Gas Price Fantasy

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No one who drives a car that uses gas can ignore the HUGE drop in gas prices over the holidays this year. In retail, “we had Christmas for the first time in 4 years” as my boss at The Sojourner in Lambertville told customers. She attributed everyone’s open purses to the drop in gas prices, giving people a little wiggle room in their budget.

Starting my holiday season with a trip to Lima for COP 20, I had this day dream in my mind when conversations would shift to gas prices coming under $2 in Flemington. The basic laws of economics attribute a price drop to an increase in supply relative to demand. What if demand dropped because COP 20 was so successful? What if so much progress was made with countries’ reducing carbon emissions that oil companies got scared and dropped their prices, hoping to sell supplies before countries drastically decrease their fossil fuel demand. This was the kind of change I pictured we’d need in order to make even a two-degree goal like discussed in Lima.

The realistic me knows that such a change is ridiculous but optimistic me could not bring myself to research the real reason prices kept sinking. CNN Money attributes the drop to OPEC refusing to drop production related to demand because of slowing economies in Asia and Europe, increased U.S. domestic oil production, better fuel-efficient vehicles, and a stronger dollar (Isidore).

With Isidore’s reasoning, the COP 20 was not only less productive than I had hoped, but emission targets run into a new danger. With low gas prices predicted to keep dropping, the financial benefits of more carbon-neutral technologies like electric cars and solar heating disappear. If economically it is so cheap to run on gas, those less environmentally-conscious will have little reason to lead a more carbon-neutral life.  I had hoped that high prices would push U.S. consumers to move away from fossil fuels even if the country’s UNFCCC record is poor, but now this seems impossible. We can only hope renewables will drop quickly as well to increase their competitiveness, because whether we like it or not, people are consumers first and foremost, and thus are driven by prices.


Do you ever have one of those moments when you’re just beaming with pride to the point of tears? My life’s leadership training (up to this point) culminated in my interview with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS) Gina Belle from Barbados. All of the Wednesday night Girl Scout meetings from kindergarten to senior year of high school had a purpose. Looking back, holding an art show to raise money for tsunami relief to Haiti in elementary school, taking part in troop mates’ Bronze Award project painting fish on drains in Lambertville, and trying to bridge the gap between the English and Spanish-speaking communities through The Amistad Project have all played a huge part in making me the person I am today. The Girl Scout Laws’ lessons such as “make the world a better place”, “be a sister to every Girl Scout, and “use resources wisely” have become ingrained in how I go about my day-to-day life.

As a member of the Girl Scouts of the USA I am also a member of WAGGGS which really connects girls around the world. World thinking day activities such as WAGGGS chat rooms and international fairs were always reminding me of the bigger world in which I live. For me, the point of Girl Scouts is crystal clear and it is not the common camping idea everyone imagines. Girl Scouts teaches girls and young women to be leaders of today and tomorrow, giving them invaluable life lessons. The most basic example of this is the power structure of a troop in the U.S., where in kindergarten, leaders do almost all of the planning but by 6th grade, girls do more of the planning and leading than the “leaders” and continue on that trajectory up through senior year, at which leaders are really just there to sign papers.

How does this relate to the COP? December 4th was the Young and Future Generations Day here and there was a press conference with some WAGGGS representatives in the Exhibition Hall. This is where I got to interview Gina. Her interview included so much of what I have been taught since kindergarten, relating it to what I have dedicated a whole semester to this fall. She talked of the leadership work and education WAGGGS is working on in terms of badges on different climate change topics and having their own delegates to the COP. Also, she talked of what WAGGGS is hoping for from the COP, recognizing the threats girls and young women face with regards to a changing climate, disadvantaging them to succeed like their male peers.  WAGGGS and national Girl Scout/Guide organizations are making leaders for today and tomorrow both in the climate negotiations and the broader range of global issues. DSCN1425

The Inequality of the Get Richer Quick Schemes of the 1%

trickle-downTaking Professor Barnum’s class American Inequalities while in the mosaic has enabled me to really trace the pattern of poverty in those affected most by policy backfires. The housing crisis of 2008 leading to the Great Recession hit those who lost their mortgages and went through foreclosures the most even though the housing bubble burst because of irresponsible lending by large banks. As Joseph Stiglitz, the economist who coined the term the “1% and 99%” writes “the irony is that in the crises that finance brings about, workers and small businesses bear the brunt of the costs” (Stiglitz 66). The 1% can play around with the system in order to eke out as much profit as possible despite the harm its actions might cause the rest of society.  The sad part is, the trickle-down effect is bogus. Increased profits for the 1% does not fuel the overall American economy because the richer one is, the smaller portion of their income they actually spend. Thus, those most defenseless against economic hardships are the ones most vulnerable to exploitation by the 1%.


This reminds me of my research on LDCs and their vulnerability to climate change despite the fact that they did little to cause the problem. LDCs have contributed next to nothing in GHG emissions causing global climate change. Still, they will be the ones worst hit. Developed countries have been emitting GHGs for over a century, causing global climate change and as a result, have become rich and powerful in the global governance arena. Meanwhile, LDCs have stayed behind and will also be the first, and worst, hit by droughts, sea level rise, and temperature changes due to climate change. The fact that LDCs often still rely on subsistence agrarian societies- a sector way too reliant on climate considering the upcoming roller coaster. While developed countries have been able to develop away from agrarian societies and on the way caused climate change, LDCs have been left behind with agrarian societies put at great risks in the face of climate change.

LDCs, like the most impoverished in the US, are the ones hit hardest by the development schemes of the rich, yet they feel none of the benefits. This reflects a greater trend in all of society, where those who are poor are the most disadvantaged. There is no way for the poor to “pick themselves up by their bootstraps” while the rich are constantly tying them down through their own schemes of exploitation. Only when this trend is changed will policies have a possibility of creating more equal successes for all.

Without Renewables, Climate Change Will Stunt Your Growth


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Image From
Not In My Backyard by Joe Heller
Not In My Backyard by Joe Heller

Climate change does pose significant threats to prospects for sustainable development as it threatens the ability to sustain the development with causing territories being submerged by water, reducing food supplies, and increasing health threats to populations. Luckily, there are some methods of development which simultaneously promote climate change mitigation and development. If the world continued to develop “business-as-usual” than there is no way that that type of development could be sustainable. The massive amounts of fossil fuels necessary for continued development on our current trajectory would push the Earth beyond the levels of climate change “dangerous” to human civilization. Non-fossil fuel intensive development methods, if employed globally, could mitigate further climate change, thus protecting development efforts from more dangerous climate change. The fact that non-fossil fuel methods reduce the danger of climate change makes it better able to sustain continued development through climate change. One alternate development strategy looking more and more hopeful is that of using renewable energies.

A strong paper written in support of low-carbon development is Sawin and Moomaw’s Worldwatch report “Renewable Revolution: Low-Carbon Energy by 2030”. Sawin and Moomaw make the case that combining renewable energy utilization with better energy efficiency efforts could lead to a low-carbon energy sector by 2030 without hindering development in any way, and perhaps even helping it. Currently, most of the world’s power plants lose about 2/3 of the energy they produce as heat (Sawin and Moomaw 10). There is no way that losing over half of the fossil fuel energy going into the power plants is necessary for development. With efficiency efforts capturing the excess heat and steam and updating older power plants to be more efficient, power plants are better able to serve development needs with less carbon emissions. Furthermore, combined with the use of renewable energies instead of fossil fuels, the new global energy system could in fact lead to low-carbon energy by 2030 (Sawin and Moomaw 6-7). Sawin and Moomaw claim that all of the technology required to employ renewable energies on a global scale are ready; only policy is holding back implementation (Sawin and Moomaw 23). This means that there is the capacity to energize the world on mostly renewable energy and not fossil fuels, and developing countries’ development will not be hindered by such efforts.

In fact Sawin and Moomaw give reasons that switching to renewables could in fact improve developing countries’ efforts compared to the business-as-usual approach. For one, renewable energy sources are especially rich in developing areas, offering a possibility for exporting energy and enjoying job opportunities which accompany the birth of a new industry (Sawin and Moomaw 16). Also, renewable energy can offer options for development where current fossil-fuel methods are failing. For example, in Africa where current energy infrastructure is failing, especially in light of the booming population there, fossil fuels are inadequate to serve Africans’ energy needs in order to develop. Renewable sources, and especially wind, however offer and option for more sustainable energy that can support the continent’s development (Sawin and Moomaw 39). Developing countries will still need aid in building new infrastructure, so luckily the motions are already in place to get this through UNFCCC-created funds for climate change initiatives.

As Sawin and Moomaw argue, a low-carbon energy sector offers a road to development which does not simultaneously threaten the sustainability of the very societies which are developing. The trick is not making in improving technology; this has already happened. Instead, policies such as fossil fuel subsidies need to be terminated while other programs supporting renewable energies be created. And as we are getting closer and closer to Sawin and Moomaw’s 2030 goal, time for policy change is running out. If nations want to maintain their hard-earned development, the necessity of moving away from fossil fuels cannot be ignored.



Work Cited

Sawin, Janet and William Moomaw. “Renewable revolution: low-carbon energy by 2030.” Worldwatch Institute, 2009. Web. 2 Nov. 2014.


Climate Change in the American Political Climate…Finally!


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As was brought up countless times on our trip to D.C. last week, a main concern with U.S. climate policies is the possibility of a changing political leader every four or eight years. Furthermore, by including congressional elections to this equation, every two years the U.S. national political climate (no pun intended) changes. Thanks to the U.S. system of checks and balances, no matter whether it is the presidency or congressional majorities which change, both positions have the powerful ability to change policies through tools such as limiting funding and executive orders. There is hope that because Obama’s initiative for energy emissions reduction through the Clean Power Plan is implemented through the Clean Air Act, there will be few attempts to disassemble it as the Clean Air Act has met little opposition thus far.

This attention on national climate policy is no longer such a fringe topic, as is exemplified by the use of climate change as a debate topic for the upcoming Senate mid-term elections reported on by Coral Davenport and Ashley Parker in the NYTimes. Both Republicans and Democrats are focusing on climate, energy, and the environment in their ad campaigns and in some unpredictable ways. For example, both Republicans and Democrats in coal-producing states such as West Virginia are careful to support the industry and workers. However, in Colorado, Republican Senator Cory Gardner preaches clean energy in front of a wind turbine backdrop in one of his ads. The bottom line is no matter the stance, climate change will be a more central topic in this year’s midterm elections and even in the 2016 presidential elections. Already, senate debates in Arkansas, West Virginia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Colorado, and Iowa have included climate and environmental topics, compared to the 2012 presidential debates where climate change did not come up once.

The greater centrality of climate and energy policies in upcoming domestic elections makes me hopeful that something could be done regarding climate change in the future, and even better, possibly independent of a candidate’s party affiliation. Additionally, this rise in domestic political focus speaks to and provides hope for the idea that domestic action is the only way climate action will take place, even if determined on the international regime level. The need for nation-states’, and non-state actors for that matter, is vital for any possibility of international regime goals such as the 2°C warming limit, to be achieved.


Energy ads from every angle

Trash Talk in America

from U.S. EPA and
from U.S. EPA and

Tonight at Sociology Professor Barnum’s Soup and Bread discussion in Dickinson’s Treehouse: The Center for Sustainable Living, we covered a variety of issues, one of them being trash. In a consumer society where items are created to last no more than three years, trash has become a much bigger part of American society than most Americans realize. According to Forbes, the U.S. is responsible for producing ¼ of the world’s waste, meanwhile making up only 5% of the world’s population. That’s way too much trash, and too much trash too responsibly remove from society.

How did Americans become so unaware of their waste habits? After all, according to Edward Humes, author of Garbology, per capita waste levels have doubled in the U.S. since 1960. Think of the phrase “out of sight, out of mind”. Once an American puts the garbage out on the side of the curb each week, the trash is no longer their problem and they can move on to collecting waste for the next week. The rest of the world, however, is not so ignorant toward the U.S.’s trash problem. Just take the floating trash island in the Pacific- an “island” made of plastic debris deposited into the ocean which will never fully decompose.

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When there were no municipal waste programs (granted there were, however, major health problems), people were reminded constantly of their trash- by its smell and its appearance. With American’s desire for homes to look pristine and neat, trash could definitely get in the way of this. If American’s were forced to deal with their trash for more than seven days at a time, actions and attitudes might be different. Disposable toothbrushes, Brillo Pads, and excessive paper handouts would feel more threatening once they needed to be stored for more than a week, making them no longer out of sight and so hopefully no longer out of mine. With a more “in your face” approach to America’s trash, the disgusting and greedy extent of its waste products could possibly decrease.


A good link to check out:


Leisure or Consumption?

In tonight’s Clarke Forum lecture with Mark Price, Ph.D. entitled, Fighting the Runaway Inequality: The Minimum Wage Controversy, a little light bulb went off.

When discussing the increased productivity of American workers occurring alongside the fall in the minimum wage adjusted for inflation. Thus, people are producing more while simultaneously making less money in wages. This extra time they have, Dr. Price pointed out, low-wage workers could either increase consumption or increase leisure time. As can be assumed in an American culture defined by consumerism, most chose more consumption and thus their activities in their free time require them to make even higher wages. This raises a predicament putting low-wage workers into further and further debt.

Going off of this, I started to think about what would happen if we consumed less? Our industrialized European peers got the message, pairing up industrialization and leisure, but America took the consumption road, leading to even more overworked members of society wanting more and more. To see what I mean, check out the “Story of Stuff” below.

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So what does this have to do with global climate change? Imagine if Americans started to spend their free hours enjoying low-cost leisure time instead of consuming and working extra hours to fuel their consumption. First of all, if society really changes its ways from consumption, the amount of “low-quality” products requiring endless amounts of greenhouse gas emissions. Secondly, most low-cost leisure activities involve the outdoors in some way, whether in the form of hiking, a free concert in the park, swimming, walking, running, playing pick-up games, having picnics, gardening, biking, and I could go on forever. As we talked with James Balog in the Treehouse the morning of his lecture, his and many others’ environmental ethic comes from their love for spending time outdoors. Thus not only could more leisure time lead to less greenhouse gas emissions, but it could boost people’s environmental ethics as well, making it more likely for them to take action against climate change and urge others to do the same.

The tricky part is figuring out how to change a key component of society in place for 200+ years. Any ideas? I know I will start by spending my free time doing things outside.

A Mixed-Tack Paris Agreement Is the Way to Go

Cartoon by Matt Bors
Cartoon by Matt Bors


The COP 20 is hoped to make progress for the 2015 COP, the deadline COP the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action (ADP) set for finishing negotiations for a new, more aggressive agreement between UNFCCC nations to combat climate change. As this deadline comes closer and closer, academics, delegates, NGOs and country leaders are scrambling to find the best type of new solution. Daniel Bodansky, of Arizona State University, explains that the three variables in international climate agreements, stringency, participation, and compliance, are all present in each negotiation, in various degrees depending on the nature of the agreement (Bodansky 2). For example, a top-down approach like that of the Kyoto Protocol in which international laws enforce internationally agreed-upon actions, leads to a greater degree of stringency and an uncertain outcome in terms of the participation and compliance variables. The level of presence for these two variables depends on whether the mutually-assured-compliance feature of top-down approaches is enough to convince states to take part and participate in the treaty (Bodansky 2). Conversely, the bottom-up approach like that of the Cancun Agreements where nations come up with their own commitments for international agreements, tend to have higher participation and commitment but low stringency (Bodansky 2). With advantages and disadvantages to both the bottom-up and top-down approaches, a mixed-track approach is the most promising structure for a 2015 agreement providing the increased ambition needed to act against climate change.

Not all scholars would agree that a mixed-track approach is the answer. David Shorr, an analyst of multilateral affairs, argues that the best way to go for the COP21 agreement is a top-down structure. He writes in his “Think Again: Climate Treaties”, “there is no substitute for high-level diplomacy in getting everyone to do their utmost and in keeping track of their efforts” (Shorr). Shorr acknowledges that there has been increased, and important, participation at the “bottom”, but when push comes to shove, a diplomatic treaty is a necessity in climate negotiations, quoting their stringency strengths through “keeping track of [countries’] efforts”. On the other side of the debate, Michael C. McCracken, the Chief Scientist for Climate Change Programs with the Climate Institute in Washington, D.C. argues that an international diplomatic agreement will not cut, as it has not for the past two decades. In his article “The Time to Act is Now”, McCracken argues that international agreements fail to inspire ambitious enough goals as signatories do not want to face punishments for goals they cannot keep (McCracken 15). Both McCracken and Shorr are correct in their own ways, but neither of their solutions will do enough on their own.

The multi-track approach Bodansky suggests, includes a combination of the strong points of both top-down and bottom-approaches, allowing in theory for the “best of both worlds”. He suggests offering various tracks of an agreement, allowing for nations to choose which tracks best suits their abilities, going off of the bottom-up approach. For example, one country might find it easiest to reduce greenhouse emissions as it is in desperate need of new infrastructure while another country may find it easier to develop and distribute new technologies aimed at a greener world (Bodanksy 9-10). The top-down aspect of this approach consists of a “core agreement” where economic-wide commitments are set out and a system for comparing different tracks’ efforts is established. Thus, an overall high level of stringency is achieved through a top-down core agreement alongside high levels of participation and compliance through bottom-up multi-track options. This structure offers the most promise looking forward to a 2015 agreement as it offers success in all three variables of success-measurement. Furthermore, those countries like the United States, who are not parties of the top-down Kyoto Protocol and those countries not parties to the Cancun Agreements are more likely to find a happy medium in a mixed-track agreement.

Works Cited

Bodansky, D., 2012. The Durban Platform: Issues and Options for a 2015 Agreement. Center for Climate and Energy Solutions.

MacCracken, M., 2014, “The time to act is now,” pp 13-19, G7 Summit 2014

Schorr, D., 2014, “Think Again: Climate Treaties” Foreign Policy: The Magazine. 17 March 2014. Web. 6 October 2014.

WANTED: Adaption at Home and Abroad… NOW

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A basic principle of the UNFCCC agreement is CBDR, or Common but Differentiated Responsibilities. This stems from the idea that based on historical emissions, developing countries should not have their development taxed because of harm to the environment caused by already developed countries’ development 100 years ago. Because of this, developed countries are held responsible for funding any climate change efforts developing countries decide to embark on. Furthermore, developed countries are to share information and technology to help developing countries develop in a “greener” way than developed countries had in the past.

My question is, how can we do this if we still haven’t gotten the hang of smart development in our own country? I’m not suggesting the U.S. should help itself before it helps others, but instead should be taking a bilateral approach to both change domestic ways and provide support internationally for cleaner development.

Yesterday, the story “With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate” made the front page of the NYTimes. Households in California, and especially those in Tulare County, a rural county with especially impoverished residents and barely any water. With three years of drought and still going strong, the California drought, although as a single event it cannot be attributed to climate change, calls for more caution when dealing with the climate. Even in one of the richest country in the world, the U.S. still doesn’t seem to be able to come up with even effective adaptation plans, never mind mitigation. One family the article focuses on hasn’t had running water for more than five months. How is the U.S. caring for these Californians? They aren’t. When families call the state and local governments for advice, they are told there are no public agencies set up to help them. Water is provided through bottled water from residents’ pockets and local charities. Even the counting of households without water is spotty, with an estimate of 700 households, overlooking households in rural areas with dried-up wells. One volunteer is quoted describing the drought as “it’s a slow-moving disaster that nobody knows how to handle” (Medina 18).

The U.S. is obviously having trouble preparing for and dealing with the “slow-moving” crises brought on by climate change, so how can it be expected to help others? The solution is not, as I said before, to focus on itself first before it helps others. There is no time to wait; climate change does not wait for domestic pilots, it comes when it wants, where it wants, and countries must be as ready as best they can. This means focusing on security threats from more than just other states but from the earth itself. The U.S. needs to take the terrible lessons it’s learning in California to realize that a much more though-out, cross-sector, and multi-level approach must be employed in adapting to climate change domestically and globally.

Medina, Jennifer. 2014. “With Dry Taps and Toilets, California Drought Turns Desperate.” The New York Times, October 3, p. 1, A18.

James Balog’s Chasing Ice: Multidisciplinary Work Sparks Action

balogs lecture Carl Sander Socolow

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Photo by Carl Sander Socolow
Photo by Carl Sander Socolow

James Balog’s documentation of melting and changing ice due to climate change are breathtaking. Through his art, he is able to capture a phenomena that feels like it should take decades, to occur in as little as thirty seconds, but so what? The “what” is that besides making new observations evidencing Climate Change, Balog’s work becomes relevant to the “everyday” person, bringing the issue of climate change to the hearts of more than just concerned scientists, a few national governments, and environmental grassroots groups. Additionally, Balog’s Extreme Ice Project has become a tool for legislation as providing solid evidence of the climate changing rapid; these pictures prove that the climate is changing now. Balog’s Chasing Ice exemplifies a multi-sector approach, combining private art through photography, public concern, grassroots action, and influence on governmental legislation, into a big ball of momentum ready to act. Just looking at Dickinson, more than your average Environmental Studies and Science majors were encouraged to watch the film and attend his lecture/performance. Even my friend, an art history major, came to the lecture/performance for her contemporary art class.

More importantly, not only does Balog’s work reach everyone, it resonates with them. Talking about Balog’s work at dinner the night before the lecture, my friend began relaying facts to me from Chasing Ice about the urgency of global climate change. As an International Studies major focusing on sustainability, I thought I would’ve been the one telling her facts regarding Climate Change but Balog’s work makes the issue resonate with everyone, no matter one’s walk of life. Balog’s multi-disciplinary work has had great success in sparking more concern in the world’s citizens and reminds me of the growing call for a multi-level multi-sector approach to climate governance. The bottom line: if anything is to be done about climate change, everyone, no matter their interests, must be on board and Balog’s work brings us one step closer.