Monday, December 31, 2018

The End of New Year's Eve Balloon Drops in the Philippines

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When a nightclub called Cove Manila in the Philippines announced that they were going to break a record for the world's largest balloon drop on New Year's Eve, there was a quick outcry. The world is in the midst of trying to solve the growing plastics problem and a drop of thousands of plastic balloons was a bit tone deaf in a coastal city and maritime country beset by plastic pollution problems. 

While organizers tried to make a case that the balloons were biodegradable and that the balloon drop would be inside and easy to clean up, it was clear that the event was in trouble due to the public perception of the waste. Plus, groups like the Guinness Book of World Records are reviewing whether they should even recognize and encourage events like this that are harmful to the environment.

In the last day, Cove Manila stated that they are cancelling the balloon drop and more venues in the Philippines and around the world are doing the same. 

As you celebrate the start of 2019, consider how to lower the impact of the celebration on the planet.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

Circumnavigating Long Island Part 12: Dumbo to Gowanus

To many, Long Island has a very strong sense of place. In this series, I seek 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, around the west end of the island, east 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 break these walks into pieces. 

For each segment, I stay on public roads, trails, and/or beaches 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 provides insight into the geography of this region at this particular point in time. Previous segments are linked at the bottom of this post.

Today's post focuses on northeastern Brooklyn. It starts just west of the Manhattan Bridge and extends past the Brooklyn Bridge to Brooklyn Heights, Red Hook, and Gowanus. The area closest to the bridges are pleasant residential areas that have some commercial and industrial sections mixed in. There are great views of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty from the many parks that line the shore. The Red Hook coast is largely an industrial port site with many old industrial and warehouse land uses.

The Manhattan Bridge with the Brooklyn Bridge behind.

The Brooklyn Bridge.


Brooklyn Bridge Park and Promenade.

More of the park...

...there's even a small beach.

Even in some challenging traffic areas there's great bike and pedestrian lanes.
A Nets graffiti ad.

...not too far from a Mondrian gate.

Lots of great graffiti art all over the place.

Old industrial areas near Red Hook.

...and modern port facilities.

The Brooklyn Cruise Terminal in Red Hook.

Old and new...a modest amount of redevelopment happening in Red Hook. It's not Long Island City, but there is evidence of attempts at redevelopment.

Views of the Statue of Liberty are pretty good from Red Hook.

Valentino Pier provides access for kayak launches from Red Hook.

Valentino Pier.

Another view of the park.

There are a ton of old warehouses throughout Red Hook--a remnant of when it was a much more significant port.
Another old industrial view with port activities nearby.

A large lot is used as a farm.

There is a very large park called Red Hook Park that is near the Gowanus Canal.

Another view of the park.

Old abandoned warehouses in the distance.

Advertisement billboard featuring "Remember 9-11-01".
Part 1. Port Washington to Manhasset
Part 2. Manhasset, Kings Point, Great Neck, Little Neck

Saturday, December 29, 2018

10 Resolutions to Kick Start a New Year of Sustainability

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The start of a new year is a great time to consider how you can become personally more sustainable. Here are 10 relatively easy ways to kick start a new year of sustainability. Let's all commit to trying a bit harder this year to make the world a better place.

1. Buy less. Americans are in the midst of a consumerist craze. Many of us buy tons of stuff we do not need and our closets are full of clothes we don't wear. Let's commit to bucking the consumerist trend and buy less.

2. Buy green and local. When we do buy, consider finding greener and local options.

3. Go carbon neutral. It is pretty easy to calculate the energy we use via energy bills, flight carbon calculators, and gasoline bills. Calculate the total carbon you use each year and purchase carbon offsets to go carbon neutral. You'll be surprised at how cheap it is to make the commitment. If you don't feel like calculating your annual carbon impact, just use the approximate average carbon emission per person of 17,000 tons. The cost of this is about $85 per year.

4. Dump the plastics. Don't even think about using plastic bags, balloons, or straws this year.

5. Vote green and inform your local politicians. Given the rollback of environmental regulations recently, it is important to inform your local politicians about issues important to you.

6. Meatless Mondays and Fridays. Actually it doesn't matter which two days you pick. Just commit to eating less meat. A plant based diet is healthier for you and for the planet. My favorite? Black beans and yellow rice.

7. Support environmental justice and equity around the world and in your community. When you see a problem with environmental justice or equity, point it out and prioritize it.

8. Spend more time in national, state, and local parks and forests. It is easier to work to protect nature if we spend time appreciating it.

9. Find ways to educate. We all have special knowledge about the environment. Find ways to share this information with family, friends, and the community. You could organize a river clean up, offer to speak to a children's group, or write an editorial for your local paper.

10. Stay inspired. Find books, magazines, Twitter feeds, or other sources of inspiration to keep you motivated throughout the year. It is hard to stay on a green path in our modern society and we need to keep our ideas fresh.

What other ideas do you have for sustainability resolutions?

Friday, December 28, 2018

Top On the Brink Posts of 2018

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Each year I list the top On the Brink posts that were the most popular with my readers in terms of hit counts. I am always surprised by what gets the most love each year. Here they are in order of the most hits:

UN Week Part 5. What Cave and Karst Scientists Can Contribute to the Remainder of the Sustainable Development Goals. I spent one week of the summer at the United Nations representing the National Cave and Karst Research Institute. The final blog post of the week got quite a bit of attention in the cave and karst community.

Five Punctuation Tips for Writers. My professional suggestion blog posts are always popular. I hope that some of my readers found this post on punctuation useful.

Litterati App Gets NSF Funding for Litter. This blog post focused on how the new app called Litterati received funding from NSF for its improvement. I believe the App could be a great teaching tool and I would be interested to hear from any readers who used it for educational purposes.

Government Approves Coastal Drilling Few Want. There was a great deal of pro business and anti environmental news in the last year. This particular post centered on the approval of coastal drilling in Florida.

5 Tips to Make Professional Football More Sustainable. Professional sports organizations, particularly baseball, have embraced sustainability tenets. Some sports, particularly soccer and football could do much more. This blog post provided some suggestions as to how to make improvements in this area.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Removing 78 Environmental Rules in Two Years

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The New York Times published a special section today called "This Is Our Reality Now" focused on how the undoing of environmental protection under Trump is affecting real people around the country. Check it out here.

One of the most impactful pieces in the section is on the last page and is titled "78 Environmental Rules on the way Out Under Trump (and 11 Rules Reinstated After Challenges)". The article lists the status of 78 rules that are being shot down under the Trump administration. While we all heard of some of them, the total listing of all of them is rather stunning. Check it out here if you are not a Times subscriber. 

This list is broken down into several categories:
  • Air pollution and emissions
  • Drilling and extraction
  • Infrastructure and planning
  • Animals
  • Toxic substances and safety
  • Water pollution
  • Other
Here are just a few of the completed rollbacks that occurred over the last two years:
  • Permitted the use of seismic air guns for gas and oil exploration in the Atlantic Ocean. The guns can kill marine life and disrupt fisheries.
  • Overturned the ban on the use of lead ammunition and fishing tackle on federal lands.
  • Removed a rule to prevent coal companies from dumping mining debris in local streams.
I could type on with a long list of the other 78 problematic rule changes. Suffice it to say that it will take years to recover from these modifications. The rollbacks, along with the president's other anti environmental stances, particularly on global climate change, prompted the Times to publish this scathing editorial titled "Trump Imperils the Planet".

For those of us in the field of environmental science and policy, it is time to reconsider what we can do to try to mitigate the impacts of these changing policies and to consider how we can work to protect the planet in the coming years.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

Top 5 Environmental New Stories of 2018

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The year 2018 was full of disappointing environmental news stories. It seemed as if a week didn't go by without some bad policy decision or news of a challenging pollution problem. Here, sadly, are the top environmental news stories of 2018.

1. Corruption in Washington. Whether it was the corruption in the Department of Interior or the nominations of unqualified people to high level positions, the news out of Washington was bad. I made a couple of trips to the capital and found the mood sombre. We will see if things improve as investigations ramp up this winter. However, given that industry insiders are in charge of protecting our environment, things are not looking good for the environmental health of the U.S.

2. Limited international action on global climate change. World leaders met in Poland to try to hash out some actionable plan on how to deal with global climate change. Alas, the meeting was marginally successful as the world continues to see greater evidence of climate change.

3. Peak plastic pollution. There was a tremendous amount of information in the press this year on the impact and distribution of plastic pollution. As a result of this, communities both large and small have worked hard to ban the use of a variety of plastics such as plastic bags and straws.

4. Trophy hunters became poster men and women for extinction. The last year saw several trophy hunters exposed publicly for killing large trophy animals that are nearing extinction. The blog has been always been in support of managed hunting and fishing for food. However, the hunting of creatures for trophies has become a taboo in society.

5. Algae in coastal waters. Many who live near the coastline have noted that algal blooms have increased in recent years. However, there are growing problems associated with algae around the world. The algae growth is enhanced by nutrient-rich releases of water from farmland and sewage. It causes reductions in dissolved oxygen which leads to widespread fish kills.

Hopefully, 2019 will bring us better environmental news. What are your top environmental news stories of 2018? Leave your thoughts in the comments section.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Chiricahua National Monument

Today I continue my series on all 129 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's featured monument is Chiricahua National Monument in Arizona. This is not one of the monuments that was under review for delisting as per executive order by the president. Following the photos is a list of U.S. National Monuments previously featured on this blog.

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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
Bears Ears National Monument
Belmont-Paul Women's Equality National Monument
Birmingham Civil Rights 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, December 18, 2018

Top Environmental Predictions for 2019

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Each year I try to highlight my top environmental predictions for the coming year. I think I did pretty good with last year's predictions, although one could argue with some of the specifics. As we look forward to another tumultuous year ahead, below are my top ten environmental predictions that may or may not come true.

1. Significantly worse news on biodiversity. News reports over the last year have noted ecosystem problems in many parts of the world. Expect more bad news from Africa on megafauna, from Australia on the barrier reefs, and from the Arctic on changing habitat due to climate change.

2. Greater isolation of politicians who deny climate change. As we start to see accelerated impacts due to climate change, it will be harder for politicians to continue to deny the science of climate change. Politicians who deny climate change will become toxic to a national audience.

3. Environmental justice concerns grow in autocratic countries. In places like China, Russia, and Venezuela, there is little real opposition to centralized national power. As a result, there is little voice to those who face environmental consequences of national actions. Expect to see greater focus on environmental justice in these places in the coming year.

4. Good news on plastics. The world is starting to get more serious about plastic pollution as we see greater pollution problems around the world. The coming year will see a variety of actions at the local, national, and global levels. Expect to see more plastic straw bans and serious initiatives to clean up ocean plastics.

5. Water supply woes continue around the world. While there is good news coming on plastics, there is bad news coming on water. Many areas around the world have passed their ability to sustainably provide water to their populations. Whether it is Yemen or Las Vegas, many places are having more challenges to maintaining a steady water supply.

6. Rewilding of abandoned areas. As populations have become more urban around the world, some places are reverting back to wilderness. Expect this trend to continue in areas seeing rural population declines.

7. Questions on resiliency. Over the last several years, many have used the term resiliency to refer to the ability of populations to react to a variety of challenges such as climate change or severe storms. A number of initiatives have moved forward around the world to try to make communities more resilient. Expect to see critical evaluations of these initiatives in the coming years.

8. Food quality problems grow. Last year there were several problems that emerged in the quality of the food supply. These problems will continue in the coming year as producers struggle with how to maintain high quality standards in food that needs to be shipped great distances.

9. Advances in green energy technology. Each year, there are magnificent advances in green energy technology that allow us to reduce our use of fossil fuels. There will be great advances in non-battery storage of green energy (wind and solar) to allow temporal stabilization of energy supply.

10. Rejection of consumerism. It is becoming more and more uncool among young people to be associated with big-ticket luxury items. The young see the previous generation as responsible for many or the problems that they are facing--particularly economic and environmental problems. They see luxury items as symbolic of the generational rift. Expect to see a greater rejection of consumerism in the coming generation.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Climate Talks in Poland End with Little Progress

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Brandy Dennis, Griff Witte, and Chris Mooney reported in the Washington Post on the dismal outcome of the post-Paris climate talks that took place in Poland over the last several days. While there was some limited progress, overall, the talks did not address the increasingly concerning issues associated with global climate change.

It is clear that countries like the United States and Brazil are trying to position themselves to utilize their natural resources as they see fit regardless of global climate change rick. These nations and others are taking a short-term pragmatic stance rather than a long-term altruistic one. As a result, real little impact can be made in international policy and the world remains at tremendous risk from the impacts associated with our changing climate.

We are already seeing the human costs of climate change in places like Yemen, the low-lying islands of the Pacific, and the Arctic. As climate change accelerates, we will look back at the meetings in Poland as a lost opportunity. At the same time, it is important to plan for the future. As this blog has been pointing out for years, we will need to develop sound policy and science to aggressively reduce greenhouse gases in the coming decade in order to avoid some of the more serious issues predicted by the scientific community and we have to conduct sound resiliency planning in order to find ways to live with climate change.

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Six Million Acres of Florida Karst Wetlands Up for Destruction with New EPA Wetland Definition

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There was bad news out of Washington this week for those concerned about Florida's unique karst wetlands. According to the Tampa Bay Times, a new EPA rule eliminates from protection those wetlands that are not adjacent to a water body or connected in some way to a waterway by surface water.

This rule eliminates protection from over half of the nation's wetlands as well as half of Florida's wetlands. 

There are many areas of the country where there are isolated wetlands that are not connected to waterbodies. The glaciated areas of Wisconsin and other areas of the Midwest have many low marshes or swamps that are now vulnerable. Likewise, the unusual wetlands of the Great Plains, which are so important for migratory birds and other wildlife, are now up for development.

However, there is no place more vulnerable to the loss of wetlands than the interior karst landscape of Florida. Here, low sinkhole swales create seasonal wetlands that serve as important habitat for a variety of animals. These swales are also extremely important for water storage to protect areas from flooding. 

The nature of sinkholes is such that they are not connected to waterways above ground, but instead are connected below ground through groundwater systems. The loss of these important recharge sites for groundwater will transform natural groundwater systems and lead to changes in local and regional hydrology. 

Many low sinkhole areas in Florida have been preserved as developers created an H-shaped megalopolis extending from north of Tampa to Fort Myers on the west, through Orlando, and from Jacksonville to Miami on the east. Now, builders are free to fill in the gaps by filling in low areas in the remaining natural areas of the state.

There have been many roll-backs of strong environmental rules over the last two years and this particular change is going to have serious environmental consequences for some of our more vulnerable landscapes in North America.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Arctic Problems Continue to the Surprise of Few Scientists

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An article in today's New York Times, titled "Scientists Warn of a 'Rapid Unraveling' of the Arctic," explores some of the impacts of climate change in the northern reaches of our planet. The evidence is overwhelming that major changes are underway. Some of the key points are the decline in important Arctic species, a major decline in the extent of sea ice, a decrease in persistent sea ice (old ice), changing weather patterns, and expansion of algae from south to north.

While it is great that this information is getting much needed attention, all of this was predicted years ago in the academic literature. Numerous newspaper articles over the last several years documented the predictions and many reported on the changes that incrementally occurred. 

While some nations and organizations have been serious about climate change, others are not. For example, the U.S. at the U.N. climate talks in Poland this month tried to promote the use of fossil fuels to the laughter of the audience.

Thus, until large nations develop serious climate change policy, we will not see any lessening of the accelerated changes we are experiencing across the planet.