Monday, May 16, 2011

Sustainability news linkspam for the week ending 5/14/11, Part 2

As I wrote in Part 1 of this week's sustainability news linkspam:
[F]or a linkspam with less of a bleed-through of economics into other categories, with clearer environmental and social sections, stay tuned for part 2...
I'm glad I wrote "less of a bleed-through" and not no bleed-through. First of all, there are elements of other the other parts of sustainability in most of the posts which are primarily about one topic. Second, the more I examine sustainability, the more I see the connections. For a good example of both, I present last week's top story, other than cooperation between the U.S. and China on sustainability, which deserved a post of its own yesterday. I'm sure I'll have more about The CoDominion in future posts.

With no further ado, Michigan State University on the future of agriculture.

Michigan State University: Major changes necessary to sustain U.S. farming’s future
May 6, 2011
EAST LANSING, Mich. — In order to provide abundant and affordable food, feed, fiber and fuel, U.S. agriculture needs to change its approach, according to research appearing in the current issue of Science magazine.
There are several reasons I gave this story pride of place. First, nothing works like food as example of a general sustainability issue. Second, I really enjoy the topic of food. That's why I last week's Sprout theme for NaBloPoMo induced me to blog about food and agriculture here, instead of posting to my Dreamwidth and LiveJournal blogs. Finally, the language used in that opening paragraph looks very familiar to me. It is nearly identical that at the top of a sustainable agriculture graphic from Syngenta that I use in my first lecture to illustrate the goals of sustainable development. That sentence states that one of the goals of sustainable agriculture is to "produce sufficient safe, quality, affordable food, feed, and fiber." I can no longer find that graphic on the Internet, but the chief idea of it survives in the opening sentence of this press release.

So, what prompted this press release?
Sandra Batie, the Elton R. Smith Professor of Food and Agricultural Policy, and Richard Harwood, professor emeritus of crop and soil sciences, at Michigan State University, were part of a team of scientists and farmers who wrote a report published by the National Research Council. The report, which was expanded as a policy forum in Science, identifies policy and practice reforms that could place agriculture in the U.S. and abroad on a more sustainable trajectory that includes improved natural environments and food security for the future.
The National Research Council, eh? This a sign that the top scientists are very concerned about sustainable agriculture and top policy makers are listening to them. Also, I should go look at the Science article, if it's available to the public, and blog about this topic again.
U.S. farmers continue to provide growing supplies of food and other products, such as fiber and ethanol. But these efforts have been accompanied by the unintended consequences of greenhouse gas emissions, biodiversity loss, natural resource degradation and public health problems. Agricultural efforts also are vulnerable to resource scarcity, climate change and market vulnerability. Furthermore, society continues to ask that agriculture better address not only these sustainability issues and challenges, but also issues involving the welfare of rural communities, farm workers or farm animals, Batie said.

“To improve the sustainability of farming in the U.S. and worldwide, the team recommended that farmers, policymakers and scientists continue current sustainability efforts as well as expand them, addressing whole systems redesign,” said Batie, who is also an MSU AgBioResearch scientist. “There are many examples of such redesign that address and balance sustainability goals, including the goal of enhancing farming productivity and financial viability.”
That's a pretty good laundry list and that concluding sentence shows the connection between the environmental and economic parts of sustainability.

There's a lot more, but I'll cut to the chase.
The recommendations come at a pivotal time as U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow will hold the first field hearing for the 2012 Farm Bill on May 31 on MSU’s campus. While the bill addresses U.S. policy, the hearing will focus on agriculture, energy, conservation, rural development, research, forestry and nutrition policies that will impact Michigan.
Jill Richardson, who runs La Vida Locavore (note to self: I have an account there, so I should probably repost all of my food entries over there) has written that the Farm Bills are the most important pieces of environmental legislation the U.S. ever passes. Michael Pollan calls the Farm Bill "the Food Bill" because of its importance in determining what Americans eat. I'm glad to see that the next edition of the Farm Bill will consider sustainability, at least in the Senate version. I'm not sure what the House version will look like. I'm sure the conference committee will be both frustrating and entertaining to watch.

And now, the rest of the sustainability news from Michigan's research universites, plus some news from elsewhere about sustainability in Michigan, after the break.

General Sustainability

University of Michigan: U-M LSA conservation engineer helping to cut costs
May 13, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—As energy conservation engineer for University of Michigan's College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, Jim Almashy monitors about 4 million square feet in 35 buildings for energy savings. Since joining LSA in 2007, he has helped the college avoid millions of dollars in energy costs.

In 2010, he helped LSA avoid $3.6 million in energy costs from the previous year; decreased overall energy usage by 26 percent; and decreased steam usage by 35 percent. That's enough to power, heat and cool 2,048 average U.S. households for a year. The reduction in carbon emissions is equivalent to taking 2,472 cars off of the nation's roads.

University of Michigan: U-M receives Sustainable Energy Program of the Year award from DTE Energy
May 10, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—University of Michigan's Planet Blue Operations Team program has been named the Sustainable Energy Program of the Year by DTE Energy for its efforts to conserve energy and engage the campus community.

The award was given on May 10 in conjunction with the Energy Conference and Exhibition 2011 hosted by DTE and the Engineering Society of Detroit. U-M received its award in the commercial category, and its entry was judged based on the Ann Arbor campus being actively engaged in the program, participation by U-M leadership, the goals set under the Planet Blue Operations Team program and tracking of results.

"This is great recognition for the efforts of the people working on the Planet Blue Operations Team program and the U-M campus at-large," said Richard Robben, executive director of Plant Operations at U-M. "The vision of this program was that we would reduce energy consumption and the corresponding costs, but that we would engage the people to foster a culture where everyone is focused on doing the right thing in the buildings where they teach, learn and work. This award shows we're delivering on that goal."

University of Michigan: U-M hosts U.S.-China conference on sustainable energy, water and transportation
May 5, 2011

DATE: May 20-21, 2011.

EVENT: Science, policy and industry leaders from the world's two largest emitters of heat-trapping greenhouse gases—the United States and China—will gather at the University of Michigan to tackle one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century: how to develop sustainable societies.

Unlike a purely academic conference, "Developing Global Sustainability: U.S./China Partnerships" will feature representatives from the energy, transportation and water industries, government policy leaders from both countries, university researchers, and members of non-governmental organizations.

The conference will focus on the key policies and technologies needed to attain sustainable energy, water resources and transportation, especially as they pertain to the United States and China. About 225 participants are expected, including at least 100 from China.
Yes, I blogged about this yesterday, but it bears repeating.

University of Michigan: Air pollution near Michigan schools linked to poorer student health, academic performance
May 4, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—Air pollution from industrial sources near Michigan public schools jeopardizes children's health and academic success, according to a new study from University of Michigan researchers.

The researchers found that schools located in areas with the state's highest industrial air pollution levels had the lowest attendance rates—an indicator of poor health—as well as the highest proportions of students who failed to meet state educational testing standards.

The researchers examined the distribution of all 3,660 public elementary, middle, junior high and high schools in the state and found that 62.5 percent of them were located in places with high levels of air pollution from industrial sources.
I put this up in general sustainability instead of environment because the health aspects have been placed in a social context--the performance of school children. Nice of the authors to draw the social connection in the first three paragraphs.

Michigan State University: MSU scholar leads program on global food safety
May 9, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University scholar is leading a three-week program with 24 senior government officials from China that aims to strengthen global food safety.

The delegation began the program May 7 in Geneva and will travel to Paris, Washington, D.C., and Minneapolis before wrapping up with a three-day visit to the MSU campus in East Lansing.

The Global Food Safety-China Program focuses on protecting public health through a more integrated approach to food safety, said Kevin Walker, MSU professor of veterinary medicine and veteran researcher of global food safety and animal and public health issues.
Another one that I blogged about yesterday that bears repeating.

Michigan State University: Recycle competition nets half-million pounds of material
May 3, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Competing in its first-ever “RecycleMania” competition, Michigan State University recycled more than 530,000 pounds of material.

Of the 600 competitors, MSU finished at No. 5 in the Big Ten and No. 209 nationally for the Grand Champion Prize, which demonstrates achievement in both source reduction and recycling.

For the Gorilla Prize, which recognizes large schools based on the volume of recycled materials, MSU ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten and No. 18 nationally.
MSU has a competitive spirt. I'm sure they'll place higher next year.

Environment, including science and technology

University of Michigan: U-M to study why childhood exposure to toxicants makes us sick as adults
May 10, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A newly funded center at the University of Michigan will allow researchers from the School of Public Health and the Medical School to study the way environmental toxicants change genetic programming, and how those changes contribute to chronic disease in adults.

The center, a collaboration between the U-M SPH and the U-M Health System, is the first of its kind at U-M and is the only new National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences P30 Core Center to be funded (as opposed to renewals of existing centers) in the last six years, said the center's director, Dr. Howard Hu.

Hu said the landmark grant of $4 million was his top research goal when he came to U-M as chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences in 2006.
An environmental hard science story--I like!

University of Michigan: URC researchers team up on winning proposals
May 2, 2011

University Research Corridor seed funding of more than $750,000 will support two major environmental health studies including researchers from all three member institutions: Michigan State University, the University of Michigan and Wayne State University.

"We believe that one significant value of the URC alliance is our opportunity to provide seed funding for collaborative research that offers transformational promise," said Jeff Mason, URC executive director.

"This funding will better position our researchers for national competitiveness, as well as help influence the outcomes of both state and national environmental health policy decisions."
One of the projects, The Michigan Bloodspot Environmental Epidemiology Project, will utilize the State of Michigan's newborn blood spot repository to investigate whether researchers can obtain environmental exposure and genetic information from the available bloodspots...

The second winning research proposal will study the affects of air pollution on asthma in the Dearborn area Arab American population.
I like the idea of Michigan becoming a leader in environmental health. This study and the previous one will make that happen. As I wrote, exciting things are happening here, and the results will be exported to the rest of the continent.

University of Michigan: U-M researchers working toward efficient harvesting of solar energy
May 3, 2011

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—At the University of Michigan College of Engineering, recent breakthroughs may lead to more effective means for harnessing the power of the sun.

Conventional means of collecting solar energy, solar cells for example, have been notoriously inefficient.

Now a team of chemical engineers at U-M is exploring new means of exploiting the abundant energy produced by Earth's nearest star. They have discovered a method for utilizing metal nano-particles, which act much like nanometer-sized light antennae, to help accelerate the production of renewable solar fuels and other chemicals.

Michigan State University: Solar cells more efficient than photosynthesis – for now
May 12, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a head-to-head battle of harvesting the sun’s energy, solar cells beat plants, according to a new paper in Science. But scientists think they can even up the playing field, says Michigan State University researcher David Kramer.

Plants are less efficient at capturing the energy in sunlight than solar cells mostly because they have too much evolutionary baggage. Plants have to power a living thing, whereas solar cells only have to send electricity down a wire. This is a big difference because if photosynthesis makes a mistake, it makes toxic byproducts that kill the organism. Photosynthesis has to be conservative to avoid killing the organisms it powers.

“This is critical since it’s the process that powers all of life in our ecosystem,” said Kramer, a Hannah Distinguished Professor of Photosynthesis and Bioenergetics. “The efficiency of photosynthesis, and our ability to improve it, is critical to whether the entire biofuels industry is viable.”

While photosynthesis is less efficient on a pure energy basis, it has the advantage of producing high-energy liquid fuels. (It also makes all of our food, and is thus essential for life). The paper summarizes several specific approaches to improving photosynthesis, some likely achievable in the short term, some more involved.
Two stories about solar energy, one from each of the largest schools. I bet the findings of the first study make the conclusions of the second one even more true.

Michigan State University: Research maps out trade-offs between deer and timber
May 11, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — In a sweeping study of a huge swath of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, Michigan State University researchers document that in many places the sugar maple saplings that should be thriving following harvesting are instead ending up as a deer buffet. This means the hardwood forests are not regenerating.

Since the 1950s, sustainability in northern hardwood forests was achieved by chopping down trees in small clumps to naturally make room for new ones to spring up. Early experiments with single-tree and group selection logging found that desirable species like sugar maples did a great job of regenerating in the sunny, rain-drenched harvest gaps – theoretically eliminating the need to replant.

But hungry deer and other factors have changed that, according to a study in Forest Ecology and Management.

“We’ve found that deer, light availability and competition from nontree plant species are affecting sugar maple regeneration in parts of the Upper Peninsula,” said Megan Matonis, who recently earned a master’s degree in forestry while a member of the Center for Systems Integration and Sustainability at MSU. “No sugar maples are regenerating in the southern area near Escanaba. In the future, this could challenge the sustainability of timber harvesting in this region."
The last year I lived out in the country, the deer ate my shrubs up to the seven foot level. Good thing they were eight feet tall at the time. I vowed that if I were still in my house the next firearms deer season, I'd finally break down and buy a rifle and a deer hunting license. Fortunately for the deer, my house sold that April, so I didn't have to follow through.

Hey, I was a Republican for 22 years. Some habits die hard.

University of Wisconsin: New ‘corn atlas’ shows which genes are active during each stage of plant growth
May 10, 2011

Just as a road atlas helps travelers find their way, a new corn atlas will help plant scientists navigate vast amounts of gene expression data from the corn plant, as described in the May 10 issue of The Plant Journal.

The atlas, developed by a team of scientists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Michigan State University, tells researchers which of corn's 50,000 genes are actively expressed in various parts of the plant during each of the major stages of plant development.

"The atlas is basically the whole landscape of the plant's transcriptome. It contains information about all of the genes in corn — where they're expressed and when they're expressed," says Rajandeep Sekhon, the study's co-lead author, a research associate in the Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center at UW-Madison.

Such atlases, which already exist for rice and Arabidopsis, have proven useful for homing in on key genes involved in important biological processes.
I'm surprised Michigan State University didn't post a companion press release. As for the topic, corn is the number one crop in the U.S. Anyone following agricultre has to follow corn.

Indiana University: Global warming won't harm wind energy production, climate models predict
May 2, 2011

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The production of wind energy in the U.S. over the next 30-50 years will be largely unaffected by upward changes in global temperature, say a pair of Indiana University Bloomington scientists who analyzed output from several regional climate models to assess future wind patterns in America's lower 48 states.

Their report -- the first analysis of long-term stability of wind over the U.S. -- appears in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences Early Edition.

"The greatest consistencies in wind density we found were over the Great Plains, which are already being used to harness wind, and over the Great Lakes, which the U.S. and Canada are looking at right now," said Provost's Professor of Atmospheric Science Sara Pryor, the project's principal investigator. "Areas where the model predicts decreases in wind density are quite limited, and many of the areas where wind density is predicted to decrease are off limits for wind farms anyway."
The map, which I haven't included, shows that Lake Michigan's wind energy potential will increase as the climate warms up. I'd rather not have the cloud that includes such a silver lining, but I doubt I'll get my wish.

Society, including culture and politics

Mother Nature Network: USDA releases Food Desert Locator
By Robin Shreeves

With the United States Department of Agriculture’s new Food Desert Locator, anyone can “map food deserts and view census tract-level statistics on population groups with low access to healthy foods.”

People who live in a food desert (all of the areas shaded in pink in the above map are considered food deserts) do not have easy access to fresh produce, healthy grains, low-fat dairy and other nutritionally sound whole foods. When you take a look at the map, you might be surprised at the location of some of these deserts. Some of them are located in the heart of heavily farmed areas.
Taking a look at where the food deserts are in your region can help you understand how unevenly distributed healthy food is. Perhaps it will motivate you to find a way to help.
Click on the link to the Food Locator and you'll be surprised at all the areas that are food deserts. Detroit may be a notorious food desert, but the map shows that it isn't as bad as one might think. It's also not even the worst in the state. Large areas of the Upper Peninsula and northernmost Lower Peninsula form the largest food deserts in Michigan.

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Despite playing an increasingly vital role in criminal investigations, digital forensic examiners face staffing cuts, heavy caseloads and stress within police departments that may not fully understand their responsibilities, according to a study led by a Michigan State University criminologist.

Police officials should consider hiring more digital forensic examiners or, failing that, improving their work environment, said Thomas Holt, MSU assistant professor of criminal justice. His study appears in the May issue of the Journal of Contemporary Criminal Justice.

Digital forensic examiners gather evidence from digital media such as computers, cell phones and other devices for use in the prosecution of crimes.

“There needs to be some consideration given to how we improve the work experience for forensic digital examiners given that they’re going to be tasked more and more over time,” Holt said.
This is on the edge of what would considered sustainability, but it shows how politics and society have not caught up to the effects of technology. By the way, I posted this in a hacker group; they used it as an open thread. *sigh*

Michigan State University: Michigan residents oppose education cuts above all else
May 2, 2011

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Michigan citizens believe education is far and away the most important service to protect from state funding cuts, according to results from Michigan State University’s latest State of the State Survey.

When asked which areas should be shielded from reductions, 53 percent of respondents identified education – more than three times that of the next highest category (economic development at 17 percent). The results reflect a recent national poll by NBC News and Wall Street Journal in which 77 percent thought cuts to education were “totally unacceptable.”

“It’s extremely telling that, even in tough economic times, people understand the importance of education,” said William Schmidt, MSU Distinguished Professor of statistics and education, who commissioned an education section of the State of the State Survey. “It has really become evident to the public that education – and especially mathematics – is critical for the future.”

When asked whether the weak performance of U.S. students in math would affect economic growth, 70 percent indicated it would have a major effect.
The polling did not deter the Republicans in the state legislature from voting for cuts to education. Of course, this is the party that says the government is a republic, not a democracy. That used to be a far-right talking point. However, it looks like it has become mainstream, as the party is now taking seriously its name as more than just a label.

Also, this is on the border between sustainable economics and a sustainable society, where the overlap is labeled "bearable." I'm not sure that the policy created by ignoring this poll would be considered "bearable."

Wayne State University: Third-year student awarded prestigious Equal Justice Works Fellowship, will develop medical-legal partnership with Karmanos Cancer Center
May 11, 2011

Wayne State University Law School is pleased to announce that third-year student Kathryn Smolinski has been awarded a prestigious two-year fellowship from Equal Justice Works. As a fellow, Smolinski will work with Wayne Law's Disability Law Clinic to develop a medical-legal partnership with the Barbara Ann Karmanos Cancer Center focused on the legal needs of low-income cancer patients in Detroit. The fellowship is sponsored by Pfizer Inc. and the law firms of Kaye Scholer LLP and Jackson Lewis LLP.

Smolinski's duties will include assisting low-income cancer patients with issues related to health insurance, disability benefits, disability discrimination, family-medical leave, end-of-life decision-making, and estate planning. She also will work to establish a partnership between the Disability Law Clinic and the Karmanos Cancer Center that will train future lawyers and healthcare professionals to work with each other and to meet the unique needs of cancer patients.

"The medical-legal partnership will provide cross-disciplinary training to prepare future lawyers, doctors, nurses, and social workers to serve clients in the oncology setting," stated Smolinski, Wayne Law's first Equal Justice Works Fellowship recipient. "It will lay the groundwork for emerging healthcare clinicians and attorneys to respect and collaborate with each other during their future careers."
This is definitely a story about creating a more equitable society, which means that it isn't as out of place as it might look at first.

Wayne State University: Michigan Area Health Education Center receives $750,000 grant from Kresge Foundation, appoints advisory board
May 9, 2011

The Michigan Area Health Education Center program established to recruit, train and retain a diverse health care workforce in the state has received a $750,000 grant from the Kresge Foundation in support of its efforts.

The Wayne State University School of Medicine and College of Nursing received an initial federal grant in fall 2010 to establish the MI-AHEC program and are now partnering with community groups and schools in southeast and mid-Michigan to establish regional centers during the next two years that will develop and implement programs to increase interest in health professions. The AHEC program is particularly important because Michigan is suffering from a severe shortage of health care professionals, and the problem is only expected to worsen.

"Our AHEC program is committed to promoting the health and well being of people in underserved rural and urban areas," said Valerie M. Parisi, M.D., dean of the WSU School of Medicine and co-principal investigator of the grant. "That mission lines up perfectly with the Kresge Foundation's priority to foster healthy and safe communities. The grant is just what the doctor ordered."
I like this, as it promotes the idea of a more equitable society to promote better health, which means that it helps the environment. See, I told you that the connections become more apparent as I blog more about sustainability!


Wayne State University: Southeast Michigan Purchasing Managers Index a strong 67.9 in April
May 2, 2011

The Southeast Michigan Purchasing Managers Index (SEM-PMI) dipped slightly from 71.8 to 67.9 in April, which still is quite strong. Index values above 50 generally represent an expanding economy, while values below 50 suggest a weakening economy.

With the April survey results, the SEM-PMI has exceeded 50 for 15 consecutive months. The three-month average is up more than four points to 67.7. That is a strong positive indicator for the Southeast Michigan economy according to supply chain faculty at Wayne State University's School of Business Administration and members of the Southeast Michigan chapter of the Institute for Supply Management who partner to conduct the survey each month.

Specific values that comprise the index maintained their steady growth. The Production Index is down slightly to 78.3 from 80 in March, but is still quite strong. Like the overall index, the Production Index has also exceeded 50 for 15 consecutive months. Similarly, the New Orders Index is down in April to 68.3 from 78.3, but it is still well above the benchmark value of 50.

Raw materials inventory improved to 55 from the March index value of 53.3, and finished goods inventory increased sharply in April to 60 from the March Index value of 48.3.
I should match this one up with The Business As Usual people are optimistic about Oakland County; the two press releases are cut from the same cloth.

And that's it for this edition of this week's sustainability news linkspam from Michigan's research universities. At the end of the previous edition, I wrote:

I'll get around to posting this week's sustainbility news next week. Eventually, I'll get caught up, maybe.

No maybe about it. I'm now caught up.


  1. The last year I lived out in the country, the deer ate my shrubs up to the seven foot level. Good thing they were eight feet tall at the time. I vowed that if I were still in my house the next firearms deer season, I'd finally break down and buy a rifle and a deer hunting license. Fortunately for the deer, my house sold that April, so I didn't have to follow through.

    Hey, I was a Republican for 22 years. Some habits die hard.

    No, you're exactly right. In most parts of the U.S. we have wiped out the top predator (wolves), so now there are too many deer. The hunting lobby likes it that way, as a response to the narrow window of time in which it's legal to hunt. So, in the long run we have two options: Reintroduce wolves and persuade people not to shoot them, or eat the deer ourselves until their population reaches a more natural level. In the mean time, our forests are being overgrazed.

    (This is much like the way that every part of the kudzu plant is edible, and it needs to become the hot new salad green of the South.)

    1. Getting more hunters and eating more deer is the response I expect. Actually re-introducing wolves would be too much for most people. On the other hand, allowing wolves to spread on their own, which is happening, and then convincing people to leave them alone might be doable.

      I like the idea of eating kudzu. If I were living in Dixie and writing a comparable blog down there, I'd be posting recipes.

  2. Replies
    1. I don't have any entries about public education in the Assam province of India, so I'll let this stay.