Sunday, December 9, 2012

What's next for white roof painting?

What's next for NYC CoolRoofs, the City's white roof painting project, after the Bloomberg Adminstration? 

During 2008 - 2010, I spent a lot of time promoting white roof painting, both as a volunteer project at Sierra Club's NYC Group with John Kolp, and through my day job at LIC Partnership,
 to the commercial building community

I thought it would be a good way to recruit volunteers who wanted to do something tangible and practical to slow global warming, while also lowering air conditioning costs and the urban heat island effect, which makes NYC even hotter in the summer than surrounding greener areas. 

In figuring out how to explain the project to commercial building owners, I learned a few things.  The cost of the expensive, highly reflective coating can be paid off through lower air conditioning costs in about three years, for a few buildings that meet certain criteria: owner-occupied commercial buildings of one or two stories that had black tar roofs and were not very energy efficient. For other types of buildings, it would take much longer for the investment in coating to pay for itself.

Business owners are more willing to invest in energy efficiency programs with a return on investment within three years, and more reluctant the longer it takes to get return on their investment.  I can attest that as a voluntary program for building owners, despite the offering of free volunteer labor to paint the roof, NYC CoolRoofs had limited appeal.  There was not enough in it for them.

Even if nonprofit organizations were more environmentally concerned, they were even more reluctant to pay for the paint.  Sometimes NYC CoolRoofs could sweeten the deal by bringing in corporate sponsors willing to pay for the coating in addition to the free volunteer labor already offered by the City. 

While that was an easier sell, even free paint, free labor and a green marketing opportunity did not guarantee the consent of nonprofit groups to having strangers tramping on their roof and hopefully not causing any damage.  Using my day job connections in the western Queens business community, I was able to contact many nonprofit facilities, and 
referred about 20 buildings to NYC CoolRoofs
How much rooftop space has been painted white?

According to the NYC CoolRoofs 2011 annual report, since the program’s launch in 2010 it has coated 2.5 million square feet of rooftop across 288 buildings. In 2011, 1.3 million square feet was coated.  Building owners coating their own roofs accounted for about 600,000 s.f. of 2011’s figure.   Cause for enthusiasm?

How much of the City’s total rooftop space is that?

Columbia’s Urban Design Lab, looking at available space for rooftop agriculture (p. 40), found that NYC has approximately 1 million buildings, with a total of 38,256 total acres of rooftop area. Columbia University’s study on green roofs and stormwater retention cites a figure of about 1 billion square feet of rooftop space in NYC.

So to put things in perspective, NYC CoolRoofs has been able to coat around 1/1000th of the City’s roof space white each year.  It's fair to say that it's more important as an educational and organizing tool than a mainstay of the City's energy conservation efforts. Recognizing that reality can help guide NYC's white roof painting efforts, and the work of its advocates.

As a voluntary program, white roof painting has a very limited impact: it’s like pushing a rope. It will only appeal to a small number of volunteers and businesses large enough to be concerned about promoting their image as a green company. As I explain in my report “Engaging Community Groups to Promote Energy Efficiency, Solar Power and Local Agriculture,” it’s easier to promote voluntary sustainability initiatives if they provide financial benefits to New Yorkers.When sustainability initiatives don’t provide those benefits, they must be required by law in order to be adopted as standard practice.

A few months back I ran into one of the key contractors for the NYC CoolRoofs program and we discussed the difficulties of getting building owners to sign up voluntarily.  She told me some very good news: the NYC building code had been changed so that for new construction or replacement of existing roofs, owners had to use roofing materials meeting minimum standards of
rooftop reflectivity.  Here's the NYC Council bill.  Here's the NYC Building Code update.

My guess is that NYC CoolRoofs - as a program appealing to voluntary roof painting - will disappear at the end of the Bloomberg Administration. 

Its legacy, the building code change, is mundane and to most New Yorkers virtually invisible.  However, it's extremely significant.  A small percent of NYC roofs get built or replaced every year. By requiring reflective roofs as a matter of law, NYC's roofs will gradually and inexorably become much cooler.  The lesson here is simple: where neither incentives nor free market solutions will work, sensible government action is required.  Kudos to the NYC officials who raised the bar.  

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Asteroid Misses The Earth

In October, like many other Americans, I was obsessed by the presidential election.  In the first debate, I was suprised by Obama's tepid performance and dismayed by Romney's brazen capacity for lying and distortion.  Obama's lead in the polls evaporated and my cautious optimism was replaced by creeping horror.

Even though Obama has been a disappointment to progressives, he seemed clearly to be the lesser of two evils.  Transition Voice issued a mock endorsement:
vote Romney-Ryan to hasten industrial collapse.

"This election year, the total collapse of industrial civilization has gained a popularity not seen since the heyday of The Planet of the Apes franchise.  All over the blogosphere, people who worry about climate change, peak oil, financial meltdown, debt slavery, species extinction, overpopulation and rampant commercialism along with the spread of military drones, techno-warfare and the surveillance state have given up on the electoral process. They say that voting for either one of two big government, pro-corporate candidates won’t make any difference. It’s too late to try to fix industrial capitalism before it snuffs out our few remaining freedoms and destroys the Earth.

Instead, some argue that nothing less than quick collapse of the global political and economic system can prevent either the advent of a totally Orwellian dystopia or the destruction of the Earth’s ability to sustain life. Unless you follow Ayn Rand and believe that the free market will create new air, water, soil and living beings based on market demand, you have to agree that the industrial civilization is on the highway to hell, with human extinction in the current century a real possibility.

Meanwhile, after Citizens United and the rise of Super PACs, the power of rich people to run government as a cover for destructive extraction and pollution industries has only increased. Last year, Occupy Wall Street offered the best chance in two decades to break the death grip of plutocrats on the neck of government. But now Zuccotti Park is cleared (or underwater). The drum circles are silent. And the hope is gone.

And so, facing near total despair, there seem to be only two paths for a moral person. You can join James Carville in the Cocktail Party and drink yourself into an ongoing stupor. Or, you can do whatever possible to try to hasten the collapse of the whole made-in-China and bought-at-Walmart monster of globalized plastic culture before it extinguishes birds, bees, flowers and everything else we love and then finally kills us all as a punchline.  That’s why, if you want a sustainable world, you need to vote Romney-Ryan this coming Tuesday, November 6.    Or just stay home and don’t vote for Obama, which will have much the same effect..."

I spent most of the pre-election weekend at a Long Island City for Obama phonebank in a union hall just a few blocks from my office.  After the election, pundits were abuzz about the Obama campaign's unusually strong data-management system in support of its get out the vote efforts.  I can attest to the power and user friendliness of their voter contact software, which amplified the effort of countless GOTV volunteers like myself. 

On the evening of Election Day, we finished a few hours of GOTV calls and headed over to the Shannon Pot on Jackson Avenue to watch the results.  I tried imagining what it would be like if Romney won, but couldn't.  The closest I could get was the image of an asteroid hitting the earth.

Why was I so pessimistic, with Nate Silver predicting a 90%+ chance of an Obama victory?

Because I had been reading about the possibility that the Republicans would steal the election.  Anyone paying the least bit of attention was reading about the massive disenfranchisement of minority voters.  But there were warnings about manipulation of the electronic vote count from Ohio voting machines

Bob Fitrakis and Harvey Wasserman's research into the 2004 election was recognized by Project Censored as one of the top 25 censored stories of 2006. The issue broke into more public discussion in 2012.  Their claims were echoed by Greg Palast, who praised their new book, "Will the GOP Steal America's 2012 Election?" There were other articles.

"How to Rig an Election," Harper's Magazine

"Retired NSA Analyst Proves GOP is Stealing Elections."

"Angst in Ohio about Bain, Romney Donor Links to Voting Machine Company," Washington Post

On Nov. 4, The Free Press reported that "experimental" software patches were installed on voting machines in 39 Ohio counties.  It obtained internal memos from the senior staff of the Ohio Secretary of State's office confirming the installation of untested and uncertified election tabulation software. 

So on Election Day I was braced for impact and expecting the worst.  I was deeply grateful to be wrong. Or was I?

The story got a lot of press, and was even covered by the Fox News station in Cinncinati and  Bob Fitrakis claimed that "under the glare of intense light activated from law enforcement, media and election protection activists, no one seemed willing to tamper this time with Ohio's vote totals – despite the unrelenting magical numerology of Rove. This time, reality and fact-based numbers prevailed."

Or, perhaps Rove's plans were blocked by something more than public attention.   In this video, allegedly from by the hacker collective Anonymous, the group takes credit for tracking Rove's plans and threatening to out him if the election was stolen. 

Investigative reporter Thom Hartmann wrote that Anonymous' claims of election rigging can't be ignored, given the documented use of dirty tricks by Nixon and Reagan - both of whom cut illicit deals with foreign governments to make themselves look good just before an election.  And of course, Bush's tainted victories over Gore in Florida in 2001, and in 2004 over Kerry in Ohio.

Hartmann thinks it's totally possible that Karl Rove was planning to hack the Ohio vote this year, but was thwarted when Anonymous got to them and threatened to reveal their the data. 
Hartmann urged Anonymous to make public any evidence it has.   If this is true, I hope they listen. 

"Anonymous (used as a mass noun) is a loosely associated hacktivist group. It (is estimated it) originated in 2003 on the imageboard 4chan, representing the concept of many online and offline community users simultaneously existing as an anarchic, digitized global brain. It is also generally considered to be a blanket term for members of certain Internet subcultures, a way to refer to the actions of people in an environment where their actual identities are not known. It strongly opposes Internet censorship and surveillance, and has hacked various government websites. It has also targeted major security corporations. Its members can be distinguished in public by the wearing of stylised Guy Fawkes masks..."

The other common Anonymous logo is an empty suit with no head, to symbolize the leaderless nature of the group.

Visit the Wikipedia page for more links to their sites. 

Hopefully we'll learn more about about what happened.  In any case, I'm grateful for the outcome.  It makes me think of some movie metaphors.

We escaped the final scene in Melancholia, in which the asteroid hit the earth.

Instead, like Neo in the Matrix, we dodged the bullet.  At least today.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Urban agriculture to Con Ed and back again

What have I been up to since my last blog post in the spring? Finishing my new report, “Engaging Community Groups to Promote Energy Efficiency, Solar Power and Local Agriculture.” 

The report has been cooking for a long time. Wondering how to connect activists inspired by Occupy Wall Street with sustainability issues and the practical concerns of earning a living in economically precarious times, I wrote an article, published in winter of 2012 - "Occupy sustainability: the 1% is blocking the transition to a renewable energy economy."  That led to an invitation to organize a panel discussion about at the Brooklyn Food Coalition conference last May, to explore economic opportunity from urban agriculture.

I kicked off the panel by having retired US DOE nuclear physicist Al Cavallo provide an intro to peak oil, and how permanently depleting fuel oil supplies would make long distance transportation of food increasingly more costly. Regionalizing our food supply becomes not just a good idea, but an inevitable outcome of geological and economic constraints.  I don't hear anyone talking about fuel depletion within the NYC food community, or NYC's other progressive, environmental and policy communities, so... somebody's got to do it. 

Panelists included Stacey Murphy of BK Farmyards, Tanya Fields from The BLK Projek, Noah Leff, a maker of trendy Brooklyn chicken coops (he brought his chickens);  Matt Hatoun of Wholeshare, a food distribution service.  Someone from East NY Farms talked about their share table.  ENYF runs several community farms and markets, and aggregates produce grown by individual gardeners within the neighborhood sold on consignment at a share table.  Sales go mostly to the contributing gardeners and some to ENYF.  A rep from Feedback Farms talked about their water conserving, portable sub-irrigated planters.  Greg Todd shared his proposal for neighborhood entrepreneurs collecting food waste using industrial bicycles, and composting them at decentralized neighborhood locations.

I set about turning the notes into a report. It proved more complicated than I thought, and doesn't lend itself well to visuals. Since this post needs an image, I'm adding an especially colofrul one from "Crisis of Civilization," an excellent documentary.

What was a common thread? The possibility that community based nonprofits could use their ability to connect with their contacts to promote sustainability initiatives.  The catch is, they won't do it for free.  Would it be possible to craft projects that could earn such nonprofits some income, which would encourage them to promote the green initiative?

Yes.  Three green projects at my day job served as examples. 

1.  Con Edison's Green Team energy efficiency upgrade program gives businesses big incentives to become more energy efficient and save money.  When our staff promoted it, we had a dramatically higher rate of businesses using the program than when they were contacted by a Con Ed contractor with no ties to the neighborhood.  Other groups could certainly get similar results - if they had a financial incentive.  Which will lead to the Con Ed campaign, but hold that thought...

2.  We promoted solar PV systems in Long Island City, and connected building owners with our pre-screened group of solar installers.  Because of our referral agreement with those installers, we earned fees when two projects were built.  It's not easy but hopefully will get easier over time.  Any group could do this now.  Our referral agreement is available on request.

3.  NYC CoolRoofs.  I was an early advocate of painting roofs white to keep them cooler in summer, for lower AC use and electric bills, pushing the project both through Sierra Club, and at LICP.  I wrote a user's guide about the program, and referred about 20 buildings, mostly nonprofits in western Queens, to NYC CoolRoofs.  What I learned was that because the savings in lower electric bills are almost always much smaller than the cost of paint, even after City incentives, the program is virtually impossible to sell.  It's a bust.  Doesn't work.

If a sustainability project can deliver on several counts, it can be appealing enough so people will take part on their own.  Lacking one or more, only idealists will do it, unless people are forced by law and the threat of city fines. 

Con Ed does not provide a referral fee for nonprofits promoting their program, as LICP did very successfully.  But if it did, many nonprofits would be drawn in search of referral fees, from getting their constituents to lower their energy bills.  Which is why I'm asking elected officials and civic groups to sign onto the request that Con Ed provide such referral fees.  Since Con Ed is very unlikely to start offering such fees just on my suggestion, I'm waiting until I assemble a critical mass of supporting groups before formally making the request. 

I need your help.  Can you please give me the contact information for nonprofits or community groups who might be interested, or forward them the following request?

(You're probably wondering what happened to creating local jobs through neighborhood agriculture, and whether there's any way to incentivize community groups to promote it.  If you don't want to wait until the next blog post,
read the report.  But first - the Con Ed campaign.)   



Dear Civic Leader:

The following proposal can engage many NYC community-based nonprofits in promoting energy efficiency retrofits, lowering energy bills for their constituents while earning some income for themselves. I’m seeking community boards, elected officials and civic groups willing to sign on.

The proposal: Con Ed should offer all nonprofits an incentive for referrals leading to residential or commercial Green Team upgrades. We believe that if Con Ed did this, participation in the program would soar. This would lower energy bills for many New Yorkers, reduce strain on the City electric grid, reduce consumption of fossil fuels, and recruit many NYC nonprofits as grassroots ambassadors for sustainability efforts.

NYC civic groups that support this concept are invited to complete and return this sign-on letter, or just reply by email. Note that signatories are not binding themselves to do or say anything further.

Please share with your colleagues – and other groups who might be interested. Let me know if your group wishes to sign on or has any questions.


Dan Miner, volunteer organizer
Beyond Oil NYC
718.786.5300 x 27


Proposal for Con Edison to offer fees to community-based nonprofits for energy efficiency upgrade projects coming from their referrals

October, 2012

Because community-based nonprofits can reach out to neighbors and networks of close relationships, they can be very effective marketing partners in sustainability projects. The key is to craft projects in which everyone comes out ahead. The prospect of income for themselves as well as service to constituents will give these groups the incentive to get involved, bringing new allies to sustainability efforts.

My new report outlines three such possible projects – and one specific proposal.* Two projects are based on the successful programs of a Queens business nonprofit.

1. Of the nonprofit’s constituents referred for free Con Edison energy efficiency surveys, the number that went on to purchase recommended upgrades was triple the citywide average ratio, and much higher than the ratio for area survey recipients contacted only through Con Ed contractors. This demonstrates the value of relationship-based referrals, and leads to the proposal.

2. After developing referral fee agreements with solar installers (available on request), the group’s outreach led to the installation of two solar PV systems. Any group can now use this program in its community.

3. Transition to a more local food system is important for the City’s long-term sustainability. The third section of the report explores how combining innovative urban farming techniques and new business models already being used in NYC can enable nonprofit groups - especially those serving low-income communities - to earn income for themselves and their constituents from farming in backyards, vacant lots and rooftops in their community.

The proposal: that Con Ed offer all nonprofits an incentive for referrals leading to residential or commercial Green Team upgrades. Civic groups that support this concept are invited to complete and return this sign-on letter, or just reply by email. Note that signatories are not binding themselves to do or say anything further.

* See the report “Engaging Community Groups to Promote Energy Efficiency, Solar Energy and Local Agriculture.”

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Rooftop farming, and how hipsters help urban agriculture

Eat it, don't tweet it.

The farmer’s market at Union Square Park was packed this weekend.  Local and artisanal foods are popular.  They've been turned into a status symbol by urban hipsters, as this satirical music video, “Eat it, don’t tweet it,” attests. Foodies, farmers markets and CSAs all play important roles in the evolving food policy discussion in NYC.


The most common arguments in favor of producing more local and regional food include freshness, taste, and better nutrition. Also, there are the social and economic justice benefits of more widespread distribution of fresh fruits and vegetables in lower income areas with more bodegas and fewer supermarkets, sometimes known as food deserts.  Some other reasons for getting more of our food from within NYC and NY State are less commonly discussed and deserve closer attention.

People who are concerned about climate change and energy security recognize that NYC’s food supply, like that of other US cities, is highly dependent on oil.  Our national industrial agriculture system is completely reliant on long distance shipping of food.  It’s widely said that the average distance from farm to table is about 1,500 miles by truck and train.

Since we’re at the end of the age of cheap oil, our food system will have to change. World oil demand keeps growing, but depletion of existing giant oilfields is just barely being replaced by new sources, which tend to be mostly from more difficult, dangerous and expensive sources. The price of oil and liquid fuels will be increasingly volatile and generally higher. The US food system will have to contend with higher prices.

Growing more of our food closer to where it is consumed, with much lower transportation costs, will become more important for economic reasons. If a 50 pound bag of potatoes from Oregon costs only $7.50, how much money is being made in transporting it across the country? If the increased cost from higher fuel prices were to exceed the slim profit margin for shipping it, the price would have to go up to include the extra costs.  We can only guess when farmers raising potatoes in upstate NY or Pennslyvania would be able to compete with western farms.  If anyone can refer me to an agricultural policy or advocacy in NY State that is actively studying this, please let me know.

But the timing is less important than the general direction.  City officials, notably NYC Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer, have joined food policy advocates in calling for more food being grown in the City and the surrounding region.   How can we speed up this process to create more local economic activity now, and building the agricultural capacity of NY State so we'll have it when we need it?

Getting more people in NYC environmental, progressive and food circles to start discussing these not very hip and trendy issues seems like a reasonable place to start.

We can weave them into more comfortable topics, like rooftop farming, which is just getting started in NYC. Because it’s such an unfamiliar concept, it has great potential to change public perception about how and where food is grown. Some will ask: why grow food on the roofs of city buildings when we can just truck it in from southern California? One answer is that as the price of transporting food from far away gets higher, food grown with very low transportation costs will become more cost-effective.  And it can create economic opportunity for New Yorkers.

Brooklyn Grange Farm, LIC, Queens

We put a safe, pro-business spin on urban rooftop farming and put the following piece in the LIC Partnership e-newsletter.  It inspired virtually identical stories days later in the NY Daily News and The Real Deal real estate blog, spreading the unfamiliar concept to many thousands. We got only a few calls, but as more building owners decide to make the move, it will become increasingly common.

Commercial Farming Businesses Want to Rent Your Roof

Until recently, the roof has been the only floor of your building that can’t be rented out. We want to inform you that you can now collect income from your roof, and gain the marketing benefits of a highly visible green initiative, by renting it to a rooftop farming business. Please contact these three firms directly.


Brooklyn Grange is an established rooftop farming business that is expanding and seeking long-term leases on roof space in the Western Queens and North Brooklyn area. They are looking for roofs with at least 30K square feet of unobstructed flat space, particularly on older buildings with concrete rooftops and many internal columns. Landlords can expect to receive rent as well as up to $100K in real estate tax abatement, and do not have to invest any initial capital in the installation of the green roof facility. Green roofs are environmentally friendly and can extend the life of your roof by over 100% while reducing heating and cooling costs in your building. For more information about turning your roof into an income-generating agricultural facility, visit or call 718-404-2023.

Gotham Greens is seeking 30K+ square feet of industrial/manufacturing rooftop space to expand its commercial scale greenhouse operations. Gotham Greens currently operates the city’s first commercial scale rooftop greenhouse and supplies its fresh produce to NYC retailers and restaurants year round. For more information, please see or contact

BrightFarms designs, finances, builds and operates hydroponic greenhouses at or near grocery retailers, cutting time, distance, and cost from the produce supply chain. BrightFarms enables supermarkets to revolutionize their supply chains in a way that is better for their profits and for the planet. The company signed its first contract with McCaffrey’s Market in October 2011 and plans to build its first three commercial greenhouses in 2012. BrightFarms considers three types of sites: new construction, retrofit rooftops, and at grade (parking structure or spare ground level land). Prospective sites must be at least one acre in size. BrightFarms is especially interested in building on sites with waste heat sources that they can recover for their greenhouses. For more information, visit

Probably only a small fraction of NYC’s food can be grown within NYC. A report by Jon Bosak of TC Local suggests that NY State itself may not have the capacity of being self-sufficient in food. But we have to start somewhere. Here's some resources.

Article on rooftop farming potential -

Can NY State feed itself? -

Comprehensive Look at Urban Agriculture Policy in 16 Leading US Cities -

A video about farming in NYC -

A site about NYC food policy -   

NE Food, a site about regional food policy -  

"Fifty Million Farmers," an article in which Richard Heinberg of the Post Carbon Institute explains why we will need, yes, fifty million farmers. -

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Prof. James Hansen, 400,000 A-bombs, and two March events

Professor Hansen getting arrested outside the White House protesting the Keystone Pipeline

This Friday I was at a workshop on teaching sustainability organized by the Columbia University Center for the Study of Science and Religion.  It was a very interesting discussion, but the highlight was the introductory dinner the night before.  (I'm not employed to do activist stuff - I took a personal day off from work.)  We were joined by Professor James Hansen, who delivered his current TED Talk.

As a physicist, he measures how the greenhouse gases cause an imbalance between the amount of heat the earth receives from the sun, how much is reflected back into space.  Because of climate change, there is an imbalance: the Earth is absorbing much more heat than normally reflected.  How much?

Hansen told the small audience something shocking: the amount of heat imbalance absorbed daily by the world's oceans equals the energy from 400,000 Hiroshima bombs.  That's a hard number to contemplate. I wondered if I heard him wrong, but I watched
the TED talk again and he said the same thing. 

What can we do? Hansen suggested pressing for a Federal
cap and dividend.  Cap and dividend is a simple, market-based way to reduce CO2 emissions without reducing household incomes. It caps fossil fuel supplies, makes polluters pay, and returns the revenue to everyone equally.  Great idea, but considering that the national lawmaking response to climate change is being blocked by fossil fuel interests and the politicians they fund, it may be even more important to change public opinion about energy and sustainability in order for political action to take place.
I'll be presenting at two events in March.

At the monthly general meeting of NYC Friends of Clearwater, on Friday, March 16, at 6:30 PM, I'll talk about the transition to a renewable energy economy, and some ways to facilitate it.  About fifteen minutes of talking points, then facilitated discussion.  The NYCFC meeting will continue well into the evening with a potluck and live music. 83 Christopher St., NYC.  (Perhaps at St. John's Lutheran Church) 
On Thurs., March 22, I'll be moderating a panel. 

The Boiler Dilemma: Are There Renewable Alternatives to Converting to Gas?
Thurs., March 22, 6:30 – 9 PM

The Community Church of New York
40 East 35th Street (Park & Madison)
Doors open at 6

The panel will feature: Chris Benedict, Architecture and Energy Limited; Dehran Duckworth, TriState BioDiesel; and Ron Kamen, New York Solar Energy Industries Association. It will be moderated by Dan Miner, Beyond Oil NYC.

The City’s new heating oil rules require buildings to stop using heavy oils by 2030, and building owners are tempted to convert to gas, due to its current low price. But what is the true cost of “cheap” gas, when fracking could ruin our air and water, and bring radon-laden shale gas to our stoves? Are conservation, solar thermal and biodiesel realistic alternatives?

Series Co-Sponsors: The Environmental Task Force of The Congregation of Saint Saviour; The Green Sanctuary Committee of the Community Church of New York, UU; NYC Friends of Clearwater; Tri-State Food Not Lawns/Neighborhood Energy Network; NY Climate Action Group; Sane Energy Project; Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter, United for Action; WBAI’s Eco logic. Suggested $5-10 donation.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Urban agriculture projects for the 99% - Request for recommendations

There are many areas of overlap between the climate change, local food, and economic justice movements.  Their agendas come together as part of an urgently needed transition to a renewable energy economyProjects that embody these overlapping goals while creating income at the grassroots level can attract more participants and spread more quickly than those that don't. Some virtuous projects, such as white roof painting and rooftop water catchment, will appeal to a minority of dedicated activists but their crossover into the general population will be limited. For new approaches to become standard practices, they'll either have to be required by law, or offer enough tangible benefit to motivate average citizens. A workshop at the Brooklyn Food Conference in May will review such projects. We've found several but are looking for more.

Please recommend urban agriculture and sustainability projects that meet these criteria:

- Offer enough benefit – either in income, savings, or production – to appeal solely as a business proposition, without reliance on their social or environmental benefits

- Advance climate change response, and promote economic and social justice

- Increase community resilience by improving food and energy security

- Suitable for non-profit groups within low income communities to become local partners or customers of the project, or set it up independently themselves

- Suitable for cooperative businesses or small business entrepreneurs

Raising the bar a little higher, can anyone recommend projects that:

- Don't require a high cash investment to start

- Rely on appropriate technology, low tech design or DIY practices

- Are being used in developing countries but can be applied to US cities

In addition to projects in urban agriculture and food production, those in the areas of energy conservation, renewable energy, recycling, or transportation services are welcome.

A report from the workshop will be distributed to potential allies among nonprofits, advocacy groups and the OWS community. Contact

More about the workshop
at the Brooklyn Food Conference

With the end of cheap oil, transportation costs will rise. Let’s localize the food system by supporting urban ag projects that are: simple and easy to start; provide economic opportunity in low income neighborhoods; support the goals of OWS and climate change activists; and increase food security. We’ll showcase several existing NYC projects.

Our food is now shipped an average of 1,500 miles from farm to table, but with the end of cheap oil, transportation costs will go up. How can we speed up the localization of the food system? Let’s look for NYC urban agriculture and business projects that can spread widely and quickly because: they’re relatively simple and inexpensive to start, can provide economic opportunity in low income neighborhoods, and support mutually beneficial partnerships.

The goals of local food advocates, Occupy Wall Street supporters, environmentalists, and neighborhood organizers overlap as part of the urgently needed transition to a renewable energy economy, with more secure local and regional food systems.

We’ll look at Victory Chicken, Wholeshare, Vokashi, Spring into Action, East NY Farms, the BLK Projek, and others, and how to spread their good ideas.

Workshop Objectives

It is critical for local food and agriculture activists (as well as policymakers) to understand that while better taste and nutrition are important marketing points, regionalizing our food system rapidly is essential because the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile in the near future, and long-distance food costs may increase significantly.

Some urban agriculture business models that are more likely to spread widely and become future standard practices are those that are easy to get started, and offer the prospect of income for low income individuals and neighborhoods. Collaboration between these urban ag projects and nonprofit groups serving those neighborhoods have high potential. Hopefully participants will recommend other projects in addition to those showcased, and improve on the hypotheses presented in the workshop.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

The clean energy argument you've been missing; search for urban ag projects

When environmentalists learn about the horrible health and environmental consequences of fracking for natural gas, they're instantly convinced against it. The majority of us who get their news from the mainstream media hears a very different story - optimistic claims of enough natural gas for a hundred years. The pollution arguments don't automatically work on non-environmentalists, who are happy to hear that our future energy supply is assured. But it's not, and people need to know. At the ASPO (Association for the Study of Peak Oil) [] conference in November I encouraged Kurt Cobb, one of the regular columnists at ASPO and Energy Bulletin [], to write an article setting out the underused argument against fracking - there's simply not enough of it, and we invest in renewable power instead. He did, and it's been published in the Sierra Club New York State newsletter and a number of other sites. See the summary below.

In turn, Kurt suggested that I write an article about how the transition to a renewable energy economy is now being blocked by the 1%. I did, and it was republished in Energy Bulletin. [ ]

To help spread this message in various environmental communities and Occupy Wall Street working groups, I'm collecting projects that embody this message, but are less theoretical, and appeal to people's self interest.

What are your recommendations of urban agriculture or sustainability projects that can help build the renewable energy economy, and are relatively inexpensive and simple to start? I found several at the Just Food conference, and pitched the concept at the OWS Forum on the Commons on 2/17. Here's the video.

I'll compile a bunch of projects that express these themes, and present them in a workshop at the Brooklyn Food Conference in May. My next presentation is at the NYC Friends of Clearwater on 3/16.


The clean energy argument you've been missing
by Kurt Cobb

Environmentalists concerned about fracking, coal, and climate change need all the ammunition they can get when advocating for clean, renewable energy. That's why I'm forwarding this piece to you because it explains a powerful argument that should be incorporated into the case for a rapid transition to renewable energy.

Please take a few minutes to read it. The piece can be freely reprinted and reposted, so I'm hoping you'll suggest it for any listserv, website, newsletter or other publication with which you are involved. And, I'm hoping you'll forward it widely to friends and colleagues who share your concerns and suggest that they get the piece reprinted and reposted wherever possible.

Question: What key argument are those concerned about fracking, coal, climate change and renewable energy missing?

Answer: Constrained fossil fuel supplies mean there is no fossil fuel "bridge" to renewable energy, not natural gas, not coal, and certainly not oil.

Summary: Some environmentalists speak of natural gas as a clean "bridge fuel" that will buy time for a transition to a renewable energy society. And, industry claims of abundant gas appear to support the idea. But the actual data on natural gas as well as that on coal and oil suggest that no fossil fuel will continue to see its rate of production climb significantly in the decades ahead, and so none of them is a viable "bridge fuel." This means that global society must leap over fossil fuels and move directly to renewables as quickly as possible.

To find out more read: Fossil Fuels vs. Renewables: The Key Argument that Environmentalists are Missing.

Kurt Cobb blogs at Resource Insights, and is the author of Prelude, a novel about peak oil.  He was interviewed this week about high oil prices on the cable news show Crosstalk.


Occupy sustainability: the 1% are blocking the transition
to a renewable energy economy

A sustainable world that works for the 99% is possible, if we can respond to climate change, economic injustice and resource depletion at the same time. The transition to a renewable energy economy can be a valuable frame for that discussion. Just as the financial elites brought about the economic crisis, they are blocking the renewable energy transition to reap more profit from their fossil fuel investments. Because of fuel depletion as well as climate change, further delay may prevent a successful transition. Social justice and sustainability advocates can blow the whistle on the 1% for this issue too, and collaborate to speed up the transition locally.