Monday, January 28, 2008

Low Impact Development, THE Answer?

CMRC was lucky to attend a conference last week about Low Impact Development sponsored by the NY- NJ Baykeeper. Congratulations to Baykeeper on a super, very informative event.

First of all, what is Low Impact Development (LID)? Though there are many definitions, here is one of the best definitions presented at the conference:

LID describes methods that treat rainwater as a resource instead of a waste to be moved away from roofs, streets, and sidewalks as quickly as possible. These methods can improve or protect water resources in urban, suburban or rural ecological systems. LID is best defined by each individual community or region.

LID could be an excellent way to reduce combined sewer overflows in the New York – New Jersey Harbor Estuary Region, while in addition combating climate change and the heat island effect, not to mention providing energy savings. LID methods that could work here are:

- green roofs

- rain gardens

- rain water collection systems

- grey and black water collection systems

- green streets, or traffic calming features that allow for storm water infiltration

The ultimate challenge, described by Dr. Paul Mankiewicz of the Gaia Institute, is how to bring cities to life - how to change a sterile infrastructure into one with water flowing into fertile places where living organisms can use the water. LID can enhance opportunities for ecological productivity, prevent waste, and mitigate climate change.

Will these methods become a wide scale reality in our region? I believe the answer is yes, if we can continue to show through research that LID is cost effective and can provide the ecological benefits we hope it can.

Data from solid research will help our friends in the sustainability and environmental departments of local governments make the case to decision makers and budget crunchers that these are win-win strategies.

We can also make LID a reality if and only if we can make LID available to the middle and lower classes. And thus we come to that perpetual and great challenge the entire environmental movement faces on a daily basis -- how do we get the funding we need at all levels for better research and affordability?

The CMRC is addressing affordability in an upcoming workshop on paying for green infrastructure to be held in late spring. Keep posted for more information on dates and times.

Last but not least, I am happy to say my predecessors working on CMRC’s first green roof had the foresight to include a comprehensive monitoring component. Results available in the next four to five years.

Monday, January 14, 2008

Mother Nature's Deeper Mood Swings

Over the weekend the press reported findings from the University of New Hampshire showing that since the 1970s Northeast winters are warming and snow cover has been decreasing. The results are the work of a masters student in Earth sciences and geochemical systems, Elizabeth Burakowski.

Though the most striking of the results applies to winters in New England, the trends seem to apply to the Northeast in general and confirm the sentiments of some long time residents.

This research serves as another of many signals that we need to pay greater attention to preventing and adapting to climate change.

Two facts of this news strike me as very interesting.

First the Associated Press quotes Parker Riehle, president of the trade association Ski Vermont. Riehle says, “We've seen some erratic winters in recent years. The mood swings of Mother Nature, perhaps, are deeper than they used to be."

I’m always looking for ways to better describe what climate change means and how the layperson can better grasp the changes that are likely in store. This quote is particularly clear. It is good at describing that not just warming but the variability in temperatures are of concern.

Temperature variability can affect nature and our systems in many ways. A few quick hypothetical (and relatively non-catastrophic, but nonetheless relevant) examples:

- An unusual three week warm spell in February tricks plants and many tree species into blooming. A sudden arctic cold snap bring temperatures down into the twenties three nights in a row. The trees and plants lose their first attempt at blooming and are stressed for the rest of the year having to put out a second set of leaves and/or blossoms. This stress then makes them more susceptible to drought conditions and disease.

- A local Y embarks on an program to save energy and decrease heating costs. Their efforts for the year are set back after a series of very cold days at the end of October when the maintenance staff is prompted to turn on the boilers and get the heat up and running for the winter. The weather quickly warms back up and remains warm for more than a week or two. During this time is it easier for the staff to open the windows and let out the excess heat during the day than turn off the entire system and restart it when it becomes cold again.

The second thing that strikes me about this news is that the press picked up on the work of a masters student. I see this as good news for all graduate students out there wondering if their work will be noticed and if their idealism to make the world a better place is at all warranted. My answer would be an emphatic “Yes!”. Just look at what great research design and the support of a good department and institution can do.

CMRC’s message to non-students and environmental professionals is: “We're glad this research is out there, but let's take this to a higher level and advocate for better research at the local and regional level.”

It is CMRC's hope that universities, agencies, and institutions in our region conduct more coordinated research about long-term trends in climate change and the ways we can work to prevent and adapt to climate change at a regional level. (There is another message here - if you are a graduate student and have research to share with CMRC, don't hesitate to get in touch with us!) ….ckw

See the AP’s article at:

Find a link to Elizabeth Burakowski’s abstract and the UNH press release at:

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Luaus for Polar Bears

Thanks to all the CMRC supporters who braved the cold and made it to our office for the 2nd Annual Waterfront Luau.  The newly inaugurated Green Roof Polar Bear Club made a trek to the top of the building for a great view of lower Manhattan and a taste of what a green roof in the dead of winter may feel like!  What a great start to the new 2008 projects CMRC has in store. 

We especially want to acknowledge our volunteers and the support and in-kind donations we received from the following companies:  Brooklyn Brewery, Gaiam, Patagonia, Jurlique, Lassen and Hennigs, Outside, and Ecostructure Magazine.  We couldn't have made it such a special evening without you.

The CMRC starts out 2008 with a look at climate change and sea level rise.  Over the next several months, CMRC will post information about climate change and how to get involved.  We will also be finalizing our Business Stewardship Project.  Keep visiting for Business Stewardship events, times, and locations.

Happy New Year from The CMRC.