Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Desmond Tutu Calls for Divestment from Fossil Fuels

Archbishop Desmond Tutu.  Click for photo credit.
I don't know if On the Brink readers have been following the movement encouraging divestment from fossil fuels (for background, see this link), but it was given a significant boost this month by Archbishop Desmond Tutu's call for organizations to divest from the fossil fuel industry.  You can read his statement here.

Many of us of a certain age remember the divestment movement of the 1980's focused on ending apartheid in South Africa.  Apartheid was an official policy of the government that kept non-whites from participating in many aspects of governance and limited non-whites to a distinct low social and economic class.  The fight against apartheid was one of the most successful campaigns to end human rights violations in the late 20th century.  It started at universities (Michigan State and Stanford started it first) and spread to a number of non-profits.  Money moved out of South Africa as a result of the campaign.  Plus the worldwide attention on the divestment movement shed light on the horrific practice of apartheid.  Overall, the divestment strategy contributed to the fall of apartheid in South Africa.

Today, the same strategy is being used for fossil fuels.  A worldwide campaign is underway to divest from fossil fuel industries.  In the past, some of these companies have worked to deceive the public on the science of global climate change.  Some are still engaging in climate change denialism. Many of us believe that we have just a few decades to solve the climate change threat.  That is why there is so much urgency to this issue.

The statement by Archbiship Tutu,  lends considerable weight to the divestment movement given his experiences with apartheid and his overall international reputation on issues of human rights.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Positive Change

I am very encouraged by this story reporting an increase in the recycling of package material. I can't tell you how many times I've called companies asking them why they have to put yogurt in #5 plastic containers, which until recently, were not easily recyclable. The fact that my town now recycles more than just #1 and #2 plastics is very exciting as well! Perhaps with these good trends, we can reduce our waste stream even further.
Satellite image of the Chesapeake Bay.
(NASA image courtesy MODIS Rapid Response Team.) Borrowed from

This all reminds me of another anecdotal story of positive change. When I was in high school, one of the big environmental issues was eutrophication of the Chesapeake Bay from nutrient sources in laundry detergents and other soaps. My friends and I started an environmental club in high school, and one of our goals was educating consumers to look for low-nitrogen laundry soaps. These used to be somewhat difficult to find- but now if you look on the labels, most soaps are nitrogen and phosphate free. So although things may change slowly, they do change!

Happy spring, everyone-

Friday, April 11, 2014

Thursday, April 10, 2014

A Reason for Hope

This blog covers some depressing environmental topics.  But as anyone knows me could attest, I have hope for the future.  Someone once said (I can't remember the quote, if someone knows it sent it on), planting a seed is a perfect definition of hope.

Check out this article about Hofstra's Sustainability Club and the efforts of some of our Sustainability Studies Students.  Know hope.

Robert Kates, One of the Fathers of Modern Sustainability Movement

Sandra Garren, Robert Kates, and Robert Brinkmann.
For me one of the highlights of the Association of American Geographers Conference I am attending is being in a session on Sustainability and Scale organized by Robert Kates, one of the fathers of the modern sustainability movement.  He was one of the first to focus in on scientific and quantitative aspects of measuring and assessing sustainability on the international scale.  The paper I gave, with my co-authors Sandra Garren of USF and Wei Liu of the UN, focused on the the issue of scale in international sustainability reporting.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Michael Mann, Hockey Stick Hero

Me and Dr. Michael Mann.
Yesterday I met Michael Mann, the famous Penn State climatologist, at the annual meeting of the West Central Florida Chapter of the American Meteorological Society in Tampa.  Mann found himself at the center of considerable controversy over the famous hockey stick graph he published that demonstrated that the climate was changing considerably in our modern era compared to the past 1000 years.  This graph was used by many to demonstrate the significance of greenhouse gas pollution.

Many went after him personally and professionally for publishing this graph  He went through a bit of personal hell after the work was printed.  He's been sued and subpoenaed and his personal email has been hacked. However, since the graph was published in 1999, many other scientists found basically the same thing Mann found.  Plus, as noted in a blog post here, the new IPCC report clearly shows that we are already feeling the impacts of global climate change.

There really isn't any question in the scientific community around the issue of greenhouse gas pollution and global climate change.  Most of the major energy companies also understand that this is a serious issue and they are trying to work on solutions.  Just take a look at Exxon's Website here and BP's here.

There are still a few political corners of the world where climate change is considered a hoax.  For whatever reason, Michael Mann is still the guy politicians go after when they need a climate change scientist to beat up in the public arena.  He has taken the heat for the entire scientific community that patiently collects the data, writes the papers, and develops climate models.  For that he is a hockey stick hero in my book.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kings Canyon National Park

Today I continue my series highlighting interesting open access Flickr photos of all 59 U.S. National Parks. In this post we go to Kings Canyon National Park in California. 

For more information about the park, click here. I'll run through all 59 National Parks in alphabetical order. If you have any photos that you would like to share from any national park that I could post, please send them along. Following the photos, you'll find links to previous On the Brink posts on the National Parks. Check them out to see the beauty of the U.S. National Parks as captured by visitors.

Click for photo credit.

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