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How the carbon charge works

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In September of 2016, the Carbon Charge Committee was established to manage the Carbon Charge Program. To understand the program and its implications, we ask: what is Swarthmore’s Carbon Charge Program? And what is its significance of the program outside Swarthmore?

According to Climate Action Senior Fellow, Nathaniel Graf, the Carbon Charge Program has four primary goals: first, to provide a platform to educate and engage the community with carbon pricing solution; second, to incentivize reductions in Swarthmore’s emissions; third, to provide capital for projects that reduce our emissions; and fourth, to build momentum for state, national, and global implementation of carbon pricing.

According to the Swarthmore sustainability website, on-campus implementation of the program consists of three components. A school-wide levy on departments for college carbon emissions has been  implemented, though not yet fully developed. The total tax was calculated by multiplying the college’s carbon emissions by the social cost of carbon, and paid for with a 1.25% levy on all departments and by voluntary contributions.

“Yale University was the first school to institute an internal carbon charge; they have a sophisticated structure in which departments and offices are charged proportionally for their own carbon emissions. At Swarthmore, we don’t yet have sufficiently fine-scale tracking of our sources of emissions to create an analogous structure, so right now we are charging for school-wide emissions in proportion to budget size,” said Graf.

Then, the revenues from those charges is used to support renewables, efficiency, metering, and education projects. finally, a shadow price on projects, showing the social cost of the carbon emissions of the project, is implemented to encourage less carbon-intensive construction projects.

“The money is loaned out to different sustainability focused projects on campus. There was just an article released by the college about LED lights being put in the Fieldhouse in the athletic facilities, and that money was from the Carbon Charge tax,” said Nicholas DiMaio ’19, this academic year’s President’s Sustainability Research Fellow.

According to Graf, a primary goal for the Carbon Charge Program is to provide a platform to educate and engage the community with carbon pricing solution, finding more effective ways to tackle climate change.

“I think what’s really important about carbon pricing is that we’re looking to set an example for other institutions, as well as build political will from students on campus to bring these beliefs to their own community and make a difference. Because ultimately one institution doesn’t make that large of a difference, but if several institutions, and eventually local, state, and national governments implement the policy then is to make a huge difference worldwide,” said DiMaio’19

With no current national policy to cap carbon emissions, the college has put its weight behind the movement to limit carbon emissions. The college is one of the first higher education institutions to endorse such a policy.  

“President Smith was the second president to add her signature to the Put A Price On It campaign’s public letter, endorsing a price on carbon and calling on elected officials to take action towards carbon pricing legislation. She went beyond that initial signature by working with the presidents of Wesleyan, Pitzer, Dickinson, and Vassar to share that letter with other college and university presidents, which resulted in a total of 36 schools that have now signed on,” wrote Graf in an email.

In 2009, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed the House of Representatives, but was never brought to a vote in the Senate. According to Graf,  the next time around it is important to have strong mass support for such a bill to pass. And Swarthmore hopes to lead and engage the community to help put a price on carbon.

According to Graf, students who are part of the Sustainability Office or on the Carbon Charge Committee play a strong roll on campus. Currently, the Carbon Charge Committee is working on a weekly newsletter, infographic posters, a community forum, and an op-ed about carbon pricing. Some of the students also engage the community outside of Swarthmore.

Lamia Makkar’21, one of the two first-year student interns for the Office of Sustainability spoke about her work.

“I helped to organize the SCPA conference in October, developing tools and resources for the participants from other schools. Since then have worked on maintaining the network of students and helping the Swarthmore team that is trying to get endorsement from Delaware County Council.”

Any students interested in carbon charge of sustainability is encouraged to reach out to Nathaniel Graf at sustainability@swarthmore.edu, or Nick DiMaio ’19.

With enough support from the community, the college would be more well equipped to lead its peers in a worldwide endeavor to combat climate change.

Community members discuss advocacy and carbon pricing at Safe Climate PA conference

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On Saturday, Oct. 7, Swarthmore students and administrators attended a Safe Climate PA conference in Harrisburg. The conference serves as “an opportunity to learn about carbon pricing policies and how to effectively engage with elected officials, the media, and our campus communities to advocate for climate solutions,” according to its website.

Director of Sustainability Aurora Winslade, sustainability program manager Melissa Tier, Nathan Graf ’16, a climate action senior fellow in the office of sustainability, and Aaron Metheney ’18 helped organize the conference.

Twelve Swarthmore students attended, as well as students and representatives from many universities in Pennsylvania, including Temple, Dickinson, Franklin & Marshall, and Villanova.

The conference began with an opening address delivered by Winslade, who discussed the potential of carbon pricing and the importance of student voices on climate issues. It also included  workshops on meeting with elected officials, media engagement, campus engagement and endorsements, local government endorsements, carbon pricing policy, and storytelling around issues of climate change.

Graf facilitated the carbon pricing policy workshop and presented on climate change and carbon pricing, while Metheney facilitated the local government endorsements workshop.

Carbon pricing, which can take various forms, is a tax on carbon pollution to encourage polluters to reduce their emissions. Graf described it as the most feasible way to keep the world from warming more than 2 degrees Celsius from its current temperature, at which, according to many climate scientists, the negative effects of climate change would become irreversible.

Ideally, according to Graf, a carbon tax would make it unprofitable to burn more than the 565 gigatons of carbon necessary to stay under that limit, raising the price of fossil fuels to more than the price of renewable energy sources. Because the fee would be assessed when carbon enters the economy, however, the cost would be passed on to consumers and could have a disproportionate effect on low-income people. A possible solution could be using the revenue from the price to create a universal basic income, which would offset the costs, although there are many other possible uses of the revenue.

“It is an unfortunate reality that while a price on carbon makes for very good policy, it won’t happen when few people know or care about it,” said Graf. “The need to change that is a central driver for Safe Climate PA.”

The college already has an internal carbon pricing program, which involves a 1.25 percent charge on each department’s budget. The money goes to the college’s Carbon Change Fund, which invests in profitable, energy-efficient businesses and organizations and funds other work relating to climate change and education. Nick DiMaio ’19, a president’s sustainability research fellow, will work this year to educate the community about carbon pricing, and community members have also worked to support carbon pricing beyond the college.

Metheney got President Smith’s signature on a carbon pricing petition this spring, and President Smith wrote an open letter in the “Philadelphia Inquirer” on Aug. 8 in support of carbon pricing. Smith has also reached out to other campus presidents to encourage them to sign. Metheney is also working to get the Borough of Swarthmore to institute carbon pricing.

Two interns in the office of sustainability, Lamia-Emilie Makkar ’21 and Nusaybah Estes ’21, also helped organize the event. Makkar researched the political background of the districts from which conference attendees came and the environmental stances of their elected officials — hoping to gain insight on priorities for each district — and created resource sheets for the conference workshops. Estes organized communications prior to the conference, introduced workshops, filmed the event, and helped with logistics. Makkar will continue developing educational resources and working on implementation of action plans developed at the conference, while Estes will continue networking.

“It was great to see so many [people] share energy and excitement about paving a future for the larger use of carbon charges and look forward to the actions the different groups will be taking,” Makkar said in an email.

Estes was similarly excited about implementing students’ action plans and emphasized the diverse set of perspectives speakers brought to the conference.

“I think the speakers were incredibly knowledgeable in their fields and brought interesting views on climate change to the table,” Estes said in an email.

She pointed to the speeches of Jerry Taylor, Jacqui Patterson, and Peterson Tuscano. Taylor, a conservative commentator who was originally skeptical about the effects of climate change, discussed how he changed his views and how to make a case for carbon pricing that appeals to conservatives.

Patterson, the director of the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program, talked about the disproportionate impact of climate change on communities of color and poor communities, both through the proximity of toxic facilities and susceptibility to natural disasters, and advocated an aggressive approach to carbon pricing to make it more equitable.

Tuscano, a comic storyteller, who has worked on LGBTQ issues, social justice, and faith, discussed in a humorous speech how he became aware of climate change, how we can engage non-environmentalists like himself in climate action by appealing to their interests and identities, and how climate change is homophobic. The video footage Estes took of their speeches and other parts of the event can be found on Safe Climate PA’s Facebook page.

Jeremy Seitz-Brown ’18 represented Swarthmore’s Sunrise hub at the conference. He shared information about Sunrise’s mission to mobilize people and pressure elected officials about climate action.

“I was really excited by the chance to learn more about what other Swarthmore students and other students across the state were doing,” he said.

Seitz-Brown took away two major things around climate change and advocacy work.

“We need more cooperation in Swarthmore, and more cooperation beyond Swarthmore,” he said.

This involves more engagement with other schools and more student education about the college’s carbon pricing initiatives. He also wants to encourage Sunrise to work with other groups on campus.

“I think we’re all doing very necessary work, whether it’s on campus policy or student organizing,” Seitz-Brown said. “I’ll be working to [help] Sunrise support the sustainability fellows and other students.”

Graf echoed the need to work with people both inside and outside of the Swarthmore community.

“To get strong climate policy in the US, it’s vital to engage grassroots and mid-level people and organizations, which is very much the goal of Safe Climate PA, and much of the other carbon pricing work we’re doing on campus,” they said.

Graf intends to reconvene the Swarthmore delegation to Safe Climate PA the week after fall break to build on the work of the conference.

”Some great ideas were brought up in the session about ways that Swarthmore students could continue this work,” they said.

The office of sustainability interns, the conference attendees, and others will work to implement those ideas and educate the community over the coming year.

President’s sustainability research fellowship expanded, refined

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Amos Frye ’18, a fellow of the President’s Sustainability Research Fellowship program, worked first as a landscaper and farmhand in high school, then as a volunteer for the Student Conservation Association, working on trails in Hopewell Furnace, Pa., and Kenai Fjords, Alaska. Over the last two summers, he has worked for two different Conservation Corps, one based in Salida, Colo., and one based in Cedar City, Utah. He has spent most of his working time pulling weeds, digging holes for water retention (biotension) basins, removing invasive plant species, and managing trails — until his PSRF project allowed him to direct a sustainability effort in his own community at Swarthmore.

“I’ve worked in conservation a lot, but I’ve never been the person who manages the project; I’ve just been the grunt who does the work,” Frye said. “It’s interesting to get on the other side and see what goes into those issues of restoration and conservation [and] what work goes into the planning process.”

The PSRF program, which is a hybrid of a two-credit, yearlong course and an internship, assigns projects and staff and faculty mentors to a select group of students. There are 17 PSRF fellows this year, seven more than there were during the program’s pilot year in 2016 – 2017. Departments can request PSRF projects, but they are funded outside of the academic departments.

“All the things that would have been done, there’s just no one around to do them — that’s essentially all PSRF projects,” Frye said. “[Administrators, staff and faculty] saw the potential for improvement, but they don’t have the time or the resources. Since we’re paid outside of each department [and] we’re not paid much, that allows for that work.”

This year, the PSRF program has expanded and evolved to include the Alumni Sages, a group of alumni with careers in sustainability who provide resources and insider knowledge as well as new planning mechanisms, new work spaces, and changes to the yearlong timeline of the class. Projects this year focus on improving environmental friendliness all over and surrounding the campus, from Sharples to the Athletics Department to the office building at 101 S. Chester.

Frye currently works on the Crum Woods Stewardship and Engagement project, which Gabi Mallory ’17 and Brittany Weiderhold ’18 began during the last academic year. His project includes four distinct subprojects: preventing erosion by restoring native plants at Morganwood Slope, a retirement community near Mary Lyon residence hall; evaluating and managing peak flow and erosion at the Lang Swale, a ditch behind Lang Concert Hall that absorbs around 99 percent of stormwater from the academic quad; working on a comprehensive restoration plan for the Crum Woods; and planning engagement events with the office of sustainability’s community outreach coordinator.

The PSRF project directed by Natasha Markov-Riss ’20, which aims to incorporate environmentally-friendly practices at Office of Student Engagement events, has led to an interesting discovery.

“It seems like one big area where we need to get better with sustainability is the red Solo cup issue,” Markov-Riss said. “They’re #6 [plastic], so they’re not recyclable. At every party, we’re using two to three bags of them, upwards of 200, and those are all being thrown away.”

But when Markov-Riss began researching alternatives for red Solo cup usage, she discovered that students were reluctant to give them up.

“There’s more of a connection to and love of red Solo cups than we originally anticipated,” she said. “They are super entrenched in [the] culture of American drinking, they’re regulation for different drinking games, and people aren’t super willing to move away from them.”

Markov-Riss instead decided to search for recycling programs that would recycle the cups for free.

“So that way, instead of going upstream, we may try and tackle that problem downstream just because the goal is to create sustainable solutions that are in themselves sustainable, and we want people to be on board with them,” she said. “One of the goals of this project is not just to force sustainability solutions in students.”

Markov-Riss plans to create a strategic sustainability plan for the OSE that will include recommendations for the next one to two years. She also hopes to hold a launch event for students and to implement one or two of her recommendations before the year is over.

“Right now I’m doing a really thorough baseline analysis of where the campus is at right now in terms of sustainability,” Markov-Riss said. “I’m interviewing all the different people involved in all the different programs under the OSE, and that’s more people than you would expect: van coordinators, everyone who runs Paces, everyone who’s in charge of any event on campus — so that’s PubNite, [Delta Upsilon], Phi Psi, [Mary Lyon] breakfast, [and] Swat Team.”

In contrast, much of Frye’s work involves hydrology, the study of how water moves over land on campus. Peak flow rate is an important metric for this study because it gives an idea of how a 25-year or 50-year storm event (storms that have a 4 or 2 percent chance of occurring each year) would affect the campus. Biotension basins, which are large ditches filled with hardy plants, are one of the ways the college decreases peak flow rate by increasing surface area over which water can slowly percolate into the soil.

“There’s a lot of interesting stuff on campus that they’re doing with stormwater now,” Frye said. “It’s sort of the biggest modern issue when it comes to civil engineering for big buildings, because there’s been recently a lot of laws passed and you can’t have peak flow rates any higher at a construction project than they were before for a 50-year storm. Swarthmore does better than that because I think [it’s] going for a silver or gold star.”

The College aims to earn a gold star from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. Bridget Scott is an office of sustainability intern and Teaching Assistant for the PSRF class. Her PSRF project last year involved helping to creating a STARS report, which contains 63 different credits of sustainability, for the college. Last year, the college received a STAR rating of silver, which lasts for three years.

“Silver rating is really, really exciting because it means we’re doing well, but we can definitely do better,” Scott said.

The student engagement component of Frye’s project involves the Crum Woods tree planting event. The event was traditionally a mandatory activity during orientation, but it has been since made optional and moved to the spring. Frye also feels that the goal of PSRF engagement activities is to balance attendance with healthy student interest.

“It’s kind of hard to get people excited if they’re forced to go,” Frye said. “The idea is you want to get people who are actually interested or at least adjacently interested first, because if you force someone out into the woods and they don’t want to be there, you generally don’t engender positive feelings.”

Holding engagement events such as the Crum Woods tree planting involves a lot of  planning time, as does every aspect of the PSRF projects. Last year, students began the class by studying why sustainability is necessary on college campuses and learning other environmental science concepts, but this year, co-instructors Aurora Winslade and Carr Everbach switched the order of the class in order to incorporate time for fellows to plan projects and anticipate setbacks before they occurred.

“[Last year] we kind of developed our projects in the fall and carried them out more in the spring, but this year the fellows started and they just went off running,” Scott said. “Last year we didn’t really give ourselves enough time to plan our projects out for the totality of the year, so this way, the fellows came in with a much more clear sense of what the purpose of their project was.”

This fall, the co-instructors of the course have taught methods of planning and executing projects instead of beginning with studying applied environmental science concepts.

“The first part of the class focuses a lot on project management, because they want everyone to get the projects off the ground,” Markov-Riss said.

According to Scott — whose job includes taking feedback and handling difficulties that PSRF fellows bring to her — one of the most common problems is communication with project mentors as well as faculty and staff in the department connected to the project. Though the project board is a very helpful tool for facilitating this communication, she says, the amount of people involved can complicate planning.

“One of my favorite parts of the PSRF projects is that for each student, they have a faculty mentor [or] a staff mentor, but then they also have their project board … That’s the approval board that moves your project forward for each stage of the game,” Scott said. “[But] in communicating with all those different people, information is really likely to get lost.”

According to Markov-Riss, the changes made to the program this year have improved the ability of students to communicate with their approval board and to carry out their projects effectively.

“We’re sending out weekly updates to our project board. The project feels very well mechanized and very well [systematized], so you definitely feel like you have a direction and you feel like there are support systems in place, so I’ve definitely learned a lot about project management. I think they refined the whole class.”

Many of the changes to the program were made in response to student feedback from last year, which Scott compiled during her internship this summer. One concern from students was the amount of work they put into the project. Eight paid hours per week and 10-12 academic hours are built into the program, but some students last year would go over the allotted amount of hours. According to Scott, changes are also being made by the class’s co-instructors as well as Eugene M. Lang Professor Denise Crossen to clarify the difference between work hours and academic hours.

“A difference this year is that — this is actually great, this is one of the most exciting parts — is that the Innovation Lab in the Lang Center [for Civic and Social Responsibility], the Social Innovation Lab, has become a space for PSRF,” Scott said. “Last year we would do our work hours whenever we wanted to, but this year it models more of a job system, which is nice.”

For all of these projects, fellows will create a handbook or plan containing the best practices in their project area at Swarthmore in the future.

“Institutional memory [is] a huge part of the program,” Scott said.

The program’s dual nature is meant to both give students experience and to provide a way for sustainability improvements to occur all over campus without relying only on departmental resources.

“That’s one of the main purposes of the PSRF program: to give students the power and the resources to carry out these projects and to get that real life experience [with] sustainability in their own communities,” Scott said. “But it’s also really to create these structures at Swarthmore that will last and really push sustainable change.”

PSRF fellows will present their findings — including baseline analyses, effectiveness of changes already implemented, and plans for the future — to the Swarthmore community in a public meeting in April.

Mountain Justice Joins National Group Sunrise, Broadens Goals

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After a busy past year, Mountain Justice is rebranding. They’ve joined Sunrise, a national “movement to stop climate change and create millions of jobs in the process,” according to their website.

“Last year I remember hearing about Mountain Justice just about every week,” said Matt Palmer ’18, who has not been part of environmental groups at Swarthmore. From a campus-wide panel about divestment to a sit-in in President Smith’s office, the climate justice organization was incredibly visible last year. This year, they’re trying something different, but they hope their impact on campus will be even greater.

Sunrise was launched this past June by a group of 12 people, including four Swarthmore Mountain Justice alumni. The founders come from different sects of the climate justice movement, including the environmental organization 350.org and anti-pipeline groups as well as pro-divestment activists. With these varied backgrounds, Sunrise aims to mobilize Americans concerned about climate change and pressure elected officials into action. Swarthmore’s “hub,” or chapter, will remain focused on Mountain Justice’s original mission of getting organizations to divest from fossil fuels while pursuing these broader goals.

“Divestment has done an incredible job in building people power … It’s mobilized thousands of young people across hundreds of campuses, and that’s so exciting,” said Aru-Shiney Ajay ’20, a coordinator for Swarthmore’s Sunrise hub. “But … it’s not enough to just have people mobilized and ready to protest. We also need to make sure that our elected representatives are going to be standing up for climate action; we need to be able to take power at the highest levels of government … And it’s out of this recognition that Sunrise really arose, that while we’ve been doing good work we need to do so much more in order to win.”

Nationally, Sunrise has already made a splash, particularly at one of their #ShineALight events in August. September Porras ’18 crowdfunded her way into a fundraiser to confront Marco Rubio on his donations from the fossil fuel industry. At the event, Porras couldn’t speak to Rubio directly, so she called out in the room.

“Senator, if you really care about young Americans,” she said, “why did you take three-quarters of a million dollars from fossil fuel executives in your last Senate election?” PolitiFact Florida rated Porras’ claim half-true because the number she cited included funds from Rubio’s 2016 presidential run as well.

According to PolitiFact Florida, Rubio avoided the question. He said he was glad he lived “in America where she can say that,” as opposed to some other countries where she could “go to jail. He then called for the U.S. to achieve energy independence.

“It was our kickoff event for Sunrise across the nation,” Porras said. The event was videotaped and is available online.

Although Sunrise’s other actions probably won’t be as dramatic as Porras’ confrontation of Rubio, Porras said her actions were in keeping with the group’s goal of putting pressure on elected officials.

“The point is less to make our elected officials suddenly change their minds about climate change … [and] more to show people how corrupt they are,” said Porras.

To work toward this goal and mobilize young people, Sunrise has planned a full calendar of events both nationwide and here at Swarthmore. This Tuesday they had a watch party in Roberts with a livestream from national Sunrise leaders. Over the course of the semester, they plan on talking to community members about what they love and have to lose from climate change, gathering objects that represent individuals’ concerns. They aim to put these objects in a time capsule and take them to Harrisburg, Pa., when they march on the state capitol in November. That month, they’ll also be marching in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh with other Sunrise hubs, protesting President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s representation of the U.S. at the Climate Change Conference in Bonn, Germany.

Although they’ll be protesting global events, Swarthmore’s Sunrise hub will still be focused locally.

“Sunrise functions on an intersectionality basis … and they recognize that fighting for climate [justice] in different communities looks different,” Porras said. “I think here, we’re really focusing on fracking in Pennsylvania … and for Swat that would also translate to still working with on divestment, because for us that’s what looks like climate work in our community.”

There are many other environmental groups working on campus, and sustainability and environmental awareness are stated goals of the administration.

Institutionally, Swarthmore College recognizes the importance of addressing climate change,  using natural resources in a sustainable manner, and educating its community to be responsible stewards of the environment,” says Swarthmore’s Sustainability website.

In an email, Sustainability Director Aurora Winslade affirmed the administration’s support of students working to fight climate change, and that the Office of Sustainability has opened a dialogue with Sunrise.

“I am not familiar with the specifics of the Sunrise Movement,” she said, “but I applaud the leadership and engagement of our students and alums in these issues … The Office of Sustainability is happy to work with all students and student groups who are interested in sustainability. For example, sustainability program manager Melissa Tier ’14 recently invited representatives from the Sunrise Movement to present to the College’s Green Advisors.”

Like Winslade, Matthew Palmer ’18 is unfamiliar with Sunrise, but he thinks it shows promise.

“I can’t say I’m familiar with Sunrise,” Palmer said, “but it seems like a really good set of goals and a way to broaden their exposure and provide students with new perspectives. I like that they’re targeting other issues rather than specifically divestment. I think that policy measures and things of that nature might be more effective than trying to lobby the administration for how they invest their endowment.”

Despite their broader focus, Sunrise will continue Mountain Justice’s effort to pressure the administration to divest. They will remain focused on holding the administration accountable along with the rest of the Swarthmore community, arguing for change not only in rhetoric but in action.

“Right now it’s almost seen as enough if someone says, ‘Oh, I support the Paris agreements,’ and they’re hailed as a climate champion,” said Ajay-Shiney. “And we’re saying that’s actually not enough. It’s not enough for the administration to be having a recycling run on campus, it’s not enough for this small carbon tax. We need to address things at an institutional level.”

You’ve Been Saving Water and You Didn’t Even Know It

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Throughout this school year, you probably saved around 1,122 gallons of water. And chances are you, you didn’t even realize it.

This past summer, I worked on behalf of the Office of Sustainability and the engineering department to research ways that resources, particularly water, could be conserved on campus. After preliminary investigations into water uses on campus such as irrigation, food services, and laundry, I found a large potential for feasibly saving water in shower water usage.

In the spring of 2016, a Green Fund proposal by Shane Loeffler ’16 jump-started a trial run of low-flow showerheads in the field house. After winter break, several low-flow showerheads were installed in the men’s and women’s locker rooms to gage student response. The main concern with the project was student complaints against the reduced flow. The relatively quiet response paved the way for a broad scale implementation of low-flow showerheads in the rest of the athletic facilities and in dorms throughout campus.

Before recommending the relatively small, but nonetheless significant, investment in purchasing low-flow showerheads, I wanted to confirm that low-flow showerheads could indeed save water. There was a concern that lower water pressure would cause students to take longer showers, thus rendering the low-flow showerheads ineffective at actually saving water.

If you lived in Willets over the summer, this might sound familiar to you. I attempted to quietly change half of the showerheads in Willets (as discretely as a girl in a dress with a wrench can get in the men’s showers of Willets). The new 1.5 gallon per minute (gpm) showerheads replaced old 2.5 gpm showerheads, therefore ideally saving 1 gallon of water per minute of shower use.

To test how much water was actually being saved, I first manually measured the flow rates of 1.5 and 2.5 gpm showerheads throughout campus (it turned out that 2.5 gpm labeled showerheads actually delivered an average of 2.22 gpm and 1.5 gpm labeled showerheads delivered an average of 1.32 gpm).

I also asked Willets residents to time their showers over the course of a week in July and record the times on slips of paper. Despite a few minor setbacks (someone stole my homemade data collection shoe box, along with the data, on Day 5 in Willets 2nd North), I was able to collect 111 shower times and determine that there was not a significant difference between students’ average shower times of the two types of showerheads. Therefore, I concluded that the low-flow showerheads could indeed save water.

I spent the next few weeks installing over 200 low-flow showerheads in dorms across campus. I ran into some fairly legitimate challenges to being able to install low-flow showerheads in all showers on campus, like construction in ML, a different showerhead type for handicapped showers, as well as some less impressive obstacles. Despite breaking a sweat, I simply could not get off a handful of the 2.5 gpm showerheads in Mertz and Worth – I like to blame the wrench for that one. Also, I had thought that no one was living in some of the smaller dorms over the summer, but an awkward encounter with a German exchange student in Woolman proved me wrong and prevented me from installing low-flow showerheads in some of the smaller dorms in use over the summer.

With over 200 out of the total 318 showerheads in Swarthmore’s dorms  replaced with lower flow showerheads, as well as all of the showerheads in the field house and Ware Pool locker rooms, chances are, you’ve cut down on your shower water usage without even realizing it.

Much more can be done, though, to promote Swarthmore’s conservation of water. I chose to save shower water through low-flow showerheads because it involved no behavior change on the part of the student. However, behavior change could further save water. I found that the average shower time for Willets residents was 7 minutes and 27 seconds. I understand that the stress of Swat can make standing under a hot shower seem like a daily necessity, but quickening the pace of a shower or reducing the time allowed for the water to warm up can lead to substantial water savings.

There is also room for energy conservation by reducing the temperature of showers. Last year, more energy went to heating showers in Willets than actually heating the dorm. Not only would taking shorter showers work to save energy, but sacrificing a few degrees can further save resources.

Being aware of the environmental footprint of your shower is the first step in working to conserve resources. Even though you’ve been saving water without even realizing it, a shorter shower or reduced temperature can further contribute to the conservation of water and energy that you have already unknowingly been contributing to. It is important for Swarthmore’s campus and students to take responsibility in a global effort to live a more sustainable lifestyle.

Internal carbon charge seeks external change

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This year, the college instituted an internal carbon charge in an effort to reduce its carbon footprint and eventually become emission neutral. The carbon charge is imposed on the college by itself, and which is intrinsically difficult to implement. The idea of carbon pricing is a policy idea commonly for mitigating carbon emissions on a national scale, but Swarthmore and other institutions have implemented a version of carbon prices on themselves.

The college is also a leader in the push for a nation-wide tax on carbon, President Valerie Smith signed the Letter on Carbon Action, which was a letter sent by colleges and universities to the Trump administration encouraging him to honor the Paris Climate Agreement, make sure policies are based on the scientific and technical facts, and invest in a low-carbon economy. The college also endorses a nationwide carbon tax and has advertised their advocacy heavily on the college’s official social media. The carbon charge, as well as the advocacy for the national carbon pricing, is an attempt by the college to help combat climate change and is the primary way that Swarthmore is trying to mitigate climate change.

Swarthmore’s carbon charge was modeled after Yale and Princeton’s internal carbon charges, and a goal of the charge is to serve as a model and help advance the case both for internal charges at other institutions as well as for nationwide carbon pricing. Swarthmore’s internal carbon works by raising money for a carbon fund which will be used for sustainability projects.

The charge consists of three parts: a fee levied on department budgets, a shadow price on energy for future projects, and the carbon fund. The fee charge placed on department budget funds the carbon fund. The fee is a flat tax on departments, and the shadow price is an added fee on energy that makes the cost of energy higher to the college than it would be without the self-impose shadow price.

Climate Action Senior Fellow Nathan Graf believes that the carbon charge has been successful in its first year of operation.

I think the Carbon Charge program has been fantastically successful, in particular as a platform for education and engagement on carbon pricing solutions. The baseline levy for the Carbon Charge is currently 1.25 percent of department and office budgets, exclusive of salaries and benefits, which totals about $300,000. For next year’s charge, several departments stepped up and voluntarily contributed an additional $40,000 to the Carbon Charge. I think that level of generosity reflects positively on the program and speaks to the support it has in the campus community,” he said.

Graf also explained what the money raised by the Carbon Charge will be used for.

“The Ecosphere Executive Committee granted final approval for a Green Revolving Fund a few weeks ago. The GRF will use the revenues for the carbon charge on projects that will reduce our emissions and save the college money in the long run. We’re working with Facilities to use much of the first year’s revenue to fund LED lighting upgrades on campus,” he said.

The charge was developed by members of the Swarthmore community including faculty, alumni, and members of the administration. Professor of Economics Stephen Golub highlighted the importance of private institutions like the college instituting changes in light of the lack of climate.

“The carbon charge was the result of the concern about sustainability and climate change and so on, highlighted by the divestment movement, again with discussions we had within the department, we thought the college should do something … It was an attempt to see if we could come up with something we could do concretely about climate change at this college and link up with the national movement to price carbon, that national and international movement, which to economists is the most promising thing you can do,” he said.

Golub also explained the charge in economic terms.

“The idea is that greenhouse gasses and climate change are …  a negative externality [a bad effect on people not involved in a particular purchase], and you can’t leave that to the private market. You have to either regulate it, or put a price on it. There are a number of advantages to pricing over regulation, and we need to do this. This needs to be done on a national and global scale, voluntary efforts aren’t enough. In the absence of the federal government doing anything, individual institutions can step up to the plate,” he said.

The structure of the Carbon Charge is a flat tax on departments, meaning that the charge is not reflective of their actual carbon usage, which would not create an incentive for members of the department to change their carbon usage.

[Carbon within departments] is very difficult to price. How would [the] economics department reduce its carbon footprint? Well, we could turn the lights off, we could shut off our computers, we could make sure our windows are closed, and so on, but there’s no way at present to measure or price that because the economics department is part of Kohlberg hall, and even in Kohlberg, even if we were to do this together with the other departments, there is no way to monitor that very easily in Kohlberg at present. It’s very, very difficult. For Yale, it is a bit easier because they have different schools, and they can monitor that for different institution within Yale,” he said.

Golub also praised the work that has been done by the college and stressed that the carbon charge was part of a larger movement.

“This is the first year, and my take on it [is that] I think amazing progress was made in one year considering the difficulty of this. Again, it’s kind of a crazy thing for places to tax themselves, the government should be taxing us. It’s awkward to implement, considering the difficulties of this, [but] we’ve done a great job […] Any one person or institution can only do so much, but there are two reasons that it matters a whole lot. First of all, everyone should do their part. We’re doing our part, but maybe more important is the signal that it sends out there to the world: that we care; we are a prestigious place, even if small; and that what we can do makes a difference, and if others see that we’re doing this, [then] we’re part of a movement,” he said.

The white plastic coffee lids go in the trash, people!

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It all began with the purchasing of the green bins. Three were given to Sci, the busiest of all buildings. Two to Kohlberg and two to Scheuer, great gathering places for students and faculty alike. One to McCabe, a place of quiet desperation, and one to Shane Lounge, crossroads of the campus. And one (or so) went to each of the dorms, where the students above all else desired compost.

And of those who were to come to know these compost bins, in their dreams as in their waking hours! I was one of seven. Thrice weekly we would ride out in pairs, in a golf cart named Bertie, through snow and through rain, on paths and on grass. Few were the pedestrians who did not soon learn to heed the cowbell’s warning! We rode with wind and lightning. How nimbly the refuse of thousands was deposited into half a dozen receptacles, where it awaited a valkyrie named Chris to carry it to its Valhalla, or place of glory! We washed bins as they told us to. When they asked us to wear gloves, some of us balked.

The highest good is like compost. This appears in its benefiting all things, and in occupying, without striving, the low place which the rest avoid. But it is better to attempt to carry a compost bin when full than to leave it unfilled.

Often the composter finds grace at the bottom of a bin. This you may little believe, who hide your waste in bins and hide yourselves. In a moment the gauze of consumption’s paradigm is torn away; we are lain bare to confront the arrogant wolfish thought, and to share the earth’s slow breath. Without desire we find the deep mystery.

The next time you find yourself composting, see if you can find yourself, composting. When you make your oblation, stay near the bin awhile, and absorb the fragrance. Be still. See what you can pick out from this odorous mixture of what others have left. Feel the weight of the bin. If you are courageous, pick through some of the compost and so explore the habits of others. Maybe pause for a second and listen to your surroundings. Above all, observe yourself at this moment, your emotions and responses, your senses and thoughts.

What do I mean when I speak of grace? I found grace in a pastrami sandwich. There are few now living to whom I dare speak of these thoughts.

The world is changed. I feel it in the compost, I smell it in the compost. My heart bursts; the old days are dying and the compost system will soon be transformed on campus. The system devours and begets itself anew. Next year there will be no riding out. We lose our name, our cart, and our glory. Yet for the great balance we give up these things. When the work is done we withdraw into obscurity. The next day of compost is near, and none shall avoid its sweetness, not those in Lang, not those in Trotter, nor those betwixt. Vain shall be those who compost white plastic lids.
And for those now living, and for those reading after: multiples of three, let them be. Our recycling facility does not accept polyvinyl chloride (#3) and polystyrene (#6), as they are difficult to process; these must go in the bins for incinerator waste. And don’t even think of composting styrofoam.

Everything in its place. The place of food stuffs is in the compost, and the place of (most) clean plastics is in the recycling. Separate these two essences, and if possible rinse the plastic before recycling.

Give straws a pause. Even if they’re green, they are neither compostable nor recyclable. A straw can break the camel’s back and cause a recycling load to be rejected.

If tea is a staple of your diet, please remove the staples from tea bags before composting them. Lastly, what I say three times is true. WHITE PLASTIC COFFEE LIDS MUST GO IN THE TRASH, as they are #6 plastics.

Your fellow students and EVS technicians sort through your waste every day. A stitch in time saves us nine. And we’re not perfect! If you help us to prevent contamination, recycling loads are less likely to be rejected from recycling plants and sent to landfills or incinerators, and metals and plastics are less likely to end up in the soil where our food is grown.

Conversations on a Just Sustainable World

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This past Friday, the second annual “Sustainable Development in Latin America & the Caribbean Conference” was held at Yale University. Other than being able to get off campus for an extended amount of time, I was excited to engage in conversations on how climate change can be addressed in these areas. Given that most of my extended family resides in Mexico, I wanted to hear how sustainability was being implemented to negate issues like pollution, waste, water quality, etc. Is the solution to regulate emissions? More renewable energy? Carbon pricing? Windmills?

Walking out of the conference, I was reminded that in order to create a truly sustainable world, we need to do more than just recycle and talk about polar bears.

Our keynote speaker was Ambassador Juan Jose Gomez Camacho, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations. In his remarks, he spoke on the vast environmental issues that plague Mexico. He mentioned how there are foreign owned factories, called maquiladoras, discharging harmful chemicals to the surrounding communities, deforestation is destroying natural habitats and forests, and that Mexico City has gotten to the point where the air pollution has become physically visible.

Gomez made an important point on how these environmental issues are connected to many other social issues in Mexico. The discharge of chemicals contributes to poor labor and living conditions for working class citizens, deforestation has destroyed the homes of indigenous groups, and how air pollution has affected the health of children and families being raised in the city. He spoke on how the development of sustainability in Mexico must address these other social issues. Otherwise, it isn’t sustainable development.

So, how can we begin explicitly integrating social issues with sustainability? One manner that can be done is to look at how this conference was structured to facilitate conversations that touched on multiple issues.The organizers of this panel, in my opinion, did an amazing job of gathering a diverse group of environmental leaders to speak on sustainable development.

By environmental leaders, I do not mean they invited Al Gore or Bill Nye. And by diverse, I do not mean they invited a variety of folks from “Environmental Careers.” There was no one from the EPA, no one from the Sierra Club, and not a single scientist. In fact, only two of the fifteen speakers had the words “climate change” or “sustainable” in their job titles.

Instead, these environmental leaders came from various countries, backgrounds, and professions. To showcase what kind of professions; allow me to list off a few of the panelists and their respective titles: Ms. Renata Segura is the Associate Director of the Conflict Prevention and Peace Forum of the Social Science Research Council. Mr. Ronald Jackson is the Executive Director of the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Agency CDEMA. And Ms. Judith Morrison is the Senior Advisor for the Gender and Diversity Division GDI for the Inter-American Development Bank.

At first it may be odd to think how this group of people and their work can relate to sustainable development in Latin America & the Caribbean. On the contrary, they have everything to do with sustainability. They, as well as all of us, should be viewed as environmental leaders.

The panelists were amazing in describing the connections between sustainability and their lives. Looking at my notes; the topics discussed ranged from zero waste, violence in Colombia, gender equality, impact on drugs, multidimensional poverty, and many more. One of my favorite examples came from Jackson on how disaster management should be viewed as addressing climate change—How, when it comes to climate justice, the work of disaster management organizations is crucial for sustainable development.

What was remarkable was how organic and natural these conversations were. The panelists naturally transitioned from topic to topic without forcing the direction. And it shouldn’t be forced. Sustainability is truly connected with everything.

This idea was highlighted by our closing keynote speaker, Dr. Chantal Line Carpentier, the Chief of United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. She gave a presentation on the Sustainable Development Goals that were created by the United Nations. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are a set of 17 goals that was born out of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Rio de Janeiro in 2012. The SDG’s range from environmental goals like “Affordable and Clean Energy,” economic goals like “Decent Work and Economic Growth,” to social goals like “Gender Equality.” Each of these 17 goals has targets that need to be reached in order to achieve the goal. For example, a target for the “Clean Water and Sanitation” goal is: “by 2030, achieve universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water for all.”

Carpentier spoke at one point about a project lead by David Le Blanc, the Senior Sustainable Development Officer in the Division for Sustainable Development. Le Blanc and his team examined the SDG’s to create a network that highlights how each of the goals and their respective targets are connected to one another. They went and coded all of the goals and targets to find connections amongst them. Their findings showcased that there is a network that connects all the SDGs and their respective targets. In fact, Carpentier highlighted that, if you happen to work on at least three different SDG’s, (it does not matter which three), then you are working on all of them.

I find it a beautiful thought that the work we all do is connected. That somehow, we are all working towards one goal: creating a better world. While I may not label myself to be an environmentalist, I am happy to think that my future role as a teacher can contribute towards climate justice.

With all this being said, I do believe that we need to recycle! And I love polar bears! But I don’t believe that the conversation of sustainability has to end there. We are in an amazing position to recognize this expansion, and continue to expand what sustainability means. It means that sustainability has to work for all. That everyone needs to be included in the conversation on sustainable development, especially those who are being most affected by climate change. That barriers to participate in these conversation must be deconstructed. That those conversation are held in spaces where everyone is able to contribute their voice. That we emphasize connections and work in solidarity with one another.

There is a lot more that needs to be done to advance sustainability to just sustainabilities. Obviously, one conference and one article published for college students is not enough. But I do see ourselves in a special place and time to join together to work towards a shared goal, vision, and dream.

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