Monday, September 16, 2019

Climate Change Plans of Presidential Candidates: Pete Buttigieg

Given the accelerating evidence for climate change, it is not a surprise that the topic is getting attention among the presidential candidates currently running for office. Most of the major candidates have released a plan or at least a statement as to what they will do on the issue if they were to enter office. Today I continue my series that looks at each of the plans of the major candidates to highlight what I see as their pros and cons. Please note that the review of the plans is not meant as an endorsement or rejection of any of the candidates.

The series continues today with Pete Buttigieg's climate change plan which you can read here. My review of previous candidate's plans follows at the end of this post.

Like many of the other plans, Buttigieg's notes the dire situation we are facing with climate change. What sets his introduction apart from many of the others is that he frames the issue as a way to unify rural and urban America under a patriotic endeavor that seeks to continue the greatness of our country. As we will see, he very much looks at climate change as something that impacts all people of our country and not just those who are on the front lines in coastal areas.

The plan has three main pillars

  • Clean economy
  • Resilience
  • Leadership

The clean economy piece has several main targets including 0 emissions electrical generation by 2035, 0 emissions for passenger cars by 2035, and 0 emissions industrial activities by 2050. He provides details on how we are to get there such as the development of significant research and development funding, a clean energy bank to fund green energy projects, and my favorite, climate action bonds, to allow people to invest in these types of projects. Compared to Andrew Yang's climate plan, Buttigieg's plan is a little lite on specifics but strong on government programs. In other words, Buttigieg's plan builds the bureaucracy around which Yang's proposals could work.

The clean economy piece also focuses on improving energy efficiency--an important aspect of any climate change plan. He also delves into carbon capture--an area that I'm meh about given the overall limited success in this area. He also discusses the need to invest in agricultural initiatives given the likelihood of major agricultural shifts. One of the surprises in the plan was a massive increase in funding for Agricultural Extensions. These offices were extremely important when farms were small and individual farmers needed support. Now, with the advent of agribusiness, I'm not sure that the extensions are the best places for investment.

The resiliency piece of the plan calls for regional resilience hubs that would serve as models for how to enhance community resiliency in this time of change. This is an idea that emerged after Hurricane Sandy hit the northeast. There were several federal competitions to improve regional resiliency in the New York area. Certainly some good things came out of these competitions, but I am mixed about the whole idea of having competitions around resiliency planning given what I know about the outcomes after Sandy.

The final piece of the plan focuses on leadership. It highlights the need for a national climate summit and a return to major international climate agreements abandoned by the current administration. In addition, Buttigieg rightly notes that the US military has quietly become one of the major areas of competency in the area of climate change in the United States and seeks to have the military take a larger role in the conversation on climate change in the US and around the world.

There is much more in the plan that I cannot cover here. Overall, there are some great things in it. Clearly, given the fact that Buttigieg has served as a mayor in Middle America, he has a unique perspective that seeks to build a bureaucracy to help solve a problem that impacts all of our nation. I would have liked to have seen a bit more detail on some of the plans. I am not saying that the plan needed the level of detail of Andrew Yang's plan, but I kept wanting to see more information. For example, Buttigieg's plan briefly mentions airplane emissions but doesn't have any details about how to address them. In addition, some of the plan reads as if he compiled several good ideas to fit within an overall plan without articulating how they work together. As you read it, you will see that he even calls sections of his plan by the name of the person who developed it or introduced it to congress.

I do think Buttigieg's plan stands out for its efforts to address the needs and concerns of rural America and its framing of solving climate change as a patriotic initiative. It is a little light on detail and high on bureaucracy.

Look for a review of another candidate's climate change plan in the next week or two.

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(For those of you teaching environmental science, environmental policy, or sustainability this semester, you may wish to follow along or assign your students the reading of the various plans I will be posting to allow them to evaluate them as an exercise.)

Preview On the Brink Posts on Presidential Candidate's Climate Change Plans

Andrew Yang's Climate Change Plan

Sunday, September 15, 2019

El Morro National Monumnet

Today I continue my series on all 129 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is El Morro National Monument in New Mexico. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

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Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments.

Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Saturday, September 14, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy: The Case of Burlington, Vermiont

Burlington, Vermont. Click for photo credit.
This is the sixth post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

Today's post is on Chapter 6, Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont by my co-editor, Sandra Garren of Hofstra University.

The chapter begins with considerable background information on the history of energy independence initiatives in the United States and makes a clear link between the importance of energy independence and locally derived renewable energy. While the U.S. has many policies that promote dirty energy sources, most of the real efforts on renewable energy are done at the state and local levels. Indeed, as the article notes, 36 US cities have pledged to "...source 100 percent of electrical power from renewable energy, and five cities have already achieved this target (i.e. Aspen Colorado; Burlington, Vermont; Greensburg, Kansas; Kodiak, Alaska; and Rock Port, Missouri (Sierra Club 2017))." Because Burlington, Vermont was the first city to achieve this goal, it is a logical place to study to understand how to do renewable energy at a big urban scale.

Garren provides interesting background on the city. It is largely known as a progressive place that was once led by the well-known Bernie Sanders, a current contender for the presidency. Sanders in 1984 closed the only coal power plant in Vermont. However, it was under the current Mayor, Miro Weinberger, that Burlington achieved complete energy independence. Mayor Weinberger also initiated a range of sustainability projects.

The chapter continues with a snapshot on Vermont's overall energy picture. Most of the energy consumption is in the transportation and residential sectors. Compared to other states, it uses a low percentage of energy in industrial sectors. Hydroelectricity provides 51% of the electrical sources while petroleum provides the majority of the energy for transportation and heating.

Downtown Burlington. Click for photo credit.
Burlington itself achieved 100% renewable electrical production through a variety of projects that date back to the 1980's. They include biomass, hydroelectric, wind, solar, and a variety of other initiatives. The local utility is publicly owned which facilitated moving forward with projects that were important to the community. A biomass plant is responsible for about 41% of the electricity used in Burlington. The sustainability initiatives developed by Burlington are part of the overall regional green movement throughout the state that engages community members, businesses, and a variety of other stakeholders.

As with all the chapters, the piece concludes with sections on lessons learned and  challenges and barriers. In this case, it is clear that political will (and leadership) and having a publicly owned utility were key to Burlington's success. Challenges remain, particularly in the transportation and home heating areas which utilize mainly petroleum products. In addition, the lack of clarity at the federal level is particularly frustrating. Renewable energy has become a political issue at the federal level and policies seem to be ever changing. This makes developing sound state and local policy difficult.

There is much more in the chapter that cannot be covered in this post. Suffice it to say that it provides a fascinating review of how one American city made a commitment to renewable energy and how it achieved the goal.
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Click here to for more information about the book
.

Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on energy planning, renewable energy, or sustainability management within local governments.

1. Mayor Weinberger instituted a number of sustainability initiatives for Burlington. How can they be utilized to address the need to reduce the dependence on fossil fuels for transportation and home heating?
2. Why do you think Burlington was the first city in the US to achieve 100% of its electricity from renewables?
3. Most of Burlington's electricity (41%) comes from biomass. What is the source of the biomass? What are the environmental consequences of this energy use?
4. What would it take for your community to get 100% of its electricity from renewable sources?
5. How did the state of Vermont get to the point that it gets most of its electricity from renewable sources?
6. The electrical utility in Burlington is publicly owned. Why do you think this was important to meeting the goal of 100% renewable energy for the region?
7. How do you think the overall (electrical use and other uses) energy portfolio will change for Vermont in the coming decades?
8. Hydroelectricity is a major component of Vermont's (and Burlington's) energy portfolio. What are the environmental impacts of the use of this important renewable energy source?

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Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Antitrust Threats Against Carmakers Who Seek to Reduce Greenhouse Gases

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The news from Washington on greenhouse gas emissions continues to get even weirder. This blog has covered some of the stories emerging around the efforts of car manufacturers to continue to follow  (more or less) Obama era rules on fuel efficiency standards even though the administration rolled back the standards. They agreed to do this in consultation with the state of California which has special rights in the Clean Air Act to set emissions standards separate from the US Government due to that state's unique geography and air pollution problems. You can read my background pieces on this issue here and here.

Now, according to this article in the New York Times, the Justice Department is seeking to bring antitrust charges against the companies that negotiated with California to set fuel efficiency standards. It is highly likely that these charges will not stick, but it does cool efforts to improve automobile efficiency at a time when there is growing evidence for the climate changing all around us. This cognitive dissonance is causing many to lose faith in the ability of the US government to act effectively on this important issue that will impact the coming generations.

As this opinion piece in the Times by Jody Freeman notes, everyone--the manufacturers, environmentalists, and the public--want the new emissions standards. We all know who doesn't. This level of petty tinkering is doing great damage to our environment and our way of governing.




Monday, September 2, 2019

Opening Comments at Environmental Impact at the Hofstra Museum of Art

Please join me on September 19th at 4:30pm where I will be giving opening comments at a new show at the Hofstra Museum of Art called Environmental Impact.

Artists have long found ways to speak to us about the environment. Most are familiar with the Hudson Valley School of art, but even earlier artists, such as da Vinci, had very definitive environmental themes in his work.

This particular exhibit focused on human impacts on the environment and includes a range of artists including Daniel Beltrá, Diane Burko, Edward Burtynsky, Janet Culbertson, Alejandro Durán, Steve McPherson, Alexis Rockman, Barbara Roux, and Steve Rowell.

Art helps to transform society in important ways and this collection of works was particularly selected by the curator to showcase artists who are also environmental activists. To read more about the show, click here.

I hope to see you on September 19th! 

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Second Edition of Introduction to Sustainability to Come Out in 2020

I just signed a new contract for a second edition of Introduction to Sustainability. The textbook, published by Wiley Blackwell originally came out in 2016 and was one of the first major textbooks in the discipline.

I am making many updates to the book. It is amazing how much has happened in the field since the last edition. For example, the new Sustainable Development Goals have been implemented and much of the world is focused on them. There is growing concern over the immediate impacts of climate change. Plus there have been some new fascinating (and tragic in some instances) case studies such as the Flint Water Crisis, and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The new edition will also have a test bank of essay, multiple choice, and true/false questions (with answers) and new expanded power points (about 20-25 power points per chapter).

The book was designed for a broad introductory course in sustainability. It covers environmental, economic, and social aspects of the field. If you have used the book and have suggestions for improvement, please let me know. Also, if you teach a course in sustainability, please give me your suggestions as to what should be included.

The second edition should be available by the spring of 2020 so that it can be utilized in Fall 2020 courses.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Methane 101

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Methane is in the news due to the fact that the current EPA administration is deregulating methane rules that help to keep it from entering the atmosphere during its extraction, shipping, and storage. Given this, I thought I would provide some basic background on methane so that readers of On the Brink understand the significance of the regulatory rollback.

Methane is a very basic organic molecule (CH4) that is found underground and in the atmosphere. There are many ways it can form, but the two most common ways are through geologic and biologic processes. Methane forms geologically in similar fashion to coal or petroleum and is associated with these types of deposits. Indeed, in some areas, methane is burned as a waste product when oil is extracted. Biologically, methane can form in the stomachs of animals and from the decomposition of organic matter in places like wetlands. Thus, methane releases from cattle and rice fields are large contributors to the atmosphere. In the U.S. cattle account for about a quarter of the anthropogenic methane released into the atmosphere.

Methane concentrations at the Mauna Loa Observatory.
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The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has been increasing steadily for the last two centuries. The atmospheric observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, keeps track of atmospheric methane so you don't have to. The global monthly mean has increased about 13% from around 1650ppb (parts per billion) in the mid 1980's to 1860ppb today.

The increase in methane seems like it would not be a big deal given that methane makes up a very small percentage of the atmosphere. However, there is one big problem. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

We all know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. However, there are many others. Greenhouse gases have the ability to absorb heat which means that they contribute to the heating of the atmosphere. However, not all molecules have the same ability to store heat. Some do a better job of it than others. We express this by creating a number called a carbon dioxide equivalent which is abbreviated as CO2e. Carbon dioxide has a CO2e of 1. Methane has a CO2e of 25. There are several other greenhouse gases that have even higher CO2e's such as nitrous oxide (298 CO2e) and sulfur hexafluoride (22,800 CO2e).

The fact that methane has a CO2e of 25 means that it is 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is why there has been such a push to regulate methane. We are trying to reduce one of the main drivers of climate change.

Climate change is releasing even more methane. As the Arctic areas warm, ancient frozen organic matter is decomposing and releasing methane as shown in the video above.

It is relatively hard, but not impossible, to manage much of the anthropogenic biologic methane. I won't go into details, but some possible solutions include changing feed stock, reducing herds, and changing rice production processes.

However, research has shown that huge amounts of methane are lost to the atmosphere during the extraction, shipping, and storage of methane. Overall, according to a recent study, leaks account for about 2.3% of all methane used. We've all smelled methane leaks. Sometimes these leaks lead to terrible explosions. To enhance safety and reduce leaks, the EPA published rules in 2016 that regulate methane emissions in the natural gas industry. These are the rules that the current administration is trying to eliminate. Energy companies, for the most part, are in favor of the rule and are against the rollback of the regulation. As I noted in an earlier blog post, many leaders of companies are trying to be much more focused on sustainability and climate change.

I am certain that the change in rule will be challenged by the public and by the industry. I suspect its implementation will be delayed until after the 2020 election. As all of us continue to see growing evidence of climate change all around us, the public is becoming less patient with the types of shenanigans that lead to greater emission of greenhouse gases.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

El Malpais National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 129 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today's featured monument is El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Click for photo credit.
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Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments.


Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

Climate Change Plans of Presidential Candidates: Andrew Yang

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Given the accelerating evidence for climate change, it is not a surprise that the topic is getting attention among the presidential candidates currently running for office. Most of the major candidates have released a plan or at least a statement as to what they will do on the issue if they were to enter office. Today I am starting a new series that will look at each of the plans of the major candidates to highlight what I see as their pros and cons. Please note that the review of the plans is not meant as an endorsement or rejection of any of the candidates. The series kicks off today with Andrew Yang's climate change plan which you can read here.

I have read most of the climate plans of the candidates and I have to state off the bat that Andrew Yang's is the most comprehensive, innovative, and thoughtful of them all. I don't agree with everything that is in the plan, but there is no doubt that he is extremely serious about this initiative. What is so striking about his plan compared to the others is that he is not dumbing down the facts or the science. He speaks to the public as if they are thoughtful, intelligent people. When you read some of the other plans, they sound like watery speeches in your head. When you read Yang's plan it sounds like a thoughtful article written by someone who knows what they are talking about. Let's break his plan down a bit.

First of all Yang provides a rather stark title and preamble for the plan. The title, "It's Worse than You Think--Lower Emissions and Higher Ground," gives the reader a sense that we have a problem and that the solutions will not be easy. He frames the climate change challenge within the context of the weather extremes we have seen over the last few years. He notes that the time to act was decades ago which is why we need to move aggressively forward now. He provides timeline benchmarks (which many plans do not have) and he also has drafted a budget for the plan with a high price tag 4.87 trillion dollars over 20 years.

He has five main themes to his plan:
  • Building a sustainable economy
  • Building a sustainable world
  • Moving people to higher ground
  • Reverse the damage we have done
  • Hold future administrations accountable
Each piece of the plan has some outstanding ideas such as creating new building standards, developing a carbon fee, and stopping new pipeline projects. I won't go into the details on all of them, but suffice it to say that there are lots of exciting things in Yang's plan. 

He also goes into tremendous detail about how to build the new green economy. One of the more interesting ideas is the development of a new National Labs under a new Department of Technology that would be responsible for conducting research on sustainability technology issues such as green energy and materials. The new National Labs would have partnerships with a variety of organizations to promote technology transfer.

To address the various issues we will face due to our changing climate, Yang is proposing the development of a Climate Change Adaptation Institute that would help us improve urban planning, agricultural adaptations, and other things that we will face as our environments change. He also proposes the study and potential implementation of emergency ideas related to carbon capture and the use of floating atmospheric mirrors to reflect solar energy back into space. There is no shortage of strong ideas and vision in Yang's plan. This is the real strength of it. Some may (and have) criticized his ideas as too bold or too "out there" but it is this type of thinking that highlights the urgency of the problem that was so clearly articulated in the introduction to the plan.

My biggest concern with the plan is that he highlights a need to utilize nuclear energy as a stop-gap until we enhance our green energy technologies. Many sustainability experts have advocated for this initiative. The basic argument is that we need to quickly cut back on carbon emissions and the only way to do this without tanking the economy is to quickly ramp up nuclear energy production that uses new nuclear technologies. The last nuclear power plant built in the U.S. started construction in the 1970's. There is no doubt that technology and safety have improved since that time. However, it is still nuclear energy and in my mind, we are trading one bad situation for another. But at the same time, Yang's assertion here for the need for nuclear energy is one that many sustainability experts advance and he is not coming out of left field for opting for this choice.

Overall, I am very impressed by the boldness and vision of Yang's plan. It is worth a read. As we will see when we read and review the other candidate's plans in this series, it is the boldness and attention to detail which make his plan stand out. Look for a review of another candidate's climate change plan in the next week or two.

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(For those of you teaching environmental science, environmental policy, or sustainability this semester, you may wish to follow along or assign your students the reading of the various plans I will be posting to allow them to evaluate them as an exercise.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Pomodoro and Writing

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I have posted quite a bit on this blog about tips for improving productivity for students and academics (most recently here). I thought I would share some thoughts on the Pomodoro Method and how it can be used to enhance writing productivity of university students and faculty.

First of all, what is the Pomodoro Method? It is a time management tool that was developed by Francesco Cirillo that uses 25 minute work intervals followed by short breaks. After a few of these work/break cycles, one takes a longer break to clear the mind.

The Method was developed in the 1980's prior to the widespread use of the Internet and phone technology. However, it is gaining in relevance today now that we have constant access to distractions as our email comes in like rain on a tin roof. The modified Pomodoro Method asks one to turn off all distractions for those 25 minutes of work--no Internet access, no phone, etc. It is a time for just pure work.

There are many apps that one can download on your phone to utilize the technique. I use a free one called Pomodoro Timer. Once you start the app, it starts counting down from 25 minutes. An alarm rings to let you know when your work time is done. It then will let you choose whether you want a short 3-5 minute break or a longer one. After the break, you go back to 25 minutes of work time and follow that cycle for as long as you want. That's really all there is to it.

I have found the tool is extremely useful to help keep me focused. Even though I have a daily writing goal of at least 1000 words a day, some days those 1000 words take more time because I get distracted by the Internet or some random email that arrives. I was a little dubious about the Pomodoro Method, but it turns out it has helped me stay a bit more focused and productive.

I think the technique is especially valuable to college students who are often distracted by technology or for people who are otherwise easily distracted when writing. If you are teaching a course with a significant writing component, such as a large final project or thesis, it is worth teaching the Pomodoro Method to help students with writing productivity.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice: The Case of Flint Michigan

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This is the fifth post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

Today's post focuses on Chapter 5 by Adrienne L. Katner, Kelsey Pieper, Yanna Lambrinidou, Komal Brown, Wilma Subra, and Marc Edwards of Louisiana State University, Virgnia Tech University, and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

What happened to the people in Flint, Michigan as a result of poor water management decision making is one of the most important environmental stories of the last two decades. This chapter reviews the events and provides significant background to understand the broader issues associated with environmental injustice and water infrastructure in the United States.

The chapter begins with a review of the history of lead poisoning and its impacts on communities as well as the public health issues associated with old water infrastructure. The authors note that utilities can control the release of lead and pathogens (particularly Legionella) in older infrastructure by reducing the corrosivity of water leaving water plants. Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess the extent of lead and legionella problems in water infrastructure and the problem is underestimated. The authors review the challenging issues associated with aging infrastructure and its extent. It is also difficult to sample for lead in water effectively given the scale of the infrastructure.

The chapter continues by describing the nature and extent of the lead and legionella problems that emerged in Flint. Low income communities were greatly impacted by the problem. In addition, the remedies to the problem, which include in-house plumbing replacement and home treatment or filtration systems are often financially out of reach of many.

Downtown Flint. Click for photo credit.
In the Lessons Learned section of the chapter, the authors list several important points including the need for creative financing strategies to facilitate small water systems training, to share the costs of infrastructure replacement, and increase the support for state and federal monitoring, enforcement, and health surveillance.

However, the authors noted that there are several challenges and barriers. First and foremost, is the fact that Flint suffered from socioeconomic collapse and as a result there are a variety of financial burdens for the city and individual community members. In addition, there is the question as to who is responsible for the infrastructure leading from the street to the house. There are also regulatory gaps and weaknesses in oversight and enforcement of existing rules. Finally, there are a variety of personal costs associated with this environmental injustice that should be concerning to other communities.

There is much more in this fascinating chapter that reviews important environmental justice issues that emerged in the Flint crisis.

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Click here to for more information about the book
.

Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on environmental justice, water infrastructure, and sustainability.

1. Lead is one of the most problematic environmental pollutants facing us. What are the impacts of lead poisoning?
2. Legionella is emerging as a growing concern in water delivery systems. Explain why.
3. Why is our aging water infrastructure a concern to public health professionals?
4. What do the authors mean by, "infrastructure inequality"?
5. Why do you think the community of Flint was so hard hit by the water infrastructure problem?
6. In the Challenges and Barriers section of the article, the authors highlighted the financial burdens associated with replacing the nation's infrastructure. What are they?
7. We have lots of rules regarding water quality in the United States. Given this, why did the Flint crisis happen?
8. How did the U.S. Government react to the Flint water crisis?

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Previous posts in this series:



Thursday, August 22, 2019

70% of All Land Impacted by Human Activity According to New IPCC Report

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On August 8th of this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its report, Climate Change and Land:  an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. The report has garnered a tremendous amount of attention due to its assertions about the linkages between land use and climate change. However, there is one fundamental piece of the report that I found particularly interesting--it notes that 70% of all non-ice land surfaces are directly impacted by human activity.

I found this number shocking given that much of the planet is covered with inhospitable tundra, desert, or wetlands.

The report goes on to note that 1/4 of the non-ice land surface is engaged with agricultural activities, timber production, or mining. The report further notes that 1/4 of the non-ice land surface is degraded as a result of human activities. The report defines degradation as soil erosion, desertification, and loss of low-lying lands due to climate change. The sad news is that the rate of change is concerning. we are likely to see greater degradation due to these three factors--especially global climate change.

We have about 7.7 billion people on our planet and we are clearly stretching our planet's resources rather thin due to our consumptive habits. We are expected to have a population of 11 billion by the 2080's. Our changing climate combined with our increasingly degraded land surfaces will certainly lead to a variety of challenges for the coming generations.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

More Automakers Disregard Trump's Attempt to Rollback Mile Per Gallon Rule as Corporate Leaders Affirm Commitment to Sustainability

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Last month, I wrote about the fact that many car manufacturers are ignoring Trump's efforts to roll back Obama era rules on miles per gallon requirements for cars. As many of my readers know, California is granted special rights in the Clean Air Act to set miles per gallon standards for cars sold in their borders due to the special air pollution conditions in the state. As a result, California rule making tends to set the national standards on mph requirements for car manufactures.

While the current administration changed Obama's rules for miles per gallon of cars, automakers are not particularly interested in changing their plans. California has set particular standards that they are going to meet (since California is one of the largest car buying states) and they don't want to have different types of manufacturing going for regional differences in the US. As a result, Trump wants to block California's special right to set standards, which would require a major change in the Clean Air Act. This success of this initiative is doubtful. Plus, with the likelihood that the administration is going to change in the next election, automakers are playing a long game. According to an article in today's New York Times, more automakers are planning to avoid the administration's initiative which is run by an inexperienced staffer in the White House (my sources in Washington tell me that qualified folks in a variety of fields won't get near this administration).

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It is worth noting that The Business Roundtable, a group consisting of the major CEO's of big US Companies, came out with a new statement on August 19th noting that corporate leaders are changing their focus from being just responsible to their shareholders. They seek to be responsible to all of their stakeholders (the statement is worth a read on the above link). They group defines stakeholders broadly to include customers, workers, suppliers, and communities impacted by their organization (such as overseas communities which supply products). 

One of the ideas that the leaders, including the leaders of major car companies, committed to is, "We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses." This blog often focuses on some of the problematic environmental and sustainability issues caused by major companies. This time, the leaders of the companies deserve credit for signing such a far reaching agreement--and the car companies deserve credit for holding their ground on trying to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by their products.