After some deliberation and discussion with my friends and family, I've decided to go back to school to pursue my masters degree in environmental science. I have been writing about peak oil and environmental issues since April 2005, and have been making adjustments to my lifestyle, and encouraging others to do the same. Blogging has opened many doors for me, and I have made valuable friends and contacts in the process. The whole process has inspired me to take my informal education via internet, books, and conversation to the formal masters level.
There is no doubt in my mind that we will face a myriad of challenges in the coming years. Climate change, coupled with declining energy supplies, will present a host of problems we have not faced in the past. I believe that these exigent challenges will require leadership and direction, something that I hope to provide to my community and region.
I relish opportunities to help educate others on ways to reduce their impact on the environment. If I can convince one other person to conserve electricity, eat locally, or reduce their waste, I have effectively doubled my ability to do the same. Groovy Green has allowed me to extend my reach to an even larger audience, and I am thankful for every reader that has read our work.
I realize that helping business and municipalities reduce their impact could allow me to have an exponentially greater impact. Helping readers and friends start composting is a great step towards reducing waste - helping a food processing plant do the same thing is the "next level". Replacing all of the incandescent bulbs in my home with flourescents is a great step towards conserving electricity - helping a municipality roll out a subsidized CFL bulb program that reaches 10,000 area residents is the "next level". Promoting the local farmer's market in the company newsletter helps encourage 50 people to increase their food security - helping an area supermarket chain procure food primarily from local growers could help improve the food security of thousands.
I realize that I want to be up there, on that "next level" making the largest difference that I can make.
When I was considering whether or not I should go back to school, I did a little mental exercise where I pictured what "a day in the life" would be like after I gained employment after school. This essay came about from it:
I ride my bike or take public transportation to work. My office travels with me in the form of a laptop and several paper files. I have an early a.m. meeting with management, where I'll pitch my proposal for the upcoming summer hours-shift and telecommuting. Mid morning there's a meeting scheduled with building maintenance regarding the industrial hyper-recycling program to ensure we are on track to meet our goal of halving our solid waste, and to make sure that we've renegotiated with local recyclers for next years contracts. They'll give me a tour of the new bio-waste digesters under construction, and give me notes on how the non-toxic cleaning solutions have been performing.
I'll check financial statements from our utilities over lunch to see how the conservation methods we've employed are paying off. Later I'll draft an email to the CFO encouraging re-investment of that savings into additional panels for the solar array - now producing a modest 5% of all our energy needs, and providing insurance against rolling brownouts.
Though 7 months away, I've set aside two hours in the afternoon to research heating options for the facility this winter. The biomass pellet boiler seems our best choice, and I need to begin a list of contacts for a supply contract. Perhaps we'll be able to provide delivery to employees if the logistics can be worked out for financing and supply. "Guarenteed Heating" would be a benefit that could attract high caliber workers in the years to come. Our company's investment in the local CSA brought us big dividends last summer when grocery store prices spiked on imported foods. The participation rate is now 60% and growing for the upcoming season. Productivity levels have been running at all time highs, despite stagnant wages. Workers have been less concerned with raises since the economy began slowing - most are happy to be working at all. Instead of taking advantage of the situation, the company providing flex-time employment at full benefits for a larger workforce means workers have more time at home and increased job satisfaction. I must convince the board to approve the guarenteed heating program - we'd become one of the top employers in the city for sure.
My meeting with the city council is next week. I'll be working with them to try to attract a component factory to the area, as the high cost of shipping and import have begun to eat into our budget. Relocalizing component production will add jobs and increase the tax base, both are very needed items as of late. Hell if PILOT programs were approved in the 00's for shopping malls, I think we have a good chance at approval for one for the component factory. I'll have to remind them that we purchase 100% of our power from the municipally owned local hydro station brought back on-line 3 years ago.
Other projects that I have been working on, include the Smart-Jitney program. Despite persistent gas prices in the $5-6 per gallon range, it got off to a slow start. Not all projects have caught on like the ones that I've mentioned previously. I do believe that we can reach a critical mass this summer, allowing the jitney program to become sustainable and financially viable. Too many people still hang on to the "personal freedom" aspect of auto travel, and are willing to devote a large aspect of their dwindling discretionary income to keep driving to work each day. Running a smart jitney program to the suburbs could keep many of these cars off the roads.
Another initiative that appears to be gaining steam is the Local-Bucks program. Our company is now the number two purchaser of Local-Bucks, second only to the university. Employee groups voted down options to get a portion of salaries paid in local bucks twice in the past 2 years. We pushed ahead with the program, paying out year end bonuses and increasing incentive pay in L-B's. Those who participate in the carpool program receive 30 L-B per week (a $33 value) to help offset the maintenance and upkeep costs, as well as provide an incentive for participating. Any worker who helps reduce our company's energy costs or waste stream can see bonuses of 100 L-B or more. We also subsidize employee purchases of the local currency, by providing a higher exchange rate, $0.85 per L-B vs. the standard $0.90 per L-B. This encourages employees and managers to keep their spending among local retailers, and increases dollar circulation in the community. Three of the four lunch vendors now take Local-Bucks, and the increased availability of the currency has doubled the number of shops and service providers on our street, revitalizing a previously direlect area of the city. There's rumors that landlords of these buildings have begun to take partial payment of rent in L-B (hey, what's better a vacant store front, or one that is paid for in L-B's?). Hopefully our business will be able to take payment for our goods in L-B's in the near future. This would allow the currency to come full circle. In any case we are proud of our support to the program.
Beyond the expansion of the solar electric panels, some other plans that I'd like to see enacted:
A water catchment system and wetland (a green roof wasn't feasible due to the inability of our roof and walls to handle the increased weight)
A geothermal heating and cooling system (waiting on tax credits and regional pipe manufacture)
The Natural Light project - to increase sunlight penetration into the building (architects and environmental engineers will need to be brought on to move the project forward)
I realize that many of these ideas may be naive, and over generalized. However, this was merely an exercise to look at the potential good that could come from obtaining higher education, and a new career path. I do believe that many of the ideas in the essay are worthy of consideration and implementation.
I welcome your thoughts about continuing education, and my essay above.