• Cleaner air a long but worthwhile fight for Indiana

    Here is an interesting little tool I found showing how each state ranks on certain environmental issues. Surprisingly, Indiana did a lot better than at least I expected overall. But there were two main areas where we rank toward the bottom: air quality (48th) and carbon dioxide emissions (45th). Our neighboring states don’t rank much better.

    This is just one organization’s measurement, but a quick search around the web will reveal many environmental organizations rank Indiana’s air quality pretty low. It’s not surprising at all when you consider that we have several of the major contributors to air pollution.

    There’s heavy industry. Between the refinery and steel mills and being included in the metro area of Chicago, we in the Region know all about that.

    There’s cars. Lots and lots of cars. Being the Crossroads of America means millions and millions of drivers passing through spewing exhaust throughout our state, especially plenty of semis burning diesel on our highways. Also, I’ve said how we don’t have much public transit, which means residents are forced to drive more.

    And like most of the Midwest, the coal industry is the main supplier of power in our state. Sure, there’s some alternative energy at play in our state, such as the Meadow Lake Wind Farm you pass through on I-65, but coal is still king and won’t be deposed anytime soon.

    Short of some superpowered air filtering system out of a sci-fi novel, I don’t see how we can improve our air quality without drastically changing our lifestyles. For example, if we want to reduce automotive exhaust, we’d all have to drive less, chip in tax dollars to fund mass transit, or switch over to hybrid cars, and then eventually to completely electric ones. To stop polluting the air for electricity, we’d have to seriously consider clean sources like solar and wind as our main power sources, not just a sideshow to coal power plants. And in addition to facing resistance from the industries involved and to raising the public funds needed, we’d also have to deal with the reality that said industries employ a lot of people.

    I’ve been to Seattle, a very green city in one of the more environmentally conscious states, and even in the middle of downtown, the air made regular open air in Northwest Indiana suburbs seem like a smoky bar. The seasonal allergies I usually suffer seemed to disappear the four days I was there. So believe me, cleaner air is worth the time and effort it’ll take, not only because of climate change, but for the simply selfish reason that it’ll make our daily routine of breathing better.

  • Climate change does actually effect the Region

    I'm going to write this post on the premise that climate change is real. Some political circles still deny its existence, but the scientific evidence shows there's no doubt about it. It's real, and it's very serious. And while we in the Region may not be affected by such environmental effects as severe droughts, melting ice and rising sea levels (at least not yet), we’re still experiencing its effects firsthand.

    I know, it’s not even Thanksgiving and has already been as cold as the dead of winter. Plus, who can forget the last winter season? But global warming doesn’t mean winter will cease to contain cold and snow, and the idea that very cold weather disproves its effects is a fallacy. In actuality, climate change might have contributed to the severity of last winter’s polar vortex.

    Last year aside, our winters have actually gotten warmer. According to Weather Underground, many daily temperatures recorded by the Gary Airport were higher than the historical average in November and the winter months since the start of the millennium. To be fair, several were only higher by a few degrees, but the number of days with substantially higher temperatures have increased as the years continue. The increase in hotter-than-average temperatures is much more pronounced in the summer months.

    Warmer winters and hotter summers. Extreme fluctuations in temperature, in both directions. More powerful storms, both in the form of polar vortices in winter and stronger and more frequent tornadoes in summer. All are results of climate change, and all are affecting us and many more Americans and costing billions. So why aren’t more people concerned about it?

    My guess: our corner of the country has always dealt with tough winters and tolerated hot summers. So while climate change is a more apparent and direct threat in other parts of the world, its effects here haven't yet been enough to make people change their behaviors. It might not register as a real problem until the situation becomes equally dire for the whole country, like, say, when the food and water supply starts to get affected.

  • Dunes banquet hall controversy is small potatoes

    The unquenchable beast that is capitalism is so ever-present that even the country’s most prized and beautiful lands, our National Parks, have felt its wrath. Now, it seems that even our very own Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore isn’t safe from it.

    The company Pavilion Partners LLC is stepping in to fix up the Dunes’ main beach pavilion, replacing the old, dank bathrooms and updating the concession stand. But that project comes with a price, as the company also seeks to implement an evil plan for the Dunes.

    Brace yourselves: They want to put a new banquet hall alongside the pavilion.

    Wait...a banquet hall? That’s it?

    Well, whether or not it actually happens now is unclear, as the proposal got a decidedly negative reaction at a town hall meeting in Chesterton last week. Pardon me for not being too outraged, but this isn’t exactly equal to drilling for oil in Yellowstone (and for those who care about the environment and keeping the country clean, there are people who want to do that in our National Parks).

    Honestly, it does seem a little tacky to try to stick a fancy dining facility in the middle of the Dunes, or even mid-level dining at that. The Dunes are about enjoying the outdoors, of appreciating the peace and beauty of nature. Going there to have an experience better suited for indoors sort of defeats the purpose. If you want to eat a nice meal in full view of the Lake, there are plenty of places in Chicago that offer that.

    But the only reasons I’d be outright against the idea is if it affected the park for the worse. For instance, if it upsets the natural ecosystem or plant and wildlife, or if it would create substantially more garbage that could blow around the beach (though this would only be a problem if it’s open air). Or, if a rentable banquet hall would potentially lead to the park itself being taken for private parties.  I’m strongly opposed to that, as the Dunes should be open to everybody.

    Short of any of that, however, I’m pretty neutral. I love the Dunes and visit them at least a few times a year, and the presence of a banquet hall in the pavilion won’t likely change that.

  • SustainABLE IUN | An Environmental Club

    When attempting to make a community more environmentally friendly, the best place to start is sustainability. At least, that’s the view of Dr. Kalim Shah of Indiana University Northwest’s School of Public and Environmental Affairs (SPEA).

    Upon arriving at the university for the Fall 2013 semester, Shah was tasked with resurrecting the school’s environmental club, which had become dormant in recent years.

    “There was a sense that there was still student interest in it,” Shah said. “There just wasn’t any faculty to lead or guide it.”

    Shah was a more than fitting choice to be the club’s adviser. In addition to teaching in Toronto, he has firsthand experience in environmental work while employed by the government of Ontario, Canada. From this background, he deduced that a long-term, detailed plan toward sustainability was what the campus needed, whereas the university had only undertaken some modest “green” initiatives before.

    “What was lacking was a step-by-step approach to move the campus toward being fully sustainable,” Shah said

    Reviving the group was also a priority for Amanda Schreiber, a junior to whom protecting the environment is very dear. Majoring in Environmental Affairs, Schreiber also serves as President of the club, and hopes to one day work for the EPA.

    “Environmentalism and sustainability are very important causes to me,” Schreiber said. “I am always telling my family and friends the importance of recycling, conserving energy, limiting the amount of plastic they use.”

    Through the efforts of Shah, Schreiber and the six other members, the group, renamed “SustainABLE IUN,” first met in February. Reforming the group, however, only brings them to square one. Before undertaking any big projects or initiatives, the first step toward sustainability is determining several factors about the campus, such as waste management, water usage and energy efficiency.

    “When we know where we are with each of those, we will know what we need to do to mitigate and reduce (our consumption),” Shah said.

    Shah will provide input from his own experiences, as well as consider ideas used by other universities. This summer, he hopes to train group members to determine IUN’s carbon footprint. However, he intends to take a more advisory role overall.

    “It’s a student group,” he said, “so we’re really trying to emphasize student involvement and the student-driven aspect.”

    As for the group members, focus is also on raising awareness of the group on campus. One opportunity for this will be when they participate in a panel discussion with the SPEA on April 7. Also, Schreiber seeks to spread awareness through social media, as she thinks leading a group promoting and working towards sustainability should also mean running it sustainably.

    “The club is going paperless so we are not posting flyers around campus,” Schreiber said.

    Visit them on Facebook

  • Terms of Dunes pavilion lease seem fair

    About three months ago, I wrote a post on the banquet center being built alongside the pavilion at Indiana Dunes State Park, as well as residents’ concerns that it could affect the protected ecosystem or just disturb the shoreline’s natural beauty. I took the position that as long as it does no harm to the ecosystem or lead to the park as a whole becoming available for private reservation, adding a banquet hall is fine by me.

    I’ve seen no reason to change that stance. In fact, in addition to assurances that no public land will be disturbed, the project’s artist’s depiction doesn’t even make it look like that much of an eyesore (much less so than the Whiting Refinery and other industrial elements that pepper the skyline, for sure).

    But while most concerns that were raised seemed focused on the land itself, one other issue in the matter passed under the radar: money. Specifically, what does this arrangement mean for the operators of the banquet hall, Pavilion Partners, LLC, the Dunes, and local taxpayers?

    Well, for taxpayers, it means nothing, as the costs of the new facility’s construction falls solely on Pavilion Partners. In return, their lease on the facility runs for 35 years, with two 15-year renewal options.

    Under the terms of that lease (which you can read for yourself), Pavilion Partners will pay $18,000 each year in rent on the property, as well as give two percent of the center’s revenue to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources.

    As for taxes, the DNR did not respond to a request for comment. However, the lease agreement contains the following clause:

    “Any and all taxes, which may be lawfully imposed by the federal government, by the State of Indiana or by any political subdivision thereof upon the personal property or business of the Lessee on the Leased Real Estate, shall be paid promptly as due by the Lessee.”

     You can decide whether these terms are fair or not. I think it looks like a pretty standard public-private partnership agreement, myself, far from any sort of impropriety.