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Interconnections – Earth Week Schedule, Spring 2016

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Interconnections – Earth Week Festival, Spring 2014

Earth Week Research and Arts Festival, Spring 2013

Sustainability Research Workshop, Fall 2012

Earth Week Festival Poster Session
Apr 19 @ 2:00 pm – 8:00 pm

A poster session showcasing sustainability-oriented research at Rensselaer will be an important part of the festival. Posters should address a diverse, interdisciplinary audience. Posters should include short bios describing authors’ broader research programs, and a description of the field/s in which the authors work. Posters should also include a description of the problem that the research responds to, the methods and data used to advance understanding of the problem, key questions and/or findings, and both the research and societal significance of the research.


Elizabeth Anderson, Science and Technology Studies
Hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) is a technique being used to extract natural gas from the ground in states such as Pennsylvania and Texas. New York State’s DEC is studying possible health effects of hydrofracking to aid in the decision to allow hydrofracking to be used in New York. Some municipalities, such as the Town of Dryden in Tompkins County, NY, have opted to ban hydrofracking in anticipation of New York’s decision. Unlike other states, New York State allows local governments to choose whether to allow hydrofracking. My research this semester has focused on municipalities along the border of Tompkins County and Cortland County and what legislation has been passed relating to hydrofracking. Different language has been used to ban or restrict hydrofracking in municipalities in these two counties, from zoning against the disposal of wastes to banning any form of natural gas exploration and extraction. Rationales range from concerns about aquifers in the community to the simple fact that other communities are also banning or restricting hydrofracking. My poster will provide a visual representation of my findings, including a map of the different types of regulations concerning hydrofracking as well as demographic factors that might lead to increased citizen participation in government.

David Banks, Science and Technology Studies
Social and Ecological Sustainability at the Community Scale: A study of Community Organizational Forms
The aim of this study is to advance understanding of organizational forms capable of supporting social and ecological sustainability at the community level. Through observation and analysis of three diverse initiatives intended to enhance community capacity for long range planning and problem solving, the study will identify organizational characteristics that allow communities to map assets, critically evaluate their own practice, develop new forms of expertise, and deliberate future pathways. The three initiatives to be focused on — a mesh WiFi network and an outdoor performing arts space (called Freedom Square) in North Central Troy, NY, and a condom vending machine in Kumasi, Ghana — each provide opportunities to examine how public space can be developed to enhance community life. The condom vending machine provides a safe and private space for stigmatized activity; the mesh WiFi network provides a platform for community information exchange; the outdoor performing arts space enhances opportuntiies for face-to-face interaction across established social boundaries. All three initiatives are designed to enable communities to creatively respond to long-recognized problems in new ways. This study willtriangulate across all three initiatives to provide generalizable conclusions about community organizational forms and praxis. This study will contribute to scholarly understanding of praxis, and and orient social social entrepreneurialism.

Shama Campbell, Civil and Environmental Engineering
Increasing congestion in urban areas puts great pressure on decision makers and transportation agencies to be responsive to the citizens’ desires for vibrant urban economies, enhanced livability, and high quality of life. This has led transportation agencies to use a wide array of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) programs. However, the role of TDM has not been fully explored in the case of freight demand. One of the most important TDM measures is to foster off-hour deliveries (OHD). Such initiatives rely on incentives (financial and otherwise) to induce receivers to accept deliveries in the off-hours (7 p.m. – 7 a.m.). The economic impacts are considerable as a full implementation of OHD in Manhattan could generate benefits of about $150 to $200 million/year. Environmental impacts are also reduced as there is resulting decrease in emissions due to congestion reduction. Additional benefits to the environment can be realized when low noise technologies are used for OHD because they produce fewer emissions as well (e.g. electric trucks, hybrid vehicles, etc.) As part of the “Integrative Freight Demand Management in the New York City Metropolitan Area” project funded by the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), a pilot test of OHD was conducted in New York City (NYC) with great success. The project designed a self-sustaining Freight Demand Management system that integrated state-of-the-art sensing technology based on GPS enabled smart phones, cutting-edge freight demand management traffic simulation and policy. The success of the pilot, widely reported in the press led the USDOT’s Research and Innovative Technology Administration (RITA) and the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) to launch the current implementation phase.

J. Parkman Carter, Architectural Acoustics
Cross-Modal Soundscape Mapping
As criteria for sustainable design practice rapidly evolve, raising awareness about issues of acoustic ecology—which can account for both indoor and outdoor sonic environments—requires a way of representing in situ data that is accessible, immersive, and multi¬sensory. The current state of noise-mapping relies on one-dimensional metrics and outdated modes of cartographic abstraction (color-coding), and simply does not convey a sound¬scape’s temporal, spectral, or contextual complexities. Context, after all, largely determines whether a sound is welcome or not. Unlike noise-mapping, however, mapping the visual environment has evolved significantly in re¬cent years, with the advent of extensive satellite and ‘streetview’ photography supplanting the tradition¬al symbolized abstractions of cartography. A line representing a street is hardly as information-rich as embedding actual photographic material which is easily accessed and navigated by the general public. How might acoustic ecologists achieve this level of interactive documentation with our diverse sonic environ¬ments? Could we not supplement increasingly popular spherical panoramic photography with a layer of ‘steerable’ ambisonic audio, using recent developments in B-format pro¬cessing to derive higher angular resolution for user navigation? To facilitate productive discussion among acousticians, ecologists, planners, designers, and citizens, this project is developing such a method to both document and re-present the full-range visual and aural fields. These interactive documents will be simple to access and navigate, and will not resort to metrical abstraction to represent field data. WYSAHIWYG = what you see and hear is what you get. Environmental maps comprising such interactive documents will provide the basis for subject studies which will allow us to investigate cross-modal perception models in context. Ultimately, the aim is to develop a convincing advocacy vehicle for addressing noise pollution caused by the built environment in a variety of endangered habitats. Truly sustainable design must do more than address energy consumption concerns, but must also address ecological impacts related to rapidly deteriorating soundscapes.

Pedro de la Torre III, Science and Technology Studies

Contaminated Futures: Caring for the Future and the Hanford Nuclear Reservation
The Hanford nuclear reservation, a former plutonium production site and current nuclear waste site, is one of the most contaminated sites in North America, and is currently undergoing one of the largest environmental remediation efforts ever undertaken. This effort poses the technologically and scientifically difficult challenge of “cleaning” millions of tons of soil, water, and industrial facilities. Hanford also presents a complex sociopolitical challenge, however, that involves negotiating both the troubling legacies of the past—including the history of intentional releases of Iodine-131 and other radionuclides during the cold war and U.S.-American Indian relations in the region—and the urgencies of the present—including large cuts in government funding. It also involves very different anticipations of the future. Given the long half-lives of many of the contaminants at Hanford, long-term anticipation and imagination is implicit in much of technoscientific, sociocultural, and political activity that surrounds this site, and understanding how these different “futures” shape nuclear waste sites is the central concern of this project. It will pay particular attention to how various conceptions of intergenerational ethics or justice are formed and mobilized, implicitly and explicitly, by the subjects of this study.

This investigation will take the form of an ethnographic fieldwork in Richland, WA and the surrounding region, along with interviews with experts and other relevant actors around the country. I plan to engage “stakeholders,” scientists, engineers, activists, and policymakers involved with remediation efforts at Hanford in conversations about they see the past and future of the site affecting the present situation at Hanford, and their work in particular. I will also rely on the analysis of documents and other information produced by government agencies and other important actors, participant observation at key meetings and events, and comparative analyses, for which other waste sites such as the Waste Isolation Pilot Plant in New Mexico and Sellafield in the U.K. will likely be particularly important.

This project will attempt to use insights gained from an ethnography of the Hanford nuclear reservation to attempt to understand not only the long term implications of remediation efforts, but also the implications of different ways of thinking (or not-thinking) in the “long-term” about the environmental legacy that is being left to posterity. In a context of continuing environmental devastation on local, regional, and global scales, ethnographies of both environmental remediation and intergenerational consciousness will be crucial to building a critical understanding—and a critical politics—of the future.

Dominic DiFranzo, Computer Science
This project will explore how digital tools can help in research that uses mixed methodology. Specifically this project will examine how the semantic web can be used with qualitative datasets and methods, and how it can be used to help link these dataset to quantitative data. This project will study how ethnographers use digital tools, how these tools could be improved, what their workflow and knowledge generation come about, and show the effect semantic web technologies can have. The end result will be the building of a ethnographic experimental framework to manage ethno-projects, their data and objects, and possible connect to other data sources (quantitative data) Linked Open Data and Semantic infrastructures for this. This will also allow for us to codify the best practices and theory into this framework.

Ellen Foster, Science and Technology Studies
This study will enhance understanding of how amateur technical practice can be organized to animate critical political insight and sustainability vision. Through observation and analysis of diverse sites of amateur technical practice, the study will characterize how different types of technical practice, skill sharing, and social interaction shape the way practitioners think about broad social responsibilities and possibilities. The study will contribute to scholarly understanding of the ways civic values take shape in particular contexts. Results of the study can also help orient initiatives to create skill sharing spaces in museums, schools, neighborhoods and other public venues.

Yu-lo Ko, Economics
The Effectiveness of Participatory Simulation in Sustainability Education
We insist that allowing audiences to participate in computer simulations is an effective strategy for sustainability education, and as an example, we suggest that a NetLogo model can be used to teach the notion of renewable energy. We present three reasons why a participatory simulation is effective in sustainability education based on cognitive science. Firstly, a participant can easily visualize the finiteness of non-renewable resource. Because of the limit of human vision, the finiteness of the world is not perceived as obvious. Secondly, a participant can associate one’s own action with environmental consequences. Thirdly, visualizing results helps reduce the information load for participants. As an example, we present a simple NetLogo model on renewable energy. Non-renewable energy like fossil fuel has a finite amount of reservoirs while renewable energy like solar photovoltaic electricity is regenerated from naturally recurring processes. In order to transit to a more sustainable economy, it is a necessity to substitute non-renewable resources with renewable resources at least in some degree. For now, the price of renewable energy is expensive compared to non-renewable energy. In order to promote the use and technological change in the renewable energy sector, it is necessary to improve the awareness of the general public through education. We show how one can use a simple NetLogo model to teach the notion of renewable energy. In addition, we also suggest more extensions to the basic model.

Johanna Amaya Leal, Civil and Environmental Engineering

NCFRP 38: Improving Freight System Performance in Metropolitan Area
Impacts from freight activities are profound and complex; because while the freight system is a crucial contributor to a vibrant economy and a key determinant to quality of life, it is also a major source of environmental pollution, unwanted noise and potential safety hazards. The primary goal of this project is to improve the overall performance of the urban freight industry. The project will define a pragmatic and conceptually well-grounded planning guide that includes both supply and demand strategies (including hybrids), that is supported by solid guidelines to establish effective and proactive stakeholder engagement processes and software tools to estimate freight trip generation in urban areas. This comprehensive approach will take advantage of the lessons learned from passenger transportation, where decades of supply side strategies did not lead to a sustainable system. Thus, the project will provide practitioners with comprehensive, pragmatic, and actionable guidelines on how to plan, design, and implement both supply and demand strategies. Taken together, the project will help improve freight movement system performance by reducing congestion, improving productivity, increasing freight system sustainability and enhancing livability in the urban area In addition, the project will proactively conduct outreach activities to disseminate the findings and socialize the planning guide.

Erin Lennox, Ecological Economics
Climate change is a well-recognized and accepted global phenomenon. Though it will affect agricultural production worldwide, it is especially threatening to smallholder farmers, as they depend more directly on nature’s services for their livelihoods. They are already vulnerable because they are more likely to farm on at-risk landscapes, such as hillsides, deserts and floodplains. Over millennia, farmers in the Peruvian Highlands have been able to domesticate a genetically diverse range of plants and animals, establish diverse production zones along vertical and altitudinal gradients, and develop technologies and land use methodologies to deal with altitude, slopes, and extreme climate events, however these agriecological systems are currently at risk. Results of interviews conducted in Langui, Peru with 40 farming households, and observations over a two month period show that agriculture the region is currently undergoing a number of changes due to climate change, and globalization. Farmers are transitioning from planting native potato species and psuedocereals, as unseasonal frosts and hail storms have been damaging crops in recent years, and low market prices for these crops make them difficult to sell for profit. At the same time, the entry of a transnational dairy corporation in the region is providing farmers the opportunity to sell milk daily, providing a steady year round income source. These two forces together are causing smallholders to change from planting crops, to livestock rearing, or off farm jobs. There is a need for balanced development strategies in the Langui district that promote market participation while allowing smallholder farmers to maintain food self-sufficiency and agribiodiversity in the face of climate change and a changing global economy.

Karin Patzke, Science and Technology Studies
Mapping Fracking: Place Based Ethics and GIS activism
Place-based ethics, or the idea that an individual’s location informs political, social and economic decisions, propels ‘anti-fracking’ activists in central New York State. This poster investigates how Geographic Information Systems (GIS) maps of aggregated data reveal the political and economic considerations of diverse communities in the state. Paradoxically, GIS maps provide a tool for activists to instantiate place-based ethics in a variety of locals as once, highlighting the shared danger of hydraulic fracturing. Maps are viewed as a medium to ‘truthfully’ communicate and educate viewers of the consequences of alternative gas drilling. The maps presented in this poster are temporarily ambiguous comparing data from the past with expectations and plans for the future. Considering this, GIS provides a means to imagine the future of a locale and speculate unintended consequences of drilling based on past events. This poster focuses on three maps: The List of the Harmed, which presents the places individuals have been negatively impacted by gas drilling, Bans, Moratoria, and movements against hydraulic fracturing for shale-gas in New York State, which attempts to identify future locations of drilling sites, and maps that implicate water quality with proximity to drilling activities. When viewed in proximity, these maps identify the real threat of alternative gas drilling. This poster draws on data gathered through qualitative research methods, including interviews and observations, to show how activists use GIS data to disseminate knowledge about hydraulic fracturing in easy-to-understand maps.

Leah Rico, Media and Communications
Fast, cheap, green, and nutritious: these four terms sum up the desires of consumers when using limited time to make conscientious decisions regarding food. There is currently an explosion of interest in local food, with an overwhelming amount of information (and misinformation) for farmers, distributors, the government, independent watchdog groups and consumers regarding. My current design research is an investigation on how innovative communication design and ubiquitous technology can facilitate connections between this groups, create means for each to navigate dynamic information and data, and help build on person-to-person relationships between all stakeholders. What does it mean to communicate sustainably? Sustainable visual design deals with more than the lifecycle of material production. The exponential growth in the visualization of our day-to-day experiences means that the persuasive power of communication bears more weight than ever before. Our increasing connectivity through developments in everyday technologies means that messages travel widely and immediately. We continuously learn and navigate a dynamic landscape of media, devices and messages. The role of the visual communicator, then, becomes one of finding and using the most effective and clear way to talk to and connect audiences. The responsibility of the visual designer is to use their skills to distribute ideas that the world really needs. Using design research, stakeholder research, user experience observations and the expertise of an interdisciplinary team (lead programmer, lead designer, sustainability expert with 20+ years experience and an entrepreneur), a proposal for a prototype has been developed called “LocalEarthMarket.” This web and mobile application seeks to aggregate and visually streamline available information on local food and goods in a user-designated area. Although the local food movement is a values-based movement, we propose a tool that would encourage user behavior, something we found to be a larger factor in the market of local food. Sustainability in visual design means using design thinking to empathetically understand the context of the problem, creatively brain storming solutions, and rationally fitting them to the original context. Projects such as “LocalEarthMarket,” that incorporate design decisions on the executive level, rely less on the idea of a designer as a manipulator of stuff, and focus on the inherent value of design in crafting effective messages and effecting change.

Guy Schaffer, Science and Technology Studies

The contemporary U.S. waste stream poses threats to environment, human health, and economy, but is managed to a point of near-invisibility by private haulers and municipal collection. However, a variety of actors and groups are working to make these problems visible, to pose alternatives to a throwaway culture and to “fix” the waste system. In this project, I work with one such group—an assortment of activists, researchers, organizers and farmers called Troy Compost—that opposes itself to a variety of structural problems in the U.S. waste system, as well as large-scale shifts toward forms of resource recovery that privilege industry, greenwash waste problems, and move resources out of communities. Instead, Troy Compost is working to develop a waste system that privileges the local and radically questions the division between waste and resource. In order to examine the cultural innovations developed in this context, I use participant observation at meetings and interviews with activists, I examine reports and public presentations, and work with the group to design and implement an alternative, decentralized resource recovery system for food and yard waste. How do these actors imagine the relationships between waste and ownership, innovation, justice, environment and health? And how do these imaginaries of waste and society draw from and challenge status-quo formulations of waste problems, recovery solutions, and the responsibilities of individuals?

James Wilcox, Vasudha

In response to the wicked problems of climate change, environmental degradation, and societal unsustainability more generally, “living laboratories” have been instantiated within colleges and universities to foster deeper and more engaged forms of learning about sustainability issues and experimentation with ecologically sustainable modes of living. At the same time, special interest “living and learning communities” where students who share common interests live and learn together on campus are increasingly being seen as a promising method of supporting more meaningful learning across the disciplines. The Vasudha Living and Learning Community, RPI’s sustainability-oriented “living laboratory,” represents a synthesis of these models. A four-year community with a 1-2 year residential component, Vasudha offers shared living space, recreational space, courses, such as the first-year Nature/Society seminar, and a commitment to environmental issues. This academic year, Vasudha students visited regional farms and urban agriculture projects and reflected on the possibilities and challenges facing these institutions in the present and future. This process culminated in the construction of an on-campus garden at the end of the fall semester to be planted this spring. In addition to this focus on food systems, the students participated in a walking tour of downtown Troy, a visit to lock #6 of the Erie Canal in Waterford, NY, and a visit to the New York State museum to generate ethnographically-based insights on the history of human/nature interactions, the built environment, and the connections between local and global economies.

James Wilcox, Science and Technology Studies
Reimagining Energy Interventions: Discourses, Practices, Policies
The imperative to reduce energy use across all sectors of society is only growing more urgent as the costs to human and environmental health and well being from climate change, fuel extraction, and energy system operation increase. Yet U.S. per capita energy use continues to remain extremely high—nearly five times the world average—even as demand for energy increases around the globe (U.S. EIA 2011). An increasing number of relatively well-supported policy initiatives have been successful at keeping overall residential energy use levels from rising over the past thirty years, however meaningful reductions have also proven elusive (U.S. EIA 2012). The aim of this study is to understand why collective efforts to achieve significant reductions in residential energy use return only marginal, temporary results. Specifically, I am interested in how interventions aimed at influencing everyday energy use, initiated by institutions such as government agencies, advocacy organizations, and design firms, impact modes of user engagement with energy systems. To answer this question, I will use multi-sited ethnography and textual analysis of policy documents to interpret institutional energy use interventions from multiple perspectives, while keeping the everyday practices that drive energy demand at the core of the analysis. In opening the “black box” of residential energy demand and its apparent obduracy, this study further develops theories of everyday sociotechnical change while offering designers of conventional and unconventional interventions empirically-based analysis and recommendations.

Earth Week Exhibitions
Apr 19 @ 6:00 pm – Apr 21 @ 10:00 pm

Festival participants can visit electronic kiosks, tables and posters throughout EMPAC that showcase sustainability research, education and community programs.  Visualizations produced in an eco-hackathon sponsored by Rensselaer’s ITWS program will be on display, alongside findings from current research on asthma, shale gas development and other environmental problems.  Community organizations – including the Sanctuary for Independent Media and Troy Bike Rescue – will also showcase their sustainability work.

Demonstration: Citizens’ Water Monitoring Lights Up
Apr 26 @ 1:00 am – 2:30 am

Anthropologist and tech-innovator Sara Wylie (Northeastern Environmental Health Research Institute), working with tech-innovators in the Troy community, will demonstrate technologies developed to help citizens monitor water quality at low cost. Thermal-sensing fishing bobs will be floated in Robison Pool around islands of ice, and photographed when they light up. Temperature differentials can point to pollution plumes in water.