Archive for May, 2010

Summer Reading Survey

It’s summer time!

Time to catch up with family, do a little traveling and visiting, and barbecuing, and get all that stuff done that just didn’t get done during the school year.

It’s also a great time to dig through that pile of books that have been stockpiling on the bedside table for a good read — maybe something to take with you to the beach.

Got any sustainability/green/environmental books that should be floating to the top of green devil’s pile? I’m putting together my summer list, and I’d love to hear your recommendations!


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Tar Balls

By Liz Bloomhardt
Published May 27, 2010

It is summer and time for visiting, so I was on the West Coast near Los Angeles this past weekend.

Standing above Laguna Beach, watching the beauty of the surf play against the palms, warm sun on my face, I looked down; three little tar balls, stuck to the bottom of my flip-flop, stinky, and full of sand and dead grass and little rocks. The far off storm that was kicking up the surf had also brought them ashore.

Appropriate, I thought, as there is an oil spill in the Gulf.

Apathetic to the fact that it was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, the BP-leased Deepwater Horizon drilling platform sank into the Gulf of Mexico April 22, having killed 11 and leaving a broken wellhead gushing countless barrels of oil into the depths of the Gulf.

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Oil Spills

It’s been several weeks since the BP-leased oil rig exploded and sank in the Gulf of Mexico leaving a gushing oil well spewing countless gallons 5,000 feet below the surface. Much has been written in the weeks following the explosion as elected officials, scientists, and emergency crews converge on the scene, and everyone seems ready to offer their thoughts.

Well, here are a few of mine.

After my initial wave of guilt for consuming carbon during a drive to school last week (I was listening to a radio program on the now national disaster at the time!) I got to wondering if this wasn’t a new generation’s Exxon Valdez. Being in my mid-aughts at the time of that disaster, I remember little from the coverage and response at the time. When I asked my peers, they also say they were too young. I can only imagine then that today’s college age students were infants, if they were alive at all. It was the 80’s after all.

Happening at the worst time in the school year, with students in exams and preparing for graduation — on college campuses at least — it’s just another news story. There’s a run on sea food, turmoil in Greece, elections in the UK, unrest in the financial markets… oh well, at least the plan to capture the spewing oil made it on the Daily show last week. Maybe someone does care.

I’m not sure what I expected the response to be exactly, but at least at the beginning, it hasn’t been particularly emotional. Photographic evidence of the devastation has been limited, both by weather and the fact that the oil isn’t yet heavily impacting the shoreline and marine life. Without that emotional draw, its less quantifiable, less real, less dramatic.

It’s possible that as the story persists in the news media, the emotional response will grow as was the case with the Exxon Valdez disaster. For instance, the recent release of video from the sea floor of the gushing pipes are an eerie reminder of the toxic cloud gathering below the surface of the gulf. It may take much longer for the especially emotional footage of impact to birds and shorelines to appear though.

The recent introduction of a climate bill in the US Senate will allow the political fall out to develop as well. The Exxon Valdez disaster led to several legislation measures, including requirements that oil companies have disaster plans in place, and requirements for double-hulled ships. Only time will tell if this disaster will be capable of coalescing the necessary political power to push forward on another round of legislative and bureaucratic initiatives.

Over the coming months I plan to report back on the effects the disaster is having on the dialogue and behavior in the Duke community. I welcome comments on your experiences with the Exxon Valdez disaster, and any parallels or comparisons that may be drawn with the Deep Water Horizon disaster. Stay tuned.

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CDC, Week 3

Cars are expensive. So is commuting.

A recent study of the Boston metropolitan area indicates that while people moved to the suburbs to save money on housing, they in fact spent more than their urban counterparts on transportation and commuting, effectively neutralizing any savings they may have gained.

Granted Durham isn’t Boston, for starters its much more affordable to live here. While the Boston study area ranks with the most expensive places to live in the country, not so in Durham.

But the Bull City is designed for commuters. Much of the county is occupied by suburbs and more than 25,000 students faculty and staff hold permits to park on Duke’s campus.

Anecdotally, when I first moved here, my commute was no more than 5 miles. After living in Boston, where my job required me to drive all over the state, sometimes several hours every day, filling the gas tank every few weeks here seemed pretty fabulous. And on a student schedule, there was little traffic and low hassle (except that parking was across campus!).

But gas is just the start of the expenses that come with owning and operating a motor vehicle. When you include registration, taxes, insurance, inspections, maintenance, and possibly the occasional parking or speeding ticket, it can really start to add up. I can testify to that!

The real question is weather knowing the true cost would change behavior and choice.

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