Archive for May, 2013

400 and Other Numbers

This month, it finally happened: we reached 400 parts per million of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Though atmospheric CO2 levels inched over 400 ppm briefly last summer, this is the first time that NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has witnessed a daily average at 400 ppm or above. To those familiar with the math of climate change, this number is far outside of our climate comfort zone, and is being regarded as a milestone in the process of climate change.

Other numbers have special significance, as well. James Hansen, former NASA Climatologist, has stated that if humanity “wishes to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted,” we will need to reduce our atmospheric carbon dioxide levels to at least 350 ppm. Following this statement, 350 ppm has become a rallying point for the climate movement. 350.org, an organization founded by journalist and environmentalist Bill McKibben, aims to lower CO2 levels down to this “safe” range. 350.org explain their namesake in the following video:

Though our recent record has been given special significance in discussions of climate change, there is nothing significantly more distressing about 400 ppm than 399 ppm. Just like 350 ppm, the importance of the 400 ppm marker is mostly symbolic. Checkpoints like this become important to environmentalists, because the slow-building disaster of climate change takes place over long timescales and is, at most times and in most places, easy to ignore. Except, of course, when and where it isn’t.

If the number 400 does not speak to you, perhaps some other statistics from 2012, one of the most extreme years in terms of weather and climate, will make an impression:

5: The number of countries that set heat records in 2012.

144: The number killed in the flash floods that struck the Krasnodar region of Russia in July of 2012. Similar floods were experienced in Pakistan and China.

2300: The number of counties impacted by drought in the midwestern U.S. last summer.

13: The height in feet that Hurricane Sandy’s storm surge reached in some parts of New York City.

285: The total number of deaths attributed to the superstorm.

65,000,000,000: The cost of Hurricane Sandy, as estimated by London-based reinsurance firm Aon Benfield.

Looking to the future, Scientific American reports that, due to “a combination of local geography, vulnerable coastal development and already-happening sea-level rise as a result of climate change,” flooding like we experienced during Sandy will be commonplace, rather than unprecedented. The “frankenstorm” may soon become just a “storm.”

On a global scale, one extremely troubling number emerged from the 2012 weather and climate statistics:

18: The percentage that summer sea ice in the Arctic shrank below its previous low.

We will likely see 400 ppm again. Perhaps we will adjust to it; perhaps 400 will become the new normal, and 450 will become the new statistic of doom held out by environmentalists. But 400 is only one number among many, and it may not be the most important. From 350 on up, we have experienced the devastating effects of climate change, and we will continue to see this destruction play out in statistics and in stories. The most severe outcomes of unmitigated climate change may not hit us on a global scale at 400 ppm or at any number near to it, but for those who have been affected by floods and freak storms, or have lost their livelihoods to drought, this destruction is very real and very present. It is these numbers which make up the real statistical drama of climate change, and it is these numbers which may be most powerful in reversing our climate trajectory.

 

-Sharon Hartzell

 

Borenstein, Seth (2012). 2012 Extreme Weather Sets Records, Fits Climate Change Forecasts. Huffington Post Green. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/12/21/2012-extreme-weather-climate-change_n_2348079.html

350.org (2013). http://400.350.org/

BBC News (2012). Russia Flash Floods: 144 Killed in Krasnodar Region. BBC News, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-18751198

Rice, Doyle (2013). Hurricane Sandy, drought cost U.S. $100 billion. USA Today, http://www.usatoday.com/story/weather/2013/01/24/global-disaster-report-sandy-drought/1862201/

May 31st, 2013

Wordless Wednesday

May 29th, 2013

William & Mary Earth Week: Origins

This year, William & Mary’s annual Earth Week event was centered around the theme of Origins. Said Blair Doucette, one of the event’s planners, “The week will be all about knowing the origins of our lifestyles, from the food we eat to the power we use, allowing us to make conscientious decisions every day.” The event began on Sunday, April 14th, and culminated in a campus-wide celebration on the Crim Dell Meadow on Saturday, April 20th.

The events throughout the week drew attendance from William & Mary students, faculty, staff and community members. On Monday, The Swem Reading Group met to discuss The Forest Unseen, in which author David George Haskell recounts the year he spent in intense observation of a one-square-meter patch of old-growth forest. In his book, Haskell, a biologist, delves into the natural history of the forest he observes, and even the origins of the materials (two golf balls, for example) that tarnish its pristine wilderness.

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On Tuesday, students explored the origins of their favorite study aid – caffeine – with a Fair Trade Coffee Event at Greenberry’s in Swem Library. Greenberry’s, based in Charlottesville, is a new addition to William & Mary, and a number of their coffee selections are organic and fair trade.

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Through tours of the Millington Greenhouses and the College Woods, students had the opportunity to learn more about the natural history of our College and its environment.

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A screening of the movie Switch: To a Smarter Energy Future taught attendees more about the origins of their energy sources, and a gardening day on Thursday gave volunteers the opportunity to dig their hands into the soil that some of their food comes from.

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Saturday’s celebration, organized through a partnership between the sustainability community and AMP, was an unprecedented success. The Crim Dell meadow was flooded all day with students, faculty, staff and community members who gathered to hear live music, eat a vegetarian feast prepared by W&M Dining, and listen to Taylor Reveley read Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax.

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With the theme of Origins, Earth Week provides an opportunity to reflect on the “origins” of Earth Day itself. The first Earth Day was held on April 22nd, 1970. Earth Day was founded by Gaylord Nelson, a U.S. Senator from Wisconsin, after he witnessed the 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California. He took notes from the anti-war movement that was sweeping the nation’s college campuses, and strove to harness that energy and direct it towards an increased awareness of our nation’s environmental challenges. His idea was for a “national teach-in on the environment,” which he organized with a national staff of 85 people. On April 22nd, rallies erupted in major cities across the United States. Earth Day events included speeches, performances, and protests, and managed to unite Americans across political barriers in a common cause: the promotion of a healthy, sustainable environment.

William & Mary’s Earth Week celebration is a worthwhile tribute to the history of Earth Day. By holding events, screenings, and tours throughout the week, designed not only to celebrate but to educate, we hearken back to the origins of Earth Day as a national “teach-in.” The crowds on the Crim Dell Meadow on Saturday are evidence that the environmental movement is still succeeding in bridging differences and uniting diverse groups in a common cause.

May 18th, 2013

William & Mary Hosts Environmental Law Symposium

ChesapeakeBayOn March 15th and 16th, the William & Mary Law School hosted the 2013 Environmental Law Symposium, an event that brought together speakers from a variety of disciplines to discuss present issues facing the Chesapeake Bay.  The Symposium hosted a variety of speakers and featured panels that addressed topics like sea-level rise, wetland quality, and the Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), which specifies the maximum pollutant level that a body of water can hold while meeting water quality standards. The symposium was co-sponsored by the Environmental Law & Policy Review Journal, the Environmental Law Society, and the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic.

Mary-Carson Saunders, a William & Mary law student, was tasked with inviting speakers and developing the educational direction for the event. “I really enjoyed all the speakers!” Saunders said. “I found VIMS Professor and researcher Mark Luckenbach’s talk on Oyster and Clam aquaculture, as a potential tool to meet TMDL reduction in Virginia, especially interesting.”

Mark Luckenbach was one of the Symposium’s many speakers, who represented a variety of public and private sector careers and offered diverse perspectives on issues facing the Chesapeake Bay.

The event began on the afternoon of March 15th. Daniel Doty, editor of the William & Mary Environmental Law & Policy Review, and the William & Mary Law School’s Dean Ronald Rosenberg, gave the opening remarks. That afternoon, the Symposium hosted speakers including Joe Maroon of Maroon Consulting LLC, Robert Nelson, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, Russ Baxter of the Department of Environmental Quality, George Kelly of Environmental Banc & Exchange LLC, attorney Donald Carr, Professor Jim Perry of W&M and VIMS, attorney/banker Whitney Saunders, Steve Marin of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Carla Poole of AquaLaw, Rick Parrish of the Southern Environmental Law Center, and Jeff Corbin of the EPA. These speakers and panelists discussed the Chesapeake Bay restoration, TMDL clean-up strategies, the Ecosystem Services Trading Business, and water quality mitigation, as well as the conflicting motivations of the Virginia Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency.

Saturday’s speakers included Margaret Sanner of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, Shana Jones of W&M and the Virginia Coastal Policy Clinic, Lewie Lawrence of the Middle Peninsula Planning District Commission, Whitney Katchmark of the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission, Arthur Butt of the DEQ, James Davis-Martin of the Department of Conservation and Recreation, Mark Luckenbach of VIMS, Troy Hartley of the Virginia Sea Grant, Jessica Grannis of Georgetown Law, Skip Stiles of Wetland Watch and Carl Hershner of VIMS. These speakers discussed the TMDL, including the role of non-profit organizations in meeting it, as well as non-point source compliance, sea level rise and wetland issues. Tayloe Murphy gave the keynote speech Perspective from a Lifetime of Service – Public to Private to Non-Profit, and Congressman Rob Wittman offered the closing remarks.

It was this diversity of perspective that made the Symposium a success for Zander Pellegrino, one of the few undergraduates in attendance. “Seeing policy-makers, scientists and litigation lawyers work together, and seeing how they talk with each other and how information flows between these parties was really interesting,” Pellegrino said. He added, “You could see the speakers … were very active in the creation of policy and in the scientific research that informs it.”

Saunders was impressed with the involvement of the business community in the symposium. “In my opinion,” Saunders said, “a successful Bay program requires the cooperation of many different stakeholders and actors in the watershed.  The symposium sought to articulate the power of a collaborative approach and the participants from the private and public sectors helped us deliver this message.”

The Environmental Law Symposium has been hosted annually since 2010. When asked about the future of the Symposium, Saunders was hopeful that the next Symposium would bring more interest from the undergraduate and other graduate schools, and other members of the community. Though Pellegrino said he had “a lot to catch up on” since he was not a law student, he thought that it would be valuable for other undergraduates to attend the Symposium.

“We hope that by providing a policy perspective, in addition to the traditional legal perspective represented in law school symposiums, people will feel the presentations are more accessible and relatable to their personal lives,” said Saunders.

Pellegrino certainly found the Symposium relatable. “Getting a little more background on local issues was very interesting. It’s a good reminder that where we’re living is more than just the area between Richmond and Jamestown Roads,” he said.

May 17th, 2013

Green Ways to Wind Down the Semester

With the semester quickly winding down and summer break just around the corner, it’s important for students leaving campus to try and make a greener transition when moving out. After all, with so many people transitioning at the same time, the effects can be a major stress on the local environment.

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http://www.flickr.com/photos/pdwhitney/3936031508/sizes/z/in/photostream/

That being the case, even before final projects are handed in and tests taken, consider some of the following eco-friendly and sustainable ways to finish up the academic year and return home on a greener note.

  1. Textbooks: Every semester students usually have to purchase a few text books for each class, yet the majority won’t be used after the class has been completed. Instead of taking them home where they will sit on a shelf or in a box in the basement, sell them to students who may need them next year. Also, check with the university book annex as they often buy back books in good condition that will be used again.

  1. Furnishings: Whether it’s a rug, comfortable chair, or wall decoration, students sometimes purchase a few extra furnishings to make dorm rooms or off campus housing a little cozier, but may not take these items home. Instead of putting them on the street for the trashman, try reselling or passing them on to other students who could put them to good use next fall.

  2. Clothing: If students know they want new outfits for the coming months, hold a dorm or campus clothing swap before everyone departs. A small fee could be charged with all proceeds going to charity.

  3. Storage: Put in storage belongings you know you want to keep but don’t need back home. This will allow for lighter travel with less energy and resources being expended hauling everything back and forth. dorm 2http://www.flickr.com/photos/pearlbear/203390074/sizes/z/in/photostream/

  4. Donate: After all is said and done, anything that’s usable that you weren’t able to sell or give away in time should be donated to a local charity. Donating is one of the best forms of putting things on the path to being reused.
  5. Recycle: When cleaning up and clearing out, old handouts, notices, pizza boxes, bottles and other similar items are likely to pile up. Whatever can be recycled should be placed in the proper bin.

  6. Cleansers: When cleaning living spaces, try using eco-friendly cleansers. They won’t emit noxious fumes that are unhealthy to breathe, and because they aren’t chemically based, they won’t harm the environment when poured down the drain

  7. Reusables: Moving can be exhausting and require plenty of snacks and drinks, so carry a reusable water bottle and reusable cutlery for the trip home. Doing so prevents more non-biodegradable plastic ware from sitting in the local landfill.

  8. Classes: Before departing, drop a note to some of your professors who taught classes in which there seemed to be a lot of paper waste. Ask them to find ways to digitize handouts and other materials for fall semester.

  9. Carpool: Finally, if everyone leaves in individual vehicles the combined burning of fossil fuels creates a lot of pollution. That’s why if enough students can travel with a minimum amount of possessions and are headed in similar directions, they should arrange carpooling or a special bus to take them home.

 

-Jakob Barry

Jakob Barry is a green living journalist for Networx.com. Networx.com helps homeowners save time, money and frustration by connecting them with home improvement professionals. From plumbers and roofers to handymen and carpenters Networx simplifies the process of locating a reliable professional.

 

May 15th, 2013

Green Living: Bamboo Studio Dinnerware

Bamboo, one of the fastest-growing plants on earth, is used in construction, as a material for furniture, in the production of textiles, and to make products ranging from musical instruments to fishing rods. Bamboo is highly renewable because it is so fast-growing – up to a meter per day! In addition to absorbing carbon dioxide, bamboo releases 35% more oxygen than an equivalent stand of hardwood trees. Additionally, no fertilizer, pesticides or herbicides are typically needed in growing bamboo.

Bamboo Studio, a California-based company, uses bamboo to produce a large catalog of dinnerware products. Bamboo Studio takes advantage of the sustainable features of the plant to create a green alternative to paper, styrofoam and plastic dinnerware.

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Bamboo Studio offers several different product lines. Their disposable products are 100% biodegradable, but can be reused several times if washed properly. The disposable products are made from the sheath of the bamboo plant, the protective covering on newly emerging bamboo shoots. This sheath is not usually used, but Bamboo Studio cleans, boils and laminates the sheaths before shaping them into disposable dinnerware. I was able to sample Bamboo Studio’s small hors d’oevres dishes, skewers, and bamboo swords, and think that Bamboo Sheath products would make an excellent alternative to the paper and plastic typically used in food service and for catered events.

They also produce a line of reusable BambooWare Products, for use in the home. I tried a plate, cup and bowl made of this material, and was impressed by its smooth texture and sturdiness. To make the products, Bamboo Studio grinds the fiber of five-year or older bamboo plants into a fine powder, then molds them into dinnerware. All of these products are FDA-approved, and safe for dishwashers. Bamboo Studio’s forks, spoons and knives are made from the bamboo plant itself, which makes for an excellent alternative to plastic utensils. The plates, bowls and cups they offer are also available in a number of colors, and can be custom printed.

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Production of dinnerware from traditional materials uses a tremendous amount of energy, and these products often are not biodegradable. Styrofoam is commonly used to make plates and cups, but it does not biodegrade, and can remain in landfills indefinitely. Plastic utensils, plates and cups also take a long time to degrade, and are products of the petroleum industry. Even paper plates have tremendous environmental impacts; study by Canadian scientist Martin Hocking showed that the production of a paper plate is as fossil fuel-intensive as that of a Styrofoam plate.

“Fortunately,” writes Bamboo Studio, “there is a great alternative to the age old question of “Paper or Plastic.”” Bamboo may truly be the dinnerware product of the future!

To learn more about Bamboo Studio’s dinnerware, you can visit their website at http://www.ecobambooware.com/

-Sharon Hartzell

May 13th, 2013


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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