Thursday, October 1, 2015

Sustainability options for NYC communities

Based on a presentation at "Climate Crisis and Community: Mobilizing for a Safe Future," a 350 NYC teach-in, September, 2015.  

Moving NYC toward renewable power will require massive tangible changes that present organizing opportunities, and will help build the climate movement locally.  Even though both activists and some within government and policy circles understand the need for urgent climate action, most are at best distantly aware of the issue.  Some will buy into's ‘turn off fossil fuel, turn on renewable power’ message fully.  Some will at least be willing to take practical actions and get involved with existing programs that move NYC toward resilience and renewables gradually. Green programs can be promoted in terms with broader public appeal: quality of life or financial benefit. So use different messages for different audiences.  

NYC government climate response is evolving.  Starting with 30% carbon reduction goals by 2030, set out in early PlaNYC reports, and adding a resilience focus after Hurricane Sandy, the de Blasio Administration’s One NYC plan adds the goals of addressing equity to the new carbon emissions goal of 80% reductions cuts by 2050.  They will be figuring out the details of how to do this for some time, and have probably not thought out how neighborhood organizing and climate advocates can help them achieve difficult but essential City goals.

Leveraging local connections

Neighborhood groups can be valuable partners to 
resilience / sustainability programs that offer tangible quality of life or financial benefits by referring their local contacts.  When Con Edison representatives contacted Long Island City businesses about free energy surveys and discounted energy upgrades directly, 27% of those who got the free survey wound up purchasing recommended upgrades.  When LIC Partnership, a local business group, referred its contacts to Con Ed, the percentage that bought the recommended upgrades went up to 45%.  Many groups can do this, but few have the motivation to push for green programs.  Some energy conservation and renewable power contractors offer referral fees to community groups, based on a percentage of new project income resulting from clients referred by the community group. For marketing materials and sample referral contracts, see

Lessons from the Transition movement and WEACT

The Transition movement is a community level response to climate change, resource depletion and economic instability that encourages grassroots driven community planning to increase local resilience and start local projects.  Its success in the UK is likely due to cultural characteristics.  Folks in big US cities don't have the same habits of group participation, and are too busy for long open-ended planning discussions.  Despite extensive outreach, a Transition-inspired resilience festival in the Rockaways didn't catch on. See and

However, if a major community group puts all its weight behind a climate response project, and pours in massive resources, the results can be very different. 
WEACT, a community environmental group active in Harlem and surrounding neighborhoods for three decades, created a climate action plan for northern Manhattan based on four principles: energy democracy, emergency preparedness, social hubs and participatory governance.  Check it out here.

Where to start in your neighborhood? Perhaps by finding some neighbors and local advocates to focus on one or more targeted interventions, from which other relationships and collaborations may arise. Here are a few.

Cut energy use

NY State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has an overwhelmingly 
large number of programs. Narrow it down to their Home Energy Efficiency Programs.  Options will vary for each project, but you don’t have to sort it out.  Contact your NYSERDA representative, who will determine exactly what programs and incentives can apply.

NYSERDA contractors will perform free home energy assessments, and provide reports of recommended improvements, such as added insulation and energy efficient lighting to high-efficiency heating systems and Energy Star certified appliances.  The report will include upgrade costs, energy savings, incentives, and time until the energy savings will pay for its cost of installation. 
Click here to start the process.

Manhattan: Samuel Man, 212-505-6050,
Brooklyn / Queens: Simon Mugo, 718-637-8652,

Con Edison also offers energy saving programs for residents, small business, multi-family and commercial buildings. Small businesses can qualify for up to 70% off the cost of recommended lighting upgrades.   Ask your NYSERDA rep whether the Con Ed or NYSERDA programs are a better value for your situation. Of course you can contact both.

Contact your building management agent or coop board members.  Ask them what if any energy upgrades have already been done, and encourage them to contact your NYSERDA rep to discuss the costs and savings of other measures.   

Big buildings with high energy use may benefit from combined heat and power systems, in which both electricity and steam heat are generated on site from a natural gas fired generator.   CHP offers big increases in energy efficiency, and can maintain some power if the grid goes down.

Install solar energy

Rooftop solar technology allows homeowners and multi-family buildings to generate part of their own electric supply.   According to Solar One, the price of solar has decreased over 60% since 2011. Incentives and tax benefits cover up to 75% of system costs

- NY-Sun incentive: $0.70 / watt, so a 4,000 watt (4 kW) PV system would receive a $2,800 rebate.
- NYS Residential Solar Tax Credit: 25% of post-rebate system costs or $5,000, whichever is less
- Federal Residential Solar Investment Tax Credit: 30% of post-rebate system costs
- NYC Solar Property Tax Abatement: 20% of post-rebate system costs

A 4 kW PV system with an installed cost of $24,000, minus the NYSERDA rebate and the Federal, State and City tax incentives, only costs $5,400. Innovative financing options mean that most homeowners can go solar with zero money down and monthly payments that are the same as or cheaper than your current electricity bills.

Here Comes Solar is a program that supports solar advocates within co-ops and condos.  It helps them recruit and organize fellow residents; provides building-specific analysis on costs, benefits and performance; obtain proposals from multiple certified and vetted solar contractors at the same time; help building reps review and compare proposals; and supports building reps for each stage of the installation process.  Contact Angelica Ramdhari at

Recycling and composting

What other interventions could you explore? Our food and agriculture system uses incredible amounts of energy in transportation and processing.  For the big picture, look at the 
Foodworks Report.  A report is expected soon from the NY State Food Hubs Task Force on increasing consumption of food grown in the state.  Simple choices include supporting farmers markets.  Lots of groups in NYC promote urban agriculture.  Rooftop gardens are a trendy concept, but right now there are very few of them.  What's an easy place to start? If your neighborhood has lots of backyard space, consider encouraging neighbors to start gardening.

About a third of all waste generated by NYC residents is organic waste including yard waste, food scraps, and compostable paper. Since the City has to pay landfills to accept our waste, and to ship it long distances, composting saves us money.  By storing food waste in special rodent-resistant bins, it can make sidewalk trash less of a food source for rats. The City is picking up organic compostable wastes from houses and small buildings in a growing number of neighborhoods. 
If you live in a building with over 10 apartments, you can request bins for clothing donations and electronics recycling, and organic waste collection.

Emergency preparedness

NYC Office of Emergency Management offers the 
Community Emergency Response Team (CERT) training, which raises awareness about emergencies and disasters and provides basic response skills needed for fire safety, light search and rescue, disaster medical operations, and traffic control.  The three hour interactive class meets one night a week for ten consecutive weeks, with discussions, exercises and group building activities  based on the Incident Command System. NYC CERT instructors are active FDNY, NYPD, and NYC Emergency Management personnel.

Organize an event in your neighborhood

How do you find collaborators, and test which projects appeal to your neighbors? Consider organizing a community forum co-sponsored by climate activists, elected officials, City sustainability programs, and civic groups.  A very successful forum like this took place in July 2015 in Park Slope and can be easily replicated, with local variations, in your neighborhood.

For more information, contact Dan Miner at, or visit

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Spring - and a look back at projects of 2013-14

It's been a long time since my last entry in this blog - nearly a year - but the return of spring seems a good time to refresh it.  
For many years, I've had parallel lives.  A conventional day job that pays the bills, and a string of volunteer sustainability projects.  The latter is chronicled here.  Here's a look back at my green projects in 2013 and 2014.

In 2013 I wrote a series of blog posts.  They summarized my research into sustainable project areas that I might have been able to transition into from 
Long Island City Partnership. Not that it worked out that way. 

  • People are more likely to sign up for a program after being contacted by a community group they know than by the program’s outreach staff, who they don’t know. We proved this at LICP with our successful promotion of an energy efficiency program to western Queens businesses.  We were motivated because of our environmental agenda.  Many other nonprofits could do the same – but would find money a better motivation.  What sustainability programs could offer enough income to get community groups to promote them?  

    Community groups can promote solar for income.
    Over the last year, Beyond Oil NYC has explored how community groups could earn income from sustainability initiatives. There’s probably no easy money in either compost or urban agriculture. Good news: CBOs can earn money from promoting solar energy systems right now – and start conversations on sustainability and resilience. It's easy and we'll show you how, on request.

  • Seeking urban agriculture business opportunities for community groups with limited budgets. If your group has lots of cash, you can build costly rooftop greenhouses for very profitable year-round production. Can’t afford that? Maybe your group would be satisfied with starting more gardens, boosting local environmental literacy and food security. Combining two innovations could dramatically increase the amount of gardening space in your community, at minimal cost.

  • Promoting urban agriculture in NYC.   While there are 3,000 acres of flat roof space suitable for farming, it’s easier to start with vacant lots. Here’s how to engage community-based nonprofits as local organizers: movable farming projects on vacant lots.

In June 2013 I accepted an offer to work as District Manager at Manhattan Community Board Six, and left LICP. 

Queens Gazette ran a very positive interview with me, in which I pitched my green projects, and a series of sustainability film screenings I hosted at Coffeed Cafe from fall 2013 to spring 2014.  

Screenings would start with one of these fine short videos:

Besides the screenings, I also pitched my proposal for community groups to refer their constituents and neighbors for energy conservation and solar energy projects.  Why would they bother? The financial motivation of referral fees from contractors for a small percentage of any jobs that were installed. It had worked in LIC, and the community solar models being touted by the big solar institutions seemed suspiciously optimistic on why community groups would go out of their way to promote solar with nothing in it for them.   

I wrote an article about Transition founder Rob Hopkin's NYC presentation, and the UK movement's focus on local economic development.

The Transition movement is a unique organizing method that catalyzes community level responses to climate change.  Co-founded by Rob Hopkins in England in 2005, there are now over 1,400 Transition initiatives in 44 countries.  They all support a transition to clean renewable energy, which is often blocked at national and international levels by politics, the domination of big over small businesses, and the myth that endless economic growth is possible on a finite planet.  As Hopkins explained to a small NYC audience, Transition is increasingly focused on local economic development.  A series of reports on the financial benefits from localizing food production, energy conservation and renewable energy capacity, and case studies of entrepreneurial ventures in these sectors, outline building blocks of a new green economy. 

Carried along by the rare burst of enviro fervor that accompanies Earth Day, in 2014 I did three enviro events in a row: 

In spring 2014 I attended Age of Limits, a tiny conference in rural Maryland. A big perk was lots of personal time with the presenters - John Michael Greer, Albert Bates, Dmitri Orlov, Gail Tverberg, climate scientist Mark Cochrane, Peter Kilde of Community Action Partnership.  It was everyone's collective honor to have as keynote speaker Dennis Meadows, the lead author of the original Age of Limits report from the 1970s.  That report was one of computer analyses of population, environmental and natural resource trends.  It concluded that either the world slows growth in the 70s and 80s to attain a sustainable plateau of resource use, or if growth continued, would push us over the cliff followed by sharp declines in human population and resource use in the 21st century.  He said recent data was right on track with the original report.  The conference was rare for him in that everyone listening was already thoroughly familiar with this discussion. Albert Bates wrote a great article about it.

Radio podcast host KMO interviewed me.

KMO welcomes Dan Miner of Beyond Oil NYC to the C-Realm to talk about talking about Peak Oil, Climate Change and other big picture, existential issues with busy New Yorkers. A messenger who presents the situation in its full gravity to people caught up in the collective trance will seem like a lunatic, but how much sugar-coating is too much? Does it make sense to humor people’s expectations that renewable sources of energy will power the lifestyle that citizens in the heart of empire have come to regard as normal? Are minor gains that pale in comparison to the scale of industrial civilization’s dilemma worth the effort? The conversation turns to “Preppers” and the way that they are portrayed as clueless and damaged social rejects in the corporate media…"

In June 2014 I was on a peak oil panel at Left Forum. Here's the video. My 20 minute presentation starts at 39.30.  They asked me back again so I guess someone liked it.  (BTW, here's a short video of me speaking about climate change and fuel depletion for five minutes to a small group in Tompkins Square in Dec. 2012.)

However, the film series didn't start off any sparks and the solar referral pitch didn't have any takers... so at that point I was out of gas.  

Around that time my longtime colleague John Bell, organizer of Transition in Westchester, said that he would introduce me to the new northeast regional organizer for Transition, Pamela Boyce Simms.  Like him, I quickly signed up as a volunteer for the Mid-Atlantic Transition Hub, and a new chapter began.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Free Screening of Documentary
The Next American Revolution 
Monday, May 19, 7 PM
Coffeed Cafe in Long Island City, Queens 

Resilience NYC Meetup is hosting a free screening of the documentary The Next American Revolution on Monday, May 19, 7 PM, at Coffeed Cafe.  Located at 37-18 Northern Blvd., LIC, NY 11101, near the 36th St. stop on R & M trains, Coffeed is just a few minutes from midtown Manhattan, downstairs from Brooklyn Grange. No charge to attend. Free homemade pastries and coffee provided. It will be followed by facilitated discussion about themes in the film.

It's clear that the American economic and political system is in crisis: from wage stagnation and chronic unemployment to unchecked corporate and state power and growing inequality.   Here's one of the few analyses that offer practical, politically viable solutions to these problems. The documentary "The Next American Revolution," featuring historian and political economist Gar Alperovitz, points to efforts already under way in thousands of communities across the U.S., from co-ops and community land trusts to municipal, state, and federal initiatives that promote entrepreneurship and sustainability. (47 minutes)

Alperovitz marshals years of research to show how bottom-up strategies can work to check monopolistic corporate power, democratize wealth, and empower communities.  The film is based on his book, "What Then Must We Do?" Alperovitz has served as a legislative director in the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate, and as a special assistant in the Department of State. See more at:

‟Alperovitz imagines a new way of living together, and then brings that vision back into reality with a set of eminently practical ideas that promise a truly democratic society.”
—the late Howard Zinn, Boston University

Next month: In Transition 2.0, June 9

This is part of a unique series of monthly free events taking place this winter and spring at Coffeed.  Films about our interwoven challenges are followed by facilitated discussion. The last event of the season at Coffeed will be Monday, June 9, with In Transition 2.0.  The Transition Movement aims to build community resilience in the face of peak oil, climate change and the economic crisis.

Contact to host a screening of climate change doc Do the Math in your neighborhood.  We'll bring organizers from   Visit, and  

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

"Passive House Revolution" comes to Long Island City on Mon. April 14

The first Passive House in Queens.

On Monday, April 14, 7 - 9 PM, Resilience NYC Meetup will host a free screening of the documentary "Passive House Revolution," its NYC premiere. It's produced by Community Solutions, the same folks who put out "The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil."  

This is one of a series of monthly free film screening events I've been organizing this winter and spring at Coffeed Cafe on the second Monday of the month at 7 PM.  Coffeed, at 37-18 Northern Blvd., LIC, NY 11101, downstairs from the Brooklyn Grange rooftop farm, is providing free coffee and home-baked pastries for the events.
"Passive House" is a new standard of energy conservation in buildings.  It's been spreading around Europe for the last twenty years, based on the low tech building energy studies pioneered in the 1970s.  You could say that Passive House has returned to the country of its origin, and just in time.
Buildings use nearly 50% of all energy used in North America today.  The Passive House set of practices for building and retrofitting structures use 80% less heating and cooling energy than average, much less than those from LEED-certified buildings, the green building standard common in the US.  Maybe you've never heard of Passive House, but you've probably heard of the LEED standard.   While many serious people doubt whether LEED is actually much good at all, it can't deliver the energy saving results we need.   Climate scientists say we need to reduce our CO2 emissions by 80% as quickly as possible.

Lester Brown, founder and president first of Worldwatch Institute, then of Earth Policy Institute, said way back in 2008 that we need to cut emissions 80% - by 2020

We cannot afford to let the planet get much hotter. At today’s already elevated temperatures, the massive Greenland and West Antarctic ice sheets—which together contain enough water to raise sea level by 12 meters (39 feet)—are melting at accelerating rates. Glaciers around the world are shrinking and at risk of disappearing, including those in the mountains of Asia whose ice melt feeds the continent’s major rivers during the dry season.  Delaying action will only lead to greater damage. It’s time for Plan B.  The alternative to business as usual, Plan B calls for cutting net carbon dioxide emissions 80 percent by 2020. This will allow us to prevent the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere, already at 384 parts per million (ppm), from exceeding 400 ppm, thus keeping future global temperature rise to a minimum.  Cutting CO2 emissions 80 percent by 2020 will take a worldwide mobilization at wartime speed.

PlaNYC, the City's long term sustainability plan, projects reducing carbon emissions at least 30% below 2005 levels by 2030.   It cites the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change for the goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 60-80% below 1990 levels by 2050 to avoid the catastrophic effects of climate change. (P. 155)  Given the most recent IPCC report - which has been called overly conservative despite being fairly alarmist - the City's timeline needs to be accelerated.   I'll be looking for other more current recommendations - but back to Passive House.  Promoting its widespread use will be an important part of our response to climate change.  

Following the screening, we'll hear from architect Tom Paino, who renovated his Long Island City row house to become the first Passive House in Queens.  As the NY Daily News and Queens Brownstoner noted, some Queens residents found the dramatic black, grey and white tile facade to be unattractive.  However, the project was hailed in an extensive and positive review by US Dept. of HomelandSecurity.   

As usual we'll facilitate discussion we can about how to make our neighborhoods more sustainable and more resilient, and hand out our resource guide with links to existing NYC programs.   

Friday, March 28, 2014

Watch Noah at Union Square on Wed. April 2, meet up after

Watch Noah at 7 PM, meet for discussion after
Wednesday, April 2 
What would you do if you know there was a massive natural catastrophe coming and no one else did?  What would you do? 
Noah won't mention climate change, and it doesn't have to.  The comparison is obvious, even if you won't hear it on Fox News.  So come see the movie, and then we'll meet up and talk about it.  
• Purchase your own ticket to Noah at Regal Union Square, 850 Broadway, between 13th and 14th Streets.
• We'll go with the 7:10 PM screening.  If that changes by Wednesday, we'll go with the closest time and update it here.  The film is 2 hours and 17 minutes.  
• After the show, head across the street to Cosi at 841 Broadway.  Look for a Resilience Meetup sign.
• We don't know of any arks, but there are a lot of people working together to slow down climate change, and buffer its impacts, while making NYC more sustainable and resilient.  Meet others who share your concerns, learn about our options, and get connected. 

• Sign up at for related events.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Green activist Erik Baard stops subway assault

Today's post is a shout out to longtime Queens sustainability activist Erik Baard.  A few weeks back he peacefully stopped an assault in progress on the NYC subway.

Since he's very modest and not given to self-promotion, I feel a need to share his story.  A serial entrepreneur of volunteer programs, Erik founded the LIC Community Boathouse and what became the City of Water Day, an annual harbor festival, is a co-founder of Green Shores NYC, and was named the 2011 “Greenest New Yorker,” for NY State's I LOVE NY campaign. Erik's new project is HarborLAB.  

HarborLAB_logoD03A_sq (2)
Erik comes by this aquatic orientation naturally, as his family has worked on the NYC harbor for a century.  Among his relatives were and are tugboat captains, marine contractors, a barge superintendent, and an aquaculture educator.  On land Erik founded and operates a citywide program to plant hundreds of heirloom apple trees, indigenous fruits, and other edibles in public spaces. He’s coordinated large volunteer programs and corporate outings for Earth Day New York. He was environmental program manager for Citizens Committee for NYC. And so on.  Oh, he's also a professional writer whose work has appeared in New Yorker, NY Times, Economist, Popular Science, Wired online, National Public Radio, WNET, Village Voice, Times of London, SEED, Wall Street Journal and other media, but most people who know him aren't aware of that.  

His latest accomplishment was unplanned, spontaneous, and I'm sure it surprised him as much as anyone.  Erik was on the subway one day, and witnessed an assault in progress by some crazy guy, and intervened peacefully to stop it.  Kudos to Erik!  This letter describes what happened. 

Dear City Council Member Van Bramer,

We share a friend in Erik Baard, a revulsion toward hate crimes, and admiration for those who intervene to protect the vulnerable.

New York City is fast approaching the 50th anniversary, on March 13, of the Kitty Genovese murder that, rightly or wrongly, forever made Queens the prime example of "bystander effect" urban callousness. We are also approaching the 30th anniversary of Queens native Bernhard Goetz's "Subway Vigilante" 1984 shooting of four young black men with an illegal firearm, an incident that trumpeted New York City's lawless desperation and stoked racial tension. 

But in 2014, something very different happened aboard the 7 train in Queens. Erik Baard set the tone for the kind of borough and city we want to be. Your office should recognize his actions with honors.

Erik, our mutual friend, stopped a violent hate attack by an apparently armed assailant by putting himself in harms way and using no violence. Please contact the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force to confirm what follows: When an Hispanic passenger was attacked with punches to the face, Erik bodily intervened, placing himself between the attacker and victim. Without striking him, Erik moved forward to force the attacker back. At this point, the attacker began raging against Mexicans and immigrants. When the attacker reached for an object in his waistband, Erik remained in place as a shield for the victim while others scattered and reported a weapon to 911. Erik calmly talked the attacker down from committing further violence and kept control of the situation until the attacker left the train. Erik then sought to comfort the stunned victim, whose face was bruised and bloodied, until the victim got off in Woodside. Erik provided his contact information to a 911 caller who's a LaGuardia Community College student. Erik's aided the NYPD investigation since. 

As one eyewitness commented on the LIC Post article about the incident, "Suspect is considered very dangerous and mentally disturbed. He needs help for whatever problem he is dealing with. At the time of the incident he was yelling slurs and seemed very on edge. Luckily, a man stopped him from attacking the Hispanic man and saved the rest of the people on the train. Everyone thought he had a gun as well. I went home and hugged my children. In NYC trouble finds you."

Erik provided more details in interviews with NY1, TimesLedger, and especially Gothamist.

We all know the names Kitty Genovese and Bernhard Goetz decades later because of different forms of cowardice. Shouldn't we also know the name of a New Yorker, a native of Queens, who had the courage to stop a hate crime even when faced with the threat of a gun? The absence of bloodshed -- Erik's success -- shouldn't result in immediate obscurity.

You know Erik for his tireless community service in founding the LIC Community Boathouse, HarborLAB, Gotham Orchards, and what became City of Water Day, and co-founding Green Shores NYC, NYC Water Trail Association, and other public works, like volunteering for Hour Children's food pantry and mentoring programs. For these the state designated him the "Greenest New Yorker." And of course all three of us annually march for tolerance and inclusion in the St. Pat's for All Parade, organized by my fellow co-op member Kathleen Walsh D'Arcy. But for this very personal, reflexive act of selflessness and courage against hate, your office should honor Erik or encourage the Borough President or Mayor to do so. Especially in this 2014 anniversary year.

Thank you for your consideration.


Caroline Walker