Friday, December 25, 2009

Lead the Green Challenge

Happy Yule! Water in Chambers!

One of the most tangible results of our efforts has arrived. There is now a water bottle filling station in place between 116 and 121 Chambers Building in the College of Education. Use it. As one staff member wrote to me in an email, "I'm sure that countless students, faculty & staff will appreciate your efforts to bring this eco-friendly and healthy service to Chambers Building." Hear here!

Happy Yule! Merry Christmas! Happy Festivus for the rest of us!

Friday, December 18, 2009

Film competition on sustainability

The Rock Ethics Institute at Penn State has a video challenge on sustainability up. Do it!


Here’s the Challenge:

Design a short film about ethics. Focus on an ethical issue or create a film that enhances our appreciation of the importance of being ethical. Make it serious or make it funny. Script it. Shoot it. Edit it. Submit it.

Finalists will be honored at a ceremony in April 2010 during which they will be presented with a $500 award. All finalists and semi-finalists will have their entries posted on the Rock Ethics Institute’s YouTube page.

Let's rethink the social contract

Grad students and faculty at Penn State might consider this.
My first thought for 3E-COE goes something like this: We are interested in water, its use, its distribution, and how to use it to maximize human and ecological welfare. Educational institutions like Penn State relates to educational institutions state that they seek to develop ethical understandings in their future graduates so that they can be effective citizens. Does part of effective modern citizenship mean institutionalizing an understanding of the hydrologic cycle, watershed capacities, and water use? Must the social contract account for the ramifications of how we use water today?

Yes, these are nascent thoughts. Do you have any?

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Would you like some coal in your water?

Coal. It's awful. I am sitting here using a computer fueled by coal. By using the computer I am poisoning my air and water. How do I know we're poisoning our water? Earth Justice has just released a report on The Impacts on Water Quality From Placement of Coal Combustion Waste In Pennsylvania Coal Mines Ash.

At ten of the fifteen mines they examined, they found coal-ash polluted groundwater. This includes "hazardous chemicals including aluminum, chloride, iron, manganese, sulfate and toxic trace elements such as arsenic, selenium, lead, mercury, cadmium, nickel, copper, chromium, boron, molybdenum, and zinc."

Where? Look at the map included here that I ripped from the report itself. Why do I have to poison myself to get electricity?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

What youth do better than anybody

Refuse. Resist. Disrupt. Disturb.

The energy behind the climate change awareness and action movement right now is kind of electrifying. Reports, blogs, and videos are pouring out of COP15 showing that youth have marked climate change as the issue of our generation and, it seems, for generations to come. It is grounding us and elevating our ideals and goals to bring about a revolution that centralizes global human economic, social, and cultural welfare and maximizes non-human life's welfare. We are coming to see a groundswell of systems thinking, ethical awakening, and meaningful action.

And some of that action is to simply disrupt nonsense like that held by so-called climate "skeptics." What that term really means is climate change denialists, people whose entrenchment in the status quo and business as usual places blinders on them. Unfortunately, they have been so heavily funded by big polluters like ExxonMobil, the American Petroleum Institute, Americans for Prosperity, and others that they have gotten a mountain of press in the past. Their glory days have waned. Now they try to hold little counter-meetings at COP15 that deserve no attention, outright ridicule, or a nice shutdown.

Check the shutdown.

I love that Lord Monckton and these free market fighters are calling this "childish." I wonder what they've had to say about the gun-toters at the health care townhalls around the U.S. this past fall. Just a thought. And then the bit about them being "crazed Hitler youth" might be one of the mightier overstatements of all time. If you can't win an argument or aren't getting what you want, make a Nazi reference. It will either win the argument or make you look like a someone struggling desperately for any rhetorical strike. We report. You decide.

Luckily for us, the U.S. delegation is no longer owned by these denialists. Our government is no longer hiding or casting aspersions at reports like the one just released by the World Meteorological Organization saying that 2000 to 2009 was the warmest decade on record, warmer than the 1990s which were warmer than the 1980s. The report also notes other "extreme" weather events consistent with climate science's predictions including droughts, heatwaves, and the third lowest measurement of Arctic sea ice in recorded history. The EPA just released it edangerment ruling, as of yet unenforced, that CO2 and five other greenhouse gases (GHG) present dangers to human health and welfare because of their climate altering natures. It looks as though the Obama administration, unlike its predecessors from George Bush, Sr. on, will do something about the United States' unequal contribution to climate change.

Certainly, if the youth have anything to say and do about it, he will. While the youth sack denialists at Copenhagen, sack the editorial and opinion pages here, talk about it with friends and family, write to and meet with your representatives, senators, mayors, and planning commissioners, your farmers, get the picture.

Refuse. Resist. Rethink.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Why Penn State matters in understanding climate change

I think that this is a fine place to go. Our own Richard Alley.

Climate change curriculum from the William Steger Foundation

The Will Steger Foundation has a climate lesson plans for 9th-12th grade. They write:
These lesson plans build on the Will Steger Foundation’s original six lesson plans on the basics of global warming. The new lessons cover the carbon cycle, target levels for atmospheric levels of greenhouse gasses, cap and trade, carbon tax, new technologies, concerns of developed and developing countries, and how to formulate position statements. In Fall 2009, you can follow along with polar explorer Will Steger as he and a group of young people embark on Expedition Copenhagen, a mission to bring the youth voice to the international climate negotiations in December. First give your students the basic knowledge they need to follow the news coverage of the climate negotiations and the skills they need to make their opinions heard. Then send your students’ statements to the youth delegates headed to Copenhagen and follow the youth delegation’s multimedia blogs.
It is an update to the Education Resource Binder located here, a "K-12 interdisciplinary global warming curriculum [that] is experiential in nature and tied to national standards."

Youth at Copenhagen

Students and youth are among the most vocal critics of business as usual that has led to climate change. There are approximately 5000 youth who have descended on the climate conference in Copenhagen right now. And some of them are from Dickinson College in Carlisle, PA, our fellow members in the Pennsylvania Environmental Resource Consortium.

They have a blog up on what's going on called From Kyoto to Copenhagen. I'm kind of jealous.

In an earlier post they've included an email (kyoto2copenhagen at "with thoughts to pass along to conference participants, or use one of the following campaigns." Email them your thoughts on what we ought and need to do.

PASA Farming for the Future (and schooling for the future too!)

Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture has announced its 2010 Farming for the Future conference. I encourage anyone interested in sustainable and local/regional food to attend. It also provides great opportunities to meet like-minded people and learn some an array of skills from how to talk with and persuade officials to advanced cheese making.
This year's keynote speakers include Michael Reynolds, the developer of Earthship Biotecture, and journalist Lisa Hamilton.

But best of all, is "Sustainable Education: Integrating Sustainability into Your Curriculum: Matt Ray, Fernwood Public School." Cool! Listen to this report on WUVM about Ray and his students' use of a greenhouse and how it develops ecological literacy.

What the Copenhagen/bikes as a schooling tool topic brought up

Yesterday, I wrote a post on Copenhagen and bicycles. It ended with the statement:
Here's a nutty idea: maybe American school children should be given bicycles instead of laptops. Now that would be radical.
This prompted a pretty neat discussion and exposition on the costs and tradeoffs of bikes and laptops as educational tools. I'd like to share it with you because I think it serves a good educational purpose. It shows what kinds of questions we can and should be asking about our pattern of life and some of the ways that we can approach issues of ecological, economic, and social sustainability in general. And this is just about laptops and bikes and the patterns that their production and use create. [Note: Names are changed.]

Jay: Why not both [laptops and bikes]? Why does it have to be one or the other?

Me: It could be both. But I think that the world could be less damaged by bikes than laptops. But it might be an interesting life cycle comparison. Hmm...

Ron: Tough one. Clearly the materials for each come from the same sources. The laptop will use electricity. The bicycle will also use electricity and fossil fuels, in that the engine (human) will require more fuel and most of our food isn't locally produced. Our food also doesn't come in simple packaging anymore, so the garbage footprint isn't ... See Morenegligible for the bike. Most laptops come in cardboard boxes with foam packing and plastic bags. Bikes, as I understand it, generally come the same way. In terms of the pollution footprint of the individual items, the laptop has a larger variety of polluting components, but the bike has more mass. Perhaps the worst component in the computer is the battery (heavy metals), while the worst in the bike is the plastic or tires. The individual components of a laptop are not reusable whereas bikes are built and rebuilt from the components of other bikes. In other words, the computer's lifespan may require that two or even three laptops be purchased and discarded during the lifespan of an average bike. As a tool of education, the computer provides access to a world of knowledge, while the bicycle provides excellent lessons in more sustainable, happy living that in the long run may keep the person alive longer.

This one really comes down to the user of each. My laptop has primarily been used as a tool for education and work. Therefore, it is more valuable and educational to me than a bicycle. I'll also keep and use the same laptop until it kicks the bucket in likely 3 to 5 years (~10 year lifespan). Some students get laptops for recreation and require more capability as media requirements advance, shortening the viable lifetime of the laptop. These users would certainly benefit more from the bike.

The real fight here is teaching students to become more independent of automobiles in general; learning to use cars sparingly. A car, after all, contains more unrecyclable crap and uses more energy and unrenewable resources, more inefficiently than either of these two items.

Nice stuff. I think that one of the things that we'd also have to examine are the conditions of the supply chain and the conditions of material extraction and their associated ecological, social, and environmental impacts. Steel and aluminum frames are easily recycled for sure and their supply chains can be kept more or less domestic (... See Morenationally dependent of course) or regional. Tubes are now easily recycled/downcycled into other things including wallets, purses, etc. Other parts, like rubber in tires and plastic in housing are more questionable. However, the maintenance materials are shifting to more renewable materials with companies like Pedro's.
All this said, the working conditions for bike manufacture may not be ideal or equal. For example, Cannondale closed its last American factory in Bradford. It is now entirely outsourced for cheaper labor to save cost. Though the U.S. has been losing labor credibility over the last 25 years, it is still superior in many ways to Chinese/Taiwanese labor law. Treatment of workers should be examined as well in a sustainability calculation. What is being sustained by riding this bike?

Turn this to the computer and you'll find that metals in computers are mined in conditions in central Africa that are nothing shy of environmentally and socially monstrous. Additionally, a computer cannot be fixed by someone who is not specially trained. I don't mean part replacement. A person with not too much training can swap video cards. But fixing a video card? Nope. Can you learn to true a wheel? Yep. It takes little time and then some practice. Sustaining a computer is quite an industrial endeavor while sustaining a bike is not.

I'd like to see this kind of comparative analysis in a class. That would be awesome. Awesome. Then both tools can be examined and potentially justified or disqualified depending on criteria. Sweet.

Not to simplify terribly, but laptop use is pretty neutral. Sometimes nine year olds will learn about global warming when their parents deny it, sometimes nine year olds willl surf scat porn. On the other hand, using a bike is good for you mentally and physically. I gotta vote bikes.

Ron: Another thing to consider when evaluating laptops (and other techno garbage) is the amount of paper usage computers will reduce over the next 10 to 15 years. I find myself relying more and more on the web and pdf friendly journal databases for my news and the scientific articles that I utilize. While recycled paper could be used in these facets, ... See Moregenerally it isn't. In this respect, the computer may actually reduce consumer/supplier waste in the form of magazines, newspapers, advertising, and junk mail. In turn, this will reduce the amount of wood pulp harvesting and tree farming, allowing for greater preservation of (semi) natural woodland.

As for the acquisition of metals for both these products, there is no argument that the environmental and humanitarian record of producers is poor. China is currently one of the largest aluminum and rare earth metal producing countries in the world. I can tell you that these metals are also available in other geological provinces (US, Canada and Australia) where the humanitarian records are better (though not great).

It's up to the consumer to learn where the products they buy and the materials in those products originate, and choose to buy products that are more environmentally, and human friendly. Perhaps an environment- and humanity-friendly consumerism class at Penn State and other universities is the best option. A class were discussions about the environmental, economic, geopolitical, and humanitarian impacts of popular products are explored, compared and argued. A few field trips to local dumps and guest lectures from folks who explore the Texas-sized garbage island in the pacific, have felt the ramifications of industrial and precious metal and diamond fed conflict in some African countries, and the experienced the effects of outsourced labor on the unemployed US factory worker. This could be a brand new (and much needed) discipline that draws off of many other economic, scientific, and sociological disciplines. Great conversation! Sustainable Consumerism 101.

But can any -ism whose ideological purpose is to consume, be sustained? Should this course actually be named Healthy Subsistence 101? Perhaps Sustainable Consumerism is the path now to a healthy subsistence.

Hear that PSU? Sustainable Consumerism 101 or Sustainable Consumerism?

What do you think?

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Copenhagen, bicycles, and schooling

Since I posted yesterday about the water bottle ban at the Copenhagen Climate Summit, some people I know have been surprised by the encouragement to use bicycles. Copenhagen is perhaps the most bicycle-friendly city in the world. Bike City Copenhagen points out:

Copenhagen is the only city to have been awarded the UCI Bike City label. Copenhagen offers six world class cycling events between 2008 and 2011.

The UCI Bike City concept, developed by the International Cycling Union, is designed for internationally renowned cities wanting to get involved in cycling (from competition to sport for all), as an environmentally-friendly leisure sport and a gentle means of transport.

This can point to a couple of things about behavior and economics:

First, Copenhagen is not exactly a balmy place to live. - temperatures in the winter hover around freezing and still a significant portion of the Danish population rides a bike.Some people kvetch about riding in the cold. Bundle up.

Second, the exercise of getting around is good for your heart, your lungs, controlling weight (which I know from experience is hard in the winter given how much comfort foods sneak into winter diets), and it's invigorating and wakes you up in the morning.

Third, cycling takes little more time than riding in a car and probably less time than riding a bus in many places. For example, my ca. 4-mile commute from my house to my office or vice versa on my single-speed Schwinn beater bike (at right) takes about 20 minutes. The car ride at commute time is about 14 minutes. The bus takes longer than the bike ride.

Fourth, the time on the bike is nicer. I am free with my thoughts, or choose to smile at passersby, try to catch people on hills to campus, and breathe fresh air.

Fifth, it saves a lot of fuel, materials, and emissions. The bicycle is the most efficient vehicle designed by humans. It's GHG emissions reside mostly in its production and upkeep which are infinitessimal compared to every motorized vehicle. The article "Cycling and the Environment" points out, bicycling 960 miles takes the equivalent of one gallon of gas and the 70-100 bikes can be built with resources used for one car.

  • On a bicycle you take up little space, burn no gasoline and produce no waste, and A bike can travel 1,600 kilometres (960 miles) on the equivalent energy of a gallon of gas.
  • Between 70 and 100 bicycles can be built with the resources required to build one car.
  • On a bicycle you take up little space, burn no gasoline and produce no waste, and A bike can travel 1,600 kilometres (960 miles) on the equivalent energy of a gallon of gas.
  • Between 70 and 100 bicycles can be built with the resources required to build one car.
  • On a bicycle you take up little space, burn no gasoline and produce no waste, and A bike can travel 1,600 kilometres (960 miles) on the equivalent energy of a gallon of gas.
  • Between 70 and 100 bicycles can be built with the resources required to build one car.
  • Sixth, even fairly expensive bicycles are fractions of the cost of cars all around. A well-built commuting bicycle like a Redline D440 or similar bike is about $500-600. It has nine speeds, a sturdy frame, is easily upgradeable for disc breaks if you're worried about stopping power (for about another $150), and can easily have paniers, a rack, or a basket put on it so that you can carry bags and things with you. Additionally, the upkeep on a bike should be fairly minimal. Wipe your chain. Test your breaks. Keep dirt and grit out of cable housing. Get it serviced every once in a while.

    By my on-the-fly calculations, the cost of four tanks of gas right now (say 12 gallons at $3/gallon) is $108. That's enough for 4 replacement tubes, 2 tire levers, a hand pump for the road, chain lube, a multi-tool, and a tune-up. Top flight on a solid commuter bike is less than $1,000 for a machine that will last a long time for minimal upkeep cost so long as you basically take care of it. Assuming you don't try to race a commuter bike in the local state forests, you're upkeep will be a new chain and cassette every few years, wheel truing as needed (don't bomb curbs or stairs please), tire, break, cable, and housing replacements, and the like. Once again, 4 or 5 tanks of gas take you through a year. Compare that to what you have to do right now with your car and all of its upkeep and the bike is money efficient too.

    This has said nothing of reused/recycled bikes like those at our local shop Freeze Thaw Cycles. That's even better because it's extending life cycles in a big way with sturdy parts assembled by invested people. You can bring your upfront cost down by a few hundred bucks.

    But how can the Danish do this? Because their transportation infrastructure has been configured a good deal around bikes. Streets have been changed for maximum bicycle freedom and not cars and trucks. Pedestrians have more space and are less likely to be injured. Rush hour is nice to get around. Look at right. All of this enables 36% of Copenhageners to get to work or school by bike with the goal of 50% by 2015 (see here).

    And you know what? On all measures of health, wealth, and well-being, the Danish outscore almost everyone. On my new favorite index, the Happy Planet Index, Denmark has a Life Satisfaction score of 8.1 out of 10. That's higher than France, Germany, Canada, the United States, Sweden, Australia, and Japan. It's tied for happiest with Norway and Ireland. As far as I can tell, the only country that has been measured higher is Costa Rica which has an 8.5. As a side note, Costa Rica has the coolest bike race in the world, the "Ruta de los Conquistadores." Totally insane. But I digress.

    Riding a bike correlates with happiness and health. Danes are invested in being happy, healthy, invested in their communities, and invested in the health of the planet. Not just money. Methinks we have something to learn here.

    Lessons here for schools.

    Exercise? Check. Enjoy the outdoors? Check. Time for reflection? Check. Reduced ecological footprint? Check. A tool for teaching about history, math, physics, material sciences, design, engineering, maintenance, and caloric output? Big checks all around.

    I think we have a teaching tool! Here's a nutty idea: maybe American school children should be given bicycles instead of laptops. Now that would be radical.

    Monday, December 7, 2009

    No bottled water at the Copenhagen Climate Summit

    That's right. This in from Tap It.
    Organizers are trying to make the Copenhagen Climate Summit as 'green' as possible and one of the first things they targeted - bottled water. If that isn't enough to convince you the stuff is bad news, I don't know what is!

    Instead of refrigerators full of bottled water, delegates are being offered ordinary Copenhagen tap water from biodegradable corn starch cups filled from drinking fountains dotted around the Bella Center convention hall.

    They're also cutting down on transportation. There are no special buses laid on. Instead participants will be encouraged to use public transport links serving the venue. Bicycles are also available and high-level delegates are being offered limousines powered by ethanol made from organic waste.

    Copenhagen Climate Summit Opens

    After the basic failure of the climate negotiations in Bali, we have the next round now unfolding in Copenhagen, Denmark. In the coming two weeks, political leaders, ambassadors, scientists, et al will be trying to craft a global framework within which nations can address their role in the emerging climate crisis and hopefully create binding resolutions for caps on emissions.

    To get a full read on this story, you can peruse any number of sites to get different reads on this. BBC. New York Times. The Guardian. Times of India. Der Spiegel. Grist. Treehugger. DotEarth. For great ethical backdrop on why and how these negotiations consider issues of fairness, justice, and action in the face of uncertainty you can go to Climate Ethics. Climate science from climate scientists? Real Climate.

    This summit is creating an enormous and encouraging wave of political goodwill. Of course, there is an army of so-called "skeptics" out there protecting business as usual so that polluting industries and power brokers can keep polluting and ruining the livelihoods of tens of millions of people in coming years. But they are losing power and with concerted action people here and now can, in word and deed, make a difference.

    Vote on this issue and press your representation on it. Change how you use electricity, how you eat, and the way you get around. Teach for sustainability.

    As two of our members have just returned from or are currently living in Sweden, let's use a Swedish ad on climate change to get the point across.

    I'd rather have someone driving that car well.

    Thursday, December 3, 2009

    U.S. Partnership and Facing the Future: Great resources

    I've just come upon some incredible resources. If you are looking for curricula, I think I have just been shown a garden of delights. By joining up with the US Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development I have joined a listserve for k-12 sustainability education hosted by the University of Michigan. I was presented some awesome materials.

    The coolest so far comes from Facing the Future. Their leading statement at the homepage reads:
    Climate change. Population growth. Poverty. Environmental degradation. Conflict. Global health crises. Intractable global problems? We don’t think so. At Facing the Future we believe in the transformative power of widespread, systemic education to improve lives and communities, both locally and globally. Our positive, solutions-based programming is designed by and for teachers, and brings critical thinking about global issues to students in every walk of life. We work within the education system to help teachers help students achieve academic success, while preparing them to create and maintain positive, healthy, and sustainable communities. We provide curriculum resources, teacher workshops, and service learning opportunities used by teachers, schools, and districts in all 50 states and over 100 countries.
    They have a section for downloading free curriculum with some fantastic segments and activities. It includes games, reflective exercises, math instruction, and all sorts of things related to sustainability.

    Having talked with some of our group's members and lots of future teachers, the "How do you teach sustainability or ecological literacy or (insert green buzzword here) when my students are drilled and killed?" I see a lot of frustration. Will this stuff be practical? What if I don't have a school garden to work in and with? How do I use four square walls to teach about the interconnectedness of organisms?

    A lot of people have had the same worries and done something about it. They've made these resources. Use them. Model your lesson plans on these things. You don't need to reinvent the wheel. You need to use good wheels.

    Tuesday, December 1, 2009

    Roots and Shoots

    Since 1986, Jane Goodall, reknowned the world over for her pioneering scientific work with chimpanzees, has become increasingly involved in community organizing and education for the betterment of human, animal, and environmental well-being.

    In 1991, Goodall began working with teens in Tanzania to solve local ecological challenges, like deforestation. At the core of this work was the pursuit of knowledge, compassion, and action, which was manifested in problem-solving, education, and community empowerment. From this work emerged the "Roots and Shoots" program, designed to foster similar education and social action campaigns in communities across the globe. Recently, this program was implemented with students from California's Casa Grande High School to reclaim a local stream. As one part of the project, students managed a hatchery that enabled them to repopulate the stream with fish.

    "Roots and Shoots" (which can be visited here: offers resources for educators and community members who are interested in supporting similar service learning projects with the aim of ecological reclamation and community empowerment.

    I will leave you with these words from one of Jane Goodall's own poems, capturing the "peace of the forest" that so many claim that she possesses.

    "Go out, my child, go out and seek
    Your soul: the Eternal I."

    Also, check out Goodall's recent interview on Bill Moyers' "The Journal," from which the information for this posting came (