Sunday, May 26, 2013

Farmer Guilty of Selling Milk

Check out this story from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about Vernon Herschberger of Loganville, Wisconsin, who was found guilty of disobeying a hold order in a broad trial around his agricultural enterprise.  The real story here involves the selling of raw milk.
Click for photo credit.

Herschberger, an Amish farmer, started a buying club, a modified form of community sponsored agriculture, whereby members could purchase his farm products, including unpasteurized milk.  The club provided food for many local people in the area.  Many of us from Wisconsin, the Dairy State, have had unpasteurized milk, and many are fans of it for a variety of reasons.  There are farmers who will provide it for individuals under the table, but it is not legal to sell it.  The US government sets food safety standards for milk products that requires its pasteurization.  There are variations in rules state by state, but there are usually some restrictions on raw milk sales for safety reasons.  The government has not been heavily aggressive in targeting small producers like Herschberger, so this unusual case has gotten attention and is considered a bellwether.

It is interesting to note that many are calling into question the milk safety standards and prefer to have raw unpasteurized milk.  Herschberger provided the product and that's why the government went after him.  He was charged with four crimes, but acquitted on three of them.  This is considered a victory, since the only charge that stuck was the one that accused Herschberger of selling products on hold after a raid on his farm.  He didn't want the food to spoil while the government wheels turned.

I have mixed feelings about this case.  There is no doubt that pasteurization has saved the lives of many people.  Yet, I also think that people can take whatever risks they want to take with food.  Everyone I know who got raw milk from farms in Wisconsin knew the risks they were taking.

But here's the point.  Those who got the raw milk from farms knew the farmers.  They trusted the cleanliness of the barns and the health of the animals.  I don't know if anyone would or should trust raw milk outside of these local conditions.  The outcome of the trial is likely to change the government's response to raw milk sales in food clubs.  They will probably be left alone.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Global Climate Change and Art

Years ago, I worked with the Torolab out of Tujuana, Mexico on their project, One Degree Celsius. 

Torolab is an interesting group of artists focused on research and projects that focus on life style and overall community.  They brought their project to the USF Contemporary Art Museum for a few months and Raúl Cárdenas Osuna, the founder of Torolabs was an artist in residence.  The project focused on creating ideas behind what it would take to reduce the temperature of Tampa one degree Celsius.  The temperature increase is what was expected as a result of global climate change within a relatively short period.
Click for photo credit.

I spoke with Raúl about the project and he told me he was struck by the billboard advertising in Tampa.  As a result, one of the projects he developed was a plant-based billboard that used variations in plants to spell out text.  It was one of the focal points of his installation that included a mobile ecology lab, hydroponic experiments, and interviews with local experts about climate change.  It was a fascinating exhibit and I learned a great deal about the role of contemporary art in the conversation about climate change.  The purpose of the project was not to physically change the temperature one degree, but to have a conversation about what it would take to do so.

The memory about my interactions with Torolab came to me when I ran across this article about a climate change art exhibit in Beijing, China.  All of the artists were embedded with scientists studying the impact of climate change in the Arctic and the Andes.  As most know, China is now the largest contributor of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.  China has recently agreed to develop targets to reduce greenhouse gases.

Friday, May 24, 2013

No Oil to the West in the North

We've all heard about the issues about the planned Keystone Oil Pipeline that would bring oil from the
Beautiful British Columbia is unlikely to approve a
pipeline to bring Athabascan crude to the Pacific.
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Athabascan Tar Sands in Alberta to United States refineries.  However, there is another pipeline that is also in trouble.  This one would extend from Alberta to coastal British Columbia where oil would be loaded onto tankers for export--particularly to China.  Check out this article from Bloomberg about this issue.

It seems unlikely that British Columbia will approve a pipeline through the Canadian Rocky Mountains and through some of the most beautiful and remote landscapes on the continent.  Thus, the focus of the efforts of those developing the tar sands will continue to be the Keystone.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Homes Destroyed Near Deadly Sinkhole in Florida

I went on a little photo safari to take some images of the homes that were demolished near the deadly sinkhole in Seffner, Florida, for my upcoming book on Florida sinkholes. I thought I would share some photos with you.

The deadly sinkhole caused a great deal of national and local media interest.  However, I was surprised to find the large number of media outlets represented when I arrived.  There were approximately a dozen media vans as well as several print reporters on site when I visited.

When I made it to the site, one of the homes was already down and heavy equipment was at work.

You can see that there are occupied homes adjacent to the ones being demolished.

It must be tough to live in this neighborhood right now.  Not only did residents lose a neighbor in an unimaginable way, the onslaught media and the interested public has impacted the daily lives of the community.

What is striking about this neighborhood is its normalcy.  It is just like hundreds of neighborhoods in the Tampa area.  There is very little evidence that there are dangers in the subsurface.

My Sinkhole Book Available for Presale

Here's a shameless plug.  My book:  Florida Sinkholes:  Science and Policy is available for presale
here.  The book reviews the basic science of sinkholes in Florida, provides a summary of their distribution and local formation, and discusses several policy issues including insurance, sinkhole detection, and sinkhole safety.  It will be published by the University Presses of Florida this late Fall.

I wrote the book to provide a general review of the topic of sinkholes in Florida.  While there have been numerous studies of sinkholes, no one put together an overall review of the field.  It is not an all-encompassing book, but it does provide a nice summary of the major issues associated with sinkholes in Florida.  I think it will be useful for professionals in the field.  And, it will be of interest to the general public.  I tried to make it accessible to the lay person who might have an interest in Florida geology, while also providing rich content to those who want to delve deeper into the field.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

100,000 Electric Cars on the Road

Electric cars and special parking spots (this one is at
Google Headquarters) are becoming more common
on the American landscape.  Click for photo credit.
According to Grist, there are now more than 100,000 electric cars on the road in America.  The technology for developing the car was in part supported by loans from the U.S. Government.  Tesla, one of the leading electric car companies, has paid off its loan it received from the Federal Government under President G.W. Bush, indicating that they may have found the sweet spot between new technology and profitability.

Tesla makes beautiful cars that are on par with some of the nicest ones out there.  The range of their cars is well over 200 miles, making them suitable for most urban and suburban commuters.

The infrastructure for electric cars is increasing as well.  Many workplaces are putting in charging stations and offering parking incentives for those driving electric vehicles.

Passing the 100,000 threshold requires our society to take the electric car seriously.  I predict that there will be 1,000,000 electric cars on the road in 5 years.  Once things like this take off, they boom very quickly.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Historic Tornado Map of the US

Yesterday's deadly tornado outbreak in Oklahoma was a stunning display of nature's force.  The U.S. is home to the world's greatest concentrations of tornadoes.  No place else on the earth experiences the number or intensity of these unusual weather features.

Although they can happen anywhere in the country, the Great Plans, Midwest, and the South experience the greatest concentrations of tornadoes.

Take a look at he map below from NOAA.  It shows the location and track of tornadoes from the 50's to 2011 in the lower 48 states. You will notice that there are few areas of Oklahoma that haven't been impacted by tornadoes over the last 60 years.

NOAA has more interesting tornado maps and figures here.

Tornado track 1950-2011.  Click image for larger version.  Click for image credit.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

When Tragedy Strikes a Campus

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Probably every teacher out there reading this who has been in the business for some time has had death visit their student body.  I can recall several sad events over the years.  Death can suddenly cut short the life of a young person with great talent and promise.

On Friday, death came again.  All of us on the Hofstra Campus learned of the shooting of one of our students, Andrea Rebello, in a botched home invasion near campus.  It was the last day of finals.  

I didn't know Andrea, but I, like many, was touched by the tragedy.  Today at graduation, a moment of silence was held for her and all of the students, faculty, and administrators wore white ribbons in her memory.  My condolences, and I am sure the condolences of all of the Hofstra family, go out to Andrea's family and friends.  I am certain she was a wonderful person and a joy to know.

It is always shocking when violence happens near campuses.  Most university neighborhoods are rather safe.  The neighborhood around Hofstra has had some issues, but nothing out of the ordinary compared with other campuses. 

At this morning's graduation I saw some of the administrative team at Hofstra who were obviously deeply distressed by the tragedy.  They are good people who have been working on a number of issues that normally would be celebratory, particularly graduation and the entrance of the new freshman class.  Today they did an excellent job creating a moving and positive graduation ceremony at a difficult time for our university.  They hit the right tones of grief, while recognizing the need to celebrate the Class of 2013.

So, when tragedy strikes at graduation time, it is important to grieve, but remember those who need to be recognized for their accomplishments.  But, we will not forget Andrea.

So in this midst of the emotion of joy through the tears, I was happy to see some of the Geology, Environment, and Sustainability majors  of the Class of 2013 graduate along with the students who earned the first minors in our new program in Sustainability (the first majors will graduate next year).  The Hofstra student body is well above average by any measure and these students ARE going to make our world a better place.

The best legacy we can all leave is one that gives hope to future generations.  Our students give me tremendous hope.  The present generation of college graduates is one of the smartest I've ever seen.  They have a commitment to not only themselves and their families, but to each other and the broader community in which they live.  There is no reason to fear the future.  

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The European Environmental Bureau's Musical Evaluation of Rio +20

I've been doing quite a bit of reading lately about various international sustainability plans.  The reading is fascinating, but can be a bit dry.  Every once in a while, one runs into something rather remarkable among all of the policy literature.  So, today, I give you a musical review by the European Environmental Bureau of the Rio + 20 conference.  If you are not sure what Rio +20 is all about, click here.

Friday, May 17, 2013

New material for Co2 capture discovered

Getting CO2 out of the air before it enters the atmosphere from processes such as coal burning presents a huge issue for climate change. It is also an impurity in energy sources such as natural gas.

Workers at University of California, San Diego, University of South Florida and King Adbullah University of Science and Technology have discovered that hexafluorosilicate may be used as a very efficient way of capturing CO2.

A recent article in Nature describes their finding. One of the most exciting aspects of using this material for CO2 capture is that it works well in the presence of water vapor, which others materials used for this function have not been able to do. [ - Nugent et al., Nature 495: 80-84 , March 7, 2013, doi: 10.1038/nature11893]

USF Graduate Student Stephen Burd under the direction of Professor Michael Zaworotko did initial testing of the material, which led to the formation of the international group.

See this news bit:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Environmental Imagery in The Great Gatsby

I gave a lecture a few months ago that brought together some elements of literature and art in the development of the environmental movement.  I am always drawn to bring out The Great Gatsby when I speak of the history of the environmental movement in the United States.  In many ways, The Great Gatsby did to romanticism in American literature what Daisy Buchanan did to Myrtle Wilson in the book.  Thus, Gatsby, to me, serves as a distinct cultural line between Muir and Leopold.

But Gatsby delivers some interesting environmental images that are key to my viewpoint.  There are two symbolic environmental images.  One of course is the ash heap between Long Island and New York City.  This area was portrayed quite nicely in Baz Luhrmann’s new film adaptation of the classic American book.

The ash heap was a real place, now Citi Field where the Mets play in Queens.  It was a dumping ground for the coal ash and other waste from New York City.  Any of us who drive from Long Island into New York have driven by the area, just as Gatsby would have back in the 1920’s.  Now, of course, we take the expressway instead of the roadway.  Robert Moses removed the landfill to create space for the 1964 World’s Fair and the ash heaps are no more.

But the presence of the ash heap in the 1920’s book symbolizes the cost of excesses of the times.  The fact that that Tom Buchanan, representing the old moneyed elite, finds disposable love with a decadent earthy woman within the shadows of the heap foreshadows the loss of beauty within our own natural world as a result of overdevelopment.  The death of Myrtle is the death of nature.

But thankfully, we have resurrected the smoking ash heaps of the past through the reconstruction of wetlands and construction of parks.  We have reshaped nature so that it is a genderless construction of modernity that would be lost to past symbolic realism.

The other important natural image of the book is the blinking green light on Daisy’s dock across from Gatsby’s mansion.  To some, the green light represents Gatsby’s dream of the past with Daisy.  But to me, it has always meant Gatsby’s dream of a simpler world—a world without the burden of excess, a world without decadence, a world of truth that he could share with Daisy.   While he wants Daisy in that world, it is quite evident by the end of the book that while he has hope of the future, Daisy is unworthy of his dream.

Thus the green light represents the hope that all of us have in the value of others and our dreams for the future.  The green light is elusive—seen, but not held.  Visible, but not understood.  Thus the green light takes the place of nature in providing a sense of the unknown—it is technological nature romanticism.  Instead of being inspired by nature to gain the romantic, Gatsby is inspired by electricity.  For the first time in American literature, a romantic symbol, one typically found in nature, becomes technologic—a blinking electric light.  Nature is not needed to elevate the soul.

I live in the land of Gatsby.  After work, when I go out for a run from my modest neighborhood adjacent to one that is not, I find myself pulled to the moonshadows of Gatsby’s mansions because of the broad running space and lack of traffic.  I suppose I race against time among the ghosts with my little LED headlamp.  When I get home, tired but fulfilled, I try to find the green light across Manhasset Bay.  Some evenings it is there.  Some evenings it is not.

Karst and Tourism in China

I was poking around Youtube and ran across this interesting travelogue about Yangshuo, China, a major karst region.  The region is a major tourist destination and the site of lots of beautiful landscape.

I'm in the midst of grading and it was a nice distraction from reading papers and exams.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Ag Gag Bill Chokes in Tennessee

A highly controversial agricultural bill, dubbed an "Ag Gag bill" was recently vetoed by Tennessee Haslam.  It would have banned some filming of animal cruelty at farms and agricultural processing sites and would have required journalists to disclose the sources of information about animal cruelty.  The details can be seen in this article
Click for photo credit.

There have been a number of high profile hidden camera accounts of animal cruelty in recent years.  The meat industry, as well as horse racing interests, are concerned about their portrayal in the media. 

Lawmakers in 10 states, with heavy backing of the agricultural industry, introduced whistleblower bills that would have criminalized things like taking photos on factory farms.  The Humane Society has been fighting the effort to develop Ag Gag bills.  You can read about their work here.

Most of us are divorced from where our meat comes from.  We blithely eat our meat without thinking of the life that produced it.  We waste tremendous amounts of it and throw away huge amounts of meat every day.  We have turned meat into a packaged and processed product that comes from a factory, and not from a creature.  It is for these reasons we are not allowed to see inside of the slaughterhouses.

Personally, I think it would be a wonderful thing if we all experienced butchering animals or had access to seeing it done.  We would probably have a more thoughtful relationship to our food sources.

I think if I were advising the meat business on this issue, I would urge them to put web cams into their butchering floors and make them accessible to the public.  Very few would turn in for obvious reasons, but we would have access to the reality of our meat production. 

As much as we have tried to develop humane sources of butchering meat, we are still killing a creature for food.  Can't we expect that process to be done in an open, honest way?  The meat industry's advocacy for the Ag Gag bills hurts their overall reputation and taints their products.  What do they have to hide?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Introducing New Associate Editor of On the Brink, Fred Shelley

As many of my readers know, I am growing the number of contributors to On the Brink.  Today, I am absolutely delighted to introduce new Associate Editor, Dr. Fred Shelley.  Dr. Shelley is a very well regarded Professor in the Department of Geography and Environmental Sustainability at the University of Oklahoma.

Dr. Shelley and I have known each other for years and his Facebook posts on maps and geography are among some of the highlights of my week.  I am sure you will enjoy Dr. Shelley's take on sustainability, higher education, and the environment.  Dr. Shelley brings a breadth of experience to the blog.  He is the author of dozens of articles and books on a wide range of topics including political geography, electoral geography, and cultural geography.  He is one of the leading experts on the field of geography in higher education.  In addition, he brings a breadth of knowledge and experience on the Great Plains.

Welcome aboard!

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Yesterday according to Scripps Institute of Oceanography we reached 400 ppm of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, a level not experienced on our planet for millions of years.  Just think about that.  Then think about all of the climate change deniers who are in part responsible for the global inaction on greenhouse gas pollution.  I think there will be a special place in Hell for those who willfully lied and deceived the public about climate change science.
Concentration of greenhouse gases in our atmosphere.  Click for credit.

When I was a young boy, I remember writing a poem for some class about pollution (yes, I was into it even then).  It was a long poem, but I only remember 4 lines:

Pollution pollution
What a revolution
People will die
Because of the sky

It is quite a juvenile quatrain, but I always think of it when I hear news of serious air pollution.

For those of you interested in the history of deceit and denial about pollution issues, I very much recommend Deceit and Denial:  The Deadly Politics of Industrial Pollution by Gerald Markowitz and David Rosner.  It's an excellent account of how organizations intentionally deceive the public about pollution issues.  The book details several case studies, but focuses largely on lead pollution and pollution associated with oil refineries in the American South.

There is no doubt that there has been deceit and denial around global climate change and concomitant air pollution.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Las Vegas Urban Growth

The Bellagio Fountains.
Click for credit.
A number of interesting videos have been making their way around the Internet lately showing time-lapse footage of everything from glacial retreat to urban growth.  The videos show significant change that has been occurring due to global climate change and widespread suburbanization.  I think they are particularly gripping images that capture the reality of the widespread alteration of the planet.  This one, showing the recent development of Las Vegas, is one that I find particularly fascinating.

Las Vegas is perhaps the world's most unsustainable city.  It has no rainfall to speak of, it doesn't have any significant traditional sources of energy, it can't grow its own food, and it has limited economic diversity.  It got whacked in the recent economic downturn.

I remember walking on a sidewalk in Las Vegas years ago and getting spritzed with misters in the heat.  I couldn't believe it.  All of that precious water, diverted from miles and miles away, sprayed tourists as they wandered the Vegas strip.  Ugh.  Approximately 8% of the water used in the Las Vegas area is used on the strip.  Check out this site from the Las Vegas Sun about the problems with water and Las Vegas.  It's worth a read.  There's also an excellent video. 

Monday, May 6, 2013

Grand Canyon National Park

I am continuing the On the Brink Series on National Parks with today's post.  I'm writing this from the Albuquerque airport so it seem fitting that today's featured park is one located in the southwestern region of the United states. This post continues my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks.  Today we travel to Grand Canyon National Park.  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.

I have to add a comment about this park.  The first time I visited it, I didn't want to go.  I took a group of students to the North Rim and felt obligated to visit it since we were nearby.  I think I was in my late 20's and was a bit of a snob about natural areas.  The Grand Canyon was definitely way too cosmopolitan for me!  I was used to the more remote national and state parks of California, Utah, and Arizona.  I really didn't want to experience nature with throngs of folks interested in having a photo and getting back in the RV. But, I am glad I followed my instinct.  When I saw the canyon, my jaw dropped.  It was one of the great experiences of my life.

Following the photos, you'll find links to previous On the Brink posts on the National Parks.

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Thursday, May 2, 2013

5 Tips for Stressed Out Faculty as the Semester Ends

The other day, a student asked me if anything was wrong.  She said I wasn't my usual cheery self.  I was a little taken aback because I didn't feel any different.  But upon reflection, the stress of the end of the semester has taken a toll on my normal pleasant  countenance.  Here's an example.  The other day in class, a student asked me what would happen if they went over time in their final presentations.  I said something to the effect of "I will cut you off just like the living cut off the heads of zombies in AMC's Walking Dead."  It wasn't quite that bad, but you get the idea.  So, I thought I would take a moment to remind myself and others of some well-known remedies for stress as we close out the end to a busy school year.
1.  Exercise.  Nothing gets my happiness going like some good physical activity.  As of late, my exercise of choice is running.  I've made my spring goal of doing a half marathon, but I found myself slowing down over the last week or two due to some injuries and my crazy schedule.  But, it's time to get back out on the trail.

2.  Eating right.  Over the last several months, I've been eating really well in order to do the half marathon distances noted above.  I went nearly vegan for the first half of the time, and fully vegan for the last half.  I also limited alcohol consumption and sugar.  Overall, I lost weight, felt great, and was in fantastic moods.  However, over the last week, I've gone back to eating more meat and having a few adult beverages on the weekend.  I feel more lethargic.  It's time to get back to oatmeal, hummus, and juices.

3.  Forgive yourself.  When everything piles on at the end of the semester, I find myself falling behind on email and losing track of some important correspondences or projects.  As I write this, I can think of ten other things I should be doing immediately.  However, I have come to realize that I can't do everything when everyone wants it done.  This time of year I receive between 100-200 emails a day on high volume days.  I could spend all day just replying to them while falling behind on the emails from the day before.  I've taken to doing triage on emails to deal with the most significant ones immediately, others on the weekend, and even others to a date in the future when there is more time.  In this culture of just-in-time production, we've come to expect just-in-time communication.  It's just not possible in my case.  I can understand why some organizations have banned email in favor of face to face communication, letters, or phone calls.

4.  Smell the roses.  The spring is lovely on Long Island.  The flowering landscapes of bulbs and trees across the Hofstra Campus and throughout much of the island are truly some of the most beautiful sites I've experienced.  The beauty of spring is peaking and it is worth taking a moment to rejuvenate the soul by taking time to enjoy it.

5.  Let your students, friends, and family know you will be normal after graduation.  We all get crabby with stress and we can all take out our stress on others.  They will forgive you if you start to snap, but it's a good idea to let them know that they should give you some space as the semester comes to a close.  You'll be normal soon.

Best wishes for a pleasant end of the semester!!