Friday, August 31, 2018

Environmental Letters

I found this image while browsing for something to represent the idea of environmental regulations from the point of view of what the regs are meant to protect. It is from a short video in which the Canadian NGO West Coast Environmental Law makes a strong case for citizen participation in the details of environmental protection. 
Environmental Planning
Tom Daniels
Since I was hired to teach environmental geography in 1997, I have taught Environmental Regulations about once every alternate year. It had an even wonkier title when I first arrived, but the simple title to which I changed it reflects the applied (as opposed to theoretical) approach I take in the course.

More than anything else I teach, this course provides students with skills and knowledge that have direct workforce application. It is the course that draws most directly on my non-academic work in geography -- a single year between graduate programs in which I worked for what was then the world's largest civil and environmental engineering firm: Dames & Moore.

Combined with environmental courses in geography and other disciplines, this course helps all students who take it better understand how humans interact with the environment through the nitty-gritty of policy implementation. Some find related employment -- perhaps after some graduate study -- in government agencies or consulting firms. Incidentally, I would love to have more students from our business school take this course, since many firms now integrate environmental compliance into mission-centered positions such as inventory control.

One of those alumni helped me to find a new text for the course, as the one I had been using was becoming both dated and quite expensive (out-of-date textbooks gain value in warehouses faster than most financial instruments). The massive volume by Tom Daniels includes some land-management concepts that I cover in a different course, but most of it is relevant to the scope of this course, which has been the regulations that flow from major federal environmental-protection laws regarding hazardous waste and pollution.

At the beginning of the book is a lengthy -- but by no means exhaustive -- list of acronyms related to environmental planning and protection. These include such favorites as CERCLA, the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act -- better known as Superfund. I sometimes spell it $uperfund, because the mistakes of the past are VERY costly.

The acronyms are many because both the science and the legalities are complicated. This is not because bureaucrats enjoy complexity, but rather because every simple law to curtail pollution will be met with resistance that requires increasingly sophisticated methods to close potential loopholes. The so-called free market and common decency are not enough to make or keep the environment clean.

Enter JetPunk, a great example of how the business of naming companies has changed since the days of brick-and-mortar businesses. Company names related to those of the company's founding owners, its geographic location, or -- heaven forfend -- its actual product or service. Rather, it is trendy -- and a cheap way to signal one's trendiness -- to name a company by mashing together two unrelated words, such as "punk" and "jet."

I first became aware of JetPunk close to a decade ago, when a friend asked me to recommend online geography games for his kids. I enjoy the JetPunk map quizzes and use them with my own students. In fact, they figure prominently in the syllabus of the Advanced Global Thinking course I will begin offering next year. It seemed the perfect vehicle to help my enviro-regs students begin to learn some important acronyms, so I set about making a quiz for that purpose. I soon realized that there are A LOT of acronyms to learn, so I divided them thematically into three quizzes:

These overlap a bit, but serve to give my students -- and other interested learners -- manageable learning objects.

Lagniappe: The Context

This is the first time I have taught the course since the 2016 election, which has led to systematic efforts to dismantle environmental protections of all kinds at the Federal level. For this reason, I am grateful that the Daniels text is organized in a way that includes Federal programs but also details the work of state and local government as well as citizen-led organizations. All were important before, as the Federal programs have been far from perfectly effective, but are even more so in the coming months and years.

Even as I prepared these quizzes, several important reminders were making headlines. These relate to failures to protect the environment and public health even before 2016. In Michigan, a health official faces jail time over the failure to provide for clean water in Flint -- even as thousands of residents remain at risk. In Florida, failure to control nonpoint source pollutants has caused or enhanced dangerous blooms of both red tide and blue-green algae.

Looking at the environment more broadly, a recent report reminds us that in many parts of the world, environmental activism can be fatal. More optimistically, though, journalist Timothy Egan argues that broad attacks on longstanding environmental protections are likely to lead to a "Green Wave" in the November 2018 election. If so, my students will be well-positioned to help rebuild a fractured environmental infrastructure.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Nicaragua Update and Parallels

Journalist Carrie Kahn reports on legal measures that Nicaragua's increasingly authoritarian president has recently implemented to restrict dissent. In the guise of fighting terrorism, new laws appear to make free expression and free assembly even more difficult.

Ortega signals a willingness to continue ignoring human-rights organizations, the international community, the Catholic Church and to embolden a violent minority of Nicaraguans to commit atrocities in support of his regime.

For more details of how such a beautiful country arrived at such a terrible impasse so quickly, please see my #SOSnicaragua (May) and Nicaragua's Kent State (July) posts, as well as journalist Jon Lee Anderson's Fake News article, appearing in the current issue of the New Yorker. He describes Ortega's application of lessons learned from autocrates abroad.


Just as Ortega is intensifying his attacks on dissidence by branding protestors as terrorists, parallel strategies are emerging in the United States. While largely ignoring frequently violent white supremacists and allied fascist organizations, U.S. security forces are labeling their "antifa" opponents as terrorists.

It seems ludicrous to suggest that the United States could fall into a vortex such as the one that has engulfed Nicaragua, but the U.S. government is not currently signaling any contrary intent.

BBC Great Lakes

Just yesterday,  I learned about a special service of the BBC, known as BBC Great Lakes. It was established in 1994 by BBC journalists seeking to help reunite families in the aftermath of the genocide in Rwanda. It continues to broadcast in the Kinyarwanda and Kirundi languages. Its online presence includes the newsy BBC Gahuza page,  as well as social media channels.

Perhaps not surprisingly, it was from PRI's The World that I learned about this news service, in a piece entitled Memories of growing up in Bujumbura, in which producer Robert Misigaro reflects on the importance of a youth center in his home city, the capital of Burundi and shares music from that city.


The Great Lakes region of Africa is not merely a BBC construction; the term is sometimes used narrowly to refer to the are bordering Lakes Victoria and Lake Tanganyika.
Map source: ACCORD
More broadly, it refers to the 12 member countries of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region, which was established by the United Nations Security Council in 2000, as the international community formally recognized the importance of cooperation on the many cross-border conflicts in this part of Africa. Scholar Patrick Kanyangara examines the background and current dynamics in his 2016 article Conflict in the Great Lakes Region.

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Azorean Tea

Tea gardens of Cha Gorreana -- Photo: Kaizr
I teach several courses each year on coffee, but some while ago I offered a one-credit honors colloquium on tea -- more specifically on tea and climate change. I intended to do this just once, but we learned that it was a popular topic, so I have continued to offer it each semester. It has been a great way for me to keep meeting new honors students, whose curiosity and willingness to take intellectual risks is always invigorating.

The Azores are part of
It has also been a way for me to keep learning about tea, which remains a distant third behind coffee and chocolate in terms of my direct experience. Part of that learning came from the honors program itself, whose key staff person was an accomplished tea collector and hobbyist who would visit our class a couple of times each semester. She is still a consummate tea maven, but has recently moved on to another university.

As a sort of parting gift, she shared the article The Tea Capital of Europe Isn’t Where You Think It Is, recently published in the AFAR travel journal. I knew the answer right away because of her classroom visits -- which included first-hand accounts -- and samples -- from her visits to Azorean tea gardens. But from the article, I learned much more about the origins of tea in the archipelago.

The story reminds me of Sri Lanka -- in both cases, islands facing a blight on a major crop turned to tea.

I will eventually visit Chá Gorreana because of one of my hobbies -- rowing and sailing Azorean whaleboats. Maybe that's two hobbies...

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Hothouse Earth

Hearing this interview on my local NPR station today reminded me of The One Who Got Away ... the academic version.

When I was at University of Arizona during the early days of climate-change, Dr. Diana Liverman was a guest speaker a few times. I also met her -- and more importantly her graduate students -- at conferences. I almost transferred to Penn State, where she was on the faculty, even though PhD students do not really do that.

It did not work out, and she ended up coming to Arizona, too late for me to have a decent advisor, though I eventually wiggled my way through.

Hearing her cogent discussion on the radio took me way back, but I have no regrets -- I love what I do now and work with her would have kept me in the R-1 orbit.

Like many geographers, she is deeply worried but not yet resigned -- we could not continue to teach if we did not retain at least some hope. And like many geographers, her work is deeply interdisciplinary. The interview draws on a recent report -- Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene -- that she published with a global team of scientists from many disciplines.
I will be sharing this with many of my students, including those in my Environmental Regulations class this fall. In addition to her insights on the physical science, she mentions something that I will be stressing all semester: the U.S. Federal government is an important environmental actor, but it is not the only one. While it is abdicating its environmental responsibilities, other nations and our own state and local governments -- as well as individuals and private corporations -- must and will fill the void.

Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Nicaragua: Agualí

Over the weekend, New York Times journalist Kirk Semple and photojournalist Daniele Volpe provide a comprehensive update on the dire condition of Nicaragua. For those of us who love Nicaragua -- meaning anybody who has visited -- the title is heart-breaking, because it summarizes a dire condition that we could not have imagined six months ago: ‘There’s No Law’: Political Crisis Sends Nicaraguans Fleeing. (See my July 27 Nicaragua's Kent State post for a bit more about recent developments.)
Semple details the losses in the tourism industry that have resulted from
the government's lawless response to protests since April.
Photographer Volpe captures one of my very favorite places in this photo --
the usually bustling main square of Granada, now idle.
The NYT article hints at a question I have had since the very beginning. The second political life of the FSLN has relied on a strange combination of revolutionary rhetoric and nostalgia on the one hand (left) and alliance with ruthless economic elites on the other (right). Both are suffering in this crisis; I am especially surprised that the economic elites have not reigned in the president.

What to Do

From the United States, there is little that we can do, other than support international diplomatic efforts and the recent bipartisan Congressional Resolution 981. Given the sordid history of U.S. intervention, it is not productive to go further than this; we must leave it to the people of Nicaragua and diplomats in the region to bring about a political solution.

Meanwhile, we can provide moral support and material aid, which we have begun to do.

As of this writing, we are a few dollars away from wrapping up a fundraiser for emergency relief in several communities in Nicaragua. We -- a team from Bridgewater State University in Massachusetts and Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia -- raised $1,500 in just over a week, which our close contacts in Matagalpa and Managua will use to provide food and medical supplies. This follows $3,000 raised in previous fundraisers by Bridgewater State alumni.

We are not done, though: we will soon be joining with friends in Nicaragua to launch an even bigger fundraiser, one that will have a longer-term impact. A team from Matagalpa Tours -- which has organized travel for me and more than 100 BSU students and faculty since 2009 -- has proposed an expansion of its non-profit Agualí program.

Details and an opportunity to donate will be added to this post in coming days.

Saturday, August 04, 2018

Nameless City

Sometimes a large city can give a person a feeling of profound anonymity. I felt it the first time I flew over São Paulo -- among the millions there, I envisioned myself as nameless. But what if the city itself had no name?

That is exactly what the new urban place at 30°01'48"N 31°46'48"E is: a nameless city.
I will be interesting to compare this July 2018 screenshot with the imagery of Egypt's new capital as it continues to be built out.

Even now it is a bit difficult to see what is emerging in the Saharan sands some 30 miles to the east of Cairo (and not to be confused with New Cairo City, about halfway between the two).

Journalist Jane Arraf told the story of Egypt's new capital, as officials decide that relief from congestion and pollution in centuries-old Cairo cannot be provided otherwise. Wikipedia simply calls the emerging city Proposed new capital of Egypt in its description of the details of its establishment.

Unlike the original Cairo -- whose origins are in the murky recesses of time -- this ex nihilo city was not even a proposal until 2015, deep in the social-media age. So it will the best-documented national capital ever, with both scholars and selfie-sticks capturing its every achievement and growing pain. It will be interesting to compare this master-planned capital with others, such as my home town of Washington, D.C. and the swimming-pool mecca of Brasília.


I have not yet seen any indication of how the name of the new city will be selected, but a fellow geography professor has already suggested what is obviously the best choice: Triangle McTriangleface.

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