Archive for the ‘Getting Your Green Degree’ Category

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Getting Your Green Degree: Evaluating Sources

January 17, 2008

After getting a comments about EarthLab (thanks Alex) and questions about other carbon calculators I realized it’s sometimes difficult to evaluate the legitimacy of the sustainable “facts” you see online.  Whenever I visit a website for research purposes (for this blog or my own knowledge) here’s what I look for:

Google Rank- If it’s the first or second result on your google search then it’s a very popular site and that can typically attest to a website’s legitimacy.  However, this also can give very commercialized sites so google rank should never be your sole indicator.

Page Design- Nearly every website of worth can afford to have decent to good typography, graphics, and general layout.  The exception to this is the government, but they have their own credibility.

Sponsoring Organization- This is a big one.  Personally I favor using U.S. governmental organizations websites for information, especially the USGS and DOE.  While conspiracy theorists may disagree, there is a rigor and standard to the research presented on these sites, and usually the information is extensive.  Otherwise your next best bet is probably a non-profit organization.  Since they’re not trying to make money off you, the only thing they’re selling is their ideals.  Look for broader or nationally known affiliations when evaluating the reliability of a non-profit’s information.  The USGBC is probably more reliable than John Doe’s Corncob Building Association.

Bias- Once I get past the above three, I start really looking at the information/advice a site is presenting.  Usually every site has some bias, but does that bias affect the truthfulness of their information?  A bit of reading and critical thinking can differentiate between a passionate but scientific source and extremists who would say anything to prove their point.

Is there anything else that you look for when determining the validity of a site?  Next post I’ll focus on just carbon calculators and where to go for reliable estimates.

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Getting Your Green Degree: Contacting Representatives

December 20, 2007

Every few months I get word of some bill sifting around the House, Senate, or my local legislature that piques my interest. Most recently it was the energy bill that is raising the average mpg standard to 35 from 25 but isn’t fulfilling its original potential (courtesy of The Sietch). Although I care deeply about these issues, I find it’s difficult to carry that momentum into actually writing or emailing my representative. This is something I think is common in our busy culture, especially within my demographic which is historically less politically active.

So here’s the skinny on letting the people in charge know what you (their boss) want them to do, and how to make it easy.

Step 1- Know your representatives. Assuming you’re from one of the 50 states (and not a territory) you are represented by 2 senators and 1 congressperson at the national level. You should know their names (although even I had to look mine up). Find your congressperson via this official House website. You need your 9-digit zip code. Here’s the Senate version.

Step 2- Know your issue. Be able to address a bill in Congress by it’s name (HR__ or S__) and think about at least one reason why you support/oppose it. You can find the bills from the current Congress here.

Step 3- Write your letter. Keep it brief and to the point. Be respectful to your representative by addressing them appropriately (The Honorable ____ usually works). By simply stating your opinion on the issue and your one or two reasons for that opinion you save both your time and the representative’s. They care what you think, but don’t have time for rambling or venting. If you want to discuss more than one issue, write more than one letter. CongressLink has some great tips for both letter writing and calling.

Step 4- Send your letter. If you’re emailing, push “send.” If you’re going with snail mail, lick and envelope and drop it in the mailbox. Shouldn’t need more instruction than that.

In truth, this can all be done in 15 minutes or less. Really. Don’t stress over the wording of your letter, just make it clear and concise. You’re writing to the office aide, not preparing an inauguration speech. The hard part is actually motivating yourself to do it. So next time something in Congress really riles you up, write them. It’ll take less time than the commercial breaks for Mythbusters.

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Getting Your Green Degree: 8 Tips for Thanksgiving Break

November 8, 2007

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Getting Your Green Degree is a new series aimed at helping college students make their 4 (or 5!) years of learning more sustainable. During my past 4 years at a large public university near the Appalacian Mountains, I’ve seen horrible abuses of energy and the environment, but also many instances of activism and community stewardship.

Thanksgiving break is nearly here, and whether it’s your first trip back home or just another break from classes; between travel, family, friends, and that paper you’ve putting off, it seems as if you’ll need another break just to get over the first one. Thankfully, (pun!) there are a few ways you can reduce this stress both on yourself and the environment.

Consider leaving the car at school. Especially if you are only going to be home for a few days, try using alternative transportation. If you’re deciding between bus, train, or plane, the difference in carbon emissions can be astonishing. My state even offers a special student bus service that runs direct from public universities to the major metropolitan areas. If public transportation doesn’t fit, try your school’s “rideboard”, usually located in the student center. For just the cost of gas you can catch a ride with another student going your way, but as with responding to any community posting, be safe. Alternative transportation saves gas, reduces traffic, eliminates the chances of a speeding ticket, and perhaps most importantly: you can sleep on the way! This last one is what I’m looking forward to as I take both a 7 hr bus ride and a 5 1/2 hr train over my break.

If you must drive, take a passenger. This is the complementary part of the rideboard system. If you’re driving home, post your destination, departure time, and any major highways used on your school’s rideboard. Not only do you get some company for the journey and reduce your per capita carbon emissions, but you can usually charge at least 50% of the gas money. If you really trust the person, let them drive part way and catch some ZZZs. Don’t let your destination limit the people you can give rides to, oftentimes my passengers lived along my route or their parents were willing to meet me at a highway exit in order to save them hours of driving. Overall I probably saved $30-40 a trip by giving rides. Again, be safe! Facebook is a great way to check someone out before giving them a ride, but if they seem suspicious, don’t feel guilty about telling them to look elsewhere.

Power down before you leave. Take the time to unplug electronics and small appliances so they don’t phantom drain while you’re gone. Turn down your thermostat if you have one. Consider defrosting your mini fridge if there is nothing perishable in it.

Eat Sustainably. We all try to eat as much as possible before returning to campus food. But make wise choices in your indulgences, environmentally-friendly food is usually better for both your stomach and your waistline. Lay off the overly processed foods and stick to the classics; the Pilgrims learned the hard way how to be sustainable. If you have a say in the grocery shopping, this is a great chance to try out the 100-mile diet.

Again, if you simply must drive, check your car before you leave. Keep your car in proper working order and you’ll get the best gas mileage. You’ll also reduce the chances of a automotive mishap that can take a perfectly good holiday and turn it into a nightmare. Check your tire pressure and fill the tires if necessary. You can find the recommended range on the tire. See if your air and fuel filters are clean, and get an oil change if it’s been longer than 3,000 or so miles. Top off your windshield wiper fluid in case of inclement weather. Not only will this lessen the impact of this trip, but it give your car a longer useful life and keep it out of the junkyard!

Secure your belongings while you’re gone. Thieves know a campus empties for Thanksgiving, so lock your doors and take anything truly valuable with you. We’ll assume you’re more of an environmental steward than they are.

Take your sustainable habits home. Has college been your first brush with a recycling bin? Show Mom&Dad what you learned! (Leave out the part about it being filled with beer cans). Toss empty cans and plastics from home in a bag in the garage, then before you return to school drop them off at your local recycling center. You can usually find online where the nearest one is located. The key is to drop them off yourself, even if you bring a parent along for the ride. It can be a nice brief bonding experience and maybe you’ll even inspire them to start recycling on their own!

Again Again, if you MUST drive, don’t speed! According to the EPA, a vehicle loses about 1% in fuel economy for every mile driven above 55 mph (found here). It sucks to not be able to brag about beating your personal best driving time, but so do speeding tickets.

Got more tips? Add them!