Saturday, August 31, 2019

Second Edition of Introduction to Sustainability to Come Out in 2020

I just signed a new contract for a second edition of Introduction to Sustainability. The textbook, published by Wiley Blackwell originally came out in 2016 and was one of the first major textbooks in the discipline.

I am making many updates to the book. It is amazing how much has happened in the field since the last edition. For example, the new Sustainable Development Goals have been implemented and much of the world is focused on them. There is growing concern over the immediate impacts of climate change. Plus there have been some new fascinating (and tragic in some instances) case studies such as the Flint Water Crisis, and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The new edition will also have a test bank of essay, multiple choice, and true/false questions (with answers) and new expanded power points (about 20-25 power points per chapter).

The book was designed for a broad introductory course in sustainability. It covers environmental, economic, and social aspects of the field. If you have used the book and have suggestions for improvement, please let me know. Also, if you teach a course in sustainability, please give me your suggestions as to what should be included.

The second edition should be available by the spring of 2020 so that it can be utilized in Fall 2020 courses.

Friday, August 30, 2019

Methane 101

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Methane is in the news due to the fact that the current EPA administration is deregulating methane rules that help to keep it from entering the atmosphere during its extraction, shipping, and storage. Given this, I thought I would provide some basic background on methane so that readers of On the Brink understand the significance of the regulatory rollback.

Methane is a very basic organic molecule (CH4) that is found underground and in the atmosphere. There are many ways it can form, but the two most common ways are through geologic and biologic processes. Methane forms geologically in similar fashion to coal or petroleum and is associated with these types of deposits. Indeed, in some areas, methane is burned as a waste product when oil is extracted. Biologically, methane can form in the stomachs of animals and from the decomposition of organic matter in places like wetlands. Thus, methane releases from cattle and rice fields are large contributors to the atmosphere. In the U.S. cattle account for about a quarter of the anthropogenic methane released into the atmosphere.

Methane concentrations at the Mauna Loa Observatory.
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The concentration of methane in the atmosphere has been increasing steadily for the last two centuries. The atmospheric observatory in Mauna Loa, Hawaii, keeps track of atmospheric methane so you don't have to. The global monthly mean has increased about 13% from around 1650ppb (parts per billion) in the mid 1980's to 1860ppb today.

The increase in methane seems like it would not be a big deal given that methane makes up a very small percentage of the atmosphere. However, there is one big problem. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas.

We all know that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. However, there are many others. Greenhouse gases have the ability to absorb heat which means that they contribute to the heating of the atmosphere. However, not all molecules have the same ability to store heat. Some do a better job of it than others. We express this by creating a number called a carbon dioxide equivalent which is abbreviated as CO2e. Carbon dioxide has a CO2e of 1. Methane has a CO2e of 25. There are several other greenhouse gases that have even higher CO2e's such as nitrous oxide (298 CO2e) and sulfur hexafluoride (22,800 CO2e).

The fact that methane has a CO2e of 25 means that it is 25 times more potent of a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. This is why there has been such a push to regulate methane. We are trying to reduce one of the main drivers of climate change.

Climate change is releasing even more methane. As the Arctic areas warm, ancient frozen organic matter is decomposing and releasing methane as shown in the video above.

It is relatively hard, but not impossible, to manage much of the anthropogenic biologic methane. I won't go into details, but some possible solutions include changing feed stock, reducing herds, and changing rice production processes.

However, research has shown that huge amounts of methane are lost to the atmosphere during the extraction, shipping, and storage of methane. Overall, according to a recent study, leaks account for about 2.3% of all methane used. We've all smelled methane leaks. Sometimes these leaks lead to terrible explosions. To enhance safety and reduce leaks, the EPA published rules in 2016 that regulate methane emissions in the natural gas industry. These are the rules that the current administration is trying to eliminate. Energy companies, for the most part, are in favor of the rule and are against the rollback of the regulation. As I noted in an earlier blog post, many leaders of companies are trying to be much more focused on sustainability and climate change.

I am certain that the change in rule will be challenged by the public and by the industry. I suspect its implementation will be delayed until after the 2020 election. As all of us continue to see growing evidence of climate change all around us, the public is becoming less patient with the types of shenanigans that lead to greater emission of greenhouse gases.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

El Malpais 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 El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico. 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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Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments.


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, August 27, 2019

Climate Change Plans of Presidential Candidates: Andrew Yang

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Given the accelerating evidence for climate change, it is not a surprise that the topic is getting attention among the presidential candidates currently running for office. Most of the major candidates have released a plan or at least a statement as to what they will do on the issue if they were to enter office. Today I am starting a new series that will look at each of the plans of the major candidates to highlight what I see as their pros and cons. Please note that the review of the plans is not meant as an endorsement or rejection of any of the candidates. The series kicks off today with Andrew Yang's climate change plan which you can read here.

I have read most of the climate plans of the candidates and I have to state off the bat that Andrew Yang's is the most comprehensive, innovative, and thoughtful of them all. I don't agree with everything that is in the plan, but there is no doubt that he is extremely serious about this initiative. What is so striking about his plan compared to the others is that he is not dumbing down the facts or the science. He speaks to the public as if they are thoughtful, intelligent people. When you read some of the other plans, they sound like watery speeches in your head. When you read Yang's plan it sounds like a thoughtful article written by someone who knows what they are talking about. Let's break his plan down a bit.

First of all Yang provides a rather stark title and preamble for the plan. The title, "It's Worse than You Think--Lower Emissions and Higher Ground," gives the reader a sense that we have a problem and that the solutions will not be easy. He frames the climate change challenge within the context of the weather extremes we have seen over the last few years. He notes that the time to act was decades ago which is why we need to move aggressively forward now. He provides timeline benchmarks (which many plans do not have) and he also has drafted a budget for the plan with a high price tag 4.87 trillion dollars over 20 years.

He has five main themes to his plan:
  • Building a sustainable economy
  • Building a sustainable world
  • Moving people to higher ground
  • Reverse the damage we have done
  • Hold future administrations accountable
Each piece of the plan has some outstanding ideas such as creating new building standards, developing a carbon fee, and stopping new pipeline projects. I won't go into the details on all of them, but suffice it to say that there are lots of exciting things in Yang's plan. 

He also goes into tremendous detail about how to build the new green economy. One of the more interesting ideas is the development of a new National Labs under a new Department of Technology that would be responsible for conducting research on sustainability technology issues such as green energy and materials. The new National Labs would have partnerships with a variety of organizations to promote technology transfer.

To address the various issues we will face due to our changing climate, Yang is proposing the development of a Climate Change Adaptation Institute that would help us improve urban planning, agricultural adaptations, and other things that we will face as our environments change. He also proposes the study and potential implementation of emergency ideas related to carbon capture and the use of floating atmospheric mirrors to reflect solar energy back into space. There is no shortage of strong ideas and vision in Yang's plan. This is the real strength of it. Some may (and have) criticized his ideas as too bold or too "out there" but it is this type of thinking that highlights the urgency of the problem that was so clearly articulated in the introduction to the plan.

My biggest concern with the plan is that he highlights a need to utilize nuclear energy as a stop-gap until we enhance our green energy technologies. Many sustainability experts have advocated for this initiative. The basic argument is that we need to quickly cut back on carbon emissions and the only way to do this without tanking the economy is to quickly ramp up nuclear energy production that uses new nuclear technologies. The last nuclear power plant built in the U.S. started construction in the 1970's. There is no doubt that technology and safety have improved since that time. However, it is still nuclear energy and in my mind, we are trading one bad situation for another. But at the same time, Yang's assertion here for the need for nuclear energy is one that many sustainability experts advance and he is not coming out of left field for opting for this choice.

Overall, I am very impressed by the boldness and vision of Yang's plan. It is worth a read. As we will see when we read and review the other candidate's plans in this series, it is the boldness and attention to detail which make his plan stand out. Look for a review of another candidate's climate change plan in the next week or two.

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(For those of you teaching environmental science, environmental policy, or sustainability this semester, you may wish to follow along or assign your students the reading of the various plans I will be posting to allow them to evaluate them as an exercise.)

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Pomodoro and Writing

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I have posted quite a bit on this blog about tips for improving productivity for students and academics (most recently here). I thought I would share some thoughts on the Pomodoro Method and how it can be used to enhance writing productivity of university students and faculty.

First of all, what is the Pomodoro Method? It is a time management tool that was developed by Francesco Cirillo that uses 25 minute work intervals followed by short breaks. After a few of these work/break cycles, one takes a longer break to clear the mind.

The Method was developed in the 1980's prior to the widespread use of the Internet and phone technology. However, it is gaining in relevance today now that we have constant access to distractions as our email comes in like rain on a tin roof. The modified Pomodoro Method asks one to turn off all distractions for those 25 minutes of work--no Internet access, no phone, etc. It is a time for just pure work.

There are many apps that one can download on your phone to utilize the technique. I use a free one called Pomodoro Timer. Once you start the app, it starts counting down from 25 minutes. An alarm rings to let you know when your work time is done. It then will let you choose whether you want a short 3-5 minute break or a longer one. After the break, you go back to 25 minutes of work time and follow that cycle for as long as you want. That's really all there is to it.

I have found the tool is extremely useful to help keep me focused. Even though I have a daily writing goal of at least 1000 words a day, some days those 1000 words take more time because I get distracted by the Internet or some random email that arrives. I was a little dubious about the Pomodoro Method, but it turns out it has helped me stay a bit more focused and productive.

I think the technique is especially valuable to college students who are often distracted by technology or for people who are otherwise easily distracted when writing. If you are teaching a course with a significant writing component, such as a large final project or thesis, it is worth teaching the Pomodoro Method to help students with writing productivity.


Friday, August 23, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice: The Case of Flint Michigan

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This is the fifth 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 5 by Adrienne L. Katner, Kelsey Pieper, Yanna Lambrinidou, Komal Brown, Wilma Subra, and Marc Edwards of Louisiana State University, Virgnia Tech University, and the Louisiana Environmental Action Network.

What happened to the people in Flint, Michigan as a result of poor water management decision making is one of the most important environmental stories of the last two decades. This chapter reviews the events and provides significant background to understand the broader issues associated with environmental injustice and water infrastructure in the United States.

The chapter begins with a review of the history of lead poisoning and its impacts on communities as well as the public health issues associated with old water infrastructure. The authors note that utilities can control the release of lead and pathogens (particularly Legionella) in older infrastructure by reducing the corrosivity of water leaving water plants. Unfortunately, it is difficult to assess the extent of lead and legionella problems in water infrastructure and the problem is underestimated. The authors review the challenging issues associated with aging infrastructure and its extent. It is also difficult to sample for lead in water effectively given the scale of the infrastructure.

The chapter continues by describing the nature and extent of the lead and legionella problems that emerged in Flint. Low income communities were greatly impacted by the problem. In addition, the remedies to the problem, which include in-house plumbing replacement and home treatment or filtration systems are often financially out of reach of many.

Downtown Flint. Click for photo credit.
In the Lessons Learned section of the chapter, the authors list several important points including the need for creative financing strategies to facilitate small water systems training, to share the costs of infrastructure replacement, and increase the support for state and federal monitoring, enforcement, and health surveillance.

However, the authors noted that there are several challenges and barriers. First and foremost, is the fact that Flint suffered from socioeconomic collapse and as a result there are a variety of financial burdens for the city and individual community members. In addition, there is the question as to who is responsible for the infrastructure leading from the street to the house. There are also regulatory gaps and weaknesses in oversight and enforcement of existing rules. Finally, there are a variety of personal costs associated with this environmental injustice that should be concerning to other communities.

There is much more in this fascinating chapter that reviews important environmental justice issues that emerged in the Flint crisis.

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Click here to for more information about the book
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Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on environmental justice, water infrastructure, and sustainability.

1. Lead is one of the most problematic environmental pollutants facing us. What are the impacts of lead poisoning?
2. Legionella is emerging as a growing concern in water delivery systems. Explain why.
3. Why is our aging water infrastructure a concern to public health professionals?
4. What do the authors mean by, "infrastructure inequality"?
5. Why do you think the community of Flint was so hard hit by the water infrastructure problem?
6. In the Challenges and Barriers section of the article, the authors highlighted the financial burdens associated with replacing the nation's infrastructure. What are they?
7. We have lots of rules regarding water quality in the United States. Given this, why did the Flint crisis happen?
8. How did the U.S. Government react to the Flint water crisis?

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Previous posts in this series:



Thursday, August 22, 2019

70% of All Land Impacted by Human Activity According to New IPCC Report

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On August 8th of this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its report, Climate Change and Land:  an IPCC special report on climate change, desertification, land degradation, sustainable land management, food security, and greenhouse gas fluxes in terrestrial ecosystems. The report has garnered a tremendous amount of attention due to its assertions about the linkages between land use and climate change. However, there is one fundamental piece of the report that I found particularly interesting--it notes that 70% of all non-ice land surfaces are directly impacted by human activity.

I found this number shocking given that much of the planet is covered with inhospitable tundra, desert, or wetlands.

The report goes on to note that 1/4 of the non-ice land surface is engaged with agricultural activities, timber production, or mining. The report further notes that 1/4 of the non-ice land surface is degraded as a result of human activities. The report defines degradation as soil erosion, desertification, and loss of low-lying lands due to climate change. The sad news is that the rate of change is concerning. we are likely to see greater degradation due to these three factors--especially global climate change.

We have about 7.7 billion people on our planet and we are clearly stretching our planet's resources rather thin due to our consumptive habits. We are expected to have a population of 11 billion by the 2080's. Our changing climate combined with our increasingly degraded land surfaces will certainly lead to a variety of challenges for the coming generations.


Wednesday, August 21, 2019

More Automakers Disregard Trump's Attempt to Rollback Mile Per Gallon Rule as Corporate Leaders Affirm Commitment to Sustainability

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Last month, I wrote about the fact that many car manufacturers are ignoring Trump's efforts to roll back Obama era rules on miles per gallon requirements for cars. As many of my readers know, California is granted special rights in the Clean Air Act to set miles per gallon standards for cars sold in their borders due to the special air pollution conditions in the state. As a result, California rule making tends to set the national standards on mph requirements for car manufactures.

While the current administration changed Obama's rules for miles per gallon of cars, automakers are not particularly interested in changing their plans. California has set particular standards that they are going to meet (since California is one of the largest car buying states) and they don't want to have different types of manufacturing going for regional differences in the US. As a result, Trump wants to block California's special right to set standards, which would require a major change in the Clean Air Act. This success of this initiative is doubtful. Plus, with the likelihood that the administration is going to change in the next election, automakers are playing a long game. According to an article in today's New York Times, more automakers are planning to avoid the administration's initiative which is run by an inexperienced staffer in the White House (my sources in Washington tell me that qualified folks in a variety of fields won't get near this administration).

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It is worth noting that The Business Roundtable, a group consisting of the major CEO's of big US Companies, came out with a new statement on August 19th noting that corporate leaders are changing their focus from being just responsible to their shareholders. They seek to be responsible to all of their stakeholders (the statement is worth a read on the above link). They group defines stakeholders broadly to include customers, workers, suppliers, and communities impacted by their organization (such as overseas communities which supply products). 

One of the ideas that the leaders, including the leaders of major car companies, committed to is, "We respect the people in our communities and protect the environment by embracing sustainable practices across our businesses." This blog often focuses on some of the problematic environmental and sustainability issues caused by major companies. This time, the leaders of the companies deserve credit for signing such a far reaching agreement--and the car companies deserve credit for holding their ground on trying to reduce greenhouse gases emitted by their products.



Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Effigy Mounds 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 Effigy Mounds National Monument in Iowa. 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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Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments.

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

Monday, August 19, 2019

The Women Python Hunters of Florida

Beth Koehler and Peggy van Gorder, the subjects of the article.
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I have been documenting some of the more interesting python stories from Florida over the last decade (check out these links here, here, and here). In a nutshell, Burmese pythons are an exotic species that started to take over the Everglades over the last few decades. The situation became a crisis when ecologists realized that many of the region's mammals were disappearing. The pythons significantly disrupted the complex food web of much of south Florida. Plus, the pythons have been expanding their territory northward and have been found in the Tampa and Orlando areas.

A fascinating article by Chris Urso, Craig Pittman, and James Borchuck in the Tampa Bay Times, documents the on the ground experience of paid python hunters who are trying to get rid of the python problem. The specific focus of the article is on two women who by day own a dog grooming business but at night work as python hunters in the Everglades region. They not only encounter pythons, but also alligators, panthers, crawling walking sticks, swarms of mosquitos, and even a reality TV star. Check out the article. It's worth a read.

Hunting pythons doesn't pay much, but it does provide a bit of adventure and helps the local ecosystem of South Florida. The wily pythons hide quite well and I am not sure how effective the local hunts are at trying to solve the problem. However, it sure can't hurt to get rid of any specimen of this exotic and troublesome species from the Everglades.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

5 Productivity Tips for Academic Writers

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Many of us in the academic community struggle with getting our writing projects completed. I was once in that boat but I became a much more productive writer about 15 years ago when I completely transformed the way that I thought about writing. Here are five tips that may help you on your writing journey.

1. Think of yourself as a writer. As higher education professionals, we wear many hats. We are teachers, administrators, counselors, and topical specialists. But we are also writers. When you talk to professors and ask them what they do, they rarely say that they are writers. Many of us were traumatized by our experiences working with our advisors or committee members as we completed our thesis or dissertation projects. Others may see themselves as too busy in the lab or with teaching to prioritize writing as a daily activity--even though writing is a part of our jobs (the whole publish or perish thing). As a result, some academics write very little or just enough to get tenure or to meet annual evaluation guidelines. When you think of yourself as a writer, you will write more and take the task of writing more seriously.

2.Write every day. There is that old writer's saying that you can't be a writer if you don't write. Find a time each day to write. Because I have prioritized writing in my career, I usually do my writing first thing in the morning. I spend an hour or so at the keyboard and then I can move on to other things. By building a habit of finding the same time each day to write, your writing productivity will skyrocket.

3. Set writing goals and targets. I have a daily writing goal of at least 1000 words. This amounts to about two and half pages or so of single-spaced text. Your daily writing goals are part of a broader writing target. The target may be an article, a proposal, a book, or some other type of content. Each of these types of projects has a particular word length. An academic article, for example, may be around 8,000 words. Assuming you have all the information to complete the article, you could finish it in about a week and move on to your next writing project. An 80,000 word book should take about three months.

4. Write fearlessly. We all make mistakes in our writing. However, when you are trying to hit your daily writing goals, plow through creating your content and edit later. You waste time when you struggle over the perfect word or paragraph structure. Plus, editing with a clear head when you have had some time away from the document is much easier than editing when you are in the midst of it. Everyone develops their own editing style, but I prefer to edit when a document is totally complete so that I can not only do detailed editing but also conduct a document level review of the overall content.

5. Take time to think. Build in introspection time into your day when you can think about your writing projects. For me, I do this at the gym or when I go out for a long walk or run. Others may think deeply while doing hobbies or commuting. This time allows me to consider the next day's writing or even the arc of the writing project. Of course other things come to mind during this time. However, if one thinks about the next day's writing task, even for a little while, the writing is much easier in the morning.


Friday, August 16, 2019

Australia Selling Out Small Island Nations in Tuvalu

Tuvalu. Click for photo credit.
The small island nations of the Pacific Ocean are at the front lines of climate change. Many of them, like Tuvalu, are very low-lying and face existential challenges due to rising sea levels. This week, Tuvalu hosted a meeting of the Pacific Islands Forum where climate change was front and center on the agenda. 

One of the more contentious issues is the use of coal powered power plants in the region. Australia, which has an abundance of coal, is seeking to expand its use and is even marketing coal in India where it has worked with that country to develop a major new coal burning power plant. 

The meeting, which by all reports was rather contentious, ended Thursday with a very weak agreement. The countries agreed to try to meet particular goals and stop coal mining, but the agreement also allowed countries to accept or reject anything in the agreement. In other words, the agreement means almost nothing. Australia, by all accounts, was the country that torpedoed the agreement.

There has been quite a backlash against Australia in the region that could lead to a realignment of the Pacific Island governments from Australia to other powers like China which has had a rather ambitious, although mixed, climate change policy. Plus, a rather major kerfuffle emerged when the Deputy Prime Minister of Australia criticized the leaders of the island for their criticism of Australia's energy policy by stating that the people in the islands will continue to survive since they come to Australia as seasonal laborers to "pick our fruit". Such disrespectful comments did not help Australia's standing in the region.

Clearly a major rift has formed between the small island states which are facing some of the worst impacts of climate change and large nations which continue to produce and even expand their greenhouse gas emissions.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 4. Sustainable Water Resources Management: Groundwater Depletion

A night view of the Coachella Valley, California.
Click for photo credit.
This is the fourth 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 4 by Brian F. Thomas and Aimee C. Gibbons and is titled, Sustainable Water Resources Management:  Groundwater Depletion. Thomas is with the University of Pittsburgh and Gibbons is with the University of California at Irvine.

The chapter starts with an introductory review of groundwater issues as they relate to sustainable water management. The world's growing population requires access to water and this is putting a strain on water management all over the world. When this demand is coupled with predicted changes in climate and associated precipitation patterns, the need for sound water management is critical. The authors note that 2 billion people around the planet rely on groundwater reserves for their daily water supply. However, these reserves must be managed to avoid their depletion. The authors review how the management of groundwater evolved over the last two centuries.

After this introduction, the chapter moves on to a case study in the Coachella Valley of California. Managers have been monitoring groundwater levels in the valley since the 1910's which make the location a particularly interesting one for characterizing groundwater management over the last 100 years. Excessive water withdrawals in the middle of the 1900's to irrigate citrus and cotton harmed the local aquifer system. Since then, management plans, which included artificial recharge, have been put in place to mitigate the impacts of overuse.

The authors conducted a temporal study in the valley that looked at water well levels, replenishment, and water use. The authors found that prior to 1999, water was being used in an unsustainable way which accounted for a 4.3 meter drop throughout the valley. However, since that time water withdrawal is equivalent to water replenishment. It is important to note that the improvements are not spatially equal. Areas of the Coachella Valley continue to see a decline in groundwater levels in areas where replenishment is not taking place. Thus, the "no net withdrawal" approach to water management in the region is not fully effective due to significant spatial variation in recharge and withdrawal.

A resort in the Coachella Valley.
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One of the key takeaways from the case study is that sustainable groundwater management is far more complex than previously thought. A simple approach that uses "no net withdrawal" management may not be effective in all situations due to spatial and temporal variabilities of recharge and withdrawals. The authors provide a rich description of the challenges and barriers present in sustainable groundwater management including the vexing issue of balancing economic needs with environmental protection.

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Click here to for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions that can be used when using this chapter in a lesson on groundwater and sustainability.

1. How do you think water management differs between surface water reservoirs and ground water reservoirs?
2. What types of groundwater management schemes have been used in California over the last 100 years or so?
3. What types of problems can occur if groundwater is not managed appropriately?
4. Why is it important to have a regional approach to groundwater management?
5. Describe the physical geography of the Coachella Valley in California. What makes it particularly challenging for water resource management?
6. How have groundwater levels changed over space and time in the Coachella Valley? What can account for these changes?
7. Why is a "no net withdrawal" form of water management inappropriate for the Coachella Valley?
8. How can you balance economic activity, like golf courses, with the need for groundwater protection?

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Previous posts in this series:



Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Endangered Species Act Threatened by Trump Administration

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One of the cornerstones of the environmental protections that were put in place by United States Congress in the 1960's and 1970's, The Endangered Species Act, is being gutted by the current administration. According to this article in the New York Times by Lisa Friedman, several changes to the Act will go forward next month. Some of these changes include:

  • Not allowing long-term climate change to be considered in evaluations
  • Including economic impacts of species preservation to be considered in decision-making (note that the law specifically states that economics should NOT be considered when protecting species)
  • Weaken protection for threatened species (a classification below endangered)
Overall the changes are expected to advance a great deal of mining and oil and gas exploration and extraction.

The latest attack on the environment by this distinctly anti-science and anti-environment administration is not unexpected, but it is clearly disappointing to anyone who works in the sustainability field.


For whatever reason, the current administration is doing everything it can to try to damage existing environmental protections--thereby harming the long-term environmental health of our country. It seems as if the administration is working against the greater good of its own citizens.


Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Dinosaur 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 Dinosaur National Monument in Colorado and Utah. 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.

Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.
Click for photo credit.


Previous On the Brink posts on the U.S. National Monuments.

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

My Interview With Over The Hill Fitness

Check out my interview with Over the Hill Fitness here.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Amazon Rain Forest Destruction Accelerates As President Fires Scientist in Charge of Monitoring Loss

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The bad news from the Amazon rainforest just keeps coming. Last month, it was reported that the rainforest destruction is accelerating with major incursions of illegal logging and burning supported by the new government. Indigenous settlements are especially threatened. The rainforest, which is one of the most important carbon sinks in the world, is rapidly turning into agricultural fields.

Last week, the New York Times reported that the President of Brazil, Bolsonaro, fired the head of the agency that keeps track of rainforest loss because he didn't like the numbers that were released. The President stated that the numbers make Brazil look bad. Of course, the scientific community in Brazil and around the world rallied to the defense of the fired minister. The numbers are rather easy to verify utilizing satellite information available publicly.

This attack on basic science in support of unwise economic development hasn't surprise anyone who has followed the rhetoric of President Bolsonaro. He has consistently attacked environmental rules and regulations and his presidency has given cover to those involved with illegal deforestation in Brazil. 


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 3. Policy Design for Sustainability at Multiple Scales: The Case of Transboundary Haze Pollution in Southeast Asia

Haze in Singapore. Click for photo credit.
This is the third 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 3 by Ishani Mukherjee titled, Policy Design for Sustainability at Multiple Scales:  The Case of Transboundary Haze Pollution in Southeast Asia. Dr. Mukherjee is with the Institute of Water Policy at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.

The chapter begins with a review of transboundary pollution issues. What is interesting about this topic is that transboundary issues can occur at different scales. Readers from the northern Great Lakes States in the United States understand this issue quite well. For example, air pollution produced in Milwaukee, Wisconsin can impact Canada. It can also impact neighboring downwind states like Illinois and Michigan. At the same time, the pollution can also have city/country border issues that require deft policy management.

Of course, Mukherjee focuses her work in Southeast Asia where burning of forests in Indonesia for land clearing has created regional smokey haze air pollution . In the background section of the chapter, Mukherjee reviews the haze problem in the region and also summarizes a variety of policy initiatives that have been instituted by Singapore and by cooperating national entities.

A peat fire in Indonesia. Photo by Aulia Erlangga/CIFOR.
Click for photo credit.
The chapter continues with a deep discussion of the case study. The first part of the case study summarizes the costs of deforestation and haze in Indonesia. Many of the losses are due to the highly unregulated use of fire to clear land. Plus, there are untold costs due to the rampant destruction of plants and animals.

The second part of the case study focuses on the impacts of the haze and smoke on Southeast Asian Countries. A variety of countries are impacted by the haze including Indonesia, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Thailand. The situation has gotten so bad that the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Countries) group has addressed the issue within its governance.

The final part of the case study highlights the linkages with deforestation in Southeast Asia and climate change. As the author notes, emissions from the region have increased dramatically, in part due to the heavy burning of forested lands. Thus, forest conservation and reforestation are important issues in the region.

The chapter concludes (as do most of the chapters in the book) with a section on lessons learned and future challenges. Clearly one of the most important lessons learned is that major carbon sinks are being destroyed in Indonesia and the burning of these sinks is creating regional air pollution problems throughout Southeast Asia. The chapter reveals many future challenges, including challenges with governmental cooperation as well as in finding better ways to value ecosystems and carbon sinks in the region.

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Click here to for more information about the book.

Here are some discussion questions for teaching about the deforestation and pollution problems outlined in this chapter:

1. Given Indonesia's location, why is burning forests a problem for Southeast Asian Countries?
2. What type of agriculture is replacing the natural ecosystems of Indonesia?
3. Air pollution is a very common type of transboundary air pollution problem. What other types of transboundary pollutants can you think of that cause challenges to occur among countries, states, or cities?
4. What counties are members of ASEAN? What is the purpose of ASEAN?
5. Describe Singapore's response to the haze problem?
6. Describe ASEAN's response to the haze problem?
7. Why should people outside of Southeast Asia be concerned about the deforestation in the region?
8. How would you try to solve the haze problem in the region?

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Previous posts in this series: