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ben's blog

Searching for Water Solutions: from a “Land of Wood and Water” to the Sonoran Desert - CLIMAS E&S Grad Fellow

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

An abundance of water or the lack of it has always featured heavily in my life. I grew up in the tropical island of Jamaica which is known as the “Land of Wood and Water”. Although surrounded by the Caribbean Sea, as you traverse the island you will be hard pressed to travel 5 miles without encountering a stream or water feature. Water is intertwined into every aspect of social, economic and cultural life. As children, we regularly went to the beach and played in a stream adjacent to our family farm, oblivious of the connections to exposure to agrochemical runoff from the farm that provided my family’s livelihood. Religious groups perform rituals such as baptisms in water bodies across the island. Tourism, the main contributor to the national economy, is built around water resources as a key natural asset. (read more)

Exploring FireScape - CLIMAS E&S Grad Fellow

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

“How many liters of water do you use a day?” I asked the dozen students sitting around me. A couple of students threw out some guesses, positing that they used somewhere between 20 to 30 liters per day. That aligned with my own estimations: ten liters for bathing, two to three liters for drinking, ten for dishes and cleaning, maybe five for cooking. We were talking about water conservation in their small rural village in Central Zambia. One student raised his hand. “Madam, how much water do people use every day in America?” I had the number ready because I had looked it up the night before. “A family in the US uses about 300 gallons per day.” Shouts erupted around me. “300 gallons! But what are they using that for?” I remember laughing and thinking to myself, I'm teaching environmental conservation to the wrong people.

At the time, I was serving as a Peace Corps Volunteer. After my experience in Zambia, I moved back to the United States with the singular goal of working as an environmental educator. I landed a job with Jean Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve in New Orleans, Louisiana, as their Citizen Science Program Coordinator. I designed and directed their citizen science program from scratch through engaging students and community members in local, regional, and national research projects. I taught them how to use specific protocols to contribute data for national and local research projects focused on biocontrol agents, phenology, invasive species, amphibian monitoring, water quality testing, and bird monitoring. (read more)

Responding to Flooding in Ottawa County, OK - CLIMAS E&S Grad Fellow

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

As a child, my first pull to northeastern Oklahoma was water – specifically, the promise of clear water and large lakes. In my father’s hometown, I played in creeks and swam in the same farm ponds that provided drinking water to cattle. There were nearby lakes that I found magical, but my father promised me that I just didn’t know good lakes. The ones near us were murky and muddy, he said, nothing like the large and clear lakes in northeastern Oklahoma. One summer, my siblings and I all piled in his truck and drove for what felt like hours and hours. When we finally arrived, my father pulled over on top of a hill overlooking the lake. Something was wrong. As far as we could see, dead fish scarred the water’s surface. My father told us we couldn’t swim. He suspected that chicken waste, dumped in the river that fed the lake, had killed the fish. But it could’ve been anything… We drove away disappointed. This is my first memory of both water in northeastern Oklahoma and consciously seeing the ill-effects of human industrial activity. (read more)

Caring in Crisis: Challenges and Lessons in Practicing Collaborative Research in 2020

Thursday, February 18, 2021

My CLIMAS fellowship project was geared towards building a web platform called “Regenerate Hub” that provides data visualization and collaborative tools to enable diverse stakeholders to take action on interconnected social, environmental, and infrastructural problems. I am a doctoral candidate in anthropology and I met my community partners for this project, Recycle Lebanon, through my preliminary dissertation research. This research was investigating how people were intervening in Lebanon’s greatest challenges through altering and repairing infrastructural systems such as waste management. Recycle Lebanon is a small Lebanese nonprofit organization that emerged in response to the garbage crisis in Lebanon that peaked in 2015. They began by designing campaigns to clean garbage from coastlines, waterways, and forests, a movement which grew to include establishing the first zero waste shop in the Middle East (the EcoSouk) and innovating ways to reuse waste such as cigarettes through creating the first cigarette recycling initiative in the country. (read more)

Community Cookbook - Reflections on the CLIMAS E&S Fellowship

Thursday, February 18, 2021

For the last twelve months, I have been on a rollercoaster of emotions; but, as my friends tell me, I am pretty much always on that rollercoaster of emotions, pandemic or not. So, as we near the one-year marker of social distancing in the U.S., I am reflecting on my turbulent feelings and experiences. I spent the majority of the pandemic 3,000 miles away from my family, oscillating between missing them, being scared for them living so close to New York City, and grateful I wasn’t cooped up alongside everyone in our small New Jersey apartment. In Tucson, I was able to keep working, keep getting paid, keep spending time outside, and keep my basic needs met. This came with a lot of guilt as I heard from friends and acquaintances all the struggles they faced with unemployment, food insecurity, immigration, being an essential worker, getting sick with COVID-19, and more.

I think I am still sitting in that guilt, but I also know I have a responsibility to fighting the systems that cause and exacerbate the hardships we are facing. Capitalism, white supremacy, and colonialism undercut almost every choice we make, and we have to be vigilantly anti-racist, anti-capitalist, decolonial, etc. if we ever hope to see a brighter future. This year I learned and engaged with organizing and direct action in a significant way for the first time since undergrad. I was a part of powerful gatherings for Black lives, rallied against police brutality, saw local progressive candidates for office I helped campaign for win their elections, redistributed some of my wealth via mutual aid, and tried to give myself emotional space to process instead of running away from my thoughts. I know it was not enough and that I could always do more, but I think it is important to recognize the small triumphs in the fight for liberation.

In this spirit, food has grounded me. Even though my grand and luscious raised garden bed dreams never came to fruition (not for lack of trying…), I took solace and rejuvenation in the form of cooking, sharing photos of meals in WhatsApp chats, calling distant family members for recipes, and using the kitchen as a space to slow down and intentionally reflect on the world. With all of this in mind, I present a summary of my work with the CLIMAS fellowship program. (read more)

Research on the Little Bighorn River - Reflections on the CLIMAS E&S Fellowship

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Nestled in the valleys between Iisaxpúatahchee Isawaxaawúua/The Bighorn Mountains and the rolling plains of the Powder River Basin, Apsáalooke people make their home within the Iisaxpúatahcheeaashe/Big Horn River, Iisaxpúatuahcheeaashiakaate/Little Bighorn River (Figure 1), and Alúutaashe/Arrow Creek watersheds. I do not have a first memory of the Little Bighorn River because it is all I have ever known. I was raised along this river that has taken care of my people for many generations. It flows north from the heart of the Big Horn Mountains which begins in Wyoming – traditional Apsáalooke territory – into the crevices of the Cheétiish/Wolf Mountains eventually joining the Big Horn River at the northern end of our reservation. My people have always relied on our water resources and remained connected to the water as an element and buluksée/water creatures. We have been instructed on how to care for the river and use the river for ceremonial practices such as Tobacco Society, Sundance, sweat lodges, and bundle ceremonies. We are told to feed the river when the cotton first falls in the spring, and to ask for protection for our children as we interact more with the river due to the warmer months. The Little Bighorn River has always provided for my people and, for that, we are forever grateful. (read more)

V. parahaemolyticus: a small bacteria with a big name

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Rates of illness from Vibrio parahaemolyticus have steadily been increasing as other foodborne illnesses have been decreasing. In California, rates of vibriosis has increased by almost 40% between 2009 and 2012.1 Often, the primary culprit for V. parahaemolyticus exposure is from the consumption of raw oysters. As climate change drives changes in water temperature, salinity, and phytoplankton composition in estuarine environments, there is a growing concern for an increased prevalence of V. parahaemolyticus. Taken together, it is increasingly imperative to understand the prevalence and human health risks of V. parahaemolyticus from both a local and global perspective. My dissertation research, in collaboration with Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), aimed to do just that. (read more)

Southwest Climate Outlook - El Niño Tracker - January 2019

Friday, January 18, 2019

Sea surface temperatures (SSTs) are still above average across the equatorial Pacific (Fig. 1), but they have fallen since last month (Fig. 2). Atmospheric conditions still have not coupled with oceanic conditions, and the Madden Julian Oscillation (MJO) is being discussed as one source of this delayed interaction. Forecasters continue to expect an El Niño to form, provided atmospheric conditions catch up with oceanic conditions and that SSTs remain above normal, but the window for relevance of such an event to the Southwest (i.e. the effect on cool-season precipitation) is closing. (read more)

Southwest Climate Outlook January 2019 - Climate Summary

Thursday, January 17, 2019

December Precipitation and Temperature: December precipitation was variable across the Southwest, although temperatures were more consistently average to above average. Precipitation in Arizona was mostly below average to average with small areas of above average in the southeastern and northeastern corners of the state (Fig. 1). In New Mexico, precipitation was average to above average across most of the state (Fig. 1). Temperatures ranged from normal to above normal across Arizona and New Mexico. (read more)

Understanding Farmers’ Choices, Trade-Offs, and Barriers for Selecting Land Management Practices in Northern Ghana

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

In June and July of 2018, I conducted field work in the Bawku East and Nabdam Districts located in the Upper East region of northern Ghana. This is a semi-arid region that has been historically one of the least developed areas in the country. This regional inequality is in part related to the country’s colonial past, a growing population, low soil fertility, increasing environmental degradation, period droughts, and erratic rainfall.

My research focuses on understanding the socio-economic and ecological drivers of land degradation in this region of Ghana as well as understanding the barriers that prevent farmers from adopting sustainable land management practices (SLM) to combat land degradation. SLM practices are one of the best ways to combat and reverse land degradation and enable farmers to maximize the economic and social benefits from the land while maintaining and enhancing the ecological functions of the land. These practices include soil fertility and crop management, soil erosion control measures, water harvesting, forest management etc. (read more)


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