Search

GEOGRAPHY EDUCATION

Supporting geography educators everywhere with current digital resources.

Using ‘Geography Education’

“This story map was created with ArcGIS Online to guide users on how to get the most out of the Geography Education websites on WordPress and Scoop.it.”

Source: www.arcgis.com

This story map will introduce you to ways to get the most out of my Geography Education websites.  Updates are available on social media via Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.  You can also find articles specifically about regional geography (GEOG 200)  or for an introduction to geography (GEOG 101).

Featured post

The World’s Newest Republic

How one nation’s sovereignty movement is setting off a chain reaction among former British colonies in the Caribbean.

Though Barbados gained its independence as a constitutional monarchy in 1966, only last year did the nation formally sever ties with Britain—removing Queen Elizabeth II as its head of state and electing the nation’s first president in the process. Removing the Queen as head of state is not a political endpoint, then, but one step toward reasserting Black Barbadian identity and sovereignty.” SOURCE: The Atlantic

What is the difference between the United Kingdom, Great Britain, and England?  Or what about the distinction between the Commonwealth, possessions of the Crown, and the British Empire?  It is easy stay out of the complicated nature of these questions, but many people in former parts of the British Empire are starting to delve into these questions; the death of Queen Elizabeth made many of these conversations more on the forefront of the public consciousness. Some Commonwealth countries like Barbados have distanced themselves from what they see as vestigial remains of a complex colonial heritage, and countries like Jamaica are seriously considering following suit.

Questions to ponder: What old forces have kept political connections between the UK and former colonies in place for so many decades?  What new forces are reconfiguring political and cultural institutions in the Caribbean?

TAGS: Barbados, colonialism, Middle America, political, sovereignty.

The Geographic Roots of Norway’s Economic Success

Norway’s economic success is unrivalled, both in Scandinavia as well as compared to other countries with oil resources.  In the early 20th century, Norway was relatively poor; they had limited agricultural lands and relied heavily on ocean resources and their merchant marine fleet to fuel their economy.  The hydroelectric resources were a part of their growth that put them back on par with their European neighbors.

The 1969 discovering of oil in the North Sea was the obvious answer to their economic growth.  The overlooked aspect is the low levels of corruption, sound public policy for future economic success, and democratic institutions that were already deeply entrenched in Norway.  Many oil-rich countries have squandered the wealth being incentivized for short-term spending at best, with politicians siphoning off the money at worse.  Timing can matter tremendously; Norway was developed first, THEN discovered oil in 1969.  That means that the already solid institutions were the ones to shepherd in their enormous success. 

TAGS: Norway.

The Baltic States

Countries can’t choose their neighbors and in the case of the Baltics, the shadow of Russia looms large. This video shows some of the historical context and the shifting political geography of the Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

‘Sailing Stones’ in Death Valley

The long version…and no spoilers yet!!

The mystery on the ‘sailing stones’ in Death Valley’s Racetrack playa has been solved and I wrote about a few years ago when it happened, but the video embedded above is so well done, it’s worth revisiting this remote, harsh landscape where large rocks can ‘flow’ uphill. 

SPOILERS (since 2014): On very rare occasions, when it rains in the region, water will accumulate in the playa (discovermagazine.com), and if the temperature dips below freezing a thin layer of ice will cover the playa.  If the wind is powerful and consistent enough, the wind will push the panels of ice against these rocks and over time, the ice floes will push these rocks, leaving behind distinctive trails (latimes.com). This perfect combination of water, wind, ice and heat creates a remarkable signature on the landscape (livescience.com).  The decidedly non-aerodynamic rocks of Death Valley’s Racetrack Playa leave behind a trail in the hot desert.  Numerous attempts using GPS receivers (NatGeo.com) and good ol’ fashioned observations have been made, but observing ice in Death Valley is so rare that it was never observed until 2014 (phys.org). 

Tags: physical, geomorphology, landforms, desertlandscape.

Ukraine gets the upper hand

In February of 2022, I could not imagine a scenario where Ukraine, without any other military allies, would be able to repel a Russian invasion, much less start winning back some territory that they lost. True, many got it wrong, but what did we not see? I overestimated the competency of the Russian military and assumed greater demographic resources would be sufficient to explain the result of the conflict. More importantly though, I underestimated the galvanizing force that nationalism would have on a country under attack. If Ukraine wasn’t the most cohesive ethnic group with a cohesive national identity, this Russian invasion strengthened the cultural cohesion and the political identity to successfully fight back. The video below is a good explanation of the changes in the war from 2021 to Sept. 2022.

SOURCE: Vox on Youtube

The geographic roots of Europe’s energy crisis

German nuclear power plant running again

Energy prices have risen across Europe in the last year, and as winter approaches many fear that an energy crisis might be on the horizon.  This brings up many questions, with the first and most obvious one being, why did energy prices rise?  Complex global markets are, well, complex, but large geopolitical events are often the stage for trade disruptions that can lead to shortages.  The Russian invasion of Ukraine in April 2022 was a major move, one that many European countries were quick to condemn.  Russia is an energy exporter with large oil, coal and natural gas reserves.  Russia supplied 40% of the EU’s natural gas before the war, but only 9% now after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline ceased being utilized.  Nord Stream 1, which pipes gas through the Baltic to Germany, has a very limited flow currently (officially, this is annual maintenance, but skeptics note that the flow is lower than regular maintenance and suspect Russia is putting the squeeze on the EU). This summer’s heat wave wouldn’t have been as big and issue if energy were abundant and relatively cheap in Europe.

Europe has stumbled into an energy crisis because of these geopolitical maneuverings. Natural gas is a primary energy source, but one that is especially used for heating and therefore, more critical in the wintertime.  The United States and European countries sought to impose strong economic sanctions against Russia, hoping to cut into Putin’s revenue stream and stop the war; or at least not feel as though they were funding the war.  This overvalued the power of an embargo of an and underappreciated the reliance of the European economy and standard of living on access to affordable energy. 

A quick animated explanation of the current energy catastrophe in Europe

Natural gas prices in Europe were at times in the summer, 7 to 8 times more expensive than gas in the United States. Many private individuals, small businesses, and any business with a thin profit margin, felt the squeeze of energy bills. Russia isn’t backing down from any economic sanction, saying that other regions besides Europe will gladly buy Russian gas. China has kept Russian production from grinding to a halt, effectively breaking the westward embargo, by sending it East.  Consequently, Europe is facing the negative consequences of the economic sanctions more so than the Russian energy sector. 

Europe has diversified natural gas and other energy sources, and launching a package of emergency proposals to get through the winter. Some analysts are optimist that Europe has solved the energy crisis before winter, by building more storage, increasing domestic production, and diversifying their supply. .  Countries like Germany have been reluctant to use their nuclear power and were caught flat-footed.    Coal, nuclear energy, and other energy sources that were dismissed for carbon emission concerns or environmental concerns are being reevaluated as the need is high in an energy-hungry market.  The prices will continue to fluctuate but this is an issue worth keeping an eye on in the next few months.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline is currently functioning far below capacity

TAGS: Europe, energy, geopolitics.

Sri Lanka’s Agricultural Failures

The collapse of the Sri Lankan government was a shock, but outside of regional experts, few were paying attention to the South Asian Island nation during the global pandemic to worry about their agriculture and economy.  Now is the time for us to reflect and consider.  There was a currency crisis, food shortages, energy shortages, a suffering tourism industry during COVID, a popular uprising, but underneath it all were the policies that destabilized the whole system.  Policies that sounded seductively enticing, and generated global admiration from the WEF and sustainable agriculture advocates. Sri Lanka received a glowing ESG score, but despite this international acclaim, it came with one fatal flaw—the policies didn’t support the people of Sri Lanka. 

I will focus primarily on the agricultural aspects of crisis (since it fits best with human geography curriculum) but yes, there were other political and economic factors.  Organic farming is only for the wealthy in developed countries that can afford organic food as a lifestyle choice, or the very poor in rural, underdeveloped regions that engage in subsistence agriculture without access to Green Revolution technologies.  Organic food accounts for 1% of the global food trade, and most of humanity relies of the technological advancements made by the Green Revolution for their food supply. 

Fertilizer is in short supply with the ban on synthetics.

The government of Sri Lanka announced a 10-year plan to transition to 100% organic farming, by banning synthetic fertilizers and pesticides (the very inputs that double Sri Lanka’s yield in the 1960s from the Green Revolution).  Over 30% of Sri Lankan farmland lay dormant without enough manure and other approved replacements.  Something else that we often forget is the modern agriculture is heavily dependent on fossil fuel usage for the heavy machinery to replace manual labor.  As the economy struggled, fuel prices went up and resources were rationed so that farmers couldn’t run their machinery and couldn’t get they products to the market.   85% of farmers suffered crop losses and overall production declined by over 20%, which might not sound like much as the 4th largest tea exporter in the world and a country that primarily consumes rice, crashing the rice and tea markets in catastrophic. 

Sustainable agriculture sounds lovely as a goal, but not if the needs of the people are not being met first.  Sri Lanka serves a cautionary tale for countries prioritizing international environmental aims over policies that will promote economic growth and human flourishing within their borders. The romanticism of organic agriculture is a fine choice for those who can afford it, but horrible to impose on those who cannot. 

Main Sources: Foreign Policy, BBC World Service Podcast.

Tags: agriculture, political, Sri Lanka, agribusiness, South Asia.

Beaches, Pollution, Governance, and Scale

Coronado Beach scene from the movie, “Top Gun: Maverick.” Point Loma peninsula in the background.
Local Area

I was in the waves, enjoying the beach on my vacation to San Diego, when the importance of geographic scale to political governance hit me (I know, I’m a geography nerd…guilty).  Local, state, national, and international organizations administer laws and regulations over space, and there are going to be overlapping jurisdictions and different priorities at different scales.  I visited the two beaches I always went to as a kid, Coronado and Imperial Beach (IB).  These are the two most southern beaches in California, and Coronado is now famous for the Top Gun: Maverick beach scenes with Point Loma in the background.  Not surprisingly, tourism is incredibly important to these beach communities, especially in the summer.  As is often the case, this little case study shows how geographic topics and scales are interlinked on the ground (or in the water as it were). 

Imperial Beach is famous for it’s sandcastle festivals.

INTERNATIONAL CONTEXT: The Tijuana River flows through downtown Tijuana and crosses the U.S. border before emptying into the Pacific Ocean.  The river is heavily industrialized in Mexico with pollutants and sewage from the major urban area of Tijuana, but the river is treated as a wetlands wilderness preserve in the once it crosses into the United States (downstream of the pollutants).    

The Tijuana River cares not for international borders and differing regulations.

LOCAL (CITY) CONTEXT: The South Bay beach communities have built a summer economy around surfing, sandcastles, and chilling at the beach.  This municipalities generate a substantial portion of local revenue from the shops, restaurants, and businesses (Hotel Del Coronado is the most famous seaside venue here). 

COUNTY CONTEXT: In May, 2022, San Diego County changed their methods of testing water quality.  They implemented a DNA test to screen for bacteria in the water.  This test is more sensitive that the older tests and San Diego County is the only county in the U.S. using this heightened standard to measure water quality at the beach.      

PANDEMIC CONTEXT: Public health is more on the forefront of people’s radar and many agencies are more risk averse than individuals. 

SITUATION: The water at Imperial Beach, Silver Stand, and Coronado failed the new 2022 test more often than not even if it would have passed by the old standard.  May and early June, the beaches were closed over 50% of the time. San Diego County cities can’t control the Tijuana River much before it crosses back into the United States, so they are limited on options to clean up the river, but the Federal government though, through the EPA, announced in 2021 that a $300 million initiative in conjunction with the Mexican government.  This summer, Coronado has had to cancel large regional events and now the mayors, city councils, business leaders, and residents are pushing back against the new county testing procedures, citing economic damage to their communities. They have settled on a new advisory system that includes a comprise warning—one  where the state is acknowledging that the water is polluted (3% chance of getting sick), but that people who have been to these beaches for years can choose for themselves to swim or not.    

What is the right choice?  Depends on your priorities (maintaining the tourist economy or public health benefits?) and the scale at which you are looking at the situation. 

Tags: California, coastal, scale, environmental, political, pollution.

Hotel Del Coronado is both a landmark and a cash cow (featured in Marilyn Monroe’s “Some Like it Hot.”)

Mongolia Didn’t Want Independence?

“It’s not often a country asks to be annexed and even rarer that the answer is no. Yet this is what happened when Mongolia asked the USSR for just that. So why did the USSR say no? To find out, watch this short and simple animated documentary.” SOURCE: YouTube

I haven’t shared much information about Mongolia on this site before (FUN FACT: Mongolia is the least densely populated county in the world).  Most social studies educators are well aware of the history of the Mongolian Empire hundreds of years ago, but we lose the thread of Mongolia in the larger world history narrative.  So modern Mongolia: why is it an independent country?  It is a classic buffer state between Russia and China and has been used as either a puppet or a pawn by its larger neighbors.      

TAGS: Mongoliahistorical.

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑