Sunday, April 11, 2021

5 Ways to Green Your Spring

Black eyed Susans are a native
plant in my region
Click for photo credit.
Here in Illinois, we are enjoying a beautiful start to Spring. This early spring season has brought out all of the early shades of green:  chartreuse, celery, lime, and mint. The daffodils are blooming and the tulips will soon follow. 

Given all this greenness, I thought it would be a great time to provide 5 suggestions as to how you can green up your spring season and make a fresh start on your sustainability agenda.

1. Find your famers' markets and join a CSA. As the farms start getting seeds and plants in the ground, it is a good time to join a CSA (community sponsored agriculture) farm and find the schedule and locations of your local farmers' markets. Everyone likes local food and we should all try to support local producers.

2. Prepare your home for spring ventilation. Heating and air conditioning are some of the biggest users of energy in your home. While we may have some chilly nights ahead, it's time to open the windows and get some fresh air in the house. Turn off your heat and pull out an extra blanket at night. On warm spring days, spend time outside in the shade until the house cools off. Carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have never been higher and it makes sense to hold off the air conditioning for as long as you can (if you even need it!).

3. Ditch the car. Springtime brings some of the best weather for walking and biking. Ditch the car as much as you can and take advantage of the weather. Did I mention that carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere have never been higher?

4. Join or organize a spring cleanup. Many neighborhoods, parks, and communities organize spring cleanups to get rid of the litter that accumulated over the winter. If you cannot find one, organize one. Or, as you walk to some destination (see #3 above), take a trash bag and do your own self-paced cleanup.

5. Plant native plants. Often, we try to plant exotic plants to spruce up our gardens. While we all have a range of exotic plants in most of our yards and gardens, it is worth taking the time to find out more about local native plants in your region and to use that knowledge to make better landscape choices as we plant or replace plants in our gardens.

Serious Environmental and Health Issues Discovered in Tampa Lead Smelting Facility

Tampa. Click for image credit.
The Tampa Bay Times published an exposé on serious contamination at Florida's only lead smelting facility. It is worth a read. The conditions are frankly shocking and reminiscent of working conditions from a century ago. It is hard to imagine the described working conditions existing in the 21st century in the United States. As the article notes, many of the workers are minorities, immigrants, or have criminal records. Thus, this situation exemplifies environmental justice inequities.

Curiously, the site was not inspected by OSHA in five years. Over that time period, workers were exposed to hazardous levels of lead and toxic materials were not managed appropriately. Venting systems didn't work correctly and contaminated sludge built up in some areas of the facility. The images associated with the article are rather striking.

Lead was identified in this country as a serious problem decades ago and was widely banned in most products from paint to gasoline. However, we still use quite a bit of lead in batteries. This smelter did a great deal of battery recycling which is one of the sources of the contamination of the plant. 

Friday, April 9, 2021

Leaking Phosphate Mine Pond Pollutes Tampa Bay

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The Tampa Bay Times  has been doing some great reporting on the leaking of phosphate mine ponds in Manatee County, Florida. Phosphate mining in Florida, which takes place south and west of Tampa, is a highly disruptive activity. I've written about it quite a bit on this blog over the years and have also published some of my research on land disruption caused by mining. 

Phosphate companies mine phosphate ore through strip mining. However, they have to remove a great deal of sandy overburden prior to getting to the phosphate-rich layers underground. The strip mining creates big gashes in the earth that require considerable restoration. The phosphate ore is transported to processing plants (often using water transport in pipes) where acids and other chemicals treat the ore to pull the phosphate from the slurry. Some of the leftover liquids, some of which are highly acidic and often full of nutrients and some radon (an accessory material associated with the ore) are stored in ponds. 

Over the years there have been several notable leaks of these ponds. One occurred during a hurricane when heavy rains caused a pond to leak into a local river. The leak caused a massive fish kill and led to significant pollution of Tampa Bay. Another leak was caused by the collapse of a sinkhole. The entire pond leaked into underground aquifers.

This latest leak into Tampa Bay highlights the dangers of toxic ponds associated with mining to the environment and to the public at large. They often linger for years after mining companies leave an area and cause great challenges for long term management leaving them a burden to tax payers for decades.

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Infrastructure Plan Has Some Key Sustainability Highlights

Click for photo credit.
 The new 2 trillion dollar infrastructure plan released by the Biden administration has some key sustainability highlights that help to advance the green economy. See this story from NPR for details of the plan.

Two of the key points are:

1. Electric car infrastructure. The plan calls for building thousands of electric car charging stations across the country and provides support for the increase in electric car production and infrastructure.

2. Expansion of mass transit infrastructure. This involves support for regional bus systems, expansion of rail, and support for existing mass transit systems.

The plan also calls for some other interesting projects associated with sustainability including removal of lead containing pipes, support for schools and affordable housing, and $35 billion for the National Science Foundation to support breakthrough research that will address the climate crisis.

Of course, the devil is in the details. I always like to say that the greenest building is the one you don't build and there are some contradictory themes in the plan. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it will be a game changer for electric car infrastructure in the U.S. should it pass congress.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

Sustainability Case Studies 17: Designing Personal Sustainability into Organizational Culture: The Case of Burning Man

Click for photo caption.
This is the 17th 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 review.

This chapter, Designing Personal Sustainability into Organizational Culture:  The Case of Burning Man, by Morgan C. Benton and Nicole M. Radziwill, focuses on the big international art and music festival known as Burning Man. The famous event draws around 70,000 people every August (except for the whole pandemic thing) to northwestern Nevada. As one can imagine, the event has a relatively large environmental footprint--one that the organizers have worked hard to reduce. The chapter focuses on how the organization of Burning Man is developing clear sustainability goals within its organization.


The chapter begins with a review of sustainability management and sustainability planning for events. It also highlights the need to focus on personal sustainability within any planning context. The chapter then goes into the case study which reviews the organizational elements of Burning Man. What is interesting is the overall organizational structure of the event. The "camp" is the main unit of spatial organization and many camps have specializations such as hair washing or food supply. Some of the camps manage things like trash pick up and water management. Thus, at least for a short period of time every year, Burning Man is the largest intentional eco community on the planet. 

Another important aspect of Burning Man is the transformational experiences individuals can have. This transformation includes aspects of sustainability and learning about the environment. Burning Man organizers and participants have also embraced something called the 10 Principles which including things like radical self-reliance, decommodificatios, civic responsibility, and leave no trace. Based on surveys, many of the attendees of Burning Man bring the 10 Principles, including those that involve sustainability, into their lives. The chapter concludes with a variety of lessons learned and challenges and barriers. Some of the lessons learned include a number of recommendations as to how to make Burning Many more sustainable, including finding alternatives to single-occupancy vehicles and reducing waste.


Layout of Burning Man. Click for image credit.

Here are some discussion questions when using this chapter for a unit on organizational sustainability, events and sustainability, or personal sustainability:

1. Why did the Burning Man festival embrace many key themes of sustainability?

2. The 10 Principles are not required of participants, but are provided to suggest conduct. How do you think this approach of suggesting vs. requiring influences participants?

3. Burning Man is often described by attendees as a "transformative" experience. What types of "transformative" experiences have increased your interest in sustainability?

4. One of the 10 Principles is Radical Self Reliance. What is meant by this term?

5. How does Burning Man impact local ecosystems (organisms and their environment)?

6. What are "Sparkle Ponies" and how do they impact the sustainability of Burning Man?

7. How can you reduce the environmental footprint of events in which you are involved such as weddings, birthday parties, or other celebrations?

8. Many "camps" at Burning Man have a distinct specialization associated with art, music, environment, or services. What type of camp would you set up at the event?