Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Climate Change, Conflict, and Forced Migration

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On Wednesday, October, 23, I will be part of a panel on Conflict, Climate Change, and the Crisis of Forced Migration at Hofstra University. The event is part of the seventeenth annual Day of Dialogue at Hofstra University that is organized by the Center for Civic Engagement. Each year, the Center selects a pertinent topic to have a day-long conversation around a topic important to society. The event is timely given the significance of climate change in our present global culture.

I will be covering some of the material from my forthcoming book, Environmental Sustainability in a Time of Change available here. Specifically, I will review some of the science and policy of climate change, the differences between surfing and suffering sustainability, and the nature of how climate change is leading to forced migration in many parts of the world--perhaps in your backyard. Climate change is impacting many people without many of us realizing it is happening.

I will be joined by fellow panelists William Hartung, the Director of the Arms and Security Policy at the Center for International Policy and Laurius Wren the Director of Hofstra's Asylum Clinic in the Maurice A. Deane School of Law.

If you are on or near Hofstra University on Long Island next week, please stop by. For more information, see this link here.

Monday, October 14, 2019

Thinking About Suburban Sustainability

My colleagueSandra Garren and I are completing an edited volume on suburban sustainability that will be published by the University Press of Florida next year. The book will contain 17 different chapters, each of which focuses on a range of sustainability issues ranging from environmental justice to greenhouse gas management. It will be the first major book on sustainability in the suburbs ever published. Winding down the book has kept me preoccupied over the last several days (thus the light blogging) over the ways that suburbs can become more sustainable.

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As we point out in the book, sustainability in cities is relatively easy when compared with the suburbs. They have the advantage of a strong central government, a rich treasury, and an engaged population. Suburbs tend to have weak limited government, a modest tax base, and a citizenry that is not all that well informed on sustainability issues. Plus, cities have dense infrastructure that can be subtly tweaked to make big gains. The infrastructure of suburbs sprawls and little tweaks do little things.

Yet, it is important to not discount the suburbs. They cover vast areas of our planet. Indeed, their geographical footprint is much larger than that of cities. Yet, we tend to focus our attention, and in the academic world, our research, on cities. That is why I am so happy this book is coming out at this moment in time when there is a much more comprehensive examination of how we can make our planet more sustainable.

Look for more information about this book in this space closer to when it comes out next year.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City

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

Today's post is on Chapter 7, Greenhouse Gas Management:  A Case Study of a Typical American City by Rachel M. Krause and J.C. Martel of the School of Public Affairs and Administration, University of Kansas. Greenhouse gas management is growing in importance around the world given our pressing issues with climate change and this chapter provides an excellent case study from Kansas City, Missouri.

The Chapter starts with a rich background on a variety of issues associated with climate change and greenhouse gas management. It provides scientific background on the topic and highlights how to measure and manage greenhouse gas emissions. Following this, the background section also provides a summary of climate protection efforts at different levels of government:  international climate agreements, U.S. Federal policy, U.S. state and regional efforts, and municipal climate protection efforts. This summary of government approaches to climate protection efforts is one of the best summaries out there. It asserts that while there are some strong international efforts, U.S. federal policy is weak and state policies are scattershot. Much of the heavy lifting on climate change policy is actually occurring at the municipal level.

The chapter than moves into the case study of greenhouse gas management in Kansas City. After receiving criticism that it wasn't doing enough to address climate change, the city moved aggressively in the last fifteen years to combat the problem. It hired key staff, reorganized government, and set aggressive greenhouse gas targets. The mayor appointed an 11-member steering committee to work on climate change policy which was supported by four technical work groups and 100 community volunteers. A climate protection plan and a greenhouse gas inventory were initially created and follow up plans and reports were created including a follow up aspirational goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 50% of 2000 levels by 2050.

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The chapter goes on to review the steps the city took to try to achieve their goals. The city divided their efforts into two phases. The first phase focused on city operations and the second phase broadened this phase to include the broader community. Strong focus was placed on improving energy efficiency in buildings and in constructing retrofits when necessary. In addition, efforts have been made to reduce on-road greenhouse gas emissions from transportation. The results have been positive, but the city is not on track to meet it's goal. However, the city operations have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 25% of its 2000 baseline which means that the city operations are on track to meet their goal.

The chapter then moves into Lessons Learned and Challenges and Barriers sections. One of the most important factors in Kansas City's recent success is that it had strong leaders who worked as policy entrepreneurs to promote the initiative. These leaders have been able to prioritize environmental initiatives and create a stable institutional framework as well as dedicated financial support. The leadership empowered city employees to follow. The initiative was also supported by community partners and important stakeholders like The Chamber of Commerce and Kansas City Power and Light. Three particular challenges were noted, however:  data collection, sound budgeting, and political (liberal urban initiatives in a conservative state).

Overall, the chapter provides one of the most interesting case studies on greenhouse gas management that I have seen. Because it also contains excellent background information on greenhouse gas policy and climate change, it is an excellent choice for supplemental reading on any unit on greenhouse gas policy.


Click here to for more information about the book

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

1. In the introduction, the chapter discusses the different types of activities associated with climate change mitigation and climate change adaptation. Describe the differences.
2. What is a carbon dioxide equivalent?
3. Compare and contrast U.S. and global climate change policy.
4. Why are cities the crucible of climate change protection efforts in the United States?
5. Describe three main initial decisions that Kansas City took that influenced its climate change trajectory.
6. Describe Kansas City's greenhouse gas mitigation efforts. Were they successful?
7. How important do you think it was that the city worked with key stakeholders like Kansas City Power and Light and the Chamber of Commerce?
8. If you were to recommend next steps for the city to take to enhance its greenhouse gas initiatives, what would you recommend?


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

Friday, October 4, 2019

Baba Brinkman Brings Rap Cycle to SoHo

Baba Brinkman. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Baba Brinkman, who my long-time readers know for his work on the Rap Guide To Climate Chaos and who I interviewed here, is in the midst of an epic run at the SoHo Playhouse of his Rap Guide Cycle which includes his Rap Guide to Climate Chaos, Rap Guide to Culture, Rap Guide to Evolution, Rap Guide to Consiousness, and Rap Guide to Religion. You can find out about tickets here.

What is interesting about this run is that it is the first time in the history of New York theater that a 5-show cycle event has ever been staged. There are many examples of 4 show cycles (Wagner's Ring Cycle comes to mind) but this 5 show cycle is unique.

I caught the newest of the shows, the Rap Guide to Culture, recently. It covers a range of topics related to what we know about culture and Baba dives into some challenging topics such as race and gender in fresh ways. The show also has a bit more freestyle than some of his other shows which provides an opportunity for him to showcase his impressive rap skills.

If you get a chance, check it out. The run closes this month, but there is still time to see the cycle.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Florissant Fossil Beds 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 Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument in Colorado. 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

Monday, September 30, 2019

UN Publishes New Climate Report: The Heat Is On

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
One of the highlights of this month's climate events at the United Nations was the release of their report, The Heat Is On:  Taking Stock of Global Climate Ambition. The report provides a summary of the current state of climate policy taking place around the world.

There are three main takeaways that I got from the report. 

1. Developing countries are leading the way. Many developing countries are at the front lines of climate change. Many, particularly the small island states, are already feeling the impacts of our climate disruption. The developing countries have developed climate action plans and adaptation plans, they are leading by example, and they are revising initial plans to become more ambitious in reaching their sustainability and climate change goals.

2. The developed world is focused on long-term strategies to phase out greenhouse gases in the second half of the century. This approach is a bit contentious. Many argue that the time to act is now. However, there is concern over economic disruption if change happens too quickly. However, there is definitely a contrast between the approaches in the developing world and the developed world around climate change.

3. We are not doing enough now. The report highlights that there is a great deal of good work happening around the world to reduce greenhouse gases. However, we are not doing enough. According to the report, we are failing to reduce greenhouse gases at a rate needed to prevent climate change. Indeed, greenhouse gases are increasing in the atmosphere even though there are many efforts underway to reduce them.

The report has much more information that many will find useful. I really enjoyed the case studies from places like the Marshall Islands, Kazakhstan, and Ethiopia. There is so much good work going on around the world, however, the report makes clear that it is not nearly enough.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

My Interview With James Ellsmoor, Director of Island Innovation

James Ellsmoor, Director of Island Innovation

James Ellsmoor is an entrepreneur, writer, and sustainability expert who is one of the world’s leading voices on the sustainability of islands—particularly small island states. He is the founder of the Virtual Island Summit and has been named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Entrepreneur. He also contributes to Forbes on sustainability topics.

Since the Pacific Islands Forum has just ended with modest success and since the Virtual Island Summit is coming up, I thought it would be great for the On the Brink readers to learn more about James, his work, and his thoughts about sustainability through an interview.

  1. You have such an interesting career for someone so young and I am sure that you are an inspiration to many young people interested in sustainability. Who inspired you to get involved with sustainability?

It was not so much one person in particular as much as what. There were multiple things that pushed me in this direction, and they are best summarized by the old proverb: “A society grows great when old men plant trees in whose shade they know they shall never sit.”

The environment is an extremely complex web of interactions. This means that any action that is not part of these natural processes will have a consequence - not necessarily immediately, but if that action persists the consequences will compound over time. This is how issues like land degradation, ocean acidification and collapsing fisheries are taking hold.

It became clear to me that a future where development is done with the environment as a shareholder rather than a resource to exploit could create a better, sustainable world. Once you see past the environment as a short-term - and finite - profit-generating resource to see the potential applications of renewable or sustainable development as well as their benefits for current and future generations, then you have a different outlook on the world.

  1. There is so much to be negative about at this particular moment with sustainability (bad news from Brazil, climate change extremes, etc.). However, much of your writing for Forbes tends to focus on the positive side of the sustainability field. There are so many great innovations going on and lots of great science happening that is changing lives. How do you stay so focused on the positive when we have so many problems?
The climate crisis we are currently experiencing means that it is common to hear the ‘doom and gloom’ stories that dominate a lot of news cycles. Especially in an environment-based sector such as sustainable development, we tend to hear much more about the negative sides than the success stories.
However, that isn’t constructive – is it? If we live by the negatives and choose to ignore the positives then we’re falling into the trap of thinking that nothing can be done to drive innovation and find solutions to our issues, which simply is not true. That being said, a mixture of negativity and positivity leads to a more constructive, realistic debate, it is all about striking a balance.
New scientific findings are constantly updating our understanding. We should strive to be more scientific, which means being realistic about the problems we face. Negativity is constructive only if paired with optimism, which in turn drives innovation - its a cycle. By sharing the positive stories – and there are many – that are happening globally we can shift the conversation away from ‘doom and gloom’ to ‘hope and optimism’.
  1. You travel to some of the most exotic and distant places on the planet to work on sustainability issues. Your passport must tell quite a story! What is one success story from these places that makes you most proud?

My work with Solar Head of State is one of the biggest highlights to date. Solar Head of State is an organization that I co-founded that has the aim to make renewable energy influencers out of world leaders. Our work in Jamaica was extensive, and we helped to promote the country’s renewable energy policies while also drawing attention to solar power throughout the nation with the Jamaica Solar Challenge.

The Jamaica Solar Challenge was a competition asking Jamaican youth to create a project that would effectively communicate to their peers the benefits of renewable energy. This was carried out at the same as Jamaica’s Prime Minister Andrew Holness revealed his ambitions for the country to reach 50% renewable energy by 2030, up from the official policy of 30%. This was announced during the commissioning of a new government building on which we had installed a state-of-the-art solar array.

We were able to see firsthand the impact that climate change has on islands, as well as how much positivity sustainable development and renewable energy could provide. It was a surreal and rewarding experience that has now led to several new projects.

  1. There was great hope at the Pacific Island Forum that the small island states of the Pacific would convince Australia to cut back on coal mining and promoting the expansion of coal burning power plants around the region to help mitigate climate change. That didn’t happen. There is tremendous concern around the globe about the future of the low-lying islands. What do you think are the next steps in helping nations in the region address their climate change challenges?
Supporting and empowering local institutions. COP21 was a step in the right direction and has spurred a lot of change globally, but it may be time for the governments lagging behind - such as Australia and the US - to be reminded of their commitments through some form of sanction or reprimand. There needs to be consequences or there will be nothing to stop nations from flaunting their commitments. The Pacific islands contribute less than 0.03% to global carbon emissions yet they are on the frontline of climate change. Low-lying islands worldwide are faced with the same problems and they have known for several decades that climate change would be an issue they would face, yet these islands have never given up on trying to find a solution - it only seems fair that we support them and find one.
Islands are leaders in innovation and climate action, pioneering carbon-neutral electrical grids to community-based energy transitions. Using their experiences to build a blueprint for large scale sustainable development would ensure that we reduce carbon emissions and mitigate the damage from climate change. A more island-centric approach would be to invest in resilience strategies as well as research into efficient management techniques. In the past decades local institutions have already done a lot to further our understanding of the processes of climate change, identifying opportunities for innovation and sustainable development. Empowering these institutions and the communities on islands worldwide will go a long way in helping address the challenges created by the climate crisis.
  1. You have organized a free conference on sustainability and islands called the Virtual Island Summit (which I will be attending virtually) coming up October 6-10th of this year. What is the purpose of the conference and what can participants expect to gain from it?

We hope to create an online community that includes cross-sector collaboration and facilitate communication and knowledge sharing with the goal of driving innovation. By being an entirely virtual conference it will provide opportunities for global participation and showcase expertise from a variety of fields. This will ensure that decision-makers and practitioners from around the world will be able to discuss, share ideas and find solutions that benefit all stakeholders. On top of this, the Virtual Island Summit will be carbon neutral, the conference will be using modern technology to be entirely online, thereby eliminating the need to travel to and from locations and massively reducing greenhouse emissions.

I started the Virtual Island Summit as an opportunity to share even more information and increase participation. We will engage over 5,000 participants from a diverse range of island communities and discuss environmental issues such as energy and waste but also cultural preservation and social issues. There are big opportunities to share knowledge and now digital communications gives us a way to do so.

  1. I live on Long Island, which is a part of the State of New York. It is a big island, but it has many of the same problems of island states: pollution of sole-source aquifer, saltwater intrusion, population pressures, limits to economic development, transportation, etc. Outside of climate change, what do you think are the most important sustainability issues emerging on islands today?

Climate change is a symptom of a wide-ranging set of problems that need to be addressed and urbanization is a developmental process from which many of these problems can be fixed. The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals are always mentioned in new projects whether they be in the Caribbean, the Pacific, Europe, or the United States! They serve as a blueprint for a better form of urban development and has led to innovation in the fields of circular agriculture, governance, and renewable energy - just to name a few. On top of ensuring that new city expansions are built in a way that is sustainable, there is also a rising need to redevelop already developed established areas to a similar level. Islands worldwide are working towards creating a society that is sustainable not only from an environmental perspective, but a socio-economic one as well. Only once we are able to expand and build societies in a way that is sustainable will we be able to take on larger, overarching issues such as climate change.

  1. I always urge my sustainability students to take courses in entrepreneurship since there are lots of new businesses opening up in the area of sustainability. Given your background as an entrepreneur in the area of sustainability, what advice would you give students interested in becoming sustainability entrepreneurs?

Innovation is a major component of sustainability, and there is currently an abundance of opportunities for potential entrepreneurs to create a business within that sector. There has been a massive shift over the past couple decades where companies, cities and nations have become more invested in creating a sustainable future and are willing to work across different sectors to find the best possible solution.

Innovation can take so many different forms, it doesn’t have to be a major idea or a massive program, it just needs to be a product, service or project that would fit well within a society that is seeking to be as efficient as possible without creating waste. Sustainability is a rewarding sector to find yourself in. You will see the world from an entirely different point of view once you start imagining how to make processes or developments more sustainable - and that is both how you promote innovation and craft an idea worth following!

  1. One of your areas of expertise is renewable energy. There are so many great things happening with renewable energy right now from expansion of wind and solar farms to new battery technology. What excites you about the renewable energy field at this particular time?

Renewable energy such as solar or wind has always been constrained by its natural cycles, but new developments in battery storage has created a revolution within the renewables market. From the Tesla mega-battery that is powering the state of South Australia’s backup power grid to the rise in electric vehicles or even the spread of pico-solar installations in Kenya and Papua New Guinea, batteries are driving sustainable development.

The rise of storage is a major component in renewable energy but we need more innovation that has made batteries more efficient. This has increased the interest in renewable energy as well as made it easier to promote a transition away from fossil fuels, with renewables now able to be stored on a large-scale and providing a range of other benefits.

James Ellsmoor is the Director of Island Innovation, a company operating worldwide to build digital bridges and connect distant islands. He is the organizer of the Virtual Island Summit which will be held in October 2019.