Hurricane Sandy: In The Wake of Tragedy, A Cold, Wet Wakeup Call.

October 30, 2012 § 1 Comment

As I roam Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc., I’ve come across hundreds of friends, family, colleagues, schoolmates, and acquaintances who keep posting about the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. Headlines on local news sites read “Plainview Resembles War Zone as Hurricane Winds Pound Region” and “Hurricane Sandy: Massive Fire Destroys Dozens of Homes in Queens, NY.” Downed power lines, destroyed homes, flooded streets, beloved places in ruin. It breaks my heart to see what damage has been caused by nature, but at the same time, it gives me new hope that now, maybe, just maybe, people will understand: This is no ordinary storm.

Of course, to many people, hurricanes are, by their definition, no ordinary storms. Unfortunately, however, they are quite ordinary. Hurricanes form in tropical climates, where the water is at least 80 Degrees Fahrenheit. The storm continues to build as it moves from the western coast of Africa to the Caribbean, where the bands of thunderstorms that encircle the calm eye of the storm provide a positive feedback loop that builds the storm bigger and bigger, until it eventually hits land and dissipates. The movement and rotation of hurricanes is caused by the Coriolis effect, the same effect that creates the crosswinds and trade winds that helped the sailors who discovered America and that up until recently moderated our climate. It’s all a perfectly normal, natural process.

Hurricanes are normal. Sandy was not your typical hurricane, however.

Jim Cisco, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration forecaster coined the term that best describes Sandy: Frankenstorm. It’s a mashup of worst-case scenarios. While slightly comedic, ABC News was spot on to mix in footage from The Perfect Storm, the 2000 George Clooney/Mark Wahlberg picture based on the 1991 nor’easter that mixed itself into Hurricane Grace and ravaged the northeastern United States exactly 21 years ago. Sandy approached the Northeast just as a cold front was approaching from the west and winds were blowing down furiously from Canada. Oh, and it was happening on a full moon, which means the highest tides of the month were ready to surge up onto land. It was to be, perhaps, a more perfect storm.

Hurricane/Frankenstorm/Superstorm Sandy was poised, from the beginning, to wreak havoc. Sure, the natural weather conditions I just discussed were set to make it a pretty rough storm to begin with, but if this storm had happened 50, even maybe 10 years ago, it would not have been nearly as destructive. The main destructive forces at work were Sandy’s diameter of gale force winds (at about 1,000 miles, they made Sandy the largest Hurricane in history), the high storm surge (at least 10 feet), and the heavy rain (up to 12 inches in some areas), which is associated with massive flooding. All of these factors are what make Sandy a freak of nature Frankenstorm, and they can all be attributed to one thing: Global Warming and Climate Change.

Cynics and climate-change deniers, before you say a word, I’ll make it clear. Global warming did not cause Hurricane Sandy. As I said earlier, hurricanes are very regular, natural things. It did, however, exacerbate it, by creating climate conditions that fostered a more dangerous storm. And here’s how:

  1. Warmer Oceans = Stronger Hurricanes. Hurricanes are warm-water storms, so by raising the temperature of our oceans, we create more hospitable territory for hurricanes. Normally, when a hurricanes reach the Northeast, they hit water too cold to survive in, and downgrade to tropical storms, make landfall, and disintegrate. Thanks to the greenhouse effect and the unimaginable amounts of greenhouse gasses we have emitted over the past three centuries, our oceans have risen about 5 degrees Celsius, creating northern waters that can continue to support hurricanes longer, allowing them to hit harder and over a larger area.
  2. Higher Sea Levels = More Damaging Storm Surges. Melting sea-ice has, as we all know, raised sea levels quite dramatically. Even if we hadn’t raised ocean temperatures (hypothetically, since then we obviously also wouldn’t have melted the sea ice), higher sea levels make shorelines more susceptible to gigantic storm surges. It’s plain and simple: There’s more water, and it’s closer to the land, so it makes for floods like no one has ever seen.
  3. Paved Roads = Nowhere to Go. Ok, so this is less to do with global warming, but still important. Humans have paved the world, in the interest of giving us places to go and ways to get there. Ironically, this has given water nowhere to go. In a natural ecosystem, water would be absorbed into the ground, and any excess would become runoff that would eventually find its way to streams and rivers. When we’ve paved over the entire northeast, however, there’s nowhere for that water to be absorbed. Asphalt is non-pourous. So, all of the water – from the 12 inches of rain and the 10ft storm surges- becomes runoff, pooling up and flooding many neighborhoods. Check out the gallery below for pictures of what that looks like.

It should be quite obvious now as to why Sandy is no typical storm, and how we’ve made this problem worse for ourselves. Don’t get me wrong: This was an absolute tragedy, and my thoughts and prayers go out to all those affected by this storm, especially all those back home on Long Island and in the Tri-State Area. It’s going to be a long recovery, but this is not the time to wallow in self-pitty. This is a time to wake up, and get going.

Think of Hurricane Sandy as Mother Nature throwing a bucket of water on you to get you up and out of bed. Get moving people. Repairs will take some time. While they’re happening, let’s fix some other things as well. This isn’t a problem that can be solved by building just a new levy, or by perparing better next time. No, this problem will only be solved by changing our ways. We NEED to stop our fossil fuel dependence. We need to stop polluting our air. Hopefully, we’ve all now finally felt the effects of global warming. Lives are at stake here. We’re not going to see the change overnight. We might not live to see it. But if we stop now – not in 20 years, not in 10, but NOW – we might leave a world for our grandchildren to inhabit.

Bill McKibben, one of America’s greatest environmentalists, has wrote extensively on this subject. He’s put out a recent piece about the hurricane, but the more important piece of writing he’s recently put out is a Rolling Stone article about climate change, in which he reminds us that we’ve already surpassed the safe level of carbon that can be in our atmosphere. It’s no longer a problem for our grandchildren. Its our problem We’re living it. Sandy is a wakeup call. We need to fix this.


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Special thanks to Prof. Bob Wilson (Syracuse University) for some of the key facts for this post.


Burn, Baby, Burn!

June 10, 2012 § Leave a comment

Campfires: A summer evening classic. What could be better than settling down in front of a roaring bonfire, with a few friends, maybe a few drinks, and of course, so marshmallows ripe for roasting? Hanging outside by the fire is a great way to save energy and get yourself out of the house at night, and as a whole isn’t terrible for the environment. However, as with everything in life, there are always ways to do better. Here are a few tips to help keep your fire eco-friendly:

  1. Go green, don’t use green. Green things – leaves, plants, twigs – cause a ton of smoke. In order to minimize your CO2 emissions, keeping smoke down is key. Sticks from live trees are among some other causes of high smoking fires.
  2. Don’t burn your trash. More than likely, your fire is accompanying something else – a cookout, a party, etc. Make sure that the trash from your other activities doesn’t join the fire.
  3. Choose your fuel wisely. While they may be super quick, easy, and effective, things like lighter fluid, kerosene, and Duraflame logs are not necessarily the best choices in regards to the environment. All of these things are chock full of environmentally damaging chemicals that aren’t too good for your body either. Try something more natural instead, like these entirely natural starter logs: All-Natural Starter Logs
  4. Know where your wood is from. Try to avoid treated woods, like plywood and lumber, which contains chemicals to preserve it. Burning wood like this presents environmental and health hazards.
  5. Work for your wood. Don’t be lazy. Putting a little effort into finding your wood can make all the difference. Why purchase wood from a store (where you don’t know if it was sustainably collected or not) when you could get it for free? One idea, provided by my camping-expert neighbor, is to search the streets for people who have chopped down trees. Other methods, if you’re in or near the woods, is to simply pick it up off the ground.

Want more tips? Check out this page from Care2 for more tips!

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Entertains Questions at SU

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today, I was incredibly fortunate to see current Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speak at Syracuse University. She presented an hour-long Q&A with the Dean of the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, James Steinberg, her former Deputy Secretary of State. Throughout the presentation, Secretary Clinton answered questions covering topics from American aid to developing nations, to how to promote human rights worldwide, and provided advice to students seeking a career in public service. The highlight, however, came from two questions regarding sustainability – one on energy diplomacy, and the other on international environmental protection.

Secretary Clinton at SU!

Secretary Clinton at SU's Hendricks Chapel with Dean Steinberg

Early on in the program, Secretary Clinton was asked about how our nation was working to address future issues in the global political economy. She discussed how she implements the QDDR, the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Democracy Review, which was based on a similar program that has been used by the Pentagon for years. The program is essentially to look down the road, four years ahead, and figure out what the potential key points of diplomacy will be. One of her main examples front the first ever QDDR? Energy.

Energy diplomacy is important – it affects our politics across the world. For example, if Europeans are dependent of Russian natural gas, then they will oppose any worldwide treaties that would affect Russia’s ability to produce this gas. We saw this years ago during the 1973 Oil Crisis – we supported Israel politically and militarily, so the nations of OPEC, which were mostly in the Middle East and opposed Israel, decided to cut our supply of oil.

What Secretary Clinton pointed out is that there aren’t many people with expertise in energy diplomacy. She’s recruited a whole bunch to help steer our nation in the right direction, but there needs to be more experts on the topic. This doesn’t mean, however, that we aren’t still making progress. In fact, we just signed a momentous transboundary agreement with Mexico regarding oil drilling in the Gulf, following the BP oil spill of 2010.

Later on in the talk, Mrs. Clinton was asked about her thoughts on our worldwide environmental policy following our celebrations of the 42 annual Earth Day yesterday. Clinton described herself as a “perennial optimist,” and reminded us that while we are making progress, the problem isn’t just going to magically disappear. She acknowledged that there has not in fact been a big climate deal made in the Obama administration’s first years, but reminded us that those years did coincide with an enormous financial crisis. During a time of economic downturn, the front-end costs of environmental sustainability might have seemed a little lofty, but she was pretty confident that it would have been a worthwhile investment in the long-term.

Secretary Clinton proceeded to explain that she was very confident in the future of our world’s environment following the recent conference in Copenhagen. In fact, the summit resulted in the first agreement in which developing nations agreed to climate change measures. Up until now, the attitude had basically been: “It’s not our problem. The developed nations caused it. Let us do what they did to get on their level, and then we’ll make change.” However, that’s all changing. Following further work at Cancun and Durban, Secretary Clinton is confident, and excited to see the work that continues at Rio 2020. In other news, the USA has also officially joined the Clean Air and Climate Coalition, which is a group that has grown to include 10 nations and focuses on reducing the emissions of non-CO2 greenhouse gasses.

On the home front, SOS Clinton believes that we are finally taking responsibility and slowly cleaning up our own house. We can’t go after other polluting nations until we get our own problems in check – we need to fix the dangers of hydrofracking, push for other alternative energy sources, and generally be more sustainable. Her diagnosis? We’re getting better.

Recycling 101: 3 Case Studies

April 4, 2012 § 2 Comments

During the first breakout session of this year’s Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium (NECSC) Conference, held this year in the Syracuse University Sheraton, presenters from three different colleges and universities presented some case studies about personal experiences with the challenges of campus recycling.

Lorinda Hill: Night Maven

First up was Lorinda Hill, the recycling coordinator at « Read the rest of this entry »

Chief Jake Edwards at NECSC Conference 2012

April 2, 2012 § Leave a comment

Today is the start of the annual Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium Conference, being conveniently held this year at the Sheraton at Syracuse University! This morning, leaders in sustainability from college and university campuses all across the northeastern United States filed into the Regency Ballroom at the Sheraton Syracuse University Hotel and Conference Center for the first event of the day, a panel with Presidents of a few local universities – SUNY Empire State, RITOnondaga Community College, and our neighbor, ESF’s own Cornelius Murphy – who sat down to discuss a variety of sustainability topics, and how they have related to their work at their respective universities. However, the centerpiece of the day came just around 2 pm, when Chief Jake Edwards, of the Onondaga Nation Council of Chiefs, rose to give his keynote address.

Chief Edwards, who was speaking in the place of Onondaga Faithkeeper Oren Lyons « Read the rest of this entry »

Shades of Green: Energy Efficiency

March 16, 2012 § 1 Comment

A few weeks ago, I attended the Shades of Green conference in Madison County, NY. One of the many topics covered in the breakout session was energy efficiency, covered by Sam Gordon of the Central New York Regional Planning and Development Board. The presentation, “Home Energy Efficiency: Save Energy, Save Money, Save the Planet” was a perfect example about how being sustainable benefits you as well as the environment.

The session began with Mr. Gordon presenting a simple concept: The recommended temperature to save energy at home is 68 degrees. Yes, it’s that simple. Keep your home at an incredibly comfortable 68 degrees, and you save energy, and therefore money! He continues on to discuss other simple, easy, DIY energy conservation techniques. Gordon cites his own personal example: By replacing appliances, like his fridge and dehumidifier, and lightbulbs, with more energy efficient brands, as well as practicing basic conservation, such as turning off lights and unplugging appliances that don’t need to be running very often, he cut his home energy use in half. So what does this mean? He can now make his home greener by installing solar panels for electricity, but now he can cut the amount (and therefore the cost) in half, saving himself a ton of money.

Some statistics followed this example: Residential uses make up one fourth of US energy consumption. Another 28% is used for transportation. Within the home itself, 60% of energy is consumed by heating and cooling systems, another 16% for water heating, and 12% each for your refrigerator and lighting/other appliances. An interesting and surprising fact was that your cable box can actually use almost as much energy as your refrigerator – many people don’t realize this, but it’s plugged in, running all day, consuming energy – even when you’re not watching TV. The European Union actually has laws regarding these boxes, enforcing mandator energy efficiency standards.

So how do we encourage this kind of efficiency and sustainability? To those who have learned about it, things like changing to an EnergyStar dryer in your home is a clear win-win situation. However, many don’t realize the benefits to your wallet, and see changes like these as solely good for the environment. According to Gordon, people need to start by making a commitment to energy efficiency. To do this, however, we need to establish social norms that say it’s ok to talk about energy and sustainability in everyday conversation. Mr. Gordon wants it so that you can talk to your neighbors about their home energy efficiency just like you would exchange tips for lawn care or ask them for a good dentist’s phone number.

To do this, National Grid has started a pilot program in the CNY area. Participants receive a smiley or frowny face on their energy bills, which is assigned by comparing their home energy efficiency to that of the average consumer. The central idea behind this goes something like this: People talk about their lawns, because they receive feedback from others on the state of their lawns.Therefore, if people receive feedback about the state of their energy usage, they will talk about it with their neighbors as well. According to Gordon, this feedback serves as both personal and comparative motivation.

Lastly, Mr. Gordon discussed the new CNY Energy Challenge, another pilot program with two main goals: First, to educate CNY residents about energy usage/conservation, and second, to encourage and facilitate the discussion about energy and sustainability topics between neighbors. The program is made up of 80 people, starting first in the city of Syracuse. The people are organized into groups of households, headed by a facilitator, who work as a group and meet biweekly for 12 weeks. As part of the program, the households learn from a five unit curriculum, which covers topics such as: determining your energy intake, household lighting, powering down electronics, heating and cooling systems, and the Home Energy Audit. The units are designed to teach the mechanics of, reasons behind, and benefits of each topic discussed. The program has another benefit – 10% discounts at local stores to buy energy efficient products, in order to act upon what they are learning.

Once again, Mr. Gordon’s presentation has shown exactly what it is that people need to realize: Sustainability, especially energy efficiency and conservation, serves to benefit the environment, your neighborhood, and your wallet.


On another note, if you are a SU student and are interested in joining Eco-Reps, please email

Eco-Reps Wants YOU!

March 15, 2012 § Leave a comment

Are you a Syracuse University Student? Well, then Eco-Reps Wants YOU!

What’s an Eco-Rep?
– A Leader
– An Educator
– An Ambassador

Eco-Reps is a new organization on campus, with the goals of inspiring and educating the student body about environmental and sustainability issues facing our campus, our country, and the world. We aim to do this in a fun, engaging way, through campus-wide programing that is exciting and unique, in addition to being informative and eye-opening. Some examples of past and planned programs include: Water Taste Tests, Tray Waste Audits, Recycled Fashion Show, Junkyard Wars, and more!

As a newly forming organization on campus, we are looking for interested Freshmen, Sophomores, and Juniors who want to be part of this one of a kind opportunity.

So what makes a good Eco-Rep? An Eco-Rep is a strong leader, organized, outspoken, full of energy, and passionate about sustainability. We’re looking for people of all disciplines, colleges, and majors!

Interested? If you’re ready to go or if you just want to know more, email!

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