Saturday, August 8, 2015

SRO Internship: Final Thoughts

My time working for SRO has now officially come to an end. During my time at SRO I was introduced to a number of different procedures that both opened my mind as well as tested me mentally as a person. One of the greatest experiences that occurred over my three month internship happened during the first few weeks when John and I had to set up an experiment for the USDA. During this I was shown exactly how large scale experiments are both set up and conducted outside of the guidance of academia that i was used too. Unfortunately the results of this experiment were unable to be used due to unforeseen procedural mistakes. Although the results were no good, it was quite an experience being able to be a part of an experiment of this magnitude. 
Throughout the summer I was able to discover the process which was used to create the electrobiocide. This was an especially important part of my internship considering that most of what I was being taught was all patented technology. At first the chemistry that was involved in this process was overwhelming but after "cooking" numerous times and asking John questions nearly the entire time, I finally go the hang of it. Other than going along with John and conducting experiments or "cooking" up elctrobiocide my summer also consisted of work outside of the SRO headquarters. John new that my interest was in sustainability and when I was given the chance to help out on his nearly off-grid homestead, I jumped at the opportunity. It was here that I maintained his garden located mostly inside of a 34 foot high geodesic greenhouse. Located within the greenhouse was also a full aqua-ponics system, that before this opportunity I never really understood exactly how these types of systems worked. Along with maintaining the garden I was able to take care of the over thirty chickens located on his property and one ill tempered rooster. Working on this property was definitely the highlight of the internship and was a welcomed break from the chemistry intensive SRO work. Other projects that I was involved in were the building of numerous greenhouses, used to hold both some of Johns excess produce as well as lettuce that is currently being used in an experiment to see whether or not the electrobiocide has any ill effects on the plants. Unfortunately the results of this experiment wont be completed for another month. The process of designing and building my own greenhouse's was a very rewarding experience and taught me a lot about what types of designs work and what types don't. 
Over the course of the last three months SRO has taught me so much about the world of patented technology and all that goes along with trying to get the product out onto the market. I was originally interested in the technology because I was told it is a completely green disinfectant that is effective as  current household cleaners but harmless enough to drink. When I first herd this there is no wonder why I was interested but I'm not sure how much of it I actually believed. Now that I have worked for SRO for the past few months I know that all of these seemingly exaggerated claims are all true. I have actually drank the product myself with no ill effects. I am so thankful to John and the SRO crew for bringing me in a showing me how their technology works as well as allowing me to help out on projects outside of the office. Allowing me the freedom to create my own projects was extremely helpful and allowed me to work on my own schedule while still learning everything that I could about both SRO and the electrobiocide technology. This was a once in a lifetime opportunity and will surely help me in attaining my future goals. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Manufacturing Biocide at SRO

It was a pretty easy week in the SRO office with the finishing up of some minor projects including the building of greenhouses as well as brewing a batch of the electro-biocide. The two main greenhouses have been filled with lettuce plants where one will act as the control group in the experiment while the other will be used to test the effect that the biocide has on the plant growth. The biocide will be applied to the test group via misting throughout the day. The experiment will not be completed until after my internship is over but I will be informed of the results when John completes the experiment. Overall it was very informative on how to properly set up a experiment of this scale out side of an academic environment. I will continue to apply the biocide and to the test group for the next few weeks while also noting the growth rates of both groups.
As far as the process of brewing the electro-biocide goes the chemistry involved is pretty intense as well as patented. While completing the brew I was given the low down on exactly what was happening on each step of the way, which was very interesting and informative. I found it especially interesting how chemically simple the completed fluid was considering the rather lengthy manufacturing process. The final elctro-biocide fluid is only 200 parts per million stabilized ClO2 in a highly energized fluid. Over the next couple of weeks I will continue to help out with the experiment while also continuing to brew the fluid. I am excited to learn more about the actual processes that occur when the fluid is applied in order to sterilize surfaces, which I will be looking into further on in the week.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

BLM - Ways of Managing and Monitoring Local Resources

     During my time at the BLM, I have learned more than what I thought I would. Primarily, I have learned the many different ways that resources are managed. Whether grazing, logging, or prescribed burning is taking place, one does not realize the amount of time, paperwork, permits, inner and outer-agency collaboration, monetary, and physical resources that are needed to manage a resource. I’ve learned enough of the background behind how many different resources are managed to understand it, but still not enough to be able to explain that to people.
     What I have understood more thoroughly is, how to monitor the resources before and after different managing practices that include: logging, thinning, thinning with slash piles, prescribed burning, fecon operations, grazing allotments, spruce/pine beetle monitoring, and water resource monitoring.
     The 2 ways of monitoring a resource that I have learned during my time at the BLM are surveying, and photopoints. Surveying works for monitoring because it tells you what plants, animals, or other features exist in certain areas. The data collected during the surveying is put into a large database that is then accessed in the future in order to enact a project for that area. Photopoints are a way to monitor an area for changes over time. This practice is more prominent in areas that have had some kind of previous treatment. Every year or a few times a year, someone goes to these secluded areas and takes 4 pictures, one for each aspect(N,S,E,W). The pictures are lined up as close as they can be to previous pictures and through this, changes are physically seen and recorded in a visual context.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Importance of Monitoring and Mitigating Cheatgrass

Hello everyone, I’m Roger Espinoza and for my internship, I’m doing and learning an array of different things. I’m working at the BLM and I’m employed as a Vegetation Management Technician. The main component of this internship is monitoring, managing, and mitigating noxious and invasive plant species, but we haven’t been able to work on that as much due to the current status of an environmental impact statement concerning the Gunnison Sage Grouse here in the Gunnison Valley. This internship is primarily focused here in Gunnison County with the exception of a few projects in other areas. I’ve been working for a few weeks now.
            First, I’m going to talk about the first couple of weeks in which I learned about the importance of mitigating noxious and invasive plant species. We are focused mostly on cheatgrass, Canadian and russion thistle, and knapweed. I never really thought that a plant could do so much damage until I started surveying for these plants here at the BLM. The overtaking of cheatgrass is our biggest problem.

The reasons why are because:
11.   It chokes out native plant species and becomes a monoculture of cheatgrass.
22.   Cheatgrass is not very nutritious and it’s only nutritious while it’s still green (about 1-2 months). After it dries up, it contains almost no nutrition what so ever.
33.   The fact that it is not nutritious is a big problem because once it exists as a monoculture, wildlife will have a lot of troubles finding sources of food. That will then trigger a tragic domino effect in the food chain.
44.   The other big problem cheatgrass presents is the probability of more wildfires. When cheatgrass takes over an area, it almost always comes at a 100% vegetation coverage. This is bad because if a fire comes through, cheatgrass will burn in a wave like form instead of a mosaic like pattern. Also, as it moves through an area, it will have enough energy to easily light up nearby shrubs and trees.
55.   Then, once the fire moves through, cheatgrass will be the first to come back and it will out compete many native plant species.

Monday, July 13, 2015

SRO: Ups and Downs

Over the course of the past week and a half my internship with SRO has been going in full swing. Unfortunately we found out that the data for farm equipment decon could not be used due to flaws in the experimental procedure. This was an extremely unfortunate turn of events due to the amount of time and effort the company has put into the tests in order to better understand the functionality of the "sauce" in real world applications. Plus the mishap was not on our hands but rather on CSU's head of agriculture who designed the experiment. Rather than this upsetting piece of information, other side events occurring at SRO include me being able to create my own experiment in order to test the effect that the elctrobiocide has on the growth rate of crops. I am still in the mists of finishing up the procedure but am excited to get the show on the road. As far as preparation for the experiment I designed and built three simple 10 ft x 4 ft x 3.5 ft soft top greenhouses, which has been my main focus for the past week. These greenhouses will hold the different test and control groups for my experiment. I am very excited to see the effect that the biocide has on the plants, which is rumored to increase the growth by as much as 40 percent. I guess I will have to wait and see!
On a side note I have been working with John at his personal residence in order to help him and his wife Julie take care of their numerous sustainable projects. From planting and maintaining their vast gardens to taking care of the over thirty chickens and collecting eggs there is always something to be done. Being able to work on and see different ways to be personally sustainable has been a highlight of my summer and is a nice escape from the SRO office.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

ENVS 400 Independent Study - Daniel Woods - Free responses to Ch. 5, 6, & 7 of the book Thinking in Systems

Chapter 5 Free Response: System Traps and Opportunities
            All of the solutions to systems traps that are outlined in this chapter are summed up in this quote: “But system traps can be escaped – by recognizing them in advance and not getting caught in them, or by altering the structure – by reformulating goals, by weakening, strengthening, or altering feedback loops, by adding new feedback loops. I was thinking about “reformulating goals” while I was mountain biking this morning. See, I have the worst mountain bike around – it has no moving suspension, the tires are basic, and it’s basically just a bike that I found for free and fixed up. But I took it out to Signal Peak this morning, and had a good time. Most people wouldn’t go near my bike if they were going mountain biking, and I don’t blame them. But I set my goals low! I said to myself, “Ok, if I can just make it out there without wrecking my self or my bike, it will be an accomplishment.” And I did fine! I didn’t fall into the trap that so many recreationists fall into – having standards for how well your gear works that are too easy to fall short of.
            It seems to me that many people don’t want to work for sustainability because they set the goals too high. “The world’s going to end someday anyway, why try to fight it?” Yes, the end of the world will come one day – but that’s not the point. No environmentalist thinks they can stop the world from ending, we just think it could be delayed by quite a long time. I can’t remember which one it was, maybe Jeb Bush, but I recently heard a politician saying something like; “If all we can do is stop the climate from warming two degrees, why would we make all the changes that are proposed? We know that we’re going to have warming of two degrees already, what’s the difference if it’s four degrees?” This is a typical mindset – that if you can’t stop all environmental disturbances, why try to stop any at all? These people see a goal for the system as being too high, and throw their hands up and say, “to hell with it.” Their goals need to be reformulated.  Mitigation is better than nothing.

Chapter 6 Free Response: Leverage Points

“Leverage points are points of power.” How do we leverage for sustainable change? Making people responsible for their future generations has been mighty successful. Invoking the extinction of polar bears was somewhat successful, at least in the beginning of the movement. Economic reasons are hugely powerful leverage, both when arguing for and against change. The advertisement for the EPA’s new report, “Benefits of Global Action,” focuses on the monetary advantages to mitigating climate change: “By the year 2100, we could avoid $10 Billion in agriculture losses and help to keep the price of food affordable. We can cut billions in infrastructure costs by the end of the century, and save Americans approximately $3 billion in annual costs to coastal property and $7 billion in road repairs.” And while it mentions how many lives would be saved, and how we’ll all be happier and healthier, the ad really does focus on the monetary benefits.
            Early on, Meadows argues that the most common changes made to a system, the “parameters,” are the least likely to change the system – and that we all spend too much time arguing about them. For example, changing the federal minimum wage to fix inequality does not change the social stigma of racism or other more systemic causes. This makes sense to me – with how hard it is to get everyone to agree on something, how could we change anything like racial views or caring for the environment, from a legal perspective? All we can hope to do is set limits on parameters, such as capping CO2 emissions. I’m happy about that. I’m glad no one has the power to tell me what to think or say. One of her examples is, “After decades of the strictest air pollution standards in the world, Los Angeles air is less dirty, but it isn’t clean.” Seems like you’re falling into a systems trap, Ms. Meadows! How can you hope to solve a problem like Los Angeles air pollution by setting your goal for 100% clean? That’s unreasonable! Being able to change parameters leads to system change. Like in Los Angeles, maybe Joe Shmoe decides that dealing with more emissions testing for his vehicle is a hassle, so he invests in a nice bike. Then he works towards making bike transportation safer by asking his congressperson to try to fund more bike lanes, and more bike lanes are built. Parameter change has created a deeper system change!

Chapter 7 Free Response
           In this chapter, many broad thoughts are wrapped up about systems thinking. I particularly like this nugget of wisdom: “Mental flexibility – the willingness to redraw boundaries, to notice that a system has shifted into a new mode, to see how to redesign structure – is a necessity when you live in a world of flexible systems.” From this, I realize that it’s also not enough to simply be observant. You also have to be open to the idea that your observations might cause you to have to change basic assumptions that you have about the world. You can’t be offended by new information chat challenges those basic assumptions. You can’t have an emotional connection to them if you want to be able to keep up with a changing system, which is what the world is.
            Another point I like is summed up here: “It’s especially interesting to watch how the various elements in the system do or do not vary together. Watching what really happens, instead of listening to peoples’ theories of what happens, can explode many careless casual hypotheses.” Knowing about this kind of systems trap is important for our presidential elections because candidates make these sorts of “casual hypotheses” all the time. Casual hypotheses get you nowhere, they just distract from the real problems and opportunities. They seem like a trap that is built into our democracy, where presidential candidates try to win the favor of a large, diverse, continent-spanning population. They have to make broad general statements that are convincing to the average person – and end up being totally false in reality because wrong assumptions were made about what variables in the system have an effect on each other. Variables such as prison sentences and drug use. Casual hypotheses are a basic way that people use systems to make sense of the world, and are a useful tool – but only when the uncertainty of them is understood. As the saying goes, correlation does not prove causation (but it warrants looking into).

            Another point that is in this chapter relates to a thought I was having about urban design the other day. It seems to me that loads of towns are just plain butt-ugly because of how they are built. They are a continuous string of buildings of the cheapest construction possible that are each surrounded by their own parking lot. They are a paving-over of nature and its systems, and they are ugly to look at and be surrounded by. The point from the chapter that relates to this is that even if you can’t quantify something, that doesn’t mean it doesn't play an important part of a system. What I think is missing from land development systems are the consideration for an aesthetic appeal, the consideration for nature, and the consideration for pedestrians. So much development seems to take no other mode of transportation into account other than automobiles that the consideration for walkers and bikers is totally left out. You can quantify how many parking spaces you think you need, but  walking convenience isn’t as quantifiable. It’s always frustrating for me to have to walk across a big parking lot, because I see it as an inconvenience created by other people’s need to drive a car everywhere, and I am stuck with development that is twice as spread out as it needs to be. If I had it my way, I’d make businesses build their parking lots at the back of the store, so the doors to the store were on the street, and then people with cars could deal with the extra walking. I don’t want to keep rambling, so I’ll conclude by saying that I think automotive ease-of-use has a big unfair advantage over other transportation modes in our current system of urban development, and it’s the result of the quantifiable cost-benefit analysis being the only consideration, and that the less-quantifiable elegance of the system of development is being ignored. 

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

ENVS 400 Independent Study - Daniel Woods - Chapter 3 & 4 Free Responses

Chapter 3 Response: Resilience, Self-Organization, and Hierarchy

When I went running yesterday, I thought about how my body has to be resilient to the food I eat and the water I drink in order for me to be able to run. Eating and drinking too soon before running, like I did yesterday, causes my stomach muscles to cramp up. But the act of eating and drinking isn’t what you would call a normal “disturbance” to a system because food and water are some of my most basic needs. I don’t know if a term has been coined for this type of disturbance, it probably has, but I guess you could call this a “basic needs disturbance.” Maybe resilience to a basic needs disturbance should be called “basic needs resilience.”  I can think of lots of examples of basic needs resilience. Can your vehicle overcome the added weight of its fuel? Can you wake up in the morning after sleeping? Can you wake up in the morning after a night of fulfilling your need to have social interaction? For how many years can your knees be resilient to the impact of the rest of your body on top of them so that they can keep carrying you to get your basic needs?  Basic-needs resilience seems like an important category of resilience because it deals with disturbances that are necessary to the system.  
It seems to me that perhaps the greatest tool for self-organizing of all time is the internet; a network that connects every device that can connect to it. People from every corner of existence can connect, share ideas, and organize. I can go on the internet and find a group of people who share my ideas about anything. I can self-organize with these people, and share two-way communication with them instantly. It works so well because every device on the internet doesn’t have to connect to every other device – it just has to connect to the server that makes the connections. This means that the internet is organized into sub-systems, where every device connected to the internet is a sub-system. This makes the system resilient, because even if my computer crashes while connected to the internet, the rest of the internet is unaffected. So the internet lets us freely self-organize with resilience.
Hierarchy affects the internet as well. The server that runs a website is at a higher level than the laptop or phone that accesses it. Information in a university is organized into a hierarchy, too: professors, student teachers, and students. The hierarchies in the internet and in a university are different because in a university, the hierarchy’s levels have progressively more knowledge; in the internet, the hierarchy’s levels have more connectivity. It seems like it can be hard to tell if some systems even have a hierarchy, and not just separate-but-equal sub-systems. Does the internet really have a hierarchy, or just separate sub-systems? The servers are nothing without people with devices who access them. A market can’t function without shoppers and sellers; they rely on each other. I suppose there are usually sub-systems in a hierarchy. There are different levels of buyers and sellers, like the luxury market and the middle-class market. There are infinite levels of sub-systems and hierarchies everywhere you look.

Chapter 4 Response: System History, Nonlinearities, Limits, and Law of the Minimum
         “When a systems thinker encounters a problem, the first thing he or she does is look for data, time graphs, the history of the system. That’s because long term behavior provides clues to the underlying system structure. And structure is the key to understanding no just what is happening, but why” –p88. This brings up an important idea that I’ve often thought about that has to do with why people are reluctant to understand the importance of global climate change. When I see that most people seem to not care at all that the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere, I wonder, “what could have happened in their lives to make this seem insignificant?” And then it dawned on me: my dad told me about what it was like to live in the cold war. Every day the world could end. You might not make it to your next birthday, and you would only have a few hours’ notice that the end was neigh. In contrast, the news that the earth is going to warm up by about ten degrees isn’t very scary. The social history lends itself to understanding our collective social consciousness.
            If the collective consciousness were a linear system, the news that we need change to avert disaster would result in that change. But because the collective consciousness is nonlinear, input does not equal output. Proven science does not lead to changed opinions. Humans are not robots; we use feeling and intuition to make our decisions. The fact that animal populations cycle in a nonlinear fashion is another way to explain human’s outsized impact on the earth. All species are programmed to make the most of circumstances that let them multiply. But since humans have overcome the limiting factors that would usually stop the population from growing, we are running into the limit of our global system: space. Space for our bodies, space for our waste, and space for growing food. We are approaching this limit, and other limits, with nonlinear speed. It’s my goal, and I think the goal of most environmentalists, to avert the nonlinear decline in our population if we reach our limits too abruptly.
            I like the idea of the Law of the Minimum, which says that a system needs a certain amount of all of its necessary inputs, no matter how much excess it has of a certain input. No matter how many jobs an economy has available, it won’t function without a healthy workforce. No matter how much oil there is, an oil-based economy can’t function if the wastes from it are too harmful, or there is inadequate infrastructure to deal with the waste. No matter how much people try to recycle, recycling won’t happen if there isn’t a facility to do it.