Monthly Archives: September 2009

Is It Easy To Be Green?

If you’d read New York Times columnist Paul Krugman in the past week, you might find conflicting answers to the question, “Is it easy to be green”? Economist Krugman, who received the Nobel Prize in Economics last year, maintained in his September 24th column that It’s Easy Being Green. His argument is that saving the planet would not kill the economy, as many opponents of climate change legislation maintain. Instead, he says, studies suggest that by eliminating practices that waste huge amounts of fossil fuels but don’t add to our standard of living, consumers could actually save money. Secondly, he reports, analysis shows that restrictions imposed by the House’s cap-and-trade climate bill, the Waxman-Markey act, on greenhouse gases would cost the average family only about $160 a year in 2020.

A few days later, however, Krugman was feeling despair over the fate of the climate. One scientific report after another predicts imminent environmental catastrophes linked to global warming and the effects of man-made greenhouse gas emissions. “In a rational world, then”, he postulates, “the looming climate disaster would be our dominant political and policy concern. But it manifestly isn’t. Why not?” Because as Al Gore said, the truth is too inconvenient. Climate change warnings are inconvenient for all of us with our all too human lifespan short-sightedness and particularly for the megaindustries with armies of lobbyists in place to protect the status quo.

While the climate threat is worse than we care to admit, the economic cost of addressing the issue is lower than we fear.  “So the time for action is now. O.K., strictly speaking it’s long past. But better late than never.”

Health Care and Sustainability

Once again Michael Pollan has succinctly hit the nail on the head regarding America’s food policy, linking the health care debate and agribusiness  in his September 9, 2009 Op-Ed piece in the NYT, “Big Food v. Big Insurance”.   He makes the point that in order to control health care costs, we must improve health, reducing the growing rates of preventable chronic dieseases, many of which are linked to diet.  Changing what America eats  means changing the way we allocate resources – including land – for growing food.

resid farm 3Pollan references the findings of a team of designers from M.I.T. and Columbia who were asked by UnitedHealthcare’s foundation to come up with the best way to tackle childhood obesity in America. “Their conclusion surprised the designers as much as their sponsor: they determined that promoting the concept of a ‘foodshed’ — a diversified, regional food economy — could be the key to improving the American diet.”

Coping with Climate Change

Four decades ago, the environment emerged as a public and political cause in response to growing awareness of the threats posed by air and water pollution and unabated population growth. In recent years, it has stormed back into the public consciousness—this time fueled largely by worldwide scientific consensus on the potentially catastrophic effects of climate change; concern over the depletion of natural resources and nonrenewable energy sources; and growing recognition that the choices we make today will determine the quality of life for those generations yet to come.

Brian Helmuth photo

Brian Helmuth photo

Yet, as biologist Brian Helmuth writes in Miller-McCune magazine, for some people, “the idea of global climate change seems like a far-away concept, an idea dreamt up by scientists in their laboratories. That some still talk about ‘belief’ — a matter of faith more so than facts — in findings that have long been accepted by the scientific community speaks volumes about the general public’s understanding and acceptance of global climate change”.

Helmuth goes on to explain how studying changes in the animals and plants around us can help scientists predict the effects of climate change, and makes the point that only by working collaboratively, with policymakers, scientists, the business community,  can we plan for a future we can all live with.

What is an Ecosystem and Why is It Important?

urban footprint
When we talk about “being green” in Central New York what we really mean is living in better partnership with our ecosystem.  So what is an ecosystem and why is it important?

Simply speaking, an ecosystem consists of all the living organisms – plants, animals, microorganisms – functioning together with all the physical elements in a particular environment. Seemingly simple, yet exceedingly complex, especially when human settlements enter the environment.

To put a framework around much of our future discussion of sustainability including green building, alternative energy, green products, and more, we’ll begin our exploration of “What Does It Mean to be Green?” with a discussion of Ecosystems and Sustainable Human Settlements with Professors Emanuel Carter and Richard Smardon of the SUNY College of Environmental Science & Forestry. The study session, which is free and open to all, is on Tuesday, September 15 from 5:00 – 6:30 PM in 409 Marshall Hall on the SUNY ESF campus For more information, contact OCL at or 315.443.4846.