Thursday, December 31, 2015

Green Predictions for 2016

Click for photo credit.
For the final On the Brink list of the year, I gazed into my crystal ball and spoke to the spirits of Muir and Carson who gave me six green predictions for 2016.

Happy New Year to all of the readers of On the Brink! Thank you for continuing to visit this blog. For all of the new readers who found this space in 2015, we are glad you are here!

1. Continued weird weather. Climatologists predicted wide swings in weather for the next few decades. Expect to see more strange weather events in 2016.

2. Environmental justice critiques of the small house movement. I've looked at the small house movement with a bit of a critical eye the last few years as it has accelerated into the main stream. Now, it looks like NYC will allow microapartments of any size within developments. Look for some to make the argument that if it is good enough for hipsters, it is good enough for the poor. Don't get me wrong--American house size has been increasing too much over the last two decades. However, it doesn't make sense for families to live in a 265 square foot apartment and normalizing this living space size is not a good trend for cities.

3. Emerging food issues. In the last year we had many recalls of tainted meats and vegetables. While I believe that these problems will continue, I anticipate that prices of some food items will go up as a result of the California drought and other odd global weather patterns. There will be greater emphasis on food security and resiliency in the coming year as some countries and regions become more concerned about these issues.

4. Widespread plastic bead bans. Many areas of the U.S. have banned plastic beads in personal care items as a result of widespread pollution of the microbeads in oceans, lakes, and rivers. Expect to see these bans expand.

5. Oil prices start to rise by the end of the year. I expect that oil prices will continue to slide in the first half 2016 as some of the OPEC nations try to drive out some of the small natural gas and renewable enterprises out of business. However, the low prices cannot be maintained much longer since many of the oil producing nations are producing oil currently at a loss. Prices will start to go up by the end of the year which will open up doors for the expansion of renewable energy.

6. Expanded electric car infrastructure. Have I told you how much I love my electric car? I think once Americans get used to the convenience of plug in hybrid cars (you don't have to stop for gas very much), there will be greater demand for electric car infrastructure.


Tuesday, December 29, 2015

On the Brink Book of the Year--Abbey in America: A Philosopher's Legacy in a New Century


In a new annual tradition, I am pleased to announce the On the Brink Book of the Year:  Abbey in America: A Philosopher's Legacy in a New Century. You can read my review of the book here.

In many ways, Edward Abbey's death in 1989 closed an era on one form of environmentalism--one that focused more on traditional areas of concern such as preservation of wilderness than it did on broad themes of sustainability like environmental equity and global systems that we work on today. Abbey in America contains a series of essays that reflect on Abbey and his times. It is brilliantly edited. The authors of the essays include individuals who knew Abbey well as well as writers who never knew him but were impacted by his work. While I enjoyed all of the essays tremendously, the memoir by the editor titled "The Age of Abbey" is nothing short of brilliant in that it brings together Abbey's life, times, and body of work together in unexpected ways by turning a flashlight on a very different time that wasn't all that long ago.

It is easy today to disregard Abbey as a regional writer--his work focused heavily on the southwest. But he was much more than that. He was a philosopher who urged us to look more deeply at our impacts on the planet and our role in the protection of it. He was deeply critical of mainstream environmentalists, corporations, and government regulation of the environment. His work still has value as one sees the difficulties facing Earth in our present globalized world.

He was also among the first major, what I call, sustainulebrities. A sustainulebrity is a famous environmentalist who becomes well known for not only their writing, but also their personal life. Abbey was certainly larger than life. Like Hemingway, one cannot divorce the writing from the man. As a sustainulebrity, his philosophical work reached a broad audience while at the same time critiques of his personal life led to critiques of his philosophical work. While most will remember him for his novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, his non-fiction writing is often required reading for many environmental philosophy courses.

Abbey in America reconstructs Abbey for a new generation by bringing together the philosopher and the man to explain his significance to our modern era.

To purchase Abbey in America, visit the University of New Mexico Press site here.

If you are an author or a university press and would like to have your book(s) reviewed by On the Brink, please contact the editor, Bob Brinkmann. All reviewed books on this blog each year will be considered for the On the Brink Book of the Year.

Monday, December 28, 2015

5 Green Resolutions for the New Year

The ball in Times Square. Click for photo credit.
As my readers know, it is listicle season on On the Brink. Previous end of year listicles are here, here, here, here, and here. Today, I am providing 5 suggestions for green resolutions for the New Year. I am not going to give you the simple ones, like turning out the lights when you leave the room. This year, I am going to challenge you to think deeply about sustainability in your life.

1. Green your transportation. In the coming year, think about what you can do to green your transportation. Can you transition to mass transit, an electric car, or biking? If you fly frequently, can you purchase carbon offsets for your flights? Whatever you choose to do, make transportation part of your green resolution.

2. Get in tune with your global impact. Take a deep look at your purchasing patterns and where things are made. Many countries of the world have poor environmental labor and environmental standards. Indeed, neoslavery is occurring in many parts of the world and I am certain that most of my readers have purchased something made by individuals in horrific conditions. Resolve to think before you buy.

3. Read. So many of us are grazers of information and we do not take the time to tune out and tune in to the many great books that are out there. New environmental books come out each year. Pick one up and dive deeply into a topic that interests you. Resolve to stop grazing and join the deep dive green team.

4. Discover you local parks. I find new amazing parks on Long Island and the New York region all the time. Resolve to take advantage of what previous generations have done to preserve and protect the environment.

5. Get engaged. Resolve to find a topic that matters to you and get engaged. You can start simple by reading on local matters such as land use policy or you could get involved on state or local issues. All it takes is a desire to make the world a better place. Use the On the Brink Environmental Hero of the Year as an example of how one person can make a tremendous difference in the world.


Saturday, December 26, 2015

The On the Brink Environmental Hero of 2015, Adam Sugalski

The On The Brink Environmental Hero of 2015, Adam Sugalski.
Photo courtesy of Adam Sugalski
One of the new annual features we are starting at On the Brink is the award for the On the Brink Environmental Hero of the Year. The award will be given each year to an individual who changes the world for the better while also inspiring others. We want to highlight individuals who are working at the grass roots level in their own community or region. The winner will win a plaque made out of repurposed wood (made by your editor) and a profile on this blog.

I am pleased to announce that the On the Brink Environmental Hero of the Year is Adam Sugalski for his inspirational and tireless work over the last year in bringing international attention to the decision of the Florida Wildlife Commission to allow hunting of the Florida Black Bear. 

When I heard that Florida Wildlife Commission was going to allow hunting of the Florida Black Bear, my jaw dropped. That audacious decision was against the better judgement of the vast majority of ecologists who felt that the population has not stabilized since it was delisted off of the state's endangered and threatened species list in 2012. What was so shocking is that the state gave out 3778 hunting licenses. What's so bad about this? It is estimated that there are only 3000 black bears in the state. I wrote about this issue in this post here.  

My long time readers of this blog will know that I am not anti hunting. However, the decision to allow hunting of the bear just didn't make sense from any conservation viewpoint. While my jaw was dropping when the news of the hunt reached me in Long Island, New York, Adam Sugalksi got active in Florida. He started a group called Stop the Florida Bear Hunt which sought to educate the public on the issues of the hunt in order to put pressure on public officials to act. He helped to bring tremendous media attention on the disastrous hunt (1/10th of all Florida black bears were killed in just two days--including nursing mother bears which means their cubs will die too). He was widely interviewed including in this piece in the Washington Post. He got active on social media and urged supporters around the state to monitor the hunt and send updates on what was happening throughout Florida. He helped to provide up to date information on Facebook that put pressure on the state to end the hunt early. The state is currently reviewing whether or not a hunt will occur next year and this review is certainly influenced by Adam's work.

Adam not only made a difference by serving as a voice for those opposed to the hunt, but he also inspired many all over the world by showing how one person came make a difference. 

I asked Adam to send me his biography. It is below. As you will see, Adam has dedicated much of his life to environmental activism, particularly in the area of animal rights.

Thank you Adam for showing us that we can all rise above.



Adam Sugalski has been fighting for environmental and animal rights for over two decades. As a teenager, he began a recycling program at his high school and also helped to found the Environmental Club. Upon graduating with a BA in Art and Photography from the University of North Florida in 1996, Adam has assisted numerous local and national nonprofits dedicated to animal protection including Animal Recovery Mission, Sea Shepard, Mercy For Animals, Vegan Outreach, and Animal Legal Defense Fund. Adam also has been involved in rescue operations at illegal slaughter farms as well as undercover work against circuses.

In 2011, Adam organized JaxProtest, a circus protest group in Jacksonville, Florida. Under his leadership and because of his community-building skills, the protest group grew from 18 protestors attending Ringling demonstrations to over 60 in just one year. In addition to staging successful protests, JaxProtest initiated talks with the president of the University of North Florida regarding circus cruelty after holding a successful protest against Piccadilly Circus on the UNF campus in July 2012. By civilly and strategically engaging with UNF officials in an on-going dialogue, UNF, in step with other universities across the country, ultimately decided to ban animal acts from campus. Outside of his work in animal protection, Adam is an award-winning graphic designer, an avid surfer, and a Muay Thai instructor. He lives in Jacksonville, Florida with his three rescue dogs and two adopted cats.

Current Projects:
OneProtest
Campaign Director for Stop The Bear Hunt ​​

Past Projects:
- Founding Board Member of FourFeetForward
- Founder of CircusProtest
- Co-Founder and Creative Director of CompassionWorks International


Thursday, December 24, 2015

Top 5 Environmental News Stories of 2015

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

It's listicle season on On the Brink. So far, I've highlighted my top 5 Hofstra Hofstra Sustainability Moments, the most popular posts of 2015, my Top Favorite On the Brink Posts from 2015, and my top On the Brink posts of all time. Today, I am focusing on the top environmental news stories of the year. I tried not to focus on well covered topics like the Paris agreement or the Pope's statements on climate change. Instead, I picked stories that caught my attention and that needed elevation.

1. The continued war in western Asia. While this may not seem like a top story, one of the emerging concerns in our present era is the environmental consequence of war. Some areas of the world are at nearly constant conflict. As a result, there is little opportunity to manage resources effectively and environmental conditions deteriorate. Water quality, air quality, and species protection are all significant concerns in western Asia as a result of ongoing conflict. Because a large portion of governmental resources go to security in these areas, there is little investment in infrastructure or environmental protection. These regions cannot effectively participate in international agreements on environmental protection and they cannot suitably manage their environmental issues. In addition, the war has created a significant refugee problem with its own environmental challenges.

2. Corruption. Of particular note this year is the ongoing issue of corruption and its impact on the environment. Whether it is the corruption of government officials in Venezuela who are involved in illegal mining or the corruption of government officials in Long Island who were responsible for illegal dumping of waste, corruption and its impact on the environment is making the news all over the world. I have long been watching international news coverage and corruption is not decreasing, it is increasing. In many ways, the world needs (dare I write this) a global war on corruption to try to reduce its impact on the environment.

3. Poverty porn. There have been a number of news stories in the last year about well-meaning environmentalists who are trying to limit their footprint and the footprint of others on the planet. While I think these initiatives are good, they have an element of poverty porn built into them. What I mean by this is that there is a bit of fetishizing by the middle and upper class on the conditions of the poor. The small house movement is a case in point. Many have worked very hard to try to improve housing for the poor by providing better housing which includes a higher square foot space for families. We are all familiar with the deplorable conditions in the Lower East Side of New York City in the early 20th century. Now, environmentalists are embracing the small house movement by constructing very small homes with cool features that make small house living almost bearable. Yet there are implications to this movement. Many communities are now housing homeless within "small homes". Check out an article on this here. We would never house people in homes this small, but because hipsters made it small homes cool, we now have homeless people living in public housing that is essentially a very small shed. I wrote recently about how hipsters discovered ugly food, which is now taking food away from the poor. I don't know how to solve the poverty fetishizing that is going on today in the environmental community, but it is unfortunate that we environmentalists are often too afraid to be seen as bourgeois that we do true harm to the poor through our actions and as movers of popular culture.

4. Normalization of extreme events. Whether it is air pollution in Beijing or 70 degree days on Long Island in December, or severe floods in San Antonio or massive hurricanes in the Pacific, we are getting used to extreme environmental events. As these events continue to built in the coming decades, it will be interesting to see how key economic institutions evolve. Just today, there was a story about the changing nature of insurance here.

5. The end of oil. While we will never get off of oil completely due to its versatility, we have gotten over the hump on renewable energy. The growth of renewables, along with the expansion of natural gas, sent shock waves through oil-rich countries in the last few months. The economies of Venezuela, Russia, and Iran are in shambles as a result of rock bottom prices for oil. Venezuela is in the midst of political transition in part as a result of the country's bad economic decisions and corruption in its oil industry. Russia and Iran may not be far behind. As renewable use continues, and as we improve energy technology, it is likely that the old oil powerhouses will continue to struggle.

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Top On the Brink Posts of All Time


It's listicle season on On the Brink. So far, I've highlighted my top 5 Hofstra Hofstra Sustainability Moments, the most popular posts of 2015, and my Top Favorite On the Brink Posts from 2015. Here are the most popular blog posts of all time. Each year the list changes a bit. Some posts get attention long after they are published and new posts can go viral (well, viral by On the Brink standards).

1. An Introduction to the National Speleological Society by guest blogger Geary Schindel is the most popular post of all time on On the Brink. I am grateful that he offered to write the piece.

2. This post about Robert Moses continues to grow in popularity. Google searches of Robert Moses are one of the main ways that new readers find this blog.

3. My interview with Catholic Ecology blogger William Patenaude is the most popular interview I ever conducted.

4. Quizzes are always popular on On the Brink and this one about Aldo Leopold received the most attention.

5. The shortest post I have ever written has proven to be one of the most popular. It provides some useful advice.

6. Another advice post, this time on email, generated considerable attention from university faculty and students.

7. I write quite a bit about sinkholes on this blog and this post about the potential for sinkholes in New York City surprisingly drew considerable attention.

8. Another interview, this time with Rachel Lamb of Young Evangelicals for Climate Action, demonstrates that issues of religion and sustainability resonate with readers.

9. This post explaining why the area where I live was spared in Superstorm Sandy continues to draw online searches to On the Brink.

10. I live in the area where The Great Gatsby took place and I had fun writing this popular piece on environmental imagery in the iconic novel.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

My Top 10 Favorite On the Brink Posts from 2015

Yesterday, I posted a list of the On the Brink Posts that got the most number of hits in 2015. Today, I wanted to share with you some of my favorite posts from 2015 that didn't quite make that list that I particularly liked. Some of them are intended to be funny and others are rather serious. Regardless, I hope you enjoy reliving some of my favorite posts from 2015.

1. National Libraries Day. This piece was a love letter from me to libraries and librarians.

2. On the Brink Wins Pulitzer. For my annual April Fools post, I announced that On the Brink won a Pulitzer for blogging.

3. Top 11 Wisconsin Food Culture Traits. This post points out some of the truly unique aspects of Wisconsin food culture.

4. Top 16 Hofstra Legends Redux. Each summer I write a post about Hofstra legends and add to the list for new oddities that I learn about the history of the beautiful campus.


6. Hipsters Discover Ugly Vegetables Farm Workers Shrug. This post about a new trend among food sustainability activists point out an issue that I have been writing about for some time...cultural appropriation among sustainability activists.

7. Abbey in America--A Review. This post is a book review of one of the best books I read this year. 

8. 10 Weird Summer Campus Facts. This post describes what it is like to be on campus during the summer.

9.  Hispanic vs. Latino--Why Terminology Matters. This post highlights one of my early attempts at videoblogging and is on a topic of some cultural significance.

10. Hunting All 3300 Florida Black Bear. This post highlights how bad things have gotten in the Florida Wildlife Commission. They gave nearly 3300 licenses to hunters for the Florida black bears when there are only 3300 bears in existence. 

What were your favorite posts from 2015?

Monday, December 21, 2015

Top Blog Posts of 2015

Click for photo credit.
As I mentioned in an earlier post here, it's time for end of year listicles. Today, I review the most popular posts from 2015 based on hit counts.

1. An Introduction to the National Speleological Society. This post by guest blogger Geary Schindel was a home run!

2. Email 101 for College Students. For whatever reason, this post received a great deal of attention this year. I heard from students and faculty who found the post helpful. I followed it up with this post with readers' advice.

3. Top 10 Hofstra Student Garden Facts. I wasn't surprised when this post got lots of virtual love. The Hofstra student garden is a wonderful place where students can get their hands dirty and learn about growing food sustainably.

4. The Shame of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. I write quite a bit about Florida and this post about a major change in logging policy in the state parks caught people's attention.

5. Unplugging the Classroom. I think many of us in higher ed are struggling with how to manage the virtual space in a classroom. This essay hit a nerve for some.

6. Riverhills Park, Temple Terrace, Florida. I was surprised when I realized that this post made it into my top list. This photo essay about a small park near our home in Florida far surpassed the hits for my series on the national parks.

7. Is the University of Wisconsin System Following the Florida Model? This post on higher ed in Wisconsin highlighted the very well known challenges facing the University of Wisconsin system.

8. Things that Happen When You Move from Florida to New York. I had fun putting this post together. I think anyone who has moved from the south to the north can relate to this essay.

9. Iran Deal Hits Close to Home. This post on the Iran nuclear deal had me thinking of family, the hostage crisis, and the past.

10. Punk Rock and the Environmental Movement. I had a great time putting this piece together and it received a great deal of love from the punk world.


Coming up soon, my favorite posts that missed the top 10 cut.....



Saturday, December 19, 2015

Best Thing You Will See Online December 19, 2015

In follow up to today's earlier post, a student video I found online...


My Top 5 Hofstra Sustainability Moments of 2015


It is that time of year! All the bloggers are starting their end of year listicles. At On the Brink, I have a tradition of ending the year with a few themed listicles: Best Hofstra Sustainability Moments, Most Popular Blog Posts, and Environmental Predictions for the coming year. I'm going to add one or two more to the tradition as we approach the New Year. Today, here are my top 5 Hofstra Sustainability Moments of 2015.

1. One of the most inspirational moments occurred when Stephen Ritz, of the Bronx Green Machine, came to campus to speak as part of the Long Island Food Conference. Ritz has won many educational awards for his work with students in the South Bronx.
Stephen Ritz, Center with some of our students.

2. One of my happiest moments occurred when our masters program was approved and when we brought on our first class of graduate students.




3. It is always bittersweet to see students graduate. In May, we graduated three undergraduate students who did a wonderful job in their degree. We have several more graduating in May who just finished their senior seminar course with me.

This fun and brilliant group of undergrads graduated in May.

Our undergrad degree program keeps growing and this terrific group will graduate in 2016.

4.  I had the opportunity to take a wonderful group of students to the Texas HydroGeo Workshop near San Antonio. It was a wonderful weekend of camping and the students got to interact with some great geologists and learn a tremendous amount about a landscape very different from Long Island.
Before we headed out into the field, we made a quick stop so see the Alamo in San Antonio.

5. 3 + 2 Undergraduate and Graduate Program approved. We developed a new 3 + 2 undergraduate and graduate program that allows top students to earn an undergraduate and masters degree in sustainability in 5 years. It should be approved by the State of New York soon and it will be available in the fall semester.

A pathway on the beautiful Hofstra campus.

To see the list from 2014, click here.

Friday, December 18, 2015

The Best Thing You Will See Online December 18, 2015

In follow up to today's earlier post...

International Bottled Water Association Fights for Plastic Bottles in National Parks

The American Bottled Water Association and Congressman Keith Rothfus
are fighting to keep plastic water bottles in the national parks.
Click for photo credit.
Who doesn't love the U.S. National Parks? They are an amazing national achievement in the U.S. and they serve as a model for much of the rest of the world. We preserve large areas of the U.S. for all of us to enjoy. I did a whole series on the national parks recently that you can check out here.

Due to pollution and littering problems in the parks, many have sought to ban plastic bottle sales.

This makes a tremendous amount of sense since the parks have a strong environmental mission. It is the job of park managers to make decisions in support of the long term sustainability of the land.

Of course, some group has to come along and wreck it. According to this article by the Washington Post, the International Bottled Water Association got the U.S. Congress involved and now Congress, thanks to a rider introduced by Pennsylvania lawmaker Keith Rothfus, is requiring each park to do a study on the justification of the water bottle ban prior to banning water bottles. Plus, he seeks to get rid of the bans all together.

I think we all know what this is really about. It is not about the best interest of the national parks. It is about money.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Paris Climate Accord--A Link to a Good Primer and My Concerns About the Red Carpet Deal

Click for photo credit.
Hooray! A climate deal was reached! We can all go back to our normal lives.

At least that is the impression from the red carpet Paris climate agreement.

However, not so fast! Yes we have a deal, but let's take a look under the hood for a moment, shall we? While there is much good in the deal, there is also much concern.

First of all a quick primer. Take a look at this nice brief summary from The Atlantic. Go ahead and read it first before going forward.

Before I get to my concerns, why do I call it a red carpet agreement?

Once in a while, major world leaders come together to sign major agreements. Usually, the deals are worked out in advance by negotiators and the leaders come to sign the agreement in a flurry of media attention. I always worry about the presence of the high ranking officials in the last moments of these negotiations since they often will overreach and agree to things that are not necessarily politically possible in their own nations. They get tremendous attention from their national stakeholders, but can they deliver on the agreements?

I have three areas of concern.

1. Voluntary reductions.  Each country is required to set targets for greenhouse gas reductions. However, if a country doesn't meet the goals, there are no real enforcement mechanisms. In many ways, this is like many goal setting systems. My academic readers may be familiar with The American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment that urges universities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2060. These systems have had modest impact largely due to the lack of verification measures. They are earnest systems that look good upon initial implementation. Yet, the actual outcomes are mixed. Just take a look at the Mayors' Climate Agreement signed by over 1000 U.S. mayors. The agreement states that mayors will strive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to Kyoto Protocol levels. I am certain that some of the mayors are working diligently to achieve the goals, but that others used the agreement for political purposes. There are many agreements like this in the area of greenhouse gases. They do lead to reductions, but not at the collective levels that are intended or needed.

2. Funding. The agreement states that 100 billion is needed annually to support technology, mitigation, and adaptation. When Ecuador sought 3.6 billion over 12 years to stop oil drilling in its fragile tropical ecosystems, little money was raised and Ecuador went ahead and drilled anyway (I wrote about this issue here in 2014). Can the world raise that much money? Clearly most of the funding will have to come from richer countries like the U.S., China, and those in the European Union. Given the political situation in many of these nations, I think that the funding goal is a bit aspirational. Perhaps with the assistance of Bill Gates and other global kazillionaires the goals will be made, but I do have concerns over the needed funding.

3. What happens if goals are not met? One of my main issues as of late is the lack of planning for climate chaos in a world of 9 billion people. While I think it is a great thing that the Paris meetings were held and that the world agreed on something, I just do not have a tremendous amount of hope that the agreement will result in the needed greenhouse gas reductions. While some researchers have been working out various scenarios for the climate chaos in store for us if the agreement fails, we have not invested enough time and talent to address the modeling and planning needed to try to assess the challenges we could face. As climate scientists know, climate shifts happen rapidly. By focusing only on the climate agreement we are investing in hope and neglecting potential dark realities that billions could face in the coming decades.

In summary, I don't think it is time to take the pressure off of our international leaders regarding climate change. I also think we have to shake off the comfy feelings from the Paris agreement and see it for what it is--an agreement that has many pitfalls for failure. We also have to recognize that the agreement assumes that with reductions in the agreement the world will warm 1.5 degrees C (roughly 2.7 degrees F).  Failure to achieve targets will lead to even higher temperatures and climate chaos scenarios.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

The Challenge of Funding Energy Infrastructure in a Solar World

Click for photo credit.
As more and more energy users are creating their own forms of energy via renewable sources like solar and wind energy, energy companies are losing revenue. As a result of this, they have sought significant fee increases for solar energy generators to tap into the energy grid infrastructure that is operated and maintained by the large energy companies. The latest push is in California where utilities are likely to get a significant fee increase for solar users. Check it out here.

This fee increase is part of a national trend that I wrote about here back in March of this year. Things are clearly very fluid on this issue and I don't think that we have seen a full resolution on the fee structure for grid access for individual solar energy energy producers.

As home solar energy production continues to advance across the nation, modifications in how the energy grid is financed will have to be made if solar uses want to gain access to a safe reliable source of energy during periods when solar is not feasible. The question is whether or not the utility companies are in the best position to develop this policy. Perhaps it may be appropriate to think of new models for a modern utility that integrates home solar with the grid in innovative ways.

Monday, December 14, 2015

The Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online, December 14, 2015

In follow up to today's post on the Python Challenge...


2016 Python Challenge from My FWC on Vimeo.

It's Python Hunting Season in Florida

Click for image credit and to find python stuff for sale.
It's had to imagine that Florida would ever have a python hunting season, but that is exactly what is going on in the Sunshine State from January 16 through February 14th. Check it out more information here.

The pythons, of course, are non-native species that have adapted well to Florida's subtropical environment. They made the vast expanse of the Everglades and other parts of Florida (they have been seen as far north at Tampa, Ocala, and Orlando) home after they escaped (or were released) from exotic pet owners who thought it would be cool to own one of the most dangerous snakes in the world.

Female pythons can lay over 50 eggs, although 20-40 is more common, which means that the snakes can quickly overtake ecosystems and do considerable damage to native species. In many ways, the snakes are choking out the local plants and animals and constricting the ability of ecosystems to recoil from the difficulties associated with a century of damage from human activity.

The annual Florida python hunt usually nabs several hundred of the snakes--probably a small percentage of the total. However, the hunt, carefully managed by wildlife officials, provides valuable information about the behavior of the animal so that biologists can better figure out how to try to limit the impacts of the python.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Foundation made the hunt a contest called the Python Challenge in order to attract participants. Hunters can win cash prizes for the most number of pythons killed and the longest pythons.

Unfortunately, the snakes have picked up hazardous levels of mercury and their meat is not safe to eat. However, hunters may be able to utilize the skins.

I've written previously about the python problem in Florida here, here, here, and here.


Friday, December 11, 2015

Suburban Water Crisis Puts Great Lakes States in Spotlight

Waukesha, Wisconsin, a suburban community just west of the City of Milwaukee, is having serious water problems.

According to officials, the biggest problem is radium, a naturally occurring radioactive element that is found at levels outside of legal compliance. In addition, water levels have been declining in the natural aquifer system as the community has grown and there are other water quality challenges for the community.

The solution? Pull water from Lake Michigan.

This would not be a controversial issue except for one thing. Waukesha is just outside of the Great Lakes Drainage Basin.

Take a look at the above map and you will see that those areas of green are in the Great Lakes Drainage Basin. The states surrounding the basin have agreed that only communities in the green areas can utilize water from the lakes. All of Michigan is in the green, so any community in that state could conceivably draw water from the lakes. However, if you look at southeastern Wisconsin, only a sliver of land is in the basin. Waukesha is located just west of that narrow sliver.

In a fate of geographic elevation, Waukesha is just a few thousand meters away from being within the basin and thus needs the permission of all the states within the basin to withdraw water.

Why?

The original agreement set strict rules to utilize drainage basin water management. 

This management strategy is a very sound approach to water management that is utilized in many areas. The entire state of Florida uses this approach effectively. It forces communities to grow sustainably based on the water they have. Thirsty Miami, therefore, cannot draw water from rural northern Florida which has an abundance of water which is important for local fisheries and ecosystems.

There are two areas that have gotten away from drainage basin management: Los Vegas and Los Angeles. Both of these communities are in arid areas and have grown outside of their normal sustainable carrying capacity (in terms of water). They are highly vulnerable to water system failures.

If the Waukesha water agreement moves ahead, it opens up doors to other withdrawals throughout the Great Lakes by setting a precedent for taking water outside of the basin. Each exception tears away at the intent of the basin management strategy.

Thus, while I sympathize with Waukesha's predicament, I do not believe that water should be diverted from the lakes outside of the Great Lakes basin as per long established water management strategies in the region. If water is brought to the community, it will encourage unsustainable growth and set the stage for other unsustainable water development projects throughout the Great Lakes region.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online, December 10, 2015

From Amnesty International on Venezuela from last summer....things went worse after this video, but it is hoped that human rights will improve in the near future....

Racing Extinction Documentary Recommendation



With so much focus on mass shootings and all the ways that humans are killing each other, I want to draw some attention on all the ways humans are killing the vast numbers of species on our beautiful planet. I watched this frightening documentary last weekend on The Discovery Channel and feel it is a transformative film in the sustainability movement.

The film leaves one with hope for the future and challenges every person on the planet to "start with one thing." It is easy to become despondent in light of the rapid decline of our climate, oceans, and biodiversity; however, there is still time to save the creatures that remain as Jane Goodall eloquently reminds us in this film.

The power of imagery is brilliantly illustrated in this documentary and this form of education and awareness building is a highly effective strategy to awaken people to our impact on the planet, to get people to care, and to ultimately take some positive action to stop these atrocities on nature.

So what one thing will you start with?  Well, for starters, watch this documentary! 


Even the trailer is worth watching!

Human Rights Day

Click for photo credit.
Today is Human Rights Day. December 10th, 1948 was the date that the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. In 1950, the UN made the day an annual celebration. Today, communities all over the world try to bring attention to issues of human rights to the forefront.

In today's post, I was going to bring attention to the terrible human rights conditions in Venezuela--particularly the problem with political prisoners. However, with the recent election, it is hoped that things will improve in January.

So today, I thought the best way to celebrate the day is to publish the declaration as approved back in 1948. There is great significance in this document in that it serves as a guide for human rights around the world. While we don't always get it right, the document serves as a touchstone to assess our successes and failures.


Universal Declaration of Human Rights 

Preamble

Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,

Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,


Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law,

Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations,


Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in cooperation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,


Now, therefore,


The General Assembly,


Proclaims this Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by 
teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.

Article I

All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.

Article 2

Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. Furthermore, no distinction shall be made on the basis of the political, jurisdictional or international status of the country or territory to which a person belongs, whether it be independent, trust, non-self-governing or under any other limitation of sovereignty.

Article 3

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

Article 4

No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

Article 5

No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

Article 6

Everyone has the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. 


Article 7

All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.

Article 8

Everyone has the right to an effective remedy by the competent national tribunals for acts violating the fundamental rights granted him by the constitution or by law.

Article 9

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary arrest, detention or exile. 


Article 10

Everyone is entitled in full equality to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, in the determination of his rights and obligations and of any criminal charge against him.

Article 11
  1. Everyone charged with a penal offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial at which he has had all the guarantees necessary for his defence.
  2. No one shall be held guilty of any penal offence on account of any actor omission which did not constitute a penal offence, under national or international law, at the time when it was committed. Nor shall a heavier penalty be imposed than the one that was applicable at the time the penal offence was committed.
Article 12

No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Article 13
  1. Everyone has the right of freedom of movement and residence within the borders of each State.
  2. Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.
Article 14
  1. Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.
  2. This right may not be invoked in the case of prosecutions genuinely arising from non-political crimes or from acts contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 15
  1. Everyone has the right to a nationality.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality.
Article 16
  1. Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  2. Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  3. The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.
Article 17
  1. Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
  2. No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.
Article 18

Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Article 19

Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

Article 20
      1. Everyone has the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. 
      2. Noonemaybecompelledtobelongtoanassociation.

Article 21
  1. Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives.
  2. Everyone has the right to equal access to public service in his country.
  3. The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret vote or by equivalent free voting procedures.
Article 22
Everyone, as a member of society, has the right to social security and is entitled to realization, through national effort and international co-operation and in accordance with the organization and resources of each State, of the economic, social and cultural rights indispensable for his dignity and the free development of his personality.

Article 23
  1. Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.
  2. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work.
  3. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection.
  4. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his interests.
Article 24
Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.
Article 25
  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance.  All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
Article 26
  1. Everyone has the right to education.  Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
  2. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
  3. Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Article 27

     1. Everyone has the right freely to participate in the cultural life of the community, to enjoy the            arts and to share in scientific advancement and its benefits.

     2. Everyone has the right to the protection of the moral and material interests resulting from any    scientific, literary or artistic production of which he is the author.

Article 28

Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration can be fully realized.     

Article 29
  1. Every one has duties to the community in which alone the free and full development of his personality is possible.
  2. In the exercise of his rights and freedoms, everyone shall be subject only to such limitations as are determined by law solely for the purpose of securing due recognition and respect for the rights and freedoms of others and of meeting the just requirements of morality, public order and the general welfare in a democratic society.
  3. These rights and freedoms may in no case be exercised contrary to the purposes and principles of the United Nations.
Article 30

Nothing in this Declaration may be interpreted as implying for any State, group or person any right to engage in any activity or to perform any act aimed at the destruction of any of the rights and freedoms set forth herein.