The Ramifications of Your Rationalizations: Compensatory Green Beliefs and the Rebound Effect


Zofia Freiberg contributed this guest blog post. She is a systems engineering major at MTU. 
She can be reached at zjfreibe@mtu.edu 


Photo Taken by Kayley Roche kmroche@mtu.edu. Used with permission. 

After installing better insulation, do you think  you would turn up your thermostat? If you purchased an electric car, do you think you would drive more? These behaviors illustrate the rebound effect – behavioral change that offsets efficiency efforts to reduce emissions. This phenomenon is observed with pro-environmental interventions on the scale of an individual’s behavior. In these scenarios, the rebound effect is often attributed to compensatory green beliefs. 

A compensatory belief is based on the idea that the effects of a positive act can counteract the effects of a negative act. Take, for example, the use of a morning run to later justify grabbing a donut for breakfast. Once applied to environmental actions, it becomes a compensatory green belief, or CGB for short.

When asked whether they agree or disagree with behaviors like “I do not often use a dishwasher, so it is okay to have longer showers,” the majority of people tend not to openly endorse CGBs. While someone may not consciously endorse CGBs, their behavior can still be influenced by them. One study on CGBs added open-ended questions regarding CBGs in addition to simple agree/disagree scenario questions. This research confirmed that most people disagree with CGbs when asked about them point blank. Contrastingly, in the interview section, participants often described behaviors that suggested compensation regarding environmental acts. Participants stated things like,  “Well I’m allowed a bath once every couple of months if I have a shower all the rest of the time” and “I’ll often catch the school bus or I’ll walk in the morning to school and then I often think well I’ve cut down on that so if I’m going out in the evening I ask my dad to give me a lift.”

Additionally, both studies found a strong negative correlation (R = -.54)  between endorsing CGBs and reporting behavior and identity traits that are pro-environmental. In fact, the absence of CGB endorsement was a better predictor of pro-environmental behaviors than environmental values or identity. These differences in the qualitative and quantitative findings are concerning. The people who presumably care most about the environment are not objectively acknowledging the CGBs we know they hold. Compensatory beliefs may offer an appealing solution to rationalize behaviors that are unaligned with long term goals or values. Though the rebound effect can be discouraging, it’s vital to note that there is controversy around the magnitude of industry-scale rebound effects. As for the ability of CBGs to counteract eco-friendly acts, that’s up to you.


Listening Session on Sustainability at Tech

In January 2020, the Tech Forward Initiative on Sustainability and Resilience held a Listening Session to learn more about the concerns, priorities, and visions shared by campus and community members for the future of sustainability at Michigan Tech. The summary of that session is available here. Additional comments can still be submitted here.


Tech Forward Sustainability Listening Session

The Tech Forward Initiative on Sustainability and Resilience recently held a campus-wide listening session to hear from more voices across campus. The event was focused on small-group discussions about what Michigan Tech does well, and what can be done differently when it comes to research, education, and campus life issues related to sustainability. Roughly 70 people showed up for a two-hour event on a weeknight, which is a really great indication of just how many people feel strongly about this topic! The folks working within the Tech Forward group are still accepting feedback, so if you did not get a chance to attend the event, please go to this Google Form and share your thoughts about how research, education, or campus life could be improved in regards to sustainability issues – or, feel free to tell us what we are doing that is already going well!

The whole group sharing ideas near the end of the event

Cultivating Community Food Resilience: Revisited

In Fall 2018, undergraduate and graduate students of Dr. Angie Carter’s Communities and Research class at Michigan Tech University (MTU) researched and wrote a report on the food system in the Western UP and food systems councils. The report, entitled “Cultivating Community Food Resilience” was the product  of a partnership between MTU and the Western Upper Peninsula Planning and Development Region, and was intended to inform the development of the Western Upper Peninsula Food Systems Council (WUPFSC) through research and community engagement. It is hard to believe that more than a year has passed since we finished drafting the report, and that more than a year’s worth of WUPFSC meetings in all 6 counties of the Western Upper Peninsula region have since taken place.

We were both students in the class and came back together to reflect on the past year, the research and writing process, and sharing the report.

Question: Describe your process of preparing the report. What was the most impactful for you personally, for the class, for the community?

Kyla: I found the process of researching for this report immensely impactful, specifically connecting with community partners. The amount of support and enthusiasm we found when we started speaking to people about this project was really contagious and I think many of us found the sense of community very affecting. Especially after having graduated and left Houghton, this aspect of the project still impresses me.

I recall experiencing a lot of growth as a member of the class, too. The gains were far more than just intellectual — I think I have become a better community member through the process of pulling together to make this report happen. Coming into conversation with the community was the easy part of this project. The difficult part, the part that required all of us to stretch beyond our comfort zones, was the collaborative, messy work of birthing the report. I’m sure there will be many more experiences like this for folks continuing this work!

For the campus — I’m sure I’ll touch on this more when I talk about presenting to the Food Systems and Sustainability (FS&S) class. All of the MTU students I’ve met and talked to about this project and other community food systems topics have had such thoughtful, hopeful responses. I think that this report can serve as a little bit of a touchstone, a synthesis of much of the work that the first round of FS&S and Communities and Research students have done. Every time I look at the report, I am struck by all the elements that made their way in — from the literature we were exposed to during the first round of FS&S, to the problems, ideas, solutions and values that our partners and community brought to the table. So future students will find a lot of information and ideas, and they’ll have a snapshot of food resilience/security at MTU at a time before any of this work, or their work, was carried out. And they’ll hopefully see themselves in the vision of the students who came before them.

Courtney: The research for this project was interesting and impactful to me in a variety of ways. Not only educationally, but as a community member as well. It was really nice to interact with the students on campus and community members as a whole.  I know that personally, all the people I came in contact with during this project were enthusiastic about the project and interested in what we were doing. It was in a sense, a feel-good process.

As a student, I grew immensely during this project; both as an individual and as a team member. We learned how each other worked, what our strengths and weaknesses were and where to improve. Presenting at the Social Science Brown Bag Lunch and the Western UP Food Systems Council Meeting at Zeba Hall in L’Anse, MI in December 2018 helped with my presentation skills which is huge both educationally and professionally. Attending the Western UP Food Systems Council meetings has given me the opportunity to connect with community members through the area, and learn about who they are through networking, sharing and brainstorming.

I believe this project helped our campus and community in a very unique way. Everyone loves food. Having conversations about food, how it is grown, the problems we encounter and how we can solve those problems. For the people who participated, they were able to express how food affects their life, whether positive or not. When starting this project, I was amazed at the number of people who are food insecure in our local area. No one should be without good food. It is my hope that doing the research and helping start the Western UP Food Systems Council, that we might be able to conquer some of the problems in our area.

Question: You’ve shared the report in a couple different forums, including WUPFSC meetings, classes and an academic conference. How can this report be used differently by different audiences?

Text Box: Photo 1 Kyla Valenti presenting at the International Symposium of Society & Natural Resources conference


Photo 1 Kyla Valenti presenting at the International Symposium of Society & Natural Resources conference


Photo 2 (L to R) Class team Jack Wilson, Kyla Valenti, Adewale Adesanya, Courtney Archambeau, Kyle Parker-McGlynn, Angie Carter (not pictured Rob Skalitsky) after presenting at the WUPFSC meeting December 2018

Kyla: Yes, come to think of it, those presentations all differed quite a lot. During the final week of the semester in the Fall of 2018, we shared our newly minted findings and research process at the second Western Upper Peninsula Food Systems Council meeting. During the spring, a couple of us came to Dr. Carter’s Food Systems and Sustainability class to talk about the project, findings and methods and to exchange thoughts and inspiration with other students concerned and passionate about community food systems. More recently, this work was presented at the International Symposium of Society and Natural Resources (ISSNR) in June, 2019.

After having either seen or participated in all of these presentations, I can confidently say that there are many different ways this report can be used and shared. It seems like each presentation, meeting and conversation has led in different directions and evolved the project further. For academic audiences, the conversation may have more to do with research methodology or may focus more on the theory informing this work — more generalizable information that could be applied to a wide array of projects in any number of communities and places. But with members of our own community, the conversation tends to be very different — it easily verges more toward concrete ideas and steps, acknowledges real people, local cultures, and tangible resources and connections. When we presented to other students, I recall experiencing a moment where I realized I’d need to shift from one gear into the other — from the academic gear, into one that was much more specific and personal. The Michigan Tech students I’ve spoken to and worked with have a strong connection to place and deep concern for their community, their school, and their impact.

Courtney: Sharing our research has probably been the best part of the project, next to all of the interactions of course. Sharing what we have learned on different levels was thought provoking and inspiring. The research and methodologies have been shared with students, faculty, and community members; each having their own sets of questions. When sharing with Dr. Carter’s Food Systems and Sustainability Class, their main focus was how we conducted our research and what we thought of our findings.

I think that “Cultivating Community Food Resilience” can be used in a variety of ways and be helpful to different types of groups. As I stated earlier, we have presented our work in a multitude of ways to a multitude of groups, and Kyla stated that each presentation, conversation and read-through has lead to different conversations and impacts.

Question: What are some of the next steps for the WUPFSC?

Courtney: One of the main things that needs to keep happening is the WUPFSC meetings in each of the six counties across the Western UP region. Food summits and community programs would also be beneficial so that community members know what is happening and or how to process foods in a variety of ways.

Kyla: What were once “recommendations” are now actualities. Ideas that once belonged to the future are now accomplishments. An example of this is that when we met with community partners last year, one of the key things that folks kept bringing up was that creating partnerships within the community was critical to supporting a strong local food system. “Building partnerships” ended up becoming one of our key themes, so several recommendations for the WUPFSC were built around that. And I have to say, checking back in with the WUPFSC, I am so impressed by just how far they’ve taken those initial recommendations. When I looked at the website after several months, I was amazed by all the resources compiled for that particular purpose: building partnerships. A “networking” page. Lists of community gardens. Funding opportunities. A calendar of local events. This is one area where even from a distance I can tell that the WUPFSC has done a tremendous job. And like many of those who participated in our project, I am optimistic that many of the “next steps” will grow from those partnerships!

—-

Kyla Valenti is a 2019 graduate of the B.S. in Social Sciences (Law and Society) program at Michigan Technological University. Though deeply attached to the UP, she currently resides in Silicon Valley, where she is working to advance her career as a social scientist and mental health practitioner.

Courtney Archambeau is a 2006 graduate of the B.S in Social Sciences (History concentration) program at Michigan Technological University. She is currently a full time employee of Residence Education and Housing Services at Michigan Technological University while pursuing her masters degree in Environmental and Energy Policy.

The students’ report, and other resources about food in our communities, can be found at the Western Upper Peninsula Food Systems Council website.


MTU students at COP25

A group of MTU students traveled to Madrid to participate in COP25, the UN’s meeting on climate change. Their experiences are being shared via the MTU Unscripted blog:

 

  • https://www.mtu.edu/news/stories/2019/december/michigan-tech-students-participate-in-cop25.html
  • https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/stories/2019/december/the-road-to-cop25.html
  • https://www.mtu.edu/unscripted/stories/2019/december/cop25-we-are-the-solution.html?fbclid=IwAR3WMJRidp79vfyrq87sIdiGNjXTWy-g2cPjPTa2iGkzvcv89hEvCqVzhAI

 

Their posts expand on the process and planning involved in getting them there as well as their experiences at and reflections on the event. They provide a great example of the determination and tenacity of MTU students and their efforts and contributions to improving communities across the world.

Climate change is a global and sometimes seemingly insurmountable problem, but the efforts of students traveling all the way from this small community in the UP are contributing to the changes that are necessary to ensure a planet that is habitable for future generations. We are lucky to have faculty at MTU committed to getting students involved in this globally impactful event (thanks to Dr. Sarah Green, Chemistry).

Students, we are proud of you and your work!


Giving farmers a new crop: Solar Farms and expanding BTM methods for farmers

 

This is a guest post from Lena Stenvig, an undergraduate student at Michigan Tech. Lena is studying Computer Science and minoring in Environmental Studies. Lena took the photos included in this blog post. She can be reached at lsstenvi@mtu.edu

 

The cherry orchard at Garthe Farms LLC

America is all about its family-owned farms. From its popular food chains serving America-grown burgers to its corn-mazes in the fall attracting people from all around, none of it would be possible without the original small-town humble farmers that do their job equally for supporting their families and for the love of what they do every day; but now our farmers need help. When people moved away from their family farms over to less body-intensive jobs for work, fewer farms began producing more product on more land. Even so, many farmers struggle to produce enough crop to sustain themselves and their family. Around 91 percent of farming families have at least one family member working at a job that is not the farm. This is where Behind the Meter, or BTM comes in.

Behind the meter is a means of producing your own energy so that you are not pulling all of the energy you use from the grid, and as a result pay less for your electricity bill. A popular technique to behind-the-meter is installing solar-panels in one’s yard on upon the roof. In this way a household can produce green energy to lower its carbon footprint and can save on the electricity bill. A typical household has room for a few solar panels. Enough to sustain itself for most of the summer months, but usually not enough when the winter heating bill kicks in. A modern American farm has much more land than your typical resident. Even if most of it is used for farming, there are certainly space that could easily be allocated for a small solar farm. Having worked for Garthe Farms LLC this summer, a cherry farm deep in cherry country near Traverse City, MI, I have seen first-hand where and how this can work. My uncle, Gene Garthe, runs this farm and in recent years invested in four large solar panels that sit in empty space near the driveway nearing the farm house. These four solar panels produce enough energy to run what electricity is needed for the farm, and that is all they desire and need.

Despite producing plenty of energy via solar, Garthe Farms is not a emissions-free facility. Large machinery is used to harvest the cherries from their trees. There are three machines that are necessary in cherry harvesting: the Shaker, which shakes the cherries from the trees, the Catch Frame, which catches the cherries shaken by the Shaker and conveyors them into a tub, and the tractor that takes the tubs when full to the loading dock and brings the Catch Frame a new tub in which to fill more cherries. All three of these machines require diesel fuel to run, and as much work as one can complete towards electric vehicles, it is not economically feasible at the moment to make a machine that chugs through an entire tank of fuel in eight hours of work to operate on an electrically-rechargeable battery. To make up for their fuel usage, perhaps it is better that farms simply produce a form of green energy that can make up for the amount of fossil fuels they consume.

 

Cherry harvest in motion: The Shaker (far) moves to the next tree while the Catch Frame (near) is receiving a new tub in which to place the harvested cherries.

 

In this way farmers can reverse the BTM method. If they can produce their usual crop while also producing energy in either the form of solar or wind, they can sustain their household while also receiving return on what they put out to the grid. This can work if they can have some of their own personal solar panels to run what they need to on the farm, and then working with solar or wind companies to lease certain areas of their land to be utilized for said energy production. For wind, this is easy by simply taking up a small portion of land for each windmill. The minimally invasive turbines do not take up much room on the farm and do not hinder the crops from receiving enough sunlight. Solar panels can prove to be trickier. Because of their method of energy production, solar panels would not work well in a field full of crops that also require sunlight in order to grow. For farms that grow plants that take up less room per unit such as potatoes or corn, placing solar panels in spare spaces around the field while mostly utilizing wind power might be the best option. For farms like my uncle’s, it is a different story entirely.

Much of a cherry orchard’s area is taken up by plants and grasses that grow below the trees, and the trees stand spaced approximately ten feet apart within each row. Each row stands about another twenty five feet apart. Where some farms may be only able to place solar panels near roads or at the end of rows, orchards may place the panels in these locations are more. If one row of trees were to be replaced with solar panels, the loss of trees would be fairly minimal while also adding enormous potential for solar production. Even without removing trees, placing solar panels at the end of rows would not affect the production of fruit while also receiving gain on solar production.

If we are to look closer at our American farms and examine the issues they face today, and if we can only look at the potential they hold for energy production, we may not only be able to solve the growing problem of farms going bankrupt, but also for finding a place to produce greener energy without disrupting land that is not being used and additionally would ecologically be better off as it is. In this way farmers can continue to do what they love, and not have to work more than they have to in order to pay bills and keep their farm from dying. With this I might say the path onto greener pastures might just be creating greener pastures.

 

 


Tiny House Living at MTU

The latest Humans of Michigan Tech story features Sydney, an undergrad who lives in an ambulance turned tiny home. The story barely touches the surface of the environmental, economic, and personal benefits that can come from tiny home living. Tiny homes are a great example of how environmentally responsible living is also economically beneficial – Sydney doesn’t have to pay rent or utility bills and can take advantage of the shared systems like showers and internet provided by the college campus. Sydney is not the first MTU student to live in a tiny home while completing a degree here – a student who built a tiny home on a trailer used to live in my yard, before she graduated and moved away from Houghton. There have even been discussions of developing a community of tiny houses on campus! Sydney and other students who have lived in tiny homes demonstrate that it’s possible, even in the cold snowy climate of the UP. Her story makes me wonder – How many students would live like this, if provided the opportunity to try? How can we teach more students about this possibility? What are the barriers in our way of making more environmentally and economically sound investments for qualify living through tiny homes and access to shared systems? We’re proud of you, Sydney!

 

 


Industrial Ecology

Photo of Shaelyn taken by Daniel Prada (daprada@mtu.edu).

 

 

This is a guest post by Shaelyn Koleber, who is an environmental engineering undergraduate student at Michigan Tech. She can be reached at sjkolebe@mtu.edu

 

Shaelyn took the photos included in her blog post.

 

 

 

Nature is full of self-sustaining ecosystems; there is a constant recycling of resources. There are complementary functions within nature and the environment is able to completely support itself without outside assistance. For example, trees absorb carbon dioxide and give off oxygen, while animals take in oxygen and give off carbon dioxide—a seemingly perfect complimentary cycle. Whether a plant is eaten by an animal or it dies naturally and decomposes on the forest floor, it is still supporting the ecosystem. Whatever nature produces eventually reaches the end of its life and will be consumed back into the ecosystem. A fallen tree limb, a dead animal, or an uneaten fruit or plant that has fallen to the floor are all absorbed and recycled back as useful forms to support the ecosystem. There is no waste produced from environmental processes and the ecosystem is a closed-loop of resources. This same concept can be applied in buildings and manufacturing where the waste produced from these processes can be used to support the ongoing production. Industrial ecology is a sustainability concept to improve the environmental management of industrial processes. Companies can keep a record of materials throughout a product’s life. There are many subcategories of industrial ecology that are used as analyzation and evaluation techniques to ultimately reduce the impact on the environment, such as: material flow analysis (MFA), life-cycle analysis (LCA), and input-output analyzation. Industrial ecology is an emerging concept that works to mimic the self-sustaining cycle of nature.

Introducing the ecological aspect to industry puts a generalized focus on environmental impact. Industrial ecology is a strategic guideline to use fewer resources while also finding a new purpose for exhausted materials and waste. This does not have to occur within one facility. Different businesses could work together to create networked, ecological industries: waste can be seen as a resource. The saying, “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” is demonstrated through the concept of ‘industry partnership.’ The by-product from one industrial process can be used as the input for a separate entity. For example, a coal-firing power plant has a lot of excess heat that can be distributed to a nearby community. This would reduce the energy and resources needed to provide heat services to the town, thus providing environmental and economic benefits. This could only occur with the cooperation of multiple companies independently. The transportation of these materials would have to be a short distance for the net environmental impact to be positive. This idea would have tobe mutually adopted for it to be effective, which could be seen in future years as more industries become conscious of their carbon footprint.

 

Industrial ecology is also seen in the emerging concept of cogeneration. Cogeneration, also known as combined heat and power (CHP), is when a heat engine is used to generate electricity and heat at the same time. Similar to the previously mentioned example, during the production of electricity, the heat can be harnessed and put to use instead of going to waste. This directly views the heat waste as a source and creates a concept of dual-purpose. Rather than the heat being seen as waste, it is seen as another useful product of the process. Smaller-scale industrial ecology concepts can be seen in the construction of homes or commercial buildings. Current construction techniques and technological resources build each utility with separate input needs and waste disposal. Most housing and commercial buildings do not have any industrial ecology, currently. People who plan on living in a house for an extended period of time or have a desire to live sustainably are more prone to implement advanced technologies. Instead of using an air-source air conditioner, a ground source heat pump can be used as a closed-loop system. These systems pump water from the ground where the temperature is constant year-round. While air-source heat pumps are less expensive and easier to install, ground-source pumps are much more efficient and sustainable. The ground-source pumps are buried pipes that loop around a three-to-six-foot-deep trench. This system is a constant exchange of heat with the ground and can heat or cool a home. Diagrams and explanations of the different heating systems can be found on https://smarterhouse.org/heating-systems/types-heating-systems. It takes less energy to simply move heat around than it is to generate heat; therefore, the ground-source pump does not consume a lot of energy. Since the ground-source heat pumps are more efficient, they are also more cost effective. A consumer that installs this system and plans on living in a home for a long time will see a return on their investment. This is just one example of many technologies/designs that exist as readily-available sustainable systems.

Industrial ecology is a concept that must be practiced by all companies and manufacturers; it must also be well-understood by the general public in order to be fully adopted and implemented into the function of society. Since our society relies heavily on industrial processes, we cannot simply shut them down. However, we can no longer standby and knowingly accept the pollution that companies create through their industrial processes. While it is not reasonable to shut down industrial processes completely, we must keep these companies responsible for the waste and pollution they create. A partial reinvention of industrial processes into industrial ecology will reduce the environmental impact significantly. Without the public’s understanding and demand for such changes, there will be no urgency to place official regulations and therefore create a zero-pollution global industry. This foreseen change will not come easily or naturally; it needs to be talked about and broadcasted on media to mass-educate the public. With a widely supported concept, the engineers, scientists, and policy makers can work together to put the ideas into action. Industrial ecology allows humans to increase their efficient use of ecosystems by mimicking what nature already does. The implementation of this concept will only come with the mutual support from companies, the government, the people, and environmental conservationists. If we continue to move forward with these concepts, the earth can thrive for many eons in our future.

 

 


Your Role in Progressing Toward a Soft-Energy Society

 

Photo by Meghal Janarda

 

This is a guest blog post from Zoe Reep, who is an undergraduate mathematics major at Michigan Tech. Zoe can be reached at zkreep@mtu.edu

 

As our society has grown in population, technology, and abilities, so has its need for energy. And as our need for energy has grown, we have been forced to step outside of early methods of capturing and extracting this energy. Over time, society has shifted from reliance on muscular and biomass sources such as animal labor and firewood in the 15th century to a reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas in the late 20th century (Evolution of Energy Sources).

 

Figure 1: Graph representing the evolution of energy sources across periods of time (Evolution of Energy Sources).

In the late 1900s, influential writer and scientist Amory Lovins took a critical look at the future of our energy sector in his essay “Energy Strategy: The Road Not Taken?.” He proposed that there are two ways in which society can proceed: the hard path, society’s current path characterized by intense fossil fuel consumption and lack of regard to the environmental effects of such consumption; and the soft path, the path that Lovins believed to be the better alternative characterized by renewable energy and the commitment to energy conservation and efficiency.

Those in support of the hard path argue that fossil fuels and nuclear energy alone can sustain our ever-growing population, with its ever-growing desire for energy, if we simply alter our extraction, conversion, distribution, and usage methods to be more efficient. Proponents of the hard path believe that society should focus on providing incentives, such as tax breaks and subsidies, for fossil fuel companies to encourage the exploration and extraction of coal, uranium, and petroleum. Following the decline of the availability of fossil fuels, these hard-pathers support a shift to nuclear power. Typically, those in support of the hard path envision a future of expensive, centralized systems (Newton).

In contrast, those in support of the soft path hold the belief that a reliance on solely fossil fuels is not only unsustainable in the long run, but dangerous. They believe that creating and sustaining large, concentrated facilities for power production enables powerful companies to dictate energy’s place in society and turns energy into a socioeconomic issue. Instead of these centralized systems, proponents of the soft path favor more local energy retrieval methods, such as solar panels on buildings or the use of wind turbines on properties. Additionally, soft-pathers would like to see society slowly transition from a heavy reliance on fossil fuels to a more dispersed reliance on renewable energy sources such as hydro, geothermal, solar, and wind power (Newton).

Lovins views sparked a time of controversy, but also brought up an important issue: which direction is the direction that we need to move in order to ensure that our successors have the same abilities to live full and meaningful lives as we do?

We’ve reached a point where it is difficult to argue that there isn’t something wrong with our current energy industry. [Check out https://ourworldindata.org/fossil-fuels for a look at the increase in fossil fuel consumption. Think our current methods can keep up with the ever-growing demand for energy?] Scientists and researchers have been presenting more and more evidence that our current path is unsustainable and that we might even reap the irreversible consequences of our procrastination and selfish desires in our lifetime. It is beginning to seem that the majority of people recognize the correlation between the dependence on fossil fuels and Earth’s degrading environment and atmospheric conditions , so what’s stopping us from converting to a more sustainable alternative?

We have grown increasingly dependent on energy and the comforts and commodities it supplies to us. We believe that others will find an answer for us, and that the answer will allow us to continue our life of ease. We hold the assumption that our own individual efforts will not produce change, since we are merely a single ant in the midst of a ginormous colony.

I tested a thought that I had on my Energy and Society class. I wanted to see if, when provided the education of why change was important and the means of producing that change, my peers would change small areas of their life that they had grown up comfortable with to benefit the world around them.

We had spent the previous class walking around campus and discussing areas that we felt could be improved, through methods such as user awareness or the implementation of more efficient systems,  to lessen energy consumption. The general consensus seemed to be that there were many aspects of our college life that, with a little change, could lower our energy consumption significantly and if only people knew about these areas, or acted on these areas, we would be in a much better position, energy-speaking.

I used a topic that I knew would strike controversy and that my class would be resistant to: food, and the environmental effects of the current animal agriculture industry – and our consumption of the proteins stemming from it.

Before I began, I asked my class whether they were vegetarian. This elicited several skeptical looks and maybe one or two hesitant “I once was…” or “I tried at one point…” I then provided them with some basic education on the negative effects of the animal agriculture industry through short videos. These videos walked my class through the water, land, and fuel consumption required to create even a single patty and informed them of the emissions and other land-and-water-degradation that results from a mass animal agriculture system.

Following the videos, I asked a very straightforward question: “Who is going to become vegetarian?” When that didn’t receive a response, I decided to cut them a little slack: “Who is going to change their diet?” That received a couple grunts.

I then posed one final question, which is what I want to leave you with today: if you’re not going to make the change, even after being educated about the issue and being provided means to pursue this lifestyle change (even if it is more expensive than the alternative, “normal” route), then what makes you think that anybody else will?

Stop believing that change will occur only when everyone buys into the change; start the change, and help people buy into it. Your actions are important and do create discussion. They have the potential to incite change. If you agree that this energy path we are taking is in fact unsustainable and quite dangerous to rely on, then step up, alter your lifestyle (yes, you might need to give up some of your comforts), and encourage others to do the same. And if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for the generations to come.

Zoe Reep.

 

 


On Industrial Ecology

This post is a guest post from a student in SS3815 Energy and Society who wishes to remain anonymous.

 

Most of us are somewhat aware of industrial practices along with a high school level understanding of ecology, but what about their interconnection? Can two completely different topics combine for a new concept or understanding? And how does it relate to sustainability?

“Industrial ecology is the study of industrial systems aimed at identifying and implementing strategies that reduce their environmental impact. Industries, such as manufacturing and energy plants, extract raw materials and natural resources from the earth and transform them into products and services that meet the demands of the population” (study.com). Industrial ecology works in a way similar to that of a workplace or school sustainability initiative for recycling or net zero waste, but to a deeper and grander scale. A forest’s ecosystem may give tree saplings to mammals and insects, but the surviving saplings grow big and strong. These trees provide cover from the elements, as well as shelter for other species. They also act as carbon sinks, providing clean oxygen. This cycle of environmental sustainability is what industrial ecologists are looking to achieve.

When Eagle Mine was first proposed to the Marquette area, there was severe backlash from the community regarding its environmental impact on the nearby Salmon River. Their skepticism was understandable, a simple Google Map satellite search will show you the nearby retention ponds of Empire Mine, among others, with a remarkable color of orange. In case you didn’t already know this: water is not orange in its natural state. Local fishermen opposed the mine on the grounds of mining’s notorious mark on nearby bodies of water and land, so proper measures were put in place.

 

Eagle Mine Fly Over (Links to an external site.)

 

Firstly, the mine is not open-face, it is an underground operation. This limits the dust exposure compared to open-face or mountaintop mining, whose presence lasts long after operations cease. Second, truck loading takes place indoors, further reducing the potential dust travel. Trucks and boots have designated pathways for travel to prevent exposure off the site. There is even a water treatment center inputting from the site and outputting into the river. One of the most interesting aspects of exposure prevention is their handling of snow and rainfall. The entire site is concave in so all liquids pool to the central holding ponds. This site is a prime example of industrial ecology because of every aspect to protect the local ecosystem and reduce its overall impact. On top of all this, Eagle Mine plans on returning the site to its former natural state when all is said and done.

 

Modern Mining – How Eagle Mine produces nickel and copper (Links to an external site.)

 

When looking at the product of Eagle Mine, said minerals are made into a wide array of products and parts, which in turn can return to the site via phone or truck.

In my Population & Environment course with Dr. Winkler, we ran a website test determining how many earths would be required to live if everyone lived like the test taker. I ended up receiving a score of about 1.5 earths, but I wanted to test some options. The life habit that created the biggest jump was the amount of trash one produces. By adding a few pounds to my weekly trash output, my earths jumped up to almost 3 whole earths. Industrial ecology is an important term to understand because it is a relatively new concept with future consequences. Industrial waste is a topic that needs to be addressed because the reduction of overall waste and waste streams is one of the most significant ways to reduce its environmental impact. Ever seen a loaded truck carrying brand new vehicles down the highway? Each vehicle is wrapped in single-use plastic that is battered by the wind, and some even falls off. When the vehicles reach their final destination, this plastic is stripped off and the car is stored elsewhere. How do I put this lightly…do we really need to continue to manufacture single use plastics? Obviously, there are exceptions to this, particularly medical equipment, but even then, we can invest in alternate materials. Ford Motor Company’s most recent sustainability report details its net zero waste initiative, most notably its near zero landfill output in the United States at most sites. An increasing number of companies are moving towards zero landfill waste, which is incredibly impressive considering the amount of office waste that can accrue.

It can be said that industrial ecology is similar to life cycle analysis, which is an assessment of environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product’s life from raw material extraction through materials processing, manufacturing, distribution, use, repair and maintenance, and disposal or recycling. Life Cycle Assessments look into everything that occurs cradle-to-grave when it comes to products. In other words, from pre-manufacturing to disposal. This can be inversely related to industrial ecology because the industry is the cause while the product carries the effect. Think of how a Red Solo Cup takes over 400 years to fully decompose, how can a company change the material of the famous Red Solo Cup so it can decompose in 10 years? How does the Red Solo Cup manufacturer justify making products that will last centuries into the future when none of the current generation will be alive to experience it? I would certainly hope there are environmental policies in place to counter overdue decomposition in the future, but what can a company do right now to counter? Gone are the days of simply throwing trash away- out of sight, out of mind– and here are the days of sustainability. I’d find peace in working for a company with such strong devotion to internal standards, and the standards of the surrounding environment.

This term deserves to be normalized in order to become a pillar in sustainability efforts and studies. I think that industrial ecology can be a catalyst for severe societal change. It’s known that work environment and cultures influence our own environment and culture at home, so sweeping ecological successes could have trickle-down effects.