Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Solar on the White House -- a long strange trip

Photo: Unity SEM students dismantle a Jimmy Carter solar panel for cleaning.

With what seems to be zero fanfare and virtually no explanation, the Obama administration has brought solar power back to the main White House building for the first time since 1987. This is the quiet culmination of an interesting process, one in which I was intimately involved. It all started for me when, having been assigned my first-ever private professorial office at Unity College in the fall of 2000, I looked out of my window while chatting with a colleague, Dr. Chris Beach, and he explained to me that the solar panels I was looking at, not ten feet from said window, were the famous Jimmy Carter solar panels and had formerly belong to the federal government and been installed on the White House. Unity College's former development director, Peter Marbach, had been instrumental in saving them from decaying in the federal warehousing system. They were disconnected and disused, the heat exchanger tank having rusted out. But there they were. The original and genuine Jimmy Carter solar panels. A piece of American history. On my small college's roof, no less.

I already knew the story, which had been kind of an urban myth in the environmental world for many years. Jimmy Carter had placed the panels on the White House in 1979, as part of his ground-breaking new energy policy. Ronald Reagan had them removed, as some kind of reactionary vengeance sponsored by the fossil fuel lobby, against the green power industry.

At least, that's how the myth went. The truth, as I was later to find out, was somewhat more complicated. But for the time being, I was both personally and professionally fascinated by the panels and their history. Sitting just a few feet away from my office chair, perfectly visible every working day, they were hard to ignore. I just didn't know what to do with them. Although soon appointed as the college's first Sustainability Committee chair, in effect the first Sustainability Coordinator, I was way too busy, struggling, along with my committee, to make sure we had properly recycled paper, efficient appliances, properly insulated buildings, proper carbon accounts, and the hundred and one other items that are on the Sustainability Coordinator's to-do list, as well as teaching our required courses in sustainability, so I had little to no time left to figure out how to use the Jimmy Carter panels, or even how to think about them very much at all.

Except that I did know that the college had something important here, and that we did need to find a way to think about them and use them. If there was ever a great story to tell about the Little College That Could, this was one. This small fact kept presenting itself, nagging at me almost daily.

A further dozen or more panels from the same provenance were in the college's storage buildings. They'd been there since 1991, when they were placed there by Peter Marbach, after installing the rest on the Cafeteria roof. Sometime in the early 2000s, I researched the panels' history, with the help of the college's Board Secretary, Chris Melanson, collecting a solid file on provenance. It was interesting to read the story, all there in black and white on faded newsprint and letterhead. There was even a letter from President Carter himself. I also dug out some of the stored panels, in the summer of 2003, and experimented with them to see if they could be reused. They worked fine, apart from some grime inside and out that had to be cleaned off, requiring them to be dismantled.

It was also in 2003, in the fall, that I asked for a meeting with then-President of the College David Glenn-Lewin, and proposed that we use the panels for outreach and fund-raising, and spend whatever money we got on sustainability initiatives. I remember this proposal was treated with near-derision by some of the college's professional staff at the time. How on earth anyone could value what seemed to be a pile of rusty old junk was beyond them. But David, after some persuasion, saw the point.

This proposition had to go to the Board, but they agreed too, and the college's then very small development department was brought into the loop. I made a web page and posted it, saying that we were looking for ways to use the panels and that anyone with any interest was to contact me.

Soon enough, letters began to trickle in, most of which were more or less unworthy suggestions that we donate them or sell them for use as household solar panels. This in some ways would have been preferable to them sitting disused, either on the cafeteria roof or in storage, but I thought we could do better. I called around and eventually made some connections, to the Smithsonian, and to the Carter Center in Atlanta, as well as one or two of the people, Peter Marbach and Steven Strong, that had been involved in the early days.

It took an email in slightly broken English from a Swiss-German videography team, Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller, to really get the ball rolling. Christina and Roman were intrigued by the story, and wanted to take one of the panels on a road trip to make a documentary about US energy policy built around the panel and the memories associated with it, interviewing people as they went. They came to visit, and I hooked them up with two of our key students, both on the Sustainability Committee, both still part of the Unity College community, Sara Trunzo and Jason Reynolds.

By the time Christina and Roman actually visited, Jason was Sustainability Coordinator, I was Interim Provost and Mark Lapping was President, so it was easy to get permission to release the panel into Roman and Christina's care.

Sara and Jason, Christina and Roman together took the road trip, in what was then Sara's vegetable oil-powered truck. The movie, A Road Not Taken, is quite excellent, and very poignant, except for one thing -- I'm seen misquoting the date of the panel installation and removal! This was just a mis-spoken line, filmed during an extemporaneous interview. In an out-take not used by the editors, there's what I think is a better clip of me, explaining why I think that America will one day come to its collective senses with regard to sustainability.

But I should admit it, and move on. I'm not photogenic. My Hollywood career was over before it had even begun.

Here's the movie trailer:

The road trip finished in Atlanta, where the panel was donated to the Carter Center and Museum through the good offices of Jay Hakes, Director, one of the contacts I made during my research (who now has a 2008 book out about energy independence).

Another panel was taken to the Smithsonian, a little later, by Sara and Jason.

The college then turned its attention to other sustainability issues, including our two prototype passive solar buildings, now built, among other things. Aaron Witham, the college's third Sustainability Coordinator, now at Green Mountain, shipped one to Google in 2009, to go on display at Washington DC.

I continued to use them in classes. At the top of this post, students are dismantling one.

The movie, although finished soon enough, took several years to get any kind of audience. Its reach built only slowly. But other things were in motion, including the advent to climate advocacy of author Bill McKibben and the 350.org climate campaign. Bill had heard of the panels and wanted to take one of them on another road trip, this time to try to convince President Obama to put solar panels back on the White House roof as a symbolic act, showing support for the US renewable energy industry and carbon-free power. Mitchell Thomashow was appointed the college's president towards the end of the A Road Not Taken movie process, and was happy enough to oblige. Three students, Jamie Nemecek, Amanda Nelson, and Jean Altomare, were hand-picked and invited to go along with Bill on the road trip. Jason and new Sustainability Coordinator Jesse Pyles accompanied them. After a rousing send-off, they went on their merry way. They stopped along the way to talk to other student groups. The whole thing was FaceBooked and blogged to the nines, a "new media" campaign par excellence.

The second Jimmy Carter solar panel road trip was a partial success in that the students got to talk with White House staffers, and were belatedly given a promise that solar panels would one day appear on the White House. Here's an article here, and another here that appeared at the time, on Andrew Revkin's New York Times Dot Earth blog. This was before the announcement that the panels would indeed go up.

And now they have.

What does it mean that solar panels are back on the White House proper? From the point of view of energy production, not much. According to reports, the new array is probably between 2 and 4 KW in capacity. For comparison sake, the Unity House is 5KW, and the small solar power station between  our Quimby Library and Thomashow Laboratory is 37KW. The White House had a much-ignored solar array on the "cabana", an outbuilding by the pool, that is probably ten times the capacity. But that was installed under the George W. Bush administration. Because it was on an outbuilding, and not on the historic mansion proper, it never properly replaced the Carter Panels (which themselves were on the West Wing) in activist eyes.

So, I venture to suggest, the new array is purely symbolic, for two reasons: 1) there was already a solar array on the cabana, and 2) it's tiny, as solar arrays go. But symbols are important. And planning the installation, as Revkin suggested at the time, was likely fraught with difficulty, "...destined to run up against an immovable hurdle: a combination of the incredibly intertwined bureaucracy involved in doing anything to the White House and the authority of the Secret Service over anything that happens on that fabled roof."

Promises can be tough to keep. Thanks to Congress and other factors, President Obama is having trouble keeping his promises in his second term.

This one, which he made to our students, he kept.


These pictures come from Solarwakeup Blog, by Yann Brandt, via solarpowerworldonline.com

Thursday, December 5, 2013


A new movie used in our core curriculum class. Very cool, and inspiring:

New report on wind power and wildlife from Maine Audubon

Thursday, November 21, 2013

British bird atlas tracks climate change effects

I found this fascinating.

There's a slideshow with commentary here, and the atlas itself, expensive but a great gift for the birdwatcher, here.

More on the revolution


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Vehicle check report

Photo: Mandy checks the tire pressures.

Yesterday was the biannual Unity College pre-vacation vehicle check day, the aim of which is to make sure that those students who plan to drive home for Thansgiving and/or Christmas have a safe-enough vehicle in which to make the trip. Five student volunteers and one faculty supervisor checked around 25-30 vehicles from 12 noon to 3pm. We checked lights, fluid levels, tire wear (crucial in Maine winters) and tire pressure. We also "pulled" check engine light "trouble codes" using a computer-based code-puller device, and dispensed advice as to what to do about them.

Thanks to Mandy, Dani, Alex, Jake and Ben for their services to the college and overall superior appreciation for the finer points of vehicle safety, and high regard for their classmates' lives and property.

The latter two gentlemen had done it before, and so acted as trainers for the others. Here's Jake in action, not however wearing his safety glasses. Bad man.

I didn't get shots of Ben and Dani, mostly because I was too busy myself. But here is Alex, with safety glasses, getting ready to check out a nice jeep, that had, however, bald tires (and an owner who was too busy talking on her cell phone to really absorb our concerns about said tires).

As I mentioned, we checked out probably between 25 and 30 vehicles. Normally I can give an exact count, since I provide a specified number of vehicle check forms, and so the number of forms left, subtracted from the number I started with, gives the count. This time, however, we were forced to use some older forms and copy some new ones.

Several more egregious safety concerns were noted that would have almost certainly related in a holiday travel "fail" and possibly a stranding, or worse, an accident:
  • Three vehicles were significantly low on oil, up to three quarts down. When you only have one or two quarts of oil remaining in your engine, the engine will begin to overheat because that little oil can't do such a great job of cooling and lubricating. You also might want to know why your oil is so low. Most likely you are leaking it or burning it. Either way, you must now monitor your oil level more carefully or you will cause a catastrophic engine failure, called a seizure. Essentially, your pistons will stick to your cylinder walls and/or your main bearings will stick to your crankshaft. Check the oil level every time you get gas. Write down how much you add, when you added it, and the odometer reading each time you check. Check the ground under where you park for signs of a leak. Monitor your oil pressure light or pressure gauge, check engine light, and temperature gauge. Hopefully, you'll figure out how much oil you're using and find the leak if there is one, then get it fixed.
  • One vehicle had a gas leak, which we were unable to locate, but could smell. Gas leaks are very dangerous since there is always a source of heat on a vehicle -- your exhaust system -- that is hot enough to ignite gasoline or gas vapor, causing a catastrophic vehicle fire. Really small gas leaks are often hard to find, though, because the gas evaporates before it drips to the ground. We recommended taking the vehicle into the shop.
  • Another vehicle had a cylinder head gasket leak. The coolant level was down a gallon or so, a very large amount and symptom of something being badly wrong. The vehicle was also spitting green coolant through the exhaust system on start-up. These are classic symptoms of a failed head gasket, which can lead to a seized engine. Except by an experienced mechanic, who must "baby" it constantly, this vehicle can no longer be safely driven, except to a shop, where a new head gasket or replacement engine is needed. Most likely, if an older vehicle, this is time for it to go to that great Parking Garage in the Sky. (Sorry, Ben! Tough luck.)
  • Many vehicles had tires that had only a millimeter or two of tread remaining. The Maine regulations require at least a millimeter all round, but this isn't enough for Maine winter driving conditions, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These students were advised to get new tires, preferably before winter really sets in.
  • Several vehicles had uneven tire wear. This is most often caused by poor wheel alignment, but can be caused by low tire pressure. The remedy is to get an alignment done at a reputable shop, and to check the tire pressure more frequently.
  • At least four vehicles had one or more tires with dangerously low tire pressure. When your tire pressure drops below 15 pounds per square inch or so, the wheel can no longer keep straight on the road and that corner of the vehicle will wobble dangerously on corners. The best that can happen is that you wear out a tire prematurely. The worst that can happen is that you get a nasty wobble at high speed on a corner or while passing on a highway. This can lead to loss of control, even a rollover accident. The remedy is to check your tire pressure more frequently. If the pressure in one or more tires is regularly down, you have a slow leak. Take it to a shop and get the leak fixed.
That concludes our biannual community vehicle safety report. If you didn't get chance to get your vehicle checked out yesterday and are worried about the drive home, stop me or one of our student volunteers and ask us about it, or take it to a shop for a check up before your drive home.

PS: Former reports are here and here

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Vehicle checks today!

Dear students:

As part of the overall and superior customer service provided provided by Unity College, consider taking advantage of free vehicle check-outs this Tuesday afternoon November 19th, 12.00 - 3pm in front of the Maintenance Building.

Is your vehicle sustainable? Resilient? Adaptive? Or does it require mechanical mitigation. Or are you just tired of the gratuitous misuse of important terms in the sustainability debate?

Either way, don’t miss the opportunity today to have it checked out thoroughly. And don’t risk being stranded someplace remote, dangerous, or worst of all, uncool!

Before you get in the olde jalopy and drive off over the hill and through the woods to grandma’s house for a fine local food Thanksgiving, let the experienced mechanics and other techy-geeky students of this year’s team of volunteers check the poor beast out.

We will check your tire pressures and pump them up if necessary, check and top off the oil and other fluids, clean your windows (dirty windows are a major source of vehicular accidents), and finally and perhaps most usefully, if your CHECK ENGINE light is on, we will use our computer reader to “pull” your trouble codes so you can finally know just what it is that your poor neglected automobile has been trying to tell you all these months.

(Did you know you can save lots of gas by keeping your car’s tires at the proper pressures? And that tire pressure changes as the weather warms and cools with the seasons, so you have to check them regularly! Did you know that a blown oxygen sensor is easy to fix and can save on gas too? Did you know that low oil level can kill your car’s engine? Well, now you know.)

Each participant will receive a written report on the serviceability of their vehicle, with details of any trouble codes and what they mean.

The college accepts no responsibility for the use or misuse of any of the information we give you about your vehicle, or for your car’s safety after you leave the campus, but we do suggest that it’s always better to know than not to know. In most cases.

(Employees are welcome too. Thanks to the Maintenance and Student Affairs departments for aid in providing this service.)

Be safe, drive safe.

Mick Womersley

Monday, November 18, 2013

Shifting Skies

Bad news for Maine anti-wind activists: The National Wildlife Federation has come out in favor of wind power, among other renewable energy sources, following the lead of many other wildlife and environmental groups.


"Secular stagnation" -- the new macro?

This is a post by leading Keynesian economist Paul Krugman in which he posits, following the lead of Larry Summers, that the economy entered a new phase in the late seventies, early eighties, of "secular stagnation," whereby the only high growth years are during bubbles.

Read alongside the FaceBook posts and tweets of Robert Reich's "Inequality for All" campaign, which I've also been following, the net effect is an emerging new macroeconomics for the left wing in the US.

Of course, the answer I would give is my "Green Keynesianism" approach. But that's neither here not there at this point, when very few people even know what I mean.

We'll discuss Reich, Summers, and Krugman as we delve into modern macro in class on Wednesday.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Best barn ever

Extra credit assignment for Introduction to Economics

Here are the data for your extra credit assignment. You'll need to do the transformation we did in class (to the GDP numbers, from absolute to relative). You may then also need to average by year, and a time-lag, introduced stepwise might also increase the R-squared.

Five whole points for just getting it done, ten points for working out a time-lag.



Wednesday, November 13, 2013

More on the typhoon


Final project assignment for EII

Due either the last day of the semester (Friday Dec 13th) or in time for the special EII section of the student conference (Monday Dec 2nd) -- your choice. Student conference participation is optional, but may be recommended for the best products.

Research an environmental issue of your choice. You may work in groups. Identify a thesis related to the issue and supporting evidence, as well as the environmental or conservation organizations that are working on the issue. Prepare a "New Media" presentation built around the thesis, providing supporting evidence, highlighting the work of the organizations.

Prepare a short outline proposal for your project and submit by email before Thanksgiving Break.

You may, if you wish, use a more traditional media format, but only after discussion with the instructor.

Examples of allowable new media:
Video documentary, if combined with interactive features
Video storytelling, if combined with interactive features
Web pages
Weblogs, Facebook groups, Twitter feeds (this last may be too short a format to achieve the learning objectives)
(The key defining feature is that the media are interactive for the user)

Allowable traditional media
Stage plays
Sketch comedy
Traditional video documentary
Journalistic writing
Fiction writing (short fiction would be best)
Slideshows and presentations
Papers and journal articles

The options are deliberately wide. Don't get lost in your choices! Pick an issue and format for your presentation that you or your group feel confident you can finalize and stick to it.

Use "backwards design" to help structure and outline your presentation, and also to organize your schedule: Start with your topic, and decide on a thesis. Then decide what your want to achieve with this topic and thesis. What is it that you want to tell, and to whom do you wish to tell it? From that, pick a media format that will best reach your audience, and then organize your schedule so you can deliver a product using this format.

Workshop time will be made available during class hours and by appointment with the instructor so that you can get help with this project. The Quimby Library Media Technician, Ms. Olson, is standing by to help you with video and other formats.

Here is a winning example from last year.

Climate change assignment for EII

Climate Change Reading Questions                    
Due date December 2nd, 2013

These questions are based on your reading assignments in the climate change unit of Environmental Issues and Insights, specifically Maine's Climate Future and the National Academy of Sciences reading, Climate Change, Evidence, Impacts and Choices

Answer each question fully and thoroughly, using complete sentences and paragraphs. The assignment should be typed.  If you use a source other than the assigned readings, please include a full citation for the source somewhere in your final document. Research other than the assigned readings may be necessary to fully answer some of the questions.
  1. Explain the greenhouse effect.
  2. How does evidence from  Arctic and Antarctic ice cores help explain whether or not the warming we have seen so far is caused by humans?
  3. If CO2 causes global warming, why does CO2 concentration lag behind temperature changes in ice core data sets?  Why isn’t it lagging behind now?
  4. How are climate models tested?
  5. Why is climate change predicted to cause increased precipitation and/or temperature in some areas and decreased precipitation and/or temperature in others?
  6. How will climate change affect Maine wildlife, including game species?
  7. How will climate change affect Maine agriculture?
  8. Why does sixty percent of current energy production get wasted before consumption and how might this fact help us reduce climate emissions?
  9. How do web pages, letters and booklets from groups such as the "Non-Governmental Panel on Climate Change" affect the perception of climate change in the public mind? Where does the money they use for these efforts come from? How do you feel about this?
  10. Do such groups prevent us from taking meaningful action? If so, what should be done about it?

Tuesday, November 12, 2013


We've been tracking this technology here at STaD for many years.

Here's a great new video, found by student Michael A.:

Monday, November 11, 2013

More on Typhoon Haiyan, as well as cause for hope

Here is the latest news from the Phillipines. It isn't good. When we left this developing story Friday, we were hopeful that the Phillipine governments extensive preparations would help ensure a low casualty rate from the devastating typhoon. That hasn't happened. Thousands have been killed, and chaos reigns in much of the country.

One of the things that can happen when government and law and order break down after a natural disaster is looting and murder, and some of that is taking place.

The worst thing about this is that emergency workers, who have to find ways to get help to hurting people, may not be safe as they get their work done.

Remember, those of you that are planning a career in uniform, that in these kind of situations all peace officers are drafted to help, as are park rangers, as well as search and rescue volunteers. Our own Unity College SAR team is part of the Waldo County Emergency Management Agency asset list, and we have an agreement with them that Unity students will play a useful role in the event of a major weather or other disaster here in our part of Maine.

Given what is happening to our weather, it's really only a matter of time before the day when we must deliver on this promise.

In better news, from the scene of an earlier disaster in Haiti, where an earthquake in 2010 may have killed as many as a quarter-million people. Unity student Mike Ansara's dad was head of construction for this great solar hospital building, part of the earthquake recovery, and an interesting example of how developing countries can "leapfrog" the dirty development stage of industrial capitalism.

The second link contains a great movie. We'll study this in class today.



Saturday, November 9, 2013

Another Arctic Thirty video

You can identify the results of solid non-violence training in this video here: The activists have their hands up to both obstruct the Russian special forces' activities, and to avoid being shot. 


An excellent article on democracy versus dictatorship

From David Runciman:


The strongest storm ever to make landfall

Pity our poor fellow humans who had to live through this monster, especially the emergency services professionals, many of whom will not have time to sleep for days to come.


Friday, November 8, 2013

Inequality for all -- for Intro to Econ

Typhoon Haiyan and Letters from the Arctic Thirty

For EII today:



Finally, I discussed Monday how Keynesian economics integrates with climate emissions policy proposals -- badly, as it turns out. The result, were we to somehow find a political consensus to follow the most radical environmentalist prescription to end climate change, would likely be another recession, and the further weakening of the west vis-a-vis our international competitors, including the several authoritarian states, particularly Russia and China, that are largely responsible for rolling back the trend towards more democracy that was underway in the last decade of the last century.

No such political consensus currently exists among American politicians, but the problem remains in the background of the climate debate, nevertheless.

This creates a dilemma, but you can take the classical "between the horns" thrust. I outline two such approaches in this editorial here, my preferred solution, which is an all-out thrust into green technology, and the most likely actual process, which is that we "muddle through" messily to green technology because we can't get that political consensus, and burn some tar sands and frack most of Pennsylvania along the way. The second will require rather more in the way of adaptation and possibly some dangerous geoengineering that the first.

A new green tech revolution is infinitely preferable to muddling through. But what you notice about other great world historical events such as the run-up to World War II, or the abolition of slavery in the US, things rarely go as smoothly as the most radical proponents expect. I fully expect we will muddle through somehow, but probably not without a good deal of suffering.

Since these are my own thoughts and not the kind of peer-reviewed scientific material I've so far summarized for you in our climate change discussions, you're invited to dismiss them. They certainly won't be "on the test."

(But you should think about them at least a little before doing so.)

Thursday, November 7, 2013

New climate science journal resource, with free access

From Taylor and Francis. Very useful for students (and faculty) interested in advanced climate studies:


Wednesday, October 30, 2013

EII Climate Questions

Thanks to Jen for transcribing our list of questions from the whiteboard:

Hello Mick,

Here are the list of questions about climate change that were generated today in class.

Initial Questions:
What is climate change? Has it happened before?
Who or what is causing it?
What role does the weather play?
What areas does it affect?
What human/social problems have resulted? How is society changing as a result?
Quantitative detail--evidence and statistics
What wildlife/conservation problems result?

Derived Questions:
Is it too late?
How long do we have left?
Kyoto Treaty?
What are we doing to fix it? And the government?
Any current or past success?
How can we cope?
How are we educating about climate change?
How do we counter denial?
Innovation? What are others (ex. other countries) doing?

Have a good evening,

Monday, October 28, 2013

Light humor

I can't be the only one who finds it funny that the headquarters of the Koch-funded denialist front "Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change" is located on "Wacker Drive," (in Chicago).

Ahead of the curve

We're often out in front here at The Little College That Could.

Sometimes we're so far ahead, people can't even see us.

This was a nice affirmation.



Relative to my previous post, a large crane has now fallen on the Cabinet Office, Whitehall. The Prime Minister's committee room is in this building.

No-one was hurt, thankfully.

Funny thing is, the best way to remove the wreckage quickly and efficiently might be an RAF helo!

Question is, Mr Cameron, do you get the message?


A British weather tradition is the "equinoctal gale," with winds of hurricane force, sideways rain, and other frightening phenomena, which occurs around the spring and fall equinoxes. I could tell you horrific stories about running search and rescue operations in weather that might occasionally pick you off your feet and deposit you tens of feet away from the start point. Our system was, to train for the worst, and so we regularly found ourselves hiking and navigating in such weather. At times you would literally have to crawl across the ground.

The question might be, is climate change making them worse?

This is as good a starting point as any for our discussion of climate change in EII today.

Meanwhile, have some empathy for the underpaid, understaffed UK emergency services personnel, particularly as the conservative government has cut the number of positions and hours.

In my editorial this year for my ex-servicemans' journal, I railed against the cuts, which will privatize our famed Sea King emergency helicopter squadrons. I suggested, rather sourly, that the best justice might be, if the next extreme weather event were to hit square on the small Oxfordshire town of Chipping Norton, home to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, and many of the United Kingdom's new international uber-elite.

Looks like I may have been prophetic, because that's exactly what has happened. The results are not in yet, but I can state that the today's weather report for that spot includes a wind speed "amber" warning, with gusts slated to top out at 45 miles an hour, more than enough to fell trees, knock out power, and prevent vehicle travel.

(To be honest, I was hoping for a slightly stronger message. But give it time. And yes, British towns do seriously have names like Chipping Norton and Scratchy Bottom! It's a long story.)


Sunday, October 27, 2013

More from the Zeitgeist front: Divestment hits the yUKe

Here's news of McKibben's campaign hitting the UK.

One of these days we're going to wake up and realize that we helped lead this, and it that was meaningful and good, and a major milestone in saving the planet from climate change.

(We might then be permitted a slight moment of warm smug. Before moving on to the next 21st century environmental problem.)

Friday, October 25, 2013

The wrong Brand?

This one is for you serious green intellectuals out there, but with far more than just a pinch of irreverent, vitriolic, and incredibly funny bile.

Consumer Health Warning: Read at your own risk, and don't tweet it or repost it on your FaceBook page, especially if your staid, religious grannie is also your FaceBook "Friend!"

British-American comedian and TV personality Russell Brand has taken an almost revolutionary swipe at the neo-liberal-capitalist-political-industrial complex, in an amazing essay for the New Statesman. Brand is famed for his off-color sense of humor, so this is difficult reading for the neo-Puritans (and neo-Jesuits!) among you.

But he manages a fascinating and almost Orwellian commentary on the sad state of our world, and his underlying humanitarianism shines through.

Like I said, it's a hard read, and I don't agree with all of it or even very much of it, particularly where it goes -- the end game, were we to follow his prescription would likely be another century of socio-political strife like the one that just ended. And even if Brand manages to stoke the revolution, I doubt very much that he'd be in the vanguard. He'll retreat to his gated community with the rest of the uber-rich.

But it is a fascinating piece of writing. If nothing else, it captures the Zeitgeist of our age.

PS: The reaction is almost as fascinating. And just in case you thought I was out-of-line encouraging M. Brand, people I think of as serious people, like Nafeez Ahmed, are taking him seriously.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Russia and the west

A truly excellent round-up of the current situation from the Grauniad. Recommended for all you sophomore (but not sophomoric) diplomats and policy wonks. Juniors and seniors too.

By the way, this is directly connected to sustainability issues. Russia is one of two powerful countries that stand in the way of widening democracy worldwide, the other of course being the Peoples Republic of China.

Lack of democracy -- and I include the weak democracy we currently have in the US in this observation -- is the primary barrier to climate policy. (A truly democratic education is also needed, but that's a whole other debate -- for more of my perhaps distressingly grumpy and radical thinking on these questions, see the STaD Annex.)

But basically, it's not much use reducing emissions in the US and EU, if the Russians and Chinese keep pumping them out faster and faster every year, is it?

Thursday, October 17, 2013

EII Reminder: Mulkey Climate Change Lecture Tuesday at 11am!

A reminder that all four sections of EII are required to attend a climate change lecture by Dr. Mulkey next Tuesday October 22nd PW 204, 11-11.45 am.

Pizza will be provided at 11.45 pm, after which you may stay behind to ask questions of Dr. Mulkey

Thursday, October 3, 2013

ESS plenary session, partner panel line-up

IC 3413
Scenarios and Solutions
Wicked Problems


Community Partners

3 October 2013
6:30 PM


General Education
Unity College

with funding from

Maine Campus Compact
at Bates College
Northern New England
Campus Compact


sub grants program

"Although the information in this document has been funded in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under assistance agreement to Bates College, it may not necessarily reflect the views of the Agency and no official endorsement should be inferred."
IC 3413
Scenarios and Solutions
Wicked Problems


Community Partners

5:30 PM  Social hour:
                             panelists, instructors, guests

6:30 PM  Plenary Session

6:35 PM  Wicked Problems
                             Identified by Panelists

6:50 PM  Discussion:  Panelists and Audience
                             Questions, Ideas, Solutions
                             Tentative Project Proposals
                             Other Stakeholders

7:30 PM  Thanks and Summary

7:35 PM  Breakout sessions

Rick Kersbergen, University of Maine Extension Professor working from Maine Cooperative Extension Waldo County office with statewide responsibility for commercial agricultural and home horticulture, sustainable agriculture, and water quality.  Rick’s work helped influence state policy on farm water quality issues including nutrient management in agriculture.  The Kersbergen family are lake shore residents of Burnham.  Rick is also a volunteer lake monitor for Unity Pond and is current president of Friends of Lake Winnecook, the local lake association

Melissa Bastien, activist with Friends of Lake Winnecook, coordinator for the annual Loon Count sponsored by Maine Audubon Society, and local business person.  Melissa resides on the eastern shore of Unity Pond in Unity. 

Jim Perry, Executive Director, Unity Barn Raisers also represents the committee to develop a new comprehensive plan for Town of Unity.  The comprehensive planning process is just beginning and the committee hopes for significant participation by the college community. 

Paul Gregory, Environmental Specialist, Invasive Species Program, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, is a state resource manager responsible for exotic and invasive species.  Paul also brings expertise with aquatic plants, a topic often minimized at Unity College, but potentially of significant importance if planktonic algae might be controlled at Unity Pond and regionally.  Paul is working with the citizen science project Vital Signs to quantify local environments.

Craig King, Fisheries Specialist, Bureau of Sea Run Fisheries, MDMR, is presently working with river herring restoration in the Kennebec River Watershed.  Assignments also include restoration and endangered/threatened species management of sea run Atlantic salmon, striped bass, and sturgeon.  Craig is a Unity alum ( 2004 Fisheries) who worked on the inshore trawl surveys with MDMR, as fisheries observer with AIS, Inc, and at two salmon hatcheries in Alaska before transitioning to MDMR. 

Jonathan Carman, Superintendent, Unity Utilities District, is a Unity resident, and Unity College alumnus (1977, Environmental Science).  Jon also is manager for other municipal wastewater treatment operations in central and coastal Maine.  Campus wastewater is treated by the district at the lagoons west of Prairie Road.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Niall Ferguson on money, for Introduction to Economics

Broken Rainbow, for class (EII)

Mark Lynas says China blew up the Copenhagen deal

If true, it only lends more credence to my view that the west should create a climate-emissions based "free trade zone" and elbow China out of the global economy until it starts to play nice. Against the WTO? Sure. But that can be fixed, if the alternative is to fry the planet.


Tuesday, October 1, 2013

The 5AR -- for ESS

As opposed to the FAR. (The biggest global acronym problem of 2013, solved! You read it here first, folks.)

Read it and weep.

The Summary for Policy Makers (SPM) is required. The rest is for deep background.


Monday, September 30, 2013

Ocean iron fertilization -- for ESS

Circular flow, Six Americas and Cultural Cognition, all for ESS

These are some resources gathered to address the social and economic questions raised by our climate knowledge inventory, to be discussed (eventually) in class:

 (Image credit: http://www.socialstudieshelp.com/Economics_Circular_Flow.htm)

1) The circular flow model of the macroeconomy. As a "Green Keynesian," I prefer the three sector model:


2) The Six Americas study:


3) The Cultural Cognition project:

Friday, September 27, 2013

Guerrilla Posters!

ESS held the first-ever "Guerrilla Poster" session today. Lots of posters, lots of students commenting on posters, lots of professors viewing posters and asking questions of students.

All in all, I'd call it a pedagogical success. Thanks to Dan, Tom Byron, Sandra Abbott-Stout and all their staffs for making it possible.

What I like in these photos is the concentration and engagement that is visible in the students' body language. Click on any photo to see the whole set as a slideshow.


Last-minute poster session reminder and instructions

  1. The "Guerrilla" Poster session will be from 10am to 2pm today. I'll be there from about 8.15 am.
  2. Get your poster set up before 10am. I'll be there to help.
  3. "Defend" your poster for at least 30 minutes, sometime between 10am and 2pm. You may do this in groups.
  4. Take one of the evaluation forms available and fill it out for at least four posters not your own.
  5. Come get your poster back at the end of the day, if you can, or I'll collect them and keep it for you.
  6. I'll allow one more draft of your poster after you get comments and feedback today, then submit (as a PowerPoint slide) by email for a final grade. Due next Friday, 6th October.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NOAA undergraduate scholarships!

INTERNSHIP OPPORTUNITIES SOUGHT FOR SUMMER 2014 UNDERGRADUATE SCHOLARS                                                 

The NOAA Office of Education (OEd) is seeking NOAA offices and programs nationwide to host Undergraduate Scholarship recipients in the Educational Partnership Program (EPP) and Hollings Scholarship Program.  Internship opportunities are sought for 136 scholarship recipients to participate in a 9-week OEd paid internship in NOAA mission-related research, technological, policy, management, and education activities, beginning May 26, 2014.

Host offices are requested to identify a discrete project that the undergraduate scholar can complete within a 9-week timeframe.  Internship opportunities must be submitted in the Student Scholarship Internship Opportunity(SSIO) on-line system.  To access the SSIO, go to https://oedwebapps.iso.noaa.gov/ssio.  The SSIO is open for past and potential NOAA mentors to view, update, delete, or create new internship opportunities.

Starting October, 1, 2013, new scholarship recipients will begin exploring the internship opportunities posted in the SSIO.  Scholars must select an internship by April 1, 2014.  

Undergraduate scholars are U.S. citizens and full-time undergraduate students majoring in NOAA mission sciences, including, but not limited to, oceanic, environmental, and atmospheric sciences, mathematics, engineering, remote sensing technology, physical and social sciences including, geography, physics, hydrology, and science teacher education.  Scholarship recipients receive an OEd-funded award that includes academic assistance, a 10-week paid internship, housing assistance, conference travel, and round-trip travel to the internship site.

The NOAA OEd Undergraduate Scholarship Programs provide NOAA with a valuable mechanism to help realize the vision and achieve the goals of the NOAA Strategic Plan. The Undergraduate Scholarship Programs also support NOAA's cross-cutting priorities of promoting environmental literacy and developing, valuing, and sustaining a world-class workforce.

For assistance in hosting an EPP or Hollings undergraduate scholar please contact the NOAA Office of Education, Student Scholarship Programs, at: StudentScholarshipPrograms@noaa.gov.

Know a student pursuing a degree in the NOAA mission sciences?  The application period for the 2014 EPP and Hollings Undergraduate Scholarship Programs is now open through January 31, 2014.  Please share with students who may be interested in applying.  For information on program benefits, eligibility requirements, and how to apply, students are encouraged to visit: http://www.oesd.noaa.gov/ (Scholarships).

Guerriila Posters Friday! Be there or square!

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hansen et al: Target atmospheric CO2: for ESS

This is the key paper behind recent ideas of the proper stabilization level for CO2:


Sunday, September 22, 2013

Nick Stern: "Stop dithering"


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, guess who's #4 and #5 -- the arch-denialists.


The outrageous injustice of this, as people are flung out of their homes or killed by extreme weather, or as the fragile agricultural ecologies of other, less financially-resilient nations are damaged, simply makes me want to vomit.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Common Ground Fair assignment (for Womersley EII)

You are assigned to go to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Common Ground Country Fair held this Friday through Sunday September 20-22 right here in Unity. The fair is an all-around good time so you should need no incentive to go; however, the following are added:

How to get in the fair for free:
  1. You may get in for free if you arrive at the volunteer coordination tents at each gate and announce yourself to the staff on duty as a Unity College student volunteering under Jim Merkel and Mick Womersley (professors)
  2. You will then be required to participate in fair clean-up during class hours Monday. Transportation will be provide. Attendance will be taken.
  3. If you are a MOFGA member you already get in for free, so you don't have to clean up Monday if you don't want, but we would be happy to have the extra help
  4. Regular class is therefore cancelled both Friday and Monday 20th and 23rd Septemeber.
  5. For those of you who were planning to go home or cannot attend the fair for any reason, your assignment is to visit a local or organic food outlet, such as a farmer's market or food cooperative, and complete the same assignment as the fair-goers (below)
The fair/local/organic food response paper:
  1. Buy food for a meal at the fair or at some local or organic food outlet. Be sure to find out where each ingredient comes from
  2. Make and eat the meal. (If you live in the residence halls and eat on the meal plan, the meal can be a snack.)
  3. Describe the meal and track the ingredients in a short informal essay. Explain why this was (or was not) a good meal. Humor and/or pathos are optional
  4. Due Friday October 5th in class via Google.edu, posting to your ePortfolio optional
  5. This is a second check-in opportunity for me to evaluate your writing and critical thinking skills

"Learned helplessness?"

Aimee was having trouble moving the sheep to the New Paddock. You'd think they'd want to go there because it's full of apple drops, but one ewe-lamb got hung up in the Back Forty.

I emerged blinking from my nasty dusty insulation job in the new extension's attic crawl space (hence the rather strange garb) to see what all the fuss was about.

Aimee was tired of trying to chase her to where she needed to be, so I got Ernie the half-trained shepherd dog, who then chased her the wrong way. The lambie finished up down by the bottom fence where it just stopped dead, as did Ernie, who didn't know what to do with a lamb that wouldn't run. It was a Mexican stand-off.

So I picked the lamb up like a sack of Maine spuds and carried her to where she needed to be. Less tiring for the lambie, a bit puffy for me.

When she got to the gate of the New Paddock and was put down, she just lay there for a while.

I think it was all just a bit too exciting for her. Poor lambie.

But not poor wee lambie. She's one of our biggest ever.

Do American farms "feed the world?"

A radio discussion of the difficulties with an agrobusiness advertisement campaign.


And, for balance, a slightly inappropriate view of "big organic." Read at your own risk.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Climate change quantitative analysis demonstrator -- for ESS Dunckel/Womersley sections joint meeting

Both sections are meeting together this Wednesday, most likely in PW 205, our new regular classroom (now that we escaped the "sauna" of HW 211).

1) You'll need to read this paper:


2) And this data set can be uploaded into J(u)MP or SSP if you'd like to follow along on your notebook, pad or laptop:

3) This is a graph of our final output that we'll need to discuss:

4) For my section only, here are the GISS data related to the Skeptical Science "escalator" and the Mail on Sunday article:


Scarecrow ad is devastating socioeconomic criticism of food industry

And quite timely, considering where we are with our reading of Michael Pollan in EII.

But remember, this is just an advertisement!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Posters and poster materials -- for ESS

You're assigned to make a "guerrilla poster" by September 27th, on either your "wicked problem in your discipline", or on one of our climate change topics. This is a research poster and should be formal and properly cited. It doesn't have to be perfect. The idea is to get peer review and then (your choice) possibly revise in time for the Student Conference.

You'll need to brush up on poster preparation:

Here's the Library's web page on posters:


Here's a link to a PowerPoint walk-through. The templates are linked within this document. Be sure to use file>download to download as a PowerPoint and not a Google file.


The library asks that someone from each group come to the library and sign up for printer/plotter time before September 26.

An environmental injustice -- of a slightly different kind

Today I want to write about environmental injustice. This is an upcoming topic to be covered soon in Environmental Issues and Insights (the second class in our core Environmental Citizen Curriculum, which I'm teaching this semester), but the particular injustice is not the usual one covered.

Usually, when college teachers speak of environmental injustice, what we are talking about are cases where minority or low income communities are discriminated against in the siting of polluting factories, incinerators, power plants and the like, and so the burden of dealing with environmental toxicity is added to the burdens of dealing with social prejudice and lack of money.

But the burden I want to speak of is one I've experienced directly, and I'm neither a minority nor do I get a particularly low income. For me, the reality of this new difficulty hit only last week when a particularly taxing search and rescue call-out, during an out-of-season rainstorm, left me with a broken vehicle and behind on my work, a situation that was only remedied by, essentially, working the whole weekend and spending several hundred dollars I didn't have on vehicle parts.

I get paid relatively well for a Maine worker, if not for a college professor, and so the difficulty is only temporary, nothing that a couple of good nights' sleep and a little belt-tightening couldn't fix.

But it did make me wonder what the same amount of stress might have done to some of my less-well off comrades in the emergency response system, while the current news buzz about denialist response to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report reminds me that we're in this fix for a reason: because of certain people who've taken it upon themselves to intersperse themselves between the American public and the truth, in many if not most cases for their own nefarious commercial gain.

This new type of environmental injustice occurs when global climate change helps create extreme weather events. The change itself is being exacerbated by our government's inability to act, which is itself caused directly by denialist groups funded by oil and coal interests such as the infamous Koch brothers, or conservative ideologues like Rupert Murdoch. If it weren't for the denialists, we might have been able to get control of emissions by now. But the emissions keep rising, at least globally, while in the US they are falling only slowly, and so the difficult, dangerous weather keeps coming. The people that are suffering most from the added incidence and severity of severe weather events -- other than the direct victims whose homes and livelihoods are wrecked -- are the first responders, police, fire, ambulance, and search and rescue professionals and volunteers.

(I'm one of the latter, a search and rescue volunteer, who also just happens to be a scientist and science educator working in the transdisciplinary nexus between energy and climate policy.)

The new environmental injustice occurs when low-income emergency volunteers, members of rural volunteer fire departments and search and rescue teams, are forced to respond to extreme weather emergencies. These added burdens stretch their ability to cope. Part of the problem is time. Another is money. Rural workers typically have to work longer hours than urban ones, and often face long commutes to get to work, often in less than perfectly maintained vehicles. They also often lack medical insurance. If a low wage worker is also an emergency volunteer worker, the unpaid hours spent on calls cut into paid work, which makes it hard to keep private vehicles gassed up and running or to pay the rest of the bills. When you're already stretched, a big wildfire, windstorm, tornado or hurricane can result in a lost job, an unpaid mortgage, a bankruptcy, a vehicular accident, an injury or illness, relationship stress, or, most likely, some combination.

The additional burden from extreme weather emergencies might easily become the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back.

This seems to me to be a clear-cut environmental injustice. There's an environmental perpetrator, environmental victims, an environmental agent that is loosed on the victims by the perpetrator, and a clear environmental remedy. It isn't quite as immediately dramatic as Erin Brockovich or A Civil Action, but it's happening all the same, and involves effects that can be just as toxic to a healthy, happy life.

The denialists are the perpetrators, especially the rich elites like the Koch brothers, the rural emergency worker whose energy, goodwill, and finances are stretched beyond bearing point is the victim, the environmental agent is the carbon emissions that result in the extreme weather, and the remedy is an environmental global policy that would result in reduced emissions and/or increased sequestration, and so limit the increased incidence of extreme weather or reverse its growth.

I expect the Koch brothers, like most of their well-to-do ilk, have various spiffy country pads, in the Berkshires, possibly, or Colorado. But the wealthy, disconnected from the gritty realities of day-to-day survival, may not realize that fire and rescue coverage in these kinds of places are typically provided by low-to-middle income volunteers and retirees.

That's right, folks: In many of the more desirable rural regions of our great country, poor people volunteer to put out fires in the homes of rich people or to search for their kids when they get lost in the woods. Go figure.

Federal money after the 9/11 attacks has boosted the quality and quantity of fire and rescue equipment that departments and teams have at their disposal, but the recession has cut into jobs and incomes in these kinds of places, and so while the technical resources look more abundant and competent than in the past, the backbone of the system, the rural volunteer, is stretched further and further.

In a more just world, it would be the residences of wealthy denialists that would go up in flames, unattended, or be blown to the ground in the cruel dark of the storm, and it would be their children and senile grandparents that would get lost in the woods, never to be found.  But, of course, these are more or less random events, life's unavoidable catastrophes. And the thing that begins to make it better is the hard, dangerous labor of the unpaid rural volunteer emergency worker, who does attend the fire and even puts it out, while the senile grandparent or precious missing grandchild does get found more often than not, although at great expense in labor and sweat.

We must now start thinking about the ethics of these things, if we are to call our society civilized.

When God handed out a sense of community and duty to each and every one of us, he didn't do so fairly. Some of us got more than our fair share, and far less of what we may really need, that Ayn Rand-type of arrogant, me-first selfishness, the kind of King Canute-type sensibility that makes one think it might be reasonable to negate a scientific fact. As a result, we emergency workers tend to suffer for our naïveté and ignorance of the real ways of the world, while others less dutiful will prosper.

The western wildfire season is coming to an end, spectacularly so in the region around Boulder, Colorado. Tornado season in the midwest and upper south is also dying down. All have been far worse than usual. Here on the eastern seaboard we're getting the last of the summer storms, which have come to include more frequent microbursts and tornadoes, while we gird our loins and pack our ready gear for hurricanes and the deep snow of winter. Both the latter have become less predictable and more damaging lately. Readers may remember how Hurricane Sandy was followed too close for comfort by deep blowing snow in the mid-Atlantic region.

In each of these places, the volunteer emergency volunteer is putting his or her life and livelihood on the line. Many, I expect, are worn to the bone, especially in Colorado right now. We should turn our attention to these good people, the backbone of rural resilience. They deserve more. They deserve the truth, unfettered by obfuscation and self-interest.

If we don't give them the truth, and act on it, the easily predictable result will be that each year, as the weather gets worse and worse, there will be fewer and fewer volunteer emergency workers to respond. The thin red line will get thinner and thinner. How could it be otherwise?

And while we wait for that truth, the denialist elites just get richer, selling us the petroleum, that we pay for ourselves, profiteering from the very gas that gets us to the firehouse or command post, in our own vehicles.

If that isn't an environmental injustice, I don't know what is.