An Introduction

Hello and welcome to The Green Room, a show which is broadcast biweekly from WESU Middletown 88.1 FM, Wesleyan University's community radio project. The show is written and produced by me, Sam Bernhardt, a student at Wesleyan. The show's first season was based around a collaborative project between WESU and Professor Suzanne O'Connell, of the Wesleyan Earth and Environmental Science department, in which students of Professor O'Connell's Environmental Justice class created their own radio segments, which were aired as part of the show and which you can find on the show's iTune's U page.

However, this is only the start. For our next season, starting in September, I hope to expand this collaboration between WESU and Wesleyan's classes even further, giving the microphone to a whole range of classes in Wesleyan's newly created Environmental Studies department.

This blog is partly to provide another venue for listening to the show (in addition to itunes U and live streaming from and, of course, traditional listening on 88.1 FM if you are in the middle-northern connecticut area). More generally, it acts as another medium for communicating information, especially as a way to keep up with the environmental newsing while I am away from WESU for the summer.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

MTR Senate Hearing

I always get these emails from various environmental organizations advertising an action or legal event, but they're always too far away. Last week, I got an email from discussing a senate hearing on mountain top removal. As I am currently working only about an hour away from DC, I decided to take the opportunity to head over and check out what this hearing was about. Sadly, it turns out the commute takes one hour when there are no other cars on the road, which was not the case at 3 PM on Thursday.

However, from what I gathered after the fact, the hearing went very well for those who are trying to stop mountain top removal. Those testifying provided moving accounts of why these horrible practices should be ended. Most pro-coal activists showed up too late to even get into the room.

My camera was recently stolen (probably by evil pro-coal activists). However, my newly purchased camera arrived Thursday morning, so I got to take some pictures of the hearing room after all was said and done.

Here's Senator Benjamin Cardin, chairman of the subcommittee on Water and Wildlife, where this hearing took place.
Here they were plotting to steal my camera again! Silly pro-coal activists never learn.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

What Environment?

What is the environment? This is a really important question in defining the environmental movement. How we view the environment dictates what we want to do with it.

Richard Lewontin, a biologist at Harvard, writes about the dialectical relationship between organism and environment. The distinction between these two is imaginary. In many ways, organisms make their environment, and the environment makes the organisms in it.

Phenotypic plasticity is the interaction of genes and the environment in the development of an organism. This phenomenon is most blatant in plants. A plant will adjust its body based on environmental conditions. For example, if there is a drought, a plant can grow a more developed root system. This reflexivity of the organism to its surrounding conditions can be seen across almost the entire tree of life, a situation which refutes ideas that an organisms fate lies in its genes. Genes are important, but so is the environment that the organism develops in.

Similarly, an organism creates its environment. Some organisms choose to utilize different aspects of their surroundings in different ways. Two species of caterpillar may live extremely close to each other, but if they spend their entire life cycles on different plants, they are effectively in different environments. We create our own environment without even doing anything- all animals develop a layer of warm air around their bodies, effectively shielding them from harsh external conditions.

What this means is that humans aren't alone in altering our environment, we only stand out in the extent to which we alter it. Furthermore, we are wrong when we say that we are protecting the environment. Which environment? The environment never existed, it was a figment of our imagination.

What are we protecting when we fight for the environment? Many climate change models take into account the drastic effects that temperature increases will have on life. Its true: if we continue at this pace, we will lose an enormous component of the world's biodiversity, putting what we term historic "mass extinctions" to shame.

However, we are not fighting for life. Humanity could not destroy life on earth if we tried. Life is more powerful than any human forces. Rather, what we are fighting for is life as we know it. As living creatures ourselves, humans depend on the world's ecosystems. If climate change continues uninterrupted, most of these ecosystems will collapse.

What we fight for is not life or the environment, its this life and this environment. Does this take away from our mission? I don't think so. This puts the fight on terms that implicate us as among the affected by climate change. If the rest of Earth's biodiversity disappears, we disappear to. Lief will go on without the human species. So, lets do it. Lets conserve our environment. Our future depends on it.

Monday, May 25, 2009

17 Arrested in Direct Action against Mountain Top Removal, 6 Still Held in Custody

Six activists are currently being held in police custody after trespassing the Kayford coal mine property in West Virginia. The activists locked themselves to coal mining equipment in a successful effort to temporarily shut down mountain removal operations. The bail for each of these young volunteers has been set at $2000, an unprecedented amount for such actions. Donations to the bail fund can be given at

Meanwhile, two more activists are being held for floating a sign that reads "No More Toxic Sludge" at the Massey coal sludge damn, which currently holds 8 billion tons of coal sludge, the condensed byproduct of coal purification. The damn is within miles of Marsh Fork Elementary School. The official charges against these two are trespassing and LITTERING. ON AN 8 BILLION TON COAL SLUDGE MINE. West Virginia police must have a sense of humor.

During his campaign for the Democratic nomination last May, President Obama said that "We're tearing up the Appalachian Mountains because of fossil fuels." In recent months, it looked like the new administration was making progress on this issue, calling into question dozens of new permits for mountain top coal mining. However, the Obama administration has not lived up to its promises. Reuters reported that last week, the EPA gave the green light to the army corps of engineers on 42 new Mountain Top removal sites. The EPA has defended its actions, stating that "Twenty-eight of the projects have two or fewer valley fills. Eleven have no valley fills at all. None have more than six." However, the approval of these permits ensures the destruction of more Appalachian land, and should be reversed.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

The view from Blandy

This picture captures just a fraction of the Blandy Experimental Farm, in Boyce, Virginia. I'll be here for the next ten weeks on an NSF fellowship to study the passion flower plant. Its truly a beautiful place, and there will be more pictures to come.

The Shenandoah Valley is part of the Appalachian Mountains, and I hope to be traveling south to join efforts against the coal industry, in West Virginia

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The climate bill: merrits and failures

Given that the Markey-Waxman bill making its way through congress is America's first attempt at a climate change bill, anything will be a step in the right direction. The bill calls for a 17% reduction in carbon emissions below 2005 levels by 2020, and an 83% by 2050, through a comprehensive cap-and-trade scheme.

However, there are several LARGE problems with the bill. As Breakthrough Institute reports here, companies may not have to actually reduce emissions until 2030 by using various loopholes, specifically where emissions offsets are concerned. Companies will be allowed to divert offsets internationally, and domestic offsets appear shaky. For example, one offset opportunity listed is forest conservation, which is surely important, but a stable forest actually does not act as a sink for carbon, instead is at equilibrium (it is no longer growing, so there's just as much carbon capturing photosynthesis as there is carbon producing respiration).

Also, even if the companies pull through with emissions cuts as advertised, we must look at what these numbers really mean. 17% reductions by 2020 may seem like a lot, but it all depends on what we are setting as our standard. The US was held to a 7% reduction in the Kyoto Protocol, but never signed the treaty, and instead increased carbon emissions from around 6 billion metric tons to 7 billion metric tons, or about a 16% increase. So, the Markey-Waxman bill actually puts us back where we were in 1990, which is not where we want to be.

The bill also devotes $1 billion dollars to clean coal technology, which is truly a travesty. This money should be put towards developing truly renewable technology. We may be able to pump carbon dioxide from coal-fire plants underground, but this in no way makes coal "clean." The extraction of coal, particularly through mountain top removal, is extremely toxic, contaminating local water sheds. The storage of coal ash, the product of coal plants, is also very harmful and dangerous, as we saw with the TVA earlier this year.

Now let me correct myself: this is NOT the first climate legislation to be proposed in America. Actually, we have a bunch of it already. For example, ten states have signed the Regional Greenhoues Gas Initiative, which calls for 20% reduction below 1990 levels! California has similar legislation in place, and the Midwestern Greenhoues Gas Accord has yet to come to fruition.

Is any change good? The Markey-Waxman bill seems to be a compromise between congress and industry. Such a compromise seems unnecessary when we have a president who promised action on climate change, a democrat-controlled congress and an (almost) fillibuster-proof senate. Should we be aborting our efforts here and save our legislative resources and lobbying power for a stronger bill? At the very least, I say that if this bill does pass, let us not settle. Let's keep going, and let President Obama and congress know that this is not good enough.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Green Room #7

Sounds from Wesleyan's Earth Day celebration.

Wesleyan students from Professor Suzanne O'Connell's Environmental Justice and Sustainability class discuss: Holyoke's Nuestras Raices gardens, which provide a local agricultural paradise in deep in an urban area; a look back on where the Environmental movement has come from and where it must go in the future; an interview with a representative from Rising Tide, a climate justice advocacy group.


Green Room #6

I went out to Wesleyan's Long Lane Farm, a student run agricultural initiative which has functioned as a CSA for almost five years, providing a vital link This year, the farm hopes to divert most of its produce to a local food pantry. We'll also hear excerpts from a lecture on mountain top coal removal.

Students of Professor O'Connell's class are taken on a tour by We Act, an environmental justice group based in Harlem, New York, as well as environmental activist organizations closer to home in Connecticut.