The Green Gator at Allegheny College

Bill McKibben & the Power of Science Communication

By Sara Schombert, Eco-Rep


On February 16th, Bill McKibben visited this blog’s home, Allegheny College, as a guest speaker and a workshop instructor.  McKibben taught students about effective communication, and how to advocate for a cause.



For McKibben, the cause is to lessen the human contributions to global climate change.  He is an author of nearly fifteen books, all of which, directly or indirectly, revolve around that central theme.  Of the books which I have read, it is clear that McKibben demonstrates the scientific bases behind his assertions in a clear and effective way.  His writing motivates a broad audience, including the science-minded and otherwise.   By drawing from a variety of sources and teaching the science, he legitimizes his claims, yet still engages with the layman, as his language is understandable.


Apart from writing books and blog posts, McKibben has launched, a “global grassroots movement to solve the climate crisis.”  There exist innumerable organizations, websites, and blogs that share a similar motive, but has gained exceptional popularity in the past two years.  Why is this so?  I speculate that the presence of understandable scientific explanations behind the mission have made it both accessible and credible.  For some less successful organizations, excessively technical illustrations may be their downfall, proving too difficult for non-scientists to follow.  Or, on the other end of the spectrum, some organizations may lack adequate scientific bases and, consequently, will prove untenable.  Certainly, an activist group with comprehensible and sufficient science to support its mission is more likely to flourish.


In the case of McKibben’s, the 350 refers to the number of CO2 molecules (in parts per million) that would be considered “safe” in our atmosphere.  Currently, the atmosphere holds about 390ppm, putting us at risk of “reaching tipping points and irreversible impacts such as the melting of the Greenland ice sheet and major methane releases from increased permafrost melt” (  The number of CO2 molecules directly impacts climate change, as CO2 is a greenhouse gas capable of blanketing the earth by residing in the troposphere, thereby trapping in heat (source).  Albeit a controversial topic, the debate does not usually lie in whether climate change is happening as a result of residual greenhouse gasses or not.  Rather, the issue essentially questions whether humans have contributed to the change or not, and whether the consequences will be detrimental.


( employs various media to get their message across.  Without words, this video tries to explain the theory behind’s mission.)


Most scientists agree that humans have contributed to climate change, thus deeming it anthropogenic global warming (AGW), and the repercussions of AGW look, unfortunately, quite grim.


Luckily, suggests that we can still reduce the concentration of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere.  This is where scientists must play a powerful part in communicating with the public.  There is still widespread rejection and misunderstanding among non-scientists about what and why climate change is.  As we are at a pivotal moment, scientists and organizations like must continue to expound the science behind climate change in a meaningful way, reaching and motivating scientists and non-scientists alike.





McKibben spearheaded another organization, Tar Sands Action, to prevent the implementation of the Keystone XL Pipeline, which was expected to extend for 1,700 from Alberta, Canada, through the Ogallala Aquifer in Nebraska, and into Texas.  The pipeline would carry bitumen, which is a thick, tarry oil product that must be diluted with organic solvents to flow through the pipeline.  The petroleum and the solvents put the Ogallala Aquifer at risk for contamination.  The Aquifer is a water source that is heavily relied upon for residential and agricultural uses; thus, it became a major environmental health concern.
In order to halt the building of the pipeline, McKibben and his organization called for a protest.  Tar Sands Action employed several media outlets to explain the situation, urging potential protestors to truly understand the risks from a scientific standpoint.


On the day of the protest, it was clear that the majority of the 12,000 protesters that encircled the White House were honestly dedicated to the cause, and understood it well.  (Some of the picket signs had graphs… some with cited sources!)  I interacted with many “non-scientists” that were able to describe the challenges of transporting bitumen, and the excessive biproducts that result from the refinement process.  Effectively communicating the science behind the risks gave people a reason to protest.  For protestors to grasp the science that drove the movement was more compelling than being told instructions with science that gets overly-simplified or omitted altogether.


Good science communication is absolutely integral for successful activism.  McKibben, luckily, is skilled at communicating science to a lay audience, and it has helped his cause immensely.

Activism Training Workshop with Bill McKibben

Bill McKibben, environmentalist, author and activist, will collaborate with Students for Environmental Action to host an activism training workshop from 4 to 5:30 p.m. in Quigley Auditorium on Feb. 16. McKibben will share successful strategies and insights from his many years as a leading environmental activist. Students interested in activism, whether it’s environmental, political or personal, are encouraged to attend. For more details contact Maranda Nemeth at or Kelly Boulton at

Later, McKibben will give a presentation titled “350: The Most Important Number in the World” at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16 in Shafer Auditorium. The event, part of the Year of Sustainable Communities, is free and open to the public. More information can be found here.

Bill McKibben to speak in Shafer Auditorium

Environmentalist and Best-Selling Author Bill McKibben To Give Presentation at Allegheny College

MEADVILLE, Pa. – Feb. 2, 2012 – One of the world’s best known environmentalists, author and activist Bill McKibben, will give a presentation at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 16, in Shafer Auditorium at Allegheny College. McKibben’s talk, which is free and open to the public, is part of the college’s Year of Sustainable Communities.

McKibben will present “350: The Most Important Number in the World”, a discussion of climate change progression, science and activism.  In the summer of 2007, Arctic ice began to melt far more rapidly than scientists had expected. Before the season was out, they’d begun to conclude that the earth was already moving past tipping points — that indicators, from the thawing of glaciers to the spread of droughts, showed global warming was a present crisis, not a future threat. Our leading climatologists even gave us a number for the red line: 350 parts per million CO2 in the atmosphere. That’s a tough number, since we’re already past it.  In  this talk, Bill McKibben describes not only the science of the situation, but also the inspiring global movement that he’s led to help change the world’s understanding of its peril, and spur the reforms necessary to get the planet back to safety. The first big global grassroots effort to involve people from every nation, McKibben’s has crossed the boundaries of language and faith, and even the great gulf between rich and poor.  It’s become a vibrant, powerful movement for real change, and the basis for an utterly fascinating and necessary talk.

McKibben is the author of a dozen books about the environment. “The End of Nature,” which he published in 1989, is regarded as the first book on climate change written for a general audience. It has been published in more than 20 languages.

He is a founder of the grassroots climate campaign, which has coordinated 15,000 rallies in 189 countries since 2009. Time Magazine called him “the planet’s best green journalist,” and the Boston Globe said in 2010 that he was “probably the country’s most important environmentalist.”

McKibben’s second book, “The Age of Missing Information,” is an account of an experiment: he collected everything that came across the 100 channels of cable TV on the system in Fairfax, Va., for a single day. He spent a year watching the 2,400 hours of videotape and then compared it to a day spent on the mountaintop near his home in upstate New York.

Subsequent books include “Hope, Human and Wild,” about Curitiba in Brazil and Kerala in India, which he cites as examples of people living more lightly on the earth; “The Comforting Whirlwind: God, Job, and the Scale of Creation,” which is about the Book of Job and the environment; “Maybe One,” about human population; “Long Distance: A Year of Living Strenuously,” about a year spent training for endurance events at an elite level; “Enough,” about what he sees as the existential dangers of genetic engineering; and “Wandering Home,” about a long solo hiking trip.

In 2007 McKibben published “Deep Economy: the Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future,” which addresses what the author sees as shortcomings of the growth economy and envisions a transition to more local-scale enterprise.

He founded to demand that Congress enact curbs on carbon emissions that would cut global warming pollution 80 percent by 2050. With six college students, he organized 1,400 global warming demonstrations across all 50 states of America on April 14, 2007. Step It Up 2007 has been described as the largest day of protest about climate change in the nation’s history. A guide to help people initiate environmental activism in their community coming out of the Step It Up 2007 experience, titled “Fight Global Warming Now,” was published in October 2007.

March 2008 saw the publication of “The Bill McKibben Reader,” a collection of 44 essays written for various publications over the past 25 years.

McKibben is a frequent contributor to magazines including the New York Times, the Atlantic Monthly, Harper’s, Orion Magazine, Mother Jones, the New York Review of Books, Granta, Rolling Stone and Outside. He is also a board member and contributor to Grist Magazine.

He has been awarded Guggenheim and Lyndhurst Fellowships, and he won the Lannan Prize for nonfiction writing in 2000.

The Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, McKibben holds honorary degrees from a dozen colleges, including the Universities of Massachusetts and Maine, the State University of New York and Whittier and Colgate Colleges. In 2011 he was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

The Year of Sustainable Communities at Allegheny College is a series of activities, workshops and events aimed at inspiring the campus and community to examine what makes a community sustainable in the richest sense of the word—that is, able to provide a good quality of life to those who live and work there and to be resilient in the face of challenges.

For more information on the Year of Sustainable Communities, including a schedule of events, visit and click on the “Year of Sustainable Communities” tab.

Feast your eyes on the magazine recirculation station!

If you have a lot of time on your hands, feast your eyes on a variety of free literature from the magazine and newspaper recycle station in the Campus Center lobby. In January 2011, the Office of Student Involvement (OSI)started a newspaper and magazine recycling system after witnessing similar recycling stations at a student union conference. Since its debut, the green initiative has received many positive comments from the campus community.

Literature donations from the members of the community which include employees and students are sent to the OSI and are then labeled and placed in the station. In regards to criteria for literature content, Tricha Gregor, OSI Office Manager, states that, “As long as the donated magazines uphold Allegheny’s Statement of Community, the magazines are placed in the recycle station.” The diversity of literature topics ranges from fashion to politics, oftentimes, a reflection of campus community interests. On most weekdays, an Allegheny staff member also donates a copy of the local newspaper, The Meadville Tribune.

This green initiative is a great display of the collective efforts of the campus community and will remain accessible so long as donations continue to be made. If you have a magazine or newspaper that you would like to share, please send it to Box H for processing!!!  Everyone is also encouraged to grab a magazine to read while you’re grabbing a meal in McKinley’s or even borrow it for a couple days!


Need a place to live…sustainably?

Have you been considering your housing options for the coming school year? Will it be in a lonely dorm room or in a special interest house where home cooked meals are made with zest? Consider being a part of the Gator Green Living Community, a theme house and an evolving living-learning laboratory for sustainable practices.  Apply here!

The mission statement, borrowed from Allegheny’s strategic planning process and simply put, is, “Allegheny graduates should be the ones who solve the world’s environmental problems.” The Gator Green Living Community offers a unique opportunity to learn about sustainability while living sustainably with other engaged peers.

In previous years, Allegheny students have explored sustainable living by organizing events which include a bike-powered smoothie night, tutorials on how to make natural cleaning & body care products, and a vegan potluck. Since 2009, the GGLC has assembled a rain garden and a vegetable garden in order to practice healthy eating with organic and local foods. They have also developed a composting system to eliminate food waste as well as a greywater reuse system to minimize water waste.  Check out pictures from many GGLC events at the Green Gator Facebook page.

Students who join the GGLC develop strong bonds and foster growth in sustainable independent living. If you are interested in applying for the GGLC, applications are now available online until February 6th, 2012. Applications can be found here:



The Annual Trashion Show Returns in Spring 2012

By Tiffany NgThe annual Trashion Show is happening this spring so it’s time to start planning, designing and gathering your trashiest materials! Test your creativity by designing an outfit made of trash ranging from candy wrappers to old CDs to shredded plastic bags. Then you or your model can take a walk down the runway to a huge audience of students, faculty and community members ready to appreciate your creation. Don’t worry, there will be prizes, too!

The annual Trashion Show is used as a means of education to support waste minimization. During this event, various facts and trivia games will be presented in hopes of entertaining and enlightening the audience about the environment. We encourage all potential participants to begin brain storming and collecting interesting trash pieces now. Stay tuned for more updates about the specific details on how to submit your work.


For inspiration, check out the video from last year’s Trashion Show (Courtesy of Megan King ’13):

Allegheny Trashion Show 2011


The Trashion Show is a joint project of the Students for Environmental Action (SEA) and the Eco-Reps.




Steffee Solar Panels Are Soaking up the Sun

By: Tiffany Ng

Our Energy Challenge solar panels are here!

Last week, a six panel solar array was installed on the roof of Steffee Hall of Life Sciences by John Purvis of Solar Revolution. This project is the second solar installation on campus and it represents Allegheny College’s continued commitment to climate neutrality efforts.  Carlyn Johnson, a 2011 grad, installed Allegheny’s first two-panel solar array on Carr Hall last year as part of her senior comprehensive project.

The six panel array installed on Steffee last week is 1,680 watts and is capable of generating 2,036 kWh per year. It is interconnected to the electric grid through our main electric meter on campus. If you are walking by Steffee Hall be sure to give the solar panels a good look before the snow gets in the way!

The funding for this $8,400 project came from the $12,000 of electricity savings accrued during the October Energy Challenges in 2010 and 2011. During these two months, the campus reduced electricity consumption by 10.4% and 9.8%, respectively, from the average baseline consumption of other years. The campus community, including student groups, faculty, and residence halls, organized events like glow-in-the-dark meditation and acoustic open mike night to promote alternative activities that minimize our electricity dependence and also practiced responsible energy behaviors like turning off lights, shutting down computers at night, studying in common areas, and using power strips to combat phantom draws.  All these efforts contributed to the financial savings and the subsequent solar panel installation.

The remaining savings will be used for other costs related to the solar installation, including visibility and education.  One potential addition is a touch screen monitor that will allow campus members to see how much energy is created by the solar array each day and over time.

This project would not have happened without the contributions and efforts of Allegheny students, faculty and staff. Let us continue taking initiative so that we can see more energy efficient installations on campus!

While Allegheny College has taken the first step toward renewable energy alternatives, we can anticipate seeing more solar installations in individual homes in the future as they become more affordable. Earlier this year, the Department of Energy came out with the Sun Shot Initiative that promised to reduce the costs of solar installations by 75 percent with the end of this decade. Read more about this initiative here:

Sustainably Incinerating Tires?

By Nathan Malachowski

Image borrowed from

Crawford Renewable Energy Company (CRE) has proposed the construction of a $350 million tires-to-energy facility in Greenwood Township, just ten miles from Allegheny College. This 80 acre plant is expected to produce 90 megawatts of power, enough to bring electricity to 75,000 homes. Remarkably, this plant will function by burning 72,000 tires daily, with a focus on the use of local waste tires. Local environmental agencies estimate that there are currently 52 million tires in the region. This is enough tires to power CRE’s facility for nearly two years. After this point, CRE’s tire supply becomes questionable, as does the ability of the plant to function at full capacity.

In addition to adding “sustainable” electricity to the grid, CRE claims that this facility will bring jobs and economic benefit to the county. This plant will bring as many as 60 permanent jobs to the area, and will also require some 250 temporary construction jobs. When all 310 jobs are taken into account, Crawford County’s current unemployment rate of 6.9% could be reduced to 6.6%, for the months when the plant is being constructed. For Crawford County’s estimated 6,100 unemployed citizens, these job numbers seem meager, especially when compared against the county’s population of 88,411. This is also assuming that CRE only employs citizens of Crawford County which is questionable, however, as the skill level required to run CRE’s foreign technology will likely exceed the capacities of the county’s workers.
CRE will employ “circulating fluidized bed” technology to convert “Tire-Derived Fuel” into combustible fuel that can then be burned in a broiler. The equipment for this futuristic method will be provided by Sumitomo Heavy Industries Ltd, a Japan based company that specializes in this technology. This process creates more than 140 tons of ash daily. This ash, consists of chemicals such as zinc, silicon, aluminum, and sulfur oxides, all of which can lead to respiratory problems, including asthma and lung damage. Ash can also be repurposed and used as a construction material, but its effects on health are questionable because of its composition. The method for disposal of ash that cannot be used for these purposes, however, has not been disclosed by CRE. If the ash is put into landfills or buried underground, contamination of water resources, specifically groundwater, becomes a likely issue.
While some community members in organizations such as Crawford Area Residents for the Environment (CARE) are fighting against the facility, general consensus remains indifferent. It is therefore our responsibility as both citizens of Crawford County and students of Allegheny College to voice our opinions and get involved in the discourse on this issue. CRE labels this facility as being “sustainable” and refers to tires as a “virtual renewable source of fuel” on their website. Yet, if a company were truly interested in sustainable solutions to energy issues, doesn’t investment in truly sustainable wind energy (which is well suited for this area) seem like a more pragmatic solution?

For more information on the proposed tire incineration plant, visit the Crawford Area Residents for the Environment (CARE) website: