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Archive for the ‘SUNY-ESF’ Category

Isaac Yuen, creator of the blog Ekostories, elaborates on the connections between Hayao Miyazaki’s beautiful animated film, My Neighbor Totoro, and children’s need for nature. Yuen’s Children and Nature: My Neighbor Totoro should appeal to a lot of the folks I know at SUNY-ESF!

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Like the SUNY-ESF research to cool Downtown Syracuse with water from Lake Ontario, the project discussed in the local newspaper, excerpted below, is another promising step on the route to a sustainable energy future, led by my own college.

Syracuse, NY — Farmers in Oswego County beginning next week will be able to sign up to grow willows as part of a renewable energy fuel project.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is providing $4.3 million to be paid to Central and Northern New York farmers to grow willow to burn to make electricity. The project is a collaboration of the State University College of Environmental Science and Forestry and the ReEnergy Co.

SUNY-ESF, which has been studying using willows as a renewable energy source since 1986, will offer an outreach program to educate local government officials, agricultural leaders, farmers and landowners about the opportunity to grow willow. ReEnergy operates plants that use biomass and waste residues to produce thermal and electric energy.

And, in another part of the article, Tim Volk describes the production and harvesting conditions for willow.

Volk said the willow will be grown on 3,500 acres of marginal farmland that is considered poor for other crops. He said willow grows well in wet soils and is pretty tolerant of adverse weather condition.

The first harvest of willow takes place four years after it is planted. It then is harvested again every three years, Volk said, adding it is an easy crop to grow and requires very little management.

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Last summer, a post in this blog posed the question “how do you handle the constant stream of discouraging environmental information?” Shortly afterwards, I saw an article in Grist titled, “Do environmentalists need shrinks?  Apparently, I am not the only one thinking about this issue – although I suggested that designers are natural optimists (feel free to disagree) and less likely to be consumed by the pervasive environmental negativity. Now there is an article in New Scientist that boldly states “Ecologists Should Look on the Bright Side.” Is this even possible? (Colleagues at SUNY-ESF, what do you think?)

A key graph, also the introduction, states:

It’s hard to spend your working life charting the demise of the things you love. Ask an ecologist why they chose that career, and you will often hear a tale about being mad about animals as a kid. These days, they are more likely to spend their days modelling how quickly their favourite species will disappear. As Nancy Knowlton of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington DC puts it: “My whole generation spent our lives writing obituaries of nature.”

As someone who once had a job writing obituaries for beautiful places (called environmental assessments (EAs) and environmental impacts statements (EISs), I know how that feels!

Even so, conservationists are starting to worry that their message is counterproductive. In a 2010 editorial in BioScience (vol 60, p 626), Ronald Swaisgood and James Sheppard of the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research wrote: “We contend that there is a continuing culture of hopelessness among conservation biologists… that will influence our ability to mobilize conservation action among the general public.”

What do you do when you hear bad news all the time? Turn it off. Pessimism leaves little room for action.

What’s at stake is more than what makes the best message, it’s what makes the best conservation strategy. Chronicling demise offers little guidance. But if we tell stories about positive outcomes and share details of how they are achieved, the likelihood that they will be replicated will increase. Hope engenders conservation success, and success breeds more success.

Fuel creative responses to what is, yes, a bad situation by giving people a reason to think that there is hope. This is a message that is especially important for young people. My children are growing up in a world where they are told that the planet is dying (and that somehow they are charged with saving it). Even if they watch a beautiful sunrise over the Atlantic, there is a little voice in their heads telling them that the oceans are dying. What an oppressive thought! We have to preserve the sense of awe, wonder, and love of the Earth if we are going to motivate people to act on its behalf. IMHO.

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Just as the notices reminding me of my expiring subscription to The Chronicle of Higher Education arrive in the mail, the top story in the local newspaper concerns a stinging article in the Chronicle from earlier this month. Robin Wilson’s article, titled “Syracuse’s Slide: As Chancellor Focuses on the ‘Public Good,’ Syracuse’s Reputation Slides,” is mostly hidden behind the subscription wall – unfortunate, especially, for readers of Syracuse Post Standard who attempt to follow the link to the article. The public does have access to the 43 letters to the editor written in response to Wilson’s article.

At issue are high profile initiatives by the university’s chancellor, Nancy Cantor, to actively link the university to the city surrounding it and to diversify the student population. Ms. Wilson’s article quotes several faculty members who voice concern that the university cannot afford these endeavors, that they divert the scholarly mission, that the quality of the students admitted is being compromised, and that a drop in rankings by U.S. News and World Report, from 40 to 62, is a sign that the ship is sinking. The comments section contains several rebuttals from faculty who say that they were interviewed by Ms. Wilson, but had their favorable comments excluded from the resulting article.

The issues raised regarding the role of public engagement in academia have application to praxis in landscape architecture and for landscape architecture academics whose scholarly focus is engagement. Therefore, I will focus on the public engagement side of the controversy and leave the rest of the debate to others (like this article on changing conceptions of university prestige). Here is how Chancellor Cantor’s initiative, Scholarship in Action, is described in the Wilson article.

Syracuse University, she says, “should have an impact on our democracy and do work that addresses pressing issues in the world.” She adds: “It’s not that you stop caring about the fundamentals or quality, you redefine what constitutes quality and exciting scholarly work.”

That’s exactly what Ms. Cantor has done through a campaign she calls Scholarship in Action. It involves moving students, professors, and research off the campus and into the community to work with local officials, nonprofit organizations, and businesses on projects designed to give students hands-on experience and help solve the problems of the city and its people.

How is this controversial? More after the break. (more…)

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The recently announced national ASLA student awards included two graduate students in the Department of Landscape Architecture at SUNY-ESF, Marin Braco and Andrew Murphy. Their innovative remediation project received an analysis and planning honor award. Our colleague, Martin Hogue, was the faculty advisor. Nice work!

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Be the change you want to see in the world. Even if this quote has found its way onto too many bumpers, it’s still a sentiment/aspiration/call that I like. In an age when so much of the power structure seems faulty, it is natural to turn toward one’s own sphere of influence, and I’d argue that the saying is particularly relevant now. I am fortunate to be in an environmental college where many of the students seem to be answering Gandhi’s call. I spent nearly an hour on the phone today with a prospective student who clearly has a noble mission and is already taking on the role of change maker. Totally inspiring to see many other students doing the same! Much more than a bumper sticker. And a hopeful sign for us all.

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Charles Birnbaum (image courtesy of SUNY-ESF)

ESF alumnus, Charles Birnbaum, is the president of The Cultural Landscape Foundation. He is also blogging about cultural landscapes and landscape architecture in general in the Arts section of the internet newspaper, Huffington Post. You can read his post about the urban design and landscape of Philadelphia here.

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