Category Archives: Talk

This category is for discussion that is relevant to the course theme.

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

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 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.


Naomi Oreskes Colloquium October 26th

Penn State’s annual Colloquium on the Environment will take place in the Freeman Auditorium in the HUB, 6:00-7:00 pm Monday October 26th.

For the past decade, Professor Oreskes has primarily been interested in the problem of anthropogenic climate change. Her 2004 essay “The Scientific Consensus on Climate Change” (Science 306:1686) has been widely cited, both in the United States and abroad, including in the Royal Society’s publication, “A Guide to Facts and Fictions about Climate Change,” in the Academy-award winning film, An Inconvenient Truth, and in Ian McEwan’s novel, Solar. She told Harvard Magazine that following the publication of that article, “I was treated as if I had thrown some kind of grenade.”

Her opinion pieces have appeared in The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Times (London), Nature, Science, The New Statesman, Frankfurter Allgemeine, and elsewhere. Her 2010 book, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco to Global Warming, co-authored with Erik M. Conway, was shortlisted for the Los Angeles Time Book Prize, and received the 2011 Watson-Davis Prize from the History of Science Society. The book examines how industry-funded misinformation campaigns have twisted and buried the science regarding the effects of smoking, acid rain, the ozone hole, and climate change.

The Annual Colloquium on the Environment is supported by PSIEE, OPPThe Center for Pollinator ResearchThe Earth System Science Center and the Sustainability Institute.

For a recent profile of Professor Oreskes, see this New York Times article.