EPA Director, Gina McCarthy Reflects on Paris Climate Deal

~By Talia Schmitt, Class of 2016

WASHINGTON- The director of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Thursday that the recently completed Paris climate talks were significant because unlike at previous conferences, a range of businesses and countries, notorious for their lack of environmental regulations, agreed that climate change is currently one of the most pressing international issues.

Just two weeks after returning from the United Nations Climate Talks in Paris, the EPA director, Gina McCarthy, said the number of players at the table including  corporations and nations allowed for a much more productive conference.

Individuals like Microsoft co-founder, Bill Gates, and private sector groups like investment groups interested in clean energy are enabling the US to reach their goal of doubling investment in energy research, which is currently at $10 billion. Ms. McCarthy said that at this conference, businesses realized that a strong international climate agreement was needed to create a clean, green economy.

“The right people were around the table saying the only way we are going to get those investments is to get an agreement,” she said.

McCarthy said that the United States utilities industries who are already working to meet the new power plant regulations set forward by the US, were at the conference to explain how they have adapted their operations to meet the new rules.

“It turned out that I needed to do a lot less talking then I thought, because I had the utilities there doing that talking. That is quite a change,” said McCarthy.

Ms. McCarthy, who has been the head EPA administrator since 2013, spoke at a wide-ranging, hour-long discussion at the Council on Foreign Relations about topics ranging from the recent Porter Ranch Methane Leak to Industry’s role in the EPA.

But in the bulk of her prepared remarks as well as in the question answer session, Ms. McCarthy emphasized the significant developments that helped yield the landmark international agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions.

In previous years, industry has stayed out of the conversation, or even denied the occurrence of climate change. What’s different now, she said, is the private sector is stepping up because companies, especially industries like agriculture, realize that their businesses are and will be effected.

“There was a clear understanding that this isn’t just the government’s challenge. This is an impact on business that is already being felt,” McCarthy said.

The Paris agreement aims to commit nearly every country to lowering planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to help stave off the most drastic effects of climate change. All 195 participating countries have approved the deal. Of those, 186 countries drafted plans ahead of the December summit, to outline their greenhouse gas reduction goals.

The United States has committed to reduce their greenhouse gas levels produced in 2005 by 26-28 percent by 2025. The Obama administration put in place the Clean Power Plan- the first national standards to limit carbon pollution from power plants. President Obama has increased vehicle fuel efficiency standards to 54.4 miles per gallon for cars and light-vehicle trucks by 2025, nearly doubling the fuel efficiency standards compared to new cars currently on the roads.

These executive actions did not require congressional approval which, experts say, allowed the President to avoid any red tape, and meet his emission reduction goals.

However, even if all 195 countries including the United States follow through on their promises, the deals aren’t strong enough to combat the predicted rise in global temperatures; experts say temperatures will still rise by more than 2 degrees Celsius, resulting in some of the worst consequences of climate change from massive storm surges, to prolonged droughts.

Therefore, a large part of the agreement is the “ratcheting” up of regulations, or the improvement of a country’s climate plan every five years.

The United States leadership is something that she thinks distinguishes this year’s talks from previous ones.

“[The conference] put the US back in a leadership position in a way that we have not been for quite some time,” said McCarthy.

In the past, the US has rejected some of the largest international agreements to decrease greenhouse gas emissions like the 1997 Kyoto Protocol. Experts believe that the US’s rejection of this treaty, lead to the treaty’s failure.

Now, with not only the US at the table but other major economies like China and India, McCarthy says the conference was different.

By having countries come into the agreement with specific plans to reduce emissions, McCarthy says, countries were no longer starting at step one. World leaders also kicked off the conference rather than leaving their remarks for the end, which experts believe may have contributed to the sense of urgency felt throughout the talks.

“Every day after that was substantive instead a preliminary discussion…it was a vastly different way of structuring the meeting and it resulted in vastly more substantive discussion,” said McCarthy.

McCarthy mentions that many of these countries, historically infamous for being polluters, can no longer afford to just think about jobs, but must also think about the health and safety of its people when considering environmental regulations. Many countries are already forced to adapt, or change their practices, to meet temperature changes hitting now.

Countries like China and India which have acted as road blocks in the past, have changed their tune. They now recognize that responding to climate change will not only save its citizens from serious natural disasters, but also provide an opportunity to create an-internationally competitive ‘green’ economy.

“India recognizes that it is on the front line of disasters…so it’s not as cut and dry as we want jobs or we don’t want jobs. It’s about what do you do to protect your population at the same time,” McCarthy said.

She also believes this is an opportunity for countries to improve their economies through green technologies and jobs.

“This is all about shifting to a clean economy,” said McCarthy.

The urgency of Climate Change was very present, McCarthy says. There were no climate deniers at the conference, and no question of whether climate change is an issue.

“There was a certainty about the inevitability of needing to act on climate, and the immediacy of that need that was quite palpable and very different,” she stated.

McCarthy said that this conference marked a changing point for many people that Climate Change is not just a “tree hugger issue,” but rather one that is effecting communities and businesses now. She reiterates how all the people sitting around the table from industry, to faith-based leaders, to developing countries allowed for this “groundbreaking” agreement. This “positive energy,” she says will continue following the Paris conference.

Parts of Obama’s climate plan like the new regulations on the power plants are being held up in courts currently. Critics have brought lawsuits around the new regulations arguing that they exhibit government overreach. But McCarthy predicts that a decision will come out in the next few weeks, and she is confident that EPA’s new regulations will come out unscathed. This act among others would allow the US to meet their greenhouse gas reduction targets following Paris.

“2016 will really be for EPA a tremendous opportunity to move forward… in supporting this international effort which for the first time has a framing that could make it very successful and we intend to get it there,” McCarthy said.

 

Check out Talia’s blog here.

Add comment February 3, 2016

Crowdsourcing a National Wildlife Refuge

~By Patrick Williams, Class of 2016

Photo Credit: Openlands

Photo Credit: Openlands

During the 2015-2016 winter break I had the opportunity to work for a Chicago-based conservation organization called Openlands, developing communications materials which will promote one of their recent projects, Hackmatack National Wildlife Refuge. As I read up on Hackmatack, I was instantly sold on its ecological significance, its proximity to Milwaukee and Chicago (my hometown), and the fact that it will be a multi-use conservation site.

Unfortunately, most people don’t know what the heck a wildlife refuge is and my job of explaining its purpose took on an unexpected dynamic after the recent events at Malheur NWR in Oregon. Public perceptions aside, what makes the Refuge truly remarkable is not just the habitat it protects, but how it’s being built. Hackmatack is, in every sense, at the forefront of how we do conservation work in the 21st Century.

The National Wildlife Refuge System

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Most people’s exposure to the National Wildlife Refuge System is limited, or they recognize the name ANWR, but few can explain what it is. Teddy Roosevelt established the National Wildlife Refuge System in 1903 and it has since grown into a system of over 560 conservation sites, encompassing more than 150,000,000 acres. Wildlife refuges are managed by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which operates as part of the Department of the Interior.

The primary goal of the Refuge System is to protect and enhance habitat for wildlife, while providing public benefit, such as educational resources and recreation opportunities. Hackmatack is the only such refuge within 100 miles of Chicago, making it accessible to over 9 million people who live within an hour’s drive. Additionally, Hackmatack sits on the Illinois-Wisconsin border and after gaining support from the congressional delegations of those states, as well as their respective governors, then-Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar formally declared protected status for the reserve in August, 2012. However, earning that designation was only the beginning of the work ahead.

Of Global Significance

Hackmatack takes its name from the Algonquin word for the tamarack larch and it is one of the few places to see these trees in the Lower 48. The vast landscapes of the Refuge are home to 109 species of concern including bald eagles and the endangered whooping crane, who find shelter at Hackmatack along their migratory journey. It sits at the crossroads of the great forests to the east and the great plans to the west, making Hackmatack the site of some of the last remaining fragments of globally-rare ecosystems such as oak savannas and mesic prairies. The retreat of the Laurentide Ice Sheet during the Ice Age carved an undulating landscape of rolling hills and pristine waterways that shelter mosaics of wildflowers and tallgrasses. While Hackmatack sits on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, it is tied to a network of ecosystems that reach west across the Great Plains, east through the Great Lakes and north into Canada.

The story of Hackmatack is remarkable in its own right: 12 years ago a small group of locals gathered around a kitchen table to discuss their vision to preserve a landscape that truly mattered. Through their efforts of organizing their local communities and carrying their message all the way to Washington, they earned the designation for Hackmatack as a protected area. That designation further means that the Refuge is an essential patch in our national landscape and an integral part of our country’s intimate connection to the wilderness.

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Conserving Wilderness in the 21st Century

What’s been unique to Hackmatack this whole time has been the strategy for establishment. The locals who began the work carried this project from the ground-up, winning the support of the Federal Government. Rather than surveying a region and designating a small portion for preservation, this refuge had to been envisioned acre-by-acre.

Over the next few years, Hackmatack will link existing conservation sites into an 11,200 refuge. In order to develop the necessary scale to allow wildlife to thrive, a coalition of private partners are jumpstarting the process of building Hackmatack.

Private organizations such as Openlands are coordinating with Fish & Wildlife Services to acquire new parcels of land in order to grow the Refuge. They are also working with private citizens in the area to develop what are known as conservation easements, which promote best-practices on private property without altering existing land use. This means everyone from farmers to fisherman to families have the opportunity to provide a home to recovering wildlife populations.

The days of demarcating mass tracts of land for protection are over, but that doesn’t mean conservation work ends. Between private partners growing Hackmatack parcel-by-parcel and working with locals to brainstorm the best way to balance conservation with our own everyday needs, this truly a process of crowdsourcing a wildlife refuge. This type of conservation work requires us to see landscapes not for what they are now, but for what they can be in the future.

Projects like Hackmatack are not only how we will combat the effects of climate change, but they are also a way to preserve what our planet looked like before urbanization. What began as a conversation among friends quickly grew into an innovative strategy for conservation. It’s 12 years of work into the process of establishing a wildlife refuge, but Hackmatack is 10,000 years in the making.

Add comment January 26, 2016

Don’t Think Youth Can Make a Difference? Think Again: The Role of Youth at the Paris Climate Talks, COP21

~By Talia Schmitt

Sick and tired of hearing that ‘nobody listens to youth,’ or ‘one person can’t make a difference’?

If so, it is time for a trip to an international environmental conference. This past December, I attended the Paris Climate Talks or COP21. There, youth were some of the first to arrive and last to leave- never ceasing to demand serious climate action.

Nearly 5,000 youth arrived in France a week before official negotiations for the Conference of Youth, a meeting organized by youth organizations around the globe. Here people learned about the climate agreement and methods to take action.

This momentum led into the two weeks of official climate talks. Youth groups demanded strict government regulations to reduce the blow of climate change- recommending actions like sharp cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, a temperature increase restricted to 1.5 degrees by the end of the century, and decisions that consider both people today and those of the future.

There is a youth non-governmental organization, YOUNGO, which was formed six years ago to give youth a larger stake in the process. There are two members of YOUNGO who are allowed to communicate information out to the government officials. However both young and civil society groups are in the clear minority in the rooms where negotiations took place.

According to a member of the Sierra Student Coalition, Katie Gibson, only nine badges were permitted to the 70 incredibly well-informed members of the Sierra Club attending the conference. Youth, who made up about a quarter of the 70 members, were lucky to share two of the nine badges. But even with two badges, students in the coalition made it work switching up who received the prized badge every couple of days. And whoever went into the conference room that day tracked down negotiators, trying to get their ear and persuade them to support strong climate legislation. They were strong, persistent and when push came to shove, feisty.

“These are not things that I was not involved in creating so we have to leverage the space in a way that we are heard and understood and we are going to hold [government leaders] accountable. So that is why we are [here]. And we will continue to do this no matter what,” Gibson said.

With lack of accessibility into the negotiating room, youth found other ways to get their voices heard. Dyanna Jaye and Timothy Damon, leaders of SustainUS, a U.S. youth environmental advocacy group, said they generated attention around these issues through measures like demonstrations and social media.

“[Youth] are really calling countries to task,” Damon said.

One of SustainUS’s primary goals is to decarbonize the global economy by 2050. This would require equal amounts of “carbon sinks” or places to absorb carbon like oceans and forests as the amount of emission outputs. To demonstrate this concept, youth drew an “O” around their right eye to represent zero-net emissions by 2050.

Youth were instrumental in some of the largest demonstrations reminding political leaders that they were in Paris, and demanding action.  Actions included the placement of 10,000 pairs of shoes in a Paris square (representing the number of people ready to march for climate action and social justice), to “fracktivist” rallies where youth demanded that “oil stay in the soil.”

And the noise didn’t stop in person. Hundreds of thousands of videos, podcasts, tweets and posts flowed out of the mouths of protestors onto the walls of social media.

And the pinging of the phone followed me back to the youth hostel where I was staying. Youth from around the world ended up sharing bunk beds and stories. The girl who lay in the bed next to me was from India and the boy in the bunk above me had be displaced from his home in Alaska due to rising sea levels. We talked about the environmental challenges in our own communities and shared solutions for the future. These conversations only began in the negotiation rooms and continued throughout the night, until the light shinning through the windows reminded us that it was morning.

Jaye explained one of the most important roles of youth: their “international identity.” Negotiators put their domestic concerns as number one, which can prevent necessary global action, she said. But youth, she added, stick with the big picture. Damon agrees.

“There is a generational identity taking priority over national identity,” Damon said.

Damon acknowledges flaws in youth activism like a high turnover rate of students since nobody is paid for their work. Also, there was a clear majority of youth from the Global North, where the conference was held. Regardless of the flaws, he agreed with Jaye that the role of youth is fundamental. He recalled specific examples. In this year’s text, he worked with the Guatemalan negotiator to include the importance of “intergenerational equality concerns” in the preamble of the agreement. Other youth contributed to an “environmental education” component of the agreement.

And even when youth were quiet, their presence had an impact. During climate talks in Warsaw in 2013, Damon recalled that the youth put black tape over their mouths to represent their lack of representation at the table. As negotiators left the meeting, he remembers them coming over to the youth to ask about their concerns.

Youth are not only active at the conference, but also when they come home.

“While youth bring an international perspective, they are still domestic actors,” Damon said.

As domestic actors, youth can take what they learned from all of their experiences ranging from late night talks with the students sleeping in the bunk above them to the message of a girl speaking up at a rally.

I for one, look forward to bringing those lessons home.

Students represent what they believe is the relationship between the oil industry and the public.

Students represent what they believe is the relationship between the oil industry and the public.

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Below is a video Talia made about youth participation at COP21.

Check out Talia’s blog here: http://taliaecoblog.blogspot.com/

January 21, 2016

CSI: Sea Turtle Edition

~By Rachel Wimmer (reposted from the William & Mary Blogs)

Never have I felt so responsible for the delicate nature of life than I did when I had the opportunity to release a sea turtle hatchling into the wild. These day old hatchlings were recovered from the beaches of Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico as eggs and incubated and hatched by a rescue team to ensure that they had the best chance of survival. This conservation of hatchlings is crucial for their survival, protecting them from predators and destructive beachgoers. It’s a rare and beautiful gift to not only usher new life into the world, but to have that life be one of a species whose population is endangered.

After hatching and finding their way into the ocean, the first great hurdle of their lives, sea turtles will mature into juveniles and travel vast distances in the search for food. While many of us envision sea turtles in the warm, highly biodiverse marine ecosystems of the tropics, 5,000-20,000 sea turtles (predominantly loggerhead sea turtles, Caretta caretta) migrate into the coastal waters of our “backyards” every summer. The Chesapeake Bay is a significant foraging and developmental habitat for juvenile turtles, many of whom migrate into the bay annually from offshore wintering grounds. Unfortunately, these sheltered waters do not completely protect them from unknown threats that are stranding between 100 and 300 turtles on local beaches every year. So why should anyone care about this endangered species? Removing keystone species like sea turtles can completely alter a delicately balanced ecosystem. While the direct cause of many strandings is still unknown it is possible that both environmental and human factors are contributing, which is why scientists are currently working to evaluate the impacts of habitat loss, climate change, and interaction with fisheries. For animals with a long life span and late maturity, such a high juvenile mortality rate is detrimental to population growth as it reduces the number of turtles that survive to lay eggs of their own. Fortunately, this is a problem that has not gone unnoticed. Bianca Santos is a second year graduate students at VIMS who is trying to solve the mystery of declining sea turtle populations by starting at the scene of the crime.

Reviving an area of research that has been absent from the VIMS campus in recent years, Bianca is creatively addressing critical conservation questions regarding where sea turtle mortalities are occurring in the Bay to determine possible causes. Using an approach that could easily be confused with a recent episode of CSI, she is retracing the routes stranded turtles travel using stranding data, computer models, and field drift experiments.

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Working with the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center Foundation Stranding Response Program (VAQS), the first clue that Bianca has to work with is VAQS’ large dataset detailing the turtle stranding events that occur around the Bay each year. One of the first pieces of information Bianca is interested in is how long turtles drift in the water after death and before washing up on shore. When the VAQS team responses to turtle strandings, one of the pieces of information they gather is a “condition code” based on how decomposed the animal appears. To help estimate when the turtle potentially died at sea, Bianca has been conducting decay studies to associate condition codes with a time component.  After determining how long ago death occurred for stranded turtles, the next step in her project is to determine where at-sea these turtle carcasses originated. Upon death, turtles will passively drift in the water, and their movements will depend on physical processes such as currents, winds, and tides.  Bianca is studying how these factors affect how a turtle floats through the Bay after death and before stranding on beaches. She is creating  drift simulations using a tool called Ichthyop which allows her to virtually release particles throughout the Bay to determine how physical forces move the particles (which represent the passive drift of turtle carcasses) and where they end up when they become stranded. Bianca will then dig deeper into the investigation by releasing three different types of surface drifters to physically model the drift trajectories predicted by the model. These include artificial drifters – buckets with a satellite tag attached; simulated drifters – wooden turtles designed by the Northeast Fisheries Science Center in Woods Hole; and true turtle carcasses which have been carefully recovered and situated with a satellite tag before being re-released into the Bay. The combination of all these pieces of evidence from both her computer and physical models will bring Bianca closer to solving the conservation mystery of turtle mortalities in the Bay.  

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Bianca’s investigation into Bay sea turtle mortality is still in the early phases, but the implications of her findings have already made a big impression among the VIMS and W&M communities. Last year, she was a Green Fee recipient, receiving sustainability aimed research funds that allowed her to begin the initial phases of her research. She then swept the floor at the VIMS Three Minute Thesis competition where she won over the audience with her CSI approach to sea turtle conservation.This semester she is also involving local schools in her research. Through VIMS’ GK-12 Program, Bianca takes her research into 7th grade life science classrooms at Page Middle School and works with students on the “Crime Scene Investigation” of sea turtle strandings in the Bay. She has also brought GK-12 partner teachers into the field to aid in her field work. Through this research, Bianca is not only educating the next generation on sea turtle conservation, but hopes to advise Chesapeake Bay authorities on management decisions and the importance of sea turtle conservation.

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Be a Conservation Crusader

While research like Bianca’s is paving the way for a society more aware of sustainability, there are actions that you can take to be a part of the change. As October is National Seafood Month, try getting in the habit of eating sustainably caught seafood – seafood that has been caught considering the long term viability of species and marine communities. Need some help getting started? Check outSeafood Watch to find out what kinds of fish are healthiest for you and our oceans. As our actions on land can directly impact the health of marine environments, it is important to recycle and responsibly dispose of trash. Plastic bags and other garbage items are easily mistaken for food by sea turtles, choking them or making them seriously sick. You can also contact VAQS, who has been responding to strandings since 1987, to report strandings or become involved in their volunteer stranding response program. To learn more about Bianca’s work, keep an eye out for her talk during the 10:25am of the breakout sessions at William & Mary’sSustainability Summit on November 7th. No mystery is left unsolved in the world of science and the more we investigate, the closer we come to understanding how our actions affect the world in which we live.

If you are interested in learning more about Bianca’s work or getting involved in sea turtle sustainability, you can email her at bsantos@vims.edu.

Still interested in learning more?!? Check out some of the great work being lead by VIMS alumni Kate Mansfield at the University of Central Florida’s – Marine Turtle Research Group.

November 18, 2015

You, Me, and Sustainability

~By Rachel Wimmer (reposted from the William & Mary Blogs)

It seems like just yesterday that I was in 2nd grade at Arlington Science Focus School singing songs like “Swing With Me on the Scientific Method,” “Plant a Tree for Your Tomorrow,” and “The -Ology Song” with my classmates. As dorky as these sound, I have to admit that nearly 15 years later I still remember all the words to these songs and have even hummed them to myself while sitting in chemistry to remind myself of the phases of matter. It was these experiences in elementary school that sparked my interest in both science and theatre, interests that I thought were two unrelated and distinct aspects of my life.

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Fast forward 13 years to my sophomore year in college when people started asking me what I was going to do with my life and I would forcibly smile through gritted teeth and say that I had no idea. That is until I stumbled upon an internship with the Marine Mammal Commission where I discovered the field of science communications and how it perfectly married my love of marine science and storytelling. That summer, I created my own blog that aimed to communicate marine science in a way that anyone could understand so that everyone could have access to the wonders of the ocean, even those who may have never been anywhere near a beach. For the Mammal Commission (@MarineMammalCom), and later through internships at the Smithsonian (@SImarineGEO), I worked on education and social media related projects that aimed to communicate the incredible work that scientists were doing to the public who, in all honesty, has a very short attention span. I loved being able to find ways to share my excitement about science with others, particularly information that is critical for understanding how our interactions with the environment affect every aspect of life on this planet.

Here on campus, I am a biology major, a marine science minor, and work in a research lab at VIMS. All areas in which I am constantly exposed to the groundbreaking research that is changing the way in which scientists look at the environment, but which is failing to be communicated with the general public. Last semester, I had the opportunity to escape to New Zealand where I got to see not only how many Pacific Island cultures are highly dependent on a healthy and functioning environment, but saw how the the country of New Zealand as a whole was largely committed to protecting their natural resources and preserving the absolutely breathtaking vistas and environments that they are well known for (check out my travel blog). One of the most remarkable moments that I had while I was abroad was seeing how every aspect of sustainability was embodied by many Pacific Island communities, including Samoa. In my Samoan society and culture class, my Samoan classmates and professor shared with me the struggles that their culture as a whole must endure as a result of industrialization, climate change, sea level rise, and overfishing. The Samoan culture has strong historical ties to the environment and traditional ideas of sustainability. However, these connections are slowly degrading as the natural resources that they are dependent on slowly disappear. I was shocked and disturbed that Samoa was being affected biologically, economically, and culturally from changes in the environment – three of the major cornerstones of sustainable development.

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So that brings us up to today, my senior year at W&M and the year in which I have the exciting opportunity to share stories of sustainability research and projects occurring on the W&M and VIMS campuses as an EcoAmbassador. Myself and six other EcoAmbassadors have been selected to spread the word of sustainability on campus and to get people excited about bringing a bit more green to the “green and gold” of our dear alma mater. The projects this year range from exploring green careers to creating green spaces on campus to surveys on cigarette litter. I will also be highlighting W&M and VIMS researchers who are investigating issues like sea turtle strandings, seagrass bed restoration, and doctor prescribed outdoors time.

My job is all about sharing these stories with you, tapping

into my love of science communications to get you as excited about sustainability as I am. The work on sustainability that is being done on the VIMS and William & Mary campuses is inspiring and is paving the way for the university to become an environmentally conscious institution. Stay tuned to see what “sustainability” really is, where it is happening on campus, and how you can be a part of the generation that is changing the way we interact with planet earth.

October 16, 2015

Fostering a Biking Culture

One of many Bike Alliance group rides!

One of many Bike Alliance group rides!

~by Sophia Palia, Class of 2018, Bike Alliance Event Planner and Secretary

Before college, I never really used to bike that much. It was only the day before I left for the seven-hour road trip from New Jersey down to Williamsburg did I decide that I was going to even bring my bike. And I couldn’t be more thankful that I did. That one decision has created opportunities that have helped make my experience at William & Mary so great and meaningful.

As a freshman last Fall, I saw the advertisement for the first Bike Alliance group ride to Yogurtini and thought to myself, “Hey, fro yo, I should go yo!” It was supposed to be a short ride, only about 5 miles. We met at the Ukrop parking deck and I was the only student who showed up. But along with Rich Thompson, staff and co-founder of the Bike Alliance, and Gabriel Morey, current president of the Bike Alliance, we biked over 25 miles. We explored the area, riding on the Colonial Parkway, the Virginia Capital Trail, passing gorgeous greenery, and having a blast.

As a nascent student organization, the Bike Alliance started out a little bumpy. But through working hard and learning from past events, we have gained incredible support and momentum. Our group rides this semester have had record-breaking turnouts and we have many more exciting new events and ideas for the future.

So, what exactly is the Bicycle Alliance? We are a group of students, staff, administrators, and faculty that promote a bicycle-friendly William and Mary through infrastructure and education.

In only two years, we have definitely made a visible impact on the bicycling culture at W&M and in the larger Williamsburg community. We host monthly casual group bike rides which are a phenomenal way to introduce people to places that are right in our backyard and accessible by bike. This past September, we led a ride to Newtown and Monticello Marketplace so students could see how to bike to these places.  In addition to these larger rides, we run weekly Wednesday night group rides at 5:15PM, meeting at the Sadler Terrace. These rides range in pace and distance depending on the group that shows up. Last year, we hosted women’s rights’ and cycling advocate Kathryn Bertine for a screening of her documentary Half the Road about the injustices and inequality in women’s cycling.

On the infrastructure side of our mission, we’ve installed fix-it stations around campus that provide students the necessary tools to pump up their tires and fix their bikes. We’ve been upgrading the college with new bike racks, bike lanes, and shared-road signs. We also established a 1-credit educational course through the kinesiology department, KINES 196 Bicycling Basics, to teach bike maintenance, safety, and just have fun biking. We also have worked a great deal with the city to foster the biking culture on campus and in Williamsburg as a whole, for example by helping local businesses install bike racks through the City’s bike rack grant.

All these efforts have contributed to promoting this important bicycling culture on campus and in the community. I had never really realized before how much of an impact biking can have on a community. Whether it is striping a bike lane or adding a fix-it station, it can help produce changes in habit that help our environment, health and well-being, sense of community, and even economic development. The Bike Alliance has impacted many people on campus already, from myself and the other members, to the students who use the bike lanes and fix-it stations. With so much done in the first two years it has existed, I am excited to see what will happen in the next two.

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Check out the Bike Alliance’s Facebook page for information and updates!

October 13, 2015

Navigating Williamsburg with WATA Bus and Trolley: Your Guide to Local Public Transit

~By Katie Johanson, Class of 2015

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The Lorax riding the William & Mary Green Line and the Williamsburg Trolley during Try Transit Week (September 21-25).

Taking public transit instead of driving a car is one of the most effective ways that people can reduce their energy use and carbon footprint while saving time and money. Among its many benefits, public transportation reduces the miles traveled in private vehicles, eases the congestion of vehicles in an area, and enables communities to plan for and to support alternative modes of transportation. In addition, public transit offers people an opportunity to save money on car-related expenses and to gain time, which would have otherwise been spent driving, to read, listen to music, or work. This guide will introduce you to public transit in the Williamsburg area and provide helpful hints to make your experience the best that it can be.

WATA: Your Local Public Transit Provider

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The Williamsburg Area Transit Authority (WATA) provides safe, efficient, and accessible transportation throughout the City of Williamsburg, James City County, and the Bruton District of York County. Thanks to an ongoing contract between the College of William & Mary and WATA, all William & Mary students, faculty, and staff may ride any WATA bus or the Trolley for FREE by showing the Transit Operator their William & Mary ID as they board. Non-affiliated riders may use exact change to pay $1.25 for a one-way pass or $2.00 for an all-day pass as they board the bus or visit the Williamsburg Transportation Center to purchase a multi-day pass. All WATA buses and the Trolley are fully accessible for disabled riders and are equipped with foldable bike racks that hold up to two bikes for multi-modal trips. With minimal preparation and practice, you can make WATA bus or Trolley your transportation option of choice to reach shopping, dining, entertainment, and employment destinations in the area.

Get to Know the Routes

WATA operates nine fixed routes and two specialty routes (the William & Mary Green Line and the Surry Line) using a “hub and spokes” system based at the Williamsburg Transportation Center (a.k.a. Amtrak Train Station) on North Boundary Street, less than one mile from the main William & Mary campus. The campus is directly served by the Red Line, Blue Line, Williamsburg Trolley, and Green Line, while you may transfer to other routes via the Williamsburg Transportation Center.

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Use BusTime®, WATA’s Real-Time Bus Tracker

Using public transit in Williamsburg has never been easier or more hassle-free. Thanks to the BusTime real-time bus tracker
recently launched by WATA, riders no longer have to read a brochure to figure out when a bus or the Trolley will reach their stop. If you have access to a smart phone or computer, open BusTime by typing bustime.gowata.org into the browser or by
clicking on the Transit tab of the William & Mary application. Then, simply choose your desired route, direction, and stop from the menu and the site will show you the estimated arrival times for all of the buses servicing the stop within the next hour. Even with GPS tracking onboard the vehicles, WATA suggests that riders arrive 5 minutes prior to the time reported, because buses may be moving faster or slower than estimated.

Helpful Hints and Safety Tips

  • Pay attention to the hours of operation. WATA buses and the Trolley operate during different hours depending on the day of the week.
  • While waiting for the bus, stand next to the WATA sign so it is clear to the Operator that you want to board the bus. Operators only stop the bus when a passenger is visible at the stop.
  • Have your William & Mary ID, bus pass, or cash in your hand and ready to use while waiting for the bus to arrive.
  • When disembarking, do not walk in front of the bus. Wait until the bus pulls away so that you can look both ways to safely cross the street.
  • If elderly or disabled people board the bus, please offer them your seat if you are near the front.
  • Once your stop appears on the lighted display at the front of the bus, pull down on the overhead cord to request the stop. Please be aware that Operators do not stop at every stop unless requested. If you are riding the Trolley, simply notify the Operator of your designated stop.
  • If you have loaded a bike onto the bus, remind the Operator as you exit that you need to remove your bike.
  • Consider bringing a jacket or sweater onto the bus, as the temperature is variable.
  • Eating and drinking are not allowed on the bus. Please do not bring aromatic food or open beverages onto the bus.
  • Please be mindful of other passengers when listening to music, using headphones during your ride.
  • When in doubt, ask a Transit Operator or contact WATA’s customer service desk. WATA’s friendly and knowledgeable Operators can help you get where you want to go safely and efficiently.
  • Follow WATA on Facebook and Twitter for news, service alerts, and more!

Contact Us with Comments, Questions, or Concerns

General Information about WATA’s Services: (757) 220-5493, info@gowata.org, www.gowata.org 

Bill Horatio III, Director, College of William & Mary Parking & Transportation Services: (757) 221-2434 or wxhora@wm.edu

Katie Johanson, Communications Specialist, Williamsburg Area Transit Authority: kjohanson@gowata.org

Katie Johanson, Communications Specialist at WATA, providing information to parents and students during First Year Experience

Katie Johanson, Communications Specialist at WATA, providing information to parents and students during First Year Experience

Bill Horatio III, Director of William & Mary Parking and Transportation Services, posing with the Lorax during Try Transit Week

Bill Horatio III, Director of William & Mary Parking and Transportation Services, posing with the Lorax during Try Transit Week

October 6, 2015

Joining Sustainability at W&M

Lorax picture

~By Natalie Hurd, Senior and Environmental Policy & Government Major

Welcome back! Whether you’re new to the College or simply looking to get more involved in Sustainability, this post is here to help! There are many different ways to engage with the environmental movement on campus, but here are a few great places to start:

First things first…

Join the W&M Sustainability Listserv for weekly updates on all things sustainability at the College!

Student Activism

SEAC: The Student Environmental Action Coalition

SEAC is a consensus-based student advocacy organization with the goal of promoting sustainability on campus and beyond. They are currently working on a number of sustainability issues on campus through seven sub-campaigns: Energy Justice, Recycling, Garden Corp, Take Back the Tap, Native Plant Restoration, Environmental Education and Food Justice. The best part? If you have an issue you’re passionate about, SEAC will help you find like-minded students and help you start your own campaign. Email the SEAC Facilitators, Abby Holcombe (alholcombe@email.wm.edu) and Ben Olinger (bmolinger@email.wm.edu) for more information. SEAC meets on Mondays at 8:30pm in Blair 205.

Students for Animals

Are you passionate about helping animals? Interested in volunteering with fluffy friends or learning more about animal activism through documentaries and group discussion? Email foranimals@email.wm.edu for more information.

Create Change From Within

COS: The W&M Committee on Sustainability

Sometimes working directly with policy and the administration is the most effective avenue for change. The COS Steering Committee is a group of administrators, students, faculty and staff that work together to change policy and influence decision making. COS also awards Green Fee grants, which fund student projects on campus. Students are invited to volunteer with one of COS’s three subcommittees: Science and Technology Advisory, Operations, and Programs and Education.  For more information, visit the website or email Calandra Waters-Lake, Director of Sustainability waterslake@wm.edu

Academics

Looking for an interdisciplinary way to pursue your future in the environmental field? Look into W&M’s Environmental Science & Policy Major. What about working with both sustainability and business? Try out the Sustainability Concentration at the Business School.

 

Like I said before, there are many ways to get involved with sustainability on campus beyond the groups mentioned above. William & Mary offers awesome outdoor activities,  great research opportunities , and much more! But the groups above are great places to start, and they will be able to connect you with people and organizations pursuing the causes you care about. Stay tuned for more opportunities throughout the year!

Want to meet some of these groups in person? Come to the 3rd Annual Sustainability Summit on November 7th, 2015:

September 13, 2015

Looking for More Sustainable Outreach Opportunities? Explore EcoAmbassadors: VIMS Discovery Labs!

~By Allison McCluskey, Geology-ENSP double major

The EcoAmbassadors internship program is relatively new to W&M, but already has a great legacy. Earth Week, sustainability blogs, knowledge of campus recycling patterns, the native plant nursery, a proposed electric car charging station, green careers…all of these programs are made possible by EcoAmbassadors.

Led by Calanda Waters-Lake, the Director of Sustainability, EcoAmbassadors meet once a month to discuss sustainability issues and progress on individual projects. These internships are for-credit, and can count as an ENSP capstone experience.

Along with Sarah Hong, I have been serving as the VIMS Discovery Lab EcoAmbassador for this past academic year. Discovery Labs are public programs led by the Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (CBNERR) at VIMS that give families the opportunity to actively learn about the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. Each month focuses on a specific aspect of the Bay—whether it’s blue crabs, birds, shipwrecks, or underwater sound, kids and adults alike engage in hands-on learning activities to get them excited about our Bay.

EcoAmbassadors connect each month’s theme to climate change at the “Climate Corner” table. Many birds, for instance, are losing nesting habitats due to sea level rise. For March’s bird-themed lab, Sarah and I crafted a diorama activity that demonstrates how rising sea level would gradually cover up the habitats birds need. Kids get to pour increasing levels of water into the diorama and note which areas and species would be affected. They could then play a “Migration Madness” board game to see how migration patterns would be affected by changing seasonality.

Our culminating project was planning the entire April lab under the theme of Climate Change. This was quite an undertaking and required advanced planning during the Fall semester. We focused on making the activities fun, and emphasized solutions and a positive future to make sure that kids could handle the sometimes-uncomfortable topic.

This experience has been exceptional in many ways. I’ve learned more than I ever thought possible about teaching climate change. There is an exact methodology behind using words like “we” rather than “I,” and avoiding catastrophic messages of extreme destruction. We must be aware of the dangers of climate change, but approach it as something to which we can adapt and mitigate through collective action.

The EcoAmbassador for VIMS Discovery Labs internship is one I would recommend to anyone. It is a great opportunity to apply science concepts to the outside world, interact with kids, and get involved in public education. If you have any questions about my experience as an EcoAmbassador feel free to email me at ammccluskey@email.wm.edu.

Applications for the 2015-2016 EcoAmbassador program open in September. For more details contact Calandra Waters-Lake at waterslake@wm.edu.

June 29, 2015

The Virginia Institue of Marine Science: An Opportunity to Explore and Engage in Research

~By Claire Goydan

In my experience, I’ve found most William & Mary students either a) don’t know what VIMS is or b) think of it as an mystery institution somewhere off in the mist. I can dispel both these fears; VIMS is William & Mary’s “sister school” for marine science graduate research. It also does indeed exist – just take a 20 minute drive down the Colonial Parkway.

This year, I’ve worked as an EcoAmbassador, blogging about sustainable research and projects happening at VIMS. It has been a truly exciting experience getting to speak with the knowledgeable faculty and staff, and I have learned quite a bit about marine science as I collected stories and information to post. My blog has two goals, as I see it – to educate and engage.

I hope to educate William & Mary students (as well as any random internet passersby) about the research currently ongoing at VIMS, and how it fits under a larger umbrella of sustainability. In pursuit of this goal, I speak to VIMS professors about their chosen fields of study: their past work, the current thinking on the topic, and what the future might hold. There are some subjects I am already knowledgeable on, such as sea level rise. Other topics, such as marine protected areas, I had never encountered before. I had to educate myself before I could hope to write about it in a blog to educate others.

I also hope to engage William & Mary undergrads in said research. To that end, I have two short sections at the end of each and every one of my blogs: “Want to learn more?” and “Want to get involved?” To learn more, I post links to academic papers related to the blog topic, written by the VIMS researchers themselves. To get involved, I list the current ongoing research projects at VIMS looking for volunteers, as well as contact information.

So, William & Mary, I pose this question to you – want to get involved? Take a look at my blogs, and see if a topic or project interests you. Fascinated by marshes and sea level rise? Matt Kirwan, assistant professor at VIMS, is looking for volunteers. Is exploring marine population dynamics calling to you? Assistant professor David Kaplan has some projects you may be interested in. Environmental education more your style? Look to volunteer at the CBNERRs Discovery Lab, and contact Jaclyn Beck.

Regardless of your interests, I invite you to learn about and engage with the exciting research happening at VIMS.

http://wmblogs.wm.edu/author/cmgoydan/

June 22, 2015

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About:

Welcome to Hark Upon the Green! This blog is a shared space for members of the sustainability community at William & Mary to write about sustainability topics on and beyond. If you would like to contribute to the blog, contact Madeleine Boel, Committee on Sustainability Web Assistant, at mgboel@email.wm.edu.
Make sure to visit Sustainability at W&M for all of W&M's progress on sustainability efforts. Catch up with William & Mary Sustainability on Twitter at WM_GreenisGold
To learn what William & Mary's Environmental Law Society is up to, visit their blog at http://envirols.blogs.wm.edu/.

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