Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Spin the Wheel, Go Fish and Calculate Your Carbon Footprint

Do you drink New York City tap water? Do you turn off the water when you brush your teeth? How often do you eat meat? How much of your own food do you grow?

These are questions seventh -and eighth-grade students at the Urban Assembly School for the Urban Environment in Bedford-Stuyvesant will soon be asking themselves. They will be taking part in Renewable NYC, a program given by the Center for the Urban Environment (CUE) and funded by National Grid.

Last Thursday, National Grid employees met at CUE to experience first-hand the program they’re gifting to the Brooklyn school.

Renewable NYC was designed by staff at CUE and is taught by Program Manager of
Urban Education Chiara DiPalma (pictured above), who gave the National Grid employees their own session of the program, which is divided into four sections: water, food, energy and waste.

DiPalma began by explaining that the earth has “360 million trillion gallons of water — that’s 360 with six sets of zeroes after it.” She showed the group a tall beaker filled with blue liquid, representing all the water on the planet. As she poured most of the blue liquid into another beaker, DiPalma explained that 97.2 percent of water on our planet is in the oceans.

She then divided the remaining water into four other sections, showing how little usable water we have — less than one percent of the earth’s total water. “It’s pretty important that we
conserve it and use it the best that we can,” DiPalma said.

The group was given a water footprint worksheet, where they answered questions like: “How long do you let the water heat up before you get in the shower?” and “If you see that there is a leaky sink in your house, what do you do?” After calculations, most members of the group discovered that they use about 60 to 200 gallons of water a day.

Just as the students in DiPalma’s classes would, the National Grid employees played the “drain or sustain game.” Using a bag of beans to represent a reservoir, those beans are added to or subtracted from a plastic cup, or “communal well,” depending on how good or bad their character’s water-use habits were, chosen by spinning an arrow on a spin board.

“The idea is to get the kids really thinking about personal habits and how they might affect water usage,” explained DiPalma, adding that she highlights the difference between use and waste of water.

Using an apple to represent the earth, DiPalma demonstrated how little land we have that is suitable for growing food, holding up a tiny sliver of the apple. “It’s depleting at kind of an alarming rate,” she noted.

“Brooklyn is a good example: one of the best areas in the United States for food production, but we covered it all up,” DiPalma said.

Next the group calculated their food footprint. Some of the questions they answered were: “Do you try to eat food that is in season?” and “Do you buy fruit and vegetables that were grown locally in New York state?”

A couple members of the group scored very high, which means they use an average of 24-40 acres of land to support their eating habits. To sustain this lifestyle, we would need 3-4 more planets.

The group enjoyed a food-related game of “Go Fish,” where suits were replaced with meals and all the cards had food items on them. The object of the game wasn’t to collect as many cards as you could, but to collect cards with the lowest travel distance, such as carrots from a community garden or a hamburger from New Jersey.

DiPalma described additional games her students play along the other two themes of the course: energy and waste. For energy, they “talk about the carbon cycle and greenhouse gases and students calculate their carbon footprint,” she said. She then conducts a game similar to ‘The Price is Right,’ where students try to guess which item emits the most carbon in a given time period. Answers to this are surprising.

For example, using a toaster for 10 minutes every day of the week would emit eight pounds of carbon, but using an oven for the same amount of time would emit only one and a half pounds of carbon.

When talking about waste, DiPalma emphasizes recycling, playing a game where “each student imagines they are a plastic bottle.” They visit different stations around the classroom — such as person, street, recycle bin, ocean and landfill — where they play out the life of a plastic water bottle.

“The idea is you want to prolong your life as long as possible as a plastic bottle,” she explained.
When taking their own version of Renewable NYC the National Grid employees learned things that even they didn’t know, especially about their food footprint. DiPalma’s “students” for the day had nothing but praise for the workshop saying, “this is very well done.”

Back to homepage

Incentives for Green Roofs

The Eagle received this press release:

Together with environmental advocates, Council Member David Yassky and Council Member James Gennaro yesterday announced they were introducing the Sustainable Roof Act of 2009 at today’s stated meeting of the City Council. The bill will provide property tax abatements to building owners who install green and white roofs through the NYC Department of Housing Preservation and Development’s (HPD) J-51 Program.

“This bill will not only encourage the creation of environmentally-sustainable buildings and reduce our consumption of carbon-based energy sources, but will create the green economy jobs this city needs to compete,” said Council Member Yassky. “As we fight through an economic downturn and threats to our environment, we must take bold steps toward a cleaner, more prosperous City.”

Councilman James F. Gennaro, Chair of the Environmental Protection Committee and author of the City's Stormwater Management Plan, which mandates the use of green roofs and blue roofs to help prevent street flooding, said: “Rooftops used to be for TV antennas and drying laundry — no longer. We finally have the know-how and the will to put the countless acreage of our rooftops to work in cooling our city, shrinking its carbon footprint and reducing stormwater runoff. This is common-sense legislation that should be adopted immediately.”

“This bill identifies a major source of untapped potential for the City to green itself, and creates a powerful economic incentive to make use of it,” said Council Member Dan Garodnick. “Where we can encourage environmental sustainability alongside economic investment, the City stands to benefit twice over.”

“This bill would help New York City residents save millions in energy costs while spurring a new sector of green jobs,” said Larry Levine, attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). “Green rooftops, planted with vegetation, reduce cooling costs and keep rainwater from overwhelming our sewers, while rooftop solar panels provide reliable, home-grown, clean energy solutions. These are shovel-ready, smart-energy investments for today and tomorrow that not only improve the environment but also provide new economic opportunities the City desperately needs.”

“New York City’s thousands of square miles of empty roofscape amount to what is perhaps our single most underutilized resource,” said Christopher Neidl, Coordinator of Solar One. “Distributed clean, applications like photovoltaics, green roofs and white roofs deliver many services, solutions and amenities that our city needs, and promise to generate scores of quality jobs that are inherently local. This well considered and well timed legislation aims to tap the enormous potential of our roof resource by mitigating the financial barriers that currently suppress local investment. If it passes and becomes policy, it will make a big difference.”

The J-51 Program is administered by the NYC HPD to encourage the renovation of residential properties by granting partial tax exemption and abatement benefits. Benefits vary, depending on the location of the property and the extent and nature of the improvements.

Under the program’s rules, alterations designed to conserve energy are eligible for the abatement. However, the current requirements fail to include alterations for green and white roofs. These improvements serve to reduce the electricity consumption of the building, and in turn, the building’s burden on the city’s electricity grid and carbon footprint.

On average, the J-51 property tax abatement reduces the cost of the rehabilitation by 90 percent of the cost of the work for up to 20 years. While the average building unit must be valued at under $40,000 to qualify for the abatement, condominiums and cooperatives qualify under the program.

Back to homepage