Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Job or no job?

An interesting article by Michele Singletory relating college major choice and the value of internships to the recent report on unemployment by major.

Read it and weep. Unless you're Sustech (with a good internship).

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Why I admire Jim Hansen

Commenting on his testimony given to the UK public inquiry into denied FOIA requests for the names of funders of a denialist "think tank":

"Our children and grandchildren will judge those who have misled the public, allowing fossil fuel emissions to continue almost unfettered, as guilty of crimes against humanity and nature. But the eventual conviction of these people in the court of public opinion will do little to ease the burdens that will have been created for today's young people and future generations."

"The science is clear. Unless we restore the planet's energy balance and stabilise climate, by rapidly reducing fossil fuel emissions, we will leave today's young people a rapidly deteriorating climate system with consequences that will out of their control. If successful, the FOI request may, by exposing one link in a devious manipulation of public opinion, start a process that allows the public to be aware of what is happening, what is at stake, and where the public interest lies."


Thursday, January 19, 2012

Our Nation's Capital

We're in Washington, DC, with students at the National Council for Science and Environment Conference, which this year is on Energy and Security.

These are students Rae, Katrina, and Matt outside the Botanical Gardens on the National Mall, where there are now two wind turbines, a Windspire and a Skystream.

I'm interested in Windspires, although the simple physics indicates that they're probably not cost effective in any but the strongest winds. Our calculations show that Skystreams need nine meters/second to be cost effective in Maine, which only exists on our highest peaks. I expect Windspires are about the same.

But they are architecturally interesting, adding intrigue to the landscape, like a sculpture.

The other great thing I saw was NASA's new climate model visualizer, essentially a collection of giant monitors several feet wide and tall, showing the second by second results of a climate model.

Very cool.

Finally, the obligatory shot of Congress, which all the conference speakers agree is in total gridlock on Energy and Security.

Never mind. This too shall pass.

While science and education march on.

Friday, January 13, 2012


From: Ecological Society of America: grants, jobs, news [ECOLOG-L@LISTSERV.UMD.EDU] On Behalf Of Jonathon W. Schramm [schram25@MSU.EDU]
Sent: Friday, January 06, 2012 10:36 AM
Subject: [ECOLOG-L] Job Opportunity: Bioenergy Education and Outreach (WI)

The Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center (GLBRC, has posted
an opening for an "Education and Outreach Specialist." This person will be
based at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Details on this position
are available on-line at

This position is built around collaboration with numerous researchers and
educators working on the frontiers of second-generation bioenergy sources
and sustainability.

McKibben calls for constitutional amendment: details TBA?

Bill McKibben is a regular visitor to Unity College, and seems to enjoy our students down-to-earth attitude. Many are members of his campaign.

I had been wondering what his response would be to the continued pipeline fiasco, which is starting to have some of the makings of another Teapot Dome scandal.

I got a partial answer today from an article in my Guardian: McKibben seems to be announcing a bid for a constitutional amendment for public financing of political campaigns.

I say seems: no details are given, only a pointer to another event later this year: the second anniversary of the Citizens United decision, which McKibben says will be a good opportunity for organizing.

This is also one area on which Occupy Wall Street and the grassroots base of the Tea Party would agree. Of course, the various financiers of the Tea Party would not. Indeed, it would be very ironic if any combination of this sort were to occur.

There are two pathways to a Constitutional amendment. One takes you through Congress, whereby Congress proposes and the various state legislatures dispose, requiring a two-thirds vote. All amendments so far have followed this line. I doubt McKibben or any grass-roots movement can succeed in this, but the attempt, if even moderately noticeable within the political "echo chamber," would necessarily separate the actual libertarians from the various corporate hacks in Congress, and split the Tea Party down the middle.

The other pathway, never yet used successfully, is for two thirds of the state legislatures to propose an amendment to Congress. At this point in time, I would think there aren't that many state legislatures that could whether a concerted campaign to force them to back an amendment, if such a campaign were to gather both steam and cross-party support.

All depends on the intent and wording of the amendment. I think "public financing" is not a tenable phrase on which to base this effort at this point in time. Too many people will confuse it with other public programs and the opposition will label it as "socialism.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

"Frozen Planet" will air in the US, but Attenborough criticized by Lawson

For a while there, rumors (rumours?) were circulating that the excellent BBC series on arctic ecology, Frozen Planet, would be censored in the US.

(Deep background -- I hate censorship with a vengeance, and despise those who practice it. There's nothing so ruinous to democracy, freedom, and even the environmental movement than the urge to censor. Former Supreme Court Justice Renquist once wrote a book call All the Laws but One, a good read, discussing the idea that, of all the freedoms we enjoy in the constitutional and Common Law tradition, habeus corpus and the freedom from unjust imprisonment that it represents was the most foundational, and so democracy might survive without every other law or constitutional right but this one. That's a good theoretical debate and one that would be enjoyable in any serious college class, but I tend to think freedom of expression is actually the more foundational. Just look at the events of last year in the middle east, the so-called Arab Spring, which ran and runs on the new-found freedom of repressed peoples to express themselves using social media. No surprise there: look at our own history: Ben Franklin was a printer and pamphleteer, a master of the social network technology of his day. And where would we be without Tom Paine or the great abolitionists and feminist pamphleteers? Academics everywhere, real academics who care about ideas, must uphold freedom of expression first and foremost.)

Anyway, back to the main thread.

Apparently the Discovery Channel was worried about the backlash that might occur in the US after airing the seventh episode, in which David Attenborough, the godfather of TV biology, explains how climate change is affecting the arctic and makes a plea for action.

All this was of course happening in slow motion by British standards as the series has come and gone on the BBC. I've seen it, and it is absolutely excellent. If anything, the last episode is a masterpiece of understated argument. The notion that Discovery might censor it was very disturbing.

This Guardian article settles the question by announcing in the background that the show will run in its entirety this March, but then publicizes former Chancellor Nigel Lawson's criticism of Attenborough.

Honestly, how could anyone criticize David Attenborough? That's a bit like criticizing Mother Teresa. Or Leonardo Da Vinci. The man's a national treasure. He should be preserved in the Tower, with the Crown Jewels.

But he was forced to defend himself and does so in the article.

If anything, this episode begins to show how the climate change idea has survived everything that the denialists could throw at it, and is coming back up. Their attempt to control the national discussion has failed, and from here on out we should begin to see recovery and, eventually, policy.

Which, if you think about it, is a great victory for freedom of expression.