Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Scrub Your Face and Pollute the Lakes

Check out this report from Reuters news highlighting emerging pollution woes for the Great Lakes.  As
Click for photo credit.
it turns out, plastic pellets that are used in personal cleaning products like facial scrubs and some toothpastes are finding their way into the venerable large water bodies of North America.  Activists have brought this to the attention of the manufacturers responsible for the plastic and they are trying to find alternatives to the use of plastic in these materials.  Some believe that the plastic pollution problem is as bad or worse than the notorious floating plastic pollution problem in the Pacific Ocean.

More research is emerging as to the problem of plastic pollution within the Great Lakes.  The plastic has no biological use in nature and thus causes havoc to ecosystems.  There are many cases of animal deaths from eating plastic waste.  Plus, harmful pollutants can be released as the plastic degrades.

Living on Long Island Sound, I can attest to the vast amount of plastic that is washed up every year on the shoreline.  Plastic pollution is a widespread problem that needs serious attention.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

World Water Resources and Climate Change

Here are some basic facts about the world's water resources.  About 2.5% of all of the water of the world is freshwater.  The rest, 97.5%, is tied up in the world's oceans.

A small stream leading from a 12th century canal near Aubazine, France.
Considering the freshwater, we find that most of this, about 70%, is entrapped within permanent ice and snow cover.  Roughly 30% is stored in groundwater.  Just 0.3% of the world's freshwater is found in lakes and streams, with most of this stored within large lakes like the North American Great Lakes.

Cultures around the world depend heavily on this very small percentage of water available at the surface of the planet for drinking water, agriculture, and industrial purposes.

Now consider rising planetary temperatures and broad climate change.  What will happen to this relatively small percentage of water that we have on the planet?  Clearly, there will be regional variations as to what will happen.  The webzine provided a glimpse as to what is happening to Texas today.  The time lapse image is from 1985 through today.  It shows a reservoir drying up over a geologically short time period.

Some have asserted that Texas' long-term drought is caused by climate change and that more problems with water supply will occur in the future.

Remember, surface water is only 0.3% of the world's fresh water.  Any modification of climate change will certainly modify the global water cycle and impact the percentages of water available in different parts of the world.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

United States Blows Away Competition on Wind

A windfarm outside of Paris.  
I've been doing some background research for a big project and I've been poring over a ton of energy data.  I found one piece of information fascinating.  The U.S. is by far the largest producer of wind energy in the world.  In fact, we produce 1/4 of all of the world's wind energy.  China is second in production with approximately 20% of total wind energy.  Germany and Spain each produce about 10%.

However, this doesn't fully tell the story.  While the U.S. is the largest producer of wind energy, it is also one of the largest consumers of energy overall.  Thus, even though we produce lots of green electricity from wind, it accounts for a small percentage of our overall electrical production.

In contrast, Denmark, which is not in the top wind energy producers, has the highest percentage of its overall electricity production from wind (25%).

Wind production is increasing by 25% annually worldwide.

Friday, July 26, 2013

From garbage to garden: An urban garden in Haiti

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre
If you listened to the new podcast Thriving in the Anthropocene (listen here), you might have heard me mention the community garden initiative in Haiti. 

The Jaden Tap Tap is a half-an-acre urban garden in the area of Port au Prince called Cite Soleil. That particular area of Port au Prince is known for its poverty and crime, but the community has found a way to uplift the neighborhood. 

Previously, the garden was a plot of land that served as a dumping ground for garbage, but has since turned into a thriving garden with over 20 different vegetables. 

The youth of the neighborhood were encouraged to find garbage that was on the land that could be used as planting containers. Items such as sinks, toilets, shoes, tires, etc were collected and arranged to create a garden of reused materials. 

Most of the vegetables grown in the garden are used to provide food for the local soup kitchen to help feed the community and the remainder is sold at the local market. 

Below you can watch a video of how this community in Haiti is using  food  and gardening as a tool for activism, social change, and community building. You can also view great photos of the garden here. 


Cyclosporiasis Outbreak

My sister sent along this link from the FDA about the continuing outbreak of cyclosporiasis illnesses,
Click for photo credit.
largely in the midwest.  However, illnesses have been recorded in other areas including Georgia and New Jersey.  Cyclosporiasis is a parasite that causes intestinal illnesses.  One becomes infected with the parasite by consuming contaminated food and water.  It is not considered a contagious parasite, thus transmission does not typically occur from person to person.

It is unknown at this time what is causing the outbreak, but historically, the parasite was found in food, particularly greens and raspberries, imported into the United States.

This is a great time of year to eat local to avoid cyclosporiasis.  Make sure that you wash all your produce to avoid contaminants.  While the globalized food system does have its positives, the spreading of parasites around the world is certainly one of its negatives.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Dumpling Lesson

My colleague Sandy Garren rolling out
some dumpling skins.
Almost every culture has some sort of stuffed bread that can transform basic garden produce into something incredibly wonderful.  In northern Wisconsin and Michigan, pasties are the basic stuffed bread staple.  Many restaurants and stores offer these pie-like pastries that contain a mixture of vegetables and meats.  Greeks of course are famous for their spinach pies and France has a number of stuffed breads and the famous croques sandwiches.  However, China is known for its dumplings and my colleague Sandy Garren and I got a lesson on dumpling making from an expert.

The nice thing about dumplings is that you can stuff them with anything.  If you are vegan, they lend themselves well to vegetable and tofu filling--especially any type of cooked greens with herbs.  But, you can really stuff them with almost anything.  They key is in the thinly rolled dough and the unique way that they are cooked.  But, they are a perfect way to utilize the abundant greens available in your garden or farmer's market this time of year.

Let me share a few photos about the process of making dumplings from my lesson in China.  Some basic instructions are included in the photo captions.

Our teacher, Dr Liu, a historian at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies.

The dough is really simple.  It's just flour and water and there were not any clear measurements.  It is just enough water to make a dough the consistency of pie dough.  But, to stress, it's just flour and water.  The flour Dr. Liu used was called "dumpling flour" but it is just regular flour.  After the dough is made, you then break the dough into a pomegranate sized piece and roll it out into tubes as shown above.  In this photo you can also see the filling she made which was a simple mix of cooked greens and tofu.

The tubes are then cut into scallop sized pieced for rolling.

The dough is then rolled out into thin dumpling wrappers.  The thickness was about the thickness of a dime or quarter.

The dumplings are then filled and crimped closed with fingers.

The dumplings ready for the frying pan.  I didn't take any photos of them cooking.  But to cook them, just place them in a hot frying pan that has a thin layer of oil.  Cook on each side uncovered for about 3-6 minutes (depending upon the size of the dumplings).  Then, add about 1/3 cup of water and cover.  The steam will finish the cooking.

The dumplings (see lower left) were part of a feast we put together with friends.  Everyone cooked their own special dish and we had quite a meal!  My addition was some vegan coconut curry I modified from a recipe I learned from Myra Kornfeld.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

New Podcast: Thriving in the Anthropocene

Today's podcast features a discussion with Lisa-Marie
Pierre (left).
Check out my new podcast, Thriving in the Anthropocene here.  I don't know about you, but I listen to several podcasts to stay up on news and culture.  If you are interested in sustainability, I urge you to subscribe to this new one.  I'll upload a new podcast every two weeks or so.  The podcast will be 10-20 minutes in length and focus on interviews and I'll try to make it fun, positive, and interesting.  The focus of the podcast will be on all the great sustainability work taking place out there by folks trying to make the world a better place.

The first podcast has an interview with Lisa-Marie Pierre, who works with me on a number of environmental projects.  She's off to Arizona State University to start her Ph.D. in Urban Planning.  In this episode, we discuss her interests in sustainability, sustainability in Long Island, her work at Arizona State, and her interests in Haiti.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

The Carbon Reality

I was poking around some data yesterday and ran into an interesting set of numbers on worldwide energy sources that I graphed here.  As can clearly be seen in the pie chart, the vast majority of the world's energy is coming from fossil fuels.  Oil, coal, and natural gas account for aproximately 81% of all the world's energy.  Nuclear is the source of 6%, biofuels 10%, and hydroelectric about 2.5%.  The world is using less than 1% alternative energy sources like solar and wind. 

There is no doubt that solar and wind are gaining on traditional energy sources.  They are rapidly increasing their energy market share.  But, it is important to note that for all that has been done in the development of alternative energy, we are still living in a carbon-based energy world.  And that is unlikely to change in the near future.

Thus, as we start to face the realities of climate change, actions for adaptation and resiliency will become more important to future generations.  Carbon based energy will certainly become more expensive as time passes and we will slowly transition to alternative energy.  However, the slow transition is making me think that we are unlikely to significant alter the realities of global climate change.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

My Florida Sinkhole Book Available for $30 in Presale

The University Press of Florida has put my book up for presale for $30 (normally $49.95) through September 6th.  To find out more about the book, see this link.

When you order, you need to put in code AU613 when you check out.  The book should be shipped prior to October 29th, the scheduled publication date.  I think that they should be ready to go to press any day now.  All of the copyediting and indexing is done.  There's also an order form below.

Reflections on Time Away

One of the best things about time away is that one has an opportunity to reflect on a number of big things.  I recently returned from a long trip to China and France and came back to the U.S. in a bit of cultural jetlag.  I thought I would share some general thoughts about the environment and sustainability before I get back to my regular topical blogging.
First, some thoughts about China.

It is common now to find high-end hotels in some areas of
China.  The development of infrastructure has
created opportunity for the development of tourism
and the protection of environmental assets.
As my regular readers know, I have been working on the Island of Hainan, which is a special economic zone of China's focused on tourism and environmental protection.  It is a tropical island and it reminds me a great deal of Florida, but a Florida in the 1950's.  It is currently undergoing a tremendous boom in real estate and overall infrastructure improvements focused on developing tourist resources.  

Hainan has completed a number of interesting infrastructure improvements including the development of high speed rail, highway improvements, and water and sewer infrastructure.  In addition, construction of housing is taking place in the major cities to deal with the population increases (in-migration, seasonal in-migration, and tourism).  China is doing very big things very fast.  Many have discussed this ability to move quickly on these types of projects in contrast to the US model of doing things.  We just don't move as quickly as the Chinese on big projects.  Is this good or bad?

Certainly some of this high-rate of growth has environmental consequences.  China is just now coming to terms with the impacts of industrialization and associated pollution as well as the impacts of high rates of urbanization.  Rules and laws are being developed to address these issues and I believe that they will be able to get these problems in hand in the next two decades.  There is the political and social will to get these problems solved.

The U.S. is ahead of the world in developing rules of law around environmental problems.  Most of the laws (Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act, etc.) have been in place since the 1960's and 1970's.  However, lawmakers in China and other developing countries have the opportunity to tackle emerging pollutants and environmental problems such greenhouse gas pollution, nanopollutants, pharmaceuticals, and sustainability.  These are issues that are not well defined in US law.

The air quality of Wuzhishan is among the best in China.
What hinders the development of law in China is the relative lack of environmental non-profits and environmental activism.  China has a very different culture from American culture.  While there is some degree of activism that is tolerated and encouraged, environmental activism and associated groups are not a common tradition in China.  I think we will see more acceptance of environmental activism in the coming years.  China needs environmental leaders to step forward and provide clear criticism and guidance and the government recognizes this.
You are much more likely to find wind turbines than
WalMarts in the suburbs of France.

I'll try to post more about the specific work we were doing in China soon.

Now some thoughts about France.  We spent several days in Paris and in rural France in a small village called Aubazine, near Brive la Gaillard.  Paris is wonderful in so many ways and I wrote about some of the green attributes of the city in an earlier post.  So, I will focus my attention on rural and small-town France.

Central portions of French villages like Brive La Gaillard
continue to thrive.
In many ways, rural France reminds me of the American rural landscape of my youth.  The small towns are largely intact and thriving, stores are open in downtowns, local butchers and bakers have shops, and  the footprint of the towns do not expand forever in lines of strip malls and big box stores.  I am sure that American style suburbia exists in France, but in our wanderings, we never saw it.

Brive la Gaillard reminds me very much of Burlington, Wisconsin circa 1973, prior to the development of the large stores on the outskirts of town.  The focus of the community is in the downtown area with lots of thriving shops and parks. France has largely avoided suburbanization and the big-box store craze, although large retailers like Carrefour have driven suburban spawl to the edges of big cities.  However, France's version of suburban sprawl is highly different from America's expansive car-culture suburbs.

Local food is in abundance in rural France.
The Aubazine area is also home to a tremendous variety of regional cuisine.  This aspect of the region reminds me quite a bit of Long Island's strong locavore tradition.  It is the home of France's foie gras and walnut production.  The area is also known for a wide variety of local delicacies.

I am happy to be back home in New York, but find myself a bit jolted by the scale of things here in the US after so much time away.  

Thursday, July 18, 2013

NYC building regulations to fight obesity

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Should it be required that buildings be designed to encourage physical activity? 

New York City Mayor Bloomberg thinks it will be an effective way to fight obesity. 

On Wednesday an executive order was issued requiring new government facilities be designed to promote physical activity

New construction and renovation sites are encouraged to utilize these active design guidelines. To help promote this form of design beyond  New York and the United States, Bloomberg has launched a nonprofit called The Center for Active Design

I have been browsing the Center's website and it is easy to navigate, provides case studies, resources, and design guidelines; all things that I like to see in a website. I particularly enjoyed reading the various case studies. One case study that stood out to me was the High Line. Last fall, I visited the High Line with Hofstra's Sustainability I class and I was impressed with how the use of public space encouraged physical activity

Obesity is an issue that needs to be combated and Bloomberg's active design initiative could be one piece of the solution. 

What do you think of this initiative? Will active design spread to other U.S and global cities? Will it be effective in fighting obesity? 


Monday, July 15, 2013

Our global kitchen: Food, nature, culture

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre
I come from a family that loves to cook and that encourages healthy eating. As a child, fresh produce and home cooked meals were a must. It was not until college, I really experienced take-out foods.

Growing up in a Haitian household and visiting Haiti, I have experienced the influence of food on culture. Despite language, class, and age barriers; rice and beans, spicy fish in sauce, mangoes, and more somehow found a way to bring me closer to many people that I met during my travels to Haiti.

I recently found out about an exhibition on food and its importance to human health, diversity, the planet and more. This is one exhibition I do not want to miss. I would love to see how my experiences with food compare to others.

If you are in New York between now and August 11, check out the American Museum of Natural History exhibition called Our Global Kitchen: Food, Nature, Culture.

This exhibit "explores the complex and intricate food systems that brings what we eat from farm to fork. In sections devoted to growing, transporting, cooking, eating, tasting, and celebrating, the exhibition illuminates the myriad ways that food is produced and moved throughout the world."

How has food influenced the way you interact with others? Will you check out this exhibition?

American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY 10024
Open Daily 10 a.m. to 5:45 p.m.


Monday, July 8, 2013

Brown tide returns to the Great South Bay of Long Island

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre
Today, News 12 Long Island reported that the tide has intensified and has now spread east.  
This is unfortunate news for the Long Island shell fisherman and the marine life in the Great South Bay. 

It was disappointing to hear the news that brown tide has returned to parts of Long Island. It was just last year Bob and I went on the tour of the expanded Peconic Bay Scallop Restoration programcelebrating the project's funding as part of the state's economic development grant program. The program was developed to allow greater restoration of the scallop industry and to create new jobs in the fishery industry. 
It was interesting to learn that Long Island's shell fish industry prior to the 1980s brown tide, brought in over 2 million dollars of revenue to the region. To have the brown tide return now, not only damages the marine life, but also hinders the job of shell fisherman. Hopefully the brown tide does not spread across the island. 


Paris, City of Green

One of the reasons I am in Paris is to gather information on urban sustainability.  Paris is considered by many to be one of the greenest cities in the world.  It has extensive parks, clean air and water, an extensive subway system, and a variety of other interesting initiatives.  Here are a few photos demonstrating some of the more visible aspects of Paris' green urban landscape.
There are many electric car charging stations in Paris--more than in any other city I've visited.

The recycling containers that dot the city ask you not to drop off bottles between 10 pm and 7 am in order to keep down noise.  I love that the city is focused on noise pollution--one of the banes of most major cities.

Paris has an extensive network of bike rental facilities like this one.  It is heavily used.

Nature and art combine in many areas of Paris.  This is a wetland installation in the Saint Germain neighborhood.  The vertical brown pieces are metallic art that at first look to be natural wood.

The city has an extensive riverwalk full of great activities and interactive installations along the Seine including these beautiful wooden benches.

Of course, Paris has an extensive park system including this one near the Eiffel Tower.

Some Paris buildings are greener than others.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

The China You Don't Know

As my readers know, I was in Hainan, China the last few weeks working on cementing some long-term relationships with some universities and research institutes.  Hainan is the China you don't know.  It's tropical, very southeast Asian, and lesser developed than other parts of China.  It has a high minority population of Li and Miao people.  It is seeking to develop different from other parts of China.  It's a special economic zone focused on sustainability and tourism.

Here are a few photos.  I'll post more about the trip when I get back.  I'm now doing some work in France on my upcoming sustainability textbook.
View of the Beach in Sanya as a Typhoon was approaching.

Native Li people at a cultural park near Sanya focusing on the ethnic minority population of Hainan.

Serpent and turtle at a volcano park outside of Haikou.

Tropical canopy outside of Sanya.

My neighborhood in Haikou.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Long Island wildlife sightings

Photo credit: Rick Wesnofske
Since October there have been reports of alligator sightings on Long Island. 

It seems like there have been back to back reports of sightings of wildlife uncommon to the Long Island region. Yesterday, the Department of Environmental Conservation  confirmed that there have been coyote sightings in Watermill and Bridgehampton, Long Island. 

How did this one coyote (or maybe there are many) find its way to Long Island (check out the coyote's parody Twitter account and maybe he will tell you how he made it to Long Island)?

The SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry states on their website:

Coyotes are firmly established throughout all New York counties except Long Island and New York City. 

In addition to the coyote sightings, yesterday there were several reports of Portuguese man o' wars washing up shore in the Hamptons. 

Hopefully all these incidences are a result of people introducing them to a new habitat and not that Long Island is now the new home to alligators, coyotes, and Portuguese man o' wars. 


Monday, July 1, 2013

An art installation of Levittown

Photo Credit: Lynn Kloythanomsup/Architectural Black
While browsing through the Atlantic Cities archives, I found this interesting art collection by Chad Wright

The art series titled Master Plan mimics a postwar American suburbia. This art installation inspired by Levittown is made of sand and located on the shores of San Francisco's China Beach. 

Chad Wright on his website describes the three part series as "artifacts from my childhood, investigating suburbia in its vision and legacy. Phase One focuses on the mass-produced tract house, re-examining it as symbol for the model American Dream."

When viewing the images from this art series, I see it as the American housing market being washed away; leaving sprawl behind and making room for mixed used developments and new innovative ideas. 

Though the Levittown method of building communities may not have been the best long-term housing development route; as seen by this art homage, the influence of Levittown is undeniable. 

Check out the website to see more images from this art series.