Community Power is a coalition of organizations and neighbors interested in expanding energy options for the state of Minnesota. Community Power works to educate and activate Minnesota cities and towns to create clean, local, equitable, affordable, and reliable energy systems.
They are looking for three interns for this spring semester. The three positions are: Legislative Work Intern, Community Education Intern, and Systems Research Intern. Each will work with towards Minnesota’s energy future and will be able to interact with influential community community members.
The time commitment is 5-10 hours per week for the spring semester. Although these internships are unpaid, there is a potential to apply for credit. To learn more or apply for these positions, email firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like to learn more from a current intern, contact email@example.com. The deadline to apply is December 10.
Students and faculty gathered earlier this month on Tuesday, November 5th at the St. Paul Student Center to hear Dr. David Schindler, a world renowned freshwater ecologist and professor of the University of Alberta, speak on the interactions between science and public policy regarding environmental issues. This talk was sponsored by the Freshwater Society and the University of Minnesota College of Biological Sciences.
The talk centered around research that Schindler conducted in the 70′s on Canadian lakes. Lakes were turning green, a sign of algal species blooming in response to increased nutrient levels in the water. This phenomena is known as eutrophication and can be caused by nutrient pollution (sewage or fertilizer runoff) in the lakes. As the phytoplankton propogate, they use up the majority of the oxygen in the lake, leaving it in a condition of hypoxia. This leads to the death of fish and other oxygen-dependant aquatic life. When Schindler’s research showed that phosphorus pollution was the main cause of the color change of the lakes studied and explained the detrimental effects it would have on the aquatic life, the Canadian prime minister responded “toxins in lakes are probably caused naturally.”
Schindler described his other research as well as the legislative responses that followed based on politically-driven interpretations of his findings. Schinder’s award-winning findings from his studies on acid rain, dioxins, PCBs, and the degradation of wild land resulting from development of Canada’s tar sands oil deposits have met with government-facilicated resistance over the years. Schindler is quoted to have said, “I’ve always believed that a scientist can be an advocate.” His ability to hold his own and represent the scientific community in the tense dance between himself and political entities is shown through the influence his research has had on the synthesis of international management policies, including those of America and Europe as well as his native Canada.
By Lauren McCarthy
On November 8 and 9, nearly one hundred earth scientists, archaeologists, urban planners, and American Indian scholars gathered with members of the public to ponder and discuss how the ancient Maya of Middle America may influence modern thinking on sustainability and resilience. This two-day event raised a lot of questions for me not as an earth scientist or archaeologist, but as someone deeply concerned about how humans will adapt to climate change. Although I didn’t consistently follow the scientific specifics, the symposium was still a thought-provoking trip through history and around the world, touching on issues in Belize, Bolivia, Cambodia, Guatemala, Iraq, Mexico, Mongolia, Syria, and the United States.
The symposium seemed to target a few key themes regarding human response to the environment in both ancient and modern times. One major theme, represented in various case studies from around the world, was water—quantity, quality, access, irrigation, floods, droughts, and human responses to all of the above. For me, the most engaging presentation on water was given by Mark Edlund of the Science Museum of Minnesota who studies lake sediment cores in Mongolia. Given a pretty consistent nomadic population over time, he expected better water quality and a sustainable lifestyle. Through his research, however, he’s been able to correlate changes in the sediment with increasing animal herd sizes, rapid climate change (dzud years with very bad winters), and especially the shift from nomadic to settled land use since the end of the Soviet Union.
Another fascinating topic was raised by Clark Erickson, who studies the Beni people in the Bolivian Amazon known for constructing raised crop fields in the middle of wetlands. He noted that people around the world value wetlands differently; for example, Midwestern Native Americans traditionally see them as prime real estate, while many non-Natives see them as land in need of improvement . The innovation and creativity of the Beni and other peoples discussed here were inspirational—low-tech by our standards but incredibly effective for long periods of time.
Another theme crossing into several presentations was agriculture. Jason Ur’s presentation on the ancient Assyrians noted that as urban populations grew during the early Bronze Age (2600-2000 BCE), people began to abandon certain agricultural practices such as leaving fields fallow in order to support the immediate demand for food. I noticed parallels between this ancient problem and modern Midwestern corn farming; as corn prices increase and farmers want to reap the largest possible yield, they often prioritize the yearly output over the long-term quality of the land and water, leading to soil erosion, overuse of fertilizers, runoff into waterways, and so forth.
You may be thinking, wasn’t this conference about the Maya? Indeed, and that was certainly another dominant thread, primarily for the archeologists at the conference. Arlen Chase’s presentation touched on both water and agriculture in his discussion of Caracol in Belize, which was notable for extensive human influence on the landscape in the forms of agricultural terraces and water reservoirs. Another archaeologist, Vernon Scarborough, raised the question, “What happens to an environment that has been intentionally engineered and then abandoned?” So many of these sites, both Maya and otherwise, bear the influence of human architecture and engineering. This certainly reflects modern sites such as parts of Detroit, where nature is reclaiming large stretches of neighborhoods with few, if any, remaining residents.
Another intriguing theory about Mayan agriculture came from Calvin Alexander who studies karst, or sinkholes. In the Yucatan, where a large Mayan population once flourished, there is flat land and plenty of groundwater sources, but rugged topography making irrigation difficult. There is also very thin soil, much of which has been lost to sinkholes. How did the Maya have sufficient soil in which to grow crops? One potential source was clay and other resources mined from the cave systems to supplement the soil, not to mention make ceramics– pretty ingenious, I thought. Alexander also noted that in the event of extended drought, it could disrupt the community’s resources and “blow up the system,” which likely happened from time to time and contributed to the Maya’s lack of resilience.
The definitions and theories of resilience and sustainability resurfaced throughout the presentations in different ways. Kathy Quick of the Humphrey School provided some background on the increasingly popular topic of resilience. She noted that if it’s about “bouncing back,” we shouldn’t expect a culture or environment to return to its starting point. She argued that we should view resilience as a process, rather than an endpoint and gave the example of Minnesota’s response to the Emerald Ash Borer. How do we make our forests and urban tree canopy resilient to this invasive pest? We can’t expect to replant all the ash trees that die, so what is a resilient response?
Later on Carissa Schively Slotterback of the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs addressed resilience in her presentation on the Resilient Communities Project (RCP), a program based in the Twin Cities through which the University works with a community to build more sustainable and resilient infrastructure. This discussion included several familiar sustainability topics such as green energy and community gardens. Her description of the work RCP did last year in Minnetonka echoed some of the other themes of the conference– how do people deal with existing infrastructure when faced with environmental pressures, whether it’s canals, temples, or homogeneous housing stock?
Another theme that emerged during the symposium was the relationship between sustainability and the culture of indigenous people, especially in the face of climate change. The Mayan civilization ended its reign prior to the arrival of the Spanish conquest of the New World, but its ethnicity and culture persist. In fact, about 40% of Guatemala’s 14 million people are Mayan and many more have Mayan heritage. Scott Shoemaker of the Science Museum and Clint Carroll of the U of M’s American Indian Studies Department each described the challenges North American indigenous populations have faced in sustaining their cultures, which are closely tied to the environment. Shoemaker discussed the Miami nation’s efforts to revitalize its language among its people, as well as to return to traditional corn growing. In terms of the environment (and not just for indigenous people), he said, “We don’t have control over our place but we have control over our actions.” Carroll argued, “The environment is a political thing,” particularly for indigenous people like the Cherokee who have lived in their non-Native Oklahoma since they were forced there during Trail of Tears in the 1830s. Later David Valentine of the University of Minnesota’s Department of Anthropology took a different approach to this issue. He described his work with space exploration groups who reject the idea of indigenous “firstness” and view the world in terms of billions of years rather than thousands. Valentine’s anthropological work seemed a bit mind-blowing for the panelists and the crowd, as it certainly was for me.
This symposium was a great crash-course in topics from lake sediment core analysis to archaeology to the broader questions of what sustains a community. So much more was discussed than I can include here, so if you are interested in reading any of the papers presented or watching the presentations and panels, the Institute for Advanced Study has made everything available online here.
Also check out the impressive exhibit Maya: Hidden Worlds Revealed, open through January 5.
You are invited to attend the Solar Schools Day of Action, a public press conference in support of expanding our solar energy capacity on college campuses across Minnesota!
This press conference will be held this Wednesday, November 20th, 12:45 – 1:15PM at the East End of the Washington Avenue Bridge walkway. This event is hosted and organized by MPIRG, a non-partisan, non-profit, student run organization that engages in social and environmental justice issues.
Throughout history, higher education institutions have prided themselves on their ability to implement environmentally responsible practices that contribute to the greater good of the students it serves. In doing so, they set a precedent that the city, state and nation strive to follow.
With our global climate changing rapidly, University presidents from across the nation have stepped up and made commitments to reduce their carbon footprint.
Join us to call on President Kaler to invest in solar energy at our University.
This press conference will feature student speakers not only from the U of M, but also from Hamline and St. Kate’s Universities, and Macalester and Augsburg colleges. Grab your U of M gear to show our campus’s support for this solar initiative, and you will be invited to stand with our speakers for the press!
This will be a wonderful opportunity for us to kick-start our push for renewable energy on our campus, and to utilize the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment for what it was meant to be used for. Together, we can encourage President Kaler to take a lead on cutting-edge sustainability practices, reducing our carbon emissions, being a leader in the fight for climate justice, and ultimately investing in our collective future.
We hope you will be able to join us! Once again, 12:45-1:15PM at the East Bridge Head of the Washington Avenue Bridge, and bring some maroon and gold. Thank you for your support, and we hope to see you there!
Nathan Michielson and Madeline Giefer
On Thursday, November 14, Sustainability Studies students showcased their capstone projects at the Sustainability Festival in St. Anthony Village. There they joined community members, local organizations, city government officials, and Minnesota Senior Advisor on Energy and Environment Ellen Anderson to share and learn about sustainability progress in Minnesota.
The event opened with a reception during which guests and presenters enjoyed sustainably grown food while browsing the students’ posters. Posters represented both practical and research projects, from setting up a “hay garden” to evaluating America’s dependence on automobiles. Ellen Anderson was among those impressed by the students’ diverse and creative work, saying it would take her “twenty years to absorb all the information.”
After the reception, Mayor Jerry Faust of St. Anthony Village welcomed the students and other attendees before introducing Ellen Anderson, who commended the students for their commitment to sustainability. “I look at all of you students and I get choked up. Millennials care about sustainability.” She also discussed the Minnesota legislature’s plan for addressing climate change, which includes a goal of using 25 percent renewable energy by 2025. Although achieving this number will require difficult adjustments in Minnesota’s economy, Anderson sees it as an economic opportunity. “What is unique about Minnesota is that we don’t have any indigenous fossil fuels. What we do have as wind, sun, and farms.” She also emphasized the importance of community action in addition to legislation. “There is so much progress not in national laws, but in communities and cities, and it’s trickling up.” Anderson expressed her faith in the commitment of both government officials and communities in moving toward sustainability. “Let’s go out there and make the world better.”
The evening closed with a performance of operatic “Eco Songs” by Clifton and Bettye Ware dealing with clean water, crude oil, and green power. The audience cheered and the crowd dispersed with new inspiration for living out and sharing the tenets of sustainability.