Wednesday, January 28, 2009

A nice brief on bottled water

Water Without Waste has a nice piece through a Comcast interview on why using disposable plastic water bottles is unsustainable. Simply put, "The total amount of energy embedded in our use of bottled water—including the energy to produce, fill, transport, chill, and dispose of the bottles can be as high as the equivalent of filling each plastic bottle one quarter full with oil.”

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

First meeting of the semester

Come to this semester's first meeting of 3E-COE. Get all your friends together and come on down. We have plans for meetings with teachers who work with school gardens (see the State College Area's school gardens here), local farmers, professors from paleontology, hydrology, and English, and a meeting with the Social Justice Reading Group. We'll keep pushing for the water bottle ban at Penn State, do some activities for Earth Day, and more!

Meeting time and place: Wednesday January 28th, 2009 in 114 Chambers Building.

If you are so inclined and feel it would be productive, print out a copy of the flier jpeg above and post it around campus. Come and join the change. As some new addition to the White House has been saying, "Yes we can!"

Monday, January 26, 2009

The ethics of climate change: James Garvey

I listen to a weekly podcast called Ethics Bites through the BBC's Open University. Recently, the practical philosopher James Garvey (pictured at right courtesy of BBC) who works at the Royal Institute of Philosophy spoke with host Nigel Warburton about the ethics of climate change. He considers climate change as an ongoing event, the role that the "developed" world has played in catastrophic climate change, the role that the "developed" world should play, and what individual people can and should do to prevent possible global calamity.

Nigel: The topic we’re focusing on today is ethics and climate change. I know you’re not a scientist but you have done a lot of research into the effects of climate change; I wonder if you can sketch what’s going to happen unless we take very serious action.

James: Well the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has done a lot of surveys of the literature and they give us a range of 1.1 to 6.4 degrees Celsius as the amount of warming we can expect in the next century. The bottom end of that is associated with a world in which we don’t emit another whisper of carbon dioxide. The changes that are already underway are things like retreat of snow cover. That’s worrying because 1/6th of the population gets its water from melting snow and ice. Hot extremes will become more frequent. Typhoons and hurricanes will become more intense. Precipitation will change throughout the world – places that are already wet will become more so, and there’ll be more flooding. Places that are dry will experience more drought. There’s a possibility of worse to come; things like the gulf-stream could shut down in the future if things carry on as they are. And also of course the sea level will rise. If you think in terms of plants and animals, something like 15% to 37% of plants and animals will be locked into extinction by 2050. We’re living through the 6th major extinction our planet has experienced. The last one did in the dinosaurs. In 2003, 35,000 people died as a result of just heat in Europe, so the heat alone can kill us. And it’s also true that as the sea level rises, peoples’ lives will have to change: half the people on the planet currently live on the coast...

So it continues. To listen to the podcast, click here to download the mp3. If you want to read it, click here.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Water bottle update

Hi everyone! Thought I'd provide a brief update with what's happened since our water bottle demonstration on December 10.

Perhaps surprisingly, President Spanier responded within a week in regard to the letter we wrote to him. While his response did not contain the magical statement that he would consider issuing an executive order to ban plastic water bottles, he did put us in touch with people on campus who are interested in working with us to reduce waste on campus.

Just over a week ago, we met with some of these staff members to discuss the water bottle ban. The meeting went well, and we plan to keep up the pressure on President Spanier to be involved in what's going on. There are staff members on campus who want the ban to happen, but unless we keep up pressure on Old Main, this effort could fade into the woodwork. However, many of us are too determined to let this effort fall off the agenda, regardless of the challenges it involves.

I've been in touch with people at Washington University in St. Louis, a university which went water bottle free this semester. I learned that it took a summer and a semester for the ban to be implemented, so I'm optimistic that we can hope for a similar timeframe. I'll post updates again in a month or so, perhaps sooner.

I've also been in contact with individuals working for environmental non-profits who want to help us get water bottles banned at Penn State. It's amazing that from this one article, our cause has been spread to many others who are invested in similar efforts. In great numbers, we can do even greater things!

If anyone has any questions or suggestions, feel free to e-mail

Penn State Ecology Seminar Series

The following comes from the Huck Institute of the Life Sciences at Penn State. I will surely be at Judge John E. Jones's presentation on March 16th for his presentation on the Constitution. He was the judge in the landmark Kitzmiller v. Dover "intelligent design" trial in 2005 that found intelligent design creationism unconstitutional to teach in public schools.
"Upcoming talks in the Ecology Seminar Series, presented by the Penn State Intercollege Graduate Degree Program in Ecology. Most talks take place on Mondays at 1.30pm in 101 Agricultural Science and Industries Building (ASI) on the University Park campus. However, there are a few exceptions to this."
Mon Feb 09 at 04:00PM Beth Shapiro (Penn State)
Sequencing the dead: using DNA from fossil remains to reconstruct demographic history
112 Borland
Mon Feb 16 at 04:00PM Warren Abrahamson (Bucknell University)
Three decades of study on goldenrod galls: a medley of questions and approaches
112 Borland
Mon Mar 02 at 04:00PM Andrew Read (Penn State)
Vaccination: the evolutionary consequences of humankind’s biggest attempts to deliberately perturb organismal ecology
112 Borland
Mon Mar 16 at 04:00PM Norm Ellstrand (University of California-Riverside)
Lessons from crop (trans)genes out of place – environmental & other implications
112 Borland
Mon Mar 16 at 07:00PM Judge John Jones
Our Constitution's Intelligent Design
Berg Auditorium (101 Life Sciences Bldg)
Mon Mar 23 at 04:00PM David Winkler (Cornell University)
Title to be announced
112 Borland
Mon Mar 30 at 04:00PM Fred Gould (North Carolina State University)
Can release of genetically engineered pests help sustain biodiversity?
112 Borland
Mon Apr 06 at 04:00PM Susan Kalisz (University of Pittsburgh)
Finding Darwinian Heroes: Among family variance in inbreeding depressions
112 Borland
Mon Apr 13 at 04:00PM Al Savitsky (NSF)
Purloined Poisons: Sequestered chemical defense in a Japanese snake
112 Borland
Mon Apr 20 at 04:00PM Stephen Hubbell (University of California- Los Angeles)
Title to be announced
112 Borland
Tue Apr 21 at 04:00PM Bill Hansson (Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology)
The contrivances by which orchids and other flowers are pollinated
101 Althouse
Tue Apr 28 at 04:00PM Craig Benkman (University of Wyoming)
Specialization and coevolution in the adaptive radiation of crossbills
101 Althouse

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Ensuring clean water gets to the Chesapeake

For those readers not in 3E-COE (how many might that be at this point?) there is a local meeting of the Penns Valley Conservation Association meeting to discuss maintaining clean streams and profitable farms. We in central Pennsylvania thrive on agriculture but our farms create a lot of waste (manure, chemical fertilizers, chemical pesticides, etc) that gets into water ways that are themselves part of the Chesapeake watershed.

We've know for quite some time that the Chesapeake is suffering the aggregated effects of our unmindful land and water use. Recently, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF linked above) released a report (link here for the pdf) that ties the decline of the Blue Crab with the Chesapeake's worsening waters which are tied to our farming and waste disposal practices here in Centre County. They report:
Less Crab habitat Sediment from runoff and algal blooms caused by nitrogen and phosphorus pollution are darkening the Bay’s waters, killing the underwater grasses that young crabs need as shelter from predators. More than half of the Bay’s eelgrass has died since the early 1970s.
In total, it is a steady choking of all of the life in the bay. We care most about the crabs because we eat them and sell them. They feed our economy as they feed us. In 1993, 347 million crabs were caught in the Chesapeake. Last year, just 132 million - a nearly two-thirds decline. That 1993 catch is larger than the current estimated population of all crabs in the bay. We in Pennsylvania, through waste runoff into streams like Penns Creek (pictured below) are starving them.

The PVCA meeting is the kind of local community interaction that can help ameliorate these problems. It is an example of local informal education that we need to consider becoming a part of. For those of us becoming trained as school teachers, we might want to join ourselves to this kind of small activism because it brings the community into the school and the school into the community, eliminating the false barrier that says "School is school" and "Work is work" and "Home is home" and all of that stuff is separate from nature because "Nature is nature." We are part of nature at every second.

Perhaps we ought to reach out to these folks and see what we can learn from them.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Ecological illiteracy in academia

Orion magazine has a piece that about sums it up. Why don't higher ed faculty know about the issues we face? Educated people need to be educated. NOW!
I AM ASTONISHED by the number of academics convinced that the infusion of a few technological electrolytes will cure the pounding hangover sure to punish us for partying so recklessly in the hospitality tents sponsored by Cheap Readily Available Oil. People with five or seven letters after their names are clinging to the delusion that energy and technology are interchangeable, that when one goes into decline the other will arrive to take them up the mountain for a weekend of downhill skiing.
Keep reading. Hat tip to Dana.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Why is 3E-COE here?

We are here because we need to act. I think that those of us in 3E-COE understand that we that nature's/the environment's state today is considerably worse off than it should be because human beings have been ignorant of the consequences of our actions. That's an incontrovertible fact. We have collectively paid too little of our minds to what happens because collective economic habits - the production, consumption, and disposal of fabricated goods - and now we are seeing them. But we are a hopeful people who, as teachers and future teachers, understand that we can have a large impact on how people act.

Teachers are institutionalized workers who reshape societies. Individually we have some power. Each of us in 3E-COE has some vivid memory of a teacher who moved us and we wish to move others. Not all of our memories are great of course, but some of them are transformative and show us through experience the power that teachers have. That power can go to ill ends - one need only think of the racial science classes in Nazi Germany - or for great good - the plight of girls and women in cultures where they have been considerably more liberated by learning to read, write, and count. Teachers matter.

We, as the agents of education must choose to change the course of our habits. These include the habits of choosing whether we ride a bike, the bus, or car pool; how much we travel, where we travel, and by what means we travel; what we eat and how it was produced; what we wear, who made it, and where they made it; and what is our relationship in our daily place to nature?

As far as I can tell we wonder about how people can best live into the future on our pale blue dot. How do we conceive of nature? How do we want to conceive of it and act in it?

Every action we take, whether in the confines of an office or if it is in the Shingletown Gap (at right) 4 miles from Penn State's main campus, we are taking an act in nature. Likely, the actions in that office have much greater costs than those taken in the Shingletown Gap because they require electricity to power every light, computer, heater, clock, radio, photocopier, printer, and so on. The Gap is itself, effortlessly evolving as part of nature's economy. Water percolates from the local water table, comes down from rains and snow melt on Tussey Mountain ridge, and then flows down into the Spring Creek Watershed which joins the Juniata River that flows into the Susquehanna eventually making its way to the Chesapeake Bay. From this Pennsylvania shaded water gap lined with rock-clinging mosses, rhododendron, hemlock, and lorel higher up, water makes its way out to the sea.

Recently, the Chronicle of Higher Education had a story that began with this:
Environmentalism has failed to slow the ways that producing, using, and replacing consumer goods deflect ecological costs into distant places and future generations. Consumption, interacting with political and economic structures, continues to deflect these costs into ecosystems with less capacity and onto people with less power to adapt to them...
We see this failure and rise as a concerned group to take small actions that combine to alleviate this suffering. As a people in a place who are students, future teachers, current teachers, leaders, and activists we know that we can act here to act there. Those costs that are likely to be deflected needn't be so great now and surely needn't be so great in the future. We teach for now and the future.

So we in 3E-COE, I think, hope for some small things. We want to create a way for students at Penn State to help reduce their footprints here, serve the local and global community through teaching and action, and carry those lessons into their future classrooms. In that spirit, we move forward by moving towards gardening in schooling, by taking the class outside and bringing the outside into classrooms, and by learning about and learning in the places where we live. By being grounded in our places, we can learn and teach best.

If you are in the Penn State community, come to our first semester meeting this Wednesday at 7:30 in Chambers Building (room TBA). Join the conversation and the movement.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Welcome to the 3E-COE Blog!

Happy Inauguration Day!

I was planning on beginning this first post with staggering statistics about deforestation, species extinction, carbon dioxide emissions, starvation, and cancer and disease caused by toxic pollution both home and abroad. I will save you this because I believe if you visited this page you already know that the earth and its life-forms are in peril, and you desire action. With this in mind, we hope this blog will be a vital part of our environmental and ecological activism here at Penn State. It will provide a venue for sharing news, studies, and opinions to gain a better understanding of the issues that we hold most dear. 3E-COE is a group of teachers and leaders, so I invite everyone to use this blog as a tool to teach, learn, and inspire.

Everyone who wants to contribute will have the opportunity to post relevant environmental and ecological information and comment on other members' posts through the use of personal usernames. If you have a Blogger/Google username, you are already able to comment; if you want to write your own posts, email me at and I will set up the blog to give you permission. (If you do not have a Google username yet, sign up here, then log into Blogger, and visit Make sure to follow the blog by clicking the "Follow this blog" link at the bottom right hand corner of the page.

It's time to get the ball rolling, and as Franz Kafka said, "From a certain point onward there is no longer any turning back. That is the point that must be reached." Bon voyage.