Thursday, August 21, 2008

Green Paper

Admissions asked for a draft set of talking points to work with students interested in the new Sustainability Design and Technology Program. This is my draft. It may be of interest to those few students starting or switching majors this year.

I have to say, I think we did a really good job of anticipating trends and required skills when we designed this major. Several of us were at a community meeting last night to talk about the energy crisis, and it was obvious to all of us that students who want to learn these skills will be in big demand even here in little Unity, Maine, and probably before they graduate, to do energy auditing, weatherization, and other related community assistance work.

“Elevator speech” (a two minute synopsis to use as first introduction)

“This degree program prepares students to be energy and/or climate mitigation professionals. These are job growth fields. All the new programs that you hear about in government, industry and the non-profit world where energy, sustainability, and climate change are being addressed simultaneously, are being set up and run by professionals with these general qualifications.”

Alternately, or as a follow –up:
“There are already thousands of new jobs and an immense unmet demand for qualified people, but there will be thousands more after the 2008 election. Both candidates have pledged climate action. This field is already booming, but there’s ten, twenty, a hundred times more work to do. Fixing energy problems properly will also help stem climate change.”

Three follow-up points:
1) This is the practical way to “save the planet” and possibly the only way. The energy “crisis” is not really a crisis but a scarcity of energy knowledge, and we must also stabilize the climate. There’s no alternative, other than to do this work.
2) The basic knowledge to master is energy theory, ie, physics, applied to buildings, transportation, and industrial and agricultural production. Ecology, especially human ecology is very important. Economics is key, especially cost benefit and payback analysis. Then working professionals need to know energy efficiency and renewable energy systems pretty well. Knowledge of specific detailed systems and specific applications is not that key, because systems are always changing with innovation and new science. Instead, you need to be able to “bootstrap” yourself into analysis of any new equipment or situation. And a given “situation” may in fact be more of a people problem or an accounting problem than an energy problem. These graduates are not just energy engineers, but business, government and non-profit organizers who are also applied energy and policy scientists. You’ll need to wear business clothes to work some of the time. But a lot of the time, you can be in the field doing real hands –on stuff.
3) You will need to crunch numbers, use a computer, and know how to use, and even build, technical and science equipment. You should not be afraid of grease, dirt or muck, and you should like weather. You also have to be willing to deal with business, money and accounting. You have to be idealistic but also pragmatic. If you are an absolutist and can’t compromise, this field is not for you. This is a working-within-the-system field, not a stand-outside-the-system-and-yell-at-it field.

Points of contact:
The lead professor is Dr. Mick Womersley, an environmental policy PhD who also studied economics, ecology, and aeronautical engineering (wind turbines and wind assessment!). You can read Mick’s blog at to find out about current happenings, and email him questions about any of this at Other important faculty include Dr. Kevin Spigel,, an earth scientist who has research interests in climate change, Dr. Erika Latty,, is a botanist also with interests in plant responses to climate change and has worked in climate accounting, Dr. Nancy Ross,, is an environmental and food policy expert who works with the closely-linked Agriculture, Food and Sustainability degree program. Service Learning Coordinator Jennifer Olin,, has an MS in sustainable development. Doug Fox, a landscape horticulturalist with interest in sustainability and organic gardening, is the convenor of the Unity College Center for Sustainability and Global Change where the program is housed.

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