Author Archives: John V.

About John V.

Sustainability Coordinator since 2011 with over 12 years in Facilities at Northwest. The Sustainability Office is working to expand the University's long-standing tradition of environmental stewardship, and prepare our students to actively participate in the growing Green Economy regardless of their major.

6 Months 4 Days… and…The rest of the story.

Welcome back students.  If only all vacations were as long as its been since our last publication… I’m afraid that nothing would ever get done.

Half of a year, 180 days, 4,320 hours give or take, is a mere drop in the ocean of our existence.  A popular quote here at The Missouri Arboretum is, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.”  We all can appreciate the environmental benefit of trees and the value they have as a natural resource, but that saying, I think, speaks volumes about preparing for our future.  What we do today has a long-lasting impact on our tomorrow.

There is however more to that quote, there is encouragement that not only should we be conscious and careful stewards of our future, but most importantly, it’s not too late to start.  Planting the seed (or seedling) of change in our every day actions will provide future generations the opportunity to plant their trees.  As we begin a new academic year and pursue our interests in preparation for our futures…  Think about this:

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is NOW.”

 

Except the Facts

An interesting play on words… I thought. After Wednesday’s program with Dr. Michael Mann, our latest guest for the Distinguished Lecturer Series here at Northwest Missouri State University, I have to say that I’ve gained a bit of a new perspective on things. I tried to convey in my last post that our attachment to “global warming” as a catch phrase, made it easy pickings for the naysayers. From my perspective, it’s an inadequate descriptor for our current global condition. It has fallen prey to our quick snippet information society. I’m sad to admit, but glad to understand that I failed to recognize and ACCEPT the science for what it is… scientific fact. So.. “What’s in a name? that which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet” Juliet asked the right question; although about love, not science.

As a part of our information society, my skepticism about skepticism leaves me as short sighted sometimes as those deniers, naysayers, and revisionists that I’ve come to distrust over the years. Climate change is a major threat to our civilization as we know it, but rising global temperatures is the cause. OK, then why so warm? Utilizing science, as venerable as say that which brought us cutting edge technology like the thermometer, we know that changes in the combination or concentration of different gases in our seas and atmosphere can effect the effect of the sun’s effect on Earth’s temperature. (Three effects in one sentence…Outlandish! Irresponsible! An obvious attempt to perpetuate the myth of global warming!)

All humor aside, Dr. Mann and a vast number of leading of scientists (pretty vague and subjective for any true scientist) recognize that the thermometer doesn’t lie. The effects of this temperature increase are being documented, and without our ability to use scientific methods to predict long-term outcomes, we will merely be the reporter to future humans of what they missed. If we plan on feeding 7 billion people, we had better predict and plan for the location of our planet’s next “Bread Basket”.

Check out Dr. Mann’s mystical “Hockey Stick” and see for yourself. I Google “climate hockey stick”, and just let the flood gates open. I appreciate the reference and the importance of a hockey stick to humankind, but maybe it would be more catchy if there was one of those cartoon exploding thermometers at the top right? Unfortunately I don’t think anyone would use a thermometer if they exploded after raising only 8 degrees.

There is no crystal ball to predict the future, but I’m pretty sure that water boils at 100 degrees Celsius (depending on elevation and a few other variables). Based on my extensive scientific background, I know that when I light the burner on my stove it transfers heat to the pot, which in turn passes that on to my water until it reaches the point that the water boils. As a civilization, what’s our burner? There is a correlation with the byproducts of fossil fuel use and the changing concentrations of naturally occurring gases in our air and water. Welcome to the Anthropocene. Another topic worth a Google or two.

Return

In the months since this last posted, very few things have changed on this planet of ours. Mother Nature still takes the upper hand when we least expect it; however, science is not completely oblivious when it comes to the frequency and severity of modern weather events. Somehow, in our catch phrase hungry society, someone thought that “global warming” was something people could get behind. If the science is good, or at least reasonable, then of course people will set aside their selfish needs as consumers and embrace a more ecologically sound approach to life. I guess that seems reasonable, but try to sell global warming to a commuter stuck for 20 hrs. in the ice and snow on the highway in Atlanta a couple weeks back… Nothing warm about that.

We hear now that “Climate Change is Real, just look around.” Interestingly, as the current “masters of our world”, we may have come up with a catch phrase that will stick. Unfortunately, we didn’t make that one up. The climate has been shifting since there has been a climate on Earth. Geological events, triggered by nature, are clearly recorded throughout the planet. Einstein said that “Time is an Illusion”. I think the illusion is that we believe we can grasp the vastness of geologic time. For my six year old, everything seemed to have happened “yesterday”, and like a child struggling to understand the concept of “next Tuesday”, humanity consistently views long-term in the framework of centuries and millennia.

Some scientists say that humans have upset the balance, and are responsible for changing our climate. Others, taking a page from the playbook of the tobacco use health risk denial team, point again to “questionable science” or at least the reasonable doubt raised about global warming during the coldest recorded January ever. The Reality Is… that we are the next force of nature. 6 billion humans, regardless of their actions, will impact our planet. For me the only questions are, how long will it take for nature to adapt and will the next climate have room for us?

Anthropocene. Look that one up. Its nothing mysterious, or even contentious.
Heard of “The Sixth Extinction” by Elizabeth Kolbert? I hadn’t either until last night’s Daily Show

ANTHROPOCENE

Do you know what that means?  A word I’d never heard of until the outstanding presentation last night by James Balog;  geologist, mountaineer, explorer, National Geographic Photographer and Film Maker, and director of the Extreme Ice Survey.  The work of he and his team led to the creation of a feature film documenting the loss of glacial ice around the world called Chasing Ice.

Balog’s work documents an important piece of evidence in the continuing effort to recognize and address the impact of climate change on Earth.  Evidence of the natural swings in global temperatures and climate have been clearly documented by science; however, for the first time in the geologic and atmospheric record we are seeing evidence of a human driven disruption in those natural fluctuations that have been in motion for tens of thousands of years.  Scientists have uncovered evidence of a cataclysmic event that led to the extinction of dinosaurs on our planet; a meteor impact.  Research has proven the source of the 400 year “Mini Ice Age” that had summer temperatures in colonial America barely breaching the freezing mark; dark ages volcanic activity.

The inhabitants of Earth have lived and died by their ability to adapt and survive.  The long held belief that there’s nothing people can do to negatively impact nature in the long term is quickly fading.  Essentially, human beings are an act of nature.  The way we choose to live does have an impact on our environment; minimal but real.  When multiplied by 7 Billion, ANTHROPOCENE makes much more sense.

The Anthropocene is an informal geologic chronological term that serves to mark the evidence and extent of human activities that have had a significant global impact on the Earth‘s ecosystems. ….Wikipedia

Advancement of our species has been shaped by our ability to conquer the obstacles of our surroundings.  We are now capable of conquering on a global scale, and that is good.  With great power comes great responsibility.  Now we must utilize science to take global care; not for the survival of our rock in space, but for the ability of our rock in space to sustain the diversity of life we have been granted.

 

Longtime Coming

“Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to.”   ―     Lao Tzu

Fortunately for mankind; what can and what cannot be done is a matter of opinion.  When bound by the constraints of human time it is difficult to imagine the impact we can have on our planet.  We could live on the moon, but why would we want to.  Survival and living are two very different things and recognizing the resilience of humanity is quite easy when you see the what peoples around the world endure on a daily basis.

What’s important to you?  Best guess says the Earth has been here for about 67 million human lifetimes.  In that blink of our existence, what difference can we make?  Save the planet?  I’m pretty sure she can take care of herself, but the next 1 or 2 lifetimes we impact will determine our legacy for the quality of life of all people.  The road is long, but time is short.  Make a difference with whatever part of your 67.2 years you have left.

Equal Time

For those of you who watch the news, here is my attempt to present both sides of the story…  From my perspective, when it comes to preserving life on our planet we are all on the same side.  I am no theoretical mathematician; however, since most humans don’t live underground we are all on the same sphere.  Perspectives and priorities may change, but we’ve always been and hopefully always will be tooling along on our planet.

I have relied on the work of others to grow environmental stewardship on our campus, and one of my favorites is the Story of Stuff.  The fact that this is my first mention since starting Mainstream Green should not diminish how much I respect the entire body of work as an educational tool. http://www.storyofstuff.org/  Check them out, educate yourself, and work for change.

The reason I mention them here is that while looking for shoes for my kids (priced and built to last), I arrived at my local Kohl’s in St. Joseph, Mo and was encouraged by what I saw.  Now while I ultimately found no shoes, what I did find was an interesting solution to a problem that has plagued retailers for decades.  Flags, price points, labels, in-store marketing; signage of all shapes and sizes creates a lot waste.  They may have been doing this for a long time, because honestly I can’t remember the last time I was in this particular store, but it was nice to see this:

20130907_161501 (800x600)

Electronic Price Point with a generic heavy reusable Sale sign.  Programmable and placed on every rack in the store.  Perfect? No.  Better than the thousands of printed paper labels and signage being used in every other large retail outlet… Absolutely!  My hat goes off to Kohl’s and other retailers that have at least begun to address waste in their operation.  (Did you know that Wal-Mart is all in for Composting?)

For sustainability as a whole, retailers have a long way to go; but then so do we.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

“Even if you stumble, you’re still moving forward.”

STUDENT SUSTAINABILITY MEETING:  Thursday September 19th in the Union Living Room.

 

Traditions and Transitions

Sustainability is a pretty broad topic, touching just about every aspect of our daily lives.  Behaviors change, and what is “normal” becomes something else.  Conventional wisdom changes according to the people participating.  OK no philosophy lessons today, but there have been a number of changes in our daily lives that recognize the need to stick around for tomorrow.

1979… “I’m not wearing that seatbelt son, people can get burned up in a car accident if they’re strapped in; and besides if we go in the river we won’t be able to get out.”

I think about that conversation that I had with my grandfather and reflect on the real challenges that face people working for change.  How do you provide the necessary experience to educate people to embrace things that may be contrary to what they’ve “just always done”.

In 1982 I rode “The Seatbelt Convincer”…really; a name that only the Fairfax County and Virginia State Police could come up with.  It was the front seat of a cruiser on rails that simulated a 10 mph frontal impact…  Not very fast, but extremely convincing.

What does this have to do with the environment, sustainability, or going GREEN….  Nothing.  Everything.  “Dad! Stop! I can’t get my seatbelt buckled!… “Seatbelt Daddy.”  “Isn’t your seatbelt supposed to be on before we go?”

Conversation, education, and behaviors are the foundations of Conventional Wisdom.  Hopefully being GREEN won’t take three generations, but we can make it happen.  We always do, when armed with experience and knowledge.

 

Sustainability and Campus Dining

Welcome Back!  By now Bearcat Commons has been up and running for several days, so I’d like to explain some of the measures the University has taken to make that operation more sustainable.  You may have noticed the incredible renovations that have taken place not only in the Union, but the Station and Library as well.  Facility’s Hardscape team really has their work cut out for them, adapting the compost program and continuing to strive for Zero Waste.

“Man those plates are small.”  Is a quote I heard Thursday as I took measurements for the new compost signage in the Commons.  All the better to go trayless… meaning that while it is a little less convenient, that set up has an important effect.  No more trash; in fact, everything that comes from the Commons can now be composted. (Empty your cups, scrape your plates into the designated food scrap hole, and drop your silverware in its hole.)  Will the overall operation require the use of more water?  Yes; however, Aramark Higher Education reported as much as a 25-30% reduction in food waste per person on campuses where dining trays were removed.

Welcome Starbuck’s to Owens Library.  That’s right, the international coffee powerhouse is the center of our library’s brand new “Novel Grounds”.  They are working tirelessly to reduce the environmental impact of their operations worldwide, so we look forward to helping them meet their goals right here at Northwest Missouri State University.  We will be doing our best to capture all the waste produced at what is probably the coolest venue on campus… Sorry Papa John’s.  Which by the way is now located in the Station.

OK, there is way more to sustainability than waste management, but its important for you, students and stake holders, to know that we are working to hold up our end, before we ask you to participate.  Please recycle, and take the time to make environmental stewardship part of your daily routine.

Good Luck with Classes, It’s great to have you back!!

Working for Recycling in Missouri

There are too many people out there to thank individually, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying.  Thanks to the State House in Jefferson City for maintaining support for recycling across Missouri; creating an industry that brings jobs and revenue to its citizens, protects our children’s environmental future, and makes its citizens a growing part of the burgeoning “Green Economy”.

A thanks to the entire public sector of our state, including DNR, MODOT, MORCOG, the State Recycling Program, and many others, as well as the myriad organizations that actively support and utilize their services.

To cities like Maryville who support recycling and many other sustainability efforts.  Despite tough economic times and increasingly limited budgets, they continue to bring “Green” to many smaller communities.  I will stop with the thanking at the Solid Waste Management Districts who manage state grants for recycling… NO…

Finally, I would like to thank the Northwest Family for tirelessly contributing to our Environmental Endeavors, and the larger Northwest Missouri region.  Thanks to the Staff and Faculty, and especially the students of Northwest Missouri State University.  We are all in this together

Regardless of political persuasion, for millennia every human being that has successfully turned soil to produce food knows (or eventually came to understand):

  • TAKE CARE OF THE SOIL
  • TAKE CARE OF THE WATER
  • LEAVE SOMETHING FOR YOUR CHILDREN
  • GIVE BACK TO THE COMMUNITY 

Sustainability is really nothing new.  Sensible decisions that match today’s needs with tomorrow’s.

WELCOME BACK BEARCATS!  See You In a Few Days

Free Market News

Hello all, here is a late edition of Mainstream Green.  As we gear up to welcome back students, everyone gets very busy and things sometimes slip.  Not in the case of this particular blog, but all across campus people are really working hard.

I hate to solely use someone else’s work, but there is a lot to hear and read thanks to NPR.  If you didn’t catch it this morning, this story should shed some light on the value of recycling, and how sometimes recycling’s benefit to the consumer is difficult to see.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=205058158