Category Archives: Environment

The Kaleidoscope End of Spring 2019


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Rainbow flag on campus for the Alliance Club Rainbow Fest.

The pace of academic life in spring can be grueling. At the end of any semester, things heat up—suddenly the crushing weight of grading, prepping exams, viewing speeches, etc., is combined with the need to look forward, finish reports and prepare for what comes next.

There’s so much to do and only so many hours in a day.

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Student from American Lit class, with chalk that was used to write quotes on campus.

It’s stressful, these final weeks of any term, but especially stressful in spring when a long break is coming, some students are graduating and everybody is making decisions about What Comes Next.

But, even if I feel like a hamster on a wheel moving at least twice as fast as it ought to, there is a lot to treasure in spring on campus. Recently at Mount Mercy University, for example, we’ve had a number of year-end events that are fulfilling and enriching.

Monday here was “Scholarship Festival,” a celebration of both the scholarly and creative work students have done this year. There were presentations, poster displays and creative writing readings.

My favorite? Paha! I always enjoy the readings done by young writers of their own works when this MMU creative magazine is published each spring, and Paha was a highlight of the Scholarship Festival.

Spring at MMU has featured so much more—Rainbow Fest celebrating the club that supports LBGTQ+ students; Eco Week, shining a spotlight on campus efforts to become more sustainable; smaller events, such as an English class chalking the walks with American literary quotes—and more is to come. Besides graduation and all the associated events, there will be concerts and retirement parties.

And even if it is cool and wet today, with more rain on the way, campus is suddenly green, the grass has been mowed several times and trees are waking up. It’s hard to even think of how dreary winter was–the mole people of MMU are emerging from the steam tunnels and can be spotted out in the outdoors.

The kaleidoscope that years end always brings can be disorientating and discomforting, but it is also energizing and exhilarating. Here’s to spring on a university campus!

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Dr. Carol Tyx, English professor, shows Paha at Scholarship Festival.

Images of the kaleidoscope:

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A Man Walked the Walk Despite Cows


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Books for sale at evening presentation.

The Great Plains seems to be a beautiful place—a place of big skies, great distances and cows.

Beware the cows. A city kid from Buffalo, New York, Ken Ilgunas set out in fall several years ago to walk the route of the Keystone Pipeline, planned to go from Alberta to Texas. His purpose was to write a book about the land the controversial project would cross.

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At the evening speech, in the light.

But his worry, besides being shot for trespassing as he followed the route, was the potential for cattle catastrophe.

Although he did have some scary encounters, cows, it turned out, where not the bad.

And the people he met were mostly willing to help a scruffy looking stranger walking across their land. Ilguan, who spoke March 5 at Mount Mercy University, told both a journalism class and an evening public program that he had a particular approach to strangers.

 

Ilguna would walk up to a house, knock on the door, and then say, “I’m walking across America. Can I trouble you for some water?”

The answer was almost universally “yes.” One-on-one, as it turns out, Americans are not hostile or violent. They’ll invite you in, give you water, sometimes offer a meal or even a couch for the night.

I enjoyed both of Ilguna’s presentations, and hope to get and read his books—I did not have enough cash in my pocket to buy one tonight, but I’ll shop for “Trespassing Across America” soon.

Besides being an interesting and entertaining personal journey, Ilguna was also recording what he called, in scope, one of the biggest of all human-made environmental disasters, second perhaps only to global warming. Great swaths of land in Canada are being stripped to get at the oil tar, and great damage is then done to extract the oil from the sand and clay it is bound to.

The afternoon session, in which a social work professor kindly allowed my introduction to journalism class to sit in, included some interesting thoughts on launching a writing career. Among other things, Ilguna urged students to have their own web site—which validates a requirement I made in my writing classes for students to do that very thing.

The class also included an interesting discussion of the reality that Ilguna was a white man walking across the whitest part of North America, which was to his advantage. He and the students speculated it would be harder for any person or color, and several women noted that it would be difficult for a female to make that kind of solo journey.

It was an interesting day. More images. I’m glad Rachel Murtaugh and the MMU sustainability effort brought this interesting writer to campus.

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Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy, Travel, Weather, Writing

In Praise of Winter Walks


The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can.
“Roads Go Ever On” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

In contrast to earlier the season—when we were blasted with cold in late November, December in Iowa has gifted us with some mild days. And by bike and foot, I have taken some advantage of that.

Monday, I was tied up much of the day with finishing semester grades. At least I did bicycle to campus. But on Tuesday, after some errands, my wife and I took a late afternoon stroll. We only walked maybe a total of two miles or so, but it was a pleasant (by December standards) sunset journey.

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Sun setting along C Avenue in Cedar Rapids on Dec. 18, 2018. During a stroll with my wife as we celebrate being married 36 years. It was warm Dec. 18 36 years ago, too.

On Wednesday, I biked to campus to finish some additional odds and ends, and then met my wife and youngest son. We drove down to the NewBo area for lunch at Parlor City, and then went for a stroll along a part of the Cedar River Trail, including the new Sinclair Levee path.

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Dec. 19, 2018, view during stroll along Sinclair Levee trail.

It was breezy, and sunshine was starting to turn to clouds, but again, with a temperature around 40 or so, quite nice for December. We happily chatted as we strolled, enjoying the companionship, the outdoors and the effort of the walk.

John Green created a recent Vlogbrothers video which was a walk through some Indiana woods in cold, wet weather with some friends. I’m not sure I completely agree with his point that the bad weather helped make it a good walk—I’m more of a fair-weather journeyer—although otherwise I think he’s on to something. We are all on a life journey, and sharing that journey with friends as we make our way is partly what it’s about.

And it is important to just get out there, when you can, whether in Indiana rain or Iowa sunshine. A walk outside is a way of enjoying the world beyond our artificial shelters, when conditions allow. We re creatures of this Earth and should feel our connection with it, now and then. Which is one thing a winter walk is good for.

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Let Us Sustain This Conversation


 

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Dr. Kris Keuseman, associate professor of chemistry, speaks Nov. 19, 2018, during the final presentation in the 2018 Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series.

Plastics, it turns out, are a lot likes pasta. The polymers that make up plastics are long molecules, and, like spaghetti, sometimes parts of them can break off—which is one reason that plastic so permeates our environment now.

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Dr. Tracy Tunwall, associate professor of business.

The 2018 Fall Faculty Series was about the central problem of our time—a conversation on the topic of sustainability. Called “Sustainability: Human/Nature & the Future of the Earth,” the series concluded with a presentation by Dr. Tracy Tunwall, associate professor of business; and Dr. Kris Keuseman, associate professor of chemistry.

Called “Addressing Consumerism: The Life-Cycle of Stuff,” it was a sobering final presentation Nov. 19, including video clips that helped describe the issue of what happens to all of our “stuff” when it’s thrown away.

This final presentation followed one earlier this month by Rachael Murtaugh, director of sustainability, on “Iowa Lands and Waters.”

Anyway, I thought it was very interesting in the final presentation to have a business person and a scientist speaking together. Dr. Tunwall has industry experience, while Dr. Keuseman can give you the molecular view.

Dr. Keuseman made it clear he’s not anti-plastic—it’s just that plastic has become the easily used medium to create products that don’t have to be disposable and could be made with other base materials that degrade more naturally.

As for Dr. Tunwall, she used several interesting video clips to illustrate how industry does and does not deal with waste. Most eye opening was a 60-Minutes segment that showed a “recycling” effort in Denver led to a environmental hell hole in Asia where impoverished workers are put at great risk using primitive methods to extract materials from old electronics.

human-nature-logo_0The Nov. 19 presentation brought to a close our fifth fall faculty series at Mount Mercy University. There were around 70 people there, which was nice. Our sequence of series began in 2014 when we talked about the cultural legacy of World War I. In 2015, we tackled the legacy of Vietnam. In 2016, the hot topic was immigration. In 2017, we had a series of presentations on our divided politics. And now our series on sustainability joins that list.

The 2018 series was somewhat smaller than past events, which is probably a good thing. We had some series that had more than 10 events. On the other, hand, some past series included outside speakers and student performances, which would be good to see again in the future, although I am not sure that there was a student performance piece that would go with this series. Maybe art on the topic?

Whatever. The Fall Faculty Series continues to be a valuable event at MMU. What should we do next?

In a PR class, I use a fictional series that I call “Red, White and Brown: Race and the American Experience.” I’m not sure that we would ever use “American Experience” in a series title—too close to the PBS show—but examining the state of race relations would, I think, be a good topic.

But it was also a very serious, very heavy topic. I think maybe MMU should aim to have some fun with the series.

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Rachael Murtaugh, director of sustainability at MMU, described Nov. 1 how much Iowa has changed and how little native Iowa is left.

What anniversaries are important in 2019 that might provide such a theme? It’s the 500th anniversary of the death of Leonardo DaVinci, although what that would mean for a series, I’m not sure. It’s the 75th -anniversary of D Day, but that will be the summer before the fall. It’s 50 years since 1969—when humans put their first footprints on the moon. Maybe DaVinci and the moon suggest something—the Renaissance sparked Earth exploration, and now we’re looking towards the heavens.

Yeah, not exactly screaming “fun.” Is there a sports or music theme that would work? And 2020 would seem like a natural to look at suffrage—voting rights—100 years after the 19th Amendment.

A 2019 Woodstock series? Sex, love, and rock and roll?

Well, we have some thinking to do and plans to make. Here are images of the Nov. 1 presentation and the Nov. 19 final event. For now, it’s nice to celebrate a series just completed as we consider the next adventure. Sustainability was a good theme—a large conversation that must continue. But that’s one of the nice things about this Fall Faculty Series idea—the large conversation it can help spark.

What ideas would you suggest for a 2019 series?

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Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy, Science

The True Cost of A Shirt


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Dr. Kate O’Neill holds up a shirt and asks an audience to guess its cost.

How much does a t-shirt really cost?

According to Dr. Kate O’Neill, associate professor of strategic leadership, too often we answer that question with the price of the shirt. She held up a shirt that she said retails for $9.97 at The Gap.

human-nature-logo_0But, in shipping, environmental disposal, carbon footprint—that shirt is an economic reality beyond its price. I’m not sure of the analysis that led to the figure, but O’Neill pegged the real cost of the shirt at 70 cents above its purchase price.

And that doesn’t sound like much, but we live in the a country of more than 300 million souls and each of us owns multiple t-shirts. The hidden cost of just one shirt for each of us amount to a $210 million hidden tax on society—the costs of land-filling the shirt, for example, are borne by all of us and not the maker nor consumer of the shirt.

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Dr. O’Neill speaks.

That was one illustration of the nature of the sustainability problem in economics O’Neill outlined in her talk “Global Social and Economic Sustainability: Supporting Environmental Practices” Oct. 22.

She spokes as part of the Mount Mercy University Fall Faculty Series “Sustainability: Human/Nature & the Future of the Earth.”

It’s an important series of talks that continues Nov. 1 when Rachael Murtaugh, director of sustainability and stewardship, speaks on “Iowa Lands and Water.”

I suspect part of O’Neill said may foreshadow the final presentation in the series Nov. 19, when Dr. Tracey Tunwall speaks on “Addressing Consumarism: The Life-Cycle of Stuff.”

One point O’Neill made, that I suspect Tunwall may come back to, is the idea of a “circular” economy that mimics nature. After all, nature doesn’t really have any waste products—what one biological entity leaves behind always becomes raw material for another biological entity. Nothing is wasted.

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Rachael Murtaugh, the next speaker in the series, listens to the talk.

That’s the true sustainability model O’Neill pointed to. And it was interesting to hear of an industrial community in, I think, Denmark that comes close to that ideal—with numerous manufacturers each utilizing the waste from some other facility.

It was an interesting night. As I left, I turned on my lights and enjoyed an almost full moon lighting the streets as I pedaled home. And I was thinking circular thoughts as the wheels went round and round.

More of my images on Facebook. Some members of the audience listening:

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Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy