Signs of Sustainability

Environmental Consequences of Bitcoin

Tompkins Weekly 6-23-21

By Yvonne Taylor

Bitcoin, or proof of work cryptocurrency, may seem like some distant, data mumbo jumbo that has little impact on those of us living in the Finger Lakes, but we must learn about this issue and act like our very planet depends on what happens with this industry because it does.

What is Bitcoin? Simply put, it’s a form of cryptocurrency that is created as many machines all work to solve the same mathematical equation or puzzle. The first machine to solve the problem wins. The more machines you have working on the same puzzle, the greater the chances you have of profiting.

Here’s the problem: big cryptomining companies like Bitcoin are buying up old or mothballed, inefficient fossil fuel power plants in the Finger Lakes and around New York state and reviving them to fuel their round-the-clock Bitcoin mining machines.

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A More Precise Definition of Climate Justice

Tompkins Weekly 6-9-21

By Luis Aguirre Torres

It was the night before what was meant to be one of the most important dates of my professional life. I was expected at the White House at 9 a.m., where I was going to be recognized as Champion of Change for my work on climate justice in Latin America. We were about to shed an important light on a matter that had remained hidden in plain sight for many years.

I was standing outside the hotel when I was suddenly arrested for suspicious behavior. Somebody complained about “someone fitting my description” lingering outside the hotel. I was cuffed, arrested and interviewed for several hours.

I was standing at the intersection of climate and social justice, a 12-hour lesson on race relations in America. I had been working for many years on climate justice, which was the only reason I was standing there. But I had been a minority for much longer, and that was the reason I was no longer standing.

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Farming for Our Community, Climate Change

Tompkins Weekly 5-26-21

By Mothers Out Front Tompkins

Regenerative farming’s distinct approach centers on soil quality and paralleling natural systems.  Local small-scale farmers use minimal or no tilling as well as cover crops to keep carbon in the ground, rather than releasing it to the air as CO2, a greenhouse gas.

Their plant diversity and crop rotation promote microbial health in the soil. A variety of crops also makes them more resilient to the extreme rain and droughts that occur unpredictably as our climate changes.

And these practices affect climate change as well. In his book, “Drawdown,” Paul Hawken ranks regenerative farming at #11 of the best 100 methods to counteract climate change.

Here we feature three more local small-scale farms using regenerative practices.

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Facing Challenges Effectively in Danby

Tompkins Weekly 5-12-21

By Cathleen and Eric Banford

It’s hard to remember the feeling of meeting in person. It can be a sure sign of sustainability to find ourselves venturing into new experiences, with others or alone, and ways of thinking as our community takes on so many challenges that it can also feel overwhelming.

One way to counter the immenseness of all that we are facing is to begin with where we are, with the people that are around us.

The town of Danby is currently beginning a new chapter, taking a deeper look at our community with the hope of designing a more sustainable way forward. Zoning has not kept pace with the changes happening around us, and realizing this has brought the community together to envision what they want their town to look like, both now and into the future.

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Farming From the Heart

Tompkins Weekly 4-28-21

By Mothers out Front

We have learned much in the last year about the importance of our health, our community and our environment. We are more keenly aware of the availability of food and unequal access to it. As we take in the big picture, the magnitude of the climate change crisis is also finally becoming clearer.

There are many ways to address this problem, and each of the solutions has its challenges. Perhaps the one with the most staying power in our region is small-scale regenerative farming, whose practices increase organic matter in the soil, drawing down and sequestering carbon in the process.

This rich soil, in turn, produces healthy food, which makes for healthy people and, ultimately, a healthy planet. These small farming businesses also strengthen the local economy. What more could you ask of a solution?

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Acknowledge Progress, Strive for More Change

Tompkins Weekly 4-14-21

By Anna Marck

In January of 2019, when Greta Thunberg said “I want you to panic,” I decided to lace up my shoes and get to work, panicking. I panicked to everyone I talked to. I panicked to myself. Unfortunately for the fifth-graders I was working with at the time, I panicked to them. And I panicked to my parents, blaming them for everything from paper towels to capitalism.

Don’t get me wrong. I think panic can start revolutions — Greta striking fear in our hearts certainly sparked an awareness that I had never seen before — but as I went about my life panicking, I quickly learned that this emotion is as unsustainable as fossil fuels. It was exhausting.

In his book “Factfulness,” Hans Rosling describes “Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World and Why Things are Better Than You Think.” When I first saw the cover, I was offended.

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The Giving Nature of Plants

Tompkins Weekly 3-24-21

By Eric Banford

One of the issues that this pandemic has made very clear is how precarious our food system is. As soon as businesses started shutting down, there was a general panic, and people started stockpiling food and other essentials.

Shortages quickly became apparent as the sight of bare shelves appeared at every grocery store. This served to heighten people’s anxiety, causing them to hoard even more stuff. Would we run out of food?

Luckily, these shortages didn’t last long. Stores limited the number of certain items that could be purchased at one time, manufacturers kicked into overdrive, and essential workers stepped up their heroic efforts to get needed supplies to the public. Shelves slowly were restocked, and life returned to “normal,” at least as normal as life can be during a global pandemic.

But the lessons laid bare are important for us to pay attention to going forward. When one learns that there is only a three-day supply at any grocery store (the Just In Time theory of supply), how should we prepare for the potential breaking of our supply chains?

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Understanding the Impact of Relationships

Tompkins Weekly 3-10–21

By Cathleen Banford

Signs of Sustainability (SoS) is a twice-monthly column that aims to promote sustainability in our community. Mothers Out Front, self-described as being “unified by the drive to protect all children from the climate crisis that impacts their health today and a livable climate for them tomorrow,” recently asked if there was a framework or parameters for contributing to the SoS series. This feels like a good time to convey more about the purpose of these articles.

SoS is an opportunity to recognize what we are doing as a community to further the progress around ecological responsibility and respect for our natural world. It’s also a place to honor the importance of nurturing relationships in community and creating the space necessary for trust to grow and for growing the courage to face challenges, especially the ones that pull us out of our comfort zone.

The University of California, Los Angeles Sustainability Committee phrases the concept of sustainability as: “the integration of environmental health, social equity, and economic vitality in order to create thriving, healthy, diverse, and resilient communities for this generation and generations to come.”

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New Volunteer Program: Climate Stewards

Tompkins Weekly 2-24-21

By Margaret Royall

This March, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) will begin recruiting for the Climate Stewards volunteer training program. Application materials will be available in March on the CCE-Tompkins website at

Climate Stewards builds upon the successful models of CCE’s existing Master Gardener and Master Composter volunteer programs. In each of these models, individuals who volunteer are trained in the details of specific subject matter and, in turn, share their knowledge with the community by leading workshops and discussion groups, sharing materials and information at community events and other creative outreach efforts of their choosing.

Climate Stewards will have the additional opportunity to use what they have learned to help drive change in our local government.

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Project Documents Sustainable Farming

Tompkins Weekly 2-10-21

By Graham Savio

Agriculture is a relatively minor contributor toward greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, accounting for 9.9% of total U.S. emissions in 2018 according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Meanwhile, the sector has substantial capacity to contribute toward climate change mitigation efforts by offsetting emissions from other sectors as well as taking steps to further limit existing emissions from farming.

Conservation and sustainable land management practices can reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide associated with crop and livestock production and can increase the quantity of carbon stored in soils and above-ground vegetation.

Agriculture educators at Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County (CCE-Tompkins) work closely with farmers across the county who have adopted sustainable farming practices to reduce nutrient runoff, improve soil health and lower on-farm energy use, but a broad understanding of the extent of those practices has been limited.

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