Not that long ago, the idea of taking a class to learn about electric cars or solar heat pumps sounded like something out of a science fiction novel.

But today, those very subjects are offered at adult education classes in Maine. Actually, if you want to educate yourself on any number of sustainability issues, the resources are really easy to find.

Besides adult ed classes all over the state, you can sign up for tours of the ecomaine recycling center in order to see firsthand where your trash goes. The Natural Resources Council of Maine has web pages set up to help you organize plastic bag or foam container bans, and the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at the University of Maine keeps a large online archive of information, research publications and event listings.

Then there are the groups that many consider the granddaddies of sustainability education in Maine, including the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the University of Maine’s Cooperative Extension. Both offer help and advice to farmers and gardeners of every experience level. A host of nonprofits in the state also host workshops, classes and talks, offering chances to learn about the environment and green living, including – to name just a few – Maine Audubon, the newly renamed Wolfe’s Neck Center for Agriculture and The Environment in Freeport, Gulf of Maine Research Institute in Portland, as well as many local libraries and land trusts.

Add to these, we can hardly keep track of the many books and films on the subject of sustainability that interested Mainers can read and watch to create their own independent study programs of sorts.

“We feel it’s really important that people have access to as much information as possible to make their own decisions” about sustainability, said Bridie McGreavy, a faculty member at the Mitchell Center, which is located on the Orono campus. “Educating people is an important part of solving problems.”

Here then is a roundup of just a few of the ways Mainers can go back to school, figuratively and literally, to learn more about living greener. Call it Sustainability 101.

GO TO THE HEAD OF THE CLASS

Adult ed programs all over Maine offer sustainability classes. The Scarborough Adult Learning Center has a two-class course scheduled for April about “easy and engaging climate solutions” like installing solar panels.

Also in April, Lewiston Adult Education will offer a class on electric cars, how they work and what you should know if you’re thinking of buying one.

The MSAD 52 adult education program, based in Turner, will offer classes this spring on backyard chicken ranching, worm composting for beginners, and organic gardening.

“The hope is that someone (who takes a class) becomes inspired to share their learning with others,” said Terri Eddy, enrichment program coordinator for Scarborough Adult Learning Center. “Getting people excited about sustainability topics, and opening hearts and minds to an ecological world view, inspires a ripple effect of ecological change.”

To find information on adult education programs near you, go to Maineadulted.org.

A MATTER OF DEGREES

Say you start by taking an adult ed class and enjoy it so much, you realize, hey I’d like a career in the sustainability sciences. If you’re ready for a multi-year commitment, you’ll find that colleges now offer degrees to help you out. Unity College in Unity, for one. The school has long been known for its focus on the environment and sustainability sciences; it offers both degree and certificate programs, including a master’s in sustainability science program and a sustainable master of business administration program. Find out more at Unity.edu. Other Maine colleges offer sustainability degrees too, including UMaine’s B.S. in sustainable agriculture. (Umaine.edu) College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor offers only one undergraduate degree, in human ecology, which the college describes as “the investigation of the relations between humans and their environments.” Students have a broad choice of subjects within the program. (Coa.edu)

FOLLOW THE RUBBISH

Ever wonder where your recyclables and trash go after you put them out on the curb and a big truck hauls them away? Find out by taking a free tour of the ecomaine facility in Portland, which handles trash or recyclables for 73 communities around Maine – roughly a third of the state’s population.

Hector Reinos, left, and Arturo Santos pull out plastics from paper to be recycled on Jan. 9 at ecomaine in Portland. Staff photo by Gregory Rec

People can tour of any of the three main parts of ecomaine’s facilities. Besides recycling, ecomaine operates a waste-to-energy power plant that converts 180,000 tons of garbage into electricity each year. It also operates a 274-acre landfill, where the stabilized ash is buried. The minimum age for the recycling tour is 2nd grade, 8th grade for the waste-to-energy plant; there is no minimum age requirement to tour the landfill. Touring the recycling and waste-to-energy operations together takes less than 90 minutes; if you add the landfill, which is three miles away, expect the tour to extend to about two and a half hours.

Does following your trash sound like a weird way to spend your time? Think of it this way, says Katrina Venhuizen, environmental educator for ecomaine:

“If you put your garbage on the curb, it just goes somewhere. On the tour you get to see and smell and hear where your garbage goes. You see the path it takes,” she said. “People see that plastic bottles can’t be sorted by machines if they have water in them. They see how harmful plastic bags are to the (sorting) machines. I explain that making brand new things takes a lot more water and energy, creates more pollution, than making things from recyclables.”

By the way, as far as recyclables are concerned, ecomaine is just the first step in the process. After the nonprofit sorts them, the materials are sold to mills around the world to be used to produce new products.

To set up a tour, contact Venhuizen at [email protected]

HAVE TOOLS, WILL ORGANIZE

About a year and a half ago, some folks from Belfast wanted to ban plastic bags from city stores, but they didn’t have a clue how to get started. They found help and advice online in the form of the “Reusable Bag Toolkit” offered by the nonprofit Natural Resources Council of Maine. The plastic bag ban eventually became city law in Belfast, effective Jan. 1.

“We knew we needed some help, some fact-finding, and the toolkit became that resource for us,” said Anita King, who worked on the Belfast ordinance. “It was a really helpful guide.”

Among the council’s other “Sustainable Maine Community Toolkits” are resources and contact information for cigarette litter prevention campaigns; community gardens development; home or community composting startups; safe street campaigns for pedestrians and cyclists; and organizing community solar farms. See the toolkits at NRCM.org: click “projects” and scroll right to “sustainability.”

GARDEN PARTY

Farmers and gardeners of all skill levels in Maine rely heavily on both the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association and the University of Maine Cooperative Extension.

MOFGA, founded in 1971, offers farm apprenticeships, programs to learn about low-impact forestry and so many other workshops and programs throughout the year we couldn’t begin to name them all. The group’s newspaper, in print and online, comes out quarterly and is full of articles about the details of organic farming and gardening, as well as such big picture issues as the impacts of industrialized agriculture. (Mofga.org)

Likewise, the UMaine Cooperative Extension offers so many workshops and courses, so much advice on gardening, soil testing, composting, beekeeping, fruit growing, canning and many other subjects, it’d be hard to name them all. Are you the sort of person who learns better by watching in your own good time than by reading or taking a class? The Cooperative Extension has a plethora of wide-ranging films on YouTube, about such topics as How to Prune Forsythia, Tick Removal, and Managing Late Blight. (Extension.umaine.edu)

ONE-STOP SHOPPING

A great destination for a wide range of news, events, contacts, publications and other resources on sustainability is the website of the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions at UMaine. It includes lists of upcoming conferences, lectures and events, including talks at the center in Orono. Coming up soon: a Jan. 29 talk on “Sustainability on the Front Lines of Climate Change.” The website also has contact information for center faculty and researchers, information for farmers and beekeepers, and a “digital commons” featuring sustainability-related research publications. What did we do before the internet?

SHHHH!

Your local public library is a great place to learn about just about anything, including anything related to sustainability. Beyond lots of books on sustainable living (read on for more), many libraries host talks and workshops on the topic all year round. On on Feb. 7, the Portland Public Library, for instance, is hosting a 6 p.m. talk by author and Press Herald writer Colin Woodard titled “Ocean’s End: The Crisis in the World’s Seas and The Gulf of Maine.” It’s part of the Portland Sustainability Series, put on by the library and the Southern Maine Conservation Collaborative. (Portlandlibrary.com)

In Brunswick, the Curtis Memorial Library hosts an ongoing series called “Sustainable ME: A Read & Do Group.” The group usually meets on the fourth Wednesday of each month from January through October. Participants in this nonfiction book club read about garden projects, green cleaning options, bike repair or a range of similar topics,and then try the activity out together. (Curtislibrary.com)

“We started the group because we knew that there was a real interest in our community for practical DIY projects,” said Hazel Onsrud, the librarian who organizes the Sustainable ME book group. “This series provides project-based ways to take some action together, exploring different aspects of alternative ways to make dinner, landscape your yard or harvest water.”

READ A BOOK! GO TO THE MOVIES!

We asked the Natural Resources Council of Maine and faculty at the Senator George J. Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions to recommend a few books, films and videos for Mainers who want to better understand environmental issues of all sorts. These barely scratch the surface of the hundreds of excellent books, movies, video and TV programs that await your discovery.

FILMS AND TV

“Chasing Ice”: Emmy-winning documentary film from 2013, originally on the National Geographic Channel and now available on DVD, Netflix and Amazon. The film uses time-lapse cameras across the Arctic over several years to document changes in the Arctic glaciers. (Chasingice.com)

“The Story of Stuff”: A series of often funny, animated, 20-minute films about how much stuff we have and what that means for the planet. Among the (depressing) tidbits you’ll learn: The average U.S. citizen buys twice as much in terms of consumer goods as they did 50 years ago, and the average U.S. house size has doubled since the 1970s. (Storyofstuff.org)

“Sustainable Maine” TV series from Maine Public, available online. Episodes include looks at Maine’s vernal pools, rivers, lakes and fisheries. (Mainepublic.org)

BOOKS

“Big World, Small Planet” (2015), by Johan Rockstrom and Mattias Klum, combines science, stories and photography to set out a vision for protecting the planet “that ensures human prosperity.”

 “Blessed Unrest” (2007), by Paul Hawken, explores the diversity and history of the environmental movement, and the struggle to “re-imagine our relationship to the environment and one another.”

“Finding Beauty in a Broken World” (2008), by Terry Tempest Williams, is a reflection on the wide range of connections between nature and humanity, from a prairie dog town in the American Southwest to villagers in Rwanda building a war memorial.

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