by Katie Lan, Paloma Hernandez, Tuheen Murali Manika, and Lauren McLaughlin
Students for a Sustainable Stanford's Environmental Justice project group has created the following series of posters to bring attention to issues of environmental justice that are often missing from the mainstream.
It’s no news that greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions are contributing to anthropogenic climate change now, but you might not know that climate change doesn’t affect us all equally. Research suggests that poor communities, which have historically emitted lower levels of GHGs, will suffer disproportionately from the effects of climate change. East Palo Alto is one example.
In 2015, 196 countries came together to negotiate the Paris Agreement, an international agreement concerning climate change mitigation, adaptation, and finance. While two of the three top GHG emitters--China and India--are on track to surpass their emissions reduction commitment under this agreement, the second largest polluter is not. That's us.
￼Shifting global trends toward a market of more sustainable and organically-produced coffee seems promising. In many primary coffee-producing countries, such as Guatemala, sustainability certifications are helping farmers establish economic resilience and independence.
However, farmers in over 50 countries are still paid less than $3 a day for picking over 100 pounds of coffee. Farmer’s yearly incomes of around $600 are equivalent to the cost a ticket to a Beyoncé concert!
Take the time to be an informed consumer. Look for sustainability labels before purchasing that cup of joe that fuels your day. Help promote sustainable farming practices and fair treatment of the farmers that work so hard to produce these ‘magic’ beans!
LEARN THE STORY OF YOUR COFFEE
How would you feel to know that you were unknowingly living within walking distance from one of the most toxic waste sites in the nation? And how would you feel to realize that the federal government recognizes the toxicity of the waste site, yet has failed to take action to clean up the area in a timely manner?
Superfund Sites are areas that represent some of the highest concentrations of hazardous waste in the nation, are are designated by Congress for funded waste cleanup. Superfund sites carry one of the four following labels: Proposed, Active, Construction, and Deleted. In many higher-income areas, Superfund Sites will be either Construction, Completed, or Deleted, meaning that either all facilities for waste cleanup efforts have been built or all cleanup efforts have been completed. In lower-income areas, however, it is not uncommon to see a high concentration of Superfund Sites started nearly 30 years ago that still carry the Active label, meaning that the appropriate facilities to clean up the hazardous waste have not yet been built.
45% of people of color live within three miles of a Superfund Site, a staggering statistic that we must bring down in the future.
Toxic Air in Richmond
by Deidre Francks, '20
The countdown begins! Just one week from today—on Tuesday, February 27th—Students for a Sustainable Stanford will host the sixth annual Stephen H. Schneider Memorial Lecture. This year we will welcome Geisha J. Williams, President and CEO of PG&E, to speak on “Energy Network of Tomorrow: How to Reach California’s Climate Goals.” After months of tireless work from our Schneider lecture coordinators and other members of SSS, I look forward to this event with incredible excitement and pride. This will be the second Schneider Lecture I’ve attended, following last year’s lecture delivered by John Holdren, former Chief Science and Technology Advisor to President Obama.
This year, throughout all of the excitement of Schneider lecture preparations, I have found myself increasingly curious about the life and work of the late Dr. Stephen H. Schneider—the esteemed climate scientist and communicator for whom SSS’s annual memorial event is dedicated. Although he passed away before my time at Stanford, it’s impossible to ignore Dr. Schneider’s legacy as a beloved professor, trusted advisor, and dear friend to many who are still on this campus today. Dr. Schneider’s name has been mentioned by professors and peers throughout many of my classes—a testament to his wide-ranging influence in the fields of interdisciplinary climate science and communication. What follows is a brief overview of the legacy left by Dr. Schneider, which—despite hardly scratching the surface of his vast and accomplished career—gives some context for why we work to honor his memory each year with the Schneider Memorial Lecture.
After receiving his Ph.D. in mechanical engineering and plasma physics from Columbia University, Dr. Schneider spent his early career working for the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) where he researched the effects of aerosols and greenhouses gases on the atmospheric system. During his time at NCAR, Dr. Schneider became deeply interested in global climate modeling and was among the earliest scientists to express concern about the emerging threat of anthropogenic climate change. Before arriving at Stanford in 1996, Schneider had already received the MacArthur Fellow “Genius Award” for his climate research and communication efforts, founded the journal Climatic Change, served as a White House consultant under numerous administrations, and established his public presence as a global climate expert. He was later elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and served as a lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), an accomplishment for which he and other authors received the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize along with former Vice President Al Gore.
In addition to his remarkable scientific expertise and countless related awards, Dr. Schneider had a gift for science communication that set him apart from many others in his field. A clear and persuasive communicator, Schneider never shied away from the opportunity to convey complex scientific concepts to the general public and others outside of the scientific community.
Throughout his career he delivered speeches, authored books, and even testified before congress on the science of anthropogenic climate change and its associated impacts. Crucially, Dr. Schneider was fearless in the face of criticism. While he acknowledged the difficulty of communicating the risks and uncertainties of climate change to policymakers and members of the general public, Dr. Schneider relentlessly stressed the importance of competent science communication. Above all else, Dr. Schneider aimed to educate, advise, and empower people to make smarter decisions in the face of a changing climate.
Each year, to honor Dr. Schneider’s legacy of climate communication, Students for a Sustainable Stanford invites an esteemed speaker to campus to speak on an issue related to climate, environment, or sustainability. In years past, with the invaluable support of Dr Schneider’s widow Dr. Terry Root, we have hosted former Vice President Al Gore, former EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, marine biologist Sylvia Earle, urban farmer Will Allen, and the aforementioned science advisor to President Obama, John Holdren. We are now thrilled and honored to welcome Geisha Williams to our campus next week, for what will surely be yet another in a long line of truly illuminating talks.
photo credit: http://stephenschneider.stanford.edu/Symposium/SHS_symposium.html
by Becca Nelson '20
From Thursday February 2nd to Monday February 5th, eight college students from University Tecnológico de Monterrey (TEC) in Mexico visited Stanford. The students were part of an innovative sustainability club called Programa Estudiantil de Sostenibilidad (PES), whose mission is similar to that of SSS. SSS and PES participated in a weekend of collaborative events focusing on how to affect sustainable change on college campuses and building a foundation for future teamwork.
The visiting students along with members of SSS went on a tour of SESI, Stanford’s cutting-edge energy facility. Many PES students are studying engineering and enjoyed learning about the design elements of SESI. SSS and PES also toured together Stanford’s educational farm and Y2E2, an energy efficient building on campus. We engaged in a discussion about global alternative energy policy and implementation at a faculty panel at the Woods Institute for the Environment with Professor Craig Criddle and Professor Mark Jacobson. Professor Criddle is an environmental engineer who specializes in using microbes to remediate contamination, and Professor Jacobson has developed a global plan for renewable energy solutions.
Later at a Sustainability Salon dinner hosted by Roble Sustainability Leader Songhee Han, we discussed in collaboration with the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford how to inspire people to make more sustainable choices. We found common ground in the challenges we face in terms of getting people on campus to care about sustainability. During the dinner, I was moved by the stories of the students from PES, who were able to spark action about sustainability through leading by example. As the evening progressed, we delved into the future of environmental policy in the United States and Mexico and how it related back to our current collaboration.
Along with the students, TEC faculty member Diana Guzmán Barraza visited Stanford. She is an innovator in sustainable energy design and implementation, receiving a Leadership Award from former President of Mexico Vicente Fox, the Friendship Award from United Nations (UNFCCC), the High-Achievement Award from Santander, and full academic excellence scholarships. Diana Guzmán Barraza has a wealth of experience as a climate activist from serving as a delegate in the United Nations to collaborating with NGOs, such as: Climate Reality Project, Citizen Climate Lobby, and the Citizen Observatory of the Air Quality of Monterrey. She appeared on Al Gore´s international live transmission 24 hours of Reality. She shared with us her experiences in affecting sustainable change in implementing energy efficient policies on college campuses.
Together, SSS and PES hiked through the ancient redwoods at Big Basin State park and discussed what we could learn from each other. After a series of collaborative discussions, we signed an agreement as organizations to engage in long-term collaboration, share best practices, and engage in ongoing communication regarding our initiatives. I would like to extend a warm thank you to our visitors from TEC and look forward to future collaboration.
by Chris LeBoa '19
“Hey Mrs. Grant” I call out and wave to the always smiling matriarch of the East Palo Alto Senior Center.
“Hey honey” she responds while pushing an empty cart in front of her. “Just pull your car right in there. I have called some of my homeless friends and the people from Project WeHope to come by and get some food too”. We unload the boxes of produce, frozen chicken, loaves of bread and pasta from the car together, and she comments on almost every item that emerges from the trunk. “Oh the seniors are going to love this” she exclaims while holding up a box of leftover pastries from Meyer dorm’s ski trip. “Oh my friend Olga can take these to the people who live in an RV” Ms. Grant points to a box of apples and oranges left over from Arroyo’s trip. It is a process that has almost become routine as we try to redistribute Stanford’s excess to those in need locally.
At Stanford we have the luxury of food any hour of the day or night. Our student ID cards give us access to dining halls and cafes that greet us every day with platters and trays piled high with salmon, chicken, roasted vegetables, etc.
So many in the community around Stanford do not have the same privilege of having food on their tables or knowing where their next meal is coming from. The housing crisis in the Bay Area has forced many to make the hard choice of feeding their families, paying the rent, or paying for medical bills. Today over 1/3rd of school-aged children in East Palo Alto are homeless, according to a report by the Guardian.
Some at Stanford have have been working for many years to redistribute our leftovers to those in need. The Residential and Dining Services allow volunteers from Peninsula Food Runners to pick up leftovers from some dining halls weekly. Volunteers from the student group Stanford Project on Hunger (SPOON) collect forty to sixty pounds of food daily from Russo Café and the Faculty Club. The volunteers freeze the food and work with Ecumenical Hunger Program to get the food to their distribution centers.
Stanford Project on Hunger has also been working with Students for a Sustainable Stanford to collect leftover food from the row house kitchens at the end of each quarter, ski trip leftovers, athletic events, other catered events on campus.
While we try to do all that we can to redistribute food from campus to local communities we need more administrative support and action on this issue. A recent positive action is that a local nonprofit has offered us a refrigerated truck for our food collection purposes. However we are still plagued by challenges.
First, food rescue is labor intensive and we do not have enough volunteers or time to handle this almost full time job. I believe that Stanford should create a new full time position, an employee who would oversee the logistics of collecting from all dining halls, cafes, athletic concession stands, and large catered events.
Secondly, we lack the timely support of ASSU. When our freezers stopped holding temperature last quarter and we requested access to our reserve funds to purchase new freezers, they took more than a month to approve our request and have still not transferred the funds despite multiple visits and emails. This has prevented us from collecting any food from Russo Café and the Faculty Club because we do not have the appropriate storage to safely store the food until EHP volunteers can pick it up.
Lastly, if your dorm is going on a ski trip this weekend and you would like to donate the leftovers, or if you would like to get more involved please email me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Andrea Contreras, '19
My relationship with my period began like a pretty average one. I started out with big heavy pads that made me feel uncomfortable, and when I was about 13 or 14 my mom showed me what a tampon was, and I thought my life had been simplified forever. I thought this was the most convenient, comfortable way for me to deal with my time of the month out of all the options available. But then I started spending a lot of time living and working on boats and with scuba diving, and getting my period was the biggest pain imaginable. It slowed me down from what I wanted to do, and I was constantly paranoid about it. Thoughts of toxic shock syndrome would litter my mind, I would have to be running in and out of random bathrooms to change, and I always thought it would leak. And then someone I was working on a boat with showed me what a menstrual cup was, and my life was changed forever.
In the last year SSS has made several efforts to make menstrual cups available to students through an initiative we did with SHPRC, and we have had a few events were we have had conversations about these different options. Last April there was a great blog post talking about menstrual cups and their many environmental and economic benefits the switch can bring, as well as the easy access to these on campus! In this post I want to talk about a few of the more sustainable options available, and how some of these have worked for me. Depending on where you grew up or what your personal beliefs and ideas are you will feel differently, but here is one person’s experience with the surprisingly interesting world of a more eco-friendly period.
So back to when my life changed. I first used a menstrual cup in the summer before my Senior year of high school, right before living on a sailboat for 8 weeks. It could have been just two cycles, but when it comes to these things the world tends to hate me, and I had to prepare for three. I ordered it a few months ahead, and tried it out to see how it would work. For those of you who don’t know, a menstrual cup is a silicon wine glass shaped object that is inserted similar to how a tampon would be. It sits on your cervix, and collects blood. Honestly, the first month or two were pretty scary, learning to use something new that not a lot of people are willing to talk about was an experience that took a lot of trial and error. But eventually you get past the kinks, and it works great. I was able to focus on my work and spending time underwater, because once I figured it out my cup was comfortable, I could barely feel it, it only had to be changed every 10-12 hours, it didn’t leak, and it had a much lower risk of toxic shock syndrome. A little over 2 years later I swear by these, and the best part is it keeps hundreds of pounds of trash off the landfills, saves me money, and I don't have to worry about changing it for a year or two. It’s important to listen to the cleaning and maintenance directions of what you choose, but a really great alternative for me.
Menstrual cups aren’t the ideal alternative for everyone though, just because it worked for me, doesn’t mean it works for someone else. Another product I use regularly during my menstrual cycle are period underwear. These look and feel almost like real underwear, but they are absorbent, and all you need to wear. The most popular brand of these, and the only one I know about are THINX period underwear, and they have sizes and styles available for all menstruators. Different styles hold different amounts, they have products for the heaviest and the lightest days. I really like these, and have never had an issue with them leaking. They never quite feel soaked either, it’s a little weird, but they work. Another similar product are reusable pads, which are exactly what they sound like, pads you are able to wash and reuse over and over. The shape is like a normal pad, and they are changed a few times a day, but instead of sticking like a sticker they have buttons and clasps that help them stay in place. A huge benefit of these is that it avoids the use of cotton that was grown with heavy used of pesticides, over time is less money, and greatly decreases waste produced. If you are not feeling quite this adventurous but still want to reduce your environmental impact, good options are to buy organic pads and tampons and opt for paper, or reusable applicators.
Periods are such a common and natural thing, that have large social, economic, and environmental effects worldwide. A choice that billions of people make every month should have all the options layed out, because it can provide great benefits for individuals, and decrease a lot of harm to our planet.
by Becca Nelson '20
My hands smeared with soil, I bend down and scatter handfuls of seeds over the barren earth. Gold light streams through the oaks on the path around Lake Lagunita. I pat a thin layer of soil over the seeds to protect them. Several other people from my dorm, Roble, help out. As we laugh and talk, I start raking another patch of soil. The air tastes of wet clay and dried leaves. We spread another layer of seeds as the distant foothills flush a deep purple. The seeds float downward as small brown wisps, as thin and fragile as silk. Yet given soft rain and luck and patience, some of these seeds will grow into a vibrant mix of native wildflowers and grasses.These plants will help improve Lake Lag’s biodiversity and provide an important nectar source for declining pollinators such as bees and butterflies. The seed planting is part of my project as a Roble Sustainability Leader, working in collaboration with Stanford Conversation. I am seeking to foster interconnection between the people living in Roble and its surrounding ecosystem.
2018 marks the 100th anniversary of Roble Hall, Stanford’s largest four class dorm. With its Beaux-Arts columns and gothic tendrils of ivy, Roble stands out as one of the most iconic dorms on campus. With its ornate carvings and narrow balconies, Roble endures as a symbol of Stanford’s history. Beyond its old-fashioned facade, Roble has become the locus of an innovative sustainability initiative that is addressing the social and environmental challenges of the 21st century. Roble Resident Fellows Jeff Ball and Becky Bull spearheaded the creation of the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford (ROLLSS). According to its mission statement, “ROLLSS seeks to help students prioritize actions that are likely to make a meaningful environmental difference.” Another major goal of the program is to cost-effectively retrofit the old and inefficient Roble into a resource and energy efficient building, a challenge that can serve as a model for other buildings in the Stanford community and beyond.
As one of several Roble Sustainability Leaders (RSLs), I help catalyze discussion and action about sustainability. The other RSLs and I are engaged in a variety of projects that seek to encourage sustainability in three main ways: (1) by improving the efficiency of Roble’s building and its relationship with the surrounding ecosystem (2) by encouraging people living in the dorm to modify the environmental impact of their lifestyle and (3) by reaching out to communities beyond Roble and Stanford to encourage dialogue and policy change. I have been really inspired by the passion and ideas of the other RSLs as well as Roble’s Graduate Sustainability Fellow. Their projects include efforts to encourage composting and decrease waste in the dorm, developing an innovative MakerSpace in Roble where people can create and build cool things, and hosting informal discussions about sustainability through dinner and movie events. Roble also holds a series of Hard Earth talks in which graduate student speakers discuss their research and perspectives on a wide range of issues from the economic feasibility of renewable energy to environmental justice.
After returning to campus from winter break, I go for a run around Lake Lag. The jogging path glistens with dampness from recent rains. As I run through the fog, I pass the area along the path where we planted our seeds. Small green sprouts poke out of the soil, less than an inch high. Sustainable changes in resource use, lifestyle, and land stewardship don’t occur overnight but grow slowly like seeds gradually thrusting their way toward the light. An ethical relationship with the places and ecosystems we live in evolves with community action and dialogue. The ultimate innovation of the Roble Living Laboratory for Sustainability at Stanford is its ability to foster a community of people open to tough conversations and new ideas.
by Andrea Contreras, '19
It’s dead week (the week before finals). You feel dead inside. But coffee helps.
To help you get through the week, here is a semi-comprehensive guide on how to drink coffee a little more sustainably. From the dining hall coffee drinker to the one whose name is known by most Coupa staff, hope you enjoy!
Why am I taking your time: From its production to its disposal coffee has an enormous environmental and social impact. It involves clearing forests across the equator, heavy pesticide use, increased erosion of landscapes, unjust pay and working conditions for farmers, and a lot of waste (400 million cups a day in the US alone!). If you are at all like me, and survive off of 4-5 shots of espresso a day, here are some tips to decrease your impact, and still be able to function as a human. Although I do drink a lot of coffee, and try make my way around different spots on campus, this is by no means a complete guide, feel free to share your experiences and tips! Making conscious decisions on an almost daily drink for people around the world can have a huge positive impact for countless individuals.
If you make coffee in your room: Those plastic pods are evil. You know the ones I’m talking about. The single serve contraption may seem convenient, but usually ends up getting pretty pricey, and will sit tidy in a landfill long after your time here. There is good news! They make refillable pods, that are pretty easy to find online, so you can keep your machine, save money making coffee, and be a little less trashy. If you are looking to get your own coffee making machine, opt for some other great alternatives like a french press, or use a (compostable!) filter to make your coffee. When getting coffee beans try to go for some that are local, fair trade, or have less packaging. This makes sure that less carbon dioxide was emitted at transport, that farmers got a greater share of the final profit and were more fairly compensated for their hard work, or that less trash will be produced. There are lots of places a walk or short bike ride away that offer these. Some include Coupa, Blue Bottle, Whole Foods, and Trader Joe’s. You can also opt for reusables, like bamboo or metal cutlery for stirring, and mugs/cups of your own.
If you drink it at a dining hall: This solution is simple! Dining halls around campus tend to be mindful when sourcing the food we are served around campus. If you are super inspired by this post, feel free to send them an email, and ask about where they source their coffee. Not happy? Lot’s of companies around the world are taking steps to improve how this works, look some up at suggest your dining hall or house supply these instead. Another step you can take? Use a reusable mug! While many dining halls do have compostable cups for warm beverages, this is still a product that required intensive energy use and resource extraction that will only be used for a short amount of time. Use they ones they provide, or if you are feeling adventurous, bring one from your own collection!
If you buy coffee from a coffee shop: This is at least a few hundred of you, because I have seen the line outside of Philz. One of the best things to do is bring your own mug! There are tons of designs for these in all colors, levels of leak-proofing, patterns, and temperatures available (not really the iced-coffee season, but you do you). This is super easy to do, just ask the barista if they can use your cup instead, and in many places you can even get a discount! I have personally benefited from these discounts at Starbucks, Coupa, and the campus bookstore, but there may be other locations around campus that do this! Places like CoHo and Coupa will also serve your coffee in ceramic mugs if you ask them to, so if you are deathly afraid of washing dishes this can be a great option for you. CoHo also has some pretty cool christmas mugs that are right in season, and I personally think ceramic mugs just look really cool. Asking places who do not offer reusable mugs if they would be willing to supply this can also make positive change, you have a lot of power as a consumer. Another important thing is to ask your coffee shop where they source their coffee, but there are several places around campus that provide fair-trade and shade grown coffee, which help lower their social and environmental impacts.
Hope these tips helped, and that you will make more conscious decisions while trying to stay awake for one of the worst weeks of the year!
by Sierra Garcia, '18
In less than seven months, thousands of students will move off campus in a mass migration to summer jobs and internships, or in the case of the senior class, to their post-grad lives. Over the course of a just few days, these same students will also condemn tens of thousands of pounds of furniture items to the landfill. Couches, mini-fridges, cushy chairs, futons, mattresses, printers, and microwaves will pile up by the hundreds along the Row and other residential hubs—and many of these items will still be entirely functional, or even in great condition.
SSS and the First-Generation/Low Income Partnership (FLIP) teamed up last year to repurpose the better quality furniture items to incoming freshmen. Our efforts served the dual purpose of keeping over 4000 pounds of ‘waste’ out of the landfill, and providing fifty freshmen with free furniture and other dorm supplies at the beginning of this academic year. The event that we named the FLI (First-Generation/Low Income) Drive will be an annual event and is in the process of garnering official administrative support.
Yet the necessity for the event in the first place speaks to a larger cultural apathy, an overlooked but dangerous obliviousness to the impact of our waste. To be sure, most people would try and sell their furniture or mini-fridge online before resorting to the dumpster, but once the offending item is out of sight it is largely out of mind. Nobody claims to be a proponent of waste, yet the fact that our used items must end up somewhere, and be dealt with by someone, is often ignored for the sake of convenience.
There are several implications of a useable item being thrown ‘away’, or left out on the curb. The item must be transported to a landfill, where it can take up space for centuries depending on the material (in other locations the trash might be incinerated, but burning trash isn’t as in vogue in the US). The disposal also implies that a new version of that item will be made to replace it, in some other part of the world, with other laborers and resources. And for certain things, like fridges or batteries, components like coolant need to be extracted first so they don’t contaminate the air or soil.
An especially salient example for Silicon Valley is electronics waste. Electronics like old laptops contain small quantities of toxic substances, that can contaminate water and soils when concentrated together in a landfill area. The health risks resulting from proximity to electronic waste sites when not disposed of properly are severe (see here for a detailed account of this issue, and how African countries like Nigeria bear the brunt of the human toll for Western electronics consumption.) Outsourcing the disposal of waste to poorer countries is a clear-cut and egregious environmental justice issue. Solving these problems will require fundamental and lasting shifts in how we think about and value stuff--any of the countless things that we use, consume, and toss each day. Most importantly, these impacts cannot be disparate, but must be part of a larger collective shift towards new norms.
Changing behaviors and attitudes is an extreme challenge. Yet I believe that confronting this challenge will be increasingly important in the twenty first century, regardless of technological progress. At Stanford we can design ingenious apps and program away diseases, but I challenge us as a community to shift towards personally enacting the mundane solutions hiding in plain sight.
Rethinking the waste we make can mean making the effort to donate food instead of throwing it out*, ensuring that your mini-fridge goes to a person who can use it instead of the dumpster at the end of the year, or even something as simple as buying compostable cups instead of red solo cups** for your next party. Perhaps in this way, we can individually and collectively work for a cultural shift towards intentionality, and away from who we are now: a society that wastes 40% of its food and deposits, on average, over 2000 pounds of trash per person each year.
It won’t be easy.
*(If you’re interested in this, please consider volunteering with the Stanford Project on Hunger (SPOON) to help redirect hundreds of pounds of food to local people in need each week)
**(Red solo cups are NOT recyclable, compostable, or anything other than landfill-able at Stanford. This is true in many places, including most of the US.)
Environmental Justice Impact
by Charlie Jiang
I’m a 2015-2016 Co-Director of SSS and a current U.S. youth delegate to the United Nations climate conference, COP23, with SustainUS. On Monday, the Trump Administration tried to promote coal as a solution to climate change in their only public event here in Bonn, Germany.
Here’s why we shut it down.
We will likely remember 2017 as the year climate change truly reared its ugly head, far sooner than I imagined. Millions in Puerto Rico are still without power, more than 50 days after Hurricane Maria devastated the island. Vulnerable communities from Houston to the Virgin Islands have all suffered from storms made stronger by warming temperatures.
Yet still, global pledges to reduce emissions to tackle climate change remain woefully inadequate. So-called “Nationally Determined Contributions” under the Paris Agreement are projected to take us beyond 3°C of warming — far exceeding the 1.5°C target vulnerable island nations need to survive. The United States’ contribution in particular falls far short of our obligations given the vast resources at our disposal, not to mention our historical contributions to the climate crisis. The inadequacy of our response to climate disaster was evident even before Trump came to power. Now, by seeking to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the Trump administration has made clear its complete disregard for the lives of everyday people.
These are the global stakes I carried as I arrived in Germany for COP23—the first UN climate conference under President Trump. Our SustainUS delegation arrived to mobilize, to further isolate Trump and demonstrate that millions of Americans and people around the world are moving ahead.
The day I arrived in Germany, The New York Times published a blockbuster: “Trump Team to Promote Fossil Fuels and Nuclear Power at Bonn Climate Talks.” The headline said enough: we knew this was our moment. We know that coal is no solution to climate change. There is no place for a dirty energy source that kills thousands each year through air pollution, poisoned water, and climate disaster.
So over a week, we planned. We reached out to partners, from Indigenous organizers and students from the U.S., to youth delegations from Brazil, the U.K., New Zealand, and other countries spanning the globe. We developed contingencies for every possible way our action could go wrong. We wrote a song.
On Monday, hundreds of people lined up to get inside the event. It seemed every reporter in the conference had eyes and cameras trained on this moment. The stakes for us had never been higher. Our outreach paid off with huge dividends: 150 allies managed to fill 70 percent of the room, while 250 more massed outside the doors. As the panel got underway, we could hear our friends outside chanting: “Climate Justice Now!” Twenty minutes in, as the fossil fuel lobbyist headlining the White House’s event extolled the virtues of coal as an energy source, we started to sing.
“So you claim to be an American / but we see right through your greed. / It’s killing all around the world / for that coal money. / So we proudly stand up / until you keep it in the ground. / We the people of the world unite / And we are here to stay.”
With hands on hearts, we sang for the humanity and futures of millions of people whose lives the fossil fuel industry is threatening. We sang to the tune of “God Bless the USA” because we know we represent the true values of the United States. After all, seven in 10 Americans want the U.S. to stay in the Paris Agreement. After 10 minutes we walked out of the room, leaving the coal lobbyists talking to themselves while we staged a People’s Panel in the hallway outside. At the People’s Panel, hundreds cheered to the powerful stories of Indigenous leaders, young organizers, and Pacific Climate Warriors who embodied the beautiful world for which we fight.
Our disruption was not a one-time action, but rather the latest powerful moment in a years-long effort to build the power we need to safeguard our futures. The fossil fuel industry has a stranglehold on our politics. For decades, they have spent millions to stymie efforts to combat climate change, and now an ExxonMobil CEO runs the U.S. State Department. At the same time, we’ve seen incredible leadership from communities at the forefront of this crisis, from the fight to stop the Dakota Access pipeline, to the powerful and ongoing battle against Chevron’s oil refinery in Richmond, to SSS’s own work to leverage Stanford’s resources to address the Bay Area’s housing crisis with the SCoPE coalition.
This past year has taught me we cannot realize our vision of a just and sustainable future without simultaneously organizing for thriving communities and political victories. It’s time we build a stronger, smarter movement that can bridge the local and global, and that can bring together mass mobilization, community organizing, smart policy, and electoral politics into a coordinated effort to stabilize our climate and achieve a just transition to a clean future.
As SSS Co-Director in 2015-2016, I worked to help us recognize our role, as Stanford students, in building better lives for struggling families across the Bay Area — and the world. At this historic crossroads, our responsibility as a Stanford community is greater than ever. I hope the bravery and dignity hundreds of delegates displayed by taking action here in Bonn on Monday inspires thousands more to do the same back home. For as we sang to the fossil fuel lobbyists that seek to bring us down: We the people of the world unite, and we are here to stay.
by Jazzy Kerber '20
Today is Election Day, so let’s talk environmental policy. What comes to mind when you hear the phrase “environmental policy”? Al Gore? The EPA? Regulations? Democrats? Maybe you don’t think of these particular words, but there’s a good chance that if you live in the United States, you associate environmentalism with the political Left.
Why? Why can’t we accept that no matter how we cast our votes, we all share a planet? Why can’t we trust climate scientists and see that data doesn’t lie? Perhaps we’re asking the wrong questions.
First of all, although 7.6 billion of us “share” the Earth, we don’t all share the same ideas about what nature means, we don’t all experience the same weather patterns, and we don’t all have the same viewpoints and values. Someone living on the beach and someone residing in a city center, a devoutly religious person and an atheist, a financial advisor and a scuba diver will likely perceive the world and its most pressing issues very differently from each other.
That’s not to say I believe every opinion is justified, but one or more sides may have been misled—or even deliberately deceived. And sometimes, data does lie. It’s possible to misuse the scientific method. In this next section, I’m going to draw on some ideas from Merchants of Doubt, a 2010 book by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway. This is not a book review and I don’t intend to endorse or summarize all of Oreskes and Conway’s ideas, but they provide some great food for thought.
Oreskes and Conway, both academic historians, begin their story with a small group of scientists and an organization called the George C. Marshall Institute. Several physicists including Frederick Seitz, Robert Jastrow, and William Nierenberg initially established the George C. Marshall Institute in 1984 to defend Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative against pushback from other groups including the Union of Concerned Scientists. Perhaps fueled in part by this early work, they feared communism and socialism. They also honed their skills in arguing against other scientists and asking TV stations to invite them to debates.
Even before founding the George C. Marshall Institute, Seitz had practiced using his brand of contrarian science to support the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company. When scientists first began uncovering links between cigarette smoking and cancer in the 1950s, the industry panicked and sought research that could produce counter-evidence. Of course, Frederick Seitz was a physicist without experience working on health issues, but he had a PhD and for the industry, that would be enough. The tobacco industry’s paid scientists didn’t need to objectively analyze the smoking-cancer link, anyway. “Doubt is our product,” a tobacco executive himself wrote in a 1969 company memo. The longer people weren’t sure smoking caused cancer, the longer cigarette companies could be certain they’d enjoy high sales. As a result, cigarette companies paid researchers to produce studies demonstrating how many other factors besides cigarettes might cause cancer and obsessing over small degrees of statistical uncertainty in reports from the anti-smoking side.
With a solid background in manufactured doubt, Frederick Seitz and others went on to use the same uncertainty tactics they’d relied on during the fight for tobacco to publish papers questioning whether people could trust climate change data. Again, the papers’ authors had been trained in completely different fields from environmental science, but they had PhD’s and funding. And like tobacco companies, oil companies had plenty of money and a product many people were reluctant to give up. Doubt would be enough.
Types of climate change doubt vary, ranging from “Have temperatures really risen?” to “Would it be that bad if the Earth got warmer?” to “Sure, the Earth is getting warmer, but are humans causing the change?” Sometimes, people who do believe human actions cause global warming also ask whether the costs of environmental regulations could outweigh their benefits. Perhaps part of the struggle to convince voters to support environmentally friendly policies lies in the fact that some people aren’t sure whether the planet is warming at all while others voting for the same candidate are merely skeptical of regulations in general.
The Republican Change of Heart
Republican candidates who prioritize climate action may be having an increasingly hard time. It was actually a Republican president, Richard Nixon, who established the EPA in 1970. Under our current Republican administration, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt doubts that carbon dioxide contributes to global warming and sued the EPA at least fourteen times before assuming his current post as the head of the agency. Essentially, he’s an anti-EPA EPA Administrator. What happened over the past forty-seven years to cause this change?
Merchants of Doubt came out in 2010, well before anyone could foresee where American environmental policy would be headed today, but Pruitt appears to deny climate change using similar logic to that which Oreskes and Conway describe. He says we need to “continue to debate” how humans affect the environment because “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do and there's tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact.” Pruitt has close ties to oil and gas executives, so his “doubt” can help their businesses.
In 2008, Democrat Nancy Pelosi and Republican Newt Gingrich sat side-by-side and made a commercial stating that we (presumably Democrats and Republicans) can solve climate change together. In 2011, however, Gingrich called the ad “probably the dumbest single thing I’ve done in recent years” and told reporters he doesn’t know whether global warming is really happening, partly because the Earth’s temperatures have always varied from year to year. He too turned to doubt. I’m not 100% sure why Gingrich changed his stance, but perhaps it was to win more Republican votes.
It’s hard to sell environmentalism to a broad Republican audience. For instance, Bob Inglis served as U.S. Representative for South Carolina’s 4th district, a distinctly conservative region, from 1993 to 1999 and from 2005 to 2011. He lost the 2010 race after reversing his position on climate change when scientists he talked to convinced him he’d been wrong to deny warming. When Inglis accepted evidence for climate change and advocated for a carbon tax, he became an unelectable Republican in his district. Inglis feels Republicans are hesitant to change their lifestyles. He probably makes a good point, but other dynamics are at work as well.
Capitalism vs. “The Watermelons”
Some conservatives worry that American environmentalists want to shift the country toward socialism. That might sound crazy if you haven’t heard it before, but it’s well-documented. Fearful conservatives have called environmentalists “watermelons”—green on the outside, but red on the inside. And we should remember that producers of climate change denial material like the George C. Marshall institute specifically feared communism.
The United States has no major history of socialism aside from a few figures like Eugene V. Debs and Bernie Sanders, neither of whom won their presidential races in the end. I say this just to suggest that we take our capitalist history into account when thinking about environmental policy. Strategies that work in Denmark may not work in the United States. This might mean focusing on health in America—a less divisive issue than values or even temperature change—when advocating for sufficient environmental regulations. After all, health concerns convinced a Republican administration to found the EPA in the first place.
We can also emphasize the economic reasoning behind environmental policy. Logical economists do not oppose all regulations. My current econ professor, John Taylor, has worked for the previous four Republican administrations and talks to us about how cap-and-trade policies reduce carbon emissions via efficient bargaining. Other economists recommend carbon taxes, which also generate government revenue. Given this type of reasoning, Scott Pruitt’s general stance against environmental regulations is illogical.
Countries with communist vs. democratic socialist vs. more purely capitalist backgrounds shouldn’t need different environmental regulations (after all, air and water work the same everywhere). Still, the way to enact regulations will have to vary in countries with different political histories. I personally believe the end result—improving people’s health and preserving the Earth for future generations—is most important.
At the beginning, I noted that environmental issues can be inherently political. When voters feel the influence of a policy, whether that’s in terms of tax rate or health risks, we’re bound to see people take sides. Still, when it comes to environmental issues, I believe we need first and foremost to reduce pollution. We need to try to make climate issues less polarizing because the United States has a two-party political system, and the majority must agree (or at least compromise) in order to achieving lasting change.
This is no easy task. Not only does the environmental opposition have money and “science,” but the American political climate does not prime our country to embrace regulations. But ultimately, if our policies help give everyone a cleaner, safer place to live, it won’t matter much who did or didn’t embrace “environmentalism” as a movement.
Welcome to our blog!
This is a forum for students to share their writing on intersectional environmental topics, curated by Students for a Sustainable Stanford. Writers of all backgrounds, abilities, and perspectives are welcome.