Upcoming Events

Interconnections – Earth Week Schedule, Spring 2016

Previous Events

Interconnections – Earth Week Festival, Spring 2014

Earth Week Research and Arts Festival, Spring 2013

Sustainability Research Workshop, Fall 2012

Workshop: “Green Building for Elementary Students”
Apr 20 @ 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

Elementary students will be given a tour through the environmental problems caused by buildings, and then learn how green buildings can be designed. Each student will build their own green building, then find a place to locate it in a green city.

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Workshop: “Secondary School Frack Out!”
Apr 20 @ 1:30 pm – 3:00 pm

In the fun tradition of RPI Freakout! for hockey, we will run a Jeopardy game that quizzes players about natural gas as an energy resource. To get ready for the game, players will be given a quick tour of the media war that increasing investment in natural gas has provoked. No prior knowledge of natural gas is expected. Game is designed for students in grades 6-9.

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Workshop: “Connecting Sustainability Educators: Initiatives and Visions”
Apr 21 @ 1:30 pm – 5:30 pm

Sponsored by Rensselear’s Sustainability Studies Program.

This workshop will bring together people involved in education at all levels who are already offering or are interested in sustainability education. Presentations will describe diverse sustainability education initiatives, and visions for expanding sustainability education to students of all ages.   Presentations will be short, with time for discussion about nuts, bolts, challenges and motivations. The goal is to connect people, share ideas and curriculum modules, and advance plans to dramatically and creatively extend sustainability education in New York State.

The workshop is free; advance registration is required.  Lunch will be provided, and childcare will be available.  Register below.

Following the workshop, participants can attend an outdoor world drum concert and musical procession that ends in RPI’s EMPAC concert hall with a performance of Susie Ibarra’s newly commissioned Earth Week tribute, Circadian Rhythms.  The performance will interweave percussion from diverse traditions with diverse animal and bird recordings from Cornell’s Macaulay Library – celebrating biological, cultural and sensory diversity.

For a full description of Earth Week activities at RPI (including a full day of panels, lectures and children’s events on Saturday, April 20), see our Earth Week Festival Events Schedule.

Please register for this event by completing the form below.




Worshop: STS Graduate Sustainability Workshop
Apr 21 @ 2:00 pm – 5:00 pm


Volunteer Monitoring for Watershed Sustainability: Making Environmental Sense of Natural Gas Extraction Impacts in the Marcellus Shale
Kirk Jalbert, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Natural gas is touted as the future of energy in the United States. Locally, gas extraction communities struggle to understand environmental threats posed by gas development. One manifestation of these concerns is evident in a groundswell of volunteer surface water monitoring efforts responding to regulatory monitoring inadequacies. A paradox is emerging amongst these efforts where citizen groups seek local empowerment through participatory environmental science, but amplified by promises of creating objective knowledge claims through a number of participatory GIS platforms being developed in the region by academic institutions, NGOs, and local non-profits.

This presentation details the work of five capacity building organizations in Marcellus Shale regions of NY and PA that are shaping monitoring programs and determining how data generated by volunteers is operationalized. Recent fieldwork shows evidence that these organizations are particularly interested in investing in a family of emerging GIS platform, developed by local universities and non-profits, to support their objectives. The volunteer water monitoring community is hopeful that, by using these systems, data from their volunteers will become more powerful in volume, more credible through accepted standards, and more conversant with the knowledge claims of academic scientists and regulators presently controlling gas extraction water pollution discourses.

However, recent work in STS suggests environmental monitoring movements are not likely to be empowered by plentiful data alone, but instead from how groups situate scientific knowledge claims within social and cultural narratives such as environmental sustainability, community resilience, and responsible governance. If this is true, then it is critical to understand how these narratives can be established and put into practice. This presentation explores these tensions and highlights possible resolutions.

Ontological Multiplicity of Environmentally-Related Diseases: Asthma in Tehran
Sonia Saheb, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

Environmentally-related diseases are taking the lives of many people worldwide, both in developed and developing countries. However, scientific research has confirmed the dangerous effects of environmental problems like air pollution on human health; special interests have struggled to minimize the harmful impacts of environmental pollutants on human health by introducing different interpretations of these diseases. This paper incorporates the “Ontological Multicity” concept coined by Annemari Mol, to study different interpretations of asthma in Iran. Studying asthma in Iran is important as Tehran, the capital city, has experienced consistent severe air pollution since 1950s. This study incorporates governmental statistics to show that concurrent with the increase of air pollution, the number of asthmatic patients has increased in the city. The research will also document and analyze the government responses and interpretations to asthma to understand whether, and if yes, how air pollution has been incorporated in governmental interpretations of asthma.

“The Whole World Is Watching”: Indexicality in the Political Mobilization of Protest Images
Ben Brucato, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

The Occupy Wall Street movement (OWS) that began in New York City in September 2011 relied on spectacle. Important were the images generated by agit-prop publication Adbusters leading up to the event, most notably the poster advertising the occupation. Also central to the spectacular framing of OWS as a political event were early documentary photographic and video images produced by news organizations, amateur journalists, and the OWS protesters themselves. Frequently, these images documented the police use of force. In this paper, I interrogate this kind of image as a particular category with specific attention to how they were mobilized by protesters and their allies. In particular, I will consider these images as they were ubiquitously framed at their moment of creation. As the cameras were capturing these images, crowds chanted: “The whole world is watching! The whole world is watching!” This particular framing of images documenting the use of violence by police against protesters characterizes another category, but this time not of a kind of image, but of a particular style of political mobilization of images. This style not only emphasizes the indexicality of the image, but also depends on a belief in the testimonial work performed by images. I will also consider how some images of this type take on an iconic quality. The mobilization of iconic images creates two outcomes. First, it undermines the image as a representation and therefore the political ends that rely on indexicality. Second, by their iconic quality, their mobilization triggers especially diverging readings. These varied readings bring with them potentialities that the provided examples will help to explore. What does it mean for a whole world to watch? What are they watching? What activities does this watching inspire? What are these activities expected to produce? In this paper, I provide some possible answers to these questions with attention to a particular image that circulated in the first weeks of OWS.

Atmospheric Brown Clouds, Improved Cookstoves and Participatory Sensing: Women as a ‘Logic of Research’
Logan Williams, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In a 2007 publication, Dr. Ramanathan (an Indian atmospheric chemist and distinguished professor at the University of California San Diego) and his co-authors discuss four modes of community participation in their participatory sensing project. They have performed pilot studies with women and children in villages in North India and, with the support of the United Nations Environment Program, plan to expand the project to Kenya, Nepal and Bhutan.

For Project Surya or ‘Sun’, their dual purpose is to both empower the community and collect data about atmospheric brown clouds caused primarily by soot (black carbon) from inefficient cookstoves. Their community-based approach to data collection is unique and separates their project from the many other cookstove initiatives in the field of international development. Earlier efforts in the 1980s were primarily focused on increasing women’s health but recently there has been a change in how such cookstove initiatives are perceived (and funded). In July 2009, the director of the United Nations Environment Program, Achim Steiner, commented on how mitigation efforts for Black Carbon would result in ‘double dividends’. These double dividends would be the slowing of global climate change and improved human health.

However, Project Surya did not start out fixed upon improved cookstoves as the solution to global climate change. As their name implies, they were looking at a variety of alternative energy based cooking solutions including solar cookers. They eventually settled on improved cookstoves and a sophisticated (but inexpensive) suite of information and communications technologies to reduce black carbon and make longitudinal measurements. Their close work with women invites the questions: (1) are women a ‘logic of research’ in Project Surya (drawing on scholarship by Sandra Harding); and (2) what are the gains and disadvantages to making women a ‘logic of
research’ in such international development projects?

This exploratory paper is based on a literature review and interviews with 5 engineering and international development professionals involved with Project Surya. I discuss three different gender-analysis frameworks which might be used to evaluate this initiative and how it potentially impacts gender relations.

Eco-Industrial Parks in a Cross-Cultural Comparative Lens
Colin Garvey, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In the hard sciences, so-called “human values” are generally discounted as irrelevant. “Qualitative” and “quantitative” data are thought to be clearly delineable, and woe unto the researcher that mistakes the former for the latter. In recent decades, however, Science and Technology Studies (STS) has gained considerable attention for casting doubt on, and in some cases showing to be entirely false, the above dichotomy. From particle physics to bicycle design, STS has shown that scientific knowledge, supposedly absolute, objective, and value-free, is in fact socially constructed and not isolatable from the conditions in which it is produced. While “social construction” means different things to different people, suffice it to say that conceptual frames undergird any and all views of the world, determine the selection of relevant variables, inform model construction, and influence data collection. Furthermore, the problems encountered in the application of supposedly “value-free” (i.e. mathematical) frames across cultures underscores the fact that such frames are unique to times, places, people, and cultures. In other words, the scientific model that suppresses “human” differences in favor of mathematical universality is under fire.

Ecological Economics, and its cousin, Industrial Ecology, are two fields that attempt widen the economic conceptual frame to include areas that traditional economists would dismiss as unquantifiable. The potential for synergy is clear, and yet, despite an overt concern with “sustainability,” STS has largely ignored developments in this area. Focusing on the “eco-industrial park” (EIP), I analyze the differing conceptions of “industrial symbiosis” across cultures, both geographic and academic, in order to explore how the framing of what constitutes and is relevant to “symbiosis” informs the planning, operation, and evaluation a number of specific sites across the world.

For example, do prevailing cultural attitudes regarding authority and independence preference top-down, authoritarian strategies over bottom-up, emergent ones and visa versa? Does the rationale provided for the successful operation of an eco-industrial park make reference to cultural attitudes (e.g. mutual trust between firms) or good economic data (e.g. the bottom line)? Obviously, even purely economic rationales will be shown to reflect cultural values in the cross-cultural comparative lens. Finally I will explore questions regarding the possibility of a metric for evaluating the success or failure of “symbiosis” that is culturally sensitive and economically sound.

Making Sense of Environmental Film
Brandon Costelloe-Kuhn, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In recent years there has been a deluge of films on the environment and energy. Many of these environmental media laudably aim to inform audiences about the pressing importance of environmental problems, unpack the complexities – social, economic, technological, historical, etc. – around environmental issues and showcase a wide variety of projects and solutions. Sustainability Problems is a film-based class in which students learned a great deal from the content of environmental documentaries while gaining critical media literacy and discussing the politics of knowledge production and circulation. Based primarily on student reviews, this presentation explores some of the factors that make environmental media compelling or abrasive, entertaining or sleep-inducing. Gleaning insights from student experiences and articulations, I argue for environmental media that are inspirational, affirmative, objective and reflexive. I also aim to show the importance of fostering critical thinking that empowers students and publics to make sense of complex environmental problems and the swirl of competing voices surrounding them. This kind of literacy is especially important in an environmental media landscape populated with powerful claims of objectivity. We need to develop a sensibilities that are attuned to how all media—from peer-reviewed scientific papers to fictionalized films on possible environmental futures—are situated, partial and political. We need to stage conversations on what it means to be biased, how to read expertise and how to resist the present in order to open up avenues to more livable and just environmental futures.

Future Justice Now!: The World Future Council and the Politics of Representing Future Generations
Pedro de la Torre III, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

In the past few decades, largely in response the rise of sustainability discourse, a global effort has ensued to find a place for the inclusion of future generations in governance and law. Drawing on long-standing critiques of political economy and government as structurally plagued by short-term thinking, such a position for the inclusion of the interests of future generations is seen as vital when it comes to policies or practices with long-term or irreversible consequences, like climate change, nuclear weapons stockpiles, and the loss of biodiversity. This article will concentrate on the proposals put forward by the World Future Council (WFC) for national ombudspersons for the future and a U.N. High Commissioner for Future Generations, which they advocated for at, for example, the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).

I will ask how the discursive space that these proposals construct affects certain kinds of disidentifications, authorizes claims to speak for posterity, and embodies particular logics of governance and politics. This will be accomplished through examining the ways that these discourses negotiate the epistemological and ethico-political dangers of speaking (and not speaking) for and about silenced others, discursively inoculate themselves against certain kinds of criticism, and enact an ambiguous relationship to what others have called “post-political” discourses. Finally, it will suggest that the most valuable contribution of the future justice movement within which the WFC works may lie not in its successes at institutionalizing the representation of future generations, but rather in its efforts at reframing contemporary issues that rupture both their conceptual isolation and their timespace horizons.

Sharing for the Movement: The Gift-Economy Among Mountaintop Removal Filmmakers/Activists
Michael Lachney, Doctoral Student, Science and Technology Studies, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

This paper explores the gift-economy of anti-mountaintop removal documentary teams that worked to generate a communal partnership for the common interest of the movement through offline video footage sharing. And, asks the question: why is it that these filmmakers are willing to share footage even as they produce films on similar subjects that will, seemingly, compete for audiences? I argue that unlike the Hollywood industry that would see like-films as competition, each mountaintop removal documentary add something to the movement. As long as the movement to fight mountaintop removal continues there will be a demand for consciousness raising documentaries. This was demonstrated in September of 2010, at one of the largest anti-mountaintop removal protests in Washington D.C., Appalachia Rising. Here, documentarians involved in the movement formed the offshoot group, “Filmmakers Rising,” which was mobilized to discuss finished and work-in-progress films, and share digital footage. Filmmakers Rising is understood as part of a larger shift in the affordances of digital technologies to copying and sharing media, which has resulted in a more visible online and offline gift economy. In contrast to the market economy, which centers on the exchange of commodities as a means for profit, “gift-economies are driven by social relations” (Kollock 1999, 222). This paper will highlight how Filmmakers Rising represents a network of people with similar interests and a common communal goal. In addition, a participatory community is represented, as filmmakers with different experience levels work side-by-side. These filmmakers set up the social relations and structures for cooperation and sharing that foster the emergences of a gift-economy in aid of the larger anti-mountaintop removal movement.

Workshop: “Guinean Drum and Dance”
Apr 21 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm

IMG_6234Please RSVP for this event at:



Instructor Bio

IMG_6231Mamadouba “Mimo” Camara was a lead performer with Les Ballets Africains, the national company of Guinea, West Africa for 18 years before he moved to the Hudson Valley in 1995. Since then, he has continued to spread the richness and joy of his country’s cultural heritage through teaching youth and adults in a variety of venues.


Workshop: “Mask-making for Biodiversity”
Apr 21 @ 4:30 pm – 5:30 pm

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The Mask Making Workshop for children age six and up will explore how animals and plants are connected in a healthy ecosystem. Children will decorate animal masks, and learn about biodiversity and species endangerment.

The workshop is free; advance registration is required. Children younger than six are welcome if accompanied by a parent. Food will be available in EMPAC’s lobby before and after the workshop. Register here.

Following the workshop, children and their families can attend an outdoor world drum concert and musical procession that ends in RPI’s EMPAC concert hall with a performance of Susie Ibarra’s newly commissioned Earth Week tribute, Circadian Rhythms. The performance will interweave percussion from diverse traditions with diverse animal and bird recordings from Cornell’s Macaulay Library – celebrating biological, cultural and sensory diversity.