Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 2. Sustainability and Natural Landscape Stewardship: A US Conservation Case Study

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This is the second post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

Today's post focuses on Chapter 2 by Johanna Kovarik titled, Sustainability and Natural Landscape Stewardship:  A US Conservation Case Study. Dr. Kovarik, who is a Program Lead at the National Forest Service, focuses her chapter on the National Forest Service.

Click for photo credit.
The chapter begins by discussing what is meant by the term "natural landscape" within the realm of sustainability. Kovarik provides a succinct definition (areas without existing human modification or impact) and unpacks the two words of the term by discussing what is natural and what is a landscape. She focuses on the development of 19th and 20th century thought on this topic as the industrial revolution brought large changes to the planet which culminated in our present era, the Anthropocene.

Natural landscapes, in comparison with altered ones, provide opportunities to reflect on them as resilient landscapes that can withstand the impacts of human activities. Conservation of these resilient places becomes more important as human activities drive many areas out of balance.

The heart of the chapter is the U.S. Forest Service case study. Kovarik looks at the history of the development of the Service as it evolved with U.S. thinking on forests and natural landscapes. She weaves in important thinkers (Lyell, Humboldt, Summerville, Marsh, Fernow, and Pinchot) along with important organizations (Audubon Society, Boone and Crockett Society, and the Sierra Club) in the evolution and creation of the Service.

The chapter continues by examining the evolution of conservation thought within the U.S. Forest Service after its creation which was impacted by a number of federal laws that helped to build ecosystem management into its mission. This came about at a time that Aldo Leopold, a Forest Service employee, worked to move the service into a conservation and preservation role. The service integrated important sustainability principles into its mission including the idea of sustained yield. As people began to utilize the U.S. forests for recreational activities, the idea of balancing social, economic, and environmental uses of the forest became more important.

The chapter concludes (as do most of the chapters in the book) with a section on lessons learned and future challenges. Kovarik notes that meeting the goals of managing the natural landscapes of the U.S. Forests remains important. However, this is becoming more challenging in a global society with a changing climate. The service is now incorporating "science-based methodologies for learning about and integrating peoples attitudes, beliefs, and values into land stewardship" to better collaborate wth the public on the conservation of our public forests.

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Click here to purchase the book.

Here are some discussion questions for teaching about the U.S. Forest Service and conservation of natural landscapes utilizing this chapter:

1. What is conservation?
2. Where can we find natural landscapes?
3. Why is a large forest more of a natural landscape than an urban park?
4. Who was Gifford Pinchot and what was his role in the development of the U.S. Forest Service?
5. Who was Aldo Leopold and why did he focus on the development of a land ethic?
6. The U.S. Forest Service focuses on "multiple use" of its lands. What does this mean? What is sustained yield?
7. What is the closest national park or forest to where you are right now? How big is it? What is its management plan?
8. How important is it to get public input on the management of public lands like forests? Why?

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Previous posts in this series:

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

5 Things You Can Do Right Now to Help Reverse Climate Change

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With all the bad news on our changing climate this summer, I thought I would provide five tips for some small things you personally can do right now to help reverse climate change. While there are certainly bigger things we can do that are not on this list, I wanted to create a list of simple things anyone can do to make a difference.

1. Stop buying things you don't need. In the United States, the transportation sector is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gases. A big part of transportation emissions comes from our frequent shopping trips and the delivery of all of those things that we buy online. Plus, each thing we buy has a carbon cost. We have so much stuff in the United States that we don't need. Just buy stuff you really need and don't give in to the temptations of consumerism. Our thirst for stuff is a major contributor to climate change.

2. Give peas a chance. In other words, go meatless at least once a week. Meat production has a much higher carbon cost compared with other food production. According to this really cool Mathematics for Sustainability assignment from Penn State, you can prevent about 1 ton of carbon each year from entering the atmosphere if you go meatless one day a week. You don't have to be a vegan to make a difference.

3. Pay for your carbon. The average American is responsible for about 18 metric tons of carbon per person per year. Using a carbon offset company that invests funds in carbon capture projects, you can pay for your share (or your family's share) pretty cheaply. Using a site like Terrapass, you can pay around $5.00 for 1000 pounds of offset. This means that you can offset your carbon, assuming you are an average carbon producer, for $180 per year. Go ahead. Do it. You'll feel less guilty about having four times the carbon footprint of the average global citizen. Give climate offsets as gifts. My birthday is coming up. Just saying.

4. Vote, Speak, Teach, and Write. For too long we have ignored the warnings of scientists about the problem of climate change. It is time for all of us to speak up and make sure our voices are heard on the climate emergency we are facing. Find ways to educate your community about climate change.

5. Support preservation of ecosystems and plant trees. The conversion of natural landscapes to developed spaces helps to release carbon to the atmosphere and eliminates that land's ability to store carbon. Find ways in your community to protect natural landscapes. Educate yourself on your local ecology. Start planning for next year's Arbor Day (Friday, April 24) and organize a tree planting event in your community. Trees help to store carbon. Plant one.

What other ideas do you have? Leave them in the comments.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Devil's Postpile 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 Devil's Postpile National Monument in California. 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

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Earth Overshoot Day

Our global population may end up like the ancient Easter Islanders. Like
them, we are using resources in unsustainable ways.
Click for photo credit.
Human society is utilizing more renewable resources than the earth can produce. What this means is that each year, we harvest more fish, trees, and other materials faster than the earth can replace them. As a result, we are losing forests, fish in the sea, wetlands, and other resources at rates that are unsustainable. If we don't change our ways, we will find ourselves without these precious resources at some point in our future. We are acting like the ancient Easter Islanders who overused their natural resources to the point that the Island was unable to support its population.

One group, the Global Footprint Network, has calculated the day each year (Earth Overshoot Day) when we have harvested materials that the earth can regenerate in a year. After that date, we are stealing from future generations by utilizing resources that cannot be replaced. 

This year, Earth Overshoot Day is Monday, July 29. This means that all of the renewable resources we use as humans through August, September, October, November, and December cannot be regenerated by our planet. 

What can we do about this?

The best thing we can do is to stop consuming so much stuff and to work hard to protect natural resources like wetlands, forests, soils, and seas. We all want generations that come after us to thrive. What we are doing right now by consuming so much stuff will make that goal difficult.

For more information about Earth Overshoot Day, click here.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Automakers Bypass Feds and Negotiate Gas Mileage Requirements with California

Smog in Los Angeles. Click for photo credit.
California's unique geography with high mountains and deep valleys makes it particularly vulnerable to air pollution problems. Those who remember the 1970's recall the terrible state of California's smog problems. The region had far worse air pollution than most other areas of the United States. That is why when the Clean Air Act was enacted, it gave California special rights to establish automobile gasoline milage requirements. Over the last few decades, California has led the way in incrementally increasing the gas milage of cars in order to reduce air pollution. The state, along with the Obama administration, worked with automakers to set new standards for emissions about a decade ago with some pretty aggressive goals including making automobile gas milage requirements of 51 miles per gallon for their fleet. This would be undertaken by developing a larger set of electric and hybrid vehicles available to the public. I for one am looking forward to the electric F150.

When the current president came into office, he promised to rollback the agreements of the Obama administration and freeze the current miles per gallon standards as they are now. He also promised to get rid of California's special right to negotiate with car manufacturers to set state standards. California essentially sets the regulations for the rest of the nation when it comes to milage standards of vehicles.

However, there has been an interesting development.

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According to this article in the Washington Post, by Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, most of the major car manufacturers have stopped working with the Trump administration to set standards and are now working with California to establish the next set of goals.

Why?

I think there are two reasons for this. First, I think that corporate culture has changed and major companies are trying to move forward on sustainability issues. If they were to roll back their green targets, especially as much of the country is waking up to the realities of climate change, they would be seen as unethical and unconcerned with planetary safety which could lead to legal challenges to any rollbacks of agreements. In addition, the current executive leadership in Washington is seen by many as unstable and wobbly. Many leaders, including many industrial leaders, do not fully trust the administration to follow through. As such, they see California as a more viable partner for the future.

This Ford car manufacturing facility near Detroit utilizes a number of green
technologies including solar power. Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Second, most major car manufacturers produce for the world market which is much more comfortable with cars with high miles per gallon standards. The cost of gasoline in the U.S. is cheap compared to the rest of the world and most of the world prefers cars with excellent fuel efficiency. If car manufacturers were to keep making gas guzzling cars, they would largely be only for the American market. Is it really worth it to them to keep old technology going when much better technology is available? Can manufacturers spend time to design, engineer, and manufacture very different vehicles for different parts of the world?

Regardless of the reason for major manufacturers to work with California instead of the Trump administration, it is good news for the environment. While many, including myself, believe that our country should much more aggressively reduce greenhouse gases from the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse gases in the U.S., this deal is probably the best thing that could be negotiated at this particular time. 

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Roasting Europe and Implications for Infrastructure

Image from Climate Reanalyzer (https://ClimateReanalyzer.org),
Climate Change Institute, University of Maine, USA.
Late in June and early July of this year, temperature records were broken in 8 European countries due to an unusual heat wave. Here we are a few weeks later and temperature records are being broken across many areas of Europe including France, Belgium, Germany, and Great Britain. Paris temperatures reached 108.3 degrees F breaking the record by several degrees of the earlier high of 104.7.

As the above referenced Washington Post article notes, many European homes and businesses do not have air conditioning. As a result the health threats are pretty significant. There is concern in many communities about the impact of the heat wave on some of the more vulnerable populations, particularly the elderly and the very young. Many are noting that the infrastructure is not in place to deal with the new extreme temperatures that Europe is now facing.

As the climate warms, there will have to be new adaptations as the world starts to see more of these types of anomalies.  Here in New York, we had severe rainstorms this week that caused extensive flooding throughout the region and many are asking how our infrastructure will manage the impacts of climate change in the coming decades.

What infrastructure in your community is vulnerable to the impacts of climate change?

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 1. Definition, Historical Context, and Frameworks

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This is the first post in this blog series, Sustainability Case Studies, that is based on the book The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions edited by Robert Brinkmann (yours truly) and Sandra Garren and published by Palgrave Macmillan in 2018. Each post in the series will comment on the content of the chapter as well as some general take-aways or practical teaching or personal/organizational initiatives that could be gleaned from the chapter. Links to previous posts on the series (including the post that introduced the series) follow after the chapter review.

Today's post focuses on the first chapter which was written by Sandra Garren and Robert Brinkmann titled Sustainability Definitions, Historical Context, and Frameworks. 

Like many large books with many chapters, this book's first chapter sets the stage for the rest of the book. What many will find useful is that it defines sustainability from a variety of perspectives. For example, it raises the issue as to who is defining sustainability. From a Western viewpoint, sustainability could be all about trying to reduce our carbon footprint by cutting down on energy use, while in a more impoverished area it could be all about trying to gain access to basic resources like water or food.

Another important point that the chapter makes is that there are real environmental limits to human survival on our planet that are exacerbated by our ability to make our planet less sustainable. For example, by creating greenhouse gas pollution we are causing planetary changes that are significantly disrupting important earth systems. Sustainability is also different from the environmental movement that came before it in that it recognizes the economic and social realities of human existence and thus strives to balance economic justice, social equality and justice, and environmental protection.

One of the most important organizations in the development of sustainability thought and creation of important initiatives is the United Nations. The chapter summarizes the key events in UN history that led to important agreements, documents, and initiatives including the development of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Finally, the chapter reviews several ways that we have developed frameworks to "do" sustainability. These frameworks range from global initiatives like the UN's Sustainable Development Goals to national and local initiatives which include things like green building rating systems and personal sustainability and our initiatives to try to reduce our own carbon footprints.

This chapter is a quick read and provides a quick background on the field of sustainability that would be a good assignment for students or a primer for practitioners to place their work within the context of the discipline. 


Here are some discussion questions if you happen to use this chapter for an assignment:

1. How can you define sustainability in your own words?
2. What is the significance of the UN's definition of sustainability in the Brundtland Report and how does it differ from the definition of sustainability published by the United States EPA? Why do these differences matter?
3. Why do you think it was important that the environmental movement evolved into sustainability by including social and economic considerations?
4. What were some of the key historical events in the United Nations that are associated with Sustainability?
5. Take a look at the Sustainable Development Goals here https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdgs and click on one of the goals. What types of information did you find out about the goal?
6. Why is benchmarking important to sustainability?
7. What kinds of benchmarking frameworks can you think of that are associated with sustainability or some other type of topic?
8. What types of personal sustainability goals do you have? What new ones can you add to your efforts?

Previous posts in this series:

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability: Case Studies and Practical Solutions: A New Blog Series

As many of my readers know, I edited a book with my colleague Sandra Garren called The Palgrave Handbook of Sustainability:  Case Studies and Practical Solutions that came out last year. Our goal in publishing the book was to put together a variety of different case studies that told the story about what people were doing around the world to try to make the world a better place. There is so much bad news out there on the environment right now that it is easy to forget that there are real heroes across our planet there doing incredible work. We wanted to highlight the positive while also providing a compendium of information about sustainability at this particular moment in time. It is one of the largest collections of sustainability case studies ever published and runs 871 pages. The book contains 44 unique chapters that tell individual stories about sustainability initiatives from across our beautiful planet.

To shed even more light on these stories I am starting a new blog series called Sustainability Case Studies that will briefly summarize or capture key elements of each chapter to showcase the work of the authors. I hope my readers enjoy the series and I am excited to share the work of these remarkable authors. To learn more about the book, please click here. As you will see, the entire book is available for purchase and you can also purchase access to individual chapters.

For those of you involved with environmental sustainability, I am the series editor for a new Palgrave series of books on environmental sustainability and I am looking for book authors. Reach out to me if you have a good book idea on the topic.


More Species at Risk of Extinction According to IUCN Report

American elms in Central Park, New York. Click for photo credit.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) updated their Red List of Threatened Species this month. The group regularly reports on the status of over 100,000 organisms across the planet and makes recommendations about needed conservation initiatives.

The latest report is not encouraging. They have found that a number of groups of species are especially in danger:
  • Rhino rays in coastal areas of the world
  • Primates in West Africa (40% of the species are threatened with extinction)
  • Freshwater fish (50% of species in Japan and 33% in Mexico are threatened with extinction)
  • Several groups of trees such as Rosewood and the American Elm
There is no doubt that we are in a time of major stress for many of the world's ecosystems as a result of human activity. We have already lost thousands of species due to our actions. How will our planet's ecosystems do as we face significant impacts of climate change in the coming decades?

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Craters of the Moon 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 Craters of the Moon National Monument in Idaho. This is 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

Friday, July 19, 2019

Southeast Asia Increasingly Saying No to US Electronic and Plastic Waste

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Plastic and electronic wastes have proven to be challenging materials to remove from the waste stream. They can be recycled, but the process is often expensive and time consuming with little market for the end products. As a result, lots of plastic and electronic waste from western countries ends up getting sent to Southeast Asia where it is supposedly sent for recycling. However, much of the waste just ends up getting dumped to create a variety of local, but imported, waste problems. Many of the countries in the region have started to ban the import of waste from the U.S. and other countries. And still others have started to send waste back to where it originated.

CNN reports that Cambodia is the latest country to send back plastic waste that ended up within their borders.

We in the U.S. have embraced recycling as a way to deal with the immense amount of waste that we produce through our out of control consumption. However, the amount of waste that we produce often overwhelms responsible recycling initiatives. This is certainly the case with plastics and electronics.

What is the solution?

The best thing that we can do in the developed world is to limit our consumption of plastics and electronics. In particular, we need to stop buying things in plastic bottles and stop using throw away plastics like plastic grocery bags. In addition, we need to consider the need for constant upgrading of electronics. Do we really need the latest phone or TV? Of course we don't. The solution to the waste problem in Southeast Asia is solvable if we make some simple choices.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Archaeological Sites Destroyed Under BLM Watch in New Mexico

El Capitan near the Texas/New Mexico border. Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
According to this article in Mother Jones by Tay Wiles, important archaeological sites on Bureau of Land Management (BLM) land were destroyed by the oil and gas industry under the watch of officials in the Carlsbad, New Mexico Office. In addition, BLM staffers complained that environmental regulations were not being followed.

Southern New Mexico has been going through an oil and gas boom in recent years and is producing more oil than ever before. The economy of the state is deeply impacted by the boom and bust cycles of oil and natural gas and there is always pressure in the state to keep the boom moving forward. As is seen in many regions that rely on extractive industries for a significant portion of their tax base, the funding of New Mexico's public institutions, such as higher education, swing wildly with the success of the industry.

Of course this is no reason to break laws.

New Mexico's Native American population accounts for approximately 11% of its population. The loss of important archaeological sites and the way the situation was handled will certainly lead to concerns among this community.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Florida Soon Unsafe for Daytime Outdoor Work for One-Quarter of the Year

Photo by Mario Gomez.
Craig Pittman reports in the Tampa Bay Times that a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists predicts that Florida will have 127 days a year with a heat index over 105 degrees by the middle of our current century.

The heat index is a calculated value based on humidity and temperature. You have all heard people say that they love the southwest because it is a "dry heat." They say that because the heat truly doesn't feel as harmful to the body if an area is humid.

A wet heat in places like Florida can be much harder on the body. That is why Florida and other humid hot areas will face some of the tougher health impacts than in other areas of the country due to rising temperatures in the coming century due to climate change.

When there is a heat index over 105 degrees people can experience heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and heat stroke.

The Union of Concerned Scientists developed an interesting tool that allows you to type in your location to find out the likely number of days above a certain heat index in your community at mid century or end of this century. Check it out here.


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Hottest Ever

Variations in temperature from a normal June across the planet.
The world just had the hottest June and July looks like it will be the hottest ever July on record. It isn't a bad time to get up to speed on climate change. Here are a few resources:

The latest IPCC report focused on expectations for change with 1.5 degrees of warming (we will likely surpass this in the coming decades).

NASA's climate change Website has lots of resources that provide great educational materials for understanding the geographic and temporal variations of climate change and its impact on the environment.

The European Union's main climate change Website has lots of policy information including links to agreement drafts and policy information.

The American Association for the Advancement of Science has a great deal of educational information available for teachers as well as updated new scientific research on climate change.

Many people ask me what they can do to help to prevent global climate change. The first thing I tell them is to get educated. So many people either deny that climate change is happening or think that it will not impact them. By educating ourselves on the seriousness of the problem, we can take more substantive steps to help reduce the impacts of the problem.