Saturday, November 20, 2010

opportunivores in the house

Just heard the 'opportunivore' term in the new yorker this week. Expect it in Webster's some day soon. Then I thought: grad student Conor G. raising eyebrows by snagging neighborhood leaf bags on his street - brown gold for home compost - and grad student Meghan Salmon, who left our terrestrial biogeoscience seminar early so she could pedal on over to Somerville, to pick up chicken by-product scraps at a chicken processing facility so as to make her cat's food - and our IT Guru Larry Andrus, who uses old computer hard drives and bicycle wheels to make micro-wind turbines. Opportunivory = sustainability, baby!

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Leaking pipes = lost energy, lost money, greenhouse warming, and dying trees

Massachusetts loses 8 billion cubic feet of natural gas each year through leaky pipes, according to leak sleuther Bob Ackley . To the current ratepayer, I calculate that this is about $100 million in money down the drain (or, up in smoke?) each and every year. Not to mention that the escaping methane (the main constituent of natural gas) is a powerful greenhouse gas. Or that it kills trees as it seeps into the root systems of trees, displacing the oxygen roots need to breath (and drying the root systems out too). Here is an example of a badly coupled human-natural system, the opposite of a smart neighborhood. It's not just a Massachusetts problem; its a national problem. Human networks conflicting with natural systems, and needlessly. We can fix this and produce a win-win-win (money, greenhouse gas, trees). Who do you think is paying the price for this lose-lose situation currently?

Bob Ackley (, who has been featured in local and national news, will speak about this issue to the BU Center for Energy and Environmental Studies on Wed. Dec 8, from noon-1pm. All are welcome, but for non-CEES/IREP/GE students, please RSVP with me at so we can make sure we have enough room!

Friday, October 29, 2010

CEES goes hyper-localvorous

Today I happened to see graduate student Conor Gately in our departmental hallway, and asked him how his homegrown chickens were doing. To make a long story short, I said he should sell his surplus eggs; he said, as a matter of fact, they are available in the fridge next to his office; I picked up half a dozen for home.

From the NY Times: "In August 2010, more than 500 million eggs were recalled after health officials traced salmonella bacteria that sickened over 1,500 people to two large egg producers. It was the largest egg recall in history."

Nice to know where your eggs come from!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Human Powered Transportation

One of my fantasies is an elevated bikeway smack in the middle of the Massachusetts Turnpike, with streams of bicycle commuters going into and out of Boston, sometimes making better time than the auto traffic. Here is something that approaches that vision: a track-based recumbent bike mass transit system for cities. It (called "shweeb") is a difficult sell, because there is always plain old biking, which affords great flexibility to its commuting users, and is cheap. However, shweeb has the advantage of safety: a bike-only route with no chance of getting doored or run over. Where could this be implemented? Maybe the Mass Pike. But perhaps a better, smaller scale pilot could be along the BU campus along Commonwealth Avenue, a linear 2 mile stretch from Kenmore Square to Packard's Corner that already has a central transit corridor along its median strip.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Special GLACIER People

We have a bamboo bike maker. A rapper-percussionist in The Big Drift. A bona fide urban homesteader, with chickens in the garage and fruit trees in the yard.
Each of the GLACIER fellows, like all of us, have unique hobbies, interests, and personal projects. And they all can connect to issues of sustainability and climate change. Where does bamboo grow; how is its growth affected by increased co2? What is the carbon footprint of a bamboo bike vs. a carbon fibre one? How much co2 is saved from riding the bike instead of driving a car? Or chickens: where do our eggs come from? What was up with that egg contamination scare a few weeks ago? What is industrial agriculture? Food miles and carbon footprint. Etc.

Our challenge in GLACIER, and education more broadly, is how to work the things that really motivate us - the things we do on our own for no pay, and not because anyone is trying to 'get us' to do something, and bring that into the classroom. Can we work the volume equation of a bamboo pole into a lesson that fulfills an MCAS requirement to learn geometry? Like Jessica Seinfeld's book Deceptively Delicious, wherein the spinach is furtively integrated into the brownies, can we deliver the education while simply having fun with what already fills us with joy and creativity?

Thursday, September 30, 2010


This semester I am "teaching" a seminar on GK-12 education, part of a National Science Foundation grant called GLACIER (GLobAl Change Initiative: Education and Research) spearheaded by my departmental colleague Suchi Gopal. I put "teaching" in quotes because I am as much a student in this seminar as any of the 10 advanced graduate students. We are together exploring how science research on topics related to global environmental change can be communicated effectively to public audiences, including grades 5-8 school children. One of the initial things we are grappling with is an appropriate way to blog about our experiences: how each of us can write for the public about our experiences in the classroom - balancing the desire for genuine personal expression, while maintaining professionalism and respecting the privacy of students who provide much of the observational material for blog postings. I have some ideas which I will post in future blog postings here, and welcome comments on those ideas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Smart cities and wise cities.

just as a smart person is not necessarily a wise person. Case in point: John Poindexter, PhD in Physics from Cal Tech, who smartly but unwisely developed a white house intranet that enabled, but eventually exposed, the Iran-Contra arms smuggling affair and led to his criminal conviction in the Reagan era.

Technology can promote a smart city, but a wise city requires mindfulness and judgment on the part of people. Often technology can work to remove this crucial human role. A smart city could be envisioned as one in which our infrastructure is so smart that humans no longer need to think about their actions - that is a smart, but unwise, city.