Last friday, I volunteered at the Solar-Powered Film Series hosted by Solar One and Green Edge NYC. I found out about this event from Green Edge NYC (specifically Patricia Curry). It was great to meet up with people doing great work in New York regarding sustainability and community outreach! Thanks should go out to both organizations who put on a great series!
This night’s film was The Garden, about a group of urban farmers in L.A. who started their 14 acre garden after the riots in 1992. They go through some hardship starting in 2004 when they have to fight to prevent eviction.
It was an emotional film! It was frustrating how unsympathetic to farming the people trying to get the land were. The community went through several legal difficulties during their fight. I felt worked up about protecting the plants and the relationship that the people developed with the plants, more than the human interests involved. So many of the trees they planted were producing fruit and took many years to reach that point, and the community gained so much from their relationship with the land. But if you watch the film, you will see what happened. The film also brings to the fore the reality that many groups are constantly in conflict with each other because of things like land and development. There are many ways that things could have gone, and the film documents this journey.
Here is a video/slideshow that I made from the pictures and video I took of the events:
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That might sound like a strange idea, but it is possible! The Science Barge is a floating farm museum, currently docked in Yonkers, NY, that aims to bring awareness about urban farming. They claim to grow tomatoes, lettuce, and cucumbers with zero carbon emissions, zero pesticides, and zero runoff. Thousands of schoolchildren, adults, and press people have visited the barge since it opened in 2007.
They use hydroponics to grow their vegetables, which is also a large component of vertical farming. When I spoke to Dickson Despommier, he implied that large scale urban or indoor farming is not possible without hydroponic technology. Considering the lack of space or soil in New York City, I tend to agree with him, though I am not an expert on hydroponics.
The barge presents an interesting way to get the public interested in urban farming. Though it is just a museum, it is a great step in the right direction to getting people to think about getting their food through low-impact methods. If hydroponic farming could be done on a larger scale, either through more barges or vertical farming, the barge has the important role of easing this idea into the public eye. Education is key!
For more pictures of the Science Barge, check out this New York Times slideshow or Flickr slideshow.
(On a side note, a friend recently gave me a copy of the book The Lorax signed by Dickson Despommier as a graduation gift!)
Image credit: NYSunworks.org
According to EarthPortal.org, 2009 is the “Year of Science.”
May is the month of Sustainability and the Environment!
In the introduction of this e-book, they authors introduce a term, “sustainomics,” which they define as “a transdisciplinary, integrative, comprehensive, balanced, heuristic and practical framework for making development more sustainable.”
In particular, I’m interested in how development has been affecting mangroves. These habitats are some of the least appreciated in the world, even though they are extremely important as storm buffers. Mangroves often get converted into shrimp farms, or other economic activities. It would be interesting to see if the authors of the blog on this website have an opinion on whether “sustainomics” is feasible in the case of mangroves.
I am skeptical whether the creation of a new term will have any real meaning or results. Some may say that “sustainable development” is somewhat of an oxymoron. I might agree to some extent, but only because it may not be possible with the state of the world as it is.
There are few things to cover today that I have been meaning to talk about!
I recently read this blog on the New York Times website about President Obama’s recent speech to the National Academy of Sciences.
The author of the blog entry makes an interesting point that Obama is encouraging creativity, over consumerism. I think that is an especially important perspective to take on a lot of our problems. People are deathly afraid of changing their lifestyle, but if framed in the light that they can creatively contribute to society, consuming less can make sense while not damaging our very high standard of living.
Which brings me to the Bigger Better Bottle Bill in New York State. (It is almost a reality! It recently passed in Albany.) This bill has been bouncing around for years, and has never had the right amount of momentum to get passed, which is a shame because the Returnable Container Act that is in place is over 25 years old. The update to the Act would allow more types of beverage containers to be redeemed for 5 cents, or more like in Michigan where it is 10 cents.
The redemption rate hovers above 70% in New York state, whereas in Michigan it is 95% or higher. Note that this is not the same as recycling rate, just the redemption of beverage containers that have a deposit on them. (For more info on how deposits work, check out http://www.bottlebill.org/. Also check out a piece I posted earlier on recycling.)
In 1982 when the Returnable Container Act was passed, the majority of beverages were sodas and beer (both being carbonated). Since then, the types of beverages sold have grown exponentially to include juices, sports drinks, and water.
Going back to what President Obama said, we could creatively pass policy that will promote consuming less. We could be actively reforming old and outdated policy that no longer is adequate or effective for today’s society.
While I agree that young people should be encouraged “to be makers of things, no just consumers of things,” I think this motto can be applied much more widely than just in the sciences. Fresh, creative thinking and innovation should be driving forces in every field!
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A discussion about vertical farming and some of its environmental implications
(Portions of the quoted text have been edited from the raw transcript.)
Vertical farming has been brought into the forefront recently, with a spot in the film FUEL, articles in TIME, Scientific American, as well as others in the past 6 months. What this concept entails is growing food in a controlled indoor environment in vertical structures that could be built in cities, urban centers, and as annexes to new buildings being constructed. Plants can be grown hydroponically, and even some livestock can be raised. The technology is there, as is most of the ecological understanding.
The man behind this concept is Dickson Despommier, Ph.D., a professor of medical ecology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. He is the kind of guy who gives away copies of The Lorax to spread love for the environment. He even keeps extra copies of them on his shelf in his office at Columbia’s Medical Campus. I visited him at this office, which, by the way, has a great view of the Hudson River. When asked how this vertical farming idea developed, Despommier tells the story about how the idea came out of a somewhat failed class project investigating rooftop gardening in New York City.
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The New York Times Magazine recently put out a piece by Jon Gertner about environmental decision-making and the different social dynamics that are involved. The author discusses several different studies that involve individual and group decision-making. One group doing such research is the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions is an interdisciplinary based at Columbia University that receives funding for their research from the National Science Foundation.
Gertner brings up several interesting points such as the ethics of using “frames” and “nudges” to send signals and possibly influence decisions. The idea behind these terms is that the way that a choice is “framed” could affect the outcome by taking advantage of our cognitive biases and that nudges “structure choices so that our natural cognitive shortcomings don’t make us err.”
I find it fascinating to read about studies involving decision-making, especially the ones that compare individual versus group actions. Gertner talks a little bit about the comparisons between carbon taxes and offsets, and how there generally is an aversion to the word “tax,” when in reality taxes and offsets function in nearly exact ways. Gertner also cites a study that suggests that group decisions for which individual preparation beforehand was not allowed leads to better inclusion of long term goals. This is also interesting as part of the discussion of the general bias towards information received early on in the decision-making process.
So maybe one day we could frame questions and choices so that we nudge people into making the right decisions, or at least set up a fair situation for all choices considered. But who decides what is best in the long term interest? And who is to say those who are deciding aren’t also affected by similar cognitive bias related phenomena? Possibly even some being phenomena that we are not yet aware of?
Decision-science seems to be a very pertinent field, especially in the realm of climate change related decisions. However, very little of the funding going towards climate research is going to social science studies such as these. I think that being open to these types of questions of cognitive shortcomings will become increasingly more important as challenges brought on by climate change become more complex and intricate.