Saturday, January 27, 2007

How Green is your College?

It cannot be overstressed that our planet’s environment is undergoing an extraordinary change. The students of today are going to be living in a vastly different environment than their parents because of environmental changes due to Global Warming, pollution, loss of biodiversity and much more.

So, it makes a lot of sense that their learning environment, their colleges and universities, reflect the major change in attitude that is going to be necessary for the students of today to live in a sustainable world. How do many of our nation's colleges reflect this new attitude towards sustainability? Check out: College Sustainability Report Card by Sustainable Endowments Institutes.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pandemic Flu Plan In Monroe County

Too often environmental issues descend into a dismal political morass--like Global Warming, renewable energy, and cleaning up the Great Lakes--making wide-spread solutions impossible. For example, there is no chance of the United States choosing sustainable practices that would address Global Warming if leaders don't even believe in the concept of Global Warming. (Former Ranking Member James Inhofe R-Okla of the Environment & Public Works had said that Global Warming was a hoax.)

Thankfully, most have 'Got it' that the possibility of a pandemic flu is as serious as an environmental health problem gets. The reality of thousands, perhaps a hundred thousand deaths worldwide in the 1918-19 Spanish flu did the convincing. Read Flu: The Story Of The Great Influenza Pandemic by Gina Kolata if you harbor any doubts about the most catastrophic single disease outbreak in human history. The Black Plague killed a larger percentage of a 14th century population, but not more people.

So our government (the Monroe County Government) and business (Wegmans) joining in a program to prepare for the possibility of such an outbreak is good news and a great thoughtful policy. It isn’t about panic and Chicken Little. A pandemic flu hitting our area, as it had during 1919, and being able this time around to do something practical to prevent widespread death is a reality. Most probably a pandemic flu will hit fast and die quickly. The best prevention is probably holding tight (staying out of contact for awhile with large groups) until the disease is identified, isolated, and allowed to perish on its own. That can be done most effectively by informing an entire community as the program outlined by County Executive Maggie Brooks does. And that Wegmans, our community’s largest grocer would chip in and help distribute the pamphlets to inform as many people as possible is such a great idea that I double-dog dare all markets and all stores to pick up the idea and help out.

I think this program outlined by our County Executive offers a model on how we should anticipate many of our environmental problems: don’t wait around doing nothing until a potential disaster strikes, but wisely plan ahead and make it clear to the public what their part in such a disaster will be. How different the Iraq War might have been had George W. Bush told the American People back when he started the war that the American people must pitch in and at least engage their attention, instead of just asking us to go shopping.

Friday, January 19, 2007

If it sounds too good to be true…

Harnessing power from a landfill sounds like the perfect solution to waste management and our present energy crisis and Global Warming. And while I believe that all of our Monroe County Executive Maggie Brooks reasons why getting power from the Riga Landfill are good, there is a major problem with trying to solve our energy problems by capturing and utilizing methane gases that naturally accompany landfills. This concept presents to the public an illusion that it has conceived of an idea that solves some of our major problems. But, what it really does is continue landfills as waste management and produces no immediate concern in the public’s mind that we have waste, energy, and resource problems.

In other words, hailing this present program as a solution to waste management and energy allows the public to believe that landfills are OK. They are not. Landfills, as a by-product, do produce some methane gas. Methane gas pound per pound is many times more effective at trapping heat from the sun and adding to the Global Warming problem, so untapped it will go into the atmosphere and continue to man-made climate change. But, landfills also put into the grounds tons and tons of toxic chemicals from human-made products that eventually go into our atmosphere and ground. Much of the toxic waste takes a long time to become inert causing further problems down the road when landfill are covered over and putting buildings upon it.

It is a better idea to slowly get rid of the idea of landfills and instead find ways to recycle those things we toss into them. Recycling our waste—organic, furniture, plastics, aluminum, etc.—would provide a wealth of resources for businesses, instead of having to further deplete our natural resources. So, in the short term, shunting methane gas into an energy source instead of letting it go into our atmosphere is a good idea, but only if it is part of a process that eventually leads to major efforts to recycle.

With American ingenuity most, if not all, the things we throw away can probably be reused and done so at a fraction of the cost of digging (say aluminum) out of the ground. If we continue to hail landfills as an energy source we are deluding ourselves that we have found an easy fix to the problems of pollution, Brownfields (which many used-up landfills become), and energy—and we have not.

Thursday, January 04, 2007

The Real Deal

Ripping good time biking in June-like weather yesterday (Jan. 4th), except that niggling feeling that something was wrong. Our weather’s out of whack. I shouldn’t be biking: I should be shuffling through three feet of snow. People shouldn’t have been out running without their shirts on and homeowners should not have been mowing their lawns. Learning that El Niño might be the cause (from Wednesday’s Where's winter? 1/04/07 D&C article) didn’t allay my concern because El Niño itself is caused by warm winds blowing across warm oceans, which are warming because the artic is losing snow and ice, which is changing the albedo effects of a white snowy surface which reflects sunlight to a blue-water surface, which absorbs heat.

Anyway, accepting Global Warming into your life is not faith-based thinking. It’s the real deal. It’s thinking about how your children’s children may have to live their lives. Most scientists now consider the present rapid Global Warming trend man-made, only the fringe element is on the fence. And, it matters that you understand and discover evidence that present warming trend is due to mankind because then and only then will you will believe that it is possible to slow the effects.

Not accepting Global warming and convincing yourself that the warming since the 1970’s is only a fluke, mass hysteria, or destructive thinking that will only upset people and businesses (remember, that was Bush’s argument for flip-flopping on the Kyoto Protocol) is denial. Denial is allowing the present lie to go on so your life won’t be disrupted, thus delaying the consequences to another time.

There’s only one problem with denying Nature: She doesn’t play mind games. When carbon dioxide, methane and other greenhouse gasses grow in higher concentrations in our atmosphere, they absorb more heat and the atmosphere warms up. Global Warming is represented on graphs as a saw-toothed line, meaning an area like ours will be warm some years and cold some others, though the overall trend is warming. And, warm doesn’t mean fun in the sun. Warm means change, perhaps more than we can handle.