Category Archives: Resources

We’ll use this category to detail additional resources that you may find useful in crafting your writing for this course, or in learning more about the course topics.

Theme and suggestions for post 6

In blogging period 5, you were encouraged to focus on something local to you – “my community”.  In this final blogging period I want you to zoom out and go big picture.  Write about policy making on a global or national level, especially as it impacts on of our three key areas of water, energy, or climate.  Your post should use mathematical ideas to argue for or against some specific option, policy regime, or decision-making process related to one of these areas.

As always, “Blogging Themes” resources are suggestions for overall themes or broad questions to pursue in each blog assignment.  There is no requirement that you follow the suggested themes – if you have a better idea that meets the assessment criteria, go with it!  However, you are encouraged at least to start with these themes as you reflect on the subjects for your assignments.

Here are some potential resources

A good example of an advocacy piece

As you know, substantial extra credit will be available to students who submit an “advocacy piece” to a public forum like a newspaper op-ed section, based on our work in this class.  The presentation by Karen Schrock Simring on November 16th will provide tools for this. (You are asked to bring a printed copy of one of your blog posts to class on that day.)

I thought it might be helpful to see an example of a published “advocacy piece” arising from work in a different (but related) class.  This article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

http://www.post-gazette.com/opinion/2015/11/04/Get-creative-in-taxing-gas/stories/201511040007

was published today and was written by a student in CE 294.06, a section with a theme related to ours.

Theme and suggestions for post 5

The last couple of theme suggestions have been quite wide-ranging.  This week I suggest that we narrow it down a bit.   My proposed theme is What’s Happening in My Community? Try to find an example of some sustainability-related action which is being taken in your community and work out some specific numbers related to it.  You can take “my community” to mean “Penn State”, or “my home town”, or any group of people you are in relationship with (“my roommates”? “my sports team”? “my orchestra”? “my church or house of worship”? – do any of these apply?), but not something huge like “Pennsylvania” or “The western world”.

As always, “Blogging Themes” resources are suggestions for overall themes or broad questions to pursue in each blog assignment.  There is no requirement that you follow the suggested themes – if you have a better idea that meets the assessment criteria, go with it!  However, you are encouraged at least to start with these themes as you reflect on the subjects for your assignments.

Some potential resources or questions (you’ll want to modify these according to your own personal “community”):

  • Penn State recycling report from 2013.  See also this web page.  How could PSU improve the efficiency of separation of different waste streams? (e.g. make it less confusing to know which bin to put something in?)
  • Andrew Gutberlet’s presentation on energy efficiency and carbon emissions at Penn State
  • E-textbooks versus print textbooks: which has an environmental advantage?  Here’s one point of view.
  • How much paper would be saved if all printers on campus were set to print double-sided by default?
  • Sustainability of sports? Here for example is a sustainability report from the National Hockey League.  Note that to fit with the theme you would want to include some local-level information about your particular team.
  • What do I do with my roommates to promote sustainability?  You can find some sample posts on this theme here and here (searching will turn up many more).  Notice that for this course you’ll need to quantify (put numbers towards) the effects of your actions.
  • A recent petition about reducing the amount of air travel carried out by professors.  Again, you would want to try to find some numbers to attach to this.
  • Information about switching the campus steam plants from coal to natural gas.
  • Energy impact of a rock concert.
  • Sustainability certification for houses of worship.
  • Climate activism in the LGBTQ community.
  • State College Borough composting program.
  • What about the charge of hypocrisy? A Collegian writer offers a personal perspective.
  • Friday Night Lights Out, a simple student-led energy saving program at PSU
  • Guide to all student sustainability groups on campus.  There are a lot of them!

 

 

 

Theme and suggestions for post 4

Okay, we’re going to do something a little different this time.  But before I explain what it is, let me remind you of the ground rules: “Blogging Themes” resources are suggestions for overall themes or broad questions to pursue in each blog assignment.  There is no requirement that you follow the suggested themes – if you have a better idea that meets the assessment criteria, go with it!  However, you are encouraged at least to start with these themes as you reflect on the subjects for your assignments.

The idea this week is to make ourselves a little uncomfortable.  (Because that’s totally different to what normally happens in math class, right?)   As I read your posts on the blog, I see good ideas and careful analysis, but sometimes I also see (or think I see) some of you writing – not always consciously – just what you think you ought to believe; or even something worse, what you think that I think you ought to believe.

This is not to say that you are wrong in what you think (or what you think I think); maybe you are, maybe you aren’t.  That’s not the point. The point is that in this course we’re trying to use quantitative, mathematical reasoning to evaluate and critique our thinking about sustainability.  And that includes engaging with arguments that some of our sustainability practices may be mistaken or misguided, as well as with arguments that support such practices.

That’s what I would like you to do this week.  Come up with a serious criticism of something that is usually thought of as good for sustainability, or even of the whole concept; and analyze that criticism, using mathematical ideas as appropriate.  You may end up concluding that the criticism is valid, or that it isn’t, but either way you need to argue effectively for your conclusion.

Because this is a slightly different kind of assignment, the rubric will be changed (this time only)  for the introduction and conclusion.   Your introduction should clearly state the criticism that you want to address.  Your conclusion should advocate either that the criticism should be accepted in full, that it should be accepted in part, or that it should be rejected.  If the criticism is wholly or partly accepted, say also if there are any changes in practice that would help address it.

Some places to start:

  • An April column by George Will, “Sustainability Gone Mad on College Campuses”. This is a rather general denunciation, but it links to some reports that present numerical evidence one could engage with.
  • A more recent op-ed argues that recycling is “costly and ineffectual”.
  • Bjorn Lomborg, “How do We Prioritize Our Resources?”  This is a fairly old article (from 2003), but Lomborg has written many books and articles since (e.g. “The Skeptical Environmentalist”) making the same basic point.
  • A recent book by Alex Epstein attempts to make The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.  You can read the first chapter online for free at the linked website.
  • Nuclear power: a clean energy source?  From The Conversation are two points of view: yes and no.
  • Australian energy minister says coal mining is needed to help the worlds energy-poor.
  • Corn-based ethanol production (biofuel) is a net energy loser, argues Cornell professor David Pimentel
  • Major impacts on human health and climate change can come from improving cookstoves: see here and here.  (This is not exactly a “criticism”, more a proposed reordering of priorities; but does it let us Westerners off the hook too easily?)
  • Ronald Bailey, The End of Doom (link here; 2015 book on Amazon) argues: “if you care for this planet, technological progress and economic enterprise are the best means of saving it.”
  • Flawed Carbon Accounting Drives Boom in Burning U.S. Forests in E.U. Power Plants, from NY Times.
  • New report “True Cost of Wind Power” here; see also this letter from the study’s lead authors where they claim they will be applying the same methodology to other energy sources in future.

 

Theme and suggestions for post 3

“Blogging Themes” resources are suggestions for overall themes or broad questions to pursue in each blog assignment.  There is no requirement that you follow the suggested themes – if you have a better idea that meets the assessment criteria, go with it!  However, you are encouraged at least to start with these themes as you reflect on the subjects for your assignments.

The suggested theme for the third blogging period is “Climate”.  We talked about simple climate models in class on September 18th and September 21st.  The Bill McKibben article Climate Change’s Terrifying New Math which we studied for the September 21st class might be a starting point for some blog posts.  You can also visit the “Do the Math” web site which originated from this article.

Climate change is a worldwide problem – your writing will probably have a more global focus.  You do not have to write just about modern climate change or greenhouse gases; for instance, you could also try to answer the question, “Just how do we know about the climate of the last few hundred thousand years anyhow”?  Here are some possible sources or readings.

  • Revelle, Roger. 1982. “Carbon Dioxide and World Climate.” Scientific American 247 (2): 35.  This is one of the earliest articles that drew wide public attention to the idea that human-caused emissions of carbon dioxide might significantly affect the climate.  You can download it from the Penn State Library, and I have also made a copy available here.
  • “Earth: The Operator’s Manual” is the title of a PBS show and book hosted by Penn State’s Richard Alley (who will be speaking to our class later in the semester).  You can watch the show online at http://earththeoperatorsmanual.com/, and you can obtain the book from the Pattee Library.
  • The generally-agreed scientific summaries of current evidence and research on climate change are found in the reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  A good place to start might be the Summary for Policymakers of the most recent assessment report (AR5). This summary covers a huge variety of topics, from carbon dioxide levels to food production to sea level rise; you would ant to focus on just one of those.
  • Some people feel that because the predicts of climate science involve some uncertainty, we don’t need to take any action (“let’s wait until we’re sure”).  Here is an article which addresses that idea.
  • More generally, the Skeptical Science website  addresses “climate skeptic” arguments one by one.  You could, perhaps, pick one point of discussion from this website and review the evidence pro and con.
  • You could write about the prospects for the COP21 climate summit in Paris this winter.  Here’s a newspaper article which expresses some optimism.
  • You could write about the history of the “Keeling Curve” which reveals by direct measurement the steady increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide.   Early history from Scripps here; Keeling’s first paper on the subject here.
  • Another idea with a historical as well as a technical aspect would be to talk about the story of how chlorofluourocarbons (CFCs) were discovered to affect atmospheric ozone – as a result, many such substances were phased out worldwide under the Montreal Protocol (1989).  To be clear, this is not a climate change story directly.  But it is relevant to climate change because it is an example of successful coordinated international action to address an atmospheric pollution problem which crossed national borders.  See the report of the WMO (World Meteorological Association) here.