Our NissanLEAF Skips the Vacation Trip to Taliesin- SilverLeaf Chronicles 6

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

The SilverLeaf was lonely this year when we went on vacation. Again.

Last year we drove to Ohio from Chicago in a rental. This year we drove to the home and studio of the original “organic” architect, Frank Lloyd Wright— Taliesin East— in Spring Green, Wisconsin. In a rental minivan.

Taliesin East - Frank Lloyd Wright's home and studio, Spring Green, WI

Taliesin East – Frank Lloyd Wright’s home and studio, Spring Green, WI

The all–electric NissanLEAF could have made it to our launch point for the visit, charming Mineral Point, Wisconsin. In theory.

Downtown Mineral Point, WI

Downtown Mineral Point, WI

After all, it’s only 168 miles from Chicago to historic arts community of Mineral Point. And NissanLEAFs have been known to take go as far as 120 miles on a charge. And some drivers have taken trips of over 1000 miles–– with stops to charge along the way, of course.

But… with two restless boys in the backseat, I didn’t want to hassle with stopping to charge. And we were four adults— including my mom who is less hardy these days— in addition to those two young men in the back. There’s no way to squeeze that many bodies in the hatchback LEAF. Hence, the rental of the minivan. This is what I call “eco reality.”

My mom had been longing to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin since she was in college. I was delighted to fulfill that dream for her. And thrilled to learn about not just Frank Lloyd Wright’s remarkable design vision, but his pioneering commitment to sustainable design and architecture.

Here we see his creative re-purposing of gas pipes that were no longer needed as pipes once Taliesin had converted to electricity.

Gas pipes repurposed as a trellace and painted in Wright's signature red

Gas pipes repurposed as a trellace and painted in Wright’s signature red

And about two decades before the region had gone electric, Wright brought electricity to his home and studio by creating hydropower from a small dam he created on his property.

How do I feel about the cost of renting a minivan for our vacation? Fine. The rental cost was about what I used to spend on gas in four months. I now have a modest monthly lease payment, no maintenance costs, and I pay about $15 a month for the electricity to run the 100% electric NissanLEAF.

What about the eco footprint of renting that minivan? For the entire trip we emitted about 235 pounds of CO2 (or “global warming pollution”). You can calculate your own car’s “carbon footprint” http://store.shrinkyourfoot.org/carbon-footprint-calculator#driving just as I did.  I can live with emitting a couple hundred pounds of CO2 in order to drive a car the rest of the year that saves over 8000 pounds of emissions a year. Just as I can live with The SilverLeaf being lonely while we go on vacation.

P.S. I loved Mineral Point, WI so much that I went back a couple of weeks later with my sweetie. We loved it so much that we’re going back in the fall for an art tour. And my extended family may gather again there next summer.

This is where my beau and I stayed:

The Miner's Cottage in Mineral Point, WI

The Miner’s Cottage in Mineral Point, WI

September 3, 2015 at 8:08 pm Leave a comment

Climate Change Prompts Transdisciplinary Curriculum & Cross-School Collaboration

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

The essential question posed in our Summer 2015 virtual fireside chat was Does climate change “change everything” in higher education and beyond? The answer, from various vantage points, was a resounding “Yes.”

We had a far ranging conversation that even touched upon the profound reality that climate change  changes our sense of time.

Professor Richard Rood set the stage for the conversation. Professor Rood, a climate scientist at University of Michigan who teaches multidisciplinary courses on climate impacts and adaptation, painted a picture of a world in which we are not only seeing droughts and extreme weather events, but severe wild fires in unlikely spots such as Alaska.

Professor Nancy Tuchman, founding Director of Loyola University’s Institute of Environmental Sustainability in Chicago, reminded us that climate change threatens the security and stability of our food system as well– a reality, I would add, that is likely to touch all of our lives to varying degrees, particularly those living in poverty.

Climate change represents not just a threat but an opportunity for new models for innovation and collaboration, however. Professor Tuchman shared the story of how a student-driven enterprise at Loyola to reduce food waste and fossil fuel use has led to Loyola working with other schools, such as Northwestern University and University of Illinois-Chicago, to use waste grease from their kitchens to run campus buses. Such projects not only reduce climate impacts and afford hands-on learning for students, but forge new alliances that can wield more effective levers for necessary collective change to tackle climate change. The sphere of influence of each institution expands by virtue of such collaborations.

Professor Joel Towers, Executive Dean of the Parsons School of Design at The New School in New York, spoke to meta-level effects on our sense of place and time. As a psychologist, I was particularly struck by his remarks about our sense of time being disrupted when what have historically been “100 year storms” become frequent occurrences. Climate change can disorient us.

Professor Towers remarked upon how the urgency of climate change is driving Parsons to a transdisciplinary approach to pedagogy, again underscoring how climate change can crack open new possibilities that may yield benefits beyond environmental sustainability.

Listen here to the conversation among these thoughtful experts about what I call the need to prepare the next generation to work, live and lead in a hot, crowded world:







August 12, 2015 at 9:56 pm Leave a comment

7/29 Does Climate Change “Change Everything”? Implications for Higher Ed & Beyond


Does Climate Change “Change Everything”?
Implications for Higher Ed & Beyond 

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015 
12pm-1pm  ET / 11am-noon CT / 9am-10am PT

Featured Guests: 

Richard Rood (UMich) 

Joel Towers (The New School) 

Nancy Tuchman (Loyola-Chicago) 

About Richard Rood: 

Professor of Atmospheric, Oceanic & Space Sciences at the University of Michigan
Dow Sustainability Distinguished Faculty Fellow

Professor Rood’s primary research interest is in the interface of climate change with all aspects of society.

Professor Rood will set the stage for the conversation by reviewing what the science indicates about what will change and how as a result of global climate change.
READ his writings on the impacts of climate change here:



About Nancy Tuchman:
Founding Director, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, Loyola Unversity Chicago
Professor Tuchman is a visionary in the realm of sustainability in higher ed, with clear insights into how we can use the educational, operational and research engines of higher education to move the climate change needle. 

A biologist by training, Professor Tuchman’s specializations include Global Climate Change and Human Impacts. 

Thanks in part to Professor Tuchman’s vision, Loyola University Chicago has been ranked the greenest university in the Midwest in the Sierra Club’s annual ranking.
About Joel Towers:
Executive Dean, Parsons The New School for Design
Towers has led the design and development of cutting-edge programs, curricular innovation, and the implementation of a new, more inclusive governance structure. 
He also serves as an Associate Professor of Architecture and Sustainable Design.

Read about Dean Towers’ campus-wide climate initiative in the New York Times: 
REGISTER HERE for this FREE online event:

We hope you can join us for the conversation! Come with questions and ideas!

July 10, 2015 at 12:03 am Leave a comment

The Good, Bad & the Ugly: My LEAF at 1 Year: SilverLEAF Chronicles 5

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

A year ago I made the leap I’d been promising to take by buying the greenest car I could afford: I bought the all-electric NissanLEAF, and launched the SilverLEAF Chronicles blog series.

The SilverLEAF is celebrating its first birthday with our family.

Now that we’ve weathered a summer and a (hard) Chicago winter, here are my honest reflections on what I love — and what I would change if I were Nissan.

What I love about the NissanLEAF:

1. It’s green

First and foremost, I love what I expected to love, it’s green-ness.

I now drive knowing that the eco impact of my car is minimal. In my previous Toyota Avalon, I used to plan my trips carefully and take mass transit when I could.

The LEAF car has no emissions. None.

My passion for living green– and voting green– is inspired by my love for my two young kids. Driving this car is an act of fierce love. As a parent, that feels good.

2. The cost

Between tax rebates and no cost for gas, this car pretty much pays for itself.

You can get a top of the line LEAF for around $300 a month, and basic model for around $200 a month.

And you never pay for gas. Ever.

I charge at home about half the time, and the electric bills have not gone up noticeably.

And, the car is virtually maintenance-free– no oil to change, no belts to replace.

I’ve met LEAF owners who say that they pay less per month to own a LEAF than they paid for gas in their conventional car.

From a sheer cost standpoint, it’s a no-brainer.

3. It’s sporty

The SilverLEAF is peppy! I test drove the Prius, and it was sluggish.

For reasons having to do with electric motor technology, the LEAF has a lot of pick up. And it handles well. It’s fun to drive!

I met a LEAF owner who said he feels like he’s driving a sports car.

My ten-year-old son thinks it looks cool, too!

4. LEAFs build community

When LEAF owners pass each other on the road, we wave at each other.

We talk to each other when we run into each other, sharing stories about the car.

I had no idea I would be joining a community when I got this car. It’s an unexpected perk!

What I would change about the NissanLEAF:

1. The engine sound

In a state of nature, an electric motor is silent. Wisely, Nissan has added a high pitched tone that is emitted when the car is driving under 15 MPH to cue pedestrians that a car is coming.

The problem is, it doesn’t sound like a car motor, so pedestrians wander out in front of it without looking. (There are other reasons at this point in history, having to do with things like walking into the street on our SmartPhones!)

I get why Nissan would want it’s electric car to have a unique sound that differentiates it from a gas powered car.

But this is a safety matter.

2. The battery range

We’ve driven this car– without stopping to charge–close to 100 miles (on its first day with us!)

If you learn how to drive very efficiently, which I’m still working on, it can be driven well over 100 miles.

Longer battery range would make it work more readily beyond local driving, which would be great. Some of us suffer from “range anxiety,” especially when we’re having to run either heat or air conditioning, which drain the battery.

I hear that Nissan– and other companies– are working on new battery technology which will give it about 30% greater range. That will be wonderful.

Would I buy a NissanLEAF again?

Absolutely. I plan to swap out my current leased NissanLEAF for the new model in two years– when longer battery range comes on line.

Happy Birthday, SilverLEAF!





June 29, 2015 at 8:16 pm Leave a comment

Sustainability in Higher Education: Necessity… or Cult?

Contributed by Richard Rood, PhD

I recently attended a webinar, organized by Spheres of Influence (http://ourspheresofinfluence.com/ ), on the emergence of sustainability as a course of study. The webinar had a special focus on The New School (http://www.newschool.edu/ ) which has recently gone beyond divestiture to embed climate change into its entire curriculum. The New School is at the forefront of sustainability which fits into its vision (http://www.newschool.edu/mission-vision/ ) “where design and social research drive approaches to studying issues of our time, such as democracy, urbanization, technological change, economic empowerment, sustainability, migration, and globalization.”

Sustainability is a young and changing field of research and education. Sustainability is not as easy to define as, say, physics, chemistry, biology, economics, or urban planning. The Graham Sustainability Institute (http://graham.umich.edu/ ) at the University of Michigan, answers the question “What is Sustainability?” (http://graham.umich.edu/about/sustainability ) as, “Sustainability encompasses solutions-driven scholarship and practice that seeks to safeguard the planet’s life-support systems and enhance quality of life for present and future generations. The field is defined by the problems it addresses rather than the disciplines it employs. It draws from multiple disciplines of the natural, social, engineering, design, and health sciences; from the professions and humanities; and from practical field experience in business, government, and civil society.”

The incorporation of sustainability into university research and education is not without controversy. In a recent blog on universities divesting their endowments and pension funds from fossil fuel companies (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=333 ), one of the articles I referred to was by George Will (http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/sustainability-gone-mad/2015/04/15/f4331bd2-e2da-11e4-905f-cc896d379a32_story.html ) in which Will takes the position that divestment is sustainability gone wild. Will states that sustainability is like a religion with, for example, its premises “more assumed than demonstrated.” He further argues that “weighing the costs of obedience to sustainability’s commandments is considered unworthy.” Will is riffing off of the more than 250 page document by the National Association of Scholars (http://www.nas.org ) entitled, Sustainability: Higher Education’s New Fundamentalism (http://www.nas.org/articles/sustainability_higher_educations_new_fundamentalism1 ).

The National Association of Scholars “is a network of scholars and citizens united by our commitment to academic freedom, disinterested scholarship, and excellence in American higher education.” The National Association of Scholars was founded in 1987 by Stephen Balch, who is identified as an American conservative scholar (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_Balch ). The National Association of Scholars should not be confused with National Academy of Sciences (http://www.nasonline.org/about-nas/mission/ ), which is the abbreviation I associate with “NAS.”

The material I reference above strongly links sustainability and climate change, and, ultimately, takes the position that universities are taking unfounded positions based on “unresolved scientific debates.” There is suggestion that faculty are pressured “to imbed sustainability into the curricula of unrelated courses.” The document relies, sometimes deftly, on the rhetorical forms (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=222 ) that are used to nurture doubt.

These writings from George Will and National Association of Scholars pose sustainability as political or ideological. There is the suggestion in these writings of a cultish march towards sustainability across the university community, and that divestment of fossil fuels is part of that cult.

Universities and the members of the faculty at universities are not homogeneous bodies of institutions and individuals. As stated in my divestment blog (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/RickyRood/comment.html?entrynum=333 ), my faculty colleagues don’t all support divestment. In fact, based on the Figure below, I would conjecture that more universities have denied efforts to divest than have approved them.


Figure 1: More than $50B in divestment pledges has come from 28 universities, 41 cities, 72 religious institutions, 30 foundations and hundreds of individuals. The New School is committed to divestment. (Credit: Paul Horn/InsideClimate News)

Similarly, there is a wide range of opinions on sustainability and the integration of sustainability into curriculum. In science departments, there is often the opinion that sustainability is notional, and not easily defined nor easily measured; hence, it is not science. It is also true that sustainability has far broader reach than climate change.

I was first introduced to sustainability as a subject of research and education when I started my academic career in 2005 at University of Michigan. At University of Michigan, we have the Erb Institute (http://erb.umich.edu/ ) which is “Creating a Sustainable World Through the Power of Business,” the Center for Sustainable Systems (http://css.snre.umich.edu/ ), which supports “the design, assessment, and management of systems that meet societal needs in a more sustainable manner,” and the Graham Sustainability Institute (http://graham.umich.edu/ ), which fosters “sustainability at all scales by leading stakeholder-centric activities that systematically integrate talents across all U-M schools, colleges, and units.” All of these institutes have strong relationships with donors who have high success in business. Their donations paint the picture of individuals, families, and businesses that recognize the importance of sustainability to assure future societal and business success. (Disclosure: I work closely with the Graham Sustainability Institute (http://graham.umich.edu/ ), and I am a Dow Sustainability Distinguished Faculty Fellow (http://sustainability.umich.edu/dow ).)

One of the points from the Spring, 2015 Spheres of Influence webinar (http://ourspheresofinfluence.com/2015/04/29/curriculum-transformation-for-climate-a-grass-tops-story-of-change-at-the-new-school/ ) is that sustainability is emerging, and that standards and practices are maturing. Sustainability studies and education are no longer only for the early adopters (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Early_adopter ). For those interested in the incorporation of sustainability into education, there a number of resources, including Sustainability Improves Student Learning (http://serc.carleton.edu/sisl/index.html ), a group that includes associations of physics, chemistry, biology, and geosciences.

Adding the concept of sustainability to problem-solving requires that we think about where our resources come from and what happens to our waste. It brings into consideration the energy required to obtain resources, manufacture, and dispose of and manage the waste products. The value of the environment and ecological systems is brought into the calculation of cost. It’s true that there is nothing in that list that is an easy calculation, and there are many aspects of sustainability that are not uniquely and definitively quantified; there are value judgments made by individuals, governments, advocacy organizations, and corporations.

Since sustainability crosses many disciplines, it is, in fact, quite difficult to bring into the discipline-focused culture of universities. It brings a focus to problem- solving and participatory, deliberative process. There is a high demand from students, who increasingly see the requirement to manage our resources and wastes in order to thrive. Sustainability is an essential topic of research and education; it is something that we must learn to do right.

About the author

Professor Richard Rood is a climate scientist who teaches multidisciplinary graduate and undergraduate courses at University of Michigan. He is a Dow Sustainability Distinguished Faculty Fellow. Prior to his teaching career, he served as a scientist at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). A climate-science communicator, he uses his spheres of influence by reaching a wide lay audience by blogging about climate change for the WeatherUnderground (http://www.wunderground.com/blog/rickyrood/article.html )

May 26, 2015 at 7:17 pm Leave a comment

Curriculum Transformation for Climate: A “Grass Tops” Story of Change at The New School

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

In our Spring 2015 Spheres of Influence Virtual Fireside Chat, we heard the story of how students at the New School in New York City used their voices to move the leadership of the university not only to divest from fossil fuels, but to commit to embedding climate change in entire curriculum. And, the leadership has gone still further by determining to create an entire campus– from students to staff to faculty– of “climate citizens” who will be required to make climate commitments.

Michelle DePass, Dean of the Milano School of International Affairs, Management, and Urban Policy at the New School shared the back story and some of the challenges they’ve faced in this transformation, while Dr. Debra Rowe, Founder of the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development, offered context related to sustainability curriculum in higher education.

Listen here to Michelle DePass share this powerful “grass tops” story of curricular and culture transformation, and to Debra Rowe share insights and resources for joining the growing movement of educators creating curricula for sustainability:

April 29, 2015 at 10:36 pm Leave a comment

The SilverLeaf Navigates Its First Winter… And Copes with “Range Anxiety”: TheSilverLeaf Chronicles 4

Contributed by Dr. Sarah

It’s been a cold winter in Chicago. And electric cars are known to have less battery range in cold weather. Creating “range anxiety.” The SilverLeaf has been tested.

Lake Michigan, March 2015

Lake Michigan, March 2015

Just how severely has my NissanLEAF been tested in its first winter?

Let’s just say it hasn’t been this cold in February in nearly 140 years– going back to 1875. The average temperature in February, 2015 was a painful 14.6 degrees. There were days with wind chills of 30 degrees below– eye-ball-hurting-cold. Beautiful, but cold.

How has The SilverLeaf fared on this test? Not badly.

I’ve charged the car pretty much every chance I could. I plug in every night at home (instead of every 2-3 nights in warmer weather), and at the office where I work downtown three days a week, where I park in a lot where I can plug into one of the numerous outlets on the wall. I even charged at a ChargePoint station — for a couple of bucks– at Walgreen’s when I went in for an urgent care appointment– I’d never used a public charging station while running errands before.

I use the heat judiciously because the heater drains the battery.  On milder winter days–especially if the sun is beating down into the car– I’ll turn the heat off for a bit after I’ve warmed the car up.  I use the heated seat all the time and the heated steering wheel– which is quite nice.

We’ve had quite a bit of snow– not like the 9 feet of snow they got in my native Boston– but we’ve had some blizzards. The car held the road quite well. It got stuck on top of a pile of snow in the alley, but that had to do with the pile of snow, not the design of the car.

So The SilverLeaf has done quite well. I’ve had a bit more “range anxiety” than in the summer. (Can you tell I like using “range anxiety?” It’s the psychologist in me!) But all I’ve had to do is be more vigilant about charging.

Yes, it’s been a really cold, icy, snowy winter in much of the US. But lest we forget about the poorly-named problem of global warming– global temperatures are on average still rising at a very concerning rate. The thing is that we don’t just get warm weather, we get weird weather– like 20 inches of snow in Kentucky– which is why I call it “global weirdness.” And why I drive an all-electric car.  Because I love my kids. And I feel a moral obligation to the children of the world to do my part to tackle global weirdness– cold winters, heightened “range anxiety” and all.

March 9, 2015 at 9:00 pm Leave a comment

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