Signs of Sustainability

Nitrogen Cascade Harms Vegetation, Human Health

Tompkins Weekly 10-28-20

By Richard W. Franke

Plants appear to require about 18 essential elements to thrive. Some of these — zinc, iron, manganese, cobalt, nickel, etc. — are needed in small amounts called micronutrients. Carbon and oxygen, however, each make up around 45% of the dry weight of a plant, while hydrogen adds another 6%.

Despite their relatively small 1.8% total contribution to plant biomass, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur are critical to plant growth. And while plants can get most of their nutrients — micro or macro — from soil, nitrogen has proven to be a major limiting factor in ecosystem productivity worldwide.

The problem with nitrogen at first seems surprising. After all, it makes up 78% of the earth’s atmosphere in the zone up to 11 miles from the surface. As an atmospheric gas, nitrogen may be performing a sort of “calming” effect, keeping in check possible side effects of too much oxygen, which makes up about 21% of the atmosphere.

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Trees Up Tompkins: Working for the Common Good

Tompkins Weekly 10-14-20

By Patricia Ladley

Do you remember your mother’s instruction, so often repeated: “Eat your vegetables. They’re good for you”? Mother Earth also has something to say to her children: “Plant trees. They’re good for you!”

These amazing beings we call trees not only provide beauty and support biodiversity, but they also filter air pollution, help manage stormwater runoff, lower temperatures and draw down CO2 from the atmosphere. In short, trees improve the health and well-being of the local communities in which they are planted, valued and nurtured to maturity.

In the spring of 2019, the Museum of the Earth hosted a course presented by the Pachamama Alliance, a global community with the goal to create a sustainable future for all, called “Drawdown — the most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming.” The course was based on the book of the same name, edited by Paul Hawken. (Learn more at the Project Drawdown website.) At the completion of the course, eight of us decided to continue the conversation.

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Fall Composting for Sustainability

Tompkins Weekly 9-23-20

By Adam Michaelides

It won’t be long until it’s time to clean up the garden and prepare for the next growing season. In just a few weeks, our yards, sidewalks and streets will be littered with leaves. Before the snow flies, we have the opportunity to set ourselves up for the colder months ahead. This includes the home compost.

Though the garden has slowed down, your compost will stay active until winter sets in. One trick for keeping our decomposer friends in the compost happy is to feed them more. A larger, more substantial pile of fresh material will generate heat. Also, cutting things up into smaller pieces will provide more surface area for the decomposers, which will in turn keep the compost active.

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Energy Audits: The First Step to Savings

Tompkins Weekly 9-9-20

By Phil Cherry

An energy audit is not like an IRS audit. It’s nothing to be afraid of, and in fact, it may actually save you money.

An energy audit is also often called an “energy assessment” because it assesses the energy efficiency of your home and identifies areas where your house is leaking heat on cold days or cool air on summer days or maybe wasting electricity on outdated lighting or older refrigeration equipment.

Audits are done by professional contractors trained by the Building Performance Institute (BPI) to conduct such studies. There are other certifications and rating systems for homes and raters, but the BPI certificate is likely the most common.

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COVID-19 and the Green New Deal

Tompkins Weekly 8-26-20

By Osamu Tsuda

2020 has so far been a very surreal time for many of us. Sometimes, it can be hard to remember that less than a year ago, we were still living in a time where the economy was supposedly at its peak and social distancing was not even a thing.

Yet even then, we all knew and could hear the distant rumbling of the apocalypse tsunami heading our way; we just did not know how and when it would hit us.

It was a time when things were going OK on the surface, yet we all knew of the constant injustice, corruption, racism and greed occurring just underneath that surface. The wound was festering underneath the bandage, slowly spreading, eventually leading to the bandage falling off, no longer able to hold things together.

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Rethink Single-Use Plastics at Festivals

Tompkins Weekly 8-12-20

By Clarissa Plank

This summer, many of us are missing those quirky and unique celebrations of Ithaca — our festivals.

While I’m devastated that our community is missing out on our festivals this year, let’s take this as an opportunity to pause, to rethink and to make sure that when the festivals return, their focus is on celebrating what makes Ithaca so special: a town of caring, community-minded and forward-thinking people who are connected to their landscape.

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Water’s Power in Forwarding Sustainability Efforts

Tompkins Weekly 7-22-20

By Tony Del Plato

The Finger Lakes region has been inhabited by peoples for at least 12 millennia, most recently by the five (then six) nations of the Haudenosaunee, followed by immigrants, mostly from Europe.

The culture and technologies of feeding them determined the sustainability of their communities. An understanding of the laws of nature defined their boundaries. The Mohawk Water Song is an expression of love for ohne:ka (water), sung by the Akwesasne Women Singers today.

This essay contains snapshots of sustainability from my point of view, in the areas I frequent. The 11 lakes in the region are beautifully laid out, as if a bear claw raked the landscape from the Southern Tier up towards Lake Ontario. Each lake has a variety of challenges to its well-being. It is a costly and long process to restore the health of lakes that have been damaged.

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Food Farming, Water for Sustainability

Tompkins Weekly 7-15-20

By Tony Del Plato and Brian Caldwell

The Haudenosaunee have occupied and farmed the Finger Lakes region for over 2000 years. The Three Sisters (corn, beans and squash) were part of their cultural and agricultural foundation.

Corn, maize, is recognized as a gift from indigenous America to the world. About 60% of the foods we eat originated in the Americas, including corn, beans, potatoes, amaranth, tomatoes, squash, peppers, chocolate, sunflowers and more.

Much could have been learned from the food production systems that existed in the Western Hemisphere before colonization. Effective, productive methods were in place including complex polycultures, chinampas water gardens, desert farming and the use of fire to manage large areas for tree mast, berries and wild game.

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Community Gardens Shows Sustainability in Action

Tompkins Weekly 6-17-20

By Marty Hiller

Sustainability has two main components: planning for the future and resilience in times of crisis. The recent history of the Ithaca Community Gardens demonstrates both.

Our all-volunteer organization manages Ithaca’s largest and oldest community garden, on 2.1 acres of city-owned land in the heart of the Market District. We provide growing space to more than 150 mainly low-income households and community groups each year.

Plot fees are waived for our lowest-income gardeners, and we donate more than 700 pounds of produce a year through the Friendship Donations Network (FDN.)

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EPA Non-Enforcement Policy Causes Ripple Effects

Tompkins Weekly 5-27-20

By Rebecca Newberry

On March 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a policy that set new guidelines for large polluters to monitor themselves for an undetermined period of time during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The memo stated the EPA would not issue fines for violations of certain air, water and hazardous-waste-reporting requirements. The policy cites the decision as a response to COVID-19. 

The order states that companies should self-report if they break the law but won’t face any consequences by doing so. 

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