Living the Sustainable Alternative by Ms. Kayla Gabehart

Six weeks in Berlin have come and gone, and as time seems to go by more quickly with each passing day, the nine of us begin to think about how we will go back to our lives in America.

Six weeks in Berlin have come and gone, and as time seems to go by more quickly with each passing day, the nine of us begin to think about how we will go back to our lives in America. We live an entirely different lifestyle here by virtue of our surroundings; we separate and recycle our trash, we take reusable totes to the grocery store, we dry our clothes on racks rather than wasting energy by putting them in the dryer, and we haven’t been behind the wheel of a car in more than 60 days thanks to Berlin’s extensive and efficient public transportation system. These are small lifestyle changes that seem negligible, but when the results of which are taken collectively, they can actually make for both qualitative and quantitative change.

Inside the Umweltbundesamt, the architecture of which emphasizes natural air circulation and light, as well as incorporating nature inside the confines of the building itself.

Inside the Umweltbundesamt, the architecture of which emphasizes natural air circulation and light, as well as incorporating nature inside the confines of the building itself.

Coming from America (unfortunately a global laggard in sustainability) we are now living the alternative. And outside of our microcosmic experience in Berlin, we have seen that sustainability is possible on the macro level. We visited the Umweltbundesamt in Dessau, essentially the German equivalent of the Environmental Protection Agency. With a fraction of the employees and budget, they have a much larger influence on policy compared to the EPA.

We also toured the Bauhaus, an architectural school in Dessau that built in the postmodern style as early as the 1920s, before its activities were disrupted by the rise of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. An architectural school that built in the postmodern style as early as the 1920s.

The Bauhaus in Dessau, Germany. An architectural school that built in the postmodern style as early as the 1920s.

The Bauhaus also experimented with natural air circulation, energy conservation, and simplicity in terms of furniture and interior designs serving a functional purpose.

During our time in Dessau, we also toured a biosphere along the Elbe River via bicycle. The nature preserve is a protected area dedicated to preserving biodiversity.

Bike tour in Dessau, Germany through a biosphere along the Elbe River.

Bike tour in Dessau, Germany through a biosphere along the Elbe River.

In our classes and experiences, we have also felt a sense of urgency and the need for substantial change in the immediate future.

In our classes and experiences, we have also felt a sense of urgency and the need for substantial change in the immediate future. Various fellows at Ecologic Institute have impressed upon us the importance and complexity of achieving sustainability on a global scale. Katharina Umpfenbach stressed the importance of individuals’ attitudes and subsequent behaviors in terms of instating change; Doris Knoblauch explained that while think tanks have real influence, it can be severely limited by political systems; and Benjamin Görlach stressed the importance of creating a green economy, rather than greening a few sectors to achieve short-term change. Perhaps most resonating in his message was Dr. Ralph Bodle, an international lawyer who experienced the failures of the 2009 Copenhagen Conference of the Parties firsthand. He said that in an attempts to negotiate binding international climate change policy, he woke up in a hotel and sincerely did not know what country he was in. When the negotiations in Copenhagen ended without any tangible results, he returned home weighing less than his wife, as he had lost so much weight due to stress. He has dedicated his life to this, and yet he is skeptical as to whether real change is possible. To those who still believe that global warming is not real or that mitigating climate change is not a priority, he left us with this message: Consider that more than 70% of the world’s GDP is localized in port cities, and consider the implications if the sea level rises two meters.

Truly food for thought…

Dr. Christoph Stefes giving us a lesson about the history of Berlin.

Dr. Christoph Stefes giving us a lesson about the history of Berlin.

A month and a few short days ago, the University of Colorado Denver Political Science Department visited the fifth-annual Western Conservative Summit, an event that invites some of the nation’s most prominent conservative thinkers and, in some cases, rabid ideologues (I’m talking about you, Sarah Palin) to identify ardent threats to liberty in a conservative paradigm and communicate the civic and political value of adhering to the United States Constitution. The Western Conservative Summit purports to “uphold the spirit of 1776 and maps the way toward American renewal…”, and as the three day event progressed, it became clear many of the summit’s delegates and speakers (most notably Governor Bobby Jindal, Dr. Ben Carson, and former U.S. Representative Allen West) shared this misty-eyed assessment of the Western Conservative Summit’s potential to influence America’s political milieu. Unfortunately, as a natural cynic (particularly when contemplating anything in relation to politics), I initially found myself unable to freely empathize with this rosy viewpoint.Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 2.57.27 PM

However, despite my innate political pessimism, the Western Conservative Summit afforded me a valuable opportunity to ascertain the personal backgrounds and electoral aspirations of nascent political contenders. Intermingled between the summit’s many speakers, the event’s sponsors welcomed a number of conservative candidates for both state and federal office. For example, shortly before a rousing opening speech from Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (himself a 2016 GOP presidential prospect), Colorado Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez lambasted incumbent John Hickenlooper for his perceived absence of leadership. Beauprez identified Hickenlooper’s stance on Coloradoans’ Second Amendment rights and the state’s burgeoning oil and gas industry (particularly on fracking and the Keystone XL pipeline) as topics of serious concern, and emphasized that a Beauprez-led Colorado would fill the vacuum of leadership left by the Hickenlooper administration.

Additionally, U.S. Congressman Corey Gardner, currently representing Colorado’s 4th congressional district, interspersed his introductory remarks on Senator Mike Lee (R-Utah) with his promise to defy federal mandates like Obamacare and the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Both Republican challengers to the Democrats’ stranglehold on Colorado’s political landscape were enthusiastically received; indeed, judging from the thunderous applause echoing inside the Bellco Theatre, attendees were perhaps more excited to see Beauprez and Gardner than the summit’s scheduled invitees.

Both Republican challengers to the Democrats’ stranglehold on Colorado’s political landscape were enthusiastically received; indeed, judging from the thunderous applause echoing inside the Bellco Theatre, attendees were perhaps more excited to see Beauprez and Gardner than the summit’s scheduled invitees.

While the Western Conservative Summit undeniably concentrated conservative Coloradoans’ optimism for their electoral prospects in 2014 and beyond, that political buoyancy conflicted somewhat with my expectations for the GOP’s success on November 4th, 2014. Following Barack Obama’s resounding victory here in 2008 (and convincing follow-up in 2012) coupled with the Democrats’ takeover of the Colorado House of Representatives in 2012, a Republican like myself had exceptionally little to be hopeful about politically in the Centennial State. A modest GOP comeback in the midterm elections of 2010 piqued my optimism, but its baffling inability to build upon that success in the following election year frustrated me significantly. In its fraught internal struggle to reinvent itself in the 21st century (specifically between the neoconservative, Tea Party, and religious conservative factions), the Republican Party has to some extent neglected its platform of individualism, opportunity, and fiscal responsibility in favor of a credo of discord, friction, and conflict. Unsurprisingly, this incongruity has oftentimes severely compromised the GOP’s ability to strike the correct note with registered Republicans, much less the political moderates in Colorado. However, my personal experience as the Western Conservative Summit indicated at least a short-term reversal of this trend. While the event admittedly featured only microcosm of the nation’s conservative population, for three days I witnessed an energized and largely united crowd of Colorado Republicans.

…for three days I witnessed an energized and largely united crowd of Colorado Republicans.

While I doubt the growing pains the Republican Party is experiencing during its reinvention are over in our state, the obvious enthusiasm I witnessed at the Western Conservative Summit rekindled a personal (but slightly latent) enthusiasm for being in the Grand Old Party. Moving forward, I sincerely hope the party of Lincoln, Roosevelt, and Reagan can get it done here in Colorado.

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 2.41.11 PM

Mr. Jia Meeks (the author) smiles with Ronald Reagan.

The Western Conservative Summit by Mr. Jia Meeks

Colorado Remembers 9/11 with General David H. Petraeus by Mr. Richard Hancock

“I’m not a pessimist, and I’m not an optimist. I am a realist”

Colorado Remembers 9/11 with General David H. Petraeus by Richard Hancock

bilde

David Petraeus speaks with moderator Andy Alexander at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver, on Sept. 11. Petraeus said Islamic State militants do not have strong local support in Iraq and their strength should not be over-rated. (Aaron Ontiveroz / AP)


                  September 11th, 2001 is a day that will always live in the minds of Americans. This year –  on behalf of the Counterterrorism Education Learning Lab (CELL)- General David H. Petraeus was invited for a national security discussion.IMG_7471 The discussion was moderated by former Washington Post Editor, Andy Alexander. Fortunately the CU Denver Political Science department was able to get their hands on a few press badges in order to get us on the inside. The ensuing discussion focused mainly on the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region and Russia/Ukraine. For the sake of my background I will focus on the MENA region.

For those who aren’t familiar with the General’s background, General Petraeus served 37 years in the U.S. military, including commander of coalition forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, commander of the U.S. Central Command, as well as a 14 month stint as the Director of the CIA. The General has a freakishly sharp mind which was undoubtedly apparent in the discussion. Petraeus began by making the crowd erupt with laughter by indirectly eluding to an interest in going to a marijuana dispensary. Starting off strong, he claimed – as a result of the surge of Iraq in 2007, Iraq is better prepared for their future. This is a point he consistently reiterated, that Iraq today is in “better shape” today than it was in 2007.

U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Force – Iraq, briefs reporters at the Pentagon April 26, 2007, on his view of the military situation in Iraq.

U.S. Army Gen. David H. Petraeus, the commander of Multi-National Force – Iraq, briefs reporters at the Pentagon April 26, 2007, on his view of the military situation in Iraq.

Most people would find this shocking given the current situation of ISIL (the Islamic State in the Levant) in Iraq and Syria. Often the threat of ISIL towards the West is grossly exaggerated. Petraeus cleared this misconception by stating ISIL’s influence will not be widespread because the majority of the group members are not from Iraq or even the Levant region, therefore the group does not have deep regional roots. Many of the members of ISIL come from the Gulf region and other countries including the West. The Kurdish Peshmerga forces had been the strongest opponents of ISIL, until the U.S. recently began airstrikes. However Petraeus did state that the biggest challenge will be what happens after ISIL. Common sense should tell us that using brutality to respond to brutality only leads to more brutality. This is a troublesome reality because the U.S. feels in part responsible to “eradicate” ISIL because we and several other actors in the MENA region funded their creation, but at the same time the U.S. and its allies do not want another Iraq war. But where will the U.S. draw the red line to ensure we do NOT engage in another war in Iraq?

At the first National Security Council meeting in Iraq under the new Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi, the main topics discussed were:

  1.  to create an Iraqi national guard
  2.  to urge Iraqi Sunni’s to oppose ISIL.

These two topics are in an effort to further develop the Iraqi military and their ability for self-defense without the use of Western troops. Other topics briefly discussed were the coalition of Arab states against ISIL and Iran’s role. The coalition of Arab states is crucial to addressing ISIL’s threat in the region because this move will increase self-determination for Arab states. This also greatly contrasts from the strategy of the Bush Iraq War. Iran is trying to increase its influence as threats increase along the Iraqi/Iranian border. Iran has already been funding Shia militias in an attempt to combat ISIL. Iran’s position is somewhat controversial as many have wondered why Iran didn’t act earlier on acting against the threat of ISIL.

Finally, Mr. Alexander brought up the topic of Syria. When asked whether the U.S. is creating an alliance with the Assad regime, Petraeus fired “the enemy of my enemy is more of an enemy.” Bashar’s regime will not be tolerated because it “is the magnet that attracts foreign Sunni militants.” Yes, for now the U.S. will work with the regime, however the main goals are to fight ISIL, Jabhat Al-Nusra (biggest Al-Qaida affiliate in Syria), and then afterwards Assad’s Hezbollah/Iranian funded army. Let us not forget Hezbollah is labeled a terrorist organization by the U.S. government.

Mr. Alexander asked Petraeus if he would ever run for president and whether or not the U.S. should have originally intervened in Iraq under Bush. Petraeus flatly rejected running for president because he values his family more. He then suavely stated that no one will ever know his true position on the Iraq War because it is not in his interest to make his colleagues look bad. Petraeus wrapped up the discussion by stating that he is extremely excited about the future of our country because he believes our generation is the new best generation. Despite his emphatic quote of being a realist, I left the discussion feeling quite optimistic.

IMG_7514

From the left – Mr. Richard Hancock (author), and Mr. Matthew Walker

A Sustainable and Historic Berlin by Ms. Kayla Gabehart

“Du bist verrückt mein Kind, du mußt nach Berlin.”

“You are crazy my child, you must go to Berlin.”

-Franz von Suppe

Berlin, an absolutely massive city, abounds with opportunities for exploration, and so, the nine of us on the inaugural semester of the “Sustainabilty in Berlin” program, set out to conquer it. Jet lagged and probably more than a little overwhelmed, we muddled through what little German we knew to buy groceries, order at restaurants, send mail, and navigate the public transportation system. At first it was scary… but that was almost the best part; comfort zones are no place for personal growth.

DSC_0298

Where the Berlin Wall once stood on the corner of Bernauer Straße and Ackerstraße, one of the first locations the Wall was erected.

The only word I can think of to describe this experience is: surreal. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be able to live and study in another place. Berlin, a historic locale and one of the most sustainable cities in the world, has so much to offer.

The Berlin Cathedral in Lustgarten, during WWII and today.

The Berlin Cathedral in Lustgarten, during WWII and today.

Our first week has been filled with walks along the bridge that East Berliners crossed over into West Berlin after the Wall fell, views of the Berlin Cathedral where Nazis once marched, strolls underneath Oberbaumbrücke along the Spree River, walking the floors of Charlottenburg Palace once frequented by royalty,“family” dinners in our Prenzlauer-Berg apartments, and restaurants lit solely by candlelight. A sustainability scavenger hunt through the Kreuzberg District; a captivating talk by Robert Swan, the first and probably the last man to walk across both the North and South Poles; and orientations to spectacular internships introduced us to sustainability in a way absolutely unknown in the United States. On this issue of sustainability, Robert Swan asserted that whether we are causing it or not, climate change is happening and we have to do something about. The difference between Germany and the United States is that they are implementing measures to stop and reverse that change.

Sustainable practices abound in Berlin. The grocery stores provide refunds that can be put towards purchases for recycling plastic bottles, their public transportation system is extensive and impressive and many fewer people drive, and plastic bags in supermarkets are only available upon purchase. In Kreuzberg the Prinzessinnengarten, an urban community garden grows fruits and vegetables sustainability, and the streets boast organic clothing shops, cafes that purchase produce that would otherwise be thrown away en masse, and a small store that encourages the purchase of reusable containers to reduce plastic waste. These small things, coupled with the work of NGOs, activist organizations, and the German and EU governments make sustainability an efficient and cost-effective reality.

DSC_0328

Prinzessinengarten, a sustainable community garder in Kreuzberg.

DSC_0424

Culinary Misfits, a sustainable café in Kreuzberg that purchases deformed fruits that would otherwise be thrown away en masse.

It’s an eye-opening place, really. The entire city is dripping with incredible history, much of which took place hundreds of years before the United States ever existed. And in terms of sustainability, Berlin is proof that it is viable on a large scale, and that whether or not we are causing global climate change (which we are), we can actually DO something about it. We can have a hand in reversing it in a local, grassroots way, effectively implementing change from the bottom up until substantive policy and funding in the United States instates top-down change.

And that is only in the first week…

IMG_0980

Our first “family” dinner in Berlin in one of the apartments in Prenzlauer Berg.

The Western Conservative Summit by Ms. Ariana Busby

CU Denver Poli Sci with Ben Carson

CU Denver Political Science students pose with Dr. Ben Carson.

Last month the CU Denver Political Science Department, with the help of the wonderful Ms. Elly Steinmetz, brought a small group of (mostly) conservative students to the Western Conservative Summit. The three of us, media passes in hand, got the opportunity attend community seminars, hear future presidential candidates give keynote speeches, and meet these influential leaders in exclusive backstage interviews. Most importantly we got to be a part of the youth movement at the Western Conservative Summit and experience the changing atmosphere of the Republican Party first hand.

When you ask people, especially young people, to describe the Republican Party they often rattle off labels such as: white, old, and male. As a young, female minority these same people are often shocked that I am so passionate about the republican platform. This year’s Summit gives me hope that this shock won’t last for long.

This year’s Summit gives me hope that this shock won’t last for long.

An example of the Summit's emphasis on the Twitter feed.

An example of the Summit’s emphasis on the Twitter feed. Notice Ariana in 4th place!

The Western Conservative Summit (WCS) is the conservative event of the year. It is known for drawing out the most influential republican leaders and an older voter base far from center-right. This year was different; not only was the message more moderate, but at least half of the over 3000 attendees were under the age of 30. Young people were celebrated and highlighted throughout the Summit with speakers focused on the priorities of young voters (hello, higher ed reform) and a strong reliance on social media. Large projector screens featured live-stream Twitter feeds and a leaderboard, which the CU Denver Political Science Department and I dominated on the second day of the Summit, and all three days of WCS were trending nationally. The young turnout and focus proved to be the first hint of a changing Republican Party.

The CU Students meet US Senator Mike Lee.

The CU Students meet US Senator Mike Lee.

The Western Conservative Summit managed to debunk another stereotype this year: not all republicans are white males. The speaker list included conservative minority leaders such as Governor Bobby Jindal (TN), Senator Elbert Guillory (LA), Senator Tim Scott (SC), Representative Allen West (FL), and potential presidential candidate Dr. Ben Carson. Nine of the twenty primary speakers at WCS were members of minority groups and almost half of the featured speakers were strong conservative women, such as Tammy Bruce (an openly gay, pro-choice, conservative radio host) and Katie Pavlich (a 26-year-old journalist and 2014 Clare Boothe Luce Policy Institute Woman of the Year). Additionally, a vast number of minority and women’s groups were represented in the Summit’s exhibition room. The diverse representation at the WCS further demonstrated the changes occurring within the Republican Party.

This is no longer our parents’ Republican Party. While it is easy, as young Denverites, to accept the stereotypes of the Republican Party at face value, this realignment requires us to reevaluate political affiliations.

This is no longer our parents’ Republican Party.

As the political right continues to focus on the priorities of a younger America, more and more people are finding themselves supporters of the Republican Party. I am excited to see how the changing atmosphere of the Republican Party is reflected at the 2015 Western Conservative Summit and look forward to seeing more than three CU Denver student attendees.

From left: Elly Steinmetz, Katie Pavlich, Ariana Busby

From left: Elly Steinmetz, Katie Pavlich, Ariana Busby