All posts by Matthew Grattan

Benefits of the Carbon Tax

By Michael Pasternak (ME ‘17)

You may have heard of the Carbon Tax as a proposed solution to climate change. What you may not have heard is that, among economists, it’s the preferred solution to climate change. According to a report from The Institute for Policy Integrity at the New York University School of Law from 2015, 77% of economists with relevant publications answered that the US should cut its emissions no matter what actions other countries take, while another 18% said that American emissions cuts would be warranted if many or all other countries commit to reducing theirs. The recent Paris agreement, which established climate mitigation goals with 180 countries, including China and the US, within reason, would satisfy “many or all other countries committing to reducing theirs.” This amounts to an effective 95% of economists with knowledge of the energy economy “supporting action on the climate.” The survey also asked the experts about the most economically efficient method of reducing carbon pollution. Eighty-one percent said a market-based system (carbon tax or cap and trade system) would be most efficient, while 13% answered that coordinated performance standards and programs that prioritize cleaner fuels and energy efficiency would be most efficient.

So why a carbon tax? Simply put, it’s the free market response to hidden costs.

Carbon pollution does cost a lot of money to America, coal pollutants in general even more on top of that. For example, an article in Forbes from 2012 states that, controlled for amount of energy produced, coal is directly responsible for one hundred thousand times more deaths than nuclear, which is the least deadly form of energy in their analysis, closely followed by hydroelectric. A carbon tax is a direct acknowledgement of the reality of the situation, that coal and oil are actually hugely subsidized right now, since the costs of cleanup and health outcomes far outweigh the cheaper energy. A carbon tax simply allows the market to correct for it so that rather than pay for huge oil spills and catastrophic climate change, we’d promote sources of energy without those massive drawbacks.

It’s also worth noting that on a cost basis a carbon tax is almost certainly a pro-nuclear policy. In the US, coal power is followed by nuclear power quite closely in cost per unit of energy produced. In Europe, nuclear energy is actually cheaper than coal. That’s mostly because in Europe many more plants of the same type are built, and at a higher density. Specifically, France is very good at building nuclear plants quickly and cheaply because they are a primarily nuclear energy state. It would be completely reasonable to assume the same process would occur in the US if we follow in the footsteps of Europe and impose a carbon tax on the energy sector.

So why haven’t we? There’s a number of reasons. The first is that our country has an undue amount of influence imposed by moneyed interests, and there’s simply a lot of money already invested in oil and coal. This has led to opposition to renewables from the Right and opposition to nuclear from both sides of the aisle. The Carbon Tax, despite being the single most mainstream economic idea to address climate change, was only proposed by two major politicians in recent memory, Bernie Sanders (whom I believe we all know) and Bob Inglis. Inglis, a Republican, is famously splitting from his party in supporting a “revenue neutral” Carbon Tax. What that would mean is that any proceeds from the tax would be given back to the citizenry through tax rebates for low income farmers, truckers etc. who would feel increased prices in fuel very sharply but may be less able to field those costs. That, I believe, is the reasonable conservative response.

Other critiques of the tax, such as the idea that businesses will simply leave and go to countries without any tax on carbon, simply haven’t been borne out in Europe where carbon taxation already exists. In fact, most analyses show Europe’s energy economy booming following their aggressive response to climate change mitigation. Particularly in France and Denmark, nuclear has essentially replaced coal in baseload generation with renewables providing variable generation to fill in the gaps. There’s a conversation that should be happening about the particulars of the tax, but it’s very clear that in terms of quickly and
effectively addressing the problem, it’s the ideal solution.

So what’s next? We need to pressure our leaders to support nuclear and renewables either through a carbon tax or whatever else our “greatest political minds” can come up with. Sometime in the next couple of weeks (I’ll make sure it’s on Facebook) I will be leading a letter writing campaign on behalf of the New York chapter for the volunteer advocacy group NAYGN (North American Young Generation in Nuclear). Read the letter, and if you agree, sign it! It shows local lawmakers that people actually do care about this stuff and could lead to more positive action like the recent subsidy on nuclear generation in New York state, pushing the conversation towards carbon-free sources of power generation. ◊

Consent Workshop Mandatory at First-Year Orientation

By Tandis Shoushtary (Art ‘20) and Juan José García (Art ‘20)

On September 2, the last day of first-year orientation before classes started, crowds of first-year art, engineering, and architecture students filled the Great Hall to begin their mandatory full-day Healthy Relationships and Consent Workshops. After some welcoming remarks by Dean of Students Chris Chamberlin, and an introduction to Grace Kendall, newly appointed Title IX Coordinator and Director of Student Diversity and Inclusion, students were able to attend the first of three workshops of their choice in the new full-day program aimed at educating students on the topic of consent in college communities. The event was led by Anti-Oppression Resource and Training Alliance (AORTA) representatives.

Interview with Chris Chamberlin, Dean of Students

How did you get in contact with AORTA?

We actually got in touch with them a couple years ago, we were working with some students to bring a group to campus to talk about consent and do consent-related activities, and AORTA was one of the groups we found. We used their help for two consent workshops last year.

How did students engage with the workshop last year?

Last year, it wasn’t really a part of orientation. Attendance for the first one was not mandatory, so I think we had about four to eight students show up. It was a good workshop, but it just wasn’t what we were looking for in terms of turnout. So we reconvened, and we went back and forth about making a consent workshop mandatory because it almost seems counterintuitive to make a consent event mandatory. Still, we felt that the content was important so we made it mandatory and had a larger turnout for the event. It was good but it was also different, because it was a large space and it didn’t allow for a lot of one-on-one interaction, so some people get lost in the back. We learned a lot from that experience.

There are certain federal and state statutes requring that certain information must be given to students—such as Title IX, and The Violence Against Women Act on the federal level, and under New York law Enough Is Enough. Years ago, we used an online training to fulfill legal requirements, but based on feedback from last year, we wanted to make it offline, real-time and part of orientation. Last year, quite frankly, it was sort of thrown at the students at the last minute, and some of them didn’t want to be bothered. Once classes start it’s very difficult to find time when
people are free, so we knew that if we didn’t get it in during orientation [this year] it would’ve probably never happened.

Tell us more about the change in format.

A lot of the credit goes to AORTA. I met with them to discuss the pros and cons of what had happened last year, and how we could appeal to an audience in different ways. People may want to focus on different areas, and some of the topics can be really personal for folks and people have different experiences that they can bring to the table, so we wanted them to have the ability to pick and choose what they wanted to do. We came up with this conference-style day where there are three different block periods during the day and in each of those periods there would be a series of four workshops; students can select the workshop they go to.

The idea was to give people a spectrum of choice in some broader areas of consent in general, like how to help build a positive community, and also focus on some more narrow topics, like how to support a survivor. We have no formal survey yet, but the general feedback from students has been very positive.

Why do you, personally, think these workshops matter at college communities, specifically at Cooper?

In particular, because Cooper is a college, and students are in that age range where they’re changing from their parents’ care to becoming young adults and living on their own—and doing their own thing. In the research, this period is called the “red zone”, particularly with first year students.

At Cooper we have three really rigorous academic programs, and so we have a niche body of very high-achieving students, some who may come from a more specialized high school background.

The small size of the school means that it can be a really small, intimate environment, but that can be a downside sometimes. This is the kind of place where you can’t fade into the background, and that’s why some of the tools, like bystander intervention, were really important to our community at Cooper.

Interview with Kane Huyn (Art ‘20)

What did you think of the day as a whole?

I thought it was a very rigorous day, I learned an intense amount of information… Some moments within the workshops especially the ones related specifically to the queer and trans community were very taxing… Overall it was a very humbling experience, more in relation to the personal stories shared by fellow students during the workshops, rather than the information being offered by the reps

Why do you think it is (or isn’t) important to have events like these for college communities, specifically at Cooper?

I think it’s super important to have events related to social integrities and conduct because no matter how much students of our age think we know about how to handle situations that we find ourselves in, we can never know enough. Events like the consent workshop not only teach lessons that some may have never learned, they conjure discussion and deeper interaction between the student body. It’s impossible to be completely aware of everyone’s stories and lives, and for me, workshops that humble you and bring you closer to others around you are extremely helpful to the bettering of yourself as a person and a participant of an active community.

Interview with Ariana Freitag (EE ‘20)

Which workshop was your favorite?

I found the ‘Consent in Queer and Trans Communities’ workshop the best because I felt like I was surrounded by people that I felt safer around talking about things that I wouldn’t want to talk about with non-LGBT people. Also, I really like the topics we talked about and the people who hosted that workshop.

What did you think of the day as a whole?

I thought that the day was really valuable, and I’m glad that we were required to go, but it was also a very long day. I think the organization that hosted the workshops did a great job, but by the end of the day, I felt almost overwhelmed by how much we had to sit through.

Did you like the format of the workshops?

Yeah I appreciated that [the format was conference style rather than a lecture]. I do wish some were even more interactive though.

Why do you think it is (or isn’t) important to have events like these for college communities, specifically at Cooper?

I think that people brush consent and sexual violence under the rug at Cooper because it’s such a small school, but the matter of fact is that rape is an epidemic at every college or university campus, including here. It’s important for the administration to set a precedent at the beginning of someone’s Cooper career that rape and sexual violence is not okay. Yeah, you might not want to spend time talking about these topics, but it’s extremely important to stop rape on college campuses. I just hope the support for victims and survivors started with this event will be continued by the actions that the administration takes when rape or sexual violence is reported.

Interview with Valerie Franco (Art ‘19)

What was the format like when you attended the workshop last year?

It was just an hour-long lecture with the entire first-year class. That was it. I don’t actually know if it was really an hour, but it wasn’t an all-day event.” [Editor’s note: it was two hours].

How did the students engage with the lecture?

People weren’t taking it seriously; some people kept on laughing and making irrelevant comments. It just wasn’t well-structured and they kept on making us participate and answer questions but in general nobody was interested. At one point someone raised their hand and asked “why do we need to learn about this? It’s so obvious.” which just showed how many people in the community are largely unaware. I remember thinking “if it were so obvious, we wouldn’t have so many cases.” It was just a complete disaster.

Why do you think events like these matter at college communities, especially at Cooper?

“I think it matters because colleges are so diverse, specifically Cooper. It’s important to assure that, even if you have been educated on it before, people have a good understanding of what consent is and its repercussions.”

What do you wish had been different about the workshop you attended as a freshman?

“I wish it had been more informative, it wasn’t even really a lecture but more of a talk on what we had completed on the online courses.”

According to the Association of American Universities, approximately 23% of women report being sexually assaulted while in college. If you’ve experienced sexual violence and would like a confidential resource to talk to, The Office of Student Affairs is open on the third floor of The Cooper Union Residence Hall. ◊

Halloween Is Here

By Jeremiah Pratt (EE ‘19)

Ghouls, gargoyles, once again it’s that time of year for your favorite spooky paradise, complete with pumpkins, hold the spice, and cheesy fog effects made with dry ice. Nobody cares if you’re naughty or nice, because tricks and treats go hand in hand this month, and each and every one of us has a skeleton hiding underneath our skin, rattling and chattering away to the din of Monster Mash on repeat, you’d better believe it. While we’re all “hella hype” for this, the greatest 31 days of the calendar year, this writer thinks it best to make absolutely clear a few points of etiquette we’d do well to remember, lest our friends and professors all resent us come November.

1) Though your lectures may fill you with dread and fear, and your snoring classmate sets a stormy atmosphere, and the room seems to scream “HALLOWEEN!” for all to hear, please, resist the impulse to let out a gleeful cackle from the back of the class like a demon-possessed jackal. The only thing spookier than sitting through class is being asked to leave it and never come back.

2) Do NOT throw a Halloween party in the ICE lab.

3) While you may have 31 costumes, one for each day and night, not everyone here always does (though they might!), so take care when approaching a strange looking bloke on the corner of St. Mark’s in a green denim coat. Please try and trust me, don’t mess with a crusty, they aren’t in costume and your slip-up could cost you, so it’s best to keep your excitement to yourself.

4) Wearing all black to a party and proclaiming “I’m an architect” is a cop out.

5) Last but not least, don’t you ever forget, that each monster among us has a heart in their chest, and we all love to spook and we all love to scare, but we all love to smile and we all love to care. The spirit of Halloween is good-spirited fun, so don’t ever do nothing that might hurt someone. Brew your potions with love, cast your spells with good cheer, compliment your friend’s outfit, buy your buddy a beer, go ahead and give a fright. But, let no one live in fear, during this, the absolute best time of the year. ◊

Mile of Movies: The Magnificent Seven

By Miles Barber (CE ‘18)

The Magnificent Seven, remake of the 1960 film of the same name (which was itself a remake of the 1956 Japanese film Seven
Samurai
), tells the story of seven gunslingers and knife-throwers who band together to defend a small western town from a ruthless capitalist named Bartholomew Bogue. The first scene in the film sets up the stakes and throws the film into motion as Bogue visits this town, leaving many dead and the rest terrified to stand up to him without some help.

They find that help in the form of seven men including Sam Chisholm (Denzel Washington), Joshua Faraday (Chris Pratt), and Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) around whom the film centers. Most of them have unique personalities that help you distinguish each one on more than just a physical level, making them more memorable. The performances, however, vary in authenticity. Denzel Washington and Ethan Hawke give the only performances that felt like they actually belonged in this old-style western. Coincidentally, their characters, Sam Chisholm and Goodnight Robicheaux, are the only ones with real backstories, as they have some history in the Civil War. Chris Pratt’s Joshua Faraday seemed like he was trying way too hard to mix his “wild west” cowboy character with his character from Guardians of the Galaxy. The result was a performance that was quite fun, but just felt a little out of place in the film.

Performances aside, the film did a great job on a narrative level. Each facet of this straightforward tale makes sense as events lead into each other. The two shootout scenes in the film are very intense, featuring some truly fantastic stunts, many great practical effects, and some hilarious moments.

On a technical level, the film was also quite good. The mountainous landscape is perfectly captured in some beautiful shots that really show off not just the natural beauty of the area but also how great it looks at night. There are a couple shots of distant clouds around dusk that just make you appreciate how amazing the Midwest looks. The final confrontation is also beautifully captured in a mix of wides and closeups to show off both the stunts and the scope. Add in a great score by James Horner (sadly passed) and Simon Franglen and you have a pretty well-made western.

Overall, The Magnificent Seven is a well-made film that proves a worthy remake of the 1956 film. It adds little new content, its characters are a little thin, and Chris Pratt’s humor may be a little out of place, but the music, cinematography, and intensity of this film make it worth your time. ◊

Grade: B