Saturday, April 28, 2012

Fracking Forum - May 5 - Cary Institute - Millbrook NY

Hydrofracking Forum Explores Impacts to Water Resources, Human Health, and Socio-dynamics

by Paul E. McGinniss

On Saturday, May 5th from 9AM to 12PM the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook is hosting a special forum exploring hydrofracking. Speakers on the panel will include industry and scientific representatives including several speakers from Pennsylvania where hydrofracking in the Marcellus Shale is currently underway. One speaker sits on the peer-review panel for the EPA’s hydrofracking study.

I've been on the front lines covering the fracking issue and co-organized a panel called the Future of Gas Drilling in New York State at SUNY New Paltz in Spring, 2010. We took some flack from a few zealous anti-fracking advocates for inviting a senior rep from Chesapeake Energy, a big player in fracking around the country including the Marcellus Shale Region in New York. Somehow, by inviting "the enemy", we were the enemy too. Interestingly, we also were criticized by pro-gas industry factions for inviting "so many" anti-fracking representatives
such as Wes Gillingham from Catskill Mountainkeeper to be on the panel.

We also invited maverick U.S. Congressman from New York, Maurice Hinchey, who delivered a keynote. Congressman Hinchey was one of the first elected officials to speak out against fracking. Notably, he shed light on the 2005 "Halliburton" loophole in Federal legislation which, incredulously, exempted gas companies from all environmental oversight with regards to fracking.

Personally, I say invite both sides to debate this divisive issue because, in the end, light on the subject will reveal truth and the truth will win out. Confession: I am 100% against fracking. It's time we stop playing Russian roulette with our environment. Our clean energy future is being stymied by large gas and oil companies. They spend enormous amounts of money propagating the notion that we are not capable of economic success and fueling ourselves by any other way than with their dirty fossil fuels. Such greenwashing appears in the daily media. Tune in CNN, for example, to catch BP's media ads as they attempt to polish their tarnished image.

There is currently a moratorium on hydrofracking in New York while a task force appointed by Governor Cuomo investigates the economic and environmental impacts of this drilling practice. A coalition of groups such as United For Action are actively trying to maintain the moratorium and outlaw fracking town by town via local legislative initiatives throughout New York.

Topics to be covered at the Fracking Forum on May 5th at the Cary Institute include groundwater contamination, the treatment of fracking wastewater, human health effects, industry innovations and the social impact that rapid gas booms have on small communities.

Please attend and have your voices heard.

Bill Schlesinger, The President of the Cary Institute said: “The Cary Institute believes that more science is needed to ascertain the potential impacts to the environment from hydraulic fracking. Independent, peer-reviewed scientific studies should inform policy decisions. By hosting the May 5 forum, we are acting as conveners of scientific expertise on the fracking issue, offering a colloquium that encourages dialogue on a topic of ecological importance to New York State and beyond.”

The Fracking Forum is FREE and OPEN TO THE PUBLIC. The event will be held in the Cary Institute’s auditorium which is located at 2801 Sharon Turnpike (Rte. 44) in Millbrook, New York. RSVP is required.

Copyright Paul E. McGinniss 2012

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Tiny House Insanity

All The Tiny House Talk is Driving This Green Advocate Mad

by Paul E. McGinniss

Art by Thomas Doyle

OK. I've had it. The ongoing PR Blitz about living in miniscule structures to save the planet, which is apparently coming from some secret cabal of Tiny Home forces, has driven me to come out and say: ENOUGH! The straw bale that broke the camel's back for me about Tiny House insanity was the recent Forbes article, "The Tiniest Homes For Sale", which touted: " the size of walk-in closets are fast becoming a more appealing, money-saving alternative."

I can tell you straight up that homes the size of walk-in closets are not popular. None of the real estate buyers we work with, no matter how much money they have or how green they are, ever want a Tiny Home. (The Tiny House crowd raves about the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company which offers homes as small as 65 square feet up to the "huge" 777 square feet model.)

Sorry, Forbes. No one wants to live in a walk in closet. In fact, buyers who want modest homes prefer their walk-in closet, albeit a small one, in a master bedroom with a private bath. And, most desire a couple of extra bedrooms for kids, extended family and guests that might come visit or, even, move in. The days of your friends crashing on a sofa or floor are best left to the scrappy days of college dorm rentals.

Art by Thomas Doyle

Granted, the median home size decreased from a high between 2,300-2,500 square feet (statistics vary) in 2006 to about 2,100 square feet in 2009. However, a recent article, Houses Getting Bigger, Not Smaller, highlights new data reporting median home size for new construction is rising back to the 2006 levels.

And, there is one statistical reason why home sizes will not go down too much and why it is not such a bad thing for the environment. More people are living together. Pew Research Center analysis of census data concludes: "The multi-generational American family household is staging a comeback — driven in part by the job losses and home foreclosures of recent years, but more so by demographic changes that have been gathering steam for decades. As of 2008, a record 49 million Americans, or 16.1% of the total U.S. population, lived in a family household that contained at least two adult generations or a grandparent and at least one other generation."

Good Night John Boy! Thank God Our Comfy House Is Big Enough to Fit Everyone In!

Plus, it's not just Walton Family-like multi generations that are sharing a home. There seems to be a trend whereby people with varied relationships are living together: The Friends, The Will and Graces. Interestingly, along with increased household diversification, the average number of bedrooms in homes has remained constant. A NAHB report in 2010 stated: "While both median size and median sales price have been declining, the average numbers of bedrooms and bathrooms per house have shown little change." Thus, home dwellers, despite living more together than alone, sensibly have cut back on wasted space in homes and are living in unison more efficiently and economically.

The notion of "Small as The New Big" will only go so far. Another factor to consider regarding house size is that more of us work from the home. The Cyber Revolution has certainly made that a 21st Century phenomenon. Homes of the future will need dedicated work space included in the design. (Not to mention space to grow food year round, but that's another post.)

One more thing. Can we give the much-maligned suburbs a break? "The suburbs" and excessively-sized suburban homes did not single handedly ruin America. (Yes, Fossil-Fueled transportation and living is not good. And, obviously, thoughtless sprawl and imperfect town planning still needs to be addressed.)

James Howard Kunstler wrote the book, "The Geography of Nowhere: The Rise and Decline of America's Man-Made Landscape", heralding the death of the suburbs. But, in "The Geography of Home Size and Occupancy" the NAHB says: "This analysis of the 2009 American Housing Survey data suggests that the stereotype of the large suburban home is misleading and criticisms of larger homes are indicate that while there are some regional differences on a per-person basis, the size of owner-occupied homes is in part determined by the number of people a home contains. And, larger homes contain more people."

Squawk Squawk! I really love my tiny home!!! Picture of chicken coop Courtesy

So, let's agree Tiny House secret cabal. We don't need McMansions. We do need net zero energy, sustainable design and construction. Smart building and living is essential. But size, after all is said and done, does matter. Living in a house the size of a chicken coop is not the answer. I mean, if urban chickens can live a DWELL-like existence, I sure as heck ain't moving in with the Old Woman Living in a Shoe!

Copyright Paul E. McGiniss 2012

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Grow Your Own Community

The movement toward self-sustaining communities is taking root in the Hudson Valley, New York.

Picture of Joel Richardson's "Suitman" which graces the cover of the April, 2012 Edition of Chronogram magazine. Richardson's street art can be seen through May 31st in Catskill, New York as part of the “Wall Street to Main Street” exhibition — a town-wide art installation.

Chronogram Editor Brian Mahoney says in his April Editor's Note: "The Transition Towns movement, which might be considered a form of occupy the future of one’s own community, is about creating local resiliency through mutual interdependence with community gardens, alternative energy sources, and the shared intelligence and resources of your neighbors actively planning for the possible challenges to come. The Transition Towns movement is taking hold in the Hudson Valley, as Paul E. McGinniss reports in 'Grow Your Own Community', with concerned citizens gathering to discuss a shared future rooted in collective action."

Read My Article About The Transition Town movement in April's Chronogram magazine..

Check Chronogram Out

Copyright Paul E. McGinniss 2012

With Even Paper Currency Going Plastic, How Are We Going to Finally Stop the Toxic, Fossil-Fueled Plastic Pollution Madness?

Well...By Supporting Groups like the NRDC, The 5 Gyres Institute, Trashpatch and the Plastic Pollution Coalition & By Doing Something About the Problem

by Paul E. McGinniss

Image courtesy Man Man and NYC-based artist Man Man uses waste plastic to provoke and raise awareness about plastic pollution. Click on Image Above to Make Larger and See Details.

With massive amounts of plastic washing up in remote places from the Arctic to the Amazon and with tons and tons of this fossil-fuel-based substance being thrown out daily and not recycled, why has it taken so long for society at large to wake up and stop the madness? (And, the true depth and extent of plastic pollution IS madness.)

Photo Mario Bollini via Flickr.

Luckily, there are some smart, passionate people that are MAD enough to try and figure out how to get off non-renewable plastic and clean up the existing mess. Last week I experienced a two day whirlwind of inspiration courtesy Anna Cummins and Dr. Marcus Eriksen, co-founders of the 5 Gyres Institute. Anna and Marcus gave a great presentation on the gyres of plastic floating throughout our oceans at a Green Drinks NYC SPARK event. I was fortunate enough to guest host the event at the TOTO Showroom in SOHO. TOTO was an appropriate venue for the company has been at the leading edge of Corporate Social Responsibility by reducing its energy and waste footprint. (TOTO also manufactures efficient and elegant low-flow sinks, toilets and plumbing fixtures.)

Luky Ng from TOTO, Anna Cummins & Marcus Eriksen of 5 Gyres Institute and Lenora Campos, TOTO. (left to right) Photo Courtesy Luky Ng, TOTO U.S.A.

My crash course on the plastic problem with Anna and Marcus ended with an amazing panel organized by the NRDC called "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". This energizing event took place at the United Nations in NYC and was moderated by the fantastic, passionate Kyra Sedgwick. The panel was a lead up to the United Nations Rio + 20 conference in June where the problems of plastic pollution will be addressed.

Kyra Sedgwick at NRDC's U.N. panel, "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". Photo Courtesy The New York Green Advocate.

The illustrious panel of concerned advocates included Dr. Marcus Eriksen, Leila Monroe from the NRDC (event coordinator), Dr. Lev Neretin, The United Nations Environment Programme, Jimena Leiva Roesch, Third Secretary, Mission of Guatemala to the UN, Suja Lowenthal, Vice Mayor of Long Beach and Tom De Blasis, Design Innovation Director, Nike Foundation. At the conclusion of the panel, a group of us all piled out of the U.N. and sat down for a meal together. We talked and shared ideas and contacts, inspired we could work together somehow, some way, to foster the changes we need to make.

Leila Monroe from the NRDC and Tom De Blasis, Design Innovation Director, Nike Foundation at U.N. Panel, "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". Photo Courtesy The New York Green Advocate.

Just as I was coming down from the down-with-plastic activist high, I read an article in the MIT Technology Review entitled "Here Comes the Plastic Money". I thought to myself, WOW!! Just as more and more of us are using metal water bottles, reusable bags and refusing plastic as much as humanly possible, even good old paper money has to go plastic. Even when you want to not "use plastic" to pay for things, well, the cash alternative is now plastic as well! Well, we all want our money to last forever, don't we. Now, maybe it will, even if it is in someone else's pocket.

Picture of Canadian Currency Made out of a plastic polymer. Just as we start to try and figure out how to reduce use of toxic plastics, currencies across the world are going plastic. So, are all our banknotes now literally dirty money?

Maybe having plastic currency makes perfect sense considering how much plastic is caught up in ocean currents and the fact that most modern economies are completely dependent on the fossil fuels that comprise plastic. The whole world, from inner cities to remote islands, is awash in plastic. Even our own human bloodstreams contain traces of toxic chemicals including fire retardants and the plastic-hardening chemical BPA used commonly in plastic liners throughout the food industry.

A witty scientist I met at the U.N. panel who studies plastic responded when I asked her about paper currency being replaced by plastic: "I love the symbolism, don't you? Our cash economy is toxic and artificial..plastic as the currency of (ersatz) appropriate."

Photo By Chris Jordan. Taken in the Midway Islands, near the Pacific Ocean trash gyre. Marine life, including birds and fish, are mistaking plastic for food. Plastic is even becoming part of the human food chain as sea life harvested for consumption eats and absorbs plastic particles.

So, what is to be done? Well, basically, start by getting up off your butt and being proactive. And, do what for instance? How about give up using plastic water bottles. And, buy products from socially responsible companies that reduce waste and are cutting down on packaging. Eat more fresh, local products that are not packaged in bottles, cans, or swaddled in layers of plastic and styrofoam. Recycle everything, even if you think it ends up NOT being recycled on the macro level.

And, be inspired. How? Well, check out some of the amazing organizations and people in this blog post.

Plastic Pollution Coalition, NRDC, 5 Gyres Institute, Trashpatch, Green Drinks NYC.

Link to them. Tweet about them. Connect to them on Facebook. See what they are doing. Support them. Send money. Join an expedition. Read their newsletters and make comments. Clean up a beach. Pick up the trash on the roads of your community. Tell someone (nicely) when they throw out something recyclable in front of you, it is not acceptable. Tell them we can do better. We need to recycle and pay attention to our own garbage as a beginning point for change.

Photo by Chris Jordan. Depicts two million plastic bottles, the amount used every 5 minutes in the U.S.

If Marshall McLuhan was right and the medium really is the message, then we are the medium. Because what we do and do not do, that is the message.

Despite our bloodstreams and the world water ways and land masses being awash in non-renewable, fossil-fuel-based materials, we are also awash in new possibilities and solutions. Kyra Sedgwick, speaking at the United Nations last week, said she was "obsessed with waste". Clearly, she is not resting on her laurels and she is doing something about it. And, Marcus Eriksen, upon discovering how much plastic was disrupting the health of our oceans, echoed: "If I turned away and did nothing, I was part of the problem."

Kyra Sedgwick and Dr. Marcus Eriksen at NRDC's U.N. panel, "Global Call to End Plastic Pollution". Photo Courtesy The New York Green Advocate.

Copyright 2012 Paul E. McGinniss