Alana Paul, a junior at Tulane University, works as an energy and climate change specialist in the school’s Office of Environmental Affairs. She is majoring in anthropology and environmental policy.

Monday, 30 Sep 2002

NEW ORLEANS, La.

Hello from N’Orleans! After living here for three years, I have grown very attached to this city. The delicious food, Creole houses, sunny weather, and friendly people all make life in “The Big Easy” very enjoyable.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Sadly, global climate change is already affecting Louisiana and threatening to one day destroy New Orleans. Scientists have given the city 50-year notice for disappearing underwater, but every tropical storm or hurricane that hits the Gulf ignites a fear that the real prognosis is even grimmer. This is why my work on climate change is so important; its effects are close to home.

You may be wondering how in the world I got involved in working on climate change issues, especially at America’s biggest party school. I mean, shouldn’t I be out living it up on Bourbon Street or skipping classes to go sunbathing in autumn? Sometimes I feel like one of the few people at Tulane whose goal is to save the world from environmental destruction, not to see how many nights in a row I can drink myself to sleep.

I’ve had a strong interest in the environment ever since high school. When I arrived at Tulane as a freshman in need of a work-study job, I naturally looked into a position in the Office of Environmental Affairs. That’s where I met Liz Davey, the campus environmental coordinator, who offered me a job working on energy and climate change projects. (I didn’t become a “specialist” in the field until my sophomore year.)

The Tulane Office of Environmental Affairs spans many environmental fields. Liz advises me on my work and also consults with students working on projects ranging from alternative transportation to recycling. Energy and climate change is one of the OEA’s bigger issues, because Tulane’s impact on the climate is quite immense: The school spends over $7 million on energy alone. All of the work that I do focuses on ways to reduce that impact. Past projects I’ve worked on include compiling a greenhouse gas inventory of Tulane, designing a student global-warming-awareness survey, and assessing average electricity use and costs of a Tulane dorm room. I have attended and presented at numerous climate change conferences across the nation, participated in climate change activism on and off campus, and had my findings published in print and online.

Grist thanks its sponsors. Become one.

Grist relies on the support of generous readers like you. Donate today to keep our climate news free.

Last year’s Energy Star dorm room.

Over the past year, I have worked extensively with representatives from Energy Star to design the first-ever Energy Star Showcase Dorm Room. The idea for the room came about while we were assessing the efficiency of our current dorm rooms, and the Energy Star room was unveiled last year. This room was a big deal for Tulane, and an even bigger deal for me, as one of the room’s three residents. Energy Star product manufacturers outfitted the room with donated appliances used by the average college student, including a television, stereo, flat-screen computer monitors, lamps, and more.

Along with my roommates, it was my job to give tours of the room and educate the campus on energy efficiency. Interest in the room was high, leading to tour appearances by Tulane President Scott Cowen, as well as the director of housing and residence life, the director of campus purchasing, and many other administrators students rarely get to meet or work with. All were highly supportive of our work and have offered generous assistance with our subsequent projects. Students and professors also came on these tours and were intrigued by our demonstration of the simplicity of saving energy at “home.” The room is being hosted in a freshman dorm this year in hopes of generating even more interest and attention.

We are kicking off this school year with one of our most engaging efforts to educate the campus on energy efficiency: the Ecolympics. This is a competition between residence halls to see which students can save the most electricity during the month of October. I’ll fill you in on the details in the coming week.

Tuesday, 1 Oct 2002

NEW ORLEANS, La.

I spent most of yesterday publicizing for the Ecolympics, as today is the first of the month, the beginning of the competition. I have been planning this event since the summer, so much has already been done to publicize it.

When I arrived at school in August, I immediately went to work on spreading the word about the Ecolympics around campus. I contacted Housing and Residence Life for help in figuring out the best way to work with resident advisors. RAs live on every floor of every residence hall on campus and are responsible for planning events for the students on their floor. Since I cannot personally tell everyone on campus about the Ecolympics and the importance of saving energy, I have to rely on RAs as my closest connection to the student body.

The RAs are overseen by Area Resident Directors. (As you can see, the HRL hierarchy is quite complicated.) So I started out by meeting with the head honchos, the ARDs, to get their input on how to gain better outreach for the event through the RAs. Using their input, I was ready to tackle the individual residence hall weekly RA meetings.

My first three RA meetings were all on the same night, one right after the other, on Monday, Sept. 23. (Luckily, Hurricane Isidore didn’t hit until the next morning.) Though my first audience seemed unimpressed, the momentum of the later meetings made up for the lack of interest at the first one. When I speak in front of crowds, especially about an event this cool, I become more bubbly than nervous, because I’m excited about what I have to say. The second and third audiences picked up on my excitement and, by the end of the meeting, the RAs were very enthusiastic about winning the grand prize for their respective residence halls. I had two more of these meetings last night, and they went just as well as the previous two. The prize really pulls in interest and fires up people’s desire to win.

So what is the grand prize? Ice cream, of course. I crave ice cream, as do most people I know. So what better prize than an ice cream party with Jerry Greenfield himself — yes, the Jerry of Ben and Jerry’s! Thanks to a helpful Tulane Business School professor, I was able to get in touch with Jerry, who agreed to mingle with the winners at an awards ceremony, as well as to provide ice cream for the event. (The recent Ben and Jerry’s One Sweet Whirled ice cream flavor is actually part of a global warming campaign.) Ecolympics winners will also receive a brand new DVD player and new DVDs to go with it, compliments of a generous donation by the Tulane administration.

I will leave you now with great news that came quite unexpectedly today. As I sat in the campus student center at a booth decorated with an Ecolympics poster and flyers, two people approached, wanting to know more about the competition. This was the most interest I had generated from passers-by thus far, so I obligingly filled them in on the details. It turns out that they worked for Red Bull (the energy drink) and were looking for ways to promote the product on campus. This blew me away, because it was exactly the type of giveaway I was looking for to increase our publicity — something to really draw in the crowd, and preferably something with at least an abstract connection to saving energy or being “energy smart.” I was originally thinking of contacting the company that produces PowerAde, but thanks to this bit of serendipity, I agreed to work with Red Bull. They will provide free cases of the drink, and I will provide info on saving energy and on the Ecolympics. One more thing to check off on my long list of publicity stunts!

Next up: Get in touch with those people who have agreed to offer motivational prizes for the RAs who come up with the most creative approach to publicizing the Ecolympics and its energy-saving message for their residents. Oh, and I also have to schedule a tour with the metering man! Add two papers and three long classes to that schedule, and we’ll call it a day.

Wednesday, 2 Oct 2002

NEW ORLEANS, La.

I’ve spent two days writing about the Ecolympics, but I haven’t yet told you that much about what the event actually entails. I’m going to correct that today by sharing with you the same information I share with Tulane’s Resident Advisors, who are helping me mobilize students to participate in the contest.

The Ecolympics challenges Tulane residence halls to see which one can use electricity the most efficiently this October. The total electricity use of each residence hall will be calculated (through metering and projected October electricity consumption) by Finnin & Associates, a local energy consulting firm. Finnin & Associates will use past electricity data to predict normal October consumption; the residence hall that uses the smallest fraction of the predicted energy use wins. The competition is designed this way so residents won’t be punished (or rewarded) for the overall efficiency of things they can’t change — building structure, type of overhead lights, most air conditioning, permanent appliances, and so forth. The competition began at midnight on Oct. 1 and ends at midnight on Oct. 31. The winning residence hall will be notified in early- to mid-November, and the awards ceremony will be held soon after.

In addition to the grand prize — an ice-cream party hosted by the “Jerry” of Ben & Jerry’s — prizes will be awarded to two RAs who develop the most creative approach to educating residents on ways to conserve energy. Tulane’s Athletic Department Store agreed to donate a $20 gift certificate as one of the prizes, and our student fitness center agreed to provide a free instructional program as the other prize. (Instructional programs range from a scuba course to yoga classes.) I am also working on convincing local restaurants to donate gift certificates; might as well take advantage of the famous New Orleans cuisine.

There’s only one way to win the Ecolympics: use electricity more efficiently. The little things that we do on a daily basis can really add up, so the more people participating, the better the chances of a residence hall winning. Here are some of the ways I tell students they can help their residence hall save energy:

  • Turn off the lights when leaving your room.
  • Turn off your computer at night, or during the day when you will not be using it for an extended period of time. If you do not turn off your computer entirely, then it is important to at least turn off the monitor.
  • Enable the energy-saving software on your computer. Do not just use a screensaver; it does not save your screen, but rather eats up tons of energy for no good reason.
  • Buy compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) rather than incandescent light bulbs. CFLs not only use about 60 percent less energy, but also last an average of seven years, compared to the one-year lifespan of an incandescent.
  • Check to see if your appliances are labeled Energy Star. Energy Star products cost the same as others, but save energy — and therefore money. Many non-Energy Star electronics use a lot of electricity even when they are turned off. If you have non-Energy Star appliances, you can save energy by using a power strip to really turn them off.

Visit the Get Energy Smart website for more information and ideas.

There’s also a link for the Ecolympics on that website where students can access publicity resources that I have provided, including flyers, pictures, reminders, factoids, bulletin board presentations, cool links, and more. This is really great for RAs, as I have essentially done all of the work for them; all they have to do is visit the website and print.

This afternoon, I’ll continue to work on finalizing funding for a vinyl Ecolympics banner, to be hung for a week over the main street that runs through campus. Then it’s off to my three hour Environmental Politics class, where I’ll represent the U.S. EPA during a mock symposium.

Later in the evening, my co-worker Shelley and I will make Ecolympics T-shirts as a fun way of advertising the competition. We shall see how much more interest in the competition we can generate with this and other publicity stunts.

Thursday, 3 Oct 2002

NEW ORLEANS, La.

Today was going to be a pretty busy day for me regarding the Ecolympics. The university’s publicity photographer, Paula Burch, was supposed to take pictures of the new Energy Star Showcase Dorm Room at 12:30. I then planned on touring residence hall electricity-metering systems with the representative from Finnin & Associates who meters them. I was to end the night with my very last RA meeting at one of the biggest residence halls on campus. I was also planning to put up bulletin-board presentations on the Ecolympics and global climate change around this entire quad. This was all part of the plan …

But another hurricane came in this week, once again delaying the Ecolympics schedule I had planned last month. Hurricane Lili struck Louisiana’s coast today as a Category 2 storm. Though flooding in New Orleans was not nearly as bad as it could have been, the threat was still there, and other surrounding cities were hit hard. It is scary how every hurricane or tropical storm threatens to wash away more and more of Louisiana’s coastline, not to mention one of its most popular and classic cities. Most of New Orleans is two feet below sea level — the city is like a bowl just waiting to be filled with water from the next big storm.

You can see the shock on students’ faces when they make the connection between global climate change, rising sea levels, and New Orleans becoming the next underwater city. What happens when you graduate and then years later the school from which you got your degree is underwater — does it still mean anything? These last two hurricanes have just been teasing us, but how much longer can this game last before our city is completely wiped out by water?

Not even Hurricane Lili can stop me from working on the Ecolympics, though. I am really hoping we will see a positive change in energy use as a result of this competition. I secured another motivational prize for the RAs — a free instructional program at our student fitness center, with at least a $50 value. Hopefully, I can convince local restaurants to donate gift certificates in conjunction with these other prizes, as no student can resist free food. Tomorrow we should have classes again, so I’ll let you know how I’m going to get Ecolympics back on track. I have planned many events throughout the month, and you’ll get to hear all about them tomorrow. Ciao for now!

Friday, 4 Oct 2002

NEW ORLEANS, La.

With a little less than four weeks left to further publicize the Ecolympics, there is a lot of work still to be done. Thanks to brainstorming earlier in the school year, I’m now facing a long list of publicity stunts.

I’ve reserved two more booths in the university’s student center in the hopes of button-holing passersby and telling them about the event. The banner on the booth will be bigger and bolder this time, and as a method of enticement, I will give away Smarties candy. (The connection: Smarties = “Energy Smart.”) I also spoke with managers at the university bookstore, who have agreed to sell compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) at a discounted price at my next booth. They also recently agreed to sell CFLs in the store, which is great, because many students do not have access to cars to go out and buy CFLs elsewhere. And then there are all the students who don’t even know what CFLs are. Hopefully, the current campaign will help educate them.

As I mentioned on Tuesday, I am working with representatives from Red Bull (the popular energy drink) to schedule an event on the quad, where they will provide free beverages and we’ll provide information on the Ecolympics and energy efficiency. At the very end of the month, the university’s main environmental club, the Green Club, is sponsoring an Eco-Awareness Week. The club has planned different programs and events for each day of the week, covering topics ranging from renewable energy to environmental justice.

The renewable energy day dovetails nicely with the message of the Ecolympics. I have planned to have either Toyota or Honda feature its newest hybrid automobile on the university’s main quad, a stunt that should generate a lot of interest from people passing by. Santa Claus (or rather, someone dressed like him) might also make a guest appearance on the quad, reminding people that unsustainable energy use produces emissions that threaten our air quality and increase global temperatures (thereby also threatening Santa’s home due to rising sea levels and melting ice caps). A bit of a stretch, I know, but it’s been done successfully in the past. (I dressed up as Santa at an event staged by climate change activists in Portland, Ore.)

The Tulane student newspaper, The Hullabaloo, has already agreed to write an article on the Ecolympics; meanwhile, I am in the process of designing advertisements for the competition, to be placed on tables in both the freshmen and university center cafeterias. Advertisement through flyers will be restricted to kiosks across campus and on bulletin boards in various buildings where undergraduates might go — anything more than that would just be a waste of paper. Next week, I am going to send an announcement about the Ecolympics to all environmental science professors, who will hopefully pass the message on to their students as well.

So there you have it — the whole story of the Ecolympics, from why its message is important to students and residents of New Orleans to how that message is being spread. It’s a huge project, and it’s taking up much of the time I could be spending on homework or watching movies with friends, but I’m certain that every hour of work that I put into this event will be entirely worth it. A little commotion can make a big difference, and every little thing we do as environmentalists counts. Moreover, I have had the privilege of meeting and working with absolutely amazing people in the environmental field thus far, and look forward to working with even more people with the same passions in the future. Who knows, maybe I’ll run in to some of you Grist readers one day. Until then, all I can do now is continue to specialize in energy and climate change for a university that desperately needs to recognize the significance of the issue.

I cannot even begin to tell you how honored I am to have been given this opportunity to write for Grist, and I thank all of you for taking the time to read my entries. I would be more than happy to see projects like the ones I’ve described here start up in other parts of the country, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch with me for help or ideas. Best wishes to all, and remember to turn off your appliances!