Pilgrim River restoration project presentation TONIGHT!

Hosted by Michigan Tech’s Global City student organization:

Global City’s first presentation this semester will be TODAY, Jan. 15, 2013, at 6PM in Fisher 138. The presentation will cover the on-going restoration of a portion of the Pilgrim River just outside of Houghton, MI. The project is being implemented with a unique approach, with a goal of preserving both landowner rights and the environment. See the following link for much more information: www.pilgrimriverwatershed.org.
As always, pizza and pop will be provided. Please go green and bring your own cups and dishes!

Cozy living

First, apologies for the long hiatus…. the last month or so of the semester is always crazy.

I was going to write a reflective post on all of the sustainability-related events in 2012…. most notably, the lack of any sort of societal collapse as predicted by the Mayans and others (although as Jon Stewart remarked, perhaps the Mayans were not the best ones to be predicting collapses). However, as I sit here in my drafty post-mining poorly-insulated Yooper home, trying to warm my toes in front of a space heater, the only thing I can think about is how much nicer a tiny cottage with a pot-bellied wood stove might feel just about now.

Coincidentally, as I looked through my inbox, the latest edition of Grist has an entire article devoted to Living Large in Small Houses. While the thought of no mortgage and a forced reduction in junk (timely after the post-Christmas gift binge) does sound nice, what I found really engaging was the farm cottage in Vermont that stayed cozy all winter using less than a cord of wood.

I used to rent a log cabin even smaller than that when I was a grad student in Knoxville TN. It had a tiny kitchen, tiny bathroom, one small family room (where the wood stove was) and one other room that I used as a bedroom/den. Off the back was a giant porch with a view of the forested “holler” below, full of huge magnolia trees and tulip poplars hiding a Civil War-era fort within it. Due to the complete lack of insulation in the walls, I typically went through a cord of wood each winter, which wasn’t a big problem due to a microburst storm my first summer there that brought down 5 or 6 massive trees in my backyard. It look less than five minutes to find a forestry student with a chainsaw, and then I had years of wood to split and use. I look back on those years very fondly…. the house was small, easy to keep clean, and the heating system was very effective and simple to operate (open door, put wood in, throw in lit match, close door).

Maybe someday I’ll get back to that sort of living….. with the emergence of a huge diversity of tiny house blueprints, perhaps I’ll build it myself.

Happy New Year!


Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without

This old quote (linked to both the Great Depression in the United States, and the Shakers) can be difficult to abide by in our high tech world. However, I think these iFixit folks are really on to something here….. free online manuals for repairing anything from smart phones to  automobiles to toasters. Check the site out first before you haul that appliance to the curb…..


FOLK on campus for Global City

Tonight (Tuesday 25 September) at 6pm….. sponsored by the Global City student organization:

Global Citizens! Join us for the first Global City presentation of the 2012-2013 school year!

Tomorrow night, Tuesday, September 25, 6:00-7:00 pm in Fisher 138.

Linda Rulison and Catherine Paavola, members of the grassroots organization FOLK (Friends of the Land of Keweenaw), will discuss the local environmental issues which led to FOLK’s creation over 20 years ago. Their current initiatives and foci not only concern the environment but also involve human rights and social issues, topics which are concerns of people worldwide.

For more information, see the abstract below. Pizza and sodas will be provided! If possible, try and bring your own cups so we can cut down on waste.
FOLK is an active all-volunteer organization dedicated to maintaining a healthy Lake Superior bioregion. Our goals are to educate the public and support activities which recognize the inherent worth of our forest, our land and our watersheds. Please contact FOLK for information on how to join.

Jutting 80 miles into Lake Superior’s cold deep waters, the Keweenaw Peninsula is the jewel of the Great Lakes. A land of small farms and historic towns, clean air and tall pines, clear water and rugged shoreline, the Keweenaw is an area of unparalleled natural beauty. However, it’s beauty and tranquility has been threatened; this is the story of a group of citizens that have united to meet that threat and to always protect the quality of the Keweenaw.

In 1989, the James River Corporation proposed the construction of a 1.2 billion dollar bleach kraft pulp/paper mill near Keweenaw Bay in Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula. If allowed to be built the mill would consume the equivalent of 80 clear cut acres of forest and discharge 41 million gallons of dioxin-laced waste effluent into Lake Superior each day. This threat to the Lake Superior watershed jolted local residents into action and gave birth to Friends of the Land of Keweenaw or FOLK. In less than a year, the tireless efforts of many caring citizens prevailed, culminating in the withdrawal of the mill proposal. These efforts included, Investing in the Keweenaw’s Future – Moving Towards Sustainable Development, a progressive report which introduced the concepts of sustainability that are now widely accepted.

Today, FOLK continues to be a diligent force working together with other state and national organizations to protect and preserve the ecological integrity of the Lake Superior Watershed. FOLK has spent considerable effort dealing with local land issues.

To read more about FOLK, visit their website: http://www.folkup.org/index.php


Hands-on Learning

I just came across an interesting post in The Chronicle of Higher Education by Scott Carlson regarding the need/desire for college students to learn life skills and trades in addition to more abstract or technical knowledge. A few colleges are already requiring their students to learn wood-working, machining, farming, and other skills, and from this article (and my own experience) it seems that students might really need to learn the basics as well (cooking and cleaning).

I would whole-heartedly agree with this shift. Back when I used to teach a first year Perspectives class (“Developing a Sustainability Mindset”), one of the assignments required the students to organize a potluck with their friends, and write about where the food came from (that is, what country or region, to estimate food miles), where the recipe originated, and the story behind the choices of dishes that the students made. In many cases, the lack of cooking knowledge overwhelmed the assignment, as many students were steaming rice or cooking pasta for the first time. That was certainly a shock to me, and represents a pretty profound shift in just one generation in American culture. I don’t remember a single friend of mine in college (male or female) who couldn’t master at least the “boil only” foods, and pop popcorn and cook cookies as well.

Many of the “Transition Town” and other relocalization movements rely on a wealth of DIY knowledge in their communities, but this assumption may need to be checked. If younger citizens do not know how to establish a garden or produce staples like clothing and cookware (not to mention build and maintain equipment), the transition to more localized production systems and economies might be made significantly more difficult.

Clearly we all have some educating to do!


Ninth Floor Farms

Michigan Tech has launched itself into the urban ag movement with an aquaponics set-up in the ninth floor greenhouse in the Dow. Established by Robert Handler (in the Sustainable Futures Institute) and Nancy Auer (Biological Sciences), the farm is producing basil, tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and more than three dozen tilapia (in the large blue bins with the mesh on top). The water from the fish bins (filled with fish poop) circulates to the planted containers, where the plants use the fish fertilizer to grow. The water trickles through the soil, leaving through the bottom as clean water that is then circulated back into the fish tanks. Given the great success of its inaugural year, I can envision a steady flow of fresh, local veggies and fish appearing in the campus dining halls in the near future.

Prof. Nancy Auer and Dr. Robert Handler discussing the aquaponics system at Michigan Tech


Klyftig!

Usually when I read stories about the international waste trade, often it is of the variety of rich countries shipping their electronic and hazardous waste to poorer countries, where the waste is not properly handled and wreaks havoc with human health and the environment.

But Sweden is now importing waste from Norway (and Sweden is paid to take it). It is too expensive to incinerate the waste in Norway and meet Norwegian environmental standards, and the Swedes are so efficient at waste recycling that they don’t have enough waste to burn. Sweden incinerates the waste to produce electricity, and then ships the dioxin-laden ash back to Norway where it is landfilled. Both countries have roughly equal GDP, so I suppose there is no waste trade scandal here, other than to wonder whether the Norwegians really achieve any financial or environmental gains through this exchange.


Heat on the Rails

Although way up here in the UP we’ve been spared most of the punishing heat of this summer, I have had the opportunity to experience some first-hand but little reported consequences of this heat wave. Most strikingly, the difficulty of this kind of heat on our transportation systems.

Roads buckled under the intense heat, with dire consequences for unwary drivers.

Steel rails can warp, greatly increasing the likelihood of derailments. This occured in my childhood home of Glenview on the 4th of July, when warped rails may have caused a coal freight train to derail and then collapse an overpass, killing two people in a car underneath it.

And while I was in Portland, Oregon, two weeks ago for a conference, the extreme heat caused the electric train system to slow to a crawl, due to the threat of warping rails and sagging overhead powerlines. Ironically (and shamefully), the conference involved a lot of ecologists reporting worrying changes in species and ecosystems due to warmer temperatures across the globe; many of us contributed to this problem by flying all the way to Portland to give these results.


Sacrifice Zones

Journalist Chris Hedges recently appeared on “Moyers & Company”, and was interviewed by Bill Moyers about the “sacrifice zones” across the United States where economic, social, and environmental injustice combine to destroy local communities. These are excellent examples of why all three dimensions must be analyzed simultaneously to understand sustainability, and to design effective sustainable development strategies.

See the full interview here.