The Conservation Conversation about Sustainability

Hey look, I won an essay contest! While in London, my program hosted a lecture by Ed Gillespie about sustainability. Below is my response:

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past thirty years – in which case your carbon footprint is most likely unsubstantial, so praise is in order – it would have been impossible to avoid the global conversation about sustainability. Here is some numerical food for thought: A quarter of the world’s armed conflicts in recent years have involved a struggle for natural resources. Only 1% of China’s 560 million city residents breathe air considered safe by the European Union. Americans throw away 2.5 million plastic bottles every hour, produce enough Styrofoam cups annually to circle the earth 436 times and trash enough office paper to build a 12-foot wall from Los Angeles to New York City. Between May and September, five million barrels of oil gushed from an underwater well in the Gulf of Mexico and all the while, what is known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch continued its swirling vortex across what is roughly twice the size of the continental United States.

In short, human beings are wasteful, we are foolish, we worship the illusion of bottomless resources and we single-mindedly pursue a mentality of consumption so aptly summed up by “drill, baby, drill.” Experts predict that by 2050, our planet will no longer be able to sustain its nine billion inhabitants. For that reason alone it is absolutely vital to redefine and revamp the sustainability conversation in terms of desirability and communication. The ultimate message is not so much about hugging trees and saving the planet as it is about saving our collective well-being – we are intrinsically selfish creatures, so it should not be a hard idea to sell.

As I sat attentively in the auditorium at Ed Gillespie’s presentation, diligently scrawling notes throughout his spitfire delivery, I realized that I was the epitome of his stereotypical consumer blissfully unconcerned with sustainability. Fresh from a jaunt in Europe, I had flown three times in the past week and purchased (and discarded) roughly fifteen plastic water bottles. But crumpled beneath my chair was a reusable grocery bag, surely that could be the redeeming note amidst a myriad of wasteful actions? But then on second thought, the cardboard and plastic packaging within that I most likely would not have recycled is a damning piece of evidence against me. Given this position, it is no wonder Gillespie’s pyramid of willingness vs. effectiveness – in which our willingness to make an effort toward sustainability decreases with its respective impact – resonated with my “faux green” sensibilities. I certainly agree that it is much easier to cease using plastic bags than it is to cease traveling by air, and the attractiveness of these sustainable options hinge on how easily they are accomplished. But until someone actually demonstrated this all-too-human trait in a lovely diagram on a snazzy Powerpoint slide, I never put much thought to the matter. Part bystander-effect, part-psychological numbing, my unconscious refusal to “do the right thing” because it is just too much work is rather troubling. Multiply this mentality by however many billion consumers also flew in an “aluminum sausage,” jokes Gillespie, and tossed plastic bottles just last week, and the result is terrifying.

Moving from the individual to the societal level, I particularly enjoyed Gillespie’s assertion that whether or not climate change can be scientifically proven is ultimately irrelevant to the sustainability conversation. All too often, pundits and politicians are caught up in a maelstrom of competing statistics about the rate of ocean acidification, the decreasing ozone layer and at what rate the glaciers are melting, or if it is all an elaborate hoax. Regardless, as the cartoon so aptly highlighted, sustainability has positive outcomes: cleaner water and air, livable cities, green jobs, preserving the rainforests, energy independence and healthy children. If we can move beyond the climate change roadblock, the discussion will be exponentially more productive.

The year 2008 marked a devastating financial crash the likes of which has not been seen since the Great Depression.  and the fallout has severely hampered the sustainability movement. As businesses and individuals alike struggle to meet the bottom-line, many claim they cannot pay the price for going green. As Gillespie pointed out, the opposite is true. The age of cheap oil is over and since the 1980s, we have exceeded the world’s biocapacity, consuming each three to five planet’s worth of resources. The bottom line is that we cannot have a healthy economy and society without a healthy environment. In fact, the financial and ecological problems can be solved simultaneously because “being green” is smart business in that it focuses on efficiencies in energy, waste and processes. In the long run, money is being saved, not wasted. Furthermore, the evidence Gillespie provided about innovation in infrastructure and energy like the wind turbines in Australia, the wave hub off the coast of England and the Sahara Project all are excellent examples of progress.

In short, Gillespie and his organization are all about making sustainable development so desirable it becomes normal. The alarm bells have been ringing ever since we began exceeding the planet’s biocapacity in the 1980s. This is a crisis of resources, there simply is not enough oil to fuel our cars, not enough space to hold our carbon waste, not enough land to sustain population growth.

Rather than “Keep Calm and Carry On,” let’s “Get excited and change things,” and unleash the collective human potential to save ourselves.


Clash of the Book Worms

The age-old battle of Borders versus Barnes & Nobles may be near an end. Though the book-selling giants have come head to head for years, Borders has fallen into bankruptcy status. As a report by Publisher’s Weekly noted, “for the first time the book industry is openly, and in many cases actively, planning for what business will be like without the nation’s second largest bookstore chain.” So what happened?

Digital books: B&N led the way with the NOOK, it’s own e-reader, while Borders depends on uncool devices like the Kobo or Cruz for their digital offerings.

Too many stores: Borders opened up way too many stores in areas that could not support the chain. Yes, B&N also had to close storefronts, but their financial situation meant the reshuffling had less of an impact than was the case with Borders.

Delayed payments: Better late then never doesn’t ring so well in publisher’s ears when it comes to payments, which have now been turned into interest-bearing notes.

Maybe Borders and B&N will combine to became a book-selling supergiant. Or maybe not. In the meantime, it looks like publishers are getting antsy, canceling author tours and other events at Borders across the nation. They better start rethinking print runs in general, for if Borders goes under, the world will be 674 bookstores less.

photo credit: Digital Trends

Toning down political rhetoric

Looks like Roger Ailes is telling his camp over at FOX to take it down a notch. In the aftermath of the Tucson shooting that left six dead and fourteen wounded, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, both sides of the political arena are up in arms. Accusations are flying left and right, things like the shooter being influenced by Tea Party rhetoric or following Palin’s orders from the crosshairs map.

Ailes, president of Fox News,  has told the “guys” at his network to “shut up, tone it down, make your argument intellectually.  You don’t have to do it with bombast. I hope the other side does that.” All this and more in an exclusive interview with the Global Grind.

photo credit: Mediabistro

It’s been a long time coming…

New Year’s Resolution # 1: Blog, blog, blog.

A month ago, I was having the time of my life in London. Today, I am sitting in the kitchen of my suburbanite home, contemplating life, pancakes and whether the snow will keep me from venturing out to Planet Fitness. Reverse culture shock aside, life in the States has not been all that bad. There was Christmas cheer, New Year’s celebrations and a winter wonderland. But with only a week until school starts up again in Jersey, I am beginning to feel antsy. The solution? Adhere to my New Year’s Resolutions like crazy. Here they are:

1. Blog more often. Not once in a blue moon, but every week, four times a month, 48 times a year.

2. Learn the word of the day and USE it that day. (Preferably among those who won’t find you too highfalutin). Exhibit A: “Did you know sockdolager* was possibly the last word Abraham Lincoln heard before he was assassinated? Can you say ironic!” See, it can be both a conversation starter and an interesting tidbit!

*sockdolager: heavy, finishing blow or decisive reply

3. Get fit. The age old resolution to lose weight or eat healthier never seems to stick with me, so I’ve devised a clever way to not let myself down. Getting fit implies being healthier and that sort of goal is much easier to maintain. I hope to be able to run like the wind without getting winded and eat better without forgoing all tasty treats. Instead, I’m all about eating in moderation and incorporating veggies and fruits into my diet. It seems to be working: my favorite new snack is no longer chips but carrots and hummus!

Fresh year, fresh start. Let’s see how these go….

Spring Carnival Catalyzes Science with pHun

It was a fun-filled afternoon of cotton candy, syringe-darts, oobleck, and camaraderie as students of all majors flocked to the School of Science’s first annual Spring Carnival held on Wednesday, April 14, 2010. The fountain area was abuzz with excitement, punctuated by the occasional bottle rocket launch, as hundreds joined in the celebration of beautiful weather and the approaching end of the semester.

“The turnout is absolutely beyond our expectations,” exclaimed Patricia Van Hise, assistant dean of the School of Science, as she adeptly rolled paper cones for a cotton candy line of hungry students snaking around the fountain. “It’s wonderful!”

Attendees roamed activity tables sponsored by School of Science student clubs and organizations while munching on free popcorn and dodging the Astronomy Club’s occasional falling bottle rocket.

“Students are learning that science isn’t all about being a geek, it’s lots of fun,” explained Sakina Attaar, a sophomore biology major representing Pre-SOMA (Student Osteopathic Medical Association). Judging by the three students entangled on the “Medical Twister” mat, it would certainly seem so. “Everybody knows anatomical Twister is what all the cool science majors do in their free time,” she added with a laugh.carnival2

At the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) table, participants put their skills to the test with “Medical Pong.” Trivia questions varied in difficulty levels to accommodate non-science majors, ranging from naming the pH of the stomach to what the acronym AMSA stands for, the answer to which was conveniently printed on the poster behind the table. Winners received candy and by the middle of the carnival, AMSA representatives were almost out of supplies. “We bought sixty candy bars and we’re nearing the end of them,” said one student.

Meanwhile, physics majors were hard at work shooting their least favorite physicists at the “Launch Game.” Marie Curie, Pierre Curie, Einstein, Henri Becquerel, Max Planck, and Wilhelm Rontgen were all represented on bulls-eye targets at which participants aimed the projectile launcher. “Planck seems to be the daily favorite,” noted Cindy Lin, president of Physics Club. She explained the activity is a General Physics experiment that the club decided to spice up by adding physicist as targets.carnival3

Yet perhaps the most unusual event was the “Walk on Water” experiment sponsored by the Student Chemist Association (SCA) and Gamma Sigma Epsilon. A poster beckoned wary bystanders to “run on liquid” but warned not to take too long or else the substance would shift to its liquid state. Oobleck, named after Dr. Seuss’s gooey green substance, is a mixture of corn starch and water. “It’s a non-newtonian fluid, which means it acts like a liquid when being poured, but like a solid when a force is acting on it,” explained Sarah Wehrhan, president of SCA. Indeed, a pair of running feet works exceedingly well as an applied force. “It’s been a really exciting day with great weather,” she said. “We are all pleasantly surprised by the turnout.”

So what are these chemists going to do with all that oobleck at the end of the day? “Toss it in the lake,” Wehrhman joked. “No, we really aren’t sure what we’re doing with it yet.”

At the end of the carnival, lucky students chose from an array of prizes: beaker mugs, $10 bookstore gift cards, safety goggles, laboratory coats, and club t-shirts.  “All in all, the day was a great success,” said Van Hise.  She and Jeffrey Osborn, dean of the School of Science, note that the excitement generated is a definite indicator that the event will be held again next year.  To view more carnival photos click here.  For full list of games and activities click here.

To access the article on TCNJ’s School of Science website, click here.

Charging for Online Content: Is the NYT punishing its most loyal supporters?

With the transition to the web almost two decades ago, the newspaper industry made one glaring mistake: it succumbed to the free content hype that was all the rage in the 1990s and decided not to charge for good, quality journalism online. Flash forward to 2010 and you find the industry in decline, unable to reconcile the old business model with new technology and struggling to compensate for lackluster advertising revenue and declining readership.

Media analysts have long debated the merits of micropayments similar to iTunes (buy one song for $.99—well, more like $1.29 now) and walled subscription services but so far, the Wall Street Journal has been the only newspaper to succeed in implementing such a program. Yet after much speculation, the New York Times has indeed announced that effective 2011, it will begin charging for a subscription to the website after a certain number of “free” articles (though home delivery subscribers will be spared additional fees).

In a question and answer article, senior executives at the NYT said the newspaper has learned its lessons from Timeselect, a previous walled subscription service that was limited to the columns and archives but boasted 227,000 paying subscribers. By this number alone, executives have concluded that people will pay for high quality online content and that users recognize that the New York Times differs from other outlets, “the depth and breadth of (its) reporting and analysis,” said one executive.

The new metered model (which applies to the whole site) would be a monthly flat fee and executives assert it will give flexibility when it comes to digital advertising while not hindering searches or links coming in from other sites. In other words, if a friend sends you a link in an email, on social media platforms or you click on one within a blog (for instance the one above!) you can view the article WITHOUT adding to the allotment of free articles.

To the query of whether this plan” punishes” the paper’s most devoted readers, executives coolly responded that although they cherish their readers, a sustainable business model is an absolute necessity. Based on research, they say they are confident their loyal readers will pay, “because they know The Times brings them authoritative, intelligent and well-written news and opinion.”

I’m pleased the plan will not be enacted until next year, it will give the paper ample time to iron out the wrinkles. With the WSJ’s foray into paid online content, the NYT is making the right decision and based on the limited details available at this time, it seems flexible enough to succeed. I’m looking forward to how this experiment will turn out! Maybe, just maybe, it will be the answer to some of the industry’s woes.

True Life: PA to NJ Culture Shock

*This is an assignment for my feature writing class–essentially a third-person feature on myself, which was both difficult and highly amusing at times to write.*

At first glance, no one would suspect her to be a geographical interloper. With a notebook-ridden satchel perpetually glued to her side, spectacles perched on a suspiciously pale bridge of the nose and stubborn curls moussed into submission, the ex-Biology major fades neatly into the college’s studious population.

Yet underneath the façade, Jessica Corry is a veritable anomaly. She holds absolutely no opinion on the geographic controversy tearing apart north, south and central Jersey. The sun is the only free tanning special she has redeemed. Behind the wheel, she actively avoids circles, obeys the speed limit as if it were God’s command and though fist pumping remains an elusive skill never quite mastered, pumping her own gas is the norm.

In reply to the standard query, “What exit?” the shy nineteen-year old’s answer is often greeted with gasps of fascination. Indeed, Jessica Corry is a Pennsylvanian amidst multitudes of Garden Staters and that equates to nearly alien status at The College of New Jersey.

Home is suburban Chester County, nestled betwixt sprawling Amish farmland to the west and hordes of encroaching developments and shopping centers to the east. Though a native of Pennsylvania, Corry admits to having a soft spot for her adopted state. It did indeed spawn quite a few of her favorite people: Judy Blume, Bruce Springsteen and her very own mother.

In addition to holiday and birthday excursions across the border to visit with maternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, her most treasured New Jersey tradition is the annual week down the shore. When August rolls around, Corry and her tragically carsick younger sister are crammed between boogie boards and suitcases on the way to Ocean City, with its “lazy beach days, Laura’s Fudge and nights at Wonderland Pier.”

Thanks to maternal ties solidified by a steady summer relationship, it is no wonder the student journalist chose to return to the motherland for her collegiate experience. “Some might call New Jersey the armpit of the country,” said Corry. “Certainly it has its downfalls but I prefer to think of it as the big toe: not the most attractive feature but absolutely necessary for balance.” Ignoring the dismayed cries of homebody classmates forever destined to remain in Pennsylvania, Corry followed her own valedictory advice in taking the road less traveled. Late in August of 2008, she once again crammed herself and a slightly less tragically carsick sister between endless crates, this time to venture across the border toward independence.

Flash forward two years and Corry has adapted remarkably well to Jersey living. “When I first found out my roommate was from Pennsylvania, I was frightened,” explained Allie Eich, best friend and bottom bunk-bed inhabitant. “Strangely enough, we get along quite well despite her inability to pronounce words, drive a car or fist pump.” Yet Corry’s Pennsylvania roots have led to some unfortunate occurrences. Rumor has it that her lack of childhood exposure to factory fumes resulted in her nasty encounter with swine flu despite a hypochondriatic addiction to hand sanitizer, all to the amusement of her immune, New Jersey-bred suitemates.

Nevertheless, Corry says she is grateful for New Jersey’s generosity. “Without the Garden State, I would not have a mother, three of my closest friends, a college education, fond memories of the shore or a superiority complex when it comes to pumping gas,” she said with a laugh. “Though the decision is years away, the possibility exists that I may cross the Delaware permanently and finally call myself a true New Jerseyan.”