Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Tetra Pak's Sustainability Initiatives--Part 2. Food Security

Art at Tetra Pak USA Headquarters
in Denton, Texas.
As I noted in Part 1 of this series, Tetra Pak invited me to visit their U.S. headquarters in Denton, Texas to learn more about their sustainability initiatives and share them with my readers. As such, this should be considered a sponsored post.  The last post reviewed a bit about the history of Tetra Pak and a bit of background about the company. Today's post focuses on food security. Over the next several weeks, I will post three more entries about Tetra Pak's initiatives focused on the emerging green consumer, recycling, and their international initiatives.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Dr. Ruben Rausing developed a unique way of packaging milk that didn't require normal pasteurization or refrigeration. Once the idea was perfected in the middle of the 20th century, he realized that there was great potential to get food to places with severe food insecurity issues where famine was all too commonplace. With a shelf life of 6 months to 1 year, food could be shipped to even the remotest outpost without refrigeration or preservatives. Plus, local food that is stored using these packaging and processing procedures allows storage of seasonal food for use when out of season.


Human's have adapted a variety of ways to store food for use later in the season. Many of us use ancient techniques when we dry, salt, or pickle our garden's harvest. Plus with the advent of canning in the early part of the 1800's, Pasteurization in 1864, and widespread home refrigeration and freezing in the early 20th century, a range of options were available to food producers to store and transport food great distances. However, shelf life was always an issue. Rausing's approach was new and eliminated the need for concern over problems like botulism. Growing up in small town Wisconsin, we regularly canned or froze our garden produce, game we hunted, or meat we butchered as a family. As I mentioned in a post here, freezers require electricity and I caused a terrible loss of food when I neglected to store food appropriately. Plus, we always had concerns as to whether we were canning things appropriately. We didn't want to get sick from microbes that somehow made it past the boiling canning pot.
My father (left) and other family members butchering
hogs in 1960. The meat was frozen for use later in the year.

The time when the Tetra Pak technology developed was also a time of great concern over food, famine, and global political crises. The Cold War (1945-1990) and the Cuban Missile Crisis (1962) caused many to worry abut the long-term viability of our society, including our agricultural systems. Famines in Asia and Africa killed millions of people including at least 15 million in the Great Chinese Famine (1959-1961), 1 million in the Biafra Famine (1967-1971) and 1 million in the Sahel Drought (1968-1972). Many like Rausing tried to find new ways to store food for long periods of time to address the emerging global hunger crisis and to find ways to be food secure should there be a disruption of agricultural activities due to global conflict.
The interior of a Tetra Pak carton prevents leakage and entry
of sunlight.

At the time, the only way to preserve food for distribution to areas hard hit by famine was to use traditional methods such as drying or pickling, or to use canning or Pasteurization. Each of these works well for certain products and for certain situations. For example, drying is great for beans and Pasteurization for milk works well where there are good refrigeration and distribution networks. However, for many areas with food vulnerabilities, it is difficult to store and transport products like milk over long distances without refrigeration. However, the advent of the technology developed by Rausing and Tetra Pak in the mid century was a game changer.

As I mentioned in the first post, the first time I remember using a Tetra Pak package was in Yemen in the early 1980's. I was able to buy milk and other unrefrigerated products in Tetra Pak packaging in remote souks or markets. Tetra Pak recognized that food security in places like Yemen was tenuous and they intentionally sought to make places like Yemen more food secure.

My home canned bread and butter pickles.
Obviously, in the context of food sustainability, we try to focus on the local, fresh, and organic options. However, many places in the world do not have the ability to garner enough nutrition utilizing these tenets and residents of these locations rely on external providers within the global food supply system. Where I live on Long Island, I rely on a global food network to provide food to my grocery store. Because of the packaging and processing technology, food in Tetra Pak aseptic or shelf stable packaging does not need refrigeration. As a result, the overall transportation carbon footprint is lower than shipping in refrigerated truck, rail, or boat. The lightweight nature of the carton also reduces carbon costs when compared with heavier glass or metal canning.

I like to can local produce I buy at my local farmer's market. The photo here shows some bread and butter pickles I canned last summer. Canning, just like the Tetra Pak packaging process, allows me to store local produce for eating months later. What is different about Tetra Pak, however, is that the process is far more simpler and safer than traditional home canning. Tetra Pak is preserving local harvests for distribution to the global food markets--many of which are food insecure.

As I delve deeper into this sustainability case study, I will highlight some of the work that Tetra Pak has done to understand the emerging green consumer, their recycling initiatives, and some of their international initiatives:

Part 3: Sustainability and the Changing Food Consumer
Part 4: Tetra Pak's Recycling Initiatives
Part 5: International Sustainability Initiatives

Look for Part 3 in the coming weeks!



Sustainability Case Studies Chapter 10-- Sustainability of Vicuña Conservation in Bolivia

Click for photo credit.
This is the tenth 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.

This chapter is titled, The Sustainability of Vicuña Conservation in Bolivia, and is written by Melissa Grigione (a former colleague from the University of South Florida who is now at Pace University), Lisa F. Daugherty (currently with Kleinfelder, Inc.), Rurik List (Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana, Lerma, Estado de Mexico), Jonathan Rushton (University of Liverpool), and my colleague Ronald Sarno of Hofstra University. The chapter focuses on reviewing the state of vicuña management throughout all of South America with a particular focused case study in Bolivia.

Vicuña are camelid species native to South America. They are related to the alpaca and other camelids like the llama. Their range is relatively limited to the slopes of the Andes. Due to unchecked hunting, they almost went extinct. However, their population has increased tremendously in recent years as demand for their wool has increased in the global market. They are marginally domesticated, in that they live in small groups (one male and several females) in the wild but are herded annually for shearing. The vicuña produce a limited amount of wool each year. As the authors note, in Bolivia, the average amount of wool that can be obtained from the animal is only 220 grams. Given the labor intensive nature of gathering wool from animals that are more or less wild, the costs for the wool is rather high. A 200 yard length of vicuña yarn costs over $300 dollars and clothing made from vicuña generally runs in the thousands of dollars.

In 1965, there were only 6,279 vicuña in South America, with most of them living in Peru. At the time, there were only 1079 in Bolivia. By 2008, the total population jumped to 347,243 with most of them in Peru. There were 62,869 in Bolivia. Roughly 79% of the animals live dispersed in the wild and their wool is gathered outside of national management schemes. However, 21% live within designated conservation zones where local populations facilitate the management and collection of wool. The chapter provides a detailed description of where and how vicuña are managed in the region.

Click for photo credit.
The chapter then moves into a description of the household economics of vicuña wool collection. Generally for those involved in vicuña wool production, the harvesting accounts for 31-65% of the family income. The chapter also details how indigenous communities organize for annual wool collection and associated marketing. The chapter also details pricing and costs associated with vicuña production

As with other sections of the book, the chapter concludes with sections on Lessons Learned and Challenges and Barriers. There is no doubt that vicuña populations are increasing in the Andes and in Bolivia. This is causing some stress and conflicts within communities. The vicuña fibers are extremely valuable and thus there is growing interest in how to increase production. In addition, some vicuña are hunted and killed for their wool which goes against existing conservation measures. The growth in vicuña numbers is coming into conflict with traditional domesticated livestock production.

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 vicuña management in the Andes and Bolivia.

1. According to Table 10.1, the vicuña numbers have increased tremendously in South America in recent years. Why did the numbers increase?

2. The vicuña produce a very small amount of fiber each year and it is very expensive. Why is vicuña fiber so valuable?

3. The vicuña are skittish animals who don't like to be around people. How are they captured for shearing?

4. The value of vicuña is so high that it is competing with other economic activities in the Andes. What other activities provide household income in the region?

5. The chapter discusses the role of the Ayllu in vicuña management. What is an Ayllu and what is their role?

6. If vicuña populations increase, what types of conservation challenges will emerge in the coming decades?

7. Bolivia doesn't have an organized system of large-scale commercial harvesting. What would enhanced harvesting do to the production of vicuña fiber?

8. Some regions of the Andes have very low fiber yields per animal. What could be the cause of this issue?

--

Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan
Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont
Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City
Chapter 9. Waste Management Outlook for the Middle East

Monday, November 25, 2019

Academic Archetypes and the Balance of the Personal and Professional

Click for photo credit.
There has been quite a bit of discussion on academic Twitter lately about the academic weekly schedule. Some academics are noting that there are some Uber academics who use excessive work as a badge of honor. This type of heroics is coming under a bit of criticism. Many of us in the profession have known the hero or heroine academic archetype. They are the ones who work crazy hours, publish more than anyone we know, and drive their students and colleagues hard. This is in contrast to the academic shirker archetype. Shirkers are the ones who show up for their classes and office hours, publish lightly, and don't want to get involved with service. Most of us fall on the continuum between the shirker and the hero/heroine archetypes.

Related to the hero/heroine and shirker continuum are the ego centered and martyr archetypes. The ego centered archetype academic is solely focused on himself or herself while the martyr archetype swoops in and tries to save the day for others--to their own detriment. They can get overly involved in faculty or student lives and often sacrifice their research productivity to take on major service roles or solve problems. We all fall on the continuum from ego centered to martyr. Some of us are more hero/heroine martyrs (spend tons of time on service), hero/heroine ego centric (spend tons of time on our own research), shirker martyrs (spend limited time at the university and lots of time on family/household issues), or shirker ego centric (spend limited time at the university and focus more on self development).

We all move in and out of these different archetypes of academic life depending on our professional and personal needs. For example, if you are going up for tenure, you might be more of a hero/heroine ego centric academic. However, if you are starting a family, you might more of a shirker savior (note, the term shirker denotes that you are a shirker at the university, not in life). I don't want anyone to think that I find it wrong to slow down a bit with publishing or other university activities to start a family. The line is a continuum and many faculty successfully balance the shirker and hero/heroine archetypes.

The point is that it is best for your career to not be stuck in any one of these extreme categories for too long. Indeed, if one defines success by a productive academic career and a happy personal life, the most successful academics that I know have tried to balance these four aspects (ego centric, shirker, hero/heroine, and martyr). They may have had a shirker year or two along the way, but they make up for it in other years with productive teaching, research, or service. Balance is the key.

One of the critiques on academic Twitter about the hero/heroine archetype in terms of Department life is that these types of faculty put tremendous pressure on untenured faculty to try to achieve at extremely high levels just at the time that they are thinking of starting a family and enhancing their personal life after a years in graduate school. I believe that highly productive senior faculty have a responsibility to mentor untenured faculty to guide them through this very stressful time. They need to communicate to them the need for balance. At the same time, untenured faculty need to understand that some senior faculty are extremely productive and that their level of productivity is not what is needed to attain tenure and promotion. It is also important to seek advice from chairs, deans, and external mentors who can help navigate the expectations at your institution. Tenure and promotion goals should not be based on the outliers of extreme performance but on actual department and university expectations.

Lord knows there have been times in my life when I've been a martyr, hero, shirker, and savior--usually not in the same semester. The ability to balance these academic traits is difficult, but I think it is important to acknowledge that these archetypes exist so that we can try to move from the extremes to live a happy academic and personal life. 

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Fort Monroe 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 Fort Monroe National Monument in Virginia. 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.
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
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument
Fort McHenry National Monument

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

California Fights Back Against Car Companies That Support Trump Administration Efforts to Roll Back Car Emissions Standards

Click for photo credit.
In an interesting development, the New York Times is reporting that the state of California will not purchase cars made my manufacturers that support the Trump administration's efforts to roll back Obama era rules on emissions standards and California's rights (as noted in the original Clean Air Act) to set emissions standards

If you recall, the Obama administration set new emissions guidelines for cars that were to go into effect between 2021 and 2026. The drive by the current administration to replace Obama's environmental rules with less strict ones has created a bit of chaos among car manufacturers with some supporting the Obama rules and some supporting the Trump approach. I've written about this issue several times hereherehere, and here.

California, one of the biggest auto purchasers in the nation, seeks to use its purchasing clout to make a point. Companies that support the administration's efforts to strip the state of its right to set its own emissions standards will not get their business. According to the article, the main companies that support the Trump administration's efforts to roll back Obama era rules are General Motors, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler. The companies that support California's rights to set standards, and which will continue to get California's business, are Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, and BMW. Note that Ford recently announced the new all electric Ford Mustang SUV.

The Obama administration set the standards (along with California) in part in reaction to the Paris Climate Accord. Reducing emissions from automobiles is a very important step in trying to reduce greenhouse gases. The fact that General Motors, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler are not supporting the efforts to reduce greenhouse gases in the U.S. and California has the potential to seriously damage their image. Indeed, the boycott could grow as more people become aware of California's policy.

With the polls showing a likely change in presidential leadership, the Trump rules are unlikely to go into effect. The support of the rollback of the emissions standards by General Motors, Toyota, and Fiat Chrysler may be a major strategic and costly mistake.

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Brazil Deforestation Continues and Indigenous People Fight for Survival Amid Calls for Divestment

An image of illegal logging activities on indigenous lands in Brazil.
Click for image credit.
As reported by Marcelo Teixeira in Reuters, the destruction of the Amazon over the last year has reached an 11 year high. The deforestation rate is nearly 10,000 square kilometers this year which is an increase of nearly 30%. As the article notes, the destruction comes at a time that the Brazilian government is loosening oversight of illegal logging and burning.

This news comes after a series of news reports that highlighted the increased illegal burning of the rainforest earlier this summer that I highlighted in a post here.

While there is a great deal of concern about the environmental damage caused by the deforestation, particularly in the area of climate change and biodiversity, another tragedy that is unfolding is the loss of indigenous life ways.

As this Smithsonian article from several years ago points out, many indigenous people have lost their lives over the last decade as illegal loggers and miners have encroached into their forest homes. Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that 26 year old indigenous rights activist Paolo Paulino Guajajara was shot in the head and murdered by illegal loggers. Prior to this, the leader of the Guajajara indigenous people complained to the Federal government in Brasilia about threats that they were receiving but it appears that little was done to protect them.

Indeed, the President of Brazil has said that the areas set aside for the indigenous peoples of the Amazon should be opened up for economic exploitation. Thus, it is unlikely that there will be much protection provided by the national government.

Unfortunately, according to Brazil's Missionary Council, violence against indigenous people in the country has spiked. A total of 135 were murdered in the last year which is an increase over the previous year of 23%. Plus, just in the first 9 months of 2019 there were 140 cases of land invasion, illegal exploitation of natural resources, or destruction of property which is twice the number over the previous year.

Clearly things in the Amazon are not going well under the current national leadership. Many in the government deny the reality of climate change and others seem to value short-term economic growth over the rights of native Brazilians. There is a growing call for a Brazilian divestment movement given the country's poor policy to native Brazilians and the environment. Given the news from Reuters about the increased rate of destruction and the reported murder of Paolo Paulino Guajajara, I suspect the calls for divestment will increase.

Monday, November 18, 2019

5 Tips for Jumpstarting Your Writing Goals

Click for photo credit.
We have all been there. We make so much progress on a project and then we run out of steam for some reason. Our attention wanders to other projects or we find ourselves binge watching Season 8 of American Horror Story when we should be writing (don't ask). Here are 4 tips for jumpstarting your writing goals when you find yourself in a bit of a rut.

1. Lower your daily writing goals temporarily. Everyone who knows me knows that I have daily writing goals and that I am pretty religious about meeting them. However, when I get in a rut, I lower my goal so that I can still make progress and feel accomplished. We can't force the writing when it just won't land on the page. But we can certainly nudge it along by sticking to some type of writing goal. When I am feeling a bit blah, I lower my 1000 word goal by 250 words. By doing so, I acknowledge the challenges I am feeling but I still advance the project in some way. About half the time I still get to over 1000 words. But it feels good to give yourself a break now and again. Just don't make it a habit. Also, try to overachieve on the days when you are feeling productive to try to make up for any major challenges in your overall manuscript due date.

Click for photo credit.
2. Go on a mini writer's retreat. I love to write in my home office where I am surrounded by books and good 19th century German classical music (right now I am on a Schumann kick). However, when I know I am stuck, I force myself to go to our local library (thank you Port Washington Public Library) or to a coffee shop. Once I am there, I actually increase my writing goal by several hundred words. I find it is easier to make major progress in a new place. It stimulates the brain to be in a new location and you are not tempted by your normal distractions in your work or home office. Do something special for yourself during this little retreat. Indulge in a special coffee drink or read a magazine on a break you would not normally read. Find a way to make the time not only productive, but special.

3. Turn off your Internet. I know that this can sometimes be problematic. We rely so much on the Internet for research these days. I find myself frequently checking on some specific date or fact when I am writing. However, it is also extremely easy to get distracted by all that is available on the Web. It won't kill you to shut it down for an hour or two so that you can get your writing goals done for the day. If you need to look something up, make a note of it and return to it after you complete your goals and you turn your Internet back on.

Click for photo credit.
4. Use the Pomodoro method. I have written about this technique before on this blog here. Trust me, it works. Use it to stay focused.

5. Enhance your outline. One of the biggest problems I have in not making a writing goal is futzing with my outlines. Often I get to a point in a document when I realize my outline is insufficient for what I am trying to communicate. Sometimes I can write through this challenge without causing problems for my daily goals. However, many times I need to stop and think through how to revise the outline to make sure I am following a logical train of thought. Sometimes I leave that part of the project for later and write another piece of it just so it doesn't slow me down. The problem would have been avoided if I had a better outline. I strongly advise working on the next day's outline after completing the day's writing goals. You can start to frame the writing in your head subconsciously and you can tweak the problem areas before you run into them when you are doing the actual writing.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Free Speaking Engagements

Throughout 2020 I am glad to to provide free talks to non-profit organizations on a variety of sustainability topics. I only ask that you cover my transportation. I will even cover the carbon costs. Non-profit organizations include schools, universities and colleges, religious organizations, social and professional groups and clubs, libraries, and community groups. I am also happy to speak to for profit groups for a fee.

I can tailor my talk for your group within the context of sustainability. If you want to share my bio with your team making speaker decisions, I pasted it below. My next public talk will be at the New York Marine Teachers Association on December 1 and will be titled, Four Emerging Sustainability Trends and How Marine Educators Can Ride the Wave.

Please reach out to me if you want to discuss a date or want more information.

Robert (Bob) Brinkmann, Ph.D.is the Director of Sustainability Studies at Hofstra University where he is also a Professor in the Department of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability.  He was born in 1961 in rural Wisconsin and was greatly influenced by his experiences growing up in a rural, small-town environment. As a child he spent many hours in nature hiking, fishing, and canoeing, especially in the wilderness of northern Wisconsin.  In 1979, he entered the Geology program at the University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. There, he earned a Bachelor of Science with a focus on lithology, mineralogy, and field geology.  During this period, he travelled throughout North America and participated in a geology field school in the Yukon.  His first publication, on the formation of the Berlin Rhyolite, was published in 1982. 
            After graduation, Brinkmann attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he earned an MS in Geology in 1986 and a Ph.D. in Geography in 1989.  While in graduate school he worked in diamond exploration, ice crystallography, and soil chemistry.  It was while conducting fieldwork in diamond exploration that Brinkmann began to be influenced by sustainability issues.  He started to take courses with the late Forest Stearns, one of the first ecologists to call for research on urban ecosystems, and the late Robert Eidt, a soil scientist noted for his definition and interpretation of anthrosols, or humanly modified soils.  Brinkmann began to study a number of topics including heavy metal geochemistry of garden soils in cities, ancient agricultural soils in the Arabian Peninsula, and soil and sediment erosion in mountainous regions.  Brinkmann also took courses with cave and karst expert, Michael J. Day and noted archaeologist, Lynne Goldstein.  
            In 1990, Brinkmann became an Assistant Professor at the University of South Florida (USF) where he continued his research on urban sustainability, particularly as associated with soil and sediment pollution in urban and suburban areas and cave and karst research.  He published numerous articles and books including the only book on the science, policy, and management of urban street sweeping (with Graham Tobin) and the only book on sinkholes in Florida.  He became a Full Professor in 2000 and the first Chair of USF’s Department of Environmental Science and Policy.  He also served as Chair of the Department of Geography and as Associate Dean for Faculty Development in the 2000’s.  He arrived at Hofstra University in 2011 to start a new Sustainability Studies Program.  
            Brinkmann is the former Chair of the Board of the National Cave and Karst Research Institute and has served as the Co-Editor of the Southeastern Geographer.  He was an Associate Editor for the Journal of Cave and Karst Studies.  He has served as an elected officer with a number of national, regional, and local organizations.  Brinkmann has appeared on a number of national news outlets as an expert on geologic and environmental issues including CBS News and CNN.  His blog, On the Brink, which focuses on environmental and sustainability issues, gets thousands of hits a day.  His latest book, Environmental Sustainability in a Time of Changewas published this year by Palgrave Macmillan.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Sustainability Case Studies--Chapter 9. Waste Management Outlook for the Middle East

Garbage in a canal of the Nile. Click for image credit.
This is the ninth 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.

This chapter is titled "Waste Management Outlook in the Middle East" and is written by Salman Zafar, the founder of EcoMENA in Doha Qatar. The chapter looks holistically at the waste issues in the Middle East and then moves forward to discuss the situation in several countries. The chapter concludes with short sections on lessons learned and challenges and barriers.

Overall, the waste management situation in the Middle East is problematic. The region's high income countries have some of the world's highest consumption rates that are coupled with high per capita rates of waste generation. Waste is generally poorly managed across the Middle East with little access to recycling. In addition, most of the waste ends up in unsanitary landfills which can cause an array of environmental problems. Litter is particularly problematic and there is considerable informal and formal dumping in deserts and coastal waters.

As Zafar notes, waste is treated in the Middle East as a waste and not a resource. As such, there are few policies to try to reduce waste or to collect it for recycling or energy production. Because most waste collection is done by public agencies, there are very low costs for waste pick-up and tipping fees are low. Thus, there are few economic incentives to reduce waste. There are also very few regulations or other frameworks in place to manage waste from an environmental perspective. However, some countries, particularly Qatar and the United Arab Emirates have developed some infrastructure and policy around waste and other countries are following their lead. However, these developments are relatively new and it is unclear how they will impact the region. Qatar was the first country in the Middle East to develop a waste to energy facility in 2011.

Waste collection in Jordan. Click for photo credit.
Following the general review of waste issues in the region, the chapter then moves forward with a fascinating discussion of the waste situation in the following countries:  Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Sultanate of Oman, Kingdom of Bahrain, Arab Republic of Egypt, Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and the Republic of Iraq. I cannot review the situation in each of these countries in this brief summary. However, for each country, Zafar discusses the waste management situation, the state of affairs, and innovative projects underway. There are some encouraging things happening in each of these places, but there are definitely challenges given the lack of strong infrastructure in place for waste management throughout the region.

The chapter concludes with an interesting discussion of lessons learned and challenges and barriers. The author points out that one of the biggest issues with waste in the region is its widespread generation. Consumption rates are increasing and there is a need for a broader conversation about the region's sustainability goals. Waste should be one piece of. a broader sustainability agenda. In addition, the article points out the need for public private partnership given the lack of infrastructure in the region. However, there is also a need for more public participation, legislation, and funding for waste management projects.

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 waste management or waste management in the Middle East.

1. Table 9.1 in this chapter lists waste generation generated in kilograms per person per day for countries in the region. There is a wide difference between some of the top waste generators to some of the bottom waste generators. What do you think accounts for this difference?

2. Zafar lists 5 key factors that are responsible for the waste crisis in the Middle East. What are they?

3. Why is recycling a challenge in the Middle East?

4. Saudi Arabia has an interesting waste composition. What strategies could be used to address waste reduction given the composition presented in the chapter?

5. Qatar is one of the few countries in the region with a national waste management strategy. What is the strategy?

6. The Sultanate of Oman has one of the highest per capita waste production rates and one of the lowest recycling rates. What types of problems has this created for the country?

7. Explain the role of the Zabbaleen in waste management in Cairo.

8. Overall, what is the outlook for waste management in the Middle East?

--

Previous posts in this series:

Chapter 5. Drinking Water Infrastructure Inequality and Environmental Injustice:  The Case of Flint Michigan
Chapter 6. Sustainable Renewable Energy:  The Case of Burlington, Vermont
Chapter 7. Greenhouse Gas Management: A Case Study of a Typical American City


Friday, November 15, 2019

Tofu Made by Burning Plastic in Indonesia

Click for image credit.
The New York Times published a fascinating article by Richard C. Paddock today about the use of waste plastic as a fuel for kitchens that make tofu in Indonesia. As this blog has pointed out before, waste is being dumped in many developing countries that should have gone for recycling. The waste is sometimes used as a fuel. As the article notes, dioxins are released in the burning process and they have contaminated the land around the tofu kitchens.

Scientists studying the region have found very high levels of dioxin in eggs in the area. In fact, the levels are 25 times higher than US daily threshold standards and 70 times higher than what is set in Europe. Exposure to dioxin can lead to a range of health problems including Parkinson's disease, cancer, and birth defects.

The article is a good read and the images are striking. They show how our modern consumption is changing the world for the worse.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Fort McHenry 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 Fort McHenry National Monument in Maryland. 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.
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
Canyons of the Ancients National Monument
Cape Krusenstern National Monument
Capulin Volcano National Monument
Carrizo Plain National Monument
Casa Grande Ruins National Monument
Cascade Siskiyou National Monument
Castillo de San Marco National Monument
Castle Clinton National Monument
Castle Mountains National Monument
Cedar Breaks National Monument
César E. Chávez National Monument
Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument
Chimney Rock National Monument
Chiricahua National Monument
Colorado National Monument
Craters of the Moon National Monument
Devils Postpile National Monument
Devils Tower National Monument
Dinosaur National Monument
Effigy Mounds National Monument
El Malpais National Monument
El Morro National Monument
Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument
Fort Frederica National Monument
Fort Matanzas National Monument

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

EPA Seeks to Limit Science in Decision Making Regarding Health and Environment

In one of the oddest regulatory changes so far in the current administration, the EPA is seeking to limit the kind of science that can be considered in making rules regarding clean air and water. The way they are doing this is by requiring that any scientific study be totally transparent. While this sounds like a good thing, most human subject research is confidential. The EPA wants to only allow the use of studies that do not have confidentiality requirements. Plus, the EPA wants to make the rules retroactive which would mean that many rules could be rolled back.

The issue is strange because confidentiality is the norm in public health research--and for good reason. Researchers do not disclose medical or personal information about participants in a study because disclosure could impact jobs or relationships. Imagine if you are a participant in a study about lung cancer. As part of the research, you reveal in a medical history questionnaire that you have been treated for a mental health disease. You would not want this information disclosed to the general public. Based on the rules the EPA wants, if you were to participate in a study, you would have to disclose all of your information to anyone who wants it. Obviously this will cause many people not to participate in medical research.

This is the real tragedy of the policy.

If they succeed with the plan, the federal government will gut the ability of the scientific community to conduct research that benefits the public health of the nation.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

My Interview with Dr. Greg Wessel, President of Geology in the Public Interest

Dr. Greg Wessel
Dr. Greg Wessel is a professional geologist and the President and founder of Geology in the Public Interest. Over the last several years, he has been increasingly concerned about the public’s lack of knowledge and interest in key environmental problems that threaten the long-term sustainability of humans on our planet. 

1.    The mission of Geology in the Public Interest states that the group seeks to engage in situations when “…geologic expertise can solve significant environmental and social problems.” What got you interested in forming this organization?

Our motivation stems from a shared ambition to drive change in a positive direction, building upon our experience as geoscientists and engineers.  It also stems from a shared frustration with the way things are going now.  We joined in this effort, and formed the nonprofit, when it became increasingly clear that all of us need to do far more than we do now to save the future for our grandchildren.  Given that geology underlies all the problems we now face, it makes abundant sense to enhance the input of the geosciences to affect positive change.  One could argue that this is the only way mankind can approach the future.  Since the election of 2016, we’ve seen both the level of frustration and the ambition to drive change increase, particularly among Americans but also worldwide.  To be frank, there have been times over the last three years when we’ve been positively frantic to get something to work, and so we’ve been following as many paths as we can.  

2.    I know that you have a background in mineral exploration. I worked for a short while in mineral exploration myself. Indeed, it was while doing that work that I had a big epiphany about human impacts on the planet. Most of the places that my company sent me to get placer (stream bed) samples were significantly altered by human activity and I had real concerns about the quality of the samples I collected. What got you interested in issues of sustainability?

Mine waste in Bolivia. Photo by Greg Wessel.
My interest in sustainability came relatively recently, following a career in exploration and then engineering geology.  But I’ve been concerned for a long time about unconstrained growth and the impact of our activities on the natural world.  A lot of my time in exploration was spent in the field where I could experience firsthand the beauty and wonder of nature, and at the same time predict the environmental damage that would result from discovering a mineral deposit.  For that reason, I migrated into mapping and structural geology (also because it was fun) and ultimately worked in industrial minerals and commodities that could be argued would better benefit mankind, such as fertilizer minerals. The project of which was I was most proud was working with a huge deposit of magnesium salt in Russia that could be solution mined and form the basis for low-cost magnesium metal production. For reasons having nothing to do with geology, that project was an administrative failure (principally because of its location) but it remains a really good idea.  

I am also taken with the idea of mineral recovery from unconventional feedstocks and mine/smelter waste.  Many people in the mining industry think “sustainability” means making sure they’ve got new reserves to exploit in the future so that the income stream is sustained.  In fact, the industry doesn’t talk much about being sustainable; instead they talk about being responsible, which can be met through much lower standards.  

It is my belief that mining can be made far more sustainable than people think, in a real sense, provided the true costs of operation are addressed through higher commodity prices and/or the creation of a capital fund by saving a portion of the annual depletion that is then used to mitigate for the environmental and social damages of current operations as well as past activities.  Others have used such funds to generate economic activity that replaces the income generation of mining, and one could argue that this is still important in order to conserve social resources, but if environmental resources are not conserved as well, then there is little point in conserving much else.  

The intent is to apply this fund in such a way so that the restoration that is accomplished is maintained in perpetuity, bringing that portion of the world into the 21stcentury looking much as it did hundreds of years before.  In this case, the mining operation becomes a vehicle to accomplish restoration that would have gone wanting otherwise.  Mining can thus become a path to restorative sustainability, which is defined as the capability of an action being continued while restoring and enhancing environmental and social resources.

This approach may seem overly ambitious or even naïve, but the problem all along has been that many of the actual costs of mineral production have been ignored, with society bearing the impact through habitat loss, water contamination, and air pollution.  Given that raw material costs make up such small percentages of the costs of manufactured goods, we should be able to pay for environmental protections if we choose to do so.  But at present, we are not holding ourselves to high enough standards.

3.    You have worked all over the world on a number of geologic projects. How significantly do environmental protections vary from place to place?  

Redbed copper deposits in Boliva. Photo by Greg Wessel.
There is variance, not just in environmental protections but perhaps more importantly in available reserves and operating costs.  I’ve always thought it was a cop-out for companies to blame their moves to foreign countries on the costs of our environmental protections, because the exciting new discoveries back then were being made there and not here.  It’s also true that other countries have been moving toward greater environmental protections over time, and the major mining companies especially have been upping their game, partly in response to demands from the host countries and others.  They are all trying to be more responsible, but that is far from being sustainable as most people would measure it. 

4.    You did your undergraduate and masters work at the University of Missouri-Rolla (you also did your Ph.D. at the Colorado School of Mines). My father earned his electrical engineering degree from Rolla back in the 40’s. That school is known as Missouri’s main science and technology university. What was your experience like in that focused science environment?  

Both schools were and still are excellent for geology and mineral engineering, and in addition both are now quite progressive when it comes to the social impacts of engineering and resource exploitation.  Mines has a program in Humanitarian Engineering (https://humanitarian.mines.edu/), and more and more students are involved in Engineers Without Borders and similar philanthropic organizations.  I was a student long enough ago (starting in 1970) that I have seen a dramatic change in educational emphasis (from oil and mining to environmental and hydrology) as well as student demographics and diversity.  It is quite heartening to watch the students at work today and see just how well they are being prepared for their future.  We are in good hands with our young people.  

5.    I saw you give a paper at the last Geological Society of America Annual Meeting in Phoenix this year on the work Geology in the Public Interest’s project that created a Summit on Geoscience and Society. What was the purpose of the summit?

An activity at the Summit on Geoscience and Society.
Photo courtesy of Mark Shimamoto.
The Geoscience and Society Summit, held in Stockholm in March of 2019, brought together about 70 people from 20 nations to discuss ways to build bridges between geoscientists and others to enhance the contributions of geoscientists in advancing resilience and sustainability worldwide.  The meeting was hosted by the American Geophysical Union, the Bolin Centre for Climate Research, and Geology in the Public Interest, who partnered with the Geological Society of America, the American Geosciences Institute, the Geological Society of London, Geoscientists Without Borders, the International Association for Promoting Geoethics, Geology for Global Development, and the Geology and Environmental Science Department at Wheaton College.

The goals of the meeting included: assessing the role geoscience can play to inform solutions, facilitating interactions between the science and user communities to advance foundational capability, and developing processes to improve interdisciplinary engagement and science diplomacy.  Five workshops were held over three days, with the first four advancing discussions toward a final session designed to summarize conclusions and suggest models for the future.  Discussions were wide-ranging but there was general agreement on the importance of certain aspects of our work, such as the effectiveness of communication between stakeholders, the need for education about the geosciences and sustainability at all levels (particularly grade school and middle school), the criticality of uniform standards to measure sustainability, and the value of making successful actions scalable.   

The final session highlighted the need for new programs to enhance the impact of the geosciences at the grassroots level by 1) combining creative science with effective outreach, 2) increasing local geoscience education within affected communities, 3) reducing barriers to collaboration, and 4) providing pathways to a better understanding and appreciation of the common good.  Suggestions included creating a new internet-based platform for collaboration that allows easy participation, reconfiguring the GSS meeting structure to allow it to be hosted at sites in the developing world, and partnering with others in smaller, progressive programs.  All these suggestions and more are being acted upon, with the last already resulting in a short course that is planned for the European Geosciences Union meeting in Vienna in May of 2020. 

6.    Like many in the geoscience community, I am really disappointed with many of our world’s leaders who either try to deny climate change or focus on small distractions that do not address the major issues we are facing. What do you think we need to do in the geoscience community to try to advocate for action?

Wessel at the Science March.
As geoscientists, we are fortunate (or burdened, depending upon how look at it) with being very good at understanding two things that many people don’t get: how interconnected we are with nature and with others worldwide, and the large impacts of small changes over time.  It’s important to remember that few people think at the same scale we do, nor do they have the same concept of time.  For this reason, it is our responsibility to encourage people to think in a way that they can understand that their individual actions really do impact the planet, and to hope that their standards for judging progress will change when they do begin to see that they can be a positive force.  

Politicians depend upon voters to keep them in their jobs, so about the most you can expect from politicians is to reflect the voting public, which is clearly not enough.  Given our political system and the way capitalism works, it’s no surprise that our leaders really don’t lead.

For us, it’s important to show other people ways that they can make the paradigm shift required to do something about climate change. This is tough, because most people when faced with this topic look like deer in the headlights.  I recommend looking for simple ways to get people thinking differently in your community.  Where I live, we are working on a simple exercise to do just that, but we’re not ready to go primetime with it.  Anyone interested in learning more is welcome to contact me and I can share what I have (email me at gwessel@publicgeology.org).  

There is a little book that I carry with me whenever I travel, and there is a great quote on pages 18 and 19 from Dwight D. Eisenhower that reads “Whatever America hopes to bring to pass in the world must first come to pass in the heart of America.”  Given the nature of the challenges we face, it is my opinion that young people should travel as far and wide as they can, especially if they are in the geosciences, to see what the rest of the world is like, before returning home to fix our nation.  To do this, you’ll need a copy of this little book, which you can get from the Department of State.  The title is “Passport.”

7.    One of the surprising developments in the last few years with climate change policy is the leadership from the business community. For example, many companies are working hard to achieve climate neutrality and others are transforming their supply chains to make them greener. The statement linked hereby the Business Roundtable and signed by the CEO’s of most of the major US corporations notes the importance of sustainability and protecting the environment. Based on your experience, do you have hope that businesses can help us turn not only a policy corner on climate change, but also attain real outcomes in making our planet more sustainable?

Mining operations in Potosi, Bolivia.
Photo by Greg Wessel.
I am alternately buoyed by news from the corporate world and depressed.  Up to now, it’s not easy to make the case that business has saved the environment. There are some excellent examples of companies that are doing philanthropic work and/or addressing the common good, often through their associated foundations, but the principal goal of any profit-making enterprise is to do just that, make a profit no matter what.  The problem is that businesses commonly make a profit at the expense of the common good and the environment.  This is why tobacco companies denied the negative impacts of their product for so many years and also why oil and mining companies are doing the same.  When corporations get serious about doing full-cost accounting, then I’ll be less critical.  That said, consumers can drive businesses to be more responsible, which brings us back to our need to promote grassroots change in our own communities, as I described above.

8.    You organized a session at the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco in December in which I will take part. Can you describe the session and explain what prompted you to put it together?

The AGU session title is Geoscience and Sustainability at the Grassroots Level: Building on the 2019 Geoscience and Society Summit(Session PA026) and the intent of the session is to advance the conversation around how to build bridges between geoscientists and other stakeholders to enhance the impact of the geosciences in solving environmental and social issues at local and regional levels.

We invited authors to submit papers that describe successful projects or programs that enhance the impact of the geosciences at the grassroots level by either 1) combining creative scientific approaches with effective outreach, 2) increasing local geoscience education levels within affected communities, 3) reducing barriers to collaboration between diverse constituents, 4) providing pathways to more effective communication, or 5) lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the common good (in whole or in part) at local or regional scales.  We will also summarize the themes that emerged from the Geoscience and Society Summit and that will guide future progress and follow-on efforts.   We invite everyone to attend.

9.    All field geologists have amazing stories about their experiences doing field work. I have some good ones from fieldwork in Yemen, Venezuela, and Florida. Can you tell my readers an interesting experience from your decades of field work and your extensive travels?

I’ve been lucky enough to have some amazing field experiences throughout the western US as well as in Bolivia, Poland, and even in Russia shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union.  In Russia, I was asked “How do you teach your children capitalism?” while working with former KGB and Communist Party officials.  In Bolivia, I inadvertently found myself on the trail of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, but just for fun I’ll leave you with a real story of lost treasure.  

Offset quartz veins in Bolivia. Photo by Greg Wessel.
While a student at Rolla, I had a chance to make several trips into the Superstition Mountains of Arizona.  The Superstitions host a volcanic center and resurgent caldera, and you’ll probably recognize it as the home of the legendary Lost Dutchman Mine. On one trip, I was doing a recon in the desert near the edge of the caldera looking at the geology and I stumbled across an odd outcrop that was a quartz vein/stockwork with abundant manganese oxide.  It was very different from the surrounding volcanic rocks and low to the ground next to a dry wash. The outcrop was fractured and vuggy and bees had established a hive in the rock and were buzzing around.  Trying to avoid being stung, I grabbed a few small pieces and took them back to examine, but I wasn’t there to prospect so the fact that I took a sample was unusual.  Shortly after, I read that the nearby rich gold mines at Goldfield (present day Apache Junction) were developed on manganese-rich quartz veins at the perimeter of the caldera.  My outcrop appeared to be identical but it was not near Goldfield and there was no evidence of mining activity or prospecting nearby that I could tell.  A couple of years after, I had a chance to spend a day looking again for that outcrop so that I could take a proper sample.  I wandered back and forth through the area I was sure I had traversed before, but never found anything resembling the manganese-rich quartz.  It may have been buried in a subsequent flash flood, or maybe I was just off course.  It was clearly outcrop, about the size of a large car, but I never was able to locate it again. 

10.  Is there anything else you would like to add?

I’d like to share one thought with your readers who might be discouraged about climate change and how our governments are not dealing with it.  I’ve learned over the years that human progress of any kind resembles a Slinky on the floor.  The Slinky I’m talking about is the kids’ toy that is a loose metal spring that you stack at the top of a flight of stairs.  Tip over the top coil and it will walk down the steps.  

Take that same Slinky and set it on its side on the floor. A little friction on the floor will mimic the resistance within humankind.  Now take the end coil and slowly pull it away from the rest of the spring in an attempt to drag the spring across the floor.  The forward-moving coils will stretch out far ahead of the bulk of the spring, which will remain in place until the progressive coils are far out front.  It takes a lot of pulling to get the entire spring moving, and even when you do, most of the spring (the majority of people) remains far behind.  

           That’s the way progress looks, with a few people far out front and the rest of us way behind.      
           It’s the numbers of those at the back who determine our future success, so my advice is to  
           spend some time figuring out ways that you can get behind the people in the rear, and then 
           push.