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Torchlight Column

Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Climate Action Meets The Piecemeal Problem

February 04, 2019

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Meeting NYC's legal mandate to cut its carbon footprint 80% by 2050 is a tall — and essential — order. While 2050 gets closer every day, the full suite of detailed policies, laws, regulations and market transformations needed to meet the 80x50 remain substantially incomplete. It's been a decade since the release of Mayor Bloomberg's Greener Greater Building Plan and the phased-in ban on burning heavy fuel oil for heating buildings has likely been the most effective carbon cutting tool to date, but that still leaves much to do that will entail complex political and technical effort.

I've written before about City Council bills that would require existing buildings to renovate and retrofit buildings to achieve levels of energy efficiency that 80x50 demands. As of this writing, another version of the bill, now designated Intro 1253, had lengthy hearings in December 2018 before the Committee on Environmental Protection, but how the many challenging technical, financial and residential tenant protection issues will be resolved is unknown. What is known is that retrofit decisions and deadlines, as well as the basic metrics for measuring building energy and carbon outputs have no off-the-shelf answers. They have to be discovered or invented and their specifics hammered out — or not. All that can be said with confidence is that the City will not meet its 80x50 goals unless the energy appetite of its built environment changes in big ways and this means both more efficient uses of fuel and electricity along with a shift to fuel and electricity sources that are zero, net-zero or ultra-low carbon.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Rock Around The Sun

November 26, 2018

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

It's that time of year for looking back and peering ahead. But what would a theoretical physicist who specializes in quantum mechanics say about this predilection to see what's happening in terms of the passage of time, the before and after, the yesterday and tomorrow? The physicist might say "Bah, humbug!" More professionally, a citation could be made to entropy — commonly defined as "heat death" or an irreversible flow of heat from warmer objects to colder ones — as the only aspect of physics where before and after — or time as we non-physicists think of it — makes any sense.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

You Can Lead A Horse To Data…

August 14, 2018

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Turning Data Into Action is a report on a mission. That mission is turning data about building energy use — submitted to New York City government by owners of large properties to comply with green building laws — into actions resulting in significant building energy savings. The report, issued by the Building Energy Exchange (BE-Ex), focuses on large multifamily buildings. It predicts, "Implementing recommended efficiency retrofits would immediately reduce multifamily energy use in NYC by 11% and have a simple payback of less than 6 years." and its target readership consists of, "Building decision makers, operators, contractors and policy makers."

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

There Ought To Be A Law, Right?

May 23, 2018

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Raising the level of energy performance in buildings old and new has been on New York City's climate action agenda for nearly a decade. While a crop of new Energy Star-rated, LEED-certified and Passive House-compliant buildings are up and occupied and voluntary energy performance upgrades or "retrofits", like the Empire State Building, have been undertaken and celebrated, signals that these "greener" buildings are part of a surge sufficient to make a big dent in the City's energy use and carbon footprint are hard to detect. Is this a problem baked into local property markets, policy design or political will?

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Show Us The Power

March 05, 2018

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The only chance for New York City to meet its pledge to cut its carbon footprint 80% by 2050 is to make sure that its buildings and its transportation are powered without (much) fossil fuel. While we have a long way to go in a time frame that's short, there is a lot of creative ferment and public discussion about making new and old buildings alike proudly energy efficient, along with accelerating the introduction of electric vehicles, while throttling back on total car use and reviving the decrepit mass transit system. Calls to electrify everything abound and New York State's REV (Reforming the Energy Vision), gives pride of place to shifting the electric power supply model in the direction of Distributed Energy Resources that will rely on clean power sources like solar, wind, hydro and geothermal.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Science Guy And The Rest Of Us

November 15, 2017

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

This fall I saw "Bill Nye: Science Guy" a film that weaves several narrative strands together in an admiring but deeply disturbing documentary. The first strand follows Bill Nye from his days as the TV goofy science guy in a series aimed at young viewers, which aired from 1993–1998, to a well-respected educator and fearless spokesperson for climate change science. "Fearless"? Yes. He's appeared on Fox TV to cross swords with climate deniers like weather forecaster Joe Bastardi and engaged in public, in-person debates in less-than-receptive venues. The second strand is biographic.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

80x50 — Promises, Promises

July 11, 2017

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

NYC Council Chamber

At a June 2017 City Council meeting, the Environmental Protection Committee heard testimony from the de Blasio Administration and a host of environmentalists about a menu of new bills related to cutting the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings all around town. This hearing took place a decade after then-Mayor Bloomberg launched his Greener, Greater Building Plan. As such, consider it a marker for what New York has learned about the task of taking aggressive climate action, as well as what's been done to date and what it will take for meeting its legally set goal of cutting carbon emissions 80% by 2050. I'd like to say that effusive talk has led to demonstrable action, but I'm not sure I can.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

More Good Green Jobs For OneNYC

May 09, 2017

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

With a tip of the hat to Jane Austen, let me tweak her famous observation "It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife." Today, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a liberal big city Mayor must be in want of good jobs for all." I can't vouch that Austen was comedy-free, but I do believe that Mayor de Blasio is earnest in his commitment to good jobs for all as part of his OneNYC mission.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Hyper Objects In A Time Of Hyper Politics

March 16, 2017

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"After Nature" is an exhibit of ice sheets and shoreline bedazzled photographs taken by artist Justin Brice Guariglia from a NASA research plane. It displays instants in time of a frozen Greenland that looks eternal, but which is undergoing profound climate-caused disruptions. What's captured in his photographs — many printed on indestructible Styrofoam — has already changed. What's unseen, but key to the meaning of "After Nature" is the idea that climate change is a "hyperobject", something that doesn't exist in just one place or at one time.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Where Do We Go From Here?

December 13, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

What must the US climate action movement, policy makers and concerned business sectors do as annual temperature records break and the risk rises of blowing past the temperature caps, which scientists and signatories to the Paris Climate Accord say must be achieved to stop irreversible global chaos and damage? The election of Donald Trump has driven anxiety and teeth-gnashing to unprecedented levels about resurgent climate denialism. Looking locally, what can cities and states be doing in the Trump Age that will make a difference at a scale that matters when it comes to climate change. Answers to these questions have grave implications for public security, public health and even business as usual.

First, take a deep breath and repeat when needed, "To be truly radical is to make hope possible, not despair convincing". Now, let's take a virtual tour of the landscape for climate hope.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Cutting Carbon Is The New Black

August 23, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"You had me at hello", the famous line Renee Zelwegger used on Tom Cruise in the 1996 film Jerry Maguire, echoed the day I met Yeohlee Teng at her fashion-forward NYC shop, when she volunteered that local production of her clothes helped to "shrink her carbon footprint. She had me at "shrink".

Next thing I knew, I sat down for a chat with Yeohlee about her design practices, honed over a career going back to 1981, and read a book about her work. [1] Before that "shrink" moment, fashion, one of NYC's most storied industries, had meant "shopping" to me. Doing something about the city's carbon footprint and raising its sustainability quotient meant my professional work on advocacy and education around high performance buildings, renewable energy, growing good green jobs and smart infrastructure. Suddenly, new greener city vistas were opening to me and at a time where local and national attention is both riveted and riven over what kinds of jobs and what kind of society should we want to be building.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Energy Democracy Rising

February 11, 2016

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Sociologists who study social movements grapple with characterizing their subject matter. For some, movements arise to solve problems by way of executing specific agendas. Others postulate that problem-solving agendas can emerge for groups that started out in search of solutions to another problem. Today's quest for "energy democracy" in cities like New York is arising from a social movement matrix demanding more affordable housing as it finds common cause with urban climate movement activists and professionals calling for energy efficiency buildings and replacing fossil fuels for heating, cooling and electricity, with renewable energy.

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Spiral staircase inside armature of Lady Liberty