Open letter to [school of your choice] president

I wrote and sent roughly this same letter to the president of American University this week. Fill in the blanks and send one on yourself.

President [so-and-so]:

The campus has been crawling with prospective students this fall. Many a day, I watch tour guides roving from building to building with hordes of high schoolers and parents in tow. I overhear all the usual chatter about history, scholarship and community — in short why they ought to attend [school of your choice].

As well we should tout what we have to offer. I just hope that maybe, when the conversation turns to our school’s principles, values and efforts toward justice and sustainability, the university might consider a new talking point. It would be great if we could tell prospects, “And because we value everyone on this planet — including all those unable to access the privileges of [relevant institution], we divested our financial portfolio from fossil fuels.”

I’m guessing this isn’t the first time you’ve heard of this concept — fossil fuel divestment — and if you’re well versed, then you can feel free to

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He’s doing the lord’s work…

Busy little bee

Pollination, it’s the cool thing to do. Especially when so many other pollinator bees are dying and colony collapse disorder looms. Hooray for monoculture and pesticides.

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India needs to make bold commitment to marine conservation

An atlas of biodiversity and environmental parameters

I spent the summer conducting a review of scholarly literature, data, government reports and other information sources for spatially explicit information on the India EEZ. The goal was through a GIS analysis to recommend areas with marine conservation potential where India has jurisdiction. The methodology loosely follows examples of the EBSA designation process.

Greenpeace, my employer, has released my work today and is calling on India to show the international community its commitment to marine conservation by taking a bold statement on protection and management, in advance of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity which will be hosted in Hyderabad in October.

You can read my full report here on Greenpeace’s Web site. Still waiting to see if we get any press out of the report launch event held in Delhi today.

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I think I’m burned out on Rio+20 already

The giant, carnivalesque global environmental summit Rio+20 started rolling this weekend and the official, high-level talks start tomorrow.

Unless you’re really following environmental affairs, this grand meeting may not even hit on your radar. And, to be honest, it probably shouldn’t.

It seems much of the environmental community has low expectations for this year’s conference. Environmental problems are as intractable as ever. Nations continue to struggle with economic matters.

As the name implies, Rio+20 is part-anniversary, part-debrief, part-”let’s find a way forward” from the landmark 1992 Rio Earth Summit officially known as the the U.N. Conference on Environment and Development. Certainly in the last 20 years there have been successes, particularly at the local and national level, but on the international stage, collective action on the environment has largely been ineffective (and I’m being kind).

Though I wish it were otherwise, I don’t have much faith in the international system. Certainly I think attempts to workout problems collectively are necessary and applaud people who will spin their wheels and beat their heads against walls. But I see fundamental flaws as well. The system is broken and it seems to like it that way.

So Rio+20 will likely be all show with a rather weak finish. Sunita Narain, head of the Centre for Environment and Science, has a salient commentary in the centre’s magazine Down to Earth.

But, truth be told, I’m already burnt out on trying to monitor Rio+20 from India. My own thoughts are below:

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I’m writing to you, Senator #nokxl

Senator Durbin:

This is not a form letter. You and I have shaken hands plenty; for a while we were on a first-name basis when I was a political reporter at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. How many times did I tour the Metro East with you? How many times was I there at town hall meetings in the Collinsville City Council chambers or Edwardsville or Granite City?

Today, I am in graduate school here in D.C. studying environmental policy. I’m an activist. I was arrested for protesting in front of the White House in September. I’m a scholar. I research natural resource policy, environmental degradation and sustainable development.

I’m asking you as a professional acquaintance, as someone who listened for a long time to the political concerns of southern Illinoisans, as a worried citizen and as a registered Illinois voter (my permanent address is in Champaign) to do all you can to stop GOP factions and Big Oil special interests from resurrecting the Keystone XL pipeline.

If you and your allies in the Senate take the time to talk straight to Americans (whatever the hell Fox News thinks), they will listen. If you take a moral stand, you’ll be doing the right thing (whatever the hell the Tea Party thinks).

And if you need help that I can provide, contact me.

There’s so much more we could be doing to invigorate our economy and protect this planet. Think about green jobs in a renewable energy economy. Think solar and offshore wind and green infrastructure. Think better quality of living and public health. Think natural splendor that warms heart and soul.

But if we instead take the cheap (actually more costly) and dirty (yes, really, really dirty) way of burning tar sands, we become that much more path dependent on oil. That’s game over for our planet.

I’ve heard you tell me directly about how Washington needs change, how it’s beholden to special interests, how our government needs bold action.

I say to you, lead the charge.

Adam Jadhav

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And we’re back…

I’ve only been back stateside less than a week. I spent my winter break in India and specifically Delhi, visiting friends (and one incredibly important person), laying the ground work for research, meeting scholars and activists, reading development material — Seeing Like a State, The Bottom Billion and Development Redefined — and eating.

This included visits to the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, the Energy and Resources Institute, Greenpeace India, JNU, WWF India, an organic farm and the Centre for Science and Environment.

It also meant many meals of gunpowder and paratha and curry and thugpa and paranthe and chana and bhel puri and, well, everything. I had the best Indian meals of my life in an out of the way faux village and probably consumed more Tibetan momos in the three weeks there than in my entire life previously. Sadly, almost none of this food was properly photographed. This seems like an incredible oversight now.

Unfortunately, the trip was too short. It always is. But I’ll be back in May.

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Finals blogging hiatus and “I wish I were here…”

The view from Namchi

In between fevered bouts of studying for Environmental Economics and Environmental Science, I’ve been dreaming of the himalayas. Here’s an old favorite photo.

I’m officially powering down the blog for a while (possibly until after the new year, but I almost never succeed at leaving it alone). Happy holidays to all.

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Panchayats the answer to India’s environmental woes? Not yet…

I spent much the past semester debating all the various ways society and individuals might protect the environment. What else would you expect from a policy program?

One answer I stumbled upon and investigated is India’s traditional form of local government, made constitutionally secure not quite two decades ago: the panchayat — literally the council of five.

Panchayats represent India’s attempts at decentralization, the supposed transfer of powers from the central and state governments down to village-level actors. For the environment, this theoretically promises that resource, conservation and protection decisions are made at the level where they are actually felt. In reality, panchayats today are hardly robust institutions of local governance. They’re mostly used as implementing agencies for India’s development agenda. Meanwhile they face competition from other less than secure or democratic institutions specifically designed to manage resources.

I’m not promising it’s the most riveting read; and I’m not certain I like the final product. This issue could be a much longer paper involving substantial field work. But click here if you really want to know.

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Fertilize Me: Dead zones of the Gulf

Green cloudy, dead water

Fertilizer runoff from the Mississippi River basin creates a tremendous environmental and economic externality as it washes downstream to the Gulf of Mexico each spring and summer. The water becomes so depleted of oxygen that life nearly ceases to exist a vast swatch of the sea.

Here’s the short explanation: Farmers, being risk averse, apply excessive amounts of fertilizers (namely nitrates and phosphorous) to their land. This invariably washes to the nearest stream or creek which feeds the watershed of the Mississippi River system. This basin covers more than 40 percent of the contiguous U.S.

Once in the Gulf of Mexico, the fertilizers fuel massive algae growth. When the algae die (or are eaten and excreted by zooplankton), their decomposition by bacteria robs the water of dissolved oxygen, which other life needs to survive.

The result: The creeping dead zone visible above in the cloudy, green water.

The problem is rooted in agricultural policy, lack of science and inappropriate property rights/controls. There are economic and social answers, but they won’t be easy. The primary one involves ag subsidy reform and taxes, which would almost certainly anger the farm lobby.

If you want to read more, click here for an economic analysis in PDF form.

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Is shark finning the answer to shark finning?

Cruising behind him

Global shark catch is staggering. As many as 73 million sharks are taken from the ocean each year; most are relieved of their fins and dumped back in the water while still alive. These beautiful and important predators now face serious threats from our wanton harvesting, mostly to satisfy the demand for shark fin soup.

First and foremost this is tragic simply in terms of human decimation of biodiversity. Excepting that ecological concern, there are real reasons to worry from an entirely anthropocentric standpoint. For one, sharks provide ecotourism benefits to many coastal economies, as divers pay substantially to see them. Also, as apex predators, a decline in shark populations can lead to explosions of other species on lower trophic levels, which can threaten ecosystems of commercial importance For example, fewer sharks lead to more rays which lead to less scallops for us to sell for dipping in butter.

Is there an answer? Shark sanctuaries are fantastic; they represent the ideal of conservation. However, given problems with enforcement and the potential for bans to simply displace degradation rather than curtail it, national prohibitions don’t seem realistic as a complete solution.

I argue, rather, that we need to recognize — at least in the interim — the reality that shark finning will likely continue. We would do well then to incentivize conservation and better management so that fishermen and fleets develop an interest in preserving rather than over-harvesting. In this class paper, I lay out the economic reasoning for a nation-by-nation transferable shark fishing quota system.

This would push harvests toward social and biological optimums; in conjunction with marine protected areas and fishing best practice standards, a quota system might actually slow the destruction of shark populations worldwide.

It’s not a particularly palatable option for shark lovers (myself included). Under a quota system, some number of sharks like the one above will still be killed for an overpriced, elitist broth. But it also might do better to ensure that a sustainable population of sharks sticks around.

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