Thursday, October 30, 2014

Day in the Pride at Hofstra

The folks at Hofstra's Media Relations office ran a cool program yesterday in which the entire university community was urged to tweet photos of their day for 24 hours to show what life is like on the campus.  You can see some of the tweets here and here.  

I really enjoyed seeing so many great things going on across campus that I had no idea about.  For example, it was fun to see the shots from various classrooms, athletic events, talks, performances, and meetings.  

The more that I see of Hofstra, the more I like it!  It really is a special place.  My experience at a big state school was terrific, but class sizes were large, funding was always a problem, and the administration was impersonal.  At Hofstra, most of us know each other in the faculty and administration.  Class sizes are small.  Plus, we do big things like the Presidential debates.  Students are really lucky to have picked this university to attend.  

Below are the photos I contributed to the twitter feed to capture my day.

Arriving on campus with my plug in hybrid car.  1000 miles per gallon on my commute.

Where I cross Hempstead Turnpike.  A nice bus stop and bike path along the way.

One of my team, Keshanti Nandlall already at work when I arrived on campus.

A rare moment when my crew is together.  Steve Handler, Joanne Norris, Keshanti Nandlall, and Joe Murphy.

I had a meeting with my friend and colleague, Bret Bennington, Chair of Geology, Environment, and Sustainability and all around great guy.  Here he is with Darwin.  He dresses like Darwin on Darwin Day.  How cool is that!

Ran into my good friend Linda Longmire at the Day of Dialogue talks on campus.  Each year, Hofstra has a "day of dialogue" during which events are held to discuss key issues of the day.

One of my former students Scott Smith showing off his new bike sharing business.  He graduated last year with a degree in business and a minor in sustainability.  If any of my university friends want to start a bike sharing program on your campus, let me know and I'll put you in touch with him.  He is focusing on university bike sharing.

As part of Day of Dialogue, I organized a round table for the students and faculty who attended the Climate March in New York City.  We had great attendance and we discussed next steps for what we should do.  Here I am leaving that event with Sustainability Studies senior Scott Simon.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Denmark Produces 110% of Electricity from Wind

Click for photo credit.
On Sunday, Denmark produced 110 percent of its electricity from wind power.  This isn't a regular occurrence.  The environmental conditions were right and Sunday is a low-use day.  However, it does demonstrate was investment in green energy can do.  Right now the goal in Long Island is to double green energy production.  Which would get us to just 6% of energy from clean sources.  I do not see any reason, given the abundance of wind off the Long Island shore, that we could not match the 110% production of Denmark.  Six percent just does not cut it.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Vancouver Redux

Our Hofstra booth.
My trip to Vancouver was very productive. I attended the Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting where I gave a poster presentation at GSA with colleagues and our Department had a booth where we advertised our new masters degree program in sustainability.  Several of our students attended the conference.

I think the most interesting thing I noticed at this particular convention is the distinct change in the discourse around the Anthropocene and human agency within the field of geology.  The Anthropocene is an informal (for now) name given by geologists to the period of time in which we live.  The dominant feature of this time is that most major earth systems are in some way impacted by human activity.  Even if one looks at coastal or riverine sedimentation, one finds all kinds of new sediment types within the modern sedimentary record--plastics, glass, and metals.

The Anthropocene was front and center in several poster and paper sessions.  The idea of human environmental change was certainly one of the central themes in the conference.

Downtown Vancouver.
I spent a little bit of time trying to see some of the sites in Vancouver to get some photos for my upcoming book on sustainability.  The idea of environmental change is evident in the region.  Forestry is a dominant industry in British Columbia.  While there are organizations that manage forest resources sustainably, there is still a fair amount of clear cutting.  Coastal change is also quite evident, in part due to the huge sediment load entering streams from clearcut high-slope landscapes.

While this is not directly related to sustainability, Vancouver is due for a major earthquake.  The region experiences an earthquake of 9.0 magnitude every 300-500 years.  The last one was in 1700.  Since then, the city has built a dense downtown with many high-rise condos and apartments.  This density is great for regional sustainability in that it has limited extensive sprawl to the surrounding landscape.  Yet, the development pattern of the city does make it vulnerable to earthquakes, particularly due to the fact that parts of the city are built in coastal and alluvial sediments.

I also got to see some old friends at the conference from the soils, karst, and sustainability world.  Perhaps the best serendipitous meet up was when I saw my masters thesis advisor, Norm Lasca, at the affiliated societies breakfast.  It was really nice to catch up with him.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

How Wolves Change Rivers

I've been away at a conference in Vancouver the last week.  While away, I came down with a pretty tough cold  that has kept me down.  My apologies for the lack of posting.  In the mean time, enjoy this video on how wolves change rivers (hat tip, Lynne Goldstein).

Friday, October 17, 2014

Guest Post by Dr. Michael Finewood on Stormwater

A sign along a riverwalk, warning of possible combined sewage overflows
 during wet weather events. Photo by Sara Powell
As western and southern communities battle over water access and cope with drought conditions, other areas of the country wrestle with the opposite side of the water quantity coin: too much water. (Putting aside the anthropogenic characterization of too much…) Water on the East Coast – particularly in postindustrial cities – embodies yet another iteration of the wicked nature of urban water governance.

A few weeks back, Dr. Brinkmann posted a photo to Facebook showing a pool of water on the surface of a road. The sky was cloudy, so I assumed it was just after a rain. Under his post I commented that I am completely obsessed with this. He agreed. And our nerdiness bore the idea for this post. Our obsession is with stormwater runoff. In most cities, when it rains, impervious surfaces such as roads and rooftops prevent water from absorbing (or infiltrating) into the soil. Instead, stormwater pools and runs off these hardened surfaces typically to low points in the city, such as storm drains or nearby waterways.
Stormwater Runoff.  Photo by Sara Powell.

There are two fundamental problems here. The first is when stormwater runs across hardened surfaces, it picks up trash and pollutants from cars, power plant emissions, and other sources, which eventually make their way into local waterways. The second is that stormwater runoff often overwhelms urban stormwater conveyance systems (both the treatment plants and the pipes themselves). In many cities, the volume of runoff has increased as our cities expand outward, hardening up the landscape through construction of roads and buildings. Existing urban water conveyance systems and treatment plants were not designed to handle the growing volumes of stormwater that are added to the systems. In other words, the systems can’t keep up with the growth. This is particularly deleterious when sewer and stormwater systems are combined – which is the case for most older cities in the Northeast. So as cities experience what can often just be a fraction of an inch of rain, the systems overflow and sewage and polluted stormwater runoff flow into local waterways. Add to this scenario climate change and increasingly fragmented communities, and you can see why this is such a challenge. However, the Clean Water Act, Safe Drinking Water Act, and other state and local regulations compel metropolitan regions to address the issue.

But here is the good thing. There are some unique ways that communities are trying to address these issues. From technical approaches such as sustainable drainage systems, to community-driven approaches such as ecodistrict planning, and many iterations in between; municipalities are realizing that multi-disciplinary, collaborative, and community based projects have created the most overall good in communities, while also meeting water quality regulations. This should sound familiar to sustainability aficionados. These are urban water governance strategies that are locally negotiated with a wide range of stakeholders participating in the process, producing outcomes that create multiple benefits for communities. Think here of a riverwalk that serves as a recreational space, riparian restoration, and expanded floodplain to mitigate flooding. Or green stormwater infrastructure that captures stormwater before it is introduced into the system, while simultaneously enhancing biodiversity and increasing community greenspace.
A sign along a river, warning of possible combined sewage
overflows during wet weather events. Photo credit Sara Powell.

But the point isn't about the specific strategy or technology, really. Sustainability is not so much about its definition or outcome as it is about the process. In my view, sustainability is in the eye of the beholder, and it cannot be defined by a minority or devoid of context. In other words, true sustainability must be negotiated at the local level by all community members. Of course, there will be teeth gnashing – and the projects I allude to above are not without their problems – but all 'new' things take time to work out.

Expertise in sustainability will be critical to designing, implementing, and monitoring projects like these. If you live in a city, I would bet you are dealing with some sort of water issue. I encourage you to get involved. Go to public meetings and make your opinion heard. Educate your neighbors. Strengthen your personal conservation approaches. But most of all, consider the ways sustainability could be implemented in your community, and get to work.

Michael Finewood is an assistant professor of Geography and Sustainability in Chatham University’s Falk School of Sustainability. His interests are in water, climate change, and urban sustainability.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

NYC Back in Business Two Years After Sandy

I did a little field trip to Long Beach and Coney Island to get a sense of the recovery of the region to years after Sandy.  Below are a few photos I took along with some summary text.
While this is not the big season for tourists, it is clear that Coney Island is back in business.  Stores were open, a few tourists were about and the rides are still open on the weekends until the winter.

Even the Side Show is open in its venerable location.

The boardwalk at Coney Island is thriving.

As is the beautiful new boardwalk and seawall at Long Beach.

There is construction all over the place on Long Beach.
Many homes have been lifted above the floodplain
 and there are many infrastructure improvements.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Good, Better, and Best?

Photo by Bob Brinkmann.
Check out this article from the New York Times about efforts to rank food sold at Whole Foods and other stores on a variety of indicators such as pesticide use and worker fairness.  Wal-Mart, always a player in sustainability rating systems, is also jumping on board the food rating system.

I think that this is a good advance for changing agriculture in the U.S.  I'm a bit leery about the "good, better, and best" rating scale.  It is a bit too positive in my mind.  But, it is a start.

What is interesting about this advance is that it is one of the first major organized marketing movements away from organic labeling.  For years, farmers like Joel Salatin have argued that the federal organic system was flawed due to the bureaucracy of the scheme and because it didn't go far enough in protecting soils, addressing regional ecosystems, and considering workers.  While this good, better, and best rating system does not fully address the concerns of Salatin and others, it does take a fresh look at food systems to provide consumers with choices about the food they consume.