I’ve seen the Lehigh Valley Trail signs around Henrietta plenty of times, and wondered where exactly it goes. Its name conjures up images of Colonial-era fur trappers and frontier families settling the . Since 2004, The has overseen the maintenance of this multi-use, year-round trail. As with any of our area’s hard-working non-profits, I’m sure they would love to have your support. And while you’re at it, enjoy the trail over the long weekend.
Throughout history there have been many battles between similar but competing formats. HD DVD vs. Blu-Ray. The Metric system vs. English standard. Beta vs. VHS. We know them well.
But how about Uranium vs. Thorium? Nope, me neither, until I heard an interview with author Richard Martin about his new book “SuperFuel: Thorium, the Green Energy Source for the Future.” Martin explained that the book (published by Palgrave Macmillan) explores the history of thorium, a little-known, slightly radioactive element that is abundant in the earth’s crust.
Thorium (“Th” on the table) is reportedly less volatile than uranium and makes for a cleaner, safer energy source. The U.S. government studied its use in the 1960s for just such energy potential. But Martin contends that the reason thorium lost the energy format war is that it’s just not as good at causing nuclear winter – an important element to consider during the height of the Cold War.
Now, Martin hopes to reignite interest in thorium as a clean energy source, mentioning that many countries, including China and India, are already ahead of us in its use. He also points out that we can mine thorium right here at home, noting a large deposit in Idaho.
So, which do you think the U.S. will do first: take a serious look at this alternative to imported, fossil-fuel-producing energy sources, or adopt the metric system? Hopefully we’ll keep both options on the table.
A headline caught my eye the other day: something along the lines of “Wind farms cause climate change.” After reading the faith-shaking indictment that wind farms are pushing up the earth’s temperature, I looked around for further clarification. Thankfully, nuance prevailed.
Turns out that “large wind farms increase temperatures near the ground,” by less than one degree Celsius. Reading even further I saw the necessary caveats, that the quoted scientists “don’t know” what effect this increase has on overall climate, and that “more research is needed.”
I won’t commit in writing to saying that wind power is the absolute future of energy production (we haven’t found that yet). It certainly does have its drawbacks- the ability to change surface temperatures may be the least of them. In reality, no form of energy mass-production is perfect. However, we know for sure that some methods are worse than others, and that getting at the root of climate change would be easier with less hyperbole.
That’s it, folks. The debate on climate change is over: One scientist realized he was being “alarmist” about what climate change would do to us and our planet. Guess you can pack up your tents and go home.
In case you missed the headline, James Lovelock, the scientist behind the “Gaia” theory that the earth acts as a whole organism, “admitted” to that he overstated the effects of global warming in his earlier books and articles.
I’m happy that Lovelock came to this conclusion in time for his next book release, but let’s keep in mind that he was at the extreme edge of a range of thoughts on the subject.
News like this makes it hard to keep straight the . But the numbers don’t lie: global temperatures have been consistently above average. And it doesn’t change a fundamental goal: to operate on this planet in a way that has minimal impact on the environment.
That statement was one of Jim Olson’s headlines in his presentation during Thursday night’s Annual Environmental Forum. Speaking to a robust and engaged crowd at the First Unitarian Church in Rochester, Olson outlined the many challenges facing water in the Great Lakes.
While Olson’s presentation was only over 30 minutes, but it took just a fraction of that time to recognize his knowledge and passion. He asserted that the privatization of water is morally wrong and legally dubious, pointing to the 1908 Supreme Court case that decided water is a “public trust.” Yet he also mentioned a number of current examples here and abroad where water has become a commodity that is bought and sold to the highest bidder.
He also connected New York’s fight over hydrofracking to cautionary tales of loopholes or lack of oversight that benefit private companies and taxes, rather than public and environmental well-being.
“The burden should be on those that seek to affect the common good,” Olson asserted, stating that our right to clean public water is as fundamental as any of the liberties set forth in the Bill of Rights.
Two other speakers followed: Rita Yelda, from the WNY Drilling Defense group, and Roger Downs of the Sierra Club’s Atlantic Chapter, who applauded citizens for putting pressure on Gov. Cuomo to take hydrofracking infrastructure money out of the New York State budget.
The term “public trust” came up often at the Forum. And in the same way that energy companies use the word “play” to connote their intent to drill, one can’t help but reflect on the word “trust” in dealing with our water.
As water becomes more precious, who do you trust to keep it safe: T. Boone Pickens, or people like Olson, Yelda and Downs?
Saturday is Earth Day, and though it currently looks like the weather won’t be very conducive to outdoorsy activities, there are plenty of ways to get your green fix between now and then. Here are a mere few that I’ve found:
If you find that this list is egregiously incomplete, leave a comment and let us know about your event. Otherwise, enjoy your Earth Day, and don’t forget to turn off your lights and computer before heading out.
Celebrate Earth Day a few days early at the 14th annual Environmental Forum, where the future of clean water is the topic of discussion. This annual event, sponsored by the Sierra Club’s Rochester Regional Group, will feature a presentation by Jim Olson, the foremost U.S. legal expert on the challenges of protecting our nation’s fresh water.
The theme of this year’s forum is “Our Water’s Fragile Future.” The event begins at 5:30 p.m. with a public networking session featuring more than 30 environmental organizations from around the region. Sustainably-produced food and beverages will also be sold by local vendors. At 7 p.m., Mr. Olson will share his wisdom gleaned from 40 years as an environmental attorney.
The Rochester region shares a vital connection to the fresh water around us, from the Great Lakes to the Finger Lakes. Yet here at home and around the world, clean water is often under threat from a variety of sources, including hydrofracking, climate change and privatization.
During his presentation, Olson will discuss these issues and more, as he sets forth a number of concrete ways that concerned citizens can restore and protect clean water.
Following the presentation will be a question-and-answer session featuring Olson, Sierra Club Atlantic Chapter program director Roger Downs, and WNY Drilling Defense founder Rita Yelda. The event is free and open to the public, with a suggested donation of $5 to cover the costs of the event. The Sierra Club is the nation’s oldest and largest environmental organization, and the Rochester Regional Group does a lot of important educational and advocacy work in our area.
IF YOU GO:
What: Sierra Club’s 14th Annual Environmental Forum – Our Water’s
Fragile Future: Hydrofracking, Climate Change & Privatization
When: Thursday, April 19, 2012; 5:30 p.m. - Networking; 7pm - Program
Where: First Unitarian Church of Rochester, 220 Winton Road South, Rochester
Let’s take a look in the mirror and be honest with ourselves, fellow Rochesterians – we are geeks for our supermarket. One of the “” jokes ends with “Wegmans is somewhere to go on a Friday night, for entertainment.” It’s sad because it’s true.
I really hesitated to do one of those “how to green your grocery shopping experience” posts, but on the heels of our local chain being named the of all time, ever, it seemed like a good time to do a list of ways to green your grocery shopping experience: in the universe
1. Skip the plastic bags
2. Buy local
We’re pretty lucky here in Western NY to be in close proximity to a lot of great agriculture, from apples to zucchini. And buying at farmers markets, or through co-ops, supports local farmers, which I’m sure they appreciate.
3. Buy seasonal
Sure, it is nice to pick up every kind of food, whenever you want it. So although those blueberries from Argentina support farmers there (which helps them), it takes a lot of resources to get those blueberries here in a timely manner. So think of it as a challenge to cook using just what Mother Nature’s growing here and now.
4. Go organic
While buying everything organic seems like a sound idea, it’s still more expensive. If you need to be selective, choose fruits and vegetables with a thin or edible skin, such as apples, raspberries, celery and spinach.
5. Cut down on packaging
Individually-packaged goods sure are convenient, but they produce more waste. Buy in bulk when you can and store it in reusable containers at home. Also look for recycled packaging.
6. Look for all-natural
This can be tricky, since a lot of goods have the “natural” label slapped on them but aren’t necessarily healthy. If you can pronounce all the ingredients, that’s a good start. Be sure to check the label.
7. Eat before you shop
This one is as much a shopping survival tip as it is a green tip. But it might help you avoid buying more food than you’ll actually use, and save you money and waste. See you Friday night in the cereal aisle!
Here’s how you can gauge your level of dedication: Your office or workplace doesn’t do much recycling, so you store up such recyclable things as cardboard boxes, paper, bottles or cans, and bring them home with you to place in the proper bin.
I worked at a company where a lot of my coworkers were really passionate about sustainable practices. I credit being around them with making me more conscious of it myself. Our company contracted a waste disposal company whose system was to put everything in the “trash,” where it was sorted off-site.
One of the most skeptical of this process was a guy (who was not me, by the way) who would not only store up his own paper and plastics, but go around and offer to take it off others’ hands as well. He was obviously dedicated to doing his part, but he wasn’t proselytizing. He was just the Office Recycler.
Honestly, I don’t have the guts or the dedication to walk into my workplace and do that. Although I have found myself bringing home the occasional item to put in the home bin. Depending on the company culture, that might make one the Office Recycler. And while one person doing it is nice, a whole workplace engaged in corporate social responsibility and void of foam cups is even better.
I wonder if there are any other Office Recyclers out there, where your company does an OK job of it, but could do more. Have you done anything to boost your workplace social responsibility index? If so, please share with the group.
While New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is still considering whether to issue permits for hydraulic fracturing in the state, some local towns aren’t waiting around to take a stance.
A Penfield group recently proposed a moratorium on hydrofracking, in the event that the impacts of the practice ever affect the town in the future. The Penfield Green Initiative yesterday hosted a discussion about hydrofracking with professors from RIT and Geneseo. (If you went, please let me hear your thoughts about it.)
The idea is to establish “home rule” on the subject. Sure, home rule sounds like some kind of symbolic Tea Party initiative, but it gives a local government the real ability to make its own rules without direct input from the state. In essence, it’s establishing rules to a game that has not yet begun to play out.
Nothing wrong with knowing what you do or don’t want, and planning ahead.
A friend of mine, Brian, clued me in to a blog he had recently seen. It’s a photojournalistic tour of Dimock, Pennsylvania – the town featured in Gas Land – a community at the epicenter of Marcellus Shale hydrofracking activity.
The tiny Northern Pennsylvania town continues to make news as the EPA very recently determined that its drinking water is safe, despite the fact that many residents need to have fresh drinking water trucked in from miles away.
The author, Lauren, tells a compelling photographic story of a town, and a people, affected by the “progress” of the fracking industry. It’s about Dimock, but one gets the sense that it could be about any town where hydrofracking occurs.
Good work, Lauren.
There was some movie awards show on TV the other night. Not that I saw any of the films or much of the show (I missed the Angelina Jolie thing, but the memes are good, i.e., the AT-AT and Abbey Road, but I digress).
Now I’m in a movie mood. Plus, on the heels of my last post about knowing where our stuff comes from, I thought that now was a good time to share a movie that’s influenced me since it came out in 2007: “The Story of Stuff.” This might be old news to most greenies out there, but the movie has spawned its own website, books and community, because it’s so straightforward, sincere and impactful. Since no one likes it when people talk through the movies, let’s just let the movie do the talking. Enjoy the next 20 minutes.
I like Apple products, a lot. I write this blog on one. I carry my favorite music with me every day on one. I’ve used one at most places I’ve worked. There are only coincidental reasons that I don’t talk and text on one, or do whatever one does on an iPad. They’re all pretty amazing products. And just about everyone I know who’s used one, and then tried to perform the same tasks on a competing product, prefers a Mac.
So when I heard a while back about anin China that produces parts for the iPad, I was somewhat surprised. Doesn’t somebody in Cupertino just wave a magic wand and these great products appear?
Add to that the subsequent allegations that workers at a Foxconn factory (an Apple supplier) routinely work under terrible conditions, and one’s opinion of Apple, um, sours a bit. (Not to mention the fact that the company is now picking on beleaguered Kodak. This news is a reality check on the importance of knowing where the stuff that we buy comes from.
Does this make me want to stop consuming Apple products altogether? A bit, but ultimately no. Does that make me a hypocrite? Maybe (feel free to debate). But I also think it would be naïve to believe that other companies are much different.
We should not be OK with this kind of status quo, of course. While it’s good that Apple has taken heed of the recent bad press and at its factories, it’s easy to feel that our options as consumers are limited. We can vote with our dollars by choosing more sustainably-minded companies. But when those options aren’t viable, you’re simply choosing the lesser of all offenders. That’s not much of a choice.
Instead, it seems the best thing to do is to speak up.
Event Notice: “Blue Gold” at Henrietta Public Library
Head over to the Henrietta Public Library tonight for a FREE showing of the documentary Blue Gold: World Water Wars. The event is hosted by the Great Lakes Committee of the Sierra Club’s Rochester Regional Group.
When: Mon, February 6, 6:30 – 8:30 p.m.
Where: Henrietta Library, 455 Calkins Road, Rochester
About the event (via the Great Lakes Committee): Will water be “the oil of the 21st century?” Why do people spend up to 4,000 times more for bottled water, when the product is less pure than regulated tap water? Who will prevent large multi-national corporations from taking over the world’s water supply? Whether you are new to the topic or a long time advocate of water issues, please join in for this film viewing and discussion about the issue of water privatization. For questions email firstname.lastname@example.org.
You know that the Green Movement has become mainstream when the professional football crowd gets involved. So if you’re getting together with friends to watch the game (or just the commercials) this Sunday, consider these tips to make your Super get-together a little more eco-friendly.
Let’s start with invitations – skip ‘em. Send an evite, e-mail or text, or just stand up and walk over to your buddy’s cubicle and say, “Party. My house. Sunday.”
When it comes to plates and utensils, save some money and landfill waste and just use your own plates and utensils. Whatever you do, avoid polystyrene cups; they stick around this planet longer than Keith Richards, and not in a good way.
The food: We love Bowl day not just because of the game, but because it is a great excuse to strap on the feedbag and get our snack on! The good news is there’s plenty of opportunity to get beyond greasy chips and tubs of dip and do something different.
Veg on the couch. There are about 100 million cattle in the U.S., which accounts for roughly 20 percent of our country’s methane emissions. So try some vegetarian options (this link made me hungry, although that isn’t hard to do). I mean, Madonna is doing the half-time show, so it’s definitely a new era.
When picking your beverages, go bigger. Two-liter bottles and kegs use less packaging than individual cans and bottles. You can also opt to try brews from the growing list of local craft beers in our area.
You might have leftovers, so be responsible with them. Send your guests home with some, or compost it. If you’re having your bash catered, have them donate the leftovers to an area food bank or soup kitchen.
Speaking of being responsible, car-pool with a designated driver. Not only will you put less cars on the road, but you’ll keep those cars from running into other cars. Seriously, I don’t want you swerving into my lane.
And finally, it’s not a green tip, but just a generally good idea: root for the New Jersey Giants.
I have a fondness for bus and rail travel that is probably rare in these parts. More than the environmental benefits, or the desire to avoid scraping snow and frost off the car before white-knuckling over black ice, my affinity for mass transit comes from the decade I spent in the New York City area. I’m sure Rosie Colosie would agree that the subways and buses are the preferred ways to get around a major metro area.
So when I moved back here, one of the first things I did was go to the RGRTA website to plot my route to my new job. I had hoped to bring the usually casual, sometimes maddening experience of the passenger life back with me. But when I found that it would take two routes and more than an hour to go about 10 miles, I said “fuggettaboutit,” and resigned myself to a fact of suburban life: the car is necessary, at least for now.
This is not meant to be an indictment of the RGRTA. They provide an affordable, reliable service of which I would love to take more advantage. For many people, like those that work at the malls, it’s essential that they make that hour-long trip and make their connections to get to a $7.50/hr. job on time.
I know we’re in Rochester, not the Big Apple, and this area has been rated with one of the best commute times in the country. But we’re a city of single-passenger commuters.
Gov. Cuomo recently announced the allocation of $100 million to build a new I-390 interchange at Kendrick Road. Good news for people who work at the University of Rochester, who might be able to shave a few minutes off their commute time.
However, a real opportunity to impact carbon emissions comes from taking mass transit. So there’s good news in the $5 million slated for an indoor transit hub downtown, as well as an $800,000 grant for another hub in the proposed college town area also not far from the U of R.
Now consider that when one person switches to public transit, it can reduce daily carbon emissions by more than 4,800 pounds in a year (source: publictransportation.org). Imagine if more of us got on board.
The beginning of the year is full of promise and potential, where we take a little time to set our goals for the future in the hopes of making this “our year.” Maybe you’ve decided to lose weight, quit something, start something, read the Sustainable Suburbs without fail, etc. All worthy goals.
We make a big deal out of resolutions. But what makes resolutions different from other decisions? After all, we make decisions every day, sometimes without much thought.
I’m not trying to be some wanna-be self-help guru here. My usual resolution is not to make any resolutions. Although this year I decided to write a blog, and if you ever want some serious accountability for your resolutions, tell a lot of people about them in a public forum…kinda like this. But it’s interesting to consider how one gets into the habit of lowering their carbon footprint.
There are plenty of reasons that people don’t come to the sustainable table: the perception that it’s too big an issue, or too expensive, or they’re skeptical of gimmicks.
If you find yourself in that position, keep in mind that practicing sustainability can be really simple, and it often equates to saving money. For example, turning off unused appliances can save on your monthly utility bill. Don’t worry, you can plug your VCR back in when VHS tapes make a comeback.
If you want more ideas and simply can’t wait for my next post, try this. If you need a more professional opinion about sticking with your resolutions, try this.
Then share your green resolutions with me below. Don’t worry, it’ll be just between us.
And if you do nothing else, be inspired by one of my favorite quotes: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu
Hydrofracking: if you haven’t heard of it, you have one more day to get up to speed.
Why? New York State has been in the midst of an ongoing debate over whether to allow hydraulic fracturing (hydrofracking) in our state, and the opportunity for public comment ends on Wednesday, Jan. 11.
This blog is admittedly late to the party on the issue, and it’s too big an issue to sum up in 300 words, but I’d be remiss not to address it. A Messenger Post article sums up this week’s news very well.
In short, hydrofracking has been big news in our area ever since the discovery that an estimated 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas could lie within the Marcellus Shale (and below it the Utica Shale) formation – a subterranean rock formation that extends from West Virginia to New York’s Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions (see map).
As you can imagine, oil and gas companies have been eager to drill in the “Marcellus Shale play” (as it’s called in industry terms) for years, and tout the economic benefits of doing so.
To counter, environmental watchdogs have demanded that the New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) perform its due diligence and examine the many risks before issuing permits, if at all. Most environmental groups (and this blogger) have been encouraged by the fact that the DEC has continued to extend the comment period. My observation is that because of public interest and knowledge, energy companies are being forced to consider the impact of the drilling process on the communities they enter.
I hope that if you haven’t examined hydrofracking yet, at least click on the links here, and continue to do your own research. Then, hurry up and get to the DEC’s comment page before the comment period closes.
Whew, glad those holidays are over with! Happy 2012 to you. The holidays are definitely a lot of fun (especially the more egg-nog and cookies you have), but they’re a lot of work as well. But you don’t need some environmental blogger to tell you that.
What you do need me to tell you about is treecycling. As you learned in my previous post, I’m an advocate of real Christmas trees. And as I mentioned, one of the benefits of a real tree is that when it’s time for your family fir to, uh, make like a tree and get outta here, there are some eco-friendly options in our area.
You’ll have a great opportunity to treecycle this weekend at Tinker Nature Park, on Calkins Rd. in Henrietta. On Jan. 7 and 8 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., you can bring your naked Christmas tree to the park, where it will be mulched to maintain the park’s trails.
Bonus: The event is also a food drive to benefit the Rush-Henrietta Area Food Terminal. So bring a non-perishable food item with you to donate. The Town of Henrietta website has full details.
As an aside, Tinker Park is a great place. It’s part history museum, part nature preserve (the Tinker family’s historic homestead is also at the site). I like it because it’s an easy-to-get-to place to get lost in the woods without actually getting lost, and they host a lot of special events, such as this one. And wouldn’t you know, they have a blog too. Check it out at tinkernaturepark.blogspot.com.
Real versus fake. The debate over which is better has gone on for decades. It’s a sensitive topic for many, especially around this time of year. I’m talking about Christmas trees, people. What did you think?
Naturally, there are pros and cons to both sides.
Artificial trees have an interesting , starting off as toilet bowl brushes and evolving into the pre-lit, musical doppelgangers now found in Walmart and Wegmans the day after Halloween. They can look pretty real…or they can look like the one pictured here.
Artificials also save from the expense of buying a tree every year, and they’re convenient to store and assemble.
Yet the environmental downsides of artificial trees lie in their manufacturing and shipping. They are made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other materials that aren’t biodegradable. So when they do wear out, they’ll be decorating landfills for generations to come. Many times they’re also made in China, which means they do plenty of travelling before landing in your living room.
In contrast, real trees are made from (spoiler alert) wood. So even if you feel squeamish about taking a saw to a real tree, they can be turned into mulch. The Town of Henrietta ran a treecycling program last year. Hopefully they’ll do the same for 2012.
Potted trees are also gaining traction, as they can be planted in the spring (or Dec. 26, the way this month is shaping up).
The big win for real trees comes from the relatively short distance it travels from farm to home. And when you buy from a farm or lot, you’re supporting the local economy.
Environmental concerns aside, I’ll take a real tree any day. Part of the magic of the season is the ritual of finding a perfectly imperfect tree, slugging it home, wrangling the lights like some LED-illuminated python, and (after a few well-placed curses in my case) enjoying the fruits of your holiday efforts.
In the end, whichever variety you chose this year, the important thing is that you have a happy, healthy, safe and sustainable holiday season!