Monday, January 23, 2017

Yemeni Leopards Nearly Gone

Sana'a, Yemen's capital. Click for photo credit.
Yemen's leopards are nearing extinction according to this article in the Yemen Times. I've written in the past about Yemen's environmental problems which include water shortages, hunger, and war. Given the problems the country faces, it is therefore not a surprise that large predators are disappearing.

Yemen is a relatively rural country that has seen very rapid environmental change in the last several years. Yet this is not the first time the region has seen such shifts. My field research on pre-Islamic environmental change in the region years ago showed that the shift from nomadic herding to long-term settlement significantly altered the environment. Water was diverted from streams to reservoirs, prairies disappeared into deserts, and great civilizations rose and fell. Today, it is easy to find archaeological evidence for these changes on the fringes of the Rub al Khali desert where I did my work.

The extinction of the leopard is but one of many signs of widespread accelerating environmental change during our era. Such rapid shifts throughout geologic history often led to widespread biological change across the planet characterized by mass extinctions and rapid evolution of new organisms. How we manage environmental change in the coming decades will impact the evolutionary trajectory of our planet for millennia. 

Monday, January 16, 2017

Circumnavigating Long Island Part 3: Douglaston to the Cross Island Parkway

To many, Long Island has a very strong sense of place. I am seeking to highlight the distinct regional character of the place by posting photos taken while walking its circumference starting from my home in Port Washington, heading west toward Brooklyn along the shore, back around to the southern shores to Montauk and Orient, and then back across the north shore to Port Washington. Since I have a day job and do not relish suburban and urban camping, I am breaking these walks into pieces. Today's post focuses on the Douglaston Peninsula from Little Neck to the Cross Island Parkway. For each segment, I stay on public roads that get as close to the shore as possible. I don't go on dead ends and I avoid dangerous stretches where walking is problematic due to traffic. Hopefully, the series of photo essays will provide insight into the geography of this region at this particular point in time. Previous segments are linked at the bottom of this post.



There are a number of large and small parks along the coast  in many areas of Queens.

Another park near the Douglaston/Little Neck border. 

The homes in Douglaston seem rather Victorian in character. One does not feel like one is in Queens. The region feels much more like the rest of the North Shore in Nassau County.

Nice views in Douglaston.

Looking toward the Merchant Marine Academy in Kings Point.



Some of the homes in the region are quite unique.


Lots of repair underway from Sandy along the shore.

There is considerable public access to the shoreline, although some of the parks are owned by neighborhood associations.


Another Victorian stunner.

There are some luxury apartment buildings near the commercial district of Douglaston.

A glacial eratic rock near the marsh edge.

Apartment complexes near the Long Island Railroad Douglaston station.

These apartments rent for about $2000 for a one bedroom.

A pizza shop and a deli in the main commercial district. What else do New Yorkers need?

This image was taken from a bridge over a tidal stream on the very busy Northern Boulevard. The bridge in the photo is a railroad bridge used by the Long Island Railroad Port Washington line.

One of the great divides of Long Island is the Cross Island Parkway. Here, it hugs the coast next to a pedestrian and bike trail that hugs the western shore of Little Neck Bay.

The trail is quite nice with marshland and open water on one side and a very busy highway on the other. 

Previous Circumnavigating Long Island Posts:

Part 1. Port Washington to Manhasset
Part 2. Circumnavigating Long Island Part 2: Manhasset, Kings Point, Great Neck, Little Neck

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Blacksmiths and Artisanal Coal

Click for photo credit.
The electric blue arc light spiked the January sky as I watched it from the dining room in our small home in rural Wisconsin in the late 1960's. A block away, men working in a metal working shop were busy welding farm equipment. The shop also had a small blacksmith business and I could hear the ping ping ping in the cold December evening as the men worked. The sound reminded me of the sound we made as we used a heavy metal spike to break holes in deep layers of ice on nearby lakes for ice fishing.

The welders repaired farm equipment and the smithies turned rods of metal into useful tools and ornaments. The shop seemed in place in the mid 1960's but was gone by the 1970's as farm tools and supplies became consumer goods. We didn't repair as many things as *stuff* took over our lives.

Click for photo credit.
Looking down lists of professions by decade in the 1900's, it is easy to demonstrate that blacksmiths were much more common just a handful of decades ago. Many high schools had blacksmith lessons in shop classes. Like cell phone stores or the video rental stores before them, blacksmiths were found everywhere. People needed smithies to fashion tools, nails, farm equipment, and horse shoes. We were much less likely to throw away things since it was much harder and expensive to make things back then. We fixed things. If we wanted a tool repaired, we went to a blacksmith. Look around your town. Where were your blacksmiths? In New York City, there were dozens and dozens of them before the advent of the car--and the car changed everything.

A Model T in South Carolina. Click for photo credit.
When the car started to gain popularity in the early 1900's many labor and industry groups protested. Carriage makers, urban stable workers, and blacksmiths all fought against the use of cars in cities and on roads. They were rightly worried about their jobs and the future of their industries. We know how that story ended.

To many, the newfangled vehicles were seen as an elitist form of transport that did tremendous damage to the landscape. Many rural communities plowed roads to try to prevent them from penetrating into their domain. Yet, the car persisted. The American landscape changed as roads snaked across the continent.

As the roads intruded with the advent of the Fordist mass production of cars, the blacksmiths disappeared because of the loss of the horse as a the major energy force of transportation. Once industrialists recognized that cars could be mass produced, soon everything was made inexpensively using assembly line technology. Blacksmiths were a thing of the past.

Sort of.

Click for photo credit.
There are still blacksmiths in our midst. They are artisans who carry on traditions and who make tools and decorative objects using techniques that developed over generations. Our great grandparents might not have looked at their local blacksmiths as artisans, but we do since the craft is seen as a hobby or an artistic enterprise.

Click for photo credit.
Today, like blacksmiths a few generations ago, workers in coal are worried about their jobs and their industries as we transition to renewable and cleaner forms of energy. I am truly sympathetic to their situation. However, the coal industry over the last 20 years has employed fewer and fewer people. Extracting coal has become more mechanized. The industry has changed. At the same time the popularity of coal is waning. As a result, there is a social and employment crisis in coal producing areas. It seems as if the future is dim in coal and coal regions. The situation, except for its geographic distinctiveness, is somewhat similar to what happened to the blacksmith trade. 

Coal will always have a place in the energy portfolio of the United States. We have great reserves of it. We could use it for decades and never run out. Yet we are quickly going though a technological revolution that is moving us to much cleaner energy sources. Right now, coal regions need a new economic model that isn't reliant solely on extractive activities. We are approaching a time when coal production will be seen as a quaint artisanal activity of the past. The sooner we come to terms with this situation, the better off we will be.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

China Outpaces the World in Global Renewable Energy Investments

A wind farm in China. Click for photo credit.
 The Financial Times published this fascinating article this week that provides more support for my broad narrative about the backward looking energy policy in the U.S. that was highlighted in a recent blog post.

The article, by Andrew Ward, titled, "Wave of Spending Tightens China's Grip on Renewable Energy," reviews how China is far outpacing other countries in global investment in renewable energy sources. The article notes that China plans to make significant increases in global renewable energy investment in the next several years. They already are spending twice what the U.S. is spending on internal renewable energy investment, but now are aggressively advancing their global advantage in renewable technology.

In the mean time, we have leaders who deny the reality of climate change and continue to support the past generation's dirty fuel source, coal. 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Bears Ears National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 124 U.S. National Monuments. This is in follow up to my series that featured open access photos of all of the U.S. National Parks. In the coming years, I will highlight open access images all of the U.S. National Monuments in alphabetical order.

Today, I have to go backward in the alphabet to feature one of the newest monuments, Bears Ears National Monument in Utah, which was just proclaimed as a monument on December 28, 2016 by President Obama. You can see the White House Proclamation designating the site here. The monument was established at the urging of 24 tribal governments to protect the sacred site from looting and development.

Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Admiralty Island National Monument
African Burial Ground National Monument
Agate Fossil Beds National Monument
Agua Fria National Monument
Alibates Flint Quarries National Monument
Aniakchak National Monument
Aztec Ruins National Monument
Bandelier National Monument
Basin and Range National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Berryessa Snow Mountain National Monument
Booker T. Washington National Monument
Browns Canyon National Monument
Buck Island Reef National Monument
Cabrillo National Monument
California Coastal National Monument
Canyon de Chelly National Monument

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

The Inevitability of Donuts and Green Energy and Why Coal is Like Mariah and Renewables are Like Bruno

A schenck. Click for photo credit.
As everyone close to me knows, largely because they are tired of hearing (what I think are) amusing stories from this period of my life, I worked many different types of jobs to put myself through years of college. One of the worst and shortest jobs was as an assistant in a bakery in Milwaukee.

This wasn't any bakery. This was one of the best German bakeries in the city. Just like well-known bakeries in particular cities, such as Charm City Cakes in Baltimore, this bakery had a wide reputation among bakery lovers. The bakery was famous for its schnecks, as they are called in Milwaukee, which are known as baked donuts and danish in other cities. Their fried donuts were quite good, but their schnecks and coffee cakes were really scrumptious. 

Glaze is yummy, but not when you are coated in it.
Click for photo credit.
I interviewed with the father and son who ran the bakery in early January shortly after moving to Milwaukee where I was starting my masters in Geology. When the duo told me that I got the job, they asked me to show up at 1 am at the back door of the bakery to start the night's work. The day I started, I walked the several blocks through sub-zero temperatures to find that the owners were not there. I waited on that cold dark January night until they showed up shortly after 1:30 am. That should have been my first warning sign.

I only spent two days (really nights and mornings) working at the bakery before I gave up. The work was hard and I returned home covered in a goo-like coating of powdered sugar frosting, flour, frying oil, nuts, and fruit filling. Yet the hard work was not the problem. The issue was that the father and son argued all night long. They yelled at each other. They complained about the other's work ethic. They never stopped bickering. I was stressed out enough as I tried to figure out how to carry 100 pound bags of flour from the basement on rickety wooden stairs without worrying about their very loud and disruptive family quarrels. As I shaped beautifully risen schnecks for the ovens, it was hard to focus on the creative process of baking. I hated it, quit, and found a job as a night security officer in a nursing home. Talk about quiet. I went from complete madness to complete serenity.

There is an inevitability of donuts. Click for photo credit.
But, the donuts kept getting made. 

The father and son never stopped producing donuts just because I walked away from an unhappy situation. Each day, the inevitability of the donuts was something on which Milwaukee depended. Consumers didn't realize that the father and son created a difficult workplace and they certainly didn't care if I worked there or not. The schnecks and donuts were in their proper places in the cases each morning.

This brings me to this article in the New York Times that was published today in the Science section titled "Weak Federal Powers Could Limit Trump's Climate Policy Rollback." Check it out here.

These bright spots are solar collectors on the Nevada/California
border. Today, California gets nearly 30% of its energy from renewable
energy sources. It is not going backward regardless of federal policy.
Click for photo credit.
As I have been saying and writing for years, the real action in the United States on green energy is in local and state level governments and in the private sector. The United States federal government has largely been absent on green energy policy except for some relatively minor (say compared with Germany and China) executive initiatives set forward by President Obama. Sure, those actions were important and did great stuff for wind and solar. But, for the last generation, states and cities have been driving policy. In addition, dirty fuels like coal are not economically or environmentally acceptable. If you were an investor today, would you invest in old technology like coal or would you invest in green energy and technology? This article from Bloomberg clearly tells the story. The return to coal energy is really a political chimera. Coal is Mariah Carey's performance on New Year's Eve and green energy is Bruno Mars at the Superbowl. Everyone in the biz gets it and understands it, but the rhetoric on Mariah and coal keep the vibe moving forward like they still matter. Coal and Mariah will always have a place in the world, but are they really as relevant as they were 20 years ago?

So regardless of national policy, green energy will continue to advance in this country because it is economically and environmentally sound to use it. This is something that states and cities have understood for decades. Green energy is as inevitable as donuts. And as much fun as Bruno Mars at a Superbowl halftime show.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

Circumnavigating Long Island Part 2: Manhasset, Kings Point, Great Neck, Little Neck

To many, Long Island has a very strong sense of place. I am seeking to highlight the distinct regional character of the place by posting photos taken while walking its circumference starting from my home in Port Washington, heading west toward Brooklyn along the shore, back around to the southern shores to Montauk and Orient, and then back across the north shore to Port Washington. Since I have a day job and do not relish suburban and urban camping, I am breaking these walks into pieces. Today's post focuses on the King's Point Peninsula from Manhasset to Little Neck. For each segment, I stay on public roads that get as close to the shore as possible. I don't go on dead ends and I avoid dangerous stretches where walking is problematic due to traffic. Hopefully, the series of photo essays will provide insight into the geography of this region at this particular point in time. Previous segments are linked at the bottom of this post.


Looking toward new residential developments in Kensington on the Kings Point Peninsula from Manhasset. This multifamily development is built on an old brownfield site near a sewage treatment plant which tells you how popular multifamily developments are in this portion of Long Island.

A Long Island Railroad bridge.

Many coastal areas that are not residential have a post-industrial vibe.

New infrastructure coming to the Kings Point peninsula.

There are frequent water views on the north shore of Long Island.

Long Island is made up of hundreds of local governments. Many of them have their own water authority.


Manhasset Bay from Kings Point peninsula.

A typical residential street in Kings Point. This region was the West Egg in The Great Gatsby.
More residential landscape of the region.


There are many small parks on the peninsula, but they are restricted for residents.


There are many large midcentury and older homes on large lots in this area. Some are being torn down to build larger mansions.

One of the new mansions.

Another local park.

Always a view....

Some views are better than others....

....here's one of the Throgs Neck Bridge.

...and one of Manhattan.

Many of the newer mansions are made of Jerusalem Stone.

While it is hard to see the past in many areas, the area was settled long ago.

This grist mill is one of the few remaining Colonial structures on the peninsula. Note the modern mansion in the background.

The Great Neck Library.

The 911 Memorial Bridge over Udalls Millpond.

The area has been the home to those with significant wealth for generations as can be seen by this 19th century mansion.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Academy is located near the tip of the peninsula.

Previous Circumnavigating Long Island Posts:

Part 1. Port Washington to Manhasset.