Friday, July 25, 2014

My GIS Capstone; Superstorm Sandy's Impacts on Energy Disruption Risk

*The above image is original work. All rights reserved.

   This image represents the culmination of my work in Graphic Information Systems. I really enjoyed working with the software, and despite a painful curriculum, I think I was ultimately very successful. This energy risk map is based on FEMA flood zone data and heads-up digitizing of light emissions in the New York City Region. I used these two factors to identify areas of relative disruption factors due to extreme weather-induced flooding in and around New York City.

   One of the main highlights of this work is the finding that much of New York City and Long Island are high-risk zones for energy disruption due to extreme weather. While this may seem obvious in the wake of Sandy, this original work maps out and reflects the same hardest-hit areas that were most affected in the real scenario, when Sandy made landfall. I think that this project is an excellent case study, showing that the information was available before Sandy to help mitigate the storm's damage (as all of my data was sourced prior to the storm). I was not able to identify any previous work that directly correlates energy disruption due to extreme weather. I think that this final outcome is most useful because the same method could be applied to other hurricane and extreme-weather prone areas, to identify sectors of highest impact to energy infrastructure before an emergency develops.

   Some scientists and economists have begun using light emissions as a carollary for economic activity. Thus, this map helps to relate the risk of economic impact through the use of light emission data. While the project focused on energy disruption, many sources indicate that it is safe to assume that disruption of the energy grid is directly correlated to disruption of the local and regional economies. Given that many areas in and around New York City and New Jersey are still recovering from the effects of Sandy, perhaps funding of more comprehensive projects along these lines would be appropriate in the immediate future.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014


One of my most recent articles was chosen through a department-wide competition among Environmental Studies students to have a piece published on the new Environmental Studies Blog for SUNY-ESF!

I adapted the article for a wider audience and removed some overly technical theory jargon compared to what I wrote for class. I think the result is a very readable and engaging statement on the value of using graphic depiction to understand complex and/or systematic problems.

Check it out here!

Thursday, May 23, 2013

End-of-Semester Update

Hello Readers!

   I have finally wrapped up my first semester towards my Master's of Science in Environmental Studies. I have learned a lot this semester; I worked with seven other students to develop a proposal for an in-depth evaluation of SUNY-ESF's Graduate Program in Environmental Science. My role was to copy-edit the document, and in final review there were only two misplaced punctuations that I had missed in over 100 pages. I have to give credit to my other classmates of course, they produced an outstanding foundation for me to simply polish!
   I learned more than I ever expected to (and possibly needed to) know about the environmental policies of China, but I gained a significant appreciation for the amazing transformation that the country is undergoing. I learned more about the environmental harms inflicted upon the heartlands of America, and I learned that the computer I'm using to type this blog update represents over 1500 pounds of consumed raw materials in water, metals, precious metals, solvents, mine tailing, and more.
   I retraced my undergraduate foundations in sustainable development studies, and really delved into the foundational documents of the sustainable development discourse, walking away with a new appreciation for the ongoing nature of the discussion. I learned that, if you are to take the methods of certain economists and apply them to the services provided by the world's ecosystems in food, raw materials, filtering and buffering capacity, that this figure would dwarf the combined global output of all economies everywhere.
   I learned about how best to communicate risks in certain scenarios, and studied incidents such as bovine spongiform encephalopathy (spelled it right the first time! take that, auto-correct!), which is the scientific term used for mad cow disease. In a future increasingly impacted by the rising concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, knowledge of the do-s and don't-s of risk communication may prove useful in my future work. Studying aspects of our understanding of how people make decisions will both enable me to make better decisions, and help others to analyze how they are going about reaching theirs. I learned, for example, that telling yourself over and over that someday, you are going to do that thing you always say that you will do, actually activates the same parts of your brain as if you had actually already done it. I think this might be the root of procrastination! More science must be done...
   I also developed the first draft form of my thesis proposal, which will save me significant headaches in the near future! I am working through the summer on both Superstorm Sandy research and SUNY-ESF's outreach programs by supporting them from behind the scenes, in the outreach office. I plan to upload more examples of my academic work, not all of which will be similar to my last update, and hopefully I can find some time to update a few times through the summer before falling back into the school routine come August.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

A glimpse of the policy dynamic afflicting our world...

So, failing having enough time this week to add a substantial post to this blog, I will post a recent essay from my classwork in compensation. I hope it provides my readers with some new information!

The Iron Triangle, An Analysis

   Recent events on the world stage are beginning to demonstrate the overwhelming intractability of contemporary environmental issues such as human habitat destruction in the wake of development interests. Examples such as the rampant pollution of the Niger River Delta by the petrochemical industry serve as live models of this problem. This author argues that Carter's “Iron Triangle” metaphor is a sufficient heuristic for understanding the operant mechanisms of environmental problems on the global scale.
    Carter defines the “Iron Triangle” as representing the resource interdependence of policy communities, specifically acknowledging 'the enormous influence of producer groups in key policy areas where decision making is dominated by [three interests]: congressional committee, administrative agency and producer group.' (Carter 2007: 186) Carter argues that producer groups—which he refers to as organizations of insider business interests with a strong ability and interest in impacting the regulatory process—are empowered when congressional committees support legislation to expand economic activity, which may form or direct a national agency to release funds to producers in the form of various incentives, which then allows the producers to produce more, plausibly increasing employment and expanding the economy, which helps maintain the politicians that sit political committees in power, who in turn can create yet more institutional support for producers. These actors form “policy communities,” which carter defines as closed groups with stable memberships within governing bodies (the UN), administrations (IMF, WB), and producers, where the continued maintenance of each of these actors depends on the same pool of economic and political resources.
    Carter nests this “Iron Triangle” within the Traditional Policy Paradigm, which he identifies as the completely wanting, unplanned, reactionary, “end-of-pipe” method of regulation and problem solving employed by industrial powers since the beginning of the industrial age. The Traditional Paradigm reinforces the Iron Triangle by ensuring that those groups calling for regulation are seen as a problem, as illegitimate due to negatively impacting current prosperity.
    Goldman (2006) argues that the pressures of the Traditional Paradigm operate on the international stage through International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank (WB) fiscal policies, which most often encourage unsustainable, intensive development and export of third world countries' natural capital. International politicians in the UN helped form agencies like the IMF, which then encourage economic expansion by mandating that support funds go to highly productive activities in order to repay IMF loans. This money ends up in the hands of producer groups around the globe, and these groups negatively impact global environmental health through their operations under the Traditional Paradigm. Thus we see a realization of Carter's “Iron Triangle” at work on the international scale, with important implications for the management of global environmental health.

Carter, N. (2007). The Politics of the Environment. (2nd ed.). New York: Cambridge University Press
Goldman, M. (2006). Imperial nature: The World Bank and struggles for social justice in the age of globalization. Yale University Press.

Monday, January 28, 2013

A Long Time Coming...

Hello to any occasional readers of my blog!

I apologize for the several months' time with no updates. I have been very busy attempting to find employment and apply to graduate school, and I intend to provide a more substantial update soon.

There is a wealth of information circulating regarding the accelerating pace of climate change. Recent headlines have included climate topics more and more frequently in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. It has come to light that those members of the human race born after 1985 have not experienced a single month where the average temperature did not exceed the historical trend. This population of people includes yours truly, and I intend to draw inspiration from this to continue to motivate my studies and outreach involvement.

I recently partook in the Northeast Regional Town Hall meeting for the National Climate Assessment, which included faculty and students from SUNY ESF as well as a panel of authors involved in the NCA, as well as a few local residents. I sat in on the Energy topical discussion group, which both helped to magnify the political unpalatability of  modifying existing energy policy, as my general impression was that the NCA shied away from really engaging in the energy discussion and its implications for further climatic forcing, and also to frustrate my attempts to reconcile their addressing the impacts of changing climate on energy infrastructure without discussion of the contributions to the forcing mechanisms of said infrastructure!

It is getting late, so I will attempt to put together some more coherent thoughts, and another sourced article, soon. Until then, keep in mind that I am once again a busy student, and I plan to leverage that to improve the quality of information here, as well as provide some (hopefully) unique insights into the current state of climate science and the energy policy discourse.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Organic Clothing Saves the Ocean?

Home Activist Alert: Selecting Clothing Made With "Natural" Fiber Can Help the Ocean

According to a study released in the Environmental Science and Technology Journal, clothing made from plastic fibers can release alarming amounts of microplastic particles into your sewer, which then find their way downstream to the ocean, contributing to the increasing challenges microplastics are creating for ocean ecosystems, and also finding their way back to your body via seafood.

" “It seems obvious in hindsight that fibers are leaving clothes in washing machines and ending up in the waste stream, but it hadn’t been considered as a source up until this point,” said Kara Lavender Law, a research oceanographer at the Sea Education Association in Woods Hole, Mass. “This is eye opening.” "  (from "Discovery News,"

This appears to be a new category of "low hanging fruit" for the workaday environmental activist. Selecting clothing constructed of natural fibers not only tends to yield a longer-lasting and more comfortable wardrobe, it helps reduce the stresses that microplastics, dies, and hydrocarbon processing place on those ecosystems that they are located within. Your decisions can and do make a difference. Consider clothing made of 100% cotton, hemp, or wool. You may just find an easy and enjoyable way to help the environment!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Excerpt from the NYT:

 " “A country the size of the U.S. is almost never hot everywhere, all at once,” said Dr. Trenberth. The most significant thing about the NOAA climate report is that it tells of so many all-time records for heat being broken, he said, adding, how hot it is on a given day is not as important as the historical records that are being consistently broken [this year]."  "

It would appear to me that anthropogenic global warming is underway full force. My attention will be to the arctic permafrost and the gas hydrates frozen in the arctic sea bed. One positive economic benefit is that oil-from-tar sand, courtesy of your Canadian government's friendliness to the industry, will become cheaper as it will take fractionally less energy to melt through the filthy stuff. This industry, emitting alarming amounts of carbon right at the weakest point in the system, may have a measurable impact in the near future on the thawing of the north. The conventional science points to the movement of carbon-laden gases through the atmosphere as having important effects on climate, so I can't imagine this point-source pollution right in the vulnerable arctic can be a positive activity in regards to climate change mitigation.

Something I've been trying to remain conscious of, myself, is how much I'm running the AC. Fans are far less expensive to run, both in the amount of electricity used and the cost of your bill! I have a window fan that is nice and quiet right next to my desk, and it can do wonders for cooling down a room housing a computer and two monitors. Unless it pushes above 80 outside, I can be very comfortable with just the fan, so you can, too!