Friday, May 28, 2010

Tips for Green Picnicing...

As we kick off this holiday weekend and the unofficial start to summer it seems fitting to have a couple tips for a "greener" picnic!

STAY LOCAL. Drive Less, Walk, Bike, or Take Public Transportation. This helps save resources (gas) and reduce pollutants by putting fewer miles on your car; get exercise walking or biking; get to know more about your local habitat.

USE REUSABLES. Utensils, Napkins, Plastic Containers and More. Over the years you will substantially decrease your use of virgin resources; save money in the long run.

Give Bottles and Cans a Second Life.

Avoid Petroleum-Based Lighter Fluid.

Support Local Farms.

PACK IT IN, PACK IT OUT. Take Away Your Garbage and Others’ Too!

OBSERVE AND LEARN. Take Field Guides, Binoculars, and Even a Nature Journal. If you are sticking around the Cayuga Lake Region this would be a great weekend to use James Dake's "Field Guide to the Cayuga Lake Region." You can pick that up online here or at the Museum of the Earth gift shop.


Have a safe and happy holiday!

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

How can the CO2 released weigh more than the gasoline I started with?

A gallon of Gasoline weighs between six and seven pounds. If you burn that gallon of gas, the carbon dioxide produced weighs about 19 pounds! How does that work?

The video below explains the chemistry and mathematics of what's going on in three minutes. An animation of the reaction helps make the chemistry easier to understand.

The presentation was created for a public presentation on the Low Carbon Diet.

The animation was created using Apple's Keynote presentation software, and then a screen capture video was made with Jing software.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Lazy 20-Something's Guide To Sustainable Living: On Container Gardening

I've learned a lot of things in my post-college, into-the-real-world life. One of the hardest truths has been how to live sustainably over 500 miles from my family home. I grew up living pretty sustainably in a rural community. I lived within 5 miles of two sets of grandparents, and both sets of grandparents had fabulous gardens. Our backyard also had a garden, and a set of about 6 apple trees and a pear tree. We had so much food, and such a wide variety of it, my dad tilled his garden under so we could play softball in the backyard (leaving the fruit trees, of course). One set of grandparents also had a lovely (and HUGE) lilac bush, and grew a row of flowers that supplied indoor beauty for our dinner table all summer long. The three households would get together and purchase an order of farm-raised chickens each year, and store them in our collective freezer and have bbqs all summer long. Then, with all of the extra food, we'd can loads of tomatoes for winter soups and pasta dishes, use extra apples for deer bait in the fall (for winter meat), and generally live as locavores with a few non-perishable staples.

I didn't notice as I was going through college that my adult life would be far removed from my youth experience as a locavore. My college did a pretty good job of purchasing local, in season foods when possible, and in the summer I'd head home and enjoy all of the advantages you read about above. But now, living year-round over 500 miles away from home, I find eating sustainably and responsibly a LOT harder. I rent, so I can't have my own garden, I live alone, so a CSA provides too much food for my needs (and is a little expensive for a single girl on a non-profit salary), and I don't have the freezer space (or, again, enough mouths to feed) to enjoy the benefits of purchasing a meat share from local cow and chicken farmers. What's an uprooted country girl to do??

My solution: This year, I'm trying container gardening! I've got the green thumb of my youth and a westward facing deck on my side, and I'm giving it a shot. I've got strawberries, lettuce, chives, basil, lemon verbena, rosemary, 2 tomato plants, a cucumber plant, and 2 pepper plants hanging out on my deck right now (and some oatgrass for the kitties). I've also got some gazanias ready to plant, too. I'm dedicated to seeing if this is the solution for a lazy 20-something who loves to eat fresh veggies. I already forsee a few intriguing problems, including a too-curious squirrel, but my biggest concern is watering. Container gardening (especially on my very full sun deck) requires daily watering. I skipped Saturday this weekend and got home Sunday afternoon to already wilting lettuce. My job requires some travel, and the ever-desired vacations and long weekend camping trips associated with summer will leave my container garden abandoned for 2+ days at a time. Also, the people above me also have a deck, which compromises the amount of rainfall my poor container garden will receive, and attempts at a rain barrel (for sustainable, not wandering through my living room, watering) have been relatively unsuccessful. I'm looking into options, and will be sure to keep you abreast of my container gardening successes (and failures) throughout the summer. Any ideas for weekend watering are greatly appreciated!

Friday, May 21, 2010

Green Gardening...

As Spring turns into Summer here in Central New York, I've begun to think a lot about planting and getting my garden in order. I'm sure lots of you are too. I've found a great resource from Planet Green that shows us how to be more green in our gardening. Check it out here: Planet Green.

Happy Gardening!

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

On the costs and benefits of legislation on emissions....

Today's post is by PRI's Education Research Associate, Don Duggan-Haas

On Monday, May 17, I attended the Climate Change Roundtable Discussion on New York State Senate Bill 4315. The purpose of the bill is to require the State Department of Environmental Conservation to institute rules and regulations establishing limits on greenhouse gas emissions. The bill sets out stepwise targets between now and 2050 where the goal is to have emissions 80% below those of 1990.

The Roundtable was sponsored by Buffalo's State Senator Antoine Thompson, who chairs the Senate Committee on Environmental Conservation. It's purpose was to elicit feedback from variety of stakeholders. There were representatives from the New York Farm Bureau, The Sierra Club, NYSERDA, the New York State Chemical Alliance, the New York State Apollo Alliance, National Grid, National Fuel Gas, The Department of Environmental Conservation, the New York Public Interest Research Group, The Business Council of New York State, and many more business, environmental and government organizations. (I'll note that of course we’re all stakeholders).

I was there representing both PRI and WNY Climate Action. I’m a Steering Committee member for WNY Climate Action, a loose-knit all-volunteer community organization whose mission is to organize, facilitate, catalyze, and support personal and collective action in the Buffalo and Western New York to address global climate change. I expect to write more about some of the work I’ve done with this organization in future posts, especially as related to helping folks in Western New York join in coordinated greenhouse gas emissions reductions through a program called The Low Carbon Diet.

In the rest of this post, I’ll share observations and related commentary on two issues from the Senate's Climate Roundtable. The first is that no one who spoke during the two hour meeting in any way denied the reality of human contributions to global climate change. The second, which I’ll spend a bit more time on, has to do with considerations of costs and benefits of action and inaction related to greenhouse gas emissions and the connection of those costs and benefits to innovation.

While support for the bill was not unanimous, no one denied the need for action on emissions reductions and several of those representing business described ways they are working to reduce emissions. The Farm Bureau representative noted that NYS dairy farm GHG emissions are lower than those in most industrialized nations. National Grid's representative spoke of their reward program for executives whose divisions or departments reduce their carbon footprints. I found the agreement on the basic science absolutely refreshing and I hope it's truly indicative of the groups these individual's represent.

Many who talked about their business's initiatives to reduce emissions also noted that the costs for businesses of emissions reductions will be passed along to consumers. I have no doubt that this is true. There are costs to action, but there are also costs to inaction and in both cases costs are economic and environmental. And, I think at least as importantly, the benefits of action will be the consumers' to enjoy.

Certain benefits, in the form of avoided environmental costs are likely obvious to readers of this blog. How much is it worth to not have sea level rise by a meter? To reduce severe weather incidents? Benefits in the form of avoided catastrophe are indeed important, but avoiding something that's predicted but hasn't happened yet might be hard to really appreciate as it is an abstraction. Benefits of emissions reductions also help to reduce unpleasantries right here, right now. Stopping buses from idling while our kids get on and off school buses reduces asthma. If there was fast, frequent and reliable mass transit between Albany and Buffalo, I'd have had a much more pleasant and productive commute to Albany. I wouldn't have had to shell out $10 to park or put in nine hours behind the wheel.

Perhaps most conspicuously in the spring of 2010, if we were living in a world less fossil-fuel dependent, we wouldn't have lost 29 lives in the Upper Big Branch Mine disaster just over a month ago, or lost 11 lives and unleashed the epic and still growing environmental catastrophe that began with the explosiion of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil platform.

To move us away from our fossil fuel dependent lifestyles will require real, large-scale innovation. Senator Thompson used the cell phone to highlight the possibility of sweeping technological change. Very few of us had cell phones in our pockets twenty years ago and now many of us can hardly fathom life without them. What technologies (or what lifestyle changes) will we depend on twenty years from now that we can't imagine today?

Related to the Senator's comments on cell phones, I'll close by raising some SAT-style analogy questions (that I also raised at the Roundtable):

  • Typewriters are to computers as cars are to:___________________
  • Typewriters are to computers as coal-fired power plants are to:___________________
Legislation can help nudge us toward answers to these questions and answers to these questions can lead us to an array of benefits that go beyond avoided catastrophe. Imagine the possibilities. Then do something to move toward those possibilities.

Monday, May 17, 2010

The Science Underneath the Marcellus Shale...

PRI Receives National Science Foundation Award
to do Public Outreach on Marcellus Gas Drilling

The Paleontological Research Institution and its Museum of the Earth (PRI), along with colleagues in the department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) at Cornell University and Cornell Cooperative Extension (CCE), have been awarded nearly $100K from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The award will provide resources to promote public understanding of science and the relative risk associated with natural gas drilling, and to help stakeholders who might consider leasing their land for drilling make informed decisions based on existing scientific evidence.

This award from NSF will allow PRI and its partners to continue the work started by CCE and to expand on them in order to reach a much broader audience across New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio. Over the past year, CCE initiated an outreach campaign that has included a website, "Natural Gas Resource Development Center" (, webinar presentations, and workforce investment and regional planning workshops. PRI is a partner within this outreach team, providing outreach on the earth science aspects of the issues. CCE also provides information about potential water and land use impacts, leasing, local and state regulations, workforce development, municipal officer leadership training, and rural development strategies.

"Our outreach campaign has strived to provide objective information, not for or against gas development, but rather aiming to help stakeholders make scientifically informed decisions about their land and communities," stated Dr. Robert Ross, associate director for outreach at PRI. "Part of our outreach effort has been and will continue to make the distinction between a neutral and advocacy role. It became very clear in 2008 that this was going to become a 'hot-button' issue for our communities. When we began talking to the public in 2009 we knew that we needed more resources to make this outreach initiative effective and to provide the guidance and scientific background these stakeholders needed. This award allows us to provide the much-needed information for these stakeholders to make the best informed decisions for themselves, their properties and their communities"

The outreach effort will be coordinated by a project team comprised of Dr. Robert Ross, associate director for outreach at PRI and an adjunct assistant professor in the department of EAS, Cornell University; Trisha Smrecak, evolution and climate change projects manager, PRI; Dr. Terry Jordan, professor of Geology in the department of EAS, Cornell University; and Dr. Larry Brown, chair and the Sidney Kaufman professor of Geophysics chair in the department of EAS, Cornell University. The CCE Marcellus Team is led by Dr. Rod Howe, assistant director for community and economic vitality at Cornell Cooperative Extension. Outreach efforts planned include:

A user-friendly guide to drilling in the Marcellus Shale with clear explanations of the multitude of issues surrounding the debate. Information will be available in print as a booklet and pamphlets summarizing content of individual chapters, and online (at, with chapters available to download.

A network providing a comprehensive, cohesive source for the scientific information surrounding the Marcellus Shale, including geology, water resources, energy, and technology, through establishing relationships with researchers doing work in the Marcellus Shale and other tight shale deposits throughout the U.S. Particular emphasis will be placed on integrating geology and hydrology (water) research, as these comprise the largest environmental concerns.

Forums to selected communities in NY and in PA, WV, and OH, about the economic and environmental impacts of drilling in “tight shales” like the Marcellus Shale. It will include communication with government officials in affected states, including where research is still being undertaken to examine potential impacts.

Dr. Howe believes, "working with local government officials and community task forces has identified the need for ongoing education focused on different energy development scenarios and the potential impacts on communities."

During this past year the outreach team held a series of public sessions broadly covering gas drilling in communities around the Southern Tier of New York state. They focused on the Marcellus Shale geology, the regional environmental impacts of this type of drilling, the potential positive and negative socio-economic impacts of drilling, and information concerning property leasing.

The issue of gas drilling in the Marcellus Shale is an extremely complex one. There are a number of interdisciplinary and competing interests. These include producing natural resources while balancing environmental concerns, global and regional interest in a relatively clean energy source compared to local concerns for the socioeconomic fabric of communities, and degradation of regional landscapes. Quality-of-life concerns about noise, air, and water pollution balanced against economic growth from increased business, and even concerns of limited energy resources vs. limited water resources must be considered by people in the region affected by Marcellus Shale drilling.

For further information or to learn about PRI's position on the Marcellus shale gas drilling visit

Friday, May 14, 2010

Tips of the Day

Green Tips for Musicians
Compiled by Scott Callan from the fine folks at the Tape Op messageboard

Many of the musicians I know care about their impact on the environment, but as a group, we buy lots of plastic and electronic things, and then we load them up into a van and drag them across the country. Oh yeah, we plug them in, too – a lot. So, to help lessen the load on the environment and to save a few bucks along the way, here’s a few quick tips that aren’t too hard to accommodate.

• Turn off your stuff if you’re not using it. It’s ok to let amps warm up, but if you’re done for the day…shut ‘em down. Same goes for studio gear…it might look great to make and impress clients to make all the flashy lights go blinky, but if you know you’re not going to be using something on a session, keep it off the grid.
• Install a solar panel or two to help power your studio. It might not keep the whole thing juiced up, but it’ll help.
• Instead of going through lots of bottled water at the studio, invest in a Brita filter. In fact, get two and save one for cheap vodka. You’ll never buy expensive vodka again.
• Instead of using CD-R’s for mix references in the studio, use flash drives when possible. If you do use CD-R’s, reuse old jewel cases or use recycled paper sleeves. You can send old CD-R’s to when you’re done with them.
• Instead of throwing away old drum heads, you can cut a large, thin “O” out of them and use that as a dampening o-ring on your drums…it’ll save you a few bucks from buying those dampeners anyway.
• If you’re touring, bring a thermos or reusable cup with you – you’ll cut down on paper and/or Styrofoam waste when filling up for coffee along the way.
• Speaking of touring, hit up some farmer’s markets while you’re on the road. You’ll be eating local foods, and you’ll probably be eating better because of it.
• Instead of shacking up at hotels on the road, try camping. It’s often cheaper, anyway.
• And make sure that tour van of yours has proper air pressure in the tires – you’ll help maximize your fuel efficiency.
• Get that old touring vehicle modified to run on cooking oil.
• Instead of throwing it away, learn to repair your broken electronics. Fire up that soldering iron.
• And…go totally off the grid…play acoustic instruments!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Climate Bill?

The American Power Act will be brought to the floor of the United States Senate. Senators John Kerry and Joseph Leiberman, the co-sponsors of this bill, will be introducing this new legislation today.

Senator Kerry has said, "the American Power Act, is a chance for Congress to show it can still address major issues, while also creating American jobs, strengthening national security and protecting the environment."

The full bill will be released today. To see the leaked preview of this new bill click here: APA