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Friday, September 9, 2011

Update

I'm currently on my way back home from my summer organizing gig in Alaska. I apologize for by hiatus, but I have several blogs already drafted about my experiences out here in the last frontier, so look for them in the upcoming week!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Duke announces 2015 closing of Beckjord coal plant

Check out this blog by my friend and greenpeace organizer Paul Wojoski:

 
Last Friday, Duke Energy announced its plans to close the W.C. Beckjord Power Station by January 1, 2015, citing upcoming EPA regulations, including the Maximum Achievable Control Technology rule (MACT).  This 60-year-old, unscrubbed plant is located about 20 miles east of Cincinnati and has been emitting 69,156 tons of sulfur dioxide, 4,556 tons of nitrogen oxides, and 4,289,107 tons of carbon dioxide each year in addition to mercury and other hazardous air pollutants.

While I’m encouraged by Duke’s recognition of the “regulatory writing on the wall,” Duke needs to take seriously the health of Cincinnatians and accelerate the retirement of this plant.  In Duke's statement about closing Beckjord, the company only cites the cost “to which their customers will be exposed” from installing pollution control, rather than the toxic emissions to which they are exposed to daily. 

Duke Energy's W.C. Beckjord Coal-fired Power Plant
Duke Energy's W.C. Beckjord Coal-fired Power Plant
According to the Clean Air Task Force, every year that the Beckjord coal plant operates, it causes 140 deaths, 220 heart attacks, over 2,000 asthma attacks and a host of hospital and emergency room admissions. Waiting until 2015 to close this plant is simply not soon enough, especially when Duke has heard from its customers that human lives are more important than profits.

Over the last three months, our coalition partner Ohio Citizen Action has mailed 2,037 personal letters to Jim Rogers, Duke Energy CEO, urging him to close the Beckjord power plant, including cute but deadly serious drawings by children.

“Duke’s customers have sent the company a clear message that they want it to move away from its reliance on dirty coal plants,”said Rachael Belz, Coal Program Organizer at Ohio Citizen Action.

I agree.  Instead of taking a proactive approach and closing Beckjord immediately, Duke Energy is waiting until the absolute last minute before they have to comply with the new EPA rules. By delaying closure of the Beckjord coal-fired power plant, Duke Energy is making a clear statement that their profits are more important than the health of the citizens of Cincinnati.

Greenpeace will continue to keep the pressure on Duke Energy about Beckjord as well as the nearby Miami Fort Station, located about 16 miles west of Cincinnati. The Miami Fort coal plant shares many of the same characteristics as the Beckjord Station in that it is old, polluting, and will soon become prohibitively expensive to run.

Cincinnatians deserve clean air and they deserve it now.

Original Link: http://members.greenpeace.org/blog/wojo/2011/07/19/duke-announces-2015-closing-of-beckjord

Saturday, June 18, 2011

A letter for my dedicated readers :)

     Hello again, dear readers. I am back from my short "hiatus" and I hope you'll realize that I have been out of the blog-o-sphere recently for good reason.

     First of all, you may or may not know that, among other things, I have been spending tireless hours as of late working towards getting a position as Sustainability Director in the UC Undergraduate Student Government, as well as finishing the school year successfully, and on top of that moving to Alaska to be an organizer for the Alaskans for Energy Freedom Campaign- specifically to do grass-roots organizing with the mat-valley coalition. More about all of that very soon.

     I'd like to take a minute to chat a little bit about a recent personal change in attitude towards clean energy and sustainability that I've experienced. I really think that it has been a maturation in my perspective in the change that is actually necessary for the real and significant improvement in the area of human-related carbon footprint reduction.

     Full disclosure: when I started this blog, I had hoped to be part of creating a sort-of "cultural sea-change" which leads to reduction of energy consumption in our broadly-sprawled sub-urban communities which, frankly, are energy pits (see the January blogs). I felt that I could write a blog that would reach my immediate friends and family in a way that would encourage a few people in my smaller circles to be part of the larger movement. Well, not only do I not blame any of you for keeping your heat turned on in February (trust me, it wasn't much fun without it), but a total cultural shift is unrealistic without the support from a media that is more-or-less supported by funds from big oil and big coal; not to mention television is a market driven by consumerism itself.

     The fallacy of that thought process is that there is just one solution to the climate crisis. Carbon pollution from coal-fired electric plants could in fact be eliminated if we all cut our energy bills in half. Realistically, that will never happen.

     What is realistic is to say that it will be a combination of many small efforts to remove the one big problem. Yes- we need to reduce energy usage. The information I've seen shows that basic energy usage reductions are the low hanging fruit so-to-speak, and could drop our climate impact as much as 30-40%. That number is in a perfect world. We all know it's not a perfect world.

      Our efforts to reduce consumption need to be strong, but what we also need is for the energy suppliers to meet us half way. A top-down approach of renewable energy sources that are done responsibly in conjunction with a reasonable cultural shift is where the real answer exists.

      This realization is what motivates me to do more than just the expected things, such as: recycle, eat local, ride a bike, or buy organic, among many other "traditionally" sustainable things. I have taken to lobbying against irresponsible energy sources like coal, oil, and natural gas and supporting actual renewable energy sources. Maybe my readers don't have the time to do these things but I think that we all can agree that it helps to support public transit, green candidates, campaign finance reform- as well as voting with your dollar by buying and shopping companies that use sustainable practices. These are the simple things that will drive our government and industry to meet you in the middle, and will drive the decision makers to meet us in the middle for the change we all really need to live reasonably in the near future.

      Thanks for your patience and continued support. I'll be writing about my work here in Alaska and at UC very soon. As usual, I appreciate your feedback and comments. Feel free to send me your blog requests about how you can do more, or if you have questions about specific issues. Much love, Brian

    

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

"UC LEAP members bring home progress"

Readers, for those of you who don't know, I recently attended Powershift 2011 in Washington D.C along with over thirty fellow UC students, and several thousands of others from across the country. I have wanted to blog about it for sometime, but didn't want to sell it short. Just read this article by UC's Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection (or LEAP) vice-President elect Amanda Morgan. Obviously, Powershift had a profound impact on a lot of our students like Amanda.

By Amanda Morgan
posted in the UC News Record
May 10, 2011

Brian Baer | Sacramento Bee/MCT
The former vice president encourages students to pursue greener campuses.
Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection teamed up with University of Cincinnati Democrats to send 30 students from a variety of academic concentrations and student organizations to the third-ever Powershift event April 18.


Powershift, the largest grassroots training event in the country, focused on climate action and transitioning to clean energy alternatives in the hopes that students will use the information to increase sustainability on campuses.


Along with 10,000 other student environmentalists from across the country, attendees from UC participated in grassroots-organizing workshops and listened to Al Gore, Lisa Jackson of the EPA.

The event, an initiative of the Energy Action Coalition, provided workshops aimed at training students to be effective leaders, run successful environmental campaigns and, ultimately, empower them to bring change to their own communities.


"Young people are leading this movement," Gore said during his speech. "You are the core of this movement."


Over the next four days, Gore's words seemed to ring true. The attendees marched on Washington, beginning outside the Chamber of Commerce and paid special attention to locations like GenOn Energy, BP and, finally, the White House.


"The techniques for organizing an event were brought full circle," said Paula Breslin, the adviser for the Environmental Studies Program and LEAP. "The enthusiasm of that April 18 march gave you a sense of empowerment that you can make a difference."


The students worked together in their plans to achieve climate justice, according to Kaitlyn Ruby, a third-year environmental studies student.

"I think we have many things to do at UC first, and I'm very excited to see what the 30 student leaders who attended Powershift do with all they learned," said Ruby, who is also co-president of LEAP. "I believe we have a lot to do on campus and in our communities. We need to start with greening our own backyards, and I think we have the tools to begin."


Some attendees have already begun working on several campaigns since their return.

UC Beyond Coal aims at being "clean" by 2016 and transitioning from coal to clean energy alternatives on campus.


"We need to push our administration to move onwards to more viable energy options that will not only clean up our air, but save UC money when the price of coal skyrockets," said Eli Williams, a second-year biology and environmental studies student, who was introduced to LEAP at Powershift. Williams is also chair of the coal campaign and LEAP co-president elect.

Other projects include a food campaign aimed at getting fresh food from local farms on campu sand establishing composting facilities on campus.


Page Kagafas, a third-year dietetics student and secretary of the UC Mountaineering Club, said she learned the importance of identifying a target and figuring out what you need to accomplish a goal.

Now, she is playing a major role in the food campaign.


"This tactic is very logical and extremely effective," Kagafas said. "At UC, we're planning to work with Aramark ... to provide students with the food services they want, especially with all the money spent on meal plans."

Monday, May 9, 2011

Clarification of Clean Coal and Tales of Corruption

    
     So I noticed in my blog traffic that my blog came up in someone's google search for "clean coal". I have no idea why my blog brought up this completely farce topic, but lets be clear: clean coal does NOT exist. Capturing some amount of carbon from combustion exhausts has been attempted many times, and can be only fractionally successfull at best. In many places around the country "Clean Coal" is advertised as if technology exists where carbon-pollution can be completely sequestered (ironically, by some companies that deny carbon is actually pollution) from the exhausts of coal-fired electrical plants.

     It is absolutely, and always will be, the very dirtiest of dirty energy sources, until we stop doing it. 

     Basic formula for coal combustion (not including heavy metals, acids, nitroxides, sulfoxides, arsenic, fine particulate matter, etc.) which CANNOT be altered, even if you your name is Einstein:

                                                         C + O2 -> CO2


 
Miami Fort Coal Plant right next to Cincinnati. The two pools to the left are coal ash impoundments; a toxic sludge of more nasty crap than you care to know exists. Go ahead follow the hyper link and read the ingredients. You can't tell from the hue of this photo that coal ash tends to have a very bright color.






 
It's not so hard to pick this one out. Photo source: treehugger.com
     CO2 (Carbon Dioxide) is a colorless gas and is very difficult to attempt to capture after combustion. Carbon Dioxide is the leading contributor to anthropogenic (man-made) climate change. See wikipedia, the IPCCC (the global union of climatologists), or how about this USA today report that 97% of scientists agree that climate change not only exists, but is in fact man-made. There actually is no current debate on this issue within the scientific community, despite regular claims by mainstrem media that scientists can't come to a consensus. Even Glen Beck agrees "global warming" exists (!) In fact it has actually been TEN YEARS since any peer-reviewed member of the scientific community has even debated whether climate change is even caused by man.

Now, I have to call out a few people causing the public misinformation torrent

     The deniers are out there, though, and they come in all shapes and sizes. Since mainstream media such as fox news is heavily funded by big oil and climate change denying corporations, the real opinions of the scientists don't generally make it on TV. Oh, and by the way, apparently by saying the words "climate change denial" makes you against free speech.

     I guess I'll go ahead and give this guy a mention who says... "Well... wait... the scientists aren't actually telling you that CO2 is actually PLANT FOOD! Clean coal say watt". In 2007, according to the EIA, U.S. coal plants produced 2,419,747,200 metric TONS (1 ton = 2000 pounds) of Carbon Dioxide. ALL of the forests in the US combined fix about 750,000,000 metric tons of Carbon Dioxide per year, which is less than our coal output alone and only about 10% of our total CO2 output. OK, so that was an especially easy one to start off with.

    
source: sourcewatch.org
     Then, there's Steven Milloy. His money trail is cake. Founder of "Junkscience.org" (not a peer-reviewed scientific website) and fox news commentator, is the most vocal proponent that scientists are apparantly staging a big hoax. His flamboyant tirades don't really bode well with audiences, but his website can mislead some people. He is pretty clever- he stated his argument as if it were fact, supported by charts and all (even a "greenhouse calculator"). But again, you can put charts and data of anything up; if (a) it doesn't have a source or show methods and (b) it is not peer reviewed- it could literally say anything you want. Not to mention climate denial is a convenient point of view if you're getting paid by exxon mobil (NY Times). If you follow the link there (and Exxon Mobil hasn't had it taken down), it takes you almost literally to the point in Milloy's career where he figured out he could get paid millions by oil corporations by simply denying climate science. At that time "Junkscience.org" and "The Advancement of Sound Science Coalition" were the same thing. Milloy, employed by TASSC in '98 was showing $100K on his tax return, thanks (cha-ching) to Chevron and Exxon funding. The program sought ''individuals who do not have a long history of visibility and/or participation in the climate change debate", or in this case, just someone like Milloy looking to get paid. You can have fun following his long story from there, it's quite interesting. (Props to desmog blog for calling this guy out too) The Daily Show interviews Steven Milloy is great entertainment. Here's footage of him promoting his book "Green Hell".

     Milloy and the Heritage Foundation are pretty obvious. You can clearly see what drives the man; he even claims that second hand smoke is a myth, while taking money from Phillip Morris to say so. Other deniers aren't quite so transparent in their funding trails.

     The Heartland Institute, and their "global warming hysteria" blog suddenly stopped publishing their campaign contribution information in 2007. Are you surprised that Exxon Mobil and friends were frequents on the list before then? It gets a little harder to pin down their resident blogging green-basher Peter C Glover, who was a big-time prosecuting attorney for years, who now gets paid to write articles that offer essentially nothing more than conjecture and speculation. He calls environmentalists the "green bigots", and particularly defends hydraulic fracking. He repeatedly has attacked 2011 Academy Awards Best Documentary winning Gasland. I guess flammable tapwater is normal where he's from. Or, he just gets paid enough to advocate it (If I had his kind of money I would bet that BP is greasing this guy). I'm not against his freedom of speech, but I think it needs to be clear who pays him and what he is being paid to support.

Peter C Glover's photo from Canada Free Press


"Its a sentiment I have always shared given the level of stupidity shown regularly by student mass movements. Remember, these are individuals who have not yet contributed anything to society - and that the Taliban is one of the world's leading student movements." - Steven Glover, "Student Protests Reflect Their Ignorance" (2010). Just a bunch of dumb educated terrorist-like people right?




   


  Top 3 oil and gas issue lobby contributors (2006 to 2009):
     1. Exxon Mobil ($87.8 Million)
     2. Chevron ($50 Million)
     3. Koch Industries ($37.9 Million)

     sourcewatch.org

     Koch Industries tops the Political Action Contribution (PAC) list by directly paying senators and representatives almost 6 million since '06. All of these numbers are public, and sourcewatch.org is a great way to keep tabs on money pollution. Campaign finance reform, anyone? This issue is a problem largely attributable to supreme court case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission which gives corporations unlimited funding privedges in political campaigns.


proamlib.blogspot.com knows about these guys


Greenpeace obviously knows about them, too

         

     These guys, unfortunately, are only the beginning. In 2010, the US Chamber of Commerce, who spent $132 million in lobbying (more than the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th largest lobbying groups combined), gave 94% of that money particularly to climate-denying politicians. The chamber, who claims to represent 3,000,000 american businesses, only actually has 200,000 members. 55% of its funding comes from only 16 "anonymous" corporate donors. This is a lot more concerning than a few guys getting greased to write blogs, this is literally climate denial having its way with our government. More at 350.org.


For anyone who wants to know: I write this blog 100% on my own time and am completely, 100% unfunded by anyone for my writing. I work two part-time jobs, and take out student loans to pay for my tuition, AND still pay taxes. I refuse, even, to have ads on my site, as I maintain that I (unlike many authors mentioned above) write sincerely according to the truth as I find it based on my education and experience. I stand behind the very science that has brought us tremendous technological and medical advances, and its position on climate change; absent of large contributions from inappropriate sources.


Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Pick Up America... Transforming Communities (and picking up their trash too!)

     For some reason last year, Pick Up America decided to make their way through Ohio and Cincinnati, rather than to continue along what probably would have been a more deliberate route through Kentucky, on their (yes) coast-to-coast trash pickup. The first trash pick up to attempt this insane goal started with two visionaries named Jeff Chen and Davey Rogner.

     Their vision is a lot of things. It is, of course, that we become zero waste. But if being wasteful is just a symptom- then consumerism, distracting media, and irresponsible corporations might be the actual diseases. In their vision, we are communities that stand together and don't let these entities confuse and distort our moral fibers. The entities of mass media and corporations might exist, then, only to encourage social responsibility and ecological stewardship.

     Whatever the cause, the effects of this group are unmeasurable. You could look up the ridiculous amounts of trash they have picked up on their website (oh my gawd, Cincinnati, way to embarass the crap out me by the way... the trash here is reeee-diculous!). What you can't measure is the particular ways that they've impacted everyone they meet along their adventure.

10/10/10 350.org 'nati work party, on the day that I met Pick Up America. That's me holding the 5.
     My personal experience with this group has transformed my life. When I met them at the 10/10/10 'nati work party, I was just beginning my work as a climate activist. I asked them to present at UC, and within a week student interest in my student group LEAP spiked. A few weeks after that, Danny Berchenko (far left in the pic) spoke to our group. Two months later, a group that once had as many members as it did officers (about 5) had confirmed over thirty students to go to Power Shift, the largest student environmental conference and organizational leadership training in the nation. Today, these students are organized in groups to fight climate action from several angles: Move UC Beyond Coal, get sustainable food on campus, and more. Maybe it's easy to look back on certain events and get nostalgic and have "butterfly effect" conversations, but lets make no mistake: there wouldn't be over 30 climate activists (that I know of) on UC's campus if it wasn't from the community building impact that people like Danny and PUA have had by bringing together people across this city that have common goals. Below is a great video about that day (did you know Michael Jackson is helping our city have fresh local organic produce?):



     Another example I have, though a little small, illustrates the power this group has. Pick Up America had teamed up with the Mill Creek Watershed Council to do a pickup along the watershed here in Cincy which is home to over 500,000 people. They invited me to join. I spent a day picking up plastics, cans, tires, buckets, a tent, even a chassis along the Mill Creek. That day, I met Wes Duren, a horticulturalist whose company Marvin's Organics is the largest composter in the tri-state. Later, I connected them with a student group at UC, Students for Ecological Design (SED) and he has been very helpful in helping design a system for UC to take on composting on a large scale. According to my friends in this group, this relationship has been very productive (thanks, Wes!). It's hard to imagine how far this could go, and if it weren't for PUA this very important working relationship probably wouldn't yet exist. Here's a great video about that day (and please excuse my poop talk in it)




      These are only two events of many that they had while in Cincinnati. There were countless concerts, an amazing Earth Day All Day Music Fest, and of course the trash pick ups. One of the coolest events they did (while I was in DC attending Power Shift) literally demonstrated the power of community. An "art from the sky event" at Cincinnati Earth Day at Sawyer Point. It was rainy and really cold, but people still came. Here's the amazing shot:    



     So, cheers to you, Pick Up America. You not only have catalyzed a community of environmentalists in Cincinnati, but you have invigorated my personal motivation to "pick it up". I absolutely hate having to say goodbye to each of you, but I am really excited for all of America west of Cincinnati along your route. They have no idea how epic things are about to be in their towns.

>>>If you would like to contribute to this incredible organization, you can visit their website at http://www.pickupamerica.org/, buy gear or make donations. If you are looking for summer work or interested in a "trash-ternship", I guarantee that it is an experience which could change your life. You can contact them through the website.

>>>Photos and video courtesy of Jeff Chen and Pick Up America

>>>One last personal thanks to Jeff Chen, Davey Rogner, Mark Chavez, Lily Berman, Johnna Jackson, and Greg Katski. Each and every one of you are incredible and inspirational individuals. I am lucky to have had the time and opportunity to learn from you and grow not only as an organizer, but as an individual. Many many thanks, and many more.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Larry Gibson: The Keeper of the Mountains

     Ohio Citizen Action is a group of people out there doing it. They are literally bringing the environmental justice issues to doors of the people who are being affected. Lately, they've spent a lot of time on the Rumpke landfill expansion. This summer, they turn to the nastiest of all dirty energies: coal from mountain top removal. (Looking for a green job in Ohio this summer?)

     I had a great weekend in Chicago a few weeks ago with leaders from across the midwest who were getting trained to be coaches and facilitators at Power Shift 2011. Among them was Nathan Rutz, a very well spoken and kind person from OCA. I had met him just a few weeks before on a night out with Danny Berchenko (who else, right?). Near the end of the conference, Nathan mentioned that OCA was going to see Kayford Mountain, the legendary MTR site where Larry Gibson, Keeper of the Mountains, lived. Seeing Kayford seemed like a "right of passage" for every person who organizes to stop coal. I hesitated and I squirmed, because I know it's not pretty.

     Bright and early the next Saturday, I met OCA at their Cincinnati office. I had a collection of writings and speeches compiled into Sierra Club's book "Coal Country" (thanks Lyndsay Moseley) which is a companion book to the movie with the same title. Along the ride, I read clips from Larry Gibson, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Ashley Judd; just to name a few. There is no doubt that the coal business is destroying lives, reducing jobs, and wrecking appalachia to the extent that it may someday soon be virtually uninhabitable. This book couldn't prepare me for what I was about to see.


Organizers from Ohio Citizens Action stand with Larry Gibson (center) with the Kayford Mountain MTR site in the background

A scene of mass destruction. This used to be a mountain top.

    No pictures, books, or even this NatGeo article against MTR can prepare you for what this experience is really like. Larry has a hell of a story to tell, too. He's given thousands of tours of Kayford, and the coal companies have noticed. In fact, they've started piling up the fill near Larry's viewpoint so that it is harder for visitors to see the mass destruction. The problem is, the destruction is too big to hide.

    Much worse than piling up gravel next to his viewpoint, Larry has had to deal with mafia-like attacks at his own home. Besides blowing up the mountains all around him at all hours of the night, making his water undrinkable, digging up his family's cemetary, and making the local air virtually unbreathable with nitroxides and fine particulate matter (you can literally see the haze from it); Larry has had his life threatened, his own dog shot, another hung from his own porch, his cabin burned, gotten beat up- all in all over 120 acts of  violence. This is truly a man making a stand.



A very positive Larry and me. Just before this picture, I had told them that I was starting a campaign to get coal off of my campus. He told me to "keep it positive". In a speech Larry once said "You gotta tell people something positive, but you can't make it easy and tell them that nothing's gonna happen to them because there's always the potential." 
      Once, the coal companies had tried to buy Larry's land. An excerpt from Coal Country:

"The land'll never be for sale. You can have my right arm, but you'll never get the land."

So he said, "Well, you know, you're the island, and we are the ocean. You set in the middle of 187,000 acres of coal company land. You're the only thing we don't own between here and the Virginia border." I had my family members—seven of us —there for that meeting and it just didn't make no sense.

That man said, "We don't give a damn about the people up the holler. We don't care about anybody, anything. All we want is the coal and that's it."
     We made one more stop after Kayford. Coal slurry impoundments are the most foul and toxic waste sites you'll ever see. There are about 7,000 of them, all of which are millions and millions of gallons. One in particular has gotten a lot of attention because it is literally next to Marsh Fork Elementary School.

Photo courtesy of ilovemountains.org
     When you're looking at this from a van from that tiny road winding through the above pic and its raining buckets, it's even bigger and more terrifying.

     Thanks to OCA for the unforgettable experience. This will be a source of strength in fighting coal that I will always draw from.

     Junior Walk, from Coal River Mountain Watch, was at Kayford Mountain that day, too. He recently spoke at Power Shift about MTR and how it is destroying his community. Blair Mountain, iconic and historic site of the Coal Miners Union's struggle against the unfair practices of the coal companies during the Battle of Blair Mountain, is slated for MTR. Join Larry, Junior, and the people of Appalachia opposed to MTR during the week of June 5-11 for the March on Blair Mountain, and help them make history.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Lobbying in Washington DC to Protect the CAA

     When The Sierra Club asked me if I would like to go to Capital Hill to lobby for the Clean Air Act, I could hardly contain myself from the excitement of a once-in-a-lifetime-kind-of-opportunity. Rallying, blogging, working with OSEC, and getting UC students organized to move our campus beyond coal has drawn a little attention from some folks at Sierra Club (thanks for noticing, MacKenzie Bailey!). Folks across the midwest were chosen to fly-in to DC at a very strategic moment to meet with their congress persons about the Clean Air Act.

An incredible team of lobbyers from across the midwest. In front, Lyndsay Mosely of the Sierra Club.

     It was certainly a diverse crew. Lance Weyeneth, a fisherman from Michigan, was there to express his concern of mercury from coal-fired power plants getting into his fish. Roni Kampmeyer is forced to live close to a coal slurry impoundment called little blue. Misti Wright Furr is a park ranger in Virginia who has had to fight coal plants from being built in her own backyard. Every one of these folks had an incredible story, and I was lucky to be among them.

     A video by the great folks over at Ohio Student Environmental Coalition about this issue.

   
     Here's a video from the Sierra Club office in DC, urging fellow students to call Brown and watch the video above:



     We targeted people on that "damned fence" about the issue of whether or not the Environmental Protection Agency should be allowed to protect our very own clean air from greenhouse gases, mercury, and other toxins. It is really a shame that this was even necessary. I found myself lobbying Ohio Senator Sherrod Brown, who was previously a champion of climate justice, but recently has caved to public pressure and the unpopularity of the EPA among corporate constituents.


Holding the Ohio flag in front of Steve Chabot's office. I delivered a "stickerback" pellet (manufactured by an Ohio company, which UC hopes to use as an immediate coal replacement) to Mr. Chabot, and left the message that energy alternatives can provide new opportunities to small business. This was aside from my main goal, but couldn't miss the opportunity.

     Mary-Ann Hitt, deputy director of the Sierra Club's National Coal Campaign, gives the full story.

     The trip itself had several things noteworthy in my mind. Flying in, I could see toxic slurry impoundments from the plane. In DC, I was impressed by the sustainable transportation services, such as the DC Metro and Capital BikeShare. I saw solar panels over a parking lot within five minutes of being on the ground in DC. The folks in DC have a high sense of urgency. Lyndsay Mosely is one of the most impressive folks I have ever met. I'll never forget all of the amazing cherry blossoms that were in bloom while I was there.


Cherry Blossoms at the Jefferson Memorial

     I think the moral of this story is that there is a lot of work to do to protect the environment. If you are considering being an organizer or advocate in this field, we need you. There are plenty of jobs and a lot of organizations working on this. As far as my love for DC, well, I'll be there again in just a few days for the largest environmental conference in the world- Powershift 2011.


     Update on the Clean Air Act attacks which we were lobbing to protect: On April 6th, Harry Reid claimed that the 5 bills which attacked EPA funding of greenhouse gases (one of which was co-sponsored by Brown himself, released just days after I left DC) would not come to a vote. Later that day, President Obama made an official statement that not only would he veto any bill attempting to remove EPA's ability to protect clean air, but that he would veto any attacks on the Clean Water Act. This was most likely an acknowledgement to all of the great folks that were lobbing to end mountaintop removal that week. On April 7th, contrary to the statement by Reid, the Senate voted on all 5 bills regarding EPA funding for the CAA. To the delight of many, and if I may so so myself- the folks standing with me in the photo above, ALL 5 BILLS WERE VOTED DOWN. I was already proud to take my concerns to Capital Hill, but am speechless in regards to my feelings that I have when I consider that I was able to have a direct role in protecting the air of our future generations. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The "Epic" Diversity of UC|Sustainability

I get a lot of questions about what exactly "UC Sustainability" really is, and what projects it is working on. I hope this blog not only clears up some of those questions, but straight-up shows had big and awesome the "green" movement here at UC really is.


Planting a tree on Earth Day, 2010


     "A lot of us look at sustainability through different lenses," said Lauren Magrisso, sustainability advocate and president of Students for Ecological Design. I have to admit, that when I talk about sustainability, I'm thinking about how to sustain ecosystems and our planet, whereas other groups may focus more social equality or human sustainability issues. This disclaimer itself describes a larger umbrella that a lot of people around UC may be asking about. So, what is UC|Sustainability?

     A good way to start is at the UC Sustainability website. Under the "about" section, you can find that UC Sustainability is "a marketing term created to represent the diverse and interdisciplinary sustainability movements at the University of Cincinnati." Diverse... exactly! The thing about sustainability at UC is simply that there are so many players and so many initiatives that one would be hard pressed to put it any better than that.

     So, here I'm going to list as many of those players as I can and some of their current projects, as best that I know:

I'll start with the administrative level....

Office of Sustainability:

     Part of Planning+Design+Construction and linked to facilities. Sustainability Director Shawn Tubb, with 2 graduate assistants and 12 undergraduate advocates, (including me!).

     Projects:  Bearcat Bike Share, the Bike Kitchen, the UC Garden, Bearcat Recycling, UC Farmers Market, Re*Use Market, Operation Move-In Recycle, and various educational and outreach opportunities such as the sustainability film series, workshop series, Climate 101 lecture series, Trees for Tomorrow, Earth Day bike parade, Arbor Day campus tree planting, Housing Conservation Challenge, Pitch In, RecycleMania, etc.

PACES (Presidents Advisory Council on Environment and Sustainability):

     Created by Nancy Zimpher after signing the President's Climate Committment, led by a steering committee. Meets once a month and is open to all students. Advises President Williams about how to reduce Carbon Footprint, drafts initiatives to improve sustainability at UC.

See also: Environmental Studies Department, Womens Gender and Sexuality Department,

Intermediary:

SSC (Student Sustainability Coalition):
    
     Made up of students representing several student groups and led by Alan Hagerty, UC Student Sustainability Director and student senator (running for pres next year!). SSC is a sub-committee of PACES and the two groups share information. SSC meetings are a great way for students to have an open forum to collaborate efforts and report in from various student groups. Provides an opportunity for students to send their ideas about sustainability to PACES. This group has most recently been planning the Earth Day Festival at UC.

Student Groups!

LEAP (Leaders for Enviromental Awareness and Protection):

     Originally Leaders for Environmental Activism and Protection, originally comprised of A&S majors, particularly Environmental Studies majors. Recently has broadened its membership to include even a nursing student. LEAP members recently coordinated getting a large group of UC students to Washington D.C. in April for Powershift, a national student conference and grassroots movement which supports the transition to clean energy. Held an event this year called "FLOF" or "fresh, local, organic food" in hopes to inspire UC to reduce its "food-print". Also, launching the "UC Beyond Coal" campaign through its partnership with Ohio Student Environmental Coalition and Ohio Sierra Club, a campaign which hopes to work with PACES and campus administration to move UC beyond burning coal for energy as soon as possible. (To be fair, I am in this group and naturally gave it a longer description!)

Students for Ecogical Design:

     UC's DAAP (College of Design Art Architecture and Planning) is a highly ranked and well known program. This student group has an equally high reputation among UC sustainability. This year, SED is working on establishing a comprehensive plan for the university to implement widespread composting. The initiative is showing early signs of success, and if you know the leadership of this group you can expect the program to do very well.

Engineers Without Borders:

     Engineering majors that care. From "lights out fridays"- literally turning building lights out to save energy- to working with Taft Elementary to help with a national "Future Cities" competition, to encouraging sustainability through engineering worldwide, this group brings it hard.

Preservation Action Network:

     Formerly Re|UC, changed their named to more clearly reflect their goal of preserving historical buildings from destruction in the Cincinnati area. Reusing entire buildings is about as sustainable as it gets, ecologically and historically. Recently worked in conjunction with OTR's A.D.O.P.T. program to revitalize an old church in order for it to be converted into a children's music and art education center, among other things.

Planning Students Organization:

     Planning students from the DAAP program have been working on sustainable transportation initiatives such as supporting the 3C, and hoping to work with Cincinnati Metro to make the bus system better for UC students. Also, has been working towards creating more visible garden spaces on campus.

Bottom Line!

     UC|Sustainability has a lot of people involved, and are working really hard towards making UC one of the most sustainable campuses around! We are legit!

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A New American Dream?

     Liberation as a concept draws one to consider what it means to be truly free. In my mind, freedom is to be able to live without oppression. Oppression not only in the physical sense- which precludes both social and economic realms. But, free from being merely an instrument by which the mechanisms of evil are conducted. This is the worst oppression; the oppression of the individual's consciousness.

     In American history, we have drawn up and fought for our rights repeatedly. From segregation to gender equality; generation after generation has stood up to free their minds from oppression of their own consciousness. Together, we have stood and asked our government to conduct itself righteously. Our consciousness has a voice; it is organizing and demonstrating.

     Today, America is at war in multiple countries. Our homes are powered by pollution. Oil drilling in the gulf has devastated millions of lives. Our food has artificial genes in it which are patented by corporations. Mega-corporations run by mega-millionares are bailed out while third world type poverty exists in every inner city (should I go on?). All of these things are subsidized by our tax dollars. If you pay taxes (unlike many large corporations), you pay to continue the existence of these things.

     Suddenly, freedom from taxes is the "name of the game" in the U.S. Tradgically, none of the tax subsidies I have mentioned are even remotely threatened.

     On the other hand, funding which supports public transportation, public school teachers, and AmeriCorp is referred to as "extraneous" spending. Funding which protects our own breathable air is tossed aside as "pork-barrell" spending.

     Mechanisms that are seeking to cut these programs are by the same folks looking to remove public union bargaining rights and remove college students from the voting poll for voting "foolishly".

     Granted, the EPA is not a perfect entity. What would we have in their place? A new government entity? A promise from big coal corporations to be socially responsible and shift to clean energy? A promise from BP to be extra careful? Could any industry possibly display more apathy towards social or environmental justice?

     I propose a new American dream. Imagine that we don't pay for war or pollution anymore. Imagine that we don't fight for oil, don't burn the future with dirty energies such as coal, and create a better world for our children. Now, imagine that our grandchildren will admire us for being the heroes that changed the script, and not loathe us for carrying on foul practices. Imagine that we tell them real life nightime stories of peace and righteousness, not fairy tales. Stories of health, happiness, and equality. Imagine that the minds of your grandchildren are free from oppression when they become adults. The free and equal nation our founders envisioned.

     I'm going to John Boehner's office tomorrow to demonstrate in the name of this vision. Students from Ohio Student Environmental Coaltion (OSEC) and the Sierra Club will have a strong message: we don't want to pay for coal subsidies. We don't want to pay for the destruction of tomorrow. We want our taxes to protect our grandchildren and our clean air- not dirty energy. We ask our nation to heal itself, seek righteousness, end war, and stop polluting. Someday, we can tell our grandchildren stories about days like tomorrow, when we stood together for them.
    

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Keeping Brown Clean and Green

              

     Ohio is a not just a swing state, its a battleground. When Ohio votes one way, it tends to name a winner.

     Cincinnati, Ohio has one of the floppiest histories of policy you'll ever see. An attraction here is the underground ruins of a half-built subway which had its funding pulled mid-construction because our elected city council wanted it and ... then, they didn't.

     Sherrod Brown suddenly seems to personify this Ohio-ism and is stumbling in his support of the Clean Air Act. Monday morning, he wrote to President Obama asking him to consider the economic implications of regulating the CAA.

     Monday, Cincinnati went to Mr. Brown's local office to ask him to consider all of the implications of regulating the CAA.

     University of Cincinnati students, educators, public workers, Greenpeace, Ohio Student Environmental Coalition, 1sky, local business owners, urban farmers, and techies made up the crowd that rallied Monday. The message was clear: we can't afford to lose our clean air. The crowd speculated about which special interest has Brown suddenly backing the corporate polluters.

     "What do we want? Clean Air. When do we want it? NOW!" 

     At the end of the rally, a group dropped in to the office. They were able to meet with one of Brown's employees, and discuss the implications of his vote. A letter, signed during the rally, was given to her to be delivered to Mr. Brown just before he votes this week. The message of the letter was clear.

     Since Mr. Brown mentioned it in his letter to the President, lets start with the economics. This EPA study shows that the CAA will save $2 trillion dollars. Not regulating polluters might make coal plants a dollar today, but it will cost taxpayers at least two tomorrow, when some 22.4 million school and work days are missed from asthma or other air quality related reasons. Consider that, Mr. Brown. Mr. Obama?

     Oh, and by the way, there's a climate change going on. The costs of repairing the effects of the extreme excess of ambient carbon dioxide have only begun to be speculated- and that's given that we haven't crossed the "tipping point". Early numbers are unfathomable- far beyond the net global deficit.

     Where's the alternative? Let's build some windmills instead. That will create jobs and income while protecting our health and environment. The technology is ready to go. The workers are ready. The subsidies, however, are instead going to big coal. In this economy, we can't afford poor leadership.

     When we voted for Brown, we thought he knew all of this. Maybe its not the voters that don't make up their minds, it's the elected officials in Ohio who don't stand behind their promises.

  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

From the OSEC blogroll: Getting Pumped About Protecting the CAA

      Egypt. SB5. I see you. I feel restless. When I got the call about a chance to get a message straight to Sherrod Brown, I couldn't dial phone numbers fast enough.

      Mr. Brown is getting ready to go to Washington to vote on proposals that would slash the EPA's budget for the Clean Air Act. He is considered a swing vote - who has previously voted for health care, who impeccably votes for jobs- but needs to hear our voice and vote to protect the Clean Air Act from the very same budget-slashing rampage that threatens the likes of organizations such as AmeriCorps and NPR. If EPA loses their funding for the CAA, they won't have staff to keep tabs on the big polluters.

     Do I even need to mention the benefits of the CAA?

     Enter 1sky, Danny B (Cincy organizer), and OSEC's Ohio Beyond Coal initiative. Cincy is getting organized to drop-in on Sherrod Brown's local office Monday, and plans to roll loud and deep. Originally, a lobby meeting was set for March 3. Since Mr. Brown will likely vote on the proposal before then, we're just gonna drop in early, say hi, and maybe leave some autographs and literature. We'll call the press too.

     Brown has offices across Ohio, and if you're looking for something to do Monday afternoon on your
lunch break; this is my subtle suggestion. If you want to come to Cincy and join us, we'd love to have you.

(I wrote this blog and also posted it to the OSEC website)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

UC, Meet OSEC. Oh yeah- it's big.

     The Ohio Student Environmental Coalition is as good as it gets for statewide student environmental networks. In fact, they are the model referred to at Powershift when students from states across the country are looking to create state wide networks of student groups. This is an agenda to create working groups that can catalyze change on a state level, combining the powers of the several universities; like a giant optimus prime of organizations.

     OSEC has enjoyed huge levels of participation from Ohio University, Bowling Green, Cleveland State, Kent State, Miami University and Ohio State University, just to name a few. From OSU's Free the Planet, to OU's Sierra Club Chapter, to Miami University's Ohio Beyond Coal (I'll get more into that one later), there is some SERIOUS work getting done in Ohio. (By the way, OSEC kids across Ohio, I just randomly picked schools and groups off the top of my head no hard feelings that I didn't name them all k?)

     UC has been the missing piece to the Ohio collaborative, and it was noticed by both parties. Maybe OSEC realized the need to build a relationship when UC suddenly, maybe a lit bit out of nowhere, leads the nation in student Powershift registrations. Consider this problem solved.

     An exuberant group of UC students including Amanda Morgan, Kayla McKinney, and myself were beyond excited to get the invite to the OSEC Planning Conference last weekend in Athens, Ohio. In an ironic twist, the retreat began merely days after mentions of the missing relationship at a UC Student Sustainability Coalition meeting, which subsequently was discussed at the UC PACES meeting (Presidents Advisory Council for Environment and Sustainability).


     Needless to say, the retreat had several moments of being taken aback by the enormous efforts and initiatives going on in both spheres. The real excitement is in the opportunities ahead.


 
     The retreat included a visit to Meigs County, Ohio. In the picture above, I sit on a park bench with Kayla in front of a school with an enormous coal plant in the background. Besides coal being the single largest global ambient Carbon Dioxide contributor at over 60%, the most dramatic parts of this tour were the social justice issues. Meigs county has the second highest concentration of coal burners in the U.S. The cancer rates and public health in this county are simply devastating. The kind folks in that county can't afford to keep them out of their backyard, as other counties can, so they get stuck with them.

     The impact on this community is unspeakable. I spoke to a man who owned a gas station across the street from one of the coal plants, whose livelihood depended on the plant workers. "You here to take pictures of the pollution they're putting up there?" he said. When I told him we were, he refused to accept money for my coffee. "Good luck to all of you", he said. "I'd rather see it shut down, and lose my business. They're going to convert it to natural gas, then we're [in big trouble]."

     Meanwhile, the coal companies get lobby after lobby to put up more, and Meigs county residents don't have the political or financial leverage to stop them. This specific topic in social justice is referred to as "Environmental Justice" issue.

     Enter OSEC, thousands of students, Powershift, student groups, the Sierra Club, and a level of organization unparalleled across the states. Alternative energy sources are ready to go, from wind-farms in Lake Erie, and across Ohio, and the amazing technologies of biofuel being diligently produced in University Labs across the US.

      Also, enter the Ohio Beyond Coal campaign. Now, OBC is represented at each of the seven universities (including UC) in Ohio, and has made a partnership with the Sierra Club. The main initiatives are to shorten timelines for removal of coal plants on Ohio campuses, protecting the Clean Air Act, and targeting a specific coal plant in Cleveland to pressure.

      It's time for Ohio to go beyond coal, to renewal, sustainable energy sources. Lets heal Meigs county. Lets heal the climate.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

FLOF and Sustainability

     Words can't express how happy I am about the recent success of the UC student group Leaders for Environmental Awareness and Protection (LEAP); which as of late, has the feel of the little group that could.

     Last Tuesday the group held an event to raise awareness about food sustainability. Why? Most importantly; food is number two on the list of global ambient carbon contributor at 18%, behind energy supply. This is more than transportation (15%). Eating locally can cut this number by much more than one half. The pesticides used for non-organic farming heavily reduce soil carbon retention rates. The pesticides themselves create contaminant plumes that pollute watertables, our drinking water, our rivers, our oceans.

     Beyond eco-impact, FLOF supports local economy and culture. Keeping your dollar local keeps the money in our schoolyards and the hands of small local business owners. Again, this is an issue of sustainability (see: Tale of Three S's), which encompasses much more than simply the environment.


     Above: students check out the UC Sustainability student group booths at the flof event.

     What excited me most about this? The momentum of the UC Sustainability community. Seven (!!!) UC sustainability groups were represented with tables at this event. Students found out about great things happening on campus, and the groups have undoubtedly seen a spike of interest from the student community. Not only that, but the list of groups involved in the Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC; collaborative of the groups) has since grown. Props to Students for Ecological Design (SED), Environmental Legacy Foundation (ELF), Engineers Without Borders (EWB), the Office of Sustainability, the Student Sustainability Coalition (SSC), and UC Historical Building Preservation (formerly ReUC) for the epic booths and help with the event. Welcome: Sustainable Transportation Organization, Planning Student Organization, and UC Garden Club to UC Sustainability!

     The epicness continues... The launch of the "UC food petition" at the event was a huge success. In challenging Aramark and President Williams to shift food supply chains at UC to be more sustainabile, the kickoff at the event saw 80 signatures; all in a day. Since then, the petition has over 800 signatures. It's only been just over a week. A working group for meeting with Aramark to establish working models and an open discussion on the implementation of FLOF at UC is thus underway. The plan is to have this meeting, hopefully, in March.


    



    

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Giving Some Props

     It's super bowl Sunday. A lot of large companies spent thousands and thousands of dollars to get short clips during the most watched television event in the world. Not Pepsi.

     The wonderful marketing people of Pepsi Co decided that spending this amount of money for market recognition during the super bowl was a little excessive. They reallocated the several thousand dollars that used to get spent on superbowl advertising to something called the "Pepsi Refresh Everything" contest. It is a community grant fund, where people can vote on ideas for things that build community and make America a better place. Congrats to Energy Action Coalition for winning a nice bit of scholarships to put towards students going to powershift (the yearly conference in DC of over 10,000 college students advocating clean energy). Condolences to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful's Future Blooms Program, which paints local buildings and makes wonderful reused material art displays in abandoned storefronts to promote local businesses in those locations. I voted for them repeatedly and although they lost, hope they can keep up their great work! If you haven't seen any of it before, check out their photo album. Imagine if all of the super bowl advertising money went towards real changes such as this, and not just market recognition for products.

     Also, I follow quite a few eco-websites and I have to give props to one in particular that has been throwing down awesome stories left and right. Inhabitat.com has been flat out bringing it, with articles from eco-friendly valentines gifts, to recycled plastic shoes, and reused bridges converted to giant wind turbine power facilities... I gotta give them props for posting such regularly interesting stuff.

    

    

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Eco-Cartoons

Here is a blog with some good cartoons.... why do cartoons seem to say things in a way that words cannot?

Hope

     Carbon Nation film director Peter Byck joined us Monday via Skype after UC Sustainability showed his film. "CCID" is the acronym he used to describe "Climate Change Induced Depression". It is something that anyone who considers the implications of the global climate change on any type of regular basis has to deal with.

     Peter was talking about this because I had asked him (this was a Q&A session) how we could continue to keep a positive message in light of the burdensome knowledge of climate change. I had been inspired by the tone of his film, which had filled me with lots of hope for clean energy.

     Not only is green energy the future, it is now. The film shows how the movement for clean energy has begun, and the strengths and profitability of several types of clean energy alternatives. I can't reccomend this film enough. Wind farms are so profitable, they are saving small towns in the wind belt. Algae fuel and other biofuels promise to cure oil dependency. Geothermal is so energy and cost efficient it is hard to explain why it isn't everywhere. A man named Van Jones gets low-income familes loans for solar panels, and teaches the residents installation so they can get work and pay back the loan. Green energy could be the boost our economy needs.

     As Peter explained, these are the stories that need to be told. Now, let me share one of my own.

     Today, I had the opportunity to hear 2010 Earth Award Grand Prize Winner Carlos Montemagno give a presentation. He is the dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences here at the University of Cincinnati. He has discovered how to replicate photosynthesis. He has methods that are 98% efficent (compared corn ethanol at 6-7%), and he can convert the acellular chemical energy from his foam into fuel OR electricity. Essentially, you take a box of this special foam- it makes sugar, which is converted to fuel or electricity.

     He could frankly hold the solution to anthropeogenic climate change from carbon emissions. Take a moment.

     The solutions exist, and there is money to be made. Foam, anyone?
    

  

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Was the oil spill the best thing to happen to the Oil Industry this year?

     I hate BP. Thats what a lot of people say. It feels nice.

     In Environmental Law and Policy today, in a discussion about who should be held accountable for oil spills it was sweetly and succintly expressed that, of course, it should be the oil companies who pay for the massive, irreversible damage on the oceans when epic disasters like the recent one in the Gulf of Mexico. It was the old "if you gave your cousin a dollar and he drove around with it in the back of the truck and it blew out, is it his fault?"

     This argument has been going on for forty years, at least. That's when peak oil was predicted. When people realized that constantly cutting down trees and burning coal might not be the best idea, and it was time to think of something else. 1970.

     Everyone seems to be at a loss about what has actually happened since then. We'll do it in the future, I guess people said. We just can't afford to fund research for cleaner energy, maybe? A measure of the success of Presidents seems to be what gas prices are like while they are in office.

     What's not to hate about BP? I mean- could they have seemed to care less about the oil spill? That jerk of a CEO; the continued lies; the continued attempts to shed blame; spraying dispersants all over the people who had just lost their livelihood to BP. Everyone knows lots of reasons to despise the despicable people who made this happen.

     The beat goes on. Not one person (well, maybe one) in class today suggested that maybe it is the market demand that drives the oil industry rather than some scuzzy CEO. For those not econ-savvy, "market demand" just means that the insanely high demand for oil is simply because we readily and willingly pay for it. We keep lining up at the pumps. Oil companies turn in record profits year after year; not because they are ethical, or responsible, or even market well (seen a gasoline commercial in a while?). Oil is in such high demand and so profitable, that it is worth the extremely high financial risk of drilling for it 2 miles underwater. Even worse, we deploy troops to protect oil interests abroad.

     The oil spill may just have been the best thing to happen to the industry overall all year. They have effectively subsidized the blame -not to the person who drives their Hummer; the average American drives 33.4 miles per day- but easily to the person everyone loves to hate; someone else.

     I'm not flaming any individuals here. We are all just trying to do our best here. Again, we haven't been provided with alternative forms of fuel. But we have to consider why oil is so profitable. We definitely better be talking about what to do to fix it.

     We can however, vote with our dollars and our ballots. I find it absolutely incredible that energy indepence isn't the single greatest initiative of our country, given the obvious importance of it. I don't care what letter is next to a candidates name; he had better be talking about clean energy. What if we spent $1,143,420,630,548 on clean energy since 1991? What would we be driving. That's what we've spent on the war in Iraq, by the way (costofwar.com).

     How can we vote with our dollars? Surprisingly, start with food. Your average meal travelled 1000 miles (total, including all ingredients). Then, support public transportation. Carpool, you might just make new friends. Try not to move 100 miles away from where you work. Next time you are stuck in traffic, count the consecutive number of cars in a lane with only one person inside. Last time I did it, the average was about 30 (I was shocked). Not everyone is able to ride a bike everywhere; but if you can, it's a great health decision! People who use public transport weigh an average of 5 pounds less.

     BP might be a bunch of jerks, but we have to remember who pushes the pedal.