August 13, 2017 by
Bee colonies living in Bryant Park since April are on pace to produce 80 pounds of honey this year. New Yorkers have some new neighbors. More than 60,000 bees moved into two hives situated in the northwest corner of Bryant Park this April, and will continue to make the park their home as they produce urban, locally-sourced honey. Beekeper Andrew Coté — who runs hives in four of five New York City boroughs — heads up the hives in a partnership with Bryant Park. He checks on the hives about once every two weeks and told Patch that the two hives will produce a combined 80 pounds of honey this year, which is greatly surpasses expectations for a first-year beehive. "Now that it’s August and the year is winding down I might come every two weeks because they don’t require as much maintenance after the spring," Coté told Patch. Coté told Patch that in June an estimated 75,000 to 80,000 bees could have been living in the Bryant Park hives. As winter approaches the queen bee lays less eggs in anticipation of the harsh conditions, Coté said. About 12,000 to 15,000 bees are expected to survive the winter. The beehives saw a population spike in June when Coté helped corral 30,000 honey bees that swarmed 1 Times Square — the same building where the ball is dropped on New Year's Eve. "We combined that strong swarm with one of the hives which was a little bit weaker than the other — it wasn’t weak but it had some room to grow — and we installed them, so those bees had a happy home here in Bryant Park and I don’t think they could be happier," Coté told Patch. Bryant Park organized summer beekeeping classes where people could learn more about the hives and honey production. The next beekeeping class will be held on Friday, September 8. During the class Coté describes the roles each type of bee — queen, worker and drone — perform for the colony. During classes visitors are also able to taste and buy honey from Coté's company Andrew's Honey. Honey is the third most faked food in the United States behind olive oil and fish, Coté told attendees during an August beekeeping class. During the summer months Coté did not run into any trouble while maintaining the Bryant Park beehive. Despite the fact that Bryant Park is heavily trafficked during the day — and the hive is about 20 feet away from high-energy ping pong games — people are generally hesitant to approach or bother the bees. "The staff here are incredible and people are very respectful of the signs about the bees," Coté told Patch. "And most people aren’t going to kick a beehive. Most people have some innate common sense to stay away from 75 to 150 flying, stinging, venomous insects — one would hope." You can check out a live stream of action at the Bryant Park beehives below: source

August 12, 2017 by
Officials in two Arizona counties are warning the public after fleas in the region tested positive for the plague, the infamous infectious disease that killed millions during the Middle Ages. Navajo County Public Health officials confirmed on Friday that fleas in the area have tested positive for the rare disease. The public health warning follows a similar notice from Coconino County Public Health Services District in Arizona warning of the presence of plague in fleas found there too. Both counties are situated in the northern part of Arizona. "Navajo County Health Department is urging the public to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure to this serious disease, which can be present in fleas, rodents, rabbits and predators that feed upon these animals," the public health warning states. "The disease can be transmitted to humans and other animals by the bite of an infected flea or by direct contact with an infected animal." Officials also urged persons living, working, camping or visiting in these areas to take precautions to reduce their risk of exposure, including avoiding sick or dead animals, keeping pets from roaming loose, and avoiding rodent burrows and fleas. While the warning may ring alarm bells for people who only know of the plague from history books, the findings are not without precedent. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that studies suggest that outbreaks of the plague occasionally occur in southwestern U.S. states like Arizona during cooler summers that follow wet winters. Symptoms of plague include sudden onset of fever, headache, chills, and weakness and one or more swollen, tender and painful lymph nodes, according to the CDC. If untreated, the bacteria can spread to other parts of the body. source

August 10, 2017 by
Dior St. Hillaire eats, sleeps and breathes the Bronx. Like hip-hop itself, she was born in the Bronx. She was raised in the Bronx. She first learned about the intricacies of composting in the Bronx, at the New York Botanical Garden, where she earned a Master Composter Certificate from the city. Now, she and her co-founders of GreenFeen worker cooperative hope to be part sustainability educators, part commercial waste haulers, part biogas producers and part commercial composters. They recently finished a co-op program that’s helping them work toward those goals. Summer Youth Employment Program participants make bokashi bran, part of the composting process used by GreenFeen. The worker-cooperative model means workers share equal ownership of the business, and also share responsibility for management decisions and business strategy. They’re their own bosses, and more importantly, there aren’t investors or shareholders or top-level management running workers into the ground while paying themselves huge salaries plus bonuses or stock options. Fitting to the worker co-op she has helped to start, St. Hillaire refers to this way of doing business as “composting capitalism.” “By composting capitalism, you’re not necessarily eradicating it but you’re putting it in the ground and taking what we all know and value and letting it grow into something else, let it grow into what’s needed, because we should not be exploiting the world the way we’re exploiting the world for capital gains,” St. Hillaire says. “If we’re really going to be self-determined people and if we’re really going to have a say in what happens in this lifetime, then we have to be a part of the solution, and we believe a part of the solution is worker-owned cooperatives.” GreenFeen describes itself as a social enterprise and environmental consulting firm that uses hip-hop to promote sustainability. St. Hillaire writes and performs rhymes about composting and sustainability. Every GreenFeen worker-owner has at least a few rhymes of their own. This summer, GreenFeen had five NYC Summer Youth Employment Program participants at their pilot composting site, at Drew Gardens in the Bronx. They wrote their own rhymes too, reinforcing what they learned about composting and sustainability. Going to Co-op School GreenFeen is starting small, and where they are today is largely due to their recent completion of the Green Worker Cooperatives’ Co-op Academy, also located in the Bronx. The academy is an intensive five-month training and support program for worker-cooperatives in formation. Funding comes from NYC taxpayer dollars, through the Worker Cooperative Business Development Initiative, along with a small amount of foundation support. There are some similarities to what conventional business owners might experience in a business incubator or accelerator program. The cohort meets at least once a week. Each cooperative also sets up a weekly time to meet with Omar Freilla, the primary instructor and founder of Green Worker Cooperatives (who also lives in the same neighborhood as St. Hillaire). Between sessions, each cohort has assignments: interview target customers; meet with potential business partners; refine the business model. Unlike the conventional business world, each group has to have at least two members in attendance at every session; it’s about forming a shared vision for each business, never one person at a time. Larger groups, like GreenFeen’s six member-owners, don’t have to send every member every week, but at least two from the group have to be there, no excuses. “It feels like family when you go up in there,” says St. Hillaire. “It doesn’t feel like capitalism. It feels like everything we’ve been dreaming about, everything we’ve been hoping for, you go to Green Worker Cooperatives and you’re like, it’s possible, it’s all possible. We just got to work together.” Once they get past a few introductory weeks, groups present their business model to everyone on a weekly basis, sharing updates and workshopping each other’s approaches. This most recent cohort, which included GreenFeen, was the Co-op Academy’s largest cohort yet. Twenty-five groups applied, and 11 were accepted. Six made it to the graduation ceremony —about the standard dropout rate, according to Sanjana Khan, of Green Worker Cooperatives. It’s partly by design — weeding out those who may not be ready yet or realize they don’t have the kind of time to commit to being part of a collective effort to start a business. Green Worker Cooperatives doesn’t want anyone to look back and regret taking on personal debt for startup capital or quitting a day job before really knowing what it would take to do this. “The ones that did graduate this time were some of the strongest we’ve been able to work with,” says Khan, who also works with each cooperative for a year or two after the graduation, providing additional support until they are truly able to operate on their own. Other graduates in GreenFeen’s cohort include New Deal Construction, which has already secured two contracts as a certified minority/women-owned business (MWBE). And Friends of Light, a weaving, design and production collective that went with Green Worker Cooperatives on a trip to Marseilles, France, to help promote worker justice in the garment and fashion industries. And Third Eye Studios, an MWBE photography cooperative that has plans to become the exclusive portrait photographer for public grade schools and day care providers in the Bronx, with a few schools already in its portfolio. A Co-op Model for a Sustainable City GreenFeen is actually a bit behind others co-ops in their cohort, but with good reason. Their industry is facing some massive changes, and it may factor in to their next logical step. The lucrative waste collection industry in NYC is fraught with bureaucracy and entrenched interests, but is facing pressure to change. The city has been considering the adoption of commercial waste franchise zones, common in other cities but vehemently opposed by NYC’s existing commercial waste collection companies. Currently NYC has an open-market commercial waste collection system. Each business contracts with a city-licensed commercial waste collection provider, or “hauler,” of their choice. The city’s Business Integrity Commission (BIC) is charged with licensing, conducting background checks and regulating prices to ensure organized crime is no longer involved and haulers don’t overcharge. Open-market system proponents say it promotes competition based on price and best fit for each establishment. The reality is that the market is concentrated anyway, with the 10 largest haulers capturing 63 percent of the market, according to a joint study issued last year by the NYC Department of Sanitation and BIC. That same study recommended the city shift to a commercial waste collection zone system, in which the city would carve out waste collection zones and award exclusive hauling contracts for each zone. It’s not uncommon in other cities, especially on the West Coast. The joint study determined that zoned collection could reduce truck traffic associated with commercial waste collection by 49 percent to 68 percent and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 42 percent to 64 percent. Such a reduction could lead to improved health for communities near waste transfer stations — which are disproportionally located in low-income communities of color, such as the South Bronx. “We’re overburdened with the waste transfer stations,” says St. Hillaire. “As a Bronx resident, I care about the waste transfer stations whereas other haulers couldn’t give two craps.” As the city contemplates shifting to a zoned collection system, GreenFeen sees opportunities as well as pitfalls. Some of those contracts could end up going to certified MWBEs, like GreenFeen. The city may also put some strong recycling or composting requirements on the contracts, favoring newer firms like GreenFeen that are more oriented in that direction. Or the contracts might get caught up in politics and be awarded to companies that donate the most money to politicians or can offer the lowest possible price even if that means less waste diverted into recycling or composting. “All these different things are things that could go to our benefit or to our detriment,” St. Hillaire says. For now, GreenFeen is testing out the composting component of its business model under BIC’s Community Composting pilot program. Under the pilot, if you are a nonprofit or an unincorporated group with written proof of access to a composting space, you may charge fees for collecting organic waste from commercial establishments for the purpose of composting. Under this arrangement, as an unincorporated group, GreenFeen will soon begin collecting food waste from Bronx Beer Hall. The way the commercial waste collection zones work out, it may make sense to just provide composting services to haulers. But, eventually, they’d like to provide hauling services to their neighborhood. They also see opportunities coming from the fact that they’ll be based locally and they plan to put a friendly face on a service that’s not typically known for its friendliness, or its transparency. “People don’t really trust their haulers,” says St. Hillaire. “I went to the Food Waste Fair … a large concern for a lot of the business owners was how do we know they’re diverting waste [to recycling or composting], that they’re really doing that. We’re able to come in and say hey y’all, we’re transparent, we’re friendly, we want to have a relationship with you, where you know what’s happening with your waste, you’re talking responsibility for your waste, we’re taking responsibility for your waste, and we’re working together having an open conversation, open dialogue, and we all feel good about doing great things and moving forward in a more sustainable way.” Being a worker-cooperative helps with that as well. With every hauler deeply vested in the business to the point of ownership, each will have a strong incentive to maintain those relationships and grow new ones. If it works, they’d want to teach others outside the Bronx to start their own version of GreenFeen — which is why their slogan is, “Composting capitalism one cooperative at a time.” source

August 5, 2017 by
The fix is in — for the step street located at West 229th Street between Heath Avenue and Kingsbridge Terrace. Step streets, by the way, are a flight of stairs located between two avenues separated by a steep hill. The West 229th Street step street connecting Heath Avenue and Kingsbridge Terrace will undergo a $6.6 million reconstruction. Work is expected to be completed by the end of next summer. These particular steps were “deteriorated and dangerous,” said Laura Spalter, chair of Community Board 8’s environment and sanitation committee. Spalter’s committee and community volunteers recently inspected 20 of 26 step streets in CB8’s jurisdiction, creating a number of reports on the conditions of each steps. Those reports included details like trash in the area, graffiti scrawled along the sides of adjacent buildings, and in the case of this particular structure at West 229th, the steps were uneven and broken in some parts. “When surveying the steps we found them in terrible shape: deplorable dumping, garbage and weeds on the shoulders, missing railings, uneven steps, crumbling cement, tons of graffiti,” Spalter said, who inspected the West 229th Street step street this past spring. The stairs are 230 feet long, stretching 10 flights on a 65-foot climb leading from Heath to Kingsbridge Terrace. Work includes replacing the stairs with wider granite steps to help it meet modern safety standards. The outer stone retaining walls will be repaired while sloped concrete terraces and pavers will be replaced with new pavers set in a concrete bedding, according to the design department’s website. Additionally, a bicycle channel will be added to both sides, making it easier to move up and down the steps. Benches also will be available at two of the step street’s landings. The entire project is a collaboration between the city’s design and construction department as well as its transportation department. It’s expected to cost $6.6 million, and will be completed in Summer 2018. The original plans called for the construction of a temporary staircase for pedestrians while the main step street was overhauled. However, design and construction spokesman Ian Michaels said those plans were scrapped after the city realized it could shave six months from total construction time by doing away with the wooden staircase. During construction, city officials advise those in the neighborhood to use the step street at West 230th Street near P.S. 360. source

August 5, 2017 by
7 On Your Side's pothole patrol hits Baychester, after complaints of a partial street cave-in come in. Nina Pineda shows you how to fight the city and win, if you're car is damaged by a pot hole. It's a bumpy, wavy, up and down ride on this twisted street. If you drive down it, you might have two big surprises in store. Pot holes, you could fit several pots inside. These cave-ins swallow up this plastic hamper, and spit out shredded tires like chewing gum. "Oh they're like craters. I don't know why they don't fix it. It's really bad," said Milton Morris, a Bronx bus driver. He cautions drivers to avoid the 2900 block of Bruner Ave. at all costs. Renee Degout says she and her neighbor have been complaining long and loud about their street conditions. "You can call you can complain they don't do nothing," Degout said. Bronx street starts collapsing That sickening thud signaling you're about to get a flat is what cracked Chief Okoroji tire rod and axel a few weeks ago in the same neighborhood. His bumper now hanging on by a coat hanger. 7 On Your Side took the complaints about the partial collapse to the city, sending photos showing the deep holes filled with broken glass and all sort of garbage. Within one business day, NYC Department of Environmental Protection crews crews came out and filled both little craters, residents say it's a start to repairing their streets permanently The big takeaway is before filing a claim, find out who owns the street. It could be the state, the county or a municipality. Then compile relevant documentation, like pictures of the pot holes, damage to your car, estimates for the damage, etc. And be very mindful of deadlines. In New York City, you have 90 days from the date of the incident to file the claim. Good luck! source

August 1, 2017 by
A new report shows toxins from suppliers to companies like Tyson Foods are pouring into waterways, causing marine life to leave or die The global meat industry, already implicated in driving global warming and deforestation, has now been blamed for fueling what is expected to be the worst “dead zone” on record in the Gulf of Mexico. Toxins from manure and fertiliser pouring into waterways are exacerbating huge, harmful algal blooms that create oxygen-deprived stretches of the gulf, the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, according to a new report by Mighty, an environmental group chaired by former congressman Henry Waxman. It is expected that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) will this week announce the largest ever recorded dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. It is expected to be larger than the nearly 8,200 square-mile area that was forecast for July – an expanse of water roughly the size of New Jersey. Toxins from manure and fertiliser pouring into waterways in and around the Gulf of Mexico are causing harmful algal blooms, leading to widespread ‘dead zones’. Nutrients flowing into streams, rivers and the ocean from agriculture and wastewater stimulate an overgrowth of algae, which then decomposes. This results in hypoxia, or lack of oxygen, in the water, causing marine life either to flee or to die. Some creatures, such as shrimp, suffer stunted growth. Algal blooms themselves can cause problems, as in Florida last summer when several beaches were closed after they became coated in foul-smelling green slime. America’s vast appetite for meat is driving much of this harmful pollution, according to Mighty, which blamed a small number of businesses for practices that are “contaminating our water and destroying our landscape” in the heart of the country. “This problem is worsening and worsening and regulation isn’t reducing the scope of this pollution,” said Lucia von Reusner, campaign director at Mighty. “These companies’ practices need to be far more sustainable. And a reduction in meat consumption is absolutely necessary to reduce the environmental burden.” The Mighty report analyzed supply chains of agribusiness and pollution trends and found that a “highly industrialized and centralized factory farm system” was resulting in vast tracts of native grassland in the midwest being converted into soy and corn to feed livestock. Stripped soils can wash away in the rain, bringing fertilisers into waterways. Arkansas-based Tyson Foods is identified by the report as a “dominant” influence in the pollution, due to its market strength in chicken, beef and pork. Tyson, which supplies the likes of McDonald’s and Walmart, slaughters 35m chickens and 125,000 head of cattle every week, requiring five million acres of corn a year for feed, according to the report. This consumption resulted in Tyson generating 55m tons of manure last year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), with 104m tons of pollutants dumped into waterways over the past decade. The Mighty research found that the highest levels of nitrate contamination correlate with clusters of facilities operated by Tyson and Smithfield, another meat supplier. This pollution has also been linked to drinking water contamination. Last week, a report by Environmental Working Group found that in 2015 water systems serving seven million Americans in 48 states contained high levels of nitrates. Consuming nitrates has been linked to an increased risk of contracting certain cancers. “Large parts of America are being plowed up for corn and soy to raise meat,” said von Reusner. “There is very little regulation so we can’t wait for that. “The corporate agriculture sector has shown it is responsive to consumer concerns about meat production so we hope that the largest meat companies will meet expectations on this.” The report urges Tyson and other firms to use their clout in the supply chain to ensure that grain producers such as Cargill and Archer Daniels Midland employ practices that reduce pollution flowing into waterways. These practices include not leaving soil uncovered by crops and being more efficient with fertilizers so plants are not doused in too many chemicals. The US is an enormous consumer of meat, with the average American chewing through 211lbs in 2015. A study released earlier this year found that US beef consumption fell by nearly one fifth from 2005 to 2014, possibly due to concerns over health or the environment. A new increase is now expected. According to the US Department of Agriculture, beef and pork production is forecast to grow significantly over the next decade, driven by lower feed costs and healthy demand. By 2025, the average American is expected to eat 219lbs of meat a year. Just 3% of Americans follow a vegetarian or vegan diet. This voracious appetite for meat has driven the loss of native forests and grasslands in the US and abroad, releasing heat-trapping gases through deforestation and agricultural practices. Agriculture produced 9% of US greenhouse gas emissions in 2015, according to the EPA. A spokesman for Cargill said the company was an “industry leader” for sustainable practices, pointing to its efforts with environment groups to address air, water and soil quality in Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska. “Protein consumption is growing globally and we are working to meet increased consumer demand with sustainably and responsibly produced foods and supply chains,” said the spokesman. “We are dedicated to protecting animal welfare, reducing environmental impact, increasing transparency and keeping workers and consumers safe. “We also continue to improve livestock feed efficiency. Over the last 15 years we have seen an overall trend in reducing the volume of feed for each pound of beef produced.” A Tyson spokeswoman said “we don’t agree with the group’s characterization of our company but share its interest in protecting the environment.” “It’s true the livestock and poultry industry is a major buyer of grain for feed, however, the report fails to note that a large percentage of corn raised in the US is used for biofuel and that a significant portion is used for human consumption,” she added. “Tyson Foods is focused on continuous improvement. We are constantly looking to improve and lead the industry, so that we can deliver sustainable food to people every day at a scale that matters to the world.” Archer Daniels Midland were also contacted for comment prior to publication. source

July 30, 2017 by
Efrain Estrada grows so many peppers, eggplants, okra and squash that he sends the extras to his relatives in Puerto Rico. Though Mr. Estrada calls himself a farmer, his bounty sprouts from the unlikeliest of settings: a patch of green wedged among the bodegas and public housing projects of the South Bronx. There, in a community garden where Mr. Estrada is one of dozens of urban farmers, he fills a box of soil no larger than a child’s sandbox with the things he used to grow with his father on a farm in Puerto Rico. Efrain Estrada, 74, who grew up on a farm in Puerto Rico, is one of dozens of urban farmers in a community garden in the South Bronx. “If I knew what I know now, I would have helped my father a lot more,” said Mr. Estrada, 74, a retired cook. “There would have been more food.” Mr. Estrada is able to carry on his family’s agrarian tradition in a teeming metropolis as a result of New York City’s thriving network of community gardens, which is being expanded at a time when an onslaught of development has made these public green spaces more valuable than ever. The community gardens are a refuge for immigrants and those without farms or country houses to escape to in the summer as well as a homegrown source of fruits and vegetables in food deserts like the South Bronx. This summer, the Parks Department’s GreenThumb program — the nation’s largest community garden program — has grown to 553 gardens, up from 501 in 2009. Most of the gardens sit on city-owned or other public property, and are maintained by community groups and a dedicated corps of 20,000 volunteer gardeners. A pepper plant at the United We Stand Community Garden. In many neighborhoods, community gardens have fiercely loyal protectors who have mobilized in recent years as the city has targeted gardens in Harlem and elsewhere as sites for affordable housing, and private developers have also eyed them. Bill LoSasso, the director of GreenThumb, said the program had increased its efforts to create more community gardens across the city, especially in largely immigrant communities where many newcomers have roots in agricultural areas. Its budget has increased to $2.9 million annually from $720,000 three years ago, and its staff has nearly doubled to 35 people, who provide training and support and free materials like plants, shovels and wheelbarrows. “Sometimes when you arrive in a new place, you don’t have a network you can tap into for support,” Mr. LoSasso said. “By joining a community garden, you’re joining a network of neighbors who are coming from diverse backgrounds who can help new members of their community to get settled.” About 3.2 million New Yorkers, or 38 percent of the city’s population of 8.5 million, were born in other countries, according to an analysis of census data by Queens College. About half of those immigrants came from the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Queens had the largest number of foreign-born residents, with 1.1 million, followed by Brooklyn with 992,255 and the Bronx with 514,360. The gardeners at the New Roots Community Farm in the Bronx hail from Guyana, the Dominican Republic, the Central African Republic, Afghanistan, Gambia, Myanmar and the Ivory Coast, among many other places. The garden was started in 2012 by the International Rescue Committee, a refugee services organization, and Bronx Green-Up, an outreach program of the New York Botanical Garden. Jose Ramos, 89, is a retired maintenance worker from Puerto Rico who works in a community garden every day in the summer. Ursula Chanse, the director of Bronx Green-Up, said that in the last decade, her program had increasingly worked with gardeners from the Caribbean, Mexico, Central America and Africa who have settled in the Bronx. “Community gardens reflect the neighborhoods and local demographics,” she said. In the City Line neighborhood of Brooklyn, Bangladeshi immigrants tend a community garden with spinach, winged beans, long beans and bitter melon gourds. The garden was opened in 2014 after a four-year effort by a local group, Bangladeshi American Community Development and Youth Services, to take over a trash-strewn lot. Samiha Huda, the group’s executive director, said that home gardening was part of daily life in Bangladesh. Ms. Huda, who lived in the city of Dhaka before moving to New York in 2009, used to grow mangos, lychees, spinach and beans on the roof of her apartment building there.   Now she can go to the community garden, where the pickings are free for the taking and there are plans for henna painting and story time. “This garden is open for everyone,” Ms. Huda said. “We never talk of having a fence, ever.” The United We Stand Community Garden where Mr. Estrada plants was started in the 1990s by Bronx residents and rebuilt and expanded last year by GrowNYC, the organization that runs the city’s Greenmarkets. It has built 100 community gardens since 1975, including 43 since 2013. “There is nothing more beautiful, and quintessentially New York, than people from all over the world working together to build a better community,” said Marcel Van Ooyen, its president. Alex Gonzalez, 44, a deli worker from Mexico, has a box full of vegetables used in Mexican dishes. He said he would grow more, if he had more space. The 15,000-square-foot garden is divided into 51 numbered boxes that are assigned to individual gardeners to plant what they fancy. “This is my second home,” said Jose Ramos, 89, a retired maintenance worker from Puerto Rico who works in the garden every day in the summer. Alex Gonzalez, 44, a deli worker from Mexico, has a box full of tomatoes, green beans, jalapeño peppers and papalo, a cilantrolike herb used in Mexican dishes. He would grow more, if he had more space. His wife and his brother also have boxes. “This is fresh,” he said. “I like to eat this way.” In the next box over, Mr. Estrada watered slight green plants that will bear sweet peppers called aji dulce for his wife’s homemade sofrito sauce. She makes enough to freeze for the cold months. “It’s very expensive to buy,” he said. Mr. Estrada said he hated working on the family farm in Puerto Rico because he was given no choice. His father used to tell him that they were planting for the rainy days. “When you have no money, you go to the farm and grab something and then we have lunch,” he said. “It was a necessity.” But years later when his Bronx neighbors started cleaning up a junkyard to turn into a community garden, he did not hesitate to pitch in. “I said, ‘This corner is going to be my garden,’” he recalled. “Now I’m going to make a garden on my own with what my father taught me. I had farming in my blood.” source

July 27, 2017 by
It’s no longer science fiction to imagine altering the Earth’s atmosphere to try to cool the planet. In fact, several major “geoengineering” experiments are already underway. The scientists pursuing them believe that there’s already too much carbon in the atmosphere — and that to avoid catastrophic climate change, we’ll need to resort to climate-cooling technologies. Particularly since President Donald Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement, the United Nations estimates that we’re way off track to keep the Earth’s temperature from rising 1.5 degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels, the goal set by the landmark 2016 deal signed by 195 nations. Still, the current prospects are both risky — some involve altering the atmosphere or oceans — and really, really expensive. And the research has critics. Many believe that a focus on engineering the planet distracts from more level-headed decarbonization policies. If we can fix it later, after all, why reduce emissions now? “If you want to be confident to get to 1.5 degrees [Celsius], you need to have solar geoengineering,” said David Keith, a Harvard physicist, told Reuters. Here are three major geoengineering projects already in the works: Carbon-sucking fans in Switzerland A company in Switzerland called Climeworks employs huge fans that suck carbon out of the air and then puts the carbon to use growing vegetables in a nearby garden. They estimate that they’ll suck about 900 tons of carbon out of the air per year, at a cost of about $600 per ton. Critics say that’s too expensive — even more expensive than the ultra-expensive carbon-capture technologies that would remove carbon from the exhaust from fossil fuel plants. Still, Climeworks thinks it’s possible to scale. In order to hit the company’s goal of removing 1 percent of carbon from the atmosphere using this tech, they’d need about 250,000 of these plants operating around the globe. Solar geoengineering Solar geoengineering involves releasing aerosols into the atmosphere that would reflect sunlight back out into space, preventing some portion of sunlight from entering our atmosphere. A team of Harvard scientists has been studying this for years, and they’re planning their first open-air experiment in 2018. They have funding from a handful of private donors, including Bill Gates. The experiment will involve sending a hot-air balloon some 20 kilometers up above the Arizona desert and releasing a substance, likely calcium carbonate (a very common chemical compound, the primary ingredient in both Tums and eggshells), and measuring its effects on the atmosphere. It will be the first outdoor experiment in solar geoengineering. Even one of the scientists leading the experiment told the Guardian that solar geoengineering was a “terrifying prospect.” Altering the atmosphere to keep the planet cool may have consequences we can’t foresee, and even natural alterations to the planet’s atmosphere can have awful repercussions. In 1815, a volcanic eruption let to what’s known as the “year without summer,” — think snow in June, crop shortages, and disease outbreaks. Scientists worry about Feeding iron to phytoplankton Phytoplankton, the microscopic organisms that are nearly ubiquitous in our oceans, like to eat iron. They also suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. Scientists are testing — and have tested already — what dumping iron into the oceans does to phytoplankton populations, and, by extension, to their capacity to reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. There have already been some 13 major open tests of ocean fertilization, as dumping iron into the oceans is referred to, since 1990, according to Nature. Another controversial experiment might take place off the coast of Chile — purportedly with the goal of reviving Chilean fisheries, as a more robust phytoplankton bloom can travel up the food chain and lead to a larger population of fish. In 2012, a controversial iron fertilization project moved ahead off the coast of British Columbia and sparked outrage from the Canadian government, oceanographers, and the United Nations. A controversial U.S. businessman, Russ George, created a 10,000-square-mile artificial plankton bloom, increasing both the population of carbon dioxide–absorbing phytoplankton and the salmon population in the region. Scientists aren’t all convinced that dumping iron in the ocean effectively traps carbon — nor are they convinced that irreversibly altering the ecosystems of our oceans is worth the risk. source

July 25, 2017 by
Recent statements from Washington suggest that grid reliability will be threatened if old power plants using coal continue to be replaced by modern power plants using natural gas, wind power, and solar power. This is simply not true. In April, energy secretary Rick Perry ordered a study on the reliability of the US electric grid amid “significant changes” happening in the power system. He said those changes included the “erosion of critical baseload resources”—namely coal and nuclear—and the “market distorting effects of federal subsidies,” by which he means support for wind and solar. A leaked draft of the study last week—compiled by career Energy Department experts—said renewable energy is not harming the grid. The final version is due any day now, but Perry’s office indicated it might be quite different from the draft, fueling speculation that the study is merely an attempt to prop up coal and curtail the use of renewables. But regardless of its intentions, this notion of baseload power is outdated. Let’s start with the basics. The planners and operators of the grid, mostly highly trained electrical engineers working at the utilities and regional system operators, must maintain an overall balance between the generation and use of electricity at all times. We flip a switch or turn on our TV whenever we wish, without checking with the utility first, so this is an orchestrated balancing act. When things on the grid are working normally, this balancing act requires coordination of generation (to match the level we are using) and voltage throughout the grid (to keep the power flowing where it is needed). The level of use has always been a moving target, and dealing with this variability is nothing new. Adding new wind and solar power plants may increase the variability to some degree, because the wind and sun that “fuel” these power plants also vary, but this has been well studied and grid operators have sound approaches for forecasting and incorporating this additional variability. The grid must also stay reliable even when something unexpected happens. For example, a large power plant—often a coal or nuclear one—or major transmission line may fail and disconnect from the grid in a fraction of a second. This happens quite often, yet you don’t even notice it. Generators across the grid quickly detect such an event and automatically provide extra power to stabilize the grid until the grid operators can make other adjustments to restore the normal balance. In light of how the grid works, it is puzzling to see statements from the US Department of Energy about “baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid,” when by baseload they mean old, conventional coal power plants. Such plants made sense when we built them fifty years ago, but they have never been particularly good at ramping their output to help balance the grid. With today’s much lower prices of natural gas and amazing advancements in cheap wind and solar power, these old plants are now expensive to operate and more prone to the unexpected failures that cause reliability challenges. The power system is now undergoing a technology revolution, similar to the innovation that we have previously seen with the internet and smart phones. It has been slower than other industries to experience the full impact of modern computers and digital communications, but the revolution is here now. New wind, solar, and battery storage power plants use fast computer-based digital controls and can communicate quickly with the grid control rooms, including following instructions to change their output to help balance the system and maintain reliability. New natural gas power plants similarly respond faster and more accurately than decades-old plants, and all of these new types of generation produce electricity that is both cheaper and cleaner. Changing to use the newer plants lowers our cost of electricity and provides a higher level of reliability. Upgrading to new, better technology is a good thing. Cheaper, cleaner, and more reliable electricity is a great thing. Many skilled power system engineers are on the job, ensuring that this modernization will happen in a reliable way. source

July 22, 2017 by
Following on the heels of the health care debacle in the Senate, Mitch McConnell is desperate to get legislation passed that moves Trump’s agenda. That’s why he’s now trying to rush through an 850-page Energy Bill (The Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 (S 1460)) that will lock the U.S. into fossil fuel dependency for decades. This bill is a dream come true for the fossil fuel industry.  It will: Expedite the review of Liquified Natural Gas export facilities in the US.  These facilities increase the demand for fracked natural gas, and then send that gas oversees. This would result in more communities harmed by natural gas fracking, pipelines, and facilities, and a big increase in climate emissions. Make the Federal Energy Resources Commission (FERC) the lead agency in authorizing natural gas projects.  FERC has a horrible track record, always approving pipelines approved by industry at the expense of local communities and the environment.  We need to curtail its power, not increase it. Increase funds for extraction of fossil fuels in coastal waters.  After the Deepwater Horizon debacle, we need to put a moratorium on off-shore drilling, not expand it. Expedite the process for allowing fracking on Federal lands. At the same time, this legislation does absolutely nothing to increase wind or solar power in the US.  At a time when the US needs to shift rapidly to clean energy sources, this legislation would move us backwards. There is still time to kill this bill.  Incredibly, Democrats in the Senate have not raised their voices in opposition, but they have the power to put the brakes on this bill. That’s why we all need to call our senators today, Republican or Democrat, and tell them to oppose The Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017.  You can reach your Senators through the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121, and tell them that they need to reject this deeply flawed energy bill that will lock the US into fracking and fossil fuels, without any support for wind or solar. source Read More: S.1460 - Energy and Natural Resources Act of 2017 Environmentalists Urge Democrats to Join Sanders in Opposing Dirty Energy Bill Murkowski takes another crack at energy bill; OCS review opens