Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Why can’t the activist and educator be friends?

I recently attended the Green Energy Summit in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and was impressed at the collaborative atmosphere between activists, educators and businesses that unified to learn and share knowledge pertaining to sustainability and human impact on the environment.  To me, this summit was instrumental in showing how the symbiosis of educators and activists, united behind the cause of sustainability, can be an unstoppable force in garnering support for this pressing issue. 

Passion is important, especially when put behind a cause as pressing as the environment.  This passion can be directed in many ways, with education and activism being the chief outlets. Quite simply put, it is detrimental to the health of the debate surrounding environmental issues when education and activism are pitted against each other.  Too often it is the case that activists perceive educators as passive supporters of their causes, and educators view activists as drawing unwanted attention to the issues that they are so passionate about teaching. 

However silly this may seem, this is the climate that seems to be a trend nowadays, especially surrounding the topic of environmental responsibility and sustainability.  Because this is a relatively new field, and one that is evolving at a rapid pace, the debate over who is really ‘doing the most’ for the cause rages on without the discussants even realizing that the metrics on which they are being ‘measured’ are being developed on a daily basis. Simply put, the field of sustainability is evolving at too rapid of a pace for activists and educators to always be on forefront of new developments.  I propose that the two groups recognize the mutual benefits of working together in order to always stay on the cutting edge. 

From a third-party view, it is plain to see that educators who teach about sustainability and the environment help inspire an ethic of conservation in students- one that is guaranteed to last a lifetime. Equally as important, are the activists who draw attention to the causes that educators are so passionate about. Without educators, activists would not be able to help educate people on the depth of the issues at hand and vice versa. Both roles are essential and needed when trying to gain awareness and support for sustainability and environmental conservation. 

Additionally, because of the unfortunate introduction of ‘green washing’ into the sphere of sustainability, suspicions are immediately raised when people, organizations or businesses take steps to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. Many previously existing programs and initiatives are advertised today as ‘sustainable’ because they loosely fit the bill of benefitting the environment in some way or another.  Not only does green washing provide a false sense of security to consumers, but it does a huge detriment to those who are striving their hardest to make what they do the most environmentally friendly as possible.

Attending the Green Energy Summit gave me a glimpse at the huge potential that could come about if activists and educators work in tandem to help bring support to one of the most pressing issues of our time. Arguing about who is doing more for the environment will only help to detract attention from the real issues at hand. I would encourage all who share a common passion for the environment to work together and find ways to collaborate and utilize the strengths and talents of both activists and educators. 

-Emily Bobrowich
Resource/Volunteer Coordinator

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Look! Spider!

     It's Erica, again!  As designated blogger here at CEC, one of my jobs is to stay informed and to inform our readers about environmental topics in the news.  I will say that though environmental stories rarely shine through the dark abyss of political reports with the upcoming election, one story sort of jumped out at me...or rather I jumped when I saw it.  I am talking about spiders.  Chances are that you experienced the sensation of tiny insects crawling all over you when I mentioned that word just now, but we really shouldn't be afraid of the little guys.
     One Japanese scientist at Iowa State University cast aside his fears and actually discovered something:  a certain species of spiders, called the golden silk orbweaver spider, can produce silk that is a better conductor than most other materials.  These creepy crawlies have been able to produce a silk that conducts more heat than aluminum, silicone, and pure iron (the materials commonly used today), only to be outperformed by diamond and silver.
     Another cool feature of this silk is that as it is stretched out, it only gets better, conductivity-wise.  Most other materials experience the opposite effect, making this new material adaptable in more situations.
     According to the University of Utah, "Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild the entire
commercial air fleet every three months" and "enough steel to reconstruct Manhattan." So, is it possible that this could reduce our dependence on the aforementioned products?   Well, scientists are not sure yet.  The material is still in the experimental stage; however, its discoverer, Xinwei Wang, believes that it could be used in cooling computers and other bits of technology, which currently rely on things like copper, aluminum, etc.
     Personally, I think that if this brave soul can find a way to reduce even the smallest fraction of our dependence on these resources (considering the widespread use of technology these days), he will have gone done in my history books as an environmental hero.  Besides this, if he can find a way to commercialize his discovery, a drop in the cost of electronics would be greatly appreciated!
     So, what do you think?  Is his discovery worthy of making environmental news, or does the thought of a permanent spider's web in your home computer make you jump?  Let me know!