Archive for the ‘environment’ Category

The 100-Mile Diet

Oct06

by Saw/iStockPhoto

Local produce fuels the 100-Mile diet (Credit: saw/iStockPhoto)

— by Nuño Dominguez

For decades, diets were designed to make people lose some extra pounds or push them into healthier lifestyles. Now, things are going holistic: Eat better while you fight global warming and save your local economy. It is the 100-mile diet.

Thousands of people looking for fresh and sustainable bites across the US and Canada are shifting to local food from a 100-mile radius from their homes. The local food networks are also getting bigger with hundreds of new farmer’s markets appearing every year. 

It all started in March 2005, when freelance writers Alissa Smith and James McKinnon ran out of food up in their holiday cabin in a remote region of British Columbia, Canada. Far from any road to reach the closest town, they decided to feast on what the wilderness had to offer. They fished a Dolly Varden trout in the nearby stream and harvested chanterelle mushrooms and dandelion greens in the woods. They also used some of the potatoes they planted in their garden the previous spring. “It was delicious, because everything was so fresh,” says Smith. Driven by the soft bouquet of wild trout and the juicy taste of those wilderness-thriving mushrooms, the couple decided that, for a year, they would eat only products within 100 miles of Vancouver, where their apartment is.

The couple quickly realized their shift to local food was not precisely a smooth change. As they figured out which products were inside their food zone, they found out there was no source of local wheat or rice, so forget about good old pasta or bread. Sugar – not your typical British Columbia produce – was also a bitter drop-out. Smith and McKinnon are mainly vegetarians -they only eat meat and fish once in a while- so their local diet had to stick to seasonal greens, which were scarce from March to late May. They mainly fed on kale, cabbage, turnips, rutabagas and leeks. There was also an ever present star: the potato. The couple had to wrack their brains to fight monotony in their dishes. A veggie sandwich using sliced roasted turnip instead of bread was one of their outstanding innovations. During the first six weeks, they lost 15 pounds.

Just as Smith and McKinnon thought they could not go on with their challenge, the new season started and fresh vegetables returned to markets again. From May, the couple enjoyed a culinary spring that turned into a tasty summer with juicy strawberries, crunchy carrots and multiple salad greens. Even in the midst of their green feast, they had a premonition of the long Canadian winter. Like in the old fable, they started playing the ant’s role and preserved as much food for the cold months as they could. Their one bedroom apartment became a small grocery store with boxes of sauerkraut under every chair, rows of chilli peppers drying in the closet next to their coats and a three feet tall by two feet wide cube freezer stuffed with reserves seizing most part of their kitchen. “It invaded our decor a little bit,” says Smith, who nevertheless says their new lifestyle was worth the starving and the hard work. “I learned that I didn’t want to go back to my old way of supermarket eating,” she says. Although the couple now consumes 85% of their food locally, they have indulged in some hard-to-leave goods like beer, olive oil and rice…… (Click here to read the rest of this story.) 

Check out farmer’s markets in the Boston/Cambridge area – Listing courtesy of Yelp.com

Posted by Joseph, under environment  |  Date: October 6, 2008
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Sustaining Life: Beginning the Conversation with Dr. Holbrook

Sep29

Polar Bears

Polar bears are one of many creatures in danger of extinction that have contributed to medical reearch. (Credit: Museum of Science)

SUSTAINING LIFE: A CONVERSATION
Museum of Science, Boston/Cahners Theater
Friday, October 3, at 7:00 p.m.

— by Joseph Caputo

In 1992, the Center for Health and the Global Environment at Harvard Medical School began a massive, international effort under the direction of Nobel Peace Prize-winning scientist and author Eric Chivian to catalog “what was known about how other species contribute to human health.” The result is “Sustaining Life: How Human Health Depends on Biodiversity,” a 568-page tomb of scientific research recounting the numerous medical advances acquired through our study of other species. This Friday at the Museum of Science, Chivian will have a public discussion about biodiversity and health with world-renowned research scientist Edward O. Wilson. Moderating the event will be Noel Michele “Missy” Holbrook, the Charles Bullard Professor of Forestry and Professor of Biology at Harvard University, who shared some of her thoughts on the book with Science Metropolis. 

Q: WHAT QUESTIONS DO YOU WANT TO ADDRESS AS MODERATOR?

Dr. HolbrookA: As moderator I will try to put voice to questions that the audience will have. One of the reasons I have adopted the book for my course is that it has so many examples of how the pursuit of knowledge can change the way we act in the world.  I think that’s what both Drs. Wilson and Chivian have come to symbolize in their lifes’ work – helping people see these connections and then take the next steps. I’m going to try to provoke them to really elaborate on those themes in their own experiences with biological diversity and value.

Q: WHAT ACTIONS ARE THESE SCIENTISTS TAKING ON THIS ISSUE ASIDE FROM PUBLISHING BOOKS? 

A: I think both Drs. Wilson and Chivianc do a large amount of going beyond the ivory tower, whether going to world leaders and decision makers at every level. Both have been very active in the last year reaching out to the religious right with a shared interest in biological diversity. Both are very involved in helping to recognize we have a common reason for preserving biodiversity.

Q: WHAT IS DR. CHIVIAN’S ROLE IN THIS RESEARCH? 

A: He carries a great deal of respect in part becase he’s able to effectively communicate the value of biological diversity in ways that matter. We invite him to give a guest lecture to my intro course each year in part because he resonates with students. I think it’s partly that he’s a strong voice from within the medical community that he really stands out and does a great service for the general public.

Q. WHAT DO YOUR STUDENTS THINK OF THE BOOK?

A: They have not read it yet, so it is very hard fro me to comment on that. It is a handsome and affordable book with lovely illustrations and a very fine layout. The goal was to get it into the hands of a wide audience, including students. I think knowledge is empowering and I think this is a good question: What is the value of biological diversity? I like the title because we depend on the health of our planet, food system, and ourselves – all of these things are intertwined. 

Q: YOU STUDY PLANT BIOLOGY. ARE THERE ANY EXAMPLES OF PLANTS AFFECTING HUMAN HEALTH?

A: There are quite a few examples.  Plants are the great biochemists of our planet. The cure for malaria came from a tree. Aspirin was originally isolated from the bark of a willow tree. A lot of cancer drugs also come from plants. 

Q: WHAT DO YOU WANT THE AUDIENCE TO TAKE AWAY FROM FRIDAY’S EVENT?

A: We’re at a very serious juncture at the history of Earth for a potential large amount of biological diversity to go extinct. Quite a serious topic, so I hope people come away thinking there is hope, they can work in partnership with academics, and that it’s a shared endeavour that matters to them.

How to Get TicketsTickets for this program may be purchased by phone at 617/723-2500 or online at www.mos.org/adults. Seating is limited. Advance purchase is strongly recommended.

Posted by Joseph, under environment  |  Date: September 29, 2008
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Introducing Aeroecology: Scientists Study Life in Flight

Sep19

Thermal Infrared image of flying Brazilian free tailed bats in Texas, shown in false color. Key to colors:  yellow (warmest), red (warm), green (cool), blue (coolest).

Thermal Infrared image of flying Brazilian free-tailed bats in Texas. Key to false colors: yellow (warmest), red (warm), green (cool), blue (coolest). (Credit: Thomas H. Kunz and Margrit Betke/Boston University)

by Julia Darcey

Finding out if wind turbines kill bats requires more than a body count. To answer this seemingly simple question, scientists need to find out how bats migrate, why they migrate, how they fly, and what air currents they follow. The complexity and inaccessibility of aerial lifestyles often means that flying creatures, like bats, are poorly understood.

That is why Thomas Kunz, Director of the Center for Ecology and Conservation Biology at Boston University, proposed a new discipline called aeroecology at the “Integrative and Comparative Biology Symposium” in August. Aeroecology is the study of the interactions of organisms in and with the air. It’s difficult to think of the air as a habitat. But to a flying animal, the air is a landscape as complex as the ground below, filled with turbulence, currents, predators, prey, and even diseases. The study of aeroecology encompasses both the structure of the air and the organisms that migrate and feed within it. Or, as Kunz puts it: “Everything above the ground is fair game.”

Aeroecology is based at Boston University, but it draws on research from scientists all over the country, working in fields as disparate as atmospheric science, engineering, and computer science. Guided by aeroecology’s cross-disciplinary approach, biologists used to working from the ground are beginning to use common devices to observe animals in flight. For example, Doppler weather-surveillance radar can distinguish birds and bats from each other based on their flight speed. Other researchers are using tracking radar to identify and record movements of migratory animals. Thermal imaging cameras-which can capture the temperature profiles of warm-bodied animals that would otherwise be invisible at night-allow researchers to census populations of the nocturnal Brazilian free-tailed bat.

When using large-scale detection instruments, such as Doppler radar, it is impossible to identify species. One way to do this, Kunz says, is to learn exactly what the wing beats of each species look like. Kunz and his colleagues plan to learn this by sending different species of bats and birds into the sky in a small container attached to a weather balloon. When it reaches the target altitude, the container will open and the animal will fly out. This will allow Kunz to record the wing beat patterns of each species in its natural aerial environment. Kunz says that such research will help identify birds and bats in the air, especially at night.

Climate change and human expansion make understanding the fauna of the aerosphere more important than ever before. Thousands of bats and birds die each year from wind turbines, and these aren’t the only hazard that winged animals face. “The air space has been greatly altered by anthropogenic development-turbines, aircraft, lighted cities, skyscrapers,” Kunz says. “I am against further development before we know the potential consequences in each situation.” The unified approach that aeroecology advocates, Kunz says, will be vital to preserving the unfamiliar and dynamic world that exists above us.

Posted by Joseph, under environment  |  Date: September 19, 2008
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Mass. Ocean Bill Signed With Little Controversy

May29

Mass Ocean Act Poster

Governor Deval Patrick signed a bill yesterday that will push Massachusetts towards becoming the first state with a single management plan for its coastal waters. All proposed projects within 3 miles of the state’s coastline, from wind farms to aquaculture operations, will be put on hold until a 17 -member committee made up of scientists and lawmakers can devise the document, due out in late 2009. (The event was reported in detail by The Associated Press and Boston Globe.)

The bill is in everyone’s favor. Local businesses, wildlife conservationists, and lawmakers all benefit from these guidelines, which will be devised with sound science and economics in mind. It passed unanimously in the State Senate by July 2006. Even the Alliance to protect Nantucket Sound had positive comments on the bill.

“However, the compromise bill still opens the door to wind energy development close to shore in our state ocean sanctuaries including Nantucket Sound,” they said in a statement. ” This crack in the armor of preservation continues to loom large as an issue for the Alliance.” The bill does not cover the Cape Wind project, which the group strong opposes, because it is in federal waters.

For a bill that makes everyone happy, it still took over five years of hard work for it to pass. The Massachusetts Ocean Management Task Force was formed in June 2003 and has since lobbied for the bill under the name Mass Ocean Action Coalition. According to a letter to Environmental Affairs from the coalition, it is made up of representatives from state and federal agencies, conservation organizations, fishing organizations and academic institutions.

Although the effort to create an advisory group wasn’t controversial, the actual regulations the group proposes will most definitely stir debate. One touchy subject is the issue of whether or not to use the state coastline to host potential sources of renewable energy. As the Cape Wind project has demonstrated, many people are opposed. The committee has a tough job ahead of them.

Posted by Joseph, under environment, policy  |  Date: May 29, 2008
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How Not To Catch A Predator

May21

SharkDefense

Chemist Eric. M. Stroud demonstrates his shark repellent.Credit: Joseph Caputo/Science Metropolis

Eric. M. Stroud
Sharks didn’t become the terrors of the sea by looking cute. With a sixth sense to detect electrical signals, these creatures are natural hunting machines.

This evolutionary trademark may also be the key to keeping sharks safe from the fishing industry. According to Oceana.org, a marine advocacy group, 50-million sharks are unintentionally caught by commercial fishermen each year. While some survive, many die or are de-finned as a result.

The trouble is, both fishermen and sharks know where to find fish, so keeping sharks away from catch sites isn’t going to happen. The solution is to make a repellent, a chemical or bait that will keep sharks out of harm’s way.

SharkDefense, a six-year old organization of researchers that specializes in keeping sharks safe, now has evidence that certain kinds of metals and magnets may repel sharks by overloading their electricity-detecting sense.

“A magnet is all about electrons,” said Eric. M. Stroud, lead chemist and SharkDefense co-founder. The magnets he experiments with have thousands of times the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field. Put one near a human or fish – no effect. But place one near a shark and it can awaken from even the deepest rest. (See video below).

Stroud, also a Ph.D. student at Seton Hall University, discussed SharkDefense’s progress Tuesday night as part of the New England Aqiarium’s Free Lecture Series. In addition to magnets, sharks tend to avoid chemicals secreted by dead sharks as well as rare Earth metals.

The company’s goal is to apply this knowledge to baits that fishermen can purchase to avoid catching sharks, although the product has to be practical. One idea was to hang dozens of magnets from the side of a boat. The problem: Boats are made of metal. More promising is a hook that includes a small piece of magnet nudged between a sleeve and steel leader.

Although the technology is available, SharkDefense still needs to hook manufacturers. “As a small company, we can’t make the stuff,” said Stroud. He hopes to get the support of government agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

As far as keeping sharks away from humans. There is always a company like SharkShield, which sell electronic wave devices for “peace of mind.” Although, don’t spend too much – for every 50 million sharks captured by humans, only a dozen humans are caught by sharks.

Posted by Joseph, under business, environment  |  Date: May 21, 2008
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Can Math Solve an Environmental Health Mystery?

May06

In November 1987, Dr. Dave Ozonoff, an expert in public health, decided to return to the passion of his youth.

After reading a book about chaos theory, he pulled his old multivariable calculus text book off the shelf and solved every end-of-the-chapter problem set. That day Ozonoff, who hadn’t touched a math book since he was in college, determined he would get his skills back by doing one hour of math every day. “I said, ‘Wow, I gotta learn this stuff, this is going to be important in biology’,” he recalls.

Despite a busy schedule as Chair Emeritus of the Department of Environmental Health at Boston University (BU), and his intense involvement in research, he has not missed his math exercises for a single day. “Christmas, New Year’s, Thanksgivings, birthdays, anniversaries… I had kidney stones, I was operated on twice, and even then I managed to somehow do it,” says Ozonoff, 65.

A great part of Ozonoff’s work has focused on cancer in small communities of Upper Cape Cod, where cancer rates are 25% higher than the rest of Massachusetts. With 20 years of research, his team proved that a product known as perchloroethylene (PCE), once used to line the interior of the water pipes, raised the risk of breast cancer in the area. But exposure to PCE did not account for all cancers. There had to be something else.

Now, Ozonoff thinks his mathematical training could help him solve the problem. He is using a part of mathematics called lattice theory to scan his data for new connections between cancer and environmental exposures. Lattice theory had been used in marketing to figure out if people buying chips tend to also buy beer, for instance. Ozonoff thinks he can use these data mining techniques to figure out which health symptoms go together when people are exposed to a toxic substance.

“It is a very new way of thinking of a very old idea,” says 31-year-old Al Ozonoff, assistant professor of biostatistics at BU and Dave Ozonoffs’s son. While his dad works on his mathematical models in an office on Albany Street, Al is two blocks away working on how statistics can be used to forecast pandemic outbreaks. Also a mathematics major in college, part of his work involves studying small clusters of disease similar to the ones his father researches. “We need as many different ways of thinking about it as possible,” he says.

The elder Ozonoff’s work on water contaminated with PCE and other chemicals has sparked action from federal and state governments to reduce people’s exposure to chemicals. His work on PCE in Cape Cod “has been an important contribution,” says Perry Cohn, a research scientist at the New Jersey Department of Health and Senior Services. Cohn says the evidence that PCE was related with cancer in Cape Cod helped his Department set appropriate levels of PCE in drinking water in New Jersey.

But PCE is only one piece of the puzzle in Cape Cod and Ozonoff is now trying to find new connections between disease and the environment. To do that, he is going through his data all over again, this time using his new mathematical tools. “What these new methods allow you to do is find the hidden pattern in the data,” says Ozonoff, who has included lattice theory exercises in his daily mathematical training. “I don’t have the discipline to do what he does,” says his son, who was seven years old when his father started his math routine. But despite his admiration, he thinks it is going to be a long way until his dad’s math produces results. “The challenging part is translating theory into practice.”

– Story by Nuño Dominguez

Posted by Joseph, under environment, mathematics, profile  |  Date: May 6, 2008
3 Comments »

Rethinking Green

Apr22

Happy Earth Day from Science Metropolis. The holiday has taken on a new significance with growing awareness about global warming. Boston Mayor Menino is talking big about turning Beantown into Greentown, but is the city taking the right steps? Science journalist Lauren Rugani shares her thoughts:

In an effort to reduce carbon emissions, 28 cities around the world turned off their lights between 8:00 and 9:00 p.m. on March 29, 2008. Although many Bostonians participated in this event, known as Earth Hour, the city of Boston did not publicly support the event.

Kudos, Boston.

Earth Hour organizers argue that the goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the connection between energy use and climate change, not to boycott electricity. Unfortunately, many Boston residents interpreted the movement literally and are angry that Boston did not participate. One Boston.com discussion board displays numerous Earth Hour posts: “Boston should have invented it,” says one user; “Why make it one hour? Make it a week, then a month,” says another.

The problem with such organized, grand-scale events is that they receive too much media attention, while doing relatively little to actually help the environment. It’s time to stop “raising awareness” and time to start taking action that will make a difference – which is exactly what Boston is doing.

Popular Science magazine ranks Boston as the third greenest city in America, out of cities with populations over 100,000. The criteria for this ranking includes renewable electricity sources, public transportation, green spaces, and recycling programs. Boston and Cambridge (number six on the list) are the only places on the East Coast to make the top 15.

Mayor Thomas M. Menino and James W. Hunt, the Chief of Environmental and Energy Services, recently released a Climate Action Agenda and Executive Order that outlines goals for a greener Boston. Menino hopes to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Since many emissions come from city buildings, all new developments must be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System.

Menino also plans to purchase over 11% of the city’s electricity from renewable sources such as wind or solar power. City diesel vehicles run on low-sulfur fuel, school buses are retrofitted with technology to control pollution, and Boston sponsors the Clean Air CABS program, which offers rebates and tax credits to companies who drive electric, hybrid, or low-emission alternative fuel vehicles. Finally, the mayor aims to plant 100,000 new trees in Boston by 2030.

But the impact from these initiatives will take time. Unlike Earth Hour, the success of these programs cannot happen at the flick of a switch or be measured by a meter reading.

In the age of instant coffee, instant messages, and instant approvals, it’s no wonder that the instant gratification from Earth Hour was evident around the globe. But it’s not about the big things you can do once a year; it’s about the small things you can do every day. Buy more efficient lighting, shut off your computer overnight, and take the T to work. Be patient, Bostonians, and your efforts will be appreciated by generations to come.

Photo from iStockPhoto.

Posted by Joseph, under climate change, environment  |  Date: April 22, 2008
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The Plastic Menace

Feb27

Plastic Bags

A plastic bag strikes again. (Credit: Joseph Caputo)

Plastic bags are unpredictable. Once they leave the supermarket you never know where they where they will end up.Sometimes they are caught up in trees or fences adding an industrial look to already polluted landscapes. They also clutter rivers and waterways. Many are dumped in landfills where they remain for centuries. Lots of them find their way to the ocean, where they kill whales, dolphins, turtles and other species that mistake them for food. In an uncertain plastic world there is a single sure bet: the odds are nine to one that a bag will end up where it does not belong.

In the United States, 100-billion plastic bags are discarded every year. Not even 1% of the bags are recycled, according to the Worldwatch Institute. A new global reaction against the plastic opulence is rising and some countries are leading the battle with alternatives to one-use bags, taxes and bans. Many nations have realized that free bags are costly and sometimes even deadly. In Bangladesh, huge clogs of polyethylene bags obstructed the drainage systems worsening the 1998 flood that killed 700 people and left 21 million without homes. In 2002, Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags.

Restrictions can also save a lot of money. Plastic bags are made from oil and China expects to save millions of barrels with a ban on free, filmy plastic bags that will start in June this year. Bans are also rising in the United States. San Francisco was the first city to ban the product and Oakland followed suit. Many other cities are considering less radical approaches like the one adopted in New York, which forces large retailers to collect and recycle the plastic sacks.

Economic pressures to consumers also work. The Irish “plastax,” a 30-cent levy, reduced the circulation of plastic bags by 90% and turned convenient plastic bags into annoying extra expenses. The tax also encouraged consumers to choose environmentally savvy containers like cloth bags. That is called BYOB (Bring Your Own Bag), the most sustainable option according to many environmental groups.

Some companies are also taking steps towards a less plasticized world. Ikea denies free bags to their American customers -they can buy them if they want- and Whole-Foods Market will get rid of them next April. Cloth bags seem the most environmentally friendly option. They can last for years and do the job of thousands of plastic bags. But only a small minority currently uses them and it will take more than awareness campaigns to convince the rest of the public.

To reduce the impact of our waste without causing new worries requires balanced and well-thought-out policies. Decision makers can reduce the plastic frenzy with bans or taxes, or lead research projects to find new plastics with no dangerous downsides. Plastic manufacturers and retailers must also join that effort by funding research and undertaking stronger commitments towards serious recycling quotas. Citizens, however, must make changes to their lifestyles by using cloth bags and bringing the plastic stocks under their sinks to recycling spots. Dealing with a ubiquitous source of waste can only be achieved with a global plan involving all stakeholders. That is the only way to be sure plastic bags end up where they belong.

For more information:

– The Progressive Bag Alliance
-NatureWorks

— Story by Nuño Domínguez

Posted by Joseph, under environment  |  Date: February 27, 2008
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Turning Beantown into Greentown

Feb03

Expo.JPG

Hundreds of men, women and children gathered over the weekend to grip green cloth tote bags and discuss hemp sweaters. A new annual event, and possible glimpse into the future, the Boston Going Green Expo sponsored by Waste Management is the place to be if you’re looking to update this old house to be environmentally friendly.
Nearly 400 businesses and non-profits gathered to show off their goods at the Bayside Expo Center, a few minutes South of Boston. Each tried to draw customers with free smoothe samples or a $30,000 trip. The city of Boston’s booth even purchased carbon-offsets to counter the energy used in preparing their exhibition.

After paying the $10 to get it, visitors were flooded in a sea of green: There was green gum, green windows, green water, green motorbikes, and even green vodka. If things got too overwhelming, there was a space for kids to play and learn how to be green or adults to sit and listen to bands perform green songs.
Despite the feel-good atmosphere, the expo came off as very corporate. Aside from the extremeTrashcans.jpg cases of business-owners who sell hemp and travel the country in a hemp-powered van, the majority of stations were selling a product because being green is in right now. An interesting study would be to ask various companies what they mean when they call a product green. Is it green soap because is made without chemicals or does it mean it is sustainable or eco-friendly. Without asking these questions we easily fall into the trap we’re currently in with biofuels, where we learn too late of the environmental and human consequences.

Terrachoice, a marketing firm that helps businesses take steps to become environmentally friendly calls such tactics greenwashing. At the moment, we, the consumers, are stuck in a battle between an old and new business model. and each is trying to buy our affections. The oil companies cajole us by promising, despite the health and safety risks, to keep prices low. The eco-friendly businesses tell us we will pay more, but save the Earth in the process without defining what that means or evidence it will make a difference.

So while organic soymilk drunk from a hand-made ceramic mug is the new craze, please show a bit of caution. These are businesses, and just like the plastics or fast-food companies, will do anything for your money. So take their promises with a grain of natural, ocean-grown salt.

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Posted by Joseph, under environment  |  Date: February 3, 2008
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Campus Greening: Learning by Example

Jan19

Nothing can stop the campus greening movement. The umbrella term describing the set of environmentally-friendly policies being implemented by colleges and universities nationwide is charging everything from better recycling programs to solar-powered dormitories.

There is a range, however, in how much each institution is doing to change its behavior and reduce carbon-based practices. A lot of why is tied to money, but equally important is the initiative taken by students, faculty and staff.

On the low end of the spectrum is Boston University, it has the money but lacks the initiative. The student newspaper reported last February, BU scored a “D” on an campus sustainability report card and from the interviews it reflects the administration cared more about the legitimacy of the surveyors than reflecting on why the grade was received. BUGreen.jpgThe university has a “greening the campus” Web site, but it has not been updated since last spring.

While reporting in September on what BU students knew about the greening actions, those I interviewed said they either didn’t care about global warming or were in the dark about any actions the university was taking. One positive is a group let by graduate students called The BU Energy Club, which came together in October to host events on issues of energy and climate change.

In the middle is my alma mater Sarah Lawrence College in Westchester, NY. It lacks the money, but has the initiative, which began with members of the administration and spread from the students all the way up to college president. Although many “carbon-footprint” related changes have yet to take place because of cost, a sustainability committee open to the entire college community has decided on some smaller steps to put into action. In addition, I reported last spring on a student sustainability group hosting education-related events for the SLC. community on climate change that had some of the best turnouts for any student-run club.

At the far end is the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an institution with the initiative and the money. Ten years ago, the Environmental Protection Agency likened MIT to a factory after fining it $55,000 for multiple waste management violations throughout it’s over 2,000 laboratories. Now, after devoting much of that money to environmentally-related campaigns, it is one of the most promising places for research in sustainable energy. The M.I.T. Energy Initiative, a committee with representatives from every part of the campus began in the fall of 2006 and now is a star example of what university can do to combat climate change, including partnering with solar research firms and providing classes directly related to alternative energy.

Of all the “greening” actions institutions of higher education can take, the most important is giving students a stake in these movements. Global warming will be a big part of their adulthood and providing classes and events to learn about the science as well as the connected social and political issues is the only way a university can fulfill its mission to shape citizens of the world.

Posted by Joseph, under environment  |  Date: January 19, 2008
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