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News & Views Curation

December 31, 2007

Bush's Endgame

Some see shreds of hope for a better climate policy in Bush's last year in office. Others don't

The Age of Consequences

What do social scientists and national security experts foresee for 21st Century climate change impacts? Sober stuff [2.1MB]

December 30, 2007

New Korean City LEEDs

The buildings of Songdo (a new city near Seoul, S. Korea) will be designed to meet LEED standards. Think big

December 28, 2007

The Risk Business

Insurance, the business rooted in calculating risk, is feeling the climate change heat. Got a policy?

30% Better

The Department of Energy launches rules to make new federal construction 30% more energy efficient that building code standards. Rules rule

Bet On It

Las Vegas leads the way on solar power and high performance buildings. Roll 'em

Adaptive Measures

Consider the impact of the Thames Barrier as a case study in urban adaptation to storms, rising water levels, and floods. Just click

UK: Funds For Science

Leadership in climate research and economic security in England is threatened by inadequate funds for new supercomputers. Go figure

Overestimating Oil

The US Geological Survey, the authoritative source on global oil resources, responds to criticisms that point to production bottlenecks and lower overall reserves. Recalculate

Knocking At Our Door

In consideration of where we’ve been recently and where we might be going, it seems right to start with Al Gore’s urgent call when accepting the Nobel Prize for his work on climate change. "We, the human species, are confronting a planetary emergency — a threat to the survival of our civilization that is gathering ominous and destructive potential even as we gather here". Fitting for the occasion, Gore’s scope was global, but his certainty that we have no time to waste applies equally at the urban scale. It’s also true that what we do, we have to do well; there is scant time and few resources for half-measures or a willful indifference about learning from what we do.

Combating climate change is an undertaking without precedent. This undertaking will dislocate old patterns and habits while requiring innovations that may still be imperfectly understood. By shifting focus from the planetary to the urban, we can see what this dislocation and the learning curve look like from the ground up. A quick recap of New York City's climate and sustainability record for 2007 is a good place to start. This Torchlight singles out some pivotal promises made last year and seeks evidence of forward movement.

The year started well with the adoption of the rules for carrying out the City's high performance building legislation, Local Law 86. At least two City-funded facilities, an Office of Emergency Planning in Brooklyn and the Corona Maintenance Shop have been certified by the US Green Building Council (out of a City-wide total of 15 projects that received LEED certification by September 2007). That's good, but it's neither possible to say what else is in the Local Law 86 pipeline nor how well the completed projects are performing, especially in terms of their carbon footprints. Access to both project pipeline and performance data are of the essence not only to the assessment of Local Law 86 but to delivering on the City's biggest sustainability promise, Mayor Bloomberg's PlaNYC 2030. With its ambitions for a vibrant metropolis of nine million people that will slash its carbon emissions 30% by the year 2030, every piece of the policy landscape has to be mapped, tracked and coordinated.

PlaNYC 2030, launched in April 2007, already has lead to admirable commitments by City government, the major universities that call New York home, the Housing Authority and the Board of Education to cut their greenhouse gas emissions. City government and the universities have pledged to fast track their efforts and shrink their carbon footprints — 30% by 2015, twice as fast as the rest of the City's building stock. Not to be outdone, Governor Spitzer announced the 15 x 15 policy to cut State carbon dioxide emissions 15% by the year 2015 and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) launched a sustainability initiative to shrink its "ecological footprint", although the latter has set no numerical target.

Reports from sources as diverse as the labor-environmental NYC Apollo Alliance and a McKinsey report written for the corporate Conference Board see market transforming economic development and job growth potential as inherent in this green growth. In a similar vein, a report done for Governor Spitzer sees "cleantech" as the state's best bet for a new engine of economic growth. Let's not forget the importance of giving PlaNYC 2030 real staying power. Mayors come and go, but the City Council has passed the "NYC Climate Protection Act" that establishes an office responsible for implementing PlaNYC 2030 and meeting its long-term goals, including the 30% CO2 cut. This makes good sense.

Big plans and good sense need sturdy standards for guidance and standardization as well as measurement and verification. The United States Green Building Council, creator of the LEED rating system, made great progress in 2007 when it required that all LEED-rated projects undertake commissioning of building energy project systems, meet certain energy performance standards and achieve two more rating points from a menu of energy performance optimization strategies.

These are among the most important sustainability promises made in 2007. Now, let's turn to how they've been kept. Plan 2030 offered a list of 127 initiatives but its forward momentum was immediately channeled into the fight over congestion pricing. Right now, the Mayor has nothing to show for it. What's worse, the congestion pricing dust up has all but obscured the remaining 126 goals in the media and public awareness. Other parts of the Plan for example, call for the creation by State law of two City energy authorities responsible for some heavy lifting on cutting the City's carbon emissions. The City may be rethinking this issue given the difficulty of getting legislation through Albany, and instead refocusing on what it can accomplish on its own.

Formulation and roll out of an energy strategy for New York City, as well as real enforcement of the State energy code should be at the top of 2008's to-do list. Looking ahead, tracking the progress of the 2030 Plan should be made easier and it should be fully web-accessible. Since PlaNYC 2030's launch in April 2007, the City's website has provided no updates on this crucial-work-in-progress. Stay tuned.

Another promise made that's becoming a work-in-progress is "greening" the City's Building Code. Plan 2030 promises to speed up revisions of this code from once a generation to once every three years. Although the 2007 code revisions could at best be called "lite-green", and another end-of-year revision makes New York the first city in the country with rules for the use of micro-turbines as a clean on-site power source, the 2010 round of revisions could go much further in nailing down how the City can cut its carbon emissions 30% by 2030. One smart step would be development of performance-based standards for construction and building systems. New York City is now home to 15 LEED certified buildings and has some 150 projects that have applied for LEED certification. As well, several outstanding high performance buildings developed outside the LEED system, such as Battery Park City's high-performance, high-rise apartments or the New York Times headquarters opened last year. And that is in addition to the eight buildings that received State green buildings tax benefits. It is important to recognize that there is substantial real world experience to learn from now. This real world experience provides a platform for delivering on a technically effective and cost-efficient green building code promise.

As many Torchlight columns have observed, good public policy and smart use of public dollars requires that evidence be required, collected, analyzed and published. On this score too, NYC has a long way to go. The City's Local Law 86 web pages offer no updated information and the PlaNYC 2030 web pages read as if were still April 2007. You can click and "learn how we plan to meet our goals". That's fine, but where can you find out what has happened to date and what the City has learned from this experience, however visionary and well intentioned? You won't find out on the City's website, so for now, you'll have to rely on your clippings files, your website bookmarks and your grapevines.

The need to green our infrastructure, with high priorities on mass transit, electric power generation and the combined sewer system was underlined by the subway floods of last summer. Rising groundwater levels will also imperil our infrastructure and cannot be ignored. There is no question that upgrading all these systems will require the mobilizing of technical ingenuity and capital investments in addition to improved routine maintenance. Prudence dictates that planning, design and investment in each of these infrastructure systems should also incorporate climate adaptation components. For instance, the City's subway system needs pumps and public address systems that can handle severe storms because it's likely that more severe wet weather will be part of the City's future. Among ideas worth looking into are innovative siting of shrubs and plantings as well as reconfiguration of subway entrances to capture storm water runoff.

The City and the State continue to be shortsighted on the land use and development front. For example, the City's zoning rules, which play a fundamental part in governing land use, should discourage new development in low-lying areas that are likely to be subject to storm damage and coastal flooding. Future uses of State-owned land are another horizon for smarter sustainability strategies. The power of zoning and land use planning are superb instruments to encourage high performance, low carbon impact construction.

A perfect example of how far we have come, but how far we still have to go is the Metropolitan Transit Authority's call for the development of the West Side's Hudson Yards. The MTA tips its hat to sustainability and energy efficiency without requiring that this development be carried out to the highest green building and energy efficiency standards. The Authority's "request for proposal" stipulated that developers must meet LEED Silver ratings for buildings and that the overall project has to be environmentally sustainable.

But the MTA should have aimed higher by stipulating that the winning developers go for a LEED Gold rating as well as earn an additional LEED point by commit to measurement and verification of the project they build by providing for the ongoing accountability of energy consumption over time. The MTA is a creature of the State and the City; both the Governor and Mayor name its Board members. These are elected officials with forward-thinking sustainability and climate policies. They claim that they are leading by example and transforming the environmental marketplace, but there is no excuse for playing second fiddle when it comes to delivering the goods.

Since this Torchlight opened with Al Gore's Nobel Prize speech, let's end with it too: "The great Norwegian playwright, Henrik Ibsen, wrote, 'One of these days, the younger generation will come knocking at my door.' The future is knocking at our door right now... We have everything we need to get started, save perhaps political will, but political will is a renewable resource."


Sallan | News and Views | Torchlight | Nancy Anderson, Ph.D. | Comments

Knocking At Our Door
Sallan Readers weigh in

January 25, 2008

As someone keenly interested in the City's sustainability efforts, I was grateful for your Torchlight column "Knocking At Our Door." A year-end appraisal of progress toward key plaNYC 2030 goals was badly needed.

It prompts me to wonder why the City itself doesn't periodically share this kind of appraisal with its citizens. Its sustainability goals, ambitious to begin with, become only more urgent as climate change accelerates. The citywide collaborations required to achieve those goals require the full and free flow of information. As your column says, "... every piece of the policy landscape has to be mapped, tracked and coordinated." While doing this is no small task, managing information about policy implementation is not itself enough. Beyond information lie synthesis and insight. They're not to be found on the City's snazzy plaNYC 2030 web site. Exemplary as a roll-out of sustainability goals, that site devotes only one page to subsequent "News & Events," and that page is no more than an online filing cabinet for press releases. Most of them tell us that Mayor Bloomberg did this, Mayor Bloomberg did that. All of them put a shiny face on the news.

Those releases are useful, of course, but hey! Consider: Seems unlikely that a venture as ambitious and unprecedented as plaNYC can be going altogether smoothly. What aren't we being told?; Even motivated readers who try to synthesize all those press releases are left yearning to know, "But how's it going? What's proving difficult? Any surprises? What are you learning about what it will take to achieve sustainability?"

Presumably, the Bloomberg administration, so admirably results-oriented, has been rigorously assessing its performance on the sustainability front. It can use its plaNYC site to periodically share those assessments. And it can use that site to candidly tell New Yorkers the truth -- not only about successes but about inevitable struggles and failures, so we can all learn from them as this historic venture evolves, and so we fully understand the nature of the challenges entailed and can fully appreciate what the City does achieve.

Eventually, the web site could include an open forum for running dialogues with citizens on particularly difficult challenges. Would this actually prove productive? Maybe; maybe not. A demo could test the concept; let's find out.

The basic vision is this: a site that serves as a dynamic communication tool for years to come and treats the public as a partner; an authoritative, current, candid resource that is the must-visit site for everyone concerned with New York City's progress toward sustainability.

Will it be easy for the City to deliver what I'm asking for? No. But promoting a shared, reality-based understanding of what we're all engaged in for the long term sure seems worth a lot of effort, starting now.

Christine Van Lenten

December 27, 2007

Is LEED A Lemon?

The LEED green building rating system can produce some decidedly dubious outcomes. Here's how

December 26, 2007

Not (Quite) Rocket Science

The make-over of big cities' existing building stock into green, high performing assets is THE challenge. Get involved

Coal-Fired Debate

Which side are you on? Are there more than two sides? Think

Sustainable Scholarship

Miss the New York Times report about the impact of climate change on academia? Take a campus tour. RIT-Golisano, Yale-Center, Arizona-Global Institute, & Duke-Corporate Sustainability

Sun Rise

The potential for solar power to solve our energy and climate problems is "off the charts". Here's how

December 24, 2007

NYC In The TImes: Where's The Green?

Not a whisper about high performance building in the New York Time's architecture roundup for 2007 . MIA

Unseasonable Greetings

Climate deniers take cues from the tobacco industry. Blowing smoke

French Atoms For Mid-East

France offers assistance to mid-east nations to develop nuclear power plants. Step right up

December 21, 2007

Right Tools Needed

Carbon taxes won't solve the problem of NYC traffic congestion. What will?

Risky Thinking

The dangers posed by climate change "are mostly calibrated in risks". Tax them now

Learn From Experience

Let's look at the record of the EU-ETS. Advanced political-economy

Setback for Cutting Plane Pollution

The EU delays rules to bring airplane CO2 emissions into the ETS. Fly by

December 20, 2007

EU Carbon Fight

An EU battle between Germany and France and Italy is shaping up over a proposal to cut GHG car emissions. That's weighty

EPA Smackdown

EPA staffers think their agency's refusal to give California and 16 other states the power to impose stringent vehicle emissions standards could be overturned by the courts. Stay tuned

December 19, 2007

No California CAFE

EPA will deny California's application to mandate vehicle standards stricter than federal standards (and that includes the new federal law). Bushwhacked

Climate Sanctions For US?

German Social Democrats (SPD) seek sanctions on carbon-intensive US exports as well as domestic political momentum. Read more

Clean Coal: Not So Soon

There may be less than meets the eye in the announcement of the nation's first zero-emissions coal-burning power plant. Don't miss the comments in this Dot Earth blog. Look in

Strange But True

Scientists find that coal ash is more radioactive than nuclear power plant waste. Here's how

Carbon Taxes For China?

The Chinese government contemplates fuel pump and crude oil production taxes. Learn more

December 18, 2007

Congressional Corn

Now that Congress has passed an energy bill that aims for an immense corn-ethanol industry, will it be more or less likely to succeed than sending a man to the moon and what about the Earthly climate? 10, 9, 8...

Food Supply Down, Prices Up

The world faces an 'unprecedented' dilemma of shrinking food supplies and escalating prices. Why?

In Noah Time

By 2100, scientists say that sea levels could rise 64 inches, double the increase predicted by the UN Climate Panel. Wade in

China Regulators Go Greener

China is beefing up its environmental clout, but will regulations change business-as-usual? WSJ [Subscribers only]

France: Atom Conquers King Coal

2008 will see the end of France's national coal-mining industry, now that its energy is generated by atoms, natural gas and imports. Look ahead

December 17, 2007

Shrinking Spain's Carbon Footprint

Soon, Spaniards will be able to make their homes energy efficient under a multi-billion euro grant and credit program. Learn more

After Bali: The German View

Now there is a mandate, a plan and a timetable on a post-Kyoto agreement says German climate advisor. Read the interview

December 16, 2007

Bali Blog

An eyewitness report on the heat applied to the US in Bali. Look here

December 15, 2007

Tax Carbon Consumption

Some call for taxes when producing carbon emissions, others call for a tax based on carbon inputs when consuming goods. Think here

December 14, 2007

Left Coast Green

San Francisco's mayor is a man on a mission-to make all the buildings in his city the highest performing in the nation. Go to it

Abandoning GHG Goals

A draft text at the Bali climate talks drops out goals for GHG cuts. Who'll sign that? Stay tuned

Hot Spots In A Hotter World

Climate change can lead to social and political disruptions. 6 places to watch

Can't Eat Ethanol

Globally, increasing food costs linked to corn-based ethanol production. This is an avoidable crisis. Dig in

More Coal For India

A US firm will build coal-fired power plants in India. Any implications for a post-Kyoto climate agreement? Clip and file

December 13, 2007

NYMEX Evolves

In 2008, Evolution Markets will open a "green exchange" on the NY Mercantile Exchange. Both EU-ETS and voluntary carbon credit contracts will be traded. Read on

A-Plant For Sale

In the midst of a relicensing challenge, the Indian Point power plant may be sold to a new, stand-alone nuclear power company. WSJ [Subscribers only]

Insurance Discounts for Green Buildings

AIG will offer insurance policy discounts for LEED-certified projects because green buildings are better environmental risks. That's premium!

The Hottest Decade

The UN finds that the decade ending in 2007 is the hottest in thousands of years. But the climate at Bali's post-Kyoto talks is chilly. NYT & UK Guardian

December 12, 2007

California Court Upholds Car Fuel Rule

California's right to impose higher vehicle fuel efficiency standards than federal CAFEs is upheld by a federal court. This decision closely tracks a recent Vermont court decision. Read it here

Who's In The Driver's Seat?

Commuters who drive to work in NYC's proposed congestion pricing zone are, on average, relatively affluent suburbanites. Stop & go

December 11, 2007

Would Bush Like More CAFE?

Apparently not. Read the latest

Will Australia Cap Emissions?

Prime Minister Rudd won't pledge to carbon caps now, but he's not in the Bush league. Stay tuned

Rudy: The UnGreen

Now that Presidential hopeful Rudolph Giuliani's business ties to the energy industry are emerging, here's more background. Click

London Football Gets Green

London's Chelsea Football Club (soccer to Americans) scores on the climate change field. Goal!

Greenland & Climate

Catch up with the latest geophysical thinking on a changing Greenland. Enter here

December 10, 2007


Whether you say "no to nuclear" or not, there are powerful questions we need to answer. Consider this

What Did They Say?

Read the Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speeches. Gore & Pachauri

Still Speaking

The Bali post-Kyoto Protocol meetings go on, but with few signs of accord. No!

December 08, 2007

Carbon Tax for SF

Will San Francisco fight climate change by taxing carbon without raising the total tax rate? Stay tuned

West Coast Wave Wars

Generating electric power from ocean waves doesn't bother the neighbors, or does it? Catch it

December 07, 2007

High Performance NYCHA

With an assist from the Clinton Foundation, and federal HUD, the NYC Housing Authority is going green and saving money. Get the details

December 06, 2007

Atoms Take Forever

Despite calls for speeding up permits for new nuclear power plants, there are many reasons for going slowly. Got a sec?

Dissecting the WSJ's Climate

What fuels the continued rage of WSJ editorials over climate change? Open here

Creative Destruction

Emerging federal energy legislation will be a boon to some industries and a bane to others. WSJ [Subscribers only]

December 05, 2007

Decongestion Aid

Critics of the Bloomberg congestion pricing plan offer no credible alternatives report finds. Stop by

Good Jobs/Green-Collar Job

The NYC Apollo Alliance finds that economic benefits and good green collar jobs can play a big part in making the Big Apple a sustainable city. Work on it [14.8MB]

The Party Of The First Part

With greener buildings come greener legal contracts. Just Esq.

Learn From Experience

The Berlin Reichstag, now ten years old, is a living laboratory for high performance building technologies. Enter here

December 04, 2007


A new report claims that the EU ETS is trading in carbon emissions credits for hydroelectric projects that didn't need the credits. Ouch!

Spitzer: Shut A-Plant

Governor Spitzer has petitioned the Nuclear Regulatory Agency to shut down the Indian Point power plant in Westchester. Click here

Not There Yet

Congress' proposal to raise fuel efficiency standards for cars is facing the threat of a Bush veto and (as an editorial aside) that's a more immediate problem than the debate over exactly how efficient the next auto generation will be. Stay tuned

All That Glitters...

A new report on Chinese eco-town development finds simpler solutions outperform glam-green. Look into it

Green Trade

The EU and the US are negotiating to eliminate tariffs and other trade barriers for goods and services that benefit the environment. Go WTO

December 03, 2007

Zone Creep

The expanse of the Earth's tropical zone is growing-north and south. Whew!

A Senate Slugfest?

Get ready for contentious hearings about climate change legislation in the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. In this corner

Growing Up Now

The EU ETS market is starting to mature. Look into it

US: Unmoved, Unmoving

The US remains opposed to international climate controls, while the rest of he world meets in Bali. Hardly news

McKinsey Report: Save 28% Now!

The US is rich in "negative cost opportunities" for cutting its GHG emissions. Fight inertia[4.1MB]

December 01, 2007


Global corporations at the Bali meetings call for a binding legal agreement on global warming that will unite science with business opportunities. Inaction's not an option