Monday, August 19, 2019

The Women Python Hunters of Florida

Beth Koehler and Peggy van Gorder, the subjects of the article.
Click for photo credit.
I have been documenting some of the more interesting python stories from Florida over the last decade (check out these links here, here, and here). In a nutshell, Burmese pythons are an exotic species that started to take over the Everglades over the last few decades. The situation became a crisis when ecologists realized that many of the region's mammals were disappearing. The pythons significantly disrupted the complex food web of much of south Florida. Plus, the pythons have been expanding their territory northward and have been found in the Tampa and Orlando areas.

A fascinating article by Chris Urso, Craig Pittman, and James Borchuck in the Tampa Bay Times, documents the on the ground experience of paid python hunters who are trying to get rid of the python problem. The specific focus of the article is on two women who by day own a dog grooming business but at night work as python hunters in the Everglades region. They not only encounter pythons, but also alligators, panthers, crawling walking sticks, swarms of mosquitos, and even a reality TV star. Check out the article. It's worth a read.

Hunting pythons doesn't pay much, but it does provide a bit of adventure and helps the local ecosystem of South Florida. The wily pythons hide quite well and I am not sure how effective the local hunts are at trying to solve the problem. However, it sure can't hurt to get rid of any specimen of this exotic and troublesome species from the Everglades.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

5 Productivity Tips for Academic Writers

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Many of us in the academic community struggle with getting our writing projects completed. I was once in that boat but I became a much more productive writer about 15 years ago when I completely transformed the way that I thought about writing. Here are five tips that may help you on your writing journey.

1. Think of yourself as a writer. As higher education professionals, we wear many hats. We are teachers, administrators, counselors, and topical specialists. But we are also writers. When you talk to professors and ask them what they do, they rarely say that they are writers. Many of us were traumatized by our experiences working with our advisors or committee members as we completed our thesis or dissertation projects. Others may see themselves as too busy in the lab or with teaching to prioritize writing as a daily activity--even though writing is a part of our jobs (the whole publish or perish thing). As a result, some academics write very little or just enough to get tenure or to meet annual evaluation guidelines. When you think of yourself as a writer, you will write more and take the task of writing more seriously.

2.Write every day. There is that old writer's saying that you can't be a writer if you don't write. Find a time each day to write. Because I have prioritized writing in my career, I usually do my writing first thing in the morning. I spend an hour or so at the keyboard and then I can move on to other things. By building a habit of finding the same time each day to write, your writing productivity will skyrocket.

3. Set writing goals and targets. I have a daily writing goal of at least 1000 words. This amounts to about two and half pages or so of single-spaced text. Your daily writing goals are part of a broader writing target. The target may be an article, a proposal, a book, or some other type of content. Each of these types of projects has a particular word length. An academic article, for example, may be around 8,000 words. Assuming you have all the information to complete the article, you could finish it in about a week and move on to your next writing project. An 80,000 word book should take about three months.

4. Write fearlessly. We all make mistakes in our writing. However, when you are trying to hit your daily writing goals, plow through creating your content and edit later. You waste time when you struggle over the perfect word or paragraph structure. Plus, editing with a clear head when you have had some time away from the document is much easier than editing when you are in the midst of it. Everyone develops their own editing style, but I prefer to edit when a document is totally complete so that I can not only do detailed editing but also conduct a document level review of the overall content.

5. Take time to think. Build in introspection time into your day when you can think about your writing projects. For me, I do this at the gym or when I go out for a long walk or run. Others may think deeply while doing hobbies or commuting. This time allows me to consider the next day's writing or even the arc of the writing project. Of course other things come to mind during this time. However, if one thinks about the next day's writing task, even for a little while, the writing is much easier in the morning.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Australia Selling Out Small Island Nations in Tuvalu

Tuvalu. Click for photo credit.
The small island nations of the Pacific Ocean are at the front lines of climate change. Many of them, like Tuvalu, are very low-lying and face existential challenges due to rising sea levels. This week, Tuvalu hosted a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum where climate change was front and center on the agenda. 

One of the more contentious issues is the use of coal powered power plants in the region. Australia, which has an abundance of coal, is seeking to expand its use and is even marketing coal in India where it has worked with that country to develop a major new coal burning power plant. 

The meeting, which by all reports was rather contentious, ended Thursday with a very weak agreement. The countries agreed to try to meet particular goals and stop coal mining, but the agreement also allowed countries to accept or reject anything in the agreement. In other words, the agreement means almost nothing. Australia, by all accounts, was the country that torpedoed the agreement.

There has been quite a backlash against Australia in the region that could lead to a realignment of the Pacific Island governments from Australia to other powers like China which has had a rather ambitious, although mixed, climate change policy. Plus, a rather major kerfuffle emerged when the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia criticized the leaders of the island for their criticism of Australia's energy policy by stating that the people in the islands will continue to survive since they come to Australia as seasonal laborers to "pick our fruit". Such disrespectful comments did not help Australia's standing in the region.

Clearly a major rift has formed between the small island states which are facing some of the worst impacts of climate change and large nations which continue to produce and even expand their greenhouse gas emissions.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 4. Sustainable Water Resources Management: Groundwater Depletion

A night view of the Coachella Valley, California.
Click for photo credit.
This is the fourth 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 4 by Brian F. Thomas and Aimee C. Gibbons and is titled, Sustainable Water Resources Management:  Groundwater Depletion. Thomas is with the University of Pittsburgh and Gibbons is with the University of California at Irvine.

The chapter starts with an introductory review of groundwater issues as they relate to sustainable water management. The world's growing population requires access to water and this is putting a strain on water management all over the world. When this demand is coupled with predicted changes in climate and associated precipitation patterns, the need for sound water management is critical. The authors note that 2 billion people around the planet rely on groundwater reserves for their daily water supply. However, these reserves must be managed to avoid their depletion. The authors review how the management of groundwater evolved over the last two centuries.

After this introduction, the chapter moves on to a case study in the Coachella Valley of California. Managers have been monitoring groundwater levels in the valley since the 1910's which make the location a particularly interesting one for characterizing groundwater management over the last 100 years. Excessive water withdrawals in the middle of the 1900's to irrigate citrus and cotton harmed the local aquifer system. Since then, management plans, which included artificial recharge, have been put in place to mitigate the impacts of overuse.

The authors conducted a temporal study in the valley that looked at water well levels, replenishment, and water use. The authors found that prior to 1999, water was being used in an unsustainable way which accounted for a 4.3 meter drop throughout the valley. However, since that time water withdrawal is equivalent to water replenishment. It is important to note that the improvements are not spatially equal. Areas of the Coachella Valley continue to see a decline in groundwater levels in areas where replenishment is not taking place. Thus, the "no net withdrawal" approach to water management in the region is not fully effective due to significant spatial variation in recharge and withdrawal.

A resort in the Coachella Valley.
Click for photo credit.
One of the key takeaways from the case study is that sustainable groundwater management is far more complex than previously thought. A simple approach that uses "no net withdrawal" management may not be effective in all situations due to spatial and temporal variabilities of recharge and withdrawals. The authors provide a rich description of the challenges and barriers present in sustainable groundwater management including the vexing issue of balancing economic needs with environmental protection.

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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 groundwater and sustainability.

1. How do you think water management differs between surface water reservoirs and ground water reservoirs?
2. What types of groundwater management schemes have been used in California over the last 100 years or so?
3. What types of problems can occur if groundwater is not managed appropriately?
4. Why is it important to have a regional approach to groundwater management?
5. Describe the physical geography of the Coachella Valley in California. What makes it particularly challenging for water resource management?
6. How have groundwater levels changed over space and time in the Coachella Valley? What can account for these changes?
7. Why is a "no net withdrawal" form of water management inappropriate for the Coachella Valley?
8. How can you balance economic activity, like golf courses, with the need for groundwater protection?

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Previous posts in this series:



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Endangered Species Act Threatened by Trump Administration

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One of the cornerstones of the environmental protections that were put in place by United States Congress in the 1960's and 1970's, The Endangered Species Act, is being gutted by the current administration. According to this article in the New York Times by Lisa Friedman, several changes to the Act will go forward next month. Some of these changes include:

  • Not allowing long-term climate change to be considered in evaluations
  • Including economic impacts of species preservation to be considered in decision-making (note that the law specifically states that economics should NOT be considered when protecting species)
  • Weaken protection for threatened species (a classification below endangered)
Overall the changes are expected to advance a great deal of mining and oil and gas exploration and extraction.

The latest attack on the environment by this distinctly anti-science and anti-environment administration is not unexpected, but it is clearly disappointing to anyone who works in the sustainability field.


For whatever reason, the current administration is doing everything it can to try to damage existing environmental protections--thereby harming the long-term environmental health of our country. It seems as if the administration is working against the greater good of its own citizens.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Dinosaur 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 Dinosaur 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 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

My Interview With Over The Hill Fitness

Check out my interview with Over the Hill Fitness here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Amazon Rain Forest Destruction Accelerates As President Fires Scientist in Charge of Monitoring Loss

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The bad news from the Amazon rainforest just keeps coming. Last month, it was reported that the rainforest destruction is accelerating with major incursions of illegal logging and burning supported by the new government. Indigenous settlements are especially threatened. The rainforest, which is one of the most important carbon sinks in the world, is rapidly turning into agricultural fields.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the President of Brazil, Bolsonaro, fired the head of the agency that keeps track of rainforest loss because he didn't like the numbers that were released. The President stated that the numbers make Brazil look bad. Of course, the scientific community in Brazil and around the world rallied to the defense of the fired minister. The numbers are rather easy to verify utilizing satellite information available publicly.

This attack on basic science in support of unwise economic development hasn't surprise anyone who has followed the rhetoric of President Bolsonaro. He has consistently attacked environmental rules and regulations and his presidency has given cover to those involved with illegal deforestation in Brazil. 


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 3. Policy Design for Sustainability at Multiple Scales: The Case of Transboundary Haze Pollution in Southeast Asia

Haze in Singapore. Click for photo credit.
This is the third 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 3 by Ishani Mukherjee titled, Policy Design for Sustainability at Multiple Scales:  The Case of Transboundary Haze Pollution in Southeast Asia. Dr. Mukherjee is with the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

The chapter begins with a review of transboundary pollution issues. What is interesting about this topic is that transboundary issues can occur at different scales. Readers from the northern Great Lakes States in the United States understand this issue quite well. For example, air pollution produced in Milwaukee, Wisconsin can impact Canada. It can also impact neighboring downwind states like Illinois and Michigan. At the same time, the pollution can also have city/country border issues that require deft policy management.

Of course, Mukherjee focuses her work in Southeast Asia where burning of forests in Indonesia for land clearing has created regional smokey haze air pollution . In the background section of the chapter, Mukherjee reviews the haze problem in the region and also summarizes a variety of policy initiatives that have been instituted by Singapore and by cooperating national entities.

A peat fire in Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR.
Click for photo credit.
The chapter continues with a deep discussion of the case study. The first part of the case study summarizes the costs of deforestation and haze in Indonesia. Many of the losses are due to the highly unregulated use of fire to clear land. Plus, there are untold costs due to the rampant destruction of plants and animals.

The second part of the case study focuses on the impacts of the haze and smoke on Southeast Asian Countries. A variety of countries are impacted by the haze including Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The situation has gotten so bad that the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Countries) group has addressed the issue within its governance.

The final part of the case study highlights the linkages with deforestation in Southeast Asia and climate change. As the author notes, emissions from the region have increased dramatically, in part due to the heavy burning of forested lands. Thus, forest conservation and reforestation are important issues in the region.

The chapter concludes (as do most of the chapters in the book) with a section on lessons learned and future challenges. Clearly one of the most important lessons learned is that major carbon sinks are being destroyed in Indonesia and the burning of these sinks is creating regional air pollution problems throughout Southeast Asia. The chapter reveals many future challenges, including challenges with governmental cooperation as well as in finding better ways to value ecosystems and carbon sinks in the region.

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Click here to for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions for teaching about the deforestation and pollution problems outlined in this chapter:

1. Given Indonesia's location, why is burning forests a problem for Southeast Asian Countries?
2. What type of agriculture is replacing the natural ecosystems of Indonesia?
3. Air pollution is a very common type of transboundary air pollution problem. What other types of transboundary pollutants can you think of that cause challenges to occur among countries, states, or cities?
4. What counties are members of ASEAN? What is the purpose of ASEAN?
5. Describe Singapore's response to the haze problem?
6. Describe ASEAN's response to the haze problem?
7. Why should people outside of Southeast Asia be concerned about the deforestation in the region?
8. How would you try to solve the haze problem in the region?

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Previous posts in this series:



Monday, August 5, 2019

United Nations Sustainable Development Goals Quiz

A painting in the United Nations (photo by Bob Brinkmann).
It is time again for an On the Brink Quiz! Today's quiz focuses on the United Nation's Sustainable Development goals. Links to previous quizzes follow the questions. The answers are in the comments section. Good luck!

1. The Sustainable Development Goals evolved from the Millennium Development Goals which were approved by the United Nations during the Millennium Summit in 2000. In what year were the Sustainable Development Goals approved by the UN's General Assembly?

2. The Millennium Development Goals included eight specific goals (eradicate extreme poverty and hunger; achieve universal primary education; promote gender equality and empower women; reduce child mortality; improve maternal health; combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases; ensure environmental sustainability; and create a global partnership for development). In contrast, how many Sustainable Development Goals are there?

3. The Sustainable Development Goals continued to address some of the issues brought up in the Millennium Development Goals but broadened to include issues of the developing countries like climate change and green energy. How many of the Millennium Development Goals clearly overlap with the Sustainable Development Goals?


A chamber in the United Nations (photo by Bob Brinkmann).
4. Many of the sustainable development goals are clearly linked to the three pillars of sustainability (environment, economics, and society). Consider all of the goals, which of them are specifically linked to protecting our planet's ecosystems?

5. Each of the goals has specific targets and measurable indicators to ensure that there is a real metric that can be assessed each to evaluate progress toward the goals. For example, one of the goals is called Make Cities Safe, Resilient, and Sustainable. One of the targets of this goal is to Strengthen efforts to protect and safeguard the world's cultural and natural heritage. The measurable indicator for this target includes funding and support for significant natural and cultural sites. The United Nations recognizes important cultural and natural sites by designating them World Heritage sites. How many world heritage sites are there in the world and which country has the most of them?

6. The Millennium Development goals were planned to be met in 2015. In what year is it hoped that the sustainable development goals will be met?


A painting in the United Nations (photo by Bob Brinkmann).
7. The United Nations recognized that stakeholders were important to the success of the Sustainable Development Goals and created several classes of stakeholders (such as business and industry, children and youth, and farmers. How many classes of stakeholders does the United Nation recognize?

8. The input of one group of states has been critical in the development of the Sustainable Development Goals. They are known by the United Nation's acronym as SIDS. What does SIDS stand for?

9. Each year, the United Nations organizes a meeting at its headquarters in New York to review progress on the Sustainable Development Goals and to allow various stakeholders and national representatives to network and share plans, progress, and ideas. What is this meeting called?

10. The Sustainable Development Goals are managed by one of the Departments within the United Nations Secretariat. Name the Department.

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Check out these previous On the Brink quizzes!

Appalachian Trail Quiz
Robert Bullard Quiz
James Lovelock Quiz
Gifford Pinchot Quiz


Sunday, August 4, 2019

Devils Tower 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 Devil's Tower National Monument in Wyoming. 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.
Click for photo credit.
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Click for photo credit.

If you liked the above post, you will like the links below to 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, August 3, 2019

Environmental Racism 101

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There has been an great deal of discussion about racism and the American Presidency in recent weeks. I thought it was a good moment to provide a bit of introductory background on the study of environmental racism for students or faculty interested in teaching or learning about the topic.

The understanding of environmental racism emerged in the 1960's and 1970's as activists noted that the environmental movement of the time focused largely on issues like preservation of natural lands as opposed to environmental quality in cities and other places that were home to people of color. Up until that time, the environmental movement was, in part, white, middle class, and somewhat elitist. 

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Certainly many environmental activists of the time worked on issues of concern to all peoples such as clean air and clean water. However, it did not typically address the problems of the poor or of the specific environmental challenges present in minority communities. Many poor people of color who were concerned about the environmental issues in their communities felt left behind.

In the United States, of course, the Civil Rights Movement highlighted the economic and social disparities among the races and sought greater equity. Within this movement, some noted the poor environmental quality of homes, neighborhoods, and local resources.

A number of important community activists began to advocate for improved environmental conditions. Hazel M. Johnson, a community activist in the South Side of Chicago, is perhaps the most well-known of these activists and she has been given the appellation, The Mother of the 
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Environmental Justice Movement. She noted that many people in public (and private) housing in her community ended up with strange diseases and cancers. She urged local officials to examine water quality in the area. As it turned out, many in the area were drinking well water that was receiving water contaminated by toxic plumes left over from old industrial activities. It took years to get clean water lines to the area after the first illnesses began. Many look to this situation as one of the first important efforts to demonstrate environmental racism in the United States.

Another pioneer during this period was Robert Bullard, who is often called The Father of Environmental Justice. I posted one of my regular environmental quizzes about him and his work here. In 1990, he published a very influential book called Dumping in Dixie which demonstrated how poor and minority communities were disproportionately impacted by the presence of landfills in their community. This regional analysis pointed out how there was systemic racism in the decision-making around where landfills are located in this country.

Since then, a broader field of environmental justice has emerged which tries to examine whether or not communities are sharing the equal benefits and burdens of projects that impact the environment. Environmental racism has become a subfield of environmental justice.

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There are many examples of environmental racism that we can find in the news from the last several years. Certainly one of the most obvious examples is the Flint water crisis. However, there are many others such as the decision-making around the Dakota Access Pipeline. A whole new body of environmental literature has emerged on the topics of environmental racism and environmental justice.

It is important to note that environmental racism is not just an American issue. For example, the broad transfer of plastic or electronic waste problems to poor countries is another example that falls within the realm of environmental racism.

There is so much more that could be covered on this topic, but this is a simple introduction to provide some basic background material. Please add any other ideas in the comments as to what content could be added to a short unit on environmental racism in a classroom setting.

Here are some discussion questions to consider if you are teaching on this topic:

1. Hazel M. Johnson died in 2011. What is her legacy?
2. How is environmental justice different from environmental racism?
3. Robert Bullard studied the impacts of landfills on poor and minority communities. Do you know where your garbage goes? How might the waste that you produce impact other people?
4. What measures can be taken to ensure that all people in a community share the equal benefits and burdens of projects that impact the environment?
5. Can you think of any environmental justice or environmental racism issues in your community? Describe the issue(s).
6. Some would argue that climate change is an environmental justice or environmental racism issue. Do you agree or disagree with this assertion? Why?
7. Conduct a Google Scholar search of environmental racism within the years 2015 and 2019. What types of research on the topic has been published?
8. People from all over the world read this blog. What types of environmental justice issues are happening in your country right now?

Thursday, August 1, 2019

How To Pick A Good Carbon Offset Organization To Purchase Carbon Credits

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In a recent blog post titled, 5 Things You Can Do Right Now To Help Reverse Climate Change, I suggested that people should purchase carbon credits. One of this blog's readers asked me how to find a good carbon offset organization from where to purchase these credits to offset one's carbon footprint.

There are many organizations that do this type of work for you. The key to finding one that you like is to take a look at the projects they do to offset carbon. By buying carbon credits, you are essentially investing in those projects. 

It's sort of like investing in a stock. You want to put your money into something that you believe in and that will make a difference. Let's take a look at a few companies to see what projects they use to offset carbon. Note there are far more companies than these and this is not an endorsement of any kind for any of them.

1. Terrapass. Terrapass focuses their carbon initiatives in 4 main areas:  energy capture from farm waste, wind power, landfill gas capture, and water restoration initiatives. Their work focuses exclusively in the United States. If you go to their project list page you can scroll through the types of projects they support.

2. Carbonfund.org. Carbonfund.org, like Terrapass, invests in focused types of projects:  energy efficiency, forestry, and renewable energy. Their projects are located in many different areas of the world. Check out their projects here.

3. Cool Effect. Unlike the other two companies mentioned, cool effect lets you pick exactly which project you want to support. There is some differential pricing due to the variable costs associated with each project. They work all over the world. Check out their page here to see their 15 focused projects. You could, for example, pay $9.89 a ton of carbon to help preserve a swamp in South Carolina, or pay $7.69 a ton of carbon to preserve old growth forest in Alaska.

There are more companies that you can use, but I wanted to give you a flavor about the kinds of things the companies are doing and a bit about the variation that is out there in the carbon capture business. 

The big thing for all of us to try to do is to commit to one organization and continue to cover our annual carbon footprint. As noted in the post referenced in the introduction, it is not that expensive for most people. If you cannot afford the credits, do not forget that there are many things that you can do right now to try to make a difference.  It is important that we all do something right now.