Yesterday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced her plans for US and international cooperation to study and curtail the illegal trafficking of wildlife products throughout the world. She has committed US intelligence teams to the study of how  growing levels of illegal animal poaching impact national security. Additionally, she has hopes for global cooperation in the following areas:

  • Consensus regarding the importance of wildlife preservation.
  • Outreach campaigns to dissuade consumers from purchasing products that derive from endangered species.
  • Expansion of enforcement areas; release of funds to support the combat of wildlife crimes.
  • Involvement in the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking; a global partnership for sharing information on poachers and illicit traders.

The elevation of illegal poaching to a security threat is one that has conservationists feeling excited and vindicated. As a result of growing numbers of middle class citizens with expendable income throughout the world, illegal animal products  like ivory and rhinoceros horn are growing in demand. Some even estimate that the illegal animal product market rivals that of illegal arms and drugs.

With ivory selling for close to $1,000 per pound and rhinoceros horn at $30,000 per pound, it is no wonder that illegal poaching has become a serious and damaging endeavor. Poachers often have access to automatic weapons, night vision goggles, and helicopters in order to acquire and transport their goods over international boundaries. And there is evidence to suggest that rebel militias are becoming involved. Meanwhile, numbers of elephants and rhinoceros continue to dwindle (there are an estimated 8 northern white rhinos in existence today).

All of this is to say that it is most definitely the right time to step up and take a stand. I’m proud of our Secretary for speaking out and hope that progress can be made.


Sandy for President

In my neck of the woods, just north of Boston, we got pretty lucky during Hurricane Sandy’s barrage. After the downing of a few tree branches and a couple of hours without power, our lives are back to normal. I’m extremely thankful for this and am regularly thinking about those communities that weren’t so lucky. People in New York City and several cities and towns throughout the state of New Jersey are still cleaning up from the damage and will most likely be doing so for quite some time. My heart goes out to them.

Unfortunately, many meteorologists and scientists fear that storms like this one are bound to become more and more prevalent due to global climate change. Rising temperatures mean increased moisture in the atmosphere and rising sea levels. Increased atmospheric moisture has the tendency to increase the intensity of storms – leading to exponentially more rainfall. And rising sea levels put more coastal residents at risk of flooding; especially residents on the eastern coast of the United States where sea levels are rising three to four times faster than the global average. All of this means that “frankenstorms” like Sandy could be impacting Americans (and beyond) more regularly and more severely.

Today, on day four after Sandy, amid the storm damage coverage is a storm of political advertisements, accusations, testimonies, and general mudslinging. (Sidenote: did everyone see this? I feel much the same.) Election season is in full swing and for the time being, attention has been pulled away from national debt and the economy, the war in Afghanistan, abortion rights and tax reform. For the first time, climate change is being pulled into the conversation, and neither candidate seems thrilled about it.

The truth is, though, scientists and meteorologists are forced to talk about it. As are governors and mayors of cities and towns that stand to lose the most. I was struck just this morning by a news clip of Andrew Cuomo in New York City discussing his concern for the future of strong weather in NYC and the need for levees and storm walls. He went so far as to attribute Sandy and what he expects will be future catastrophic weather events to climate change – something NYC’s Mayor Bloomberg would not stretch to discuss.

While storms like Hurricane Sandy are extremely unfortunate, our political and economic climate has a history of avoiding productive discussions pertaining to climate change. Sandy inserted herself into this election and it may be just what it takes to get politicians speaking about the raw truth of rising water levels and increasing atmospheric moisture. Plans must be made. Legitimate efforts to reduce greenhouse gases are required. Sandy will be on my mind this election day. What about you?

As I’ve said before, or at least heavily alluded to, I truly feel that without wholesale change on the count of industry and government, there is little hope for stopping and eventually reversing climate change. We as individuals can recycle our hearts out, drive our Prii (is that what we decided to call them?), and use CFL bulbs, but until the organizations that rule our economies and our environments (government and industry) decide to change, we’re fighting a losing battle.

My friends and family have learned the hard way not to make completely disparaging comments about Walmart. The fact is, you’ll get an hour (plus) long spiel about how really, because of Walmart’s (occasionally evil) ambition and sheer size, they are able to make big waves in terms of environmental improvements. I don’t agree with many of their views on (disregard for?) human rights but man, they know how to store paper products in a way that makes transport and wood pallets way more efficient! And how about their sustainable fisheries…

So where am I going with this, you ask? Ceres just came out with a report all about how the insurance industry is poised to help usher in more acceptance for the realities of climate change – hopefully in a way that makes us safer and encourages us (the big U.S.) to make positive changes. Big ones. You see, just as in the case of Walmart, it is purely through self-interest that climate change-focused practices and policies would evolve within the insurance industry. But my, how we all would benefit. Here’s a particularly poignant excerpt from the report:

Insurers have historically been influential in motivating society to reduce risks, whether by advocating for smoke detectors in buildings or safety restraints in vehicles. Insurers have much to offer, and much at stake, in helping governments and private markets to further understand and develop solutions to better predict and prevent losses from extreme weather events. For instance, stronger resiliency to extreme weather is of great importance to the insurance sector as it reduces property risks, and promotes future insurability.

Ceres goes so far as to suggest that the insurance industry should work with scientists to capture the best and most up-to-date data on climate change. Refreshing when our politicians can’t even decide on whether or not climate change truly exists, no?

So, here I am extending my little hippie hand – Walmart and insurance companies, let’s be the unlikeliest of best friends. 

In a post from March, Sam Marquit wrote about the viability of using green construction techniques like radiant roof sheathing and tankless water heaters. In today’s post, Noelle Hirsch, an expert in green construction management, discusses ways that contractors and builders can incorporate eco-conscious design into their buildings, which appeal to consumers and environmentalists alike.

Efficient Construction Management, LEED Certification & the Water Crisis

It is becoming increasingly clear that the United States, along with the world as a whole, is facing a water crisis. Freshwater supplies are drying up, while industry and agriculture demand grow. The construction industry may seem an unlikely place to find a solution, but many of the most innovative conservation efforts start in homes, offices, and other everyday places where water is used indiscriminately. In many regions, people are catching on to the fact that implementing small changes in how buildings and infrastructures use water may have a profound effect on the global water shortage.

“In the next twenty years, global demand for fresh water will vastly outstrip reliable supply in many parts of the world,” The Atlantic reported in May 2012. “Thanks to population growth and agricultural intensification, humanity is drawing more heavily than ever on shared river basins and underground aquifers. Meanwhile, global warming is projected to exacerbate shortages in already water-stressed regions.” There are a number of ways to address this problem. In the short-term, though, simple changes to how individuals use—and waste—water on a daily basis may be the best solution. Construction management and architectural design is where these changes take root.

The United States Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) credentialing system is held by many to be something of a paradigm for water-efficient construction. The LEED system ranks buildings according to five levels—certified, bronze, silver, gold, and platinum—each of which corresponds to an ascending degree of sustainability. Construction managers who earn LEED certifications for their projects are often eligible for federal money, as well as industry accolades and positive press.

Water conservation is not the only factor going into LEED certification, though it does play an important role. Buildings that are designed to reduce water use by up to 20% can earn one point towards certification; achieving a 30% reduction typically earns two. Depending on the building, substantial reductions can often be achieved simply by installing water-saving faucets, showerheads, and other appliances.

Efficient use is usually only the starting line.  “Gray” water recycling and more efficient irrigation are also common water sustainability tactics. Most American buildings use drinking-quality water for things like flushing the toilets and watering the lawns. The gray water movement seeks to change this by implementing sophisticated water transfers. Water run-off from dishwashing, bathing, or laundry can be filtered and reused for certain purposes.

“An average four person household sends well over 38,000 gallons of reusable water down the drain each year from bathrooms and laundries,” Illinois State University says on its LEED Analysis homepage. “The intent of gray water is to save clean water for human consumption by fulfilling the need for water in residential and industrial areas.”

Maximizing rainwater is also a LEED strategy, particularly in damper climates. Architects design buildings with angles and gutters that will take advantage of natural rainfall and dew moisture. Melting snow can also be collected, often with little more than a collection mechanism and a properly-sloped roof.

Though building strategies and savvy architecture alone are unlikely to solve the looming water crisis, they can go a long way when it comes to holding it off. Construction managers who are serious about water sustainability often find that they wield more power than they realize. Building eco-conscious elements into homes, offices, and factories may be time consuming and expensive at the outset, but as customers and communities are becoming more concerned about the environment, green construction is gaining traction.

I’ve written before about the NAVY and how, with some of the best scientists and innovators, in addition to some weighty responsibilities, the organization is managing to pave the way with algae-based fuels and other sustainable technologies. Well, just in time for Earth Day this year, NASA unveiled their newest building, a LEED Platinum Sustainability Base that is the greenest federal building in existence.

Designed by William McDonough + Partners with integrated engineering by AECOM, the building generates more energy than it consumes using a photovoltaic array, a small wind turbine, and a Bloom Energy Box fuel cell. The building also utilizes a grey water recycling system, originally designed for the international space station, that has resulted in 90% less water consumption than a traditional building.  Through sensors, the building “smartly” monitors temperature and lighting needs and adjusts using abundant skylights and windows accordingly – reducing related energy costs and improving interior climate quality. All materials within the base (desks, bookshelves, etc.) are recycled and/or recyclable and are nontoxic.

The Sustainability Base is located at Moffet Field in Mountain View, California and integrates nicely into the surrounding landscape. Native and drought-resistant California plants were utilized to landscape the site, and the building’s unique exoskeleton makes it capable of withstanding seismic activity. McDonough describes the building as native to place, as it was built to suit the site, maximize efficiency, and create a positive impact on the environment.

Ultimately, the new NASA site provides an amazing example of how careful design, engineering and innovation can combine to create a building that is in complete harmony with the environment surrounding it and the people that work within it. To learn more and see detailed pictures, visit here.

Much like hydro power, wind power has been a part of the human fabric for thousands of years. Windmills were used for pumping water and grinding wheat, and of course sailing had a large part in trade, transportation and exploration. Fairly recently, wind turbines have been popping up in large wind farms across the country side and are even being scattered throughout more crowded cities and towns. The challenge of harnessing, maintaining and storing the generated power has been largely overcome and now, improvements in the location and output of wind turbines are being sought.

One recent project outside of Norway involves floating turbines. Placed out in the sea, the turbines are less visually polluting, and, without any topographic impediments, the winds over water are stronger and steadier. Additionally, floating turbines can be much larger than their terrestrial counterparts and therefore are able to produce more energy. This particular installment outside of Norway has succeeded in producing 15MWh of energy since 2010. If it can continue to survive the winds and waves, this project will be considered a large success. Both coasts of the United States and the coasts of Japan could benefit from similar installments.

In addition to these floating wind farms, airborne wind farms are currently being developed. A German company called SkySails has begun development on a high altitude wind energy system that utilizes large kites and cables to generate power.

Today, author of http://fmarquitv.tumblr.com and private contractor out of the East Hamptons, Sam Marquit dives into issues of sustainability by introducing a couple building materials that not only help improve the value of your home, but certainly reduce costs as well. To connect with Sam, follow him @fmarquitv. Thanks for your great post, Sam!

As a private contractor, I’ve worked on many New York City Apartments, as well as Hamptons rentals/homes, and know first-hand how much utility bills can cost with less efficient forms of heating and cooling materials. If you are someone who lives in the Hamptons, or has any real estate interest in the northeast, then you should know that installing tankless water heaters and radiant roof sheathing (barriers) could benefit you immensely.

Although somewhat costly up front, both of these products are highly energy efficient and have been known to improve the performance of the cooling and heating systems in your house, without increasing your energy bills.  If you’re in the process of remodeling or building, perhaps you’ll want to first explore the possibility of using radiant barriers.

Radiant Roof Sheathing

I had the opportunity to help people in the Hamptons take care of their cooling and heating needs and I have seen that houses which used the radiant roof sheathing were not only cooler; homeowners were also able to cut down on their energy bills or costs. The barriers used in this system, which are made from high quality aluminum sheeting, are mostly placed within the roof. They effectively lower the temperature of the roof by reducing the amount of heat absorbed by it. As a result, the load of work required from air conditioners is dramatically reduced.

I have frequently recommended the use of these roof sheathings to all house owners. Those who have implemented the sheathings have benefitted from using them. These barriers can go a long way in regulating home temperatures so that the overall energy consumption is dramatically reduced.

Tankless Water Heaters

Here’s one more energy efficient tool, which is highly recommended. I have noticed that the houses that use these heaters not only save money on energy costs, but they also benefit from using fresh and healthy water. In traditional heaters, the water is first stored in a tank and then heated for people to use. This process of heating uses higher amounts of energy and the water is not fresh, as it remains stored in the tank for a while. With tankless heaters, the water is heated as it is needed and so remains fresh. Moreover, there is no heat loss, so the system is much more energy efficient.

You’d need to spend some extra cash for the initial installation of these heaters but in the long run, you will save a handsome amount of money on energy bills.
If you want to improve your home and make it energy efficient, then investing in radiant roof sheathing and tankless water heaters is worth some further exploration.

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