Monday, February 19, 2018

Tesla: Revolutionizing the Future of the Auto Industry


To the editor:

Between their flashy and sophisticated features such as autopilot to their sleek and classy design, there is no doubt that Tesla is tremendously revolutionizing the automotive industry. One of the most notable features Tesla brought about was the increasing electrification of auto vehicles. Tesla utilizes a state of the art, high-performance battery that is rechargeable, completely eliminating the need for fossil fuel. This significantly reduces the amount of CO2 emissions generated by the car.

Tesla's Model S can go up to 337 miles on a single charge, according to Car and Driver. With over 1,100 supercharging stations nationwide, Tesla owners are able to conveniently and quickly recharge their vehicles during trips. Supercharger costs are considerably less than current gasoline prices, Tesla states.

Tesla's great success in attracting growing numbers of car buyers has paved the way for other automotive companies to push forward in the advancement of their electric vehicles. Analysts predict that by 2040 as much as 54% of all cars sold on the planet will be electric, The Verge reported in “How Tesla changed the auto industry forever.”

-- Kerry Hadrava

Fossil Free Citizen Action


By Lily Makhlouf

A day after President Donald Trump’s State of the Union address on January 30, The Action Network, along with numerous partners like 350.org and the Sierra Club, held Fossil Free Fast: The Climate Resistance in Washington D.C. The event was live streamed across the country with over 300 viewing parties in attendance. The close proximity between the State of the Union and the Fossil Free event was no coincidence—climate activists are acting in response to climate change threats that relate to the Trump administration.

Since President Trump was elected in 2016, there has been a strong resistance to his pro-fossil fuel executive actions. Shortly after taking office, in March 2017, Trump signed Executive Order No.13783 titled “Promoting Energy Independence and Economic Growth.” The order calls for executive agencies to “review existing regulations that potentially burden the development or use of domestically produced energy resources” specifically in regards to “oil, natural gas, coal, and nuclear energy resources.” In addition, the executive order rescinded former President Barack Obama’s executive orders that focused on climate change preparation and mitigation. This included revoking Executive Order No.13563 titled “Preparing the United States for the Impacts of Climate Change.”

Trump’s executive orders have created a storm of criticism and resistance at the political, academic, scientific and, most importantly, the grassroots level. Citizen led groups across the nation are organizing and calling for change within our energy system. During the Fossil Free event, a number of speakers from different backgrounds shared their stories and reasons for their commitment to a “fossil free” future.

Senator Bernie Sanders was among the first speakers of the night, inciting his audience to political action at the grassroots level saying, “short term profits are not more important than the future of our planet” and “it is imperative that we bring people all over the world together.” Sanders has been a vocal proponent of combating climate change by transitioning away from the fossil fuel industry.

There were also a number of diverse grassroots guest speakers. Jacqueline Patterson of the NAACP spoke about how environmental justice needs to be at the forefront of this conversation as the effects of climate change and the fossil fuel industry disproportionately affect many people of color. Tara Rodriguez Besosa of the Puerto Rico Resilience Fund spoke out about the struggles of many Puerto Ricans following the wake of Hurricane Maria. With the lack of aid from the U.S. government, many Puerto Ricans are taking the matter of resilience into their own hands by implementing sustainable food projects. Following Hurricane Maria, food dependence in Puerto Rico increased from 85% to 98%. Many Puerto Ricans are hoping to gain food and energy independence from the U.S.

One of the highlights of the event was a message from New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio, who announced that the city had joined other U.S. cities in suing the five largest oil companies and would divest 5 billion dollars in pension funds from the fossil fuel industry.

Despite the fact that the federal government’s current policies favor the fossil fuel industry, the U.S. can expect to see a steady transition to renewable energy resources in the coming years as state, local, and grassroots levels have taken the initiative to transition to cleaner energy into their own hands.



Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Nature Deficit Disorder: A Walk in the Woods Is Good for Us


By Eileen McCafferty

There is a commercial that shows a group of boys excitedly playing a video game when, suddenly, the power cuts out. One boy stands up, opens the curtains and allows a sunny day to pour into the dark room. He shrugs and suggests that they should go play basketball instead. The screen then cuts to the mother at the house circuit board; she had cut the power to trick them into thinking their only option for entertainment was going outside. This advertisement is for the Let’s Move campaign, aiming to get the youth active and outdoors. This should seem unnecessary that parents must trick their children into wanting to go outside--right?

Unfortunately, this movement is necessary because as our technology expands, we become disconnected from reality, people around us, and nature. Someone glued to their XBOX or their iPhone is less likely to play and explore the outdoors because they have created a relationship with these machines--especially young children. But the point that a lot of people are missing is that Mother Nature is crucial to an individual’s overall well being and we have created a disconnect from our true life-source.

Nature Deficit Disorder is a term that is used to describe this disconnect, which can bring about behavioral problems and health concerns. First and foremost, the youngsters who stay indoors do not have an appreciation or respect for the immediate natural surroundings. They do not realize the tree in their front yard provides the oxygen that they breathe, or that the earthworms in the ground break down the organic matter. They are taught to be afraid of honey bees who pollinate our planet and are brought up to believe that insects in general are gross and serve no purpose.

Attention disorders and depression can also come from lack of nature. A child sat in front of a television should be encouraged to run outside and climb a tree. Without exercise, these kids are more likely to become obese. But how does an entire society go back to nature? How do we bring our children to love the bugs, the trees, the fresh air instead of being hypnotized by the “blue-light” of their cell phones and the violent video games?

There is an obvious answer to the problem many youngsters and some adults are facing--Shinrin-yoku! It is a Japanese term that means “taking in the forest atmosphere” or “forest bathing.” Believe it or not, just taking a walk through a park when a person experiences a bad mood can leave them feeling better. There is a reason why sometimes when people argue, they walk out and say “I’m going to get some air” -- because taking in some fresh air, some green scenery calms them down. It changes their entire mood! If we were to experience more time outdoors, we will notice that we feel mentally clearer. Our doctors would even notice that we are healthier and less stressed.

Forest bathing has been scientifically researched and this research shows the following benefits from daily natural exposure:
  • · Reduced stress levels and elevated mood
  • · Improved sleep and energy levels
  •  Accelerated ability to focus- pertaining strongly to children with ADHD
  • · Reduced blood pressure
  • · Increase in Vitamin D levels from the sun- which combats depression
  • · Deeper intuitive thinking and overall happiness
And the biggest bonus of all is that you get to behold nature and all its beauty and marvel in it! The natural world is our life source, and we owe it respect; it is not there to serve us. With all these benefits to going outside for 30-40 minutes a day, it seems unnecessary for Let’s Move and other campaigns that promote getting outside more often. If our society can get back to the original roots of our species, we’d be happier all around: physically and mentally.

Reforestation: When will Habits Change to Help the Environment?



By Kristie Murru

The term reforestation suggests images of healthy budding forests filled with wildlife and the idea that nature is the main focus. When there are forest fires, the term reforestation is used to describe restoring what had been damaged. In other words, the forest must literally be replanted. Unfortunately, this is not the only case where the term is used and it holds a commercialized connotation. Lumber companies use it as a way to refer to the planting of trees after having cut down forests for business.

In the United States and other countries, reforestation is a way for lumber companies to make a profit from selling harvested trees cut down in large areas and maximizing every square foot of land. In these situations, herbicides were and are used in order to target plants for potentially threatening to shade out the trees that are replanted. According to Professor Howard Horowitz, who worked as a tree planter for many years in the Pacific Northwest, herbicides were used to target not only invasive plants but those that were natural to the habitats. Precautions can be taken to limit where the herbicide is sprayed, but the chemicals are still able to seep into the soil and spread to other shrubs, he said, as well as get on tree planters.

What I found interesting about his account is that an alternative to using chemicals as a means to target the shrubs was manual removal. Instead of having workers pull or cut the shrubs out, the companies chose possibly the cheapest route, spraying herbicides. This decision obviously stemmed from the companies wanting to avoid potentially having to pay their workers more money for the physical labor that manually removing the shrubs would entail. All it would take to replace the use of herbicides is physically fit, younger workers in order to remove the plants. This reliance on hazardous chemicals as a way to maximize profits is not a good thing. It promotes a society that is reliant on an easy fix to a potentially larger problem.

The use of chemicals is even more disheartening considering that approximately 15-20 percent of trees were actually being affected by the shrubs, Professor Horowitz said. Meaning that about 80 percent of the forest was filling back in with healthy trees, a number that is still statistically good when factoring in a potential profit. And so, realistically there is no valid reason for chemical interference other than greed.

Another interesting point that Professor Horowitz made was that the workers would be given directions to plant trees extremely close to one another. This does not take into account that trees need room to grow and become healthy. That process in and of itself played into a potential loss in profits for the lumber companies because the trees, in such conditions, are not given the opportunity to truly grow in a proper habitat.

It is known that mixed forests tend to be the healthiest, Professor Horowitz said. So, the lumber companies that only wanted certain trees planted in forest areas that had been clear cut were more concerned with quick profits than in allowing healthier forests to regrow. As the climate changes, and large companies continue to operate in ways that were once common, the question that rises is at what point will individuals realize that habits too must change?


Sustainability: What Does It Really Mean?


By Chris Bernstein

I’m a college student attending a ‘sustainable’ school. We have signs around campus telling students what to throw away and what to recycle, we have an environmental club that holds events on how to live a less wasteful life, and I’m personally involved in a campaign to raise awareness of these sustainable initiatives we have going on at our school.

However, many students and adults, including myself, still don’t know the true meaning of sustainability. According to Dictionary.com, there are two definitions of the term. The first is “the ability to be sustained, supported, upheld, or confirmed.” To most anyone, (including myself) this is a complicated definition and one that does a terrible job at clearing up what sustainability is. The second definition is “Environmental Science. the quality of not being harmful to the environment or depleting natural resources, and thereby supporting long-term ecological balance.” The second definition isn’t too clear either but does a good job at including terms that relate to the subject of sustainability. After reading these definitions, it makes sense why many don’t understand sustainability. The problem with these definitions is that they both use words that are not used in people’s daily lives.
There is no scientific formula for saving the planet—it’s about doing your part, no matter how big or small that part may be, to help our environment in the long-run.

A simple explanation of the term “sustainability” is the ability to live an eco-friendly life, but there is so much more to sustainability. There are many factors that go into living “sustainably” and it’s important to note that being aware of the environmental impact one makes doesn’t have to be complicated. Instead of dedicating a large portion of time trying to figure out what exactly sustainability means, put time towards taking action and finding simple ways you can reduce your environmental footprint. By doing a simple Google search, one can find dozens of articles full of great ideas on how to live sustainably. I think it’s easy to get put off by ‘fancy’ terms like sustainability or ecological balance and give up trying to live a no-waste lifestyle, but there is no scientific formula for saving the planet—it’s about doing your part, no matter how big or small that part may be, to help our environment in the long-run.


What’s the bottom line? Don’t complicate things. Think of sustainability as anything that helps save our planet’s resources and puts less stress on our ecosystems. If cutting out plastic bags in your daily life is your definition of sustainable, then go at it full force. When it comes down to it, sustainability can have multiple definitions but the most important one is how you define it and show it.

How to Run an Environmental Campaign for Climate Change


By Mary Waller

From the polar ice caps melting to natural disasters growing more dangerous, climate change is impacting our daily lives whether we notice it or not. Just look at the record-breaking temperatures recently, with 2016 being the most record-breaking year in recorded history. Think about why 97 percent of researchers believe global warming is happening, and it’s probably because of human activity. Yet many people don’t believe that global warming is the biggest issue society faces, being only third behind terrorism and poverty, according to polls.

How can we change this? Here’s one idea: starting a community environmental campaign.

Think of an environmental campaign like a political campaign; you need to have something for people to stand behind and fight for. For starters, environmental campaigns are a type of citizens’ campaign, which usually start small but with enough effort can grow into real, progressive change. To be a successful campagin there must be three overall aspects to the campaign: the field operations, the media operations and the fundraising operations. You have to have people in the field doing the actual campaigning for the cause, the people in the media who cover and spread the word of the cause and those who are asking for donations to help support the cause. 

Key tools include brainstorming sessions, deciding whose strengths would be best used where, and creating a step-by-step government action plan. Another key tool is providing concrete, reliable and concisely written materials when presenting facts. In a citizens’ campaign, the most important ingredients are volunteers willing to donate their time to support the cause.

Volunteer time and energy is the root of a citizens’ campaign.

Next step is getting people to care about the topic of climate change. First, you should start the citizen’s campaign to show climate change is an important issue and that more has to be done about it. So, find people who believe in the cause and start creating a well thought out plan. Get as many people involved as you can, discuss and decide who should do the groundwork, such as creating posters to hang around town and talking to those in neighboring towns to get support, who should handle social media and who should conduct fundraising.

If there is a local issue that is relevant, such as increased flooding or droughts, use that to help strengthen your argument, making the problem more localized and giving the issue a more personal touch to help persuade others, whether it be volunteers or government officials, to join the campaign. 

Once you have a set plan on how to tackle the issue, get to work! Looking back at successful citizens’ campaigns, such as the Ringwood Action Committee or the Great Swamp Campaign, can help develop new ideas and tactics to use that have been proven to succeed.

When things get tough, don’t back down. If the grassroots support for the campaign is still there, despite the pressures backing the status quo, don’t give up. Like the climate, change is possible, but can only happen with enough support and voices willing to speak out.

For more information on how to run an environmental campaign:
Barry, J. (2000). A citizen's guide to grassroots campaigns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

A Brief History of Local Activism Shows Us Our True Potential


By Andrew Herrera

We sometimes feel powerless in the face of adversity from governments and corporations that seem intent on undermining our way of life for their own gain. Going up against sophisticated, well-funded, and well-connected interests, what chance might ordinary citizens have of stopping a major development plan or protecting a local wilderness? That’s what makes journalist Jan Barry’s book, A Citizen’s Guide to Grassroots Campaigns, so vital. 

Barry not only advises on the best techniques for organizing citizen groups, but also includes notable examples to demonstrate their effectiveness. He weaves in real grassroots campaigns throughout his book; environmental stories take the center stage in its third chapter, “Saving a Swamp and Other Landmark Campaigns.” In it, Barry zeroes in on one of New Jersey’s earliest and most famous grassroots campaigns: the fight to save southern Morris County’s Great Swamp from being turned into a new airport by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. Driving to preserve the area at a time when the Port Authority had previously “bulldozed wherever it wanted…to boost the metropolitan region’s economy,” he writes, the Great Swamp campaign depended on many first-time citizen activists.

Barry includes just enough historical summary for the reader to glean useful tips on organizing. He notes that the Great Swamp organizers, inexperienced as they were, quickly learned how to properly coordinate a campaign by asking larger environmental nonprofit groups for guidance. One of the great advantages we as citizens enjoy in this modern era is the proliferation of connected and professional advocacy groups for any range of causes. Americans wishing to coalesce against threats to public and undeveloped lands can turn to respected organizations such as the Sierra Club, the National Wildlife Federation, and The Nature Conservancy among others for support. And there are statewide organizations as well that might be able to better focus on local issues. 

Through his interviews with leaders of the campaigns, Barry conveys to the reader just what the organizers did in order to succeed against a powerful agency. As one of the earliest leaders of the campaign, Helen Fenske, recalled: “We needed events that would generate news and project the different aspects of our story.” The campaign grew exponentially larger as advocates made regular citizens and organizations aware of the issue. Fenske also had useful advice on how to manage a group of citizen volunteers who are typically juggling other responsibilities: “make everyone feel that they’re important… [give] them credit.”

Of course, as with any success story, there are caveats. Working in the 1960s, the Great Swamp campaign preceded important scientific developments that guided later campaigns. In fact, the movement had initially lacked “any environmental data base.” As a result, while the organizers succeeded in saving the Great Swamp, its source waters—streams that feed into its wetlands—have been polluted and built over as urban sprawl continued unabated throughout the region. 

The hard-working organizers likely also benefited from operating in one of the wealthiest states in the nation. That probably abetted the fundraising process. Nonetheless, even though organizers like Helen Fenske might have altered their strategy a bit if they could do it over again, the Great Swamp campaign still serves as a model guide for future grassroots organizers. Its basic lessons on courting as much attention as possible whilst recognizing the contributions of everyone involved will continue to serve as the cornerstones of any great citizen movement.