Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Chemistry is Beautiful

Art and Environment
Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

Most of the colors, shapes, and patterns that result when molecules go bump in the night (and day) elude us.

They are too easy to miss. They may occur too quickly, too slowly or at a scale we can't see with the naked eye.  And sometimes we simply lack the patience to notice them.

The purpose of Beautiful Chemistry, a collaboration between the University of Science and Technology of China and Tsinghua University Press, is to introduce us to the beauty of chemistry through beautifully produced videos.

Beautiful Chemical Reactions, Crystallization^2, Beautiful Reactions and Beautiful Chemical Structures are four short, delightful videos filmed to play with your sense of wonder.

2016 Zero Waste Summit

CGEE Student Voice
by Jenni Abere

Eureka Recycling's second annual Zero Waste Summit was held Saturday, October 23rd, at St. Paul Neighborhood Network. I had a community outreach internship with Eureka over the summer, so I had spent a lot of time telling people about the Summit and why they should go — but I almost didn't go myself! I bought a ticket the day before the Summit, and I'm very glad I did.

On my way there, I walked past West Rock. West Rock, formerly, RockTenn, is where all the paper in the Twin Cities is recycled. I arrived at the Summit, already thinking about waste, and ready to learn.

The Summit went far beyond just recycling and composting, however; in fact, a common theme was that we can't recycle and compost our way to zero waste. Zero waste — yes, really, not waste whatsoever! — requires us to actually change the way we live and the way we think, change our laws, and change our industries. 

However, zero waste is not a new or radical concept. Humans invented the concept of waste. In the natural world, there is no such thing. Everything becomes a resource for something else. 

The summit was structured around 15 local and national speakers who would expand our idea of waste by talking about how it relates to their work. 

To keep this post a manageable length, I will share one interesting point raised by each speaker.

Bryant Williams, Rebuilding Exchange, Chicago

Bryant said that he doesn’t like the term “waste management” and prefers “materials management.” This language was quickly adopted by the rest of the speakers. It conveys that nothing is actually waste, and stresses the value of the materials that we should find a way to utilize. 

Ginny Black, Minnesota Composting Council

Ginny mentioned that one of the biggest barriers to commercial composting is the end-market, or rather lack-thereof. Organic waste and finished compost are both very heavy materials — this can be a barrier to transport. However, it also ensures that composting is a local business. 

Tool Library, image from Institute for a Resource-Based Economy (IRBE)

Thomas Ebert, NE Minneapolis Tool Library

A tool library is just what it sounds like — a place with an annual membership fee ($55 in this case) where you can borrow tools for home and community projects. There is also workshop space and classes offered on carpentry, plumbing, etc. (A St. Paul tool library is opening in 2017!) 

Thomas spoke about challenging the conception of what you actually need to own. Does every home need a screwdriver? You probably only need to use it a few times a year, so why not share one with the community? This reduces extraction and waste, and increases access, especially among lower income people. 

Melanie Stovall and Craig Johnson, AIGA and Agency F 

Melanie and Craig discussed their work in sustainable design. They shared two projects in particular: paperless posters and #StrawsSuck. The paperless posters are essentially screenprinted on glass, which draws more attention to the message while saving paper at the same time. #StrawsSuck was a campaign against the use of straws. Instead of using a paper pledge, they used hand stamps and then encouraged people to share pictures on social media. 

This is very creative answer to a traditional pledge, where people may just sign it and walk away. The stamp solution was zero waste, but was also more effective. 

Sharonda Williams-Tack, Sierra Club

Sharonda's work with the Sierra Club has specialized in banning toxins, such as BPA. This relates to waste because landfilling and especially incinerating leads to the release of toxins in the environment. Sharonda mentioned that Minnesota is a leader in reducing toxins in the US; however, we are still far behind Canada and Europe. 

Image from Black Rock Solar.

Timothy DenHerder-Thomas, Cooperative Energy Futures

Timothy started by relating energy to waste (or, materials): energy is how we do stuff with stuff, and we shouldn't think of energy and matter as being separate. He focused his talk on one specific project: Community Solar Gardens. 

This is a way to make solar energy more accessible to people, so that you don't need a large sum of money upfront or to own property. All you need is an energy bill. Then, you become a member of the solar garden, the energy produced is sold into the grid (in this case, to Xcel), and the members receive a credit from Xcel. 

Janiece Watts, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

Janiece focused on social justice, a common theme for many of the speakers. She said that zero waste has been an economic necessity and a tool for survival for low income people and people of color. Environmentalism and the zero waste movement must account for class and race, or else we get "solutions" like HERC — burning garbage in poor communities of color to produce minimal amounts of energy, and then labeling it as renewable or even green. 

Dianna Kennedy, PlayItSafe Minneapolis

Dianna leads this parent group that campaigns to remove tire mulch and crumb rubber infill from playgrounds and fields. This material is known to include toxins that harm children and the environment. So, why are we using it? Dianna explained that this is one area where concerns about waste have trumped safety. The EPA was concerned about tire stockpiles, so invested in tire mulch and funded playgrounds. 

The road to zero waste should not harm anyone, least of all children! 

Destiny Watford (Free Your Voice) and Greg Sawtell (United Workers)

Destiny Watford
Destiny was the star speaker of the night. As a high school student in Baltimore, she led a fight to stop the construction of what would have been the nation's largest waste incinerator — less than a mile from her high school. After four years, Destiny and the community were successful. 

Destiny and Greg both addressed the question of: what comes next? As Destiny said, it's not just about what the land shouldn't be, but what the land should be. Greg framed it as a power issue. This community has been held hostage by development, and become a dumping ground. He sees community land trusts as a potential solution, where the community collectively owns land and is able to build affordable housing, and other valuable developments. 

Allyson Green and Marisa Benasutti, Campus Kitchen Augsburg

Campus kitchen is a program that brings campus and community together over food, through education, food recovery, community gardens, and an on-campus farmer's market. Allyson and Marisa spoke about the importance of considering culture in relation to food, especially with Augsburg's location in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood in Minneapolis. 

Cliff Martin, Northfield Community Composting

Cliff was the only speaker representing rural communities, and he discussed how rural poor are also affected by waste: usually landfills instead of incinerators. He is starting curbside composting pick-up in spring 2017 in Northfield. 

His company is a worker-owned co-op that democratizes ownership. Like previous speakers, he said that the working class practices environmentalism everyday, even though it is usually associated with upper middle class white people. 

Northern Spark 2016

Erin Lavelle, Northern Spark 

Erin, the final speaker, asked the question: is art wasteful? Particularly, art created for Northern Spark, the all-night art festival in the Twin Cities. Is is wasteful to create art for one night? The answer seems to be, yes. 

At the previous Northern Spark, the theme was "Climate Chaos." With this environmental theme, it was fitting to challenge artists to curb waste. Erin encouraged the artists to use salvaged materials, or materials that could be reused after the art was taken down and disassembled. 

Monday, October 24, 2016

Happy Birthday National Park Service!

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the U. S. National Park Service. It has been a while since I read the enabling legislation which President Woodrow Wilson signed on August 25, 1916. It is a surprisingly short piece of legislation and worth reading.

The legislation sponsors were Representative William Kent (I - Progressive Party) and Senator Reed Smoot (R) of Utah. It begins,

"The National Park Service Organic Act (16. U. S. C. 123, and 4), as set forth herein, consists of the Act of Aug. 25. 1916 (39 Stat. 535) and amendments thereto."

The first director of the National Park Service was Stephen Mather (May 16 1917 to July 8 1929). Jon Jarvis is the current director and was appointed on October 2, 2009. For a list of all eighteen directors with short biographies see here.

The term "Organic Act" is a defined legal term. According to Wikipedia "an Organic Act, in United States law, is an Act of the United States Congress that establishes a territory of the United States or an agency to manage certain federal lands."

For more information about organic acts see the Wikipedia entry.  This entry comes with an alert because it does not include any source references.

Historian Robin Winks wrote a special centennial essay for the George Wright Society on the evolution and meaning of the Organic Act.  There is an apparent contradiction in the Act ("to conserve..." and "to provide for the enjoyment...."). Winks provides the view of a historian not that of a legal scholar.

The George Wright Society is a nonprofit association founded in 1980.  It is dedicated "to the protection, preservation, and management of cultural and natural parks and resources through research and education."

The Society is named in honor of George Melendez Wright, the first chief of the wildlife division of the United States National Park Service.

Friday, October 21, 2016

A Deadly Path

Environmental & Science Education
Edward Hessler


They are everywhere in our device-filled world.  Most of us don't see them or even think of them except when they fail or need a quick re-charge. They are made with incredible human costs.  And like many human costs in this world, they are hidden from our view, even our awareness.

The Washington Post has a carefully reported article that traces the path of cobalt from the hand-dug mines in Congo to us... to our phones, laptops, and other electronic devices.

The essay includes compelling photographs and a video.

Cobalt was discovered by Georg Brandt (June 26, 1694 to April 19, 1768). This Wikipedia entry notes that he "was the first person to discover a metal unknown in ancient times."  Brandt was able to show that it was cobalt, not bismuth, that imparts the blue color to glass.

Friday Poem

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

Today's poem is by John Ashbery about whom you may learn more here.

Ashbery, born in 1927, is one of the most highly regarded American poets of the 20th century.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Darwin's Idea in Photographs

Biological Evolution
Environmental & Science Education
History of Science
Edward Hessler

Want to see evolution up close in glorious images that pop from the page? You can in a National Geographic picture story about this new book.

A prototype of what Robert Clark wanted the book on evolution to look like is available, too. It is a quick tour as he places his thumb on the pages and flips through them.

Mr. Clark took many of the pictures while on assignment for National Geographic. Evolution: A Visual Record may be pre-ordered.

h/t Lee Schmitt who sent me a link to the story.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Environmental Studies Field Trips: Street Maintenance

CGEE Student Voice
Environmental Studies Field Trip Series
by Jenni Abere

This week, my class went to the street maintenance yard for St. Paul to learn about the work that is done at different times of the year, such as leaf sweeping, snow and ice removal, and storm water management. We learned about the common practices as well as what can be done to reduce the impact on the environment.

Street Sweeping

While busy roads are swept more frequently, all the streets in St. Paul are swept once in the spring and once in the fall. In the few weeks of sweeping, 10-15 thousand cubic yards of leaves are collected. This is an important task. Leaves are a major source of phosphorous pollution in water. Once the leaves are collected, they are composted or put on farm fields.

The streets around Hamline's campus were swept this week!

This subject was very topical for me. For the past month, I've been working on Adopt-a-Storm-Drain, to raise awareness that streets are directly connected to lakes and rivers. We encourage people to rake up leaves, pick up trash and dog poop, and use less salt in the winter. Recently, we have been in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood and Lake Hiawatha area. The fall is a good time for outreach because the leaves are falling.

City-wide street sweeping has a huge impact, but it can only be done a few times a year. For all the other times, it's up to citizens to keep the streets -- and rivers -- clean.

Snow and Ice Control

Snow removal is a huge part of street maintenance in Minnesota. For this field trip, we looked at the snow plows and discussed the different ways salt is used. Regular rock salt is only effective when the road temperature is about 15°F. There are ways to make the salt more effective, so that less is needed. Chloride pollution is an emerging concern for waterways, so we need strategies to reduce salt use.

A mountain of salt in the storage shed.

Pre-wetting the ice with salt brine makes the rock salt more effective. There are also preventative measures, where liquids are applied before it snows and this prevents ice from forming. Magnesium and calcium chloride can be used with salt to make it effective at temperatures as low as -10 to -20°F.

Of course, a lot of salt is still used, and this salt ends up in waterways and vegetation. One alternative to salt is "abrasives," or sand. This usually has some level of salt in it as much, but not enough to really melt the ice. It just provides traction. This is a good alternative for sidewalks and home driveways. However, for roads it is not really a viable option. Sand will also enter into waterways in the spring.

Storm Water Management

Before and after the visit to the maintenance yard, we saw some storm water retainment features, including a rain garden by the Hamline Church and plants along the Green Line. The goal of these features is to prevent the runoff from streets from going into storm drains and then into the river.

A rain garden by the Hamline Church.

One of the problems with preventing runoff is that the groundwater can become contaminated with phosphorous and chloride and other pollution. Plants can help absorb some of this, but salt and other pollution can be harmful to the plants. The gardens along the Green Line are experimental -- time will tell if these plants can withstand high levels of runoff and pollution.

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Manchester, New Hampshire: First Lady Michelle Obama's Speech

[Image source Wikipedia]
by Edward Hessler

First Lady of the United States Michelle Obama speaks about basic human decency and dignity in New Hampshire.

It is powerful, clear, emotional and deeply informed.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Friday Poem

Art and Environment

Today's poem is by Geary Hobson.  I love where this biography is published: "Native Jewelry."  He is a gem.

I've included this poem before in a post about national parks but it could have been easily missed.

Bison, image from Wikipedia.



-- roam on, brothers...

Geary Hobson

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

The Art of Alma Thomas

Art and Environment
Edward Hessler

In his columns in The New Yorker under the heading "The Art World," Peter Schjeldahl always informs me about art. He has introduced me to many artists and their work in columns for The New Yorker.  Schjeldahl was born in Fargo, grew up in small towns in Minnesota and attended Carleton College.

In the July 25, 2016 issue Schjeldahl writes about an Alma Thomas retrospective currently at the Studio Museum, Harlem.  I'd never heard of her (alas! but now I have!).

Alma Thomas, from Wikipedia.
Thomas, an African-American, was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1891.  Her family moved to Washington, D. C. in 1907.  Good at mathematics, she hoped to become an architect but she was black and female which limited, no excluded, possible career choices.  She ended up teaching kindergarten. Following several years of teaching she attended Howard, first in home-economics, then as a student in the art department where she became the first graduate of the art program. Following this, Ms. Thomas became a junior-high-school art teacher in Washington, D. C.

It was only when she retired in 1960 that she took up color-intensive abstraction, "moved to paint abstractions, " according to Schjeldahl, "after studying the shapes of a holly tree in her garden, and that she based her color harmonies on her flower beds...".

I love the titles she gave her paintings, e.g., "Snoopy Sees Earth Wrapped in Sunset," "Wind, Sunshine and Flowers," "Stars and Their Display," "Arboretum Presents White Dogwood," and "Hydrangeas Spring Song."

You may see several of her paintings currently on view at the Studio Museum here. In addition, for more see the Tang Teaching Museum.  Hilarie Sheets has a useful editorial about her with more art in Artsy.

Ms. Thomas is an artist whose exuberant art is about beauty and happiness.