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Archive for the ‘General’ Category

Sabbatical

Loyal readers will have noted that this blog and my comments in print have been absent these past several months. Sadly, in December, the student paper decided not to renew my column for the Spring semester and I took the opportunity to dive head-long into my full time study of Sustainability and completing my transition to my new department. This has been an enormously rewarding endeavor and I look forward to the continued pursuit of understanding and knowledge in my new field. At the same time, I have missed the opportunity to reflect more or less formally and particularly in print (think deadlines!). Writing has a way of grounding theory in reality, and of forcing one to truly work through what they mean. As Interim Dean of the Graduate School David Bell once put it: ‘a thought is not real until you write it down.’ I have discovered the truth of this. Of course, talking to people about our future and the challenges of our times is also stimulating, inspiring and educational. And, I have grown to value this highly as well. In my pursuit to re-purpose these exercises, I look forward to returning to the blogging world refreshed, invigorated, and re-inspired. Stay-tuned!

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Originally Published December 8, 2011

 

Duke has stepped off the coal train. Nostalgia, however, has us hanging on to the memories, but it’s time to move on. For posterity, let us note the role of coal in the University’s history with a plaque then move on by renaming Coal Pile Drive.

The time is right for this change to happen. First, because the University recently ended its use of coal after more than 80 years as the primary fuel source. Second, because the Duke University Medical Center (DUMC) is currently undergoing a dramatic physical transformation that should and will take center stage of the roadway. Third, because the University has more notable people and accomplishments to celebrate than a coal pile.

To the first point, in the Spring of this year, Duke officially ended its more than 80-year reliance on coal as the primary fuel source for on-campus steam production. Steam is primarily used to heat buildings on campus. Prior to implementation of the Climate Action Plan (CAP) in 2009, coal made up nearly 90 percent of the fuel mix for steam production. At the same time, steam production itself contributed 24 percent of the total emissions of the University.

Since the CAP was implemented, a careful juggling act of steam capacity has taken place. The East Campus Steam Plant, located next to Smith Warehouse, has been renovated and restored to run on natural gas. As a result, the CAP calculates a drop in greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of nearly 10 percent compared to baseline estimates. The full measure of actual reductions from the renovations will appear in reporting for 2011, which is not yet available. Presumably, 2011 should prove to be another successful year of reductions in campus GHG emissions.

It’s now time for the West Campus Steam Plant to receive a facelift. The coal pile is now gone, and so is the equipment required to move and burn coal within the facility. In its place, additional natural gas boilers will be installed with fuel oil back-up. The building will also undergo restoration to reveal the original architecture, similar to the award-winning facelift of the East Campus facility. Once in operation, the West Campus Steam Plant will resume primary steam production and the East Campus Steam Plant will serve to compliment that capacity when necessary.

Plant modification is not the only activity happening on Coal Pile Drive these days. The drive is also undergoing a dramatic transformation from back alley to front door. Not more than two years ago, the uninviting river of pavement ran by a small patch of woods, then the actual coal pile on its way to the hospital. For visitors, you may have hardly noticed the coal pile itself. Instead you were more likely to be caught in awe by the tall smoke stacks imposing on the skyline with their harsh industrialism. You might also have been caught, literally, between the tall concrete wall holding back the coal pile and oncoming traffic.

Now, there is a guard stationed under a collapsible tent, with construction cranes and heavy equipment vigorously building out what will be a dramatically transformed part of DUMC. New buildings include the Duke University Cancer Center, the new Duke Medicine Pavilion, a hospital expansion and the new School of Medicine Learning Center. In addition to the new buildings, plans are in place to connect DUMC with a spine of greenways and quadrangles that provide healing natural environments for patients, families and visitors. That spine will run down the old Coal Pile Drive and connect DUMC with the Engineering Quad and the rest of campus. A screen of trees will be planted between this pedestrian way and the renovated steam plant.

With Coal Pile Drive’s defining landmark no longer in place, it seems natural that its name should also be retired from use. According to retired University Architect, John Pearce, he officially bestowed the name on the access road in the 1990s when the Durham Fire Marshal required 911 addresses for all on-campus buildings. Prior to that time it may have been referred to as Coal Pile Drive, but the name was apparently not official as it was a private road.

Regardless of the origin, the moniker is no longer needed for orientation. In addition to being a prime naming opportunity for a potential donor, the new greenway should serve as the foundation for the new name, demanding in its own right the honor of orienting the campus.

Duke no doubt has reason to celebrate the significant milestones on the road to its greener future. Ending its use of coal is one of those milestones, and the renovation and renaming of Coal Pile Drive is a true opportunity to paint the campus landscape in our future vision.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in earth and ocean sciences. This is her final column of the semester.

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By Liz Bloomhardt

Published November 10, 2011

 

You may have noticed the recent appearance of painted white bicycles under a double arrow on campus streets. They are sharrows, and they come with a message: It’s time to share the road.

These awesomely hip shared-lane markings are a nationally recognized symbol alerting road users that bicycles have a right to occupy the lane of traffic. In addition to alerting and slowing drivers, the arrows serve to indicate to cyclists the appropriate direction of travel.

Recognizing that many streets on campus are not able to accommodate a separate bike lane, the sharrows help tell both drivers and bikers that cyclists have a right to move into the center of the travel lane.

There are several scenarios in which we might acknowledge this to be safer than staying on the side of the road. For one, this helps to ensure safe passing of parked cars by cyclists and gives people exiting parked vehicles enough room to open doors. In addition, it also locates cyclists in a more visible position to cars approaching the roadway from side streets and driveways.

These sharrows play an important role in biking safety. The N.C. Department of Transportation’s data on bicycle crashes reported in North Carolina between 2005 and 2009 indicate that 7.8 percent of collisions involving a motor vehicle and a cyclist occurred when the motorist was overtaking the cyclist. Sharrows should help. Because bicycles move more slowly, vehicular traffic must adjust their speed accordingly. On campus, where the speed limits don’t exceed 25 mph, the sharrow effect may simply serve to reinforce this limit. That’s safer for everyone, including pedestrians, who always have the right of way!

One place you won’t find sharrows is on the paths and walkways around campus. Pedestrians have the right of way in these spaces and it is dangerous for cyclists to ride through these areas. A dismount policy, particularly for the heavily trafficked Main Quad and Bryan Center Plaza are appropriate and encouraged.

The introduction of the sharrow to campus streets is not intended to address the remaining need for a cross-campus, bike-friendly connection.

The sharrows compliment recent efforts to map bicycle infrastructure, including bike racks and shower facilities, and improve commuter incentives. This should result in the continued growth in popularity of cycling as a viable commuting option, despite the limitations of existing infrastructure.

Recently released statistics from Duke Parking and Transportation indicate that more than 520 people are registered as bike commuters, roughly 60 percent of whom are graduate students. These individuals are likely to live between two and five miles from campus. This makes the Duke-Durham connection to campus critical for heightened safety door-to-door. Duke should continue to partner with the city to make these connections a viable priority.

The sharrow program also enables the continued encouragement of undergraduate students to bring bikes to campus and to utilize the highly popular Duke Bikes program.

Another opportunity to expand the bike user base will continue to grow as bus and other transit options in Durham mature with the passage of the half-cent sales tax increase in Tuesday’s election. Continued pressure to prioritize bike-friendly connections with new transit options will augment the success of the future transit system.

Future harmony of the various transit modes in using the shared-road resource will require acknowledgement on the parts of all road users.

Ultimately, the sharrows can only do so much to keep everyone aware and safe. It’s up to bikers to clearly communicate their intentions to drivers and those around them. All parties must follow the law and obey traffic signals. Also, wear a helmet when you’re on your bike. A bad hair day is worth another bad hair day!

For more discussion of bike related issues and to find more information, I encourage the bike community at Duke to visit http://www.bikeduke.com to keep track of news and information about bike commuting at Duke.

 

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published October 13, 2011

Since the Board of Trustees of the University approved the Climate Action Plan in May, 2009, the annual green house gas (GHG) inventory of the University has been trending downward. The calculated 2010 emissions were 8.9 percent below the 2007 baseline. These reductions are roughly on par with the stated goals set forth in the CAP, and that document has proved to be an able guide.

Over that same time, the Sustainable Duke website has indicated some mission creep. In addition to the objectives of the CAP in reducing emissions and reaching carbon neutrality by 2024, there are now robust sections that cover campus initiatives in other areas like dining, waste, water and purchasing.

This totally makes sense.

The CAP was created as a direct response to President Richard Brodhead’s signing of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007. Sustainability, however, means more than just climate to a school’s operation, reputation, ranking and service to society.

This year, the president-appointed Campus Sustainability Committee, of which I am a member, and its many subcommittees have been directed to move beyond climate and focus some energy on the creation of a Sustainability Strategic Plan (SSP).

In addition to getting a few more points on the next Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Sustainability Tracking Assessment and Rating System (STARS) rating submission in three years, an SSP has the potential to empower unexpected change. In the same way President Brodhead told me last year the CAP led the University to end its use of coal.

In the same way the CAP measures greenhouse gas emissions and set a target for carbon neutrality, the SSP will derive its success from the identification of reliable data streams and clear, articulate goals that can be measured.

The areas into which the SSP has the power to move however, (eg. purchasing and waste) are decision areas that quickly become decentralized into Duke’s many schools, departments and buildings. This will provide a major challenge like those already being tackled in the area of personal transportation.

In addition, without the same unifying commitment from ACUPCC that led to the CAP and similarly-focused plans at schools across the country and world, the SSP must navigate a less-defined space.

Though several peer and neighboring institutions including Yale, N.C. State, Princeton and Purdue have published SSPs, they are each slightly different in their approach and scope. Duke will be the same. Instead of crafting a holistic SSP over the course of a year, like was done with the drafting of the CAP, a couple choice areas have been selected, to be followed by additional areas in later years.

This year’s primary areas of focus are: a) water and storm water and b) transportation. The secondary area is waste reduction/recycling/composting.

The first focus, water and Storm water, is a policy area that is under central administrative control and has garnered heightened interest since the severe drought of 2007. A large user education effort was made at that time, and compliance with state and local regulations will dictate storm water management requirements. This is a safe, easy category to include in the first year. It is also regionally relevant if not particularly progressive.

The second area of focus this year is transportation. This topical area seems redundant, however, as it is covered under the CAP, and a subcommittee and a working group already exist to address the stated and evolving goals and challenges.

Finally, as a secondary focus area, a new subcommittee will form to consider materials management on campus including recycling, waste and composting. Waste management—and recycling in particular—is an often-lamented underachievement on Duke’s campus. This newly formed subcommittee has an opportunity to challenge that reality, but it’s not likely to be easy. The current waste management system is of the decentralized variety and therefore rife with political and bureaucratic implications.

Not included in this year’s list of focus areas are dining and purchasing. Dining in particular is a highly relevant topic area right now with the West Union renovation and growing food awareness on campus. It’s likely that these areas will come later, I just hope the prime opportunity to start to address them specifically, and sustainability in a holistic way has not passed.

The SSP has the power to change Duke in unexpected and positive ways. Let us make sure Duke is open to the possibility.

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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By Liz Bloomhardt
Published September 1, 2011

I started the day out in Page Auditorium, surrounded by first-years who were eagerly introducing themselves and comparing the size and location of their dorm rooms. Many of them had a green book with white writing splashed across the cover: their summer reading assignment.

In an attempt to follow-up on my column last Spring about the book, “Eating Animals,” by Jonathan Safran Foer, I attended both sessions of the author’s speech to the first-year students, then sat with a FAC-led discussion group after each lecture.

The unprompted discussions surrounding the book may have reached deeper and more complex places than those I observed. Yet, the gist of this book’s impact was clearly evident and it ran the spectrum.

Some members of the Class of 2015 were uncomfortable, bored or otherwise turned off by the book. Some didn’t finish it, or claimed to have been unmoved. On the other hand, approximately 60 to 70 percent of the freshmen I spoke with said they had altered their eating habits significantly, had tried for at least some time to be vegetarians or had become full-fledged vegetarians.

It would therefore seem that Foer was extremely successful in his argument. I agree with him from an environmental perspective, Foer has the facts in his corner. Factory farming is bad, and that’s not even getting into the health or animal welfare issues associated with consuming meat.

But what bothered me most all day were the things Foer did not talk about. Foer’s seems to assert that the best way to address the problem of factory farming is to become a vegetarian. Though I understand space in the book was limited, this is simplistic. In a sense, it is the opt-out method. The book not only does nothing to address the factory farming issue culturally (a word Foer never uses), it also under informs.

One student in each question and answer session asked Foer why he stopped shy of veganism, that is, before fully personally confronting the factory farming of all animal products. Time, and that he’s not perfect, was the general gist of the response. The answer hardly seemed satisfying, although certainly, as he also pointed out, it was more approachable than an academic or logical explanation.

He also did not talk about the sourcing of the alternative option he presents, namely vegetables and the attendant issues related to their industrialized production. While arguably less impactful than animal product production, industrialized vegetable agriculture should be no less of a concern to the truly engaged and thoughtful eater.

Those who entered Foer’s discussion were presented with a local way to get further involved: a bookmark with the website: http://sites.duke.edu/food/

As the sun was nearing the treetops, I was headed toward one such center for engagement (also described on the website), the Duke Campus Farm, a sustainable, organic, demonstration farm with the motto: farm to fork, student to student. Foer’s choice to remain silent about vegetables wasn’t going to stop me from learning about them.

In the space of a three hour “workday,” I learned a lot—like how to prune basil, pick corn and what was making the tomato plants look dead but still productive (blight). I also learned about corn smut, a fungus that attacks the corn kernels making them appear engorged.

While I was harvesting your Marketplace meal of last Friday (no smut included), I also bonded with my fellow farm workers, who were a bit more practiced and knowledgeable. I eventually found my cherry tomato picking rhythm, but I would probably not cut it in a competitive work environment.

And then there was a rustling under the leaves of the sweet potato patch. A bunny. It was impossible to see unless it moved. The others came with sticks and a strong conviction that the bunny must go, but whether to relocate it or kill it was an open question. For several minutes we puzzled through the ridiculous notions that the bunny would go lightly into the proffered bucket for relocation, or when prompted, opt for a ride in the snare tarp instead of escaping under it. Meanwhile the bunny had other plans entirely, and it elusively outmaneuvered the big sticks, buckets and tarps making a clean getaway back the way it came.

So it was that the day’s literal and philosophical puzzle boiled down to that age old question: To kill or not to kill the bunny? And, how?

Liz Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering. Her column runs every other Thursday.

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Two Gardens

By Liz Bloomhardt

Published August 26, 2011

 

Last spring I decided it was time to get my hands dirty and plant a garden. A proper garden, in the ground.

For several years I’ve achieved what I considered moderate success with a tomato plant or two on the porch. Add to that the hop vines, grown in whiskey barrels, that did nicely in their third year, rewarding us with enough hops for a batch of homebrew, and I felt ready for the big time.

To set the mood: the poetically mouth watering pages of prose describing asparagus, for one, in Barbara Kingsolver’s “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle” and a timely article in the New York Times suggesting several online seed retailers. A peek outside at the unsightly new retaining wall on a seemingly abandoned worksite in the backyard plus the history of two years of cursory attention by the landscapers and it’s no wonder my patience for progress had worn thin. I was eager with anticipation to start digging, cultivating, nurturing … or at least to just start by ripping out the damn hedges that were half dead anyway!

But before I ever picked up a shovel, I busted out the graph paper and a pencil and I walked around the house in April with my sketch pad and measuring tape. I jotted notes and made lists. I consulted the online catalogues of seeds while visions of terraces and stone paths and lush greenery danced into being in my mind.

As with any beginning gardener (if I can call myself that) my imagination was brimming with possibility, nevermind the lack of know-how needed to get there.

And yet, already, this vision I had created on paper and in my mind was my first garden. Let me explain.

In his book “Second Nature,” Michael Pollan describes his own garden as “actually two, one more or less imaginary, the other insistently real. The first is the garden of books and memories, that dreamed-of outdoor utopia. … The second garden is an actual place. … Much separates these two gardens, though every year I bring them a little more closely into alignment.”

My beautiful, magical, well-behaved, bug free, gorgeously edible, imaginary garden (with NO mosquitos) is not what happened this year. Despite watering and weeding and careful if clumsy cultivation, some of my seeds just never came up. Rather than failures, I’m calling these endeavors educational, because at the same time, a few of my plant selections, some with fantastic flowers and fruits, have taken over!

As in the garden, also in life. Nature, wild or cultivated, is often an apt metaphor if one takes the time to consider it as such, and as the summer wore on, this seemed especially true.

Again, let me explain. Several years ago, I embarked on a path through graduate school, but let’s call it life for generality’s sake. I did my homework, completed applications, talked to professors, students and mentors and became increasingly excited about returning to the academe for a professionally transformative experience, all the while cultivating in my mind the shape of my future.

When I got here, to Duke, I embraced my new environment, explored subjects I wanted to learn more about and got involved in ways I had never been involved before. I was, if you will, planting seeds of possibility. Some of those seeds have germinated and flourished, both in my mind and my work. Others have underperformed my expectations. Of the underachievers, I can speculate on the cause: too much sun, not enough, an intolerable pH balance … but regardless of the reason, what’s important is that I recognized the time to record the results, and iterate toward the future. Each new year, a new opportunity to plant anew.

Completely tearing up the roots of last year’s plantings that didn’t quite work is a near impossible task in the garden and in life. I got most of the root ball of that awful hedge out of the ground but only after much sweating and hacking. And after filling in the crater it left, I’m certain that shrub has left a deeper history in that spot than I will ever fully appreciate.

The same is true in life, although at times it seems easier to collect the blooms, or in my case a masters degree, create a meal, and till the stalks and roots back into the soil to nourish the next endeavor. Memory serving as the soil, a foundation made richer by experience.

It’s safe to say that both of my gardens, vegetative and professional, are still very much a work in progress. However, even though it will certainly take two years before the asparagus is ready for its first real harvest, I already feel confident I’m moving closer into alignment with that future self I hold in my mind.

Lix Bloomhardt is a fifth-year graduate student in mechanical engineering.

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Earth Day, 2011

Another year, another pollen storm, (some tornados in NC!), another Earth Day!

Unfortunately, from my little perch on the branch of sustainability awareness, there isn’t a whole lot of Earth Day going on in my usual publication, The Chronicle. That’s pretty disappointing, especially considering the amount of stuff that’s going on campus, both in and out of the classrooms, and the importance of the issue generally in the wider world. Instead of touching on the BP oil spill, the national and local political dialogue, or the groups holding events all month, the paper is in full senior mode, celebrating four years at Duke, getting nostalgic, and even a little hard hitting of campus culture issues – but more the kind that are undergraduate centered. While equally important, sometimes it’s a good time to look outside ourselves and our bubble.

Yesterday I attended an Earth Day celebration organized primarily by graduate student groups and likely largely attended by the same. It wasn’t on the Plaza or the main quad, it was down near the LSRC and the Nicholas School. I did the ceremonial bike ride, and hung out, watching Nic School professors get dunked in the dunk tank, eating earth friendly food, and getting a little sun to brighten my mood and complexion. Hard not to be a happy earth optimist under the circumstances!

So, while I don’t recommend The Chronicle for Earth Day coverage, there are plenty of publications to get your inspiration fix. From the Huffington Post green page, with their startlingly huge fonts imploring you to ‘Get Involved’, to Duke’s Sustainability Page, which has a full listing of Earth Month events, there’s lots to go around. It’s also an important time in our political dialogue to be educated on these issues and vocal about the impacts of compromising on our shared natural resources.

Happy Birthday Earth! Here’s to many more!

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