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Victor Miller: Environmental engineering is just the ticket

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Growing up, Victor Miller says he was always "a nature boy who did well in math and science."

When he got to Georgia Tech, he realized those two interests could be passports to adventure.

"Until last year, when my environmental  engineering class went to Nicaragua, I'd never been out of the country,"  says the Duluth native, a first-year graduate student in environmental engineering. "And  now I'm going to India. It's great."

MIller is part of a small group of CEE graduate students and faculty who are in India this summer to study air and water quality.  Funded by the National Science Foundation and USAID, the project is part of a three-year study that will include China as well. The CEE contingent has been joined by students  and researchers from Yale University, the University of Colorado and the University of Minnesota.

The first half of their stay involved taking classes to acclimate the American students and researchers to a world that is very diffierent from Atlanta. In this initial report from Miller, he talks about some of the differences he encountered.

"We met with some non-governmental organizations (NGOs)  and discussed how they interact with residents of slum communities which otherwise have no solid connection with government agencies. It was surprising how content the slum res-idents are with their lives, despite their obvious lack of sanitation and daily amenities which most of us enjoy as a part of daily life.

In particular, we spoke with Siddharth Agarwal, executive director of the Urban Health Resource Center, and learned about how individuals in organizations have to spend many years interacting with residents in order to get a real feel for their quality of life and current conditions. We have also studied the importance of different organizations of different scales effectively interacting - such as local, state, and national cooperation, in order to reach important infrastructure improvement objectives."

"We looked at the issue of global warming and researched the consistent failure of the Kyoto Protocol, which was aimed directly at reducing GHG emissions of various nations. The main problems with the plan were encountered when developing nations, in particular India and China, had conflicts with more developed nations with regards to cutting emissions when, in order to further develop, and increase in emissions as a whole is necessary."

"We learned of an approach of measuring GHG emissions per GDP, rather than per capita, as a good metric to use for developing nations and for those with high exports. A metric for emissions per quality of life, a metric called the Human Development Index (HDI), was also discussed. The HDI takes into account the health, education, and income of an "average" resident in the nation, rather than simply looking at the national GDP or the population."

"We  finished a study on footprinting and various methods of determining material flows. The idea of footprinting is largely focused on the amount of impact that a particular city, state, or nation has on the surrounding environment, in terms of either pollution or natural resource use. There are different forms of analyses used here."

"There is a direct emission method, in which the emissions within a particular boundary are measured. There is also a method which takes into account the electricity use of that region, including the emissions from coal burned at other sites and then imported to the area. Then the non-infrastructure analysis takes into account the material/energy flow of non-infrastructure items, such as paper or clothing, and their impacts on the environment as well. It turns out that "accurate" footprinting is actually a very complex process."

Visit again to see what Victor and his CEE colleagues are doing.