Meatless Mondays Enters Trial Phase

Monday, Feb. 4, marked the first Meatless Monday of the year. The program, which was tumultuously endorsed by the Student Government Association (SGA) on a trial basis late last semester, aims to shrink St. Mary’s carbon footprint and raise awareness about the benefits of reducing meat consumption.  Despite the program’s name, meat will still be widely available on Mondays. As part of a compromise, the SGA restricted the program to the main and international sections of the dining hall. Meat will still be available in the deli line and will not be reduced or removed from any other establishments on campus.

The Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) was one of the strongest supporters of the Meatless Mondays proposal as it made its way through the SGA and into the college administration. Sophomore student and President of SEAC, Emily Altman, met with Bon Appetit, the company that caters the Great Room, on behalf of SEAC in order to hash out certain details about the implementation of Meatless Mondays. Two important decisions came out of this meeting. The first is that student feedback will be coordinated through Bon Appetit; though this plan has not been fully articulated, students can probably expect to use a system similar in principle to Bon Appetit’s current cork suggestion board to make their support or grievances known.

The second issue discussed was the level to which meat substitutes would be included in the menu. According to Altman, Bon Appetit has “decided that it would be best to start the program off with limited amounts of meat substitute and see how it goes from there.” This decision was heavily influenced by the expense of meat substitutes and detrimental effect that such substitutes would have on the program’s awareness component. Since the SGA resolution compromise effectively cut the potential environmental benefits of the program in half, raising awareness has taken on increased importance in the eyes of many supporters.

According to Joel Blice, Head of Bon Appetit at SMCM, most of the meat replacements will consist of legumes, whole grain products, and steamed vegetables, along with some tofu and tempeh dishes. Since most of these dishes have already been provided on a semi regular basis, Blice reports that Bon Appetit’s logistical hurdles in setting up this new menu have been negligible. In the end, the program is very much a trial and its development will depend heavily on student response; as Altman said: “the best way to run the program is to get as much student feedback as possible.” Given recent history, no shortage of student feedback is expected.

Students Fight Climate Change With S'mores and Bonfires

For one hour on the evening of March 31, students gathered around the crackling fire pit in Waring Commons (WC) amidst smoky wind and marshmallows as part of the international event known as Earth Hour.

SEAC (Student Environmental Action Coalition) hosted the St. Mary’s Earth Hour event, which occurs when “people in over 130 countries turn off their lights and electricity for just one hour to raise awareness of climate change,” said sophomore attendee Danielle Manos. “By the way, fun fact: climate change is real,” added SEAC president, sophomore Ashok Chandwaney.

“Basically,” continued Manos, “it encourages people to leave their houses and save energy.” During Earth Hour, Chandwaney announced that SEAC members will be traveling to Annapolis to advocate wind energy and bring it to the attention of the state government.

All of the materials needed for the making of s’mores were provided at the fire pit, and gooey chocolatey goodness was had by all. Sophomore Evan Mahone attempted to cook a meal of chickpeas and spinach in a pan over the open flame, and he remarked later that his dish was quite good. To maintain the fire, old copies of The Point News were used as kindling. “Finally, The Point News is useful for something,” joked Chandwaney.

The camaraderie around the fire pit was obvious, as a constant stream of students chatted and ate for the entire hour from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. Junior Peter Robertson noted that the event “brings us together, and keeps our friendship warm. Literally.” Earth Hour was successful in recognizing that the world’s habit of energy over-use must be broken in order to prevent climate change, all while providing students with a delightful Saturday evening.

SEAC's Annual Polar Bear Splash Raises Money for Charity

On Feb. 28, St. Mary’s students helped spread global climate change awareness by plunging into this year’s Polar Bear Splash at the James P. Muldoon River Center.

The fifth annual Polar Bear Splash, hosted by the St. Mary’s Enviornmental Action Coalition (SEAC), raised funds for charities while letting the participants show appreciation for the environment.  Students raced into the freezing temperatures of St. Mary’s River as their friends looked on and cheered in support. While there seemed to be fewer participants than previous years, the event still had the same effect.

“I’m very passionate about the environment and I’ve done it every year.” Said junior Kat Eisenberg, a  member of SEAC. Other students expressed similar feelings about the Polar Bear Splash. Junior Alyssa DiGiovanni smiled and shivered as she recovered from the Splash effects. “It was absolutely freezing and sort of painful, but it’s a great way to spread awareness about the environment. It was my third year doing it,” DiGiovanni said.

The Polar Bear Splash, which is an event that his been held at different places around the world since the early 1900s, has been a tradition at St. Mary’s since 2007. It has been an enjoyable event for students ever since. To minimize the injuries that have been seen in the past, students are asked to wear their shoes. While this year’s temperature was warmer than past years, that didn’t change the cold water or how cold participants were as they bundled up in their towels and drank hot chocolate.

“It was freezing and I couldn’t breathe when I got into the water,” said sophomore Leah Shenfeld. It was Shenfeld’s first Polar Bear Splash but she exclaimed that it wouldn’t be her last.  “If we feel this way in freezing waters I can’t imagine how Polar Bears feel in the heat. I’m definitely going to do it again,” said Shenfeld.

While the majority of students left the Riverfront dripping and soaked, a few participants stuck around for more rounds of splashing into the river after the event.

Students Lobby to Pass Offshore Wind Energy Bill

The answer to Maryland’s renewable energy needs might be blowing in the wind. Students all over campus are signing a petition to show their support for the Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act of 2012, also known as Senate Bill 237/House Bill 441. SEAC, Saint Mary’s Student Environmental Action Coalition, is sponsoring this petition, and has joined forces with the Maryland Student Climate Coalition to host a student organized Wind Works rally. The rally will be held on Feb. 22, at 10:30 a.m. in Lawyers Mall in Annapolis. Many students will be arriving early to attend lobby meetings with their district representatives.

SEAC President, Ashok Chandwaney says, “I’m overwhelmed and shocked by the outpouring of support. Within the first hour of petitioning, over 10 percent of the student body had signed. Today, we’re past 25 percent.”

The passing of this bill would incentivize the installation of 80 to 200 wind turbines ten nautical miles off of the coast of Ocean City, Maryland. This would create 400 to 600 megawatts (MW) of clean, renewable energy. The Maryland Energy Administration estimates that this would produce enough electricity to power 79 percent of all of the homes on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, or more than half of the homes in Baltimore city.

The benefits of the Offshore Wind Energy Act are considerable. As reported by the New York Academy of Sciences, a 500 MW offshore wind project would reduce carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 945,000 tons per year. This would help to reduce the 13,000 premature deaths caused each year by burning coal, would improve air and water quality, and would slow our current rate of climate change.

President Urgo has been a strong supporter of offshore wind and has sent letters of support to the Speaker of the House of Delegates, and the President of the Senate in favor of this bill.

He said, “I think wind, as we know, is a largely untapped resource,” though President Urgo remains sensitive to concerns regarding local military operations.

There have been some concerns that wind farms could disrupt radar of military air traffic control systems. These concerns are incredibly important, however The Guardian reports it is possible to produce wind turbines with stealth aircraft technology. This technique renders the turbines effectively invisible to radar.

These wind turbines pose little to no threat to birds and bats as some wind turbines do, as they would be far enough offshore where birds and bats do not fly. Furthermore, the turbines would be far enough offshore so that they would not create an eyesore to beachgoers.

Building windmills is good for jobs and the Maryland economy. A total of 2,400 jobs would be created, 2,000 jobs in manufacturing and construction for the next 5 years, and an additional 400 ongoing supply and Operation and Maintenance jobs thereafter. Based on analysis by the Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development, the total economic impact of offshore wind in the next 5 years is more than $1.9 billion, 8,200 job-years, and $14 million in state tax revenue.

Opponents of this bill often cite electricity rate increases as a key impediment to their support.  The Maryland Energy Administrations confirms that offshore wind would cause an initial rate increase of approximately $1.44 on residential monthly bills in 2016, yet this amount is predicted to decrease each year thereafter. This initial rate increase, $1.44, is roughly equivalent to the amount of money that could be saved by changing two 60-watt to energy efficient compact fluorescents. While wind capital costs are high compared to fossil fuels, the fuel cost is zero as wind is free, making operational costs competitive. The benefit of price stability in the long term with wind outweighs this initial rate increase. Offshore wind would be likely to create a reliable hedge against the volatile prices of increasingly scarce fossil fuels.

Maryland currently imports about 90 percent of the renewable energy needed to meet the Maryland Renewable Portfolio Standard. This requires electricity suppliers to use renewable energy sources to generate a minimum percentage of their retail sales. This percentage is staggered and increases slowly each year so that Maryland’s energy portfolio is required to include at least 20 percent of electricity from renewable sources by 2022. Development of this offshore wind project will create enough clean energy to satisfy between 10 to 15 percent of Maryland’s 2022 renewable energy goals.

Anyone interested in getting more involved with the Maryland Offshore Wind Campaign or that would like to show support by attending the Annapolis Wind Works rally should email smcmseac@gmail.com. Meetings are on Wednesdays at 8:30 p.m. in Goodpaster 117, all are welcome.

 

SEAC Attends Keystone Pipleine Protest at White House

This October St. Mary’s Environmental Action Commission (SEAC) attended a rally in protest of the building of the Keystone pipeline. The specific rally involved 10,000 people encircling the White House. “The original goal of the action’s organizers was 3,000 so we surpassed it by more than three times. We brought about 20 people from St. Mary’s, most of whom were involved with SEAC and the Maryland Student Climate Coalition. We attended a rally in Lafayette Park, where Bill McKibben, Mark Rufalo, and others addressed the crowd,” said SEAC President, Caroline Selle.

This rally was only one of several that have taken place throughout the year, and students from St. Mary’s have gotten involved in several different ways.  Selle became involved after hearing about the effects of the pipeline while working for an environmental organization in D.C. “I didn’t know what they were and started to do a lot of research. It turns out that they’re pretty horrible and with climate change and the risk of oil spills, pose a big danger to public health,” said Selle. Since then Selle, alongside other members of the St. Mary’s community, have been working towards convincing the Obama administration to put a halt towards the building.

At the October rally, the protesters finally made some headway. Obama announced that the project would be re-reviewed. “I’d like to see more pressure put on Obama to make decisions in reaction to environmental justice issues rather than corporate interests. I think the pipeline protests were a big step in the right direction but not a complete victory, and there’s still a lot more to do,” said Selle. If you would like to know more about the pipeline you can go to tarsandaction.org.

Current Students, Alumni Arrested at Protest

Seven St. Mary’s students and alumni joined author Bill McKibben, climate scientist Dr. James Hansen, and representatives of Canada’s impacted First Nations in the daily protests against the Keystone Pipeline. Over 2,000 people from all 50 states are expected to take part in the two week sit-in at the White House, which began Saturday, August 20, and will end on Saturday, September 3. The action has also received support from actors Daryl Hannah and Mark Ruffalo.

Participants in the action include sophomore Bethany Davis, seniors Johanna Galat, Emily Saari, and Caroline Selle, and Jamie Phillips (’11).  Aaron French (‘11) and Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall (‘11) also plan to take part in the sit-in later this week.  The students include leadership and activists in St. Mary’s Environmental Action Coalition, the former student trustee, the executive directors of the Maryland Student Climate Coalition, and leaders in the Sierra Student Coalition.

“The President said that in order to take action on climate change, he needs to feel the support of a movement behind him. We’ve tried phone calls and petitions; we’ve done everything we can. This is our way of telling him that the support he’s looking for is right outside his front door,” said Selle.

The proposed Keystone Pipeline is approximately 1,660 miles of pipeline which would transport crude oil from Canada to the U.S. Opponents believe that the pipeline will be a crutch for our addiction to fossil fuels, and the SMCM protestors intended to demonstrate their displeasure to President Obama.

“As the source of the second largest pool of carbon in the world, Dr. Hansen has called the extraction of the tar sands ‘game over for the climate,’” said Saari.  “If we’re ever going to start moving away from our addiction to fossil fuels and investing in renewable energy, this pipeline cannot be built. Enough is enough.”

Many of the Maryland protesters carried signs shaped as wind turbines and called for the development of offshore wind in the mid-Atlantic as an alternative to tar sands oil. Others were in Washington, D.C. to prevent destruction of biodiversity, further oil spills, desecration of tribal lands, and damage to their homes and land.

Reusable To-Go Boxes Get Test Drive in Spring

This coming spring Bon Appetit plans to implement a trial reusable to-go box program, a welcome addition to college residents tired of seeing overflowing trash cans filled with Styrofoam ones.

The call for reusable to-go boxes on campus has been growing ever since their first implementation at Eckert College in 2007, according to Sustainability Coordinator Luke Mowbrey.

Prince George’s Hall Senator and member of the sustainability committee sophomore Becky White said that other colleges, such as Washington College, Frostburg, Maryland Institute of Art, Notre Dame, and John Hopkins have also implemented similar programs.

She added, “not all these schools are necessarily [ranked] ‘greener’ than us… which speaks more to the need to do it.”

The current system of disposable to-go boxes is, in contrast to the sustainability and beautification initiatives of the college, ecologically harmful and aesthetically displeasing.

Styrofoam, according to Mowbrey, is non-biodegradable and releases many toxic chemicals when it is created.

Although recycling Styrofoam is technically possible, Mowbrey said many people don’t do it because it’s difficult and cost-prohibitive.

White said that reusable to-go boxes would cut down on the significant number of these thrown away (600 boxes a day, according to her statistics), decreasing the college’s negative environmental impact along with the amount of trash present on-campus.

She added that reusable to-go boxes would also be more durable and microwave-safe. Ultimately, Debi Wright, General Manager at Bon Appetit, said that it would take about forty uses of a single reusable to-go box to “break even” environmentally, with any use after that being an “environmental plus.”

Mowbrey said that the reusable to-go boxes, if successful, could be expected to be “a wash” financially. Mowbrey also said that the cost of the initial reusable to-go boxes, which retail at around $3.75 each, will be paid for through the College’s sustainability budget.

Wright said that although reusable to-go boxes would cut down on having to buy disposable ones, other costs would arise–such as those associated with the additional chemicals and water needed to sterilize the to-go boxes when they are brought back.

Previous students in the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) as well as former sustainability fellows have campaigned for to-go boxes in years past, but according to White there is “much, much more support” from students and administration than ever before.

“SEAC has shown a lot of interest and collected a number of signatures from students,” Mowbrey said. “It was something they brought to my attention when I came in in September.”

He added that a program for reusable to-go boxes was planned last year, but that a combination of logistical details and what he termed “little kinks” derailed the plan.

White said that a major issue were technology limits on OneCard readers, readers which have since been upgraded to support an accountability system.

The current plan for the pilot program will begin early next semester, when the first 500 students to volunteer will be able to opt-in to the program.

Mowbrey said accountability for bringing back these to-go boxes would work through the OneCard system; students who had opted in to the plan would have a mark on their account designating them as part of the trial, and after taking out one reusable to-go box would be expected to bring it back to be cleaned and provided with another one.

He said that at this point there were no financial burdens to be placed on students who wanted to be part of the program or those who lost a to-go box, but that these may be implemented later depending on the results of this pilot.

Mowbrey also emphasized that the program was optional, and Styrofoam to-go boxes would still be readily available for anyone who wanted them.

Although there is expected backlash to the change, possibly similar to that upon removing trays from the Great Room last spring, most people involved with the program expect things to go well. According to White, “most schools, after doing the pilot, have been successful.”

Student Activists to Demonstrate in Denmark for Climate Change at UN Meeting

This winter, on behalf of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and the Sierra Student Coalition (SSC), students will be attending a historic meeting of the United Nations Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) in Copenhagen, Denmark to promote the passage of an environmental treaty. Juniors Chelsea Howard-Foley and Aaron French, studying abroad in Germany and France respectively, are planning to travel to Copenhagen from Dec. 7-18.

These two students will join other youth from around the world in large demonstrations and acts of non-violent civil disobedience to pressure the meeting members.

French said some of the activities “could include things like banner drops, blockades or highlighting the energy of the past by stopping production at a coal plant for a day or installing small wind turbines around the conference to show the decision makers what a real clean energy future looks like.”

The UNFCC is meeting in Copenhagen to establish a treaty that will take effect when the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012.

According to their Web site, the UNFCC is an organization with theUN that works to develop policies to reduce global warming through legally binding treaties. This organization was responsible for the creation of the Kyoto protocol in 1997, which later went into effect in 2005.

The Kyoto Protocol is a legally binding agreement for the countries that signed it and states that those countries must limit or reduce greenhouse gases, improve or create sustainable technology, and encourage the private sector to act in a similar manner. The United States signed but did not ratify the Protocol and is therefore not legally bound by it.

Howard-Foley said that one of the most pressing issues in December is to make sure that President Barack Obama attends the negotiations and does “not embarrass the United States on an international stage by not attending.”

The SSC is trying to send students to Copenhagen as the UNFCC meets to represent organization, show their support for the Copenhagen Protocol, and inform others of the going-ons of the event.

The group is a national organization of high-school- and college student-led grassroots environmental organizations. The SSC’s mission, according their Web site, is “to train, empower, and organize youth to run effective campaigns that result in tangible environmental victories and that develop leaders for the environmental movement.”

SEAC, according to copresident junior Tara Hutton, will be helping raise money to send SEAC members French and Howard-Foley to the conference.

French, Hutton, and Howard-Foley all stressed that students not going to Copenhagen, non-SSC, and non-SEAC members can all get involved in supporting the Copenhagen protocol and international climate treaties. Hutton said non SSC students can write to their legislators and President Obama, come to SEAC, or find more info about 350 and why it’s so important to make the protocol stronger at http://www.350.org.

The number 350 represents the designated safe upper limit for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, 350 parts per million. The 350 campaign aims to raise global awareness about climate change.

To get involved, French said, “folks can (as always) engage in a sustainable lifestyle, but relative to the conference they can call the White House to ask President Obama to attend, they can help fight for clean energy and climate legislation (in the senate right now) by calling their representatives so the US can have a strong national piece of legislation to take to Copenhagen, or they could organize a day of action in solidarity with communities that will be impacted by climate change if we don’t work to stop it.”

Students Go against the Flow to Take Back the Tap

Each bottle in the water bottle curtain cost between $0.12 and $5.00. (Photo by Dave Chase)
Each bottle in the water bottle curtain cost between $0.12 and $5.00. (Photo by Dave Chase)

This semester, the students of St. Mary’s Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) are running the “Take Back the Tap” campaign in order to raise awareness about the problems associated with bottled water. The campaign goal is to eventually remove bottled water from the College campus store, the Daily Grind, and the Green Bean.

To kick off the campaign, SEAC hosted a screening of Flow on Oct. 14 in Cole Cinema as part of the National Day of Action. “Flow,” directed by Irena Salina, is a documentary that seeks to determine whether anyone ought to own water. “Flow” explores the “World Water Crisis” and, according to the movie’s Web site, “builds a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.”

In the days following the screening, SEAC members tabled in the campus center, asking students to sign a petition to get the Daily Grind to stop selling bottled water. With a “water bottle curtain” made of 136 salvaged water bottles (some pulled from recycling bins) hanging behind them, SEAC members spouted facts about bottled water to students heading to and from the Great Room. Coupons for 20 percent of reusable water bottles from the campus store were available for those who signed the petition.

SEAC also placed flyers across campus in many of the residence halls announcing the campaign. The flyers contained facts on bottled water and pointed out that although it may be more convenient to grab a bottle, the negative impacts of bottled water include taking water from communities that depend on it, polluting the environment during the production of plastic, contributing to global warming by transporting bottled water over great distances, and irresponsibly disposing of billions of empty bottles.

Junior Danny Ruthenberg-Marshall, a member of SEAC, was in charge of publicity art work for the campaign, including making the water bottle curtain. He said, “On average, bottled water is 800-5,000 times more expensive than tap water.”

Working on the campaign has affected the way in which Ruthenberg-Marshall views water usage, he says.

“I haven’t been using bottled water for well over a year, but this makes me even less inclined to use it,” he said. “More importantly, it has raised my awareness of water issues worldwide and the level of importance they should have on the environmental stage.”

Senior Bethany Wetherill, SEAC Co-president, said that getting bottled water off campus has been discussed since she arrived at the College three years ago. Over the summer, she interned at Food & Water Watch (F&WW), a national non-profit consumer advocacy group, and the group behind the national Take Back the Tap campaign. She is currently working as a liaison between F&WW and the College so that SEAC can use F&WW’s knowledge and resource base for the College campaign.

“Basically, we’d like to see a drastic reduction in the amount of bottled water on campus,” she said, “ideally meaning that the school stops selling bottled water; the students, faculty, and staff stop buying bottled water; [and] people are more informed about their water, where it comes from, what’s in it, and what they can do to support clean tap water for their community and others.”

Interested students can attend SEAC meetings every Wednesday at 9 p.m. in Goodpaster 117.

Students Plant ‘Smoking Hot Sycamores’ and Other Trees around Campus Paths

Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)
Students braved the cold and the rain to plant trees like this one along campus paths to create ecologically sound wildlife buffers. (Photo by Brendan O'Hara)

If there’s one thing that can be said of St. Mary’s students, it’s that we don’t lack concern for the environment.  While the rest of the community was huddled inside early Saturday morning avoiding the cold, rainy weather, about 15 students met at the Campus Center to take action and support the environment by getting their hands dirty planting trees.

The project of planting 250 native trees around campus was sponsored by EcoHouse, the Sustainability Committee, the Grounds Crew, the Critical Area Commission, and the Office of Planning and Facilities.  The planting was part of the College’s Buffer Management Strategy, which specifically works to make the College have ecologically sound buffers while also preserving important campus viewsheds.

Emily Saari, a sophomore EcoHouse member, helped bring the project into fruition when she proposed the idea to Dan Branigan, the Director of Design and Construction on campus.

“I suggested it as a way for EcoHousers to get credit for a community outreach project, and he was very open to the idea,” said Saari. “It’s really good to see it getting off the ground.”

The students helped plant trees in three locations across campus: below the grassy hill across from the campus center, around the pine forest beside Queen Anne, and in the small field beside the path to Dorchester.  Upon arrival, students were given shovels, potted saplings, and directions on how to properly plant the American sycamores, dogwoods, and other types of native trees.  In the end, the rainy weather turned out to be a blessing in disguise since it made the ground soft for digging, and the better-than-expected student turnout allowed the project to be completed an hour earlier than planned.

Senior Liahna Gonda-King helped plant five trees with Senior Cynthia Lawson for the project.  She said, “It’s really nice that our campus is actively trying to sustain the environment instead of just talking about it.”

Similar sentiments were echoed by all in attendance, eager to improve the campus’s environmental health.  Senior biology major Stacey Meyer said of the project: “They’ve been doing so much construction on campus lately, it’s nice to see some greening making up for it.”

Knowledge of the tree-planting project was spread by Sustainability Fellow Shane Hall, who rallied support for the initiative with his all-student emails.  In them, he stressed the importance of greening the campus.

“These trees will help shore up our shorelines, improve our storm water management, create more habitats for native organisms and make our campus even more beautiful than it already is,” his email said. “Think of how cool it will be when you come back 20 years from now and say to your kids/spouse/in-laws, ‘I planted that smoking hot sycamore right there, and that radical eastern redbud over yonder.’”

Regarding his personal view of the project, Hall said, “I was excited to say the least, and anxious to help get more people involved and get the plants in the ground!”

Hall said that the native trees that were planted have evolved in the campus ecosystems, and therefore use the water and nutrient availability of the area optimally and are resistant to natural diseases and pests. According to Hall, they will provide the best habitat for other organisms and should do very well. He said that naturally there will be some “thinning” as the trees establish themselves, but “we took that into account when planting them.”