Monday, April 29, 2013

Payoffs or Donations In Canada for a Tar Sands Pipeline?

A controversy is brewing in Canada over a planned pipeline reversal and expansion construction project 
Click for photo credit.
that will bring petroleum produced through dirty tar sand extraction processes in western Canada to Montreal for refining.  There are many concerned about the safety of the pipeline, particularly after well-known pipeline ruptures that occured in the U.S.  However, one of the controversial issues is the high number of donations given to cities along the pipeline route in Ontario and Quebec.  Take a look at this interactive map from the Montreal Gazette to see the details of these donations.

Questions have been raised whether these gifts were donations or payoffs for local acceptance of the pipeline.  You can read the details about the situation here.  Many large companies make local grants in areas where they are operating.  That is the case that the pipeline company is making.  Yet, some feel that the timing of the donations is ethically problematic given that the pipeline needs local and community approval for the construction.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Introducing New Contributor, Noted Australian Botanist, Peter Jobson

I am thrilled to introduce new On the Brink contributor, noted Austrailia Botanist, Peter Jobson.  Peter is the Senior Botanist at Alice Springs Desert Park.  Peter has also lectured at the University of New South Wales.

Peter has extensive experience with environmental issues associated with botany in Australia and has a distinct expertise on the arid plants of that region.  He is a field botanist and does research on particular plant species and collections.  He is an expert on Dillwynia.

Peter adds a new region for our readers and will offer a great botanical perspective.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Poem for Spring

It has been a lovely spring here on Long Island.  The cool weather slowed the blooms, so the tulips, daffodils, and trees are blooming in slow motion with the flowers lasting much longer than normal. It seems appropriate to memorialize this unique spring by posting a poem.

    Lines Written in Early Spring
    William Wordsworth

I heard a thousand blended notes,
While in a grove I sate reclined,
In that sweet mood when pleasant thoughts
Bring sad thoughts to the mind.

To her fair works did Nature link
The human soul that through me ran;
And much it grieved my heart to think
What man has made of man.

Through primrose tufts, in that green bower,
The periwinkle trailed its wreaths;
And ’tis my faith that every flower
Enjoys the air it breathes.

The birds around me hopped and played,
Their thoughts I cannot measure:--
But the least motion which they made
It seemed a thrill of pleasure.

The budding twigs spread out their fan,
To catch the breezy air;
And I must think, do all I can,
That there was pleasure there.

If this belief from heaven be sent,
If such be Nature’s holy plan,
Have I not reason to lament
What man has made of man?

Friday, April 26, 2013

Opening Comments at Earth Day Panel on the 25th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol

Click for photo credit.
Below are my opening comments from one of this week's Earth Day panels at Hofstra on the 25th Anniversary of the Montreal Protocol:

Earth Day started in 1970 as a bipartisan effort by Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson. In the 1970’s our nation, and our world, were much more united on issues of the environment. We were just coming out of three decades of devastating environmental pollution in the US. We were starting to manage serious issues through new laws like the Clean Water Act, the Clean Air Act, and the Endangered Species Act.

Since then, we have had some modification of laws and local rules that impact the environment, but the cornerstone of all of these agreements started back in the 1960’s and 1970s via the activism present during that time. The environmental movement peaked in the U.S. at the very first earth day 43 years ago today. While many of us still have the passion and drive to forge ahead on key environmental issues, the drive and passion that I remember being present in 1970 is not always present in today’s society. Just think of the issues that divide us: Keystone Pipeline, Fracking, Arctic Drilling, and yes, climate change policy.

But, we have not always been divided. In the late 1980’s the world came together like never before to address the global problem of ozone depletion. At that time, evidence came forward from the scientific community that a layer of ozone concentration in the upper levels of the atmosphere was under attack from anthropogenic chemicals. Due to the unique character of atmospheric circulation, the worst problems were at the poles. The ozone layer protects us from harmful solar radiation, so there was a great deal of concern.

When the problem was first identified, it became clear that there were increases in skin cancers in the polar regions and a wide variety of other health and environmental problems. The situation was serious and many were concerned over the livability of some areas of the earth if we lost the atmosphere’s ability to protect us from the harmful rays.

Thus, the world came together and signed the Montreal Protocol. It is a relatively effective agreement that significantly decreased the release of harmful radiation reaching our planet. Has the problem been fully solved? No. But we have made important contributions.

It has been 25 years since the Montreal Protocol was signed. Many have looked to it as a model for how we can develop global climate change policy on greenhouse gases. Many years ago scientists identified the problem, the public became educated and concerned about climate change, and it is evident that it is a worldwide issue. But, to date, we don’t have a major workable policy that the world has agreed on or implemented. We do have the Kyoto Protocol, but that has proven to be relatively ineffective and we see greenhouse gases increasing in many nations, not decreasing. We also have our own failed efforts from several years ago when the US tried to develop climate change policy in the Waxman Markey and Kerry Boxer Bills that failed. What is preventing us from reaching a greenhouse gas agreement in this country or around the world that is effective?

USF Plant Species Catalog Student Project

One of my friends from the University of South Florida, Dr. Mark Hafen, sent me a link to a project his students did to develop a campus plant catalog.  Check out their site here.  It's a nice student research effort that includes information about plants and their location on campus.  They also created the project to it can continue into the future by adding more data.  The video below explains the website in a bit more detail.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Glacier Bay National Park

It's National Parks Week in the United States, so I thought I had to do a post that continues my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks.  Today we travel to Glacier Bay 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.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013


Spring on the Hofstra campus.  The university was named after a Dutch
family who donated their estate to a trust that established the university.
Their original home is still on campus and is a cornerstone of activities.
This time of year, the campus is awash with spring bulb colors.  

Texas Removes Reference to Climate Change in Law Regulating Greenhouse Gases, Great Britain Is Not Amused.

Oh Texas, why can't I quit you?  You are a great state and who doesn't love your quirky style and
According to this USGS map, Texas' coastlines have very high
vulnerability to sea level rise due to global warming.  
unusual approach to life.  You've produced interesting people like Janis Joplin, Lyndon Johnson, George W. Bush, and Willie Nelson.  You have beautiful landscapes, and great cities, and you have contributed so much to American culture.  But today, dear Texas, you have not pleased Great Britain.

You recently passed a law that moves the regulation of greenhouse gases from the EPA to the state.  Check out this article about this action.  This is a pretty common event.  States can sometimes do better regulation than the feds can do since they are more intimate with the data and the sources of pollution.  But, in passing the law, your House or Representatives removed the term "climate change" from the law.

It is interesting that this is happening at this particular time.  The realities of the science of climate change are now accepted by the majority of Americans in both political parties.  The radical position is now to deny the existence of climate change.

But Texas, you have messed with something that you might not have wanted to mess with.  Representatives of Great Britain came to the Texas House to urge them to get serious about climate change (click here for story).  They noted that the US is the only major world power not to be a significant actor on the international stage on climate policy and that this lack of leadership is hurting the ability to deal with the serious economic and social impacts of global climate change.

But, Texas, you have dumped the tea from the ships and are not listening to the yammerings of the elitists from Exeter.  There is no such thing as climate change in the laws of Texas.

But all of Gulf Coast Texas is vulnerable to sea level rise according to something we call science.  The coastline is very flat and there is danger of inundation inland a considerable distance, thereby putting at risk major population centers.  Plus the state's major oil and chemical operations are concentrated near the coast.

Imagine what will happen as the sea rises and impacts are felt.  Shall we all remember collectively as a nation that there is no climate change in Texas?

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Refelections on Earth Day

Some of the trash that was picked up out of the
Manorhaven Preserve.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann
It was a rather busy Earth Day season for me this year.  In Manorhaven, New York, where I live, I organized a community clean up of the Manorhaven preserve.  The Deputy Mayor recently put in the pathways through the preserve and they are very nicely mulched and open to the public.  However, the litter in the preserve was quite bad.

The clean up took place last Saturday and almost all of the Village officials were present as well as several community members and Boy Scouts from Port Washington Troup 7.  We collected dozens of bags of trash, old tires, and sundry other items.  It was a great deal of fun and the preserve looks so much better!

At Hofstra, I organized a panel to discuss the 25th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol.  This was an international agreement that limited the use of ozone depleting chemicals in the upper atmosphere.  It was a very successful agreement that resulted in the cessation of the growth of the ozone hole and its repair.

Me on the Hofstra Campus on Earth Day.
The conversation on the panel focused on why we haven't been able to develop sound international policy on climate change.  The Kyoto Protocol is clearly not a successful agreement for a number of reasons.  Plus, we have had failed climate change legislation at the national level on our nation.  Most of the real action on climate change policy is actually happening at the state and local level.  This is changing a bit now that the EPA was mandated by the US Supreme Court to regulate greenhouse gases.

Yet, we still do not have any real movement on global climate change policy or serious efforts at reductions.  We have 10-20 years to turn the corner on greenhouse gas management or it will be too late to stop the planetary warming that will lead to significant climate shifts.

I hope the next Earth Day will see some progress on the climate issues. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Amendment for Funds for the Conservation and Restoration in Florida

A friend of mine sent along a note about a constitutional amendment in Florida that is seeking to fund
The Florida bobcat.  Click for photo credit.
the purchase of private land for protection for conservation and restoration.  If you are interested in this amendment, you can read about it here.

Specifically, the fund seeks to:

Funds the Land Acquisition Trust Fund to acquire, restore, improve, and manage conservation lands including wetlands and forests; fish and wildlife habitat; lands protecting water resources and drinking water sources, including the Everglades, and the water quality of rivers, lakes, and streams; beaches and shores; outdoor recreational lands; working farms and ranches; and historic or geologic sites, by dedicating 33 percent of net revenues from the existing excise tax on documents for 20 years.

The signature page has an address where you can send it if you are interested in signing (you have to be a registered Florida voter) or you can scan it and send it to her at

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

5 Tips for First Time Business Travelers to China

I had a number of friends contact me over the last year about my experiences in China to get advice.
A formal dinner table in China in a private room in a restaurant.
Note the beautiful Lazy Susan.  This one was very fancy in that it was
electric and rotated slowly to allow guests to select food as it passed
in front of you.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
 They are going for business and wanted to know what to expect and how to prepare.  So, I thought I would share with you some basic tips for first time business travelers heading to China for a few weeks.

1.  Packing.  Pack light.  You don't need to pack a ton of clothing.  There are laundry services everywhere and you can get dirty clothes cleaned within a day or two.  You should have one or two professional suits for formal occasions, casual business clothes for day use, and very casual clothes for traveling or chillaxing.  The grocery stores in China have all of the basic toiletries, so if you are going for a long time, you really just need travel sized items and you can go shopping for larger sized products like shampoo when you get there.  If you are staying in a hotel, they will have basic supplies in the room just like an American hotel.

2.  Business Relations.  Expect formal greetings when you arrive such as tours of facilities, introductions, or a gift exchange.  Have plenty of business cards ready.  Your gift should be meaningful and represent your organization.  Appropriate gifts include things such as a company or organizational product or something representing the area where you are from.  It should be in a beautiful bag or easy to open box.  Also expect a dinner or lunch.  Bring smaller gifts for individuals you become friends with.  Give these informally before you leave.  These should be more meaningful than expensive.

This is a more casual meal I had at a beach restaurant with
friends.  There is still a lazy suzan, but the meal was more
informal.  Note the fresh coconut.  Yum!
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
3.  Eating Out.  When you eat out in China with a group, the host will order the food for the group.  In most cases several dishes are served on a large lazy suzan and you can try whatever you like.  It is a bit like family style dining in American restaurants.  Someone may put some special food on your plate as a sign of friendliness.  If you have any special dietary needs, tell the host or the host's assistant in advance prior to ordering.  Your dietary needs will be accommodated easily.  There will certainly be unusual options on the menu, but only eat what you are comfortable eating.  I tried most things and found the food delicious. There are always vegetarian options but make sure that the host knows if you wish to eat vegan or vegetarian.  Vegans will love China because cheese and other dairy products are not used widely. There were one or two things that didn't appeal to me, but folks were not offended if I didn't try them.  Also expect plenty of toasts with wine, beer, or juice.  The drinking water quality varies across China and most business travelers drink bottled water.  I loved going to the grocery stores and markets.  You can also find American style fast food restaurants in most larger cities if you get homesick for a burger.

This was a cool robotics lab at Qiongzhou University
in Sanya, Hainan China.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
4.  Language.  In many areas of China, English is not very common.  Learn some basic phrases and take maps and an emergency sheet in Chinese script with your address to give to a cab driver in case you get lost. I used Rosetta Stone and found it very helpful.  Most Internet sites are available in China, but you will find that some sites are not.  For example, Google is unavailable, as is the Google blog platform, Blogger, that I use for this blog site.  There are some work arounds, but you should be prepared for this issue.

You will likely make good friends during your travels.  I know I did.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann
5.  Relax.  China is a beautiful country with amazing people.  While the culture is certainly different, you will find the people overall very similar to people here.  You will meet some very nice people.  Enjoy their company.  Take them up on invitations to visit or travel with them.  You will see a side of China that most will not see on a cursory visit if you get off the beaten path.  You can practice your Chinese, learn new things about the country, try new foods, and make new friends.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Earth Day Project: Bird Feeders Out of Water Bottles

Looking for an easy project for Earth Day?  How about making a bird feeder out of water bottles?  Watch the video below for details.

Wetlands and Influence in Florida

Florida has lost nearly 1/2 of its wetlands.
Click for photo credit.
One of the new advances in wetland mitigation in Florida is something called wetlands banking.  Florida has approximately 11.4 million acres of wetlands.  But over the last few centuries, Florida lost nearly half its wetlands to development.  Research that I conducted with my students in the past in various developed areas of the Tampa Bay area show incredible wetlands loss through infilling during the development process.  Losses in other parts of the state came as a result of agricultural development or mining.

Now there are laws to prevent widespread destruction of wetlands without some form of mitigation.  There are a number of mitigation options available.  For example, if you destroy one wetland, you could build a larger wetland of the same type somewhere else.  This has been controversial because the creation of the wetland comes at the loss of upland habitat.  Plus, many wetlands are difficult to construct.  When one considers that wetlands are ecosystems that evolved over centuries, the idea of constructing a mature ecosystem that includes the development of unique water, soil, plant, and animal assemblages becomes daunting.  While there have been some successes in wetland construction, there are also examples of failure.

Thus, one relatively new management strategy is wetlands banking.  Banking requires the preservation of wetlands property in perpetuity in exchange for the destruction of wetlands.  The banking requirement size is larger than the size of the loss of wetlands.

There is big money in wetlands banking and 10 wetland credits can sell for a million dollars.  There are many investors who have moved into wetlands banking as a lucrative business.

Given the money involved, there are organizations that try to game the system. Check out this article from the Tampa Bay Times about the state's top wetlands regulator who was suspended for refusing to permit a wetlands bank project.  Using standard techniques, she permitted a wetlands bank developer for a smaller amount of wetlands than the developer hoped for.  She was suspended for refusing to issue the permit and the permit was granted by managers above her.  In addition, the managers waived a state requirement that compelled the company to show that they had the funds to build and manage the wetlands bank.

To many watching this, the deal smelled of political influence and corruption taking precedence over science and established policy.  The company even tried to get the state legislature to change the rules just for this project.  A judge recently sided with the suspended wetlands regulator and required the investors to follow the established rules.  The judge ruled that the company can develop the wetlands bank with the 280 credits the regulator allowed.  This is worth approximately $280,000,000.  They were trying to get credit for 425 credits which would have been worth approximately $425,000,000.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Glacier National Park

As part of our series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks, we travel to Glacier National Park in Montana.  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.

Lead in Rice

Click for photo credit.
At my talk yesterday at Hofstra, I reviewed my work on lead pollution and discussed some preliminary results on lead pollution research I am doing with my research team on Long Island.  Thus, I found it timely that this news came out today about lead contamination of rice.  It is estimated that approximately 7% of the rice consumed in the US have the potential to have unacceptable levels of lead.  The exposure is 30 to 60 times that acceptable for children.

The rice that contained the most lead is imported from China and Taiwan.  However a variety of imported rice from all over the world contained high levels of lead.  The report didn't note if they tested domestic rice.

Now that many parts of the world have stopped using lead-based paint and gasoline, the sediment that contains lead is making its way to low areas and wetlands.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thatcher and Climate Change

There's been quite a bit of interesting discussion over Margaret Thatcher's legacy in Britain.  Not being well-tuned to British politics, I'll leave the discourse to those who know better.  However, it's worth pointing out that Margaret Thatcher was one of the earliest and most vocal proponents of action on global climate change--back in the 1980's!  As time went by, she ended up being critical of the international approaches advocated by people like Al Gore and felt that the issue was too dominated by the politics of the left. You can read about it here and here

She is certainly a complex player on this issue, but the speach posted here serves as one of the great cases for action on global climate change.  It's long but worth a full listen.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Spring Planting at Hofstra

We had amazing spring weather on campus today, so it seemed a great time to go out and plant the student garden we started last year on campus.  I took my classes out into the field to prep the site and complete our spring planting.
We had a great radish crop last year, so I decided to make this year's garden entirely a radish garden with four different varieties of radishes.  The radishes mature in 35 days, so we should be able to harvest on May 13th.  We can then plant the summer garden with nitrogen fixing legumes.

I did an impromptu informal survey of my students.  Most of the them never gardened before, so this was a new experience for the majority.  

Growing up in the Midwest with lots of farm kids, gardening came natural to all of my peers.  However, on the edge of New York City, gardening is not a common experience for young people.  So, it was a great experience to work with these new gardeners.  We are all excited to see if we have success with this year's crop.

The plan is to provide the radishes for students in the class or their families for their personal consumption.  Any leftovers will be given to the campus food service for use for campus dining.

The area around Hofstra was once used for potato farming.  The soils are a rich sandy loam perfect for rooting crops.  It makes sense that we are returning to root farming in our modest student garden.

Seattle to Create First Food Forest Park

Since AJ blogged about sustainable food below, it seems fitting that I follow up with this story sent to me by Debbi Honorof about a food forest in Seattle.  The city is building the first ever food forest park near the Beacon Hill area in Jefferson Park.  You can read about it here.  The food will be free for the taking.

I've long thought that cities, with their extensive public areas, could do more with food production, or at least allow people to plant edible landscaping in some areas.  It will be interesting to see how this goes. You can see a video about the park below.

Saturday, April 6, 2013

A Sustainable Bite To Eat

During my spring break I was able to take a trip to visit some family in Rochester, NY. While in Rochester, we stopped for lunch at The Gate House Cafe. What a great place to eat! And very sustainable too! 
What surprised me the most about this place was the fact of how sustainable it was and you wouldn't have even known it. Depending on where you are in the city of Rochester, it can be very artsy. I stayed near the NOTA (Neighborhood of the Arts). Of course they would have a sustainable place to eat... The NOTA in Rochester reminded me a lot of the TV show Portlandia
Portlandia's Women & Women First Equivalent?

The Gate House Cafe, "believe(s) that food is best in its most natural state, and despite the higher cost, we support humane and organic farm practices by serving cage-free eggs and organic dairy, and we operate 100% on solar and wind power".

I would have never guessed this by looking at the place. To me, it seemed like a regular place to eat. I was really satisfied with the meal and the number of items on the menu. 

The Gate House Menu
The Gate House Cafe is on my list of eateries to return too! If you're in the Rochester Area, please stop by and check them out...  

Speaking of Sustainability, something I also was able to try for the first time was organic peanut butter. It was so delicious. I really enjoyed it. Rochester seemed to be a very sustainable place. Here are some links to check out: City of Rochester | Office of Sustainability, A Sustainable Rochester.
While in the neighborhood of the arts we were able to see some pretty cool things... Pics are below!

Street Pole with Artsy Glass

The Gate House

Saturday NYC Blogging

Cat Power-Manhattan

A River of Oil Runs Through It

Suburban Little Rock has its charms.  However, there is a new addition to the suburban amenities present near town:  a leaking oil pipeline that brings oil from Canada to the south for refining caused the evacuation of several homeowners--who are still not back home after the March 29th spill.  The leak caused significant environmental damage.

Wetlands coated in oil near Little Rock.  Click for photo credit.
Seeing a river of oil running through the suburbs brought home the problem of big pipelines that traverse the country.  They transport a variety of chemicals and products from one location to another and are all around us.  When they fail, as they did in Arkansas, they cause a great deal of damage.

Some pipeline failures such as the Mayflower oil spill in Arkansas, cause local damage and environmental problems.  Other pipelines have greater risk.  For example, the Tampa area has an ammonia pipeline that leaked when kids broke it (some say to get chemicals for meth).  The leak caused the evacuation of a neighborhood and could have killed many.

For a complete list of pipeline leaks and accidents, see this Wikipedia list.  It's a bit staggering to see all of the leaks and problems associated with pipelines.

The US is contemplating the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline that would bring oil from Canada for processing in the US.  The oil comes from tar sand deposits.  Tar sand oil extraction is one of the most environmentally problematic forms of oil production known.  Obviously, many are against the pipeline due to the impact the development of the tar sands deposit will have in Canada.  But, many point to the long list of pipeline problems to try to stop the pipeline.  The construction of the pipeline is done, in part, on land ceded to the developers through eminent domain rules.  People will not have much of a choice if they do not want the possibility of having a river of oil running through their property in the future.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Majora Carter Accused of Trying to Bring Green Jobs to the Bronx

Bronx sustainability activist Majora Carter is working to
bring the operations of FreshDirect to the Bronx.
Click for photo credit.
For the "You Can't Win" files, check out this story from the New York Times about noted sustainability activist Majora Carter.  She is working to bring FreshDirect's operations from Queens to the South Bronx to help the economic development of the borough.

If you are not familiar with this company, FreshDirect is a grocery delivery service that focuses on bringing healthy food to people in New York City.  They are opening their operation in the Bronx with the help of Ms. Carter and subsidies from the city to prevent their relocation to New Jersey.  Some residents are against this move because it will bring delivery trucks to the area.

The unemployment rate in Bronx County is 13.4% (January figures).  Just sayin'.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Gates of the Arctic National Park

As part of our series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks, we travel to Gates of the Arctic 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.

Monday, April 1, 2013

NASA Declares Global Warming an Elaborate "Hoax"

This Glacier at Stone Mountain, Georgia, has seriously
damaged the memorial to the Confederacy.
Note:  this post was written as an April Fools Day post.  It is not real.

NASA scientists today reported that global climate change is an elaborate "hoax" perpetuated on the world by scientists seeking to get out of the office to attend conferences.

Senior climate administrator, I.M. Gold said, "It is clear from all of the data that the scientists involved with global climate change research were just trying to attend conferences and stay at hotels with fancy breakfast buffets and free wireless internet." 

Several scientists were put on administrative leave pending an investigation.

A spokesman from the energy industry had very little comment except to say, "Told you so."

A review of satellite images demonstrated that the scientists used ball point pens to block out areas of sea ice and glaciers on photographs of the arctic and northern latitudes.  Glaciers are actually expanding and have been seen in the Porcupine Mountains of Wisconsin and in the Catskills of New York. 

The harbor master of Baltimore stated, "I've been wondering what they've been talking about with all that global warming crap.  Chesapeake Bay has been iced in for the last five years."

To read more on this story, click here.