Tag Archives: sustainability

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!
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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!

 

Pics for Blog #1.PNG

 

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!

An Open Letter to My Fellow Members of the Sustainability House,

2016-04-20_16.42.17I can’t believe this year is already coming to an end! It feels like just yesterday that we were moving into the Sustainability House to begin our junior year. Coming into this house I didn’t know what to expect. Yes, I knew what it meant to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost, and to live more sustainably, etc.; however, knowing and doing are two different things.

We all know that upon moving into this house, I was not the most sustainable person. I enjoyed my 30 minute showers, leaving lights on because “I was coming right back”, and throwing things in the trashcan because I was always on the go and didn’t have time to properly dispose of my waste.

In this letter I want to thank you for being my role models and always pushing me and each other to do better.

Thank you for all the friendly, and not so friendly, reminders to turn lights off when leaving a room. Sometimes it’s the constant reprimands that are needed to really break a bad habit. Had you all not been on my back about the little things, I most likely would still be doing them.

Thank you for making shower times a fun competition. Sometimes we need to bring out our inner child to improve our adult habits. By “saving water” for our pet fish, Roger, we were able to cut our shower times down to as low as 2.5 minutes! Never in a million years prior to living here would I have wanted to willingly take a shower under 10 minutes much less 5 minutes. But thanks for showing me that living sustainably can be fun!

Thank you for being the whisper in my ear asking “do you really need to buy this?” As I pick up almost every over-packaged item in the super market or even a new shirt to add to my overflowing wardrobe, you constantly remind me that I can live without it. Instead of buying those over packaged products, I’ve learned to buy many things in bulk and instead of buying a new shirt for the weekend I wear something I already have and change it up with a necklace. Not only has this helped reduce my ecological footprint but it has saved me money as well!

Thank you for being my own personal teachers. You not only taught me how to live sustainably but the reason behind why you should. All of our daily actions and habits have an impact on the environment we depend on and sometimes we need that reminder. You have taught me everything from what can and cannot be recycled or composted to facts about how long certain items live in the landfill. Sometimes we need that eye opener into reality to make us want to change our actions.

Lastly, I want to thank you for helping me become a role model myself. Coming into this house I would have never pictured myself teaching children as young as kindergartners and first graders on how they too can save the environment. I have learned that the most important lesson to take from this house is to pass on what we’ve learned here, to our friends, family, future roommates, etc. The only way to create a change in the world is by becoming a role model yourself.

 

Thanks again for being the world’s greatest housemates, role models, and supporters,

Xoxo Hannah

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Springing for Earth Week

Hiya readers,

I hope you are all embracing your seasonal allergies because that means spring has finally sprung! This past week I have spent much of my days sneezing with watery eyes, but I could not be happier because for me that means that my favorite time of year is finally here. (A fun fact I learned to help with allergies is to eat LOCAL honey because it exposes you to the pollen in your area!) Earth week is approaching in a few short weeks and everyone in the sustainability house is preparing for the exciting things they have helped plan with ECO Club and other organizations.

While we may not like the stuffy noses and sneezes, spring means that earth week is quickly approaching. This year there is a ton of fun and exciting things planned. The ECO Club has a full week of activities that will be taking place around campus. The week will begin with a clean-up at Nolde forest where many students and housemates will be helping clean up leaf litter and cleaning up the grounds. The week then be an array of activities, that will include tree planting, weighing your waste in the dining hall, a documentary and then the annual Earth Night which a big night of art, laughter, recycling and a group of people working together to educate how we should be living day by day. The Sustainability house members will be helping with most of these activities as they are all avid members of the ECO Club and many other participating clubs. The week will continue with a campus wide clean that will include the campus and the areas directly surrounding it to make sure the community we live in is cleaned as well. After a busy week, the club will be relaxing at Reading Public museum arboretum, enjoying the beauty of nature.

The house was recently toured by the ESS 101 course led by David Osgood and Barty Thompson, the students in the class are environmental science or studies students as well as other majors who are seeing what the class can teach them about the environment. The class was able to come into our house and see the projects we have done and get some insight on how they can be changing their everyday lives on a college campus. The tour included a coverage of what the members of the sustainability house do and how they are making the conscious efforts every day to be more sustainable.

More exciting things going on in the house for the rest of the semester are our Experience Event coming up in May. This will be a presentation on the work that was done since move-in day until the time we are preparing to move out. We will be providing information about the ups and the downs we individually and as a group and passing off our knowledge to the guest present at the event. The presentation will also talk about our group projects that we did in both semesters and well as what we are taking from the house as we all move into the upcoming year. We will be saying goodbye to the year and welcoming a new group of students into the program.

As the semester is approaching the end, make sure you stay informed on what the members are doing in the final weeks! Also let us know what your plans for Earth week are in the comments, we would love to know how our readers celebrate!

XO,  Aly

 

Spreading Sustainable Living: Insights from Life at the Albright Sustainability House

What kinds of approaches and challenges are there when attempting to establish sustainable homes, centers, and communities? To me, living sustainably is not just a matter of acting sustainably, it’s about building strong relationships that utilize everyone’s unique talents and cultivating community that creates and enriches the long-term goals of sustainability: creating a world that is viable now and in the future. This in itself requires a deeper look at the ways in which we can and should build community structures based around sustainability and the challenges of doing so. If we wanted to spread “sustainability houses” across our community or even in general, how does our experience here in the house help? Looking at the approaches, successes, and challenges experienced in the sustainability house provides important perspectives to consider when spreading visions of sustainable living. We have developed a number of ways of creating and maintaining a successful, harmonious, and effective communal sustainability structure, albeit not without its imperfections and questions of application in “the real world.”
We do a number of things that work very well. First, we have a house manager that serves as a central source of organizing activities, behaviors, requirements, and events. While there is this form of central leadership, each member of the house serves as a “council member,” where everyone has an equal and democratic say in what we decide to do. We have weekly meetings to discuss steps forward, challenges, and changes that need addressing, as well as to collectively work on group projects. We (as we’ve mentioned in earlier blog posts) have also created a chalkboard wall in the kitchen to serve as reminders of upcoming events and assignments and designed info-graphics for sustainability tips in each common room of the house. We also have 5 people here each with different skill sets and interests. Our majors range from environmental studies, environmental science, education, marine aquatics, philosophy, and political science. Instead of focusing on purely environmental sustainability approaches, we encourage the participation of everyone’s unique paradigms to inform and enrich our approach to sustainability. And really, environmentalism in itself is a topic that must be approached from all of these angles and more. These aspects of our home make for an effective way of ensuring that we meet our goals of sustainability, hold each other accountable and keep each other driven, continually progress and evolve in our activities, and overall create a successful program and better world.
All of these approaches provide valuable examples of ways in which effective sustainable homes through open, communal structures can be created. This is not to say this is the only way, but from this experience, I believe that approaches that only address required sustainable behavior for individuals that leaves everyone to their own devices not only leaves more room for people to not fulfill their requirements, but also falls short of what living sustainably should really mean. Living sustainably in a singular pocket is not sustainability because it does not actively work towards a more sustainable world. Yes, singular changes in behavior is important, but the challenge of sustainability is getting many to live this way – we must actively change the world or else the big changes needed will never happen. We at the house are not only modifying our own behaviors, we are also actively engaging in projects and community outreach that actively works towards creating a better world. We give tours of our house and our community garden to the local elementary school and local summer programs. We go to the local elementary school to do environmental education programs. We hold events on campus to get more students active in environmentalism and sustainable behavior. We write this blog and have created a social media presence to show what we are doing and spread the joys and challenges of this experience. I believe that any group working towards building communal sustainability must think beyond their immediate surroundings and become an active member of the sustainability movement.
While we do a number of things that I find to be integral to creating a successful and true sustainable home, the success our situation is not entirely applicable to widespread creation of other sustainable homes. In living here, we have incentive to do things for many reasons. We are living as part of a program on our college campus – our work in this house counts as course credit so we are graded and given a number of assignments we must complete. All of us applied to live in the house out of mutual and predisposed interest in sustainability. We receive (some) funding from the college to do our projects. While this is a great program that is beneficial for many parties, it exposes the challenge of how to have programs and homes like this in “the real world.” Where is the incentive for the average citizen to live in a sustainable house (whether than means converting their own home or joining a group)? It requires sacrifices, money, and active work. One must always be checking their habits as they go about their daily routine. Installing compostable toilets and solar panels is vastly expensive. Constantly engaging in activism and community outreach requires extensive work and time. Without say, a college program, government funding/incentives, or truly dedicated environmentalists, creating sustainable homes and communities is quite the challenge. But – that’s why what we do here is so important – those of us truly dedicated to the environment and/or those of us with the privilege to be a part of a college program, must always attempt to lead the way. Our lifestyles, projects, and communal outreach must serve as positive examples, shining beacons, inspiring alternatives to the status-quo.

Join the conversation – comment below and add your two cents! What are successful ways of creating communal structures based around sustainability? What do you think people must do and be in order to be truly sustainable? How do we spread sustainable living? How do we make sustainable living appealing to the average citizen? How do we fund these projects?

Kindergarten, First Grade & Third Grade, OH MY!

Hey everyone!

Can you believe it’s almost March already? This semester is flying by and before we know it, it’ll be over! However, with this crazy weather we have been having, between the cold and warmer days, it partially feels like spring and summer are on it’s way.

As you already know the other housemates and I presented a Reduce, Reuse, Recycle lesson to the Kindergarten Class at the Albright Early Learning Center last semester. This lesson included what the three R’s are, ways to change your lifestyle and how one can become more sustainable. We even made K-Cup planters to show the children a fun way to reuse K-Cups.

This semester, specifically this coming week, we will be presenting this lesson once again to the whole first grade at 13th and Union Elementary School! This is, us the members of the Sustainability House will be sharing ways to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle to even more children. This is very exciting for us because we are getting the opportunity to give these children a better understanding of what it is like to be sustainable.

When we visit 13th and Union this week, we will also be getting more helpers and volunteers to help out with our lesson to assure that everything goes smoothly and as planned. These volunteers are my fellow classmates who are enrolled in a fundamental science class from preschool to fourth grade. One of the main goals of the Sustainability House is to not only learn new and fun ways to live sustainable, but to share what you know to younger generations and really make a difference. We are “planting the seed” of what its like to be sustainable to these first graders. It is our time to make a difference.

A few weeks following this lesson, as the other housemates have previously mentioned, the third grade students will be coming to us for tours of the house. During these tours, the children will see what really goes on when you live sustainable. They will be able to see how we recycle, compost, and reuse things as much as possible. Another fun thing the children will be able to observe during their visit is our Infographics we have made that are in the kitchen, dining room, bathroom, living room and basement. On these infographics, they show statistics of how much energy, and water are being consumed out of silly every day habits. During the tours we will be able to explain these infographics on a more child-like scale for them to really understand. Our goal of these tours is for the children to see something we do, and share it with their parents when they go home and that is how everything begins.

 

Can’t Wait to fill everyone in after our lesson!

 

~ Jess 🙂