“Not my state, not my problem”

Right as some progress is being made in Flint, another crisis around tainted water has arisen in the northeast.  The town of Bennington, VT is at the cusp of a catastrophe similar in nature to what we saw in Michigan, as a chemical plant has confirmed to be leaking pollutants downstream the Walloomsac River to Bennington’s local water supplies with testing on private water sources currently taking place.

While at first glance this crisis may come off as very similar in nature to what has occurred in Flint, the circumstances’ and the state and city’s involvement and knowledge of the crisis is completely different than what occurred in Flint

We can start off by dispelling one of the major myths around this Vermont water crisis:  Bennington did poorly in the managing of toxic chemicals and their negligence directly degraded the quality of living for its citizens.

False.  The fact of the matter is that Bennington has no manufacturing plants that contribute to the local economy, and that the state and local government officials had no idea of the water contamination until earlier this year.
In Flint, we saw a classic case of Government corruption and grudges taking precedence over public health concerns, but this could not more opposite in the issue of water quality in Vermont.bennington numbaz
So how did all this happen?

What made this crisis so surprising and tragic for the people of Bennington was that this contamination came from out-of-state from a large chemical manufacturing plant.  It started across the New York state border with a ChemFab manufacturing facility, and trickled on from there.  Like many other similar facilities, the plant experienced public outlash surrounding the aesthetics of the plants.  And like many other manufacturing plants, the ChemFab plant’s ability to spur the local economy through job creation kept any complaints about the plant in check.

Big Factory
a picture of the ChemLab facility

 

But times have changed, and in many cases we are just seeing the tip of the iceberg regarding environmental effects from manufacturing processes.  Just as we discover and pinpoint the health hazards of a once-common household material (lead paint) it seems that another contaminant arises.  And while there is no obvious fix for problems we cannot see, we certainly can take steps in the right direction by laying down stricter regulations around water quality and appropriate drinking levels.

Unfortunately for Vermont, the exact opposite happened in New York.  Blunders by the

epaaaaaaaa
Good indicator of VT and NY’s relationship w/ EPA

New York local government and failure to set strict mandates has caused for mixed signals about water quality and have ultimately lead to quarrels between the EPA and the NY government while Vermont is left to suffer. And while arguing about who’s at fault here may continue long into the foreseeable future, the fact that Hoosick Falls’ water was declared safe for drinking and the next year was deemed a Superfund site shows the lack of enforcement and communication between the EPA and state governments.

This crisis has a common denominator with what we saw in Flint: aging infrastructure and a previous lack of responsibility in human outputs on our environment is showing it’s long-term effects, and our society is having trouble grasping the extent and severity of these consequences. Government agencies at all levels, from local health departments to the federal Environmental Protection Agency, have yet to grapple with the full extent of the problem.  What may be the most disconcerting aspect of this issue is the amount of political quarrel that takes place while innocent parties must feel the crossfire. It has happened in Flint, and it has happened in Bennington and now it is time for the EPA to take the matter into their own hands and enforce stricter drinking water regulations.

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  Literature Focus #2: Reproduction and the carbon legacies of individuals

Ever since overpopulation became attributed to many of the climate changes we are seeing today, many writers and scientists have aimed to prove this true in literary from.   My second literature focus shines the spotlight on a different kind of work in comparison to Ehrlich’s Population Bomb but also has served an important role in my personal growth in my professional career relating to environmental studies.  Unlike Ehrlich’s piece, Paul Murtaugh’s scientific study is not predictive in nature about the effects of overpopulation and does not offer any morbid scenarios that must occur for the world to be okay.  Much crisper in tone and offering the results of his own scientific study to back up his hypothesis, Murtaugh’s report comes off as much more digestible in terms of breaking down and analyzing strategies.

This scientific study was first introduced to me during my last internship at Vermonters for a Sustainable Population.  As the marketing outreach and strategist intern at the organization, I was tasked with creating a plan to reach young adults in the state of Vermont and had an idea I wanted to run with: providing commentary on scientific work highlighting overpopulation myths.   The rationale for this campaign was based off my own learning approaches: if you want it to stick, put numbers to it and make it sound scientific.   My supervisor at the time Robert Fireovid loved the idea, and recommend two pieces to me.  While I cannot remember the tile or synopsis of the first one, Paul Murthaugh’s focus on the greenhouse gas emission comparison between “typical” green practices vs. children per family ratio instantly struck me with how powerful the study’s conclusions were. In the study by the Oregon State Scientist and professor, Murtaugh comes to the conclusion  that if an adult made all the “usual” environmentally friendly lifestyle changes we tend to associate with tree-huggers such as buying an eco-friendly  (specifically 50% better gas mileage, driving 33% less, conversion to LED light bulbs and energy efficient windows, replacing an old refrigerator and recycling household trash, they would reduce their greenhouse gas emissions by 486 metric tons over their lifetime.  Comparatively simply having one fewer child would save 9,000+ metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions, around 20% more of a difference for those couldn’t calculate that off-hand.

While yes a hard agreement to compare having one less kid vs.  changing daily life habits, I realized that these findings still represented something significant.  I took the piece and it’s findings into my own hands and tried my best to twist and concoct a newslike story to highlight this news! While I wanted it to be a “just in!” like piece, I soon found out how long the editing While both my supervisor and assisting unpaid editors thought the piece was ready to go, I still waited 2 weeks to pretty much do nothing but contemplate if it was ready to be published, and of course where to publish it.
jack-bud-light-espn-sizeAfter completing my reflection on Murtaugh’s work, I reached out to the locally-known VTDigger and UVM’s Outreach Blog, as well as Champlain’s blog about environmental issues and such.  To my delight, both VTDigger and UVM’s Outreach blog editors who were the first in the screening process really liked the article, and welcomed it onto their site with open arms (as from the school I attend, no response ironically).  To me this was a huge moment: I’ve never had my work published, heck I usually only do papers for school.   The word quickly got out in the family that I was a published online author, and I was receiving praise from all of my family, as well as my bosses at VSP.  And while I felt accomplished for the article’s, I felt that this may only the beginning.  What I learned from this process was that there truly are so many different environmental topics left unturned and even more myths about emissions and climate change that need debunking.  In a era where corporate transparency (whether they mean it or not) has led us to see the problems these giants are causing, but not necessarily the full details and the solutions.  I hope that others can use what I have learned and dive their noses deeper into environmental issues they may have vaguely heard about, as this is precisely what I did by following the lead I was tossed pointing me in the direction of Murtagh’s revelations.

Literature Focus #1: The Population Bomb

The_Population_Bomb

One of the questions that has come up is about my backgrounds into the environmental policy field.  Coming from a Business school and focusing in on building marketing skills, it is reasonable to question where my interests in protecting the environment lay.  Like all of us, I have based my roots based off the writings and works of those who best highlight and illustrate the problems our society is causing for our environment.

In my short experience in the collegiate study of our environmental impacts, I have found 2 pieces of literature that have not only seemed to hold resonance throughout the entirety of my college career, but have also followed me through my personal career path.  While different in wordplay and angles in covering the issue of our carbon footprint to the environment, both pieces of work have played a huge role in my understanding of how humans vastly impact the environment due to sheer population totals.

“Population Bomb”- Paul Ehrlich’s most famous piece work has not only resonated with the scientific and academic communities, but has also resonated with me in my journey throughout school.  The piece was written in 1968, and warned of the devastating consequences that overpopulation on a global level would bring to the environment.   While the book was full of bold predictions made by Ehrlich about what would happen with a growing population rate (many which fell short), many of his ideas and proclamations have been proven true in the 21st century, making the piece relevant to many, and even caused Ehrlich himself to release a short essay called “Population Bomb Revisited”.  While some of the text offers some rather morbid truths and solutions to the issue of overpopulation (mainly thinking about the death rate concept, and how he claims it must increase), he actually underestimated the world population by 2000.

bombbb graphic

This book was the first piece of text that widely engaged large amounts of academic and non-academic readers about the horrors of overpopulation, and is still commonly harped on today.  My first introduction to the Population Bomb came in my sophomore year of college, and has still found ways to intertwine into my life.  Later down the college career I was given an opportunity to intern at Vermonters For a Sustainable Population, an organization fixated on highlighting the issues and consequences of overpopulation not only in Vermont, but around the world.

To get this job, I has to display a level of familiarity and comfort about the issue of overpopulation even before I got there on the first day.  I can still remember specific excerpts from my interview, none being more relevant than when I was asked how I was introduced to the subject.  After giving a typical “I learned it in school” response and fumbling around for a more professional answer, I was able to get across that I had read Ehrlich’s population bomb.  While you can’t tell if someone’s eyes are lighting up through a phone, the interviewer’s tone of voice instantly turned positive and optimistic, and we soon talked about the book in detail.

And while my knowledge of the book may have landed me the internship in a very suitable field for me, this was not the end of my story with Ehrlich..  One of my tasks with Vermonters For a Sustainable Population was making a twitter page, and nearing the duration of my summer internship I had created a twitter page that had a strong amount of followers.  Even though I was proud of my work (and for creating my first ever twitter page), I was not prepared to have Paul Ehrlich’s personal twitter follow the page that I had created for VSP!  And whereas the piece of writing has not been present in my life this year, it’s hard to forget a piece of work that paved the way for my environmental policy career and helped remind me that it is possible to incorporate my marketing background into something I am truly passionate about.

Stepping out of the box and into new shoes

One of my biggest concerns when I graduate Champlain is the fact that I have not had any true hands-on experience in developing policy that benefits our environment.  Now, I know what your thinking: you are an environmental policy minor, how is this possible?  Did you skip class on that day?

Well, let me explain:  Many of the minor required Environmental Policy classes offered at Champlain do a great job at highlighting the issues that are often brought up at these climate summits we have been hearing more and more about (issues such as increasing methane levels, acid rain, deforestation, and many more).  However in many cases, the extent to which these issues are covered dies down at the fundamental understanding level.  While I am sure that Environmental Policy Majors have a much greater opportunity to focus on the drafting, lobbying, and implementing of Environmental Policy measures, I still want an opportunity to experience the politics of environmental policy myself!

While this hankering of mine took a backseat to my other coursework and my quest to understand how to actually create GIS maps, the idea became reintroduced to me in a very pleasant manner.  I received an email from my mother asking if I would like to attend an event with her called the “World Climate Project”, as this event was scheduled to take place in Boston over my Spring Break.  Skeptical, and distracted, I requested more information about this event before committing either way.  I was sent an email link to the World Climate Project’s website which explained what entailed at the event, and instantly I knew this may be the best chance at getting some policy implementation practice in before I graduate this spring.

When I got back to Massachusetts for spring break, I decided I needed to conduct some research on the project, as the exacts were certainly unclear to me.  Luckily, the World Climate Project had a rather comprehensive website that would answer any general questions.  Almost instantly my perception that this event would be low-key was shattered.  One of the first things on the project’s website that stands out is the formation of the World Climate Project.  After reading up on the website, I learned the initiative was launched by the US Government in 2015 as an effort to engage tens of thousands of people worldwide around climate change

In summation, this project takes the form of a simplified international climate change meeting simulation. The site describes how one facilitator leads the group, playing the role of a UN leader, while each participant plays the role of a delegate representing a specific nation, company/organization with stake in the issue or even an interest group. Everyone then works together in their respective roles to reach a global agreement that successfully keeps climate change well below the preindustrial levels of Carbon emissions.  Once the stakeholders find terms to agree on, a computer simulation provides rapid assessment of results to determine if (or how far off) the users were from the preindustrial mark of fossil fuel emissions
Instantly, I was wow’ed by this idea: could there be a better opportunity to gain the hands-on experience I desired?  At this point, my mind was rushing with ideas about how I could get all my friends involved in this.  The fundamental concept is brilliant, and the results are sure to show those who attend those conferences just how difficult it is to get anything substantial completed when dealing in a political setting.  I almost called up the Director of the Environmental Policy department to learn more about the program and lobby for our own event in Burlington, as it seemed like a perfect place to hold an event that focuses so closely on climate change.

According to the World Climate Project’s website, 312 events held in 50 countries with 13,610 participants as of March 11, 2016.  These numbers are showing a strong interest around the globe in understanding not only how climate change is becoming a keystone talking point of the near future    While I have yet to tend this event, I can only hope it is as interesting and applicable to my post-college career as I hope it will be!

A quick synopsis of the Climate Change simulation:

The Flint Water Crisis: A Nation-Wide Crisis

The Flint Public Water crisis has emerged as one of the keystone talking points of a young 2016, as it has drawn in celebrity attention from Flint-born Celebrities to World Famous singers (Well, at least Cher), and has even found itself on the ticket as a talking point in the Democratic Debates.  Up to this point, I gave myself credit for knowing the basics around the water in Flint, Michigan: it got contaminated and you’ll get sick if you drink it.  As it turns out, the corruption of a resource that is so instrumental to everyday life made the country angry and caused concerned citizens in Flint and around the country to demand answers on just how water quality got so out of hand in the city. While I could hear the protest and felt the anger for those poor people in Michigan, I wasn’t really sure what I was angry about.  Yeah, I knew water quality was bad, but that’s about the length of my statement on the issue around the dinner table come the start of 2016.  And honestly, I think the majority of people (at least my peers) knowledge of details on the Flint water crisis was about par as mine.  A little bit of classic restlessness/not being able to sleep/questioning why I didn’t know more about an issue like this and most importantly constant reminders from Facebook pushed me to the point that I needed to dive deeper into this mess, and boy it got interesting.     

  Just saying it aloud, something seems inherently wrong with a water crisis in Michigan.  As the Michigan Times correctly points out, that water is the basis for Michigan’s wildly successful “Pure Michigan” advertising campaign which highlights towns on rivers and bordering Lake Michigan.  If that doesn’t click, it’s the Midwest, there’s lakes and rivers everywhere (like really everywhere) trust me. Initially for me, it was hard to grasp the idea of how a state surrounded by so much water could have such difficulty providing water to any part of the state: I mean for god’s sake there’s a great lake named after it.  Spending lots of time in Minnesota as a kid also didn’t help the issue, as I was a witness to the role of the natural water bodies and just how important it was to maintain them.  And Just like many towns in Michigan, Flint had a history based largely in part on the Flint River’s presence and the amount of benefits one river gives.  The river fueled the state’s agricultural based economy and helped transport goods from city to city for industrial needs (in state and exports). 

   What may be the most confusing aspect of this whole debacle is that while this issue has been a hot topic in 2016, the Flint water contamination crisis is not a new development.  While many of the articles I have seen online talk about the crisis and give us specific pointers to know about the crisis (looking at you CNN), not many of these articles probe the events that set the table for this mess.  And to my point, the research I conducted has shown me that if you were a member of the Flint Public Government, you may have had an idea of this crisis as early as 2013.  

In March of 2013 Flint, who previously had been supplied water by the city of Detroit, joined the Karegnondi Water Authority which simultaneously voided their agreement with the city of Detroit that had been in place for 50+ years. Following the movement to the Karegnondi Water Authority, Flint immediately announced that they would be using the aptly named Flint River to source their local water needs, and this is where the problem started.  The existing water treatment infastructure was not   sufficient for the workload and to top it off, the service lines between Flint’s original Water Treatment Plant (built in 1919) and the second plant (which was established in 1952), as well as the lines from the plants to residential houses were built out of Lead.  Indeed we know building with lead was the  standard at the time because of its ease of use and cheap price, but no one would argue we have learned lots more about the negative effects of lead exposure.  Just over a year and a month ago, the Flint government was notified by the EPA that it violated the Safe Drinking Water Act and a follow up study by a Virginia Tech researcher proved that lead had contaminated the city’s water supply.  After trying his best to stay the original path of sourcing water from the Flint River for seemingly as long as he could, Governor Snyder finally agreed to have water shipped in from Detroit again.

12-1 flint water timeline-01

While Governor Snyder will likely resign, and it is more than likely we will see a serious change in how water quality control will be handled in Flint moving forward, I am very wary that problems surrounding our older quality control infrastructure may actually frequent more rather than be deterred by the events of the Flint crisis.  The fact remains that much of the large infrastructure surrounding our natural water sources is only getting older, meaning it has been deteriorating in structural quality and has had a greater risk of exposure to containments like what we saw in Flint.  While widespread protest and call to action are a step in the right direction, we must remember it takes money to renovate these aging structures.  And from what I have seen, many of our population is very skeptical of the notion of increasing taxes, aka the primary source of funding these public properties.

To this day, America has developed coping mechanisms to deal with these problems by believing there are ways these structural breakdowns can be ignored solely through the low probability of a crisis occurring in one’s town and government intervention if the issue gets out of hand.  Flint proved to us that both of these notions couldn’t be farther from the truth.  While disappointing as it is to have our preconceived opinion of the topic ruined, we should be optimistic.  By understanding our role in the equation (meaning yes, we will have to pay for these renovations), we can push for and justify government action/spending on the renovations of infrastructure around our drinking water at the very minimum.  What Flint has done better than any other crisis is exposing them to the reality that contaminated water can have very serious consequences for all, and that this problem can be happening anywhere (to some degree) and the Government might not be telling us about it.  I truly believe that the Flint water crisis will be a pivotal time in for all related around the politics of water quality, but I hope this issue crisis will amount to further proactive movement around the country to avoid this kind of crisis from happening again.

Wherever you go, there you are

 

Looking back at my short work history, I can say that I was pretty darn lucky. During high school almost all of my friends and classmates held various jobs in town. Particularly, My best friends were working at all too familiar outlets, such as the local Stop and Shop, delivering pizzas at the Domino’s in the center of town, or making sandwiches at Quizno’s and Bruegger’s at the strip mall that hosted them both.

My first work experience came in high school, and was very enjoyable as I was working at my good friend’s lawn service, J and P Landscaping. Not only did the benefits of working with good friends allow me to enjoy the time I spent on the job, but I was able to be outside for many hours while also developing my customer service skills in a professional setting for the first time. For the first time in my life (at 17), I was responsible for handling scheduling duties as well conducting telephone interviews with current clients to ensure our meeting arrangements were still being honored. As my time at the company progressed, my role migrated towards something I felt much more suited for me. I was put on the front lines of customer service by being one of the field representatives who would meet with the client face to face to help explain the process that would be occurring at their establishments for the day. This role gave me the opportunity to “geek out” about the environmental side of the process in the form of explaining which fertilizers would be applied, and why they were beneficial over many of the competitors.

After moving to Burlington and working a forgettable job at a gas station just for the mere focus of having enough money to pay the summers rent and afford concert tickets, I finally landed a Job at the local City Market Cooperative. While the work was crappy (stocking shelves) I was happy enough just to be working at a company so conscious of their impact on the environment and the community. However, I soon tired of the monotonous work and started to question why I was spending all of this time and energy in school just to stock shelves.

Luckily for me, Quitting work at that environmentally conscious company opened the door for me to work at another environmentally conscious entity: but this time, I would be put on the frontlines of the battle to inform youth about the real dangers and severity of climate changes and it’s causes. Vermonters For a Sustainable Population (VSP) was kind enough to give me the opportunity to lead their marketing outreach strategy to those <40. While I was excited at the time of the job offer, I was also nervous of the workload. For the first time in my life, I was put in charge of a project that drew from both my fields of study, and let me tell you: I was nervous. I didn’t know what to expect, I wasn’t sure how big the marketing department was, I didn’t know if I could handle all the workloads, the list goes on.

Luckily, much of my fears were relieved once the job kicked off. My supervisor was very friendly and understanding of the heavy workload, but still encouraged me to push the envelope and see what I really could get done. After various meetings with the board of directors explaining my progress, drafting the companies first every weekly e-mail newsletter, and writing a scientific article that got published on UVM’s website and other Vermont sites, and after a long thoughtful exchange with my old supervisor up at his farm, my interns my internship had come to a close. While I felt accomplished of my work and was ready to prepare for the upcoming semester, I still couldn’t help but to wonder what other similar jobs were out there. My mind raced of the possibilities: from being a market researcher with a green company to policy planning for the state government, and everything in between. Soon, my indecision turned into frustration and I was wondering if I could even find one of these great jobs. Then it hit me all at once: I was only looking for jobs I places I was familiar with. My mind started racing and remembering lessons my father taught me and what my old supervisor had encouraged on the job. I realized that this was no time to be nervous of the future, but rather excited about the new doors that lie ahead.

IMG_4352
Taken on a Visit to CSWD’s composting facility when I was working at Vermonters for a Sustainable Population

While I am still in college and still haven’t found that ideal job for the week after I graduate, I realized something incredibly important: I probably am not going to find it by sitting on the internet going through job portals such as monster.com. Rather, I realized that I should be proactively searching this country for what it has to offer and experiencing it with my own eyes, and not going off a description posted on the internet. I hope to explore this beautiful country when I graduate to not only learn more about places I have never seen, but to also see how a student from a school like Champlain who has been well equipped with tools applicable to the Business and Environmental Policy world can make a difference in a place where it might really be needed. Regardless I think it is very important for us who are graduating to keep an open mind as well as a desire to learn and explore more, as if there’s one thing I’ve learned from my elders, it’s that you can’t plan for the best breaks in life.

“Just Remember, Wherever you go, there you are” Buckaroo Banzai

IMG_4263
With my colleuges at Burlington Electric Department’s MacNeil Wood Generating Plant (everyone else missed the air chainsaw memo)

 

 

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