June 3, 2023

Environmental Sustainability: To change everything, it takes everyone

Sustainability is about promoting environmental health, human well-being and economic vitality, in ways that do not trade any one of these goals off for the others.


Our local and global communities need experts who can help meet current social needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.


That was the core focus at NCC’s Environmental Symposium on Monday, March 12th. The all-day event was hosted by NCC’s Sustainability Committee and the NCC Climate Action Network. World Geography professor, Anita Forrester introduced each speaker with an introduction on their expertise.

Some of the biggest global challenges we face today involve providing people with clean, safe, efficient and affordable energy, while countering the negative effects on the environment. With increasing global interdependence, the goal is to tackle these challenges, both locally and globally, as well as from a variety of different perspectives: scientific, economic, political, social and cultural.


The Environmental Symposium offered students the opportunities to share their research and engage in critical reflection and open dialogue on how environmental issues are shaping our global context. This is within the diverse disciplines of health, education, science, human rights, medicine, law, media, economics, politics, development and history.


Keynote speaker and recently elected Northampton County Council member, Tara Zrinski, kicked off the event by sharing her journey from being a former adjunct philosophy professor at NCC to her successful political campaign. Zrinski is also currently an energy consultant for Trinity Solar and spoke in length the benefits of solar power and panels. She has been an advocate for clean energy and a sustainable future within our local communities. Zrinski is also the former local coordinator for Food and Water Watch, where she organized local educational forums, regional rallies and advocated for clean energy policy at the state level. As a former freelance writer and blogger for the Time Tribune, she wrote about natural gas extraction and pipelines for various publications. In the 2016 elections, she got a taste for the campaign trail as a Field Organizer for the Super PAC, For Our Future, going door-to-door to educate voters on the environmental and political issues. She considers herself an eco-feminist, advocating for both environmental issues and female empowerment.


“Politics at its best is about people; at its worst, it’s about power,” Zrinski said. “Where there is a balance, great things can be accomplished, but when power is the only goal, we lose our humanity.”


Speaker Karen Feridun, is the Founder of Berks Gas Truth, a grassroots community organization opposed to shale gas drilling. She represents her organization on the steering committees of Americans Against Fracking, the Stop the Frack Attack Network, and Pennsylvanians Against Fracking, a coalition she co-founded. She is working with an international team planning the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal on Fracking in the US and UK in 2017. In December, she spoke about the plans for the tribunal at an international conference on fracking held in Paris in conjunction with COP21.

Feridun’s organization has coordinated several statewide campaigns, including one that led to the PA Democratic State Committee to vote in favor of a statewide moratorium on fracking. Her organization has tabled at Farm Aid twice, and via the Guacamole Fund, at Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Crosby, Stills, and Nash concerts. She has written and spoken frequently on issues related to shale gas development and related infrastructure.


Feridun primarily focused on the controversy of the Mariner East Pipeline. The PA Pipeline Project (PPP)/Mariner East II is an expansion of the existing Sunoco Mariner East pipeline system. Sunoco recently upgraded its existing Mariner East I pipeline to transport natural gas liquids from Ohio and the Pittsburgh area to its Marcus Hook Facility in Delaware County. More than 80 percent of the PPP will follow the same pipeline corridor as Mariner East I. The pipeline will traverse 17 counties in the southern tier of Pennsylvania.


The two new pipelines will extend more than 300 miles, across three regions of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP): (5 counties in the Southwest Region, 10 counties in the South-Central Region, and 2 counties in the Southeast Region). The project involves construction or expansion of existing pump stations, and includes proposed work beyond the existing pipeline right-of-way for site access, avoidance of environmental or cultural resources, avoidance of surface features and others.


Feridun also spoke about the dangerous abundance of orphaned and abandoned wells (an estimated 350,000 wells at minimum) in Pennsylvania alone. The wells can greatly harm the environment around them without proper maintenance.


Richard Fetzer worked for the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for over 40 years and retired in 2016. At the EPA, he spent 24 years as a Federal On-Scene Coordinator (FOSC), leading EPA’s response to oil spill or hazardous materials spill incidents. As an FOSC, Fetzer has responded to major national incidents, such as the Capitol Hill Anthrax Response in Washington, D.C. and the Hurricane Katrina Response in Louisiana. Fetzer has also led EPA’s response to local incidents, including the Dimock Marcellus Shale Investigation in Susquehanna County. He holds degrees from Penn State University in Earth Science (B.S.) and Public Administration (MPA). At NCC, he is tasked with establishing an environmental emergency management program to deliver adult education and services to the emergency management and safety stakeholders, providing advanced field function.


Fetzer explained the dangers of chemicals not properly disposed of, contaminated water, and drainage. He discussed standard operating procedures and how the EPA functions: proper methods of waste cleanup and the technology used to do so.  


Scott Gruninger is a full-time student and entrepreneur who has owned and operated his own 3D design business for two years. A Business major with a propensity for environmental conservation who believes that for businesses to succeed, proper conservation and care needs to be taken for the environment. Recently, he has been awarded a full-time intern position with ShoreRivers, an environmental advocacy and restoration firm that leads the sustentation of Maryland’s waterways and wildlife habitats. In the future, he hopes to continue his fusion of business and environmentalism to better shape the way we interact with our surrounding environment.


Gruninger focused on the future of “Indoor Farming.” This technique is the future of urban farming. It allows for vertical farms that grow all crops, in any place, at any time. This project researches and illustrates why, where and how high tech indoor farms should be integrated with the urban landscape. They render the old, centralized way of farming obsolete and promise a high capacity local food production that biological farming is unable to deliver.


The current organization of the world’s food production and distribution is under pressure. New economies and increasing urbanization ask for better, safer and more secure production capacity, while growing land and water shortages, climatologic problems and plagues lead to an increase of food crisis. Today’s centralized food production, with crops being grown where the climate conditions and land values are favorable and/or knowhow is available, is no longer sustainable. It results in long and complicated supply chains, poor food quality and enormous food losses of up to 50 percent.


The possibility to stack indoor crops production allows for vertical farming towers right in the middle of our cities, the place where a lot of end consumers live and work, but space is scarce. Despite of their small footprint, these vertical farms can generate large, varied and year-round volumes of fresh fruits, vegetables and spices.


In the periphery of the city, the indoor farm will acquire a mono-functional and industrial character. Outside of the city, large scale indoor farming green ports will arise that provide food on a regional scale. These large complexes can manifest themselves as integrated landscape elements, connected to the existing infrastructure. In all cases, indoor farming has to be combined with sustainable energy farming and/or the use of urban waste energy.


Aidan Kleckner, Shana Rose, Jeffrey Kapesos, Mark Culp, and Dr. Rob Fergus also gave speeches regarding the importance of recycling, leaving the planet better than it is right now, and other ways to increase sustainability.


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