Thursday, February 10, 2011

Champlain Does Vermont Climate Action Day

Last Thursday a small group of environmentally enthusiastic members of the college and I road tripped down to Montpelier for Vermont Climate Action Day. We walked into the iconic State House and took our seats in the chamber. One after another state representatives and concerned citizens spoke about the immediate need for a sustainable energy policy in the state of Vermont. Topics ranged from improving the energy efficiency of homes across the state to the need for practical ways to get Vermont's youth involved in the fight against climate change. These speeches, although short, were very powerful. It is a relief to see that at least one state's legislature is not backing down from this challenge.

After listening to the speakers we went to feast in the cafeteria where we ate like kings on Champlain's dime. I was surprised to see the legislators mingling with their constituents during their lunch time. They were all very approachable and more often than not, they approached us. One legislator in particular, Kesha Ram, a representative from Burlington and also the youngest state representative in the Union talked with us at length about a variety of issues.

We then went to a meeting where the organizers of the event, a mix of legislators and leaders in Vermont's transition communities, were looking for ideas to combat climate change. Many of the people present, myself included, jotted down ideas on sticky notes and posted them on the board. Although we left early to attend a meeting of the general, housing and military committee there were numerous ideas, all good ones I assume, on the board.

During the committee meeting representatives were discussing the PACE program. PACE is property assessed clean energy, in other words the state gives homeowners a loan based on their home's equity with which they can make energy efficient improvements (such as re-insulating, solar panels, energy efficient windows, etc.) to their homes. While standing in a small, uncomfortably warm room I watched members from Efficiency Vermont, a state operated organization instituted to manage the money apportioned for the PACE program, explain what they do and what changes they need to make to improve the productivity of the program. From what I was able to grasp from the complex fiscal jargon they were using is that the state needs to appropriate more money for the program. Essentially, they need to expand and improve their monetary situation in order to grow the program. They also discussed how the state is protected from people who default on their loans and other financial issues that I, a vibrant 20 year old, don't want to worry about.

Upon leaving that political sauna we paused for a moment in front of the State House for a quick photo op before re-boarding the bus and heading back to campus. In a moment of reflection, Vermont Climate Action Day was an invaluable experience. Seeing legislators enact policy first hand was inspiring and unforgettable. I am glad to see that there are so many passionate Vermonters who are dedicated to keeping up the good fight against environmental degradation.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Good Job, Canada! Wait... What?

As you are all probably aware, the new Sun Chips bags are loud. Real loud. Although that does not detract from their deliciousness, some people find it irritating. Personally, I find the obnoxiously loud bag more humorous than annoying. There's no better way to drown out your sibling, parent or significant other AND satisfy your craving for a delectable, natural product that is cooked with steam from solar energy than to dig into a freshly opened bag of Sun Chips.
To the people who are aggravated by the "noise pollution" I say this: deal with it. The bag has many more environmental benefits than personal pet-peeves. Imagine this: you woke up at the break of dawn, went out on your boat and motored across the glassy water to your favorite fishing spot. You cast your line and after a long wait you begin to reel it in. You feel a tug and your heart starts racing, "first bite of the day!" you think to yourself. You keep reeling in your line but once the hook breaks the surface of the water you have nothing on it but a "quiet" bag of Sun Chips. I would classify this as a day ruiner. There's nothing I hate more than getting my hopes up only to be let down. However, if you had only thought beyond the few seconds of discomfort the bag gives you, it wouldn't happen. After 14 days (two weeks) in a compost pile the loud bags become dirt and will most likely get defecated upon by some furry woodland creature. How's that for justice?
Also, the bags are family size. You shouldn't be eating out of it anyways. It's how germs are spread. Pour the deliciousness into a bowl. If the chips themselves are too crunchy and loud for you then you should be forced to eat nothing but mashed potatoes and oatmeal for the rest of your life. 
The reason for my rant is the fact that due to so many complaints and a drop in sales, Frito-Lay has pulled their environmentally friendly, albeit loud, packaging from the market. Every flavor of Sun Chips (except Original) will be sold in the silent, environmentally detrimental packaging as of October of this year. Thanks to people like this guy the United States has taken yet another step in the wrong direction in protecting the Earth.
To all my fellow Earth lovers there is hope in the most unlikely of places. The Canadian branch of Frito-Lay has vowed to keep the bags on the market despite the reaction they received from Americans. They even pledged to send you a free pair of ear plugs if you are not satisfied with the decibel level that the bag emits. Our jolly northern neighbors most likely saw this public service announcement (if you're actually in Canada, view it in French) as they watched "The Next One" get beat by my Bruins. I would like to take this opportunity to salute our North American brethren. Despite the fact that you do little else besides drink Molson, play hockey, curl and fight, I commend you for your bravery in the face of adversity. Keep up the good fight my fellow syrup lovers.

This piece of news was brought to my attention by fellow environmental policy-er, Colin Frost.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

What Burlington Needs Most...

I don't know about you but if Burlington didn't have so many hills (or at least the big one that goes down into town) I would be cruising around town on my ten speed like its nobody's business. Call me lazy but I would much rather walk up that behemoth than pedal. Not only because my bicycle is a rustbucket and the chain repeatedly slips off the rear sprocket (it builds character) but it's just a pain.
If I lived in Trondheim, Norway, coincidentally also a college town, I would be whipping around corners on my two-wheeled machine like Jimmie Johnson at Talladega. The reason is that they have the Trampe. The Trampe is a bicycle escalator of sorts (check it out here. Notice the very colorful and technical illustration). What you do is swipe your card and a little foot rest comes out that you place your right foot on. You are then pushed up the hill without having to get off your bike. It's brilliant!
Not only is this thing super sweet, it promotes green transportation. According to, a recent survey says that 41% of the lift users say that they are cycling more due to the lift. Except for the unforgiving hills, Burlington is a biker friendly city. I see more cyclists observing the rules of the road here than drivers obeying stop signs back home in Massachusetts. It's about time we reward these hardworking, obedient and green cyclists.
I propose that we throw one of these bad larrys on Main St. It's already the busiest street in Vermont so why not make it a little more hectic? We can even take it one step further. On Friday and Saturday nights seats can be installed on the moving foot holders and intoxicated people can be charged a premium to get a ride back to the top. It will pay for itself in a weekend!
You heard it here first! Burlington, Vermont needs a bike escalator! Tell your friends!

Click here to see this modern feat of engineering in action!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Heady Trees

I doubt you took the time to watch the video in its entirety so I will highlight the particularly mind-blowing facts (from stimulating to brain-melting) that Richard Preston shared during his TED presentation. First, Redwood trees are gigantic. There trunks can have a diameter as much as 30 feet and tower up to 380 feet into the air. Like Preston said "these are trees that would stand out in midtown Manhattan."
Moving up the spectrum to about the level of "thought-provoking," the trees are old as dirt. Almost literally. The oldest redwood is estimated to be between 3,000 to 5,000 years old. Clearly, they grow extremely slow yet they are often cut down in a matter of minutes. Before the land they grow in became protected, 96% of the old growth trees were cut down. To me that's unacceptable not only because it destroys a perfectly good tree but it also puts many different organisms at risk and in some cases, extinction.
Now we are at about mind-blowing level. If you're into colors, we are firmly in the orange. There have been a few specific species that are thought to only exist in one particular tree, such as the ant that Preston describes at the end. Also, the upper regions of the trees are ecosystems in and of themselves, many of which take hundreds of years to develop. Furthermore, Preston mentions a copepod that was found in the tree. The relatives of those things are whale food and how it got up in the tree is beyond me and everyone else at this point.
Finally, listening to Preston talk about the structure of these trees has thoroughly melted my brain. First off, they're fractals. Fractals alone are able to do considerable brain melting but if you're told that mini redwoods grow on bigger redwoods, its game over. For those of you who don't know a fractal is basically a shape that can be reduced into smaller shapes that are smaller versions of the original. The way this applies to redwoods is that as they grow they sprout branches and from those branches grow miniature redwoods and those mini redwoods grow branches from which other mini mini redwoods grow and so on and so forth. Most of nature works in that way but it's even crazier to think that there are trees inside trees that are bigger than most trees (I'm starting to sound like Xibit now so I'll stop.)
To me, the most interesting thing about the tree's structure is the fact that "flying buttresses" grow from the trees on the branch to the main trunk in for support. The flying buttress is something that had been developed to hold up the vaulted ceilings in Europe's most extravagant cathedrals and here we are thinking that humans are really cool because they thought of that but once again, Mother Nature proves us wrong. It was her idea, we copied it. Nuts to you, Bramante.

So now that you know about the redwood its time to put your jacket on, get outside and climb (or at the very least hug) a tree. If you choose to climb a tree don't pick a flimsy tree because you'll hurt the tree and yourself (when you fall out). I prefer to climb pine trees because they smell nice and their branch structure makes them easier to climb than other trees. An old pine tree has very thick branches that are usually reasonably low to the ground (a climbing buddy is always useful to help us shorter people into higher trees. You get high with a little help from your friends, right?). Another upside to pine trees is that the branches are very close together as well as thick so if you fall chances are you'll just end up with a branch in between your legs. It's not a bad deal considering the alternative.
If you choose to venture into another type of tree make sure that you can get up beyond the first few layers of branches. It's always frustrating when I get into a tree and realize the first move is the only possible move to make. Although some of these trees provide comfortable place to hang out in the summer. The leaves provide privacy between you and pedestrians plus the no one can get you if you're high in a tree.

Happy Climbing!