Monday, November 2, 2009

Mason Featured in the National Wildlife Federation's Campus Sustainability Yearbook

If you're reading this you probably know that we've had a busy year. Whenever we finish one project we start a new one; in fact, we almost always start new initiatives before we complete what we're currently working on. That may seem a little nuts, but we've got a lot of responsibility to make Mason as environmentally friendly as we can. Luckily, in addition to our dedicated staff, people from across campus are doing their part to green Mason. Today, the National Wildlife Federation released its annual yearbook featuring campus sustainability case studies from across the country and six of our projects were highlighted.

We encourage you to take a look at some of the awesome things that are happening at Mason; hopefully they'll make you proud to be a Patriot.

By the way, this is just the beginning; we have lots of other things lined up that will help Mason become the most environmentally friendly school of its size in the country.

Eating Locally- Last Day and Lessons Learned

Well, it was certainly an interesting week.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Eating Locally- Day 6

Monday. Five days of eating eggs, cheese, and tomatoes. Mostly. Although I haven’t forgotten how lucky I am to have food in the first place, I sure am sick of eggs, cheese, and tomatoes. When this is over, I don’t think I’ll eggs eat again for a very long time. Of course, I generally don’t eat many eggs to begin with, but that’s beside the point. The point is, almost 30 eggs in five days is just too much.

Anyway, for breakfast I had an apple. For lunch, tomato soup and leftover mashed potatoes, which, by the way, were just as good as they were the day before. I got lucky for dinner.

On Monday afternoon I visited Mason’s (non-certified) organic vegetable garden to do a little work. For those of those that haven’t heard, the garden suffered a minor catastrophe last month when almost all of vegetables died. In any case, when I was digging around where the potato plants used to be, I came across four good-sized potatoes. There were in pretty poor shape, rather wrinkly and soft, but I decided to give them a good home in my stomach none-the-less.

When, I got home a sliced all four of my potatoes into small wedges and fried them in butter. And although I was saving it until Tuesday (so I could celebrate) I decided to use the one small onion that I had. Instead of cooking it along with the potatoes, I chose to eat it raw so as to savor the full flavor. So, for dinner I had fried potatoes, more fried eggs, slices of a raw onion and the rest of a green pepper that I had the day before. It was the best meal that I have had this week. I honestly think that it was the onion that tied the whole thing together.

Tomorrow is Tuesday, my last full day of this experiment. I don’t have too much variety to look forward to, not that I had variety to begin with, so I can’t say that I’ll be sorry when it’s over. Among all the things that I’m looking forward to the most: garlic. And bread. And of course, hot sauce. Sriacha hot sauce.

Eating Locally- Days 4 and 5

Writing about essentially the same thing for five days is difficult. At least for me. How many things am I eating? 16, I think. Eggs, tomatoes, cheese, apples, peaches, butter, basil. Those are the main items. Throw in some potatoes, yogurt, two peppers, an eggplant and onion (both yet to be eaten) honey, rosemary and thyme and you have my diet for the week. Of course, if you’ve been following my progress, you already know that. I also have some beets, but I doubt that I’ll end up harvesting them for this experiment. Trying to take those 16 items and make three meals a day for seven consecutive days with them is not easy. Well, it’s not easy to make interesting anyway.

Since I stayed up late at the movies on Friday night, I took advantage of a rare day off and slept late on Saturday, therefore missing breakfast. For lunch, I decided to try something different. Since I still had an abundance of eggs I tried mixing two of my hardboiled eggs with yogurt (instead of mayonnaise) to make an egg salad of sorts. I also fried a few eggs with cheese and made some more tomato ‘soup’. The egg salad definitely was not very good, but it wasn’t terrible. The tomato soup and the fried eggs were decent but I could already tell that I would be sick of them before too long. For dinner: more fried eggs.

Sunday was a different story, at least it ended differently. I started with just an apple for breakfast, mostly because I wasn’t particularly hungry. Since I felt that I had been doing exceeding well so far, especially in the name of overwhelming temptation (the Sriacha hot sauce lurking in my cabinet was calling my name) I figured I deserved a treat. I went into front yard to dig up what few potatoes I could. The actual potato plants had long since been removed due to the inane and idiotic rules of the homeowners association that governed my townhouse but I knew that at least a few potatoes lay just beneath the surface. To my delight, I actually found over a dozen of them, some as small as ping pong balls, others as large as my fist. Apparently my plants had been exceedingly productive in the few short weeks that they were able to photosynthesize. In any case, I’m a big fan of anticipation, so I decided to wait until dinner to enjoy my spuds. So for lunch I had…wait for it… yup, you guessed it: eggs.

I started preparing dinner much earlier than I needed to, partly because I was hungry but mostly because I was simply so excited to eat my homegrown potatoes. Since I had so many to work with, I decided to use about half of them to make fried potatoes and the other half to make mashed potatoes (my favorite). For frying, I sliced the potatoes similar to the way potato chips (another one of my favorites) are sliced and placed them, one-by-one, into hot butter. Although I have a propensity to burn things that I try to fry, I was exceedingly careful with my precious potatoes. In the end, I only had two or three slices that were too burnt to eat. The rest were delicious, even sans Sriacha, and I ate all of them.

As for the mashed potatoes, since milk, or more appropriately, soymilk, was not part of my diet this week, I had to add three times as much butter as I normally would in order to try to make the potatoes creamy enough, but even that wasn’t enough. In lieu of milk I ended up adding water to the potatoes to make them creamier. It reminded me of when I was kid and had to use water for my cereal when we ran out of cow’s milk. Luckily, after a thorough mixing, I couldn’t tell the difference and the mashed potatoes ended up being delicious as well, even without the hot sauce.

Like I already said, I had decided to treat myself and that included desert. I really don’t like plain yogurt, so I chopped up one of my remaining peaches and mixed it with a bowlful of yogurt. It probably would have been good if I had used a blender, but instead I decided to mix in some honey. The result was quite good. Not quite delicious, but close enough.

I went to sleep that night satiated and fully satisfied.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Eating Locally- Day 3

Day three. For breakfast I had an apple and a black cherry yogurt. The apple was good, the yogurt was better. Made with whole milk, it had 9 grams of fat and 210 calories. According to (part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture), my recommended daily allowance of calories is 2400. Considering the fact that their food pyramid still includes dead animals (meat) as part of a healthful diet, I don’t take too much stock in what the USDA has to say on the matter. I was pleased, however, to see that they do include “Tips & Resources” for vegetarians on their website:

For lunch I had two hard-boiled eggs and the rest of the tomato soup that I made last night. The soup was just as good today as it was yesterday. As much as I’ve enjoyed my dinner for the past two nights, I can’t say that I’m looking forward to the same thing tonight. I’ve been trying to think of ways that I could add variety, and there are a few ingredients that I haven’t used yet (squash and zucchini, potatoes, beets, and an onion or two) but I don’t want to run out of those things and be stuck just eating tomatoes and eggs.

So, instead of trying to decide what to eat, I decided to skip dinner and go to the movies. Since I love movies and it’s been a really long time since I’ve had the chance to go to the theater, I watched four movies and got home after midnight. I was hungry, but also tired, so not to have anything to eat before bed.

In any case, I have some experiments in mind for tomorrow. Hopefully it will be a more interesting food day.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Eating Locally- Day 2

First of all, two quick notes. One, I was unable to locate my notebook that contains the prices I paid for all of the food that I’ll be eating this week. For those of you that are interested, I’ll look again tomorrow and let you know if I find it. Two, I actually purchased an additional item yesterday that I forgot to mention, eight ounces of honey from Mason’s own Environmental Studies on the Piedmont program.

Now, let me say, I’m eating well; I definitely have more than enough to eat and what I’m eating seems to be nutritiously complete (and delicious). That being said, even though this is only my second day of this experiment, there are certainly at least a few things that I already miss. First and foremost, I miss bread. I love bread. I have five favorite foods: mashed potatoes, blueberries, potato chips, nachos, and bread. I was definitely expecting to be able buy bread at the market yesterday, but the bread vendors were unfortunately not there. Not eating bread for a week will be a big adjustment for me. I also miss hot sauce. Especially Sriacha hot sauce. Oh well.

In any case, it occurred to me that although this is day two, I neglected to write about what I actually ate yesterday. For lunch, I had part of an apple. For dinner, I fried half of a tomato along with three eggs and some cheddar cheese, and added some fresh basil for flavor; essentially it was scrambled eggs with tomatoes, basil, and cheese. All of it was quite good, maybe even delicious.

Today, I finished the apple that I started at lunch yesterday for breakfast. For lunch, I had a peach and two of the 12 eggs that I hard-boiled last night. Dinner consisted of three more scrambled eggs; this time with tomatoes, peppers, basil, rosemary, thyme, and some cheddar cheese. I also harvested a whole bunch of tomatoes from my garden that I used to make a tomato soup of sorts. Essentially I diced about 12 smallish tomatoes that I fried in butter along with the fresh herbs. The result was a watery substance that I liken to a cross between soup, stew and spaghetti sauce. It was so good that I had two bowls.

As I started with, I’m eating plenty of good food and I have absolutely no reason to complain. Regardless of the fact that I’m lacking a few things that I’m accustomed to and might want, I’m acutely aware of the privilege that I have. I already realize that this experiment will not turn out the way that I expected, however, I think that it will end up being much more interesting than I expected. Check back tomorrow for further insights.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Eating Locally- Day 1

So, it's day one and I'm in for an interesting week. Today's market had far less vendors, therefore far less variety, than I expected. What I did expect, considering the point in the Virginia growing season we are in, was a plethora of fresh vegetables. Instead, what I got was tomatoes, apples, peaches, eggs, cheese, butter and yogurt. That’s seven ingredients for the week. What I was hoping for included, at least, onions, peppers, beets, lettuce, collards, garlic, squash, zucchini, cucumbers, green beans, eggplants, and maybe even potatoes and melons; all things that I thought I could reasonably expect. The only produce that was offered today that I didn't purchase was raspberries and blackberries.

I thought that this week was going to be easy. And I say that fully well aware of the fact that I'm quite lucky to have food in the first place. All I'm trying to say is that I was hoping that I'd have a few more ingredients to live off of for the next week than the seven that I bought at the farmers' market and the few that I have at home. Speaking of which, as mentioned in yesterday's post, I do have a few things that I can add to my diet for the week. Those things include many more tomatoes, a few more peppers, two or three onions, three small beets, two small eggplants and three or four small potatoes. Luckily I also have basil, rosemary and thyme. Not including salt, the one thing that I’m adding to this experiment, I have 15 ingredients to subsist on for the week. Again, and I can’t stress this enough, I realize what a privilege it is to have such easy access to food.

Before I go on, I want to briefly write about food justice. I’ll expand upon this more later in the week, but for now, suffice it to say, that I am writing this mostly for people that don’t consider their own ability to access food on a daily basis. By conducting this experiment, I’m attempting to document my experience from the perspective of people that have almost complete access to just about any type of food whenever she or he so chooses; myself included. Eating 15 items during the course of the week will be a challenge when juxtaposed next to my ability to go the neighborhood supermarket, which in my case is less than a mile away, and buy food, quite literally, from around the world. Again, I’ll write more about this as the week progresses.

To end day one, I’ll give you some specifics. Today I bought three dozen eggs, or the equivalent of about five eggs a day (that’s a lot). I bought a pound of butter, 44 ounces of yogurt and approximately a pound and a half of cheese, Cheddar and Monterey Jack. I also purchased exactly five tomatoes, five peaches, and seven apples. I took notes as I was buying all of this, unfortunately, I left those notes at work and I’m now at home so I’ll let you know exactly how much these items cost on Thursday. (It was about $70.)

Oh, and just because I’m curious as to how this may or may not effect my weight, I weighed myself before I started. With my shoes off, clothes on, and pockets empty I weigh about 208 pounds; a good 30 pounds more than I’d like. With luck, this week will help me shed that unwanted baggage. Somehow, the thought of eating five eggs a day makes me doubt it…

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Eating Locally- An Experiment

Starting tomorrow, August 19, 2009, I will attempt to only eat food that comes from the George Mason University Farmers’ Market or food that I have grown myself. The purpose of this experiment is two-fold; first of all, I want to find out first-hand how difficult it is to subsist on a local diet. Secondly, I’d like to support the farmers’ market, and by extension, its farmers, by drawing attention to it. The only exception to getting food either from the market or from my yard will be salt. Also, since this farmer’s market sells prepared foods such as soups and pies in addition to vegetables and dairy products, I need to decide whether or not I will include those in my diet. Although these foods are prepared locally, the ingredients in the food is not necessarily sourced locally. I suppose that since this is my first such attempt at such a feat, I will include some of these prepared foods. If all goes well, I’ll attempt it again without the soups and pies.

While I’m not a strict vegan, I am a diehard vegetarian and I try to eat as few dairy products as possible. That said, I’m confident that I’ll will in fact be eating a lot of dairy products this week. Eggs, butter, and yogurt will certainly be a large part of my diet. I normally only eat two meals a day, lunch and dinner, and often only eat one, dinner, however, during this week I will try and eat a full three meals per day as I’ve heard it’s better for me.

Since, to the chagrin of the home owners association that rules my neighborhood like a feudal lord, I have a small garden at home, I will be able to supplement what I purchase at the market with my own vegetables and herbs. This season I have tomatoes, peppers, some onions, beets and a few eggplants and potatoes. I also have basil, rosemary and thyme.

I realize that this whole endeavor has some flaws, the largest of which being that even if I succeed in only eating locally grown food for a week, implying that I could do it for longer, this would only hold true for a few months of the year. Having a truly local diet (in northern Virginia) for a sustained period of time would obviously be much more difficult in the colder months. In any case, as stated previously, this is an experiment so I’ll learn what I can from it. I’ll be sharing my thoughts and observations throughout the week via this blog and I definitely welcome comments, questions, and criticisms. With hope, at the end of the week I’ll have inspired at least one person, myself, to make locally grown food as big a part of my diet as possible.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

STEP program a huge success!

Last month, two dozen students, including nine students from Mason, traveled to Prince William Forest, part of the National Park System, right outside of Washington, D.C. to take part in a weeklong training in environmental protection. During the week the students learned how to create a successful group that will be able to run and manage effective environmental campaigns on their campus. The program, called the Student Training for Environmental Protection (STEP), was run by the George Mason University Office of Sustainability.

See our event video here:

The program focused on giving students the skills and knowledge they need to create the change that will turn passion for the environment into action that will protect it. Some of the workshops that were covered include: Recruiting, Leadership Development, Coalition Building, Campaign Planning, Event Planning, as well as, Public Speaking, How to get Media Attention, Message Development, Lobbying, and Anti-oppression..

The week culminated in a trip to Capitol Hill where students met with representatives of their Senator’s staff to ask for their support of an improved American Clean Energy and Security Act. Altogether, over 30 young people from nine states and Puerto Rico participated in the training and met with their Congressional staff to ask for a stronger climate bill.

Following in the footsteps of Power Shift 2009, the George Mason University Student Training for Environmental Protection program allowed the participants to create bonds with other student organizers from around the country while being trained and empowered with the skills needed to be part of the movement that solves climate change, environmental injustice, and economic failure.

With hope, we plan on having follow up events in the near future. Information will be posted soon.


P.S. Here are some things that participants had to say about STEP:

If I went into STEP with any expectations, I definitely came out of STEP blown away because it far exceeded any expectations I had. I learned more in a week than I have in previous years of my life. STEP was a truly incredible experience with incredible people. You learn so much about yourself, about others, and really how to make a difference in your community, on your campus, and when you are around others. If you are looking to really learn about environmental leadership and activism, as well as a little bit more about yourself, then STEP is for you. You will have fun, meet great people, and learn how to empower yourself in the world around you.
-Ashley Mott, George Mason University Graduate Student

This single event has been one of the most empowering experiences of my life, I've already started to organize events and actually get things done! Thank you!
-Odessa Knipp, Virginia Wesleyan Class of 2009

STEP really allowed me to connect with other organizers from across the
country and beyond. I was able to learn from their experiences and build
wonderful new relationships. It's amazing what we could accomplish in one
week and I can't wait to hear about what we are all able to accomplish with the support and knowledge we all got from STEP.
-Molly Shea, Ohio University Class of 2010

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Mason Spotlighted by Earth First!

Apparently Earth First!, the sometimes controversial but always awesome environmental organization, thinks that Mason is doing a pretty good job when it comes to saving the world. Yesterday I received a forwarded message containing the following link:

According to Earth First! "By far, the most impressive aspect of George Mason’s sustainability efforts thus far is its student, faculty and staff participation in green efforts."

Way to go Mason! Pretty soon we will be "the greenest of the green".

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Help needed for a $200,000 grant!

Dear Friends,

The GMU Office of Sustainability has applied for a $200,000 grant and we need your help to get at least 1000 votes and 500 comments in favor of it by noon on Friday! Please help us by following the link then sharing this message with as many people as possible

Step 1: Go to-

Step 2: Vote for our proposal and comment about how great it is

Step 3: Share this message directly with at least 10 people- friends, family, colleagues, teammates, boyfriend, girlfriend, et cetera and ask them to do the same, everyone can participate

Step 4: Post it on your facebook and other social networking profiles

Mason is doing so well in the America's Greenest Contest, in fact, we just passed UMD and are back in first place- we can do equally well with this.

Thank you, your support means so much! Please let me know if you have any questions.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Mason Goes to Power Shift!

This weekend over 60 people from Mason will be heading into D.C. for Power Shift 2009, the largest conference on global warming ever assembled in the United States and possibly the largest in the world. Following the success of Power Shift 2007, the first ever national youth conference on global warming that occurred at the University of Maryland, Power Shift 2009 will bring together people from every state and Canadian province, Puerto Rico, and other countries from around the world. Specifically, over 10,000 young people will gather on Friday at the D.C. Convention Center with the intention of creating the impetus for bold and decisive solutions to the climate crisis.

People across the globe are already feeling the effects of the climate crisis including in the United States. Nationally these effects include the massive drought in the southeast, the raging forest fires in the west, and the thawing permafrost in Alaska. The causes are myriad; the destruction of the Amazon rainforests for the production of animal feed, over consumption of electricity in the U.S. and other developed countries, and excessive petroleum use for vehicles around the world are all examples.

According to Lauren Peery, first-year Global and Environmental Change student, “Power Shift represents a chance for me to actually do something truly meaningful. I already know that our country needs to be a leader when it comes to global warming, after this weekend I hope to be able to take that knowledge and turn it into action.”

Through both issue and skills based workshops, participants will gain the knowledge and proficiency they need to effectively tackle one of the biggest threats our society has ever faced. According to the International Institute for Strategic Studies, the climate crisis is second only to the possibility of global nuclear war in terms of threatening humanity. The event will feature speakers such as Van Jones and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as well as musical guests Santogold and The Roots. More importantly, Power Shift will inspire over 10,000 young people to rise up and demand a just transition to a clean energy future.

Power Shift will culminate on Monday with two opportunities to take action. The first is a massive lobby day where thousands of people will confront their elected officials and insist that they enact legislation that will truly solve the climate crisis. The second opportunity is the Capital Coal Action which will be the largest civil disobedience in defiance of global warming ever organized. Environmental leaders such as Bill McKibben, Wendell Barry, and the Dean of Yale’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Gus Speth, will stand alongside young people that are willing to risk arrest to make a symbolic statement to our elected officials: act immediately to reduce emissions, create jobs and re-engage globally to tackle the climate and economic crises.

“This is our opportunity to show the world that America is ready to be a leader in the fight against global warming,” said Senior Accounting major Bob McMurtry. “I want to be able to look back and tell my grandkids that I was there; I was one of the people that took a stand and made sure that our planet had a second chance.”

The organizers of Power Shift claim that history will likely show Power Shift 2009 as the one event that truly turned the tide against the climate crisis; if they are correct you don’t want to miss your opportunity to be part of this historic occurrence.

For more information and to register go to

Friday, February 13, 2009

How Do We Start a New Climate Culture?

As many of you know, we've been promoting participation in Climate Culture which GMU was invited to be a charter member of. It's a site where the Mason community can learn ways to be more sustainable. In participating, we can also win up to $20,000, as well. If you haven't already signed up, you can learn more about it at:

Below is a web log entry I wrote for it. This is the first web log I've ever written and it may be my last as well. I'm not really the kind of person who blogs. Nevertheless, I thought I might weigh in, just this once.

This web log (perhaps my one and only) is dedicated to Colin Bennett, who is awesome.

Many people suggest that as humans are supposed to be the highest form of life on the planet, it is our responsibility to be caretakers of or stewards to it. This incredible burden is ultimately a great folly in the understanding of the role of humanity on Earth.

Without humankind’s influence, the planet would thrive, the natural order of life sustaining itself. Mother Earth does not need humans to manage her. Instead of trying to be stewards of the world, we must learn to recognize that humans do not exist outside of the ecosystem, outside of Nature. In so doing, we learn that the only thing we need to manage is ourselves.

All the damage already done will need some help, but if humans stop creating evermore obstacles for Mother Earth to overcome and, instead, live more harmoniously with the rest of Nature, things could very well work themselves out in the end.

We manage ourselves by managing our behaviors. The actions we take in our lives can have profound effects on ourselves, our friends, our surroundings, and on the world.

Take a moment to pick up a plastic bottle, remove the cap, and recycle it. In that instance, if five people see you do that, and even just one of them changes their behavior for the better of all life (and, yes, recycling one bottle benefits ALL life), then that’s one more person than the moment before.

Sure, the actions we commit to on the Reduction Center on this site might help the university win this contest, but it’s more important that we are helping ourselves, our families, our future children, that starving child in Africa, or the thousands of children living on the streets of Mumbai and elsewhere by putting the Earth and all its denizens above ourselves from time to time.

Seemingly small acts can have far greater consequences (good or bad) than we often realize. A misplaced word could change a child’s perspective about the world around her; an errant cigarette butt could end up in the throat of a sea gull, killing it; and a plastic bottle, discarded unceremoniously on the street, could be picked up by someone who’s life YOU changed when they saw you do the same.

Join the new climate culture.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Story about Energy Secretary Steven Chu's position on energy issues

January 14, 2009

Chu Eschews Greens’ Line Against Coal, Nuclear Development


In a clear sign that he will not toe the line drawn by some environmental groups, Energy Secretary-designate Steven Chu Tuesday gave a qualified endorsement to the continued use of coal-fired generation and said new nuclear plants are essential given that they are by far the nation’s largest source of carbon-free electricity for the foreseeable future.

Chu, appearing at a confirmation hearing held by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, also delivered surprisingly candid testimony on what he called the current “standoff” between the United States and China on global warming. He said the United States should go first on emissions cuts with the expectation that China would follow—a prescription that drew blunt skepticism from a prominent Democrat, Indiana Sen. Evan Bayh, about whether China actually would follow or whether Congress would buy that approach.

Overall, though, Chu drew strong bipartisan praise in carefully navigating through a host of sensitive issues, including what to do about nuclear waste and recycling; whether the federal government ought to exert more authority over power line siting; and how he will respond to state demands to deliver more funding for cleanup at DOE’s heavily contaminated nuclear weapons sites.

While he has been widely praised for his scientific expertise as head of DOE’s Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for the past four years, Chu also showed nimble political footwork in a potentially tricky exchange with Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Chu’s stated preference for a carbon emissions cap-and-trade system over a carbon tax as the best approach on climate change.

Pressed by Corker about the potential for “loopholes” in a cap-and-trade system—and whether it was the best solution or just the “politically best” solution—Chu replied with a cagey smile: “I’ll leave that to you.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Corker responded, “you seem pretty good.”

Chu then provided an elegant, to-the-point answer: “The simpler a cap-and-trade system is, the happier I will be.”

Chu was questioned closely by both Republicans and Democrats on his views on coal and nuclear, with Republicans especially determined to pin him down on his willingness to go to bat within the Obama administration for continued development of those two energy resources, which together currently provide 70 percent of U.S. electricity but which are opposed by many environmentalists.

In particular, Chu was asked by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) about recent remarks in which Chu said continued widespread use of coal-fired generation would be a “nightmare” in light of its heavy emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas. Some environmentalists have seized on those remarks to buttress a campaign to discredit “clean coal” technology, such as CO2 sequestration, as an effective solution to coal’s environmental problems.

Dorgan said while he is a strong supporter of more renewables and energy efficiency, he believed clean coal clearly is needed as well. “All of us understand that we have to use coal differently in the future,” Dorgan said, “but I think everybody knows we are going to use coal in the future.”

Chu hastened to agree—and to clarify that his “nightmare” remark was meant to refer to continued use of coal without CO2 capture.

“If the world continues to use coal the way we are using it today, then it is a pretty bad dream,” he said, adding that he was concerned China had not even begun to capture sulfur and other pollutants from some of its coal plants.

“But I also say coal is an abundant resource in the world…. India and China, Russia and the United States, I believe, will not turn their back on coal, so it is imperative we do it as cleanly as possible. I will continue to develop these [clean coal] technologies.”

Chu went on to suggest that the environmentalists’ campaign against clean coal is misguided because other countries will continue to use coal, meaning clean coal technology remains vital to solving climate change concerns.

“Some people in the United States want to turn off coal,” he said, but, “even if we do, China and India will not.”

However, Chu was notably hesitant about the feasibility of deploying carbon sequestration at the scale necessary to allow continued broad use of coal for electricity generation. He acknowledged that major research efforts will be needed to develop the infrastructure and find underground geologic structures capable of storing huge amounts of carbon from coal-fired plants. As for the prospects for success, he resorted to the studied understatement of dubious scientists, saying: “It’s a possibility, but it is a significant challenge.”

Corker appeared to tweak Chu over his carefully worded answer, saying of near-term sequestration solutions: “A lot of people feel that it is going to happen when donkeys fly.”

On nuclear, Chu pledged his full support to help utilities build new nuclear plants, most immediately by fixing DOE’s troubled loan guarantee program, under which the government is helping utilities underwrite the huge cost of building the first next-generation reactors.

More broadly, Chu clearly disagreed with those green groups that say new nuclear should not go forward as a clean energy source because there is no clear disposal plan for nuclear waste.

“I have stated and believe that nuclear power will be part of our energy mix going forward because it is carbon-free and because it is baseload,” he said.

“I certainly will be working to make as many people as possible happy [on the issue],” he added, but “nuclear power is 70 percent of our carbon-free electricity generation—that cannot be denied.”

However, Chu also acknowledged that President-elect Barack Obama’s stated opposition to the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository had raised many “thorny questions” because it appeared to leave DOE without any clear strategy for disposing of spent fuel from commercial reactors despite its legal obligation to take the waste.

Still, Chu said the lack of an immediate answer on waste disposal should not stop utilities from building the first several advanced reactors. He said spent fuel could be safely stored for years while DOE looks into the potential for spent fuel recycling—the long-term solution championed by the Bush administration in conjunction with Yucca Mountain—or other unspecified disposal options.

“In the long term, recycling can be part of the solution,” Chu asserted, noting that France, Japan, Russia and other nations are committed to that approach and moving to improve recycling technologies. At the same time, though, he conceded DOE will have to conduct substantial research to determine if it is “feasible” to carry out recycling in a way that is proliferation-resistant and economic.

Chu’s interest in recycling may be a tough pill for some Democrats and environmentalists to swallow because they have repeatedly attacked Bush for pursuing that option, saying the recovery of weapons-usable plutonium for commercial use would open a Pandora’s box of proliferation concerns.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) urged Chu to “make a break” with the Bush administration’s “flawed” spent fuel reprocessing plans, which at one point called for spending billions of dollars to build prototype facilities. Wyden complained that Bush’s recycling plan “essentially green lights more [nuclear] without dealing with the enormous amount of waste we have.”

In the end, Chu appeared to suggest that Obama’s solution might be to develop interim spent fuel storage and let the next administration worry about final disposal. “The recycling issue is something that we don’t need a solution today, or even 10 years from today,” he said. “We need to figure out a way to store that spent fuel safely.”

On other issues, Chu:

• Promised to review DOE-established transmission corridors in the Mid-Atlantic and Southwest where federal officials can override state opposition to the siting of new power lines. However, Chu danced around the larger question of giving the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission more authority to site power lines, which industry officials and key lawmakers say is needed to build a national grid capable of transmitting more renewable power. “I know the bottlenecks and I know the frustration [over state opposition to power lines], Chu said. But he said that if the federal government flexes its muscle too much, “my feeling is the states and local people in these states may react,” slowing down the process even more.

• Showed some sympathy for complaints by Washington state officials that DOE has chronically underfunded the cleanup at its Hanford nuclear site, thus failing to meet legally enforceable deadlines for remedial action. Chu promised to respond to a request by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that DOE provide an extra $2 billion over the next four years to speed the lagging Hanford cleanup. In that vein, he noted that he had urged Obama officials to include nuclear cleanup funds in the economic stimulus bill.

• Expressed striking optimism about the game-changing potential of energy efficiency technologies and advanced cellulosic ethanol to improve U.S. energy security. For example, he said new construction materials and techniques are available to reduce building-related energy use by 80 percent, but that major efforts are needed to convince the construction industry that these assertions were not “fluff.” On advanced biofuels, Chu said the brightest minds at the Berkeley lab and other research labs are focused on developing cellulosic or algae-based ethanol and he is convinced that breakthroughs will be seen in the next few years on commercial viability. “It is not a possibility, but a probability that we will develop those technologies, and very quickly, too,” he said.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Could Mason be America's Greenest Campus?

George Mason University is now registered as a participant in America's Greenest Campus contest which means that we have the opportunity to win up to $20,000 for our sustainability efforts. Rather than go into detail I'll just give you the website and a brief description from it:

"America's Greenest Campus is the first nationwide contest among colleges to reduce the carbon footprints of their students, faculty, alumni and staff. Think your school is green? Well, now it's time to walk the walk! You have until Earth Day, April 22, to get as many people affiliated with your school to reduce their carbon footprints as much as they can! We'll keep track of the number of people participating on your campus and how much they reduce in the leaderboard below. We'll announce the two winners – the school with the most participants and the school with the most carbon reductions per participant – on Earth Day."

Considering the size of Mason (and our commitment to sustainability) we definitely have a real shot at winning this. Please go to the website and register today. Then, after registering, encourage all your friends and colleagues to do so as well; we need as many Mason people as possible (at least 300) participating. And don't forget to keep track of your carbon cutting actions, everything you do will earn us points! As of this post we have 118 people registered, double that of any other school, and we are in third place overall! Way to go Mason!

Let me know if you have any questions. And please forward this message far and wide.



P.S. Students: don't forget to register for Power Shift, pretty much the greatest thing ever!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

On behalf of Teddy Wilkinson: Some holiday reading...

If Mason is truly interested in shifting towards sustainability, we must also works towards shifting our paradigm of thinking; We need to rethink what it means to be human beings and our role in the ecosystem. Without this corresponding fundamental change in attitude, many environmental efforts are superficial and temporary. In order to get serious about saving our planet, read this article by Wendell Berry:

Monday, January 5, 2009


Below is a video about Colin Carlson, a 12 year old boy from Connecticut that was featured recently on NBC Nightly News regarding his environmental endeavors, specifically his work fighting the climate crisis. I am sharing this story because I helped mentor him and I like to see him recognized for his efforts. Additionally, considering all he has already done in his life, I think he sets an awesome example for all of us. Please share this with as many people as possible.