Category Archives: Austin

Teaching Kids to Care

The Beyond Coal project is the top topic in the Lone Star Chapter, and rightfully so. With the Rally for Renewables last Thursday, I had planned on blogging specifically about the Fayette Coal Plant and the potential follow-up options after its future closing. Yeah, sure, why not? It seemed the obvious choice. Until some youngster indicated otherwise.

While filming the rally, I ran into a kid who, despite his fatigue from the heat, readily answered my questions on the state of the environment. I’m afraid that I cannot upload any video here yet, but to provide a quick summary, this little guy said he thought coal is bad for the environment and that people shouldn’t have to breathe the chemicals and ash it pumps into the air. He also said he would want wind and solar energy instead. And he has hardly entered the first grade.

The fact that the kid didn’t have to stop and think about his answers (and that his dad wasn’t prompting him) impressed me most with this interview. His readiness made me recall the importance of raising awareness of the environment in students in primary education. As part of UT Austin’s Club for Environmental Outreach, I have focused on this issue for some time. So, I think the time has come for me to shed some light on this issue.

We at the Sierra Club understand the significance of educating the public on the environment, and we pursue that end tirelessly – just as global conditions tirelessly worsen. The millennials will have the greatest challenge yet in confronting this mounting terror. Should we not focus on involving them in the future of the environment, for their own safety if not for anything else? Many have leapt up in an effort to do this, but not before many sprung up to prevent America’s failing education system from crashing altogether.

I came across a recent NPR article about the popular new “Common Core” standards that have been adopted in 45 states. They might not address scientific educational standards that would include environmental curricula, but these changes at least show some desire to redirect the US education system. It would seem that some hope lay in sight for the nation’s posterity.

But for the generations of future Texans, such hope is about as visible as Rick Perry is credible. Just look to this map of the 45 continental states that have given the green light to Common Core (credit goes to corestandards.org); it probably won’t surprise:

Screen Shot 2013-06-30 at 11.03.29 PM

Yes, Texas stands alone in the South as one of the 5 stubborn states opposing Common Core. Now, I’m not naive enough to believe that a step forward for Texas education will come soon in science, of all things; I still fear that my nephew will ask me for help with drawing a venn diagram comparing Evolution and Creationism (all eyes still on the Texas State BoE).

On the subject of young students, however, I return to the importance of educating future generations about their environment and how to be eco-friendly. Clearly, the public education system at large cannot commit to this, especially in Texas. So, it is the duty of environmentalists – as members of our local and state communities, as teachers, as big brothers and sisters, as parents, aunts, and uncles – to inform future generations of the looming (and melting) obstacles ahead. If we do not, they might run into calamities of titanic proportions.

Still, the full force of environmentalism cannot inform these students if their core educational principles do not change. So let us take a step back: if public schools cannot educate students on such important issues as the environment, what can it do? Well, for a start, it might better learn how to teach future voters how to form a caring opinion. The voter turn out in the US is increasingly deplorable, and that is no secret. Perhaps this stems from the education system’s paranoia of politics and appearing to take a particular stance. Sorry, Everytown ISD – time to grow a backbone.

No need to herald some political leaning or endorse a candidate here. Just teach kids the importance of forming their own opinions – it’s part of teaching citizenship. More importantly, teach students to inform themselves of their own free will. I do realize that environmentalism ideally would not be considered a “political” issue, since it concerns forces that affect all humans and that no government can control or alter. However, with that in mind, the ideal result of teaching students the value of seeking information in earnest would generate general support for environmentalism. Even more ideally, the US Government would run far more smoothly and voter turn-out would improve as citizens rushed to provide their involved, informed consent at the polls.

I salute the aims of Common Core, but the true goal may be missed here: the time has come for the public education system  to start teaching students how to choose and how to inform themselves with care. Once such values are in place, then we environmentalists can truly turn these millennials into little green men and women by involving and informing them. Perhaps then the government that all too often slows the will of the people, would drive us to a more agreeable – and hopefully, greener – future.

– Harry Watson, Conservation Intern

Rally for Renewables in Austin

SIerra Club members and volunteers outside AUstin CIty Hall on Thursday June 20th.

SIerra Club members and volunteers outside Austin CIty Hall on Thursday June 20th.

Last week, members and volunteers with Sierra Club showed their support at the Rally for Renewables outside of Austin’s City Hall. The event was part of the Beyond Coal Campaign to reduce dependence upon coal burning and increase utilization of wind and solar energy. Why are dirty coal plants a continuing issue in the 21st century? The focus, or heart,  of the rally is to encourage Austin’s mayor and city council to retire the Fayette Power Project and be coal free. The emphasis here is on retire vs selling the plant off and “greenwash” the city into a state of coal free energy. Retiring the plant would ensure the end of the devastating effects the burning of coal from this plant has on our environment. Below are some quick facts to help everyone understand the importance of relieving us of our dependence upon burning coal.

Coal plants are our nation’s top source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Burning coal is also a leading cause of smog, acid rain, and toxic air pollution. These emissions of toxins into our environment leads to various forms of climate change.  Various forms of pollution includes: Mercury, Sulfur Dioxide, Nitrogen Oxides, and Ash.

Toxic Mercury  is released into our atmosphere and then returns to the surface via rain and enters our streams and rivers. Prolonged exposure to Mercury can lead to numerous neurological and heart damaging conditions. An uncontrolled power plant can emit approximately 170 pounds of Mercury ash per year.

Coal plants are the leading source of Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) pollution. An uncontrolled power plant can produce up to 14,000 tons of SO2 per year. SO2 accumulation in the atmosphere causes acid rain which leads to the destruction of crops, forests,  and soils, and acidifies our lakes and streams.

Nitrogen Oxide causes ground level smog. An uncontrolled plant can emit over 10,000 tons of Nitrogen Oxides per year. This pollutant is naturally found in the atmosphere, however, human activities such as agriculture, transportation, and industries have been steadily increasing the amount found in the atmosphere.

U.S. Nitrous Oxide Emissions, By Source:

In the US alone, we produce no less than 140 million tons of coal ash pollution. All of that ash has to go somewhere, and in most cases it is dumped in the backyard of these coal plants. This ash can be put into open-air pits or into man-made ponds. Unregulated dump sites can leach these pollutants into the ground and potentially into our ground water systems, by way of aquifers.

Overall, The Rally for Renewables was a success! Numerous volunteers came out to show their support for the cause. The event lasted for nearly 2 hours with many different community members making appearances. This event, just like any like it, is an important demonstration to our local governments. As citizens of this earth, we have the right to have our voices heard, just as they were last week.

Written by: Courtney Dunphy

Call to Young Artists: Design the 2013 Renewable Energy Roundup Poster!

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Seeking young Texans ages 9 to 18 to submit renewable energy poster designs

Deadine July 1, 2013

The Renewable Energy Roundup and Green Living Fair Art Contest was created to draw upon young people’s artistic expression to convey the importance of renewable energy and living sustainably in Texas. Pieces will be judged on creativity and inclusion of renewable energy (solar and wind), Texas, farming and green living practices.

The purpose is to enhance public awareness of the importance of renewable energy and sustainability in the artists’ and viewers’ lives and to convey how personal actions affect the world.

  •   Rules: The contest is open to all students in Texas ages 9 thru 18.
  •   Entry Requirements: Poster design must be original, and may be computer or electronically generated, hand- drawn or photographed. It must not violate any copyrights, intellectual property rights or contain other infringements. Electronic submissions must be 300 DPI (JPEG or PDF preferred).
  •  Size: Any size between 8.5 x 11 inches and up to 28 x 22 inches.
  •   Deadline: All entries must be postmarked or delivered no later than: July 1, 2013.

  •  Mailed entrees:
    The Roundup Art Contest P O Box 2735; Fredericksburg TX 78624
    Emailed entrees: info@theroundup.org
  •  Hand-delivered entrees:
    Laura Rice; 604 N Bowie; Fredericksburg, TX 78624
    Call 830-456-1341 to arrange
  •   Required: Submitted artwork must have clearly printed on the back: Artist’s name and contact information, parents name, school or facilitator name, including mailing address, phone, email.

The winner will be determined by a vote of the Roundup Planning Committee. All decisions are within the discretion of the committee and those decisions are final.

The winner will be announced and their artwork will be displayed in the art exhibit area during the fair weekend, in addition to being the official t-shirt art for 2013. First Prize $200 Cash + event tickets, 2nd – 5th place gift cards + event tickets.

All entries become the sole property of The Roundup. The Roundup will own all personal, intellectual and other property rights and interests in each submission, including all copyrights, moral rights and publicity rights. The submissions will not be returned to the artist. The artist will not create derivative works of their submissions, nor use their submissions in any other way outside of this contest. A submission may be used to promote any Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair, and/or for any other Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair commercial or promotional purposes, regardless of media. The Roundup reserves the right to make modifications to size, and content display. By sending in a poster design, you agree that the Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair may use, without compensation, artwork and the winner’s name, age, town and likeness for promotional purposes in Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair’s 2013 campaign.

Limited to one entry per person.

Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair
P.O. Box 2735 | Fredericksburg, Texas 78624 | 830-997-2350

The Renewable Energy Roundup & Green Living Fair is organized by: The Center for Policy Studies and Texas Renewable Energy Industries Assoc.

Texas Water Fluoridation Controversy

When you turn on the water faucet in your kitchen to fill up a water bottle, you don’t usually think about the origin of the water you’re about to drink, how it was treated, and what may have been added to it. The only thing you’re really thinking about is how thirsty you are. We all need water, so we’re all used to just drinking whatever water we can get, as long as it looks clean and comes from a home, business, or water bottle. So it’s not surprising that most people have no idea that fluoride is put into their drinking water every day for dental hygienic reasons, not water treatment.

Woman Drinking Glass of Water

                Water fluoridation started in the 1940’s, when tooth decay was a problem and scientists had been researching the differences in natural fluoride concentrations in water sources. What they found was that areas with moderate amounts of fluoride in the water had fewer cases of tooth decay than those with water sources with lower amounts of fluoride. While they also found that excessive amounts of fluoride could cause things like dental fluorosis, communities started adding moderate amounts of fluoride into their drinking water to keep teeth healthy, at the recommendation of several dental associations as well as the FDA.

Today, water fluoridation has stirred some controversy. The side that promotes water fluoridation states that the benefits of fluoridated water completely outweigh the negatives. Fluoridation costs about fifty cents a year per person, which is cheaper than dental visits, and it has been proven to prevent tooth decay, reducing a person’s risk by about 25%. People who oppose community water fluoridation state that the government should not be in control of medicating communities through public resources because it does not allow people to make the choice of whether or not they want to be medicated, especially since the amount of fluoride one should have for dental use differs per person depending on age, etc. They also state that with increased public knowledge of dental hygiene, there is no longer any reason for the public to be given extra amounts of fluoride. Lastly, they state that many countries in Europe and the US have similar amounts of tooth decay, but most countries in Europe do not use fluoridated water, so the true effectiveness may vary.

Here in Texas, around 80% of the population that uses public water drinks water that is fluoridated. Some communities, including places like College Station, Lago Vista, and Alamo Heights, have voted against water fluoridation, and many more have groups that are trying to end fluoridation. Whichever side you stand on for community water fluoridation, water is our most important resource, so continue to be educated about what is in your water and how it affects you.

Could Public Transportation Be Taking Flight in Bat City?

frog-design-wire-gondola-public-transportation-628

Soaring Over Traffic

While it may sound like another Austinite’s half-baked idea, last Wednesday during an event titled ‘Nerd Nite’ designer Michael McDaniel laid out a compelling case for gondolas, the cable propelled ski variety, as a viable public transportation mode here in Austin.

Among his claims, McDaniel, a member of Frog, an Austin-based international design firm, posits cable propelled transit would be considerably cheaper than the current proposed plans, require a smaller infrastructure footprint, be comparable in scale and speed, and make for a really fun commuting experience.  Yes, fun commuting experience. As for their environmental impact, gondolas demand far less energy to operate than contemporary transportation alternatives and with the proposed system being powered by a single drive house, retrofitting the operation to future energy technologies should be an easy switch.

As wacky of an idea as ski-lifting around town sounds to some, Austin would not be the first metropolitan area to adopt the high-flying approach. In fact, the technology has existed in this very country for decades.

Since its first trip in 1976, New York’s Roosevelt Island Tramway has shuttled over 26 million passengers from the east side of Manhattan to Roosevelt Island. Dozens of other cities around the world have deemed cable propelled transit the logical solution to their public transportation challenges. Last year, London built an aerial cable crossing the Thames. What used to be an hour and a half commute through often life-threatening favelas has become a sixteen minute glide above the famed vistas of Rio de Janeiro. Two French cities will start service by 2015. Even our competitor as the American counter-cultural mecca, Portland, OR already uses a cable system to transport passengers up its Marquam Hill.

While we shouldn’t jump into action just to out-weird Portland, if Austin is serious about providing a world-class public transportation system to its ever growing population it needs to consider all options, no matter how lofty they may seem.

Whether or not Austin decides to adopt the gondola system proposed by McDaniel or stick with a more traditional method, its going to be difficult to go back to thinking about buses and trains after we’ve envisioned soaring above our beautiful city, with its rolling hills and shimmering waters laid out below us as we are whisked quickly and cheaply to work–or, lets face it, for many Austin residents, their dealer’s house.

Read more about Frog’s proposed Gondola system, ‘The Wire’…

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/11/forget-subways-austin-needs-mass-transit-gondolas/4035/

http://www.fastcodesign.com/1671214/a-mass-transit-proposal-to-connect-a-city-using-aerial-gondolas

http://www.bizjournals.com/austin/blog/at-the-watercooler/2013/02/austins-gondola-network-a-hit-at-ted.html?page=all

-Avery Thompson
Sierra Club Communications Intern and former ski gondola operator in Vail, CO

Celebrate Earth Day

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Texas constitutes 0.004% of the Earth’s surface

Earth Day events happening around Texas…

Austin
Austin Earth Day Festival
Saturday, April 20th, 12pm-7pm
Browning Hangar at Mueller Park
4550 Mueller Central Dr., Austin, TX 78723
http://www.earthdayaustin.com

Beaumont/Port Arthur/Orange
2013 Trail Between the Lakes Hike
April 19th , 20th, & 21st
www.texas.sierraclub.org/triangle/pages/trail.html
Phil Rogers – philarogers@gmail.com – 409-543-4616
Bruce Walker – bwalker@gt.rr.com – 409-782-3486

Belton
Earth Day Festival Belton
April 13, 9 am – 5 pm
Organized by AWARE Central Texas and
Belton Chamber of Commerce
Contact: Linda Griffith or Richard Paul Thomas at (254) 947-4717 or via email to linda@tbcinternational.com orrichard@tbcinternational.com.http://www.beltonearthday.com

Brazos Valley
Brazos Valley Earth Day
April 20, 2013
11 am – 7 pm
Wolf Pen Creek
Organized by The Brazos Valley Earth Day Committee
http://www.brazosvalleyearthday.com

Corpus Christi
Earth Day Bay Day
Saturday, April 13th, 10am to 5pm
Heritage Park
1581 N Chaparral St, Corpus Christi, TX 78401
Sierra Club Contact:
Lois Huff, huffs@the-i.net, 361-774-1500
http://www.facebook.com/events/426674934068213/

Dallas
Earth Day Dallas
April 20-21, 10 am – 6 pm
Fair Park
Organized by Earth Day Dallas (EDD)
http://www.earthdaydallas.org

Edinburg
The City of Edinburg Earth/Arbor Day Festival
Saturday, April 27th, 9am to 1pm
Edinburg World Birding Center
Includes a 1 mile family walk and a ‘Bicycle Rodeo’
http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=496129070453227&set=a.136022163130588.26197.135992229800248&type=1&theater

El Paso
El Paso’s Earth Day
Saturday, April 20, 9 am – 1 pm
Union Plaza District
Organized by City of El Paso
Environmental Services Department
home.elpasotexas.gov/environmental-services/documents/El%20Pasos%20Earth%20Day%202013%20Invitation%20for%20Exhibitors-Vendors.pdf
http://www.downtownelpaso.com/el-pasos-earth-day-celebration-2013/

Houston
Earth Day Houston
April 14, 11 am – 5 pm
Discovery Green
Organized by Air Alliance Houston
http://www.earthdayhouston.org

McAllen
Vida Verde Earth Day Festival
April 20, 9 am – 4 pm
Quinta Mazatlan
Organized by City of McAllen
http://www.quintamazatlan.com/events/special/vidaverde.aspx

San Antonio
April 18: “Earth Day” NW Vista College (9 A.M. – 1 P.M.)
April 22: “Earth Day” San Antonio College (10 A.M. – 2 P.M.)
April 23: “EarthFest” UTSA 1604 (11 A.M. – 2 P.M.)
Contact Gay Wright at alamo.sierra@yahoo.com or(210) 362-1984.

Earth Day San Antonio
April 20, 2013
10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Woodlawn Lake
Organized by Build San Antonio Green
http://www.heb.com/page/about-us/community/events/san-antonio/earth-day-2013

Texoma
Texoma Earth Day Festival
April 20, 7:30 am – 5:00 pm
Municipal Ballroom and Grounds
Sherman, TX
http://www.earthdaytexoma.org

Want to Spend the Summer in Austin Fighting Climate Change?

Are you looking for a meaningful, professional internship in Austin this summer? Great! We’re looking for Summer interns!

Austin, TX

Austin, TX

As you may know, The Sierra Club is the oldest and largest grassroots environmental organization in the country. The Texas chapter focuses on many environmental issues including but not limited to energy efficiency, fossil fuel dependency, endangered species, and water conservation. Interns will have the opportunity to help organize a grassroots campaign, work in communications, and conduct policy research. Interns will also learn real skills through professional training workshops and work with a professional staffer as a mentor and resource.

Qualifications: A passion for environmental issues and social change, strong communication and people skills, and a desire to develop campaign organizing skills. No previous experience required.

Interns and Volunteers Making a Difference

Interns and Volunteers Making a Difference

Check out our Craigslist post!

To apply: Please send your resume and cover letter to Student Outreach Coordinator Tansy Stobart at tansystobartsc@gmail.com and CC Internship Manager Lydia Avila at lydia.avila@sierraclub.org. Applications are due Wednesday, May 8th at 12:00 PM.

We hope to hear from you soon!