Hello Mr. Steward

To be straight forward, I am exploring my career paths right now, so this is more like an open cover letter than a blog post.  This is in light of the 3 million ‘green’ jobs that were available last year.  I’ll have one of those, please.  But what makes a job green?  What qualifies someone to take on a green job?  How can one get experience in a nascent industry?  How can one jump the experience-needed-for-job/job-needed-for-experience hurdle in an exceptionally young and broad industry frontier (and during an economic downturn)??

These are all questions I have asked myself as I pursued an undergraduate degree emphasizing sustainability and a MS in Environmental Sciences. In undergrad, I was immersed in interdisciplinary studies among biology, botany, environmental health, geology, aquatic ecology, economics, and political science.  I even took the capstone sustainability course (team-taught by a geologist, an economist, and a political scientist), which led me to feel that all college students should be exposed to an interdisciplinary, introductory sustainability course.  In graduate school, I took fascinating courses like pollution ecology, plant ecology, GIS, hydrology, and environmental law.  For my thesis project, I delved into the world of living architecture.  I evaluated the stormwater control potential and urban heat island benefits of living retaining wall systems.  As a part of the same laboratory group, I also helped with numerous green roof projects at SIUE.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the academic world.  But for now, aside from studying for and recently obtaining a LEED Green Associate credential, I’m done with academia.   I’m ready to find one of those new-fangled green jobs.  But which job?  I suppose with my broad educational experience, there are a few possibilities.

But based on my interests and education, I’ve got a few paths that may yet be passable.

Consulting

I’ve always been a listener and an observer.  On top of that, graduate school brought with it hours of research experience.  Researching means finding solutions and giving greater advice.  With training or perhaps an apprenticeship, I could consult on topics of green building, living architecture, sustainability, or perhaps even ecological restoration.

Green Building and Living Architecture Advocate

I’m already entrenched in this field with experience researching living walls and green roofs.  I attended and presented at the 2011 Cities Alive Conference in Philadelphia.  I’ve been involved with a new company that markets living wall systems.  I just became a LEED Green Associate, so I’m now more familiar with the rating system and how living architecture enters into the green building equation.

Conservation and Ecological Restoration

I’ve been fascinated with native plants and the restoration of natural areas for years.  I have particular interest in reclaiming old fields, restoring and expanding prairies, and protecting riparian zones.    I’ve had exposure to some plant, fish, and aquatic macroinvertebrate taxonomy.  I’ve enjoyed classes like Ecology of Plants, Taxonomy of Flowering Plants, Aquatic Ecology, Pollution Ecology, and Environmental Biology.  Since last May, I’ve even had the pleasure of volunteering as a horticulturist at a nature reserve.  There I’ve helped collect and clean native plant seeds.

Some days I envision a great paying job with an office; other days, as I wade through restored prairie, I feel as though my office could be outside.

For now, the networking continues.

Speaking of networking, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn.

Recommended Reads on Nature and Sustainability

These are just a handful of the books that have helped shape my understanding of the interdisciplinary nature of sustainability, my deep appreciation for nature, and my hope for an ever-improving future.  Add some of these to your book wish list!

John Muir was the founder of our national park system, an ardent and expert hiker, a preservationist and naturalist, a botanist, and a stunningly illustrative writer.  Along El Capitanhis many walks through the South, the High Sierra of California, the frontier of Alaska, Mr. Muir descriptively portrayed his discoveries of tiny wildflowers, stout trees, towering mountains, and brilliant sky art.  Don’t take my word for it, just read his works.  If you like plants, like appreciation for Creation, or like exploring, you will enjoy John Muir.

“The Mountains of California”  1894

“My First Summer in the Sierra”  1911

“The Yosemite”  1912

“Travels in Alaska”    1915.  Don’t miss his descriptions of The Northern Lights aka aurora borealis

“Thousand Mile Walk to the Gulf.”  1916.  Based on his first major outing as a young botanist.  He traveled from Indiana to Florida!

Gifford Pinchot disagreed with John Muir’s preservationist stance, but instead focused on utilitarianism.  He believed that natural resources could be used if they were responsibly managed by mankind.

“The Fight for Conservation”  1910

Aldo Leopold was a pioneer of conservation and wildlife conservation.  I highly recommend his major work.

“A Sand County Almanac”  1949

Rachel Carson was a scientist whose writings helped spur the modern environmental movement.

“The Sea Around Us”  1951

“Silent Spring”  1962

Paul Hawken has more recently written on sustainability and the ability of business to benefit profits as well as the planet and people.

“The Ecology of Commerce”  1993

“Natural Capitalism”  1999  (co-authored by Amory Lovins and L. Hunter Lovins)

The late Ray Anderson was an amazing entrepreneur who, after reading Paul Hawken’s work, worked to transform his carpet company Interface, Inc. into a sustainable cradle-to-cradle business.  I had the chance to hear him speak at a Caring for Creation conference a few years ago and was prompted to learn more…

“Mid-Course Correction”  1999

Richard Louv recently outlined the troubles with modern living.  The public and kids in particular are deficient of the experience of nature. But a lot can be done!

“Last Child in the Woods”  2005

The following book was edited by Lyndsay Mosely and the staff of Sierra Club books.  See where faith enters into the equation…

“Holy Ground: A Gathering of Voices on Caring for Creation”  2008

Greg Craven is a science teacher from Oregon who tries to help folks approach the climate change debate with some sort of rationality.  I thoroughly enjoyed his videos and his book.

“What’s the Worst That Could Happen?  A Rational Response to the Climate Change Debate”  2009

What books do you recommend?

Deer for Dinner? Bison for Brunch?

It’s deer season here in Missouri.    That’s made me think about sustainable food choices…any meat, native meat, or no meat at all?

I have a few friends who are vegetarian or vegan.  I commend them for their efforts and their discipline when it comes to not consuming various foods (I don’t think it’s ever possible for me to give up cheese).  I have reduced my meat consumption, and even given up beef/chicken during Lent. It seems that many people do it for dietary reasons.  Others do it for environmental reasons (think energy flow at each trophic level or the impact of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFO’s), etc.).  Still others do it because they believe the animals are suffering under modern factory farm conditions and they feel that the slaughter of cute, big-eyed animals is a shame.  On most of these points I agree, but I’m afraid I’m not sure about never consuming meat.  I disagree that we are the only beings who cause suffering to our prey.  I’m also afraid that our love of certain charismatic animals and our hatred of the ‘scary’ ones (i.e. wolves) has upset the natural balance of ecosystems and confused national and global conservation efforts.  As stewards of His work, we are to responsibly utilize our resources.

Even if we stop killing animals altogether, there will always be suffering and hardship in the animal kingdom.  That’s nature.  I once hiked a forest trail to witness a squirrel busily squirreling, unaware of an avian predator overhead.  I suddenly saw a shadow flash through the canopy; a red-tailed hawk had pounced the squirrel.  Unfortunately, the squirrel had not died by the hawk’s initial blow, so the hawk remained over its prey until it suffocated into a terminal sleep.  Not a pretty picture.  But it’s nature.

Another polarized issue is hunting.  Again, it’s a mixed bag for me.  Hunting seems to be acceptable to me as long as the purpose is to eat, not to solely fill vacant wall space in the living room with trophies.  On the upside, deer tag purchases usually benefit the budgets of conservation departments, funding additional environmental and conservation work.  In some parts of the country, hunting has been argued as a method for combating exploding populations of deer.  There are so few predators and so many deer in some places that undernourishment and starvation has become a concern, particularly in winter.  And that is suffering.  Yes, deer can suffer when crossing the road in traffic.  Yes, deer can suffer during hunting season.    On the other end of the hunting spectrum, I absolutely do NOT condone the killing of wolves that movies like ‘The Grey’ portray as humongous, relentless beasts.  (Learn more about misunderstood canids at the Endangered Wolf Center, located just outside of St. Louis.)  I do not condone the killing of wolves on ranches out west since we’ve replaced their native menu items like bison, elk, and deer with our menu item–cattle…slow, dumb, tasty cattle.   I generally do not see any purpose of killing carnivores unless they pose an immediate threat.

At any rate, I think that if we continue to promote meat in society, native meat should be on the forefront.  Cattle inefficiently graze (no migration patterns like bison), erode unprotected streambanks and land, and often have to be led to shelter and food (in the winter, some cattle don’t even know to dig for forage in the snow).  But deer and bison are native to this continent; they know how to survive the conditions.  They naturally perpetuate local ecosystems.  In addition, Bison, which is making a come back, is much healthier than beef.  Venison is also in plentiful supply.

So what is the answer?  Should we feel ashamed of our factory food?  Probably.  Should we reduce our meat consumption?  Definitely.  Should we stop consuming meat all together?  I don’t know.  How about a transition to native foods?  Sure.

American Buffalo

Muir’s Biblical Reason for Praising Plants

On his 1,000 mile walk from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico, not long after the Civil War ended, John Muir encountered a man who questioned his motive to study plants, or ‘botanize’ as he often put it.

The man said, “You look like a strong-minded man, and surely you are able to do something better than wander the country and look at weeds and blossoms.  These are hard times, and real work is required of every man that is able.  Picking up blossoms doesn’t seem to be a man’s work at all in any kind of times.”

John Muir asked, ” You are a believer in the Bible, are you not?”  The man replied, “Oh, yes.”

Muir then responded, “Well, you know Solomon was a strong-minded man, and he is generally believed to have been the very wisest man the world ever saw, and yet he considered it was worth while to study plants; not only to go and pick them up as I am doing, but to study them; and you know we are told that he wrote a book about plants, not only of the great cedars of Lebanon, but of little bits of things growing in the cracks of the walls.

“Therefore, you see that Solomon differed very much more from you than from me in this matter.  I’ll warrant you he had many a long ramble in the mountains of Judea, and had he been a Yankee he would likely have visited every weed in the land.  And again, do you not remember that Christ told his disciples to ‘consider the lilies how they grow,’ and compared their beauty with Solomon in all his glory?  Now, whose advice am I to take, yours or Christ’s?  Christ says, ‘Consider the lilies.’  You say, ‘Don’t consider them.  It isn’t worth while for any strong-minded man.'”

[Passage from A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf by John Muir]

This is one of many reasons I enjoy John Muir’s work and inspires me to be a steward of Earth.
It is indeed a worthy and prudent cause to understand God’s masterful craftsmanship on this Earth.  Knowing what’s out there is enjoyment in itself. However, benefits to humanity can be gained by studying flora and fauna, which can be used for healing, relaxation, shelter, or nourishment.  Protecting that which we need now, and that which we need for later, seems far wiser than exploiting the world unchecked, unknowing, and unrelenting, without regard for ‘later.’

If we understand what we have, we understand what can be lost.  However this world came to be (whether you wish to debate creation/evolution is irrelevant), it seems appropriate to study and care for it.

[Learn more about Creation Care and Restoring Eden]

Fall Bloomer in the Prairie

This was also in the prairie at Shaw Nature Reserve along with the Gentian (See previous entry).  It appears to be Slender False Foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia), formerly known as Gerardia tenuifolia.  It is a beautiful native, late-season annual.

A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting

I’ve recently moved into a place with several ceiling fans.  I think ceiling fans are fantastic for air circulation and important for reducing the need for constant air conditioning.

But now I have a problem with the lighting situation.  In many rooms, these fans also serve as the primary light source.  Unfortunately, all of my fixtures can only use candelabra style bulbs.  What about my cool LEDs?

WHY?  Why can’t I put in my medium-base LED lights into these fixtures in the name of energy conservation?  It turns out Uncle Sam has changed lighting regulations for ceiling fans in an effort to conserve energy (See the Reg Info).  Not all medium-base fixtures are technically banned, but manufacturers are exploiting a loophole by switching to an almost completely candelabra-based ceiling fan market  (See the point of contention).

Short-Lived Compact Fluorescent Candelabra

I understand these regulations were changed for the greater good, but what good are they if they stifle innovation in energy efficient lighting  (i.e., LED technology)?  I’ve posted about LED lighting before (Bright Future in LED Lighting), and the technology is here and improving dramatically.  There are several options out there for several fixtures, including candelabras.  However, most R&D has been devoted to medium-based bulbs (Edison Bulbs, E26 / E27).  These efficient bulbs could easily work with the Wattage restrictions if the medium-base fixtures were reintroduced  en masse.

Please let me know if you’ve found a candelabra that puts out adequate light (at least ‘equivalent’ to a 45 W incandescent).  I have yet to find suitable LEDs or even CFL candelabras that work.  And the few CFL candelabras bright enough for my applications generally have much shorter life spans than would be expected.

Anyway, enough of the fist shakery.  I simply want to enlighten anyone in the LED lighting industry that there is a niche that desperately needs to be filled!

The Butterfly House

We visited The Sophia M. Sachs Butterfly House in Chesterfield, Missouri today.  It was hot and humid outside…and hot and humid inside the Butterfly House.  But the butterflies seem to love their tropical paradise.  It’s difficult to chase butterflies around with a camera, so I ended up mainly capturing resting individuals.  This facility promotes environmental stewardship, educates adults and children, and inspires anyone willing to walk among thousands of fluttering Lepidopterans.

B-e-a-utiful!  This one is called The Clipper (Parthenos sylvia).

Based on their website, I could not accurately identify these two.

Not actually a tiger.

This is an Orange Barred Tiger (Drayadula phaetusa).  I was going to add a few awful bar/tiger jokes here, but I’ll spare you.

This ghostly one was actually my attempt at a motion shot.  The little bugger fluttered too much for a clear shot, but the effect turned out to my liking.  I also couldn’t identify these insects based on the website’s descriptions…

If you’re ever in the Saint Louis area, consider checking this place out.  It’s amazing!  You can also check out a smaller butterfly house at the St. Louis Zoo for free.