Wednesday, October 27, 2010

I'm Red, White & Blue. And Green.

I love my country.  It's a beautiful land with pride in innovation, independence and individual liberty.  I hope to see America stay strong, free and beautiful.  Right now that's in jeopardy.

We depend upon despots for too much of our energy.  We aren't anything like energy self-sufficient.  The chain from the gas pump to Osama Bin Laden's riches is far too short.  I don't like the way the governments of most of the oil-rich nations treat their people.

Reducing our dependency on foreign oil is critical to our national security.

We import about as much oil today as we did prior to 9/11.  We import about 66% of what we use.  Do we we want to keep that up?

We pride ourselves on American ingenuity.  Couple that with a historic respect for thriftiness (that sadly seems to have diminished in the last several decades) and one wonders why we don't have well-insulated buildings and a highly efficient transportation system.

That is, why don't we apply the technologies that are available today to do the same things we do now at lower cost in ways that promise to keep more of our dollars in our pockets and in our own country?  It's the patriotic thing to do, isn't it?  Oh yeah, it's better for the environment too.

A note of explanation:
Last week I attended the Climate Change Education Roundtable, sponsored by the National Research Council's Board on Science Education.  The meeting was fascinating and I'm really pleased at how it brought focus to the need think outside of the boxes we live and work in, especially we who have somewhat of an academic bent.  Check out the set of commissioned papers:

It's got me thinking more about how to reach people who have priorities that are different from, but perhaps complementary to, mine.  I'd like you to think about that too.  There are a fair number of people who simply tune out discussions of climate change, but reducing climate impacts hold the promise of reducing other problems in tandem.

The above is an attempt at crafting an argument that reaches outside the proverbial choir, and while I believe everything I said, it somehow feels, um, disingenuous?  Is there something wrong with this argument?  How do you talk with those who aren't in the choir?  Or are you someone who is outside my choir?  Does this help to convince you that energy efficiency is simply prudent?  If not, why not?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

More Bang for Your Buck: Weatherizing on the Cheap

Are you dreading this winter because of high heating costs? Have no fear! Here are some quick and cheap tips to help you cut your heating costs by up to 20%.

Step 1: Insulate your home! (see last week’s post Your Home is a Shell). Estimated DIY cost: $12.50 for 25 ft. of fiberglass insulation (R-30) or $10.76 for 40 sq. ft. of natural fiber blown-in insulation (Home Depot is even offering a free machine rental if you purchase a 20 lb. bag Green Fiber insulation!). Don’t know how much you need or where to start? Lowes has an easy to use calculator and DIY videos.

Step 2: Air seal like it’s going out of style! Remember what you learned in science class: hot moves to cold. This means that all the air you’re paying to heat will rapidly escape by any means necessary into the freezing winter air outside. Trap that warm air by sealing penetrations in the home’s shell. That includes doors, windows, pipes leading into the house and places where different building materials meet (ex. where the cement basement and the exterior walls meet). To seal gaps around windows and doors, use Great Stuff expanding foam in a can (I cannot stress enough--use the kind specifically made for windows and doors!) or install weatherstripping (ideal for getting a tight seal between the door and the door frame). Use caulk for applications directly on glass. For various cracks and gaps that need filling around the house, use Great Stuff specifically designed for gaps and cracks. Estimated DIY cost: $5.40 for one can of Great Stuff (window & door), $3.49 for one can of Great Stuff (gap & crack), $4.99 for a tube of caulk, $2.26 for a caulk gun and weatherstripping kits start at $1.87.

Step 3: Insulate those windows! The manufacturers of window insulation kits say that installing window film can increase the insulation value of a single-pane glass window by 90%. That’s not too shabby! For windows you never use, like those old basement windows, seal them with foam board (aka. insulated sheathing) by cutting it to the appropriate size, securing the board over the window and sealing it with the leftover caulk from Step 2. Estimated DIY cost: a kit for three window films cost less than $6.00 and prices start at $9.23 for foam board.

Step 4: Seal up that chimney and attic! Similar to that never used basement window, seal up the fireplace chimney and attic hatch. First of all, if you aren’t using your fireplace, close your damper. Then cut and secure a piece of foam board to the outside of the fireplace opening. Feel free to decorate it so that it isn’t an eyesore in your living space. Do not insert the foam board into the chimney because someone may forget that it’s there, thus causing a disaster. If you just have a wooden attic hatch door, attach foam board to the back of it. Estimated DIY cost: prices start at $9.23 for foam board.

For step-by-step instructions on how to insulate and air seal, check out this do-it-yourself guide. All of the supplies can be found at most home repair stores (price estimates were found surfing the Home Depot and Lowes web pages). Don’t be intimidated. You can do this!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Where does climate fit in the high school curriculum? Part 3: Some thoughts on social studies.

For the last two Wednesdays, I've written about where teaching climate fits in the high school curriculum.  Two weeks ago, I specifically addressed science, but closed by noting that climate cuts across the curriculum.  Last week's post indulged a bit of fantasy about ways we might do something better than school.

When I started down this road, I'd not intended to do more than a couple of posts on the topic.  As I've written a bit about it, and thought a lot about it, too much comes to mind to crunch it down that much.

It's probably obvious that I can't be an expert in all high school curricula, but my convoluted past has included work with pre-service teachers in virtually all high school subjects and I once wrote chapter sections on standards for a book on curriculum theory, and that forced me to take a close look across disciplines.

So, I have some background on this stuff, but I still want you to tell me where I'm a loon.

A few ways to address climate change in social studies curricula

There are, of course more than a few ways to bring climate change to social studies curricula, but these examples should be illustrative of more general approaches.

Economic & Political Costs of Action and Inaction on Climate Change
Greg Craven's excellent (but cheesy, in a science teacher sort of way) book, What's the Worst that Could Happen? A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate is deserving of a full post.  I plan to do that next week or week after.  The book steps the reader through his decision matrix that compares the consequences of acting on climate change if predictions about climate change whether those predictions turn out to be true or to be false and considering the consequences of not acting, again whether the predictions turn out to be true or false.

His basic question is: What's the greater risk: The risk of taking action or the risk of not taking action?

Of course, I hope that societal and political decisions related to climate change are grounded in science, but it's undeniable that the action needs to come from governments, cultures, individuals and institutions. That's what social studies is all about, right?

The Industrial Revolution & Climate Change
If it weren't for the Industrial Revolution, would human induced climate change be a concern?   Would the Industrial Revolution have occurred without the new understandings of Earth science that came at that time?  Science of the time greatly improved extraction technologies for fuel and raw materials to build cities and economies that were fundamentally different than those that came before.  The actions of the Industrial Revolution were both grounded in Earth science and have led to important changes in the way the Earth systems operate.  The Industrial Revolution was, among other things, the kick off of a huge scaling up of movement of carbon from within the Earth's solid surface to the atmosphere.

Geography, Climate, Climate Change, and Culture
I think I'll just leave you with the header here and let your mind fill in the text.  And think of more examples of ways to connect climate to social studies curricula.  I know you're smart enough.

Finger Lakes Bioneers Conference October 22-24 in Ithaca!

The Finger Lakes Bioneers Conference is this weekend!

Here's the scoop:

Their second annual conference features three afternoons of interactive community activities in downtown Ithaca and at Ithaca College, designed to engage and empower local participants of many ages to take on climate change, sustainable municipal planning, and the authentic expression of each person as a change agent, ready for action.  The national Bioneers Conference plenary sessions are screened at Cinemapolis each morning, with additional day and evening events at nearby locations. 
For details on speakers and event locations, visit Finger Lakes Bioneers ( or call Sustainable Tompkins at (607) 216-1552.   Tickets are only $15/day for the morning and afternoon events.  Evening events are free or require modest fees.
Friday October 22, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm: Breakfast with the Bioneers at Cinemapolis120 E. Green St. Bagels and beverages welcome you to a morning screening of the national Bioneers Conference first-day plenary speakers: James Hansen, John Francis, Jessy Tolkan, Mallika Dutt and Gary Hirshberg. Speaker profiles at site.  ($5 entry fee or free to registered conference participants.) 
Friday October 22, 11:30 am: Grab some lunch downtown and head to the Women’s Community Building, 100 Seneca Street, Ithaca, to join our sponsors -- Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative, Cayuga Medical Center and ASI Renovations -- in welcoming Doug Coward, a St. Lucie County commissioner in Florida, who will talk about the green economy revolution underway on the Treasure Coast.  (Free to registered conference participants.)
Friday October 22, 1:30  5:30 pm: The Climate Change Game, Women’s Community Building. This role-playing game was developed by Medard Gabel for students, for you, and for the entire family. Will the Status Quos or the Game Changers prevail? Can reductions be negotiated? The clock is ticking! Come play! ($10 entry fee or free to registered conference participants.) 
Friday October 22, 5:30-7:30 pm: Reception and Presentation, Wildfire Lounge, 106 S. Cayuga St. The Sustainable Enterprise and Entrepreneur Network (SEEN) will host a reception, followed by a presentation by Scott Hamilton and Ravi Walsh on the “Paradigm Shift Behind the Triple Bottom Line.” Learn how mindfulness and self-inquiry can lead us toward action in support of social, ecological, and financial success for our business and family, community and planet. ($5/SEEN members, $10/non-members.)
Friday October 22, 8 - 10 pm: Finger Lakes Bioneers Salon at Wildfire Lounge -- Re-Imagining Water: An Evening of Water Wisdom and Art. Watch Mara Alper’s curated films, animations and interviews, Helena Cooper’s riveting close-up photographs of water, with music by Joe SmellowJohn Dean and Caroline Manring.  

Saturday October 23, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm: Breakfast with the Bioneers at Cinemapolis. Bagels and beverages welcome you to a morning screening of the national Bioneers Conference’s second-day plenary speakers: Elizabeth Lindsey, Peter Warshall, Mary Gonzales, John Warner, Andy Lipkis.   ($5 entry fee or free to registered conference participants.)
Saturday October 23, 9:30 am - 1 pm: What Price Development? A free conference from the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network, at the Unitarian Church Annex, corner of Aurora and Buffalo Streets, Ithaca.  Speakers, panel discussion, refreshments: Bill Kappel, Hydrofracking and municipal decision-making; Susan Riha, Stormwater runoff in a changing climate; Liz Moran, Status Update: Dredging Cayuga Inlet for Recreational Access and Flood Control. (No charge.) 
Saturday October 23, 1:30 - 5 pm: Tompkins Transitions, a role-playing game for the entire community, based on life in Ithaca and Tompkins County. Women’s Community Building.  Solve today's problems with the future in mind in a real life board game focused on the issues and players in Tompkins County. ($10 entry fee or free to registered conference participants.)  
Saturday October 24, 8 - 10 pm: Water Speaking Water, a multimedia experience combining concert performance by Jayne Demakos and Ephemera with video and nature imagery by Lang Elliott and 
David O. Brown. Women’s Community Building. 

Sunday October 24, 8:30 am to 12:30 pm: Breakfast with the Bioneers at Cinemapolis. Bagels and beverages welcome you to a morning screening of the national Bioneers Conference’s final-day plenary speakers: Lynne Twist, John A. Powell, Gloria Feldt, Anthony Cortese, Jane Goodall. 
Sunday October 24, 1:30 - 6 pm: Awakening the Dreamer Symposium, Emerson Suites in Philips Hall, Ithaca College. This inspiring multimedia, interactive experience was created by the Pachamama Alliance to help North Americans awaken to the reality of our shared stewardship of a jewel of a planet, and a future where our intelligence and love of life can be expressed through creative re-design of our economy, our way of life, and our relationships. ($10 entry fee or free to registered conference participants.)  
Sunday October 24, 7:00  8:30 pm: Share Tompkins Service Swap Meet, TC Workers Center, above Autumn Leaves on the Commons, Ithaca. This event offers a chance to barter with others for services such as photography, accounting, health care and anything else that attendees have to offer. Come and find out more.  (No charge.)
Registration is ongoing until Thursday, Oct.21 at --- tickets are only $15/day for morning and afternoon activities!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Your Home is a Shell

Before I ended up as PRI’s Volunteer Coordinator I was an energy auditor and packager for a local non-profit. Working in the energy efficiency field, I saw firsthand how aggressive marketing can convince people to buy items they don’t need. I cringe when I recall the countless phone calls I received from homeowners convinced that in order to cut energy costs they needed to buy new windows. My first course of action was to inquire about the home’s insulation status, which proved to be either nonexistent, settled, damaged or sparse. Yet they thought windows were the solution to their energy problems.

So the tip of the week is to think of your home as a shell. No, I’m not being cryptic here. And no, this doesn’t have anything to do with the Museum’s new bivalve exhibit. I’m being serious. Realize that the outer surface of your home acts as a barrier (a shell) from the elements. The roof, attic, floor and walls comprise most of the surface area of that barrier while windows comprise fairly little (unless you have an entire wall of them). So what issue would you want to remedy first, a leaky window or an uninsulated wall? You’d want to choose the wall because it has the larger surface area--comparatively allowing more heated/cooled air to escape. With that in mind, go exploring. It’s your house so don’t be afraid of it! With a critical eye, venture into your attic (just remember to stay on the joists or you may surprise the inhabitants below). Is there insulation? Is it damaged? Is it lacking in some areas? If there are fiberglass batts, are there gaps between the batts and the joists? Pull back a few of the batts to make sure that there aren’t any open holes leading into the wall cavities. If the idea of performing your own inspection is too daunting, you can hire an energy auditor to do it. If your insulation is found to be lacking, you’ve identified your starting point on the path to energy efficiency. The good news is that adding insulation is a lot cheaper than buying new windows and in most cases you can do the work yourself. Most major stores carry everything you need; you can even rent machines that blow in insulation. Click here for an excellent do-it-yourself guide to insulating and air sealing (including a list of problems that would require a contractor).

Check back next week for another tip. In the meantime, check out Cornell Cooperative Extension’s window repair workshop (see the September 17's blog post for more info).

Monday, October 18, 2010

Super Wal-Mart...

In Ithaca, NY there is a Super Wal-Mart opening in the next few weeks.  Actually, unlike in other communities Wal-Mart just retrofitted a current location to allow for the expansion.  Whether you like Wal-Mart and their policies or not - this was a good move.  They often times just move locations, leaving a massive space that no other outlet could really ever utilize. 

Now, there are lots of reasons to question Wal-Mart, but they have just launched an initiative that will help support local agriculture and local farms.  It sounds promising!

Here's a link to the article in the NY Times: Wal-Mart Plans to Buy More Local Produce.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where does climate fit in the high school curriculum, Part 2

Last week, I wrote about the need to embed more climate across the high school science curriculum and foreshadowed stepping outside the science curriculum in this week's post.  I'd planned to draw some connections to social studies, English, the arts, mathematics and technology.  I'm now planning to do that in more detail in next week's post and will use something I wrote for a contest sponsored by for the heart of this week's post.

In the article introducing the contest, "The 21st Century Classroom: American classrooms are outdated.  Slate seeks your great ideas for how to modernize them," Linda Perlstein gives a nice explanation as to why we need to redesign classrooms, and lays out the basic parameters of the contest.  The goal of the contest is to come up with a design for a fifth grade classroom that reshapes education and an explanation of how it does so.

My response for that goes toward how I'd love to see climate science, and, well, I guess most other things, taught.  It's admittedly a fantasy for now, but the winner of the contest stands a chance of getting their proposal made, and it does connect to what I wrote last week, so I figured I could get away with using it for this week's post.

If you like it, cast your vote.  Here's the link, and I've pasted in the text, plus a slightly different version of the graphic below.  Reading the article linked above (and here) will give you some helpful background information.

It's time for something better than schools.

The Wonder Wander Bus

Instead of making schools better, or making better schools, we need to make something better than schools. We're so stuck in the paradigm of schools that we can't see that schooling itself is insane. Putting 2,000 teenagers in one building? Crazy. Asking kids to sit in rows and listen to somebody talk about the Battle of Hastings for 45 minutes and then move down the hall and listen to somebody else talk about parabolas for an exactly equal period of time? Loony. That we expect them to do this hour after hour after hour, day after day after day for years on end is the craziest thing of all.
Schools aren't broken. They just do something fundamentally different than what we pretend they're for. What do you understand most deeply? Chances are you didn't learn it primarily by sitting and listening to someone talk about it. You actively engaged in doing things. What you do is what you learn.
How can we engage kids in doing things that matter? We should realize that such places wouldn't be much like the schools we've had for generations. They also don't need to be homogeneous by age, but I'll use 10 as an average age.
If the classroom is to be a single room, it ought to be a room with wheels; a school bus refurbished by the kids themselves. The image shown is one possible layout. The bus's interior has rows of seats in the front and a lab/studio in the back. Painting the bus will build understanding of art as well as chemistry, craftsmanship, and manufacturing. Use an old diesel bus and engage the kids in the conversion to make it run on waste oil from restaurant fryers. Engage them in the design and construction. Put solar panels on the roof.
The kids will write about everything to educate the community about the hows and whys of the project. Ample storage is needed to haul camping equipment when that's appropriate and supplies for each expedition. Expeditions will initially be day trips, but as the years pass, longer expeditions will be taken. The average age won't go up by much, but it will creep beyond 10. As older kids move on, younger ones will take their place. Older kids will deepen their knowledge of themselves, their world and their bus as they teach the younger kids.
Of course, the bus is equipped with lab equipment, computers, an artist's studio, and Internet connectivity. The kids will be  scientists, journalists, historians, and artists who are teaching their community about themselves, the social and natural environment, and their place in that world. Quantitative analysis will be infused into much of what they do, and they'll write about everything.
With this bus, kids can go into the world and begin to figure out what the world is like, how it came to be that way, and why it matters that the world is the way it is. They will also engage in way to change the things that are out of whack in their community and their world.

So, that's my fantasy setting for teaching kids about the world.  Next week, in Part 3 of this series, I'll return to reality and try to offer some more concrete ideas about how to actually bring climate and climate change education to the current high school curriculum.

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Maldivians are at it Again...

You may recall that in 2009 we posted a couple stories on the blog about the President of the Maldives hosting his cabinet meetings under the sea.  He was doing this to shed awareness on the continued decline of the coral and other inhabitants.  You can check out those posts here and here!

It seems that President Nasheed has continued with his commitment to greening his presidency and has installed solar panels on his official residence.  He's even helped in the installation process.

Read more about it here:
Maldives President Nasheed Installs Solar on Official Residence, Knocks Ignorance of Climate Deniers

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Where does climate fit in the high school curriculum?

Here's a lightly modified version of the "Prezi" I presented at last week's North American Association for Environmental Education meeting in Buffalo:

Friday, October 1, 2010

Nevermind Oil -- Think Atlantic Wind?

I just read a great blog post on the New York Times website about the 'Atlantic coast having more energy to give via wind than it does from oil or gas, according to a study sponsored by Oceana, an environmental group.'

It was pretty interesting...Read the post here:
Never Mind Oil, Group Says: Think Atlantic Wind