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English Detective #18, Making Sustainability Practical: July 30,2013
July 30, 2013

English Detective #18, Making Sustainability Practical: July 30,2013

The Current Investigation (Introducing this issue):

This issue looks at some practical proposals for more sustainable ways to use resources. In a TED talk Michael Pawlyn suggests learning from nature how to design much more efficient projects and to reuse the wastes of one process as resources to produce something more.

Wangari Maathai demonstrated the value of planting trees-- and of people taking action to make their own lives and their societies better.

In a second short TED talk, Jennifer Granholm suggests (with a very American, informal style and sense of humor) a way to get around congressional gridlock to increase clean energy jobs in the U.S.

In addition to some brief vocabulary explanations and a brief note about a couple of Greek roots, there is one main practice activity: reading/listening comprehension questions based on both TED talks. Be sure and try it if you want to work on your reading comprehension or are preparing for a major test like the IELTS, TOEFL, SAT, or GRE. (The Wangari article has its own comprehension questions.)

At the end of the newsletter there are also links to several sources with more information on the Sahara Forest Project and Wangari Maathai. They aren’t part of the newsletter’s vocabulary practice, but offer for information for anyone interested in knowing more. (I found them fascinating.)

Your First Clue: Vocabulary we’ll Emphasize in this Issue

channel, converse, denote, deviation, devoted, dispose, empirical, enhance, ethnic, federal, gender, insert, interval, intervene, layer, mature, overall, radical, scheme, termination

Which words do you already know? Which are familiar (you have seen them, or can guess their meanings), but you’d like to know more about them? Which are completely new?

Make a note of the words you would like to learn. After practicing them and taking the next quiz, how many have you learned?

Notice how they are used in the readings and practice activities. Then try to use some of them yourself, in a sentence or two.

A few notes about the new vocabulary:

Converse is an adjective meaning the reverse or opposite of a situation, but it can also be a verb meaning to talk (carry on a conversation) with someone: “Their first evening together they conversed for a couple of hours.”

To denote is to give or point to the exact meaning of a word, without considering the feelings the word may inspire. The denotation of ‘mother-in-law’ is the mother of one’s spouse, but its connotations, at least in the U.S., are of a prying, interfering woman to be avoided whenever possible. Many people do not feel this way about their own mother-in-laws, but this is the stereotype, the joke, and the feeling and tone of the word.

Deviation means getting off course or leaving the usual or right way of doing things. (The verb is to deviate and the adjective is deviant. ‘Deviant’ is also sometimes used as a noun for people who are considered to be very undesirable social misfits.)

Someone who is ‘devoted’ is completely dedicated to a cause or to caring for a person. We may devote a lot of time to a hobby or passion (as well as possibly to our jobs!) Devotion is a synonym of adoration, dedication, and affection or love.

Empirical knowledge is practical, applied knowledge as compared to abstract theory.

Gender specifies whether a person (or a pronoun, or in many languages any noun) is male or female. On forms it has the sane meaning as ‘sex,’ but without the possible connotations of sexual activity or feeling.

To insert is to push something into an opening in something else. “He inserted the key into the lock, but he could not get it to open.” Sometimes we use it for adding information to a document: “The congressman from Illinois inserted a clause into the legislation requiring inspections every two years. A congressman from Iowa objected to the insertion, saying it would cause unnecessary expense.”

An interval is a set period of time or space: for example every 10 seconds or every 10 years. (In the U.S., presidential elections happen at four year intervals.)

To intervene is to get involved: to come between people or groups that are fighting and try to change the situation. One side or the other may appreciate the intervention, but often the other side (and sometimes both) may regard it as unwelcome interference.

Layers are thin sheets or coats of something, usually piled on top of each other. Examples: the layers of a wedding cake, or layers of soil, or a layer of oil coating the surface of a polluted harbor.

Mature means full-grown or developed, like fully ripe fruit. It is often used of a responsible attitude as compared to someone who is immature and lives for whatever he feels like doing at the moment, without considering the future or thinking much about anyone else’s needs.

Overall means complete. The overall picture is a view of the whole situation. It’s looking at the whole forest, not the individual trees-- the converse of the proverb “he can’t see the forest for the trees.” (He is so focused on the details that he misses the meaning and importance of the whole situation.)

A termination is an ending. The word is sometimes used for being fired from a job: “He was terminated when they learned he had been playing computer games at work instead of helping with the project the boss was waiting for.” A terminal illness is fatal-- it will end on death. A bus or airline terminal is a station where passengers begin or end their trips.

You can review these and most of the rest of this issue’s vocabulary (as well as issue 17’s) with the Social Science Crossword and its answers.

Getting the whole story: this issue’s reading/listening practice:

Click here for the TED talk on Nature’s Genius

This is the TED talk on clean energy

Click here for the article on Wangari Maathai

Follow the Clues (Vocabulary Practice):

Reading Comprehension Practice (based on the TED talks)

Word Family Investigator:

Bios is the Greek word for life, and is combined with other roots to form many useful scientific words as well as some that are common in daily life: antibiotics, biodegradable, biodiversity, biography, biological, and biomass, among others. See Greek Roots for more information on some of those combinations.

Bio-mimicry combines bio- with the Greek word for imitation (also used in the English words ‘mime,’ ‘mimic,’ and ‘mimicry.’ It means to imitate life, or the adaptations of various living creatures.

Symbiosis combines syn-/-sym- with bio- and a noun ending that refers to a process. It is when two forms of life work closely together for their common good. An example would be lichen, which is actually two very different plant varieties living so closely together they appear to be one. Fungi provide its structure, and algae provide nutrients via photosynthesis. (Photo= light, syn= with, + thesis= a proposition or process. In other words, a process of using light to produce something.)

Investigating on your own: Check out these sites for more information on the Sahara Forest Project and a Wangari Maathai memorial

For those interested, the Sahara Forest Project proposed in Pawlyn’s talk has received funding from a big foundation in Norway and government approved for a large scale trial in Jordan-- quite an example of collaboration between countries and between disciplines (architecture, engineering, +). At the end of the article are links to more on the original Sahara Forest Project (in North Africa) and plans for related energy production in the U.S. (which they claim could fuel 90% of the U.S. energy grid using less than 1% of the U.S. desert area). Click here for that article.

Here is current information on that project.

If you use Facebook, you might want to look at Wangari Maathai’s memorial page. She died in 2011, but her page has been maintained to honor her. There are some of her speeches, tributes from all over the world, and links to ongoing Green Belt activities and related movements.

Coming in the next issue: Great ideas for the Cities of the Future.

In case you missed these: Earlier issues of English Detective have articles on a number of topics, plus practice with over 200 words from the Academic Word List. You can check them out with the link to the back issues page below (or find what words were practiced each issue here. or here for the most recent issues.

P.S. If you’re not already getting English Detective, you can subscribe by completing the form here. (It's free!)

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