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.