Friday, December 19, 2014

New York Bans Fracking Over Health Concerns

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This week New York Governor, Mario Cuomo, announced a ban on fracking in New York.  I have reviewed several issues associated with fracking herehere and here..  As a geologist, I see the benefits of the technique in extracting oil and natural gas.  However, as an environmentalists, I've been concerned over the use of cancer-causing chemicals in the fracking process.  My concern all along is that the companies are not revealing the composition of the fracking fluids.  They wanted the public to trust that what they were doing was safe.

In environmental decisions, I always go back to the basics of the precautionary principle which means that one does not move forward on an action until it is clear that the action has minimal long-term impacts on the environment or public health.

In announcing the decision, the Governor referred to broad concerns over public health.  I think the reason he stated is right on the money.  We just do not know that much about what these chemicals can do over the long-term.  We also do not know what chemicals are being used.

I am not against fracking across the board.  However, I am against fracking when we do not know what chemicals are being pumped into the ground.  I think that the oil and gas industry has an obligation to disclose the chemicals that are being pumped into our underground commons so that we can evaluate whether or not they are safe for future generations.  In my mind, the decision on fracking is an easy one under the present industrial climate of no disclosure.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The 12 Green Days of Christmas

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Now that we are close to Christmas I thought I would come up with a revised 12 Days of Christmas song,one of the most irritating and ear-worm generating holiday songs.  This time, I'm making it green.  Sing along.  I know you want to!  This post was inspired by On the Brink Contributor Christa Farmer who sang a geologic 12 Days of Christmas song at our Department holiday party.

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me, a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me, two knitted gloves and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the fourth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the seventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the eight day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the ninth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the tenth day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 10 organic farms for reaping, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the eleventh day of Christmas my true love gave to me, 11 windmills spinning, 10 organic farms for reaping, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

On the twelfth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 12 hipsters drumming, 11 windmills spinning, 10 organic farms for reaping, 9 solar farms for financing, 8 paths for walking, 7 lightbulbs dimming, 6 brownfields for surveying, 5 Facebook pings, 4 bags of cheese curds, three green ballpoint pens, two knitted gloves, and a full membership to the Sierra Club.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Francisco Toro's Take on GMO Crops in Africa

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Francisco Toro, writing on his blog The Campaign for Boring Development, highlights one of the stronger pro-GMO arguments used by those who see GMO crops as part of a pro-sustainability future.

The basic argument is this.  Small farmers in Africa need to use fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides to maintain productive yields.  However, these materials are expensive and cause pollution. 

Toro notes that using GMO crops significantly reduces pollution potential.  Keeping GMO crops away from farmers in Africa limits their development opportunities.  He makes a point in his article that those buying GMO-free crops are also committing to 18.3% more pesticides and 14.9% more carbon emissions.

While I remain committed to trying to advance organic agriculture whenever and wherever possible, I think Toro's points are worth reading and he makes one of the more lucid cases in favor of GMO crops from a sustainability and development lens.  I think that one of the most important points he makes is that there are tradeoffs to not using GMO's that are not all that great for the environment. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Top 10 Reasons to Buy My Sinkhole Book for a Holiday Present

I just saw that my sinkhole book is part of the University Press of Florida's holiday sale (more about that in a bit), so I thought I would come up with the top 10 reasons why folks should buy the book!
 
1.  There's a hidden treasure map in the book written in invisible ink.  Can you find which page?

2.  The cover photo (right) will scare the @#$% out of you.  Yes that's a helicopter and yes that's a Florida sinkhole.

3.  The sinkhole under your home needs an education so it doesn't become part of the broader economic collapse.

4.  Doline and Uvala are not just names of southern women. They are also solution features.

5.  The book is one of the best books ever written on Florida sinkholes.  Of course, it is the only book ever written on Florida sinkholes.

6.  It's like a book about caves, but inside out.

7.  Sinkholes are the antidote to depression.

8.  You'll find out the answer to the age-old question:  If a sinkhole collapses in the woods, and no one is there to hear it collapse, does it make any noise?

9.  Sinkholes:  Real Landforms for Real People.

10.  It is written in iambic pentameter.

Actually, the main reason to by the book is that it is marked down from $50.00 to $34.00 using access code XM14.  Click here to buy direct from the University Press of Florida.

Human Rights Day

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Today is Human Rights Day.  It seems appropriate that today there is widespread discussion about the Senate Report titled, Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency's Detention and Interrogation Program.

While much in the report is disturbing, I was not surprised by the content since much of the information was leaked earlier.  What is positive about the report is that it was released at all.  While some involved with national security may disagree with me about its release, I believe we have a responsibility as citizens to hold our elected officials responsible when they break the law.  It is clear from the report that laws were broken and the human rights of detainees were violated.  Releasing the report allows us to learn from these past mistakes and hold our government employees responsible for violating laws.

Take a look at the Universal Declaration of Human Rights that was adopted by the U.N. after the atrocities of World War II.  No matter where one is in the world there are examples of human rights abuses that must be addressed.  All societies have to consider whether or not enough is being done.  Whether it is modern-day slavery in Africa or political persecution in Venezuela, there are examples of human rights abuses in most countries of the world.

We have to consistently strive to shed light on these abuses to avoid past mistakes.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Smart Lights to Transform Our Suburban Future

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Check out this article from the New York Times on emerging smart technology related to urban and suburban lighting.

Lighting of public space is one of the big energy costs for cities.  The article highlights ways that smart technologies are transforming the lit urban landscape.  Of course switching to low-energy LED lighting is occurring all over the planet and is resulting in tremendous energy
savings.  However, the use of lights in suburban roads just when needed creates a darker more natural world.

Smart technologies are also transforming traffic signaling.  When connected to automobile and truck sensors, they can calculate how best to manage traffic with minimal stops.  They can also communicate back to cars and trucks when the signal will change so speed can be regulated to save on gas.  These technologies have the potential to save millions of gallons of gas in the next decade or two as the smart technology advances across the urban and suburban landscape.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Fracking Chemicals and Health

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There is a new article out in the Reviews of Environmental Health on the impact of fracking chemicals on human health.  You can check it out here.  Thanks to Huffingtonpost Green for highlighting the article.  

As most know, hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is used to release gas and oil from small pores in rocks, most notably shale. To frack, wells are drilled into the rocks and fluids, called fracking fluids, are forced into the rock to break it apart.  The composition of fracking fluids varies considerably, but can contain a variety of chemicals.  As the paper points out, some of the chemicals are hazardous to human health.  

Importantly, in most cases, companies do not reveal the composition of their fracking fluids to the public.

I don't think there would be serious opposition from the environmental community if fracking involved pumping water into the ground to break apart the rocks.  However, the chemicals used in fracking are potentially harmful.  Plus, energy companies work hard to ensure that the composition of fracking fluids are not disclosed to the public.  Indeed, they are working to make it illegal to disclose the composition of fracking fluids to the public.

In my mind, the issue of whether to be pro or anti fracking is one of disclosure.

If a company is working hard to keep the composition of chemicals they pump into the ground secret from the public, I worry.  If they are as safe as they say they are, what is the harm of letting the public know what is in them?

Failure to disclose the release of potentially harmful chemicals into the environment by industry always makes me nervous.  It is also one of the primary reasons there is so much activism against fracking in the U.S.