Saturday, February 23, 2013

New study adds concern to climate sensitivity, tipping point, debate

We'll discuss this in class when the appropriate chapter comes around:

Great happenings

Photo: A great shot of new solar PV array installed by ReVision Energy last year. Stolen from the Sustainability Office's Facebook page. (Thanks Sara!) Click to enlarge and see the full width.

It's been interesting around here lately.

Little Unity, the College That Could, has been in the national news again and again with our divestment campaign. Most recently, we're featured in a very breezy and millennial-targeted Rolling Stone article by Bill McKibbon (which you can access here).

I'm hoping that this coverage will bring in some new students for our degree programs, particularly Sustainable Energy Management (SEM), Sustainable Agriculture (SustAg), Environmental Policy, Law and Society (EPLS -- which I like to pronounce "eeples"), and Earth and Environmental Science (ESS).

These are the Unity College programs that collectively and individually address the particular specific challenges that climate change raises.

All our programs have some part of sustainability science, but these programs represent the key disciplines and transdisciplinary areas required for actually solving the problems raised by climate change and other sustainability issues.

It's not much good just thinking about it. Even advocacy is only part of the solution. You also have to get it done.

Specifically, we need to figure out what government policies and private enterprises could possibly do the very difficult and complex work of dramatically reducing the widespread use of fossil fuel in housing, transportation, agriculture, industry and commerce, and thus reduce climate emissions.  Then we have to implement them, in new programs of government and private enterprise.

The first three programs I mentioned do these bits, collectively.

We also need to scientifically track our progress, as well as answer outstanding questions such as what the precise climate sensitivity to GHG emissions is (we think we know, but there remains some uncertainty) and where the tipping points are (recent evidence from Siberia suggests they are too close for comfort).

ESS does these bits, while also training students in general earth systems science.

It seems to me, in my relatively simple-minded way of thinking, that we've got it covered.

"Gotcha covered" as we say in Maine.

Closer to home, in perhaps more prosaic and practical mode, the campus farm plans are at last moving forward. A permanent livestock farm will augment our existing vegetable farm (which provides food to the cafeteria and the local food bank). The history of this effort, with a few false starts, has been complicated, and I won't go into it here.

Suffice it to say, there have been numerous efforts to break through the log-jam of college planning and build a farm on campus. Progress has been fitful. But now it seems we're almost at the finish line.

Or, more realistically, the start line. The point where planning and advocacy begin to be replaced by care and feeding routine and regulation and, most important of all, daily lessons in sustainable agriculture.

(Just back from feeding my own fat, very pregnant sheep, I need to express that I really enjoy this part. The Joy of Sheep.)

Of course, there have been lots of real and very serious lessons in the advocacy and planning stages of the farm, and students have been involved throughout, notably in the building of the barn, now beautifully kitted out and trimmed (by former student and Student Government President Jason Reynolds and his J-Build sustainable design-build firm), but more recently in planning out the livestock systems.

Here's an example. (Thanks, Shayne.)

If you build it they will come!

At least, that was the idea, back in the cold dark days before the Administration changed hands and the college made planning for a farm a budget priority. So, we built a barn.

Thanks to Sara Trunzo and Jesse Pyles and the SustAg students and many many others for making this old dream of mine a reality on campus. I feel sorry for all the students who wanted it so badly and have now graduated, but like I said, they learned lessons along the way (if only how to respond to, and work with, a slow-moving bureaucracy).

I'm very proud of the fact that after many years of fitful, isolated, and disorganized efforts this whole system of thinking and doing at Unity College is beginning to gel nicely.

I predicted this would happen, a very long time ago in college life (see this 2004 article here), and many generations of students have come and gone since, so this is a major personal vindication.

Now we just have to keep it up, don't we.

And perhaps expand it to students who would like to study at Unity College, but can't, for one reason or another, get here physically.

That would be the online/distance learning part, which I'm now directly involved in planning.

Unity College may one day soon have certificate and degree programs in sustainability that you can attend "from away."

Of course, there's no substitute for actually coming to Unity, Maine, so my own preference, and the idea I'm particularly advocating, is that our online programs include a short residency option which would allow online students to come to Unity College for part of the summer, see and work on our exemplary sustainable campus, and participate directly in the intellectual work of the college, if only for a short stint.

Think of it as a working vacation in sustainability.

Any takers?

Friday, February 22, 2013

National Park Service summer job

Climate Change Communication Paid Internships, Summer 2013

National Park Service (National Capital Region) &

George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication

Deadline: March 31, 2013


The National Park Service (NPS) cares for special places saved by the American people so that all may experience our heritage.  In this capacity, NPS is in a unique position to observe changes brought about by global warming, and to engage park visitors and neighbors in conversations about climate change.  George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication (4C) conducts research on, and teaches about, climate change public engagement strategies.

Seven interns will have the opportunity to work with 4C, NPS park staff and the NPS’s Urban Ecology Research Learning Alliance on climate change communication projects at National Parks  in the Greater Washington, D.C. area in the summer of 2013.

The 10-week internships are open to graduate students or exceptional rising senior undergraduate students studying in any relevant field.   Students must be attending a U.S. accredited college or university and must be legally allowed to work in the U.S.   All interns must pass a Federal government background check.

Please indicate in your resume and cover letter your experience or knowledge on the following::

-Background in communication, marketing. journalism, social science, or environmental sciences

-Experience with social media in an organizational context

-Volunteering or volunteer management experience

-Outdoor education, interpretation or natural resource management experience

One intern will serve the multimedia production needs of the intern team. This individual should have a background in visual and audio media, including photography, videography, sound/radio production, and/or graphic design.  If you would like to be considered for this position, please indicate so in your cover letter.

Dates, Duration, and Location

Internships are full time (40 hours per week) for ten weeks, running from June 17 to August 23, 2013, with the possibility of extension through early September for individual interns if there schedule permits.   All work will take place in the Washington, DC metro area.  Housing is not provided.  Having a personal vehicle is strongly recommended but not required


Interns will be paid $250 per week, paid biweekly.

How to Apply

Applicants should submit the following materials (combined as one PDF file with applicant’s name as the file name) to with “NPS4C:[Applicant Name]” as the subject line:  (1) your resume or CV; (2) your undergraduate and/or graduate transcript (unofficial is acceptable); (3) a one page cover letter discussing your specific interest in the internship and highlighting your qualifications.  The cover letter should also contain the name, contact information, and nature of the relationship (e.g., professor, employer) for two individuals who may serve as a reference. Inquiries regarding this internship may be directed to  Applicants will be notified by mid April if they have been selected.

Deadline for all application materials: March 31, 2013


The NPS and 4C seek a diverse cohort of interns.  Applicants with diverse backgrounds from under-represented groups are encouraged to apply.

Please complete the distance learning survey

Dear students:

If you've heard the buzz, you know your Unity College faculty and administration are considering adding opportunities in online and distance education.

This might include (but is not limited to):
  • Having online courses of our own that you can take while on break or during term time
  • Requiring more online material out of class time, such as the "flipped" classroom ideas used in Dr. Phillippi's General Genetics class, where you study the course lectures on video in your own time and work on problems in class
  • Allowing Unity College credit for partner institutions' online courses (after a quality control check). An example might be these Teacher Education courses here:
  • Allowing students to take an exam for credit after taking a non-credit-bearing course online, such as these ones here
  • Creating online or partly online certificate, bachelor's and even master's degree programs in important new areas such as sustainability science
  • Being able to "attend" Unity College from away, or while in another country.
  • Other (countless) possibilities with new technology
Some of these options would allow you more choice, more time to do a job outside of school, or save you some money on tuition. But on the flip side, this is "Americas Environmental College" where we do our best to be "hands-on and minds-on." We also must protect the academic integrity and employment value of the Unity College degree.

So we want to know what best to do.

Of course, we want to hear from you about what you think about all this. We'll be holding some focus groups around campus later this term, and some of you will be invited to join, but all of you are invited to fill out our survey.

The survey can be found at

Please fill it out and tell us what you think. We'll use these data to help us decide what best to do, and what the priority is.

NOTE: the survey is intended to be anonymous, but some of you are the only student or one of only a few students in a very small major, particularly the old (pre-2012) majors. If this is you, and if you don't want it to be possible to identify you, check the "Prefer not to answer" option.

Thanks for helping out.

Mick Womersley
Chair of the Distance Learning Task Force

Dear students:

A short follow up: Many thinks to the many students that already completed the survey.

One minor glitch: If you have a private Google account, you'll need to sign out and sign into to your UC account (UC username and email password) to complete the survey.

One student asked why we need to know what major the survey respondents are. The answer is, if students from any particular major were more (or less) enthusiastic about distance learning options, we might use that knowledge to prioritize our efforts. But, if you know you're the only student in a small major, or one of the last students in a pre-2012 curriculum revision major, and you wish to remain perfectly anonymous, you may click "prefer not to answer."

You might also like to tell us we should concentrate efforts in a non-major area (e.g., general education, computer science, math, or English), or in some kind of completely new programming. Use the open-ended question at the end of the survey.

Thanks again.


Link to survey:

NEON still hiring

Link to old post and link to job announcement.

Environmental Photographer of the Year award

Highly recommended, shocking, amazing pictures:

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Randers wants us to work less.

Yes please. Can I start tomorrow?

The problem, even if my work week was reduced from it's current 45-60 hours, I'd probably just go home and grow more food, or spend more time insulating my old farmhouse.

But this is definitely an idea whose time will come one day.

How can we have any hope of a more equitable distribution of production if access to remunerative employment is so haphazard and arbitrary and uneven? Especially when capitalist theory ensures that for most folks employment is the prerequisite for even minimal consumption?

Of course, this is another notion that will have to wait for the supernatural glow that seems to surround the word "capitalism" in the US and Britain to fade a little. Not much. Just enough to allow a more reasoned analysis of the real costs and benefits of free markets, especially the cost of climate change.

BTW, for any true sustainability geeks reading, a reminder that Randers is of course one of the four authors of the original 1972 Limits to Growth study.

Another is of course our own Bill Behrens, who is a part-owner of ReVision Energy, the top regional renewable energy consultants and installers in this part of the world, and a major partner for Unity College sustainability efforts.

Bill is a modest guy, and unlike the rest of his earlier colleagues, doesn't even get a Wikipedia page of his own. One small, possibly annoying service I like to perform to humanity and the academy is to remind folks of Bill's earlier life, and at the same time point out that at least one sustainability academic learned to reduce the amount of time he spent studying sustainable practices in the ivory tower, and increase the amount of time he spent out there in the real world reducing unsustainable ones.

Bill's second career has made a real physical difference to the world's energy consumption and climate emissions, one solar panel at a time.

He's not going to get a Nobel for that, but in my book, he's a hero.

Along with everyone and everyone who's ever insulated a house, put up a wind turbine, switched out a light bulb, planted a garden, raised a calf or a lamb or a chick, done an energy audit, or just simply walked to work or school. We need doers as well as thinkers in this sustainability project, and even some of our best thinkers could use a little more practice in doing, just to help tidy up their thinking and make it more realistic.

Update: An article on the four-day work week, including the experiments under Governor Huntsman in Utah.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Unity at the mall

You know, students are always messing around at the mall on weekends, right?

But which mall?

Ours have even more of an attitude than most "mall rats."

(Here's a great shot of our students at this weekend's climate campaign rally in DC. Click on the image to enlarge. Go Rams!)

For more, go to the UC Sustainability Monitor.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

"System of rice intensification" and other notes on agriculture

Here's a Guardian article on some positive developments in Indian rice farming. Apparently these Bihari farmers are using a careful system of seedlings and plant spacing to improve yields. This is an article quite useful to our current classroom discussions about the sustainability of agriculture, since it shows methods by which food production might be increased, without increasing the total area of land used, and possibly decreasing climate emissions.

The particular farming method developed here sounds a lot like the old French Intensive method of vegetable-raising, which I learned many years ago at the Findhorn eco-commune in Scotland. A French priest seems to have been involved early in the development of the system and I wonder if he was influenced by the older theory.

When I first began farming and gardening in Maine I attempted to use the French system, making raised beds and double-digging, then planting geometrically. Eventually I gave up for lack of time and the need for a system that made better use of small scale agro-machinery. Land wasn't the limiting factor. Indeed, we kept expanding the size of our garden, and even today we could still double or triple it again, and not notice any great loss of land for other purposes.

Labor was a limiting factor.

I also found that French Intensive methods encouraged some Maine pests and plant diseases, particularly potato bugs and the late blight. The idea is to plant seedlings and seeds close together and geometrically so you maximize the use of land and so adult plants use up all the available space, inhibiting weed growth. But this allowed potato bugs lots more places to hide, making bug-picking a good deal harder, and it prevented the free flow of air needed to dry out the under-leaves of tomato plants.

Here's what that looked like. You can see the geometric planting in the first photo, and the resultant lush-but-crowded growth in the second.

The blight especially thrived in the damp humid conditions in my tightly planted tomato beds. I love my tomatoes, and the loss of a couple of year's worth of tomato harvests soon had me revising my systems.

I reverted by stages to using straight lines with enough distance between the rows to use my various tillers judiciously, and my yields improved accordingly. The tomatoes dried out and the potato bugs were easier to find and pick. The weeds were still under control (at the cost of an additional gallon or two of gas for the tillers) and the whole thing was achieved with a minimum of the hand cultivation which I really didn't have time for in the first place, especially since a large portion of my summer is spent doing time-consuming fieldwork for wind energy research

Here's the result last season. A little messy, but productive. You can see how much more bare space there is between plants. Regular tilling keeps the weeds down.

I was particularly pleased with the leeks and carrots, two crops that really do seem to prefer rows. Here's the killing of the "fatted leek" for Aimee's favorite leek-and-barley soup.

This more traditional system was in fact the one taught me by my grandfather, an English master gardener, and I soon remembered some of the tricks he taught me, including the use of string lines to keep the rows straight, and the use of knee boards while setting out seedlings to prevent trampling of freshly tilled or dug ground, and, despite Aimee's objections, even began to pinch back my tomato suckers, just as I was shown as a very young boy.

I should mention that row-farming is still technically an intensive system of agriculture. An example of an extensive system might be something like sheep farming in the Australian outback, where a lot of land is used.

But if you have limited land of high fertility, the French system works well for vegetables, especially leaf vegetables. You can control the usual green leaf vegetable pests such as leaf miners and flea beetles with floating row cover. Large yields are possible, and a lot of commercial organic farmers still use it for leafy vegetables. It works well, just not for my current purposes.

I don't see any reason why it wouldn't also work for rice.

How are climate emissions reduced by smaller scale, intensive, organic or traditional agriculture? By reducing the need for large quantities of nitrogenous fertilizer made from natural gas using the Haber-Bosch process, and by reducing the size and scale of agricultural machinery. Local or self-reliant agriculture may also reduce climate emissions due to "food miles," compared to industrial production, although whether or not this is true depends on the efficiency of the particular husbandry and transportation systems being compared.

Smaller scale, intensive, organic or traditional agricultures may also create jobs, revitalize rural life, reduce disease in consumers and farm families, help conserve agricultural land and opportunities for recreation, including access for hunting and fishing, and generally provide a healthy lifestyle.

We'll explore these possibilities next week, beginning by using this video here:

All this talk of farming is making me think about getting ready for spring. The seed order arrived last week, but Aimee hasn't planted any flats of seedlings yet. Of course, lambing will come first, in about four to six week's time. We'll be sure to keep students posted, and have some up to the farm.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Green Keynesianism gathers momentum

Earth from Space: New "Nova" vid for class

I watched this at home last night, and was pleased a) that it was available online immediately and b) that it reflected much of the discussion in recent class meetings for GL 4003 Global Change.

We'll watch some of this in class and assign the rest for homework.

This embed is just for part one (the whole thing is two hours).

Watch Earth from Space on PBS. See more from NOVA.

More on the "Guilty Men"

Here's more on the truly irresponsible people that are the problem.

While here is a man who may be part of the solution:

Thursday, February 7, 2013


Maine Organic Farmers And Gardeners Association

Job Announcement
Posted February 7, 2013

Immediate Opening For Administrative Assistant
The Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association (MOFGA) has an immediate job opening for an Administrative Assistant in the office in Unity. Primary responsibilities include answering phones, opening and delivering mail, and providing other administrative support to staff. A detailed job description is available on MOFGA's website. If you are interested in applying for this position, please send a cover letter, resume and list of three professional references to MOFGA, PO Box 170, Unity, ME 04988. The position will remain open until we find the appropriate candidate.

CA-CP Fellowships!

Clean Air-Cool Planet is now inviting applications for our competitive 2013 Climate Fellowship program.

CA-CP’s Climate Fellowships pair outstanding students with important projects that will propel the US toward a low-carbon future. Fellows spend 10 weeks during the summer working on meaningful, challenging projects at CA-CP and with our partners. In return, Fellows receive a stipend, as well as supervision, mentorship, and unique networking opportunities. 2013 Fellows will also join a growing group of nearly 50 CA-CP Climate Fellowship alumni, the vast majority of whom have remained in the environmental/energy fields.

Review available Fellowship postings and learn how to apply at All Fellowship applications must be received by March 1, 2013, in order to be considered.

Please circulate widely.

Clean Air-Cool Planet Team

Saturday, February 2, 2013

The good news: US climate emissions continue to decline

Here's the report that says this, from Bloomberg, the financial analysts:

Here's a short Guardian article that gives the main details:

The main difficulty, as I've mentioned elsewhere on this blog, is that Chinese and Indian and other developing country emissions will fill in behind the US, I'm afraid.

The remedy is a strong international agreement, or, failing that, some kind of climate free trade zone scheme, as explained in earlier posts.