Sustainability

Obama’s Climate Speech

Posted by cschelly under Sustainability in the News

Yesterday, President Obama gave a speech at Georgetown University on the issue of climate change. The biggest news to come from that speech is his directive to the EPA to limit carbon pollution from both existing and new power plants through federal regulations. There are, of course, different opinions about whether this speech and the President’s intentions are a significant step forward, or not. Many are extremely disappointed by his continued ambivalence about the Keystone pipeline, and Americans throughout the country are taking action this summer in support of more radical steps than those outlined in the President’s speech.

I find it interesting that this speech came just days after a detailed article in Rolling Stone magazine declared the inevitable disappearance of Miami by the end of the century. This article caught my attention because, in this year of 2013 and given increases in life expectancy, is it possible that some people alive today could actually experience the disappearance of Miami? Is it possible that some of the college students here could experience it in their lifetimes? Other parts of the world are already experiencing the disappearance of inhabited lands, but an article about the disappearance of Miami hits much closer to home for most Americans – perhaps we have vacationed there, or know someone who lives there or has lived there. Perhaps it is the sheer size and abundance of such a prosperous and modern city that makes the potential of loosing it seem so momentous. Climate change is a huge and multi-faceted issue. It is difficult for me to even think about it without thinking about all of the issues related to social justice and international relations that are inevitably intertwined; add to this the scale and complexity and the potential that it is simply too late to avert, and the whole thing can become quite overwhelming.

For me, the most important part of President Obama’s speech is hidden in two simple sentences; he said: “Don’t tell folks that we have to choose between the health of our children or the health of our economy.  The old rules may say we can’t protect our environment and promote economic growth at the same time, but in America, we’ve always used new technologies — we’ve used science; we’ve used research and development and discovery to make the old rules obsolete.” If the “old rules” suggesting that environmental well-being and economic well-being are inevitably contradictory are truly made obsolete, what kind of innovations and decisions and policies could we pursue? Throwing out these old rules seems like the most significant way to pursue sustainability in this country, opening doors to more consequential change in energy usage, certainly, but also in other fundamental ways that could shift both practice and perspective for the sake of the planet, and ourselves.

Ironic hypocrisy

Posted by almayer under Living Sustainably

For all of the teaching and research I do on sustainability…. living it, measuring it, valuing it…. I am occasionally a very poor example of it. In the past couple of weeks I have traveled to Scotland, Argentina, and Washington D.C.; ironically, those last two trips were meetings focused on the sustainability of carbon-neutral biofuels. Although I am very anxious about calculating my carbon footprint over these three trips (since I’d probably have to stop breathing for five years to get back to something close to carbon neutral), I am going to do it here as a form of very public shaming. I am hoping that it will motivate me to insist on more virtual trips…

Using this calculator, my total carbon footprint for the flights for these three trips was:

Houghton –> Scotland (measuring sustainable landscapes workshop) –> Houghton: 1.18 metric tons.

Houghton –> Argentina (Pan-American sustainable biofuels workshop) –> Houghton: 1.81 metric tons.

Houghton –> Washington, D.C. (NSF Sustainable Energy Pathways meeting) –> Houghton: 0.31 metric tons.

Total: 3.30 metric tons.

That’s roughly the same amount of carbon that a person in the Maldives emits PER YEAR. It would take roughly a hectare of forest a year to sequester the carbon from those three trips.

Yikes.

Sustainable development of the manufacturing industry: casting and forging

Posted by almayer under Sustainability Research

This is a guest blog post from Minglei Guan, one of my students in the “Sustainability Science, Policy and Assessment” course this spring:

Sustainability is an important development goal for humanity in modern society. Manufacturing is a central feature of many economic development pathways, and in this sense casting and forging are therefore a necessary focus for sustainable development strategies. Casting (pouring hot metal into a mold) and forging (pressing metal into a certain shape) are two ways that all metal tools and products are made.

The economic issues for the casting and forging manufacturing industry can be summarized as low profit margins with high cost of capital, and market volatility. Low profit margins are common for small manufacturers when they lack an ability to improve their production processes, training and equipment. This issue can result in bankruptcy for small manufacturers, which then negatively impacts society through the loss of jobs. Economic support from government and industrial organizations can help alleviate this issue. For the second issue, the high cost of capital, is mainly driven by the cost of raw materials, labor, and energy. For the casting and forging manufacturing industry, the cost of materials is the most important. Efforts such as waste reduction and improved production methods are good ways to solve the issue, using approaches such as production life cycle improvement and TNS zero waste strategy.  Finally, the market volatility needs to be dependent upon local market requirements.

The casing and forging industries also have a large impact on the environmental dimension of sustainable development. High energy usage, materials resources waste and environmental damage are common to the casting and forging manufacturing industry.  High energy usage and materials resources waste are both resource issues; production life cycle improvement and TNS zero waste approaches can also be used to solve them. Emissions are also a serious problem for the industry. New technologies such as the “CRIMSON” model can be used to reduce emissions from the sand casting process. However, typically either new laws or environmental decrees are needed to limit greenhouse gas and smoke emissions or to filter them before they are released.

Finally, from social dimension, the industry has significant social impacts such as those related to labor costs and environmental damage as it impacts human health. To solve social, environmental and economic issues for the casting and forging manufacturing industry, one needs to considered relationships among these three views. Balanced development for society, the environment and the economy can push the manufacturing industry towards sustainability.

Food in the UP neighborhood

Posted by almayer under Sustainability in the News

And finally a foodie post from my current haunts…. the UP Food Exchange website is up and running! Make it your first stop for information on local food news, farmers and markets, as well as an online market to increase agricultural connectivity across the three UP regions (Western, Central, and Eastern).

More urban farming news from my old haunts

Posted by almayer under Sustainability in the News

This time it’s news from Cincinnati that one of the oldest community gardens in Over the Rhine would have been bulldozed for housing development. The “Eco-Garden” is a lovely garden that I used to walk by frequently on my way to downtown from Clifton, so it is very good news indeed that it has not only been spared, but incorporated into the city’s redevelopment plans for Over the Rhine.

While Over the Rhine is one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cincinnati, it has deep cultural roots that include food and urban ag. I spent most of my Saturday mornings at the historic Findlay Market, which was open year-round thanks to a major improvement about 8 years ago to enclose the main stalls in a four-seasons building. Before that project, Findlay Market definitely required a bit of stoicism for winter shopping, but it separated the committed from the fair-season shoppers.

Farmers Markets are quickly returning to cities around the country, after decades of lagging interest. It is quite an impressive achievement for Findlay Market to have withstood the test of time. And now it appears, happily, that the Eco-Garden will too.

Chicago’s new Urban Farmer program

Posted by almayer under Sustainability in the News

Grist.org published a segment last week on Chicago’s new urban farmer program, aiming to train up to 100 farmers each year on how to establish an urban neighborhood farm, both from the agricultural as well as the business side.

Many contracting or otherwise struggling urban cities in the US are looking to agriculture as a solution for vacant lots and unhealthy diets, from Pittsburgh to Detroit to Los Angeles. (You know it’s a trend when the New York Times has an entire online section dedicated to it.) Farming (or even gardening) on a vacant lot can be challenging, from polluted soil to poor drainage to pest infestations, not to mention ordinance violations. But as experience with these transformations grow, lessons learned from converting many thousands of acres of brownfields into greenfields could help localize our food system and provide much needed urban employment. It’s also a great way to immerse children in the food system, allowing easier access to gardens (to participate in growing their own food) and a natural way to get to know others in their community.

Personally, I’m glad to see the change of heart in my native city; let’s see if the suburbs follow suit and relax their landscaping ordinances that prohibit gardens in front yards.

Bad news delivered well

Posted by almayer under Sustainability Research

This semester I am teaching a class on sustainability (Sustainability Science, Policy and Assessment), and I am struggling to decide whether I should show probably the most dispiriting and disconcerting documentary currently available on the topic of societal collapse, a very common topic in our class discussions.

Titled simply “Collapse“, the documentary is an interview with Michael Ruppert, one of the tallest lightning rods in the peak oil and sustainability circles. Ruppert’s methodology and conclusions are controversial, but that is not what makes his work so difficult to teach. There is a fatalistic quality to his work; that connecting fact A to B to C inevitably leads us all to D (collapse of civilization), when there are significant unknowns that may make those events truly unconnected and therefore D just one of many possible outcomes.

Indeed, it is the work of groups like The Resilience Alliance that try to understand these different pathways through destruction and renewal, and The Transition Network that tries to prevent D from becoming an inevitable outcome by guiding communities down different pathways.

I suppose I can understand how Ruppert’s history and career could lead him to see the worst in humanity…. his years in the Los Angeles police force surely required him to be open to the worst possibilities…. but hopefully I can teach my students the reality of the challenges we face without losing hope for kinder, gentler pathways through them.

Isle Royale NPS Presentation tonight (Tuesday 5 March)

Posted by almayer under Campus Events

From the email:

Hello all!

Just a reminder about tonight’s Global City presentation Tuesday, March 5th, 6:00-7:00 pm in the U. J. Noblet Forestry Building G002, Michigan Tech (please note the room change for our regular members!). We welcome Isle Royale National Park employees Seth DePasqual (Cultural Resource Manager), Mark Romanski (Biological Science Technician) and Lucas Westcott, (West District Interpreter) to give the following presentation:


Of Marten and Men:
Implications of Spatial Analysis in Cultural and Natural Resource Research at Isle Royale National Park


Over its history, the isolation of Isle Royale has made it a premiere location for research on cultural and natural history.  A variety of spatial analysis technologies are helping current National Park Service researchers examine diverse park resources in new ways.  Come join NPS staff for a discussion about how spatial analysis is playing a role in research on Isle Royale’s genetically distinct pine marten population, as well helping identifying potential historic and prehistoric archeological sites. (For more detailed abstracts please see below.)


Pizza and pop provided, please bring your own mug to minimize waste!

Looking forward to seeing you there!

The Global City crew

Michigan Tech Campus map:
http://www.mtu.edu/maps/


Seth DePasqual, Cultural Resource Manager
This presentation will discuss recent examinations into Isle Royale’s early prehistory and more recent mining histories with attention given to site discovery, geomorphology and the merits of survey work aided by LiDAR. In addition to conventional archaeological survey methods including background research and field-based inventories, ISRO CRM incorporated a LiDAR-based DEM when developing strategies for site discovery.

These efforts resulted in the location of many previously undiscovered site features including historic roads, prospect trenches, and diamond-drill coring stations.  With regard to prehistoric features, archaeologists targeted the island’s relict shorelines as a means to site discovery. These features (including those not yet discovered) improve our understanding of significant island prehistories/histories and lend themselves to informed decisions regarding future management actions, public interpretation and the relevance of cultural resources in Wilderness.

Although traditional survey methods are sometimes adequate for discovery of these types of features, the time and personnel necessary are typically in short supply. LiDAR allows researchers to ballpark, if not pinpoint certain anomalies that are compatible with certain island cultural themes. Related methods streamline federal survey efforts allowing more time for actual site examination and documentation. Without LiDAR, a great deal of time and expense would be committed to searching for such features as opposed to documenting them.

Mark Romanski , Biological Science Technician
Isle Royale National Park contains the only insular population of American marten in the contiguous United States. Marten at the park likely experienced a population and genetic bottleneck during the early 20th century and after a 60-year apparent absence, their presence has been reconfirmed.  Investigations of genetic isolation and relative distribution suggest abundance of marten at the park is very low, approximate 30 individuals, and that this population is genetically distinct from its likely source population. There is considerable concern that the park could lose this rare population of forest mesocarnivores without further information to assess this population’s status. This situation is exacerbated as natural colonization from the mainland is virtually impossible. Given ISRO martens are likely their own genetically distinct subspecies, equivalent to the only other known subspecies of marten  found on the island of Newfoundland, no known genetically similar source population exists if augmenting the population was warranted. As such, park researchers and their collaborators are  conducting research designed to address the most salient aspects of this population’s natural history to help preserve this unique, insular population of marten.

A narrative of the Upper Peninsula forest through time

Posted by almayer under Uncategorized

I just finished reading John Knott’s Imagining the Forest: Narratives of Michigan and the Upper Midwest (2012, University of Michigan Press), and thoroughly enjoyed his flowing narration of the path our forests have taken over the past 400 years. He uses a series of novels, books, and periodicals (both fiction and nonfiction) written during different periods to provide images of not just what our forests were like ecologically, but how they were perceived by those who lived in them.

His book begins not with the northwards retreat of the glaciers (when our forests truly began to be forests), but with the Ojibwa who utilized forest resources in seasonal movements and traditions. These traditions served them well when the first fur-trappers established themselves in the area, and the Ojibwa and traders formed integrated communities and relied on intact forests to support their trade in resources.

However, as the timber boom spread from Lower to Upper Michigan, the forests were stripped and sold to support urban expansion in Chicago, Detroit and beyond. His descriptions of the fires that raged out of control in the 1870′s, destroying top soil and villages, are difficult to imagine. The forest residues that remained after the logs were transported away from the area, combined with an intense series of summer droughts, seared the Upper Peninsula so completely in some areas that the forest has yet to return. These same drought conditions also fueled the Great Chicago Fire in the same year.

After the timber boom, government efforts to encourage agriculture on the near-barren soil failed, and reforestation began. The UP began to be marketed as a vacation destination, in the hopes of developing a new tourism-based economy.

Knott concludes his book with a discussion of the opportunities that our National Forests, Wilderness Areas, and State Parks provide us: hints of what our forests were like before the timber boom in the late 1800′s.

This book is a great read for both natives and newcomers; I recommend bringing it along on your next camping trip in the Porkies!!

The Value of Local Food presentation, Feb 14 6:30-8pm

Posted by almayer under Campus Events

From Prof. Susan Martin:

“Ken Meter will present a program on Thurs Feb 14 from 6:30-8 in MEEM 112  “The Value of Local Food: How Local Food Systems are Revitalizing Economies and Communities.”   Mr. Meter is an economist and national expert on the economic impact of local food production, and he is the president of the Crossroads Resource Center. His presentation is free and open to the public.

If you are interested in the linked topics of environmental impacts of global food systems, the impoverishment of local producers, and wider issues of healthy diets and enhancing local food security, there’ll be something for you in this presentation.”

Michigan Technological University is an equal opportunity educational institution/equal opportunity employer

1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931-1295

Michigan Technological University

1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, Michigan 49931-1295
906-487-1885

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