Monday, December 24, 2012

American chestnut

Wikipedia photo: Castanea dentata, the American chestnut 

The venerable Manchester Guardian, a paper my family has been involved with as readers and writers for nearly a century (and yet of which I frequently dispair -- in much the way a middle-aged child may dispair of his own parents), has done itself proud with an exceptional photo essay on the recovery of American chestnut.

It's well worth a moment of your time, if you're even in the slightest tiny bit an American conservationist:

My favorite picture is the antique one of the old growth chestnut stand.

I think it's very hard for modern folk to truly appreciate what was lost when the chestnut blight struck. You have to have some farming or homesteading experience that has included the clearing of land, the building of fences and cabins, or the use of a wood fire or wood stove, to get the real feel of this ecological disaster.

Can you imagine what it meant to the European settlers of this country to find a tree so large and so abundant, that you could split and square easily with a simple broad ax, and that would resist rot for many years even when laid close to the ground? Nearly all the settler cabins of the original frontier backcountry -- the Appalachian foothills and mountains, including Waldo County, Maine -- would have been built with American chestnut. This was a huge contribution to the economic development of the country.

Only later, when water mills became widely available for sawn pine, spruce and hemlock lumber, did the classic American clapboard house become typical. Even then chestnut fence rails and firewood would have remained valuable.

Abraham Lincoln, when he was a log splitter, would have been splitting the American chestnut.

It should be obvious that the kind of sustainability science experience developed by these chestnut conservationists and breeders may again come in handy as we deal with ash die-back in the UK, and emerald ash borer and hemlock wooly algedid in the US, among other nasty invasives.

All of course are exacerbated by climate change.

Click here to find out about Unity College's work with these last two nasties, ash borers and algedids.

I can't under-emphasize the importance of these recent developments with new invasives. Both are potentially very damaging to Maine forests and woodlots, and there are billions of dollars of value at stake.

As a "settler" and farmer, I'm very fond of both trees and use them extensively. Ash firewood is our primary heating fuel at Womerlippi Farm, most of which is cut from our own land, essentially a second-growth ash grove, while locally-sourced hemlock from Gerald Fowler's Thorndike lumber mill is the primary building lumber we use for barns and other building projects.

Losing either tree would be a massive disaster for the state of Maine, and for the Womerlippis.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

NYC on problems of class and college: for class next semester

An excellent feature article, exposing the complicated difficulties young people from low-to-middle income families face in getting through college.

A "teachable moment", this article will be required reading at the start of my section of next semester's Environmental Sustainability class.

As befits a general education course intended as something of a capstone in liberal arts and sciences learning, we'll begin with a full and intensive exposition of the purposes and goals of general education, as well as a stringent analysis of both the academy's and the students' success so far in meeting them.

Both will be found wanting.

The academy routinely fails to make the case for liberal learning, while the students routinely undervalue it, and underperform accordingly.

Yet the continuity of civilization requires it.

The evidence lies before us in the events of this past fall in America, as the country was faced with one desperate issue after another, all for public debate. How else are we to proceed, in the light of the so-called Fiscal Cliff, the Newtown massacre, or the climate change that led to Hurricane Sandy, except through liberal inquiry and learning.

The alternatives are chaos and anarchy or the development of yet another evil totalitarianism. Liberal arts and sciences inquiry is the social vaccine that prevents either disease.

How can we do better?

And how can a young person in society be taken seriously as a degree-trained leader, if that person is not willing to begin to properly develop the faculties of liberal arts and sciences inquiry?

Next semester we will attempt an "intervention," as we do each and every semester in this particular class.

Reading this article and discussing it will begin that intervention.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Green Keynesianism and green protectionism, again

Here's today's Guardian article about the new report from the IEA, which says that globally coal burning is increasing globally despite US emissions reductions due to shale gas usage.

Here's Revkin's blog today, in which Andy delivers himself yet again of the opinion that "reality-based" carbon policy cannot rely just on provisions passed by the US and other developed nations (even were we ready to pass such provisions in the US). He adds a pitch for shale gas.

He must be getting tired of repeating himself. I know I am.

Here's the link again to my article on Revkin's blog in which I outline a way to get from the current situation to a better one that actually takes into account these important geopolitical factors, rather than ignoring them or pretending they don't exist.

Here it is broken into bullet points.

  1. Climate change is a critical threat to the quality of human life the world over. It is fully a geopolitical, not a national political problem, although many if not most advocates are arguing for national-level action, such as carbon taxation or cap-and-trade. Such action will be inadequate.  Emissions will continue to rise because of economic growth in developing nations. Global action is required.
  2. Climate change is not the only geopolitical problem. There is also the problem that the democratic world (primarily the west) is threatened in multiple, large and small ways by various forms of aggressive Islamic fundamentalism, by the rise of China, a new world power that is not a democracy and has no plans to become one, and, of somewhat lesser importance, by various rogue states and dictatorships. Either of the two main threats is capable of producing a large conflict that would prevent emissions reduction goals from being reached. A serendipitous or planned combination of the smaller threats would achieve the same.  (One lesser threat from Russia that I identified at the time I first thought out this approach appears to be abating somewhat because of the growth of domestic energy supplies in the west, including shale gas.) We might collectively describe all these threats as global anti-democratic forces. This period differs from the preceding century, when totalitarianism was the greatest threat, in that a larger variety of anti-democratic forces are now apparent. (Many were there before, but not important enough to be "on our radar.")
  3. Simultaneous action to reduce emissions and strengthen democracy is therefore required. Therefore, the problem of sustaining and growing democracy has to be addressed using some reasoned global action approach at the same time we address climate change. Idealistic or utopian visions of the world order do not aid in this project. Undemocratic regimes with vast weaponry led by dictators and juntas crowd every continent except Europe and North America. Some have weapons of mass destruction. Their subjects depend on the democracies, particularly the western ones, as the only possible source of any eventual salvation. Our institutions, particularly the Internet, are often the only sources of political and/or religious freedom. The west must lead. To do so, it must clearly have a military advantage over the non-democratic states and non-state actors. The alternative is to cede ground, year after year, as more and more countries and territory fall to anti-democratic forces and/or chaos, particularly in Africa and south Asia.
  4. There's no way forward in the short term without capitalism. To the extent that any climate policy induces low or negative economic growth in the democracies, relative to economic and military growth in China, and to the growth of Islamic fundamentalism, the democracies will be weakened, as we were by the recession that began in 2007, which resulted in cuts to military expenditure in almost all the western democracies. (Our bargaining position vis-a-vis China was also weakened.) This can't be expected to have a good outcome. It would be far better to strengthen the democracies, not weaken them, at this juncture. Any theory that this can be achieved in the short term without corporate capitalism must also have a means and system to replace capitalism economically, including an understanding of how this system might be achieved through the ballot box. In the absence of such means, it hardly seems worth debating such theories. Capitalism seems therefore a necessary evil, if we are to reduce climate emissions and support democracy.
  5. Capitalist-militarist democracy is a second- or third best solution, but one we have to learn to live with. The original spread of democracy in the west was not without conflict and internal inconsistency, particularly in that a non-democratic economic system, capitalism, has been used to economically support democracy. This is particularly apparent in one of the weakest of western democratic political systems, the Anglo-American one. Horrific western betrayals of democratic ideals are easy to find in 20th century history, from Armenia (1915) to Rwanda (1994), via Yalta to My Lai. But it required two world wars and a Cold War to get us even to the level of weak democracy we have in the world right now, at great cost to western blood and treasure, and with this great internal inconsistency. No-one will benefit, and many will be harmed, if we lose all or some of what we have gained. It would be better to proceed against the climate change threat without also having to proceed against capitalism at the same time. I don't think that climate activists will help themselves by linking emissions reductions to a radical anti-capitalist agenda at this point. In fact, this just plays into the hands of the leading denialist organizations, who already argue that climate change is just a Trojan horse for socialism.
  6. Given all this we need a pro-capitalist solution to climate change that also advances democracy, provided below.

  1. Stage One: Green Keynesianism: The first stage in a concerted attempt by the democracies to gain control of this combined climate-democracy problem should be a growth-oriented, pro-capitalist climate policy, essentially a Green Keynesianism, whereby the developed western nations and important developing democratic allies (India, Brazil, others) attempt to regain economic supremacy by stimulating the economy using the inherent economic multipliers that are found in the development and deployment of domestic renewable energy systems and energy efficiency measures. This will have the secondary effect of reducing energy prices, stimulating the economy in developing countries. Domestic supplies of conventional energy may have a part to play in this process because they too have powerful inherent multipliers. They certainly can't be imagined away. We're probably going to end up using some of them, just because climate activists don't have to power to stop the process, and the result may be initial domestic emissions reductions as we replace coal with gas, and additional economic strength in the short term. Both are helpful, in a qualified sense, in the short term.
  2. Stage Two: Green Protectionism: The second stage is to spread the benefits of Green Keynesian growth to democratic developing nations, trying deliberately to isolate non-democratic regimes. At this stage some form of green free trade area within which green protectionism is practiced on the basis of compliance with carbon emissions reductions will be helpful, although there are probably other less overt, less agressive means to the same goal. The goal is to stimulate democracy and climate emissions reductions at the same. 
  3. Stage Three: Ecological Economics: Once this has been largely achieved, democracy is spreading and emissions reductions are working, a third stage is then possible, the shift to a fully ecological economics in which overall growth itself is deliberately reduced or eliminated on the basis of a more complete economic calculus, a gross national happiness or sustainable economic welfare approach. Such a stage will inevitably result in the eventual trammeling of capitalism. But by then we may not need it. (And then again, we might. But capitalism, like all other ideologies, has to prove itself by its usefulness -- a point ignored routinely by those who wish us to take capitalism's helpfulness as a matter of faith.)
  4. Stage Four: Vigilance: Even at this point, great care must be taken to prevent the rise of non-democratic regimes. The democracies must unite wherever possible. Democracy must expand wherever possible (perhaps starting with Russia, which may soon be ready to give up autocracy). The united democracies must retain a military arm that is larger than the next two or three non-democratic competitors combined. The development of global policing and conflict resolution systems must continue. 
The difficulty I have with the economics implied by the current leading climate activists is that they seem to want to jump to Stage Three without first going through Stage One and Two. The best (or worst) example is the Guardian's George Monbiot.

I think the result of such a policy would be an economically and politically weakened west, beginning as a result the slow eclipse of democracy, eventually leading to a world dominated by China, possibly at the same time tormented by fundamentalist Islamic regimes and non-state terrorists. 

The result would likely be growth in emissions, not reductions, as everything slips far out of rational control.

I know that this linked approach to climate and democracy is difficult for some of my students and even my former mentors to agree with, and many might consider it capitulation to capitalism, but I'm not your usual upper middle-class left-leaning academic. As both a Cold War veteran, and a trained historian, I tend to see the world very differently. As an engineer and technician, I'm interested in what works. As a former activist, I know how little thought often goes into radical activism.

In particular I'm very much more conscious of threats to democracy, and more aware of the military sacrifice it has taken to provide even the very inconsistent and weak democracy we have right now, than many of the contemporary thinkers are.

It should be noted that the I'm essentially on the same side as the radical climate activists. I would just argue that I've thought through the consequences of their theory before they have. This is because their theory used to be mine. I spent many years in which my academic and personal work was primarily directed towards studying and experimenting with theories of a new, post capitalistic economic order. That's why I fought for my QR 67 discharge from the British military, spent time in the Findhorn commune, helped organize the first Green Parties, learned to live off the land, became an Earth First! activist, studied the political economies of the Celtic minorities in Great Britain and the religious Peace Church minorities in the US, took a PhD under Daly and Brown, and on and on. In this thirty-year personal odyssey of the mind, I've either imagined or lived my way through many if not most of these ideas to the bitter end. All were eventual dead ends. Even those that were promising require more time than we have.

These days I've begun to see the mentality of the climate radicals as romantic barrier-storming. It seems at least possible that the protagonists see themselves as leading characters in some modern climate change version of Les Miserables. I dislike capitalism as much as the next barrier-stormer. I'd much prefer to live in one of the utopian fantasies of my youth. But the best I've been able to achieve is a small farm in Maine, and even that runs on the profit-and-loss accounting system as much as it runs on net-negative carbon production and social equity. Despite the idealism with which it's pursued, our farming is not much more, economically and theoretically speaking, than the Marxist notion of "primitive capital accumulation,"except that moderate attention happens to be paid to social and ecological accounting as well as capital accounting. You can romanticize it all you want, but all we do on the farm is add a couple of dimensions to the economic calculus and introduce an inherent tension between goals that is hard to reconcile at any point in the process. It's the political economy of climate in miniature. As the product of a thirty-year personal odyssey, I admit, it's not that impressive. But at least I understand why it is only what it is. I like to think I understand that very well indeed.

As the radicals dream and pontificate, we're beginning to see the outlines of this pro-capitalistic Green Keynesian agenda emerge in the impacts of measures already undertaken -- the current reduction in US carbon emissions, the outline of responses to California's AB 32, and so on.

Read this article on the effects of AB 32 on a tomato processing plant in California, and you'll see the emergence of the protectionist mentality that is inevitable if Green Keynesianism does turn out to be the way forward. I predict much more of this interesting thinking as we move along. And notice how easily the managers adapt to the new double-bottom line calculus -- bless them. Sensible pragmatic people that do useful and productive things in the world, even as mundane as commercial tomato-processing, are beginning to realize they have to reduce emissions, and are now trying to find a way to process tomatoes with less carbon. We have to reward this behavior, not punish it by screaming aloud that it's not enough.

We'll see how well we do in all this, won't we, if we manage to come out of the other side of this century of climate change with any kind of democracy intact and flourishing.

We live in interesting times.

Author's Note: Since this essay has begun circulating on the Internet, I've improved on it here and there. Please bookmark this page and check back often to get the latest version as my ideas improve and develop.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Learning to negotiate again

The term is over, but lessons don't end. We were talking in Ec & Quant about negotiation and how having a good BATNA (best alternative to a negotiated agreement) makes for a strong negotiating position.

The President has a pretty good BATNA now in the congressional "hammers and sunsets" represented by the so-called "Fiscal Cliff." Which means the other side now has to negotiate, because their BATNA is much worse for them. In fact, they don't really have one. The Fiscal Cliff is way more of a cliff for the Republicans and their constituencies than it is for the Democrats and theirs.

Negotiation theory would predict a Democratic-leaning result, when one side holds so many of the cards. The result should be neutral or slightly stimulating for the economy, and the recovery should continue.

This is an interesting process to watch, for those of us interested in macro and/or negotiation.

As a result, the papers are full of macroeconomic analysis, some of it leaning conservative, some of it leaning liberal.

How hard is it for the parties to learn to negotiate again when protagonists have been stone-walling and demagoguing each other for so long?

I guess we'll find out before the New Year.

Addendum (Weds 19th):

Here is what may be John Beohner's attempt to formulate a better BATNA.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Wee mousies

Discovered in my NRG Systems anemometer logger box after raising the campus anemometer tower today: Two deer mice, all set for the winter (mice are on top of the blue logger unit -- click to enlarge).

Poor mice. But they had to be evicted. Students will use this equipment from time to time, and mice carry diseases.

From Robert Burns,

To a Mouse on Turning her Nest up with the Plough
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle.

I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!

I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't.

Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!

Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.

That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld.

But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!

Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!

And for those who don't read Scots:

Standard English translation 
from the Scots dialect
Wee, sleekit, cow'rin, tim'rous beastie,
O, what a panic's in thy breastie!
Thou need na start awa sae hasty
Wi bickering brattle!
I wad be laith to rin an' chase thee,
Wi' murdering pattle.
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
An' justifies that ill opinion
Which makes thee startle
At me, thy poor, earth born companion
An' fellow mortal!
I doubt na, whyles, but thou may thieve;
What then? poor beastie, thou maun live!
A daimen icker in a thrave
'S a sma' request;
I'll get a blessin wi' the lave,
An' never miss't.
Thy wee-bit housie, too, in ruin!
It's silly wa's the win's are strewin!
An' naething, now, to big a new ane,
O' foggage green!
An' bleak December's win's ensuin,
Baith snell an' keen!
Thou saw the fields laid bare an' waste,
An' weary winter comin fast,
An' cozie here, beneath the blast,
Thou thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel coulter past
Out thro' thy cell.
That wee bit heap o' leaves an' stibble,
Has cost thee monie a weary nibble!
Now thou's turned out, for a' thy trouble,
But house or hald,
To thole the winter's sleety dribble,
An' cranreuch cauld.
But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,
An' lea'e us nought but grief an' pain,
For promis'd joy!
Still thou are blest, compared wi' me!
The present only toucheth thee:
But och! I backward cast my e'e,
On prospects drear!
An' forward, tho' I canna see,
I guess an' fear!
Small, crafty, cowering, timorous little beast,
O, what a panic is in your little breast!
You need not start away so hasty
With argumentative chatter!
I would be loath to run and chase you,
With murdering plough-staff.
I'm truly sorry man's dominion
Has broken Nature's social union,
And justifies that ill opinion
Which makes you startle
At me, your poor, earth born companion
And fellow mortal!
I doubt not, sometimes, but you may steal;
What then? Poor little beast, you must live!
An odd ear in twenty-four sheaves
Is a small request;
I will get a blessing with what is left,
And never miss it.
Your small house, too, in ruin!
Its feeble walls the winds are scattering!
And nothing now, to build a new one,
Of coarse grass green!
And bleak December's winds coming,
Both bitter and keen!
You saw the fields laid bare and wasted,
And weary winter coming fast,
And cozy here, beneath the blast,
You thought to dwell,
Till crash! the cruel plough passed
Out through your cell.
That small bit heap of leaves and stubble,
Has cost you many a weary nibble!
Now you are turned out, for all your trouble,
Without house or holding,
To endure the winter's sleety dribble,
And hoar-frost cold.
But little Mouse, you are not alone,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often awry,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!
Still you are blest, compared with me!
The present only touches you:
But oh! I backward cast my eye,
On prospects dreary!
And forward, though I cannot see,
I guess and fear!

Monday, December 10, 2012

Final Exam schedule

For all Prof. Womersley's classes except Physics I Lab.

All exams will be in the original classroom

Core III: Environmental Sustainability, afternoon section: 
Monday 2.00-3.15 pm
Friday 2.00-3.30 pm

Core III: Environmental Sustainability, evening section:
Tuesday 6.00-8.00 pm
Thursday 4.00-5.30 pm

Economic and Quantitative Analysis:
Friday 7.30-9.00 am

LRC exams by appointment
Switching times for a Core III exam between sections: By consent of instructor 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Grad school funding for sustainability scientist

I thought these research assistantship bulletins interesting enough to re-post, although they're for PhD slots, not master's degrees, and very few students from any college or university are interested enough or ready to go straight on to a PhD from their BS or BA.

(Just in case you didn't know, you can do this, although you have to be very much more certain of your path in life, as it's very hard to get through the four-to eight years of study required, and there are few rewards for only getting half-way!)

The main thing that caught my attention was the emphasis on qualitative research within a social science study of renewable energy implementation. This is, it seems to me, a good example of the rapidly-evolving "sustainability science" paradigm.

When I was at the policy school (UMD), and earlier at the forestry school (UMT), I had to struggle fairly mightily against the bureaucracy and some of the narrower-minded faculty to use the methods I wanted to use, the qualitative social sciences, ethnography, oral history, and regional historiography. There has always been a place in policy studies for history, so my difficulties at the policy school were less than at the forestry school, but nevertheless there were difficulties. Much of the problem stemmed from the statistical and computer revolution in the 1960s and 1970s in the social sciences, which led to a split between the quantitative and qualitative methods, and their practitioners. This split began to heal in the 1980s, but was still fairly sore in the mid-1990s when I was in graduate school.

Stories were still told from the earlier decades of fractious meetings and punch-ups in the corridors. That's how bad it was, apparently, and the reason that the very positivist, quantitative departments at the forestry school and policy school were still somewhat unfamiliar with the approach and the methods even in 1996 and 1999, respectively.

Now, it seems, all this has been put behind us, especially in sustainability science.

I was naturally inclined towards the qualitative methods because of earlier life experiences. In the military, as a junior leader in aircraft maintenance and as a rescue party leader, I began to realize that good leadership depends on knowing the people around you very well, and the way you get to know them best is by listening to them and observing body language and actions. Later, as an environmental activist, I realized that many of the environmental mistakes our leaders were making were much to do with their own ignorance about both nature and about people, almost a kind of willful ignorance, whereby very smart people do very stupid things because they don't really understand the systems they are working with, and they refuse to do the work of learning those systems well enough, because they think that they're too good for this very humbling task of listening.

History is full of examples.

The qualitative social sciences are about learning to listen and perceive as well, and as scientifically, as you can. I would argue that if you're going to work with human social systems at all, you need to develop this skill set before you develop the more quantitative techniques, primarily because without this skill set you can't be sure that you're doing quantification on a properly described system, and so you may choose the wrong metrics or measures.


PhD Position for Human Dimensions of Biofuels Development in the Northeastern U.S. 
SUNY ESF Environment Natural Resources Policy PhD Program   

A three year PhD research assistantship and tuition is available for a USDA funded interdisciplinary study, the Northeast Woody/Warm-season Biomass Consortium (NEWBio), which is focused on building sustainable value chains for biomass energy in the Northeastern US.  The student at SUNY ESF will enroll in the Environment and Natural Resources Policy PhD program, an interdepartmental program that combines social science, biophysical science and policy analysis.  The assistant for this project will be involved in data collection and analysis related to the human factors and barriers to regional development of the bioenergy in NY and PA.  The assistant will work with faculty at ESF and social scientists at several other universities in the region (NY, Pennsylvania, West Virginia) to identify and describe the knowledge, attitudes, risk perceptions, ownership motivations and behaviors of local landowners, as well as determine perceived barriers and willingness to engage in production; test the effectiveness of communication techniques in encouraging landowners to participate in the market; and evaluate opportunities and challenges for consolidating bioenergy crop management across multiple land parcels.

Desired skills are qualitative research methods (interviewing, ethnographic and document analysis) and survey research.  Interest and background in social and political dimensions of land use change, biomass energy development, public participation in environmental decision making, political ecology, or sociology of agriculture and food systems, would be valued.   Statistical and GIS skills are also desired.  The student will be expected to develop their own dissertation research projects within the larger project and will have an opportunity to do field research in the region. 

The College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY-ESF, is a doctoral granting university with a high level of research. With a total enrollment of about 1,700 undergraduates and 600 graduate students, ESF provides an intimate small-college atmosphere while hosting several graduate programs.  SUNY-ESF and Syracuse University (SU) have adjacent campuses. ESF students have access to all SU libraries and other facilities.  Graduate students have the opportunity to pursue several concurrent degrees with SU.   See ESF at a glance for more information: 

Syracuse is a mid-sized city centrally located in the state. Re-emerging from its industrial past, the city promotes a growing green technology sector, strong health care and higher educational systems, and is a leader in urban green infrastructure. The region possesses numerous physical, cultural and recreational amenities that make it a stimulating place to live.   The Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers, Finger Lakes, Erie Canal and Great Lakes regions, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal are all within easy travel distances.

To apply please submit application, including GRE scores, statement of interest and qualifications for the position, and 3 letters of reference, send under separate cover. Send applications to 

Applications are due January 15, 2013.

For more information about the position and the project, please contact:

Dr. Theresa Selfa
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Studies
106 Marshall Hall
Syracuse, NY 13210-2787
Tel: 315-470-6570; E-mail:

PhD Position for Social Impacts of Biofuels Development in Latin America 
SUNY ESF Environment and Natural Resources Policy PhD Program

A three year PhD research assistantship and tuition is available for a NSF funded interdisciplinary study on Sustainability, Ecosystem Services, and Bioenergy Development across the Americas.  The student at SUNY-ESF will enroll in the Environment and Natural Resources Policy PhD program, an interdepartmental program that combines social science, biophysical science and policy analysis.  The assistant for this project will be involved in data collection and analysis related to the social impacts of bioenergy development in communities near forested regions undergoing land use change to bioenergy crops in Brazil and Argentina.  The assistant will have the opportunity to collaborate on data collection with faculty and graduate students from several universities across the U.S, Brazil, Mexico, Canada, and Argentina.  Desired skills are qualitative research methods (interviewing, ethnographic and document analysis) and survey research.  Interest and background in social and political dimensions of land use change, biomass energy development, certification systems for biofuels sustainability, political ecology, or sociology of agriculture and food systems, would be valued.   Statistical and GIS skills and proficiency in Spanish and/or Portuguese are highly desired.  The student will be expected to develop their own dissertation research projects within the larger project and will have an opportunity to do field research in Brazil and/or Argentina. 
The College of Environmental Science and Forestry, SUNY-ESF, is a doctoral granting university with a high level of research. With a total enrollment of about 1,700 undergraduates and 600 graduate students, ESF provides an intimate small-college atmosphere while hosting several graduate programs.  SUNY-ESF and Syracuse University (SU) have adjacent campuses. ESF students have access to all SU libraries and other facilities.  Graduate students have the opportunity to pursue several concurrent degrees with SU.   See ESF at a glance for more information: 
Syracuse is a mid-sized city centrally located in the state. Re-emerging from its industrial past, the city promotes a growing green technology sector, strong health care and higher educational systems, and is a leader in urban green infrastructure. The region possesses numerous physical, cultural and recreational amenities that make it a stimulating place to live.   The Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, St. Lawrence and Hudson Rivers, Finger Lakes, Erie Canal and Great Lakes regions, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal are all within easy travel distances.
To apply please send GRE scores, statement of interest and qualifications for the position, and 3 letters of reference under separate cover. Send applications to  Applications are due January 15, 2013.

For more information about the position and the project, please contact:

Dr. Theresa Selfa
Associate Professor, Department of Environmental Studies
106 Marshall Hall
Syracuse, NY 13210-2787
Tel: 315-470-6570; E-mail:

Sears Island video from Eli

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fracking export boom possible

We discussed hydraulic fracturing or "fracking" at some length in this semester's Environmental Sustainability sections. Students were generally not in favor, or at least highly questioning, especially those from the states of Pennsylvania and New York. I think this is an appropriate approach.

But fracking isn't all bad. It's only partly bad. How bad it is depends on the alternatives. It's better, for instance, than coal.

The technique, which is causing a natural gas boom in the US and increasing jobs in both the energy and manufacturing industries -- cheap energy luring manufacturing jobs back from the east for the first time in a generation -- has probably helped reduce current carbon emissions, but fugitive methane natural gas operations may be partly or wholly cancelling out that benefit.

Geopolitically, fracking is weakening the Russian "mafia state." The price of gas on world markets is still high, but markets are beginning to realize that there is an alternative in the form of US and European gas, and so are adjusting, reducing the power of the Kremlin.

Now there's a proposal to export US gas to Europe.

Again, there are mixed costs and benefits: US gas prices will go up, reducing the growth effects in manufacturing industry. European prices will go down, benefiting European consumers. The Russians will be additionally weakened, disallowing the nasty games they've played in recent winters where they held European countries hostage to gas supplies. Climate emissions from coal in Europe will go down to begin, but may increase again later if growth continues. Fugitive emissions and environmental damage in the US will go up.

The heart of a policy analysis education, and the heart of critical thinking in the liberal arts, is training to frame decisions in circumstances where there isn't one good answer.

Ideally, I'd like to see us move very much more aggressively on renewable energy and energy efficiency. And I think it will be cheaper in the long run to do so. Fossil fuel is a dead-end.

And I want to see Russia and China democratize. I think this is essential to the future of the planet, and without it there's no hope for a long-term climate solution. The Russian and the Chinese kleptocracies will continue to use the dirtiest of fuels for as long as they can, to line their own pockets, unless their own people stop them by getting rid of them or unless the west can gain the upper hand diplomatically and economically and keep it.

In the event that I can't get all I want, I may be able to get some of what I want.

If we control fugitive emissions and local environmental damage, fracking may give the west the political power we need to force a long term settlement over both climate and global democracy.

Of course, a massive immediate investment on renewable energy and energy efficiency would have much the same effect.

I'd prefer this solution over fracking.

But I never get all of what I want.

More Green Keynesianism

More evidence for the "Green Keynesian" macroeconomic proposition that the fiscal multiplier associated with renewable energy and energy efficiency is greater than that for fossil fuels, while the externalities are much less. New numbers shows the UK's renewable energy and energy efficiency sector is doing very well despite the Coalition Government's best efforts to trammel it.

Remember, even green growth cannot continue forever on a finite planet, so eventually we will need an ecological macroeconomics, rather than mere addenda to Keynes, but my contention that this process, which is desirable but which will inevitably weaken the western world economically, militarily, and diplomatically, can only happen after threats to democracy are dealt with hasn't encountered a credible counter-argument yet.

What I notice, though, is that many commentators and eco-pundits muddle their economic prescriptions, calling on the one hand for a very aggressive trammeling of corporate growth and hegemony across the board, while lauding the green economy on the other, despite the fact that corporations are involved. At least, that's what I seem to get out of some of the editorials and books, I've read lately, McKibbon and Speth being the two prime examples.

I guess our corporations are OK. It's the other ones that are bad.

Four legs good, two legs bad.

Actually, probably the clearest example is Monbiot's latest Gruaniad jeremiad.

Mr. Monbiot, who lives in my grandmother's home town of Machynthlleth in west Wales, has always taken a hard but consistent line on capitalism and neo-liberalism. I'm not unsympathetic, and I do think you can have it both ways, much as the Scandinavians have done, especially Danes and Norwegians.

But the revision of property rights and economic rights that would be required for a serious revision of American capitalism is probably not good politics right now and for the foreseeable. We can barely manage health care reform that favors a capitalistic health care industry, let alone a government-run system of national health care. In particular, the education requirements needed before the American electorate began to think ecological economics was good politics would be rather great.

So pragmatically, much of this is the same kind of utopianism we saw in early ecological economics and the green movement from the 1970s on.

There's nothing wrong with having a utopian ideal as a touchstone. It's good to know what you'd like the world to look like if everything fell into place. And there's great value in calling into question our weak-minded thinking regarding the multiple, overlapping, systemic failings of capitalism. All this has value. Monbiot says we have neoliberal dogma, and he's right. I don't believe there's any reason to imagine that a corporate world is a natural state of affairs, any more than there was reason to imagine that absolute monarchy or mercantilism were. We could do better. Perhaps much better.

But I don't think we can do better in time, and that's the point.

We need a climate policy that can be enacted in five years, ten at the most. We're not going to be storming the barricades. The ocean is going to be storming our barricades!

And we need to see much greater growth of human rights and democracy around the world before the west decides to shrink economically and militarily.

So we're probably stuck with green Keynesianism for now. I for one just want to get on and enact as much of it as we can.

It's our BATNA. And it seems to be working.

But too slowly.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Nick Stern on developing countres' responsibilities

According to my morning Guardian, my favorite and most formidable policy wonk, Lord Stern, has apparently released a new report on why basic math precludes developing countries, particularly India and China, from continuing to evade responsibility for climate emissions reductions.

(Backgrounder: The Stern Review of 2006 continues to be the keystone text for those interested in a more or less conventional economic approach to climate change policy -- something that doesn't require barricade-storming or other unlikely revolutionary activity on the part of the world's people, especially middle-class people that have the vote. He left the UK Government after the election a couple years ago, and became a professor at the London School of Economics and head of a major UK climate change think-tank, the Grantham Institute.)

Of course, when I wanted to read this report over my morning coffee, the miserable Grauniad couldn't provide me with a link.

Is it just me, or are their standards slipping in their attempt to become the world's leading liberal intellectual newspaper -- lots of typos lately.

But then neither could the Grantham Institute. I'll try to find it later today.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Living the life on the high ice ...

Tim Godaire learns a useful science skill: High angle rescue. (The snow, ice and crevasse version of high angle rescue is a required skill for glaciological fieldwork.)

One advantage of becoming a climate scientist in today's changing world is that you're likely to travel and camp out. The greatest changes are taking place in the high latitude areas of the northern and southern hemispheres, so that is where many young scientists are heading.

I was lucky enough to do quite a bit of this kind of thing when I was a young serviceman, mostly because there was an interchange between the RAF Mountain Rescue system and science and science training organizations. The science organizations used MR "troops" for rescue and logistical services on the ice, and as leaders for expeditionary training.

Some of us volunteered for the British Antarctic Survey, and could be seconded to that organization for a year or more. For my part, I worked with science training organizations such as the annual NORPED expedition to Norway's ice caps, or the British Exploring Society, essentially a science training and youth expeditionary arm of the UK's Royal Geographical Society. I spent time on ice caps in Norway and Iceland and thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

I'm thinking about this now because of our recent graduates, Tim Godaire, now at UMaine's Climate Change Institute, arrived for a visit with the news that he would soon be heading to Alaska for some training work, then possibly to Greenland the following year.

I was over the moon to hear that he would make it to the high latitude country so quickly.

Here's a study in pictures of the BAS's current work at Lake Ellsworth in Antarctica, which has been in the news lately because of the discovery of specialized bacteria in the waters of the frozen lake.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Siting issues

More evidence to support my contention that there are perfectly respectable local environmental concerns regarding the siting of just about any industrial energy plant, even renewable ones.

The first is a nuanced and intelligent summary of the state of play in the UK wind power industry from today's Guardian, the immediate occasion for which stems from a nice community-based turbine project of the sort I've been advocating for years:

The second is the planning battle in Waldo County's own Searsport, which we've been following for many years since a major LNG terminal was first proposed, then rejected. The latest development is a propane storage tank of significant scale, not quite the level of the formerly proposed LNG system, but a major imposition nevertheless. The controversy continues, exacerbated by some bad decisions. On Facebook recently we saw evidence of some questionable behavior by local Searsport police at the public hearing -- they removed an elderly man who did not seem to be doing anything wrong. I would hope the city government investigates carefully, to make sure they don't have a policing problem.

Since my computer died and so we haven't had chance to go into much of this material in class, for those of you who didn't know, LNG or liquid natural gas is different from LPG or liquid petroleum gas, the most common commercial variant of which in the US is propane. Natural gas is found by drilling for gas and increasingly from fracking, or hydraulic fracturing technique, and may then be liquified for shipping, although most natural gas used in the US is delivered in gaseous form via pipeline. Propane is a petroleum distillate and comes from "cracking" or fractional distillation of crude oil and natural gas, not often directly from fracking. It is nearly always liquified for convenient shipping. There is quite a bit of confusion of these issues in the public mind, since "cracking" and "fractional distillation" and "hydraulic fracking" and even LPG and LNG are all easily confused terms. The differences do need to be carefully teased out for policy purposes. You can't regulate both fuels using identical techniques, short of an outright ban, because they are such different materials. An outright ban would require serious reworking of our political system to achieve, requiring us to question basic assumptions about capitalism and economic and property rights, assumptions I'd like to see questioned, but that are very unlikely to be so questioned politically in the US for years or even decades to come. Additionally, propane is an important fuel in rural areas, while gas is more important in the cities, so there are geographical complexities.

Neither one is good for the planet's climate, except in the cases that they are used a) to replace coal, or b) to back up intermittent supplies of wind or solar power, in which case they do make a contribution, although this too has to be considered carefully. US climate emissions are down in recent years primarily because of the cheap supply of natural gas, some from fracking wells, and this drop can no longer be ascribed primarily to the recession, which is very good news. But there are concerns over the environmental impact of the gas wells, and methane leakage from natural gas production and distribution systems may be a significant contribution to climate altering tropospheric methane, so we may not be doing any good, or at least as much good as we think we are.

I've been in the business of studying climate and energy for a long time and I think I know the science and economics well enough to say there are no easy answers here. The safety issues and climate benefits of fracking wells are both highly questionable. I'd love to be able to do without. I'd also like to be able to do without propane.

But we're going to need very much more aggressive energy efficiency and renewable energy development to do so, and so we''ll need to site more wind turbines, build more transmissions lines, put up more solar panels, switch out more inefficient appliances, and insulate more homes.

None of which, especially the wind turbines and transmission lines, is likely to be particularly popular either. I've been to a lot of planning board meetings and public hearings now for wind power development in Maine, and it isn't much fun to attend these things, even as the scientist with the white hat. You get yelled at fairly easily. Rationality does not prevail. There's a lot of complexity involved in wind turbine siting too.

The upshot is, nobody wants any kind of energy facility in their backyard.

In other words, NIMBY's are ubiquitous, and so we need a sensible system of national and state-level prioritization and planning for energy development.

It needs to start with very much more aggressive measures in energy efficiency and renewable energy development. That isn't an easy answer, but it's at least a good answer, based on the science and economics.

Which is why, I suppose, when we first began to think about all these problems many years ago, we put renewable energy, energy efficiency and climate change education in the curriculum for every Unity College student, regardless of major, and we built a Sustainable Energy Management program that has been fairly successful at training students in these issues at the level of professionality and complexity required.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Modeling the Dreamers

For no good reason, other than the fact I'm an immigrant myself, the students in Economics and Quantitative Analysis (now studying systems modeling using the Stella ® software package) were assigned to make a model of US population that simulated the effects of the Dream Act.

Then an article on the same appeared on page one of the New York Times, today's main headline.

I must be psychic.

The number of so called "dreamers," immigrants who qualify under the act's provisions, is up to 310,000, according to the article so far. Which is good, at least from our point of view, because an earlier piece we read said there wouldn't be very many of them.

We need numbers that are big enough to make the assignment interesting.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Editorial from Hansen

(This well-linked editorial appeared in my Guardian this morning. I stole the whole text rather than providing a link because I think more of my students will read it that way.)

Climate change is happening now – a carbon price must follow

The extreme weather events of 2012 are what we have been warning of for 25 years, but the answer is plain to see

Will our short attention span be the end of us? Just a month after the second "storm of a century" in two years, the media moves on to the latest scandal with barely a retrospective glance at the implications of the extreme climate anomalies we have seen.

Hurricane Sandy was not just a storm. It was a stark illustration of the power that climate change can deliver – today – to our doorsteps.

Ask the homeowners along the New Jersey and New York shores still homeless. Ask the local governments struggling weeks later to turn on power to their cold, darkened towns and cities. Ask the entire north-east coast, reeling from a catastrophe whose cost is estimated at $50bn and rising. (I am not brave enough to ask those who've lost husbands or wives, children or grandparents).
I bring up these facts sadly, as one who has urged us to heed the scientific evidence on climate change for the past 25 years. The science is clear: climate change is here, now.

Superstorm Sandy is not the first storm, and certainly won't be the last. Still, it is hard for us as individual human beings to connect the dots. That's where observation, data and scientific analysis help us see.

No credible scientist disputes that we have warmed our climate by almost 1.5C over land areas in the past century, most of that in the past 30 years.

As my colleagues and I demonstrated in a peer-reviewed study published this summer, climate extremes are already occurring much more frequently in the world we have warmed through our reliance on fossil fuels.

Our analysis showed that extreme summer heat anomalies used to be infrequent: covering only 0.1-0.2% of the globe in any given summer during the base period of our study, from 1951 to 1980. During the past decade, as the average global temperature rose, such extremes have covered 10% of the land.

Extreme temperatures deliver more than heat.

The water cycle is especially sensitive to rising temperatures. Increased heat speeds up evaporation, causing more extreme droughts, like the $5bn (and counting) drought in Texas and Oklahoma. It is linked to an expanding wildfire season and an increase by several fold in the frequency of large fires in the American west.

The heat also leads to more extreme sea surface temperatures – a key culprit behind Sandy's devastating force. The latent heat in atmospheric water vapour is the fuel that powers tornadoes, thunderstorms, and hurricanes. Stepping up evaporation with warmer temperatures is like stepping on the gas: More energy-rich vapour condenses into water drops, releasing more latent heat as it does so, causing more powerful storms, increased rainfall and more extreme flooding. This is not a matter of belief. This is high-school science class.

The chances of getting a late October hurricane in New York without the help of global warming are extremely small. In that sense, you can blame Sandy on global warming. Sandy was the strongest recorded storm, measured by barometric pressure, to make landfall north of Cape Hatteras, eclipsing the hurricane of 1938.

But this fixation on determining the blame for a particular storm, or disputing the causal link between climate change and this or that storm, is misguided.

A better path forward means listening to the growing chorus – Sandy, extreme droughts and wildfires, intense rainstorms, record-breaking melting of Arctic sea ice – and taking action. Think of it like taking out an insurance policy for the planet.

We can fix this. The answer is a price on carbon. We must make the price of fossil fuels honest, reflecting their cost to society including the economic devastation wrought by storms like Sandy, the toll on farmland and ecosystems, as well as priceless human lives.

Whether that price takes the shape of a carbon tax, as some in Washington are now willing to discuss, or a carbon fee, as I have advocated, a price on carbon lets the market find the most effective ways to phase out our reliance on fossil fuels. It also moves us to a sustainable energy future where energy choices are made by individuals and communities, not by Washington mandates and lobbyists.
A carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, will increase consumer costs. So the money that is collected should be distributed to the public. As people try to minimise their energy costs to keep money for other things, their actions will stimulate the economy, drive innovations and transition us away from fossil fuels.

If we make our demand for action clear enough, I am optimistic that our leaders in Washington can look beyond the short-term challenges of today to see the looming, long-term threats ahead, and the answer that is right in front of them. We can't simply allow the next news cycle to distract us from the real task ahead.

Back in the 1980s, I introduced the concept of "climate dice" to make clear the difference between natural variability and climate-change driven extremes. As I predicted, the climate dice in the 21st century are now "loaded". It's not just bad luck Sandy pummelled America's coasts, extreme drought devastated its midlands and wildfires scorched its mountains.

We loaded the dice. We changed our climate.

• James E Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New AAT datum updates L & R (for class)

The new average annual temperature number is in, or at least a preview of it, since we poor muddling humans still have to live through the month of December, 2012. The new datum is estimated to be 14.45 degrees Celsius (absolute) or (as published in this article here) about 0.42 degrees Celsius above the 1961-1980 average.

In our Lean and Rind climate modeling exercise, AAT was pegged to the 1951-1980 average, which is a slightly lower baseline number than the 1961-1980 one. Without going back to the data set and recalculating, I might guess that the L & R number for 2012 will end up at about 0.44 or 0.45 degrees Celsius.

In the article they cite both La Niña and anthropogenic sulfate aerosols as reasons for the cooling, both of which are included in the L & R independent variables. If you remember, La Niña is the cool variant of the ENSO cycle, while anthropogenic sulfate, primarily from coal, is one of the eight Hansen et al 2007 variables included in our index of anthropogenic effects.

A hint (A big hint!): This article would make a great final exam question. I might take the article, or a paraphrase thereof, and ask you to interpret the results using the L & R framework for decadal scale change.

Or I might give you the 2012 L & R parameters (ENSO, VOLC, SOLAR, and ANTH) and the L & R 2009 multiple regression equation, ask you to calculate the expected 2012 AAT, compare to the actual, and explain the difference, if any.

Hmmm. Choices, choices.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Environmental Sustainability Quantitative Analysis Homework

You may do one of the two options below. In either case, your work is due by close of business (5pm if by email, and by 3pm if in hard copy), on the last day of the Final Exam period, Friday 14th December, 2012.

Option 1) Do the Home Energy Saver online.
  1. Find the HES at
  2. Using your own home or a home you are familiar with (student rental, home of a friend), enter the required data
  3. Study your results. Write short report summarizing these results. 
  4. Hand in your report plus the main results page (this is the one with the horizontal histogram showing the cost analysis of different efficiency measures) A screen capture or printout is best.
Option 2) Do the Ecological Modeling Homework. The instructions are at

Sustainability intern needed

Here's a great paid internship tailor-made for an SEM/Sustech student:
Sustainability Intern - Portland, Maine - November 16, 201
Thornton Tomasetti’s Corporate Sustainability practice is seeking a Sustainability Intern to act as our “Carbon Master”; they will conduct carbon footprint analyses for the company’s 26 offices and will also assist with reporting the embodied carbon of the company’s structural engineering projects. This position is located in the vibrant Old Port of Portland, Maine and may involve travel.
Our program sets sustainability goals for practices and operations, manages the implementation, measures the progress, and publicly reports on what we are doing; these data inventories will be used to evaluate success at meeting the company’s sustainable office operations and practice goals.

• Responsible for researching key performance indicators to measure office sustainability performance.
• Gather data on sustainability indicators such as energy use, water use, and miles traveled from the Portland and New York offices.
• Calculate greenhouse gas emissions from sustainability indicators.
• Collaborate with employees in the different offices across the country, and oversees, in order to gather reliable data.
• Work with the company’s structural engineers to gather data on our building projects.
• Input data on our building projects into our embodied carbon calculator.
• Analyze carbon calculator data and put together charts and presentations based on findings.
• Other tasks as assigned.

• Graduate students preferred, or very capable seniors or recent graduates.
• Prior experience with sustainability inventories or carbon footprint assessments.
• Excellent academic records (above 3.0/B grade point average).
• An academic interest in sustainability, energy, engineering, and/or architecture preferred.
• Experience using Excel for data management.
• Experience in Microsoft Access preferred.
• Experience in Revit, Tekla, and AutoCAD helpful, but not required.
• Ability and desire to learn new programs like Revit.
• Self-directed, practical and analytical.

Interns are expected to work approximately 20-40 hours/week, with flexibility for vacation. A wage of $15/hour will be offered and they will report to the Corporate Sustainability Officer in Portland.
Qualified candidates are encouraged to apply by submitting a resume and cover letter through the link below.

Apply to this job Thornton Tomasetti, Inc. is an Affirmative Action/Equal Opportunity Employer.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Mulkey at USM

This video of our college president giving a lecture recently at USM makes good viewing for students in Environmental Sustainability who are already thinking about how to address the final essay question "Can human civilization become ecologically sustainable?"


Dr. Stephen Mulkey "Crisis and Opportunity in the Environmental Century--Inspiring a Generation of Greatness." from Mark Fruehauf on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Jobs at NEON

The National Ecological Observatory Network is hiring. This is an outfit that, were I twenty years younger than I am, I'd love to sign on with. They are erecting a nationwide set of large-scale permanent meteorological towers/ecological observation platforms that are going to be essential in the future for climate change mitigation and adaptation.

The skill set for many of the technician-level jobs is similar to that required for experienced hands on the summer wind crew, or indeed any SEM student that has gotten "stuck into" our various hands-on projects, and knows their way around hand and power tools.

It may seem like a poor use of your four-year Unity College degree to take a job that could be done by a two-year mechanical engineering graduate from a community college, but I would bet that the competition is high and a lot of young four-year graduates from all around the country are applying.

Look at an example job here:

See all NEON jobs here:

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Land for resilience, adaptation, even mitigation

Here's a link to a New York Times editorial today about the benefits of micro-plots of land to the rural poor in developing nations, and about the NGO Landesa.

One way to begin to manage the very large scale social change that would be required by a move to a low-carbon, low- or zero-growth economy would be to reconsider rural life and rural land use, expanding the role of rural community and local, decentralized food and energy production.

This is of course something your author practices for real on our own Womerlippi Farm, producing lamb, pork, eggs, most of our own vegetables, fleece and firewood.

For which today, we're very thankful for.

Happy Thanksgiving!

We're going to eat some home-grown food with friends and take a walk in the woods.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

For students who are Mass residents

Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Opportunity Program
The Massachusetts Clean Energy Internship Opportunity Program is dedicated to connecting students throughout the Commonwealth to internships at Massachusetts-based clean energy companies. This program supports education and training opportunities that align with the Commonwealth’s clean energy goals and industry growth, while furthering the career goals of those considering career opportunities in clean energy and simultaneously targeting employer needs to retain and attract a strong talent pool.

The Massachusetts Clean Energy Center’s (MassCEC) mission is to foster the growth of the Massachusetts clean energy industry by providing seed grants to companies, universities, and nonprofit organizations; funding job training and workforce development programs; and, as home of the Massachusetts Renewable Energy Trust, supporting the installation of renewable energy projects throughout the state.
The New England Clean Energy Council’s mission is to accelerate New England’s clean energy economy to global leadership by building an active community of stakeholders and a world-class cluster of clean energy companies. The Council represents close to 200 member organizations, including clean energy companies, venture investors, major financial institutions, universities, industry associations, utilities, labor and large commercial end-users.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Computer conniptions

No academic or current affairs posts today. And possibly a slow month or so for blogging, depending on what happens next. My old 2008 MacBook computer, which I use for just about everything at work and at home, has died. There was a click and then the dreaded black screen, and then it was impossible to fire up -- you'd get the grey screen, and it would cycle through the first five percent of the start-up process exactly twice, and then you'd get the black screen.

I had some hopes for a while there, because it would start and run from a Mac start-up disc, and therefore the processor and disc drive were working fine, but none of the disc repair options, neither the ones from the original Mac start-up disc's Disc Utility software, nor a couple of commercial ones, would work. The hard drive was toast; most likely irreparable. And the file-saving disc imaging option in Disc Utility wouldn't work, either. Although i could hook up an external hard drive, I couldn't image the Mac hard drive to it.

I am, however, able to access and save all my files by ones and twos and by folders. This is because long ago I partitioned the drive and installed Windows on a small corner, in order to run a half-dozen or so software programs required in the energy industry that don't run on Macintosh systems. This option has been available to Mac geeks for many years -- in effect the best of both worlds. I could either shut down the system and start it up as a Windows computer, or using a virtual machine window, run the Windows partition as a desktop window on the Macintosh, and run programs like the Department of Energy's "eQuest" or NRG System's "Symphonie Data Explorer."

I never realized before that one other useful purpose for this second operating system would be to run the computer if the Mac system broke down. Now, with a corrupted portion in the Mac side of the hard drive partition, I can reverse the logic and access the Mac files from the functioning Windows partition. Using the start-up option window, I can access Windows, which starts up and runs just fine, and then by using a commercial file-reading software called MacDrive, I can use the Windows side of the computer to access the many thousands of useful or important files there are on the Mac. Accordingly, I'm copying them over to an external hard drive, several folders at a time. I've already saved the most important ones.

Luckily, long ago, I saved all the essential files to Google's cloud storage service. The only files I still had on the MacBook were more or less optional ones, that I could manage without if need be. But still, it's nice to have them. There's a lot of working history on that computer, a lot of documents and drafts of documents and spreadsheets and pictures, many of which items will come in useful one day.

This process may take a while. I don't really know what I have, nor what I need, until I need it. I'm thinking it would be a mistake to cut the file-saving process short until I'm sure I have it all. Until the college gets me a replacement for the old MacBook, I have a loaner from the college library, which is what I'm using now. But I can't do very much at all with it because I don't even have a basic computer entry password, let alone an administrator's password.

For someone as competent as I am with computers, especially Macs, this is not a happy state of mind to be in. And Aimee has been teasing me about having to resort to the hated Microsoft products to save my Mac's files, the implication being that the Windows software is more reliable, which nonsense I of course heartily dispute. After all, the Mac hard drive ran as much as fourteen hours a day for five years without a hint of a problem before.

But at least I can get my files, and at least I'm still online.

And the college says it will get me a new Mac soon, possibly even before Christmas.

As The BBC TV Test Card used to say whenever there was some kind of glitch, "Normal service will be resumed as soon as possible."

Sunday, November 18, 2012

More Friedman on jobs

I like having students read Tom Friedman's editorials that discuss the job market, because he doesn't at all downplay the level of competition needed to succeed.

(Enter "jobs" or "Friedman" in the Blogger search engine to see more.)

Here are some excerpts from this latest piece.

"We’re in the midst of a perfect storm: a Great Recession that has caused a sharp increase in unemployment and a Great Inflection — a merger of the information technology revolution and globalization that is simultaneously wiping out many decent-wage, middle-skilled jobs, which were the foundation of our middle class, and replacing them with decent-wage, high-skilled jobs. Every decent-paying job today takes more skill and more education, but too many Americans aren’t ready."

"Eduardo Padrón, the president of Miami Dade College, the acclaimed pioneer in education-for-work, put it this way: “The skill shortage is real. Years ago, we started working with over 100 companies to meet their needs. Every program that we offer has an industry advisory committee that helps us with curriculum, mentorship, internships and scholarships. ... Spanish-speaking immigrants used to be able to come here and get a decent job doing repetitive tasks in an office or factory and earn enough to buy a home and car and put their kids through school and enjoy middle-class status. That is no longer possible. ... The big issue in America is not the fiscal deficit, but the deficit in understanding about education and the role it plays in the knowledge economy.”"

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Walking the geopolitical tightrope -- for class

A speculative article on the rearrangement of geopolitical power in the wake of the fracking boom:

And a new venue for international climate negotiations:

All of which sounds like an exercise of freshly renewed geopolitical power on the part of the US. In the wake of the elections, the fracking boom, the recent buzz about climate change after Hurricane Sandy, and taking into account the relative strength of the US economy, the time is riper for a deal on international emissions.

We'll talk about all in class this after the break.

Remember, an international deal can't be negotiated from a position of internal and external political weakness. Internal to the US, the forces against such are move are strong -- indeed they bankrolled the opposition candidate in the recent election. If a negotiation attempt fails spectacularly, those forces are strengthened. They can win the White House, and both houses of Congress, in the next election. I would imagine they are laying plans to do so. Unfortunately for them, and fortunately for the climate and for humanity as a whole, the only electoral vehicle with which they might currently do this, the Republican Party, is in temporary disarray and likely to remain so for some months. But they have a lot of money, and it seems a lot of hatred for climate controls, so they can eventually perhaps fix this in their favor, albeit at some further expense to themselves.

Good money after bad? When will they give up? We'll see.

The Obama White House is probably acutely aware of all this. They know what a tightrope they might have to walk. They certainly couldn't adopt any measures which weakened US employment or precipitated a stock market tumble at this point. They'd just play themselves into the Koch brothers' hands. As I've said many times, notions that climate controls can be achieved at the present time by abandoning economic growth are perhaps naïve. The Obama administration is certainly not in a position to do anything that would trammel growth. But they can favor growth in the renewables industry over growth in oil and gas, and an international agreement would strengthen their hand internally, especially if it were binding, and if it wouldn't hurt the US economy overall.

Externally, there are also signs of hope, but an interesting tightrope that must also be walked. China is an ambivalent and ambiguous partner -- it uses a lot of coal and is currently on a pathway to increase emissions, and probably doesn't want to stop or slow this increase right now. But increasingly, much of the coal China uses is not theirs -- it comes from Australia, weakening their balance of payments deficit. And they own productions systems for renewable technology that are large in scale, modern, and that they would be pleased to see employed and expanded.

They don't have the best renewable tech. It's a common misconception that they do, but in reality US and European companies have the great majority of interesting ideas and patents. But the Chinese would be perfectly happy to manufacture this stuff too.

Most essentially, you can probably cut a deal with China on climate.

The Russians on the other hand are not at all ambiguous -- they get stronger or weaker in proportion to the oil and gas price. Currently, the price of oil is high, and likely to stay so, indeed even the fracking-rich US and Canadian companies need it to stay so, or fracking will stall. But the gas price, dependent on pipelines to Europe and on liquified, compressed gas shipping to the US, is weakening, and with it some of Russia's geopolitical power.

There's no love lost between the Chinese and the Russians. They've fought each other quite recently, within the geopolitical memory of current leaders on both sides, and expect to do so again. They still keep large amounts of troops on their mutual border. It might even be possible, working from a position of relative strength internally and externally, to cut a Nixonian deal with China that helps isolate Russia. A weakened Russia would be less able to hold European states hostage to winter heating gas supplies, which would be a very good thing. Don't expect a weakened Russia to suddenly begin playing nice -- they will probably get worse as they weaken. And they can still do a lot of damage. But it would be nice to reduce the internal power of the Putin/Medvedev administration a little, so the Russian democrats begin to see a little daylight. Indeed there are signs that their alliance is cracking.

One last thing -- the article above speculates that the Arab oil states will suffer from increased US oil production. This is nonsense. Even were the oil price to drop significantly, which I find unlikely anytime soon given increasing demand in China and India, their price of production is so low, they still make good money even at $60/barrel. Indeed, some of their oilfields make decent money at $20/barrel! And they've been investing in renewables. Look back in this blog to see the posts about Saudi Aramco hiring all these green techies.

It's the non-oil producing Arab states that are the wild card in the middle east, especially the ones that now have some semblance of democracy, but are electing Islamists that the west sees as extremists. The oil states will work simply work harder to control the non-oil producers if their own position is weakened.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Harvard may follow Unity's lead (if students have their way)

Mind you, a $30 billion ship may be a bit harder to turn around than a $13 million one.

(Stolen from the Harvard Crimson)

(Dear editor.)
This Undergraduate Council election season, you will see three referenda questions on the ballot. Question 1 asks whether you support the campaign calling upon Harvard to divest its endowment from fossil fuel companies and reinvest in socially responsible funds. Harvard has the largest endowment in the world, and we know for a fact that it is invested in fossil fuel companies. With fossil fuels linked directly to global climate change, Harvard is directly funding an industry that threatens our future. Voting “yes” on Question 1 is your way to call on our university to divest from climate change and reinvest in our future.
Harvard’s investments in fossil fuels sit uneasily with a recent report highlighting our university’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, promote environmental sustainability, and “build a better future.” We now have over 78 building projects across campus that qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification, which have helped lead to a 16 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.  However, as Harvard continues to establish itself as a leader in campus sustainability, it must be ready to engage in sustainable practices at all levels—especially with regards to our investment activities.
A fast-growing movement at 47 campuses across the country is calling on colleges and universities to remove fossil fuel investments from their endowment portfolios. Unity College has already divested, becoming a leader in this new movement. Harvard now has the opportunity to lead, as well. Either we can divest from the fossil fuel industry, which will help fight the climate crisis and mitigate further warming, or we can divest from the future of our students by supporting corporations that contribute to the increased incidence of extreme weather and threaten to cut the carrying capacity of the earth to one billion people.
At the Undergraduate Council and Harvard Graduate Council General Meeting on October 21st, President Faust said that Harvard considers divestment is considered: "Only in the most extreme of circumstances.” DARA, an independent, non-profit organization, recently released a report sponsored by 20 governments that shows that the human death toll from climate change could exceed 100 million by 2030. Most of these deaths are the direct result of burning fossil fuels. It is hard to imagine a circumstance much more extreme. Moreover, climate change is an equity issue. Most of the adverse effects of climate change disproportionately impact developing countries, while the majority of greenhouse gas emissions since the industrial revolution have come from industrialized nations.
The movement to divest from fossil fuels continues to grow and could have significant social and political implications. In 2009, cap-and-trade successfully passed the House but failed in the Senate. This was partially due to substantial resources levied against climate action by some of the fossil fuel companies that are now being targeted by this campaign. Divestment may not pose an immediate threat to the annual turnover of the biggest companies, yet it does help to undermine the social and political capital of a powerful industry.
More than anything, divestment is a moral statement. As students come together around the country to support divestment, we are showing our campuses, communities, and politicians that we see climate change as a serious threat to our future. Harvard also has a precedent for divesting from abusive industries: we divested from Big Tobacco for human health reasons; we divested from and genocide in Darfur. The University also partially divested from South Africa during apartheid. Harvard should continue to uphold these values today in the face of the climate crisis.
This UC election, you have the option to send a clear message about our future. Voting “yes” on Question 1 may seem like a small gesture, but our individual voices come together to form a collective and powerful call to action. We respect our institution, and, as President Faust wrote, “We must continue to work together as a university to develop new approaches and solutions that will make a positive difference at Harvard and in the wider world.” Harvard’s divestment can be a part of that difference.

Oliver T. Kerr, GSAS ’13, is a graduate student in East Asian Studies. Christopher E. Round is a GSAS Special Student in Systems Biology. Harold N. Eyster ’16 lives in Matthews Hall. They are all members of Students for a Just and Stable Future.