Monday, September 30, 2013

Drug Discovery in Caves

Click for photo credit.
Check out this article from Hazel Barton on Slate about the importance of cave research to drug discovery.  These amazing landforms hold so many scientific pieces of evidence on global climate change and geologic history, but they also contain a wealth of biological information as well.

 For more information about Hazel Barton, click here.

If you want more information about cave research, take a look at the site of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute at this site.

Big Thanks for a Big September and the Monthly Review

The audience to On the Brink continues to grow.  This month saw the largest number of visitors to On the Brink in the history of the blog.  Thanks to all of the new and continuing readers for visiting.  I really appreciate all of you for stopping by.  If you have any suggestions for improvement, please let me know.  A new addition this month:  I am adding a monthly review feature to highlight some the more popular as well as some of my favorite posts.

Thank you!
I am also looking for contributors to On the Brink.  If you have something you would like to contribute, please contact me.  I am looking for things ranging from reviews of articles, opinion pieces, current events, photo essays, poetry, and art.  The theme of this blog is environment, sustainability, and higher education, so all contributions should fit that theme.  I also like to have fun with the blog, so any humor or light-hearted contributions are welcome too.

One of the fun things about blogging is that you never know which blog posts will be the most popular.     This minimalist post about twerking actually ended up being the most popular post in the history of the blog.  Who knew?  

My series on the U.S. National Parks also were rather popular.  This month's posts featured The Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Great Basin National Park.  I also blogged about some great things going on at Hofstra here, herehere, here, here, and here.  I sometimes feel like I work at Hogwarts on Hempstead (Hofstra is on Hempstead Turnpike), so I like to share the special world of Hofstra when I can.

I wrote about a number of national and international issues on a number of topics including defining sustainability, the United Nations, and coal.  You can find these posts here, here, here, here, here, and here.

I also wrote about some local Long Island and New York City issues here, here, and here.  The post comparing hurricane guides was especially popular.  Two themes that emerged this month is recovery from Superstorm Sandy and the 911 anniversary.

I also noted that I had two new publications out with colleagues here and here.  Also, big thanks to Rachel Lamb for her interview on faith and sustainability.  It was the second part of my three part series on sustainability and faith.  The series is proving to be very popular with readers and I will be posting the third one some time in October.

Again, thanks to all of you for stopping by.  I'll be unveiling a new On the Brink banner with anew logo in October, so stay tuned.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Repurposing Shirts for Sustainability Students

We live in a time of fast clothing.  What I mean by that is that most of our clothes are not made to last because we don't want them to last.  We throw away or donate huge amounts of clothes in the U.S. every year.  Check out this article about this issue here.

For this reason, my students are making our major/minor t-shirts out of repurposed t-shirts.  If you want one, bring a t-shirt to Roosevelt 104 on the Hofstra campus and make one for yourself.  One of our majors did a great job on making stencils for the shirts and we have the fabric paints set up for you to be creative.

You can't get any more hipster than this.

Come on down to Roosevelt 104 and make a shirt!

Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks.  Today we go to one of my favorites, Great Smoky Mountain National Park in North Carolina and Tennessee.  For more information about the park, click here.  I'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. 
Following the photos, you'll find links to previous On the Brink posts on the National Parks.  Check them out to see the beauty of the U.S. National Parks as captured by visitors.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Hofstra Students See Green in NYC

Yesterday, my colleague Chris Niedt and I took our Sustainability students to New York to see some of the greener aspects of Manhattan.  We only had an afternoon, but we saw pocket parks, America's first LEED Platinum Skyscraper (the Bank of America Building near Bryant Park), Jane Jacob's house in the West Village, and the High Line.  It was a great day and it was a terrific group!  Big thanks to the folks in Hofstra's First Year Seminar office for their organizational assistance.  Photos below (click for larger).
On the High Line

One Bryant Place, the U.S.'s first LEED Platinum Skyscraper.
The energy management system of the building is pretty amazing.

The Stephen Sondheim Theater front is a facade.  Everything behind the brick is
Bank of America's trading floor.  The theater was rebuilt underground
when the skyscraper was built.

Jared Barowitz, the Director of Durst's External Affairs gave us a great tour of the
building.  Durst is the developer of the building.  Here he is showing us some of the
external features of the building.

One of the striking features of the building is that the building has floor to
ceiling windows throughout so everyone has access to a view.  And
what a view!

Looking toward lower Manhattan from near the top of 1 Bryant
Place.  The Empire State Building on the left is a LEED Gold retrofit.
These buildings help make New York one of the world's greenest cities.

The students outside 1 Bryant Park Place.

We took mass transit from Hofstra for the whole field trip:  campus bus
to the Long Island Railroad to the subway.

Dr. Chris Niedt discussing community parks in Manhattan.

Dr. Niedt outside of Jane Jacobs' home.  She wrote the influential book,
The Death and Life of Great American Cities and was a leading critique of
neighborhood renewal and freeway construction in cities.  Her work
remains influential.  Her house is now a boutique.  She was also partially
responsible for stopping the Lower Manhattan Expressway which would
have pretty much destroyed Greenwich Village.  If you are interested in reading
a bit more about her, click here.

We also made a quick snack stop at Chelsea Market in Chelsea to discuss how factories can be
transformed into amenities.  This is the former Nabisco Cracker factory and is now a nice foodie
stop withmany nice shops and restaurants.  The site is also home to a variety of media
offices including the offices of the Food Network.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Joanne Norris is Hofstra's New Student Garden Supervisor

One of the issues that campuses have with the long-term management of gardens on campus is the overall
Joanne Norris with some of the produce picked
from one of the gardens yesterday.  Photo by
Bob Brinkmann.
supervision of them.  Faculty like me are notoriously busy and these gardens are typically not mission central to the grounds department.  They sometimes get lost in the broader day to day activities taking place on campus.

To solve this issue here at Hofstra, the National Center for Suburban Studies is funding two student garden supervisor positions.

I am really delighted that Joanne Norris has agreed to be one of Hofstra's new Student Garden Supervisors.  This is a student position responsible for the management and maintenance of the student gardens on campus and encouraging participation by faculty, staff, and students. Joanne is a Sustainability Studies Major and has been active in the gardens since I started working with them.

If anyone in the Hofstra family wants to get involved with gardening on campus, please contact me and I will put you in touch with Joanne.

Monday, September 23, 2013

New EPA Coal Power Plant Rules

New coal power plant rules have been released by the EPA that would require new coal burning power plants to produce less than 1100 pounds of carbon dioxide per megawatt produced.  Of course, many immediately turned the knob to 11 and said that this was going to be the death of the U.S. coal industry, including many in the left and the right.
The father of cubism, Max Weber, painted
this image of the Glenwood Landing Power Plant
near Hempstead Harbor on the North Shore of
Long Island in 1942.  The power plant is closed and
being torn down.  It was converted to natural
gas years ago from coal production.

The truth is that this requirement is only for new power plants and it is silly to say that coal industry is dead or dying.  It is not particularly healthy, but I expect we'll have a coal industry in the U.S. for many generations.  It will probably be smaller, but it is not going away.

It must be noted that U.S. coal consumption is generally higher than it was 15 years ago, although the last few years have seen decreases as natural gas has taken a larger share of the electrical market.  It is expected that coal use will decrease as natural gas takes a larger share of the market.  So, it is inappropriate to blame the death of coal on the EPA.  Natural gas is the new hot product and coal is a much less desirable fuel.

Gas is a favored fuel because it is far cheaper to burn and produces far less pollution.  While there are approximately 1400 coal burning power plants in the U.S. now, it is expected that there will be about 15% less in the next several years due to decommissioning.

The new rules do provide some interesting opportunities for research.  The only way that new coal plants can be built in the new rules is if they somehow capture and sequester the carbon.  This is an opportunity for research scientists around the world to make an important contribution to clean energy production.  While there are some new plants coming online that sequester carbon, this is a new era for coal that will require innovation and technological development.  So, instead of spending money fighting the new rules, I would advise the coal industry to invest in technology and find ways to compete with emerging green energy products.  

Friday, September 20, 2013

Noted Archaeologist Talks Sustainability and Campus Archaeology at Hofstra

Lynne Goldstein at Hofstra University.
Noted Archaeologist, Professor Lynne Goldstein of Michigan State University (MSU), spoke about her
work on sustainability and campus archaeology at a lecture at Hofstra University.  Goldstein is the former Chair of the Anthropology program at MSU and the former editor of American Antiquity.

The MSU program is a one of a kind initiative that focuses on cutting edge archaeological research using the campus as a broad archaeological site.  What is interesting about MSU, is that it has a fascinating history that lends itself to a variety of archaeological analyses to interpret the past.

Goldstein and her team have been excavating for years on the campus and have developed a number of interesting ideas about campus development, campus sustainability, and university organization.

To find out more about MSU's campus archaeology program, click here.  To find out more about Dr. Goldstein's work, click here.

I've written before about their campus archaeology program here.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Manorhaven and Hofstra Officially Somewhat Walkable

The Hofstra campus is considered a somewhat walkable place by
Walk Score.  You can find pretty much everything you need on
campus.  Plus the grounds are quite lovely.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann
There are a number of websites that evaluate the walkability of communities. I thought I would introduce my readers to once called Walk Score.  It ranks communities by the ability to walk to various amenities like stores and restaurants.  You can see the site here.

It's interesting to poke around on the site.  According to them, the most walkable city in the United States is New York City.  It certainly is easy to get around in New York and I would have to agree.  It is easy to walk everywhere and find most things within walking distance.

I used the site to check on the places I work (Hofstra) and live (Manorhaven) and found that they have pretty good scores as well and are rated as somewhat walkable.  It is interesting that they have almost identical scores, although I would say that Manorhaven probably is more of a traditional neighborhood.  At Hofstra, I can find most things I need within walking distance from my office on campus whereas in Manorhaven, I have to walk about 1/3 of a mile to the business district from where I live.

I also checked on Waterford, Wisconsin, the small village where I grew up.  As a child, I walked to school, to the store, to my job, and the library (one of my favorite places in town).  I found it very walkable from our home.  However, it has a very low rating on the site, probably because the town has sprawled considerably from when I was a kid and most of the shopping remains in the center of the small village.

The site allows you to give feedback and let the developers know if their assessments are right or wrong.   Your feedback will go into their overall walkability rating.

Check out your own place where you live or work.  See how walkable it is.  Young people are more and more interested in living in urban walkable communities and are abandoning car-dependent suburbs for a lifestyle different from their parents.  As communities think about how to redevelop for the future, walkability should be a consideration.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

New Paper on Community Sponsored Ag in Florida

Photo by Bob Brinkmann
Check out the new paper on community sponsored agriculture (CSA) in Florida that I published with Lisa-Marie Pierre in the Florida Geographer.  You can see it here.

The thrust of the article is that college towns spawn CSA's and that there is tremendous opportunity for CSA development as an economic development tool throughout Florida.

There is international interest in high-quality, organic, and healthy food.  Yet, there are limited options for consumers to purchase these items.  Some wise entrepreneurs have discovered that CSA farms provide opportunities for new business development and direct consumer marketing.

Just take a look at this fact.  There are several CSA farms serving the relatively small Gainesville region.  However, there is only one CSA farm in the entire Miami metro region.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

ASHRAE Runs Hot and Cold and Green

ASHRAE focuses on green energy use in buildings.  For
example, this little chip can control appliances to ensure
that they have limited impact on the grid during peak
use times.  Click for photo credit.
I have been doing a ton of background reading for a book project and one of the things I delved into is ASHRAE, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerant, and Air Conditioning Engineers.  Why?  Well, this group is largely responsible for national, and in many cases, international, green building design standards as they relate to energy, refrigerants, and air conditioning.  They have developed key ways of measuring and assessing building sustainability and provide clear standards for how they should be constructed and the types of infrastructure systems that must be added to make the buildings efficient.  We all have been in building built to ASHRAE standards if you've been in any major building built over the last 30 or 40 years.  They are responsible for pushing the implementation of energy efficiency in buildings and concomitant pollution reduction.

What is interesting about ASHRAE is that the standards and guidelines are constantly changing with the technology.  Thus, the group does not have standards that last for years.  Instead, they work fluidly with technological advances, thereby keeping their guidance up to date and pertinent.

You can read more about ASHRAE here on their website.

Most people are familiar with LEED building rating systems.  This system measures a variety of aspects that make buildings green.  ASHRAE is a much more focused on standards that deal specifically with one important aspect of a building:  heating and cooling.  Certainly ASHRAE focuses on some other aspects, but this is their main focus.  Thus ASHRAE standards are utilized in the energy and atmosphere points that can be earned in a LEED building measurement system.  But, many buildings are built to ASHRAE standards. Just because a building is not rated by LEED does not mean that the building is not utilizing the best in green technology.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks.  Today we travel to Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve in Colorado.  For more information about the park, click here.  I'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.

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

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Wall Street and Ethanol Credits

There is an interesting article in the New York Times today
Corn is the main source of ethanol in the U.S.  We have
increased ethanol production over tenfold in the U.S. over
the last 10 years.   Photo by Mario Gomez.

about how Wall Street is exploiting EPA energy policy on ethanol to make big profits.  The article is a long, but fascinating, read and would be a nice addition to classroom reading on ethanol and green energy policy.

In a nutshell, the EPA sought to advance the use of ethanol in U.S. gasoline to reduce the amount of pollution and greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (I would contest whether ethanol is a green fuel, but that's a whole different discussion).  To do this, they required refineries that did not mix gasoline with ethanol to pay a fee, or credit, to make gasoline only fuel more expensive for them to produce.

What's happened is that Wall Street folks have figured out how to game the system and this has driven up the price of ethanol credits, which or course, will drive up the cost for consumers at the pump.  According to the EPA, this is an unintended consequence.

The tone of the article is quite critical of the EPA and Wall Street.  I'm sort of meh about the whole thing.  I am not a big fan of ethanol in the U.S. overall.  The ethanol programs have been pushed by big agriculture companies and IMHO ethanol is not the best choice for green energy in the U.S.  There are parts of the country where ethanol makes sense, but the greenhouse gas and pollution issues are usually a wash.

But I digress.  If the public policy goal was to increase the use of ethanol, the high cost of the credits will certainly move that agenda forward.  Plus, I know it is easy to criticize Wall Street these days, but the investors played an important role in advancing the public policy by organizing these investment schemes.  Someone had to do it.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Chipotle Ad Gets Attention

The green Interwebs are abuzz about the latest Chipotle ad that targets the modern food industry.  What do you think?


Most of my readers probably know of Chipotle's "food with integrity" program that focuses on using organic products and humanely raised meat.  Chipotle also tries to buy local and from smaller family farms.  All the Chipotle stores are corporate owned and not franchised which gives them strong control of the food sourcing.

Note, this is not an endorsement of the restaurant.  But, it is noteworthy that one of the largest fast food restaurants in the country has moved in this direction and is taking on big ag.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Symposium on Long Island Reconstruction

A common scene in the hard hit areas of Long Beach:
rebuilding next to an empty flood-damaged home.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Yesterday I attended part of a symposium on Long Island Reconstruction held by the American Planning Association.  It is about ten and a half months since Superstorm Sandy hit Long Island and there is a great deal of discussion about how to make the island more resilient.  The Governor of New York has divided hard-hit areas into community reconstruction zones to plan how to make communities more resilient.  It is a community-driven, bottom-up process.

Long Beach has some a neighborhood of homes that do not
have street frontage.  Instead, the homes front sidewalks.
It is former military housing.  Access for rescue and for
infrastructure was problematic in this neighborhood.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann
One of the salient issues in the process is how much to focus on adaptation and how much to focus on mitigation.  The adaptation approach requires us to figure out how to live better with hurricanes and storms.  This means that we need to have better land use decisions, better emergency management, and better building codes.  Mitigation focuses on things like hardening surfaces, building levees, and raising homes.

Of course mitigation and adaptation usually go hand in hand.  However, big mitigation projects can leave communities more vulnerable in the long run and leave people with a false sense of security.  Take for instance the failure of the sea walls in the Japan Tsunami or the breakage of levees in Hurricane Katrina.  Even the levee around Lake Okeechobee, the site of one of the worst hurricane disasters in American history, is expected to fail.  These types of big projects must be approached carefully with the understanding that they could cause unseen problems in the future.

James S. Rubin, the head of New York Rising, the agency
tasked with hurricane recover.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann
It will be interesting to see how the people of New York decide to move forward with hurricane reconstruction.  As part of the symposium, I took a tour of Long Beach, one of the most hard hit areas of the region.  Some homes are still unoccupied, but there is a huge amount of rebuilding and redevelopment taking place.  There is a sense of optimism about the future of Long Beach.  However, significant repairs to infrastructure need to be made.  The leaders of Long Beach are looking at how to make the infrastructure much more resistant to the problems encountered during last year's storm.

A home being raised in Long Beach.  New insurance rules will make it
difficult for homeowners without raised homes to get flood insurance.
Long Beach has a significant retirement population and there is concern
over stair access.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

These homes were raised just before Superstorm Sandy
and survived the worst of the storm.  Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

911 and First Responder Health

Among the many tragedies of the September 11, 2001 attacks is the long-term health problems of first responders who were impacted by inhaling the cloud caused by the collapse of the twin towers.  There have been many reports of this in academic studies and the media including this one.  Yesterday, I attended the Manorhaven 911 Memorial Ceremonies where an artifact of the towers was unveiled as a permanent memorial in the Manorhaven Village Hall.  A number of local politicians spoke as did a first responder from the area.  Several people from Manorhaven and the Port Washington area were killed in the attack.
September 11 first responder speaking at the Manorhaven Memorial Ceremony.
I attended last year's ceremonies, but this year there was much more discussion about the long-term health impacts of first responders.  While it is certainly appropriate to remember those lost, it is also important to remember those who have health issues associated with their work on the rescue and clean up of the site.  Plus, many who lived near the World Trade Center also have been experiencing issues.

I've written about this issue before, highlighting the research of a friend who works in public health.  So as we stop to remember 911, it is worth thinking about the health impacts of the attack.  It is also worth thinking about how to build buildings and cities in ways to reduce health impacts in case of natural disasters or war.

Manorhaven Mayor Giunta was one of the speakers who highlighted the importance of remembering those who responded to the collapse of the towers.

Members of the area's fire department, many of whom were first responders on September 11, 2001.