Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Chinese Government Urges Openness After Riots

A Beijing sunrise.  The smog in Beijing is so bad that
some are leaving the city for health reasons.
Click for photo credit.
I've been following the news about a series of uprisings in China in recent months over environmental pollution.  Here in the U.S. we are really fortunate to have strong environmental rules that protect us and our environment from the damages caused by industrialization and poor management.  Very few countries have such strong rules and we serve as one of the models for environmental protection.

China, with its vast industrial growth in recent decades, has a long way to go to protect its environment.  Industrial pollution is widespread and there is a lack of strong pollution regulation.  There are some striking examples of serious pollution issues that have negatively impacted communities.  From air pollution problems in Beijing to concerns over copper mining, the Chinese people are standing up to the government over their concerns over pollution.

The most recent uprising was over a waste pipeline associated with a Japanese paper factory in Qidong.  Thousands took to the streets and according to this article, ransacked government offices.  As a result of this, the main government paper posted an editorial noting that the government must learn from this event and listen to the concerns of the people.

China's green movement seems to be growing.  There is more discussion in the newspapers about the need to fix the environment and improve the health of ecosystems.  It will be interesting to see whether or not China is able to develop a workable system for the management of pollution.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Climate Change Denialist Now a Believer

Click for photo credit.
Lots of newspapers are picking up the story about Richard Muller, the Berkeley Professor who was the major scientific force behind climate change denial.  He received millions of dollars from the petrochemical industry to conduct his work.  However, he recently wrote a piece in the New York Times changing sides.  He now says that climate change is real and caused by humans.  He notes that he believes what the vast majority of scientists have been saying for decades:  the Earth has warmed by 2 degrees over the last 250 years and the warming is continuing.  Again, this has been basic scientific thought for 20 years.

While it is great that he has changed his mind, it is unfortunate that he was the vocal critic of mainstream science for so long.  His work was quoted by the handful of very loud and well funded climate change deniers over and over again.  Indeed, it is because of these deniers that we do not have a coherent greenhouse gas management plan or a thoughtful energy policy in the U.S.  So, forgive me if my applause is modest for having Dr. Muller come around to the side of science and reason.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Green Job Finder on Twitter

Click for photo credit.
Many of my students and former students often contact me about helping them find environmental jobs.  I know that the economy is really tough out there and some folks are having a difficult time getting a job that fits their needs and interests.

There are a ton of jobs out there, but it is hard to find the right source for finding them.  I've run across a bunch of different types of job listings such as monster.com.  Plus there are a number of industry specific jobs that focus on particular regions of the country.

I thought I would share with you one source on Twitter that consistently publishes a range of green jobs called, Green Job Finder.  They list jobs that I send on to some of my folks looking for work.  Those of you interested in green jobs may find it useful.  What I like about this source is that it includes all skill levels.  So if you want to be a receptionist at a green firm or a CEO of a green non-profit, you'll find them all listed.  You can find them at @GreenJobFinder

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Me and Archaeology

Aztalan State Park, Wisconsin.  I've spent a great
deal of time working on soils/geology/archaeology
field work here with Dr. Lynne Goldstein.
Click for photo credit.
As I mentioned yesterdayI am featured in the new issue of Hofstra Horizons magazine that features Hofstra research projects.  The article focuses on how I got into sustainability and the future direction of sustainability studies at Hofstra.  Here is a link to the article.  After I posted the article, I heard from a friend of mine how I forgot to mention in the post the influence of archaeology on my career.  She was right!  I did mention it in the article in Hofstra Horizons, but I didn't go into any significant detail and I didn't mention it in yesterday's post.  So, I thought I would round out the discussion here.

After I completed my masters in geology, I moved on to do a Ph.D. with the late Robert Eidt, a noted expert in anthrosols, or humanly modified soils.  While working with him, I became the manager of the UW-Milwaukee State Soils Lab, which was at the time, the only state soil lab in an urban setting focused on testing soils for urban gardeners interested in determining how best to fertilize their lawns and in finding out if their soils had any pollution--particularly lead.  During this time, Eidt had me take a course in field archaeology with Professor Lynne Goldstein in order to get better trained on how to determine alteration of soils in the field.  Goldstein is an expert on mortuary analysis and taught a number of well regarded field schools in Wisconsin on prehistoric archaeology focused on Mississippian mound builders.  The course I took was excellent.  It was also different from my geology field school.  My geology field school introduced me to the understanding of regional geology in the Yukon, British Columbia, and Alberta.  This field school required me to drill down into the details of one particular place.

During my field school, I learned a variety of archaeological techniques that greatly benefited my understanding of the planet.  We excavated a portion of a mound group near Koshkonong, Wisconsin, did field tests to look for Native American settlement sites, and walked freshly plowed or planted fields and collected artifacts in order to systematically map the distribution of artifacts.  I ended up doing quite a bit of work with Dr. Goldstein over the years and with other archaeologists in places like Fort Ross, California; Aztalan, Wisconsin; Arkansas; Tennessee; and Yemen.  All of this work demonstrated to me that pre-historic and historic alteration of the planet was much more widespread than I thought.  Prehistoric peoples greatly altered the planet in ways that were sometimes subtle (creation of small agricultural fields in Wisconsin), and sometimes massive (development of large agricultural fields in pre-Islamic Yemen).  

Archaeology greatly informs sustainability by showing us the impacts of past actions on the environment and by providing examples how humans and their environments interact in different places and times.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New Article in Hofstra Horizons

We alter the planet in big and small ways.
 Click for photo credit.
I am featured in the new issue of Hofstra Horizons magazine that features Hofstra research projects.  The article focuses on how I got into sustainability and the future direction of sustainability studies at Hofstra.  Here is a link to the article.

It was a fun article to put together because I had to reflect upon how I got to the present point in my career.  Many of you know, that my background is in the field of geology.  I am passionate about the field and I particularly love mineralogy and lithology.  However, when I was in my early 20's I was doing some prospecting work for a mineral exploration company and I found that it was really difficult to do my job because so much of what we thought was natural was altered.  Indeed, I found that there was evidence of alteration all around me.  It was very difficult to get samples of the natural surface of the earth in order to determine what was deep underground.

My education in geology taught me what the world was like without people.  I learned about geophysics, geochemistry, structural geology, field geology, mineralogy, lithology, and other subfields.  However, in order to do my geological work, I had to deal with the fact that people greatly altered the surface of the planet.  We were not taught this in any great detail and there was limited research at the time on human alteration of the planet.  That made me rethink many major assumptions in the field of geology and set me on the path to where I am today.  The field of geology has changed over the last 30 years and there is much more focus on environmental geology than there was in the past.  However, the emerging field of sustainability allows one to study how best to preserve resources for the future while taking into consideration the economic, environmental, and cultural issues of today.

Monday, July 23, 2012

One Reason There Are Environmental Rules

Who should regulate hazardous chemicals?  Click for
photo credit.
I ran across this article from the Houston Business Journal about a case where a company allegedly illegally transported hazardous materials without the proper placards or information.  Allegedly, as a results of this, two workers were killed when they were exposed to hazardous gases.

I know that some of my more libertarian leaning friends out there often claim that government should not be involved in business and that there are too many environmental regulations.  However, what do we do to protect ourselves and our nation's workforce when there is a need to transport significant volumes of hazardous materials across the country or within large urban areas?  Do we trust industry to do the right thing and protect us, or do we use government regulation to provide guidelines for the safe transport and handling of the materials?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Keep on Keeping on with Climate Change Policy

US Drought Map, July 17, 2012.  Click for source.
The New York Times had an interesting article this weekend about the various efforts toward developing sound climate change policy around the world.  The point of the article is that the world's major economies are making significant and quiet efforts toward reducing dirty energy sources.  While much needs to be done, there is still hope to reverse the impacts we are already feeling and much is being put in place to deal with the issue.

I've always been an optimist on the adaptation of humans to climate change.  However, I am a realist.  While I know that we are currently not doing enough to mitigate the impacts of increased carbon emissions, I know that there are technologies available to us to improve the current situation.  We are moving in the right direction.  But, we need to continue to press for the implementation of new technologies and policies.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Jones in Jones Beach.

Click for photo credit.
One of my Tampa friends and Long Island native, Mary Beth Erskine, commented on Facebook about yesterday's post about Jones Beach.  She has fond memories of time spent there and wanted to know if I knew anything about the Jones in Jones Beach.  Thankfully, the book, The Power Broker, that I mentioned yesterday, mentions this Jones briefly.  I also found some other information online about Jones.

It turns out the beach was named for Thomas Jones, an English privateer in the 16th century.  He was granted power by the crown to attack ships that were enemies of England and take their cargo.  In other words, he was a sort of legal pirate.  It is unclear on the sources I found if he ever actively served as a privateer, but he was certainly a wealthy man by the time he made his was to North America.  He eventually settled in Long Island when New York was still a colony and he was granted a large area of land that included Jones Beach.  Also, he was granted whaling rights on the north and south shore of Long Island--quite a treasure.  If you do a google search for Thomas Jones Privateer you can find a more information--some of it likely apocryphal.

He died in the early 1700's and was buried near Massapequa Creek.  Interestingly, his family sided with the English in the Revolutionary War and the some of the Jones property was confiscated after the war and most of the remaining family went back to England.  However, some Jones remained and held on to some of the property.

As an aside, I ran into this interesting document that has some before and after pictures from Jones Beach (photos shortly after it opened and photos from today).  The pictures start on page 22.  I thought my Long Island readers would enjoy them.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Jones Beach and Robert Moses

Jones Beach.
Click for photo credit.
Since I've been back from China, I've been dealing with the "to do" list from hell and I've tried to find some balance by going to the beach when I can get a few hours of free time.  We've been going to Jones Beach which is on the South Shore region of Long Island.

The park is super-easy to access by the various parkways that lead to it, has a ton of amenities, and lots and lots of open space for sunbathing.  In a synergistic effort of work and relaxation,   I've been listening to The Power Broker, a book about the life of Robert Moses by Robert A. Caro while enjoying the beach.

It seems fitting to listen to a book about Robert Moses at Jones Beach.  Much of the landscape of modern Long Island is due to Moses' 20th Century vision.   But where did this vision come from?

Moses spent much of his life in New York City where he worked for various agencies associated with improving New York's government.  He came to the attention of Governor Al Smith and worked on a number of issues in state government.  During this time, he came to spend time in Long Island (Babylon in particular) and developed a vision for an integrated park system connected by parkways across Long Island.

Jones Beach today.
Click for photo credit.
Jones Beach became the center for much of his early vision for building parks across Long Island.  Manhattan was crowded and residents had little access to open parkland.  Plus in the 1920's there was little infrastructure to bring people to Jones Beach or to any other place on Long Island.  Thus, he needed to build parkways to bring folks from the city to the beach.  The resultant interstate and interconnected parkways system is the result of Moses' vision.

Robert Moses has been criticized for many of the projects he designed or advocated.  However, there is no doubt that Jones Beach is a world class park.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Last Chance to Submit Abstracts to Sustainable Suburbs and Global Cities Conference

We have been getting in lots of great abstracts for our upcoming Sustainable Suburbs and Global Cities conference that will take place at Hofstra in November of this year.  The keynote speaker is Robert Bullard, the Father of Environmental Justice.
Brooklyn Botanic Garden
Photo by Bob Brinkmann

If you are interested in submitting an abstract for the conference, please do not delay.  The deadline is upon us and we will soon close out the submission process.

For information on the conference and to submit an abstract, please see go here.  You can let me know if you have any questions.

If you are coming in from out of town, November can be lovely in New York.  It is the end of fall, so the weather can be iffy, but there are a number of beautiful natural attractions such as the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, Jones Beach, Planting Fields Arboretum, Hempstead Plains, and our campus' arboretum.  So, come for the conference, and stay to look around.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A Poem for Saturday

A Visit to Qiantang Lake In Spring
Bai Juyi (772-846)

Gushan Temple is to the north, Jiating pavilion west,
The water's surface now is calm, the bottom of the clouds low.
In several places, the first orioles are fighting in warm trees,
By every house new swallows peck at spring mud.
Disordered flowers have grown almost enough to confuse the eye,
Bright grass is able now to hide the hooves of horses.
I most love the east of the lake, I cannot come often enough
Within the shade of green poplars on White Sand Embankment.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.  Taken near Sanya, Hainan.



Friday, July 13, 2012

Hainan and Florida

A Hainan beach near Baoa, the site of the famous
Baoa Asian Forum on Hainan Island.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
While in Hainan, China, I worked with my colleagues on a project comparing tourism and sustainability in Hainan with Florida.  There are a tremendous number of similarities:  rapid late 20th century development, tourist economy, significant agricultural development, strategic significance, real estate booms and busts, and high rates of season visitors and in-migration.

Yet, each of these places is managing its environment differently.  In Florida, there is strong protection of the natural assets like beaches, water quality, and preservation of land and natural resources.  While Florida has issues in these areas, overall, it does a fairly good job.  Hainan, while making progress, does have a way to go in environmental protection.  In addition, Florida's current focus on economic development is on diversification of its economic base by promoting the development of high-tech industries and encouraging Fortune 500 companies to relocate.  This is challenged by Florida's relatively low education standards and overall quality of workforce training compared to national standards.  Hainan, in contrast is focusing on using tourism as a means of sustainable economic development.  They too have one of the more challenging work forces in their nation in terms of job training.  Thus, universities and other training centers are working at building basic service skills and environmental training.

A spring in a protected forest in Florida.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Nevertheless, Hainan could look to Florida for economic development options.  Some have called Hainan the Hawaii of China.  To me that is the wrong comparison.  Hainan is bigger (Hainan has an area of approximately 13,000 square miles and Hawaii has an area of approximately 11,000 square miles) the population is also larger (the population of Hainan is 8.7 million compared with Hawaii's 1.3 million).  Hainan is much more economically diverse.  Plus its setting on the edge of the Asian continent has parallels to Florida's geographic advantage.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Back from China and Thanks to Guest Blogger, Lisa-Marie Pierre

Overlooking the South China Sea
Well, I made it back safe and sound from the island of Hainan in the Peoples Republic of China.  The trip was very fruitful and productive.  More about that latter, but first of all a big thanks to Lisa-Marie Pierre who took on guest blogger duties while I was away.  One of my long-term goals for this blog is to invite a few other researchers who work on sustainability issues to add posts to On the Brink in order to provide more frequent and interesting content.  So, having Lisa-Marie guest blog was a first step in that direction.  I hope you enjoyed her fresh voice and perspective as much as I did.  One of the other goals I have for the coming year is to add a monthly interview/conversation segment.  I can't decide if I want to do this as a youtube video series or as an audio podcast.  But, know that I am looking at some upgrades to On the Brink.
I stood out a little so was often photographed.  They do
not get many westerners on Hainan--yet.
As you know, blogger is blocked in China and I was unable to update you on my travels and experiences in real time, so I will try to do a post or two this week on what I was up to and my overall impressions about Hainan and its role in the economic development of China as a major resort tourist destination.  However, let me just note today that Hainan is a beautiful tropical island off the southern coast of China.  While the culture is clearly Chinese, the tropical setting makes it feel somewhat Indochinese or even Pacific Island in nature.  I travelled to many locations on the island including our home base of Haikou, Bao (where the Asian Economic Forum is held), the resort city of Sanya, and various smaller towns and places.  I was struck by the rapid development of the island.  There are cranes and construction sites everywhere.  Even more than in the heady days of Florida's real estate booms.

The food was amazing.  When we went out to eat,
lots of food was ordered and we shared what was on the table.  Note those are fresh coconuts in the plastic bags.
The food was really quite good and fresh.  Hainan is considered one of the most important agricultural regions of China.  It is very much like Florida in this respect in that Hainan provides a great deal of winter produce to the rest of the island.  Because Hainan is more tropical than Florida, one sees a few more tropical fruit varieties than in Florida--such as dragon fruit, durian, and lychee.  They also have amazing seafood from the South China Sea.  

The resort area of Sanya.
I'll spend some time in an upcoming post discussing some of my official activities on the island, but for now, I just wanted to let you know that I am back.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Travelling While Green

Photo Credit: Anja Johnson

Over on the Ecocentric blog, they discussed eight ways to green a vacation. I love to travel and some of these tips are helpful to those who want to be environmentally friendly, yet still have a good time.

Some tips that stood out:

Eat locally and sustainably

When I have travelled out of the country, I have eaten both food prepared at the hotels and food prepared by locals. My best experience with eating locally has been while travelling to Haiti. The fish was freshly caught, the fruits picked from the trees, etc. The foods that we purchased or ate were from local markets and street vendors. I like how on the Ecocentric blog, they shared the Eat Well Everywhere tool, this tool allows you to map your route and find sustainable food stores, farms, hotels, etc.

Green your ride

I appreciate the tip to carpool, drive a hybrid, bike, take a train, but realistically, most people take airplanes to vacation spots. Traveling via transportation can’t always be avoided. In order to sustainably travel, than transportation industries, need to come up with innovative and environmentally friendly machinery.

Choose a staycation

Almost every week, I have a staycation. I like to ride my bike to local venues, take the train to different locations on Long Island. It allows me to see my hometown from another perspective, while also stimulating the local economy.

Stay somewhere green

The hotel industry has been making strides in reducing their environmental impact and is encouraging conservation methods. One method mentioned on the Ecocentic blog is to stay at Ecolodges or campgrounds. This seems like a good choice for the young, families, or those who enjoy adventures, but some individuals prefer the hotel scene. One option that could be green is using websites like airbnb or homeexchange. With these options, you can stay at someone’s home for a low cost or free. This helps with the options of eating locally, greening your ride, and having a staycation.


Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Happy Fourth of July

Fourth of July marks the anniversary of the United States’ independence from Britain. To each, this day means something different. It is a day of barbeques, fireworks, beach fun, concerts, and it also serves as a silent reminder of what it means to be free.

Photo Credit:  Bayasaa

For this Fourth of July, I leave you with links to various web articles about the holiday.

Today, Earth will be farther from the sun than on any other day this year. If today is cooler or warmer than normal, it does not have to do with the fact that Earth will be farther from the sun. Seasons are determined by the tilt of Earth not the distance from the sun. You can read more about this in the National Geographic article: Earth Farthest From Sun on Fourth of July—So Why So Hot?

Is there such a thing of energy conservation, recycling, and reduced emissions of atmospheric gasses when celebrating a holiday like the Fourth of July? Last year, I attempted to make our Fourth of July barbecue eco-friendly. I provided recycling bins and used reusable plates, but these efforts went over the heads of my guests. Guests still threw out the reusable plates and put napkins in the glass recycling bin. I would give myself an 'A' for effort, but 'C' for practicality. Can a holiday party be green? In  this  Griot article,  Stephen Cowell, discusses his personal story of  having the greenest Fourth of July. The Inhabitat website provides tips on throwing an eco-friendly fireworks show, using biodegradable barbeque supplies, and more.   National Geographic also has articles on Fourth of July myths debunked and great places to view fireworks.

How do you view the Fourth of July holiday? Are there sustainability implications while celebrating this holiday? Or is it  just a holiday that serves as an historic reminder of freedom and courage?