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Green deserts and green buildings: a summary of the past week's public lectures on campus

I hope everyone's having a fantastic hell week! As my midterm load was embarassingly light, I was able to attend to great lectures this week that I'd like to share.

The first was talk by Dr. Jan Sendzimir from the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA). He gave an excellent talk on how he was able to use a systems analysis of the ecological, political, social, and economic situations in the Zinder and Maradi regions of Niger to explain a remarkable success in reforestation of desertified land that was previously considered impossible. Niger faces high variability in terms of drought, pest epidemics, shortage, and conflicts. As such its people are very hardworking, highly adaptable, and the kindest people Dr. Sendzimir said he had the opportunity to meet. Traditional ways of living and governance were interrupted with French colonization, culminating in a crippling drought and famine in the 1970s. By this time, European farming conventions had removed all the trees from the farm fields and a stigma was set up against using traditional "backwards African" practices. Other trees were removed because corrupt forestry officials would not visit and extort farmers with no trees. Trees that were left failed to be pruned properly with a loss of traditional knowledge. During the drought, foreign aid NGOs provided aid on the condition that the farmers start pruning their trees and encouraging growth. In a few years, the new growth had promoted better soil health, more vegetation for herder's animals to graze on and in turn fertilize the soil, higher crop yields, less time spent looking for firewood, and so on. .Agroforestry in Niger: Photo by Chris Reij, taken from

The aid incentive overcame the peer-pressures felt by the farmers and pushed them to contribute to a positive-feedback cycle which essential was able to begin returning the society to it's traditionally managed state, in harmony with he farmers, herders, soil, water, and plants.

The second lecture I was able to attend was by Stephen Carpenter (Mech '73) of Enermodal Engineering, a Kitchener-based consulting firm specialized in "green buildings" which offer energy and water efficiency in a positive and productive work space. They recently constructed a new office on the banks of the Grand River which managed to achiece an energy consumption rate of 68 kW*H/m^2, where the LEED average is around 120 and the Canadian average is near 350. This was accomplished by using pre-existing technology (some very old: stones from nearby demolished churches and bridges) applied in a well-designed, "no-brainer" way. This included using a southern aspect, external shading to dissipate heat in the summer, heat exchangers and subterranean ducts to mediate temperature of incoming fresh air, heating water/ cooling the network server simultaneously, using rain water to flush toilets, and many more low-tech, practical solutions. The initial cost of the building was roughly the same as a non-green building, but it saves more and more money each day that is re-invested into programs to encourage employees to live more efficiently themselves. Some employees even canoes to work down the Grand River. This idea of saving and reinvesting is also used by a program in Kitchener where the city fund's efficiency retrofits on the condition that the savings are used to buy more retrofits for other buildings. The most interesting thing Mr. Carpenter shared was that they were able to cut their building's consumption by 20% just by making sure that all the mechanical and electrical systems were operating as intended, and that almost every building in Canada could achieve 20-25% savings with no further investment than better maintenance. Mr. Carpenter pointed out that if everyone just took the time to make these adjustments and repairs (which pay for themselves in a short time), Canada would be far surpassing it's abandoned Kyoto goals already.

I hope I was able to relate to you the ideas of these great talks to mull over reading week, and thanks for reading!

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