Student section lets vulgar chant rip

Picture 14

originally published in the University Daily Kansan (PDF), Sept. 9, 2008. Click here for web version.


Chancellor has no ‘huge disappointments or regrets’



Featured on the front page of the University Daily Kansan (PDF). Click here for web version.

The Business of Bugs


Businesses Cash in on What Bugs do Naturally

‘Twas the night before Christmas and as Cassandra Ford would soon see, creatures were stirring, especially the pound of worms packaged under her Christmas tree.

For Ford, who heads the composting department for the city, getting worms for Christmas was like bringing her work home. Ford maintains the Lawrence Department of Waste Reduction and Recycling’s set of worms that it uses for vermicomposting — a process where worms break down food scraps into organic fertilizer — in addition to keeping her own vermicomposting worms at home.

“People thought I was crazy,” Ford said, “but now when my parents call, they always ask me how my worms are.”

Although people benefiting from bugs seems unusual, places such as the Department of Waste Reduction exploit the bugs’ natural processes for the businesses’ gain. Different bugs work different jobs, but all bug “employers” profit from the creepy-crawlies.

The vermicomposting worms at the Department of Waste Reduction eat their body weight in food scraps each week, which reduces the department’s waste. The worms produce an organic fertilizer, called worm castings, after three months.

“Sometimes we don’t have enough at the office to feed them, so some people will bring their food scraps from home,” Ford said.

The worms produce something else useful too — more worms. Ford said the department started with one pound of worms (about 1,000) a year ago, but worms produce offspring in just seven weeks.

“The worms will die eventually, but you’ll rarely have to buy worms again,” she said. “You’ll have to take some worms out, if anything.”

Lawrence’s Most Recent Hires: Ladybugs

About a mile down the street from the department’s worm bin, other city employees are working in the old Union Pacific Depot’s flowerbeds. The city purchased these ladybugs to fight off the growing aphid infestation.

“From a natural standpoint, lady beetles are great for feeding on aphids,” Jeff Whitworth, an extension entomologist with Kansas State University, said. “When you have a large aphid population, they are like cows feeding on grass.”

Ladybugs are a natural predator of aphids, but they are the most transient of the bug employees.

“I’ve seen too many people put ladybugs in their garden and then they are gone,” Greg McDonald, owner of Sunrise Garden Center, said. “But they leave because they didn’t have anything to eat.”

Still, the bugs are popular gardening partners. McDonald said he has already sold out of ladybugs for the year.

“Every year, we never have any left over,” he said.

Busy As A…

Unlike ladybugs that leave when the food is gone, other bugs bring the food with them and rely on the keeper to give them a house.

Richard Bean, owner of Blossom Trail Bee Ranch, who has owned bees for more than 30 years, said he had seen an increased interest in beekeeping.

Although no organization tracks the number of beekeepers in the United States, the number and size of beginner beekeeping classes has increased, confirming the trend.

A national beekeeping conference that took place in California in January registered 1,200 participants, up from about 600 the previous year, according to the American Beekeeping Federation.

Bean said he hoped to create a basic beekeeping class.

“I like to see more people get started,” he said. “There are getting to be a lot of beekeepers in Douglas County.”

A mysterious disease termed Colony Collapse Disorder may have sparked some of the recent interest in beekeeping. The number of honey-producing bee colonies has fallen from 5 million in the 1940s to 2.5 million now, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, causing some people to keep bees in an attempt to be saviors of the food supply. Whitworth said bees pollinate 80 percent of the crops in the United States.

The cause of CCD is unknown, but some attribute it to climate change, mites or even electromagnetic radiation from cell phone towers.

Bean said so far his 100,000 bees have not been affected from CCD. He said he expected about 100 pounds of honey this season, a larger-than-usual supply that he attributed to the tremendous amount of moisture and cool spring.

Like all bug employers, Bean’s business and some of his income is largely based on the temperature.

Bean said a freeze last April was the worst climatic disaster he had ever seen.

“I had a big bee population,” he said, “and then nothing. There was nothing for them to work with.”

Still, that didn’t make Bean nervous.

“The bees are such overachievers that someone has to be there to take care of them,” he said.

Although people have relied on bugs to do work for them for centuries, people today have mostly swatted bugs away until recently.

“We receive a lot of benefits that we don’t realize, like the breaking down of dead organic matter,” Whitworth said. “Willfully or not, we have used insects or been the recipient of beneficial aspects of insects. We have been able to use them where we need to.”

Some bugs are little more than a click away.

“Now you can buy worms on eBay,” composting specialist Cassandra Ford said. “A few years ago, you would think, ‘Who would do that?’ Now you can find them on the Internet and have them shipped to you overnight.”

What global warming and mortgages have in common

image from ANVRecife

Will the financial crisis wake us up to the climate crisis?

It may be difficult to see how the two are related, but this week we’ve learned that Americans were so concerned with how much money they had at Wall Street’s closing bell that they didn’t hear the floundering stock market’s warning bells.

Those bells fell on deaf ears, and the environment is especially telling when it comes to how deaf we’ve become: We were so concerned with the price at the pump that we missed how much we are consuming at the expense of the environment. Sound familiar?

Unless the United States starts addressing global warming now, we might have to spend $700 billion to bail out the planet, too. But $700 billion is a nice figure compared to the $19 trillion estimate from the European Commission.

The subprime mortgage crisis came from short-term thinking. The number of subprime mortgages increased dramatically from 1990 to 2000, mostly from increased competition from online lenders, according to the Home Buying Institute. This meant that lenders had to broaden their scope and give loans to people who usually would have been turned away because of bad credit scores or previous foreclosures.

So the quest to make an extra buck is going to cost the entire country a few hundred billion.

As usual, the truth is in the numbers. The number of home foreclosures in the United States has climbed year by year. So far in 2008, about 1.4 million homes have been foreclosed on. But 1.2 million homes were foreclosed on in 2006, and the economy survived that.

The media (finally) did their math and are ringing the alarm bells. But when the same information is presented to them about global warming, why do they seem to ignore it?

When Jim Hansen, a researcher at NASA who is known for his testimony to Congress about climate change in the 1980s, visited the University Sept. 22, he nearly spoon-fed the alarm bells to the audience. He said that we’ve passed the safe level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and that we are approaching the point of irreversible changes. No country in the world has taken steps to drastically reduce its carbon emissions, and we keep burning fossil fuels even when we’re told we are doing harm to the entire planet.

So why isn’t anyone talking about this?

Because global warming can’t put up foreclosure signs around the neighborhood, we don’t seeing anything in our backyards yet. And unfortunately by the time we do notice, it will be far too late. We see distant problems — the Arctic ice cap melting, a higher rate of species extinction and higher global temperatures — but it’s difficult to relate those problems back to the individual.

Just like in the subprime crisis, only when the for-sale signs started to appear did people start wondering. And only then did we realize how far back the problem went.

With the defeat of the House bill two days ago, Americans are finally starting to realize that we can’t just keep thinking in the short-term when dealing with problems that affect the entire nation.

Now, how long will we remember it?

originally published in The University Daily Kansan on Oct. 1, 2008. Click the link for the print edition.

How To Green Your Move

image from evanhamilton

As the last week of this semester begins and the student population of Lawrence moves into new apartments and houses, let’s do something besides get “wasted.” That’s trashy.

In this last week, let’s focus on cutting back our waste.

Moving out is one of the most trash-intensive events of the year, as demonstrated by the industrial-size dumpsters that the University sets in front of the dorms. But the majority of the “trash” that fills these containers isn’t trash at all: It could have been recycled, donated to charity or used by other students. One man’s recyclables are often another man’s living room furniture.

Step 1: Find unwanted items.

Are those sheets, bedspread and kitchen utensils from the dining hall not going to cut it next year? Gather everything you don’t want or can’t use next year, and assess its worth to determine its final destination. Here’s a handy guide:

Your stuff rules: Sell it on eBay.

Your stuff is pretty damn good to moderately good: Sell it on Craigslist or have a garage sale.

Your stuff is useable: Donate it to Goodwill, 2200 W. 31st St., or give it to your friends or neighbors.

Your stuff is pretty much done for: Recycle it.

Your stuff is moldy, broken beyond repair (and you’ve tried), or for some other reason is no longer fit for human interaction: This category should be a last resort.

Even the most unlikely items can be donated or sold. The Lawrence Community Shelter, 214 W. 10th St., accepts food donations, which can be dropped off at the shelter. Don’t forget about resale shops, where you can sell back clothing, furniture or electronics.

Step 2: Green pack

Pack your remaining items with packing materials that you already have, such as towels, plastic containers and old newspapers. Call the produce departments at local grocery stores and ask them to set aside large, sturdy boxes for you. Most will be happy to do this if you pick up the boxes in a few hours.

Step 3: The trip

The fewer trips you make, the more gasoline you’ll save. Depending on the amount of large furniture you have, it may be most cost-effective (and environmentally friendly) to hire a moving service so everything can be moved in one trip.

Step 4: Home, new home

You’re almost done, so keep up the green mantra.

Save old boxes or newspapers to reuse for your next move, or recycle them.

Step 5: Think long-term

If you pack up your life once a year, you have a unique opportunity to step back and look at all the things you own. If packing up is something you dread, simply keep less stuff around.

When buying furniture or anything new for your place, check out resale shops first. These items are usually cheaper than buying new and have more personality than expensive, cookie-cutter new furniture. Plus, if you plan on getting new furniture after college, it would the most economical to spend less on furniture now.

Steer clear of the build-your-own-desk-in-52-easy-steps pieces of furniture that are usually found in big-box stores like Target or Wal-Mart. Even though this furniture is usually cheaper, it is hard to move to a new house and will typically get trashed after a year. It’s also not as sturdy or durable as its pre-built counterparts.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on May 8, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.

Don’t Make Holcomb Another Crime Scene

image from smithy

This tiny town in western Kansas is known by the crimes that have been committed there. It was the location of the Clutter family murders in 1959 that Truman Capote popularized in his work “In Cold Blood.”

Since the book’s 1964 publication, those crimes in the town of Holcomb have mostly faded from the public’s mind. But a new crime is on the verge of being committed, this time by Sunflower Electric, a Hays-based power company that is trying to build two 700-megawatt coal-fired power plants in Holcomb.

Carbon dioxide is one of the main culprits of global warming, and electricity generation from the proposed coal-fired generators in Holcomb would emit 11 million tons of carbon dioxide each year. This much carbon dioxide would negate green initiatives taken by the New England states and make Kansas home to the one of the largest single sources of carbon dioxide west of the Mississippi River.

Despite its crimes, Sunflower Electric hasn’t been stopped dead in its tracks.

Opponents of the plant thought their battle was over when Roderick Bremby, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, rejected Sunflower’s application for air quality permits. He cited concerns about carbon dioxide emissions and relied on the Supreme Court’s 2007 ruling that declared carbon dioxide a pollutant.

But supporters of the plant are ready to fight to the death, and they have a nice helping hand from the leaders of the Kansas House and Senate, who are both from Western Kansas. After Bremby rejected the permits, the debate moved to the Legislature, which passed two different bills stripping Bremby of his regulatory authority and allowing the plants to be built.

Gov. Kathleen Sebelius vetoed both bills, but last week the Senate was able to gather enough votes to override the first veto. Since then, the action has been like watching the most time-consuming game of tennis: The complete override of the first veto failed in the House. The Senate overrode the second veto, which the House is scheduled to vote on Friday. Just this past Tuesday, the Senate passed yet another version of the bill, this time tacking a few more “economic development initiatives” onto it.

Although Western Kansas needs an economic boost, a coal-fired power plant is not the way to bring in money. Instead, the Legislature should be sponsoring initiatives to promote energy conservation or for funding for green energy projects like solar panels or wind turbines. These projects look progressively into the future, instead of forcing Holcomb residents to live in the shadows of an outdated coal plant.

In addition, most of the plant’s electricity would be sent out of state, leaving only 15 percent for Kansas, but the state gets to keep 100 percent of the pollution.

Some argue that if the plant isn’t built here, the project will be moved to a neighboring state. But in the wake of Bremby’s decision, other states and energy companies have been paying close attention to the debate. Bremby said 20 projects to build coal-fired power plants have been canceled, three have been delayed and others have been denied at the state level.

It is horrifying that so many members of the Legislature have supported these bills and are neglecting the long-term needs of the state in terms of environmental protection and economic prosperity, which are not mutually exclusive.

The Kansan editorial board supports Marci Francisco, the state senator from Lawrence, and Barbara Ballard, the area’s state representative, who both voted to uphold Sebelius’ veto and protect the environment and the health of all Kansans.

originally published in The University Daily Kansan, May 8, 2008. Click the link for the print edition.

How To Throw An Earth Day Party

image from theskywatcher

With the environment gaining more of the limelight than ever before, Earth Day is rising through the holiday party ranks, beating out Arbor Day and Hug An Australian Day for deserving a legit celebration. Earth Day celebrates the birth of the modern environmental movement in 1970, and the concept is re-emerging. Earth Day is next Tuesday (but really it’s every day), so here’s how to start planning an eco-friendly Earth Day party.

1. Buy local or organic beverages

By purchasing locally produced or grown products, you are supporting the local economy and reducing the gas burned for the product to be transported to you. Free State Brewery, 636 Massachusetts, sells kegs of its locally produced beer, which start at $96 for a full-size (15 gallon) keg of its standard beer. Smaller kegs and different varieties of beer are also available.

Honor vodka is produced in Lawrence and available in most liquor stores. Several locally grown and produced wines are also available in many stores. Unfortunately, these are not usually separated out from traditional wines and liquors, so read the label to see where the product was grown.

Ace Frazier, who works at Mass Beverage, 3131 Nieder Rd., says local and organic wines are typically about the same price as their traditional counterparts.

2. BYOC—Bring Your Own Cup

You got the booze, but have guests bring their own reusable cups. This reduces the amount of waste generated and cuts back on your party’s dependence on foreign oil. You could also provide reusable, recyclable or compostable cups. Compostable cups are corn-based and will naturally biodegrade when in a composting barrel.

3. Get out

Students spend the majority of their days indoors, so go outside to celebrate. Use available natural light. If going outside isn’t an option, dim the lights inside or condense the party to one area of the house so you need less light. Replace old incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs to save energy.

4. Play old games with an environmental twist

Whether it’s Greenhouse Gas Pong or Presidents And Al Gores, have some fun with your environmental knowledge. Also try Environmental Bullshit (“I have one United States and two international treaties.” “Bullshit!”), the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report drinking game (drink anytime you read “climate change”) or Ring of Fire (that’s engulfing the planet).

5. Above all, don’t forget the three Rs

Remember the point of Earth Day, and don’t needlessly buy anything that isn’t necessary. If you must buy, try to buy local or organic. It all comes back to reduce, reuse and recycle, even at college parties.

originally published in Jayplay magazine on April 17, 2008 (PDF). Click here for its original online home.