Saturday, August 31, 2013

Friday, August 30, 2013

The graduate's skills

  1. Read, research, study, comprehend, thoroughly
  2. Write, speak, otherwise communicate (with drama, new media, etc) lucidly, engagingly, professionally
  3. Analyze quantitatively, precisely
  4. Think critically
  5. Lead ethically

Top level job with Sgurr Energy in Portland, Maine

Too much experience is required for recent graduates, but it gives an idea of some of the opportunities there are now available, even in Maine:

Link to slides used in yesterday's field trip to see the Womerlippi extension

Historic House of Commons debate on Syrian chemical weapons attack

How to respond to the Syrian chemical weapons attacks on its own people is a "wicked problem" for the western countries, if ever there was one. It touched off what can only be described as an historic debate in the House of Commons, the lower (and more powerful) house of the British parliament. The best round-up of debate video was in The Telegraph, using ITN footage:

Here's Conservative/Liberal-Democrat Coalition Prime Minister David Cameron making the case for the government's motion:

Here's Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour Party, making the case for an amendment that would have more carefully structured any response, but that may also have had the effect of tying the government's hands.

The speaker calls for the results of the "division", or vote:

Meanwhile, the BBC happened to have a film crew in a rebel-held area of Syria when Syrian jets used some kind of incendiary bomb against a school playground. The footage is pretty gruesome. You may prefer not to watch this one.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Surveys for ESS

There are two surveys ALL students in Environmantal Scenarios and Solutions are being asked to take. Please complete them as soon as you can. Here are links:

Campus Compact survey:

Unity College Community Based Learning survey:

Summary characteristics of "wicked" problems

The first list is taken directly from Rittel and Weber (1973).
  1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true or false, but good or bad.
  4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a "one-shot operation"; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
  6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
  7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
  8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
  9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem's resolution.
  10. The planner has no right to be wrong (i.e.: Planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
Here's a more generalized list from Conklin (2005).
  1. The problem is not understood until after the formulation of a solution.
  2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
  3. Solutions to wicked problems are not right or wrong.
  4. Every wicked problem is essentially novel and unique.
  5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a 'one shot operation.'
  6. Wicked problems have no given alternative solutions.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Wicked problems and their origin: For ESS

One of the foci for this semester's Environmental Scenarios and Solutions experience is the concept of "wicked" and "super wicked" problems.

I was looking for a reading to assign, and although there's a lot of more up to date material, I finally settled on one of the original sources for the idea of wicked problems, a paper by Rittel and Webber titled Dilemmas in a General Theory of Planning, from 1973.

Students in my section are assigned to read this paper and to respond in groups by coming up with an important, relevant, interesting wicked problem in their discipline or career field. You should produce a short presentation using images and words for your class colleagues. Name and define the field and the wicked problem, and then explain it to your colleagues in an engaging way. Explain, based on the characteristics given in Rittel and Webber why this particular problem is wicked. Identify, if possible, the main avenues for solutions.

Due Friday Sept 6th in class.

You will get opportunities to workshop this in class today and tomorrow (Friday), and possibly again at our to-be-rescheduled plenary session.

Here's the groups that we chose:

Avian science: Sarah, Laura, Allison, Connor, Eve
Marine science: Kieu, Zach, Mandy
Writing: Josiah, Michelle
Law enforcement: Lisa, Dana, Joe
Veterinary medicine: Makayla, Alicia
Endangered mammals: Adam, Brian, Zach, Autumn

Friday, August 23, 2013

Four years wasted?

I'm not sure I agree with her bipolar viewpoint, but here's a Guardian column from a woman who wasn't encouraged to go into technology as a young person and did later, She came to feel her humanities degree was wasted effort.

Garrison's Keillor's proverbial "English Major?"

But with firms that can't find people to fill tech-related positions (for example, here and here), we should definitely be training more young folk in technology, especially energy technology.

Here's a more balanced viewpoint from the Chronicle of Higher Education.

Clearly the humanities have a role to play. But a balance of skills, with strong technical competence, is obviously a winner.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Fifth Assessment Report leaked

Those of us in the climate business were waiting for the Fifth Assessment Report of the IPCC to be released in a few weeks' time, but the highlights are reported today in the Guardian and the NYT, following a leak.

The estimated sensitivity range (for a doubling of CO2 from pre-industrial levels) has been reduced, which is good news. The certainty that recent warming is anthropogenic has been increased, which is not. And the Antarctic is now confirmed to be melting, which is horrible.

We already knew all this from reading the scientific literature, but the Act of Confirmation bestowed by the IPCC has symbolism and political weight.

(Determining exactly why this is so would make a good MS thesis topic in scientific communications.)

BTW (no irony intended), we may now have acronym trouble, possibly due to a lack of foresight when we labeled the Fourth Assessment Report the "FAR."

I've been obsessing for no good reason about this very slight difficulty since I realized it would occur nearly a year ago now. But I haven't come up with a great solution.

F2AR? 5AR?

I think 5AR is the clearest usage, so I'll use that until someone comes up with a better idea.

Here's the leaked report, on a private blog called Stop Green Suicide that appears to be denialist inspired and has links to Watts Up with That. The author seems to have various axes to grind, several of which are publicized on the same landing page as the leaked 5AR.

Which I expect is why he leaked the material, since he's now guaranteed thousands if not millions of hits. Fame and fortune in a heartbeat. But what a numpty!

He was given the 5AR for comment. I doubt he'll even be invited to comment again!

So far the leak hasn't been forced down by the ISP or any authority.

Which, by the way, gives the lie to all the right-wing nonsense about the All-Powerful United Nations, doesn't it?

Friday, August 16, 2013

Unity College's Jimmy Carter panels in the news again

This is truly the gift that keeps on giving, at least for the college's Public Relations Office. Our first Carter panel news article was nearly ten years ago now. My first web page about the panels, long ago removed from the college's web site in favor of more up to date material, went up in 2002!

It was that web page that the Switzerland-based videographers of A Road Not Taken, Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller, used to"rediscover" the panels and begin the process of making the movie.

Now it seems that the solar panels will finally return to the White House.

Here's a link to all the blog articles I've written that contain the search phrase Jimmy Carter. These only go back to 2007.

And here's the panels as they once were, on the cafeteria roof:

Your starter for ten...

(A couple of videos to provide inspiration for the upcoming academic year's activities.)

Thursday, August 15, 2013

"Passive" versus "pretty good?"

Passive solar design is in the news today. Time for a catch-up.

Here's a link to a New York Times article today lauding the passive house concept.

Full disclosure: The prototype for the Bensonwood design discussed in the article is the Unity College Presidential Residence, which we call the "Unity House."

This building is an important piece of recent architecture, and an important milestone in the ongoing energy-and-climate crisis. We also have the Terra House on campus, the first passive solar student residence in the US.

The NYT article also discusses the "pretty good house" concept, an all-American attempt to reduce the very high passive house standard to something do-able with the level of skill, training, interest and finance in the American construction industry.

I think that the "pretty good house" is also an important architectural concept, and an important milestone in the climate-and-energy crisis of the early 21st century.

One of these days, perhaps in a hundred years' time or so, we'll look back at this period and write histories of how humans came to terms with climate change. We'll then realize how important building design is to tackling climate change, and we'll highlight milestones in design development, much as today we consider James Watt and Henry Ford as milestones in the Industrial Revolution.

Our college president is a leader in the "divestment" campaign, whereby colleges and universities and pension funds and so on are encouraged to divest themselves of investments in fossil energy.

Buildings are a major investment for individuals and institutions.

Buildings can and should be divested too.

Passive design is super green. It's an attainable standard for new buildings, if you can afford 10-30% extra costs. "Pretty good", on the other hand, can be achieved within the existing budget. It's a compromise, but a sensible one.

This summer I attempted to use the "pretty good house" approach with our new extension at Womerlippi Farm. This is not a worldwide or national milestone, but it was important to me as a sustainability "deed."

We'll follow almost all the recommendations, including the commissioning. The blower door test will take place later this fall semester as part of the Unity College Green Building class, which is part of our Sustainable Energy Management degree.

So here's my summer green design "research project,"  a six-hundred foot extension to the farmhouse, built to "pretty good house" standards, with particular emphasis on local materials and low price. I haven't added up all the invoices yet, but I easily expect to come in under $20,000, including the septic extension.

And here's the inside as it stands today. This is our new living room.

In my last few days of summer break, I'm crunching on drywall. I'd like to have the taping and mudding done in the two largest rooms.

Here's a link to the whole slideshow of the building process.

Of course, that $20,000 does not include any labor consideration. My labor came "free,*"  a result of my nine-month Unity College faculty work year, which gives me the summer off, unpaid, but with the expectation that I will use at least some of that time in research and praxis related to my field.

I think this counts, don't you?

What do you think the Unity College Faculty Evaluation Committee will say when I use it in the "Professional Development" section of my next faculty evaluation?

* Footnote! Any economist will tell you in a heartbeat that the "free" labor statement is not accurate -- the opportunity cost of my labor is actually the wage I could have gotten working on my next most remunerative job. But I prefer to take a more holistic view. I enjoyed building this "pretty good" extension, and learned a lot from the process. That enjoyment and learning was additional "remuneration." And the SEM students that have green energy internships in our local area also visited the building site and learned something too.

Monday, August 12, 2013

A nifty idea in renewable lighting...

... and something we might be able to fabricate, at least as a mock-up, in Physics and Renewable Energy classes.

A good way to teach the Laws of Gravity and Thermodynamics, and some small-scale mechanics and fabrication.

If you want to sponsor these guys to get to their beta test, the link is here. (But it seems like they have the cash they need -- for now. I expect they will need more to scale up.)

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Climate Corps! Good starter job in sustech

From: Emily S@@@@@
Sent: Tuesday, August 06, 2013 8:50 PM
Subject: Sustainability Fellowship Opportunity for Your Graduating Students

For your graduating students who want to jumpstart their careers in sustainability:

Alameda County, California, is recruiting 6 Climate Corps Bay Area Fellows to work on exciting topics such as expanding bicycle facilities in the East Bay, engaging new audiences in composting and zero waste, and greening preschools! One or two of the Fellows will be reporting to me (former program coordinator at Harvard's Office of Sustainability/Green Campus Initiative) so I very much appreciate your help in enriching our talent pool by spreading the word.

Please share this opportunity with talented graduates you know and advise them to apply ASAP for these 10-month positions. More information about Climate Corps Bay Area Fellowships and positions with Alameda County in Oakland is below. (Candidates apply online centrally and indicate their interest in Alameda County positions.)

John Cook

At the AGU climate communications conference:

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Internship advice to an SEM major

This is some advice I gave to a student yesterday, which I thought was worthy of keeping handy for future reference and for others to read if they are interested.

Published with consent, anonymized:

On 7/30/13 6:39 PM, XXXX wrote:

>>>>>>>Subject: Internships for sus tech for next summer


Hopefully your summer is going well, I'm emailing you in the hope for some advice and help on internships. I know I need to complete an
internship as a requirement to graduate and being a Junior this upcoming year I need to complete it next summer for sure. I've been searching online websites all summer and I'm not having the luck I thought I would be having. I feel its in my best interest to seek your advice because you're my adviser and in the same field of study and knowledgeable in sustech. Is this something I should be worrying about at this point in the summer or should I wait and make an appointment with you when I get back to school? I know the basics of what an internship is and why its important but I feel I could use guidance and help to make sure I'm doing everything right so I can graduate on time. Have a good rest of your summer and I look forward to being in your classes next semester.
Thank you in advance,

>>>>>>>Subject: Re: Internships for sus tech for next summer


First up, don't worry. We've had four Sustech students out on internships this summer. You'll see the presentations in the fall, assuming you're still signed up for Green Building. Two of the four were organized by me,two by the students themselves. Internships for green energy jobs are not scarce, and the college has great connections in this area. In fact the demand for Unity college SEM students for internships is greater than the supply of students. It's other majors where competition is higher, like CLE or Captive, that typically must worry more. You may be picking up on some of the buzz from your friends. So chill. It will be fine.

Second, the main concern in an internship is to get useful valid practical experience in your field. This means that it's time to begin narrowing down the very wide array of opportunities there are for careers in the Sustech field to one or a few options that you're willing to pursue, at least for now. This isn't a commitment for life, but it does require some decision-making and commitment on your part, if you're to get the best out of it. You need to have a good idea of which part(s) of the booming green tech field you're most interested in.

I suspect that this last part is the biggest difficulty for many middle-career (sophomore/junior) SEM students. As I explained when you
Long story short, we'll talk in the fall, but you'll need to begin to do some research on your own. I suggest you start with these webpages here:

Read some of the news bulletins (for background as to expanding areas where firms are hiring), check out the jobs boards, and look hard at the kinds of jobs and choices there are.

You also need to have a good handle on which parts of the country you want to live in, or if you're willing to travel at all, as well as whether or not you're willing to go to grad school or to take a tech course such as the NABCEP or BPI as an adjunct to your Unity College degree. Go to the NABCEP and BPI websites and check them out. There are others, but these are good for starters.

If you don't mind, I'd like to anonymize your letter and post it to our blog so other students and prospective students can read your very good question, and my answer. Let me know if this is OK and come see me soonest in the fall.