Monday, October 28, 2013

Osprey Platforms Grow in Manorhaven

The brainchild of the project, Barbara Mallon with me on the day of
installation.  Photo by Mario Gomez.
One of the devastating impacts of Superstorm Sandy was the loss of habitat for raptors around Long Island. Many constructed platforms were lost and many old tall trees on which raptors build nests were destroyed.  One Long Island resident, Barbara Mallon, decided to do something about this.

She contacted noted Long Island bird expert and activist, Jim Jones, who worked with me and Barbara on a project to build and install two platforms in the Village of Manorhaven.  Jim built many platforms throughout Long Island over the years and he worked with us in building two of them a few weeks ago.  Over the last weekend, we installed them with the help of the Environmental Club at Schreiber High School in Port Washington and Manorhaven Mayor Giunta and Village Trustee Steele.  The day before the installation, the village road crew delivered the platforms to the installation site.

The heroes of this project are Barbara Mallon and Jim Jones.  Barbara raised $500 from Manorhaven residents to build the platforms and Jim Jones volunteered his experience in building and installing the platforms.

Photos of the installation are below.  We hope that the ospreys will move in some time this spring.

The first step in installation is to dig a hole.  Photo by Mario Gomez.

The platforms have to be carried to the site for installation at low tide.  Photo by Mario Gomez.

The platforms are hoisted up and placed in the hole that was dug. Photo by Mario Gomez.

The hole is filled in and braces are installed.  Photo by Mario Gomez.

The installation crew for platform #1 near Tom's Point, Manorhaven. Photo by Mario Gomez.

The completed platform waiting for the spring ospreys. Photo by Mario Gomez.

The second platform installation crew. This one was installed near the mouth of Sheets Creek.

All we need now are the ospreys to arrive this spring.  Photo by Mario Gomez.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Low Impact Development Strategies Reduce Costs

Check out this article from the journal, Suburban Sustainability on the costs savings from low impact development (LID) practices for land prep prior to construction. The authors of the article, Daniel Penniman, Mark Hostetler, Tatian Borisova, and Glenn Acomb did a survey of those practitioners who use LID and found that the cost savings compared to traditional development strategies were significant, and in some cases amounted to millions of dollars.

For those unfamiliar with low impact development strategies, they are heavily focused on retaining natural ecosystems and maintaining natural hydrologic flow. Conventional development strategies, particularly in rainy Florida, rely mainly on pipes and ponds to transport stormwater flow off of developed land. LID instead tries to rely on natural systems to allow rainwater to percolate where it falls. The perception among many developers is that it is more expensive to use LID in site preparation. However, the authors found that the exact opposite is true. LID results in significant cost savings.

 The journal, Suburban Sustainability, is an open access journal and you can download the articles for free. I edit the journal, so if any of my readers have any questions about it, please contact me. You can submit articles here. All articles are peer-reviewed and we strive to complete the review and editing process within a month or two.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Bread and Puppet Theater Celebrates 50 Years

This last weekend I visited Goddard College in Vermont.  There, I saw a performance piece by the founder of the Bread and Puppet Theater, Peter Schumann.

If you are not familiar with the work of Bread and Puppet Theater, they are a puppet group focused on art and politics.  They started in New York City in the 1960's and were an important voice in the anti-war movement during the Vietnam War.  Since then, the group moved to Vermont and they are linked with Goddard College due to their proximity.

They put on annual events each year in Vermont and do performances around the world as well.  The group is known for getting the community involved in their performances. The below is an example of their work. The environment is a recurring theme.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Hofstra's Asia Center

As most of my readers know, I've been doing research on sustainability issues in China, particularly Hainan
Province in southwest China.  However, I thought I would share with you some information about Hofstra's Asia Center today.

Hoftra has made a big push to reach out to Asia and other parts of the world to internationalize our student body and our faculty.  For example, one of our new majors in Sustainability came to Hofstra as part of this effort.  My lab has also hosted three visiting Chinese faculty and I expect I will host two more this year.

The university recently opened an Asia Center focused on building partnerships and student recruitment.  You can read more about it here.  You can also watch the You Tube video below about the center.  My friend and colleague Ying Qiu is the director of the Center.

If any of my readers, whether in the US or an international location, are interested in an undergraduate or graduate degree in sustainability, please contact me.

Monday, October 21, 2013

Monday Vermont Farm Blogging

I spent the weekend hanging out with friends in Vermont.  It was a very welcome break after an incredibly busy and productive start to the semester.  I got to spend time with my good friend and neighbor and many of her friends in central Vermont including long-time energy activist, Barry Bernstein who is the President of the Board of the Washington Electric Co-op.  He has dedicated his life to the clean energy movement and is one of the environmental heroes of Vermont.  You can find out more about the electric co-op here.  

We also got to hang out with the owners of Hollister Hill Farm, a totally green farm that focuses on humanely raised meat and locally produced vegetables.  They also have a B and B.  You can find out more about the farm here.  The owners have a pretty amazing story.  They left suburban New Jersey decades ago to return to the land to try to live a simpler life.  They run their farm largely on solar energy--in Vermont.  Just sayin' Florida.

It was a great weekend!

Me, Barry Bernstein, and Randy Honig.

Some happy turkeys!

Solar on the farm.  Photo by Randy Honig.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Citrus Growers Sour on Water Permits

Check out this article from the St. Petersburg Times about issues the state is having with some citrus growers using more water than they are allowed to use.

Click for photo credit.
In background, Florida has very limited water resources due to its thin aquifer called the Floridan Aquifer.  In the past, agricultural over pumping has been responsible for sinkhole formation and the loss of private wells.

However, the citrus industry has been hit by a tree disease called greening that shrivels roots and causes them to take in less water.  The official recommendation from agricultural scientists is to spray pesticides and cut down the tree.  However, some growers have opted to enhance watering beyond their permitted level in order to try to keep the trees alive.  This of course increases the risk of sinkholes and regional well damage to individuals in the region.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

New High-Tech Building to Rise in Manhattan

I recently posted about the tour we took in our sustainability courses of the Bank of America Building, the U.S.' first LEED Platinum skyscraper.  I thought I would follow up that post with some news about a new high-tech building that will be rising in Manhattan at 107 W. 57th Street.  If you are not from New York but have visited the city you have probably been near this address.  It is the same block as Carnegie Hall.

The building is fascinating because it will be 1350 feet tall and only about 43 feet wide.  It will be the second tallest building in New York and the tallest residential building in the city.  It will also hold the first Nordstroms store in the City.  The building will be 100 feet taller than the Empire State Building and will house about 100 single floor apartments.  Some have criticized the building as being an example of the income disparity in the region (the most expensive apartments will likely sell for millions), but it was approved by the local planning agencies this week.

According to the architect's Website "The design aims to bring back the quality, materiality and proportions of historic NYC towers, while taking advantage of the latest technology to push the limits of engineering and fabrication." While they have not revealed if the building will be a LEED certified building, there is no doubt that they will need to use some interesting technology to create a super skinny 1350 foot tall building in a 43 foot wide patch of earth.  It will be interesting to see the innovations that will be developed to produce this building.

The designer's, SHoP,  kindly provided the photos in this post.  You can read more about the project here.

Follow up:  We discussed this building in my Sustainability 1 class today.  The students felt that the building would likely be LEED based on building trends in New York.  However, most of the discussion centered on the technical aspects of building such a tall narrow building.  They were very curious about the technical design elements of the building so it didn't sway widely at the top and so it was safe from collapse.  It will be interesting to learn about the innovations that will be needed to construct this skyscraper.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The Shutdown Crisis the World is Ignoring

Hofstra Sustainability Studies major Taiyo Francis with noted
sustainability expert Van Jones on the Hofstra campus.

The below is a guest post from Hofstra Sustainability Studies Major, Taiyo du B. Francis.  Taiyo has lived in Japan and he has a unique perspective on the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant crisis.  His sister was in Japan when the disaster struck and he has many friends in the region.  

In New York and across the United States, people were quietly sleeping last night; dreaming  about a solution to the current government shutdown.    On the other side of the world a powerful typhoon struck the Pacific Coast of Japan.  I have been keeping up with the live updates all morning:  refreshing pages, scrolling through tweets, and reading articles.  With every click it seems another person has gone missing, or another house has disappeared.  At this point 17 are dead, 50 or more are missing, more than 300 houses are damaged or displaced, and over 200,000 additional residents have been asked to evacuate. 
The storm has hit the island of Izu Oshima the hardest.  Izu Oshima is about 75 miles south of Tokyo and home to a population of about 8200.  High winds, falling trees, and 30 inches of rain have led to mudslides and floods.  News outlets have been reporting people wading through knee deep mud in order to find others and belongings.  Although this typhoon is not on the scale of the tsunami that hit the Northern Pacific Coast of Japan in 2011, it is enough to give Japan an eerie experience of déjà vu.
With the typhoon moving up the coastline of Japan, Fukushima Dai-ichi Power Plant is preparing for excessive rain by releasing large amounts of water already collected in the facility.  This water surrounds storage tanks filled with radioactive water. The move comes after water overflowed from the facility last month, during another typhoon, in which the water had not been tested for radioactivity. “The operator of Japan’s tsunami-hit nuclear power plant sounded the alarm on the gravity of the deepening crisis of containment at the coastal site on Friday, saying that there are more than 200,000 tons of radioactive water in makeshift tanks vulnerable to leaks, with no reliable way to check on them or anywhere to transfer the water.” (New York Times)
Moving forward, Japan will have to decide whether nuclear energy is in the best interest of the country. Current Prime Minister Shnzo Abe’s policies indicate he wants to restart all of Japan’s nuclear power plants; which are currently shutdown.  From there, Mr. Abe would like to extend Japan’s nuclear program to export to other countries; including the Middle East, where he plans to travel in the coming weeks.  On the other side of the debate is former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi.  Koizumi who once supported the nuclear program has called its continuation “aimless” and “irresponsible.” (New York Times)  Shinzo Abe has vowed that the Japanese government would take a more decisive role in the cleanup of Fukushima.  However, a poll showed that 76 percent thought that the situation in Fukushima was not under control.  Koizumi was once an advocate for “cheap and clean” nuclear energy, but has now stated that it is expensive and not in the best interest of Japan’s economic growth.
“Mr. Koizumi, whose change of views is startling, shows that there is quite a split on the issue in the political class. As a pro-growth prime minister from 2001 to 2006, he was an enthusiastic proponent of cheap and clean nuclear power. Now he declares that it is the most expensive form of energy, citing not only the many billions of dollars needed to clean up Fukushima but also the unknown cost and method of dealing with nuclear waste.” (New York Times)
                  In a country that has struggled with deflation over the past two decades, it will be interesting to see where the government decides to go.  The Pacific coastline of Japan is covered with nuclear plants that could be exposed to torrential downpours and harsh storms.  That seems like too much of a risk to continue their nuclear program.  Japan realized the effects of a nuclear leak after the 2011 tsunami, which led to vast amounts of contamination of water, agriculture and meat.  Over 80,000 people are still unable to return to their homes around Fukushima two and a half years later.  Since 2011, almost every article, tweet, and letter has been negative towards the continuation of nuclear power.  Mr. Koizumi has remained firm that nuclear energy is not essential to the economic growth of Japan.  He has been very critical of the current government’s ignorance to renewable energy infrastructure and development.
“Prime Minister Abe has been stressing the need to shed the deflation mentality for Japan to lift itself out of economic stagnation. Japan can certainly do with a change in attitude. Mr. Koizumi makes a compelling argument that if the ruling Liberal Democratic Party were to announce a zero nuclear policy, “the nation could come together in the creation of a recyclable society unseen in the world, and the public mood would rise in an instant.” (New York Times)
Will the powerful voice of Junichiro Koizumi reach the ears of his protégé Shinzo Abe? 
While our country continues to argue about simply running the government, other countries are arguing about sustainability.  Sometimes I feel embarrassed for policy makers in Washington.
-Taiyo Francis
Resources and Interesting Reads:

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Bulgaria and Poland Lead Europe on Air Pollution

According to the New York Times, Bulgaria and Poland are leading Europe in air pollution.  Bulgaria is highly industrialized, so it is not a particular surprise.  Poland, also heavily industrialized also uses tremendous amounts of domestic coal for energy.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

What is interesting about the article is that it notes that Bulgaria's air pollution is in part driven by the high use of wood for fuel.  Many people in Bulgaria cannot afford more expensive energy sources.  

As population increases concomitant with energy costs, it is likely that forests will be under threat from domestic consumption.

Monday, October 14, 2013

France Joins List of Countries that Ban Fracking

Photo by Mario Gomez.
The New York Times is reporting that France has banned hydraulic fracturing (Fracking) for oil and gas extraction.  Fracking is also banned wholly or in part in several other countries including Bulgaria, Germany, Northern Ireland, Romania, Great Britain, and the United States (like some of the other countries on this list, it is banned in many areas, but very welcome in others).

France is an interesting place to look at energy consumption.  It fully embraced nuclear energy some time ago and now gets 75% of its energy from this source.  It gets very little electrical energy from petroleum and natural gas.

Many countries around the world are seeking to get rid of nuclear power plants due to the evidence seen at the Fukushima disaster.  For example, Germany decided recently to close all nuclear power plants by 2022.  Long time readers of my blog know that I am not a fan of nuclear power due to the long-term waste problems associated with it.

France does get a small amount of energy from alternative sources, but right now, they are likely to be reliant on nuclear energy for some time.

Other On the Brink writing on nuclear energy and fracking can be seen here, here, here, here, here, and here.  You can also search the blog for other posts on the topic.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Thanks to Joanne Norris for the New Blog Banner

A big thanks to Hofstra Sustainability Studies Major, Joanne Norris, for the new blog banner for On the Brink.  It was fun to go back and forth on design ideas and this one really grabbed me.  Thanks Joanne for the great design!!
Big thanks to Hofstra Sustainability Studies Major, Joanne Norris (and student
garden supervisor) for the new blog banner.

Chemical Weapons Group Gets Nobel

In case you missed the news, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons won the Nobel Peace Prize last week.  Click here for more information about the award.
Click for photo credit.

You might ask, What does this have to do with sustainability?

As it turns out, a great deal.  At a workshop at the United Nations last week, I heard presentations from 22 countries that are trying to implement sustainable development plans.  Fully 1/5 of them are dealing with conflict or other issues that make it difficult for them to move from planning to implementation.  So, any group that is trying to reduce conflict will help in the sustainability movement.  Plus, chemical weapons are weapons of mass destruction.  They kill indiscriminately. 

International chemical weapons treaties emerged after their use in World War I.  In 1925, the Geneva Protocol made their use illegal--but stopped short of allowing their possession.  Thus, many nations, including the United States, manufactured chemical weapons.  I remember years ago doing some geologic consulting work  at a chemical weapons facility in Arkansas.  At the time, I was surprised to learn how many we had.

In 1997 the Chemical Weapons Convention came into effect that required signatories to destroy stockpiles.  The U.S. signed the agreement.  Syria did not until last  month.  The U.S. is still in the destruction phase, but has destroyed a significant amount of chemical weapons over the last several decades.

If you click to the website associated with regulating chemical weapons here, you will find that they are impacted by the current government shutdown.  Note, if you are reading this in the archive:  as of this writing,  the U.S. Government has been shut down for several days which has impacted a number of agencies. 

Friday, October 11, 2013

National Sustainability Planning Part II

Photo by Mario Gomez.
On Thursday, I wrote about experiences I have been having at the United Nations in a workshop on infusing sustainable development within national sustainable development strategies.  I highlighted several presentations made by experts from nations engaged with the sustainable development processes.  You can see my thoughts on them here.  You can also read about the meeting I am at here.

I thought I would continue the discussion by featuring some of the other nations that reviewed their efforts.

Bhutan.  Bhutan has a very well regarded sustainable development approach known as the Gross National Happiness Index.  Unlike many indices that focus on issues like income and productivity, the plan focuses on evaluating the happiness of the population.  You can read about Bhutan's plan here.  I had a post about the index earlier this year here.

Costa Rica.  Costa Rica has focused on sustainable development for a considerable amount of time (since the original Earth Summit in 1992).  They continue to advance sustainable development in innovative ways.  They hope to be carbon neutral within the next decade.

Uganda.  Uganda has a sustainability plan that is focused on goal setting to 2040.  This is one of the longest-term sustainability plan that I know of that has been created in a sustainable development context.  Uganda has aggressive goals to advance to a developed economy by that time, but there are national challenges of finances, capacity building, institutional support, and local capacity.

Lebanon, Jordan, and Yemen.  Each of these countries has been involved in sustainable development planning in some way, but they have the same challenges:  security, violence, and conflict.  I hate to put these nations together since they are addressing these issues in very different ways, but it is still useful to examine them as a group.  In Lebanon, the challenge is that the country is very polarized and the government transitions frequently, making it difficult to prioritize sustainable development within national strategies.  In Jordan, sustainable development has been infused in the discourse of the country for some time.  However, the conflict in surrounding regions make it difficult to actualize sustainable development within national strategies.  Jordan was most recently impacted by refugees from Syria.  Yemen has been greatly impacted by conflict and the government does not have full control of the total geographic extent of the country.  Thus, it is difficult to conduct widespread sustainable development initiatives that have great impact.  Yet, Yemen has been infusing sustainable development within existing planning processes.  These three countries are struggling with making progress on sustainable development.  It is worth noting that many countries have similar issues.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

National Sustainability Planning Examples

Photo by Mario Gomez.
Most of the world's nations have been engaged with some degree of sustainability planning at the highest level.  This week, I'm at the United Nations at a workshop to discuss sustainability planning with a number of national experts in charge of sustainability planning in their nations.  Yesterday there were a number of national presentations about the planning in specific countries and I thought I would memorialize several of them.

Nepal.  Nepal has been involved with national level planning since 1956.  Their current round of planning focuses on graduating from a LDC nation (lesser developed nation) by 2022.  They have 28 ministries at the central level working on achieving goals as well as 5 development regions.  They have engaged a variety of stakeholders in the planning process.

Jamaica.  The Planning Institute of Jamaica is a national level organization charged with a variety of planning initiatives.  They have been focused on sustainability for some time, but their latest 2009 plan is their first long-term plan called Vision 2030, Sustainable Prosperity built around 4 goals and 15 national outcomes.  They also have a series of 3-year medium term plans built within the longer-term plan.  To achieve goals, they developed 32 national task forces and 17 multi-sector work groups that include a variety of stakeholders from the public and private sector.

Cambodia.  Cambodia has a number of organizations focused on sustainable development at the national level including the National Council for Green Growth and the National Policy on Green Development.  Cambodia developed a National Plan on Green Development 2013-2030.  Given the geography and culture of Cambodia, the plan is heavily focused on agriculture, fisheries, and forests.

Ghana.  Instead of long-term sustainability planning, Ghana is focused on 4-year planning with short-term goals that address long-term problems.  Sustainable development is infused within the planning process.  This shorter-term planning allows for a regular evaluation of goals as well as a regular resetting of priorities based on changing national and global conditions.

Each of these planning models provides a way for the nation's citizens to engage on sustainability issues in both a top down and bottom up process.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Op-Ed in Huffington Post: Steampunking the Anthropocene

Photo by Mario Gomez.
My posting will be a little slow this week.  I am participating and presenting in a workshop organized by the United Nations called, Capacity Building Workshop and Expert Group Meeting on Mainstreaming Sustainable Development in National Development Strategies.

However, I thought I would share an op ed I wrote for the Huffington Post that was published today.  Click here to read.  It was inspired by this post I wrote last week, as well as the steampunk off Broadway production of Around the World in 80 Days I saw a few weeks ago.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Urban Farming in Phoenix, Arizona

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to visit an urban garden in Phoenix with my urban food systems class.

The Tiger Mountain Foundation is a 501c3 organization that "utilizes ABCD (Asset Based Community Development) to bring sustainability back to the community."

Phoenix is not a place where I imagined community gardens to flourish, but the Tiger Mountain Foundation garden has grown from one location to two and they even supply the Hilton Hotel, local restaurants, and several farmer's markets.

They grow several crops like: okra, carrots, basil, swiss chard. They have a bee hive where they collect honey to sell and a hen coup where they collect eggs to sell.

It was inspirational to hear the stories from the young men who went from having anger management issues to being soothed by the plants to pursuing careers in agriculture. Working in the garden has helped the children in the neighborhood learn about healthy foods and managing a business. The garden also allows the families in the neighborhood to have a place to socialize and gather.

What I thought was interesting was that stores in the neighborhood experience theft and break-ins, but the garden has never had supplies or food stolen. The neighbors are extremely invested in the garden and even call the police when they suspect illegal dumping or other illegal activities.

This shows that gardens can bring a sense of pride to a neighborhood and create a sense of togetherness.

Tiger Mountain Foundation's slogan is a 'passage to a stronger community' this was evident during my visit.

Below are some photos from my visit.


Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre

Photo Credit: Lisa-Marie Pierre


Monday, October 7, 2013

Goofy Anti-GMO Video

Check out this goofy anti-GMO video.  It is in support of Washington's I-522 initiative that is seeking to require labeling GMO foods in Washington.  Many of the big retailers are already requiring labeling and it's only a matter of time before this is industry standard, so I don't know why industry is fighting against something that is likely to be standard in the future.

Would you want to know if GMO crops are in the food you buy?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Oil Wells in Suburban Florida Pump Up Activism

The Naples area is not particularly well-known for its activism.  The area is one of the fastest growing areas of the country, built largely around a development model that attracts retirees and those fed up with the cold north to relatively inexpensive housing.  These people tend to skew conservative and would more likely be seen at a Tea Party event over a Green Party gathering.
A typical Golden Gate Estates landscape, minus the well.
Click for photo credit.

But the Not In My Backyard (NIMBY) syndrome is powerful and will show up in unexpected places.  Today, I found it in suburban Naples where local suburbanites are concerned with the state's Department of Environmental Protection's permitting of oil wells within 1000 feet of someone's home.  You can read about it in this St. Petersburg Times article.  

Florida is not often considered an oil state.  It famously banned offshore drilling several years ago, even though it has considerable resources.  However, on land, Florida has some oil in particular places, especially in southwest Florida near Naples.  

The Times article is worth a read and I think it highlights the growing impact of environmental issues in the suburbs.  Take a look at this piece I wrote earlier this year about oil leaks in suburban Arkansas.  Many suburbanites moved out of cities in part to get away from the kinds of issues that some are now experiencing.

It is worth noting that the well in question is in the Golden Gate Estates area of Naples.  This is a notorious vast land development that many in the region know of due to a variety of legal issues.  It is was built on the edge of the Everglades and was largely empty for years before the population boom hit the region.  This 1992 article from the Orlando Sun Sentinel provides some context.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

On the Desert's Edge

On the Desert's Edge is available for purchase
by clicking the title in the Amazon
Nightstand Reading banner on the right.
I mentioned my friend Ronal Kerbo in my earlier post today, so I thought I would introduce my readers to a book that he wrote with fellow long-time National Park Service cave and karst expert, Dale Pate.  The book is called On the Desert's Edge and it is worth a read.  You can purchase it by clicking the link to it in the banner labeled Nightstand Reading to the right.  Along with On the Dessert's Edge, I've added two other books that I am in the midst of right now.  My friend, Lynne Goldstein, suggested I might like a murder mystery titled The Last Kashmiri Rose and I am also reading Garbology for just broad environmental enlightenment.

On the Desert's Edge is clearly a love poem to the landscapes of the southwestern United States where Pate and Kerbo worked for many years.  It includes beautiful photos and a variety of poetry and prose.  It is a form of modern landscape romanticism that I find refreshing since most of the writing on the National Parks and wilderness these days is full of lots of dry, although important, scientific language.

If you are a lover of the U.S. National Parks, especially those in the southwest, you'll enjoy this book.  Both of the authors are skilled photographers of nature.  The photos alone are worth the price of the book.  However, their poetry and prose are refreshing, direct, and open.

I think this book will surprise you.  It is not the type of book one would expect to see published by long-term wilderness and park experts in the modern era.  It is a hat tilt to the romantic styles of the past, but with an up-to-date aesthetic.

The Dignity of National Parks Employees

Anyone who reads this blog knows that I am a big fan of the U.S. National Park Service.  We have the best national parks in the world.  They were started by leaders who understood the value of wilderness and public space to the lives of Americans.  They stand as a symbol of the cooperative nature of our society and the values we place on public space and discourse.

Most of you have probably seen the video of Representative Neugebauer telling a park service employee she should be ashamed for doing her job on the Mall in Washington D.C.  If you haven't, take a look here.  It was a piece of political grandstanding that clearly went wrong.

One of my friends, Ronal Kerbo, worked for the National Park Service for 31 years before retiring.  He did amazing work on park management, particularly on cave and karst management in the western parks.  He is one of the reasons we have a National Cave and Karst Research Institute in our country.  He has done great service for the people of the United States.

On facebook, he posts lots of images of his family, beautiful photographs of nature, and lots of food (he's a noted expert on southwestern cuisine).  He is distinctly not political.  Indeed, since I've known him I don't think I've ever heard him say anything political at all.  He's like most government employees I know.  They keep their politics to themselves.

But the video of the congressman castigating the park service employee brought out a variety of comments from him and others who love the parks.  They were not complimentary of what is going on in Washington and certainly not complementary to the congressman.

What was striking in the video is the dignity of the Park Service employee's response to the berating by the congressman.  She said simply, "I am not ashamed."  None of us should be ashamed of our park employees.  We should be proud of their work and their service on behalf of all of us.  I know that I am grateful for the service of the park employees on the Mall, Ronal's service, and the service of so many others out there who are currently furloughed.

What we should be ashamed of is a government that allows this to happen.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Thanks Stony Brook Geosciences

The Earth Sciences Building at Stony Brook University.
Click for photo credit.
A big thanks to Stony Brook Geosciences Department for having me over to give a colloquium to their graduate students yesterday.  I also met with several folks involved with their Sustainability Program and and found we have many mutual interests and many opportunities for collaboration and cooperation.  I was really impressed by all that they do in Geosciences and Sustainability.

My talk focused on sinkholes and sustainability.  I reviewed the interesting geology of Florida, spent some time talking about sinkhole formation and the variation of sinkhole formation in the state, and concluded with some broad discussion on sinkhole policy and sustainability.  I even used my new steampunk term "law of sustainabilitarianism" (more precisely defined here as the law that states that human processes acting today are likely to impact the future in predictable ways).

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Citizens Winners in Sustainability Election Forum

For years I've been saying that the real action on sustainability in the United States is at the local level and this was on display in big ways last night on the Hofstra Campus.  Our National Center for Suburban Studies as well as the League of Conservation Voters co-hosted a candidate forum on sustainability.  There was standing room only in the student theater on campus.  Nearly 400 citizens attended.  There is a hotly contested election for Nassau County Executive that is underway in our county and last night's forum was part of the process.

I don't want to speak about any individual candidate.  However, let me just say that both the Republican and the Democratic candidates spoke intelligently about climate change mitigation, green energy, water quality, pollution, transit, and a wide array of other topics.  Indeed, there was really very little difference between the two candidates on most of the major topics that were discussed.

Now take a look at what is happening at the national stage where the government is largely shut down and where discussion of climate change or green energy is often derided by one party.  That is why all the serious bipartisan action on sustainability in the U.S. is taking place at the local level and sometimes the state level.  All of the major impacts are being felt in local communities and there is usually consensus in local governments about many of the key environmental issues facing our nation.

So the real winners in last night's candidate forum were the citizens of Nassau County.  They have two candidates who understand the environmental and sustainability issues facing the region and are supportive of initiatives to improve the sustainability of the county.  While there are differences, they are not the differences one sees at the national stage.  Can you imagine a candidate forum on sustainability at the national level?

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


One of the tenets of geology is that "The present is the key to the past."  This concept, uniformitarianism, was developed by Charles Lyell and others in the 19th century as evidence grew in the scientific community that a
Uniformitarianism tells us that the processes we see acting
on our planet today have been acting on our planet in the
past.  This allows us to conceptualize past geologic
number of earth processes acting at the time (and now) are largely responsible for the wide array of geological features we see on the earth.  Thus, if we see glacial deposits in one area we know that glaciers one time, just like the ones we see today, were active in the area in the past.

I have been struggling with words to use to describe the kind of geological conditions we now live in.  Geologists of course have coined the term Anthropocene to describe the time period of significant human alteration that we now live in on our planet.  But, we don't have terms like uniformitarianism to conceptually describe the way we have to think forward to the impact of our actions on our planet.  The new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has framed what will likely be a very warm future for us in the coming centuries and others have looked forward to what will occur if population growth continues or if we continue to deplete the oceans.

Sustainabilitarianism tells us that scientific evidence
provides us with a range of scenarios that allows us
 to conceptualize the future.  For example, this location on
Long Island will be underwater in a few decades if climate
predictions prove to be true.  It is a recovery zone in
 Long Beach.
I've decided to name this forward thinking way of devising of a range of scenarios for how the world will unfold due to human impacts on natural systems based on scientific evidence "sustainabilitarianism."  I like the term because it is somewhat equated to uniformitarianism in that we are using scientific evidence to look forward on natural systems, not backwards.

This joins my other favorite created term, "Sustainabilly."  A sustainabilly is someone from the suburbs or city who moves to a rural environment to try to live a simpler life.  Or someone from Manhattan who opens up an artisanal pickle or whiskey factory in Brooklyn (the New Yorkers will get this joke).