Saturday, November 30, 2013

GMO Information Resources

As my readers know from an earlier post, Hofstra is hosting an important debate on the regulation of
GMO crops.  Some of the nation's leading voices on the issue will be participating.  I am one of the organizers of the event.  When putting this together, I reached out to several people for advice.  One of them was Richard Goodman, a Research Professor in the Department of Food Science at the University of Nebraska.  He is one of the leading researchers and voices in the world on GMOs.  He was kind enough to send me several resources on GMO science.

I am including them here in this post.  Whether you are pro or anti GMO, your perspective will only improve by understanding the scientific issues associated with them.  I've posted lots of information about the anti-GMO movement over the years so as an educator it is important that I share this information as well.

First, Dr. Goodman's team has a free bioinformatics tool to assist with the evaluation of potential allergenicity of GM proteins and novel food ingredients here.

The Center for Environmental Risk Assessment has a complete list of GM crops that have been approved somewhere in the world here.

The International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-Biotech Applications has a number of resources and up to date news features here.

The International Rice Research Institute has a variety of information on golden rice here.

This link takes you to a company, Oxitec, that produces GM insects that are used for disease control.

Also, the below are a series of papers that were presented at a workshop of the International Life Sciences Institute about a year ago about the potential changes in genetics, nutrients/anti-nutrients, and regulartory studies and issues of GM crops.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry.2013;61: 8254–8259.  First Published on May 13, 2013; DOI:10.1021/jf400685y. Rita H. Mumm 

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2013;61(35):8349–8355.​​ First Published on July 18, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf401178d. William D. Price and Lynne Underhill

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8304–8311. First Published on May 29, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf400777v. Kazumi Kitta

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8340–8348.  First Published on August 2, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf401124y. David P. Lovell

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry ​2013;61(35):8260–8266.   First Published on March 27, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf400185q. Laura S. Privalle, Nancy Gillikin, and Christine Wandelt.

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8248–8253.​​ First Published on June 7, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf401141r.  Owen A. Hoekenga, Jannavi Srinivasan, Gerard Barry, and Andrew Bartholomaeus

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry ​2013;61(35):8317–8332. First Published on July 15, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf400952y. Richard EGoodman, Rakhi Panda, Harsha Ariyarathna

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8333–8339. ​ First Published on July 30, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf401153x.  Fredrika W. Jansen van Rijssen, E. Jane Morris, and Jacobus N. Eloff

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. 2013;61(35):8267–8276.   ​ First Published on May 29, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf305511d.  Sherry A. Flint-Garcia

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry ​2013;61(35):8312–8316.  First Published on July 23, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf401033d.  Hilary A. Rogers

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8287–8294.​  First Published on July 12, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf400774y.  Matthew W. Blair

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8295–8303.  First Published on February 15, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf3054092.  Peter R. Shewry, Malcolm J. Hawkesford, Vieno Piironen, Ann-Maija Lampi, Kurt Gebruers, Danuta Boros, Annica A. M. Andersson, Per Åman, Mariann Rakszegi, Zoltan Bedo, and Jane L. Ward

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8243–8247.  First Published on September 4, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf401097q.  Philip D. BruneAngela Hendrickson CullerWilliam P. Ridley, and Kate Walker

Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2013;61(35):8277–8286.​  First Published on April 3, 2013; DOI: 10.1021/jf305531j.  Flavio Breseghello, Alexandre Siqueira Guedes Coelho

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Small Business of the Week

I've been toying with the idea of featuring small businesses on the blog occasionally.  Small businesses are doing all kinds of interesting things with sustainability and they help promote local products and a local economy.  I'm modeling the series after Oprah's Favorite Things. She featured products that she trusted and knew she liked.  I'll do the same.

I thought that in the madness of Black Friday, I'd go ahead and start with a small business that sells great gifts.  The company is called Alchemy and Ashes and they produce very nice cold process soaps. I ran into this company at the Temple Terrace Art Festival in Temple Terrace, Florida this fall.

I bought a set of 5 soaps for small gifts for people.  The soaps have very unique scents.  They use a variety of essential oils that make the soaps quite fragrant.  I've kept a set in my office as a gift for someone and my entire office smells great.  The scents are not the normal scents one often finds with soap.  For example, their French Quarter Black Voodoo uses anise, lemon, lager, and patchouli.

I also love the names of the soaps.  They utilize a variety of names or locations known in Tampa or the south in general.  They also have a steampunk aesthetic to the soap colors, packaging, and naming.  Take a look at Nevermore, Lenore which is based on ylangylang, grapefruit, and patchouli.

Check out their Etsy shop here. These soaps make great inexpensive gifts.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Debate About GMO's at Hofstra

If you are in the Long Island area next week Thursday, stop by Hofstra for a major debate event about the role of the US government in the management of genetically modified foods.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hawaii Volcanoes National Park

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks.  Today we go to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park in Hawaii.

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.
Click for photo credit.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Friday Harp Twins Play Lord of the Rings Blogging

It's the Friday before Thanksgiving!  So why not post about harp twins playing a Lord of the Rings  medley?  For those of us in the higher ed biz, deep breaths, the semester is almost over.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Interview with Rabbi Troster of GreenFaith

Rabbi Troster
Today I conclude my three part series on faith and sustainability with an interview with Rabbi Lawrence Troster of the group GreenFaith:  Interfaith Partners for the Environment.  He is an expert on eco-theology, biotethics, and Judaism and modern science.  He holds a B.A. from the University of Toronto and an M.A. from the Jewish Theological Seminary.

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, I work in the intersection of science and policy.  While science and policy have a tremendous impact on sustainability efforts, it is our broader culture that is the source of solutions and problems.  It is worthwhile, therefore, to encourage conversations on the role of societal movements like religion in the modern sustainability movement.  You can read the first part of the series, my interview with Catholic Ecology blogger, William Patenaude, here and the second part of the series with Rachel Lamb, from Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, here.

Rabbi Troster is one of the most well-known thinkers on eco-theology.  He is a prolific writer, a popular speaker (including giving lectures at the National Cathedral), and a regular contributor to the Huffington Post.  He has been honored by the Temple of Understanding as an Interfaith Visionary.  He also received an honorary Doctor of Divinity from the Jewish Theological Seminary.  He has written widely on the topic of faith and sustainability and has an important perspective on the environment.  

1.  You are a well-regarded scholar on Judaism and the environment.  What inspired you to focus a significant amount of your work on this issue?

My interest came from several streams:
1. Intellectual: while I was at the Jewish Theological Seminary through the influence of two teachers (Rabbi Neil Gillman & Rabbi Seymour Siegel) I became very interested in the relationship between science and religion (especially in the areas of cosmology and bioethics). Two papers that I wrote for them became my first published articles. When I was in my first pulpit in Toronto, I was giving a series of lectures on science and religion and a number of the people who attended were very involved in the secular environmental movement in local, national and international organizations. I began to study the issue as it seemed to be a natural segue from the theological work that I had been doing (I still write on science and religion issues apart from environmentalism)
2.  Emotional:  I was the father of 2 young twin girls (aged 6 or 7) and as I learned about climate change, I began to be very concerned with their future and the future of their children. I am now a grandfather of three girls (6, 3 ½ & 3) with another grandchild on the way and I am very frightened about what their world will look like when they are my age.
3. Spiritual: After having been involved in this work for some years, I realized that my most important early spiritual experiences took place in the natural world. I went to summer camp in Northern Ontario for many years and looking back, I had some very formative spiritual moments. Some of my strongest spiritual experiences since then continue to be in the natural world. In the last 15 years, I believe that my spirituality has been primarily based on this.
4. Ethical: The more that I have learned about environmental justice, the more that I have understood my environmentalism to be primarily concerned with the injustice that is occurring because of environmental degradation. This is one of my central concerns as an eco-theologian and activist.

2.  What do you see as the main environmental problem our world is facing at the moment?

Climate change because it is both result of and the source of much of the environmental problems in the world and it has the potential to wreck the most damage. I see it as big a threat to humanity as the possibility of nuclear war in the Cold War era. And we will take down many species with us.

3.  My readers come from many different backgrounds and are from all over the world.  What would you like them to know about your work on Judaism and the environment? 

I have been very influenced by the work of Thomas Berry and of Hans Jonas. From them I have been emboldened to try to reexamine all the classic Jewish theological categories of divine action (Creation, Revelation & Redemption) from an eco-theological perspective. I believe that it is necessary for all religious communities to take seriously the new worldview that modern science has given us in the last 200 years and to realize that all our traditional sources were written in very different times with very different worldviews. Our understanding of the natural world is exponentially much greater and this must have implications in our theologies. We can still seek wisdom in our sources but they must be understood within their own time and reinterpreted for our time. Also, it is very important that we understand that our modern technology is qualitatively much more power than anything that came before and this new vast power requires new ethical responses. We, for the first time in human history, can have an impact on people at great distances from us both spatially and temporally. This creates an ethical gap that we must try to bridge.

4.  You wrote a wonderful piece for Huffingtonpost called 10 Teachings on Judaism and the Environment that I encourage my readers to check out  here.  One of the ten teachings is that “Humanity should view their place in Creation with love and awe.”  I sometimes think that our modern world, full of technology and innovation, separates us from nature.  How do you think we can reconnect with this sense of love and awe in our modern era?

I believe that scientific study of the natural world can produce love and awe but we must be open to having such feelings. We must seek what Martin Buber called I-Thou moments and be open to what Abraham Joshua Heschel called “radical amazement.” I also believe that prayer and ritual can be utilized to bring about this state of mind and spirit. Blessings over everyday things and actions, for example, can create sacred pauses so that we do not take the world for granted. Mindfulness meditation is also good for this.

5.  Have Jewish congregations embraced the modern sustainability movement?  If so, how is this expressed in action?

Many Jewish congregations have tried to incorporate sustainability into their buildings, education programs and liturgy. But this is not happening in enough communities. Many rabbis still know little about this issue and although most of the denominations have embraced sustainability in principle, they have yet to really commit the resources necessary to achieve this. Some of the denominations are better than others. I believe that there is significant grassroots action occurring but it is not enough and there need to be more advocacy.

6.  You wrote an interesting entry for the Encyclopedia of Sustainability, Vol. 1:  The Spirit of Sustainability on Judaism.  Readers can click here to read it.  In it, you describe several aspects of the Jewish liturgy and practice that relate to sustainability.  I was particularly struck by your statements on the significance of the Sabbath.  Could you explain to my readers how practicing the Sabbath can contribute to greater environmental awareness?

The Sabbath liturgy is filled with references to Creation as its origin was in the creation cycle of the 7 day week that was central to the theology of the Priestly School of the Temple in Jerusalem in the First Temple period. Thus on the Sabbath we can focus on Creation and also step back from our everyday activities. The traditional rules that govern the Sabbath are meant to do that. But there is also a great celebratory aspect in the traditional practice of the Sabbath. On the Sabbath we are supposed to let Creation be, and utilize our time in relaxation, communal prayer and study and family celebration. By stopping as much as possible our usual activities we can get ourselves out of normal time and enter into a different spiritual place. Again, as with all prayer, it can help us to appreciate Creation and not take it for granted. I believe that Abraham Joshua Heschel once said (in his great book on the Sabbath) that on the Sabbath, because we cannot pick the flower, the flower becomes like us and we become like the flower—each with its own undisturbed place in Creation.

7.  I work a great deal in the nexus of science and policy.  But overall, it is clear that we cannot legislate human behavior and it is important to encourage broad cultural change on sustainability issues.  For example, we can recycle and encourage people to reduce waste, but we still produce mountains of waste due to our hyper consumer culture.  We have almost turned consumerism into a religion.  How does Judaism address this problem?

I believe that there is great material on this issue to be found in the Wisdom literature in the Hebrew Bible, in post-biblical literature (like the book of Ben Sira), and in rabbinic literature. From these sources come alternative views of how we should live our lives and achieve happiness. Not from the addiction of consumerism but from the values of gratitude, blessing, understanding our place in Creation, our interconnection with the rest of Creation, and our responsibility to take care of Creation. We also can learn how God takes pleasure in all creatures and each has its own inherent value. These ideas can help to counter the monetization of the world which numbs us to the real value of each thing in creation. We can teach people that real happiness means both personal and societal well-being which requires us to think of the common good and not just our own desires. I believe that traditional Wisdom sources can help us to distinguish between our wants and our needs.

8.  In the field of sustainability, we are trying to preserve the beauty and bounty of our planet for future generations.  What gives you hope for the future?

I have hope first of all because despair would be impossible to live with. I also have hope because I see many young people being genially concerned with trying to do something about climate change. I have also seen the spread of religious action on the environment—it has not been fast or wide enough but it is still gaining strength. I also believe that people when pushed to the wall, can come together in collective action. My fear is that this action will come too late to stop terrible suffering.

9.  You are the Rabbinic Scholar-in-Residence with Green Faith.  Readers can find out about this organization here.  Could you explain a bit about this organization?  What is your role with Green Faith?

GreenFaith began as an interfaith coalition to mobilize NJ religious communities to fight climate change by becoming sustainable. It was started in 1992/3 by an Episcopalian priest (Skip Vilas) and a Catholic academic who had attend the Rio conference. Since then, it has expanded its work on nationwide projects primarily in the areas of leadership development and congregational resources. Its three key concepts which govern all its work are: Spirit, Stewardship and Justice.

I became involved when I moved to NJ in 1993 and I was on the board of directors for about ten years. Then I began to work for GF in a variety of different capacities. Together with the Rev Fletcher Harper, I created the Fellowship Program which trains religious leaders to become religious environmental leaders. There are now over 130 GreenFaith Fellows across the country from many faith communities: Christian and Jewish denominations, Unitarians, Muslims and Hindus. Because of funding problems I am no longer the director of the Program but I continue to be involved as the Rabbinic Scholar-in-Residence which means that I teach in the Program and also help develop resources for other GF programs.

10.  Is there anything else you would like to say?

My work as a rabbi, eco-theologian, educator and activist has given great meaning to my life and I am constantly surprised and inspired by the people I meet who are so committed to this work. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Happy World Toilet Day!

Gotta love the logo.
I know that November often gets folks down in the dumps, so why not relieve yourself of the negativity and find a way to celebrate World Toilet Day?

Over 2.5 billion people in the world do not have access to toilets with improved sanitation and many of these people do not use toilets at all.  This of course causes tremendous environmental and health problems in many parts of the world.  Diseases associated with diarrhea are the second leading cause of death among young people.

The United Nations and other organizations are trying to raise awareness through the World Toilet Day campaign.

To find out more about World Toilet Day, click here.

Sinkhole Book Gets Hofstra Write Up

Check out this nice article in Hofstra Magazine on my sinkhole book that just came out.  It is a really nice review of the science and policy issues associated with sinkholes in Florida.

Big thanks to the folks at Hofstra for putting out the article!

You can purchase the book here if you are interested in sinkholes in Florida.

Also, here's the latest on last week's Dunedin, Florida sinkhole that caused the destruction of two homes.

Monday, November 18, 2013


My Movember stache is
making progress.
I'm taking a little departure from the main theme of the blog to draw my readers' attention to Movember: a month long focus on men's health.  You can read about it here.  You might have heard of this initiative.  During November, men grow moustaches to raise awareness about men's health issues.

The top ten killers of men according to the CDC are heart disease, cancer, accidents, respiratory disease, stroke, diabetes, suicide, pneumonia, kidney disease and Alzheimer's disease.

Movember focuses attention on some of the greatest health risks to men:  prostate cancer, testicular cancer, and mental health.  So if you are over 50, get a prostate screening.  All guys should check their junk regularly for irregularities.  And if you have mental health issues, don't be shy about getting help.  It's one of the leading men's health problems and you should not be afraid to reach out.

Also, if you are growing a Movember stache like me, send it along and I'll post it.  If I get a bunch of them, I'll pick my favorite one to win a cool bat t-shirt.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Joan Jett Jettisoned in Float Flap

Joan Jett drummed off South Dakota Float.
Photo by Mario Gomez.
Several years ago I saw Joan Jett in a production of the Rocky Horror Show on Broadway.  She played Columbia.  She was fantastic and brought her own sense of crazy rock and roll to the part.  I didn't know her politics or whether or not she was a vegetarian.  She was a great performer and I couldn't care less whether she was a Socialist, Tea Party enthusiast, or a Zoroastrian.  I just don't think that entertainers or their opinions are that relevant in the American political scene.  I think most of us feel this way about performers

--but clearly not all of us.

In this day when our personal politics or beliefs get wrapped up in our professions, it is not a surprise to learn that Joan Jett was uninvited to perform on the South Dakota float in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade after the South Dakota Cattleman's Association learned that Jett is a vegetarian and did some promos for PETA in the past.  Click here for the story.

Frog legs not on the menu at Joan Jett's Thanksgiving.
Photo by Mario Gomez.

I think that if the Cattleman's Association didn't protest the selection, the parade would have gone off without a hitch and I am certain that Joan Jett would have performed her greatest hits on the float without once mentioning PETA or her advocacy of vegetarianism.  She would have represented South Dakota well and no one would have known or thought about the PETA issue.  It's Thanksgiving after all and not a day for political statements.  South Dakota drew attention to the issue by uninviting Jett.  Indeed, the Cattlemen gave PETA a larger national stage to draw unwelcome attention to South Dakota's meat industry.

Santa is not a vegan since he likes milk and cookies.
Where's the outrage?  Photo by Mario Gomez.
Of course these types of things happen on the political left and right and Joan Jett is hardly the first to get caught up in these types of flaps and the South Dakota Cattleman's Association is not the first group to make a boneheaded mistake to require some form of political correctness from entertainers.

I wonder if Santa supports PETA?