Sunday, September 30, 2012

Thousands Of "Energy Voters" Gather in Central Park, To Celebrate Fracking and NYC's First Natural Gas Well

by Paul E McGinniss

NYC's First Natural Gas Well being Installed on the Great Lawn of Central Park 

Just kidding.  Actually, yesterday, 60,000 plus gathered at the Global Citizens Festival concert in Central Park to end extreme poverty and world hunger.

There's not gonna be a frack well in our backyard Mr Halliburton!   And, no where else, if we have our way.

I had the awesome pleasure of attending the festival and chillaxin in The Big Green Apple with anti-fracking activists Stefanie Spear, founder of, and Russell Mendell from  

The headliner of the consciousness raising festival was none other than forever-young Neil Young and Crazy Horse who blew the organic socks off of the mesmerized concertgoers. 

Photo Credit: Maria Ives via LiveMusic blog.

The Global Citizens Festival took place on the magnificent Great Lawn of Central Park and featured the Black Keys, Foo Fighters,
K'naan, and Band of Horses. John Legend made a surprise appearance to perform John Lennon's "Imagine" on a stage within a short walking distance to Strawberry Field, the Central Park memorial to our beloved New Yorker.
 John Legend performing "Imagine". Photo via

Who said the energy and activism of the 1960s are over? 

Last night, the magical Manhattan skyline loomed and radiated behind us, as a most-apropos Harvest Moon beamed down from above. 

We were swept up in a moment of change-making that will linger for years.  According to AP, the organizers of Global said 170,000 people signed petitions to help end extreme poverty, their web site had 3.5 million page views, and 200,000 pieces of info were shared on Facebook. The project also achieved its yearlong goal of working with an array of organizations such as the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, the Earth Institute and Rotary International while garnering $500 million in commitments to help fight poverty.

Picture Stefanie Spear of and Russell Mendell from

The night ended with a jam session. Neil Young performed his classic, activist anthem, "Rockin' in the Free Word", accompanied by members of The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Band of Horses and K’Naan.  Stellar performances by one and all, but especially by Mr. Neil Young who continues to care AND rock like tomorrow depends upon it. 
Keep on rockin' in the free world,
Keep on rockin' in the free world
Keep on rockin' in the free world,
Keep on rockin' in the free world.

 Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2012

Here Comes The Flood: Why Climate Change Doesn't Matter

Alex Wilson and the Resilient Design Institute Think It's Time To Forget About The Climate Change Debate and Time To Take The Gloves Off and Mitigate Global Warming

by Paul E McGinniss

Property damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. Photo: Vern Grubinger Via Resilient Design Institute. 

Mr. Resiliency, aka Alex Wilson, is a man on a mission.   He believes strongly in the existence of climate change and the serious effects it will have worldwide in the coming years. Alex Wilson knows a lot about the environment.  Founder of Environmental Building News, BuildingGreen and GreenSpec, Alex has been promoting environmentally friendly, healthy, clean energy living since Jimmy Carter put Solar Panels on the White House. 

The case of the missing White House solar panels. Solar panels in the 70s went out of fashion faster then bell bottom pants and bad hairdos.  Photo of President Carter on the White House roof via Mother Board and Brian Merchant.

But, let's face it, most people did not take President Carter's efforts seriously.  Currently, as well, not enough people are tuning into the environmental cause or doing anything substantial about changing the paradigm.  While the arctic ice caps melt, whole swaths of the U.S. burst into flames or experience seriously dangerous long term drought, and freak storms regularly devastate various parts of the USA, most of us just bumble along and debate Climate Change. Blah blah blah.

In the Resilient Design Institute blog post "Changing the Climate Change Conversation",  Vern Grubinger points out the following. "The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication reports that only 40% of Americans were alarmed or concerned about climate change, 25% were dismissive or doubtful,
  and the rest were in the middle. One-third of all Americans are cautious, meaning they believe global warming is a problem, but not an urgent one, and they’re unsure if it’s caused by humans."

Photo of floods in Bangladesh via Common Dreams.
Meanwhile, a shocking new analysis by the humanitarian and development research organization, DARA, warns that if the danger of climate change continues to be ignored by the world's governments, the encroaching disaster could claim the lives of 100 million people in the next two decades.  And, lost economic prosperity to the world economies would be measured in the trillions of dollars.

Pic Via Elephant Journal via Theresa on Pinterest.

Luckily, smart people like Alex are shifting the focus away from the climate change debate and to the significant environmental impacts and disasters already slapping many of us in the face.

For instance, far from the mainstream media's contentious discussion, Himalayans in remote villages of Nepal and India, eking a living from the land, have clearly figured out that something is up with the environment. The Royal Society in London published a study in 2011 that reported the following. For Himalayans: "There is a widespread feeling that weather is getting warmer, the water sources are drying up, the onset of summer and monsoon has advanced during last 10 years and there is less snow on mountains than before. Local perceptions of the impact of climate change on biodiversity included early budburst and flowering, new agricultural pests and weeds and appearance of mosquitoes."

You still don't think getting slapped upside the head by Mother Nature doesn't change perception of global warming? has a revealing article entitled "Perceptions of climate change and willingness to save energy related to flood experience." 

Here comes the flood.  Welcome to a green world.  Like it or not. 

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2012

Check out Peter Gabriel's awesome "Here Comes the Flood". (Click on twice to view full screen)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Best Green Building Materials: Free Stuff That Was Someone Else's Waste

Upcycling in the Hudson Valley: Eco Loft Barn Project In Barryville, New York Nears Completion

by Paul E McGinniss
I've posted a few other times about the inspiring building project we have been project managing.  You can check out Building Blocks of Successful Green Buildings and Small Footprint Building Project in Upstate, New York Exemplifies Green Affordability.

Today, I made the beautiful drive from Accord, New York in Ulster County south to the Delaware River and met with our client and proud new construction home owner, Jorge Rodriguez.   The magnificence of the scenery and delightful end of summer weather inspired me to update everyone on the project.

Before our clever collaborator, Jorge, showed me all the cool "green" building materials he's been collecting for the finishing work, we met with Todd Pascarella from Energy Experts to go over details of the frame sealing and the blown cellulose insulation work.  Todd is  BPI certified and an Energy Star expert so the structure is going to be very well sealed and energy efficient.  (We made a point of hiring a well trained, experienced insulation professional since the building envelope is of paramount importance to sustainable building i.e. resilient living.)

 Todd  and Jorge reviewing the insulation plan.

Before today's on-site rendezvous, Todd had already spoken with our framer and building partner, the spectacular Wizard of Geobarns, George Abetti.    They conferred on how to install the venting baffles and deal with the roof venting for George's one-of-a-kind, diagonal framing method.  So, as soon as we have the final electrical inspection accomplished, Energy Experts can begin to seal the frame.

There will be R38, dense-pack cellulose below the roof and R21, dense-pack insulation in the wall cavity.  I realize that this R value isn't exactly Passive House standards.  However, the structure is very compact and almost 1/3 underground.  So, the tightness of the structure and insulation levels will make for efficient heating and cooling.  (Look for a future post which will discuss details of the super-energy-efficient HVAC Mini Split air to air heat pumps we will be installing.)

About one third of the structure is built into the earth providing for excellent energy efficiency.  In addition, below grade, rigid  foam insulation was added to the foundation exterior.

OK, so now to the upcycling.   Like any savvy Gothamite, Jorge understands that someone else's trash is another's treasure.  For interior work, he discovered an amazing pile of discarded, weathered "wood with attitude" in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick.  Cost: free.  There is enough material to panel roughly 50% of the interior walls. Jorge trucked his find upstate in a small rental along with some wood beams and other free and almost free fixtures he conjured up in the Big Apple.  This tranquilly-sited loft barn, perched high above the Delaware River, is an organic merging of urban sensibility, street-smart sustainability and quintessential country ambiance.  It perfectly demonstrates the economic and environmental benefits of DIY upcycling in a green home design plan.   

Just part of the pile of salvaged wood from Bushwick, Brooklyn. The wood will be used for paneling part of the interior walls.

 Jorge's "solution" to the plumbing fixtures was fantastic.  He found a vintage bathroom sink for $20 at Build It Green in Queens.   (As a bonus, that shopping expedition also netted several free doors.)  The search for a toilet resulted in cajoling a local retailer in Brooklyn to take a very cool fifty ($50.00!) bucks for a brand new throne!  And, he purchased a classic claw foot bathtub in good condition for $300.   In support of his upstate local community, Jorge bought this gem right down the street from his new home at an antique shop in Barryville.

A peak at the salvaged (free) door and ($20) sink from Build It Green in NYC 

Some of the best "free" material Jorge gathered was literally at his doorstep!  A simple two step stoop for the front door entrance was fashioned from stones unearthed in the excavation process for the foundation.  It almost looks like it has been there all along!

 Talk about natural building materials:  Stones from the yard are a real locavore find!   
We'll be doing a few more posts about this project after the insulation work is completed and the interior space is finished.  I can't wait to see how all the "green", i.e. reclaimed, recycled, free, material is woven together in the final phase of construction.  But, one thing I have no doubt about, despite its incredible affordability and true sustainability, this structure, inside and out, will look like something that deserves to end up in the likes of Dwell magazine.

Jorge and Todd look out at the majestic Delaware River. This area of New York is a hot bed of controversy over fracking  for natural gas.  As part of this project, we made a conscious decision not to use propane in the energy mix so to avoid any use of fossil fuels. The minimal electricity used to power, heat and cool the house can be offset with solar PV.

Master Builder George (Abetti) is returning once more to assist Jorge and his family with some of the interior finishing work, including placing wood board on the interior cathedral ceiling and cupola.  (This will be an elegant natural cover over the soon-to-be-blown-in cellulose insulation.)  

In anticipation of seeing George at the project site again for his last part of the work, I asked him how it felt to finish a project.   George eloquently expressed his deep feelings: "The emotions are bittersweetly mixed...but much of the loss is coming down from the intensity of a build...pouring my heart into something that now, in a sense, is gone....when I return to a site for a visit and realize that the structure--via the client--has moved on past being built and metamorphosed into its intended use.  This is often a humbling encounter..."

And, please remember.  If you are planning to buy an existing house or purchase land and undertake building a house in the Hudson Valley or Catskills, please email:

We have had the pleasure of successful collaboration with creative and excellent clients in the past.   We look forward to working with new clients and sharing their journey to a new Home. 

Happy End of Summer, 2012.  Workers of the World Unite!

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2012 

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Documentary Film, "Delta Boys", About Nigerian Oil Violence Is a Wake Up Call for America

By Paul E McGinniss

  Film Poster for "Delta Boys" courtesy Filmmakers and  Journeyman Films.

"Delta Boys" is a must-see film about Niger Delta militant rebels who are fighting government and environmental oppression in oil-rich Nigeria.  Award-winning filmmaker, Andrew Berends, who was arrested in Nigeria during the filming of this documentary, bravely crosses the lines of Nigeria's oil conflict to bear witness to the lives of the militants engaged in the bloody struggle and the civilians caught in the crossfire.

Nigeria, Africa's most populated country, is the fifth largest oil supplier to America. So, no matter how far away this problem seems, it is something much closer to home than most of us want to believe.  As we nervously watch the price of gasoline go up at the pumps, we try to forget where it comes from and at what cost.

While focusing on the rebels living in the Niger Delta where hundreds of millions of dollars of oil is extracted every year,  "Delta Boys" reveals the impoverished lives of all who reside in the Niger Delta. The area has been destroyed by the oil industry and the Nigerian government.  They turn a blind eye to the hundreds of oil spills that occur every year and the ongoing suffering of the indigenous population.  

Photo of Nigerian Rebels from "Delta Boys". Courtesy Filmmakers and Journeyman Films.

It's no surprise that some have raised arms to rebel given the crimes perpetrated against them. The Washington Post reported that in December, 2011 about 40,000 barrels of crude oil leaked between a floating storage vessel and an oil tanker in a Royal Dutch Shell field off the coast of Nigeria.
Reuters recently reported: "An oil spill near an ExxonMobil oilfield off the southeast coast of Nigeria has spread along the shore for about 15 miles, and locals said it was killing fish they depend upon to live."  

While I am not a supporter of violent protest, it's hard not to have some compassion for the rebels involved in the conflict.  Nigerians who live on the Delta can't fish and live off the land as once they did.  There are no schools.  There are no jobs.  There are no hospitals or healthcare.  There are no adequate roads.  Despite billions of dollars pumped, (or should I say pimped?), out of the ground, oil rich executives and government officials seem not to be human enough to be concerned about the pollution, help the local population at all or share even a small fraction of the wealth. Perhaps the powers that be hope the common people living in the Niger Delta will just die off and leave an invisible wasteland while continuing to line their pockets with the dirty money from the oil industry.

In the end, "Delta Boys" is a film not just about oil conflict in Nigeria.  It is also a damning reveal about the international oil industry's devastating social and environmental policies across the globe AND the complicit, corrupt governments who partner with them to pump oil, no matter the social or environmental cost.  

Movie Poster for "The Big Fix", a seering documentary about the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill in 2010.

In the same vein as "The Big Fix", a  masterful cinematic expose about the devastating BP Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and "Crude", a film chronicling the devastation wrought by the oil industry in Equador, "Delta Boys" is yet another wake up call for the world to encourage finding a better way to fuel itself.

But, have we really heard the wake up call?  I think not.  Since the BP spill, there have been many more oil spills around the world and they all seem to go largely unnoticed despite being fully reported in the press.  Did anyone really pay attention to the Spring, 2011 oil spill in the North Sea?  Or, that a Spring, 2012 Natural Gas leak in the North Sea spewed a stream of toxic natural gas into the air for months and created miles and miles of a toxic poison "sheen" around the well?  

Closer to home, how many of us even remember that in 2010, after the BP Horizon Spill,
a pipeline break in Michigan sent 819,000 gallons of toxic tar sands sludge sliding into the Talmadge Creek and Kalamazoo River?  The LA Times reported: "Before the spill, many residents weren't even aware a pipeline ran through their community. And Government investigators concluded that the pipeline's Canadian owner, Enbridge Inc., knew about the crack that led to the spill five years before the accident."

Sign placed after almost a million gallons of oil were spilled in Michigan in 2010.  Picture via

Is any of this teaching us a lesson?  Seems like we're stuck in a kind of "Ground Hog Day" film scenario where we wake up and make the same mistakes over and over and over again.  Recently, the New York Times reported: "In late August 2012, the Interior Department granted Shell permission to begin preparatory work on its first well in the Arctic Ocean, moving the company a critical step forward on its tortuous quest to drill for oil off the coast of Alaska."

What are the likely outcomes of arctic drilling?  A recent Moscow Times article might give an indication:
"Spill Dumps 2,200 Tons of Oil in Arctic."  The article detailed the shocking revelation that the Russian oil spill covered 5 square kilometers of the pristine arctic wilderness.  And, what's more frightening, Greenpeace estimated that 5 million tons of oil leak from Russian pipelines and in accidents every year.  This is the equivalent of seven disasters on the scale of BP's Deepwater Horizon spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Just one of many oil spills in the Russian Arctic.  Pic via Greenpeace.

Despite significant, substantial efforts by the Obama administration to embrace renewable energy, the U.S. national energy policy is still primarily dominated by the oil and gas industry.   Pro oil and gas policy is encouraged by both sides of the political spectrum.  In addition to opening up the (melting) Arctic for drilling, there's a rallying cry for more and more dangerous drilling including more wells in the Gulf of Mexico, a push for more dangerous fracking for natural gas all over the country and the building of the giant XL pipeline through the heart of America to pump in the dirtiest oil on earth from the tar sands in Canada.

Susan Connolly, a Michigan resident, was impacted by the Michigan 2012 oil spill which, despite being huge, was overshadowed by the larger BP Spill.  In the LA Times report, Ms. Connolly related that she became a health advocate after her children, 2 and 4 at the time of the spill, started throwing up and developing rashes when the spill hit less than a mile from their day-care center. Isn't it time we all become health advocates?

Ed Cake, a biological oceanographer, made an important point about the cumulative effects of all the pollution coming from the oil and gas industry.  In a recent article about the continuing effects of the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill entitled, Seafood Deformities Suggest Impact of BP Oil Spill Worse than Imagined, Cake explained the lingering implications of the spills we too easily forget.  He said: "It has been more than 33 years since the 1979 Ixtoc-1 oil disaster in Mexico's Bay of Campeche, and the oysters, clams, and mangrove forests have still not recovered in their oiled habitats in seaside estuaries of the Yucatan Peninsula. It has been 23 years since the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil disaster in Alaska, and the herring fishery that failed in the wake of that disaster has still not returned." 

Next time you fill up the tank at the gas station or light up a propane-fueled barbecue grill, please remember Susan Connolly in Michigan, the residents of the Gulf Coast, the impoverished Nigerians on the Niger Delta and the many communities around the world already impacted, negatively, by oil and gas drilling.  

A national political policy that is Drill Baby Drill is, effectively,  really Spill Baby Spill.  

Susan Connolly forewarned: "I hope other communities will learn how we've been impacted here in Michigan. There will be other spills. It's not a matter of if, but when."

Whether you are a Democrat or Republican, it does not matter. The toxic legacy of the oil and gas industry continues to haunt us.  From the Niger River Delta to Dimmock, Pennsylvania, Michigan to the North Sea, the Arctic to the shores of Louisiana, we ALL are Delta Boys.

Susan Wallace-Babb, wearing the oxygen mask she has to don almost every day when outside due to  pollution from fracking for natural gas.  She walks her dog outside her home in Winnsboro, Texas on Sept. 12, 2011. Pic Erin Trieb for ProPublica Via

No matter your political persuasion, sticking your head under the tar sands and pretending how we fuel the planet doesn't effect us really isn't going to work anymore.

Copyright Paul E McGinniss 2012

Check out the Trailer to "Delta Boys" Below.  (Double click to Watch Full Screen.)

The film will premier October 16th on leading digital platforms and storefronts through Sundance Institute Artists Services Program and Cinedigm Entertainment Group.