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: http://www.garalperovitz.com/

‟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.  http://www.transitionnetwork.org/transition-2

Contact beyondoilnyc@yahoo.com to host a screening of climate change doc Do the Math in your neighborhood.  We'll bring organizers from 350.org.   Visit www.meetup.com/resiliencenyc, and www.beyondoilnyc.org.  

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.  http://www.fandango.com/regalunionsquarestadium14_aajnk/theaterpage
• 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 http://www.meetup.com/resiliencenyc/ 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 

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Free screening of documentary "Crisis of Civilization," Mon. March 10

Free screening of documentary "Crisis of Civilization"
Monday, March 10, 7 PM

No charge to attend. Homemade pastries and coffee provided. Coffeed Cafe, 37-18 Northern Blvd., LIC, NY 11101, near the 36th St. stop on R & M trains, just a few minutes from midtown Manhattan, downstairs from Brooklyn Grange. This dark comedy documentary connects the dots between global crises.  It combines archival film clips and animations with detailed analysis and specific positive options to transform systems. (80 minutes) 
Most accounts of our contemporary global crises focus on one area in isolation, but experts unwilling to look outside their specializations won't help us respond.  International security analyst Dr. Nafeez Ahmed argues that financial meltdown, dwindling oil reserves, climate change, the threat of terrorism and food shortages need to be considered as converging symptoms of the same failing global system.  When we recognize that another world is not merely possible but on its way, it's much easier to get to work speeding up the process.  If you can't come out, see it free online at http://crisisofcivilization.com  

“A really fantastic overview of the global situation. I don’t think I’ve seen a more comprehensive ‘welcome to the 21st century’.” – Richard Heinberg, Post Carbon Institute.

"Ahmed synthesizes an immense amount of information from a variety of academic disciplines without coming off as pedantic or pompous.... But it’s what’s woven around Ahmed every time the film cuts away from him that really makes this movie fun, funny, engaging and ultimately a powerful call-to-action. Ahmed continues his voice over, but almost all the rest of the film is either stock footage, much of it vintage kitsch, or else original animations..." - Review in Transition Voice.

More about the film and the event
Dan Miner, organizer of the Resilience NYC Meetup, facilitates discussion after the film and hands out a guide to already available NYC sustainability programs suitable for neighborhood action.
This event is part of a unique series of monthly free film screening events taking place this winter and spring at Coffeed Cafe in Long Island City, Queens.  Films about our interwoven environmental, energy and economic challenges are followed by facilitated discussion among audience members.   Miner is familiar to the Queens business community as the former SVP of Long Island City Partnership, a local economic development organization.   During his tenure there only a few in those circles knew about his parallel life as a longtime volunteer environmental activist.

His current volunteer project offers community based organizations in NYC a way to promote solar energy installations to their local contacts and earn income using referral agreements, at no charge.  Contact him at beyondoilnyc@yahoo.com to organize a screening in your community of climate change documentary Do the Math, followed by a discussion of neighborhood-scale responses. 

Monday, January 20, 2014

Some January reading

Here are a few articles I've found interesting over the last few weeks.  Two trends: writers and activists are getting increasingly disturbed by the increasingly bad scenarios from climate change science, none of which makes its way into mainstream media coverage.  However, there are still many useful things that can be done to buffer impacts, control damage and inspire hope.  

David Holmgren, the co-originator of permaculture, touched off a very vigorous discussion in the climate change / peak oil blogsphere with a new article in which he said some quite surprising things.  "Crash on Demand: Welcome to the Brown Tech Future."

In his reply, Albert Bates came up with a grid on which he placed various writers and their viewpoints, with the vertical axis measuring optimism and pessimism about the future, and the horizontal axis tracking peaceful or non-peaceful transformation.  The debate about which messages can be effective, and whose predictions will be most accurate continue...but this discussion is not one that will be relevant or useful for the vast majority of New Yorkers, even those concerned about sustainability and resilience.  What to tell those folks is a whole 'nother question, which I'm grappling with through the film screenings and facilitated discussion events I'm setting up in various locations.


Hidden funding from billionaires to climate change denialists.  A Drexel University study shows the biggest funding streams to 118 climate change denial groups come from a few conservative foundations that use concealed, untraceable donations.  

Some post-Christmas satire from John Michael Greer. Conservative republicans are fond of citing the Bible, but there really isn't that much Biblical support for cutting benefits to the poor, making as much money as you can, etc.  Greer suggests they may be more aligned with an obscure religion that enthusiastically endorses sociopathic greed: Satanism. 

Eight graphs on climate and energy issues from 2013:  global temps going way up, carbon dioxide levels passes 400 PPM for first time; record number of climate deniers in Congress; arctic ice and the price of solar power both decline; renewable power keeps growing...yada yada.  

A review of
 recent climate science contains some increasingly dire near-term scenarios. One degree C is equal to 1.8 degrees F, and we're already .85 C above the average pre-industrial planetary temperature.   New reports project higher temperatures sooner than those from just a few years ago - such as a 3.5 to 4C (6.3 - 7.2F) rise by mid-century or sooner.  IPCC reports are very conservative and don't include feedback loops that could accelerate warming, such as a release of methane as the floor of the Arctic Ocean warms up or the Siberian permafrost melts.  

[Thom Hartmann has an
 effective ten minute video called Last Hours.  I used it in the January screening of climate change videos in Long Island City, along with Climate Change 101 from Al Gore's Climate Reality Project and "Do the Math," from 350.org.]

Arctic ice melting ahead of schedule.  An ongoing US Department of Energy-backed research project led by a US Navy scientist predicts that the Arctic could lose its summer sea ice cover as early as 2016 - 84 years ahead of conventional model projections.

7 things everyone knows about energy that just ain't so.   Mark Twain once said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so." And, there are many, many things that the public and policymakers know for sure about energy that just ain't so.  Kurt Cobb goes through a long listof fossil fuel industry deceptions picked up by a gullible media.  


But you know, we might get lucky, so keep struggling!  "The Arc of Justice and the Long Run: Hope, History and Unpredictability." This article from Rebecca Solnit makes the case for hope.  "The past explodes from time to time, and many events that once seemed to have achieved nothing turn out to do their work slowly. Much of what has been most beautifully transformative in recent years has also been branded a failure by people who want instant results." 

There are ways to put the carbon back in the ground! 
A new book, Grass, Soil,Hope: a Journey through Carbon Country, offers scientifically backed hope that greenhouse gases can be removed from the atmosphere on a massive scale by increasing the carbon content of soil.  Practices include: no-till farming, climate-friendly livestock practices, restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands, fixing creeks, growing grass, and producing local food.


More hope, if we figure out new ways to run the economy.Stopping climate change requires that we make drastic reductions in our fossil fuel use, and move from the illusion of unlimited growth to a steady state economy. The Prosperous Way Down website offers guidelines for how we can reorganize communities for energy descent, to fit with the natural processes of land and water that sustain us.  It's summarized here.  


Okay, the entire corporate-commercial-industrial complex is kind of opposed to this, so it's not like it will be easy.  But most of the writers and activists in this space believe it's just a question of time before the economy - artificially levitating with galactic quantities of made-up money through quantitative easing - is bound to crash.  The more that locally focused businesses and commercial systems can be set up in advance of that, the better off we'll be.