Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Campuses Taking Action--What's Going on Out There?

This year the students are taking action on their campuses with unprecedented energy and ubiquity. National movements from recycling competitions (Recyclemania) to policy statements (President's Climate Committment) are swelling to a healthy ripeness. Our cafeterias are getting greener and our energy is getting cleaner. For a handy list of ideas coming from the most succesful campaigns on campuses, check out this list from the lovely Leo DiCaprio--

--Patty Rojas and Ariel Zucker,
EcoReps for Hartley and the Brownstones, respectively

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Thanksgiving Lessons

by Kate Smith, Eco-Rep

This year, my Thanksgiving yielded more than just rounded bellies and embarrassing familial recollections. A few hours after arrival, when the baby had been cooed over, the sisters hugged, and the luggage tucked away, my oldest sister (the host) promptly handed me a gift. True, not in tune with the holiday quite yet, but nonetheless, urgent enough. The gift was a book entitled Clean House, Clean Planet, written by Karen Logan. Granted I am a college student and, as we all know, college students are notorious for failing to keep a clean house, or should I say tiny hole/room. However, flipping through the pages I came across some interesting information and tips that I can certainly apply in my own life and which should be shared with my fellow students.

Laundry Detergents: The lesson here is that less is more. On the one hand, it's better for our systems of waste management if the detergents we use are as biodegradable as possible and on the other hand, it is easier on the skin if you use more natural detergents. Many common products contain bleach and ammonium compounds which, though they may only cause allergic reactions in a few, can still make your skin itchy and dry. Most importantly, the truth is that if you use too much detergent, your clothes actually won't get clean. This is because detergent bonds to the dirt, and if there is too much detergent, it doesn't get washed out and your clothing remains dirty. The recommendations on the bottles are always higher than necessary, so instead of filling up just past the line, fill up just below. It'll do the job as well if not better.

Fabric Softener: Do we actually need to use fabric softener? It turns out that clothing often feels hard and rough due to detergent residues. If you feel that softener makes a difference on your clothing, try halving the amount of detergent you use and you'll probably find that softener is no longer necessary. If you're still hankering after that fresh laundry scent, know that dryer sheets are often using inexpensive perfumes to cover the smell of their chemicals. Instead, something as simple as white vinegar and scented oil can do exactly the same job.

These are just two aspects of living that we, as college students, can take control of. But we should also be concerned about what products are being used to clean our kitchens and bathrooms, and be aware of the pesticides that keep the critters out of our dorms. In the meantime, I recommend checking out Clean House, Clean Planet (it has some good recommendations for pest control, if that's a problem for you), as well as The Safe Shopper's Bible: A Consumer's Guide to Nontoxic Household Products, Cosmetics and Food. Remember, we are responsible for what we put into our environment and, as consumers, can have a great influence on the products out there on the market. Bon apetite!

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Environmental Threats of Genetically Engineered Salmon

Written by Juliana DeVries, Eco-rep for Wallach

Genetically modified foods have been a controversial issue since their invention. Genetically modified foods have the potential to solve world hunger and vitamin deficiencies, but yet at the present moment, we are not taking advantage of this opportunity. GE foods are not helping the poor, but are only hurting our ecosystems and possibly our health.

At the present moment, the FDA is deliberating over whether genetically modified salmon that can grow to three times the size of regular salmon can be released into the ocean. This is an alarming fact, since these GE organisms are potentially very harmful.

Even GE salmon raised in farms pose problems to the environment and to human health. Eating farmed salmon in exposes you to antibiotics, which are a health concern because a human that consumes massive amounts of antibiotics in their food may become resistant to antibiotics for illnesses that person may acquire. Farmed fish are also fed pink pigment to keep their color the same as wild salmon who get their color from the pink bottom-feeders they eat in the ocean. If the farmed salmon were not fed this dye, they would be an unappetizing dark gray. GE salmon would pose more even risk than regular farmed salmon, because GE salmon are usually fatter than normal salmon, and pollutants accumulate in fat, so they have a higher risk of poisoning.

Farmed fish also have a tendency to escape into the wild. For example, in 2000, 170,000 salmon escaped from a fish farm in Maine. If genetically modified fish are exposed to wild populations, they could out-compete wild populations and infiltrate the fragile ocean ecosystem. Because of their large size, the GE salmon would be desirable mating partners for the wild salmon. It has also been suggested that GE salmon be made sterile. Though this would solve the problem of containing the GE traits, if wild salmon are selecting and mating with the sterile fish instead of with the wild salmon, the population of salmon could decline rapidly.

Genetically modified foods do have the potential to help the world. Sometimes the benefits outweigh the risks as in the case of “Golden Rice”—a type of rice genetically modified to contain vitamin A and helps with the absorption of iron. The seeds are free of charge in attempt to bring this product to poor people in Asia who are in dire need of these vitamins. Salmon, on the other hand, helps very few people, and creates health and environmental concerns.

From an environmentalist’s standpoint, I also view the introduction of GE salmon as a threat not only to our health and our ocean ecosystem, but also to the natural world as a whole. The salmon is a romantic fish. We picture hundreds of salmon jumping in a waterfall and nature seems right. The perversion of this scene seems like a direct attack on nature itself.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Vote Green for 2007

A Guide To The Presidential Candidates' Climate Change Policy Plans
Written by Rebecca Gerome

The debate is over. Climate change is a reality. There is now more carbon pollution in the atmosphere than at any point in 650,000 years. Without a serious effort to reduce carbon emissions within the next decade, the consequences could be staggering. If we want to address global warming we have to reduce emissions 60 to 90%. This requires a major change in the technologies we use to provide energy. It is time to bring in a new era of energy production and use that relies on clean, safe, alternative energy. Which candidate has the best approach to bring about this energy shift?

Global warming has finally become a top concern in US politics. In a recent survey, 72% of the democrats and 36% of the republicans questioned listed the environment as "a very important issue". Although it still ranks below Iraq, healthcare and the economy, what used to concern only left-wing tree huggers is starting to gain significant importance among moderates and republicans. The National Association of Evangelicals and a few notable Catholic bishops have radically shifted their position and now consider climate change to be not simply a scientific issue, but a moral and ideological one. As for the republican candidates, they are divided between Giuliani and Romney, who have remained mostly silent about the environment, and McCain and Huckabee, who strongly support a carbon cap-and-trade policy.

The main Democratic candidates each propose a comprehensive energy plan and see environmental action as an opportunity for job creation in new technologies. The most eco-friendly candidate of all is Bill Richardson, the Governor of New Mexico, who calls himself the "energy president". He holds by far the strongest position in terms of specific proposals to reduce emissions and is backed up by the fact he already carried out a lot of his proposals in New Mexico. He is the only candidate to advocate a carbon tax - a highly unpopular proposal opposed by 71% - and propose a target of 90% reduction for gas emissions.

A Guide to The Solutions Proposed

Cap-and-Trade. Emissions Trading is a way for the government to control pollution on a national level. The government sets a cap to the amount of greenhouse gases that can be emitted. Companies hold a certain number of credits that represent their right to emit a certain amount of gases. If they need to emit more, they can buy credits from companies who pollute less, and thus trade in carbon credits. The company who pollutes more is therefore fined for polluting, while the one who pollutes less is rewarded for having reduced emissions. This method was already used successfully to reduce acid rain in the US. In the 1990s, the U.S. acid rain cap and trade program achieved 100% compliance in reducing sulfur dioxide emissions. In fact, power plants participating in the program reduced SO2 emissions 22% - 7.3 million tons - below mandated levels.

To address the growing threat of global warming, scientists say that we need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an average of two percent each year - achieving 80 percent reductions by 2050. Ten of the biggest corporations, including BP, Duke Energy and GE, have endorsed establishing a mandatory, economy-wide national cap on carbon emissions, which they believe will provide industry the long-term certainty that they need to develop new technologies.

Energy Efficiency. "Green building" design and construction can dramatically reduce the enormous amounts of energy that buildings consume in heating, cooling, lighting and water use.

Fuel Efficiency. Studies have shown that increasing fuel efficiency in private cars to 40 mpg would save three million barrels per day, helping to reduce the US' dependence on oil.

New Coal Plants and Liquid Coal. Reducing use of coal through energy efficiency and renewable energy technologies is a necessary step to address climate change. Yet the reality is that hundreds of new coal-fired power plants will probably be constructed in coming years. The compromise is to convert coal into a clean-burning gas and capture and dispose of the carbon dioxide deep underground, dramatically reducing the air pollution. However, even after employing these proposed capture technologies, a residual amount of carbon dioxide – between 60 and 150g CO2/kWh - will continue to be emitted. Employing CO2 capture will also increase the price of electricity from fossil fuels. Although the costs of storage depend on a lot of factors, including the technology used for separation, transport and the kind of storage installation, experts from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculate the additional costs at between 3.5 and 5.0 cents/kWh of power. Many environmental groups do not support carbon sequestration because it still has a negative environmental impact, it is expensive and can potentially be dangerous. Obama and Clinton, under pressure from coal workers, continue to support coal plants, providing that programs be put into place to reduce CO2 emissions through carbon capture and sequestration under ground.

Nuclear power. Though some consider it as an alternative to greenhouse gases, most environmental groups oppose it for several key reasons. There is no safe way to take care of nuclear waste, which will remain dangerous for 240,000 years. It is also dangerous. Since 1986, the year of the Chernobyl accident, there have been 200 near nuclear accidents at 50 reactors in the U.S. It also provides the material and know- how for nuclear weapons. Finally, nuclear power is expensive. The first 75 reactors in the U.S. cost $100 billion.

Renewable Energy. This is by far the cleanest and safest solution. More than 20 states have passed renewable electricity standards requiring that a certain percentage of their electricity is generated from renewables. Several have set a standard of 20% by 2020.

The Candidates

Hillary Clinton has a comprehensive energy plan that includes reducing carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 through cap-and-trade, increasing fuel efficiency to 55 mpg by 2030, and increasing renewable energy use to 25% by 2025. However, she supports liquid coal if it reduces its emissions by 20%. She also calls herself "agnostic" on the subject of nuclear power. However, she fully opposes drilling in Alaska's Artic National Wildlife Refuge.

John Edwards was the first candidate to pick up an environmental endorsement because he is the most outspoken against nuclear energy. He was also the first to say he would run a carbon neutral campaign by buying offsets* for his campaign buses and planes. He supports cap-and-trade beginning in 2010 and calls for an 80% reduction in carbon output by 2050, a 15% cut in energy use by 2018 and 40 mpg vehicles by 2016. He voted against drilling in Alaska and supports the ban on new coal plants unless they are compatible with carbon capture and storage capacity.

Barack Obama plans to reduce carbon emissions by 80% by 2050 through cap-and-trade and emphasizes innovation as a means to improve energy efficiency. He has called for a 50% energy reduction by 2030. He also plans on improving fuel efficiency to 50 mpg in 18 years by offering tax credits to automakers. He supports a 25% renewable energy standard by 2025, yet he is also willing to explore the use of nuclear power and supports investing in liquid coal if it reduces carbon pollution by 10%. He is opposed to ANWR drilling.

Rudy Giuliani has not articulated clear positions to address global warming. He rejects cap-and-trade, hasn't called for specific changes in fuel efficiency, supports increased use of nuclear energy and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico as well as ANWR. He has also received heavy campaign contributions from oil and gas industries.

John McCain is the only republican to even mention the words "global warming" and "climate change" on his website. He is the co-sponsor of the Senate cap-and-trade bill and is generally seen as a bipartisan leader on the issue. He advocates a 65% reduction in carbon 2050, generally supports increased energy and fuel efficiency but hasn't specified any standard. He also supports expanded use of nuclear energy. He voted against drilling in Alaska despite party pressure.

Mitt Romney is willing to consider a cap on emissions only if it is considered globally and generally supports energy efficiency but has not articulated any specific target. He supports liquid coal, more use of nuclear power and drilling in Alaska.

Bill Richardson calls himself the "energy president". He holds the strongest position in terms of specific proposals to reduce emissions and is backed up by the fact he already carried out a lot of his proposals in New Mexico. He is the only candidate to advocate a carbon tax - a highly unpopular proposal opposed by 71% - and a target of 90% reduction for gas emissions. He also advocates a 50 mpg fuel efficiency standard, 30% renewable energy standard by 2020, and opposes liquid coal.


Next year, southern California will be home to the construction of the largest solar power plant in the world. But unlike the typical flat panels that come to mind, this system won’t use an ounce of silicon. Instead, the 200 year old stirling heat engine will convert 30% of the sun’s power directly into grid ready AC power, much more efficient and cost effective than present photovoltaic cells. Forty foot tall mirrored dishes focus the sun’s energy onto the stirling engine, which uses the 1350°C heat to operate. Unlike combustion engines, the stirling engine has few moving parts, no exhaust, is highly efficient, and runs only on the temperature gradient given to it. Since the vast majority of components are steel and glass, parts are cheap and aren’t affected by the rising cost of semiconductors.

Upon completion in 2010, two plants with a total of 32,000 dishes will produce 800 MW of electricity, enough to power 800,000 homes and keep 3.32 million tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere. This is the first solar installation that will rival the output of a coal plant, which typically produces 1000 MW.

Using a square of the desert 100 miles by 100 miles for these dishes would generate enough energy to power the entire United States (excluding fuel used to run vehicles, which is roughly half the energy consumption of the US). For you politically charged folks out there, the project would cost about one quarter the current price tag of the Iraq war.

by Chris Wegemer

Media and the EcoReps

Check out , a great site about green events and initiatives going on right now, and green tips you can use to make a change.

One of their current initiatives is about the still unresolved environmental impact of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. The amount of trash and pollution beyond accepted levels is evidence of social and environmental injustice. Two years passed since Hurricane Katrina, but its environmental impact – as well as others – is still as blatant as the day it hit.

To make a difference, visit to get informed about the challenges New Orleans is facing in remediation and recovery. There is also the possibility of going down to New Orleans to volunteer with the Deep South Center for Environmental Justice's "A Safe Way Home" project, and work on remediation of soil to reduce pollution. Or you can simply make donations to community groups who are working to make New Orleans a habitable environmental by accepted standards once more. This is a great ongoing initiative that you can support by taking some very simple steps!

Written by Yasemin Erboy

Powershift 2007, Washington D.C.

These days, everyone seems to know that environmental issues are a hot topic. And yet still our government seems unwilling to take any real action.
This election day weekend, college students from around the country are meeting in Washington DC to show support for an active, aggressive policy towards environmental change.
There are workshops and speakers throughout the whole weekend to help students become more efficient, active members of their own environmental community.

Interested? Join the facebook group Columbia Students going to Powershift or check out to register and learn more.

Written by Hannah Perls

"Dorm Storm" by Jeff Randal

So I've got four roommates, only one of whom was on board with
recycling and proper waste disposal. And for the past two months my
morning routine has consisted of going to the bathroom, brushing my
teeth and resorting the recycling from the previous day. First I
asked, then told, then pleaded for my roommates to simply not be so
lazy and just think about what goes where, but to no avail. And so
finally after finding yet another plastic bottle in the trash and the
our bins running over to the floor the cleaning people stopped taking
out our recycling, it was truly the last soda bottle for me... So I
devised a fool proof plan to get everyone in my suite to recycle, I
opened up MS Paint and with as much artistic skill as a 4th grader
made signs reminding my suitemates that if they recycled then our
cleaning people might take out our recycling and I taped them above
each container. I still had a few days of resorting but like magic it
now happens automatically and I don't even need to check to make sure
it is done right. So that is my advice to anyone out there with
roommates who are harmful to Mother Earth, make funny signs to remind

Monday, November 12, 2007

Right Issue, Wrong Winner

Awarding Al Gore the Nobel Peace Prize for increasing understanding and awareness of global warming seems a bit like giving the Nobel Prize in Literature to a publisher. The Norwegian Nobel Committee’s recognition of Gore and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) admirably casts global warming as a political issue, but it neglects the work of activists who have sought far more significant political changes than Gore has dared to support.
In his film An Inconvenient Truth, Gore treats the political effects of climate change as universal, noting its link with the drought preceding violence in Darfur and the severity of Hurricane Katrina. However, the real political effects facing humanity in the coming years will be far more skewed because of the imbalance of power between industrialized nations, who created this problem, and the impoverished nations, predicted to suffer its worst consequences.
Wealthy countries, along with industrializing nations like China and India, have practiced a fingers-in-ears policy for decades toward climate change that has created the bulk of the greenhouse gases threatening our planet. While the Netherlands recently invested in floating houses and Australia in a massive, wind-powered desalinization plant to prepare for floods and droughts on the horizon, the African nations that will likely suffer worse consequences from climate change are left with few resources to brace for a problem they did not cause and could not prevent.
Gore’s work to place this issue in the public consciousness, as well as the IPCC’s work confirming the links between human activity and warming, represent a vital but insufficient portion of the political battles that global warming necessitates. Part of Gore’s political career was dedicated to making climate change an issue of national policy by opening hearings on Capitol Hill and by participating in the Kyoto Protocol. Since leaving politics, he has traveled the world presenting a slide show that eventually became the Oscar-winning An Inconvenient Truth, started an Emmy-winning, interactive television network with environmentally themed programming called Current TV, and started the Alliance for Climate Protection to disseminate information about lifestyle changes that reduce carbon consumption. His portion of the Nobel Prize money will be donated to the alliance.
There is a problem with the Nobel Committee’s decision to celebrate Gore’s lifetime of work. Since leaving office, he has treated climate change as an issue best addressed by individual changes in consumer habits, not through policy reform. Carbon consumption may be slowed by the conscience-pricking of Gore’s work, but only to the extent that it is caused by the everyday decisions of consumers. Efforts to hold powerful nations accountable for their debt to the world and to promote environmental policy changes move far beyond the scope of advice offered by An Inconvenient Truth, such as, “Buy a hybrid car (if you can afford it).”
The Nobel Committee’s dual recognition of the IPCC’s science and Gore’s populism left out a crucial third element: the scores of activists who have been addressing this issue politically for years. Sheila Watt-Cloutier, a nominee for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize, tried to bring legal action against the United States for violating the human rights of the Inuit people by emitting greenhouse gases that have already begun to threaten their way of life. Born in northern Canada, Watt-Cloutier has been an activist for much of her life, and she used her positions as President and International Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference to protect Inuit culture from extinction.
As sea ice disappears in the Arctic, a region that suffers the greatest of global warming’s effects, a way of life disappears as surely as if threatened by human warfare. The Inuit are only the first of many groups whose continued existence on this planet will be made impossible by the drastic changes our planet faces in the coming decades and centuries.
By awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to a U.N.-supported panel of scientists and an already internationally recognized political and media figure, the committee chose to lend the immense moral weight of its support to groups who already controlled the public eye and have yet to use their power toward ends as radical, necessary, or humanistic as those of Sheila Watt-Cloutier.

Jonathan Basile
The author is a Columbia College senior majoring in English and Comparative Literature.
He is also an EcoRep for Furnald

October 28, 2007 4:28 PM

Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is: the Power of Consumer Choice

Once you've turned off the lights, cut down your shower time, closed your windows and reduced your thermostat, you're all set to go, right? You're not an activist, you've got other things on your plate, you've done as much as one individual can reasonably do. The truth is that going green isn't only something that happens at home. The next step, and it really isn't a difficult one, is to turn your attention outwards, onto the things you purchase. As a consumer, you have the power to impact the big changes that seem so unimaginable when all you're doing is turning off light switches. But your money speaks volumes and can allow you to be an activist without any of the hassle.

With just the amount of energy you put into checking facebook once during the day, you can find out how to be a conscious consumer. Some easy tips: buy local (not just food), look for recyclable packaging, and avoid harmful chemicals from chlorides to phosphates and no.7 plastics. If you're looking for specifics, here are two websites that are trying to make information easily available to you so that when you're in the supermarket or the shoe store you can know which companies to support. Climate Counts provides little pocket booklets which you can print and carry with you when you go out. It also has a text message service so you can get the right info by phone. Check them out, and start using your voice!

Everyone's talking about global warming, but what can you personally do about it? When you buy from companies taking responsibility for climate change, you're sending a message that climate change matters to you. Not all companies share that sense of responsibility. But if they know you're paying attention to what they're doing (or not doing), they'll take action. As a consumer, you have real power. USE IT.

The Center for a New American Dream helps Americans consume responsibly to protect the environment, enhance quality of life, and promote social justice.

Lastly, a radio show about the presidential candidates and climate change. Has it become a more salient issue now, or is the media just paying more attention now?

Consumer choices really are a viable way of reducing America's carbon footprint. In the radio episode above, Dean Spiliotes expresses amazement at the industrial green revolution that is occurring. More and more companies are ready to compete and are asking Congress for carbon caps. The only way we can make sure to keep this momentum up is to add our own voices and let these companies know that we are watching.

-Kate Smith, Ruggles EcoRep

Saturday, September 22, 2007

CLIMATE QUOTE for the week

"Man-made global warming is not just a matter for environmental policy, it is also becoming a strategic question for foreign policy in terms of security and stability. Spreading deserts, ever more scarce water, devastating storms and floods or ruined harvests mean expulsion, hunger and suffering.
"The fuels of Earth's industrialization are energy and raw materials. We are seeing how the race for both these fuels is well underway. To date, thank goodness, these have been peaceful struggles but it is plain to see that there is a risk of escalation as soon as scarcity starts impacting economic growth and people's way of life. That is why I for a good two years now have been emphasizing above all else that, looking to the future, a cooperative energy security policy is one of the central pillars of far-sighted foreign or peace policy."

Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier
Speech on Current German Foreign-Policy Issues at the German Council on Foreign Relations
September 11, 2007

Posted by: Andrea Gallardo

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Eco-Rep Application Deadline EXTENDED


The Eco-Rep application has now been shortened AND the deadline extended! Choose, now, only 2 questions in the application to answer, and then the last question (3 total). Apply to by THURSDAY midnight, September 20.

We look forward to your applications!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Apply to be an Eco-Rep!!!

The application is now available to be an Eco-Rep for the 2007-2008 academic school year. The link for the application can be found at Applications are due by midnight September 15.

Monday, August 20, 2007


This is the first post of the Columbia University EcoReps blog! Hopefully we'll have it updated weekly...