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Smith team takes on climate change video challenge

27 Feb

Each year the Environmental Engineering and Science Foundation (EESF) and the Association of Environmental Engineering and Science Professors (AEESP) put out a call to current undergraduate and graduate students studying environmental engineering or sciences worldwide for a video competition.

This year’s theme, “What can individuals do to help reduce climate change?”, inspired Jocelyn Yax ’18 (engineering), Amelia Wagner ’18J (engineering/government), and Jasmine Pacheco-Ramos ’19 (environmental science and policy) to take on the challenge. Assistant Professor Niveen Ismail in the Picker Engineering Program acted as the faculty advisor for the project.   Check out their video on YouTube.

The winning teams will be announced at the Excellence in Environmental Engineering and Science awards ceremony at the National Press Club in Washington D.C. on April 13, 2017.

eesf_logoMore on the contest rules:
The video should be targeted to motivate 8th grade and higher students to change daily habits that contribute to climate change. The video may also be used more broadly to motivate the general public to change simple patterns that contribute to climate change.

The video should motivate individuals to change daily habits that cause carbon emissions that may contribute to climate change. People have varying views on climate change. Contestants are urged to develop a message that acknowledges the breadth of opinions on this issue but that encourages everyone to make changes that will help with climate change. Because most people do not understand the roles of Environmental Engineers and Scientists, the video should end with brief reference as to how Environmental Engineers and Scientists are working on climate issues.

Smith’s New Energy Director

8 Apr

Smith’s new energy director, Matt Pfannenstiel, was recently interviewed by the Gate. Matt will be working to reduce campus energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Welcome, Matt!

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Out with the Old, in with the Insulated: The Renovation of Lamont Windows

19 Feb

One might consider general upkeep around a college campus to be pretty generic work; indeed, campuses like Smith consist of countless old buildings and houses that do not perform at modern standards. As students, we rarely think about how much these improvements benefit us. Additionally, we rarely think about how much of our comfort in our built spaces is inherently connected to the preservation of energy.

Lamont windows

Left: (Before) Original single pane wood windows. Right: (After) New Marvin aluminum clad wood with argon insulated glass.

Lamont windows_2

Left: Low-expansion foam insulation being installed behind frames. Right: Air filtration and water penetration testing.

An example of this is the renovations to Lamont House completed this past summer. Located on upper Elm Street, Lamont had all of its traditional single-pane wood windows replaced with double-pane aluminum-clad wood windows. In addition to improving the type of window, the new windows were tested to be sure that water and moisture will not find a way in between the sashes or around the frame. The edges behind the window’s frames were fully sealed with low-expansion foam to keep warm air from leaving and cold air from entering the rooms.

The results are noteworthy. Lamont House looks better, and it should be much more energy efficient and more comfortable for student residents.  

“A lot of the houses on campus have very old windows that do not have insulated glass, or the double pane set up, so a lot of heat that would otherwise be preserved escapes.” said Karla Youngblood, project manager and assistant director of facilities management, during an interview. She recalled going into a student’s room once and seeing three thick strips of duct tape placed over the cracks around the windows. She also remembered a time when she entered a room and saw the student’s bed moved to the furthest corner away from the window.

Youngblood reported that in recent years, students complaints on the cold and lack of insulation in their rooms have been on the rise. In a campus where community and collaboration dominate the daily routines of most students at Smith, Youngblood argued, no student should ever feel uncomfortable in the one space on campus that is entirely theirs. “Even if we are certain that these new window installations will help Smith’s energy bills, my biggest priority is always occupant comfort.” she said. Youngblood said that the Lamont window project is part of an ongoing effort on campus to update and insulate all of the houses. “Recently, we insulated the roof of Dewey, which is one of our oldest buildings on campus. Lamont was on our list for this summer, but houses like Tyler are definitely due to be renovated.”  

These improvements often go unnoticed by students and faculty at Smith; however, things do not have to be this way, said Dano Weisbord, director of campus sustainability and space planning. “We want to get the word out about these projects so that we can hear feedback from students who live in Lamont, and other houses that have been renovated to be more energy efficient and comfortable.”

Lamont_outside1

Before: Lamont House, west elevation.

Lamont outside_2

After: Lamont House, west elevation.

So, Lamont students, what is the verdict? As we move through February and the nights are consistently chilly, do you feel that your rooms are warmer and better insulated? The office of Campus Sustainability would love to hear your thoughts!

-Andrea Schmid, class of 2017, is an environmental science and policy major and a recently declared climate change concentrator. She is interested in environmental journalism and the role that digital media plays in the environmental movement.  She currently works as the communications intern for the Office of Campus Sustainability.

China Climate Change Project

28 Jul

China is a country that is industrializing as it is urbanizing. As a result, rapid development has come at the cost of environmental degradation.  With more emphasis being placed on climate change and with the COP21 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris coming up in December, the world’s leaders are closely watching China: the world’s biggest carbon dioxide emitter. After several weeks of reading and researching, our team has come to the conclusion that China is constantly negotiating between economic development and environmental protection. The country is trying to seek a balance between those two essential perspectives in order to achieve sustainable development. In our project, we assess the current situation of this balance, analyze its future trajectory and give our own policy recommendations. Each of us is focusing on this process from a different perspective. Chang is focusing on urbanization, Zara is interested in energy, and Xinruo is looking at public health.

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From left to right: Zara, Xinruo, and Chang.

I am Xinruo Guo, a rising sophomore. I usually go by Amy. I have not yet declared my major but I am interested in human health. Professor Daniel Gardner is the faculty adviser of this project and he is like a small database on China because he knows a lot of things about the country that I, as a Chinese citizen, do not know. This project has enabled me to learn a lot about the Chinese environment and public health issues that I did not know previously. Therefore, I really appreciate this chance and feel that I gained a lot from this summer research experience.

Hi! I’m Chang Liu (‘18), from Beijing, China. I have no idea what to major in yet (probably philosophy?). In this project, I focus my research on China’s urbanization process and its impacts on the environment, and seek a sustainable way of urbanizing China’s cities. Before this research, I knew nothing about environmental science. But having personally experienced the notorious pollution of my hometown, I wish to know more about China’s environmental issues, what caused them, and how to address them.

I’m Zara Jamshed (‘17) from New York City. I am an engineering major and will hopefully declare a minor in environmental science and policy soon. I’m really interested in energy technology, especially renewable energy sources. I am exploring how China might restructure its energy fleet away from coal-fired power to prioritize the environment without impeding its economic growth. Last fall, I took an anthropology course on China, but I didn’t know much about the country’s renewable energy initiatives or its role in climate change negotiations. I feel like I have learned a lot about China from my research, my co-workers and Professor Gardner.

This summer research project was made possible with the support of Smith College’s Center for the Environment, Ecological Design, and Sustainability.

A Sampling of Forest Ecology Research

15 Jul

This summer I have spent most of my days working as an intern for the Botanic Garden of Smith College under the guidance of Gaby Immerman, assisting the staff there with the maintenance of the various gardens and trees around campus. On Fridays, however, each intern engages in a personal research project in order to create a final product that benefits the Botanic Garden in some way. I am being supported by CEEDS to work with Michelle Jackson, a 2015 graduate of Smith College and a researcher in Professor Jesse Bellemare’s laboratory, on research about the effects of Eastern hemlock tree (Tsuga canadensis) decline on the liverwort species Bazzania trilobata.

Eastern hemlock trees have been in decline as populations of two invasive Asian insects, the hemlock woolly adelgid and the elongate hemlock scale, get established and feed on the trees. In forests in Chesterfield and at Smith College’s MacLeish Field Station in Whately these hemlocks are gradually being replaced by black birch (Betula lenta), changing the composition of the understory, the interactions of various animals, and the forests as whole systems. B. trilobata is associated with Eastern hemlocks, but Michelle is interested in finding evidence as to whether these liverworts are actually dependent on Eastern hemlocks.

thumb_IMG_1273_1024Liverwort Bazzania trilobata

Michelle is testing the effects of different predictor variables on the survival of B. trilobata. Primarily, she is testing the difference between liverworts in areas with hemlock versus patches of forest with birch growth. She is also comparing these results to liverworts growing in areas that have been clear-cut, or those where hemlock trees have been salvage logged. Since hemlocks are coniferous and black birch are deciduous, Michelle is also looking at how being covered by the differing leaf litter affects B. trilobata. Her research takes into account variables such as aspect, slope, radiation, and soil moisture. I have been helping Michelle by flagging plots and making observations about the survival states of samples of B. trilobata.

I have also had the opportunity to help the other researchers in the Bellemare lab with their individual projects. I have helped collect data for Elizabeth Besozzi ’16, who is working to determine the effects of the shift of forests from hemlock to birch on salamanders and the food webs in which they are involved. I have helped collect soil samples for Aliza Fassler ’17, who is looking to see how this same shift in forest composition affects the soil and carbon-nitrogen cycling. I have also gotten the opportunity to help Anna George ’17 prepare tree core samples for her project involving the appearance of an increased spread of magnolia trees (Magnolia tripetala) into locations further north than their typical range.

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Eastern hemlock trees (coniferous), Tsuga canadensis, and black birch trees (deciduous), Betula lenta

I am hoping to write a more comprehensive article about the research going on at MacLeish Field Station, focusing especially on the research surrounding the hemlocks done by those I’ve worked with in Professor Jesse Bellemare’s laboratory. I think that this important research needs to be shared with the public to spread awareness about the impact of the actions of humans on the environment, including climate change and the resulting movement of species to new locations. Furthermore, I believe that this research is an important example of why places like the MacLeish Field Station, are conducive to research and preservation.

Isabella Fielding ‘17 is a rising Junior from Warwick, RI. She is majoring in Biology and English, and she aspires to be a scientific writer

SURFing Uncharted Waters

23 Jun

After an exploratory first year at Smith, I’m working as a Summer Undergraduate Research Fellow (SURF) with Camille Washington-Ottombre, Assistant Professor of Environmental Science and Policy, Dano Weisbord, Director of Campus Sustainability, and Andrea Schmid ‘17.

We are studying the resilience of Smith College.

The Resilience Alliance defines resilience as “the capacity of a system to absorb disturbance and reorganize while undergoing change so as to still retain essentially the same function, structure, identity, and feedbacks.” That’s not exactly cut-and-dried, and in the face of climate change, we’re dealing with a lot of uncertainty.

I’m two weeks into my research, and the most difficult part of this project is pinning down a research question that fully encompasses and properly frames our work for the summer. The study of resilience is a fresh field of inquiry and planning. In fact, there are no published papers or case studies specifically assessing the resilience of a college or university. This is not, however, a neglected approach. Many municipalities and watersheds have applied resilience thinking to their planning. Now, after years of mitigation and management, campus sustainability planners ride the crest of a breaking wave. Academics and professionals are understanding the need for campus sustainability to evolve into a holistic systems-based approach that equips institutions with the tools to adapt to the challenges of climate change. Our work is primary research.

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We’re not simply exploring uncharted waters, we’re mapping them.

– Callie Sieh ’18J studies Environmental Science and Policy and interns in the Office of Campus Sustainability. In her free time she experiments with sound and image, talks to strangers, and explores New England.

Jeffrey Sachs: an Economist himself

18 Apr

I’d heard it all before; sustainable development is the only future for an increasingly global society, steeping in a burning cocktail of social injustices, stark economic inequalities and environmental degradation. I have been privileged to hear countless environmentalists, scholars, and activists preach the importance as well as the challenges of sustainable development over the past few years.

The big difference between that and Jeffrey Sachs’ April 8th evening lecture on Sustainable Development at Smith College was that I was hearing about it from an economist. And not just any economist. Sachs is a world-renowned economist who serves as a senior adviser to United Nations Secretary General Ban-Ki-Moon on the Millennium Development Goals. He is Director of the Earth Institute, and Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.

Sachs

Sachs led a full auditorium of captivated students, community members, and professors through the ins and outs of sustainable development, the rise of capitalism, and poverty. He finished the lecture with harrowing statistics and evidence describing the environmental crises we are faced with as a result of capitalism’s insatiable, unsustainable appetite.

What intrigued me the most about the lecture were his concluding slides detailing the responsibilities of the “moral” university. The role of the university in sustainable development is special, critical, and enormous in helping to create a future for the billions of people on the planet. Education in sustainable development, research and design of sustainable development systems, organizing social outreach to all stakeholders, and fostering and protecting a moral outlook are some of the responsibilities outlined by Sachs at the tail end of his lecture.

Craning my neck, I tried to gauge the President’s reaction to this slide. After all, administrative offices, classes, and student groups like Divest Smith College have been preaching these same principles for years now. Their biggest hurdle in seeing any action from the College has been economic; any mention of the changes needed to become a more sustainable institution generally leads to hysteria about the billion dollar endowment, so critical to Smith College. And standing on the stage in Weinstein Auditorium was someone ready and willing to make the jump over the hurdle and onto the right side of history; an economist himself.

-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef

Green Team’s Third Annual Climate Justice Open Mic

27 Feb

The stark white bar was laden heavily with cheese, cookies, crackers and tea cups. Heavy ochre curtains were tugged across the entrance way to the dim room, crowded with plastic chairs circled around a small, brightly lit stage.

Last night, I attended Green Team’s annual Climate Justice open mic. The atmosphere was warm despite the excited jitters that pulsed through the crowd like electricity. Green Team’s president, Siiri Bigalke, opened up the night with a moving story about coming to understand environmental injustices during her time abroad.

Another student read a chilling anecdote about her first time visiting receding glaciers. One sophomore, who had dropped by spur of the moment, recalled the various forms of pollution she saw affecting the environment and local residents during her 6 month stay in China. I read a poem about the constricting, overwhelming nature of the climate injustice conversation, or lack thereof.

As attendees became more comfortable, the pieces and stories being shared began to foster stimulating conversations. Students were discovering injustices within the injustices being spoken about; they were learning, listening, and opening their minds as peers braved the bright stage lights.

Perhaps we can look to this event and others like it in searching for ways to open up conversations about environmental (in)justices.

Calling

Footsteps reverberating, exponentially.

Around this hallowed space

curving walls

and dripping ceilings, concrete

pressing and stretching

and acres of black and white tiles.

Drowning in uniformity

echoes of disparate voices

I, too, call out.

 

Deeper down, down we slide

grit, grime wearing as we accelerate; a

perverse progression

and yet there’s a way to

devour, hopelessly

and it cranes our necks to look back at all.

Scraping at the only dust that remains

that would give our floundering feet traction

the void calls out.

 

Along the way, bulbs in dusty prisms

gleam dull and cruel; like

hoarded luxury

and insatiably hungry eyes, all framing an

unfathomable maw

and blinding us against the unknown.

The glow is warming inside these walls

the night never comes, but however stifled

we call out.

 

Billions of eyes focusing

forward through the chaos, reflecting

speckled trees

and cacophonous Springs

righteous respiration

and rusting, silent chains.

Voices presently choked, almost muted

a technological compromise and no one need leave

but they call out.

 

Beaten bodies building

soils sown with poisons

seas roiling; a pot over flame

and yet we march

walls contracting

and we grow restless.

These tunnels were not built to burst

but the breath of the Earth beyond is rallying

the climate is calling.

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-Lily Carlisle-Reske is a sophomore at Smith College from Alexandria, Virginia. She is studying environmental science and policy with a concentration in sustainable food and Italian. When she is not working she is probably in the kitchen stirring a pot of soup and baking bread. #veganchef