Saturday, December 27, 2008

NYT calls for gas tax

A new New York Times editorial calls for a gas tax to keep gas prices high and stimulate innovation in vehicle fuel efficiency. It also mentions the tax on imported crude proposed by Harvard econoguru Robert Lawrence. In the same paper, another article explains how midwestern and mid-Atlantic homeowners are switching back to coal.

No mention is made of the effects on carbon dioxide emissions or climate change in the editorial, while in the business article, there is only a passing reference.

Read between the lines and this juxtaposition of articles shows an entirely different conclusion quite clearly: Americans are beginning to know that they have to wean themselves off oil, but have yet to figure out that coal is not an answer.

Brits discover rural roots via urban hens

Womerlippi farm hens: this year's Buff Orpingtons.

Here's an interesting Grauniad article about how many of my fellow countrymen and women are rediscovering the helpful hen, even in urban settings.

Following on my grandad's heels as a young tyke, I grew up partly in what I thought for many years was a long-gone world of terrace streets and allotments (community gardens), where old men like my grandfather, World War I and II veterans for the most part, practiced a Yorkshire kind of urban self-sufficiency with great efficiency and expertise. Hen coops and rabbit hutches were commonplace in the allotments. During WWII, mother kept rabbits as a young girl, while dad kept bantam hens, until he was bombed out and evacuated to the country.

Now apparently the allotments are making a comeback, and so are the urban hens.

Grandad could grow massive amounts of good food on his patch, not to mention huge quantities of cut flowers, dahlias, chrysanthemums, and the like. Flowers and veggies alike were wrapped in newspaper bundles and carried home, some distributed on the way to various folks he knew.

Growing and giving away food is a family tradition.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Preserve our Planet: National Geographic's Student Video Contest

National Geographic asked me to promote this contest among Unity Students and blog readers. It's a little early for spring semester, but I'll post reminders later, and mention it in class.

It looks like a great contest. Any Unity Student who'd like to enter can come see me for ideas. I may also allow this as a project for the Unity IDEAL Leadership seminar.

Until then, have a good holiday,


Hello Professor Womersley-

My name is Minjae Ormes and I am working with National Geographic Channel to promote the second annual "Preserve Our Planet <> " College Film and PSA Contest. I came upon the Sustainability Activities blog while researching for college students or environmental bloggers who might be interested in this news and wanted to reach out to you with further information.

Preserve Our Planet <> is about working together to preserve the environment, and this year's criteria include a new core idea - "Together We Can Make A Difference" - which students should reflect in their entry films and PSAs. In addition to the cash prize, winners will have the opportunity to screen their work at the annual meeting of the National Geographic Explorers in June 2009, and see their films broadcast nationally as part of National Geographic Channel's Earth Day events via on-air, online, and NGC On Demand, wherever available:

· For complete details, including complete details, including rules, entry forms and prize information, please visit: <> . Submissions will be accepted through December 31, 2008.

· To watch last year's winning films, please visit:
· Also, join us at the Preserve Our Planet Facebook Group to communicate with last year's winners and connect with other students who are interested in the initiative:

Finally, there will be an online voting component, where people can help determine the audience choice film. I have attached the full press release for your reference.

Thank you in advance for your time and helping us spread the word, and please let me know if you have any questions or need additional information!


Friday, December 19, 2008

The Four Freedoms Redux, or How to use cheap oil to win the world for western thought

I'm fairly conservative in some ways, indeed in lots of ways. For one, I firmly believe in western liberal democracy (using the word liberal in the old fashioned Adam Smith sense, ie, economic and social liberty). I am an unabashed occidentalist. I look around the world, and while I can admire China's stupendous recent economic achievement, or the impressive three-thousand year Persian cultural history of Iran, or the earthy simplicity of Native American spirituality, or a dozen other profound cultural and economic cultures not of the west, I don't at all wish to ape their dignities, nor live under their constraints.

Some of my friends and colleagues in academia see this trait of mine as misanthropic or even bigoted. I don't care very much about that. My defense is that I'm a bloody-minded Yorkshire Englishman, from a very long line of Ranters, Levellers, Diggers, Roundheads, Chartists, Fabians, Kinder Trespassers, and Sheffield steel small "s" socialists, the same bloody-minded so-and-so's whose thought and doughty northern ways were in my humble opinion behind every serious foreign and civil victory for liberty of thought and action in Anglo-America from Cromwell through Paine to Lincoln, and further that if you can admire a Soiux Indian or an African freedom fighter for being in touch with his cultural heritage, then you shouldn't criticize me for doing much of the same.

All I want is to see the west tread as firmly as it can the path of liberty while also supporting democracy, education, and development elsewhere in the world with as much energy as we can afford.

This leads to me occasionally siding with the right wing. For instance, I don't like Dick Cheney very much at all, but I think Natan Sharansky has a point. I don't think we'll ever see, for instance, a truly democratic Islamic state. I feel sorry for the Palestinians but feel that many of their men for generations have overly confused murder with resistance and made simplistic and ridiculous excuses for their own failures in government. My favorite world leader of all time is Winston Churchill, not Che Guevara. My favorite historians are Simon Schama and Kevin Philips, not to mention Churchill himself (although I just did), not Howard Zinn or Todd Gitlin. I admire Gandhi more for his work within the western tradition, for his doughty use of the common law he learned at the Middle Temple and the freedoms it enshrines, than for his sainted guru-ship.

It will be a good day, in my book, when we can do without gurus.

We didn't do gurus in 1960s Yorkshire, at least pre-Beatles. We did brown bread and bacon and eggs, also brown, school milk, Sheffield steel and coal, and council houses and grants for university instead.

What my grandfathers stood for.

In my worldview, it will only be when the states of Islam discover the separation of mosque and state that repression and torture will end in Iran or Pakistan or Palestine, and it will only be when China frees up business enterprise and democratic thought that that it will begin to meet my standards. While Kim Jong Il simply fills me with disgust.

And while I'm happy to read all their history and thought in order to understand them, perhaps I'm reading them more to know how to change them than to excuse them.

All this makes me a fairly strange environmentalist, although not such a strange Quaker, the example of Thomas Paine being a case in point, also Nathaniel Greene. It made my participation in Peter Brown's new book a tad strained at times, since many of the participants were more conventional liberals and socialists.

What I really want is for the deep liberty that is at the heart of the western, and particularly the Anglo-American worldview, to spread widely, including important concepts such as freedom of speech and thought, freedom of religion, economic freedoms such as the freedom to start your own business or run your own farm or firm, but most of all, freedom of conscience.

What I want is to live in a pluralistic democratic society based on debate, a free press, with a strong role for reason and science. This is neither the gated and middle-class-suspicious western community that Dick Cheney or Rush Limbaugh inhabit, where science and reason are replaced by cronyism and spin, but neither is it the soft-minded, New Agey silliness, and fake or invented community, that often pervades the liberal left. It may take a village to raise a kid, but it will take more than Hilary Clinton saying so to make a village work. It takes actually getting your hands dirty with your neighbors, doing your bit.

So when I read in the Guardian that low oil prices are putting strains on OPEC and that Iran is having trouble balancing it's budget, I want our leaders to see that this is a strategic opportunity for the west and for the liberal tradition.

What we need to do with what will likely be the last few years of relatively cheap oil, is use that as the fuel to retool industry to turn out the renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment we need to wean ourselves off OPEC's oil once and for oil. It would be a good thing if we could win this green space race that the Obama team intends us to run, but I want us to win it as much to make a planet that is run by liberal democratic countries as I want us to win it to save the planet and biological and cultural diversity.

If we were really doughty and somewhat self-sacrificing, and had excellent planning and forethought, starting with energy efficiency and moving to renewables and small scale Hyperion nukes, we could control oil price from the demand side, a reverse OPEC of the western countries plus India, and Japan, possibly even China, and never let it get above $60 again, which would be a boon to our relationships with Iran, Russia, Venezuala, and to democracy everywhere.

Now that's a strategic idea.

This is our second big chance.

Recessions spell O-P-P-O-R-T-U-N-I-T-Y to those who can think out of the box. An example would be the first New Deal and the "Good War" that replaced it as Keynesian package. Because of Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill, because of their great respect for freedom and the western tradition, when the dust had finally settled on the decades of the 1920s, 30s, and 40s, the west was undoubtedly supreme. If it had not been for Stalin, the Soviets and the western traitors that supported them, particularly Fuchs who gave them the bomb, the western project would have likely succeeded, through the United Nations and the Bretton Woods institutions, in creating the liberal democratic world I want to live in, a world where all kinds of ignorance and mind-control, from religious totalitarianism to fascist or communist totalitarianism, in fact any kind of fundamentalism at all, would have finally been on the run.

At the beginning of the Great Depression, no-one could have foretold that this is the way it would all end in 1945. Many western thinkers were throwing their hat in one or the other totalitarian ring, throwing Bill of Rights baby out with Magna Carta bathwater in their fawning admiration for dictators.

Habeus corpus? Only a few million, courtesy of Adolf, Joe, and Chairman Mao.

Now we have another recession, but we also have another opportunity to build a world that can leave Vladi Putin, Kim Il Sung, Hugo Chavez, and a host of other tinpot threats to human dignity in our dust.

A do-over. Let's not screw it up this time.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

How do you clean a 30 year old Jimmy Carter solar panel?

Good question, and one we didn't have much of an answer for until Interim Sustainability Coordinator Aaron Witham and I figured it out today.

These are the panels that were on the White House roof between 1979 and 1987, placed there at President Carter's order as a boost for his energy policy. Unity College has had them since 1993, gained through the foresight and alacrity of former UC development director Peter Marbach, who obtained them through the federal government surplus program..

We placed 16 of them on our cafeteria roof where they remain. We have more in storage.

We had the realization several years ago that they were perhaps best used for museum donations and for PR projects for boosting renewable energy and energy efficiency. We have donated one to the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library museum, loaned one to the Canadian architects' association, who sent it on a traveling display, and donated another to a museum being established by NRG Systems in Vermont, our supporters in wind assessment work.

Aaron and I were cleaning three of the stored ones prior to being shipped for another museum display soon. As you can see, they are scratched and weathered. But still usable, and clearly a major artifact in American memory despite the scratches.

We learned a little about caring for them as museum artifacts from our various loans and donations of them to other museums. But this was the first time we've been involved in the cleaning and conservation process ourselves. Aaron and I began by placing each panel on sawhorses and then gently cleaning the base. We then flipped each one and removed the rubber seal and the glass, very, very carefully, and vacuumed out the interior. We cleaned the glass both sides and then reassembled them.

After the first one taught us the various tricks, and we devised a safe and suitable technique, the rest went well. We used ordinary household cleansers, as mild as we could find that would still remove the dirt, and a good bit of ordinary elbow grease.

You can see how filthy the glass was in one of these photos.

The only serious conservation problem we found was a little corrosion around the screw holes inside the panels. Not knowing exactly what to do, I imagine that a little steel wool, followed by some of the same kind of flat black paint originally sprayed in the interior of each panel, would fix it for years to come. But that's what you would do to fix an ordinary solar panel.

What you might do about corrosion in an honest-to-goodness American presidential history artifact, we didn't know for sure. But my gut feeling was, we could clean up the surface rust with a rag and shop vac, button the whole thing up again, and wait to ask someone who does know with a fair amount of certainty that nothing terribly bad would happen in the meantime.

Which is what we did.

Still, after 30 years of not being cared for particularly well, these panels are in decent shape. A couple are broken, how we don't know. Perhaps in removal from the White House, perhaps in transit, possibly by a student experimenting. Those can be fixed by students who want a project. They won't be original, with some new parts, but they might be the ones the college keeps for itself.

Made to last, Mr. President, made to last.

Chapter 3.4 of the federal government climate science project's SAP (synthesis and assessment product) is out, the abrupt climate change chapter. These products are excellent work, and the efforts of all these agency scientists and their research university counterparts, working under an administration many of whose leaders are still hostile to climate science and indeed any kind of science, are to be lauded.

I met a few of the authors at the recent NCSE conference, and enjoyed working with them on some questions about what the essential climate education for federal land managers might be.

The SAPs gave me hope these last few years because they proved that science was still at the root of federal resource management, that there were still plenty of good science brains in the federal government, and that we would be able to pick up the pieces very quickly when the dust had finally settled on the disasterous Bush legacy on climate change.

The new report on abrupt change makes important reading because it revises the sea-level rise estimate upwards, which is good because the new estimate is high enough to begin to affect city planning and other important on-the-ground concerns (although I think the width of the estimate is still too little). And it has a prognosis for the methane feedback.

I've been amazed how many developments, even ones managed by government, there still are right on the shore. Talk about denial! I wouldn't even think about owning property below the sixty foot contour, let alone building new stuff below the ten foot one. I've seen the melting, in pictures and for myself, and I have enough imagination, and enough science, to see how easily it might accelerate.

Old King Canute is alive and well and living on America's coast, wearing rose-tinted glasses, and getting his climate news from Fox and Rush!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Holiday Shopping Helper?

I'm a lousy holiday shopper, as my partner Aimee will readily attest, one who will do anything to avoid the malls, and whose idea of haute couture is Carhartt's bib overalls, so when I was asked to review The Sunrise Guide, a Maine environmental not-for-profit coupon book, I was so gob-smacked I had to say yes, or reveal myself as a total grinch.

The book duly came in the mail. It's published by Heather Chandler Publishers, and I got nice notes from Molly Gallagher, public relations consultant for the Guide, and Heather Chandler, the president and founder of the company.

Even I had to grinchily admit it is an excellent value. It's available from various outlets, including many schools, faith organizations and non-profits, and features columns from Maine organic characters such as Russell Libbey of MOFGA right here in Unity, or Lisa Fernandez of the Portland, ME permaculture group, as well as energy saving advice from the DEP and others.

Such a deal!

Quite a bit of the book is actually an anti-consumer or at least a how-not-to-consume-as-much message. It's sponsored by Maine DEP and the State Planning Office and supports countless small charities in the state.

So why not? We're all going to spend some money this holiday season, and apart from supporting essential work in the great State o' Maine, this is also a good deal. Most folks I know have paid far more for their collection of "fifty things to do to save the planet" books.

This save-the-planet book comes with cash back! A good stocking stuffer for the shopper in your life.

Coupons abound, in the back of the book after the the fifty or so pages of self-help enviro hints, and I can't imagine anyone, except perhaps me, who couldn't get their money back in special deals. Last year's book sales raised $30,000 for good causes.

If your child doesn't bring one back from school, Boy or Girl Scouts or Sunday School, and if you don't find one at your organic grocery, you can buy one online at

What will I do with mine? Especially since I haven't actually been shopping anywhere other than my regular four suppliers, the Brooks hardware store, Home Despot, Uncle Henry's, or Reny's, in years?

Give it to herself, of course. She never reads my blog anyway, so Mr. Grinch here can tell her it was a holiday gift!

How about that for right livelihood?

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Half-time break!

With some time off coming to me now the semester is over, I have in mind to do some long-postponed sustainability projects.

The first is catching up on my sleep! This last two weeks, with the lowering of our NRG wind assessment tower, a four-day conference trip, repeated Introduction to CLE map-reading finals, numerous other final projects, I've been feeling a little "wore down" as Huck Finn might say.

And that is definitely not sustainable. Teaching is a stressful occupation, and the long breaks are needed to recharge your batteries.

Then I have some farming and homesteading to do. Regular readers will know that I keep a second blog at where my partner Aimee (also a UC professor) and I post pictures and stories from our adventures on a 15 acre homestead in the deep greenwood of Jackson, ME. My main project is building a greenhouse for Aimee for a Christmas gift, but we also have seven bred (that would be "pregnant" to you city folk) ewes to care for, and a borrowed ram to return to his own farm 60 miles away.

Lambs will arrive soon enough, so we have to pay close attention to the ewe's welfare at this time of year. They get extra feed, and we make sure their water doesn't freeze and so on. Daily chores get harder to do as the snow and cold creep on. We still have to move snow, pipe or carry water, deliver feed, and move manure and bedding, even when the thermometer reads below zero in a white-out.

But when the spring finally comes, we won't miss it. We'll be right there. We live lives that are very close to nature, and thoroughly enjoy the changing seasons on our small farm.

The next is mastering the wind assessment software world. This is an indoor job. With a year's data from two separate sites, the Mt View High School site and the Kinney Farm site, I have the opportunity to create a good wind resource report for the Knox Ridge area. Problem there is, NRG only makes software that works in IBM-clone computers, and I use a Mac. No worries, the new Macs allow the evil Windows to be loaded on a segregated hard drive. For the first time, I can dink around with NRG's products in the few hours a day when I actually have time, early in the morning in my own den. Finally, I can begin to learn how to use the software. I also will be looking to find a new community wind site for my students to put up the tower and read the wind for another year. The logistics of wind assessment are formidable, and this coming year our new site might be on a Maine island, which will be beautiful, but three times as difficult to plan out.

Not sure how I feel about having Windows on my Mac, though. I'm deliberately not connecting the Microsoft partition of the hard drive to the Internet, except via the Mac partition, so as to avoid viruses. Let's hope it works.

There are lots of smaller things I want to do, like catching up on my reading. Right now I'm reading The American Future by Simon Schama. Schama, a British jew, is an interesting combination of social liberal and political libertarian, with an eye for the intricacies of the "special relationship" that I've lived out loud the 22 years I've been in this country. The book traces the recent Obama victory (how did he get it out so fast?) back through American memory to look at the peculiar mental pathways that define the roots of American freedoms. Shades of David Hackett Fisher. whose Albion's Seed is positively my favorite work of American history.

And then there's family Christmas. Most regular readers will know that Aimee comes from a German-American Church of the Brethren backgound, and her family are located in the western PA and Shenandoah Valley homelands of the Brethren, Amish and Mennonite communities. We'll travel to the Shenandoah, where we'll go to the Christmas Eve service with her immediate family, visit the Amish and Mennonite farmer's markets, loading up on "plain" food, kitchen goods, seeds, and other products not routinely available in Maine, but useful to homesteading, and visit with her extended family in the retirement community at Bridgewater College, the Brethren-run school in the town of the same name. I always enjoy touching back in with the history of the Peace Church societies in the Shenandoah. Unity itself is an old Quaker town, founded by Quakers, who helped choose it's name. The old meeting house belongs to the college now, and I use it for storage. The new meeting house is where Aimee and I were married, the first Quaker wedding in Unity since at least 1927, with a silent meeting in the old Quaker tradition.

And now the Amish are moving to Unity, Thorndike, and surrounding parts. I met their school teacher the other day. He has the same last name as the Amish family I was friends with in western Maryland. I'm glad to see them, because they feel like home. Funny how the Peace Churches always run through my life. Even when I lived in Missoula, MT, I discovered some Amish history, specifically of their involvement in WWII firefighting for the USFS. There some Amish boys even became smokejumpers during the war, as alternative service, and I made friends with one of these characters though my work with the senior center's Friday forest outings, which I ran as part of my work for Wilderness Institute, but which were paid for through a Forest Service grant.

Peace Church history weaves itself like a thread though my life. I'am also looking forward this break to reading Peter Brown and Geoff Garver's new book on economy and environment from a Quaker perspective, which I helped organize. I think it will be an important new book, and I'm excited to see how well it sells. There will also be a number of educational meetings held to discuss the book with Peace Church communities, and I may be involved. Peter gives an interview on the book at this video site here. Plain speech.

Soon enough all this relative freedom of time will come to an end, and we'll be back at college, on the starting blocks for the race to graduation in early May. The academic year, like the fall semester, always comes to an crashing, grinding end with a big last minute rush. It's never pretty. But it does always end, for which I am always grateful, just as I am now for this upcoming month of freedom.

And a new crop of UC graduates will go out into the world, hopefully to make as much of a difference, or more, than previous generations. If you want to know how successful this college is, well, you might not know, until you go to a National Park, or National Forest, or perhaps a small rural school, or an environmental summer camp, and ask around. Pretty soon you'll find one of ours. Or two, or three.

Unity graduates are everywhere and anywhere the environment needs to be protected.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

He gets it

This is Obama's pick for Secretary of the Department of Energy? Awesome. The Lawrence Berkely Lab is a world leader in green energy, but also energy efficiency, which is the best bang for the buck in the first stages of any emissions reduction campaign. Plenty of green wonks out there would rather forget about efficiency because it's too unsexy, but I've said for years that we could probably get our emissions down 50% on efficiency alone. The $6-8 grand windows and insulation and new heat system retrofit on this old farmhouse, for instance, got emissions down 80%.

I've been using the LBL product "Home Energy Saver" for years in class and in energy audits. And the Nanosolar link is spot on.

What a great pick. And pithy too. No wishy-washy New-Agey "let's just be nice to everyone" character here.

The coal and oil dinosaurs will have a serious opponent in Dr. Chu.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Dire warnings

The Guardian is so far the only newspaper I've seen to publish these warnings in the same tone that scientists are issuing them. How many ordinary people are actually getting this message in the US or the UK?

Too late? Why scientists say we should expect the worst

As ministers and officials gather in Poznan one year ahead of the Copenhagen summit on global warming, the second part of a major series looks at the crucial issue of targets.

David Adam, The Guardian

Tuesday December 9 2008

At a high-level academic conference on global warming at Exeter University this summer, climate scientist Kevin Anderson stood before his expert audience and contemplated a strange feeling. He wanted to be wrong. Many of those in the room who knew what he was about to say felt the same. His conclusions had already caused a stir in scientific and political circles. Even committed green campaigners said the implications left them terrified.

Anderson, an expert at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at Manchester University, was about to send the gloomiest dispatch yet from the frontline of the war against climate change.

Despite the political rhetoric, the scientific warnings, the media headlines and the corporate promises, he would say, carbon emissions were soaring way out of control - far above even the bleak scenarios considered by last year's report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Stern review. The battle against dangerous climate change had been lost, and the world needed to prepare for things to get very, very bad.

"As an academic I wanted to be told that it was a very good piece of work and that the conclusions were sound," Anderson said. "But as a human being I desperately wanted someone to point out a mistake, and to tell me we had got it completely wrong."

Nobody did. The cream of the UK climate science community sat in stunned silence as Anderson pointed out that carbon emissions since 2000 have risen much faster than anyone thought possible, driven mainly by the coal-fuelled economic boom in the developing world. So much extra pollution is being pumped out, he said, that most of the climate targets debated by politicians and campaigners are fanciful at best, and "dangerously misguided" at worst.

Read more

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

DC wrap-up

Well, the NCSE Biodiversity conference is a wrap, at least as far as I'm concerned. The conference goes on for another day, but we have to get back so Aimee can help judge our own Unity College student conference, and so the students can participate.

Apart from a moment this morning where we all got unexpectedly separated for an hour or so, we've kept our troops in a loop, and all has gone more or less well logistically. The van driver even showed up so early to the Quaker guest house, I had to send him off for some lunch. Unheard of. I had put an spare hour in the schedule on the grounds that the van driver always shows up late, or that you get delayed by traffic or something. But it seems we may not need it.

Hopefully the students have learned something, if at least how much more there always is to learn, especially if you want to be a successful professional in this field, especially a scientist of policy wonk.

All of the faculty said they learned a lot.

For myself, I ran into some old friends and updated some knowledge, so I was glad for that.

I took some notes on hearing Tom Friedman of the NYT talk this morning. He was waxing quite lyrical on the notion that owning the best green technology (the best way to make to make "green electrons and green [fuel] molecules") would make America great and powerful again.

"ET," he calls it, for energy technology. As in IT, the last great wave.

OK. Good. I can go with that. Obviously, I'm all for green energy. That's why I studied ecological economics, climate change and climate policy, and why I help run a sustainability design and technology degree program. (Is this an "ET" program?)

But what are we going to do with that power?

That's what I want to know.

If we plan to spread freedom, democracy and economic security around the world, I'm all for it.

If all we want to do is get rich (again), well, sorry, but that's just sad.

Peter Brown and Geoff Garver's book Right Relationship: Building a Whole Earth Economy, is coming out soon. It contains a much more developed program that considers the developing world and the poor.

(I was on the Quaker committees that helped organize the book and I contributed some ideas and text.)

Maybe I'd better read Friedman's book, to see if he does know what he wants to do with the power he wants us to have before I judge him.

Hot, Flat and Crowded is the name of the book.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Aimee with the whole world... on her head!

This was at the Air and Space Museum. A physics display with a globe beachball floating on air.

Very cool.

A scientist's idea of a good vacation activity

Still in DC, Aimee, Alysa, and Peter and I went to the Natural History Museum.

Aimee was big on looking at and taking pictures of evolutionary and marine biology displays. I of course was interested in human ecology and climate change.

Oetzi the Iceman is a new arrival since my last visit, several years ago.

While the ice ages exhibit, based on the GISS core results, needs to be updated for the Vostok and Epica cores.

A good time was had by all.

A Policy Wonk's Dream. Or Lobbyist's Nightmare?

The transition team has followed up on one of its promises, to open up all government consulting and lobbying to the Executive Branch, and make it transparent and archived using the Internet.

K Street in your living room! Can you imagine how disgruntled Dick Cheney's old cronies in the coal and oil lobbies will be, to have so much competition?

I'd already been involved in helping prepare two or three documents to go to the team from different organizations and even a couple of journalistic sources, particularly the one from Andy Revkin's blog at the NYT, which I thought was especially good, so I was sort of expecting this, but very pleased to see it become a reality nevertheless.

Have the transition team any idea what an awesome public policy and debate teaching tool this is?

Now, how can we get our students to leave MySpace and come and read some more substantial stuff?

Here's the Big Ten's environment proposals. Any dinosaurs who still thought that climate and energy were not the priority, read chapter 1.1.

Front and center!

And here's the front page to the whole system.

Now that's what I call change!

On the road again

Three of us Unity College faculty are leading a group of students on a filed trip to DC to the NCSE Biodiversity Conference.

These are a couple of shots of events so far. The first is of student Kelli B and Professor Alysa Remsburg on the couch at William Penn House, a Quaker guest house for groups visiting town. The Penn House is very comfortable and affordable, and has saved us a lot of money on DC hotel prices, which are upwards of $200/night, even before the inauguration.

Kelli had Greek food for the fist time last night. Quoth she, "I was nervous, but when you see the menu it all looks good."

Next up is Peter K, an infrequent poster to this blog, and well known for having no worries about eating any kind of food, and Kaylee S.

That's all for now except for this big lobster we saw at the National Aquarium, over three feet long including antennae. Why come from Maine to DC to see a lobster? I don't know, but we were impressed.

More to come. Today is museum day. Monday is day one of the conference.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

And the tower comes down

Here's a sequence of shots of our project today, which made me quite tired so I don't plan to write much. But this is our 60m NRG TallTower wind assessment system coming down after having done its job at the local high school for the last year.

A lot of roughnecking for a lively crew of Unity College students and community members.

Present were students Kiera, Cody, Paul, Jennifer, and community members Steve and Joe.

We now have all the data we need to help the high school decide whether or not a medium-large scale turbine (likely a reconditioned Vestas) will pay.

Thanks to NRG, but especially Phil Pouech and Wellie Cobden for all the good training and the equipment.

We now have several students interested in learning the wind assessment business.

Monday, December 1, 2008

From Stef at the DEP

Cut Your Carbon and Save, In Our Back Yard

Climate change is a big problem—one that is going to require big solutions. But don't let the big picture make you lose sight of all the little things that each of us can do to make a big difference. Here are three easy steps that have a big impact on emissions and our wallets and that we can all take every day: not idling, taking shorter showers and turning off unused lights and electronics.

Car Idling:

Letting your car idle for five minutes every day wastes 15 gallons of gasoline per year, costs you up to $45 (at $3/gallon), and adds an extra 293 lbs. of climate-warming carbon dioxide to the air over the course of one year. It would take roughly 34 trees to absorb carbon dioxide at that same rate. Over the next 50 years, that adds up to an extra $2,250 out of your pocket and an extra 14,650 lbs of carbon dioxide into the air!

Shorter Showers:

Cutting your shower time by three minutes each day can reduce the amount of climate-warming carbon dioxide emitted by up to 715 lbs each year (assuming you have electric hot water)! That's the same amount saved by recycling 220 pounds of waste or cutting back your driving by 750 miles. It would also save approximately 5,500 gallons of fresh water and up to $73.

Turning Off/Unplugging:

Television – Remember to turn off the lights and TV when you leave a room. Leaving the TV and a pair of lights on for an hour a day wastes about $14 worth of electricity each year and adds an extra 134 pounds of carbon dioxide to the air. In terms of greenhouse gases, that's the same as burning through two and a half propane cylinders with your home barbeque.

Lights – Remembering to turn off the lights can save a lot of energy! A single 60-watt bulb left on for one hour a day will waste over $4 worth of electricity and emit an extra 43 pounds of carbon dioxide. Make that two bulbs for two hours and you are wasting almost $18 in electricity and adding over 170 pounds of carbon dioxide to the air. In terms of greenhouse gases, that's more than burning through three propane cylinders with your home barbeque.

Computer, Monitor, Printer –Turn off and unplug your computer and accessories when you're not using them. Leaving your computer, monitor, and printer on can add up to $60 to your annual electricity bill. It also sends an extra 754 pounds of climate-warming carbon dioxide into the air each year, which is equivalent to burning off 39 gallons of gasoline. You would have to grow roughly 88 trees to absorb carbon dioxide at that rate.

Although the climate change problem is big, we can all take little steps that add up to a big difference.

The information in this column was provided by SmartPower. In Our Back Yard is a weekly column of the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.