On Track to Being a Sustainability STAR

By Kathryn Vellone

In helping to fulfill our institution’s mission toward greater sustainability in higher education, Paul Smith’s College Center for Campus Sustainability staff will begin using the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS) during this spring semester. STARS is a program provided by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and allows for partnering colleges and universities to measure their overall sustainability performance under a uniform method. With STARS, however, sustainability tracking goes way beyond measuring a lower carbon footprint and reduced greenhouse gas emissions. It also encompasses sustainability in an institution’s curriculum, community engagement and diversity, and planning, allowing for continuous improvement in all areas of higher education.

So what are some other perks of the STARS program, especially for our college? First, with some data gathering and reporting, colleges can earn recognition points under the general areas of: Academics, Engagement, Operations, and Planning & Administration. Upon accumulation of these points, they can earn a STARS Reporter recognition, or even a Bronze, Silver, Gold, or Platinum rating. Second and perhaps more importantly than a high achievement award, the STARS program is TRANSPARENT, meaning that all of our students and staff can view our performance at any time through the program website, and be included in a global community committed to sustainability advancement.

For more information on the STARS reporting system and how it can benefit Paul Smith’s College, visit www.stars.aashe.org, or feel free to contact the Center for Campus Sustainability. Share your thoughts and ideas on how we can become a STAR in the sustainability world!

 

Adirondack Youth Climate Summit 2016

The Wild Center in Tupper Lake hosts an annual Adirondack Youth Climate Summit. This year the summit was hosted on November 3 and 4. Each year, students from around the Northeast come together to learn about climate change, and what they can do in their own lives and school to combat the effects. The theme of the 2016 Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was “Branching out.” This years summit team consisted of five student attendees: Jack Gallagher, Erika Ochs, Josh Staquet, Dan Stevener and myself, Valerie Hoffman. Also our Sustainability Coordinator Kate Glenn, this was her sixth Youth Climate Summit. The summit was broken into plenary sessions, when everyone attends, and workshops, where students chose an area they are interested in to learn more about.

aycs2016_3I am always inspired to help the environment and human race when I leave the summit. This being my third year attending was very exciting. I find it really exciting to see what schools (high school and colleges) did in the past year and to see their growth. There were so many cool presenters like The Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), which is an organization that has perfected presenting information in a fun and informative way. Also Rob Carr, who will be teaching Environmental Communication with Curt Stager this spring semester, gave a presentation on giving a presentation. For a fantastic presentation you need to know your audience, why it matters to them, have a main message, and use minimal words on the slides. My eyes were opened to how many opportunities are out there if you really put your mind to it. Alizé Carrère is a cultural ecologist who was able to become a National Geographic Explorer. She received a grant from National Geographic and went to Madagascar to study erosion gullies. To get a grant from National Geographic all you have to do is be between the ages of 18 and 26 and have an idea. Alizé Carrère is hosting a series on how the world is adapting to climate change. One of my favorite presenters are farmers, Mark and Kristin Kimball from Essex Farm always plan an exciting session. This year we had to find Captain Carbon, tie him up and bury him. This was to show carbon sequestration.  Every year is a new and exciting skit. After all of these sessions you get to gather as a school team and draft a climate action plan. This is later discussed with every participating school at the end of the second day. Right before lunch on the second day a poster session is held for each school to show what they do to reduce their carbon footprint or promote sustainability. Each school decorated a cardboard tree with leafs covered in candy wrappers. On the leaf they wrote how their school was going to branch out about climate change. The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit will always be one of the best memories I have from Paul Smith’s College. I am proud that Paul Smith’s College has opportunities like this to share with their students.

aycs2016

Jack Gallagher,

This was my third year attending the youth climate summit however it was my first time not being involved in the planning process before going. I was very inspired as always and have a few projects i’d like to work with the sustainability office to carry out. It was great to see schools there with their first environmental clubs and to see the program is growing. Being team captain I got to sit in a lunch meeting where I learned that the program was year round and offers funding to the high schools that need it for their future projects like the sustainability office here on campus. The speakers were very informative and different than years before. I am excited to see what will happen in future summits as the program continues to expand around the world.

aycs2016_2Erika Ochs,

The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was a great educational experience; I learned a lot and had fun. It was really impressive to see high school students full of climate change knowledge. Watching students work with each other and enjoy learning was so refreshing. These students care about the environment and want to make change, it was awesome! We got the privilege to meet Alizé Carrère a National Geographic Explorer, she spoke about her journey around the world making small changes in their communities and studying people’s culture. We also were given the opportunity to attend workshops with professors from Paul Smith’s. I personally attended Curt Stager’s seminar, we got to work together to make charts based off studies Curt has done for years. We looked at everything from salamanders, to Lake Champlain freezing over completely. Students were shocked for some of the results. The power of students coming together to make a difference is empowering itself to watch. We are the future; we can make change if we come together. I’m proud to be a Smitty, and to have been a part of The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit.

Josh Staquet,

What I have to say about the Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was that it was an awesome experience. It was very informative and inspirational on what to do to reduce the issues of our climate. It was also for entertaining with the fun activities offered there as well. It is definitely worth going to for those who are into supporting the environment and reducing climate issues.

Dan Stevener,

The Adirondack Youth Climate Summit was a good opportunity for students to both learn and address the problems of climate change.  It is incredibly important for the younger generation to be ever increasingly aware about the dangers caused by climate change because the younger generation are the ones who will ultimately feel the most effect from it in their lifetime.  The biggest key takeaway from the Climate Summit was there are lots of people around the world who haven’t given up hope and are fighting on reversing this issue even though it will be an incredible uphill battle, especially given the current political climate.  I was the age of these kids just shy of a decade ago, and I don’t remember anybody in my high school taking a stand like these kids did.  This alone gives me hope for the future.

Paul Smith’s College was well represented  the speakers and workshop presenters. Paul Smiths alumni Larry Montague is an eco-hip-hop artist performed and ran a workshop on how hip hop can save the planet. Curt Stager also ran a workshop titled “Bringing Climate Change Down to Where You Live.” Bethany  Garretson presented during a workshop called “How to Make Social Change a Reality.” Kate Glenn and I ran a workshop last year on “Community Mapping and Climate Action planning”, the worksheet and pre-summit maters every summit group used for this years summit came from that workshop.

Special THANKS to the WILD CENTER for putting on and Inviting us to such an amazing event.

Here Comes the Sun!

On Thursday March 31, 2016, the Alternative Energy and Green Efficiency class attended the North Country Community Distributed Generation Summit at the Wild Center in Tupper Lake. Community distributed generation (CDG) is also known as shared renewable. CDG allows customers who cannot have solar, wind, or other types of renewable energy on their site to participate in renewable energy through net metering. Net metering is a policy where utilities are required to provide bill credits or payments to customer when production of their renewable exceeds their own consumption.

CDG 2

Students attended presentations on land use, agricultural opportunities, financial structure, customer acquisition, working with utilities, and acceleration clean energy deployment. This was an amazing opportunity for students to see what professionals in the energy field do. More information and presentations from the event can be viewed at http://www.adirondack.org/cdgsummit

A Bright Idea!

Considering the fact that sustainability is both a major and minor here at Paul Smith’s College – was Natural Resource Sustainability, but now Sustainable Communities and Working Landscapes – one could say the interest in renewable practices is high within the campus community. Although the mounting of the solar panels brought awareness and excitement to many, it grasped the attention of one student in particular: Valerie Hoffman.  Valerie Hoffman is the Energy Assistant for the Campus Sustainability Office. And as my co-worker, I often see and hear about her passion for diverse forms of sustainable practices and renewable energy. But before we get into her involvement with the solar display, let me provide you with a little background information on the college and its pursuing goals for renewable energy.

 

Renewable energy is a concept discussed broadly both in-and-outside of the classroom here at Paul Smith’s. It is defined as an energy source that cannot be depleted. There are various types, but the five most common are wind power, geothermal, hydroelectricity, biomass, and solar power. In 2007, the college signed the President’s Climate Commitment and decided to reach carbon neutrality by 2029. The installation of different forms of renewable energy on the campus, such as the solar array, is a significant step towards achieving this goal; it also supports our educational mission by providing an outstanding instructive tool on campus.

 

Last Spring, Paul Smith’s senior, Devon Tibbils, proposed the installation of a 12.24 kw roof-mounted solar array on the Joan Weill Adirondack Library to the Campus Sustainability Fund with the help from his co-participants Dr. Curt Stager and Steve McFarland as well as project leader Katharine Glenn. The objectives of the proposal are to (1) generate electricity from a renewable energy resource which would offset the college’s current electricity consumption with a clean energy resource-contributing to the college’s goal of reaching carbon neutrality, (2) promote solar energy development in the Adirondack Park, (3) provide an educational tool for classes, students, and the surrounding community, and lastly (4), serve as a symbol of our college communities’ commitment to renewable energy while also promoting the option of solar energy in the Adirondack Park. The proposal allows those on campus the ability to view the panels daily and the rate at which they are generating electricity, via internet access.

 

This December, one fifth of the entire solar array was mounted, and is currently in use. Paul Smith’s uses 4,000,000 kWh (kilowatt-hours) of electricity annually, but with the full solar collection, the panels will supply the college with 1% of its yearly electricity use.

 

In the following interview, Hoffman set out to consult Dr. Curt Stager, professor of natural sciences here at Paul Smith’s, about his long term support for the project.

 

Valerie Hoffman: How did you get the idea to purchase solar panels?

 

Dr. Curt Stager: I got the idea during an Open House event when several parents of prospective students asked why we don’t have solar panels on campus. I explained that we have lots of other sustainability features, from a pellet boiler at Freer to the LEED-certified Overlook dorm and Paolozzi Center.  But all they cared about was solar panels, so I figured why not get some and put them up on the library roof where everyone could see them.

 

VH: How was the first one purchased?

 

CS: I wanted it to happen quickly, so I passed a hat around among the faculty and raised about half the cost, and then I paid the rest myself.

 

VH: What would you like done with the one you purchased?

 

CS: The panel that we faculty purchased was meant to be more of a symbol of commitment to   sustainable forms of energy, and to eventually have a complete array of solar panels mounted all over the south-facing roof of the library.  I think it would be nice to use the faculty panel for some small creative thing that everyone could see easily, maybe to power some lights at the flagpole garden for example.

 

VH: Where do you see the college going in terms of energy consumption?

 

CS: I hope the college continues to find new ways to reduce energy use and find alternative energy sources as an example for others in the region.

 

VH: What is the next step in your eyes?

 

CS: Perhaps replacing fossil fuels with sustainable energy in the college’s investment portfolio could be a next step to aim for, because many other colleges are now reinvesting away from fossil fuels too.

 

Hoffman interviewed Stager because of his influence in bringing solar panels to Paul Smith’s. There is enough sunlight to make solar energy a feasible option everywhere in the United States. New York, alone, has the capability of generating around 4kWh of electricity for every one meter squared of solar panels each day. Thus, allowing it to be a reasonable alternative energy source.

 

Recently Hoffman proposed a project to the Campus Sustainability Fund called Mobile Solar Education Center. The goal of her project is to directly show how solar energy is created in a mobile unit. The unit can be transported into classrooms and all around campus which gives it the opportunity to be used as an educational resource. This mobile unit would also be using the solar panel Stager and fellow faculty purchased.

 

Paul Smith’s and the Campus Sustainability Fund is always open to new sustainable proposals that will not only educate the community, but better the environment and the Adirondack Park. If you have any ideas, please do not hesitate to submit them!

 

 

 

 

You can check out the performance of how our solar display is doing on our Energy page!

http:/www.paulsmiths.edu/sustainability/energy/

Tales of a Warmer Planet by Dr Curt Stager

Paul Smiths, N.Y. — It’s a mistake to think the climatic effects of our carbon emissions will be over within a few decades or centuries. Our intergenerational responsibilities run much deeper into the future.

In this new Anthropocene epoch, the “Age of Humans,” we have become so numerous, our technology so powerful, and our lives so interconnected that we are now a force of nature on a geological scale. By running our civilization on fossil fuels, we are both creating and destroying climates that our descendants will live in tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of years from now.

Carbon atoms do not disappear when we burn them into carbon dioxide. Isotopic tracer studies show that they work their way into the very fabric of life on Earth. Some of them travel up the food chain from the atmosphere to plants to animals to our dinner plates. Roughly one­eighth of the carbon in your flesh, hair and bones recently emerged from smokestacks and tailpipes. We are not only a source of air pollution — we are air pollution, and our waste fumes will henceforth be woven into the bodies of our descendants, too.

This inert fossil fuel carbon inside us has no direct effect on our health, although mercury and other pollutants that often accompany it amid industrial and automotive emissions may harm us. Most of the airborne carbon will eventually dissolve into the oceans, leaving a sizable fraction of it aloft until it, too, is removed by chemical reactions with carbonate and silicate minerals in rocks and sediments.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is that the natural mopping up of our mess will be extremely slow. Research by the University of Chicago oceanographer and climate scientist David Archer and others shows that the cleanup will take tens of thousands of years even if we switch quickly to renewable energy sources. When the Earth’s slow cyclic tilting and wobbling along its eccentric orbital path once again leads to a major cooling period some 50,000 years from now, enough of our heat­trapping carbon emissions will still remain in the atmosphere to warm the planet just enough to weaken that chill. In other words, our impacts on global climate are so profound that we will have canceled the next ice age.

It is now too late to stop human ­driven warming altogether. Even if we wean ourselves from fossil fuels within the next few decades, our descendants will still face temperatures significantly higher than they are now — for millenniums to come. But that is no reason to delay or despair. If we don’t make the switch soon, our descendants will later be forced to do so under duress because of the depletion of finite reserves, and the artificially hotter Earth will be even poorer in species, habitats and lifestyles for thousands more generations.

What will it be like to live in a warmer world? Geological history contains numerous examples of previous natural hot spells that offer clues. First, consider the milder scenario.

If we switch quickly from fossil fuels, climates might come to resemble those of the interglacial warm periods that punctuated ice ages of the last two million years. During the last interglacial, which began 130,000 years ago and lasted about 13,000 to 15,000 years, global average temperatures were 2 to 5 degrees Fahrenheit higher than today. Enough of the ice in Greenland and Antarctica melted to lift sea levels by about 20 feet, but most polar ice survived. Stronger monsoons turned the Sahara lush and watery, and intense droughts parched the American Southwest.

Many species and ecosystems adapted to the changes that didn’t suit them by simply migrating toward the poles. Polar bears survived, presumably because they found enough icy refuges in the high Arctic to keep them going. The warmth coaxed southern Appalachian oak­ hickory­ black gum forests north to upstate New York and sent hippos, elephants and other typically African animals north through Europe.

Unfortunately, our Anthropocene cities, roads, farms and fences now block future migration routes, and as our excess carbon dioxide soaks into the ocean, there will be no place for shell ­bearing marine creatures to migrate to as the seawater grows increasingly acidic. Furthermore, the heat­ trapping gases that we release in the most moderate scenario will warm the Earth for much longer than a typical interglacial, on the order of 100,000 years.

This best­ case scenario is troubling, but Earth history shows us that the alternative is unacceptable. If we burn all remaining coal, oil and gas reserves within the next century or two, we could introduce a more extreme, longer lasting hothouse much like one that occurred about 56 million years ago: the Paleocene ­Eocene Thermal Maximum, or PETM.

Unlike the relatively mild interglacials driven by the tilt, wobble and orbit of the Earth, the PETM fundamentally transformed the planet. Experts speculate that it was set off by volcanism in the Atlantic Ocean, thawing of permafrost, melting of methane hydrates, or a combination of such factors. Whatever caused the PETM, it spewed trillions of tons of carbon dioxide into the air and oceans. Global average temperatures climbed 10 degrees or more, erasing cold­loving species and habitats from the planet. With atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations several times higher than today, a combination of warming and carbonic acid buildups in the oceans exterminated many deep ­sea creatures and dissolved limy minerals and shells from the ocean floor.

The spectacular rise of the PETM lasted several thousand years. The Arctic Ocean became a tepid, brackish cove surrounded by deciduous redwood forests. Antarctica was covered in beech forests and so rain­soaked that silty runoff clouded the surrounding ocean. If we were to de­ice the planet in similar fashion again, global mean sea level would rise well over 200 vertical feet.

Many descriptions of the PETM focus on its onset and peak to illustrate today’s warming, but that was only the first chapter in a much longer story. What goes up must also come down, and the PETM’s temperature profile resembled a child’s playground slide with a steep ladder to the top and a long ride down as carbon dioxide was absorbed by seawater, rocks and sediments in a recovery that lasted more than 100,000 years. At the top of that slide, temperatures flipped from warming to cooling in a dramatic period of “climate whiplash.”

From the perspective of future generations, the whiplash and subsequent cooling that follows our own thermal peak could be as challenging as the warming. Species and cultures that will have adapted to centuries of rising temperatures, retreating ice, and advancing sea levels will then have to face strange new kinds of environmental change in reverse. For example, when global temperatures eventually begin to fall, the oceans will continue to swell because climates will still be warm enough to continue melting what remains of the polar ice sheets for thousands of years. Those who live through that long, strange period will face sea level rise and global cooling at the same time.

WE are not only warming the planet but also constructing and demolishing artificial worlds of the deep future. The thermal peak of a PETM reprise could last many thousands of years, long enough for future cultures and habitats to grow older than Babylon, and long enough for a greenhouse Earth to seem normal for hundreds of generations. But climate whiplash will eventually pull the rug out from under our later descendants. In that far future, there will be no more fossil fuels left to burn in order to sustain the artificial hothouse, and only a reduced, heat ­tolerant fraction of today’s cultural and biological diversity will remain to face an age of global cooling that could last as long as half a million years, far more than the entire history of anatomically modern humans up until now.

A switch from finite fossil energy to cleaner, renewable energy sources is inevitable: We are only deciding how and when to do it. That is what world leaders and policy makers will be grappling with at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change that begins Monday in Paris. Much of the environmental harm that we have already done was unintentional, but now that science has exposed our role in it a new moral dimension has been added to our actions. Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on the environment makes it clear that to continue taking a profligate carbon path is to sin against future generations and our own human dignity.

As pioneers of the Anthropocene, we are an immensely powerful force of nature and can accomplish great things if we not only learn what is scientifically true, but also do what is morally right. Pope Francis tells us that “there is nobility in the duty to care for creation.” As a climate scientist who welcomes international action to address climate change, I offer a heartfelt “Amen” to that. Curt Stager is a professor of natural sciences at Paul Smith’s College and the author of “Deep Future: The Next 100,000 Years of Life on Earth.”

© 2015 The New York Times Company

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