Tuesday, September 27, 2011

V515x3 Water Wins and Water Woes

Issues of water conservation and sustainable use are fairly well ingrained in my intellectual background and environmental consciousness as both my parents and my boss have been intimately involved with these.

Water and Nukes in 1979

Though they've rarely made a big deal about it, my parent's were involved in the 1979 protests of the Black Fox Nuclear Power plant, set to be built in Inola, Oklahoma.  Many people were part of these protests, so my folks probably didn't see their role as being very large or impacting.  But, to me, it was and always has been.  Social activism in pursuit of social justice, equity, and sustainable practices has been something I've always admired, so to think of my parents having enough conviction about this issue to stand-up and protest makes me pretty proud of them (although I'm already proud of them for a number of reasons).  What's more, it was only last week that I shared with them information they were unaware of: their contribution, and those of their fellows, was greatly significant because " It is believed to be the only nuclear power plant in the US to be canceled by a combination of legal and citizen action after construction had started" [1].  What's more, my parents were journalists at the time and my mom wrote an editorial that specifically addressed the detrimental, local impact that such a nuclear power plant would have on the already strained community water supply. 

Nobel Beginnings
Some of Lin Ostrom's earliest work involved her attempt to understand how certain water systems in California could be managed cooperatively, when water is often treated as a common pool resource.  Though this work predated her innovative theories about the management of common pool resources, I think that this problem was one of the first to grab her interest in the topic and set the stage for a passionate, productive, and dedicated career.  Additionally, her work on this - in the late 1960s and early 1970s - sought to meet a challenge that Roseland outlines in this week's readings: "One of the greatest barriers is the departmentalization of city, municipal or regional water and wastewater services...IntegratedWater Planning...requires inter-governmental cooperation and strives for multiple-purpose and multiple-means projcects" (70).  This sort of inter-governmental cooperation is the very basis of the theory of "polycentric governance" that she and her husband Vince developed and promoted for decades.  These selections are fairly illustrative:

“Legal and Political Conditions of Water Resource Development” (with Vincent Ostrom). Land Economics 48 (February 1972): 1–14. Reprinted in: Michael McGinnis, ed., Polycentric Governance and Development: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999, pp. 42–59).

“Does Local Community Control of Police Make a Difference? Some Preliminary Findings” (with Gordon Whitaker). American Journal of Political Science 17 (February 1973): 48–76. Reprinted in: Michael McGinnis, ed., Polycentricity and Local Public Economies: Readings from the Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1999, pp. 176–202). 

“Do We Really Want to Consolidate Urban Police Forces? A Reappraisal of Some Old Assumptions” (with Gordon Whitaker and Roger Parks). Public Administration Review 33 (September/October 1973): 423–33.

Social Marketing Revisited
The examples, above, have consistently reinforced, to me, the idea that local, community action is fundamentally necessary for achieving sustainable water-management solutions, because those closest to the situation are the most invested, have the most to lose, and have the most to gain.  However, I feel that the Roseland reading indirectly conflicts with this: though some of the examples of sustainable water & wastewater management involved community action and public-private partnerships, I feel that most of the examples were based around projects that were spearheaded by government mandates; what's worse, I feel like many of the examples sung the praises of the effectiveness of educational programs...which is somewhat contrary to the results in the social science literature that Doug McKenzie-Mohr cites in Fostering Sustainable Behavior.  My sense, then, is that combinations of strategies work much better than single strategies of government enforcement, local initiative, or education, alone.  But my overriding question is this: are there any patterns of best practices or common elements that obtain in each of these cases of successful, innovative, sustainable water management?  Social science could do the practitioner community a lot of good if this question could be answered; and though Ostrom has gone a long way toward helping this, refining her theories to address some of these specific instances of water management - in situations where water is not treated as a common-pool resource -would really advance the cause.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Personal Project Parade

Hey V515, sorry for the delay on this, but I've had a few too many ideas...all of which will be pursued and documented, regardless of whether they're officially selected for the personal project or otherwise. It's hard to choose among things that you love, but sometimes you just gotta do it.

Co-op Extravaganza: Bloomington COOPerates

You've heard the majority of this pitch, so I'll just list a lose order of objectives.  There's a lot to be done...and getting any of it done will be a project in and of itself.

1. Make a booth at the Farmer's Market:  From what I've seen and heard, Saturday morning Farmer's Market includes the Who's Who of the community.  CSAs, local farmer collectives, Council members, Chamber members, business leaders, press, and a large portion of the green/sustainability enthusiasts.  It's a great place to raise awareness; it's cheap to set-up; and it's fun!

2. Organize a Pan-Cooperative Community Meeting:  My status in the coop community is liminal at best, so I'm hoping really hoping that Bloomington's coop leaders get excited about the International Year of the Cooperative.Just staging a forum where such similar groups can meet, greet, talk and plan would be a big win.

3. Organize a Pan-Cooperative Student Group through IUSA:  It turns out that Bloomington Cooperative Living has a student group already; but, apparently, it's not very active or institutionalized.  Other than that, I couldn't find campus representation for any of the other coops in town...and enough students either belong to one, purchase from one, or work in/for one (like students that work at Bloomingfoods) that it might be good to create a focal point / meeting point  around which all their - respective, yet similar - interests can be represented.  It would help as a platform for lobbying IU and the student body.  Hooray collective-action!

4. Contact City Council district Representative, relevant Councils (like BCOS), and the Chamber of Commerce: The more the merrier!  Just as well, these folks know more about the economic, logistical, or political problems and promises of organizing in Bloomington.  Can't hurt to get the idea on their radar, right?

5. Investigate the Coop Situation at other Indiana Colleges and Universities: research, research, research. Record best-practices. Contemplate potential for transferability.  

6. Investigate Prospects for a Coop Themester in 2012: Fairly self-explanatory, but the lobbying work required - if there's any potential at all - would involve some well-coordinated, activist acrobatics.

7. Investigate Official Vetting/Qualification Processes for Coop Establishment and/or Certification: This is something that I'm not yet clear on. When I was musing about this yesterday, it dawned on me that fraternity & sorority houses - gotta rep Phi Kappa Tau, here - are strikingly similar to some cooperative living situations I've seen...with the exception of bulk-purchasing, joint-consumption, and, well, first-hand experience reminds me that party & event-planning practices are, to put it kindly, less than sustainable. 

8. Investigate and Promote the Integration of Sustainable Living/Working Topics within the MCCSC general Curriculum: Mostly some background work on whether sustainability or cooperative living/working models are ever mentioned or featured in local, public school curricula.  It might be worth asking if a representative from one of the local living cooperatives could come in and give a talk to high school seniors, many of which will soon be college-bound.

9. Seek Resources: It's highly likely that UN IYC organizers have regional directors that can advise/assist with programming local events.  Just as well, it would be worth the phone-call to contact NASCO for organizing advice/assistance (current NASCO president helped found Bloomington Cooperative Living).

10. To the Press!: BCL was recently interviewed by the Herald-Times and it was fairly well received.  Can't piggy-back on international press for the IYC if the local press doesn't have all the information or know about the opportunity!  One more way to put Bloomington on the progressive map.

Compost Collaborative: 
The state of my composting experiment is rather depressing.  After mounds of organic matter, soil, and dry bedding, it still generates very little heat, which tells me there is little actual composting going on.  Also, I don't know if it's a good sign or a terrible sign that all those friendly little sprouts that were popping up, for a few weeks, are now dead and gone.  Regardless, the little I've read on composting is obviously getting snagged somewhere in my situation or my brain (or both).  The vermicompost initiative has yet to take off, so here are the steps I'll take for this little project:

1. Laura Garrett, I Want Your Worms:  For realzies. We gotta plan this out. Can I just show up to class with a tub of soil?  It'd probably be best to be soil; I don't think the class wants to smell my fermenting fruit matter.

2. Just the Plants, Ma'am: For those biased against the wriggley-wigglies, I mean to continue with the organic-matter-only (traditional?) composting method, just so I can learn (and transmit my composting triumphs and tribulations).  That, and the fact that such a simplified model might be more easily scaled to a community-wide program.

3. Diorama-rama Day: I won't actually make a diorama of my composting project, I just like that episode of the Simpsons. BUT, I will make diagrams and post pictures of my composting bins (both with and without worms [or, "verms"]).  Might as well share the experience in all it's detail.

4. Collaboration (Scale 1): I'm in the process of writing letters (and baking treats) for the other folks in my apartment complex - which is actually just a house, subdivided into three, 2-person apartments - to try and persuade them to collect their plant matter in tupperware (which I will provide), so as to create a composting plan for the entire building.  Jesualdo, Jenny, Rachel, and Renee will definitely be down, right guys?

5. Collaboration (Scale 2): In the absence of a successful compost project for my building - like if we can't get it to generate heat, we run into container problems, or just generate too much plant matter - the secondary attempt would actually broaden the scope of contact by involving more people: the BCL house "Helm's Deep" is just down the street and they have an active, successful compost bin and a number of plant-growing (herb gardens, gardens, hoop-houses) projects that could benefit from all the plant matter that the apartments, in my house, generate.

6. Collaboration (Scale 3): If these go rather well - or at least generate a significant volume of plantmatter, composted soil, and verm-juice - the next step is to spread the love all the way to the community-at-large, publicizing a small-scale program for donating compost to local farmers and CSAs.  If it got any publicity, I would hope and think that others in the community would join in...and, if it really takes off, it could become an official thing.

7. Collaboration (Ultimate): Is it possible for Bloomington's waste-collection services (especially those responsible for collecting yard-waste) to collect compostable food (plant) matter? Has this been done in any other communities in the country? On the continent? In the world.  My hunch is that this idea has at least been tried...and, hopefully, in some places, it may even be successful.  Hearing that West Lafayette generates some energy from composted food matter is inspiring enough to really look into the matter.  This would require a significant amount of research...and why do all that for this audience, alone?  The goal would be to take the findings of the research, my own personal experiences and interviews with friends/neighbors about composting, and any policy-analysis methods at my disposal (few, at this point...SPEA folks, I'll need your help)...take all of this and draft a report to be submitted to relevant Bloomington waste-management officials, committees, & councils, as well as a public report for the City Council and relevant bodies like the BCOS.

Reels on Wheels:
This idea is still in beta testing, for sure.  Maybe even gamma-testing at that.  Does that even work? ...Alpha, beta, gamma, delta...(somebody fratty help me out here).  Anyway, the idea is kindof a hybrid of two others...but, being that both products and processes can be patented, maybe I should get on that before I divulge trade-secrets...

jk, I believe in open-sourcing

There is a project, featured on TED, that produces bamboo bicycles (sturdy, cost-effective) for sale in developing countries.  There are also reel mowers.  Their powers-combined create a landscaping tool of significant sustainability.

But, for real (or "reel" bwwaahahaha) sustainable landscape-maintenance could more easily be attained through the creation and use of more sustainable equipment.  We laugh when we think of someone mowing acreage of lawn with a reel-mower...but what if the blade-reel (or multiples of these) were attached to a bicycle?

Apparently some kid was way ahead of me on this one: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pLmkIkqIHC0  BUT, he obviously hasn't made the best entrepreneurial decisions about it...at least I've never seen anybody buy or use something like this.

Besides, I have design ideas (to be posted) that are markedly different.  So glad I know engineers and handy people.  If this could be made, advertised, maybe donate/raffle-off a few prototypes at a B-Foods event...it could be the new thing in town (in the town lawn-care community, that is).

Food Fun:
Every week, I donate 1.5 hours of my time to culinary, experimental expression. By which I mean that, once a week, I have very little time to try and throw together a dish or two to contribute to BCL's weekly potluck.  The above is a nice little creation: a pita pizza of garlic, cream-cheese, and shallot-sauteed spinach and, for desert, mango-puree pastries with a blueberry garnish.  Though delicious and less than an eyesore, these were hardly sustainable dishes...at least, I haven't seen many mangoes growing around here, the pita was certainly not local, and the cream-cheese was most-likely processed.  New objective: culinary creations with local, organic ingredients.  Recipes will be posted.  Enjoy!
Yes, much ado about sustainability.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

V515x1: Development


"Development" is a concept that everyone knows should be technical, yet none can agree on it's technicalities; thus, it remains a source of less-than-productive debates, political posturing, and a bunch of hot air.

"Sustainable development" might seem worse, but I think the qualifier actually provides a parameter to work with...things can "develop" in oh-so-many sequences, trajectories, iterations, forms...but, being "sustainable" can only mean so many things.  I mean, it's opposite, "terminal" obviously forecloses a lot of options...

Wheeler and Roseland do a fine job of surveying the problems and promises of a "sustainable development" concept, so I won't belabor the point.  Yet, I'll make one that's related.

When we talk about technical definitions, operationalized concepts, and the implementation of policies, it's no far stretch to realize the power of language.  Two of us could talk, at length, using the same words, in the same syntax, yet walk away completely befuddled, simply given the fact that words can come with - highly variant - culturally and experientially loaded connotations. This can even be intentional, equivocating, and used for strategic ends. 

*I mention this because of our readings' presentation of international declarations, agendas, and local/domestic policy instruments.  Though there are many features of these documents that make them popularly significant, strategically artful, and of historical significance, it is also the case that they are highly  technical instruments with some strangely counter-intuitive properties.
(1) Roseland mentions the "target populations" to which interventions/instruments should be applied.  It is astute to recognize that instruments should be tailored to specific subsets of communities - often along demographic cross-sections of various sorts...however, an extra step is required.  The very language of a law, regulation, policy can affect the success of its implementation: “Social construction become embedded in policy as messages that are absorbed by citizens and affect their orientations and participation patterns. Policy sends messages about what government is supposed to do, which citizens are deserving (and which not), and what kinds of attitudes are appropriate in a democratic society. Different target populations, however, receive quite different messages.” [1]

(2) The logic behind policy implementation is not always straightforward and, in many cases, cannot be. Decades of experimentation with measurements of Maximum Sustainable Yield have concluded that resource ecosystems can become so complex that the linear-cycle assumptions of MSY can obscure critically important, large, slow-moving, systems variables that can't always be estimated by conventional means [2].  Thankfully, the human mind - some argue - is better equipped with cognitive shortcuts, or heuristics, that can assemble structures of meaning that are context - rather than text - dependent.  "Ecological rationality" describes the use of heuristic processes for the navigation of explanatory and predictive theoretical obstacles and is geared toward the pragmatic resolution of indeterminacy, especially where computing optimization – under constraints or otherwise – is implausible [3].

(3) There are more, but this is approaching TLDNR so we can leave the rest for another day.
LASTLY, on the note of "development" several selections in our readings mention notions along the lines of "moral development."  Though I can't quite speak to that, I'll advocate the expansion of empathy. IF YOU HAVE TO CHOOSE, DON'T FOLLOW THOSE CITATIONS...WATCH THIS VIDEO INSTEAD:

[1]: Schneider, Anne and Helen Ingram. 1993. Social Construction of Target Populations: Implications for Politics and Policy. American Political Science Review 87(2): 334.
[2]: Wilson, James. 2002. “Scientific Uncertainty, Complex Systems, and the Design of Common-
Pool Institutions.” In The Drama of the Commons, ed. Elinor Ostrom, Thomas Dietz, Nives DolÅ¡ak,
Paul C. Stern, Susan Stonich, and Elke U. Weber, 327-359. Washington, DC: National Academy
[3]: Gigerenzer, G. (2008). Rationality for Mortals: How People Cope with Uncertainty. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The Empathic Civilization

Monday, September 12, 2011

Circling the Square...WT*?

Honestly this was just one of the first things I thought of, when we were talking about the blogs in class.  It seemed to fit with a lot of ideas in and around the major themes. It's kindof a fun idea:

Circling the Square...sustainable communities...
Thinking outside the box?
A rectification through retrofitting?
Rounding-out economics with ecology?
Circling the methods of math with the meanings of mind?

 Sure. All of the above. And then some.

Specifically, though it calls two things to mind:
(1) In the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13 (and also real life, I suppose...) the astronauts run into an air-filtration problem, the resolution of which ends-up involving the mechanical awkwardness of fitting a square peg into a round hole.  Some would argue that we're on the way to our own, global, air-filtration problem...and that integrating sustainable solutions with our current political-economic incentive structure is, well, like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
(2) Human reason can too often rely on linear understandings of cause-&-effect, logic, static equilibrium...yet, the world we live in is characterized by chaotic conditions and deep complexity.  ....obviously I'm not quite promoting circular logic...but, rather, mean to evoke the sense of limitless, elegant, completeness that circles often represent in great art -- "It's the circle of life...and it moves us all"..."Wheel in the sky keeps on turnin' "..."Sors immanis (Fate - monstrous), et inanis (and empty), rota tu volubilis, (you whirling wheel)."

So, that's what that is.  Nothing meant to be esoteric or artful.  Just smatterings. Like that which is to come.

***I also hope it's clear that neither this nor the preceding entry are meant to be evaluated with respect to synthetic integration and discussion of our readings...I'll mark those specifically as "V515xN, N={1,2,3...+inf.)"***

Get Real

Hey folks in blog land. Shout-out to V515: I finally have a reason to be a part of the "blogosphere."  ...and to the rest of you: go easy on me; I hear blogging is like riding a bike: once you get it, etc., etc.

I don't know anything about blogging, but that fact will make itself abundantly clear, without further explanation.  What I will explain is why I took the time just to explain that.  Explanation: I'll use this as a medium to be as earnest, honest, and real about issues of community sustainability, as I possibly can be (with reasonable regards of etiquette, of course).  It's really tempting to use this as a little soapbox I can stand on - railing against the sky - to pontificate about my various theories of blah and blah.  But, I don't want this to be about me and I don't want this to be severely boring for you. I respect you too much as fellow sustainability enthusiasts.  However, if you like multimedia content, you're in luck!  This is the last you'll ever hear about me...the rest is solely dedicated to the spilling of my brain in the form of articles, chapters, clips, quotes, vids, pics, slides, songs...and, of course, synthesizing and editorializing about our readings, discussions, and all the awesome content y'all are sure to share in tweets and blogs.

Hope you like what you see.  Feel free to email/message me if you have suggestions for format or content additions and improvement.  Enjoy!