Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Video of 14 Foot Long Python Caught in Florida

Check out this video from Florida of a phython that was caught this winter in south Florida.  All I can say is WOW!!  I've posted several times about the python problem in Florida.  If you are interested, you can search the blog for phython and find other entries.

Denali National Park

As part of our series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks, we travel to Denali National Park in Alaska.  For more information about the park, click here.  We'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order.  If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along.

The Bliss of Solar on Military Bases

A solar energy installation on the roof of a dining hall at Fort Bliss.
Click for photo credit.
According to the El Paso Times, the Fort Bliss military base is seeking to be energy independent in the coming decades and is building that largest solar home community in the world on its base.  Within three years, 4400 homes will get solar panels on the base.

They also have an aggressive campaign to improve the state of the military housing on the base by developing three new parks with 20,000 new trees.

I've been saying for years that the military is one of the greener American organizations involved with sustainability.  This example from Fort Bliss confirms my assertions yet again.  While it could easily be argued that their mission activities have negative environmental consequences, the regular day to day operations of the military continue to become more impressive for those of us looking for aggressive change in behavior and practice.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

BP Could Payout More than 18 Billion Dollars

The Deepwater Oil Spill as seen from the International Space
Station.  Click for photo credit.
The Tampa Bay Times is reporting on the start of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill trial.  I expect that the Times will have some of the best coverage of this trial and you may want to bookmark the paper to get updates if you are interested in this issue.

BP could end up paying out more than 18 billion dollars if the judge decides to impose the maximum penalty. 

This case is fascinating due to various issues.  To me, the most significant one is the overall responsibility a company has to the long-term environmental devastation in a region.  Reports of long-term impact seem to be in the news with relative frequency. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

We Eat Horses, Don't We?

The Iconic IKEA Swedish meatballs dish.  Click for photo credit.
There has been a spate of articles about horse meat showing up in the supply of various meat producers in Europe.  The latest is a report that horse meat is showing up in the iconic Swedish meatballs available at IKEA in Great Britain. 

I don't personally have an issue with eating horsemeat, but a taste of mane is not what most people expect when they order a meatball or hamburger in the United States.

The cause of this mixing of meat is the nature of the modern meat processing industry.  Most of the meat produced in the U.S. and Europe is processed in a handfull of facilities.  The ground meat that is available in most grocery stores today is shipped vast distances from single processing plants.  Because the plants handle so many animals, the hamburger you eat probably comes from several animals. Some European meat processing plants include horses in the processing.

So to me the "ick" factor doesn't come from the fact that horsemeat is making its way into the food supply.  My "ick" factor comes from the sad state of the meat processing world that grinds away thousands of animals in places far from the points of consumption using highly unsustainable methods.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

This Blog Post Is So Stupid

Internet lurkers who post negative anonymous comments
 influence readers' perceptions.
Click for photo credit.
In a study with an outcome unsurprising to anyone, University of Wisconsin researchers have found that negative comments on a blog create overall negative perceptions about the blog content.  I can't say that I'm shocked.  Most blogs and newspapers provide some degree of moderation to prevent anonymous bathrobe wearing freakazoids from throwing up all over them.  I stopped reading several online news sources over the years due to the crazy comments that were posted on them.

So, if anyone ever wonders why I moderate the comments on this blog, let me explain.  It is to prevent crazy comments from intruding into this space.  I certainly welcome comments that disagree with the point of view of this blog and I promise to post them.  However, anything that is negative, name calling, or disparaging will not be posted.  It must be noted, that I don't get very many comments I have to block.  Indeed, the requirement to have comments moderated provides a level of filtration from those who drop negativity bombs.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Tampa Has All the Hot Chicks-No, I'm Not Being a Misogynist

These feral chickens are a well-loved fixture of Ybor City
in Tampa.  Click for photo credit.
As part of the trend for bringing food production closer to the consumers, I read with interest that the City of Tampa just approved chickens within the city.  You can read about this development here.  Many communities are allowing homeowners to keep a limited number of chickens for fresh eggs and meat and Tampa joins the growing list of places that are friendly to local urban chicken production.  Here's some more information about backyard chicken production.  Many have advocated not only backyard chicken production in cities, but also beekeeping and goats!

Friday, February 22, 2013

Friday Fox Napping

It's Friday and therefore time for silly videos.  Today, it's Friday Fox Napping!  Given the crazy week, I could use a catnap, but this fox has a jump on the weekend!

Are We at the Start of a Food Revolution?

Click for photo credit.
Many of us in the sustainability community have been urging a switch in food consumption patterns and it appears as if the change is starting to occur.  Indeed, we might be at the start of a significant food revolution.  Two news items caught my eye that lead me to think that the green food movement might be more significant than I thought.

The first news is out of the Centers for Disease Control and focuses on the reduction of calories of young people in their diet.  As I am sure you know, one of the most significant public health problems of this era is youth obesity.  Diabetes, heart disease, and other health problems are increasing among the very young due to the unhealthy nature of the current American diet.  But, it appears as if this trend is starting to reverse.  The caloric intake among the young is starting to decrease.  It's not a huge change, but it represents a reversal of the trend of growing obesity.

The second one from Grist.org focuses on the growth of the local food movement in Bozeman Montana.  A food co-op there is doubling their local food sales, thereby making it possible for small local organic farmers to thrive.  Could this be the restart of the small family farm?  As I've discussed in previous posts, the family farm of the past is the corporate farm of today.  Some of the large farm operations are notoriously polluters.  Plus, because they are run by individuals with temporary interests of the land, they are not the best land managers when it comes to water use, soil preservation, and ecosystem management.  So, this focus on local is a welcome addition.  This information adds to the growing data on the growth of the local food movement.

It appears as if the American diet that emerged in the last 20 years--highly processed food, factory farmed meats, and high-salt, calorie, and fat content meals--may be on the wane.  If you haven't read Michael Pollen's book, The Omnivore's Dilemma, I highly recommend it for some entertaining, non-judgmental reading on the topic.  You can buy it through the Amazon link on the lower right..

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Good Food Revolution - Common Reading Book at Hofstra

Each year, a committee at Hofstra University selects a book nominated by faculty to be the common reading book.  I was excited to learn that the committee selected Will Allen's book, The Good Food Revolution (nominated by yours truly).  To learn more about this book see the video below.  I met Will Allen at last year's Long Island Small Farm Summit.  Will Allen is the brains behind Growing Power in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Creating a Sustainable Landscape

Hofstra's office of Continuing Education is offering a 2-hour course next week called "Creating a Sustainable Landscape" taught by Vincent Simone, the Director of the Planting Fields Arboretum.  He is offering 3 other courses over the next month or so with Hofstra's Continuing Education.  People who sign up for 2 or more courses will get a private tour of planting fields let by Vincent Simone on Saturday, April 13.  Here is the link for more information.  It's a clear sign that spring is on the way!!
Photo by Bob Brinkmann at Planting Fields Arboretum.

Photo by Bob Brinkmann at Planting Fields Arboretum.



Climate Rally and Leaking Nuclear Waste

The Director of the Sierra Club under
arrest at the White House.
Click for Photo Credit.
I'm sorry that I didn't post over the last few days.  My computer had a melt down and I am just getting back into Cyberworld.

Two events sparked my attention over the weekend.  One was the Sierra Club's climate rally in Washington D.C. and the other was the news of a nuclear waste leak.  Let me start by writing about the Sierra Club's climate rally.

Over the weekend, 40,000 people attended the big climate rally in Washington D.C. (including several Hofstra students).  What is interesting about the Climate Rally is that the Sierra Club has always been a relatively passive organization around the environment.  They are the Gandhi of environmental organizations in that they have tried to be relatively quiet in their activism.  This foray into vocal organized protests is relatively unusual for them.  I was really surprised to hear of the arrest of the executive director of the organization due to a protest action at the White House.  This is not your parent's or grandparent's or great grandparent's Sierra Club.

One thing that I have to point out is that as usual, the anti-climate change people made fun of the event and noted that it took place on the coldest day of the year in Washington.  Years ago, these types of statements might have had some impact, but now it makes the reporters and commentators seem ignorant and ill-informed.  Indeed, they seem anti-science and anti-American.  Do we really want to harm our nation by ignoring scientific fact?  

In other news, the New York Times reported on a leaking storage tank of nuclear waste in Hanford, Washington.  As my readers know, I am not a fan of nuclear energy or weapons due to the large amount of associated long-term hazardous waste.  I think that the leaking storage tank is a hint at the kind of problems that we will face for hundreds of years as a result of the use of nuclear materials over the last several decades.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Hofstra Harlem Shake

In the spirit of Friday night silliness, I give you some Hofstra students' (unofficial) version of the Harlem Shake.  If you are not sure what the Harlem Shake is about, I present wikipedia.

Friday Dog Dancing

Well, it's Friday and it has been one heck of a busy week.  So, what does one post at the end of a busy week?  A dog doing the mambo of course!  Enjoy your weekend!!

NY Rising

Governor Cuomo yesterday on Long Island.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York and his team developed a new vision for New York called NY Rising.  You can read it here.  The Governor is traveling the state to give speeches about the plan and I was invited to the one he gave on Long Island yesterday.

What is interesting about Governor Cuomo is the overall bipartisan successes he has had with the New York legislature.  The state is in stark contrast with the depressing gridlock in Washington.  Cuomo highlighted this yesterday and there were both Democratic and Republican legislators who spoke before Cuomo noting the overall success of the state's efforts on a number of fronts.

Cuomo spoke at length about many issues, including gun control, equality (he was particularly strong on his discussion on woman's rights), and education, but I was most interested in his statements on economic development, the environment, and storm recovery.

The Governor highlighted his efforts on economic development by noting that New York is not one region.  It is has many different types of economies in many different areas.  He highlighted the work of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council's plans (for full disclosure, I am on the writing team for the plans) in revitalizing the way we are conducting economic development in the region.  He noted that he the state is developing special economic development zones with distinct business friendly policies, reducing taxes, and making the state very business friendly.

In terms of the environment, Cuomo was silent on the whole fracking controversy (there were protestors against fracking outside of the event).  However, he discussed the importance of reframing the way we think about storm recovery in light of the two recent hurricanes and the flooding associated with the nor'easters we had this winter.  He was firm in asserting that climate change is real and that we are moving into a period of great uncertainty with our weather.  He provides clear ideas for managing the storm redevelopment in the plan.  For example, homes should be rebuilt to better standards in flood zones.  Also, if a home is damaged significantly, and the residents do not want to rebuilt, the state will buy the property and ban development on it in perpetuity.

There were many more details in the speech, but I thought I would highlight some of my take home items that I got from it.  The Governor clearly has a vision for moving New York ahead in a business friendly and progressive path.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Green Valentine's Day Blogoversary


It's my blogoversary!  This was the very first post for "On the Brink".  It was done while I was teaching at the University of South Florida before I moved to Hofstra.  It is a fun post and seems fitting today!  Enjoy:

I asked my students to come up with a list of 10 ideas for individuals who were looking for green approaches to celebrating Valentine's Day.  Here are their top 10:

10.  Shower together.  This is an obvious one.  However, it is not green if you stay in a long time and use up all the hot water.

9.  Break up.  We know that one aspect of sustainability is the reduction of consumption.  If you are not dating or married during Valentine's Day, there is no need to buy anything.

8.  Candles.  Nothing says romance like turning out the lights and having a candlelit evening.

7.  Plant a love tree.  Did I mention that I teach in Florida?  This one is a bit hard in the north.  Do not use lots of power to thaw out the ground to get this one done! 

6.  Pot Luck Super Party.  I love this idea!  Why not share the love and have a potluck with all of your friends and family?  To make it even greener, make it meatless!

5.  Picnic.  Nothing says sustainability like finding a romantic place outside to have a picnic!  Did I mention I teach in Florida?

4.  Grow your own flowers.  Most flowers purchased during Valentine's Day are not grown locally.  Their transport uses lots of greenhouse gases.  So, go ahead and show your love.  Plant some flowers!  Nothing says romance like a garden!!

3.  Go for a tandem bike ride.  For those in the north, there are toboggans.

2.  Farmers market dinner.  Go together to a farmers' market and browse for things to cook together.  You'll be eating local and supporting local business.

1.  Catch and kill night.  A big tenet of the modern sustainability movement is eating local.  Plan an outing by going fishing or hunting with your loved ones and eat what you catch!  For the vegetarians, see 2 and 6 above.

Monday, February 11, 2013

John Muir Quiz

I am talking about John Muir in my class today.  So, I thought I would give a quiz today to test your knowledge about his early life.

1.  Where was John Muir born?

2.  Where did John Muir grown up?

3.  John Muir was injured in a factory accident when he was a young man.  How was he injured.

4.  According to Muir's writings, what was the first mountain range he experienced?

5.  The first major "walk" he took was a 1000 mile trek to this major water body.  What was it?

6.  After his 1000 mile walk, he got very sick.  What was his illness?

7.  When Muir recovered, he went to California by ship.  To which city did he sail?

8.  How old was Muir when he arrived in California?

9.   When he first arrived, what job did Muir have in California to support himself?

10.  Who inspired him to think more deeply about his writing after meeting in California?


See comments on this post for answers.


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Death Valley National Park


As part of our series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks, we travel to Death Valley National Park in California.  For more information about the park, click here.  We'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order.  If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along.

Scenes from a Blizzard

We had about 12-14 inches of snow on the North Shore of Long Island in Manorhaven on Manhasset Isle on Friday night into Saturday morning.  I spent most of Friday in the middle part of the island near Hofstra.  I didn't start heading home until the snowstorm was in full bloom.  Most of the day from Hofstra to the south, it rained.  So, when the snow started falling, it was an icy mess.  However, it started snowing much earlier where we live, so when we drove home, we dealt with bad road conditions.

Shore Road in Manorhaven.  It was an icy slushy mess around 7 pm on Friday.

When we got home, we found about 2 inches of snow had fallen:

Our backyard at night in the snow.

But then it really started to come down:
The snow continued to fall all night long.  There were breaks in the storm, but the accumulation continued until around 5:30 am.

When dawn broke, we were treated to a lovely winter scene:


It wasn't very cold (we are supposed to be in the 40's this week) so shoveling was fun!  It was my first blizzard in over 20 years, so I really enjoyed the experience. I might not say that for the next one!

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Learning from Sandy-A Special Report by Neil Schloth

Note from your Editor:  the following account was submitted for publication in On the Brink by one of my Hofstra students, Neil Schloth.  I am posting this on the 100 day anniversary of the storm.

Neil Schloth, after the storm.
  There are some things in this world that cannot be taught or learned from others, but must instead be experienced on one’s own. One such instance of this comes in knowing the feeling you get when learning that nearly everything you once held dear is now gone; destroyed by forces far beyond your control. This was the realization made by storm victims far and wide upon discovering the insurmountable damage caused by the now infamous Hurricane Sandy. While some have called it “a once-in-a-lifetime storm of the century (ABC News,)” others regard Sandy as the preamble to a new malevolent annual cycle of super-storms, brought on by excessive human consumption of natural resources and linked to global climate change. Though devastation left in the wake of Sandy is a true tragedy still fresh in our minds, we must never forget that there are lessons to be learned here. Storms such as these teach us that humans must form a better, more symbiotic relationship with this incredible planet we take for granted everyday. These topics shall be explored throughout this paper as we detail the devastation left by Hurricane Sandy, demonstrate how sustainable technologies could have changed what transpired, and what can be done to avoid disasters such as these from happening again in the future. As Marshall McLuhan once said,  “There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth.  We are all the crew,” and it’s about time we all get to work.
               My hometown is in Lynbrook, NY, located about 1 mile from the south shore of Long Island. That one-mile separating my house from the water is the town of East Rockaway; home to the majority of my friends, and also my former high school. Though its total area may be only 1 square mile, and it hosts the smallest high school in all of Nassau County, East Rockaway is a tightknit community filled with individuals who know the values of teamwork, camaraderie, and helping one another. If it were not for the strength of these unyielding moral convictions, seen both here and throughout the entire region in light of recent events, damaged communities may not have begun to recover with the same level of tenacity as quickly as they did.
In the days leading up to the Hurricane, only one thing was on the minds of those who perceived this storm as a real threat: prepare for the worst. While many were encouraged to take similar precautionary measures last year when faced with Hurricane Irene, the damage ended up being far less than many feared. Through such over-exaggerated weather forecasts, threatening disaster while actually resulting in little or no damage, people have gradually become apathetic to these dramatic warnings, with the thought that these storms could never affect them. Residents across the northeast who did not anticipate such a catastrophe were among those who lost the most at the hands of Sandy, especially those who live/lived along the water.
One of my closest friends, Dylan Gross, was among those who lost almost everything when the floodwaters consumed his town, his house, and everything he had once called his own. Living only a few short blocks from the bay, Dylan and his family have grown accustomed to some flooding in the area. Some of the more powerful storms have caused flooding on streets closer to the water, while the aftermath of Irene last year resulted in floodwaters rising to their front lawn at high tide. Thinking the worst has already past, the Gross family thought they had been through storms like this before, and been able to manage just fine. Like many others soon realized, Sandy was a whole different species of Hurricane compared to previous storms.
By the time high tide hit around 10pm, the Gross’ realized their basement was rapidly being filled with murky water that had already engulfed the streets. Not only did the basement house a lounge and kitchen for the family, but also Dylan’s own room. As the minutes crept by, the water continued to rise, eventually submerging and destroying all of the cars in town. My father, a member of the East Rockaway Fire Department, went out with his fellow firemen on rafts into the areas of town along the coastline. With all forms of electronic communication down, the only way to locate those in need of rescue was to listen for their cries of help behind the sound of vicious rain. Even one woman nine months pregnant needed to be rescued and evacuated by boat, while her house was engulfed by the surge. At the peak of the storm, the entire basement and first floors of some homes were completely submerged, as water levels reached eight feet deep on local streets. By the time morning came, everything Dylan had ever owned had been soiled by polluted dirty water, while the overall damage was beyond incalculable. The question now remains; what we can do to avoid a disaster such as this from devastating our lives again in the future?
Centuries ago, new civilizations on the coast of India were greeted each summer by a series of destructive monsoons that destroyed crops and uprooted efforts of development. Over time, this seasonal trend has been predicted, allowing for preventative measures to be in place to ensure the most efficient management of these natural forces. Given the frequency of devastating natural disasters in recent history, we must now accept that our planet’s climate is changing, and that we need to now take preventative measures to ensure we are ready for the problems that will come along with such. Sandy’s effects have struck a chord in society that has led many to deduce the reality of climate change, and that super-storms such as these are becoming less of a theory and more the reality for our generation. Given this knowledge, would one consider it wise to build communities and cities so closely to the water of an area that is prone to flood? Though we cannot simply move places like Atlantic City to avoid future flooding, we can encourage future development to occur in places that will not be as easily affected by more powerful hurricanes.
Achieving this goal requires increased smart growth (concentrates growth in compact walkable, transit-oriented, urban centers) in areas further inland, while creating new, innovative ways of protecting infrastructure from severe flooding in communities bordering water. The ideals of smart growth are inspired by the philosophy that future generations should have the right to experience the beauty of nature that we are privileged with today, however in order to ensure they do, we must preserve undeveloped lands and not continue to destroy any more resources than we already have.  Hence, by concentrating development in a smaller area, and creating more areas for work, living, and entertainment all within that area, individuals are inclined to walk or bike rather than use cars, thus helping the environment in the process.
While smart growth contributes to actualizing more intelligently designed communities, enhancing coastline protection from savage floodwaters will prevent localized destruction of homes and businesses in severe storm conditions. To reduce or even eliminate damages caused by flooding on a localized level, improved bulkheads, consistently inspected drainage systems, and first responders equipped with more useful water rescue vehicles would all drastically help during future emergency situations. In many areas throughout the island, the bulkheads along the coastline have been in place for decades, and are in desperate need of repair for fear of collapse; the one along the bay in East Rockaway was only rebuild this past summer. Emergencies could prove even more disastrous if basic infrastructure is not kept up to date, with the latest technologies employed to reconstruct materials that are due to be replaced. An ineffective drainage system can also be repaired or made more efficient much easier before a storm hits than while dealing with the aftermath. Regular maintenance should be performed to ensure debris is not obstructing the flow of water through pipes, and that the system can/will operate at maximum efficiency. Emergency service units (Firemen, EMT’s, etc.) would have greater capabilities if they were able to navigate through flooded areas with boats, rather than wade through polluted water on foot or with a single small raft. In areas with more widespread flooding, having to shuttle rescued individuals back and forth with a raft is time consuming and cumbersome. Rather, a rescue boat could temporarily serve as a commanding rendezvous point within the flood zone, to which all other fire-rescue units can report back to and communicate with other personnel on land. These innovative improvements may assist in times of crisis, however they all require one thing that can be very hard to come by during an emergency: energy.
The morning following Sandy, the majority of those living in New Jersey and Long Island woke up in the dark, and for some, remained that way for days or even weeks to come. Restoring the power grid following Sandy proved to be one of the most widespread infrastructural disasters associated with the aftermath of the super storm. LIPA’s response time to make repairs has been criticized from users and commentators nationwide, hopefully resulting in policy reform that will incite change within the energy-monopoly corporation of Long Island. In the meantime, we as individuals should consider what we could do to help improve our own situations, so as to avoid having full energy-dependence on “the grid,” and the technology to do so is already here.
In Janine Benyus’ book, “Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature,” she purposes one day, we will be able to send data over “hair thin optical fiber (p.85)” at near light speeds, and communicate faster than we ever thought possible. That was written in 1997. In the time since then, companies such as Verizon and Optimum use these fiber optic cables nationwide to bring HD quality cable programming into the living rooms of families across the country. What was theory then is now a globally realized actuality. Startling, isn’t it? How rapid things can evolve. That same potential exists right here and now, beginning with the way in which we produce energy. The sun’s energy has been around longer than planet earth itself, however only now do we possess the technology and scientific understanding to fully utilize its energy. As more people begin to realize the benefits it can bring, installations will rise, along with R&D into creating newer, more effective panels, thus providing more incentive for more people to invest as well. As such a cycle continues over years, we could continually reduce energy consumption to be solely generated by clean energy solutions (including wind, tidal, hydroelectric, and geothermal power) by the mid-21st century. Though most do not even know it yet, the benefits to such sustainable energy sources have already begun improving lives across the nation.
About a year and a half ago in spring of 2011, my family decided to contract the company “SunPower” to install solar panels on our house, beginning what was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding financial and customer experiences I’ve ever seen. After about 3 days of installation and setup, the solar panels were operational and feeding power back into the grid. Based on how much power we generate annually, we anticipate that within 5 years, we will have a full return on initial investment, and be generating our own free electricity. Even during the spring, when we generate more power than we use, we receive a credit from LIPA for whatever energy is left over. There’s even a smart phone app to track how much energy is being produced each hour, day, minute, month, and year, with a status update of how your lifetime energy production has benefitted the planet. At this point, our solar-generated power has reduced emissions equivalent to not driving 17,098 miles in a standard car, or by planting 192 seedlings grown for 10 years. What makes this all so unique is the way in which in combines both the financial benefits consumers look for in futuristic alternative energy producers, while also incorporating genuine environmentally sustainable technologies that can redefine what it means to be “energy-independent” in America. My own experience with solar panels thus far has been nothing short of exceptional, however if many others began adopting this technology with such green-enthusiasm, we’d have ourselves a true energy-revolution.
Though the year-round benefits of these systems are undeniable, how could they help in with recovery if a devastating storm similar to Sandy ever manifested itself again? Residential homes outfitted with solar panels could eliminate wide scale blackouts via such homes continuously synthesizing more power, even when energy from the grid is down. Rather than reliance on gasoline-powered generators that only get used in times of such crisis, solar-energy is generated year round to consistently help reduce carbon emissions, while also energizing homes during blackouts. Mounting brackets used to outfit solar panels on to homes also withstand storm winds far higher than what it takes to knock out the entire power grid in an area. By installing batteries inside of homes to store energy produced by the solar panels, that power could be fed directly into the house, rather than back into the grid. This way, solar energy can still be utilized when the power grid is nonfunctional, and also at night when power is drawn from battery reserves generated during the daylight hours. Not only would homes producing renewable power help to energize homes, but also would solve other problems that spawn as a result of scarce power.
One issue faced by many during Sandy’s aftermath involved waiting in lines; very long lines. In order to acquire gas to power-up generators and drive automobiles, individuals were forced to wait out in the bitter cold for hours to acquire this precious and necessary resource. As we’ve already discerned, solar power can keep homes running on renewable energy during a blackout, without the need for an expensive and loud gas-powered generator. Although, what could it do to help alleviate transportation issues? These past ten years or so, the automobile industry has been making a slow, but gradual shift from gas to electric powered vehicles. In the process, they have gone to great lengths to continuously reinvent lithium-ion batteries to better serve the next generation of electric cars, making them more effective and efficient in the way they use power. The more innovations made by auto-manufacturers to improve batteries contribute to solar power companies via the abilities to use these advanced batteries to store more solar energy installed in homes. Additionally, with more electric-powered vehicles, reliance on gasoline for transportation is greatly reduced, both during times of crisis and year-round. Therefore, during future storms, individuals can power-up their vehicles at home, avoid the issue of gas shortages, and transport themselves from one place to another in an environmentally friendly fashion.
Thus, Hurricane Sandy has offered us a chance to rethink what we believe about climate change, what we can do to better protect our cities and communities from natural disasters in the future, and how technologies that promote environmental sustainability can benefit both our own lives and planet earth as a whole. As our climate changes and storms become more vicious in years to come, we also have the power to innovate more so as to better understand how we can overcome the challenges ahead. While this storm has uprooted and devastated countless lives across the region, our communities remain strong and our spirit prevails unbroken, as we begin to rebuild all that was lost. Through acknowledging the promise behind renewable energy sources of the future, our society can abandon antiquated inefficient ways of producing energy in the 21st century, and shift to a more financially beneficial and environmentally sustainable lifestyle for future generations to come.  

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Slack and Save

Could you become a slacker and save the planet?  That's a simplistic description of the contention of economist David Rosnick with the Center for Economic and Policy Research.  He wrote a report that provides a compelling argument that cutting the work hours of Americans would reduce the impacts of global warming.  Working less slows consumption, which therefore slows greenhouse gas emissions.  Rosnick argues that the U.S. and the rest of the world should use Europe as a model for hours worked.

On average, Americans work 25.1 working hours per person of working age per week (obviously, not everyone of working age works, thus the low number).  In contrast, Italians work 16.7 hours per week, the French 18, and the Germans 18.7.  Part of the reason for this average is because Americans take much less time off than their European counterparts.  American workers work an average of 46.2 weeks per year.  The French work 40.5 weeks per year and the Swedes work 35.4 weeks per year.  If you are in the United States and reading this, it's likely you are reading this from work!

Europe and the U.S. used to have roughly the same working hours per year in the 1970s.  As Europe reduced hours worked over the last several decades, the U.S. hours worked statistic stayed relatively flat.  I guess reducing hours a bit wouldn't make us slackers after all!  We Americans tend to start work earlier in life, work later in life, and take less vacations.

Rosnick contends that reducing work hours for the rest of the century by 0.5% per year would eliminate 1/4 - 1/2 of the impact from global warming due to reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  This would largely be done by lowering consumption rates due to lower salaries.  Reducing hours worked would cause us to have less money to buy things.

Rosnick notes that this would be a difficult effort given issues with income equality in the United States.  He highlights that the 2/3 of the growth in income gains over the last 35 years went to only 1% of the top wage earning households.  Most cannot afford to work less.

There is no doubt that some of us are choosing to work less hours.  We probably all know people who have downsized in the last economic downturn.  Some are choosing to live simpler in smaller homes with less stuff.  Their carbon footprint is undoubtedly less than most of us.  However, some are downsizing due to the realities of this difficult economic time.

Plus, at least on Long Island, the economy is still struggling.  Unemployment is still high and most are not too concerned about cutting hours to reduce the impacts of global warming.  Instead, we are concerned whether or not we can keep the hours we have.  With gas prices and taxes up in my region, it is hard to imagine a broad cultural shift toward less work hours at the present moment.

So, while Rosnick is correct in his argument that reducing work hours would produce a significant impact on greenhouse gas emissions, I do not foresee any significant changes ahead in the life of the American worker that would allow climate change mitigation at the rate that is suggested.  The American work ethic is a major part of the national identity and I doubt that we will see any major alteration of the current situation.

Yet, I do think that some natural changes are in store.  Some organizations may move to reduce worker hours as suggested by Rosnick, but as our population ages, we will consume less, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions.  In addition, the economic slowdown, certainly a negative for most, had a silver lining in that it slowed greenhouse gas emissions.  Some of what Rosnick is suggesting is occurring and is likely to occur  to a certain extent anyway due to broad demographic change.

Plus, it must be noted that while we are certainly a major greenhouse gas emitter, we are no longer number one.  China is currently the largest greenhouse gas polluter.  Any solution we look at must be global in scale.  Certainly reducing our consumption would impact China's greenhouse gas emissions to a certain extent, but it is too simple to contend that reducing the hours worked by Americans would reduce the impact of global warming by 1/4 to 1/2.  I just don't see it as a realistic workable solution.  I do think that reducing consumption is part of the solution, but not the only one.

Crystal River Nuclear Plant Closing and Florida Gets Guy Friendly Economic Development Logo

There were two interesting stories out of Florida today:  Cystal River Nuclear Power Plant is closing and Florida's new economic development strategy got a new guy-friendly logo for the suit and tie crowd.

The nuclear power world took a hit when it was announced that the Crystal River nuclear power plant was shutting down.  This plant had a number of difficulties in recent years due to poor repairs and overall costs.  It was finally decided to close the plant.  This article from the St. Petersburg Times highlights some of the economic worries about the plant's closure.  I wrote about the problems with the plant recently here.

In other news, the State of Florida unveiled a new logo to highlight their economic development efforts.  Some have written that the logo is sexist.  It features a tie in place of the "i" in Florida.  I can totally see how many might view that as sexist.  Most women don't wear ties.  What about a high heel in place of the "i" or some other gendered clothing item?

Yet, I wonder if there might be another story here.  Why have a tie at all?  Florida is pretty darned hot and many business folks don't wear ties or closed shirts.  It's a million degrees kelvin in the shade!  It is totally fine to wear business casual attire in many offices.  I am personally a big fan of the formal guayabera featured here on the Art of Manliness.  I cannot imagine how to make a guaybera part of a logo, but it makes more sense to me than a tie.

To me, the logo looks like Florida is trying to be something it is not.  I would imagine that most of the business owners in the state don't wear ties regularly.  Why not embrace what Florida is good at:  sunshine and leisure.  Certainly it is a good place to have a business, but couldn't the logo highlight the reasons why someone might want to move a business to the state?  After getting off of an airplane and getting hit with the warm and humid Florida air, the first thing a male CEO would lose is the tie.  Maybe the logo should lose it too.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Mexico City Wins Transit Award

Click for photo credit.
Check out this article from National Geographic highlighting the award Mexico City won from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy for the transit improvements to the city.  One of my students, Neil Schloth, sent it along to me.

Mexico City was recognized for adding bus lines and bike sharing programs, improving parking, banning cars from narrow streets, and for generally developing a transit plan that improved the experience for drivers and that provided greater opportunities for mass transit and biking.  They were also lauded for limiting traffic in the congested downtown.

It wasn't too long ago that there were news stories about the horrific traffic in Mexico City.  I would imagine that it is still quite severe given that they have over 4 million cars in the city--and that number seems to be increasing as Mexico's middle class expands.  But according to the article, the downtown areas have seen significant relief.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Dance Your Ph.D. Contest

After watching Beyonce last night at the Super Bowl, I thought it was time to check in with the latest in the annual Dance Your Ph.D. contest.  As many of my readers know, writing a Ph.D. dissertation can be a thankless task.  So, it is fun to see folks having fun with their research.  Here is a link to all of the finalists in this annual contest.

The one below is my favorite one.  It isn't the best dance, but it communicates the research the best in my opinion.
 

Some of the others are really fun to watch.  The one below is probably the silliest of the lot, which means I like it a great deal.




This last one probably has the best dancing and choreography.




There are several others on the site.  Have fun!  They aren't Beyonce, but I don't think she is known as Dr. Beyonce either.

The Cost of Transportation Infrastructure

Click for photo credit.
Check out this article from the Miami Herald on the cost of maintaining and building automobile transportation infrastructure.  One of the biggest expenses of government is transportation and it is also a big reason for the high taxes on gasoline. 

Many have argued using more of the gasoline taxes that go toward transportation infrastructure on developing more environmentally friendly systems.  Some have suggested increasing the taxes to expand things like trains, buses, or electric car infrastructure.

The article notes that we need 14 billion dollars more a year to maintain US roadways and 50 billion more to repair them. Part of the problem is that we have aging infrastructure.  But, we also have more roads that require larger budgets to keep them in decent shape.

The modern roadway system is a relatively new phenomena in human history.  As we built it, we didn't really think about the long-term costs or implications of developing it.  Now, it seems, we may be developing a bit of buyer's remorse.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Goes Green

The renovated Superdome, home of today's Super Bowl.
Click for photo credit.
I ran into this article from National Geographic about the sustainability efforts for today's Super Bowl.  It is great to see events of this magnitude put environmental sustainability front and center in the planning.  According to the article, the planning committee and the host city have done a number of things to use the occasion to advance the theme:

Planting trees (7,000 of them to add to the 20,000 planted so far since Katrina).

The implementation of 3.8 millions pounds of carbon credits by Entergy (offset of energy used at at official Super Bowl venues).

Reuse and repurposing of Super Bowl banners and other promotional materials for other uses.

Renovation of the Superdome to be more energy efficient.

According to this article, there is also a Super Saturday Day of Service Event for youth that coincides with World Wetlands Day.

Interesting stuff and part of the worldwide trend to green large public events so they have less of an impact on the environment.