Welcome Greenophobes

Today there is a growing awareness that business-as-usual corporate and lifestyle practices jeopardize the health of the planet and the ability of future generations to sustain a good quality of life. Awareness in turn has created a confusing array of sustainability-oriented decisions. The Greenophobe takes a skeptical, practical, informed look at a variety of sustainability topics. Explore a mix of common sense solutions and in-depth discussions that demystify how to live green and live well.

22 November 2010

Saving NYC: $11 Billion Flood Barriers Approved

Image Source: Adapted from NJ.com

Today federal officials will join the New York City Mayor's Office to announce groundbreaking on what is being billed by insiders as one of the largest and most expensive public works project in U.S. history. The project is dubbed "The Hudson Barriers." The mammoth engineering project consists of a series of 100-foot tall movable gates, navigational locks, and solid above-grade flood barriers to be constructed simultaneously in the waterways surrounding Manhattan, Eastern Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens. With a planned cost of nearly $11 billion, the project dwarfs any other system in operation in the world today.  Many U.S. coastal cities already use flood control systems to guard against everyday tidal variations and the occasional storm surge.  The Hudson Barriers are a defensive measure designed to save thousands of lives and prevent billions of dollars in property damage that would occur if New York City received a direct hit from a powerful hurricane.  Secondarily, average sea levels are expected to rise significantly over the next 50 years.  Even low-end scenarios place much of Manhattan and low-lying areas in surrounding boroughs underwater.  Despite the political risk, officials decided it was unwise to wait before starting construction on a project that could take three decades or more to complete. 

Large portions of the structure in the Upper New York Harbor at the Verrazano Narrows will sweep open, allowing ship traffic to enter the harbor and navigate existing channels under normal conditions. During storm conditions or as sea levels rise in coming years, gates can be closed and raised as much as 35 feet out of the water.  The barrier will stave off a storm surge that would wash up the Hudson River.  In a major storm event such as a category three hurricane, or higher, thousands of people would lose their lives.  After the waters recede, the region would be racked by human health hazards, transit disruptions, and ruined subterranean infrastructure. Eventually, as sea level rise becomes permanent, the gates may need to be deployed full-time.  The plan calls for a second set of gates to be constructed nearby to serve as a gigantic navigational lock. 

In addition to the moveable barriers, a ten foot impermeable seawall will be constructed around Lower Manhattan from the Battery as high as Canal Street to accommodate for overall rising sea levels and normal weather events that are certain to wreak havoc on city infrastructure with increasing regularity as sea levels continue to rise past safe levels. Officials agree the measure is the only way to secure the region from what New York City climatologists call

01 November 2010

Dying a Green Death

Yes, we also think this nice wicker coffin resembles a zombie picnic basket. 
Dying is a very dirty business but it does not have to be.  Image source.  

It is November and in the next few weeks the remaining stubborn leaves of brown and amber and red that are still clinging to their crunchy branches will break loose to ride the brisk fall air down to the ground where they'll heap in piles by the millions. As they decompose, the leaves return their stored energy to the earth. Unlike the turning leaves of autumn, human beings have gone to great lengths to defy every convention that nature has designed to keep the natural environment in balance. In death we do not simply decompose back into the earth from which we came. On our way out, we put our final arrangements in place and, in accordance with any number of modern burial rituals, we give mother earth one last great big New Jersey salute (that's the middle finger, FYI) just before she fluffs the pillow in our eternal resting place six feet under. After living a full and successful life polluting the earth, you would think that we could at least establish death rituals that didn't damn the planet for another entire human lifetime. But it is not to be.

Now it seems that even in death we cannot escape the guilt of how badly we screwed up the pristine earth while we were alive and have in fact doomed it to suffer on without us in perpetuity. Death involves religious rites, ethnic norms, family traditions, legal issues, and of course grieving. These complex dimensions are a sign that death is a very important thing to people. Of the myriad potential maneuvers in the environmental playbook, why dissect this most sacred thing that human beings have been doing since the dawn of existence?

This issue is a big one because of the simple rule of the power of importance. What's important to people usually carries a huge environmental footprint one way or another. Where lots of money is flowing you can bet there's a lot of environmental wrong happening. It costs a lot of money to die these days -- somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 in the U.S. Death is important to everyone and we all do it eventually. I cannot think of a more ubiquitous subject to talk about greening up.

While the specific rituals and effects differ by country, religion and tradition, nearly everything about the way we go about dying is unsustainable, toxic, and