Author Archives: Alanna R Harding

About Alanna R Harding

Alanna is a member of the Penn State University Class of 2018 and she intends to major in Finance and Economics with a minor in Business Law.

Alternative Travel Project

I think most people know by now that I am a bit of a TV junkie and right now one of my favorite shows is Castle starring Nathan Fillion and Stana Katic. By now I imagine that you are asking why I am talking about my favorite tv show a blog entitled “Perspectives on the Environment” and admittedly that’s a good question. I’m glad you asked. Well sometimes stars of TV shows are in excellent places to advocate for meaningful change as they have a built in fan base. Stana Katic is a star that has used her platform in a way that has the potential to have a meaningful impact on the environment.

Stana Katic developed the Alternative Travel Project in 2010. According the Alternative Travel Project website, the organization is described as follows:

“The Alternative Travel Project is a global initiative to encourage people to GOcarFREE for just one day.

ATP also encourages public planners and policy makers to provide safe, viable alternative travel infrastructure to support alternative travel choices.

ATP aims to create a worldwide community of people looking to enjoy the social, health and environmental benefits of car-free travel. ATP believes that the steps an individual takes toward alternative travel, even for a single day, can have a global impact. While cars are often a necessary part of our modern existence, they don’t have to be a part of our EVERY day.

ATP highlights opportunities for individuals to volunteer days outside the bubble of their cars and move into an integrated, powerful and positive future for themselves, their community and our planet as a whole.”

The Alternative Travel Project is an exciting movement for a variety of reasons! First of all, the Alternative Travel Project focuses on a practical change that each person to make to help the environment. Often times, groups attempt to solve large sweeping problems through large sweeping changes but unfortunately this does not always result in change. For example, the Union of Concerned Scientists developed what they call a “realistic plan to cut projected U.S. oil use in half in 20 years. By increasing fuel economy, producing better biofuels, and investing in electric vehicles, we can cut our oil use, reduce global warming emissions, and clean up our air.” The realistic plan then goes on to tell readers to buy a fuel efficient or electric car and to consider their vacation plans based on the environment. But this is not always realistic especially for low income families.

In fact the Union of Concerned Scientists actually requests that a Family of 4 take a motor coach for 1,000+ miles if they are going on vacation. Let’s be realistic… no family in their right mind would travel 1,000+ miles with small children on a bus.. that would be hell. Saddling people with such requests unfortunately has the effect of individuals feeling that they can make no difference at all.

The Alternative Travel Project succeeds in impacting change as it makes a small request that everyone has the power to fulfill. Stana Katic’s organization simply requests that every person go car free when traveling. This is a mission that could have a serious positive impact on the environment.

According to the ATP, “if everyone in the world went car free for one day, 11.7 million tons of CO2 would be saved! On average, 1 car emits about 1 pound of CO2 per mile.” Since 1 tree absorbs 20 pounds of CO2 each year, it takes 365 trees to absorb the CO2 that 1 person emits driving 20 miles a day for a year. That’s a big deal! Put simply, one day of being car free could equate to saving 1 billion trees!

This is the impact of the little things. While we as citizens have little to no control over making sweeping change in the field of environmental protection, we can certainly make an impact in small and meaningful ways. I urge you to consider spending one day without a car when your home for the summer or (if you use a car now).

Additionally, consider walking to save the environment using the app charity miles. Through this platform we can donate to The National Conservancy Fund which actively works to limit greenhouse gas emissions by encouraging conscientious living and by working to plant trees which limit our emissions. Additionally, while you are here on campus choose to walk or ride the CATA bus instead of driving a car.

Keep it Green.

It’s Not All Science

  1. Though Americans make up just 4 percent of the world’s population, we produce 25 percent of the carbon dioxide pollution from fossil-fuel burning — by far the largest share of any country.
  2. Since 1870, global sea levels have risen by about 8 inches.
  3. According to the U.S. Global Change Research Program, the temperature in the U.S. has increased by 2 degrees in the last 50 years and precipitation has increased by 5%.
  4. Each year of the 21st century is among the hottest in history.Slide23
  5. According to IPCC 2007 report, sea levels will rise by 7-23 inches by the end of this century due to global warming.
  6. By the end of the century, around 150,000 people will have died of heat related causes.

These statistics are horrifying… yes. So horrifying it makes a reader just want to shut down, thinking that there is little that can be done to actually effect change. Too often I find the conversation about the environment surrounds statistics like this, simplified for the average joe shom to understand. But in attempting to express the seriousness of the matter, scientists and advocates fail to connect with the average person.

Spewing facts and figures at me does not affect change. An advocate needs to spur an connection for me between me and an issue. So how do we make a connection? Emotion

I want to be shown what the result of sea levels rising by 7-23 inches by the end of this century due to global warming.

This video while it comes close to forming the emotion connection it still falls short. While I agree with Hank Green in that the secret to being green is understanding but emotional understanding is equally important to spurring change.

For me, science facts do not help me connect with the environment, what does help me connect with the issue of Global Warming is imaging the beauty of the outdoors being soiled by my own selfish actions.

I’m an avid biker and whether or not the weather is good, I enjoy taking recreational bike rides. As I spend my time largely at the business building, I frequently take my wonderful bike rides in arboretum.


The arboretum is a beautiful place… simply stunning in it’s simplicity and wonder.

Why would I want to live in a world that I may not be able to enjoy the beautiful wonder of the arboretum and demonstrations of nature similar to the arboretum? I wouldn’t. I am emotionally connected to the arboretum and the nature that love to observe while I am on my daily bike rides and that is how I have become connected to the environment.

Studies have shown that “fifty percent of every buying decision is driven by emotion” which demonstrates that our actions are truly connected with our emotions.

So what can we do? We need to re-frame the conversation. Environmental advocates and politician must approach the public with a sensitivity to what helps consumers make decisions… emotions.

I would like an environmental advocate to help me connect the reality of global warming and increasing CO2 levels with imaginable real world effects. This is how we will impact real change.

EXAMPLE: Below is a clip of an article taken from the article: Climate Change will ruin Hawaii

  • “Higher average temperatures, stressing native animals and plants and causing an uptick in heat-related illnesses in people (think dengue fever or cholera), as well as a higher concentration of invasive species;
  • A decrease in trade winds, which would disrupt the rainfall patterns across each of the islands and create periods of drought and heavy rain and flooding;
  • Warmer oceans and higher ocean acidity, which could trigger massive coral bleaching, marine migration, and affect the ocean’s circulation and the way it distributes nutrients.

Perhaps the most obvious change around the state will be the rise in sea levels, which have risen about 0.5-1.3 inches per decade throughout the last 100 years. The study projects this rate to accelerate, resulting in a 1-foot to 3-foot rise (or possibly more) by 2100.

That would mean most of Waikiki and its famous beach would either be underwater or highly eroded by it. The animation above, taken from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Level Rise and Coastal Flooding Viewer, shows what sea levels would look like around Waikiki and Honolulu in a worst case scenario: if sea levels rose 6 feet. The new shoreline would be almost a full mile inland (past the Waikiki hotel strip and into neighborhoods such as Kakaako, downtown Honolulu, and even Moiliili). Such a scenario would impact hotel revenues by as much as $661.2 million, with a scary $2 billion lost overall, each year.”

Blah blah blah. I want to see passion. As a consumer I don’t really care that hotel revenues will be impacted…. I want to see powerful rhetorical descriptions of how this incredibly popular and beautiful site in Hawaii would be destroyed and how the memories of millions of people’s honeymoons would be erased by the excessive carbon use of the United States.

Strong emotional rhetoric is the clear path to environmental change.

-Keep it Green

Let’s Get Businessy….

Yes… I’ve decided that this is a word…. deal with it. So this an interesting time in the energy market. Over the last year…. the world has come to the realization that we are not running out of oil… “gasp”… in fact for the time being we have quite the glut of oil. There is oil coming out of our booties…. And since supply is such more intense than demand prices have plummeted over the past year.

As you can see, after trading at a fairly constant level from 2011 to 2014, the price of WTI ( a form of United States traded oil) plummeted due to the recently realized glut of oil and OPEC’s announcement from Saudi Arabia that OPEC would not cut oil production in order to stabilize prices and ever since, the oil markets have been the definition of turbulent. But what does this mean for the environment… well it means quite a bit.

While the need for sustainable clean energy is driven in some parts due to the desire to protect our environment. Another, more capitalistically focused, driver for finding sustainable renewable energy is the consideration that we have a limited amount of oil and that oil is overally expensive… both of which is not as big of a concern right now… because as supply increase the laws of supply and demand tell us that price has to fall as well.

With historically low oil prices, there is a logical concern in regards to the short term future of renewables.

“But Adam Sieminski, who heads the Energy Information Administration, said ‘oil was not in head-on competition with renewables when it came to electricity generation – and that government policies would help shield the clean energy industries.'”

This is not to say that there will be no demand for renewable energy as “’A lot of the demand that is coming for wind and solar additions in the US is supported through tax incentives and state energy programmes that require a certain percentage of electricity to come from renewables,’ Adam Sieminski told a breakfast hosted by the Christian Science Monitor.”

For 2014, the EIA expects “US greenhouse gas emissions to creep up in 2014″ – contrary to the intent of Barack Obama efforts protect our environment and prevent climate change.

Ford F-150 vs. Prius 

Photo Courtesy of

Photo Courtesy of

As demonstrated by the above chart, lower oil prices are without a doubt impacting car sales.

With oil prices significantly lower this year, there is also the belief that customers have much less of an incentive to purchase more expensive electric cars over gas guzzling trucks, Subaru, and even gas powered compact cars. Lower gas prices in general have a bullish effect on the overall car market, but does this carry over into the electric car market?

According to Capital Economics economist Paul Diggles, “Lower gasoline prices should give a particularly big boost to sales of less fuel-efficient light trucks, which already slightly exceed sales of cars,” he said in a recent note. “Not only are light trucks less fuel-efficient, they are, on average, more expensive and more profitable for manufacturers too.”

Many industry analysts, such as Paul Diggles, are concern that the demand for electric cars will continue to fall along with the price of oil however, electric car expert Robert Llewellyn does not share this conviction.  When writing on his blog, he shared his belief that the oil price decline is not likely to impact the electric car market. “As anyone with two brain cells is aware, people don’t buy electric cars just because petrol is expensive or cheap,” he wrote. “There are hundreds of reasons, the main one being that the technology is more interesting, impressive, reliable and it is possible to make your own fuel.

Recycling Impact

The fall in oil prices has had another less published impact on the market as a whole. Plastic, often derived from oil, used to be profitable to recycle. But now, according to Chris Collier, the commercial director of a recycler of bottles, pipes and sundry bits of plastic, “Many in the recycling industry are hanging by the skin of their teeth…Everybody is desperately chasing for money to stay alive.” The ramifications are serious. Many cities in the U.S. pick up detergent bottles, milk jugs and other types of household plastic and sell the scrap. According to the Wall Street Journal “These municipalities typically earned cash—as much as $10 a ton in parts of New Jersey(for example)—for selling recyclable materials under contracts that tie the sales price to commodities prices, with a minimum. In recent months, some expiring contracts have been replaced with new contracts that set no such floor. That raises the possibility for some municipalities that a moneymaker could turn into a loser.”

Not a Good Day to be in West Virginia

Okay. When reading I find that much of the discussion surrounding the environment surrounds around the social component of the environment, however, I personally feel that it is extremely important to consider the fiscal ramifications behind legislation and discussion of the environment. So in my postings, I will attempt to balance both the social and fiscal aspects of the environmental debate.

Not a Good Day to be in West Virginia

Monday, February 16, the state police were forced to evacuate residents of Mount Carbon, West Virginia, a small town near Charleston, due a train accident.  At 1:30 pm, several oil cars derailed and caught on fire. The CSX train was hauling 109 cars from North Dakota to the coastal town of Yorktown, Virginia, where midstream firm Plains All American Pipelines runs an oil depot.  According to West Virginia State Police First Sergeant Greg Duckworth, 9 or 10 of the cars had exploded in intervals of about every half hour.

The accident has led to a house catching on fire and oil leaking into the Kanawha River and one or more tanker cars fell into the river leading to concerns about potential contamination of water treatment facilities that serve two downstream communities according to Lawrence Messina, a spokesman for the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety. One person was being treated for potential inhalation.

Not only was this problematic for the train company and the person whose house was burnt down, the water contamination provides a serious dilemma problem. There are concerns that the oil spill could have affected the Montgomery Water System which services about 2,000 people in the area. Unsurprisingly water is running of the shelves as customers have been told to conserve water as the government attempts to determine the depth of the threat.

Photo Courtesy of Yahoo News

e Photo Courtesy of Yahoo News

This latest accident came just two days after a Canadian National Railways train from Alberta’s oil sands derailed in a wooded area of northern Ontario. 29 of 100 cars were involved and seven cars caught fire and 29 of 100 cars were involved in the accident overall. No injuries were reported, but the cars were still on fire on Monday as of 7:30 pm.

UPDATE: as of 1:00 p.m. on Wednesday, a full two days after the initial explosion in which 25 cars went off the rails, the train was still on fire. Luckily, no oil was detected in water of the river carried out by local water provider West Virginia American Water, and the Company restored water service to all customers in the area.

Not a Good Day to be a CSX Shareholder

CSX Corporation is a transportation supplier company which provides rail-based transportation services including traditional rail service and the transport of intermodal containers and trailers.  In response to the accident, CSX established a community outreach center to address community needs as a result of the train derailment and attempted to reserve rooms are hotels for displaced residents.

On Wednesday, CSX Corp. traded down 1.28% which represents shareholders concern in regards to the costs associated with the clean up and likely law-suit that the Company will face in regards to this accident.

Going Forward

An increased amount of rail accidents will likely spun United States and Canadian regulators to increase safety regulations of such shipments due to the concerns over the flammability of light oil from the North Dakota Bakken shale and the outdated nature of some tanker cars.  In fact, the U.S. Transportation Department has submitted a proposal to the White House to mandate an additional 1/8th inch of steel to most current oil train tank shells. Under this proposal, new models would have to have a thicker hull installed according to an article on yahoo news by Kara Van Pelt. Such regulations would seek to prevent these type of spills in the future and even more so, prevent types of accidents that the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic witness in 2013 in which 47 people were kill after a train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded.

Clearly, oil tankers burst and exploding poses a substantial risk to the environment overall, especially in regards to water pollution which has the potential to damage or wipe out entire ecosystems as was seen in BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico. Going forward we can only hope that the governments in North America will be able to find a safer way to transport the oil that our countries need.