Thursday, June 28, 2012

New Exhibit at the NY Aquarium Based On Shipwrecks

My first aquarium visit was to the Georgia Aquarium located in Atlanta Georgia, which happens to be the world's largest aquarium. The Georgia Aquarium has proven to make an educational and economic impact on the region. The new project at the New York Aquarium, could possibly do the same to Coney Island, Brooklyn, and New York City. This new project at the New York Aquarium, will shed light on turn of the century New York waters, sea life, and shipwrecks. The Wildlife Conservation Society in partnership with the New York Aquarium, Brooklyn borough president, and New York City, will create a 500,000 gallon, 150 million dollar exhibit. This exhibit is inspired by New York shipwrecks and will house designs that are similar to the shipwrecks as well as feature native species.

I have always been wary of zoos and aquariums, because I feared that animals were not living in their proper habitat and I have had concerns over the sustainable practices of these facilities
Through energy-efficient exhibits and office buildings, recycling programs, and other eco-friendly technologies, we strive to set an example for other organizations and individuals in New York City to lighten our output. -Wildlife Conservation Society
It is comforting to know that the Wildlife Conservation Society has a conservation and environmental mission. Below, you can find footage of divers exploring shipwrecks.


Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Haiti and Sustainability

Since 2009, I have made it a habit to visit Haiti at least once a year. Haiti is the birthplace of my ancestors and my family. I make it a point to be involved in charitable organizations and initiatives. My family emigrated from Haiti in the early 1970s to seek better economic, educational, and political situations in the United States. 

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre (Rice fields)
When they were young, they lived in a land that was filled with natural resources. I am told that the country was filled with the sounds of parrots and street vendors. Now, Haiti is faced with reforestation issues amongst other things and the sounds of the parrots have died down. Port au Prince, the capital, in my opinion also has major infrastructure issues. However, despite all these environmental and planning problems, the country is making great strides in improving these issues. 

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre (Reforestation issues on the mountains)
Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre (Homes sitting on top of one another)

Each time I visit Haiti, I see small improvements. I cannot wait until the time when the country is prospering again economically and sustainably.


Sunday, June 24, 2012

Atlanta's Revitalization of a 22 Mile Loop of Abandoned Railway

Photo Credit: Timothy J. 

Moving to Atlanta from New York to attend Spelman College was an interesting transition. I was quick to judge the city for its slow moving transit system, heavy traffic, and lack of a city night life comparable to New York City. However, by the time I graduated, I grew to love Atlanta for its quirks, culture, and green sprawl.

The Atlanta Beltline is revitalizing a 22 mile loop of abandoned railroad tracks and brownfields that connect 45 city neighborhoods. This is great news for the City of Atlanta and its citizens. This revitalization has potential to serve as an example to other major cities. This could be the future of urban landscapes; a way to create an all inclusive public space. The 22 mile loop consists of walking trails, bike paths, parks, skate parks, and even a possibility for a future train line.

In 45 days, citizens of ten counties in Georgia will have the chance to vote for the Transportation Investment Act referendum, which through a 1% sales tax would fund over 8 billion dollars to assist with transportation projects.   If passed, over 15 new miles of transit will be built on the east and west sides of Atlanta and would connect the west trail with the east trail.

This is an amazing feat, especially since the idea of the Beltline sprung from a graduate thesis and grassroots campaigning.

I am excited to visit Atlanta again with hopes of traveling along this 22 mile loop. Check out the Atlanta Beltline website for more information and interactive maps.

*** Lisa-Marie 

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Environment is One of the Philosophies of the Olympics

In addition to sport and culture, did you know that the environment is the third pillar of the Olympic Movement philosophy? This year is the twentieth anniversary of the United Nations Earth Summit, which is taking place in Brasil this week.  Since the early 90s, the International Olympic Committee has made great efforts in ensuring that the host city is sustainable and adheres to certain guidelines. This week on the Olympic website, they highlighted host city achievements. Each Olympic games, the sustainability bar is set higher. This year, the Commission for a Sustainable London will:

…Monitor delivery of a sustainable London Olympic Games, the organisers are on track in nearly every area. Ethical sourcing, social inclusion and diversity, professional training, community involvement and waste and water targets have all been met, in some cases spectacularly.

Photo Credit: Craig Deakin
As an avid sports fan and an environmentally conscious individual, this news sheds an entirely new light on sports and sustainability. I am excited to watch the games and even more excited to learn about how the next host city will incorporate sustainable practices. 


Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Mayor Bloomberg Announces Local Food Procurement Guidelines

Photo Credit: Long Island Farm Bureau,
As part of this plan, the Council passed legislation requiring the City to develop new procurement guidelines, encouraging purchasing from regional farmers and other food producers by City agencies, leveraging our economic influence as a major food buyer. New York City is second only to the United States military in institutional food purchasing. That’s an enormous power in the marketplace. And, if we consciously drive more of our purchasing locally, we’re going to see a significant impact in the local economy.
--- Council Speaker Quinn 

This is great news for New York City and I hope this initiative will trickle over to other New York State counties and nationwide. 
Photo Credit: Long Island Farm Bureau,
Though not directly related, this story reminded me of how King Kullen, a major supermarket chain on Long Island has been a longtime supporter of Grown on Long Island and the Long Island Farm Bureau. Over ten years ago, King Kullen launched the Grown on Long Island program which features produce from local farms. I enjoy walking down the aisles of King Kullen and seeing the Grown on Long Island image above the produce. It is a silent reminder of the importance of supporting local farmers. From my observations and experiences on Long Island, there is a market for quality local food. Consumers frequent King Kullen and its natural food market, Wild by Nature and continue to show support to our farmers by visiting farmer's markets.
Perhaps Long Island will heed these New York City initiatives and encourage Long Island agencies to procure food products from Long Island and New York State. 


Sunday, June 17, 2012

The Environment As I See It

I am excited to be the On the Brink guest blogger! I have from a young age been interested in environmental issues. When my third grade teacher taught my class about ozone layer depletion, I consciously made a change in my habits. I started to conserve electricity, water, and recycled.

Since then, I have personally been involved in environmental issues such as recycling, alternative modes of transportation, international sustainability, agriculture, and more. Professionally, as a research assistant at the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, I have gained more insight into environmental issues from an academic standpoint.

Through the research conducted, I have gained as a Long Island native, a greater appreciation for suburbia. I also, have gained more insight into the social inequality, economics, and political issues that are bridged together by the interdisciplinary field of sustainability.

During the next three weeks, I will blog about the environment as I see it through my eyes. I look forward to interacting with you and I cannot wait to read your comments.


Introducing Guest Blogger, Lisa-Marie Pierre

Guest blogger, Lisa-Marie Pierre will be taking over On the
Brink for the next few weeks.  Please stop by for a fresh take on
I am pleased to introduce to my readers, my friend and co-worker, Lisa-Marie Pierre who will be guest blogging on On The Brink while I am in China over the next few weeks.  Many of you know I will be giving lectures and conducting research in Hainan, China for the next three weeks.  Unfortunately, China blocks the blogger platform.  Thus, I will be unable to blog while I am out of the USA where we have freedom of Internet and press.

I am grateful to Lisa-Marie for taking over blogging duties while I am unable to post.  I met Lisa last year when we were both volunteers working on the planning for the Long Island Small Farm Summit.  Lisa will be adding her own perspectives and opinions.  Her posts are entirely her own and I am sure she'll have lots of interesting things to say.

Lisa-Marie is a native New Yorker and was raised by her Haitian born parents.  She received her Bachelor of Arts Degree from Spelman College and a Master of Science Degree from the University of Miami.  She has interesting geographic perspectives and I think her voice adds a great deal to the conversation about sustainability in suburban and urban landscapes.

Lisa-Marie believes that her life's purpose is to aid individuals through community work, research, and writing.  She enjoys playing basketball, finding new vegetarian restaurants on Long Island, volunteering, and enjoying life.

Between all of that, she is a research assistant at the National Center for Surburban Studies at Hofstra University where she works on research projects, conference planning, and support for the mission of our center.

I hope that you enjoy her fresh perspective on this blog.

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Peconic Bay Scallops Reviving Through Sound Economic Development

The folks involved with the Cornell Extension Scallop
Restoration Program welcome guests.  Photo by Lisa-
Marie Pierre.
Yesterday I had the pleasure of attending the tour of the expanded Peconic Bay Scallop Restoration program that is part of Cornell's Cooperative Extension facility in Southold, Long Island.  The facility seeds tens of thousands of scallops in Long Island's waters, particularly Peconic Bay.  The scallop industry was destroyed by a brown tide years ago and has never rebounded.  While the waters are now relatively clean, there is a shortage of scallops in Long Island's waters.  The new program will allow greater restoration of the scallop industry and lead to dozens of new jobs in the fisheries industry.

Representatives of committees and subcommittees of the
Long Island Regional Economic Development Council
adding scallops to Peconic Bay.
Some facts I didn't know about scallops that I learned on the tour:

They have lots of pearl-blue eyes that can detect motion.  Their eyes are on the edge of the shell.

They only live to be two years old.

They can swim quite fast by jetting water through their body.

Scallops are delicious and have lots of eyes like a potato--
at least that's what I will tell myself when I eat them.
Photo by Lisa-Marie Pierre.
They like to attach to sea grasses.

They are microscopic in size when born and grow rapidly for the first several months.  After the first year, they go dormant in the winter after reproducing.  Only about 10% will reproduce their second, and last, year of life.

The tour was arranged to celebrate the project's funding as part of the state's economic development grant program.  It was attended by many members of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, Empire State Development CEO Ken Adams, Members of the Press, and local residents and officials.

Beautiful Peconic Bay.  Photo by Lisa-Marie Pierre.
Congratulations to the folks involved with the restoration program for a job well done.  Your efforts demonstrate that environmental protection, economic development, and sustainability go together.

I love the East End of Long Island.  It is really a lovely place and I was very happy to be part of the event celebrating the success of the scallop restoration project.
I am off to China on Monday for three weeks and I have a guest blogger coming in to keep things
moving for On the Brink.  I hope you will tune in!  I think you'll enjoy the fresh perspective.  I will introduce you to the guest blogger tomorrow.
Photo by Lisa-Marie Pierre.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Animal Rights Activist May Receive Jail Time for Threats

The Detroit Free Press had an interesting article today about an animal rights activist who was arrested for making threats against a Wayne State medical researcher who uses dogs and rats as part of his research.  The professor is a rather prolific researcher by the name of Dr. Donal O'Leary.  You can read about his work here.

Animal rights activists have helped research
institutions by pushing for ethical treatment of
laboratory animals.
Click for photo credit.
Animal research has come a long way over the years.  In the United States, universities and other research institutes have added panels that review all animal experimentation protocol in order to ensure that animals are treated as humanely as possible.  At the University of South Florida, for example, they take animal safety and experimental protocol rather seriously.  Here is a link to all the the regulatory guidelines they follow.  Many of these rules were instituted within the last decade or two and are a relatively recent addition to the research standards followed in the United States.

There is no doubt that the role of animal activists was important in the development of these standards.  They helped institutions do a better job by questioning the ethics of using animals in research.  They have undoubtedly prevented inappropriate experiments and improved the lives of creatures living in research facilities.  I think anyone concerned about the environmental ethics recognizes the value of the animal rights movement in pushing scientists to do a better job.

However, I believe that activists cross a line when violence is threatened against researchers.  When one looks at the success of the animal rights movement in the United States, it is important to note that these successes were obtained through non-violent action and through concentrated education efforts.

If I were to provide a new goal for individuals involved in the animal rights movement, I would have them turn their attention to overseas facilities.  Animal experimentation has gotten rather expensive in the United States, in part because of the regulatory environment that protects animals.  Thus, as a result of globalization, a great deal of animal experimentation is conducted overseas where organisms are not protected by US regulations or agreed upon safety and ethics guidelines for animals.

So instead of threatening bodily harm to a researcher who works within a protocol approved by a committee of researchers to ensure that ethical frameworks are followed, efforts should be made to examine which companies use overseas animal testing and lobby to bring that testing to the US or ensure they follow US animal protection protocols.   PETA is doing this through a variety of avenues and they should be applauded for their efforts.

Don't get me wrong--I think we need to do a better job with animal lab testing in the U.S. and try to eliminate it whenever possible through modeling or human testing when appropriate.  We need activists to stay engaged with the discussion on animal testing in the US.  However, violence or the threat of violence is never the answer.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

National Geographic TV Tarnishes National Geographic Brand

National Geographic Channel has a new show on UFO's.
I don't approve.
Click for photo credit.
National Geographic had a significant influence on my life.  I grew up in a small town.  Like many Americans growing up in the 20th Century, I learned that there was a very interesting world outside of my community through the pages of National Geographic Magazine.  I remember very specific issues and stories.  The photographs were amazing and the magazine certainly elevated my mind and opened up new ideas about distant people and places.  Plus, I distinctly remember the televised National Geographic Specials.  Here's a list of them from the 60's and 70's.  They were very high quality and brought interesting scientific developments to the living rooms across the USA.  I clearly recollect the Jane Goodall and Jacques Cousteau episodes.  They demonstrated that one person can make a difference in the world through scientific study.  

The television episodes and magazines helped to translate cutting-edge science and important discoveries to the public.  These media products helped to elevate America and promote science and geographic education.  They were important because they worked on one of the significant tenets of the enlightenment and rational thinking:  they told the truth.  They provided a way to understand the world through a scientific lens of reason.  The tone they set forth was honest, clear, scientific, and thoughtful.

Does a show featuring pseudoscience
advance National Geographic's
Click for photo credit.
If you look at the mission statement of the National Geographic Society, you will find it lofty and focused on public education, exploration, and conservation.  They say they have a commitment to integrity, accuracy, and excellence.

Now, let's take a look at the the newest offering from National Geographic TV.  It is called Chasing UFO's.  Here is a link to the show's website which allows you to send a tweet to space to try to contact aliens.  There is also an interactive map that allows you to post your own UFO sighting.  They also have videos on alien cattle mutilation and alien abduction (to name two).  The premise of the show is that there are three UFO investigators who go out and try to undercover the facts behind UFO sitings.  The "scientists" include one UFO believer, one skeptic, and one undecided. 

This approach sadly elevates pseudoscience by putting it on an equal playing field with science.  I cannot imagine that there is a reputable scientific organization that would do such a thing.  If the American Association for the Advancement of Science had a TV show, I cannot imagine them highlighting a debate as to whether evolution was real by putting on a critique of evolution with a scientist conducting evolutionary research.  The AAAS has published hundreds of papers on evolution and to put those hundreds of researchers on equal footing with a non-evolutionary scientists who has not published would be harmful to the scientific community and to the discipline of biology.

That is why I feel National Geographic Television does real harm to the discipline of geography and to science in general by putting out television shows that focus on pseudoscience.  To be fair, I have not seen Chasing UFO's (and won't).  But the very fact that they are sensationalizing pseudoscience is disappointing.  Where is the advancement of science?  How does this elevate America?  How does this advance geography and geographic education?

I have long been a critic of the dumbing down of some of the more education-oriented cable networks.  For example, how did the History Channel end up with Pawn Stars or American Pickers as some of its most popular shows? 

The National Geographic channel has largely avoided this trap.  However, I have seen an erosion of its mission as of late.  Some of its offerings do not elevate culture, but instead sensationalize.  Some of their main offerings this season are:  Taboo, Locked Up Abroad, and Chasing UFO's.  I am not entirely sure how these shows add to the mission of the organization.  While National Geographic does some great things, I think that their programming decisions tarnish their brand.  

National Geographic has always elevated the conversation
about people, places, and nature.  Think of what we are
not seeing so they can offer Chasing UFO's on National
Geographic TV.  Click for photo credit.
While I have a deep appreciation for the mission of the National Geographic Society, I feel that they lost their way by coarsening the programming on their cable channel.  Certainly I am sympathetic to the need to attract viewers, but I question whether it is worth having a cable channel if your programming is counter to your mission.  Would the American Medical Association have a cable channel if they were forced to do 24 hours of programming on plastic surgery disasters in order to gain viewers?

As an organization, the National Geographic Society has done some amazing things and funded fantastic research.  However, there might be some opportunity for other organizations, such as the American Geographical Society, to capitalize on the loss of credibility of the National Geographic Society in the scientific community.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Changing Phytoplankton Cycles in the Arctic?

Sea ice near Greenland.  Click for photo credit.
I ran across this article from Science Now about transformative research on phytoplankton blooms under and on Arctic Sea ice.  The team of researchers found that the production of phytoplankton is, in some places, ten times what was previously thought.  In addition, they found that the timing is most likely changing.  The plankton is emerging earlier than noted in the past, largely as a result of pools of meltwater that form on top of the ice and direct light to under the ice.

The rate of primary productivity of phytoplankton in the Arctic is a key measurement used in a variety of planetary climate and nutrient cycling models.  That is why this research is so significant.  It transforms the way that we think about primary models of Earth systems.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Long Island Farm Summit Feature on Local TV

Somehow I missed this story about the Long Island Farm Summit that was held on the Hofstra campus recently.

Soon Off to Hainan

I am off to Hainan China next week to develop a new research project with the South China Sea Research Institute.  A number of my friends have asked me about Hainan and where it is located.  I found the below video that explains a bit about the geography, at least from the tourist perspective.  Hainan is a tropical place at similar latitude to Hawaii and is developing very rapidly into a significant tourist destination.

As to Hainan's geography, it is found in China's southernmost location and is bordered to the west by the Gulf of Tonkin and to the east by the South China Sea.

Hainan Island is in the southernmost portion of this map.  Click for photo credit.
The capital of Hainan is Haikou, which is on the northernmost portion of the island.  I'll be staying in Haikou for about three weeks.  I leave on the 20th of this month and I'll try to write some posts from there, depending on Internet access.  At the very least, I'll post some information upon my return.

Haikou, Hanan.  Click for photo credit.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Master Shellfish Gardener Program at Cornell Extension

Peconic Bay Scallops.  Click for photo credit.
I think most of us have heard of master gardener programs.  They are typically run by your local extension office and focus on intensive horticultural training in landscaping, fruits and vegetables, and flowers.  The courses include detailed information about soils, pests, and plants.

But, I never heard of a master shellfish gardener program until today.  The Cornell Extension office in Suffolk County Long Island offers such a program as part of their broad efforts at improving shellfish production via habitat improvement and restoration.  The program focuses on clams, oysters, and scallops.  You get to keep (but not sell) all of the shellfish you raise.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Photos from Long Island Section Meeting of the ASME

Me (left) accepting a certificate of appreciation from Tony Fresco of the Long Island ASME.

I had the true honor of presenting some of my research at the Long Island Section of ASME--the American Society of Mechanical Engineers last month.  I wrote about this in an earlier post.  However, I wanted to share with you some photos from the event that were sent to me by Phil Jacknis.  I hope you enjoy them!  I met some of the most amazing people at this event.  They ranged from engineering students at Hofstra who came during finals week, to engineers who were involved with the Apollo NASA missions.  I am truly grateful for the invite and was honored to meet so many fantastic scientists and engineers.
Phil Jacknis accepting the Coleman Tourma Award (Center) with Dick Tourma and Bill Coleman (left) and Michael Roy from ASME District Headquarters (far right).

As many of my readers know, I've worked with engineers my entire career and my father was an engineer.  I have a deep respect for the field and was so happy to be part of this important Long Island event on the campus of Hofstra University.

Me being introduced by noted engineer, Tony Fresco.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shrimpers and Turtles in Conflict in the Gulf of Mexico

Sea turtle deaths have been increasing in the Gulf of Mexico.
Click for photo credit.
The St. Petersburg Times is reporting this morning on a conflict between shrimpers and sea turtles in the Gulf of Mexico.  

There has been an increase in the number of endangered sea turtle deaths in the Gulf in recent years.  It appears that some of them are tied to the recent oil spill and some of them are linked to shrimpers working in state waters that are unregulated by the federal government.

The National Marine Fisheries Service is seeking to put into place new net rules that would require shrimpers to install net escape hatches.  The shrimpers believe that the requirement would be too expensive and drive them out of business.  They also claim that they are not responsible for the turtle deaths.

This is a perfect example of the type of conflict that often results when environmental rules are enacted in order to protect endangered species.  The same types of conflict occurred over the spotted owl in the Pacific Northwest several years ago, over the bald eagle even earlier, and over threatened and endangered species all over the world.

The issues all revolve around environmental ethics as first elucidated by Aldo Leopold.  Do we make changes in our modern economic system to protect a single species, or do we value short-term economic activity over the survival of a species that his been on this planet for hundreds of thousands of years?

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Complexities of Paper Sustainability

Paper mills near Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Click for photo credit.
I ran into this interesting article from Environmental Science and Technology that highlights the complexities associated with developing sound sustainability practices around paper.  I think it is worth a read if you are doing any teaching or research around natural resources or if you have a general interest in sustainability and paper.

We have come a long way in improving the paper industry.  We recycle more paper, have developed better energy conservation measures, and have reduced pollution and water usage.  However, the definition of sustainable paper is elusive.

There are certainly many options out there for those interested involved with paper procurement.  One could buy recycled paper, buy paper from an organization that utilizes paper made from trees from a sustainably harvested forest, or find some other option that suits one's needs.

Yet which option is best?  The bottom line from the article is that it depends.  For example, in China and India where there is limited raw pulp wood available, it makes sense to import raw paper that was collected for recycling in other countries in order to turn it into paper for their national uses.  Indeed, in the US, we export nearly 50% of our collected recycled paper to China.

That is only one example of the complexity of the paper industry.  There are a number of factors that are in play and it is not an easy decision for the casual consumer as to how best to make a sound decision on paper purchases.  However, large paper procurement organizations have the ability to look carefully at their decisions in order to have a significant impact on sustainability.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Abstracts Due for Sustainable Metros Conference at Hofstra.

The beautiful campus of Hofstra will be home
to a conference on metro-scale sustainability.
Click for photo credit.
Abstracts are due for the conference, "From the Outside In:  Sustainable Futures for Global Cities and Suburbs."  Please forward this announcement to those who you think may be interested in attending.  The conference will be held on the beautiful campus of Hofstra University.  The keynote speaker will be Robert Bullard, the "father of environmental justice."

The focus of the conference is metro-scale sustainability that brings in elements of suburban sustainability within the conversation on research on sustainability, which tends to be more urban focused.

There is a great deal of excellent research emerging on suburban and metro-scale sustainability.  How can we take what we have learned on urban sustainability and apply this within broader metro and suburban regions?  Many researchers write off the suburbs as largely unsustainable.  Yet, they are not disappearing on our landscape any time soon and are worthy of a strong research agenda.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Hurricane Building Codes Revised in Florida

Damage from Hurricane Andrew.  Click for photo credit.
I ran across this interesting article on hurricane building codes from the Miami Herald.  The article details how building codes across Florida have improved since Hurricane Andrew hit south Florida in 1992.  That storm was amazing.  It knocked over cinder block homes and caused millions of dollars of damage in South Florida.

The article points out several of the improvements in building codes and also explains how the state recently lessened the codes north of the southern portion of the state.  Builders are making a case that the most likely serious wind damage is in south Florida, and not in the north.  Thus, they believe, that the greatest risk is to the south, which should have strong building codes, and that the northern part of the state should have less expensive requirements for construction.

I obviously wasn't involved in the decisions about the building codes and I do not want to criticize a decision without all the facts.  Yet, in my recollection, most of the significant damage to buildings from hurricanes since 1992 has been in the central and north Florida.  If you are interested in all things hurricane, you'll find the article useful and the author provides more detailed description of how the codes have changed and why.

Also, if you live in a hurricane prone area, don't forget to get your hurricane kit together.