Archive for the ‘pollution’ Category

millions of good things

October 22, 2008

Bette Midler, the founder of the New York Restoration Project, planting a Carolina Silverbell tree.
(Image: Suzanne DeChillo/The New York Times)

If we are going to beat global warming, we are going to have to weatherize millions of buildings, install millions of solar panels, manufacture millions of wind-turbine parts, plant and care for millions of trees, build millions of plug-in hybrid vehicles, and construct thousands of solar farms, wind farms, and wave farms. That will require thousands of contracts and millions of jobs — producing billions of dollars of economic stimulus.

~Van Jones
The Green Collar Economy

It’s only the beginning…

Million Solar Roofs [Cali.]
The plan will provide 3,000 megawatts of additional clean energy and reduce the output of greenhouse gasses by 3 million tons which is like taking one million cars off the road.
~Arnold Schwarzenegger

Million Trees [NYC]
Trees help clean our air, and reduce the pollutants that trigger asthma attacks and exacerbate other respiratory diseases. They cool our streets, sidewalks, and homes on hot summer days. Trees increase property value, and encourage neighborhood revitalization. And trees make our City an even more beautiful and comfortable place to live, work, and visit.

Million Building Retrofits [S. Bronx… coming soon]
Drafty buildings create broke, chilly people — and an overheated planet.
~Van Jones

can nyc be an exemplary eco city?

October 21, 2008

That was the question posed last night at the Open Center, in a lecture of the same name. The panelists approached sustainability from both an individual and governmental perspective.

Rohit Aggarwala
Director of the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability in NYC

According to Rohit, PlaNYC started out as an economic plan. But with population projected to reach 9.1 million residents by 2030 (it’s currently over 8 million), it became clear that the focus needed to be on sustainability.

One consideration led to another: if you think about land use patterns, especially with regard to housing, you can’t ignore transportation infrastructure; when you consider transportation, air quality becomes a factor; a contributor to poor air quality is the city’s current energy resources — yet another layer; and those energy resources also pollute our waterways, so there’s water quality to think about.

Its population growth makes New York City unique among old American cities. There was no model to follow. So the mayor’s office turned to other cities around the world. For example, London was the model for congestion pricing, which is up for reconsideration. Or as one NYTimes reporter put it, Governor Paterson is “rescuing the controversial program from the brink of death.”

Read the full PlaNYC report.

Starre Vartan
One of the original green bloggers (eco chick), author of The Eco Chick Guide to Life: How to Be Fabulously Green, and managing editor for the Greenopia guide

Starre offered up 7 of her top 10 ways to live sustainably in NYC (her time was cut short).

In general, she says to consider what you do most in your daily life, and then figure out how you can make changes to reduce your impact.

[NB. I’ve paraphrased a bit]

1. Food. Support farmer’s markets and local food, as our food miles add a considerable heft to our carbon footprint.

2. Goods. Buy local. There are many great designers of furniture, clothing, and other goods right here in NYC. When you consider a simple article of clothing like a t-shirt, think about all that went into it. The cotton, grown with chemical fertilizers and treated with pesticides is grown in one country. Then it’s shipped to another place to be dyed. Then the fabric is sent somewhere else to be sewn together. The tags may be sewn on in an entirely different place. The carbon footprint of a t-shirt is astronomical! (Read about the perfect t-shirt ever made [!])

3. Transport. Keep using public transportation. Bike if you’ve got one. There are bike advocate groups you can join or support (like Recycle a Bicycle). Limit cab rides or share with a friend (or try a service like Ride Amigos).

4. Toxins. Get them out of your life. One of the simplest, easiest, and least expensive ways to do this is to swap your cleaning supplies. Toxic chemicals from cleaning products pollute our waterways and our bodies. Waste treatment facilities only filter out bio-organisms, so those cleaning biproducts are mixing together in our water. Another way to eliminate toxins is changing your beauty products.

5. Energy. Switch to clean energy through services like ConEdison Solutions, which offer wind and hydroelectric power that feeds into the grid (which unless you’re off the grid, and you’d know if you were, you’re hooked up to). It may cost a little more per month, but what you’re paying for is clean air and health. It’s really the one place you should spend a little more to help save our health and the planet.

6. Junk mail. Sign up for services that stop junk mail, like GreenDimes or DMAChoice (I know it works, ’cause I’ve used it!).

7. Office. Green your workplace. Some motivated employees may already be volunteering to help reduce the carbon footprint of their office. But many businesses still have along way to go to achieve eco-friendly status. Implement recycling, start a campaign to eliminate paper cup use (bring your own!), encourage printing on both sides. These steps will make the office more sustainable and help the bottom line!

Visit Eco chick for more green living tips.

Janna Olson
Sustainability consultant and NYC market manager & researcher at Greenopia

I was excited to see Janna there, as I’m currently taking a class with her (which I’ll write about soon). She had some technical difficulties (her Mac couldn’t communicate with the overhead projector), but Janna raised some really compelling points — many of them directed at Rohit Aggarwala.

One of the concepts Janna discussed was distributed energy generation, specifically solar empowerment zones — a term coined by City Councilmember and Infrastructure Task Force co-chair Daniel Garodnick [OnEarth]. Essentially, buildings in areas of the city that have been identified as suitable for photovoltaic solar panel installation (“low-density areas that have buildings with large rooftops to create a synergy for an entire neighborhood to become solar-powered,” according to Garodnick) would be given incentive to invest in solar. This method makes solar more cost-effective through sharing of maintenance responsibility, tax incentives, and the potential for a consolidated connection to the grid within the zone.

Janna also talked about the usefulness and importance of the Greenopia guide. While helping consumers living in cities like New York find green businesses, the guide helps green businesses — some of which might have a limited marketing budget — get the attention they deserve. She also stressed that living green should not be a chore, it can and should be a fun endeavor.

Read an interview with Janna [alldaybuffet].

Sign up for an upcoming eco event at the Open Center:

How to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint, and Still Have a Great Life

with Colin Beavan (No Impact Man) and Janna Olson
Friday, January 16 2009, 7:00pm – 10:00pm

an open letter to the new president

October 17, 2008

[Image source: 7×7]

Michael Pollan challenges the future president to take a serious look at revolutionizing the current state of the food industry in a recent NY Times article. An excerpt:

After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study. Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.

Read the rest. [NY Times]

NOxious fumes

August 13, 2008

Nitrogen oxides, or NOx, are highly reactive gases that are emitted from cars and other machinery, contributing to a range of environmental hazards. NOx-attributed detriments include:

  • Smog
  • Acid rain
  • Air particulates (not so great for us lung-breathers)
  • Water pollution
  • Climate change
  • Biological mutations via chemical reactions

[Source: US EPA]

Well in Madrid, Spain, they’ve figured out a way to help contain NOx emissions right where they occur the most — on the road. The newly laid asphalt paving Spanish streets includes a mix that includes titanium dioxide called “noxer.” Titanium dioxide is a photocatalyst that uses sun to capture NOx and render the oxides harmless, leaving only nitrate ions. These ions are then either washed away by rain or are stored within the pavement.

[Image: Ángel Casaña]

The city claims that up to 90% of NOx can be recaptured on a sunny day.

How noxer works:

[Source: Wikipedia]

1. Ultraviolet radiation is absorbed by the titanium dioxide, which causes the photolysis of water into superoxide ions and hydroxyl radicals.
2. Nitrogen oxides react with the superoxide ions and the hydroxyl radicals to form nitrate ions.
3. The nitrate ions are absorbed into the block and form stable compounds.

[Europa Press via autobloggreen]

end mountaintop removal

August 1, 2008

The destructive process of mountaintop removal coal mining must be stopped. It destroys entire mountains, ecosystems, communities, and economies. Here, Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. explains:

“In May 2002 I flew over the coalfields of Kentucky and West Virginia. From the air, I came face to face with one, but only one, of the enormous costs we pay for our nation’s dependence on coal. Leveled mountains, devastated communities, wrecked economies and ruined lives—this is the coal truth.

Half of our electricity comes from coal. In the Appalachian chain, ancient mountains are dismantled through a form of strip mining called mountaintop removal. We’re cutting down these historic landscapes—where Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett roamed and that are the source of America’s values and culture—with giant machines called draglines. These behemoths stand 22 stories, cost half a billion dollars, and practically dispense with the need for human labor.

That, indeed is the point. I recall a conversation that I had with my father when I was 14 years old and he was fighting strip mining in Appalachia. There was no environmental issue about which my father cared more passionately than strip mining. He visited the Appalachian coalfields in 1966 and many times thereafter. He explained to me that the strip miners were not just destroying the environment, they were permanently impoverishing the region; there was no way that Appalachian communities could rebuild an economy from the barren moonscapes the strip industry left behind. “And,” he told me, “they are doing it to break the unions.” Back then there were 114,000 unionized mine workers in West Virginia digging coal from tunnels and supporting the families and communities of Appalachia. Today, there are less than 11,000 miners in West Virginia taking the same amount of coal and only a fraction of them are unionized because the strip industry isn’t.” Read more…

Join over 30,000 others who are standing up against this heinous act against the environment.

Pin this badge on your site.

don’t flush!

July 30, 2008

Your drugs that is… Since we’re on the topic of medicine and waste, I thought it apropos to issue this reminder. When you want to dispose of expired or unused drugs, don’t send them on their merry way down the toilet into sewageland. That drug-laced sewage ends up in our precious waterways, changing the sex of fish, or in the case of flushed Prozac, making fish too happy they forget to eat. Medical waste does all sorts of fun damage to the environment.

So what do you do with those old drugs? Some suggestions:

  • Contact your pharmacy — they may have a drug recycling program
  • Call your local hazardous waste facility — they may have recommendations for drug disposal [The New York State site here]
  • Smash the pills, put them back in their original container, and put that container in a sealable plastic bag. Throw it out with the trash. The problem here is that plastic doesn’t degrade well, and once it does, that medicine is still finding its way out into the environment

Just remember, whatever you do, don’t flush!

toxic gowanus hotbed of medical discovery

July 30, 2008

Ah, the Gowanus Canal, glowing radioactive green. Reflecting the scrap metal heap and its cranes, reminiscent of brontosaurus eating lunch. How can anyone not appreciate the toxic splendor of thee?

If you’re not familiar with the much-discussed (at least in Brooklyn), much-joked-about waterway, here’s a taste:
(MMmmm, delish!)

It turns out, surprisingly enough, oil slicks and various toxins aren’t the only things swirling around in there. A team of researchers –New York City College of Technology Biology Professors Nasreen and Niloufar Haque — has determined the Gowanus is a breeding ground for future medical agents, specifically antibiotics.

An excerpt:

“Despite the canal’s toxicity, which includes cancer-causing chemical agents,” explained Nasreen, “microorganisms are surviving by adapting to the harsh environment there that shouldn’t survive at all. Working in synergy, they seem to sense if nutrients are available; they exchange genes and secrete substances — some of which operate like antibiotics. I believe these substances may provide clues that lead to the development of new drugs to combat human disease.

Who knew?
Read the whole story here.

[Newswise via Gowanus Lounge]

eating less: good for more than health

July 25, 2008

“Eat Less Fatso…”

This is something I’ve been thinking about lately — that eating less is good for me and the planet. Now, I love to eat, and while I try to be a responsible eater, I can be a little indulgent sometimes. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with treating yourself once in a while, but it’s neither healthy nor responsible to eat more than your share.

Maybe I’m not like most Americans when it comes to demanding large portions, but I find it off-putting when a restaurant serves a big pile of food that no human should consume in a single sitting. It’s just wasteful. And I’m not just talking about the food waste, it goes deeper than that.

For every bite of food we eat, there was soil tilled, water sprayed, and fuel spent. If it was conventionally farmed, there were chemicals used. For meat, all of the aforementioned applies, as the animals were fed farmed and processed grain. Animal waste has to be managed. And their waste pollutes. Pollution control from farming is subsidized, as is the grain for animal feed. Not to mention the gaseous waste from the animals’ rears, contributing to climate change. Or the fact that all of this animal farming takes up vast swaths of land, where trees were felled to make way for grazing habitat.

Once the raw products leave the farm, there’s processing, and often packaging, involved. So eating minimally processed foods — whole grains, fruit, vegetables, etc — also helps reduce waste (and your waist).

As I was thinking about all of this, two articles came my way, reporting on the same study that says eating less is one of the best ways to save the planet. A couple of excerpts:

According to researchers, by just reducing junk food intake and converting to diets lower in meat, the average American could have a massive impact on fuel consumption as well as improving his or her health… They contend that the most dramatic reduction in energy used for food processing would come about if consumers reduced their demand for highly processed foods.

…the consumer is in the strongest position to contribute to a reduction in energy use. [The Economic Times]

A link to the abstract here (you can purchase the full journal article for $32).

another reason to choose organic

July 17, 2008

Choosing organic isn’t just about not consuming pesticides. It’s also a choice that affects the ecosystem, big time. I’ve mentioned the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico before. Well, I hate to be all doom-and-gloomy, but it’s getting bigger — it’ll be about the size of New Jersey this summer, according to the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium. Runoff of agricultural chemicals is doing the trick. From the New York Times :

The scientists said high nutrient levels in the water stimulate the growth of algae whose eventual decomposition depletes oxygen to the point that most marine life cannot survive.

TNT-free demo

July 15, 2008

In Japan, they’re implementing this pollution-saving way to demolition buildings. It’s called daruma-otoshi, based on a video game of a similar concept. What they do is take the building apart from the bottom up instead of just blowing the whole thing up, which would scatter debris all over the place. It also saves about 20% of the time of just blowing the building up, as the clean up is more methodical and less laborious.

[Gizmodo via Kajima via Pink Tentacle]