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December 8, 2010, 2:07 pm
Cornell has struggled with perceptions about its suicide rates. Timothy Marchell, a clinical psychologist in the campus health service, speculates that this is because many suicides take place in dramatic spots among the gorges of Ithaca, N.Y., from bridges as high as 70 feet.
One student jumped in February and two more in March of this year on consecutive days. The total reached six over the 2009-10 academic year.
Examined over several years, Cornell’s rates are not higher than the national average. But those that did take place attracted an extraordinary amount of attention, with Cornell being referred to as a “suicide school.” The university has invested heavily in efforts to console and…
November 18, 2010, 1:38 pm
File another one under “good intentions gone awry.” At lunch events, campus picnics, and in dining halls, colleges have distributed biodegradable utensils. But the cutlery isn’t, well, cutting the mustard.
The University of Vermont sends food scraps and other waste to a local commercial composter, where they are turned into rich, nutrient-dense soil to be sold to garden centers, landscapers, and in some cases, the university itself. The bioplastic forks, spoons, and knives purchased for the dining halls were supposed to meet the same fate, to save hundreds of pounds of landfill per year.
However, when Intervale Compost Products’ manager, Dan Goosen, turned over some of the piles, he found that many utensils had barely begun to wilt….
November 5, 2010, 2:38 pm
In the wake of the midterm elections, little optimism is being expressed for regulating greenhouse-gas emissions.
The influx of Republican lawmakers—many of whom hail from coal states, where carbon caps are deemed politically risky—may mean an impasse in devising a comprehensive federal policy on energy and fossil fuels. Almost all of the Republican candidates were indifferent or hostile to climate-change science. Political observers see that attitude translated into policy.
“Voters effectively pressed the reset button on climate legislation,” say reporters who cover the environment.
For colleges, the shift may mean a halt to, or at least a slowing of, sustainability projects, particularly those paid for by state and federal funds.
President Obama’s economic-stimulus bill included about $75-billion directed toward the higher-education sector, in areas like campus…
September 25, 2009, 7:00 am
If you don’t know by now that incandescent lights are out of favor, you haven’t been paying attention.
Incandescent bulbs, which are essentially space heaters that happen to also provide a small amount of light, are inefficient and burn out quickly, and are one of the first things to go in energy-efficiency campaigns on campus. compact fluorescents last far longer, emit less heat, use less electricity, reduce carbon emissions, and can be installed in existing fixtures. So, when a university is looking for a quick turnaround on their energy expenses, they change out their bulbs. It’s an easy call.
But at the rate technology changes, it’s no surprise that light-emitting-diode lights—known as LEDs—are being heralded as the next frontier. They use less electricity than compact fluorescents, reducing the electricity burden even further. Proponents also argue that their light…
August 11, 2009, 6:03 am
A recent study at the University of Michigan, designed to examine the ways our brains respond to our surroundings, found that we are profoundly influenced by the amount of greenery we see on a daily basis. Researchers measured the cognitive deficits caused by a short urban walk, showing that students who walked around an arboretum performed significantly better on working memory and attention tests than those who had taken a walk downtown. (Imagine if the students had wandered Manhattan rather than the relatively sedate Ann Arbor.) The authors of the study believe this is due to demands that the noise and bustle of city streets place our limited cognitive capacity: Basically, the stress of an urban commute leaves us mentally scattered and irritable well before we…
July 1, 2009, 9:18 am
I recently interviewed Mark Kapner, a senior engineer at the Texas utility Austin Energy, about some myths in the clean-energy conversation. The conversation got me thinking about the communications gap in our system for generating electricity—a gap that leads utilities to operate as though they were always on the verge of peak demand.
“What utilities need is a mix of resources to assure that they can match supply to demand at all times,” Mr. Kapner said. “Those resources will be a mixture of dispatchable generating units and non-dispatchable units—such as wind and solar—as well as energy storage and controllable demand, now termed demand-response.”
But that’s not how the system works now. Because utilities don’t always get accurate information about what users need, historically they have made sure they can handle spikes in demand by always being over-prepared. The system as it exists…
June 12, 2009, 2:13 pm
Xarissa Holdaway, one of this summer’s Buildings & Grounds guest bloggers, is campus e-news coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation’s campus-ecology project. You can read her previous posts here.
More and more colleges have started the long and complicated process of working toward carbon neutrality, but many of them are ignoring an opportunity that exists right under their noses. This is the opportunity to educate students for jobs in sustainability by letting them learn from the college’s infrastructure.
For example, why don’t students learn about the solar- or wind-generating capacity on their campuses? I’m not saying freshmen need to be up on the rooftops installing solar panels or turbines, but why not invite them to help with the proposals and paperwork that go along with the process, as Georgia Tech has done? This is valuable training, and may also take some of the…
May 30, 2008, 1:04 pm
A few weeks ago, The Washington Post ran an article about the power of symbolic actions within the environmental movement—and about how those symbolic acts can derail useful, real-world solutions. The author, Shankar Vedantam, points out that if all the people who participated in Earth Hour by turning off their lights had instead switched even one incandescent bulb to a compact fluorescent, the energy savings would have been enormous, perhaps as much as 1,368 times higher.
Severin Borenstein, director of the University of California’s Energy Institute, observes in the same article that it can be hard to persuade people to make changes that yield the biggest energy savings, rather than the biggest returns in self-satisfaction. Unfortunately, taking 45 seconds to screw in a CFL feels less historic than seeing all your neighbors’ homes go dark in solidarity. And those candlelit…
May 23, 2008, 9:32 am
Wind turbines, food miles, biomass, vertical farming, carbon sequestration — the Internet is a textbook study in overstimulation. There’s a lot of information, and a lot of it is depressing. But beneath the techno-speak and the climate predictions run a deeper current and a bigger set of questions.
What are we, the human race, trying to accomplish? Do we have enough time and political will? What does it mean to live off the sun, and why aren’t we doing it yet? Is it possible to transform an oil-based infrastructure, including all the magnificent medical, literary, technological, communications, and human-rights improvements that it has enabled? Does preventing global warming justify the short-term sacrifice of comfort — or even, in some cases, the suffering — that may come with it, particularly in the developing world?
Most economists predict that moving to cleaner energy…
May 16, 2008, 8:55 am
Almost every day, press releases for new green buildings show up in my inbox and on blogs like the one you’re reading. One striking example—Arizona State University’s new Biodesign Institute, a soaring, uber-chic, high-performance, LEED-certified center—gave me chills. The built-in “third spaces,” natural daylighting, and funneling of air-conditioning condensation for a shade garden are particularly striking features, and there is a beautiful symbiosis between purpose (interdisciplinary research on everything from bioenergetics to nanotechnology) and aesthetics (transparent, complementary buildings connected by glazed passageways and social space).
However, a certain amount of frustration comes with these…