Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Refilling instead of landfilling

There are two pieces of good news for us today at Penn State. It's amazing, the work that the original crew of Alex, Jared, Steve, and I started almost 3 years ago has spread farther and deeper.

First, Penn State's green.psu.edu from the Office of Sustainability fills us in on the bottle refilling stations across PSU. Those early and strong efforts (victory fill at right) to work with the Office of Physical Plant paid off. Today, there are 20 bottle stations at University Park and a few more across the Commonwealth campuses. 18 more will arrive at University Park in the next two years.

Second, tonight at 7 pm, the Bucknell Green Film Series will be showing Tapped, Stephanie Soechtig's debut feature film about the surprising and far-reaching impacts of the bottled water industry. The film probes topics like the petroleum used to make plastics and transport bottled products long distances, excessive groundwater withdrawals by bottling plants, and the general lack of regulatory oversight over the bottled water industry. Who profits and who loses out when society prioritizes convenience over sustainability?

Following the film, the a post-screening discussion and Q & A session about bottled water and its impacts here in Pennsylvania. The discussion will be moderated by Cathy Curran Myers, Director of the BUEC and former Deputy Secretary for Water Management at the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection. I (Peter Buckland) will also be a panelist discussing our work advocating on reducing bottled water here at Penn State.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Free and open education on climate change

One of my colleagues and mentors, Don Brown of Penn State and primary author of the blog Climate Ethics, has written, "climate change must be understood as a civilization challenging ethical issue" It is the greatest technical and ethical problem human beings have ever faced.

Global? Check. Complicated? Check. Hinged on human activity? Check. Hinged on natural processes humans don't control? Check. It's possible that human-induced climate change could in the next century create an atmosphere more CO2-intense and warmer than any since the Jurassic period 150 million years ago. Sadly, there will be no dinosaurs*.

Challenges issues of justice, rights, and responsibilities? Check. Faces us with our own limits? Check. If this is the case, and climate change is a civilization challenging ethical (and technical issue) then education must respond. At colleges and universities across the world faculty have set up all kinds of courses to introduce students to the science, ethics, politics, and policies that deal with climate change. There are even signatory agreements between colleges and universities like the American College and University President's Climate Commitment, University Leaders for a Sustainable Future, Second Nature, the Copernicus Charter and others mandate that signatory institutions create greenhouse gas reduction and mitigation programs with curriculum for environmental literacy. Climate change education occupies a central part of that curriculum these days.

But all universities and colleges have limited enrollment. They have maximum student capacity made possible by people's ability to gain admission and their ability and willingness to pay. How can someone something like course in climate change without going to college?

The Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions now offers online courses that take the lay person through the science of climate change. They have an Introduction, a lesson on CO2 and the greenhouse effect, Mother Nature's influence on climate, observable changes in climate, and finally climate modeling. What's great to see as teachers is that there are learning outcomes for each of them that build upon the previous lesson and enabling further understanding, connected to other resources through the home website, and also linked to education for sustainability in British Columbia and abroad (pdf here).

It might be the case that understanding the what and the how of climate change are very important. But at some level answering the question "Why have humans used technologies that caused climate change to begin with?" might be more important. If we can answer that question, we might be able to figure out how we can change society to mitigate our impacts on the climate and thus ourselves. But that might be a really radical form of education and possibly the kind of education that ethically grounds a better civilization.

* There has been woolly mammoth DNA found and some people would like to engineer and birth a mammoth. Jurassic Park may be less fictional than we thought.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Reimagining education for resilient and sustainable people and communities

We have to change educational systems. Failing schools. Dropouts. Low rates of literacy. Scientific illiteracy. Achievement gaps a mile wide between ethnicities and socio-economic brackets. America has problems in its educational systems. But we have perhaps a much bigger problem of education looming behind everything.

Ecocide. The industrial people of the world have used so much fossil fuel so fast that we have fundamentally altered the planet's atmosphere, hydrosphere, lithosphere, and biosphere. In the Arctic we're melting glaciers, displacing Inuit people, melting tundra and ruining boreal forest soil, and messing with polar bear, walrus, seal, caribou, reindeer, wolf, and migratory bird habitats. The Amazon and southeast Asian tropical rain forests are being falling, transforming it from a water and carbon sink into a carbon releasing territory, changing rainfall patterns all around it, turning a biodiversity hot spot into an extinction hot spot, and eradicating indigenous populations. What's to be done?

If you're a teacher you must believe you have some agency in the world and that touching people's lives and awakening them to new knowledge or deep connections can happen in school. How about awakening them to their connection to and reliance on the Earth and its systems? Albert Einstein is credited with saying, “We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.” That must include school too.

How are people trying to build a bridge to a better future? Creative Change Education Solutions is taking some steps in this direction.

A new vision is taking hold —a future where communities thrive, the environment is healthy, traditions matter, and green economies provide real prosperity for all. We believe everyone has a stake in this future and that education must inspire learning and leadership towards it.

Creative Change Educational Solutions is a nonprofit organization advancing educational leadership and transformation through a lens of sustainability. Based in southeast Michigan, we serve K12 schools, nonprofits, universities, and teacher education programs at the national level.
They are taking on the critical problems of the world and offering what I've been calling "gorgeous solutions." It's not just doom and gloom and the notion that we're all just about to get dunked with the sinking Titanic. We have choices ahead and great things to learn, interesting and compelling people to meet, relationships to develop, technologies to advance, and communities to thrive in. So how?

Take for example their materials from Sustainable by Design:
Our world is filled with “stuff”, but where does it all come from, and where does it go when it’s done? How—and why—do we design, create, use and dispose of the things we use each day? This program explores ways to make design, building, and manufacturing greener and more equitable. Programs explore how scientific, economic and cultural factors influence decisions, and the implications for workers, consumers and business leaders.
What's really interesting about this resource is that they have scaled it so that you can work on it from elementary through higher education. I, for example, work in a teacher education program and have been seriously contemplating a course that would develop sustainability awareness for teachers, administrators, policy makers or analysts, architects, and engineers by using the built environment - from whole cities to single buildings - to understand and learn about our interactions with the more-than-human environment. From a newly developed understanding, how could we teach children, make better policies, and individually and collectively lead more sustainable lives? And here is a resource to get me started with something more substantial than what I'd had on my own.

If you're a third grade or tenth grade teacher now you have the same opportunity. If you're really lucky you can integrate curricula like these into school gardening, environmental footprint, and/or contemporary government work. This is a whole new way to arrange schooling that could work in many of the schools highlighted in Smart by Nature published by the Center for Ecological Literacy.

"The implications" they could be referring to above are considerable. Confronted with the patterns of waste we generate, our consciences might be piqued. So piqued, we could act better for ourselves and our world. This is getting at a whole other kind of thinking that gets away from the linear mechanical industrial school and gets at the webs of living and life we actually are in. [This isn't the only such resource. Peruse the this blog's right sidebar for many many more.]

Now that might be some really worthwhile schooling. It might be not only sustainability education but actually be sustainable education. Imagine that.

Sunday, July 17, 2011


How's this for a piece of education on patterns and sustainability? How can you use this in your class? Ideas?

Oil'd from Chris Harmon on Vimeo.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Arne Duncan's speech on "Education for Sustainable Development"

Last September the U.S. Department of Education held a summit on Education for Sustainable Development, something I think we in 3E-COE have been interested in since we got going. Current Secretary of Education spoke to the conference. He notes some of the incredible challenges and opportunities before us as working teachers:

In my experience as secretary I've seen the impact of climate change first hand. Last year, I travelled to Alaska with a delegation of Cabinet members. We visited the remote village of Hooper Bay. Scientists have documented that more and more carbon dioxide in Alaska's oceans is affecting fishing for crab and salmon. But we heard directly from the village elders that they had noticed for years the changing water temperature—and that the changes were affecting their livelihood of fishing for salmon. We need to address these issues head on—and education must be part of the solution.

This week's sustainability summit represents the first time that the Department is taking a taking a leadership role in the work of educating the next generation of green citizens and preparing them to contribute to the workforce through green jobs. President Obama has made clean, renewable energy a priority because, as he says, it's the best way to "truly transform our economy, to protect our security, and save our planet."

Educators have a central role in this. A well educated citizen knows that we must not act in this generation in ways that endanger the next. They teach students about how the climate is changing. They explain the science behind climate change and how we can change our daily practices to help save the planet. They have a role in preparing students for jobs in the green economy.

Historically, the Department of Education hasn't been doing enough in the sustainability movement. Today, I promise you that we will be a committed partner in the national effort to build a more environmentally literate and responsible society.

You can read the entire piece at this link. What do you think of Duncan's ideas? Are incentives and money the way to go? Is it about jobs? What would you like the federal government to address on this issue?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Nestle at it again...

Here we go again, not surprisingly- Nestle continues the push to privatize water. And also, not surprisingly, we continue to fight back! Here is a link to sign a Corporate Accountability International petition to Nestle's CEO, Kim Jeffery: http://salsa.democracyinaction.org/o/2215/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=6433.

(Note: it's been a while since I've posted and I can't remember how to insert a hyperlink! Please excuse my blog illiteracy.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Get out and learn about the campus environment and help too

Earth Week - Get Outside!
Help beautify Penn State’s newest green space!

Volunteer at the Arboretum, Wednesday, April 20, 9:00 to 11:00 a.m.

Help maintain Penn State's beautiful Arboretum! The project involves removing invasive plants (i.e. cutting and hauling brush) from the Arboretum's natural areas. We recommend volunteers wear good shoes/boots, long pants, and a long-sleeved shirt and bring a water bottle. We provide work gloves and safety glasses, unless they would like to use your own. No tool needed. The work day begins at 9:00 a.m. Sign up to volunteer here.

Get Outside! Enjoy the spring weather on a guided walk with a with a Shaver’s Creek naturalist.

Campus Plant Walk, Tuesday, April 19, 12:00-12:45 p.m.

Take a mid-day break with Eric Burkhart, Plant Science Program Coordinator at Shaver's Creek Environmental Center, to learn more about plant life on campus. This 45-minute walk will include plant identification, as well as discussion of the traditional and contemporary uses of plants. Sign up today! (Registration required) Register here.

· Campus Bird Walk, Tuesday, April 21, 12:00-1:00 p.m.
Take a leisurely campus stroll to see and hear the numerous bird species that migrate through central Pennsylvania. Shaver's Creek naturalist Doug Wentzel will help participants identify the songs, calls and field marks of species from hawks and eagles to thrushes and woodpeckers. If you have them, bring a good pair of hiking boots, binoculars, any guide books you have, and an inquisitive mind! This walk is open to birders of all experience levels. All you need is curiosity. Some binoculars are available to borrow. (Registration required) Register here. 12p.m.- 1 p.m.; Meet at the Arboretum.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Real student-centered learning.

As teachers and future teachers we often think of ourselves as "professionals" who are owed some position of authority in a school system. We line ourselves up in rows in college classes to be imputed with information, skill sets, and best practices to convey content to the next generation. And at the alleged end of this school process, we end up working in a system that we love and hate.

We love working with children or young adults and inviting them to explore new things. We hate some of the ways that the bureaucracy makes us do. We love connecting with students who are, after all, people with imaginations and stories and desires and purposes of their own. We hate that we have to compartmentalize them and examine them with some dehumanizing psychometric tools. Well, some of us do.

And we wonder, "Who is this education for?" There's a lot of talk about student-centered teaching and schooling. But it looks like an awful lot of that is so much talk and not so much action. The curriculum doesn't budge. The goals are still the same. Teachers want to center their practice on students but are tied into a command and control system that regulates them and their students so much that they are a molding device for an industrial factory school for someone else: the federal or state government, businesses, corporations, or some other entity. Too often anything and anyone but the child themselves.

So what happens when students really do it themselves with the guidance of adults? Do you ever wonder how people can be students without the stricture of school?

Here seems to be one answer.

North Star Slice No. 1 from North Star on Vimeo.

What do you think?

Monday, March 7, 2011

Five Schools Implementing Community Garden Projects

This is a guest post by Katheryn Rivas, a freelance writer and blogger.


As the threat of climate change continues to sink in to our collective psyches, this generation has had to slowly un-learn everything we became accustomed to in an effort to reduce our carbon footprint. The climate-conscious have done away with gas-guzzling SUVs in favor of hybrid or electric vehicles, switched out their light bulbs, learned to recycle, and learned to shop locally.

With a little help, the next generation of young people won't have as much un-learning to do. Parents, teachers, administrators and the greater community who want to instill principles of sustainability into the next generation can start with the children under their care. One way of doing so is by implementing community gardens in neighborhood schools. Here we'll discuss five schools that are implementing community garden projects to teach children about nature, the environment and what it means to grow one's own food.

1.) Mount Kisco Elementary School.

This public K-5 school in Mount Kisco, NY, is planting its first community garden this spring with the generous financial backing of a community partner, the Bedford Garden Club. Not only will members of the garden club act as master gardeners to the children who will learn from the project, but the community as a whole will be able to grow food there too. Children will learn how to garden, compost and irrigate using rain barrels. The garden, which will grow tomatoes, lima beans, snap peas, radishes, sunflowers and herbs, may be used in the future to launch an after-school cooking program. Read more about this community garden in Chappaqua-Mount Kisco Patch.

2.) Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School.

This urban public school in Berkeley, Calif., benefits from a program several years in the making called the Edible Schoolyard, a one-acre organic garden where they learn how to grow, harvest and prepare produce. The community partner here is a nonprofit called the Chez Panisse Foundation. The garden includes berries, herbs, fruits, veggies and flowers. There's even an adjacent kitchen classroom where students learn to cook using the produce they harvest. Most recently the project has taught children about sustainability through a Rainwater Catchment System. Read more about this education garden at the Edible Schoolyard Website.

3.) Waupaca Community/School Garden.

This community garden is situated on property owned by the School District of Waupaca in east central Wisconsin and is truly a collaboration among local businesses, nonprofits, a local school district and individuals. Not only is the garden used as an outdoor classroom and educational tool for area schools, but the community uses it to supplement the Waupaca Food Pantry with fresh produce. The community garden grows herbs, fruits and veggies like basil, squash, zucchini, cantaloupe and sweet corn. Read more about this community garden on the school district's website.

4.) The Wheeler School.

This independent day school in Providence, RI, has an organic garden where students learn to grow food and that also contributes food to the RI Community Food Bank. The garden not only provides a chance for children to get their hands dirty learning to plant and harvest food, but it also produced more than 200 pounds of organically-grown produce for the food bank in 2010. Learn more about the Wheeler School's garden through its blog.

5.) Carmel Middle School.

This school in Carmel, Calif., teaches kids about sustainability alongside the basics of gardening using a program called MEarth and an organic garden situated on the nearby Hilton Bialek Habitat. Kids learn about native plants, habitat restoration, climate change, cooking and nutrition, and waste and recycling through this program. The program also invites the wider community in through open volunteer days. Learn more about how the garden helps in the education process at Center for Ecoliteracy and the Carmel Habitat.


This guest post is contributed by Katheryn Rivas, who writes on the topics of online universities which discusses about education, students life, college life, career and eco living. She welcomes your comments at her email Id: katherynrivas87@gmail.com.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Let's Take Back the Tap

Now that we've got the infrastructure going better for reusable bottles at Penn State, let's see about getting rid of Aquafina again.

We have a petition up calling on President Spanier and the Board of Trustees to stop selling Aquafina at Penn State. It reads:
Dear President Spanier and the Board of Trustees,

We the undersigned believe that Penn State should cease buying and selling single-use plastic water bottles immediately. The detrimental costs associated with single-use bottles are numerous.

Single-use plastic water bottles contribute to solid waste pollution when they aren’t recycled. In all parts of their lifecycle they contribute to climate change. They needlessly exploit a public resource for a price-gouging venture that charges about 700 times the price of tap water at Penn State. Finally, the EPA’s standards on municipal drinking water are more stringent than the FDA’s regulating bottled water.

With Penn State’s growing commitment to sustainability, it doesn’t make sense to carry on business as usual. Around campus, our Office of Physical Plant has installed bottle-filling stations that grow more popular every week. More students, staff, and faculty are moving away from single-use plastic bottles and using reusable steel, aluminum, and plastic canteens and bottles.

We know that more people across our university want good water. We have it.

We know that smart people are responsibly drinking water from our Spring Creek watershed.

We call on you not to renew the Aquafina contract with Pepsi and move us bottle free!!!

We are Penn State.
So take a minute if you are a Penn Stater and sign this petition. Let them know that we want accountability and responsibility.

Online Petition