Wednesday, October 13, 2021

Ironwood Forest 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 Ironwood Forest National Monument in Arizona. This is one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the former president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Click for image 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
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort McHenry National Monument
Fort Monroe National Monument
Fort Ord National Monument
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Stanwix National Monument
Fort Union National Monument
Fossil Butte National Monument
Freedom Riders National Monument
George Washington Birthplace National Monument
George Washington Carver National Monument
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gold Butte National Monument
Governors Island National Monument

Monday, October 11, 2021

A Playlist of Thirty Day Sustainability Challenge Videos from the August/September

It has been a very busy start to the semester for me so the blogging has been a little light as of late. However, I wanted to share all of the videos from the last 30 Day Challenge in case any of you want to catch up or give the challenge a shot. The next challenge will begin in November and will be a holiday version of the 30 Day Challenge focused on sustainability during one of the most challenging times of year for maintaining focus on our own personal sustainability goals. Stay tuned for that event. For now, enjoy the playlist of all of the challenge videos in the playlist below. You can also find the individual videos on my YouTube page here.


Sunday, October 10, 2021

Three National Monument Declarations Restored

News broke last week that President Biden restored three national monument declarations. First, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monuments were restored to their original size and second, the environmental protections for Northeast Canyons and Seamount Marine National Monument were restored. You can read about the protections here on this article here from The Guardian. 

Bears Ears National Monument.
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The protection of the first set of national monuments was a big win for environmental activists and Indigenous peoples in the region. These monuments hold significant meaning in Native American spirituality. In addition, the monuments hold important historic and prehistoric sites that deserve protection.

The Northeast Canyons and Seamount Marine National Monument issue is a fascinating one. First of all, it was controversial in that it was the first national monument in The Atlantic in prime fishing areas. The formation of the monument by President Obama forced a reduction of fishing and crab and lobster production in the protected areas. Of course, various fisheries groups sued in district court in Washington D.C. and claimed that President Obama did not have the authority to create a national monument in open water. The fisheries groups lost the lawsuits in local courts and the local ruling was validated upon appeal. The Supreme Court decided not to take the case which meant that President Obama, and future presidents, retain the right to declare national monuments in offshore waters.

When President Trump took office, he retained the size of the national monument but changed the rules so that commercial fishing would be allowed in the area. The main reason that the monument was created was to protect a range of species within the unique ecosystems present in the seamounts and canyons of the offshore area. President Biden restored the fishing rules enacted by President Obama.

As my long-time readers know, I am in the midst of a series on public images of all of the national monuments. I have not gotten to Northeast Canyons and Seamount National Monument yet, but you can see my posts on the other two monuments below.

Bears Ears National Monument
Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument

Friday, August 27, 2021

30 Day Sustainability Challenge Parts 6-10

 Each time I run the 30 Day Sustainability Challenge it is different. Now that I run them on YouTube, they are there for anyone to participate and start the challenge at any time. Here are Days 6-10 from the August/September 2021 cycle that you can watch when you are ready to join. Also, feel free to join an upcoming cycle--each time they are different and tend to focus on somewhat different topics. I'll run another one starting in October or November. Here's a link to Days 1-5.

Day 6. Local Ecosystems


Day 7. Waste Inventory


Day 8. Understanding Carbon Credits


Day 9. Understanding Vegetarianism and Veganism



Day 10. Saving Energy in Homes and Green Building


Wednesday, August 25, 2021

New IPCC Report Indicates Significant Changes Ahead for Climate

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The new IPCC Report that came out recently indicates that climate has changed significantly and that significant change is ahead. The report, linked here, is worth a read or at least a scan so that you can see the graphs and tables that summarize much of the information.

As a reminder, the IPCC does not create new research, but instead summarizes the research output of hundreds of scientists from around the world. Thus, the report provides a glimpse of what is happening around the world on a range of climate issues--and the results are not great.

Overall, the world is warming. Plus, we are seeing more extreme weather and extreme droughts. In addition, the climate models suggest significant loss of sea and continental ice in the coming decades and lots of issues with agriculture. Temperatures are expected to rise between 1 degree and 5.7 degrees C by the close of the century. We are also likely to see more extreme weather events such as extreme precipitation and heat waves.

Of course, there is still time to make a shift away from a carbon economy. But, we are very quickly running out of time.

Tuesday, August 24, 2021

30 Day Sustainability Challenge Parts 1-5

Each time I run the 30 Day Sustainability Challenge it is different. Now that I run them on YouTube, they are there for anyone to participate and start the challenge at any time. Here are Days 1-5 from the August/September 2021 cycle that you can watch when you are ready to join. Also, feel free to join an upcoming cycle--each time they are different and tend to focus on somewhat different topics. I'll run another one starting in October or November.

Day 1. Understanding Sustainability


Day 2. Meatless Monday


Day 3. Understanding Climate Change



Day 4. Calculating Your Greenhouse Gas Footprint


Day 5. Supporting Local and Small Businesses 


Sustainability Case Studies 26: Environmental Purchasing in the City of Phoenix

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This is the 26th 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 review.

Today's chapter, by Nicole Darnall, Lily Hsueh, Justin M. Stritch, and Stuart Bretchneider of Arizona State University focuses on the efforts of the City of Phoenix to meet some of its sustainability goals through green purchasing initiatives.  


The chapter begins by noting that cities have stepped up to try to address environmental issues, particularly after the withdrawal of the US from the Paris Climate Accord. One way they have done this is through environmental purchasing policies (EPP's). Cities have tremendous purchasing power and thus can impact their supply and service providers to follow particular green guidelines. For a number of reasons, cities have had mixed results in applying EPP's and the case study follows how things went in Phoenix in trying to implement an EPP.

Phoenix' EPP is not that old. Indeed, it was only in 2007 that the City Council passed a resolution to grant authority to the city to develop and EPP and it was designed by 2012 although not fully implemented until 2016. It took time to develop the policy because purchasing was not a central activity and budget cuts forced purchasers to focus mainly on price as opposed to green priorities. The challenges of the rollout of the EEP led the City to develop a partnership with Arizona State University to assess what was impeding and facilitating EPP development and how the EPP implementation could be improved.

The resulting research identified key areas that facilitated and challenged the development of the EPP. The areas that assisted in the rollout were:

  • Knowledge of environmentally preferred alternatives
  • Cost-effective and financial incentives
  • E-procurement systems
  • Department culture
  • Executive-level directives
The challenges for the rollout were:
  • Purchasing management structures
  • Purchasing employee's service priorities
  • Scope of work or technical specifications
  • Burdens of executive-level directives
  • Budget concerns
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Overall the research team came up with several recommendations and ways to improve the EPP process that took into consideration the challenges and the opportunities. They are:
  • Reinvigorate the City's EPP team
  • Network to share best practices
  • Broaden representation on the City's Strategic Purchasing Team
  • Implement EPP training
  • Integrate eco label information into e-procurement 
  • Expand life-cycle costing
  • Develop and executive directive for environmentally preferred purchasing
  • Create incentives for EPP implementation 
After the completion of the study and the presentation of the findings, the EPP was revised and there is more guidance given to employees about green purchasing. In addition, the city has expanded its purchasing guidelines with the intent that they will aid the city in reaching its sustainability goals.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on green procurement and environmental purchasing. 

1. Why do you think the City of Phoenix is so interested in green procurement?

2. What methods did the researchers use to study the EPP?

3. Knowledge about environmentally preferred options seemed to be more of a significant indicator of a facilitator of EPP over executive level directives. Why do you think that was the case?

4. Why do you think the e-procurement system was considered a positive development for the EPP?

5. The most important barrier to EPP development was the purchasing management structure. Can you explain why?

6. Another barrier was the purchasing employees' service priorities. They felt that they were trying to meet the needs of the departments over the EPP. How could that be overcome?

7. Why do you think the top recommendation was to reinvigorate the City's EPP team?

8. Does your job or school follow an EPP?

Previous Entries in This Series

Monday, August 23, 2021

Hovenweep 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 Hovenweep National Monument in Colorado and Utah. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the former 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
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort McHenry National Monument
Fort Monroe National Monument
Fort Ord National Monument
Fort Pulaski National Monument
Fort Stanwix National Monument
Fort Union National Monument
Fossil Butte National Monument
Freedom Riders National Monument
George Washington Birthplace National Monument
George Washington Carver National Monument
Giant Sequoia National Monument
Gila Cliff Dwellings National Monument
Gold Butte National Monument
Governors Island National Monument

Monday, August 9, 2021

Meatless Monday Part 5: Deepening Your Commitment

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I am concluding my Meatless Monday Series today with a look at how to deepen your commitment to Meatless Monday. Links to the previous posts in the series are at the end of today's post. 

Okay, so you've been doing Meatless Monday more or less for a while now. What's next? How can you make a deeper commitment to a more healthy diet and to eating in a way that is better for the planet? Here are three ways that you can take what you experienced with Meatless Monday and take it to another level.

1. Go meatless twice a week. Meatless Monday does a great deal to improve conditions on our planet. However, by committing to going meatless twice a week will make twice the impact. You could even take it one step further and make a commitment to try out vegetarianism or veganism. No matter what options you try, you can try to go beyond just once a week.

2. Explore food communities. Meatless Monday is just one of many food initiatives out there. There are many international organizations working on food issues. For example, Slow Food International, focuses on local food systems and seeks to preserve a range of traditional, local food cultures such as agricultural practices and local food processing. If you want to get more local, you could look for small farms or membership farms where you can get to know your food producers and others interested in local food. You could even start small and start a local vegetarian cookbook club or meet up. The options are endless.

3. Examine food waste and local food insecurity issues. We waste a huge amount of food every year--and that food has a distinct planetary impact.  The decomposition of the wasted food produces greenhouse gases and the production, processing, and transportation of the wasted food also impacts water, soil, and climate. It is worth considering how you can reduce your own personal food waste. Finally, research has shown that more and more people are growing food insecure. It is worth considering how you can share your own bounty with others through donations at local food pantries.

Previous post in the series follow.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Meatless Monday Part 4: Eating Out

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
I am continuing my Meatless Monday Series today with a look at how to do Meatless Mondays at restaurants. Links to the previous posts in the series are at the end of today's post. 

Last time, I wrote about how some of my favorite Meatless Monday meals and how I manage meatless Monday at home. But what about restaurants? What do you do if you are out to eat on a Monday? 

I am happy to report as someone who LOVES to go out to eat that it is getting easier and easier to go meatless at restaurants. In fact, I have a personal rule about eating out. If there is something interesting on the menu that is vegan or vegetarian, I always order it. This means that I generally eat vegan or vegetarian about 80% of the time. 

Plus, many specific ethnic restaurants have lots of vegetarian and (usually) vegan options. Thus, you can usually steer your friends to particular restaurants where you know you can get something you can eat. I have some favorites that I like so I am pretty safe at Chinese restaurants (spicy eggplant, steamed vegetables with tofu, or vegan spring rolls), Thai restaurants (a range of vegan curry dishes and vegan pad Thai), Italian restaurants (eggplant parm, pumpkin ravioli, pasta with pesto), and Middle Eastern or Greek restaurants (hummus and pita, all kinds of salads, baba ganoush, stuffed grape leaves).

You can also talk to the wait staff and ask what they recommend that is either vegetarian or vegan. Most of the time, they can make a menu recommendation or they know whether the chef can pull something together that is off menu.

However, if you really can't find what you want, and you are not a strict vegetarian or vegan, don't beat yourself up over it and order what looks good to you. Just commit to finding another day of the week to eat meatless. Or, if you want to maintain meatless, order a side salad, some vegetarian sides, or appetizers and let it go. Going out to eat is not just about the food. It is also the people. I never let my inability to find exactly what I want get in the way of having a good time with my friends and family.

The final post in the series will take a look at how you can deepen your commitment to Meatless Monday. Previous links in the series are below.

Meatless Monday Part 3:  Five Favorite Go To Meals

Saturday, July 31, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 25: Sustainability and Competitive Retailing in Switzerland

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This is the 25th 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 review.

Today's post is on Chapter 25, Contributing to Competitiveness in Retailing by Engaging in Sustainability:  The Case of Migros, by Thomas Rudolph, Kristina Kleinlercher, Marc Linzmajer, and Cornelia Diethelm. The chapter reviews how the Swiss retailer, Migros, found a competitive niche by broadly embracing sustainability in their products and operations. The chapter begins with a review of how business organizations often view sustainability. As the authors note, "...many Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) treat sustainability initiatives detached from business objectives." However, some companies have found ways to use sustainability in order to create a competitive edge. The rest of the chapter focuses specifically on one such company--Migros.

Migros is a complex company. Originating in the early part of the 20th century as a food retail store, it now encompasses a range of retail operations--including food. In 2015, an independent rating company, Oekom Research, ranked Migros as the most sustainable retailer in the world. They are in a competitive market, with giants like Aldi and Lidl offering tremendous deals on products throughout Europe. However, Migros decided that while those companies were going in the direction of providing cheap products, Migros would instead focus on high-quality and sustainably produced products. They developed a series of new labelled "brands" such as Migros Bio and TerraSuisse to identify products that had particular sustainable traits. They also, through a loyalty card, educated consumers about the percentage of products they purchased has sustainable traits.

The authors of this chapter note that the foundational start of Migros set them on the sustainability path. Ideas around sustainability and equity have always been part of the mindset of the company. Today, there is a distinct sustainability office and all employees are encouraged to submit ideas as to how the organization can become more sustainable. 

The chapter then goes on to highlight some distinct initiatives at the company:

  • Generation M. These are distinct promises to the next generation as to particular goals of the company.
  • From the Region for the Region. This initiative seeks to build relationships with local producers to supply the local markets.
  • Private-Label Products. Migros developed their own private label to enhance the sustainability of products they sell.
  • M-Way. This is a transportation initiative that seeks to advance electronic vehicle use.
  • Sharon. This is a car-sharing initiative that allows people to rent out their vehicle for a cost.
  • Reducing Food Waste. This is an initiative to reduce food waste within the company. 
The chapter highlights that there were four main ways that the company strengthened its sustainability management:
  • Integration of sustainability into corporate leadership
  • Strong engagement from employees
  • Guidance and monitoring by top management
  • Development of a sustainability team
As the authors highlight, Mirgos' approach is unique and that there is not one way forward to infuse sustainability within a management structure. However, managers have to be able to learn by doing and motivate customers to appreciate sustainability.

Click here for more information about the book.

Here are some class discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on sustainable management or sustainability retailing.

1. Consumer preferences for sustainable products, such as local produce, have increased. What do you think is driving that change?

2. Describe the nature of Migros' business operations and philosophy.

3. How does Migros benchmark its green initiatives?

4. How does MIgros' management system infuse sustainability within its operations?

5. What is an example of a Generation M promise?

6. How have consumers responded to the From the Region For the Region label?

7. What strategies does Migros use to reduce food waste?

8. Do you think the Migos approach could be used by other retailers? How?

Previous Entries in This Series


Friday, July 30, 2021

My Interview With Carl Smith, Author of Chicago's Great Fire: Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City

When I heard there was a new book on the Great Chicago Fire, I had to get it. I’ve always been fascinated by the fire because it occurred on the same date (October 8, 1871) as the less famous, but larger and more deadly, Peshtigo Fire, which started near where I grew up in Northern Wisconsin. The book, Chicago’s Great Fire:  The Destruction and Resurrection of an Iconic American City by Carl Smith is a wonderful review of the fire and its aftermath. The author is the Franklyn Bliss Snyder Professor of English and American Studies and a Professor of History, Emeritus at Northwestern University. I had an opportunity to interview Dr. Smith for On the Brink and I hope you enjoy our written conversation below. Chicago’s Great Fire is available from Grove Atlantic Press here.

Brinkmann:  I really enjoyed reading Chicago’s Great Fire. I have always been interested in the fire because I grew up in the area where the Peshtigo fire occurred on the same date in Wisconsin. Many lost their lives in both fires and there are amazing stories of survival and recovery in both instances. The fires continue to fascinate and provide lessons for us. What inspired you to take on this big project?

 

The author, Carl Smith.
Smith:  I’m an urban cultural historian who focuses on the great age of American urbanization, which really accelerated starting about 1830 or 1840, and with Chicago being the central example.  And I am especially interested in what I call the infrastructure of ideas, the views of the world that people live in as much as they live in the physical built environment.  The two infrastructures are closely related.  I became particularly interested in moments of crisis like the fire for the way they both revealed and altered both the physical and mental worlds in which city people lived.  To put this another way, I like to study moments of crisis through the eyes of people living in cities in order to understand how these affected their views of experience and how changes in ideas mattered.

 

Brinkmann:  One of the things that strikes me about both the Peshtigo and Chicago Fires is that they both occurred as a result of human agency. In the Peshtigo Fire, much of Northern Wisconsin, just prior to the fire, experienced a wide swath of regional deforestation--with much of the timber heading for Chicago. The left-behind-limbs made for ready fire fuel. In the Chicago fire, the massive population boom in the middle of the 19th century caused rapid expansion of vast acres of wood-framed housing, commercial, and industrial buildings. While it seems there was plenty of warning of the risk of fire to Chicagoans before the fire, the building of wood buildings went on apace. Why do you think there was so little interest in reducing the conditions that led to the fire in Chicago?

 

Smith:  Chicago was a place in a great hurry, and wood was a cheap, conveniently located, and remarkable flexible resource for building up a city in a hurry.  Chicago was so fixated on a bigger and better future that it paid relatively little attention to today.  In defense of Chicago, it was hardly the only wooden and fire-prone city. Nineteenth-century city building in many respects involved the transformation of wood from trees to cities and towns.  With plenty of fires.

 

Brinkmann:  Given that this is a sustainability blog, I have to draw parallels between the Chicago and Peshtigo fires and what we are seeing today with climate change and with the destruction of natural environments. Did you see these parallels as you were working on the book?

 

Smith:  Besides a few eloquent voices like that of George Perkins Marsh, I don’t think many Americans in the decades before the fire were thinking much about sustainability.  The key link is a focus on the supposed needs of today without sufficient thought to the consequences even of practices we know jeopardize tomorrow.

 

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Brinkmann:  One interesting aspect of the book is that you note how often people of the lower classes were either scapegoated or victimized by the fire and its aftermath. You point out that Mrs. O’Leary was really more of a scapegoat than an originator of the fire and you demonstrate that wealthy elites who managed the relief operations after the fire made actual real help very difficult to get. My favorite example is how one group, upset with throngs waiting to apply for assistance outside of the headquarters of the agency, decided to require individuals to apply in writing via mail. Of course, many who needed help didn’t have the ability to write which left them without access to aid. What happened in Chicago after the fire seems to have echoes of similar events in other cities around the world around the same time. How intentional was class struggle a theme in your book? 

 

Smith:  I think that class conflict was so obviously there that I would have had to intended to ignore it.  And do not overlook ethnic conflict, though class and ethnic differences correlated a great deal.  The term “class struggle” has implications of Marxist rhetoric, and while his ideas were rapidly spreading, I think what we see more of in Chicago at the time of the fire is conflict in terms of fair treatment of workers, not the rise of the proletariat, though mainstream newspapers and business leaders did not hesitate to describe any worker protest as communism, knowing this was an effective rhetorical tactic.  

 

The inside of the Peshtigo Fire Museum.
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Brinkmann:  I remember as a child visiting the Peshtigo Fire Museum which houses an impressive collection of artifacts from that famous fire. The materials that they have on display are shocking representations of the fire’s strength and the amount of loss that occurred. Plus, if you knew where to look, you could see remnants of the fire’s destruction in some areas of the region. While Chicago has some scattered collections from the fire (most notably at the Chicago History Museum), it seems that there isn’t one single site that fully memorializes the fire. Certainly there is the memorial at the Quinn Fire Academy—which aptly is located at the site of what was the O’Leary home--and the collections at the Chicago History Museum. But few buildings or artifacts exist from the era that are part of the consciousness of the city. I would argue that because of this, the Peshtigo fire looms larger in the minds of folks in northern Wisconsin than the Chicago Fire does in the minds of Chicagoans. Indeed, due to the fire quickly and early entering the realm of myth with the Cycloramas that depicted the fire as part of entertainment shortly after the fire (especially during the Columbian Exhibition of 1893) and the caricature representations of Mrs. O’Leary by everyone from cartoonists to Norman Rockwell, it is hard to orient the reality of the fire in the public’s imagination. Real and tangible evidence of the fire is hard to find. Do you agree with this and how do you think today’s Chicagoans view the fire today?

 

The Water Tower.
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Smith:  I have actually thought a good deal about why there is no real fire memorial.  The closest Chicago has is an unofficial one, the Water Tower, and that really commemorates not the fire but the city’s resilience in the face of such a tremendous challenge.  Chicago quickly integrated the fire into the idea that it was indestructible.  There were attempts to erect memorials, but they didn’t go very far.  As part of its current reconstruction project, the Chicago History Museum is putting an enormous piece of melted iron—supposedly the inventory of a hardware store—on prominent outdoor display right next to it.  I’m not sure Chicagoans of today think about the fire very much, and when they do they think of it in terms of the O’Leary legend and the city’s remarkable recovery, not the destruction and loss.

 

Brinkmann:  One of the great sayings that came out of the fire was “I Will” which was carved on a bust of an Amazonian warrior that represented Chicago at the Columbian Exhibition and that was used again on an art deco poster that celebrated the semi-centennial of the fire in 1921. It seems that some of the meaning of the “I Will” represented a range of boosterish feelings about rebuilding Chicago. But to me, it also represents some of the intent of local government to make tough decisions after the fire regarding zoning and safety standards. What do you think made the “I Will” statement so enduring in the decades after the fire?  

 

Smith:  I don’t think people associate I Will much with the fire any more, to the extent that they think of it at all.  And I don’t think they think of it in terms of hard decisions, but more in terms of another Chicago self-affirming idea, that it is “the city that works.”  It is related to a self-conception of Chicago as a place where determination and hard work conquers all, whether or not that is true, that nothing can lick Chicago.

 

Brinkmann:  Over the years, I spent quite a bit of time doing field work in northern California and I could take you to the places where Santa Rosa dumped all of the debris from the destruction that occurred in that city after the 1906 earthquake. The Marina District of San Francisco is largely underlain by debris from that city’s earthquake and subsequent fire. After 9-11, much of what was left from the Twin Towers ended up in landfills in New Jersey, while large pieces of the building exist as memorials all over the New York Region. What happened to all the stuff left over from the Chicago Fire?

 

Bob Brinkmann in Millennium Park.
Smith:  As I discuss in the book, a good deal of it was dumped into Lake Michigan near where Grant and Millennium Parks are today, filling the lagoon that had been created when in the early 1850s the Illinois Central erected a trestle and breakwater a few hundred yards out in the lake in order to get access to the city.  The building of the breakwater was in exchange for obtaining this right of way.  Much of Chicago, especially along the lakefront, is fill.  Many other cities are substantially built on fill.  You mentioned San Francisco.  Boston is close to two-thirds filled land.  A significant number of bricks were reused.  If you look at the photo on the cover of my book, you will see on the right what I think is a bin of salvaged bricks.

 

Brinkmann:  I always love to understand an author’s writing processes. I tend to be very regimented when I write and create daily word count goals. I also like to write very early in the morning before my brain turns to mush from the day’s activities. Writing such an impressive book as Chicago’s Great Fire must have taken some discipline and strategy. Could you share your approach?

 

Smith:  I had the great advantage that when I wrote this book I was retired from my long-time position as a professor, so I could arrange my hours as I wished.  I am more dogged than disciplined, that is, I work away on a project but I don’t have specific hours when I write, though it’s usually in the daytime, between mid-morning and late afternoon.  I’m a very early riser, but I find it difficult to sit down first thing and write.  The other issue is figuring out when you research and when you write.  I have usually come close to completing my research before writing, but in this book I found myself stopping to explore certain things further as they came up and then returning to writing.  And I am a rewriter.  This book went through close to two dozen different versions, and I was editing it up to the last minute.

 

Brinkmann:  I noted in your acknowledgements that you thanked several undergraduate students for assistance along with many others professionals at museums and universities. I was really impressed that you singled out undergraduate students for their support. Could you tell my readers a little bit about the support they gave to the project and the way you like to work with students?

 

Smith:  As a professor at Northwestern I was very fortunate in multiple ways.  I had very good students and there were resources available to pay them for their help.  They have been particularly good in assisting me in moving through large amounts of material in search of certain information.  A key example here is their reading daily newspapers in search of articles on particular subjects, e.g., the fire, and then reporting on what they find.  I am indeed indebted to them.  And I’m very proud that a number have gone on to successful careers in academia or related fields, such as librarianship.

 

Brinkmann:  Is there anything you wish to say about the book that I haven’t asked you?

 

Smith:  Only that I think the story of Chicago’s destruction by fire and its rebuilding is a wonderfully rich one, and I hope that I have told it well.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

Nigerian Women Take on Chevron

A Niger Delta oil spill from about a decade ago.
Click for photo credit.
The New York Times published a fascinating piece about the impact of the Nigerian oil industry on women involved in fishery production in the delta of the Niger River. It is worth a read. After I read the piece, I couldn't help reflecting upon the wonderful book, Women Pioneers of the Louisiana Environmental Movement which I reviewed here in 2015.

Essentially, folks downriver from oil production were impacted in both locations by oil production. While Chevron is rebranding itself as a green(er, ish) energy company, they have legacy issues such as identified in the article. Oil production is inherently problematic and leads to pollution issues. Unfortunately, as the article and the linked book highlight, the impacts disproportionately fall on women. 

The Times article points out a complex series of issues associated with Nigeria's political situation. However, there is no doubt that wealth was extracted from the country at the expense of local Niger Delta fisheries  entrepreneurs. The questions remains as to if or when they will be compensated. Many parts of the world have benefited from Nigeria's oil extraction schemes. Local populations will be paying the price for generation due to lax environmental regulations.

Climate Adaptation Is All Around Us

A rain storm in Charleston. 
Click for image credit.
There are so many examples of climate adaptation right in front of our face at this moment of time. All over the world, people are making lots of micro decisions that are changing the way that they react to real-time events such as floods, fires, droughts, or other extremes. 

I imagine that many of you reading this are adapting already. Maybe, if you are in the United States, you recognize that it is a bit more risky on the coast and you are changing your job search to the Midwest. Or maybe you are a farmer and modifying your planting schedule or crop choice. Or, you could be a homeowner in Charleston.

As the New York Times recently reported here, many folks in the historic district of Charleston, South Carolina, are raising their homes due to the increased frequency of flooding. This echoes what is happening all over the world as coastal communities come to grips with anthropogenic climate change.

If you look closely, you can see climate adaptation happening in real time. 

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

Illinois Caverns Reopens After Bat Disease Scare

A cave opening in southern Illinois. 
Click for image credit.
As I am sure many of my readers know, a bat disease called White Nose Syndrome, has been ravaging bat populations across North America--particularly the eastern half of the country. The disease is fungal and caused widespread bat mortality in many locations. It is believed that the disease is spread, in part by humans, from cave visits and exploration. As a result, many caves across the U.S. have closed in order to protect the bats. I wrote about this illness in this space way back in 2011.

We know we need to protect bats because they are key to our survival. They pollinate crops, eat pesky insects, and provide lots of Halloween fun (just kidding on that last one!). Lots of effort has gone into trying to understand the disease and stop the spread of it across our country. The National Speleological Society and their network of cave clubs, called grottos, have been leading advocates for cave conservation and the protection of bats.

Caves are part of a fascinating and magnificent landscape type called karst. Karst landscapes form in soluble rock, usually limestone, and have all kinds of fascinating features including caves, sinkholes, springs, and disappearing streams. White Nose Syndrome brought together an alliance of karst scientists and bat biologists to try to understand how to solve the problem. For more background on karst, see my 10 days of karst series here.

In some positive news, the Chicago Tribune is reporting that Illinois Caverns, the second largest cave in Illinois, is reopening after 10 years being closed due to concerns around the disease. The cave has a very small bat population and very few cases of the illness.