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Torchlight Columns Repository

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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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Beat The Extreme Heat

November 30, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

OK, writing about scorching hot weather in December may seem a bit odd, but bear with me. Global temperature trends, with 2015 on track for being the hottest year in the historical record, and with the evidence in hand to debunk climate denialist claims of a pause or hiatus in global warming over the last 15 years mean that deep damage to the Earth's climate is happening now. And that's not all for city dwellers. The urban heat island effect (UHIE) at the city-scale is something we are already all too familiar with. With temperatures rising 4–8 degrees Fahrenheit above surrounding areas and staying hotter at night time, UHIE makes us more than sweaty and sticky; it makes us sick; and heat stroke poses increased risk of dying, especially for the elderly and the frail.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. & Stuart Brodsky

Building Energy Performance: What’s Evidence Got To Do With It?

October 05, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. & Stuart Brodsky

New York City's landmark Building Energy Benchmarking statute, Local Law 84, is one of the singular achievements of Mike Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030 and has the potential to serve as a power tool for helping to realize Mayor de Blasio's goal of cutting the city's carbon footprint 80% by 2050. By potential we mean the extent to which LL84 findings are presently underutilized. By potential we also mean, given the information about building energy use now on hand and the knowledge gleaned about how this data can be applied to building features and operations, there are significant benefits still to be gained.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Getting Active On Passive House

June 18, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

I'm a fan of Passive House. Ever since visiting the top-to-bottom renovation job for an elegant 19th century home in Brooklyn Heights undertaken by architect Ken Levenson back in 2011, the potential for constructing — or in this case reconstructing — urban buildings to keep occupants really comfortable year round without boiler heating or air conditioning in every room has been my yard stick to measure all other climate-friendly buildings. Levenson's Snapshot column was the first introduction Sallan readers had to Passive House, and since then, Ken's been one very busy Passive House advocate.

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Spanish Requirement

March 17, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Omri Ben-Shahar concludes a scathing attack on contemporary disclosure laws with a barbed reference to a 400-word pronouncement, called the "Spanish Requirement". It was a prepared statement read in Spanish by 16th Century conquistadors to New World inhabitants, which warned them, having been put on notice, to "acknowledge the Church as the rule and superior of the whole world" or else!

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Promising Promises

January 20, 2015

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

"In Dreams Begin Responsibilities" is a much-admired short story by Delmore Schwartz where the character becomes increasingly agitated in a dream as he watches a film depicting his parents' courtship. Readers are apt to reflect on their own family dramas, hopes and regrets. While, for most of us, the drama of climate change, sustainability and its fierce political struggles is not the same as the family variety, the implicit questions about the choices we make and the responsibilities we incur run deep for both.

As Sallan begins its second decade, it's a good moment to reflect on what promises were made and my sense of what was at stake back in 2005 when Torchlight #1 was posted. Much has happened in the arena of urban sustainability and climate change since then, some of it very good, some of it not, and our responsibilities should press us onward. But, exactly how?

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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

The Difficulty Of Simplicity

November 10, 2014

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

Use more four-letter words. No, not those kinds, but short, everyday four letter words that mean more to most people than "sustainability" or "resiliency" or even "benchmarking building energy efficiency". Climate activists, energy system innovators, and campaigners for grassroots eco-engagement need to do a better job when trying to tell fellow citizens what they should think is important, which in turn will influence their everyday choices, like the stuff they spend money on and who they vote for. We can't expect most people to take up zero-carbon lifestyles as a rallying cry because people have a lot of other things on their minds and much to do every day. But becoming climate aware and climate smart and energy-educated is well within everyone's reach. This is the reason we've got to do better at making our messages and our prescriptions easy to grasp.

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Spiral staircase inside armature of Lady Liberty