Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Seeking Federal Funds to Deal with Climate Change without Mentioning Climate Change

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
The New York Times published an article here on a topic familiar to many of us who have worked on sustainability issues in some of the states with leaders or legislators who deny climate change:  the verbiage required to seek Federal funds for climate change problems without mentioning climate change.

As I have mentioned in previous posts, it is getting harder and harder for politicians to have a stance that denies the reality of climate change. Articles like the one linked above point out how silly some of the verbal gymnastics becomes in such situations. Frankly, I have much more respect for folks who recognize climate change but don't want to do anything about it for economic reasons than those who wholesale deny the reality of the science in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence. The economic and social costs of tackling climate change are a real debate worthy of having.

Until the reality sets in to the political world that climate change denial is political poison, we will continue to have some politicians in some states promoting a set of facts that do not square with reality. You only have to look to what happened to the leader of Australia when he visited fire victims to see that we have already passed the Let them Eat Cake moment. People around the world are looking for leaders who will take clear action to try to solve our climate change problems.



Monday, January 20, 2020

Five Rules for Creating the Perfect Syllabus

Click for photo credit.
I don't know if it is possible to create the perfect syllabus for a college course but we all try. In the past, I sometimes felt too tied to the course schedule and grading scheme. Plus, I always ran into new reading material or content that I wanted to add long after I posted the syllabus. Over the years, I developed five rules to make my syllabi more flexible and student-friendly while also keeping me sane. Let me know what you think or if you have any other ideas:

1. Keep grading flexible. From personal experience, I know that stuff happens during the course of the semester. The lives of our students are complex. They are young adults taking tons of courses while navigating one of their most socially challenging times of their lives. It is common for a great student to have a bad week or two. Should this impact their final grade in your class? You can make things easier for them by providing some degree of flexibility in your evaluation scheme. Perhaps they can drop one test or select from a range of options for the final project. The point is that by giving students a degree of choice as to how to demonstrate competency you empower them to make choices that work for them and for you. 

2. Provide rubrics for final projects. I know lots of professors who ask for a final paper or project but provide limited guidance as to what is expected to earn a great grade. Indeed, having sat on lots of faculty evaluation committees over the years, this is one of the biggest complaints students have about professors:  clarity of evaluation. By providing a grading rubric for a final project in the syllabus, you take the mystery out of what students need to do to earn a good grade and you will have better final projects from students.

3. Build time for online experiences. Many universities (mine included) allow professors to swap out a certain amount of in-class experiences with online experiences. I try to schedule online meetings about once a month to mix up the content. I schedule them for times when I know I have to be out of town or have some other professional responsibility. I sometimes add them when I have a personal time conflict like a family visit or an important doctor's appointment and I don't want to cancel class. I add the dates for online classes into the syllabus for those dates when I know I am going to schedule online meetings or assignments but I always state that more online classes will be scheduled during the span of the semester to make room for things that come up.

4. Make room for new reading. I am pretty good about assigning all of the required reading the the syllabus. However, due to the fast moving pace of the field of sustainability, I make space in the syllabus to add other readings for each major unit. I make a spot for this in the syllabus with this text: New assigned readings this week. Check blackboard for link. By adding this text, you give notice to students that there will be new information that they will be required to read. If it turns out that you don't need to assign anything new, they will be relieved. The point I want to make is that it is helpful to create is a placeholder to allow you to add new stuff. You don't want to be that prof that has a set of readings for a course and continuously adds more without notice.

5. Define your contact hour limitations. With our modern communication systems, it is not uncommon to get emails from students at 3 in the morning or over the weekends. I'm not a fan of making myself available 24/7. I have lots of other projects and teaching is one component of my life and it needs to be compartmentalized just like I compartmentalize other things. Certainly my students are extremely important to me. But they do not need complete access to me at all times. In your syllabus, clearly outline your office hours and make it clear that you do not respond to emails in the evening and on weekends. Obviously, it may turn out that you do respond (I usually do). However, the point is that you are setting up some good boundaries to protect your time as needed. They will be pleasantly surprised when you get back to them outside of normal business hours.


Sunday, January 19, 2020

The Two Reasons Why I Am Offering the Free 30 Day Sustainability Challenge

A friend of mine asked me recently about my new initiative, the 30 Day Sustainability Challenge which starts on February 1st. He wanted to know why I put it together. He knows I am busy writing and teaching classes and had plenty to do without taking on a new project. I thought I would share my twofold response to him.

1. We are at a tipping point and I want to encourage people to gain knowledge on how to live more sustainably. I know quite a bit about sustainable living and my friends have always joked that if the apocalypse happens, they would want to hang out with me to get through it. I believe that we can all do more to help transform our world and the 30 Day Challenge will help people make their green transformation.

2. I wanted to reach outside of the ivory tower and share what I know with a broader group of people. Universities are amazing places to gain knowledge and to share ideas. However, many academics do not reach out to the public to share what they know. It is my goal in the 30 Day Challenge to reach people interested in a green lifestyle who I might not normally encounter at the university.

If you are interested in the 30 Day Sustainability Challenge, just drop me a note with your contact information so I can get you into the closed Facebook group. No one will see what we are doing there and it is totally private. We will focus on six areas of sustainability;  1) energy and greenhouse gases, 2) water, 3) consumption and minimalism, 4) knowledge, 5) community engagement and activism, and 6) food. I will do live coaching every day within the group. Note that the coaching videos will remain in the group so if you miss the live event you can still see them.

If you are interested in more information, check out the video at this link.


Saturday, January 18, 2020

Surfing and Suffering Sustainability


Click for photo credit.
One of the major themes of my new book, Environmental Sustainability in a Time of Change, is the idea that we are living in a time of two sustainabilities.

First, there is the sustainability of the west where those of us who live in relatively affluent conditions try to limit the impacts of our consumption. We recycle our waste, buy electric cars and carbon credits, and eat organic. We try to live a sustainable lifestyle in a highly unsustainable culture. We choose to make modifications in our daily lives to be green. The choices we make are options, like surfing is an option. Sustainability is not imposed on us. It becomes a hobby or a fun activity. We can walk away from sustainability at any time. For most of us, our actions toward sustainability do not fundamentally shift our overall environmental footprint. We in the west live within a culture that consumes resources at rates much higher than most other cultures on the planet and it is hard for individuals to make profound changes in the status quo. But our sustainability activities, like surfing, are cool, hip, technologically interesting, and young.

Compare this with the sustainability of the developing world where actions toward sustainability are a matter of day to day reality and sometimes life and death. Many areas of the world have clear challenges due to water, food, and security. They do not have a choice about recycling because recycling centers are nonexistent. They do not have a choice about getting clean and abundant water because water resources are limited. They do not have the ability to be activists because they live within a region of conflict. The types of sustainability that they deal with is far from the idea of sustainability in the west. Their sustainability is a suffering sustainability, not a surfing sustainability.

For whatever reason, the term sustainability has come to refer to both conditions. We talk about sustainability in the west as we advocate for community gardens and green building codes while in the developing world the conversations around sustainability may focus on trying to reduce infant mortality and advancing microcredit for small farmers. The ideas are so vastly different that it is important that we recognize the limits of the term, sustainability. While surfing sustainability and suffering sustainability are not perfect terms, they do highlight the differences in how sustainability is used in application.

Friday, January 17, 2020

2019 Was Second Warmest Year on Record

Click for photo credit.
NOAA and NASA are reporting that 2019 was the second hottest year on record. You can read their statement here.

This was not the only key finding they reported. NASA and NOAA also found:


  • The world's five warmest years have all occurred since 2015
  • Ocean heat content was the highest ever recorded
  • Polar sea ice continues to decline
  • December 2019 was the second warmest December ever on record
  • Most continents experienced record breaking temperatures
More evidence is emerging every day about the realities of climate change. Thankfully we have lots of tools to address the problem. We just need the global political will to implement the solutions to solve the problem. We worked together in the past to address ozone depletion in the ozonosphere so I remain hopeful that we can get this issue right.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

BlackRock Embraces Sustainability and Update on 30 Day Sustainability Challenge

Click for photo credit.
There was very big news this week that one of the world's largest investment firms, BlackRock, is focusing its investment strategy to focus on sustainability. This highlights something that I pointed out in my end of the year predictions that global businesses would start to step up to the plate to work on sustainability initiatives in the absence of coherent international leadership.
;
The statement from Blackrock, linked here, is worth a read. The company is making it very clear that climate change is real, that our basic economic systems are at risk due to our unsustainable practices, and that cities and their infrastructures are at risk due to global climate change. While some large companies have fed the climate denial public relations machine for some time, there is no longer any escaping the economic realities of climate change and other sustainability challenges. I see the BlackRock statement as a watershed moment in the history of the sustainability movement. Climate change denialism is a thing of the past. Certainly some will continue to deny but they are entirely not credible and cannot be taken seriously. We now need to focus on how to solve the problems we are facing and we need all hands on deck.

----

Don't forget that my 30 Day Sustainability challenge starts on February 1st within a free closed Facebook group. We will focus on 6 areas of personal sustainability:  energy, water, food, consumption, activism, and knowledge. In addition, I will provide daily coaching within a live Facebook feed. For more information and to sign up, click here.

Wednesday, January 15, 2020

30 Day Sustainability Challenge

I am offering a free 30 day sustainability challenge within a closed Facebook Group that will provide opportunities for all of us to ramp up our own personal sustainability commitment. I will be doing this along with the members of the group and I will do live Facebook events each of the 30 days to help coach you along though the challenge. We will focus on 6 main areas:

1. Greenhouse gases and energy
2. Consumption and purchasing
3. Food
4. Actions and activism
5. Water
6. Knowledge

We will also cover a number of other topics such as green entertaining, minimalism, and greening your work or school. If you are interested, just send me your name and email address at robertbrinkmann@rocketmail.com and I will get you into the group. I am also asking participants to bring in an accountability partner to help keep you on track. The accountability partner doesn't need to participate in the challenge but they should have access to the group. 

For more about this event, please see:


Monday, January 13, 2020

First Day of Class Ice Breaker Exercise

Click for photo credit.
The first day of classes is just two weeks away here at Hofstra University and I wanted to repost an old post from 2016 that I think many of us will find useful as we meet our new students. Enjoy!

-----

From January 28, 2016:

The first day of class is always weird. Students are usually uncomfortable because they don't know each other and they are nervous because they are unsure if they will like the class or the professor.

Most profs do some type of ice breaking exercise to remove the tension to get students talking to each other. Over the years, I've developed the one below that is based on tips I got from great teachers over the years.

I call this the business card interview ice breaker. Here's how it works.

After I go through the syllabus and discuss the main themes of the course (this gives time for stragglers to come in who are having trouble finding the room or parking), I hand out my business card and tell them that I do this so they will always have my contact information.

However, prior to coming to class, I write numbers on the back of each card. If there are 30 students, I write 1-15 on the back of two sets of 15 cards. Then, I shuffle the cards so that the numbers are mixed when they are passed out in class.

I then explain to the students that there are numbers on the back of the cards and that they have to find a student with a card with the same number. They usually start out tentatively, but after a while they have some fun with it.

Once they find their partner, I tell them that they have to interview their partner to get answers to certain questions. They then will introduce their partner to the rest of the class.

I usually use the following questions:

1. Name (this helps me as an instructor learn their names since it will be the second time I heard it in class--the first time being during attendance).

2. Year in school and major. I am always on the lookout for undeclared majors who may be interested in sustainability as a major.

3. What is the last book you read? I love this question because it reinforces the intellectual nature of university life and you get a sense of the interests of your students.

4. Why did you take this class? For many students, the course is some type of requirement. For others, they are deeply interested in the topic. Again, this helps to get a sense of the interests of the students.

5. Please tell me something interesting about yourself. This is also an interesting question because it gets students out of their walled comfort zone. They reveal who they are in interesting ways.

Before getting them started on the interviews, I go through the questions myself and answer them so that the students can get to know me a little better and so they have a model of types of answers I expect.

When the students are doing introductions, I usually ask follow up questions with each student. For example, if a student states that they are on a sports team, I ask them how their season is going or where they played last. These conversations further soften the first classroom experience.

Introducing the syllabus and the ice breaker exercise usually takes the entire first class period. I find it entirely worth it. When students come back the second day, they are relaxed and they know each other. They are talking with each other and they are comfortable enough to ask questions during the second meeting. It makes doing some higher risk classroom exercises (such as student mini lectures) much easier.

What ice breaking exercises do you use?

Sunday, January 12, 2020

Three Main Risks to the public from the Rollback of the National Environmental Protection Act

The old and new Tappan Zee Bridge.
As the New York Times reported last week here, the current administration is seeking to significantly rollback NEPA (the National Environmental Protection Act). This is the act that requires environmental and broader impact reviews of major infrastructure projects like pipelines, roads, and bridges.

Much has been written to criticize the move, but I thought I would digest some of this down into three main risks to the public from the rollback of NEPA.

1. The rollback limits the opportunity for public comment on major projects. As a result, there will be less opportunity for democratic action and the building of either support or rejection of a project. For example, if a pipeline is planned for your backyard, you would have a very limited time period to work to try to stop it. It is obvious that this part of the rollback  is meant to dissuade local activism and will hurt local property owners who are seeking to stop a project that is bad for them and their community.

2. The rollback limits the amount of time it takes to complete a NEPA decision. As a result, the research conducted on a project can be slapdash and incomplete. Thus, a project could be approved that shouldn't be approved because work wasn't completed appropriately thereby endangering the public.

3., The rollback limits the inclusion of cumulative impacts on a project. Cumulative impacts can be external issues like climate change or the impact on enhancing marine dead zones. With the rule change, projects that have limited local impacts, but have significant cumulative impacts could be approved thereby endangering the public.

I think it is important to stress that NEPA was developed specifically to protect the public and the environment from the bad actions of industries and governments. By rolling back NEPA, the administration is putting the public at greater risk and protecting special interests.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Fort Stanwix 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 Fort Stanwix National Monument in New York. 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.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
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

Friday, January 10, 2020

First Photo Entries to the On the Brink Winter Photo Contest

The entries are starting to come in for the On the Brink Winter Photo Contest! The first one are from Roy Schneider and show some of the beautiful environments around Port Washington, New York.

Keep on sending in your entries! The due date is March 21st. To find out more about the contest and how to enter, click here







Thursday, January 9, 2020

Disinformation in Australia

The Kangaroo Island Fire, Australia
Click for photo credit.
The New York Times published an interesting article in today's paper about the role of Robert Murdoch's publishing empire in promoting disinformation about the Australian fires. The article notes that the company is significantly downplaying climate change and elevating the issue of arson as a major driver of the fires. Of course as any intelligent reader of this blog knows, the main driver of the conditions that caused the fires is climate change.

It is clear from the article that most Australians are not buying the disinformation. Certainly there are some who still cling to the idea that we are not changing the climate of the planet. However, the devastating magnitude of the fires is providing clear evidence about the impacts of global climate change.

I get a sense from the reporting and from what I am seeing here in the United States that people are losing their patience with organized disinformation. It is obvious that efforts to get people to disbelieve what is in front of their eyes is not working. People are waking up to the fact that efforts by Murdoch and others are well-funded initiatives to protect either the status quo or to protect big pocketed corporate interests. I think we have passed peak disinformation and that we are starting a new era when disinformation campaigns are ignored and ridiculed. 

Plus, there are interesting ethical dimensions to these disinformation campaigns. It is certainly unethical to knowingly deceive the public on big issues of the day. But are companies like Murdoch's going to be the cigarette companies of a decade ago that were litigated for knowingly deceiving the public on the health impacts of cigarettes? Can news organizations be held responsible for damages for deceiving the public on very expensive problems like climate change? If not, what are the costs to these organizations?


Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 11 -- Marine Protected Areas in Canada

Click for photo credit.
This is the 11th 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.

This chapter is titled, The Efficacy of Small Closures:  A Tale of Two Marine Protected Areas in Canada and is written by Ryan Stanley, Corey Morris, Paul Snelgrove, Ana Metaxas, and Pierre Pepin. The chapter provides an excellent definition and review of marine protected areas around the world and then goes on to review the situation with two Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) in Canada in Newfoundland and Labrador.

It is no surprise to readers of On the Brink that our ocean ecosystems are declining as marine activities increase. Overfishing, oil exploitation, coastal development, and pollution all contribute to the decline of the world's oceans. One of the management tools that has been developed to try to protect ocean ecosystems is the creation of MPAs. These places are akin to national parks or other terrestrial preserves in that very limited human activity is allowed within them. Thus, they become refuges for unique assemblages of organisms.

Unfortunately, just like terrestrial preserves, MPAs are impacted by external factors such as ocean acidification, pollution, and illegal activities. Thus even though they are protected, they are not immune to harm from human activity.

To date, just less than 3% of the world's oceans are within MPAs. The Convention on Biological Diversity in 2010 sought to protect 10% of the world's oceans within MPA's but we are not close to that target. MPAs come in a variety of sizes. Small ones tend to focus on very local issues and ecosystems of concern and larger ones obviously tend to be more holistic in scope. Because the development of MPAs is relatively new, there is scant research on how effective they are at protecting marine ecosystems. A big focus of the chapter is on the need for the development of monitoring tools within the structure of MPA management. The chapter also notes the need for clear stakeholder engagement. In Canada, plans are set to increase MPAs in its coastal waters to 10% by the close of this year, up from 3%. Thus, public support for this initiative is crucial if it is to be successful.

Eastport MPA.
The first of the two MPA's discussed in the article is the Eastport MPA on the northeast coast of Newfoundland. This MPA was designated in order to protect the American lobster. It had been overharvested in the region and it was widely seen by many that something needed to be done in order to protect the species. The MPA provided a distinct refuge for the lobster that allowed the population to bounce back. The MPA was also set up to protect two endangered species, but according to the article, there is limited evidence of the species in the region due to the nature of the habitat.

The second of the MPA's is the Gilbert Bay Golden Cod MPA along the southeast coast of Labrador. Here, the MPA was set up to protect the spawning grounds of a unique species of cod that adapted to the unusual conditions of Gilbert Bay. The MPA is generally working in many respects. However, the largest cod, which are seen as the ones most likely to have successful reproduction, migrate out of the MPA where they can be harvested by gill nets. Thus, the distribution of the MPA does not match the actual goal of the MPS in protecting the reproductive cycle of the Gilbert Bay Cod.

Gilbert Bay MPA.
The article provides some broad lessons learned in studying these MPAs. First, the small size of MPAs can meet some objectives but not others. In fact, it is sometimes difficult to assess the impacts of small MPA's due to the fact that marine organisms have ranges that exceed the sizes of MPAs. In addition, the authors suggest that there is a need to employ adaptive management techniques. What this means is that policy needs to be flexible in order to achieve objectives. For example, the boundaries of an MPA may need to change as we learn more about the MPA and the species it is trying to protect. There are also very specific challenges to MPA's, particularly the need for local support, engagement, and monitoring.

Overall the chapter provides an excellent summary of MPA's and provides a great review of how two MPA's in Canada are working to protect marine organisms.

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 marine protected areas.

1. Right now, roughly 3% of the world's oceans are protected by MPA's. What MPA's can be found in coastal waters of your country or region?

2. How does the size of an MPA impact its ability to protect ecosystems?

3. Why should MPA's be designed to include long-term monitoring plans?

4. In terms of MPA's, what is adaptive management?

5. Why was stakeholder engagement important in the development of the Eastport and Gilbert Bay MPAs?

6. What is it about the lifecycle of the American lobster that made the protection of the Eastport area so important?

7. The Gilbert Bay MPA is used to protect the Gilbert Bay cod. What makes this fish deserving of protection?

8. If you were to set up an MPA, what steps do you think you would take to make sure there was public support for it?

--

Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan
Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont
Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City
Chapter 9. Waste Management Outlook for the Middle East

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The On the Brink 30 Day Sustainability Challenge

If you have ever thought about trying to live a more sustainable life, please consider joining my 30 Day Sustainability Challenge starting February 1st. Watch the video here for more information! Please share this with your friends and family so that we can all help make the world a more sustainable place.


Saturday, January 4, 2020

How the Calendar Drives Consumption: Historical Perspectives

Click for photo credit.
In doing some research, I ran into an interesting article from the December, 1991, issue (Volume 78, No 3) issue of The Journal of American History titled "The Commercialization of the Calendar: American Holidays and the Culture of Consumption, 1870-1930" by Leigh Eric Schmidt. The article makes the point that many of the holidays we celebrate are creations of various trade organizations--particularly florists, jewelers, dry goods purveyors, and bakers.

The article notes that several of the holidays, such as Easter and Christmas, were already celebrated prior to 1870. However, there was a concerted effort by commercial trade groups to organize vendors to ramp up marketing around particular holidays to increase sales. New emerging holidays, particularly Mother's Day, were major targets of the florist and greeting card industries. The famous phrase, Say It With Flowers, emerged during this period of expanded holiday commercialization.

In 1899, the American Advertiser noted, "We shall endeavor to anticipate and take advantage in the interest of our subscribers, of any event, season, holiday, etc. that offers the possibility of a good advertising opportunity." Mother's Day emerged as probably the most successful commercialization of the "new" holidays that came about during this period, to the great disappointment of the founder of Mother's Day, Anna Jarvis, who sought to downplay the commercial nature of the holiday.

Of course, some of the commercialization of holidays failed such as Candy Day and Friendship Day. However, since the commercialization of our calendar between 1870-1930, out holiday consumption has gone on steroids. Schmidt's 1991 article provides a great review of how this mess all started.

Our focus on consumption makes me long for the strange ecology of the French Revolutionary Calendar. As we approach our next big consumptive holiday, Valentine's Day, it is worth planning out how we can make our holidays greener this year. Around the world we do a ton of wasteful consumption around the holidays that is driven by cultural norms that emerged from concerted advertising efforts between 1870 and 1930. In our present era, isn't it time to create new, greener traditions?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Electric Cars Go Lux and What this Means for the Environmental Movement

Click for photo credit.
One of the oddest trends that has occurred in the last year or two is the movement of electric cars into the luxury market. I have a Ford Fusion which is a relatively modest electric hybrid. However, based on this article in the New York Times, luxury car manufacturers are creating many electric versions of their luxurious high end SUVs and sedans.

As the article notes, electric cars have a long way to go to overtake gas powered vehicles. However, electric car purchases doubled last year and the rate of growth is expected to accelerate.

The merging of electric cars with luxury began with Tesla which branded itself as merging high tech with high style. The company clearly distanced itself from the look and feel of the Toyota Prius which looks like something any practical NPR listener would like to drive (not that there is anything wrong with that). Of course, there are middle range electric cars like the Volt and Leaf, but the big growth in electric cars is clearly within the luxury market from companies like Tesla, Jaguar, BMW, and Audi.

I have mixed feelings about this trend.

On the positive side, it is great that there is a growth in electric car sales. It is also great that electric car manufacturing has garnered the attention of the luxury market. I also know that there are plans for  expanding electric car manufacturing into a variety of price ranges.

However, there are some negatives. The growth of electric largely within the luxury market makes it seem as if electric car culture is elitist. This is a long standing critique of the environmental movement. Many, particularly those in rural red state areas, look at the environmental movement as something divorced from the common man or woman. Instead, some see it as a bi-coastal phenomenon with little interest in the middle of the nation. Personally, I disagree with this viewpoint, but I understand how some can believe this--particularly with the electric car movement. This is a problem as we seek national support for the expansion of new electric car infrastructure.

I also am concerned that electric cars will become just another form of fast consumption. The focus on style and luxury within the electric car world makes the pursuit of new models desirable among some buyers. Most of my readers understand what our fast changing throw away technology is doing to the environment. Will electric cars, with their current trajectory, be just another fast technology trend that needs regular updating?

As I have pointed out elsewhere on this blog, the move to renewable energies has not reduced our overall global greenhouse gas emissions. The development of wind and solar have just allowed us all to consume more energy. Could the move to electric cars be another situation in which we advance a technology to solve a problem that is not solvable without structural change?

Thursday, January 2, 2020

On the Brink Winter Photo Contest

Add caption
I am very pleased to announce the On the Brink Winter Photo Contest. Each person may submit up to three entries between now and the closing date of March 21. Entries received after March 21 are ineligible. The theme of the photo contest is within the broad idea of the environment as discussed in the following paragraph. The first place winner will receive a $200 award in the form of a gift card and the two runners up will receive a copy of my latest book, Environmental Sustainability in a Time of Change.

Theme:  We all love the environment, but the world is changing. The environment today encompasses the out of doors in all of its natural beauty, but also the out of doors that is changing as a result of human impact. The theme of the photo contest thus includes representations of the environment that are natural and those that are impacted in some way by human agency. Thus, photos should capture some aspect of the environment that tells us the state of environment as it is at this particular time in the history of our planet.

All of the photos submitted to the contest must be taken between now and March 21. I will share all entries on this blog. Photos must be submitted as a jpeg by email to robertbrinkmann@rocketmail.com The entries will be judged by a panel of three environmental and art experts based on the composition of the image and the relationship to the theme of the contest.

I really look forward to seeing the entries!



Monday, December 30, 2019

6 Tips for Ramping Up Your Green Lifestyle in 2020

Click for photo credit.
One of my colleagues recently posted on Facebook that they were looking for suggestions for how to ramp up their sustainability lifestyle in the coming year. They felt that they were doing quite a bit but wanted suggestions as to how to do more. I thought I would provide some simple suggestions to ramp up a green lifestyle in 2020 for those of you who are already living green.

1. Fully embrace minimalism and avoid consumerism. One of the best things we can do for the environment is to not buy things. We live in a world where consumer goods are extremely cheap and readily available. It is tempting to buy into the fast fashion or technology trends. Many of my greenest friends are major consumers and I am always trying to reign in my own impulses. I think one of the best ways to do minimalism is to go on consumption fasts. Set a time period (I like two months) where you will not make any purchases outside of the necessities and stick to it. At the end of two months, consider what you may need to purchase prior to starting another two months. During the two months, try to get rid of stuff in your home and your office that you do not need. If you think they would be on board, get your family or friends involved. Set interesting goals. Maybe you could reduce your energy use in your house by 15% or your gasoline consumption by 20%. Find some goals that work for you and your family and see how good you can do in cutting back. You'll probably save some money along the way which gets me to #2.

Click for photo credit.
2. Rethink your investments. Many of us use simple investment products like money markets that pool funds across a range of investments. We rely on the organizers of the funds to make choices for us. Of course, the job of the mangers is to make money and not to consider the ethical dimensions of our investments. Take control of the situation and put your money where your ethics are. There are a ton of green investment companies out there who can help you. A quick Google search on green investments should lead you in the right direction. Or you can find some green energy companies that may be seeking investments. There are lots of options out there.

3. Pay for your household carbon. I like to do a carbon inventory at the close of every year (I usually do this around tax time because that's the time I go through my records). To conduct the inventory, I look at my household's annual household gas and electrical use, our gasoline consumption, and our flights and train travel. It is relatively easy to calculate. Then, I go onto one of the various carbon credit sites to purchase carbon credits for my household's carbon. If you don't want to go through the math, you can use the average carbon emissions per American per year as about 168 metric tons. The current cost for this amount of offset per year on Terrapass.com (not an endorsement, there are other companies that provide carbon offsets) is about $180.00. For my household of three, this amounts to $540.00 per year. Most of the offset sites allow you to pay in monthly installments to make the cost more palatable. If you can afford it, pay for the offsets of a student or family member who cannot afford to cover the costs.

Click for photo credit.
4. Find ways to support climate activists. Let's face it. The real action in climate activism is in the hands of young people like Greta Thunberg who are involved in a range of really creative climate action. Some of the most courageous climate activists I have seen are children protesting in Russia in the face of incredible oppression and those protesting for climate action against corrupt governments in Africa and Latin America. Young activists in Brazil have been killed in recent months. Think about how you can support young activists in your community or around the world. Is it through financial support or via sharing their voices in your social media? Maybe you want to be like Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin and support them by joining them. Or maybe you know of other ways to encourage them. Regardless, find a way to lend a hand so that their messages are heard.

5. Communicate your knowledge outside of your echo chamber. The environment is changing rapidly and people who understand the issues should work to communicate what they know to the general public. Offer to speak within your area of expertise to community groups, schools, and other venues. Keep positive about how we can create change. Write editorials, send letters to elected officials, and show up to public meetings and speak on the issues that concern you. The public is more and more aware of the issues we are facing and they are looking for concrete things that they can do to make the world a better place. Give them 5 take homes (sort of like this list, but different) that they can start doing right away. Teach by example.

6. Embrace wilderness more. Certainly there are many ways that we can embrace wilderness. We can spend time in it or we can find ways to support it by encouraging protection of existing wilderness and restoration of damaged ecosystems. As we have become more urban, there are many opportunities for rewinding of nature. Work in your community to preserve more and protect native species. Think about your own consumption and consider how you can change your choices so that they limit the impacts on wilderness.

I know that this is a short list. I would love to hear from others out there. Do you have any suggestions?

Sunday, December 29, 2019

My Favorite Music and Music Events of 2019

I thought it would be fun to start a new end of the year post and share with you some of my favorite music of 2019 along with some of my favorite live music events I attended. Note that the my favorite music of the year isn't necessarily new. It is just music that I found myself returning to over and over.

Favorite Music

1. Weyes Blood, Titanic Rising. What is it about this 2019 album that reminds me of 1975? Give it a try and get transported by the sound and lyrics.

2. St. Vincent, St. Vincent. I know I am late to the St. Vincent party, but my nephew turned me on to this album this year. Great workout music.

3. Paula Cole, Revolution. Paula Cole's new album is full of environmental references along with an abundant sense of eco angst. I know it sounds like a downer, but it is really a beautiful work with lots of hope and inspiration for activism.

4. Flor de Toloache, Indestructible. This isn't my favorite album by this all female mariachi band, but it is their newest. If you are new to them, go back and start at the beginning and work your way up to this odd mix of covers and duets (including one with John Legend).

5. Lo Mejor de Xavier Cugat. I think it is about time for folks to rediscover the sounds of Xavier Cugat. I couldn't get enough of him this year. Great music for a backyard BBQ.

Favorite Live Music Events

1. Akhnaten, Opera by Philip Glass. I love Glass' music and ancient Egypt. The two together make for a great experience.

2. Saturday Night Fever Legends of Disco. Growing up more punk than disco, I was dubious about this event. I always liked to dance to disco music but never thought about seeing it live. This event had about a dozen acts at the sweltering Coney Island outdoor amphitheater in the hottest heat wave of the year. Great sweaty fun.

3. Paula Cole at the Musical Instrument Museum. The museum in Phoenix has an amazing theater with very comfortable seats. The concert was intimate and a perfect venue for Cole's message.

I had several least favorite music events, but in the interest of positivity, I will take a pass at sharing them here. I'll just say that one involved broadway and another involved someone with Rainbow in their name.

Friday, December 27, 2019

Understanding the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918

Click for photo credit.
As I have reported in this space several times, the current US administration has been rolling back many environmental laws. The New York Times recently reported on the impacts of one of the latest rollbacks associated with the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918.

Most of you have probably never heard of this act, but in fact, it is one of the earliest environmental laws signed into law in the United States. The law emerged due to the major decline in migratory birds in the late 19th and early 20th century, in part, due to the use of feathers in women's fashion. International trade in feathers, in a foreshadowing of later 20th century globalization impacts on the environment, caused a rapid decline in migratory birds. The act made it illegal to sell or trade in migratory birds. An important aspect of the law is that it made it illegal to kill migratory birds. Several other nations adopted the law making it one of the most important international agreements for the protection of wildlife.

The text of the law states "...it shall be unlawful at any time, by any means or in any manner, to pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture, or kill, possess, offer for sale, sell, offer to barterbarter, offer to purchase, purchase, deliver for shipment, ship, export, import, cause to be shipped, exported, or imported, deliver for transportation, transport or cause to be transported, carry or cause to be carried, or receive for shipment, transportation, carriage, or export, any migratory bird, any part, nest, or egg of any such bird, or any product, whether or not manufactured, which consists, or is composed in whole or part, of any such bird or any part, nest, or egg thereof..."

The law has been broadly interpreted to require developers to take care not to harm migratory birds. Indeed, it was been considered a criminal offense to knowingly kill the birds in the development of a property.

The main change of the administration's interpretation of the law is that developers can knowingly kill the birds without penalty if the main intent of their death was not their death, but the development of the property. To put it another way, you could kill out a population of birds as you build a housing development because your intent is to build a housing development, not to kill the birds.

Of course, the death of the birds is the main outcome regardless. Given that the law was established to protect birds, I suspect that the interpretation by the Trump administration will likely be struck down by the courts. However, there is no doubt that major economic lobbying bodies, notably the oil and gas industry, have been pushing for the rule change. 

In the mean time, while the rule is in effect, there will be more bird deaths without penalty.