Sunday, September 24, 2017

What's That Light Up There?

Edward Hessler

A dichotomous key on how to identify some of those lights up there in the sky.

It is from Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD) for September 24, 2017 so if you open it on another date go to the archives.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

New rain garden near Hamline

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere

This fall, Hamline University has the exciting opportunity to be involved in a prairie restoration/rainwater management project just a short walk from campus. The site is on the inside of the cloverleaf leading from Snelling to Pierce Butler. There is already a small holding pond here; soon, native plants will be seeded and planted. The site will also act as an “outdoor classroom” for Hamline and other schools in the area, with educational signage.

Earlier in September, the non-native plants and weeds were killed with herbicide and then burned to prepare for prairie planting. Later, on October 15th and 21st, there will be two Plantón Móvil events and native plants will be carried to the site and planted.

My class witnessed the controlled burn of the site. 
Plantón Móvil is a participatory art project started by Lucia Monge, where people and plants become one for a walk, and then a park or green space is created or added to. There are great photos of previous Plantón Móvils on her website.

The event on October 15th will be with Hamline Elementary students. The event on October 21st will be open to everyone.

My Sustainability on Campus class this fall has been focused on planning these events. I’m in the facilitation committee, so we are thinking about all the logistics involved: where and when we meet, what route we walk to get to the site, music and food to provide, planting the plants once we get there.

We have also put a lot of thought into the ways that people can move with the plants. We won’t have many large plants, especially at this time of year. We will mostly have small plugs. So, we’re considering different ways that people can wear plants.

This project is a fun way to get people involved in water issues. It’s clear that our approach to water management is flawed; we get the water out of cities as fast as possible, and it carries pollution into rivers and to the ocean. We don’t let water soak into the ground, and refill aquifers; we funnel it into the ocean, where it contributes to sea level rise. This garden will allow water to stay where it falls, and soak into the ground instead of rushing off in the sewer.

This small project connects to a lot of big picture issues, and will be a great learning experience for everyone involved.

An Energy Plan for Minnesota

Sustainable Energy & Transportation
Edward Hessler

A few days ago I received an e-mail from Greg Laden who called my attention to Minnesota Gubernatorial Candidate Rebecca Otto's energy transition plan.  It's aim is to move Minnesota rapidly to clean energy.

It is a progressive plan but that hasn't stopped meteorologist Paul Douglas, an evangelical Republican from endorsing it. Douglas is compelled by the ideas, not the political orientation.The plan has also been endorsed by Bill McKibben, University of St. Thomas climate scientist John Abraham, and Pennsylvania State University climate scientist Michael Mann.

Here is the link to Greg's post in which you will find a link to the Otto plan. Greg provides a convenient elevator speech version. 

The plan is worth reading and thinking about as well as discussing with others. As Professor Abraham notes this plan is bold and a "big, big idea."

Friday, September 22, 2017

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today is the autumnal equinox, the astronomical marker of fall.

September 1 on the other hand was the occasion of the beginning of meteorological fall a different marker. Critters have their own way of marking seasonal changes, not waiting for  human computations.  Some birds and monarch butterflies have already left for points south. And my beloved nighthawks are long gone.

The link above includes several interesting links, one of which is a video clip I've referred to before from A Private Universe.  On graduation day, graduates of Harvard are asked what causes the seasons. Hmmm. By the way, these misconceptions as they are called (there are at least a 100 different names; one I like is "intelligently wrong.") provide valuable information to teachers as they begin units of study.

This occasion deserves two poems or rather I limit my exuberance to two. One is by Annie Finch. The other by Edward Thomas.

Happy AE day and this year the steam heat is on..

Thursday, September 21, 2017

3 Things You Need to Know about Eco-Friendly Cleaning

Guest Blogger: Charlotte Meier
Charlotte's website: HomeSafetyHub

We are learning more every day about the hazards of cleaning supplies, from children suffering after ingesting laundry detergent pods to the harmful effects of toxic household cleaners. As parents, we want to keep our homes and belongings clean, but we also want to keep our children safe from the chemicals in the supplies that we think clean our homes safely.

Truthfully, cleaning supplies that are safe for use around children also are safe for the environment. By using these types of eco-friendly cleaning supplies, we can ensure the health and safety of our families and our world.

1. Swap Toxic Cleaning Supplies with Natural Ingredients

The first step toward eco-friendly cleaning is reading the labels on your cleaning supplies. Discard any product with a label containing a warning about being hazardous to humans or domestic animals. The key is to dispose of them responsibly before replacing them with natural cleaning ingredients.

Image via Pixabay by evitaochel
Many household cleaning products, even those with hazard warnings, are water soluble and will not harm the environment in quantities that you will dispose of from home. In fact, the majority of cleaning products are specially formulated for safe disposal in a public water system or home wastewater treatment system, even if you have a septic tank.

Any cleaning products that do not list disposal methods on the label should be set aside to take to your local landfill during hazardous waste collection. Do not pour the remaining portions of these cleaners down your drain, as they may contain chemicals that should not enter a wastewater system. Avoid mixing remaining cleaning supplies, as some may cause an unfavorable reaction when combined.

When you are ready to replace your toxic cleaning supplies, replace them with natural ingredients. Many people begin with vinegar, baking soda, and essential oils. White vinegar is a natural fabric softener that removes soap residue in the rinse cycle and prevents static cling in the dryer. To make an all-purpose disinfectant, mix a few drops of tea-tree oil with a tablespoon of vinegar and a couple of drops of lavender essential oil with water in a spray bottle to create a cleaner that kills germs and smells pleasant. Vinegar also effectively cleans mirrors and windows; dilute it with a little water and wipe with a newspaper.

2. You Should Clean Away Toxic Residue While You Declutter Your Home

Eco-friendly cleaning is something that you should start doing as soon as possible. But, you also want to think about things you have cleaned previously with toxic cleaners. For example, children often load totes, bins, and other containers with their toys to keep their homes organized and tidy.

Chances are, as flu bugs and other illnesses hit your home, you scrubbed these toys and containers with bleach or toxic cleaners and threw stuffed animals in the washer with detergents, fabric softeners, and dryer sheets that contain hazardous chemicals.

The next time you declutter with your kids and organize their toys and belongings, scrub plastic toys with a natural all-purpose cleaner and throw stuffed animals into the washing machine with homemade laundry detergent.

Many detergent recipes call for washing soda, Borax, and a natural bar of soap such as Dr. Bronner’s. Add white vinegar to the rinse cycle to remove toxic cleaner residue and to soften clothes. Then, use an organic wool dryer ball rather than toxic dryer sheets while drying clothes, blankets, and stuffed animals.

3. Lemons are an Ideal Disinfectant and Deodorizer

Some people steer clear of eco-friendly cleaning simply because they fear that their homes and belongings will smell like vinegar. The truth is, you can disinfect and deodorize while giving your home and clothing a fresh scent by using lemons. Lemons boast powerful antiseptic and antibacterial characteristics in addition to being natural deodorizers. If you don’t like the smell of vinegar, combine lemon peel with white vinegar in a jar and marinate it for a few days.

Then, strain out the peel and use the lemon-scented vinegar in your cleaners and washing machine. You also can absorb household odors by combining vinegar and lemon juice in a small dish and placing it near your garbage can, kitchen sink, or bathroom.

Eco-friendly cleaning is much better for your family and the environment. Get started by replacing toxic cleaners with natural ingredients, cleaning away toxic residue while you declutter, and relying on lemons to clean and deodorize.


Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

Another tuesday in the tallgrass prairie under a "certain slant of light" and the "blank blue brightness of a cloudless sky."

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

A Photographer's Regret

Environmental and Science Education

A couple of days ago I posted 13 images that were finalists in the Wildlife Photographer of the Year (Natural History Museum, London). 

One of them is of a teeny-tiny seahorse attached to a Q-tip. The very thought still makes me squirm and my skin crawl.

Washington Post reporter Lindsey Bever talked with the photographer, Justin Hofman, Monterey, California. He took the photograph "off the coast of Sumbawa, an Indonesian island in the Lesser Sunda Islands chain.

Hofman told Bever that his "blood was boiling" when he watched the creature on its journey through the litter and trash. Hofman said that he "wishes the picture 'didn't exist'--but it does and now he said, he feels responsible 'to make sure it gets to as many eyes as possible.'" ... He wants "everybody to see it and everybody to have a reaction to it."

My reaction: Ugh +.  It is sickening and powerful.

Indonesia dumps "3.22 million metric tons of plastic debris per year" (3549442 US tons). It is second in the world in producing marine pollution.

You may read Linsey Bever's essay here.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Blue Skies Smilin' at Me....

Edward Hessler

Of course the sky is blue. Everybody knows that. Look up and there it is blue as a bluebell or the wispy veins in blue cheese.  

This is something we learn growing up. We later learn the mechanisms in school although we may have to check our memory as we become older and also more distant from the physics of the sky's color and our biology. 

Makes me think of an explanation that I might have used as a small child. "Why is the sky blue?" "Cuz."

So what happens when we take our American understanding and our language deep into the tropical rain forests of South America? This is what Massachusetts of Technology cognitive scientist Edward Gibson did. He took a “car-battery powered light box and 80 standardized color chips,” hopped a boat and went down the Amazon River to the Tsimane’.

The Tsimane’ are a very isolated group hearing mostly their own language.  Gibson learned that they have many fewer color words “than American Engllsh speakers and Bolivian Spanish speakers.” They showed difficulty in agreeing on what to call the colors of the standardized color chips.

The conclusion of the study is “that the ability to describe colors isn’t as rooted in our biology as many scientists thought. And that means that language development may be far more rooted in our culture than in how we literally see the world.”

Science writer Zach Zoarch reported this story in a short essay in Science, September 18, 2017.  Click on that link to see the experimental set-up. There is a link to the original scientific research publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

I think it is a great study, one that makes a rich world of differences ever richer.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Mathematical Thresholds: Two Minutes Worth

Mathematics Education
Environmental and Science Education
Edward Hessler

A clever, whimsical two-minute video on thresholds in maths.

Graph on one side; the phenomenon being explored visually on the other.

Great music, too.

Good fun.

h/t Aeon

Saturday, September 16, 2017