Climate change is a reality that has been the pending subject in the United States for most of the time. Probably, this is one of the most skeptical nation towards man-made climate change, and this refusal to address the problem nation-wide has contributed in part to place the United States as the second country with more carbon dioxide emissions per capita in the whole world, only behind China. To create awareness about this issue among the young people and to contribute to create an environment less aggressive with nature that guarantees the sustainability of the campus was born Green UR. In this interview we will analyze the foundations of the group, the goals they achieved so far and the work that remains undone in the campus.

However, this time I wanted to get the perspective from someone whose work is not directly involved in the achievements and progresses University of Richmond is making. I wanted to get rid of all the biases possible and to get a true and real perspective from the ones that make University of Richmond such a unique college: the students. For this purpose, I have had the opportunity to interview Jerry Giordano, the President of Green UR and a senior of the 2011 class. Also I have had the pleasure to chat with Caroline Hansley, a sophomore that is taking Leadership studies that is currently the vice-president and one of the loudest voices that advocates for action against climate change in Richmond. They are only two of all the students that find that climate change is a problem that shouldn’t be postponed more time, and that is why their perspective is so valuable. No one more than Jerry and Caroline are willing to put effort and dedication to create a more sustainable university, and nobody will be more critical or flattering with the actions being made by the board of UR.

Q. When did the group Green UR started?

A. (Jerry Giordano) At first, all the environmentalist grievances were taken by a special commission of the Seniors Club, but 6 years ago a club called ReNEW was founded in the University. However, this clubs were very much divided and were not effective at all in achieving goals as although they had similar missions, the paths each of those took were very different. The Senior Club had more money to undertake actions, but the leadership of ReNEW was more concerned and more determined. That is why, in the beginning of my freshmen year (Fall 2008)  both groups were refunded to create Green UR, where I have been participating ever since.

 

Q.What are your goals as an association?

A. (Caroline Hensley) Two words: Quit Coal. Coal is the dirtiest and polluting source of energy, and we are still using it in our Campus. While most of the world is doing a clear effort to get rid of the dependence on coal, we still rely on it because is a cheap source of energy, but we don’t take into account in the cost-benefit analysis the long-term consequences that using coal will bring to future generations. We are a pressure group that is trying to push for the total convergence to renewable energy, which we think it can be also a way of saving money.

A.(Jerry Giordano) Apart from that, we are also working in sustainability as much as possible, and that is the bulk of our program: the use of Green Bikes to encourage people to use this way of transport instead than the car, the environmental awareness week that we do every semester, all the workshops that we make to all UR community, the talks with the Board to expand the Green Campus program, etc.

 Q. Do you think your Green UR has been successful so far?

A. (Jerry Giordano) Totally yes. All of the programs that I have mentioned before where Green UR have been directly involved in have done very well, especially the use of recycling bins in every class room and residence hall, the use of free bikes on campus, the participation in all the workshops that we have done so far, etc.

A. (Caroline Hansley) I think we have been quite successful as well. One third of the student body has signed the petition on quitting coal, and although the President hasn’t agreed to anything specific yet, I think we have done a great labor in education and awareness of UR community. At least people know now that our power station is fueled by coal and they are less skeptical about the detrimental consequences that climate change will cause.

 Q. Do you think the board that runs the University is doing enough to create a greener and more sustainable campus?

A. (Caroline Hansley) Yes, from an outsider it may look that they are doing a lot, but in reality they keep on burning coal on Campus, even though they know that affects the student’s health directly. In my point of view, I just think they are faking it.

A. (Jerry Giordano) No, definitely not.  We have a Climate Action Plan (CAP) that is just a set of good intentions, because nobody takes it seriously and it is not binding. It is supposed to cut down the emissions a 30% by 2020, but the amount of CO2 being poured into the atmosphere keeps on rising.

Even switching coal to natural gas, which is a very cheap and easy reform, remains to be undone. Natural Gas is cheap and pollutes less (I am not talking about 100% renewable energy convergence, just a change in the kind of fuel they use). For whatever reason, the environment is not a priority in our university, regardless the appearance we might give to the outer world.

At institutions of higher learning, I feel that they should take the future of their students very seriously and they are not doing so.

 

Q. Do you think this final goal of Green UR [create an environmentally friendly and sustainable campus] is viable?

A. (Caroline Hansley) Yes, without a doubt. There are more than two hundred campuses that use Renewable Energy sources only in our country. If other can, why the University of Richmond that has so much money can’t? The best of renewable energy is that it is free, it only requires an inversion in the beginning and that’s all. If we used solar panels we would erase completely our dependency in the summer semester and in part of the fall and spring semester whenever the weather is still good. Also, the convergence process would create jobs in the area, contributing to reducing the unemployment in Virginia. Renewable energy is the best investment we can make for the future.

A. (Jerry Giordano) Unlike Caroline, I think that the only viable thing right now is starting the transition, not completing it. What we should be doing now is to be taking the first steps now to get a “carbon neutral” campus before 2050, which is the deadline that the CAP has established. It has been scientifically proven that 2050 it’s going to be very late for our planet, and being carbon neutral by then won’t prevent all the problems that we will have to face in only four decades.

 Q.How would you make this transition?

A. (Caroline Hansley) There is a free option to do all of this, and it is called “Power Purchase Agreement”. What it basically involves is that a company installs solar panels (or other renewable energy source that they consider to be the most appropriate one) and the university buys the energy they create to the company that installed the panels. The University of California of San Diego saves from $50.000 to $75.000 with this agreement. *I can’t find any source that either affirms or contradicts the speaker’s data.

A. (Jerry Giordano) This is the question that most of the people who try to excuse the University immobility of the convergence issue, but I am only a student, and I don’t have the answers to this. I am not supposed to be the one counseling and designing viable solutions to the problem. It only requires to hire a group of experts to set the pathways to make the university a 100% renewable in the cheapest way – it is only a matter of putting more interest to it.

 Q. So, why do you think this is not happening right now?

A. (Caroline Hansley) I think that the explanation is that there is not enough demand for it. If instead than a third of the student body, all of the alumni requested a renewable energy powered campus, the things would be much more different right now. We have to get more involved and aware students to push for it, because the final decision made by the ones that has the power in this university is only invest some time and money in renewable sources, there is not a drastic change  needed. That is why we will only succeed when there’s enough pressure.

A. (Jerry Giordano) As I said before this is only a matter of interest, and this university is only interested in economic benefits. After all, we are a private institution, and everything is calculated by a rational cost-benefit decision-making process. If talking about environment is in vogue and makes our campus to look more liberal, they will address some kind of action only to get the appearance that we are ahead from the rest of our competitor colleges and to attract more students that are indecisive and will take the final decision based in the “politics” of the school.

However, there is not a real commitment; there is not a true belief that climate change should be addressed locally to make progress globally. They are looking to market themselves, and there is nothing beyond this pretending. At least the seek for a competitive advantage with other colleges have had beneficial consequences in our campus, but other universities, like the VCU are year ahead of us. The reason? Less skepticism and more demand from the student body.

 Here is the reality seen by the eyes of the two most committed students in UofR towards environmentalism. Should our University do more for the environment? The final reflexions and conclusions are left to the reader.

Paltering and politicians love each other. It is hard to find – not to say that it would be impossible, any politician that hasn’t lied at all or that has deliberately unclear about an issue, especially when they are running for office and every single vote counts. I haven’t found any evidence or a research paper about the average “paltering” of an ordinary person and a politician to contrast their differences. Maybe if a research like that was done, we would be surprised if it turned out that politicians don’t lie more than the average citizen, or that even people in their day to day live make a wider use of the “white lies” than electoral candidates do.

If that was the result, we shouldn’t be shocked at all. After all, politicians measure every word they say and the intonation used because their final aim is no other that to gain the people’s confidence, which hopefully would be translated into votes. Who would trust a politician that has been caught lying or that seems to have double standards depending on the context? – Yes, there are many cases which people vote for their candidate blindly, regardless their conflictive past or the falsity of his or her word. But the norm is that paltering has political consequences because people are considered to be rational, and rational people seek for a trust-worthy person to be their representative as they need to be sure that the candidate is the best person that could represent their own interest.

For instance, when the former Spanish Prime Minister, José María Aznar, denied in front of the whole nation that Al-Qaeda was behind the bloodiest terrorist attack that Spain has ever experienced, and gave another version of the story that didn’t match with the information the media was giving at the time, the paltering was evident. As a consequence, three days later in the general elections day, the ruling party lost the elections against all the polls predictions that gave the conservative party (Partido Popular) the victory.

So, if your party is the one in power or you are competing in a presidential campaign, it wouldn’t be a good idea to palter (as it has to be deliberately). The winner takes it all, and just one mistake on a touchy issue could sentence your career to death.

Michele Bachmann can be the American example that illustrates how a promising career can fade by having double standards, or by having certain beliefs that you end up giving up because they are not “popular” if the campaign is aiming a wider scope of voters.

One of her biggest contradictions is the treatment she gives to LGTBQ people. While she was only a senator of Minnesota in the year 2004, she gave an hour speech where she expressed her views about homosexuality at that time. In that rally, Bachmann said she was not “bashing” people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender, and added: “we need to have profound compassion for people who are dealing with the very real issue of sexual dysfunction in their life, and sexual identity disorders.” “It’s sad,” she continues. “Any of you who have members of your family that are in the lifestyle – we have a member of our family that is – this is not funny. It’s a very sad life (…) it it is “profoundly sad to recognize that almost all, if not all, individuals who have gone into the lifestyle have been abused at one time in their life.” Her speech is really worth from hearing, and you can do it here. Anyone that hears the audio or read these words would disagree that the language she uses is insulting, full of homophobic prejudices and loaded with a sense of heterosexual superiority.

However, after saying that being gay is being a part of “Satan” or that homosexuality is a “sexual dysfunction”, she affirmed in a T.V interview that she doesn´t “judge gay people” (1:18 of the YouTube video). Also, she says she believes that everybody has honor and dignity, regardless their sexual orientation, in spite the several insults she freely threw to the gay community.

Many polls, like the Real Clear Politics, suggest a fall of Michele Bachmann’s popularity, which is now sitting in the sixth place, with an average of 4.8% support. This is a huge backward step, more taking into account that in July, she was the second best favorite after Mitt Romney. Seema Mehta, a journalist from Los Angeles Times suggests that Bachmann may be doing this to herself but, “the danger for Bachmann is that her misstatements are so pronounced and so numerous that they erode her effort to regain footing in the presidential race.”
The abuse of paltering and the incapacity to keep creating sympathy among voters after repeated episodes of lies or misstatements can be a deathly combination.

Money for politicians is of vital importance. All the webpages, the administrators of the social networks such as twitter or facebook, the rallies around the country and the advertisements all consume millions of dollars, and the experience has shown that the more money a candidate has, the greater the chances of making his/her way into the White House.

Once thing we have to realize about the democracy: candidates win with the citizens votes, but citizens vote only for those candidates whom they have heard from, and the only way of reaching people without the filter of the press is through paid advertisements, and that costs money. This was what Albert Pollard told us last week and he couldn’t have been more clear about it. Politics is not (only) a question of being skilled in public speaking and being smart to come with good solutions fo the challenges the nation may be facing, it is also having the support from the rich and the enterprises that may have some interest in you as a candidate.So, if a person is running for office, is our duty as citizens to see where the money for that campaign is coming from, as it is more than likely than the future person in power might favor the companies that once stood by his side making it possible to get to power. This money given is not for charitable purposes, they are investments, and that is why big companies grouped in PACs usually support candidates from both parties – in the end the goal is to have someone in power that owes you a favor.

This time we will investigate the sources from candidate Michele Bachmann, the only candidate from the Tea Party.

Bachmann it’s not an ordinary politician. Normally members of the House of Representatives that present themselves as candidates for President have big support from PACs as national elections are much more competitive and expensive than local elections. The wider the target is, the more money is needed.

However, Bachmann doesn’t receive a single dollar from PAC contributions, all the money comes from individual contributions as the following chart shows. If you click in the image bellow, you will be redirected to Open Secrets, the website where this information has been extracted from.


 

This is the ideal of politician that should represent the “Demos” (the people in Greek), as if there’s no company making the individual’s political career, her interests will never be contaminated by those from the biggest companies. If it was liked that, politicians wouldn’t have any reasons to do things that may upset their constituency. The fact that 73% of her money is coming from small individual contributions is an indicator from her public support, but this does not necessarily mean that Michele Bachmann would be a hundred percent faithful to her believes if she ever gets to be the first female President (which we know, is very unlikely)

If we look deeply in these sources, we find that a big portion of  “private contributions” are made by people closely related to big enterprises that lobby in the Congress. Here are the top five companies that have contributed for Bachmann’s 2011-2012 campaign:

 

To our surprise, the first company on the list is Fagen Inc, which is a business specialized in construction of renewable energy facilities, including ethanol, wind farm, and biomass. Why would an enterprise interested in raising the awareness of climate change a public policies that encourage people not to consume fossil fuels be interested in Michele Bachmann that is the antichrist for all environmentalist? Why foster her career when she has said repeatedly that man-made climate change is a myth? Maybe the lobbyists from Fagen Inc have realized that the best technique they could embrace is having the “enemy” by their side, hoping that she would take Climate Change into consideration if she ever wins or at least, hoping that she wouldn’t pass any law that went against their own corporative benefits.

We can be more supportive of the Climate Change cause, or either we can remain skeptical, but this is a good example that demonstrates how the interests of the companies that support a campaign may not be the same the candidate is proclaiming. Is it healthy for a democracy where the people’s wills are the ones to be represented in the chambers to allow big companies that have completely different interests of the politicians beliefs to fund their campaigns?

This is one of the greatest challenges western “democracy” faces, and finding a solution to it maybe contributes to erase the so-called “democratic deficit”. But, while we wait for that compromised solution that regulates contributions made to politicians, we should keep on tracking the money sources. As Albert Pollard said, always follow the money.

 

This is an audio summary of the interview and chat we had the pleasure to hold with Mr. Albert Pollard, a former member in the Virginia House of Delegates. During this time he showed us how important is the symbiotic relation between the media and politics, how politicians play with words to deliver a message that relies in the subconsciousness of the reader and finally, what meant for him all those years serving the citizens of the 99th district.

On my last research, we focused in Michelle Bachman to see to what extent her words were true.

However, looking for Michelle Bachman’s speeches, I found that she proposed a constitutional amendment to define marriage only between a man and a woman. Besides that, she was also opposed to the suppression of the “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military, as well as many other GOP candidates. Here is an example of what happened in the Republican debate when Santorum was asked about soldiers being openly gay in the military.

As youmay know, “don’t ask, don’t tell” didn’t ban homosexuality in the army, but it prohibited indirectly being openly gay. I wondered why being able to come out in the military was so important for the gay community, and if Bachman’s intentions were realistic. Could she as the President initiate a constitutional amendment that was so clearly homophobic?

All these questions were answered by Glyn Hughes, the director of Common Ground in the University of Richmond.

“I say Mr. President, stop. The last plan hasn’t worked and it’s hurting the American economy (…) Job creation has been literally zero out with the worst job report in 66 years given this last month (…) Four years ago President Bush’s deficit was around $1.67 Billion, today President’s Obama deficit is nearly 10 times that amount”

Michelle Bachman is right up to a certain point.

In one hand, it is false that the job creation has been literally zero. As the “Employment situation summaryfrom the Bureau of Labor Statistics points out, jobs have been made (especially in the Healthcare and mining sectors). In fact, the unemployment rate fell in 2010, partially due to this Economic Stimulus Plan approved in 2009. We can see that the unemployment rate seize its peak in late 2009 and then starts to decrease (Fig.1). Whether it’s a fact attributable to Obama’s stimulus bill or a temporary trend, we can’t tell until time has passed to evaluate the impact of this public policy.

However, in the other hand it is true that the plan hasn’t worked (at least it hasn’t achieved the goals that Obama first intended). The intention with the economic stimulus was to reduce unemployment bellow 9% and to soften the recession – all this without increasing enormously the Federal Debt -. The last information available in the Bureau of Labor Statistics says that the unemployment rate in the month of August was 9.1, although it was expected to be lower.

Furthermore, the debt has also been a consequence (although expected) that was not calculated to be so high. In only ten years, American deficit has grown 10 times the deficit George W. Bush held in the year 2007. While at that year the deficit was a thrilling amount of $160,701 millions, in 2010 that amount has increased to $1,293,489 (figure 2).

deficit records

Maybe Bachmann´s statement about the deficit could be perceived as exaggerated or inaccurate from a first sight, but from the research made and the data found from governmental sources, her words are true.

Interview with Peter Clottey

Posted: September 27, 2011 in Uncategorized

Last Thursday we were honored to interview Peter Clottey, a Ghanian journalist that works for Voice of America.

During the hour conversation he talked about the challenges he faced to become a journalist, the role Voice of America has had expanding knowledge and bringing together different realities of the continent. We also discussed the issues South Sudan (the newest country of the world) is facing in order to become a prosper nation. Finally, we held a debate on wether African problems (like the fierce famine experienced in the Horn of Africa) could be solved with more international aid or if it’s deeper question…

In Peter Clottey’s words, “although Africa has improved in the last decade, there’s still much room for improvement” Journalists play a very important role in African development raising awareness and putting pressure on their politicians to address social issues. Let’s hope that freedom of press and the extension of mass media will continue fostering this improvement.