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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,


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.