Monday, December 29, 2014

A Wind Turbine for Christmas!

Here is the new wind turbine students and I helped set up for our Unity College colleagues Brent and Erin. The turbine head used was a new Maine-made Pika, connected as a battery-charging turbine to Brent and Erin's existing off-grid solar electrical system, where it would make up for the relatively poor sunshine Maine gets in the winter.

Maine only gets an average of 2.5 hours direct sunshine a day in winter, which is enough to charge household batteries if you have a lot of panels, but after some point adding panels is less cost-effective than adding a wind turbine because you have to add batteries as well, and batteries are expensive. We get a lot of wind in Maine in the winter. This is a particularly favorable small wind site, at an altitude of around 500 feet above sea level with very little higher ground between it and the coast. It has an average annual wind speed of approximately 4.5 to 5.5 meters per second at 50m AGL, based on our local measurements, more in winter. The couple were looking forward to being able to do their laundry any day of the week.





This was a beta test install for Pika, a new company we have corresponded with and helped out a little since it got going a few years ago, and we're all interested in the results. I'm particularly interested in the reliability. Pika claims up to five years without maintenance, which I think is probably an industry best for small wind turbines if it pans out.

The college donated a used six-inch, forty-meter NRG Systems anemometer tower to Brent and Erin to use as a turbine tower, in return for the right to visit the turbine and use it in training. Brent, Erin and I -- mostly Brent and Erin, with me directing via email and short site visits, during which I often was holding our newborn baby -- worked together to puzzle out how to trim it to a 100-footer, Pika sent a crew to assemble the head to our tower, then together we raised it successfully in one day.

The following day Brent and Erin adjusted the tower, turned the power on and by the end of the day were gratified by a full charge on their batteries.

This project was being planned at the end of the semester, but because of various delays involving the fabrication of the transition section from the NRG tower to Pika's turbine head, the work slopped over into our break, meaning that SEM students were not available to participate in the raising, but they did help with some of the labor of getting the tower out of storage.

This lost opportunity doesn't bother me too much because a) we have visiting rights and b) the tower will have to be lowered for maintenance in the future, and students can obviously help with that. There are a number of local turbines where we get called in to help, and we also have our small training tower on campus, so missing the original installation of this particular turbine was not such a big deal.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why arrogant, top-down sustainability-leadership is on the way out

Excerpted from the Guardian, written by Dr Jem Bendell, professor of Sustainability Leadership at the University of Cumbria:

"Instead of a focus on heroes with great traits, to develop sustainability leadership we should enhance our understanding of how to develop leaderful groups, where senior role holders act as hosts not heroes, and enable leadership to emerge from within the group. It means insights on group facilitation, group dynamics, system change and personal mindfulness...."

The whole thing is at

http://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2014/dec/02/obsession-heroic-sustainability-leader-leave-us-disappointed

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Pendulum waves

video


This is a nice low-key lab for the end of the semester "silly season." Relaxing.

video


video

video
video

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Vehicle safety report

Yesterday afternoon, 12 students and one instructor from PS 2003 Physics, Mechanics and Energy performed safety checks and pulled trouble codes on 55 student and staff vehicles, a record for this activity.

We checked lights, fluid levels, tire wear, and tire pressure. We also "pulled" check engine light "trouble codes" using a laptop-based code-puller device, and dispensed advice as to what to do about them.

Several more dangerous safety concerns were noted that would have almost certainly related in a winter travel "fail" and possibly a stranding, or worse, an accident. They are detailed here along with further instructions to help educate college community members about vehicle safety:
  • Several vehicles with disturbing low engine oil level. We added up to two quarts of oil. By the time a four-quart oil sump is down to two quarts, there's only half the oil there should be circulating to do the job of cooling and lubricating the engine. If you are losing or using oil like this, you should monitor your oil every time you add gas to the tank, and find out where the oil is going. You want to know.
  • Several "customers" reporting "not worried" or "not bothered" by check engine lights being on. The problem with this theory is that the check engine light may come on one day for something fairly safe, say a small leak in the evaporative emissions system, but while the light is on, a more problematic defect can occur, and the driver never know. If your check engine light is on, you should find out what the codes mean. If you choose to ignore the defect, you then need to regularly pull check engine codes, in case an additional defect occurs while the light is already on.
  • Many vehicles had tires that had only a millimeter or two of tread remaining. Several had completely bald tires. The Maine regulations require at least a millimeter all round, but this isn't nearly enough for Maine winter driving conditions, especially in a rear-wheel drive vehicle. These vehicles are extremely dangerous. These students were advised to get new all-weather or winter tires, and, until then, not to drive at all in snow storms.
  • Several customers reported that they had to "try" to make it through the winter with touring tires, some of which were worn out as above. These types of tires, which are made of much harder material than all weather or winter tires to last longer, and tend to have linear tread patterns for low road noise, are only adequate for Maine winter driving after all snow is cleared from the road.
  • At least three 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, and 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. This should only cost around thirty dollars, much cheaper than an accident.
  • One vehicle had been driven with low tire pressure on one tire for many miles. In addition to ensuring very poor steering and handling -- the tire was in a front drive wheel -- this tire was prematurely worn out. A vehicle driven long miles with low air pressure will wear out the edge of the tire before the middle. See these pictures here.
  • One vehicle with dangerously high tire pressures, above 40 psi. The correct tire pressure is not the maximum tire pressure written on the tire. It's the recommended tire pressure given in the owner's manual or written on a small sticker on the drivers-side door. Too much air in your tires can be dangerous too, just like too little air. You'll bounce more very time you hit a bump, and can bounce yourself clean off the road. You'll also wear out your tires unevenly, and have poorer traction in snow.
  • Various vehicles check engine lights for oxygen sensor.
An interesting new phenomenon was that at least seven customers were not able to turn on their headlight high beams for checking. Two were not able to turn on their headlights. Automatic photo-voltaic-operated headlight switches that turn the lights on when it gets dark seem to be the source. Suburban living negates the need for high beams. However in Maine high beams are needed to avoid hitting deer and other animals. We recommend that drivers familiarize themselves with all their vehicles controls, using the owner's manual. For students that have older cars and no longer have the manual, most are now available online.

That concludes our 2014 winter vehicle safety report.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

EII climate change quiz

Instructions:

Respond to the following questions (these are the same ones we've discussed in class) in paragraph form based on our classroom discussion, the video below from college President Mulkey, and the associated Town Hall meeting.

Due the last day of finals week. Was supposed to be 20% of grade but now reduced to 10%.

Questions:
  1. Is there climate change?
  2. What is causing climate change? Is it natural or humans or both? If humans, how did they start it? How did it become so drastic?
  3. What will be the effects of climate change?
  4. Should we be concerned?
  5. Can climate change be stopped or slowed?
  6. How can we do so? How can we reduce the human influence on climate change? Should we learn to control the planet's climate, perhaps via geoengineering?
  7. What are the political and economic conditions required to slow or stop climate change? What level of emissions regulation is needed? What kind of education is required? Should we get rid of consumerism?

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Our climate questions (from EII)



  1. Is there climate change?
  2. What is causing climate change? Is it natural or humans or both? If humans, how did they start it? How did it become so drastic?
  3. What will be the effects of climate change?
  4. Should we be concerned?
  5. Can climate change be stopped or slowed?
  6. How can we do so? How can we reduce the human influence on climate change? Should we learn to control the planet's climate, perhaps via geoengineering?
  7. What are the political and economic conditions required to slow or stop climate change? What level of emissions regulation is needed? What kind of education is required? Should we get rid of consumerism?

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Last two assignments for EII

Assignment #3: Create a script or storyboard for your final digital storytelling assignment.
  1. Choose a group, or chose to work alone. 
  2. Chose the environmental leader or leaders whose work you choose to highlight with a presentation. Remember, presentations may be audio, video, narrated slideshow or any of the choices listed below. The only requirement is that the presentation play itself (or be staged, if a traditional play or sketch)
  3. Prepare a storyboard or script
  4. Each individual or group member must hand in their own storyboard or script. In the next assignment you will come together to make only one final submission, but for now, you work alone. This is so I can be sure that each of you learns the basic techniques
  5. If making a video, study the You-Tube how-to below, and prepare a storyboard
  6. If making audio or a narrated slideshow, prepare a script
  7. Produce an introduction to your storyboard or script that explains your project, including thesis statement, evidence, and conclusion
  8. Hand in the introduction plus the storyboard or script
  9. Due either Friday before Thanksgiving break or Monday after, by email

 



Assignment 4:
  1. Research an environmental leader or issue of your choice. You may work in groups or alone. 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 video, audio, narrated slideshow, or other media production built around the thesis, providing supporting evidence, highlighting the work of the leader and their organization
  2. Due either the last day of the semester (Friday Dec 12th) or in time for the student conference (Wednesday Dec 10) -- your choice. Student conference participation is optional, but may be recommended for the best products
  3. 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 then stick to it.
  4. 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 the story 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.
  5. 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.
  6. Here is a winning example from last year.
     



Examples of allowable media:

Video documentary

Video storytelling

Stage plays

Sketch comedy

Storytelling

Traditional video documentary

Narrated slideshows and presentations

Others, after timely negotiation with the instructor




Second midterm exam for Introduction to Economics

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3721mV8y-nyNWZDWVZEWEw3dGM/view?usp=sharing

I like this guy

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2014/nov/05/climate-scientist-klaus-jacob-warning-new-york-city-hurricane-sandy

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

An important project

This is from the Guardian, about The Nature Conservancy's controversial Iron Range Experiment, a forest conservation project wherein tree genotypes are deliberately moved northward to adapt the forest to climate change. It's an important read for environmentalists.

http://www.theguardian.com/vital-signs/2014/oct/19/-sp-forests-nature-conservancy-climate-change-adaptation-minnesota-north-woods

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Food chains and webs

Also for class Wednesday


For class Wednesday


Why you must try harder in college

This interesting graphic, which most of us in the higher education "industry" will recognize as familiar, came accompanied by the headline "Why College isn't for Everyone -- in a Single Chart."

For starters, Fortune (the authors, or at least purveyors), it's a graph, not a chart. (If you think there isn't a difference, then you must have flunked statistics.)

For seconds, why doesn't it instead mean "Why You Must Try Harder in College"?

It's true that for-profitry and other "money-lending" has crept into the "temple" of higher education in recent decades, and so non-egalitarians like the authors and readers of Fortune might easily draw such conclusions. And I would certainly agree -- albeit from the idealistic, not the business viewpoint -- that the holiness of said temple has been sorely compromised as a result.

But we don't need Jesus to sort this right away, thank you, even though the image of him rampaging through the plush corporate offices of Pheonix and their ilk is, I confess, attractive.

For even if money-lending has crept in, it certainly hasn't reduced the competition function of college. If society has any hopes of edging back towards the stalwart Fabian meritocracy my Roundhead forefathers (and I) expected would one day develop, then it has to have a strong system of competition based on cleverness.

And clearly it still does, at least in part.

My evidence? The same ruddy "chart", thank you.


https://fortunedotcom.files.wordpress.com/2014/09/college-wage.jpg

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Demand energy equality

A great new environmental group in the UK. Hands-on home-made solar power demonstrators in the high street. Awesome.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/oct/10/soldering-iron-solar-power-saving-world-diy

Friday, October 10, 2014

EII assignment on the US Environmental Movement

This assignment is an exercise in research, critical thinking and informal writing.

Follow all instructions. Due Friday October 24th by email or hard copy.
  1. Identify two extant US environmental organizations, one you generally agree with and support, and one you don't
  2. Research their missions, goals and methods carefully, using online and print resources, as well as any other social science case study methods you like. Be sure to ask the instructor ahead of time if you choose to interview human subjects
  3. Identify some of the different types of careers that are possible within both institutions, and determine the qualifications and experience required
  4. In an informal essay, compare and contrast the two organizations and summarize these career pathways
  5. Conclude with your own considered viewpoint of each organization
  6. (Added after class discussion) Cite your research sources. No particular citation format is required, but your citations should be consistent and give complete information to the reader in case they wish to review your sources.

Bob Watson on climate targets, cites failure to control "fossil elites"

("Fossil elites" being a term from my most recent paper, referring to the rich westerners and various dictators all around the world that control underground carbon reserves.)

From The Guardian's article:

"Nearly half of the world’s most powerful corporations are in the fossil fuel sector. They have extraordinary influence on government policies that Watson calls “a form of corruption” preventing the necessary action on climate. In countries like the US, Australia and Canada, industry leads and government follows he said."

The article itself, and a link to the report.

Monday, October 6, 2014

General problems with EII written work, in order of importance

First and foremost: you must proof-read. To catch sentence level errors, proof-read aloud.

If you get distracted by your own beautifully-forged outline, read the last sentence aloud first, and then the second last and so on.

Major problems:
  1. No proof-reading.
  2. No outline
  3. Passive voice
  4. Sentence fragments
  5. Run-on sentence
  6. Comma splices
  7. Spell-check errors
  8. Little use and misuse of commas
  9.  Repetitive
  10. Non sequiteur
  11. Lack of segue
  12. Tense choice problem
Minor problems:
  1. Spell out small numbers
  2. Comma after prepositional phrase
  3. Its versus it's
  4. There versus their

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

“Mr Sai” 赛先生 and “Mr De” 德先生

In other words, Mr. Science and Mr. Democracy, the key ideals that the Hong Kong students are protesting for today.

Why should this be important to today's sophomores at Unity College? And why is this important to the environment?

For today's discussion in EII

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29440986

http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-29430229

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sheep studies


The 2014 Captive Wildlife Care and Education first years came out to Womerlippi Acres yesterday, along with instructors Tom Aversa, Cheryl Frederick, and Meg Anderson, to learn all about sheep wrangling and sheep care. Watching from the sidelines and taking these pictures were baby Rhubarb and Aimee.

It was a fairly hectic day, but a good time was had by all, except possibly the sheep, who, however, are now all set for the winter, having had their hooves and dung tags trimmed, their FAMACHA® checks done, and their spiffy new USDA scrapie prevention ID tags attached.

All this made for a fast-moving day of college-level instruction and praxis in animal care.

I've written elsewhere in the blog about how important a set of lessons this is for these young students. Go check out the older pages for those ideas, here and here and here.
Here are the photos Aimee took:


First up, here's a fat Englishman telling Americans how to wrangle a sheep.

 

Learning the safety hold and how to trim the hooves

 

 A slightly insecure lamb. Need to get that lamb-butt on the ground.
 

Meg shows them how to trim.


 Not the textbook safety hold, but this was a well-behaved lamb.


 That one would make a nice Corriedale show lamb.


It's hard work. A lot of bending and grasping.


Meg has it all under control.
 

This one got away, and was only re-caught after she went through the swampy puddle next to the compost heap. One student said that she nearly lost her cookies, the poor lambie was so gross after that. But that was in some ways what the instructors wanted out of the day -- all romantic notions of the world of animal care evaporated in one swell foop.


A very tolerant lamb.


This is the kind of concentration we want to see.


The full-on sheep service team in action.
 

 Getting down to details.


Ear-tagging.


A brief moment of pain and then it's all over.


And again. All fourteen sheep needed this procedure.


A full-court press on a ram lamb.


Tom gives a lesson.



The safety hold is extremely effective. One relatively small person can hold a very large sheep in this position long enough to get a lot of work done.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Leonardo di Caprio gets in on the carbon act



Just in time for a weekend of major activism. There's also an important climate feature in, of all papers, Rolling Stone, here.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The New Climate Economy

Here's a new report coauthored by Nicholas Stern, the author of the ground-breaking 2006 Stern Review, and a blue-ribbon team of politicos, investment bankers and captains o' industry. Published under the auspices of the UK government and six other countries, including Sweden and Norway -- three technologically advanced industrialized nations -- it comes with fairly significant mainstream credentials, and even greater Keynesian economic chops.

The economics of the report are essentially what I've been calling "Green Keynesianism", albeit without the direct challenge to China, Russia, and other dictatorships that I advocate.

Expect a major media backlash from the Koch-funded denialist organizations. This report will put them on the back foot.

Obviously we'll be talking about this in class.

Here's the "about" page excerpted:
The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate is a major new international initiative to analyse and communicate the economic benefits and costs of acting on climate change. Chaired by former President of Mexico Felipe Calderón, the Commission comprises former heads of government and finance ministers and leaders in the fields of economics and business.
The New Climate Economy is the Commission’s flagship project. It aims to provide independent and authoritative evidence on the relationship between actions which can strengthen economic performance and those which reduce the risk of dangerous climate change. It will report in September 2014.
The project is being undertaken by a global partnership of research institutes and a core team led by Programme Director Jeremy Oppenheim. An Advisory Panel of world-leading economists, chaired by Lord Nicholas Stern will carry out an expert review of the work.
We are working with a number of other institutions in various aspects of the research programme, including the World Bank and regional development banks, the International Monetary Fund, International Energy Agency, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, United Nations agencies and a variety of other research institutes around the world.
The Global Commission on the Economy and Climate was commissioned by seven countries – Colombia, Ethiopia, Indonesia, Norway, South Korea, Sweden and the United Kingdom – as an independent initiative to report to the international community.
And here's the link to the video introduction:

http://newclimateeconomy.report/

Friday, September 12, 2014

PFTBA, for Ec & Quant

Catching up on my science news reading for the first time since our baby girl Edana was born, discovered that there's a new GHG:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2013/dec/10/new-greenhouse-gas-powerful-chemical-perfluorotributylamine

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Common Ground Fair Assignment for EII

The fair is an all-around good time, so you should need no incentive to go; however, the following notes are added to help you along:

Note: Regular class is cancelled both Friday 19th September.

Assignment instructions:
  1. You are assigned to go to the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association Common Ground Country Fair held Friday through Sunday September 19-21 right here in Unity, and then to complete the response paper detailed below
  2. You may get into the fair for free if you volunteer. Be sure to do so well ahead of time. See the MOFGA webpage for details
  3. If you are a MOFGA member you already get in for free. Check to see if your parents have a family membership
  4. For those of you who were planning to go home, or who cannot attend the fair for any other valid reason, such as work or a medical appointment, your alternative assignment is to visit a local or organic food outlet, such as a farmer's market or food cooperative, or any other food source that seems likely to be able to give you the provenance information that will be needed, and complete the same assignment as the fair-goers (below)
The fair/local/organic food response paper:
  1. Obtain food for a meal at the fair, at some local or organic food outlet, or from a friend's or relative's kitchen garden. Be sure to find out where each ingredient comes from
  2. Make and eat the meal. (If you live in the residence halls and otherwise eat on the meal plan, the meal can just be a snack.)
  3. Describe the meal and track the ingredients geographically and ecologically in a short informal essay. Explain why this was (or was not) a good meal. Humor and/or pathos are optional
  4. Due Friday September 25th in class via Unity College Google.edu, posting to your ePortfolio optional
  5. This is the first check-in opportunity for me to evaluate your writing and critical thinking skills. Be sure to do your best, or you may find yourself getting unexpected remedial attention!



Ten things every college professor hates...

...from Business Insider, of all papers.

http://www.businessinsider.com/10-things-every-college-professor-hates-2014-8

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Data for today's Ec & Quant

https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B3721mV8y-nyM3VZRlJ3VXBEbkU/edit?usp=sharing

The penny -- or dollar -- drops

You can go through the pages of this blog all the way back to 2007, and here and there you'll find many, many hopeful references to parity -- the moment when solar PV and/or wind power becomes cheaper than fossil fuel.

I also argued that this time was close in other forums, particularly in comments on Revkin's blog. I got shot down by lots of denialists for my pains, and eventually gave up making such comments. Since I was convinced parity would arrive, there seemed no need to argue when I could just wait.

Parity has been here for a while now, and I've known it and my students have too, but it's also beginning to be discussed in the business news.

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/27/ubs-investors-renewables-revolution

PS: The Guardian followed up the next day with this:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/28/renewable-energy-capacity-grows-fastest-ever-pace

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The complexity of environmental thought

We'll begin class on Monday, and I'll start teaching the second-year core curriculum Environmental Issues and Insights class. One of the purposes of that class is for students to begin to explore further the many, many variants of environmental thought in the United States, including their own considered or (as-yet) unconsidered attitudes.

There are a lot of different possible points of view. One that I find particularly compelling is a kind of technological and scientific pragmatism. As most Unity-rians know, I'm a competent scientist and technologist and have very little of the kind of blind fear of technology that permeates so much of modern environmentalism. But this is a minority viewpoint within the environmental movement, and even unpopular among my own students.

Here's an interesting and revealing personal introduction to this kind of thinking from Stanford's Martin Lewis, via the Breakthrough Institute.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

The 2005 AACU LEAP Outcomes

For class, and General Education, discussions:


LEAP

Liberal Education and America's Promise (LEAP)

Essential Learning Outcomes

The LEAP campaign is organized around a robust set of "Essential Learning Outcomes" (pdf) -- all of which are best developed by a contemporary liberal education. Described in College Learning for the New Global Century (pdf), these essential learning outcomes and a set of "Principles of Excellence" (pdf) provide a new framework to guide students' cumulative progress through college.
Through its VALUE Initiative, AAC&U has developed a set of rubrics to assess many of the following learning outcomes. Beginning in school, and continuing at successively higher levels across their college studies, students should prepare for twenty-first-century challenges by gaining:
Knowledge of Human Cultures and the Physical and Natural World
  • Through study in the sciences and mathematics, social sciences, humanities, histories, languages, and the arts
Focused by engagement with big questions, both contemporary and enduring
Intellectual and Practical Skills, Including
  • Inquiry and analysis
  • Critical and creative thinking
  • Written and oral communication
  • Quantitative literacy
  • Information literacy
  • Teamwork and problem solving
Practiced extensively, across the curriculum, in the context of progressively more challenging problems, projects, and standards for performance
Personal and Social Responsibility, Including
  • Civic knowledge and engagement—local and global
  • Intercultural knowledge and competence
  • Ethical reasoning and action
  • Foundations and skills for lifelong learning
Anchored through active involvement with diverse communities and real-world challenges
Integrative and Applied Learning, Including
  • Synthesis and advanced accomplishment across general and specialized studies
Demonstrated through the application of knowledge, skills, and responsibilities to new settings and complex problems

 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Secular stagnation and the steady-state

Krugman has just promoted a new ebook by Vox on "secular stagnation" that will prove interesting to serious scholars of ecological economics and other economics of climate change, particularly micro.

You can access it here.

The secular stagnation hypothesis is important not only because it helps us think through what will happen when population growth in the US finally peaks, as it is scheduled to do around 2050. It also informs a much older debate on steady-state thinking.

This is all a bit wonkish, but basically when it comes to economic policy to prevent climate change, or adapt to it, you have several choices.

"Strong" ecological economists like Herman Daly and his Huxlerian "bulldog" Brian Czech want us to move to a point where the global economy isn't growing, at least in terms of material throughput. This is one version of what has been called a "strong" sustainability rule. We would have to arrange matters very differently to provide access to psychologically satisfying and productive employment, as well as sustainable consumption, for all, in the absence of a purely free market in raw materials (and thus a more planned economy). Something like a "gross national happiness" calculus or "sustainable economic welfare" would have to take the place of current GDP-based policy. This is the economics I studied under Herman Daly in the 1990s, and the economics of the International Society for Ecological Economics. I think their approach is more scientific, but politically unreachable, and worry about the effects on individualism and human rights. One result, however, would be the aversion of climate disaster. That would be rather nice.

You might also opt for a "weaker" sustainability rule, whereby a nation might run down its natural capital, substituting human capital. I thought this was dangerously subjective, and so didn't properly address climate change, which after all is a material throughput problem that can't be solved by substitution. I also thought that this subjectivity would lead to endless international arguments. But at least it would be something.

A narrower approach, more palatable for the mainstream, is that of climate economics à la Nick Stern and other "precautionists" who would have us limit throughput in climate emissions (but not in other material flows), essentially as insurance against climate disaster (but not other ecological difficulties). The one percent of GDP Stern thought was necessary to avert disaster (albeit back in 2006 -- the sell-by date has expired on that one, I'm afraid) was, as he put it, an "insurance" premium that a responsible global "householder" would surely pay in order not to have to face climate collapse, even if that householder didn't have a perfectly certain climate prediction on which to base this expense. I thought Stern's ideas were "good enough" in the sense that they would get us where we needed to be in terms of GHG emissions, but were also conservative enough to win political support. I was willing to put off wider ecological economic reform for now, if only we could get emissions reductions at least on the table, politically speaking. Stern remains to my mind the best bet for a politically palatable climate economics.

Then you have my "Green Keynesianism." I doubt very much that anyone that considers themselves a serious climate economist thinks of this theory as a contender yet, but that may change.

The secular stagnation hypothesis feeds into this important climate economic policy debate in this way: If the economy is no longer growing, doesn't that actually begin to get us where we need to be with material throughput? Isn't this ecological economics through the back door?

A purely stagnant economy is not, I must admit, in a steady state of material throughput. But with deliberate policy it could get there much more easily than a growing economy can.

The fly in this rose-colored ointment (mixing my metaphors rather unforgivably) is that democracy continues to need growth to face down the planet's remaining dictatorships and brigands.

Wouldn't Vladimir Putin just love it if (as he masses his troops on the Ukrainian border and waits for a Hitlerian pretext) the west went into another recession? The sanctions would fly, but he could just turn to the already woefully under-informed Russian people and say, in effect, "Look at this basket case, the west. Why would we worry about sanctions? Why chain ourselves to this corpse."

While the Communist Party of the People's Republic of China would simply continue with their current policy of substituting internal for export-led growth, no doubt using the political power this gave to stave off democratic reform for yet another generation, watching happily as democracy in the west went into a death spiral, saying to its woefully under-represented people, in effect, "look at what democracy gets you. Aren't you better off with us?"

Oy vey and Ai Wei Wei.

So we'd better not have secular stagnation just yet, had we?


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

What did you do this summer?

Term will start shortly, and students and colleagues will ask each other that question as we all begin to get to know one another again after the break.

For Aimee and I, the short answer is, we waited for our new baby girl to arrive, which should happen next week or thereabouts. Wish us good luck and god-speed.

But it was a teensy bit more complicated than that.

Part of waiting is preparing, mentally and otherwise. So this is what we did with my summer: we got our house, land and vehicles ready for the baby.

The Womerlippis live a self-reliant and sustainable lifestyle, so much of what we did is relevant to our work at Unity College. As the title of this blog implies, if we can't find a way to live as sustainably as possible, I doubt I have any business being a professor of sustainable energy.

My students probably agree. Most young people like their elders and mentors to be consistent. It makes us more believable.

(I also wrote what for me was an important academic product, my submission to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Climate CoLab contest. But I've posted bulletins on that throughout the summer, so you can just scroll back and read it anytime you wish.)

Here are some photographs of our summer self-reliance and sustainability activities. They may not be exactly what you were thinking of, in terms of self-reliance and sustainability activities, but I promise they are. Read on for the full explanation.



The first sustainability problems I dealt with were vehicular. The Womerlippis run a number of vehicles, different ones for different purposes, most of which do only a few thousand miles a year and are expected to last a long time, fifteen years or more. Because I'm a competent mechanic and can reduce the ownership costs greatly by putting in"sweat equity," and because we can use different vehicles for different activities, the most efficient vehicle for each purpose, it's actually cheaper on gas (and thus emissions) and on vehicle wear-and-tear to do things this way, to have so many seemingly extra vehicles.

We can never get compatible college work schedules, so each of us needs our own car, and it's obviously helpful in Maine to have a four-wheel drive vehicle for the winter. Although generally whenever there's a snowstorm that would require such vehicles, we can band together for a day with some inconvenience, mostly to animals that then do not get tended on time, or one or the other of us is often found waiting for a few hours before the other completes their classes or meetings. Sometimes one or the other of us is even caught out without a four wheel drive vehicle, stranded at school or home. Rather than run expensive new SUVs that can do everything but get bad gas mileage, we run cheaper-to-operate sedans when the weather is fine and keep older four wheel drive vehicles for when it isn't. This is cheaper, and (if you do the math) uses less fuel, than having one vehicle that can do everything but is not that great on gas mileage.

Our old Ford Escort wagon was my daily good weather driver, running to and from college and on other small errands. Despite my best efforts over several years, it had finally rusted out. Likewise our old Nissan Frontier farm truck, which doubled as Aimee's four-wheel drive vehicle for the winter, had gone feet-up. I had accidentally burned up the transmission last summer because of a catastrophic transmission oil leak that went undetected too long, and it was too rusty to put in a new transmission.

The Nissan was a particularly great loss. It had been retrofitted with a custom flat bed that could carry up to forty bales of hay or half a ton of local building lumber, as well as a great towing hitch that could be used for our livestock trailer. Yet both would now likely fail inspection, and neither could be cost-effectively repaired, so they went to the scrapyard for recycling.


It would be important for our farm and other operations that we replaced all their functionalities. The Escort was bought very cheaply, for only $1,200 (from Mr. Woods, UC statistics professor!), was simple and cheap to maintain, and got great gas mileage as a daily driver, while the truck was very versatile. Although we considered a hybrid, the prices are still too high, considering that the improvement in gas mileage over a small compact is only about five mpg. We looked at a Prius that was $7,200, but had 140,000 miles. We instead managed instead to get a 50,000 miler Toyota Matrix on offer at the dealership that gets slightly better mileage than the Escort, only slightly worse than the Prius. We also got a high miler replacement Nissan Frontier for $5,000 from one of the wholesale vehicle yards. It came with some problems most of which I was able to repair. The total cost was around $9,000 including the repairs and a set of tires. I thought this was a little too much, but it's done now, and will last a long time if I take care of it. This 2003 truck, four years newer than our old 1999 one, has four doors and a full back seat and so is even more versatile, yet gets around the same gas mileage thanks to improved engine controls. It came with a cap, which is nice to keep cargo dry, and so we got a twelve-foot flatbed trailer for hay and building supplies.

Both new vehicles are much safer than the old one, for the baby's sake.


We kept Aimee's beloved old Camry for me to drive daily. It gets slightly worse mileage than the Escort did, but I drive fewer miles than Aimee, who used to drive it, so this cancels out. Likewise, I still have my forty-three year old Land Rover four wheel drive vehicle for winter use and for SAR, which, since it's on its third or fourth lifetime, vehicularly speaking, gets the best life cycle energy efficiency of all our vehicles.

Up to twenty percent of a vehicle's lifecycle energy is consumed in production, so if a vehicle can last longer than the average lifetime, its overall energy efficiency is increased greatly. The Land Rover will likely outlive its owner, so it really doesn't matter how much gas it uses at this point. It's well ahead of any modern vehicle, even getting only twenty miles a gallon. Even so, I don't drive it much, and am looking out for an overdrive that will get the mileage up to about twenty-six miles a gallon. (Better yet.)


I maintain all our vehicles and it was with this and lifecycle efficiency in mind that I decided to put in an automotive lift this year. Apart from the need to do mechanical work, the lift would also help with rust-proofing. Rust is the enemy of lifecycle efficiency in Maine. We've lost a lot of otherwise well-performing vehicles to rust at this point, all long before their engines wore out, and I am always looking for ways to stem the losses. 


The lift cost only $750 secondhand. About $600 of concrete was required for the pad it sits on, although someone less concerned about exceeding safe working loads could have saved about one-third of that. I like to be safe. The requirement from the company was for four inches of 3,500 PSI-rated concrete. I used six or seven. I've already used it for numerous vehicle repairs and for rust-proofing the Camry and the Land Rover (seen above). It will pay for itself in saved maintenance expenses in less than a year. I haven't calculated how long it will take to pay off the emissions embedded in the concrete, but they are substantial. One estimate places them at 170 to 500 lbs of CO2 per yard of concrete, depending on the clinker content of the original cement and the energy source used to make it. Using the larger number, my five-yard pad currently cost 2,500 lbs of CO2, but it will reabsorb some of that as it continues to cure over the years. That's about only the equivalent of 132 gallons of gasoline, so the chances are that the payback will be short.


The other big project this year was to finish ongoing home insulation and extension jobs.

Many years ago I began retrofitting super-insulation and air-sealing into this old farmhouse, which was built in 1900. I had only one wall left to take care of. Then last year, with the baby in mind, Aimee asked for an extension with a new bedroom and bathroom, primarily so her family might come to visit. Previously we lacked any spare bedroom, and to make a nursery meant one of us giving up our den.

I interrupted the insulation job for the summer of 2013, built the extension (using passive solar design ideas), attaching it to the remaining uninsulated wall, and then finalized the super-insulation on what remained.


Here's the inside of the new extension, ready for the baby. The six hundred extra square feet cost less than $20,000, using mostly local materials. It is almost completely air-tight and situated to get the sun in winter. As a result it will use very little additional heat energy. Overall the house may even use less than before, because we can now close some doors on some of our least efficient rooms.



Here's the extension from the outside showing the new deck, which can be used used for drying clothes, saving Aimee a long walk to what used to be her clothesline, and probably therefore saving some electricity, and there are now grape vines planted to run across a trellis above head height, to provide shade in summer.


Here's the work station I used to spray the siding for the new extension and the old house. This siding went over the additional foam board insulation and house wrap that I used to improve the energy efficiency of both buildings. The siding isn't a local product, unfortunately. The foam board came from a Thorndike Amishman who has a business selling recycled and second quality insulation material.

Other summer sustainability activities included running our small farm and growing food. This is a regular operation. We keep hens, sheep, pigs, and a large kitchen garden, the scraps and weeds from which can go to hens, sheep or pigs, depending on what kinds of scraps or weeds they are, and the manure from hens, sheep or pigs going to the kitchen garden. It's a closed loop system, with everything done more or less locally, except for the purchase of some commercially bagged grain because of the need to feed sheep a selenium supplement.


Here's a Golden Laced Wyandotte hen announcing that she has contributed another egg to the farm sustainability operation. For which we say thank-you.


Here are the sheep, two of this year's meat lambs, doing some helpful weed-whacking. No feeder pigs this year, with the baby on the way. It was too much extra work at the end of the summer, when the pigs would be big and hard to handle but the baby nearly due. We will likely have some again next year.


Here is some of the produce we put up, in this case Aimee's fresh homemade pesto. Yum.


And here is the kitchen garden in full late summer harvest mode. You can go out any day and pick all the potatoes, peas, beans, salad, tomatoes, onions, carrots, cabbage and broccoli you could possibly want to eat. Much of what we produce gets saved for the winter using canning, freezing, or root-cellaring technique.

So that's what this particular Professor of Sustainable Energy and his Associate Professor of Biology wife did with their summer break. I think it's definitely sustainable.

What did you do?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

ReVision is hiring again

http://www.revisionenergy.com/solar-jobs-maine-new-hampshire.php

BTW, for all the people who have difficulty understanding how renewable energy and finance go together well, read their ad for an "investor relations manager."

If you can't figure out how it works, write me and I'll explain.

(It's a brave new world we are living in.)

Friday, August 1, 2014

Climate CoLab "Global Plan" contest enters judging phase

The MIT Climate CoLab "Global Plan" contest's first phase, proposal preparation, is over and the second phase, where the judges select the semi-finalists, has begun.

Here are the published aims of the contest:

"This contest seeks an overall plan for the world as a whole. A key aspect of the contest is that authors are invited to create integrated proposals, which can incorporate proposals from both prior and currently active Climate CoLab contests. Proposals in this contest will be evaluated in large part on how well they bring together proposals from other contests to articulate a broad, coherent vision of what the world as a whole should do. Authors can also access the EnROADS simulator developed by Climate Interactive or model runs from Stanford’s Energy Modeling Forum that project the future environmental and economic outcomes of proposed actions."
Here's my own submission, Green Keynesianism and Climate Free Trade Areas

It's been an interesting experience entering the contest. Disappointing too, at times, especially in the last few days, when "throwaway" proposals proliferated. About twenty-five additional proposals, almost all of them very weak intellectually, were posted to the site just in the last couple of weeks.

Most of the new proposals, and a large portion of the old, require what I call "magical thinking", in that they will never be adopted because they are politically or economically unworkable, or both. Some even contravened the Laws of Thermodynamics.

As critical thinking exercises go, most third-year Unity students can do better than this.

But there were some interesting submissions, a handful.

I don't envy the judges their task, sorting the wheat from the chaff.



CAT turns 40

An excellent Guardian article today:

http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/aug/01/turning-a-slate-quarry-green-40-years-of-centre-for-alternative-technology

Remembering our 2010 Spring Break field trip there:

http://ucsustainability2.blogspot.com/

Monday, July 28, 2014

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Island Energy job

Community Energy Associate

Posted By Nancy Carter on 6/20/2014 12:00:00 AM   |  Last Edited By Nancy Carter on 6/20/2014 3:09:07 PM
Summary: The Island Institute, a nonprofit community development organization located in Rockland, Maine, seeks a Community Energy Associate to provide technical, community outreach and administrative support to the Community Energy team. The CE team assists the Institute’s community partners in Maine's year-round island and remote coastal communities to better understand and confront their unique energy challenges. This is a one-year position renewable based on secured funding.
The Island Institute’s Community Energy program undertakes projects that address island and remote coastal communities' priorities related to their energy challenges and opportunities, including energy efficiency, the evaluation of ocean renewable energy and community-owned renewable energy projects, and formal and informal energy education.  This work is motivated by the economic and climate implications of island energy use and seeks to result in concrete, measurable impacts in our partner communities.
Working closely with other Community Energy program staff, the Community Energy Associate will implement projects that seek to:
  • Increase home and business owner access to energy efficiency retrofits and related incentives;
  • Provide technical analysis and translation to local stakeholders evaluating the potential for community-owned renewable energy projects;
  • Engage with coastal stakeholders on the potential impacts and benefits of offshore wind development in Maine;
  • Build local capacity to work on energy issues through intergenerational energy education programs.
  • For the complete job posting, including required and preferred qualifications, please visit: www.islandinstitute.org/careers.php

Monday, July 7, 2014

Your help needed

MIT's Climate CoLab contests approach the judging phase, to begin July 14th. My proposal is the only one so far within its category to complete all the judges' requirements and so likely to place highly, but no-one so far has voted for it.

There have been few votes cast thus far in any case, so this isn't necessarily any indication that no-one likes my proposal, but I'll need all the help I can get if I'm to win or even to place.

I'm asking readers of Sustainability Thought and Deed to register and log in to the MIT Climate CoLab overall contest, navigate to the specific Global Plan contest, read my proposal, and consider voting for it.

If you don't want to vote for it, that's fine. Tell me why, in a comment.

Within the Climate CoLab context, the more comments a proposal receives, the better.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Lower court decision with major ramifications

If this goes unchallenged, or perhaps even if it is, it sets a precedent, one that even the five conservative Supreme Court judges may think twice before undoing. Normally the use of cost benefit analysis, required for all executive branch actions since Reagan, and quite wide form of analysis since Bill Clinton issued Executive. Order No. 12,866, pushes public policy  towards moderate or conservative decisions, but in this case the courts interpretation leaves a major barn door open through which to drive many climate mitigation cases, including perhaps some international ones.

http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/06/30/3454764/court-blocks-arch-mine-coal-expansion/

Friday, June 20, 2014

Update on my Climate CoLab "Global Plan": Green Keynesianism

Regular readers of Sustainability Thought and Deed will already know of my "Green Keynesianism" proposal to the Climate CoLab competition at MIT.

Climate CoLab represents a new format for the distribution of ideas and for academic debate, a kind of crowd-sourcing. There's also a prize, and the promise of promotion for the winning ideas. You get comments and feedback as you work up your proposals, and this strengthens your work. Later in the process you'll get feedback from a team of "blue ribbon" judges.

All of this sounded pretty good to me, my idea of "fun", but I also entered the competition because my ideas to combat climate change don't really fit any particular traditional academic format. I could perhaps have published them in one of the more radical economics journals such as Ecological Economics, or have written a book, which would necessarily have been a polemic, and I may yet do one or both of these, but in this summer when Aimee and I are expecting a baby, and after a particularly busy academic year, with an even busier one looming, this was what I had time for. I wouldn't have had time for either of the two alternatives, at least not enough time to do them well.

Originally my proposal was filed under a section titled "Shifting perceptions", intended to be a receptacle and forum for proposals about how to influence and educate folk about climate change. Since my particular proposal was fairly global in reach, it sat somewhat uneasily in this section.

The competition organizers have come up with a whole new section to accommodate more global proposals, and invited me to shift my proposal over there, so I did so.

The new section is called "Global Plan"

Here's the lede:

"This contest invites Climate CoLab members to create an integrated vision for what actions the world as a whole can take.
Under the current state of the world’s governance system, there isn’t any one organization or even a defined group of organizations that could take such a vision and readily enact it. Instead, successful action will require work by many people across multiple organizations around the globe.
Articulating a vision for the world as a whole has great potential value, since it can demonstrate that there is a plausible path forward. And such a vision can serve as a roadmap for the many disparate organizations and actors whose efforts must be enlisted."

Here's my particular proposal. Please feel free to read and, if you feel it warranted, to support it.

These ideas grew out of a couple of articles I published on Andrew Revkin's New York Times blog. You can read the originals here.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Advice to a non-traditional (mature) student

(I sometimes post some of my correspondence here, if it's interesting or useful to other people. This seemed to fit the bill.)

 >>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Hey Mick,

As my adviser, I was hoping you could advise me :)

I am struggling with the increase in tuition and what is needed for rent. I've been applying for scholarships and trying to find a job. I want to stay in school and accomplish something in life. I have family and friends that tell me to quit and get a "real" job, but that is why I am in school, to better myself, to help others who want to succeed and encourage people to make a change to preserve the world instead of depleting it.

I need direction because I have none, not many people I know have graduated a four-year program, let alone are doing something to preserve the environment.

It is a dream to graduate from Unity College and I'm now wondering if its even a possibility. I'm not afraid to work for it, I just don't what to do.

thank you for your time,

XXX


>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

OK. XXX,

Good. We’re ready to think things through properly.

First up, one purpose of a four-year degree is to train leaders to solve complicated, convoluted problems. You seem to have a private personal complicated convoluted problem that is something like “WTF do I do with my life?” Am I right? Is there a better way to put it? Try to nail it for me. I’m serious here. Get to the bottom of things. Don’t hold back. Be a good critical thinker.

If that’s the root problem, “WTF do I do with my life?”, or something like it, then one solution to the problem is “Get a four-year degree and get a good job and a serious career.” There are other equally good solutions, like, “Drop out and become a lotus-eating Zen master” or “Join the marines and see the world.” As a college professor of long experience advising undergraduates, I am agnostic on which solutions are best. It’s your life, after all. Who am I to say what you should do? What I want out of the deal are willing students who are motivated to learn, so your choices must be freely made.

It’s important to also note that some of these other solutions are WAY cheaper than a four-year college degree. Like, the marines will actually pay you to see the world. In the interest of full and fair disclosure, I also have to say that it’s possible to have a great career without even getting a college degree. If you’re Steve Jobs, that is, or someone creative and driven like he was. Most people aren’t, so they take a degree to make up for it.

If you put your thinking cap on and work from the “WFT.?” question and eventually do get to the solution of “Get a four-year degree and get a good job and a serious career,” then it naturally follows that another decision must then be made: “Where to go to school?”

Unity College is one place to go to school, but only one of many, and middle-of-the-road expensive. Why pick Unity?

One answer is that Unity College is an acknowledged leader in a thing called the "sustainability movement” and has been for over a decade now, since the late 1990s, in fact. This is a very broad and hard-to-define movement, but it exists, and can certainly be an environment where a person can have a serious interesting career helping to solve some very difficult problems like climate change or biodiversity loss. So coming to Unity can definitely help you join the sustainability movement, if that is what you really, really want to do.

Note that these environmental problems are not very well understood by the majority of people. The average person, even someone who had a decent education, if given the exhortation “join the sustainability movement to help solve climate change” would be very confused, and one response they might have to that confusion would be that this is bad advice and they might then tell you so. This is I think where many students' friends and families who tell them to go to a “real” college and to get a “real job” are coming from. They simply don’t understand that thousands and thousands of people have interesting, well-paid, real jobs solving climate change in the sustainability movement or working with biodiversity protection. But they do.

Me, for instance. I have one such job. So does my wife. And we’re not doing too badly.

However, at this point it’s important to note that you could have a very good and even socially redeeming carer going to some other college and becoming, say, a lawyer, an accountant, or a business professional. Or “join the marines and see the world.” See, we’re back to square one.

And it’s certainly possible to go to a four-year second tier state-run college and get a degree in accounting or business for much less than the Unity College degree. To make it yet more complicated, you could even go get that degree and graduate and join the sustainability movement. There’s no law to say you can’t. So, for instance, you could get a plain Jane four-year accounting degree for less than $40 K from East Overshoe State College in upstate New Guernsey, and then go to work for a solar PV installation firm organizing finance for household solar installations, and in a lifetime’s work making several hundred such installations happen, getting paid pretty well for this service, and when all is said and done, who would be able to say say that you wouldn’t have contributed as much if not more to solving climate change than, say, a fat old professor of Sustainable Energy?

No-one, that’s who.

The only thing that would be required to go down this other road is that you find your own ways to think about the sustainability movement and climate change. This is because they aren’t going to cover that in the curriculum at East Overshoe State. Not in any organized way. They may have the classes on the books, but they won’t be "joined up” in any way that makes sense. Not right now, at least. In twenty years they will be, and all boring old accountants graduating East Overshoe and all the hundreds if not thousands of other places like it will be made to take courses in climate change and renewable energy technology. That’s what society will need, and so that’s what will happen. But not right now, not right away.

Whereas at Unity College they will be joined up and they would make sense. (Not necessarily right away, but eventually, after a semester or two or three.) This is probably what we mean by “interdisciplinary" or “transdisciplinary” sustainability studies: that the ideas with which we work are joined-up, organized and connected and function across the traditional disciplines, which are rapidly being made obsolete by the demands of the marketplace for ideas. This is what we do at Unity College and we do it particularly well if you’re willing to pay attention.

(Note that not all of the students in all of the classes you’ve been in so far are paying attention. If they’re lazy students, or drunk, or smoking weed, they probably don’t know what a good sustainability education they’re getting, and so some UC students will add to the confusion by not being aware of their own situation. Don’t be like them. You can’t afford it, for one. But for another, it’s a very silly way to be in this world. Education is often wasted on the young.)

More complications and convolutions: If you went to Flagship State University instead, it’s possible and even likely that you could get a half-way decent joined-upsustainability education for about the same price as UC, or even a bit less. Most of the big state colleges, like UMaine Orono, by now have such programs. I’d like to think that they aren’t quite as thought-out and joined up as the Unity degree, but I’m a little biased, and some of them probably are pretty well organized by this point.

So, to summarize: If, after doing all this thinking you decide that you want a career solving climate change or biodiversity loss, then you’ll almost certainly need a four-year degree, and by all means Unity College is a good choice, but not the only choice at this point. If you decide you want to go someplace else, just tell me and we’ll think it through and find you a place to go.

Now the housing problem. I’m going to say right off the bat without even looking at things properly that most housing problems are in fact budget problems. If they were not, all students would be living in ten-thousand square foot MacMansions with poolside bars, right?

Budget problems are always solvable. They require some accounting skill, and, when they’re college budget problems they require some knowledge of the federal financial aid system. But they are solvable. The way to begin is to list all the expenses and income. I would go monthly since that’s the way bills tend to appear in the mail: list all the monthly expenses required. (Some annual expenses or annual income will need to be divided by 12 to make them monthly.)

Make a two column list “Monthly Expenses for my College Degree.” You could use Excel or paper and pencil. Here’s an example.

Item/Monthly Cost
Rent  $500
Electric bill $100
Food $150
Car payment $150
Car insurance $50

Etc, etc. Leave tuition out, for now.

When you get to the bottom of the list and have listed everything and added it up, make another list: "Monthly Income for my College Degree.”

This second list should look like something this:

Item/Monthly Income
Student loan $1000
(divided by 12)
Part-time job $800
Summer full time job  $700
(divided by 12)

Etc, etc.

This will be likely a much shorter list. Unfortunately.

If after you do both lists, income is greater than expenses, then you are probably OK, at least for now.

If expenses are greater than income, then we have to add income or reduce expenses. More likely, we reduce expenses. Break it down and work on one item at a time, but don’t forget that some items are joined together. So rent might be more expensive in Unity, Maine, but you wouldn’t perhaps need to have a nice car if you could walk or bike to school until the snow flies. An old beater might do. Or you might find cheaper rent in Waterville, but need a better and more fuel-efficient car to exploit this. Remember, nothing on the expenses list is sacred, not if you’re serious about your goal. (Except maybe food.) Do you really need a $100/month cell phone when a $14 one would do? And so on. More than likely your real list has different items and problems than the examples I’m using, but you get the idea.

You may need to up your loans. We can talk at more length when you come back to school about student loan repayment plans and forgiveness programs and whether or not loans are worth it, but bottom line is, they’re much more generous than they were five-six years ago. This is one really useful nation-building thing Congress has done in the last few years, that most folks don’t know about.

Think of student loans as an investment, as if you were starting a business. If you were starting a business, like a bakery or an auto shop, you’d probably get a bank loan of several tens of thousands of dollars to buy equipment, but you’d need to show the bank your business plan. In this case we’re starting a business called “XXX’s Career,” and making a similar investment. The investment needs to pay off in the sense that you can afford to pay the student loan when you get done, and still have money left over for other goals like a nice life, a house, or retirement, so this also has to be a very well-planned investment. That’s not as hard as it sounds with the new lower interest rates, pay as you earn, forgiveness and wotnot.

And people in the sustainable energy business are hiring. To properly plan, we need to start looking at some of these jobs, think about which kinds of jobs you’d like to do, and see how much they pay. We can talk more when you get back. If you’re a serious student, and plan, student loans shouldn’t be a problem.

One thing: Never, ever take out a private student loan. Make sure all your loans are federal.

Never eat at a place called “Moms," never play poker with a guy called “Doc,” never take out anything but a fixed interest mortgage, and never, ever take out a private student loan. (That’s all the fatherly advice I have, I’m afraid, and even this is partly stolen from an environmental writer called Ed Abbey.)




Hope this helps,

Best,

Mick