Meeting notes – Th, Oct 1

October 6, 2009 at 6:33 am 1 comment

Present: Claire, Paul, Josh, Julie, Alan

All kinds of ideas were kicked around at our lunch meeting. I was shocked when I finally looked at the clock and saw how quickly the hour had passed. Some of the topics that we picked up:

  • Organic farming – is it better than conventional farming?
  • Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. According to the Old Testament, Ishmael is the half-brother of Isaac, the favored son of Abraham. In Daniel Quinn’s novel, Ishmael is a gorilla, a “half-brother” to the human narrator. Follow the link to learn more, or better yet, read the book.
  • What is the world’s carrying capacity? According to the folks at humans are generally consuming the Earth’s resources for supporting life and then some. Try taking the (short) quiz at their web site and see what your footprint comes out to be (you can also learn ways to shrink your footprint – which ways seem to have the greatest appeal?). Our lunch discussion led to a discussion of “footprints” of various sorts and how a footprint is affected by a society’s technological capacity, e.g., how we can grow much more food from an acre of land today than we could before we started using fossil fuels. I encourage everyone to read the letter that a retired chemist, William Garwood wrote in 2003, titled “Why I Studied Chemistry” (reprinted at the department’s web site with the author’s permission).
  • Toxic chemicals. We began by reviewing the article on e-waste being shipped to China for recycling. Discussion then took off in several directions. One direction was the process by which toxic materials and unsafe disposal sites become identified and dealt with. Students were unfamiliar with the case of Love Canal, one of the most famous episodes in recent American history of improper waste disposal. (I strongly recommend reading “Happy Birthday, Love Canal” in Environ. Sci. Technol., 2008, 42(22), 8179-8186.) Another direction involved how toxic chemicals ever get approved for commercial use in the first place. Different countries use different rules and the Precautionary Principle is a rule that has gained favor in Europe, but not in the USA. Why do you suppose this is? Finally, as time ran out, we considered the role that good design might play in preventing toxics from finding their way into commercial products in the first place. Can synthetic chemistry ever mimic Nature’s ability to work with inherently degradable, reusable materials? Some of you might find inspiration in the book, “Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things” by William McDonough and Michael Braungart.

Entry filed under: In the News, Meeting notes.

Next Meeting – Th, Oct 1, noon Crude – the movie

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Alan  |  October 11, 2009 at 11:23 pm

    I forgot – we also discussed Oryx and Crake, a novel by Margaret Atwood about a future when certain privileged classes are able to live elegant lifestyles supported by genetically modified organisms until one day when …


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