Our ‘Keep It Cool Tompkins’ Team to Present Findings

Last spring we awarded our first Youth Climate Challenge Grant to Tilden Chao and Abigail Glickman for their ‘Keep It Cool Tompkins‘ project to educate local businesses about the Kigali Amendment to the Montreal Protocol to phase out high global warming potential refrigerants. This amazing duo is doing upperclass college level work, and our team of climate professionals and teachers are immensely impressed by their vision, intelligence, and initiative.

Tilden and Abigail will be presenting their findings thus far to the monthly Tompkins County Climate Protection Initiative next Friday, December 14, at 9 am at the county library.  TCCPI hosts a monthly meeting for local energy professionals and nonprofit groups addressing climate change and the transition to clean energy.  They’ll be sharing their plans for a ‘green chill’ summit for regional businesses later this winter.

Local Teen Cooks for the Climate

Shea Nolan probably had one of the more sustainability focused childhoods in Ithaca. The father of this LACS graduating senior is the owner of Home Green Home on the Ithaca Commons, so Shea’s family was always checking out products for their performance and their ecological footprint. He now has the chance to share some of his homegrown expertise after winning the second grant award from Sustainable Tompkins’ Youth Climate Challenge program.

Shea’s project is to develop a curriculum packet to teach 4th and 5th graders how to use a solar oven to cook delicious meals while imparting the basic science behind their use. The $637 grant from Sustainable Tompkins will be used to purchase three solar cookers and print and laminate lesson plans. Local schools and nonprofit partners like Cayuga Nature Center will be able to sign up to use the ovens and curriculum materials.

Shea will get some help with the curriculum design from his mother Michele, the Principal of Alternative Education at TST BOCES and retired LACS biology teacher Dan Flerlage (a member of the Sustainable Tompkins grant team).  Shea will be testing out the new curriculum on Belle Sherman summer school students this year.  He’s not sure yet which of his favorite solar oven recipes they’ll make together, but roast chicken or cookies reportedly turn out great.

Earlier this year, Sustainable Tompkins announced a Youth Climate Challenge open to middle and high school students in Tompkins County who can apply for small grants up to $1,000 to support projects that reduce CO2 emissions or spread awareness of how climate change will affect the Finger Lakes Region. Read the rest of this entry »

Ithaca High Duo Receives First Youth Climate Challenge Grant

The first grant award in the Youth Climate Challenge from Sustainable Tompkins has been made to two Ithaca High School students, Tilden Chao and Abigail Glickman.  The students submitted their Keep It Cool: The Future of Refrigeration proposal in April, and received a grant of $990 to pursue their innovative and unique outreach and education program on containment and reduction of hydrofluorocarbon (HFCs) refrigerants.

HFCs replaced the ozone-destroying CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons) refrigerants after the 1987 Montreal Protocol was ratified. This unprecedented global accord has secured the future of our protective ozone layer, but unfortunately the replacement HFCs have a greenhouse gas effect up to 23,000 times that of carbon dioxide. The students plan to develop a website and educational materials on alternative and safe refrigerants and host a summit for local businesses that depend upon refrigeration such as grocery stores, restaurants, and food distributors to learn about the alternatives. A new global accord, the Kigali Amendment, was adopted in 2016 to mandate the phase-out of HFCs starting in 2019. The students hope to help local businesses get a jump on both preventing leakage of HFCs and the transition to less harmful coolants.

“Our grants review team was mightily impressed with the quality of their proposal,” said Gay Nicholson of Sustainable Tompkins, “and we will be working actively with the students to help our business community lead the way in phasing out HFCs.”  Read the rest of this entry »

Grants Available to Youth Groups to Tackle Climate Change

 Sustainable Tompkins is announcing a Youth Climate Challenge open to middle and high school students in Tompkins County. The long journey back to climate stability will take several generations of sustained effort and innovation as we transition our economic and social systems to meet human needs without upsetting Earth’s life support system. We will need leaders of all ages on this journey. The Youth Climate Challenge will provide $5,000 for small grants up to $1,000 to support projects that reduce CO2 emissions or spread awareness of how climate change will affect the Finger Lakes Region. Funds can be used for equipment, supplies, or services such as printing. School classes and clubs, as well as local youth groups, are encouraged to take up the Challenge and see what kind of climate impact they can have by reducing dependency on fossil fuel, changing wasteful habits, or inspiring others to commit themselves to action on global warming. Read the rest of this entry »

Great News! PSC Approves our Alternative to the Dryden Pipeline!

After three long years of citizen action, we now have the official decision from the NYS Public Service Commission to approve our community’s proposal for an alternative to a new gas pipeline in Dryden to provide energy for new development in Lansing.  Thanks to all the good folks involved over the past 3 years in making the case for building and heating with the climate in mind! Special thanks to Irene Weiser of Fossil Free Tompkins for pursuing our goals all the way through the PSC case process.  We also want to thank Brice Smith and Melissa Kemp for their work with ST in the early days of this campaign to put together our presentation on ‘Building and Heating with the Climate in Mind’ that we gave many times over the winter of 2014-15.

NYSEG will now install four electric pressure boosters along the existing gas pipeline to Lansing to assure reliability on very cold days for heating the Lansing schools.  In the near future, NYSEG will release a call for proposals on ways to provide space heating and hot water for existing and new development in Lansing through more efficient design and equipment that does not use fracked gas, propane, or fuel oil.

“Our decision today is based, in part, upon New York’s goals along with the significant public input we received from the local community keen to protect the environment and reduce the community’s greenhouse gas emissions,” said Commission Chair John B. Rhodes. “With the environment in mind, this pilot project is intended to boost the gas distribution system’s ability to maintain reliable supply without the need to build a new gas pipeline.”

Read the PSC press release here.

Help ST Finish What We Started on Dryden Pipeline

Everyday you are probably getting 2 or 3 calls to action to help stop some new outrage. It’s important to help wherever you can, but it’s also important that our movement follow through on earlier efforts to make positive change and head toward greater stewardship and justice in our communities. We’re asking our supporters to take a minute today and help us complete a critical step in our community’s shared commitment to protect the climate and stop new fossil fuel infrastructure from being built in our county.

Three years ago, in the early summer of 2014, we began to hear about a proposed new gas pipeline to run through West Dryden to provide heating fuel for new development in Lansing. The large capacity of the pipe would mean that Tompkins County would be unable to meet its goal of 80% reduction in CO2 emissions by 2050.

ST helped organize local opposition to the project and teamed up to present several workshops on viable alternatives to the pipeline to meet Lansing’s energy needs. A countywide task force on energy and economic development eventually came to the same conclusions and recommended to the Public Service Commission (PSC) that NYSEG address reliability concerns for existing Lansing gas customers by adding pressure boosters to the current pipeline. In addition, NYSEG would provide incentives to developers to build new structures in Lansing using smart design and ultra-efficient heat pumps to meet commercial and residential heating loads. (Many industrial processes can be powered with electricity rather than gas as well.) Read the rest of this entry »

Study on High Energy Cost Burdens in Tompkins County

We worked with a team of students through Engaged Cornell during the 2016-17 academic year to survey local residents about their energy bills and collect stories about how utility bills affected the household economy, especially for lower-income residents. You can read their report High Energy Cost Burdens in Low-to-Moderate Income Communities to learn more about how our housing affordability crisis is compounded by inefficient buildings and heating systems.

Thanks to Professor Howard Chong and students Kelly Strohm, Sara Hwong, and Elizabeth Barnett for leading the student team on this project.

Can Art Shake Us Out of Our Climate Denial?

In the Finger Lakes, it’s been a summer of extreme drought and repeated heat waves. Elsewhere, fires and floods have displaced tens of thousands. No wonder people feel nervous about what will happen next. But it’s also pretty easy to feel overwhelmed by the complex global nature of climate change, and end up in a kind of daily amnesia in terms of doing anything to address the problem.

James settting up tentWorried scientists and activists have been working for years to break through this very human response – trying to find entry into our inner workings to shift the pattern. At the same time there is a growing conversation among artists, sensitive to the many interlocking problems that confront humanity, that this is not a time for object making for galleries and museums. Instead this is a time for being socially engaged, to use art as a means for culture shifting and problem solving – taking advantage of the way art creates shortcuts into our inner consciousness and rearranges the furniture in there.

Sustainable Tompkins recently hosted Brooklyn-based artist James Leonard on the Ithaca Commons with his Tent of Casually Observed Phenologies. James has created a performance installation that is not complete until someone from the community joins him inside the tent to talk about their own climate future. The circular tent is a neutral muslin on the outside, but a rainbow of colors inside where bits of recycled clothing have been sewn together to create a ritualistic space for contemplating one’s own relationship with the planet’s warming. On the outside of the tent, small paintings of familiar plant and animal species affected by climate change are pinned.

Perhaps the most interesting part of his art is the way he has adapted Tarot cards to offer a “divination” or reading in response to the climate-related question of the person joining him in the tent. Read the rest of this entry »

Energy Expert Joins Finger Lakes Climate Fund Grantmaking Committee

We are so happy to welcome Chris Balbach, Vice President of Research and Development at Performance Systems Development, to the grantmaking committee of the Finger Lakes Climate Fund.  Chris joins Ian Shapiro, Chairman of Taitem Engineering, and Gay Nicholson, President of Sustainable Tompkins, on the committee.

Chris BalbachChris is taking the seat of Mark Pierce, Extension Associate for Cornell’s Consumer Education Program for Residential Energy Efficiency in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis.  Mark served on the Climate Fund grants committee since we started in 2009, and also volunteered his considerable expertise numerous times in various Sustainable Tompkins’ programs on energy efficiency.  Mark’s work is in transition and we will miss Mark’s help on the grants committee, but he promises to stay available to volunteer for public education on home energy.

We are lucky to have Chris join us on the committee because of his detailed technical knowledge and background in training.  He is an expert in using energy modeling and analysis software to analyze the investment potential of existing buildings, with a focus on energy efficiency, building durability and occupant health and safety. An avid proponent of performance verification, Chris serves as an officer and board member of several energy engineering groups.

Our grants team often shares very useful tips on energy issues with the contractors who apply on behalf of low-income residents in our community.  We think everyone wins from this collaboration!

Tompkins County Legislature Hears Comments on Local Climate Action

TC Legislature 12-15-15

(Fossil Free Tompkins organized a rally and speak-out to the Tompkins County Legislature on December 15 to encourage them to act boldly and quickly to eliminate fossil fuel consumption in our county.  More than 60 attended and 30+ provided comments.  Below are remarks by Sustainable Tompkins President Gay Nicholson.)

The Paris climate talks have concluded, and although we can celebrate this initial acknowledgment to stay below 2 C of warming and to at least measure and report emissions, we all know that much more needed to be accomplished at this point in the climate transition.

The next five years will be critical for global climate systems. The next two years of this legislative term must be used to start really digging into the detailed work of emission reductions. Read the rest of this entry »