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For the past couple months, I have been taking classes at my local learning center in preparation for the SAT. The center isn’t far from my house but due to recent weather I’ve been having my mom give me a ride home from class. Last week however, she was late, so I made myself comfortable in the provided waiting room and skimmed the pamphlets on the table next to me. In browsing I was of course drawn to the 200-page paperback titled “The Princeton Review’s Guide to 332 Green Colleges.” I was happy to see that such a book even existed and immediately flipped to profile of the University of Chicago. Since I attend the University of Chicago Laboratory High School and regularly spend time on its campus, I was curious to see what steps the school has taken to be greener. I ended up finding out about a plethora of things that I hadn’t been aware of such as their student developed bicycle plan, public greenhouse gas plan or even their 100% LEED-certified construction. All of these things really impressed me; the University had really made an effort to be green. However, I wasn’t sure about the efficacy of these features-namely the reduced parking fees for car and van poolers. It sounded so minor and insignificant! So I decided to investigate.

That night I poked around the University’s website and tried to gather details on the extent of the discount and the levels of participation and improvement observed in single-occupancy vehicle numbers following the implementation of the discount. Unable to access the results of the rule, I used data from a similar program at Cornell University and was pleasantly surprised by what I found.

In 1990, Cornell University’s commuter and parking services created incentives to get people out of their single-occupancy vehicles and thus eliminate the need to build as many as 2,500 additional parking spaces. At the time, Cornell had a total campus population of 30,000 (approximately 9,000 of which were faculty and staff) and only 10,000 parking spaces. To deal with increasing demand for spaces, Cornell raised its parking fees, creating a disincentive to driving alone.

What surprised me about this change was that it resulted in significantly more carpools, and 600 fewer cars being driven to campus each day. Today Cornell has approximately 1,370 people participating in 625 carpools with an average occupancy per car of 2.2 people. Participants benefit from the program by sharing the cost of the parking permit amongst a group, and if certain conditions are met, carpools are given a cash rebate at the end of the school year.

The incentive for Cornell to go implement the program was that they realized that expense wise it would be less expensive to provide these benefits than it would be to keep up with the demand for parking on campus. Cornell estimates its net cost savings from the first 10 years of the program to be approximately $36 million or 2,400 fewer cars coming to campus each day. Overall, in the last 15 years, Cornell estimates that these programs have reduced commuter miles by 10 million each year, resulting in additional benefits in terms of air quality and traffic congestion. Not bad Cornell!

Winter Warriors

A silver tongue licks the sky,

And cackles through the trees.

Whistling and shrieking,

Is the haunting winter breeze.

Chittering and chattering,

Frozen mouths gaping wide,

A lone wolf howls,

Whilst small creatures hide.

As winter’s somber song

Fills the crystalline air,

Furry paws pound the ground,

Jaws hanging without a care.

A voice breaks through the silence,

Sharp as any whip,

As the musher guides his team -

The captain of his ship.

Urging, yearning, surging forth,

The weary team’s unbroken stride,

Working as a unit,

Nature’s wrath hath they defied.

Laszlo dog sled

A couple of days ago, February 13th, 2015, marked a big day in the history of divestment campaigns across the globe. February 13th was Global Divestment Day. The purpose of the day was to divest–which, if you don’t know, is the opposite of investing–from fossil fuels.

When many people hear this, they might say that this is “impossible”, or “crazy”. However, the parameters that the organizers set around the day’s events were fairly loose and could be interpreted and emulated in many different ways. The purpose of the event was not to force people into shifting 100% away from fossil fuels in the course of a single day, but rather to have a day of cognizance about how they could improve upon their consumption of fossil fuels in the future.

On the 13th, numerous people around the world, living in numerous different countries, coming from immensely different economic situations, and having many more differences in opinions about religions, politics, etc, all came together and joined the fight against big oil and gas companies. All of these people could agree on one thing: the oil and gas industry has polluted our planet too much and needs to be put to a stop!

According to gofossilfree.org and 350.org (the companies that hosted and planned the Global Divestment Day events), there were 60 countries participating in Global Divestment Day, and over 450 seperate events held across these countries. There were many different types of divestment events held on February 13th, but the main kinds of events that were being hosted were protests, rallies, and educational functions.

Here are some pictures of the day’s events from across the world (photos from gofossilfree.org):

Johannesburg, South Africa

Johannesburg, South Africa

Wall Street, NYC, USA

Wall Street, NYC, USA

Philippines

Philippines

Berlin, Germany

Berlin, Germany

Sydney, Australia

Sydney, Australia

 

Unfortunately, however, there were many people (including myself) that weren’t able to participate in the day’s events due to pre-planned scheduling errors. This is why, in an attempt to keep the divestment-fire burning, I’m asking everybody that’s reading this to please comment in the comments section below and leave an idea about how to raise awareness about fossil fuels in a more generalized community setting. Hopefully, some people can then get ideas for events that they can host in the comments section and then hammer them home in their communities.

 

Here are some more fun links that you can also check out for more information on divesting and Global Divestment Day:

 

Works Cited

 

“Divestment.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Jan. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

 

Environmental Policy Alliance. “Breaking Up With Fossil Fuels Is Hard to Do.” YouTube. YouTube, 10 Feb. 2015. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

 

“Global Divestment Day Was Huge!” Fossil Free. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

 

“Global Fossil Fuel Consumption Surges.” Global Fossil Fuel Consumption Surges. Worldwatch Institute, 2013. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

 

“Divestment Definition | Investopedia.” Investopedia. Investopedia, 21 July 2005. Web. 17 Feb. 2015.

An Earth Poem

I wrote this poem for poetry team to attempt to describe how people treat the Earth, I thought I’d share! :D

The Greeks called her Gaia, mother Earth gave birth and
with his first breath and first words he named himself Man
and when he touched her for the first time he held the World in his hands.
He sucked the milk from her mountains, built homes with her limbs
he grew strong bones and called her his.
Its been a long time since the Greeks and you still call her yours.
But there will be a time when there is nothing left to claim and if you didn’t look
you never would have known she was dying.
her beauty never faltered, she never failed to snatch your breath away
ignore the hidden bruises, tell yourself everything is okay
you watch her spinning, arms outstretched, you think no force could stop her
and you love her
you need her
she gives to you and when she doesn’t you beat it out of her
she gave herself so freely you forgot that she was not yours to take
at some point everything she has became your right to use up and you watch her grow weaker each day
but you look away
because you know that each morning you wake up and she’s still there and she’s still yours
scorch the green until she’s black and blue, she bears each blow with grace and you take her silence as submission
her body shows signs of the abuse but you know she is here to provide for you and this is the way it has to be
and you take and take but there are no consequences because you don’t see that she has beauty even if you are not looking at her
and no one says a word because they are all doing the same
and she will never say a word, so I am here to speak for her
the Earth is not for you to use even though you think she doesn’t hurt
because we do not see the damage we are doing does not mean it isn’t there
it just doesn’t mean anything to us because we don’t hear screaming
and we think this is our right
but listen to me when I tell you that we do not own anything,
there is no justification for destroying something that has never done anything but give
there is no reason to not be gentle with something you love

The Power of Youth

Last week Monday, over one hundred and fifty high school students gathered near the Minnesota state capitol building in downtown Saint Paul. They were there to excercise their power as citizens, lobbying their representatives and senators to support a bill that would raise Minnesota’s renewable energy standard. The group was made up of high school students of all ages, from schools across the metro area. As a part of the Youth Environmental Activists of Minnesota, a metro wide program run through the Will Steeger Foundation, I was a part of the orginization and recruitment for this event. The youth contingent was there as part of a larger event headed up by Minnesota’s clean energy and jobs coalition.

The current RES(Renewable Energy Standard) in Minnesota is 25% renewable by 2025, and the proposed bill would raise it to 40% by 2030. The main methods of increasing this percentage would be through wind power, energy efficiency standards, and solar power, in the process cutting down the need for dirty coal. Since the initial RES was introduced in 2007, it has done tremendous good for Minnesota’s economy. Almost six billion dollars has been invested into Minnesota wind facilities alone since 2007, and through studies conducted by The Union of Concerned Scientists, an independant non-profit, we see that with a heightened RES, these trends would keep growing. Increasing the standard would only encourage more growth and continue to amplify the renewables market in Minnesota, the midwest, and our entire nation.

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One of the many groups made up of largely high school students

Over the course of the day, more than 200 meetings took place around the capitol. In between the meetings groups spent their time listening to speakers, discussing the themes of the day, and getting to know each other. The high point of the day was when Minnesota’s own Governor Dayton arrived to have a meeting with all the youth who were there, no adults were even allowed in! It was evident that Dayton took to heart everything we had to say. He responded to questions asked by a panel of students, and made it very clear that he supports all that we are trying to do. The governor even stayed after his scheduled times to chat with anyone that walked up to him.

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Governor Dayton takes a selfie with a student

It’s so important for the young people of our nation to have their voices heard. I came out of that day feeling empowered and confident that I had been a part of real change. Too often high school students don’t realize the power they have as citizens, if only we all took an active role in our communities, the potential to make a difference would be enormous.

Personally, I support a renewable future because I don’t want to live in a society where my energy comes at the cost of our environment. Our generation is the one that will be feeling the most adverse effects of climate change, and unlike so many others, we won’t stand for anything less than change.

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Link to report conducted by the UCS

http://www.ucsusa.org/clean-energy/increase-renewable-energy/advancing-minnesotas-clean-energy-economy#.VN060PnF_Ho

Flashback to Valentine’s day in elementary school: each kid decorated a shoe box to collect Valentines and brought in a little note and piece of candy for every other student in the class. One year, I made a shoe box decorated like a soccer field, where the Valentine went inside a hole in the goal. Picture something like this:

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However, as I got older, this trend seemed to fade. By middle school, no one was giving each other Valentines anymore. When I reached high school, I was introduced to the “big kid” version of Valentines: St. Andrew’s School “candygrams”. Candygrams at my school come with a bag of assorted “fun-size” candy and a typed and printed note from the sender.  You also have the option to send a rose or even a dozen roses to your special someone. The candygram tradition at my school is beloved by many and raises money for the Senate every year. However, it produces an enormous amount of waste. Each candygram comes with a plastic bag, five or so pieces of individually wrapped candies, and a note printed on paper. Every year, the school is littered with notes, wrappers, and plastic bags by the end of Valentine’s Day. Not to mention, wilted and forgotten roses:

Screen Shot 2015-02-10 at 8.52.42 PM

This year, the green club at my school, the Coalition for the Environment, decided to take matters into our own hands. We revolutionized the candygram, “spreading love for people AND the planet”. Each candygram still includes a chocolate and a note; however:

We are using to Dagoba chocolate, a fair trade, organic chocolate company that composts and uses 100% recycled wrappers and 100% renewable energy in its facilities. In addition, all Dagoba cocoa is grown on Rainforest Alliance certified farms.

Notes are handwritten by the sender on wildflower-seeded paper by Bloomin (a company which also uses 100% renewable energy). This means that after enjoying your sustainably-produced Candygram chocolate, you can plant your sustainably-produced note and grow some wildflowers!

Candygrams also include a unique bonus this year: access to a Photobooth we are bringing to campus on the day of Candygram delivery! So when you order a Candygram, you and a friend can take pictures in the Photobooth and get a memento of the occasion– an online code so you can download and share the images!
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The candygrams have been a great success. We have sold around 1,000 and raised $3,348 with $2670 profit. This money will go towards sending students to the Green Schools National Conference and other Coalition for the Environment projects (including a student garden that is currently in the works).
By making small changes to an already existing and beloved tradition at my school, we were able to get people excited about sustainability in our community!
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I have had seven snow days in the past two weeks. While climate deniers are chuckling at this storm which they think is completely contradictory to to global warming predictions, climate scientists are not at all surprised by this recent dumping of snow on New England.
Though precipitation levels across the United States have increased by 10% since 1895, much of this  increase has been concentrated within the Northeast. In this region, storms of extreme precipitation produce 71% more rain or snow since 1960. New Yorkers have experienced especially sore backs from shoveling as half of the ten biggest blizzards since 1869 occurred there in the past eleven years.
Though rising temperatures and blizzards seem a bit contradictory, this “paradox of global warming” is explained by processes we all learned about in our elementary school water cycle diagrams. Warmer air temperatures lead to more evaporation therefore more moisture is contained in clouds and then released in the form of precipitation.
The science of climate change is hard for everyone to comprehend, especially as the knowledge is perpetually changing and developing. I heard a professor of environmental economics admit that she does not have a full understanding of it. What we do know is that we are overstepping our niche as humans. Our actions are exceeding a level which the powerful earths systems and corrective cycles can continue to amend. Our actions are making dangerous changes to the earth and we need to find alternatives to them. Though the science is hard to understand, we all must keep trying to educate ourselves. Ironically, these snow days have given me a bit of time to do that.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2015/01/26/climate-change-northeast-snow_n_6549996.html

http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2015/01/150126-blizzard-weather-climate-northeast-science/

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