Saturday, November 23, 2013

Mick's somewhat more original thinking

Welcome to the Sustainability Thought and Deed Annex.

If you've arrived at this page it's either through following the link from the main page, or through a Google search of my name Mick Womersley. I'm a British academic who lives and works in the United States, and who thinks and writes about climate change, energy, and the future of civilization.

Presumably you are trying to find out more about what I think and do.

(If not, then this is a good time to leave.)

One of my many mentors, Professor Mark Lapping of the University of Southern Maine, is fond of saying that professors should profess, using the older, very Quakerish meaning of the word: to give testimony or to affirm faith.

Here's the Wiktionary definition:

  1. claim openly but often falsely that one has (a quality or feeling).
    "he had professed his love for her"

  2. affirm one's faith in or allegiance to (a religion or set of beliefs).
    "a people professing Christianity"
    synonyms:affirm one's faith in, affirm one's allegiance to, avow, confess More

I think that what Mark meant by this was that academics, especially college and university professors, should be sure to be true to our own ideals and ideas, instead of constantly referring to the academic literature or relying on the canon. Which, if we were being honest, is what most of us do and what our institutions expect us to do, unless we're total "rocket stars", academically speaking.

Mark thought instead that professors should have their own original ideas, or at least some of them.

This particular blog page acts as a repository for what I believe is the most useful of my academic work in recent years, which is the reflective writing I've done on Sustainability Thought and Deed.

This webpage therefore contains my profession, such as it is.

These writings are not what most people, and indeed, most academics, would consider at all important, academically speaking. They're not peer-reviewed, formal, published research. Nor are they critically acclaimed creative products.

That's because I'm rather an idiosyncratic and unorthodox academic, as far as the expectations are concerned for that particular role in life in 21st century American colleges and universities. Not very ivory-towerish. I'm just as interested in doing as I am in thinking, and in fact find a balance of both to be essential to my emotional health.

In fact, I notice that I tend to think a lot as I do things, and vice versa, which leads me to hypothesize that people that can't do anything particularly well perhaps cannot also think very well.

I also notice that unless I take time to reflect, I often make incorrect assumptions.This leads me to hypothesize that unreflective people make a lot of mistakes.

This idiosyncratic approach to thinking, rather strange for the academy, is mostly due to my background and education. I've had a much more varied working life than most academics.

I started out in the UK military, where I was a member of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Service and trained as an aircraft engineering technician at the RAF's Number 1 School of Technical Training, RAF Halton (intake APD 34). You'd have to have been both an RAF engineer or an RAF mountain rescue "troop" to really understand what kind of training this combination entailed. Most people would never be able to understand and it would take me a long time to explain. Suffice it to say that there was a time when I was supposed to be able to run up and down Ben Nevis in only a couple of hours, lead-climb the Matterhorn, accept responsibility for horribly injured people many miles from help and save them, fix fast jet fighters when they broke, and lead a squad of airmen in ground combat. I'll leave it your imagination to guess which of these I did particularly well.

I worked in servicing hangers, on flight lines, and on the mountains for just under seven years, before applying for and receiving compassionate discharge due to my developing environmental and political viewpoints, which could be quickly summarized as emerging horror over what the government of Margaret Thatcher was doing to the communities of my North British homeland. How I won my release is a story unto itself, but suffice it to say, I have an honorable discharge and kept my pension, more due to the very intelligent and understanding views taken by the RAF officers that dealt with my case, than to the case itself or the way I made it.

I then "bummed around" the communities and backwaters of the British and American counter-cultures for about three years, learning about home construction, renewable energy and farming by doing, all the while looking for an alternative to Thatcherism.

Finding none, I entered the academy, specifically the University of Montana, in the fall of 1989, to see, more formally, if an alternative could be found there. I went straight through the BA and MS degrees to the PhD. I eventually found the alternative to Thatcherism in the principles and theory of ecological economics, but remain confused as to how the world could ever get to the point where this more enlightened theory could inform events.

But sometimes process is more important than the goal. In my case, as a partial result of all this experience, I'm a competent mechanic and itinerant engineer, as well as a moderately competent builder and farmer. I still fix all my own cars and equipment (including a 43-year old Land Rover and a 41-year old tractor), and maintain my own home. I also build, and remodel buildings, for energy efficiency and agricultural use. I install and maintain renewable energy and energy efficiency equipment, perform building energy analysis, and measure the wind using huge anemometer towers for the state of Maine. I also have considerable experience in the British and American environmental movements as an activist, for organizations ranging from the UK Green Party to Earth First! I grow my own food, with my wife Aimee, on a small scale sustainable homestead in Jackson, Maine. I'm still active in search and rescue and will have been faculty advisor to the Unity College Search and Rescue Team for  fifteen years this fall. I just stepped down from several years as an officer of, and resource coordinator for, the Maine Association for Search and Rescue. I am the editor of the Royal Air Force Mountain Rescue Association's journal, On the Hill, the publication of my ex-serviceman's association, and have been for several years now.

I'm a Fellow of the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, or RSA, which as far as I know is the only professional organization in the world that believes that doing and thinking are just as important as one another, and advocates for this point of view.

Finally, and in many ways least important to me personally, I've had a wide range of experiences in the American academy, where I studied ecology, social science, policy and economics with leading academicians.

I spend a lot of time teaching others to do these kinds of things. I also spend a lot of time thinking about these kinds of things, and why the planet is the way it is, right now.

Hence the title, "Sustainability Thought and Deed." By now, you should be getting the idea.

What I can say about these writings is that they contain complex, nuanced ideas about the future of our planet. I think these ideas are useful and important. (But I'm biased.)

If you're interested, you'll read some or all of them. If not, no hard feelings.

Here are my favorite posts. Read at your own risk!

Advice to a mature student. I find myself reiterating this article in many if not most of my discussions with advisees. Read it now and save yourselves the trouble.

GK and GP
My proposal to the MIT Climate COLab contest, as it was in summer 2014. This proposal unites most of my geopolitical thinking about climate change in one swell foop. It's my best academic work, ever. I may just retire now, because I'm not sure I can improve in it in the future. The version available on MIT's web page is subject to change, as the rules of the contest require revising after receiving comments from the judges and membership.

Green Keynesianism and Green Protectionism
Ideas relating to the problem of how the world's free countries can protect democracy and the planet's climate at the same time. A precursor to GK and GP, above. Relatively succinct and to the point.

Principles of Sustainability Thought and Deed
More, earlier, meandering on principles and practice.

What kind of a problem is climate change?
A student's questioning made me review my attitude to the Keystone Pipeline controversy, with possibly generalizable results.

Key thoughts on climate change and education.
What will it be like? (Understanding likely climate effects)
What do I think is most likely to happen to our climate? Empirical sensitivity may be less than expected, but it would be dangerous to act on this because there may be hidden tipping points. I hope we will act, but if we don't, or don't act enough, I pray that the tipping points don't tip.

Some new tech ideas I like

Critical of thinking
Some notes on how to teach critical thinking to "millennials," if at all feasible.

On despair and its management

Climate problems are going to be very difficult to deal with. But every generation has faced down its own set of problems and this one will too.

Meditation, mental health, homesteading and sustainability

If we all thought more, we'd consume less, and be happier.

On the role of engineering and industry
Whatever happened to western engineering supremacy? Actually, we still have it. But you wouldn't know, considering all the buzz about China.

Green economics and the metaphysics of quality
Ever read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? Don't. I once did, and it messed up my whole life.

Careers in green tech and how not to get one: A teaching philosophy

There are lots of green tech careers, but what is the proper attitude and training?

Divestment 2.0
A running list of how-tos to reduce fossil fuel emissions. (Not very original.)

PS: Here's my current CV

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