Saturday, May 30, 2009

Laser Power

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory has built the world's largest laser system. It's not a new weapon straight out of Star Wars, it's a proposed energy source.
If things go well, lighting a mini-sunfire inside that hydrogen ball would release far more energy than the already gigantic amount of energy the laser is putting in. The main goal of fusion science is, of course, to create a nearly endless supply of safe and carbon-free electricity without the need to create nuclear byproducts.
Read the Full Article.

Friday, May 29, 2009

PA Legislators Want To Store CO2 In the Ground

Some Pennsylvania legislators, notably Gov. Ed Rendell, want to allow power companies to capture carbon dioxide emissions and put them into the ground. Both PennEnvironment and Sierra Club Pennsylvania support this initiative, but there are some concerns.
"There's potential for sequestration to work in Pennsylvania, but the million-dollar word is potential," [Nathan] Willcox [of PennEnvironment] said. "It's never been done and we are not at all sure that it's going to work."

If it doesn't work, the risks range from gradual leakage, which would only be a waste of effort and energy, to low probability but high-risk scenarios such as contaminating the water supply or a catastrophic release of carbon dioxide all at once.
"It could potentially cause earthquake-like activities, and under the bill that has been introduced, the state would be liable for any of these side effects," [Sierra Club Pennsylvania Chapter Director] Jeff Schmidt said.
I say we keep our eyes on this issue.

Read the Full Article

Intolerable Beauty: Portraits of American Mass Consumption

Chris Jordan is an American artist who has created a unique form of art that uses photographs to produce large scale works that help put our impact on the earth into perspective.

The image below is made of "2.4 million pieces of plastic, equal to the estimated number of pounds of plastic pollution that enter the world's oceans every hour. All of the plastic in this image was collected from the Pacific Ocean."

In his artist statement, Jordan wrote,
The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.
He has a passion for conservation and awareness that we surely all possess. Enjoy.

Chris Jordan Photography

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Penn State's Trash to Treasure

This year's Trash to Treasure is being held in Beaver Stadium on May 30th. If you are on the lookout for some "stuff" and want it to avoid the Story of Stuff, this is a good way to get it.

Penn State Live characterizes it as follows:

The eighth annual Trash to Treasure event to benefit the Centre County United Way will be held Saturday, May 30, at Beaver Stadium on Penn State's University Park campus. The sale will be held in two parts: a $5 paid-admission "early bird" opening at 7:30 a.m., and free admission at 9 a.m.

To date, the program has raised more than $300,000 for the Centre County United Way and saved nearly 500 tons of goods from being shipped to a landfill. This year's event is expected to save more than 50 tons of wares from landfills. Those items, ranging from electronics to shoes to lamps and everything in between, have been primarily donated by students during on-campus housing move-out.

"Volunteering is very important to the success of the event," Matyasovsky said. "It's what keeps Trash to Treasure up and running."

This is great reuse and recycle.

"Cultivating Minds" from Edutopia and Sidebar Links Updates

Edutopia has a really nice article up titled "Cultivating Minds" on the advent of what Alice Waters calls the "Edible Schoolyard" and others call the "farm curriculum." Whatever we call it, it's gaining momentum and bringing teachers and children to consider our place in the biosphere as integral to schools. The article highlights a few of the star programs from around the country and bits and pieces about the programs they are implementing, from simple gardens where children find a purple heirloom carrot, to chickens that brought out the participation of Somali immigrant children, to some places that function on the order of farms. It is an invigorating read.

Problems lie ahead because legislators, policymakers, administrators, and teachers either don't know how or why food can be or should be so central to education because they might view at as some kind of narrow farmer-training program. As NCLB tells us and assumes, we are competitors in a "knowledge-based" global economy. What can this possible do to help us? That might be a difficult for some invested in narrow definitions of what schooling ought to serve.

But, the article makes a good point to show that this is about as broad-based a movement that exists and is growing. Josh Vertiel of Slow Food USA makes it clear, saying
We're giving away the right to teach our students to the most appealing bidder right now, and not the best teacher. And if we don't teach them what eating is, where food comes from, what health is about, and what it is to gather around the table, someone else is going to do it, and it's going to be someone who stands to make a profit. Instead, we should teach kids about what's good for them, what's good for the environment, and what's good for the people who are growing it.
This is just another way of saying what Wendell Berry has been saying for years, that every act of eating is an agricultural act. Food comes from somewhere and knowing where it has come from and how it has come to be is to know a great deal about one's self. To know one's food is to understand something about the very nature of the physical substance that makes up your body. Food has within it an ethical character that we can develop but are not when we invite Pizza Hut and Pepsi to run our school cafeterias. What these programs do is alter and recalibrate education such that the speed and scale of production shrinks and slows. It makes teacher and student, at least for a little while, into farmers and stewards of their own health and well being making them responsible for themselves and others. How Deweyan!

In other news, I have been loading the sidebar with some new links. I've updated some of the Pennsylvania links and the Education links with a bunch more to help us find curricular materials related to gardening, place-based education, our own region, and climate change issues. Check them out.

Biodiversity regions and education

The U.N.'s International Coordinating Council of the Man and the Biosphere Programme (MAB-ICC) announced today that it has added 22 new reserves to UNESCO's list of World Network of Bioreserves. This got me to thinking a little bit about how we might think about this in educational terms. In what follows, I'll just throw out a few ideas for people to consider regarding the Bioreserves themselves, the problems that such things might entail because of "sustainable development," and how we as teachers might think about Biorserves in our own teaching and learning.

The goal of the MAB-ICC program is as follows:
Biosphere Reserves are areas designated under the UNESCO's Man and the Biosphere (MAB) Programme to serve as places to test different approaches to integrated management of terrestrial, freshwater, coastal and marine resources and biodiversity. As such, Biosphere Reserves are visualized as sites for experimenting with and learning about sustainable development approaches under the MAB Programme, particularly during the on-going UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005-2014).
These sites are seen as modeling so-called "sustainable development." They are scattered around the globe in several countries, including Mexico, Spain, Portugal, Venzuela, North Korea, South Korea, Australia, India, Indonesia, Viet Nam, Lebanon, Syria, Germany, Russia, South Africa, Ukraine, and Malaysia (for a full list follow this link). In Lagunas Montebello, "coffee production has shifted to organic production with organic conversion of the grain which, together with reforestation and tourism activities have emerged as alternatives which support the sustainable development of the area" (see picture at right) while other areas range from biological reserves without human occupation to areas where indigenous people practice their own means of sustenance.

In a bit of troubling news to those who might be interested in preserving the diversity of tribal and indigenous peoples, some of the entries in the MAB-ICC new list indicate drawing indigenous people into the global capital market. For example, in Indonesia where the tribes of Highland New Guinea have already been "civilized" a great deal by Australian developers in the 20th century, the report states, "Initial studies indicate good potential for sustainable economic development using flora and fauna for the inhabitants’ economic welfare. The site is also an interesting experimental area regarding carbon dioxide (CO2) in the context of carbon trade mechanisms." Wealthy countries running the U.N. and other global development organizations like the World Bank and International Monetary Fund can "develop" such areas into so-called "pristine" eco-tourism spots. I read this right now (and some further searching is probably warranted) as a means for polluting countries to alleviate their CO2 guilt with other people's resources. It also serves to bring whoever the occupants are in the area within the unsustainable cash and credit global economy governed by these agencies - the very agencies at the heart of the global climate problem. Suffice it to say that I am both excited about these places and skeptical of the people's intentions regarding "sustainable development."

Sustainable development is a highly contested term because it depends on whose development we are attempting to sustain. Do we "sustain" global economic development for profit-oriented growth markets or are we trying to create practices that sustain human populations well within nature's carrying capacity? The U.N. has stated in its most recent Human Development Report 2007/2008 that our current consumption economies are unsustainable and are affecting the natural environment at an unprecedented rate and scale such that, according to the IPCC, our consumption of natural resources and greenhouse gas emissions, "Observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases." We can hope that the U.N. is writing us more toward real sustainability by touting the Bioreserve accomplishments. But without the teeth of enforcement and without a genuine ethical commitment by member nations and big polluters like the United States, China, India, Canada, and Australia, the U.N. can do little but write a lot of economic, educational, scientific, and ethical rhetoric. How do we sustain sustainable development if indeed we do?

Maybe we can integrate two ideas here. On the one hand, let's think about our schools as potential bioreserves. This is a very David Orr idea that integrates the working operation of the school into its local natural environment. We, as teachers, can be asking how we can alter our educating practices and spaces in such a way that they harmonize with the bioregion, interact wholly and sustainably within the seasonal changes of our areas, and work to feed us in these spaces. This brings us to a comment that Zack Bullock left the other day:
As future teachers, it seems that we are really talking about being future farmers. I say this because as long as there is still a strong industrial division of labor in our communities, not everyone is going to be able to contribute equally to the production of food. Teachers could take on the majority of this work, making their community teaching be in part, or wholly, their community's farming.
I really think that Zack is onto something here. We may be on our way to envisioning some of what the school is and does as a communal farm where teachers and children work together to sustain themselves, their communities, and learn about the outside world as well. The teacher needs to be a generalist and not a specialist. The divided disciplines of the university need to integrate and merge with one another in people such that we can see the relationships between things while still developing our ability to make distinctions. That is to say that I think the primary or secondary school teachers of the future needs to be able to genuinely put together a set of experiences that links history, literature, arts, mathematics, the sciences, and the soil within the context of where they live. They need to be able connect things themselves and work with other people in a convivial educational environment such that these now disparate disciplines unify in experience.

In a way, one such initiative seems to be the Four Corners School at the converging borders of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, and Arizona. They have a program called Bioregional Outdoor Education Project (BOEP) that seeks to develop that "teaches K-8 teachers how to teach the core curriculum in a hands-on place-based way through a two-year series of workshops, inservices, and mentoring." It uses the desert Southwest as a way to understand science and science as a way to understand the desert Southwest, creating a feedback loop of knowledge, inquiry, experience, and place that (assuming it works out of course) shows the interconnectedness of the bioregion. Why do we need to stop with science though? We don't.

Obviously, teachers know things outside of their disciplinary focuses. Elementary school teachers often transgress the boundaries of narrow disciplines because they do full units on the ocean, the human body, and so on. But in middle and high school the disciplines fracture and the stultifying egotism of academic segregation sets in so that expert disease sets in and people worry about trampling on others' feet. And the whole testing regime of NCLB reinforces it all.

I suppose that what I am proposing, to some degree, is a kind of recalibration of all schooling such that teachers are institutionally encouraged to be interdisciplinary, work together in the same classroom, to merge their classrooms with and develop their curricula in the context of their bioregion, and to do that in no small part through developing the school as a farm. This would mean incorporating economics and ecology so that, to paraphrase David Orr, no one learning about economics can see the economy as separate from the physical, chemical, and biological systems of which it is a part. Teaching a book like Frank Herbert's Dune can be contextualized within an integrating lesson plan about deserts, religions, myth, human psychology, and politics. Most to the point, developing curricula that are grounded in and extend from the places where we live in ways like Elliott Wiggington's Foxfire are perhaps most ideal because they initiate the interaction of children and their cultural and ecological spaces.

That would be sustainable development. Such a network of schools would surely earn Bioreserve status. How curious that the basic thing I am proposing was in some sense known by our ancestors for thousands of years before the advent of industrial technologies.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Seven Generations School in East Penn, PA

Future teachers keep your eyes peeled. There is a new charter school opening in the Lehigh Valley that, at least on the face of it, seems to be doing the things we are striving for. The Seven Generations School, named after the Iroquois proverb that says we should act with the interests of the next seven generations in mind, seeks to be a school that focuses its curriculum on ecological interests.

If we take the FAQ statements to heart, they seem to see that we have to have a more sustainable world and that schools are one of the linchpins. They have recognized that a school that integrates disciplines also develops individual people who are critical thinkers and good citizens. To show the extent of their own citizenship and its commitment to environmental awareness and concern, they've already developed an extensive list of contacts with local universities, businesses, and community organizations who are themselves committed to a more sustainable planet. What is most heartening is that they are pursuing a zero-waste policy and an edible schoolyard.

It looks like this is no place to learn about bubble tests. Other charter schools have tended to regress to the mean, meaning that their innovative curricula have wandered into the perceived safe zone of the average public school. Will this place be different? Let's hope so. Free from some of the traps of NCLB, it might do its students, teachers, and community a lot of good.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The year wrapped up

I think that we have some things to really be pleased with this semester, a good deal to look forward to doing together, and some areas where we might be able to focus our attention as we move forward. In this post I hope to post a bit of a reflection on this semester, where I think we are as a group, and what we might do in the future. As always, I hope that others will contribute feedback in the comments section.

This past semester, 3E-COE did some really cool things. Starting early I think that under Alex's leadership we gained some success in keeping the university's ear regarding plastic water bottle waste and our hope that we can get them banned at Penn State. Penn State does a much better job than most huge institutions and municipalities at recycling - 53% overall - but know that it simply isn't enough. Though the administrator's we have met with seem to eschew the idea of using "ban" language because it proscribes and chides instead of redirects, they listened and, to some degree, have worked with us. However, we know that in principle bans are possible. We've seen that other universities like Washington U. in St. Louis have already moved that way and that there is buzz at other state universities like SUNY Cortland. I was contacted by a student, Danny, at U. of Central Florida who, we hope, got some meetings with their Office of Physical Plant to move them towards less waste via a water bottle ban. If his figures are correct, their recycling rate was abominably low: under 20%.

As the semester wore on (and wore us down for sure) we came up with a teach-in plan that could have worked had we really been much more coordinated earlier. In retrospect, we might have done best by providing a bigger presence at Earth Day at Penn State and not tried to strike out on our own a litte later. That said, Jared's awesome pamphlets (see this earlier post) and the fliers (see this post) made for some good late-semester outreach that, at the very least, keeps some water bottle consciousness in the PSU zeitgeist. For sure next year we should join in with Eco-Action et al and make stronger and more concentrated pushes.

But at the meetings we had some really great opportunities this semester. We met some cool people who work with and for sustainability, ecological literacy, and the protection of our greatest resource - nature - in interesting ways. We met with the Social Justice Reading Group to discuss articles by David Orr, Anthony Weston, and Richard Kahn. By engaging them, we saw how far down the rabbit hole of sustainability we have yet to go and yet how committed we are to ecological justice as a sister to social justice. It is no small thing to realize that the economically and racially ghettoized people of the world - whether in the Tennessee Valley or along Love Canal or living adjacent to the Dow Chemical Plant in Bhopal, India - had their natural environments degraded by wealthy, powerful, and very "educated" people who operated with little or no conscience to all others' health or well-being.

Ali Turley from the Centre County Youth Service Bureau came to us and asked for our help maintaining a community and children's garden in some local Section 8 housing in Boalsburg. This is an effort to develop some communal sense in a place where families tend not to live for very long and where ethnic tensions can run high. Two of our members have been working on that and, we can hope, will provide us with some updates as the summer and fall move along.

We had Bob Burkholder come from the English department to talk to us about his various outdoor literature courses and show us how literature, history, forests, watersheds, rivers, shores, and oceans connect and interweave in one of the most noble of human endeavors - literature. For a view of his various adventure literature courses, go to his course website and take a peek. One of his stated goals is to "learn how wild places relate to literature, history, and philosophy." This seems much in line with what many of us want to do. He goes to Cape Cod, South Carolina, down the Chesapeake Watershed and into the Bay, and out into the wilderness (pictured at right). What can we do? What will you do with where you teach and live?

A couple of members of People Protecting Communities (PPC) who have been fighting the Rush Township landfill proposal for five years came and gave a fantastically detailed presentation on all of those goings on. It really brought home how understanding our bioregion and our governmental structure helps us to move forward. Civics teachers take note! And this, for me, led back to our discussion of social justice because the rich and well-connected people of Resource Recovery LLC have been able to continue a totally misguided and environmentally disastrous campaign to strong arm rural people without a lot of material wealth into accepting the uglification and poisoning of the land they live on, the air they breathe, and the water they drink. Luckily, the people at PPC are devoted, intelligent, diligent, and also very informed on governmental workings.

Finally, paleontologist and climate change researcher came and provided us with a brilliant primer on climate change. As a researcher he studies the last ice age, specifically how rodent species have locally gone extinct on forested land islands as the climate changed. In short, he seems to expect that as the climate warms that we will see populations of these high altitude rodent species like Red Backed Voles, Heather Voles, American Pika, and Collared Lemmings diminish or disappear. If you are so inclined, you can join our group on Penn State's ANGEL and download his Power Point presentations. As a teacher he brought in fossils for us to handle and see. Touching the fossilized bones of animals dead for tens of thousands of years really brings home to the hand how much we use our bodies to learn. In an educational world so bent on developing the gray matter between our ears by using language, this reminded me once again of the simple joy of kinesthetic learning. In a small way, "teaching went wild" for a few minutes.

So looking ahead for the coming year I see a few things on our horizon. First, I suspect that from some contacts in the community that we will be able to arrange meetings/observations of local teachers using their school gardens. I have been working toward getting the College of Education to get a teaching/learning garden put in but it is an extensive process. But the dean seems to believe it's a good idea in principle but that implementing it could be good. I know for a fact, though, that the student's of Madhu Prakash's EDTHP 440 - Philosophy of Education all signed a letter to the dean requesting a teaching garden. Nearly 30 of them signed it! Between the lot of us we might just get somewhere.

Sadly (but also awesomely!), the plots at the Center for Sustainability filled up almost instantly and we were wait-listed. While I am really sad that 3E-COE doesn't have a plot, I am overjoyed to see so much interest in something that we didn't know could be so huge. But other local municipalities are joining in. In fact, last night I was at my friend Aaron's house in Boalsburg and he showed me his plot in the Harris Township community garden. This is brilliant news!

In the summer we will continue to learn more about all numbers of things on our own and, perhaps for those of us still here, we can take a couple of excursions into the beautiful Pennsylvania wilderness and watersheds. In the fall I think we will refine and carry out our water bottle teach-in/protest at a much more intense level. I'm even considering a real sort of big room lecture format that the lot of us can work together on.

I am really looking forward to what we will do. It's been a good first year.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

And we don't have this why?

Penn State has one of the "greatest" agriculture schools in the country and we are in the pockets of big energy (College of Engineering), big coal (College of Earth and Mineral Sciences), and big agriculture (College of Agriculture and College of Sciences). But we are alleged to be a beacon of sustainability. So why don't we have buildings that are sustainable systems and why aren't we feeding ourselves?

Maybe David Orr has something to say about it:

Like Zack, he sees that we might have to move toward urban agriculture because "the days of land-grant universities are over." Maybe we have something to say about that and maybe we have something to do about changing the nature of the educational system such that we transform schools into places that ensure not just existence buy abundance, not just the cessation of extinction but of the extension of biodiversity. What an awesome challenge.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Telling a Story about Stuff

Annie Leonard, a former Greenpeace employee and current freelance lecturer, created this kid-friendly documentary to teach about issues of production, consumption, and unsustainability. The documentary, The Story of Stuff, addresses the chain of global production and consumption, from the felling of trees to the buying of products to the throwing away of those products. All of which is presented in a simple, animated model with an accessible, boyant, and witty narration.

Evidently, some educators have found this documentary useful in their classrooms for teaching about global ecological issues. Here are the benefits, as I see them, of this documentary. First, Leonard presents a simple, accurate, and intelligible model regarding global production and consumption. The model is visual, verbal, intelligent, and engaging. Second, the documentary addresses a number of issues that could be explored in a more robust curriculum.

Leonard raises two issues in particular that I think are worth exploring further. First, global capitalism and its connection to politics, violence, and inequality. Second, the relation between individuals and communities to the aforementioned system of production and consumption.

You can check out a recent article in the New York Times on Leonard, this documentary, and teaching at

You can watch The Story of Stuff (it is 20 minutes long) here:

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

What does it really mean to teach in the 21st Century?

This is a special post from one of our members, Jenn Recant. She is a Penn State sophomore majoring in Elementary Education and a regular and vigorous attendee to 3E-COE's meetings.


While speaking with Dr. Richard Alley, a well-known scientist and professor at Penn State University, we discussed anthropogenic climate change and he stated, “you eat around 2,400 calories per day and you use about 240,000 calories per day - something does not add up” (link here for more). After listening to Dr. Alley I began thinking about what I had learned from him and how our lifestyles are unsustainable. I began to realize that what I have been learning about the environment not only applies to my life but also to what I will teach as a future educator. Teaching in the 21st century means teaching about current issues, and one of the leading problems that we are faced with today is that of environmental responsibility. Unsustainable living should no longer be an option. As teachers in this century, we cannot simply apply old methods of frontal learning and memorization and neglect crucial information about the earth we live on. We as teachers need to change some of the methods of teaching in order to engage our students with a hands-on, whole-child approach; teaching not only the basics but also about how to live our lives. Schools need to educate students at all grade levels about important and topical issues that they will need to address throughout life and as adults. Learning about the environment, problems that are occurring, and how to make positive changes are some of the most important topics of this century.

One of the key conclusions from the 2007 UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change stated, “warming of the climate system is unequivocal and most likely anthropogenic”. The National Academy of Sciences agreed with this statement and there is little debate among scientists that global environmental changes are taking place. What does this mean for us as teachers in the 21st century? It means we need to take on the responsibilities that these changes will brings about.

The first step in mitigating the effects of climate change and eventually adapting a new lifestyle is teaching about the problems that the environment is currently faced with. Our process through the entire materials economy from extraction, production, distribution and consumption all the way to disposal is not a lifestyle that we can continue with. Our “throwaway economy” and our “story of stuff” that we are living with on our finite planet will not last. We as teachers have the power to change the future through our students. We can educate them on how to live sustainably with the foods we eat, the way we run businesses, the manner is which we use energy and much more. Climate change is becoming more and more dire; it will ultimately affect every aspect of our lives from social, political, physical to economic aspects. But how can we ever achieve that change if our school systems do not teach about the issues properly and our students do not learn what their futures hold?

This growing and changing process needs to start within the classroom with the teacher. In order to help teach the reality of issues and have our students become fully aware of the world around them, teachers need to get creative. We need to teach our students from a whole child perspective. We need to motivate our students into taking the right actions and have them become interested in the environment. It always seems as though students learn better when they are involved in interactive learning. There is currently a wealth of knowledge and experience that teachers can draw from including sample lesson plans from the internet, attending conventions that demonstrate teaching environmentally, and even new textbooks which provide sustainable living models that can help teachers achieve fresh ways to help their students connect to the environment. An article in The Boston Globe entitled “Put Climate Change in the Curriculum,” Queen Arsem-O’Malley discussed that the point of climate-change and environmental education is not to make sure that students can recite facts about carbon-emissions or biomagnifications, but students need to understand the science behind climate change and recognize that we can act now with the information we have. Students need to become more familiar with the general strategies we will use to lessen the impacts of climate change. Perhaps most importantly, students need to learn to think creatively about climate change, since innovative solutions will be necessary for one of the most challenging problems of our time.

This learning can and needs to take place at all grade levels and in all subject areas. Teaching environmentally can be challenging but it is a cross-disciplinary field that can be drawn into almost any subject or activity. Environmental education and use of active learning techniques in the classroom, such as creating learning centers or having a class garden can encourage children to eat nutritiously, allow them to participate in hands on and experiential learning, have social experiences, learn about leadership and participation, learn about nature and animals, and acquire life skills. Teachers can find help and get support through numerous organizations by approaching their superintendents, principals or civic associations. Organizations like The National Gardening Association have been providing material assistance to youth, community gardens and classroom gardens for the past two decades and have witnessed a growing interest. They encourage every grade level from K-12 to participate in garden learning and they try to help with funding and new ideas.

Though we cannot predict the future we know how important our earth is and that it is a major issue that the next generation will be faced with. As the National Science Board states, "The environment is a critical element of the knowledge base we need to live in a safe and prosperous world." Today's students will one day have to participate as citizens in making decisions regarding the environment, decisions that will be of lasting importance to themselves, their children and grandchildren, the nation, and of course, the planet. As teachers in the 21st century we need to implement green strategies into our classrooms, make our classrooms sustainable and motivate and teach our students about how to be conscious and eco-friendly throughout their lives.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

My Food's in the Gutter

Suzanne Forsling, a resident of Juneau, Alaska, devised a system of "gutter gardening" for enabling, what I might call, "high-density gardening," allowing people to grow vegetables in a limited space and with limited monetary expense.
(To the left is a picture of Forsling's gutter garden. "My [garden] overfloweth.")
This is a wonderful way to think about gardening in cities and other areas where you do not have a lot of space to grow food. The garden seems to be quite productive at, and appropriate for, the household level. With your own compost, and there are some compact strategies for this, too, one of these gardens could be mightily self-sustaining. I find the gutter garden's similarity to terraced agriculture rather exciting. Nutrients and water from the top plot can fall to the levels beneath it, for example.
Last summer, the Juneau Empire ran an article that you can access here:

(This, to your right, is an image of a salad Forsling made with vegetables from the garden.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ecological Impacts of Climate Change

The National Academy of Sciences Climate Change Center's most recent publication Ecological Impacts of Climate Change (.pdf) ends with a good note for us:

Some of the issues are so big that the involvement of governments will be required. These include decisions about the best ways to reduce a country’s carbon emissions and where to invest funds in research on alternative energy sources. Other decisions are best addressed at the individual, family, or business level. Each time a car, home appliance, or lightbulb is purchased, a decision is made that has a small influence on climate change. But many small decisions, made by billions of people, can combine to have very large effects.

We know that climate change is not the only stress ecosystems are facing. An important way for society to help reduce the ecological impacts of climate change is by creating conditions that make it easier for species in ecosystems to adapt—that is, by reducing other human influenced ecosystem stresses. Well-thought-out approaches to and investment in conservation, sustainable agricultural practices, pollution reduction, and water management can all help ecosystems withstand the impacts of a changing climate.

This publication is the sequel to the NAS's Understanding and Responding to Climate Change

You can read about, watch, or podcast their March summit here. Finally, if you want to be updated on their study on climate change you can sign up for bulletins here.
(.pdf) from 2008.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Storing CO2 in the North Sea?

"Porous rocks beneath the seabed of the North Sea and disused oil and gas fields could provide storage for millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.

The research, by Edinburgh University, is likely to herald the startof a major new industry for Scotland, using the North Sea to lead the way in efforts to store the greenhouse gas
emissions from power plants."

Very interesting, but I wonder what kind of effect this would have on aquatic life.

Read the whole article at

It's Hard to Live (Green) in the City?

This is a posting on one blog for another blog, namely, for Green Jobs Philly ( My overriding hope for sustainable agriculture is an urban one, that we can reclaim urban spaces, on an appropriate scale, to produce food locally. The problem is that I have had trouble finding resources and examples of just how and where this type of work is being done. This morning, over an energizing cup of tea, I stumbled upon a seeming landmine of resources, though not violent ones. Green Jobs Philly is a networking site, complete with news and resources about urban agriculture and other "green initiatives in Philadelphia. The site's most recent entry informs readers that "GRID MAGAZINE’S FOOD ISSUE celebrates edible Philadelphia with articles about neighborhood gardens, Philadelphia Orchard Project, growing heirloom veggies, and a list of Earth Day events." There is also a link on the blog to information about SPIN-Farming (, which provides an imaginative approach to rethinking how spaces (especially urban to my mind) can be transformed into gardens and sources of local and healthy food.

Humans are an urban people, and our civilizations throughout history have been rooted in our cities. Therefore, the health of our civilizations is the health of our cities, and local gardening, and the reclamation of alienated spaces, to my mind, is an important component in fostering equality and mutuality in our urban communities.