Nov 10: Sustainability Salon & Sing: Air Quality

It's time for GASP's annual fall gathering -- this year in conjunction with Maren's monthly Sustainability Salon (by way of disclosure, I'm also on the board of GASP).  We'll have an update by GASP staff on the organization's doings over the past year in the realms of policy, advocacy, litigation, education, and science, making southwestern Pennsylvania a better place to breathe.  Featured speaker Neil Donahue will lead a discussion about atmospheric particles, and you'll be able to check out the new Bike Air Monitor (BAM) equipment developed by GASP (with funding from Google), as well as Carnegie Mellon's Mobile Air Quality Lab.
What is so special about particles? Tiny atmospheric particles have outsized effects.  Though particle concentrations are only a few parts per billion by mass in air, even when it is fairly polluted, particles can cause serious health effects and have substantial climate effects.  What's more, particles are a mashup of all sorts of stuff -- to the best of our knowledge most consist of quite a small core onto which all sorts of things condense like spray paint.  Some particles, maybe as many as half by number, have no core at all but rather form out of thin air via a process called nucleation.  All of this makes the problem of dealing with particles much more complex than dealing with simple primary pollutants (like sulfur dioxide or nitrogen dioxide), or even "complex" secondary pollutants like ozone.  Neil Donahue, (atmospheric chemist, CMU professor, BAM bicyclist, director of the Center for Atmospheric Particle Studies, and your friendly co-host) will guide a conversation about what all this means -- to human health, to climate, and to what we can (or cannot) do about it.  

What is the air like in your neighborhood? One way to define Pittsburgh is through its variability. There are hills and valleys (with another hill past this valley and another valley past that hill), legions of distinctive neighborhoods, and, of course, sometimes unpredictable weather. We can add concentrations of air pollutants to the list, because the variability in land use, elevation (hilltop versus valley), and the distribution of pollutant sources lead to significant heterogeneity in pollutant concentrations in the city and region. One way to approach this variability is to conduct sampling in a variety of different locations in a relatively short amount of time. This is exactly what's being done by CAPS, using a specially-outfitted van as a mobile sampling unit.  CMU research professor Albert Presto will show you around the new Mobile Air Quality Laboratory and talk about the work it's been doing in the region, ranging from investigating emissions of Air Force refueling jets to monitoring Marcellus drilling sites (the image below shows a flaring well in the background).  He will lead tours of the mobile lab, and talk about on some of its early findings about the variability of different air pollutants in Pittsburgh.

On Saturday, November 10th, please join us for the tenth Putting Down Roots Sustainability Salonanother in our ongoing series of monthly enviro-conversational gatherings with potluck food and homemade music.  Following our rousing discussions on solar powerfoodtrees and park stewardship, alternative energy and climate policyand regional watershed issues, this month will focus on air quality.  Check back here as the event approaches to learn about other speakers that will join us as they are confirmed.   

And if you like to make music or listen to homemade music, don't forget the evening sing -- we typically run the gamut from Irish fiddle tunes to protest songs to the Beatles, and a fun time is had by all.  Bring instruments if you play, and/or pick up one of ours.  Conversations will continue through the evening as well.  If you're itching for some music in the meantime, we're also hosting a house concert on November 3rd;  more info here.

3-10 p.m. at Maren's house in Squirrel Hill.   Please email me to RSVP (important for yesses ad maybes, please do so each time -- it helps greatly in several ways.  Among other things, attendance varies from 25 to 75, and it helps to have a handle on numbers in advance!) and I'll send directions and/or a trail map if you need 'em.  Be sure to include "salon" in the Subject line, as I receive a ridiculous amount of email every day.  Bring food or drink to share if you can, along with musical instruments if you play.  Check back on MarensList (where you can find information on all sorts of environmental and social justice events), for updates.  And in a rare bout of advance planning, next month's Sustainability Salon will examine several ways in which health care affects sustainability -- mark your calendar for December 1st. 
Quite a few people have asked me what sorts of food to bring -- and my answer, as always, is whatever inspires you;  I believe in the "luck" part of potlucks.  Tasty noshings for the afternoon, hearty main dishes or scrumptious salads and sides for dinner, baked goods from biscuits and breads to brownies or baklava -- and/or beverages of any kind.  The more the merrier!  Local fare is always particularly welcome, whether homegrown or boughten.  Dishes containing meat are fine, though if it isn't really obvious please make a note of it.  
-salon |səˈlän; saˈlô n |:  (historical) a regular social gathering of eminent people (esp. writers and artists) at the house of a woman prominent in high society;  a meeting of intellectuals or other eminent people at the invitation of a celebrity or socialite.
Regular, that's the plan.  Eminent and intellectual people, to be sure -- that's yinz.  House, check.  Woman, c'est moi.  High society, celebrity, socialite?  Not so much.  Salons occurred in 17th-century France, purportedly powering the Enlightenment, and were more recently repopularized by the Utne Reader.  I've long contemplated hosting an ongoing series of conversational salons in this tradition: informal gatherings around the notion of sustainability.  Some will have a featured guest to lead a discussion on a some topic, others will be open to whatever comes up.  If you'd like to hear about a particular topic, or hold forth on your own area of expertise, let's talk about a future event!

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