Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Economy Vs. The Environment

The Obama administration is faced with an extremely difficult period in our history in which to try and address climate change. In the midst of a crippling recession, climate change is rarely the primary concerns of American citizens. However, recession or no recession, steps need to be taken to protect the planet. After class, I read the NY Times article by John M. Broder that Professor Hirsh showed us a glimpse of. According to the arcticle, "the (Obama) administration promoted measures to cap greenhouse gas emissions and support new means of fueling homes and vehicles with far less carbon dioxide intensity." At the same time, five Obama officials appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee "to speak in support of a bill to address global warming and encourage development of nonpolluting energy sources. They said such measures were important not only to the environment but to the nation’s economic competitiveness."

The proponents of the bill, named after John Kerry and Barbara Boxer, hail it as a way to lessen the impacts of climate change while creating new jobs in the alternative energy sector. The bill's opponents, however, criticize it for "overly complex", and fear it "will harm the economy, kill jobs and favor some parts of the country over others." I think the latter group is missing the point and thinking on a much-too-small scale. Whether or not this bill's passing would create or eliminate jobs is not something I pretend to be able to predict. I do believe, however, that the United States' continued reluctance to join the rest of the industrialized world in the struggle against climate change could be devastating. According to, "China’s leaders are investing $12.6 million every hour to green their economy." ( So, while the US economy struggles and America tries to close its eyes and pretend climate change isn't happening, the Chinese have a thriving economy and are spending billions to go green.

While the recession may be the main concern for America at the moment, more attention needs to be paid to the future, namely, the environment. The Kerry-Boxer bill may, as White House hopes, help heal the economy in some way. Or, it may offer no help whatsoever. This is not really relevant. The point is that its better to act now and risk making a mistake than to do nothing and accept our dismal fate.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009


One of my other classes this semester is history and culture of Latin America. Today in class we were discussing a city in Southern Brazil and I found some of the information very interesting and thought it would pertain to this class as well. Curitiba is a city of two million people, and with growing transportation problems they established one of the best public transportation systems in the world. This system relies on a bus rapid transport system. There are lanes in the cities on which only the buses and a person can ride the bus system for one fare no matter how far they are going. This makes the bus rapid transport system fast efficient and affordable for Curitiba citizens. In fact 85 percent of Curitiba citizens rely on public transportation. In addition to this incredible public transportation system Curitiba also has established many public parks. The city has 580 square feet of green space per Curitiba resident. Today the city of Curitiba is looked upon as a model for other cities trying to develop more efficient public transportation systems. In 2007 Curitiba ranked 3rd on a list of “green” cities. I find it really interesting that a country like Brazil with a somewhat unstable economy and political and social unrest boasts one of the cleanest well organized cities in the world.

The Day After Tomorrow - could it ever happen?

As Professor Hirsch mentioned in class yesterday The Day After Tomorrow is a typical Hollywood exaggeration of the consequences of rising carbon dioxide levels and the effects of a climate shift that would result. For those of you who have yet to see it, the situation is this. Due to a gradual increase in global temperature, oceanic glaciers have continued to melt, allowing more freshwater to enter the ocean. As described yesterday in lecture, adding freshwater to the ocean disrupts natural currents and wind patterns that help maintain a somewhat "homeostasis" of the ocean and weather patterns (picture shown below). In The Day After Tommorow scientists first notice that the temperature in a few spots in the Atlantic ocean decrease rapidly. This temperature drop is the first indication the collapse of the Atlantic thermohaline circulation. In the movie, the collapse of the Atlantc thermohaline circulation launhces the globe into a new ice age, with ice covering nearly the entire Northern Hemisphere in less than a week. But are all aspects of the movie inaccurate?

First, the theory of an abrupt climate shift which occured in The Day After Tomorrow is somewhat accurate and has been proven to occur in the past. One of the most well known and most studied abrupt climate shifts started and ended the the Younger Dryas interval. The interval began with a rapid drop in temperature of about 10 degrees C that began about 12,800 years ago, and ended with a relatively rapid increase in temperature of about 8 degrees celsius which occured in less than a decade. The interval began about 12,800 years ago and ended abruptly about 11,600 years ago, representing a gradual climate shift that lasted nearly 1,200 years. So, the first and probably most obvious inaccuracy of The Day After Tomorrow is the speed of the global climate shift. Evidence shows that a global climate shift could not occur as fast as a week, rather it would occur gradually over thousands of years. But the overall aspect of a climate shift is accurate in that past abrupt climate changes have been especially common when the climate system itself was being rapidly altered.

Although it is not clearly known what exactly caused the abrupt climate shift of the Younger Dryas, a shutdown of the North Atlantic circulation is considered to be an unlikely cause. According to the National Academies, "A shutdown of the circulation would not induce a new glacial period, but it would cause major changes both in the ocean (major circulation regimes, upwelling and sinking regions, distribution of seasonal sea ice, ecological systems, and sea level)and in the atmosphere (land-sea temperature contrast, and the intensity, frequency, and paths of storms)." So the collapse of the North Atlantic circulation might not cause a new global ice age.

One aspect of The Day After Tomorrow is not inaccurate, but rather simply exaggerated. In the movie, the sea level rose about 50 feet in a matter of seconds, destroying New York City. What appeared to be a tsunami, was instead the outcome of rising sea levels. Again, the speed of this action was exaggerated. In the movie, the sea level rose in a matter of seconds, but in reality, it would take centuries. But, the rise in sea level due to global warming is not inaccurate. In fact, the sea level has been rising in many global areas, but at a speed that is not noticable. Increasing emissions and an overall rise in temperture would lead to a large rise in sea level. Shown below is a picture of the outcome of a rise in sea level of about 1 meter, which according to the Department of Geosciences, is believed to happen during this century.

So, although the movie was blown way out of proportion, the aspect of an induced abrupt climate shift resulting in a rise in global sea levels, is believed to be accurate. Although we are not likely to see any of these major changes in our lifetime, we should act as soon as possible to decrease our emissions.

Copenhagen consensus on climate

In 2009, the Copenhagen consensus on climate assembled a panel consisting of five economists to consider the foremost solutions to the issue of climate change and global warming, and prioritize the solutions based on variables such as cost and efficiency. The number one ranked solution was titled An Analysis of Climate Engineering as a Response to Climate Change and was written by Dr. Eric J Bickel and Lee Lane. This solution basically entails that a fleet of unmanned wind-powered ships would be used to conduct marine cloud whitening. Marine cloud whitening is a process by which seawater droplets are sprayed into marine clouds to make them reflect more sunlight. The ships would draw water from the ocean to produce plumes of seawater mist that would whiten the clouds and effectively reflect about 1 to 2 percent of sunlight that would otherwise be fixed on the ocean, adding to its temperature. The cost of this project was estimated to cost $9 billion, which is very low compared to the amount of money spent by nations to reduce carbon emissions. Some of the other highly ranked solutions include launching fine material into the stratosphere to scatter and absorb sunlight, and launching tiny transparent screens into space that would focus a small amount of the sun's light away from Earth. The list of rankings can be found here as well as summaries of proposed solutions:

Friday, October 23, 2009

Oil in Cuba

After watching the video in class I decided to do some more research on the oil in Cuba. Apparently the United States Geological Survey estimates that Cuba holds reserves of 4.6 billion barrels of oil, something which American companies are raving over on how to get their hands on it. Unlike deep water offshore fields, Cuba's reserves can be tapped on from land saving money in its accumulation making profits much more higher. In exchange for oil, Cuba is asking for energy investment and many companies are willing to comply.

The United States Department of Energy knows that new oil production is "dependent on the discovery of substantial new reserves." This basically means The US needs to find new oil reserves and in Cuba that is what they have found.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Following Cuba's Example

As we saw in the video, when Cuba reached peak oil, they were faced with dire circumstances. Considering the United States will one day soon be faced with the same problem, I think we should take note of their situation and response. For just about the first time since the class began however, today I felt like there might actually be a way for us to cope with peak oil. Rather than repeating the mistake of the Cubans and waiting for catastrophe to strike before responding, I think we should start considering solutions now.

The Cubans made many impressive changes in everyday life after they reached peak oil. To me, however, the most impressive was how they shifted the emphasis of their agriculture. With the help of their government, who allowed citizens to use available land to farm, free of tax, Cubans transitioned from energy-intensive,conventional farming to smaller scale farming, which requires very few non-renewable resources. With the use of fossil fuels to create fertilizer becoming an impossibility, Cubans had to be very creative. They abandoned the use of tractors to turn the soil of huge acres of farmland, and instead reverted back to using animal-pulled plows. The focus shifted from machinery to manual labor. In addition, they started using biopesticides and biofertilizers instead of conventional pesticides and fertilizers. The result? A Cuba that is much healthier now than before peak oil. Cuba now uses less than 5% of the conventional fertilizer than they did prior to peak oil, and 85% of Cuba's agricultural production is organic. With the implementation of crop rotation, compost, manure, and worm humus, Cuba was able to break free of their dependency on fossil fuels for agriculture.

That begs the question: will the US be able to respond and recover like Cuba? There is no way to know for sure. Our country is different from Cuba in several aspects. Its much larger and more populous, for one. Also, we do not have quite as favorable a climate for farming throughout the country as Cuba, and we are not ruled by a dictator. These difficulties aside, I think we stand a chance of surviving peak oil, as the Cubans did, if we don't delay too long. It took Cuba nearly four years to recover from the strains imposed by peak oil. The thought that the world's superpower, the envy of the planet, could spend four years in peril is a tough pill to swallow for Americans. This is why we need to begin making provisions soon, if not now. The government should assemble some kind of team of analysts with the intent to prepare the country. We need to explore the possibilities of small scale farming like that used in Cuba. Any realistic alternative to fossil fuels that can be used in agriculture needs to be looked into. We should leave no stone unturned as we prepare for the coming crisis.


After watching the video on Cuba today I was thinking about the question raised about whether the United States could implement some of the same policies that Cuba was forced to implement. I think it would be possible to implement some of these policies especially those in regards to agriculture. Although Cuba has a much smaller population than the United States they have more people per square mile than we do in the United States. Cuba has a population of about 11 million and the total area of Cuba is 42803 square miles. The population of the United States is 304 million people and we have 3718711 square miles of land. Cuba has approximately .003 square miles of land per person while here in the United States we have approximately .012 square miles per person. The people of Cuba were able to overcome huge food shortages by coming up with innovative ideas like rooftop gardens and urban agriculture. Here in the United States we have much more land available per person than is available in Cuba, and we also have a wide range of climates which supports different varieties of crops and agriculture. Cuba was a country that was forced to implement policies that changed the way people lived. Because of trade embargos that caused oil shortages people were forced to make changes in their lifestyles. These changes are helping Cubans live a more sustainable lifestyle. Here in the United States we are not facing the same drastic measures that Cuba was facing but if we were to start making changes before oil shortages become too severe I believe the transition would be easier.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wegmans Food Markets

I have noticed that most people in the city of Albany have not even heard of Wegmans Food Markets. Or, that someone has heard of it, but is unsure of what it is. Wegmans is a privately owned grocery chain. It is a family owned business that emerged out of my hometown, Rochester, New York. It has grown into a 74-store chain in the mid-atlantic region. Wegmans was named "Best Grocery Store" in 2007 by the Food Network, and was ranked the top large grocery chain the the U.S. by Consumer Reports. I myself have been an employee at Wegmans for about 5 years and have noticed firsthand large progessions the company has made.

The reason why I am introducing Wegmans Food Markets to everyone is because of its local support and its growing environmentally-friendly movement. One of the most important aspects of the company that many customers tend to overlook, is Wegmans' "Locally Grown Program". As you can probably tell by the name, Wegmans' produce is obtained primarily from small, local family farmers. These family farmers are able to bring large selections of fresh fruits and vegetables to Wegman’s customers, going directly to the stores and bypassing distribution centers and warehouses. That means, consumers can purchase fresh produce within hours of being picked. In an interview discussing this Locally Grown system, the president, Danny Wegman stated: "Such an initiative is good for the environment because it reduces fuel costs, which helps the grocer offer competitive prices to shoppers”. One might think that as an employee I have an inside scoop on Wegmans' operations and where they obtain their produce. But in fact, I, and every other customer can learn more about Locally Grown Sustainable Produce on our company website ( Here, customers can learn more about the actual growers in each region. So in turn, there is no barrier between the company and the customer, which seems to be the case in most large grocery stores (coughWAL-MARTcough).

Wegmans is also in the process of going green, and conserving. As an employee, I have noticed firsthand this transformation and extra steps to reduce any further stress put on the environment. One of my favorite characteristics of all Wegmans stores, which most stores lack, is that next to EVERY trash can, is a recycling bin. Many stores, I have noticed, have numerous trash cans throughout the store while their recycling bins are in remote places. Another characteristic of Wegmans that is environmentally-friendly, is their Reusable Bag movement. 2 years ago, Wegmans began producing larger, and stronger reusable bags that cost $0.99. Advertisement for these bags was enormous. Many stores, including my own, had contests to see which store could sell the most reusable bags. These reusable bags were created to replace the not-so environmentall friendly plastic bags. Since 2007, production of plastic bags has decreased by nearly 30%, while production of these reusable bags has increased by about 50%. Many Wegmans stores, I have heard, are beginning to charge customers if they want to use plastic bags, in an effort to promote reusable bags. I have also heard that intensive meetings have been held with Wegmans representatives and local farmers. Wegmans is requesting that these local farmers seek certification in Good Agricultural Practices (GAP), which sets standards on the use of water, fertilizers, manure, and pesticides. Local farmers have also been encouraged to either use recyclable cardboard boxes to deliver their produce, or sturdy, washable and reusable plastic boxes. They have also been encouraged to deliver to a number of Wegman’s stores in one day to save fuel and time.

This is only the beginning for the advancement of Wegmans and their local and environmental movements. Wegmans has continued to grow, creating new stores and supporting more and more local family farmers. I have heard that there is a possibility of a Wegmans appearing in Albany within the next few years. When this happens, customers will stray away from Wal-mart and shop at one of the most customer-friendly company's in the country.

Monday, October 19, 2009

No Impact Man

I have just come across a must see documentary for everyone in our class and in the country!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The name is NO IMPACT MAN

No impact man movie trailer

The documentary is about Colin Beavan and his family (wife Michelle and two year old daughter) and their attempt to live ONE year without making NO net environmental impact, The documentary highlights the all the steps taken by Colin and his family in their systematic shedding of all the modern comforts of urban family life: No transportation, no TV, no trash, no restaurants or take-out, no newspapers or magazines, no toilet paper, no plastic diapers, no store-bought cleaning products or cosmetics, and no electricity. Beavan wants to prove to the world that one person can in fact make a difference and I believe through this film he accomplishes just that.

I believe the point of the documentary is not to say that everyone must give up all of the comforts of a modern lifestyle and live like they did in the documentary, but to show that if it's possible for one family of 3 to reduce their environmental impact to 0 for one whole year then we can all reduce our impact substantially with less effort than we think.

Most of the movie critics however did not agree and I feel miss the point of the movie. The New York time, for example mocked Beavan and his family’s efforts by naming their article about the film The Year Without Toilet Paper. Many others also said that Beavan is just another self-promoting wannabe trying to make himself an instant celebrity the same way Morgan Spurlock did with his documentary “Supersize Me." There are even some who criticized the very idea of what he is trying to do, the idea of having NO Impact on the environment, and seeing it as stupid and pointless.

As seen through this comments like this one

“By the way, of course the family's efforts were more than undone by all the energy expended to make this film, not to mention all the people who further defiled the ozone by going to see it in theaters. At least I didn't notice any bikes in the parking lot when I saw it.. Oh, and they'll be printing a book soon, too, as well.

Goodbye trees...”

As you can see I believe these critics are not only missing the point but are completely undermining the opportunity to get people in this country to think about their energy use, something that I feel is desperately needed this country and throughout the world. I believe that most of these critics are not fully aware of the current energy crisis we are facing in this country and how dependent we are on fossil fuels (such as coal, oil and natural gas) and how our overuse of these fuels are not only contributing to globe climate change but having a severely detrimental effect on our environment. Therefore without a clear and vivid understanding of this it is hard for these critics to truly appreciate the message Beavan is trying to get across in the film, a message that I believe is well worth all paper used to print the book and even all the energy used to create, and distribute the film. If only half the people who go to see the movie or read the book go out and take part in Beavan’s project to reduce their impact on the environment, even by a small amount, then Beavan through the actions of thousands (if not millions) of other people will be able to save ten, a thousand, or maybe a million times more energy than he saved in that one year and thus well making up for all the energy or paper used to get the message across.

Do not just take my word for it, go out and see the documentary for yourselves…..

In addition to the film, Beavan has written a book about the experiment which goes into a lot more detail about the project, information about the environment and resources on how to get involved.

No Impact man book

Beavan has also started the No Impact Project to empower people to live their own no-impact lifestyle and has created a 7-day action plan to show how to do it.


No impact man website

No impact man project