Archive for February, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

February 29th, 2012

Environmental Law Society Fracking Lecture 3/13/12

Please join the Environmental Law Society for an exciting lecture and conversation about the legal implications of the highly controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

We are pleased to host Chris Nidel, founder of Nidel Law, PLLC, a Washington D.C. toxic tort law firm that represents those injured by environmental contamination. Mr. Nidel received a JD from UVA and a masters degree in chemical engineering from MIT.

Bring your questions to Room 119 of the Law School on March 13 at 1pm! The greater community is welcome to attend.

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February 28th, 2012

Better Living: The Montreal Protocol and HFCs

The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer was enacted in 1989, and is responsible for the gradual disappearance of chlorofluorocarbons, or CFCs, from the atmosphere. CFCs are used as refrigerants, as solvents and as propellants in aerosols, and are known to deplete ozone in the atmosphere. The Montreal Protocol, which phased out the use of CFCs, is described as Science Daily as “the most successful international environmental agreement to date.” Since CFCs are also greenhouse gases, the phaseout will have the side benefit of reducing the impact of climate change.

Since CFCs are no longer used for aerosols or refrigerants, hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, have been increasingly in use. HFCs, unfortunately, are also greenhouse gases, and are long-lived in the environment. According to Science Daily, HFC-134a is frequently used in automobile air conditioning units and is 1430 times more active than carbon dioxide.

In a study published in the latest issue of “Science,” researchers investigated the climate effects of the Montreal Protocol and found that it had prevented 10 billion tons of CO2 from being emitted into the atmosphere. Unfortunately, Velders, Riemann and the other authors of the study found that the release of HFCs may negate the positive impact of the Montreal protocol. Saturated HFCs, which can survive for up to 50 years in the atmosphere, present a particular risk. According to researcher Reimann, “Long-lived HFCs should no longer be used in [the quantities they are now].” The scientists recommended that the Montreal protocol be modified to cover the use of HFCs, as well.

In this case, the future is promising. According to Riemann, there are alternatives available, climate neutral hydrocarbons which are already being used in Switzerland. The science and technology is there for HFCs to be phased out as well as CFCs, but will the policy catch up?

Graphic Credit: HFCs: A Critical Link in Protecting Climate and the Ozone Layer, UNEP, 2011)

February 27th, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

Photo of the Crim Dell Bridge by Will Mai, ’14

February 22nd, 2012

Upcoming Surry Coal Plant Hearings

By now, you’ve probably heard of the Surry Coal Plant (or SEAC’s Surry Justice Campaign has not been doing its job!) This local controversy, which could result in the construction of the largest coal-fired power plant in Virginia, has two major events coming up. On February 27th from 7 to 10 PM, the Surry County Planning Commission will hold a hearing at the Surry County High school to vote on Old Dominion Electric Cooperative’s rezoning and conditional use permits which would allow the plants to be built. The 27th marks the second round of local zoning hearings. Last year, citizens of Surry County won a lawsuit against ODEC, after the original rezoning vote was deemed illegal.

If this plant is built, our air and water quality will be diminished here in Williamsburg, and the health of our citizens will be endangered by massive emissions of mercury and nitrogen and sulfur oxides. The plant would also threaten the tourist economy that is so critical to our area.

It would be hard to predict the full impact of the coal plant on our region, but what we know for sure is that ODEC is not a good neighbor. Their unpredictable and untrustworthy behavior is one of the reasons we are having this second hearing in the first place. Now, we have a second chance to take a stand for ourselves and for our neighbors, and keep in mind what we want the future of our region to be. Surry County deserves better, and so do Williamsburg and the rest of the downwind areas. We are striving for a large and impactful presence at this hearing, so please, come and have a say in a matter that affects your region and your neighbors.

SEAC’s Surry Justice Campaign will be organizing a group to go to this hearing, so please contact Sharon Hartzell at if you are interested in attending this hearing, or a second hearing to be held on March 5th.

To see the events that lead to this most recent controversy for yourself, check out the following video, compiled by Surry County citizens from footage taken at the zoning hearings:

-The Surry Justice Campaign

February 21st, 2012

Better Living: Science, Technology and the Environment

In the world of alternative energy sources, the spotlight is on solar. With greenhouse gas emissions limited to whatever is produced in the process of transport and installation of solar panels, solar helps to combat global warming while harnessing a source of hitherto unused energy. Unfortunately, presenting a low global warming risk does not make solar an innocuous option for alternative energy generation.

The Mojave Desert, which spans parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, and southern California and receives some of the best insolation in the U.S., is at the center of American solar power development. The Ivanpah solar project, which uses BrightSource Energy’s solar technology, has been on its way towards installing massive fields of solar panels in the Mojave since late 2010. The project, according to BrightSource, is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year.

Proposed design for the Ivanpah project; BrightSource Energy

This is a step in the right direction towards reducing our dependence on fossil fuels, and positive news for the fight against global warming. However, many environmentalists are conflicted about the choice between promoting alternative energy development and protecting sensitive habitats. A 2011 report by the Endangered Species Coalition found that California’s deserts were one of its most vulnerable ecosystems. This Ivanpah project has faced criticism for endangering the local tortoise population, but has proceeded without serious opposition. As an article in the LA Times put it, “In the fight against climate change, the Mojave Desert is about to take one for the team.”

The issue of solar power development in the Mojave hearkens back to a debate that has existed since the beginning of the environmental movement: that of conservation versus preservation. Is it our duty to preserve natural spaces, or to develop them responsibly? If your natural response is the former, you might be a preservationist. But would this answer change when the development in question is also key to the long-term preservation of our species?

Cases like this, in which we are compelled to advance our own preservation at the expense of the environment, are likely to increase along with alternative energy development. This situation calls to calls to mind the question of whether we are a part of the environment, or are inherently separate…a question that will take a lot longer than one blog post to figure out!

In the meantime, the energy community will be watching the Mojave. If the Ivanpah project, and others like it, can overcome the ecological and economic barriers that solar energy faces, we may be one step further down the path towards a green future.

Sharon Hartzell

February 18th, 2012

New Forest Earth Update

It’s time for another update from New Forest Earth!

We have some very exciting news to share. On May 1, 2012 Corbett Wicks, our wonderful tour manager, will begin her journey hiking the Pacific Crest Trail to raise awareness of deforestation and indigenous rights through New Forest Earth. At an astounding 2,663 miles long, the Pacific Crest Trail, or PCT, is almost 500 miles longer than the East Coast’s Appalachian Trail—and Corbett will be hiking the entire trail! But let’s back up for a bit. Raising awareness of deforestation and indigenous rights is certainly awesome, but how exactly does New Forest Earth go about doing this?

First, New Forest Earth forms cooperatives with indigenous communities in Latin America that create and sell forest-made products. We currently work with three communities: the Waorani, the native people of the Ecuadorian Amazon who make intricate jewelry from chambira palm trees, the Taller Leñateros, a publishing collective of Mayan artists that create beautiful art and books, and Kallari, an Ecuadorian cooperative that harvests organic chocolate bars.

We then purchase their sustainably-made artisanry to sell here in the United States. By investing in these sustainable products, we empower these communities to make a living from their forests—their homes—without having to cut them down. Once a predetermined amount of profit has been made from each cooperative, the proceeds are then used to fund a specific project within the community. The Waorani, for example, will use sales from their jewelry to fund the planting of chambira palm nurseries in their communities. Proceeds from sales of the Lenateros’ works will be used for a publishing project that promotes their heritage and way of life.

Now back to Corbett. She will be spending about 6 months spreading New Forest Earth’s message all along the West coast. As you can imagine, she will need some help staying motivated while undertaking such a difficult task. This is where you, the caring and environmentally conscious supporter of New Forest Earth, come in. We are offering the opportunity for you to sponsor Corbett’s journey per mile. We have divided the entirety of the PCT into 100-mile tracks, with a final 63-mile “final stretch”, for a total of 27 tracks.

Very soon we will open the first three tracks to the public for sponsorship. Sponsors will be able to choose as many miles as they desire of the first three tracks until they all fill up. At that point, new tracks will be made available. Each mile can be purchased for $5, with discounts for sponsoring significant mile markers: 5 miles for $24, 10 miles for $46, 50 miles for $220, and 100 miles for $420. Corbett is funding the trip herself, and all donations will go toward helping New Forest Earth accomplish our mission.
Please help us to keep Corbett motivated and spread the word about New Forest Earth! Even the smallest sponsorship can make the biggest difference.

Gabbie DeCuir

February 17th, 2012

Wordless Wednesday

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February 15th, 2012

Eco Policy Blog: Williamsburg at Work

While most of our public policy cohort moved to DC in summer 2011 for internships, one of my classmates, Jason Saunders, stayed here in Williamsburg to work on an important sustainability project for the city. I thought it would be interesting for fellow sustainability nerds to know what their city is doing (with the help of WM grad students!) about its environmental impact.

Jason’s project was to conduct an inventory of carbon emissions for the city government. They used data on natural gas, electricity, gasoline and diesel usage and numbers on employee travel from the past three years to come up with the figures. The city’s green efforts have been ongoing for 3-4 years, but this was the first attempt to quantify the effects by looking at emissions data over time. Check out the results – it looks like the green efforts are creating good results. The city’s instruction page is here – you have to download a plugin to view it, then you can open up the performance dashboards and view them all, or just scroll across the top to “Sustainability”.

Besides this project to estimate emissions and other sustainability data, Williamsburg’s green efforts include: eliminating paper documents, a bike/walk to work day (in which the College may try to participate in the future), and retrofitting municipal buildings to be energy efficient, to name a few. Explore their programs and stay informed about what your city government is doing with its resources.

Caitlin Kilpatrick
Master of Public Policy Candidate, Class of 2013
Thomas Jefferson Program in Public Policy

February 14th, 2012

Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference Opportunity

Hey, Campus Sustainability Folks! There’s a really great opportunity coming up that I wanted to make sure the William & Mary community was getting ready for – the AASHE conference’s call for presentations!

Each year, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) hosts the largest campus sustainability conference in North America. On February 21, AASHE opens its Call for Presentations for the 2012 conference, held in Los Angeles, from October 14-17 (what a great way to spend Fall Break, right?). Presenting at AASHE is great exposure for the W&M sustainability program & an amazing opportunity for any students interested in sustainability.

Last year, 3 of us from W&M presented at the AASHE conference. Sarah Hanke, the W&M sustainability fellow, presented on the Dining Sustainability Interns program; she talked about how that program runs & highlighted some of the awesome projects the interns have created. Max Cunningham ‘13 presented the carbon offset program he helped start. And I presented research I had done for my honors thesis the year before. Being able to present at AASHE was an amazing experience. I got some really good feedback from the audience & I got to see how useful my research was in the real world.

So as you can see, there are many different approaches you can take to sustainability topics. They also have a variety of ways you can present at AASHE, including solo presentations, panel discussions, and a poster session. One of the really exciting things about the AASHE conference is the diversity of subjects within sustainability and the different ways people share what they’re working on.

While going to LA for a long weekend isn’t cheap, don’t let the costs of the conference keep you from submitting. As a W&M student, you have lots of access to funding for things like attending conferences. There’s a specific Conference Fund in Student Activities and The Committee on Sustainability offers its own conference funding. Don’t hesitate to ask around campus, either – in 2010 another student & I got help from the Parents’ Fund to go to the AASHE conference in Denver.

Sign up here to get notifications about AASHE 2012, like the Call for Presentations or the opening of registration.

If you have any questions, you call always email me at or talk to Sarah Hanke.

-Lauren Edmonds, class of 2011

February 14th, 2012

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