A different kind of March Madness
March Madness is usually associated with college basketball, but this year it also refers to the Sustainable 16 - campuses that are being honored for their environmental awareness.
Environmental software provider Enviance, Inc. and Environmental Leader said the 16 universities “exemplify excellence in environmental academics,” according to this press release from Enviance. The campuses are vying to be “National Champion” in the first-ever March Madness Tournament for Environmental Studies. To qualify, they filled out a survey detailing their credentials, which was then evaluated by a panel of expert judges.
Two California schools - University of California, Davis, and Humboldt State University - are among the 16. Here and here are ways the two campuses are leading the green charge. However, they are hardly alone. This special edition from CSU Leader outlines how the California State University system is helping train the green workforce. And here is an update from the UC system.
As this blog points out, the college students of today are the leaders of tomorrow. They are demanding progress, and colleges are responding with new programs, such as UC Davis’ new sustainable agriculture major.
Corporations also are getting into the act, creating sustainability departments (green teams) and pledging to reduce their carbon footprints. And then there is the military: The Department of Defense is swiftly greening up its act, in part because its dependence upon oil is deemed a security risk and because going green saves lives and money. Read more here, here and here.
Like many initiatives, the green movement will grow in fits and starts, influenced by politics and economics. Still, the cost of renewable energy such as solar is dropping so fast that parity with fossil fuels is within reach, and governments in the western U.S. have unified support of green jobs,according to this post.
How will higher gas prices and the specter of climate change fit into all this? That’s something that I, a resident of California’s Central Valley, would love to know. The Valley is a main character in climate expert Heidi Cullen’s book, “The Weather of the Future. You think the Valley is hot and dry and has bad air quality now….
Today’s young adults have a lot on their plate, but they also know they have to lead. As my favoriteenvironmental rap superhero from Cal Poly told us: “We are at the point in time where we are on top of a mountain. If we continue our path, we will fall down and kill the earth. If we rethink our path, we can safely travel back down the mountain…”
We updated our educational site with thoughts from an environmental rapper/superhero!
Young people battle for a cleaner planet, their future
Much depends on the younger generation.
Their habits, priorities and motivations largely will define the directions of development, technological advancement and political leanings. And while this always has been true to some degree, it may matter more now as society ponders the potential crushing cost of climate change, pollution and the cumulative effects of humankind’s unprecedented industrialized push forward these past 150 years.
Millennials, or Generation Y, and those born after them will have to seriously consider the environmental impact of everything they do. Mental Klaxons may as well sound a crisis alert every time they consider driving a car, purchasing a house or otherwise taking part in potential carbon-creation.
Passing the Boomers
Growing up, I didn’t have to do that. To me, pollution, contamination and too much garbage was the big scare. I remember walking above an abandoned missile site in the middle of nowhere Alaska and thinking about irradiated dirt in 1971. (I was 10, hitchhiking with mom.)
Nukes are bad, certainly. But their impact proves relatively minor as long as they remain in their silos.
Now the passive threat of rising sea level threatens thousands of island nations and low-lying real estate worldwide, and we’ve blown past the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere that scientists say is safe for humanity — 350 parts per million. Current level is 392 ppm. Yet, we keep pushing it. The stakes are off the charts.
“Danger, Will Robinson!” Or so says voice actor Dick Tufeld in his guise as the Robot in the the 1960s TV show “Lost in Space.” But that’s Boomer speak. (Another that comes to mind is Rita Moreno bellowing “Hey you guys!” on Electric Company.)
This generation has its own references, its own icons and its own messages and means of popular delivery. Who over 30 knows of Strong Bad? This phrase is apt: ”When all the land is in ruins; And burnination has forsaken the countryside. Only one guy will remain. My money’s on Trogdor!”
Many Millennials take their air and water quality seriously. They want to limit commuting, live close to work, walk to restaurants. Potentially, they’re creating an entirely different approach to community design, energy use and how resources should be exploited.
And they’re hardly shy about expressing their opinions. They’re tearing up the Internet via YouTube and social media pathways. But they aren’t stopping there.
Democracy & climate change
Take Zaheena Rasheed, a former 350.org intern and a resident of the Maldives, a scattered island nation with an average ground level about 4 feet above the sea about 250 miles southwest of India. In an email, she expresses thanks to 350.org, which seeks to build a global movement to solve the climate crisis.
“In under a week, an incredible 35,553 of you signed our petition to world leaders,” she says. Her words appear on the group’s website in a post by Kelly Blynn. The Maldives have reportedly scheduled democratic elections after President Mohamed Nasheed’s troubles that culminated with Canarygate, which involved allegations of corruption.
Rasheed continues. Her words ooze power and conviction: “There is much in common in the battle against climate change and for democracy — the right to a healthy and dignified life — and this can happen when people are free to speak their minds, make decisions over their own resources, and have the power to act against injustice.”
Eloquent, yet not too unapproachably activist.
So Fresh, So Green
Sarah Laskow of grist.org stumbled across a video created by a group of seniors from Atlanta’s Marist School. “So Fresh, So Green” was written and performed by Butta Biscuit, Mikey-B, Confucius Rodge and Clive Sensation with the filming and editing handled by Eric Eichelberger
Laskow says the motivation was Marist’s participation in the Green School Alliance’s Green Cup Challenge. She says schools that took part tried to reduce their energy use over four weeks, and some did so by more than 20 percent.
“This stuff isn’t rocket science: They just turned off more lights, readjusted the thermostats and, in some cases, replaced old equipment,” she writes.
The video is based on Outkast’s “So Fresh, So Clean.” The student rappers stick to the basics, encouraging people to recycle, save energy by turning off lights and not just “talk the talk, but walk the walk.”
Mr. Eco spreads the word
Another would-be Al Yankovic is Mr. Eco from Cal Poly (known offically as California Polytechnic State University San Luis Obispo), who has a number of videos devoted to the green cause. Mr. Eco calls himself an environmental rap superhero who incorporates sustainable living tips into parodies and represents the Alliance to Save Energy’s Cal Poly Green Campus Program.
In one of his videos, dubbed “Turn Em Out,” Mr. Eco parodies rapper T.I.’s “Bring Em Out.” That latter video has more than 4.5 million views, while our Mr. Eco at this writing had 3,127. But when we first wrote about him in early November 2011, he had yet to break 1,000.
And Mr. Eco, the outspoken superhero that he is, also has taken his schtick on the road, visiting Ahwahnee Middle School in the scenic confines of our own Fresno, Calif. Mr. Eco, also known as Brett Edwards, is from Fresno. So that helps.
He’s making an impact. Ahwahnee Principal Tim Liles even did a plug for Mr. Eco in the video.
One year, zero garbage
The crew at yert.com is tirelessly going from city to city to screen its powerful documentary. The next is March 2 in a Seattle church.
Dubbed “Your Environmental Road Trip” — thus the acronym YERT — the film covers all 50 states in a search “for innovators and citizens solving humanity’s greatest environmental crises.”
The trio of filmmakers says they were “called to action by a planet in peril.” Producer Mark Dixon tells me he’s up for more screenings. So if anybody’s interested …
Solar Workers Find Green Jobs Aren’t A Myth
Think Industrial Revolution
The drumbeat over whether green jobs really exist has been steady throughout 2011. Much of the debate stems from the definition of “green,” but a front page story in the Riverside Press Enterprise on Christmas Day is worth noting.
The headline reads, “Solar Projects Bring Precious Jobs.” Here’s a link to the online version of the story.
The article by Leslie Berkman quotes a handful of formerly unemployed truckers, construction workers and others who are among some 700 people building the $2.2 billion Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating site in the Mojave Desert - one of several large-scale solar projects under way or proposed in Riverside, San Bernardino and Imperial counties.
“This is a godsend for a lot of people,” said Tim West, a carpenter quoted by Berkman.
The plants will help California reach its 33 percent renewables mandate, but also provide badly needed jobs during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. Construction jobs in the Inland Empire portion of California have fallen 57 percent since the height of the building boom, Berkman writes.
The solar construction boom is expected to last in that region for at least five years. Those plants won’t require as many employees when they are operating, but at least people such as West and Lee Russell, a former trucker driver-turned-apprentice who now earns $24 per hour at the solar plant and who also was quoted in the Press Enterprise article, are working now.
The Mojave Desert isn’t the only place in California where solar jobs are likely to soar. Dozens of solar projects are making their way through the planning process in Fresno, Kings and Tulare counties as well, where planners are being cautious to avoid avoid conflicts with prime farm land. Read more here.
Meanwhile, the solar and wind industries are attracting some savvy investors, such as Warren Buffett, Google and KKR & Co.. They are investing in select projects in California and elsewhere. You can bet they wouldn’t be if they didn’t expect good returns. Buffett, who has investments in oil companies too, bought solar projects that have power purchase agreements in place, noted The Motley Fool.
Critics contend solar energy is too expensive and can’t last without subsidies, but prices are falling, panels are becoming more efficient and it won’t be long before solar electricity reaches grid parity. In fact, some experts say it’s already there. Check out this recent blog post by my colleague, Mike Nemeth.
Solar energy isn’t the only green industry headed for prime time. Corporate America has discovered that going green adds more green to its bottom line. Major companies are beefing up their sustainability departments (dubbed “green teams) and are seeking out ways to cut energy consumption. And let’s not forget energy benchmarking, which is gaining a higher profile, especially in California where a law requires data before certain property can be sold.
Find out more here, here, here and here.
Or listen to Cal Poly’s Mr Eco rap.
Sure, green companies will come and go. There will be some high-profile implosions like Solyndra, and others will just kind of slip away into the night. Big companies will acquire smaller ones and consolidations will occur. Startups will carve out a niche, and established businesses will expand to take advantage of green opportunities.
This is a young dynamic industry - and it’s on the move.
The Coming Solar Revolution In California
It’s not often that tiny Fowler hosts the governor, but that’s what happened today when Jerry Brown used the Fresno County community of 5,500 people as the backdrop for signing three renewable-energy bills into law.
Brown’s office noted the bills were signed on the same day the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District issued its third dirty air alert this week. The legislation allows Fowler Unified School District to save $14 million in energy costs over 25 years; authorizes the California Public Utilities Commission to collect funds for renewable-energy rebates (typically, about $83 million each year); and requires the state Department of Fish and Game to accelerate its permitting process for clean-energy projects.
The Fowler school district will affix solar panels on Marshall Elementary, which will enable the district to save almost $500,000 the first year. But it won’t be the only school in the state to get solar energy. The bill, SB 585, authored by Sen. Christine Kehoe D-San Diego, authorizes $200 million for the statewide California Solar Initiative, according to Brown’s office.
“California’s children deserve clean air and a bright future,” said Brown. “They deserve good jobs and a strong economy. The bills I signed today are part of a solar-energy revolution that is sweeping our state. These bills will help create jobs, lower electric bills and clean up the air we breathe.” Learn more here and in this Fresno Bee story.
The projects will help meet the state’s objective of 20,000 megawatts from renewable sources by 2020. The California Solar Initiative, funded through utility companies, gives rebates for solar installations on commercial, industrial, nonprofit and government and other non-residential buildings, including schools.
The Department of Fish and Game bill, introduced by Michael Rubio, D-Bakersfield, could help speed up applications in the Valley and high desert region of Kern County, where, according to Fish and Game officials, thousands of acres of proposed clean-energy projects are proposed.
The Valley, with high power bills, lots of land and sun, along with a midstate location, access to transmission lines and bright minds at UC Merced, Fresno State University and Cal Poly, could be a leader in solar and other types of clean energy.
Brown’s choice of words, describing a solar-energy “revolution” in California, was notable. His highly public event was on the same day that President Obama announced the winners of a $37 million “jobs and innovation” challenge that include a proposed collaboration between high-tech capital and technology in San Diego with the natural resources of Imperial County to create a “mega-region” of renewable energy.
The possibilities, and potential, in California are staggering.