Immersion in Sustainable Science, Politics, and Ethics in Jamaica

Interested in seeing how and why the global political system and economy have affected Jamaica? Are you interested in learning about organic agricultural responses to the global agricultural system? Government? Corporate responses? How do people approach problems on a formerly colonized island?

Enroll in this immersion experience this summer with Dr. Neil Brown, a Jamaican (Ph.D. in Animal Science) of the Office of Global Initiatives. We'd love to see you there.

If you have any questions, you can email me, Peter Buckland: pdb118@psu.edu


ClearWater Conservancy Earns Accreditation from the Land Trust Accreditation Commission

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance, announced this week that ClearWater Conservancy has been awarded accredited status.

“Accredited land trusts meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever,” said Commission Executive Director Tammara Van Ryn. “The accreditation seal lets the public know that the accredited land trust has undergone an extensive, external review of the governance and management of its organization and the systems and policies it uses to protect land.”

Based in State College, ClearWater Conservancy is the foremost land trust and natural resource conservation organization in central Pennsylvania. Since 1980, ClearWater has worked to improve central Pennsylvania for all through land conservation, water resource protection, and environmental outreach to the community.

“When ClearWater Conservancy first heard of the Land Trust Alliance accreditation program, we realized the importance of becoming a part of it. The two-and-a -half years we took to assess our organization and prepare our accreditation application made our organization stronger and more focused going forward. That application was 8 inches high of 8½ x 11 inch double sided sheets,” said Bill Hilshey, conservation easement manager at ClearWater and the lead staff member on the accreditation effort.

ClearWater Conservancy was awarded accreditation this month and is one of 158 land trusts from across the country awarded accreditation since the fall of 2008. Accredited land trusts are able to display a seal indicating to the public that they meet national standards for excellence, uphold the public trust and ensure that conservation efforts are permanent. The seal is a mark of distinction in land conservation.

“This distinction demonstrates ClearWater Conservancy’s proven commitment to the high standards established by the land trust community,” said Jennifer Shuey, ClearWater’s executive director. “We are very excited to share this milestone moment in our evolution with our members, partners, and the community that we serve.”

Shuey and Hilshey will attend the Land Trust Rally in Salt Lake City, Utah in the fall, where the 23 newly-accredited land trusts will be celebrated.

Land is America’s most important and valuable resource. Conserving land helps ensure clean air and drinking water, food security, scenic landscapes and views, recreational places, and habitat for the diversity of life on earth. Across the country, local citizens and communities have come together to form land trusts to save the places they love. Community leaders in land trusts throughout the country have worked with willing landowners to save over 47 million acres of farms, forests, parks and places people care about. Strong, well-managed land trusts provide local communities with effective champions and caretakers of their critical land resources, and safeguard the land through the generations.

Some of ClearWater’s many conservation and environmental protection achievements include:

- Conservation of nearly 5,000 acres of land in Central Pennsylvania through conservation easement, outright ownership or purchase and transfer to public ownership.

- Installation of 25,500 feet of streambank fencing and 48,000 feet of riparian buffer through our Riparian Conservation Program.

- Proper disposal of 2,738 tons of illegally dumped trash through our Watershed Cleanup Day, now in its 17th year.

- Funded thousands of elementary and middle school students in schools throughout Centre County to take outdoor field trips through our Connections programs.

More information about ClearWater Conservancy can be found at www.clearwaterconservancy.org or www.clearwaterconservancy.ning.com.

The Land Trust Accreditation Commission, based in Saratoga Springs, N.Y., awards the accreditation seal to community institutions that meet national quality standards for protecting important natural places and working lands forever. The Commission, an independent program of the Land Trust Alliance established in 2006, is governed by a volunteer board of diverse land conservation and nonprofit management experts from around the country. The Alliance, of which ClearWater Conservancy is a member, is a national conservation group based in Washington, D.C. that works to save the places people love by strengthening conservation throughout America. More information on the accreditation program is available on the Commission’s website, www.landtrustaccreditation.org. More information on the Alliance is available at www.landtrustalliance.org.

“We believed we were doing a good job as a land trust working with our local community, however receiving accreditation by the Land Trust Alliance and being able to display the Accreditation Seal, indicates to all a validation that our work is of a caliber worthy of national recognition. I am confident this recognition will serve to reinforce the local community’s trust in ClearWater Conservancy,” said ClearWater President Kellean Foster.


The Rotten Heart of the Heartland of Denial

As you probably know from today's show with Penn State science education graduate student Beth Hufnagel and the National Center for Science Education's Mark McCaffrey, the Heartland Institute's efforts to work climate denialism into secondary school science classes. The Climate Reality Project is pushing back with the following video lampooning the real junk science.

Ezra Klein at the Washington Post puts it in good terms:
And so, according to internal documents from the Heartland Institute, the group is paying $100,000 for David Wojick, a coal-industry consultant, to develop “modules” for classroom discussion. (Wojick has confirmed this.) These modules would include material for grades 10-12 on climate change (“whether humans are changing the climate is a major scientific controversy”) and carbon pollution (“whether CO2 is a pollutant is controversial”). In fact, none of these issues are scientific controversies — the vast majority of climatologists believe, with a high degree of confidence, that man-made carbon-dioxide emissions are heating the planet.

But could Heartland actually spread its views? Rosenau says that Heartland could do what creationist groups like the Discovery Institute have been doing for years and simply mail out supplemental materials to educators far and wide. “There will be teachers who are sympathetic to the skeptic view or who think the material looks useful, and they’ll say to themselves, okay, I’ll bring this into the classroom,” he explains. It’s worth noting that the Heartland Institute had already developed a video along these lines — titled “Unstoppable Solar Cycles,” which laid out the long-debunked theory that the sun is driving recent warming — and shipped it off to teachers. (These earlier efforts, according to one Heartland document, met with “only limited success.”)

Even if these materials turn out to be wildly inaccurate or out of sync with a state’s science-education standards, keeping tabs on their use would be quite difficult. “In almost all cases,” Rosenau says, “there are no policies that would prevent a teacher from using such material.” Quite the opposite: A few states, such as Louisiana, have non-binding laws that urge teachers to embrace “supplemental” material on heated topics like evolution and climate change.
And that's why we need organizations like the National Center for Science Education and teachers and their teachers who are literate in climate science and, I might add, a group I'd wager can't afford to pay $100,000 for one person to create great climate education materials. Instead, they do it for the love of good knowledge, good science, healthy people, and a healthier planet.

On a final note, as a media service on sustainability, we believe a free press is imperative for democracy. But being a press service comes with responsibility and the need for good information so that we can make good collective decisions. The great American philosopher John Dewey said, "A democracy is more than a form of government; it is primarily a mode of associated living, of conjoint communicated experiences." If we are to live together in associated living then our communication about our experiences needs to be clear, warranted, and just. We can't deceive ourselves or others. We have to have good reasons to believe what we believe. And whatever we do about it must be equitable and fair. Denying climate change to school children undermines all of that.

Climate denialism undermines democracy.


Opening a Closing Door with Good Climate Change Education

"The door is closing. I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever."
~ Fatih Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency as quoted in The Guardian

If we are to get dodge climate catastrophe, we need to understand it. To understand it, we need good information reaching students in schools, taught by capable and well-informed teachers. All of that requires a supportive environment that confronts reality, uses science and communication effectively, is grounded in responsibility, and keeps what Isaac Asimov called "the armies of the night" out of schooling. That's really hard to do in a democracy and especially hard in a country with extremely powerful religious and corporate factions discrediting science on ideological grounds.

When I walk and bike into the forests near my house each week I see damage linked to climate change. Stands of my favorite trees, the Eastern hemlock are infested with the woolly adelgid, a tiny insect that kills the trees by destroying their nutrient gathering capacity. Steadily, the hemlocks are dying, a tragedy whose proportions you can begin to understand in Charles Little's The Dying of the Trees. The problem started in the south because adelgids were checked by frequent enough or deep enough cold snaps in north Mid-Atlanic and New England states. But winter temperatures have steadily risen with anthropogenic global warming and the adelgid has traveled north to Pennsylvania and New England. This winter is the 11th warmest on average. It's February and it's been in the 40s and 50s often in State College. It's weird. [Picture of my son with hemlocks and rhodedendron in Rothrock State Forest at right.]

Most of us are familiar with the big signs. Melting ice caps, polar bears drowning, "drunken trees" in the northern boreal forests, and the statistical images like the "hockey stick." The increasing frequency of "extreme weather" events like the Moscow heatwave now likely happen more frequently because of anthropogenic (human-caused) climate forcing from burning fossil fuels. There is widespread suspicion that the Texas heatwave and drought last year, the intense monsoons in the Indian subcontinent, floods in Pakistan, and the drought on the Horn of Africa are more intense than they would have been without anthropogenic climate change.

So it's not just happening somewhere else. It's not going to happen later. It is happening now. Author Bill McKibben calls this new world Eaarth because humans have altered it so much.

The quotation I opened with reflects predictions from the International Energy Agency. As The Guardian reported,
The new research adds to that finding, by showing in detail how current choices on building new energy and industrial infrastructure are likely to commit the world to much higher emissions for the next few decades, blowing apart hopes of containing the problem to manageable levels. The IEA's data is regarded as the gold standard in emissions and energy, and is widely regarded as one of the most conservative in outlook – making the warning all the more stark. The central problem is that most industrial infrastructure currently in existence – the fossil-fuelled power stations, the emissions-spewing factories, the inefficient transport and buildings – is already contributing to the high level of emissions, and will do so for decades. Carbon dioxide, once released, stays in the atmosphere and continues to have a warming effect for about a century, and industrial infrastructure is built to have a useful life of several decades.

Yet, despite intensifying warnings from scientists over the past two decades, the new infrastructure even now being built is constructed along the same lines as the old, which means that there is a "lock-in" effect – high-carbon infrastructure built today or in the next five years will contribute as much to the stock of emissions in the atmosphere as previous generations.

The "lock-in" effect is the single most important factor increasing the danger of runaway climate change[.]
And yet there are still politicians in denial. None of the current Republican presidential candidates will touch the reality of climate change. Rick Santorum has said "there's no such thing as global warming" and the science behind it is "junk science" while Newt Gingrich has flip-flopped on the issue (read here). None of them is quite as bad as Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma who called climate change "the greatest hoax ever." Chris Mooney made the first strong case about this largely Republican phenomenon in his book The Republican War on Science. [Hear a great interview between Mooney and McKibben on climate change and climate denial here.] Some of Oklahoma's state legislature seems to agree.

Just a few days ago, the National Center for Science Education reported Sally Kern had gotten the state's House Common Education Committee to consider an anti-evolution and anti-climate science education bill. Last February the bill went down in a 7-9 vote. Three days ago, Republican representative Gus Blackwell brought the the bill back to the same committee. The bill's language has been changed slightly, now mimicking a similar law in Louisiana pushed through a few years ago with the aid of the conservative Seattle-based Discovery Institute. The bills says,
"the Legislature further finds that the teaching of some scientific concepts including but not limited to premises in the areas of biology, chemistry, meteorology, bioethics and physics can cause controversy, and that some teachers may be unsure of the expectations concerning how they should present information on some subjects such as, but not limited to, biological evolution, the chemical origins of life, global warming, and human cloning."
The House Common Education Committee voted 9-7 to accept it, and assuming nothing holds it up, the full House of Representatives will be voted up or down by March 15, 2012, before proceeding to the state Senate.

Attacks on evolution in American schools, school boards, and legislatures are old. Americans infamously distrust evolution as the explanation for the emergence and diversity of life on earth. In large part, many Americans' ideas about Biblical inerrancy and literal interpretations of the Book of Genesis conflict with evolution. According to the Pew Research Center, an August 2006 survey found "63% of Americans believe that humans and other animals have either always existed in their present form or have evolved over time under the guidance of a supreme being" while "26% say that life evolved solely through processes such as natural selection." A 2005 poll "found that 64% of Americans support teaching creationism alongside evolution in the classroom." That distrust has resulted in famous educational, political, and legal showdowns from the famous Scopes trial, Epperson v. Arkansas, McLean v. Arkansas, the Supreme Court case Edwards v. Aguillard, and the 2005 Pennsylvania case Kitzmiller v. Dover which also featured the Discovery Institute (Sustainability Now co-host Peter Buckland attended Kitzmiller). But climate change is a newer form of denialism and the denialists aren't the same.

This Friday we are going to dive right into this. Mark McCaffrey is the newly hired Programs and Policy Director at the National Center for Science Education (NCSE). McCaffrey has worked on a number of projects for climate literacy and holds an M.A. in Educational Leadership and Policy Studies from University of Northern Colorado. He is charged with helping to develop better "climate change education in formal and informal educational environments, in order for future citizens to be able to make scientifically informed decisions about the consequences of climate change." With the recent attacks in legislatures, the revelation that the Heartland Institute had been preparing anti-climate science curriculum for K-12 schools (pdf) (the leaker of those Heartland documents was Peter Gleick who resigned from NCSE's board), and the recently renewed attacks on Dr. Michael Mann by the Common Sense Movement in the wake of his newly released book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars (here and here). Hear a new interview with Michael Mann on his book by Chris Mooney here on this fight.

We will also be joined by Beth Hufnagel, a doctoral student in Penn State's Curriculum and Instruction program focusing on science education. She is currently working as an assistant for a class that teaches climate change and evolution education content and strategies to future elementary school teachers. She worked as an environmental researcher in New Jersey and then as an Environmental Science teacher in Boston for several years before starting her doctoral program in 2010.

What's good climate education? Is science enough? Do children need to learn the ethical lessons? How do we open the door the IEA says is closing?

The show airs at 4 pm EST on Friday on The Lion 90.7 fm. Stream it online and feel free to call in (814) 865-9577 with questions or comments. As always, feel free to leave questions here, at our Facebook page (ask to join), or at our Twitter account.


"A full-strength antidote to the Kryptonite of corporate greed and human ignorance."

David Gessner (pictured at right with a bottle of Pennsylvania's oldest beer), an award winning nature writer best known for his edgy and humorous style and interest in ospreys and Ultimate Frisbee, will read from his work in the Foster Auditorium in the Paterno Library on the campus of Penn State, University Park, at 8:00 p.m. on Monday, February 20. The lecture is free and open to the public.

Gessner’s most acclaimed work is the book Return of the Osprey (2001) and a sequel about following osprey migration to Cuba and South America, Soaring with Fidel (2007). His work is also closely associated with Cape Cod, including a memoir of his father’s death from cancer, A Wild, Rank Place (1997) and his account of his experiences with the Cape Cod naturalist and writer, John Hay, The Prophet of Dry Hill (2005). Gessner has also published an account of his experiences as a student writer in Boulder, Colorado, in Under the Devil’s Thumb (1999), and a collection of essays, Sick of Nature (2004), in which he tangles with such topics as the influence of Thoreau on his writing and thinking; his relationship with his teacher, the literary biographer Walter Jackson Bate; and his long quest to win an Ultimate Frisbee national championship. Gessner’s work has appeared in numerous magazines, including Orion, OnEarth, The New York Times Magazine and American Scholar. His essay about pelicans, “Learning to Surf,” won a John Burroughs Award in 2007 for the best natural history essay of the year. One Orion reviewer characterized Gessner’s writing as “Comical, energetic, and reverentially irreverent.” The Atlanta Journal Constitution called The Tarball Chronicles “a a full-strength antidote to the Kryptonite of corporate greed and ignorance,” and Publisher’s Weekly dubbed it “Brilliant.”

Get a sense of his style here. You won't be disappointed.


My Farmer

I was sort of born into the local food movement. Not in a huge way. But sort of. Enough that when the local food movement started to flourish again a few years ago it was a natural fit. And I knew when I had found my farmer, John Eisenstein of Jade Family Farm. It was the carrots.

When I was a kid, we were part of a local food co-op. My mom tells this story of how at about two and a half I picked up a carton of eggs and methodically dropped the eggs one by one on the floor. As a father now, I recognize the classic moment. It was probably great and dreadful at the same time.

We had a big garden in our backyard. A strawberry patch, cucumbers galore that went into salad and became pickles, tomatoes fresh and some canned into sauce, green beans, raspberries along the back fence, and squash I couldn't stand if my 6-year-old memory serves at all.

At the garden's edge by the low stone wall behind the back porch was our big two-chamber compost. It was a classic railroad tie design. How many pounds of coffee grounds and grapefruit rinds went in there? My dad, bandanna wrapped around his head, turned it with the spade.

My best friend Elliott's family two houses down had a comparable garden. His mother was a canning machine and she made so many pickles, jams, and sauces all summer long. Emma's pickles were the ultimate. They are the apotheosis of pickles, the ideal pickles that the denizens of Plato's cave can only dream about.

As a boy I had to weed. I liked it as much as most 6-year-olds do which is to say not really at all. I'd have rather been climbing trees and riding bikes. My sister hated it more than I did. Sometimes we got out of doing it. Sometimes not. But it was great to have fresh fruit and veggies.

My mom is one of twelve children from a New York farm family. Every summer and Christmas we traveled to "the farm" to stay with my uncle and grandmother. I played in the barn with the cats, pet the cows, and climbed in the rafters of the hay mow. It was great. As a youngster I got to steer the tractor in the high fields on my uncle's lap. Even as a punk-ass teenager more interested in Slayer, skateboards, and the girls who tortured my very existence (you remember them forever right?) than the farm's operations, I still loved it. During summer visits I wandered the 100 acres alone or with a visiting cousin.

And then I went to college. I think it nearly totally separated me from food and nature. I'd occasionally go to the friday farmer's market. The summer peaches and blueberries were about all I cared about. I think I got my girlfriend Emily sunflowers and wildflowers a couple of times.

But it wasn't until my wife and I joined a small community supported agriculture group with Reeger's Farm Market when we lived in Indiana, Pennsylvania that we started getting back to local food. When we came back to State College and I started my Ph.D. program, we were ready for something more. That's the year Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma and Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle came out. In a class I took we read Kingsolver, Francis Moore Lappe's Diet for a Small Planet, some essays by Wendell Berry, and Eric Schlosser's rather terrifying Fast Food Nation. I wrote some stories for Voices of Central Pennsylvania on local food and farmers, started a club for future teachers who wanted to embed ecological literacy and sustainability into their education, attended a PASA conference, and worked with Mike to launch this show. Our moniker, courtesy of Mike, has been, "We believe sustainability is best when it's fresh and local."

For two and a half years on the air I've brought up my farmer, John Eisenstein and his family's farm, Jade Family Farm. I call him my farmer (that's his hand, shirt, and jeans on the right) because from May to October we get most of our produce from Jade through our share of the farm. Why did he become my farmer? The carrots. It was very simple. I'd never had a carrot like that before. If I try to describe the taste I will mangle the flavor profile so I will just say that it's about as close to heaven as I think occurs from vegetable consumption. Maybe you know what I mean. The scent of soil is still on it and the sugars and the bitterness pop. See...I mangled it. Just try some Jade carrots and you'll get it.

Tomorrow, we'll have John on the show. He's a sort of romantic prone to making jokes, not serious and serious. We'll talk about his experiences as a farmer and how he's gotten there. As someone with a bit of familial history with sustainability pedigree, he'll have some good things to share we're sure. Carrots are out I suppose so we aren't likely to be crunching on the air.

As always, listen in on The Lion 90.7 fm from 4-5 pm and feel free to call in with questions or comments.


Pigs with Lipstick

In today's Daily Collegian, Nathan Pipenberg has a thoughtful op-ed piece about "green" consumption. As part of our Penn State community, we want to give him a shout out for confronting us with a real problem. A Penn State problem. A college student problem. A big American problem.
We’ve been convinced that buying the right things is the way to help out. But have we ever considered just buying fewer things, or even nothing at all?

I don’t think many of us have, because we’re addicted to consuming.

Levi’s Jeans recently rolled out a new line of pants that use less water in the dyeing and finishing process, according to Levi’s website. Cool, right? And they only cost twice as much as a normal pair of Levi’s.

What a steal.

Obviously, the truly “green” purchase here would be the $5 pair of jeans from Goodwill. But since we like to shop and we like new things, we allow Levi’s and other companies to convince us to keep buying. (Read the rest here.)
People at outfits like Adbusters and the World Watch Institute have been saying this for years: consumption is still consumption. And Americans consume too much. The rise of "green" consumerism is just another way to make ourselves feel better about using too much, as if marginally reducing energy and material inputs can offset barely controlled materialism. Whether it's advertised as a "green" cleaning product or a more fuel-efficient vehicle, getting on the hedonic treadmill of endless purchasing of s*** nobody needs (SNN) does vanishingly little compared to reducing your intake of stuff. No matter how you slice it, the unrestricted production and consumption of more efficiently produced and distributed SNN is probably just a way to slow down ecological devastation. And it does nothing to counteract the fact that heavy consumption does not lead to happiness. It leads to quite the opposite.

As they say, "You can put all the lipstick you want on a pig, but at the end of the day it's still a pig." I think that goes for Nittany Lions too...even if they're wearing green lipstick.


Taking Out the Keystone and Building Something Else

A "keystone" plays an integral role in an arch of a bridge or any span. It is the incredible wedge maintaining the whole vault's structural integrity. If you want to call something necessary, call it the keystone.

So calling the Keystone XL pipeline a "keystone" is to repeat the name of a thing deemed necessary. It's to say that we absolutely need the pipeline to the tar sands if we are to continue having what we have. But some people won't have it.

As we reported last fall, local Toni Brink decided to protest the Keystone XL pipeline and was subsequently arrested along with over two thousand other citizens. Before leaving she said, "I think it’s really important. Future of life on our planet depends on it.” Like Josh Fox, climate activist and environmental leader Bill McKibben, consumption critic and author Naomi Klein, climate scientist James Hansen, and others, the she recognizes that climate change is real, it's upon us now, and that investing in the dirtiest form of petroleum extraction and production constitutes an enormous loss.

For its opponents, this pipeline is the keystone of a bridge that mustn't be built. It's a bridge at the edge of the world that leads to a climate nightmare. It sort of wraps up the problem of sustainability in one package.

The current Republican house continues to fight for the Keystone XL after President Obama nixed it last month. They are still citing inflated jobs numbers and ignoring a host of human health, water, air, land, and climate problems, not the least of which is the continued despoliation of a swath of Alberta the size of Florida. People like McKibben have joined with Friends of the Earth, the Rainforest Action Network, the Sierra Club, and and the ever-justice-minded Occupy groups have banded together to get 500,000 petitions and letters sent to the U.S. Senate to fight the newest move.

It seems the current Republican house leadership will not stop pushing for new fossil fuel development. In the last 40 years, there hasn't been this much environmentally-related rancor. Some see it as a sign that the old way is crumbling and doing whatever it can do to hang on. The oil barons, the coal tycoons, and the gas giants will spend more money and more resources to get at less and less fossil fuel. And to do that, they have to spend even more to corrupt our politics, paying enormous sums to political campaigns and even more on lobbying.

People like Richard Heinberg, a fellow of the Post Carbon Institute likely read this as the desperate strangulation of an industry clutching its bags of money and lashing out. But at some point, tired of being abused, we will turn to more harmonious and sustainable ways of doing things. We'll take the bricks that were going to build that bridge off the end of the world and build something much better.

At least some of the future of life on earth might depend on it. That's what Toni might say anyway.


The Crises of Sustainability as Birth

Environmentalists everywhere are at no shortage of awful things to describe in gory detail. Polar bears are drowning because their habitat is changing and disappearing. Natural gas drilling is ruining people's lives in Pennsylvania and Wyoming and mountain top removal creates cancer clusters in West Virginia and Kentucky. To hell in a hand basket we go! But could the ecological crises at hand be the possibility for rebirth of humanity?

In this brief conversation one of our former guests, Kevin May (Phil Osophical on YouTube) talks with Charles Eisenstein, author of Sacred Economics and The Ascent of Humanity. Instead of viewing humanity as a cancer or a virus, maybe it is more suitable to think of humanity in its industrial development as a fetus. It can't live as it has inside of its mother forever. As it gets bigger, it must be discharged into a new way of life to which it cannot know. Is development driving us to a new way of being in the world and even in a new world?

In a great confluence, our guest this coming Friday is Charles' brother John Eisenstein, owner of Jade Family Farm.


What Is Sustainability?

As you know, we ask everyone who comes on the show: "What does sustainability mean to you?" And if you've listened or use a little imagination, you know that there are nearly as many definitions of sustainability as there are people who have thought about sustainability for more than one minute. Now the term is everywhere.

Last week, Richard Kahn called sustainability a "contested" term. Who uses it and how they use it will tell us what should be sustained, maybe even how, why, for whom, and maybe even for how long. Exxon using the term means something different from a small Pennsylvania farmer which is different from the U.N.'s definition from the famous Our Common Future publication defining sustainable development. The contest over defining sustainability means people can use it very differently. Deep ecologists can make it into some purist notion, so-called pragmatists can use it as a lens for understanding issues, and the corporate status quo can use it to "greenwash" their images.

All of this means sustainability is a slippery term. It's also very popular these days. I'll borrow from our compatriot Katherine Watt at Spring Creek Homesteading who posted this cartoon graph a few weeks ago:

It's all very simple and very complicated. Most people want sustainability. Most people want what they have. Most people would like to believe that they are doing good. Most people want what they have to be sustainability because they want to believe that they are doing good. Therefore, the term will be used to make everyone feel good. It might be something like that anyway.

Today we will talk about this issue for the whole show: What does sustainabilty mean? Andy Lau is a professor of engineering at Penn State and former assistant director of the Penn State Center for Sustainability. My first encounters with him were opinion pieces on sustainability in local papers and then a presentation at a forum with Don Brown, a previous guest on this show on the ethics of climate change. Lau, like Brown, sees sustainability as something that could transform not only education, but our entire way of living. He has incorporated sustainability into a lot of his teaching, in his professional work as an engineer, and into his personal life. It's fair to say he's a sustainability wonk, going so far as to write an article on the many dimensions of sustainability and sustainable design as a new paradigm for engineering education. Lau is a funky kind of engineer, known as much for his relaxed philosophizing as he is for his engineering chops.

If you have any thoughts or questions, post them here or over at our Facebook page where you can get more involved. Listen in at 4 pm at The Lion and feel free to call in: (814) 865-9577


Denialism, Hockey Sticks, Climate Wars, and Radicalism

Today I went to Dr. Michael Mann's talk at the Penn State Forum, "Confronting the Climate Change Challenge." It was a talk meant to prelude and outline his forthcoming book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. In it, he laid out the scientific case for climate change, the validity of "the hockey stick" and climate change models since James Hansen's in the 1980s, and the subsequent valid predictions climate scientists have made. Depending on our fossil fuel choices, we will have different futures.

Already we have a world where gardeners, hikers, hunters, anglers, and farmers already see climate change in North America. Species of plants and animals are migrating north for warmer temperatures. Others, ill-adapted for a warmer world including polar bears and walruses, are being selected out. The world is changing and it's getting plainer and plainer to see. It's common sense for attentive people to see.

But common sense is exactly what seems to be lacking, especially by people who claim to be at the front of the The Common Sense Movement, a coal industry front group that bought ads on local radio attacking Mann's credibility and climate science (see here). This group joined dozens of other industry astroturf groups (fake grassroots movement) and public relations moves by the merchants of doubt to scientize politics. It is, as Mann noted today, a way to "wage politics as usual...to use science as a political football," including the climate denialism and sought-after political and professional persecution campaigns of current Republican presidential candidates, Senator James Inhofe (R-Ok), Representative Joe Barton (R-Tx), and the Republican Attorney General of Virginia. Mann, in short, has been the victim of a Republican War on Science. Climate science anyway. (David Frum and Kevin Silber have tried to point out that republicans aren't universally opposed to science.)

And it was interesting to hear Mann respond to questions. A lot about dealing with the "merchants of doubt" as Oreskes has called them and combating climate denialism. He dealt with being a political football. With education. With capitalism. Interestingly, he didn't attack capitalism but instead attacked the way we've structured our economy. Capitalism "has been stacked" he said. Toward what? Fossil fuel economics. In so many words, he was referring to sunk costs.

But what some of you might be most interested in was how he discussed shale gas drilling.

He talked about its lower carbon footprint as a burned fuel. It is "cleaner burning" with roughly one half the carbon footprint of coal per btu. However, and I think this might have stunned the powers that be, he cited a study released in the last week that showing that fugitive emissions from shale gas drilling might nullify the carbon benefits of burning natural gas. With 105 times the climate forcing potential over a 20-year span, methane leaked at 4% from shale gas operations demolishes the climate bridge fuel argument. As he seems to like to do, and many academics do for good reasons, he encouraged us to have discussions with evidence before us.

From a more radical sustainability view, some people would find Mann's talk a little disappointing. The personal steps he has taken (or at least the stated ones) were technological household fixes like changing lightbulbs and using lower-energy appliances. Don't get me wrong by any means, do it. But given our guest last week Richard Kahn, it seems that deeper and deeper transformations are needed. Mann certainly confronts the status quo of the big fossil fuel industry, but there was no call for a radical restructuring of all society right now. But...and it's a big BUT...he recognizes that climate change is a civilization-challenging issue.

Alarm? Yes. Alarmist? Maybe. Radical? Not really. I'd actually call him pretty calm.

Calm or not. You have to get a picture with a Nobel-Prize sharer.


Attacking the messenger is the coal lobby's favorite tactic

In case you haven't been following, Dr. Michael Mann is under attack by the merchants of doubt. Again. As if the manufactured extreme doubt of the odiously named "Climategate" scandal two years ago weren't enough, the climate ostriches have restarted a fullscale character assassination and attempts at blacklisting campaign.

Mann created one of climate sciences most enduring images, "the hockey stick." The image shows the unequivocal correlation between rising annual temperatures and rising carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. It's the best visual out there showing us that humans burning fossil fuels causes climate change. Burning coal, oil, and natural gas releases CO2 into the atmosphere. It's very simple. But the ostriches and the industry-financed doubt mongerers who laughably call themselves skeptics are throwing their money behind propaganda campaigns to silence voices of reason.

One local radio station WBUS has been airing an ad asking listeners to ask Penn State to cancel an upcoming talk by Mann. Who's behind it?

The Common Sense Movement, a coal industry front group with a PAC called Secure Energy for America Political Action Committee (SEAPAC). They have a stock letter-writing campaign that sews doubt where there is a great deal of certainty on climate impacts.
On February 9th, the Penn State Forum Speaker’s Series is featuring
Professor Michael Mann in a speech regarding global warming. This is the same
professor who is at the center of the ‘Climategate’ controversy for
allegedly manipulating scientific data to align with his extreme political
views on global warming. Join us in calling on the administrators of Penn State
to end its support of Michael Mann and his radical agenda.
It attacks Mann's credibility, calling him "disgraced." Mann was cleared of all alleged scientific wrongdoing by Penn State and National Academy of Sciences and other investigations. So if by disgraced they mean one of the most decorated climate scientists at Penn State today and one of the most distinguished scientists in the world, I guess that's accurate. Somehow, I suspect they mean something else.

No doubt the laughably named Common Sense Movement is upset because Mann has a new book coming out called The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars that takes the denial machine to task and explains very clearly that climate science shows us we are in a very bad place regarding climate stability. The summary reads:
The Hockey Stick became a central icon in the “climate wars,” and
well-funded science deniers immediately attacked the chart and the scientists
responsible for it. Yet the controversy has had little to do with the depicted
temperature rise and much more with the perceived threat the graph posed to
those who oppose governmental regulation and other restraints to protect our
environment and planet. Michael E. Mann, lead author of the original paper in
which the Hockey Stick first appeared, shares the real story of the science and
politics behind this controversy. He introduces key figures in the oil and
energy industries, and the media front groups who do their bidding in sometimes
slick, bare-knuckled ways to cast doubt on the science. Mann concludes with an
account of the “Climategate” scandal, the 2009 hacking of climate scientists’
emails. Throughout, Mann reveals the role of science deniers, abetted by an
uninformed media, in once again diverting attention away from one of the central
scientific and policy issues of our time.

The worst of the worst are the polluting fossil fuel industries are hellbent on maintaining their grip on government, policy, regulation, and the market. If they leash the other powers that be, then renewables will be delayed and the CEOs of the corporate kleptocracy can keep us leashed.

This is a perfect example of Don Brown's arguments about ethics in climate change messaging. These include:

Lying Or Reckless Disregard For the Truth
Focusing On Unknowns While Ignoring The Knowns.
Specious Claims Of "Bad" Science
Creation of Front Groups
Manufacturing Bogus Climate Science
Think Tank Campaigns
Misleading PR Campaigns
Creation of Astroturf Groups
Cyber-bullying Scientists and Journalists

Lying, specious claims, and cyber-bullying accounted for. Definitely a front group using a misleading PR campaign. It's hogwash from beginning to end. Unethical is the nice way to refer to this kind of bile. I prefer to call it toxic "bullshit" meaning it is both lying and nonsense.

Interestingly, people have been taking the Common Sense Movement to task. They've attempted to hijack the letter-writing campaign. They've gone to the group's Facebook page (which has apparently stopped fans from leaving comments). They've urged WBUS to yank the commercial. Others are calling Penn State President Rodney Erickson and telling them they support Mann.

The blogosphere is up in arms about it too. Andy Revkin and Joe Romm have pieces up.

What is a university if not a place for challenging ideas and practices? By the Common Sense Movement's actions it's a place for corporately controlled speech and the unfettered pollution and bought speech.

Not at my university.

Education in the Age of Ecological Crisis

In the age of peak oil, climate change, and ecological crises, educational institutions must change. That's the gist coming from a growing number of people. College presidents are signing the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment, they are hiring sustainability officers to help manage the waste and energy from operations, research into renewable and alternative energy grows, and there's a growing field called sustainability studies in academia. Last week on Sustainability Now we talked to Dr. David Reilly (PSU Center for Sustainability) and Steve Maruszewski (PSU Office of Physical Plant) people doing such things at Penn State. There is a lot of agreement for change.

"Jump!" they say.

"How high?" people ask.

Richard Kahn is a professor at Antioch University in Los Angeles. He's an anarchist educator who studies social movements and challenges the way dominant institutions - corporations, government, medicine, and industry hinder "greater planetary freedom, peace, and happiness." Over the last several years, Kahn has created a broad critique of modern industrial life. It is not just negative, but also a vision of future life liberated from denigrating practices and belief structures like racism, sexism, speciesism, and the corporatized consumerism literally consuming us and the planet. A high bar to jump over.

One of his most potent formulations of this critique and vision came in his 2010 book Critical Pedagogy, Ecoliteracy, and Planetary Crisis. In it, he writes for "ecopedagogy." He describes it as,
a movement concerned with the cosmological, technological, and organizational dimensions of social life, that seeks to achieve victory through its ability to:
1. provide openings for the radicalization and proliferation of ecoliteracy [see Orr, 1992] programs both within schools and society;
2. create liberatory opportunities for building alliances of praxis between scholars and the public (especially activists) on ecopedagogical interests; and
3. foment critical dialogue and self-reflective solidarity across the multitude of groups that make up the educational left during an extraordinary time of extremely dangerous planetary crisis (page 56).
Unlike some university professors, Kahn refuses to shy away from political positions.

We will talk with Kahn about ecopedagogy and our educational future. Sustainability, radical sustainability, needs to be front and center. Maybe in jumping, we can take flight.

Listen in today at 4 pm on The Lion 90.7. Call in (814) 865-9577.