Wednesday, August 29, 2012

New Fuel Efficiency Standards Set for 2025

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
 The Obama administration recently announced new corporate fuel efficiency (CAFE) standards for 2025.  The new level is set at 54.5 miles per gallon as an average US fleet efficiency.  What this means is that there will be vehicles, like pick up trucks, that get significantly less mpg and others, like hybrids, that get significantly more mpg.  Overall, these standards are about what I expected to see coming out of Washington.  They are not particularly aggressive, nor are they regressive.  The standards resulted out of an agreement with major car manufacturers and the U.S. Government.  The only major car manufacturer that disagreed with the new levels is Volkswagon, a German car manufacturer.

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Many people do not realize that CAFE standards came out of the Arab Oil Embargo of the 1970's as a way to try to prod car manufacturers into making more efficient cars.  Fuel efficiency of automobiles and trucks have increased greatly over the last forty years as new technologies developed.  

The overall tone in the automotive press is generally positive about the new standards.  Take a look at this article from Motorauthority.  This magazine focuses on the luxury car market.  They note that the fuel efficiency improvements will not hurt the luxury car market and that the fuel standards will likely drive innovation.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Hofstra Discovery Group Puts in a New Student Garden

The Hofstra Ground Department prepared the surface of the garden by
rototilling it and taking out grass and weeds.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
One of the things I love about being a professor at Hofstra University is its student-centered culture.  The university is truly committed to solid educational experiences for students.  One of its unique programs is the Discovery Program run by Student Affairs.  The director of the program is Ashley Gray who does a great job putting the several day event together.

The students putting in the central paths and raised beds.  Photo by
Bob Brinkmann.
The Discovery Program brings new students to Hofstra before classes start for a variety of enrichment programs that seek to develop leadership skills, provide opportunities for service learning, and create experiences that will help them live more sustainable lives.  You can read about this unique program here.  It's really an awesome opportunity for incoming students to meet their peers and some of the campus leaders.

I was lucky enough to be asked to work with a subset of the Discovery Program students interested in sustainability and the environment and we decided to have them help put in the new student garden in the Netherlands housing area.

They were rather precise in their measurements.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
I put together a plan with the help of Hofstra's amazing grounds department led by Fred Soviero (if you haven't been on campus, you need to visit--the entire campus is like a botanical garden!) and Hofstra's Sustainability officer in facilities, Terry Greis, for the long-term maintenance of the garden.  We decided to focus on fall and spring crops with a nitrogen-fixing ground cover for the summer when students (and faculty) are not around very much.

So today, the students designed the garden with minimal directions from me.  I just asked them to create a central path and 12 raised beds.  Take a look at the photos at what they accomplished in just two short hours.  They created the paths, cut the borders, created the beds, planted some perennial flowering plants as a border (malvaceae, day lily, and mums), and planted seeds for fall crops (kale, radish, and a variety of lettuce).  The Hofstra grounds department installed a special watering system for the garden so it will get the appropriate watering.

No slackers in this group!
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Students in the Discovery Program can continue to participate in the garden, but it will also be developed by my intro to sustainability class and by students in Hofstra's Green Living and Learning Community that is housed in a building next to the garden.

Overall, this looks to be a great project that involves several different stakeholders.  

But, it was the students from the Discovery Program who did the initial hard work to put the gardens in place.  The students are from all over the country.  Two came from California and Arizona, but most were from the northeast.  Wherever they are from, they are an inspirational group of people!  

I look forward to working with them over the next four years and I am grateful that they were able to help me develop this garden for our students.

They did a great job in creating solid edges.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

They worked quite well as a team.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

They made pathways between the raised beds.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

They planted border plants to try to keep people from stepping on
the beds.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

They also planted vegetable seeds for fall crops.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

I couldn't believe how much they got done in two hours!
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

What a great group!  Photo by Terry Greis.
And funny!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Tampa Closing Down for Storm

Even a modest storm can lead to flooding of streets in
Tampa.  Click for photo credit.
Even though the track of hurricane Isaac is no longer targeting the west coast of Florida, many businesses and schools in the Tampa Bay area are closed today due to the storm.  For many who have not lived through a hurricane, I thought I would point out a few reasons that will be obvious to many of my readers who live in the Sunshine State or Gulf Coast.

1.  Flooding.  The right side of the storm typically has the heaviest rainfall.  If the storm is west of your location (such as the situation of Tampa with Isaac in the Gulf), you can expect some of the heaviest rains.  Because the Tampa area is a limestone landscape with many sinkholes and caves, water drains not through an integrated network of rivers and creeks, but through sinkholes that serve as bottlenecks for draining large volumes of water.  Many areas can flood and the urban infrastructure is easily overwhelmed in even modest rains.  Overnight, the area received over 2 inches of rain and more is expected.

2.  Power outages.  The power lines in Tampa are mainly above ground.  Electrical wires are strung from poles.  Wind gusts far from the center of the storm can be strong enough to blow down trees--particularly in saturated soils (see #1 above).  One single tree fall can knock out power to wide areas.

3.  Driving.  The combination of street flooding and power outages (think traffic signals) makes driving hazardous.

4.  Storm surge.  The last I looked, the Tampa Bay area is expecting a 2-3 foot storm surge.  This is something that most areas of the city can handle, but those along the coast may be impacted and some may need to evacuate.

5.  Overall safety.  Hurricanes are unpredictable.  I have great respect for their destructive powers.  While odds are, very little damage may happen in the Tampa area, the right thing to do is to make sure that people are safe.  Keeping people at home, off roads, and away from hazards are the right approaches to take.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Saturday Garden Blogging

To celebrate my recent Huffingtonpost piece, I thought I would post some photos from my garden in Florida.  I took these photos during my last visit a few weeks ago.  I'm currently in New York, but hoping the best for my friends in the Sunshine State as Isaac approaches.  May the skies be sunny and may your gardens be bright and cheery!

This is a cotton plant I have in my back yard.  It is part of the malvaceae, or mallow, family that includes things like hibiscus, cotton, okra, and durian.  I love this plant.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

My pomegranate tree has one lonely fruit.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

These are the cones of a native coontie, or cycad--one of the most prehistoric plants around.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
This is what the full plant looks like and yes, I know I need to do some weeding after the rainy season.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

This heliconia sprouted up from the neighbor's patch.  Fine by me!  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Bromeliads thrive in the Tampa Bay area.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

I love my banana patch, but it always gets hit each winter by light frosts.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

I planted these caladium bulbs a few years ago and they continue to thrive.  I bought them at the Caladium Festival down in Lake Placid near the Everglades.  If I am not mistaken, the Lake Placid area is the largest producer of Caladiums in the world.  The festival is worth a visit.  And it's this weekend!!  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Isaac Likely to Disrupt Republican National Convention

Hurricane Isaac is likely to disrupt things in Florida early next week.
 Many pundits are having fun noting that this is the second time in a row that the Republican National Convention will be impacted by a hurricane--Isaac to be exact.  They point out that many in the religious right have stating that hurricanes are God's punishment for evil ways.  This was most notoriously done by Pat Robertson after hurricane Katrina.  The pundits ask tongue in cheek whether the Republican party is being punished for some misdeed.

Of course, God is not punishing anyone.  Hurricanes form annually in the Atlantic and Caribbean and the entire Gulf Coast and U.S. southeast is aware that late August and early September is the peak time for their formation.  I could have told the RNC folks that they had about a 15% chance of being disrupted during the first day of the convention based on my own personal data.  Hurricanes are naturally occurring weather phenomena entirely predictable given the natural setting of an area.

During my 21 years as a professor at the University of South Florida in Tampa the first day of classes was cancelled three times.  When is the first day of classes?  Typically the Monday before Labor Day which coincides with the first day of the convention.  If they would have asked me, they would have known that they have a 3 in 21 chance (or roughly 15%) of having the city more or less shut down.
I'm worried about my friends and potential property damage to their
homes.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann. 

But those three days were not all the same.  In one instance, not much happened.  The hurricane missed us by miles and the university closed (for good reason) with an abundance of caution.  But hurricanes are tricky things.  I remember one that seemed to be missing us and I wasn't all that concerned.  I went down to Ybor City for dinner before it hit and everyone was sandbagging their doors and the restaurant patrons and staff were glued to the Weather Channel.  As it turned out, it was a very rough storm.

While I do not know what will happen on Monday, I do know that Florida will in some way be impacted.  This whole hurricane thing seems like an entirely Florida story if you know anything about the strangeness of Florida culture and politics. If you've read Tim Dorsey or Carl Hiaasen, you can understand what I mean.  A hurricane hitting the Republican National Convention is right out of one of their plot lines.

But think about the economic impact to Tampa.  I have many friends in the hospitality industries who will be hurt if the convention moves, is delayed, or in some other way is impacted by the storm.  Plus, I have a house in Florida and many friends.  Hurricanes can do some pretty awful things.  I hope the convention goes off without a hitch and that everyone is safe and sound.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

What We're Building at Hofstra University in Sustainability Studies

Check out this video.  It showcases the kinds of things we are doing at Hofstra University in the area of sustainability.  Please contact me if you are interested in the program.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Green Tampa and "America's Hottest Mess"

A landscape of sprawl in Tampa.  Click  for photo credit.
I was poking around to see if the Republican National Convention highlights any green or sustainability initiatives and I didn't see very much.  The same is true of the Democratic National Convention.  It is common for large conventions to have some focus on trying to reduce the impact of the event on the environment.  However, I couldn't find anything explicitly focused on the environment for either convention.

However, both groups do have components of the convention that could, I suppose, be packaged as somehow sustainable.  The RNC, for example, has a great deal of online information for people who want to experience the convention without traveling to it.  This reduces travel and therefore greenhouse gas emissions.  The DNC, in contrast, has a strong focus on community-based service projects and information on how vendors can take part in the convention.

Yet, neither convention gets the Brinkmann seal of approval.  Perhaps the information is out there that describes what they are doing for the environment, but I could not find it.  So, I thought I would take a look at the host cities.  Today, Tampa.

Tampa gets a great deal of bad press for being a sprawling mess of a city.  Salon recently called Tampa "America's hottest mess" and a "disaster" due to its poor planning, lack of infrastructure, and overall lack of interest in paying for improvements.  I urge you to read the article.  Some of my friends are quoted in it and I think the reporter makes some good points.  However, Tampa is also a very interesting place if you take the time to get to know it.  The city is sort of like a Chuck Palahniuk book. It is strange, sometimes disturbing, interesting, and ultimately an acquired taste.  It has an odd cultural mix.  I remember seeing a nice production of the well-regarded off Broadway show Vampire Lesbians of Sodom at a strip mall in Tampa.  It is the home to death metal.  The goth community is off the chart (even though it's almost always hot and sticky).  There is a giant underground Santaria movement.  The art scene is one of the most avant guard in the U.S.  It is home to some of the most conservative churches in the country.  It is also home to some of the most notorious strip clubs in the world.  It's also a place that lots of regular folks call home--if they were able to hang on to their home, for Tampa is also one of the leaders in foreclosures.

And Tampa is committed to sustainability.  For all of the problems that gave it the name America's Hottest Mess, the city of Tampa has made a commitment to going green.  It has a sustainability officer, it is rated Gold by the Florida Green Building Coalition, and it has undertaken a number of initiatives to improve its environment.  Take a look at some of the city's accomplishments here.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Temple Terrace Florida and the Creative Class

The Hillsborough River flows through the middle
of Temple Terrace.   Click for photo credit.
Cities all over the world are trying to portray themselves as somehow tied into the creative class--a group of people defined by Richard Florida in his book, The Rise of the Creative Class.   The creative class is often described as a young, highly educated, hi-tech group of people interested in urban living, creativity, diversity, and opportunity.  They expect certain things from their cities:  parks, museums, cafes, and opportunity for interaction.  

Many communities try to attract the creative class, individual members of which are often called creatives, in order to drive economic development.  The creatives tend to be highly paid, entrepreneurial, add value to the community, and create economic opportunity for others.

If you look on the website of many communities, often ones that are trying to improve their local economies, you'll find that they have a video that reaches out to try to attract creatives by defining their city as a cool open place with an abundance of opportunity for work, play, and creativity.

Take a look at this video from Temple Terrace Florida where I spend quite a bit of time.  It's a lovely community with many assets.  See how many creative class themes are within the video.  If you know Temple Terrace, do you think it was portrayed accurately?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

A Mini- Low-Tech Hydroponic Garden

I've been thinking of a good icebreaker exercise for my Introduction to Sustainability class this fall.  One of our big projects will be some planning around the new Hofstra student vegetable garden.  So, I thought a good first day group project would be the construction of a small low-tech hydroponic garden system.  I learned how to make these at the Long Island Small Farm Summit.  I thought I would share the ideas below in case anyone wanted to try it out.
First, gather your supplies.  You'll need an empty plastic bottle, cotton rope (this is important--it must be cotton), perlite, peat moss, seeds, a hydroponic nutrient solution, scissors, and a serrated knife or saw.

Cut the bottle roughly in half with the serrated knife of saw.  The part with the hole should be a little shorter than the bottom.

Place the top inside the bottom.  It shouldn't go down all the way.

Cut three pieces of rope about 1 inch shorter than the heigh of the bottle and 1 piece of rope about an inch shorter than the others.  This is not rocket science.  I just eye it.

Using the smaller piece or rope, tie the other pieces of rope together.  I used three knots to make sure that the knot is big.  The knot holds the rope in place in the bottle hole.  You may need to use a larger rope if you have a wide hole bottle.

Place the rope in the bottle.

The rope strands should reach the bottom of the bottle, but should not extend out of the top.

Mix the perlite and peat moss in a paper bag.  I used half of each.

Add your nutrient solution to the bottom of the bottle.  Do not extend over the top of the bottom half.  The rope will wick the moisture to the soil above.

Add your soil mix and add a little bit more of the solution mix to wet the soil.  The rope strands should be separated within the mix.  

Plant your seeds.

I bought some inexpensive decorated boxes to hold the completed bottles.

But, I am getting shoe boxes that I will have the students cover with paper that we find in the garbage on campus.

I planted mine yesterday and I keep looking for germination.  I'll post an update as these grow.  I planted lettuce and peas, but I also have lots of herbs to plant.

The planting system is not particularly lovely on its own, so I think a decorative box is a great way to put lots of them together for an herb garden.

Nice, right?
The thing I like about this project is that one has the potential to teach a variety of basic sustainability concepts using this system and it is super fast to do.  It has an environmental component, it has an economic development component (what do you think we could sell these for on campus), and it has a social component (can the funds support a student organization or community group?).

Saturday, August 18, 2012

After the Farmers Market

I received some personal notes from some of you after I posted earlier today about my local farmers market.  You asked me what I bought, so here is the aftermath!
I bought mussels from the fish guy and made a nice mussel soup with some
cilantro, pepper, onion, and beer.

My neighbor Randy made this nice arugula and tomato salad.

I made a plum tart.....

....and it turned out great.

I also bought some bread (left) next to my home-made bread (right).

At the end of the day, the weather turned out fine for the low tide.  Another successful Saturday!

Saturday Farmers Market Blogging

We have a nice organic farmers market in Port Washington that I try to go to when I can.  This morning my neighbor Randy and I met early to visit the market together.  We were intrepid because it was raining quite a bit.  Hope you like the photos.
Three different types of beets.  According to Tom Robbins, they are the
most intense of vegetables (Jitterbug Perfume reference).

The tomatoes in this market are the best!!

I love that our farmers market sells great breads.  There's normally a pasta guy too,
but the rain must be bad for the pasta harvest.

The rains didn't scare away the Port Washingtonians.  We are like honey badgers
when it comes to farmers markets.

Can you find two kinds of okra in this picture?  Did you know that
there are two kinds of okra?

This is what you can look at as you buy.  The market is located by the Town Dock.