Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Interview on WGCU on My Book, Florida Sinkholes

I had a great interview this morning with WGCU in Southwest Florida on my book, Florida Sinkholes.  It was one of the most comprehensive interviews I ever had on the book.  The interviewer really knew the book inside and out!  Big thanks to Amy Tardif from WGCU for the great interview.  My voice sounds a bit rough from my allergies, but I did enjoy the experience.  If you are interested, you can listen here.

The book is available for purchase from the Florida University Press here.

Environmental Ethics on Display in My Hometown of Waterford, Wisconsin

When I teach my sustainability classes, I like to point out that many of our great environmentalists have their roots in Wisconsin.  I point to John Muir, Aldo Leopold, and Will Allen as excellent examples.

However, take a look at this article and the video posted below.  Two local residents of my hometown of Waterford, Wisconsin, Terry Alby and Tom Cerny, are working with village authorities to shut a road down to allow for an annual frog migration from a pond to a river.  They are not sure when it will happen, but they are checking every day.  When it starts to happen, they will call the village authorities to close the road for the day.  All this for a frog.   This is an excellent example of environmental ethics that demonstrates that even the smallest and most insignificant of creation can be harmed or helped via our own ethical choices.

Thanks to my high school classmate, Theresa Jensen, for sending this info along.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

The Close of the Spring Semester Looms

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Many of us in academics like one semester over another.  

I always love the fall semester.  It is full of promise and new beginnings.  Some prefer the spring semester with its spring break, holidays, spring seasonal awakening, and closing of the cycle graduation.  I must admit that I never liked the spring semester.  I always find the spring semester a super busy time with never enough hours in the day and mind-numbing deadlines.

I think I started disliking the spring semester when I was an undergraduate.  The spring bloomed with a million deadlines while I tried to tend to summer plans.  This continued into graduate school when summers were complicated with field work, travel, and jobs.  Finals week erupted into a hell of exams, papers, moving, and packing.

As a professor, the spring semesters blossoms with all kinds of other deadlines.  For those of us in graduate programs, it is a time when we strive to get our students' theses and dissertations edited while grading stacks of student papers  from regular classes. Undergraduates need help finding summer internships.  Seniors seek jobs.  This is the time of year when students come to faculty in crisis modein search of a way out of a bad grade due to poor performance on exams or a semester of missing class.

The end of the spring semester flowers with a multitude of conferences.  Writing projects come due to publishers.  University committee report deadlines loom.  The feeling can sometimes be overwhelming as one juggles it all as finals week approaches.  It is a time when email peaks (I had one day last week with over 150 emails) and when there are many requests for meetings.  My hayfever arrives just in time to add sneezes, dripping sinuses, and headaches to the joy of the season.

Don't get me wrong, it's a fun, exciting time with lots of amazing things taking place on campus and many wonderful celebrations of accomplishment.  But it is busy--and sneezy.

But then graduation.  

It is one of my favorite days of the year.  The semester is finally at a close and I have done all that I can do on the student and university front.  The work doesn't truly end there, but it slows down considerably.  

Many of my readers are already in finals week and I salute you!  Graduation at Hofstra is the 18th of May.  Two and a half weeks to go.  Achoo!

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Hofstra Earth Day Redux

We had a pretty amazing Earth Day celebration at Hofstra this year.  As you all know, Earth Day Started in 1970 in the United States and spread all over the world.  Since its inception, the focus of Earth Day is education.  All over the globe, schools organize events and bring environmental issues to the forefront.

At Hofstra, we had a series of events that I am highlighting in a photo essay below.
The day started with a tour of our arboretum by our arboretum Director, Fred Soviero.  It was a beautiful day for it!
Then, our facilities Sustainability Officer, Terry Greis, gave a sustainability tour of the campus.  Here students and faculty are in our cogeneration plant underneath the student union.

Then, the Sustainability Club organized a planting and education session in one of the student gardens.  Many Hofstra students as well as many students from the our daycare participated.
Throughout the day, we had a number of speakers on campus.  I attended three of the lectures.  Dr. William Colglazier is the Science Advisor to Secretary of State John Kerry.  He spoke about the importance of international cooperation in science and technology, particularly as they relate to sustainability, in creating a more peaceful and just world.

Dr. David O'Connor, the Director of the policy arm of the United Nations Sustainable Development Office spoke about the challenge achieving comprehensive progress in environment, equity, and economics in sustainable development, particularly in a world with serious issues associated with climate change.

Dr. Burrell Montz a Professor of Geographer at East Carolina University, spoke about the increasing problems of hazards in our changing world.  She noted that the costs associated with hazards are increasing as is the vulnerability of populations.  This is compounded by increasing risk associated with global climate change.

Overall, the event was very successful.  The following day, Students for a Greener Hofstra organized a an Earth Festival at which about 20 student clubs and community partners participated.

Friday, April 25, 2014

400 ppm

Click for source.
Many organizations are reporting today that April will be the first month with global carbon dioxide concentrations above 400ppm.  This will be the first time in human history that levels are this high.  Pre-industrial levels were 280 ppm.

Of course carbon dioxide is the main culprit in global climate change.  To date, while there has been progress in green energy, we have not made enough of a dent in carbon dioxide to effectively change the slow and steady rise in carbon dioxide.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Sustainable Garden Methods--A Discussion with Vincent Simeone

Click for photo credit.
I'll be having a discussion with Vincent A. Simeone, the Director of Planting Fields Arboretum, about his new book Grow More with Less:  Sustainable Garden Methods, Friday night at 7:30 at Breslin Hall, Room 105 at the Hofstra Campus.

I'll be speaking to him about how we can turn our lawns and gardens into more sustainable places in our suburban landscape.  The lecture is free and open to the public.  Mr. Simeone's book will be available for purchase and signing.

Hope to see you there!  The book is excellent and I recommend it for any gardener.  If you can't come, the book is available on the right in my Nightstand Reading on the right bar.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Weather versus Climate

Squirrel trying to cool down outside Gittleson Hall, July 18, 2013.What a cold winter -and cool spring- we've been having here in the Northeast! But summer is coming. Do you remember ever feeling hot? Look what this poor squirrel was driven to do while trying to cool down outside Gittleson Hall on July 18, 2013:

One effective message I've seen lately to help distinguish weather trends versus climate change is the answer to this question from the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research: what do home runs and weather extremes have in common? I find the steroids-in-baseball analogy particularly effective. Do you? I am fascinated by the evidence of climate change contained in statistics of the ratio of record highs to record lows, as referenced in the baseball clip- here is more information on how those statistics were compiled.

Hump Day Humor - GreenTV Shows

Click for photo credit.
The folks at @Midnight on Comedy Central do a Hashtag Wars segment on their show.  The host puts out a premise like #greentvshows and comedian guests compete for the best answer.  However, the best stuff actually shows up on Twitter.  I never stay up for the show, but catch the jokes on Twitter occasionally.  I thought I would share some of the funniest #greentvshows I ran across this morning.

Law and Order:  Hybrid SUV
Al Gore's Drag Race
The Fracks of Life
Father Quinoas Best
Deadliest Catch and Release
So You Think You Can Dance Around Climate Change?
Game of Low Flush Thrones
The Fresh Prince of Clean Air
One is Enough
Real Housewives of Portland
Who Wants to Be a Windmillionaire?
The Biking Dead
Arrested Redevelopment Contractor
Keeping Up with the Kardashian's CO2 Emissions

Sunday, April 20, 2014

The Beatles and Sustainability

As we approach Earth Day, 2014, it's worth taking a trip back in time to 1970 when we had the first Earth Day.  I was still in my first decade.  The Beatles released their final album, Let It Be, in May of that year, just a handful of days after the big Earth Day event.  While the Beatles were not necessarily a group clearly tied to the environmental movement of the 1960's, they were linked by the broad countercultural youth movement.  We have that era to thank for things like the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Endangered Species Act, and the US EPA.

Happy Earth Day 2014.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Sustainability and Seniors

Giving the webinar.  Photo by Debbi Honorof.
Last week I gave a climate change webinar to residents of Bristal Assisted Living facilities throughout the New York Metro Region.  The event was organized by Hofstra's Continuing Education program.  I spoke to well over 100 residents about the science of climate change, the history of the environmental and sustainability movements, and climate change policy.  It was a great experience!

I always enjoy the question period whenever I give a talk about my work.  After the webinar, the residents asked a number of important questions.  My favorite one was, "What can we do living in an assisted living facility to try to make a difference on climate change."  Wow!

We often think about how the youth of our world are seeking to make the world a better place, but we have to remember that our aging populations have a role to play as stewards of our planet.

The question got me thinking about issues of environment and sustainability for senior communities.  I did a brief exercise trying to find researchers who focus on sustainability and the elderly and there really isn't very much out there on this topic.  Most of the work that I saw focused on transit and trying to ensure that seniors have access to mass transit.  However, there is so much more that could be done.

After my talk, I spoke with Janine Valentiner, the Director of Business Development for Bristal and she is interested in finding ways to build bridges between our sustainability initiatives and their organization.  I would love to have my majors look at the issue of sustainability within assisted living facilities.  There is so much research that could be done.  Just think about it:  energy and water use, food, transportation, building materials, waste disposal, hazardous medical and biological waste, etc. are all important issues we discuss in communities.  However, I've only found a handful of researchers focusing on these issues  in aging populations (see here and here for examples...note these are behind a paywall unless you are on a university network).

A big thanks to Debbi Honorof of Hofstra's Continuing Education department for inviting me to present to the Bristal residents.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Francis Ford Coppola at Hofstra

Now for something completely different....

The great folks at Hofstra's Special Collections office of the Hofstra Library recently posted on Twitter a 2007 interview with Hofstra alum Francis Ford Coppola.  The video includes lots of retrofabulous images of the campus in the 1960's.  The shots of the building of Adams Playhouse are especially interesting.  The campus looks so mature now that it is hard to imagine that the images from the 1950's and 1960's are the same place.  Coppola graduated from Hofstra in the early 1960's.  Other famous alum and attendees include Christopher Walken, Madeline Kahn, Lainie Kazan, and James Caan to name a few from the entertainment world.

I know that some of you interested in historical aspects of college campuses will enjoy the video.  What notable people graduated from your high school or college?

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wal-Mart Goes Organic

According to this New York Times article, Wal-Mart plans to jump into the organic market in a big way.

Wal-Mart attracts controversy around its sustainability efforts.  Many, including myself, applaud the organization's many sustainability initiatives.  They were one of the first major companies to embrace sustainability and have impacted supply chains, building policies, and transportation across the retail market.  You can read their sustainability report here.  They created three sustainability goals:  to create zero waste, to use 100% green energy, and to sell products that sustain customers and the environment. They also have a sustainability hub that provides information for their suppliers on how they can help contribute to Wal-Mart's sustainability initiatives which include things like reducing hazardous chemicals, significantly reducing greenhouse gases, and increasing the recycled content of plastic products.  Their efforts are quantitative and transparent.

Some dismiss Wal-Mart's efforts as greenwashing.  They note the impact that they have on small businesses and their overall labor practices.  Certainly they can be critiqued on these issues.

However, compare Wal-Mart's efforts with any other large retail organization and I doubt you will find any company doing as much.  One exercise I give my students (professors and teachers, try this one yourself in your classes) is to ask them to compare Wal-Mart's sustainability efforts with any other large retail chain.  At the start of the exercise they think that Wal-Mart is a horrible organization.  But at the end of it, they usually find that Wal-Mart is doing more than most big box stores.  Very few companies out there focus on issues like waste reduction, greenhouse gas pollution, and organic food.

I hate to say it, but I think some of the criticism of Wal-Mart comes from a little bit of environmental elitism.  I know we all love our small organic local farms and we love the idea of community sponsored agriculture.  However, not everyone has access to these institutions.  Wal-Mart is bringing sustainability to the average person and I think this is wonderful.  Sure, I have some of the same critiques of Wal-Mart as others on issues of small businesses and wages.  But Wal-Mart has transformed the way that big box stores approach the environment.

So while some may look at Wal-Mart's move into organic with a cynical eye, I wholeheartedly approve.  And no, I am not on Wal-Mart's payroll.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Desmond Tutu Calls for Divestment from Fossil Fuels

Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Click for photo credit.
I don't know if On the Brink readers have been following the movement encouraging divestment from fossil fuels (for background, see this link), but it was given a significant boost this month by Archbishop Desmond Tutu's call for organizations to divest from the fossil fuel industry.  You can read his statement here.

Many of us of a certain age remember the divestment movement of the 1980's focused on ending apartheid in South Africa.  Apartheid was an official policy of the government that kept non-whites from participating in many aspects of governance and limited non-whites to a distinct low social and economic class.  The fight against apartheid was one of the most successful campaigns to end human rights violations in the late 20th century.  It started at universities (Michigan State and Stanford started it first) and spread to a number of non-profits.  Money moved out of South Africa as a result of the campaign.  Plus the worldwide attention on the divestment movement shed light on the horrific practice of apartheid.  Overall, the divestment strategy contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa.

Today, the same strategy is being used for fossil fuels.  A worldwide campaign is underway to divest from fossil fuel industries.  In the past, some of these companies have worked to deceive the public on the science of global climate change.  Some are still engaging in climate change denialism. Many of us believe that we have just a few decades to solve the climate change threat.  That is why there is so much urgency to this issue.

The statement by Archbiship Tutu,  lends considerable weight to the divestment movement given his experiences with apartheid and his overall international reputation on issues of human rights.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Positive Change

I am very encouraged by this story reporting an increase in the recycling of package material. I can't tell you how many times I've called companies asking them why they have to put yogurt in #5 plastic containers, which until recently, were not easily recyclable. The fact that my town now recycles more than just #1 and #2 plastics is very exciting as well! Perhaps with these good trends, we can reduce our waste stream even further.
Satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay.
(NASA image courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team.) Borrowed from

This all reminds me of another anecdotal story of positive change. When I was in high school, one of the big environmental issues was eutrophication of the Chesapeake Bay from nutrient sources in laundry detergents and other soaps. My friends and I started an environmental club in high school, and one of our goals was educating consumers to look for low-nitrogen laundry soaps. These used to be somewhat difficult to find- but now if you look on the labels, most soaps are nitrogen and phosphate free. So although things may change slowly, they do change!

Happy spring, everyone-

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Reason for Hope

This blog covers some depressing environmental topics.  But as anyone knows me could attest, I have hope for the future.  Someone once said (I can't remember the quote, if someone knows it sent it on), planting a seed is a perfect definition of hope.

Check out this article about Hofstra's Sustainability Club and the efforts of some of our Sustainability Studies Students.  Know hope.

Robert Kates, One of the Fathers of Modern Sustainability Movement

Sandra Garren, Robert Kates, and Robert Brinkmann.
For me one of the highlights of the Association of American Geographers Conference I am attending is being in a session on Sustainability and Scale organized by Robert Kates, one of the fathers of the modern sustainability movement.  He was one of the first to focus in on scientific and quantitative aspects of measuring and assessing sustainability on the international scale.  The paper I gave, with my co-authors Sandra Garren of USF and Wei Liu of the UN, focused on the the issue of scale in international sustainability reporting.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Michael Mann, Hockey Stick Hero

Me and Dr. Michael Mann.
Yesterday I met Michael Mann, the famous Penn State climatologist, at the annual meeting of the West Central Florida Chapter of the American Meteorological Society in Tampa.  Mann found himself at the center of considerable controversy over the famous hockey stick graph he published that demonstrated that the climate was changing considerably in our modern era compared to the past 1000 years.  This graph was used by many to demonstrate the significance of greenhouse gas pollution.

Many went after him personally and professionally for publishing this graph  He went through a bit of personal hell after the work was printed.  He's been sued and subpoenaed and his personal email has been hacked. However, since the graph was published in 1999, many other scientists found basically the same thing Mann found.  Plus, as noted in a blog post here, the new IPCC report clearly shows that we are already feeling the impacts of global climate change.

There really isn't any question in the scientific community around the issue of greenhouse gas pollution and global climate change.  Most of the major energy companies also understand that this is a serious issue and they are trying to work on solutions.  Just take a look at Exxon's Website here and BP's here.

There are still a few political corners of the world where climate change is considered a hoax.  For whatever reason, Michael Mann is still the guy politicians go after when they need a climate change scientist to beat up in the public arena.  He has taken the heat for the entire scientific community that patiently collects the data, writes the papers, and develops climate models.  For that he is a hockey stick hero in my book.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kings Canyon National Park

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks. In this post we go to Kings Canyon National Park in California. 

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.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

Scale Issues in Sustainability Part II: Local and State Sustainability Planning

More on scale and sustainability.  Today, local and state scale issues.  I promise this is my last videoblog for a while.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Scale Issues in Sustainability Planning and Management

In follow up to yesterday's post on state greenhouse gas initiatives, I thought I would do a quick video on scale issues in sustainability planning.

Friday, April 4, 2014

State Greenhouse Gas Initiatives

Click for photo credit.
Earlier this week I wrote about the new IPCC report.  It focuses in on the challenges of global climate change based on hundreds of research reports.  There is no doubt that climate change is happening and that we are not doing enough to solve the problem.

The U.S. is now the second most significant contributor of greenhouse gases in the world.  However, we do not have any significant national policy to address this issue.  As a result of this, states and local governments are leading the way in the U.S. on climate policy.  Take a look at New York's climate office page here.  You'll notice that they have a range of solutions that they are working on to solve the problem.

Yet the U.S. is hampered by a lack of consistency from state to state due to the lack of national leadership on this issue.  Some states, like New York are doing quite a bit, but the approaches, goals, and initiatives will vary considerably from state to state.  Plus many states forfeited the game and walked away from advancing any climate change policy.  Florida, for example, was working on climate initiatives but now does little to nothing at the state level on climate change policy.

Take a look at what your country, state, region, or city is doing on climate policy.  Is there anything going on or is there room for improvement?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

IPCC Climate Report Out

Click for photo credit.
The new report is out from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).  It is worth a read.  Take a look at it here.  Some of the main findings that I found important are (quoting directly from the report below):

1.  Human interference with the climate system is occurring and climate change poses risks for human and natural systems. 
2.  In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.
3.  In many regions, changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality.
4.  Many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and specific interactions in response to ongoing climate change.
5.  Based on many studies covering a wide range of regions and crops, negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts.
6.  Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and from mulitdimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes.
7.  Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability.

I had the opportunity to be on Hofstra's WRHU Morning Show this morning with the lead author of the report, Christopher B. Field, to discuss the report.  It was an honor to be on the show with him.  One of the things he stressed is that the report is based on many thousands of research papers and governmental reports.  One of the hosts of the show noted how we are definitely past the days when we can be in denial on climate change and its impacts.  We just now have to figure out how to live with it while working on reductions in greenhouse gas pollution.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

New Global Warming Pill Provides Hope

Click for photo credit.
According to the article linked here, scientists developed a new global warming pill that provides hope for reducing greenhouse gases.  Dubbed, "mother nature's morning after pill" by some, the pill uses a unique blend of enzymes, algae, and calcium sulfate to reduce carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.  However, we do not know the exact composition of the pill since it has been patented by scientists at the New Smyrna Beach Institute of Technology and Phenology.

Scientists say that if the Earth consumes the "pill" once per day each morning, the issue of greenhouse gas pollution will recede.  Side effects may include some planetary bloating along with a reduction in energy.

The pill was invented after it was realized that international policy failed to solve the international issue of greenhouse gas pollution.  "A pill was really the only way," said Dr. Sintsink.  "We reached a tipping point on the climate and no one was willing to do anything to change behavior to solve the issue.  So, we thought, why not a pill?"

His colleagues spent years of research and a decade of clinical trials before coming up with the current medicine.  "When taken daily, the pill significantly reduces greenhouse gases on the planet.  We discovered that one of the challenges with dosing for the greenhouse gas problem is that it is morning somewhere at all times on the planet, so it becomes confusing as to when to remind the earth to take the pill."

The issue of dosing is complicated by political issues.  Many argue that the U.S. should be responsible for medicating the planet.  However, those in South America do not want to have the pill administered in their time zone.  China, as the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases today, feels that Europe as a whole should be responsible since they are the ones that contributed the most to the problem historically.  Dr. Sintsink is frustrated by the pointing of fingers.  "I don't care who takes the pill," he said.  "We just need to make sure that someone reminds the planet to take its medicine each morning."

Many are thrilled with the advent of the technology.  "I am so glad I don't have to hear about global warming anymore," said I.P.C. Guzzler.  "I don't want to feel guilty about running my air conditioner or driving my car."

Each pill weighs 6.022 tons and is about the size of a large cruise ship.  "While it's a large pill, we think it will go down fine with water," said Dr. Sintsink.