Thursday, November 29, 2012

Are Playgrounds Too Safe? A cure for the overprotective parent

In a recent interview on on Q Radio (Toronto), the host and interviewees began discussing the roles of playgrounds around the world, the differing styles of playgrounds, etc. Now, I must admit originally I almost changed the station but as one interested in urban parks and green spaces, and with a background in recreation, I stuck around. I highly suggest you listed to the interview, which can be found here: Are Playgrounds Too Safe?
    Harry Harbottle, of the German playground manufacturer Richter Spielgeräte presents an interesting case about the present state of playgrounds and child safety. Around the world, we are making our playgrounds too safe and they are not spurring the challenge and creativity that our children need...mainly due to the fact that we are so afraid the children are going to get hurt. What are many parents solution to this? We stick them in front of a screen where no harm can become least harm that we can see on the outside.
    For those who may not understand parks and playgrounds, the following picture will illustrate just a little about what Richter Spielgeräte does. These are not your normal play structures, but ones that are made to challenge a child. Looks daunting, yes, but as Harbottle points out adults are more prone to injuries in a playground than children. Children know their own limits and boundaries, while adults seem to forget them in their old age.
   We need to create a culture where children can explore and grow. I spent my childhood running around my parent's 20 acre wooded lot surrounded by farms. I came in when it was dark and sometimes even after. I built forts, build campfires, played in the mud, and climbed trees. I feel, I broke bones, I got scraped...but here I am today a 26 year old healthy individual with a love and passion for the outdoors and a passion for the outdoors and getting away from the screen. Yes, screens (iPads, computers, etc.) are a necessary part of life anymore in our society, but time needs to be limited on them.
   At one point in this interview, they play a pre-recorded phone call from the Director of the National Program for Playground Safety, who openly says that those making playgrounds more challenging and difficult should be charged with physical abuse to a child. I was outraged! Kids are supposed to get hurt, yet we live in a society where we have coddled them so much that they no longer can stand on their own two feet and are afraid to get a little dirty and a little messy. Harbottle rebutted by saying that they do not want kids to get hurt at all, but they plan for "serious bodily harm," which constitutes permanent damage. I agree with this. I know, call me crazy, but don't scars, bruises, and bumps shape us? Don't we learn lessons from the pains of our past?
    The answer is not in keeping your kids indoors or creating a sterile, safe environment. I just read an article in Outside Magazine called "Free Medicine: the therapeutic benefits of playing outside." Let me outline a few of the benefits there are to spending uninterrupted, non-screen time in nature:

  • "When you're relaxing in nature, your adrenal cortex produces less of the hormone cortisol, which activates the body's stress response. Prolonged periods of stress can also shrink the hippocampus, which is where we form and store memories. By contrast, less stress enhances neuro-plasticity, the brain's ability to form new connections."
  • "Sunlight exposure boosts production of white blood cells, which help the body combat disease. Sunlight also increases the number of red blood cells, thereby increasing your blood's oxygen-carrying capacity and improving muscular endurance."
  • "When sunlight hits your eyes, your optic nerve directs your brain's pineal gland to decrease production of melatonin, the hormone the regulates circadian rhythms-- our wake-sleep cycles-- and boost serotonin, a neurotransmitter associated with mood and appetite."
    These are just a few of the benefits of spending time outdoors and these are benefits we can give to our children early in life, when their bodies still are developing and adjusting to the world around them. We can set them on a healthy track for the rest of their lives (hopefully). By immersing your kids in nature, they will grow up appreciating the world around them, feel less stressed, more productive, more focused, witness less cases of obesity and diabetes, and have better relations with people around them. As parents, getting our kids in nature gets us in nature. 
    We, even as adults, can experience these benefits and they are lasting! Even a one-day trip to a suburban park has been shown to boost cancer-fighting proteins for 7 days. That's once a week, getting away from the TV and the screen, and even just to a city park. I believe we can all do that. 
    There are immense psychological and physical benefits to getting our children (and ourselves) outside. Not only do they develop the ability to think, solve challenges, and be creative, but it is physically better for their health. As parents and adults, we coddle our children into this safe world, where they do not get dirty and do not get hurt but it is to their detriment. We need to live in a world where we are not afraid to let our children play outside, play baseball in the yard, run rampant until the streetlights come on, and explore the world around them. There is value and power in exploration.

As always, if you have thoughts or comments, please Email Me.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Plight of the American Food System

The following blog post is a reaction paper I submitted in class based upon an article looking at how governments use food scarcity to control their constituents. The article can be found at the following reference:

Nally, D. (2011). The biopolitics of food provisioning. Transactions Of The Institute Of British Geographers36(1), 37-53. doi:10.1111/j.1475-5661.2010.00413.x


            David Nally presents a very interesting viewpoint in his article, “The Biopolitics of Food Provisioning.” I believe it is an argument that we see throughout the world today, as prices on “healthy, local” foods go up and those of fast food chains continue to plummet. We live in an age where you can buy two hamburgers, a large French-Fry, and a large soda for the same price it costs to get a head of broccoli. The problem is an underlying social problem, really. I believe that many of the citizens of the United States believe food should be cheap and that they are ultimately entitled to three meals a day, although we all know this is not the way that the world works. Additionally, and we can consider this throwing in a critical feminist argument, as more women have entered the work place, we have lost the “home makers” who prepared a full dinner for the family when they returned home from school and work. I am not arguing that women in the workplace is a bad thing, or even that a woman’s place is in the home, but merely suggesting that as humans our lives have become so busy, and technology has not helped but exacerbated this problem, to where we no longer can sit and enjoy a meal together. We eat on the road, stopping at a drive-thru, and getting cheap beef produced in Concentrated Animal FeedingOperations (CAFO).
            To preface my argument, I will say that my master’s background is in Sustainable Systems, working a lot with sustainable and organic agriculture. I grew up on a small farm in western Pennsylvania, studied agriculture initially at Penn State, and my fiancée’s parents are sustainable and organic farmers in central Ohio. I have an interest in agriculture and Nally presents points of passion for me when he talks negatively of Cargill and Monsanto. The commercialization of agriculture has led to the demise of the small-time farmer. These two companies are the bullies of the agriculture industry, as can be seen in the recent election where Proposition 37 in California to label Genetically Modified Organism (GMO) was knocked down. As Dr. Emariana Taylor put it on the social media site, Facebook, ‘this shows the power of Monsanto more than the voice of the people,” (Taylor, 2012). Books such as Michael Pollan’s “The Omnivore’s Dilemma,” and movies such as “Food, Inc.,” “Our Daily Bread,” and “Frankensteer” are replete with images that depict the horrors of our current food system (Pollan, 2006) (Robert Kenner, 2008) (Nikolaus, 2009) (Remerowski, 2006).
            Nally further ties into this argument with his discussion of Foucaultian biopower, which I took to mean a government’s control of biological factors (agriculture, natural resources, and similar commodities) to exhibit power over its constituents. The United States government and a handful of large agro-industrial companies, with Cargill and Monsanto being to two main culprits, largely control today’s agriculture system. Farmers, according to Nally, have become the new proletariat class and these large companies are the bourgeoisie, essentially enslaving the individual farmer. It is capitalism played out in a large scale over the whole world, as the global north (also a bourgeois class) seemingly takes advantage of the global south (proletariat). A traditional Marxist viewpoint, according to Noel Castree, would examine these labor relations and find solutions to benefit all and advance the status of the American farmer, as this industrial agriculture system seeks to destroy traditional ways of life. Additionally, small time farmers are being forced to pay higher prices for Monsanto and Cargill seed, which are genetically modified to not reproduce ensuring these farmers will re-buy seed yearly. Lastly, the United States government has heavily subsidized the production of corn and soybeans, leading to an agriculture monoculture (Pollan, 2006). Animals (beef, chickens, and even salmon) are fed this corn so that a bigger return is seen from people who eat these products. Whereas we would not pay a lot for corn, we would pay a lot for these animal’s meat that has been fed largely on corn. Plus, the time from birth to production is decreased as animals are “fattened up” on cheap corn over the span of months to a point that normally took a year or more to reach.
            This is an area I am fascinated by and ultimately disgusts me. The one quote I always repeat is this, “Small scale farmers and teachers should be the highest government subsidized positions.” There is merely not enough time to dive into these issues in a two-page reaction paper, but I highly recommend the following pieces of media in the Works Cited section.

Works Cited

Nikolaus, G. (Writer), & Nikolaus, G. (Director). (2009). Our Daily Bread [Motion Picture].

Pollan, M. (2006). The Omnivore's Dilemma. New York, NY, USA: Penguin Press.

Remerowski, T. (Writer), & Marrin Cannell, T. R. (Director). (2006). Frankensteer [Motion Picture].

Robert Kenner, E. P. (Writer), & Kenner, R. (Director). (2008). Food, Inc. [Motion Picture]. United States.

Taylor, E. (2012, November 7). Facebook Post. Kent, OH, USA.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Urban Environment

As many know, I have been thrust into the midst of my doctoral studies at Kent State University. It has been interesting to see that vast amounts of research and resources the university has, as well as how my own personal research interests tie into the current work being produced. I have spent the past few weeks meeting with sustainability coordinators, conversing with city planners, and talking with colleagues from my Masters program at Slippery Rock as I begin to look at urban planning, specifically the re-use and redevelopment of vacant land sites in Cleveland and Akron. It has been amazing to see and the purpose of this post is to highlight some of the issues and problems I have seen arise.  If you're from Northeast Ohio, you might find some of these statistics interesting.

Another recent article from the University of Washington (Tight Squeeze) discusses how dense urban areas may actually be better for wildlife biodiversity than suburban sprawl, yet cuts down on people's interactions with nature and the outdoors. A truly interesting dichotomy.

The following information comes from a recent article in The Cleveland Plains Dealer and email correspondence with the City of Cleveland Planning Commission.

  • Cleveland currently has 8,500 houses ready to be demolished, with that number expected to rise to 13,500 houses over the next 5 years
  • Including those current houses, Cleveland has an estimated 20,000 vacant lots/properties in the city
  • It will take an estimated $4.5 billion over 22 years to demolish all of the houses that need razed
  • Cleveland is currently interested in the redevelopment of those lots into Urban Gardens/Agriculture, renewable energy development (solar and wind), and wastewater/stormwater management, as well as similar environmental services
The following information comes from a phone interview with a colleague at the Youngstown Neighborhood Development Corporation.

  • Youngstown currently has 23,000 vacant lots
  • At an average of .16 acre/lot, there is an estimated total of 3,680 acres of vacant property
    • Youngstown has 21,696 acres of land in the city, so almost 17% of their land is vacant
  • Of these properties, there are approximately 6,000 vacant structures (mixture of both commercial and residential)
  • Much like Cleveland, Youngstown is interested in urban gardens and agriculture, Side Yard projects (where a neighboring land owner can buy a vacant lot for around $200), and creating public use spaces such as parks. 
It has been interesting to see how cities are viewing and attempting to re-use their land resources and there are plenty of "players in the game," especially in Cleveland. A simple graphic I drew up shows just how many parties are invested in these issues in Cleveland:

After speaking with the City of Cleveland, I have been told that each organization has a plan and all the plans should be considered as "in action." Seems like an awful lot of corporations and organizations, who ultimately could pull their resources and work together to solve this issue. "Great minds think alike" and "Two heads are better than one" come to mind. Collaboration, collaboration, collaboration. If we are to look towards a sustainable future for Cleveland, or any major or micro urban center, we need to see different parties (government, non-profit, for-profit, educational institutions, and individuals) working together for the "common good."

According to my source in Youngstown, they're really the only player in the game there, so they can work closely with the planning office. The same seems to be for Youngstown, where there is a main non-profit group working with the city. This could be the answer or maybe having 10 different organizations really is the key.

Only time will tell, but it has been interesting to look at nonetheless

Monday, September 24, 2012

The "Terra Incognitae" of Scale

The following blog is a reaction paper I recently wrote for my Geographic Thought class, but as I am interested in the social and human interactions with the environment, I thought it best to share. I have tried to include links to some of the names and works you may not know.
       With the wealth of knowledge available to us today, including thousands of years of human exploration of the planet, satellite images to fine resolutions of some of the most remote areas, and the availability of a wide-array of information on the internet, the idea of Terra Incognitae seems to note exist. This is merely at first glance, though, as John K. Wright argues, “if we look close enough…the entire earth appears as an immense patchwork of miniature terra incognitae.” Our world has been explored, dissected, explained, and re-explained; yet Wright argues that to the finest scales there are still miniature-unexplored areas in our own back yard. Yes, it is true that when viewed from space there are not many unexplored areas of our world and human settlements have spread out from the initial occupation of Mesopotamia’s Fertile Crescent to dot the landscapes around the globe, but I must agree with Wright’s examination that there are still areas yet to be explored…even if in our own backyards.
            Yi-FuTuan presents another compelling argument to support Wright’s observations as he discusses our sense of place and what constitutes a “place.” He describes place as the “center of meaning constructed by experience,” and that “to know a place full means both to understand it in an abstract way and to know it as one person knows another.” The idea of place is all around us…different areas hold different meanings for nations, cultures, all the way down to the tiniest infant. To a newborn baby, their mother’s arms and their cribs are one of the most important places that exist. Their worldview is so much smaller, yet they know the cradle of her elbows better than anyone else. This is the place that they feel safe, a place that has meaning and can define who they are. In Tuan’s words, this is Home, or a “nurturing shelter.” We see places, unexplored in our own worlds, all around us. While it may seem that we know what is over the next ridge top or around the bend in the highway, we never really can grasp it as place is constantly changing. While we believe that we can quantify all the qualities that describe a place, D.W. Meinig, in their work “Geography as an Art,” counters (and correctly so) that we cannot accurately describe place in a quantifiable way, but we need to look towards to arts to best describe these places. How does science quantify the look and smell of a place but by assigning it to a number, which can be analyzed, while to an individual these convey entirely different meanings and bring about different reactions. We are reminded of Carl Sauer’s call to go “beyond science” and towards a descriptive, qualitative, sense of place.
            As geographers, we tend to write to other geographers and, in this, we lose the meaning of an area. The best descriptions of these terra incognitae can be viewed in the realm of literature. Just because Thoreau described Walden Pond vividly does not mean it is not unknown to us. While we have an image of what New England may look like in the fall, ultimately it does not (in my opinion) become a place until we have experienced it for ourselves, until we have explored the world around us and developed our own meanings and feelings towards the plants, animals, sights, smells, tastes, and feel of each individual square foot of a place. Place cannot be quantified, but only explained in a descriptive manner in an attempt to convey our own meaning, hoping to instill a desire for our listener/reader to visit and form their own sense of place. Each place is different for each person. As a twin, my mother’s arms were a completely different experience to me than they were for my twin, even though we regularly experienced them in the same temporal construct.
            In my mind, it is a simple call (at least for the human branch of geography) to turn from a quantitative style back to our qualitative roots. We need to be able to accurately describe an area and instill a desire to visit before we can begin to qualify and “solve” the issues we believe the area to be facing. Place is unique, place is different, and each place reacts to the same stimuli in different ways. For example, my current research interests are looking at the sociopolitical and human impacts from Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, specifically examining agriculture farmsteads. Each community, each farm, and each individual member of the farm family will react to this industry in different ways. It is my hypothesis that this industry has altered the original “sense of place” of the family farm and, in some cases, erased a sense of place. A farm that has been in the family for a century, yet is now riddled with the well-pads, roads, and other drilling infrastructure, may not hold the same intrinsic value to a family (or individual in that family) that it used to. It may have lost its status as a meaningful place to now be viewed as a negative place (such as we would a jail and similar places).
            It was interesting to note Tuan consider the family farmstead in his analysis of “place.”  In his words, “farmsteads are places, centers of meaning to those who live in them. “He states that, “sparsely settled farmlands are somehow more meaningful that cities, and wilderness areas ore meaningful than farmlands.” We fight “place,” a sense of meaning” from these rural areas. He goes so far as to state that, “to people of urban backgrounds, farms…are aesthetic and religious objects.” More commonly, cities hold meaning because of the amount of occupiers, but farms (and even the intrinsic value and ideals placed on these farms from those who may never visit them) hold immense value as well to those who consider a rural existence their lifestyle. Will I ever visit every farm in the state? No. Will I climb every mountaintop in Colorado to examine the splendor of our planet? No. There is, however, the intrinsic value of knowing these places exist, that they are safe and protected, and that they provide a glimpse into “how life was meant to be.” This gets into a whole different argument of conservation lands and the intrinsic values behind them, but simply stated we can put a place value on locales we have never, nor may ever, step foot in.
            There are unexplored areas, terra incognitae, all around us. We can look in our own backyards, re-explore an area, and infer different meaning each time. Each of these areas, whether explored or not, can hold a place value in our society just by knowing they are there and through their continued existence. Sometimes the not knowing what is around the river bend can be more exciting than finding out and being disappointed. As a geographer, I love to explore and know what is out there, but sometimes also revel in the “not knowing.” Terra incognitae can have immense value and relief in sometimes not knowing the unexplored.

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Romanticism of the Small Farmer

Recently, I read Tamar Haspel's article in the Huffington Post, "Don't Romanticize Small Farmers---Some Are Jerks." This was a very interested take on the role of small and sustainable agriculture in our food system today. Granted, I should preface by saying that I will buy local and sustainable above large factory farms at all costs, but it's still interesting to note small farms from a social science standpoint. Books like Michael Pollan's "The Omnivore's Dilemma" and movies such as "Food, Inc." do a great job in bashing large scale farming, which I totally agree with, and romanticizing the small-scale farmer. Haspel presents an interesting view of the small-farmer and I feel they align with my own viewpoints to an extent.

Many small-scale farmers are law-abiding citizens, but as with any industry you will have those who "cook the books," tax evasion, animal cruelty, etc. Which brings an interesting thought to mind...why not eat food from the farmers we know. If you search hard enough through the contacts in your iPhone or the 1,300 friends on your Facebook, you're sure to find someone who in engaged in some sort of agriculture. Step out of line at your local grocery store and buy what you can from them. I frequent farmers markets, my girlfriends parents have a small farm with fresh dairy & produce, and my parents have a huge garden that produces a ton. So while not all of my food comes from sources I know, a lot of it does. At a farmers market, you have a chance to sit down and discuss with the farmer about their practices, their beliefs, etc. You can gain a great insight into where your food comes from and the hands that harvested it, instead of the label at your local Giant Eagle that says "Produced Locally." As a geographer, I have to wonder what their scale of local is. I would say 25 miles or less from the store. What if their 25 miles is from their headquarters, not the individual store. See brings about a lot of other interesting questions.

Crazy, I agree, but in today's society we have become so detached from the land around us. I once read an article (which I cannot think of the name) where kids could not point out a carrot in front of them because it wasn't shaved and shaped like the baby carrots they get at school and did not understand how carrots and vegetables grow. It's sad, but as cities grow and small towns shrink, we begin to lose that connection with our food system and our natural world. Yes, it is unreasonable to think that every family could know where every bit of their food comes from, but isn't it worth exploring it a little more? Efforts such as The Slow Food Movement are trying to slow down how we get our food so that more people can gain an awareness of where their food comes from. Whether a nugget from McDonald's or a  freshly killed chicken from Joel Salatin's "Polyface Farm," it was once still a chicken that lived, was killed, and brought to your table. Why not change the way you eat it, know where it comes from, how it was processed (heck, even go to the farm and help process it), and learn about our food system.

So, I can agree with Haspel's argument that we don't know the source of food from all local farms, but I can pretty much generalize that all factory-farms are not going to have the care you'll find at a small-scale farm. We need to support our local agriculture, learn about where our food comes from, learn about the systems that make up a farm and how they all interplay together, and witness a revival in the food system in America. Yes, even I am guilty of eating the occasional fast food when I'm on the go and, yes, my parents do own Subway sandwich restaurants in our small town, but on the whole we like to have an idea where a lot of our food comes from. We co-op with others and buy a whole cow's worth of meat from a neighborhood farm, get pork and other things from friend's farms, catch our own fish, grow our own vegetables, and (a favorite pastime of my brother and I) scour the woods of western Pennsylvania for wild Leeks (or Ramp, depending on where you're from). Again, I admit I don't always pick up a shovel and plant or play a key role in a lot of this at this point in my life, but I still like to be involved in the process and know where it all comes from. We need to support our local agriculture before we lose it. We need to be subsidizing small-scale farmers and decreasing the monoculture of corn or soybeans that we see developing across the Midwest, and we need to know where our food comes from.

As I always say, we are part of a river system. Everything comes from somewhere and when we are done with it, goes somewhere else and affects someone else. We are all upstream and downstream from everything else.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Protecting The Great Lakes

Today we have, what I consider to be, one of the biggest environmental strides that I have seen as of recent. The United States and Canada have re-devoted themselves to the continued protection of the Great Lakes resources, according to "Agreement To Protect Great Lakes Signed By Canada, U.S." of Bloomberg.
Map of the Great Lakes Basin

The Great Lakes Basin is one of the largest watersheds in our nation, affecting millions of people and holding roughly six quadrillion gallons of water . By affecting, I mean supplying fresh water, fish, recreation, shipping, and more. Those are the positives...but it can supply negative effects too if we are not careful. Polluted waters, invasive species, and other similar threats are growing throughout the Great Lakes Region. Anyone who has been near one of the lakes has surely seen signs about stopping aquatic invaders, such as the Zebra Mussel or Gobi. We are also threatened from within our own boundaries, as Southern cities and states, such as Atlanta, have been vying for water resources from the Great Lakes to combat the drought problems plaguing the country, according to The Daily Green.

Even if you don't live within the Great Lakes Basin yet live in one of the surrounding states, I can almost assure you that the Great Lakes have affected you in some way. For me, it was countless trips to Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA and fishing charters around the islands near Put-In-Bay, Ohio that helped instill a conservation ethic in me. Reading through this blog, you have probably read of a number of things that have instilled this ethic in me, and yes, it's true that it is hard to pinpoint. It is a collaboration of all of my time spent outdoors growing up...on the Great Lakes, skiing all over the country, traveling throughout the west and New England, exploring my own backyard, and hunting/fishing trips with my dad. So while I didn't live in the GL Basin (growing up in Pittsburgh), I was still affected by the lakes immensely. They're a source of pleasure, whether I use them daily or not. They have an intrinsic value, simplistically, they have value just because they exist. The plants, animals, microbes, and thousands of other moving parts make up a diverse and exciting ecosystem that I am proud to see will continue to be supported in the future by both the U.S. and Canada. It should be a great stride forward in protecting more international resources and will hopefully be an example to other nations about international conservation efforts. (It isn't the first time the U.S. and Canada have collaborated. See the Waterton Glacier International Peace Park in Montana, US and Alberta, CA).

As we move away from thinking within our boundaries and more towards ecosystem thinking, these international conservation treaties will become even more valuable to protecting the natural resources of our world. Remember, every river has an upstream and every river has a downstream. We all affect everyone else.

Let me know your thoughts by emailing me here!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The continued fracking debate...

Today, we got into it on Facebook about this video looking at the supposed health concerns caused by hydraulic fracturing in the Marcellus shale region. This post is merely to show the dialogue of this conversation (with people's names kept anonymous) and to spur a possible conversation. Please email me here to let me know your thoughts.

My original posting text in response to video: I saw this posted and I really can't believe it (I mean, I don't believe its claims one bit)...but more I can't believe people would believe any of the unscientific claims made in this video. Show us the scientific evidence that these claims of cancer were caused by hydraulic fracturing and then we have an argument. Otherwise, this video is completely falsified. What if I claimed that being in close proximity to the fracking fluids actually solved some sort of medical malady? According to this video, I don't even need a doctor to verify it and you have to believe it. I'm all for appealing to the heart of people...but this stretches it a little. It's the same sort of stuff Josh Fox claimed in Gasland which numerous non-profits and private firms have found to be false.

Commenter #1: Kind of like the guys' wife that Mitt killed Cory.. unbelievable how they come up with this crap!!

Commenter #2: mmm I'm going to disagree. There are 'unknown' chemicals likely carcinogens in fracking fluid. Livestock that are exposed to fracking water spills show illness and miscarriage. I doubt every health problem stated is caused by fracking but water isn't renewable.

Commenter #3 (who was also the original poster of the video on their page): Because flaming water is normal? Tested water contaminated with natural gas isn't scientific proof? Just coincidence that people and aminals are sick? Would you drink that water? Chemicals forced at 9000 PSI wouldn't disrupt our water tables? I guess common sense isn't common anymore..

Commenter #4: I believe that fracking is very dangerous Cory. You are welcome to your opinion but so am I. We can agree to disagree, I guess. ♥ (with link to this video that I haven't yet had time to watch)

My rebuttal comments: 
It's not a perfect system and I never would argue it is. Keep in mind, I come at these opinions from an educational background that is strictly against these methods...yet it was their lack of being able to accurately explain themselves tha
t led to me to actually look at "the dark side." There are going to be accidents, there are going to be spills, and yes...some water will get contaminated. The only way to develop a more environmentally sound method is through trial and error. As I say many times in my blog, The car wasn't perfect the first go around, but it got perfected over time. The other problem we have is the lack of viable alternatives. Without a solid natural gas supply, we will still be dependent on international imports of oil where prices are determined by speculators. Notice the prices go up 15 cents yesterday? Speculators were worried about Hurricane Isaac so cut our supply. I believe natural gas needs to be developed and taxed, with 100% of that tax going towards the develop of renewable and alternative forms of energy (mainly hydro, wind, solar, and geothermal)...but unfortunately the technology isn't there at this point to supply nearly any of the demand that we have. Gas will soon be at $8, $9, $10 dollars a gallon if we are not careful to develop alternatives. Yes, we need to develop alternative energies and I am 100% for a petroleum-based fuel free economy. I am for local foods, home grown goods, small town shops, do-it-yourself..sustainability (as Commenter #2 can attest to) but what is our alternative in the mean time?

I just believe there is propoganda on both side. There was Gasland and then the pro-drilling side released Truthland. There is this Woodlands story and I promise I could find a rebuttal video if I had a few minutes to look. My argument isn'
t necessarily for or against fracking..we are each entitled to our opinion....but more for the fact that this video presents no solid science, sources, etc. If a video can come out and support things with scientific fact...then I'll listen to it. Let's not also forget that, as a Christian, I am a steward of the environment and a steward of the resources God gave us.

But I guess I should preface all by saying that I completely am a fan of a well-rounded and educated argument and I know that at least the 3 of you who commented have most likely dived into the topic (I know Commenter #2 and Commenter #4 have for sure and
 Commenter #4, I can imagine living in Vermont there are a lot of resources up that way). Everyone is surely entitled to their own opinion. And this is actually a topic my dissertation may look at...human perceptions of natural gas drilling in the Appalachian region.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Climate Change Communications

It is interesting to note that in this present day, we are still weary of talking about a changing climate. With hundreds, if not thousands, of scientists devoting a lifetime of study to looking at how humans have impacted the natural world, you would think this would not be such a taboo subject. In a recent New York Times article, Zoos and Aquariums Struggle With Ways To Discuss Climate Change, we read that, while some zoos across the country are tackling such topics as human-induced climate change, many don't because of the backlash they feel they will receive from their customers and visitors.

We live in a day and age where natural lands and opportunities to connect with nature are being pushed to the wayside in exchange for ever-increasing access to large box stores, suburban environments, and replicas of the city life that has been so romanticized throughout film. With this, zoos, parks, and other public owned green spaces need to be at the forefront of the climate change movement. As I have seen through my research into state park sustainability, parks and zoos may be the only interaction that people ever have with nature and every opportunity needs to be taken to make sure that we, as scientists and enthusiasts, can impact the world in the biggest ways.

95% of scientists now agree that climate change is real and is caused by human influences, such as automobile emissions, agriculture, and more. Who are we to argue against this science because we do not want to put the blame on ourselves? Buy into the "Climate Gate Scandal" from a few years ago all you want, but the science is still out there. It is sad that zoos are afraid of what their customers will say, so they shy away from presenting these messages.

I spent the summer in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park as the Climate Change Intern and have recently started my Ph.D. in Geography at Kent State University. Do you honestly believe that, in a public-urban park such as Cuyahoga, I did not come across any climate change skeptics? I did...but I didn't back down. It's a matter of knowing your facts, understanding both sides of the issues, and being able to present a decent argument (although constantly doing it respectfully) about why climate change is real and what we can do about it. The science is there blaring in front of our faces, yet our public institutions are too scared to accurately present it.

Let's not be stupid. Besides, even if I'm wrong (which I don't think I am), does the thought of healthier air and water, safer neighborhoods, and healthier foods sound better? That's all we are arguing for in sustainability. Using our resources in a manner that our future generations can have them (or my caveat, have the resources or have the knowledge, skills, and abilities to develop viable alternatives). I do not shy away though from anything that may be seemingly controversial. If I did, you wouldn't see me in the field I am today.

It's time for a wake up call, a call to action, and a return to sound science where we can see that the climate is changing, we are to blame, and we are the solution. Don't forget, I'm a scientist, but first and foremost a man of God. We are called to be stewards of our environment and protect His creation.....and that starts with the atmosphere and our climate.

Monday, August 20, 2012

An Improving Atmospheric State?

United States CO2 emissions on the decline, but this does not account for phantom methane emissions from natural gas.

According to the Rachel Nuwer of the New York Times, annual atmospheric carbon emissions are lower than anytime during the previous two decades. It's an interesting face to note in this article that they attribute this to the rise in natural gas production and usage. Pennsylvania has played a key role in this growing industry over the past few years and it will be interesting to see what will happen with future carbon emissions as our natural gas consumption goes up and coal-based fuels go down. According to the article, natural gas now accounts for 30% of electricity and coal-based has fallen from 40% to 34% (industries such as solar and wind account for roughly 5%). Should we not see the writing on the wall that we do need to phase out coal-based electric production, phase in natural gas even more, and tax this industry at a reasonable level with that tax 100% going towards to research and development of renewable and alternative forms of energy?

In a recently blog post on natural gas flaring, I discuss what this article describes as "fugitive methane" or unexpected/unaccounted for emissions of methane from flaring and hydraulic fracturing (a.k.a. fracking). This is true that these emissions are not accounted for, so maybe Ms. Nuwer should account for these emissions if they are such as worry before making bold statements about the atmospheric state? Methane is, in fact, a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide so we should be worrying about these phantom emissions, but I am not sure (although this article does a good job at summarizing the different viewpoints and facts on this issue) of the validity of these fugitive claims. It is reported to be up to 72 times more potent over a 20 year time frame, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Click here to email me and let me know your thoughts on these issues.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Demise of the human condition

I am continually amazed and appalled at what I consider the stupidity of mankind and, what I feel is appropriately termed, the demise of the human condition. I spent the afternoon today at the Akron Zoo with my girlfriend, her sister, and her sister's two children. Now, I will preface by saying I am a huge fan of zoos! I am one of those people that will read every sign and soak in as much information as I can about all of the animals. I believe that zoos do a lot of good in preserving species, promoting conservation, and educating the public...which (hopefully) instills a conservation ethic in the visitors. I know it was many trips to the zoo as a child, and environmental education centers where I was in contact with wild animals, that contributed my my studies in the environmental and sustainability sciences. What I saw today, while possibly stupid to others, bothered me to no end because it is something I saw throughout the summer in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Let me begin with a simple picture:

This is not the trash bins that were at the zoo, although very similar. In fact, the bins at the zoo had compost (including pictures of what could and could not go in there), recycling (including the different recycling numbers), trash, and a few others. They were very descriptive and easy to see what was supposed to go where. They were even designed just for the zoo, so the pictures were zoo concessionaire specific products.

What I saw absolutely appalled me. First were children, approximately 12 years of age, coming up and throwing their recycling into the compost bin. Then came adults who were throwing their food waste into the recycling. The big kicker at the end was the teenager who came up and did her best to divide up her items, but her dad came up behind her and put everything (yes, including the non-disposable serving tray) into the recycling bin. We are living in an age of stupidity or total apathy where people just don't care. As long as it's not in their hands anymore, they don't care where their waste ends up. It would take approximately an extra 20 seconds out of your time (maximum!!) to correctly divide up your waste. 

Not only this, but as soon as we go out of the car in the parking lot I saw a woman just throw her trash on the ground and walk away. I almost picked it up and threw it back on her. It's laziness, stupidity, and an utter lack of responsibility.

In an day and age where we are constantly engrossed in the latest social media, YouTube videos, news,  drama, and more, we are moving at an ever faster pace that has caused us to lose touch with the world around us and think about the life-cycle of where our products end up. Those plastic bottles in the composting bin do not decompose, but will only destroy the  newly created soil and contaminate the plants that will use this product. It may not seem like compost items in the trash is a big deal, as it will end up in the landfill, but it is contributing to an ever growing epidemic of landfills across our nation. We have the opportunity to create a change in our nation and our world by being able to slow down. This encompasses not only where our food comes from (Slow Food International) but also where it will eventually end up. Waste is piling up on our roadways, in our parks, throughout our waterways and oceans, and in our atmosphere. Just because you may not see the biproduct of burning fossil fuels (although I am a proponent of natural gas drilling) does not mean it isn't waste. I am urging anyone who reads this to take a moment to think about the life-cycle of our food system. 

I highly recommend reading Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma, a wonderful book that describes the state of the food system in the United States. Other popular documentaries include:
I present these titles not as a means to go vegan or vegetarian, but as a way to show you that we need to be aware of the life-cycle of our choices. Where do the parts and materials that make up our cars and our computers come from and where do they go when we are done with them? Where do those plastic six-pack holders come from and where do they go (Yes, I cut mine even if I recycle them in case they end up somewhere they shouldn't so they don't hurt animals)?

It's a matter of being smart, slowing down, and stepping back to read the signs that point us to where to put our waste and also strive to educate us. If it's a food item, it can be composted. If it's plastic or metal, it can almost always be recycled. Pretty much everything we use can be recycled in some way, if you're willing to turn over the can or plastic bottle look where it goes. When you turn over a bottle, you'll most likely see something like the images below or some variation that will point you in the right direction:

Now, today's idiots didn't even need to look on the bottom as it was recycling numbers 1-7 in the same bin...they were just lazy and irresponsible. I took it as a lesson to educate my girlfriend's niece on where our trash goes and why. Hopefully we can begin a societal shift where our next generation will have a care for the natural world around them and the ability to think clearly and concisely, slow down, and realize the impacts their simple choices may have.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Marcellus Shale News Updates

If you are interested in many of the articles and issues surrounding the Marcellus Shale natural gas drilling, check out the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Pipeline Community. It is a great resource to see all of the things that are happening throughout western Pennsylvania and the rest of the Marcellus Shale plays. Don't be afraid to voice your opinion, read both sides of the argument, and make your own decisions. Challenge opinions. Learn. Know why you believe what you believe. Don't be a passive bystander, but an active participant in life.

Get Outside! The Restorative Power of Nature

One of my friends posted this picture on Facebook this morning and I was immediately struck by it. As you know, I do spend most of my time outside and I have seen the importance of spending time outside. Whether you are a Donald Miller fan or not (I happen to be a huge Donald Miller enthusiast), it's a wonderful quote. When you look at the Bible, you see that God made nature, then made man, and put man in complete control of the natural world. God did not intend for us to sit in front of our computers all day (if it's your job then okay, but get outside when you are done!), watch movies non-stop, or never get out and enjoy the wonderful benefits of spending time in His creation.

I've traveled to 38 states and 4 countries so far, which I know may not be a lot by others standards, but I enjoy traveling and in all of those trips I have spent time exploring the beauty that God created. I spent two summers watching the geysers of Yellowstone erupt as herds of bison grazed on the prairie, I've watched the sunset over the Caribbean and the mountains of northern Haiti, I've rented a convertible and driven up the California coast, and I've skied the Green Mountains of Vermont, the Big Sky area of Montana, Wasatch Mountains in Utah, Jackson Hole in Wyoming, and all throughout Colorado's Rocky Mountains. It's traveling and enjoying God's creation that should be put far above watching re-runs of television shows (although I'll admit I've been working through "Lost" on Netflix, but only when it's dark or stormy out).

There is an immense restorative power to spending time in the natural world. When I was deciding whether I wanted to accept the job at the church a couple of years ago, I went camping by myself;  when I was deciding to leave that job, I went camping by myself; when I went through bad breakups and was saddened, I moved to Wyoming to enjoy the mountains for a summer. In nature is where I find my peace and's where I find the Lord. Walking along the banks of a stream, stopping to watch a hawk swoop down to get prey in a field (which I did this morning on my way into work), sitting and listening to the wind...there is power in God's creation if you will only allow Him to quiet your mind and soul to listen.

You don't have to be a die-hard eco-liberal or a devout Christian to enjoy the environment and enjoy God's creation. I am a Christian, mostly conservative, but with very liberal views on the environment. Working for big oil company, you can't tell me you don't enjoy the beautiful plains of Texas, the mountains of West Virginia, the sunset on the ocean off of your deep-water rig, or the prairies of the Dakotas. If you're not stopping for even one minute to enjoy these gifts, you're missing out on an essential part of life.

I will not even get into the physical and mental benefits of spending time in nature, but I highly suggest you check out the Children & Nature Network with work done by journalist and author Richard Louv. His books, "Last Child in the Woods" and "The Nature Principle" (which I'm currently reading), discuss the benefits of getting children and adults in nature to reduce diabetes, obesity, depression, anxiety, and more. This coined the term "Nature Deficit Disorder". The great thing is, this doesn't have to be long hikes and camping trips! Plant a garden, enjoy a local park, walk through the city, or a whole number of outdoor things! I have recently come across this idea of cities as the new wilderness, which describes urban areas as a wilderness area to be explored. It's true! With parks, animals, streams and rivers, beautiful views (mountaintop vs. top of a building doesn't matter to me...just enjoy that sunset for what it's worth!), cities are an awesome place to explore the natural world around us and how humans interact with that environment. Every city has parks....and I mean Every Single City. Think New York's Central Park, the Pittsburgh City Parks, Washington D.C.'s National Mall and Memorial Parks, Cleveland Metroparks (designed by Frederick Law Olmsted's [designer of Central Park] sons), and Akron's Metro Parks Serving Summit County. Those are just a few of the ones off the top of my head but I can think of a ton more. Want to know what is in your city? Then Email Me with the name of your city and I will find all the great parks near you.

Get out. Enjoy nature. Enjoy creation. Use it as an act of worship.

Additional Links:

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Natural Gas Twitter Accounts

Interested in following some of the news coming out of the natural gas industry and seeing some one the viewpoints that I tend to adhere to on the Marcellus Shale and hydraulic fracturing debate? Check out the following Twitter accounts:

Saga of the Yellowstone Bison and Ecoterrorism

This article recently came out on the recent proposal that bison will have year-round protection in the Gallatin National Forest outside Yellowstone. Anyone who follows environmental news, especially throughout the western United States, has seen the numerous headlines surrounding the battle between ranchers, government officials, and the bison herds of Yellowstone National Park. I had the opportunity to spend two summers in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, working for the concessionaires in Yellowstone and as an interpretive ranger for the U.S. Forest Service in West Yellowstone, MT (Gallatin National Forest-Hebgen Lake Rangers District). I have spent plenty of time in bison country and seen the problems that arise.

On one side, you have the ranchers who claim that bison leaving the park and entering US Forest Service lands, which are open to grazing permits from ranchers, are carrying a disease called Brucellosis and transmitting it to their herds. On the other side you have conservationists, Native American tribes, and others arguing that the bison have a right to travel where they please. Working for the Forest Service, we were trained on some of the "eco-terrorism groups" throughout the area, people that will physically harm another human to protect a natural resource. Many of these groups would stuff shards of glass and human feces into the locks on our gates so that when we tried to open them, we would cut our hands and get feces into the cuts (never happened to me luckily). There were many times when I would be driving my government vehicle and they would be following my closely behind to make sure that I wasn't harming the bison. There would be instances where the Forest Service would get on horseback and wrangle the bison into pens to test them for brucellosis and kill the ones who tested positive. It's been a long ongoing battle, but one that is very interesting with many different sides and interested parties. Bison originally roamed throughout the whole country, yet today have been virtually exterminated and only occupy small regions throughout North America:

It is sick and saddening to me that we live in an age of eco-terrorism and that arguments like these are still continuing. I see the value in preserving the life of all wild animals (but, yes, I am a hunter/fisherman), but I also value human life even more and would never knowlingly harm someone over these issues. There are battles like this raging all over the country and I highly advise you to become up-to-date on these issues. Even in my own local Allegheny National Forest (my family has a camp in Tionesta, PA), eco-terrorism struck in the form of arson when the Earth Liberation Front (ELF) burned a research lab causing $700,000 in damages. All this over logging in the forest (See article here).

I do not personally believe that the fight over bison will ever be over. As population continues to grow, more beef is needed as food supplies and we will see the expansion of grazing ranges. There are bound to be impacts and conflicts, much like the reintroduction of wolves in 1996 to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. No one will ever be fully satisfied, but I believe that we need to approach these issues with respect for both parties and come to a meaningful consensus. Violence will not work and is not a solution to our current environmental problems. If you look at the history of the United States, it was violence against native tribes that to forcibly take over lands for our own uses that have ultimately perpetuated our current degrading environmental state.

Whether you believe politics works or not, shards of feces-fill glass does not solve anything but enhances the problem. Politicians need to be willing to sit down (as we can see they did in the aforementioned article) and discuss both side...but we need to sift through the red tape and actually make decisions and implement changes. We can't sit idly back while Congress throws in their own bills and desires, but we need to push them forward to do something. Politics, in the truest sense, does work. But that debate,  my friends, is for another day.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Appalachian Woes

I was recently reminded of a documentary that I saw a couple of years ago about families growing up in the Appalachian region, one of the United State's poorest areas, titled "A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains," (Click here to view the whole documentary). I must say, I cannot stress enough the importance of seeing this documentary and realizing that extreme poverty is not just an international problem and it is surely not segregated to certain ethnic backgrounds by any means...but it's in our own back yards. If you don't agree, check out the following map. I know many of you reading this live in many of these counties and areas shown. I know that I see my home county on this map. Did you happen to know that Pittsburgh is the largest city in the Appalachian region and, according to one source, the unofficial capital of Appalachia (According to the "Appalachia" Wikipedia article, "Pittsburghese" is a dialect of Appalachia). Other notable cities in this region include Ashville, NC; Columbus, OH; Knoxville, TN; and Wheeling, WV.

This document struck me hard for a number of reasons. I have done some traveling throughout this area, being from it. Driving from Pittsburgh to Knoxville, TN over the past couple of years to visit my brother, you cannot help but notice the poverty the surrounds you as you enter southern West Virginia which, according to the map, is Central Appalachia. It's reminiscent of such American memories like moonshine, Hatfields and McCoy's, hillbillies, and more. Let's keep in mind that I have traveled throughout Haiti, the poorest country in the western hemisphere, yet there is still something unnerving about the poverty that you see traveling throughout Appalachia and realizing that you are not in some third world country,  but in the United States and close to some of the biggest metropolitan areas in our nation (New York, Cleveland, Atlanta, Pittsburgh,  Baltimore, Washington D.C., etc.) According to Ohio University, 1/5 of Appalachian children live in poverty. Should you not have time to watch the documentary, although I highly recommend it, this Huffington Post article does a great job of summarizing many of the viewpoints that Diane Sawyer, an Appalachia native herself, presents.

I am not arguing any sort of socialist agenda or that one side is right over the other in the fight against poverty, but that we need to be aware of poverty in our own areas. This documentary tells of the prescription drug trade, where some pills fetch prices hundreds of dollars more than urban areas like Detroit or Los Angeles. Mountain Dew, a former favorite drink of mine, has become a highly addictive substance that is literally rotting the mouth's of children and adults, creating an area with the worst dental hygeine in our nation (and yes, worse than anything I saw in Haiti. Many developing nations are lucky that they don't have a diet based upon processed sugars, so it is better for their teeth). So many more points are presented, but I had to get these viewpoints down.

In the Book of James (1:27), we see that God calls us to care for orphans and widows and throughout the Bible we see God's call to love our neighbors, love others, and share the Gospel. We see Jesus helping the poor, although he himself was poor. Do we not realize that these are our neighbors? Many of them live right down the street from us. Again, if you don't think that Appalachia is in our area, drive to South Beaver Twp. in Beaver County, PA near the Ohio line. This is near where I grew up and you see many examples of this poverty. Skirt down into Greene, Fayette, and Westmoreland counties in PA, Ashtabula County, OH, or the I-79 corridor between Pittsburgh and Erie, PA. Once you do that, let me know what you think. Do a quick Google Image search for Appalachian Poverty or Appalachian Poor and you will quickly see your screen filled with many images you would not expect to find in the U.S.

I cannot paint a totally gloomy picture of Appalachia though, as it is a region steeped in history and culture. Most of the Civil War was fought throughout the Appalachia region, it has brought us country and blue grass music, the Kentucky Derby, and the Pittsburgh Steelers (ok, maybe some bias there). Take a quick tour through National Geographic's "Discover Appalachia" map, which highlights many natural and cultural wonders throughout the area. I must remind you though of this, even among the attractions and fun...poverty still looms right over the hillside. It's a lesson I learned in Haiti as you fly out of Cap-Haitien and see the poverty, yet right on the other side of the mountain is Royal Caribbean's "Labadie Beach" with it's resort style features. Guests to this area have no clue that right on the other side of their relaxation spot lies some of the worst poverty in the world, while visitors to the New River Gorge have no idea that just down the river lies children with no education, food, or hope for a better life. We can give them hope.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Marcellus Water Wars

Across Pennsylvania, that water wars continue to rage throughout the Marcellus Shale natural gas plays. One side, residents of towns and local consumers, claim their water is now flammable with toxic levels of methane due to natural gas production, a claim brought about in Josh Fox's documentary Gasland. The other side, that of the oil and gas companies, residents reaping the benefits of land leases, and towns (such as my own hometown of Zelienople, PA) seeing an influx of business from the natural gas workers. In a recent blog post by Robert Sumner, we read it may be $900 million per day to the US economy. Both sides may have some merit to their arguments. Personally, this article from Attorney Colin Harris relays everything I have been trying to say. There are always risk associated with extraction of natural resources, and as Mr. Harris puts it:

"Fracturing is conducted on more than 90% of wells drilled today. The practice benefits the economy, has kept natural gas prices at historic lows, and reduces our reliance on foreign energy supplies. Opponents of fracturing should be asked how they intend to duplicate these results, how they intend to find near and long term substitutes, and whether their position is in the best interests of lower-income Americans who benefit from affordable energy."

In an article on FuelFix, the U.S. EPA recently came out with the results of a study claiming that the high levels of methane gas in the water supply of Dimmock, Pennsylvania were not caused by natural gas drilling, yet residents still are not sure. Resident Scott Ely states, "They [U.S. EPA] recommended that we don’t drink or use the water, but told us they can’t go public with that." A claim I find hard to believe as this is the U.S. government essentially condoning the ingestion of chemical-laden materials. Not all residents will "get the memo" that it is secretely not safe to drink (or believe their claims) and many will drink it. I do not believe that the government, regardless of where you fall politically, would allow this to happen.

I urge you to become educated in these issues, as they are pressing ones that will affect us in different ways over the coming years. Natural gas production is here to stay, no matter how many protests and demonstrations go on around the nation. Wells will be drilled, land will be developed, money will flow in and out of the community. There is potential for royalties to you, but there is also the potential for harm. All natural resources extraction has risks. I cannot stress that enough, but I also cannot completely stress my full support of natural gas drilling in the United States. If you don't support it, you don't have a say in voting to make it cleaner. (Much like the argument, if you don't vote in the Presidential election, you don't have a right to complain about who got voted in because you did nothing to help the cause).

I urge you to check out some of these organizations that fall on both sides of the spectrum and create your own visions and values of this industry, then email me to let me know what you think:

In the words of Colin Harris:

"Opponents using air quality as a sword should be met with industry transparency and listening, public outreach and context, good science, dialogue about energy policy and natural gas, and hard questions about the motives behind the anti-fracturing movement. The hydraulic fracturing storyline about supposed environmental catastrophe should no longer get in the way of the truth."

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

More on the fracking debate

The Association of American State Geologists recently published a document on their view of Hydraulic Fracturing (a.k.a. fracking, fracing, hydrofracking) during natural gas production. As many of you know, this is a heated debate throughout the natural gas plays and one that has ramped up in my home state of Pennsylvania and in my current home of Ohio. It's a debate that I'm sure will continue on for a long time to come as both sides are not willing to budge.

Liberals are claiming fracking causes earthquakes (maybe partially true, but nothing more than 3.0 according to AASG), methane-contaminated groundwater, and more. Conservatives argue we need to push natural gas as a "sustainable alternative to oil production" (flawed argument...non-renewable resources cannot be use sustainably as using them depletes their supply). What I enjoyed most about AASG's short 2-page article was the attention they brought to the true debate. Fracking doesn't cause these issues...yes, natural gas drilling may cause a few of these issues but it is not in the fracking itself. People need to learn their issues before they go berating any sort of development or process. They've jumped on the anti-fracking bandwagon with no regard for the education or processes behind it.

Horizontal drilling allows for more gas to be extracted from one
well compared to traditional vertical well drilling.

Would they rather we continue drilling vertical wells that don't require as much fracking? If so, you'll see 20 times (my estimate) the amount of wells that you would with today's horizontal well drilling.

 Yes, fracking is needed. Yes, natural gas drilling is needed. And needs to be taxed (but at a reasonable rate). You're not going to stop it. I'm sorry. March in the streets all you want, spend your days sitting in front of the White House....great. Support the industry and push for tighter environmental controls and increased research and development into this technology.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Natural Gas Flaring

I've always enjoyed fireworks, explosions, and, in general, things that are on fire. No, it's not an inner arsonist in me, but the little boy portion of my psyche that just thinks fire is awesome. When a natural gas well in the Marcellus Shale plays went up near my parents home a few years ago, I was very intrigued when they began flaring off some of the excess gases. From my window, I could see a flame shooting high into the sky and, with Pennsylvania having lots of cloud cover, it would light up the night sky.

A natural gas flare in Bradford County, PA
(Photo: Les Stone/Corbis, 2012)

The Christian Science Monitor recently published an article on the waste of natural gas from flaring. Oil companies are flaring natural gas coming off of their drill sites because the price is relatively low ($3.04 per thousand cubic feet as of 7/20/12, according to the Pennsylvania Independent Oil and Gas Assocation). Companies just do not have the finances or the time to connect their facilities to the natural gas pipelines and begin collecting this gas, so they burn it off. According to the article, 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas was flared last year worldwide (accounting for 25% of U.S. natural gas consumption annually). In the U.S. alone, it soard to 251 billion cubic feet in 2022 (a 223% increase from 2007).  This article mainly focuses on the Bakken formation in North Dakota which, at a rate of 100 mcf/day flared annually, represents $110 million dollars in lost revenue. Thats a crazy amount and could be invested in the research and development into safer natural gas extraction technologies or renewable/sustainable forms of energy.

We know I am a proponent for the extraction of natural gas, but as a means of weaning the U.S. off of foreign oil and to contribute tax revenue to renewable energy R&D. This represents a great potential for not only curbing emissions into the atmosphere (as natural gas is mainly comprised of methane, which is more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide), but also generating revenue and increasing our domestic supply of natural gas.

Thoughts or comments? Shoot me an email!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ditch the lawn and World Water Usage

As drought continues to grip the nation, TreeHugger recently posted an article about replacing our lawns with gardens. It also springs from a discussion I had with one of the rangers here in Cuyahoga Valley National Park last week. We waste so much time, money, and (most importantly) water to keep our grass looking green and healthy...but is there a true benefit to it? What if instead of vast expanses of grass we planted flower gardens, trees, and vegetable gardens. These plants can survive off of the rainfall or with minimal amounts of watering and, as a more important factor, can supply food and shade to you and your family. I believe we should only be allowed to plant native plants in our lawns. If a plant is native, it is perfectly suited for the amount of precipitation we get in our area...except the majority of U.S. lawns are covered by Kentucky Blue Grass. Better yet, why not plant xeric lawns, which require little to no water?

I was amazed while walking in Akron last night to see medians on some of the streets where people have been watering their flower gardens. They look great, yes, but what amazed me those most was a very noticeable line between bright green grass where it had been watered and the brown grass which is victim to the drought. Is our love of aesthetic beauty really more than our need to conserve water. In books such as Sandra Postel's "Last Oasis: Facing Water Scarcity," arguments are made that the next great war will be fought over water rights. I'm not surprised, nor do I disagree.
Even in our own nation, we have these problems. During 2008, the southern United States was gripped by another drought and the mayor of Atlanta began requesting that water be diverted from the Great Lakes to supply his cities drinking water (Read Article Here). While I'm sure this water would supply drinking water, how much of it would go to supply water to golf courses, lawns, and other non-essential resources? Additionally, around the world, nations are witness a water crisis. The waters of the great Colorado River no longer reach the mouth in its historic range. Due to city water supplies, agriculture, and more the mouth of the Colorado River now looks like this:

Spending time in Haiti over the past couple of years, I saw the need for clean, safe drinking water. People are bathing, washing clothes, swimming, urinating, deficating, and drinking out of the same water supply. I was there for the start of the Cholera Outbreak in 2010 and watched as people frantically tried to educate others on clean, safe practices...yet water was stilled pulled from the same polluted sources. The following is a pictur of one of my trips, on the northern coast of Haiti. Notice the shacks and people using the beach...the water was dirty. It was used for every purpose with no designation of where to go bathroom, where to drink from, and where to cook at.

(Orchard Hill Church, 2011)

The choices we make concerning water use affect everyone around the world. The United States is divided into 2 main watersheds. All water either enters the Pacific Ocean or the Atlantic, with the Continental Divide being this division point. In the Atlantic Ocean watershed, I (here in northeastern Ohio) live in the Great Lakes watershed, more specifically the Lake Erie Watershed, more specifically the Cuyahoga River Watershed, more specifically the Furnace Run Watershed. Need I go on? Everytime I flush a toilet or spill a cup of coffee (which I do more than you think), it ends up in the Atlantic Ocean. Take a look at the following picture and then lets look at my coffees impact:

So my little bit of spilled coffee flows into the Atlantic Ocean, hits the Gulf Stream, and flows either towards England or veers south near the western shore of Africa and...back around to Haiti. Yes, my coffee is an extreme example, but what about spilled oil from our cars, pesticides we use on our lawns, trash you throw out of your cars onto the road. We all live upstream from somewhere....but we also live downstream from somewhere else.

Here are just a few tips for conserving water:
  • Shorten your shower to 5 minutes. You're not getting any cleaner after that point
  • Do not water your lawn. Plant water-conservative species
  • Use low-flow water features in your house
  • Only wash clothes when you have a full load
  • Turn off the water when you are brushing your teeth, washing your body, or shampooing your hair
Any simple Google search will return thousands of results, such as 100 Ways to Conserve Water. Be smart. Think what is downstream.