September 2016 eNewsletter

From the desk of OES:

“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. For example. toilet paper.”

You don’t know what you have until it’s gone. I saw this silly photo one day as I was scrolling through facebook. As I was in the bathroom at work the next day, it struck me how true it was; also how it relates to sustainability. How many times have you been in a stall without toilet paper desperately clawing at the roll? When I am in the bathroom at work with two huge rolls of toilet paper I will use more than my single roll I buy at home. And I will use even less when there is little to no toilet paper. It seems when our resources are (or seem) plentiful we take them for granted.

Located in the Great Lakes region, the largest freshwater body on Earth, we hear very little about water reduction. In the southwestern United States, every one is told to conserve water at home. Remember when gas prices soared in 2008? We learn that people tend drive less when gas is more expensive. We appreciate things more when they are in shorter-supply. Shouldn’t we then acknowledge how limited our natural resources are, appreciate and use them accordingly? 

This got me thinking about how much in life we take for granted. In preparing a few students to join me at the annual AASHE Conference in a few days, I was reminded how lucky we are to be in a place like Oberlin. Oberlin has shown courageous support for social justice causes. Oberlin has stated climate goals. Not every institution enjoys the supportive atmosphere we often have for our endeavors. Frequently I am struck by how vastly different the conversations in Oberlin are than in other places.

It can be hard to remind ourselves to appreciate the ground we stand on when we are constantly struggling to make greater progress. We can simultaneously be critical and acknowledge our privileges. I advised the students joining me at AASHE to take notice of their conversations with others at the conference and to recognize the kinds of opportunities and support that we often take for granted. Next month you’ll hear some reflections on what they take away from the conference.

Speaking of conferences, the first conference to grace the new Hotel at Oberlin will take place this week. It will feature prominent speakers, activists, and leaders from across the country to consider After Fossil Fuels: the Next Economy (more below). If you can’t join in person, the summit will be streamed online. October is a wonderful time, not only because it’s conference and wedding season, but it is also Campus Sustainability Month and it’s finally fall! Autumn is a wonderful time to enjoy some hot beverages, explore your local farms (pumpkin picking and corn mazes, anyone?), and bask in the fall foliage. We will be joyously indulging in the pumpkin-y flavors of fall at our next OES Hangout. We hope to see you soon! Happy Autumn!

– Bridget Flynn, Sustainability Coordinator

News & Announcements:

  • Introduction to the OES Team: Did you know the Office of Environmental Sustainability employs a team of nearly a dozen interns? Currently 11 Oberlin College students work with OES on a variety of important, unique projects. Meet our OES team here.
  • Oberlin College Carbon Neutrality Update: Ever-Green Energy is continuing work on the carbon neutral campus resource plan, implementation strategy, and economic approach. The Ever-Green Energy team is entering the final stages of evaluating Oberlin’s campus energy profile for this phase of the project. The project team has met with many campus and community stakeholders to better understand local energy needs, conservation opportunities, and energy source opportunities. As part of the ongoing student advisory and campus engagement process, a forum was hosted on September 20 to share preliminary findings. The initial findings and energy conservation and energy source recommendations are being reviewed and vetted for economic and technical feasibility. Recommended solutions will be prioritized based on their positive impact on the carbon reduction goals and their relative ease of implementation, and will be presented for approval in November.
  • After Fossil Fuels: the Next Economy Conference: Important conversations between the world’s leading change-makers will take place in Oberlin this week as we consider the post-fossil-fuel economy. Join the likes of Bill McKibben, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Hunter Lovins. More on this exciting event below and here!
  • AASHE Conference: The annual Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference kicks off next week in Baltimore, Maryland. From October 9-12, thousands of students, sustainability officers, and businesses in higher education will gather to discuss hot topics in sustainability. Oberlin will be well represented at the conference with college students Emma Ayzenberg and Gabe Jacobson presenting on their OES internships related to carbon neutrality efforts. They will be joined by Sustainability Coordinator, Bridget Flynn. Augustus Arthur, Project Manager of the Environmental Dashboard and John Petersen will be leading a workshop on educating using Dashboard technology. Ben Hobbs, the Facilities Manager of the AJLC and Oberlin Public School teacher, Jennifer Smilie will be along for the fun as well!
  • Farmers Market: Do you long for fresh produce, local goods, and want to support the community? Check out the weekly Oberlin Farmer’s Market! Saturdays from 9am – 1pm in front of the Oberlin Public Library.
  • Sustainable Campus Live! Competition: Remember the $50,000 grant competition mentioned last month? Well, the third round of the competition left three remaining finalists who will pitch their idea at the AASHE Conference. One finalist is from Oberlin College! The Environmental Dashboard wants to expand. Watch their video to learn about the project. More about the competition here.
  • Symposium Video: Videos from the Global Issues Symposium on Climate Change Consequences: Disruption, Migration, and the Development of Resilient Communities this spring are now available online. Visit the website here to see presentations and panels from the event.

Ra-ra for the Environmental Dashboard! Click to check out their video.

Upcoming Events:
For a full view of events visit the Environmental Events calendar: Through October – Oberlin Farmer’s Market | 9am-1pm behind the Oberlin Public Library: Fresh, local produce right down the street! The Oberlin Farmer’s Market hosts vendors from across the northeast Ohio area and features musical performances by local artists.
October 5 – A Sacred Duty: Applying Jewish Values to Help Heal the World | 7PM @ Wilder 101: Oberlin Animal Rights and Hillel will be sponsoring the screening of this documentary film focusing on Jewish teachings about caring for the earth, treatment of animals, and the environment, with a focus on vegetarianism. Interviews with rabbis, activists, and scholars are interspersed with footage and stills illustrating the points being discussed. All are welcome.
October 6-8 – After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy Conference: At the close of the hottest summer in recorded history, there is now widespread understanding that climate change is already upon us. But will the post-fossil fuel economy be prosperous, fair, durable, and resilient? What political economic and social changes must we make to ensure its success? A remarkable gathering of many of the world’s leading thinkers, political figures, economists, investors, philanthropists, business leaders, educators, and public intellectuals will explore those questions in depth at this three-day conference. They will discuss what changes are urgently needed to spur a successful transition to a sustainable, resilient, prosperous, and equitable economy driven by safe, renewable energy. The goals of this unique conference are bold: to transcend ideological and political differences, to highlight effective strategies, and to mobilize support for building the next economy. Sessions will be streamed online. View the conference website for more.
October 12 – Sea of Change: In-Asia Presentation: For two months, Kirk Pearson ’17 and Patrick Gilfether ’15 sailed across the Java Sea, documenting the changing maritime systems at a critical moment in Indonesian history. Come to Pearson’s In-Asia Grant presentation to learn more about his experience in Indonesia.
October 25 – Fall Bike-to-Work Day | Anywhere: To encourage faculty and staff to get out and ride, we welcome you to bike to work on October 25! Join in by biking to work and take a photo (safely!) of you and/or your bike and send it to A lucky winner will receive a special prize including bike lights.
October 27 – OES Hangout: Fall Spectacular | 4:30PM @ Wilder 112: OES Hangouts are a great opportunity for students and community members to get to know the Office of Environmental Sustainability, hang out and enjoy the delicious food, and meet other people interested in sustainability. Bring a friend and a vegan dish to share, or simply enjoy provided food and company with special pumpkin-y Halloween treats!

See more events or add yours to the Environmental Events Calendar here:

This month, Oberlin will be hosting the After Fossil Fuels: The Next Economy, a conference focusing on the transition to a clean energy economy. With that in mind, this numbers section explores the history of US oil production, and its unsustainable future.

The first commercial oil well in the United States was dug in 1859. Since then, oil production steadily climbed, until in 1970 US oil production peaked at 10,000 barrels per day. With modern technology, each barrel of oil (42 gallons) can be refined into 36 gallons of usable petroleum products such as gasoline, diesel, and jet fuel, which is an 85% efficiency rate. The energy needed to extract, refine, ship, and deliver a barrel of oil is equivalent to 1 barrel of oil for every 20 produced, and that ratio is even lower for oil extracted from tar sands, where it takes the energy equivalent of 1 barrel of oil for every 5 produced. Similar estimates for various forms of renewable energy have yielded ratios of 1:171:15, and 1:12, and the efficiency of oil production will continue to decline as we extract deeper and more marginal sources. It has been theorized that we have reached a point where we have extracted more fossil fuels than the remaining supply.

U.S. oil production (excluding Alaska) followed the bell curve this theory predicted; it reached a peak in 1970 and by the mid-2000s it had fallen to 1940s levels. In 1950, the United States produced over half the world’s oil, but by 2005 that proportion had dropped to about 8% (source). Various factors such as finding new reserves, wars, and changing demand have meant deviations, but the fact remains that current use of fossil fuels enables humans to consume energy at a rate far greater than it can be replaced. That by definition is not sustainable. Imagine how dependent the world’s economies and much of our society are on fossil fuels – for heating, for electricity, for transportation, for manufacturing. Consider for example, over 90% of transportation in the United States relies on oil. It’s time to consider the future.

Did you know?
  • Each year, the college and conservatory sponsor more than 500 concerts and recitals, about 40 theater and dance productions, and two operas.
  • The Oberlin Arboretum is nearly 100 acres of nature preserve featuring hundreds of trees, wildlife, multiple ponds, and various trails surrounding these beautiful features. This is a great place to take it the sights of the season.
Green Tips
  • Behavior Change for Carbon Neutrality: Oberlin College has a goal of being carbon neutral by the year 2025, and a part of that goal is counting on college resource users to change their actions to reduce carbon emissions. This means you! Simple actions like alerting facilities when your room is not the right temperature, turning off computers and unplugging electronics when not in use, using cold water to wash, and taking shorter showers might not seem like the most exciting things you can do to help the environment, but each of these actions is super important to helping the college reach our goal!
  • Certify Your Room: Make a pledge to live more sustainably and get credit for the good things you are already doing by certifying your room as a green room! Anyone, on campus or off can participate in the Green Room program, simply fill out the checklist of actions you already take or pledge to take, and receive a certificate recognizing your contributions! Certify here and encourage your friends to participate too.

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