Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

[This post was written by Michael Aitchison, Donovan Jackson, and Stephanie McCarthy. The post is in response to our tour of the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center and complements previous students’ analysis of the question What is Sustainability?]

Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center

On June 30, 2011 our class conducted a self-guided of the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center, also known as the Ecotrust Building, located at 721 NW 9th Avenue, in Portland. One of the building’s many ecofriendly features is its ecoroof. Unfortunately, we were unable to view the roof, but the information in our field guide piqued our interest. Ecoroofs are not only beautiful to look at but they also make real environmental and economic sense. Ecoroofs greatly extend the lifespan of a roof, reduce stormwater runoff, and also reduce energy consumption by decreasing rooftop heat loss. The vegetation planted on the ecoroof at the Jean Vollum Natural Capital Center was carefully selected from Pacific Northwest native plants and seeds. These native plants, a mix of grasses, wildflowers, and succulents, are drought tolerant and once established need very little watering and maintenance. The ecoroof is part of the sites stormwater management system that helps to minimize rainwater runoff, including pollutants and sediment, from flowing into the Willamette River. This stormwater system, which also includes bioswales, captures at least 90% of the rainwater falling at this location. The system is funded in part by the City of Portland’s Bureau of Environmental Services.

What is a green roof?



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Past Actions: Present Woes, Future Potential: Rethinking History in the Light of Anthropogenic Climate Change

    A model syllabus for historians and other students of the past to engage with issues of anthropogenic climate change through the medium of history and related disciplines. Developed by a small team associated with the Rescue!History network.

The Rescue!History network is a group of practitioners in the fields of humanities and social sciences who “wish to affirm that investigations and findings from our colleagues in the scientific community overwhelmingly support the conclusion that contemporary global warming is anthropogenic.” They assert that this climate change is a “spectre . . . haunting the entire world,” and cite the “unprecedented hurricane sequence in the Gulf of Mexico” in 2005 as evidence of “nature’s payback for what we are doing to our precious planet.” Rescue!History members lament humanity’s response to this evidence:

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The Canadian Oral History Association (COHA) recently published a special issue of their journal Oral History Forum d’histoire orale titled “Talking Green: Oral History and Environmental History.” This special issue is available for free public access (one does not need to be a member of COHA or a journal subscriber to access the articles).

The journal is also available in electronic form through the PSU Library. The journal’s table of contents:


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Onward Oregon is

    part of growing grassroots movement to restore civic power to the people of Oregon and their communities. We envision a state where all of us can enjoy comfort and prosperity, equal opportunity and a beautiful and healthy environment. But this will not happen without your participation. Many Americans have forgotten that government is actually, “We, the people,” not—as some would have us believe—an alien, inept or untrustworthy entity. Let us reclaim our constitutional right to a truly democratic government. Our path is not left or right, but onward.

One of Onward Oregon’s current initiatives is their Mapping the Commons workshop series:

    Oregon Commons, a project of Onward Oregon, is presenting a series of workshops this fall as a step toward our larger goal of strengthening active stewardship of the commons — the gifts of nature and civilization we share across generations. Join us for “Mapping the Commons,” a fun and interactive workshop designed to help grow our awareness, our network and our commitment to serving the common good. Together, we’ll explore the many facets of the commons and identify opportunities to become more active as its caretakers.

Onward Oregon is hosting two of these free workshops this fall:Salem on Nov. 13 and Portland on Nov. 20.

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Old AM radio tuner, photographer Claudio Divizia, 123RF Stock Photos (www.123rf.com)

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Think Out Loud radio program this morning was on the topic “Sustainable Oregon and Iraq.” This program featured discussion of two recent developments in regional sustainability efforts. The first was on the five-year agreement that Oregon State University and the government of Iraq entered into help Iraq’s universities in developing sustainable engineering and design programs. The second topic of discussion was on “EcoDistricts,” a new and evolving urban planning concept that seeks to coordinate various existing environmental, equity, and economic strategies in a particular neighborhood to foster cohesive, mutually-reinforcing positive outcomes.

This program this morning got me interested in reviewing other segments of two regional radio programs that I’ve found highly informative over the years, OPB’s Think Out Loud and KUOW’s Weekday. See below the fold for this list.


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In his post “Future City: Portland & Networked Urban Sustainability,” Alex Aylett provides a look “at some of the hits and misses of climate change policy in Portland (OR).” He sought to provide more than “just a summary of one city’s programs” to identify evidence of what he sees as “an important shift in the way cities are pursuing sustainability.”

Aylett finds that many cities in throughout the world are entering a new era of implementing sustainable practices, an era in which “retrofitting City Hall is nice, but the real game revolves around how we plan and travel through our cities, how we build and run our buildings, and how we make and use energy.” This “new phase of urban sustainability” is one in which the low-hanging fruit has been harvested (so to speak) and “cities are being pushed to tackle the really tough issues.”

Portland, according to Aylett, is “one of a handful of American cities that is really embracing the challenges of networked sustainability,” as evidenced by a number of organizations and projects in the area, including: Clean Energy Works Portland (CEWP); Green Building initiatives to achieve LEED certifications; and ecodistricts & the Portland Sustainability Institute (PoSI).

Readers interested in learning more about Portland or modern urban environments broadly are encouraged to read Aylett’s blog “openalex: cities & sustainability: reinventing the good life,” navigate to his article cited above, and to peruse as well his the other Portland-specific articles he has written, including:

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This post is in response to the same student comments and questions spurred by the assignment outlined in On Sustainability, Summer 2010 (pt. 1 of 2). I found myself writing more and more in reply to this particular issue, so I opted to make a stand-alone post.

I’ve seen a pattern, both in these courses I teach and in our broader culture, that suggests to me that a great many (most?) people seem first to think of environmental issues when they hear the word “sustainability.” Members of the Brundtland Commission perceived this pattern as early as 1982, when they began their work on Our Common Future, so my relatively limited sample size seems more than anecdotal.[1]

One student’s reading response this quarter flipped on the light bulb for me. This student found that her/his definition of sustainability focused on environmental concerns, and, when comparing this definition to the Brundtland Commission’s definition, suggested that this was “mainly because that’s what everyone hears in the media or news.”



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