Diverse Environmental Discussions in Pittsburgh at AESS 2013

2013-Conf-banner2AESS held its annual meeting at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh last week. Having participated in the first AESS meeting (in Madison in 2009), I found it a truly interdisciplinary meeting of scholars interested in environmental education. This remains so four years later; the variety of topics discussed was matched by the variety of approaches to those topics.

Within the three Flows of Waste panels alone, we had discussions of sewage, e-waste, MSW, ambient lead and soil testing strategies, construction and demolition waste, theoretical approaches to flows of waste (featuring an excellent Google Earth presentation by Samantha MacBride), and more. My own contribution was a history of how solid waste and recycling have been managed in the Chicago metropolitan area since the beginning of the twentieth century.

Other panels and field trips saw similarly diverse discussions of such topics as food systems, fracking, climate change, ecoliteracy, and university-community approaches to environmental education. One of the conference keynote addresses was Joel Tarr’s discussion of the region’s environmental history, following from his edited volume Devastation and Renewal.

Just from the recent history since I moved away from Pittsburgh a decade ago (after completing my dissertation under Joel’s supervision), changes in the region’s environmental history are evident. The growth of fracking is an obvious one, as is the expansion of public access to the region’s waterways. One other notable development is the conspicuous growth of environmental education. Chatham University, one of the conference co-sponsors is developing its new Eden Hall campus for sustainability education as a

Carnegie Mellon University's Electric Garage on Forbes Avenue has replaced an old filling station.

Carnegie Mellon University’s Electric Garage on Forbes Avenue has replaced an old filling station.

net zero carbon emission campus scheduled to open this fall. Finally, walking to the bus to take me to the airport, I noticed the decrepit old gas station on Forbes Avenue in Oakland had been taken over by Carnegie Mellon and transformed into an electric vehicle charging station and ZipCar site.

Overall, AESS in Pittsburgh was an inspiring combination of theory and practice without limitations of disciplinary boundaries. Next year’s conference in New York City promises to continue the conversations.

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