Saturday, March 31, 2018

Tailpipe Emissions to Increase with New EPA Guidelines as Director Faces Corruption Accusations

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The New York Times is reporting that the EPA is set to revise Obama era rules regarding tailpipe emissions from cars. The rules were established to mitigate climate change, to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and to improve air quality to enhance public health. The Obama plan would have required cars to get 54.5 miles per gallon (for full disclosure, my electric hybrid gets about 100 miles per gallon).

The rollback comes at a time when there are calls for the investigation of the head of the EPA for corruption. This report from the Washington Post details an inexpensive housing relationship that was set up with a Washington lobbyist and campaign contributor. The housing arrangement was for $50 a night in a city where the low end of costs of a hotel room are closer to $200 a night.   It turns out that the lobbying firm associated with the individual represents the fossil fuel industry.

As a reminder, the mission statement of the EPA is:

The mission of EPA is to protect human health and the environment.
EPA works to ensure that:
  • Americans have clean air, land and water;
  • National efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information;
  • Federal laws protecting human health and the environment are administered and enforced fairly, effectively and as Congress intended;
  • Environmental stewardship is integral to U.S. policies concerning natural resources, human health, economic growth, energy, transportation, agriculture, industry, and international trade, and these factors are similarly considered in establishing environmental policy;
  • All parts of society--communities, individuals, businesses, and state, local and tribal governments--have access to accurate information sufficient to effectively participate in managing human health and environmental risks;
  • Contaminated lands and toxic sites are cleaned up by potentially responsible parties and revitalized; and
  • Chemicals in the marketplace are reviewed for safety.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Defining Sustainability Through the Work of Sustainability Experts

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Check out my piece here on the Palgrave Macmillan sustainability Website. In the brief essay, I make a case for defining sustainability by looking at what sustainability experts do. While there are many definitions of sustainability, the application of the term is quite broad and diverse. Thus, it is hard to condense the idea of sustainability within a brief definition. However, by looking at the practice of sustainability, we come closer to understanding what it means.

My new book, edited with Sandra Garren, takes a specific look at the issue of sustainability through the lens of dozens of case studies. The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions is available for pre-order now here. The publication date is May, 2018.

Funding Opportunity of the Week: Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy and Water Systems

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Today I am starting a new On the Brink Series that will highlight funding opportunities for researchers. For this first post, let me highlight this funding opportunity from the National Science Foundation:  Innovations at the Nexus of Food, Energy, and Water Systems. You can find the full call for proposals here.

Full proposals are due on September 26, 2018.

A synopsis of the program from the NSF Website is below:

Humanity depends upon the Earth's physical resources and natural systems for food, energy, and water (FEW).  However, both the physical resources and the FEW systems are under increasing stress. It is becoming imperative that we determine how society can best integrate social, ecological, physical and built environments to provide for growing demand for food, energy and water in the short term while also maintaining appropriate ecosystem services for the future.  Known stressors in FEW systems include governance challenges, population growth and migration, land use change, climate variability, and uneven resource distribution. The interconnections and interdependencies associated with the FEW Nexus pose research grand challenges. To meet these grand challenges, there is a critical need for research that enables new means of adapting societal use of FEW systems.  
The INFEWS program seeks to support research that conceptualizes FEW systems broadly and inclusively, incorporating social and behavioral processes (such as decision making and governance), physical processes (such as built infrastructure and new technologies for more efficient resource utilization), natural processes (such as biogeochemical and hydrologic cycles), biological processes (such as agroecosystem structure and productivity), and cyber-components (such as sensing, networking, computation and visualization for decision-making and assessment).  Investigations of these complex systems may produce discoveries that cannot emerge from research on food or energy or water systems alone.  It is the synergy among these components in the context of sustainability that will open innovative science and engineering pathways to produce new knowledge, novel technologies, and innovative predictive capabilities.
The overarching goal of the INFEWS program is to catalyze well-integrated, convergent research to transform understanding of the FEW Nexus as integrated social, engineering, physical, and natural systems in order to improve system function and management, address system stress, increase resilience, and ensure sustainability. The NSF INFEWS activity is designed specifically to attain the following goals:
1.     Significantly advance our understanding of the food-energy-water system of systems through quantitative, predictive and computational modeling, including support for relevant cyberinfrastructure;
2.     Develop real-time, cyber-enabled interfaces that improve understanding of the behavior of FEW systems and increase decision support capability;
3.     Enable research that will lead to innovative and integrated social, engineering, physical, and natural systems solutions to critical FEW systems problems;
4.     Grow the scientific workforce capable of studying and managing the FEW system of systems, through education and other professional development opportunities.
This initiative enables interagency cooperation on one of the most pressing problems of the millennium - understanding interactions across the FEW nexus - how dynamics of the FEW Nexus are likely to affect our world, and how we can proactively plan for consequences. This solicitation allows the partner agencies - National Science Foundation (NSF) and the United States Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA/NIFA) - to combine resources to identify and fund the most meritorious and highest-impact projects that support their respective missions, while eliminating duplication of effort and fostering collaboration between agencies and the investigators they support.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

St. Patrick's Finds Pot of Gold Underground

The interior of St. Patrick's in New York City. Click for photo credit.
Sharon Otterman, in an article in today's New York Times, reports that St. Patrick's Cathedral is now getting its heating and cooling from geothermal energy. Check out the article here.

The system uses a complex deep set of pipes that extend to nearly half a mile underground to heat and cool the church and associated buildings. According to the article, the system is the largest in Manhattan. It cost a cool 35 million dollars to produce.

Most people are familiar with dramatic forms of geothermal energy. For example, in Iceland, geothermal energy is plentiful because the island is basically one giant volcano. However, in the case of St. Patricks, and many other geothermal projects around the world, engineers use the natural thermal properties of the subsurface to gently heat or cool buildings. For example, in the summer, groundwater is cooler than the surface and in the winter it is warmer than the surface. With simple heat exchanges and fans, the groundwater can be used to heat or cool buildings.

While thousands of geothermal systems have been built in the United States over the last decade, the one in St. Patrick's is certainly one of the most interesting ones given the challenge of building the system in midtown Manhattan with all of its complex underground infrastructure. Geothermal heating and cooling is quite an upgrade considering that the cornerstone of the building was laid in the early 1800's.

Sunday, March 4, 2018

Environmental Hero Afroz Shah

I always get inspiration from individuals who work selflessly to improve the environment. Over the next month or two I will profile five environmental heroes on Twitter who give me hope and inspiration.

To kick off this series, I would like to introduce you to Afroz Shah. Every weekend since October, 2015 he has organized beach cleanups in or near Mumbai, India, a coastal city on the Arabian Sea. Mumbai is India's largest city and its financial center. The broader metropolitan region has a population of approximately 22 million people.

Since he started the beach cleanups, Afroz has collected thousands of tons of trash, given many lectures, and planted many trees along the beach. He started his work with a friend, and now he often attracts hundreds. He gives lectures on pollution and his work has gotten tremendous public attention in India. He is changing the way the public thinks about waste and he is improving public policy. In 2016, the United Nations named him a Champion of the Earth. He has had some challenges along the way, but he has persevered and continues to be an inspiration in India and around the world.

He is a wonderful example of how one person can make a difference.

If you are on Twitter, follow him at @AfrozShah1 He posts regular updates of his beach cleanups and he provides real numbers on the difference he is making in the region.

If you have someone you think I should profile, please leave a comment.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Bears Ears Shrinkage All About Oil, Gas, and Minerals

Cliff dwellings at Bears Ears National Monument. Click for photo credit.
Eric Lipton and Lisa Friedman recently published a bombshell story in the New York Times about the reasons behind the shrinkage of the Bears Ears National Monument. You can read it here. As my readers will recall, Bears Ears was established by President Obama to protect Native American sacred lands. Importantly, he used the Antiquities Act when establishing the site. The Antiquities Act provided federal guidance for the protection of cultural resources. Bears Ears is home to many examples of prehistoric rock art, ancient dwellings, and sacred sites. The President sought the input of many Native American voices as he developed the boundaries if the Monument.

According to the Times, when the current president sought to shrink Bears Ears after his election, he listened to the voices of the oil, gas, and minerals industries. This is in direct contrast to public statements of the administration, particularly Interior Secretary Zinke who said that these industries did not impact the decision to reduce the size of the monument.

I doubt that the conflict over Bears Ears is over, particularly given the evidence of duplicity.