharge is about visibility impairing particulates. These discharges may have very little direct health impact. Clearly trade in goods that embody aesthetic pollution concerns could be welfare enhancing. While production is mobile the consumption of pretty air is a non-tradable.

The problem with the arguments against all of these proposals for more pollution in LDCs (intrinsic rights to certain goods, moral reasons, social concerns, lack of adequate markets, etc.) could be turned around and used more or less effectively against every Bank proposal for liberalization.

— Lawrence Summers
At first glance, this email appears grossly classist, racist, environmentally damaging, and a serious breach of human rights and equality. How could one justify the mass exportation of pollution to poor populations? How is that fair? Why can’t we address pollution itself instead? How could anyone believe the detrimental health effects from dirty industry are justifiable for any population? When I first read this letter in my Environmental Sociology course, I thought all of these things and I was absolutely horrified. Now, I am taking my environmental ethics course and we took a deeper look at some aspects of what was put forth in this memo.
In my environmental ethics class, we read a source discussing the meanings behind what Summers is saying. According to this, and our discussion in class, Summers is raising the point that in these poor countries, the benefit of wages outweighs the benefit of a clean environment – it is a question of suffering from death by starvation or pollution. He essentially argues that due to poverty, the demand for industry and jobs is higher than the need for a clean environment because of survival needs, that the demand for a clean environment is a function of rising income. Bringing in industry, even if it is polluting, means economic growth, which environmental controls would slow.
Akin to this argument is the discussion of sustainable development in poorer nations. Some environmentalists argue that richer nations should invest in sustainable development in undeveloped nations as reparations for the environmental destruction they have caused and as a means to alleviate poverty sustainably. But, there are arguments against this from people in these countries because many rich nations raised their standard of living through the use of cheap fossil fuels. They argue that a plan of sustainable development denies them the same opportunity to raise quality of life cheaply and quickly. So, the same could be said for those arguing to keep polluting industries out of poor countries. Does this deny them much needed economic opportunity to which the cost of pollution is something they are willing to pay? If demand for clean environments increases with income, couldn’t it be possible for polluting industry to come in and provide jobs, increase income, and down the line lead to a higher demand for a clean environment and thus the institution of environmental controls can be implemented once the control is there? Maybe, maybe not.
The the capitalist system relies on market forces, and working within this context, maybe Summer’s perspective makes sense. In the richer nations, there is demand for cleaner environments. In poorer nations, there is demand for economic opportunity, even if it has negative environmental impact (and thus negative impact on human health). In terms of supply and demand, it would make sense for polluting industries to go to those countries. The demand for the products that have a polluting production process exists, and thus either these products need to not be produced, or their going to have to be produced somewhere – who is willing to produce it?
I think overall though, Summers argument still leaves much to be desired in terms of environmental protection and human safety. But, how do we balance environmental and economic needs? I believe an important part of the solution is using market mechanisms to force industry to be less polluting and pay fair wages in all countries. A cultural shift in the consumer consciousness of rich countries may be the best approach. We must internalize the externalitites – both of the environment and labor. If the demand for ethically produced goods, being the least environmentally damaging and produced with fair wages, is present, then industry will have to modify its practices. This would mean higher costs for Americas and other rich nations, but this would reduce the gross over-consumption by requiring smarter and less purchasing due to the higher cost. Wages in rich nations could also be raised to account for the high costs. The issue would be that this greatly decreases profit for industry. While profit is the main goal of capitalism, shifting how profit can be made is necessary to have a more equitable global society. Corporations should not be making billions of dollars if they are destroying the environment and paying people unlivable wages. This kind of solution may slow growth, but it would equalize standards of living more fairly. In the long term, capitalism is an unsustainable system, but it can not be overhauled in a night. We must use the power of demand to change it for the better, and slowly transition into an overall more equitable, sustainable system.
We want to hear what you think! How do we balance economic and environmental needs? Does Summers present a valid argument or is it wholly unfair? Is providing jobs or protecting the environment more important? What responsibilities do we have towards future generations? We want to hear what you think!

Extreme Composting

Hello All,

 

       Well, it’s a new semester and a new year. I had a fun time in Ecuador over interim studying my Spanish as well as taking note of/studying the environment and Ecuadorians relationship to the environment. Although I wish I could be there right now in the nice warm temperatures, I’m in the now snowy and cold weather of Pennsylvania. This might be the reason why I’ve been taking the full allotted six minute showers compared to four or five minute showers, as I’m cold while taking a shower so I lose track of time and just stand there and enjoy the warmth selfishly. I felt like while I was in Ecuador I took relatively short showers whether it was a hostel, hotel, or host family. Anywhere I go I try to be as sustainable as possible and recycle where I can. I felt bad while in Ecuador because I had to use on-the-go foods and items which used a decent amount of wrapping, as we were traveling and all. Also, I felt bad when it came to throwing away recyclables as there aren’t many recycling locations available unless you save them all up and keep them with you until you reach a certain gas station or other place that recycles. Something that we realized was that composting only occurred in some of the students’ host family’s houses whereas in others, such as my family’s house, they didn’t compost nor have an idea of how to compost. Which segues in to how we’re doing with composting here at the Sustainability House.

        I’m in charge of waste this month and it’s been going well so far. I’ve made the goal for the house members to increase compost by 15% in February. As of right now, we have about seven more pounds of compost than recyclables and we have yet to have any trash recorded. That’s a lot of cardboard and paper to rip into pieces, as you can see in the pictures below (our browns bin always gets so full and over time the rain and nature pushes the browns down for more composting fun). I have high hopes and it appears as though we are on the right track for this month in terms of our waste, good job guys!

 

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A Chance for YOU to Learn about Green Living at Albright (Also, Free Punch!)

We’re making plans at the Sustainability House! We recently had a house meeting to decide what we want to accomplish this year. The overarching house goal for this semester is to increase our presence on campus.

As members of the House, we are obligated (I think privileged, but I really like the Affinity House) to work on a project to improve Albright in a way that makes the campus more sustainable (so a way that makes the campus more improved, if you ask us). But we’ve been running up against the reality that there just aren’t a lot of outlets for people who want to make Albright more sustainable to make an impact because there aren’t many programs that encourage sustainability on campus. It sucks being given the opportunity to do something for the school and then having no one care about your cause. So, this semester, we want to host a series of events to actually inform people about the Sustainability House and living sustainably at college.

The event I am going to be hosting is what I’m calling the Green Living Round Table. You might have seen advertisements that I put up for it last year. That was a mess. I decided to host these events way too late in the semester to make an impact. But, I still believe in the necessity of it so I’m going to try again this year. The Round Table is going to be a discussion group that meets weekly at the Sustainability House where the topic of discussion will center around a living sustainably, with a new topic each week, to give people a chance to share methods to live sustainably, what makes sustainably interesting, and what makes it difficult. I think it is going to be a real gift to allow people who are already interested in green living a way to support, talk to, and learn from each other. It’s been a real boon for us who live in the Sustainability house to be able to live with peers who actually care about preserving the environment, because the Green Movement has really died out from the mainstream in recent years. It was really hard keeping up the drive to live sustainably when no one else we knew saw the point in doing so. I can’t overstate how important it is to find people who believe in what you do if you want to make a difference for the better, and we at the House want to give that same sense of purpose to every closeted ecophile who wants to share in it with us.

If you are interested in talking with people who want to live green and sharing  your experiences or just listening to what other people have to say, join us at the Sustainability House next Thursday, February 6, at 7 pm. We’ll save you some punch (no, really, I make a mean snack-spread) Keep an eye out for more events from the Sustainability House, and don’t relent if you want to live the way your supposed to! -Blake F. A. C.

New Year, New Semester

Hi reader friends,

The bunch of us are back to take on the new semester after very eventful breaks. Personally, I explored a lot of vegan restaurants, cooked & hiked a lot and did my share of political action against our new white house administration, which you may know is not the most environmentally geared administration.(Women’s March on NYC  & Paterson Great Falls National Park

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Paterson Great Falls National Park (1/10/17)

pictured below) 

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Women’s March on NYC (1/21/17)

Three housemates were able to study abroad as well, which I’m sure they would love to elaborate on individually.

When most of us arrived back on Sunday the 22nd, our heat was broken which left us shivering for two nights straight, but I mean at least we saved gas, right???? No, it was bad. But eventually it WAS fixed and we are back to freezing a bit less. Even with the heat functioning, there’s still some work to be done in the house, which is incredibly drafty. Up in mine and Ellen’s room, the windows let in a lot of cold air. I attempted to close up the AC by taping a folded blanket around it, and after checking in on it about a second ago I’ve noticed that the blanket has already fallen off. So, I’m gonna have to try again at that or think of something else. Ideally, I’d like to take the AC out for the winter, that way there’s much less room for drafts. Even with that, we need to work on insulation.

We’ve had our first meeting as a house already, where we have set big goals and I have already noticed our renewed determination. In our efforts to reduce waste and increase compost, we have been paying more attention to the packaging we buy when out grocery shopping. While out yesterday with Renee, she helped keep me on track and we made sure to minimize the non-recyclable or compostable waste we were bringing into the house. Another idea for a similar purpose was to have communal paper waste box downstairs that Gina could take to get shredded at her job, to then be used at compost. This became an idea because of all of the leftover papers we have from last semester and our desire not to add them to our amounts of waste.

Other than that, there’s not much to discuss yet since it is so early on. I’m taking two scheduled classes, three including the course credit from living in the House, so I’ve got plenty of more time this semester than I did last. It will be interesting to see how much more time I will be able to devote to the house all things considered. I’m excited for the events we will be hosting this semester as well, as I’ll be ideally hosting a vegan baking session with facts on environmental benefits of eating less animal based and how to accomplish that as a college student with limited food options. Now that we have formed bonds and mutual respect in the house, I think we will have an even more successful semester this time around.

I’ll keep you posted,

Sam

 

 

Spreading the Compost Around!

Throughout this semester we have attempted to reach out to the campus community in a variety of ways. With the Permablitz, we engaged students in a service learning, community building volunteer project. This November, the Get Out the Vote Rally attracted a diverse range of students in a socially active and environmentally spirited event. The 13th and Union Tree tours engaged the younger generation with the environment. The Sustainability House Round Table engaged interested students in an intimate conversation about sustainability. With my event for the semester, I chose to make an impact with other students living in and around campus in houses.

And what might you ask is a fun and easy way to engage students in sustainable living? What else but composting! With 33 million tons of food wasted in the US every year, which results in concentrated release of harmful methane and takes up increasingly valuable space, composting is an easy way to reduce this unnecessary pressure. Even better, it produces a super rich, healthy soil additive to grow your own produce! Growing your own produce shifts dependence away from the harmful industrial agriculture system, promotes healthier lives, and connects people with the earth. Its a beautiful thing to share with people, so I set out to get my friends and colleagues involved!

Image result for compostI got 5 gallon paint buckets and put the dos and don’ts of composting right on the lid for ease of use and from there went knocking on doors! Of the 12 houses contacted, only 5 were willing to participate but I still feel getting even one person to start composting that wasn’t before is a step in the right direction. I met with one individual from each of these households, we reviewed the rules, and I gave them a sheet to hang in their kitchen with more specific rules. The excitement from those who participated was heartwarming and it showed me the value of reaching out to individuals to create the environmental change we need in the world.

We have decided to keep this event “open” by advertising the ability for houses to start composting by contacting me for a meeting. Hopefully this way, the word can keep spreading, we can get more and more people to compost, and those who participate will carry this habit into the rest of their life, share it with their children, and create a cascade of positive change.

The rules are easy! Find yourself a bucket that closes and keep it in your house or on your porch. Then throw in browns and greens. If you get a 50-50 mixture of browns and greens, your compost will never get smelly and the compost it creates with be wonderfully nutrient rich! Create a pile in your backyard or put it in a compost turner, turn the pile with a pitchfork once a week, and it a number of months, you’ll have gold! Here’s the easy layout of the do’s and don’ts of composting:

Can Be Composted

Greens (Nitrogen Sources)

  • Fruits and vegetables (whole or scraps)
  • Plants/Plant prunings
  • Eggshells (crushed)Image result for vegetables
  • Coffee/tea grounds
  • Essentially, any plant material

Browns (Carbon Sources)

  • Paper (shredded/ripped)
  • Cardboard/cardstock (shredded/ripped)
  • Leaf waste, straw, wood/sticks

Can’t be composted

  • Meat/bones
  • Dairy (milk, eggs, cheese)
  • Oil
  • bread/pasta
  • Cooked foods

With all of these events, I feel we have reached out on campus in an effective manner to start building a culture of sustainable thinking on campus. Have any ideas of other ways we can affect positive change? Let us know in the comment section below!

Weird Weather and Funky Feats

Hello All,

Thanksgiving is coming up and the weather is getting colder and colder, with the occasional 70˚F weather with snow, rain, and lightning later on in the same day. We’ve managed to keep the thermostat at 65˚F on auto so the house can manage itself with this fluctuating weather. Hopefully cheaply, we’re planning on implementing more carpets into the house to add some warmth to it, at least on the floor. A challenge for the house will be how to keep the cold out of the house from the windows.

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(A tofurky in honor of Samantha Colombo)

The house has worked together to follow through with the new flushing method (If it’s yellow, let it mellow) and we have seen less flushes and less water being used in the house. We have made it a goal to include and encourage guests in using our method as well as long as they’re okay with it. Hopefully we can see even more of a decrease from last month’s water usage.

On a fun note, we have started some house projects which involve painting and organizing! We hope to finish a 3D leaf project for a painted tree already in the house which will look amazing. To accomplish this, the housemates have been collecting leaves from the ground with their fall colors and froze them in the freezer to preserve their color and shape. Blake had some leaves in the freezer which prompted a conversation, as they were for one of his personal projects, which in turn gave me the idea to use real leaves to finish the tree painting in our house.

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For next semester, I’d like to see the house make and use DIY laundry detergent, fabric softener, soap, shampoo, conditioner, toothpaste, and whatever else to reduce waste and save money.

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Happy Holidays,

Renee Gares

 

 

Picture Credit:
http://www.ilovevegan.com/how-to-cook-a-tofurky-roast/
https://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=125511
https://www.diynatural.com/homemade-toothpaste/
http://www.lifealittlebrighter.com/2013/07/diy-laundry-detergent/