Tuesday, October 27, 2009

The World's Eco Flux Moment: The October 24th International Day of Climate Action

An obscure 1960s art movement called Fluxus and groundbreaking, activist artists like Yoko Ono laid fertile groundwork for 350.org's International Day of Climate Action on October 24.

by Paul McGinniss

"Give peace a chance"; newlyweds John Lennon and Yoko Ono stage a "bed-in" at their hotel suite in Montreal, Canada, May 26, 1969. Courtesy UPI/Corbis-Bettmann

Yoko Ono's and John Lennon's anti-war Bed Peace performance art action laid the creative groundwork for Bill Mckibben's and 350.org's magnificent International Day of Climate Action which just happened on October 24th. 350's amazing worldwide action included over 5,200 events in 181 different countries. Both events utilized simple, hand-written placards in an attempt to provoke change with unified, social action. One against war. The other against our own war against the planet.

350 action in Egypt October 24th 2009

Last week's environmental action included an event in Hungary where hundreds of bathers jumped into the public baths in Budapest to participate in a 350 synchronized swimming performance. In Nepal, a thousand young people and monks marched to the Swayambhunath world heritage site temple where they formed a large 350with traditional lanterns. Cambodian citizens from across their country gathered at the famous Angkor Wat to take a giant 350 action photo. 350 Americans danced to Michael Jackson's "Thriller" in Seattle because, as Bill McKibben warned, "if we don't stop global warming, we might as well be undead."

McKibben noted prior to the event this past weekend that "350 is the most important number in the world. Scientists have told us that 350 (parts per million) is the most carbon dioxide we can have in the atmosphere. We're making sure everyone knows."

350 image from the "The Slumdog Millionaires" at a slum in Mumbai for the 350 action

Though decades apart, the events of the 1960s and 2009 are kindred spirits. By hanging the simple sign "Bed Peace" above their bed, John and Yoko's notoriety allowed them to make this event widely known in a pre-Internet world. Mass media coverage quickly spread the message to a global audience. The couple took the ordinary moment of sitting in bed and made it a daring statement. They called out for action less we just sleep and let unordinary things like war become ordinary and acceptable. Fueled by the power and reach of the Internet, 350 and McKibben do the same. 350 takes the ordinary moments of people coming together to take a picture and makes a unified statement of concern for our shared global condition.

Photograph of Fluxus group performing their Street Cleaning Event taken June, 1966 at Grand Army Plaza (58th Street and 5th Avenue), New York City. Photograph by George Maciunas, 1966.

Many of the artists working in and around the Fluxus movement were not so clearly political as John and Yoko. Yet, they oftentimes joined together with artists around the world to do the same thing at the exact same time. For instance, musicians in different cities around the world would converge at the exact same time and play the same music on a cello on a street corner. This spoke to joining creative forces around the world in common action.

So, here's to Bill and John and Yoko. And, kudos to the other artists in the 1960s that used their art to make world wide connections, artists such as Naim June Paik, George Marciunas and John Cage. Congratulations and thank you to the many thousands of people around the world who joined this month to bring attention to the importance of the number 350. The message is clear that the world needs to listen to itself and join together to effect important change.

Picture American Troops in Afghanistan making environmental statement, October 24th, 2009.

Thank you Yoko, John and Bill. Let us all Give Peace a chance. And, give the world a chance to heal from self inflicted wounds. There's no doubt in my mind, that by working together, the world's many diverse cultures and countries can solve any problem that comes before us.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss

Picture on Campus of State University of New York, New Paltz. Courtesy Ariana Basco, NYPIRG


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Solar Thermal Road Map Being Formulated for New York State

Watch Out Solar PV: Your little brother, Solar Thermal, has grown up and he might very well become more popular than you are.
by Paul McGinniss

Some of the organizers of the Solar Thermal Roadmap Symposium with Congressman Maurice Hinchey, (U.S. Representative for New York's 22nd District), standing third from the right.

With the green revolution taking off like the hula hoop in the late 1950s, renewable energy systems that generate electricity such as Solar PV and the new vertical axis wind turbines (VAWT) have become like the captain of the high school football team and the head cheerleader--hot and sexy, the most popular kids on the renewable energy block.

Well, solar thermal, which has been overshadowed by its better known sustainable siblings, is having a coming out party and might very well push the other "cool green kids" out of the way and grab the title of new Green Prom King for itself. It's no surprise. In other countries solar thermal has become a standard accessory for homes, as common as a television or computer. For example, almost 100% of the homes in Cyprus have a solar thermal system.

A Solar Thermal Roadmap Symposium was held at Tech City in Kingston, New York, on October 20th. Organized by the New York Solar Thermal Consortium, it launched plans for a Solar Thermal Road Map for New York State. The consortium is comprised of a committed group of business, government and academic groups. It's part of a country-wide initiative by States which are organizing to finally put Solar Thermal at the adult table. Solar Thermal is expected to be a major part of the near-term solution to finally make our homes and buildings 100% carbon neutral and free from having to use imported oil and other fossil fuels.


Unlike solar PV, solar thermal systems do not generate electricity but rather capture heat from the sun for use in homes and buildings. There are several basic types of solar thermal. Solar thermal for hot water is one. In this process the sun heats a fluid running through solar collectors. This heated fluid circulates through a storage tank where it transfers its heat to the water in the tank. Utilizing an evacuated tube solar collector, solar thermal systems can also be used for radiant heating. Solar Thermal systems like this can also be used to heat pools. And, they can cool homes via absorption chiller technology. (See diagram below that depicts a solar thermal hot water system. Image is from Earthkind Solar.)

Solar Thermal Air is another basic form of solar thermal technology. In this process solar collectors heat air that is drawn into the building. The solar pre-heated air is ducted into a building via existing ventilation systems or distributed via fans and ducting.

Picture of the SolarDuctTM from Solarwall. This rooftop installation heats air and sends it into the building via ducts.


The goals of the Solar Thermal Roadmap and the New York Solar Thermal Consortium are "to catalyze the construction of 2,000 megawatts of solar thermal power and create highly skilled solar thermal jobs in the state." To realize these objectives, the pressing need is "to involve all stakeholders in developing a comprehensive list of the questions, issues, and approaches to solving the current under-utilization of solar thermal technologies in New York State."

The Solar Thermal Roadmap Symposium came about in no small part due to the efforts of Ron Kamen of EarthKind Solar who is also President of New York State Solar Energy Industry Association (NYSEIA).

Some of the attendees I encountered at the Solar Thermal Roadmap Symposium were Congressman Maurice Hinchey, Rick Alfandre of Alfandre Architecture, Sebastian Gores from the German company Droege & Company, Kevin Wert and Win Hayes from Sunshine Solar in Jericho Long Island, Betsy Ferris Wyman from Sundogsolar in Columbia County, NY, Larsen Plano from Community Environmental Center in NYC, Joerg Gaebler from Smart Energy in Massachusetts, Richard Klein from Quixotic Systems NYC, and Adam Farrell from Silicon Solar in Bainbridge, NY.

Ron Kamen of Earthkind Solar


*Solar Thermal is 1/3 the price of Solar PV and the pay back period is less than 10 years.

*Solar Thermal has four times the energy output of solar PV.

*There is a federal tax credit for solar thermal water systems equaling 30% of the cost of the system. There is also a state tax credit equaling 25% of the system's cost. (Note: these incentives do not yet apply to solar air systems.)

*18% of all household energy consumption is for hot water.

*51% of all energy used in NYC Buildings is for heat and hot water. Outside NYC, the percentage is higher.

*In Germany, solar thermal will be mandatory in new and existing buildings by 2015.

NOTE: You can read the New York Solar Thermal Consortium Whitepaper "The Development of a Solar Thermal Market in New York State" on Sebastian Goeres' web site Renewable Energy in the U.S.

Copyright 2009 by Paul McGinniss

Check out the video below about Solar Thermal in Europe.

Europe is way ahead of the curve with this affordable and important technology where, in the near future, more than 50% of energy to heat homes and hot water will come from solar thermal technology.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Pathways to Peace: Green Building Blocks East - West

Sulaiman AL Fahim, President of the Arab Union For Real Estate Development, Is Offering Green Cooperation With NYC
by Paul McGinniss

Sulaiman Al Fahim, President of the Arab Union for Real Estate Development

From Hollywood to Dubai, jet setting, thirty-something Sulaiman Al Fahim has cast quite an image for himself in the past few years. And, with plans to do an affordable green real estate project in NYC, he might be a name we hear about in New York City more often.

Lately, he's been big news all over Great Britain as he is involved in the takeover (via his Al Fahim Asia Associates Ltd. and a Saudi investor) of the English Premier League soccer club in Portsmouth. Al Fahim was well known in England before that as he was also initially linked to the recent buyout of the Manchester City soccer team when he acted as figurehead for the buyer, the Abu Dhabi United Group.

In 2006, "Arabian Business" magazine named Al Fahim one of the 100 most powerful Arabs. This past spring he was chosen from the leading real estate figures in the Arab world and named President of The Arab Union for Real Estate Development (AURD). This is the first trade association of its kind for the region's real estate industry, encompassing 22 Arab countries. AURD is affiliated with both Arab League, Council of Arab Economic Unity, and ICREA (International Consortium of Real Estate Associations).

There's more to Sulaiman than sports teams and real estate. I first became acquainted with him while attending the International Renewable Energy Organization's (IREO) second annual event at the United Nations in New York City this past summer. Sulaiman is a supporter of the IREO. He is also the good will ambassador and benefactor of the United Nations NGO, Intergovernmental Institution for the Use of Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition, IIMSAM. The goal of IIMSAM is "to help create a world that is free of malnutrition and hunger." It was organized to support the United Nations Millennium Development Goals. Specifically, IIMSAM "aims to mainstream the use of Spirulina to eradicate malnutrition, achieve food security, and bridge the health divide with a special priority for the developing and the least developed countries."

Sulaiman Al Fahim (to right of woman in wheelchair) in Kenya as part of his Micro-algae Spirulina Against Malnutrition efforts.

When I spoke to Sulaiman recently, he espoused his desire to "bridge relations between Arabs and Americans." He stated that "Green does not have to mean expensive. It can be affordable." He spoke about a project he wanted to develop in Puerto Rico that involves a green hospital and green affordable housing for the workers. Besides using green construction materials, he said his objective is to grow spirulina (algae) on site and use it as a bio fuel to run the hospital. Sulaiman summarized: "We are combining healthcare and housing in the same development. It's not just real estate: it's community."

I'll surely be covering what Sulaiman Al Fahim is up to in NYC as it unfolds. With all the strife going on in the world, it's encouraging to think that there might be some creative dialogue between Arab nations and the United States about mutually beneficial real estate investments and projects, especially if it also involves community based affordable green housing.

It makes perfect sense that a pathway to real peace and stability in the world could revolve around the building blocks of green building. What better way to lay the foundation for world cooperation than with real estate, especially real estate that can benefit not only powerful international investors, but also real working communities.

Investments in working class communities across the globe are sometimes overlooked for flashier, higher-profile projects. Too often these working communities are separated from other similar communities in other countries, creating miscommunication and misunderstanding. Joint green affordable housing initiatives between the Arab world and the United States could create mutual ecomomic benefit and common goals that establish long lasting cultural understanding.

Stay tuned for more news.

Copyright 2009 Paul McGinniss