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Monday February 11, 2008

mangrove restoration

Restoration of Mangrove forests at Virginia Key [Photo: Al Diaz, Herald].


Wednesday December 26, 2007

Christmas tree recycling instructions: if you’re served by Miami-Dade waste management, just leave it on the curb before January 25th. If not, drop it off at one of 14 collection points. Soon to come: free Christmas-tree wood chips! Update: And in Broward.


Thursday December 13, 2007

The South Florida Water Management District is working on ranking the priorities of various elements of the Everglades restoration project, so that they’ll be ready as the budget of the program gets slashed. How’s that half-full glass looking, there? (And speaking of whom, we have a Rick sighting.)



On Miami Beach, hybrids will soon have designated spaces in some parking lots, and 25% discounts on parking fees.


Thursday November 1, 2007

The Miami-Dade commission has scrapped the recycling program under dubious circumstances.


Wednesday August 22, 2007

Miami Beach is not particularly eco-friendly, but things are changing, slowly. They could start by sending someone to fix this water main, still dripping more then a month later.


Wednesday August 15, 2007

What's up with Cypress mulch?

cypress mulch

Environmentalists are up in arms about Cypress mulch. They say coastal Cypress forests are being wiped out to produce it, endangering humans while clearing old-growth forests (yes, the video trots out images of Katrina-devastated New Orleans). Meanwhile, the stores selling the mulch claim that the mulch is created from the parts of trees that can’t be used for lumber, that the trees would be cut down anyway, and that regardless the logging is being done in a sustainable fashion.

Unfortunately, neither side has much credibility. Let’s try to sort this out. A recent AP article on the issue notes that the drop in area of Cypress forests is probably a result of changes in mapping techniques. That can be read to mean that they don’t know whether the forests are contracting (hey, nice work there, forestry dudes). Florida Today has a good article, which noted that most of the good Cypress was cut down over a hundred years ago anyway (go read — it’s the best overview of the issue).

The commonsense presumption is that if loggers are planting Cypress as fast as they’re cutting them down, everything should be fine (this could be ensured, btw, by strictly limiting the area they’re allowed to log). Are they? This strikes me as a good opportunity for an enterprising young journalist — we need some real answers.

I did my own investigation down at Home Depot, and sure enough, Cypress mulch is cheaper then other options. $1.67 gets you a 2-cubic-foot bag, vs. $2 for “Red Mulch,” $2.57 for Pine Bark nugget mulch, $2.95 for Eucalyptus mulch, $4.99 for fancy chemical-treated stuff. The Eucalyptus stuff makes pretty strong “Environmentally friendly / produced from plantation growth,” claims. If you’re covering 100 square feet, it’ll cost you an extra $12 over the Cypress stuff, so if you’re concerned about the environment it shouldn’t be a big deal to error on the side of caution. Real answers would be welcome, however.


Wednesday August 8, 2007

Welcome additions at Publix: an aisle directory (never understood why they got ride of these) and reusable bags for $1.49 a pop. Update: Meanwhile, trouble for someone who brought their own bags to Publix.


Tuesday July 31, 2007

“It appears that males seek females in the spring by following scent trails, so park biologists, along with other scientists, are testing whether females — with radio transmitters inserted into their body cavities — can serve as ‘Judas snakes,’ a living lure for mate-seeking males.” — The New York Times on fighting the growing Python infestation in the Everglades.



Whoa: just learned that today is the last day to comment on the new Everglades National Park’s General Management Plan before it’s finalized. From Greener Miami, which provides more information and gives the Sierra Club’s recommendation. My recommendation: it’s too late to catch up; if you haven’t been studying up on this it’s a little late now. Oh well.


Monday July 16, 2007

Reporting on the Serve to Preserve Florida Summit on Global Climate Change last week: Jim DeFede, Carl Hiaasen, Rebecca Carter (and here, with video), and Ken Kaye. Here are some photos, and here’s the AP version.


Wednesday July 11, 2007

Serve to Preserve, a summit on global climate change, takes place in Miami Tomorrow and Friday. Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. are among the keynote speakers. Live coverage at Greener Miami. (I found no mention of this in the Herald, btw.)



Flagler Memorial Island cleanup

Flagler Memorial Island

WHL visited Flagler Memorial Island Monday, and found it a mess. “Sadly it is in poor condition and the beach had piles of trash and overflowing garbage cans.”

Sounds like sanitation needs to do a better job of maintaining the island, but first it needs to be brought back to some semblance of normalcy. To that end, ECOMB is having a Flagler Monument Island Clean-up volunteer event on the morning of Saturday, July 21. Volunteers needed! Help your city! Meet people and have fun while doing a good deed! All that; please register ahead of time so they know how many people to expect.


Tuesday May 15, 2007

What's up with the water?

link to water management map

[Last week I disagreed with Carl Hiaasen’s handling of the compensation for wrongful conviction issue, arguing that he should have tackled the general case, not a particular instance. An interesting conversation about the issue ensued: one which could have existed on a much larger scale. Different week, same stink: On Sunday, Hiaasen again missed the point.]

South Florida is experiencing a serious drought. The gap between our fresh groundwater and salty water is tight, and the current Phase II and III restrictions are almost draconian: sub-78° indoor temperatures are banned, farms are restrictions in their crop irrigation, lawns can be watered and cars washed only four hours per week . . . wait a second. We’re close to having dire harm to our water supply (Phase IV = “Permanent or irreversible damage to the water resource,” in case you were wondering) and we’re letting people wash their cars and water their lawns? What’s going on here?

Well, so Carl Hiaasen figured out a solution for us. Too bad that, once again, Hiaasen is wrong all over the place. His solution? Let’s ban building!

One way to gird for the future — and protect families who already live here — would be to impose building moratoriums in those counties where the water shortage is most acute.

This is way too simple and sensible. Moratoriums can’t be enacted unless local leaders are willing to stand up to developers, a rare occurrence indeed. The state is requiring counties to recycle water for nonpotable uses, but that doesn’t curb the liquid appetite of sprawl.

Well, that may work for some message board crank, but when we hear it from a major newspaper’s columnist I feel obligated to point out some flaws in the plan (and make no mistake, “one way to grid the future” aside, this one idea is all he’s got). For starters, Hiaasen appears to have missed the hundreds of condo buildings that are currently and already under construction in Miami. (But that’s probably because he lives 150 miles away, in Vero.) More to the point, what does he have in mind, a border fence of some sort? Sorry, but you can’t stop people from moving where they want to live. It’s proved impossible to prevent people from crossing even national borders when they really want to, and for all the Conch Republic fantasies of Hiaasen’s former life, Florida is not a sovereign nation.

But the hypothesis that overpopulation is the cause of the water shortages has more fundamental flaws. If it were the case, we would expect that the drought would be the worst where population is densest. It’s not. See the South Florida Water Management District’s map (converted to a jpg for your convenience). Note that Broward and Palm Beach currently have Phase III restrictions, while Miami is under Phase II (what’s up with the roman numerals, SFWMD?).

OK, so what’s really going on here? Well, the SFWMD district spells it out pretty clearly: “Too Little Rain = Water Shortages.” You see, the groundwater is part of a cycle. It’s like an underground river. The levels are low because of the lack rain, And while the problem right now is exacerbated by the human population, future water levels will be determined by our future rain, not by our current use, because the groundwater is part of a natural global cycle. I can’t emphasize this point enough, and I ask you to look at the diagram at that link. You saw it in a book when you were a kid, but look at it again.

We’ve had problems with the ground water before, as these data clearly show (but warning, the page loads slowly), and we’ll have them again.* The solution is not to try to ban new people from moving to Florida. The trick is to plan for the shortages better, and take effective steps to lower our water consumption during the crunch. What’s the most effective way to handle that? Some barely enforced restrictions on lawn watering? Give me a break.

All we have to do is get serious about getting the word out. First of all, we should ban all lawn watering. It’s the dry season in the tropics, and grasses are supposed to dry out — it’s the way of nature! Don’t worry, they’ll come back when it starts to rain. Next, put out a serious media campaign to get people saving water. This has been done before, but this time it seems pretty feeble. Tell people to stop running their dish washers half-full, stop taking baths, and stop leaving the water running. If that doesn’t work, how about shutting the water off for an hour or two once a week? Not only will that save some water, but it’ll make these idiots realize that this is serious. Oh, and fixing the @!$% pipes wouldn’t be a bad idea.

Of course a building ban will never happen, so calling for it is so much pissing in the wind. Restricting where development can happen is of course very important, and so far the UDB has been more or less enforced. That means more condos and fewer houses being built, and an increase in density. This is good not just because high-rise dwellers use less water then homeowners, but because of the commensurate improvements in energy use, vehicle use, paved surface area, etc. We can’t keep them out, but we can force them to live smarter. Let’s put aside the foolishness and get to the real answers.

Update: John S. has a great suggestion in the comments: a sliding scale where the price of water for residences roughly doubles for every hundred cubic feet of water used.

* Heck yeah, I went all into the DBHYDRO to pull that stuff up.


Thursday May 3, 2007

Holy crap: Part of the water restrictions is that large buildings can’t be any cooler then 78 degrees. That includes office buildings, shopping malls, government buildings, and even the common areas of condominiums. The only thing exempt is homes. Yikes!! (via KaiB)


Tuesday May 1, 2007

10 questions about the drought and water restrictions answered. Lots of good information here.


Wednesday April 18, 2007

Greener Miami written up in the Herald. Congrats, Rebecca!


Tuesday April 10, 2007

Manatees are about to be reclassified from ‘endangered’ to ‘threatened’, but the change does not bring any changes in regulations such as boat speeds, so let’s not freak out. While populations in South-eastern Florida may be declining, the ‘endangered’ status is specifically supposed to mean that a species is on the verge of extinction. To avoid diluting the term we have to be willing to re-classify species when their situations improve.


Monday February 19, 2007

FPL is planning twin coal-burning power plants uncomfortably close to the Everglades. We need more power, and the only debate seems to be between “ultra-supercritical pulverized coal” and “coal gasification” (which, come to think of it, sound like much the same thing). Hiaasen’s for the gasification. Where’s nuclear in all this?


Tuesday January 16, 2007

Fla panther crossing

Florida Panthers now number about 70. They cover about 5% of their original habitat. And eleven were killed last year, the most ever. (image: dotpolka)


Friday September 22, 2006

Top 10 polluters in Miami-Dade County. A cool Google Maps mashup. (via gM)


Tuesday June 13, 2006

A county board is considering historic status for an ancient Tequesta Indian burial ground in the far northwestern corner of Miami-Dade. Yes, of course. But let’s do something with it then, so it can in some way be appreciated by the public. Unlike Miami Circle, which sits dormant and behind a fence all these years later.


Wednesday June 7, 2006

Miami ranks #29 in SustainLane’s 2006 study of US cities. According to the study, we do well in air quality (#7), and, shockingly, in public transportation (#13), and poorly in local agriculture (#45) and disaster risk (#50). (via Greener Miami/MAeX)


Friday May 5, 2006

Critical Miami supports getting rid of stuff, and living an uncluttered, unencumbered life. Now, Greener Miami has a guide for getting rid of stuff: the A-Z Disposal & Donation Guide.


Saturday April 29, 2006

The Miami Beach Earth Expo takes place tomorrow (Sunday) from noon to 6 pm. It’ll have environmentally-friendly exhibitions and workshops, live music, and an electronics recycling center (good time to get rid of old computers, cell phones, etc.)


Monday April 24, 2006

What is a renewable energy source?

wind power

This is a bit off-topic, but ever since our energy conversation, I’ve been thinking about how the whole notion of “renewable energy” might be a little short-sighted and skewed. We have a “non-renewable=bad, renewable=good” mentality, which partly rests on the understanding that non-renewable energy (i.e. coal) is bad for the environment, while renewable energy (i.e. wind) causes no harm.

Well: the world currently consumes about 450 quadrillion btu’s of energy per year. The burning of fossil fuels accounts for about 85 percent of that energy, and while wind still accounts for less then one percent, it makes for a valuable example, since it is growing rapidly [MS Excel link from this page 1].

Consider the causal chain by which fossil fuels harm the environment: the burning process produces compounds which interact with 02 molecules in our atmosphere (the ozone layer), defeating their solar-power deflecting properties, causing global warning. Note that the harm to the environment happens through changing the weather.

Now think about wind energy. What would happen if our use of that resource were to increase substantially? A causal relationship to weather change seems much easier to imagine then with fossils: when tens of quadrillions of btu of energy is harvested from winds, contrary to conventional notions of ‘renewable energy’, those btu’s will not be transparently replaced by anything: the only possible result is less wind.

This may sound far-fetched, but the laws of thermodynamics dictate that if energy is generated by a turbine, the wind must move more slowly after it passes over that turbine. The effect on winds may be immeasurable or irrelevant at today’s levels of wind energy harvesting, but there is no reason for assuming that it will remain so at higher levels of harvesting. One might even argue that messing with the winds could have much more dramatic effects on weather then global warming ever will. Analogous cases could be made for solar power, tide power, geothermal power, and any other energy source you’d care to name, in proportion to that source’s potential to provide a significant source of energy.

And while creating balance is a worthwhile goal, it won’t be a solution, since any renewable energy source that begins to contribute a significant proportion to the world’s energy reveals its downside; just look at the problems the Chinese are creating by attempting to harness hydro power.

So what’s the solution? Well, I don’t know, and I’m certainly not suggesting we abandon wind power (or any other alternative), just that our thinking might be a little short-sighted. I suspect that nuclear energy should be revisited, especially fusion. And I suspect that we need to really look at everything: conservation, increased efficiency, energy alternatives, and yes: drilling the damned gulf.

[1] Very typical government move: they don’t use HTML tables for displaying data, which is what they’re intended for (they I suppose they expect readers to open every one of those dozens of Excel links), but they have no problem using them for the page layout (for which they’re not supposed to be used).


Friday April 21, 2006

Rebecca’s got some stuff to do for Earth-Day, which is tomorrow.


Saturday April 15, 2006

A greener Miami

a steenkin' pile of garbage One of the nice things about all the new blogs is that certain unpleasant tasks, like trying to keep up with the horrible UDB site, get taken off my hands. Not only does Rebecca do it better then I ever did, but she does what few bloggers do: she gets out there and does stuff in the real world.

There was the trash thing, the transportation challenge, and the liveblogging thing. It’s not in her nature to be preachy, which is quite unexpected for a hippie environmentalist blogger, right?

OK, so how about this: “I will pick up at least one piece of litter and place it in a trash can everyday for 1 month, but only if 20 other local people will, too.” You can get behind that, can’t you?