Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Teachers: An opportunity to join a learning community focused on climate change education

I (Don Duggan-Haas, your Wednesdaily Climate Change 101 Blogger), am part of a project that is bringing together teachers who want to work with one another to more effectively teach about climate change, its causes and its effects.  That's what today's post is about.  It's really intended as a recruitment tool for interested teachers, and I hope you either are one, or know someone who might be.

Climate change is perhaps the most important issue in our curricula, though its place within the curriculum is small.  Our students and people more generally commonly hold misconceptions about climate and climate change that are difficult to dispel. How can we be more effective in building our students' understandings of climate change and its implications?  

Would you like to talk about these issues with your colleagues, working together to share approaches in a group with access to peer-reviewed resources?

Climate change and its effects aren't limited to science, so this group isn't limited to science teachers.  

I am leading Lifelines for High School Climate Change Education for Western NY (I telecommute to Ithaca from Amherst).  There are groups doing this around the country, and I can connect you to those groups. There isn't yet a single website listing the different programs.  As the meetings are virtual, you don't actually need to be in the geographic region for the group, though there are advantages to being connected to other educators in your region.   

Here are the details:

Lifelines for High School Climate Change Education (LHSCCE) is a project to establish professional learning communities (PLCs) to share curriculum resources and best practices for teaching about climate change in grades 9–12. The PLCs meet either in-person or via telecon/webinar (tele-meetings), depending on local preferences, but in light of desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, tele-meetings are encouraged. This is a NASA-funded project organized by the Lawrence Hall of Science (LHS) at the University of California, Berkeley.

The program will fund 20 PLC groups across the United States.  Each PLC group will have a maximum of 15 members who will work together as a professional learning community over a period of two years.   Each PLC will have a leader who will facilitate and coordinate the group’s online sharing activities.  Teachers participating in a PLC will receive $100 each year.

Our group will meet on the first Monday of the month at 7:00 pm EST, beginning December 6, 2010.

PLC’s are open to high school teachers teaching in any subject area who wish to collaborate resources to incorporate climate change into their curriculum.

PLC’s are generally geographically located around the home-base of each PLC’s Leader.   However, location does not restrict which group a teacher may wish to apply to join.

If interested in applying to join the Western New York State group under the leadership of Don Duggan-Haas click on the link below to apply online:

                Lifelines for Western New York State Application

        Questions?   Contact Don:

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

It's Rebate Time!

If you are in the market for a high efficiency natural gas furnace, indirect water heater, boiler or duct sealing, please read on. NYSEG and other utility companies are offering a rebate on these items. For example, if you were to purchase a 94% efficient natural gas furnace, you could be eligible to receive a $340 check in the mail. Not too shabby! Plus, add that with the Federal 30% tax credit (see last weeks post) and you can get a nice chunk of money back. As an added bonus, they even give you $15 each for up to two programmable thermostats installed at the same time as the heating system.

It's important to note that even though you can take advantage of both this rebate and the Federal tax credit, you cannot use this rebate with other NYSERDA programs such as Assisted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR. If you are eligible for both, you would have to crunch some numbers and choose between the two (usually if you need more than just a heating system, Assisted Home Performance is the better choice).

Eligibility Requirements:

*Items must meet efficiency standards.
*You must be a residential natural gas customer of a participating utility (such as NYSEG).
*Items have to be installed by a contractor (you will be asked for proof of contractor installation, such as a valid Tax ID number).

You have to reserve your spot in line for this rebate. For more information and to reserve the rebate, click here.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

What can we learn from public health education initiatives?

A few weeks ago, I attended the fascinating Climate Change Education Roundtable meeting sponsored by the National Research Council's Board on Science Education.  A series of papers were commissioned for the meeting that give a picture of the diversity of approaches to climate change education discussed at the meeting.  There's some good stuff in those papers -- do give them a look.

One session at the meeting included discussion of what we can learn from successful public health campaigns, noting successful efforts that have substantially slowed the spread of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and decreased the number of unwanted pregnancies.  I'm pretty confident we can learn some things from that body of work, but the particular health campaigns used as examples probably aren't the best ones to look to.  I suggested as much at the meeting, making the connection to obesity.  Unfortunately, I'm a poster child for the failure of that public education campaign, and there are a great many fellow poster children out there.
Me, being fat in front of the White House.

And, unfortunately, I think this largely unsuccessful effort is a closer analog to climate change education.

If you're healthy and have unprotected sex tonight with an STD-infected partner, you've got a pretty strong chance of having that STD tomorrow.  If you're thin today and have an extra brownie after dinner, you're still thin tomorrow.  You have to keep up those bad behaviors for a while for it to make a noticeable difference.  Likewise, to undo the damage, you've got to drop those obesity-inducing bad habits and hopefully pick up some good ones and keep them going for a while to notice much difference.

That sounds a lot like the problems of climate change.  Buying a big house in the exurbs doesn't do much to the climate immediately, but add up the effects of a bunch of people over a bunch of years, and you've made a difference in the climate system.  And, as with obesity, figuring out what to do with that big house and killing your long commute won't make much of a difference tomorrow.  But it will eventually.

And, unfortunately, obesity prevention programming hasn't worked very well so far.

(As I type this, I'm telecommuting to a birthday party at work.  I don't think virtual cake is any part of the answer.  It's not very satisfying, and has me thinking of actual cake.)

We should keep watching those efforts and pay attention to what works and what fails to work, and we should look for other analogs.

How about smoking?  

Like climate change and obesity, the most serious effects of partaking in the activities that lead to big trouble don't get you in trouble right away.  And it takes a while to recover from the damage (if you can recover from the damage).  Unlike obesity and climate change, public education has actually decreased rates of smoking in the broad population.

What's worked in anti-smoking campaigns?  Importantly, it's not just one thing.  Smoke-free workplaces and public places, comprehensive advertising campaigns, increased taxation on tobacco and strong graphic warning labels on cigarette packages quickly reduce tobacco consumption.  Additionally, supporting smokers in the quitting process matters.  Counseling and pharmaceutical aids help, as do access to toll free support services.  Call 1-800-QUITNOW if you're looking for support in stopping smoking.  (See more about smoking reduction here).

Most of those strategies (and the idea of using many strategies simultaneously) are translatable to efforts to reduce carbon emissions.  Making places smoke-free is akin to regulating emissions, and perhaps more directly to making city centers automobile-free. Advertising campaigns are in existence on some scale already.  Taxation on carbon emissions is a direct analog.  Support lines are imaginable too.

Graphic warning labels is an interesting proposition.  The link above and here takes you to the proposed FDA graphic labels for cigarette packaging.  Ick.  But maybe it's an effective ick.  What would the greenhouse gas reduction parallel look like?  Graphics added to the price stickers on new cars?  Images of sea-level rise, famine, hurricanes, or drought printing out with your boarding pass?  And how about putting such stickers on fighter jets to discourage the government from making those purchases?  Hmm...

I don't know about that, and I don't know if we can come up with a pharmaceutical aid to help us wean of carbon emissions, but it does seem that are lessons that can be learned here.  What do you think?

Monday, November 15, 2010

Get Credit for Doing Something Good

If you’ve made energy efficient upgrades to your home in the last two years you may be able to receive a tax credit for 30% of the cost of upgrades (up to a maximum credit of $1,500). Here are the general ins and outs of the credit:
  • If you already claimed the $1,500 maximum credit on your 2009 taxes, you cannot receive the credit again in 2010--no matter how energy efficient you’ve been in 2010.
  • All upgrades need to be purchased and installed by December 31, 2010.
  • Energy efficient upgrades such as windows, doors, water heaters, heating systems, insulation, air sealing materials, air conditioners and biomass stoves are included.
  • Not all Energy Star products are eligible.
  • Rental units and new homes do not qualify for this credit; it just pertains to an existing home that is considered your primary residence.
  • You can claim installation costs on certain upgrades, such as furnace installation, but you will need to check the Energy Star website to see which ones they are. From memory, I can tell you that installation costs are not covered for insulation, air sealing, windows and doors.
  • You can do the work yourself and still get the tax credit; however, you can’t factor your installation costs into the credit.
  • Last but not least, if you don’t pay Federal taxes, you cannot take advantage of the tax credit.
To receive the credit, fill out IRS form 5695 and submit it with your 2010 Federal Income Taxes. Make sure you save your receipts (itemized with installation costs separated) and the Manufacturers Certification Statement (most can be found online) in case you get audited (knock on wood that that never happens!).

Click here to find out more.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Complexifying the simple

There is always an easy solution to every human problem—neat, plausible, and wrong.

Educators spend a lot of time simplifying the seemingly complex.  That's great -- when it's the right thing to do, but methinks we do it too much.  Maybe we need to spend more time complexifying the seemingly simple.  An awful lot of things that are really important to understand, like human contributions to climate change, for example, aren't simple, but we seem drawn to seeing things in black and white.

As much as we might want simple answers about where to get our energy, the simple answers aren't really answers.  Darn it.

I'm guilty of sometimes oversimplifying: In a bit of frustration at a meeting about a certain energy source under consideration for development in New York State I suggested that we just need to park our cars and turn off our lights.  If only.

Of course, our personal energy use is very important and there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in terms of energy and carbon emissions reductions.  My wife and I have had a Prius for 10 years.  We've upgraded the insulation and replaced the lighting with more efficient CFLs in all five of the houses we've lived in over the last 16 years.  And you should do that stuff too.

It's simply the right thing to do.

Efficiency is key to conserving not only energy, but also key to conserving something that approximates many of the things we like about our lifestyles.

If that's as far as you get, that's better than not taking those steps.  But what are they steps toward?  Well, I'm a strong believer that what you do is what you learn, and working to reduce your energy use pushes you to understand your energy use in the context of the broader world, at least if you let it.  It's a way of looking at what you're doing in the right way.  And:

"I have yet to see any problem, however complicated, which, when you looked at it in the right way, did not become still more complicated."


How do you judge when to complexify and when to simplify when you're trying to help someone understand something?  When is nuance helpful and when is it harmful?  

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Save Energy, Save the Planet

Over the past few weeks I’ve been discussing things you can do yourself to improve the energy efficiency of your home. But there will be times when the job is just too big or overwhelming to do yourself. Have no fear! I have an economical solution for all of the big jobs that need to be done. There are state and federal tax credits, rebates, loan programs and grants available to people of all income levels. Yes, all income levels. You don’t have to be considered low income to take advantage of energy efficiency incentives. Every Tuesday I will present you with a new incentive that can potentially save you money.

This week’s incentive is the Assisted Home Performance with ENERGY STAR Program. It’s a subsidy that pays for 50% of energy efficiency upgrades up to $5,000 for single family homes and up to $10,000 for 1-4 unit homes. Covered upgrades include energy efficient furnaces/boilers, hot water heaters, a/c units, insulation, air sealing, programmable thermostats, etc… (Appliances are also covered but not up to 50%.) So, for example, if you received $10,000 worth of work, you would only have to pay for $5,000. The program pays for the other half. Plus, you don’t have to pay the full price and wait for a rebate. You just pay for your half and the contractor bills the program for the rest. There are income guidelines and they vary by county, but eligibility includes 80% of the state or area median income so that covers many of us. Also, you have to be a major utility customer such as NYSEG or National Grid (our Systems Benefit Charge pays for this subsidy).

So how do you go about getting into this program, you ask? First of all, begin the application process. Once you’re approved, a Building Performance Institute (BPI) Accredited Contractor has to perform a home energy audit. An audit consists of checking home insulation levels, testing the efficiency of electrical appliances, testing the draft and efficiency of heating systems and water heaters, performing an air leakage test (blower door test) and performing a general safety inspection. Most contractors have a fee for audits but many discount the audit fee off the cost of work once you decide to do business with them. Once the audit is complete, the contractor will send you the audit report in the mail with their findings and a cost estimate for suggested improvements. Don’t get overwhelmed. You don’t have to do all of the suggested things on the audit report. You can pick and choose as long as the work meets the programs efficiency standards. If you can only do a few things, the subsidy doesn’t go away. For example, if you only use $1,500 of the $5,000 subsidy, you still have $3,500 but you would just have to reapply.

You also get a tax credit on your 50% and there are loan programs out there to help you pay for your half but more on that next week.

County income guidelines
Eligible measures
BPI Accredited Contractors in your area
Assisted Home Performance application

Submit the application to:
Energy Finance Solutions
431 Charmany Drive
Madison, Wisconsin 53719
Phone: 800.969.9322

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

What's the Worst That Could Happen?

You may have seen Greg Craven's The Most Terrifying Video You'll Ever See.  It's been around for a few years and has been viewed millions of times on youtube.  In that video he steps through a way for figuring out which risk is greater:
  • Failing to act on climate change if the dire predictions turn out to be correct; or;
  • Acting on climate change when it isn't needed (because the dire predictions are wrong)
It redirects the question away from (sort of) whether the scientists are right or wrong to a question of how do you appropriately manage risk.  

By attending to the feedback on the original video, he reshaped his argument and briefly simplified it in a newer version of the video.  That's the video embedded below.  He also wrote a book, What's the Worst That Could Happen? that very nicely helps you to evaluate your own and society's risks.

The book steps you through how to answer the fundamental question of the title, for yourself.  It pushes the reader to consider (and reconsider) the positions they hold and evaluate the credibility of the authorities they rely on.  You are led to develop your own "credibility spectrum" as well as filling in your own chart, akin to the one in the video.  Watch the video to see what I mean by the chart.

Throughout the book he pushes the reader to judge for him or herself, to come to his or her own conclusion about whether it makes sense to act as though the scientists are right or that the economic cost of action is too great a risk to bear.  While his own position is clear, his approach should be palatable to any reader who wishes to apply logic to the problem.

He notes that he asked many "skeptics" and "warmers" to read drafts of the book and was told by both that he gave too much credit to the other side.  That leads him to believe (and I concur) that his presentation is even handed.

I highly recommend the book, though some may find his approach a bit cheesy, in a science teacher sort of way.  I admit to being partial to that sort of cheesiness.

I think the approach works for stepping through various risk-laden decisions -- like deciding what to do regarding the Marceullus Shale, for example.   

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Don’t Believe the Hype

I may not be very popular for saying this but anyone in the market for a new appliance needs to know this; ENERGY STAR appliances are not always the most energy efficient, nor are they always the most cost effective. Last year the following articles came across my desk and I would like to share them with you. This is stuff you should know if you are shopping for a new appliance.

ENERGY STAR has lost some luster

Energy Star Appliances May Not All Be Efficient, Audit Finds

Although ENERGY STAR is an honorable concept, the execution of the program has been less than ideal. I first became suspicious a few years ago when my mother went to replace her old 16 cubic foot refrigerator. She visited several stores hoping to purchase an ENERGY STAR fridge of the same size; however, as she found out, 16 cubic foot ENERGY STAR refrigerators are either not made or extremely hard to find. Her dilemma was to either purchase a larger appliance (18 cu.ft.) than she needed just because it was energy efficient or purchase a 16 cu.ft. non-ENERGY STAR model because that was the correct size for her kitchen and her needs. She went with the 16 cu.ft. model and when she compared the efficiency of both, the 16 cu.ft. model used less energy and was priced less. So basically, the moral of the story is to do your homework before you step into the store. Also, if you're in the market for an energy efficient fridge, never purchase a side-by-side or a bottom freezer, they may have the ENERGY STAR seal of approval but they are 10 to 25% less efficient than a top mounted freezer. These configurations are only considered energy efficient when compared with fridges of the same configuration.

If you do happen to find the ENERGY STAR appliance of your dreams, the New York Appliance Swap Out is still going on. Click here for more information. This program has seen its fair share of disorganization but hopefully, since this has been going on since February, the kinks have been ironed out of the rebate process.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Lazy 20-Something Guide to Sustainability

Want significant impact for your minimal effort? Vote.

Vote for candidates that will not only support, but champion the kinds of infrastructural changes that we need to become truly sustainable as communities and as a nation.

It's free. You might even get a sticker out of the deal.