Newport, Salve Regina communities fighting global climate change

A Newport local talks about how easy it can be to go green. SRU starts to show a significant effort to follow the “go green” movement.

By Alexandra Riewer

Wind Potential: Rhode Island’s windy climate could save the state money and the environment. Opposition arises to this energy source due to the farm’s lack of aestheticism. Photo Credit: Deepwater Wind

Beth Milham, the head of Neighborhood Energy Challenge, walks into Empire Tea and Coffee on Broadway with her reusable mug in hand.

That mug – navy blue and slightly tattered – is a symbol of Milham’s commitment to reduce the amount of waste in a landfill, even if it is just one paper cup at a time.

“There are things people can do year-long to save energy,” Milham says. “People think it’s a good idea, but it’s hard to get the energy to do it.”

Milham is not the only person in the Newport area working toward a greener economy. Members of both the Salve Regina University and Newport communities have been making strides to fight global climate change and the effects warmer temperatures within the atmosphere could have on a coastal area. From alterations in small, daily activities to larger leaps such as developing off-shore wind farms, Milham emphasizes each person’s efforts can make a difference.

States all over New England are making this challenging leap and are participating in the fight to end global climate change and reduce the state’s release of greenhouse gases. Long Island, New Jersey, and Rhode Island have all teamed up with Deepwater Wind, a company that produces wind turbines that can cost-effectively be deployed in water depths up to 150 feet, to install wind turbines. An Environmental Protection Agency report, released last December, also put the spotlight on greenhouse gases. According to the agency, greenhouse gases have been deemed harmful to human health, especially carbon dioxide.

Reuter’s reported earlier this year that Texas and several other industry groups filed separate petitions in federal court challenging the government’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Texas leads the United States in releasing the largest volume of carbon dioxide due to its heavy concentration of oil refining and other industries, Reuters says.

Milham is one of 11 volunteers who wants to end this climate crisis. The result is a website organization called the Neighborhood Energy Challenge. The organization works toward getting individuals in the community to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. The challenge currently hosts approximately 100 participants, Milham says, and members can sign onto the website and plug in their monthly energy data based on their National Grid bills.

“Members can also record what they’ve done to save energy and they can receive points for their efforts,” Milham says. “These can include driving an energy-efficient car, installing new home insulation or simple daily activities” (such as using a reusable mug).

Every time members put information into their energy audit, they receive credit to their account for their efforts. When participants upload their heating and energy bills, the Neighborhood Energy Challenge can give advice on what to do better and how much money their conservation efforts would save in the long-term. The challenge hosts an event every quarter awarding members with the most conservation points. Milham also says that making buildings more energy efficient is the biggest bang for your consumer’s buck.

“This approach gives people incentives to go green,” Milham says. “From starting point to ending point it may not seem like that much of a change, but in the long-run it will.”

The state of Rhode Island is also making strides to reduce greenhouse gases. The state government has made a commitment with the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, Inc. to get 20 percent of the state’s energy from renewable sources. RGGI, Inc. is a non-profit corporation created to support development and implementation of 10 participating states’ carbon dioxide Budget Trading Programs. Wind is the first big thing.

“Rhode Island and Deepwater Wind Co. have contracted to build two wind farms off Block Island,” Milham says. “The first will serve only Block Island with a total of eight wind turbines. The second will have over 100 turbines farther offshore and serve the rest of the state.”

The Neighborhood Energy Challenge also works with Salve Regina University and professor of science Dr. Jameson Chace. He notes that some businesses are worried that a switch to a green economy will cause economic harm.

“Any environmental change, whether DDT is no longer being used as an insecticide or lead is out of gas and paint, industry says it is going to cause economic harm,” Chace says. “This is the perpetual myth of the economy. The U.S. is the greatest emitter of greenhouse gases and change always comes hard.”

But according to Chace, carbon dioxide is an odorless, intangible substance. People are less willing to change their actions because they cannot actually see the side effects. And if the economy was not suffering, people would be more inclined to change the way they live to be more environmentally friendly, he says.

“The mentality is ‘if China doesn’t have to, why do we?’ The question is whether we want to be the leaders or not,” Chace says. “The United States needs to set the rules. If we run into a wall, we’ll look for a way around.”

Chace is also the advisor for the Environmental Club on campus at Salve Regina. Melissa Fromm (’10), the president of the club, saw there was a need for environmental changes on campus. The club’s main focus this year is recycling.

“We want to tackle O’Hare Academic Center first,” Fromm says. “It’s a quick and easy way to reduce waste. When people are educated, it will work on its own.”

Within the next few weeks, students and faculty on campus will see two recycling bins next to each garbage can.

Curbing climate change may take some time, but strides are being made within the Salve Regina and Newport communities. The recycling bins are a first step, just like Milham’s reusable mug.

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