TEA Newsletter – 3rd Edition – Winter 2010

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Tufts Environmental Alumni (TEA)
3rd Edition — January 2010

In this issue:

 

Book Review: Treasures of the Earth
An Interview with Saleem Ali, A’94
Reflections on Copenhagen
Solar Decathlon House Shines in DC
Documenting the Solar Decathlon
TIE Partners with Tufts Alum on Green Building Lunch and Learn

TIE Program Director Antje Danielson Welcome back to TEA at TIE!

Time flies when there is plenty to do! Last week, President Bacow gave the Tufts community a new challenge that will have an impact on our health and the environment. The challenge is to increase exercise by taking a virtual Talloires Declaration

 

As Tufts alumni, you are eligible to participate in the Trek to Talloires, and the TIE team would like to invite you to join us in adopting a healthy lifestyle that includes walking and cycling. You may even consider sponsoring a trekker from the TIE team. If you live nearby, come take a walk or do some sledding on the Medford campus, which looks beautiful covered in snow. The slope down from Ballou Hall is made safe for sledding with straw bales piled up around the trees. And if you are on campus and want to warm up, come and visit the TIE office in the basement of Miller Hall. We are always happy to welcome visitors!The past year has been a busy one for TIE.  As many of you know, we held our inaugural TEA event in Medford last September. President Bacow was able to welcome us during the reception and the students and faculty presenters contributed to lively discussions. The attendees really enjoyed the tour of the Solar Decathlon house, which at that point was just about ready to be shipped to Washington. The delicious dinner was locally sourced and mostly organic, thanks to Tufts Catering, which is working to provide this service at a price comparable to “conventional” food. During the dinner we got to listen to a very engaging lecture by Greg Watson about his time at Tufts and his work on environmental issues. All in all, it was a very convivial evening. We would like to build on the success of this event and meet again soon for a social hour at a local bar or restaurant. If you have any suggestions for this event, please email Kiersten or me.
Since the release of the last Newsletter, we have finished the Solar Decathlon Project. Going down to Washington DC to support our Solar Decathlon students was an amazing and very emotional experience. Matt Thoms’s report below makes it sound as if this project was easy, but the truth is that the students did an extraordinary thing. SD4
They succeeded in making a name for themselves, bringing positive attention to the two partner schools, prioritizing the project in both schools’ agendas, educating local communities, bringing a functioning house to the Mall and to Cape Cod, and ultimately contributing to a new era where sustainability is a priority in our lives.
It was a true Tufts project and many of you who were able to visit the house on the Mall or came to the alumni evening in DC will agree with me on this. We are currently thinking about ways to replicate this experience for future students. In the meantime, we look forward to sharing Arlin Ladue’s upcoming documentary (see below) about the Solar Decathlon effort with you.
Finally, I would like take some time to introduce you to the current TIE team. First, meet our student interns who keep me on my toes and transform the TIE offices into a vibrant place of discussion and exchange. This year we have seven interns:
  • Dallase Scott, a second-year UEP student, teaches an Ex-College class for undergraduates called “Environmental Action: Shifting from Saying to Doing.”
  • Kiersten von Trapp, also from UEP, is your alumni liaison and the TEA Newsletter editor.
  • Jessica Soule, our fourth UEP intern, helps us coordinate TELI and runs events for the Environmental Studies program.
  • Sarah Yoss, currently our only undergraduate intern, updates the TIE website and works on a variety of other projects.

Our full-time coordinator, Heather Angstrom, oversees the work of the interns, manages all of our events, is our webmaster and also coordinates the non-academic side of the WSSS program. No TIE initiative would run smoothly without her. In addition to our administrative team, we now have four faculty directors. Professor Gretchen Kaufman of the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine is our faculty director for education, and Professors Rich Vogel of the School of Engineering, Elena Naumova of the School of Medicine, and Bill Moomaw of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy are research faculty directors in the areas of water, health, and energy and climate, respectively. Professor Rich Vogel took over from Dr. Paul Kirshen as chair of the WSSS program last summer. We all miss Paul, who took a position at Battelle to develop a climate change adaptation practice. However, I am happy to say that Professor Vogel’s enthusiasm and energy have been instrumental in integrating and positively transforming WSSS as a TIE program. We are looking forward to the first annual WSSS Water Symposium on May 1, 2010.  If you are interested in water issues and in the research of our students and faculty, mark your calendars for this event.  More information will be available soon on the WSSS website.

There is so much more to report but before this letter gets too long, let me end with a link to an event you might be interested in:

The 10th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment entitled “The New Green Economy” is coming up in Washington DC on January 20-22. If you decide to attend, please let me know. Maybe we can have lunch together.

Happy New Year and hope to be in touch soon,

Antje Danielson
Tufts Institute of the Environment 

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Book Review: Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future by Saleem Ali, A’94
Reviewed by Antje Danielson

Through a mixture of story-telling, literature review, and analysis, Saleem Ali, A’94 creates the vision of a path to a more sustainable future. In the process, he discusses important concepts such as the evolution of our “treasure impulse,” consumerism, behavioral economics, ecosystems services, pricing mechanisms, industrial ecology, and corporate strategies to sustainability. The basic premise of the book is that resource consumption is woven into our cultures, traditions, societal structures, and physical wellbeing, but that careful planning and a changed mindset should allow us to minimize the negative impacts associated with it.
Treasures of the Earth

Ali argues that hunting for treasure goes far back in human history but that the convergence of information technology, advertising, planned product obsolescence, and increased leisure time has made consumerism into the problem we face today.

Saleem Ali is a wonderful generalist.  In this book he displays his broad knowledge of fields such as geology, anthropology, sociology, biochemistry, psychology, economics, literature, geography, and history. By telling stories, he makes the connections between these disciplines accessible to the non-expert and manages to lead the reader to new ideas for tackling our destructive impact on the environment. The book is particularly useful to college professors and professionals in business administration and public administration, but the sheer vastness of perspectives Ali covers will leave any reader with new insights and ideas.

Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future was featured in Forbes October issue. The book was also selected as an October Editor’s Pick for Seed magazine and as a notable book for the January issue of Scientific American.

 

To purchase Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future on Amazon.com, click here.
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An Interview with Saleem Ali, A’94

by Kiersten von Trapp, G’10

Saleem H. Ali is currently an Associate Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources, and on the adjunct faculty of Brown University’s Watson Institute for International Studies.  He recently spoke with TIE about his undergraduate experience at Tufts and his new book, Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future.

What led you to choose Tufts for your undergraduate education?

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At the time when I started my undergraduate studies, Tufts was among the very few universities to offer an interdisciplinary environmental studies major. I was also attracted to Tufts because of its reputation in international relations. The proximity of the university to Boston was also an important factor since I wanted to be in the “heart of academia,” which Boston can certainly claim to be with the highest concentration of universities in the country.

 

 

How did your Tufts experience lead you to where you are today? Who or what influenced you the most when you were at Tufts?
Tufts provided an intimate and accessible learning environment. Most of the classes I took in environmental studies were field-oriented and there was also a strong international emphasis. I benefited greatly from the Tufts in London program, which gave me an appreciation for studies in the British university system. While at Tufts, I also participated in numerous co-curricular activities including the Model United Nations club.

Exposure to first-hand research as an undergraduate was very valuable in channeling me towards a career as an academic. I double-majored in chemistry while at Tufts and was exposed to primary empirical research through a research assistantship with Professor Jonathan Kenny. Tufts infused in me an appreciation for the primacy of natural sciences while not neglecting the social and humanistic aspects of environmental studies.

 

What were your goals after leaving Tufts?

I was interested in an academic career right from the start, but I wanted to experiment with various other career paths as well. That is why, before embarking on my doctorate, I worked in corporate America with a two-year assignment at General Electric and then some time with a consulting firm that worked primarily with the US Environmental Protection Agency.
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How did you become interested in minerals/mining/extraction?

My roots in chemistry always made me interested in “the elements.” However, I became more interested in the applied social sciences after working at General Electric because I saw how environmental conflict resolution was so important in effective global development strategies. Coming originally from a developing country, Pakistan, I felt obliged to anchor my research and practice in trying to address global development challenges. Minerals are our most fundamental resource and have proved to be indispensible in all development paths. However, since they are nonrenewable resources in natural timescales, their extraction evokes tremendous consternation among environmentalists. Thus studying environmental conflicts in this sector was particularly challenging and intellectually rewarding at the same time.

Everyone is talking about sustainability these days.  At a recent alumni event, a speaker said that there is no such thing as sustainable growth; there’s only sustainable development.  What is your take on this and the connection between mining and sustainability?

Sustainability needs to be considered in terms of development trajectories. Natural resources endowments are accidents of geography and so communities have to consider how best to use these resources along a development path. The ultimate goal should be to have an economy which can reuse materials as much as possible in a “circular economy.” While some energy usage will always be required in this process, we can strive to make this more efficient. Consumption of resources should be strategic and linked to livelihoods and well-being.

You’ve recently come out with a new book, Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future. What is the main message you’d like people to get from reading your book?


This book has a rather ambitious goal to reconfigure the conversation on environmental behavior through a recognition that consumption is not necessarily a “sin” (as many environmentalists may suggest), or a “virtue” (as most economic models assume). Rather, the impulse that leads to consumption behavior has important repercussions for livelihoods all over the world, and these must be considered in effective environmental planning. Because of this wide spectrum of coverage, the book has received cover endorsements from development entrepreneurs such as Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus as well as environmental technocrats such IPCC chair R.K. Pachauri.

I also argue that we need to reconnect with the elements of the earth as our most fundamental resource if we are to grapple with environmental problems. Many of my students in environmental studies are afraid of studying the hard science of the elements and often feel threatened by technology. What I argue in this book is that while we should never be complacent about our environmental predicament, we also need to celebrate and revel in science and technology and seek solutions through fields such as industrial ecology and ecological restoration. Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of the project was knowing that the Curio House would live long beyond the Solar Decathlon competition. This spring, the Curio House will be permanently sited in Cape Cod where it will be the first in a series of sustainable houses built to provide green job training for new workers. Representatives from the Housing Assistance Corporation of Cape Cod were among the most enthusiastic visitors to the house in Washington and reminded us that our hard work, which had already made such an impact on all of us, will continue to change lives for many years. Only through such a world-view that appreciates the role of materials in our lives for better and for worse can we prevent environmental decline and reduce global poverty. To purchase Treasures of the Earth: Need, Greed and a Sustainable Future on Amazon.com, click here.  For more information, visit the book’s website! _________________________________________________________________________


Andrew Freedman Reflections on Copenhagen
By Andrew Freedman, F’09

The Copenhagen Climate Summit was a watershed moment in the history of international environmental negotiations. Never before have so many heads of state gathered to negotiate an agreement on global climate change, and never before have negotiations broken down in such a dramatic fashion. At one point, the most powerful people in the world were literally writing the agreement themselves, rather than relying on their negotiators to draft the text. As any Fletcher student can tell you, that is not how things normally work.

I was in Copenhagen as a journalist for Climate Central, a nonpartisan climate science communications group, and as a representative of the Fletcher School. As a reporter, I was lucky enough to enjoy access to many of the power players in the climate talks and to run into world leaders in the crowded corridors in the final days of the summit, when it became increasingly clear that the key parties were still miles apart on an agreement. In an example of the confusion which reigned in the final 48 hour period, I recall watching Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd stand outside a meeting room, clearly unsure about what he was supposed to be doing or who he was to meet. Also telling was the time of departure on President Obama’s official schedule: “TBD.”

The chaos of the last two days of talks, and the feeble agreement that the negotiations produced, stood in stark contrast to the urgent call for action expressed by scientists and the citizens of the global community. It was inspiring to see civil society organizations, particularly the youth climate movement, come out in unprecedented numbers on the streets of Copenhagen and in the halls of the Bella Center. A key takeaway lesson from the conference was that this burgeoning climate movement will have to push leaders forward, because they aren’t going to act without additional pressure. Another lesson I drew (besides resolving never to eat Danish food, other than pastry, again) is that the UN negotiating process may in fact be far too cumbersome to foster a meaningful climate agreement. I’ll let my Fletcher professors opine on that in the near future, though.

 

Visit Andrew’s Climate Central blog: http://www.climatecentral.org/breaking/andrew_freedman  

Visit The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy’s blog on COP15 to hear more reflections on Copenhagen:considering copenhagen.

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Fletcher COP15 Group

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Solar Decathlon House Shines in DC
by Matt Thoms, E’10

Team Boston Engineering Director


Looking back on the Solar Decathlon competition, it’s difficult to quantify the effort that went into the project. Over two years, nearly 100 graduate and undergraduate students from across the university contributed innumerable hours to the design and construction of our 800 square foot solar-powered house. Without the collaboration of students from the School of Engineering, the School of Arts & Sciences, the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, and the Fletcher School, we couldn’t have produced such a unique entry for the competition, one that expanded upon the Department of Energy’s emphasis on the latest technologies to encompass a more holistic view of sustainability that includes a strong sense of social and environmental responsibility.

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On the National Mall, we were proud to be the only team that was entirely student-run and -managed-a testament to our dedication to the project and our potential as environmental leaders. Although the Curio House was not the most luxurious entry in the competition, did not produce the most electricity, and certainly wasn’t the most expensive house on the mall, we received an overwhelmingly positive response from the public.  During the tour phase of the competition, we heard again and again that the Curio House was comfortable, livable, and made for the “real world”-so much so that the Department of Energy coordinators were often found relaxing on our couch between contests

  

 

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Documenting the Solar Decathlon
by Arlin Ladou, E’11

 

SD4 In March, I set out with a team of Tufts students to document Team Boston’s construction of the “Curio House,” our entry in the 2009 Solar Decathlon competition in Washington, D.C. Using both still photography and video, we captured the challenges the team faced, the cutting-edge technology featured in the house design, and the impact this project is having on sustainable development.

Construction took place on the Medford campus during the summer and early fall. I focused on documenting the house’s evolution, as well as the team behind it. The students, faculty and volunteers had worked together for almost two years at that point, and they were finally seeing their planning, research, and design translate into a real product. Some days were sunny and beautiful, and the team was able to work productively from  7 AM to 8 PM; others were cold, rainy, and discouraging. As the deadline for completion approached in late September, long days of construction stretched into even longer nights. Dedicated members worked past 3 AM to ensure that the house would be ready in time for the competition. The house was then divided into three sections for transportation, loaded onto trailers, and shipped to Washington D.C., where it was rebuilt within less than two weeks.

With support from TIE, I was able to spend hundreds of hours filming the process over the course of the eight-month construction and competition period. Not only did I develop my own skills as a filmmaker, but I also mentored other Tufts students interested in documentary filmmaking. We are currently in the process of cataloging and editing terabytes of material into a feature-length narrative film, but there is no release date as of yet.
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TIE Partners with Tufts Alum on Green Building Lunch and Learn

By Libby Mahaffy, G’10

Noah Eckhouse On Tuesday, November 17, 2009, TIE co-sponsored a green building event at the newly opened conference space at 51 Winthrop Street.  Titled “Going Beyond Green: High Performance Building Design Using Hevacomp and EnergyPlus,” the lunch and learn featured speakers Dru Crawley of the Department of Energy’s Commercial Building Initiative and Noah Eckhouse (E88), Vice President of Building Performance for Bentley Systems, Inc. 

Their presentations highlighted the Department of Energy’s next generation building energy simulation program, Energy Plus, and how it works with various user interfaces, such as Google SketchUp, DesignBuilder, EPlusInterface, EFEN, and Bentley’s Hevacomp, among others. EnergyPlus is a fully integrated building envelope, HVAC, water, renewables, and emissions simulation program. According to the DOE, the goal of the program is to help users reduce the energy consumption of buildings, which account for 39% of the US’s energy and electricity use annually. US buildings alone generate 9% of the world’s yearly CO2 emissions.

Noah Eckhouse noted that while the recent movement towards greening our buildings is good, some “green” buildings aren’t truly energy efficient.  “Greenwashing” — making a product seem environmentally friendly when it isn’t — is a problem in the construction industry as well. That’s where modeling can help. Though buildings rarely operate exactly as modeled, simulation software can help when making key decisions in the design phase of building planning.  However, Mr. Eckhouse stressed that any simulation is only as good as the data put into it.
A wide range of interests was represented in the audience; architects sat alongside urban planners, students, entrepreneurs and Tufts faculty and staff.  Architectural intern Sarah Mikhail said that she came to the event hoping to learn “how to get engineers involved in green building.”  Richard O’Leary, a Tufts alumnus (A66) and lawyer, came because he’s interested in the future of the green building movement. Audience

You can learn more about EnergyPlus or download the program for free at http://energyplus.gov.


For more information about Bentley’s Energy Performance Series, visit http://www.bentley.com/green.
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