Signs of Sustainability

Fiber Artists Inspired by Cayuga Lake Watershed

Tompkins Weekly 1-16-19

By Patricia Haines Gooding

For generations, quilts have embodied creativity, heritage, and community. Over the last decade, watershed groups across the country have begun turning to the art of quilting to spark public awareness of the increasingly critical importance of protecting our precious water resources.

For a few examples:
• In 2006 in Aux Sable, Illinois children designed a large quilt expressing their pride in their local environment. 
• A 50-foot quilt of the Farmington River, created by local and national artists, hangs in the Connecticut State Capitol. 
• Encouraged by the Lynnhaven Watershed organization, in 2014 Virginia Beach first graders created a 48 square painted quilt as part of their sustainability studies. Now in fifth grade, they promote watershed stewardship for current first graders. 
• Trout Unlimited, which has Trout in the Classroom programs across the country — including all around our lake, thanks to the Floating Classroom — invites k-12 students to send 8-inch by 8-inch squares, along with a letter describing their watershed, to all participating schools, which then put them together in their own unique designs.

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Community Decision Making: Voice

Tompkins Weekly     12-24-18

By Cathleen Banford

In September, I attended the “Local Economic Development Conference,” organized by Veronica Johnson and the Civil Advocacy Project. Guest speaker Bruce Seifer, with the support of Bernie Sanders, began the work of promoting progressive entrepreneurship in Burlington, VT. Small businesses grew in the wake of Seifer’s advocacy. I’m very grateful for the conference as it helped me think more clearly about individuals as community, engaging their voice with purpose.

As I observe how organizations and governance function here in Ithaca, to better understand how relatable their activities are to most people, it becomes apparent that our community is ready for more participatory models on all fronts. Many recognize that it’s often the same group of people driving change. How do we encourage more inclusivity and inspired participation with our collaborative community building efforts?

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It’s Time to “Seal the Cracks” Again!

Tompkins Weekly       12-17-18

By Gay Nicholson

It is that time of year again – every fall and winter we ask you to help us Seal the Cracks in homes across the Finger Lakes Region, doing our part in fighting climate change while helping others in need.

Working together, we are making a difference across our region. For every ton of your CO2 emissions that you offset, we will help a lower-income family make their home more energy efficient and take that ton of CO2 back out of the atmosphere. We’ve now given out 29 grants worth $47,738 to offset 2,286 tons of CO2 from our donors’ travel and building emissions. We recently passed the Five Million mark for pounds of CO2 removed from the atmosphere and look forward to awarding more of our Fund in local grants.

It is super easy: go to and start thinking back over the past year… where did you travel and have you taken responsibility for the carbon emissions from your trips? How about your business or your home? (You can reach zero carbon by offsetting the remaining fossil fuel use in your buildings.)

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Heat Locally to Benefit Yourself, Your Community, and the Planet

Tompkins Weekly           12-10-18

By Guillermo Metz

Do you know where your home’s heat comes from? Most of us burn something — usually, gas, oil, or propane — but most of us are blissfully unaware of where that fuel comes from. Many people are becoming more aware of where their food comes from — from the lettuce we grow in our yards to the local beef we buy. The benefits of “eating local” are well-known, but few of us are aware of all the benefits of “heating local” with wood.*

Many of the benefits are the same: supporting local businesspeople and the environment, reducing transportation miles, and creating a connection between consumers and “farmers” (in this case, forest owners and loggers). While responsible farming practices minimize environmental damage, responsible forestry goes a step further by providing many other environmental benefits, including actually improving forest health. Not only do foresters manage stands by clearing out low-quality trees that are shading healthier and more valuable trees, but by doing so, along with other good forestry practices, responsible forestry can lead to improved biodiversity, help control invasive and non-native species, and result in greater carbon capture by allowing younger trees to develop.

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Lack of Regulation Leads to Courthouse Showdown

Tompkins Weekly    11-12-18

By Cayuga Lake Environmental Action Now

Cayuga Lake is at risk. Our beloved lake provides drinking water for over 40,000 people residing in at least six municipalities, not to mention the numerous private wells along the entire shoreline. However, the quality of Cayuga’s waters is threatened by nutrient-loading manure from large farms, Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs), contaminants leaching from several coal-ash landfills, salt from our heavily salted roads, and brine from an extensive under-lake salt mine with its associated permitted and unpermitted discharges to the lake.

What can we do to protect this invaluable resource?

One major step is to ensure that environmental protocols are being followed and when they are not, we must STAND UP FOR CAYUGA LAKE. The NYS Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is supposed to be the watchdog that ensures that our resources are being protected, but the DEC is severely understaffed, under-budgeted, and lacks expertise in some areas. Most importantly, the DEC has never required the level of environmental review for the Cargill mine that would be required for equivalent or much smaller projects.

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Uh Oh, Here Comes Winter

Tompkins Weekly 10-22-18

By Anne Rhodes

Winter – the season that challenges us to heat our homes without heating our planet. Everyone wants to stay warm and comfortable in their home, and luckily there are lots of strategies and solutions to help us do just that – including some that won’t add to our climate woes.

What’s preventing us from being warm in our homes? Conduction and convection. If a house is cold and drafty it is because heat is escaping through uninsulated walls and attics (conduction), and through holes and gaps that let air in (convection). The process of warm air escaping from the interior of your house to the outside is called the “stack effect.” It’s what happens when you heat the interior of your home but that heated air escapes upwards (because hot air rises!) causing a vacuum drawing cold air in from cracks and gaps in your basement. Then you heat up that new, cold air, and when it’s hot, it rises and escapes!

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Home Composting

Tompkins Weekly   10-8-18

By Adam Michaelides

Fall is an excellent time of year to compost. Dead leaves are becoming abundant once again. These “brown” materials are just what the outdoor compost needs throughout the year to feed microorganisms, and provide adequate airflow. If you compost outdoors, take the time to squirrel away bags of dry leaves to use in the compost until next fall. You’ll be happy you did!

Composting at home in the backyard, or indoors using a worm or bokashi bin, is a super sustainable practice. Your food, yard, and garden discards are kept on your property instead of transported somewhere else and then mechanically processed. This saves on fossil fuel use, and wear and tear on roads and vehicles. Landfilling food scraps and other organic discards can cause all sorts of problems – from added carbon emissions through fossil fuel use, to methane generation for decades to come. Composting these materials on a large scale is a lot better; however, environmentally-speaking the most sustainable way is to compost right at home.

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Electronic Waste — A Growing Challenge

Tompkins Weekly     9-17-18

By Michael Troutman and Robin Elliott

The US produces more electronic waste, or “e-waste,” than any other country: 9.4 million tons annually and only 12.5 percent is recycled. E-waste makes up two percent of the waste stream, but 70 percent of the hazardous waste in landfills. Increased access to affordable electronics has changed our way of life, some may say for the better. The question remains: how do we safely and responsibly handle these items once we’re done with them?

While many electronic products are affordable to the average consumer, they are costly to extract from mines and produce. If not reused or recycled, these limited resources can be lost for good. Toxic substances such as lead, mercury, cadmium, and chromium are common in modern electronics, making them dangerous to put in landfills. Finally, electronics are a growing sector of consumer products with an ever-shrinking product lifecycle. This has created a surge in production of potentially hazardous waste that is challenging to manage.

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Heat Smart, Cool Smart, and Reap the Benefits!

Tompkins Weekly   8-27-18

By Jonathan Comstock

Beneficial electrification needs to become a familiar household concept just like the value of renewable energy. Renewable energy comes from sources that are self-renewing, like solar, wind and hydropower. But merely converting our current electric use to renewably sourced electricity is not enough. We also need to eliminate the current reliance on fossil fuels in our transportation and home heating systems because they account for the vast majority of our energy use.

The point is that we have excellent opportunities to adopt superior electric technologies for transportation and to heat and cool our homes. When we do this, our total electric use will go up. But our total energy use will drop substantially because of the elimination of fossil fuel use and the tremendous increases in energy efficiency as we shift to these modern electric technologies.

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Going Electric

Tompkins Weekly   8-13-18

By Bryan Roy

Do you drive a plug-in electric vehicle? Are you planning to in the next year? If not, what’s stopping you?

There are over 360 plug-in vehicles in Tompkins County and that number is growing every month.

Several factors influence the adoption of electric vehicles (EV), and EVTompkins is working to address these factors to aid and prepare the county for more plug-in vehicles.

Tompkins County was selected through a New York State Energy Research and Development Authority supported project to be a model EV Accelerator Community. The county is becoming a welcoming community for EVs by providing charging, service, and support to local and visiting drivers. EVTompkins, a community led initiative, is working with local stakeholders, community members, dealerships, municipalities, and others to bring together all of the necessary elements of an electrified transportation system. Creating an EV-friendly environment boosts EV sales to higher than the baseline and national averages, a critical first step in moving electrification beyond a niche product.

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