Tuesday, March 22, 2011

March 10, 2011 newsletter: white roof campaign launches in western Queens...

Here's the email update of March 10, 2011
White Roof Campaign launched in western Queens

White roof painting may have much broader appeal to New Yorkers than other sustainability initiatives. It's easy to do, it's a short-term outdoor project that photographs well, it lowers air conditioning bills, and it slows climate change. It's even supported with an official NYC program.

Can white roof painting be used to connect climate change activists and conventional neighborhood leaders, and catalyze a surge of interest in NYC sustainability initiatives beyond the City's very small green community?

In last fall's trial run, the roofs of four buildings were coated by volunteers. Beyond Oil NYC has launched a search for more building roofs to be painted white this summer, targeting western Queens elected officials, civic leaders and nonprofits. Find out why we cite both the Naked Cowboy and Transition movement leader Rob Hopkins to describe this process.

What's in it for your nonprofit, or your neighborhood? Find out how you can plug into the program, or take it to your own community. Contact us for sample outreach letters, and a guide to accessing the NYC CoolRoofs program.

Beyond Oil NYC interview in Green Real Estate Daily

The NYC sustainability discussion should be expanded to include building resilience to disruption, as well as slowing climate change. How? Acknowledge that higher and more volatile fuel prices are on the way, and discuss how to prepare for them. Since there is so much resistance to taking action on climate change, due to high powered disinformation campaigns, focusing on energy security and lower energy costs can get results and avoid obstacles. Full interview here.

The Nation Magazine launches online video series on peak oil and climate change

Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, Nicole Foss, Richard Heinberg and others describe the diminishing returns our world can expect as it deals with the consequences of peak oil even as it continues to pretend it doesn't exist. Videos here.

Talking about oil - Complacency, panic and ignorance

By Dave Cohen. 34 years ago Energy Secretary James Schlesinger described the American approach to oil supply problems. We have only two modes-complacency and panic. Neither are good responses. Start with a realistic assessment: more domestic drilling won't help us...

Oil Quake in the Middle East

By Michael Klare. Whatever the outcome of the protests and rebellions now sweeping the Middle East, one thing is guaranteed: the world of oil will be permanently transformed...

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Presentation on public health, resilience and peak oil at Columbia U. in April

Last winter I contacted Dan Bednarz, PhD, who writes nationally about how public health systems can become more resilient in preparation for peak oil, climate change and economic, ah, constraints. I offered to set up a presentation by him at a NYC university, which could then be promoted to local public health and medical administrators.

He eagerly agreed.  Many emails later, a student group at Columbia University's Mailman Graduate School of Public Health accepted our offer. We have a presentation scheduled for Wednesday, April 6!  This is a great opportunity to deliver a highly targeted wake up call to many of NYC's health administrators.

Can you help me spread word of this presentation to NYC healthcare and medical administrators?

This presentation will be specifically targeted to students and faculty at the Mailman School – and most importantly, NYC health administrators and professionals. We're trying to alert the leaders of our healthcare systems, so they get a better idea of how to plan for NYC's future healthcare needs. Can you help spread this important wake-up call?

Do you know any doctors, nurses, or staff at hospitals, clinics, or social services organizations? Please email the following invitation to them.
Can you go online, look up the executives at your local hospital or clinic, and email it to them? Extra credit for sending it to your contacts at NYC Department of Health!

Please let me know who you sent it to at beyondoilnyc@yahoo.com.  


How Resilient Is Health Care?
Ecological, Fiscal and Economic Challenges.

A free talk for public health and medical professionals on making NYC healthcare institutions sustainable, by Dan Bednarz, PhD

Wednesday, April 6th, 7 – 8:30 PM

Members of the Columbia University community, and NYC public health and medical professionals, are invited. Dr. Bednarz will discuss how public health systems can be made more resilient in a time of declining government funding, climate change, and depleting resources such as oil and water.

Hess Commons Room, Allan Rosenfield Building
Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University
722 W. 168 Street, New York, NY 10032 [map]

Sponsor: Future Healthcare Leaders, Mailman Graduate School of Public Health, Columbia University

Humanity is in a sustainability crisis that has ecological, financial, economic and political dimensions. In light of this public health’s prospective role is multifaceted:

1) Following Thomas Frieden’s health impact pyramid, it is imperative to protect the social – or non-medical - determinants of health.

2) Due to declining governmental taxes and revenues, public health must accomplish the above by designing resilient infrastructure. This resilience imperative applies even more so to medicine, as it consumes vast amounts of natural and fiscal resources.

3) Public health can play a leadership role in articulating how ecological realities (the peak of worldwide oil production, climate change, fresh water scarcities, population growth, overfishing and finite resource consumption, etc.) threaten population level health as well as economic, financial, scientific, educational, and political institutions. This is directly relevant to PLANYC and, at the macro-level to aligning social institutions to adapt to what E.O. Wilson calls the bottleneck of environmental challenges.

4) From the macro-perspective the public policy question facing the nation is “How to create socially just public policy with a shrinking economic pie?” (This assumes that the policy process in the USA is either broken or captured by elites but still can be reclaimed by citizens.)

Dan Bednarz, PhD spent three years as the Associate Director of the Center for Public Health Practice at the University of Pittsburgh and has lectured at the university level in business strategy, organizational studies, sociology, and policy analysis. He runs a consulting firm, Sustainable Health Systems, and co-edits a website, Health after Oil, exploring why public health and healthcare must design health systems that are fiscally, economically and environmentally sustainable.

He is the co-author of a paper on hospital preparedness in an upcoming American Journal of Public Health special issue on peak oil.

“Medicine after Oil”, Dan Bednarz, Orion Magazine, July/August 2007.

“Sustainable medicine: an issue brief on medical school reform,” Dan Bednarz, Energy Bulletin, May 2010

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

White roof campaign launches in western Queens

What's in white roof painting for you? A lot.  You don't even have to mention climate change.  Roofs painted white are cooler in summer, so their buildings are cooler, use less air conditioning, have lower electric bills, and burn less carbon-emitting fossil fuels.  Climate change groups have lists of people who like to go out and paint roofs on a weekend.  The City has a program which coordinates the whole thing, providing expert supervision, project management, roof inspection, paint purchase and so on.  The City will send work crews out to paint building roofs, as long as the building owners will buy the paint, and share their before and after electric bills.

My theory is that by promoting a tangible project that offers something to everyone, white roof painting can bridge the huge gap between climate change activists and conventional citizens.  The trial run: last year, several volunteer groups pitched in and painted the roofs of four buildings, in collaboration with 350.org's International 10/10 International Day of Climate Action. This spring is the full NYC test.  Or at least the full Queens test.

Since NYC CoolRoofs is a City program, and one that lowers energy costs, I've had enough cover to promote it through my day job throughout western Queens, to elected officials and many civic leaders and nonprofits. 

I laid the groundwork by writing a six page memo explaining exactly how nonprofits and commercial building owners can use the program.  NYC CoolRoofs had not prepared anything like this themselves.  Like most other things, painting the roofs of buildings white seems simple until you get into the details, and quickly becomes complex and confusing.  The project guide, reviewed and approved by NYC CoolRoofs - available on request - explains exactly what one can get from the program, and how to do it. 

Next, I wrote a letter to elected officials, civic leaders and nonprofit managers, customizing each email, and the corresponding phone call, to appeal to members of each group in turn.  Straight up self interest.

- Elected officials can get photo ops, and direct City funds to their favored constituent nonprofits. 
- Nonprofits get a visible, public project that looks good in the weekly paper and community networks. 
- Everyone likes to support a City sustainability program, as long as it doesn't cost them too much.
- Everyone likes lower air conditioning bills
- I hardly allude to how white roofs lower the City's overall carbon emissions, and don't even mention the urban heat island effect.  

The deal gets sweeter.  The City wants to find nonprofit facilities with roofs of over 10,000 square feet, close to Manhattan via mass transit, for some corporate sponsors who want to set up volunteer painting days for their employees, and they'll buy the paint too.  I've customized the pitch and sent it out widely, using my excellent day job connections in western Queens.  Not quite as good as money falling from the sky, but not bad either.

So far, I've referred the Variety Boys and Girls Club in Astoria, with a 40,000 s.f. roof.  I should get more hits.  If a few do it, the word may spread and others may follow.  For roofs that are approved, NYC CoolRoofs will pull together volunteers, which I hope to be able to supplement from the groups who worked on the issue last summer. 

I will also be pitching it to commercial building owners through my day job newsletter, which goes out to thousands of contacts in Queens. 

For the business community, it's a different pitch.  The City will send out free labor to coat roofs white, and the owner buys the paint. Their cost of materials will be returned within about three years through lower air conditioning bills, if:

- it's an owner occupied building
- built before 1980 (and so is not very insulated)
- is only one or two stories tall
- and has a black tar roof.

Again, strictly appealing to self-interest.  

I have obsessively spent an inappropriate amount of time and effort to promote this program, since it was piloted in LIC in 2009.  I must see this test completed before I can move on. 

What if all effort gets no more than five responses? In that case, I don't think that this program can be sold by anything short of having Mayor Bloomberg conduct news conferences and walkthroughs in every Queens community board, accompanied by the Naked Cowboy playing guitar, and aides strewing hundred dollar bills behind them.

Not Mayor Bloomberg.  Guess again please.

What's the yield if it works? A model for climate change activists to organize NYC civic networks at the neighborhood level, getting beyond NYC's very small environmental activist community. 

This week I was at two events.  One was a panel about how NYC agencies are preparing City infrastructure for severe weather, floods and climate change events.  Very wonky, and very far from the public discussion.  Another was a get together with about twenty green activists.  Less wonky, but equally far from the majority of the public.  In both cases, a vivid reminder about how few New Yorkers are really tracking these issues.

In my pitch letter, I suggest the other elements of the program.  That white roofs, or another conversation starter, can identify and attract neighborhood leaders who can be sold on promoting other elements of a proactive NYC sustainability campaign: green building retrofits, energy conservation, mass transit, local and regional agriculture.  And I list other NYC groups who are working in those areas.  Can an approach like this connect the vast numbers of NYC civic leaders with the sustainability programs they need, but aren't aware how and why?  

Transition backwards

The Transition movement is a neighborhood scale organizing method, most widespread in England.  It starts by public education about climate change, peak oil and economic contraction, and guides participants in finding community-level responses.  (I tried doing this between 2006 and 2008, with little success.) 

Rob Hopkins, at a Transition event. Not in NYC, for sure.

One could describe this project - a conversation starter that recruits for a portfolio of sustainability programs - as applying the Transition model backwards.  We'll see if it works. 

Want to place bets? Suggest other conversation starters you think would be better than white roof painting? Offer me a job or a beer?

Want to try this in your neighborhood? Contact me at beyondoilnyc@yahoo.com.