I Think I Might Have Killed Someone’s Grandma…

Actually, several of them.  There may have been a Grandpa in there as well.


Many people in academia are familiar with a wonderful little tongue-in-cheek study that was done to assess the probability of certain relatives dying at various times of the semester.  It’s called the Dead Grandmother Problem.  It was written up in research format and the findings seem to suggest that familial mortality is linked to challenging academic undertaking s such as exams.  I might add that discussing troubling and controversial topics such as climate change may have the same overall effect.    You can read that study here.

Water in Bottles

Environmental science at a small college is my thing.  I lecture on important topics that are relevant to the sustainability and to the persistence of this human condition.  Every year, I see the pendulum swinging back and forth on important issues; I see it on the faces of my students and I read it in the lines of their papers.  This has been a fairly good year, so far.  Amongst my students climate change is more or less a given.  There are a few dissenters, but by and large most are on board despite the enormous media campaign to paint the dramatic and devastating winter on the east coast as not a sign of global warming, but rather of global cooling.  This tells me that things are not as bad as they sometimes seem.

Yet, there are outliers and anomalies to reconcile this with.  For example, this was a year that clearly bucked the trend in terms of students’ disposition toward plastics and the sale of bottled drinking water.

Despite our overview of the problem of plastics’ persistence in our environment and the resultant Pacific Garbage Patch in the Pacific Ocean, many students this semester maintained that people consume bottled water because it is either safer or tastes better than water derived from conventional and municipal sources.  It, in effect, is simply something we cannot do without.

Neither of these assumptions is born out in reality and regardless of the overwhelming nature of the arguments against bottled water neatly and popularly summarized in ‘The Story of Bottled Water,’ when you step back and look at it from a distance it seems almost incredulous and maybe even patently lunatic that we wander about carrying bottles of water that were sold to us.  My wife recently passed this satire on to me and I loved it.  ‘The Story of Bottled Water’ follows below, in case you have not yet seen it.


And here is ‘The Story of Bottled Water.’

Climate Change?

I was lecturing in an environmental science course this week, having students calculate the amount of carbon dioxide generated from burning gasoline in an average car driven an average number of miles per year.  The amount is fairly astonishing.

We then began to build upon that, multiplying that number by the number of people in the lecture hall, the number of people in their town, the number of people in California, the US, and so on.  I find that empowering students with the math and then allowing them to make calculations to see how overall impact grows in magnitude when a few million little-old-me’s are all doing the same things is very powerful.

Students are always kind of blown away by what they find.

Then one student asked, innocently, ‘but how is it that carbon dioxide is related to global warming?’

Sometimes, as a professor, I have to step back and get my bearings.  You think you have a basis to begin with, a good point of departure, and then you realize that as deeply mired as our society has  gotten in the highly politicized ’debate’ about climate change, what we are still lacking is a strong foundation in the science, which is all that should really matter.

Lecture was over.  Hold that question, I said, it’s a good one.

Next lecture, we talked greenhouse gasses.  And I shared this short video that explains the concept quite nicely.  It’s useful and entertaining.