Friday, November 30, 2012

Funeral Feasts for Vultures in India?

Vultures in India.
Click for photo credit.
I ran into this interesting article from the New York Times detailing the plan to expand endangered vulture populations in India in order to allow them to consume dead Zoroastrians.  It was a tradition by this religion to have the body consumed by birds after death in order to allow them to not pollute the environment.  Cremation, India's most common form of body processing after death, is notoriously polluting due to the lack of cremation control in that nation.  However, there is interest in controlling not only crematories but also in finding ways to limit the impact of death on the environment.  India has 1.2 billion people.  They will have a big impact on the environment not only during life, but also upon death.  Can you imagine how to deal with 1.2 billion bodies in the course of 65 years--the average lifespan of an Indian?

Bodies can be polluting.  In France, the cemeteries were cleared during the French Revolution due to the fact that they were full.  Bodies were interred poorly in them leading to a variety of obvious problems.  In order to remedy this, many cemeteries were exhumed and bones placed in the Catacombs.  In the U.S. there have been cases of formaldehyde pollution near cemeteries that contain bodies embalmed with the chemical. In the 19th century, bodies were sometimes preserved with arsenic.

The Zoroastrian body disposal method is one that was also employed by some Native American groups.  Yet, with all of the chemicals we take in our modern world as prescriptions, particularly as we approach death, there is concern that our medications will cause harm to birds or other animals if they were to consume us.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

A Big Thanks for a Big November

Carved entry decoration outside of Hempstead House at
the Sands Point Preserve.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
I want to thank all of my visitors--both new and long-standing.  This November has seen the greatest amount of traffic to On the Brink of any month since I started it some time ago.  The number of visitors continues to grow.  I appreciate all of you who visit.  I love hearing from you too.  Please feel free to add comments or send emails.  I am always looking for new ideas.

Also, I am looking for some folks in my profession who might want to contribute as guest bloggers once in a while to share thoughts on sustainability, teaching, or the environment.  If you have any interest, or have a piece you would like to write, please feel free to contact me.

You may have noticed that my output on the blog is not at the usual daily pace.  This time of year is always very busy for professors--we have tons of grading, final projects, etc.  It's a great time, but it has slowed my efforts here a bit.  Thanks for your patience!

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Dancing Rabbit Ecovillage

A photo from the Dancing Rabbit
Ecovillage.  Click for photo credit.
Some of the members of the Dancing Rabbit community gave a talk here at Hofstra today.  The farm is really an ecovillage with 75 residents in northeastern Missouri.  The village is totally off the grid (sort of, they sell energy back to the grid) and uses 1/10th of the energy, water, etc. of most average Americans.  They collect water off of roofs, have composting toilets, and grow much of their own food.

For all 75 residents, they have 3 cars.  They have a bar and a bed and breakfast. 

The founders of the community located to the area because there are no building or zoning codes.  They could build green and dense without worrying about existing rules.  They are in the process of building a very large community center.

There are a nummber of successful examples of intentional communities and Dancing Rabbit is certainly one of the most impressive ones I've learned about lately. 

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Peru Bans Genetically Modified Crops and a Cursory Summary of GMO Crop Production in South America

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
In food and agriculture news, Peru has banned the use of genetically modified crops and ingredients in foods.  The move to ban genetically modified foods seems to be growing steam internationally.  The use of genetically modified organisms (GMO) is a highly controversial topic in agricultural and environmental circles.  Some support the use of them while others seek to ban them or require labeling.

The use of genetically modified crops is mixed in South America.  Ecuador and Venezuela have banned genetically modified seeds.  Brazil and Argentina, in contrast, are the worlds second and third largest producers of genetically modified crops (after the U.S.).

An emerging issue regarding genetically modified crops in Argentina (and other nations around the world) is seed saving.  One of the large criticisms of genetically modified crops is that it is illegal to save seeds from the crops for use in future harvests.  This is because the companies that developed the GMO's have patented them.  Thus, seed cannot be legally saved by farmers for future crops, making them entirely dependent in perpetuity to large agricultural companies for annual seed stock.  Argentina is looking at laws allowing farmers to utilize saved seeds.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Keys to Lighting the Empire State Building

One of the more interesting aspects of the Empire State Building's new gold rated LEED retrofit is that they have installed a complex new LED lighting system that can be used for light shows.  Alicia Keys is kicking off the light show tonight.  I could see some of the LED show way off in the distance tonight (I can see the very tip top of the Empire State Building from my house).  I am sure there will be lots of Youtube videos of the show available tomorrow.  I can't wait to see them.

LED lighting uses a fraction of energy that compact fluorescent bulbs use and they are much longer lasting.  So congratulations to the Empire State Building for having fun with with green lighting and pushing forward the uses of green technology.  Hopefully these lights will inspire.

Update:  a video of the light show is below:

Friday, November 23, 2012

Solar Generator Helps Hard Hit Rockaways

Portable solar generators like this one can bring power
quickly to areas hit hard by storms.
Click for photo credit.
I ran into this interesting story on Grist that details how solar generators are helping out on the Rockaways (a hard hit area of Long Island) where power still is not on after Sandy (at least as of the timing of the story).

The generator is a portable system that will power lights and small appliances for a few hours a day.  The panels and battery system are on a trailer that can be brought where needed.  This clearly is not a solution for everyone, but in the right circumstance, it can make a big difference--without all the noise of a gas generator.

The electrical and energy infrastructure Long Island was not prepared for the recent storm or the aftermath.  There is currently a great deal of discussion around how to make Long Island's energy system more resilient.  Given the length of time it took to get the power grid back up and working on Long Island there is growing interest in alternative energy sources and neighborhood-scale power generation.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Harvesting the Hofstra University Student Garden

Some of the radishes harvested fromt he Hofstra Student Garden.
There are tons more left to harvest.
I spent a big chunk of yesterday winterizing the Hofstra Student Garden and collecting some of the fall harvest.  This was the first time I was involved with a garden on the Hofstra campus, so I thought I would note down some lessons learned.  I've never gardened on Long Island before, so some things worked and some didn't.

1.  Several different plantings were done by different groups of students from August to September.  By far, the most productive plantings were those done in August.  They got a nice head start in the warm moist late summer weather.

2.  By far, the plant that did the best was radish.  I harvested a ton of them yesterday and there are lots more to harvest.  I was disappointed by the growth of the lettuce and kale.  I will get one harvest from each of them yet, but it isn't a big producer.  Next fall, I will probably turn 1/2 of the garden into a radish farm and try out some other fall growers (maybe different varieties of radish) in the other parts of the garden.  I think the spring will be much better for lettuce.  If we focus on radish production in the fall, we will produce a great deal of radishes.  I will need to find some place to take them or develop a connection with campus food service to utilize them.

3.  The student involvement in my class was mixed.  I tried to be a bit free form about how/when they interacted with the garden.  They were very enthused, but I don't think I gave enough detailed instruction.  I need to develop better content and projects based on the garden.  An interpretive sign will be going up soon by the garden.  I will need to have a place to put updates as to what is growing and how to get involved so that students who happen upon the garden have a way to reach out to contact me.

But, given that this is the first semester, I am pleased with the results.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Eagles 4 Kids Is Back!

Click for photo credit.
I got a note from my sister Patty about the Eagles 4 Kids webcam in Wisconsin.  It's back online for the third year.  We have been following the eagles for the last year or two.  If you are not familiar with the Eagles 4 Kids effort, it's the brainchild of teacher Mike Lawrence from Blair-Taylor Elementary School.  His 3rd and 4th grade students do all sorts of projects and videos around the eagles.  You can see the project website here.  They have a new camera with sound that should be operational soon.  The eagles have been stopping by the nesting site and should be getting it ready and cleaning it out soon.  I expect that the action in the nest will start accelerating soon.  I know that many of my readers enjoyed the updates I posted here.  Once they are nesting, they are really fun to watch.  I often have the cam on in the background while I work.

If you have any other interesting nature web cams you know of, let me know and I'll post them here.  One of the biggest draws to this blog over the years was a post I did on the rotting corpse flower webcam at Cornell University.  What a strange world we live in!

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Another Gulf Oil Platform Problem and BP Settles Deepwater Horizon Case

Deepwater Horizon rig fire.
Click for photo credit.
Another oil platform explosion and fire occurred recently in the Gulf of Mexico.  Thankfully, the rig was not operating and there wasn't any spill.  Two lives were lost.

The last major oil disaster in the Gulf was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill that covered huge areas in the Gulf with persistent environmental problems.  Just last week, BP was fined 4.5 billion and plead guilty to felony county associated with the deaths of 11 workers, with two employees charged with manslaughter.  You can read more about this here.  It was the largest settlement of its kind.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Long Island Smart Growth Summit Panel Reviews Hurricane Issues

I attended the Long Island Smart Growth Summit with students and
colleagues.  From left Taiyo Francis, Joanne Norris, me, Dr. Chris Niedt,
Lisa-Marie Pierre, and Dan Barbuto
 Yesterday I attended the 11th Annual Long Island Smart Growth Summit.  It is an all day event put on by Vision Long Island.  I sat in on a variety of excellent sessions, but the most interesting of them was a breakfast panel with many of the political leaders of the region.  The panel was moderated by Joye Brown, a columnist at Newsday and it focused on the status of the region after the hurricane, lessons that were learned, and steps that can be taken to limit the impact for the future.

The National Grid (Long Island's gas company) President, Kenneth Daly, was kicked off the panel by reviewing the status of the gas system.  He said there was more damage to the gas system in 8 hours than there was in the 100+ year history of the entire company.  

John McNally of the Rauch Foundation and resident of Long Beach spoke next and discussed the severe damage in Long Beach.  Nearly every home was flooded through the first story.  The beach and boardwalk are gone.  The ocean met the bay during the storm surge in downtown.  There is a 4 story pile of sand in downtown that contains sand removed from roads.

This is the type of mess that local governments are dealing with now.  This
is Long Beach, New York.  It is one of the island's hardest hit communities.
.Click for photo credit.
Then the politicians spoke.  What was clear to me is that there is a general sense that communities fared well if they were without power for 5-7 days.  Many considered themselves lucky compared with what their neighbors experienced.  However, discussion centered on the very extensive damage to the electrical utilities and to buildings from flooding.  Jon Kaiman, the Supervisor of the Town of North Hempstead noted that areas are experiencing more flooding because the rains are becoming more intense.  He said that the hurricanes over the last two years were one thing, but the intense rain storms that we are getting are also impacting the infrastructure.  Kaiman also noted that cell service was a problem.  The community tried to require cell towers to have generators and 2 weeks of fuel.  However, cell towers are federally regulated and the local government couldn't enforce this requirement.  So, it will take the federal government to make this requirement.  Given the importance of cell communication after a storm, this seems like a prudent and wise idea.

Ed Romaine, the Supervisor Elect in the Town of Brookhaven is seeking a total review of infrastructure in his community.  He was frustrated because they couldn't get the roads cleared in the community because power lines were down across roadways and downed trees and there were only three electrical utility crews immediately after the storm.  He was concerned because there was little coordination between the electrical utilities and the highway crews trying to open the roads.  There were not nearly enough electrical crews in his area for the magnitude of the problem.  He is also going to seek funds from the state to bury utility lines in key areas.

Frank Petrone, the Supervisor in the Town of Huntington was very vocal about the poor electrical infrastructure on the island.  He said that he spoke crews from outside the state that came to help who were surprised by the old infrastructure.  He also felt that there was a communications breakdown.

This communications issue was particularly highlighted by Wayne Hall, Mayor of Hempstead, one of Long Island's largest villages.  He was told to stop calling the electrical utility when he was trying to get answers.

Jack Schnirman, the City Manager of Long Beach is concerned about the costs to his community.  When he took over as City Manager, the city had severe fiscal problems.  The costs of the storm only add to these difficulties.

Scott Russell, the Supervisor of the Town of Southold and Steve Flotteron, a Councilman in the Town of Islip discussed the challenges in their community, particularly in the coastal areas.  There was severe damage in Fire Island and there are questions about how and if to rebuild in some areas.  There were fuel oil spills and damages to septic and sewer systems.

The local politicians discussed the need for a rethinking and modernization of the region's infrastructure and its importance for the overall economic success of the island.  There is no doubt that Long Island could have done a better job in this disaster.  In my mind, it is unthinkable that an island with its many resources and talents couldn't get the electricity back to tens of thousands of customers a week after the storm.  Given that we had a trial run with Irene last year, we should have been better prepared for the worst.  My hope is that the region's leaders will make the appropriate decisions in the coming months for the overall safety of the island so that we are better prepared for future storms.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Hypoxia in Long Island Sound

Hypoxia in Long Island Sound.
The colors represent the percentage of years that there was hypoxia in the
bottom waters of the Long Island Sound (1991-2011)
Image from the Long Island Sound Study.
Click for more information.
One of the major pollution problems in any water body near urban areas is nitrogen pollution from runoff.  Long Island Sound, particularly the western portion of the sound, has a serious nitrogen pollution problem that leads to hypoxia in some areas.  Hypoxia is a condition in the water where dissolved oxygen is reduced to the point that marine organisms are stressed and in some cases die.  The reason that oxygen is reduced in the water is complex.  You can read about it in detail here.  But, in short, algae thrives in the nitrogen-rich environment.  Algae blooms occur and create unnatural biogeochemistry in the water.  When the algae dies, the decaying process uses up disproportionate amounts of oxygen, thereby reducing oxygen levels for marine organisms.

There are a number of anthropogenic sources of nitrogen in Long Island, the most important being sewage treatment plant releases with storm water pollution the second most significant source.  Reductions of nitrogen in these sources are key to the overall health of the Sound.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Institutional Damage After Sandy LIPA Style

The magnitude of the problem for utilities is unbelievable.
How can we make our utlity systems more resilient and able to
address problems associated with major storms?
Click for photo credit.
One of the casualties from the Hurricane Sandy on Long Island is the reputation of the Long Island Power Authority (LIPA).  There are still thousands of customers without power two weeks after the storm hit.  I know folks who have been told the power is coming on only to find out that the information they were given from LIPA was incorrect.  A friend of mine with a new baby was without power for two weeks.

Obviously, this was a storm of epic proportions and it is a Hurculean task to try to get power back up to hundreds of thousands of people.  I am sure that things within the organization of LIPA are strained and difficult.  In the midst of all of this, the head of the organization resigned today and the Governor has said he is going to investigate how the utilites planned for the storm.  You can read about all of this here.

Within the last week there have been protests at LIPA's main offices and in communities that have not gotten power back.  There are even video protests that show the situation within a humorous light.  See below for one particularly entertaining video.

This region was hit by two major storms in two years.  Utilities in the storm ravaged south are pretty good at getting things back together after events like this.  It might be useful for the New York region to study how the southern utilities plan for major power outages brought about by these significant storms.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

EPA's Environmental Justice Online Mapping Tool

This is an example of the types of maps that can be created using
the EPA tool.  This one shows cancer risks in portions of Long
Island and the greater New York region.

Check out the EPA's environmental justice online mapping tool.  It allows you to create all kinds of interesting maps online that will show you anything from air pollution to cancer risks.  All you have to do is enter your zip code and start playing with the options that you'll see on the right side of the screen.

You can create a variety of different types of maps and it is a great teaching tool.  In addition, it is a great tool to help educate a local community about pollution, demographics, and the regulatory environment.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Hurricane Sandy Digital Photograph Project

Sand bags to the right probably prevented huge amounts
of water from getting into my basement.  The storm surge
debris line is shown in this image.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
The Hofstra University Library is undertaking a really interesting project where they are seeking to collect digital images of Hurricane Sandy.  I received this email about it below:

Hurricane Sandy Digital Photograph Project

As Hurricane Sandy was a weather event of historic proportions, the Long Island Studies Institute is making a public call for digital photographs that document the effects of this devastating storm on Long Island. Our plan is to preserve and arrange these photographs and, in the future, make them available to researchers. Should you care to contribute a digital image(s) to this project, please send it/them as e-mail attachments to  Any descriptive information (e.g., date and location) that you can provide will be greatly appreciated. As fellow Long Islanders we understand the gravity of this tragic event, and we pledge to process these materials with sensitivity and decorum.

Note: Please send only photographs of which you are the copyright holder. All photographs contributed to the project become the property of Hofstra University.

The Long Island Studies Institute, which is part of the Hofstra University Special Collections Department, is a major center for local history research.

If you have any photographs that document the impact of the storm, please send them in.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Marines Environmental Office

Click for photo credit.
A big thanks to all of the veterans out there for their service to our country.  Like many of my readers, I have several family members and friends who have served in the military and I am sure we are all grateful on this Veterans Day.

I thought I would take the opportunity to review some of one green aspects of the US Military.  I have written about the important role of the military in sustainability efforts before here and here.  But it is worth noting that the US Military is one of the leading institutions involved with environmental management and sustainability.  There are some obvious reasons why they would be involved so deeply in the field:  they are the largest energy user in the nation and they are responsible for managing many large tracts of land.  However, environmental issues are deeply integrated into most military operations.

Over the years, many of my students have worked in the environmental field for the military either as a consultant or as an employee.  Take a look at this Website of the Environmental Management Office for the Marines at Camp Lejeune.  

This text, quoted directly from the site, reviews their main mission:

• Uphold the Constitution and obey the Nation's laws. Complying with environmental laws is part of that duty.

• Protect the natural and cultural resources entrusted to MCIEAST-MCB CAMLEJ. The public's trust is precious and must not be violated.

• Implement pollution prevention initiatives, waste diversion, recycling, and waste minimization programs. Pollution prevention efforts will promote the use of products and processes that minimize exposure to hazardous materials.

• Assess and remediate contaminated sites aboard the Base that are the result of past disposal practices, and spills and leaks of hazardous materials and waste. MCIEAST-MCB CAMLEJ encourages public participation, facilitates cooperation, and exchanges information with parties of the investigation and remed iation process.

• Implement energy efficiency and water conservation management projects. We will reduce facility lifecycle environmental and energy costs through improving energy efficiency, utilizing renewable energy, and conserving water in new construction and maj or building renovation.

• Procure sustainable products, including bio-based, environmentally preferable, energy efficient, waterefficient, and recycled content products.

• Collaborate with local communities and regulatory agencies to enhance stewardship of the environment, create goodwill, and build trust.

• Educate our Marines, Sailors, and civilian Marines about their responsibility to protect our natural environment, stressing the important role each individual plays in an effective environmental management system.

It's an impressive list of activities and it shows the diversity of issues that fall within the mission of the environmental office of the marines that makes them always faithful to protect the environment.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Vision Long Island's Annual Smart Growth Summit on Friday

Long Island has lots of development like this that is suitable
for smart growth redevelopment.  Click for photo credit.
I'll be attending the annual Vision Long Island's Annual Smart Growth Summit this coming Friday.  It should be a great event.  If you are interested in attending, see this site.

Most of Long Island is essentially developed and the major opportunities for development are in redevelopment and densification.

The future of Long Island is highly contested.  Many want to retain the status quo and others want to transform the island through redevelopment of older neighborhoods, roadways, and downtowns.

There are issues with maintaining the status quo:  Long Island is too expensive, it is aging, and the demographics of the island are changing.  Yet, there are major obstacles to redevelopment due to NIMBYism, costs, and the declining tax base of the island.  Plus, the island is has a number of redevelopment opportunities in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy.

This summit provides an opportunity to discuss how best to move forward in the coming years.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Hovering Donut Makes News But Green Historic Preservation Takes the Cake

Click for photo credit.
You might have seen the interesting news from the Municipal Arts Society's (MAS) annual meeting in New York around the design competition for the area around Grand Central Station.  This part of Midtown Manhattan is in the process of being rezoned to allow for greater density and more high-rise buildings.  One of the more interesting (and in my mind unworkable) designs is of a giant donut platform that hovers between two skyscrapers.  The donut moves up and down the buildings to allow different views of the city for folks in it.  I'm sort of meh about it but it seems to have caught the public's attention.  You can read about it here.  It is sort of derivative of the London Eye and to me seems like the Eye of Sauron in the Lord of the Rings.  Especially from this vantage point.  Odds are, it will not get built since it was a design competition and not an actual funded project, but it is great to see ideas emerge.

One piece of information that did come from the conference that will have more lasting impact on the region is the new document titled Greening NYC's Historic Buildings:  Green Rowhouse Manual that focuses on how to preserve the rowhouses of New York while making them energy efficient and green.  There are sections on wall and roofs, windows and doors, heating and cooling, lighting and electrical wiring, plumbing and water efficiency, appliances and plug loads, indoor health, outdoors, fuel efficiency, and incentives and programs.  You can download the manual here.  It is a nice addition to the emerging practical information on green building and historic preservation.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Facebook Page for Sustainability Studies at Hofstra University + Fun Student Exercise

As my readers no doubt know, I am the Director of Sustainability Studies at Hofstra University.  We have a new Facebook page that you can see here.  This is the best place to get updates on courses/events/happenings/news related to the program.  If you have any interest at all, visit the page and "like" it so that you can get up to the date information, ask questions, or otherwise interact with others interested in the program.  For example, yesterday I posted information about an interesting in-class exercise my students did as part of a unit on green entrepreneurialism.

I asked them to brainstorm in small groups about how to develop a green business that addresses the needs that emerged as a result of the hurricane in our area.  There are still hundreds without power,  thousands of trees down, flooded and destroyed homes, gas shortages, and a myriad of other problems. The students were to design a business that addresses one of these or other problems with an eye toward making our communities more resilient.  

The students came up with some great ideas such as tree removal services that replanted lost trees and turned the downed trees into furniture or building materials, green fleets of vehicles that can be rented or used as jitney services in communities hard hit by flooding or gas shortages, creation of new building materials from waste products from the hurricane, and water filtrations systems built into existing homes that could use rainwater to provide safe drinking water year-round.
The winning team that developed the water filtration system
business plan.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

The students voted on their favorite idea and the winner was the water filtration idea.  The problem that many communities are having on Long Island (particularly Long Beach) is that they lost their public water supply system in the storm and residents had to evacuate due to the lack of safe drinking water.  The students' idea was to create an "off the grid" filtration system built into homes that filters and stores drinking water that could be used in an emergency for drinking water, but that could also be used to irrigate landscaping when drinking water is not needed.  There are a number of companies that have sprung up in recent years to help make people more resilient to disasters by providing ways to provide household energy.  The addition of water within this mix is innovative and my students reacted positively to this idea.  The photo of the winning team is here and on the Facebook page.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

My Advice to the President on Climate Change Policy

Click for photo credit.
I have heard from some friends of mine who are a little bit connected in Washington that the President intends to make climate change and sustainability policy an initiative in the coming four years.  Here's some small pieces of advice for him and his administration as he looks to the future.

1.  Study the local.  Because there has been scant leadership at the national level on climate change and sustainability there have been a number of strong initiatives at the local level that are worth studying in detail.  In particular, I would look to the Florida Green Building Coalition's green local government initiatives and New York City's PlaNYC.  Each provides examples of how to benchmark sustainability and greenhouse gas reductions in rational ways.

2.  Don't be too heavy handed.  Not every place is the same.  As national policy is developed, allow for variations based on geographic and political realities.

3.  Don't shy away from"cap and trade" approaches to greenhouse gas management.  When climate change policy went down in defeat four years ago, it was demonized as socialistic largely due to cap and trade policies.  For those of you who don't know, cap and trade is a very effective pollution reduction policy strategy that has largely eliminated acid rain problems in North America.  It has been around for decades.  The policy sets overall caps on a pollutant type in a region.  A region can pay to release more pollution than their cap to a region that is releasing less than their cap.  What this does is provide incentive and financing for pollution technology.  It is by far the most effective strategy for reducing greenhouse gases while moving us forward in the development of new advances in pollution reduction.  I don't see it as socialistic at all.  The ones moving the money around are typically the utilities.

4.  Don't worry about international treaties.  I know we have not ratified international greenhouse gas management treaties.  While I think it is important to work on international agreements, let's fix our national policy first before we worry about how we can negotiate with other nations on their approaches.  

5.  Educate the public about global climate change.  Let's start a national rational discussion around global climate change that brings together political and scientific leaders to educate the public about the realities of the problem.

Any other suggestions?

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Geothermal Energy and the Caribbean

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Using energy from Earth as a means to generate power is not a new phenomenon. Currently some Caribbean islands plan on using technology to tap into the earth's heat.  Nevis and the U.S. Virgin Islands are in the planning and negotiation stages of implementing a geothermal project.  The two countries plan on using geothermal energy to power electricity and potentially funnel the surplus energy to surrounding Caribbean Islands.

This sustainable and renewable source of energy could prove beneficial to Nevis and the U.S Virgin Islands in several ways; tourism, agriculture, and exports come to mind. However, the cost to construct the system is costly and takes time.  

These talks are still in the early stages, but I would like to see if other Caribbean Islands follow suit or if they will they purchase energy from Nevis and the U.S. Virgin Islands. 


Sandy Aftermath and Thanks

Some folks lost their homes due to tree falls and others
due to flood.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
It was a bit surreal to learn of all of the devastation in the area over the last several days.  As my readers know, we came home after evacuating to find our place thankfully intact.  Due to the lack of electricity, we didn't really understand how bad the situation was until recently.

Yesterday, Hofstra University reopened and I learned that there are dozens of faculty, administrators, and staff who lost their homes.  Likewise, many students have been impacted in many ways from losing work hours to losing their home or their parents' home.  One of my students showed me a photo of his house that had 8 feet of water in it.  He and his father are guarding the home at night to protect it from looters since most of the homes in the area are damaged and looting has occurred.  

Hofstra has set up all kinds of resources for people impacted by the storm.  You can see a list of these resources here.  In addition, you can make a donation to help the folks at Hofstra impacted by the storm here.

There are still lots of people without power across Long Island.  Gas lines are very long.  And many have lost everything.  We have a nor'easter heading our way tomorrow.  But, the area is resilient.  This too shall pass.

In other happier news, I have to welcome lots of new visitors to this blog.  The number of people viewing this blog keeps on increasing and I would like to thank all of you for visiting it, linking to it, and sharing it with your friends, family, and colleagues.  Welcome to the world of On the Brink.  If you have any interesting news you would like to share, or if you would like to be an occasional contributer, please let me know.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Environmental Artwork Removed from Wyoming Campus Amid Controversy

This piece by Chris Drury is very similar to the piece that
was installed at the University of Wyoming.  This one is
called Turning and was installed at the University of East
Anglia in Norwich, Norfolk England.  It doesn't look too
controversial to me.  Click for photo credit.
A piece of outdoor sculptural environmental artwork on the University of Wyoming Campus was removed over the summer at the request of donors and the University President.  You can read about it here and here.  It's been quite the controversy on that campus.

The piece, called Carbon Sink by artists Chris Drury, is organic in feel and spatially interesting.  Wood logs from trees that died from a bark beetle infestation are interspersed with coal in a commentary that is clearly environmental in nature.  The sculpture is visually appealing in a spiral vortex form within a grassy expanse of lawn.  The artist intended the piece to decompose naturally, but according to the article referenced above, it was removed due to complaints of donors associated with the energy industry.  There were threats from the legislature to cut the funding to the University unless the piece was removed.  Also, the Wyoming legislature passed a law that public art installations on the campus must be approved by the governor and the University of Wyoming School of Energy Resources Governing Board.

Take a look at the piece of art.  My guess is that if it were left alone, not much of an impact would be made beyond students thinking about the role of nature and energy in their lives.  The aggressive stance taken by donors, the Wyoming legislature, and the University of Wyoming is really stunning and ultimately harmful to the University.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Sandy and Climate Change

Mayor Bloomberg.
Click for photo credit.

There has been quite a lot of discussion around global climate change and Hurricane Sandy.  Mayor Bloomberg, for example, noted the role of climate change in the storm in his endorsement of President Obama last week as reported by the New York Times here.

After Sandy passed, when we were without power, I listened to a hand-crank radio to try to find updates on conditions in the area.  One of the stations I listened to was a sports station that switched from sports to taking calls from around the area to get updates on what was happening in the New York region.  One caller mentioned Bloomberg’s statement about climate change and the host countered by saying he does not “believe” in climate change.  He said he didn’t know enough about it and wasn’t comfortable with the idea that climate is changing.

I thought it was an honest answer, but one that seemed a bit odd given the mountain of evidence in the scientific community on global climate change.  There are thousands of scientific papers that document how the climate is changing and how it is impacting our planet.  The idea that one does not “believe” in climate change is akin to not believing in chemotherapy or wireless internet.  We trust our scientists and engineers to take care of our bodies and our technology.  However, a relatively large (but thankfully shrinking) number of people are hesitant to believe the scientific community on global climate change.  I find this so strange given the great deal of data.  Even one of the most vocal climate change denialists, Richard Muller, has now gotten on the climate change bandwagon.  Not "believing" in climate change infantilizes science and puts climate change on par with Santa Claus.  It would be much more honest to say that one doesn't know enough about it, or that one doesn't care if it is happening because it's a long-term process.

Click for credit.
I am not saying that Hurricane Sandy is a direct result of climate change.  It is but a single data point and climate is all about using multiple sources of data to understand long-term trends in weather patterns.  However, it is important to note that hurricane Sandy was a highly unusual event caused by the steering of high and low pressure systems that are geographically relatively rare during this time of year.  In addition, the changing Arctic and global sea temperatures changed the background conditions in which Sandy formed and moved.  While Sandy could have been a random event entirely unassociated with global climate change, it is worthwhile considering the alternate hypothesis.  The New York region is highly vulnerable to rising sea levels and other changes associated with global climate change and it is important to have a discussion around the region’s ability to manage and adapt to changing climate conditions. 

(Aside:  For a review of the current state of U.S. climate change policy, you can read about it in a paper I wrote with Sandy Garren here.)

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Hofstra's From the Outside In: Sustainable Futures for Global Cities and Suburbs Conference Postponed

Impacts of hurricane Sandy in Bayville, Long Island.
Click for photo credit.
We decided to postpone next week's conference on the Hofstra University Campus due to all of the problems associated with Hurricane Sandy.  The conference, From the Outside In:  Sustainable Futures for Global Cities and Suburbs, was to take place Thursday through Saturday of this coming week.

There are still many areas of Long Island without power and some folks who work at Hofstra have lost their homes or have had some other types of impacts from the storm.  There are very long lines at gas stations and we just didn't feel comfortable bringing folks into the area in this circumstance.

We will reschedule the event soon.  We will try to include sessions on suburban resiliency and some of the impacts of the storm on the area.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Images of Sandy on Manhasset Isle

I thought I would share some images of the aftermath of Sandy taken on Tuesday morning after the hurricane struck.

There was quite a lot of damage to sea walls in the neighborhood.

You can see how high the storm surge went by the debris field.  The
blue cans are torch fuel cans that washed onto our lawn.

One of my neighbors sandbagged their driveway that led to a basement garage.

Lots of people tied up grills, garbage cans, and tool sheds to railings.  My neighbor's toolshed
blew over before we evacuated and probably helped buffer some of the wind damage to our yard.

Our community dock seemed to survive okay.

This shell was by my back door and was carried as part of the storm surge.

Some of the construction sites in our neighborhood had some damage.

This is a common scene throughout Long Island:  wires and trees down blocking roadways.

Another common scene.

One of the neighborhood cats seemed to survive the storm with aplomb.

We knew things were coming back to a bit of normalcy on Wednesday when the Coast Guard  came ashore to
pull outone of their search and rescue boats at our nearby boat launch.

On Wednesday, some of the barges and docks were put back in place.

On Tuesday when we returned to survey damages, we were greeted with a double rainbow.

I spent a good part of Tuesday putting the yard back together.  We just got power back on, but our basement is still damp.  So, we still have quite a bit of work to do to get back to normal.  However, most of Long Island is still without power.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Why Was Manhasset Isle Spared?

When I left our home on Manhasset Isle in Manorhaven, New York, I was afraid it would be the last time I saw it.  The predictions were dire.  I saw reports of predicted storm surges ranging from 5 feet to over 15 feet.  We are on a very quiet bay (Manhasset Bay) in Long Island Sound and winds from Hurricane Sandy were expected to drag water toward the bottleneck of the sound near New York Harbor and fill bays like ours to unthinkable levels.  We evacuated Monday morning hours before it hit and the tide was almost over our sea wall as part of the normal full moon high tide along with the early impacts of the storm 12 hours before it made landfall.
The wind from hurricane Sandy drove water deep into Long Island Sound
from the east toward New York and into Manhasset Bay.

We spent the night at a friend's house and listened as trees and limbs fell, and as transformers blew well into the night.  We woke up early and hurried to see the damage and we were amazed that all was well.  It was clear that the storm surge made it to our front door, but it stopped before entering the house.  We had a small amount of water in the basement, and some sea wall damage, but we were intact.  Given all the warnings and the extensive damage elsewhere, how did we manage to dodge a bullet?

Winds from the east blew some of the waters of Manhasset Bay
from the eastern side of the bay to the west.  That saved Manhasset
Isle and caused extensive problems on Kings Point.
It turns out that the very winds that caused the surge to pile up water in western Long Island Sound drove the water away from our side of Manhasset Bay to Kings Point.  I heard via Twitter as the storm was approaching (this was before all cell service disappeared) that Kings Point had a storm surge of over 10 feet.    As it turns out, the surge was nearly 13 feet at its max.  On our side of the Bay, the surge was probably just over half of that.

The strong winds that toppled hundreds of trees and power poles across Long Island also blew the water across from Manhasset Isle to Kings Point.  There are reports from that area of terrible property damage and flooding.

We were certainly lucky.  A slightly different strike would have been devastating for us.  With hurricanes it's all about the local weather and microgeography.

A big thanks to our friend Debbi Honorof of Hofstra University for taking us in during the storm.  She provided tea, classical music, good food, and friendship to calm our nerves.