SAGES Updates: Sustainability Action Plan Workshop

This Friday a group of Wesleyan faculty, staff, students, and administrators met for the 2014 Wesleyan Sustainability Action Plan Workshop.  The Workshop was led by Sustainability Coordinator Jen Kleindienst and Director of Environmental Services Bill Nelligan.  The Workshop was largely a followup to discuss ways to make Wesleyan more sustainable in light of the school’s recent STARS silver rating.  The Wesleyan University STARS report outlines areas that the school both exceeds at and needs to improve environmentally.  To that end, the Workshop participants were divided into small groups, such as waste, dining, grounds, health & wellbeing, engagement, education, and more, to discuss their specific area of sustainability.  After opening remarks from President Roth, the groups were left to brainstorm specific proposals, including potential cost and a timeline for implementing their ideas.  The groups came up with innovative ideas ranging from installing shower timers in the dorms to installing a ‘living green wall’ on Exley to creating outdoor classrooms to encourage students and professors to get outside more.  These proposals will be evaluated by Kleindienst, Nelligan, and the rest of the SAGES (Sustainability Action Group for Environmental Stewardship).

-Jenna Shapiro ’17

Crowdsourced Solar Loans for Residential Solar Projects in Connecticut

Mosaic Inc. is a leading solar energy investment platform that lets individuals invest in commercial solar systems, a financing model known as crowdsourcing. This innovative, crowdsourced, solar financing model has received media attention for tapping into the substantial potential of an online community by generating yields in solar investments that exceed savings accounts, CDs, and even 10-year treasuries. Now Mosaic is planning to expand into residential solar projects right here in Connecticut. In coordination with the Clean Energy Finance Investment Authority (“Connecticut’s green bank”) and Sungage Financial Inc (a Boston platform that helps homeowners transition to solar energy), Mosaic is enabling up to $5 million of crowdsourced solar loans for homeowners in Connecticut. Click here for more information on this exciting and innovative new development.

-Scott Elias ’14

Farm Spotlight: The Food Project, Lincoln, MA

The Food Project is an organization based in Massachusetts that since 1991 “has built a national model of engaging young people in personal and social change through sustainable agriculture.” The Food Project hires youth to work their farms and learn about sustainable agriculture, which it defines as “the practice of growing food in a way that preserves and enhances the environment, provides economic opportunity and good health for individuals and communities, and connects people to the land around them.”

Tim Laird, the head grower at The Food Project’s 31 acre farm in Lincoln, Massachusetts, taught me a lot about farming (and life) when I worked with him last spring. Lovingly idiosyncratic, he once said to me: “I just held in a primal scream, for the sanity of everyone here. Now it’s living inside me.” And when I asked him about his time in the Peace Corps, he told me that he defected because he “thought he was robbing Bolivians of their quinoa.”  He’s got a lot of character and also a lot of insight about the value of farming, some of which he recently shared with me.

Why do you farm?

“When I hear this question I think to myself why do I CONTINUE to farm? The answer goes off in some different directions…I farm because it is something I know and feel confident in my abilities…I farm because I’ve tried other work and nothing has captured my passion like growing food does…I farm because I love to cook and nothing is better than being a veggie farmer if you like to cook…I like that there is a busy time and a slow time and that that the slow time allows me to regenerate my batteries…I like that during the winter you have time to reflect and dream up better ways of doing things…I like that it challenges me physically…and maybe most importantly, I like that I’m working outside.”

Why should college students be interested in farming?

For me farming allows you to engage in so many different things at the same time…I originally got into organic farming in college as an environmentalist (I was an Environmental Studies major) looking to care for the earth and, somewhat surprisingly, now I see that not only was that a legitimate driving force (conventional agriculture is the largest contributors of greenhouse gases including 25% of the worlds CO2, 60% of methane and 80% of nitrous oxide [which is 310 x more potent that CO2]*) but that farmers can also contribute to better nutrition to for their customers and help create a more just food system. Also, it’s amazing to be able to make a living doing something that is challenging and positive at the same time.

*if US farmers increased their organic matter (humus) by 1% we would remove 4.5 billion tons of carbon from the atmosphere (all these numbers come from a certification course in Soil and Nutrition by Graeme Sait)

What kinds of activities get the youth volunteers most engaged with the farm?

“The whole program is framed by what we call the 4 Rs: rigor, responsibility, relationships, relevance. So keeping that in mind we work with our youth to set goals each day, including what we call a stretch goal. The youth become motivated to get all of the work done. I generally challenge the youth to work efficiently and I explain that getting those extra greens done would be important for the farm and impressive if they could do it. The youth take great pride in working hard.”

 -Ian Foster ’17

Alumni Profile: Lawrence Selzer ’82

Lawrence Selzer ’82 is the president and chief executive officer of The Conservation Fund.   The Conservation Fund is an organization that strives to preserve land and water for future use, while balancing environmental and economic interests.  The Conservation Fund has protected over seven million acres across all fifty U.S. states.

 

It is so impressive that the Conservation Fund has protected so much land and water in all fifty states.  Not only is that an incredible environmental feat, but it also seems like a huge political, economic and logistic accomplishment.  In what ways do these different sectors help or hinder your goal of protecting land?

Land conservation is the sum of a whole series of decisions about wildness, land use, economic development and local, state and national politics.  The relative importance of each of these changes over time as the country experiences economic stress, political swings, and varying degrees of environmental awareness.  For most of the 20th century, land conservation was about setting aside pristine areas as national parks and wildlife refuges.  Today, however, land conservation is more about balancing environmental and economic objectives – keeping lands working, such as forests, farms and ranches even as the critical public interest values such as clean air, clean water and wildlife habitat are protected.  This is more complicated and requires different skills than in the past.  A good conservation leader needs to understand business principles, economics and decision-making processes that are more akin to the corporate world.  Great academic programs like Wesleyan have adapted [to this] and will need to continue to change in the years ahead.

 

Is it difficult to prioritize which tracts of land/water to focus on preserving?  What factors help you make the decision about what areas to focus on?

Unlike a land trust, which does its own planning and prioritization of lands to protect, The Conservation Fund has a different, unique business model.  We serve as the land acquisition partner for the public agencies that will be the ultimate owners and stewards of the land.  This helps keep our overhead low and allows us to focus all our attention on the act of buying land – negotiating the deal, structuring the transaction and providing the financing needed to acquire the land until it can be transferred back to the public agency.  As a result, we now protect more land than any other organization in the United States and our business metrics – low overhead, high program allocation and conservation results per capita – are better than any other environmental group.  Conservation is the ultimate act of optimism and it is a great privilege to be able to carry out the will of the vast majority of Americans all across this wonderful country.

 

What was environmental/conservation movement like at Wesleyan when you attended and were you involved in it?

There wasn’t much of an environmental scene at Wesleyan when I was there, though the campus was very aware and engaged on a range of social issues.  Then, and now, Wesleyan was a community that looked beyond its borders and sought to make a difference.  There has always been an atmosphere of empowerment and engagement, but in the late ’70s the environment had not yet reached campus in a significant way.

 

How has your Wesleyan education impacted you in your current line of work?

The Environmental Science major was quite new when I chose it.  There were no ecology classes, no field biology classes, and no environmental policy classes.  Those were to come after I graduated, but during my time, you created an environmental science degree by combining chemistry, biology (mostly pre-med coursework) and geology.  At first, I thought this a disadvantage, but over time I greatly appreciated the depth of coursework in each discipline required and the need to develop the skills to translate what I learned in Paleontology (my favorite class during my four years) to issues such as wetlands ecology and endangered species policy.  I took more geology classes than anything else, and to this day, when I fly across the country on a clear day, I love to look down and identify the different features I see such as oxbow lakes, glacial moraines and the effects of plate tectonics.

 -Jenna Shapiro ’17

Alumni Profile: Ellen Prager ’84

Dr. Ellen Prager ’84 is a renowned marine scientist who loves to share her passion for science with everyone.  To that end, she has written several books, including her latest, The Shark Whisperer, to bring ocean science to a popular audience.  Dr. Prager’s work has also allowed her to see first hand the effects of climate change on the world’s oceans.  Be sure to check out her talk about popularizing and effectively communicating science at Wesleyan on March 5th.

 What was the environmental scene like at Wesleyan when you attended and what, if any, ways were you involved in it?

 When I was an environmental science major at Wesleyan – way back when – it was a small, but fun and eclectic department. I helped out on a research project and loved the field trips we took as part of the courses. At that time, there was not much going on in terms of environmental activism on campus as I remember (though I was heavily involved with sports so maybe my attention was elsewhere). Things such as climate change and recycling had not come to the forefront of people’s attention quite yet.

How has your Wesleyan education helped you post-graduation? What did you learn at Wesleyan that has helped you in your field?

My time at Wesleyan was wonderful in many ways, both for personal and professional reasons. I had a great experience on both fronts. The rigor of the academic program and some excellent professors provided the study habits, background, and challenges that carried over into graduate school and my work experiences. I was exceptionally well prepared for graduate school and carried with me an independence that Wesleyan fosters.  Wesleyan is a school where, in some respects, you decide what to make of it and how much to get out of the experience. I took that with me and tried to make the most of all the opportunities that presented themselves after that or to go after new ones. Several of the professors, especially my major professor, Peter Patton, also provided excellent mentoring and passed on his passion for geology, field work, and the fun that could be had while working hard. As a marine scientist who has been involved in a lot of field work (in, on, and under the ocean), crucial to my success were independence, hard work, passion, willing to get my hands dirty, or wet as the case may be, and an excellent academic background.

In what ways is climate change negatively impacting marine life and ecosystems?  Is ocean acidification – “the other CO2 problem” – actually one of climate change’s most harmful effects?

In the ocean, climate change is a triple whammy. Accelerated seawater temperature rise, ocean acidification, and sea level increase are all having negative impacts. Shifts in populations geographically or in size have already been seen and some organisms are struggling to survive. Big questions exist regarding the ocean food web and specific populations and habitats. Ice-loving organisms such as polar bears are at great risk as are habitats such as coral reefs that are particularly vulnerable to temperature shifts and ocean acidification. Organisms with a skeleton or shell made of calcium carbonate are especially vulnerable to shifts in the ocean’s acidity. One example is the problem showing up with oyster farm larvae mortality due to lower pH conditions. While we cannot predict exactly what they will be and when they will occur, the impact of climate change in the ocean is already happening and it is not good.

Your research has taken you to numerous different countries.  What have you learned about the differing effects of climate change in these areas?  

My research has not focused on climate change. As a scientist that has been working in the ocean for several decades, however, the impacts that are most obvious come from a number of factors, including climate change. To those of us who have been diving on the world’s coral reefs for almost thirty years, the change is disheartening. Climate change along with overfishing, pollution, habitat loss, and invasive species have harmed most of the world’s coral reefs. From Florida and the Bahamas to the Caribbean and Pacific, our coral reefs are not what they once were. Many are still beautiful and something everyone should see, but they are not what they were years ago. Gone are an abundance of live coral along with the larger predators, grazers, and even some of the smaller creatures that once were present. We need to work on solving all of these problems along with addressing the issue of climate change.

 I have taken a non-traditional track as a scientist and now focus much of my time on bringing ocean and earth science to broader audiences through writing books, public speaking, working with the media, and developing innovative partnerships. I’m especially excited about my newest project and it’s been a long labor of love. I’ve got a new middle grade fiction series coming out with the first book, The Shark Whisperer, to be published this spring (already available for pre-order). The books combine humor and adventure with learning about the ocean, marine life, and ocean issues. If you’ve got 8 to 12 year-olds that want a fun read check it out on Amazon or your favorite bookseller. And I’m so pleased to say I’ll be speaking at Wesleyan on March 5th with a fun talk about popularizing science and how to effectively communicate science to broad audiences.

Jenna Shapiro ’17

A Call to Farm

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Farming to me used to be nothing more than an easy way to meet community service requirements.  I sometimes think about the experiences I’ve had on farms and despise my apparent lack of “Type A” ambition.  Last spring, I was all too aware that while I weeded beds of garlic, my best friend from my private high school was working across from the State House in Boston reviewing legislature and making connections at a well-respected lobbying firm.

College students more than anyone are positioned to question the value of farming in an urban and professional society where everyone is trying to get ahead. It seems we’re all fighting to make it to the unpaid internship that will lead to the paid internship and then to a low level job and then to a slightly higher-level job, and up and up and up, forever! How could something as seemingly parochial and old-fashioned as farming possibly fit into that?

 Famously, philosopher Alan Watts suggested that life is a sheet of music, in which feelings of fulfillment are enjoyed throughout, not at the final note.  He posits that the people who view life as a journey, where the fulfillment comesonly at the end, miss its beauty and intrinsic value.  As he says, they don’t realize that they were supposed to be dancing to the music the whole time.

 While farming is undoubtedly a great way to “dance” through life, ending there would not only sound incredibly cliché, but would vastly undervalue the importance of farming to college students in our world which seems to spin faster every year.

What I mean to suggest is that there is a middle and superior ground between the greedily professional cycle that can be seen as dominating our society and the hokey (but profound) sixties mantra that Alan Watts discusses.  And it is transcendent experiences like those we have with the natural and agricultural world, with food systems, and with manual labor that create that middle ground.  Beyond any green or charity-driven incentives, farm work grounds you. Literally.  It grounds you in the earth.  And it is on this level that you learn about the people kneeling next to you, and about the earth that you can touch.

 These experiences translate.  They give you skills and knowledge to take back tothe marketplace.  They give you empathy.  Find this middle ground, this loftier compromise, however you can.  Do things that fulfill you, that break the professional cycle. I suggest you start with farming.

Ian Foster ’17

Student Plans For a More Sustainable Campus

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Check out how members of E&ES 197 plan to make Wes a more sustainable campus:

Green Space

We propose to install more green space on campus in the form of rooftop gardens and green walls.  Green space has the benefit of reducing our environmental impact while also enhancing the image of Wesleyan as a sustainably aware University and promoting sustainability on campus.

Cassia Patel ’17 & Ruby Lang ’17

Low-flow Shower Heads & Shower Timers

I propose Wesleyan installs low-flow shower heads and shower timers in all residential buildings.  Not only would this save potable water, it would also save the University a great deal of money.  By installing shower timers along with new shower heads, Wesleyan will also be encouraging people to develop sustainable habits.

Jenna Shapiro ‘17

Cup-Free Wesleyan

My proposal is to eliminate all paper and plastic cups from the Wesleyan campus. Wesleyan is already a plastic water bottle free campus, so it should not be too big of a transition to get rid of cups as well.  Wesleyan could distribute reusable mugs during orientation and the first few weeks of school (as they did with the reusable water bottles this year) to give students a sustainable alternative and encourage them to bring their own mugs to dining areas.

Genna Mastellone ‘17

Electric vans for The Ride

I propose replacing The Ride’s vans with zero emission electric vans. This of course would prevent further CO2 emissions and decrease Wesleyan’s dependence on fossil fuels. A big part of electric vehicles (EVs) is the need for an electric charging station. There is already one located at the parking lot of Freeman Athletic Center and the recent DEEP Grant issued by the State of Connecticut’s Department of Environmental Protection will help support the installation of another station next to the existing one.

Jayvee Salunga ‘17

Hands Off Appalachia Protest at UBS in Stamford, CT

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On Sunday, November 24, the Hands Off Appalachia Action Camp culminated in a protest of UBS funding of mountaintop-removal coal mining (MTR).  The protest consisted of 20-30 people, including two Wesleyan students and one alum, holding signs and chanting at a holiday parade that UBS throws annually in Stamford, CT, where their North American headquarters is located.  The protest was designed to spread awareness of the negative externalities of UBS’ investments in MTR at an event sponsored by money UBS has made from these harmful investments.  MTR is a process consisting of first clear-cutting the forests and then using explosives to “behead” the mountain, after which the coal underneath can be harvested by machine.  This destruction of habitat causes floods and landslides, and the “overburden” of the previous mountaintops is dumped into surrounding valleys, burying and polluting waterways.  The liquid waste formed by this process is held in sludge lakes, which have a history of spilling and over-flooding causing irreparable damage to local communities.  In addition, MTR also hurts the economy of the community as fewer jobs are available and people are driven away by the awful living conditions.  Local residents of front-line communities directly feeling the effects of MTR were also part of the group protesting, which made the protest more tangible and meaningful.  For example, a group of people with bottles of brown water that they had taken from their taps at home, were mock-selling it with the slogan “polluted water, brought to you by UBS”.  The next day, 14 of these passionate activists were arrested for climbing up and hanging a large banner from a construction crane in full view of the bank, and for chaining themselves inside the bank until they were listened to.  These people should be commended for taking a stance against the injustice inflicted upon them and the environment by MTR companies that UBS funds.   Coal is the most harmful fossil fuel in use, and MTR is a particularly destructive method of extraction, so with the existence of many alternative options, there is no reason that UBS should be invested in outdated dirty coal.

Cassia Patel ‘17

Wes, Divest! Photo Campaign Takes Over Andrus

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The weekend before Thanksgiving break, Wes, Divest! organized a photo campaign that lined the pathway to Usdan with pictures of students each expressing a personal reason that they support divestment from fossil fuel companies.  Put up the weekend of the Board of Trustee’s semi-annual meeting, the pictures were a visual reminder to the Board that divestment is an important issue that should be at the forefront of discussion about Wesleyan’s future.  This campaign was a means to convey two important messages.  One of which is the sheer number of students who support divestment – if there is such widespread student support it is worth it to have a serious discussion about the possibility of divestment.  The second is that each of the 160 students featured had a different reason for divestment.  160 reasons is not something to be taken lightly.  Wes, Divest! hoped to generate more awareness about fossil fuel divestment in order to bring the discussion to the entire Wesleyan community as we consider the future of Wesleyan’s role in the fight against climate change.

-Mira Klein ’17

Updates on Arctic 30, Alumni Arrested for Activism

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In early September, the Arctic 30, twenty-eight Greenpeace activists, including a Wesleyan alum, and two journalists, were arrested in Russia for protesting offshore drilling in the Arctic.  After their case was taken to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS), all thirty were released on bail in St. Petersburg.  ITLOS issued a binding ruling requiring Russia to free the Arctic 30.  Greenpeace International paid the $60,000 per member to secure their bail.  Dima Litvinov ’86 was released on November 22nd, along with the majority of the other members.   As of now, all thirty are required to stay in St. Petersburg.  The next step is for the Arctic 30’s lawyers to try to obtain exit visas so they can return home, hopefully in time for the holidays.  

Jenna Shapiro ‘17