Estimating the Effect of Climate Change on Rhode Island Agriculture (the $97 million question)

Pretty much everyone knows about climate change and many have some idea what the changes will be. But it’s unclear what the costs of climate change will be to Rhode Island. During the spring 2014 semester, I studied the economics of climate change in Dr. Corey Lang’s EEC 355 class. A major component of this course was a semester-long project working to monetize the impacts of climate change in Rhode Island. My group examined RI agriculture, while other groups studied topics such as fisheries and maritime transportation.

The first of four parts of the project involved researching the background of the sector. For agriculture, this entailed its worth to the state in terms of number of jobs, percentage of annual revenue along with the appropriate figures, and the prevalence of the industry in the state including its market base and variety of cultivated goods. Research into past data from the Rhode Island Census Bureau and the USDA agricultural cash receipts revealed that agriculture in Rhode Island makes up 0.5% of Rhode Island’s industry ($17.6 million), and 2,396 people rely on agriculture in Rhode Island to make a living.

The second task was to research the basic science of climate change in order to examine which impacts would most affect the state and sector in question. We found that the biggest threats to Rhode Island’s agriculture were not in simple temperature change alone, but in that and the changing weather patterns that could potentially change the state’s growing season averages.

The third part of the project was the most involved. The impacts were examined and monetized to determine the overall impacts to the state caused by climate change. We chose a number of impacts that form the majority of the sector’s worth: greenhouses, nurseries and turf (64.5% of Rhode Island’s agricultural revenue), corn (5.8%), dairy products (2.7-3%), and apples (2.6%). Depending on the impact chosen, different methods were used to assess their monetary value. Once the initial value was determined, it was discounted to the present day and totaled to find an all-encompassing total value with a present-day discount value. After research and projection, we estimated that climate change by the end of the century would cause an estimated revenue loss of $227,458,890.00. This translates to a total present value of $96,664,001.71 at a 1% social discount rate.

Lastly, we explored how adaptation could cushion or eliminate the negative effects of climate change on agriculture. We looked specifically at the use of genetically modified crops (GMOs), irrigation, increased use of greenhouses and the use of crop insurance. The increased use of GMOs was determined to be more detrimental than helpful and was dismissed as a likely tactic for use. The other options underwent cost-benefit analysis to determine whether or not the plan was an appropriate solution. We came to the conclusion that all of the remaining adaption plans would provide some benefit if they were all used moderately.

Though I took the course as an elective, I found this course and project essential to my education as an ENRE student. The project encouraged me to learn core competencies needed in the field of Environment and Natural Resource Economics and in my future career. Students involved in this project hone important skills from writing to cost/benefit analysis to excel. I personally learned a valuable lesson in group work and developed skills that will remain with me as an asset in my search for a career and in my daily work to follow.

 

by: Ellen Richer ’16

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics & General Business Double Major

Sustainability Minor

August 5th, 2014

Mangroves and Poverty Traps in Tanzania

Background

I have been asked to reflect on my experience in Tanzania, but it is proving to be difficult. You can see all the pictures, read all the books, and hear all the stories about poverty in developing countries – but nothing can compare to experiencing it firsthand. Despite being back in the United States, I feel like I am still there. Rather than seeing what is around me and falling back into my daily life, I can’t shake Tanzania from my mind.

I spent a little over two weeks in Tanzania conducting field research for my Senior Honors Project. I worked with Dr. Emi Uchida and Ph.D. Candidate Cathy McNally to study the relationship between mangrove ecosystem services and poverty traps. In short, we want to see if there are any ecosystem services from mangroves that could contribute to poverty alleviation. Mangrove habitats provide essential services to surrounding communities – including protection from erosion, flooding and storm surge, access to raw materials, carbon sequestration, and nursery habitat for many species of marine life. We specifically visited rural coastal villages that are the most vulnerable to coastal flooding and storm surge – in hopes of targeting the communities that have to deal with these shocks the most often.

Poor and vulnerable populations tend to rely disproportionately on natural resources to fuel their livelihood, as they lack access to other market goods and services. If their village is struck by a hurricane, for example, then they risk losing access to their surrounding damaged resources, as well as most of their assets. We want to understand the sources of risk that poor and vulnerable populations face and the ways in which they mitigate these risks. Without access to adequate risk management techniques, these populations tend to be more exposed to exogenous shocks and are exposed to the mechanisms that cause poverty traps to persist. As a result, they continue to remain in poverty indefinitely. If specific mangrove ecosystem services are found to directly contribute to the reduction of poverty traps, economic development and mangrove restoration efforts can both be improved.

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The environment

As we began our visits to the first few villages, I could clearly see the environmental degradation we were studying. Since all of the villages were coastal, the villagers relied heavily on fishing and shrimping. Yet, it seemed as though these marine populations were quite depleted. Despite spending an entire morning shrimping, some fishermen would only catch a handful of shrimp. On the beaches, we also observed fishermen using illegal nets that had very small holes. They would drag them along the bottom of the sea bed and pick up anything and everything. As a result, they would rip out sea grass, fish eggs, and juvenile populations of marine life. With such low fish and shrimp populations, they had no choice but to use these nets and get whatever sort of harvest they could.

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Coastal erosion, evidence of flooding, and mangrove degradation were also present. Even though mangroves are protected, we could see boats and houses made out of mangrove wood. Many communities also suffered from salt inundation in their public wells – causing them to lose access to fresh water. Every ounce of their lives depended on their surrounding natural resources – and they were slowly losing that access. These communities have to resort to illegal activities in order to survive, and you can’t really blame them. There are no other feasible options. After visiting the first couple communities, the severity and complexity of the problems these individuals were facing began to set in.

Some of the villages were located within the boundaries of SANAPA National Park. Despite the importance of the Park making an effort to set aside reserved land and conserve resources, the local populations didn’t always seem to benefit. With wild animal populations increasing, farmers’ crops would get trampled or destroyed more often. Furthermore, living within park boundaries limits these communities’ abilities to access their surrounding resources. Without the ability to utilize their environment, they can sometimes be forced to illegally poach or cut down mangroves causing further environmental degradation and unsustainable sources of livelihood. Although SANAPA provided positive benefits to the communities, such as clean water and more localized healthcare, it became clear that there were deeper complexities in the connection between these two parties.

Overall, the relationship between those in poverty and their environment was quite evident throughout our visit. They rely on the ocean for fishing and shrimping, on the surrounding habitat for hunting, as well as the nearby mangroves and coconut trees. Without these resources, they wouldn’t be able to survive. Studying this relationship became more important to me than ever. With everything I have learned in the classroom, I was confident that there are ways in which poverty alleviation and environmental restoration efforts can be improved.

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The people

Taking a step back from the surrounding environment, I began to observe the people. No matter where we traveled, we were always welcomed with open arms. I saw such strength, kindness and an amazing sense of community throughout these villages. Even though the village members didn’t always know who we were or why we were there, they were always so generous and respectful. It was refreshing to experience a culture where acceptance and generosity are the rule, not the exception.

And then there were the kids. In every village we visited, there were so many children. They would always come running up to our vehicle, mesmerized by the newcomers to their village. We must have interacted with well over 50 kids over the course of those two weeks – but one little girl struck a chord with me. The first time I made eye contact with her, she ran up and gave me a huge hug. Nobody else had so effortlessly accepted me. With my limited Swahili, and her inability to speak English, we mainly communicated non-verbally – but there was this deeper understanding between us. I could see how she saw the world, because I used to have that same glow in my eyes. She didn’t see the negativity – she only saw the good. All day I had been reviewing survey data and I knew I had hours left of work to do, but something about that innocence pushed me to put down my pen and spend a few hours with her. And I was so glad I did. She took my hand and I followed her wherever she wanted to go. We ran in circles, danced, played hand games and sang songs. She stayed right by my side. When I looked at her, I couldn’t stop thinking about how I used to have that same look – and how I would do anything to make sure she maintained that innocence. I never wanted her to see the bad in the world. At this point in the trip I was feeling a bit overwhelmed with the immensity of the problems these communities were facing. I understood why they were so hard to solve and have persisted for so long, and I began to wonder if I would ever be able to make positive change. Fatuma changed that. When I looked at her, I knew I was in the right place.

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Back in the States, I found the research fascinating and was really interested in constructing the survey instruments. I knew I loved numbers and would like analyzing all of the data. But it was that afternoon that my future was confirmed – I knew I was in the right place. I knew I would do anything to fight for a better world for kids like Fatuma. I accepted that there are going to be a lot of obstacles and a lot of failure when trying to improve these issues – but at the end of the day, it’s pretty simple. Everyone deserves access to basic rights, like adequate nutrition, clean water, clean air, health care and education. But everyone also deserves the right to reach their full potential. Everyone deserves a chance to see the world as a place of endless possibilities, as a place where they can reach whatever goal they want. And I may not have all of the answers now, but someday I’ll find out how I can make my mark on the world. I may not change Fatuma’s life – but I know she changed my mine. I can only hope that someday I’ll be able to help others like her.

 

by Sarah Martin ’14

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major

April 28th, 2014

WATER QUALITY FROM NEW YORK TO PERU

My internship was with the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning in New York. My mentor, Dorian Dale, is the Director of Sustainability and Chief Recovery Officer. Initially, I had an idea of what I would be doing, but I didn’t realize that my internship would potentially catalyze a change in my life, as well as those of many other individuals. The scope of my internship was focused around the County’s ‘Reclaim Our Water’ (ROW) initiative. Suffolk County Executive, Steve Bellone, delegated its mission statement as follows: “We are a county that will no longer allow our water quality crisis to go unaddressed but will come together to Reclaim Our Water.” My initial tasks were to draft logos, generate public service announcements, and even facilitate the allocation of the county’s budget for ROW paraphernalia i.e., bumper stickers, decals, water bottles, pennants, coolers and t-shirts, all emblazoned with the slogan ‘Reclaim Our Water’. Ideally, we were to be out in the field—boots on the ground—spreading awareness, and giving ROW goods to the public at the best places possible: Suffolk County State beaches up and down the coast of Long Island, New York. Unfortunately, internal bureaucratic setbacks hampered the county’s initiative from being placed into progressive action this past summer. Although it thwarted the progression of ROW this summer, it allowed me to develop a project of my own.

With the unforeseen addition of free time and the presence of a positive mentor—Dorian Dale—to augment my mission building process, I took the crux of ROW and placed a personal spin on it. For the past 5 years I have traveled with a medical mission to the Sacred Valley in Urubamba, Peru. It was there that I first witnessed the discrepancies in the quality of life, and more specifically, the decline in water quality. In response to my internship being so focused on water quality, I figured I could start my own mission, Potable Peru. Its mission statement would be “To provide a year’s worth of potable water for at least 600 children living in Urubamba, Peru by raising funds to purchase 20 Lifestraw® water filtration devices”. By realizing what I wanted to do, I drew up a non-profit business plan with my mentor’s help and established a real life business plan.

The internship of 2016 was fulfilling, and I felt accomplished by the time it concluded. My experience at the Suffolk County Department of Economic Development and Planning had put me in a suitable place where I was both mentally and physically aware of the state of water quality in my backyard—Long Island. But it also made me aware of the difference I could make in Peru. As of now, I am still in the fundraising process for Potable Peru and I have generated funds equivalent to 9 Lifestraw® devices or nearly 42,000 gallons of purified water.

 

By Nick Coristidis

INTERNATIONAL STUDENT VOLUNTEER PROGRAM

The International Student Volunteer (ISV) program is the world’s highest rated volunteer program, with over 35,000 student participants in just 15 years. Their mission statement is, “to support sustainable development initiatives around the world through life-changing student volunteers and responsible adventure travel programs designed to positively change our world and to educate, inspire and result in more active global citizens.” I have learned first hand that they accomplish this, and much more.

The program is divided into two parts. During the first two weeks you join a team and work on your sustainability project. I met my team of seven upon arrival in Sydney, Australia and then traveled to our home-stay further north in Newcastle. Here, we worked for one week restoring a national wetland park which was suffering from invasive plant species that disrupted the resting area for thousands of East Asian migratory shorebirds. Without this resting ground, the birds would be forced to continue their flight for several more days, often leading to their death.  We spent this week removing each of the weeds by hand. On our breaks we learned about these birds and their migration pattern. Our evenings involved debriefing the day’s activity and brainstorming ways to further impact this wildlife community.

While we were on this project site, we also learned of a public concern for the damaged break wall surrounding the wetland. Fortunately, we were at the location just two days before a large storm that would have broken the remaining wall and flooded the entire area beyond repair. We filled sand bags and strategically placed them to form a sturdy break wall that would survive this and many other storms in the future.

During our second week, we worked alongside the team for a project known as Stepping Stones, which was developed to repair soil erosion through planting trees. Unfortunately, the project was losing funding and was short staffed. We helped to pick up the slack and planted 840 trees. This picture shows me kneeling in McGully’s Gap, an area that would have been preeminently affected by the soil erosion that had been occurring. They best part about this project was that we were planting a life that would continue to grow and make a lasting impact on this area in Australia. My hope is to one day return and see how the 840 trees that we planted filled the entire land.

During the last two weeks of the trip, I joined a larger group of volunteers who had each been working on their own sustainability project. Together, we toured the east coast of Australia learning about their Aboriginal culture and wildlife conservation. We had the wonderful opportunity to take a course on coral reef biodiversityin which the instructor educated us on the tragedies the Great Barrier Reef was facing. Before heading out to the waters for snorkeling, we became well versed on how to safely interact with the wildlife that existed in the reef.

I would say that this was the most impactful portion of my trip since I was up close to the very wildlife I had spent my four years of college learning how to protect. My major involves strategic policy planning to incentivize people to work together to both meet production needs and the needs of the wildlife I witnessed. This was truly an unimaginable experience. If you are in the ENRE program or simply have the interest to learn more about wildlife and how to protect it, this is the program for you!

 

By Shannon Mora

ENERGY EFFICIENCY MATTERS

For my internship, I worked with Conservation Services Group (CSG) located in Westborough, Massachusetts, which is a non-profit, energy efficiency company that operates throughout the country. It works in collaboration with state agencies and various utility companies (including NSTAR and National Grid) by helping them  design and implement energy efficiency programs, and giving suggestions and recommendations for them to meet their energy saving goals. The utility companies then use these energy efficiency programs and have home energy specialists or auditors go into residential households and corporate buildings to give them suggestions on how to make their home/building more energy efficient  (known as a home energy assessment or audit). CSG is the top energy efficiency company in the United States of America and I felt very fortunate to have the opportunity to intern for such a prestigious and well know organization.

During my time as an intern at CSG, I worked on various projects and case studies in the marketing department of their organization. I worked on several case studies related to customer engagements and the contact center. The purpose of these case studies was mainly to try and figure out ways to make the customer engagements smoother and as timely as possible, and determine anything that might be inconvenient to the customer. I went to the contact centers and actually witnessed the process of signing a customer up for an audit or home energy assessment and what it looks like from both ends (the employee and the customer). I was also able to go on an actual home energy assessment with the auditor (or energy specialist), who was an employee of Mass Save (a partner of CSG). This gave me a perspective on what actually happens in the home energy assessments that CSG helps the utility companies design and implement. Additionally, I got to go to Boston and see the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick, speak about his organization called Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. They are dedicated to “accelerating the success of clean energy technologies, companies and projects in Massachusetts—while creating high-quality jobs and long-term economic growth for the people of Massachusetts.”. This was a very enjoyable experience for me and made me feel good to know that my MA governor cares so much about helping to promote clean energies.

An environmental issue that CSG is attempting to mitigate is the rapidly growing rate of climate change. By promoting energy efficient practices and technologies, CSG is helping to reduce the amount of energy that our country is consuming. Since large amounts of energy in the US are created from fossil fuels, we consume less fossil fuels when we use less energy and emit fewer damaging greenhouse gases (GHG) into our atmosphere. Not only is CSG helping to reduce climate change but they are also saving people money in the process because by using energy efficient technologies and practices in your home you also save money on your electricity bills, potentially saving thousands of dollars each year.

My internship experience was made so much more memorable and enjoyable because of the wonderful and caring employees at CSG who made me feel that they cared about me as a person and wanted to help me succeed. They made me feel comfortable working at CSG on a daily basis which spurred me to work harder and do the best job possible in whatever was asked of me.

By Trevor MacDonald  ‘15

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major + Business Minor

Internship with Rainforest Alliance

Businesses that depend on the land require financial support in order to thrive economically and sustainably. This support will stimulate growth and secure an economically viable future. The obstacle then becomes overcoming their high-risk investment quality. Forestry businesses, farms, and small and medium enterprises that exist in developing countries face this barrier when applying for long term loans.

The Rainforest Alliance has a renowned and credible seal that is awarded to producers who meet rigorous requirements and standards set by the Sustainable Agriculture Network and the Forest Stewardship Council. The reputation that accompanies the seal guarantees investors that from a social and economic standpoint, certified businesses holding this seal would prove to be a lucrative and a worthy investment. This expectation allows producers to be eligible for both long-term and short-term loans. While the Rainforest Alliance does not directly offer monetary support, it supplies a connection for these businesses to lenders that are capable of elevating them to their full potential.

My time interning for the Rainforest Alliance gave me an in depth understanding of this process. My position was under the Programs, Planning and Assessment Division of the organization. I had the privilege to view the quarterly reports from each project that the organization was involved in for the fiscal year of 2015. The organization focuses on several areas of concern: forestry, climate, agriculture, tourism, and sustainable finance.  Each report gave a detailed description of the project, it’s accomplishments, it’s challenges, and a short story of a person that was directly impacted by the Rainforest Alliance’s work in one of 80 different countries. I was not only lucky enough to read these updates, but also to hear from the directors of each project themselves. I sat in on phone conferences between them and the senior vice president of the organization, Joshua Tosteson. After  gaining a full understanding of the most essential points of interest for each project, I summarized them in a final report that was submitted to the board.

This was my largest accomplishment, and perhaps, one of my greater contributions to the organization. I also produced a power point presentation with information that will aid in the launch of a future organization-wide learning series.  This program is designed to improve internal communication among separate departments. My role in this development was to thoroughly research existing methods of communication in non-profit organizations . Then, I had to apply this information to the specific needs of the Rainforest Alliance and offer academic support for the learning series program we were creating. My work will be included in the final proposal.

Overall, the experience was rewarding. I learned a great deal about the operation of a certification organization and was exposed to a professional environment that caters to the environmental issues that I am most interested in. I gained skills and knowledge that are not obtainable in a classroom setting. My internship at the Rainforest Alliance was both, professionally and academically valuable.

By Shannon Mora

Community Supported Agriculture

For my internship during the summer of 2014, I worked at the Garman Organic Farm on Aquidneck Island in Middletown, Rhode Island. Garman Farm is a family-owned and operated business specializing in heirloom vegetables and small fruits. Owned solely by Jim and Michelle Garman, the farm supplies many local restaurants and markets with fresh organic produce. In addition to that, Jim and Michelle operate a Community Supported Agriculture or CSA program.  With over 60 members, this CSA provides an excellent way for members of the local community to support a small, local business in exchange for access to fresh organic food on a weekly basis. The Garmans grow their product on farmland leased from Sustainable Aquidneck and the Aquidneck Land Trust. Jim and Michelle practice organic production techniques, and their methods include building organic matter (with amendments of compost, seaweed, and manure), seasonal crop rotation, keeping soils covered with organic mulches, growing winter cover crops and planting a diverse array of crops.

Over the course of the summer, I spent many days working beside Jim and Michelle planting various crops and learning how to cultivate them. We tilled the soil, manually seeded row after row of assorted organic seeds, spent many hours weeding and watering, and organized community pickup days for the CSA program. It was fascinating to learn how to be an organic grower firsthand. It was an honor and a pleasure to work side by side with Jim and Michelle as the crops grew and we began to harvest them.

The most interesting and pleasurable part of this internship experience for me was learning about and participating within the farm’s CSA program. Every Monday between 2pm and 6pm, the Garmans opened the proverbial “gates” of their farm to members of the community. With the choice of any freshly picked produce available at their fingertips, I watched as these supporters thoroughly enjoyed their weekly visit to the farm. An alternative economic model to the conventional marketplace, CSA’s are an excellent way for community members to actively engage in the growing process and provide much needed direct support to local smaller growing operations.

Through this internship, I have received a plethora of new knowledge surrounding organic growing procedures, CSA practices and how to run a successful small business. I learned the differences between conventional industrial commercial farming practices and those of a small-scale organic commercial farm. I learned how small growers set prices and remain competitive in a tumultuous marketplace. The direct economic experience of participating in the farm’s business model and practices has proven invaluable to my career as an ENRE student. It was a great summer and I had an amazing experience on the farm. Perhaps one day, I too will shed my academic role and join the ranks of an organic farmer, trade my laptop for a wheelbarrow, and spend my days baking in the sun and digging the earth.

 

By Matthew Reinhardt,

December 10th, 2015

 

Organic and Sustainable Agriculture in New Jersey

Throughout the summer of 2015, I worked an internship in sustainable agriculture in my home state of New Jersey. For those who have never truly visited New Jersey, you may have a negative image of my home involving MTV shows, heavy pollution, and concrete. As you will learn through this post, New Jersey is actually a lush, beautiful state over ten thousand farms of all kinds. You will also read about how I learned to apply practical sustainable methods to organic farming by using alternative methods other than pesticides, and how to farm organically. I also learned more about the importance of organic food itself.

Flocktown Farm is a small-scale, organic farm located in Long Valley, NJ. The farm’s scenery is rather stunning, as it sits upon the top of the beautiful Schooleys Mountain surrounded by forest. Flocktown Farm is organized as a CSA (community shared agriculture), which means the farm’s consumers would buy shares of the farm and receive weekly “shares” of the farm’s produce and products. This is a similar concept to how a corporation works with investors who buy “stock” in the company. The CSA model has helped many farms survive and prosper in that the farms would get all their capital at the start of the growing season. This is important to the farm’s survival because the farm would be able to recover from what would usually cripple a farm’s production, such as financial disaster, low quantities of rain, essential equipment getting damaged, storms, pests, etc.

Flocktown farm has no livestock, but solely focuses on growing vegetables along with some fruit and herbs. The different sub-seasons of the summer dictated what we could grow at what time. In the first half of the summer I worked (from June to mid-July), the farm grew kale, baby kale, chard, bok choy, arugula, lettuce heads, peas, micro-greens, scallions, radishes, basil, oregano, leeks, mustard greens, cilantro, zucchini, squash, cucumbers, and more. From mid-July through early-September, you could find potatoes, string beans, corn, tomatoes, watermelons, pumpkins, beets, dill, eggplant, bell or sweet peppers, jalapeno peppers, and more in the farm’s CSA shares or farmers market stand. The farm also prepared its own pickles with cucumbers and herbs they grew on the farm. Flocktown also sells meat and eggs for another local in exchange for the stand selling Flocktown’s produce.

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My essential duties while working this internship involved working as a farmhand. Over the summer I seeded, planted, trans-planted, weeded, harvested, and washed/prepared produce. I would also pack shares for the farm’s CSA members. Every Thursday, we could go to sell the produce at the local town’s farmer’s market where I would help sell the produce directly to consumers. I would also inform customers on the farm itself, along with organic food in general.

In doing all of this, I learned how to apply sustainable and environmental practices in a practical, direct manner, while getting plenty of exercise! I learned about the harmful effects of pesticides and how over the time the populations of the pests will adapt to resist the pesticides genetically. For instance, a pesticide may eliminate 99% of a population of beetles the first year it is used, but the next year the offspring of the surviving 1% of those beetles will resist the pesticide rendering it useless in the second year of its use. Meanwhile, more sustainable practices such as, “trap-cropping”, crop rotation, etc. are far more effective methods to protect the produce. These methods are far more sustainable too, considering how the chemicals from the pesticides affect the soil and runoff into the local rivers and streams. This should not happen on an organic farm since they don’t allow those substances.  Working at the farm also taught me many organic methods regarding the health of the soil, efficient land use, the use of organic fertilizer, harvesting crops with minimal damage to the ecosystem, and more.

There were a lot of important learning outcomes from working in organic agriculture. One very important notion I’ve observed is that organic farms survive and prosper because there is demand for them! This goes to show how people have a huge demand for food not produced by our current, industrialized food industry. The support and enthusiasm from Flocktown’s shareholders are what makes the farm successful. The community in CSAs, organic farms, or farmers markets is golden, and it is inspiring to see how many people were excited by simply seeing a healthy- looking batch of kale, or a pile of potatoes pulled out of the ground that day. Our customers were happy to know where their food came from. That is why it is extremely important to support our local food growers. Organic produce has better quality and contains far more nutrients because of how it is grown, and we would have far less access to this food without our local farmers. I encourage all readers to support their local farmers to help keep this movement alive.

By John Patrick A. Govan ‘17

Summer of 2015

National Energy Education Development (NEED)

For my internship, I worked with Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources (OER) located in Providence, RI working as a National Energy Education Development (NEED) Intern. NEED is a nationwide program that stresses the need for comprehensive energy education in our schools throughout the country. This program focuses on the reduction of our dependence of fossil fuels, and increasing use of renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency. NEED’s philosophy is “Kids Teaching Kids” which encourages students to explore, experiment, and engage, and encouraging teachers to embrace student leadership in the classroom.

As an intern, I attended NEED club meetings throughout Rhode Island to work with existing NEED teachers to assist them with their club meetings, and mentor and inspire students about energy consciousness. For example, Central Falls – Dr. Earl F. Calcutt Middle School received a grant from NASA and conducted experiments, and I was able to facilitate these experiments. Another project I was involved in with Central Falls was planting a local vegetable garden for their school to help the reduction of CO2 emissions to reduce the need for transportation to travel to get food. As an intern, I was able to facilitate and help the students plant their vegetables and herbs. I then assisted OER to raise awareness and expand the RI NEED program. I had to assist with the energy art contest awards program at the 2015 Home Show/Energy Expo at the RI Convention Center. At the 2015 Energy Expo, I also had to organize and manage the energy education booth for kids, where we had an Energy Carnival for youths attending the RI Home Show.

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Education Booth at the 2015 Energy Expo at the RI Convention Center. Students from Central Falls, Calcutt Middle School volunteering to teach children about energy!

After the NEED project submission in April 2015, Rhode Island was able to receive a submission of 6 projects from schools around Rhode Island. The small state of Rhode Island won 3 national awards and 6 state level awards. The national awards were awarded to Dr. Earl F. Calcutt Middle School, Central Falls – National Junior Level School, Scituate High School – National Senior Level School of the Year, and AVenture Academy, Providence – Special Project Rookie of the Year.  From last year, Rhode Island was able to expand NEED to 3 other schools in Rhode Island – and it is currently still expanding!

I was able to accompany our winning schools to a national exhibition to the 2015 National Youth Awards Conference in Washington, DC from June 26 – 29, 2015. All NEED schools have outstanding classroom-based programs in which students learn about energy. To recognize outstanding achievement and reward student leadership, The NEED Project conducts the National Youth Awards Program for Energy Achievement. This was a weekend full of various energy activities and events for teachers and students. I am honored I was able to be a part of teaching and inspiring students to be future green leaders of Rhode Island.

Check out this video of Central Falls, Calcutt Middle School students singing a parody to Meghan Trainor’s “All About the Bass” using lyrics that they wrote about the forms of energy. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lp9n6C_m7Pk

For more information about the NEED project, please visit the website http://www.need.org/ or contact Barbara Cesaro at the RI Office of Energy Resources at Barbara.Cesaro@energy.ri.gov.

 

By Devina S. Thakur ‘17

Environmental and Natural Resource Economics Major

General Business Minor

December 11, 2015

Introducing an Energy Auditing Tool to the Rhode Island Public Sector

My name is Andrew Hintlian, and I am pursuing a double major in Environmental and Natural Resource Economics and Marine Affairs at the University of Rhode Island. Participating in this locus of study gave me the opportunity to take part in the yearlong URI Energy Fellows Program through the Extension Outreach Center. Throughout my engagement in this internship, I worked with the Rhode Island Public Energy Partnership (RIPEP) Team. RIPEP was a three-year initiative supported by the Department of Energy (DOE) to achieve an overall energy savings of 20% throughout approximately 100 buildings in Rhode Island’s public sector. I took part in analyzing the energy usage data from about 50 of those municipal, state, school and water facilities.

Building Energy Asset Score (AST)

This past summer, I earned the opportunity to take on a lead role in the program by introducing an auditing tool to four school and municipal departments. The DOE’s Building Energy Asset Score (AST) is a free tool that uses a building’s structural data (lighting, HVAC systems, structural assemblies, etc.) to calculate an energy efficiency score. AST provides energy efficiency scores between 1 and 10, 1 meaning the building uses more energy than it should and 10 meaning it uses less energy than expected. A current and potential score are provided to highlight what the building can achieve from completing suggested projects. As part of the RIPEP initiative, I was tasked with collecting building information for at least 30 public facilities.

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Data Collection Process

To make sure we achieved our goal of collecting data for 30 buildings, we first contacted those municipalities, school districts, and state agencies that showed prior interest in the tool and a high level of engagement in the RI Public Energy Partnership. We received responses from North Kingstown School District (10 buildings), Cranston School District (5 buildings), Warwick Municipality (10 buildings), and the University of Rhode Island Capital Projects (6 buildings). Once we received feedback, I was able to schedule meetings with the community directors to rationalize the best approach in collecting data. We found the best way to collect this data was to start by viewing blueprints and upgrade schedules. If there was any missing information, we would perform on-site visits to attain the remaining building characteristics. The data was then entered into the Tool’s online database to receive scoring and efficiency reports. Once the buildings were scored, we met with customers again to discuss findings. Using the results, we offered recommendations on how to use the tool to identify next steps for energy efficiency investment

Customer Takeaways of AST

The intention of introducing this tool to the Rhode Island public sector was not necessarily to provide building results, but to show the usefulness of the tool. When presenting results, I focused on three takeaways that the customers can achieve from independent use of AST.  One benefit was the creation of a central database of building information. Through consistent use of this tool, the Asset Score compiles building structure and efficiency information into a single location accessible by the building operator with just the click of a button. Another takeaway is the fact that it can be used alongside Energy Star Portfolio Manager (PM) to provide further knowledge of the building. PM is a tool that the RIPEP Team used with our Rhode Island partners to analyze building energy consumption values through examining utility bills. Using the Asset Score alongside ENERGY STAR’s Portfolio Manager Tool can compare how a building could be performing to how it is actually performing. The final takeaway we wanted to achieve was to streamline next steps in energy efficiency project implementation for these partners. By introducing this unique tool to this public sector, they can use its feedback to schedule preliminary energy audits directed by the results, continue using the tool as a resource for planning future projects and updating building structural characteristics, and understand changes in energy consumption over time from collaborative Portfolio Manager reports.

Working on RIPEP has helped to shape me professionally, and enhanced my familiarity with entry into the energy workforce. I knew I made the right choice with the Energy Fellows program as I got to partake in work that not only interested me, but challenged me to a large extent. I’ve also become more confident with my leadership and professional communications skills from my constant involvement around the office, work meetings, energy tabling events and trainings. My hope for the future of AST project implementation is that this program will help Rhode Island achieve a more sustainable future through improved energy awareness.

by: Andrew Hintlian

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics & Marine Affairs Double Major

December 11th, 2015

Fostering Energy Management in RI’s Public Sector

Over the course of the past year, I have been working as a URI Energy Fellow on the Rhode Island Public Energy Partnership (RIPEP) Team, an initiative funded by the Rhode Island Department of Energy (DOE). As energy efficiency became a focal point for RI’s state and municipal heads, the RIPEP Team played a crucial role in determining if energy efficiency retrofits are a success, and if buildings are performing efficiently.

We accomplished this by establishing a baseline of energy consumption for over 80% of RI’s school facilities, using an online energy management tool called Portfolio Manager (PM). This baseline report allows decision makers to look at how much energy their district consumed, by building, from 2008 to 2014. The data was displayed as monthly values and grouped by energy type (electricity, natural gas, etc.). This accessible and comprehensive baseline was the first of its kind in RI, and is an invaluable accomplishment for energy efficiency in the state of Rhode Island. Now that energy efficiency has been measured in the state, it is possible for public decision makers to manage their own consumption.

Many school and municipal departments had very little knowledge of their own energy consumption. The process of evaluating energy bills is often overlooked, and the bills are simply paid for by the state without careful consideration. The RIPEP Team helped schools and municipalities make important energy decisions by:

  • Establishing a baseline for their buildings energy consumption,
  • Identifying poorly operating facilities, and
  • Providing measurable changes in energy consumption after retrofits.

After the baseline was established, the RIPEP Team also gave school districts and municipalities the means to continue their own energy management through the use of the same, user friendly and free online tool, Portfolio Manager.

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Having an experiential learning experience such as the one I received as an Energy Fellow at the URI Outreach Center was instrumental to developing a well-rounded repertoire of professional and social skills. Throughout my time on the RIPEP Team, I grew and developed in many ways I would not have within a classroom. When I first came in to the program I was disorganized, a poor communicator and unfamiliar with working in the professional office environment. Working on a supportive team encouraged me to take on new responsibilities, which led to improvement of my professional skills. Some of my many tasks included taking notes at seminars regarding current energy issues, leading small group meetings, and conducting community service. I also had opportunities to work with professionals in the field to accomplish common goals. Taking on diverse and challenging responsibilities developed my ability to synthesize ideas, bolstered my public speaking, and overall improved my professional demeanor.

Building upon my weaknesses has given me a sense of confidence I would not have found within a classroom. It has given me a clear head and reassurance to follow my passion to improve the environment. I hope to find a career in either the environmental or energy field where I can have a direct effect on environmental issues such as renewable energy or diminishing natural resources. I finally feel like I am ready to begin my career. I owe a great deal of my preparedness and confidence to my experiential learning as a URI Energy Fellow.

 

by: Connor Fiske ’15

Environmental & Natural Resource Economics Major

December 18th, 2015

The Environmental Impacts of Building Demolition

May I start by saying this internship credit program was the ultimate educational experience for me. I am a firm believer that the best way to learn and effectively absorb information is with hands-on experience in the field. That being said I think that this was an incredibly beneficial program because I was able to get that dense hands-on learning experience and broaden the knowledge in my field of study as well as get credits towards my degree. For my internship I focused my efforts on studying and mitigating the effects of harmful emissions as well as the overuse of natural resources. I spent a lot of my time working on limiting the consumption of diesel fuel in large construction equipment. I also experimented with ways to limit dust emissions on a large-scale construction project. My goal at the end of this program is to limit the overall effects on the environment and save money for the company.

The demolition field revolves around the use of massive machines and equipment. Most job sites have multiple machines operating together at once. Some of these machines can weigh well over 100,000 pounds. As you would imagine it takes a lot of fuel to move something that heavy eight hours a day, five days a week, non-stop. What I want to do is find a way to limit a particular machine’s use while not damaging productivity. I was able to find that during one week’s time the machine stops working a few times a day for general maintenance or other tasks being performed around it. During the time the machine is not operating it is still running, burning fuel and emitting pollutants into the atmosphere. I came to the conclusion that if the machine ran full speed for only four full days and designated the fifth day for all of its general maintenance and for performing other necessary tasks around the machine, the demolition company could save gallons of diesel fuel each week. By saving all that fuel they are also majorly cutting back on emissions. The beauty of it is that even though the machine is shut down for a day you may only be losing one to two hours of productivity.

Another large environmental impact involved in demolition is dust and particulate emissions. Massive machines colliding with and collapsing 20 stories of concrete can produce a lot of dust. Keeping that dust to a minimum is essential to the environment as well as human health. I was in search for a cost effective way to keep those dust emissions as low as possible. After a few studies using plastics to contain the dust, I decided it wasn’t a suitable solution. The plastic was too much of an overhead cost and although it was helping with dust impacts on the environment, the used plastic created more trash that would need to be filled somewhere. I decided that water would be the ultimate solution. If the concrete was fairly saturated it wouldn’t produce dust. That worked exactly as planned; more water used to wet the concrete before demolition resulted in significantly less dust.

This was a great experience for me. The amount of knowledge and experience gained was largely beneficial towards future successes. This was a great opportunity and I am so glad I was able to help this company, cut back on environmental impacts, and further my college education all at the same time. I feel that this internship program is a very effective way, if not the most effective way of learning and working towards a future in your field of study.

By: Jake Versaci

December 24th, 2014