Monday, August 31, 2015

Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online August 31, 2015

Dr. Licht's presentation on the creation of carbon nanofibers from atmospheric carbon dioxide:

Diamonds in the Sky with Science

Click for photo credit.
I have long thought that we are not going to reduce our carbon dioxide output in time to curtail significant global climate change. The historical statistics of global energy consumption give little hope for sudden and meaningful reductions without very significant authoritarian changes in society. I have always thought that the solution would be in "big science" projects that involve sequestering carbon from the atmosphere or at the emissions source.

For years, many looked to deep underground storage within karstic systems as a potential way to trap carbon dioxide. Others have looked to massive reforestation or reef building as other sources of storage of carbon.

A new approach was developed by Stuart Licht and a team of researchers at George Washington University who found a way to economically make carbon fibers from carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. They use solar cells to produce electricity that is used in electrolytic synthesis to make carbon nanofibers. The fibers are in high demand due to the growth of nanotechnology throughout the world.

What is interesting is that Licht believes that with a very large solar array (10% of the surface of the Sahara), they could bring atmospheric carbon down to pre-industrial levels in 10 years.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Best Thing You Will See Online August 30, 2015

Top 10 reasons why we know the earth is round:

The Earth Is Not Flat--A New Poem by Stan Brunn

22 August 2015:    Inspiration from Thomas Friedman. 2005. The Earth Is Flat. New York: Macmillan and Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

The Earth Is Not Flat
Stan Brunn
Photo by Mario Gomez.

Whoever wrote or said the earth is flat
Never studied details of human welfare topics on a world map
Or asked victims about an age, race or gender gap
Or someone locked into a marriage, employment or income trap.
Anyone who studies the planet’s human geographies
Knows there are billions of human “hills and valleys”
On all continents and countries and in all cities
Known also to those studying past and present centuries.
Electricity, fiber optics, computers and instant communication
            Shrink time zones and facilitate interaction
            As does a phone card, the Internet, WWW and Skype connection
            Where distance and direction means nothing nor does location.
Some of these gaps are wide and deep creations
            Some are hills, others are mountains
            Some in familiar, others in unfamiliar locations
            All challenging our cartographic perceptions.
The immigrant seeking citizenship knows the world has “legal” gaps
            As does the environmentalist protecting endangered species
            The woman seeking counseling and abortion
            The freedom fighter seeking refuge
            The off-shore investment banker seeking wealth
            The gay couple seeking marriage
            The reporter documenting truth coverage
            The vocal citizen seeking free speech and assembly.
Gaps in rights exist for the disabled and terminally ill
            Those seeking escapes from stereotypes and patriarchy
            Those seeking religious freedom over persecution
            Those seeking privacy, freedom and a new life
            The terminally ill seeking end of life assistance
            Those seeking happiness, protection and security
            Those seeking refuge from hunger and civil strive
            Those seeking to vote and politically participate
Cyberspace, iPads, Twitter and Google have not made the earth flatter
            Or more just, humane, equal or safer
            On the contrary the world’s much more complex and messier
            But also more diverse, beautiful and becoming morally better.
Sadly, there still exists a Flat Earth Society
            With adherents find comfort in some ancient geography
            Who refuse to accept modern science and astronomy
            Satellite images, planetary exploration and earth history.
Globalization makes us aware of differences and similarities
            Of our parochialism and also global sensitivities
            Of our efforts to reduce some existing gaps     
            That should result in some newly-made maps.


Saturday, August 29, 2015

Best Thing You Will See Online August 29, 2015

Iowa teachers contemplating the start of the school year. Wait for it.....

10 Tips to Green Your University Experience

The start of the semester is a time of new beginnings. It is a great way
to explore how you can develop a more sustainable lifestyle.
Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Classes at Hofstra University start on Wednesday and everyone is gearing up for a new beginning. I always love the start of the semester. There is so much hope and positivity associated with it. The energy level is high and September is lovely in Long Island.

As has been an On the Brink tradition, I am presenting some advice for students who are interested in "greening" their college experience. Here are my top 10 tips for greening your college experience.

1. Leave the car at home. You don't need it. Campuses have tons of public transportation options. For example, on my campus it is pretty easy to catch a campus shuttle to a Long Island Railroad station where you can grab a quick train to Manhattan. Do you need groceries or clothes? Rent a zip car. If you leave your car at home just don't be one of those silly students who gets in their car to drive two blocks from their dorm to a classroom building and then complain about the lack of parking.

2. Meatless Monday. You don't need to eat meat every day. It will do you good to have a vegetarian option once a week. Most students put on weight when they come to school. By skipping meat and having a healthy salad or vegetarian dish you can not only help the environment, but keep off the extra pounds.

3. Join a green club. There are many green clubs at most schools. Find one and join it. They usually have tons of activities.

4. Get involved with campus sustainability activities. Most campuses have events that could use your help. For example, Hofstra has been involved with Campus Conservation Nationals for years (and has ranked high in some of the competitions).

5. Pick a green major. If you are at Hofstra and are looking for a green major, come and see me. We offer one of the best Sustainability degree programs in the country. If you are at another campus, transfer to Hofstra (just kidding although we are ranked 52nd in the nation for salaries).

6. Get outside. Nothing is more depressing than sitting in your dorm room or apartment with nothing to do. Go explore a local park. Go for a walk. Go volunteer with a local environmental organization. Just get out of your space and explore nature and the options open to you for community volunteer work.

7. Recycle and turn out lights. Make sure that you recycle and turn out unneeded lights. Campuses tend to be very wasteful with energy and garbage. Educate your fellow students about turning off appliances and recycling.

8. Care for your campus. I try to live by the zen adage, Chop wood, carry water. What this means is that there are many small things that you can do that are very important to yourself and the world. If you see waste, pick it up. If you see lights on in an empty room, turn them off. If something is messy, clean it up. You don't need to call someone to clean something up that is out of place. You have the power.

9. Change minds carefully. I think that environmentalists are wonderful people, but not everyone thinks that way. You will find some in your college experience who don't like environmentalists or who think we are a bunch of hippies (not that there is anything wrong with being a hippie!). Often as students we want to confront these people head on and argue with them. In some cases, that may be appropriate. However, in most cases, it will turn off people who disagree with you. The best thing to do is to live by example while gaining knowledge for thoughtful debate on the topic. It is often not worth arguing with people who have no interest in agreeing with you. It is not worth losing a friend or family member over these types of arguments.

10. Tithe with your time. Most college students are pretty broke. However, they have an abundance of time. Find an organization that could use your help and volunteer. It could be a local farm, a non profit organization like the Sierra Club, or it could be a park. Just find something where you can give a bit of yourself.

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Most Interesting Thing You Will See Online August 28, 2015

NASA's animation showing the geographic distribution of sea level change since 1992.

Sea Level Up by 3 Inches

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
NASA scientists are reporting that sea level has gone up by 3 inches since 1992. NASA has been monitoring the oceans using satellites for many years. Using the same GPS that we utilize in our vehicles, they are able to determine subtle changes in elevation. What they have found is that the oceans have risen in most places of the world. Some places have decreased in elevation. However, on average, the oceans have risen globally.

The rate of change is higher than expected. NASA originally estimated that seas would rise by 1-3 feet by the end of the century. It is likely that this number will be modified.

The geographic variation of the rise is highly dependent upon ocean currents. For example, there is a greater rise in the equatorial Pacific Ocean where current bring heat near the surface. This is bad news for the many low islands in the region. Sea level in the eastern Pacific has actually dropped due to a decadal oscillation of cold deep water that makes its way to the surface in this region.

While a 3 inch rise might not seem like a big rise, one has to look at this as a geological event. This level of rise in 23 years is significant.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Changes Coming to On The Brink

I have some big changes coming to On the Brink in the next week or so. There will be a new format and new design that should give the blog a more modern look. If you have any feedback on the new format (or the old one) please send it along. If you have feedback on any of the content of this blog, I would like to hear it as well.

Along with the changes to the blog format, I am hoping to add some new writers to the blog. If you are interested in writing for the blog and have expertise in the environment, sustainability, or higher education, please send me an email. I would love to talk to you about your ideas for what you could contribute to the blog. I am looking for regular contributors who can contribute something to the blog at least twice a month. I would also welcome individuals who might want to write a one-time piece.

The readership of On the Brink continues to grow. If you like the blog or a particular post, please share it on Facebook, Twitter, or with your friends via email. 

And most importantly, thank you for continuing to read On the Brink.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Best Thing You Will See Online August 26, 2015

The Allman Brothers playing at Hofstra University in 1972.

Hofstra Ranks 52nd in Nation for Salary of Undergraduates

Image courtesy of Hofstra Special Collections.
A new report by lists all universities in the U.S. by pay of undergraduates after graduation and Hofstra University did very well and came in at 52nd. This is just under Yale and Columbia which tied at 46th. Our university keeps on improving! For contrast, my former university, the University of South Florida, came in at 456th. The venerable University of Wisconsin came in at 168th. Of course, this is in part because of the lower cost of living in Florida and Wisconsin and concomitant lower salaries.

If anyone reading this is interested attending Hofstra or having their child attend Hofstra University, feel free to reach out to me. I would be happy to arrange a campus tour or set up a meeting with the appropriate admissions office or department.

The thing that makes Hofstra University so successful in my humble opinion is its strong focus on quality education. All classes are small and it is a very student oriented campus.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Best Thing You Will See Online August 25, 2015

Great collection of images of geothermal features in Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone 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 Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. 

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.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Lassen Volcanic National Park
Mammoth Cave National Park
Mesa Verde National Park
Mount Rainier National Park
North Cascades National Park
Olympic National Park

Monday, August 24, 2015

Reflections on Simón Bolívar

I just finished reading John Lynch's biography, Simón Bolívar: A Life, which was published by Yale University Press in 2006. I received the book as a gift from a Venezuelan friend of mine who told me that it was the best updated biography of Simón Bolívar.

For those of you unfamiliar with Simón Bolívar, he was the George Washington of Latin America. He was born in Caracas to an elite wealthy family in 1783, but moved to Europe when he was 16 to get a classical European education. He returned to Venezuela greatly impacted by the political enlightenment sweeping Europe. Upon arrival back in South America, he began a lifelong campaign of independence from Spain followed by the constant struggle of nation building.

Bolivar's dream was to create a united South America. For a while in the 1820's, it appeared as if he might achieve it. He had wrested control from Spain of Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia, and Peru. However, regional differences and local self-interested power brokers--as well as Bolívar's desire for a national constitution with a strong executive with a life-long presidency--made a unified South America a dream and not a reality. (See The General in his Labyrinth for some historical fiction on his effort).

Today, Bolívar is lauded throughout South America as The Liberator. His most noteworthy achievements memorialized throughout the region are his lengthy and arduous military campaigns to remove Spanish power from the continent. Bolívar used all of his energy to try to create political institutions that would stabilize the region after he removed the Spanish. He died young at 47 in exile with dreams unfulfilled.

Of course, this is a very very brief and unworthy summary of The Liberator's life. I urge you to read the book.

I have been contemplating one of the major themes of the book--the difficulty of governing in Latin America. The region is very rich in resources and wealthy land owners and businesses have often held power over governments and the military to protect and amass their wealth. Indeed, it was wealthy land owners who were very instrumental in ensuring the failure of many of Bolívar's government initiatives such as abolition of slavery.

Scholars of Latin America or frequent travelers cannot help but recognize that one of the largest hindrances to good government and sound business practices is corruption. I certainly have seen it first hand. But the corruption is not new. It is part of the old Spanish colonial tradition that favored wealth and that turned a blind eye to corruption and crime against the common people. In many ways, the revolutionary fervor that has swept the continent for generations is an indicator of the unhealthy public institutions found in some countries on the continent.

My reflections on the book and Bolivar's life came into focus when I was speaking with some of my Venezuelan family members over the last two weeks while I was on my road trip. The country of Venezuela is very close to political, economic, and social collapse. Inflation is very high, there is a serious food shortage, crime is a major issue, there are horrendous human rights violations, and the government is deeply unpopular. The corruption of officials is notorious. For example, Hugo Chavez' daughter is the richest woman in Venezuela and is worth about 3.6 billion dollars. The wealth gathered via government officials has created a new class called Boligarchs (leftist oligarchs) who are widely derided in Venezuelan society as they are seen as poor stewards of national wealth. At the same time, most Venezuelan's have to stand in line for hours to wait for food at a grocery store that has little to sell. It takes about 6 monthly salaries to afford food for 1 month. Friends of mine who go to Venezuela to visit family members pack food, not clothes. Hotels give out a few sheets of toilet paper at a time to visitors to the country.

Near the end of his life, Bolívar wrote a letter to one of his friends in which he said, "You know that I have ruled for twenty years, and from these I have derived only a few certainties: (1) America [South America] is ungovernable for us; (2) Those who serve a revolution plow the sea; (3) The only thing one can do in America is to emigrate; (4) This country will fall inevitably into the hands of the unbridled masses and then pass almost imperceptibly into the hands of petty tyrants...."

As Venezuela lurches again into turmoil, I cannot help but think of the poor general in his labyrinth.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

The Vicarious World Traveler--A New Poem by Stan Brunn

I've been on a road trip for the last two weeks. When I returned I found the latest poem from noted geographer Stan Brunn in my mailbox. It seems particularly timely. Enjoy!

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.

The Vicarious World Traveler

Like the child in us, we are instinctively adventurous
About places and spaces, just plain curious.
We seek to acquire more place knowledge every day
From what people say and what comes our way.

We also realize that world travelers we will never be
So we are content to read what others write and others see
In this way we can see the world “for free”
With childhood excitement and the explorer’s glee.

We travel with scientists  to far off lands
            Who studies plants, customs, mountains and islands.
We travel with missionaries to foreign cultures
            In their hopes bring others new life and futures.
We travel with business leaders to find new markets
            Seeking new customers and increasing their profits.
We travel with diplomats to resolve disputes
            Related to territory claims and human rights abuses.
We travel with nameless volunteers to aid those in distress          
            Conflict zones, disaster recovery and psychosocial stress.
We travel with those who reports news events with photos and blogs
            About disease outbreaks, refugees, drug use and warlords.
We travel with peacekeepers to places of conflict
            To promote reconciliation and climates of content.
We travel with languages learned for study and commerce
            And traveling, friendship and even romance.
We travel with science fiction writers to places of mysteries
            Fascinating frontiers and unexplored geographies.

For those who cannot travel, there are worlds of exploration          
            Kaleidoscopes of adventure, learning and imagination.
We can visit a museum, library and art gallery
            A nature preserve, theme park and international symphony.
We can listen to musicians from familiar or unfamiliar lands
            Soloists, choirs, folksingers and traditional bands.
We can phone, skype or email some distant location           
            About the weather, politics, food or a virtual vacation.         
We can watch or attend an international sporting event
            Enjoying such with others is money well spent.
We can join a pilgrimage and enjoy an interfaith holiday
            In January, September, March or May.
We can celebrate a multicultural festival or parade
            Buy some handicrafts and eat foods homemade.
We can collect paintings, jewelry, toys and stamps
            Wall hangings, carvings, rugs and lamps.    
We can dream of places zoomed in on Google Earth maps
            And contemplate traveling there, just perhaps.
We can watch new photos of distant planets and galaxies
            And unmapped places with voids and mysteries.
We can circumnavigate the world and just stay home
            Experiencing it with family, friends or being alone.

We travel visiting the worlds known and unknown    
            In the oceans, on lands, in outer space
            In the tropics, polar lands and the unmapped place
            With skyping, twitter, the Web and cyberspace.
Where are our greatest unknowns?
            In the oceans, on lands, beyond Earth?
            Perhaps more in cities than in countrysides?
            In truth they are inside of us.
Long live the geographer in all of us
            The scientist and the humanist
            The incessant traveler in us
            The vicarious world traveler in all of us.
                                                                              Stan Brunn