Monthly Archives: October 2012

Coming to Pratt Spring 2013: Power, Pollution, and Profit

Why was the Fisk Power Plant open so long in Chicago? Why did it close? These are some of the questions we’ll discuss in Power, Pollution, & Profit.

Following the initial offering of SUST 201 The Sustainable Core, I’m debuting a new course at Pratt for spring semester.  SS 490-03 Power, Pollution, and Profit, while it has no prerequisites, is a more advanced seminar focusing on the types of energy (fossil fuels, renewables, nuclear) used in modern society.  Here’s a quick summary:

SS 490-03 Power, Pollution, and Profit
Modern society relies on burning fossil fuel for energy, with serious economic, public health, and environmental consequences. Learn the history of how we came to rely on unsustainable energy sources and ways in which our future use of energy may be made mode sustainable.

Spring 2013: Wednesdays EDIT: Mondays, 9:30am-12:20pm.

The reading list is still coming together (and may evolve as New York determines what — if any — fracking will be done upstate), but expect historical, contemporary, and forecasting readings from sources ranging from historian Martin Melosi to Rocky Mountain Institute founder Amory Lovins.

Registration is limited to 15 students, and I am happy to answer any questions curious students may have about using SS 490-03 for elective credit, readings, course expectations, or any other details.

Karl Hendricks Trio in New York City October 19

Karl Hendricks does not perform often, especially outside of his native Pittsburgh. Since he released a splendid new record this summer (which I discussed at some length when it came out), the Karl Hendricks Trio is making a few trips to other cities.

One of them, happily, is New York City, where the Trio will be part of the Comedy Minus One CMJ showcase at Leftfield (87 Ludlow Street) on October 19. Karl’s set is back-to-back with one by Rebecca Gates (of Spinanes and Ruby Series fame), all the more reason to go to this rare and highly-anticipated event.



brandnü Founder Nathan Zhang at Pratt Institute Wednesday Evening

This morning, my SUST 201 students and I were fortunate to get a visit from brandnü founder Nathan Zhang.  He spoke to us about how brandnü both upcycles secondhand clothing and provides support to the rural migrant women workers who collaborate on brandnü’s projects.  If you are curious about sustainable fashion in China, you have an opportunity to see Nathan speak, as the School of Liberal Arts and Sciences presents…

Nathan Zhang

Do Good, Look Good & Feel Good!

Socially conscious sustainable fashion and design.

Wednesday, October 3rd at 5:30 PM

North Hall 111, Pratt Institute, Brooklyn Campus

Nathan Zhang speaks to the SUST 201 class about upcycling.

Nathan Zhang or “Xiangzi,” is the founder of brandnü project. Born in Liaoning, Nathan is a designer and communications professional with a passion for connecting creative communities with rural artisans. Nathan was first inspired to found brandnü while living and working abroad in Canada, where he studied leading models of social enterprise. In 2008, Nathan and his wife moved back to China with a mission: to help rural women. Through brandnü, Nathan aims to build bridges between East and West that promote China’s socially-conscious designers and entrepreneurs. He is working hard to make brandnü a place where love can be received and spread to others.

For more on brandnü project:

The Century of Eric Hobsbawm and Barry Commoner

Over the past 24 hours, Eric Hobsbawm and Barry Commoner died, each at the age of 95.  Hobsbawm and Commoner were structuring influences on the fields of (respectively) social history and environmental studies.  Both men engaged communities outside of the classroom.  Hobsbawm was perhaps the most enduring face of Communism in Great Britain for decades, as well as (with E.P. Thompson) the great historian of the British working class.  Commoner was one of the most tenacious environmental activists of the past half century and even ran for president in 1980.

Both men leave behind work that continues to inform the work countless scholars and activists perform today — not least my own.  Hobsbawm’s The Invention of Tradition is a book environmental activists would do well to read, as he discusses how cultural norms are created and produce powerful buffers against change.  Commoner’s focus on the dangers of pollution to human and environmental health (as he discussed in The Closing Circle) is an obvious influence on those of us in the history of waste and pollution (and evident in entry upon entry of the Encyclopedia of Consumption and Waste: The Social Science of Garbage).

Both men earned great obituaries, as searches for their names this week will confirm.  I’ll quote a few choice bits from the New York Times on each man.

On Hobsbawm:

Mr. Hobsbawm and his colleagues in the Historians’ Study Group of the Communist Party established labor history as an important field of study and in 1952 created an influential journal, Past and Present, as a home base.

The rich dividends from this new approach to writing history were apparent in works like “Primitive Rebels: Studies in Archaic Forms of Social Movement in the 19th and 20th Centuries” (1959), “Laboring Men: Studies in the History of Labor” (1964) and “Industry and Empire,” the companion volume to Christopher Hill’s “Reformation to Industrial Revolution.”

During this period, Mr. Hobsbawm also wrote jazz criticism for The New Statesman and Nation under the pseudonym Francis Newton, a sly reference to the jazz trumpeter Frankie Newton, an avowed Communist. His jazz writing led to a book, “The Jazz Scene,” published in 1959.

On Commoner:

Dr. Commoner’s diagnoses and prescriptions sometimes put him at odds with other environmental leaders. He is rightly remembered as an important figure in the first Earth Day, April 22, 1970, a nationwide teach-in conceived by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, and he himself regarded the observance as historically important. But Earth Day also illustrated the growing factionalization of a movement in which “environmentalism” could mean anything from ending the Vietnam War to growing one’s own cabbages, and a number of singular, easily grasped agendas were competing for attention and money.

This was the context for the rift between Dr. Commoner and advocates of population control, who saw environmental degradation as a byproduct of overpopulation and who had become a force on the strength of Paul R. Ehrlich’s huge best seller “The Population Bomb.” Conservationist groups like the Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation were strong supporters of Dr. Ehrlich’s views.

Dr. Commoner took aim at the “neo-Malthusians.” On a scientific panel discussion with Dr. Ehrlich in December 1970, he said it was “a cop-out of the worst kind” to say that “none of our pollution problems can be solved without getting at population first.”

He elaborated in his best-known book, “The Closing Circle,” published the next year. Reducing population, he wrote, was “equivalent to attempting to save a leaking ship by lightening the load and forcing passengers overboard.”

“One is constrained to ask if there isn’t something radically wrong with the ship.”

Five years shy of a century, Eric Hobsbawm and Barry Commoner produced work that will long survive them and be instructive to people not yet born. Both men were concerned with the consequences of expression and behavior, and I’ll close this entry with one more quote from Commoner’s obituary:

Dr. Commoner practiced what he preached. In his personal habits he was as frugal as a Yankee farmer, and as common-sensical. He drove or took taxis if the route by public transit took him far out of his way. On the other hand, he saw no need to waste electricity by ironing his shirts.

And when a Times writer once asked his Queens College office to mail some material, it arrived in an old brown envelope with the crossed-out return address of the botany department at Washington University — a place where he had last worked 19 years earlier.