Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Top On The Brink Posts for 2014

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It is always interesting and fun to look back on the year and find out what posts on the blog were the most popular.  My all time most popular post still is this one on the Do's and Don't's of Twerking for University Professors.  It is the shortest piece in this history of the blog and remains popular for some reason.  The experts in modern writing tell us to keep it short and I guess it works.

However, in 2014, the most popular posts are of a more serious and lengthy variety.  The times, they are a changing.  The top ten posts from most popular on down are below.

1.  Aldo Leopold Quiz.  For some reason, all of my quizzes on famous sustainability or environmental leaders get a great deal of attention.  Expect to see more in the future.

2.  Michael Mann, Hockey Stick Hero.  I had the privilege of meeting Michael Mann this year.  He is the scientist who came up (with others) the famous hockey stick graph that extrapolated global temperature to demonstrate the impacts of greenhouse gas pollution on the environment.  He was attacked by many and has suffered both personal and professionally due to the attacks on his reputation.

3.  Into the Farm:  My Review of Forrest Pritchard's Book:  Gaining Ground:  A Story of Farmers' Markets, Local Food and Saving the Family Farm.  Book reviews continue to be popular on the blog.  This book was one of my favorite of the year.

4.  Last Remaining Link to Hofstra Family Passes Away.  This post celebrated the life of Irene Theresa (Szczepkowsi) Cxamecki.  She was born on the Hofstra campus before it was a campus and was the daughter of the Hofstra's chauffeur.  In a strange bit of coincidence, her daughter is a friend of min I met before I ever thought of coming to Hofstra.

5.  Hofstra Sustainability Students Spend Summer Saving the World.  My blog posts about my students are always popular.  This one reviewed all the wonderful things some of my students did over the summer.

6.  Landfill Problems in Venezuela.  I spent part of January in Venezuela and did a series of posts on Latin America while I was there.  This post was the most popular of the series and the 6th most popular of the year.

7.  Extinction of the Giant Sloth.  I did write about sloths in Venezuela, but the post I did in follow up to the South America trip got considerable attention.  Giant sloths once roamed large areas of North America and continue to captivate the imagination.

8.  Zero Emission Cars.  I jumped and bought an electric hybrid this year.  However, this post points out that zero emission cars still have emissions.  However, the emissions from power plants where electricity is produced are far less than the emissions from burning fossil fuels in a car engine.

9.  Isle Royale National Park.  My series on the national parks remain some of the most popular on the blog.  Indeed, several other park blog posts almost made their way into the top 10 list.

10.  Hawaii GMO Debate Highlighted in the New York Times.  The GMO issue continues to intrigue all of us in the environmental community.  In Hawaii, the focus is on the papaya.

Thank you for your continued interest in On the Brink.  I wish all of you a green, healthy, happy, and successful 2015!

Friday, December 26, 2014

20 Green Predictions for 2015

Check out my latest Huffingtonpost Piece here wherein I give sustainability and environmental predictions for 2015.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Top 5 Moments for Hofstra Sustainability Studies Fall 2014

We had Fall Commencement on campus yesterday at Hofstra University and it got me reflecting on the great semester we had on campus this fall.  While I can think of dozens of great moments, particularly individual interactions with students and faculty, five events stood out for me.  Here they are in chronological order.

Dr. Garren (right) at the Peoples' Climate March.
Photo by Bret Bennington
1.  People's Climate March and New Faculty Member Sandra Garren.  This fall, new faculty member, Dr. Sandra Garren joined the Department.  We are so excited to have her aboard.  She brings energy and innovation that will help us in so many ways.  As an expert in energy and greenhouse gas management, she adds important expertise to our program.  Shortly after her arrival in September, over 200 Hofstra students, faculty, and staff participated in the People's Climate March.  Over 400,000 marched through the streets of New York seeking greater international action on climate policy.  It was an important moment in the environmental movement and it was great to have so many from Hofstra as part of it.  One of the most exciting aspects of the march was seeing so many student participants from all over the country.

I think the event really charged up the environmental community in Long Island and helped to bring greater organism and activism in the region.  It also helped to build connections among universities and non-profit organizations.  

2.  Nuclear Energy Debate.  In November, Hofstra University hosted the second annual Pride and Purpose Debate.  This year, the topic was whether or not nuclear energy should be expanded to create a more sustainable future.  Many have advocated for a quick ramp-up of nuclear energy to get us off of carbon as quickly as possible.  Others counter that nuclear energy is too dangerous or costly.  The debate was a great opportunity to discuss this important public policy issue.

The debate was the most-watched live academic event in Hofstra's history.

3.  Masters in Sustainability Approved.  In early December, we learned that our new Masters Program in Sustainability was approved by the state.  The first students will be enrolled in the Fall of 2015.  We have been working on this for two years and it was exciting to finally get the green light to move ahead with the program.  

If any of you out there on the Interwebs are interested in a masters in sustainability, contact me at

4.  1.5 Million Dollar Grant to Promote Stem Education.  Also in early December, we learned that a cooperative project between the Department of Biology and the Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability was funded by the state for 1.5 million dollars (with a significant match from Hofstra).  I haven't written much about this project, but I will in the coming year.  The project is an important one for Hofstra and for Long Island in that it seeks to address several issues important to the region:

     a.     Erase shortage of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) workers
     b.     Bridge skills gaps between employers and the work force
     c.     Increase college level production of STEM disciplines
     d.     Improve skill sets of workforce in healthcare
     e.     Educate to integrate green technology
     f.      Support green training of the new and incumbent workforce to grow opportunities for local jobs
     g.     Promote high-value jobs through green workforce development

The project was a collaborative effort of many people at Hofstra and it was a transformative experience for all of us.  It changes the way we teach science and sustainability.

Xu Han, Robert Brinkmann, Scott Simon, and Taiyo Francis.  Photo by
Brett Bennington.
5.  Graduation.  Yesterday, three of our terrific students graduated.  These are the second, third, and fourth graduates from Hofstra's new undergraduate program.  Here's what they are doing after graduation.  Taiyo Francis was hired by a a major energy company in Germany and is off to work on green buildings and green energy issues.  Xu Han is the first graduate of our joint program with Qiongzhou University in Sanya, China.  She received a degree in Tourism from Qiongzhou and a degree in Sustainability from Hofstra.  She is going on for her masters in green tourism.  Scott Simon is this semester's entrepreneur.  He took many courses in Hofstra's entrepreneur program and is working to open up Long Island's first aquaponic fish farm.  

Graduation was particularly sweet yesterday since noted sustainability advocate and MacArthur genius grant recipient (and fellow Wisconsinite) Will Allen received an honorary doctorate.

Will Allen has been an inspiration to me in the development of our sustainability program here at Hofstra University.  His efforts in transforming urban and suburban landscapes into more sustainable centers for learning and activism is to be applauded.  Since I've been at Hofstra, he's visited our campus three times.  In 2013, every entering freshman read his book, The Good Food Revolution as part of Hofstra's Freshman Book Reading Program.  That year, he dedicated our second student campus garden.  We've sent three students to his center in Milwaukee for workshops.

Dr. Allen has helped send the message to our campus and our students that sustainability is about hard work, building community, education, and entrepreneurialism.  Mr. Allen has helped build a better world around food activism and has lifted many people out of poverty to good jobs.  Whether sustainability work is around food, green building, or tourism, the message he sends is that we are trying to build a better world for future generations.


Now we are on to 2015.  What does the year hold in store for Sustainability Studies at Hofstra?  Stay tuned.  It won't be boring.

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Petrified Forest 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 Petrified Forest National Park in Arizona. 

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 of the National Parks. Check them out to see the beauty of the U.S. National Parks as captured by visitors.

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Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
North Cascades National Park
Olympic National Park

Friday, December 19, 2014

New York Bans Fracking Over Health Concerns

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This week New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, announced a ban on fracking in New York.  I have reviewed several issues associated with fracking herehere and here..  As a geologist, I see the benefits of the technique in extracting oil and natural gas.  However, as an environmentalists, I've been concerned over the use of cancer-causing chemicals in the fracking process.  My concern all along is that the companies are not revealing the composition of the fracking fluids.  They wanted the public to trust that what they were doing was safe.

In environmental decisions, I always go back to the basics of the precautionary principle which means that one does not move forward on an action until it is clear that the action has minimal long-term impacts on the environment or public health.

In announcing the decision, the Governor referred to broad concerns over public health.  I think the reason he stated is right on the money.  We just do not know that much about what these chemicals can do over the long-term.  We also do not know what chemicals are being used.

I am not against fracking across the board.  However, I am against fracking when we do not know what chemicals are being pumped into the ground.  I think that the oil and gas industry has an obligation to disclose the chemicals that are being pumped into our underground commons so that we can evaluate whether or not they are safe for future generations.  In my mind, the decision on fracking is an easy one under the present industrial climate of no disclosure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 12 Green Days of Christmas

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Now that we are close to Christmas I thought I would come up with a revised 12 Days of Christmas song,one of the most irritating and ear-worm generating holiday songs.  This time, I'm making it green.  Sing along.  I know you want to!  This post was inspired by On the Brink Contributor Christa Farmer who sang a geologic 12 Days of Christmas song at our Department holiday party.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two knitted gloves and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the eight day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 10 organic farms for reaping, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 windmills spinning, 10 organic farms for reaping, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 12 hipsters drumming, 11 windmills spinning, 10 organic farms for reaping, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Francisco Toro's Take on GMO Crops in Africa

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Francisco Toro, writing on his blog The Campaign for Boring Development, highlights one of the stronger pro-GMO arguments used by those who see GMO crops as part of a pro-sustainability future.

The basic argument is this.  Small farmers in Africa need to use fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to maintain productive yields.  However, these materials are expensive and cause pollution. 

Toro notes that using GMO crops significantly reduces pollution potential.  Keeping GMO crops away from farmers in Africa limits their development opportunities.  He makes a point in his article that those buying GMO-free crops are also committing to 18.3% more pesticides and 14.9% more carbon emissions.

While I remain committed to trying to advance organic agriculture whenever and wherever possible, I think Toro's points are worth reading and he makes one of the more lucid cases in favor of GMO crops from a sustainability and development lens.  I think that one of the most important points he makes is that there are tradeoffs to not using GMO's that are not all that great for the environment. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Top 10 Reasons to Buy My Sinkhole Book for a Holiday Present

I just saw that my sinkhole book is part of the University Press of Florida's holiday sale (more about that in a bit), so I thought I would come up with the top 10 reasons why folks should buy the book!
1.  There's a hidden treasure map in the book written in invisible ink.  Can you find which page?

2.  The cover photo (right) will scare the @#$% out of you.  Yes that's a helicopter and yes that's a Florida sinkhole.

3.  The sinkhole under your home needs an education so it doesn't become part of the broader economic collapse.

4.  Doline and Uvala are not just names of southern women. They are also solution features.

5.  The book is one of the best books ever written on Florida sinkholes.  Of course, it is the only book ever written on Florida sinkholes.

6.  It's like a book about caves, but inside out.

7.  Sinkholes are the antidote to depression.

8.  You'll find out the answer to the age-old question:  If a sinkhole collapses in the woods, and no one is there to hear it collapse, does it make any noise?

9.  Sinkholes:  Real Landforms for Real People.

10.  It is written in iambic pentameter.

Actually, the main reason to by the book is that it is marked down from $50.00 to $34.00 using access code XM14.  Click here to buy direct from the University Press of Florida.

Human Rights Day

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Today is Human Rights Day.  It seems appropriate that today there is widespread discussion about the Senate Report titled, Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program.

While much in the report is disturbing, I was not surprised by the content since much of the information was leaked earlier.  What is positive about the report is that it was released at all.  While some involved with national security may disagree with me about its release, I believe we have a responsibility as citizens to hold our elected officials responsible when they break the law.  It is clear from the report that laws were broken and the human rights of detainees were violated.  Releasing the report allows us to learn from these past mistakes and hold our government employees responsible for violating laws.

Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the U.N. after the atrocities of World War II.  No matter where one is in the world there are examples of human rights abuses that must be addressed.  All societies have to consider whether or not enough is being done.  Whether it is modern-day slavery in Africa or political persecution in Venezuela, there are examples of human rights abuses in most countries of the world.

We have to consistently strive to shed light on these abuses to avoid past mistakes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Smart Lights to Transform Our Suburban Future

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Check out this article from the New York Times on emerging smart technology related to urban and suburban lighting.

Lighting of public space is one of the big energy costs for cities.  The article highlights ways that smart technologies are transforming the lit urban landscape.  Of course switching to low-energy LED lighting is occurring all over the planet and is resulting in tremendous energy
savings.  However, the use of lights in suburban roads just when needed creates a darker more natural world.

Smart technologies are also transforming traffic signaling.  When connected to automobile and truck sensors, they can calculate how best to manage traffic with minimal stops.  They can also communicate back to cars and trucks when the signal will change so speed can be regulated to save on gas.  These technologies have the potential to save millions of gallons of gas in the next decade or two as the smart technology advances across the urban and suburban landscape.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fracking Chemicals and Health

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There is a new article out in the Reviews of Environmental Health on the impact of fracking chemicals on human health.  You can check it out here.  Thanks to Huffingtonpost Green for highlighting the article.  

As most know, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to release gas and oil from small pores in rocks, most notably shale. To frack, wells are drilled into the rocks and fluids, called fracking fluids, are forced into the rock to break it apart.  The composition of fracking fluids varies considerably, but can contain a variety of chemicals.  As the paper points out, some of the chemicals are hazardous to human health.  

Importantly, in most cases, companies do not reveal the composition of their fracking fluids to the public.

I don't think there would be serious opposition from the environmental community if fracking involved pumping water into the ground to break apart the rocks.  However, the chemicals used in fracking are potentially harmful.  Plus, energy companies work hard to ensure that the composition of fracking fluids are not disclosed to the public.  Indeed, they are working to make it illegal to disclose the composition of fracking fluids to the public.

In my mind, the issue of whether to be pro or anti fracking is one of disclosure.

If a company is working hard to keep the composition of chemicals they pump into the ground secret from the public, I worry.  If they are as safe as they say they are, what is the harm of letting the public know what is in them?

Failure to disclose the release of potentially harmful chemicals into the environment by industry always makes me nervous.  It is also one of the primary reasons there is so much activism against fracking in the U.S.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

6 Productivity Tips for University Professors at the End of the Semester

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The close of the semester is a stressful time for students and professors.  Students are rushing around trying to finish off final projects and studying for exams.  Professors are busy writing and grading exams and evaluating student papers.  They are also finishing off writing projects like papers, books, and grant proposals.  Here are 6 tips for maintaining research productivity during this period.

1.  Set writing goals.  Make a list of what you need to write and evaluate the word or page count.  Break the writing and editing tasks into distinct daily goals and add them to the calendar.  Do not leave the office or go to bed until you have made your goal.

2.  Communicate your goals to others around you.  During this time of year, we can get very grumpy due to the increased workload.  It is a good idea to communicate your work load to your friends and family so they understand what you are trying to accomplish.  At the same time, schedule events with family or friends for after the semester so you and they know that there is an end to the crunch time.

3.  Reward accomplishments.  If we do not find ways to reward our writing efforts, the work can seem like drudgery.  At the conclusion of a major project, do something nice for yourself.  It will feel good to write afterwards.

4.  Do not run away.  As an editor of a journal and associate editor of another, I find that many authors do not complete edits or rewrites in a timely fashion after the review process.  They may disagree with a reviewer, find the editing process difficult, or dislike the rewriting process.  After some gentle nudges, I can usually get them to submit their work.  Some authors sit on their work for months or up to a year before they get back to me with revisions--revisions that took maybe a day or two to complete.  Running away from writing work only delays progress and moving on to something new.

5.  Read.  One of the best ways to think about writing is to read.  Reading books are articles in my field gives me the opportunity to think about what I might have to say about the topic.  It inspires me to write to ensure that my ideas are brought forward in the academic discourse.  I also think it is helpful to read outside of my discipline.  It gives my brain an opportunity to think creatively.

6.  Time management.  Finally, I have to urge everyone to think about time management and productivity.  You have to carve out time for writing and editing during this time of year.  We are all in high demand right now.  Students need to see us for a myriad of issues from grade questions to advising.  There are also 10,000 end of semester meetings.  However, you have to find ways to block out time when you are most productive and make sure that you go to writing locations where you can work undisturbed.  I write best early in the morning at home or in the afternoon in a library out of my office.  I block out writing time on my calendar so that I make sure that nothing gets in the way of my writing work.

Many of us try to end the semester with a major writing accomplishment or two under our belt.  Hopefully these tips will help to ensure that when we close our doors to leave campus at the close of the semester, we have some projects finished.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Carbon Dioxide Heading to Over 400ppm Again

Chart of carbon dioxide levels at Mauna Loa.
Chart copied December 6, 2014.  Levels today are at
376.66 parts per million.  Click for image credit.
Today I checked in with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Global Monitoring data on carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and found that carbon dioxide continues to increase from the same time last year.

NOAA monitors carbon dioxide on the Mauna Loa Volcano in Hawaii.  This is the best place to regularly monitor upper atmospheric chemistry in the U.S. because it is so far away from most stationary sources of carbon dioxide.

Each year, carbon dioxide goes through natural increases and decreases.  During the winter and early spring months, carbon dioxide use increases in the atmosphere because the northern hemisphere plant productivity decreases during this time.  It peaks about May.  During the summer months, carbon dioxide levels drop and reach the nadir in September.

Here in December we are about half-way through the gradual increase trend that will conclude in May. In looking at the data here, you can see that last year on this date (December 6th) we were at 395.91ppm  (parts per million) carbon dioxide.  This year the level is 397.58.  This is a 1.67ppm increase.  Ten years ago, the level on the same date was 376.66.

It is clear that we are heading to over 400ppm this coming May and probably sooner.  The preindustrial carbon dioxide levels were 280 ppm.

If you are interested, you can play with the data from Mauna Loa here.  You can also read this 1959 article from Scientific American that summarizes the issue with carbon dioxide and climate.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Biking in Suburbia

A ghost bike memorial.  Click for photo credit.
One of the great things about living in the suburbs is that we have lots of places to bike.  We have parks, trails, and quiet roads.  However, we also have some of the highest numbers of bike deaths in the country.  

In suburban Long Island, we have the highest rates of bike deaths in New York State--even higher than New York City (at least according to this 2011 report).

Older suburbs (and many new suburbs) are built largely around the automobile.  Roads that connect living areas with commercial or industrial land uses and employment centers do not usually take into account the bike commuter.  However, as biking is gaining in popularity there is greater conflict over shared spaces on roads.

As many older suburban communities go through redevelopment, or attract more bike-dependent residents, it is important to consider the space for bikes in public areas while building connectivity between places on bike lanes and trails.

An organization called Ghost Bikes places memorials around the world where bikers have been killed on roads.  Check out their Website here.  I have seen some of their memorials in Florida and they are effective at educating drivers about ensuring that they are looking out for bikers.  We need to do a better job in ensuring that the folks at Ghost Bikes have less to do.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Green Elf on the Shelf

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I was speaking with some friends of mine at Hofstra University who were telling me about how each year, Santa sends an elf to watch their home to make sure that the children are behaving and doing good things.  The elf reports back to Santa Claus with a list of naughty and nice behavior of the residents.

I called one of my professor friends at the University of the North Pole to find out if they do any environmental training in their Bachelors of Arts of Naughty and Nice.  As everyone knows, most of Santa's elves are trained at the University of the North Pole on categories of naughty and nice that are part of the list.

My friend told me that several years ago, the university instituted a mandatory environmental course for the elves in the program.  She gave me a list of several things elves notice when observing children around the holidays.  You might want to share this list with children you know to ensure that they stay on the nice list.  It's not a bad list for adults too!

1.  Recycling.  The elves hate to see things go to waste.  A sure way to get on the naughty list is to throw away things that could be recycled.

2.  Energy conservation.  The elves can see in the dark.  They do not need a light on in a room that is not being used.  The elves always notice when children turn off electronic appliances, computers, and lights when not needed.  While they love holiday lights, they don't like it when people leave them on when no one is home.

3.  Eating only what you need.  The elves travel all over the world and have reported back to Santa that there are some places in the world without enough food.  They hate to see food go to waste and they put children on the naughty list if they eat more than their fair share or waste food.

4.  Making gifts.  There is nothing an elf likes better than a hand-made card or a gift made from the heart.  Children do not need to buy gifts for their family.  Everyone loves a simple gift that has meaning.  At the same time, elves are taught to add children to the naughty list if they ask for too many gifts or ask for gifts that are very expensive.

5.  Good deeds.  There are many things that elves notice this time of year.  One of them is whether or not children are going out of their way to help the environment or their community.  Helping could include picking up litter around your neighborhood or school, building a small wildlife refuge in your backyard, or finding ways to conserve water in your home.  Children could also help neighbors, friends, or family members with their environmental projects such as making homes energy efficient, building a compost bin, planning a garden, or building a birdhouse.

6.  Learning about the environment.  Elves are big fans of books and always notice when children read.  However, children get bonus points if they learn about the environment.  The elves have noticed that lately children love learning about animals, volcanoes, ecosystems like coral reefs, and unique places like the Galapagos Islands or the Rocky Mountains.  They also like learning how to do things like identify birds or stars, go fishing, or  test the nutrient levels of soils.

7.  Appreciate the environment.  The elves love art and music--especially art and music about the natural environment.  The elves get very very happy when children make art.  They love collages with leaves and pictures.  They love drawings of trees and animals.  They especially like pictures of the North Pole and other parts of the world where they travel.  They also love to see children dance and pretend that they are animals or trees while listening to music.  Some elves have gotten in trouble with Santa when they join in with the dancing!

8.  Playing outside.  While it might not seem like playing outside is something that will get you on the nice list, my friend pointed out that Santa spends a considerable amount of time out of doors taking care of his reindeer and helping Mrs. Claus with her farming.  Santa has excellent hearing and gets great joy hearing children laughing and playing outside.

My professor friend tells me that when Santa reviews the naughty and nice list, he always looks to see if children are especially kind to the environment.  My friend at the University of the North Pole is always looking for suggestions for what to add to the environmental curriculum for elves so that they know what to teach the elves to look for during this time of year when coming up with their naughty and nice list for children.  If you have any ideas please leave them in the comments.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Teddy Roosevelt Quiz

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Some of my most popular blog posts are the quizzes I post on noted conservation and sustainability leaders.  See these posts on Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Bill McKibben, and John Muir (here and here).  Today, I have a quiz for you on Theodore Roosevelt.

Why Roosevelt?

Roosevelt was President during important developments in the American conservation movement.  He understood that wilderness had intrinsic value beyond economic extraction.  As an avid hunter, he valued conservation.  He was friends with the leading conservationists of the time including John Muir and Gifford Pinchot.

The answers to the quiz questions are in the comments.

1.  Teddy Roosevelt was born in this major American City that is now considered one of the greenest in the country.  He was the only U.S. president born in this city.

2.  Roosevelt collected many specimens of birds and other animals.  He learned a particular skill to preserve them.  What is that skill?

3.  In 1903, Roosevelt created a National Wildlife Refuge in Pelican Island Florida.  He was convinced that he needed to protect the island to prevent the extinction of particular animals.  Name the animal group and describe why the animals needed protection.

4.  During his presidency, Roosevelt established 150 National Forests and 5 National Parks.  Name two of the National Parks he established.

5.  In 1898, Roosevelt resigned as an undersecretary of the Navy to establish the Rough Riders, an all-volunteer regiment that fought in the Spanish American War.  Roosevelt spent considerable amount of time in this southern city where the Rough Riders caught transport to Cuba.  Name the city.

6.  In 1906, President Teddy Roosevelt signed into law and act that protected historic and prehistoric sites of significance on public land.  It was the first law of its kind in the U.S. and it is still used today to protect historic cultural resources.  Name the law.

7.  Roosevelt lived with his family in a house on Long Island from 1885-1919.  The house was named for the Algonquin word for chief or leader.  Name this home inspired by the Algonquin language.

8.  Roosevelt was known for his endurance and stamina during international travels.  After the presidency, he traveled to Africa on a highly publicized hunting expedition.  However, in his last trip, he became ill from an infection he received after a cut he endured while in the water to protect canoes from overturning.  He never fully recovered his health after this trip.  In what region of the world was Roosevelt when he fell ill?

9.  Roosevelt was the first American to win this major international prize.  The last American to win this prize was President Obama.

10.  In 1912, while campaigning for the Bull Moose Party, Roosevelt was shot by John Schrank.  The bullet lodged in Roosevelt's chest and he continued campaigning after he was shot and even gave a 90 minute speech while bleeding.  In what city did the assassination attempt occur?

Monday, December 1, 2014

International Intrigue and Fracking

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The very strong drop in oil prices has many around the world scratching their heads over what's going on with energy prices.  Certainly the growth in the renewable energy sector and greater energy efficiency are parts of the story.  However, there are lots of intriguing new reports from many international corners about perceived reasons for the drop.

The reason that the price drop is such a big deal is that there are many economies of the world that are highly dependent on oil as the main source of revenue.  Today, the price of oil fell again and is roughly around 65 dollars a barrel on the global market.  The oil economies of the world need oil to be well over 110 dollars a barrel in order to even break even with national fiscal commitments.  In Iran, oil needs to be at 135 dollars a barrel.  In Venezuela, oil needs to be at 120 dollars a barrel and in Russia it needs to be at about 100 dollars a barrel.  See here for more details and source of the data.

The low oil prices have leaders in these oil-rich nations reeling.  Some, particularly Venezuela and Iran, have depended on single industry economies for decades without serious diversification and are now feeling the pain.  Some have argued that the Russian invasion of the Ukraine was really about drawing attention away from Russia's poor economy.  

In Venezuela, the leaders have blamed the US fracking industry and Obama.  Venezuela's leaders have been speaking vocally and often about the environmental dangers of fracking in recent weeks.  It is hard to take them seriously when they have an extremely poor environmental and safety record in oil extraction.  Last week, Venezuela's Minister of Foreign Affairs was unable to budge OPEC on it's output and price.  As a result, some are calling on his resignation.  

In Europe, Russians are allegedly funding protests against fracking in Romania to try to turn public opinion away from this approach to energy production.  The New York Times has an interesting piece on it today.

My assessment is different.  In my read of it, the Saudis and other Gulf oil states are trying to lower the cost of oil to drive the fracking and renewable industries out of business.  By keeping the cost of oil low, it is putting out of business many incipient fracking and renewable industries worldwide.  While it is always convenient to blame United State's Policy, OPEC is the one that is responsible for setting output.

But who knows!  There is no doubt that oil prices are extremely low right now and that nations around the world that are dependent on oil extraction as their main economic activity are hurting.   

What's interesting in a sustainability context is that low oil prices are hurting not only the fracking industry, but also the renewable energy industry.  The question is really who and what will be standing when prices go back up.

We seem to be in the midst of a major geopolitical and industrial shakeup.